The 35 Best Movies on Epix Right Now (May 2021)

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The 35 Best Movies on Epix Right Now (May 2021)

Epix, the MGM-owned premium channel that also offers its service through digital platforms and the standalone Epix Now, has a library of films befitting its corporate owner. While its original offerings are squarely set in the TV realm (though Epix also has its fair share of exclusive stand-up specials), its movie catalog is worth digging into if you find yourself having access—either through the $5.99/month app or as a more traditional cable add-on.

The amount of films are more analogous to Starz or Showtime than a massive streamer like Netflix or even the similarly studio-owned Paramount+. At my last count, Epix has a nice round 250 films available and of those films, most are of a higher quality than the high percentage of filler that you’d find on a gigantic streaming service. It has a robust selection of horror, action, and drama—with most of the Star Trek films being among its standouts.

We’ve curated a list of the best of the best, updated for May 2021.

Here are the 40 best movies available to stream on Epix right now:

The Virgin Suicides

virgin-suicides-criterion-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1999
Director: Sofia Coppola
Stars: Kirsten Dunst, Kathleen Turner, James Woods, Giovanni Ribisi, Josh Hartnett
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76%
Rating: R
Runtime: 97 minutes

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Set in the affluent Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe, The Virgin Suicides is yet another Detroit-area, ’70s-era film obsessed with death. That its quintet of young protagonists—sisters played to unnervingly angelic perfection by Kirsten Dunst, A.J. Cook, Hanna Hall, Leslie Hayman and Chelse Swain—all commit suicide in the end is far from a surprise, of course: What is a surprise is that we never know why. In fact, the film is almost an oneiric procedural, in which the neighborhood boys who become infatuated with the strange daughters pick apart, piece by piece, detail by detail, the befuddling lives behind the objects of their affection. As such, The Virgin Suicides gracefully attempts to remember what it’s like to be a suburban teenager, comfortable in Middle America but uncomfortable with one’s body. Yet, the brilliance of Sofia Coppola’s direction (on even her first film) is in the way she laces such a seemingly innocent story with malice and melancholy, fixating on details that don’t matter or moments that have no consequence. That the narrator (Giovanni Ribisi) refers throughout to the decaying of the auto industry in Detroit makes the film as much a ghost story about Southwest Michigan as it is a tale of unrequited love: Try as hard as we might, we’ll probably never be able to trace the tragedy of Detroit back to its source. —Dom Sinacola


You’re Next

18. youre next (Custom).jpg
Year: 2011
Director: Adam Wingard
Stars: Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, Rob Moran, Barbara Crampton
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%
Rating: R
Runtime: 94 minutes

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Between A Horrible Way to Die, The Guest and You’re Next (let’s forget about the Blair Witch remake entirely), it’s easy to understand why Adam Wingard is still considered an upcoming director of interest. His films have a verve and sense of pacing that just crackles—they’re lean, mean and get to the point. You’re Next immediately sets up a premise that we’ve seen many times before, that of the “home invasion” style of horror-thriller, before subverting the genre’s expectations when our Final Girl proves to be far more adept and capable than any of the audience members realized—a moment that also transforms the film from “home invasion” into more of a pure slasher. From there, the story becomes more complex, as motivations and secret histories are revealed. The action, importantly, is viscerally shot and impactful, making for a film where each physical confrontation has real, concrete consequences. Hell, it’s even a little funny now and then. Given that The Guest is a bit more thriller than horror, You’re Next remains Wingard’s best pure horror work to date. —Jim Vorel


Bumblebee

bumblebee-210.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Travis Knight
Stars: Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg
Genre: Science Fiction, Action & Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 114 minutes

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Paramount actually made a Transformers movie that’s a lovely, exciting and wholly engaging gem of a sci-fi adventure for teenagers. I guess it’s time for me to finally go into my dream business of exporting the newly formed ice from hell using my army of flying pigs. Bumblebee is an ’80s set spin-off/prequel to Michael Bay’s migraine-inducing, often infuriating, and always head-slappingly stupid five Transformers flicks. It wisely scales down Bay’s love of random mayhem in favor of a fairly respectful and inventive throwback to those Spielbergian family sci-fi/adventure movies about the friendship between a nerdy, lonely teenager (Hailee Steinfeld) and a friendly and protective alien/robot/magical being. Their bond teaches the teenager to come out of her shell and face her fears. Of course since we also need an action-heavy third act, the big bad military that’s unfairly threatened by the creature goes after it, forcing the teenager and the creature to defend each other against all odds, learning lessons about the importance of love in the process. Sure, Bumblebee doesn’t really bring much that’s especially new or daring to that formula, but at least all the ingredients really work. It’s hard enough to have a fully CG character as your co-star, and it’s even tougher when an actor is tasked with creating a deep emotional connection with something she can’t even see during production. Steinfeld is up to the challenge, making us believe in Bumblebee’s existence almost as much as the animators who worked on bringing him to life. Just like death and taxes, it’s a certainty of life that we will get a new Transformers in theaters once every few years. If they’re more like Bumblebee going forward, the thought of that doesn’t depress me nowhere near as it used to. —Oktay Ege Kozak


Star Trek Beyond

StarTrekBeyond232x345.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Justin Lin
Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 122 minutes

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Star Trek Beyond proves admirably willing to push the neo-film-series’ frontiers, at least in its eagerness to envision brand new, alien environments with incredibly imagined designs. Less compelling are the emotional stakes Director Justin Lin and screenwriters Simon Pegg and Doug Jung provide for the crew of the starship Enterprise. Lin’s fleet direction and the charismatic cast give dedicated fans their fix and the casual moviegoers a fun enough time, but Beyond offers a less memorable outing than its more ambitious predecessors, providing more for the eyes of its audience than for their hearts. —Curt Holman


The Foot Fist Way

foot_fisT_way_poster.jpg Year: 2006
Director: Jody Hill
Stars: Danny McBride, Mary Jane Bostic, Ben Best, Spencer Moreno, Carlos Lopez, Jody Hill, Collette Wolfe
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 54%
Rating: R
Runtime: 87 minutes

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Before The Righteous Gemstones, before Kenny Powers, even before his role in Hot Rod, Danny McBride made his mark with The Foot Fist Way. Together with his long-time collaborator Jody Hill and co-writer Ben Best, McBride introduced us to Fred Simmons, a Taekwondo instructor in a small Southern town with a huge ego and an anger problem. Consider Fred the proto-Kenny Powers, with McBride diving into the same reservoir of toxic masculinity and extreme arrogance undercut by insecurity and a barely understood depression. Rough around the edges, and visibly low budget, The Foot Fist Way isn’t as refined or powerful as McBride and Hill’s later HBO shows, but it’s still a hilarious character study with a keen eye for place and an understanding of the modern South rarely seen in movies or TV.—Garrett Martin


Anna and the Apocalypse

anna-apocalypse.jpg Year: 2017
Director: John McPhail
Stars: Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire
Genre: Horror, Comedy, Musical
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 77%
Rating: R
Runtime: 92 minutes

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This sometimes confusing, sometimes endearing genre mish-mash is one part zombie comedy and one part high school musical, but has a tendency to throw itself entirely into one or the other until you’ve forgotten quite what it is you’re watching. Anna (Ella Hunt) is a British teen looking to toss her “uni” plans aside and live abroad for a while—plans that are derailed by the sudden holiday arrival of what certainly seems to be a zombie apocalypse. Peppered with hyperkinetic song-and-dance numbers that have a decidedly Broadway vibe, the film starts a bit slow, feeling for all intents and purposes like a lost entry in Disney’s High School Musical series before it blooms in its second and third acts into a surprisingly satisfying (and plenty gory) zombie-slaying farce. Capable of more pathos than you’d give it credit for, Anna and the Apocalypse tosses most character archetypes aside and can boast a few genuinely toe-tapping numbers, especially once the world has gone to hell. It’s a film you may need to warm up to, but Game of Thrones fans will enjoy the presence of Paul Kaye, one Thoros of Myr, as the school’s draconian principal.—Jim Vorel


The Avengers

the-avengers.jpg Year: 2012
Directors: Joss Whedon
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 142 minutes

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Nestled amongst the gaudy box office numbers ($1.55 billion) of Joss Whedon’s blockbuster is a much simpler achievement. Yes, The Avengers should evoke a deserved appreciation of Whedon’s directorial skills. And yes, the film’s release and reception make for a natural “And that’s when it was official” moment that the MCU took over Hollywood. But for comic book fans especially, The Avengers represents the first instance of the superhero team dynamic truly captured and sustained on film. Even though the X-Men (four times) and the Fantastic Four (twice) had received big screen treatment, those films were all still pretty static. The interaction between both heroes and villains were slow, separate vignettes rather than two-way, three-way or more-way battles. If Raimi’s Spider-Man showed why comic book superheroes are fun, The Avengers showed why superhero teams are. (The X-Men franchise fared much better at this with X-Men: Days of Future Past. Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four reboot, not so much.) (See full review.) —Michael Burgin


Dredd

dredd-2012-poster.jpg Year: 2012
Director: Pete Travis
Stars: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Wood Harris, Lena Headey
Rating: R
Runtime: 95 minutes

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Karl Urban—who’s no stranger to tightly wound sci-fi fare (including the unfairly maligned The Chronicles of Riddick) provides the scowl and chin of Judge Joseph Dredd—a total-law package professional who is clearly as disinterested in humoring his rookie partner as the script is in coddling its audience. A few lines of raspy Man with No Name narration, coupled with a superbly bleak establishing shot from cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, are all the generosity afforded by the filmmakers toward understanding this world before it unleashes chase sequences and bursting heads. This is a film that aims squarely at respecting its source’s established fan base, and cares little for casualties who can’t hang on through its grindhouse paces.

Though the competent, workmanlike approach to achieving the visceral thrills of the source material is excellently realized, it comes at the expense of sidelining writers Wagner and Ezquerra’s satirical background radiation of fascism’s consequences. While a few moments of gallows humor emerge—typically of the “Ouch!” variety—any subtext that might get in the way of servicing its adrenalized momentum is cordoned off, so as not to disturb the thrilling crime scene. Nothing more to see here, folks. Move along. But this is not even an offense punishable by three days in an Iso-Cube. The rule of law by which audiences are meant to abide is laid out immediately and authoritatively, and—just in case you needed reminding—Dredd is the law. —Scott Wold


Scrooged

scrooged.jpg
Year: 1988
Director: Richard Donner
Stars: Bill Murray, Karen Allen, John Forsythe, John Glover, Bobcat Goldthwait, Alfre Woodard, David Johansen, Carol Kane, Robert Mitchum, Michael J. Pollard
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 71%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 101 minutes

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We learn all we need to know from Bill Murray’s modern day Ebeneezer in his introduction: After viewing the latest promos for his television network, Frank opens his desk drawer, catches his reflection in a small mirror, smiles, fixes his hair and then closes it. In case it’s not clear: Frank Cross has a drawer in his desk devoted to a vanity mirror. While the rest of the film sometimes devolves into over-the-top nonsense, it’s Murray’s committed touches like these that make Frank Cross so memorable.—Greg Smith


Arrival

arrival.jpg Director: Denis Villeneuve
Year: 2016
Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg
Genre: Sci-Fi
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 116 minutes

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Your appreciation of Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival will hinge on how well you like being led astray. It’s both the full embodiment of Villeneuve’s approach to cinema and a marvelous, absorptive piece of science fiction, a two hour sleight-of-hand stunt that’s best experienced with as little foreknowledge of its plot as possible. Fundamentally, it’s about the day aliens make landfall on Earth, and all the days that come after—which, to sum up the collective human response in a word, are mayhem. You can engage with Arrival for its text, which is powerful, striking, emotive and, most of all, abidingly compassionate. You can also engage with it for its subtext, should you actually look for it. This is a robust but delicate work captured in stunning, calculated detail by cinematographer Bradford Young, and guided by Amy Adams’ stellar work as Louise Banks, a brilliant linguist commissioned by the U.S. Army to figure out how the hell to communicate with our alien visitors. Adams is a chameleonic actress of immense talent, and Arrival lets her wear each of her various camouflages over the course of its duration. She sweats, she cries, she bleeds, she struggles, and so much more that can’t be said here without giving away the film’s most awesome treasures. She also represents humankind with more dignity and grace than any other modern actor possibly could. If aliens do ever land on Earth, maybe we should just send her to greet them. —Andy Crump


Judy

judy-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Rupert Goold
Stars: Renée Zellweger, Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock
Genre: Drama, Music
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 118 minutes

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The standard “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” takes on a powerful new meaning in Judy, the latest drama from director Rupert Goold and writer Tom Edge. In the biopic, aging legend Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger ) runs across New York, and eventually across the globe, to keep working. Based on the play End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter, Judy works as a subdued rehashing of some of Garland’s most scandalous moments. Flashing back and forth between the alcoholic final haze of Garland’s career and the pill-popping days of her youth, Garland’s darkest and loneliest days frame her existence. Frequently bordering on melodrama, Zellweger centers the film on the individual, not the celebrity. In her best performance since Chicago, she disappears into the icon. Her usual on-screen traits—the curled lips, stamping feet and balled-up fist—are replaced with a justified rage that she wields like a whip. Every insult slung lands precisely and without mercy, though she gets as good as she gives. When faced with the crackling loathing of ex-husband Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell), she swells like a pufferfish at the indignation that she was ever anything less than a wonderful mother. But, when she asks her daughter if moving to her father’s would make her happy and her daughter replies yes, she caves in on herself at the perceived loss of the last person who made her feel needed and loved. The Garland-obsessed fan won’t learn a lot from watching this biopic, but education doesn’t appear to be the main goal of the filmmakers. The impact of the once golden girl on her family and her fans carries the most emotional punch. In the case of the latter, especially, Judy does a spectacular job highlighting Garland’s connection to the gay community. In the hands of Goold, Edge and Zellweger, the story blossoms into a heartbreaking journey of one abused soul reaching out to, and rejecting, nearly everyone that will have her. —Joelle Monique


Creed II

creed-ii.jpg
Year: 2018
Director: Steve Caple Jr.
Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 130 minutes

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The bad news about Creed II is that Creed II isn’t a very good Creed movie, in the sense that it does not follow through on the examinations of black American identity—the search for, the substance of, the complications of—that Ryan Coogler embarked on in 2015. The good news about Creed II is that it’s a good Rocky movie, and lord knows that outside of Rocky and Rocky Balboa, that distinction could be considered rare. (Rocky II qualifies, but also reads somewhat as television in an era before “movies are TV shows and TV shows are movies” became its own aesthetic.) Maybe the best news is that Creed II revisits and even, such as it can, correct the events of Rocky IV. It was inevitable that we’d get here, and that after addressing Rocky IV in Creed through text and subtext, the new spin-off franchise would have to address it through action and plot. Not written in the stars were chances of Creed II’s quality, which is unexpectedly high despite falling short of Coogler’s progenitor movie. (Being as Coogler was born to make movies, this doesn’t feel like a failure.) In Creed II, we see a tangle of fathers and sons as Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is roped into a match against Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the man who killed Adonis’s dad back in 1985. Adonis is backed mostly by his love, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), and his foster mother, Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), as Rocky himself (Sylvester Stallone) refuses to have anything do with another Creed-Drago bout. The film weaves a web of male relationships—Rocky and Adonis, Adonis and Creed, Viktor and Ivan, Ivan and Rocky, and so on—reconciling each thread in an ending montage liable to make grown men break down in tears. (If we must have spin-off franchise movies, maybe we can have a spin-off focused on the Dragos; Lundgren and Munteanu share a muscular but shockingly tender chemistry.) Maybe this isn’t the Creed sequel we deserved, but it’s the Creed sequel we have, and an admirable entry in the great American saga of the Rocky series. —Andy Crump


Once Upon a Time in the West

once-west.jpg Year: 1968
Director: Sergio Leone
Stars: Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson, Frank Wolff
Genre: Western, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 165 minutes

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Let’s get this out of the way: Once Upon a Time in the West is as great as they come, and one of the most influential Westerns of its day. But after the film’s opening 20 minutes or so dribble by, it’s hard not to wonder how the remaining 150 will match them. Sergio Leone’s film is so deliberately paced and so unhurried in getting where it needs to that as soon as the moment passes when we first meet Charles Bronson’s harmonica-playing gunman, we feel as though we’ve already sat through an entire feature. That doesn’t sound like much of a compliment, but Leone’s talent for stretching seconds into minutes and minutes into hours is made all the more amazing by how little we feel the passage of time. Once Upon a Time in the West is truly cinematic, a wormhole that slowly transports us into its world of killers and tycoons, bandits and landowners, revenge and rightness. There’s a reason that Leone’s masterpiece is considered one of the greatest movies ever made and not just one of the great Westerns: Once Upon a Time in the West is an enduring monument of its era, its genre and filmmaking itself. —Andy Crump


Sonic the Hedgehog

sonic-the-hedgehog-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Jeff Fowler
Stars: Ben Schwartz, Jim Carrey, James Marsden, Tika Sumpter
Rating: PG
Runtime: 99 minutes

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The simplicity of Sonic the Hedgehog, a generic family-friendly action/adventure based on Sega’s flagship videogame character, is both its saving grace and its downfall. It doesn’t overcomplicate the run-and-jump platformer source material by cramming in a ton of schlocky blockbuster lore (see 1993’s Super Mario Bros), but the script by Patrick Casey and Josh Miller is so by-the-numbers that it comes across as a Mad Libs genre template with the infamous blue hedgehog (voiced by Ben Schwartz) inserted as the kooky alien archetype. You know the drill: The alien, or creature from an alternate dimension, somehow ends up on Earth while escaping from bad guys in their home turf. The creature forces an alliance with a group of human characters who are reluctant to help it at first, but eventually build a strong bond with it. Which of course leads to an overblown special effects climax with the alien and human characters facing the bad guys together, teaching the kids a lesson on the importance of teamwork or something. Yet the movie’s real joy, if there is any, lies with Carrey fully embracing his ’90s rubberface days. Director Jeff Fowler makes the right decision by letting Carrey’s signature madness loose on such a vanilla scoop of family entertainment. Carrey chews the scenery until there isn’t a crumb left. Only he could get away with coming across as the true cartoon character in a film that has an actual cartoon character as its hero. May the comedy gods bless him for that.—Oktay Ege Kozak


Downhill Racer

downhill-racer-poster.jpg
Year: 1969
Director: Michael Ritchie
Stars: Robert Redford, Gene Hackman, Camilla Sparv
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 102 minutes

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With Downhill Racer Michael Ritchie did for sports films what Two-Lane Blacktop did for road films. He created an existentialist sports film that is as tense as it is harrowing, and brought the genre into the realm of the bleak. Unlike many other films of its ilk, Downhill Racer subverts many of the tropes we’re so used to seeing in most commercial entertainment. The romance is empty, there are no heroes to root for, and the protagonist we do have certainly has the drive for greatness, but at no point does he inspire us. Instead, Robert Redford’s David Chappellet has much subdued anger, jealousy and fear. When he succeeds it feels hollow, for both the audience and the character. At times the film is quite nihilistic, despite the poetic and transcendental beauty of the setting and cinematography. Redford gives one of his most understated performances here; his range of emotions is much more subtle, yet in his subtlety we notice all the rage, fear and ambition that make up Redford’s brilliant turn. The supporting cast is equally nuanced. It’s the little things that create this film’s powerful atmosphere, and as a result the action sequences are all the more gripping. —Nelson Maddaloni


Fighting with My Family

fighting-with-my-family-poster.jpg
Year: 2019
Director: Stephen Merchant
Stars: Florence Pugh, Jack Lowden, Lena Headey, Nick Frost
Runtime: 108 minutes

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The dream of protagonists Saraya (Florence Pugh) and Zak (Jack Lowden) is to become the next big stars of pro wrestling, itself both sport and performance. The siblings have been primed pretty much since birth by their wrestling-obsessed parents, Julia (Lena Headey) and Ricky (Nick Frost), to prepare for their eventual stardom. This easygoing and heartwarming tale, based on a true story, begins with Saraya and Zak as children, engaging in the expected sibling activity of beating each other up over something trivial. Instead of breaking it up, Julia and Ricky give pointers to make the fight more exciting. Hey, at the very least it’s a good idea to teach your kids to defend themselves, with some showmanship as bonus. Cut to Saraya and Zak in their late teens, giving wrestling lessons to disenfranchised kids during the day, and “fighting” in the ring in the evening for an audience of ten as part of their parents’ financially struggling wrestling organization. After the family sends their audition tape to WWE for years, they finally get a call from a no-nonsense recruiter named Hutch (Vince Vaughn), who invites Saraya and Zak to a tryout. Even though both do their best, Hutch picks only Saraya, now with the wrestling name Paige, to advance to a rigorous training program in Florida. Devastated by the rejection, Zak tries to emotionally support his sister’s success, but dives further and further into depression. Meanwhile, Paige suffers from an identity crisis as the mentally and physically taxing training gives her second thoughts about whether or not she’s doing this for herself or for her family. Director Stephen Merchant reaches beyond the film’s wrestling fan core audience and constructs an inspiring story everyone can enjoy. Florence Pugh is a gem here—the glue that holds the film together. Along with Pugh, Jack Lowden is tasked with carrying the story’s dramatic heft, and just as with his character, he has his co-star’s back. And Dwayne Johnson is one of the film’s producers, so it should come as no surprise that the film portrays pro wrestling as grueling work and not just roided-up theater. —Oktay Ege Kozak



A Simple Plan

a-simple-plan.jpg
Year: 1998
Director: Sam Raimi
Stars: Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, Bridget Fonda
Rating: R
Runtime: 121 minutes

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For his second go at mainstream recognition after the mixed reception of The Quick and the Dead, Sam Raimi stepped back into the stark clarity of his pulpier early days to tell a straightforward fable about Bad Things happening to Good People. His unaffected touch is there in its first frame: a pitch-black raven cawing against a bleached-white background. Raimi wastes no ground in subtlety, shaking up his black-and-white palette with ominous reds, repeatedly allowing his characters to desperately claim that the snow, in all of its snowy whiteness, will cover up past wrongdoing and let the Good People—if they’re sorry enough—start anew. In that sense, A Simple Plan is as traditional a morality play as a thriller can get, but Raimi has never been a director unwilling to splash about in the shallows; instead, the inevitability of the plot is his point—even the simplest of decisions carry whole worlds of consequence—and Raimi injects each emotional beat with unspeakable tragedy. Carried by Billy Bob Thornton’s performance, one of boundless sympathy at a time when the actor seemed capable of anything, A Simple Plan serves as something of a companion piece to Fargo, another expertly crafted thriller from the ‘90s. It treats its wintry landscape similarly: not as a metaphorical whiting out of sins, but as a tabula rasa upon which human nature—in big bright colors—will eventually paint its own selfish doom. —Dom Sinacola


Crawl

crawl-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Alexandre Aja
Stars: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper
Rating: R
Runtime: 87 minutes

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Crawl, unlike Jaws, is actually just a movie about people vs. a natural predator. It is simple. It is effective. It is the most fun I’ve had in a theater since John Wick 3. Directed by Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes, High Tension, Horns) and written by Shawn and Michael Rasmussen, Crawl is a horror-thriller set in the heart of Florida. In it, Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) returns home from college during a category 5 hurricane, searching for her father, Dave Keller (Barry Pepper), whom she’s unable to get a hold of. Luckily for Haley, she is an aspiring collegiate swimmer so she probably won’t drown while she trudges through flooded street after flooded street. Not so luckily, she finds her dad stuck in a crawl space where the water is slowly rising. There is also their cute family dog, Sugar. And, as advertised, there are alligators—toothy and ravenous. Crawl’s heart thrums with the unique beat that is Florida itself. In the age of “Florida Man” stories that go viral on a near-daily basis, Florida is a seemingly mythic place. There, a man can rob a bank wielding two raccoons, so it just makes sense that a father and daughter could be beset by alligators in a house during a category 5 hurricane. It is just another day in our collective projection of what that humid little state can offer. Still, Crawl embraces the absurd with intense seriousness. There is very little levity to be found in the film, and emotions, blood and viscera flow forth when Crawl really kicks into gear. In the sweaty, latter months of the season, in an age in which such horror is relegated to Syfy drivel, Crawl is a brilliant ode to the magical realism of Florida and how, when made with craft and care, few movie-going experiences are as good as creature-features in the hottest month of the year. —Cole Henry


Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

star-trek-ii.jpg Year: 1982
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Stars: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, James Doohan, George Takei
Rating: PG
Runtime: 113 minutes

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Come for the “KhaaAAHHHHHN!” and stay for the surprisingly emotional treatise on aging without wisdom—as well as one hell of a potent, humbling gut punch of an ending. Anyone arguing for any other film in the Trek franchise will find themselves speaking into a black hole chewed in the matte canvas by the film’s exquisitely potent villain, played by Ricardo Montalbán. That director/co-writer Nicholas Meyer also somehow coaxes a performance from William Shatner that’s only barely unkosher makes this movie a space opera with broad, lasting appeal—and the clear crème of the Trek. —Scott Wold


Gretel & Hansel

gretel-hansel-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Oz Perkins
Stars: Sophia Lillis, Samuel Leakey, Alice Krige
Genre: Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 64%
Rating: PG-13

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Director Oz Perkins’ first two features, The Blackcoat’s Daughter and I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, are meticulously constructed examples of slow burn horror, favoring ever-building, chilling atmosphere over quick scares. He begins Gretel & Hansel with a traditional fairy tale structure, only for it to degenerate into an otherworldly, hopeless tone, Perkins liberally playing with space and time. Accordingly, production and costume designs borrow from multiple time periods—slightly resembling medieval Europe—while characters speak in Shakespearean prose, their body language still distinctly modern. Instead of the usual sea of white faces for such a tale, different races that seem to have equal social standing populate this world. Perkins purposefully juxtaposes Galo Olivares’s classically picturesque cinematography, imbued with the illusion of natural light, against Robin Coudert’s synth-heavy score that resembles Wendy Carlos’s work for Stanley Kubrick. The film thrives within a dream-logic vibe, especially in Olivares’ cinematography, with its heavy emphasis on symmetrical framing, stark contast and lush use of yellows and blues, evoking subliminal terror. Gretel & Hansel continues the director’s streak as a unique voice in modern horror filmmaking. —Oktay Ege Kozak / Full Review


The Wolf of Snow Hollow

the-wolf-of-snow-hollow-poster.jpg
Year: 2020
Director: Jim Cummings
Stars: Jim Cummings, Robert Forster, Riki Lindhome, Chloe East, Jimmy Tatro, Kevin Changaris, Skyler Bible, Demetrius Daniels
Rating: R
Runtime: 83 minutes

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Snow Hollow police officer John Marshall (Cummings) unsteadily balances Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with the travails of raising his teen daughter, Jenna (Chloe East), looking after his ailing father, Hadley (Forster), maintaining diplomatic relations with his ex, and keeping a lid on his volcanic temper. When a woman (Annie Hamilton) is torn to shreds on a weekend visit to John’s ski resort hometown, just moments before her boyfriend (Jimmy Tatro) planned to propose to her, John stretches to his limits and beyond in his pursuit of the killer, who everyone concludes with baffling swiftness is a werewolf rather than a man. His peers’ and subordinates’ stumblebum character and the ass-backwardness of Snow Hollow itself act like gasoline as is. The consensus that the town is under attack from a mythical creature is the straw that makes the vein in John’s neck go taut with anger.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow lands in the space where horror and humor meet, mining laughter in mourning and custody battles. Cummings’ laughs are the sort that signal discomfort: His punchlines are razor sharp, which make the movie’s surrounding unpleasantries go down more easily. Watching a policeman get physical with anybody who sufficiently pushes his buttons induces squirms. When fellow officer Bo (Kevin Changaris) accidentally says too much about the murders in front of reporters, John calls him over to a snowbank and starts smacking the poor schmuck around, a moment that would tip over into pure darkness without the aid of a lighthearted soundtrack and the slapstick of their scuffle. Regardless, the point is made: John’s on edge, and his edge is surprisingly amusing. The wry, snappy banter gives The Wolf of Snow Hollow a prickly skin, and the restrained application of FX gives it tension. At just under 80 minutes, that economy is key. It’s not so much that the horror is elevated as controlled. But rather than clang with the innate savagery of the werewolf niche, Cummings’ command over his material gives the film a certain freshness. He tames the monster in the man so that the man is all that’s left, for better and for worse. John isn’t perfect, but an imperfect man need not be a beast.—Andy Crump


Johnny Guitar

johnny-guitar.jpg Year: 1954
Director: Nicholas Ray
Stars: Joan Crawford, Mercedes McCambridge, Sterling Hayden, Scott Brady
Genre: Western
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 110 minutes

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Johnny Guitar is a film that barely hangs onto its genre trappings—and is one of the strangest and rarest of fifties Westerns. Nicholas Ray specialized in borderline-hysterical, hyper-magnified psychological drama, regardless of the setting. Here, he pits tough saloon keeper Vienna (a hard-faced Joan Crawford) against wrathful rival Mercedes McCambridge. Sterling Hayden sidles in as Vienna’s love interest and the catalyst for the witch hunt, but he’s hardly the driving force of the film. That showdown belongs to the women of Johnny Guitar—and the fearsome, small-minded community that surrounds them. —Christina Newland


Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

mission-impossible-ghost-protocol-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2011
Director: Brad Bird
Stars: Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg
Genre: Thriller, Action
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 133 minutes

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After the thrilling opening sequence of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, we cut to a Moscow prison where Ethan is mysteriously being held. Agents Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Jane Carter (Paula Patton) are plying their tech and explosives skills to break him out. The scene is jaunty and light-hearted, and scored, in the film’s reality, to Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head.” Light fuse. Cue famous theme. What follows is still the best entry in the Mission Impossible franchise, and one of the best action movies of the last decade. Not bad for first-time live-action director Brad Bird, though with his widely acclaimed previous work on animated features The Iron Giant, and Pixar’s The Incredibles and Ratatouille, it’s not a huge surprise. Ethan and his thrown-together team (including late-to-the-game IMF analyst William Brandt, played by Jeremy Renner) find themselves on their own with limited resources when their infiltration of the Kremlin goes horribly wrong and the IMF is blamed. This causes the U.S. government to invoke the titular spectral protocol, in which the entire agency is disavowed in order to avoid a war much worse than a Cold one with Russia. From there, it’s a global cat-and-mouse game with a megalomaniacal arms dealer who’s attempting nothing less than to wipe the Earth clean to start the cycle of life anew. Cruise is as electric as ever, and Ghost Protocol is wholly satisfying, and a breathtaking blast from start to finish. —Dan Kaufman


Super 8

super-8-poster.jpg Year: 2011
Director: J. J. Abrams
Stars: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Gabriel Basso, Noah Emmerich, Ron Eldard
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 112 minutes

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Super 8 is a film that ultimately feels more deeply tied to its subtext and inspirations than anything within its own plot—ostensibly a story about a rogue alien on the loose in a small Midwestern city in the 1970s, ‘ala E.T., it often seems curiously disinterested in the literal extraterrestrial. Instead, this is a story about a young group of friends coming together to achieve their goals, sprinkled with social awkwardness and the grieving process for young protagonist Joe (Joel Courtney), even as his sexuality is awakening in the presence of peer Alice (Elle Fanning, in her debut). These exchanges between young teenage characters are the true heart of the film, evoking the emotional vulnerability of the characters in something like Stand By Me, and ultimately proving more interesting than the alien hijinks propelling the plot forward. Every time Super 8 is simply about a group of 14-year-olds trying to make the best damn zombie movie they can, it becomes oddly endearing. —Jim Vorel


The Rhythm Section

30-the-rhythm-section-poster-itunes.jpg Release Date: January 31, 2020
Director: Reed Morano
Starring: Blake Lively, Jude Law, Sterling K. Brown, Raza Jaffrey
Genre: Thriller, Action
Rating: R
Runtime: 109 minutes

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A straight genre exercise that mixes revenge fantasy with a globetrotting assassin adventure, The Rhythm Section may not dig deep, but director Reed Morano handles an impressive balance between the genre’s prerequisite set pieces—full of intense hand-to-hand combat and pulse-pounding action—and an honest examination of how hard it truly is to take a life no matter how much we believe that life deserves to be taken. Screenwriter Mark Burnell, who adapted his novel with the same name, wisely skips typical first act, overindulgent exposition, spending time in the protagonist’s happy home before it’s violently taken away. When we meet Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively), the trauma has already occurred. Years ago, her entire family died in a plane crash, and, unable to cope with the insurmountable sorrow, Stephanie turned to a dead-eyed existence of addiction and sex work. Lively, always somber, captures the numbing nature of grief. The Rhythm Section certainly doesn’t rewrite the structure of the revenge movie. The usual plot twists can still be seen coming a mile away. None of which keeps it from being a smart and insightful genre exercise in an already promising director’s young career. —Oktay Ege Kozak / Full Review


Bill & Ted Face the Music

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Year: 2020
Director: Dean Parisot
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Kristen Schaal, Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine, William Sadler
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 91 minutes

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Our enjoyment of Bill & Ted Face the Music may only be the direct result of living with a kind of background-grade dread for what feels like the whole of our adult lives. Those of us who will seek out and watch this third movie in the Most Excellent Adventures of Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted (Theodore) Logan (Keanu Reeves) are bound by nostalgia as much as a desire to suss out whatever scraps of joy can be found buried in our grim, harrowing reality. Sometimes, death and pain is unavoidable. Sometimes it just feels nice to lounge for 90 minutes in a universe where when you die you and all your loved ones just go to Hell and all the demons there are basically polite service industry workers so everything is pretty much OK. Cold comfort and mild praise, maybe, but the strength of Dean Parisot’s go at the Bill & Ted saga is its laid-back, low-stakes nature, wherein even the murder robot (Anthony Carrigan, the film’s luminous guiding light) sent to lazer Bill and Ted to death quickly becomes their friend while Kid Cudi is the duo’s primary source on quantum physics. Because why? It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. There may be some symbolic heft to Bill and Ted reconciling with Death (William Sadler) in Hell; there may be infinite universes beyond our own, entangled infinitely. Cudi’s game for whatever.

A sequel of rare sincerity, Bill & Ted Face the Music avoids feeling like a craven reviving of a hollowed-out IP or a cynical reboot, mostly because its ambition is the stuff of affection—for what the filmmakers are doing, made with sympathy for their audience and a genuine desire to explore these characters in a new context. Maybe that’s the despair talking. Or maybe it’s just the relief of for once confronting the past and finding that it’s aged considerably well. —Dom Sinacola


Child’s Play

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Year: 1988
Director: Tom Holland
Stars: Brad Dourif, Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon
Rating: R
Runtime: 87 minutes

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Child’s Play is one of those late ’80s gimmick slashers where it’s all too easy to feel as if you’ve already seen the film, without actually having sat down to watch it. Killer doll, very cheesy, plenty of one-liners, right? Well yes, and no. The original (and pretty obviously best) entry in the Child’s Play series is the most serious-minded (at least slightly) and grounded of the movies, and it goes out of its way to humanize its iconic killer Chucky—or the spirit within him, that of serial killer Charles Lee Ray—more than one might expect. If you’ve never seen a film in the series, ask yourself this: Did you know that the plot of Child’s Play is technically all about voodoo? Because it is. In the end, though, its greatness and inherent watchability boils down to the charms of the wonderful Brad Dourif, who found in Chucky the vessel he needed to become a genre legend forevermore. Like Robert Englund did with Freddy Krueger, Chucky becomes the most beloved aspect of the series because Dourif’s voiceover just oozes charisma and character—he’s more alive than any of the flesh-and-blood characters in this series could ever be. It’s just one of those sublime moments of perfect casting—it’s easy to imagine that no one would remember the Child’s Play series today if that one aspect had been different. —Jim Vorel


Four Weddings and a Funeral

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Year: 1994
Director: Mike Newell
Stars: Hugh Grant, Andie Macdowell, Kristin Scott Thomas
Rating: R
Runtime: 117 minutes

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The first of several Richard Curtis-penned rom-coms starring Hugh Grant, Four Weddings and a Funeral follows our favorite bumbling Englishman as he repeatedly runs into the love of his life at—you guessed it—four weddings and a funeral. While much of the movie is lighthearted and some of it borders on cheesy (see Andie MacDowell’s infamous “Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed” line in its finale), its graver moments, like Fiona (Kristen Scott Thomas) dealing with unrequited love or the titular funeral, remind us that love may be goofy and complicated and wonderful, but finding that one true love is serious business. The Academy agreed, nominating the film for Best Picture in a stacked year that included Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption. —Bonnie Stiernberg


The Dead Zone

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Year: 1983
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Herbert Lom, Martin Sheen
Runtime: 103 minutes

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As expected from a King adaptation, we’re once again dealing with a protagonist who has telekinetic powers he doesn’t want. Will that gift become a curse, or the curse a gift? For the first half of The Dead Zone, David Cronenberg’s twist-filled thriller, the first outcome seems to be the case, as Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) uses his newfound powers of touching people to see into their secrets and pasts to help those in need. Then the latter outcome presents itself, as Johnny is forced to dispose of a presidential candidate (Martin Sheen) who will certainly bring about nuclear holocaust. Sound familiar? Also, minor spoiler: Does anyone really think Trump won’t use a baby as a human shield to save his own life? Perhaps The Dead Zone itself has powers of premonition. This is one of Cronenberg’s most accessible films, with a fairly straightforward mystery-horror structure, but this doesn’t stop him from building a mood full of dread and confusion, right from the terrifically enigmatic opening titles. Walken had the ability to come across as a likable conduit for the audience before his oft-imitated mannerisms turned him into a caricature. He displays that side of his work really efficiently here.—Oktay Ege Kozak


The Little Hours

the little hours movie poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Jeff Baena
Stars: Alison Brie, Dave Franco, Kate Micucci, Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 78%
Rating: R
Runtime: 90 minutes

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Raunchy comedies rarely cop to such well-regarded sources: The Little Hours claims its basis lies within Giovanni Boccaccio’s 14th-century novella collection The Decameron, which makes its structure, bawdiness and characterizations all feel appropriately pithy. A series of incidents involving three horny nuns—Alessandra, Genevra, and Fernanda (Alison Brie, Kate Micucci and Aubrey Plaza, respectively)—and sexy farmhand-on-the-run Massetto (played by Dave Franco in full romance novel cover mode), The Little Hours finds writer/director Jeff Baena (who minored in Medieval and Renaissance Studies at NYU) delighting in updating The Decameron’s light and witty stories, helped by the fact that Boccaccio’s language was opposed to the flowery erudition of most of the period’s texts. That translates to a very vulgar (and funny) movie both indebted to and different than a wide spectrum of vulgar nun and nunsploitation movies that have spanned porn, hauntings and thrillers promising both nude nuns and big guns.—Jacob Oller


Platoon

platoon-poster.jpg Year: 1986
Director: Oliver Stone
Stars: Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, Tom Berenger, Forest Whitaker, Francesco Quinn, John C. McGinley
Genre: Drama, Action, War
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Rating: R
Runtime: 113 minutes

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You can boil down Platoon to a single iconic image: Willem Dafoe, hands and arms held aloft as Vietnamese soldiers gun him down, his fellow infantrymen the sole audience to his grim and lonesome demise on the ground. Is he making an act of supplication in his final moments? Is he submitting to death itself? Or is his gesture meant to be interpreted as an acknowledgment of his helplessness, a pantomime outcry at his betrayal and abandonment? No matter how many times this scene plays out, its subtexts remain open to interpretation. What remains the same is our horror at Dafoe’s exit from the film, and what it means in context within the narrative. Platoon, like any Vietnam war movie, is unforgivingly brutal, a picture show of relentless barbarity that recreates one of America’s greatest self-made martial, political and international debacles. Also like any Vietnam war movie, or any war movie in general, really, it repurposes a host of atrocities as tense entertainment, folding the cathartic release of seeing the bad guy get what’s coming to him within the bloody details of America’s intervention in Vietnam. —Andy Crump


Rocketman

rocketman-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Stars: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden
Genre: Drama, Music
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Rating: R
Runtime: 121 minutes

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Any major studio that gets its hands on the rights to a rock star’s music, desiring to retrofit it into a movie for the fans, has two options: Make a biopic that episodically lines up snippets of the artist’s life, like last year’s bafflingly popular Bohemian Rhapsody, or make a jukebox musical that integrates the beloved hits into an original story, like the gaudy Mamma Mia! or the sublime Across the Universe. Rocketman, a dazzlingly entertaining, heartbreaking, vulnerable, and delightfully exuberant biopic about the great Elton John (Taron Egerton) dares to ask a question so simple yet so smart: Why not do both? So we get an intimately dissected and well-acted biopic as well as a spectacularly visualized and choreographed musical. We begin with Elton, né Reginald, a child prodigy burying himself in his music to cope with the emotional hole in his heart brought on by his loveless father (Steven Mackintosh) and selfish mother (Bryce Dallas Howard). After finding true inspiration thanks to his lyric-writing partner Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), he enjoys the spoils of becoming an overnight smash. But of course the music, the money and the millions of fans turn out to be a temporary fix for the loneliness he has felt since childhood, so in comes the “dark period” full of drugs, sex, copious partying and the alienation of everyone who genuinely loves him, a period made worse by an abusive relationship with his life partner/manager (Richard Madden). This all sets up the third act, the long road to redemption. So the recipe is the same we’ve tried many times before, but writer Lee Hall and director Dexter Fletcher infuse it with delectable and previously unused ingredients. In a strictly audio/visual sense, the musical numbers are stunning, each new one managing to top what came before in uniqueness and whimsy. Most importantly, Taron Egerton embodies Elton with a captivating natural presence; his is a meticulously mannered performance in the best possible way, where even the tiniest facial tic becomes an irreplaceable detail that completes the big picture. Overall, it’s hard to imagine a better tribute to such a singular icon. —Oktay Ege Kozak


Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

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Year: 1991
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Stars: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Christopher Plummer
Runtime: 110 minutes

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Sometimes real-life events inform the zeitgeist in a way that resonates with make-believe, and the fall of the Berlin wall and collapse of the Soviet Union provided the writers of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country a bevy of plot points and character notes that seem tailor-made for an aging cast and a politically static setting. Balancing intrigue, action, humor and plenty of quality time with the Big Three of TOS, The Undiscovered Country may be the most under-appreciated entry in the franchise. Add Christopher Plummer as a Klingon and you’ve…got Christopher Plummer in your movie, man! Directed by Wrath of Khan’s Nicholas Meyer, this sixth and final film featuring the full TOS cast represents a nice palate cleanser from Final Frontier. —Michael Burgin


Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

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Year: 1956
Director: John Sturges
Stars: Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming, Jo Van Fleet, John Ireland
Runtime: 110 minutes

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John Sturges’ initial foray into portraying the events behind the monolithic historic shootout is fairly epic in scope, spanning multiple settings (Fort Griffin, Texas, Dodge City, Kansas and ultimately ending in Tombstone, Ariz.), and showcasing a large cast including Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, DeForest Kelley, Rhonda Fleming, Jo Van Fleet, John Ireland, Lee Van Cleef, Jack Elam, Dennis Hopper and Martin Milner. At its heart though, the film is ultimately a straightforward story of brotherly love between Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, showing how the two men grow to respect one another by keeping each other in check and helping each other grow as men in the face of violent turmoil. While Sturges and screenwriter Leon Uris reportedly heavily researched the incidents, the film is still a fairly fanciful treatment of the events in Tombstone. Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is at times emotionally overwrought, teeming with cinematic open vistas and eye-poppingly lush color used for the interior sets; it’s not hard to see why Sturges later referred to the film as “a slick horse opera with the accent on opera.” In his interpretation of Doc Holliday, Kirk Douglas is quite compelling and yes, overheated, playing him as a volatile, manipulative, emotionally abusive, yet ultimately loyal rapscallion of a dandy. Frankly, he steals the show from top-billed Burt Lancaster’s dour, stoic portrayal of Wyatt Earp. —J.P.


The Abyss

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Year: 1989
Director: James Cameron
Stars: Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Biehn
Runtime: 140 minutes

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Waaaayyyy back in 1989, before disappearing beneath the waves with Titanic and Ghosts of the Abyss, James Cameron was torturing his cast and crew with the infamously punishing shoot of this nail-biter sci-fi thriller involving the deep sea exploration of an unidentified sub. Though generally remembered as “lesser Cameron,”—mainly due to a deus ex machina ending—The Abyss nevertheless rivets viewers with genuine tension throughout. (Claustrophobics, in particular, might want to give this one a wide berth.) Ed Harris is phenomenal as the foreman of a deep sea drilling rig in way over his head (sorry), and Cameron regular Michael Biehn gets to play the heavy this time. Of course, this being a Cameron project, the SFX were well ahead of its time, and still impress to this day. —Scott Wold

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