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Sofa cinema: All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, Hell Baby, and C.O.G.
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All the Boys Love Mandy Lane has one disadvantage: Seven years of hype. 
All the Boys Love Mandy Lane has one disadvantage: Seven years of hype.  (The Weinstein Company)

1. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (Directed by Jonathan Levine. Starring Amber Heard)

For fans of: '80s slasher films: Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street

When you can watch it: Now available on iTunes, Amazon Instant, VOD for $6.99

The backstory behind the production of All the Boys Love Mandy Lane — a revisionist teen slasher flick from 50/50 and Warm Bodies director Jonathan Levine — is probably more legendary than the film itself. After a number of well-received screenings at various film festivals, the film was picked up by the Weinstein Co.'s Dimension Films label, only to be sold to Senator Pictures due to Dimension Films' financial troubles. Soon after it was acquired, Senator Pictures went under, and the film remained in limbo until the Weinsteins finally picked it back up again. So now, seven years after its initial premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in 2006, the film is finally being released.

Seven years of hype is a bit much for any film, and All the Boys Love Mandy Lane isn't quite the long-lost cult classic horror fans have been hoping for — but it's certainly a fresh spin on a genre that's been beaten to a bloody pulp.

Mandy Lane (Amber Heard) is the apple of every boy's eye at her high school in small-town Texas. A relative social outcast until she grew into her own and became the lust object for the hormone-crazed boys at her school, Mandy inherits a seductive innocence that only makes her all the more desirable. But her shy, cautious nature makes her wary of all her suitors, despite their numerous attempts to woo her.

When a gaggle of "cool kids" invite her to spend a weekend with them at stoner slacker type Red's (Aaron Himmelstein) dad's secluded ranch, it sets up all the familiar devices for a classic slasher film: Raging hormones, underage drinking, rampant drug use, and —most importantly — a complete lack of adult supervision. As the group revels, Mandy hangs back, exhibiting the "good girl" ethos that firmly established the sole surviving protagonist in '80s slashers like Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th. As the night wears on, slowly, each of the teens is picked off by a masked stalker.

At this point, you're probably wondering what separates All the Boys Love Mandy Lane from the dozens of films that preceded it. Revealing the reason the movie stands out would ruin the experience of watching it, but rest assured: The film exists more as subtle critique of slasher films than as an actual slasher film — like Scream in rural Texas. As the body count rises and the tension builds, it becomes clear that a big twist is inevitable. The enigmatic and angelic Mandy Lane, who people are literally dying to be with, quickly becomes a suspicious character in the game — but Levine and Forman are more clever than the obvious answer. It's not a perfect film, but All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is a refreshing and entertaining entry into the slasher canon.



2. Hell Baby (Directed by Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant. Starring Rob Corddry, Leslie Bibb, and Keegan Michael Key)

For fans of: Reno 911!, Scary Movie

When you can watch it: Now available on iTunes, Amazon Instant, VOD for $6.99

For years, Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant have created quite a lucrative career for themselves as the go-to lackeys-for-hire in the screenwriting world. With the Night at the Museum movies and other family-friendly blockbusters under their belt, the films they've written together have earned over $1.4 billion at the box office worldwide. But while they've made a boatload of money writing commercially successful features, Lennon and Garant have always done it to fund their passion projects, like the hit faux cop show Reno 911!. One for them, one for us, as the old saying goes.

With their directorial debut, Hell Baby, Lennon and Garant have made a definitive film for themselves — a terrifically funny horror send-up that's also the biggest exercise in self-indulgence imaginable. After years of faithfully adhering to studios' needs, Hell Baby is Lennon and Garant kicking off their boots and doing a project aimed to please no one except themselves. Fortunately, Lennon and Garant's particular brand of juvenile humor blends the right amount of silliness and clever gags to make it fun for the rest of us, too.

Rob Corddry and Leslie Bibb star as Jack and Vanessa, a couple of yuppie gentrifiers who move into a spooky old house in a poor black New Orleans neighborhood. Right off the bat they're spooked by their intrusive but friendly neighbor F'Resnel (Keegan Michael Key), who enthusiastically informs them of the bloody history of their new dream home. "But not to worry," F'Resnel says. "No one's been killed here in a really, really long time." Of course, that "really, really long time" turns out to be only a few months.

As Jack and Vanessa begin unpacking, Vanessa, who is eight months pregnant with twins, begins exhibiting symptoms of a demonic possession, while Jack begins seeing weird things around the house (including a "ghost dog" and a promiscuous elderly woman with an aggressive, uh, oral fixation). Meanwhile, two Italian priests from the Catholic Church (played by Lennon and Garant) arrive in town to investigate some ritualistic killings.

Although it shares many similarities with insufferable genre spoofs like the Scary Movie franchise, Hell Baby is at its best when its narrative falls off altogether in favor of silly non sequiturs. It's not a deep movie, but the performances by the film's stellar cast of comedy stalwarts — which includes Paul Scheer, Rob Huebel, Michael Ian Black, and Riki Lindhome — make the jokes stick their landing.



3. C.O.G. (Directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez. Starring Jonathan Groff and Denis O'Hare)

For fans of: David Sedaris, quirky coming-of-age films

When you can watch it: Now available on iTunes, Amazon Instant, VOD for $6.99

C.O.G., which is based on a short story from David Sedaris's 1997 collection Naked, tells the tale of a pedantic postgraduate who decides he's going to go "off the grid" by relocating to the Oregon countryside to work on an apple farm. While his intentions are noble, David's unintentional pretentiousness and limited worldview often get him into trouble as tries to find himself and experience a different way of life. C.O.G. paints a fascinating portrait of blue-collar Americana through the eyes of a narrator who's too cocky — and too unaware of his cockiness — to understand the true pleasures of rural life.

Jonathan Groff stars as Sedaris proxy David, who undertakes the cross-country journey and farm work because his girlfriend read Grapes of Wrath and thought it would be cool to "see how the other half lives." Of course, the plan all falls apart when David's girlfriend, Jennifer shows up a week late with another guy in tow, just to give David the courtesy of being broken up with in person. But David — who decides to go by "Samuel" because he thinks it might be interesting to change his name — doesn't pack it all in and retreat back home. Instead, he's all the more determined to make the blue-collar life work for him.

After being shunned by the migrant Mexican workers on Hobb's farm, with whom he couldn't communicate, David gets hooked up with a assembly line gig at a massive apple factory, where he strikes up a friendship with quirky co-worker Curly (Corey Stoll). And after he botches that friendship, David gets hooked up with born-again do-gooder artist Jon (a particularly excellent Denis O'Hare), who takes him in as roommate and assistant. The film follows David through a series of vignettes about his completely misguided attempt to connect with a life that he's so far removed from. It could have been a cliche, but writer-director Kyle Patrick Alvarez's delicate handling of the source material makes C.O.G. shine. Rather than relying on narration to explain David's story and the nature of his character, he rightfully places his faith in Groff, who makes David a fascinating blend of insufferable and affable. As David attempts to make real connections with people from very different walks of life, his encounters are often hilarious — but also heartbreaking.

Matt is an arts journalist and freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. He has written about film, music, and pop culture for publications including Washington City Paper, The American Interest, Slant Magazine, DCist.com, and others.

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