Employee Picks: A David Cronenberg Masterpiece, A Pretty Good Tarantino Rip-Off, And Some Underrated Sam Peckinpah

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(Welcome to Employee Picks, a series where Jacob Knight uses his day job expertise as a video store manager to recommend unique and often overlooked alternative options to the big movies hitting theaters and home video.)

Hello and welcome back to Employee Picks! We're on our last round of video releases for the summer (before switching back over to theatrical alternatives in September). In order to avoid some overlap with our previously published "Summer Guide", a few of the bigger titles (Infinity War, Deadpool 2) have been omitted this month, because I already told you what to watch instead of those (so get on it, y'all!). We're trying to stay fresh in this little corner of the Internet, so don't look at me funny for operating in the name of #goodcontent.

The Major Release: Breaking In

Your Alternative: Unlawful Entry (1992, d. Jonathan Kaplan)

Where Breaking In finds Gabrielle Union struggling to defend her brood during a home invasion, Unlawful Entry sees Kurt Russell's hunky hubby thwarting the advances of a psychotic cop (Ray Liotta) who becomes obsessed with his sultry wife (Madeline Stowe). The ironic twist? This perverse boy in blue's voyeuristic fixation is kicked off when he's called in to investigate a break-in at the well-to-do couple's home. Jonathan Kaplan (Truck Turner, Over the Edge) is one of the all-time great, unfortunately unheralded exploitation directors, having delivered everything from naughty nurse pictures for Roger Corman (Night Call Nurses) to iconic court procedurals (The Accused). Unlawful Entry is his entry into the "erotic thriller" subcategory that overtook late night cable during the late '80s – its run lasting up through the '90s – and is easily one of the very best.

Unlawful Entry is available to stream on Amazon.

The Major Release: The Rider

Your Alternative: Junior Bonner (1972, d. Sam Peckinpah)

Out of all the adjectives used to describe the films of Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs), "sexy" is rarely amongst them. Yet that's precisely what Junior Bonner is — a damn sexy motion picture. Capitalizing on Steve McQueen's studly appeal (that was seemingly impervious to the assaults of time), screenwriter Jeb Rosebrook's character study about an aging rodeo ace discovers the arousing side of men coated in dirt, dust and blood. Watching as the West he once knew slowly dies around him, Bonner carries a melancholy air that disarms McQueen's rugged masculinity. Both the actor and Peckinpah wring every moment of stoic silence for all it's worth, contrasting the movie's contemplative nature with the thundering violence of wrangling and riding bulls. Junior Bonner is probably the most overlooked film in Peckinpah's career, and that's a shame. While nowhere near his best work, the picture fits nicely between big, bombastic shoot-out pictures; a welcome respite where Peckinpah continues to follow his virile fascinations, but leaves the loaded guns behind.

Junior Bonner is available on Blu-ray, courtesy of Kino Lorber.

The Major Release: Lowlife

Your Alternative: Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead (1995, d. Gary Fleder)

In the wake of Quentin Tarantino's multi-narrative crime film game changer Pulp Fiction, there were a wave of imitators that flooded the market. Many of them were very bad (here's looking at you, 2 Days In the Valley), while others scratched an itch for those anxious to see how Tarantino would follow up his monster hit via their knock-off tomfoolery. One of the better entries into the "Tarantinosploitation" subgenre was future TV workman Gary Fleder's Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead. Showcasing a smooth Andy Garcia (as Jimmy "The Saint") and a motley crew of '90s "who's who" Miramax casting – Steve Buscemi, Christopher Lloyd, Treat Williams, William Forsythe – it's a rather routine gutter tale about a botched job and the crew who are trying to keep an unruly crime boss' murderous ways at bay. Thankfully, said mafioso is a wheelchair-bound, scenery chewing Christopher Walken, who monologues about sticking shotguns up dudes' asses and manages to be almost as menacing as he typically is with the use of both legs. Denver isn't going to change your life or anything, but it's a nasty little programmer with some solid dialogue that'd act as a great companion piece to Lowlife's cartoonish luchador masked mayhem.

Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead is available to stream on Amazon.

The Major Release: Bad Samaritan

Your Alternative: The Collector (2009, d. Marcus Dunstan)

One of the keys to pulling off a successful home invasion – a strangely recurring theme in this month's home video alternatives – is to make sure that nobody else is casing the place you're looking to rob. Such is the hook for The Collector, the directorial debut of regular Saw sequel screenwriter Marcus Dunstan. Taking that franchise's affinity for nasty traps – as Dunstan and writing partner Patrick Melton originally envisioned the picture as a franchise prequel – and essentially combining it with a low-rent crime picture, a burglar (William Prael) finds that the country home he's targeted for looting is also on the radar of the titular serial killer (Juan Fernández) who's rigged the domicile with a series of nasty contraptions, all of which could kill both the desperate bandit and the family trapped inside. Thus begins a cat and mouse game, where almost everybody is eradicated in rather grisly fashion. A ghoulish programmer that became a decent enough hit on video to warrant a sequel (The Collection, which played Fantastic Fest in '12), The Collector should keep gore hounds happy, should they not be willing to put up with any more of David Tennant's trademark overacting in Bad Samaritan.

The Collector is available on Blu-ray, courtesy of Vivendi Entertainment.

The Major Release: Show Dogs

Your Alternative: Sleeping Dogs Lie (2006, d. Bobcat Goldthwait)

There was some mild controversy surrounding Show Dogs during its theatrical run, as the buffoonish talking pup picture's distributor recut the movie because they were afraid it'd send a psychosexual message that it was OK to f*** animals. Well, comedian Bobcat Goldthwait's '06 feature Sleeping Dogs Lie actually explores what happens when a milquetoast man (Bryce Johnson) discovers that the girl of his dreams and soon-to-be wife (Melinda Page Johnson) once willingly...experimented with a dog. The whole exercise is an investigation into how we shouldn't pry into our partners' pasts (lest we lose our minds regarding what we find), and how easy it is to actually gross out the hipsters who claim "they've seen it all before". Though he'd already melted faces with the depressing joker farce Shakes the Clown, Goldthwait's mid-aughts return to manning the camera is a subversive cinematic trip down the darkest allies of what it means to be in a "committed relationship".

Sleeping Dogs Lie is available to stream on Amazon.

The Major Release: First Reformed

Your Alternative: Diary of a Country Priest (1951, d. Robert Bresson)

Paul Schrader's First Reformed is – in more ways than one – the motion picture he's been working toward throughout the entirety of his writing/directing career (and also happens to be the best American movie released in '18 thus far). Yet to fully comprehend Schrader's magnum opus, it's best to revisit the artists who've influenced him his whole life; stretching back to the days before he was a filmmaker, penning such critical texts as Transcendental Style In Cinema. One of the primary inspirations for Schrader has been French auteur Robert Bresson, whose meditations on faith, duty, and the resilience of the human spirit were best encapsulated in Diary of a Country Priest. Following the mundane trials of the titular man of God (Claude Laydu), whose rotting stomach may be an early indicator of existential rot, Diary is Bresson's own artistic apex. Possibly only for the most die-hard art house buffs, Diary is nevertheless a rewarding trip back to a time when the French were pushing the boundaries of filmic expression, implementing a language that would have a lasting impact on fellow creators for years to come.

Diary of a Country Priest is available on OOP DVD, courtesy of Criterion Collection.

The Major Release: Upgrade

Your Alternative: Videodrome (1983, d. David Cronenberg)

Where Leigh Whannell's Upgrade is a rather diverting delve into the melding of man and technology, David Cronenberg's Videodrome approaches the topic from a much more cerebral angle (while never sacrificing the Canadian auteur's visceral "body horror" roots).  Cronenberg's defining foray into shock cinema follows a conspiracy forged through invisible networks, which is originally unveiled through a "pirate" who taps into a television signal that's able to warp one's vision of reality, and then mutate their body. Videodrome imagines human existence as a place where our primary interactions occur through screens, and where a television producer (James Woods) wants to bring unfiltered, brutal reality to his viewers, as he's tired of recycling the same tacky trash. It's a fever dream of technology and skin intermingling, as shouted mantras such as "long live the new flesh!" become a declaration of not only intent, but a savage rejection of our own perceptions of existence. The television is now "the retina of the mind's eye", whether we want it to be, or not. There's a reason I have this movie literally tattooed on my forearm: it changed the way I experienced cinema forever.

Videodrome is available on Blu-ray, courtesy of the Criterion Collection.

The Major Release: RBG

Your Alternative: Hearts & Minds (1974, d. Peter Davis)

After you're done consuming the blockbuster (at least by doc box office standards) chronicle of Ruth Bader Ginsberg's monumental life and work (which honestly borders on out-and-out hagiography), perhaps take a look at Peter Davis' landmark work of non-fiction filmmaking, Hearts & Minds. This superlative piece of investigative cinema interrogates how American racism and gung-ho militarism not only helped create the conflict in Vietnam, but also prolonged it well past the point where the United States could walk away with any semblance of a "victory". An absolute must see for documentary aficionados, Davis also strives to lend a voice to Vietnamese people, instead of simply painting them as the "enemy". As far as fair and balanced reporting goes, few have ever bested this exquisite and moving work.

Hearts & Minds is available on Blu-ray, courtesy of the Criterion Collection.