Yes, you're tired of "fresh" takes on the vampire myth, and you're sick to death of the found footage/faux documentary filmmaking style. Both have been driven well into the ground, especially in recent years, but there's a good reason these types of films continue on for so long. The simple reason is that films like What We Do in the Shadows come along once in a while achieving something that is as simple as it is clever, as hilarious as it is atmospheric, and as revitalizing as it is genuine. Not only is it the first must-see movie of 2015, it's sure to have a hand in lengthening the shelf lives of vampire movies and found footage horror.
What could be more ridiculous than a Hot Tub Time Machine? How about a sequel? Gratuitous as it may seem, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 has found its way to theaters five short years after its absurd and hysterical predecessor. Extraneous? Sure. Once you’re familiar with the title of the film all questions of whether or not it’s called for get swept aside. The real question here is, “Is this film funny in the slightest?” Simply, yes, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is hilarious. Bringing three of the four leads back from the first film – the funniest three, by the way – this second film twists the aggressive comedy dial hard to the right and with a brazen attitude. It’s as if the film dares you to be disgusted, and, to an extent, it succeeds. More below!
Fifty Shades of Grey is not the disgusting trainwreck of awful filmmaking and horrendous acting some of you were expecting. It’s not even the steamy, sexually enlightening handbook for which some of you were hoping. The adaptation to E.L. James’ nationwide bestseller – itself based from Twilight fan fiction – was inevitably going to stir up controversy of all manner before its release, but the film, itself, is both tamer and, surprisingly, more accomplished than the preemptive lack of credit being given. Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, it’s is a freshly-shot film telling a weakly-crafted story, the latter criticism of which seems to be built in to today’s Hollywood release structure. It’s the first of a three act story, but Fifty Shades of Grey brings enough visual style – and one solid lead performer – to keep you on board for the eventual trilogy.
If only he had 13 more minutes, the world would be an entirely different place. The new film from German director Oliver Hirschbiegel (Das Experiment, Downfall, The Invasion), titled 13 Minutes, premiered at the Berlin Film Festival this week. It's a solid thriller that tells the true story of carpenter Georg Elser, a resistance fighter who designed a bomb and attempted to kill Hitler in 1939, but was unsuccessful by only 13 minutes. It feels very much like Germany's response to The Imitation Game, highlighting an individual who tried to impact WWII for the better and wasn't recognized by his country for many years. It's also everything that Valkyrie should've been, but wasn't, and explores Georg's life leading up to and after the bombing.
It seems as if James Franco is in everything these days, working with so many different filmmakers from all over the world (Boyle, Gondry, Gordon Green, Korine, Raimi, Coppola, Haggis, Herzog). One of his latest appearances is in the film Every Thing Will Be Fine, the latest dramatic work from legendary German filmmaker Wim Wenders, which just premiered at the Berlin Film Festival. This deeply contemplative and compelling film is an extensive look at grief, and how that powerful emotion affects people over many years. There's a very chilling, almost Fincher-esque feel to it that makes this play almost more like a thriller than a drama. Oh, and it's shot in 3D, as Wenders has been exploring 3D ever since his vibrant 3D dance doc Pina.
Anton Corbijn is a remarkable photographer. But I'm not so sure he's that great of a filmmaker, especially after his most recent film. I'm not usually one to bash films, but Corbijn's latest work – titled Life – is such an exceptional let down I can't help but express my disdain. The film feels so lifeless, and is devoid of any impressive features at all, which is odd considering it's a story about James Dean starring two very talented actors. But why does it suck so much? It's bland and boring, a misfire on all counts, from the story to the casting to the photography itself. I had hoped I'd feel some–any–emotion, but never did. Instead, during my Berlinale screening, the only nagging feeling I had was that I wanted it to end right away so I could bolt.
Mr. Holmes, you are a man of great wisdom. In the new movie Mr. Holmes, beloved legendary actor Ian McKellen finally gets his shot at playing the character Sherlock Holmes, but not the Sherlock Holmes we're all familiar with. Instead, he plays the "real" detective that Holmes was based on in the stories told by Dr. Watson, which are the stories told in Arthur Conan Doyle's stories (very meta but it's easy to understand). He has no hat or pipe, as those were embellishments added to the stories. Instead, he's kind of a bumbling old man, a bit disgruntled with others but has still maintained a keen intellect. This wonderful film swept me away, I fell really hard for it, to the point where I don't even know how to start I adore so much about it.
Malick is back! Terrence Malick, I mean, the master filmmaker who never makes public appearances and can sometimes take years to finish editing his films. This time he tackles Hollywood itself, presenting a mesmerizing criticism of the hedonism of Hollywood in a film called Knight of Cups starring Christian Bale as an actor who pretends to be anyone but himself. The film just premiered at the Berlin Film Festival to cheers from critics at the morning press screening. Malick finally found his groove, and Knight of Cups is his best film in years, perhaps even better than The Tree of Life. It weaves a very thin narrative around some of the same metaphysical, religious, meaning-of-life themes that he first began exploring in The Tree of Life.
Good or bad, the films of the writing/directing sibling duo, The Wachowskis, have always struck a chord of interest. Even their less respected works either present noteworthy, sci-fi questions or deliver cool, sci-fi extravaganzas for the senses. Jupiter Ascending is their film most deserving of deep deconstruction. It’s a messy film, one that seems to have been sadly cut to shreds by post-production meddling. Its frantic structure and goofy accents keep it on the fringe of landing as highly as many of their previous works, perhaps all of them. For all of its hokey details though, Jupiter Ascending is a true Wachowski sci-fi action adventure that fully delivers the heart-stopping excitement for which we’ve all grown to love them. Read on!
There are infinitely more comedians working today than you realize, but that's only because most people only hear about and go out of their way to see the most famous comics who have specials on Comedy Central and star in their own TV shows. What you may not realize is that there's a long career of not being famous for many comedians before they catch their big break, and even if that breakthrough finally happens, it may not last. That brings me to Tig Notaro, a comedienne who has been in the business for 18 years, but skyrocketed to fame in the past three years after a series of unfortunate events inspired a bold stand-up set.
China is a endlessly fascinating country. With a population over 1.3 billion people, it's impressive that they can operate with a communist government yet still thrive and remain as powerful and successful as they currently are. I'm even more curious about the government: how exactly it works, how the entire hierarchy is structured, and how they're able to make progress and push forward when so many seem so vehemently against the system. The documentary The Chinese Mayor, which recently won a Special Jury Prize at Sundance for "Unparalleled Access", is a remarkable inside look at how one ambitious mayor in China tried to revitalize his city with his citizen's best interests at heart in the face of constant opposition. It's fantastic.
Independent cinema is where some actors go to defy expectations and try roles outside of their comfort zone. You'll find dramatic stars trying out small comedies, and big comedians putting on their best serious face. With I Smile Back, an adaptation of Amy Koppelman's book of the same name, we get the latter. But this isn't just a gimmick of a raunchy comic trying to get dark just for shock value as Sarah Silverman steps into the lead role with flying colors, delivering a brutal, relentless depiction of addiction and sadness as a mother struggling with substance abuse everyday, popping pills, snorting coke and chugging vodka.
Years ago, the documentary American Teen focused on a group of teenagers living in Indiana, focusing on their everyday high school lives. This time a new documentary heads back to the Midwest with How to Dance in Ohio. However, the young adults at the center of this documentary aren't your ordinary teens, because they all have varying autistic spectrum disorders. The film from Alexandra Shiva turns the camera on these socially anxious teens as they prepare for their first spring formal. This is something that can be daunting for teens who don't have to deal with autism, and with these kids it could be disastrous.
There are a growing number of recent films that have tried to make a fun joke out of religion, which can sometimes be a sensitive subject (at least in this country). Not many of them are that good, as sometimes they get too dumb with the humor (e.g. Year One), but sometimes they strike the right chord, touching upon both the importance of and hilarity of modern religion. Don Verdean is the latest film from Jared Hess & Jerusha Hess, the husband/wife filmmaker team that brought us Napoleon Dynamite and Gentlemen Broncos previously. Don Verdean is the name of religious artifacts collector who gets into some deep shit.