For fans of: Early David Lynch
When you can watch it: Starting tomorrow in theaters and on iTunes, Amazon Instant, VOD for $9.99.
Probably the most talked about film to come out of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, Randy Moore's bizarre, surreal, and maniacal Escape From Tomorrow is both eerily familiar and unlike anything you've ever seen before. Shot guerilla-style and without permission at Disney World, the story of the making of the film is almost as iconic as the film itself, which is destined to become an instant cult classic. While the few who saw it at Sundance (I was lucky enough to be one of those) doubted it would ever see the light of day due to reported threats of a lawsuit by Disney, Moore's film has finally found a distributor (and presumably one hell of a lawyer) brave enough to release it.
Shot in a nonchalant black-and-white, Escape From Tomorrow starts off innocently enough: On the last day of his family's vacation, Jim White gets an unpleasant phone call from his boss, informing him that he's been fired. Jim is determined not to let the bad news ruin the end of his family's vacation. While gallivanting around the Magic Kingdom with his young son, Jim spots two teenage French girls, and develops a weird fascination with them, creepily following them around the park, while trying to avoid spending time with his nagging wife.
As Jim's day progresses, things slowly turn nightmarish and surreal. Iconic Disney characters and park attractions begin to exhibit a demonic quality to Jim, and his grip on reality loosens. Jim's paranoia escalates as he finds himself in bizarre encounter after bizarre encounter: He's convinced a kid in a wheelchair and his obese Bible Belt father are out to kill him; he discovers what might be a Disney Princess prostitution ring; and he's detained by park security, who take him to a secret layer underneath Epcot's Spaceship Earth to try and brainwash him.
Meanwhile, there's some sort of "cat flu" epidemic spreading around the park, turning its victims into hairball-coughing feline hybrids. Really heady stuff.
Essentially, Escape From Tomorrow is like a David Lynch fever dream. It exhibits the same quality that makes Lynch's early films so appealing and notorious: Turning everyday settings into nightmarish, surreal traps. With Escape From Tomorrow, Moore turns what's considered one of the happiest, friendliest places in the country into a bizarre nightmare. Hilarious, creepy, and highly entertaining, Escape From Tomorrow isn't just a smart VOD choice. It's an instant cult classic.
2. Mr. Nobody (Directed by Jaco Van Dormael. Starring Jared Leto, Juno Temple, Diane Kruger, Sarah Polley, and Rhys Ifans.)
For fans of: Cloud Atlas, Inception, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, most Charlie Kaufman films.
When you can watch it: Now available on iTunes, Amazon Instant, VOD for $9.99.
One of the most brilliant things DC Comics ever did was introduce the multiverse into its canon of comics. Beginning with 1985's 12-part maxi-series Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC Comics successfully addressed the continuity issue that had plagued its many different characters' story arcs for decades. How could Batman — a character introduced 1939 — stay the same age nearly 50 years later? How could Hal Jordan be the original Green Lantern if Martin Nodell introduced Alan Scott as the original one in 1940? Crisis on Infinite Earths solved this problem by introducing the idea that all of these characters and conflicting storylines exist in the same universe, only in different parallel realities.
In writer/director Jaco Van Dormael's confounding, gorgeously shot Mr. Nobody, that very same principle of parallel realities drives the film's mindbending narrative, in which an elderly man reflects on different versions of his youth at the end of his life. The film opens with the titular Nemo Nobody — played with a delicate, intrinsic curiousness by the formidable Jared Leto — as a decrepit 118-year-old man on the last days of his life. It's the distant future, the year 2092 to be exact, and Mr. Nobody is the oldest human alive. And the world watches, reality show-style, as the world's oldest man is close to dying. The world is curious to know about the life of Nemo, but the memories of the elderly man are often clouded.
When a young journalist sneaks into the clinic where Nemo resides, he prods him for his life story and Nemo finally caves, dispensing the details of his life. Except that the story he tells is often contradictory and, at times, nonsensical. The story kicks off with 9-year-old Nemo at the time that his parents (played by Rhys Ifans and Natasha Little) get divorced. Standing on a train station platform, he must make a crucial choice that will forever determine the outcome of his life: Does he stay with his father, or get on the train to live with his mother? Through a nonlinear narrative, the film weaves back-and-forth between the different potential consequences that decision has led to.
But at the center of Mr. Nobody is a love story. Well, three actually. In one of the narratives, Nemo gets on the train to live with his mother, and at age 15, meets the love of his life — the daughter of his mother's boyfriend, Anna (Juno Temple). In other narratives, wherein he goes with his father or other events happen that change the course of his life, he remembers a life with manic-depressive Elise (Sarah Polley), and the sweet, but cold Jeanne (Linh Dan Pham).
The elder Nemo recalls all of the narratives vividly, often blending them together, thus confusing the young journalist and, well, us viewers. But that's the central thesis behind Mr. Nobody: Every action, every decision sets a different course of events in motion. Mr. Nobody is kind of like if Charlie Kaufman directed Cloud Atlas, with a wink and a nod to Christopher Nolan's Inception. Mr. Nobody's ambitious scope sometimes confuses more than it awes, but for those who like thought-provoking, emotionally heavy science fiction, there's much to admire.
3. Dario Argento's Dracula (Directed by Dario Argento. Starring Thomas Kretschmann, Asia Argento, Rutger Hauer)
For fans of: The Room, Troll 2, Miami Connection
When you can watch it: Now available on iTunes, Amazon Instant, VOD for $6.99.
Horror maestro Dario Argento rose to critical and cultural prominence as one of the founding fathers of the giallo movement in the late '60s and early '70s. The Italian giallo movement, an era of filmmaking cherished by horror nerds everywhere, is characterized by highly pulpy, gross-out slasher flicks that often favor atmospheric visuals as lush and vibrant as the blood squirting from its victims. Argento rose to become one of the movement's most prominent figures, with films like Suspiria, Deep Red, and Inferno achieving international success.
But something peculiar happened with Argento's career: The more movies he made, the worse they got. His past three films, 2005's Do You Like Hitchcock, 2007's The Mother of Tears, and 2009's Giallo all have pretty dismal Rotten Tomatoes audience scores, and the ink spilled about them by critics was less than kind. Argento's latest, Dracula — originally titled Dracula 3D during its brief festival run, which included an Out of Competition spot at Cannes this year — is his strident attempt to defend his legacy as a Master of Horror by taking one of the most classic tales of terror, and putting his own personal stamp on it.
Unfortunately, Argento's stamp tends to miss the envelope completely. In his take on the classic Bram Stoker story, the vibe is more like an X-rated skin flick — akin to something that could be found on Cinemax late at night — than the visually lush, dark films of his past. The film opens in true trash cinema fashion, as two young lovers in a 17th-century Romanian village sneak off into a barn in the dead of night to discreetly copulate on top a bed of hay. After the two depart, the young woman is brutally murdered by a mysterious shadowed creature. The next day, a young librarian named Jonathan Harker (Unax Ugalde) arrives in town for a new job working for the mysterious local nobleman, Count Dracula. Eventually, the body count begins to pile up as the town wages battle against the undead Dracula, aided in part by vampire hunter extraordinaire, Van Helsing (played with fun, aggressive gruffness by the always entertaining Rutger Hauer).
Argento's Dracula is strictly for film buffs who like horror with a hearty side of camp. The hammy dialogue and convoluted plot — which features some confusing love triangles and plenty of steamy sex scenes — gives the film a distinctly soap opera feel. It's hard to tell if the film's aggressively blatant low production values and effects are intentionally played for laughs, or just a casualty of Argento's aging touch. But Argento's Dracula isn't a complete bust; it very much succeeds on the so-bad-it's-good level, best viewed late at night with a few friends and plenty of booze.