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Wes Craven (#110 of 11)

A Deadly Blessing Cult Cinema: An Arrow Video Companion

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A Deadly Blessing: Cult Cinema: An Arrow Video Companion
A Deadly Blessing: Cult Cinema: An Arrow Video Companion

A figure named Death dressed in black standing in front of the sea. A woman shot through her glasses with blood pouring down her face. A man huffing gas while stroking a garment made of blue velvet. These images—all iconic moments from watershed films—first presented themselves to me during my adolescence as I intensely perused a 1999 volume titled Entertainment Weekly’s 100 Greatest Movies of All Time. Most cinephiles surely have a comparable story, a moment when the local multiplex started to take a backseat to the larger scope of a cinematic past that seemed far more mysterious than anything Anakin Skywalker and the gang were getting into.

Ranking the Top 10 Final Girls of Horror Cinema

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Ranking the Top 10 Final Girls of Horror Cinema
Ranking the Top 10 Final Girls of Horror Cinema

Happy Halloween, folks. Hope you’re enjoying our epic horror list, which is counting down the best of the best in a genre that’s near and dear to our hearts. As an added bonus, I thought I’d pay tribute to one of my favorite horror tropes—the Final Girl, a very specific type of heroine who’s usually left to deal with the cops when they come to clean up the bodies. There are newbies, legends, and even a comedienne on this roster, but all of them have earned their right to be here, either by standing on the shoulders of giants or wildly impaling creatures of the night. Sadly, I Know What You Did Last Summer’s Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt) didn’t make the cut, but as she would say, “What are you waiting for?!?!” Read on.

15 Famous Airplane Movies

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15 Famous Airplane Movies
15 Famous Airplane Movies

Pedro Almodóvar is back this week with I’m So Excited, a high-flying lark about sex, drugs, and past and present Spanish politics, all set on a commercial jet that can’t find a decent place to land. The cast of characters, played by Almodóvar alums like Javier Cámara and Cecilia Roth, and international breakouts like Raúl Arévalo, do whatever they can to distract themselves from potential doom, while the aircraft flies in limbo-like circles. The randy comedy got us thinking of other films that take to the skies, from sci-fi nightmares and fact-based dramas to war flicks and ensemble classics. Read on to see which movies made it on board.

15 Famous Movie Phone Calls

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15 Famous Movie Phone Calls
15 Famous Movie Phone Calls

Budding blonde Ari Graynor continues the R-rated femme comedy trend this weekend in For a Good Time, Call…, a naughty film that pairs the funny gal with brunette Lauren Miller (otherwise known as Mrs. Seth Rogen). Inspired by Miller’s college exploits with roommate and co-writer Katie Ann Naylon, the movie casts the leading pair as sparring roomies turned phone sex operators, a scenario that soon proves especially lucrative. Phones may have undergone a lot of makeovers in recent years, but their effectiveness on screen has been solid since the days of the candlestick model. In honor of the new fantasy-fulfilling comedy’s basis in ring-a-ding-ding, we’ve gathered up 15 films with highly memorable phone calls, which run the gamut from disarming to terrifying.

15 Famous Movie Savages

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15 Famous Movie Savages
15 Famous Movie Savages

Oliver Stone returns this weekend with Savages, a nasty crime thriller based on Don Winslow’s drug-cartel novel. The dictionary defines “savage” as “an uncivilized human being,” “a fierce, brutal, or cruel person,” and “a rude, boorish person.” In other words, it covers just about every villain who’s ever graced the screen. To whip up a list of 15, we set our sights on vicious characters as fierce as they are remarkably uncouth. There are no classy rogues here, folks. These are teeth-gnashing, eardrum-piercing, elbows-on-the-table types, and from a child murderer to a furry monster to two more Stone creations, they comprise a choice selection of scoundrels.

The Formulaic Shock and Awe of Tobe Hooper’s Midnight Movie

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The Formulaic Shock and Awe of Tobe Hooper’s Midnight Movie
The Formulaic Shock and Awe of Tobe Hooper’s Midnight Movie

The pop-cultural consensus on horror director Tobe Hooper would seem to be that, with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, he somehow made one of the genre’s defining masterpieces right out of the gate only to squander a promising career on a string of strange mediocrities that ultimately marked him more as a hack-for-hire than an auteur in the tradition of more respected contemporaries such as John Carpenter, Wes Craven, or George A. Romero. (The only other film Hooper made that had any significant cultural impact, or drew favorable critical notice, was Poltergeist, which is, of course, famously primarily credited to producer/co-writer Steven Spielberg.)

While this rep undeniably has more than a little truth to it, I’ve always been sympathetic to Hooper, as I’ve always felt that he’s gotten a bum rap from even the horror genre’s notoriously less discriminating fans. Firstly, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre isn’t “one of the best American horror films of all time” (though snobs love that sort of qualifier), it’s one of the best American films period—a sweaty, rough-and-tumble masterpiece that catches a specifically troubled time in this country’s history with an immediacy and intensity that 30-plus years and countless remakes and imitations hasn’t managed to diminish one iota. Secondly, Poltergeist, which admittedly reflects quite a bit of Spielberg’s sensibility, has a cynicism and jolting brutality, not to mention an intimacy among the reformed hippie parents, that strikes me as more a result of the influence of Hooper than Spielberg. And thirdly, Hooper’s extremely uneven filmography has born more, well, fascinatingly not-quite-right features than is typically acknowledged, such as Eaten Alive, The Funhouse, Invaders from Mars, Lifeforce, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, which all have a mad drive-in theater potency that’s far more interesting than the work of the inexplicably overrated Wes Craven.

Summer of ‘86: Aliens

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Summer of ‘86: <em>Aliens</em>
Summer of ‘86: <em>Aliens</em>

In Scream 2, the question of whether a sequel can be better than the original film becomes a running gag, with participants intermittently suggesting examples. For Wes Craven, it’s just another of the many self-referential gestures in his Scream films and elsewhere. But for film lovers, it’s a game worth playing. Enthusiasts differ on whether The Empire Strikes Back really is better than Star Wars (now A New Hope), or should be disqualified as the middle part of a trilogy; and whether Superman II outshines Superman: The Movie. Probably the one sequel that no one denies is superior to its original is The Road Warrior. But in the Summer of ’86, James Cameron’s Aliens outdid Ridley Scott’s Alien in every way imaginable.

A sequel has to be both the same film and different, and this is a challenge for anyone undertaking to direct a follow-up. How to make the film your own, turn it into something that stands up in its own right, while still repeating enough of the successes of the original to justify its coattail riding at the box office? Cameron had announced himself with The Terminator a couple of years earlier, and now faced the challenge of reinventing one of the most popular and successful fantasy-genre films of all time. The 1979 film had married science fiction with horror in a way unseen since the ’50s, reviving the monster genre, which had, for the most part, died out in the wake of Psycho’s ushering in of an era of more personal, intimate, human horror.

Old Ghosts & New Blood: A Scream Generation Gap

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Old Ghosts & New Blood: A <em>Scream</em> Generation Gap
Old Ghosts & New Blood: A <em>Scream</em> Generation Gap

Even with the monopolizing traditions of CG family fare, it was truly jarring to look at the box office numbers for the April 15th weekend and find that Rio, a kaleidoscopic spectacle complete with jive-talking birds resurrected from Dumbo, had snatched the top spot from Scream 4, a far more noteworthy resurrection of one of the most popular franchises of our time. Or, perhaps I should speak for myself. For someone so anxious to keep in step with the new, now and worthwhile, I feel grossly out of the loop in the wake of Scream 4’s release. It’s hardly just the film’s poor numbers that have me thrown, as following such things is folly that undermines a movie’s value anyway. It’s that Scream 4 seems to have come and gone in a flash even more fleeting than most of what’s churned out in our on-to-the-next society. Not only did people fail to peel themselves away from Shark Tank to catch the return of Sidney Prescott, most people, it seems, didn’t even really care to talk about it. EW ran a cover story, Neve Campbell got a five-question interview in Health, the reviews were middling, the end. Before it opened, I asked my partner’s 16-year-old brother what he thought about the movie, and he said, “It kinda looks okay, but I’d rather see Sucker Punch.” His best friend said, “They’re all the same anyway.”

Lichman and Rizov "Live" at Grassroots Tavern: Season 5, Episode 6, "Vadim Rizov vs. His Overwhelming Failure"

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Lichman and Rizov “Live” at Grassroots Tavern: Season 5, Episode 6, “Vadim Rizov vs. His Overwhelming Failure”
Lichman and Rizov “Live” at Grassroots Tavern: Season 5, Episode 6, “Vadim Rizov vs. His Overwhelming Failure”

Hello Maryland!

This episode was recorded a scant two weeks ago, way back when the Claire Denis retro was winding down at IFC Center. I was in town to celebrate Thrashgiving and get down with all my friends—coincidentally when the Golan/Globus series was about to start at Lincoln Center.

But who cares about that? They’re all over. So instead: for this podcast we grabbed Michael Tully, writer-director-Terps fan (and now, Park City bound for Sundance 2011) to open up about his beloved team the night before they played in the Coaches Versus Cancer series at the Garden. But we also go over the $13 cost of Tully and Vadim’s cinephilia while ignoring any four-hour long Taiwanese films. Mainly we marvel at U.S. Go Home’s use of pop music along with the film festival standard of—as Tully describes it—“the 90-minute thing.” And in return, we remember a simpler time when Kelly Reichardt made THE SLOWEST CREDITS SEQUENCE EVER for Wendy and Lucy just to eke into “feature-length” status—not to mention a surprising addition to this trope from Wes Craven.

We do go into the art of dealing with your independent film, talk a bit about how Putty Hill’s recent sound woes and background music can be the unofficial knee capper of most independent film.