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New Releases for Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Imitation Girl

Genre: Sci-Fi

Directed by: Natasha Kermani

Run time: 84 minutes

Rating: Unrated

Format: Video-on-Demand

The Lowdown: What defines us as human beings?

Is it our capacity to love, or our ability to destroy? If you could see the world with fresh eyes, what would you take away from that moment of pure, unbiased discovery?

Imitation Girl, the stunning second feature from writer-director Natasha Kermani, asks a lot from viewers because it demands that we look inward even as we are busy absorbing the mesmerizing tale that she has designed.

The film could easily be a companion piece to 2013’s remarkable Under the Skin, but where Under the Skin wowed with its bursts of visual artistry, Imitation Girl seduces with pure, alien observations that make you consider just how in-tune we really are with who we should be.

Imitation Girl is the story of Julianna (Lauren Ashley Carter), a famous adult actress living a life of hedonistic excess. She parties, she passes out, she goes to work and strips naked but not even at her most bare does she really understand how she's reached this particular point in her life.

Kermani puts Julianna on blast when she bumps into a former music teacher at a diner, and the teacher’s effusive praise of her past prowess coupled with her concerned expression at Julianna’s current appearance, reawakens something crucial deep in Julianna’s heart.

She remembers the life that could have been and once was meant to be. Later, in a painfully raw moment, Julianna asks her porn producer what the point of it all really is. Then she decides to try to make a change.

Meanwhile, miles and miles away, a blazing object has smashed from the sky into a plateau in the New Mexico desert. The raining fireball startles a young boy skipping school and he races away, leaving his bottle of booze and girlie magazine behind. From the pit of the crash, a black ooze inches forth, slowly enveloping the magazine cover, which just happens to be a photo of Julianna. Thus, Imitation Julianna is born, quite literally from some cosmic primordial muck.

Naked, alone, confused, Imitation Julianna is taken in by a brother and sister, themselves strangers in a strange land, having immigrated to the U.S. from Iran. Through them, Imitation Julianna learns to speak, to feel, to appreciate. At one point she asks the brother, Saghi, about his favorite memory, and Saghi tells a bittersweet story that perfectly encapsulates the human condition.

Imitation Girl toggles seamlessly between Julianna and her newly-formed doppelganger. As one immerses herself in life, the other spirals out of control. Without overstating her ambition, Kermani uses her parallel narratives to show both sides of the same coin, and eventually the two women, the same woman, embark on a collision course that culminates in a beautifully rendered moment of self-awareness and awakening.

Imitation Girl is smart science-fiction done exactly the right way, but it wouldn’t work without Carter’s fearless tour-de-force dual performances. As good as she was in Darling, as fiercely kick-ass as she was in The Mind’s Eye, Carter utterly commands every frame with the composure and confidence of an actor who knows they have been gifted a defining role.

BVB highly recommends you check out Imitation Girl, which is one of the titles now being promoted through Epic Pictures and Dread Central Presents.

The Stuff You Care About: Hot chicks – Yes, twice the Lauren Ashley Carter is twice as amazing.

Nudity – Yes. Gore – No.

Drug use – Yes.

Bad Guys/Killers – Our inner Id

Buy/Rent – Buy it.

The ‘Burbs: Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory, 101 minutes, PG, Blu-Ray): Few directors could hold a candle to Joe Dante in the 1980’s.

From 1981’s The Howling to 1984’s Gremlins to 1987’s Innerspace, nearly every project that Dante touched was both a critical and commercial success.

When Dante teamed up with Tom Hanks in 1989 for a subversive comedy called The ‘Burbs, it’s fair to say most movie prognosticators would have expected a huge hit. Hanks was still in his hit-and-miss run of comedies, which included The Money Pit, Dragnet and Big, his official coronation into the A-list stratosphere, but he also was coming off the notoriously unfunny Punchline.

In The ‘Burbs, Hanks played another variation of his everyman character, this time Ray Peterson. Ray wants to take a stay-cation while his wife Carol (a criminally underused Carrie Fisher) goes with their kids to a cabin. Ray and Carol live in an idyllic suburban neighborhood with tree-lined streets, kids playing outside in the grass and all the traditional trimmings of the perfect American community.

However, his neighbors are mostly nutty – from Bruce Dern’s retired military veteran Mark to Corey Feldman’s hyper-horny Ricky and Rick Ducommun’s nosy Art. And they all come to focus on the strange goings-on at the Klopek residence, a run-down eyesore where the lights flicker and flash every night and no one ever leaves, not even to go to the store.

In short, the perfect recipe for Dante’s skewed worldview where horror and comedy collide with everyday life.

The ‘Burbs made just over $36 million upon its release, and it was savaged by critics, including Gene Siskel and Vincent Canby, who failed to understand the delirious depth of its mashed-together premise.

I honestly can’t remember ever making it all the way through The ‘Burbs when it was first released on VHS. I know I saw parts of it, but what I recall was not finding the film funny at all.

What a difference nearly 30 years makes in one’s ability to properly digest and appreciate a movie’s ambition.

When I cracked into this Shout! Factory special edition, I was immediately struck by the fantastic opening shot, which begins in space and slowly zooms in to the neighborhood grid where Ray lives. In a subtle sequence, Dante introduces Ray, his neighbor Mark and the suspicious Klopek residence.

From there, The ‘Burbs just careens along like a rikshaw being operated by a drunk, as viewers meet each of the weird residents of Ray’s quiet street. As with much of Dante’s work, it’s the small details that make you truly appreciate his gift as a director.

There’s an amazing scene early on with Ray and Art sitting at Ray’s dining room table while Carol silently moves food in and out of the fridge. Ducommun – an underappreciated force in comedy, who sadly died in 2015 – keeps grabbing bits and chunks from each tray that Carol carries by. When she pauses with a bowl in hand, distracted by something off-camera, he sneaks his hand into the bowl and grabs a fist-sized helping, which he immediately devours. You have to pay close attention, but the look on his face is priceless when you see Carol behind him, unbeknownst to him, putting the bowl on the floor for her dogs to eat.

It's a throwaway moment that likely few people even caught, but it’s so damn on-point with the social observations that a movie like this is trying to make. The ‘Burbs is very reminiscent of Neighbors, the wonderfully cracked 1981 suburban comedy starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, which also was a critical punching bag.

The casting couldn’t have been more perfect for its day. Dern looks unhinged, but he totally sells his character. Watching him, you realize that some day this will be the kind of role that Nicholas Cage gets offered.

There’s so many shout-outs and Easter eggs buried in The ‘Burbs from the brief mention of The Sentinel, an eerie late-70’s cult classic, to the trio of films that Ray channel-surfs through on his TV – Race with the Devil, The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.

More, there are the whimsical artistic choices – like how Dante shoots the moment that Ray decides to actually go knock on the Klopek’s door as a classic spaghetti western complete with wind that whips up out of nowhere the second Ray’s foot crosses the property line – to the razor-sharp zingers that the cast gamely spouts.

When Art begs Carol to let Ray come outside, she calmly protests: “He can’t come out until he resembles the man I married.”

“Carol,” Art implores, “we don’t have that kind of time!”

If you’re like me and you’ve never actually taken the time to watch The ‘Burbs, this is the excuse you’ve been waiting for. The film looks great with a high-definition upgrade, but it’s the little gems contained within that you will be glad you took the time to discover.

Dario Argento Presents The Church (Scorpion Releasing, 102 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): The high-definition rollout of Dario Argento’s schlocky, wonderfully gory collaborations with director Michele Soavi continues with the release of Dario Argento Presents The Church. Released in 1989, The Church is chock full of religious imagery, Templar-esque knights hiding artifacts and a mass grave buried underneath a church that you just know is going to explode into a pit from hell before long. It may not be as on-point as The Sect, but it’s still worth a look.

The Rachels (Monarch Home Video, 87 minutes, Unrated, DVD): The Rachels is essentially Heathers, but I don’t feel like that comparison should come as a surprise. Both films deal with the privilege, social status and unhealthy expectations that high school can manifest in young people who are getting their first taste of how society can define and perceive you.

What is surprising is how well the movie works. It’s enjoyable and watchable, despite a midsection that drags somewhat. And the third act introduces both an elaborate revenge plot that’s on-point for today’s digitally-obsessed generation and a nasty twist that reframes pretty much your entire perception of a key character.

Also Available:

Ichi the Killer: Definitive Remastered Edition

A Pistol for Ringo & The Return of Ringo: Two Films by Duccio Tessari

Robert Altman’s Images

Pitch Perfect 3


Now on Video-on-Demand:

Welcome the Stranger (Sony, 94 minutes, R, Video-on-Demand): Writer-director Justin Kelly swings for the fences with this gothic thriller that’s heavy on atmosphere but ultimately too-light on character development to properly hook viewers early on. Welcome the Stranger demands patience that many viewers simply may not be willing to give. If this particular genre is your bag, you might want to check out Stoker instead.

Dead on Arrival (Vision Films, 97 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): For his first feature in 12 years, writer-director Stephen C. Sepher decided to spin a Cajun-spiced neo-noir tale of a pharma-bro who strikes a deal with a local kingpin, only to find himself the prime suspect in a brutal murder even after he’s been poisoned and has but hours to live. Throw in some infidelity, some tricky time gaps and the welcome sight of genre veteran D.B. Sweeney, and Dead on Arrival sadly becomes one of those ambitious low-budget efforts that literally lives up to its name. With so many disparate subplots introduced, you would assume that Dead on Arrival would be stuffed with action, if nothing else. Seriously, BVB made it through about 45 minutes and can honestly report that very little actually happens during that time. This is the definition of slow burn, but like with any fuse, there’s always the danger it will snuff itself out long before it reaches the payload.

But Deliver Us from Evil (Indican Pictures, 109 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Ah, the Succubus. It’s a character that doesn’t appear nearly often enough in contemporary horror movies, which is surprising given its sex-appeal and potential for wholesale gory slaughter. Thankfully, the drought is over. Meet Lilith (Alice Rose), the literal demon-spawn shunned by Adam and cast out by God, who has returned once more to Earth to wreak havoc, have lots of sex and gorily dispose of a slew of powerful men. Honestly, Rose is the reason to check out writer-director Joshua Coates’ latest, But Deliver Us from Evil. According to IMDb, Rose looks to be Coates’ current muse, and will appear in his next two feature films. That’s a good thing for genre fans because she is that rare actress whose mere presence on-screen is enough to set hearts aflutter. She’s like a live-action Jessica Rabbit, a curvy temptress disguised as a classic femme fatale who just wants to devour any man who crosses her path. Coates’ film presents a slew of possible plot-threads for the movie to follow. There’s Lilith’s story, and what happened after she was cast out of Eden. And there’s the downfall of false prophets, which sparks the rash of serial killings of megachurch pastors, which is the main thrust of But Deliver Us from Evil’s early scenes. But there’s also two actors who look and sound eerily like Al Pacino, both the long-suffering homicide detective Mckenzie Reid (RJ Konner) and the theologian scholar Professor Haberman (Thorsten Kaye). And there’s Jeremiah, the Biblical prodigal son of Lilith’s latest victim who must try to resist her deadly spell. But Deliver Us from Evil is pure, unadulterated Midnight Movie goodness, the kind of guilty pleasure that you can’t help but share with friends.

I Kill Giants (XYZ Films/Umedia, 106 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Simply judging by its spectacular early trailer, I had such high hopes for I Kill Giants, the feature-length debut of Denmark’s Anders Walter.

But his adaptation of Joe Kelly’s 2009 graphic novel of the same name suffers mightily from its similarities to J.A. Bayona’s superior fantasy epic, A Monster Calls, which beat Giants to the theater by two years.

Both films deal with a wise-beyond-their-years adolescent (a boy in Monster and a girl in Giants) trying to process the impending death of a mother by manifesting a towering giant.

The main difference between I Kill Giants and A Monster Calls is the role of the creature. In Monster, the giant existed to educate and prepare its young protagonist for heartbreak by sharing three parables that illustrate the power of loss and of love. Bayona’s prowess as a visual artist helped connect viewers to the story by using different mediums, including animation.

In Giants, Barbara fully believes she is a pint-sized warrior, and she doesn’t let on that she is grieving for much of the film’s runtime. She approaches her duties as a designated giant slayer with the determined fervor of a tent-revival preacher, immersing herself in a grueling daily grind of checking traps and leaving bait for the creatures that stretches from her town’s oceanfront vista to its thick, enveloping forest.

Barbara doesn’t have time for friends because of her spiritual calling. She barely has time for her sister (Imogen Poots), who is doing her best to raise her, or her brother who floats through the film like a ghost. Barbara rebels at school against a slew of peers who find her odd and unusual. She resists any type of counseling, lashing out violently at her school therapist (Zoe Saldana). And when she finally does make a friend in newly-relocated Sophia, she immediately undermines that connection by fearing any distraction might cause a giant to appear and destroy her town.

While the two films are distinct in their own ways, I found it increasingly difficult to engage with I Kill Giants because the similarities are so striking. Even the CGI giants look surprisingly alike, only Giants lacks the vocal stylings of Liam Neeson to truly bring its monster to life.

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