Move over, Tommy Wiseau... Drafthouse Films is bringing John Rad to theaters
Credit: Drafthouse Films

Move over, Tommy Wiseau... Drafthouse Films is bringing John Rad to theaters

This 2005 curio may be one of the strangest things the company has ever bought

What is "Dangerous Men," and when can you have its sickness in your head?

This afternoon, in Austin, TX, the madmen (and madwomen) who put on Fantastic Fest each year held one of their secret screenings. The first secret screening, held a few days ago, was for Guillermo Del Toro's "Crimson Peak." I would imagine many people walked into the second secret screening hoping for some big-budget movie, like "Cloud Atlas" from a few years ago or some intriguing arthouse title from another country, like "Goodnight Mommy" at last year's fest.

Nope. Instead, what Tim League and his accomplices did was premiere their latest acquisition title, a film they've been chasing since the day they started the company. This is along the lines of "Miami Connection" or "The Visitor" or this spring's remarkable "Roar!", films that were released once before but that never got the right kind of support from a company that genuinely understood their appeal. In this particular case, there is no company on Earth better qualified to unleash this on an unsuspecting public than Drafthouse Films.

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Leonardo Di Caprio and Tom Hardy clash in surreal new trailer for 'The Revenant'
Credit: 20th Century Fox

Leonardo Di Caprio and Tom Hardy clash in surreal new trailer for 'The Revenant'

Oh, god, that bear attack looks insane

It should be a surprise to no one that the new film from Alejandro G. Inarritu looks absolutely beautiful, even though it deals with dark and upsetting subject matter. At this point, Innaritu has become one of our most reliably interesting directors for grown-ups, and this time, he's got a hell of a piece of material to wrangle to life.

If you've never listened to "The Dollop," a podcast by Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds, it's a different story from history each week, with Anthony doing the research and telling the stories to Reynolds without him knowing what's coming. Early in the podcast's life, they told the story of Hugh Glass, and that was the moment I decided to subscribe to that podcast permanently.

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Matt Damon's having a moment, and it doesn't seem like it's a good one
Credit: 20th Century Fox

Matt Damon's having a moment, and it doesn't seem like it's a good one

Yes, that's right: we're going to mansplain how he screwed up his mansplaining

Matt Damon's having a moment, and it doesn't seem like it's a good one.

Whenever an actor has a new project coming out, they're automatically in the hot seat, and you'd better believe there is a small army hard at work trying to make sure that nothing happens during that press tour that might impact the overall success of the film.

Add in a new TV show that's rolling out the same time as the movie is being released, and you have so many more opportunities for the actor to hang themselves, particularly in the atmosphere of constantly-simmering outrage that exists right now.

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Review: 'The Walk' may be the best use ever of Zemeckis and his VFX wizardry
Credit: Sony

Review: 'The Walk' may be the best use ever of Zemeckis and his VFX wizardry

HitFix
B+
Readers
n/a
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the year's best FX set-piece makes this worth your time

I knew how it ended before I walked into the theater. After all, I've seen "Man On Wire," and it ended up on my ten best list for 2008, and I know how the story ends. Beyond that, I knew that I was looking at the state-of-the-art of what visual effects could accomplish in the year 2015 and not actual footage of an event in the '70s. Even so, the new Robert Zemeckis film "The Walk" made my hands sweat and my stomach ache for a solid 45 minutes, and I suspect it's going to be a big-screen sensation thanks to people going back to witness it several times.

One of the truths of the new age of theatrical distribution is that you have to give an audience a reason to go to a theater and not just wait for a more convenient time and place to see a film. If you have ever taken my opinion to be worth anything to you, then believe me when I say that "The Walk" should be seen in 3D IMAX if at all possible, IMAX if no 3D option exists, and short of that, the biggest goddamn screen you have access to, because this is a remarkable theatrical experience.

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Review: Heads explode a-plenty in charmingly absurd midnight movie 'Mind's Eye'
Credit: Channel 83

Review: Heads explode a-plenty in charmingly absurd midnight movie 'Mind's Eye'

HitFix
B-
Readers
n/a

One of the reasons I try to see the Toronto midnight movies at the actual midnight screenings is because those audiences are positively bloodthirsty. They are there because they want red meat. They want to scream and groan and cheer, but not every night is programmed that way. Colin Geddes, the madman behind Midnight Madness, designs that schedule so there are some ups and downs and a mix of different energies. One of the movies that played most aggressively with the audience, satisfying exactly what they wanted, was "The Mind's Eye," the newest film from the same team who brought "Almost Human" to the festival a few years ago.

Joe Begos and Josh Ethier and Zak Zeman are the ultimate expression of those kids who remade "Raiders Of The Lost Ark" or that dude who remade "Rambo" in one room, pastiche artists who make greatest hits versions of the films they love. Their production company is called Channel 83, and their logo is blown-out perfection. I would watch Channel 83 obsessively if it existed. Everything would be a little bit familiar, but absolutely run through their particular filter, and the one thing you could count on would be that the films would be made with absolute love and affection.

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Review: 'Lizzie Velasquez' documentary tells a true story of bold heroism
Credit: Cinedigm

Review: 'Lizzie Velasquez' documentary tells a true story of bold heroism

HitFix
A
Readers
n/a
Available on every digital platform, this is a film people should actively share with young viewers

One of the things I am keenly aware of as I share movies and other media with my sons is that they take the things we watch together very seriously, and in many cases, they are piecing together their knowledge of the world and the way it works from not only the films and the media, but from my reaction to them as well.

WIth that in mind, one of the words I want to be careful with is "hero," because I do think there's a tendency with media to program our perception of heroism as being defined by action and violence. There are two films about heroism this year that take a different approach, both of them important, both of them enormously emotional. "Batkid Begins" is about the heroism of community, of the way people were inspired to these remarkable lengths by something as simple as the illness of a child. It's a film that is dizzying in its optimism, moving because of all the hope and promise that it conveys. The other great film about heroism this year deals with the way someone defines themselves and the very real courage it requires to refuse to be defined by bullying or by societal restrictions, and I'm going to make sure that by the end of this year, my kids know both the name and story of Lizzie Velasquez.

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Nicolas Winding Refn calls his amazing new poster book 'the most expensive ever'
Credit: Gunther Campine

Nicolas Winding Refn calls his amazing new poster book 'the most expensive ever'

The year's best film nerd book is more than just simple reproductions of trashy posters

When I'm out of town, mail tends to pile up, and when I get back, it's hard to sort the pile and figure out what to watch or read first.

It was not difficult to figure out what to read first when I got back from Toronto, because one of the packages I had waiting for me contained "The Act Of Seeing," a new book curated by Nicolas Winding Refn and written by Alan Jones. That's all I knew about it before I sat down with it, but I immediately lost two full hours to just slowing paging through, taking in all the remarkable sleazy detail of each of the posters reproduced inside and getting lost in the crisp, engrossing text that Alan Jones has put together for each of the films.

What posters? What films? When I got Refn on the phone to talk about the book, my first question was where this particular book began and how he ended up with these posters.

"It all started when I purchased a collection from a friend of mine called Jimmy McDonough, who is a writer. He wrote the book on Andy Milligan, wrote another on Russ Meyer, and he used to work with a magazine called Sleazoid Express, which was this Times Square oriented fanzine. I guess over the years since the '70s and the '80s, as he's been working, he's been collecting these posters, and one day, he just said, "Do you want to buy it?' and I figured, 'Okay, what the hell, I'll buy it.' But I didn't know what they were, and about eight weeks later, I got about a thousand posters in boxes. Which is a hell of a lot of paper. My first reaction was, like, 'Fucking hell, what am I going to do with this?' And Liv, my wife, was like, 'Really? You think this is a good idea?' And, look, I'm not a walking film encyclopedia, so I didn't know a lot of this stuff, so spending time with the posters, really going through them, it felt to me like a time machine."

That's a fantastic description of the end result, which was published by Harvey Fenton's FAB Press, a fantastic genre-oriented publisher who has been producing essential reading about niche movies for several decades now, and every single book I have from them is amazing, worth devouring cover to cover. This may be one of the nicest things FAB has ever published, and it's so simple. Each page features one poster, reproduced in massive, crisp, clean detail. Next to each poster is some text by Jones, and far from being a regurgitation of familiar facts on the same handful of genre films that seem to dominate the conversation, Jones lays out the secret history of the exploitation circuit for the last 50 years.

When I asked him how he chose Alan as the person to write the book, Refn explained, "I've known Alan for many years. We became friends when we started meeting at various press events in England, and I always very much liked him. We started hanging out. He has a very interesting life, and we're very good friends now. Since I'm not from that era, I'm too young to have had that real exploitation experience, I needed someone who had that expertise, and who was willing to do the work to go deep into these titles. I didn't want reviews. I wanted facts about these films. He seemed like an obvious choice since he lived through that whole period."

He continued by praising Jones, saying, "It's some of Alan's best work. For him, having always been known as a reviewer or for his critiques, this gave him a chance to get his hands around being a writer, and I've always told him that I would be willing to publish his biography. I think he's lived a very interesting life, and in some ways, there's quite a bit of himself in the experience of remembering these films from when he was younger."

As Fantastic Fest gets underway in Austin, TX tomorrow, one of the events that attendees would do well to take advantage of is a signing of the book. It's a huge tactile experience as a book, an impressive piece of physical production that couldn't be reproduced any other way. The size and the quality of it are overwhelming, and it couldn't have been cheap. It's appropriate that the book would make its debut there, since Refn's time in Austin helped underwrite the entire enterprise in the first place.

Refn said, "That was very important to me. I wanted to make the most expensive film book ever produced. I went to FAB Press, because I met Harvey through Alan, and I like people like Harvey, a sort of one-man army doing it himself, that mom-and-pop thing... it's pure passion... and I asked Harvey, "How much did the most expensive poster book in the world cost? In terms of paper and printing and design... if there's nothing to hold back. How expensive can I possibly make this book?' And he gave me a number up around the $100,000 area, and I said, 'Let's do it.' I gave him my Lincoln money. The money I spent on producing this book, I earned making Lincoln commercials in Austin, Texas with Matthew McConaughey."

He explained that Fenton was actually startled by Refn's first pitch. "He was a bit taken aback. He doesn't often get phone calls where someone says, 'How expensive can we make it?' Most of the time in his world, it's how inexpensive can we make it? This is the ultimate Warhol trick. We take something that was trash and reintroduce it as the highest form of art."

One of the reasons these posters feel special is many of them are for films that don't exist now, and in some cases, they were created for a particular engagement at a particular theater. "There are about 20% which are famous films, some of the classic frequently-seen posters, which can be very expensive, but familiar. Then you have another 30% or 40% that are are maybe out in one one place now. But then about 50% of the book are just lost film, so niche or unobtainable that it took real time just to gather information on them."

There's an illusion these days that because of services like Netflix, people have "everything." My kids told me recently that they thought Netflix had every movie ever made. It's easy to get that wrong because people don't see evidence of how many movies disappear, but it's vast amounts. Refn said that doing the legwork on each of the posters here was like a remarkable treasure hunt. "There are many of the films where I don't think these films are around or available at all. Tim [League] went through his archives, and we were lucky to find even one or two of the titles. I would love to watch 'The Flesh Pot.' I don't know what it is, but it's a great title."

If you're at Fantastic Fest, buy the book. Get it signed. Have Refn pick a special poster just for you, something like this:

Or this:

Or this:

And if you're not at Fantastic Fest, you can at least pre-order the thing. This may be the film nerd book of the year, so it is only fitting that you order it from the Amazon link below, which throws a little something-something into the Film Nerd 2.0 general warchest.

Special thanks to FonsPR and Nicolas Winding Refn for making the schedule work to talk about this one. It's one of the year's big treats.

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Review: Tom Hiddleston brings rumpled dignity to madness in brutal 'High-Rise'
Credit: BFI/Film 4

Review: Tom Hiddleston brings rumpled dignity to madness in brutal 'High-Rise'

HitFix
B+
Readers
n/a
This won't be for everyone, but it's unrelenting and beautifully imagined

If you're a fan of "The Prisoner," I have a feeling you're going to really like Ben Wheatley's "High-Rise," adapted from the J.G. Ballard novel.

One of the things I learned early on about "The Prisoner" was that it is not for everyone. While I love the look of the world and the way the stories are told and the heightened sense of reality, I have seen enough people reject the entire thing outright to get that it is a particular taste. When you're talking about adapting the work of British novelist J.G. Ballard into film, you're automatically starting from a place outside the mainstream. He wasn't writing books like Michael Crichton, hoping for a film deal to turn his barely-more-than-an-outline into a big summer blockbuster. Ballard wrote end-of-the-world science-fiction and he dealt with the darkest corners of the human heart in work like "The Atrocity Exhibition" or "Crash, and when he was a child, he was sent to a Chinese internment camp with his family for two years during WWII because they were living and working in Shanghai. That experience inspired his novel and, later, the Steven Spielberg film "Empire Of The Sun," and there's no doubt that the shadow over his childhood informed much of the tone and the philosophy of what he wrote. His work is so particular, so recognizable, that "Ballardian" is an accepted term in literary description at this point. And if you're talking about what is "Ballardian," then "High-Rise" is damn close to a perfect example.

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Review: Roland Emmerich insults both audience and subject in rotten 'Stonewall'
Credit: Roadside Attractions

Review: Roland Emmerich insults both audience and subject in rotten 'Stonewall'

HitFix
D
Readers
n/a
He can barely stage a coherent conversation; what made him think he could do justice to this?

I'm sure they meant well.

And by "they," I mean director Roland Emmerich, screenwriter Jon Robin Baitz, and the sprawling ensemble cast who all worked to make a movie that commemorates the Stonewall riots in New York, one of the flashpoints of the gay rights movement in America. The idea of making a film that captures not only the community that found its activist voice that day but that also articulates the tensions and the atmosphere that made the riots feel so urgent and necessary in the first place is a good idea, and perhaps one day, someone will make that movie. Unfortunately, "Stonewall" is the anti-"Selma," a movie that not only fails to fully capture the energy and importance of a true event but that fails so completely as a film that it is almost impressive.

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Jordan Peele's horror film 'Get Out' gains Blumhouse as a producing partner
Credit: Comedy Central

Jordan Peele's horror film 'Get Out' gains Blumhouse as a producing partner

This one has us completely intrigued

I can't wait to see what a Jordan Peele horror film looks like.

While I am saddened by the end of "Key & Peele," I also think it's important that both Jordan Peele and Keegan Michael Key are able to follow their particular muses. Watching their work carefully, I think Key is the more powerful comic presence, relentlessly funny, but Peele is the guy whose character work gets under my skin. He loves the grotesque, and he's played many of them over the various seasons of the show. It does not remotely surprise me to hear that horror is something he considers an essential part of his creative voice.

There was news about this back in January, and at that point, Darko Entertainment was working with Peele to develop the film. There weren't many other details. He just said that he was going to be working on a horror film called "Get Out" that had to do with his experiences as a young black man.

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