Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"...AND TWINS!" - Ancient Chinese Beer Commercials

One of the great pleasures I experienced back when I had more free time to write and a semi-functional blog was the chance to check out unreleased genre flicks from a lot of young and talented filmmakers. Two of the most memorable talents I came across were Jen and Sylvia Soska, the twisted twins who started their rise to cult stardom with a little film called Dead Hooker in a Trunk.
"Wait, did he just say DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK?" - My mother
Yes, it's one of the most attention grabbing titles that I've ever encountered too. And in the summer of 2010, when a friend offered to share my address with them so I could check out a screener of a film by that title I couldn't resist the opportunity. Did I really expect anything from the movie, though? Not really. I mean, how good can a movie called Dead Hooker in a Trunk really be? You know that part of your brain that always doubts things it shouldn't doubt? That part of your brain can be super wrong sometimes.

So Dead Hooker in a Trunk showed up on my doorstep - not literally, don't freak out FBI - and it's safe to say I loved it from the minute I saw it. It was as raw and as brutal as you would expect a film from two young filmmakers on no budget, but it had this strange poetry to its ridiculous plot. I feel weird when I say that it played out like some kind of psychotic fairy tale, but that's the way the film felt to me. There's a heart underneath it.
Isn't the hooker supposed to be dead? YOU HAD ONE JOB!
There are a select few truly independent movies - in other words, ones made for no budget by everyday people, not "independent" movies A-list stars do to pad their resume - that I saw during my early blogging days that inspired me to change the way I approach independent cinema. Despite its ridiculous title and plot, Dead Hooker in a Trunk is one of them. And it inspired me to keep my eye on these talented filmmakers as they move forward.

(Cheap plug for three other indie flicks that fit the above criteria: Gregg Holtgrewe's Dawning, Mike Flanagan's Absentia, and Elisabeth Fies' The Commune. The first two are on Instant Netflix, the latter is worth finding. There are so many great films that most people never know about, you guys. Go find them.)
The Soskas rose in popularity after Dead Hooker in a Trunk was picked up for DVD by the great folks at IFC Midnight, and their follow up film was an even bigger success. American Mary was teased by the Sisters in late 2010 and released to much fanfare in 2012 thanks to the casting of horror favorite Katharine Isabelle and its unique look at the strange world of body modification. I really didn't know what to expect from the film, but I felt pretty sure I was willing to buy whatever these directors were offering as film number two. Blind faith can hurt a film fan, but it's still pretty great most of the time.
I will never understand why Katharine Isabelle is not in everything. The girl is fantastic.
I finally caught up with that film last summer when it was released on home video, and once again found myself impressed by the depth that the filmmakers brought to their subject. There's plenty of splatter once again, but Isabelle - a criminally underused talent - brings such presence to the lead role and the sisters surround her with so many fascinating and bizarrely unique characters that the film becomes instantly memorable. It's a darker tale than their debut film was, but it still has that surprising power in it that made Dead Hooker in a Trunk rise above being just a splatter fest.

The announcement of the Soskas' third film was another surprise. This time, the sisters were picked to direct the slasher sequel See No Evil 2 for WWE Studios. If you don't remember See No Evil - a theatrically released horror film starring "The Big Red Monster" Kane, you're probably better off than most people who saw it. I hate it when I have to say that a film was no good - but See No Evil was pretty much no good. It's hard to make a slasher film that's no fun at all - but the folks at WWE Studios did it with that film.

Which brings us to the reason I'm writing this all down (and I'm sure some jackass in the peanut gallery just shouted "FINALLY!" - Today's release of See No Evil 2 on home video. I've been too impressed with the Soskas for too long - both by their films and their endless charms on social media - to not check this one out. And there's nowhere to go but up, right? I mean, it can't be worse than See No Evil, right?
No, it can't.
Ohhhh, Kane. I see what you did there. You rascal.
I just finished watching that film, and I feel comfortable saying the Soskas have another success on their hands. This is surely a safer film than their previous efforts - with WWE paying the bills some of the more risque parts of their style have been left out of the film - but it's still got more than enough blood to keep slasher fans happy. Isabelle is once again perfectly cast - the showdown involving her character, a surely doomed boyfriend (Lee Majdoub), and Kane's Jacob Goodnight is probably my favorite sequence in the film - and Danielle Harris, another horror fan favorite, uses her slasher film experience to carry the picture from the lead.

I wasn't sold on See No Evil 2 for much of its run time, but there are some genuine surprises in the final act of the film to go a long with a lot of good slashing, and a few truly humorous moments. It takes a special filmmaker (or two, in this case) to make the viewer laugh out loud shortly after a surprising kill, but the Soskas pull it off in their solid finale. It's not a top-of-the-line slasher by any means, but it's a lot of fun and I'll surely watch it again when I need a bloody fix.

It's that balance between their macabre sensibilities and their gleeful exuberance about having fun with the audience that has made it such a unique treat to witness the Soskas' path through genre cinema over the last four years. Their path isn't stopping here - WWE Studios has brought them back to make an action film called Vendetta - starring another gigantic in-ring star, The Big Show - and they're next slated to adapt girl-power comic heroine Painkiller Jane. I'm excited to see what happens next. I'm pretty sure it'll be extremely entertaining. (And if they can keep casting Katharine Isabelle it'll be a major win too.)

Jen and Sylvia, I salute you for a successful trio of films. Keep making us horror fans proud!

Thursday, October 09, 2014

"I'm not exactly a guy who makes new friends easily." - Tom Petty

(Man, I feel like everybody would want to be friends with Tom Petty. He's a cool dude. But that's not what we're here to talk about. I just felt like saying it.)

New Friends: The Mike's Five Favorite Movies of the 2010s 
(So Far) (Plus A Lot More Movies)

When it comes to movies, I'm a lot like Mr. Petty's quote above. I like lots and lots and lots of movies - probably far too many movies - but very few new movies replace my older, more established favorite films in my heart. But recently I was reading about some peoples' favorite movies of the last five-ish years and it got me thinking about the movies I'd pick to be my favorites of that time span. And the more I thought about, the more it surprised me and became something I think I should write about. So that's what I'm doing.

Before we get to that arbitrary five - because lists pretty much have to go in fives and tens, you know - I'm gonna rattle off some honorable mentions and runners-up, naturally. Asking me to only mention five movies is not a realistic suggestion. Not one bit.  
Honorable Mentions (aka, movies I like a ton):
(in alphabetical order) (release year and director following each title) (extra set of parentheses to make things weird)
The Aggression Scale (2012, Steven C. Miller), Black Death (2010, Christopher Smith), Black Swan (2010, Darren Aronofsky), Blue Caprice (2013, Alexandre Moors), Cheap Thrills (2013, E.L. Katz), Django Unchained (2012, Quentin Tarantino), Drinking Buddies (2013, Joe Swanberg), A Horrible Way To Die (2010, Adam Wingard), Joe (2013, David Gordon Green), Kill List (2011, Ben Wheatley), Need for Speed (2014, Scott Waugh), Our Idiot Brother (2011, Jesse Peretz), Rubber (2010, Quentin Dupieux), Some Guy Who Kills People (2011, Jack Perez), Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010, Eli Craig), We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011, Lynne Ramsey), Zero Dark Thirty (2012, Kathryn Bigelow)

A few comments I feel I need to make:
  • Yeah, that's lots of horror.
  • Need For Speed is on the list. Yeah, I said it. I had a lot of fun watching it a couple of weeks ago and I threw it in now. Maybe I'm riding the adrenaline high still, or maybe I'm just high.
  • Had to throw some Nic Cage on the list. Joe rocks.
  • Most atypical film for me on the list? Drinking Buddies. Not something I thought I'd like, but Joe Swanberg's story is so well drawn and the actors make it feel real. Great stuff.
Runners-Up (aka, movies I like a ton, and also a little more than the last set of movies)
(same rules as above)
Absentia (2011, Mike Flanagan), The Avengers (2012, Joss Whedon), Edge of Tomorrow (2014, Doug Liman), Evil Dead (2013, Fede Alvarez), Godzilla (2014, Gareth Edwards), Mud (2012, Jeff Nichols), Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011, Rupert Wyatt), The Social Network (2010, David Fincher), Stake Land (2010, Jim Mickle), Stoker (2013, Chan-wook Park), Take Shelter (2011, Jeff Nichols), Your Sister's Sister (2011, Lynn Shelton).

More comments:
  • A lot of personal nerdy favorites here. Despite the dissenters, no one will convince me Evil Dead or Godzilla aren't great additions to their franchises. And The Avengers is just swell.
  • Edge of Tomorrow just hit home video and if you didn't see it - odds are you didn't, considering its box office failure - you need to do so now. It's such a wonderfully fun movie.
  • I doubled down on Jeff Nichols, and rightfully so. Both Take Shelter and Mud are powerhouse flicks led by actors at the top of their game.
  • Emily Blunt is a recurring theme on this list as we keep going. Not ashamed. I lurve her soooooooo much.
First Runners-Up (aka, movies I like a ton, and also movies that I seriously thought should be in the Top 5)
  •  The Cabin in the Woods (2012, Drew Goddard) - Is this the most fun movie of the last five years? For me, it might be. Such a fantastic twist on horror cliches, played with a perfect dose of comedy by Goddard and co-writer Joss Whedon. The perfect movie for horror fans who loved Whedon's work on Angel, which I certainly did.
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014, Joe & Anthony Russo) - I'm still shocked by how much I like this movie. The first Captain flick was fun, but it might have been my least favorite film in Marvel's recent run. And then this sequel showed up, helmed by unheralded comedy writers, and became the most thrilling action movie in a long time. Robert Redford adds instant credibility to the film, and Chris Evans is just such a perfect choice to play Cap. The effects are amazing, the pace never lets up, and it feels like one of those '90s action movies I love so much. That's a big compliment coming from me.
  • Frances Ha (2012, Noah Baumbach) - I want my own Greta Gerwig. Is that weird? That's probably weird. My point is that she's a true star in Baumbach's black-and-white coming of age story, which highlights the life of a young woman who's just trying to make it through life and hits on a lot of truths about growing up. It's infectious and sweet, and just makes me smile a lot.
  • I Saw the Devil (2010, Kim Jee-woon) - Man, this movie is brutal. Revenge has rarely seemed as personal as it does in this one, where Byung Hun-lee tracks and brutalizes a sociopathic serial killer played by Oldboy's Min-sik Choi. It's one of those movies that has to be seen to be believed, and can't be unseen once it's been seen. That sounds ridiculous, but in the case of this movie it's 100% true.
  • Moneyball (2011, Bennett Miller) - Brad Pitt in the front office of a baseball team with Jonah Hill as his plucky assistant shouldn't be really great, but this movie is really great. Pitt can carry any kind of film, but his quirky personality comes off genuine here and the details of the story are handled deftly by Miller. Plus there's some Aaron Sorkin in the script, and Aaron Sorkin is an instant win in my book. This flick just pops off the screen.
  • Pacific Rim (2013, Guillermo del Toro) - Remember earlier when I got really nerdy excited about Godzilla and The Avengers and Evil Dead? This movie makes me even more nerdy excited. It's not for fans of acting or conventional drama, but it is a larger than life spectacle that had me drooling all over myself for more than two hours the first time I saw it. My first experience with this kaiju epic will surely be one of the great memories of my film-going life.
  •  You're Next (2011, Adam Wingard) - Another movie that's here mostly because it's just more fun than other movies. It's the best of several horror film worlds put together - home invasion, slasher, and splatterfest; to name a few - with a ton of indie talent coming together for a movie that I can watch on repeat that keeps a smile on my face every time.
 OK, so are you ready for the five I picked as my top five? I sure am. This list turned into something entirely different, didn't it?
The Mike's Five Favorite Movies of the 2010s (So Far)
(we're sticking with alphabetical order, rankings are far too difficult)

(2012, Rian Johnson)

A sci-fi/action/drama that's surprisingly poignant, Looper is one of those movies that looked too good to be true. Miraculously, writer/director Rian Johnson avoided several potential snags that can derail this kind of film- too much romance, bad child acting, gimmicky plot twists - and created one of the most heartfelt sci-fi films I've ever seen.

Looper is carried by strong lead performances by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt, yet the surprising star of the film is young Pierce Gagnon as the child at the center of the film's generation spanning plot. His role is the most crucial piece of the film, and any slight slips could have knocked the wind out of the whole show. Johnson, who had deftly maneuvered through the neo-noir Brick with Gordon-Levitt a few years earlier, has shown a skill for getting the best out of his cast and putting them in the right spot, and what the filmmaker and crew do to help this youngster in such a significant role is amazing.

Looper has just the right mix of all of its parts - there's enough action to keep the pace racing, enough drama to keep us on the hook and even a little romance to keep the characters' lives interesting. It's a perfectly drawn film that belongs with the best Earthbound sci-fi films of all-time.

Martha Marcy May Marlene
(2011, Sean Durkin)

Elizabeth Olsen - younger sister of the infamous Olsen twins - is the best young actress in the world today.

Yeah, you read that right. I said it. I mean it.

You might not have seen it yet in her mainstream roles - she's most known to the masses for her thankless role in last summer's Godzilla reboot (I loved the movie as a G-fan, but was disappointed that she was given little to do) - but Martha Marcy May Marlene shows off one of the most intense and wonderful performances by an actress that I've seen.

This certainly isn't a film for everyone - it's a brutal depiction of what time in a cult can do to someone - but it's filled with strong performances by talents like John Hawkes and Sarah Paulson and does a great job of working its story between the main character's time in the cult and her attempts to reenter the real world.

At the center of it all is Olsen, who gives a heartbreaking performance as this truly tortured character. I think she's more than enough to make this movie engrossing, and it's been stuck in my head since the first time I laid eyes on it. This is an intense dramatic masterpiece.

(2010, Gareth Edwards)

Gareth Edwards was dream choice for the new Godzilla film for me after this poetic sci-fi film about two Americans making their way through an alien infested Latin America while giant freakin' monsters roamed around. Despite the title and the presence of said monsters, Edwards showed off a skill for making us feel like there are big things around while focusing in on the personal moments between characters.

(One could argue that the lack of those personal moments - or at least personal moments that felt genuine - was a problem with Edwards' Godzilla. I can see that point. I still love it and am gonna keep loving it.)

Monsters isn't really the kind of movie that most fans of old-school kaiju films like the Godzilla series are looking for. I think it's more of a road movie in which two characters come to know each other while dealing with the fate that surrounds them. Kind of like Titanic, but with amazing scenery and huge monsters. And that's way better than anything with Celine Dion on the soundtrack in my book.

Safety Not Guaranteed 
(2012, Colin Trevorrow)

We move from the guy who moved on to direct to Godzilla to the guy who has moved on to direct the upcoming Jurassic Park sequel - which proves unequivocally that these are my kinds of filmmakers.

Safety Not Guaranteed is another time travel movie, but this one's all about a guy (The League's Mark Duplass) who claims he has a time machine and the reporters (Parks and Recreation's Aubrey Plaza, New Girl's Jake Johnson, all those funny cell phone commercials with nerds' Karan Soni) who try to investigate his strange classified ad.

The cast of people who are all over your TV sets (none of whom I really knew anything about when I first saw the film, coincidentally) are fantastic together, with Johnson showing off the comedic skills that have made him a breakout star and Duplass and Plaza working well together in a mismatched romance. Like Monsters, this is a movie about relationships that puts its characters in a "what if?" situation. The questions that the film asks - What if the time machine works? What if the guy's completely crazy  What if the government is really chasing this guy? - and the approach Colin Trevorrow and his cast use make Safety Not Guaranteed a heartwarming movie with some beautiful moments of pure humanity. The ending will make you pump your fist in appreciation too.

Sleepwalk With Me
(2012, Mike Birbiglia & Seth Barrish)

Probably the most personal pick on this list for me, even though I'm not really sure why I identify with this film so well. Comedian Mike Birbiglia tells a fictional accounting of his own life - which he also stars in - and does an amazing job of weaving this film together.

A large part of the film is of course filled with Birbiglia's journey to becoming one of the most known comedians in the world, but along the ride we also get a look at his perspective on relationships and his personal problems - including the sleep disorder that is referenced in the title - and everything comes together and just feels honest and touching.

Sleepwalk With Me is a rare film because it feels like this man is baring himself for the camera and airing all his dirty laundry in public. The ability to do that and keep the crowd not only laughing at what you're saying but also caring about what you're saying is certainly important when you're a comedian, but I think the introspective approach we see from this character is a key to success in any walk of life. I'm not sure how much of Mike Birbiglia's story here is true, but it feels true. And that's a feat that lots of accomplished filmmakers can't achieve.

So that's the list. It went on too long and it might have gotten boring at times, but I'm a film nerd and I can't not be a film nerd. I hope you'll check out some of these films if you think they seem interesting, there's nothing better to a film nerd than spreading the love to your favorite films. It feels weird to call these some of my favorite films - like Petty said way back at the beginning, I'm not much for new relationships - but writing about them sure makes me feel like these are some movies that just might stand the test of time. Writing about them has me ready to start watching them all again.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"Every great film should seem new every time you see it." - Roger Ebert

The Mike's Favorite DVD/Blu-Ray Releases of 2014
(So Far)
Part 2
No good list has just one part. Heck, I'm pretty sure that's what college was all about. All those syllabuses or syllabi or syllables that professors handed out had tons of different parts to them. And that's what you have to do to get a degree. Therefore, I believe that lists with multiple parts are what make you a scholar. It's science.

My list of my favorite flicks-on-discs so far this year started with my favorite lesser known new flicks, and you can check them out in Part 1 by clicking somewhere in this part where I typed clicking somewhere in this part.  Now, I'm here to talk about some of the most fun older films released on Blu-ray for the first time in 2014.

Note - same disclaimer as last time: there's a lot of horror. A zebra can't change his stripes and a horror blogger can't either.

Let's get to it! 
The Mike's Favorite Older Movies Released on Blu-ray in 2014 (So Far)
Die Monster Die - 1965 - Blu-ray - January 21, 2014 - Scream Factory
It's a goofy H.P. Lovecraft adaptation that surely doesn't do justice to the text of H.P. Lovecraft, but it sure is a fun little spastic '60s horror film. What it lacks in plot is made up for by vibrant colors and strange visuals, not to mention the presence of the icon, Boris Karloff. This is a rather bare bones disc by the folks over at Scream Factory, but the price is adjusted for the lack of special features and the film sure looks cool in HD.

Frankenstein Created Woman - 1967 - Blu-ray - January 28, 2014 - Millennium Entertainment/Hammer Films
It's hard being a Hammer addict in the blu-ray era, as most of their greatest films are currently held by companies like Warner and Universal that have pumped the brakes on production of physical media. Thankfully we still have a few Hammer classics that could get blu release here in the U.S., led by this one last January. It's not my favorite Hammer Frankenstein film, but the special features - including a new documentary on the women of Hammer - and the cool lobby cards included in the package help make this a must own for nerds like me.

Foreign Correspondent - 1940 - Blu-ray & DVD - February 18, 2014 - Criterion Collection
Beautiful restoration of an early Alfred Hitchcock film that comes in a beautiful package. The combo pack offering comes with three discs and a ton of special features that cover one of Hitchcock's first American films, but I think it's most worth watching because it's one of Hitchcock's most atypical, grand scale films. (Plus, there are a lot of beautiful covers for the movies on this list, but this package is the one among them that had me looking for a drool napkin so I didn't mess it up because I was gawking at it so lustfully when I opened it. So it's got that goin' for it, which is nice.)

The Visitor - 1979 - Blu-Ray & DVD - March 4, 2014 - Drafthouse Films
Probably the weirdest movie restored to home video in 2014, this trippy horror film from Italian director Giulio Paradisi (under the pseudonym Michael J. Paradise) features an A-list cast (Glenn Ford is even in it!) and bizarre visuals and a whole lot of stuff that doesn't make any sense. But man, is it fun to watch. I don't know who was looking around at old movies and said "Hey, check out this thing! Let's restore and re-release this!" but I'd definitely like to shake that person's hand. (Author's note - I'm not stoned.)

Sorcerer - 1977 - Blu-ray & DVD - April 22, 2014 - Warner Brothers
I don't want to spoiler the rest of the list, but I'm just gonna say it now - this is the best disc of the year. By far. I'd heard for a long time that this was William Friedkin's third masterpiece of the 1970s, but no complete version of the film seemed to exist on home video. Warner Brothers finally did the right thing for this film, as Friedkin himself supervised this new transfer which is the prettiest thing I've seen this year. And if that's not enough, the film was given a mega cool Blu-ray book package, complete with liner notes from Friedkin and some cool special features. This is the rare disc that proves how relevant home video still can be.

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats - 1977 - Blu-ray - June 3, 2014 - Cult Epics
OK, so maybe The Visitor isn't the weirdest film restored to home video in 2014. If you're like me you see the title - Death Bed: The Bed That Eats - and you get an image of a certain kind of film in your head. If you're like me, that image is probably wrong compared to what this movie actually is. It's not just a movie where a bed eats people, it's a movie where a bed eats people and the whole thing seems like a weird Andy Warhol painting and kind of makes you think it's actually legitimate art. Yeah, I know that sounds crazy. But it's a movie called Death Bed: The Bed That Eats and it's on blu-ray and it's 2014 and the world is a beautiful place, man. (I'm really not stoned, I swear.)

The Legend of Billie Jean - 1985 - Blu-ray - July 22, 2014 - Mill Creek Entertainment
Normally I wouldn't put a bare bones blu-ray from bargain bin company Mill Creek on a list like this, especially when the film on the disc doesn't really seem all that high definition. But The Legend of Billie Jean is a curiously fun '80s flick that puts a modern twist on the story of Joan of Arc and it's just pretty cool to see a movie like this finally getting a release that's not on a DVR and is incredibly cheap. I'm sure another company could have done more for this film's disc debut, but it's at least nice to have the movie out there now.

Ginger Snaps - 2000 - Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack - July 22, 2014 - Scream Factory
Most horror movies made in the DVD era have been released and re-released a handful of times already, so it was always curious to me that Ginger Snaps - a fantastic werewolf tale that is a testament to women in horror too - has always been only available in one old pan & scan edition. The folks at Scream Factory are smart enough to know that this film deserved better, and the restored version makes the film look brand new while also featuring a ton of great special features. This is a disc that truly needed to be made, so hugs to the Scream crew one more time. (Note - You guys might want to get a restraining order against me if you don't like hugs. Just sayin'.)

Curtains - 1983 - Blu-ray - July 29, 2014 - Synapse Films
This movie can't look as good as it does on this blu-ray. I just don't believe it. And yet, it does. It's not the best slasher movie of the early '80s, for sure, but I firmly believe every slasher movie deserves to be treated like a classy lady and Synapse has treated Curtains as such. And this thing is worth it for the ice skating scene alone. Trust me.

Leviathan - 1989 - Blu-ray - August 19, 2014 - Scream Factory
Scream Factory is back again - the prices are high (and this one seems to have bumped up since release, sadly), but they are still killing it. Leviathan is a personal favorite that plays like a cheesy deep sea version of Alien. I love the cast (Peter Weller! Ernie Hudson! Amanda Pays! Daniel Stern! Evil Bitch Meg Foster! Hector Elizondo!), I love the bizarre gore, and I LOVE the final moments, even if they're a little un-PC these days. Not enough special features for my liking, but I think I might be the only person that wants to analyze Leviathan forever, so I guess I'll give them a pass here.

Pumpkinhead - 1988 - Blu-ray - September 6, 2014 - Scream Factory
This has never been one of my favorite horror films - good gosh, there's some terrible actors in the supporting cast and the pacing is a little slow at times - but man have I always loved that monster. Stan Winston is one of the greatest things that ever happened to movies, and his lone directorial effort is a testament to what he could do with special effects. Scream Factory might have produced their best disc here, fill of interesting features and offering a beautiful version of the film. Worth the price tag and more.
There are no doubt a lot of other great discs that have come out this year, but unfortunately I can only afford some of them without giving up all of my social life and food to the DVD Gods. I'm sure I'll have a update to the list later in the year - this fall looks pretty stacked for the horror scene and there are plenty of titles I've missed thus far.

If you produced a disc that you wish was on this list, feel free to send it to me for consideration. :)

As always, hit up the comments and tell me what you like/dislike/want to talk about/had for dinner/etc. And buy some movies. It's good for you. I promise.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"Movies are like an expensive form of therapy for me." - Tim Burton

The Mike's Favorite DVD/Blu-Ray Releases of 2014
(So Far)
 Part 1
For genre lovers like myself it's a pretty great time to still be a collector of movies on disc, even if we're long past the DVD heyday of the early 2000s. Digital copies are being pushed down our throats and physical media is hidden in corners of many stores but, as you're about to see, there are still a lot of great little companies putting out interesting independent stuff and well-restored editions of cult classics. It's been a relatively slow year of film collection for me - relative to my own high standards, that is - but I've still been pretty stoked to add some really fun new discs to my collection this year.

What follows is a list in two parts, and it's best that I probably start with a comment on the discs I'm excluding from this post. You can no doubt guess that modern release like Gravity or Captain America: The Winter Soldier have been given fine treatment by the studios behind them. However, I will not be covering them here. You don't need me to remind you that you liked that movie you already saw.

What I will be covering are firstly releases of lesser-known independent and low budget films you might not be acquainted with; and secondly releases of older films that are everything that (and sometimes more than) fans of the film could hope for. The first will occur right here, the second will be coming up in the near future.

Note 1 - Yeah, these are mostly horror flicks. It's what I like and it's what's being released. If someone had restored The Limey or The Spanish Prisoner or Big Daddy (say what you want, but Sandler had a winning streak in the last 90s) maybe I'd be talking about them. But horror has the niche and the niche is where things sell these days

Note 2 - I'm not a big special features guy, so don't expect an in depth analysis of each disc. However, there are some good things I'll point out to you.

Now, let's get talkin' about Part 1 of this list. (And yes, those are Amazon links with each title. I'm enabling you, I admit it.)

The Mike's Favorite Lesser Known New Movies on DVD/Blu-Ray of 2014 (So Far)
Haunter - DVD & Blu-ray - Feb 11, 2014 - IFC Midnight
A haunted house riff on Groundhog Day, led by Abigail Breslin and the always cool Stephen McHattie. Cube and Splice director Vincenzo Natali keeps the flick moving with a catchy plot and some well done suspense. It's a relatively cheap disc too (both the blu and DVD run under $10 right now) and it should be perfect for those October nights when non-horror fans want to watch horror movies.

Here Comes The Devil - DVD & Blu-Ray - March 18, 2014 - Magnet Releasing
A few years ago Magnet was probably the king of genre home video. They were nailing the horror/cult market, picking up great films like Monsters, The Innkeepers, Hobo With a Shotgun, and more. Their pickings have been a little slimmer over the last few years, but they still hit an occasional home run. This year their best offering might be this Mexican horror film full of evil children, evil sex, and strange twists. It's been a divisive film with critics, but I'm a big fan. There's a dream sequence that's the modern horror equivalent of Rosemary's Baby.

Low - DVD - March 25, 2014 - Brink
I saw Low a few years ago while reviewing independent screeners and it's stuck with me since. I was shocked to find it on DVD earlier this year, but not surprised at the success of this little thriller. A game of cat-and-mouse between a woman and man in the English countryside, Low provides gripping twists while showing off beautiful scenery. I saw a screener on blu-ray when I first met this film, but the released DVD from Brink doesn't suffer in quality.

Nurse 3D - Blu-Ray/Blu-ray 3D - April 8, 2014 - Lionsgate
Yes, I feel guilty about this one. A violent twist on Single White Female with a bizarre lead performance by Paz de la Huerta, who might spend more time unclothed than clothed in the film. And yet it feels like something of a genuine relic, a throwback to the kind of bizarre drive-in film one might see in the late 1970s mixed with the ridiculous modern 3D gore craze. I find this movie's existence rather comforting.

Escape From Tomorrow - DVD & Blu-Ray - April 29, 2014 - Random Media
This movie doesn't exactly work, but man is it fascinating to watch. Why is it so fascinating? Because you would never expect this film to have been made. Director Randy Moore and his cast and crew made this tale - about a man who goes crazy dealing with a middle age crisis and sexual frustration while visiting a theme park - was filmed guerrilla style at Disney World in black & white. There are several special features that recount the amazing story of how this movie even happened and avoided the wrath of Disney, and cynical movie lovers will probably get a big kick out of it.

Raze - DVD - May 20, 2014 - IFC Midnight
Raze is a movie that is entirely about women beating the hell out of each other, and I admit that I felt kind of dirty watching it. I also kind of loved it. Stuntwoman extraordinaire Zoe Bell (of Death Proof fame) stars as the alpha woman of this underground Fight Club/Hunger Games while genre notables Doug Jones and Sherilyn Fenn eat up some screen time as well. It's an incredibly involving film, and I found myself physically rooting for characters as if it were a real sporting event. The disc is packed with extras too, and the behind the scenes information provided is pretty interesting. I wonder why there's no blu-ray though.

Cheap Thrills - DVD & Blu-ray - May 27, 2014 - Drafthouse Films
A fantastic cast - led by Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, Sara Paxton and a perfectly cast David Koechner - makes this story of two men pitted against each other (and themselves) to earn some money become a memorable dark comedy. One of the most brutal films you'll see this year, and the perfectly odd Drafthouse Films label does the film justice with a lot of special features and a fine transfer of the film. Drafthouse's discs can be a little pricey out of the gate, but this one's definitely worth it. It's a really fantastic flick, the kind of movie that makes me grin from ear to ear and wish there were more like it.
All Cheerleaders Die - DVD & Blu-Ray - July 22, 2014 - Image Entertainment
One of the most exciting horror comedies I've seen in a while, which plays like the movie Jennifer's Body would have been if it weren't so interested in making stars of its cast and writer. It's got a weird mix of horror - offering evil macho male football players alongside re-animated cheerleaders and some rune stone witchcraft - but co-directors Chris Sivertson and Lucky McKee keep it moving at a brisk pace and seem pretty sure of themselves here. The end title card lists the film as All Cheerleaders Die: Part One, and I sure hope there's a Part II somewhere in the future.

That's all for today, but feel free to hit up the comment box. If you aren't a movie hoarder like me, you'll be pleased to know that several of these films are currently on that popular Netflix thing and other streaming services. I can't promise you'll like them, that's on you.

Come back soon for Part 2, in which I'll cover my favorite older films released on Blu-Ray in 2014 so far!

Friday, September 05, 2014

"Pictures and shapes are but secondary objects and please or displease only in the memory." - Francis Bacon

The Mike's #cinephilephoto Diary

There's this thing going on on the twitter where someone decided it would be a good idea to start this thing about the cinephilephoto with one of them hashtags, presumably to make all of us OCD movie freaks go into nerdiness overdrive.  And boy howdy, did it work.  I kept watching people post favorite images from their favorite movies (as far as I can gather, that seems to be the only goal of the process) and started getting a billion images running through my mind from my favorite - and even some of my not-so-favorite - movies.  I was terrified that someone would nominate me and I'd have to pick an image, so I just sat back and watched and wondered.

And then three people nominated me.

So now I've posted three images, and been pretty impressed with my own eye for awesomeness, but then I felt - much like the guy I quoted above, who's probably Kevin Bacon's grandpa - that the pictures alone didn't tell my story completely.

Luckily, that's what a blog's for.

Here are the three images I've posted before, complete with a) my analysis of what they are, and b) why I picked them. Because I love them and want to keep them forever, basically.
#cinephilephoto No. 1 - That part in Vertigo where Jimmy's a creep and Kim's so freaking beautiful.
So when I first got nominated (by the wicked cool Brett Gallman) the movie that was stuck in my head was Vertigo. Vertigo isn't my favorite movie, but it's probably top 5 and I really struggle to think of a more engaging sequence in film history than the one where Jimmy Stewart's character first trails the mysterious woman played by Kim Novak.   

So, the shot I ended up posting is the one above. I'm gonna say that now, because the next paragraph is going to sound insane. If you're just interested in which picture I picked, look at it and then skip ahead.

I actually racked my brain pretty hard for which shot to use from this sequence. The moment that stuck with me was when Novak sits and stares at the portrait of the mysterious Carlotta while we see Stewart's Scottie Ferguson staring at her from a distance. The best capture of it I could get looks a lot like this -
Click to make more big, obviously.
Click to make more big, obviously.
- but I just wasn't sold on that being the best image. That statue bugs me, it's a little out of focus (That's the DVD's fault, not Hitchcock's) and unless your screen is REALLY big it doesn't convey the scope I feel this moment deserves.  So then I looked at some other moments -
This one almost won because of the hazy dreamlike cemetery with modern stuff in the distance.
- and then I stumbled back to the moment I picked, where I wanted to just grab an image of Novak walking through the beautiful flower shop.

And then I stumbled into that moment where Stewart peeks through the door and we see his eye while also seeing Novak's reflection and my brain exploded with shouts of "AHHHHHHHHHHH! That's perfect!!!"  So, after about a half hour of grabbing a second by second series of images I finally settled on the one above - because her hair is past the edge of the mirror and the dudes in the distance background have good posture - and that's the image I posted and I love it a lot.

#cinephilephoto No. 2 - Laurie Zimmer being a bad mammajamma in Assault on Precinct 13
Ok, so then the second nomination came (from the coolness of Horrorella and her friend The Fly) and I knew that I had thought way too long and hard about my first pick.

This time I knew I wanted to use a John Carpenter film and I always feel like Assault on Precinct 13 is his most under-loved film (I'd say it's my second favorite, behind Halloween) so I pretty much made my mind up on the spot I was doing something from it.

Despite my love for the film's antihero, Napoleon Wilson, I've been deciding over recent years that Laurie Zimmer's Leigh is a strong challenger for most badass character in the film and one of my favorite realistic and tough women in action cinema. I really wanted to use a shot from late in the film where she has to take on an intruding gang member at close range that looked a lot like this -
- because she looks amazingly fierce in this scene and you can just see her realizing what she has to do and not flinching when faced with such a dire situation.
Trouble is, this is not by any means Carpenter's cleanest film, from a visual standpoint and the technology I have (a laptop with a DVD player and an old Image Entertainment DVD) aren't great. I took six images of the scene in question and none were exactly what I wanted because of the grain and the smoke and whatnot. So, I backtracked again and got the image that I posted from a much cleaner shot early in the film - sadly, before her arm got that awesome makeshift bandage after she took a bullet like a champ - because she still looks fierce and there's the Coca-Cola machine in the back and I just think Assault on Precinct 13 and Laurie Zimmer's performance are swell.

#cinephilephoto No. 3 - Arnold in the video store in Last Action Hero.
My third, and thus far final, nomination came up early this morning (from the amazingly named Isaacs Haunted Beard) and his light-hearted image of the great Ernest P. Worrell got me thinking that I needed to post an image a little more fun this time around.

And, to me, nothing's more fun than Arnold Schwarzenegger in a video store. I mean, you've got a poster for Bram Stoker's Dracula, you've got random videos of The Road Warrior and Dead Calm and Field of Dreams in the cluttered background, you've got a girl that looks like Nicholson's wife from Batman, you've even got mega-babe Angie Everhart in the far back corner.

All of that's perfect - but then there's Arnold as Jack Slater too. Man, I love Last Action Hero. It's a misunderstood classic, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise.*
You gotta know I almost picked the scene where Arnold does Hamlet, but I just assumed some dope would mistake it for him playing Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin and I'd feel bad. Plus, video stores are my favorite.
My #cinephilephoto journey is over (for now), but it's always a blast to see movie nerds come together and be nerdy. If you're in on this wacky trend, let me know so I can find you and admire your visual handiwork.

* I don't plan to actually fight anyone. Make movies, not war. Hugs.

Monday, September 01, 2014

"I Don't Know Where I'm Going. But I Sure Know Where I've Been." - Whitesnake

 From The Cinema Vaults: Joyride
There's something surprisingly genuine about a movie in which a trio of youngsters - all played by children of Hollywood stars - head off to Alaska because they're fed up with life. That's the hook of Joyride, a 1977 drama by director Joseph Ruben. Although the flick never really reaches great heights, it's an interesting place to start.

Desi Arnaz Jr., Robert "Revenge of the Nerds" Carradine, and nineteen year old Melanie Griffith star as the newcomers to blue collar Alaska who quickly learn nothing - from holding a job to paying for booze to winning a pissing contest - is quite as easy as they thought it would be up north. So of course they turn to crime, eventually finding themselves wanted for robbery and taking in a hostage (played by Anne Lockhart, daughter of June, making her another Hollywood baby) as they try to get free from life's problems.

The most genuine aspect of the film is certainly the actors, each of whom are believable as down on their luck youngsters despite their real life lineage. Arnaz Jr. never made it big as an actor, but he's certainly the heart of the film here while Carradine seems to be channeling his older brother Keith as the angrier of the two men. Griffith shows some of her future talent but is overshadowed by Lockhart, who brings a confident edge to the film as she moves from prostitute to hostage to ally.
Like its lead characters, the film unfortunately seems to wander a bit too often. Despite the title this is not a fast paced thriller, and the introspective side of the drama isn't always engaging. The characters are richly developed as the film moves through the twists in their relationships, but it never feels very urgent. The final scenes convey the film's ideas on how the characters' lives have changed forever, but even then it feels like the changes haven't been too substantial.

Joyride is directed by Joseph Ruben, who was in between his start on low budget drive-in fare (The Sister-In-Law, The Pom Pom Girls) and a future that would include horror classic The Stepfather and Hollywood fare like Sleeping With The Enemy and The Good Son. He's one of those directors that nobody ever really talks about, despite the fact that he's made some good movies with A-List casts, but he's always been a steady hand as a director and you can see that here.  

Joyride never really becomes a profound coming-of-age tale - the script is a little too hollow and the stakes are never high enough to make us feel strongly about the characters' journey - but it has some beautiful photography and an engaging cast and that's enough to make me glad that I dug this one up for an afternoon viewing. If you come across it and are in the mood for a simple youth-in-revolt drama, you might dig it.

"Hi There" - Freddie "Boom Boom" Washington

My name's The Mike. You either know me already, or you don't. I can't decide which of those categories you fit into, so hopefully you know.

Those that know me know that I used to write a lot of stuff about horror and genre flicks at a blog called From Midnight, With Love. You can check it out, it's still there. I put the better part of five years into that site, and as time went on I grew pretty tired of it. 

I started blogging to have fun and share some stuff I love with people in the process. But somewhere along the way the fun wore out. It became a chore and I took it way too seriously and I just wasn't doing any good anymore. So then I decided to get even more ridiculous and try to move on to something bigger that I would take even more seriously and now I realize I was just driving myself crazy.

"I used to care, but things have changed." - Bob Dylan

Which brings us to now, and this blog. I miss talking about movies and putting my thoughts out there. I just don't want to take it so seriously. And I figured that it would be easier to just start a simple blog named after a screenshot from The Running Man (which serves as the site's logo, thanks Special Edition DVD) where I could ramble about whatever I want whenever I want than it would be to re-brand my old blog. 

I don't really know what my plan is here, but I hope you give it a read. If you like movies and other cool things there's a chance I might talk about some things you like. 

I also feel like it's fun to quote people, which is why this post contains not one but TWO quotations. Don't judge me.

I'll be back talking about stuff sometime soon. Pop on back and check it out.

Until next time,
The Mike

P.S. - Oh, and I'd really like to have a "mailbag" sometimes. If you're reading this, go to the box on the left side of the page and send me some feedback. You can tell me what you want me to talk about or ask me questions about things or even just say hi and tell me I'm dumb. Then I'll respond to stuff on the site and it will be fun. Or not. It's worth a shot though.