Features

American Werewolf in London

Driven by the full moon, I’ve been moving through the Universal classics at a steady pace, including 1941’s The Wolf Man starring Lon Chaney Jr., as well as its sequels Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula and the farcical Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The transformation of the character of Lawrence Talbot (Chaney) into the Wolf Man was groundbreaking back in the 40s, and it still looks great on screen today. Of course, modern movies employ heavy CG work, often leaving practical effects in the dust. That’s why we are treated to shots of a shirtless Taylor Lautner morphing mid-leap into his baby-mind-raping teen wolf form in the Twilight movies. As effects have gotten more sophisticated, scenes of werewolf transformation have become more fantastical and less realistic. But what would a more “realistic” transformation be like? What would a real Wolf Man be like?

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Mudbloods

The crunch of brooms and bones. The roar of the crowd. The occasional cry of an owl. These were the sounds of my first Quidditch World Cup. Held in a forgotten corner of Manhattan, it was an affair that boasted college and community teams, cavorting mascots, wand-waving Harry Potter cosplayers, and those who came to gawk, like me. Who were these people (grown adults!) running around with brooms between their thighs acting out a sport inspired by a childrens’ book series? I went in with a snarky smile, but that transformed into a broad, earnest grin when I saw these athletes in action. Soon, I was swarmed by this quirky sports’  enthusiasts, who stepped me through the rules (like how the brooms are an intended handicap and how the “snitch” is a mischievous player with no team loyalty) and warmly welcomed me into their happy, inclusive community. There’s something instantly exhilarating about “Muggle quidditch,” mainly because it’s a sport that requires great athleticism and threatens great pain. It’s a cross between rugby and football in some senses, and yet it’s dismissed by many for being some sort of sub-sport, a dorky hobby ripe for ridicule. But to be a believer, all you need is to see quidditch in action. Or so I thought. Unfortunately, the new quidditch documentary Mudbloods does the sport no favors, preaching to the choir instead of offering an accessible portrait of a sport that’s currently fighting for validation along with its players. READ MORE AT NONFICS

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John Carter

As an anonymous high school student once sort of wrote (no, really), “If you want something very, very badly, let it go free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever. If it doesn’t, it was never yours to begin with.” Walt Disney Pictures has apparently decided to put their own twist on this little bit of life advice, letting go of something they didn’t love or want very much, desperately hoping it never comes back to them again. According to a press release over at PR Web (via Cinema Blend), all rights to Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ “John Carter” series have reverted back to Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. — and, yes, that includes all movie, television and merchandise rights. For Disney, this might come as a bit of a relief, as their 2012 feature film John Carter is one of the studio’s biggest flops ever (Disney claimed an $84M loss on the film, which cost $250M to make), and has remained emblematic of some of the entertainment world’s biggest blockbuster, well, busts. But that doesn’t mean that John Carter is dead — because Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. is now actively seeking a new studio for potential films. Do you want to make John Carter 2? Or perhaps John Carter 2 – 11?

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20000 Days on Earth

For a while, it seemed like movies about music were at serious risk of getting in an unsalvageable rut of redundancy. Narrative films have relied repeatedly on the musical biopic, where seemingly every landmark musician in the second half of the twentieth century has been afforded an identical dramatic arc. It’s a formula that an occasional great performance can rise above, but ultimately offers little new in terms of cinema’s relationship with the power of pop. Nonfiction films, by contrast, have shown an opposite problem, treating lesser-known chapters of popular music history (from underappreciated artists to allegedly undervalued studios) with all-too-familiar hagiographies and seemingly requisite Bono interviews. But 2014 has not only produced a surprising glut of interesting films about music, it’s shown how great movies about music can explore relationships between sound and image, music and history, art and the artist well outside of the tired formulas. Here are some solid movies released this year that have generated a rather different kind of noise.

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Summit Entertainment

Not even Hitler liked to see dogs die in movies. That’s probably a fact, and it tells you just how unappealing the idea of seeing(or hearing) man’s best friend get shot, strangled, drowned, beaten, electrocuted or otherwise snuffed out is to audiences. Our distaste for it runs to the point that a movie can feature a psychopath murdering people, but the second a family pet investigates a noise only to whelp and die off-screen viewers see it as an unnecessary line being crossed. I agree in part because it’s usually a cheap move by filmmakers attempting to elicit an emotional reaction. It’s unearned and lazy, and it happens far too frequently in movies. But while roughly 97% of dog deaths in movies are gratuitous I’m here to suggest that sometimes, just sometimes, it’s okay that the dog bites it. John Wick — one of the year’s best action movies that you owe it to yourself and Keanu Reeves to see if you value fun, thrilling, immensely satisfying films — features Reeves as an ex-assassin who gave up the life for the love of a good woman, but as the film opens she’s died from cancer leaving him alone again. A knock at the door reveals one last gift from her — a puppy named Daisy — in the hopes that he’ll still have something to care for and love, but it’s not long before a random act of violence leaves the dog dead and Wick, like Lone Wolf McQuade before him, on a bloody path […]

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Wes Craven

“Every kid knows who Freddy is. He’s like Santa Claus or King Kong.” – Heather Langenkamp in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. In a film full of truthful observations, that line always struck me as the truest, or at least the most relevant to my own relationship with Freddy Krueger and the Nightmare on Elm Street film series. I was four when the original came out in 1984, so I was too young to experience that film or most of the first few sequels on their first release. As I grew up, my awareness of Freddy came from what seeped into popular culture. As best as I can remember, my introduction was either a kid in my 4th grade class wearing a Freddy mask for Halloween, or possibly an ad for the costume in a comic book. So “my” Freddy was less the disturbing child murderer whom Wes Craven created for what probably felt like a standalone film, and more the watered-down pop icon. Less a psychological threat, and more of a catchphrase-spewing gimmick killer. It’s the difference between how the shark from Jaws plays on screen, and experiencing him on the Universal Studios tram tour. As a result, Freddy never scared me as a kid, nor did I have any desire to see the movies. I knew that they came out every year or two and I assumed all of the movies were stupid slasher films, in which, I saw no appeal. I remember seeing a trailer for Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare in 1991 and thinking it looked incredibly awful. Good riddance. Then came 1994 and […]

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White Earth

This past weekend I was at the New Orleans Film Festival, serving as a juror for the event’s impressive documentary shorts program. Out of the 22 contenders, Oscar nominee Sari Gilman (King’s Point), Picture Motion’s Wendy Cohen and I awarded our prize to J. Christian Jensen‘s White Earth, honoring the film “for its pure, harsh look at a devastating economic reality from the unlikely perspective of people on the sidelines who are most affected, as well as for its stunning, metaphoric cinematography and restrained, quiet editing,” One day later, Jensen had another, perhaps bigger reason to celebrate: his film was named to the 2014 doc shorts Oscar shortlist. White Earth, which also won the Silver Medal in the documentary category at this year’s Student Academy Awards is the Stanford University alum’s MFA thesis film. It focuses on the oil boom of North Dakota, partially from the perspective of children, and it will be a fitting nominee alongside documentary feature hopeful The Overnighters (and Rich Hill if we could be so lucky). It’s joined by the seven films listed ahead of it alphabetically below. I’ve included trailers or full versions of the films and any significant info I could find about each of the shorts. The group is notable for having fewer Oscar vets than usual (only one is by a former Oscar nominee) as well as for being an especially bleak bunch — much disease and death and tragedies involving children. Three to five of these will be named Oscar nominees on January 15th and […]

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the-shape-of-things

When the movie version of My Fair Lady premiered — 50 years ago today — it was an adaptation of a stage show that was a musical remake of a play that was loosely based on an ancient myth. Once again: “originality” is not that big a deal and never has been. Proof has continued in the legacy of all these properties in the half century since. Even now on television there is a sitcom so admittedly based on Pygmalion that the characters are named Eliza Dooley and Henry Higgs. The fact that most people call this show, Selfie, a modern take on the musical rather than George Bernard Shaw‘s earlier drama is not a surprise. Different generations have their reference point. In She’s All That, for instance, Rachel Leigh Cook’s character says, “I feel just like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. You know, except for the whole hooker thing.” She could have said Eliza Doolittle. There are certain movies and other media that are clearly more linked to the play and musical (i.e. Pretty Woman) involving a lower class person transformed by someone of a better social level. Then there are still those that go directly to the source (i.e. Mannequin) where someone falls in love with an initially inanimate creation. The scenario has easily been the basis for many high school movies (including She’s All That) and even some porn films (notably The Opening of Misty Beethoven) and doesn’t always have to be a romantic plot, as in the case of […]

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Moana

We’ve long known that Disney’s animation arm has been cooking up a brand new Princess for fans of the House of Mouse — and, presumably, the legions of Frozen fans who have either fallen in love with the Princess brand for the first time or had their adoration reignited — to look forward to meeting. Her name is Moana (and, hey, that’s the name of her film, too, which is currently simply titled Moana) and she’s poised to be only the fifth Disney Princess of color (in a line up that is currently thirteen-ladies strong). Although Moana has been teased for quite some time, with a planned 2018 release date, she’s now hitting our cinematic shores much earlier, late in 2016. This is certainly a good thing for the animation world and the Disney brand, which is still riding high on the success of Frozen. This year has quite notably gone without a Pixar release, so fans of animated features have been given far less to consume than they’re used to. In short, they’re hungry (we are, too) and the news that we’re getting a brand-new Princess a full two years early is just excellent. So who is Moana?

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VINCENT PRICE discs

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon. The Vincent Price Collection II A duel between magicians leaves one man transformed into a bird in The Raven. An undertaker takes matters into his own hands in an effort to increase business in The Comedy of Terrors. A widower finds new love complicated by an obsession with his dead wife in The Tomb of Ligeia. A scientist is the last normal human alive after a plague turns others into vampire-like creatures in The Last Man on Earth. The abominable Dr.Phibes rises again in Dr. Phibes Rises Again. The son of the first film’s scientist begins some experiments of his own in The Return of the Fly. A millionaire offers a cash reward to five people if they’re willing and able to spend a nigh tin his home in House on Haunted Hill. Vincent Price is a genre legend, and his output is filled with horror classics. Scream Factory’s second collection of his work brings together seven films highlighting Price’s dramatic, horrific and (in a couple instances) comedic chops. Everyone will have their own favorites among the collection, but for me The Last Man on Earth, House on Haunted Hill and The Raven are the real stand outs. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Introductions, featurettes, commentaries, trailers]

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Demon Knight Tales From the Crypt

Continuing on our Schlocktober frolic through the underrated horror of the 1990s, Cargill and I accidentally traipse across a forgotten cemetery in the middle of nowhere and arouse Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight from its ancient slumber. Our fear subsides in seconds as we instantly recall the fact that this is one of our favorite horror films of any decade. If you’ve been putting off seeing this film, make tonight your demon night and then join us as we not only pay blood tribute to the greatness of the movie, but also discuss its slow, painful slog through development hell. It’s (Dick) Miller time and things are about to get in-Zane! You should follow Brian (@Briguysalisbury), Cargill (@Massawyrm), and the show (@Junkfoodcinema). Download Episode #28 Directly

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Viper Gotham

It had to happen sometime: “Viper” has brought superpowers to Gotham. A superhero show without superpowers is like a carrot cake without luscious cream cheese frosting, and when it comes to Gotham, we’ve been eating our cake dry for far too long. Here’s the deal. A guy by the name of Stan has been distributing a new wonderdrug among the homeless of Gotham. It comes in a cute little mini-bottle imprinted with the words “BREATHE ME.” Follow its advice, and you’ll gain a few hours of unbelievable super-strength. Do whatever you want with those few hours. Snap baseball bats in half like twigs. Hurl a pile of policemen off of you in dramatic fashion. Drink your weight in dairy products. Your choice. Then, when the allotted hours are up, your bones crumble apart and you die in agony. Naturally, Gordon, Bullock and the rest of GCPD would prefer a population with regular human strength and intact bones, so they spend most of “Viper” trying to get the stuff off the streets.

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My Little Pony and Sheep

It may seem obvious that a My Little Pony movie is being made. The magically friendly horses are very popular and, more importantly, are a part of the Hasbro family of toys. The company has been busy turning as many of their products into movies as they can, such as Transformers, G.I. Joe, Battleship and this month’s Ouija. There’s also Jem and the Holograms due next year and maybe eventually we’ll see the promised features based on Monopoly, Candy Land, Hungry Hungry Hippos and Tonka trucks. But one of these things is not like the other, and that’s this latest addition to the slate. My Little Pony will be an animated feature, which means it will likely just be a feature-length edition of the animated series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. All the other properties are adaptations of some other medium or directly based off the toys and games. Hippos and Tonka are the only others listed above that have been optioned for animated films, and both of these are different from the My Little Pony plans in that neither have been turned into narrative entities before. Regardless of what you think of Battleship and Ouija, they’ve required some level of imagination to find inspiration from their respective games for the makings of a movie plot. The same will be the case for animated stories involving marble-craving beasts and construction vehicles. 

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The Town that Dreaded Sundown

Ashe never got to see a ton of modern classics from his youth, so we’re making him watch them all as a nostalgia-less adult. Check out the inaugural article for more info. My Halloween journey continues. I was going to do a different film this week, but after I had so much trouble finding a copy of Monster Squad and looked to be in a similar situation with this one, I swapped with something that’s on Netflix right now for your viewing pleasure. Put pleasure in the biggest irony quote marks ever though, because this movie, well… If you’re unfamiliar with the plot, it’s pretty simple. This film purports to tell the true story of The Phantom Killer — a real serial murderer who operated in Texarkana, an aptly-named city on the border between Texas and Arkansas, in the 1940s. I say “purports” because I actually did some research on the subject for an article I wrote a few years ago. To say they took liberties with the story is like saying that Inglourious Basterds took liberties with the events of World War II. It’s not even close, and not in the fun way (like with Basterds).

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Drive

As the search for an actor to play Marvel’s Doctor Strange rages on, a new name has been added to the mix of possible contenders (read: “actors who have name recognition and even a passing interest in being in a superhero franchise”), with Ryan Gosling joining a list that also reportedly includes Jared Leto, Justin Theroux, Keanu Reeves and Ethan Hawke. THR reports that Gosling has at least met with the Marvel team to talk about the feature, which sounds like a  nice way to pass an afternoon. This news comes on the heels of yet another big, Gosling-centric superhero rumor: that he could also star in DC’s upcoming Suicide Squad feature. THR shares that Gosling is “being courted to star” in that film, with other names like Will Smith and Margot Robbie also mentioned for possible parts. It now seems unavoidable: Ryan Gosling will probably end up starring in a superhero film. But does he need to?

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Daniel Borgman/The Current

We’re teaming with The Current for the next two months to deliver 10 short films from 10 different directors, focused on social trends explored through cinema. The third short film, Deadbeat, feels like it might make a great alternative opening to Drive. Director Daniel Borgman decided to find a figure who none of us would normally think worthy of documentation or exploration, and he landed on a young man who cares deeply about doing skids and tire burnouts with his car. “I’m interested in the way people manage in the world we live in, what they do to survive and what they are driven by,” says Borgman. “I’m also interested in the sublime. I wonder, ‘Where do we look for moments of peace and how do we access something greater than the material?’ Many people search for a moment, an awakening beyond what we consider normal living, something to affect them in a deeper more abstract way. Often that pursuit varies from person to person, and sometimes those pursuits are in conflict with one another, even though in there essence all pursuits of emancipation share a commonality. “I think storytelling is a way to bring people closer to one another, to share and give insight into worlds that we don’t normally experience.”

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Arrow Video

Small video labels lack the reach and recognition of the much bigger studios, but they have advantages when it comes to the content. Chief among them is that instead of simply pushing a new product line they’re able to hand-pick titles for release — new, old, cult classics or forgotten gems. They’re curating an affection for movies, and two of the best from across the pond are Arrow Video and Eureka! Entertainment. Neither label is a stranger to genre films, and this month sees them each bringing some ’70s-style horror into the world of high definition with new Blu-ray releases. Arrow is giving the HD treatment to David Cronenberg’s first feature film, Shivers (aka They Came From Within) while Eureka! is putting out a double feature of Blacula and Scream Blacula Scream.

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The Awful Truth Movie

Gone Girl is a cynical movie. No doubt. It features two sociopaths working out their deeply troubled marital issues in the public eye with just the right amount of bloodshed. Yet in more than a few ways, it could be an unofficial remake of The Awful Truth, Leo McCarey’s 1937 screwball comedy where two assholes realize that they want to stay married. The movie opens with Jerry Warriner (Cary Grant, naturally) lying to his wife about a trip to Florida (complete with sunlamp sessions at the gym and fake letters). When his wife Lucy (Irene Dunne) returns home later than expected, and with her debonair singing instructor in tow, Jerry can’t believe her story of a broken down vehicle. He’s furious. She finds out he was lying about visiting the Sunshine State, and mutual divorce proceedings commence. They both want to keep the dog. The rest of the film involves Lucy’s engagement to the folksy Dan (Ralph Bellamy, naturally), more lies, insinuations of social impropriety, Jerry’s engagement to the high class Barbara Vance (Molly Lamont), the intentional destruction of relationships and an automobile, and a metric ton of snide conversations spat between Jerry and Lucy’s smiling faces.

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Doctor Who Flatline

Last week’s episode of Doctor Who kept Clara (Jenna Coleman) mostly on the sidelines while the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) was front and center doing all that he does best. So, it’s interesting that the show follows it with an episode where he is mostly offscreen and she’s front and center doing all that he does best. Yes, he. In “Flatline,” Clara gets to play Doctor in a way that allows her to understand him a little better. That’s important for a season in which she is constantly on him about his methods and manners. She has to deal with situations where she too needs to lie for the better of the mission, to give people hope because those without it are more likely to die. But she also has to cope with the fact that some people may die while she’s in command. I’m a little surprised that she doesn’t have more of a reaction when one of the men does die under her leadership. In fact, I’m a little disappointed that there’s not more felt in the responsibility of her role in this episode. Outside of some dialogue in reference to what this experience of walking in the Doctor’s shoes means to their relationship, there isn’t a whole lot of substance here, neither for character development nor for the ongoing story and thematic developments of the show. Still, like last week’s episode, which was also written by Jamie Mathieson, the slightness of the story doesn’t take away from the fun. “Flatline” has a […]

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Count Duckula

Dracula Untold was out last weekend, starring burgeoning (maybe?) Hollywood talent Luke Evans as the title vampire. Or, rather, as the title historical figure with a particular fondness for bats. This is one of those Vlad the Impaler-focused stories, moving to the source material of this age-old Balkan legend. As usual, I won’t dive into the details of whether this particular new release is terrible. Instead, let’s look at some much more successfully entertaining Transylvanian fare. It may not involve Dominic Cooper but it does involve ducks. I am talking, of course, about the evergreen ridiculousness of Count Duckula, scion of the line of Duckula. As the opening credits explain, he was resurrected by his scheming butler Igor and gregarious Nanny when the moon was in the eighth house of Aquarius. They accidentally used ketchup instead of blood in the ritual, so he’s the world’s first vegetarian vampire. He has a nemesis named Dr. Von Goosewing, who is of course ripped right from Dr. Van Helsing, except that he is a goose. It’s actually fairly straightforward.

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