DID YOU READ

“John Dies at the End” review: A demented, dimension-hopping good time

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Some films are easy to review. You assess the director’s presentation of the story, note the highs and lows of the cast’s performances, offer some critique of the writing, set pieces, or any other standout elements of the film, and then call it a day.

“John Dies At The End” is not that sort of film.

Like “Naked Lunch” or “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension” before it, “John Dies At The End” is a weird, wild, and wonderfully unique film that defies just about every convention that critics – and traditional media – throw at it. And while that’s usually a recipe for disaster, “John Dies At The End” somehow manages to make all of its disparate elements work together into a fun, crazy adventure that carries you along for the ride instead of making its audience feel perpetually left behind.

Directed by Don Coscarelli (“Bubba Ho-Tep,” “Phantasm”) and based on Jason Pargin’s trippy horror novel of the same name (published under his pseudonym David Wong), “John Dies At The End” follows a pair of slackers whose experience with a new drug called “soy sauce” reveals the existence of an interdimensional invasion occurring all around them. As they get caught up in thwarting the invasion, the drug’s effects on time and space push them into confrontations with all manner of strange creatures and leave them uncertain of what’s real and what is simply another hallucination.

The film stars Chase Williamson as protagonist and narrator David Wong, and a similarly unfamiliar face, Rob Mayes, as David’s stoner pal, John. Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown, and Doug Jones highlight a short list of well-known actors who appear throughout the film in a variety of appropriately weird roles.

Not having read Pargin’s 2007 novel, I can’t speak to Coscarelli’s faithfulness to the source material, but given the surreal nature of the story, “John Dies At The End” deserves praise for somehow finding the linear narrative in what could’ve been a terribly messy, tangled adaptation. Instead of falling apart into a series of weird, sci-fi vignettes, “John Dies At The End” manages to constantly move forward with the story it’s telling – even when it seems like a plot point or timeline has veered off into tangent territory.

Coscarelli’s knack for putting an unsettling, sinister spin on just about any type of scene – one of the hallmarks of his “Phantasm” films – gets a heavy workout in “John Dies At The End,” as there’s rarely any certainty about what’s real and what Dave and John have unintentionally conjured from their drug-addled, reality-warping subconscious. Still, there’s an underlying sense that the pair are taming the drug as the adventure progresses, and by the end of the film the ratio of chemically-induced terror to chemically-induced heroism (a twisted, non-traditional sort of heroism, but heroism all the same) gradually shifts into their favor. It’s a subtle transition that could’ve been easily overdone – or even not done at all – but Coscarelli does a nice job of turning his aimless slackers into our dimension’s best hope for survival.

Williamson and Mayes both offer up great performances in their respective roles, with Williamson playing off Giamatti particularly well during their scenes together. Neither Giamatti nor Brown (or Jones, for that matter) have particularly meaty roles in the film, but Coscarelli puts them to good use providing a big dose of flavor to scenes that might otherwise be a little dry. The entire cast, in fact, seems to find just right the balance in their performances to sell the over-the-top weirdness going on around them.

Still, despite all of the diverging, mingling, and meandering timelines that constitute the narrative of “John Dies At The End,” the story being told in the film still manages to stay on a linear course that separates it from many other failed adaptations of unconventional stories. There’s no shortage of mash-ups out there that try to blend elements of horror, sci-fi, and black comedy – often with a heavy dose of the surreal to lubricate the mix – but few of them manage to pull it off with any success.

“John Dies At The End” is a great example of what can happen when a writer and director’s vision syncs up with that of the author of something very unique, and very special. Only time will tell if “John Dies At The End” will achieve as similar a level of under-the-radar success as Coscarelli’s “Bubba Ho-Tep,” but it’s hard not to believe the film is well on its way to becoming a cult classic.

“John Dies At The End” hits theaters in limited release Friday, January 25. The film is directed by Don Coscarelli, and is based on a book of the same name by Jason Pargin (written under the pseudonym David Wong).

Underworld

Under Your Spell

10 Otherworldly Romances That’ll Melt Your Heart

Spend Valentine's Day weekend with IFC's Underworld movie marathon.

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Photo Credit: Screen Gems/courtesy Everett Collection

Romance takes many forms, and that is especially true when you have a thirst for blood or laser beams coming out of your eyes.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a werewolf, a superhero, a clone, a time-traveler, or a vampire, love is the one thing that infects us all.  Read on to find out why Romeo and Juliet have nothing on these supernatural star-crossed lovers, and be sure to catch IFC’s Underworld movie marathon this Valentine’s Day weekend.

1. Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine, X-Men series

The X-Men franchise is rife with romance, but the steamiest “ménage à mutant” may just be the one between Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Cyclops (James Marsden), and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Their triangle is a complicated one as Jean finds herself torn between the two very different men while also trying to control her darker side, the Phoenix. This leads to Jean killing Cyclops and eventually getting stabbed through her heart by Wolverine in X-Men: The Last Stand. Yikes!  Maybe they should change the name to Ex-Men instead?


2. Willow/Tara, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Joss Whedon gave audiences some great romances on Buffy the Vampire Slayer — including the central triangle of Buffy, Angel, and Spike — but it was the love between witches Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) that broke new ground for its sensitive and nuanced portrayal of a LGBT relationship.

Willow is smart and confident and isn’t even sure of her sexuality when she first meets Tara at college in a Wiccan campus group. As the two begin experimenting with spells, they realize they’re also falling for one another and become the show’s most enduring, happy couple. At least until Tara’s death in season six, a moment that still brings on the feels.


3. Selene/Michael, Underworld series

The Twilight gang pales in comparison (both literally and metaphorically) to the Lycans and Vampires of the stylish Underworld franchise. If you’re looking for an epic vampire/werewolf romance set amidst an epic vampire/werewolf war, Underworld handily delivers in the form of leather catsuited Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and shaggy blonde hunk Michael (a post-Felicity Scott Speedman). As they work together to stop the Vampire/Lycan war, they give into their passions while also kicking butt in skintight leather. Love at first bite indeed.


4. Spider-man/Mary Jane Watson, Spider-man

After rushing to the aid of beautiful girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the Amazing Spider-man is rewarded with an upside-down kiss that is still one of the most romantic moments in comic book movie history. For Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), the shy, lovable dork beneath the mask, his rain-soaked makeout session is the culmination of years of unrequited love and one very powerful spider bite. As the films progress, Peter tries pushing MJ away in an attempt to protect her from his enemies, but their web of love is just too powerful. And you know, with great power, comes great responsibility.


5. Molly/Sam, Ghost

When it comes to supernatural romance, you really can’t beat Molly and Sam from the 1990 hit film Ghost. Demi Moore goes crazy for Swayze like the rest of us, and the pair make pottery sexier than it’s ever been.

When Sam is murdered, he’s forced to communicate through con artist turned real psychic, Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg in her Academy Award-winning role) to warn Molly she is still in danger from his co-worker, Carl (a pre-Scandal Tony Goldwyn). Molly doesn’t believe Oda is telling the truth, so Sam proves it by sliding a penny up the wall and then possessing Oda so he and Molly can share one last romantic dance together (but not the dirty kind). We’d pay a penny for a dance with Patrick Swayze ANY day.


6. Cosima/Delphine, Orphan Black

It stands to reason there would be at least one complicated romance on a show about clones, and none more complicated than the one between clone Cosima (Tatiana Maslany) and Dr. Delphine Cormier (Evelyne Brochu) on BBC America’s hit drama Orphan Black.

Cosima is a PhD student focusing on evolutionary developmental biology at the University of Minnesota when she meets Delphine, a research associate from the nefarious Dyad Institute, posing as a fellow immunology student. The two fall in love, but their happiness is brief once Dyad and the other members of Clone Club get involved. Here’s hoping Cosima finds love in season four of Orphan Black. Girlfriend could use a break.


7. Aragorn/Arwen, Lord of the Rings

On a picturesque bridge in Rivendell amidst some stellar mood-lighting and dreamy Elvish language with English subtitles for us non-Middle Earthlings, Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) bind their souls to one another, pledging to love each other no matter what befalls them.

Their courtship is a matter of contention with Arwen’s father, Elrond (Hugo Weaving), who doesn’t wish to see his daughter suffer over Aragorn’s future death. The two marry after the conclusion of the War of the Ring, with Aragorn assuming his throne as King of Gondor, and Arwen forgoing her immortality to become his Queen. Is it too much to assume they asked Frodo to be their wedding ring-bearer?


8. Lafayette/Jesus, True Blood

True Blood quickly became the go-to show for supernatural sex scenes featuring future Magic Mike strippers (Joe Manganiello) and pale Nordic men with washboard abs (Hi Alexander Skarsgård!), but honestly, there was a little something for everyone, including fan favorite Bon Temps medium, Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis).

In season three, Lafayette met his mother’s nurse, Jesus, and the two began a relationship. As they spend more time together and start doing V (short for Vampire Blood), they learn Jesus is descended from a long line of witches and that Lafayette himself has magical abilities. However, supernatural love is anything but simple, and after the pair join a coven, Lafayette becomes possessed by the dead spirit of its former leader. This relationship certainly puts a whole new spin on possessive love.


9. Nymphadora Tonks/Remus Lupin, Harry Potter series

There are lots of sad characters in the Harry Potter series, but Remus Lupin ranks among the saddest. He was bitten by a werewolf as a child, his best friend was murdered and his other best friend was wrongly imprisoned in Azkaban for it, then THAT best friend was killed by a Death Eater at the Ministry of Magic as Remus looked on. So when Lupin unexpectedly found himself in love with badass Auror and Metamorphmagus Nymphadora Tonks (she prefers to be called by her surname ONLY, thank you very much), pretty much everyone, including Lupin himself, was both elated and cautiously hopeful about their romance and eventual marriage.

Sadly, the pair met a tragic ending when both were killed by Death Eaters during the Battle of Hogwarts, leaving their son, Teddy, orphaned much like his godfather Harry Potter. Accio hankies!


10. The Doctor/Rose Tyler, Doctor Who

Speaking of wolves, Rose “Bad Wolf” Tyler (Billie Piper) captured the Doctor’s hearts from the moment he told her to “Run!” in the very first episode of the re-booted Doctor Who series. Their affection for one another grew steadily deeper during their travels in the TARDIS, whether they were stuck in 1950s London, facing down pure evil in the Satan Pit, or battling Cybermen.

But their relationship took a tragic turn during the season two finale episode, “Doomsday,” when the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose found themselves separated in parallel universes with no way of being reunited (lest two universes collapse as a result of a paradox). A sobbing Rose told a holographic transmission of the Doctor she loved him, but before he could reply, the transmission cut out, leaving our beloved Time Lord (and most of the audience) with a tear-stained face and two broken hearts all alone in the TARDIS.

Season 6, Episode 2: Going Grey

Kumail Wants to Believe

5 Reasons Why Kumail Nanjiani is the Ultimate X-Files Fan

Catch Kumail Nanjiani cohosting the 2016 Spirit Awards live Feb. 27th at 5P ET/2P PT on IFC.

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There are many things to love comedian Kumail Nanjiani for. His hilarious stand-up. His role on Silicon Valley. His all-star cameos on Portlandiaincluding this week’s episode where he informs Fred about The Cloud. Heck, he’s even set to host the 2016 Spirit Awards Feb. 27th on IFC. But the thing that’s perhaps most surprising, and most endearing, is his deep love, bordering on obsession, for The X-Files. No one, and we mean no one, has done more with their appreciation of the ’90s cult hit than Mr. Nanjiani, who’s turned a love of the show into a flourishing side career. With The X-Files returning to television, and the movies airing on IFC, we know you want to believe in Kumail’s super-fandom. Well, trust us, the truth is out there. Here are just a few examples.


5. He has a podcast dedicated to the show

IFC Originals

IFC Originals

For a year and a half, Kumail has hosted The X-Files Files, a podcast in which he and a guest break down specific episodes of the long-running show. Now 56 episodes deep, the podcast has welcomed everyone from Paul Scheer to Jack Black to Fox Mulder himself, David Duchovny. This is a deep dive into all things X-Files from someone who knows what it’s like to be obsessed with Mulder and Scully.


4. He moderated the X-Files Comic-Con panel

Kumail joked that he tried to wait as long as possible before accepting the offer to host the X-Files panel at last year’s Comic-Con, because he didn’t want to seem desperate. He lasted 30 seconds.


3. He hosted his own X-Files marathon

20th Century Fox Television

20th Century Fox Television

Kumail hosted a binge watcher’s dream for X-files fans in Los Angeles in anticipation of the new season. The marathon played six classic episodes, including the terrifying “Home” and the Bryan Cranston-fronted “Drive.” Show writers Glen Morgan and James Wong stopped by to share trivia, like how they made Mulder obsessed with Elvis Presley just to annoy Duchovny.


2. He thought The X-Files was a true story


Growing up in Pakistan, Kumail had limited access to American pop culture. As he told Conan, episodes of The X-Files had a warning before each episode, stating that they were based on true stories. This, unsurprisingly, blew his mind. It turned out to be a huge disappointment when he finally moved to the States, and realized how few aliens and monsters we really had.


1. He’s on the freaking show

@kumailn/Twitter

@kumailn/Twitter

Suffice it to say, all this love has not gone unnoticed. When it was announced that The X-Files was coming back to television, Nanjiani fans knew they had to get their boy on the show. A Change.org petition was set up, demanding he be cast on the new season. This tidal wave of support garnered 91 signatures. Okay, not exactly a movement, but it turns out it didn’t matter. Nanjiami secured a part on his own, and will be in next week’s episode, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster.” He told Comic Book Resources that he had to call his wife from the set to help him get through a scene because he couldn’t remember his lines. She urged him to calm down, and just think of it as any other show. He, of course, said, “I can’t! They look like Mulder and Scully!”

Missed Portlandia? Watch it now on the IFC App. And click here to find IFC on your TV in your area.

Room Brie Larson

Good Spirits

Spirit Awards Nominees Spotlight and Brie Larson Score Oscar Noms

Catch the 2016 Spirit Awards Saturday, Feb. 27th live on IFC starting at 5P ET/2P PT.

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Photo Credit: George Kraychyk/©A24/courtesy Everett Collection

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its draft picks for the 2016 Oscars season and armchair critics seemed to have their predictions confirmed. Anti-bear propaganda film The Revenant led the pack with 12 nominations, followed by the 120-minute reminder to test your emissions, Mad Max: Fury Road, with 10 nods.

Eight films are nominated for Best Picture including the aforementioned Revenant and Max, as well as Spirit Award nominee Spotlight, the gripping ripped-from-the-headlines film about the Boston Globe’s investigation of the Catholic Church. Also up for movie of the year is Room, starring Brie Larson as a young mother who, along with her 5-year-old son, experiences the outside world after years of being held captive in a small room. (The role has already nabbed her a Golden Globe and a Spirit Award nomination.)

Here is the list of nominees in the major categories for next month’s Academy Awards. And stay tuned for more updates about the 2016 Spirit Awards, airing live Feb. 27th starting at 5P ET/2P PT on IFC.

Best Picture
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn
Mad Max: Fury Road
Room
Spotlight
The Martian
The Revenant

Best Actor
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Best Directing
Adam McKay, The Big Short
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant
Lenny Abrahamson, Room
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight

Best Film Editing
The Big Short, Hank Corwin
Mad Max: Fury Road, Margaret Sixel
The Revenant, Stephen Mirrione
Spotlight, Tom McArdle
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey

Best Foreign Language Film
Colombia, Embrace of the Serpent
France, Mustang
Hungary, Son of Saul
Jordan, Theeb
Denmark, A War

Best Original Score
Thomas Newman, Bridge of Spies
Carter Burwell, Carol
Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight
Jóhann Jóhannsson, Sicario
John Williams, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Adapted Screenplay
The Big Short, Charles Randolph and Adam McKay
Brooklyn, Nick Hornby
Carol, Phyllis Nagy
The Martian, Drew Goddard
Room, Emma Donoghue

Best Original Screenplay
Bridge of Spies, Matt Charman and Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
Ex Machina, Alex Garland
Inside Out, Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley; Original story by Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen
Spotlight, Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy
Straight Outta Compton, Screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff; Story by S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus and Andrea Berloff

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