The Kid Detective (2020)
Written & Directed by Evan Morgan
When I was a kid, I was a fairly regular reader of the Encyclopedia Brown book series. Brown was a middle school student who worked as his neighborhood’s local kid detective. Each book had around ten interlinked stories that end on a cliffhanger. The reader is expected to notice an inconsistency in a suspect’s dialogue that hints at their guilt. I can say only once do I remember solving the mystery before checking the back of the book for the answer. Brown has served as an inspiration for many other kid detectives and many satire pieces on the genre recently. I recall The Boy Detective Fails by Joe Meno and Donald Glover’s Mystery Team as pieces of media that touch on the concept of child detectives turned adults.
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It’s not just important to support Black Lives, but you also need to engage in and promote Black Art. Here are some books I absolutely love that are written by Black authors. I hope you find something here to pick up and read. These are not just books by Black writers but also some of the best books period I’ve ever read.
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Written by Paddy Chayefsky
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Network is a masterpiece. This is true both in the sheer craft of Paddy Chayefsky’s dialogue and structure, but especially for how the themes are blended so perfectly in the narrative. One of my biggest complaints about the film has nothing to do with what we see on screen but with the audience’s popular interpretation. Most people know Network for the famous “I’m Mad As Hell” speech, which leads me to the belief they shut the film off right as the second act starts. The statement has to be viewed in the context of the entire movie and how the words of Howard Beale are used and twisted by institutions in power.
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The Hospital (1971)
Written by Paddy Chayefsky
Directed by Arthur Hiller
The Hospital exists as a prelude to the masterpiece that was to come from Chayefsky’s pen. There are seeds of ideas here that are profoundly challenging. The film bores an ice core of the effect of modernism on American society circa the 1960s, never giving an excuse to wrong takes but laying out the psyche of a white privileged class that doesn’t know how to function in a new world. We also see a society that refuses to adapt and change to the demands of marginalized classes and does nothing to try and symphonize the cacophony of voices. The establishment would rather throw their hands up and complain then reconfigure the structural rot that runs through everything.
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The Stuff (1985)
Written & Directed by Larry Cohen
Paranoia has been a chief component of modern life since the Cold War. In the 1950s, Americans were told to beware of “Reds” in their midst while the Senate conducted a witch hunt against citizens. This inspired the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which took its novel roots and reimagined them as a commentary on the Red Scare tearing through the country. Ever since, the concept of the masses being overtaken by an insidious enemy has seemed enticing for many directors and writers. You often have one or two characters who are on to the ruse but seem helpless against the enemy’s scope and scale. This was the type of story that inspired independent filmmaker Larry Cohen to make his satire on the modern corporate food industry.
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Total Recall (1990)
Written by Philip K. Dick, Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett, and Gary Goldman
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Total Recall is not the best film ever made. It’s not even the best science fiction movie, but it is a beautiful example of a type of science fiction film that died out around the beginning of the 1990s. The practical effects, the matte painting, the clever use of computer effects in minimal ways, all add up to a world I wish we could spend more time in. But, I’m sort of glad that we don’t get more of this setting because it makes the bits and pieces provided all that more interesting to mull over.
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Hail the Conquering Hero (1944)
Written & Directed by Preston Sturges
Preston Sturges did something delightfully subversive in this film, choosing to make another movie that appears on the surface level to be about patriotism and supporting “our boys” in the war effort. What he did was make a satire upending military hero worship and some of the core ideologies of bourgeoise America. During my viewing, I sat there stunned at how much he was getting away with, convinced that the censors at the time were dumber than I thought. This is a criminally underrated, wholly American movie that most definitely could not be made with today’s sterile corporate Hollywood environment.
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Avenue 5 Season One (HBO)
Written by Armando Iannucci, Simon Blackwell, Tony Roche, Georgia Pritchett, Will Smith, Peter Fellows, Ian Martin, Peter Baynham, Jon Brown, Charlie Cooper, Daisy Cooper, and Sean Gray
Directed by Armando Iannucci, Natalie Bailey, Annie Griffin, Peter Fellows, Becky Martin, David Schneider, and William Stefan Smith
In the wake of the fantastic HBO series Veep, I wondered how Armando Iannucci would follow it up. He delivered a solid feature film in the Death of Stalin, and I wondered if he might go the movie route. Avenue 5 is an interesting hybrid of television and film, you could argue that this is an extended feature film. The production value is extremely high here, with Iannucci taking advantage of the clout he now has at HBO. This is an ambitious show that takes a bit to get into, but when it finally clicks, you realize we have something very special here.
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Greener Grass (2019)
Written and Directed by Jocelyn DeBoer & Dawn Luebbe
In the 21st century, there has been an influx of a new kind of anti-comedy with the work of comedians like Tim & Eric being one of many beginning touchpoints. This is humor that blends social satire and grotesque imagery, not intending to demean some other figure but often as a way for the artist to examine their own anxieties and insecurities. Much like how David Lynch explores his fears of parenthood in Eraserhead, so too do these films and television programs feature creators wanting to jump headfirst into neuroses. Greener Grass is two women’s look at a particular type of femininity and way of life that they have intense fears about.
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Mister America (2019)
Written by Tim Heidecker, Gregg Turkington, & Eric Notarnicola
Directed by Eric Notarnicola
For seven years, writer/actor/comedian Tim Heidecker has been building a universe. It started with “On Cinema at the Cinema,” a film review show on YouTube. Heidecker and Turkington starred as versions of themselves, the former an arrogant prick and the latter a film buff obsessed with all that is mediocre. Worldbuilding occurred during the conversations the men had. This included Heidecker marrying a Japanese friend, having a child with the friend (Tom Cruise Junior), and the child dying because Heidecker became a strict anti-vaxxer. It was clear that Heidecker had a point of view to get across, the sort of profoundly twisted satire mainstream media doesn’t provide audiences with.
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