The Tingler Guarantee

Columbia Pictures

On the centenary of William Castle‘s birth, I’m wondering if there could ever be another cinematic showman like him. The filmmaker is famous for his gimmicks, including the use of props and special viewing devices and vibrating seats to enhance the experience of watching his pictures (see our list of these gimmicks from a few years ago). Movies like The Tingler and House on Haunted Hill and 13 Ghosts were events, mainly for young audiences who loved the interactivity, no matter how cheesy it might be.

That’s something of an assumption. I can only really imagine what it was like to go to the movies during Castle’s height of success in the 1960s and what it meant to have another of his frightening features arrive in town. Watching a fictionalized version of him and his work in Joe Dante’s Matinee and hearing stories told in the documentary Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story can only go so far to make us understand the half of it.

Movies comparably demanding a theatrical viewing are rare these days. And even while something like Gravity might come along every now and then, the fact is that seeing it on the big screen is better but not entirely necessary to get it. We’ve had to come to realize that we can’t all watch Lawrence of Arabia or 2001: A Space Odyssey or Playtime as they were intended to be seen, so the same is understood of anything new that comes along where critics implore you to make the effort to get to the theater.

Paul Schneider

Tribeca Film Festival

You enter with a compliment. This is how professional courtesy works – when you’re entering a room (typically a hotel room, often a nice one, usually stripped of things like beds and dressers, which gives most interview settings the feeling of intended disarray) to interview the talent associated with a film or a book or a television show or whatever it may be, you enter with a compliment. I really enjoyed the book, reading is a cool thing. I loved your performance in the season finale, especially when you died. I liked that scene where you have phone sex while in the same room as the other person. You were so good in this! It’s an icebreaker, and an expected one, and it normally doesn’t lead to anything beyond a pleasant start to a ten-minute chat that is recorded for later use.

This is not what happened with Paul Schneider. 

The Quiet Ones review


Perhaps the most terrifying thing about The Quiet Ones is how blatantly the Hammer horror film rips off other, better features – in fact, for long stretches during its muddled and flat middle act, it’s nearly impossible to not wish that you were watching The Conjuring, a recent outing that does everything that The Quiet Ones wants to do with all the style and flair lacking from the latter production – with little regard for possible repercussions. That kind of recklessness is chilling on its own, that lack of care and originality, the kind that will likely be ripped to shreds by plenty of audience members and critics alike.

The Quiet Ones just isn’t original, at least, it’s not original until it tries to be (really tries!) far too late in the feature, when it suddenly slaps on a series of revelations that sound cool and weird and scary in theory, but make zero sense in practice. The John Pogue feature actually does have a creepy and interesting premise to drive it – as long as you don’t immediately exit the theater once you see the words “inspired by actual events” pop up on the big screen – but that material is ultimately abandoned in service to a story that attempts to scan as chilling and twisted and shocking, but only comes across as derivative and dumb.

IFC Films

IFC Films

François Ozon is no longer an enfant terrible himself and so he has begun to write scripts about them instead. It’s the best thing that could have happened to his career. Last year’s In the House brought an end to a seven-year slump, a return to form as well as a return to the themes that made the French auteur an artist to watch in the first place. It drew strength from Ozon’s fascination with the written word and his dangerous interest in the sensual underbelly of the traditional bourgeois home. It was something of a triumph. And now, a year later, it can be said with assurance that it was not a fluke.

Young & Beautiful stars ingenue Marine Vacth as Isabelle, a beautiful and eventually quite enigmatic girl poised on the cusp of her 17th birthday. It is summer and she has a summer romance, a blonde German named Felix who is vacationing in the same gorgeous seaside town as her family. Their fling advances as you might expect, from the awkward hesitations of youth to the frenetic and abrupt ecstasy of sexual discovery. For Isabelle the loss of her virginity is quite literally an out of body experience, Ozon choosing this moment for the most obvious show of his directorial hand in the film. She watches herself from above with a somewhat perplexed expression, not entirely sure yet what this coupling on the sand will mean.

As it turns out, that’s about it for Felix. The family returns to Paris and Isabelle forgets him without much difficulty. It is not long before the real story begins. In the autumn, quite suddenly, Ozon introduces her brand-new post-virginity side job. Independently operating off of a dating website, she has become something of a belle de jour. She sells herself to older men in the afternoons, mostly in fancy hotels.

Sundance Selects

Sundance Selects

Laugh all you want at those people who scour the country for lots, lockers and storage containers to bid on in the hopes of finding value within, but sometimes they do strike gold. More often than not though what they’ve blind bought turns out to be little more than worthless junk.

John Maloof was looking only for old, black & white photographs when he bid on and won a box of negatives at a public auction in 2007. He had never heard of the photographer, Vivian Maier, and neither had anyone else. He found it odd if only because the photos, pictures of strangers on the streets of Chicago, showed an eye for both the beauty and tragedy of humanity. A Google search came up equally empty at first, but as time passed he bought additional boxes of her property (eventually amassing over 100,000 negatives, rolls of undeveloped film and more) before discovering an obituary notice in 2009. Maier had died at the age 83 in the same obscurity in which she had lived.

Maloof posted dozens of the photos online, and his opinion as to their quality was quickly affirmed by the response they earned from commenters. But how could such a talented photographer have gone her entire life without recognition, and is it really possible that she never developed a single picture she took throughout her life? Finding Vivian Maier follows Maloof as he goes looking for answers and discovers a woman as unique and troubled as she was talented.

Andrew Dominik Blonde

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Filmmaker Andrew Dominik’s long-in-the-making attempt to turn Joyce Carol Oates’ Pulitzer Prize finalist “Blonde,” a loose (and beloved) 700-page take on the life of Marilyn Monroe, into a feature film has steadily become a prime candidate for inclusion on listicles that chart great-sounding films that never happened. It’s like Dune! Or The Man Who Killed Don Quixote! But it could still totally happen!

But the news that Dominik’s feature has snagged a new leading lady to play the Monroe part, despite the long-time attachment of another famous blonde and little public indication that he needed a fresh face, seems to indicate that this thing might actually happen after all. The Wrap shares that Dominik’s film has now cast Jessica Chastain as Monroe, with an eye to start filming in August. As much as we really want to see this film – a true passion project for Dominik, as cliche as that may sound – we’re still skeptical. After all, we’ve learned from the past.

Stories We Tell

Roadside Attractions

All creations are, in some way, autobiographical. As the merging of imagination and experience, at least a little bit of the creator’s self is infused in their creation.

At times, it’s little more than a thematic hint, like Ethan Hawke’s discussion of his failing marriage in Before Sunset, as the actor himself went through a public break-up. It can also be the combination of memory and fantasy, like Guy Maddin’s eccentric documentary about his hometown and childhood memories, My Winnipeg. And other times, cinema becomes the therapist investigating familial turmoil, like Sarah Polley’s excellent Stories We Tell.

On occasion, the film itself becomes a revealing cinematic journal, one that makes its audience witting (or unwitting) voyeurs snooping through private lives with a depth tabloids can only dream of. These films allow the filmmaker moments of introspection, revenge, and confusion that make for compelling narratives, but even more fascinating autobiographies when you know what inspired them.

Frozen Disney Movie

Walt Disney Pictures

There are few movies that stay so firmly in the public discourse this long after their release. Even with the boost of awards season, we’re focused on what Summer 2014 will bring instead of pouring new thoughts about Gravity or 12 Years a Slave into old wineskins. Yet here we are with yet another editorial on the Frozen pro-gay agenda, this one from Akash Nikolas taking the ho-hum angle by attempting to link classic Disney films like Dumbo — and really an entire history of the studio — to LGBT supporting subtext. Frozen‘s pro-gay? What isn’t?

By giving a queer reading of multiple movies from multiple eras Nikolas has achieved something clever, using hyperbole to point out how any movie featuring a character who learns to be comfortable with himself or herself can be read as a metaphor for homosexuality. Because of course it can.

But coming out of the closet (or the genie bottle, of the ice castle) isn’t the sole visual metaphor in these movies. Emergence from a timid existence to embrace/learn your unique talent/destiny is a hallmark of the hero’s journey, and in every case (even Frozen) is so broad that it could mean absolutely anything.

Feel isolated because jocks tease you for being in the school play? Let it go. Alienated because you’re a hardcore Republican living in Austin? Let it go. Lonely because you love playing jazz but none of your friends think it’s cool? Let it go with syncopation.

It’s fascinating that have latched onto the concept of Frozen being pro-gay because of a very general, well-worn theme in storytelling. And it is pro-gay. Because it’s pro-being yourself. It’s pro-acceptance. Pro-tolerance. So it’s pro-gay, but it’s also a lot more.

Japanese Sideways

20th Century Fox/Fuji Television

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Every Secret Thing movie

Tribeca Film Festival

Plenty of feature films about crime – true or otherwise – center on seemingly normal people who break both the boundaries of normal social behavior and a little thing called the law. Regular people do bad things, too, but that doesn’t mean it’s not shocking and weirdly wrenching when those regular people are of a jarringly young age. Such is the case is Amy Berg’s Every Secret Thing, which follows a pair of pre-teen girls who (possibly) commit a ghastly crime and then (possibly) repeat it nearly a decade later.

The feature opens on what seems to be a charmed night in the Manning household, as mother Helen (Diane Lane) acquiesces to her daughter Alice’s (played in these younger sequences by Brynne Norquist) every demand. Let’s read stories! And paint nails! And bake cookies! Helen is delighted by the requests, unaware that Alice is either desperately trying to please her or attempting to cram all the happy memories she can into a single night before everything changes. A knock on the door interrupts the peace, and suddenly there’s another little face (this one belongs to Ronnie, played in her younger years by Eva Grace Kellner) clinging to Helen, apologizing for something that no words can ever repair.

Random Media

Random Media

One of the most surprising films to be released in 2013 was not a massive blockbuster. Instead, it was Escape from Tomorrow, an independent film effort, much of which was shot in the Walt Disney parks without permission from the company. Even though it was meant as a parody of the “Happiest Place on Earth,” lots of people thought that Escape from Tomorrow would never get released.

However, after being championed by clearance counsel Michael Donaldson, the film was released. Ignored by the Disney company so as to not give additional attention to the movie with the Streisand Effect, Escape from Tomorrow was eventually released to a certain degree of success in theaters and video on demand.

Writer/director Randy Moore sat down with his cinematographer Lucas Lee Graham in January of 2014 to record the commentary of the film they had shot in the fall of 2010 (with pick-ups in the spring of 2011), which is included on the DVD release of the film.

Unlocking the Cage Chimpanzee

Pennebaker Hegedus Films

As one of the pioneers of the Direct Cinema movement back in the 1960s, D.A. Pennebaker has long been associated with mostly observational films and concert docs, including the classics Don’t Look Back, The War Room, Monterey Pop, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars, Town Bloody Hall and Company: Original Cast Album. Neither he nor his wife and filmmaking partner, Chris Hegedus, are thought of as directors of issue films. Their next feature, therefore, seems like a departure, though it probably isn’t as behind a cause as it sounds. The doc is called Unlocking the Cage and it follows attorney Steve Wise in his attempt to give animals the same legal rights as humans. Chimpanzees are the main focus, having been involved in his landmark lawsuit demanding personhood for the apes, one of which was a plaintiff in court last December.

In their campaign video on Kickstarter, where they’re hoping to raise at least $75K to continue production, Pennebaker and Hegedus definitely come across as being on Wise’s side, though that doesn’t mean their film will have too much of a stance on the issue. It’ll probably just be like how you can figure they were supporters of Bill Clinton while making The War Room even if that’s not explicitly illustrated on screen. The couple is clearly passionate about there being protection for the chimps and other animals, yet the project is more about the questions Wise’s efforts raise, and those on the other side of the issue will be given proper time to share their perspective. As Hegedus claims, it won’t matter if Wise is successful or not because his story will inspire a conversation about this next level in animal rights either way.

Marshmallow Peeps

Just Born

Yes, you heard right. Marshmallow Peeps, those scrumptious little morsels of sugar, corn syrup (so, more sugar), gelatin, yellow dye and carnauba wax, have just been given the rights to their own feature film.

The Peeps won’t be making the movie, though (they don’t really have the capacity for artistic thought). Right now, the Peep moviemaking is being handled by Adam Rifkin, a man with a long history of slightly off kids’ movies — he wrote the screenplays for Mousehunt, Small Soldiers and Underdog. Rifkin and the execs from Just Born (the candy company responsible for those gooey yellow bird things) are currently hashing out the story details for Easter Themed Tooth Decay: The Movie.

Reportedly, what they’ve got so far is a Peeps diorama contest that sees a single candy fowl come loose and lose his way the night before judging is to commence. He (or she, or some indiscriminate Peep gender) must venture through the fantasy worlds of each diorama to make it home in time for the contest. According to Deadline (who broke the news), Rifkin got this idea from watching his niece and nephew construct a Peeps diorama. Also The Lego Movie, probably, given that The Peeps Movie has the exact same story.

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