Red Rocket (2021) Written by Chris Bergoch and Sean Baker Directed by Sean Baker
Sean Baker’s filmmaking career has been centered on people working on the margins of society. Tangerine followed two transgender sex workers through a day in their life while The Florida Project, while told from young Moonie’s perspective, featured the challenges her mother, a sex worker, faced in Orlando. Red Rocket continues this trend but with a male sex worker. While Baker has always presented characters who challenge us to like them in certain moments, none of them have been as challenging to wrestle with as Mikey. Filmed during COVID, the director pulls this picture off without a hitch, delivering a searing image of America in the last few years of decline.
The World of Us (2016) Written & Directed by Yoon Ga-eun
South Korean cinema consistently surprises me with how well-made it is. It shouldn’t because I’ve been seeking out and watching Korean films for around 14 years. Because movies are so dominated by American-made fare, it’s easy to forget how excellent other cultures are at producing films. The World of Us was a movie that was nowhere near my radar until suggested by Matt as his Patron Pick for December 2021. I did a little research before watching it, and it’s a film cited by Bong Joon-ho when asked about contemporary movies from his country that he recommends. I had no real idea what to expect but knew this would likely be another fantastic picture.
The Game (1997) Written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris Directed by David Fincher
David Fincher is a director I highly respect, but I wouldn’t say I love all his movies. I was lukewarm on Benjamin Button; Mank was good but only stood out because of the emaciated year 2020 was, and Alien 3 is flawed but interesting. I count Zodiac as one of my favorite pictures of all time, and Gone Girl is also a masterpiece. The Game has always been a strange one to me, made in the period between Seven and Fight Club; it is such an odd movie with a unique story. It certainly feels like a Fincher movie from the cinematography and lighting, but it never solidifies a consistent tone. Matt picked this as his Patron selection for November, and it allowed me to revisit the second David Fincher film I ever saw.
Treehouse of Horror (original airdate: October 25, 1990) Written by John Swartzwelder, Jay Kogen, Wallace Wolodarksy, Sam Simon, and Edgar Allen Poe Directed by Wes Archer, Rich Moore, and David Silverman
Treehouse of Horror II (original airdate: October 21, 1991) Written by Al Jean, Mike Reiss, Jeff Martin, George Meyer, Sam Simon, and John Swartzwelder Directed by Jim Reardon
Treehouse of Horror III (original airdate: October 29, 1992) Written by Al Jean & Mike Reiss, Jay Kogen & Wallace Wolodarsky, Sam Simon, and Jon Vitti Directed by Carlos Baeza
I can vividly remember watching the first Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror on a Thursday evening in 1990. I was genuinely scared and entertained by it. I think that’s one of the great appeals of those early Treehouse episodes; the writers injected it with genuine horror but pulled back just enough so you wouldn’t get too frightened. The annual series was inspired by the anthology horror comics of E.C. (Tales from the Crypt, etc.), evidenced by the prevalence of gruesome puns in the opening credits. It wasn’t intended to become an annual tradition but rather an experiment with the show’s format.
Let There Be Light (2017) Written by Dan Gordon and Sam Sorbo Directed by Kevin Sorbo
When I was a youth, I fondly remember an hour block of syndicated television on Saturday featuring the adventures of Hercules & Xena. Little did I know over twenty years later, Kevin Sorbo, the man playing Hercules, would be revealed to be such a sanctimonious douchebag, grifting on the current fasci-corporate brand of American Christianity. It shouldn’t surprise me as the “top stars” of the American conservatism movement are washed-up actors (Scott Baio, Dean Cain, anyone?). I guess there’s some resentment about not succeeding in the business, but this isn’t some conspiracy theory about Sorbo’s religious belief; he’s not a good actor, so a cheesy show like Hercules was a terminal point for him. Sam Sorbo, his wife, was a recurring character on the show and is also a mediocre performer. I guess that makes them perfect performers for the Jesus film circuit.
Baraka (1992) Written by Constantine Nicholas and Genevieve Nicholas Directed by Ron Fricke
When Seth told me that his brother had selected a movie to be reviewed, I wasn’t surprised. The shocker came that he had chosen me to do it, and as the title was given, for a brief moment, I thought my brother-in-law was forcing me to watch a movie about Barack Obama because he wanted to test me.
Luckily, I was wrong, but still, a little perplexed as Seth further explained it to me. I am not a cinephile. I’m just a woman who likes what she likes.
The Fifth Element (1997) Written by Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen Directed by Luc Besson
The 1990s saw a slew of big-budget science fiction films, and most of them were memorable but not fantastic. Independence Day and Judge Dredd come to mind. However, there would occasionally be a diamond in the rough. Demolition Man would be a campy favorite. Contact was a science fiction pic made for people desiring something more cerebral. And then we have The Fifth Element, a lavish indulgence of production design, eccentric characters, and space opera that never takes itself too seriously yet has so much heart. There are few films like it which is probably why The Fifth Element has endured in people’s memories. But, unfortunately, even the director failed to recapture the magic decades later.
The Donut King (2020) Written by Carol Martori Directed by Alice Gu
When my patron Matt first picked The Donut King, I wasn’t sure what angle to take for the review. This was before I watched the film, but it became evident to me how to talk about the documentary during my viewing. The film centers around the “too good to be true” promise of “the American Dream” and the impact chasing this unattainable myth has, particularly on immigrants & refugees, desperate to make something of their lives and raise up their families. The cost of the pursuit is poison in the veins, a direct product of the ravenous inhumane Capitalism American specializes in fomenting.
New Waterford Girl (1998) Written by Tricia Fish Directed by Allan Moyle
As someone who spent ages 10-18 in a small rural area, I have found that places like this can feel incredibly stifling. Much like the characters in this story, their religion (Catholicism in their case, American Nationalist theology for mine) casts a shadow over their lives but not in a way that strictly shapes their behavior. Instead, they create loopholes for inevitable downfalls of human morality. For example, if you get a girl pregnant, you just marry her, and then all is forgiven, or you go off for a few months to a convent where the baby is taken, and then you come home, and no one ever talks about it again. There’s not much to look forward to in this place, leading to a rather bleak outlook on life, a desire to escape.
Playtime (1967) Written by Jacques Tati, Jacques Lagrange, and Art Buchwald Directed by Jacques Tati
I had just watched this for the first time recently, but it was a close contender for my 40 Favorite Movies list. I don’t like to put recent first-time viewings on a list like that; I prefer for time to pass, to revisit the movies, and then decide if it has earned that spot. However, Playtime is one of the greatest films ever made, without a doubt. It delivers incredible cinematography, physical performances, sight gags, and production design. It’s hard to say there is much of a story here, but it doesn’t matter. The film’s title informs us that this is an exercise in cinematic play. Jacques Tati is influenced by the great physical comedians in all the best ways and distills what he learned from them into what is the closest I think we’ll ever get to Where’s Waldo on film.