Movie Review – Nixon

Nixon (1995)
Written by Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson, and Oliver Stone
Directed by Oliver Stone

I’m never sure how I feel about Oliver Stone, and he seems to be a polarizing filmmaker for many people. His particular style of storytelling grates on me, and I think he slips into maudlin melodrama and absurdity way too quickly. There seems to be a lack of cleverness or subtlety in his work. I believe early pictures like Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July are okay. I have never really been able to get my head around Natural Born Killers. His George W. Bush film was a complete disappointment for me. I think JFK is probably his best work because the paranoid conspiracy focus matches Stone’s manner of directing best. Then we come to Nixon, his three hour plus presidential epic.

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Movie Review – Shirley

Shirley (2020)
Written by Sarah Gubbins
Directed by Josephine Decker

This is not a biopic about Shirley Jackson. This is an adaptation of a novel that is, in turn, a fictionalized version of Jackson’s life. In particular, it focuses on the tension between Jackson and her husband Stanley Hyman, a literary critic and professor. The film attempts to tell this story in the style of the writer’s gothic psychological short stories, with lots of people descending into a realistic form of madness. There’s no homicide involved, just humans breaking down and resisting saying the most horrible things to each other. On paper, this sounds fantastic, but something happens in the translation that renders the film lacking in the emotional impact I believe it should have had.

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Movie Review – Dead Man Walking

Dead Man Walking (1995)
Written & Directed by Tim Robbins

In the last couple of weeks, I have felt so much anger & hate towards the police. I won’t repeat things I’ve said in the privacy of my home with my wife, but they have been rancorous things I never thought I would say about anyone. There is a part of me that knows this depth of hate isn’t good for the human psyche, and yet it is so easy to give in to these violent thoughts. I’ve watched over 300 videos of police brutality done on protesters, which has had a powerful effect on me. The police shouldn’t be let off the hook for a single act of cruelty and murder, but I think I needed to see this film right now to help temper my justified outrage.

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Movie Review – Mishima: A Life in Four Parts

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)
Written by Leonard & Paul Schraeder
Directed by Paul Schraeder

I don’t know much about Yukio Mishima, and after watching Paul Schrader’s film, I still can’t say I developed a vast knowledge of his history. My comments in this review on Mishima come from additional research I did to try and give myself a context for what happened in the film. This adaptation of the Japanese author’s work and life is aesthetically brilliant. I particularly love Paul Schraeder’s choice of colors and cinematography to differentiate the past, present, and the dramatization of Mishima’s novels. However, he doesn’t provide the needed history and context for a Westerner to fully understand what is happening. I don’t like overly expository films, but I think just a bit might have been needed here.

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Movie Review – The Hours

The Hours (2002)
Written by David Hare
Directed by Stephen Daldry

A single day in the life of a human being can shake the foundations of the earth like an earthquake. The Hours takes place at three points in time following three women, each on a day that alters the course of their lives. Suicide is an element in each of their days, but not all attempts are successful; however, the suicides ripple through their world, much like that earthquake mentioned above. And always the interminable hours, time continues to tick by so slowly, making them feel each moment they endure life.

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Movie Review – Lorenzo's Oil

Lorenzo’s Oil (1992)
Written by George Miller & Nick Enright
Directed by George Miller

In the 1980s, young Lorenzo Odone suddenly began having strange fits and seemed to be gradually losing his faculties. His parents Michaela & Augusto, were baffled and went to numerous medical experts. Eventually, they discovered Lorenzo suffered from adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), a condition where a build-up of fatty acids damages the myelin sheath on the nerves and results in seizures & hyperactivity. There were no cures, treatments, or effective therapeutics, and the Odones were offered only hospice to ease Lorenzo’s death. They didn’t settle for this and began teaching themselves everything there is to know about the condition and the brain. Eventually, they discovered that extracts isolated from olive and rapeseed oils would stop the deterioration.

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Movie Review – Postcards From the Edge

Postcards From the Edge (1990)
Written by Carrie Fisher
Directed by Mike Nichols

Before her passing, actress Carrie Fisher had become well-known for her blunt, take no shit demeanor. After decades of growing up and living in Hollywood, Fisher was numb to the nonsense of her profession. She has a rare experience that not many actors have, to be a part of a film franchise that becomes so iconic it reshapes the planet. Add in her rough childhood, and you can see why Fisher ended being a substance abuser. The movie industry is the only thing Fisher knew, and it can take a toll on someone who can’t always be “on.”

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Movie Review – The Times of Harvey Milk

The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)
Directed by Rob Epstein

Intersectionality is a word you might hear going around these days. This is the concept of recognizing how people represent multiple identities or how a political issue intersects with various communities and identities. In the United States right now, it’s become time to look at how issues like climate change and a lack of health care have become intersectional issues. The people first affected and most dramatically traumatized by climate change are and will continue to be low income and non-white people. Climate change becomes an intersectional issue, not just merely about cleaning up pollution but acknowledging that our society has allowed groups to become more vulnerable than others.

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Movie Review – Honey Boy

Honey Boy (2019)
Written by Shia LaBeouf
Directed by Alma Har’el

Filmmaking as therapy is a common theme in autobiographical movies. Just recently, I reviewed Pedro Almodovar’s Pain and Glory, which served as an outlet for the director to talk about aging and his physical ailments. Actor Shia LaBeouf similarly uses film as confession & therapy, though more intimate and raw than Almodovar. LaBeouf, if you don’t know, was a child actor on the Disney Channel before he reached higher levels of fame in Michael Bay’s Transformers films. The film jumps between these two periods, fictionalizing or obscuring the details, so it’s not about LaBeouf specifically.

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Movie Review – Pain and Glory

Pain and Glory (2019)
Written & Directed by Pedro Almodovar

Pedro Almodovar is no strange to autofiction in his cinema, that doesn’t mean he’s always factually honest with us. Almodovar is very much an impressionist, more interested in the emotions and underlying psychology of events in our lives. Pain and Glory is the most obviously autobiographical, Antonio Banderas playing a version of the aging director. This is a meditation on the physical changes that come with time, how our bodies are both vessels of pleasure and suffering during our lives. The structure is that of interconnected short stories, vignettes centered around the protagonist that allow him to reflect and reconnect with people from his past.

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