THE #1 INDEPENDENT MOVIE BLOG IN YOUR HEARTS

Doctor Strange

Marvel

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

Vortex

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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XLrator Media

XLrator Media

Last week we looked at two haunted house films that were opening this month, and now another unintentional horror pairing is hoping to make its way into your brains via VOD and limited theatrical releases. Ghosts and such are fairly ubiquitous in the genre, but horror comedies are less common and far tougher to pull off successfully. The movies usually err too far on the comedic side and fail to manage much in the way of scares, but when one succeeds with just the right balance between the two halves you’re left bouncing between the highs of laughter and thrills.

Housebound is a fun little supernatural romp from New Zealand that sees a young woman sentenced to house arrest in her childhood home where her chatty mother and nearly silent step father. She settles in but soon discovers the home has more than a few secrets creeping around in the dark. Summer of Blood meanwhile looks and acts by all accounts like just another indie comedy about a self-involved guy struggling to find love in Brooklyn. The difference here is that this particular unlikable protagonist is bitten by a vampire and soon discovers a thirst for blood instead.

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The Diamond Arm

The Diamond Arm/Mosfilm

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

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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Labyrinth Movie

TriStar Pictures

By announcing Billy Crystal‘s involvement with Which Witch, a new animated film that has him taking on starring, writing and producing duties, the Jim Henson Co. quietly slipped in just a few other, minor items. The studio, which is now run by the late Jim Henson’s children Lisa and Brian Henson, is ramping up its feature film side after focusing on television ventures for some time; and four films involving beloved Henson properties are on the way.

While the rights to The Muppets were sold to Disney in 2004 — and those rights have definitely not gone to waste — the Henson Co. has enough franchises in their arsenal to pad their slate. According to Variety, aside from Which Witch, the studio is working on a Fraggle Rock film, a sequel to Dark Crystal, a movie based on Emmet Otter (there was a 1970s TV movie, Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas) and a film centered in the world of Labyrinth. They also optioned the rights to “Frog and Toad” in 2012, but there hasn’t been any news on that front since.

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Monster Squad

TriStar Pictures

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 SquadI’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's Avengers

Marvel Studios

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

Marvel

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 ideas in this summer’s Days of Future Past. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, though, ought to be devising its own unique storylines and titles. If the comic writers have to regularly originate crossover and storyline ideas, then why can’t screenwriters be expected to do the same?

Given this saddening downturn in what I have considered to be a genre of great creative opportunity and potential, I’ve decided to share my 10-point guide to unoriginality in Hollywood movies. Depending on how close Captain America 3 aligns with the “Civil War” source material, the sequel could very well fall to the bottom of the list.

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The Professional

Columbia Pictures

It looks like the totally hypothetical Cinematic Teen Hit Girl Club is getting a brand new member. Deadline reports that The Giver star Odeya Rush has signed on to star in Hunter’s Prayer, a Jonathan Mostow-directed action-thriller about “a young girl who teams up with the assassin hired to wipe out her family to find the person responsible.” Oh, a buddy flick! Sam Worthington is already on board to play said assassin, who helps Rush’s Ella “navigate the tangled web of hitmen and thugs on her quest for justice.” And we thought you could just PayPal hitmen money. 

Rush now joins a subgenre of films that center on guns, girls and (screw any attempts at alliteration) just plain illegal activities. And yet, said subgenre isn’t nearly as bankable as it once (oh so briefly) was, so why do we keep getting films about gun-toting teens with attitude? (Don’t say, “because it looks cool!”)  

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Double Down Breen

Neil 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 wealth to manifest a cinematic universe with himself as its gravitational center.

And Breen isn’t alone.

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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.

Discs Section: Pick of the Week

DONT BLINK dvdDon’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

New Line Cinema

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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