Movie Review – The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds

The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (1972)
Written by Paul Zindel and Alvin Sargent
Directed by Paul Newman

Americans are haunted by their alienation. It begins when you are a child, as your natural inclinations towards curiosity and play are effectively beaten out of you on all fronts. School is one institution that does much of the beating in conjunction with your parents and the Church. Most people learn how to conform and gel with the group so that every chugs along without a hitch. However, there are always some, the ones with the most cruelty visited upon them that they can’t get past it, that remain sunk in the mire of human development. That number grows in times like these, as people increase the rate of everyday cruelty. The callous way so many want to “return to normal” while COVID-19 is still a threat to health, those with disabilities and autoimmune issues are ignored. The increase in public outbursts is another sign of people losing their minds over inconveniences because that’s the only thing they demand out of life, that their treats be easy to access. It’s enough to make you grow to hate the world.

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Movie Review – Dirty Harry

Dirty Harry (1971)
Written by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Jo Heims, and Dean Riesner
Directed by Don Siegel

We are incredibly easy to manipulate. If you go up to a random person in the United States and ask them about crime in the country, they will inevitably say that crime is on the rise. In general, that isn’t true. Crime has been plummeting throughout the U.S. since the 2000s. If you narrow it to specific crimes, you’ll get spikes in thefts & robberies, but violent crime is declining. That said, the United States still ranks #1 globally in violent crime and incarcerated citizens (there’s a cyclical connection going on there). But we must also consider what is categorized as a crime and what is not. Corporate wage theft is not considered a crime, and it is rampant in every corner of the country. Police violence is placed as the opposite of “crime” when it is one of the most egregious, naked displays of state-sponsored organized crime. The 1970s was an era of high crime, and in typical American fashion, reactionary thought led to dreams of “blow the brains away” of “sniveling punks.” The avatar of this shoot first, don’t even ask questions after mentality is, of course, “Dirty” Harry Callahan.

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Movie Review – Meet the Browns

Meet the Browns (2008)
Written by Tyler Perry and Reuben Cannon
Directed by Tyler Perry

By 2008, Tyler Perry had directed four films following the financial success of Diary of Mad Black Woman. That film was number 1 at the box office on its opening weekend and would make $50.7 million worldwide. This propelled the money machine that has been going ever since, though it has slowed a bit in recent years. I chose Meet the Browns as my next film for a couple reasons. The first was that it introduces Mr. Brown and his daughter Cora who are important to the next movie in the series. The second is that Madea’s role is a cameo but communicates some wild new ideas about her that weren’t present in Diary. The plot is also very much in line with the critique from The Boondocks of colorism in Perry’s work. 

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Movie Review – The Taking of Pelham 123 (1974)

The Taking of Pelham 123 (1974)
Written by Peter Stone
Directed by Joseph Sargent

Despite the bemoaning of “high crime” in contemporary America, it’s nowhere near the epidemic levels it reached in the 1970s. New York City was one of the most significant crime outliers during that period. In 1974, NYC saw 145,000+ violent crimes, including almost 2,000 murders and over 5,000 rapes. Over 100,000 cars were stolen in the city during that year. Jump to 2019, where there were 69,000 violent crimes. Only 558 of those were murders. Rape, however, has increased to over 6,000. Car thefts dropped to over 12,000 in that year. (Source). It’s clear that, in most cases, crime is down. That rape number is alarming, though, and I wonder from a sociological perspective how it is explained. I have ideas related to a rise in right-wing reactionary misogyny, but I would like to learn more. The Taking of Pelham 123 was part of a wave of films about crime in NYC in the 1970s, a social catastrophe that had to be addressed across politics, art, and every medium.

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Patron Pick – The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (1988)

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 Bekah Lindstrom.

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (1988)
Written by C.S. Lewis & Alan Seymour
Directed by Marilyn Fox

I remember having the first book of The Chronicles of Narnia read aloud to me around seven or eight. It was my first introduction to C.S. Lewis’ series and immediately piqued my interest. A couple years later, this British television mini-series aired on PBS’ Wonderworks, a children’s anthology, and I was pulled in right away. While it doesn’t compare to the lavish production values of 1980s blockbusters, it did make me feel like I was passing into another world. Narnia felt very real and honestly very frightening. The series does not hold back on some terrifying imagery for a little kid. Many years passed before I rewatched it and what I found was that, while very faithful to the book, it does not hold up from an adult perspective.

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Movie Review – Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
Written by Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers
Directed by Spike Jonze

To be a child is to be overwhelmed. I often think back to my own messy childhood and feel pangs of regret that my way of thinking was so warped by Christian-conservative ideologues for parents that I just don’t have some of the same experiences that many of my peers did. However, I believe all children struggle with how to process their emotions. Some have good supportive parents, while others have parents who model terrible behavior. The key difference has always been a parent who can say they are sorry to their child, which my parents could not and still can’t do. The parent who does that, who can shrug off the ego, understanding that “sorry” will help shape their child into a kind person, does something revolutionary. Where the Wild Things Are is about the tension, that moment of growth from being self-centered to understanding the experiences & feelings of others.

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Movie Review – Woman in the Dunes

Woman in the Dunes (1964)
Written by Kōbō Abe
Directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara

Hiroshi Teshigahara was the son of an ikebana master (the art of flower arranging). This craft informed Teshigahara’s work as he was intentional and meticulous about filmmaking. He would eventually shift from narrative to documentary in the 1970s. In 1980, his father died, and Teshigahara assumed the position of headmaster at the ikebana school his father had run. He would focus on creating stunning bamboo art installations, eventually moving on to calligraphy and ceramics. Such an eclectic life is inevitably going to produce unique, incredible art. Woman in the Dunes is precisely that: a strange masterpiece that uses a deceptively simple situation to examine human existence. 

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Movie Review – They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969)
Written by Robert E. Thompson and James Poe
Directed by Sydney Pollack

Capitalism and the constant need to keep working/hustling/grinding feels like it is at a fever pitch. The divide between the Haves and Have Nots has grown in the United States to a historical level, worsened by inflation and stagnant wages. However, a growing number of labor unions are forming, and workers in the service industry are becoming emboldened to stand up for themselves, often collectively. That gives me some hope while I worry the powers that be will undermine these movements every day. All of these events parallel the Great Depression, one of the bleakest periods in American history. People were desperate for food, shelter, and any money they could get. This constant living on the edge of death and survival led to dance marathons, sometimes going on for days or weeks, where couples attempted to remain moving and conscious. The last couple standing would win a cash prize, but along the way, many people would be physically and psychologically harmed by the strain. Writer Horace McCoy was a bouncer during the Depression and witnessed these marathons, which inspired him to write the novel, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

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Movie Review – The Trial

The Trial (1962)
Written & Directed by Orson Welles

The legal system doesn’t consistently deliver justice. Since 1989, over 2,400 people have been found to be wrongfully convicted in the United States. Even back amid the first World War, writer Franz Kafka understood the absurdity of the legal system and its accompanying structures. Sadly, he would pass at the young age of 40 in 1924, but a year later, one of his friends would cobble together the fragments of The Trial and posthumously published the text. While Kafka’s final vision for the book will always remain unknown, it was clear he was using it to examine the systems he lived within, particularly how cruel and cold they can be to the ordinary person. Orson Welles would be approached by producer Alexander Salkind to make a film based on a book in the public domain; this was what the director’s eye drifted to. The result is a masterpiece of visual and narrative excellence. 

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Movie Review – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
Written by Edward Albee & Ernest Lehman
Directed by Mike Nichols

I can’t imagine how shocked audiences were when they saw this movie in 1966. It doesn’t have gratuitous nudity or sex, barely any profanity, no violence or gore. However, it features such bitter, hateful characters that this is a complicated picture to get through even by today’s standards. It wouldn’t be until 1968 that married couples on television would be shown. However, film and theater have always been ahead of the curve in pushing content boundaries. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a couple like this before. The rancor that is already overflowing when the movie begins just explodes. We’re given some moments of reprieve, but they fade quickly when the ceasefire ends, and the games begin again.

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