The Mind’s Eye
Directed by: Joe Begos
Run time: 87 minutes
The Lowdown: When I was a kid, my bedroom was plastered with movie posters. All four walls and the ceiling. Nothing but posters and lobby cards and signed glossy prints.
One of my favorites was the one-sheet from “Scanners,” the 1981 film by David Cronenberg, which depicted Michael Ironside fully engulfed, his veins popping, his eyes white, his body steaming, with the tagline, “10 Seconds: The Pain Begins. 15 Seconds: You Can’t Breathe. 20 Seconds: You Explode. SCANNERS…Their thoughts can kill!”
And, true enough, Cronenberg didn’t disappoint. Heads did explode. Bodies burst. Blood sprayed.
“Scanners” was a great genre film, even if it wasn’t the greatest movie ever made. But I always felt like it could have been more – bigger, bloodier, crazier.
It only took 35 years for someone else to deliver on the promise that Cronenberg first teased, to take the archetypes he created, amplify them to the Nth-degree and realize the spectacle of a full-on telekinetic battle royal.
Who, you ask, is this architect of fan-boy dreams? His name is Joe Begos, and with just his second feature-length film, The Mind’s Eye, he has arrived to put genre cinema back where it belongs – one the big-screen in multiplexes and front and center in the laps of people who simply want to be entertained.
The Mind’s Eye is not a redo of “Scanners.” No, it’s something better. The Mind’s Eye steals just one element from Cronenberg – the telekinetic – and then imagines a world where such people with great power might suddenly find themselves hunted by an evil scientist who wants to literally syphon their ability and inject it into himself in order to become a supreme being.
Begos has a signature style, which is the equivalent of high octane fuel. Once his films begin, they simply don’t let up. Where most directors might hold out until the third act to really let loose the crazy, Begos starts at crazy and sees just how far he can go until he reaches pure cinematic insanity. He literally one-ups himself over and over and over again.
Whereas “Scanners” is remembered most for its incredible practical effects head-exploding gag, Begos tips his hat to that iconic moment in the first 20 minutes of his movie and then sets his sights on an end-goal that revels in telekinetic carnage. Weapons fly through the air with the nod of a chin and an evil glare. Bodies fling up into the air, only to be ripped in half.
This isn’t two guys sitting in an office staring at one another while special effects bladders puff out veins and spit blood. This is mental warfare on a grander, gorier scale.
The Mind’s Eye is exhilarating. It’s the type of film where you literally whoop out loud in amazement at each new set piece. You can’t catch your breath long enough to sit back. You just lean forward and hold on as Begos drives headlong into hell, windows down and the radio dial cranked, laughing maniacally at the realization of his accomplishment.
The Mind’s Eye reminds us of why we love movies. They don’t always have to make sense. They don’t have to feature Oscar-caliber acting. They exist to entertain, to transport us off our couch for an hour or more, to smack us in the face with limitless possibilities and boundless imagination.
But here’s the thing. This is just Joe Begos’ second movie. His second movie. That’s what truly excites me. That’s what makes my head dizzy with anticipation.
You can’t find The Mind’s Eye in stores – yet. It’s only available on most streaming, VOD platforms. But you shouldn’t wait. Go forth, seek it out, and get ready. It’s one hell of a great ride.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Lauren Ashley Carter, telekinetic babe.
Nudity – Yes.
Gore – Oh boy howdy, yes.
Drug use – Yes.
Bad Guys/Killers – John Speredakos giving David Gale a run for his mad scientist money.
Buy/Rent – Order it. Now!
Keanu (Warner Bros., 100 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): I wanted to love Keanu, the warped action movie parody written by Jordan Peele and starring Peele and Keegan-Michael Key. After all, these guys are funny – hold your stomach, tears in your eyes funny. And while there are some hysterical moments sprinkled throughout Keanu – not to mention, one seriously adorable kitten (who is played by a revolving door of kitten stand-ins) – the film, as a whole, never truly gels. When it hits, it hits hard. But when it doesn’t, buckle in for some long, dry stretches.
Observance (Artsploitation Films, 86 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): Many a great film has been made about the ability of the human mind to slowly slip into madness. Films like “Session 9,” “The Machinist” and “Event Horizon” have all garnered wide acclaim for documenting in both quietly-stated yet sinister machinations and hellishly surreal visions just how frail our grip on sanity can be. But Observance, the new film from writer-director Joseph Sims-Dennett, washes over viewers like a wave of palpable dread. From its outset, our protagonist, the bleary-eyed private investigator Parker, looks like a man barely holding on, and for good reason. His son has died and his wife won’t answer his calls. All that remains for Parker is work, and his latest case just might prove his last. Sims-Dennett frames each shot in the most constricting way possible, and the design works wonders in amplifying the isolation that slowly consumes Parker as he sits vigil behind a camera, staring out a window across the street at an occupied flat. Parker’s task seems simple – document the actions of the pretty woman who lives there. With each passing day, however, Parker’s anxiety heightens. He begins hearing things in the abandoned building where he has set up surveillance. A strange jar on a shelf appears to fill more and more with a bloodlike substance. And ominous marks suddenly appear on his back. Parker’s faceless client, identified only by a stoic voice on the phone, commands him to sit tight and keep working and to stop sweating the details. Observance is remarkably unnerving throughout, even if answers to many of the story’s core questions remain fitfully vague. Sims-Dennett strings together tiny moments dripping with paranoia and bursts of madness that you wish he would have more fully explored some of the more fantastic elements he introduces, such as the odd totem that Parker discovers, which suggests he might be a pawn in a much more macabre enterprise. Observance succeeds more for its expertly-crafted atmosphere than its story. One thing is perfectly clear – once Sims-Dennett puts all the pieces together, hopefully with his next film, he may just reward fans with a true masterpiece.
Bite (Shout! Factory, 89 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): Pardon the pun, but I honestly expected Bite, the quasi-homage/update to “The Fly” from writer-director Chad Archibald, to have sharper teeth or a more savage stinger or [insert apt bug analogy here]. The biggest setback to Bite is the fact that it never truly establishes its core characters clear enough to draw viewer empathy. And then it immediately launches into the gross and gooey transformation phase with little to no build-up. And while the film is bloody, and goopy, and slimy, and filled with some impressive set design and practical effects, it’s not enough to just send a revolving door of potential victims to an apartment and call that a day. Bite is fun enough for those who like their body-morphing horror compact and concise. But personally, I was expecting and wanted more.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory, 115 minutes, PG, Blu-Ray): Countless films have tried in vain to present a terrifying vision of alien invasion as a viral pandemic. But in the past 38 years, no film has come close to topping this amazing classic from 1978. Few films ever can rival the iconic closing shot of Donald Sutherland’s face constricting, his throat bull-frogging, as he emits a terrible alien sounding call. Kudos to director Philip Kaufman and, especially, writer W.D. Richter for delivering this timeless slice of terror. It’s one of only a handful of perfect horror films ever made.
Viral (Anchor Bay, 85 minutes, Unrated, DVD): In stark contrast to the greatness that is “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the guys who originated “Catfish,” and went on to direct two installments of the “Paranormal Activity” franchise, as well as the recent big-screen “Nerve,” serve up a capable, if sadly familiar, slice of contagion panic with Viral. It’s a well-constructed, well-acted film that offers no new takes on the standard people get infected, people go crazy genre of apocalyptic virus pictures that sadly have become a cottage industry in and of themselves.
Summer Camp (Lionsgate, 84 minutes, R, DVD): And then we have Summer Camp, yet another contagion-spreading, goo-spewing variation on the afore-mentioned “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Director Alberto Marini’s low-budget viral infection thriller falls so far below that 1978 masterpiece and fails so spectacularly, I made it about 20 minutes in before turning over and going to sleep. Why? Because it’s awful. This is a horror movie about camp counselors in a foreign country that opens with news coverage about the disappearance of the counselors, so right off the bat, you know things won’t go well for the cast. Then it introduces the four counselors and they are the same stereotypical characters that appear in every bad-things-happen-to-camp-counselor’s movie you’ve ever seen. There’s the earnest, affable nice girl. The rich, spoiled girl. The hunky lead counselor guy. And the skeevy ladies’ man counselor guy. With zero set-up, other than a lurking shadowy figure in the woods, Marini’s movie immediately has two of the counselors suddenly begin projectile vomiting black goo and becoming crazed infectees of an unknown origin. What are they infected with? Who knows. I didn’t wait long enough to find out because once you watch enough bad movies, you know if the setup is handled that poorly, more than likely the thing’s not going to improve from there.
The Trust (Lionsgate, 92 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Nicolas Cage, doing what he does best. It’s a shame he gets such a bad rap these days. He’s still one of the most watchable actors of his generation.
The Blacklist: The Complete Third Season (Sony, 960 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): In the 18th episode of its third season, The Blacklist did the unthinkable. It killed off one of its two leading characters in an emotional and thoroughly unpredictable fashion. Four episodes later, it played another twist and revealed the death had been an elaborate ruse. Most serial television shows would be accused of ‘jumping the shark’ by toying so gamely with its established fan base, but The Blacklist isn’t most shows. It’s a highly addictive adrenaline shot of subversive action that gleefully thrusts its middle finger at traditional TV conventions every chance it can get. James Spader continues to fully embrace the best character he’s ever been handed, and he shows no signs of slowing once the fourth season resumes in late September.
Now on Video-on-Demand:
Sun Choke (XLrator Media, 83 minutes, Unrated, VOD): Barbara Crampton alert! How awesome is it that everybody’s favorite re-animated scream queen is enjoying such a resurgence of late? Crampton has appeared in numerous films of late, including the incredible “We Are Still Here” and “Road Games,” and her timeless beauty and effortless elegance elevates each movie. Prepare yourselves to be messed with by writer-director Ben Cresciman, who succeeds in blurring the line between fantasy and reality with this unsettling portrait of mental illness and childhood demons.
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