Friday Night Flix: The Believers

Welcome to Friday Night Flix, where there’s never a need to leave the couch or put on pants. Each week I’ll recommend an under-the-radar movie currently available on one or more of the major streaming platforms. They won’t all be classics, but every selection is guaranteed to be 100% watchable or your money back.

The Believers (Netflix) is not a move about Justin Bieber. It is an 80s horror/procedural thing starring Martin Sheen(!) as an I guess hearthrobby psychologist working with the NYPD. It’s a total product of its time what with the novelty of “Santaria” and “voodoo” and whatnot. It’s immensely fun.

If you haven’t seen it, definitely check this one out. Sheen is terrific even though the material is sorely dated. From the opening scene you know you’re not in a modern movie, the editing alone makes it feel totally goofy even though the events being depicted are totally tragic and horrifying.

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If you’re wondering if Sheen just so happens to have a Santaria practitioner as a maid, the answer is yes. This movie follows the religious horror playbook page by page and it is awesome.

Added bonus: Casual child abuse! At one point Sheen’s kid throws a fit and runs into traffic. How does President Bartlett explain the severity of the kid’s bonehead maneuver? He tans his hide in the middle of the street. It was a simpler time.

Friday Night Flix: Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

tuckeranddale4Welcome to Friday Night Flix, where there’s never a need to leave the couch or put on pants. Each week I’ll recommend an under-the-radar movie currently available on one or more of the major streaming platforms. They won’t all be classics, but every selection is guaranteed to be 100% watchable or your money back.

Welcome to October! Oh hot damn I love this month. I won’t be doing my 31-movie marathon this year because I am very busy, very important person you see. I will however use this space exclusively for horror for the next four weeks. Lucky you!

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To kick things off, we have Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (Netflix, Amazon). I actually reviewed this movie in 2011. I liked but didn’t love it then. It felt worth revisiting here because it’s grown in my memory into something more endearing.

Tucker and Dale are basically the reverse redneck horror cliche. They seem like they’re crazed killers, but they’re not. People just assume the worst and then when the worst starts happening, T&D get the blame. It’s a cute idea.

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As far as streamable horror comedy goes, you’re not likely to do much better than T&DvE. Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine are both so damn loveable, even if they’re not used entirely up to their potential.

Also, there’s this:

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Here’s what I had to say in 2011:

Despite its many flaws, the movie has a fair amount of genuinely decent laughs as Tudyk and Labine ad lib their way through what could have been extremely tedious relationship building. And for my money, Labine’s understated performance as a well-intentioned, insecure country oaf is by itself worth the price of admission.

Friday Night Flix: The Conspiracy

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Welcome to Friday Night Flix, where there’s never a need to leave the couch or put on pants. Each week I’ll recommend an under-the-radar movie currently available on one or more of the major streaming platforms. They won’t all be classics, but every selection is guaranteed to be 100% watchable or your money back.

The unimaginatively named The Conspiracy (Netflix) is a good looking, modestly budgeted attempt at a wide-angle conspiracy thriller shot in a manner to suggest a documentary. I don’t say mockumentary because it doesn’t adhere the conventions of real documentaries as mockumentaries generally do. Many scenes are clearly shot from two camera positions when supposedly only a single cameraman is in the room, etc. I’m not sure how much that will bother most audiences but it stuck out for me as a blemish on an otherwise thoughtful and well executed thriller.

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Jim and Aaron are two young filmmakers who pursue a crackpot conspiracy theorist after seeing a provocative viral video. Once the theorist appears to suffer the consequences of getting too close to the truth, whatever it might be, the would-be documentarians find themselves wrapped up in a steaming burrito of intrigue.

Despite its humble nature, The Conspiracy looks pretty slick. It’s well shot despite some contrivances (see above) and despite the ill-advised choice to simulate chest mounted button cams for a huge swath of the overlong, cartoonish climax. That climax is just about the only area where the direction runs off the rails, too.

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In general the dialogue feels natural. At times the the two men’s reactions stretch credibility but they always manage to snap back to plausibility. You’ll find yourself watching The Conspiracy thinking, “Oh bullshit. What about…” But before you get to the end of that thought, the movie answers the question. It’s being one step ahead of audience expectations that sets this movie apart from other shaky-cam investigatory thrillers.

Even as The Conspiracy‘s politi-corporate intrigue spirals out of all possible control and you question how this could ever conclude with either man surviving to tell the tale (at least one of them must since he’s narrating the movie), the screenplay delivers a satisfying if perhaps too tidy resolution.

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Added bonus: Ambitiousness. Not content to run just The New World Order up the flagpole, this movie makes time to tackle World War I, the Gulf of Tonkin, JFK, 9/11 and pretty much every other wacko theory you’ve ever heard of. If someone’s shouting about it on a street corner, odds are it’s in The Conspiracy.

 

Friday Night Flix: Frankenstein’s Army

fa6Welcome to Friday Night Flix, where there’s never a need to leave the couch or put on pants. Each week I’ll recommend an under-the-radar movie currently available on one or more of the major streaming platforms. They won’t all be classics, but every selection is guaranteed to be 100% watchable or your money back.

I hate when people call found footage a genre.

Say you criticize a found footage movie for making no logical sense, e.g., “How can the camera guy fight off a monster and record it at the same time?” Misguided defenders of such nonsense respond, “You just don’t like the genre, therefore you are bias.” (Don’t get me started on people who use bias as an adjective.)

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Found footage is not a genre. It’s not even a sub-genre. A sub-genre is a type within a type, like romantic comedy or supernatural thriller. Found footage is just a recording method, like shooting in black and white, or digital, or 3D. You don’t hear anyone saying black and white is a genre, or that black and white horror is a sub-genre. No one would argue that people who don’t like Eraserhead are biased against black and white. (See, people? THAT’s how you allege bias.)

Horror filmmakers tend to resort to found footage under the pretext of adding immediacy. More often that not though, the technique is actually used because it’s a cost saver. It requires less equipment, crew, time and, often, skill. So they use it, even if it’s not artistically ideal. I can live with that.

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Frankenstein’s Army (Netflix, $2.99 Amazon) has no such excuse. Despite being a non-theatrical, it likely had a seven figure budget. It features elaborate set dressing, loads of location shots, and dozens of unique creature designs. Granted, the creatures are somewhat hokey. Mostly they’re extras in Nazi garb with auto parts lashed to their arms, or refurbished appliances with legs. Still, such a huge volume of that stuff doesn’t come cheap. The found footage thing is therefore an artistic choice, and an insane one at that.

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Frankenstein’s Army is set at the end of World War II, around 1945. At that time the best film cameras in the world produced fuzzy monochrome and weighed approximately one metric ton. Yet these dubiously accented Russian soldiers march into the field with not one but two tiny handheld cameras that not only record in color (and native 16:9), they also capture audio. I’m sure there’s some tenuous basis in reality for that but it feels more bullshitty than Apollo 18, which was already pretty far-fetched.

The movie itself is kinda fun, so it’s a bummer they go with found footage. It has plenty of super gross practical effects and it feels more authentic that many period horror pieces. It also has a sense of humor, with some legitimately funny beats. Like when our intrepid scout regiment is introduced, parading heroically past the camera’s field of view, one of them is in the background taking a shit.

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Added Bonus: A soldier’s helmet gets stuck on his head as a result of being caught in the bear trap/iron maiden head of one of the monsters. His comrades don’t know how to remove it without hurting him, so they leave it on. A German civilian — who they were awesomely planning to simply execute — tells them she’s a trained nurse. She brings all her medical experience to bear, digging her fingers in under the helmet and just yanking as hard as she can. This complicated medical procedure dislodges the man’s skull and tears out his brain. Perhaps Germany lost WWII because of poor battlefield triage.

The Last Exorcism: Part II. Seriously?

You can’t pluralize Lone Ranger, you idiots!

Look, the first Last Exorcism (!) was surprisingly delightful despite an unnecessary use of the found-footage style and a tragically unqualified leading lady. But the two best parts of that movie – Patrick Fabian and Caleb Landry Jones – are apparently absent from the sequel. Instead we get more of dull, 40-year-old (possible exaggeration) Ashley Bell doing spooky eyes and contorting her body as demonically possessed teenager Nell Sweetzer, whose name is so country it hurts me.

Anyway, CBS Films just put out a press release saying it’s coming out March 1, 2013, so get excited. For the last time. Again.

(via Dread Central)