TV Party is a new Friday feature in which Film Editors Dominick Mayer and Justin Gerber alongside Editor-in-Chief Michael Roffman suggest one movie apiece to enjoy over the weekend. Joining them each week will be two rotating film staff writers to help round out the selections. Seek out any of the films via Netflix, Amazon, Redbox, Hulu, OnDemand, or abandoned Blockbuster and Hollywood Video stores — however you crazy kids watch movies these days! Enjoy ’em for the first time, a second, or maybe a redemptive third.
Admittedly, I’m cheating a bit with this week’s entry, because I just published a piece earlier in the week about Laika, but seriously, ParaNorman is essential viewing. As Norman, Kodi Smit-McPhee embodies every weird kid in school who wasn’t particularly off or dangerous or unfriendly, but was just too strange to relate to their peers. And when Norman’s gift for communicating with the dead leads to him having to save the good(ish) people of Blithe Hollow from a centuries-old witch, it’s not as though Norman suddenly becomes an unlikely hero. He’s still a misfit, trying to rescue a bunch of people who’re either too dumb or too uninterested to care.
As both a slyly subversive family movie and a loving homage to horror fandom and to the Hammer creepshows of yore, ParaNorman excels. It has a lot to say about forgiveness and ignorance and the emptiness of revenge, all within a darkly comic, visually breathtaking lark. In its lack of overexertion to appeal to all audiences, ParaNorman does precisely that. Its innate understanding of what makes the macabre appealing to kids of all ages, and how that gets warped in ever sadder directions as we get older, is remarkable stuff for what was written off by some as another Burton-esque, gothic, stop-motion flick.
With V/H/S: Viral just around the corner, I feel obligated to recommend a movie from the V/H/S series. While the first V/H/S film has its moments (particularly the opening and closing chapters), I find that V/H/S/2 is the stronger of the two films. This 2013 “found-footage” release offers up four tales as opposed to the original’s five, making for more developed stories and characters. Plus, the entries are just more effective, especially “Safe Haven” and “Slumber Party Alien Abduction”. The first title is a lie, and the second one tells it as it is, but both make for disturbing viewings.
“Safe Haven”, co-directed by Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Evans (The Raid films), tells a story of a cult whose leader has agreed to meet with a news team. Oh, the cult turns out to be evil and there is a demon baby involved. Choosing to film the short in the comfort of daylight makes the terror to come much more unexpected, as people are violently eliminated in order for one entity to enter the world. Speaking of entering the world, “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” takes place mostly at night, and for anyone who’s ever hosted a sleepover, it’s hard to imagine not relating to a group of kids trying to prevent themselves from being, well, abducted. An underwater scene scared the living hell outta me.
Surprisingly, the first tale by Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest) proves to be the least memorable, but the four that follow make V/H/S/2 a more than worthy follow-up. Have a horrifying weekend.
It’s been three years since The Innkeepers, Ti West’s sharp and spooky follow-up to his 2009 cult indie hit, The House of the Devil. Since then, the young director has dabbled (and struggled) in the short film medium, specifically for 2012’s The ABCs of Death and that same year’s V/H/S. Now, he’s back to proper form with his latest vehicle, The Sacrament, a faux documentary that tosses Joe Swanberg and AJ Bowen into a reclusive religious commune.
While the film certainly works off tropes within the found footage genre, West actually upgrades the content by “partnering” with Vice, adding a little authenticity to the story. The problem, however, is that the branding somewhat hinders any potential stakes. Still, there’s a blurred line of tension that’s actually quite palpable, namely due to one stellar performance by Gene Jones as the commune’s Dr. Moreau-like leader.
If you’re looking for a nightmare, re-watch The House of the Devil. Most of what happens in The Sacrament is mildly predictable, but it’s exciting to see West back in the proverbial saddle, and it’s an ambitious jump from his previous works. It’s just a shame they couldn’t grab Vice CEO Shane Smith for the proper introduction. It just doesn’t feel the same without his Canadian tenor, y’know? Regardless, consider this a proper nightcap after Adam Wingard’s The Guest. I did.
Woodstock’s still got it. Not even a bastardized, Pepsi-sponsored 1994 (or 1999) cash-in can ruin its legacy. One summer in 1969, The Who, Arlo Guthrie, Sly, Santana, Joe Cocker Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and others got together for the grandfather of all music festivals. It’s the counterculture’s calling card with good times, bad acid, and free love. But above all, it was about really stellar bands just playing their best music — a peaceful end to a baffling and busted-up decade and a culmination of good vibes despite all the bad stuff going down.
Keeping that in mind, Woodstock, the Oscar-winning 1970 Michael Wadleigh documentary, is a stellar work of journalistic joy, condensing three crazy days in tothree hours (four depending on which cut you score). All the aforementioned artists are on display in their prime. The Who play up their arena sound. Janis Joplin shows off her flower child effervescence. Joe Cocker’s like a crazy wild animal let out of a cage.
Yet, nothing topped Jimi Hendrix. When the fest died down, and everyone started to bail, he showed up to close out the proceedings with transcendent, wailing renditions of “Voodoo Child” and “Purple Haze” and one iconic reimagining of “The Star-Spangled Banner”. Considering that John Ridley’s Jimi: All Is by My Side opens this weekend, featuring one André 3000 as the guitar rock wizard, we thought you’d like to see the real thing first.
“THAT’S HIIIIIM!!!! THAT’S THE ZODIAC!” screamed the elderly lady sitting behind me when I first saw Zodiac in 2007. And that voice — the sound of Arnold Horshack screaming for help from the bowels of Anne Ramsey — has always haunted me. But not in the way that the movie haunts me every time I walk my dog at night.
The poor ol’ gal was just so convinced that Arthur Leigh Allen (played by the similarly assassin-triple-named John Carroll Lynch) was the still-at-large serial killer, and I felt bad for her. I went in knowing that David Fincher wasn’t gonna blow the lid off one of the great unsolved mysteries. But he played us, and that sweet lady, so good with that teasing interrogation scene that I can’t blame her. By that point in the movie, you just want them to convict someone … anyone. But that’s how West Memphis 3’s get started
If you haven’t seen Fincher’s triumphant portrait of obsession and madness, I don’t know you, so you’re probably the Zodiac. And even if you have, it’s worth revisiting time and again because it’s a perfectly cooked steak of a movie: the kind you can hold between your teeth and lips for years and still be overwhelmed with flavor. And with Gone Girl coming up, and this gem still on Netflix, you owe yourself a trip back to the execution of the Summer of Love.
But the reason I get the willies walking my dog at 10 p.m.? That’s the magic of Fincher’s first full-length dance with the Thompson Viper Filmstream camera. Fincher gets a pass from all 35mm fiends/digital haters with the way he makes nighttime … look like night. The bare, scared streets in the movie mirror my street, down to every whisky-toned streetlamp. And the people here have dropped their guard, forgetting there’s a killer on the loose. The first time I saw Zodiac, I admired it. The second time, I was watching my back.