movie recommendations

(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.)

Now that we’re out of the Halloween season, it seems like it’s finally time to stick to the script. So, without further ado, here’s a legitimate, 100% to format, no-BS edition of Employee Picks. Read More »

I Am Not Gone: Finding Hope at the Movies in 2018

Finding Hope in the Movies

(This article discusses key plot points from Mandy, First Reformed, You Were Never Really Here, Apostle, Burning, and The Haunting of Hill House.)

One of the more indelible images contained in 2018’s cinema arrives at about the halfway point of Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy. Following an unspeakable misfortune, Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) stares down at all that remains of the titular woman he loves (Andrea Riseborough): a charred skull sitting atop a pile of fresh ashes. Without warning, the wind picks up and, as Jóhann Jóhannsson’s haunting love theme throbs, we watch as Red’s reason for being is quickly blown away before his eyes. Suddenly, the entire first half of the film – revolving around the couple’s idyllic, secluded existence – feel like distant memories, lost to the ether of time and space and a fate that eludes anyone’s control but the Gods who live between the planets above our heads.

For all the praise heaped upon Mandy for its “metal” and “insane” nature (and, don’t get this writer wrong, Cosmatos’ movie is insanely metal) what often gets lost in the conversation revolving around the instantly iconic genre picture is how crushingly melancholy it is. At its core, Mandy is a deeply heartrending movie, revolving around a man who literally loses the one light that keeps booze and violence at bay, succumbing to his basest nature as he descends into a literal pit to battle LSD-brained Cenobite bikers, gnarly cult weirdos, and their leader (Linus Roache, channeling Richard Lynch) who’s basically the Faustian manifestation of fragile male ego. This is Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Ghost Rider, only there’s no returning from the abyss with a flaming skull; only the vague recollection of what it once meant to be truly happy with another human being.

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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.)

Seeing how October’s my favorite month of the year (Season of the Witch!), you can expect some extra spooky selections in this edition of Employee Picks, which will pair well with that Pumpkin Ale you just picked out at the liquor store (no judgement, enjoy that themed brew, baby).

Now, enough with the chit chat. Let’s pick up our weapons of choice (be it axe, pick, machete or chainsaw) and start tearing victims apart…

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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.)

Yes, yes…I know last month I promised to take this column into its more “traditional” territory: offering up alternatives to upcoming theatrical releases. But September is my favorite time of the year for one simple reason: Fantastic Fest. So, in honor of the greatest genre cinema celebration on the planet, I thought it pertinent to pick a slew of recommendations based on eight titles from this year’s utterly spectacular programming. That way, those of you who aren’t lucky enough to attend the Austin shindig can throw your own little fest in your living room.

What do you say? Shall we get started?

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castle rock filter

“People think we’re just one of those dead towns they heard about: a run of bad luck, worse judgement, broken promises. We know different, don’t we? It’s not luck. It’s a plan…and not God’s, either. Remember the dog? The Strangler? Sure, you do. How ’bout all the others that didn’t make headlines?”

So goes Shawshank Prison Warden Dale Lacy’s (Terry O’Quinn) voice over introduction to the second episode of Castle Rock (titled “Habeas Corpus”). But just what the hell is he even babbling on about in this string of vague references?

Like so many Stephen King-related tales, this may lead us to the Dark Tower. However, the road to get there is a bit long and winding, requiring us to explore the show’s various references and Easter Eggs.

Major spoilers lie ahead.

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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.

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Mission Impossible Rogue Nation Christopher McQuarrie

(Welcome to Team Leaders, a series where we explore how the directors of the Mission: Impossible movies used this franchise as a canvas to explore their pet themes and show off their unique sensibilities. In this edition: Christopher McQuarrie leads the series into the future with Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.)

With Ghost Protocol (’11), writer/director Christopher McQuarrie previously put his stamp (albeit anonymously) on the franchise’s future, having been brought in midway through shooting to help re-tool the narrative of animation great Brad Bird’s live-action blockbuster debut. This “doctoring” assignment arrived because of the scribe’s growing history with Tom Cruise, which began on the old-fashioned Hitler assassination adventure, Valkyrie (’08), where McQuarrie tailored the part of rebellious Nazi officer Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg for Cruise after introducing the All-American marque idol to director Bryan Singer at United Artists.

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ghost protocol

(Welcome to Team Leaders, a series where we explore how the directors of the Mission: Impossible movies used this franchise as a canvas to explore their pet themes and show off their unique sensibilities. In this edition: Brad Bird brings his animated sensibilities to Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.)

For Brad Bird, there’s no difference between helming animation and live-action. A film is a film, and a director is a director, regardless of the visual mode an artist is operating within.

Handpicked by Tom Cruise (who loved Bird’s work on The Incredibles [‘04]) and longtime compadre J.J. Abrams* – thus solidifying Bad Robot’s ongoing influence on the tentpole franchise – the Simpsons and Iron Giant (’99) architect viewed Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol as an opportunity to branch out and diversify his already impressive filmography; not as some half-assed, insulting means of gaining the acceptance of his peers, the press, or viewers (as animation has long been relegated to being “for kids”).

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(Welcome to Team Leaders, a series where we explore how the directors of the Mission: Impossible movies used this franchise as a canvas to explore their pet themes and show off their unique sensibilities. In this edition: J.J. Abrams brings his “mystery box” methods to the series and reboots it all.)

After Mission: Impossible II made over half a billion dollars worldwide, it wouldn’t seem prudent to re-tool the franchise’s format. However, due to the overblown shooting schedule on John Woo’s first sequel, and the fact that the somewhat compromised final cut received mixed to negative reviews from both critics and fans (on top of Tom Cruise butting heads with the Hong Kong auteur on numerous occasions behind the scenes), taking the Mission: Impossible movies in a new direction makes sense in hindsight (at least from its star/chief creative force’s perspective).

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mission impossible 2 john woo

(Welcome to Team Leaders, a series where we explore how the directors of the Mission: Impossible movies used this franchise as a canvas to explore their pet themes and show off their unique sensibilities. In this edition: John Woo’s graceful Hong Kong transplant, Mission: Impossible II.)

18 years after the May 2000 bow of Mission: Impossible II, it’s somewhat hard to swallow that the movie made $546 million worldwide, mostly because it’s garnered such an awful reputation (with many cinephiles considering it the unqualified nadir of the franchise). Some folks flat out hate John Woo’s Tom Cruise team-up (and fourth American theatrical feature), utilizing it as the prime example in arguments regarding how the United States studio system somehow “broke” the legendary Hong Kong action auteur.

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