The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Season 1 (Amazon Prime)
Written by J. D. Payne & Patrick McKay, Gennifer Hutchison, Jason Cahill and Justin Doble, Stephany Folsom, and Nicholas Adams
Directed by J.A. Bayona, Wayne Che Yip, and Charlotte Brändström
When Amazon announced they would make a prequel series set in the world of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, my first thought was, “Why?” I enjoyed Peter Jackson’s LOTR movies when they came out, but I couldn’t stand The Hobbit trilogy and was perfectly happy to let that cinematic world be as it is. But that’s the thing with capitalism; why let a story or I.P. just be when you could keep mining it for more content and eventually result in the public hating everything about it? How could we skip that opportunity? So, with some fragments of stories & unfinished tales plus a hell of a lot of creative agency to change things, we were finally given the billion-dollar bloat that is The Rings of Power.
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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.
House of Games (1987)
Written by Jonathan Katz & David Mamet
Directed by David Mamet
“David Mamet is a controversial figure” is pretty much an understatement. I can’t claim I have ever known the writer and his work intimately. Like many people, I saw Glengarry Glen Ross. I remember a professor showing Oleanna in a college class. That’s about it. The other way I know Mamet is from his post-9/11 remarks. I get the sense he was never a well-balanced person, but in the wake of that terrorist attack, Mamet became much more vocal about his political beliefs. In 2008, he claimed to no longer be liberal and now a conservative. Mamet has also stated that Donald Trump was a “great president” and espouses all the views you might associate with someone like that. This was a long way of saying Mamet is an unhinged reactionary who is also a talented playwright.
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The Haunting (1963)
Written by Nelson Gidding
Directed by Robert Wise
Haunted houses are not something new. Books, movies, comics, and every other form of media have presented haunted houses in one form or another to the point they have become relatively cliche. In today’s world, poorly made “ghost hunter” television shows and web series are a dime a dozen. The film The Haunting is the product of two minds: the author of the original novel Shirley Jackson and the director/producer Robert Wise. Through each artist, this story delivers a haunted house story unlike many that had come before and essentially shaped the subgenre going forward to the present; even those “ghost hunter” shows are profoundly influenced by this story.
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Written & Directed by Kaneto Shindo
Societies collapse. No civilization on this planet hasn’t gone through an often violent transformation. Nestled within the comforting, indulgent bosom of the imperial core that is the United States, you can easily be swayed to believe “America is eternal,” but that’s thinking with a child’s mind. The United States isn’t even the same country it was when it was founded. This is why the study of history is vital to understanding our present. Humans make the same mistakes over and over, the clothes and hairstyles just change. It is also beneficial to look at art from periods of societal collapse and art that reflects on them. The chaos of collapse is a fruitful place to find human drama, moments that get to the very center of our experiences of survival.
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The Innocents (1961)
Written by William Archibald, Truman Capote, and John Mortimer
Directed by Jack Clayton
Horror is an umbrella term for diverse subgenres that all focus on one emotion: Fear. As a human being, you know fear has many levels and tones. You can have a momentary fright or slowly sink into the quicksand of dread. Horror cinema has films that fit this spectrum of intensity, with cheap jumpscares ruling the box office (for the most part). My personal favorite type of horror leans into existential fears. Gothic horror often does this exceptionally well, emphasizing atmosphere and striking visuals that linger. Alien is an excellent example of Gothic horror, even though it’s set in space. The fear comes primarily from our sense of dread, knowing that something terrible will happen yet not knowing why or if it can be stopped. Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw is about facing something you cannot fully understand, but it still speaks to something you’ve suppressed within yourself. For many people, that type of horror is all too real.
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Written & Directed by Andrew Dominik
I knew this would be one of those movies where social media would have the stupidest takes on either side of loving or hating it. The criticism, of course, lacks as much nuance as the film itself. But that’s how most Americans engage with art; in a completely shallow way. They have been trained so they don’t get pesky ideas or start understanding how complex existence can be. Blonde is a bad movie, but it is not misogynistic out of malice but rather from completely vapid stupidity. Andrew Dominik’s failure is not that he did not accurately represent Marilyn Monroe’s life but that he made a terrible adaptation of a novel. It has no narrative threads or thematic consistency to tie everything together and comes off as an incoherently angry waste of time.
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Black Sunday (1960)
Written & Directed by Mario Bava
While the French critics were wringing their hands over Eyes Without a Face, the Italian cinematic world was embracing the fervor of horror movies in the same way all of their films seemed to overflow with passion. Elements of gore and the Gothic were treasured, and the filmmakers associated with these pictures clearly understand the nature of spectacle in film. Mario Bava is the father of Italian horror movies, having directed the first horror “talkie” in the country, I Vampiri. Black Sunday was his first solo effort; he was no longer collaborating and could finally indulge in the lush horror he loved. The result would be a piece that formed his trajectory for the rest of his days and established actress Barbara Steele as one of the scream queens of the decade.
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Gardens of Stone (1987)
Written by Ronald Bass
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
There’s a good reason you probably have never heard of this Coppola film. It is bad. Like truly, the bottom of the barrel, not even the fun kind of bad. Yet, it doesn’t make me dislike the director or think he’d completely lost his creative touch. To understand why Gardens of Stone is so bad, you need to know what happened to Coppola during the production. It is no big reveal that Coppola centered his family in his life. You can see this in how he included them in every level of his film’s production. The man kept the people he loved the closest to him.
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The Cotton Club (1984)
Written by William Kennedy, Francis Ford Coppola, and Mario Puzo
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
It feels like it cannot be emphasized enough, but for Francis Ford Coppola, the entirety of the 1980s and some of the 1990s was shaped by the failure of One From the Heart. Many of his decisions of which projects to take were driven directly by the massive debt he accrued by spending his money on that critical & box office disaster. His old producer Robert Evans (The Godfather films), brought him to The Cotton Club.
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Rumble Fish (1983)
Written by S.E. Hinton & Francis Ford Coppola
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
In March 1983, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders. By October 1983, he already had another film coming out, a thematic continuation of what was going on in that first film. Rumble Fish, also based on a novel by S.E. Hinton, drew Coppola’s attention more strongly than any of her other books. He identified with the idol worship of an older brother, something he experienced with his older brother August. The director decided he would direct Rumble Fish next about halfway through production on The Outsiders and managed to keep everything in Tulsa with the same crew and many of the same cast members. However, Warner Brothers did not like an early cut of The Outsiders and passed on his next movie. Rumble Fish would become acclaimed in the film festival circuit, with a more minor release, only 296 theaters nationwide.
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