Features

Joffrey in Game of Thrones

For as long as I can remember, HBO was cable TV. It was the best reason to start paying for television long before it was synonymous with the new wave of quality series programming. But a lot of its success and popularity had to do with how it was packaged for subscribers, always the primary premium channel offered in the tiered-pricing model. Most of us who grew up in the first decades of cable would have HBO before we would have Showtime and the rest, even before we’d have HBO partner Cinemax. Now, HBO could be the first blow that kills cable. There have been non-lethal jabs in recent years in the forms of Netflix, iTunes, Hulu and networks that offer shows on their own websites, but Time Warner’s announcement that HBO GO will be offered as a standalone service next year, that’s a deadly punch. All the people who have cable mainly so they can watch Game of Thrones, True Blood, Boardwalk Empire and whatever hits come about in the wake of the departure of the latter two can drop it and go a la carte. What that means for the cable companies isn’t certain yet, especially when details of this announcement are slim on account of “proprietary concerns,” which may be referring to those various providers. Will there really be a massive cut in subscriptions, or do most people with cable recognize that they also enjoy House Hunters, The Walking Dead, Duck Dynasty and of course sports, not […]

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Doctor Strange

If only Marvel could conjure up some kind of magic — perhaps while someone wears a cape — to create a viable candidate to play their Doctor Strange in, uh, Doctor Strange (see! naming the movie is easy! why can’t casting be, too?). Rumors about a Doctor Strange film have swirled like so much mystical fog for years now, but the film is finally coming together for a 2016 release. One teensy problem, however? The feature still doesn’t have a leading man. Oops. We’ve been through, yes, entire years of chatter on this one, and still, no Doctor Strange. Will that change soon? (Well, yes, but haven’t we had fun getting there? No?) Behold! A brief history of trying to find a proper actor to play an iconic character as part of a multimillion dollar franchise!

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Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Tobe Hooper is deservedly recognized for making one of the most consequential, game changing titles in horror film history. Few horror movies, then or now, match the raw, urgent dread of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. But the well-earned primacy of that film obscures a career that grew notably diverse as it went on. Rather than a horror auteur known for revisiting styles, genres and a consistent worldview, Hooper’s films have attempted regularly to depart from what he’s done before. In so doing, Hooper’s filmography exhibits a remarkable and confident range of abilities and interests, from the mesmerizing slow burn nightmare of Funhouse to the Spielbergian blockbuster Poltergeist to the campy tribute to ‘50s sci-fi in his Invaders From Mars remake. After all, this is the guy whose only sequel, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, took his most beloved property – a terrifying small-budget gorefest – and turned it into a bizarre slapstick comedy. So here is some free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from the director who taught us never to pick up a hitchhiker in Texas.

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The Diamond Arm

Nobody loves Russian movies, even Russians themselves. Their films are very long, very slow, black & white or monochromatic. They are crowded by intellectual talk and lack plot, characters or any kind of entertainment. This is common knowledge and, of course, it’s not true. We, the Russians, love our cinema – although the majority of us don’t know about Tarkovsky of Zviagintsev. Moreover, we – surprise! – love movies with an intense plot, powerful characters and funny jokes as much as any audience. So, I would like to introduce you to fifteen great Russian movies you don’t know (if you are not Russian film fans or a Slavic Studies professor). To shake things up, there are no films on this list from the most well-known Russian film directors: Sergey Eizenshtein (Battleship Potemkin, 1925), Andrei Tarkovsky (Stalker, 1979) or Nikita Mikhalkov (Burnt by the Sun, 1994). I also tried to avoid very slow and very long monochromatic films – although there are a few great movies of this type. I chose the Russian Westerns, the war flicks, the comedies and the criminal films – the movies you would like even if you find Tolstoy and Dostoevsky wordy and boring.

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Sony Pictures / ScreenGems

As it has been decreed by the Ancient Ones, all that was once film must now be TV. So it should be no surprise that, as of Sunday, we’ve got two more film franchises to be thrown on Hollywood’s towering pile of movie-to-TV ventures: Resident Evil and Underworld. From Variety comes the news on Resident Evil- Constantin Films, the production company behind the franchise, told the publication they’re shifting Resident Evil to the small screen after the sixth film (tentatively titled Resident Evil: The Final Chapter) comes and goes. Then, over at IGN (which we picked up on via Digital Spy) came similar news from Underworld guru Len Wiseman- first a spin-off without Kate Beckinsale, then a main series film with Kate Beckinsale, then everyone packs up and moves to television. Wiseman also said the words “expanding” and “universe” in regards to all this new Underworld, but let’s slam that particular Pandora’s Box shut for now. With these two, we’re getting into hokey sitcom-level coincidence territory- two different studios revealing new TV shows, having done so on the exact same day with the exact same movie. Because Underworld and Resident Evil are practically twins- if you were to read the words, “Female hero in skintight leather blasts holes in horror movie monsters with dual-wielded pistols, then takes a break to marry her director who’s given the entire series a mild blue color filter,” you would have zero way of guessing which franchise we’re talking about.

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Monster Squad

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. Sorry for being behind this week. It took a bit of doing to find a copy of this movie because, for some bizarre reason, it’s not only not available on streaming, but it’s also not available to rent digitally either. Why, movie studios? Why do you do this? Is it a rights issue? Did the internet… hit you? I won’t say how I ended up watching it, but it was highly unpleasant and aggravating. It only required one late night “encounter” with a homeless man, though. And I’m going to have a similar problem with next week’s film, too, because it looks like that one isn’t available anywhere either. Dammit. Okay, anyway, this week we’ve got a Goonies (which I still have not watched) also-ran called The Monster Squad. I’d honestly never even heard of it before folks suggested it to me for my Halloween theme this month. Was it a big thing? I seriously have no idea. It felt a bit made-for-TV, so maybe not. Feel free to tell me in the comments how it was a major part of your childhood, and I’m an idiot for not knowing about it, though.

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Marvel

The Internet hasn’t entirely exploded yet, but it might. The plans for Marvel’s much anticipated ‘Phase 3′ of cinematic universe adventures is beginning to take shape and it all seems to revolve around the competitive side of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. With the news that Robert Downey Jr. is in talks to take a much larger role in Captain America 3, it’s a confirmation that Marvel may unleash a version of its “Civil War” series, based on a 2006 run by Mark Millar. It’s a development that should have the most hardcore fans very excited. For everyone else, let’s explore for a moment how cool this might be.

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Avengers12

There was a while where I defended the majority of comic book movies as being fairly original works. Aside from the borrowed characters and origin stories and basic themes, it was still up to the production team to come up with a story and plot, cinematic characterization and dialogue. There was a lot of creativity required there. Far more than a lot of faithful adaptations of novels. But now more and more, perhaps because there are so many of these movies being made and not a lot of fresh ideas to go around, producers are mining from preexisting stories from the comics. Few of them have been too complete in their translation, but each time there’s a title directly lifted from a publication we have to wonder how much will be the same. The announcement that Marvel is tapping its 2006 “Civil War” crossover for Captain America 3 makes the studio seem like it’s getting lazier. Obviously name recognition goes a long way, and fans love to see movie versions of material they’ve already seen in one form — to watch the panels come alive, as it were. But this is Marvel. They’ve gotten away with so many risks that they can’t be thinking they need more familiarity in their adaptations. Even as far as fan service goes, it’s not like the comic geeks and the brand loyal aren’t going to show up anyway. Maybe Fox needs that with their X-Men franchise, especially after proving it could boost box office with such […]

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Double Down Breen

Writer/Director/Producer/Editor/Actor/Music Supervisor Neil Breen throws himself against the dry ground of the Nevada desert, articulating the existential climax of his dense, bewildering, remarkable film Double Down by screaming, “I’m an American. I’m an American! I love this country, my country!” Breen plays a mercenary computer hacker who abandoned his work as a military fighter pilot after somebody (?) shoots and kills his fiancée during a naked lounging session in his pool. Breen’s character’s dramatic outpouring of patriotic guilt promises a return to moral fortitude after serving whatever moneyed interests pay him the highest dollar – in this case, an unidentified foreign nation instructing him to singlehandedly shut down the Las Vegas strip for two months. Double Down’s protagonist gives us some insight into the mind of its esoteric creator. The first third of the film features Breen’s character (named Aaron in the trailer and Eric in the film) listing his seemingly endless resumé, from his storied work as a fighter pilot honored by every military medal in existence to his (literally) incredible skills at digital espionage. Aaron/Eric is a self-sufficient one man industry, reliant on no one and requiring only canned tuna fish, his car, his three laptops, his three flip phones and his two satellite dishes (that he expertly attaches to his car’s bumper). Similarly, Breen himself is a multi-hyphenate and an ostensibly self-reliant individualist. A Las Vegas architect who has self-funded three bad movies thus far, Breen’s work represents something of a Baby Boomer’s fantasy come to life as he uses his accumulated […]

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DONT BLINK discs

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon. Don’t Blink A group of friends head to a remote cabin for a vacation, but before they can even get settled inside they begin to notice things are not as they seem. The surrounding woods are devoid of birds and wildlife, the lake has frozen over catching a fishing boat in its center and all of the nearby cabins are empty of people as well. Food is on tables, cars are still running and they even find a bottle of warm baby milk. The situation intensifies as they start disappearing too, one by one, whenever one of them is out of sight of the rest. You’d be forgiven for thinking this direct to DVD thriller was a slight affair not worth your time — after all, the names above the title are Brian Austin Green and Mena Suvari — but I’m here to say it’s actually a well acted/shot and frequently suspenseful mystery. It’s smartly constructed too with believable characters and reactions. It wobbles a bit at the end with something of a cheat, but it remains a satisfying experience. To be clear, its selection as the Pick of the Week doesn’t make it the best release of the week (that would be X-Men: Days of Future Past), but I think it’s a cool little movie deserving of a few more eyeballs. [DVD extras: None]

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In the Mouth of Madness

Cargill and I once again stare into the illimitable carrion pit of underappreciated 90s horror, and what spills upward is our immutable shared affection for Madness. That is to say, John Carptenter’s In The Mouth of Madness. We discuss the film’s various narrative layers, its place among H.P. Lovecraft adaptations, and what fast food item’s very existence similarly tests the boundaries of human sanity. You should follow Brian (@Briguysalisbury), Cargill (@Massawyrm), and the show (@Junkfoodcinema). Download Episode #27 Directly

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Gotham Arkham

Gotham‘s begun to develop an odd pattern. Just as “Selina Kyle” used Selina Kyle as a minor cog in a much larger machine, this week’s “Arkham” is only a little bit about comicdom’s most iconic loony bin. There was about as much actual Arkham Asylum in “Arkham” as there were women dressed as cats in “Selina Kyle” (really, just that one poor schmoe who ended up barbecued outside the gates), but to a lesser degree, a fair chunk of the episode was rooted in the Arkham landgrab. Politician killing (the Arkham vote machine) and shoring up mob cred still count. So in honor of “Arkham,” let’s dig into the history behind this most spookiest of mental institutions. This October, amazingly enough, is the 40th anniversary of Arkham Asylum. It was in October of 1974 that the jumbo, 100-page “Batman #258” hit the stands, an issue comprised mostly of old re-run stories from the ’50s, but also a new tale entitled “The Threat of the Two-Headed Coin.” Written by Denny O’Neil and with art by Irv Novick, the story introduced us to one Arkham Hospital (named after the fictional town of Arkham, Massachusetts, frequent monster spot in the writings of H.P. Lovecraft), where both Two-Face and some nobody named General Harris were being housed. Harris’s cronies break in and free him — at which point Harris demonstrates why he was a generic villain no one remembers, and invites the clearly insane Two-Face to be a part of his coup. Naturally, the coup […]

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Luke Evans in Dracula Untold

If we consider that Dracula Untold is the Iron Man or Man of Steel of the next shared-universe franchise, a $23m opening weekend has to look pretty dim. Yet that figure is higher than the movie was tracking to earn, so Universal is marking the release as a triumph. “It’s better than anyone expected in the industry.” the studio’s domestic distribution president, Nikki Rocco, told Entertainment Weekly. “We’re very pleased with the result.” Universal can be happy enough, too, with its international gross to date of $63m, which is a helpful addition. And as Rocco also notes, the exit polls have been promising. Through Cinemascore, audiences graded the movie an A-. That means those who went to see it liked it enough that they’ll probably be on board for a sequel and the rest. “The rest” is, of course, team-ups, “versus” movies and other such groupings of Dracula (Luke Evans) and other Universal monsters, including the Mummy and probably the Wolf Man, the Invisible Man, the Creature from the Black Lagoon and Frankenstein’s Monster. I wouldn’t be surprised if King Kong is in the mix at some point, as well, since the giant ape’s origin movie, Skull Island, is being made by the same studios (though not produced by Alex Kurtsman, the showrunner of this franchise). The next installment for the new monster mash project isn’t due for a couple more years, when the Kurtzman-directed The Mummy opens in June 2016. I wonder if many people will even remember Dracula Untold then, and I wonder if […]

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Miles Teller and JK Simmons in Whiplash

The end of yet another film festival is behind us — does it feel like we’ve been fest-ing for weeks on end now? we have! — with the close of Gotham’s own New York Film Festival. As has become the festival’s standard, this year’s NYFF included a compelling mix of festival favorites, undiscovered gems and a few world premieres that have already upended the end-of-the-year cinematic landscape. The festival may be over, but we’ve got a feeling that these eleven films will continue to linger long after the curtains fall (and, hell, you can even see some of these right now in a theater near you, how’s that for service?). Are these the best films of NYFF? We certainly think so.

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Scream Factory

Clive Barker‘s second feature film as a director hit theaters in 1990 in a compromised and heavily molested form thanks to the meddling suits at 20th Century Fox and Morgan Creek, but while Nightbreed died a quick death on the big screen the desire for Barker’s full vision lived on in the hearts and minds of fans. Rumors swirled about lost footage, and when years later much of those scenes were found the world was treated to a “restored” cut of the film featuring these rediscovered scenes dropped into the existing feature to form the Cabal Cut. The resulting cut had its pros and cons — my full review is here — but it was a kitchen sink version and never meant to be construed as Barker’s preferred vision. Happily, and somewhat miraculously, that vision is now getting its day in the sun as Scream Factory releases the lovingly restored, Barker-supervised director’s cut complete with a beautiful high-def remaster. There’s no arguing that this new cut looks and sounds great and is long overdue, but is it an improvement over the theatrical release? Is it any good at all? The answer to both questions is a pretty resounding yes.

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Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl

Spoilers for Gone Girl follow. Yes, I get the irony of that. Why do I need a spoiler warning when I’m about to argue that we’re currently enjoying an age without twists? Because I’ve been a ghost this whole time. But, seriously, that’s the kind of twist I want to examine for a moment. The Shyamalan Twist. The Turns-Out-It-Was-Man Twist. The kind of twist that makes you rethink everything that came before it. This is exactly the kind of plot twist that Gone Girl and a handful of other recent movies don’t have. That’s not a qualitatively good or bad thing, but it’s fascinating to see cinema toy — or in some cases move beyond — what has become an overly familiar formula. Executing a thrilling twist is near impossible (just ask Shyamalan, whose batting average has dropped over the years as a direct result of becoming known for twists), and it became even harder as we became savvier to the patterns. We’d watch the signposts and think, “They’re all in that guy’s mind,” or “They’re the real ghosts,” or “Ape-raham Lincoln is probably gonna show up later.”

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Doctor Who Mummy on the Orient Express

I didn’t buy that the first episode of this season of Doctor Who was entirely made of meta-text — only slightly — but it’s hard not to consider the eighth episode, “Mummy on the Orient Express,” as much more than a message to the audience. “Don’t Stop Me Now” is a song by Queen that lends itself well to extra meanings when included on a soundtrack (see Shaun of the Dead), and here the title lyrics seem to be saying “don’t quit me now.” In the context of the show, where it’s covered by the British pop singer Foxes, it connects mainly to Clara (Jenna Coleman), who has told the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) that she’s to stop being his companion. Of course, the song could be as much directed at him from her (“don’t try to stop me”) as her from him (“don’t leave me”), but at first I thought maybe he’d planted the musical number. As he’s telling Clara that everything on board the space train they’ve boarded is authentic to the real Orient Express, there’s a cut to Foxes, as if we’re supposed to realize that the 1979 song is anachronistic to the period that the rest of the scene is replicating. This also being the moment when they’re discussing how this ride aboard the ship should be a good one to end on. It is and it isn’t, for her and for us. If we quit now, it’d be on a high note, but who can quit an addiction when they’re so high?

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Scarlet Road

Sex is still a taboo topic, to one degree or another, in most parts of the world. Historically, art has played a tremendous role in rolling back such taboos and getting people to speak openly about sex and sexuality. Documentary cinema is no different in this regard. It is an incredibly intimate art form, and it perhaps never gets more intimate with its subjects than when dealing with the topic of sex. These films feature people laid bare (often literally) before the viewer, to the cause of opening dialogues about sex. Taboos are broken when silence is broken, and each of these documentaries explores a different aspect of sex or sexuality. Love Meetings (1965) Always the provocateur, director Pier Paolo Pasolini sat down with as many of his fellow Italians as he could in order to throw questions about sex and sexual practice their way. Pasolini himself is front and center, acting as the interviewer in every scene, meaning that the whole film is a proudly gay man challenging people about their sexual mores. He gathers interviewees from every class strata and finds a common thread of ignorance and repression running through them. We can look at it as a snapshot of a bygone age, although one wonders how much more enlightened we’d find people if similar interviews were conducted today. READ MORE AT NONFICS

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Michael McKean in Whatever Works

Actor, writer, musician, comedian — Michael McKean seems to have done it all over his extensive career. From his early work in television, including an iconic role as Lenny on Laverne and Shirley, he soon established himself as part of the ensemble responsible for bringing the term “mockumentary” to the masses. Starting with Rob Reiner’s sublime This Is Spinal Tap (which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year), McKean joined bandmates Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer and a group of improvisatory geniuses in a string of features that toy with nonfiction filmmaking conventions, including modern classics such as Best In Show and A Mighty Wind. For the first part of our new “Pick 6” series, Nonfics reached out to McKean for a selection of films to recommend to our readers. The goal with this series isn’t to create some definitive, “best in show” list, but to bring to light works that quickly come to mind when artists, actors, filmmakers and programmers are asked to list documentaries that mean something to them personally, crafting a kind of mini-festival or “mixtape” of different tonalities that share one factor: they’re the films chosen by someone pretty remarkable, with a brief commentary about what these films represent for them. READ MORE AT NONFICS

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Kiss Me Deadly

Quentin Tarantino‘s Pulp Fiction is one of the most influential movies ever made, which is interesting given that it’s also one of the most influenced movies ever made. The 1994 feature, which was released theatrically 20 years ago this month, is like the Paul’s Boutique of film given all the cinematic samples it’s comprised of. Tarantino is the uber movie geek, and he shows it over and over again in his own work, and this collaboration with co-writer Roger Avary might take the cake as far as how many allusions he can fit in, whether they’re spoken references or shots that perfectly mimic and repurpose those of his favorite classic films. You can find homages in the plot, dialogue, character names, props, cinematography and more. Because there are so many movies referenced in Pulp Fiction, and because you can find many places online that attempt to list them all, I’m going to recommend just the most prominent and also the most essential of the bunch. Additionally, some of this week’s curation of  movies to see are otherwise relevant, titles that might not have inspired Tarantino unless he cast certain people because of work they’d done in the past — which, for him, is not only plausible but also very likely. Not everything included below is something the filmmaker has admitted to loving and being influenced by, but we can presume they’re all things he’s seen. The guy sees everything. He’d probably come up with a different list of the most important […]

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