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The Knick

Cinemax

In the seven years since it debuted, there have been several constants in the reaction to Mad Men: the critics have loved it, everyone has nursed a crush on Jon Hamm, and viewers have asked where the black people are. The time span covered by the period drama, from early 1960 until (presumably) the end of 1969, was one of extraordinary shifts in race relations in America. This was the height of the Civil Rights movement, after all. But that’s only happening in the background noise on Mad Men. This is entirely intentional on the part of creator Matthew Weiner and his writing staff, who have made it one facet of the isolated world of Madison Avenue advertising movers and shakers in which the show dwells.

It’s debatable whether that’s a justifiable excuse (I can see points both in and against its favor), but even accepting it, there are still times where it’s just odd to be viewing the ’60s through an almost entirely white lens (most notably in the episode that addressed the death of Martin Luther King Jr.). In any case, it might be easier to swallow had the myriad shows produced in the hopes of mimicking Mad Men‘s success not followed its lead on this front. The period piece genre, which gains traction each year, is one of the most lily-white milieus on American television, and that’s even by the standards of the already overwhelmingly white prestige drama herd. Pan Am, Vegas, Magic City, Halt and Catch Fire, Turn – all of them have little-to-no diversity in their casts.

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The Leftovers

HBO

No, it wasn’t easy. My personal viewing experience of the first two episodes of HBO’s The Leftovers has stuck with me throughout the entire summer, and I have zero problem with telling people that watching two hours of Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta‘s series actually made me feel physically ill, it was just that heavy. The Leftovers may still not be binge-watch television, but it has finally become must-watch television. With just two episodes left, it was about time that some kind of tide turned.

The HBO series, inspired by Perrotta’s novel of the same name, was never intended to be feel-good television, just by virtue of the fact that it’s entirely centered on a global-scale tragedy. The series picks up three years after some kind of “event” has whisked away 2% of the world’s population, enough time to sort of get things back to normal, but not long enough to really heal wounds. The lingering sense that something else is about to happen — and soon! — doesn’t help. Set primarily in the small town of Mapleton, New York, the series follows a medium-sized cast of characters as they (continue to) deal with the fallout from said event. Some people lost everyone that day, some people just lost one person, some people lost their loved ones later to outside forces. Still, the entire program is about loss. It’s hard to feel good about that.

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Superbad

Columbia Pictures

It’s that time of year. School is mere weeks away from starting up again, the biggest blockbusters have had their bows, and the studio releases are transitioning to the distribution equivalent of tossing an old couch on the curb to make room for the new one. May, June and July (and let’s be honest, now April) bring the big crowd pleasers. The last two weeks of summer herald the arrival of the “Everything Must Go” Sales before fall sends us into Oscar bait prestige pictures.

Don’t believe me? The slate for the next two weeks includes Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, a sequel that’s arriving at least five years too late; Are You Here, the directorial debut of Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner that garnered early reviews in the exact opposite tone of his acclaimed show; Jessabelle, a release from the Blumhouse factory that’s not getting a plum horror spot, so you know it’s good; and The November Man, an entry in the very neglected genre of CIA agents dragged back into the game because “this time it’s personal!”

It’s generally an accepted fact that if a movie is set for the dog days of August, the studio has less confidence in it than Taylor Swift’s latest beau does of being the one guy she dates who doesn’t end up inspiring a song.

But every now and then, conventions are made to be broken.

Going back through the last fifteen years of releases, I have come up with five films released in the last half of August that could be considered modern gems, presented here in reverse chronological order.

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Cast of PICKET FENCES

CBS

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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Screencap

Screencap

It is not the best week for a movie called Let’s Be Cops to open. 20th Century Fox didn’t know what the American media landscape would be like when they scheduled the film, obviously. Then again, what with the film’s absolutely dismal critical reception one could argue that they didn’t need to make the thing at all.

Still, the awkwardness of the release of Let’s Be Cops in the wake of the militarized disaster in Ferguson, MO affords us a bizarre moment of contemplation. Much of the anger over the last week has been directed at the major American news outlets, television in particular. The crisis after the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer took a surprising amount of time to really arrive on 24 hour news networks. This raises all sorts of questions about the way that police brutality represented in news media and culture more broadly.

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Hateful Eight

The Weinstein Company

Quentin Tarantino‘s righteous fury at those who leaked The Hateful Eight‘s screenplay has abated. The film is no longer spite-cancelled, and it may start shooting as early as early next year (according to /Film, who heard the news on Fox 59, who in turn heard it from Kurt Russell).

Tarantino’s heart has swelled so profusely that not only is he going to give us The Hateful Eight, he’s going to give us a trailer next week. /Film, once again, has the scoop, having found mention of a Hateful Eight trailer on the Alberta Film Ratings board, and then also hearing from people working in local multiplexes, who’ve been notified that a minute and 40 seconds of Hateful Eight will run before Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Then, Deadline wrapped everything up with their own confirmation.

However, there is a caveat- in order to see that fateful Hateful Eight tease, you’ve got to pay to see Sin City in theaters. No online release, people. Or, for the realists out there, no online release, except for a shaky phone recording where some guy’s head is blocking half the shot, people.

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Demolition Man Poster Crop

Warner Bros.

For such mindless entertainment, the Expendables movies sure can get the brain working if you’re interested in the nostalgic samples they’re selling. Sylvester Stallone is a smart guy who knows how to work on multiple levels, and of course his most brilliant act is to make it all seem dumb as hell without pandering to the audience that can appreciate that. He’s the male modern Marilyn Monroe in a way. With this series he has assembled more all-star action heroes than good plot ideas, but the simplicity of the storytelling is just to provide a lot of bullets and explosions for the mindless crowd and a bunch of reflexive call-backs to the cast’s earlier movies for those who like to play the spot-the-allusion game. Most of the latter is cheap references through repurposed dialogue and slightly altered character names.

But The Expendables 2 kind of beat that whole thing to death with its “I’m back!” and “Yippee ki-ya” lines and the entire role played by Chuck Norris. For The Expendables 3, the reflexive bits are more self-aware nods to the casting of these movies, not in a nostalgic sense as much as in a winking treat for anyone who follows their production. There are jokes referencing the reason Wesley Snipes couldn’t be in the series until now and recognizing that Terry Crews took his place and there’s a couple more regarding Bruce Willis‘s departure and recognizing, in case we couldn’t already tell, that Harrison Ford is finally having a ball in a movie again. Rob Hunter’s review points out that Kelsey Grammer also mocks his own problems with alcoholism and drunk driving.

There are probably specific allusions to the actors’ old movies, too (one line apparently is a nod to Desperado), but I didn’t catch enough of them to use them for this week’s movies to watch list. I thought it would be more worthwhile to go through each of the main cast members and pick his best action movie (I say “his” because female addition Ronda Rousey is making her acting debut here — but I can guess that her best action movie will be next year’s Fast and Furious 7). Surely there will be some disagreement with my choices (admittedly, I’m not the most well-versed in the genre), regardless of whether you agree each is worth recommending. Feel free to offer your own picks down below.

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Tom and Leo in Inception

Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.

Two years ago, we told you about a project teaming up Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy and Tobey Maguire as producers of a drama about animal trafficking for Warner Bros. The film was inspired by Hardy’s friends, former Special Forces operatives who went on to become anti-poaching fighters in South Africa and other nations where the problem ran rampant.

Although that project is still in development with Hardy in the lead, Deadline reports the same three have signed with the same studio to produce another film about the same issue, and they may all star in this one. Scripted by Will Staples, so far best known for writing video games and the as-yet-unmade Mission: Impossible 5, the new project will follow a structure somewhat in the vein of Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, as in it’s taking a multistory approach to the impact of animal poaching.

The film will explore the heinous industry from every facet and angle, from the dirty back door dealings that start the whole process, to a glimpse into the life of a poacher — and what could possibly make hunting down and slaying animals for profit a great career choice — to every single minion hanging out in the seedy dark corners of a trade that okays capturing an elephant for its ivory and storming the seas to fish for sharks for their valuable fins.

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Let the Fire Burn

Zeitgeist Films

A few days ago, a police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, a black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri. He was unarmed, his apparent crime walking in the street with a friend instead of on a sidewalk. Citizens in Ferguson congregated in justifiable anger to protest, and they were met with a police response of jaw-droppingly draconian proportions. Tanks and tear gas were rolling through the streets. Air traffic was been shut down to limit press access, and reporters were detained for no reason. At every turn, the police escalated the situation, and looting and clashes between them and citizens peppered the city. This was happening this week. In 2014. In America. But if you’re shocked at all by this, it’s only because you haven’t been paying attention.

Wednesday, a movie called Let’s Be Cops hit theaters. The title alone would make it the most unfortunately ill-timed release of the year, but given the film’s dismal reviews, there’s likely no good time for it to have come out. Again, while Ferguson is an awful exemplar of race-related police brutality on a massive scale, there are no shortage of such incidents to pick from. American culture’s goofy cartoon trope of policeman in comedy films becomes garish when set against the reality. And it’s not as if our dramas do any favors to the realities of those who live in constant fear of law enforcement. Pop culture, for the most part, glorifies the myth of a brotherhood of noble officers facing down monsters in the streets. Depictions of police brutality are few and far between.

So forget Let’s Be Cops. Worthless entertainment can be harmless, but in a time like this, where we’re finally forced to confront some unfortunate realities about life in America, if only for a moment, we need to edify ourselves. To that end, watch Jason Osder‘s Let the Fire Burn, and understand that black people acting en masse provoking a disproportionate response from law enforcement is not a new phenomenon at all.

READ MORE AT NONFICS

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Screengrab / North by Northwest

Screengrab / North by Northwest

Earlier this week, Alfred Hitchcock celebrated a birthday. Rather, fans celebrated on his behalf. He would have been 115 years old. Many fans have been passing around this video published as a college project in 2012 by Morgan T. Rhys. Simply titled “Every Alfred Hitchcock Cameo,” the video shows exactly that: Alfred Hitchcock’s cameos from The Lodger to Stage Fright and beyond. Many cinefiles can recount for you his cameos in North by Northwest or on a newspaper in Lifeboat, but this video shows all the lesser known and slightly more subtle appearances he made in his own movies.

Watch for yourself and enjoy Hitchcock making himself one of the most infamous extras of all-time.

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Alamo Drafthouse: South Lamar

Alamo Drafthouse / Nick Simonite

Here at Film School Rejects, we love the Alamo Drafthouse. We’re not sorry about it, either. When it comes to reviewing movies, we generally don’t play favorites. Objectivity usually wins the day and movies are judged on their own merits. When it comes to where we see those movies, all bets are off and the nearest Alamo Drafthouse location is at the top of our list. What’s not to love? They will serve us food and drink during the movie, they have a strict no talking policy that is actually enforced and they provide signature programming like Quote-a-longs and sometimes forgotten classics projected in glorious 35mm. Ask anyone who has been to an Alamo Drafthouse theater and they’ll tell you: it’s just right.

By now, many areas of the country are starting to see their own Alamo Drafthouses pop up, with plenty more on the way. They’ve even announced a location in Los Angeles just this week after years of speculation and hope from the denizens of Southern California. The Drafthouse experience is spreading, which can only be a good thing in our book.

Yet for the past 18 months, while Alamos have sprung up across America from New York to San Francisco, a hole has existed in the Alamo line-up: the Flagship location on South Lamar Blvd. in Austin, TX has been closed. We said goodbye to the brightest star in the Alamo universe in January 2013 and for the last year and a half, everyone has waited for it to be torn apart, rebuilt and modernized. And like all great movie heroes, it has returned to save us all.

This Saturday, the Alamo Drafthouse’s Flagship location reopens alongside the new edition of The Highball, Alamo’s nightclub/karaoke bar/place of gathering. And we’d like to take you on a little photo tour of the new digs.

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Aladdin

Walt Disney Pictures

One of Robin Williams’ most iconic roles was as the Genie in the 1992 Disney film Aladdin. For being a supporting role, he certainly commanding more than his fair share of attention (which got the Mouse House into some trouble when the character’s overt presence in advertising violated his original agreement to do the film for scale). Since the release of Aladdin, Williams became a Disney legend and lent his voice to the character later for the direct-to-video sequel Aladdin and the King of Thieves.

Of course, Aladdin represents more than an iconic role for Williams. It was riding the wave of Disney’s second golden age of animation, followed by the record-breaking film The Lion King. For the DVD release in 2004, co-directors John Musker and Ron Clements sat down with co-producer Amy Pell to record a commentary of the film. So much has changed in the last ten years since this was recorded, though it is still a worthwhile listen for fans of Disney animation.

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ff septic man

The Canadian town of Collinwood is suffering a serious sanitation problem. Something has come along and gummed up the works. People are getting sick, evacuations are in order, death looms et cetera…basically, something stinks. In a situation as dire as this, when shit’s going down, there’s only one trusted name in the game and that is Septic Man. Jack (Jason David Brown) is thee titular septic man, a chap of few words with a rough edged can-do spirit. Earlier in his career he saved the town from suffering through shoddy infrastructure and prevented a whole bunch of crap from happening. If there’s a problem with the pipes, he’s the man of the hour.

Jack is a reluctant fellow though. He has a kid on the way and a wife that just wants him to be home longer than he’s away. But they have bills to pay, responsibilities and all that jazz. To put it square, he’s no slouch. So it’s only fair that when the government comes-a-callin’ (Julian Richings channeling a day-walking Max Schreck), dangling their loonies and toonies in his face, he takes a big bite of that government cheddar.

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