Movie Review – The Descendants

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The Descendants (2011)
Written by Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash
Directed by Alexander Payne

It would take six years after Sideways before Alexander Payne released another film. His longest gap to date between movies. During that time, Payne would get divorced from his wife Sandra Oh; they were together for around six years, married for three. I am no psychoanalyst, and everything I say is complete speculation, but…it sure does seem like the divorce did not sit well with Payne. I say that because from this point on, women, who appeared to have a special place in his previous work, suddenly take on a much darker tone. This film and the next two all feature female characters that are “nags” and absurdly vulgar for no apparent reason other than to add levity to the movie?

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Movie Review – Sideways

Make sure to reply to our poll for the podcast: Which is the best Alexander Payne movie?

Sideways (2004)
Written by Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor
Directed by Alexander Payne

With Sideways, Alexander Payne caused a 16% increase in sales of pinot noir in the Western United States. How many movies can say they did that? It also increased tourism to the Santa Ynez Valley in Central California and decreased merlot sales by 2%. I remember seeing this movie while I was in college with my friend Sam. In the following months, he became more interested in wine, and I benefitted by getting to try a lot of it. I can’t say I like wine all that much. I always seem to get a headache the morning after. I think the magic of this film is that even if you don’t care about it, the writing makes you interested. This is the effect of having a genuine passion; the rest of the world becomes invisible when you are lost in it, yet often you become someone people flock to because of that passion. We all want to feel that way about something.

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Movie Review – Citizen Ruth

Citizen Ruth (1996)
Written by Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor
Directed by Alexander Payne

Alexander Payne has been a presence in American film since the late 1990s, starting with this debut feature. Filmmaking has been a passion in Payne’s life since he was a teenager and got his first Super 8mm camera. Payne would eventually attend Stanford but not study film. Instead, he majored in Spanish and History. Then, in the late 1980s, he attended UCLA film school, where his thesis film, The Passion of Martin, started the ball rolling for future projects. 

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Patron Pick – The Mountain

Don’t forget to respond to our poll about your most anticipated Fall film release.

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. If they choose, they also get to include some of their thoughts about the movie. This Pick comes from Matt Harris.

The Mountain (2019)
Written & Directed by Rick Alverson

Rick Alverson has very little interest in entertaining you. In fact, he has no interest in it. To a lot of people, that would be shocking. Don’t movies exist to entertain? Well, some of them do. Art can serve several purposes, but Western audiences have clearly pigeonholed movies into escapism. Alverson sees movies as a form of confrontation. You are confronted with visuals and sound along with the story. All these elements working in concert can create discomfort in the viewer if arranged correctly. Alverson accomplished this previously in his more notable work, The Comedy and (ironically enough) Entertainment. But I think The Mountain is his most accessible of these three, more narratively driven but still steeped in themes of alienation & anger that characters do not know how to express.

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Movie Review – Model Shop

Model Shop (1969)
Written by Jacques Demy & Carole Eastman
Directed by Jacques Demy

Something changed on his vacation to Los Angeles. Demy hadn’t intended to make a film there but felt the spirit he’d seen die in Paris was now happening in the States. He’d entered into a depression, feeling that the people he’d admired in France were stumbling, unsure of how to present something fresh or even articulate the moment they were all living in. Where Demy’s previous work embraced the artifice of film production, he violently shakes that away here, preferring a more naturalistic style of filmmaking. Non-actors are cast wherever Demy can put them, and there’s an absence of narrative, just wandering, making Model Shop feel like an ancestor of Sean Baker’s Tangerine. Yet, it was another film flop that failed to connect with critics or audiences of the time.

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Movie Review – Bay of Angels

Bay of Angels (1963)
Written & Directed by Jacques Demy

From the opening credits, Bay of Angels explodes onto the screen. The energy of this sequence will propel the rest of the film forward, a visual representation of the distance between people, of long winding personal journeys intersecting with another’s, and even the overstimulated rush provided by gambling. Demy’s characters are always caught up in their passions, and women are found at the center of things. For the director, women seem to be the key for a man to feel life; without them, everything seems to fall into abject misery. Of course, that doesn’t mean life is going to be sunshine and rainbows with a woman in your life, but you will, if nothing else, feel something. These celestial figures light up every nerve ending, even if the sensation is searing pain.

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Movie Review – Lola

Lola (1961)
Written & Directed by Jacques Demy

The French New Wave was a dominant force in Western cinema in the post-War era. The various filmmakers associated with the movement (Goddard, Truffaut, et al.) left an indelible mark on how movies are made, but at some point, they faded into the background as other countries around the world started revolutionizing cinema in their own way. Jacques Demy was a French filmmaker, a little younger than the New Wave auteurs, whose best work happened after that attention had faded. He made some incredible movies, often inspired by Hollywood pictures but with his own flourishes added. His name would not be as well known as his older peers, but his work would resonate with certain modern filmmakers. Damien Chazelle cited The Umbrellas of Cherbourg as “the greatest film ever made” and heavily cribbed from it and The Young Girls of Rochefort for his La La Land. I think Demy deserves much more accolades for the brilliant remixing of film elements he presented in his work.

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Movie Review – I, Daniel Blake

I, Daniel Blake (2016)
Written by Paul Laverty
Directed by Ken Loach

Western civilization is nearing its end. Now it could be around for another 100 years or more. I don’t think we’ll see any Roland Emmrich-style explosive finale or Mad Max-ian wastelands ruled by marauders. It’s a sad, pathetic decline where the poor and working people will just be stepped on harder and harder. Cruelty will be further normalized, and society will be conditioned to accept less than crumbs as acceptable. Anyone speaking out who might bring out even a modicum of change will be pilloried and labeled a “hater,” a “traitor,” etc. And you’ll still be expected to keep going to work and paying bills during this collapse. They won’t let a day go by that you aren’t being squeezed like a sponge for all possible labor at the lowest possible wages. The slavery model in American prisons has been quite lucrative. 

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Movie Review – Wall Street

Wall Street (1987)
Written by Oliver Stone & Stanley Weiser
Directed by Oliver Stone

Oliver Stone is one of those filmmakers I’ve seen many films from but don’t feel I’ve ever dived deep into his work. I remember being hyper-aware of JFK when it was released and then subsequently referenced in comedy across the contemporary landscape of the time. Riding high off the success of Platoon, Stone wanted to write a script with his film school friend Stanley Weiser about the 1950s quiz show scandal. As ideas were tossed back and forth, the film evolved into focusing on Wall Street and the investment boom of the 1980s. The two writers spent weeks observing at a brokerage firm and pulled on their own connections within the tribe of stock bros. Citing inspirations like Upton Sinclair, Sinclair Lewis, and the satire of Paddy Chayefsky, they ended up with a script titled Greed, later changed to Wall Street.

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Movie Review – Blue Collar

Blue Collar (1978)
Written by Paul Schrader & Leonard Schrader
Directed by Paul Schrader

The American automotive industry was once a significant piece of the national mythos. It was born out of the personal legend-making of Henry Ford and kept growing from there. The conflict between the companies and the unions dragged on for decades, a constant tension between workers & management that came to its fatal end with the election of Ronald Reagan, a nail in the coffin of American union power. This was Paul Schrader’s directorial debut, riding high off the acclaim from his screenplay for Taxi Driver. By the end of Blue Collar’s shoot, the filmmaker would have a nervous breakdown and reconsider his career choices. Fueled by a trio of actors with big egos and a strong dislike for each other, Schrader was at the center of a work that would prove chaotic on many fronts.

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