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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Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Written by Stanley Kubrick & Frederic Raphael
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
The final film from Stanley Kubrick came twelve years after his previous picture, Full Metal Jacket. The expectations are high, and close friends and family of the director have said he really felt the pressure of making a great film because of the standards he’d set for himself. I never had the privilege of going to a new Kubrick film in the theater, I was eighteen when Eyes Wide Shut was released and hadn’t yet fully developed in my understanding of cinema. From what I read from older film fans & critics, a Kubrick movie was met with humming anticipation. These heightened expectations will inevitably lead to disappointment because they put so much of the viewer’s demands on what the piece of art should be. However, contemporary reevaluations of Eyes Wide Shut have redeemed a beautiful send-off for one of our great masters in the craft.
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Barry Lyndon (1975)
Written & Directed by Stanley Kubrick
I think Stanley Kubrick was one of those rare directors who could dramatically shift tone & aesthetics between films without losing his core themes. On a material level, the differences between A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon is a vast gulf. Sex & violence is still present, but it’s meted out in a much more measured fashion. The goal of Barry Lyndon is to communicate with subtlety, to control the camera to an almost ascetic degree in how it delivers information about the characters & conflict. Kubrick also plays with structure creating two very distinct halves that tell us different things about the same character.
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Written by Vladimir Nabokov (but really by Stanley Kubrick & James B. Harris)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
As both the film’s trailer and poster asked, “How did they ever make a movie about Lolita?” To say this is an extremely controversial book is an understatement, but also to say that the controversy surrounding the book is overblown would be as well. Lolita is sometimes categorized as an erotic novel, and, as someone who has read Nabokov’s book, I didn’t find anything erotic in the whole text. It’s a first-person narrative told by an unreliable narrator whom the author has called “a vain and cruel wretch.” The novel Lolita is a literary text dripping with irony. There’s a bizarre penchant for modern American culture to assume “protagonist” is equivalent to “hero,” and I guess our popular media has pushed that paradigm aggressively. I don’t think that is the case, and often the most interesting stories are the ones told from a villain’s point of view, which does not mean we are expected to agree with the narrator.
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The Assistant (2020)
Written & Directed by Kitty Green
The #MeToo movement of the last three years pulled a lot of masks off a situation that almost everyone knew was happening, but there had been a collective silence due to the fear of losing jobs and wealth. One of the biggest revelations was the uncovering of film producer Harvey Weinstein’s habitual abuse and outright rape of women for decades. Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison for sexual assault and rape in New York City with additional charges pending in Los Angeles. As much as it we want to celebrate his convictions, history tells us wealthy men who abuse their power don’t often serve those full sentences and have the wealth to make prison a very comfortable place while they are there. Justice for the victims of the powerful is a rare animal indeed.
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Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
Written & Directed by Mike Figgis
Leaving Las Vegas was based on a novel of the same name written by John O’Brien. O’Brien moved to Los Angeles in the early 1980s with dreams of becoming a screenwriter. By 1992, his marriage had fallen apart, and he had become severely depressed. He was still writing though, even using a connection through his ex-wife to pen an episode of Nickelodeon’s Rugrats, which was subsequently edited to the point of being unrecognizable. O’Brien published his first novel in 1990, Leaving Las Vegas, which was sold to become a film in 1994. Within weeks of the deal, O’Brien died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He was 33 years old. He died alone in his apartment.
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The Personal History of David Copperfield (2020)
Written by Simon Blackwell & Armando Iannucci
Directed by Armando Iannucci
David Copperfield is a dense 600 page+ novel and adapting it to the screen is a daunting task. It has been adapted to television and film fourteen times ranging from ninety-minute movies to thirteen-part mini-series. When you take anything from page to screen, you must make cuts and take artistic liberties. The focus should be on preserving the themes and tone of the work, and if certain scenes have to go, that’s okay. British filmmaker Armando Iannucci manages to pull off this feat in two hours by reinventing the text and providing a thematic framework through bookends. The result is one of the most genuinely joyous celebrations of life’s complexities and coincidences that I have seen in a long time.
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Written by Sarah Gubbins
Directed by Josephine Decker
This is not a biopic about Shirley Jackson. This is an adaptation of a novel that is, in turn, a fictionalized version of Jackson’s life. In particular, it focuses on the tension between Jackson and her husband Stanley Hyman, a literary critic and professor. The film attempts to tell this story in the style of the writer’s gothic psychological short stories, with lots of people descending into a realistic form of madness. There’s no homicide involved, just humans breaking down and resisting saying the most horrible things to each other. On paper, this sounds fantastic, but something happens in the translation that renders the film lacking in the emotional impact I believe it should have had.
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Sense and Sensibility (1995)
Written by Emma Thompson
Directed by Ang Lee
I am not against Jane Austen, I just do not find her style of writing matches with my personal aesthetic and narrative tastes. That said, I really enjoyed the tone of this year’s Emma adaptation with all of the stylistic flourishes that the director brought. 1995’s Sense and Sensibility feels exceptionally flat in its presentation. I think Ang Lee is a pretty good filmmaker, not the best in the world, but he has made movies I’ve enjoyed or at least find interesting. The actors in this film aren’t bad at all, some fantastic performers, but I was never drawn in by the story they were telling. If this is a movie you love, then, by all means, love it, it may just not be for me.
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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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