Screening Room: Game On!

This week’s Screening Room Podcast looks at Spielberg’s latest, Ready Player One, plus Tyler Perry’s Acrimony, Flower and what to look for in this week’s new home entertainment releases.

Check out the full podcast HERE.

Fright Club: Death + Sex

A few weeks ago we covered Sex and Death. That is, the act of sex leads directly to death. Sex kills you.

This week, as a kind of wrong-headed sibling, we talk with B Movie Bros about Death and Sex. Which is to say, the death part comes first. Either party can be dead, or both can. Reanimated corpses are fine, if that’s your thing. Just as long as at least one participant is dead.

5. Living Doll (1990)

Though few scenes go by that don’t showcase Katie Orgill’s bare breasts, this odd British import is just a sweet romance at its heart. It’s a romance between a young mortician/med student and the corpse of his unrequited love, which doesn’t sound that sweet, I’ll grant you, but between Mark Jax’s delusional naivete and the strangely tender script penned by director George Dugdale with Paul Hart-Wilden and Mark Ezra, the film may openly flirt with necromancy, but it courts true romance.

Why is Christine (Orgill) buried naked? Why does everyone hide their British accents—and so poorly? Why clutter the film with so many atrocious actors? Why is Orgill so bad at holding her breath? Who knows or cares, when Eartha Kitt plays the landlady?

The film is weirdly memorable—equally grotesque and tender-hearted. You can’t exactly look past its snail’s pace or poor acting, but it works on you. There’s not much else like it.

4. The Corpse of Anna Fritz (2015)

Young hospital orderly Pau (Albert Carbo) attends the morgue, where the famous actress Anna Fritz (Alba Ribas) awaits an autopsy come morning. He secretly texts a selfie with the body to two buddies. They show up to see the body.

Soon, three young men are alone with a beautiful, naked, dead woman with absolutely no chance of being interrupted for hours. If you’re a little concerned with where this may lead, well, you should be.

As a comment on rape culture, the film is a pointed and singular horror.

Sort of a cross between 2008’s irredeemable rape fantasy Deadgirl and Tarantino’s brilliant Kill Bill, The Corpse of Anna Fritz will take you places you’d rather not go.

And while contrivances pile up like cadavers in a morgue, each one poking a hole in the credibility of the narrative being built, The Corpse of Anna Fritz has a lot more to offer than you might expect—assuming you stick it out past the first reel.

3. The Neon Demon (2016)

“Beauty isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

So says an uncredited Alessandro Nivola, a fashion designer waxing philosophic in Nicolas Winding Refn’s (Bronson, Drive) nightmarish new film The Neon Demon.

The line, of course, is borrowed. Refn tweaks the familiar idea to suit his fluid, perfectly framed, cynical vision.

Jesse (Elle Fanning) is an underaged modeling hopeful recently relocated to a sketchy motel in Pasadena. Will she be swallowed whole by the darker, more monstrous elements of Hollywood?

Or is Ruby (Jena Malone) the godsend of a friend Jesse needs?

Nope. And she’s not to be trusted with the kind of beautiful corpses you might find in an LA mortuary, either.

2. We Are the Flesh (2016)

Are you squeamish?

First-time feature writer/director Emiliano Rocha Minter announces his presence with authority—and a lot of body fluids—in this carnal horror show.

A hellish vision if ever there was one, the film opens on a filthy man with a lot of packing tape. He’s taking different types of nastiness, taping it inside a plastic drum to ferment, and eventually turning it into a drink or a drug. Hard to tell—loud drum banging follows, as well as hallucinations and really, really deep sleep.

During that sleep we meet two siblings, a teenaged brother and sister who’ve stumbled into the abandoned building where the hermit lives.

What happens next? What doesn’t?! Incest, cannibalism, a lot of shared body fluids of every manner, rape, necrophilia—a lot of stuff, none of it pleasant.

Minter has created a fever dream as close to hell as anything we’ve seen since last year’s Turkish nightmare Baskin.

There’s little chance you’ll watch this film in its entirety without diverting your eyes—whether your concern is the problematic sexuality or just the onslaught of viscous secretions, the screen is a slurry of shit you don’t really want to see.

1. Dead Alive (1992)

Rated R for “an abundance of outrageous gore,” Dead Alive is everything the young Peter Jackson did well. It’s a bright, silly, outrageously gory bloodbath.

Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme) secretly loves shopkeeper Paquita Maria Sanchez (Diana Penalver).His overbearing sadist of a mother does not take well to her son’s new outside-the-home interests. Mum follows the lovebirds to a date at the zoo, where she’s bitten (pretty hilariously) by a Sumatran rat-monkey (do not mistake this dangerous creature for a rabid Muppet or misshapen lump of clay).

The bite kills her, but not before she can squeeze pus into some soup and wreak general havoc, which is nothing compared to the hell she raises once she comes back from the dead. Soon enough, Lionel has a houseful of reanimated corpses, some of them a bit randy.

You ever wonder where a zombie baby comes from?

She Said She Said

Tyler Perry’s Acrimony

by George Wolf

Acrimony begins with an on-screen definition of the word “acrimony.” That’s how much credit writer/director/producer Tyler Perry gives his audience.

He doesn’t treat his lead much better, again creating a strong female character who must receive her comeuppance.

She is Melinda (Taraji P. Henson), who’s under court-ordered anger management after harassing her ex-husband Robert (Lyriq Bent) and his new fiancee (Crystie Stewart). As Melinda tells her therapist why her anger is justified, she tells us, too, and just keeps on telling.

Flashbacks give us the Melinda and Robert story, while constant voiceovers spoon-feed us enough information to qualify as an audiobook. The organic dialogue offers no more nuance (cell phone rings once: “He isn’t picking up!”)

It’s contrived and obvious at nearly every turn, and though Henson delivers her usual spunk, Perry’s penchant for demonizing women who don’t stand by their men is on display. The hand he plays for the film’s finale smacks of a cop out, a “get out of jail free card” for how he’s written Melinda’s character.

That card gets trumped, and the final showdown fizzles into borderline camp. It’s a fitting end to a mess of a movie.


Bury Your Gold

The China Hustle

by Cat McAlpine

Are you still upset about the 2008 housing crash? Of course you are. We all are. Ten years ago banks put the American dream up for sale and the market inevitably collapsed in on itself.

But when the American people were trying to pull themselves back up by their bootstraps, the financial industry had already moved on. To China.

Get ready to look up at the glistening spires of capitalism only to realize we’re all huddled under a house of cards.

Writer/Director Jed Rothestein weaves a thrilling, terrifying tale about the next financial disaster awaiting our country. Some of your neighbors have already lost their life savings. The current administration is actively stripping away financial regulations between the average investor and billions of dollars in fraud. Shady deals are happening now, and honestly, there’s probably nothing you can do about it.

Rothestein calls on the full spectrum of documentary devices: talking heads, voice-over narration, cartoon re-enactments, visual graphics, and more. They work for the most part, but some of the b-roll seems out of place. The most effective and evocative imagery is a series of long, sweeping drone shots of cities and factories.

Rothstein really hits his stride when short-seller Dan David tours his hometown of Flint, MI. Flint is the poster child of blue-collar suffering for white-collar crimes. The camera captures haunting images of the town that really reflect the tangible repercussions of corporate fraud.

China Hustle warns us of a new danger on the horizon. Billions of dollars are propped up in the empty shells of defunct American companies, waiting to collapse.

And then there’s the warning of a larger danger, entrenched in the very fabric of our society. No one is looking out for the American people. The SEC, the accreditation firms, the lawyers, and the bankers—they all invest in their own interests. Even the men blowing the whistle on fraudulent Chinese companies first make money off of them.

“Companies have companies’ best interests at heart.”

And that’s the real hustle.

Great Outdoors

Leaning Into the Wind: Andy Goldsworthy

by Rachel Willis


It’s the first word that comes to mind while watching Thomas Riedelsheimer’s documentary about artist Andy Goldsworthy. But that’s not a critique on the film itself, rather a reflection on the meticulous nature of Goldsworthy’s work, as well as Riedelsheimer’s.

Crafting art from nature, Goldsworthy spends a lengthy amount of time gathering his materials—leaves, flower petals, branches—then fastidiously arranges and assembles his materials into stunning works of art. It’s not only an exercise in creativity, but patience. When a gust of wind destroys hours of work, Goldsworthy takes it in stride, even though it’s the kind of setback that would leave many fuming.

To truly sink viewers into Goldsworthy’s world, into his thought process, Riedelsheimer is with Goldsworthy from start to finish as he assembles each new piece. Interviews and time spent on the sidelines observing while he works is as close as one can get to being inside the mind of an artist.

With breathtaking cinematography, the film itself is a work of art. As the viewer follows Goldsworthy around the world, the film captures the beauty of nature as Goldsworthy sees it. Knotted tree roots take on deeper meaning. Ants marching become more than insects on the ground, but a reflection of society. One of Goldsworthy’s more impressive installations is sparked by the ants. Riedelsheimer is there to capture the moment of inspiration as it turns into a stunning work of art.

There are times when the film covers the same ground. Much of the viewer’s time is spent watching as Goldsworthy (sometimes alone, sometimes with his daughter, at times with an entire crew) works on different installations. While interesting to see, it’s also repetitive, and the documentary is most engrossing when we’re allowed to follow Goldsworthy as he mines the continent for ideas.

Often the film has the feel of a nature documentary. The camera fades into the background as Goldsworthy works, becoming a silent observer, which gives the viewer an intimate look into his world. Goldsworthy becomes a part of the environment around him. Using his body, he becomes absorbed in the environment. The viewer feels the same absorption as we’re drawn deeply into his universe.

Leaning Into the Wind is a gorgeous, glorious film.

Shall We Play a Game?

Ready Player One

by Hope Madden

Ready Player One may be the most Spielbergian of all Spielberg movies. It’s Spielberg on Spielberg. Meta-Spielberg.

You get the idea.

It’s 2045 in Columbus, Ohio and the world is so miserable for so many that they spend all day, every day inside their video games. OASIS is a virtual world where you can play anything against anybody at any time.

The creator of OASIS and every devoted gamer’s hero, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), died several years ago and has built a challenge into the game. The winner will own OASIS (and its trillion in worth) outright.

And that’s it. A ragtag group of nerds (led by Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke) must learn to work together so they can defeat the megalomaniacal tech firm run by a guy who doesn’t even like gaming (Ben Mendelsohn).

What? Misfit kids teaming up to learn from a master nerd and beat the suits? Smells like Spielberg!

Ready Player One is a celebration of gamer culture in the same way that The Lego Movie indulged in the sheer joy of building with Legos. It is also an 80s pop culture nerd’s wet dream. You want to see a guy wearing Buckaroo Banzai’s while driving Marty McFly’s DeLorean romance a girl on Tron’s bike or run across a bridge made of the Iron Giant? Done.

Want to know what the Zemeckis Cube does? (Bill and Ted know.)

The entire assortment of John Hughesisms is set to righteous beats from Bruce to Blondie.

And that’s where the film could easily have become fluffy nonsense were it not for the genius move of taking an 80s fanboy icon (Spielberg) and allowing him to simply provide an undiluted version of every nostalgic gimmick he has ever hatched.

Every time he borrows from himself or leans on old tendencies—tendencies he’s been trying to shed since 1985’s The Color Purple—it feels like it’s meant to be.

It’s basically a Spielberg movie inside an ode to Spielberg movies.

Plus, oh my God I want a The Shining video game!

Unfortunately, that’s all it really is. The performances are hammy fun but certainly not revelatory. The story is thin enough that it doesn’t get in the way of all the cool FX and callbacks. You’ve seen it all before, you just haven’t seen it quite this unabashed, with frame after frame nearly bursting with the exuberance of some kid whose parents just demanded he put down that homework, crank up the tunes and start gaming already!

Digging in the Dirt


by Alex Edeburn

Max Winkler’s coming-of-age film, Flower, is one which is filled with a number of confusing and problematic plot turns.

Erica, played by Zoey Deutch, is a 17-year-old girl who is exploring her sexuality while also extorting several men in her community for the oral care she is so fond of providing to them. Erica seems to be as carefree as she is snarky, although we see she is emotionally-reliant on her single mother (Kathryn Hahn) while her father sits in a prison cell.

The plot of the film involves Erica and her friends implementing the old “fellatio-from-a-minor” blackmail scheme against a former teacher (Adam Scott) who was accused of sexually abusing Erica’s new step-brother, Luke (Joey Morgan).

The film becomes increasingly problematic with its blasé attitude toward sexual abuse and even levels of consent. Immediately after Luke suffers from a panic attack, Erica continues to pester her step-brother about letting her perform oral sex on him. It takes him yelling at her before she realizes she has crossed the line.

Later on, Erica and Co. hatch a plan to roofie Luke’s accused abuser and take photos with his unconscious body in order to blackmail him. One would hope a voice of reason would advise the children otherwise or perhaps Erica would come-of-age at this opportune moment and realize the extreme moral fallacy in this decision.

Flower likes to borrow from recent teen comedies as it attempts to mold Erica into a more unruly and vulgar Juno MacGuff. Instead of a quirky hamburger phone, Erica has a pet rat named Titty. Unlike Juno, this film’s main character is increasingly off-putting and irredeemable by story’s end.

She also has a penchant for filling a composition notebook with her illustrations of the male anatomy, a hobby she shares with Jonah Hill’s character from Superbad.

However, as morally-bankrupt as Erica seems in many circumstances, we cannot help but be drawn in by her cocksure attitude. We can thank Zoey Deutch for her ability to play Erica as someone who is endlessly frustrating, undeniably selfish, but also pretty damn endearing. Her entertaining performance is one reason to see Flower.

Nevertheless, the talent of its lead is not enough to save this movie from its bizarre plot-line and questionable treatment regarding sexual assault. It’s likely this movie meant to say much more than it actually does concerning a young woman and her body, consent and fractured families, but it’s hard to find much nuance even when you dig into the soil.

Columbus GLOWs

Lady Wrestler: The Amazing, Unknown Story of African-American Women in the Ring

by Christie Robb

Writer/director Chris Bournea shines a well-deserved spotlight on a forgotten corner of American history, the Golden Age of Wrestling.

Columbus was the epicenter of professional wrestling during the 1950s and served as a home base for many prominent, powerful African American professional women wrestlers including the sister act of Babs Wingo, Ethel Johnson and Marva Scott.

Groomed like 60s music groups the Shirelles and the Marvelettes, the “Lady Wrestler” had to mix the sex appeal of the bathing beauty, the physical prowess of an athlete, and the glamor of a Hollywood star.

Manager Billy Wolf encouraged his ladies to dress in silk dresses and furs, to bedazzle themselves with diamonds, and to shun “masculine” habits like smoking in public. But in the ring, these women—who worked out three hours a day—executed holds and flips, and took strikes that would finish most men.

Balancing family life, career and fame, these women broke athletic color barriers and traveled internationally at a time when interstate transportation terminals were still segregated and women couldn’t apply for their own credit cards.

Told in a mix of Bournea’s own narration and interviews with the women and their families, Lady Wrestler: The Amazing, Unknown Story of African-American Women in the Ring is a testament to the physical and emotional strength of these trailblazing women.

I Don’t Want to Go Out—Week of March 26

You know a fun way to pass the time during a boring holiday weekend? With Star Wars movies. Lucky for us, the latest drops for home entertainment this week. Piss off your Fox News watching uncle and your most self-indulgent of white male nerd friends with the strong female lead and natural character arc of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

For a full review, click the movie title.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Trivial Pursuits

by Hope Madden

It has been ten years since George and I packed our bags for a trip to Orlando to try out for VH1’s “World Series of Pop Culture”—a game show where teams battle each other for the title of biggest movie/music/TV trivia nerd.

My husband and I had watched the first season with our then-14-year-old son Riley and sought to impress him with our heady command of all things trivial. He was duly impressed and mounted an all-out campaign to persuade us to audition for season two.

He didn’t have to try too hard. We flattered ourselves that we easily could have trounced any team from season one—something I’m still hard-pressed to disbelieve. The champion missed questions about Caddyshack, Star Wars and Monty Python.

And you call yourself a nerd!

By comparison, between film reviews and George’s radio gig (a job he’s had since high school, by the way), we know movies and music.

But we did have one big weakness: George and I haven’t watched a TV show since The Sopranos went off the air.

It occurred to me that my friend Martha seems to watch every program on every channel at all times. I proposed the idea to her of joining our team and she nervously accepted.

One problem: my vanity. Martha is stunningly attractive and I realized I didn’t look forward to being the team frump.

Meanwhile, George had asked his friend Dan, who also watches no TV, to join the team. And though Dan’s strengths were basically the same as ours, he’s no prettier than I am. Excellent.

So, we kicked Martha to the curb and Shark Sandwich—named after the Spinal Tap album—was born.

Martha, by the way, took it well since she was hoping the audition wouldn’t come to pass anyway.

Because we were especially weak when it came to reality TV, we hatched a strategy. Whenever we were asked about the subject, we would answer “Flavor Flav.” This was 2007, after all, and he was literally the only reality TV star we knew.

I found this strategy so amusing that I considered using it in everyday life.

Officer friendly: Do you know how fast you were driving, ma’am?

Me: Flavor Flav?

In Orlando, hundreds of teams were tested over three days. We’d already passed their online test, which is how we got the Orlando invite. Once there, Shark Sandwich and 39 other squads of wannabes were ushered into a hotel ballroom to take a 50-question exam.

We were given half an hour to complete it, and the top two point-getters would move on to the next round: a face-to-face interview with producers. The other 38 teams would go home and the next 40 teams would move into the ballroom.

My teammates were supremely confident, but I was nervous about the test. I signed a contract, so under penalty of law I cannot divulge any questions. Still, if you don’t know that, say, Keanu Reeves’s character in Point Break was Johnny Utah, former quarterback for The Ohio State University, go ahead and head home.

Shark Sandwich missed a total of three questions, making us one of the two teams to be invited to sit with the ridiculously young VH1 producers.

Again my teammates were supremely confident, and they probably should have been: They’re entertaining. Dan, longtime morning show producer and radio DJ, fronts the Dan Orr Project, a band famous locally for its clever parody songs. During our audition, he sang a bit of “Nights in White Castle” (to the tune of “Nights in White Satin”).

I think the twentysomething producers were amused, and that’s what they were looking for, right?

They wanted teams that would draw interest—love or hate—from an audience. Could the three of us elicit such passion?

Here’s where the beautiful Martha probably would have come in handy.

After our meeting, we were encouraged to wander around the area’s theme parks and wait for a call. If we passed, we’d be one of the eight teams in the local Orlando tournament, with a trip to the big TV tournament in New York on the line for the winning nerds.

We’d had a few cocktails by the time the producers phoned, which makes it all the more surprising that we didn’t unleash a profanity-laced tirade when they rejected us.

No reason was given, so we assumed it was because VH1 felt that America-at-large couldn’t root for a team whose members knew their stuff because of their jobs and not just for the love of trivia.

It was an easier philosophy to accept than many other options—too old, too boring, too drunk.

So we swallowed our pride and watched season two from home. Our main interest was seeing the team that came from our Orlando tryouts: They’re Real and They’re Spectacular. All right, maybe taking a team name from a Seinfeld line was clever, but whether or not they were real, they were far from spectacular.

They didn’t answer a single question correctly. Not one.

They’re Real and They’re Spectacular went out on a question from the TV show “Friends.”

Good lord. Even we knew Ross’s monkey was named Marcel.

Why did they say Flavor Flav?

OK, they didn’t really say that. But I would have respected them more if they had.