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Review: Knock Knock

Oct 23 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220064:42670:0[/embed] Knock KnockDirectors: Eli RothRated: RRelease Date: October 9th, 2015 (in theaters and VOD) Knock Knock stars Keanu Reeves as Evan Webber, a family man with a loving wife and two kids. When his family goes away for the weekend, two girls Genesis (Lorenza Izzo) and Bel (Ana de Armas) suddenly show up in the middle of the night asking for help. After seducing Evan, he ends up sleeping with them. But after he wakes up the next day, Evan realizes the two girls have some sinister motives. And that's pretty much it. The best thrillers can mine even the thinnest premises for good character work or story material, but that all hinges on whether or not the film has a strong written frame to build on. Unfortunately for all of us, Knock Knock is basically written like a film student's first draft hastily put together two hours before the assignment was due.  Don't get me wrong, I can accept bad dialogue in a horror/thriller because it's usually in service of a greater goal. Maybe the film's intentionally bad or its wackier elements help bring levity to the potentially gruesome nature of the genre, but there isn't just bad dialogue here. The entire package is crafted terribly. From how long it takes to actually get the story moving as the girls don't show up until a third into the film (thus making the terribly written and acted family scenes feel much longer and awkward), to the fact that Evan literally has to sleep with the girls to get to the core of the drama, to how many times it resorts to "crazy bitch!" whenever characters are under duress, to the girls' nonsensical motivations (half revenge, half complete banality), to Evan being a former DJ for some reason, and finally for weirdly off putting lines like "Bitch, you're barking up the wrong f**king tree! I'm from Oakland, hoe! I know two ghetto ass hoes when I see them!" Yeah, that's definitely a thing someone says in the movie. That line somehow made it through numerous edits, drafts, and cuts into the final product. I bet whoever wrote this line did one of those fist pumps to celebrate how clever he was.  I could write about how terribly everything was put together all day, but to get to the core of my issues with Knock Knock I need to do something I've never done in one of my reviews before. I have to outright spoil one of the key plot points of the film because it's something I desperately want to tell you about. I'm sorry if you were still somehow interested in the film after reading thus far, but I promise I'll keep the spoilers limited to this chunk of the review. Okay, so you know why the girls are invading houses and having sex with men in order to humiliate them and ruin their lives? Because men are monsters. There's a hint at some child abuse (which also compounds yet another horribly conceived "idea" on top of this garbage heap), but we're just supposed to believe that these two girls are going around messing with dudes as some kind of misappropriation of the "femme fatale" concept. Sex as a weapon can be fine in media, but if the justification for its use is just so that same character can "trap" a man, it's completely backwards thinking and singlehandedly sets back all of the good work women have done in media I would've accepted these extremely thin motivations had there been actual depth with the two girls, but their actions far exceed the range of their revenge. And Knock Knock goes out of its way multiple times to remove any sense of sympathy or even desire to exist from the characters entirely.  When Evan threatens to call the police, the two girls threaten to send him to prison with cries of not just rape, but statutory rape. Thus adding yet another mysogynistic reason this film is really just for older dudes unhappy with their marriages. In fact, Knock Knock's death knell is a speech Reeves gives that somehow sets his own career back a few years. You could hear his soul dying a little bit when he says, I kid you not, "You f**ked me! You came to me! You wanted it, you came on to me!...It was free pizza! Free f**king pizza! What was I supposed to do?!?"  Sure Knock Knock has one or two moments where all of its badness coalesces into a surprisingly humorous bit, as every film gets one regardless of how bad it truly is, but nothing is good enough to warrant wading through the rest of it. Knock Knock isn't just an embarrassment for all involved, but for the first time, Keanu Reeves looked like he was genuinely phoning it in. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but I was almost enamored by how much Reeves was trying to distance himself from the character. He gets bad dialogue and weird movies all the time, but he usually can transcend the material thanks to his effort. And the saddest thing is this is coming after one of his biggest triumphs in the last few years, John Wick, which was also a film caught in this very situation. It was too a film full of cheesy dialogue and clunky writing work, but he made it something special.  Knock Knock is such a worthless heap of garbage, not even Keanu Reeves wanted to try to save it. If Keanu Reeves didn't deem this worthy, why should we? This review is more attention than this film deserves, and I can't wait until this fades from memory. 
Knock Knock Review photo
Who's there? Garbage
Keanu Reeves is a treasure. Thanks to his genuine love of the craft, I'm always willing to see whatever he decides to be a part of. No matter the project he always gives as much effort as possible, sometimes even elevating th...

Review: Bridge of Spies

Oct 15 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]219841:42639:0[/embed] Bridge of SpiesDirector: Steven SpielbergRating: PG-13Release Date: October 16, 2015 Based on a true story, Bridge of Spies centers on James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks), a lawyer in Brooklyn who's asked to defend Colonel Abel (Mark Rylance). Abel is a suspected Russian spy, and the film opens on him as he goes about his daily routine. He's a good artist, though he uses his talents as subterfuge in order to get around the city and receive messages from his superiors. The opening minutes of the film are without dialogue, and showcase some nice bits of spycraft. Rylance remains stonefaced but vigilant. Donovan's expected to deliver a mere token defense for Abel. He's a speed bump en route to a commie's execution. Donovan's a principled litigator, however, and he wants to extend Constitutional protections to the captured spy. Donovan even urges the judge to avoid the death penalty. A spy of Abel's caliber--Donovan constantly refers to him as "a good soldier"--would be a worthwhile bargaining chip if the US ever had to negotiate with the Soviets. Donovan's neighbors and colleagues begin to turn on him for taking a stand. Casting Tom Hanks as Donovan is a given. There's an innate trustworthiness about Hanks' screen presence, and he exudes the kind of everyman likability you'd expect out of your favorite friend or neighbor. At a party, people may ask when Tom's showing up. Since the early 90s, Hanks has become the go-to common-man good-guy in the mold of Jimmy Stewart; if Bridge of Spies were made decades ago, Stewart would probably play Donovan. (Okay, maybe not. If it were made decades ago the entire crew would be blacklisted and seated before a HUAC hearing.) Then there's Mark Rylance as Colonel Abel. His performance is all about the poker face. Colonel Abel's low-key and could pass as a plain old man, but to the intelligence community, they know what's up. He plays so dumb that he's obviously got a lot secrets. There's a lot to read into Hanks' and Rylance's performances when they share the screen together--what's being said and not said, what they're saying with looks--but there's also a kind of mutual respect; not just something lawyer-client based but an admiration for such staunch resoluteness. Bridge of Spies switches from a courtroom drama to small-scale espionage movie for the last half or two-thirds. US government sends Donovan to negotiate the release of a US soldier named Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) who's being held by the Soviets. Good thing Donovan fought so hard to keep his chip from the chair. And so we go from Brooklyn to Berlin, where the wall has just gone up and a clash between Soviet and East German interests might complicate the deal that Donovan has been sent to broker. Bridge of Spies tries to braid in two additional threads of narrative over the Donovan-driven and Abel-driven dramas. It's here that some seams become visible--it's easy to spot seams in an otherwise handsome film. Powers' mission helps get across the amount of spying going on between the US and Russia, and it culminates in a daring set piece involving a spy plane, but it doesn't quite flow with the legal drama unfolding on the ground. At least it has some creative smash cuts and cross cuts. The film gets much clunkier as we introduce the other thread involving an economics student named Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), who's suspected of being an American spy in East Germany. It's introduced and dropped as a narrative expedient--a story for the main story but not a story on its own. It's almost like a stray movie lost in the bigger one, and some of the brief drama involving Pryor and his girlfriend are never touched on again. Even with the seams and loose threads, Bridge of Spies is steadily carried by Hanks' amiability and Spielberg and his craft. Once we're back with Donovan, the film regains its footing (and handsomeness). I sense some audiences might be put off by the film's high-mindedness. Conservatives in particular may take issue with Donovan's heroic idealism even if it's so earnestly American. There's one speech Donovan makes before the Supreme Court that's Capraesque bordering on cloying. Even if taken directly from a transcript, the speech seems like it's directed at a contemporary audience rather than the Justices of the 1950s. Donovan speaks about the heart of the country and the fundaments of the Constitution and how it ought to be applied even to America's enemies. The contemporary read is not about Soviets but soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq who are detained in Guantanamo. Spielberg even seems to offer an indictment of prisoner abuse by contrasting Powers in a Soviet prison with Abel in an American one. The appeal is clear and you don't even have to look that hard--we're Americans, and we should be good even to our enemies. This kind of black-and-white appeal to good old-fashioned American decency works in movies since it's about an abstraction of Jimmy Stewart America or Gregory Peck America--a kind of aspirational Platonic form of what people in America can strive to be. (Ronald Reagan's America is probably more pervasive. Make of that what you will.) In that way, Bridge of Spies shares some Constitutional connective tissue with Amistad and Lincoln, while also being a kind of post-war counterpart to Saving Private Ryan--it's a mission to bring our boys home. It's hokey, but the takeaway is to be the best the country has to offer, or at least to try. If that corny idealism isn't good old-fashioned American decency, I don't know what is.
Review: Bridge of Spies photo
When Spielbergian goes Capraesque
Watching Bridge of Spies, I realized almost immediately the difference between a beautiful film and a handsome film. Steven Spielberg's latest movie is handsome. It's cleanly shot, polished, glossy, with impeccable acting in ...

Review: Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

Jul 31 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219530:42420:0[/embed] Mission: Impossible – Rogue NationDirector: Christopher McQuarrieRelease Date:  July 31, 2015Rating: PG-13  The first time you see Tom Cruise in Rogue Nation, he's running. Of course he is. He has to run. It's a contractual thing (probably). He spends a lot of the film running. It makes sense, since he's really on the run this time. In Ghost Protocol, the IMF (which I always get confused with the International Monetary Fund, which says something weird about me) was publicly disavowed but still privately accepted. In Rogue Nation, the CIA is after Ethan Hunt's head. Following the events of Ghost Protocol, with a destroyed Kremlin and the aftermath of a freaking warhead hitting a building (not causing much damage in the process, but none-the-less), everything is blamed on the IMF. No one knows that the Syndicate he's been tracking is a real thing. There's been no evidence that anyone else could see, so... Ethan becomes a wanted man. But you don't catch Ethan Hunt. Unless, of course, you work the Syndicate. Because Rogue Nation gets interesting really early. Every movie, you get to enjoy the hoops that Hunt has to go through in order to hear his mission. It's fun and always a little bit silly. But things are different this time. After picking up the proper vinyl record, he goes to listen. It sounds normal at first, confirming his suspicions about the Syndicate's existence, but then you realize that the use of subjects is... odd. The phrasing doesn't quite sound like something the IMF would have in a transmission. And, of course, it's not an IMF transmission. It's the Syndicate's. Hunt turns around to see the man at the top of the organization put a bullet into the head of the young record store owner who was so excited to actually see Ethan Hunt in person as sleeping gas fills his room. A little much, perhaps, but interesting. Subversion, right? I like subversion. Parts of Rogue Nation are surprisingly subversive. Many of them are not, but with a film of this magnitude, you kinda have to take what you can get.  I saw the film in IMAX. Ghost Protocol remains the only film I've ever seen in LIEMAX, as they call it, and while seeing it big was a treat, there's nothing in the film that quite has the majesty of that tower scaling scene from the previous film. There are some fantastic sights and sounds, and it's definitely a film that takes advantage of a theater, but you'd get pretty much the same experience on a traditional screen that I got on one the size of a building. One of the few things I genuinely like about big budget films is their ability to literally span the globe. In that respect, Rogue Nation doesn't disappoint. Its intrigue takes you through numerous countries across at least three continents. You'll see familiar landmarks and some totally new terrain. It's awesome, really. (As an aside: If you're a big budget movie that doesn't use multiple countries for locations, what are you doing with your life?) And the things that happen in those countries are pretty cool too. There are crazy foot chases, motorcycle chases, car chases, fist fights, knife fights, gunfights etc. It's all very exciting, and it takes place in some excellent locations (the catwalk battle at the Viennese opera house is a personal favorite, though I did spend the entire time internally shouting, "JUST THROW HIM OFF! OH MY GOD!"). That parenthetical does bring me to something that won't come as a surprise but will still affect whether or not you can really get into the film: Rogue Nation insults your intelligence, just a little bit. It explains and overexplains everything, just in case you missed it the first time. Characters will describe what things are, not because they need to know them but because they think the audience does. (Sometimes, they're right, but heavy-handed exposition isn't really the most enjoyable way to get crucial information.)  That said, it's not quite as dumb as it could have been. You could pick it apart until there was nothing left (I expect the fine folks at Cinema Sins will do just that before too long), but... why? What's to be gained from wondering how and why characters do the things they do? They're complicated – too complicated, probably – but that's not always a bad thing. In fact, it allows for some interesting development from Ilsa, the sole female character of substance. Ilsa's a badass, too. Like, an actual one, who can kill people and don't need no man. (Most of the time.) And really, her final interaction with Ethan Hunt was invigorating, not because of what it was but what it wasn't. It's not what you expect these moments to be like, but it's what you hope they will. For all of my complaints, I just sat back and let it wash over me. And I enjoyed the heck out of it. Good on you, Rogue Nation. Good on you.
Mission Impossible Review photo
Exactly what you want it to be
When Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol ended, I couldn't fathom how a sequel could top it. It went so far over the top that I truly believed it was un-toppable. (Turns out, I actually wrote something to tha...

NYAFF Capsule Review: Partners in Crime

Jul 23 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219686:42500:0[/embed] Partners in Crime (共犯)Director:Country: Taiwan  
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Jungle of breadcrumbs
Partners in Crime is the reason I love the New York Asian Film Festival. It's the reason I love film festivals in general. It's the sort of gem that you will likely never see outside of a festival. I have always been imp...

NYAFF Capsule Review: Coin Locker Girl

Jul 14 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219612:42486:0[/embed] Coin Locker Girl (Chinatown | 차이나타운)Director: Han Jun-HeeCountry: South Korea 
Coin Locker Girl photo
Family values
Director Han Jun-Hee introduced Coin Locker Girl as a "fun" film. He said that he doesn't joke much but he made a fun movie and hoped we would have fun with it. And either his translator really missed the point of his in...

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Visit Trailer

First trailer for M. Night Shyamalan's next The Visit

Apr 24
// Nick Valdez
M. Night Shyamalan has had quite a lopsided career. I tend to dig more of his efforts than not, but after The Last Airbender and After Earth I'm not so sure. Maybe a return to his horror thriller roots might do the trick? Thi...

Pierce Brosnan aims lots of guns in new Survivor trailer

Another entry in the aging actors being awesome category
Apr 02
// Matthew Razak
At first you might think that Survivor is another case of Pierce Brosnan being typecast, but this time around he appears to be playing the villain -- an incredibly suave super spy villain, but a villain none the less.&n...
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First full trailer for Insidious: Chapter 3

Mar 18
// Nick Valdez
I couldn't stop laughing at Insidious: Chapter Three's first teaser because a girl figures out she's living in a haunted house through her T-Mobile Sidekick. While I'm resisting that urge right now thanks to a competently pu...
Skin Trade photo
Skin Trade

First trailer for Skin Trade starring Dolph Lundgren and Tony Jaa

Mar 16
// Nick Valdez
Dolph Lundgren was that one action star that should've been as big as Stallone, Schwarzenegger, or Van Damme but just never took off for some reason. He starred in as many films as those three, he always gives 100% regardles...
Poltergeist Trailer photo
Poltergeist Trailer

First official trailer for Poltergeist

Feb 05
// Nick Valdez
Did you all know there was a Poltergeist remake in the works? Normally we're on top of these things, but this one seems to have slipped under the radar. The original Poltergeist still scares the heck out of me, so I don't kn...
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Horror Releases

Paramount reveals new horror movie release slate

Rings? RINGS
Jan 28
// Nick Valdez
You know how we get like a billion horror sequels? Here are some release dates for a few of them including the Friday the 13th reboot, The Ring reboot, now titled Rings (sure okay), and Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimensio...

Review: The Boy Next Door

Jan 23 // Matthew Razak
[embed]218857:42154:0[/embed] The Boy Next DoorDirector: Rob CohenRated: RRelease Date: January 23, 2015  I'll be the first to admit that The Boy Next Door can actually be a bit of fun. It's a classic crazed stalker exploitation film that banks on people's desire to see Jennifer Lopez in very explicit sex scenes and our strange love of obsessed lovers going insane. Claire Peterson (Jennifer Lopez) is a recently separated mother who is struggling to emotionally cope when the hunky Noah Sandborn (Ryan Guzman) moves in next door with his uncle. Through a series of events she ends up sleeping with him -- a bad move in general made even worse by the fact that she's his teacher. That kicks off the crazy as Noah begins to threaten her and her re-establishing family. While the movie starts out as the thriller you expect it to be things start veering into the horror zone as Noah's action become more psychotic, slasher killer and less obsessed teenager. This is honestly what saves the film from being bad bad and, in an firey conclusion that jumps all sorts of sharks, pushes it into ridiculous camp. There's something enjoyable about just how hard they're trying in this film. The opening flashbacks that establish everything are so awful that it's hard to imagine they didn't just add them in to really establish a tone of ridiculousness. The borderline pornographic sex feels like something out of a 90s thriller and as the plot unwinds there is just something fun about watching it get more ridiculous. That being said, if you pay full price (or any price, really) for this film you are making a terrible mistake. This is a find on TV and enjoy kind of crap. It's not so bad it's good, it's so bad it need to be seen. This isn't the kind of camp that makes a film a cult hit, it's the kind of camp that you can't believe actually happened. How did this redundant and cliche screenplay full of some of the worst dialog I've seen in a cheap thriller get green lit? Was it actually all about having JLo in a thong? That's quite possible, but man, does it make for bad movies. Some credit does have to be given to Guzman who you may remember from being shirtless on Pretty Little Liars or shirtless in Step Up All In or possibly just standing around being shirtless. He over commits to this role like a true camp champ. Everything the perfect over-the-top psychopath performance needs is there from the way-too-crazy eyes to the Shatner levels of over acting. When the film starts he's just another shirtless guy, but once the crazy kicks in Guzman is up there with the most ridiculous of crazy stalker performances. It's not good, but it's damn interesting to watch.  There's not much point in talking about the film's star, Jennifer Lopez, except to wonder if her American Idol paycheck is somehow not coming through. What other reason would she have to be in this movie? It's not the kind of film the rekindles an acting career and she can't be struggling for money. She's perfect for the role of milf, but she's almost too perfect as you wonder why no one else but this psychotic kid realizes just how attractive and well dressed this high school teacher is. Again, another aspect that makes the film just terrible, but also weirdly enjoyable. The Boy Next Door is a very bad movie with a very bad screenplay and performances so absurd they could only be described as, you guessed it, bad. Yet thanks to a sudden genre switch at the end and a feeling that everyone involved kind of knows just how bad things are it can be enjoyable -- not good, but enjoyable. Do not pay for this movie, do not rent this movie, but if, late one night, you find yourself flipping through channels and you see Jennifer Lopez in her underwear getting it on with a walking, talking six-pack stick around and have some fun.  
Boy Next Door Review photo
So close to camp and yet so far
I'm not actually sure who I'm writing this review for. Anyone whose seen the trailers for The Boy Next Door has undoubtedly made their made up about it. It's a trashy stalker film with Jennifer Lopez seducing a teenager ...

Nick's Top 15 Movies of 2014

Jan 16 // Nick Valdez
30-16: The Lego Movie, The Babadook, 22 Jump Street, The Purge: Anarchy, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Maleficent, Mr. Peabody and Sherman, Snowpiercer, Frank, Top Five, Gone Girl, Pride, The Drop, Nymphomaniac Vol 1, A Most Violent Year 15. Locke  I nearly missed out on Locke. With the smallest of small releases, I didn't see this until it was recommended by a friend a few weeks ago. I'm super glad I finally took the plunge. It's got the weirdest barrier of entry (it's better if you see it at night, you have to be in the right mindset), but it's totally worth the trouble. In a year full of bloated blockbusters, Locke is the concise breath of fresh air that reminds you what cinema is capable of. In the length of a Sunday night drive, Tom Hardy goes through so many complicated emotions. Enclosed, intimate, and fantastic.  14. Nightcrawler Nightcrawler (and Enemy, in fact) proved Jake Gyllenhaal still has some sides of his acting talent hidden away. With a strikingly dark, yet practical performance, he sells the film's dissection of sensationalist journalism. Literally crawling through the muck, Nightcrawler portrays the opposite end of ambition. When ambition morphs into an unhealthy aggression, one of the best films of 2014 was born.  Read our review of Nightcrawler here. 13. John Wick John Wick was an utter surprise and delight. Literally coming out of nowhere with a generic trailer that made the film seem like nothing more than a direct to home video action film mistakenly released to theaters, John Wick has a fantastic setting (I want another movie of just interactions within the assassin hotel hideout), wonderfully choreographed action (Keanu Reeves is really Neo at this point, which made the fantastical nature of the fights even more believable), and a story with so many cheesy twists and turns I fell in love instantly. Oh and the dog, Daisy! Oh. My. God. 12. Boyhood Filmed over the course of twelve years, it sort of makes sense to put Boyhood here. Both as a little dig, and because while I love what it did for cinema (and how much I enjoyed it directly afterward), I'm not as fond of it as I thought I was. While some of Mason's life speaks to me (I too had a drunk and abusive parent, was also directionless for the majority of life), a lot of it glazed over what my life was really like. Yeah, I know Boyhood won't be a depiction of my life, but it kind of stung to see someone live a happier life than mine. I don't hold it against the film critically (that's why it's here), but I'll never truly connect with it the way I think I'm supposed to.  Read our review of Boyhood here. 11. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes APEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is what we get for not hailing to the chimp. A summer blockbuster that was not only intelligent, well paced, and full of stunning visuals, but made me expect more out of my popcorn flicks. Bad action and explosions just aren't going to cut it anymore. Dawn says we can have both AND be a successful prequel/sequel at the same time. It doesn't get any better. This is what blockbusters should strive to.  Read our review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes here. 10. The Guest The Guest is a film that will forever be welcome in my home. Before my screening, I knew nothing of it other than it was a follow up from the You're Next (which is also a film you need to see someday) duo of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett. Figuring they were kind of a one trick pony (sorry, guys), I expected a run of the mill thriller with a genre twist at the end. But that's nowhere near the case with Guest. Completely confident in its lead Dan Stevens (with good reason), the film is full throttle from beginning to end. Its tone is never once tiring. With its homages to older horror films, a groovy synth inspired soundtrack, stylistic filming (there's a great use of light throughout) and fantastically staged finale, The Guest was one of my favorite movie going experiences last year. Read our review of The Guest here. 9. Joe Wow, so where has THIS Nicolas Cage been? We make fun of the guy for signing up for everything and anything, but he's some kind of wicked genius. It's when we forget how talented of an actor he can be that he decides to come out with a legitimately gripping performance. That's the heart of Joe. Three great performances (from Cage, Tye Sheridan, and the now passed Gary Poulter) root this tale in the South with the most human characters I saw last year. Remember Your Highness? This is from the same director. I just can't believe that.  Read our review of Joe here. 8. Edge of Tomorrow Just like with Nic Cage, Tom Cruise always has a surprise up his sleeve for when we forget how talented he is. It appears that both actors can truly surprise given the right material. Edge of Tomorrow (or whatever the hell it's named now) is a science fiction story about how some nerdy, cowardly man transforms into action star Tom Cruise after dying a thousand times. In the most unique premise of any science fiction film in recent memory (which is saying quite a bit as you can allude to sources like videogames), a man's life gets a reset button every time he's killed in a battle leading to some of the best and hilarious editing of 2014. And you know what else? Emily Blunt is a killer viking goddess badass and I wouldn't have it any other way.  Read our review of Edge of Tomorrow/All You Need is Kill/Live.Die.Repeat here. 7. Birdman Speaking of actors we've forgotten about, out comes Michael Keaton reminding us how much of a juggernaut he is. Sure he's had some subversive turns in films like The Other Guys, Toy Story 3 and RoboCop recently, but I haven't seen him challenged like this in a long time. Birdman breaks down Keaton and builds him back up again. A heartbreaking, absurd, hilarious, soul crushing, wonderfully shot film, Birdman is truly the peak of artistic creativity. Too bad Keaton overshadowed everyone else. But is that such a bad problem to have?  Read our review of Birdman here. 6. The Grand Budapest Hotel Budapest was my very first Wes Anderson film experience, and I'm so glad I finally took the plunge. Budapest is a film full of so much love, hard work, and time that it could only be put together after as long career. With one of the most outstanding casts (each utilized to the fullest, even in the smaller roles), a vignette style story, and an amazing performance from Ralph Fiennes, Budapest had my attention from beginning to end. The reason it's not higher on this list is because there were a few that had my attention a little bit more. And that's definitely tough in this case.  Read our review of The Grand Budapest Hotel here. 5. The Interview Say what you will about whether or not The Interview "deserved" all of the problems it caused, or whether or not it's some stupid exercise of free speech, underneath all of the drama, The Interview was the funnest experience I had last year. It's not some grand satire of North Korea's politics, nor is it your patriotic duty to witness it unfold, but you'd do yourself a disservice by missing out. Well tuned humor, great performances (with some of the best James Franco faces) led by Randall Park, and an explosive finale you're sure to remember. The Interview is a firework. Boom, boom, boom.  Read our review of The Interview here. 4. Whiplash On the opposite end of the spectrum is Whiplash. A film I had no idea existed full of darkness. Yet, that darkness is truly compelling. J.K. Simmons is a fantastic lead (if you tell me Miles Teller is the lead, I will politely ask you to leave) with a performance that's striking, violent, and full of the best kind of black humor. Imagine if his turn as J. Jonah Jameson in Spider-Man was even more aggressive, and you've got Whiplash. Backing up Simmons is a truly great film that's more about a bloody need to prove you're the best. Intense, rich, and has an a different kind of explosive finale.  Read our review of Whiplash here. 3. Obvious Child  Within a year so full of men that even the cartoons resemble our landscape, Obvious Child stood out from the outset. I've always loved comedienne Jenny Slate as she's great at creating tragically trashy characters,  but I was just waiting for her to break out. And the wait's been worth it. Based off a short film of the same name, Obvious Child tackles not often spoken topics like womanhood, abortion, and late twenties uncertainty with not only tact, but a sophisticated and illuminating point of view with often hilarious results. Jenny Slate is a dynamo as Donna Stern, and the film ending's blend of awkwardness and hope still gives me chills.  2. Palo Alto As James Franco continues to branch out, some of his projects don't go over so well but are nonetheless interesting. His collection of short stories, Palo Alto, and its adaptation got some attention a few months back because Franco himself inadvertently hit on an underage girl on Instagram. That's the only reason I knew about the project, and now I realize how wrong I was. Palo Alto is f**king fantastic for all involved. A well realized weave of stories helped established a broken, and compelling world. I was so invested, I couldn't help but want more. Yet, we're given just the right amount of story thanks to Gia Coppola's outstanding direction.  Featuring an eclectic cast with Franco as a creepy teacher, Emma Roberts as a misguided teen, Jack (and to a lesser extent, Val) Kilmer as a lost kid, and Nat Wolff with the most emotionally charged performance of the year. Seriously, I could not believe that the kid from The Naked Brothers Band had some talent. The final scene of the film where he charges into the night has stuck with me to this day.  1. Fury With how much Obvious Child and Palo Alto stuck with me, only one film did much more. As a fan of David Ayer's career, I was on top of Fury from day one. Though my anticipation sort of wavered in the middle thanks to some bad trailer editing, and I didn't think Logan Lerman was going to be an effective lead, once I sat down with the film all of that faded away. Fury is magnificent. Five terrific performances anchor the film's small story within this admittedly overwrought setting. Fury isn't a typical WWII film, and it delivers with a not so typical emotionally charged finale.  And Shia LaBeouf? Thank you for giving up all of that Transformers trash. This is what you're meant to do.  Read our review of Fury here.  What are your favorite movies from 2014? Did I miss any of your favorites? Leave a comment below or hit me up on Twitter! While you're at it, why not check out my Top 5 Animated Movies of 2014, Top 5 Sequels, Top 10 Movie Music Moments, and 2014's Best Dog in Film lists too!
Nick's Top 15 of 2014 photo
I have seen 107 films released in 2014. Here are 15 of the best ones
It was the best of films, it was the blurst of films. Hey everyone I'm Nick Valdez, News Editor here for Flixist and you've probably seen my name on a good chunk of the stuff written here. If not, then I'll tell you a bit abo...

Review: Blackhat

Jan 16 // Matthew Razak
[embed]218837:42147:0[/embed] BlackhatDirector: Michael MannRated: R Release Date: January 16, 2015  Blackhat may be timely in its release with all the issues going on with government hacking, but that doesn't mean it's actually all that interesting. Behind the fantastic direction is a plot so thin it makes single ply toilet paper look thick. Someone hacks into a nuclear power plant in China and blows it up. Surprisingly un-phased, the Chinese government sends Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang) over to America to work with Carol Barrett (Viola Davis) of the FBI to track down the hacker. Chen also brings along his sister, Lien Chen (Wei Tang), for no other reason than they needed someone for Chris Hemsworth to fall in love with. Hemsworth, by the way, plays an elite hacker guy who Chen roomed with in college. Chen convinces the FBI to release Nicholas Hathaway (Hemsworth) so the two can track down he bad guys. The story is relentlessly full of people typing in front of computers saying things that don't actually mean anything. That's part of the requirement for a film about hacking and cyber terrorism of course, but Mann has trouble keeping so much exposition clear and with a muddled plot that limps along it's hard to care. It's even worse because when the film does get out from behind the computers and starts tearing through the streets of Hong Kong its a gorgeous feast. Mann's action chops kick back in and things look like they're going to pick up until the next scene in front of a computer. Nichalos and Lien's romance is also painful to get through. The pair spend a day together and suddenly we're supposed to believe they've fallen madly in love. Hemsworth and Tang have almost no chemistry together and the actor often doesn't seem to want to be there. The pacing for their relationship is about as muddled as the film's plot, which routinely asks you to make jumps in logic that make little sense all while attempting to string together a twist ending that renders most of the movie pointless. Once the plot gets to where it thinks it wanted to go the film really has an issue. It's built up this hacker into a demi-god, but he's really just a guy. Tacked on to the end of the movie is a sequence so preposterous and pointless it feels like it might be from a different film. Mann's direction once again saves the conclusion from being unwatchable, but it's still pretty laughable. You get the feeling that the screenwriters forgot they had to end the movie while they were writing it.  Finally, is the down right odd score. Mann loves his synthesized strings and usually uses them well to pull you into his films, but here the score is often at odds with the film. It's overbearing at times and pulls you away from what's going on screen. Other times it works just fine. It's slightly schizophrenic, which may come from the multiple composer credits the film had.  Blackhat features some of the best city filming Mann has done in a long while and Hong Kong, along with the plethora of other cities, are  fantastic locations for him to shoot in. The movie looks great, but it is not a great movie. The plot, story and romance are about as flat as can be. Mann does his best to make what is basically two hours of computer exposition out of the realm of boredom, but there's only so much stunning directorial work can do. Bad plots are bad plots. 
Blackhat review photo
Like a bad thriller trying to be a Michael Mann film
I am a big Michael Mann fan. Collateral might be one of my favorite films. The guy just knows how to direct. You can be guaranteed at least one breath taking, though provoking shot in one of his films. This is espec...

Review: Taken 3

Jan 10 // Sean Walsh
[embed]218817:42128:0[/embed] Taken 3Director: Olivier MegatonRated: PG-13Release Date: January 9th, 2015 So, obviously, the whole theme of the Taken franchise is someone gets taken. In the first movie, it was Bryan Mills' (Liam Neeson) daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). In the second film, it was Bryan himself and his ex-wife Lenny (Famke Jannsen). In the third film, there's a variation on the theme: Lenny, on the cusp of leaving her super-rich husband for her ex-husband that lives in a tiny apartment, finds her life...taken. Bryan is framed for it and instead of reacting like a man who isn't guilty when the cops immediately show up, he starts punching dudes and trying to find the real culprit. Meanwhile, Inspector Franck (not a typo) Dotzler (Forest Whitaker) leads the hunt for Bryan. Lots of people get punched ,some get shot, and Bryan Mills utilizes a whole lot of the skills in his particular skill set. So, as we've established, this is the third movie. Neeson, Grace, and Jannsen step back into their familiar roles just fine. Whitaker is good as the inspector, and while he is largely underdeveloped, he has a few quirks that made him a little more interesting than Stock Guy Chasing the Protagonist. The best part about Taken 3 is the increased, albeit still-underutilized, presence of Bryan's three comrades-in-arms, played by Leland Orser, Jon Gries, and Jonny Weston. I've been saying for years now that they need a spin-off film. It would likely be better than this film and the last combined. They're fun characters and strike me as really interesting, despite the limited screentime they've received in this supposedly-finished trilogy. I liked this film because while it had the hallmarks of the franchise (torture, wanton violence, family drama), it actually felt different. Bryan isn't just trying to get out of a jam or find his loved one, he's trying to solve his ex-wife's murder while being a wanted man. There are whole stretches of film where not a single person gets shot or has a body part broken where we get to see the more nuanced (comparatively speaking) tools at Bryan's disposal. The mystery is good, and it throws twists and turns at you up until the end of the film. They also didn't waste the family drama subplot on something stupid like driving lessons, and while it did feel a little bit tacked on next to all the punching and shooting, it made for a nice dose of emotion. One line I have to mention, because it got a big laugh, is from right after Bryan steals a cop's cruiser. The cop says something to the effect of "You'll regret this!" or whatever and Bryan looks at him and goes, "Don't be such a pessimist," then drives off. That right there gets a gold star from me. I really don't have much more to say about this film, but not because it was bad by any stretch. It was a nice change, and certainly better than the second movie, but I just feel kind of blase about the whole thing. It was everything a fan of the franchise would need, and provided a nice end to the trilogy, but it didn't revolutionize the sub-genre of Revenge Thrillers Liam Neeson has carved out for himself. As a third and supposedly final film, Taken 3 does its job, improves on its predecessor, and made for a good morning matinee. I enjoyed the ride all-in-all, but I think it's time to let Bryan and Kim ride off into the sunset. I'd still watch the hell out of that spin-off movie with Leland Orser, Jon Gries, and Jonny Weston, though.
Review: Taken 3 photo
Bryan Mills is back for the last time probably!
Taken was great. Taken 2 was...not as good. When I heard that Taken 3 was going to exist, I sighed, because I knew, knew, that I'd feel obligated to finish what I started. So, on Saturday morning, I sat with ticket in ha...

Review: A Hard Day

Nov 20 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]218601:41982:0[/embed] A Hard Day (Kkeutkkaji Ganda |  끝까지 간다)Director: Seong-hoon KimRating: NRCountry: South Korea A Hard Day would be funny if it weren't so sad. I mean, it still is kind of funny, but it's not really "Ha ha" funny so much as "?!?!?!" funny. Go Geon-soo (Lee Sun-kyun) is having a bit of a hard life, what with his mother dying and everything, but that's just the start of his issues. In fact, it's the least of his issues. And when the least of your issues is the tragic death of your mother? Well, that's just a hard day right there. It all starts when Go Geon-soo hits someone with his car on the way to his mom's funeral. And it's not really his fault, because it was nighttime and the guy did sorta just run out in front of him, but now the guy is dead and that's what matters. Then a series of unfortunate events befalls him before the big one strikes: Someone knows what he did, and begins harassing him at work. And here is where things really start to take off. There are a couple of moments in A Hard Day that shocked me not just because they were shocking moments in and of themselves but because of the way they played out onscreen. I have talked a lot about long takes in the past, but two moments in particular here are spectacular uses of long takes not because the camera does anything particularly unique but because I immediately followed the moment up with, "Could they have done that more than once?" And if it was CG in either case, it was some spectacular use of CG, because even though one of the two things looked a little bit off at first, it looked less like straight up CG and more like a very specifically crafted launching mechanism. (Honestly, it probably would have been easier to just blow the thing up.) When you watch a film about things getting worse, you start to guess what's going to happen next. "How will he get screwed over this time? What other horrible thing will he be subjected to and/or forced to do to get himself out of it?" And there are moments of setup, where you know something bad is about to happen and it almost dares you to guess what it could be. But your guess will be wrong, because what actually happens is even more ridiculous than you expect. One of those two aforementioned shots literally dropped my jaw, because I had been guessing and guessing and guessing what was about to happen, and then it turns out I was so wrong and the people behind that sequence are both creative geniuses and deeply disturbed individuals. Which is probably an accurate way of describing the entire series of events. Each moment is extremely well constructed, and even if bits and pieces of Geon-soo's plan don't technically make sense and the things he does go beyond what's really possible, it works in context and that's what matters. Importantly, it never veers into the realm of straight-up unbelievability, even at its craziest. This is crucial to its impact, because if suddenly aliens came and abducted Geon-soo or something, then it wouldn't have just been a matter of "WHAT?!" it would have been "Oh, bullshit!" And by avoiding that line, A Hard Day makes itself a consistently compelling and surprising thriller. Much of the film's success hinges on Lee Sun-kyun's performance, because the character of Geon-soo has to be sympathetic for the film to work. If the audience isn't invested in him or his hard day, then it's just a cat and mouse game without stakes. You have to want to see Geon-soo succeed. And you do, for two reasons: One: Lee Sun-kyun is lovable. He's a good looking guy, but he's not rugged. He's more cute than handsome, and it results in him appearing to be a fish out of water, which in and of itself makes him sympathetic. His performance bears that out, as he runs from scene to scene like a chicken with its head cut off.  Two: he's never scary. Even when he's doing things that are terrible, they aren't horrific. He's kind of a bad guy, but he's not evil. Even when he goes to a place that might seem like too far, it doesn't really feel that way. Geon-soo appears justified in his actions throughout. Plus, they're all motivated by fear, which is an emotion pretty much anybody can relate to. You can say that he should have done this or shouldn't have done that, but he's afraid (terrified, even), and when you're terrified you don't always make the best decisions. That's understandable. And because it's understandable, you want to see Geon-soo make it through. You root for him every step of the way, following him through thick and thin. And when it's all over and you pick up your jaw off the floor, you breathe a sigh of relief and thank whatever you believe in that your life isn't as bad as his. [A Hard Day will be screening at 9:40 PM on Friday, November 21 at BAM.]
A Hard Day Review photo
A hard day indeed
Every so often, I see a film and think that the title is a perfect encapsulation of its very existence. If I were to name the film, those are exactly the words I would have chosen. A Hard Day is that exactly, in par...

Conjuridious photo

Insidious: Chapter 3 and The Conjuring 2 get new release dates

Nov 12
// Nick Valdez
Hey, do you like horror movies? Did you see the latest Conjuring spin-off Annabelle and liked it? Then boy do I have news for the two of you. The Conjuring 2 and Insidious: Chapter 3 have new release dates! Did you see that t...

Review: Open Windows

Nov 07 // Nick Valdez
[embed]217384:41308:0[/embed] Open WindowsDirector: Nacho VigalondoRated: RRelease Date: November 7, 2014 Open Windows stars Elijah Wood as Nick (which is one of the many reasons I found myself identifying with him), a lonely man who runs a fan website for actress Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey). Nick won a contest to eat dinner with Goddard, but that contest was promptly canceled. As Nick finds himself in a hotel room playing with his laptop, Chord (Neil Maskell) hacks into his computer and states that Jill Goddard is a diva who selfishly always gets what he wants. As Chord walks Nick through various levels of hacking into Jill's life, Nick realizes there may be a more sinister plan at work.  First of all, Open Windows' main draw is its presentation. Presented entirely through electronic devices (mainly Nick's laptop, but later expands to camera phones, dashboard cameras and the like), Windows blends multiple threads together. The POV creates a far more intimate and interesting outing and makes it easier to find yourself in Nick's shoes. Honestly, this whole presentation would've fallen flat if not anchored by Elijah Wood. He's charming and charismatic enough that even the most "Hollywood" aspects of the film's technology were able to swallow. If I had one thing to say about the presentation, however, is sometimes not even Wood is enough to keep the logic afloat.  Windows asks for quite a bit of bent logic from the viewer as hacking takes on a more fantastical role as the film progresses. Rather than stay rooted, and believable on Nick's laptop, eventually (in order to keep the film from going visually flat) the changes in scenery notably jolt you out of perspective and force you to question how long the battery on Nick's laptop could truly last. The unfortunate thing is, however, is that you'll find yourself wanting the film to go back to the intimate beginning. As the mystery of the film slowly reveals itself and becomes cartoonish, it loses sight of that initial spark. There's a very interesting idea at play here that's unfortunately forgotten as the film tries to become a satire of other things.  You see, when the film opens, you get a lonely man sitting in front of his computer as he idolizes a famous someone he will never meet. This is where I became involved with the film. I've been there, and I know exactly what the awkward feeling of longing does to you. As Jill becomes more of a fleshed out character, the film neatly satirizes the very nature and attitude of the Internet. Grey is perfectly cast as the famed actress as I'm sure Grey knows a thing or two about idolization. There's a question of control at play during Nick and Jill's initial interactions that unfortunately aren't explored as Windows sees fit to throw those interesting ideals out the window and become a jumbled mess before concluding.  No matter how much you enjoy Open Windows, there's no way you're going to make it through the muddy finale without feeling a tad bit confused. Although there are slight hints of a greater mystery throughout the film, there aren't enough to save it from the complete derailment within its final ten minutes. Characters are introduced, thrown into weird perspectives, and odd visual choices don't necessarily help matters. But oddly enough, they don't hurt matters either.   While the conclusion is awfully jolting and makes little sense, the intentionally skewed point of view creates a great sense of suspense as you'll find yourself trying harder just to try and *see* who's who. It's neat little payoff of the original idea. Once again, it all relates back to the idea of control. When given control what would you do? Would you take advantage of another? But when you find yourself in the opposite position, and that control is taken away, what would you do then? I found myself thinking about all of things as the film went on, but unfortunately realized that the general nature of the questions were completely unrelated to the film at hand.  Open Windows is a great, stripped down narrative in the beginning, but sadly devolves into mush as it rolls on. It's got an interesting idea at play, but never quite hits its mark. 
Open Windows Review photo
You'll never want to use your computer again
Open Windows was the first film I saw during SXSW 2014. I've never covered the festival before, so I had no idea what kind of features I'd end up exposing myself to. Going in I was awkward, tense, but mostly curious. As the f...

Review: Nightcrawler

Oct 31 // Nick Valdez
[embed]218521:41924:0[/embed] NightcrawlerDirector: Dan GilroyRelease Date: October 31, 2014 Rating: R Nightcrawler follows Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a man so desperate for money and a job he's willing to go to great lengths to get what he wants. After stumbling on the scene of a deadly car accident and finds Joe (Bill Paxton) recording the carnage, Lou works his way into the world of sensationalist journalism by becoming a nightcrawler, someone who records footage of crime and sells it to local news stations. From there, Lou just tries his damndest to be successful at what he does and no one is going to get in the way of that.  Everything is meticulously arranged. From the setting (it's in LA), the color palette (lots of drab pastels catch the eye and give the film a nostalgic vibe), and the time period it's set in is blurred. Although the film is technically a contemporary take on Los Angeles, it's like the entire film is in a bubble. There are present technologies (like fancy cameras, cars and GPS systems) but they're held back until Lou gets enough money for them. It's an implied "money sets you back a few years" that permeates throughout the film. As more and more money leads to more success, and thus making the power money brings a necessity to move forward, you also sympathize with Lou's plight. The fact you can sympathize with Lou at all is a miracle of storytelling as well.  Lou Bloom is a, well, scumbag. His dark nature is thankfully never kept from sight. As we're introduced to him, he's in the middle of stealing copper wire and manhole covers. When he's confronted by security, he commits a violent act to escape. And with that the audience as a whole is clutched within his skinny little fingers. Everything about Lou is framed perfectly. As you watch a man who's already swimming in a pool of his own grotesqueness, the tension is mined from how far he's willing to reach to attain a semblance of power. I got goosebumps just watching him "interact" with a few of the crime scenes later in the film as I was caught between wondering whether or not he'd get punished for his actions and hoping he'd succeed. But that's also attributed to Gyllenhaal's fabulous performance.  Although Lou has all the makings of a sociopath (he's charismatically detestable, he has a certain routine with his house chores), Gyllenhaal seems like he's just a guy down on his luck. When he gets power you see that facade crack a bit, but it's always hidden by a breathtaking professionalism. Gyllenhaal always has a smile, but his eyes never lose their intensity (thanks to wonderfully filmed angles highlighting the shadows cascading from Gyllenhaal's now angular face). He's slick and dangerous, but Gyllenhaal makes it possible to even want to watch Lou do things. It's like staring at the scene of a car accident yourself. You get this knot in your stomach because you know your curiousity is leading you to do inherently bad things, but you keep watching to see the outcome. When his performance works in tandem with writer/director Dan Gilroy's many close ups, you have no choice but to stay along for the ride.  The amoral nature of viewing tragedy through your TV screen is personified with Lou. While he may not represent the audience directly, he's an exaggerated reflection of our drive to succeed compounded with the distance we create between what we see and how we reflect on those sights. A quite literal "started from the bottom now we here" story that finds the darkest corners of that bottom and twists the views of the rewards from the top. What is there to gain but hollow victory? As Nightcrawler washes over Lou's many successes, and thus makes his transition to a powerful state less visible, it reminds you how little actually changes when you see the world through a narrowed perspective like that of a camera lens.  Nightcrawler isn't a perfect film (there are a few too many on the nose speeches, the pace of the film tends to wallow a bit in certain areas, and if Lou doesn't appeal to you the film won't stick), but it's a highly entertaining dissection of professional aspiration. And the wonderful thing is, that isn't the only way to see it. The film is packed with so much depth with journalistic quandaries, practicality vs. romanticism, and is basically everything you'd want in a thought provoking film.  Nightcrawler has gotten under my skin and refused to leave. 
Nightcrawler Review photo
Crawling in my skin
Nightcrawler has come out of nowhere to become one of my favorite films of 2014. As of right now, I'd even go as far to say that it is my favorite overall. I didn't even know it existed until a few months ago where a brief te...


See Before I Go to Sleep early and free

Washington DC screening
Oct 27
// Matthew Razak
Nicole Kidman in a movie that looks a lot like Memento? I'm in. Before I Go to Sleep has all the makings of a film that blows your mind with an awesome premise or an unseen twist. Want to know what it is before everyone ...

Review: A Walk Among the Tombstones

Sep 19 // Matthew Razak
A Walk Among the TombstonesDirector: Scott FrankRated: RRelease Date: September 18, 2014 [embed]218366:41847:0[/embed] A Walk Among the Tombstones is adapted from a novel by the same name, and it shows. Far less the action movie the trailers make it out to be the film is more of a mystery thriller. After Kenny Kristo's (Dan Stevens) wife goes missing he calls in Matt Scudder (Neeson), a less than reputable P.I. to investigate. It turns out that Kenny is a drug trafficker and thus can't really go to the cops when the people who ransomed his wife return her chopped up into tiny bits. Scudder, an ex-alcholic ex-cop, decides to take up the case as he determines that the two guys behind the kidnapping are actually serial rapists and murderers. During his investigation Sudder befriends a young homeless boy, TJ (Astro) who helps him understand computers and cellphones.  You're rolling your eyes already at that, but the film is set in 1999, right before the dawn of the millennium, so a man of Neeson's age not understanding or liking computers is a bit more believable. Aside from that though the plot doesn't hold together all too well. The mystery unfolds pretty unevenly, as Scudder lucks his way into finding the twisted duo who are kidnapping and torturing women. It makes for a first half of the film that feels forced, especially the TJ character who adds an awkward buddy cop element into what is otherwise a very dark film. This film is extremely dark. Torture, rape and murder are all discussed if not shown and the violence almost reaches slasher film levels. It's actually a good thing for the most part. When the film is working on its darker side it actually starts to kick with the movie's ending ratcheting up the tension very well. Neeson helps out a lot here as he gravels through his performance and lifts a limping screenplay along. Director Scott Frank can definitely do dark as his previous film, The Lookout, showed us, but when it comes to the rest of the movie he's flat. Scudder's budding relationship with TJ flounders for most of the movie and Kenny's character is sorely mishandled. That's too bad as Dan Stevens deserves better roles. Here he's simply trying to out gravely-voice Liam Neeson, which is an nearly impossible feat. Meanwhile Astro, who is evidently a child rapper, seemed to be learning how to act throughout the film. His performance varies from unbearable to descent throughout the film. Just one more reason the whole surrogate father thing doesn't play out so well. You know, that and the violence and death visited upon the kid throughout the film. It must be said that the film's direction is pretty creative. Frank weaves emotional issues into action sequences well, if not a bit heavy handedly. For instance at the end of the film the AA's 12 steps are read over Neeson's reawakened quest for justice; the film freeze framing as the dialog adds an extra layer to the action. It doesn't save the film, and it certainly doesn't make it great, but the extra push of drama separates it from other low-budget action fare. There's at least  bit of something interesting going on here. So Neeson has managed to do it again. While taking on a film that seems the same as all his previous, he deviates slightly. Instead of the straight action movie we get a dark thriller full of truly brutal violence. What we don't get is something truly on par with a man of Neeson's skill and ability. I'd like to see the actor actually challenge himself with a role soon because right now A Walk Among the Tombstones is far too much like a walk in the park for him. 
Tombstones Review photo
The darker side of Neeson
Looking back over Liam Neeson's career since Taken turned him into an action hero one could argue that he's basically made the same movie over and over. A vengeful individual in some sort of manly battle involving life a...

Review: The Guest

Sep 17 // Nick Valdez
[embed]218346:41835:0[/embed] The GuestDirector: Adam WingardRated: RRelease Date: September 17, 2014 (limited) Coping with the loss of their son/brother in the war, the Peterson family is as broken as you'd expect. One day a handsome man named David (Dan Stevens), claiming to be a friend of their lost son, ends up staying the night at their place trading stories of the war. After a few days, a string of mysterious deaths plague the town and Anna (Maika Monroe) believes David is the cause of all of it. The Guest, by and large, sounds like a run of the mill thriller. But the best thing about the film is how it knows this, but just doesn't care.  By exploiting the typical nature of its premise, The Guest plays with its tone. At many times, I found myself laughing at inappropriate moments because of how expertly they were staged. From little shrugs and stares, to how increasingly violent the film gets, it's all balanced in a way that's never overbearing one way or the other. It'd be too far of a reach to say there's "trashy" fun (as the film is pretty damn smart), but there's definitely a love crafted into the film's horror. And it's not even a horror film! It's a peculiar action/spy thriller with a violent bent.  I'm going to try and avoid spoiling the "reveal" of David's true intentions, but unlike You're Next (which has a particular shift in tone that's much better if it's a surprise), there's no hiding David's sinister motives. That's where the fun mentioned earlier lies. There's never any attempt to pretend The Guest is something it's not. The switch is always turned to eleven, and the whole film is really just waiting for the hammer to drop. Much of the film's fun is attributed to Dan Stevens' great turn as the titular guest. He's basically a guy you'd let into your home if he asked (charming, gorgeous, and complete with a southern drawl), but he's threatening when he turns it on. For example early bits of the film feature David ominously staring off into the distance, and coupled with the film's great soundtrack, it all just works. Hilariously enough, Stevens is so damn charming, it's hard not to side with him toward the finale. He's just so lovable at that point (and that's where the film mines humor too!) The Guest is the good kind of nostalgic. It hearkens back to a simpler time when horror/thriller films were more about the experience than the jump scares. By skimming its plot to the bare essentials, the film is allowed to focus on getting the atmosphere right. Everything in The Guest is full of lovingly placed little details. The characters all have a memorable quirk (the father drinks, Anna has a kickass hairdo), the set pieces are full of nice foreshadowing details (one bar has a "No Fighting" sign before a big fight happens), and the soundtrack is flooded with fantastic, 70s horror synth pop tunes. In fact, the soundtrack does most of the heavy lifting as the finale uses it with hilarious results. Remember how good it was in You're Next? It's even better here.  Now The Guest isn't perfect as much of the story's plainness leads to a great deal of predictability, some of the acting is a bit rougher than I'd like, and I found myself wanting to start the action sooner for a bit in the middle, but ultimately, you've got to respect The Guest's intelligently crafted simplicity.  Whether it was appropriate or not, I had a huge smile on my face the entire time. It was the most fun at the movies I've had in some time. I'd definitely invite The Guest into my home. In fact, I want to live with it forever. 
The Guest Review photo
Welcome in my home
When I saw the first trailer for The Guest I wasn't particularly interested in the film. It looked generic, bland, and seemed like yet another trite thriller that comes out around Halloween for a cheap buck. But like You're N...

John Wick Trailer photo
John Wick Trailer

First trailer for John Wick starring Keanu Reeves and a puppy

"I'm the bomb and about to blow up."
Sep 15
// Nick Valdez
John Wick has no right looking as interesting as it does. Revenge thrillers are always hit or miss. You take an aging actor, and send him out to kill some dudes. Sometimes it's goofy fun (Man of Fire), sometimes it's goofy f...

Review: The Drop

Sep 12 // Matthew Razak
[embed]218332:41829:0[/embed] The DropMichaël R. Roskam Rated: RRelease Date: September 12, 2014 The Drop is definitely a small feeling movie. They push it as a crime thriller, but really its more of a character study on Tom Hardy's Bob. Bob is a barkeep in the bar owned by his cousin Marv (James Gandolfini). Marv use to be a bit of a mob boss, but he was pushed out by a foreign gang and now the bar acts as a drop spot for illegal gambling. It's often hard to tell where the film is going and who were supposed to be fighting against as the story unfolds and Bob finds a puppy in the trash can of Nadia (Noomi Rapace). The two kindle a kind of romance as her ex starts to stalk Bob and the bar gets robbed. The movie, far from being an actual thriller, is more about Bob and who he is. As the light plot unrolls were treated to less tension and more mystery. Bob seems a little simple and straightforward, but there's something underneath there. As the story unfolds the complexity of the character does as well. The unfortunate thing is that the film doesn't always want to be a character study and veers towards crime thriller ever so often. It veers too much, taking us through a few too many twists and turns instead of delivering its strongest aspect, Bob. Tom Hardy is a revelation in the role. If you now him as an actor you could barely expect that he could pull off the shy, off-kilter New Yorker that is Bob, but he is completely transformed from the guy we know as Bane. His eyes constantly shift, unable to make contacting with anyone else. He's smaller and removed and yet still a presence on screen and he deftly handles a character that is layered. In the hands of another actor Bob's story would seem contrived -- and then the movie would have really not worked -- but Hardy turns a caricature into a human with his performance. It is stunning to watch. Nothing else in the film is as stunning. Roskam's subdued direction doesn't do anything to get in the way, but it certainly doesn't help out either. Things often feel flat, especially after the film reaches its apex and we're winding down. There's nothing else there to make the movie pop up despite a strong performance from Gandolfini. Rapace is present, but her role gets a bit too confused as the film goes on. Thankfully Hardy is there to ground it all in his character. A detective character played by John Ortiz also feels very out of place and simply an excuse to progress the plot and say meaningful things every once in a while. Structurally the film has issues like this as it tries to inject crime Thriller aspects in. This is not to say that the movie is bad at all. As a character study it could be pushing towards great, but as a crime thriller it simply sits too much. Hardy is the key, though. He takes the movie to a level where I would easily recommend seeing it even if you I don't think it's the best thing out there.  And if you need more convincing there's an adorable puppy. Everyone loves puppies.
The Drop Review photo
The role of a lifetime in the wrong film
The Drop is one of those little crime thrillers that comes out and no one really hears about it and you aren't sure why it was made. Possibly the studio thought it could grab some award love or something, but nothing is ...

Boy Next Block photo
Boy Next Block

Trailer for The Boy Next Door starring...Jennifer Lopez?

Jenny should've stayed in the block.
Sep 09
// Nick Valdez
Remember when JLO used to star in movies? Here's why she doesn't anymore. 
Rosewater Trailer photo
Rosewater Trailer

First trailer for Rosewater, directed by Jon Stewart

Aug 29
// Nick Valdez
Jon Stewart, most known as the guy who got stabbed in the eye in The Faculty and the guy weird bangs in Death to Smoochy (also for hosting The Daily Show, I guess), is ready to showcase his directorial debut, Rosewater, base...
Trailer: Foxcatcher photo
Trailer: Foxcatcher

Trailer: Foxcatcher

Aug 28
// Sean Walsh
Yay, a new Foxcatcher trailer! Is anybody as excited for this film as I am? Between my love of Channing Tatum, Steve Carrell, and Mark Ruffalo, the dreary atmosphere, and incredibly intense subject matter, I am ecstatic for ...

Review: The November Man

Aug 28 // Matthew Razak
[embed]218262:41788:0[/embed] The November ManDirector: Robert DonaldsenRated: RRelease Date: August 27, 2014  The November Man is based upon a book called There Are No Spies and one can only hope that the book's plot makes more sense than the film's. Peter Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan), the titular November Man, is a retired CIA spy who is called back for a mission to save an old flame. However, things go south and his old protege David Mason (Luke Bracey) ends up being the one hunting him for the CIA. To uncover why his ex was killed Peter must uncover a conspiracy involving the future president of Russia and a sex slave ring by tracking down a former sex slave with the aid of Alice Fournier (Bond girl alum Olga Kurylenko). It's a spy film so obviously there are twists, turns and double crosses, but the overall plot of the film is a complete mess. While it isn't hard to follow it makes little to no sense in the way it is put together or in its character's motivations. There's obviously a big cover up going on, but the movie jumps around so much between plot lines and inter-personal issues that it doesn't build to its conclusion with any tension. The story limps thanks to the plot jumping all over from action sequences to dark drama to dated spy-thriller espionage.  That dark drama is the worst of it. The film is tonally all over the place as is Brosnan's character, who can't seem to make up his mind if he's James Bond, mentally unstable or simply a dumb action star. There's very little reasoning behind his actions from one scene to the next as we get a character who feels more like a pastiche of action tropes instead of person. A particularly dark scene in which he threatens a young woman's life seems almost completely out of the blue for the character we saw before throwing witticisms as he saves Alice from death. Despite Brosnan's best efforts to imbue something into the role the more the glaring tonal shifts ruin him.  Even more disastrous is the film's treatment of women who are seen almost entirely as either sex objects or foils for men to play off of. Despite being about saving an abused child the movie gloriously heaps women's bodies on us and delivers female characters who are no more than caricatures. A woman's only use in this film is to advance the plot by making mistakes. When I wanted this film to be a throwback to 90s spy thrillers I was hoping that the at least semi-improved roll of women in these things would come along. Instead it feels like it hopped back to Sean Connery slapping a girl on the ass and saying, "Man talk." The November Man also just feels stale. Nothing in it feels new, and instead of the old school style making you feel nostalgic it makes you happy we don't have to watch movies like this anymore. A slow motion dive through a door while firing guns without a trace of irony? Directors grew out of that crap ages ago. That's not to say that Roger Donaldsen did anything with this movie that could really be called directing. Action sequences are pieced together so poorly that you can see the pulled punches. Donaldsen has years of (not very good) directing experience and he can't fit together a coherent fist fight here.  The movie is just a mess and if it wasn't for the fact that Brosnan produced it I wouldn't know why a agreed to star in it. If its treatment of female characters wasn't bad enough it doesn't even have a coherent lead role with any depth. Instead of having the complexity of the colors of leaves turning in November the film is instead as bland as dead branches in January. 
November Man Review photo
Boring in any month
The fact that Pierce Brosnan was returning to spy movies pretty much made me one of the most excited people around. The November Man would be a harder, R-rated James Bond with some good action and maybe a little throwbac...

Whiplash Trailer photo
Whiplash Trailer

Trailer for Whiplash starring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons

Aug 27
// Nick Valdez
Whoa, why hasn't anyone told me about Whiplash? Starring J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller, as a jazz student and incredibly harsh teacher, Whiplash looks like it's going to be one of my favorites this year if the rest of it is ...
As Above Trailer photo
As Above Trailer

Red Band Trailer for As Above, So Below is above and also below

Aug 26
// Nick Valdez
Opening later this week, I'm pretty interested in As Above, So Below. Although I don't like the title, I've always wanted someone to utilize that giant grave site under the streets of France for some kind of horror thriller. It may look a bit more generic than I initially thought, but I'm hoping the setting helps alleviate some of that feeling.  As Above So Below releases August 29th. 
Angel of Death Trailer photo
Angel of Death Trailer

First teaser for The Woman in Black: Angel of Death

Aug 25
// Nick Valdez
I've never seen 2012's The Woman in Black for myself, but I've heard good things. Not particularly about the film's plot, but hey, whatever works. Anyway, here's the first super brief teaser for its sequel, The Woman in Blac...

Review: Cam2Cam

Aug 23 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]218237:41777:0[/embed] Cam2CamDirector: Joel SoissonRelease Date: August 22, 2014 (Theatrical/VOD)Rating: NR  Here's a bad sign: IMDb does not credit its writer/director with Cam2Cam's script. It only mentions Marie Gautier and Davy Sihali, who were behind the original story it's based on. Only in the actual credits did I see "Screenplay by Joel Soisson." Without bothering to fact-check this, I'm going to guess that Mr. Soisson is at least 90 years old. I say this because it seems to me that there is no way he has ever had a discussion with another human being on the internet. I have a 14 year old sister who types primarily in abbreviations, but the non-English that Cam2Cam's characters use during their chat sessions is a whole other level of stupid. At least 80% of the words are misspelled. That's not an exaggeration. If anything, it's a lowball. For the most part, they're the typical bullshit abbreviations: numbers instead of letters and cutting words down to their most basic phonic requirements. These things are typical, but no less terrible. I've been spending the majority of my time on the internet for the better part of the 21st century, and I've never come across people (outside of maybe YouTube comments) who have such a blatant disregard for basic syntax. But it's not just that. Because I could imagine a 90+ year old man who had seen a Fox News special on the digital degradation of language going too far in an attempt to seem "hip" or something. The issue is when it goes from abbreviation to straight up misspelling (there are multiple, not all of them intentional) or something weirder. The bit of "writing" that turned my anger into righteous indignation was the following:  "4 a nanosecond. now goin 2 bed"  It doesn't matter what this is in response to, but you should immediately understand what is so completely ludicrous about this line. Nanosecond? Seriously? She can't type out "four" or "two," finish "going," or use capitals and consistent punctuation, but she has the gall to type out "nanosecond" instead of "sec"? No one would do that. No one writes like that. I hate this. You may think I'm spending way too much time harping on this, but you'd be wrong, because the entire first twenty minutes of this "horror" film takes place in a chatroom and features one girl being "scared" by some other person who is saying terrifying things like "LOL." The creepy music clashes with the laughable dialogue and makes for a film that completely misses the mark. It's like a cat walked across the writer's keyboard and he just left it as it was. Drama doesn't work when two twenty-somethings are typing like toddlers. And while the spoken dialogue is better, it's still pretty bad. People give long, expository speeches explaining their worldview; everyone just seems to know really fundamental things about each other because it's narratively convenient; and they string together words that don't quite work constantly. Nobody speaks like an actual human being. No one. (And no one really reacts to things like a human being either. Everyone's exceedingly stupid.) Going back to my theory that the writer is very old and watches Fox News, here is the moment that really clinched it for me, even more than the legitimately infuriating "4 a nanosecond. now goin 2 bed." One particularly verbose character is describing the personality of a guy who decapitated at least four women. And his description made me want to throw my TV through a window. He said: "He was like one of those hardcore gamer types. The ones that always have to be on level 10 even when everyone else is playing on level 5. "Do you know what I mean?" No, Mr. Soisson, I don't. And neither does anybody else. Other thoughts: - Cam2Cam, for the most part, is nice to look at, though much of that is because Bangkok is a fascinating location. - I was warned that the first 20 minutes were the film's worst, and I'd agree with that. The whole thing could have started after that first scene and it would have made for a better film. A couple of events may not have made perfect sense, but it's not like they all make sense now. - For example, the twist ending. Totally didn't see it coming, but after four seconds of reflection I realized it made no sense. - There are some things that sorta made sense that did actually surprise me, so that was kinda cool. - There's a closeup of a tiny flaccid penis out of nowhere. So there's your warning. - The main character "unintentionally" places her laptop in such a way that it creates a perfectly symmetrical frame so that she can be watched through her webcam in a cinematically pleasing way. Completely unacceptable. - Cam2Cam's poster was approximately 70% of the reason I wanted to see it. Unfortunately, the image of a badass underwear model wielding an axe of justice is not actually in the film. Shame.
Cam2Cam Review photo
Righteous indignation
In past reviews, I've written about the problems with poor subtitles on foreign films. Improper use of language serves as a distraction from the comedy or drama and makes the experience worse. I love the English language. It'...


Katie Holmes in Miss Meadows trailer

It's like a sexy, troubled Charles Bronson
Aug 22
// Matthew Razak
Wait, I'm actually interested in something Katie Holmes is doing? This is... an odd feeling. Yet Miss Meadows actually looks pretty interesting and Holmes playing off her sweet to death persona so she can kill bad guys ...
Nightcrawler Trailer photo
Nightcrawler Trailer

This trailer for Nightcrawler makes me want it more

"If you want to win the lotto, you gotta make the money to buy the ticket."
Aug 22
// Nick Valdez
I had no idea Nightcrawler even existed before that awesome teaser released a few weeks back, and now I can't get it off my mind. And thanks to the newest trailer for it, looks like I'm not going to stop thinking about it an...
Open Windows Trailer photo
Open Windows Trailer

Trailer for Open Windows features windows, they're possibly open

Aug 20
// Nick Valdez
Open Windows is a film that probably could've been much better. It's got a lot of promise with a talented cast (Sasha Grey and Elijah Wood) and director (Nacho Vigalondo), but it falls apart toward the finale. It was the fir...

NYAFF Review: Cold Eyes

Jul 11 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]218018:41679:0[/embed] Cold Eyes (Stakeout / Gamshijadeul | 감시자들)Directors: Cho Ui-Seok and Kim Byung-SeoRating: NRCountry: South Korea  Well, it’s about a cops and robbers. On one side are the trackers (my word, not theirs), who scout out information. On the other are the thieves, pulling off elaborate, perfectly timed heists. It’s something. Enter Team Animal (not their real name), a group of special officers renowned for their ability to locate anybody and everybody. Rookie detective Ha Yoon-Joo (Han Hyo-Joo) is the newest entry to the force, and right from the get-go, she shows off her incredible memory skills during her final assessment, recalling details that were probably impossible for her to have noticed. It makes her perfect for the team, and she joins immediately. At first glance, their work doesn’t seem all that thrilling (and in reality, it’s probably not). In fact, the initially hot-headed Detective Ha can’t deal with just how simplistic their job is: They locate and identify criminals for others to confront. They track and trace but they don’t engage. It’s a fascinating job, and even though it would probably be boring the majority of the time, Cold Eyes makes it look awesome. The way the team works together as a unit to call out criminals is absolutely fascinating. And it’s what made me want to be a spy. They gather intel and bring it back to HQ, in and out in total secrecy. It’s badass. And I’m not ashamed to admit that I added just a little bit of generic “stealth” to my movements for the following couple of hours. Behind it all is Hwang (Sol Kyung-Gu). Just as the heists need a man watching from above and calling the shots, the trackers need a voice in their ear to get them from point to point. Working from a constantly circling van, Hwang runs the show in a decidedly low-fi manner: using an old fashioned map of the city and wooden figurines he has to manually place in location. But that’s not because he doesn’t have the technology at his disposal, just that he prefers a more classic approach. But then again, how “classic” could that be? I wonder how people were tracked before the advent of our interconnected world. The use of the city-wide surveillance cameras, phones, GPS trackers, and etc. all add up to a modern job for a modern world. And it seems like it would have been impossible to do what they’re doing even just 15 years ago. But despite its reliance on technology, nothing about Cold Eyes seems implausible. Films that go deep into that sort of thing often have to make leaps of logic just to push the narrative forward. Most frequently: blurry images need to magically resolve detail in a far-off reflection. Fortunately, Cold Eyes has none of that. Particularly notable is the lack of facial recognition software, because that’s just the reality. Here’s a true fact: the FBI’s new system produces a list of 50 potential matches with only an 85% chance that the correct person is named. It’s the kind of thing that could make the tracking jobs significantly easier (and potentially even unnecessary), but it’s not possible with today’s technology. When films use it, they do so as a crutch. Cold Eyes’s refusal to go down that path was something I greatly appreciated. Instead of a computer’s algorithms, the constant surveillance footage is manually combed through by a whole bunch of people sitting at computer monitors. The technology is a tool, but it only aids their work; it does nothing to replace it. That isn’t to say Cold Eyes is totally realistic; it isn’t. While pretty much everything the heroes do seem real enough (Detective Ha’s memory aside), the primary antagonist verges on being cartoonish. Part of this comes from his preferred location: high above the streets on a rooftop where he can survey his own operations. But when he gets into the heat of it, he’s even more dangerous than his goons. And when he pulls out his weapon to take on the good guys, it’s… a fountain pen. Seriously. I mean, as badass as it is to see him take someone down with a pen, it’s borderline stupid. And that goes back to his over-the-top villainy. He’s basically a perfect human, and while the only person who could get past the protagonists would have to be, it’s just a bit silly. That being said, Cold Eyes is at least part comedy, so it’s not as off-putting as it could have been. The majority of the comedy comes from Hwang’s running commentary. When they see a potential, overweight suspect on one camera, he instructs everyone to search for the “thirsty hippo,” and thus he is dubbed for the rest of the operation. And it’s a badass operation. Though  centers around the capture of a single character, it’s interesting throughout. New tactics on both sides keep the action feeling fresh, even when nothing is actually accomplished. The actual confrontations are awesome too, and the film has some of the best pen-based fight choreography I’ve ever seen. But while the bombastic moments are fun, Cold Eyes is at its best when its characters are in the streets, working as a well-oiled machine tracking down their subjects. Those are the scenes that made me want to be a spy, and those are the scenes that will stick with me long after the credits have rolled.
Cold Eyes Review photo
Track, mark, repeat
Some of my favorite movies are ones that make me want to go and do something after the lights come up. Some films make me want to travel the world or shave my head or something. Others take professions and make them seem so m...

Review: Beneath

Jun 27 // Nick Valdez
[embed]217929:41633:0[/embed] BeneathDirector: Ben KetaiRated: RRelease Date: June 27, 2014 (VOD), July 25th (Theatrically) As George Marsh (Jeff Fahey) prepares to retire, his daughter Samantha (Kelly Noonan) decides to accompany him down in the coal mine in order to prove to his gang of drinking buddies that she's tough. After an accident causes the mine to cave in, the small crew must wait 72 hours for rescue. With fading oxygen and tensions rising high, the crew must survive without hurting each other.  When I saw the first trailer for this film, I honestly wasn't too enthralled to review it. It looked interesting enough, but I've sat through far too many generic slasher films to take another serious plunge. Thankfully, Beneath isn't a slasher film and was sort of incorrectly sold as one. In fact, the most refreshing thing about the film is that there's hardly any violence at all. Most of the film's horror is of the psychological variety, and it's quite impressive when it all goes down. But the unfortunate fact of the matter is, to have a successful psychological thriller, you need characters that work.  Beneath is filled with awful people. When you get the conventional horror stereotypes clashing with the depth the narrative is attempting, eventually one is going to collapse under the weight of the other. The tough guy, the sickly old man, the girl, these are fine and dandy, but they're hardly developed into anything worthwhile before the mysterious deaths begin. Unfortunately, the little development they do get is wasted as each person is a little more unbearable. You kind of start rooting for their demise. Even the main character, Sam, feels like she's just getting in the way. In a morbid way, I guess there's an audience for that particular type of horror, but as mentioned before, it feels totally out of place with the film's themes.  But when Beneath works with its themes rather than against them, the film absolutely nails it. It's put together very well. The cave is appropriately shallow, lots of scenes are littered with the sound of breathing (instead of being edited out like in most films), and regardless of how I feel about their personalities, the miners all act rationally and make sound decisions. But as much as I want to compliment the film's focus on paranoia, the physical manifestation of it is confusing. I won't go into detail here so you can discover it for yourself, but when you figure out that the goings on are from a certain point of view, it riddles the film with holes. It's a nice decision leading up to the finale, but it throws the rest into disarray.  Overall, Beneath is a film with an interesting premise that fails to execute it cleanly. Some shining spots manage to break through this dark cave, but they're quickly smothered by weird decisions. Once the film kicks in (and the miners are trapped), the mystery unravels and it's quite enjoyable. You just having to be willing to sit through the rest of it.  Then again, the final shot is well executed, I kind of want folks to see it. At a brisk 90 minutes, Beneath is definitely worth it for the final moments. 
Beneath Review photo
Coal mining is a scarily dangerous profession. Our need for crude energies leads thousands of people to risk their lives every day mining for energy. It's a wonder that with such harsh conditions, it's taken this long for a f...


WarGames does the director and writer thing for almost real this time

Dean Israelite to direct and Arash Amelt to write
Jun 25
// Matthew Razak
WarGames never really stood out to me when I originally saw it back in the day, but its a considered a classic and any 80s classic that exists must get a remake. Thus we've had a new one on the dock for a few years now. ...

New trailer for Norwegian adventure movie Ragnarok

Jun 20
// Liz Rugg
Ragnarok is the story of archeologist Sigurd Svenden, a man who has always been enthralled with the Oseberg Viking ship, which contains a mysterious engraving in runes that says "Man knows little." When one of his archeology...

Review: Coherence

Jun 19 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
CoherenceDirector: James Ward ByrkitRelease Date: June 20th, 2014 (Theatrical)  Quantum mechanics is something a lot people have heard of but few can really grasp. And there's a reason for that: It makes no sense. The rules of the subatomic world are even more foreign than those in the most ridiculous sci-fi universe. There's a saying often attributed to the late, great Richard Feynman: "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics." And it's true; I've had numerous people try to break down its concepts, and most of the time they're dead wrong.  But the fact is that quantum mechanics is real, and these truly bizarre things are too. It doesn't affect us in any obvious way, which is why it's so hard to conceptualize, but it play a massive role in our society. I mean, if it wasn't for quantum mechanics, you wouldn't be reading this right now. Transistors, the foundation of computer processing, are made possible by quantum mechanical breakthroughs. "But Alec," you may be wondering. "Aren't you writing a film review? Shut your face with your science lesson nonsense." And I would counter, "If you just went out and saw the freaking thing, you'd understand." "Well, then convince me to see it, Mr. Critic." Well alright then: Go see it. It's brilliant. Good enough for you? No? Fine... Whatever the scientific concepts are that play out at the heart of Coherence, it's not about science. It's about people put into an extremely disturbing situation who have to react to it. There's a rule of screenwriting that says you can't make a powerful narrative out of people reacting to a situation. The best stories are ones where characters drive the plot forward. Coherence walks an extremely fine line, but it always stays right on track. Even though they are undoubtedly reacting to the world around them, they still take charge. They make decisions. Sometimes they're smart, something they're stupid; but what's odd is that you never really know which is which. And that fits in with this idea of the quantum mechanical unknown. What Coherence does is take a concept from quantum mechanics (coherence, duh, though trying to read up on it won't tell you anything about this movie) and then applies its concepts to the real lives of these characters who are just trying to have a pleasant dinner party. While the macro world doesn't actually work the way the film imagines it can, it nonetheless seems uncomfortably plausible. As the lines between dramatic fact and science fiction blurred, my hairs began to stand on end. Because even though Coherence isn't billed as a horror movie, it wouldn't be an inaccurate description. Right from the beginning, there's a sense that something is wrong, and, of course, there is. And it's not just about the weird world of quantum mechanics. The off-kilter events take an already skewed world and flip it entirely on its head. What you think is happening, what you think could be happening, and what actually is happening are all three radically different things. You're always kept on your toes, and writer/director James Ward Byrkit's script deserves all of the praise it's gotten (which is a lot). But without powerful performances to back it up, that all would have meant nothing. The best writing can't save a bad performance. Fortunately, everyone involved does an excellent job. Although it does have a lead character, it's nonetheless an ensemble piece. There are only eight characters, several of whom are in almost every scene, and they pull off some deceptively hard material with aplomb. Still, special recognition must be given to lead actress Emily Baldoni's part is both simpler and harder than everyone else's, as Coherence begins and ends with her and rarely leaves her side. Everyone's world is shattered, but we're seeing it break through her eyes. Coherence shows just how much a narrative can do with a single location. It's a house and the streets immediately surrounding it. But while you're watching it, you don't even realize that the characters never really leave. They may go off for a moment, but they always return. Even so, the setting never feels static, because the characters within it are so dynamic. This is low-budget filmmaking at its finest. The limitations don't feel like limitations at all. In fact, they allow for the narrative to expand in a way that a higher budget film wouldn't.  You may notice that I've gone on for 900 words without ever talking about what exactly Coherence is. And that's because doing so would require me to spoil the story's fundamental twist. Usually I'm alright with a few spoilers, but not here. The story deserves to be experienced as a blank slate (or as close as possible). And when you've seen it, if you're wondering about all of those things I didn't get to say that I wanted so badly to say, then check back soon. In the coming days, I will be posting a companion piece that will spoil the hell out of the film and let me discuss in depth why the subtlety in this sci-fi film is so incredibly effective. Because the story deserves that too.
Coherence Review photo
The subtlest of sci-fi horror
Coherence is part of a genre that will be heretofore referred to as "subtle sci-fi." Mention sci-fi to anyone and they'll think of Star Wars or Star Trek first. And they'll think of those films b...

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