Missing Reels: “Forbidden Zone” (1980)

Missing Reels examines overlooked, unappreciated or unfairly maligned movies. Sometimes these films haven’t been seen by anyone, and sometimes they’ve been seen by everyone… who loathed them. Sometimes they’ve simply been forgotten. But in any case, Missing Reels argues that they deserve to be seen and admired by more people.

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With the easy delivery of films via Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and a host of other choices, it’s easy to feel like you’ve seen everything. This feeling can be especially true when looking at mainstream films which have a sameness to them that permeates the medium: the same tropes, the same familiar group of actors, the same story points endemic to the genre. So in order to find something new, something unlike anything you’ve seen before, you should seek out more independent flair, as there’s no focus group to market those.

Although indie films have their own clichés that rise up in waves every few years, depending on which indie darling is making a splash currently and getting studio gigs or selling out at Sundance, there’s still a better chance of finding something unique in the rogue filmmaking of outsiders than possibly what could be made by most studios. And you don’t have to look for the most recent films to find something new or pushing the envelope; there are plenty of undiscovered gems from the past as well. And for those that feel like they’ve seen everything but haven’t watched 1980’s “Forbidden Zone?” Then brother, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

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Panic in the Year Zero: How “Mr. Robot” and “Fight Club” complement each other

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An outsider who cynically views the material attachments of modern society and the misplaced ethos of cultures at large. A plan to destroy an economic institution as a way of setting free the masses from the yolk of corporations. The divergent personalities of a potential savior that is slowly bringing him closer to self destruction, all while commenting on the ludicrous notion of corporate “personhood.” Is this a description of David Fincher’s 1999 film “Fight Club” or the USA Network original series “Mr. Robot?” There are certain similarities between the two that are hard to ignore, whether it’s those narrative parallels, the camera framing which evokes Fincher’s work, or even the use of the same song; “Mr. Robot” is aware of its influences and pays homage to Fincher’s film in multiple ways. But that’s not to suggest that the TV show is a pale imitation or carbon copy of the raucous movie. Instead, the two are echoes across a divide of time where certain global events change perspectives and objectives of each story.

“Fight Club” (based on the book by Chuck Palahniuk) was made and takes place at the tail end of the ’90s. It sounds like a joke, but it’s important to remember that the film has a pre-9/11 mentality about it. The greatest crises facing people at that time (in the western world) were existential ones. The gravest concern was what was to be done about this spiritual ennui that was affecting a materialistic generation of lost boys stuck in the position of office drones and corporate errand runners. The chief element of Fincher’s film (and Palahniuk’s book) is an examination of masculinity in that time period, how misplaced aggression can lead to the charms of anarchic fascism in the face of a world taken over by Starbucks and IKEA.

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Movie Review: “War Dogs”

Starring
Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana de Armas, Bradley Cooper, Kevin Pollack
Director
Todd Phillips

It’s been three years since director Todd Phillips released the critically derided final installment in his “Hangover” trilogy, and in that time, his aspirations as a filmmaker have clearly grown. Phillips’ latest movie, based on the 2011 Rolling Stone article “The Stoner Arms Dealers” by Guy Lawson (which was later turned into a book titled “Arms and the Dudes”), is a measured attempt to showcase his serious side à la “The Big Short.” But while “War Dogs” occupies a similar space as Adam McKay’s Oscar-winning dramedy, providing an entertaining look at how a pair of ambitious twentysomething pals became millionaires due to the U.S. government’s own negligence, it doesn’t really have anything important to say – or rather, the important stuff feels like an afterthought compared to the highly dramatized events at the center of the film.

The year is 2005, and college dropout David Packouz (Miles Teller) is working as a licensed massage therapist in Miami Beach while trying to launch his own business selling bedsheets to retirement homes. When his latest scheme fails and his girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas) announces that she’s pregnant, David decides that he needs to find a real job in order to support his family. Enter childhood friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), a bottom-feeding arms dealer who’s moved back to town after working for his uncle selling police-seized weapons in California. Efraim has started his own arms dealing business in Miami, and it’s pretty successful, living off the crumbs of small military contracts that the major companies generally ignore. Efraim offers to bring on David to help with the day-to-day operations, and within six months, the pair lands its biggest deal yet. But when that contract leads to a more lucrative opportunity with the Pentagon to supply weapons and ammo to the Afghan army, the two friends quickly find themselves in over their heads.

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Movie Review: “Kubo and the Two Strings”

Starring
Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Rooney Mara, Ralph Fiennes, George Takei
Director
Travis Knight

“If you must blink, do it now,” warns the narrator of “Kubo and the Two Strings,” a movie so confident in its eye-popping visuals and brilliant storytelling that it knows you won’t want to miss a single moment. It’s advice you’ll definitely want to follow, because after the disappointment of 2014’s “The Boxtrolls,” Portland-based animation studio Laika is back at the top of its game with this wildly inventive adventure film that’s packed with the kind of sincerity and heartfelt emotion you rarely find in the medium, Pixar excluded. But “Kubo and the Two Strings” is more than just a return to form for the studio; it’s their funniest and finest movie to date – an absolutely delightful fairy tale that will likely go down as one of the year’s best.

In feudal Japan, a young, one-eyed boy named Kubo (Art Parkinson) has been tasked with taking care of his sick mother in their remote mountain home. During the day, Kubo goes down to the nearby village to tell stories about the legendary samurai Hanzo with his magical samisen, a traditional, three-stringed Japanese instrument that can manipulate colorful sheets of paper into animated origami figures that move and dance with the strum of a string. When he doesn’t heed his mother’s warning and stays out after dark one night, however, Kubo inadvertently summons his evil twin aunts (Rooney Mara), who have been sent by his grandfather, the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), to steal his other eye. Kubo’s mother comes to his rescue just in time, sacrificing herself to save him and using her last bit of magic to bring to life a wooden monkey charm that serves as his guardian. With the help of Monkey (Charlize Theron) and a cursed man-beetle warrior (Matthew McConaughey) with no memory of his previous life, Kubo must embark on a quest to retrieve the three pieces of Hanzo’s fabled gold armor in order to defeat his vengeful family.

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Movie Review: “Hell or High Water”

Starring
Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham, Katy Mixon, Kevin Rankin
Director
David Mackenzie

“Hell or High Water” is one magnificently self-aware film. There is a strong Coen brothers vibe to both the plot and the dialogue (if “Blood Simple” and “Fargo” were forced to mate, the offspring would turn out a lot like this), which is why the casting of Jeff Bridges is a stroke of genius. As a Coen veteran, he understands the material, and is able to not just humanize a character that would be monstrous in the hands of a lesser actor – he’s able to make the character charming and likable.

In the bleak, seemingly waterless landscape of west Texas, Toby Howard (Chris Pine) and his ex-con brother Tanner (Ben Foster) begin the day by robbing two small banks of all of their chump change. The Howards are in danger of losing their farm to the very bank that they’re robbing; the plan is to pay off their debt with the bank’s own money and put the land in a trust to benefit Toby’s children. Due to the amount of money being stolen, the FBI isn’t interested in investigating the case, but Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Bridges) has a week until he retires, so he drags his reluctant partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) along for one last rodeo.

There aren’t a lot of moving parts here, and that is a good thing. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (“Sicario”) keeps his characters focused on their respective prizes, with no unnecessary side plots about poor people foolishly spending their newfound riches, a common trap to these types of stories. The most pleasant surprise is how funny the movie is, and not solely of the pitch-black variety. There are some gut-busting moments here. The waitresses, in particular, bring the funny in spades.

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