My Dinner with Andre (1981) Written by Andre Gregory & Wallace Shawn Directed by Louis Malle
Growing up, I heard about My Dinner with Andre in the context of making fun of it. As a young person with limited knowledge of film & art, it did sound like a silly idea for a movie. Two people at dinner talking in real-time. My expectation of film was that you would have the standard five-act structure with conflicts and character arcs. These seemed like a super boring and dumb idea. It became a movie that kept coming up on lists and in internet discourse, so that I developed some respect for it from a distance, still having not watched it. Now I can say it’s one of the best films I’ve watched this year and is a challenging but also easily accessible watch. We’ve all had dinner with people we maybe weren’t elated to see and had to converse with them. In that way, My Dinner with Andre is about a universal experience.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) Written by Lawrence Hauben & Bo Goldman Directed by Milos Forman
The United States has had a profoundly complicated relationship with mental health for the entirety of its existence. Mired in the regressive repression of religion, it was seen as proper to punish those with mental illness for behaviors outside of their control and often their understanding. What existed even further beneath the veneer of tough Christian love was a focus on conformity and the expulsion of the aberrant. Those who would not conform to societal norms were verboten, sent off to die inside mental hospitals where they would be brutalized into complete psychological oblivion. This ideology inspired author Ken Kesey to write his novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Late nights sitting up with patients at the Menlo Park Veterans’ Hospital led Kesey to believe these people were not insane. Instead, they did not behave within the conventions society had deemed proper, and so they had to be extricated from public existence.
…And Justice For All (1979) Written by Valerie Curtin and Barry Levinson Directed by Norman Jewison
By the late 1970s, Norman Jewison had returned to his home country of Canada. He was getting reliable work and was known for being a director who would get the job done. Jewison would never become someone lumped into the auteur camp; he would be known more as journeyman director. This term refers to filmmakers who lack a distinct style and can take jobs in a multitude of genres delivering movies that range from adequate to fantastic. While directors like Stanley Kubrick or Steven Spielberg are known for trademarks images or tones, Jewison was comfortable maneuvering into a much more varied territory. Just before …And Justice For All, he has directed FIST, a union drama loosely based on Jimmy Hoffa. The film was well-received by critics as a decent movie but nothing spectacular. This courtroom drama would be seen as an improvement, delivering an emotionally powerful story.
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.
The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) Written by Alan Trustman Directed by Norman Jewison
In the late 1960s, filmmaking was undergoing a transformation. It was happening both in the counter-culture, becoming prominent in the content but also in technological changes. At Expo 67, the World’s Fair held in Montreal, a pair of films showed off the revolutionary split-screen technique pioneered by Christopher Chapman. Chapman was a Canadian-born cinematographer that created the multi-dynamic image technique or “the Brady Bunch effect.” This allowed him to composite multiple film images into grids of varying sizes. This allowed a single scene to be shown from various angles and character perspectives. After Norman Jewison saw the films in exhibition at Expo 67, he wanted to use it in his new movie The Thomas Crown Affair, seeing it as useful when showing the heist scenes.
The Cincinnati Kid (1965) Written by Ring Lardner Jr. and Terry Southern Directed by Norman Jewison
Norman Jewison was not the first director to work on this production. Edward G. Robinson wasn’t the first choice for the main antagonist either. But through a series of circumstances & disagreements during filming, the film changed and became something else. Sam Peckinpah was the first director in charge of The Cincinnati Kid. Apparently, the producers believe Peckinpah “vulgarized” the film and fired him after a few days of shooting. Spencer Tracey had pulled out due to poor health, and Robinson stepped in. Peckinpah had planned to shoot the picture in black & white due to its Depression setting. That was changed to color when Jewison was brought on board. Would the Peckinpah version have been better? We’ll never really know but what we did end up with was a very enjoyable movie about poker.
Her Smell (2018) Written & Directed by Alex Ross Perry
I don’t think I have felt this sort of whiplash on my feelings about a filmmaker in a long while. When Alex Ross Perry is writing about literary people (Listen Up Philip), he’s nailing it. After watching Her Smell, I am curious about how much research he did when writing this picture. It felt like a cliched musician biopic and was absolutely grating by the end. It does have high points, but overall, I was pleased when the movie was over because it was so unenjoyable to watch. This is one where my wife had a lot to say and articulated some of the things I disliked so intensely about the movie—more on that in a bit.
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.
Early Summer (1951) Written by Kogo Noda & Yasujirō Ozu Directed by Yasujirō Ozu
As the second part of Ozu’s Noriko trilogy, Early Summer is a more complex examination of post-War Japanese lives across three generations of a family. Setsuko Hara returns to play another character named Noriko, like in Late Spring. Chishū Ryū, who played the father in Late Spring, plays the eldest brother in Early Summer. Once again, a young woman living with her parents and being pressured into marriage is at the forefront of the plot. This time the story has more layers and humor, always remaining tender and empathetic with all its characters.
Late Spring (1949) Written by Kogo Noda & Yasujirō Ozu Directed by Yasujirō Ozu
Japan was in the middle of a significant cultural transition when Late Spring was in production. American forces occupied the country in the wake of World War II and aggressively fought back against the Japanese’s traditional feudalistic customs. One of these was arranged marriages, and it was rigidly enforced in Japanese popular culture by Americans. I don’t think Americans today fully comprehend how much we interfered in Japan’s development after the atrocity of dropping two nuclear bombs on them. Yasujirō Ozu’s body of work was all about examining Japanese traditions in the context of his own time, so blanket censorship like this proved to be a major obstacle in his way.