Our Favorite Horrors — By Friends of the Blog

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Alien violation

by Gabriel Valdez

I recently conducted a poll regarding artists’ and filmmakers’ favorite horror movies, and the results aren’t what I expected at all. Now, this poll is about as scientific as my foot, so take it with a grain of salt, but it ended up being a tale of three very different movies:

Now, I wanted the artists themselves to define what “favorite” meant, and when pressed, I described it as “the movie you’ll berate your friends about until they sit down and watch it” and “the movie you’ll watch when you get home after a hard day and pull over yourself like a warm horror blanket.”

Playwright and critic Chris Braak, who wrote not just one, but two of the best articles of this past year, broke the question down into categories: which is the best movie, which is scariest, and which one does he like to watch the most?

“The scariest horror movie experience I had was the American version of The Ring (I know people like the Japanese version better, but subtitles completely destroy the horror experience for me).

“The horror movie I can and will most readily watch is John Carpenter’s The Thing, which I will put on any day of the week.

“I think the technically most superior horror movie in terms of script, direction, acting, &c. is The Exorcist.

“Actually, also An American Werewolf in London is tied with both The Thing and The Exorcist in both of those categories [rewatchability and most well-made].”

He added that The Ring‘s strength lies in showing how closely horror and surrealism relate.

Jeff Holland, who also writes for Threat Quality Press, listed about a dozen movies, including calling The Thing “the Snickers of movies” for how much its appeal has grown over the years. Ultimately, though, he settled on The Fly as the “bar-none scariest movie I have ever seen…it remains as potently unnerving as it was to 80’s audiences.”

(That’s two Things so far.)

The Thing every little piece

Not everyone stuck to American films, however. Painter Ashley Zuggerman, whose retro-styled artwork harbors a threatening, off-kilter sensibility, immediately listed Japanese horror Audition. It’s “such a subtle movie and it lulls you into thinking it’s just a weird romance drama. Then when you relax it hits you with the last 20 minutes that just freaked me out.”

Our own editor Eden O’Nuallain backed her up. “Audition is the creepiest movie after the lights come on. It’s not cause it’s so shocking or different from something else, but cause 80% of it is so normal and uneventful.”

(Two Things, two Auditions.)

Let the Right One In held underwater

Jack-of-all-trades filmmaker, photographer, writer, illustrator, and model Cassie Meder might be my favorite Fantastique artist, with a macabre and witty sensibility. “Let the Right One In is one of my favorites across the board. Alien is at the top of the list for everything. And the Marble Hornets series is a great one to watch around this time of year for indie enthusiasts.”

Actress Rachel Ann Taylor offered Jacob’s Ladder and Alien as “the most surreal and the most horrifying, one-two. Most awesome double-feature ever. Leave a bowl of candy out, disconnect the doorbell, and drop-kick any kid that knocks; this is what’s on and I’m not leaving the couch.”

Actress, event producer, and model Alyson Rodriguez Orenstein had this to say: “My favorite horror movies are a lot like me, over the top & terrible – but entertaining! (That’s why I’m a horror host!) Some of my faves are The Gate & Killer Tongue.”

The Gate, by the way, is an awesome 80s movie starring a baby Stephen Dorff facing off against both his sister’s sleepover friends and the mouth of hell opening in his backyard. I have an older sister, and it’s no contest which of those things is more evil.

I’ll paraphrase the plot for Killer Tongue, or La lengua asesina, from IMDB: a woman hiding out with four pastel poodles in a gas station (with loot from a heist) waits for her boyfriend, who’s in prison. A meteorite crash transforms the woman into an alien with a “gigantic voracious tongue” and her poodles into four drag queens. Also features a mute nun transformed into a sexy drum majorette.

On the list of things that are fantastic, that is now near the top, and I think I’ve got to ask Alyson for movie advice more often.

Film/theatre critic Roy Sexton, who’s been a great supporter of our site, offered The Shining, Scream, and Psycho, but added “sometimes the best ‘horror’ movies are those that deal with the terror of the mundane and, if that’s the case, one of the best recent examples for me would be Prisoners.

Alien hi whats up

Erin Snyder, a film critic and satirist whose absolutely fricking essential holiday-season blog Mainlining Christmas is gearing up, pointed out, “Ah, horror. There’s probably more experimentation done there than any genre outside of animation.” Despite this, he said he never got into it because of the gore. Nonetheless: “Alien. Hands down, the best horror movie I’ve ever seen.”

(Alien just took the lead at 3, which doesn’t matter since it’s not a competition.)

Shawn Main, who works for tabletop game designers Wizards of the Coast, might have had my favorite answer: “I have a bunch of horror movie favorites, but the warm blanket for me is all the old Simpsons ‘Treehouse of Horror’ episodes. I’ve fallen asleep to those episodes more times than I care to count.”

Oddly enough, I caught a marathon of them yesterday and stayed through a few. It definitely felt like throwing on a warm blanket – reassuring, safe, worry-free. That’s definitely a feeling I don’t get from much TV or movies anymore.

Joe Laycock is an expert in religious studies who focuses on how we inculcate folk tales and the supernatural into modern society. His answer? The Exorcist:

“It was the first horror film nominated for best picture. It also created a popular turn toward actual exorcism in the United States. Ed and Lorraine Warren (from The Conjuring) owe their entire careers to that film.”

Now, I don’t know much about them, so when I asked if they only started after The Exorcist, he corrected me:

“The Warrens started a ghost-hunting society in 1952. Their first “case” involving demons was in 1971 – the year The Exorcist came out. But their big break was the Amityville Horror cast in 1975, which was highly derivative of The Exorcist. In fact, the Jesuit who consulted on The Exorcist also consulted on the first two Amityville movies.”

He added that the Warrens weren’t con artists, but believed in what they were doing. The Exorcist simply created conditions in which more people listened to what the Warrens had to say. Since Catholics couldn’t get exorcisms from priests, the Warrens acted as brokers who connected outside priests who were willing to bend the rules.

(Alien 3, Thing 2, Exorcist 2, Audition 2.)

Our Aussie correspondent, Olivia Smith, stood up for her home country with Picnic at Hanging Rock, a mystery surrounding the disappearance of several schoolgirls and their teacher during a field trip. She called it “everything you need to know about Australia in one movie. Our country’s beautiful, we’re hysterical inside of it, and we’re loyal to racial homogeneity at the exclusion of our senses. What’s horrifying is our repression and the sense in the back of our minds that we don’t deserve to be here, that Australia’s against us, and that which is most unnatural and displaced here is us. It’s not the feeling of getting lost. It’s the realization that you’ve been lost for a long time already.”

The Descent is not for the faint hearted

Kyle Price-Livingston does something in comics but I don’t know exactly what, so now I feel pretty bad about it. He’s an awesome personality whose answer was immediate: “First thing that springs to mind is The Descent. I love the combination of creature feature, morality story, and Woman-vs.-Wild survivalism. Plus the main cast is basically all women, none of whom end up topless.”

The Descent was actually written first for a male cast, and when the director converted it to an all-female ensemble, he thankfully made all of this many changes to the script: 0.

Bryan DeGuire is a producer whose most recent, the animation “Hitler Dinner Party” for Bob Odenkirk, appears on Funny or Die. Bryan extolled the virtues of Rosemary’s Baby: “Slow burn dread unnerves me more than big shocks. But ultimately, what I find horrific about it is not the supernatural element, cause the devil doesn’t exist except, ya know, metaphorically. The true horror is how Farrow’s character is betrayed by her husband. The way the people we love can hurt us the most is a much more terrifying idea than any boogeyman. Plus, ‘he has his father’s eyes,’ is such a great f*cking line. I know that Polanski is a morally problematic director to admire, but I agreed wholeheartedly with that essay you wrote a few weeks back about fandom, Mel Gibson, etc.

Model and cosplayer Emily Smith (aka Luna Lovely) offered a different viewpoint. What’s her go-to, warm blanket of a horror movie? “Human Centipede. Or Human Centipede 2.”

While that’s not my cup of tea (actually who knows, I’ve never seen it), what I love is that everyone has their go-to movies, their favorites that serve as a cinematic home base that they can always go back to.

Actress Carter Churchfield, who owns and operates the World War II Red Light District Tour in Honolulu, and who I appreciate for having a horror sensibility just outside the mainstream, had trouble narrowing it down to The People Under the Stairs, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and La Casa Muda. She settled on The People Under the Stairs, because it’s the one she likes sharing with her friends the best.

Actress and filmmaker S.L. Fevre, a regular contributor here, insisted two classics are still the best: The Shining and The Fly.

Horror aficionado Ellen Dulaney cited Sympathy for Lady Vengeance as revenge horror, as well as Reanimator, before remembering something even better and naming her favorite: Swedish vampire tale Let the Right One In.

(Alien 3, Thing 2, Exorcist 2, Right One 2, Audition 2, Shining 2, Fly 2)

The Wolf Man

Actor Keith Ward, soon appearing in Beyond Hello, listed The Thing, Alien, and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, but wanted me to know when he was a kid, it was movies like The Wolf Man (1941) and The Invisible Man (1933) that first captured his imagination. He especially encourages folks to check out Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer because it’s “genuinely disturbing, despite being made for a shockingly low budget.”

Documentary filmmaker Amy Beth Grumbling, producer of Heaven + Earth + Joe Davis offered Dead Again, The Orphanage, and Scream.

Film/theatre critic J.P. Hitesman offered up The Fog.

Model and make-up artist Sarah Belmont gave us a Clive Barker appearance on the list with Hellraiser.

Writer Jesse LaJeunesse wrote me such a personal and heartfelt response, we’re going to feature it later, but his answers were the 1931 Dracula, Night of the Living Dead, and The Ring.

We left most of our own writers for last.

Alt-model and singer Cleopatra Parnell, on break from music video reporting while she’s got a session contract, couldn’t decide between The Ring and The Shining, but said Twin Peaks outranks them both.

Our creative director, paleontologist by day/critic by night Vanessa Tottle, insisted on messing the entire count right up, by liking The Ring, The Thing, and Let the Right One In.

The Shining oh sorry did i interrupt you

(That’s Alien 4, Ring 4, Thing 4, Right One and Shining right behind them at 3. Audition, Exorcist, Fly at 2. Totally not a competition.)

I feel bad being the one to break the tie on this not-a-competition (what am I talking about, I’m the one who edited it this way.) I love all three films. If we were going for total franchises, it’d be Alien hands-down for that initial trilogy, which I marathoned before knowing what marathoning was as a 5th grader. Watching Alien-Aliens-Alien 3 inside 24 hours of each other cracked my head open about what storytelling on film could show you.

In a very slight way, Alien opened my mind to understanding an experience beyond my own, that of physical violation and powerlessness. I wouldn’t identify this until I started encountering it in others’ experiences, but Alien opened a path to comprehension much younger than I would’ve otherwise encountered it. Because of that experience, Alien 3 for all its flaws still holds up as the single bravest anti-climax in franchise filmmaking. It upset many fans, but Alien was never meant to make anyone happy.

Similarly, The Ring is probably the most singularly terrifying movie I’ve ever seen. That movie doesn’t make your hairs stand on end, it yanks them out at the roots. I can’t think of anything as scary, or that made me look behind myself in the dark for days on end. It remains the only movie I’ve ever seen in the theater two days in a row.

The Thing man is the warmest place to hide

All that said…if we’re going purely on favorites, purely on the warmest, most comfortable horror blanket I can find, it’s The Thing. I remember my mom not letting me watch Total Recall as a kid because there’s a scene in which a villain is decapitated. It’s really not so bad, as those scenes go. Days later, she sat me in front of John Carpenter’s gory, blood-soaked The Thing, a remake that flunked in theaters, that grew a cult following, and that finally became so widely viewed it spawned a surprisingly good prequel movie and sequel video game.

About an Antarctic research station besieged by a shape-changing alien, The Thing is dominated by men in beards (there are no women in it). It may be Kurt Russell’s best performance, and its blood-test scene remains the tensest horror sequence in film history. Moreover, it’s a gift that keeps on giving – as I grow older, I view it differently, and realize how very much it has to say as a metaphor for how men view “the other” or “the feminine” as an invasion of what it is to be “a man.”

Even its tagline, “Man is the warmest place to hide,” hints that The Thing is a unique breed of identity horror hiding behind the façade of a creepy, gory blood-out.

My favorite three are John Carpenter’s The Thing, the uniquely frightening and touching Spanish-language ghost story The Orphanage, and hit-or-miss Italian horror-maestro Dario Argento’s best film, the effectively mixed-language Deep Red.

I’m a little surprised no one mentioned Jaws, but I suppose that’s viewed more as a classic adventure movie than a horror movie nowadays. I was very tempted to list Duncan Jones’s sci-fi masterpiece Moon, since I don’t think anything’s ever left me so mentally agog by its conclusion. And, of course, there’s Requiem for a Dream, which might be the best but is no one’s favorite because it so completely and effectively tears down everything its viewer can believe about redemption.

That’s our list. Totally not a competition.

Happy Halloween, everybody, and remember: All’s well that ends well.

The Ring well

Let’s Cast! “Ghostbusters”

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Ghostbusters Emma Stone

Introduction by Kevan Tucker

Ghostbusters is a movie near and dear to my heart. It was one of my first obsessions as a kid and I’m still convinced it’s near-perfect. And how can something like that be improved on? That said, I am ecstatic about the news of a Ghostbusters reboot, and I think Paul Feig’s idea for an all-female cast is fantastic.

The funny thing about Ghostbusters is that it was a huge success that didn’t produce a stream of knockoffs. The only movie in the 30 years since that comes close to capturing the same blend of comedy, thrills, and characters is Men in Black. It’s hard for me to come up with any other movie (excluding parodies like Shaun of the Dead) that strikes the same tone. Ghostbusters pretty much stands alone, which is unique for such a cultural touchstone.

There has been much handwringing in Ghostbusters Fanboy Land about what a catastrophe this movie is going to be because the magic of That Cast at That Time can never be reproduced. And also, women (?!?) or something. But Paul Feig’s decision to do a hard reboot of the franchise negates those fears. He’s not aiming to reproduce that magic. He’s going to find new magic with These Comedians in These Times using what is sure to be a cast of the most powerhouse female comedians out there. You won’t be able to compare them to Bill Murray at his most charming because the franchise will be something different.

Ghostbusters is a fun idea that still feels original, but there are a few core things that I hope will remain in the reboot. The first is that it’s ultimately a character-based comedy. It’s not a parody, it’s not referential. It totally stands on its own. There is also something so deliciously New York about it. There’s a kind of grime and grittiness to it that adds so much to the texture of the movie. It’s that kind of specificity and attention to detail that makes the movie soar. It’s the cheap local commercial they make, the headlines they get in the New York Post and the old, beat up firehouse they use to set up their business. That, to me, is the flavor of Ghostbusters that can’t be lost. And Feig, as the creator of Freaks and Geeks and director of Bridesmaids, is the perfect person to create a detailed, character-based comedy. But with ghosts in it.

That said, the structure of this article actually goes against everything I’ve been saying in that the esteemed Mr. Valdez has asked me to choose actors based on equivalent parts in the original cast. [Yeah, sorry about that, everyone disobeyed anyway – Gabe] I don’t think Feig is going to do that. And it’s going to be a better movie for it. But I’ll do my best to distill what was great about the original cast.

THE PANEL

Gabriel: Joining me are actress and filmmaker S.L. Fevre, filmmaker Ben Kahn, actress Rachel Ann Taylor, filmmaker Kevan Tucker, and our creative director Vanessa Tottle. Everyone’s written here before, I believe, except for Ben, who joins us for the first time.

Ghostbusters Tig Notaro

THE LEAD (The Bill Murray)

Gabriel: The biggest question of all is, Who’s our Bill Murray? He played Dr. Peter Venkman, and was the comedic core of the original Ghostbusters. There aren’t many actors capable of his legendary deadpan – who can replace that?

Kevan: Peter Venkman worked so well because he always had a healthy dose of skepticism about the whole ordeal and also served as the romantic lead. I think Emma Stone would be a perfect choice. She’s the only person I cn think of who is deft enough to come close to the blend of charm, cynicism, and anarchy of Bill Murray. She wouldn’t be Bill Murray at all. But she’s someone you can hang a movie on. And goddamn it’s just about impossible to dislike her.

SL: I think it would be fun to have Mindy Kaling. I don’t care that she’s casting against type. I want the funniest comedienne around. She leads ensembles better than anyone else.

Vanessa: Tig Notaro. A 43 year-old lesbian with a double-mastectomy? Yeah, I get why Hollywood would never do it, and that’s why most comedies today suck. They choose for celebrity instead of ability. Notaro is the best choice to fill Murray’s shoes.

Ghostbusters Aubrey Plaza

Rachel: I love Ellen Page. I imagine her leading this group while she doubts what’s happening and whether she should even be there.

Gabriel: I couldn’t find anyone I was happy with until my brain struck on Parker Posey. The deadpan, the cynicism. Everything about her was perfect. Could she hold the audience at arm’s length? Could she be a little too aloof for mass appeal? That’s always a danger, and at the last minute I realized a better solution: Aubrey Plaza. She can communicate that same easygoing disaffection, she has her own uniquely dry delivery, and she can do aloof, but she also offers that everyman accessibility – especially with her work in smaller films like Safety Not Guaranteed and Life After Beth, in which she marries that dry delivery to a great deal of underlying heart.

[Ben was a bit inundated and couldn't discuss at length, but he got off a list for us.]

Ben: Sandra Bullock.

Ghostbusters Jessica Williams

THE ENSEMBLE

Gabriel: How about the rest of the team, played by Dan Ackroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson in the original? Ackroyd served as the straight man, charmingly translating the exposition to which Murray and Ramis reacted. Ramis was the most bookish of the crew, taking scientific readings even as he issued dire supernatural warnings. Hudson was Winston Zeddmore, brought on to help the team when they become inundated with calls about the supernatural.

Kevan: (joining Emma Stone) I would love to see Amy Poehler in the Dan Ackroyd role. He ended up being more of the straight man in the original. But character-wise, he was the entrepreneur. He was the one who pushed everyone to get the company off the ground. I would love to see Poehler being the driving force of the operation. The one who cares a little too much.

The other two comedians I’d love to see in the movie are Kristen Wiig and Jessica Williams. Kristen Wiig has such a fantastic deadpan that would really round out the group. And Jessica Williams, who I admittedly haven’t seen act outside of The Daily Show, has a brilliant pushy New York energy that the movie needs.

You could go either way with them. In the original Ghostbusters, Harold Ramis was the scientist who added the modicum of scientific legitimacy that was needed in the group. And Ernie Hudson was the outsider who had no business being a Ghostbuster, but was dragged along when the shit hit the fan. With this cast, either Wiig is the nerdy scientist and Williams is the young intern who joins the group. Or you could also switch it up and have Williams be the brilliant, fast-talking scientist and Wiig be the person you never expected to be a Ghostbuster who rises to the occasion.

SL: (joining Mindy Kaling) I guess I’m not trying to fit the type. The quality I want is being able to make me laugh. Mindy Kaling has a bite, so Krysten Ritter is a perfect pairing. Sour and sweet. Ritter was amazing in Don’t Trust the B- in Apartment 23, but she showed a completely different side of herself on Breaking Bad. I think she’s the most dynamic comedienne around.

Charlize Theron was so good in Arrested Development that I wish she did more comedy. I really like the idea of her being the group’s nerd and scientifically laying down why ridiculous things are happening in a way that seems simple but that no one else understands.

For the normcore woman, Nasim Pedrad. She has so much range. She deserves so much better than the crappy sitcom she’s in.

Ghostbusters Amy Poehler

Vanessa: (joining Tig Notaro) The Ackroyd is so obvious I’ll be really pissed off if anyone chooses different: Amy Poehler. She is the beacon of frustrated idealism on television, why not do the same on film? I also like the idea of her having to cope with Tig Notaro.

For the scientist, Sarah Silverman. I want her to explain make-believe to everyone as if they’re dumbasses for not getting it, and then casually mention the end of the world so briefly it’s barely noticed.

I really remember vividly that scene where Ernie Hudson talks about the Bible and the End of Days. When I was young, that scared me. There’s no one I want bringing down the group and giving it a reality check more than Sandra Bullock. I get why that’s not what she normally plays in a comedy, but does anyone doubt she can play whatever role she wants to? I also like that she enters partway through as the outsider and isn’t the focal point.

Rachel: (joining Ellen Page) I like Emily Blunt. She can deliver exposition and give drive and focus to the group. Jessica Williams could be a great scientist. She already tells me how the world’s ending four nights a week on The Daily Show. I like Krysten Ritter for the Hudson role. Very innocent, no idea what she’s getting herself into. I like it.

Ghostbusters Krysten Ritter

Gabriel: (joining Aubrey Plaza) I switched back and forth between two women for the Ackroyd role: Emily Blunt and Kristen Wiig. Ultimately, though, I think Wiig’s the woman for it. She’s worked with Feig before, but I don’t actually put a high priority on that. It’s more that she’s often slotted into the kookiest, showiest roles, and on the rare occasion where she’s gotten to play the more down-to-earth straight man, the cleverness of her humor shows through and lends her a touching humanity.

Comedy that reveals humanity…I guess that’s what I’m going for across the board, because I think that’s what the original Ghostbusters communicates beautifully. Jessica Williams is my choice for the scientist of the group. I really didn’t expect so many others to share that view, but I think she could be the force of the group, the deliverer of dire consequences who dives head-first into doing the riskiest thing anyway.

Finally, Krysten Ritter. I’m really pleased so many people are listing her. She’s been my favorite screen (i.e. non-standup) comedian since her lead role in Don’t Trust the B- in Apartment 23, and for good reason – she’s hilarious. She can do very charming, human comedy, and she can pull off absurdism as well as any comedian I know. And what’s Ghostbusters, if not a set of comedians looking at the absurd and responding in the most deadpan way possible? Her and Wiig are, I think, the most complete comedians in my group.

Ben: Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Mindy Kaling, Olivia Munn.

Ghostbusters Michael Ealy 2

THE LOVE INTEREST (The Sigourney Weaver)

Gabriel: Sigourney Weaver’s Dana Barrett plays a major part as the love interest, later possessed by a demon named Zuul whose chief diabolical power seems to be showing off her legs. In keeping with the theme, let’s assume this is gender-switched. What hunk fills Sigourney’s shoes?

Kevan: Bradley Cooper (or Jon Hamm). You need someone who’s a bit of a heartthrob and can be a legit aspirational love interest for Emma Stone. But they also need to be game and have comedy chops.

SL: I don’t know how well-known Michael Ealy is, but I love pairing him with Mindy Kaling. He’s so easygoing and sweet. He’s accepting, but his beauty makes him feel hard to get no matter how nice he is. And he can do comedy.

Vanessa: I’m pairing off Tig Notaro, so I want someone complex and intimidating in the same way. David Duchovny. That gives me some older actors, but I don’t care – he’s still hot and he can show off his legs all day long.

Rachel: Bradley Cooper. Not even a competition.

Gabriel: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the king of cool in my book. He’s suave, he’s dapper, he’s nice, he’s old-fashioned, he can do comedy in his sleep, and it’s easy to be invested in him.

Ben: Love Interest(s) for Sandra, Melissa, and Maya – Keanu Reeves, Chris Pratt, and Jon Hamm.

Ghostbusters Natasha Leggero

THE. RICK. MORANIS.

Gabriel: Oh boy, Rick Moranis. The role of Lewis Tully was originally written for John Candy to provide Bill Murray with ineffectual competition for Dana’s (Sigourney Weaver) affections. When Moranis took the role instead, he converted Tully to a geekier stereotype, and he’s possessed halfway through Ghostbusters by a demon referred to as the Keymaster. Who takes over this role, full of facial and physical comedy?

Kevan: (competing with Emma Stone for Bradley Cooper’s affections) Paul Feig shouldn’t make anything and leave Melissa McCarthy out. And as much as I’d like to see her suit up in a Ghostbusters uniform, she might actually be better in the smaller, showier role that Rick Moranis killed in the original.

SL: (competing with Mindy Kaling for Michael Ealy’s affections) There’s no way this movie should be made without Aubrey Plaza in it. She needs an opportunity to show off and go nuts in some movie. I think she’d kill it.

Vanessa: (competing with Tig Notaro for David Duchovny’s affections) Emma Stone. Maybe that creates a Lolita situation, but why not? That’s nothing new for Duchovny (as a character). The only thing not on Stone’s resume is a dark comedic role. I like her for that.

Rachel: (competing with Ellen Page for Bradley Cooper’s affections) OK. People won’t like this. I could be adding too much narrative, but take a deep breath, everyone: Alektra Blue. The porn star. I like Ellen Page encountering someone so perfected, and who completely outclasses her in every physical way. In 80s movies, the class nerd always got the girl when the mean jock proved too inhuman. Why not invert that, especially when inhuman is something you can literally become in Ghostbusters? Blue is also a great physical comedian in many of her movies and I can’t imagine anyone pulling off Rick Moranis as aggressively.

Gabriel: (competing with Aubrey Plaza for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s affections) Man, and I thought I was being edgy with Natasha Leggero. I want someone in that cast who’s a dangerous comedian, who has a threat to her and can unbalance an entire cast with a look. Leggero wouldn’t seem it – she’s a petite brunette – but she’s my favorite acidic stage comedian, and I think that level of digging under someone’s skin could bring out Plaza that much more. Leggero has guested in nearly every counter-culture comedy there is, but most recently, she’s left a swathe of boozy, passive-aggressive destruction through Garfunkel & Oates. She can also shift from hyper-aware to oblivious at the drop of a hat, from judgmental to easygoing. She has a sociopathic charm that has just enough wink to it to make you realize it’s a put-on, but in her roles, that translates to never being sure what the hell she’s about to do.

Ben: Cameron Diaz.

Ghostbusters Martin Short

ANYONE ELSE?

Gabriel: Any other recastings you’d like to see? Secretary Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts) delivered a ton of personality in a small role. There’s the demon Gozer (Slavitza Jovan), set on ending the world. EPA suit Walter Peck (William Atherton) shows up and shuts the Ghostbusters down partway through the original. Will we see the Paul Reubens Gozer originally planned?

Kevan: I’d love to see Louis CK as the frustrated guy behind the desk or the put-upon maintenance guy they hire to keep the place running. I can’t see anyone other than Parker Posey as the slimy government agent trying to shut them down…although I heard that Gillian Anderson is vying for a role in the movie and this would be a pretty awesome place for her.

SL: I want to see Martin Short as the secretary so bad it’s not even funny. It’s a compact way for him to play off the cast without interrupting them. Mel Gibson as Gozer, because I can’t think of anyone who would be so evil and hilarious to see. Janeane Garofalo should be the EPA chief.

Vanessa: Kevin Spacey should answer phones. Tig Notaro can put him in his place if he acts out too much, and he’ll be happy for it. I want to see Amy Adams as Gozer. I can see her taking the role so many different places. Katey Segal for the EPA guy.

Ghostbusters Parker Posey

Rachel: I’ve always wanted Sam Rockwell to answer my phone. Make him the Ghostbusters’ secretary. Crispin Glover for Gozer. Who else? And Ellen Degeneres would be hilarious for the EPA suit.

Gabriel: These are all such amazing answers. Alan Arkin to answer the phones. He could get that same energy Annie Potts had, of not wanting to take any of your shit but also being super-supportive and happy for the Ghostbusters. Gozer = Crispin Glover, why are we even still talking about it? And since I bumped her from the lead for Aubrey Plaza, Parker Posey as the EPA threat, with agents Garfunkel and Oates choosing some very special moments to bumble around in the background.

Ben: Villain – Sigourney Weaver (surprise cameo). Assistant – Bill Eichner. Cameos by Meryl Streep, Will Smith, and Robert Downey Jr. as hauntees/ghosts.

Kevan: And I’m sure that Paul Feig will come up with something way more amazing than that. There are so many people who would be amazing. I mean, don’t we all kind of want to see Maria Bamford trying not to cross the streams? Or Tina Fey being slimed? The possibilities are endless on this one. I can’t wait.

OUR FINAL CASTS

Ghostbusters Emma Stone 2

Kevan’s Ghostbusters
The Lead – Emma Stone
The Entrepreneur – Amy Poehler
The Scientist – Jessica Williams
The Normcore – Kristen Wiig
The Love Interest – Bradley Cooper
The Rick Moranis – Melissa McCarthy
The Secretary – Louis CK
The EPA agent – Parker Posey

Ghostbusters Mindy Kaling

SL’s Ghostbusters
The Lead – Mindy Kaling
The Entrepreneur – Krysten Ritter
The Scientist – Charlize Theron
The Normcore – Nasim Pedrad
The Love Interest – Michael Ealy
The Rick Moranis – Aubrey Plaza
The Secretary – Martin Short
The Demon Lord – Mel Gibson
The EPA agent – Janeane Garofalo

Ghostbusters Tig Notaro 2

Vanessa’s Ghostbusters
The Lead – Tig Notaro
The Entrepreneur – Amy Poehler
The Scientist – Sarah Silverman
The Normcore – Sandra Bullock
The Love Interest – David Duchovny
The Rick Moranis – Emma Stone
The Secretary – Kevin Spacey
The Demon Lord – Amy Adams
The EPA agent – Katey Segal

Ghostbusters Ellen Page

Rachel’s Ghostbusters
The Lead – Ellen Page
The Entrepreneur – Emily Blunt
The Scientist – Jessica Williams
The Normcore – Krysten Ritter
The Love Interest – Bradley Cooper
The Rick Moranis – Alektra Blue
The Secretary – Sam Rockwell
The Demon Lord – Crispin Glover
The EPA agent – Ellen Degeneres

Ghostbusters Aubrey Plaza 2

Gabriel’s Ghostbusters
The Lead – Aubrey Plaza
The Entrepreneur – Kristen Wiig
The Scientist – Jessica Williams
The Normcore – Krysten Ritter
The Love Interest – Joseph Gordon-Levitt
The Rick Moranis – Natasha Leggero
The Secretary – Alan Arkin
The Demon Lord – Crispin Glover
The EPA agent – Parker Posey (with agents Garfunkel & Oates)

Ghostbusters Sandra Bullock 2

Ben’s Ghostbusters
The Lead – Sandra Bullock
Ensemble – Melissa McCarthy
Ensemble – Maya Rudolph
Ensemble – Mindy Kaling
Ensemble – Olivia Munn
Love Interest – Keanu Reeves
Love Interest – Chris Pratt
Love Interest – Jon Hamm
The Rick Moranis – Cameron Diaz
The Secretary – Billy Eichner
The Demon Lord – Sigourney Weaver

What’s New, What’s Expiring on Netflix

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Netflix logo

by Gabriel Valdez

I notice a lot of people sharing what’s expiring on Netflix. Typically, it’s Daily Dot and Huffington Post (makes sign of the cross, sprinkles holy water around) links being thrown around, but these are usually half-assed and only cover what’s expiring on the last of the month, not what’s expiring mid-month.

There’s more complete information out there from more independent sources, and Justine Baron at JustBMovies writes monthly rundowns on What’s Expiring Soon and What’s New on Streaming. She covers all dates, not just the first and the last of the month (most sources miss this little nuance).

If you’re Canadian or British, first off: congratulations, that’s awesome, cause my god, I love your accent, but secondly, she’s got you covered, too.

The What’s Expiring Soon is current and her newest What’s New usually comes out on the first. Best of all, you don’t have to wait 500 years for Huffington Post (smears garlic on face, jumps in a colloidal silver bath) to load 13,666 ads for things you don’t need while torpedoing your computer or phone with third-party cookies (mmm…third-party cookies.)

JustBMovies also features some pretty solid movie reviews and regular rankings of your favorite directors and stars.

10 Things I Thought While Watching “King Arthur”

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King Arthur and his Merry Men

by Gabriel Valdez

1. Ah, King Arthur. It takes a special dedication to make a movie so inaccurate when it’s based on events no one can agree on because they never happened. This is what Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer) made when his Strangers on a Train remake fell through. It’s too bad. Denzel would’ve killed that. Instead, Fuqua took over for King Arthur after Michael Bay left. How well does a film designed for Michael Bay marry with the sensibilities of the guy who directed Training Day? Pretty much how you’d expect.

2. Look, writer David Franzoni had to cash in on his Gladiator cred somehow after Gladiator 2 failed to get off the ground. King Arthur would be his last screenplay, however. Of Gladiator‘s two other writers, William Nicholson would hit a dry spell until 2007’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

John Logan, who essentially reworked the Gladiator screenplay into the film we know and love, would be the only writer to build his career off the Oscar-winning film. After a bumpy run through The Time Machine and Star Trek: Nemesis, he hit his stride with The Last Samurai, The Aviator, Sweeney Todd, Rango (I’d argue his best work), and Hugo. He’d then regress (all the way to the bank) on Skyfall and is now the go-to James Bond writer.

3. The cast here is ridiculous, especially in retrospect. Clive Owen is King Arthur, Ioan Gruffudd is Lancelot, Keira Knightley is Guinevere. Also featured are Mads Mikkelsen, Joel Edgerton, Hugh Dancy, Ray Winstone, Ray Stevenson, and Stellan Skarsgard. Unfortunately, how they’re used is also ridiculous. Arthur and his knights are enslaved Roman soldiers. Knightley is a Boudica analogue who will slice your throat unless there’s a handsome protagonist nearby, at which point she gets awful short of breath and goes all Wuthering Heights on you. Merlin’s her Celtic chieftain, and everyone’s running from Ray Winstone and his army of Saxons.

4. Poor Ray Winstone. Always the villain leading an evil army. I like to think that he has a real life army devoted solely to him, and even when he’s not playing an evil general, they follow him onto set in homemade costumes anyway. They watch Noah and cheer for him, and hang photos of Winstone above their fireplace so they can pray for vengeance on fools and knaves every night. You know what I’d like to see? A buddy comedy starring Ray Winstone, Sean Bean, Mark Strong, and Ben Kingsley. You know, like Wild Hogs, only good. Jack McBrayer plays the villain.

5. That’s pretty annoying, Ioan Gruffudd, I’m fairly certain Keira Knightley could’ve axed that guy in the face all on her own. King Arthur likes to pretend it’s on the side of Guinivere being a badass, but really, she only gets to be a badass when she’s in flowing, idyllic robes or in her Celtic stripper uniform (all the men wear anachronistic, full plate armor). Her costuming subscribes to a virgin/whore dichotomy and she ends up marrying whoever lives out of the Arthur/Lancelot duo. At least Camelot is about an affair Guinevere can enjoy. Here, Guinevere’s just a prize for the victor.

King Arthur Keira Knightley forgot her armor at home

6. Knightley’s always been intriguing to me. King Arthur may include her worst performance, but that can be said for much of its cast. The very first Pirates of the Caribbean had come out a year earlier, and when she was engaged for the sequel in 2006, she insisted that the film include swordfighting scenes for her Elizabeth Swann. Hence, she got a barfight and was as crucial (and capable) a part of the climactic beach battle as Orlando Bloom and Johnny Depp.

7. Some of these shots are ridiculous. Clive Owen comes riding out on his mighty steed, from the gate of Hadrian’s Wall. Never mind that it’s a pretty thin wall when it comes to military fortifications, and since the Romans have abandoned the whole thing, the Saxons could just avoid what they know is a trap, trot a few miles down the road, and bind up a few ladders to cross over it.

8. One more thing on this dumb wall: when Owen comes riding out, you can’t see the fields and buildings that are supposed to be beyond the gate. No greenery, no matte backdrop. There’s no existence, no sign of all the Roman facilities we saw earlier. I get that the wall set is built in a completely different place than the Roman settlement set is, but not having what would’ve been ten feet worth of backdrop to connect the two is just lazy. Through the gate you can only see very artificial blackness and fog. It’s like Gandalf recollecting a Saruman warning: “Hadrian’s Wall…You fear to go into England. The Romans delved too greedily and too deep. You know what they awoke in the darkness of Bowness-on-Solway…blackness and fog.”

Clive Owen reacts to King Arthur

9. The fight choreography in this leaves much to be desired. The stunt coordination of larger battle scenes isn’t bad, but when it gets to the one-on-one fights, half of the Celt choreography is to spin 360 degrees for no reason whatsoever. The Saxons, meanwhile, never bother to take advantage of their enemies’ unprotected backsides. They wait for the Celts to get done spinning, at which point the Celt swings his axe willy-nilly, the Saxon kind of stands there looking at it, and everyone’s suddenly surprised it’s buried in his lung. “We are defeated, my lord. The Celts – we had no idea they might spin!”

10. If you’re looking for a better version of this, go with Neil Marshall’s far more badass Centurion, which stars Michael Fassbender and Olga Kurylenko. It has nothing to do with King Arthur, but it’s a better movie about Roman soldiers in ancient Britain who are abandoned beyond the wall by an untrustworthy empire. It’s more focused, has spots of gorgeous cinematography that stick in my head, and includes a rather poignant twist – which is rare in an historical action movie:

Neil Marshall also made this educational documentary about life in Scotland starring Rhona Mitra.

EDIT: It’s been brought to my attention that Stellan Skarsgard actually played the leader of the villainous Saxons, and Ray Winstone played one of Arthur’s knights. My mistake. I maintain everything else I say about Ray Winstone cult worship. Skarsgard probably just got the Ray Winstone Army as a loan by promising some sort of blood oath or firstborn or Daniel Craig’s autograph.

National Geographic’s Photos of the Year

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The Last Great Picture

by Olivia Smith

National Geographic announced their award for the year’s best wildlife photograph, seen above. It’s called “The Last Great Picture.” It isn’t called that because of photographer Michael Nichols’ ego. He’s fought to raise funds and establish 13 new national parks in lion territory. It’s called “The Last Great Picture” because pictures like these may no longer be possible in coming decades. The Serengeti, like so many natural wonders, becomes lesser every year.

Wildlife Photojournalist of the Year is Brent Stirton. National Geographic combines his award-winning photographs with Nichols’ to create a breathtaking photo series on lions and the strange culture that’s grown around their protection:

“Canned” lion hunts, in which trophy hunters pay for the chance to shoot a lion (and in which professional guides stand by to shoot in case the hunter misses) help raise funds for environmental protection. Is the cost worth it, sacrificing one species as a commodity to save the others in danger?

Local Sakuma dancers kill lions only if they threaten their villages or livestock, but they collect tribute for killing lions by going from village to village and dancing the story of their kill. This glorifies the killing, but for the Sakuma, three or more years of this dancing is required after killing a lion to keep from going mad. Meanwhile, Maasai “Lion Guardians” dedicate their entire lives to tracking and protecting the misunderstood predators.

Then there’s the mad photographers taking pictures of it all.

Finally, a lighter note: Nat Geo features Tim Laman’s portfolio: photographing all 39 species of bird of paradise. No one else has ever done this, because the feat took Laman 10 years of dedication to complete.

If you haven’t already, go check out the stunning photo-essay.

Timothy Laman birds of paradise

Trailers of the Week — Emmy Rossum’s Gonna Make You Cry

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COMET
No date set

This is right up my alley. I’m a sucker for metanarrative romances. About 99% of them clunk hard and don’t work, but the few that do – (500) Days of Summer, The Science of Sleep, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – are the movies that leave me shaking by the end.

Yeah, Comet‘s stylism could be too much and Justin Long has yet to truly prove himself to me as the equal to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gael Garcia Bernal, or Jim Carrey, but I trust Emmy Rossum as an actress – especially now that she’s picking her roles from more indie stock.

Comet Rossum Long

The trailer works – it hits all the right buttons, pulls me in, makes me wonder, and makes me hope, which means it has all the right ingredients to break my heart and pick me back up again. That’s why I’m a sucker for metaromances – they’re just like the real thing.

BEFORE I DISAPPEAR
No date set

There’s a few reasons to keep this on your radar. Writer-director-actor Shawn Christensen is primary among them – he won an Oscar for Best Live-Action Short in 2012 with Before I Disappear rough draft “Curfew.” Emmy Rossum has been a consistently interesting actor who splits her time between stage and screen. She seems to have struggled a bit with not getting the range of roles she has on stage (in bigger-budget productions, her looks bottled her into playing a certain type of character), so I look forward to seeing her run against type.

Toss in actors like Ron Perlman, Richard Schiff, and Paul Wesley, as well as an intriguing, semi-mumblecore visual style, and you’ve got my attention. Fatima Ptacek, the young girl in the trailer, isn’t exactly a new find. She’s been voicing Dora the Explorer the past three years. I tend to think this is a step up.

THE GAMBLER
Dec. 19 (limited)

Jan. 1 (wide)

I enjoy it when Mark Wahlberg goes back to playing these sorts of antisocial characters picked out of the gutter and dusted off so someone else can use them. These are roles molded from 60s and 70s crime flicks (The Gambler is itself a remake), and few actors hit the exact right note to carry off a modern translation.

That the man using him is played by none other than John Goodman only sweetens the pot.

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
May 1

Hulk smash Iron Man! Thor screams to the gods! Machine guns!!! Tanks!!! BALLERINAS!!!!!

Never change, Joss Whedon. Never change.

(It’s a good thing James Spader is a CGI whatever-he-is in this. If it was live-action James Spader, I’m pretty sure I’d have to root against The Avengers.)

LATE PHASES
No date set

OK, this doesn’t look like fine art, but it has a few things going for it that I love. First off, it’s a horror movie that doesn’t star 30 year-olds pretending they’re 18. They’re all well and good, but I enjoy the idea of a man fighting off a werewolf in a retirement community.

Secondly, I like the idea of a blind veteran as the protagonist. We’re seeing more and more protagonists with disabilities – even characters like Hiccup in kids’ movies like How to Train Your Dragon 2. Part of that comes from increasing understanding that “disability” can be a misnomer, and that people who cope with one can be just as able as the rest of us. Part of that comes from being a nation in multiple wars for 12 years running. Our soldiers don’t always come home the way they left, physically and mentally, and so our heroes in film begin to reflect that a little bit more.

Thirdly, I love werewolf movies. There aren’t enough of them, and there aren’t enough good ones. Late Phases looks pretty unabashedly like a B-movie, and that’s fine. I love a good B-movie, and many of them (Bubba Ho-Tep comes immediately to mind) have much, much more to say than you’d think.

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY re-release
Nov. 28

There are a very few films that must be seen in theaters at some point in a cinephile’s life. Lawrence of Arabia is first among these, and I had that brilliant opportunity a few years back. Right behind it, though, is 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick’s stand-out space horror think piece originally released in 1968.

This is the crowning achievement from an age of science-fiction that was fascinated with the dawning era of space travel and what it meant for mankind as a rebirth into the stars. Writers then didn’t imagine it would become bogged down in a morass of red tape and funding issues. They imagined we would recognize expansion into space as the opportunity to become more as a species than we have been. Instead, that opportunity sits there, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.

Full Vintage Keanu — “John Wick”

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John Wick Keanu

by Gabriel Valdez

No one knows if the Russian mob will ever recover from this last month. First Denzel, now Keanu: their habit for angering our best action stars has cost them dearly. Never before have I seen so many secret gun cabinets, gangsters shot in totally legitimate business establishments, and henchmen hit by cars drifting sideways.

In October alone, the Russian mafia has been chased out of New York City twice now, first in The Equalizer and now in John Wick. At least it’s spurred business – the aluminum bat and tire iron industries are booming, while body shops are seeing record business from the number of SUVs driven into walls or off four-story drops. Rent on storage space has skyrocketed since so many empty warehouses and shipping yards have succumbed to awesome, slow-motion explosions.

Keanu Reeves has always been the sort of action hero who can heartlessly shoot a man in the face and turn around to save a kitten in a tree without breaking our suspension of disbelief. John Wick doesn’t take things that far – instead, Keanu’s titular Wick is briefly partnered with a charming puppy, the last gift from his late wife. When the Russian mob boss’s son breaks into Wick’s house to steal his vintage car, the puppy gets in the way and…well, now Wick is out for revenge. Turns out Wick was once a top assassin, and that’s unfortunate for the Russians.

John Wick Puppy Love

It sounds schmaltzy because it is, but Keanu plays it honestly. You can connect to his anger because he feels as if the universe has unjustly taken away what he loved most, and haven’t we all been in that place, willing to lash out at any target that presents itself?

John Wick itself is part of a 90s breed of movie I think of as gothic action, not as much for its gothic style (although this was popular) as its fatalistic worldview. These movies rely on their central actors and prioritize style over everything else. To them, the city at night is the ultimate human achievement, filled with unfeeling architecture, enough bright neon to make aging protagonists feel behind the times, and so much murder and mood that their own bloody story is just one of many. The over-the-top The Boondock Saints, a glammed out The Crow, or Keanu’s own heated, hazy debut to many Americans, Point Break, all fall into this category. These films have too short an attention span and are too aware of themselves to be noir – even the subtitles in John Wick announce themselves with colorful highlights and spill across the screen at odd angles.

Wick is exactly what you expect from the genre: simple premise, solid enough acting, and a heaping dose of cynical self-loathing. You came for the action, though, and the fight choreography is brilliant, taking advantage of Keanu’s matter-of-fact grace to create fights that are by turn balletic and brutal. The standout sequence involves Wick fighting his way through various floors of a Russian dance club. Each floor has its own mood lighting, music, and obstacles: a red-hued floor playing pop; a blue toned floor with private pools, serene new age music, and lots of glass to break; and finally a strobing dancefloor filled with unwitting civilians and dubstep. Wick fights his way through every lighting set-up and musical background as if he’s progressing through a video game (and assassins even exchange tokens for access), so you just sit back and enjoy the ride.

John Wick Adrianne Palicki

I’m tempted to say actors like Willem Dafoe and Adrianne Palicki are brilliant as rival assassins, but they really aren’t. They’re good, sure, but it’s more that they’re excellent stylistic fits. They understand how to strut into a fight scene and chew the scenery. Palicki, in particular, enjoys the film’s best one-on-one fight versus Keanu.

The main weakness in Wick is that it doesn’t go far enough. You keep expecting it to throw in the kitchen sink, and it teases you with characters who nearly break the movie when they begin to bait each other just for the sake of upping the ante. Just as it’s doing this, however, Wick pulls back and gives you exactly the clichéd climax you’d expect. That’s fine, but for a while, I really believed Wick was about to be far madder than what results.

The action scenes are great, the black comedy is superb, and the style reminds you that action movies once took place in dark cities during nights teeming with possibility, instead of in superspy offices and sleek corporate headquarters. John Wick and Keanu himself are refreshingly vintage. It’s rated R for violence and language, but more specifically because 99% of the movie’s population gets shot in the face at some point.

Does it Pass the Bechdel Test?

This section helps us discuss one aspect of movies that we’d like to see improved – the representation of women. Read why we’re including this section here.

1. Does John Wick have more than one woman in it?

Yes, Wick’s wife (Bridget Moynahan), a rival assassin named Perkins (Adrianne Palicki), and a bartender named Addy (the underused Bridget Regan).

2. Do they talk to each other?

Nope.

3. About something other than a man?

Nope.

(There are additional women used as eye candy in the background for the pool scene, but there are men used as eye candy in this scene, too, and the movie gets over it pretty quickly in order to squeeze in a few more guys getting shot in the face.)

Ultimately, you’ve got to hold John Wick accountable for not prioritizing its women as much as its men. Palicki is a good step in the right direction: her malevolent Perkins is treated as the biggest single threat to Wick and when they inevitably fight, they go punch for punch. It is a brutal fight scene, but so are all the others. In a movie about fight scenes, I’m glad they feature her as Wick’s equal and let her beat Keanu up a bit, rather than finding a cop-out (as many movies do) to have a dangerous woman whose only threat is her cinematic sexiness. To Perkins, feminine wiles are slower than shooting a guy in the face. Palicki is good looking, sure, but so is Keanu, and the lithe silhouette he strikes is for more obsessed over than hers.

The movie doesn’t objectify women in any real way and although Wick’s angry about the loss of his wife, he’s really getting vengeance for his super-adorable puppy. I can get behind that. The movie momentarily wants to say something about cycles of violence, but it quickly backs off this in order for more guys to – you’ll never guess – get shot in the face.

Films as stylistic as these only make their worlds seem more fully realized when they cast women in equal proportion to men. John Wick misses an easy opportunity to give viewers more room to breathe inside its cinematic world.