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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.

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Point-and-Shoot

The ghost of Ernest Hemingway hovers over Marshall Curry‘s new documentary, a profile of amateur filmmaker and revolutionary Matthew VanDyke. Or, rather, the novelist’s name is perhaps the best way to isolate and identify what is going on beneath this formally simple but thematically intricate film. Point and Shoot is a 21st century incarnation of some very old ideas, fervently held conceptions of what it is to be a man and an American on the world stage. The word “profile” isn’t particularly sufficient as a description, either. This is not simply a document, it is an entire life. In 2006, VanDyke left Baltimore. He took his motorcycle, his video camera and his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder on a trip to Morocco and did not come back for three years. It was to be a “crash course in manhood.” He crisscrossed North Africa, went across into the Near East and eventually rode all the way to Afghanistan. After that he served as an embedded journalist in Iraq, where he encountered modern warfare for the first time. His last significant stop was Qaddafi’s Libya, then officially not an option for American tourists. He snuck in illegally, made a number of close friends, and felt at home. When he finally returned to the United States he was exhausted, if fulfilled. READ MORE AT NONFICS

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Spoilers

Just when it seems to have died down, the debate over spoilers flairs right back up again, like a pesky form of a physical ailment that – unlike spoilers – isn’t likely to be mentioned in mixed company. The rise and proliferation of social media has made the spread of spoilers even more virulent, totally off-hand, and hard to avoid. Live in Los Angeles and love a show like Mad Men? Better stay off the ol’ Twitter machine while the other time zones watch it (and, no, I am not being sarcastic here – I’ve lived in Los Angeles, and I managed to stay the hell off of social media during “important” television events, and no, it’s really not that hard). Highly anticipating a film? Keep away from pals who have already seen it (or maybe just tell them “no spoilers, pals, okay?”). Prone to accidentally overhearing big-time spoilers because you’ve got super hearing? We cannot help with that, but it actually sounds cool. We’ve covered spoilers pretty heavily over the years, including exploring the science of spoilers and the truth about twists, we’ve cautioned against Twitter, and even given “the final word” on the matter, though I’ve mainly stayed out of the fray. It’s high time I admit my stance on spoilers: I don’t mind them a bit. Well, mostly. In fact, there’s been a few I’ve actually loved. It should go without saying that spoilers follow (and, if you’ve somehow gotten this far and now realized what you’ve gotten yourself into, those spoilers apply to […]

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Alanis Morissette in Dogma

Once, in the 90s, it was told unto us that God was one of us, just a slob like one of us, trying to make his way home. The all knowing, all seeing, all feeling creator of everything and anything in the universe could take on many forms, and he typically has throughout the many channels of pop culture. But it’s hard to find a good version of God in movies – for good reason. It’s a part that many might not want to take; God is, after all, the ultimate role. It doesn’t get much bigger than that. How do you embody a deity, the most important figure in a vast amount of people’s lives, and a part they’ve already casted in their minds while daydreaming in church pews from an early age? You get around it, and you get creative. Sometimes, you don’t even have to be on screen. Just pray for the best. 

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Manhattan Movie

Friday is Manhattan‘s 35th birthday, and while Woody Allen‘s black and white love story may not have the prestige of an Annie Hall or the out and out hilariousness of a Love and Death, it does have one unique aspect — one of greatest May/December affairs in cinema. Plus we’re still three years from Annie Hall‘s 40th anniversary, and we’ve got to kill time somehow. But what is it that’s so special about the love between Allen’s balding, bespectacled Isaac Davis and Mariel Hemmingway‘s genteel young Tracy? Well, part of it is that Manhattan isn’t the story of Isaac and Tracy. It’s not really about anyone. It’s a film about a city; something made achingly clear in the title and the first three and a half minutes. We view the scenery of New York, we hear the music equivalent of New York (George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”), and we hear a nerdy, neurotic New Yorker describe himself as having “the coiled sexual prowess of a jungle cat.” Together, those three elements (and Manhattan itself) are Woody Allen’s New York.

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This is Spinal Tap - These Go to 11

The best movie culture writing from around the internet-o-sphere. There will be a quiz later. Just leave a tab open for us, will ya?

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Billy Bob Thornton in Fargo Episode 2

As noted in my review of the pilot last week, the second episode of Fargo promised some more references to various Coen brothers movies, namely Raising Arizona and Burn After Reading. The former was in the form of Oliver Platt‘s “Supermarket King” character. He owns a chain of stores called Phoenix Farms and wrote a book called “American Phoenix.” I guess showrunner Noah Hawley didn’t want to go too on the nose by naming him Stavros Phoenix, though. Instead, his last name is Milos. As for the latter homage, there wasn’t much to it other than Glenn Howerton playing a personal trainer. Meanwhile, there were allusions to The Hudsucker Proxy (the man scraping the name off the police chief’s office door) and I’m gonna say A Serious Man, as the scene with Colin Hanks spying on his orthodox neighbor undressing reminded me of a scene from that film. The Easter eggs are fun but also a little distracting, particularly because I’m looking for more in every scene and wondering whom each newly introduced character might be based on. Has there been a deaf guy in any of the Coens’ movies, for instance, or is deaf actor Russell Harvard playing a wholly original part? Was the blackmail note a direct reference to The Big Lebowski or is it supposed to be just the stereotypical ransom sort seen in countless movies? The hunt might have been more consuming this time, because there wasn’t a whole lot going on in a focused manner in this episode, titled […]

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Agents of SHIELD Cast

While doing press for the Fargo series, Billy Bob Thornton was asked over and over again why he decided to give TV a try. His answers tend to sum up two main thoughts that he has about the small screen right now: this new wave of great television mirrors the 1990s independent film movement, and currently this is really the only place for adult dramas and comedies. He’s right, and he’s certainly not the first person to say it. Movies for grown-ups are hard to come by at the multiplex, and when they do arrive they don’t do very well  (a lot of them don’t deserve to do well, either). Meanwhile, we’ve got smart and sexy programming up the wazoo on cable and occasionally network TV. Fargo is yet another in the pile that has included True Detective, Top of the Lake, Game of Thrones, Louie, Veep, House of Cards, Girls, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, etc. Everyone knows all about all that. Even though they’re nothing new, Thornton’s comments had me thinking about why those kinds of movies for adults disappeared from theaters. The easy answer is that fewer adults were going to the movies and the lack of a large audience made those kinds of releases unprofitable. And that’s made more room for superhero movies, which are all over the place these days. I don’t think the superheroes chased out the serious drama stuff, which hasn’t completely left movie theaters, and of course each type still has its own season — superheroes in the summertime; awards fodder in […]

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Corman

In Alex Stapleton’s documentary Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, prolific filmmaking legend Roger Corman discusses a philosophy of entertainment that he developed about a decade into his career. Corman had just made his first serious drama, the 1962 integration-themed The Intruder. The film, which he and his brother self-financed because studios wouldn’t touch it, was Corman’s first work that he felt to be truly important, and it stands today as a film without equal in its timely diagnosis of American race relations. The film also turned out to be Corman’s first indisputable box office failure. So after The Intruder, Corman changed course: he decided to continue pursuing relevant themes in his work, but maintain his dominance of American B-cinema. The text of his films would entertain audiences, but the subtext would resonate with an eye on timely social, cultural, and political issues. Corman saw his 1967 film The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, for instance, as both an entertaining gangster picture and a comment about the underground economy that develops when immigrant groups are sidelined from legitimate social mobility in a xenophobic America. The message, Corman admitted at a local Q&A this weekend, would not be apparent to all audiences. But at least it would be there. Corman was hardly the first to recognize the political power of entertainment, but the fact that one of the most prolific B-movie producers in history understood this unique potential is significant: what are supposedly the most lowbrow or expendable of movies can actually be the most […]

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IMAX Blue Planet DVD Crop

Earth Day was set up in conjunction with the growing environmental movement, and after 44 years that remains the main purpose of the occasion. But we can also think of this day as a time to celebrate the planet like it’s her birthday. Happy 4.54 billionth, Earth! Again! Therefore I’d like to not just devote the day to listing environmental issue films. Instead, I’ve compiled the best documentaries about Earth, as in the planet is the subject and these are portraits of her, both negative and positive. It’s a fairly brief list, because there aren’t a whole lot of nonfiction films qualified as being about or of the whole world. And I don’t want to just include them all just to fill the space, even though most of them are pretty good. I highly recommend all seven of the following nonfiction films to everyone living on Earth, which should be all of you (if not, hello extraterrestrial readers!), because it’s a good idea to know your home. READ MORE AT NONFICS

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Magnet Releasing

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon. Big Bad Wolves A young girl is found dead, brutally murdered and grotesquely displayed, and she’s not the first. The police have their suspect, but an over zealous cop crosses the line and the possibly murderous pedophile is set free. The cop decides to act on his own to bring the man to justice, but he’s beat to the punch by the little girl’s grieving, revenge-minded father, and soon the two are working together to get their prisoner to confess to his suspected evil deeds. This wonderfully twisted Israeli thriller is the gorgeously shot and scored follow-up to writers/directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado‘s underseen black comedy Rabies, but while it’s an even darker affair it’s also a more accessible one thanks to its high degree of suspense and strong sense of humor. It plays with convention and tone in fresh ways, keeps viewers on edge as to the truth and closes with a fantastic final shot. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, featurette, trailer]

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YA Adaptations

There’s little question that Hollywood’s “adapt anything YA!” attitude has helped shepherd a new line of strong (or, at least, pretend strong, as is the case with Twilight’s Bella Swan, a bell I will ring until the day I die) young female heroines into the pop cultural consciousness. The Hunger Games has the sharp-shooting Katniss Everdeen (who will soon incite a revolution in the next two films based on Suzanne Collins’ bestselling three-book series), while Divergent has the fear-blasting Tris Prior (who will, hey, look at that!, also soon incite a revolution in the nest three films based on Veronica Roths’s bestselling three-book series). Even less popular film franchises, like Vampire Academy, The Mortal Instruments, and The Host are female-led endeavors that may include some cool (read: hot) male counterparts to help their kickass ladies where needed, though they are quite firmly dedicated to portraying ladies in charge. Yet, now it appears that boys are inching their way back into the YA game – not by way of wizardry or godly genetics, but by traveling the same path that the girls have already trailblazed: the gritty one.

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Mystery Science Theater 3000

The best movie culture writing from around the internet-o-sphere. There will be a quiz later. Just leave a tab open for us, will ya?

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Rolling Thunder

This week, Cargill and I call down the thunder. Specifically, we discuss one of our absolute favorite exploitation revenge films from the 1970s: Rolling Thunder. Written by Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) pens this incredibly subversive Vietnam War parable about a man pushed back into a life of violence when his triumphant return form a POW camp is interrupted by a thieving group of good ol’ boys/murders. Cargill and I chat about the baser satisfactions of this revenge movie, as well as the legitimately brilliant performances from William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones, and the intriguing religious allegory of the film’s intensely layered script. That, plus…you know, Sam Peckinpah-worthy shoot-outs. You should follow Brian (@Briguysalisbury), Cargill (@Massawyrm), and the show (@Junkfoodcinema). Download Episode #8 Directly

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Sherlock Jr 1924

Many people watch movies as a form of escapism, and it makes sense that those people wouldn’t like movies that involve reflexive techniques that address this fantasy element. For at least 90 years, as of today’s anniversary of the release of Buster Keaton‘s Sherlock Jr., there has been a lot of evidence to indicate that such meta cinema is not popular with American audiences. At the start of 1924, Keaton was riding a wave of success following his two hits of the previous year, Three Ages and Our Hospitality. But Sherlock Jr. was his first real critical failure, and as a result it was also a box office disappointment (outside of Soviet Russia, that is). Not the flop that many have labeled it as — in fact its final gross was really close to that of Three Ages, and technically it made a bit of money — but in terms of Keaton’s trajectory until then, it was definitely a blow. The issue noted at the time was simply that viewers didn’t find it to be very funny. Humor can be either very dependent on an escapist mindset or the very opposite. Laughter is a diversion, much like fantasy, though it also often requires an understanding of what is actually going on. For instance, for slapstick and other comedy involving bodily harm, the awareness that the pain is fake makes it funny rather than tragic. For satire and spoof, the latter being part of the comedy of both Three Ages (which parodies D.W. Griffith’s […]

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As we all know too well, Mrs. Doubtfire – the seminal Robin Williams-wearing-women’s-clothing comedy — has been officially given a sequel by Fox 2000. Both Williams and the original’s director, Chris Columbus, are on board in the same positions they held last time around. Screenwriter Bonnie Hunt, however, has been replaced with David Berenbaum, of Elf  fame (also Zoom, The Haunted Mansion and The Spiderwick Chronicles fame, which might seem a little less impressive). We all know the decades-later sequel drill. Some get angry, some get excited, some just shake their heads and mumble something cynical about the Hollywood system (For example: the various child actors from Mrs. Doubtfire). But Mrs. Doubtfire 2 isn’t like all the other sequels: it exists under special story circumstances. One can’t just re-womanize Robin Williams and call it a day, like you could with, say an Independence Day sequel (an off-brand Will Smith punches another alien, smirks, “Welcome to Earth… again!” and winks at the camera- cue fireworks and standing ovations).

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Gumshoe Short Film

Why Watch? First person POV can be tricky to pull off because of how limiting the field of view is. It’s the same thing with found footage, but even without the shaky cam (or at least a less shaky cam), it can be disorienting and leave an audience frustrated by the loss of control. When it’s done well, it can be very cool. Still a gimmick, but an entrancing one. It’s become popular over the past few years, so it’s not all that innovative to see it put into practice, although it’s almost always impressive on a technical level. What’s unique about this short film from Matt Steinauer is that he and his team have combined that newly popular technique and blended it with antique style. That’s not just because Gumshoe is drenched in noir pastiche. It’s also the POV shots matched with radio serial Foley work that make for a potent combination of young and old. The technical achievement is stellar, and the shading work is often as stunning as long legs in fishnet stockings. Luckily, it’s also good for a laugh. Which shouldn’t be surprising considering it boasts vocal talent like Maurice LaMarche (Futurama, a billion other things), Curtis Armstrong (Booger!) and Criminal Minds star Paget Brewster.

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SNL Logo

In a stirring reminder that we are all very, very old, Saturday Night Live will celebrate its fortieth anniversary early next year. To honor that big milestone, the venerable NBC sketch comedy show will launch a star-studded anniversary special, packed with talents and memories and stardust and dreams. And, also, probably a few goofs and bobbles and big surprises. Variety reports that the special will arrive next February, and despite some scant details, we still know a bit about the form and shape of the special. We also don’t know a whole bunch about the special, but we think we might be able to parse some answers to our biggest questions from both past anniversary specials, the Variety report, and a little something called an official press release.

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Serial Experiments Lain

Championing anime, especially something as wondrously bizarre as Serial Experiments Lain, is a worthy cause, but I still can’t make heads or tails of The Daily Beast’s accusation that Hollywood sci-fi films are ripping off anime. Vague and accusatory headline in tow, author David Levesley points out cosmetic similarities between recent science fiction studio fare and well-regarded anime gems with the added (hand-drawn) cherry on top of claiming filmmakers won’t own up to the work they’re stealing from. It’s a bombastic statement (that probably feels gut-level correct for anyone who thinks “Hollywood is out of ideas” is both true and a response for everything), but the gruel here is so clear that it’s see-through. It’s an impotent, misplaced rant with an uncomfortable cultural angle. The quick and dirty comparisons from the piece include: Transcendence = Serial Experiments Lain (and unnamed multitudes) because they both include a person being uploaded to a computer upon death. The Hunger Games = Battle Royale (an old favorite) Inception = Paprika because they both involve a dream machine Pacific Rim = Neon Genesis Evangelion because of the mechs Her = Chobits because they both have a love story between man and compu-lady These similarities would be damning evidence of rip offs…if anime were the only storytelling well of the past two thousand years.

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Mad Men Season 7 A Day

“Elenore,” the 1968 single from The Turtles, does not have a particularly hard edge to it. Because The Turtles were not known for their hard-edged rock. They were known for “Happy Together,” which you’ve all certainly heard because it’s been in roughly eight billion movies, TV shows, commercials and classic rock radio stations. But The Turtles were tired of their bubble-gum pop reputation and their hit single about blue skies and holdin’ your girl real tight. They wanted to branch out and stretch their stylistic limits, much like other bands of the time (bands that rhymed with “The Cheatles”), but their label, White Whale Records, said no. What The Turtles needed was another “Happy Together.” So The Turtles wrote another “Happy Together,” a song so sappy and upbeat it could not possibly be taken seriously, a song with lyrics like, “I really think you’re groovy, let’s go out to a movie.” Surely, the world would know that this was a snipe at their previous, sugar-drenched pop. But they didn’t. The song went all Springtime for Hitler and became a huge hit, with White Whale and general audiences not really noticing that it was supposed to be stupid. When we hear “Elenore” in last night’s Mad Men (entitled “A Day’s Work“) it has a dual meaning. The song is sugary, but with a hollow center —  just like Don and Sally Draper’s state of affairs as it hums from the car stereo on the way back to boarding school. Don thinks […]

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