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Da Sweet Blood of Jesus

Gravitas Ventures

In 1973, the production company Kelly-Jordan Enterprises sought to fund a group of relatively inexpensive features, one being a blaxploitation vampire film in an attempt to reproduce the success of the previous year’s Blacula. When playwright Bill Gunn was initially pitched the idea, he balked, but later grew intrigued by the potential for using vampirism as a metaphor for addiction. Gunn’s film, Ganja & Hess, bore a uniquely elegiac dream structure, with its hypnotic images, arthouse sensibility, and cyclical music cues resembling something worlds away from William Marshall’s broadly comic take on Dracula. Concerned with themes of desire, self-destruction, and the tensions between cultural history and assimilation, Gunn created an image of black vampirism that refused to be a novelty or gimmick, manifested in a style of filmmaking that rejected token categorization.

Baffled, the production company didn’t know what to do with Gunn’s film despite its positive reception at Cannes. Kelly-Jordan sold Ganja & Hess to a smaller distributor who cut it by more than half an hour, advertised its sex scenes, and rescored/redubbed its audio track until finally releasing the film on the grindhouse circuit under the title Blood Couple.

The original cut was restored twenty-five years later through a combination of prints, and with new restorations, upgrades, and repertory screenings since, Gunn’s film has slowly gained a reputation as a truly singular work of African American filmmaking.

Spike Lee’s remake, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, is a manifest tribute to a still-underseen film – another important “upgrade” that serves as a widely publicized means to bring an essential work of film history out of obscurity and into contemporary relevance. But remaking Ganja & Hess also affords Lee himself new opportunities, as retooling such a defiant work of filmmaking should.

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Here in Texas, where Film School Rejects calls home, there are a lot of pop culture nerds. But not so many that it could be called a cultural landmark, at least not across the state (or outside of Austin, for that matter). There is however, a prevailing cultural entity that does exist in every corner of the state: football. It’s not so much a game or a pastime in Texas as it is a way of life. It’s everywhere around us, which is why we’re particularly curious about the Esquire Network show Friday Night Tykes.

Friday Night Tykes season 2 continues to take a hard look at youth sports, the coaching, and the extreme lengths that some parents are willing to endure in order to make their child a champion. Brutal hits, ferocious coaches, rabid fans. The show takes an inside look at the Texas Youth Football Association, the most competitive youth football league in America. A place where old-school virtues of victory and competition haven’t died and there are no trophies for second place. For the parents and coaches, losing is not an option – ever. But are these kids being pushed too hard, too fast?

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Henri Short Film

Eli Sasich

More than a tribute to the sci-fi films of the 1970s and 1980s, this short film from Eli Sasich takes on a life of its own by blending a sleek design and DIY effects with an emotional story focused on the naivete of a mechanical heart.

In HENRi, the well-trod concept of floating solo through the darkness of space is injected into a spaceship — a self-aware AI that doesn’t seem to be all that aware. Voiced by 2001‘s Keir Dullea (in a clever meta move), the ship goes through its tasks “There Will Come Soft Rains” style until he begins creating a humanoid body for himself. Like the best sci-fi, it features a sweet vulnerability within unbending metal — a spirit in the machine.

It also looks cool. Some shots look like they were gift wrapped from The Frame Store, others appear to have been done in someone’s basement, and while that sounds like it could be a bad combination, the end result here works wonders specifically because of the underlying childhood nature to its star. By the time Margot Kidder shows up (no kidding), the bigthink questions are swirling around, surrounding every action. What does it mean to build yourself? What does it mean to emulate a mind? What does it mean to come to the end of who you are? What does it mean to evolve?

HENRi captures these questions with seriousness, not severity, and it’s a beautifully rich short film for doing so.

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Fantastic Four reboot trailer

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

For a while there, it seemed like maybe the Fantastic Four reboot was as imaginary as Stan Lee wished the Roger Corman version was. But here, at last, with barely more than six months left until its release, is our first teaser. Sorry if you want a lot of footage of the superhero quartet in action and using their powers or even showing off their powers, because this is still only a slight look at what we have to look forward to.

Still, what’s here is pretty, um, fantastic. There’s voiceover narration from The Wire and House of Cards actor Reg E. Cathey, who plays Dr. Franklin Storm — father of Johnny and Sue. There are a mere hints at The Thing and Human Torch in transformed mode. Mostly, though, this is interestingly Interstellar-like in the story it’s teasing. If we didn’t know it was a superhero movie, I doubt we’d get that impression at all from this.

Also, is it just titled Fantastic Four now, without a “the”? Or, should we be spelling it Fant4stic

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Going Clear

HBO Documentary Films

There’s nothing especially revelatory contained within Alex Gibney‘s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (or just “the Scientology doc,” if you’re feeling compelled to go clear in your own way) and viewers who have previously read the source material — Lawrence Wright‘s nonfiction book of the same name — won’t be shocked by what the documentary contains, but what Gibney offers instead is a clearly designed crash course in understanding the so-called “prison of belief” that entraps the organization’s devotees. Crisply cobbled together from interviews (many from former Scientology members, including exceedingly high-ranking figures), stock footage, fresh looks at the various Scientology centers, and personal information, the film is a faithful companion to Wright’s book that also stands on its own, mainly because it’s put together so well.

Gibney has collected an impressive area of interview subjects for the feature, and their various levels of indoctrination and information neatly layer the material. The most recognizable talking head of all is filmmaker Paul Haggis, who infamously left the Church of Scientology in 2009, and has spoken out about his decision ever since. Haggis is an interesting case study, and his story works on an almost microcosmic level. Gibney’s feature opens with his subjects discussing how they first got into Scientology, and Haggis’ story is the most recognizable: he wanted things, he heard they made things happen, he joined them. The repercussions, of course, could not have been foreseen.

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Miramax

Miramax

In the grand finale of our “Debut Films” series, Cargill and I don our black suits, gather at the Junkfood Diner, and discuss the cultural and cinematic impact of Quentin Tarantino‘s explosive first feature, Reservoir Dogs. QT didn’t simply hit the ground running with a smart, engaging neo-noir, he also helped jump-start an indie film revolution.

The episode also diverts temporarily into a discussion about jalapeno sausage crazy, which is both apropos to Tarantino dialogue and pursuant to the core values of this podcast. Alright ramblers, ramble on over and download this week’s show.

And hey, if you’d like to nominate Junkfood Cinema for a Podcast Award, you can do so via this link.  (Maybe the People’s Choice and/or Movies/Films categories why not?)

You should follow Brian (@Briguysalisbury), Cargill (@Massawyrm), and the show (@Junkfoodcinema).

Download Episode #41 Directly

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The Russian Woodpecker

Sundance Film Festival

Fedor Alexandrovich has the unkempt, bushy look of a Bolshevik or a doomsday prophet. He has some surprising things to say. The Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which happened when he was just a kid living nearby, may have been orchestrated by high ranking Soviet officials. An enormous radar facility may have been involved. Fedor has taken it upon himself to uncover these secrets, adding amateur journalist to a resume that includes artist, playwright and filmmaker. He might be Don Quixote and he might be Edward Snowden. And before the end of The Russian Woodpecker, filmmaker Chad Gracia‘s chronicle of this investigation, you may very well believe him.

The hunt begins at the Kiev Reservoir, where Fedor pours a bottle of red wine into the water as an offering to this now-radioactive lake. Red wine was supposed to have mitigated the effects of the contamination — though, like so many other facts from 1986, it seems suspicious. Equally suspicious is the monumental radar facility lurking a few kilometers south of the nuclear power plant. Now just as ghostly as the rest of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, this skeletal behemoth is at the center of Fedor’s theories.

READ MORE AT NONFICS

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Gotham Welcome Back Jim Gordon

FOX

Did anyone else get a massive hit of deja vu from last night’s Gotham? I couldn’t shake that black cat in the Matrix feeling through the entirety of “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon.” And upon closer examination, there’s a very basic reason why: “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon” may appear to be a shiny new Gotham, but it’s really just a Frankenstein’s monster of used Gotham plotlines, stapled together around the new (well, semi-new,  he popped up briefly last week) inclusion of Det. Arnold Flass (Dash Mihok).

Here’s what Gotham gave us last night, and why it was so deja vu-like.

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Girls Female Author

HBO

Normally Kate and Rob would be discussing the finer points of this blunt episode of Girls, but since they’re at Sundance, I have the privilege, and because I don’t want to ruin the format of their feature, I’m going to have a conversation about the episode despite being only one person. Hopefully it gets confusing.

Fortunately, “Female Author” was ridiculously straightforward. Jessa and Adam bonded over the coffee machine at AA, Marnie and Desi struggle with creative success and romantic failure, Hanna becomes the truth-teller of her writing workshop and Shoshana goes through a completely unnecessary job interview.

Overall, it felt like a filler episode, catching up with everyone in transition without showing any great action — granted, the show has dealt fairly casually even with the aftermath of large dramatic swings, too, but this episode felt especially like it was coasting. That’s not automatically a bad thing, especially for a show that doesn’t often catch its own breath, but let’s get to the conversation.

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Boba Fett and Han Solo

Lucasfilm Ltd.

One thing I know after seeing Godzilla is Gareth Edwards doesn’t need a good script to deliver a great blockbuster. I don’t think I could even tell you the plot from memory right now, and yet I stand by my opinion that the monster movie reboot was one of the most spectacular and thrilling pieces of cinema released last year. Before that, with Monsters, he wowed me with a tired story recycled from It Happened One Night by throwing in some giant aliens and crafty direction.

He could go ahead and make his Star Wars spin-off with no screenplay at all, and I’m sure I’d be happy. But I can’t speak for the rest of the franchise’s fans out there — especially if any overlap with the large group of people who hate what he did with Godzilla – and I certainly can’t speak for Disney and LucasFilm. They need a script, and according to The Hollywood Reporter, they’ve brought in Chris Weitz to deliver.

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Marker Films

Marker Films

Twelve year-old Adar (Shira Haas) lives with her mom, Alma (Keren Mor), and while her father left some time ago her mom’s boyfriend, Michael (Ori Pfeffer) has become a permanent part of their lives. He’s unemployed and spends his days at home, and over time he and Adar have developed a routine of playful role-playing where they take on personas and pretend to fight. He only refers to her as a he, his prince, but shortly after Adar gets her first period the game takes a darker turn. Michael crosses a devastating line, and the next day Adar’s aimless wandering brings her in contact with a boy named Alan (Adar Zohar-Hanetz) who bears a striking resemblance to her. Their silent introduction consists of mirrored movements and shared smiles, and when she brings him home to stay a few days her mom and Michael tentatively approve unaware of how his presence will affect them all.

Films about child abuse can’t (and shouldn’t) approach the devastation of the real thing, but that doesn’t make them any easier to watch. Writer/director Tali Shalom-Ezer‘s second feature, Princess, is a haunting and harrowing walk along the blurred line between the real world and the imagined one, and while it features a couple scenes guaranteed to pause your breath it presents this particular nightmare with fantastic beauty.

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Pervert Park

Sundance Film Festival

There were several walkouts during the screening I caught of Pervert Park. I don’t know what those people anticipated from a documentary about a community of sex offenders, but it is worth noting that however intense you think a film with that descriptor will be, this one will likely exceed those expectations. These sex offenders, some of whom committed absolutely insidious crimes, discuss said crimes with unsparing candor. Nothing about this film seeks to soften its subject matter.

What it does try to do is bring humanity to its characters. It’s a difficult proposition, especially in light of how it refuses to conceal their actions. But it works. These men and one woman tell their stories, and empathy is more powerful than the social conditioning that tells us all sex offenders are monsters. The truth is that many of them are themselves victims and that the system is failing to properly treat the abused, which perpetuates a cycle of further abuse.

READ MORE AT NONFICS

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Jemaine Clement in People, Places, Things

Beachside Films

Director Jim Strouse is excellent at conveying the emotional range of the adult male experience. It’s not something you might hear a lot, especially in the context of it being refreshing, mostly because just about every movie is delivered from the male perspective. But there’s something a little more special, insightful and tender about Strouse’s work. This began with the pain explored in the John Cusack-led Grace is Gone, continued with the failure management of the Sam Rockwell-led The Winning Season and has come to fruition once again in the fatherhood dramedy People, Places, Things starring Jemaine Clement.

Strouse has mastered the art of pairing the right leading man with the perfect emotional story. But there’s so much more to it.

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published: 01.27.2015
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published: 01.27.2015
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published: 01.26.2015
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published: 01.26.2015
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