River’s Edge (1986)

Streaming on Amazon Prime | imdb | trailer 

Metalhead teens are in turmoil as one of their group has killed his girlfriend (very loosely based on a true case). This film has a particularly important place in my heart. However if you’re not sympathetic to outsider metal kids, or at least a big fan of ‘80s drama, or Dennis Hopper, you may want to skip it. Back when I first saw this on a VHS tape rented from the local grocery store, I had already been one of those jean jacket wearing thrash nerds for a while. That and my natural love of dark subject matter quickly made me fall in love with River’s Edge. The soundtrack LP is killer, mostly thanks to early Slayer, but it also features the best song by Hallows Eve, and a fantastically not-metal Wipers song that you can barely hear in the film. I wish someone would have thought to include some of the amazing and hilarious dialogue on the album. If you like this one, check out director Tim Hunter’s previous film Over the Edge. It’s not quite as dark, but has a similar troubled kid angle, and it was mostly filmed in the suburban Colorado city I grew up in. Hunter went on to direct episodes of Breaking Bad and Mad Men (and a ton of other forgettable stuff). All the performances here are perfect, but Crispin Glover steals the show. If you’re a fan of his you already saw this years ago. Also I must admit that the locations used probably planted the seed for me moving to the West Coast. There’s a few houses in my neighborhood in Portland that could pass for ones in the film. A few years ago I went to a River’s Edge screening and Q and A with Daniel Roebuck who played killer teen John / Samson. He told a ton of great stories, shared a slideshow of his own on-set photos, and more. He mentioned that he and other cast members spent a lot of time with co-star Hopper, mostly asking for stories about the filming of Apocalypse Now. When the audience question round came up I asked him for details. The one tidbit I hadn’t ever heard before was that Martin Sheen’s brother was a stand-in on Apocalypse when he had a heart attack. There are probably a couple of moments of the final film where you’re seeing Joe Estevez as Captain Willard. Anyway dude, River’s Edge rules, and is also the only fictional time capsule of what American metal kids were like back then. You might want to look up the short doc Heavy Metal Parking Lot for a more realistic (and hilarious) picture. We weren’t all THAT stupid… but yeah, it’s a mostly accurate representation.

Bonus: Vice did an Oral History of River’s Edge a while back. Don’t read until you’ve seen the film. 

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is out of print. More info here.

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The Sisters Brothers (2018)

Streaming on Hulu | imdb | trailer 

It seems impossible, but this film successfully blends a violent western with a bit of dark comedy. It all looks beautiful as well. The Sisters Brothers is deliberately paced between shootouts, and runs on the long side, but I was never bored. Recommended weirdness.

Available on Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox.

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The Five Venoms (1978)

Streaming on Netflix | imdb | trailer

I avoided recommending this one (aka The Five Deadly Venoms) until now as it’s very well known among martial arts fans. Anything I saw on TV regularly as a kid may even be too obvious. However, I think a lot of younger folks may have missed this classic Shaw Brothers film. It’s got all the crazy fight choreography you’d expect, and the majority of Shaw’s greatest stars, plus a mystery angle with a very dark edge. There are some parts that even look like a Mario Bava film. Maybe hold off on watching something in the Netflix Top 10 and check out this fun piece of Anomalous Cinema.

Available on Blu-ray from Celestial Pictures.

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First Love (2019)

Streaming on Amazon Prime | imdb | trailer 

I believe this is the most recent Takashi Miike movie that is currently streaming in the USA. It has a unique look, no fake grain but all the detail. I’d call it video crafted with care. The sets look amazing. The production designer is a genius. Every interior scene looks almost like an art installation. As you’d expect, there are some very entertaining action sequences amid the strange comedy / drama too. First Love also features one particularly freaky knob turn. In the end I was very happy to have watched this weird, but modest movie. Miike keeps being Miike, and I love it.

Available on Blu-ray from Well Go.

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Night in Paradise (2020)

Streaming on Netflix | imdb | trailer

Here’s a very good South Korean dramatic crime thriller. The cinematography is beautiful, and the performances are all strong. There are a few good shootout scenes too. They are only hampered by unrealistic gun action, which is a very common problem in movies. If you’ve never fired a gun, you won’t notice. The barely-kicking guns were easy for me to ignore because this really is an enjoyable, dark movie. The only other blemish is that the film on the slow side. However the climax is well worth the wait. I wish Netflix would invest in more movies like this. That streaming service has a real crap hoarding problem.

Not available on Blu-ray.

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Croupier (1998)

Streaming on Netflix | imdb | trailer

I like Clive Owen, and this is a pretty damned good drama with him as the lead. It’s got many twists and turns, a little skin, and some brawling too. Not a bad way to spend 90 minutes, compared to the vast universe of crap that is Netflix these days.

Available on Blu-ray from Henstooth.

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The Hospital (1971)

Streaming on Amazon Prime | imdb | trailer

Crazy. Awkward. Stupid at times. Lots of “overacting.” Totally inappropriate by modern standards. At least two full-blown George C. Scott yelling rants. A very ‘70s sexual assault that is somehow also consensual. Oh, and it’s a comedy! In the end, a challenging, but quite amusing example of Anomalous Cinema. I also enjoyed seeing Diana Rigg (The Avengers, Theater of Blood, etc.) and Richard Dysart (who we all know best from The Thing).

Blu-ray available from Twilight Time.

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Outlaw King (2018)

Streaming on Netflix | imdb | trailer

After the death of Braveheart’s William Wallace, came Robert the Bruce. This film is based on the true story of the 14th century Scottish hero. It’s an entertaining but imperfect action / biopic. Any flaws are made up for with the battle sequence at the end. Outlaw King manages to touch on the good parts of historical war films like Mel Gibson made, without spoiling things with their Hollywood cheese. This was directed by the man behind the excellent Hell or High Water, which also starred Chris Pine. He does a damn good job in the lead role too.

Not available on Blu-ray.

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Bloody Sunday (2002)

Streaming on Hulu and Amazon Prime | imdb | trailer

On January 30, 1972 British troops opened fire on a civil rights protest in Ireland. This is a well-made dramatization of the events. From what I have read, it is historically accurate, minus a few minor errors. Bloody Sunday is just as grim and violent as you would imagine, but important viewing for everyone.

Not available on Blu-ray.

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Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Streaming on Netflix | imdb | trailer

I didn’t expect much when I first saw this film. I ended up very pleasantly surprised. It’s an excellent thriller that looks damn-near perfect. Nocturnal Animals is more centered in drama than violence, but it’s still very dark in all the best ways. Some critics even called it “cynical.” No wonder I liked it so much.

Available on Blu-ray from Universal.

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