(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! In case you missed the rules in the first and second editions of the column: for every big-name motion picture on the horizon, I suggest something from the archives to watch in its place that’s either thematically, spiritually, or tangentially related.Yes, I have fully accepted my role in this world: the goofball hipster who wants you to get the hell out of the multiplex and into the realm of pure weirdness (and I won’t apologize one bit).

With those general parameters in mind, here are my alternative picks for every big movie dropping on Blu-Ray, DVD or VOD this July.

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the first purge

The Purge movies are the unruly branch on the otherwise upright “social horror” filmic family tree. Exploitation movies to their very core, with each installment the futuristic franchise (that’s built on the idea that, for one night in America, all crime is legal) has widened in scope, beginning with a home invasion on the titular devil’s evening (The Purge), then taking us to the city streets amidst government sanctioned chaos (Anarchy), and finally letting us see the corrupt political mechanisms (Election Year) that believe it will be psychologically beneficial for the citizens who participate, but even more lucrative for the companies who try and exploit it for financial gain (insurance, medical, etc.).

It’s an angry, ever-expanding pulp treatise on the crass customs of class and capitalism – “Wokesploitation” that beats you over the head with its sociological messaging without a hint of subtlety, and one of this writer’s absolute favorite running series in modern schlock.

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Arachnophobia Revisited

In the annals of genre cinema, Arachnophobia is a slightly strange case. The feature directorial debut of Frank Marshall – co-founder of Amblin Entertainment with Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy – it arrived in theaters on July 18th, 1990, as the first title released beneath Disney’s Hollywood Pictures banner, which was founded so the studio could unveil more adult-oriented fare. Arachnophobia received solid reviews, was a modest box office hit – placing #3 behind Ghost and Die Harder before raking in $55 million total on a budget of $22 mil – and became a VHS staple for an entire generation of ‘90s kids. Ask most folks in their mid-30s these days, and they can cite whole scenes involving the picture’s practically rendered poisonous arachnids that scared the bejeezus out of them, doing for popcorn bowls what Psycho did for showers.

Still – thanks to format changeovers and market demand – Arachnophobia has also become something of home video relic. There’s an OOP bargain bin Blu-ray you can snag for a few bucks on Amazon, and a decent HD stream available at the same mega retailer. Nevertheless, its omnipresence somehow seemed to skip a generation, remaining in those Gen Xers’ nightmares, while the other scary classics Marshall produced with Spielberg (namely: Poltergeist and Gremlins) endured and solidified themselves in the Millennial pop culture vernacular. Perhaps it was simply due to iconography, as ghostly girls and green demons were burned into memory much easier than simple spiders. Or maybe the title of the film itself became an odd bit of self-fulfilling prophecy, as legions of potential movie-watchers steered clear since spiders creep people out on the regular during their everyday existences.

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I grew up in a sports household.

Perhaps this explains why Friday Night Lights has always occupied a rather sizable space in my heart (beyond the rather obvious qualitative reasoning). It amalgamates an incredibly singular storytelling style – taking the “fly on the wall” camera techniques Executive Producer Peter Berg employed on his eponymous 2004 motion picture – with a CW-ready teen melodrama that plays like a heightened approximation of my own experiences. If you transplanted these kids’ struggles in life, love and games into Eastern Pennsylvania, made everyone a little (OK, a lot) less beautiful, and then had them play basketball instead of football, it’d hit so close to home I’d probably have to sue Berg for likeness rights (again, kidding). Playing for teams dominated my formative years, as I was part of a collection of brothers formed through competition.

But beyond all that, what Friday Night Lights provides is an idealized coach and father in Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) – captain of the ship for both the West Dillon Panthers and then (after being forced out by bastard parent Joe McCoy) the East Dillon Lions – who may just be the greatest screen dad of all time.

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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! In case you missed the rules in the inaugural column’s edition: for every big-name motion picture on the horizon, I suggest something from the archives to watch in its place that’s either thematically, spiritually, or tangentially related. Easy peasy.

With those general parameters in mind, here are my alternative picks for every big movie dropping on Blu-Ray, DVD or VOD this June.

Read More »

Cool Posts From Around the Web:

Hereditary Review

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: Hereditary has people talking about “elevated horror” again and there is no such thing…there are just horror movies.)

There’s an interview going around with Hereditary writer/director Ari Aster that’s sparked another round of hand-wringing regarding whether a new horror feature qualifies as a “horror movie” at all; a discussion so tired we might as well feed it a fistful of Roseanne Barr’s Ambien in hopes of finally putting it out of its misery. In his talk with ScreenCrush’s Britt Hayes, Aster says:

“But even from the beginning, and this is something I’ve said before but I was kind of careful to never really call it a ‘horror film.’ The people that were on the crew, or even the people that I was pitching the film to, I would describe it as a family tragedy that curdles into a nightmare.”

Even though Aster refers to Hereditary several times during that same chat as a “horror movie”, folks have already taken the quote and run with it, questioning whether the unsettling motion picture belongs to this categorization.

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When I’m not writing, I run a video store.

That’s a weird sentence to write in 2018. However, this profession permits me the distinct pleasure of making film recommendations all day, every day. That’s how this new column came into being: why not apply that skill to the Internet? If you’re on this site, chances are you love movies. And if you love movies, you’ve probably seen all the New Releases already. So, what should you watch tonight instead of just throwing on Thor: Ragnarok again?

Employee Picks is going to act as a monthly guide of sorts. We’re going to go through each weekend in the month, and pick alternatives for the movies currently playing. Normally, we’d be picking theatrical releases, but since I just wrote you a handy Alternative Summer Movie Guide that literally gives you substitutes for every major title playing this summer, we’re going to focus on home video until August comes to a close.

The rules are simple: for every big-name motion picture, I suggest something from the archives to watch in its place that’s either thematically, spiritually, or tangentially related. Easy peasy. With those general parameters in mind, here are my picks for every big movie dropping on Blu-Ray, DVD or VOD this May.

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In 2000, The L.A. Times published a first-person account written by former census bureau trainee Virginia Leaper, who recalled a sunny California Day during the Spring of ’70, where she’d been assigned (on the last day of training) to survey the infamous Spahn Movie Ranch, where the Manson Family had allegedly plotted the ritualistic murders of actress Sharon Tate and six others. Charles Manson was already in custody and awaiting trial, but a handful of his followers still resided at the ranch with its then 81-year-old owner, George Spahn. As Ms. Leaper tells it, these zealots knew the government had Manson locked down, yet still believed he’d return to them any day, cleared of all charges.

Leaper had heard the rumors regarding the old blind man and the “hippie” commune on his ranch. According to local legend, the young women that still counted Manson as their savior kept Spahn satiated with visceral pleasures (i.e. food and sex), to the point that the geriatric groundskeeper turned his cloudy eyes away from the nefarious happenings on this dusty home front. However, on the afternoon this hapless census employee turned off Santa Susana Pass Road onto the dirt trail that led to Spahn’s ranch, she found Manson’s harem suspiciously eyeing her after she entered its elderly owner’s home. While Leaper asked Spahn a series of questions (all contained in a “three-pound” binder), the dirty faces in the room multiplied, closing in and making her quite uncomfortable.

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alternative summer movie guide

Summer time and the living’s easy.

It’s already May, so there’s a decent chance you’ve sifted through an assortment of seasonal preview pieces, letting you know exactly which tentpoles are hitting when, and why you should be excited to experience their whizzbang delights in a theater near you. But what do you do when the lights go up, and you’ve got a whole week to burn before the next big budget diversion rolls into your local multiplex? Or maybe you don’t want to sit through another SFX driven bit of spectacle, and desire a different breed of entertainment while lounging at home?

That’s why I’m here, to deliver /Film’s “Alternative Summer Movie Guide”. When I’m not writing, I’m privileged to run one of the last rental shops on the planet (Vulcan Video in Austin, Texas), so I spend a solid amount of time making off the beaten path recommendations to folks simply looking for slices of cinema they’ve never heard of. With that in mind, take all these titles as potential double-feature pairings with each week’s major release; or perhaps a complete substitute, saving you a trip to the theater, so that you can be wowed by weirdness from the comfort of your couch.

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death wish and john wick

Eli Roth remade Death Wish, and it arrived on life support in theaters this month. To be fair, Roth’s take on Paul Kersey’s vigilante rampage – which traded in a deceased Charles Bronson for a comatose Bruce Willis – reportedly only cost $30 million and recouped nearly half of that in its third-place bow. If the movie has any staying power or decent international numbers (which is questionable, given its uniquely “American” tone), Roth’s Death Wish will probably break even before making a killing on Redbox/VOD, where groups of gun-loving white dudes will undoubtedly drop three bucks, crack a case of Bud, and chuckle along with another round of Roth’s trademark gore porn.

Critically, Roth’s usual brand of Fangoria-ready mayhem was met with rather steadfast resistance, as many critics weren’t morally ready to buy what this natural born carnival barker was selling.

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