1. Blue Caprice (Directed by Alexandre Moors. Starring Isaiah Washington, Tequan Richmond)
For fans of: Gritty psychological thrillers, SevenWhen you can watch it: Available September 17 on iTunes, Amazon Instant, VOD for $9.99
In the somber opening credits of Alexandre Moor's chilling Blue Caprice, archival news footage and frenzied 911 calls from the 2002 sniper attacks in D.C. float on the screen. From there, the film offers a psychological exploration of the two Beltway snipers, John Allen Muhammed and Lee Boyd Malvo, following the two killers from when they met to the senseless acts of violence that spread terror across the D.C. region.
Unlike previous, cheesy made-for-TV movies about these snipers, Blue Caprice is more concerned with the events leading up to the duo's crime spree. The film avoids treading over the same widely reported story by focusing on Muhammed's slow psychological manipulation of Malvo. The elder man gradually brainwashes his protégé into becoming a killing machine.
On the Caribbean island of Antigua, we meet a young Malvo, who is abandoned by his mother and nearly drowns himself in the ocean, only to be rescued by Muhammed. The two immediately strike a bond, and Muhammed quickly takes him under his wing. Several months later, the duo relocate to Tacoma, Wash. Here, Moor's film excels, as Muhammed — angry and disillusioned from a nasty divorce that took his kids away from him — slowly begins to turn on the world, and influences Malvo to feel the same way.
The relationship between Malvo and Muhammed is an odd one. It's not long after Muhammed takes Malvo under his wing that he starts referring to him as his son, and Malvo — clearly desperate for a father figure — falls into this trap. Soon, Muhammed begins toying with Malvo's fragile mind, playing cruel games — like leaving him tied up in the woods and forcing him to kill his "enemies" — that warp the young Malvo into the cold-blooded killer that terrorized the D.C. area. It's this slow-building and perfectly captured emotional manipulation that makes Blue Caprice more than a great VOD movie — it's one of the best films of the year, period.
2. Bad Milo! (Directed by Jacob Vaughan. Starring Ken Marino, Gillian Jacobs, Peter Stormare, and Stephen Root)
For fans of: Gremlins, early Troma filmsWhen you can watch it: Now available on iTunes, Amazon Instant, VOD for $6.99
For years, Ken Marino has carved out a nice little niche for himself as a de-facto "that guy" in comedy films. An elder statesman of, uh, The State — MTV's mid-'90s sketch comedy show that launched the careers of Michael Ian Black, Thomas Lennon, David Wain, and others — Marino parlayed his success into small but memorable roles in movies and shows like Wet Hot American Summer, Party Down, and Role Models.
In Bad Milo! — Josh Vaughn's offbeat comedy about a man with a murderous creature living in his anal cavity — Marino finally gets the chance to prove himself as a leading man, and the results are simultaneously cringe-inducing and hilarious. Marino plays Ken, a modest everyman whose daily stresses from work and family have caused him to develop his particularly irritable bowel syndrome.
After a trying day at the office and a less-than-relaxing dinner with his nosy mom and her much-younger boyfriend, Ken's irritable bowel reaches a boiling point when he "births" a bloodthirsty-but-affectionate creature he names Milo. Milo crawls out of Ken's rectum every time his stress levels soar too high and takes care of, with extreme prejudice, the people who pushed Ken too far, from a pompous fertility doctor to an annoying co-worker who accidentally deletes one of Ken's work accounts. Unfortunately, Ken passes out every time Milo emerges — so he has no idea what is killing the people around him.
Bad Milo! is like The Incredible Hulk meets Gremlins. It offers some big laughs —particularly from Marino, who gets ample opportunity to display his superb abilities as a great physical comedian — but ultimately suffers from not taking its bizarre premise quite far enough. A film about a creature that crawls out of a man's rectum to kill all of the people that have wronged him sounds like the premise of a golden-age Troma Film. But Bad Milo! take nowhere near as much gleeful pleasure in over-the-top violence and campiness as any of the B movies that clearly inspired it. Bad Milo! isn't everything it could have been, but it's worth checking for Marino's show-stealing performance alone.
3. Rewind This (Directed by Josh Johnson)
For fans of: Best Worst Movie, cult cinema, midnight movies, quirky documentaries
When you can watch it: Now available on iTunes, Amazon Instant, VOD for $6.99
Reports of vinyl record sales steadily increasing offer a bit of glimmering hope to physical media nostalgists, who remain steadfast that their beloved collections will someday be relevant again. Of course, the idea that vinyl will ever be the primary medium for listening to music again is preposterous, but the fact that more people are buying records at all is still quite remarkable. Why would someone spend upwards of $20 to buy a big, bulky album that can only be played on a record player?
Substitute VHS tapes and VCRs for records and record players and you'll find the offbeat question that drives Rewind This, Josh Johnson's wildly entertaining documentary exploring the budding cult of VHS viewing. Part history lesson, part nostalgia trip, Johnson's film collects dozens of interviews with filmmakers, film programmers, video store owners, film archivists, tape collectors, and a bevy of other oddball interviewees waxing poetic about the virtues of VHS in the age of digital media as well — and showing off their massive collections of odd cult films and other rarities.
Rewind This could have been little more than a film about a niche subculture made for a niche subculture, but Johnson also manages to make a grander statement about how technology shifts culture. The film is at its best when it explores the history of home video culture and how it affected the film business. VHS may seem like primitive technology now, but back when it debuted, it single-handedly changed the culture of cinema. Suddenly, you didn't have to trek out to the theater to catch whatever revival was in town: The history of cinema was at your fingertips.
Stories about the industry's early pioneering days — like how studios were initially very wary about the idea of making their films available for home purchase — provides some truly fascinating context. But Rewind This is at its most affecting when it gets personal. Interviewees talk about their old video tapes like long lost friends. The end result is a tribute to how powerful cinema can be in any medium. VHS tapes may be long dead, but their legacy is still holding on.
Read more Sofa Cinema:
- A Single Shot, TV Junkie, and A Teacher
- Prince Avalanche, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Touchy Feely, and Passion
- The Canyons, Europa Report, and Drinking Buddies
More from The Week:
- The man who married his girlfriend at her funeral
- 'Mexican Barbie' and 10 other controversial Barbies [Updated]
- 8 ridiculous pop culture-inspired cookbooks: A slideshow
- Arts & Entertainment
- Lee Boyd Malvo
- Ken Marino