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

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

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
B+

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

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

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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First trailer for 'The Big Short' is full of movie stars and righteous fury
Credit: Paramount Pictures

First trailer for 'The Big Short' is full of movie stars and righteous fury

One of the year's craziest casts joins the 'Anchorman' director for an angry new film

Adam McKay has never been particularly subtle about his political views, and it's been interesting watch the way he's worked things into big broad comedies. It's remarkable that a film featuring The Rock and Sam Jackson dying as cartoonishly as they do in "The Other Guys" can also feature a closing-credits sequence that was more savage and on-point than any documentary released that year about the financial malfeasance in the air.

Now McKay has decided to finally tackle this head-on, and at the exact moment I got an e-mail announcing that "The Big Short" would be closing this year's AFI Fest, the first trailer for the movie also showed up, and I'm excited by what it promises.

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Review: Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro are adorable in low-stakes 'The Intern'
Credit: Warner Bros
B-

Review: Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro are adorable in low-stakes 'The Intern'

It's all fairly painless, both for the characters and the audience, but is that enough?

Nancy Meyers is an easy target for cynical critics, and she's certainly responsible for her fair share of glossy nonsense. She's also the most financially successful female filmmaker of all time, and as big a brand as any male filmmaker working right now. The only difference between her and, say, Michael Bay is which altar they worship at. Michael Bay makes movies that are so artificial, so technically-driven but hysterically soulless that it's like Skynet got addicted to Internet porn and Jerry Bruckheimer movies, while Nancy Meyers' voice is more like what would happen if Pottery Barn became sentient.

I think Meyers is genuinely trying to expand the definition of what a studio comedy is, though. I think she's someone who has found her own niche, and just like Judd Apatow, she tells stories about characters who live the way she lives, which is to say very, very well. Affluence is just accepted. It's like an advertisement for white privilege, and she offers no apologies for any of it. And while it's easy to make jokes about her well-appointed kitchens and catalog-perfect bedrooms, that's not really fair. Her main concern in her films is the way relationships do or don't work, the ways they are made and the ways they are broken. It seems fitting that her early work was with her ex-husband Charles Shyer, and that she has made multiple films dealing explicitly with both marriage and divorce.

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Kindle Food: Lee Child has choice to make for Jack Reacher after 'Make Me'
Credit: Paramount Pictures

Kindle Food: Lee Child has choice to make for Jack Reacher after 'Make Me'

"Kindle Food" is an occasional column about the various books and other materials that made us reconsider our long-standing refusal to make the jump to the digital world with our books.

It's safe to say Wednesday the 9th was not a great travel day. There's no point in running down the entire list of woes, but by the time I made it to Toronto, I was positively ruined. There's only one thing that made the day bearable. One of the things I love about the Kindle is pre-ordering books when they're super-cheap and then totally forgetting I did it. It's a genuine surprise to me when I open the Kindle and there's some new book that I am thrilled about reading.

The most recent surprise was the new Jack Reacher novel, "Make Me," and I intentionally set it aside until I was on the plane and on my way to Toronto. I read the entire thing before I arrived, and while that may seem like I burned through it, that's a testament to the way Lee Child writes these at this point. There's a formula, of course, and there is a familiar rhythm to the stories, but Child has mastered the fine art of writing super-short chapters, laying down a hook at the end of each one that throws directly to the next. It is the literary equivalent of big-balled blockbuster filmmaking, and Child is very good at what he does.

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Why is one of Bill Murray's best movies still largely unavailable?
Credit: Warner Bros

Why is one of Bill Murray's best movies still largely unavailable?

We wish one of our national treasures a happy birthday by asking a question.

Everybody loves Bill Murray.

Okay, maybe that's not 100% true, but there are days where it seems like it's true. Bill Murray is well aware of the way people feel about him, and over the course of his very strange career, he has taken full advantage of the latitude that people grant him because of the persona he has cultivated. Bill Murray has become something more than a comic lead, something bigger than a movie start, and arguably something more impressive and enduring than a legend.

Bill Murray is an urban myth.

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No, Sony does not want to read your 'Robocop' script
Credit: Screen Gems/MGM

No, Sony does not want to read your 'Robocop' script

Put the Final Draft down and back away. You're coming with me, creep.

There's some noise being made today about whether or not Sony wants a sequel to "Robocop," the remake of Paul Verhoeven's 1987 classic, and I am getting hammered with e-mails and direct messages from people wanting to know how they can get in touch with Sony about what they want to do with the series.

After all, The Playlist ran the story under the headline "Sony Will Reportedly Hear Your Idea For A 'Robocop' Sequel," despite no one having reported any such thing. If you follow their link back to the original story on Den Of Geek, what they're describing is basically a non-story. All they're saying is that the studio is not working on a sequel in any way right now, and they don't have any plans to start developing a sequel, either. If someone were to walk in to a meeting with Sony and they had a great idea and the right kind of passion, Sony might consider the idea of making a sequel, but even then, they'd have to think long and hard about the economics of it. This is true of most franchise material owned by studios. They may not be working on it right now, but the right idea from the right person might change their minds.

What bothers me about the Playlist headline is the way these things spread, and so many people already want a short-cut, something that will simply propel them to being an industry insider without any real work required, that it seems cruel to craft a headline as misleading as that one. It makes it sound like Sony's holding a Willy Wonka style event where anyone can walk in and pitch this sequel. Not true at all. The truth couldn't be further from that, actually.

There is another giveaway here that this news is not really news; MGM actually controls the material, and if my sources are right, there are other plans for the "Robocop" material. Here's hoping we hear some of those plans soon, but for now, you can file this as just another game of internet telephone where the message is all scrambled by this point.

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