Flowers Season 2 (Netflix)
Written & Directed by Will Sharpe
Flowers is such a difficult show to explain if you haven’t seen it. While watching the second season, I thought it’s like The Addams Family but grounded and about mental health. The tone and characters are realistically macabre, a tormented family of creative types whose communication has broken down so badly they just simply can’t communicate with each other any longer. Creator Will Sharpe has given us a second beautiful season that goes even more in-depth with the Flowers’ history and works to heal the damage.
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Last Night (1998)
Written & Directed by Don McKellar
What would you do if you knew it was the final day of the Earth’s existence? Much like the Last Man on Earth trope, this is another one that comes up often when you explore Apocalyptic fiction. Here we have Canadian filmmaker Don McKellar’s distinct take on the end of the world, which balances both the darker aspects of humanity that would crop up and the way other people would cling to the norms and routines of decorum and civilization even as the end approached. It’s very different from the other films in this series, which is precisely why I wanted to watch it.
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George Washington (2000)
Written & Directed by David Gordon Green
I have noticed in these reviews for the Visions of the American South series that few of the directors are actually from the region. Only Billy Bob Thornton and David Gordon Green are actually from the areas where their films take place. Because of that, I think these are the most naturalistic movies. That doesn’t mean they aren’t made with a stylistic flourish. In the case of George Washington, the film is almost like a visual poem. George Washington is also the first film in our series to prominently feature Black characters.
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The Apostle (1997)
Written & Directed by Robert Duvall
I first saw The Apostle approximately twenty-two years ago. I checked it out from the local public library, where I was working at the time and absolutely loved from the first viewing. I mentioned earlier in this series how author Flannery O’Connor referred to the South as a “Christ-haunted landscape.” Robert Duvall furthers this by exploring a character who lives in seeming constant open dialogue with God. He implores the deity for guidance as often as he rages at him for life events the man cannot understand.
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Doesn’t the world feel exceptionally shitty these days? Would you like to watch a movie that will lift your spirits? Well, that’s not this list. When I originally planned this list, COVID-19 cases were going down, and it seemed like the BLM uprisings were pushing back at power semi-successfully. As I publish this, we have soaring case numbers and now federal stormtroopers acting in outright violation of the Constitution in Portland, Oregon. Just yesterday, political commentator Michael Brooks passed away suddenly at the age of 37. Brooks was in my home every day through his work on The Majority Report and his own podcast. Add to this anxiety surrounding schools opening back up soon while the virus rages, and I can safely say my head is not in a good space these days. Seems like the perfect time for such a list.
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Sling Blade (1996)
Written & Directed by Billy Bob Thornton
One of the notions observed about the concept of Family at the end of the 20th century & especially in the 21st is that it is no longer the people whom you are born into but the people you choose to populate your life with. Sling Blade is a movie about that kind of a family, focusing on one particular member and how they navigate their role in the group. This film is the evolution of a one-man show into a short film and finally the feature film we review here. This story meant a lot of Billy Bob Thornton so much that he would devote so large a portion of his life to playing a singular character. He becomes lost in this character, and my wife didn’t realize it was Thornton until the end credits rolled.
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Rambling Rose (1991)
Written Calder Willingham
Directed by Martha Coolidge
The role of women in Southern culture is a complex one, and as a white man, I will not be able to adequately convey what it is like from my perspective. Rambling Rose, though, is a film that gets somethings right but so much else wrong, like problematically wrong. I sat stunned within the first few moments of this movie, and throughout the rest of it at how tone-deaf and overly melodramatic so much of the story becomes. The female character at the center of the picture really has no voice, and instead, the narrative is shaped by an adolescent boy that lusts after Rose. There’s an attempt to have him learn a lesson about women, but it’s muddied with troublesome archaic thinking.
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A Face in the Crowd (1957)
Written by Budd Schulberg
Directed by Elia Kazan
Southern folksy charm is one of those things I see visitors to the American Southeast remark upon often. The city of Nashville likes to boast that it’s the largest small town in the country, and I have to admit, if you are walking down the street, you will have strangers saying, “Hello” and waving. But this friendliness can also be a sinister mask, obscuring ulterior motives and manipulations. When this manner is adopted by someone in the media with less than divine intentions, it can be downright corrosive to society. All that is warm, genial, and welcoming is not good for your health.
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Little Children (2006)
Written by Todd Field & Tom Perrotta
Directed by Todd Field
Tom Perrotta has enjoyed quite a bit of success in having his novels adapted to film & television. Election, directed by Alexander Payne, was his first work turned into a movie and remains a great picture about the dangers of ambition. Even more successful was the television adaptation of The Leftovers by Damon Lindeloff, arguably the best series of the 2010s. Inbetween these two lies Little Children, a very literary film helmed by Todd Field. This is a dense movie that doesn’t stick to the text with fidelity, instead creating its own narrative spin on the same themes and characters.
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In the Bedroom (2001)
Written by Todd Field & Robert Festinger
Directed by Todd Field
The bedroom is the rear compartment of a lobster trap and is designed to hold two lobsters before turning on each other. A lobster fisher must check their traps regularly lest multiple animals get caught in the bedroom and begin tearing each other’s claws off. In the same scene that we learn this, we are also told that when a female lobster is “growing berries,” i.e., carrying eggs, she becomes the most fearsome type of lobster.
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