The Death of Dick Long (2019) Written by Billy Chew Directed by Daniel Scheinert
The Coen Brothers so successfully cornered the market on rural crime/mystery that a review of any film that falls into that genre will inevitably mention them. So here’s the mandatory mention. The Death of Dick Long is very much in the vein of movies like Blood Simple, dark and funny with a biting wit. The filmmaker understands his characters to a depth that they avoid becoming caricatures. It would be easy to lazily portray everyone here as ridiculously stupid, but the film manages to show them like idiots in a totally realistic way. The lies told to cover up what happened are so paper-thin the audience cringes knowing these guys are going to get caught.
The Art of Self-Defense (2019) Written & Directed by Riley Stearns
When David Fincher’s Fight Club came out in 1999, I was a college freshman, just the right age and gender for the film to hit me firmly between the eyes. I thought the movie was genius, and at some point in the 2000s, I started feeling like the picture held a certain phoniness, that is was macho posturing that claimed it was condemning a certain mindset while actually supporting that ideology. I love Fincher, but Fight Club is a picture that hasn’t aged well for me, and that might be because of the young men who flocked to its images but didn’t necessarily explore its philosophy. Riley Stearns’ The Art of Self-Defense feels like a wry satire of the sort of young men who wanted to start their own fight clubs after watching the film. In the age of incels and the questioning and exploration of what it means to be a man, there couldn’t be a better time for this picture.
Joe Pera Talks With You Season 1 (Adult Swim) Written by Joe Pera, Connor O’Malley, Jo Firestone, Amalia Levari, and Dan Licata Directed by Marty Schousboe
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a fascinating cultural anomaly, part of a state yet physically separate. The Yoopers have been shaped by a brutally cold winter landscape. There’s a strong sense of independence because of their geographic isolation. They take pleasure in the sports and activities of winter because it lasts nearly eight months for them in some years. This isn’t a barren wasteland though, Yoopers have a rich culture of arts, food, and even a quirky sense of humor. Joe Pera was born in Ithaca, New York, but is based out of Michigan now.
The King of Comedy (1982) Written by Paul D. Zimmerman Directed by Martin Scorsese
The King of Comedy came out in the wake of Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull. It features no gratuitous sex or nudity, little profanity, and not one drop of blood (well DeNiro does get a small scratch on his hand in the opening scene). It is a Scorsese film with a PG rating. When it was initially released, the film was a total failure. People went in expecting laughs with a title like The King of Comedy, but instead from an uncomfortable and cringe-inducing character study about the demented nature of fame. Todd Phillips cites this as one of the primary influences on his recent movie Joker, but it’s relatively clear he couldn’t reproduce the script that makes The King of Comedy one of Scorsese’s best.
Cousin Liz (Original airdate: October 9, 1977) Written by Barry Harman, Harve Brosten, Bob Weiskopf, and Bob Schiller Directed by Paul Bogart
Yet another cousin is introduced, this one has passed away off-screen. She’s from Edith’s side of the family, so she and Archie schlep out of Queens to attend the funeral and reception afterward. Liz was never married and had no children. Her closest relationship was with her friend and roommate Veronica. Veronica is deeply distraught over her loss and eventually confides in Edith that she and Liz were not roommates but partners, living as a married couple. Edith is stunned at first but quickly accepts this idea, telling Veronica she will let her keep a tea set that was initially bequeathed to Edith. Mrs. Bunker has immediate empathy and doesn’t see Liz and Veronica’s love as any different than she and Archie’s.
Between Two Ferns: The Movie (2019) Written & Directed by Scott Aukerman
The way I consume comedy has changed in the last decade. When I was in college, it was about listening to albums, often bootlegged. I remember hearing and relistening to Dave Chappelle: Killin’ Them Softly, Patton Oswalt’s Feelin’ Kind Patton, and more. One comedian I discovered in those days was Zach Galifianakis. This was during his short-lived stint on VH1 hosting Late World, a talk show explicitly designed around him. Galifianakis was one of those comedians that made me think outside the album as the primary way to access a performer’s sense of humor and aesthetics. Galifianakis constructed a comedic persona, akin to Pee-Wee Herman or Steven Wright, something like themselves but unlike as well. His point of view came from a fascination with confident dumb people which is the person he plays on Between Two Ferns.
Support the Girls (2018) Written & Directed by Andrew Bujalski
Double Whammies is a sports bar modeled so directly after Hooter’s, the once-popular American chain, that most audiences will know right away what world is being explored in this film. Yes, there are twenty-something scantily clad women slinging beers and wings, but this isn’t an exploitative picture. Support the Girls is a story about working-class women, a companion piece in some ways to Soderbergh’s Magic Mike, though not as well-made as that movie. The central character is not one of the waitstaff mentioned above but manager Lisa, who is spending a day dealing with crises of small and earth-shattering potential. The conflict in every instance is deeply grounded, and human and Regina Hall’s performance as Lisa is the strongest element of this film.