Written by Andrew Kevin Walker
Directed by David Fincher
There is a depth of humanity in Seven, hidden beneath the stylized neo-noir aftermath of violence that its detectives stumble across in crime scene after crime scene. David Fincher movies often get swallowed up in the fervor over aesthetics and jolting set pieces that we often forget the richly developed characters that make up his world. Detectives Somerset & Mills and Mills’s wife Tracy are beautifully written roles performed by actors who understand nuance’s power. The infamous finale of Seven, a scene that has somewhat become a parody in the pop culture in the ensuing decades, almost brought me to tears this time around. I empathized with the trio of protagonists so that this final obscenity tore right through me.
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The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Written by James Agee
Directed by Charles Laughton
Of my thirty-nine years on this earth, the last thirty-fours (sans one) have been lived in the American South, specifically Tennessee. The American South is a complex region, the hub of an insurrection that led to the Civil War. The place where slavery festered and even upon its dissolution, its legacy poisoned any possibility of a greater sense of community to the present day. Jim Crow was born here. The American South is a “Christ-haunted landscape,” as author Flannery O’Connor once said, words that could not be truer. Churches pop up so that one city block is crammed full with them. A drive through the country will guarantee passing by at least half a dozen. History and Religion bleed through the trunks of the trees and up through the lawns. These are Visions of the American South.
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The Killing (1956)
Written by Stanley Kubrick & Jim Thompson
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Just a year after Killer’s Kiss, Stanley Kubrick directed this heist film that dripped with noir. It should be noted that starting with this film, every movie Kubrick ever made was based on a novel. For the most part, his films would come to overshadow the books he adapted because Kubrick didn’t believe he was chained to the source material. I think that is an excellent thing because film adaptation is like language translation, you do not go for the exact 1:1 meaning, you shape the content to communicate the ideas and themes best. Kubrick made this picture under the banner of the Harris-Kubrick Pictures Corporation, a producing partnership he would continue for two more films (Paths of Glory & Lolita).
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Search Party Season 3 (HBO Max)
Written by Sarah-Violet Bliss & Charles Rogers, Craig Rowin, Andrew Pierce Fleming & Matt Kriete, Starlee Kine, Jordan Firstman, and Sabrina Jalees
Directed by Sarah-Violet Bliss & Charles Rogers, Jay Duplass, and Carrie Brownstein
Search Party feels like a tv series than an indie film franchise with each season’s supporting cast changing to fit the direction of our four millennial mains’ lives. The stakes of the series have ratcheted up with each iteration. Season one was a reasonably light, missing person mystery that ended on a surprisingly dark note. Season two was a study in PTSD and guilt, veering the series into some bleak territory while still finding humor in the situation. Now season three gives us courtroom drama and such a massive development in our protagonist’s persona that it is downright chilling in moments.
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Written & Directed by Michael Mann
I’d always heard how good Heat was, but it was a film that I’ve circled around without ever sitting down and watching it, until now. I wouldn’t say I am a fan of Michael Mann’s, but I have appreciated every film I’ve seen, with Collateral being my favorite until now. I’ll just get this out of the way now, I loved Heat, so much. Christopher Nolan owes a significant part of his career to Mann, and I hope he has given adequate thanks for the aesthetic he has mimicked. This is a dense neo-noir multi-character novel turned into a movie that delivers on its themes and character arcs so beautifully & tragically.
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Written by Lana & Lilly Wachowski, and Brian Helgeland
Directed by Richard Donner
I’ve previously mentioned Richard Donner when I reviewed Ladyhawke and discussed how he is a perfect example of a journeyman filmmaker. Assassins is yet another example of this. Here we have a story that is rife for stylish exploitation, but instead, we get a very by the numbers shooting. The cinematography is mostly standard except for a few interesting choices here and there. Donner just simply isn’t anywhere close to being an auteur, and that’s not a bad thing. In the case of this film, it really could have used a filmmaker with a more inventive touch.
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Dead Man Walking (1995)
Written & Directed by Tim Robbins
In the last couple of weeks, I have felt so much anger & hate towards the police. I won’t repeat things I’ve said in the privacy of my home with my wife, but they have been rancorous things I never thought I would say about anyone. There is a part of me that knows this depth of hate isn’t good for the human psyche, and yet it is so easy to give in to these violent thoughts. I’ve watched over 300 videos of police brutality done on protesters, which has had a powerful effect on me. The police shouldn’t be let off the hook for a single act of cruelty and murder, but I think I needed to see this film right now to help temper my justified outrage.
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Bad Boys (1995)
Written by Michael Barrie, Jim Mulholland, and Doug Richardson
Directed by Michael Bay
At this point in my life, I have seen five Michael Bay films, and I can confidently say that I hate him and his stupid movies. The only way to enjoy a Bay picture is to literally become braindead and not process films beyond the surface level. He’s like is a pile of cocaine that became sentient, frenzied & overconfident but ultimately lacking in any substance. I get why a picture like this one might have wowed audiences. In 1995, this style of filmmaking was brand new. He was taking a genre that wore out its welcome in the 1980s, the buddy cop movie, and injecting it with a more contemporary vibe. You have two Black lead actors as the heroes which wasn’t happening in big-budget film then. There is so much here that feels fresh, but when you go beyond that immediate feeling, you find a picture mired in old-fashioned misogyny and unfunny attempts at jokes.
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Cop Land (1997)
Written & Directed by James Mangold
This weekend, as the country fell into turmoil via a much-needed insurrection, director James Mangold shared behind the scenes information on the making of his second feature film Cop Land. You can read that thread here, but the gist of it is that the Weinstein Brothers and Miramax were nervous about making a movie that had cops as the villains and highlighted the insular, corrupted nature of their organization. The script came from Mangold’s own childhood, growing up in Washingtonville, New York. The particular development Mangold lived in was the home to cops who found loopholes that would let them live outside of New York City. Because they were separated from the communities they patrolled, the police came to think of those residents as “other”, always sizing them up and assuming they were enemies.
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Written by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, & Sam Raimi
Directed by Sam Raimi
A slapstick crime-comedy written by the Coens and directed Sam Raimi sounds like a perfect movie. This was before an era where these names were associated with the sorts of film perfection we talk about now. However, Crimewave is an extremely disappointing picture that has hints of later brilliance. It’s most definitely a Coen Brothers story with Raimi’s style overlaid, which isn’t a combination that works out as good as it sounds. Raimi opts to go for a Tex Avery angle with characters existing in a cartoonish world, yet there are some terrifying and dark aspects in the mix.
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