Movie Review – Withnail and I

Withnail and I (1987)
Written & Directed by Bruce Robinson

The world is falling down around their heads. That’s the pervasive feeling of this semi-autobiographical film about a pair of friends in London circa 1969. They aren’t wrong; we know this due to the gift of hindsight. The end of the sixties marked a headlong dive into austerity, the setting of the table that is now coming to fruition in the United Kingdom today under Tory rule. England post-WWII had been building a robust welfare state, with institutions like the National Health Service becoming admired throughout the Western world. However, the forces of greed constantly scan the landscape and see every opportunity to rape & pillage, to ensure their survival and luxury at the expense of the working poor. Bruce Robinson understood that the hedonism of the sixties was in many ways a distraction from the coming bleakness, a practice the establishment took people’s eyes off the reforms that began post-War. And so Withnail and I is a mournful, often funny, elegy on a time of such promise that has rotted on the vine.

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Movie Review – A Fish Called Wanda

A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Written by John Cleese & Charles Crichton
Directed by Charles Crichton

While I haven’t ever really been over the moon for Monty Python, I have been a fan of A Fish Called Wanda since I saw it for the first time decades ago. It’s an almost pitch-perfect modern screwball comedy, mixing the romantic comedy and noir elements you might expect. The film is also an excellent satire on the differences between British and American demeanors. The characters are painted quite broadly, but it’s from that aspect that the comedy emerges. Situations are contrived and full of double crosses & betrayals, which gives the film its darkness. This is a comedy where an assassin is actively trying to kill an old lady throughout the picture, and someone gets crushed by a steamroller as a punchline.

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Movie Review – Monty Python’s Life of Brian

Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)
Written by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin
Directed by Terry Jones

Throughout my life, I have attempted to sit down with the work of the Monty Python troupe and develop an appreciation. Every time I walk away with a bad taste in my mouth. That’s not helped by the apparent ignorance of many of its living members, John Cleese chief among them. It has led me to believe there really is nothing revolutionary or ultimately insightful about the comedy they were doing. In fact, they were just their generation’s continuation of a type of elitist comedic sensibilities that’s always had strong roots in the United Kingdom. So I sat down to watch Life of Brian, hoping that this, a satire of the life of Jesus, would be the thing that convinced me to enjoy them. Unfortunately, it did not play out that way.

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Movie Review – Kind Hearts and Coronets

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
Written by Robert Hamer and John Dighton
Directed by Robert Hamer

“Ealing comedies” was an informal name for the comedy films released by Ealing Studios in the United Kingdom from 1947 to 1957. They were often associated with the post-War spirit of Britain, cheery & upbeat movies about simple misunderstandings without cynicism. Of course, that type of movie sounds dreadfully dull, but woven into the catalog was some darker fare. These comedies fit right in with the rest of the company’s work. The best of these films was Kind Hearts and Coronets, based on the novel Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal and centered on the story of an affable & witty serial killer.

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Patron Pick – The Wonder

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.

The Wonder (2022)
Written by Emma Donoghue, Sebastián Lelio, and Alice Birch
Directed by Sebastián Lelio

You will not be able to predict the opening shot of this movie if you haven’t heard about it already. But that first image immediately puts the viewer in a place where their expectations are gone. What you think this movie is and what it will be about are all flushed, creating an open canvas for your mind. Now you are just going with the picture, discovering it simultaneously as it happens before your eyes. We rarely get this sort of film anymore, especially from Netflix. By the end, you may not fully grasp what has happened, and that’s okay. The ideas in The Wonder are big & essential, but you need to sit with them for a while. That’s also not an experience many popular films are providing for their audiences, and we need it.

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Movie Review – Dracula: Prince of Darkness

Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)
Written by John Elder and John Sansom
Directed by Terence Fisher

I was born over a decade after Hammer’s golden age, but I was certainly aware of it. There were children’s books about monster movies that I gravitated toward as a kid. My earliest memories of learning the Dewey Decimal System were memorizing where the movie books were (790s) and where the books about comic books were (741.5). I remember pouring through these books and coming across a section in one about Hammer Horror; an image of Christopher Lee as the fanged Count Dracula accompanied the text. Around this time, some local stations would do a pretty good job programming horror movies on the weekend afternoons during October. I vividly remember a promo for The Curse of Frankenstein but not being allowed to watch it, despite being censored for television. This solidified my desire to seek out horror.

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Movie Review – The Innocents

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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Movie Review – Village of the Damned

Village of the Damned (1960)
Written by Wolf Rilla
Directed by Stirling Silliphant, Wolf Rilla, and Ronald Kinnoch

Uncertainty is a regular part of life, but the systems we live under often create ways to blunt it. This is done by providing the citizens with a host of needed resources and using propaganda to shape their worldview. However, these systems can’t hold back the tide of reality forever and cracks inevitably appear. COVID-19 has been one of those uncertainty moments, something so significant that it pierces the veil and creates chaos. We are also conditioned to go into immediate denial (the effects of the propaganda) even if we see it happen right before us. “But I was assured,” we say, “That the people in charge have everything under control.” If you haven’t been convinced yet, just wait; things will get worse as denialism grows in the face of multiple global catastrophes.

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Movie Review – Men

Men (2022)
Written & Directed by Alex Garland

Alex Garland has been a complicated director for me. I can’t say I’ve ever loved his work, but I find it fascinating. Every time he releases a film or, in one instance, made a television series, I am there for it. I don’t think you can argue that Garland is an uninteresting filmmaker though you could say he has a lot of missteps or doesn’t necessarily communicate his ideas clearly. When the first trailer for Men dropped, I knew I would be watching it as soon as possible and that it would be a unique viewing experience as all his work has been. Men has gotten a lot of negative press and seems to be both a critical and box office failure. I knew all these things going into it but ended up loving it more than I have most of Garland’s other work. It is undoubtedly his most esoteric movie, and I understand the adverse reactions entirely.

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Movie Review – I, Daniel Blake

I, Daniel Blake (2016)
Written by Paul Laverty
Directed by Ken Loach

Western civilization is nearing its end. Now it could be around for another 100 years or more. I don’t think we’ll see any Roland Emmrich-style explosive finale or Mad Max-ian wastelands ruled by marauders. It’s a sad, pathetic decline where the poor and working people will just be stepped on harder and harder. Cruelty will be further normalized, and society will be conditioned to accept less than crumbs as acceptable. Anyone speaking out who might bring out even a modicum of change will be pilloried and labeled a “hater,” a “traitor,” etc. And you’ll still be expected to keep going to work and paying bills during this collapse. They won’t let a day go by that you aren’t being squeezed like a sponge for all possible labor at the lowest possible wages. The slavery model in American prisons has been quite lucrative. 

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