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Random Media

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

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

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

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Unlocking the Cage Chimpanzee

Pennebaker Hegedus Films

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

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

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Marshmallow Peeps

Just Born

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

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

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

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ff blue ruin

Editor’s note: Our review of Blue Ruin originally ran during last year’s Fantastic Fest, but we’re re-posting it now as the film opens in limited theatrical release and on VOD. You should probably see it.

The beauty of film festivals is that the vast majority of the movies exist outside the vacuum of movie blogs, magazines, and water cooler conversations. They’re unknown quantities, and while many are destined to stay that way, each year a handful of titles explode from the periphery to mesmerize, entertain, and impress unsuspecting viewers.

Welcome to 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.

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escape-from-tomorrow-11

Producers Distribution Agency

It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears, a world of hopes and a world of fears. There’s so much that we share and it’s time you’re aware that the worst ride in the existence of Disneyland and home to the song that never left your head for weeks after taking a trip down the chlorine filled waters of forced cultural diversity, It’s A Small World, is being turned into a movie. It was inevitable that this was going to happen, really, what with the history and success of other ride-to-movie deals in the park. But it doesn’t make the news any less worthy of an eye roll or two. There are questions to be asked.

The ride from hell debuted at the New York World’s Fair, then moved to Disneyland 50 years ago (in fact, the 50th anniversary was just this Tuesday). It’s an iconic piece of the park that has also been replicated at four other Disney theme parks. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of taking a cruise through Fantasyland, It’s a Small World involves strapping into a low-riding boat with about 10 of your closest new tourist friends to travel down a rank river of reclaimed pool water. Along the way, you move through all the lands of the world as over 300 audio-animatronic dolls dressed in the finest stereotypical representations of their countries sing their little hearts out about peace and unity. It’s a small world after all.

Nine times out of 10, your boat will get stuck somewhere down the river, usually around the Arctic for some reason, and you’ll be forced to listen to the repeating chorus of the song on end until you inevitably snap like that time Lisa Simpson became the Lizard Queen at Duff Gardens.

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Point-and-Shoot

Tribeca Film Festival

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.

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Scream Factory

Scream Factory

My too frequent C-grade reviews of big summer tentpole films has me targeted as a film snob critic around these parts, but my movie-loving formative years were spent taking in all manner of genre films from horror & sci-fi to action & thrillers to straight up exploitation. If I had to pick just one genre though my heart belongs unapologetically to horror. It’s for this reason that Shout! Factory’s genre arm, Scream Factory, has quickly become on of my favorite release labels.

They do more than simply release horror movies though. The folks at Scream Factory lather their own love for the movies all over their releases, and that’s evident in the effort they put in and the affection they earn from fans. Not every title is a winner, but there’s very little I would change about them and the keepers far outweigh the occasional duds. (I do wish their titles featured spine numbers, but on the bright side their absence means I don’t have to keep a copy of Dead Souls.)

They have a habit of delivering a strong mix of beloved classics and lesser-known titles, often with new artwork and a bevy of extras. 2014 looks to be an incredibly big year for them, and while their fall releases (Nightbreed, Lord of Illusions, Pumpkinhead) have me salivating their recently announced “Summer of Fear” is equally as exciting. They have sixteen titles scheduled from May through August, and all but two of them are bloody finger blasts from the past guaranteed to leave horror fans gleefully satisfied.

Keep reading for a look at the titles in Scream Factory’s “Summer of Fear,” most of which are hitting Blu-ray for the very first time.

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Spoilers

Warner Bros.

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 television shows Game of Thrones, House of Cards, How I Met Your Mother, and films Bears, Gravity, The Counselor, and The Purge).

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Tribeca Film Festival

Tribeca Film Festival

Boulevard, the fifth feature from director Dito Montiel, is an intimate character study. As such, it is but one among many. At festivals, in particular those with a bevy of American independent films, you can’t swing a cat without hitting an intimate character study. And so they try to differentiate themselves, sometimes through gimmicks and sometimes through good old-fashioned artistic vision. In the case of Boulevard the elevator pitch is this: Robin Williams is 60, married to a woman, and secretly gay. His name is Nolan and he has a well-paying but dull job in a small bank. Fair enough.

The dramatic conflict, therefore, is his discovery and subsequent acceptance of his homosexuality. It is perhaps tiring at this point to see yet another movie in which being gay is the primary, driving narrative force. It is no longer as interesting as Love Is Strange, for example, a drama that gets to establish the sexual orientation of its characters in the first scene and then move on to subtler themes. There’s still some room left for a film like Boulevard to say something new and interesting, but not much.

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Alanis Morissette in Dogma

Lions Gate Films

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

United Artists/MGM

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

MGM

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

FX Networks

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 “The Rooster Prince.” We met some new people, got to know Hanks’s officer Grimly and his daughter (Joey Kinga little more, Martin Freeman‘s Lester weaseled through his interrogations by Deputy Molly (Allison Tolman) and Billy Bob Thornton‘s Malvo took a new assignment – and a dump.

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