Zabriskie Point (1970)
Written by Michelangelo Antonioni, Fred Gardner, Sam Shepard, Tonino Guerra, and Clare Peploe
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Michelangelo Antonioni experienced his first commercial failure with Zabriskie Point. I never really thought of his movies as something that sought mass audience approval. His work in Italy felt extremely niche, but that could be because today, popular media is often so broad & so shallow that we aren’t used to seeing thoughtful, challenging works shown in the cineplex. The United States in 1970 was an incredibly different time than now, especially with film. Influenced by the revolution in filmmaking making happening in Europe, American directors and studios were trying to crank out fare that would appeal to the youth counterculture. Easy Rider crafted the mold, and everyone else chased it. Zabriskie Point is a movie that’s part of that shift, but it’s still Antonioni’s particular perspective on existence in the modern world and once again follows two people adrift in this strange new world.
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This special reward is available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 monthly levels. Each month those patrons will pick a film for me to review. If they choose, they also get to include some of their thoughts about the movie. This Pick comes from Bekah Lindstrom.
One True Thing (1998)
Written by Karen Croner
Directed by Carl Franklin
Movies like One True Thing weren’t on my radar in the late 1990s. I was a teenager, a year away from college, sheltered & homeschooled, working at my local public library and discovering all sorts of exciting niche things I would cultivate over the decades. So something like this movie wouldn’t have even been a blip for me. Instead, I was far more interested in exploring weird movies, inching my way towards becoming the art house snob I lived as during college. Now, at age 41, I appreciate this type of movie more, particularly in the face of its near extinction, as something you can see in a theater. The cineplexes are dominated by blockbuster incoherence, and streaming seems to be a flood of mediocrity devoid of soul. So while One True Thing sounds like a Lifetime movie in its description, the performances, mainly Meryl Streep’s (coming as no surprise to anyone), elevate the picture to something of note.
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Decision to Leave (2022)
Written by Jeong Seo-kyeong & Park Chan-wook
Directed by Park Chan-wook
Part of me is surprised at the moderate reviews Decision to Leave has garnered from audiences. However, I can understand it if you focus entirely on the plot. This is an homage to Hitchcock that is very obvious from the start. The shadow of Vertigo looms large, and that’s not a bad thing. A good crime thriller is rare, and South Korea certainly knows how to make good movies. It’s a pairing that meshes perfectly. But yes, you’ll not be blown away by the story, at least on the surface. It’s still a tremendously compelling story. Where Decision to Leave blew me away was with the cinematography. Holy shit! Park Chan-wook is one of the greatest directors of all time, but you forget in between watching his movies. Then when you sit down and watch one, it doesn’t take long to be reminded you are in the hands of a genuine master of the form. There are shots in this movie that blew my fucking mind! Even a person simply driving from one location to another always looks interesting. The camera is always put in a spot you wouldn’t expect, and it always works.
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This special reward is available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 monthly levels. Each month those patrons will pick a film for me to review. If they choose, they also get to include some of their thoughts about the movie. This Pick comes from Matt Harris.
Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
Written by Clifford Odets, Ernest Lehman, and Alexander Mackendrick
Directed by Alexander Mackendrick
Possessing a title that drips with as much irony as grease seems to exude from its central character, Sweet Smell of Success is a bold reminder that America in the 1950s was not some picket fence, sunny side wonderland. It was the same festering sore before, and it remains a place where no one gets ahead because they have talent or have cultivated a skill. Nope, the only skill that counts is how well you can lie, cheat, and steal your way to the top. Success is defined as power, and you get that power with money. How do you get the money? Well, with power. See what a con job it is? Some gatekeepers sit on makeshift thrones, not in throne rooms but in nightclubs where they humor desperate politicians and desperate talent who want a kind word thrown their way in tomorrow’s paper. But what will they do for that bit of ego-boosting fluffery, hm? There seems to be no bottom.
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The Family Stone (2005)
Written & Directed by Thomas Bezucha
To say The Family Stone is the least bad movie out of the seven I have watched for this series would be accurate, but also not a sign that I enjoyed watching it. I just suffered the least amount during this one. Everything about the story would work better as part of a television series. You have a family dynamic with one person coming from outside, conflict arises, and we get a maudlin sitcom-ish happy ending. The movie is confusing in who this is trying to appeal to as it features incredibly unlikable characters (even the ones we are supposed to like) but then is also wall-to-wall unfunny when it attempts comedy yet also poor at its attempts for pathos.
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Written & Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda
I was blown away by Shoplifters, filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda’s 2018 movie about a family of outcasts who find solace in each other from an often cruel world. It was my first encounter with the writer/director, and his attention to humanism was a wonderful thing to experience. This meant I was pretty excited to watch Broker, and I can’t say my expectations were met. Broker is not a bad movie, but it doesn’t reach the heights of Shoplifters. Nevertheless, we still get a remarkable story about another found family that has to face reality in the end and find some way to hold the love they had for each other while the world pulls them apart. Once again, Kore-eda shows us that the most compelling stories to be told are ones about humans and their complicated relationships with each other.
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Better Call Saul Season 2 (2016)
Written by Thomas Schnauz, Gennifer Hutchison, Jonathan Glatzer, Gordon Smith, Ann Cherkis, Peter Gould, Heather Marion & Vince Gilligan
Directed by Thomas Schnauz, Terry McDonough, Scott Winant, Adam Bernstein, John Shiban, Michael Slovis, Colin Bucksey, Larysa Kondracki, Peter Gould, and Vince Gilligan
Our personal values can often clash with what we want to become. I taught elementary school for a decade and genuinely loved working with kids. It’s a special thing to watch students grow into themselves, gaining confidence in areas they once thought they were terrible at. But, with COVID-19 and the poor decisions made by my district’s leadership, I knew my personal values were not in line with the myopic view of those in charge of American public education. So I left. I say all this because Jimmy McGill goes through a similar experience, being forced to conform to a system that gatekeeps his ambitions. While me teaching children is not the same as being a slightly crooked lawyer, both instances are about staying true to oneself.
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Reservation Dogs Season 2 (FX)
Written by Sterlin Harjo, Dallas Goldtooth, Ryan RedCorn, Chad Charlie, Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs, Tazbah Rose Chavez, Erica Tremblay, Bobby Wilson, Blackhorse Lowe, Migizi Pensoneau, and Tommy Pico
Directed by Sterlin Harjo, Erica Tremblay, Danis Goulet, Tazbah Rose Chavez, and Blackhorse Lowe
I was a big fan of the first season of Reservation Dogs, finding it to be a smartly written and fresh show. Indigenous comedy is not something we settlers are exposed to very often, and I was grateful to be introduced to the talents involved in this show. Dallas Goldtooth immediately became my favorite with his portrayal of the spirit guide William Knifeman. But despite how much I enjoyed that first season, I wouldn’t say I loved it. That all changed with season two, which takes the established characters and goes further. It is one of the most emotionally moving, yet still hilarious, seasons of television I have watched in 2022.
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Written & Directed by Andrew Dominik
I knew this would be one of those movies where social media would have the stupidest takes on either side of loving or hating it. The criticism, of course, lacks as much nuance as the film itself. But that’s how most Americans engage with art; in a completely shallow way. They have been trained so they don’t get pesky ideas or start understanding how complex existence can be. Blonde is a bad movie, but it is not misogynistic out of malice but rather from completely vapid stupidity. Andrew Dominik’s failure is not that he did not accurately represent Marilyn Monroe’s life but that he made a terrible adaptation of a novel. It has no narrative threads or thematic consistency to tie everything together and comes off as an incoherently angry waste of time.
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Gardens of Stone (1987)
Written by Ronald Bass
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
There’s a good reason you probably have never heard of this Coppola film. It is bad. Like truly, the bottom of the barrel, not even the fun kind of bad. Yet, it doesn’t make me dislike the director or think he’d completely lost his creative touch. To understand why Gardens of Stone is so bad, you need to know what happened to Coppola during the production. It is no big reveal that Coppola centered his family in his life. You can see this in how he included them in every level of his film’s production. The man kept the people he loved the closest to him.
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