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6:00 PM on 07.23.2014

Review: Kill Team

The war in Afghanistan is the longest military conflict in which the United States has been involved. The operation is nowhere near as successful as hoped, which is part of the reality of fighting a war in Afghanistan, a less...

Hubert Vigilla




Reviews: Whitewash and Big Bad Wolves photo
Reviews: Whitewash and Big Bad Wolves
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

I like film festivals for a lot of reasons, but one of the best is the way films are forced into context with a number of other, entirely unrelated films. The act of watching multiple films in a day alone creates all sorts of weird unintentional connections and relationships, and doing that day after day after day makes it sometimes difficult to distinguish one film from another when it comes time to buckle down and think about what each film did well, didn't do well, and what it all meant. When two films play within 24 hours of each other that highlight the successes and failings of the other, looking at them individually seems silly.

Such was the case with Whitewash and Big Bad Wolves. In execution, the films could hardly be more different, but they are both black comedies that made me seriously consider the role of humor in gravely serious situations. Like any good student of George Carlin, I believe people can joke about anything. But those jokes, while I support their right to exist, may be tasteless or insensitive or flat-out horrifying.

Whitewash understands this. Big Bad Wolves does not.

[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival. It is being reposted to coincide with Whitewash's VOD release.]

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Review: Let the Fire Burn photo
Review: Let the Fire Burn
by Hubert Vigilla

In 1985 there was a tragic stand-off between the extremist Africa-American group MOVE and the city of Philadelphia. At the end, 11 members of MOVE were killed, including five children, and 65 other houses in the area were burned down. It's an ugly injustice right up there with Ruby Ridge and the siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco.

Let the Fire Burn chronicles these events, and director Jason Osder approaches them with an interesting formal conceit. He avoids talking heads and new interviews by only using footage from the past -- news reports, older documentaries, a political hearing on the conflict. Apart from a little bit of text, there's no other overt kind of contextualization. It's a bit like an act of archival bricolage, or maybe we can use the term documentary assemblage/assemblage documentary.

Though it's an interesting formal idea, it has its limits, and I think it works against Let the Fire Burn in a fundamental way even though it works well in others.

[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival. It has been reposted to coincide with the New York theatrical release of the film.]

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Review: Dark Touch photo
Review: Dark Touch
by Hubert Vigilla

There were so many varying opinions at the screening of Dark Touch I went to. Flixist's pal Steve over at Unseen Films is going to compile some of the reviews from critics who talked to him about Dark Touch because they were so all over the map, and this fascinated him.

For me, Marina de Van's Dark Touch felt like a throwback to the semi-obscure 70s and 80s horror movies I enjoyed watching on VHS in high school. Many of them were Italian and released by Anchor Bay in plastic clamshell cases; a lot of the plots were loose on logic, high on expressive style, pieced together through set pieces; movies less like stories and more like fever dreams.

This vibe sort of makes sense for Dark Touch. The catalyst for all the mayhem is the lifelong physical and sexual abuse of an 11-year-old girl named Neve (Marie Missy Keating). Most of the abuse thankfully takes place off camera, but we understand its severity from Keating's withdrawn performance and some choice reveals during the film, all of it hurtling the story toward nihilistic madness.

[This review originally ran as part of our 2013 Tribeca Film Festival coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical and VOD release of the film.]

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Review: The Trials of Muhammad Ali photo
Review: The Trials of Muhammad Ali
by Hubert Vigilla

I remember talking to a friend of mine about Muhammad Ali once, and he mentioned the nuttiness of the Ernie Terrell fight in 1967. About three years prior to that match, Ali had joined the Nation of Islam and officially changed his name to Muhammad Ali. Leading up to that fight, Terrell kept referring to him as Cassisus Clay like Floyd Patterson had done previously. (Ali beat Patterson into a pulp in his second heavyweight title defense).

Ali pummeled Terrell during their fight, prolonging the pain and keeping him on his feet without a merciful coup de grace. Occasionally after a haymaker or flurry, Ali would shout a question to his dazed opponent: "What's my name?!"

It was badass but undeniably brutal, and it was part of what made Ali a kind of heel with the public. The Trials of Muhammad Ali looks at this period when Ali was one of the most reviled men in America. In this fine portrait of that time, I got a sense that Ali simply went with the flow of social history since he was the right age for it, and he wound up on the right side of world history for the courage of his convictions.

[This review was originally published as part of our 2013 Tribeca Film Festival coverage. It has been reposted and expanded to coincide with the theatrical release of the film.]

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Review: Cutie and the Boxer photo
Review: Cutie and the Boxer
by Hubert Vigilla

A friend of mine who's a poet once told me that she'd never date another writer. If I remember the conversation right, it had a lot to do with sharing too many neuroses and concerns with someone, which would become intolerable; it would be impossible to escape an atmosphere of work. The man she eventually married, one of my old roommates, is not a writer.

Some people in the same profession can make these kinds of relationships work, though. Novelists Michael Chabon & Ayelet Waldman or Zadie Smith & Nick Laird, for instance; ditto comic book pros like Matt Fraction & Kelly Sue DeConnick or Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner. In the art world, the biggies I can think of are Alfred Stieglitz & Georgia O'Keeffe, Lee Krasner & Jackson Pollock, and Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera. (Caveat: some of these relationships are more dysfunctional than others.)

In Zachary Heinzerling's documentary Cutie and the Boxer, the focus is Ushio & Noriko Shinohara, two older New York artists who still struggle to pay the bills, still create, and still love each other.

[This review originally ran as part of our 2013 Tribeca Film Festival coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the limited theatrical release of the film.]

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Review: Prince Avalanche photo
Review: Prince Avalanche
by Matthew Razak

After the forest fires that destroyed much of the southwest this past year David Gordon Green wanted to make a movie set in the charred forests and ruined homes of the aftermath. What resulted was Prince Avalanche a film not about the fires themselves, but epitomizing them through its characters, location and story.

More interesting is the fact that Paul Rudd finally gets a chance to play someone else than Paul Rudd. A daring move for the actor who is routinely cast as himself made even doubly so by the fact that he only has Emile Hirsch to play off of for most of the film. Can the two actors pull off a comedy that's more subtle than Rudd's normal fair and more comedic than Hirsch's?

[This review was originally posted as part of our South by Southwest 2013 coverage and reposted with an additional opinion for our 2013 Tribeca Film Festival coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical release of the film.]

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Interview: Richard Raaphorst (Frankenstein's Army) photo
Interview: Richard Raaphorst (Frankenstein's Army)
by Hubert Vigilla

Even though I had issues with the found-footage aspect of Frankenstein's Army, there's a great anarchic imagination in the film, and it belongs to director Richard Raaphorst. I had a chance to sit down and talk with Raaphorst the other weekend during the Tribeca Film Festival and was immediately struck by just how thoughtful he was about his creative impulses and influences. One surprise early on in our conversation involved the origins of Frankenstein's Army, which have their roots in the Fight Club soundtrack.

At the end of the interview, Raaphost teased the possibility of a second Frankenstein's Army (which I'm not against despite my issues with the first film) as well as two new biological horror projects which sound absolutely bonkers/awesome. Whether his next film involves zombie-robots of the Third Reich or not, I can't wait to see what comes from Raaphost next.

[This interview was originally posted as part of our 2013 Tribeca Film Festival coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical and VOD release of Frankenstein's Army.]

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Interview: The directors of V/H/S/2 (The Snack Pack) photo
Interview: The directors of V/H/S/2 (The Snack Pack)
by Hubert Vigilla

It's odd how things work. The day after I wrote a very negative review about a found footage movie I didn't like, I wound up interviewing four of the directors responsible for V/H/S/2, a found footage movie that I did like.

Group interviews are always interesting given how unwieldy they can become when it's more than three people, and this one with Simon Barrett (V/H/S), Jason Eisener (Hobo with a Shotgun), Eduardo Sánchez (The Blair Witch Project), and Adam Wingard (You're Next) was no exception. There are pockets of sense in there, but around those pockets are some weird, weird places.

With that in mind, read on as the makers of V/H/S/2 talk about snacks, becoming the Snack Pack, werewolf penetration shots, dental health issues, and almost getting killed by a tree.

[This interview was originally posted as part of our 2013 Tribeca Film Festival coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the wider theatrical release of V/H/S/2.]

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Review: Byzantium photo
Review: Byzantium
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Imagine you are in a large store and off in the distance you see a quilt. It’s an intriguing design, and you walk towards it, fascinated. It’s really a gorgeous thing, brilliantly composed with designs depicting bizarre visions of well-known mythologies. You go up to it and it’s still beautiful, and you are captivated by that beauty, so captivated that you don’t realize it’s fraying at the edges. You reach out and touch it, but as you are running your hand along it, feeling the underlying materials, the beautiful thing completely falls apart.

That’s what watching Byzantium is like.

[This review originally ran as part of our coverage of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical release of the film.]

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Review: Before Midnight photo
Review: Before Midnight
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

To follow up Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, two of the best character pieces ever made, was always going to be a challenge. Keeping that quality and that momentum going into a third film made another nine years later seemed like an insurmountable challenge. With Before Midnight, I wanted to temper my expectations, because I didn't want to be disappointed. A good (even great) follow up to a spectacular film can be buried under the weight of expectations, and if Before Midnight was going to be good (or even great), I wanted to give it a fair shot.

In the end, I wasn't able to temper my expectations. I saw Before Midnight expecting to see Jesse and Celine, nine years later, just as witty and compelling as ever. I expected to witness brilliant writing performed brilliantly, with brilliant direction keeping everything... well, brilliant. 

I was not disappointed.

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Tribeca doc Oxyana causes controversy in West Virginia photo
Tribeca doc Oxyana causes controversy in West Virginia
by Hubert Vigilla

Alec and I didn't like the drug addiction documentary Oxyana at this year's Tribeca Film Festival. Apparently we're not alone. A number of West Virginia residents are upset with director Sean Dunne and claim that he has misrepresented the town of Oceana based on various reports, reviews, and trailers. Some of these concerns have been raised in the comments for reviews of Oxyana at The Playlist and Film School Rejects. No one in West Virginia has had a chance to see the documentary yet since Dunne has reportedly declined to screen Oxyana for residents of Oceana and currently has no plans to screen the film in the state. Oceana resident Dennie Morgan (who commented on the FSR review) is calling for a town hall meeting on May 31st to address issues with the film and within the community.

Initial concerns about Oxyana were raised during the production of the film last year. In this September 6, 2012 article from The Register-Herald, Oceana resident Ashley Stewart expressed worries over the negative portrayal of the town. In a Film International interview with Dunne and Mike Moore, an Oceana dentist who appears in the film and has seen the completed work, Moore suggests that some of the anger over Oxyana may be rooted in denial by those in the community.

This issue's pretty fascinating to me in that it raises a number of questions about the practices of documentary filmmakers as well as the actual drug problems facing Southern West Virginia. I'm particularly interested if screenings will eventually take place in West Virginia or if screener copies will be given out to residents in some fashion. We'll keep tabs on this as it develops.

After the cut is a video of Morgan on WVVA TV discussing his issues with Oxyana. You can also view/listen to a radio interview with Morgan at MetroNews by clicking here. (The comments with the broadcast are pretty interesting.) I've also included some tweets from Dunne himself regarding these recent reports.

[via MetroNews, WVVA, The Register-Herald, Film International, The Playlist, Film School Rejects]

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Tribeca Film Festival 2013: Flixist Awards and Recap photo
Tribeca Film Festival 2013: Flixist Awards and Recap
by Flixist Staff

And so another film festival comes to a close. This year's Tribeca wasn't the most spectacular fest of all time, but it had a solid lineup and we saw some good movies. As per usual, Hubert rocked things hardcore, and Alec picked up the scraps. There was quite a bit of variety, and as per usual, we didn't see eye-to-eye with all of our colleagues. But that leads to interesting discussions about the role of critics and criticism, and if those discussions are civil, it can only be a good thing.

As far as the actual criticism goes, we tried a few new things. For a number of films, we wrote some shorter, pseudo-capsule reviews as well as one review of two films. Although we're proud of what we wrote, we don't know how they worked out, but if anyone has any thoughts, we'd love to hear them. This is for all of you as much as it is for us.

Below you will find our festival awards. There are fewer this year than last, but we wanted to highlight the movies that made us really happy and the ones that made us absolutely irate. Also, a list of all of our reviews and interviews from the fest. It was a pretty crazy time. And now it's time for a break.

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Tribeca Capsule Review: Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? photo
Tribeca Capsule Review: Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Here's an interesting fact: Taiwan is among the most gay-friendly countries in Asia. Gay marriage is not explicitly legal (a bill attempting to fix that stalled nearly a decade ago), but even as far as 2006, a poll of the population showed that 75% supported homosexuality in some capacity. In 2013, I have no doubt that percentage has gone up.

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? is a film clearly influenced by cultural acceptance. As I watched the film, I was shocked by just how okay everyone was with homosexuals. I've seen less acceptance in Chelsea (which, for those of you unfortunate enough to not live in New York, is a particularly gay-friendly part of this lovely city) than I saw in that film. I realized that I'd never really thought about gay rights in Asia. It took a film, and a completely fictional one at that, to make me really look into another culture.

And you know what? That's a big part of why I love cinema.

[For the next few weeks, Flixist will be covering the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, which runs April 17-28 in New York City. Check with us daily for reviews, interviews, features, and news from the festival. For all of our coverage, go here.]

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Tribeca Capsule Review: Northwest photo
Tribeca Capsule Review: Northwest
by Hubert Vigilla

In some ways Northwest could be written off as another movie about how crime doesn't pay. There's an escalation of criminal activity, there's the brief taste of a modest sweet life, there's the tragic inflation of egos, and there's a sense that the lives of our protagonists were doomed from the start. Things were going to be bad for this poor Danish family regardless, so the events of the film just accelerated the process of inevitable bad ends.

And yet Northwest transcends the trap of being just another crime film. There's something raw to what happens in every scene, from the performances to the look of the film. The handheld photography situates the viewer right in the muck of what's going on, which made me think about episodes of Cops, or like these people were being tailed by an invisible news crew.

[For the next few weeks, Flixist will be covering the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, which runs April 17-28 in New York City. Check with us daily for reviews, interviews, features, and news from the festival. For all of our coverage, go here.]

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Tribeca Capsule Review: The Project photo
Tribeca Capsule Review: The Project
by Hubert Vigilla

At the end of The Project we're shown events that happened in March 2013 involving the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF). There's  a harrowing stand-off with Somali pirates just off the coast. Since the events and developments were relatively fresh, it made the documentary feel like the glue on it was still wet. What I was watching was a kind of work-in-progress, or at least it seemed like it. Even the title card that preceded the new footage wasn't uniform with the others.

The PMPF is an anti-piracy paramilitary police force in Somalia. Formed in 2011, it was funded by money from the United Arab Emirates and managed by a number of military contractors (including advising or supervision from Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater), a former CIA agent, and South African mercenaries. The solution isn't perfect, but it seems like the only feasible option to consider to defeat pirates and secure waterways, especially since Somalian government doesn't have the resources to create its own anti-piracy force.

The Project chronicles the controversial creation and development of the PMPF, and the inevitable problems a group like this faces.

[For the next few weeks, Flixist will be covering the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, which runs April 17-28 in New York City. Check with us daily for reviews, interviews, features, and news from the festival. For all of our coverage, go here.]

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Tribeca Capsule Review: Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic photo
Tribeca Capsule Review: Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic
by Hubert Vigilla

Richard Pryor is one of the best stand-up comedians of all time. Whether it's an album like That N***er's Crazy or the Live on the Sunset Strip comedy special, there's such incredible comic timing in his work, and also just pure raw truth. Funny enough, my first tastes of Pryor were at an early age and comparably tame/soft-edged: Superman III and Brewster's Millions.

Pryor was a troubled and ultimately tragic guy at heart, which may explain why his jokes were so good -- he was able to transform that pain and anxiety into gold. In the Mel Brooks episode of the WTF podcast back in February, Marc Maron noted that Pryor's comedy was vulnerable, and Brooks concurred.

Trying to capture such a comlplicated guy like Pryor is difficult in just an hour and a half. Director Marina Zenovich does a serviceable job in Omit the Logic, which is a nice enough entry point into Pryor's life for those not familiar with his work.

[For the next few weeks, Flixist will be covering the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, which runs April 17-28 in New York City. Check with us daily for reviews, interviews, features, and news from the festival. For all of our coverage, go here.]

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Tribeca Capsule Review: Powerless photo
Tribeca Capsule Review: Powerless
by Hubert Vigilla

At the beginning of the documentary Powerless, we're told that 1.5 billion people in the world live without electricity, and that 400 million of those people live in India. The numbers are pretty staggering, especially when we take for granted all that's required for a proper power infrastructure. The population density in India becomes especially problematic given how much strain that puts on the already overtaxed grid.

These issues about access to electricity are further complicated by electricity thieves in India, who siphon power for others off existing lines. But the lives of these electricity thieves are just one facet of the broader issue that Powerless examines.

[For the next few weeks, Flixist will be covering the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, which runs April 17-28 in New York City. Check with us daily for reviews, interviews, features, and news from the festival. For all of our coverage, go here.]

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Tribeca Capsule Review: The Moment photo
Tribeca Capsule Review: The Moment
by Hubert Vigilla

If there was a marketing blurb for The Moment that could sell its strengths, it would probably say something like "Christopher Nolan's Memento meets Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up."

That's really the best possible scenario for the film and this material. There's memory loss, memory reconstruction, photography, psychology, possible murder, and some complicated relationships to sort through.

But the actual movie The Moment is not the best execution of this material by a long shot.

[For the next few weeks, Flixist will be covering the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, which runs April 17-28 in New York City. Check with us daily for reviews, interviews, features, and news from the festival. For all of our coverage, go here.]

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Tribeca Capsule Review: Stand Clear of the Closing Doors photo
Tribeca Capsule Review: Stand Clear of the Closing Doors
by Hubert Vigilla

Sometimes I watch a film and wind up thinking about two things: length and medium. In terms of length, I wonder if a feature film should be a short instead (and vice versa). In terms of medium, I wonder if the film's content works as a film or if would be better served as a written work, a miniseries, a comic book, or a play.

These concerns weighed heavy on me about midway through Stand Clear of the Closing Doors. It's not because it's a bad movie by any means, but despite the excellent performances and the sense that its heart was in the right place, the length and medium for this story were like suit jackets that didn't fit right.

[For the next few weeks, Flixist will be covering the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, which runs April 17-28 in New York City. Check with us daily for reviews, interviews, features, and news from the festival. For all of our coverage, go here.]

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Tribeca Interview: Bending Steel, Part 2 photo
Tribeca Interview: Bending Steel, Part 2
by Hubert Vigilla

Here's the second part of our interview with the team behind Bending Steel: director Dave Carroll, director of photography/producer Ryan Scafuro, and Chris "Wonder" Schoeck. The documentary was my favorite movie at this year's Tribeca Film Festival. (You can read part one of the interview here.)

After the interview was over, Chris "Wonder" Schoeck looked into his bag and pulled out a handful of thick nails. He asked me to inspect the nails to make sure they were authentic and then proceeded to bend a nail right in front of me like it was made out of taffy. While he was bending the nail, I could hear some of the seams in his suit jacket splitting. Chris then handed me that bent, u-shaped nail as a souvenir. I kept it in my Tribeca badge for the duration of the festival, and it's now in my bookcase for safe keeping. There's a photo of this nail at the end of the interview.

If you're in Toronto for the Hot Docs film festival, you can catch Bending Steel Saturday, May 4th at the ROM Theatre. For those of you in the New York area, Chris "Wonder" Schoeck and other strongmen will be performing live at the Olde Time Coney Island Strongman Spectacular on Sunday, May 19th. The event is free. For more details, visit coneyisland.com.

[For the next few weeks, Flixist will be covering the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, which runs April 17-28 in New York City. Check with us daily for reviews, interviews, features, and news from the festival. For all of our coverage, go here.]

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Tribeca Interview: Bending Steel, Part 1 photo
Tribeca Interview: Bending Steel, Part 1
by Hubert Vigilla

The documentary Bending Steel was my favorite movie at the Tribeca Film Festival. It follows Chris "Wonder" Schoeck in his quest to become an old-time strongman, but the act of bending steel winds up meaning so much more -- it's an opportunity for Schoeck to break out of his shell, but it's also a metaphor for everyone's worthwhile struggles in life. I'm going to do my best to see Bending Steel again over the summer during the Rooftop Films outdoor screening series.

During the Tribeca Film Festival, I had a chance to sit down with director Dave Carroll, director of photography/producer Ryan Scafuro, and Chris "Wonder" Schoeck himself. It was just two days after the film's world premiere, and they were all in great spirits and really fun to talk to. Though I didn't make it to that premiere, I did make it to the Bending Steel after party, which included feats of strength from Schoeck, Chris "Hairculese" Rider, Sonny "The Man of Steel" Barry, and other members of the strongman community.

We had a long conversation, which is why I'm splitting the interview into two parts. If you're in Toronto for the Hot Docs film festival, you can catch Bending Steel on Saturday, May 4th. For those of you in the New York area, Chris "Wonder" Schoeck and other strongmen will be performing live at the Olde Time Coney Island Strongman Spectacular on Sunday, May 19th. The event is free. For more details, visit coneyisland.com.

[For the next few weeks, Flixist will be covering the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, which runs April 17-28 in New York City. Check with us daily for reviews, interviews, features, and news from the festival. For all of our coverage, go here.]

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