The Northman (2022)
Written by Sjón and Robert Eggers
Directed by Robert Eggers
Robert Eggers has carved out a niche for himself as a filmmaker that attempts to recreate the feel of specific periods in humanity’s past. With The Witch, he captured the colonial paranoia of the fear of the wilderness. The Lighthouse evokes the birth of psychoanalysis and the expansion of the Western mind’s interiors. He does this once again in the Viking-centered The Northman, a picture that transports into the mind of the 9th century. Here the landscape is imbued with mystic power, and humanity believes that through faith & ritual, they can connect with these volatile elements. While not as profoundly esoteric as Eggers’ previous two features, The Northman is still a film overflowing with aesthetic richness and exploring complex themes.
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The Souvenir Part II (2021)
Written & Directed by Joanna Hogg
The Souvenir was not the sort of film we expect sequels for anymore. It’s an intimate, funny & poignant story about a young woman coming into her own and dealing with her first tragic love. The second film is about the ripples in that relationship and the death that ended up rippling through a young filmmaker’s life. It became a significant influence on her art. All of this is directly autobiographical, based on Hogg’s own experiences coming into her own as a filmmaker and the effects her ill-fated relationship had on that work.
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This is a special reward available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 a month levels. Each month those patrons will 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.
Syndromes and a Century (2006)
Written & Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
I’m still not sure how I feel about the work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul. This is the second of his films I’ve ever watched, the previous being Memoria. I don’t dislike his movies; it’s more a matter of adjusting expectations of pace & tone. Weerasethakul’s work is so calm and slow-burning that it can often feel like nothing is happening. However, what he’s doing is using that stillness to communicate ideas about how we live our lives. Weerasethakul wants his audience to become more contemplative, to absorb the details we often gloss over as we rush through life. That’s made very apparent in this picture’s tone and mirrored structure.
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Enough Said (2013)
Written & Directed by Nicole Holofcener
James Gandolfini was often typecast as a tough guy, but that wasn’t really who he was outside of The Sopranos. He was an accomplished stage actor who performed in various roles, so moviegoers never quite got to see the full extent of what Gandolfini was capable of. Enough Said was released posthumously and acts as a hint of the directions his career could have gone had he not passed away. There’s not much similar to Tony Soprano beyond the actor and the character’s relationship issues. However, they are nowhere near as volatile as what Tony got up to. Instead, this is a sensitive, nuanced, character dramedy intended for a mature audience that wants a little more out of their movies.
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They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969)
Written by Robert E. Thompson and James Poe
Directed by Sydney Pollack
Capitalism and the constant need to keep working/hustling/grinding feels like it is at a fever pitch. The divide between the Haves and Have Nots has grown in the United States to a historical level, worsened by inflation and stagnant wages. However, a growing number of labor unions are forming, and workers in the service industry are becoming emboldened to stand up for themselves, often collectively. That gives me some hope while I worry the powers that be will undermine these movements every day. All of these events parallel the Great Depression, one of the bleakest periods in American history. People were desperate for food, shelter, and any money they could get. This constant living on the edge of death and survival led to dance marathons, sometimes going on for days or weeks, where couples attempted to remain moving and conscious. The last couple standing would win a cash prize, but along the way, many people would be physically and psychologically harmed by the strain. Writer Horace McCoy was a bouncer during the Depression and witnessed these marathons, which inspired him to write the novel, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
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The Last Picture Show (1971)
Written by Larry McMurtry and Peter Bogdanovich
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich
We continue our “The World is Hell” series with this look at decaying rural life in an increasingly industrialized and inhuman America. Peter Bogdanovich has directed one movie, Targets (1966), and was searching for his next film. One day waiting in line at the grocery store checkout, he spied a paperback copy of Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show. Reading the back cover, he noted it was kids growing up in Texas and didn’t really feel any immediate connection and put it back. Weeks later, actor Sal Mineo shared a copy of the book with Bogdanovich’s then-wife Polly Platt and the director wondered if he wasn’t being led to do something with this text. McMurtry would come on board to help with the screenplay, and the film was shot in his hometown of Archer City in north-central Texas. The combination of this profoundly New York filmmaker and a story of the loss of innocence in Texas would be a perfect match.
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The Godfather Part II (1974)
Written by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
It’s not a big surprise to say The Godfather Part II is a masterpiece of American cinema. It just simply is. This is a director doing the best work of his life surrounded by magnificent performers and working with a very literate & polished script. When you have these sorts of elements, you will end up with a movie that resonates with audiences. I don’t think it can be understated how thoroughly Coppola reshaped American film with his work in the 1970s. This is a template for movies still coming out today and the precursor to the prestige television that is so common on streaming platforms.
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The Conversation (1974)
Written & Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Privacy has become an essential topic of discussion in recent years. This is partly due to the profoundly invasive Patriot Act, passed under “fighting terrorism,” and how social media has convinced users to give up information and involuntarily spy on them as they use the internet. Some people have leaned into the seeming dissolution of privacy in modern life, becoming incredibly open about all aspects of their lives or creating a manufactured public face to create a particular narrative. Others have worked obsessively to “get off the grid” by refraining from using any internet connections they believe aren’t secure and certainly never joining social media. In the 1970s, privacy was not as big a concern among the majority of the population as it is now, but through his research, Francis Ford Coppola could see that it would be one day and was curious about how one of the voyeurs would handle the gaze of others on him.
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Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)
Written & Directed by Chantal Akerman
Our lives are made up of rituals. We wake up, get dressed, clean ourselves, make food, and overall prepare for our day. This is just the opening of a single morning. There is comfort in ritual; repetition provides security because we can easily predict what happens next. The disruption of these rituals can upend all peace we feel, throwing us into a realm of conflict and volatile emotion. From a filmmaker’s perspective, it’s relatively common to compress and delete chunks of time that don’t flow into a structured narrative. You don’t often see a character going through every step of that morning routine on film; only the pieces the director or screenwriter has decided provide shorthand to understand a character or jumpstart a plot. Chantal Akerman threw all of this out the window to present an almost four-hour picture that, by focusing on tedium, illuminates a kind of life often discounted in the medium.
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Written & Directed by Lynne Ramsay
Western civilization is decaying and all at its own hand. You cannot look to a foreign enemy emerging over the horizon. The collapse of the world order we’ve known since birth was a slowly festering movement of austerity and neoliberalism that is choking the life out of hundreds of millions. The authoritarian British government brutalized its citizens in Northern Ireland and Scotland quite habitually in the 1960s and 70s. This came in the form of militarized police actions, pushing back against unions, and fighting against a higher quality of life. This is the world we enter in Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher, where garbage is piled up on the streets and canals are full of toxic chemicals. This is squalor inflicted on working people by the wealthy & powerful who want to bring them to heal. It’s hard to find hope in such a living Hell.
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