If there was a silver lining to a year’s worth of shelter-in-place orders, it was the opportunity to spend some quality time with our collective watchlists. And in a year where streaming platforms like Netflix and Disney+ did their best to keep us entertained, it was HBO Max that emerged as the clear winner for genre fans everywhere. With a diverse lineup of action and horror shows – running the gamut from the most ambitious science-fiction series of the year to a re-homed martial arts masterpiece – HBO Max has transcended talk of superheroes to become the premier destination for original programming.

In the year since its launch, the streaming giant has already seen its fair share of headline news. From the initial confusion over the various HBO platforms – HBO Max, HBO Go, and HBO Now spawned their fair share of explainer articles online – to the controversial decision to release its 2021 slate simultaneously on streaming and in theaters, HBO Max has put itself at the center of many conversations about the future of streaming. But discussions about the Why and the How of HBO Max oven overshadow the ambitious lineup of genre content the platform offers, many of which have made this a one-stop-shop for horror and action fans online.

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gamemaster trailer

I may not remember precisely when I rediscovered board games, but I do remember the moment I knew I was hooked. In January of 2016, a friend invited me to join his much-anticipated playthrough of Twilight Imperium, a super-complicated game centering around galactic exploration and conquest. The only catch? The group was meeting three states over, requiring an hours-long drive through terrible weather – and a quick turnaround if I were to be back at work on Monday morning.

I made the drive and was eliminated in hour nine of what would become a twelve-hour game.

Over the intervening years, I’ve found that board games have become an increasingly important part of my relationships with others. They are a common thread that can pull together disparate friend groups. They are also an analog experience that helps me unplug – at least metaphorically – from my responsibilities as a full-time marketer and freelance film critic. Finally, board games serve as a perfect synthesis of my creative and analytical selves, marrying these disparate elements of my personality into one cohesive experience.

Thanks to the new documentary Gamemaster, board game fans have a film that can appreciate both the art and the economics of this billion-dollar industry. I had an opportunity to talk with director Charles Mruz before his Gen Con panel, “Making the Documentary Gamemaster,” which takes place this weekend during the conference’s online experience. In our interview, we discussed his film’s complexity and his willingness to confront some of the challenges of the board game industry head-on.

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Osgood Perkins Interview

It isn’t often you get to tell someone they’ve made the best horror film of the past two decades, but that is exactly how my interview with Osgood Perkins begins. With each passing year, The Blackcoat’s Daughter expands its audience, and it won’t be long before most horror fans accept its status as an iconic film of the 21st Century.

But Perkins is hardly a one-hit wonder. In addition to I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House – an intoxicatingly original (and uniquely American) ghost story – Perkins continues to carve a niche for himself with atmospheric projects like Gretel & Hansel, the latest adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Gretel & Hansel has been made before, of course, but Perkins’s take on the story is the perfect encapsulation of what makes him special as a filmmaker.

By ignoring the temptation to turn the Hansel & Gretel story into a – and I quote – “fucked up adult horror movie,” Perkins may just have made his most revealing project to-date.

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uncut gems review

On the early afternoon of November 28, 2019, Josh and Benny Safdie celebrated Thanksgiving by sharing scenes of intense family dysfunction. Over the course of the afternoon, the Safdies’ official Twitter account posted a handful of .gifs from Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love. The first is a scene where Adam Sandler’s Barry Egan – having just punched out his sister’s sliding glass door in a rare fit of unrepressed anger – admits to his clueless brother-in-law that there are moments when he does not like himself. The thread ends with the iconic dream-like sequences from the film, built around the abstract colors of the late digital artist Jeremy Blake.

With Uncut Gems now in theaters, the Safdie’s appreciation of Punch-Drunk Love is bound to become a frequent talking point. Sandler’s performance as jeweler Harry Ratner is already garnering Academy Award buzz – or, at the bare minimum, outrage about its Golden Globe snub – and the Safdie brothers seem poised to cross over to mainstream audiences in a way that not even the Robert Pattinson-starring Good Time could make happen. And yet, despite a well-documented love for Anderson’s film, both Josh and Benny Safdie are quick to point out that any parallels between the two features are less overt than they may seem.

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Original The Shining Reviews

(Welcome to The Film Historiography, a series that explores the initial reactions to important, iconic, and memorable films.)

“Writing about Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, which is now playing at the Capitol Theater, is a lot like writing about God or politics. Everybody’s doing it.” – Vivi Mannuzza, The Berkshire Eagle

In the late 1970s, Stanley Kubrick set out to make the “ultimate horror film.” Bringing together his mastery of cinema as an artform – and working from a much-beloved Stephen King novel – Kubrick labored to bring to the screen The Shining, the now-iconic horror film about isolation, domestic violence, and the bad places in the world that call to broken people. Fans flocked to see the film, which diverged early and often from King’s novel; disappointed by the Kubrick’s creative liberties with the novel, The Shining labored as an arthouse curio for years before finally earning its place atop the modern horror canon.

As far as historiographies goes, it’s mostly true. Kubrick may indeed have set out to create the “ultimate horror film” – though that phrase seems more directly attributable to a May 1980 Newsweek article hyping the film than any direct quote from Kubrick himself – but he did so at a time when both horror and Stephen King were capturing the imagination of mainstream audiences everywhere. Hollywood was still adjusting to a new wave of horror films like Halloween (1978), The Amityville Horror (1979), and Alien (1979), and Kubrick’s meticulous shot construction and melodramatic character work seemed at odds with the naturalistic direction of the genre.

These were the threads that regional film critics were running with when The Shining hit theaters in May 1980. While the overarching narrative remains the same – it was underappreciated, it was misunderstood – the reasons for this are rooted in these cultural touchpoints of the era. As we look forward to Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep, a sequel to both Kubrick and King’s versions of The Shining, it’s worth looking back at the critics and the conversations that helped shape the film’s legacy for the next 30 years.  

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zombieland double tap trailer

It’s been ten years since Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland was the breakout surprise of October 2009 and, believe it or not, the sequel is finally here. Those who followed the rumors in the intervening decade must have felt that Zombieland: Double Tap was never going to happen; despite the obvious enthusiasm from star Jesse Eisenberg and the rest of the cast, the production delays, casting concerns, and screenwriter turnover made it tough to imagine a sequel ever seeing the light of day. But not only does the new film reunite pretty much everyone – cast, director, and screenwriters – it also manages to capture some of the same magic that made the original a successful R-rated comedy at a time where that seemed like a minor Hollywood miracle.

And while the world of these characters has not changed drastically since we last saw them – zombies and rules are still very much intact – it’s hard not to draw parallels between the two films and see what has changed about both zombie movies and comedies in one little decade.

In a recent interview with both Fleischer and Eisenberg, we discussed getting the script to the right place, finding room for improvisation, and the power of limitations when it comes to shooting action. 

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Angel Has Fallen Director Interview

It isn’t often that movies blow things up – metaphorically, of course – the third time around, especially when the first two installments are a hit with their intended audience. In 2013, Gerard Butler starred in Olympus Has Fallen, a mid-budget blockbuster where one intrepid Secret Service agent defended the White House against an invading force. In 2016, Butler and company found even more success with London Has Fallen, this time putting Butler’s Mike Banning – and his President-defending ways – on foreign soil. After two movies and more than $370 million at the box office, it would not have come as a surprise if Angel Has Fallen was just a simple twist on a familiar formula.

Instead, writer-director Ric Roman Waugh stepped and made the franchise his own. “It needed to have my stamp on it,” Waugh explains, noting that he took the structure of the existing Angel Has Fallen script and added elements more in keeping with his own filmography. Following That Which I Love Destroys Me, his 2015 documentary on the effects of PTSD in the military, Waugh had plenty to say on the impact a lifetime of service could have on both the body and the mind. The traumas of the modern military quickly became a focal point for Angel Has Fallen. “They’re dealing with a very different type of post-traumatic stress,” Waugh continues. “They’re dealing with war addiction. They’re dealing with being in battle for so many years now that their brains are becoming wired to it.”

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Making of The Peanut Butter Falcon

For years, moviegoers and fans of wrestling have found themselves the unlikeliest of bedfellows. In wrestling, cinema lovers can share their love of detail character work and precise stunts with a brand new audience; in many ways, wrestling is the perfect allegory for those who want to beat the odds and carve out a Hollywood career.

So it comes as no surprise to find that wrestling was one of the main passions in the life of Zack Gottsagen, the breakout star of the upcoming film The Peanut Butter Falcon. Just as his character wants to find work as a professional wrestler, Gottsagen had always dreamed of starring in a major Hollywood film. This makes The Peanut Butter Falcon the rare film with a happy ending both on and offscreen.

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Jaws Board Game Review

(Welcome to Cardboard Cinema, a feature that explores the intersection between movies and tabletop gaming. This column is sponsored by Dragon’s Lair Comics & Fantasy in Austin, Texas.)

In 1975, Axron released the first tabletop adaptation of Jaws, a dexterity game that saw you trying to hook bone pieces from the open jaws of a mechanical shark. While the 1975 Jaws was a fine repurposing of Operation, it was not exactly a faithful creation of the movie itself. Those who wanted to replay the doomed adventures of Brody, Hooper, and Quint would have to wait more than four decades until 2019, when European game developer Ravensburger would release Jaws into Targets across America. And thankfully, everyone’s favorite killer shark has finally found a tabletop adaptation worth his dorsal fin.

This is actually the second time Ravensburger has tackled a beloved Steven Spielberg property. The developer had previously released Jurassic Park: Danger!, an adaptation of the original film that features Alan Grant and other characters scrambling to restore power and escape the island. Like Jaws, the players take on the role of either the dinosaurs or the humans, and what follows is a game of expensively themed checkers. Humans move to tiles, dinosaurs chase them, and the only real strategy in the game comes when you have to decide when to let a dinosaur eat your character. It’s a fine party game – and, as an in-store Target exclusive, will probably help hook a new generation of tabletop players – but it’s also an example of how developers can connect on a theme but miss on mechanics. Recreating Jurassic Park with friends is underwhelming when you make Jurassic Park a much dumber narrative in the process.

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hard rain

If you asked me to describe my memory of ‘90s action movies in a single image, it would be this: our hero, wading through thigh-deep water, firing an endless barrage of bullets at whatever bad guy or monster happens to be offscreen. In my nostalgia-addled brain, it seems like every movie from that decade featured some combination of flooding and gunfights. And if this same reverence for waterlogged ‘90s blockbusters is what inspired Hollywood to churn out The Hurricane Heist, then I certainly can’t complain. The math, at least as far as I’m concerned, checks out.

If there was a peak period for this particular type of movie, though, it must’ve come in the months between 1997 and 1998. In that six-month span, three action movies were released that serve as rorschach tests for the decade: Speed 2: Cruise Control, Deep Rising, and Hard Rain. Woven together by a shared love of jet skis and blockbuster films like Die Hard and Speed, these three movies could be regarded as variations on a single ridiculous theme. Even Roger Ebert, in his review of Deep Rising, pointed to the trend of recycling these action beats for his upcoming movies. “No sooner is there an indoor jetski chase in Hard Rain,” Ebert wrote, “(then) there’s one in Deep Rising.” These films were also enough to drive Reddit user LundgrensFrontKick borderline insane in 2016 when he attempted to quantify the exact pain inflicted by jet skis movies at the domestic box office.

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