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Arrow Video

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

Columbia Pictures

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

BBC

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 lot of neat tricks up it’s sleeve, particularly a lot of fun gags born out of the clever idea to miniaturize the TARDIS exterior but not interior — which of course gives reason for more, always welcome “bigger on the inside” jokes.

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Tribeca Film

Tribeca Film

After two critically adored novels, success has hardened Philip’s heart and calcified any remaining slivers of decency that may have once existed. As a result, “notability” has turned him into an insufferable, self-involved and repulsive egotist, interested only in his writing and the potential acclaim that may follow. At first glance it doesn’t appear that Philip (Jason Schwartzman) is fraught with internal pain, but it is there. Underneath the narcissistic veneer is a man who neither understands himself nor the world he lives in, thus making it impossible for Philip to emotionally connect with anyone or anything. This recent bout of despondency propels him out of the sonically assaultive milieu that is New York City and into an idyllic country home, away from his photographer girlfriend Ashley (Elisabeth Moss), where he can begin working on his next novel.

This is the concise, swiftly constructed setup of Listen Up Philip, the acidic, sardonic and transcendent third film from emerging writer/director Alex Ross Perry.

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Scarlett Johansson in UNDER THE SKIN

A24

Earlier this week came news of WB/DC’s Suicide Squad, and the sparkly list of celebs wanted to play various morally murky supervillains. And right afterward came an update from Deadline- yes, Tom Hardy, Will Smith and Margot Robbie are super interested in pursuing some supervillainy (save for Ryan Gosling, who’s being all finicky). But in one throwaway sentence of that Deadline piece was something even more shocking (more shocking than Will Smith playing an outright villain, if you can believe it). It seems Robbie was free to pursue Suicide Squad because her previous target, the live-action Ghost in the Shell adaptation, had ditched her to pitch woo at Scarlett Johansson.

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Count Duckula

Cosgrove Hall Films

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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Adam Sandler in Men Women and Children

Paramount Pictures

Jason Reitman is a hard filmmaker to pin down. He’s made six features, and when a director has made that many films, it’s usually not terribly difficult to find themes or ideas that tie a filmography together. Besides generally following smart but naive characters, you can’t really do that with Reitman’s pictures. The element that comes closest to defining Reitman’s body of work is his passion for self-reflective stories. After his past two divisive efforts, Labor Day and Men, Women & Children, it’s obvious his voice and interests go beyond one story or one specific idea.

What’s missing from those films, for starters, is Reitman’s comedic wit. That’s not to say they don’t have his sense of humor, albeit in much smaller doses, but they wear a more serious face than his earlier work. Critics certainly aren’t used to this side of Reitman. “It feels like the snarkier I am, the more the critics like it,” Reitman tells me with a laugh. “I mean, you gotta make films in your own voice. When you start trying to please people, you’re never going to win.”

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Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

The true first rule of Fight Club is that you have to start a piece about Fight Club by referencing the “first rule of Fight Club” line. After 15 years, it’s more of an impulse than a cliche, like in the way that boys have an impulse for violence that’s not a stereotype. Anyway, it’s time yet again to talk about Fight Club because one and a half decades gone by calls for another anniversary celebration of David Fincher‘s modern classic. And just as I like to do with all modern classics, I’m commemorating this occasion by recommending relevant older classics (and some not-so-classics) that preceded it.

Fight Club is another movie from the 1990s that has been highly influential on what has come after and was highly influenced by what had come before. Unlike Pulp Fiction and others, though, Fincher’s movie doesn’t wear its allusions so obviously. There are some direct references (Valley of the Dolls for one), but most of those are to titles that aren’t significant in terms of the ingredients that make up the big picture. This week’s recommendations aren’t all known inspirations for either Chuck Palahniuk‘s novel or Jim Uhls‘s script or Fincher’s direction. A few are, while others are just important movies with similar plots or themes, and as usual there are another few involving members of the cast in earlier roles.

After you honor the anniversary by watching Fight Club for the thousandth time this week, follow it with any of the following dozen titles you haven’t already seen before. A note before you read ahead: this post obviously features SPOILERS for the 15-year-old movie, for a twist that is pretty much common knowledge, but it also spoils the endings of a few old movies that are also way past the time limit on protection.

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The Best of Me

Relativity

The Nicholas Sparks idea well is running dry — also, hey, how come the guy hasn’t tried to kill anyone by tossing them down a well yet? surely, that has to be coming soon — and the prolific author has started cribbing from his own material to slap together lackluster storylines that only approximate genuine feelings, emotional ether floating on the breeze. The latest film to be adapted from Sparks’ written works, Michael Hoffman‘s The Best of Me is rife with plotlines pulled from other Sparks features — kid cancer, car accidents, using an interest in astronomy to prove that someone is smart, disapproving parents, a small Southern town (always a small Southern town, someone introduce Sparks to the North for chrissakes), trademark shocking deaths — but everything is so loosely cobbled together that the film feels closer to a cinematic adaptation of Nicholas Sparks-branded Mad Libs than it does an actual feature.

There is, however, one thing that Sparks is still damn good at portraying: the idiocy of first love. But while Sparks’ stories are so often occupied with showing good-looking teens pawing away at each other (and, yes, also pawing away at deep emotions), Sparks steadfastly refuses to face the truth of what he’s writing. These kids are dumb. First love is not the end-all and be-all. The person you are at age seventeen is not the (cough cough) best version of yourself, and continuing to base books and movies on such ideals is, frankly, as immature as anything you’ll find in the average American high school. These things — these emotions — don’t endure. But they do in Sparkstown, U.S.A., and both the author and his characters’ resistance to growing up is the worst part of the majority of his films. (And, no, we’re not forgetting about films like Message in a Bottle or Nights in Rodanthe, as it’s fairly obvious that the typical Sparks story is still about dum-dum teens.)

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review dear white people

Racism is over in America.

That’s the conclusion reached by far too many people in the real world apparently, and the new film Dear White People sets out to address those opinions on both sides of the color-divide through a combination of frequent laughs and a sharply farcical commentary. If Higher Learning and P.C.U. spent a drunken night together this would be the frowned-upon result of that union. Just don’t call it a movilatto.

Winchester University is an Ivy League school populated primarily with white students, but the campus ignites with controversy after one of the houses hosts a racially-fueled party inviting people to come celebrate and liberate their “inner negro.”  We then jump back several weeks in the lives of a quartet of black students who find their own personal agendas intertwined and altered leading up to the party.

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Candyman

TriStar Pictures

Speaking as someone who has been on this earth since the early 1970s, I can attest to the fact that some movies often behave like wine. They may be novel when they first come out, but after a few years they become bland. However, if you let them age long enough, they become good again, often times embodying a nostalgia factor that makes their imperfections seem endearing.

This process takes about 20 years for the effects to be initially felt, which is why nostalgia often runs in 20 year cycles, which coincide with a person in his or her 20s looking back fondly at what they watched as a child, and major movie studios remaking beloved titles old enough to drink.

Because of this, the films of the 90s are starting to look more and more vintage. Yeah, there’s that bump in the middle of the decade with really bad CGI that will always hamper films like Spawn and Species, but the movies from the earlier part of that decade seemed to have escaped that. Such is the case with the 1992 horror film Candyman.

Candyman took on the subject of urban legends when they were gaining popularity, and it started its own legends about the now iconic monster. Case in point, I saw it as a college preview back in 1992, and I knew plenty of people who immediately went home and said the name five times in the mirror. (My sister, who was often affected like this from horror movies, wouldn’t allow me to do it with her in the house.)

With so much horror watching taking place this October, this got me thinking back to this grisly cinematic gem: Can you really summon the Candyman by saying his name five times in a mirror?

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GoDigital

GoDigital

Not every film opens on thousands of screens (or in theaters at all) as more and more each year make their debuts on various video on demand services. We’ve already looked at a couple of the horror titles opening today, but two other new films aim to deliver VOD thrills this weekend too. They don’t share a genre, but both films feature characters who film part or all of the action.

Default is a hostage drama reminiscent in some ways of Captain Phillips or A Hijacking for the simple reason that it gives serious time to exploring the pirates’ motivations. It’s an airplane instead of a ship, but the bigger difference is that the film is presented in a found footage-ish format as both the hostages and pirates are wielding cameras. Extraterrestrial also drops a group of people into harm’s way, but the danger this time comes from someplace farther away than the African continent. A group of friends spending time at a remote cabin come under attack by alien beings, but as they fight to survive the night they discover that aliens may have an unexpected ally.

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Kristen Stewart in CAMP X-RAY

Kristen Stewart has long been maligned for her seemingly unshakeable performance tics – the hair-playing, the lip-biting, the huffy breathing – and despite being gifted with a compelling character in Peter Sattler’s ambitious Camp X-Ray, Stewart simply can’t kick her bad habits in service to a good performance. Sattler’s debut feature is set at Guantanamo Bay, requiring Stewart to play a young U.S. soldier who finds her worldview forever altered by her experiences, and the actress simply isn’t up to the task, bringing down the quality and power of the entire film in the process.

The film opens with a shot of the Twin Towers smoking on 9/11, as seen on television in a foreign country that we only, much later, learn is Germany. Aware of the events and confoundingly kitted out with a bag of cell phones, Ali Amir (Payman Maadi) turns his attention away from the news for afternoon prayer. He doesn’t finish those prayers, because a black bag is soon thrown over his head and he’s carted off to Gitmo. Beaten, caged, and imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, the film then flashes forward to eight years later, and the arrival of Stewart’s Private Amy Cole.

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