Friday Night Flix: Blood Glacier

bg2Welcome 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.

Blood Glacier (Netflix) is your basic global warming hand wringer horror. We’re spewing all those greenhouse gases and glaciers are melting, blah blah blah. But, like, what if those giant prehistoric ice sheets have a secret hidden inside them? And what if melting exposes a dangerous threat to our survival, MAN?

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This is the basic conceit of the movie: Glaciers melt, releasing horrible nightmare organism. Scientist scramble for solutions, get fucking ruined, the end. It’s a shamelessly topical take on The Thing, what with its thawed out parasite, remote frostbitten research station and well-bearded cast. The twist is the organism here doesn’t imitate lifeforms in order to conceal itself; it knocks them up Alien style.

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It’s strange to me that the creatures birthed as a result of this process are universally hostile toward all humans. It’s hard to imagine what kind of evolutionary advantage they gain by killing everything in sight. Wouldn’t they be better off focusing on reproduction rather than slaughter? These are the questions that keep me up at night.

At a certain point I realized (long before the characters) that this organism would be a complete world killer. Just drinking melt water with a few single celled critters in it is enough to start the process. The hybrid monsters pass on the infection with every bite or sting or what-have-you, as long as they don’t stupidly devour or otherwise kill the new host. This would most definitely be the end of all life on earth, yet our heroes spend the first hour debating whether they should call for help. Wilford Brimley is not impressed.

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So why am I recommending it? As obvious as the premise is, you can’t deny it’s a solid idea. Despite all the slapped together visual effects and often disappointing practical puppets, it manages to show you just enough to be gross and occasionally startling. I also liked some of the cast, especially the Judi Dench-type politician who you think is early monster fodder but actually ends up being quite a badass.

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Added Bonus: When a movie prominently features a battery powered drill with a two-foot auger attached to it, what are the odds someone will eventually use said drill to take a core sample of monster brain? ALL SIGNS POINT TO YES.

Friday Night Flix: Invaders from Mars

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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.

Invaders from Mars (Netflix)! What!? How did I not know of this movie’s existence?

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This thing came out in 1986 when I was seven and deeply in love with fantastical childhood adventure movies. I was disturbingly invested in The Goonies, The Monster Squad, Flight of the Navigator, The Neverending Story, all that crap. Invaders from Mars, with its a nerdy little kid who gets caught up in the middle of an alien takeover, teams up with the pretty school nurse to stop it, gets to boss around the military, and ultimately saves the day…this would have been my jam.

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Directed by Tobe Hooper, Invaders is a remake of a 1953 sci-fi movie of the same name based on a short story that, like 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, was itself a shameless ripoff of Robert A. Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters. You ever read that book? It’s awesome but it’s also batshit crazy. Flying cars, legal drugs, mandated public nudity, limited duration marriages…it’s out there. Made for a pretty kick ass movie though.

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Despite it’s dubious pedigree, despite a truly dreadful child star, and despite  Karen Black’s bizarre cross-eyed histrionics, there’s a lot of fun to be had here. Practical Stan Winston effects and clever puppets coupled with extensive optical effects and a variety of large-scale sets give it the feel of a big studio picture, even though it probably wasn’t. The plot has some loose threads but mostly hangs together as it barrels toward an obvious but satisfying conclusion. OR DOES IT?

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Added bonus: You probably won’t adore this movie if you never saw it as a child. It hasn’t aged well. But if you convince yourself you’re watching a modern day spoof of 80s sci-fi adventures flicks, you will no doubt find it a work of pure, soul-skewering genius.

Friday Night Flix: The Poughkeepsie Tapes

pt3Welcome 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 realize I’m hard on found footage movies. It’s not because I dislike the convention as a rule. I just hate how some movies use it without feeling the need to explain how a prop in the movie (the footage) also exists in the real world such that we’re able to view its contents. It’s a pet peeve, I know. It’s also a big part of why I adored The Poughkeepsie Tapes (YouTube).

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Here is a movie that meets all my demands for found footage. Not only do we understand how and why the footage came to exist, we actually see it being discovered in the context of a mockumentary. Filmed in 2007, TPT even takes it a step further, reaching into the future to poke fun at all the found footage movies that would come after it with their wildly improbably camera angles and immaculate framing.

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In one scene we see the killer hitchhike his way into the back seat of a car occupied by two doomed good Samaritans. He of course kills both of them, recording the whole thing with a handheld camcorder. The thing is, the second one is recorded from in front of the victim, even though the killer is slitting her throat or whatever from behind. Cynical me immediately called bullshit on that. But – Ah ha! –  writer-director team the Dowdle Brothers (who would go on to write, direct and/or produce Quarantine, Devil and this year’s As Above, So Below) were way ahead of me.

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After the hitchhiking scene, the movie cuts to an interview with the forensics guy who had to review all 2400 hours of the murderer’s home movies. He explains how difficult it would be to kill someone from behind with your right hand while filming from in front of them with your left. How says the killer would have had to practice this maneuver over and over to get it right. That’s exactly what found footage camera operators have to do to film some scenes, but they gloss over it, hoping no one will notice the contortions they would have had to go through to get a particular shot. It’s a brilliant and elegant critique of the format, turning a found footage weakness into an asset.

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Added bonus: Did I mention this thing is on YouTube?! How cool is that? Granted, your only viewing options are low-res widescreen or a 720p version that’s tragically squished into 4:3, but still. You can’t findThe Poughkeepsie Tapes anywhere else because when it was made MGM decided to pull its theatrical release at the last minute. It never had a DVD release and only briefly appeared on VOD earlier this year. YouTube should really devote a channel to movies you can only find on YouTube. That might be good for business.

Friday Night Flix: Blue Ruin

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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.

Most of my recommendations range from fair to solid. It’s nice every now and then to find one that stands out as truly excellent. Blue Ruin (Netflix) is just such a movie.

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The story begins as a pretty straightforward revenge fantasy: traumatized vagrant sets off on an uncertain journey to avenge the murder of his family. Things nearly go according to plan, but our tragic hero fails to account for the repercussions of his vendetta.

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For a movie populated with literally no one you’ve ever heard of (unless you’re a really big fan of Home Alone) the cast is shockingly strong. It’s anchored by Macon Blair, the introspective, googly-eyed lead who carries big chunks of the movie in wordless silence. When we meet him he’s living out of his car, doing his best Castaway impression. The reality of his somber, numbed existence is riveting.

It only gets better once he shaves the beard and starts talking. His terror and pain coupled with an unfailing, logical resolve make for some amazing contrasts.

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Blue Ruin is the sophomore directing effort of a cinematographer named Jeremy Saulnier. His first film was Murder Party, which I have vague recollections of but never actually watched. Now that I’ve seen the follow-up, I will have to make time for it.

Blue Ruin is a fully formed piece of art, perfect in its simplicity and polished to a mirror shine. Saulnier has a great eye and gets the most out of his cast. He also wrote the smartly paced script, which is generally light on dialogue but never shies away from sincere exchanges. He even manages to plug in some genuine humor without clashing with the severity of the proceedings. This movie is gonna get its director noticed in a big way.

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Added bonus: No bonus for you. Just watch the damn movie and thank me later.

Friday Night Flix: You’re Next

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 7.13.45 AMWelcome 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 the laziest Friday Night Flix EVER. You’re Next (Netflix) is a movie I saw ages ago (as did Jay) but I had to get it on DVD like a sucker. Now it’s available instantly! For streaming! On internets!

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I am awful at remembering the details of movies. I see maybe 150 movies a year (down from around 300 in my prime) and a lot of them tend to be horror. The details would start to run together even if I didn’t have an awful memory to begin with. Which I do.

So without reading any synopses of this movie, without re-watching it (as any conscientious writer should do), and with about fifteen minutes before I have to leave for work (enjoy the typos!), here we go.

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You’re Next is your basic survival horror thriller but smarter. It’s well shot, well acted and well directed. It was definitely among the best horror movies of 2012 (though I saw it in 2013 and technically I think it released in 2011 at festivals). The ways in which the requisite lone hero character turns the tables on the men assaulting this luxurious family estate are generally pretty believable. (At least insofar as it’s believable that any unarmed civilian can repel a heavily armed, well trained invading force.)

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It’s also pretty funny. I can’t recite any specific jokes because it’s not an episode of South Park. But there are genuine laughs to be found in the bickering siblings of this rich, dysfunctional family. There are also some humorous beats in between the various deaths and dismemberments that populate movies such as this. You have to love seeing directors Ti West and Joe Swanberg show up to deliver a few funny lines before being unceremoniously and brutally executed.

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Added bonus: Animal masks? For reals? Okay, sure, why not. These jackasses use crossbows when silenced rifles would work much better so why not add some ridiculously impractical masks? Aside from Halloween, very few movies ever bother to explain why their villains would decide to limit their vision and get all sweaty while they work. But I guess the image of a man in a bunny mask hacking someone to death with an axe is worth it.

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: Big Bad Wolves

bigbadwolves5Welcome 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 swear to god I’m not trying to be topical with this weeks selection, the Israeli dramedy thriller something-or-other Big Bad Wolves (Netflix). I’ve been away on vacation. My iPhone was dropped (not by me) to the bottom of a lake from whence it shall never return. I had no idea Israel has been bombing the shit out of Gaza for the past week when I picked this movie. I am not great with current events even on my best day.

My ignorance doesn’t stop there in this case. I decided to watch this movie because I thought it was a werewolf movie. It is most decidedly not, as I should have realized after the first ten minutes. Instead it was halfway through the second act when I finally gave up hope of a full moon transformation. It may be time to amend my policy of refusing to read synopses for movies I hear good things about.

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Here at FNF, I do not claim that every movie I recommend will be hot shit. Many of these titles would not be my first choice on movie night. This column exists for those that have exhausted their first choices, as well as their second, third, and so on. I draw the line at recommending terrible movies but let’s be real: I don’t get paid to do this and I only have so much time. Unless it’s awful (like All Cheerleaders Die, which you almost got until I discovered how unbearable it was) you’re getting the first and only movie I try.

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Big Bad Wolves is at least watchable and interesting but it isn’t great. For one thing, the story is all about two men who seek revenge on a supposed child murderer. See, we’re supposed to assume he’s guilty at first so that eventually, when doubt starts to creep in, we wonder if maybe our heroes are torturing an innocent man. Except there’s never ANY evidence he’s done anything wrong. We never see the perpetrator in the act and the police don’t mention any tangible evidence. The best they can do is a young witness who says she thought she saw her teacher abduct her friend. So from the beginning we’re not on board with our two vigilantes’ plan. Regardless of whether the man ultimately ends up being guilty, that’s careless and a little deflating.

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Big Bad Wolves is hard to classify. There’s a bit of torture, but it’s not Hostel. It’s not horror at all. There’s some minor suspense but by no means is it a thriller. A little action but not that much. Maybe it’s a black comedy? There are plenty of well executed laughs, which now that I think of it are a little out of place in a movie about such a serious subject.

bigbadwolves7I did love the window into Israeli culture. Characters say that housing prices go down when you’re surrounded by Arab neighborhoods but the real point is to see how ignorant that attitude is. I found it fascinating that some Israeli artists are more than happy to poke fun at Jews who treat Arabs as if they were backwards and dangerous, the way white suburbanites in America treat minorities. In my head I imagined all Israeli citizens as being of one mind when it comes to Arab populations. Because, admittedly, I am an uncultured idiot.

bigbadwolves3Added bonus: Who is this guy? I thought for sure he was the producer or some Israeli national treasure or something. How else can you explain why a frumpy bald guy who plays a 45-year-old character (he looks at least 60 and the sweater jacket doesn’t help) with so much machismo a gorgeous real estate broker practically begs him to take her to bed in the middle of a sales meeting? The casting director was really stretching on that one.