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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Written by Bong Joon-ho & Jin Won Han
Directed by Bong Joon-ho
Bong Joon-ho is a filmmaker genuinely interested in issues of class and social structures. You can see that in his previous work, especially Snowpierce, Okja, and The Host, but there are elements of this in all his work. Parasite is the synthesis of all these ideas, a perfect summation of his thoughts on the class divide and human nature. This is a film made by a creator who is at the height of their confidence. Bong Joon-ho is clear-headed with a thorough understanding of the story they want to tell and the psychologies of the characters populating that narrative. It may sound grandiose to say this, but this is an example of about as close as we can get to having a perfect movie.
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