The White Lotus Season 1 (HBO)
Written & Directed by Mike White
In British popular media, there is a regular focus on class as a means of societal division. You see this in programs like Upstairs Downstairs or Downton Abbey. In America, we often substitute race or gender for the same purpose. The White Lotus is an interesting anomaly as it takes that framework and combines it with a somewhat outdated American television series format, the procedural vacation show (Love Boat, Fantasy Island). The result is a series that doesn’t feel like anything else on television at the moment, and that’s quite refreshing. It’s no surprise this comes from Mike White, the showrunner behind another magnificent HBO series, Enlightened. Once again, he presents a story that doesn’t follow the structures and narrative we might expect from such a show.
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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 Matt Harris.
Red Rocket (2021)
Written by Chris Bergoch and Sean Baker
Directed by Sean Baker
Sean Baker’s filmmaking career has been centered on people working on the margins of society. Tangerine followed two transgender sex workers through a day in their life while The Florida Project, while told from young Moonie’s perspective, featured the challenges her mother, a sex worker, faced in Orlando. Red Rocket continues this trend but with a male sex worker. While Baker has always presented characters who challenge us to like them in certain moments, none of them have been as challenging to wrestle with as Mikey. Filmed during COVID, the director pulls this picture off without a hitch, delivering a searing image of America in the last few years of decline.
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Don’t Look Up (2021)
Written by Adam McKay and David Sirota
Directed by Adam McKay
The planet Earth is fucked. Our leaders have clearly decided they will let this climate change thing play itself (while ensuring they have bunkers to survive in), with assurances all of us slaving plebs will be “just fine.” How can you not be enraged about this? But at the same time, who has the time to spend their days worrying over a cataclysmic event so cosmically significant that we have no way as individuals to effect change? Adam McKay’s latest film isn’t taking any chances and is as blunt as possible about the absurdity of modern life in the face of impending existential and literal extinction. It’s no surprise that a movie as explicit as Don’t Look Up has carved a chasm through discourse online (such a rare occurrence, right?). This is a movie where your reaction to it says more about you as a person than the quality of the film.
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Written by Will Forte, John Solomon, and Jorma Taccone
Directed by Jorma Taccone
Saturday Night Live has a decades-long legacy of adapting characters from the sketch comedy series into feature films. It started with The Blue Brothers and has given us such varied movies as Wayne’s World, The Coneheads, and It’s Pat, to name just a few. More often than not, these movies are not very good, with Wayne’s World and The Blues Brothers being the rare exceptions. These days you see films designed more as vehicles for the actors rather than recurring characters they played. MacGruber is a hybrid of both an extended version of a sketch character and a spotlight on Will Forte and his collaborator’s personal comedic aesthetics. That means if you don’t gel with what they find funny, this will likely be a tough one to get through.
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Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021)
Written by Kelly Marcel
Directed by Andy Serkis
I never could have predicted this would be the movie we got with Venom in the lead role. I want to be upfront here and say I did not enjoy watching this movie. Yet, I appreciate the final product’s entirely off the rails insanity. It is certainly nothing like your standard MCU movie; it doesn’t seem interested in cutesy quippy dialogue. For the most part, it feels like a hurriedly edited mess that doesn’t have any lulls. It follows some tropes of the superhero sequel, and the main antagonist is yet another evil symbiote. That said, this is one of those head-scratching movies that is so strange in its presentation that you have to wonder if executives spoke up at any point during the production.
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Pen15 Season 2 Part 2 (Hulu)
Written by Maya Erskine, Gabe Liedman, Rachele Lynn, Diana Tay, Alyssa DiMari, Josh Levine, Anna Konkle, and Vera Santamaria
Directed by Dan Longino, Maya Erskine, Andy DeYoung, and Anna Konkle
As Pen15 has wrapped up its last season, it’s bittersweet to acknowledge no new episodes will grace our screens. There have been comparisons to it, Wonder Years, Freaks and Geeks, but Pen15 stands on its own considering its presentation.
The other two are almost male-focused. Although Freaks and Geeks has its cult following and Lindsey Weir (Linda Cardellini) is the so-called lead, most of the cast is male. There is barely any mention of female friendships, the drama of being a teenager, and having someone on your side before and during those changes. Lindsey was breaking away from her friends, lingering and then becoming part of the ‘stoner’/freak crowd.
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Written & Directed by Ben Sharrock
Cinema is always a tension between aesthetics and narrative. Sometimes the two gel together perfectly so that tension is barely felt. Other times you find movies veering wildly in one direction over the other. I personally will always enjoy a picture where the narrative is most in focus, but having well-crafted visual sensibilities at work can’t hurt. Limbo has a striking visual look, nothing too ornate, but immaculate focused cinematography. Comparisons to Wes Anderson or Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite) will be immediate. However, the picture is not merely a copy of someone else’s work. Limbo presents a very human story in an incredibly isolated place. The way images are framed intentionally keeps us at arm’s length, just as the characters in its story would to others. But as the film goes on, we are drawn in closer.
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Licorice Pizza (2021)
Written & Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Since I first fell in love with Magnolia, I always get very excited when a Paul Thomas Anderson film comes out. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is about his work, but there is something exciting and surprising about his work. In the twenty years, Anderson has become very eclectic in his style, delivering intense historical pieces like There Will Be Blood and The Master while disappointing some fans with the loose adaptation of Inherent Vice. Licorice Pizza signals a return to Los Angeles, mainly San Fernando Valley, where Anderson made his earliest acclaimed work. I wondered if the director could return to this setting now that he’d gone in such a wildly different direction for so long.
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Written & Directed by Mike Mills
Mike Mills has been a director that has intrigued me since my college days. I don’t know how to describe his particular aesthetic, and it has undoubtedly changed from his first feature to the present. With his newest film, C’mon C’mon, being released this weekend, I thought I should revisit that debut film and see how it holds up sixteen years later. I have enjoyed all of his output (Beginners, 21st Century Women) and think those earlier music videos and short films haven’t aged with the times very well. Mills certainly isn’t offensive, but he is very twee in how he tells his stories.
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Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021)
Written by Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman
Directed by Jason Reitman
Can the Ghostbusters join the ranks of Star Wars and the MCU as a cinematic franchise to be mined into the ground until everyone hates it? This is the question Sony executives will be asking this weekend as they open the second Ghostbusters reboot/sequel in the last 5 years. Having recently rewatched the first two Ghostbusters movies, I was curious to see how hard they hit the nostalgia button with this one, very likely as the studio wanted to wash the stink of the 2016 film away from theaters. I suspected and was proven right that the script would lean heavy into nostalgia bait territory.
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