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Look beyond the multiplex for your horror fix. By Tanya Pai
A better way to get your scary-movie fix this year. Image via Shutterstock.

So you want to see a scary movie on the big screen this Halloween. Great! Only problem is, your big-budget horror options range from the mediocre (Before I Go to Sleep, a Nicole Kidman/Colin Firth thriller currently rated 53 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) to the laughably bad (Ouija, clocking in at 10 percent—proving once again that Clue is the best and only board-game movie you need) to the pretty much inexcusable (Nicholas Sparks’s The Best of Me*).

Instead of shelling out for yet another bland studio slasher flick, head to one of Washington’s independent cinemas to catch ’60s classics, foreign films, and a daylong marathon, all on Halloween itself.

Psycho and Spike at the Angelika Pop-Up

Friday, October 31, 7 and 9:30 PM

The Union Market theater screens the classic slasher film—the original, not the best-forgotten Vince Vaughan version—two times Halloween night. Everyone who buys a ticket will get a Spike Mendelsohn-curated goodie bag stuffed with exotic-sounding things like chocolate bacon and sushi popcorn. Definitely a step up from the usual nervous-eating movie snacks.

People’s Choice at Union Market

Friday, October 31, 8 PM

The popular drive-in movie series concludes its fall series with a Halloween screening—and wants you to pick the movie. Visit Union Market’s Facebook page by Friday to vote on your choice of Ghostbusters, The Addams Family, or Edward Scissorhands, then follow the usual drill on Halloween evening.

AFI Silver Theatre’s Horror Marathon

Friday, October 31, multiple times

Skip your office's awkward costume contest and head to AFI for a day’s worth of scary flicks: At 3 PM is Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, followed by his animated short Frankenweenie at 5:10. The evening brings the ’80s cult hit Beetlejuice at 7, the “rom-zom-com” Shaun of the Dead at 9, and Roman Polanski’s iconic Rosemary’s Baby at 11.

Shaun of the Dead at Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse

Friday, October 31, 9:30 PM

Virginians get a separate chance to catch the adventures of pasty Brits/unlikely heroes Simon Pegg and Nick Frost with this screening. Bonus for folks with kids: Between 5 and 8:30, check out a family-friendly haunted house hosted in the main theater, done up to look like it’s been through a zombie outbreak. Admission is $2 and includes a tour, a treat, and a free pass for a future movie.

Night of the Living Dead at Angelika Mosaic

Friday, October 31, midnight

Schlock-horror king George A. Romero cut his teeth on this 1968 zombie flick that spawned several gruesome sequels. This one’s in black and white, so you can tell your parents you did something arty for All Hallows' Eve in addition to all those Jell-O shots.

The Monster Squad at E Street Cinema

Friday, October 31, 11:59 PM

Time to get meta: This 1987 horror comedy is about a group of adolescent scary-movie enthusiasts who find themselves battling Count Dracula, Wolfman, and other beasties for control over the balance of good and evil. I’m guessing the truly frightening part is leaving the fate of the world up to a group of teenagers (no disrespect to Buffy and the Scoobies).

Horns at West End Cinema and Angelika Pop-Up

Friday, October 31, multiple times

The supernatural thriller based on the book by Joe Hill (son of horror master Stephen King, responsible for the most terrifying clown of all time) stars Harry Potter as a guy who’s both suspected of killing his girlfriend and growing magical horns on his head. Reviews are a bit mixed, but Daniel Radcliffe’s performance has been getting good buzz.

Fear at the Freer

Friday, October 31, 5 PM

Maybe The Ring scared the pants off you when you first saw it, but it’s lost that initial punch. Frighten yourself anew at the Freer, which screens Ringu—the somehow-even-scarier Japanese film on which it was based. The movie starts at 7, but get there early to learn about spooky items from the museum’s collection, make your own Halloween mask, and try food from the Tokyo in the City truck.

Bonus: Saw 10th Anniversary Re-Release

Friday, October 31, multiple times

The film that begat an impressively long-running torture-porn franchise turns ten this year, and returns to select theaters—including AMC Loews Georgetown, Regal Gallery Place, and Regal Ballston Common—for a one-week run starting Friday. If you’re itching to relive Saw in all its dismembery glory, check theater websites or Fandango for showtimes.

*Yes, I realize it isn't a horror movie—what's scary is how Nicholas Sparks keeps making people shell out to see the same story over and over (and over) again.

Find more ways to celebrate in our Halloween Guide.

Posted at 10:50 AM/ET, 10/29/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Stick to the theme of screwed-up relationships with these films. By Tanya Pai
Already seen Gone Girl? Here are a few follow-up flicks to catch. Image via Shutterstock.

David Fincher’s Gone Girl finally hit theaters last weekend, after what felt like months (and months) of internet hype, and immediately rocketed to the top of the box office. If you’ve already re-read Gillian Flynn’s book and gotten your fill of full-frontal Ben Affleck—but are still looking to scratch your itch for stories about, ahem, unusual relationships—this weekend offers plenty of options at theaters around Washington.

Opening Friday at E Street Cinema is Only Lovers Left Alive, Jim Jarmusch’s vampire love story starring Tom Hiddlestone and Tilda Swinton. Before you cry Twilight foul, know that this flick involves zero werewolves, and the main characters’ lust runs more to exploring the vast realm of art and culture than each other’s undead bodies. An eternity to stay ahead of the cultural curve? It’s every hipster’s dream.

Also opening Friday at E Street is The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her and Him, two separate films that explore a couple’s crumbling marriage from each party’s distinct perspective. Them, the third version of the story Ned Benson created, was the only one to get a wide release, but critics have reviewed both gender-divided versions more favorably. Decide for yourself which half of the couple is in the right.

October 10 through 16, the Goethe-Institut puts on the Film Neu festival, featuring new works from Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. The lineup this year includes Love Steaks, a partially improvised film about an unlikely friendship between a pair of hotel workers (the supporting cast members are all actual hotel employees rather than actors); and Age of Cannibals, a “German Wolf of Wall Street” about two ruthless business consultants at war with each other. See the full schedule of films online.

Showing through Thursday at West End Cinema is Fort Bliss, which stars Michelle Monaghan as a hyper-competent Army medic returning home and attempting to reconnect with her young son and ex-husband. Written and directed by Washington local Claudia Myers, it’s a film that takes translates the idea of work/life balance through the lens of modern war to heartbreaking effect.

On Friday, the Angelika Film Center in Fairfax offers a late-night screening of The Shining, Stanley Kubrick’s famous adaptation of Stephen King’s novel about a family trying to survive the winter—and a serious case of cabin fever—in a spooky Colorado hotel.

Sick of thinking about bad relationships? AFI Silver Theatre provides some even scarier subjects. Its annual Spooky Movie International Horror Film Fest, running October 9 through 18, includes titles such as the pulpy Call Girl of Cthulhu, the Iranian vampire flick A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and the Australian haunted-house film The Babadook.

Posted at 02:45 PM/ET, 10/08/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The new superhero movie filmed in DC for five days last July. By Benjamin Freed
Michael Fassbender plays the young, stadium-wrecking Magneto. Photograph by Alan Markfield via Twentieth Century Fox.

Summer movie season is starting up and, as it does most years, this year’s crop of blockbusters features plenty of wide-scale, special effects-driven destruction of Washington.

The latest spectacle, X-Men: Days of Future Past, will bring mayhem to Washington circa 1973 when it opens Friday. In a clip released this week, Magneto (Michael Fassbender), drops into RFK Stadium and uses his power of manipulating metals to rip the coliseum from its foundation and send it flying into the air to presumably nefarious ends.

The scene appears to have all the makings of an iconic Hollywood wrecking of a Washington landmark, and it’s long past time for the old football stadium to join the ranks of the White House, US Capitol, and Washington Monument as prominent locations to have fantastical destruction visited upon them. (Washington was also prominently featured in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but the most explosive scenes took place at a Height Act-violating office tower in the middle of the Potomac River.)

Like the Captain America sequel, the X-Men flick actually did shoot around the District without the promise of financial incentives. Besides RFK, the X-Men crew spent its time in Washington shooting along the Mall, outside the White House, and from a helicopter, which it secured after getting special flight permission from the Transportation Security Agency. In total, the production spent about $63,170 over five days, according to a film permit application filed with the city’s Office of Motion Picture and Television Development.

There’s just one thing about the RFK scene, though: When Magneto drops in, the stadium is occupied by a groundskeeper painting foul lines on a baseball diamond. However, the Washington Senators vacated the stadium in 1971, and baseball did not return to RFK Stadium until 2005. The Washington Diplomats soccer club did not arrive until 1974, meaning the stadium’s only tenant in 1973 was an NFL team that happens to be fairly jealous about its trademark.

Posted at 12:13 PM/ET, 05/21/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Here are a few highlights. By Tanya Pai
Hal Holbrook in Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey. Photograph by Rodney Taylor.

On Wednesday, the AFI Docs film festival announced its full slate of 84 films, screening June 18 through 22 at AFI Silver Theatre and various locations around DC. The selection includes four world premieres (including the opening-night film Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey), as well as four Catalyst Screenings, featuring post-film panel discussions with filmmakers, experts, and policymakers.

Several of this year’s films have local connections. The world premiere How I Got Over tells the story of 15 formerly homeless women from DC’s N Street Village center for addiction recovery who together create an original play based on their stories to be performed onstage at the Kennedy Center. Bronx Obama follows Louis Ortiz, an unemployed single father from the Bronx who began to get noticed in 2008 for his resemblance to then-presidential hopeful Barack Obama and launched a career as a professional look-alike. Art and Craft looks at the case of Norfolk, Virginia, native and diagnosed schizophrenic Mark Landis, who is one of the most skilled and prolific art forgers in American history—but doesn’t do it for the money. Marshall Curry’s Point and Shoot, which took home the award for Best Documentary Feature from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, tells the story of a young man from a Baltimore suburb whose quest for adventure leads him to join the 2011 revolutionary efforts in Libya. And What’s an Epi is a short film by 18-year-old Shelly Ortiz about the troubled upbringing of her father, Epi Ortiz, that appeared alongside that of 15 other young artists in the first White House Student Film Festival, held this April.

Featured as Catalyst Screenings are The Internet’s Own Boy (in its East Coast premiere), the story of internet wunderkind Aaron Swartz; Ivory Tower, which explores the mounting cost and burden of student loan debt; The Homestretch, a look at three homeless teens’ journeys through the Chicago public school system; and The Newburgh Sting, which delves into FBI anti-terror investigations and post-9/11 mistrust of the government. Other films cover topics ranging from a look at the trial of infamous Boston mobster Whitey Bulger ( Whitey: United States V. James J. Bulger); to Cary Bell’s Butterfly Girl, about a teenage girl dealing with an incurable skin disease; to Dinosaur 13, about the struggle between landowners and the federal government for custody of “Sue,” the largest and most complete T. rex skeleton ever found.

For the complete list of films, showtimes, and events, visit the AFI Docs website, and check back in with us for more coverage.

Posted at 12:00 PM/ET, 05/21/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The coming-of-age story features a boozy Susan Sarandon and plenty of ’80s nostalgia. By Chris Campbell
Marcello Conte and Myles Massey star in Ping Pong Summer. Photograph courtesy of Frank PR.

While Washington-set TV shows focus on the drama-laden machinations of Washington politicians and spies, the nearby tourist haven of Ocean City gets a decidedly lighter treatment from Hollywood in the form of a summer coming-of-age film.

Ocean City native Michael Tully’s Ping Pong Summer was a Sundance Film Festival selection this year, and it tells a familiar story: Boy goes on vacation with family (his mom is played by Lea Thompson). Boy meets girl. Boy gets bullied by girl’s Billy Zabka-esque boyfriend. Boy meets boozed-up town black sheep (Susan Sarandon), who teaches him courage. Boy earns admiration and potential love by defeating said bully in some form of activity (in this case, table tennis). Life lessons abound for all.

Here are a few things we gleaned about Ping Pong Summer from a look at the trailer and a bit of internet digging:

• Requisite time stamps from the decade abound, including but not limited to: arcade halls, cassette-tape boomboxes, failed attempts at breakdancing, short shorts, and unrequited teenage love.

• The characters seem to have sprung from the greatest name generator ever—think monikers such as Rad Miracle, Lyle Ace, Randi Jammer, Stacy Summers, and Teddy Fryy.

• A character dramatically unfolds a table-tennis board as if uncovering a 1970 Dodge Challenger.

• Judah Friedlander and Amy Sedaris are featured in the cast, so prepare yourself for the funny.

• Characters threaten teens with a dead fish and spout comebacks such as, “Inseminate him.”

• The movie is set in 1985—the same year Thompson played another mother, Back to the Future’s Lorraine McFly.

• The soundtrack sounds heavy on power ballads and hip-hop. Don’t be ashamed to do the robot in your theater chair.

Ping Pong Summer will be in theaters June 6. Check out the trailer below.

Posted at 12:39 PM/ET, 04/23/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
It took six months of planning and ten hours of filming to produce a few seconds of footage for “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” By Vicky Gan
Photograph via Marvel Entertainment.

Washington has something of a starring role in the latest comic-book blockbuster to hit the big screen, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Most of the action takes place in the nation’s capital, where S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters is located. Metro police officers engage in a shootout, Metrobuses turn up as collateral damage, and the Mall provides the backdrop for the film’s opening scene, in which Natasha Romanova (Scarlett Johansson) pulls up beside the cryogenically preserved super-soldier and quips, “Anyone know where I can find the Smithsonian? I’m looking for a fossil.”

Thanks in part to the challenges of shooting in DC—a maze of security regulations and no tax incentives—most of the exteriors in the movie were actually shot in Cleveland. But the real National Air and Space Museum appears in the film as the site of a Captain America exhibit: Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) checks out a gallery containing uniforms from his service during World War II. Though the exhibit was built elsewhere on a soundstage, the establishing shots of the Air and Space Museum were filmed on location last May—less than a minute of screentime that took months of planning. NASM communications director Claire Brown and pop-culture curator Margaret Weitekamp explain how the museum’s big-screen moment came together.

According to Brown, the process of coordinating the film shoot began in January 2013, when a location scout for Captain America sent a proposal to the museum’s communications office. Requests to film at the museum come in as much as six months in advance, she says. Staff members then review the proposal to determine whether the shoot is technically feasible and whether the project is consistent with the museum’s mission. NASM only considers films that are appropriate for family audiences, with MPAA ratings up to PG-13. (The last feature film to shoot in the space was 2009’s Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. Before that, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen filmed at the museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia.) A curator checks the script for factual inaccuracies or concerns about the museum’s depiction, which can be grounds for denying a filming request. For Captain America, one of the year’s most highly anticipated films, NASM staffers were only permitted to see three pages of the script—the parts that involved the museum—and were required to sign confidentiality agreements. Once the museum signed off on the project, the filmmakers were cleared to shoot on May 16.

The film crew loaded some of their equipment into the space the night before and finished setting up on the afternoon of the 16th, a few hours before the museum closed at 5:30 PM. Parts of the central gallery, Milestones of Flight, closed early, while extras prepared in hair and makeup outside. A collections staffer and a curator were there to walk the film crew through the space, help them set up the shot, and—most important—make sure they didn’t bump into any artifacts.

The filmmakers wanted a shot that swooped across the entire gallery space, establishing that Steve Rogers was visiting the National Air and Space Museum. A camera, mounted on a crane in the museum’s main concourse, would make an arc from the Spirit of St. Louis to the center of the space. Weitekamp was with the camera operator the whole time to keep an eye on where the crane was swinging. “They were very cautious,” she says. “They made a point of saying [that] the camera itself is tremendously expensive, so they were equally invested in not banging it into anything.”

The scene was set during the day, so the crew had only a few hours of sunlight to get the shot. Once it was set up, Weitekamp recalls, “they were able to do the same arc over and over and over as they reset the extras to get different flavors of the shot that they wanted.” After less than three hours of filming, the crew wrapped around 8 PM and packed up for the next shoot of the night, in Dupont Circle. All told, the Smithsonian shoot took ten hours to produce a couple seconds of film.

Weitekamp didn’t get to meet any of the stars of the movie, but she did get a sneak peek at the fake Captain America exhibit. It contained approximately 35 objects, mostly memorabilia of Captain America’s World War II unit, and covered 12,000 square feet—more than double the size of NASM’s largest gallery. “The designer had the luxury of not being constrained by any of our physical space,” says Weitekamp.

Though the museum has curated pop-culture exhibits in the past, Weitekamp says it has no plans to produce any tie-in programs with the Avengers series. “Our focus is on spaceflight, and this is a very earthbound film,” she says.

Posted at 11:35 AM/ET, 04/21/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
A series of four films pays tribute to the acting giant. By Sophie Gilbert

See the films of Bill Murray all month at the Angelika. Photograph via Everett Collection/Shutterstock.

Didn’t get enough Bill Murray at the Oscars this year? Never fear: The incomparable actor and all-around exemplar of awesome is the subject of a film series at the Angelika Mosaic this month. Every Friday and Saturday night at 11:45, the Fairfax cinema screens classic Murray movies: Stripes March 7 and 8, Groundhog Day March 14 and 15, Lost in Translation March 21 and 22, and Caddyshack March 28 and 29.

By chance (the series has been planned for months, according to the theater) three out of the four pictures also offer a chance to appreciate the work of the recently departed and greatly missed Harold Ramis, who appears in each of the films except Lost in Translation. Tickets ($7) and more information are available through the Angelika’s website.

Posted at 03:43 PM/ET, 03/05/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The documentary about the Supreme Court case defending marriage equality finds a compelling character in Gibson Dunn lawyer Ted Olson. By Sophie Gilbert
Ted Olson addresses press outside the Supreme Court, with David Boies on his left. Photograph by Diana Walker.

At a movie-star mecca like the Sundance Film Festival, where celebrities strolling up and down Main Street or clogging up traffic in Lincoln Navigators are ten a penny, you wouldn’t necessarily expect Washington lawyer Ted Olson to be fending off requests for selfies. And yet, thanks to a new documentary by Ben Cotner and Ryan White, Olson spent much of his sojourn in Park City, Utah, surrounded by fans eager to take pictures with him and thank him for his work.

Olson is one of the stars of The Case Against 8, which won the Directing Award for US Documentary at Sundance Saturday night and has garnered enormously positive reviews since it premiered January 18. The film focuses on how the formidable (if unlikely) same-sex partnership of Olson, a conservative, and David Boies, a liberal, fought for marriage equality by working to overturn California’s Prop 8, the state amendment banning recognition of same-sex marriages. Washingtonians might remember the pair from their adversarial roles in Bush v. Gore; it was then, Boies tells the camera, that they first became friends, because everyone else was sick to death of discussing that case with them.

Over the course of five years spent filming the lawyers, the four plaintiffs, and the case’s many developments, Cotner and White capture scenes of wrenching pathos, including one in which plaintiff Kris Perry breaks down in a conference room as she tells Olson about having felt all her life like a second-class citizen. While we know the film has a happy ending for all involved, the suspense leading up to the Supreme Court hearing is still remarkably taut. Olson, by contrast, often makes for exceptional comic relief, whether he’s staring confusedly at a catered lunch of tacos or reading e-mails out loud in which strangers declare him “an honorary lesbian.”

Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin channels some of the general sense of skepticism about Olson’s involvement in the fight for marriage equality when he states that Olson “has been on the other side of everything I’d ever done in my life.” And yet Olson’s reasoning for same-sex marriage—that it strengthens families and defends all American citizens’ fundamental right to happiness—becomes the key argument Boies and Olson take to the Supreme Court. “Marriage is a conservative value,” says Olson. “We should want people to come together in marriage.”

This argument might not fly with Rush Limbaugh, who’s shown bemoaning on-air the fact that Olson “used to be one of us,” but it wins him a whole new fan base nonetheless. At one point in the film Griffin tells Olson to get ready because he’s going to be in parades in Dupont Circle and West Hollywood. Judging by the scores of people eager to meet the Gibson Dunn partner at HRC’s party for the film, they’re going to need a bigger float.

The Case Against 8 screens on HBO in June. For more information, visit the movie’s website.

Posted at 04:37 PM/ET, 01/27/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Michael Stevens’s documentary pays tribute to the dogged and fearless “Washington Post” cartoonist. By Jessica Voelker
Image courtesy of AFI.

For anyone born post-internet, it must be tough to imagine: all of Washington living in fear of a guy who doodled for a living and liked to ride a yellow tricycle on weekends. But in the decades that Herbert Block—known to all as Herblock—captured global events in his Washington Post cartoons, Beltway powerfuls knew on any given weekday they could open the paper to find a skewering sketch revealing their hypocrisies to the world.

Through more than 40 interviews with reporters, writers, and pundits, Michael Stevens’s documentary Herblock: The Black & the Whitescreening tonight on HBO at 9—paints the picture of a journalistic era that’s come and gone. Arriving to the Post each day at noon and working into the wee hours, Block contributed five cartoons a week to the paper (in his late years, that number shrunk to four). His early Republican leanings slipped to the left during the Depression, when he became aware of the corrupt forces that bailed out the rich while the circumstances of the poorest deteriorated. He was widely considered a liberal, but Herblock saw his deepest belief—that a free press must keep a close check on power—to be essentially conservative, harking back to the founding fathers.

In the 1940s, Block depicted the atom bomb not as a protective force, as most Americans dutifully accepted it was, but as a nefarious sausage-shaped character that loomed dangerously over the planet. His early mistrust of Richard Nixon proved prescient during the Watergate scandal; Block published a cartoon of dirty footprints leading up to the White House before Woodward and Bernstein confirmed the President’s involvement. His positions were sure-footed and fearless, and in an era in which everyone read the papers and watched the evening news, he was impossible to ignore. By the time he died in 2001, Herblock had earned three Pulitzers and the Presidential Medal of Honor. The latter he received from Bill Clinton—a man he once drew with his pants around his ankles, hearts dotting his drooping boxer shorts.

Actor Alan Mandell stands in for Block in the film. Stevens cuts between scenes of Mandell sketching at what’s mean to be Block’s desk—cluttered with pencils, wind-up toys, and presidential biographies—and interviews with media luminaries such as Tom Brokaw and Gwen Ifill (plus Woodward and Bernstein themselves), and comedians Jon Stewart and Lewis Black. The Daily Show guys, we are meant to understand, are the Herblocks of our era, able to tackle dangerous topics through the smoke screen of sharp-edged comedy. But Stewart lays bare the difference, pointing out that Block worked at a time when informed, reflective, deeply sourced journalism was the norm. His colleagues’ beat work was as essential to Herblock’s work as paper and pencil. Satire can put a fine point on essential truths, but only dogged reporting can expose those truths in the first place.

Herblock screens on HBO Monday at 9 PM. 

Posted at 12:10 PM/ET, 01/27/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Netflix and HBO scored big at this morning’s announcement but “Homeland” failed to pick up a single nomination. By Sophie Gilbert
No luck for Carrie this year. Photo courtesy of Showtime.

Homeland, which won Golden Globe Awards for best actress in a television drama, best actor in a television drama, and best drama less than a year ago, failed to pick up a single nomination at this morning’s announcement. Not even Mandy Patinkin (or his resplendent facial hair) made the cut.

It was bad news for one Washington-set TV drama, but House of Cards and Veep both scored big, with House of Cards gaining nominations for best TV drama, best actor in a drama (Kevin Spacey), and best actress (Robin Wright). Julia-Louis Dreyfus, who’s won two Emmys so far for her performance as Selina Meyer in Veep, got her second Golden Globe nomination for the role.

Posted at 09:01 AM/ET, 12/12/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()