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.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) Written by Lawrence Hauben & Bo Goldman Directed by Milos Forman
The United States has had a profoundly complicated relationship with mental health for the entirety of its existence. Mired in the regressive repression of religion, it was seen as proper to punish those with mental illness for behaviors outside of their control and often their understanding. What existed even further beneath the veneer of tough Christian love was a focus on conformity and the expulsion of the aberrant. Those who would not conform to societal norms were verboten, sent off to die inside mental hospitals where they would be brutalized into complete psychological oblivion. This ideology inspired author Ken Kesey to write his novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Late nights sitting up with patients at the Menlo Park Veterans’ Hospital led Kesey to believe these people were not insane. Instead, they did not behave within the conventions society had deemed proper, and so they had to be extricated from public existence.
I can’t say I have ever loved the work of Jon Favreau. I watched and moderately enjoyed his early career. I am one of those people who was confounded by the adverse reaction to Made. I think it was one of the few times I laughed at Vince Vaughn. His cringy dumb guy who thinks he is smart schtick made me laugh. I never found his studio pictures like Elf, Zathura, or Iron Man very remarkable. It could undoubtedly be an age thing when it comes to those pictures. So when Chef originally came out, it zoomed past my radar with zero interest in watching it. The world would keep spinning. However, my brother and patron Matt chose this for his April pick, so I sat down and watched the thing.
Limitless (2011) Written by Leslie Dixon Directed by Neil Burger
If you could take a pill that would make you a super smart guy, would you do it? This month’s patron pick was explicitly chosen to irritate me, and I love it for that. Would I have ever voluntarily chosen to watch Limitless? Hell no. Am I looking forward to writing this review? Of course, I am! This film is what a stupid person thinks an intelligent person is like. It’s Michael Bay’s concept of what a genius would be. The people that fawn over Elon Musk and think he’s a god among men while ignoring that he’s the child of privilege probably rank this picture as one of their favorites. It is absolutely hilarious in how much it gets wrong and in its perception of succeeding is.
Patron Pick – Old Joy (2006) Written & Directed by Kelly Reichardt
Time eats away at friendships. You can know someone for years, become very intimate with them, revealing personal information about yourself, but then some time passes, and all that closeness just fades away. As responsibilities pile up and general maturity sets in, those people you met in your formative years lose the shine they once had. It can be incredibly frustrating when you find yourself getting your life together while old friends continue to live in stasis. They cling to a chaotic, less responsible time out of fear of what could happen to them if they continue developing as people. Sometimes you feel a need to reconnect with people from your past without any real understanding of why. The most painful feeling can be when you find that connection is impossible to rekindle.
One of my favorite moments: Captain Hook: You bet against me bringing Pan back here, didn’t ya? Pirate: No. Captain Hook: Aw, tell your captain the truth. [pirate starts to cry] Aww, say it. Say it. Pirate: I did. Captain Hook: Yes, you made a boo-boo. Pirate: [nods] I did. I did! Captain Hook: The Boo Box. Pirate: Not that! Not the Boo Box! NOO!! [he is then locked into a chest filled with scorpions.]
(Editor’s note: That pirate locked in the Boo Box was actually played by Glenn Close of all people!)
Hook (1991) Written by Nick Castle, Carrie Fisher, Jim V. Hart & Malia Scotch Marmo Directed by Steven Spielberg
I found that it’s pretty impossible to watch Hook without thinking about the passing of Robin Williams. In December, this film will turn 30 years old. In August, Williams will have been gone for seven years. I can’t say Williams was ever my favorite actor, but I certainly love some of his films with a sense of nostalgia. Pictures like Hook and Jumanji were significant movies for me growing up. I know we recorded Hook off an airing on ABC and rewatched that VHS tape so many times. I think this viewing was tinged less by Steven Spielberg’s trademark maudlin sensibilities and more how the film’s themes sting a little harder when you think about the tragedy of Williams’s death and the circumstances surrounding it.