The White Lotus Season 1 (HBO)
Written & Directed by Mike White
In British popular media, there is a regular focus on class as a means of societal division. You see this in programs like Upstairs Downstairs or Downton Abbey. In America, we often substitute race or gender for the same purpose. The White Lotus is an interesting anomaly as it takes that framework and combines it with a somewhat outdated American television series format, the procedural vacation show (Love Boat, Fantasy Island). The result is a series that doesn’t feel like anything else on television at the moment, and that’s quite refreshing. It’s no surprise this comes from Mike White, the showrunner behind another magnificent HBO series, Enlightened. Once again, he presents a story that doesn’t follow the structures and narrative we might expect from such a show.
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Written & Directed by Ninja Thyberg
The adult film industry and sex work, in general, have become propelled into the mainstream in the United States in a way that hasn’t been witnessed since the early-mid 1970s. With platforms like PornHub, these videos are easily accessible at home on a myriad of devices. OnlyFans has empowered many young people to take back their labor by profiting from sex work instead of other forms of physical labor. They are enriched as a result of both a Puritanical culture that seems to only experience sex in extremes of complete sin or hedonism rather than just a part of life & a stratified class structure that leaves some with enough disposable income to pay others for videos or perceived personalized performances. Nothing about this is entirely new; it’s more the delivery of sex that has changed. Decades ago, you might have gone to a peep show to watch a person undress, and now you just go to a website. Swedish director Ninja Thyberg has set her debut feature film in the American adult film industry and explores how this business operates.
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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.
Red Rocket (2021)
Written by Chris Bergoch and Sean Baker
Directed by Sean Baker
Sean Baker’s filmmaking career has been centered on people working on the margins of society. Tangerine followed two transgender sex workers through a day in their life while The Florida Project, while told from young Moonie’s perspective, featured the challenges her mother, a sex worker, faced in Orlando. Red Rocket continues this trend but with a male sex worker. While Baker has always presented characters who challenge us to like them in certain moments, none of them have been as challenging to wrestle with as Mikey. Filmed during COVID, the director pulls this picture off without a hitch, delivering a searing image of America in the last few years of decline.
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The Lost Daughter (2021)
Written & Directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal
Motherhood always makes for a promising theme to tackle in film or literature. Being a mother is an intense experience from what I can observe as a childless man. I’ve been around many mothers as a primary school teacher, both as work colleagues and my students’ parents. In American culture, mothers are often juxtaposed against Mary, the mother of Jesus, saintly figures who sacrifice themselves to care for their offspring. The debate over reproductive rights is right in the middle of these ideals, pushing the assumption that all women love being mothers once they finally experience it, not so in The Lost Daughter.
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I hadn’t reviewed as many movies on this blog as Seth has. Also, if this list intermixes with his, we watch a lot of films together. I will choose a few others to show just how cool I am.
Can’t Get You Out of My Head: An Emotional History of the Modern World
Directed by Adam Curtis
Adam Curtis is like the Ken Burns of the emotional state of the Western World. There is a particular stomach-turning sensation when watching Adam Curtis’s films. You’re quietly begging for him to perhaps deliver some good news only for him to carve in deeper into the history to remind you just how insane it is. Not a lighthearted watch. You can watch it all here right now.
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As I expected with COVID-19 still being very much out there and continuing to kill and disable, there were quite a few films pushed to 2022 and beyond. However, this was a much better crop of movies than what we got in 2020. Below are just brief thoughts and links to the full reviews of movies I saw. Then we have the ones I haven’t seen yet split into “will eventually” watch and “not likely” piles. These all come from the Most Anticipated Films of 2021 (2) posts made last year.
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Nightmare Alley (dir. Guillermo del Toro)
From my review: We get a darkly complex story about the unnoticed rise of fascism and how humanity is composed of abused & downtrodden people who take advantage of each other. This story will not deliver a fairy tale ending and features characters you will have a deeply hard time liking. Such a shift by del Toro, a director who has spent his career delving into worlds of magic, is pretty jarring. The only figure who deserves an ounce of empathy in the picture is the poor geek, forced to bite the heads off chickens while living in an opium/alcohol-induced squalor. Even Molly is guilty of running a con; she just doesn’t want to go as far as Stanton is willing to reach.
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If I am candid, I am surprised about the number of books I read this year—a total of 32, just two more than my goal. Somewhere either Seth or big book nerds are scoffing at my number.
I would give excuses as the why the number isn’t grander, but honestly, I am surprised I can still form together words and sentences. Paragraphs are questionable at best.
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Search Party (Season 4, HBO Max)
From my review: Shawkat continues to give the best performances of her career so far. Physically she has a shaved head (forced upon her by the Twink), and there’s a disconnect in the way she moves. She cowers continuously, compared to last season, where she played the seductress, using her sexuality to manipulate. By the end of season four, she is genderless in many ways. She walks with a gait that could never be considered “feminine” by American cultural standards. I think this is important because it notes that Dory has played several roles as she’s dug herself deeper into the predicaments in her life. Now she’s reached a point, having convinced the public of her innocence while feeling the enormity of her guilt, that she is no one. The Twink takes full advantage of this and further breaks Dory down throughout the season.
Continue reading “Seth’s Favorite Television of 2021”