Needy Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried) is a violent inmate in an asylum who is convinced the people running the place are trying to keep her placid with shitty food and frequent exercise. She’s not having any of that, so she assaults someone and gets thrown into solitary confinement. It seems hard to believe that not too long ago she was an insecure student at a small town high school. Just what the hell happened here?
Note: I was supposed to review Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark today, but in between the time I volunteered to review it and last night when I actually sat down to watch it, it disappeared from streaming. Whoops! John says I’ve seen it before anyway. I guess it’s lucky we didn’t announce the schedule in advance, but since John mentioned Bigelow in his intro post, I wanted to let you know up front we won’t actually be looking at any of her movies this year.
Ten years before the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, in 1982, Frank Zappa gave a name to a certain type of affluent, young white women in California’s San Fernando Valley: The Valley Girl. To Zappa’s chagrin, his song helped popularize the stereotype and Valleyspeak, spreading the culture throughout the country. It helped create a new market for stories about ditzy, privileged girls and set us off on a long, dark road that somehow includes in a Nicolas Cage movie and I guess ends with Modern Family? Another man, a worse, hateful piece of shit named Joss Whedon, was apparently inspired by this trend but left wondering one thing: could he fit these girls into his nerdy fantasies? And thus one of the great media franchises of the late twentieth century was born.
As amusingly bizarre as Colin’s conclusion to this year’s Criterion Month was, I thought the occasion deserved even more fanfare. You see, this marks five years of Criterion Months, since we started this tradition way back in 2017. That was uniquely the only time we did two Criterion Months in a year, as we followed that up with another one for that year’s Shocktober. We could afford to do those sorts of things those days, because life was so simple. Back then, we streamed Criterion movies on Hulu and TCM’s FilmStruck and had even more incentive to do this because the Barnes and Noble John worked at was still open. Things sure have changed a lot since then.
We’ve collectively reviewed 182 movies (I refuse to include Cyberspace Jam), let’s break them down.
When people decry the state of modern filmmaking, I think they must consider the case of Terrence Malick. The famously private writer-director made his debut with Badlands in 1973, an indie film financed mostly by people outside the industry. Five years later, he followed that up with the gorgeous Days of Heaven, which had a difficult production and lengthy post-production. That was enough to leave him struggling to get a picture off the ground for two decades, until he finally released The Thin Red Line in 1998. It took him another eight years to do The New World, then six more for The Tree of Life. So five movies in nearly 40 years.
But something changed in the 2010s: To the Wonder came out just a year after The Tree of Life and Malick managed to make three more movies (plus an IMAX experience) before the end of the decade. Back in the day, his films were huge events for cinephiles like me, now sometimes I don’t even hear about them at all when they come out (the fuck was Song to Song?). For whatever reason, one of our least bankable directors became his most prolific during perhaps the most commercial era in cinema’s history. I leave it to you to decide if giving Malick access to so many ways to make and distribute movies enabled an auteur to finally thrive or took some of the shine off of him.
I should watch more Jim Jarmusch movies. That’s it, that’s my big takeaway from finally watching Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai after owning the DVD for probably something like 15 years. I’ve only seen a few of his movies, but I’ve liked them all (especially the beloved Patterson) which has locked a few of them perpetually on my queue (especially Only Lovers Left Alive). My only explanation for why is that he makes weird movies that don’t exactly go the way you’d expect them to, so it’s hard to put yourself in the right mood. And that’s pretty weak sauce, but was definitely true for Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.
I watched Paris Is Burning last night and have spent all day today agonizing over how to convince you that it’s worth seeing if you haven’t gotten around to it yet. Maybe the five stars I gave it will help? I’d also like to tell you it’s easy to stream on the Criterion Channel right now. Maybe if I include that it’s only 78 minutes long that might sweeten the deal? I just don’t want to come on too strong. Because what I really want to lead with is Paris Is Burning is without a doubt one of the most beautiful, moving documentaries about life in America I’ve ever seen. And I know that lofty proclamations like that get movies added to queues but then it takes something like a Criterion Month to convince us to actually watch them.
I think anyone of my generation or younger who chooses to watch The Big Chill goes into it dreading they’ll find it relatable. It’s a movie about a group of white, boomer thirtysomethings who get together to talk about how they all sold out, got rich, and settled down. Basically, its about exactly the people and the mindset that led to our world being in such a dire state today. But I think writer-director Lawrence Kasdan is using the specific experience of his generation to make a broader observation about how growing old has affected every generation. More importantly, he’s letting us spend time with eight interesting characters in what I’d call a proto-hangout movie.