Tucker: A Man and His Dream (1988)
Written by Arnold Schulman & David Seidler
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
The Tucker automobile had captured Coppola’s mind since childhood. While at UCLA’s film school, the burgeoning director further developed his idea for this biopic. Marlon Brando was approached to star as the lead, then Jack Nicholson, and then Burt Reynolds. Coppola decided he wanted to make it experimental, a modern musical where he would reference Bertolt Brecht and Kabuki performances. His colleague Paul Schrader’s Mishima film inspired him, and Coppola wanted Tucker to be like that. In 1986, George Lucas encouraged Coppola to make his Tucker movie; he thought Tucker was one of the best things the filmmaker had developed in a while. Lucas would produce it, but he convinced the director to back away from the project’s experimental nature. Instead, Coppola would take inspiration from the work of Frank Capra, an exploration of the American Dream and the hope that industrialization brought in the wake of World War II. This would be Coppola’s final production of the 1980s.
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Written by Shaun Grant
Directed by Justin Kunzel
There is no horror that man can imagine worse than what he does to his own kind. It can feel like this moment in history is the worst it’s ever been, but that’s simply because we think things most powerfully as we experience them. Memory has been proven to be one of the most fail-ridden human functions, and imagination is always based on present anxieties. We still have such a limited understanding of the human mind, and people with severe mental disabilities can be frightening because we lack that comprehension. When someone does something genuinely horrible or commits an atrocity, we want to reduce things down to concepts of “good” and “evil,” but if we are honest violent individual acts are rarely able to be defined in such terms. There is a justified fear of looking into the eyes of someone who could apparently kill dozens without cracking, but only through understanding can we ever hope to prevent these things from repeating themselves.
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The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Written by Terence Winter
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Of all Martin Scorsese’s 21st century films, this was the big one, the movie that reminded everybody how good he is. That doesn’t mean his previous work in the 2000s/2010s was terrible; it just didn’t always match what the director was best at. You might say, “Hey, where are your reviews for Shutter Island and Hugo? Well, I watched & reviewed them both in the recent past and wasn’t too keen on revisiting those pictures. In my opinion, Shutter Island was always okay, while I dislike Hugo. They are two examples of Scorsese going outside his wheelhouse and trying something I have to admire, no matter my feelings about the final product. And while The Wolf of Wall Street feels more like a Scorsese picture, he’s still trying new things.
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The Aviator (2004)
Written by John Logan
Directed Martin Scorsese
The 2000s was a decade of indulgence for Martin Scorsese’s films. This and Gangs of New York are the chief examples following an interest by the public in historical dramas told in an epic style. I don’t think this format works with Scorsese’s strengths as a filmmaker, but I applaud him for trying something different. Even a middle-of-the-road Scorsese film is better than many directors’ best work. In another director’s hands, The Aviator might play as a standard biopic, but Scorsese makes sure the story remains centered on the person at the center of it and Howard Hughes as a filmmaker, a way into the story that connects with the director. Leonardo DiCaprio is also coming into his own here, taking on a much more mature role than his previous work, no longer attempting to be a “movie heartthrob” but really coming into his own as a performer, willing to do things that push him further in the craft.
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Written by Waldo Salt and Norman Wexler
Directed by Sidney Lumet
All Cops Are Bastards. That was the commonly accepted stance in most of America for quite a while. Then 9/11 happened, and it was used as an opportunity to militarize police in America to the degree that had never happened before. That was simultaneously happening as cultural worship of first responders was seeded. I definitely think firefighters and paramedics do vital work, but they were pushed aside in the ensuing years or mashed into this current insane “Back the Blue” cult mentality. Information in America is delivered in bursts of overwhelming amounts that no average person can process & parse. This is why most Americans don’t even know about DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services (1989), where the Supreme Court ruled that “police have no specific obligation to protect.” But for people that have been awake for a while, they didn’t need that ruling to explain it to them.
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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 own thoughts about the movie. This Pick comes from Matt Harris.
Written & Directed by Kenneth Branagh
The Troubles. For the people of Northern Ireland, that phrase is a reminder of a brutal period of thirty years where communities were at war. While the factions were referenced in the media as Catholic and Protestant, there was much more complexity to what was happening. This irregular war came out of unionists & loyalists (Protestants) wanting to remain as part of the United Kingdom. The nationalists & republicans (Catholics) sought to reunite with Ireland to form a single nation. That’s the basic explanation, but I could write a whole book about the details and go deeper and how the entire thing goes back to the early 17th century. Many people have already written those books.
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The Souvenir Part II (2021)
Written & Directed by Joanna Hogg
The Souvenir was not the sort of film we expect sequels for anymore. It’s an intimate, funny & poignant story about a young woman coming into her own and dealing with her first tragic love. The second film is about the ripples in that relationship and the death that ended up rippling through a young filmmaker’s life. It became a significant influence on her art. All of this is directly autobiographical, based on Hogg’s own experiences coming into her own as a filmmaker and the effects her ill-fated relationship had on that work.
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Written by Leonard Spiegelgass, Arthur Laurents, Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim, and Gypsy Rose Lee
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Stephen Sondheim died at the age of 91 in 2021. He left behind 16 full-length stage musicals and penned songs for both film & television. I can’t say I was ever a theater kid, but I did grow to have a deep appreciation for Sondheim’s work as just a fan. While I do not have the musical vocabulary to talk about the complexity of his work, I can address it as an appreciator of his clever lyrics and stories centered on people. His work has such maturity compared with many popular Broadway shows, particularly his writing in the 1980s when the industry was leaning into spectacle over quality. His stories refused to end on “Happily Ever After” sentiments and instead made audiences confront the nuance of being alive in the modern world. I don’t think someone like Sondheim would ever happen in today’s corporate Broadway musical landscape.
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Written by Steven Knight
Directed by Pablo Larrain
I can’t say I was ever enamored with Diana. I was very aware of her as a child and into my teens, but the whole English royal family thing just wasn’t all that interesting. I still find it odd that even ceremonial monarchies still exist. What a terrible drain on the people to keep funding such a meaningless thing. I was interested in this movie because it is helmed by Pablo Larrain, who directed the fantastic Jackie, a biopic from Jackie Kennedy’s POV. I think Larrain does an excellent job of centering women who, while seen as iconic, are often not given a voice in their own narratives. They are often the spouse of X rather than a person unto their own. So I was looking forward to seeing Diana fleshed out as a multi-dimensional person.
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Mommie Dearest (1981)
Written by Robert Getchell, Tracy Hotchner, Frank Perry, and Frank Yablans
Directed Frank Perry
Mommie Dearest is a film entangled in so many worlds & perspectives. On the surface, it’s an adaptation of Christina Crawford’s memoir of growing up as the daughter of actress Joan Crawford. It was seen as a “so bad it’s good” movie and won the Golden Razzie in its release year. The film has become a cult classic, particularly embraced by the drag community due to Faye Dunaway’s over-the-top performance. Even Paramount realized a couple months into the release that the picture was being seen as a comedy more than a serious biopic and began advertising it as a piece of camp. It’s a strange film to watch because it’s centered around a child’s emotional and physical abuse, yet it’s delivered so outlandishly you can’t help but crack up.
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