The Witches (2020)
Written by Robert Zemeckis, Kenya Barris, and Guillermo del Toro
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Robert Zemeckis, like I said about John Landis while reviewing An American Werewolf in London, is a director that gave us some fantastic movies in the 1980s and then seemed to fade in subsequent decades. In Zemeckis’s instance, he seemed to keep putting out quality work in the 1990s, but it was the new millennium and deluge of motion capture technologies that took him into a new realm of filmmaking that often hasn’t paid off. These instances always cause me to wonder if all that success ultimately had a negative consequence, removing the things that made Zemeckis’s movies fun because he simply wanted to play with some complicated new toys.
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Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020)
Written by Peter Baynham, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jena Friedman, Anthony Hines, Lee Kern, Dan Mazer, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Swimer, and Nina Pedrad
Directed by Jason Woliner
My experience was seeing the first Borat film was one of those never able to forget things. I was living in Bellingham, Washington at the time, and a group of friends went to the theater on opening night, so the place was packed. We were all familiar with Da Ali G Show and Borat, but we had no idea what we were in store for with this movie. The sometimes subtle other times explosively over the top manner in which Sacha Baron Cohen skewered American culture was unlike anything I’d see in a movie theater before. I would expect it from indie movies but not from a studio picture. Of course, we couldn’t stop quoting the picture for hours after we left the theater, and eventually, because of cultural overuse, I sort of began to dislike the movie. Having revisited Borat since I think it is a seminal work of satire, one of the most brutal takedowns of the United States at the time.
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An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Written & Directed by John Landis
I don’t think I have ever been able to put my thumb on John Landis. He is such an enigma of a director to me. He makes fantastic comedies like The Blues Brothers, The Three Amigos, and Coming to America in the 1980s. In the 1990s, he churned out crud like The Stupids, Blues Brothers 2000, and stopped directing films in 2010. I would never say he’s my favorite director, but I don’t hate his work as a whole either. It just wholly stumps me when I think about his career building potential in one decade only to ultimately flounder in another. Right in the middle of his seemingly impervious series of hits came this horror-comedy that is much more horror, in my opinion, An American Werewolf in London.
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Written & Directed by Miranda July
Miranda July began her career doing performance art videos, some of which I remember coming across online in the 2000s. Her first feature-length film, Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005), was a beautiful little indie about strange people trying to find connections with each other. Six years later, she followed up with The Future, another indie about strange people that didn’t have the widespread popularity of her first film but is still a fantastic picture. And then it was nine years of no original works from July. Instead, she made many appearances acting in things like Portlandia or in the fantastic Madeline’s Madeline. July also published two books of short stories in that time. In 2018, she announced she would be writing and directing Kajillionaire, known only at the time as a “heist movie.” But with everything that Miranda July makes, it isn’t that simple.
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The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020)
Written & Directed by Jim Cummings
I was overwhelmingly impressed with actor-writer-director Jim Cummings 2018 debut feature film, Thunder Road. He managed to find both humor and pathos in a character that easily could have slipped into caricature. In some ways, he has returned to that same character in The Wolf of Snow Hollow. He’s a police officer, sharing custody of a teenage daughter and tackling some deep-seated emotional issues. This is done through carefully tailored moments of humor & drama, all against the backdrop of a series of what appears to be killings at the hands of a werewolf.
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Pen15 Season 2 Part 1 (Hulu)
Written by Sam Zvibleman, Gabe Liedman, Anna Konkle, Vera Santamaria, Josh Levine, and Maya Erskine
Directed by Sam Zvibleman
The first season of Pen15 was a wonderfully funny, absurd examination of female adolescence at the start of the 21st century. The creators and writers managed to balance the pathos & pain of growing up with inventive moments of comedy, most notably the two leads being played by thirtysomething against a cast of age-appropriate classmates. Season two took a slightly different route and ended up being much heavier & downbeat in its episodes’ conclusions, highlighting the melancholy nature of being a young teen in the 2000s.
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The Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie Show (Season 8, Episode 14)
Original airdate: February 9, 1997
Written by David S. Cohen
Directed by Steven Dean Moore
The Simpsons has always been focused on lampooning and critiquing the medium of television. The method of doing this frequently comes from episodes centered on Itchy and Scratchy, the in-universe children’s cartoon series featuring a hyper-violent cat and mouse. In 1990, the series did its first episode with Marge against Roger Meyers Jr. and the animation studio that makes Itchy & Scratchy. In 1997, with The Simpsons looking like it would last forever (and arguably has), the writers decided to comment on what happens when a show has been around for so long that it appears it might be going stale.
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Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020)
Written by Chris Matheson & Ed Solomon
Directed by Dean Parisot
It has been 29 years since we last saw Bill & Ted and the world is a very different place or is it? Maybe the flaws we see now are simply amplified with time and were always there. We’re just living in a crisis point where you can’t deny that things are falling apart around us. We’re the grown-ups now, in our forties and fifties, and, if we have a conscious, feel a level of guilt about our inaction during those prime years of our lives. But the world hasn’t ended yet, and we still have time to do something. We just have to overcome our baggage to have a clear mind about what to do next. This is where the Wyld Stallyns find themselves in 2020.
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Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
Written by Chris Matheson & Ed Solomon
Directed by Pete Hewitt
Right away, you can see the budget difference between Bogus Journey and its predecessor, Excellent Journey. The first film had an $8.5 million budget while the sequel was given $20 million. The production design and score are very apparent elements of this change. The film opens in the future, which consists of more than just one room like the original. We have high schoolers in San Dimas attending a course taught by Rufus. We have many more practical effects throughout the picture, matte paintings, and even some early digital effects. Instead of a time travel rehash, the story goes in some more spiritual and cosmic directions. The sense of humor is still the same, and our leads are so charismatic you enjoy watching them in action.
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Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
Written by Chris Matheson & Ed Solomon
Directed by Stephen Herek
I vividly remember renting Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure when I was about 8 or 9. My mom was doing something that night related to the church, and so we got to rent a movie while staying home with our dad. I had seen the television commercials for Bill and Ted, but living in a family of four kids with only one working parent, we didn’t go out to the movie theater much. Video rental was how I saw most films, but they had to be PG-rated or lower, with some exceptions made for PG-13. I can remember loving this movie, not knowing who some of these historical figures were at the time, but enjoying the goofball duo that led the picture.
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