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RADiUS-TWC

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon. Blue Ruin Dwight (Macon Blair) is a bit of a loner. He lives in his car, parked on the side of a road near a Delaware beach, and spends his days scrounging for food, collecting cans and reading. A gentle wake-up knock on his car window precedes a disturbing piece of news. The man who killed Dwight’s parents is being released from prison. Single-minded but far from focused, Dwight fills the gas tank, pops the car battery into place and makes a beeline straight into hell. The setup here is economical, and the rest of the film follows suit, but rather than be a negative that simplicity actually elevates the film above its bigger budgeted, higher profile cousins. A Hollywood version of this tale would complicate things with unnecessary subplots, excessive exposition and time spent highlighting just how bad the bad guy and his henchmen really are. Here we stick with Dwight throughout, and the result is one of the most intimate and affecting revenge films in years. My full review. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, making of, deleted scenes, camera test]

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summermovieprediction_final

Welcome to the final week of our 2014 Summer Box-Office Challenge! We’ve been tallying points all summer long, and now it comes down to this. A strong man versus a smart woman. As a reminder, at the end of the contest — next Monday, July the 28th — the three top point-earners will each win a Blu-ray/DVD prize pack! First place will win ten (10) Blu-ray/DVD titles that were released throughout the summer, second place wins five (5) and third place wins two (2). As we’ve already seen the score can shift noticeably week to week, and with one week left that means anyone within nine points of the top three spots still has a chance of winning. All of the still eligible players are listed below the break. Now let’s look at this past weekend’s results! Dawn of the Planet of the Apes held onto #1 bringing in another $36.3 million. That’s pretty much an exact 50% drop from opening weekend and a great hold for the critically acclaimed film. Our bonus question resulted in far fewer of you guessing right as Mood Indigo‘s per theater average ($13k) beat out both Wish I Was Here ($7k) and I Origins ($7k). Keep reading to see the new player rankings and the ten who are still in the game.

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Moon Landing in 2001

There’s nothing like the Moon for cinema. It’s been a fascination for fiction from way before motion pictures were invented, but it’s had a very special place in the history of film. From the beginning, at least as early as 1896 when Georges Melies created a lunar-based dream for A Nightmare (watch it here), filmmakers have been portraying our planet’s natural satellite in all kinds of ways. One of the most famous movie images of all time is a silhouetted bicycle in front of a giant full moon, in E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. Even one of the Hollywood studios incorporates a crescent moon in its logo. One of the reasons the Moon is so interesting for cinema is that for the majority of the art form it was still a relatively unknown thing. Then, 45 years ago today (or yesterday, depending on where you are in the world), man touched ground on its surface and the idea of a journey to the Moon was no longer science fiction. Well, that’s actually dependent on who you ask, as well. Immediately we had hints about the Moon landing being a hoax, or if not totally manufactured then involving some other secret situation — like Apollo 11 really being a mission to investigate crashed Transformers (watch that here). Even after we officially knew there were no Cat-Women on the Moon and that it wasn’t in fact made of cheese, films have still had fun imagining the lunar body for sci-fi and fantasy stories set in […]

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Fantasia 2014

The Weekend Watch is an open thread where you can share what you’ve recently watched, offer suggestions on movies and TV shows we should check out (or warnings about stuff to avoid) and discover queue-filling goodies from other FSR readers. The comments section awaits. I’ll get the ball rolling with the movies/TV my eyeballs took in this weekend.

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Mickey Mouse in Plane Crazy

Flight is cool. It’s always been cool. Its sheer physical absurdity and majesty has inspired countless works of art. Look no further than the trio of Oscar-winning cartoons I featured back in April, all of them about birds. Animation is particularly adept at capturing the breathless drama of a creature shooting through the open air. That’s certainly part of why we are now facing a second DisneyToon Studios movie about sentient aircraft. Thanks to the impressive box office success of last year’s Planes, in the face of absolutely dismal reviews, this weekend brings us Planes: Fire and Rescue. The cast list includes not one, but three talking forklifts. That may very well be all that anyone needs to know about the film, and you will be forgiven if you don’t rush out to see it. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seize another opportunity to celebrate the long love affair that animators have had with airplanes. The 1920s were a pioneering decade for both cartoons and aeronautics. In 1927, Charles Lindbergh made the first solo transatlantic flight, landing his “Spirit of St. Louis” in Paris on the evening of March 21st. His biggest fan? Mickey Mouse. America’s favorite rodent wouldn’t make his debut until November of 1928 in the enormously significant and eternally charming Steamboat Willie. Yet the first Mickey short produced was actually Plane Crazy, something of a Lindbergh fan film.

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Jason Takes Manhattan

“The big city? Cops? Shootings? Car chases? That kind of thing?” “Well, no. No shooting stuff. It’s more like songs and dances.” – Exchange between Dabney Coleman and Kermit the Frog, The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984) “It’s like this. We live in claustrophobia, the land of steel and concrete. Trapped by dark waters. There is no escape. Nor do we want it. We’ve come to thrive on it and each other. You can’t get the adrenaline pumpin’ without the terror, good people. I love this town.” – Radio DJ, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) “When people see New York in the movies, they want to come here.” – Mayor Ed Koch, The New York Times (1985) Two movies released in the 1980s used the phrase “Take(s) Manhattan” in their title. The first was the latest G-rated feature starring lovable puppet characters from a popular children’s variety show. The second was the latest R-rated installment of a slasher horror franchise. Released almost exactly five years apart, they each saw their familiar — iconic even — characters visit New York City, and with slightly varying results they each made light of the rotting of the Big Apple at the time, creating pieces of virtual tourism that either dismissed or embraced the fact that the place was turning into a terrifying cesspool that no outsider should dare enter.

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Jerusalem Film Festival 2014

For the last week, I’ve been sitting in a darkened room watching movies with 200 of my newest friends while people were dying in air strikes only a few dozen miles away. It’s silly, shameful really to think of it in those terms. But even recognizing how frivolous it is, there was still a lot more going on in those darkened rooms than mere escapist entertainment. The directors of the Jerusalem Film Festival made sure of that, creating a line up that — aside from its currently explosive context — allowed for moral challenges and thoughts to simmer inside the theater and out. The Israeli film experience differs greatly from the Hollywood experience. Far from candy colored cultural exportation, budget and facility restraints push the Israeli film community to use the visual medium mostly for pure expression, a way of contemplating the issues that face not only Israel, but the whole of the Middle East and also much of the world. And isn’t that one of the best reasons to pursue art in the first place? Art exists in large capacity – and certainly this experience demonstrates that cinema is one of Israel’s emerging art markets – to help a culture work through its problems. I saw quite a few films at the Jerusalem Film Festival, though sadly only a fraction of what was playing. For the most part, I focused on the Israeli films, partly because it seems counterproductive to spend my time sweating to get to movies that are already scheduled to be released On Demand in less than a […]

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Terry Gilliam in Lost in La Mancha

The release of any Terry Gilliam film is a big deal. More so than any living filmmaker of lauded repute, Gilliam’s work has been unusually burdened by outsized circumstances that render it astonishing that he’s even accomplished the work he has, from Universal’s re-cutting of Brazil to his lead actor dying during the production of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus to his doomed “Don Quixote” project, documented in the film Lost in La Mancha. Not since Orson Welles (who famously pursued his own uncompleted Quixote film) has a respected filmmaker had such an endlessly difficult time bringing his ideas to screen. That makes the announcement of a late summer release date for Gilliam’s newest feature, The Zero Theorem, all the more remarkable. The film looks like prime Gilliam territory, with its dystopic representation of a certain future burdened by blinding consumerism and Kafka-esque bureaucracy reminiscent of the director’s most notorious battle for artistic autonomy, 1985’s Brazil. As notable as Gilliam’s work is for its visual inventiveness, its wry humor and its trenchant political themes, Gilliam’s career is just as famous for the unceasing uphill battle through which his inimitable filmmaking is achieved. So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from the only American member of Monty Python who is actually no longer American.

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We-Live-in-Public

Last week, National Geographic debuted a three-part documentary special called The ’90s: The Last Great Decade? Although it didn’t spend a lot of time on the rise of the web, the history of that period obviously noted some of the more significant moments in the early days of the Internet’s widespread popularity. There was the dot-com bubble, the breaking of the Clinton/Lewinski scandal on the Drudge Report, the first browser war, the screech of dialup and the reason Apple started naming products starting with a lower-case i. It was a great piece of nostalgia, reminding me that this month marks my own 20th anniversary of using the Internet — an occasion I know of because it coincided with a pre-college program I attended in the summer of 1994. Also last week, the New York Times posted a new Op-Doc by Brian Knappenberger called A Threat to Internet Freedom. The short film tackles the net neutrality issue in a brief yet concise five minutes, and there’s not a better director out there for this particular topic. Knappenberger continues to be the best documentary filmmaker when it comes to presenting histories, biographies and current events and debates of and related to the Internet. In fact, his two most recent features are both among the top 10 documentaries about the Internet. Those and the eight others are all from the past 13 years, none of them produced in the ’90s, and few of them even focus on subject matter pertaining to the net during the 20th century. The further we get from the dawn […]

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Worlds End End

People love a good twist ending. When it’s good, it’s The Sixth Sense. When it’s bad, it’s most of the Shyamalan films that followed. But now twists aren’t just shocking flips of plot that viewers don’t see coming. They’re also those moments where a feature defies one of Hollywood’s many conventions. These days, the courage of conviction rings sweeter than the slickly planned twist. It’s exhilarating to watch filmmakers follow their plan to the end (for good or bad), and it’s promising that they were allowed to do so and not curtailed by a system that wants things just so. (Consider the original plan for Heathers, which would’ve seen everyone die and get a happy ending in Prom Heaven.) Sometimes it’s as simple as fighting the rampant desire for a happy ending and letting characters be miserable or die, and other times it’s daring to not kill anyone at all. Every time I see the trailer for Sex Tape, I find myself hungry for the unexpected. I fear actually seeing the film because in my head, Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel spend half the movie trying to stop people from seeing their sex tape, and then they realize they’re actually closet exhibitionists and don’t care. Even if completely random and absurd, that would beat barreling toward a conclusion that’s obvious from the first trailer. In the meantime, I’ll have these films (and one television show) to sate my unexpected hunger. Beware, the ends of films will be discussed and therefore spoiled.

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Ouija

In my long-ish and varied history of attending childhood sleepovers (from birthday parties to random Saturday nights, hotly attended events to just hanging with my best friend), I somehow managed to avoid playing most of the creepy games that make up the “scary sleepover game” oeuvre. Most of them. I had to play once. It was horrible. It was Bloody Mary. I was ten. And it definitely instilled in me a vague but still life-long aversion to looking in mirrors in dark bathrooms. At the time, I definitely thought, this is a bad idea, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t participate. Guess what! It was a bad idea. Horror films that tap into that kind of stuff — that sort of personal connection — are usually the ones that scare us the very most, which is why I’m pretty excited that I never dabbled in Ouija board-playing, because Stiles White‘s upcoming Ouija (about a possibly murderous “spirit board”) could then have the power to send me screaming out into the night. As is, it just looks kind of scary to me (but if you played with a board as a kid, the film could effect you quite differently). But there sure are plenty of other scary sleepover games that could translate well enough to the big screen, leaving terrified teens in their wake. How many of these games have you played?

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Spider-Man 2

Believe it or not kids, there was once a time when Amanda Seyfried and Rachel McAdams were largely unknown actresses with second billing to Lindsay Lohan, who was considered the most promising star of her generation, when Tom Cruise could star in a movie without Scientology and Oprahgate entering the discussion and when an M. Night Shyamalan film was something to look forward to. If I said that 2004 was the most important summer in filmdom I’d be biased, because that was the first time I started to treat the critical viewing of films as a serious pursuit, so if I said that the films that came out that summer — Anchorman, Shrek 2, and Mean Girls — were like nothing I’d ever seen before, that’s accurate in a way, as I was paying attention to films in a way I hadn’t before. Still, 2004 was an unforgettable summer (if you don’t count the forgettable films like Catwoman and White Chicks). Here were the highlights:

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Jaimie Alexander in Thor The Dark World

When news hit yesterday that Thor would become a woman in the pages of Marvel comics, speculation was immediate about whether the character could also switch gender on the big screen. Considering the change in the books is not just a short-term thing, according to Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso (“We have no real exit plan,” he told Time), there’s good reason to think it could impact the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Chris Hemsworth has three more movies in his contract with Marvel Studios, one of which is next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. Another installment each of the Avengers and Thor series is expected to fill the rest of that run. Then, maybe he can be replaced by a woman. Easy pickings, right? Well, she has to be worthy of filling Hemsworth’s boots, and that means maybe not being cast with a short, petite actress. The concept art for the new Thor doesn’t give much to go by except that she has long blonde hair, like her male counterpart, and looks pretty tough. I figure she ought to be somewhere close to the height of Hemsworth’s incarnation, too (he’s 6’3″). And she’d probably be relatively young, as Hemsworth was when he began (at age 26) — so, sorry Uma Thurman. I also don’t think Marvel would go for someone that famous anyway. Hemsworth was fairly unknown when he became the thunder god superhero. She will be, too. I’ve selected five actresses who fit the criteria as much as possible. Sadly, for nostalgia’s sake, Maia Brewton […]

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20th Century Fox

Kate Mara doesn’t read comic books, doesn’t want to read comic books and won’t need to read comic books in order to play The Invisible Woman in Fox’s upcoming The Fantastic Four. That’s because director Josh Trank told the cast they should avoid reading the comic books since the new movie won’t be based on anything that’s already down on ink and paper. This might be the best news possible for the genre. It’s unsurprising, though, because comic book movies have largely outgrown their paged counterparts over the last decade even as productions remain near-slavish to stories we’ve read before, villains we already know and imagery that’s taken directly from the source. Why is this great news? Because we’re having our culture happily fed back to us as we ask for seconds and thirds, and that’s a problem. It amazes me that some people rail against the unoriginality of remakes while cheering when the latest superhero movie announces that it’ll be using That Storyline People Liked From The 80s as the basis for its script.

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 06

Warning: Spoilers for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (and all of the Apes films, for that matter) When Battle for the Planet of the Apes ended the franchise’s first cinematic run in 1973, it concluded the series with something of a whimper instead of a bang. While many of the original Apes sequels are enduringly fascinating in their expanding narratives, trenchant topicality and surprisingly bleak endings, they were also assembly line products rushed through production annually, with nearly each successive entry’s budget slashed in half – a series constructed on a model of diminishing returns. Most of the normal creative team were not available for the fifth entry, so The Omega Man’s married screenwriting team of John and Joyce Corrington were hired to helm Battle despite being unfamiliar with the series. After inter- and intra-species conflict, Battle ends with a flash-forward (a bookending device) showing a monument of Caesar (Roddy McDowall) with a tear going down his face as the orangutan Lawgiver (John Huston) tells his story of unifying man and ape. The ending has been criticized then and now for its cloying, unearned sentimentality – perhaps the fatigue of Vietnam made even this call for peace in a “family film” ring false only four short years after John and Yoko urged Americans to give it a chance – and it emotes without ever really saying anything. Is the Caesar statue crying over achieving peace, or with the knowledge that peace is only temporary? Inadvertently or not, the ambivalence of this final moment […]

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500 Days of Summer

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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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 06

Circulating the Internet today are details on how Dawn of the Planet of the Apes nearly ended. There was a battleship involved, and there’s actually a shot of it in the trailer. The image, combined with the fact that it was a kind of cliffhanger moment reminds me of the conclusion of Resident Evil: Afterlife (that’s part 4) where the heroes have just arrived on an aircraft carrier and then are attacked from above as the credits begin. That franchise is all about the serialization. The Planet of the Apes movies are not. Although the original sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, takes place right after the first movie and the next installment, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, starts with a return-from-cliffhanger type twist, afterward each movie was set years apart from its predecessor. And that’s how the new series is so far, too. The next one, due in 2016, should also be set at least a decade ahead. Director Matt Reeves, who is returning for Planet of the Apes 3 (as we’ll call it for now), spoke about the alternate ending with Slashfilm and said it was never finished, so don’t think it’ll wind up in the DVD extras. He also admits that he didn’t want such a cliffhanger to lock in where they have to go with the next movie. I don’t necessarily think it would, especially when you consider the way Rise of the Planet of the Apes ends in a way that indicated the sequel would […]

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Straight Down Low Short Film

Why Watch? Almost a decade ago, Rian Johnson turned eyebrows with Brick by passionately sticking to noir conventions while subverting them just enough to breathe fresh life into a musty genre. To be fair to that genre, it’s one that will eternally and repeatedly enjoy new resurgences, potentially along the same tidal lines as the western, and Brick hit just at the right moment with all the right ingredients. This short film from Zach Wechter follows that same formula, and through doing so, reminds us that its the familiarity of the story beats that keeps entries in this seedy world so satisfying. Like Johnson’s film, Straight Down Low (announcing its genre right there in the title) asks a cast of high school students to get to the bottom of a gangland murder, and in not attempting to reinvent the wheel, he instead conducts a master class in cool. Beyond the tropes, Wechter’s movie has a different sheen to it — a modern noir told through clearer lenses and a drug-dealing plot that feels classic without feeling dated. The leading man is handsome and enigmatic (although I don’t totally buy Shamar Sanders as “nerdy”), the femme fatale is beautiful and wily (and I fully buy beautiful and wily from Daniele Watts), the bad men are very bad, and the twisty turns are told through the standard spoken poetry of our hero’s heady contemplation. You may need a stiff drink afterward. Overall, it’s a strong example of knocking one out of the park by nailing the fundamentals, and […]

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The Chair Starz

As the most expensive art form, it’s difficult to experiment with filmmaking in the way that the new Starz show The Chair does. Produced by Zachary Quinto, Neal Dodson and Corey Moosa, the program obsessively watches as two aspiring filmmakers turn the same script into different films. The closest cousin to this kind of semi-scientific meddling might be Michael Haneke remaking his own Funny Games. Or maybe Lars von Trier forcing Jorgen Leth to remake one of his short films in The Five Obstructions. Or maybe we can consider this as another in a long list of remakes that just so happens to take place simultaneously so that we can’t say which film is the “original.” Maybe I’m overthinking this (I am), but it’s exciting. Tinkering and deconstructing cinema is almost always fun, or at the very least interesting, for the audience — especially when the filmmakers themselves look to be losing their minds. That’s not schadenfreude, but a recognition that making movies is insanely difficult, and there’s a joy in watching grueling work transform into something special. In the case of the show’s guinea pigs, Youtube star Shane Dawson and actress/writer/now director Anna Martemucci, they have the added weight of knowing that strangers will be scrutinizing their every decision after the process is completed.

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THE LAST DAYS discs

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon. The Last Days Marc is living in the office building he used to call his place of employment, and he’s not alone. Humanity worldwide has fallen victim to a deadly form of agoraphobia. Walk outside, and you’re dead within seconds from fear. Three months into the epidemic Mark and another survivor manage to set out via the sewers in search of Marc’s pregnant girlfriend, but their journey reveals a species on the brink of extinction. This Spanish production tackles a familiar subject — the post apocalyptic world — and imbues it not only with a fresh premise but also with real heart and character. It looks good too as special effects and production design come together to create a believably devastated world, and all of it is enhanced with a script that manages to hit some familiar beats without feeling redundant. The film is solid throughout, but the final thirty minutes offer some touching and exciting turns. Fans of the underseen but fantastic Perfect Sense should most definitely give it a shot. [DVD extras: Trailer]

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