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Welcome to the god damn Jam!
Holy mother of pearl, it's happening. It's really happening. We're about to return to the Jam and Lebron James is coming with us (also Justin Lin). THR is reporting that the basketball star is set to star in the Looney Toons ...

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One batch, two batch
If you watched this last season of Daredevil you know that someone finally nailed Punisher. Jon Bernthal absolutely stole the show with his slightly psychotic and entirely compelling portrayal of Frank Castle. People lov...

Review: Mother's Day

Apr 29 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220546:42940:0[/embed] Mother's DayDirector: Garry MarshallRated: PG-13Release Date: April 28, 2016  I think Mother's Day is supposed to be about being a mom because it's called Mother's Day, which seems like it would be the name of a movie about being a mom. It really isn't though. We find Sandy (Jennifer Aniston), a divorced mom with two kids still kind of pining over her ex-husband who has recently married a 20-year-old. There's Miranda (Julia Roberts), a HSN host who is somehow actually famous. And then Jesse (Kate Hudson) who has married an Indian man, Russell (Aasif Mandvi), without her racist parents knowing. Finally Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) has just lost his wife and is raising two daughters. Children actually play a very small part in this film as it's more about romantic relationships than being a mom -- don't worry, it fails at romance as well. There are plot lines in here involving children and becoming a parent, but they're buried under what has to be the worst screenplay written this year. It's seriously bad, and I'm not even discussing the casual racism it tosses around for no reason. The movie feels like the its four screenwriters (two male, two female) got together and wrote conversations for a group of women characters based on advice from an alien race who had only experienced conversations between females by watching soap operas. It is easily the most stilted tripe to ever pour out of any of these actors mouths. Watching the legendary Julia Roberts stoop so low in such a bad wig as some sort of favor to Garry Marshall was revolting.  The entire movie is revolting, especially since it somehow mistakes flat out racism for comedy. When Jesse's parents find out she's married to Russell as he accidentally walks in after they surprise her with a visit their first reaction is to wonder what a "towel head" is doing in her house. The audience at my screening instantly gasped and then sat there in horror as it only got worse. For some reason the filmmakers thought that the parents' flat out offensive and racist actions would be charming and whimsical, as if we're supposed to laugh along at those silly old folks who just disowned their grandchild for being "a little dark." No really, someone says that. I want to make it perfectly clear that jokes about race can be hilarious. Comedy is one of the best ways to address race issues, but this movie confuses using race for humor with actually being racist. None of the lines are actually jokes, they're just racist (and sexist and homophobic) statements said out loud as if that's enough to make something funny. Just because you say you're a comedy doesn't mean you can say offensive things without a punchline. There's no deeper meaning here either. Sure, in the end everyone comes around and no one is racist anymore (because it's that simple), but it's handled with such dull-witted ineptitude that you can only sit there with your jaw open and wonder if anyone making the movie actually understood the history humanity. I want to really stress just how incredibly out of touch with reality this film is. We'll ignore the fact that all the characters are cliches, none of the actors seem to actually care that they're there and that it easily has one of the worst soundtracks in the past ten years. We're ignoring all of this because at the end of Mother's Day Asif Mandvi, the only minority in the vehicle, gets out of an RV and a group of cops go to pull their guns on him. This is a joke. In the middle of a crisis of violence on minorities by police this film deems it appropriate to have an Indian man pinned to the ground as a group of white people, who very recently called him racial slurs, stand around gawking. That's it by the way. That's the joke. It just happens and everyone is OK with it once one of the cops RECOGNIZES THE INDIAN GUY AS HER DOCTOR. If I was Mandvi I would have walked off the set faster than an American Indian in an Adam Sandler film.  The only reason this movie didn't get a zero is because Jason Sudeikis is so damn charming even when he's stuck in crap like this. Crap where his meet cute is based around awkwardly buying tampons and then followed up by a second meet cute where his hand is stuck in a candy machine. Only that man could make something that stupid work, and even then one has to ask oneself why, in a movie called Mother's Day, one fourth of the lead characters needs to be a father. I get that it's supposed to be about the hole a mother leaves when she dies, but it really isn't at all and it makes for just another bit of sexism to add into this already turgid pile of crap.  There's about 50 other things wrong with this movie like why all the women seem to be constantly working out or why the only minority character aside from Mandvi and his mother is a sassy black woman. It would be impossible to catalog every way this movie is the film equivalent of the KKK projectile vomiting onto celluloid while a group of men attempt to write a screenplay about women with their penises, but I'll digress because I'm getting too angry and this human excrement of a movie isn't worth it.
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A racist, sexist, unfunny pile of crap
I'm not going to pull punches here because Mother's Day is easily the worst movie I have seen in years. It is unfathombly offensive, boring, unfunny and terrible in every way possible. I didn't head into it thinking it was go...

Review: Ratchet & Clank

Apr 28 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220548:42938:0[/embed] Ratchet & ClankDirectors: Jericca Cleland and Kevin Munroe Rated: PGRelease Date: April 29, 2016 There's nothing really wrong with Ratchet & Clank. It's a perfectly standard set up that pulls from all your other favorite science-fiction classics. Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor) is a Lombax mechanic on a remote desert planet who dreams of being like his hero, Captain Qwark (Jim Ward), but when tryouts for Qwark's team of heroes roll around he's laughed out of the building by the man himself. Luckily for him Clank (David Kaye) has just escaped from the evil Chairman Drek (Paul Giamatti) and Dr. Nefarious (Armin Shimerman), who have a dastardly plan to blow up some planets and make a new one. Due to a crash landing Clank meets Ratchet, the two become friends and adventure ensues all culminating in that oh-so traditional children's film lesson that you can be whatever you want with the support of friends and a wide array of weaponry. There is not really much more to it. You can insert almost every standard joke you've come to expect from tongue-in-cheek children's films and then add a few references to the game. They actually really under utilize the latter. For a game that's known for its funky and fun weapons the movie barely plays around with them. There is the expected montage of weapon use, but from there on out most of the action could rely on the basic blaster. Maybe that's a super meta commentary the directors had about the game's gameplay, but I seriously doubt it. That's not the only opportunity missed. One of the mainstays of the games (or the first two at least) was the great dynamic between the excitable Ratchet and the reserved Clank. The film barely touches this. We have to be introduced to the characters separately, of course, but once they're together the action keeps tearing them apart. Their dynamic is sidelined in favor of more Captain Qwark and the Galactic Rangers. This isn't all bad as Qwark has some of the funniest lines, but you still feel like the movie is more about Ratchet on his own than his friendship with Clank.  However, judging a movie for what it is not, especially a children's movie, is a bit unfair. Ratchet & Clank does move along at a perfectly good clip and the plot holes are all within acceptable range for the target audience. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the sight gags, which kids will most likely love, and the screenplay puts in enough jokes to keep any parent relatively entertained even if you've heard almost every one before. This isn't a movie that's out to top Pixar, but it will stand with your more basic Dreamworks animations any day.  The animation itself is good too, though nothing stellar. Having just come off the revolutionary The Jungle Book my eye might be a bit jaded, but just as there's nothing that will wow you in terms of animation there's also nothing that's going to put you off. It's just middle of the road throughout as with the rest of the film.  That goes for the voice acting as well, which was very clearly taken more seriously by some. The filmmakers brought in the game's voices for Ratchet, Clank and Captain Qwark and it shows. The actors' performances stand out among phoned in turns from the "name" actors, especially John Goodman who sounds like he wasn't quite sure what movie he was reading for the entire time. Thankfully those roles are smaller in scale and never bad enough to break the film, just to keep it at its constant level of acceptability.  No one was really expecting stellar things out of Ratchet & Clank and if you go in with that mindset you're going to come out having definitely seen a movie that fit it. I can't see hardcore fans of the franchise coming out of the film upset in any way because the movie is so inoffensive. I can't see anyone really coming out of the theater too excited except for a five-year-old wanting a pet lombax... and then having his dreams crushed when he finds out they don't exist.
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Clanking along
Ratchet & Clank is the epitome of a film that doesn't do anything wrong, but that doesn't make it right. I suppose I should start by saying that I have not kept up with the games this movie is based on. I played the ...


Review: The Family Fang

Apr 28 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220426:42899:0[/embed] The Family FangDirector: Jason BatemanRating: RRelease Date: April 29, 2016 (limited); May 6, 2016 (wide, VOD) Caleb and Camille Fang are a pair of performance artists who used their two children to stage happenings around town. In the opening scene, the Fangs enter a bank, stage a lollipop robbery, and then have a shootout. The fake blood is sweet. It's an absurd flashback as seen through an Instagram filter, but it offers and idea of the Fang family's artistic MO, which is the MO of most performance art: to disrupt the regular flow of life, to make others pay attention, to cause a scene, which itself is a singular artistic act. Decades later, Annie Fang (Nicole Kidman) is a dysfunctional actress while her brother Buster (Jason Bateman, who also directed the film) is a dysfunctional writer. He suffers a potato gun injury while out on assignment, which makes the dysfunctional Fang parents (Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett) offer to drive their son home. The children want to live their adult lives, the parents want to force their children to make disruptive art. Dysfunction ensues. After a nasty fight, Caleb and Camille leave their children. Their car is found on the side of the road with evidence of a violent abduction, which leaves Annie and Buster wondering if this is just another art-prank of if their parents are really in danger. There's so much possibility with set-up and the cast, so perhaps the ultimate disappointment is that The Family Fang feels so toothless. I haven't read the Kevin Wilson's acclaimed novel the film is based on, but I suspect there's something lost between text and screen. Every now and then, Bateman cuts to a documentary about the Fang parents and the art they created. They're important cult figures in the art world (think Chris Burden and Marina Abramovic), yet they've failed to create anything meaningful since their children left home. What's more, their art has an ugly domineering aspect to it, and they're oblivious to the ways they've hurt their children in selfish pursuit of their own interests. Art has consequences, and I sense that kind of conversation is easier to explore in text rather than on film. Debate can be carried on in every line and with periodic asides, yet in the film version of The Family Fang, that idea seems to be explored only out of obligation to the theme rather than full interest. There's also a tidiness to The Family Fang that's disappointingly pat. This is a story about people who are hurt and who hurt others because of it (themselves, most often), yet David Lindsay-Abaire's screenplay keeps the edges of the characters clean rather than jagged and more complicated. The mystery element is compelling enough to follow the story to its end, but the film never fully inhabits moments that should be more painful and honest. Consequently there's no catharsis or emotional release even though there are gestures made at both. If unhappy families are supposed to be unhappy in their own way, it's because of how richly the characters are rendered. In The Family Fang, I still felt like these were character types in a dysfunctional family movie rather than actual people dealing with a dysfunctional upbringing. The Fang MO is to make others wake up, yet the Fangs themselves emotionally sleepwalk through this trying time in their lives. Which is a shame since Kidman seems engaged yet relaxed in her character, enough that her accent occasionally slips--I can accept that as an Annie Fang artistic affectation. Walken is also good as Caleb Fang, though he never gets a chance to really let go. Ditto Plunkett, who's underused Camille Fang hints at a much deeper internal life than what shows up on screen. The same is true of Buster, the deadpan screw-up writer (all screw-up writers are alike, by the way). You sense that the Fang family members are each on the verge of some breakthrough, but, like the film, it never comes in a satisfying way.
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The aesthetics of family dysfunction
All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way... well, unless you're an unhappy family in a movie, in which case you're pretty much alike. Distant/absent parents. A dictatorial patriarch. A stran...

Tribeca Review: Rebirth

Apr 26 // Nick Valdez
RebirthDirector: Karl MuellerRating: NRRelease Date: April 17, 2016 (limited) Rebirth stars Fran Kranz as Kyle, a husband and father who's lives a well off life. But he's been a bit unfulfilled lately as his college dreams have been pushed aside in favor of his family and a boring desk job. When his old college buddy Zack (Adam Goldberg) invites him to a retreat for a weekend, and won't stop talking about how great this "Rebirth" seminar is, Kyle decides to go for it. But Kyle soon realizes that "Rebirth" might be a more twisted program then they initially let on. Despite their mantra of "You're free to leave whenever you want" escaping the seminar proves tough.  Rebirth is a Netflix Original production and the choices within reflect that. It's full of these quirky little details that releasing on streaming services would help it get away with. The film is open to to risks and, more often than not, those risks pay off. Unfortunately, the entertainment is too reliant on those little quirks to succeed. The film is fairly predictable and you can pretty much guess how it's going to get from point A to B, and because of this, the little detours every now and again are that much more interesting. They're often non-sequiturs, so as to not derail the main plot, so these little jokes feel more refreshing. For example, Kyle ends going through several different types of seminar rooms during his escape attempt. Each room has its own theme with the ultimate goal of keeping Kyle around, so the film spends time with each room and plays around with how they'd try and brainwash Kyle. Each of these moments are inconsequential, but fun.  These little touches may not be needed, but they help elevate the rest of the film. It's dark blend of humor and chills turns out to be the perfect take on its premise. And its loose structure of stumbling on room after room, along with Kranz's key performance, amplifies the plot's inherent frustration. You'll start feeling frustration as Kyle continues to fail and seeing how goofy some of the rooms and Rebirth's denizens are will only make you angrier. So while they're inconsequential to the plot, it helps the film's overall vibe and tension. What also helps is just how game everyone is with the film. Each actor turns in a kooky performance as the know exactly what kind of film Rebirth wants to be.  I love Adam Goldberg, and it's always a pleasure to see him pop up in a project. He's slightly underutilized here, but seeing as he steals every scene he's in that's probably best. Fran Kranz does a great job leading the film along, however. His neurotic, terrified performance gives the premise the credibility and weight it needs even when the seminar doesn't seem as dangerous as he's perceiving it to be. Rebirth is also shot in an interesting way with long periods of stillness coupled with short bursts of following Kyle through the dingy house the seminar is in. We're effectively put into Kyle's shoes and when the film truly goes off the rails, we're along for the ride.  Rebirth isn't a bad film at all, but it's not necessarily great either. But it's got such a well crafted personality and it doesn't take itself too seriously. It's a fun little romp that doesn't overstay its welcome. You won't exactly feel a rebirth afterwards, but you won't die either. 
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Cult of personality
Festivals are a great time to try out films you would never consider in your personal time. Like a Netflix queue, the options are endless and each film only has a short premise and cast listing to get our attention. Since m...

Tribeca Review: Nerdland

Apr 25 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220434:42928:0[/embed] NerdlandDirector: Chris PrynoskiRating: NRRelease Date: April 14, 2016 (limited) At the heart of Nerdland is veritable slacker stereotypes, Elliot (Patton Oswalt), an aspiring screenwriter who'd rather spend his days masturbating than write, and John (Paul Rudd), a film blogger who dreams of pursuing an acting career. When the two of them lose their jobs, they decide they've had enough with failure and venture on a last ditch effort to get their work recognized. The two slackers are willing to literally throw their lives away blindly hunting for fame and they'll do whatever to whoever to get what they want.  Nerdland has a strong core concept. Initially setting out to be a parodic take on the new wave of entitlement that's come from the digital age and increased publicity for the 'nerd' archetype, the film shines an ugly light on an ugly subset. This take works for a while as every aspect of the film contributes to this ugliness. The grungy art style and gross out humor establish an icky setting, Oswalt and Rudd adopt darker tones for their voice acting (but Rudd borders on being completely absent), and every character is a vapid shell of some kind. The style is a grand pastiche of the Hollywood/Tinseltown thought era, but all of that goes out the window the second a character speaks. Clearly the film's style and writing weren't developed jointly. There's definitely a better, or even good film lying underneath all of the garbage but it's being crushed.  Nerdland is trying its best to be a quirky dark comedy, but it reaches so far it becomes unintelligible. For one, there's no cemented plot. It's just a set of disjointed scenes with plot points capable of carrying several movies. The main story arc is intended to highlight how far Elliot and John fall, but even that arc is sullied by how nonsensical the plot seems. The character decisions are no longer informed by desperation but by how twisted the plot needs them to be at any given moment. Rather than a sign of devolution, their growth lacks fluidity and always breaks the flow of whatever plot Nerdland wants to cook up at the time. In a weird way, it's like the film realizes its own faults and resorts to just throwing whatever idea they have at a dartboard and hope one of those ideas leaves a lasting impact.  Treating your film with reckless abandon may be worth some credit, but it's absolutely worthless to the viewer. When the film literally becomes a veritable orgy of bad ideas, it's debilitating. There's a scene in Nerdland, about an hour in, so devoid of thought or even dark humor it sapped all good will I had. Since there's no natural progression of character or plot, the scene sticks out so much it's almost as if they created an entire film just to show two minutes of pure inanity. Don't get me wrong, it's not the concept I have a problem with it's the execution. There's an difference between mining a dark subject for humor (and the original thought behind it seems to be exaggerating violence in animation would merit a laugh) in a mature way and focusing on the most juvenile, low hanging fruit of a subject.  I'm not sure where Nerdland went so wrong. It's such a complicated mess of a film, so juvenile, so low reaching that it sets back adult animation for several years. You know, it's not even egregious enough to be offensive. It just kind of happens to you whether you like or not. It's so boring, so paper thin, that Nerdland is offensive to the very people who made it. It'd be a blight on everyone's career if it weren't guaranteed forgotten a few days after its release.  At least Hannibal Buress is good in it. Love that guy. 
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Nerds don't rule after all
Nerdland was the first film to stand out to me when I first signed on to cover the Tribeca Film Festival this year. Everything about it appealed to me. It's the first full length feature from Titmouse, an animated company mos...

Tribeca Review: High-Rise

Apr 25 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220425:42900:0[/embed] High-RiseDirector: Ben WheatleyRating: RRelease Date: March 18, 2016 (UK); May 13, 2016 (USA)Country: UK Laing (Tom Hiddleston) is a brain surgeon who's taken a flat in a new luxury high rise. In the apartment above there's Charlotte (Sienna Miller), a flirty socialite who makes eyes with the good doctor as he sunbathes nude on his balcony. Building designer Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) lives in the penthouse, where his wife rides white horses on the rooftop garden and he looks down on his grand social experiment: all the comforts one could need, a hermetic society. And yet the parties and the supermarket and the pool access is never enough to keep people compliant. They isolate themselves, they become tribal. The opening of the film, which looks downright post-apocalyptic, shows how far the high rise life has decayed. Laing scavenges the dumpsite foyer of his building for food, dressed in the tatters of a business suit. He's gone from doctor to concrete pirate. There's no food, but thank goodness for stray dogs. Like the upper-middle-class residents of the skyscraper, I'm not sure director Ben Wheatley and writer Amy Jump get what they want out of High-Rise; the same may go for the audience. Adapted from the J.G. Ballard novel of the same name, it's a sordid and decadent movie about people going native in their own crowded living quarters, but it's even looser and sloppier than that. As society crumbles, the narrative structure of the film breaks down as well. The last half of the movie eschews traditional narrative and tells the rest of the building's decay in a series of loud vignettes and montages. I can pinpoint the exact moment midway through High-Rise where I lost a lot of my patience. Before a raging bastard of a man named Richard Wilder (Luke Evans) goes on a dominating rampage, he tapes his own voice in a cassette recorder. He repeats "I am Richard Wilder!" On the one hand, I get it (Wild, yes, and you're wilder than others, like this is the wild, okay), but on the other hand I rolled my eyes because I couldn't have not gotten it already (yeah, Dick wilder, I noticed). The scene that follows it is ugly and uncomfortable; obviously by design, and yet. High-Rise isn't bad so much as it's convoluted in its execution and maybe wishy-washy with its cultural critique. There's something Gilliam-esque about some of the scenes. The aristocratic party in 18th century garb is a nice bit of upper class affectation, and ditto the block party out in the hall. Similarly, the growing squalor of the building looks like something out of Brazil combined with a third-world landfill. The lights flicker out periodically, and nothing quite works the way it should in this place, and yet one carries on. Laing is no Sam Lowry from Brazil, however. Like some of the characters in High-Rise, Laing is passive and content to sit back as the world around him devolves and crumbles, which sort of squanders Hiddleston's natural charisma. He exists as a metaphor, a symbol, not a person. Meanwhile, others act or are acted upon; most of them also metaphors or symbols rather than people. It's the difference between facades and actual domiciles. There's a clinical lens about High-Rise, which makes sense since the breakdown is about observing the devaluation of others. It's like watching a crowded cage full of rats who are bound, at some point, to destroy each other just given the crowding and the lack of resources. And yet it's not quite like that since our ability to observe this cannibalization is interrupted. The sense of cause-and-effect is broken up, it feels like there's something missing. The vignettes that comprise the final half of High-Rise become frustrating since we're rarely offered a chance to explore the emerging tribes of the building. Here are tribal cultures and subcultures organizing themselves inside of a multi-tiered concrete petri dish (e.g., a matriarchal society of women and orphaned children), and we barely get an opportunity to observe their method of survival. MILD SPOILERS ABOUT THE FINAL SCENE The final words of the film don't belong to any of the characters we've spent time with. Instead it's the voice of Margaret Thatcher extolling the virtues of capitalism. Nevermind that there's little in the movie about capitalism per se. Maybe this is Thatcher suggesting capitalism as a solution to the egalitarian nightmare whose failure we just watched? And given our place in time, maybe the state of nature isn't quite as bad as the current state of government-approved inequality. High-Rise is a work of interesting and extreme architecture, but I'm still not sure what to make of its design.
Review: High Rise photo
Going native in a concrete jungle
High-Rise is a bit all over the place, and it's a bit of a mess, but it also seems to be that way by design--a sort of warped architecture. I'd gone in sort of expecting a vertical version of Bong Joon-Ho's Snowpiercer, but i...

Review: Green Room

Apr 25 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220533:42929:0[/embed] Green RoomDirector: Jeremy SaulnierRating: RRelease Date: April 22 and 29, 2016  At the center of Green Room is small town punk band The Ain't Rights, four kids Sam, Pat, Reece, and Tiger (Alia Shawkat, Anton Yelchin, Joe Cole and Callum Turner respectively). Everything goes awry during a performance at a Neo-Nazi den when they suddenly witness a murder and now they've got a veritable army of Nazis and their leader Darcy (Patrick Stewart) hunting them. Deciding to hole themselves up in the venue's green room, The Ain't Rights and their new ally, the mysterious Amber (Imogen Poots), try to survive the terrifying night to come.  To put it bluntly, at its core, Green Room is a film you've seen before. With its premise, it's easy to make comparisons to home invasions films or anything where it's one against many (Assault on Precinct 13 or even Die Hard come to mind), but that's where all of the similarities and predictability ends. Green Room takes the time to build an entire world around its tiny setting and it's all the more effective because of it. The film feels lived in, and it's almost as if we're jumping into a point of these kids' lives. The Ain't Rights themselves have a wonderful chemistry. An almost effortless gelling informs their life long friendship and I bought into it immediately. The four are given enough time as their characters to get comfortable and let each actor imbue themselves with little quirks and touches. In fact, some of the film's finest moments are early on when we're just getting to know the band. Because of the attention to the build up, it's all the more devastating when things come down around them.  I don't feel like I can stress this enough. Green Room is entirely unpredictable. The initial transition from humor to horror is seamless. Because of the care put into the characters, the audience essentially ends up in the confined space with them. The emotional stakes rise almost instantly and there's nary a bump in the production. It's like an emotional punch to gut, and that's before any violence takes place. Anton Yelchin and Patrick Stewart own these scenes in particular when the two of them speak on opposite ends of a door. Yelchin is constantly on the verge of tears (thus making us closer to him on a whole) while Stewart's eerily calm demeanor hides sinister motives. And just when you think you've got the film figured out, it changes tone completely. With controlled spontaneity through violence, Green Room continuously raises its stakes and never once feels overbearing in its tension.  The entire film's production is lined with a chilling vibe. From its metal and punk heavy soundtrack, its lighting (making sure everything is just dark enough to be unnerving while still making sure everything is visible and digestible), there's a special sense of dread permeating throughout and it's naturalistic. The crafted tone grounds its characters and setting begetting fear from a human place. Darcy's frightening introduction and speeches juxtapose Stewart's unassuming demeanor. It's kind of like how Breaking Bad slowly transformed Bryan Cranston's Walter White into Heisenberg over six seasons instead crammed into less than 90 minutes. Sometimes it doesn't work completely, but it's still utterly effective and damning. Thanks to the cast playing off of each other in such a tight space (and a stellar performance from everyone involved), it's an emotional thriller rather than a physical one. There are certainly visceral payoffs (and they're increasingly shocking in their brutality), but if you don't enjoy the film's emotional stakes then you won't connect as much overall.  Before seeing Green Room you need to know what you're getting yourself into. It's a nail biting thriller for sure, but if you're expecting some sort of all out knuckle brawl you'll be severely disappointed. This film is a thriller horror film in the traditional sense, so there's very little "action." When it does finally resort to such measures, Green Room excels. It's satisfying in such a weird, weird way.  And that's Green Room in a nutshell. It's disarming, gruesome, macabre, hilarious, cartoonish, will make you squirm, but it's a fun experience through and through. I'm going to remember this one for a while.
Green Room Review photo
Spontaneously brutal
Over the last few years, A24 has quickly become my favorite production studio. They've overseen everything from huge award winners like Room, Amy, and Ex Machina, critical darlings such as Spring Breakers and The End of the T...

Apocalypse Trailer photo
This is the best trailer yet
If you were somehow not convinced to see X-Men: Apocalypse, you sure will be after the final trailer for it. We get a little more footage than we have in the past, some cool looking fight scenes, a little bit of information f...

Tribeca Capsule Review: Abortion: Stories Women Tell

Apr 24 // Nick Valdez
Abortion: Stories Women TellDirector: Tracy Droz TragosRating: NRRelease Date: April 18, 2016 (limited) Abortion: Stories Women Tell is eye opening. I'm not going to sit here and pretend I knew everything about the subject, so some of the film's perspectives are heartbreaking. Stories follows two women for the most part: one who's about to undergo the procedure because she doesn't want another child (and has way too many responsibilities already) and one who's protesting the procedure because of religious beliefs. The doc takes care to normalizing the subject just in case you were squeamish to any part of the process. It's treated as just another part of life, another facet of heatlhcare, and regardless of your personal feelings the subject is standing on neutral ground. Sure there are some digs into either side in the way it's being filmed, but those are viewpoints the audience has to infer for themselves. It's great the final product is basically the open start to a conversation, presenting as many arguments as possible.  While this make the documentary sound weaker overall, it's true purpose is to inform rather than to judge. It's astounding to see how many viewpoints are represented here. Reflecting how wide open the subject is, and how many opposing views of it there are, Stories cast a wide net and talks to women of various ages, races, and creeds. And while Stories may follow one or two particular women for the majority, the audience is just witness to a particular moment of their lives. We're given a brief look into who these women are, but never enough to form attachment. Stories never loses sight of its subject for an instant, and that makes it all the more powerful. It's handled so well, in fact, I'm left wondering why it's regulated as much as it is now. But given the opposition opposes it so strongly, it's easy to see why. But as I mentioned before, the judgment is entirely ours to make as a viewer. This doc just wants to make sure you know what's going on.  Abortion: Stories Women Tell was the strongest documentary I'd seen at Tribeca. A strong, fair, and ultimately open ended film that captures a pocket of the frustration surrounding the issue. For letting me in on a fraction of what the women presented are feeling, this documentary has done a lot more for the issue than anything has done in the past.  To anyone unknowledgeable about abortion or the debate surrounding, you owe it yourselves to watch and listen to Abortion: Stories Women Tell. 
Stories Capsule Review photo

Although it's been technically legal ever since the famous Roe v. Wade legal battle in the 60s and 70s, states across America still do as much as they can to limit healthcare, and by extension abortion, to the nation's women....

Tribeca Review: Holidays

Apr 23 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220526:42927:0[/embed] HolidaysDirectors: Anthony Scott Burns, Kevin Kolsch, Sarah Adina Smith, Kevin Smith, Nicholas McCarthy, Adam Egypt Mortimer, Gary Shore, Scott Stewart, Dennis WidmyerRating: RRelease Date: April 15, 2016 (limited) As its title suggests, Holidays is an anthology all based around holiday horrors. Each short is around 12-15 minutes long, with the director and holiday revealed after. There are eight shorts in total, all set in chronological horror: Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day. Easter, Father's Day, Mother's Day, Halloween, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Each short pretty much ends in the way you'd expect a short horror story to, so it's all in the journey rather than the destination. Despite what I'm about to say in the next few paragraphs, I can't ever say Holidays is bland. The film overall is a slick production with each short looking completely different from what came before or after. Each director has their own style, and while some may have better camerawork than others (St. Patrick's Day is the standout in this case), there's a care into getting the horror tone just right.  Out of the eight films, I especially enjoyed Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, and Father's Day. Valentine's Day is the most straightforward story, but revels in 80s synth storytelling (likening it to other big recent throwbacks like The Guest) coupled with dream-like lighting and a kickass electropop soundtrack. Father's Day is strong and silent with very little dialogue from its main character (ably played by Jocelin Donahue) and is the creepiest film in the entire package. It's also the one I'd argue is closest to actually being "horror" rather than the twisted joke the rest of the shorts play with. On a smaller note, Mother's Day is much stronger given it's paired with this testosterone laced (and somber) short. But the best overall is most definitely St. Patrick's Day. It's got the best camera work, quick edits do a lot with the little time it has, Ruth Bradley steals the show, and its twist ending is the most effective given how absurd and cartoonish it gets. It's just a shame Holidays never quite reaches this peak again.  Since it's all in chronological order, there's no narrative cohesiveness. Other than lucking out with Father's/Mother's Day, the shorts never feel like they're in the same package. With very little narrative buffer in between each short (explaining why we're seeing these eight shorts for example), it's disjointed. Some shorts have a humorous ending, some end on a jump scare, but regardless it's all less effective since nothing really lingers. Since there's no narrative flow between each short, they become all about the formula. Nothing but build-up until a pop at the end of the short. And when you've come to expect the same kind of ending halfway in, the last four segments lose all their pizazz. This is not at all helped by the final four's weaknesses, either.  For example, Kevin Smith's Halloween segment is the most, uh, "divisive." It's the most obscene of the shorts and its tone is unlike any other. But it's entirely reliant on your personal tastes to succeed. It's a revenge short that has to instantly reach for the most extreme circumstances due to its length, and since it's not entirely earned, your enjoyment of it varies on whether or not you like seeing the guy from Epic Meal Time have a sex toy forced up his rear. And because of the film's chronological order, Holidays just comes to an unsatisfying end. It can't end with its best film (and furthered hindered by having the best shorts come first), and it gives New Year's Day too much responsibility. It isn't as bad of a short as Easter or Halloween, but it's clearly not a short designed to bring a fulfilling resolution.  Like other horror anthologies before, Holidays stumbles more often than not. That's just the nature of setups like these, and while the overall film is visually captivating it just doesn't keep the same level of tension or entertainment throughout. Maybe if it were organized into a more cohesive package, the less successful films wouldn't have seemed as bad.  But as it stands, you don't have to go home for the holidays. 
Holidays Tribeca Review photo
"Like a squeaky violin"
Horror anthologies are all the rage now. Get a couple of creatives together, pick a theme, and they're allowed to explore one of the smaller ideas they have in their heads. At best, you're in for a good time overall, at worst...

Tribeca Review: A Kind of Murder

Apr 22 // Nick Valdez
A Kind of MurderDirector: Andy GoddardRating: RRelease Date: April 17, 2016 (limited) Based on The Blunderer by Patricia Highsmith, A Kind of Murder follows Walter Stackhouse (Patrick Wilson), an architect who has everything you'd expect from someone living the high life in the 60s: his short mystery writing hobby has landed him in magazines, a beautiful wife Clara (Jessica Biel), a fancy home, money, and as many cigarettes as he could smoke. But almost instantly, the veneer of his life starts to unravel. His wife has mental health issues, their marriage is falling apart, he begins sleeping with the mysterious singer Ellie (Haley Bennett), and his tendency to follow murder stories in the paper catches up with him. When his wife suddenly dies, and the scene of her murder looks eerily close to the murder of the local bookshop owner Kimill (Eddie Marsan)'s wife, Stackhouse has to clear his name and move on with his life.  Murder does everything in its power to define its 60s setting and tone. Paying respect to its pulp-mystery origins, there is a heavy use of shadow and angular shots. Bouts of silence coupled with deep reds help sink you into the film's deep tone. Sets are well lit enough to see what's going on, while still being blacked out enough to leave you a little bit confused. Unfortunately, the score doesn't help or detract from the film so Murder is left with only its visuals to accomplish its goals. It's just a shame that once everyone starts talking, everything else falls apart. It's almost impossible to keep a consistent tone when some actor's performances are anachronistic and some are pulpy to a fault.  As examples of both extremes, Jessica Biel's Clara and Lucas Bentley's Detective Jackson are overwritten and overacted. Each time they're on screen. the energy from the scene is completely drained. Biel seems to be trying her best, but she can't get a grip on Clara's character. It doesn't help that the script doesn't seem to know what's wrong with Clara either. There's some sort of hint at a mental health issue, and while that's a strong characterization for a pulp mystery story (but out of place and time, for sure), we're stuck seeing it through Stackhouse's misogynystic POV. He's a terrible person, and it's reflected in how the story's told. We never quite get the full mystery or figure out why characters make certain decisions because we're stuck watching Stackhouse make his own baffling choices. For one, he's constantly lying to everyone. Namely, Bentley's terrible Detective whos' characterization is so rooted in the setting, he's sticks out like a cartoon.  The most important thing for a mystery is not its setting or tone, it's the integrity of the mystery itself. Whether you're focusing on a crime or the mystery of a character's personality, there needs to be a solid foundation for everything else to succeed. Unfortunately, Murder never quite figures out what kind of story it wants to tell. There's a secondary plot revolving Kimill and the murder of his wife, but Eddie Marsan doesn't add necessary layers to his performance to keep his story interesting. He's consistently sinister throughout and when a plot point is revealed later on, it didn't come as much of a surprise. He's effectively taking the air of mystery out of the mystery. And when the performances don't help, the holes in the story stick out that much more. We're left without so much crucial information seemingly happening off screen so there's no real way to connect and stick with the Murder.  At first it seemed like A Kind of Murder had all the pieces for success, but it gets so caught up in capturing the essence of its source material that it forgets to make everything else as engaging. A floundering mystery spawning waves upon waves of disconnect, it's few good elements are completely snuffed by its poor organization. 
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A kind of mess
Patrick Wilson just can't catch a break. No matter how hard he tries, he has yet to break through into credible leading man territory. He's been wading in the shallow ends of roles landing somewhere between genre film and B m...

Review: The Huntsman: Winter's War

Apr 22 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220532:42925:0[/embed] The Huntsman: Winter's WarDirector: Cedric Nicolas-TroyanRating: PG-13Release Date: April 22, 2016 As its title suggests, The Huntsman: Winter's War shifts its main focus to its titular huntsman, Eric (Chris Hemsworth). Before the events of the first film, the Evil Queen Raveena (Charlize Theron) had a younger sister named Freya (Emily Blunt). After the death of her daughter, Freya gains ice powers and goes off to form her own kingdom (complete with a ban on love), kidnapping children and training them as huntsman along the way. Eric ends up falling in love with another huntsman, Sara (Jessica Chastain), but Freya puts a stop to that. Then seven years later (and after the events of the first film), Freya vows to get Raveena's magic mirror and take over Snow White's kingdom.  Just as with the first film, Winter's War oozes with style. While some of its visuals borrow heavily from other fantasy worlds (such as the design of the huntsman themselves), costume design is still top notch. Capitalizing on one of the better aspects of the first film, Raveena and Freya's outfits are outlandish and gaudy in the best way. And although it results in less gaudy but fabulous dresses, the set design has also received an upgrade. Scene settings are more varied and feel more inspired, such as the jungle look of the goblin's den (and the gold chained gorilla goblins), but there's a definite lack of budget that knocks the film's overall presentation down a peg. The film's CG isn't always seamless, but the film tries its best to make sure at least the central women look good. At least Winter's War succeeds in that regard. Because their looks are perfected, Theron and Blunt are free to chew the scenery as they see fit.  And boy does Charlize Theron run the show. It's just a shame that the film keeps her separated from Blunt for the majority of it. The scenes where she's allowed to cheesily tear into Blunt's Freya turns Winter's War into a fantasy version of Dynasty as the two actresses try to out soap opera each other. It's the only time Blunt seems bothered enough to try, and her scenes with Theron clearly make Blunt's performance ring hollow the rest of the time. At least Chris Hemsworth get more to do this time around. The first film was before his breakout in The Avengers, and now he's got this affable personality which helps ease some of Winter's War's more troublesome attempts at humor and personality. But while mostly everyone involved is having a good time, no one really seems to care about what they're saying. It's halfhearted throughout.  Winter's War is further crippled by its poor storytelling. When it succeeds it can be funny, or even compelling, but thanks to its need to clutch to the first film rather than reset everything, the film makes no damn sense for the first thirty minutes or so. Thanks to a weird flashback story then a time jump seven years into the future, everything is rushed. We're never given the time to invest in Eric and Sara's relationship because all we get between the two is a few make out sessions (that linger on for a bit too long) before they're separated. It doesn't help that Hemsworth and Chastain are clearly phoning it in. Their scenes together seem to take the longest, and their faux scottish accents are so heavy, they're almost parodic. These scenes make you wonder when Theron's going to show up again. Given that she's really only in the film for about 20 minutes, the wait seems even longer. Give up the ghost already and give us a full Charlize Theron ham sandwich, Universal.  The Huntsman: Winter's War is a piecemeal fantasy that's just other fairy tales duct taped together into a two hour project. There's clearly an underlying effort being drowned by everyone's apathy (there's not even an effort to keep background skeletons from looking like they were bought in one of those pop up Halloween shops), and Winter's War barely cares it exists. It just does.  Going in I was hoping Universal re-examined the Huntsman series and kept what worked and threw out what didn't. But it did the complete opposite. The Huntsman: Winter's War is less of what we want, and more nonsense we don't need. 
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What is it good for? Absolutely nothing
Despite Kristen Stewart and director Rupert Saunders being pulled from the series after allegations of an affair, bumping up visual effects supervisor Cedric Nicolas-Troyan to debut as director, and the first film gettin...

Tribeca Capsule Review: Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four

Apr 21 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220511:42918:0[/embed] Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio FourDirector: Deborah EsquenaziRating: NRRelease Date: April 20, 2016 (limited) In 1994, four women, Anna Vasquez, Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, and Kristie Mayhugh, were charged with the sexual assault of two underage girls, Elizabeth's nieces. And thus began a weird trial where the four defendants had to deal with a litany of accusations all stemming from their sexuality. With accusations ranging from the deplorable to the highly nonsensical (such as suggesting the crime committed was some sort of satanistic ritual), the four women just want to clear their names and be freed from the system that condemned their lifestyles. Thanks to the seemingly never ending nature of the trial, the four women are still contesting their convictions to this day and with the latest development happening only two months prior to the film's release. Unfortunately, with that big of a period to cover, Southwest of Salem fails to catch everything. As the case is constantly developing, we never quite get the full picture of it. Instead the film feels like an attempt at advocacy rather than a full fledged documentary. We're only told one side of the case, and it's clear what the filmmaker believes. But we're not given enough information to make a decision ourselves, and are instead told to believe what director Esquenazi believes. In the same breath, Southwest excels at telling that single side.  Since we're not given enough information on the case (Neither members of the prosecution nor expert testimony on the "bogus science" scrutinzed later on in the case were interviewed), director Esquenazi chooses to anchor the documentary with emotion. Following the four women on different stages of their incarceration and later release, Southwest benefits from having credible and highly personal footage for each of the women. Opting to capture a slice of each woman (namely Anna Vasquez, who's become the "face" of the four)'s life, the film creates a connection between the audience and subjects. Some of the footage is incredibly heartbreaking as the film manages to capture integral moments like their initial release from prison or home movies depicting the women's final moments of freedom. Southwest of Salem makes sure you care about the San Antonio Four. As the film's main goal is awareness, most of the film is dedicated to moments like these. And because of that laser focus, the film's emotion and heartache feels earned rather than manipulative.  Regardless of how you feel about the technical flaws of this documentary, Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four is a heartbreaking look into a little discussed case. Some of the developments are baffling. You'll feel rage, sadness, and hopelessness, and you'll still only feel a fraction of what these four women are going through. But for even capturing even a fraction of that feeling, Southwest of Salem is powerful, flaws and all. 
Salem Tribeca Review photo
Devastating
Growing up in San Antonio you witness a lot of things like gang violence, racial and class divides, and the occasional public drunkeness, but twenty two years ago something happened in my small town that changed it forever. I...

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Not that magnificent
When you're discussing The Magnificent Seven you're discussing some serious pedigree. The movies it is based on are two of the greatest of the genres (samurai and western) so remaking it is a daunting task. I thought tha...

Review: The Jungle Book

Apr 15 // Matthew Razak
The Jungle BookDirector: Jon FavreauRated: PGRelease Date: April 15, 2016 [embed]220509:42914:0[/embed] As a property it's hard to believe that one could bring something new to The Jungle Book. Mogli's (Neel Sethi) story has been told so many times in so many different ways that retelling it again seems a bit redundant. This seems especially true since this version is part of Disney's ongoing effort to remake or reimagine their animated classics as live action films (see: Cinderella or Maleficent). Yet despite the fact that this new version of The Jungle Book once again finds Mogli raised by a pack of wolves and the panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), hunted by the villainous tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) and eventually hanging out with the laid back bear Baloo (Bill Murray), it feels dramatically different from previous tellings of the story. The plot may be mostly the same as Disney's animated classic, but striking visuals and Favreau's surprisingly fluid direction make it an entirely new experience. Those visuals, though. You will spend half this movie wondering what is real and what isn't while marveling at the individual hairs on Baloo's back or how Baheera moves perfectly or how the fat on King Louie (Christopher Walken) is disturbingly realistic. If ever a film has crossed the uncanncy valley it is The Jungle Book. Yes, there are still some parts that get stuck in the low end of that valley, but overall it is a visual masterpiece. The most impressive part is that they did it all while featuring talking animals in situations that are sometimes entirely human. Everything feels real and yet is somehow full of the magic and wonder that more traditional animation brings. It is this combination of reality and magic that make The Jungle Book work so well. Hats off to Favreau for being able to pull this movie together. His direction is often striking and far more than you'd expect from a traditional children's film. Some shots seem to be pulled from an art house independent while others are pitch-perfect horror moments (still suitable for children). Most impressive though is the fluid way he moves Mogli and company through the jungle. Taking advantage of his almost entirely digital setting, Favreau stitches together fluid shots that make you feel like you're there. It helps that the IMAX 3D is simply breathtaking on the big screen and that digital animation always looks better in that setting. Though Favreau may miss a few beats here and there, they're mostly because he's playing towards a crowd of children who expect certain things from their movies.  The only truly inconsistent thing about the movie is Sethi, who, in all fairness, had an incredibly daunting task before him since he's the only actual person in the entire film. It's clear that he became more comfortable with that fact as shooting went on as his performance varies from absolutely stellar (banging out a rendition of "The Bear Necessities") to horribly awkward (being hypnotized by the snake Kaa, played by an utterly wasted Scarlet Johansson). Still, he performs admirably overall, and it's his animal counterparts who steal the show anyway. Murray's Baloo is both perfect casting and the chance to hear him sing Baloo's classic song would make any movie worth the price of admission. Throw in a rollicking scene with King Louie that has Walken delivering a mafia routine and a chilling rendition of "Be Like You" and it's hard not to be drawn in by the performances not to mention stopping your foot from tapping. Much of their performance can be chalked up to the stellar animation, especially Elba's Shere Khan, who lurks around the screen fearsomely while the actor's silky voice drips with menace.   This is a children's movie overall, however. In the end Disney wants kids to be pretending they're hanging out with Baloo, and the movie plays like that. It's almost a contradiction as they hyper-realism of the film means the darker parts have that much more impact and the scary parts are that much scarier. Often the look and tone of the film don't jive with each other, though that's probably only a complaint an adult would have.  That look is so good, however, that it almost doesn't matter if the tone feels off sometimes. This is a major step forward in what we should come to expect from our CGI, but more importantly to that target audience, it's actually fun. 
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More than the bear necessities
At this point in my jaded film critic life it takes a lot to actually impress me with special effects. We've seen Transformers and giant blue aliens and everything in between on screen by now, and great digital effects are al...

Tribeca: Allumette showcases the game-changing potential of immersive VR storytelling

Apr 14 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220506:42913:0[/embed] Allumette centers on a girl and her mother who sell large, magical matchsticks around town. The world they inhabit is sort of like Venice by way of Hayao Miyazaki and classic Final Fantasy--a city in the clouds with bridges and tiers, and little docks for the airships that course through the sky. Allumette is essentially a 20-minute silent movie, with the characters communicating in hums and sighs, expressing emotions through body language like classic pantomime. "Alfred Hitchcock said that to be good with spectacle you had to be a simplifier," Chung noted. "Painters and writers can be complicators, but when you're working in spectacle (i.e., cinema and now VR) you have to simplify. So you have to take something and strip it down to its core elements." The heart of the story concerns a mother's love for her child and the sacrifices people make, all rendered with simplicity and sincerity. Even if the core of the spectacle is simplified, there's lots of room for the viewer to explore. The very beginning of Allumette seems to invite a look around. As the opening credits appear against a black background, a window lights up as if watching a building across the street. The window dims. Then another window, then another in your peripheral vision, and then windows all around as you turn in a full circle. It's as if you're surrounded by dots of candlelight, each one a window, and you can walk up and peer in a little closer at the shadow puppet story inside of it. I found myself pacing around the virtual set of Allumette. At first I was trying to frame shots of these characters, like I was cinematographer, leaning in for close-ups, bending down for a slightly different angle, even trying to simulate a slow tracking shot. But every now and then I would feel less self-conscious about the HTC Vive on my face. In those moments of total immersion, I was just a bystander in the imaginary city watching a mother and daughter do their thing. Occasionally I'd stray too far to one side--there are edges to this virtual world--and I'd feel a gentle tap on my shoulder from someone nearby just to get me centered again. The mother and daughter's airship is one of the great elements of Allumette, and a source of wonderment as well. It docked in front of me after I'd watched it descend from above. Just through the headphones I heard Jimmy Maidens, lead technical director at Penrose, say that I could look inside. Until Maidens mentioned it, the thought had never occurred to me. The sense of immersion made me feel like there was an actual boundary between this object and me. My mind thought it was physical, real, like a dollhouse, but I could actually peer into it, as simple as dunking my face into a pool of water. The airship interior was a miniature world within this virtual world. It was one of many strange moments of realization, like when I first looked down at the lower level of the setting in Allumette. I expected to see my feet; instead, clouds and sky and a town square. This mix of emotion and technology seems to fit with Chung's own sensibilities. His mother was a CPA, and his father was an opera singer. "I've always had this duality of left-brain/right-brain all throughout my career, which is important for VR," he said. Even before founding Penrose, the duality is evident: Chung attended NYU Film School and Harvard Business School, he worked in production at Pixar and then became a venture capitalist. Allumette is the second project by Penrose Studios. The San Francisco-based startup is just a few months old but has assembled a team of artists, engineers, and storytellers with backgrounds at Oculus, Pixar, and Dreamworks. The company's previous VR piece, The Rose and I, debuted at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and was very well-received. Penrose has other VR projects in the works, though they have yet to announce their slate. They've been experimenting with an interactive component to VR at the moment, though Chung explained it's really a matter of how the interactivity can be used effectively as part of the storytelling experience of a piece. "Presence is that feeling of being someplace else; storytelling is storytelling," he said. He added, "When you're given agency, it changes the way you perceive the story." With the way things are looking, VR might change the world of storytelling.
Allumette VR storytelling photo
An immersive and emotional experience
Watching Allumette is almost like watching a Pixar movie as an immersive theater experience, but even that description seems to sell the film short. It's difficult to describe VR storytelling without using familiar contexts. ...

Doctor Strange Trailer photo
"Teach me."
Since we're finally past all of Marvel's big moves like The Avengers and Captain America: Civil War, we're finally entering Marvel's weirder titles. It's also coincidentally the material I know the least about. All I know abo...

Fantastic Beasts Trailer photo
Colin Farrell is a wizard
We're currently in the midst of a new wave of Harry Potter mania. With its Universal Studios park finally opening, J.K Rowling releasing a written version of the newest stage play (which is book eight for all intents and purp...

Review: Hardcore Henry

Apr 10 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220494:42906:0[/embed] Hardcore HenryDirector: Ilya NaishullerRating: RRelease Date: April 8th, 2016 Cheesy as it is, Hardcore Henry is about you. When "Henry" (the audience) wakes up in a mysterious facility with no memory of how he got there, his wife Estelle (Haley Bennett) explains that he's suffered major disfigurement from an accident and this facility has put him back together using machinery (basically a more violent version of the Six Million Dollar Man). Then some shadow organization chases Henry down for 90 minutes. And all while during this, a mysterious man named Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) and his many faces seems to be the only one who knows what's going on.  While I'd hate to classify the film in such basic terms, comparisons to a videogame narrative are unfortunately apt. Hardcore Henry gleefully revels in juvenile wish fulfillment. You'll sit back and watch Henry mow down waves of spawning enemies (with little to nothing to distinguish between any of them), you'll see him utilize a variety of weapons he apparently loots from dead bodies, and you'll watch as he peers around corridors and fights in hallways. Every trope from first person shooter videogames is represented and, for a while, it's fun to see unfold. Characters make quips, the first person perspective leads to some enlightening action angles, and there's definitely a joy and humor to how grotesque its violence gets as it goes on. But after about fifteen minutes of these action scenes, the premise wears thin and the film turns into a collection of hollow gore shots trying to outdo one another in order to garner some kind of reaction. And that's only including the ones you can manage to follow.  Hardcore Henry is so focused on how cool things might look it forgets to tell any kind of story. The film essentially puts all of its eggs in one basket as it hopes the flow of the action will keep you invested. Unlike most action films, Henry's voiceless and faceless protagonist can't add anything to the overarching story. He's got no personality, no defining traits other than a relentless need to kill (for some reason that's never quite elaborated on), and it's not like Henry is an all inclusive point of view either as there as some unfortunate homophobic jokes thrown in the mix and it's heavily male friendly as it vies for that sweet 13 year old Mountain Dew demographic. So you can't even fully immerse yourself as a viewer as multiple moments in the narrative remind you Henry isn't you. At least when videogame narratives do things like this, it eventually hands back control to the individual and gives you other options for immersion. There's just nothing here to latch onto.  The film's one saving grace is by and far Sharlto Copley. He's an absolute joy every time he's on screen. It's just a shame he has to singlehandedly carry the film's weight. He's stuck providing so much exposition, jokes, and personality it's kind of running him thin. It's also not helped by the unintelligible scene settings. Henry ends up in several locations with no way other than Copley's Jimmy to help discern where the action is taking place. The film could take place anywhere between an entire city length and the walking distance between my kitchen and bathroom. The film's main device seems to be holding it back in that visual respect. In reference to an old Simpsons gag, every time Jimmy wasn't on screen I felt myself wondering when he was going to show up again. But I wonder if that's because I wanted more of Copley or I was just starved for something to get me through the rest of the film like a lone floating log in the middle of Hardcore Henry's bleak and monotonous ocean of gore.  Hardcore Henry touts itself as a cinematic experience. The first action film of its kind, it's certainly going to get a lot of attention and praise based on existence alone. But it's lacking the level of immersion or direction its premise promises. If I really had to compare it to videogames, watching Hardcore Henry is like going over to a buddy's house and watching him play a game for an hour. It looks neat, and there are bound to be some things that grab your attention, but before long you'll be so bored you'd rather be at home. 
Hardcore Review photo
Normcore
From its inception as music videos for director Ilya Naishuller's band Biting Elbows, Hardcore Henry boasted an unique central idea: crafting a well told action film entirely through the first person perspective on Go Pro cam...

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What will you become?
Gareth Edwards is directing a Star Wars movie. The man who has helped to redefine how you direct large objects hurtling at each other has his hands on the Death Star and all of a galaxy far, far away. I mean, that's a fa...

Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Mar 25 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220419:42868:0[/embed] Batman v Superman: Dawn of JusticeDirector: Zack SnyderRating: PG-13Release Date: March 25, 2016 Zack Snyder and screenwriters David Goyer and Chris Terrio were given an impossible task with this film: make a sequel to a Superman movie that introduces Lex Luthor and also introduces Batman and that also introduces Wonder Woman and--you know what?--also sets up an entire Justice League movie and cinematic universe. So much to do in 2.5 hours, no wonder the film's such a garish and unhappy mess. The film's plot involves a kryptonite sample and experimental weapon technology. It's pretty boring, to be honest, and long stretches in the middle of the film drag. The plot is just a pretext for two superheroes to punch each other really hard. While this is supposedly a Superman sequel (made by people who seem to dislike Superman), Dawn of Justice is more of a Batman movie (made by people who seem to dislike Superman). The film's opening credits even feature the umpteenth iteration of the Batman origin story, with Ben Affleck providing some overwrought narration that resembles the inner monologue of a moody 13-year-old boy. We then relive the destruction porn finale from Man of Steel from Bruce Wayne's point of view, driving through the city as the fight between Superman and Zod leads to the deaths of tens of thousands. Affleck's Batman is brooding and grim, a paranoid psychotic who brands baddies with a bat symbol when he's through with them. Criminals branded with the bat are usually beaten and murdered by their fellow inmates in prison. Gone is Batman's loose "do not kill" rule, replaced with a grim, gritty, and perhaps even gleeful bloodlust. The Batman in Dawn of Justice is more like The Punisher (with a little Rorshach thrown in). Batman stabs a guy through the chest with a knife to pin him to a wall, he machine guns goons and blows them up. Batman is a straight-up killer in this movie, a widow-maker and orphan-machine. He's not particularly heroic, or at least this is not the Batman I'd want to watch movies about or read about (of course, your mileage may vary). Superman doesn't fare much better in the heroism department, and Henry Cavill isn't given much to do but scowl while dealing with his feet of clay. Superman's trying to atone for the sins of Man of Steel (i.e., all that collateral damage), but every time he acts decisively he seems to do more harm. Superman might not always be around for everyone, and for some reason Clark Kent can't even write a simple puff peice feature about football, but any time Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is in danger, he's there in a flash. All that attention paid to his girlfriend, and yet obvious threats and dangers go by undetected. For all his high-minded moralizing, it's no wonder people think that Superman in these films is a totally arrogant jerk. Even though she's just a supporting character, Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman is probably the only hero on screen that's actually heroic. She doesn't do much but stand around until the final battle of the film, but she's proactive in the fight, and tough, and even gives a wry smile during a break in the action as if to say, "This is why I keep fighting." It's a nice Amazonian touch in a movie that's otherwise so adolescent and boyish. Her brief interplay with Bruce Wayne seems like a Catwoman/Batman dynamic. Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor is a villainy villain, and he plays the great criminal mind as a neurotic twerp obsessed with power and willing to do anything to seize control. Yet he's a grating presence, and some of his scenes play more like Eiseinberg's doing a take on The Joker. The sociopath is there on the surface rather than under the surface, but this is a movie about noise and extremes, so the annoyingly superficial nature of his role, like it or not, fits with the superficial mood of Dawn of Justice. Most of the action takes place at night and resembles an ugly gray murk. Snyder keeps his camera too close to the action too much of the time, obscuring each movement into an indistinct blur. It probably plays better on a small screen, but on a big screen, it's a garbled mess. There's an exception in a kooky dream sequence mid-film that takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. During an extended take, we watch Batman, this hulking yet efficient mass of swollen delts and traps, kill people left and right using handguns and machine guns and whatever's handy. Na-na-na-na-na-na-na, Deathman! But the reason people are going to Batman v Superman is for the big showdown between our heroes. The set up is built around a contrived ticking-clock scenario, and without saying too much, Superman has an easy out of actually fighting Batman if he just took a few seconds to explain the situation. Yet Superman, like Batman, is kind of a big dumb meathead, so they fight for a couple minutes, leading to a resolution so goofy I had to suppress a giggling fit when it happened. And that's the thing about Dawn of Justice: even though it winds up taking major risks with the stories it sets up, it's ultimately silly. This is the Batman fighting Superman fan-fiction that every angsty fanboy wrote after they finished reading Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. It never aims much higher than that, and even still, it falls on its face. This might be the most expensive movie ever made, and it's crummy fan-fiction. Warner Bros is right to be worried.
Batman v Superman review photo
DO YOU BROOD? YOU WILL!
A few weeks ago there were rumors that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice made Warner Bros execs nervous. These rumors suggested the film would be divisive, and that the movie wasn't getting the audience responses they wanted...

Who's the best on screen Superman?

Mar 23 // Nick Valdez
Bud Collyer (New Adventures of Superman and several radio specials) Though the only experience I have with Paramount's 1940s serials are the few I found on a budget DVD a few years back, Bud Collyer will most likely go down as the actor with the longest Superman tenure. Starring in those serials as well as over 2000 radio specials from 1940 to 1951, Collyer was the de facto Superman to an entire generation. He also set a lot of guidelines for future Supermen too such as adopting a lower octave when speaking as Superman.  Kirk Alyn (Superman 1948) Collyer might've been the first Superman in media, but Kirk Alyn was the first live action one. His brief stint (only starring in two serials, Superman and Atom Man vs. Superman) isn't well remembered thanks to how badly it's aged, but there's something charming about Alyn's positively charged performance. He took those budgetary and technological limits with a smile.  George Reeves (Superman and the Mole Men) George Reeves began the ever important focus shift to Clark Kent, thus granting Superman more longevity in media. His Superman take wasn't bad, but his Clark Kent made his stint memorable. Bringing a charm and intelligence to the role that wasn't captured yet, writers began focusing more and more on Supes' secret identity life. In fact, Reeves' stint as the hero was more Kent focused than anything.  Danny Dark (Super Friends) Despite all of its cheese, and all of the jokes fans make now, Super Friends was my first introduction to superheroes. Caught it at five in the morning along with Hanna Barbara reruns of Scooby Doo and Johnny Quest. The only unfortunate thing about Superman's role in Super Friends was that it was pretty unremarkable. I remember the Legion of Doom making more of an impact on this show. Super Friends' version of Superman had almost no defining characteristics.  Christopher Reeve (Superman-Superman IV: The Quest for Peace) Then, in 1978, everything changed. Suddenly, superhero fiction seemed like it could work on film. Arguably the most well known and favored actor to take on the role, Christopher Reeve defined Superman for a generation of moviegoers. Combining George Reeves' Clark Kent mannerisms and Kirk Alyn's positivity, Reeve was the first Superman (and only one for a while) that felt absolutely sincere. Also, the man was 6'4 and 225 pounds. Doesn't get more "super" than that.  Tim Daly/George Newbern (Superman: The Animated Series/Justice League) While Super Friends was the first superhero show I've ever watched, Superman: The Animated Series quickly became a new favorite. Before Bruce Timm's unprecedented animation domination (crafting a huge DC comics animated universe), Superman served as the lighter tone alternative to Batman: The Animated Series. Tim Daly and George Newbern essentially deserve the same amount of credit (as Newbern took over once Superman ceased to have a solo series) as both their takes saw Superman through his most faithful comic stories to date. Adaptations of "For the Man Who Haves Everything," "What Ever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?," and introducing long time comic book villains like Brainiac and Darkseid to the mix.  Dean Cain (Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman) Ah, poor Dean Cain. He really never bounced back after this (while his co-star Teri Hatcher did just fine with Desperate Housewives) because while he tried his best to do both Clark Kent and Superman justice, fans didn't quite gel with the show's focus on relationship struggles. There is some surprising nuance to be found with Cain's performance during the first season as Kal-El wants Lois to love him for him and not his powers, but the show later squandered all of that promise. And then equally squandered Dean Cain and doomed him to obscurity. Tom Welling (Smallville) Smallville was a weird, weird series. Its formula serving as the prototype shows like Arrow and The Flash would adopt later, Tom Welling portrayed a young Clark slowly discovering his powers and becoming the Superman we all know and love...except he didn't actually become Superman until the final episode. Full of weird things like the not-Justice League and not-Lex Luthor (who was actually the best Luthor and The Flash WB and DC have ever had), but Welling held it all together. It wasn't a perfect series by any means, but Welling managed to keep our attention for ten seasons. That's pretty super.  Brandon Routh (Superman Returns) I loved, loved Superman Returns. Brandon Routh was absolutely charming (and that charm keeps his TV career alive to this day), but his downfall ultimately was cinema's changing tone overall. Although it paid tribute to Richard Donner's earlier Superman films and Routh captured what made Christopher Reeve's performance so special, fans were over it. The "lack" of superhero action in a post-Batman Begins world was the final nail in the coffin. It was too bright of a film to succeed.  Roger Rose (Batman: The Brave and the Bold) Okay, so my favorite Superman comics were always the ones where Superman acted like a total jerk. Like when red kryptonite turned Superman into a tyrant ruling the Earth, or when Mr. Mxyzptlk makes him act wrongo, or that time he tries to un-adopt Jimmy Olsen by acting like such an asshole that Jimmy quits out of being his son. One episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold (possibly the best Batman animated incarnation) combines all of that Superman weirdness into an episode where Superman (played by Roger Rose) ends up fighting Batman. So not only does it pay tribute to both heroes' Silver Age stories, but also combines a bit from The Dark Knight Returns. It's seamless, silly, and probably my personal favorite incarnation of Superman to date.  Henry Cavill (Man of Steel) It may be still too early to tell on which end of the super spectrum Henry Cavill is going to end up, but I'm hoping it'll be positive. Cavill nails the look, but doesn't have the presence. I'm a bit worried for WB's future universe since Cavill can't seem to act even opposite of huge talents like Amy Adams and Michael Shannon. But his darker, and more mature, take on Superman may bring the hero to places we've never seen. But who knows what the future holds. Who's the best Superman? Oh, let's just say...Moe. Who do you think makes the best on screen Superman? 
Superman bein' Superman photo
The most super of the supermen
With Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice just a few days away and fulfills a dream I've had since I was a kid, I figured it was a good time to celebrate Superman's long history on film. But just simply recounting actors that h...

ND/NF: Thoughts on the documentary Weiner by Josh Kriegman & Elyse Steinberg

Mar 21 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220420:42870:0[/embed] Weiner is cringe comedy at its most painful, with so much said in clenched jaws, nervous posture, and sad eyes. What's most fascinating is how, at least for me, the initial schedenfreude turned into empathy. I felt bad for Weiner, sure, but more so for and his wife, Huma Abedin, who suffers the failed campaign mostly in silence. Huma's appearances are brief but momentous. When she occasionally looks at the camera and emotes, I'm reminded of Jim from The Office or Buster Keaton; when the camera catches her in a candid moment, I'm reminded of seeing distressed strangers suffering through some private turmoil on the subway. While watching Weiner, I kept thinking about Marshall Curry's 2005 documentary Street Fight, which covered Cory Booker's run for mayor of Newark. Booker remains a rising star in the Democratic Party (though he seemed to burn brighter as a mayor than he currently does as a US senator), and Street Fight is all about his high-minded, aspirational campaign which was characterized by an inexhaustible surfeit dignity. Weiner, on the other hand, is all about exponentially expanding indignity, both on the part of the candidate and also on the part of a media obsessed with salaciousness, moral outrage, and sanctimony. [embed]220420:42872:0[/embed] The early buzz over Weiner is that the film's release could have an impact on the general election. Huma is a close confidante of Hillary Clinton and currently serves as vice chairwoman of Clinton's presidential campaign. I don't think this will have much sway on the primaries or the big vote in November, but it may help people reflect on what matters in politics. With so much focus on personality and personal lives, the focus on policy gets lost. In other words, Dick Pics > The Middle Class. As we watch Weiner struggle to get his message out on the campaign trail, all anyone can talk about are his personal indiscretions and how they affect perceptions of trustworthiness. Some express moral outrage, and use it as an excuse for the worst kind of bullying. How much of this is rooted in legitimate concern for New York City politics, and how much of it is just a love of political theater? [embed]220420:42871:0[/embed] I developed a strange admiration for Weiner as the documentary progressed. Part of that is how we begin to feel bad for a person when they've been publicly humiliated, but Weiner is also a fighter. When I first heard about him several years back, it was because of his passion as a Congressman when advocating for 9/11 first responders. The first sexual disgrace would come a year later, but that fighting spirit carried on in his comeback/mayoral bid, though he became a total palooka for the public. Even with everything collapsing, he continued into the fray, taking punch after punch after punch, and yet, against all good judgement, he decided to stand and fight rather than fall. Is it odd to admire the punching bag and the punch-drunk? The big question is if Weiner believed he could salvage his comeback or if it was just the weight of expectation and obligation that kept him going. Most likely both. Maybe it was also a kind of public flogging that he secretly agreed with. It's weird to admire that, but people are strange and complicated, and sometimes they run for office. Whether or not I'd vote for them is a different matter entirely.
Weiner documentary photo
Politics (and dick pics) in our time
Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg's Weiner is one of the must-sees at New Directors/New Films. The documentary chronicles the inspiring comeback and catastrophic implosion of Anthony Weiner's 2013 bid to become mayor of New Y...

Review: The Divergent Series: Allegiant - Part 1

Mar 18 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220415:42865:0[/embed] The Divergent Series: Allegiant - Part 1Director: Robert SchwentkeRated: PG-13Release Date: March 18, 2016 In the interest of being open I did not see the second film in the series, Insurgence. Evidently nothing really important happened in it since I could easily pick up from where I'd left off after seeing the first one. The bad guys were defeated leaving divergents Tris (Shailene Woodley) and boyfriend Four (Theo James) victorious. Her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) is captured and comic relief Peter (Miles Teller) is running around being snarky. Tris wants to escape the walled off Chicago for the outside world as it has been revealed that their entire lives were an experiment to make divergents. However, the city gets locked down as the internal struggles start a civil war. That leads Tris and the rest of the cast to escape the city and find the lab that watches over the experiment and its director David (Jeff Daniels). From here a post-apocalyptic plot of epic stupidity unfolds, every turn making less sense than the next. Those that have read the book series say that it begins to get truly bad in the third book where it appears that the author really didn't know where she was going with the story. That seems blatantly clear from the film too as much of the plot's key point rely on twists and turns that make no sense or feel forced. Bad guys doing illogical things is a key staple of what bad guys do in movies, but in this case the bad guys aren't just illogical, but incompetent. Time and time again decisions are made that only serve as plot devices so the good guys can win, but make no sense in the world around them. It's bad plotting, bad world creation and bad movie making.  Speaking of bad film making, the cheapness continues to prevail in this series. Whether it's the special effects or what seem to be some of the worst extras ever caught on screen the movie feels budget in every aspect. Green screens often look like they simply hung a sheet up in the background and projected the image behind the actor. There's shots that look like the digital effects people just gave up halfway through. An early explosion looks like something you'd see in a SyFy made-for-TV movie, not a movie trying to be a blockbuster franchise. The end result is a film that feels cheap. Director Robert Schwenke doesn't do anything to ease this feeling. His direction is blunt, crude and cliche all while lacking any ability to tie a scene together. It would be harmless at the very least, but there are times where it is so poor that it actually made the audience laugh. He's working with a dramaless plot, but that still doesn't excuse his inability to raise the heart rate during action sequences. He has a cast made up of some of Hollywood's most talented youngsters and he can't do anything with them. Not that any of them seem to be trying. The overall tone of every performance seems to be regret. When this series started all these actors were still trying to make a mark, but now the majority of them are far too good to be showing up in a budget sci-fi movie like this. Teller feels especially lackadaisical throughout the film while Elgory appears to be searching for the nearest exit for most of the movie. The only person who didn't seem to get the memo about not caring is Daniels, but unfortunately the screenplay gives him next to nothing to work with. Allegiant is exactly what you get when you try to copy and paste a formula that succeeded elsewhere. It's cheap and lackluster, and it's hard to imagine what another entire film is even going to be about or why anyone would want to see it after sitting through this one.  
Divergent photo
Still not Hunger Games
When the first film in the Divergent series came out it was pretty obvious what was going on. Lionsgate wanted a Hunger Games so they found a young adult series with a post-apocalyptic setting and cast an up-and-com...

Review: Thank You for Playing

Mar 17 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]219244:42855:0[/embed] Thank You for PlayingDirectors: David Osit and Malika Zouhali-WorrallRelease Date: March 18, 2016 (limited); March 29, 2016 (VOD)Rating: NR Just seeing Joel on screen is heartbreaking. It's the way his eyes cross, which seems troubling, not a routine case of strabismus that lots of kids have. A whole flood of emotions winds up in the content of That Dragon, Cancer. The first-person experiential game allows players to push Joel on a swing, to feed ducks with Joel at sunset, to catch Joel coming down a slide as he giggles--it's his real laugh. There are also visits to the clinic, mournful walks through dark rooms of the house, and even a metaphorical flourish of indoor rain, like something out of a Tarkovsky movie magnified to Biblical proportions. While That Dragon, Cancer offers a space to participate in the life of the Green family, it also conveys a sense of helplessness. There's only one outcome to all of this. Ryan and Amy are people of faith, and it seemed that an underlying pain of their situation is how God could let this happen. I never sensed that their faith was in question--it's something stable--and the game and the documentary convey the frustration of trying to find hope when none seems possible. For instance, in the design of the game, Joel's face lacks features. By not particularizing Joel's face, it opens up the possibility for a more universal experience of the loss. Yet there's also the facelessness of the real Joel. He should be verbal at his age and have more of a personality, but his development has been stunted. Ryan says that he loves his son, but he doesn't really know him and he'll never get to really know him. Directors David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall play a difficult balancing act since their film is both a making-of documentary about That Dragon, Cancer as well as a chronicle of a family's sadness along the lines of Kurt Kuenne's Dear Zachary. There are times when the making-of aspects of the film feel at odds with the heartache in the Green family, but they're generally all of a piece. Art gets made to address an experience, so the creative process of making That Dragon, Cancer is an essential interpretive component to the movie. There's little division between lived life and creative life. There's a scene in which Ryan records some dialogue for the game. His lines seem like private poetry if you just read them as words on a screen: "Fear is cancer's preservative; cancer's embalming oil. And you, oh Accuser, are Fear's oil salesmen." He reads his lines again, this time with something to wrap his hands around, like he's choking the Devil, or cancer, or his anxieties, or death itself. He reads with so much conviction, and he brings to life all of the ineffable emotional stuff that his words alone can't convey. There's another important function to art that comes across in both That Dragon, Cancer as well as Thank You for Playing: it's to remind others that no matter what, whether in joy or in grief, we are not alone.
Thank You for Playing photo
Love letters, memorials, videogames
There are moments of Thank You for Playing that are so painful because the documentary feels so personal. It's about Joel Green, a boy with terminal brain cancer, and how his parents try to cherish the little joys in life whi...

Indiana Jones photo
No ticket
We've heard rumblings, but no full confirmation, of a new Indiana Jones movie since Disney bought out Lucasfilms, but it's been very slow going and after the oddness that was Crystal Skull it wasn't really clear if ...

Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane

Mar 11 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220396:42854:0[/embed] 10 Cloverfield LaneDirector: Dan TrachtenbergRelease Date: March 11, 2016Rating: PG-13 Rather than a Cloverfield sequel, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a taut thriller spun out of a Twilight Zone conceit. In fact, it's a bit unfortnate that it carries the name Cloverfield and was billed as a spiritual sequel or blood relative to the 2008 film. I can foresee a lot of moviegoers being upset given the expectations they had going in, but really, 10 Cloverfield Lane deserves to be taken on its own terms. Sure, the movie will make more money thanks to the Cloverfield name, though it's a bit of a disservice to its content, which stands on its own as a strong feature film debut by director Dan Trachtenberg, and a great vehicle for its three stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, and John Gallagher, Jr. There's something a little Hitchcockian about the opening of 10 Cloverfield Lane, though that's thanks in large part to Bear McCreary's score, which has plenty of echoes of Bernard Hermann. Michelle (Winstead) is a woman driving away from her past who's involved in a horrible car accident. When she comes to, she's chained up in an underground survival bunker that belongs to a man named Howard (Goodman). They're joined by an injured guy named Emmet (Gallagher), who claims to have run to the bunker for safety just as something unspeakable was happening above ground. The tension of 10 Cloverfield Lane stems from Michelle's uncertainty about this whole situation; the movie's set-up is a mystery box from which she's trying to escape. We're similarly left trying to figure out who Emmet and Howard really are and what their motives might be. Trachtenberg stages the unfolding drama through claustrophobic angles, carefully doling out sinister hints, red herrings, and brief moments of levity. It keeps the audience guessing what's to come and reassessing what's come before. There's the question of what's happened to the world (if anything), and whether or not the potential danger above ground is better than staying below. Howard's got a military background (or does he?) and claims the air's contaminated (or is it?), and that they may have to stay in his bunker for a year or two before it's safe to go out again. As an actor, Goodman's always been able to switch between kind and sinister with ease. His roles in Barton Fink and The Big Lebowski come to mind. Howard's made of mood swings, vacillating between good-hearted and unhinged. As he shows Michelle around the bunker, he calmly notes that the dinner table is a family heirloom, which means they have to use coasters and placemats at all times. Later, a calculated little touch of the fingers between Michelle and Emmet throws Howard into a rage, causing him to slam his fist on the table. Unreal domesticity has its own special kind of dread. Kathy Bates in Misery might be the best unit of comparison for Howard, with a good dose of Michael Shannon in Take Shelter for added flavor, but Goodman makes the role his own. Casting him makes perfect sense--who else could simultaneously play loving father and creepy uncle? Howard is so imposing, and Goodman could run away with the film (he only sort of does), so it's a good thing he has a strong counterpoint in Michelle. Winstead proves herself a more than capable as the film's hero. Her immediate instinct is escape, and as soon as she's in the bunker, she demonstrates her knack for craftiness and improvisation. She's a fighter, and maybe a lesser movie would paint her as a victim or a mere captor for most of the film's runtime. Instead we get someone strong from the start, and who is much more resourceful than she gives herself credit for. She's got layers still untapped, and there are plenty of twists as Michelle figures out what's going on in this mystery box. For Michelle, like so much about 10 Cloverfield Lane, there's a lot under the surface that's thrilling to discover.
10 Cloverfield Lane photo
Not a sequel, but that's a good thing
J.J. Abrams loves his mystery boxes, and the marketing campaign around 10 Cloverfield Lane is so darn mystery box-y: a movie seemingly made in secret, a release scheduled just two months after the first trailer, a t...

Simmons as Gordon photo
Batman's the menace Gotham deserves!
One of the biggest highlights of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies was J.K. Simmons' portrayal of J. Jonah Jameson. He perfectly embodied the role, and it'll be hard for other actors to top him. News just came that Simmons will p...

Review: The Boy and the Beast

Mar 04 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220368:42844:0[/embed] The Boy and the BeastDirector: Mamoru HosodaRelease Date: March 4th, 2016 (limited English dub release) Rating: PG-13 After the death of his mother leaves him in the care of his extended family, Ren (Eric Vale) runs away from home and ends up stranded on the streets of Shibuya. After following a hooded figure he ends up in a secret world of beasts and gods, and after witnessing a fight between two animals squabbling over lordship, he decides to stick around in the world and become a disciple of one of them, Kumatetsu (John Swasey), a red bear man. With both characters in it for their own selfish purposes (Ren, now named Kyuta, doesn't want to go home and Kumatetsu wants to prove he's capable of being a leader), the two must find someway to get along and make each other stronger. The Boy and the Beast is ostensibly a film about growing up, yet it's awesomely a film about coping with one's own selfishness. Rather than the typical monomyth, or hero's journey, the stakes always remain personal despite its grandiose setting. In telling its personal tale, the art of the film is much more subdued than in Hosoda's previous work. It's definitely not the first thing you'd expect upon hearing the premise, but its certainly surprising when the fantastical world the film takes place in feels so grounded. Colors are a bit muted (but not washed out), the film doesn't involve as much action as you'd probably expect from the premise. and despite the mystical nature of the beast world the character designs are more rooted in reality. The beastmen themselves are usually bipedal in nature and have lots of "human like" features with beast accents. Grounding the film like this goes a long way toward making the entire thing more digestible even when it goes off the rails a bit near the end of the film. Above all, the film is absolutely gorgeous. Other than some weird CG use toward the end, it's full of great stylistic choices.  I've spent the past few days just trying to pin down exactly what kind of film The Boy and the Beast is. It's like Digimon, Spirited Away, Kingdom Hearts, and a couple of My Chemical Romance songs had a baby and read it really obscure poetry every night. Suffice to say, this film isn't like anything you've seen before. I'm not even sure how this package holds together so well given all of its zanier ideas, but it just works. Going back to what I said earlier about its atypical monomyth story, Boy and the Beast is a fairy tale about adolescence. Mainly how adolescence often breeds copious bouts of anxiety (and loneliness as a result) when trying to find one's identity. "Lordship" basically equates to some kind of adult responsibility which one would use to truly ascend into well adjusted adulthood. I'd discuss a bit more about it here, but it'd spoil a bit of the movie. But I can say that when Kyuta faces that all important adult question of whether to pursue a different way of life or keep chugging along his current path because that's all he knows, it'll resonate a bit.  But the film doesn't exactly explore these themes perfectly. Subtlety isn't Beast's strong suit. While its two leads are well characterized (they're basically bickering brothers), they do skew the film's effectiveness. The characters don't really move the story forward well enough to follow through on a lot of its ideas, so we're left with a truly confusing and rapidly paced final quarter of the film. The climax just sort of happens without a well established lead in so there's not as much of a connection to it as intended. Speaking to that, pacing is all over the place. Some plots move too quickly to be developed, and other scenes are dragged out further than they need to be. Rather than feel like we're soaking in every aspect of the film and its world, sometimes it feel like I was crawling along in the goo snails leave as they move.  Even if The Boy and the Beast has some story and editing issues, it's definitely one of the more interesting animated films I've seen in some time. It's full of charm and it packs a genuinely emotional wallop. It's full of such crazy ideas that's it's hard not to completely fall in love with this film. It's one of Hosoda's best, if not his most peculiar.  The Boy and the Beast is not, uh, the least. 
Boy and Beast Review photo
Boy, this is a good movie
Mamoru Hosoda is behind some of my favorite animated films: Summer Wars, Wolf Children, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and even The Digimon Movie. His direction always brings what's best about the animation medium to the fo...

Review: London Has Fallen

Mar 04 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220381:42847:0[/embed] London Has FallenDirector: Babak NajafiRelease Date: March 4, 2016Rating: R  London Has Fallen seems like a movie made for people who really like Call of Duty. And while that sounds rather negative (because it is), I don’t necessarily mean that people who really like Call of Duty would like London Has Fallen, just that, in the boardroom meeting where this film was designed, at least one person said, “Let’s make this like Call of Duty. Call of Duty players are out target audience.” And everyone else said, “Call of Duty… that’s that thing that makes lots of money, right? We think making lots of money is a great idea. Let’s do it! It'll be cool.” It’s a film grown in a test tube to appeal to “bros” who like to think they crack wise. They’ll sneak in Budweisers to the movie and rowdily laugh every time Gerard Butler says some witty one-liner. They’ll think, “Wow! What a cool guy!” and high five or something. That’s what bros do, right? Clearly I’ve never been one.  More than Call of Duty, though, London Has Fallen reminds me of Youtube. Specifically, it reminds me of the channel formerly known as Freddiew. I don’t really watch Freddie Wong’s stuff anymore, but the short, vfx-heavy action videos that he used to post weekly were things I looked forward to. They weren’t perfect, but they were fun. Short, sweet, and to the point. On some level, so is London Has Fallen, a film that’s only about 90 minutes long, so it doesn’t spend a whole lot of time on unnecessary setup. For the most part, it just gets in and goes. People die. Gerard Butler has to save the day. Cool? Cool.  But the reason I compare it to Youtube is two-fold: 1) It doesn’t look very good. The VFX are shoddy throughout and it’s just a generally visually unappealing movie. I haven’t necessarily seen better on Youtube, but I’ve seen things that were on par. (Before I get into number 2, I really just want to make a point about how much I miss squibs. Yeah, they’ve been long dead, but the impact of real fake blood in a scene is so significant. There have been instances of CGI blood that have been convincing enough, but they certainly aren’t in London Has Fallen. Every death is accompanied by a little sigh, a feeling of missed opportunity. Sure, real fake blood is complicated, but it adds to the production, and this movie needed a higher-level production.)  2) Oh my god it’s vapid. Everything about it is just so… dumb. It feels like there was enough story for a short film (that I might see on Youtube) and then it was stretched out to 90 minutes because that’s how money happens. Dumb fun is dumb fun, but a little bit of effort would have been nice. It feels like absolutely no effort went into any part of this. A lazy script begets a lazy movie. And this movie is lazy.  It’s also cynical. The reason I thought of Freddie Wong in particular is because of a video he did many years ago, a firefight done in a long take. There’s a sequence in London Has Fallen, one that I think was supposed to be “epic” or “impressive,” that I just couldn’t fathom the reason for. Going to take a terrorist stronghold, London Has Fallen does that single-take-action-sequence thing. I love long takes, and I love long takes in action sequences, so I really should have loved the scene, but I just couldn’t do it. As I watched it, I could only think, “This is here because it has to be. No one really wanted to do this shot, because no one really wanted to do any of this.” Freddie Wong did it, so London Has Fallen had to do it too.   What makes the film hard to stomach is the fact that Gerard Butler’s character is a legitimately horrible human being. He is just cruel. He kills a man while his brother listens. Sure, he was a bad dude and may as well be dead, but in that way? Even the movie comments on it: “Did you really have to do that?” asks his companion. “No.” And that’s the movie in a nutshell. The filmmakers may as well as been turning to the audience and winking in that moment, and it just felt gross. Gerard Butler’s character likes knives. He likes stabbing people, and all I can think about is Heath Ledger’s Joker explaining why he prefers knives as well. Watching a movie about a sociopath with a smart mouth isn’t really enjoyable; it’s uncomfortable. And maybe if there was more to the rest of it, I could have blocked that out. I could have looked at the pretty visuals or rooted along with the action, but there was nothing. It was just me and the evil man who the film thought was the good guy. And that’s just not cool.
London Has Fallen Review photo
Not worth the effort to try being clever
A month ago, I signed up for Movie Pass. It’s a service where, for $45 a month, I can see a movie in a participating theater (which is most of them) every 24 hours. It’s a pretty cool deal, especially in New York ...

Dark Tower photo
Maybe Roland will finally make it
I was pretty confident that this round of "we're making a Dark Tower" movie was going to end in the same way all the others did: cancellation. However, they got a director and then there were casting rumors and now we have ac...

Here are your 2016 Razzie winners and losers

Feb 29 // Nick Valdez
Worst PictureFantastic FourFifty Shades of GreyJupiter AscendingPaul Blart: Mall Cop 2Pixels Worst ActorJohnny Depp, MortdecaiJamie Dornan, Fifty Shades of GreyKevin James, Paul Blart Mall Cop 2Adam Sandler, The Cobbler and PixelsChanning Tatum, Jupiter Ascending Worst ActressKatherine Heigl, Home Sweet HellDakota Johnson, Fifty Shades of GreyMila Kunis, Jupiter AscendingJennifer Lopez, The Boy Next DoorGwyneth Paltrow, Mortdecai Worst Supporting ActorChevy Chase, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 and VacationJosh Gad, Pixels and The Wedding RingerKevin James, PixelsJason Lee, Alvin & The Chipmunks: Road ChipEddie Redmayne, Jupiter Ascending Worst Supporting ActressKaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Alvin & The Chipmunks: Road Chip and The Wedding RingerRooney Mara, PanMichelle Monaghan, PixelsJulianne Moore, Seventh SonAmanda Seyfried, Love the Coopers and Pan Worst Remake/Rip-off/SequelAlvin & The Chipmunks: Road ChipFantastic FourHot Tub Time Machine 2Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence)Paul Blart Mall Cop 2 Worst Screen ComboAll Four “Fantastics,” Fantastic FourJohnny Depp and His Glued-On Moustache, MortdecaiJamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson, Fifty Shades of GreyKevin James and EITHER His Segue OR His Glued-On Moustache, Paul Blart Mall Cop 2Adam Sandler and Any Pair of Shoes, The Cobbler Worst DirectorAndy Fickman, Paul Blart Mall Cop 2Tom Six, Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence)Sam Taylor-Johnson, Fifty Shades of GreyJosh Trank, Fantastic FourAndy and Lana Wachowski, Jupiter Ascending Worst ScreenplayFantastic Four (screenplay by Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater and Josh Trank, Based on the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby)Fifty Shades of Grey (screenplay by Kelly Marcel, Based on the Novel by E.L. James)Jupiter Ascending (written by Andy and Lana Wachowski)Paul Blart Mall Cop 2 (screenplay by Kevin James & Nick Bakay)Pixels (screenplay by Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling, Story by Herlihy, Based on a Work by Patrick Jean) Razzie "Redeemer" AwardSylvester Stallone                                                                                                                    
Razzies photo
I guess, in a sense, they're all losers
Just in case you thought cinema had a good year, the annual Razzie awards reminds you of several films you wish you'd forgotten about. Like years before the nominations and wins take pot shots at easy targets. Rather than tac...

Here are your 2016 Oscar winners

Feb 29 // Nick Valdez
Best PictureThe Big ShortBridge of SpiesBrooklynMad Max: Fury RoadThe MartianThe RevenantRoomSpotlight Best DirectorAdam McKay, The Big ShortGeorge Miller, Mad Max: Fury RoadAlejandro Inarritu, The RevenantLenny Abrahamson, RoomTom McCarthy, Spotlight Best ActorBryan Cranston, TrumboMatt Damon, The MartianLeonardo DiCaprio, The RevenantMichael Fassbender, Steve JobsEddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl Best ActressCate Blanchett, CarolBrie Larson, RoomJennifer Lawrence, JoyCharlotte Rampling, 45 YearsSaoirse Ronan, Brooklyn Best Supporting ActorChristian Bale, The Big ShortTom Hardy, The RevenantMark Ruffalo, SpotlightMark Rylance, The Bridge of SpiesSylvester Stallone, Creed Best Supporting ActressJennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful EightRooney Mara, CarolRachel McAdams, SpotlightAlicia Vikander, The Danish GirlKate Winslet, Steve Jobs Best Adapted ScreenplayThe Big Short, Screenplay by Charles Randolph and Adam McKayBrooklyn, Screenplay by Nick HornbyCarol, Screenplay by Phyllis NagyThe Martian, Screenplay by Drew GoddardRoom, Screenplay by Emma DonoghueBest Original ScreenplayBridge of Spies, Written by Matt Charman and Ethan Coen & Joel CoenEx Machina, Written by Alex GarlandInside Out, Screenplay by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley; Original story by Pete Docter, Ronnie del CarmenSpotlight, Written by Josh Singer & Tom McCarthyStraight Outta Compton, Screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff; Story by S. Leigh Savidge & Alan Wenkus and Andrea Berloff Best Documentary FeatureAmy, Asif Kapadia and James Gay-ReesCartel Land, Matthew Heineman and Tom YellinThe Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge SørensenWhat Happened, Miss Simone?, Liz Garbus, Amy Hobby and Justin WilkesWinter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom, Evgeny Afineevsky and Den TolmorBest Documentary Short SubjectBody Team 12, David Darg and Bryn MooserChau, beyond the Lines, Courtney Marsh and Jerry FranckClaude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah, Adam BenzineA Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, Sharmeen Obaid-ChinoyLast Day of Freedom, Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi TalismanAchievement in Film EditingThe Big Short, Hank CorwinMad Max: Fury Road, Margaret SixelThe Revenant, Stephen MirrioneSpotlight, Tom McArdleStar Wars: The Force Awakens, Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey Best CinematographyCarol, Ed LachmanThe Hateful Eight, Robert RichardsonMad Max: Fury Road, John SealeThe Revenant, Emmanuel LubezkiSicarioi, Roger Deakins Best Foreign Language Film of the YearEmbrace of the Serpent, ColombiaMustang, FranceSon of Saul, HungaryTheeb, JordanA War, DenmarkAchievement in Makeup and HairstylingMad Max: Fury Road, Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega and Damian MartinThe 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared, Love Larson and Eva von BahrThe Revenant, Siân Grigg, Duncan Jarman and Robert PandiniBest Original ScoreBridge of Spies, Thomas NewmanCarol, Carter BurwellThe Hateful Eight, Ennio MorriconeSicario, Jóhann JóhannssonStar Wars: The Force Awakens, John WilliamsBest Original Song“Earned It” from Fifty Shades of Grey, Music and Lyric by Abel Tesfaye, Ahmad Balshe, Jason Daheala Quenneville and Stephan Moccio“Manta Ray” from Racing Extinction, Music by J. Ralph and Lyric by Antony Hegarty“Simple Song #3” from Youth, Music and Lyric by David Lang“Til It Happens To You” from The Hunting Ground, Music and Lyric by Diane Warren and Lady Gaga“Writing’s On The Wall” from Spectre, Music and Lyric by Jimmy Napes and Sam SmithAchievement in Production DesignBridge of Spies, Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Rena DeAngelo and Bernhard HenrichThe Danish Girl, Production Design: Eve Stewart; Set Decoration: Michael StandishMad Max: Fury Road, Production Design: Colin Gibson; Set Decoration: Lisa ThompsonThe Martian, Production Design: Arthur Max; Set Decoration: Celia BobakThe Revenant, Production Design: Jack Fisk; Set Decoration: Hamish Purdy Achievement in Costume DesignCarol, Sandy PowellCinderella, Sandy PowellThe Danish Girl, Paco DelgadoMad Max: Fury Road, Jenny BeavanThe Revenant, Jacqueline West Best Animated Short Film“Bear Story” Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala“Prologue” Richard Williams and Imogen Sutton“Sanjay’s Super Team” Sanjay Patel and Nicole Grindle“We Can’t Live without Cosmos” Konstantin Bronzit“World of Tomorrow” Don HertzfeldtBest Live Action Short Film“Ave Maria” Basil Khalil and Eric Dupont“Day One” Henry Hughes“Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)” Patrick Vollrath“Shok” Jamie Donoughue“Stutterer” Benjamin Cleary and Serena ArmitageAchievement in Sound EditingMad Max: Fury Road, Mark Mangini and David WhiteThe Martian, Oliver TarneyThe Revenant, Martin Hernandez and Lon BenderSicario, Alan Robert MurrayStar Wars: The Force Awakens, Matthew Wood and David AcordAchievement in Sound MixingBridge of Spies, Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom and Drew KuninMad Max: Fury Road, Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff and Ben OsmoThe Martian, Paul Massey, Mark Taylor and Mac RuthThe Revenant, Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Randy Thom and Chris DuesterdiekStar Wars: The Force Awakens, Andy Nelson, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart WilsonAchievement in Visual EffectsEx Machina, Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington and Sara BennettMad Max: Fury Road, Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver and Andy WilliamsThe Martian, Richard Stammers, Anders Langlands, Chris Lawrence and Steven WarnerThe Revenant, Rich McBride, Matthew Shumway, Jason Smith and Cameron WaldbauerStar Wars: The Force Awakens, Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould  
Oscars 2015 photo
Witness Fury Road's badass women
There we have it. Another awards season has come to a close and, despite a bevy of rightful protests leading up to the show, it was the best show in years. While diversity is still a huge issue in the industry as a whole, las...

Guardians Vol. 2 photo
Pom Klementieff will play Mantis
While I personally am tiring a bit on the Marvel universe (note: this will last until the next awesome movie lands) I don't think I could be any more excited for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Shooting has just begun and tha...

RIP Andrzej Zulawski (1940-2016)

Feb 17 // Hubert Vigilla
RIP Andrzej Zulawski photo
A great cult filmmaker from Poland
Andrzej Zulawski, the Polish director behind cult classics such as Possession and On the Silver Globe, passed away on Wednesday. He was 75 years old. In 2012, BAMcinématek held a retrospective of Zulawski's work titled...

Review: Where to Invade Next

Feb 11 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]219845:42640:0[/embed] Where to Invade NextDirector: Michael MooreRating: RRelease Date: December 23, 2015 (NY/LA); February 12, 2016 (wide) We start the invasion in Italy. Moore sits down with a couple in their living room to discuss what their paid vacation situation is like in the country. They get more than a month off, not including national and local holidays, and any unused vacation time rolls over into the next year. Moore's mouth is agog most of the time--he was genuinely learning all of this for the first time. But there's more. The wages tend to be better, the lunches are longer, and employees tend to be more productive on the job because they are so relaxed. Moore's invasion continues through Europe, with stops in France, Germany, Finland, Slovenia, Norway, and Portugal, continuing over the Mediterranean to Tunisia, then across the sea to Iceland. Each time, there's a novel innovation, and each time Moore seems surprised and inspired. He focuses on one thing each country seems to be doing right. In Slovenia, for instance, all college is free, even for students who've come from abroad. In Finland, they've abolished homework. Moore admits that these countries have their own problems and he's mostly accentuating the positive. My job is picking the flowers and not the weeds, he says. He's also picking cherries, but that's not the biggest problem with Where to Invade Next, which, when it works, offers a fine rebuke of the "Fuck you, I got mine" mentality that pervades much of American culture. Moore's generally at his best when he's a deadpan observer rather than a fiery polemicist. Roger and Me is still his finest film (even though he did fudge the timeline of events) since it's mostly Moore as a citizen journalist documenting others. While framed around Moore trying to get an audience with General Motors CEO Roger Smith, the movie is driven by people who get to tell their own stories about the painful decline of Flint, Michigan. As Moore's clout grew, he became a more prominent figure in his films, and in turn his movies were more about Michael Moore's opinions on a subject rather than the subject itself. Moore develops a feel-good thesis in Where to Invade Next. These innovations in other countries could make America a better place, and they all have a shared origin. But Moore oversteps his skills as a documentary essayist through sloppy thinking and oversimplification. He walks past part of an old section of the Berlin Wall with a friend, and they reminisce about being there as it came down. Hammering and chiseling--the solution was so simple, they say. Well, no. History doesn't work that way. The Berlin Wall didn't come down just because some people in West Germany began chipping away at it for a few nights. There were decades of global history that culminated in that moment, and none of it was easy. While Moore smartly identifies the systemic racism underlying the US drug war, he dumbs down cause and effect in other parts of the film to suggest that the catalyst for change is something really simple. By that logic, the Arab Spring was easy as pie: all it took was for someone to self-immolate. No problemo. The systems themselves are simple and elegant, and yet the implementation of these solutions--free college, prison reform, education reform, greater gender representation in government--would have to be accomplished through legislative action and, even more difficult, a fundamental ideological shift in American attitudes regarding the bullshit of global capitalism and antiquated gender roles. These aren't so simple, they'll take time. But they're worth fighting for, which is why there's an oddly ennobling aspect to Where to Invade Next even for its flaws. In my head during each slip up, all I could think was, "Your argument is facile, but yeah, I agree, Michael." Moore's rhetorical missteps in Where to Invade Next come from a genuine place of concern. It's like a bad college essay. The larger point is good, but it's articulated and argued inartfully, whether through selective anecdotes rather than facts, or through emotional appeals rather than reason. The pat close of the movie is mushy and inspirational at the same time. Moore references a well-known fairy tale that takes place in the Midwest, and in the process made me think of another work (a book by Thomas Frank) about the contradictory relationship between political ideology and voting against your best interests in the Midwest. When film critic Stephen Whitty reviewed Fahrenheit 9/11 back in 2004, he wrote that Moore tends to worry liberals about as much as he infuriates conservatives. "They're people who agree with what Michael Moore says--but refuse to defend to the death the way he insists on saying it," he wrote. Some things don't change.
Review: Where to Invade photo
A feel good movie (but oversimplified)
Michael Moore and Donald Trump have something in common. No, seriously. They want to make America great again. In Where to Invade Next, Moore pretends he's been sent by the Pentagon to invade other countries. His mission: to ...

Review: Deadpool

Feb 11 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220353:42833:0[/embed] Deadpool Director: Tim Miller Release Date: February 12, 2016 Rating: R I think Deadpool will go down in history as the superhero movie that changed everything. It’s all been flipped upside down now. And I can tell you exactly when it happened. During a particularly fantastic montage, time passes through the holidays and a couple’s sexual exploits. It goes and goes and goes, and then suddenly Ryan Reynolds is on all fours. And you think, “No way.” And then, yes way, his girlfriend pegs him. If you don’t know what pegging is, you’re, uh, welcome to look it up. The point is: This is a movie that features that scene. That fascinating, beautiful scene. Of course, I knew right from the outset that this movie was a big deal. Its opening credits are brilliant not just because of what they show, but what accompanies them. It doesn’t some “A Tim Miller Film”; it says “Some douchebag’s film.” Not “Ryan Reynolds” but “God’s Perfect Idiot.” “Produced by Assholes.” Etc. And none of these people get named until the credits roll. Can you imagine that? This big-budget studio movie features an opening credits sequence, but it uses that sequence for an extended gag. No one is above it. Nothing is sacred. Presumably, that’s what you want from a Deadpool movie. I don’t really know, but the elated reaction of those around me certainly implied as much. It’s what I wanted, even though I didn’t necessarily know it at the time. I just knew that I wanted to have a good time and maybe see some fourth walls get broken. Also, ya know, I wanted to see what an R-rated superhero movie would look like. Because no, this is not the first R-rated comic book movie (or even superhero movie), but it is most assuredly the first R-rated superhero movie like this. When I try to think of anything at all like it, I just come up with Kickass. Maybe Wanted? Something inspired by Mark Millar. But those films honestly aren’t anything like Deadpool. They’re small scale, lacking the truly explosive factor of actual superheroes who can actually wreck things with their magical super skills. Deadpool has that, in the form of two members of the X-Men: “An Emo Teen” and “A CGI Character,” per the opening credits. (Of course, you wonder why they only have two, and two that I’d never heard of before. Well, so does Deadpool! Or, rather, he answers it, rhetorically: “It’s like the studio didn’t have enough money for anyone else.” (Or something to that effect.)) But these characters serve as the perfect foil to Deadpool. The emo teen is just that, an emo teen, and Deadpool loves it. He is so absolutely into her attitude problems, and, as such, so was I. The CGI character, whose CG presentation is so-so but effectively justified by him being introduced as “A CGI Character” is even better. He wants to be in a PG-13 X-Men movie so badly, but Deadpool just has to go and do R-rated things. The dynamic there is a joy to watch, and it The first trailer for Batman V. Superman came out around the same time as the first season of the Netflix Daredevil series. At the time, I got into a debate (well, argument) about grittiness in comic book movies. She claimed (and was not alone in thinking) that it was hypocritical of people to praise Daredevil’s grit in the same sentence that they lambasted BvS’s. Of course, that argument is fundamentally flawed, because it’s not about “grit” at all; it’s about staying true to the character. Daredevil’s world is a dark one, a gritty one. Batman’s too, really. Superman has a symbol for hope on his chest, and he’s… what? Man of Steel is a lot of things, but hopeful ain’t one of them. And it doesn’t look like Dawn of Justice is going to do much to change that. Marvel let Daredevil be the character he’s supposed to be, while DC didn’t do the same for a man who blocks bullets with his eyes. Deadpool is Marvel, once again, letting a character be who they should be. I’m oh-so-glad that this was a Fox production and not a Disney one, because I don’t think that would have been true if Disney had handled it. If Deadpool was part of the Cinematic Universe, I think… well, I don’t even think they would have tried to put the character in at all. He simply cannot work within that context. But he can work within his own, and the one in which the X-Men are real. The Fox MCU is all about mutants, and Deadpool both as a title character and a film in general is consistent with that. But Fox took a gamble making an R-rated superhero movie. They could have tried for mass-market appeal (maybe) and neutered the character entirely. But instead, they said, “No. You want Ryan Reynold’s to get pegged? Go for it, dude.” It’s a gutsy move, and it pays off in spades precisely because it feels right, even to someone who knows nothing about Deadpool. I know that this film did the character justice, because there are too many crazy decisions for them to not be. Nothing about this movie is “safe,” and that’s exactly the way it should be. Some people will complain about the fact that we’re getting yet another origin story and that the origin story itself isn’t unique or whatever, but neither of those things bothered me. There are two reasons for that. 1)    I don’t know Deadpool’s origin story. 2)    Being “Original” isn’t even sort of the point. Deadpool’s origin, as told by this film, is fucked up. Honestly, the torture sequences wouldn’t be out of place in some kind of horror movie (something which the film itself notes). The fact that it’s so brutal does make it stand out (thinking back on it, V for Vendetta seems similar, particularly given how the kraken is released), but even if it didn’t, so what? I may be able to expect the beats, but I don’t know them line-for-line like Batman or Spiderman or whoever. As a way to introduce this character to what will hopefully be a flourishing franchise, I really wouldn’t have had it any other way. For the second time in three months, I am imploring you to see this film. Not just because it’s excellent (though it is), but also because it’s a film that deserves success. (Side note: Both this and The Revenant were distributed by Fox. Good on those people. Seriously.) This is a gamble that paid off in spades from an entertainment perspective, and I want it to make a heckuva lot of money. So, make it happen. I know that I’ll be seeing it again. And again. (And again.) ((And again.)) It’s so good, you guys.
Deadpool Review photo
Probably the best superhero movie ever
I have never read a Marvel comic. There. I said it. In fact, I’ve never read any superhero comic that isn’t about a man who dresses like a bat. I think superheroes are all well and good, but I’ve never felt ...

Why the Coen brothers' Hail, Caesar! should have been a series instead of a movie (SPOILERS)

Feb 09 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220337:42831:0[/embed] Both Tasha Robinson at The Verge and Lesley Coffin at The Mary Sue mentioned in their reviews that Hail, Caesar! feels more like a TV pilot than a film, which is accurate. The film introduces a rich cast of characters, many of which could have carried their own films about the trials and tribulations of 1950s Hollywood. There's Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a studio head and fixer dealing with the difficult day-to-day grind of running Capitol Pictures and managing his talent. There's Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), a leading man who's kidnapped by a group of subversive Communist screenwriters while he is shooting a swords and sandals epic about Jesus told from the Roman point of view. There's Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), a singing-cowboy who's trying to be turned into a debonair leading man. There's DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), a pregnant starlet trying to figure out how to keep her situation under wraps. There's Thora Thacker and Thessaly Thacker (both played by Tilda Swinton in increasingly ridiculous hats), twin sisters and rival gossip columnists. There's Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes), a high-toned director of stylish pictures. And there's Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum), a tap dancing leading man who looks great in a sailor outfit. It's almost like Joel and Ethan Coen had about six or seven ideas about different Hollywood movies they wanted to do and just decided to jam them all together in one picture. It's no wonder everything feels just half-developed with that ensemble; at a certain point, the characters felt more like cameos, and Hail, Caesar! feels less like a story with actual stakes and more like a pretext for fun gags (one of the standouts is a theological debate over a script), amusing scenes (Hobie killing time before a film premiere by twirling a lasso around), and extended homages to Hollywood's past (overt nods to On the Town, ditto Esther Williams water ballets). When I think of The Big Lebowski, it feels like a film even though it's so packed with colorful characters, but Hail, Caesar! feels like the start of something rather than a self-contained story. I'm obviously in no position to tell the Coen brothers' how to do what they do, but in my head, I could envision Hail, Caesar! as a six-episode miniseries on Netflix, with each episode running 45 minutes. The entire series would still, like the film, take place in just one day, but each episode would focus on a particular plot in the film anchored to a character or group of characters. One episode could cover Baird's kidnapping and the whole Communist conspiracy subplot. One episode would be about the dueling Thacker sisters trying to out-scoop each other. Another about DeAnna's dilemma, what it was like to be an over-scrutinized starlet at that time, and how she winds up with Jonah Hill's character by the end. (About 95% of Hill's total screentime is in the trailers and commercials.) Another episode could be about Lorentz and Burt, their possible clandestine relationship, and the experience of closeted gay talent in Hollywood during this era. Hobie's episode would be a comedy of manners as he drifts between high and low genres as well as casual and formal situations. And of course, there'd be an episode about Mannix and his choice of being the fixer of a studio or accepting a better and easier position at Lockheed. Each episode would occasionally intersect with other episodes, presenting the same scene, but possibly offering a different point of view of that scene. (Think Elephant or Jackie Brown.) The constant in every show, however, would be Mannix. He's the moral core and center of the studio, and without him these lives would fall apart. The final episode, which would be Mannix's episode, would cover all of the things he did in the day that weren't in the other episodes, like the bookending confessions, his theological meeting, his big decision about the Lockheed gig, etc. It would also give a chance to see more interactions with his wife (a wasted Allison Pill), his secretary (Heather Goldenhersh), and an editor (Frances McDormand). The Coen brothers have shown a knack for aesthetic shapeshifting, and had Hail, Caesar! been a series instead of a movie, they could have made each episode have its own style and mood befitting the character and plot being covered. Most importantly, though, the characters would all be given their due and have their stories told--plots rather than subplots, an ensemble cast rather than a collection of cameos. We're in a golden age of television, streaming, and episodic storytelling. It would have been great to see the Coen brothers pay homage to that waning golden age of Hollywood in a serialized medium that is now coming into its own.
Hail, Caesar! as a series photo
The Golden Age of Hollywood: The Show
The Coen brothers' Hail, Caesar! is not a bad film. The Coen brothers are such expert craftsmen that they are incapable of making a bad movie. They're always at least watchable. If you look at their filmography, they have mad...


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