Review: Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Civil War 3I’m a huge super-hero fan and one of my first introductions into actually reading comics was the Civil War event. The political stand-off and the idea that heroes could disagree and fight against each other in such a grand way, disagreeing over basic beliefs, was enticing to me. So, of course, I’m excited to see them try something similar in the MCU. Though, there is no way they can replicate the true scale of the crossover; I think that Captain America: Civil War has touched on something remarkable in the interaction of its heroes that makes this movie shine, even if the source material’s depth was hard to live up to.

The action in this movie was visceral and intense. The film allowed the heroes to use their powers and abilities to the fullest. Even from the start, we saw some awesome combo attacks and a wide range of new abilities and intense action scenes that are absolutely the best in the genre so far, and as the film progressed it only got better. In terms of action, if you were upset by the slow pace and low choreography of some other superhero films, this is definitely not an area where Civil War will disappoint. Continue reading

10 Reasons Why BATMAN V SUPERMAN is a Fantastic Movie

Batman Superman


Many reviews of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice seem to forget one fact: Zack Snyder has a distinct directorial style. As I’ve noted before, anyone who buys a ticket for any film by the director of 300 and Sucker Punch—which includes Batman v Superman—and is offended by the lack of subtlety and Loki-style humor has not considered Snyder’s reputation as a director.

A director’s signature style matters. I would not see a Tarantino movie if I wanted a kid-friendly romantic comedy; I would not expect a film by Sam Mendes to highlight the positive qualities of suburbia; and I would not look for Spaceballs-style comedy in an Iñárritu film. Zack Snyder was never going to allow Batman v Superman to look or feel like Joss Whedon’s lighthearted and arguably formulaic Avengers films.

Below are ten reasons why Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is an entertaining and impressive movie.

1. The Opening Scenes

Critics enjoy mocking the excessiveness of Superman’s Metropolis-based battle against Zod in Man of Steel. Shortly after the movie premiered, the hazard-assessment team at Watson Technical Consulting quantified the damage. According to the team, “in terms of the strictly physical damage done to the city, the initial estimate is $700 billion.” And the death count is equally striking: “129,000 known killed, over 250,000 missing (most of whom would have also died), and nearly a million injured.” Many moviegoers look at these numbers with disgust.

So does Batman. Continue reading

Review: Victoria (2015), or “Help Me, Alessia Cara!”

VictoriaVictoria opens with strobe lights, club music, and bathroom graffiti. The first few minutes of the film feel like a particularly intoxicating blend of A Night at the Roxbury and Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void. Victoria, a young Spanish girl played by Laia Costa, dances her way through a crowd and is quickly harassed by several “real Berlin” guys. This is when the film becomes frustrating to watch.

Despite their reprehensible, arguably predatory moments early in the film, the “real Berlin” guys—primarily Sonne, Boxer, and Blinker—induct Victoria into their close-knit, Trainspotting-style group. Sonne and Victoria begin to develop a relationship, and all seems well in this hazy late-night version of Berlin—until Boxer needs a favor. Then this one-shot film becomes a blur of guns, lights, and muffled dialogue.

Like a dark, more visceral version of Whit Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco, Victoria’s story questions the necessity of maturity. Though, as a character, Victoria has strength and courage, she possesses a sort of self-aware naïveté, a seemingly conscious willingness to allow the forces around her to guide her actions. The fact that this film is a single continuous take enhances the idea that Victoria’s life is one steady stream of pressures and obligations—she never has a moment to reflect. In this way, Victoria is more relatable than many films: there are no cuts, no blackouts, no second attempts. The audience can analyze how the ugly minutiae of every moment impacts Victoria’s spirit. Continue reading

Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

10 cloverfield laneI loved Cloverfield. As an avid monster movie fan and gamer—I liken the feel of Cloverfield to a mix of Call of Duty and Resident Evil—this is not the type of sequel I anticipated. When the marketing for 10 Cloverfield Lane came out, I was baffled that what looked like a psychological thriller bore the Cloverfield title and was the supposed next entry in a giant alien monster movie franchise. All these things left my expectations low but hopeful.

The beginning starts cautiously, establishing the mood with a strong and foreboding score at the forefront. You are given details and character hints without any dialogue. Then, once you’ve been established in the world and you settle in for what you expect to be a slow build to the first tension of a slow psychological thriller, everything explodes on screen in full audio and visual. I think this opening epitomizes the shock that I felt throughout the entire film. This movie is an odd but pleasant surprise throughout, and definitely nothing I was expecting.

The thing that stands out first is the score and the sound mixing. The mechanical noise of the door opening and shutting, the clatter of objects, the jostling of a car shaking and rolling; all the sound in the film feels like it’s turned up to 11 and it presents a visceral world that keeps you braced for something terrible yet to come. At some points I thought the sound and the score might’ve tried a little too hard to push the drama of a scene, but they played a big part in shaping it as well. Ultimately, as the film rises to its peaks the sound really stands out in delivering the drama of each scene. Continue reading

Brilliant Short Films You Can Watch Right Now

Don HertzfeldDon Hertzfeldt is an impressive artist. Hertzfeldt is a two-time Oscar nominee, and a 2012 Indiewire Best Director poll placed Hertzfeldt above filmmakers like Richard Linklater and Steven Spielberg. While the short film genre has always been an artistic platform for profound ideas, few short films have captured the public’s attention more than Hertzfeldt’s. Rejected, for example, has gained a cult following. Rejected was first screened at the San Diego Comic Con and has since been viewed by Cartoon Network audiences and Sundance Film Festival attendees. Rejected is a simple, absurd animated short film that tackles big concepts. In about nine minutes, Hertzfeldt introduces audiences to an assortment of supposedly rejected cartoon clips. Though the characters seem basic and the narrative seems fractured, the short film as a whole shines a somber light on the plights of the forgotten.

Hertzfeldt’s latest short film, World of Tomorrow, is now on Netflix. Of World of Tomorrow, culture commentator David Sims writes:

The idea of the copy-pasted brain, and the moral quandaries that could stem from it, has enjoyed a quiet revival in sci-fi recently, with World of Tomorrow as the must-see standard-bearer. Hertzfeldt, whose work always tends towards the absurd, had never experimented with the genre before making this short, which was his first digitally produced film. As Emily and her clone drift through the “outernet,” the virtual reality through which all people in the future apparently communicate, the environment pops and crackles around them. But for all of his fantastical imagery, Hertzfeldt triumphs by focusing tightly on his protagonist’s emotions, which are seemingly haywire thanks to their being a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox. “I am very proud of my sadness, because it means I am more alive,” the clone proclaims, while acknowledging that she has occasionally fallen in love with inanimate objects in the past.

As World of Tomorrow proves, short films can wrinkle your brain as much as feature films can. Below are some short films (some by Hertzfeldt) that you can watch right now. Enjoy!

Everything Will Be Ok (2006) dir. Don Hertzfeldt

Created after Rejected and before World of Tomorrow, this animated short film is the first portion of a three-part story about Bill, a passive, thoughtful stick-figure man. Everything Will Be Ok is seventeen minutes of social commentary that slowly transitions from amusing and relatable to unsettling and poignant.

Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody? (2005) dir. Miguel Arteta

Written by Miranda July (The Future) and starring John C. Reilly (Step Brothers), this short film features three different responses to a seemingly simple question. Bob Davidson calls it a “profoundly simple short.” (Warning: Film may be a trigger for those with depression.)

Continue reading

Review: Oz the Great and Powerful (2013): “We love you, Zach Braff!”

Oz BalloonOz the Great and Powerful suffers from some inconsistencies. The pacing is questionable, and James Franco occasionally confuses Oz with his character on General Hospital. But, all in all, the movie is enjoyable, and a great deal of the credit goes to Zach Braff.

Zach Braff plays Finley, Oz’s talkative, winged-monkey sidekick. Though the movie focuses on the plights of Oz, including Oz’s awkward love quadrangle with Theodora, Evandora, and Glinda, Finley steals the show whenever he appears on screen. Finley’s banter with Oz has enough of the spunk and humor of Scrubs that Oz the Great and Powerful could almost be an extended John Dorian daydream.

Oz Monkey and DollOther characters have their moments, of course. Rachel Weisz is a wonderful Evanora; Michelle Williams inspires as the uplifting Glinda; and Mila Kunis gives a decent performance as Theodora. And there’s the awesome China Girl, voiced by Joey King. Director Sam Raimi also comes across as talented, given the film’s stunning visual effects. Still, even as Franco soared above a beautiful CG world in a bubble, I found myself hoping that Finley would say something again. Continue reading

Review: A Good Day to Die Hard (2013): “You know what? Excelsior.”

Good Day to Die HardFor a movie that prides itself on yippee-ki-yay-style action, A Good Day to Die Hard is well-peppered with awkward one-on-one dialogue. The new Die Hard movie has the usual explosions, gunfights, and cliched one-liners—writers replaced John McClane’s usual “I’m too old for this” catch phrases with the more original, “I’m on vacation!”—but those scenes are just toppings on a cake of weird conversations and unnecessary interactions.

The relationship between John McClane and his son, Jack McClane, is like the relationship between Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro in Silver Linings Playbook, except without the emotional nuance and Oscar-nominated performances. Both films contain strained father-son relationships. Both pairs have communication problems. In the opening scenes of A Good Day to Die Hard, John disrupts an elaborate rescue mission by attempting to manufacture heart-to-hearts amid gunfire and car chases. McClane’s journey toward suburban-style parenting is a long one, and his son is more understanding that he should be. More understanding than I was.

A-Good-Day-to-Die-Hard BrosWhile John and Jack gushed about guns and feelings, I imagined what the movie would be like if it really were a blend of Die Hard and Silver Linings Playbook.

John McClane: “Just sit down, come on. Help turn the juju around. The CIA is stupid.”

Jack: “What? Stupid? How is—you know what? Excelsior.”

John McClane: “What the f*** is ‘excelsior’?”

Jack: “You know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna take all this negativity, and I’m going to use it to find a silver lining. I’ll be the best CIA agent ever. Better than Tony Mendez.”

Good Day to Die Hard PalsI’d watch that movie. Die Hard Playbook. At least that movie would better analyze the father-son dynamic that Die Hard both highlights and under-develops. And maybe it would feature a CarterDanny hybrid, a character played by Chris Tucker who would wisecrack his way into dangerous situations and then sweet-talk his way to freedom. And Jennifer Lawrence would be there. So many possibilities.

John Moore: Director

Skip Woods and Roderick Thorp: Writing

Bruce Willis and Jai Courtney: Stars

Review: Beautiful Creatures (2013): “For goodness’ sake, read a book!”

Beautiful Creatures 2SPOILERS

Let me first respond to some would-be frequently asked questions: Yes, I tend to enjoy film adaptations of young adult novels, including The Hunger Games and Warm Bodies. No, I don’t think Beautiful Creatures is the same as Twilight. Yes, I wish I had superpowers. And no, I have not yet read the book by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

Beautiful Creatures is the heartwarming story of a Southern boy, Ethan, who falls for a socially marginalized new-to-town classmate, Lena Duchannes. As it turns out, Lena comes from a family of “Casters,” which includes Scar from The Lion King her rich, well-spoken uncle, Macon Ravenwood, played by Jeremy Irons. Ethan and Lena eventually date, but their romance is, of course, complicated. The Southern boy and his superpowered boo must overcome small-town prejudices, Civil War curses, and an overbearing, powerful, and previously-absent mother.

Beautiful Creatures MaconBut that plot, which is neither bad nor completely original, is almost secondary to the pro-intellectualism subtext that runs throughout the film. The movie opens with Ethan, a stereotypical bound-for-better-things sort of protagonist—”My momma says there’s two types of people that live in Gatlin: the people too stupid to leave and the ones too stuck to move”—who enjoys reading banned books. And Gatlin has banned a lot of books. The fictional town of Gatlin is portrayed as a conservative, hyper-religious, aggressively traditional small town that enjoys Civil War reenactments.

But Gatlin-ians are also stupid. Or ignorant. Either way, they’d rather ban books than read them, and they constantly butcher the titles of the few popular movies that happen to show at their one movie theater. Macon, Lena’s cultured uncle, once refers to the local high school as “the institution that Gatlin presumes to call educational.” And his snark seems justified.

Despite the fact that Macon’s ancestors were founders of Gatlin, Lena and her family are outcasts, social pariahs. Placing the Duchannes family on the margins of society emphasizes the difference between Castors and other mortals, of course, but it also highlights the difference between the intelligent and the reactionary, the well-read and the book banners, the cultured and the close-minded. Macon hates non-Castors, but he doesn’t dislike them because they tend to persecute his kind—he seems to dislike them because they’re unaware, uneducated, shallow.

Beautiful CreaturesThere is only one library in Galtin, and all of the good, likable characters are somehow connected to it. Amma, Ethan’s caretaker and Macon’s confidant, works at the library, and Lethan (Lena and Ethan) visits the library frequently. Contrarily, the film’s antagonists seem repulsed by literature. The stuck-up high school bullies, Emily and Savannah, chastise Ethan for reading banned books and throw a public-prayer-filled fit when they’re asked to read To Kill a Mockingbird for English class.

The film is nuanced enough that it doesn’t further dichotomize the silly intellectualism-versus-religion discussion; instead, it offers viewers the opportunity to watch various possible reactions to ignorance. These case studies come in the form of Castors. Some Castors are good, and others are evil. But all Castors seem to lament the narrow-mindedness of other mortals. The evil ones choose to fight back, to rule the morons. The good ones choose to love the mortals, despite their flaws. In the end, the film decides to abandon the polarization altogether: “There’s a new world mama. It ain’t all dark, and it ain’t all light, and it ain’t all ours.” Maybe that’s a decent goal: Neither mock the uneducated nor tolerate ignorance. Find the middle ground.

Richard LaGravenese: Director

Richard LaGravenese: Screenplay

Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert: Stars

Ben Boruff is a co-founder of Big B and Mo’ Money, and he reviews indie comics for Some of his favorite directors are Whit Stillman, Seijun Suzuki, Noah Baumbach, Kathryn Bigelow, Stanley Kubrick, Antione Fuqua, Don Hertzfeldt, Adam McKay, and Tom Hooper.  Follow him on Twitter: @BenMagicAwesome.

Review: Prom (2011)

When modern pop cinema replaced heart-of-gold rebel archetypes with more multifaceted characters, where did the archetypes go? When Disney seemed to shift their focus from High School Musical-style films to more elaborate plots, where did the teen soap opera storylines go? When tween, teen, and young adult films began to offer more ethnically and economically diverse characters, where did the old racially stereotypical ensembles go?

They went to Prom.

Prom is a collection of all the outdated elements of popular teen film. Star-crossed lovers without depth. Random bursts of hormonal emotion. Smug, out-of-context attempts at wit. A disheartening lack of interracial couples. This repository of outcast archetypes boldly attempts to unravel years of social and cinematic progress.

In fact, the only somewhat unique character in Prom is Rolo, a curly-haired stoner who may or may not have a career in adult film. After spending the majority of the film casually responding to accusations that Athena, his Greek girlfriend from Canada, is not real, Rolo steals the show when he enters the prom-filled auditorium with a supermodel at his side. This spectacular entrance fascinates the other Prom characters and adds fuel to the idea that the Prom Committee may not be Rolo’s only extracurricular activity.

Sydney White, 17 Again, and even Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam (yes, the sequel) have more inherent entertainment value than the visually pleasing, regurgitated drama-slush of Prom.

Thank goodness for Rolo.

Joe Nussbaum: Director

Katie Wech: Writer

Aimee Teegarden, Thomas McDonell, DeVaughn Nixon: Stars

Review: Melancholia (2011)


I saw Melancholia twice in theaters. The first time I saw the movie was at an artsy theater in Indianapolis. The audience was quiet, focused, and alert, absorbing all of the subtle and profound emotions portrayed by Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

The second time was at a theater in a college town. The audience was loud, talkative, and arrogant. And they were definitely more intoxicated than the Indianapolis audience, which is weird because the artsy theater offered alcohol (and the university had a supposedly dry campus). Though, to be fair, I don’t blame the college students. If I was sporting a 1.5 GPA because of a moderate Call of Duty addiction and was going to see a movie about the slow demise of our planet, I’d probably drink too.

What intrigued me, however, was how the different audiences impacted my perception of the movie.


Before diving into that ocean of gaudy introspective self-praise, though, I need to explain a little about Melancholia. Lars von Trier‘s 2011 film is a beautiful juxtaposition of the emotional and mental struggles of two sisters and a newly discovered planet that likes to invade Earth’s personal space. Kirsten Dunst plays Justine, a personification of depression and doom. For the first half of the film, the audience watches Justine destroy her wedding bit by excruciating bit. The second half of the film follows Claire, Justine’s sister, as she tries to juggle Justine’s emotional state, a creepily quiet child, Jack Bauer, and a new planet that may end all life.

So when the booze-filled audience burped their laughs, I was surprised. Depression and interplanetary tango is not exactly comedic gold. But, in some ways, it worked. Melancholia offers a dark look at life on the edge (in more than one way), and sometimes mild laughter is a good way to deal with impending doom. Also, if good movies aren’t your preference and you get bored while watching this wonderful film, it’s sort of fun to imagine Spider-Man swooping in to save Kirsten. Or Kiefer Sutherland yelling at someone.

“Life is only on Earth. And not for long,” says Justine with tired eyes.

“Like Hell it is!” growls Jack Bauer, cocking his gun and running toward the sunset.

Lars von Trier: Director

Lars von Trier: Writer

Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Kiefer Sutherland: Stars