Thursday, May 16, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness ★★

Visually Exciting; Illogical on Almost Every Level

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

Remember Kirk, Spock and Bones? Remember the Enterprise and its five year mission? In case you're rusty: "To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before." Star Trek was about a future in which different nations and other worlds worked together. The Federation had its enemies, sure, but for the most part it was about the wonder of space and its endless possibilities. It was ahead of its time, to say the least, and sadly, the latest entry in J.J. Abrams' version of the series hints that we may never see that vision of the future again.

Star Trek Into Darkness has not only a bad title, but one that completely undermines what Star Trek was always about. It's as if Mr. Abrams watched the series and understood none of it, or, if he did, simply didn't care. Into Darkness is a film in which the director forces himself on the material, rather than let the material speak for itself. I was a fan of the first film, which wisely created an alternate timeline and even included the original Spock (Leonard Nimoy) so that the audience would know that the stories we all loved from that original series still existed. This also meant that Mr. Abrams was free to modify the characters, slightly, which made their introductions fresh and new, while still retaining what we always loved about them. In other words, he seemed to care when he made Star Trek. I'll say this for his directing of Into Darkness: he has a talent for creating breathtaking visuals during pulse-pounding action sequences, but when you strip that away you discover that this film is all style and no substance. You don't really have time to breathe when watching Into Darkness, and it's only after watching the film in its entirety that you begin to see its many flaws.

Into Darkness begins, promisingly enough, with Kirk (Chris Pine) and Bones (Karl Urban) racing through a red forest trying to distract a race of aliens while Spock (Zachary Quinto) attempts to neutralize an erupting volcano. When things don't go as planned, Kirk has to save Spock by violating the Prime Directive, which states that Starfleet cannot interfere with the development of alien nations. As a result, Kirk is demoted to first officer by Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) and Spock is assigned to another ship. At this point it seems that Mr. Abrams and his screenwriters (Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci & Damon Lindelof) actually get Star Trek. Kirk could not allow a civilization to be destroyed and thus had to intervene, exposing the Enterprise when his friend was in danger.

I was optimistic about where the film was going right up until the villain, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), is introduced, at which point the film truly veers into darkness. Kirk resumes command and pursues Harrison into Klingon territory which, if Kirk is careless in his quest, will cause a war with the Klingons. From here, Mr. Abrams commits the biggest sin when he attempts to remake The Wrath of Khan, easily the best entry of all the Star Trek films.

The Wrath of Khan worked for a variety of reasons: it dealt with questions of mortality, friendship and above all, sacrifice. Once again, it seems as though Mr. Abrams watched that film and understood none of it. His Kirk is much more cocky and somehow managed to forget everything he learned in the first film. His friendship with Spock feels forced, not earned (let's remember, they only became friends in the first film because the older Spock told Kirk they needed to be), and Bones is barely even a character this time around. (The three of them and their clashing personalities were what made the original series, as well as Wrath of Khan great.) Thus, everything that happens feels false and does not achieve the emotion Mr. Abrams was hoping for. During the screening I attended, people in the audience were actually laughing at what was supposed to be the most moving scene in the film.

A lot of imagination is missing from Star Trek Into Darkness, which is unfortunate given the admiration and excitement I had for the first one. What does work comes in small doses - namely the opening, some of the action sequences, and perhaps the two best scenes in the movie, which feature conversations between Kirk and Pike. Overall, Into Darkness feels lazy and, at times, disrespectful, not only to the fans of both the original and the new incarnation, but to Gene Roddenberry's original vision of the future. The first film had the marketing slogan "This is not your father's Star Trek", which was true, but still had the heart of the original series. Into Darkness, however, feels like it's no one's Star Trek.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Iron Man 3 ★★★★

Finally, The Third Time Is The Charm

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

Providing a much needed breath of fresh air to the series, Iron Man 3 kicks off the summer movie season with a bang.

As a director, I must say I have never been a huge fan of Jon Favreau. As an actor, he's fine, but when the best movie he's directed is Elf (although I do love Elf), you know there's trouble. Thankfully, Favreau chose to leave the Iron Man series as a director to pursue other projects and was replaced by the prolific Shane Black. Black has only directed one other feature, the highly enjoyable Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but is clearly the man for the job, at least for this franchise.

There's a certain style that comes from a Shane Black script, most notably witty dialogue (perfect for Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark); voiceover narration; a noirish, pulpy feel to the story; and Christmas as the juxtaposed backdrop. All of these elements are in place for Iron Man 3, which Black co-wrote with Drew Pearce, and it serves the story in a variety of unique ways. The voiceover narration is one of those elements associated with the film noir style and it's use here gives the film less of a superhero feel and more of a detective-recalling-his-biggest-case vibe. To that point, a large part of this movie is uncovering a mystery that's set up in its first act, and Tony plays the role of lead detective perfectly.

Iron Man 3 is also violent in the ways Black is famous for, even though it's somewhat muted given its PG-13 rating and the studio's desire for it to fit within the Marvel universe, but Black still manages to make this movie his own. As opposed to the previous entries in the series, this time around, the violence matters. These aren't just CGI characters created to be blown up, though for those who want it, there's still an impressive amount of CGI in play. We believe that any of the characters could die at any moment, largely because of the tone Black establishes and maintains throughout, as well as Downey's best performance in the series.

At the beginning of the film, we're told through voiceover that Tony has made many enemies, as he reflects back to a New Year's Eve party in 1999 where he had a one night stand with a scientist named Maya (Rebecca Hall) and managed to blow off a crippled scientist named Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), who was a huge admirer of Tony's. In the present, Killian despises Tony (why wouldn't he?), has gotten his disabilities in check, and now resembles the Guy Pearce we all know and love. Apparently, he is also working with a terrorist known only as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) who shares in Killian's desire for Tony's demise. When The Mandarin attacks Tony at his home in Malibu, Tony is left for dead with only one non-functioning suit at his disposal, setting up some interesting plot reveals along the way.

The movie has also the task of picking up the pieces left by the end of The Avengers, but manages it quite nicely by removing any Avenger-esque subplot (a fault of nearly every Marvel movie to be released after the first Iron Man) and instead (brace yourself, this is a novel concept) placing Tony front and center. He's suffering from anxiety attacks after his near death experience, can't sleep, and has become more paranoid than ever about attacks from other worlds and dimensions. Tony's desperate, scared, and a little unhinged. This isn't the Tony Stark we're used to. Sure, he's cocky at times, but more as a deflection than ever before. He's lost the confidence he once had. As a result, he's created 42 new suits, each one a supposed improvement over the previous. These suits are meant not only to protect himself, but Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) as well. At one point, Tony says, as if to put it mildly, "Nothing's been the same since New York."

All of this is to say that Iron Man 3 is precisely the summer blockbuster that I hope both critics and audiences can agree on. It's a lot of fun, it's intelligent, and it's one of those rare movies that I look forward to seeing again.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Upstream Color ★★★★

A Mesmerizing Follow Up From The Director of Primer

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

Do not try to understand Upstream Color after one viewing. It's next to impossible. Instead, let the emotions, good and bad, wash over you and let that be your critique of the movie. It's the second film from director Shane Carruth (Primer), which should help to discern what type of movie this is.

For those who want to have an idea of what they're in for, I'll say this much: a woman, Kris (Amy Seimetz in a haunting performance), is kidnapped and force-fed larvae that make her susceptible to mind control. Her assailant (Thiago Martins) has her perform a variety of bizarre tasks before having her make a series of large withdrawals from her bank and pocketing the money himself. Later, Kris discovers worms gestating right beneath her skin and desperately tries to remove them. When that fails, she's somehow drawn to a farmer who is seemingly obsessed with sound, carrying microphones and recording equipment everywhere he goes. The farmer removes the worms and puts them in one of his pigs in one of the most disturbing surgery scenes I've ever witnessed, and Kris awakens alone and confused in her car on the side of the freeway. Some time later she meets a man, Jeff (Carruth), who becomes a kindred spirit to her, hinting that he, too, may have been experimented on in the past. 

Of everything this movie offers, that just scratches the surface. It's clear that Carruth operates on an entirely different level than I could ever hope to. But as a filmmaker, he certainly is a major talent. He's a director who uses imagery and, for this film, sound design (as noted by film critic Alonso Duralde) to give the audience an almost a dreamlike experience, while at the same time being astoundingly original in his approach to storytelling. His cinematography is evocative, his score is eerie, and his dialogue - what little there is - hardly matters when compared to what he's showing us. Think Terrance Malick, but much more twisted. Better yet, think of Darren Aronofsky's second film, Requiem For A Dream, and you might begin to understand how you'll feel after watching Upstream Color.

It works in the ways that the best science fiction films do; you'll find yourself asking a lot of questions, questions only truly great science fiction offers. I always come back to 2001: A Space Odyssey, as the quintessential science fiction experience. Every time I watch it gives me another interpretation of our place in the universe, where we come from, what's next etc. Upstream Color is offers similar questions, but is more of a cautionary tale of where we are as a civilization, and what certain members of society are capable of when given power. I'm not saying mind control is possible and I'm not saying it isn't. But pondering it's existence and what it could mean is just one of several rewarding pleasures of seeing a film like this. Where 2001 can be seen as more of an optimistic approach to consciousness (depending on your interpretation of it), Upstream Color is it's own dystopia. It takes place in the present, but seems to theorize that our undoing isn't the result of war or attacks from aliens, but instead by human choice. Given the power to control another, would we use it? Carruth is giving us his interpretation of a world gone mad from its own power. It's incredibly effective. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Mud ★★★★

A Coming of Age Noir Along The Mississippi River

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

There aren't many directors who can make the audience feel as though they are actually part of the world displayed before our eyes when we see a movie. Some directors try but fail - James Cameron with Avatar, for example, forcefully tried to make us part of Pandora with his use of 3D - and some, like the brilliant Jeff Nichols, do so effortlessly, trusting in the work they're producing. Nichols' latest film, Mud, is a beautiful representation of the latter.

In an area unfamiliar, I'm sure, to many like myself who have never journeyed that far south, the story takes place and was shot along the Mississippi River in Arkansas. Two boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan, giving one of the most amazing performances of the year) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), discover a boat in a tree in the middle of a mostly desolate island along the river. They also find the boat inhabited by Mud (Matthew McConaughey, giving one of the year's best performances), a man who tells the boys that he is waiting for his girlfriend, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), to find him so that they can run away together.

Ellis' mother and father (Sarah Paulson and Ray McKinnon) are in the early stages of divorce, which is devastating to Ellis, as he is beginning a relationship with his first serious crush (Bonnie Sturdivant). We all remember our first crush; the intense feelings, awkward interactions and maybe some sleepless nights; and Nichols captures all of these feelings beautifully, getting an amazing performance out of Sheridan. After Mud asks the boys for help, Ellis obliges after hearing Mud speak about Juniper. The love that Mud clearly has for her entrances Ellis, giving him hope when his parents have left him hopeless. The look of excitement and desperation on Ellis' part perfectly conveys the longing all of us have experienced at least once during our lives. The idea of true love being tangible has its temptations and with them a certain degree of naïveté.

Mud is one of those coming of age stories that manages to get everything right. In his creation of Ellis, Nichols succeeds in making the audience a part of the story, despite the unfamiliarity of life along the Mississippi River. Our hearts break for Ellis, yet we believe, as he does, that love will conquer all. Nichols perfectly captures the innocence of adolescence while also providing a noirish backdrop for all the characters to live within.

Mud, we find out, is a fugitive for a crime I won't spoil in this review. Suffice it to say that, in addition to being pursued by authorities, some very bad men want him dead. With every task Ellis performs to help Mud, including finding and speaking with Juniper, Ellis places himself in more danger. McConaughey is stellar as Mud, portraying the character as somewhat of a simpleton with deadly skills, especially if someone threatens a person he cares about. Mud is thus the grown up version of Ellis, at least if Ellis doesn't learn from Mud's mistakes.

It's hard, I imagine, for anyone not to sympathize with both Ellis' and Mud's plight. This is a film that asks the audience to revisit the intense feelings young adulthood provides but also to recall the moment in time where suddenly we realized it was time to grow up. It's never easy for anyone, but it happens to us all, and Ellis' story is a beautiful representation of that time in our lives. This is a film about lost innocence and the acceptance of truth in extreme circumstances. Life is always simpler when we're young, or so we think. But Nichols knows better, and invites us into his story about lost youth by allowing us to remember our own.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

To The Wonder ★★★

Searching For Love In Unforgiving Times

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

There is not another director working today that connects fluid camera movement with beautiful imagery as well as Terrence Malick does. Shots flow seamlessly together like streams of consciousness; we circle in and out of distant memories from someone else's life. The plot is less important than the ideas expressed, usually in voice-over. That's the best way I can describe what it's like to see a Malick film. It is, for all intents and purposes, visual poetry with religious symbolism sprinkled throughout. The same is true for Malick's latest film, To The Wonder, which deals with a woman's search for tangible love paralleled with a priest's search for God.

That woman, Marina (Olga Kurylenko), lives in Paris with her boyfriend, Neil (Ben Affleck), and her daughter, Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline). The film begins by showing the love Marina and Neil share, barely able to keep their hands off of one another. Malick shoots these scenes in an evocative manner, pulling the audience into the passion these two share. When Neil persuades Marina to come back to America with him, their love begins to fade, especially when there's an apparent refusal on Neil's part to marry Marina so she may stay with him. We're introduced to a priest, Father Quintana (Javier Bardem), whose love and devotion to God is dissolving with every less fortunate person he tries to help. 

Marina is in search for "the love that loves us" as she says at one point, and Father Quintana wants proof of God's existence. Marina is so determined to believe in that love that she fails to see what an idiot Neil is. She's blinded by faith, a bit naive, but also spirited and optimistic. Father Quintana is the opposite, his search guided by frustration and distrust. Both stories run parallel throughout the film, which proves less effective than Malick's previous film, The Tree of Life, which brilliantly used ideas of existence to pose similar questions asked in To The Wonder. Using lost love as a metaphor for one's devotion to God is a bit heavy-handed and does not illicit the response I think Malick was going for. 

The main problem is that Malick doesn't seem to have an interest in Neil, the character whose story is placed front and center. Early in the story Marina's green card expires and Neil, seemingly unfazed by the fact that she's forced to leave, wanders aimlessly for a bit before meeting Jane (Rachel McAdams), a woman he knew many years ago with whom he begins a relationship. Malick appears to be obsessed with choice, or in Neil's case, the lack of choice. Neil doesn't know what he wants and therefore cannot commit to either woman. Why either of them ever fall for him is lost on me, but then again, the heart wants what the heart wants. In this case, it's a brooding Affleck. 

For all of To The Wonder's faults, much can be said about the isolation and loneliness that misplaced love can offer. Marina dances in beautiful panoramas, vast and desolate, always in search of a love she may never find. Father Quintana walks in and out of poor neighborhoods surrounded by people yet utterly alone in his desire to find God among the impoverished. The question at the heart of the film is whether or not these two characters will ever find the meaning they're looking for. The beauty of that question is where it takes these characters and how Malick shoots their determination in modern landscapes. 

This is by no means Malick's best effort as a filmmaker - a longer version of the story may have made it a masterpiece - but there's also something hauntingly real about what happens when love is felt for the wrong person. In an era when the divorce rate is at an all-time high, To The Wonder is optimistic in it's approach to love; however misplaced, however intangible, it exists in all of us and allows us to feel, to be human. Maybe that's the point.  

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Trance ★★★½

A Trip Down The Manic Rabbit Hole of Hypnotherapy 

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

Danny Boyle is the type of director whose films become synonymous with his style. This can be used to great effect - most recently his 2007 science fiction thriller Sunshine, and 2008's Slumdog Millionaire, for which he won an Academy Award - but can also infringe too much on the story he's trying to tell, exemplified in his last film 127 Hours. Regardless, I'm usually won over because his formalistic technique is so precise that I cannot help but be in awe of his work. This style of his has been perfectly blended with story in his latest film, Trance, a hypnotic thriller with more twists and turns than I, or likely anyone else out there, was not expecting.

It begins simply enough with Simon (James McAvoy), an art auctioneer who helps a group of art thieves steal a painting but fails to remember what he did with said painting after a blow to the head leaves him with amnesia. The art thieves are led by Franck (Vincent Cassel) who, after realizing torturing Simon is ineffective, hears that hypnosis can help with memory loss and persuades Simon to meet with a hypnotherapist of his choosing. That therapist happens to be played by the lovely Rosario Dawson, who agrees to help Simon after learning the truth about why he's come to see her.

The opening of the film is fairly conventional for a director like Boyle; none of his usual motifs are on display. The moment Simon is hit on the head however, what's real and what's imagined become blurry, and Boyle's style takes hold. Boyle, using every trick he has and then some, manages to flow seamlessly between the real world and the world Simon creates in his head. Cutting back and forth between the two is jarring at times but is not to the detriment of the film. Instead, we feel just as Simon does: like we're losing our minds.The more Simon tries to remember, the harder it becomes to differentiate between the two worlds, and the mania that surrounds Simon from every direction becomes chaotic. It's a trip, and I mean that in the best way possible.

It's the type of script where Boyle can do no wrong. With every new scene there's an invitation for Boyle to ramp up his technique, as if to imply that everything that has come before, both in his career and within the film itself, has been practice for this story.  It works. When the film was finished I actually had to catch my breath and release my grip on the arm rests because of what Trance did to me. This isn't just watching a movie; it's having an experience.

After seeing what Boyle has done here, I can't help but wonder how different a film like Inception (don't get me wrong, I love Inception) could have been with Boyle at the helm. In many ways he's the perfect man to do a film about dreams and consciousness, Trance being a jumping off point for an interesting career shift. But that's the thing with a director like this: no matter what his next project is, you cannot help but be excited to see how his style will shape the finished product. Even with his films that maybe don't work as well, you always get the sense that he's perfecting his skills. Thus, every film of his becomes less a work by Danny Boyle and more a piece of art about Danny Boyle. Trance is the best example to date.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Giving 'Two Thumbs Up' To A Beloved Film Critic

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

It is a truly sad day for cinephiles everywhere like myself as Roger Ebert, film critic for the Chicago Sun Times for forty-six years, has died. As a child, I grew up hearing my parents and virtually every other adult say, "Siskel and Ebert give it two thumbs up," when deciding what movie to see. I remember my old VHS tapes having that phrase above the title of a given movie that these critics admired. At the time, I didn't know who they were, only that if they liked a movie it was a good bet that I would enjoy it as well.

If I'm being fully honest I don't recall ever having watched a full episode of Siskel & Ebert, only after Gene Siskel's death in 1999 did I start watching the show's later version, Ebert & Roeper. Over the course of many years I became more familiar with not only the show but Roger himself. Each week I couldn't wait to read his reviews and the more I read, the more I appreciated him and what he did for film criticism. He's not the only famous movie critic, but he and Gene managed to somehow mainstream film critics in a way that had never been done before. Other critics, new and old alike, credit these men for championing smaller independent films that audiences may not have otherwise known about.

When Roger's health declined, Richard Roeper began bringing on a variety of guest co-hosts, two of them being A.O. Scott of The New York Times and Michael Phillips of The Chicago Tribune. After a while, Phillips became the unofficial permanent co-host of the show, and I found myself eagerly awaiting the debates between he and Roeper each week.

When ABC decided that show needed to appeal to younger audiences, Roeper and Phillips were replaced by Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz, a decision that caused ABC to once again reevaluate after a year. It was Roger who then hand picked Scott and Phillips to host the show, which by this point was renamed simply At The Movies. When Scott and Phillips came on I discovered what so many before me had loved about the Siskel and Ebert years, as they brought back the spirit of the original show. Both men were newspaper critics, and both men brought their own unique approach to writing and discussing film. Scott has a background in literature, often comparing movies to great novels, and Phillips always paid a keen attention to a particular film's score, highlighting the importance of music in film.

Roger recognized their talents from their past guest hosting duties and allowed these two men to keep the show alive while also bringing a fresh perspective to it. From what I've read and understand, Roger was the type of person who enjoyed reading other critics as much as he loved writing his own reviews. It's because of him that I learned the value of film criticism and not only its importance in modern society, but its relevance as well.

He brought back a new version of the show after its cancellation on ABC, entitled Ebert Presents At The Movies and just when I thought there couldn't be any other critics that I would love as much as Scott and Phillips, Roger brought on Christy Lemire of The Associated Press and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of These two could not have been more drastically different from Scott and Phillips, and yet they were just as entertaining and taught me as much as the critics before them, if not more. They had many disagreements, just like Siskel and Ebert did, but had a great admiration and respect for one another. There was a great chemistry between them that was infectious every time I watched the show.

Roger also brought in a variety of guest critics to discuss different topics associated with film on Ebert Presents. These were people that Roger himself admired, and thus were able to showcase their talents on his show because he recognized so many different voices when it came to writing about film. He opened a new world for me. It's gotten to the point that I'm reading so many reviews and listening to so many podcasts about film (all of which feature one or more of these guest critics) that my head may just explode. I couldn't be happier about that.

Just a day ago, Roger announced his "leave of presence" from writing but made mention of plans to bring back At The Movies again through a Kickstarter campaign. I hope it still happens, as his show continues to inspire new generations of film critics like myself even after it's ended. No amount of writing will ever fully express my gratitude toward this man. He gave me hope when everyone around me told me that writing about movies wasn't important, a show that opened up a world of different writers that I continue to admire and actively read, and he was the person responsible for compelling me to write about film.

Rest In Peace, Roger. And thank you for inspiring me.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Evil Dead ★½

Blood, Guts, Dismemberment And Not Much Else

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

Just when you thought you'd seen the most gruesome horror movie ever made, a movie like Evil Dead comes along to make the previous movies look tame by comparison. Going for a much more serious approach, this remake of the 1981 classic brings a new group of ill-fated characters into the mix and wastes no time coming up with inventive ways to torture them.

The film's tone is established in the prologue, which shows what can happen when someone is stupid enough to read from the Necronomicon, everyone's favorite evil book, and the necessary immolation that can occur as a result. After the events, we jump forward in time (it's never specified how long) and meet the unlucky group of friends who have retreated to a cabin in the woods to help Mia (Jane Levy) go cold turkey from her drug addiction. We learn some of her backstory from her interactions with her truly idiotic brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez), who apparently left Mia when she was just a child to live with her mentally unstable mother, which caused her to turn to drugs in the first place. Not long after arriving does the group stumble upon the remnants of what they assume to be witchcraft (though the audience knows better from the prologue) in the cellar underneath the cabin, thereby discovering the Necronomicon and unleashing hell. Literally.

The presence that materializes manages to possess Mia, leading everyone in the group - who include two supposedly educated people, a teacher, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), and a nurse, Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and a bimbo, Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) - to believe that what Mia is experiencing is just extreme withdrawal. Keep in mind that at one point Mia gives herself third-degree facial burns with a boiling-hot shower, and sadly, that is not even the worst of it. What follows is an elaborate assortment of graphic mutilations all designed to see how much the filmmakers can get away with under the R rating. It's a lot.

If there's one thing I can say about all of the violence in the film (and really, you can only embrace it or reject it, but if you're willingly seeing a movie like this, are you really going to reject it?) it's that the makeup and effects are top notch for a horror film like this. It's extreme, yes, but very believable and (I hate to say it) rich with color. It's one of those movies where the production value is so good that you can feel every bit of pain that these characters endure, which at times is unbearable.

This version of Evil Dead is more concerned with effects than it is to story and character, something that the original franchise had in spades. Mia is supposed to be our replacement for Ash (Bruce Campbell) and I like that the director, Fede Alvarez, wanted a female lead but we barely get to know her. She's angry and depressed for the first fifteen minutes of the film and then possessed for the rest of it. She's not really heroic, or sympathetic, but rather a vessel for Alvarez to showcase his twisted love of gore. I'm not saying I expected Mia to be the female Ash but her character could have been much more developed. Ash was someone we sympathized with; someone whom we did not want to be tortured. While I didn't wish any harm to Mia, I certainly didn't get the sense that Alvarez cared what happened to her as much as director Sam Raimi cared about Ash in the originals.

It's sad, really, as Ms. Levy is a very talented actress (most, like myself, probably know her best as Tessa on ABC's Suburgatory) who is underused here. The rest of the actors have even less to do, but none are less convincing than Mr. Fernandez, who, as David, could not be more of a dolt. In scenes that are actually supposed to be serious, the audience at my screening was laughing because of how inept David was. The fact that he and every other character are not at all memorable except by the ways in which they die furthers my point that there are no characters in this film - only meat puppets. The only part of me that did not mind that approach was when these puppets were used to create visual motifs from the original Evil Dead. They occur several times throughout the movie and I found myself smiling each time, but what can I say? I'm nostalgic.

The only comfort I have after watching this movie is knowing that it only exists to reignite interest in the franchise for the inevitable Evil Dead 4/Army of Darkness 2. I'd wait for that movie. I'd also stay after the credits of this movie for a groovy cameo that could make you forget the horror you just saw.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

My 2013 Oscar Ballot

Hollywood's Big Night

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

We're now officially a week away from Oscar night. The votes have been cast and now we play the waiting game. While I'm by no means a betting man, I do enjoy partaking in my own Oscar ballot, just to see if my Jedi-skills are improving.

What you'll see in the list that follows are my best educated guesses as to what will win and what I think should win. While I have no idea what to expect from this year's host, Seth MacFarlane, I'm very excited to see how everything turns out. Here. We. Go.


Will Win: Argo

Should Win: Amour


Will Win: Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)

Should Win: David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)


Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)

Should Win: Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)


Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)

Should Win: Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)

Supporting Actor

Will Win: Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)

Should Win: Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)

Supporting Actress

Will Win: Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)

Should Win: Helen Hunt (The Sessions)

Original Screenplay 

Will Win: Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)

Should Win: Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola (Moonrise Kingdom)

Adapted Screenplay

Will Win: David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)

Should Win: Tony Kushner (Lincoln)

Foreign Language Film

Will Win: Amour

Should Win: Amour

Animated Feature

Will Win: Brave

Should Win: Wreck-It Ralph

Sound Editing

Will Win: Argo

Should Win: Zero Dark Thirty

Visual Effects

Will Win: Life of Pi

Should Win: Life of Pi

Film Editing

Will Win: Argo

Should Win: Zero Dark Thirty

Short Film, Animated

Will Win: Paperman

Should Win: Paperman

Short Film, Live Action

Will Win: Buzkashi Boys

Should Win: Buzkashi Boys 

Short Film, Documentary

Will Win: Kings Point

Should Win: Kings Point

Original Score

Will Win: Lincoln

Should Win: Lincoln

Original Song

Will Win: Skyfall (Adele)

Should Win: Skyfall (Adele)

Production Design

Will Win: Anna Karenina 

Should Win: Anna Karenina 


Will Win: Roger Deakins (Skyfall)

Should Win: Roger Deakins (Skyfall)

Costume Design

Will Win: Anna Karenina

Should Win: Anna Karenina


Will Win: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 

Should Win: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey


Will Win: Searching For Sugar Man

Should Win: Searching For Sugar Man

Sound Mixing

Will Win: Argo

Should Win: Skyfall 

For those interested, Nerdist has actually linked to the Animated Short Films (in their entirety) here. You can see a full list of nominations and my ballot in a more professional manner here.

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Good Day To Die Hard - Zero Stars

Yippee Ki - Yeah, Not So Much

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

I don't know if February is too early to say that we already have the worst movie of 2013, but I'll say it anyway: A Good Day To Die Hard is the worst movie of the year.

This movie has problems right from the get go, beginning with a Russian whistle-blower and the corrupt government bad guy out to silence him. Already this doesn't seem like a Die Hard film. We then cut to New York, where John McClane (Bruce Willis) is testing his target practice abilities when he finds out that his son, Jack (Jai Courtney), has been arrested for murder in Russia. He decides it's up to him to find out what happened with Jack, and not a minute after landing there chaos (illogically) ensues. McClane finds out that Jack is actually a C.I.A. agent, and that the supposed murder was faked so that Jack could get close to Yuri (Sebastian Koch, the aforementioned whistle-blower) and protect him. To complicate matters, McClane's reintroduction to Jack results in a botched mission, thus forcing father and son to work together to protect Yuri and get out of Russia alive. It's terrible.

If there is an award for most phoned-in performance of the year, Willis should definitely get it. There is not one time throughout the movie where he takes any scene seriously. One in particular involves an evil henchmen (who, by the way, you're not sure if he's the main villain or not until the third act) forcing McClane and Jack on their knees so he can execute them. Willis plays it as if to say, "Yeah, yeah. The kneeling down on my knees scene. I've gotten out of this in four previous movies, let's do this so I can grab lunch." As McClane, he doesn't even seem to care when the henchmen kick his son around. He actually laughs. Seriously. 

Willis isn't even emotionally present in the scenes when he's expressing regret over not being present for Jack's life. They feel false and very poorly written, which is true of the whole film; Skip Woods, the writer of this film, couldn't write a Die Hard movie if his life depended on it. He understands nothing about McClane as a character or, for that matter, characters in general. Even the dialogue doesn't work. If ever there were a script that needed doctoring, it was this one. 

In addition, it's as if the studio realized they had the perfect match of bad writer and bad director, as John Moore just does not know how to shoot an action sequence. An example of which occurs when McClane is pursuing his son and decides it's better to crash through a bridge and drive over several cars in his truck rather than take the ramp that is clearly visible in the background, because, I mean, who has time for that?

This is a film that is all mindless action with no heart and fails miserably to grip us with any emotional stakes. The first two films in the series involved McClane's need to save his wife; the third film was a bit of a mixed bag of treats and not all that memorable; and the most recent film, Live Free Or Die Hard, was actually thoroughly entertaining, with a great performance from Willis, and McClane's daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) at the center of it to give him his drive to save the day. Here, McClane almost enjoys putting his son in harms way, mocking him even when he has a severe stomach injury. If this review doesn't convey how dreadful this movie is, I don't know what does. Trust me. It's a good day to see anything but A Good Day To Die Hard.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Top Ten Films of 2012

An Amazing Year In Cinema

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

2012 could easily be one of the most distinguished years in film. There were great performances from a variety of talented actresses, amazing achievements in independent cinema, and overall a lot of originality among directors. Unlike 2011, when there were very few documentaries that made critics' lists, 2012 has an overabundance of terrific ones. There were a number of great foreign films, and a surprising amount of great American movies as well. In short, this year offered variety. It was the year where, dare I say, anyone with any particular type of movie taste could wind up loving a film that has made the critics' consensus list. My choices are by no means meant to be permanent, as ranking movies is part of the fun in creating a list. They simply reflect how I feel at this point in time about the year that was.

10. Jiro Dreams of Sushi

This documentary came out early in the year, but never left my mind as not only a terrific portrait of perfecting one's craft, but a great philosophy about life in general. Jiro embodies the idea that perfection is always just a day away. Despite being a world-renowned sushi chef, he believes he can strive to do better. To us, he's already achieved perfection, but to him each day is another chance to work even harder. It's inspiring, engaging, and a terrific portrait of Japanese culture in general.

9. The Grey

Another film that came out early in the year that I'm sure many people have forgotten about is a story of man against nature, The Grey. Liam Neeson gives a stellar performance as John Ottway, a man who protects oil workers in Alaska from wolves. When the plane that he and the other workers are on goes down in a snowstorm from hell, he and the other survivors must find a way to make it out of the wilderness safely as they are pursued by wolves and other obstacles nature has in store for them. It sounds like a standard survival film, which some have argued it is, but for me it's so much more than that. This is the first film I've seen in awhile that takes death as seriously as it does. These men, who at first seem like the last people in the world you would ever care about, are characters who actually matter. We're invested in their survival and the more we learn about each one of them, the more we can't help but care.

8. Argo 

Here's a movie that is so wonderfully entertaining and suspenseful, you're unlikely to believe it came from Ben Affleck. This is a guy who, just a few short years ago, was written off by virtually everyone (including myself) but who has managed to cement himself in American culture as one of the true talents in the directing category.  The way he marries these two very distinct tones - Hollywood farce and historical thriller - is brilliant and seamless. You wouldn't think a film about The Iran Hostage Crisis could, at times, be this funny, and yet it is. It also pulls off the trick of keeping the audience on the edge of their seats during its climactic ending, despite already knowing what happened in real life.

7. Skyfall

I make no apologies for loving this installment of the James Bond franchise. For me this was the film the franchise needed to get people reinvested in the character. It is beautifully shot by Roger Deakins, well executed by director Sam Mendes, and, quite simply, a lot of fun. I enjoyed M's more involved role in the film, as well as Bond's struggle to regain his humanity. I was quite moved by its ending and look forward to where the next film in the series takes the character.

6. Lincoln 

A return to form in many ways for director Steven Spielberg, Lincoln is one of the most important films of the year. Daniel Day-Lewis is virtually and audibly unrecognizable as our 16th president, and he manages to show us a human being rather than just the ideal figure Lincoln has always been remembered as. This is a film that shows the audience the beauty of democracy and level of commitment it takes to get something like the 13th Amendment passed in the House of Representatives. It's inspiring, never dull, and one of the many films that would not have been what it was without Spielberg at the helm.

5. Silver Linings Playbook

It's nice to know that critics and audiences still have a place in their hearts for sentimental films. In my review, I compared Silver Linings Playbook to the work of Frank Capra, a director whom many write off as corny. Silver Linings, while at times dark and brutally honest, veers into Capra-esque territory in the best of ways without making the audience roll their eyes. This is the first film in many years to be nominated in all the major categories, which is a testament to everyone involved with it: Director David O. Russell is at his finest; Bradley Cooper has finally received a role and the recognition he's always been deserving of; Jennifer Lawrence continues to amaze me with her talents, this time pulling off being a widow despite her young age; and Robert De Niro has not been this good in years. It's a film that fondly reminds us of the classic screwball romantic comedies while also taking a truthful look at mental disorder. You wouldn't think all of this could be in one movie, but Silver Linings Playbook manages all the mania of love, loss, family turmoil and reconciliation quite nicely.

4. Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson is a filmmaker who at times can feel like too much style without enough substance. With Moonrise Kingdom, however, he manages to find a middle ground, giving us an original tale with a lot of heart. The two lead performers, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as Sam and Suzy, respectively, are perfect, and together with Anderson manage to beautifully capture what it's like to be young and in love, and not taken seriously because of your age. This is one of the most original, heartwarming movies I've ever seen and the film Anderson has been toward throughout his career.

3. Searching For Sugar Man

The most uplifting film of the year happens to be a documentary rooted in Detroit. Unfolding like a murder mystery, Searching For Sugar Man tells the story of Sixto Rodriguez, a Detroit musician who did not get recognized for his talent in the music industry until thirty years after his first two albums failed to sell in the U.S. The entire time however, and unbeknownst to Rodriguez, he had a Beatles-like status in Cape Town, South Africa, due to his anti-establishment lyrics during The Apartheid. Not since Man on Wire has a documentary been everything that I love about the magic and power of movies. At one moment you're on the edge of your seat because the intrigue of the mystery keeps building, the next you're in shock because of what that mystery reveals. You're saddened by everything this musician went through, seemingly for nothing, until finally, he's given the praise he's always been deserving of. It's an amazing film and one of the few that makes me proud to say that I'm born and raised in Michigan.

2. Amour 

Emotionally devastating, but a beautiful representation of what it means to truly love someone, Michael Haneke's Amour tells the story of Georges and Anne (Jean-Louis Trintignant and an amazing Emmanuelle Riva), an elderly couple who's love and marriage is put to the test when Anne suffers a stroke, leaving Georges as her primary caregiver. As Anne continues to decline, Georges does all he can to be there for her. Some people have asked why anyone would want to see such a sad movie, but the answer is simple: loving someone is perhaps most important when one approaches the end of his or her life. We've all seen so many movies about two people meeting and falling in love, or about a marriage struggling to reignite the once strong spark, but I don't think anyone has seen a film like this.

1. Holy Motors

Hands down, this is the most original film I've seen all year. Directed by Leos Carax, Holy Motors  involves a man (Denis Lavant) who is driven by taxi all around Paris for nine, what he calls, "appointments". Each appointment involves this man putting on a different disguise and acting out some scenario. Each scenario is different, stranger than the last, and seems to fall into a separate genre of filmmaking all together. Before our eyes, it seems, Carax is redefining what it means to make movies. I have truly never seen anything like this film. It left me speechless, in the best of ways, and excited for the possibilities that filmmakers like Carax can bring to telling unbelievably original stories.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Warm Bodies ★★★

A Zom-Rom-Com 

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

It seems as though audiences cannot get enough zombie-action these days, between the countless sequels of the Living Dead films, and The Walking Dead TV series (which is based on yet another medium telling zombie stories, comic books). After a certain amount of time it can feel like if you've seen one, you've seen them all. Until, of course, a movie like Warm Bodies comes around to reignite your interest in the genre.

One could argue that the premise is the Twilight equivalent for the zombie-genre and to a degree, you would be right. But Warm Bodies, while certainly a romantic comedy, never takes itself too seriously; it knows it's ridiculous. That being said, there's room for some sentimentality, if you're looking for it, as well as a simple message about embracing people's differences instead of constantly fearing them. 

The film centers around a zombie named R (Nicholas Hoult), who, by his own admission, is conflicted about eating people. He provides the narration for the film, explaining that he doesn't remember his former life, only that his name began with the letter R. He has a best friend named M (a surprisingly timid, but very funny Rob Corddry) whom he mostly just grunts and moans back and forth with, and spends most of his time living in an abandoned airplane listening to vinyl records. When he and his zombie brethren go out for a routine snack, he sees Julie (Teresa Palmer) and instantly falls in love. He abducts her and the two embark on a newfound friendship shortly thereafter. 

The more time R spends with Julie, the more he begins to change, eventually developing a heartbeat. The idea is that the zombie population is not just a group of human flesh-eaters, but actual people too. It's cheesy, yes, but also a lot of fun and a refreshing take on this tired genre. Hoult does a good job of delivering one-liners, both within the scene and in his narration, and is perfectly cast as the one zombie to give us a view of the world through his lens. Palmer, meanwhile, is fine but not all that memorable, and doesn't really do much except play the attractive blonde whom R has fallen for.

At times it feels like there may have been more of a movie - there's a minor subplot involving Julie's former boyfriend (Dave Franco) that never really resolves itself emotionally - but for the most part, Warm Bodies works as a fun zombie movie told from the zombie's perspective.

Warm Bodies will be released Friday, February 1st 2013

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Side Effects ★★★½

Showcasing Paranoia Without Being Paranoid 

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

We've all seen those commercials advertising some new drug that helps with some disease or condition. If you're like me, you often laugh you when hear the list of long side effects the drug can have, oftentimes those effects being worse than the actual disease they're supposed to treat. That's the idea behind Side Effects, the latest paranoia thriller from director Steven Soderbergh, and perhaps this distinguished director's final film.

Rooney Mara continues to prove herself as an actress, this time around playing Emily Taylor, a severely depressed woman coping with the four year imprisonment of her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum). When Martin is released, Emily's depression worsens to the point that she seeks the counsel of a psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), after a failed suicide attempt. When he prescribes her with a new antidepressant, sinister things begin to happen, causing Dr. Banks' reputation to come under investigation and Emily's sanity to be pushed to the limit.

After Soderbergh's 2011 film Contagion, it's clear that he is a man well-equipped for creating a sense of paranoia and dread on screen without making the movie feel too paranoid for its own good. He paints a portrait of the time in which we live where there's a prescription drug for virtually everything out there, and chooses to show us the possible ramifications of our choices. There are moral questions posed early in the film about the best ways of treating mental illness, and the nice thing about Side Effects is that you can approach these questions in multiple ways.

The argument could be made that it is a study about America's addiction to prescription drugs and the overall power pharmaceutical companies have in our current culture. For better or worse, physicians are always looking for new ways to treat illness, mental or physical, and Side Effects offers somewhat of an inside look into how certain decisions are made regarding the treatment of a patient. Or, you can look at the film as a study of depression and the long-term mental effect it can have on a person, in this case, Emily. You could even look at it as an examination into the life of a psychiatrist and the types of moral questions he or she faces on a daily basis.

The direction the film goes in may not be what people are expecting but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. If this film is truly Soderbergh's swan song, it's not a bad note to end on. But the thrills, twists and turns that Side Effects offers makes me hope that this is not the last we have seen of this prolific filmmaker.

Side Effects will be released Friday, February 8th 2013

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Farewell To Fringe

A Show That Brought New Meaning To The Term "Cool"

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

Last night, after five seasons and one hundred episodes, Fringe said goodbye forever. This was one of those shows that gained a cult following over the years, to the point that when it was in danger of being cancelled, the fans were able to keep it on the air. It was also - regardless of whether or not you're a science fiction nerd - one of the most unique shows to ever air on television.

For the uninitiated, Fringe was about an F.B.I. Agent named Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) who is selected by her superior, Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick), to be part of the Fringe Division at the F.B.I. Olivia recruits Walter Bishop (John Noble, who is absolutely brilliant), a scientist responsible for many experiments which have lead to the so called "Fringe Events", the result of which led to his incarceration in a mental institution. Lastly, Walter's son, Peter (Joshua Jackson, bringing more to the character with each season), is brought in to "translate" his father's often gibberish-like musings.

It started off slow - the first season being heavily overseen by its creators, J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci - and, as a result, was a mixed bag of goodies that first year. Abrams had stated that he wanted to have a less serialized show on the air (referring to Alias and Lost), which would usually mean that there would be a handful of mythology episodes with the rest being standalone, mystery-of-the-week type episodes. Not so. Instead, (according to Abrams) there would be plot points in every episode that propelled the overall story for those who were watching every week. For those that weren't, the episodes could be viewed as their own self-contained story. In other words, Fringe began as something of a hybrid, if we're using the typical model most shows follow.

Starting with season two, however, Fringe became something more. Abrams helped map the season out, but the showrunning duties fell to Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman. (Pinkner had been selected as showrunner during season one and he later promoted Wyman to co-run the show with him). From this point on, the stories - from the cases the Fringe team would investigate to the character and season arcs - became unbelievably inventive. The groundwork had been laid toward the end of season one for certain storylines that became part of the show's charm, not the least of which was the relationship between Walter and Peter.

Noble and Jackson became the perfect dynamic-duo, if you will, their characters not having anything in common at first and evolving into depending on one another. Walter, a flawed father in many ways during Peter's childhood, tries to make amends with his past. Peter, reluctant to even talk to Walter in those early episodes, comes to respect, admire and yes, love, his father. In an odd way these two become a metaphor for the show itself: learn to accept the unknown rather than reject or be afraid of it.

In addition, Olivia herself was something of a unique heroine on television. She was never exploited for her beauty, never relied on men to save her, and also never portrayed as a tomboy, a trap many shows with female leads tend to fall into. She simply was Olivia Dunham: the agent who saved the world time and time again with her Fringe-like abilities. It's not too often that writers can get a female lead so right - shows like Alias and Chuck, for example, had strong female leads but each week managed to find ways to put them in revealing clothing of some kind - and praise should be given to Pinkner, Wyman and rest of the writing staff of Fringe for creating, and maintaining, such a great character.

A show with this many plot-twists demands grounded characters like these to keep us engaged. That was never more evident than in this final season, which jumped ahead twenty years to a time when the Observers - the bald-headed, fedora-wearing, albinos who could travel through time and space to "observe" major events in human history - had taken over and where our characters, frozen in amber for 21 years, had to find a way to stop them. This final year was very much a dystopian cautionary tale, by far the darkest year of the entire series. But I, like so many others, stayed with it because no matter how dark and tragic things got, Olivia, Peter, Walter and Astrid (Jasika Nicole, Walter's assistant) were there to anchor me in some degree of familiarity.

After everything these characters lost, particularly this season, the finale episode entitled "An Enemy of Fate" was moving, action-packed, rewarding and quite simply, perfect. This was a show that was in danger of being cancelled after season two and on. Each year Fringe took more risks, exploring alternate realities, reset timelines, shape-shifters, and future insurrections. Like Peter himself, the show (by conventional standards) should have never existed, but it did, and it fought back from the brink of death each season. It was wacky, it was dark, it was funny and at times devastatingly sad.

The best way to describe the tone of this beloved show of mine can be found in a line from last night's finale, in which Peter and Walter are arming themselves to fight the Observers. Walter instructs Peter to hold on to bullets which, when they hit an Observer, will cause them to "float away like balloons". Peter asks, "If we shoot them, they're dead. Why would we want them to float away?" Walter replies (with perfect delivery by Noble), "Because it's cool."

From now on, when I'm asked why I have such affection for Fringe, that perfect line will be my response.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty ★★★★

A Decade-Long Hunt For Justice

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

Opening with haunting audio of victims trapped in the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001, Zero Dark Thirty chronicles the ten-year hunt for Osama bin Laden and offers a chilling portrayal of the cost at which this pursuit was achieved.

Jessica Chastain plays a C.I.A. officer named Maya, a woman so determined to find bin Laden that all we come to know about her is her drive to find him. Whether or not Maya is based on a specific person, or several, remains to be seen, but Zero Dark Thirty itself should be remembered as perhaps the closest retelling of the last ten years that we will ever see.

There have, of course, been some controversies over the nature of torture depicted in the film, which unfortunately take away from Zero Dark Thirty's importance. There have not been any post-9/11 films that have so perfectly captured the tone of what America was feeling for so many years. There was anger, confusion, dread, frustration, sadness and above all, a need for answers. Whether or not America used torture to gain intelligence regarding bin Laden's location is not the point of Zero Dark Thirty; it's one aspect of the film that leaves opinion up to the viewer. This is a film about the pursuit of justice and the sacrifices people like Maya and other characters made in order to get it.

The director, Kathryn Bigelow, and writer, Mark Boal, whose previous collaboration The Hurt Locker won best picture in 2009, know how to tell stories about terrorism and the realities of living in the current political climate that we do. When retelling a story, there are always liberties one takes, especially in film, which seems lost on those who criticize Zero Dark Thirty as 'un-American'. Think of this film less as strictly fact (though, there are many facts that are accurate) and more as a commentary about American attitudes.

Maya is the embodiment of those attitudes. She's meant to be the mirror with which we look at ourselves. We wanted answers; we wanted bin Laden. It's not spoiling anything to say that by the end of the movie, we get him, but what we're left with is not a dead body to gawk at, but instead an image of Maya wondering, "What now?" You're likely to feel the same way by the time the credits roll.

Zero Dark Thirty is currently in wide release.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

I Am Not A Hipster ★★★★

Struggling To Find Meaning After The Death of His Mother

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

When we first meet Brook (Dominic Bogart), an indie-rock musician living in San Diego, we see many of the attributes of the modern day hipster: he rejects virtually anything that could be considered mainstream, rides a bicycle instead of driving a car, wears thick-rimmed glasses, and just does not seem to care about anything. The title of the film, of course, suggests that these traits are all part of a facade that Brook is putting out into the world. We come to learn that Brook, for the past year or so, is still devastated by the loss of his mother.

Throughout I Am Not A Hipster, we're given just enough detail about this woman (shown very briefly in flashback with no dialogue) to know that she meant the world to Brook and his three sisters. It informs everything that Brook does and says, making him both a fascinating character study and a guy a you would love to hit square in the face quite frankly. For most of the movie, the best parts of Brook are seen when he's with his sisters, who show up to spread their mother's ashes in the ocean. Of the three of them, Joy (Tammy Minoff) is the one who has the most screen time with him, rightfully so as Minoff beautifully balances understanding her brother while also giving him the wake-up call he needs. 

What I love about this movie, as well as the music throughout it, is the fact that it managed to use the medium of film to convey all the emotions I've ever felt listening to some of my favorite musicians. I tend to be on the fence with Radiohead depending on the album, but an example of what I'm talking about could be found in their song "Fake Plastic Trees". For me, it's a song that, regardless of the lyrics, is about loss and hope living in harmony. I can't quite describe everything I feel when I listen to something like that, but those same emotions bubbled to the surface while I was watching I Am Not A Hipster

My favorite scene in the movie is an example of these conflicting emotions when Brook, his sisters, and his estranged father finally go the beach to put their mother to rest. Carrying the urn out to sea, Brook drops it in the ocean when a wave hits him harder than expected. What follows is a conversation between father and son that is so perfect I was moved to tears. This is one of the few character study films (if such a sub-genre exists) that knocked me out by how terrific and understated it was.

I haven't seen many films that tackle the relationship between loss and creativity so well. I Am Not A Hipster should be considered a lesson to aspiring filmmakers. Anyone who has ever experienced a tragedy and created something - be it a song, a film, a novel or anything else - knows that the key is not to be consumed by grief, but instead to use it as your fuel. I won't discuss spoilers here, except to say that Brook is an example of that journey, a character worth your time in a film that is truly special. 

I Am Not A Hipster is currently available on demand.