TV Review – The West Wing Sucks Part 1

America is in considerable trouble right now. Yet, this problem didn’t begin recently; it’s been a roiling, bubbling pot of chaos that’s just now starting to overflow. In attempting to do a living autopsy of America’s rapidly dying corpse, multiple moments mark the downturn. Watergate undermined public confidence in pretty much the entire institute of government. The election of Ronald Reagan installed a seemingly permanent reactionary class in the halls of power. The 2000 election was stolen by George Bush when a feckless Al Gore rolled over in the name of “civility.”

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Movie Review – The Diary of a Mad Black Woman

The Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005)
Written by Tyler Perry
Directed by Darren Grant

Tyler Perry is one of the most commercially successful Black filmmakers in American history. That is a fact that we cannot deny. His personal net worth exceeds $800 million; that metric means a lot in America. What about Perry’s films has profoundly affected movies in the United States? What draws audiences to his work? I want to explore that, as well as the controversy surrounding him and his divisive Madea character. We’re going to unpack Perry’s ideology and see how the nature of Madea interacts with that. We won’t be watching every Madea film, but we will watch many of them. I credit the lovely May Leitz and her excellent tier list of Madea movies for inspiring this series.

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Comic Book Review – JLA/Avengers

JLA/Avengers (2022)
Reprints JLA/Avengers #1-4
Written by Kurt Busiek
Art by George Pérez

Not a hoax! Not a dream! The Justice League finally crosses the omniverse and meets Marvel’s Avengers. This was the dream project of comics creator George Pérez for decades. He was there in the 1980s when the first project started. It fell through due to the infamous Marvel EiC Jim Shooter’s interferences, but Pérez constantly made it known that he was drawing this comic if it ever came to pass. When Pérez entered into an exclusive contract with independent publisher CrossGen, he even carved out an exception if this comic was finalized. In 2003, it finally happened, and Pérez got his wish to draw EVERYONE in a single story that crossed companies. On May 6, 2022, Pérez passed away from complications of pancreatic cancer. He had announced he was terminal in 2021, and comic fans had entered a state of mourning. I want to look at his dream project and talk about his influence on my life as a kid, reading and exploring the scope of American comic books.

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Patron Pick – Syndromes and a Century

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

Syndromes and a Century (2006)
Written & Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

I’m still not sure how I feel about the work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul. This is the second of his films I’ve ever watched, the previous being Memoria. I don’t dislike his movies; it’s more a matter of adjusting expectations of pace & tone. Weerasethakul’s work is so calm and slow-burning that it can often feel like nothing is happening. However, what he’s doing is using that stillness to communicate ideas about how we live our lives. Weerasethakul wants his audience to become more contemplative, to absorb the details we often gloss over as we rush through life. That’s made very apparent in this picture’s tone and mirrored structure.

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Movie Review – Romance & Cigarettes

Romance & Cigarettes (2005)
Written & Directed by John Turturro

When an actor turns to directing, it is always a risk. They could be pretty talented like Bo Burnham or Jordan Peele. Or they might not. I think that is sadly the case with John Turturro. This was the actor’s third film in the director’s chair and his first written solo. My takeaway is that directing isn’t a strength of the storied actor. I love seeing him in the movies of talented filmmakers, but he doesn’t seem to have the chops to make something that isn’t totally muddled and embarrassingly poor. Romance & Cigarettes has some pieces that would make for a great film. Yet there is a lot here that would inevitably ruin any movie, and as the director, it was Turturro’s job to make sure everything worked.

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Movie Review – Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Written by John Logan, Stephen Sondheim, and Hugh Wheeler
Directed by Tim Burton

Sweeney Todd is arguably Stephen Sondheim’s best work. It’s a transgressive, bleak Broadway musical that goes against everything the art form had built itself up to. Most audiences are familiar with Rodgers & Hammerstein or Andrew Lloyd Weber and other popular composers within the modern musical. As a result, there’s a certain expectation from these productions that they will have lavish sets, present memorable songs, and provide thought-provoking but ultimately cheerful endings. Oklahoma dips its toes in darkness via Judd Fry but makes sure it ends things on an upbeat note. Sweeney Todd embraces violence and a dark worldview to deliver a story that stays with you, like a haunting.

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Movie Review – Cache [Hidden]

Cache [Hidden] (2005)
Written & Directed by Michael Haneke

Cache is a film nestled in modern French history, specifically the Algerian War. The French right-wing was becoming aggressive towards Algeria in the early 1960s. Algeria had been a colony since the mid-1800s, and its citizens had become tired of their abuses at the hands of the French. In October of 1961, the FLN, a nationalist political party in Algeria, called on their emigres in Paris to participate in a march. The police prefect Maurice Papon, who served in Vichy France, called on the police to take aggressive action against these protestors. The result was 200 Arab people being drowned or shot to death in the Seine. French authorities hid evidence and suppressed investigations in the wake of the massacre. At the time, only three deaths were admitted. By 1998, when reporters were given access to archives, the total death toll became clear.

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Movie Review – Time of the Wolf

Time of the Wolf (2003)
Written & Directed by Michael Haneke

Throughout his career, Michael Haneke has been interested in how the media will present information or events versus what experiencing those same things would be like. He’s often pointed to the screen as a filter that blocks humanity’s perceptions of the actual emotional weight of trauma. Frequently Haneke protects his audience from the sight of violence but uses sound to make sure they do not forget the pain inflicted on a person. Time of the Wolf reads as a response to apocalypse-porn popularized by director Roland Emmerich starting with the blockbuster Independence Day. These ends of the world are almost always bombastic, full of massive explosions, and ending with humanity triumphing somehow. Haneke refuses to leave it like that, and so he went about making his own film.

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Movie Review – The Piano Teacher

The Piano Teacher (2001)
Written & Directed by Michael Haneke

With the new millennium came changes to Michael Haneke’s focus & themes. In his earlier works (The Seventh Continent, Benny’s Video, Funny Games), the director was concerned with critiquing the Austrian middle class and exploring a meta-commentary on our relationship to violence as depicted in the media. His first and only theatrical adaptation of a novel would be The Piano Teacher. The book was penned by Elfriede Jelinek, whose work is considered to be very angry and challenging in its stream of conscious-like prose. Nevertheless, Haneke manages to adapt her book by delivering it with his signature cold neutrality, and it certainly works to both tell the story of a very emotionally troubled woman while also showing sensitivity to explicit violence. Haneke does not want to hide violence from us; instead, he’s interested in communicating it in unexpected and powerful ways.

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Movie Review – Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
Written by Peter Weir and John Collee
Directed by Peter Weir

It had been five years since Peter Weir directed a movie. The Truman Show was a culmination of all his major themes across his work that it seemed like an ending in many ways. Of course, there was always more that could be said about human existence and the power we have over our own lives, but it was addressed so beautifully in that picture. Master and Commander would be Weir’s only film released in the 2000s. The film would be very well received by critics, but at the time, audiences were so focused on more escapist fare, in particular the Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. That film would sweep the Oscars, and Master and Commander would be pretty much forgotten by most people. 

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