Patron Pick – The Daytrippers

This special reward is available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 monthly levels. Each month those patrons will pick a film for me to review. If they choose, they also get to include some of their thoughts about the movie. This Pick comes from Matt Harris.

The Daytrippers (1996)
Written & Directed by Greg Mottola

The American independent film had its heyday in the 1990s. There are dozens of names & faces I will always associate with this period. There’s a certain tone & style that feels like it only existed in that decade and vanished after bleeding over just a bit into the 2000s and hasn’t returned since. The advent of digital cameras did a lot to change how low-budget films feel for better & worse. I can understand the convenience and affordability that digital brought filmmakers; however, there is a texture to shooting on film that you lose. I have yet to see any sort of filter that can restore it. The Daytrippers is one of those movies where you can feel the low budget, but that in no way diminishes the picture; it enhances it and gives the whole thing a sense of personality. 

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Movie Review – Glengarry Glen Ross

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
Written by David Mamet
Directed by James Foley

Capitalism. What a nightmare. We don’t talk enough about avarice in America. That frenzied, hateful greed fuels some people’s minds & souls. They can never find fulfillment in contentment, being happy and appreciative of what they have, spurred on by institutions that depend on this hunger to never be satiated. Playwright David Mamet does an incredible job of depicting this inhumanity in Glengarry Glen Ross. His characters are trapped on a broken hamster wheel, given expectations they cannot possibly meet, and punished for trying to find a loophole in the system to avoid the inevitable outcome. Unemployment is not an accidental byproduct of capitalism but an intended outcome. It makes people live in terror that they will fall to the bottom of the ladder, and they learn to treat everyone else around them with hatred as they see them as competitors for the same crumbs.

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Movie Review – M. Butterfly

M. Butterfly (1993)
Written by David Henry Hwang
Directed by David Cronenberg

In 1986, France was caught up in a scandal involving one of their diplomats in China. Bernard Boursicot has been engaged in an affair with Peking opera singer Shi Pei Pu. Shi was a male singer who performed primarily in female roles, and Boursicot insisted that he believed Shi was a woman the whole time. This seems incredulous as both men admitted to having sex together numerous times. Furthermore, Boursicot claimed that Shi could retract his testicles and shape his genitals to resemble female anatomy. However, the French diplomat engaged in same-sex intercourse while in boarding school as a teenager. Only after graduation did Boursicot choose to be with women, as he claimed he thought homosexuality was a rite of passage among the youths at his school.

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My Favorite TV Season Finales

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 3
“The Best of Both Worlds” Part I (June 18, 1990)
Written by Michael Piller
Directed by Cliff Bole

Once upon a time, television shows in America operated on a seasonal basis. Most new shows would premiere in September and wrap up their seasons in May, paving the way for a summer of reruns. Along the way, there would be mid-season replacements debuting around January, and networks followed this structure year after year. As cable began producing prestige dramas and streaming dominated everything, this cycle ceased. Now season finales can happen anytime in the year based on when you are watching something. I also want to point out that this is a season finale list, not a series finale list. The end of a show’s run is a whole different animal than wrapping up a season. You can bet there will be a list for that sometime.

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Comic Book Review – Twilight

Twilight (1990)
Reprints Twilight #1-3
Written by Howard Chaykin
Illustrated Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

The late 1980s/early 1990s were a period of experimentation for DC Comics. In the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths, creators had a chance to dramatically reimagine classic characters. You have probably heard of books like Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns or John Byrne’s Man of Steel. Throughout this period, “more serious” takes were published that made the books, for better or worse, more adult. One of the losses of the post-Crisis period was the non-superhero comics. Before 1985, DC still published comics that fell into the horror, war, western, and science fiction genres. The popularity of these titles had severely diminished from their peak decades earlier, but they still had a few devoted fans. One of those fans was comics creator Howard Chaykin. 

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Movie Review – The Big Lebowksi

The Big Lebowski (1998)
Written by Joel & Ethan Coen
Directed by Ethan Coen

Why is The Big Lebowski still so damn funny? Rewatching it for this series; I think the 6th time I saw the movie, I was still laughing as hard as I did the first time. The comedy comes out of a common trope in the genre, the juxtaposition of opposing concepts. You can bring up tons of humorous situations by placing two things beside each other that don’t contradict so much as they don’t belong together at all. In the instance of The Big Lebowski, this is taking a Raymond Chandler noir novel and making the protagonist an old stoner hippie rather than a square-jawed private investigator. It’s a concept that, on paper, doesn’t pop as spectacularly; however, because of the sharpness of the Coens’ writing and the performances they get from their actors, the film is a transcendent comedy experience.

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Movie Review – Waiting for Guffman

Waiting for Guffman (1999)
Written by Christopher Guest & Eugene Levy
Directed by Christopher Guest

Musical theater is a mixed bag. I enjoy plays that Stephen Sondheim contributed to; he was a thoughtful songwriter whose lyrics show a maturity not often seen in American entertainment. However, we also have shlock like Spongebob the Musical or Back the Future the Musical, shows that should be held in little amphitheaters off the side at amusement parks that you only go to in search of some shade and a break from walking around. And then you have something like Hamilton, a piece of garbage in its own class. Yes, I know some of you really love this one, but between the color-swapping of historical slave owners and Lin Manuel Miranda’s simping for the elites at the cost of his fellow Puerto Ricans, let’s just say it’s not my thing. Nevertheless, making fun of musical theater is a rich vein to tap, and Christopher Guest & company pulled that off beautifully in Waiting for Guffman.

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Patron Pick – Hard Eight

This special reward is available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 monthly levels. Each month those patrons will pick a film for me to review. If they choose, they also get to include some of their thoughts about the movie. This Pick comes from Matt Harris.

Hard Eight (1996)
Written & Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

The Western United States is often seen as the “territory” of various filmmakers. It varies quite a bit depending on the era you grew up in, your tastes, and your love of specific genres. For some, the West is where the stories of cowboys are told. For others, it’s the realm of thematically complicated noir. There are beach movies. There are movies about the movies themselves. For me, the West is best captured in the work of Paul Thomas Anderson. His early slate of films so perfectly captures a tone, a certain feeling that was coming to the forefront and emerged in the early 2000s. In 1993, Anderson spent $10k to make Cigarettes & Coffee, a short film that introduced the character of Sydney (Philip Baker Hall), a veteran gambler in the twilight of his life. The film connected with enough people and interested Anderson, so he developed this short into a feature film.

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Movie Review – Three Colors Trilogy: Red

Three Colors: Red (1994)
Written by Krzysztof Kieślowski & Krzysztof Piesiewicz
Directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski

In the excellent documentary short Krzysztof Kieślowski: I’m So-So… (available to view on The Criterion Channel), we get a small glimpse into the mind of this complex filmmaker. Kieślowski defines himself in this way: “I am a pessimist. I always imagine the worst. To me, the future is a black hole.” He further clarifies that he sees this as a good trait. I cannot disagree with him, as many of his thoughts in this short film felt like someone putting into perfect words a lot of what I have felt and have felt more intensely since 2020. (A side note, this comment on his visit to the United States made me feel like I have found yet another kindred soul in cinema: “the pursuit of empty talk combined with a very high degree of self-satisfaction.”) How does this kind of director make a movie centered on the theme of fraternity/brotherhood? He does it by focusing on how people communicate in the late 20th century.

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Movie Review – The Glass Shield

The Glass Shield (1994)
Written by Charles Burnett, John Eddie Johnson, and Ned Welsh
Directed by Charles Burnett

Charles Burnett continued making movies after My Brother’s Wedding, despite it being taken away from him in the editing room. In 1990, he directed what is arguably his best film ever, To Sleep With Anger, which I previously reviewed. That was my introduction to Burnett a few years ago, coming across this movie I’d never heard of with Danny Glover. The 1990s for Black filmmakers was an extremely fruitful period. Directors like Spike Lee & John Singleton found enormous fame and opportunities. People who worked on their films in various production capacities also emerged as writers & directors. Burnett was clearly aware of the types of movies finding a foothold with audiences, stories of the Black experience, especially regarding racism. But none of the pictures Hollywood was making ever really zeroed in on the most insidious problem in these communities, but Burnett sure as hell was going to talk about it.

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