This is a special reward available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 a month levels. Each month those patrons will get to 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.
Written & Directed by Jon Favreau
I can’t say I have ever loved the work of Jon Favreau. I watched and moderately enjoyed his early career. I am one of those people who was confounded by the adverse reaction to Made. I think it was one of the few times I laughed at Vince Vaughn. His cringy dumb guy who thinks he is smart schtick made me laugh. I never found his studio pictures like Elf, Zathura, or Iron Man very remarkable. It could undoubtedly be an age thing when it comes to those pictures. So when Chef originally came out, it zoomed past my radar with zero interest in watching it. The world would keep spinning. However, my brother and patron Matt chose this for his April pick, so I sat down and watched the thing.
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Shiva Baby (2021)
Written & Directed by Emma Seligman
As I get older, my personal definition of what makes a horror film both expands and retracts. The funhouse jumpscare-a-thons that have been accepted as what horror is in major theatrical releases misses the whole point of the genre for me. I think Ari Aster’s pictures are as close to popular horror that I enjoy. I think what’s missing from most of these movies is the building of atmosphere. There are tense strings on the soundtrack, and then a loud burst with something that might be related to the horror or not popping onto the screen. Shiva Baby feels like a personal horror movie to me, the story of a person whose decisions in life have caught up to her and play out almost in real-time. It has those same strings playing on the soundtrack, but they rarely give us the climax we’re expecting and just keep needling at the sanity of our protagonist. It’s one of the tensest movie-watching experiences I’ve had in 2021 so far.
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Bad Trip (2020)
Written by Dan Curry, Eric Andre, and Kitao Sakurai
Directed by Kitao Sakurai
When you are watching a film like Bad Trip, a fictional narrative where unaware participants are being pranked and filmed, a certain balance has to be maintained. People have come to see the movie based on the pranks’ outrageousness and in anticipation of seeing how the bystanders react. This means, if you lean too far into the narrative, people are disappointed. But you certainly don’t want to just put a prank compilation in theaters because that doesn’t justify the ticket price. This balance is crucial for a movie like Bad Trip to work, and I am happy to say it’s probably one of the best in this subgenre I’ve ever seen. I had a clear understanding of every character and their motivation, and the pranks were fantastic.
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The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1966)
Written by William Rose
Directed by Norman Jewison
In the 1960s, the Cold War was at a wild peak. Just three years before this film, the United States & Cuba went through a terrifying week of possible nuclear war. In the 1940s & 50s, dozens of Hollywood screenwriters, actors, and other people in the industry were labeled as communists or sympathizers to the Soviet Union. Jewison never really hid his left-leaning political views but knew to reveal them slowly as he became a more prominent director in Hollywood. For The Cincinnati Kid, he worked with blacklist screenwriter Ring Lardner Jr. on the script. Going even further was this film, a comedy that reveals Americans’ twisted ideology during this manic period. Jewison still finds empathy for these people and seeks to find a place of mutual understanding.
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Send Me No Flowers (1964)
Written Julius J. Epstein
Directed by Norman Jewison
Norman Jewison isn’t a name you hear listed among the great film auteurs, and for the most part, he was fairly a journeyman filmmaker. A studio paid him, and he made the movie. But in doing that, he still managed to make each picture feel special. You could never tie him into a single genre or style. Jewison just made good movies. He was born in Toronto, Ontario, in 1926, and despite his last name, his family is not of Jewish descent. He served in the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II. After being discharged, he wandered through the American South, where he witnessed acts of segregation that would impact film projects he chose later in his career. Back in Toronto, Jewison got his bachelor’s degree and worked on a variety of theatrical productions. He eventually became part of the crew that launched CBC Television, working as an assistant director.
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Listen Up Philip (2014)
Written & Directed by Alex Perry Ross
Filmmaker Alex Ross Perry continued his interesting development with this marked improvement from The Color Wheel. Noam Baumbach and Wes Anderson’s influences are even more apparent here; however, Perry does manage to keep his picture from feeling derivative. Thematically, he’s approaching John Cassavettes territory without the earnestness and more overtly toxic male figure. Ross walks a tightrope where he can’t make his main character so unlikeable we lose all sympathy for him, and he does this by letting the narrative shift to different character’s perspectives throughout the story. The result is a picture I enjoyed quite a bit, helped by having seasoned actors in the roles.
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The Color Wheel (2011)
Written & Directed by Alex Ross Perry
I can’t imagine many people would like this movie. I’m still ambivalent about my own feelings. But that’s the point, I think. Alex Ross Perry is Noah Baumbach but angrier. He’s Wes Anderson without the sentimentality & cuteness. I don’t for a minute think The Color Wheel is Perry’s best film, but he would show marked improvement on his second try. The Color Wheel is an interesting film, grating but very short so you won’t have to endure the unpleasantness for too long. What makes the film so hard to get through is the quality of acting and its deeply unlikeable main characters.
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Prizzi’s Honor (1985)
Written by Richard Condon and Janet Roach
Directed by John Huston
John Huston only had two years left in his life. I suspect he realized this. By 1982, he had to use an oxygen tank almost all hours of the day for his emphysema. He didn’t slow down in his filmmaking though making seven movies in the 1980s, even one the year he died in 1987. Prizzi’s Honor was his second to last film, the picture that won his daughter, Anjelica, her first Academy Award. Once again, he’d gather a cast of strong actors to deliver a deceptively dark comedy about love & business in the world of organized crime. I don’t think any of the films I’ve watched previously were overtly a comedy as much as this one. And it is a strange creature.
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The African Queen (1951)
Written by John Huston, James Agee, Peter Viertel, and John Collier
Directed by John Huston
Despite his track record of dark, crime-centric movies, John Huston was also a romantic. That was on full display in The African Queen. This wasn’t Huston’s last film with Humphrey Bogart, but it is considered his last great film working with the actor. He was working with a lighter, comedy type of film. Huston also shot on location in Uganda and the Congo. The African Queen was a Technicolor picture that added difficulty to the production. The cameras needed for the Technicolor process were large and somewhat unwieldy. But in an effort for authenticity, Huston refused to shoot most of the picture on a soundstage.
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Moonbase 8 (Showtime)
Written by Fred Armisen, Tim Heidecker, Jonathan Krisel, & John C. Reilly
Directed by Jonathan Krisel
On the surface, I should love this show. I’ve been a big fan of Tim Heidecker’s whole career, John C. Reilly is terrific, and I have enjoyed all the Armisen/Krisle collabs (Portlandia, Documentary Now). Krisel has also directed episodes of Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule and Baskets. All of this is precisely in my comedy wheelhouse, mainly through the 2000s and 2010s. Ultimately, I enjoyed Moonbase 8 but didn’t necessarily love it.
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