Right now, many of us are stuck inside our homes for the foreseeable future, and it can seem like an incredibly dull place. Movies have repeatedly shown us how even one tiny room can hold great stories within. Here are some movies that use small spaces to tell tense and exciting stories.Continue reading “Single Location Movies”
These are strange times and many of us are stuck inside waiting to see how things end up. If you are stuck inside and have access to a streaming service I have put together a list of movies from a variety of genres currently available on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu. Hope you find something here to help get your mind off things and pass the time.Continue reading “Social Distancing Film Festival”
Thanksgiving is not a holiday known for many films. Compare that to Christmas and Halloween, and the deficit is downright shocking. But Thanksgiving is a significant occasion for so many American families. With that in mind, I scoured my mind and the internet for a list of films that are Thanksgiving-related. Some of these are obvious, others not so much. If you are wondering what pictures to watch to ring in the day of consumption, on the eve of the blackest of Fridays here you are.Continue reading “Thanksgiving Movie Marathon”
In a matter of days, the next President of the United States will be decided. During this tumultuous time, it can be fun and educating to look at how films have portrayed candidates, elections, media, and the government. Here’s a line-up that spans the spectrum between serious social drama to goofball satire.
The Candidate (1972, dir. Michael Ritchie)
While based on a 1970s election campaign, the ideas and political machinations present in The Candidate still feel very fresh. Peter Boyle plays an election strategist who is tasked with finding a Democratic candidate to go up against a seemingly unbeatable Republican senator in California. He find the candidate in Bill McKay (Robert Redford) a community activist who is the son of a former California governor. McKay is reticent to run but is eventually convinced that he can help his causes better in a position as senator. What follows is a tug of war between idealism and the cold machine of politics. Director Michael Ritchie handles the content with a very adult, intelligent eye and produces an excellent film about American politics.
Bob Roberts (1992, dir. Tim Robbins)
On the total opposite end of the spectrum when comes to tone is Bob Roberts, Tim Robbin’s passion project mockumentary about conservative Republican folk singer who becomes a populist success on his campaign to become a senator. Supporting Robbins as the titular Roberts are Gore Vidal, Giancarlo Esposito, Alan Rickman, and many more familiar faces that pop for a cameo. The film operates as both a political version of This Is Spinal Tap and genuinely (and these days realistically) terrifying examination of the campaigning machine.
Anytown, USA (2005, dir. Kristian Fraga)
The scene is Bogota, New Jersey, and the conflict is over who will be the mayor. Three candidates are clashing over the position: Republican Steve Lonegan, Democrat Fred Pesce, and independent Dave Musikant. The impetus of the dirty campaign is the cutting of funds to high school football team. The lengthy public fights and arguments are full of the story of fascinating and unexpected twists you find in great small town stories: both the Republican and Democratic candidates are legally blind, the independent candidate hires the former campaign manager of Jesse Ventura, Pesce becomes violently ill near the end of the campaign. The documentary operates as both the quirky story of a small town election and a dissection of the way modern politics divides neighbors.
The Times of Harvey Milk (1984, dir. Rob Epstein)
I first saw this documentary during a rough time in my life. Out of college, unemployed, sleeping on a friend’s couch. I flipped through the channels and came to the Sundance Channel and was pulled deep into the story of Harvey Milk. The first openly gay elected official in California, Milk was one of the last great McGovern era idealist politicians. I learned about how his public face helped push for the acceptance of LGBT Americans in all walks of life. And when the doc reached the inevitable moments of the end of Milk’s life it is heartbreaking. The interviews with the activists and co-workers who Milk meant so much to made me cry so hard that afternoon. He is one of our modern American heroes.
In the Loop (2009, dir. Armando Iannucci)
Most Americans likely know Iannucci’s work in the biting and fantastic comedy Veep. However, he started taking apart the inner workings of government and politics on the BBC’s The Thick of It. In the Loop serves as a film spin-off of that series. It features the current Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi as the foul-mouth Director of Communications for the Prime Minister. Almost, but not quite, stealing the show from Capaldi is Tom Hollander as the completely inept Minister for International Development who almost sets off an international incident when speaking off the cuff during a television interview. In the Loop is one of those comedies with jokes whizzing by so fast you’ll discover a deep vein of humor with every viewing.
Being There (1981, dir. Hal Ashby)
Based on the slim novel by Jerzy Kosinski and directed by Hal Ashby, Being There feels like a mix of Wes Anderson and Armando Iannucci’s irreverent political comedy. The jokes are mostly subtle but build to one majorly stunning ending. Chance the Gardener (Peter Sellers) is possibly the bastard son of a reclusive D.C. millionaire and he’s never left the walls of the property in the heart of the city. The owner dies and Chance is tossed out onto the street where, after a case of mistaken identity, he’s believed to be a political mastermind. Even the President seeks out Chance’s advice. There is a less than covert taking down of government and organized religion going on, which is made very apparent by the final shot. One of the best films about politics and Mr. Sellers’ final work.
A Face in the Crowd (1957, dir. Elia Kazan)
If you only know Andy Griffith from his early 1960s sitcom then you are in for a huge shock. Griffith plays Lonesome Rhodes, who starts out as a drifter and criminal but also possess an ability to coerce and convince others. A radio producer discovers Rhodes and decides to use his charisma to gather a large populist following through political broadcasts. Rhodes quickly becomes drunk on the power and gains a dangerous level of national influence. He ends up as a tool for corporate peddling, tying their economic interests to the fears of his listeners. This might be the single most prescient film about media and politics ever made. If you ever wanted to learn what goes on inside the minds of men like Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones, here you go. The film also features the criminally underrated actress, Patricia Neal who plays the love interest and adversary to Lonesome.
I’ve thought there was something intriguing about witches. I’m not talking about the nature-worshipping Wiccan kind, but the obscene primal worshippers of ancient dark gods. Few films provide us with great, scary witches. Instead, we get the Wicked Witch of the West archetype or Willow from Buffy; not there is anything wrong with those. This list showcases some scary, creepy, terrifying witches.
The Lords of Salem (2012, dir. Rob Zombie)
I’m not a huge fan of Mr. Zombie’s film work. House of 1000 Corpses was grotesque in all the wrong ways, and his follow up just never got me interested. I was quite surprised by the trailer to this film. It was full of strikingly beautiful and horrific imagery. It had an air of mystery, and that vibe the best horror flicks of the 1970s oozed. Heidi, a radio DJ, receives a vinyl record that plays a strange chanting song. Soon after she starts experiencing hallucinations and the landladies of her building seem up to something. Soon, Heidi is descending into the pits of Hell as her role in an ancient rite becomes apparent.
Suspiria (1977, dir. Dario Argento)
The most iconic witch film on this list and a beautiful example of Giallo, a hyper-stylish Italian horror genre from the 1970s. The opening scene of this film is, in my opinion, one of the most terrifying and gorgeous film sequences. An unseen killer stalks a young woman who runs for her life through the halls of a massive mansion. She meets her end in a terrible way, and this begins the story of a ballet school in the woods where the dancers are being picked off by an evil witch. 1970s starlet Jessica Harper stars as the lead, and her look matches the almost fairytale surroundings of this classic horror story.
The Woods (2006, dir. Lucky McKee)
The Woods is the second Lucky McKee film on a Hypothetical Film Festival this month. He’s just one of those directors who knows the genre incredibly well but doesn’t always construct a winner every time. The Woods is one of those films that hovers in that middle space between fantastic and campy. It’s the 1960s and Heather has been dumped at a girl’s school in the woods of the Northeast by her parents. Heather begins having nightmares about students she’s met who have been killed. With some investigation, she learns there is witchcraft going on at the school. The highlight of the film is Patricia Clarkson as the school’s headmistress. Clarkson is enjoying herself in the role and is quite menacing. This film would make a perfect double feature with Suspiria.
Drag Me To Hell (2009, dir. Sam Raimi)
Drag Me To Hell is the big stand out on the list because of how insane and extreme it gets with its witch’s curse. Christine is a loan officer at a bank who is pressured to deny an elderly woman an extension on her mortgage. The woman becomes irate and curses Christine which leads to an absorbing metaphorical examination of eating disorders. Drag Me To Hell pulls out some incredibly gross visuals playing with food and having disgusting things in your mouth (no, not like that!). Actress Alison Lohman is put through the wringer in a film that showcases how dangerous it is to cross a witch.
The Witch (2015, dir. Robert Eggers)
The Witch is probably the best film about witches ever made. Director Eggers shows what a master of the craft he is by building the perfect mood of dread. Every image is carefully framed, and the soundtrack underscores the growing horror in the woods. A Puritan family is banished from their village and end up building a home near the edge of some dark woods. First, the infant son is taken and then accusations between the family members begin to fly. From the opening shots, The Witch is clear it is going to be a sensory shaking experience. Composer Mark Korvin’s haunting score with its hellish choir takes us to the very edge of the evil that is stalking the family in the woods. The film’s finale is simultaneously beautiful and evil.
Hypothetical Film Festivals place five to six films together that share some thematic element.
Hypothetical Film Festival: Family Nightmares
Families can be terrifying things. They have histories shaded in darkness and can know your most intimate secrets. Sometimes it’s hard to decide whether being inside a family is more disturbing than viewing one from the outside.
Parents (1989, dir. Bob Balaban)
Bob Balaban is known to most of us a beloved character actor with a penchant for dry, Buster Keaton-esque reactions. You’ve seen him as the narrator in Moonrise Kingdom or multiple Christopher Guest mockumentaries. Less well known is his first foray into feature film directing, Parents. Starring Randy Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt as the titular parents, the film focuses on their son’s slow burn discovery of a horrific secret they’ve been hiding from him. Set in the 1950s the film plays with the conventions of the nuclear family unit and is a genuinely dark and horrifying film. Balaban’s use of slow motion and twisted camera angles ease the movie into a deeply disturbing place.
Visitor Q (2002, dir. Takashi Miike)
There are few families on this list as fucked up as the Yamazakis. Father, mother, son, and daughter, they are one depraved, twisted mess after another. I won’t go into the details here, but suffice to say from the opening scene you should be unsettled. Director Miike drops Visitor Q into the mix, a stranger who seems intent on forcing this family to come back together but not giving up their utterly disturbing behaviors. Murder, drug use, incest, these are just a few of the messed up things that go down in this film. If you’ve ever seen a Miike film it won’t come as a surprise, but if you haven’t…well you are in for quite an experience.
Home Movie (2008, dir. Christopher Denham)
Pastor David Poe and his wife Clare have just moved, with their son and daughter, to a quaint home in the New England woods. Based on the director’s experience as a child filming his family’s life, Home Movie uses the found footage trope to explore multiple perspectives of parents dealing with children seemingly possessed by pure evil. Nothing supernatural ever happens, and it appears that we’re dealing with children who have suddenly become sociopathic. The sense of dread the film builds is very profound and primal, and the horror of what the children have been up to in secret is slowly laid out for the audience. The final chilling moments of the film descend into pure visceral horror and leave the viewer with lots of questions and lots of things to think about.
The Woman (2011, dir. Lucky McKee)
If you watch one film on this list, make it The Woman. It’s based on a novel by Jack Ketchum who if you know anything about him already know this is a very dark, disturbing film. An unnamed woman, the last of a clan of violent humans, somehow untouched by civilization and kept feral, ends up in the custody of Chris Cleek and his family. Chris is one of the scariest film villains I have ever witnessed on screen, so sure of his moral and divine right to control those around him. Pollyanna McIntosh plays The Woman and delivers such a raw, vicious performance that it will linger in your mind for years as it has with me. Where this film goes and the secrets it reveals about this family are more disturbing than any Texas Chainsaw Massacre you can dream up. What family members do to one another is often beyond even our worst nightmares.
Here Comes the Devil (2012, dir. Adrian Garcia Bogliano)
A family takes a trip near the outskirts of Tijuana and lose their preteen son and daughter in the hills. Hours later, the police deliver the two children home. The parents are so relieved and move on with their lives. However, something is very very wrong with the kids. They don’t eat anymore, they don’t sleep, and their babysitter sees something…something so terrible she cannot give it words, the night she watches them. But parents can’t abandon and give up on their children. Here Comes the Devil explores the lengths to which parents will go to protect their children and how they will destroy others rather than confront the evil sitting across the kitchen table from them.
It’s as simple as the title, films that have very prominent brother relationships at their core.
American History X (1998, dir. Tony Kaye)
Everyone remembers Edward Norton as the terrifying, swastika tattooed skinhead. The scene where he curbs a young black man who had broken into his house is gut wrenching. What’s interesting is how he so embodies evil in the flashbacks during the film, yet is an incredibly sympathetic character when reformed. His younger brother, played by Edward Furlong, is high school student struggling to understand how his older brother has turned his back on their family’s white power ways. In many ways the film is a race against time picture, Norton is desperately trying to get his little brother to stop being motivated through hate before something terrible happens to him.
Capturing the Friedmans (2003, dir. Andrew Jarecki)
In the 1980s, Arnold Friedman, a Long Island resident was arrested for possession of child pornography. As investigations continued police believe that Arnold and his son Jesse were sexually molesting students of private computer lessons they gave in the home. The two other sons in the family become strained as the family is marked as a pariah in the neighborhood. The evidence for the case is based entirely on the testimony of the students, and it could be interpreted that these confessions were encouraged by the authorities. But that doesn’t explain the magazines, or the overall strangeness of this family and these three brothers. A very disturbing film that, much like in real life, leaves you with a lot of answered questions.
Straw Dogs (1971, dir. Sam Peckinpah)
While the main plot concerns Dustin Hoffman and his British bride being plagued by the local thugs of her hometown, those thugs are brothers through their life together in this small village. In particular, David Warner as Henry Niles, a mentally handicapped man whom tags along with the boys in a major piece in the story. The film is violent and hard to watch. Hoffman basically cracks after being pushed too far by the thugs and precedes to murder them all. By the end of the film Hoffman has take Warner into his care, and Warner has shifted from being the brother of his villagers to a brother with Hoffman. His final line of the movie “I don’t know my way home” is incredibly poignant given the larger context of the film.
Mean Creek (2004, dir. Jacob Aaron Estes)
Mean Creek is a film about actors you are familiar with doing very dark things. Actors from Nickleodeon and Disney Channel shows are featured here as well as a Culkin brother. It seems Sam (Rory Culkin) is bullied endlessly by George (Josh Peck). Sam’s brother and his friends invite George out for a rafting trip with the intention of humiliating George on camera and then showing it to the kids at school. Things go wrong, someone dies, and the group are forced to deal with dark subjects you would never expect them to have to. A body has to be hidden, police have to be lied to, and their innocence is completely destroyed by the end of the film.
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007, dir. Sidney Lumet)
Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke star as brothers whose choices have led them down some very sad paths. Hoffman is a successful investor who has been dipping in the company till to fund his drug habit. Hawke is divorced and estranged from his daughter, he needs money to prove he can share custody. Hoffman suggests they knock over their parent’s jewelry store, knowing that insurance will cover the losses. They send in a third party and things go very bad. The film is told out of sequence and it definitely works well. We see the heist, not knowing who any of these people are, then we jump back and see how it was put together. We see a funeral then we see the brothers hatching their plan. This is probably one of the darkest films about brotherhood and a criminally overlooked film from a master director.