It’s time to crack open another case of The Letterboxd Files with Cory.
So we’re back with another edition of The Letterboxd Files with Cory. We’ve done nine of these. If you’re a regular, you might as well just follow me on Letterboxd at this point. No use in multitasking. Who’s to say. I don’t have all the answers. I just write the reviews. Time is a flat circle.
Don’t Worry Darling
Don’t Worry Darling is Pleasantville holding a rusty hatchet. Olivia Wilde just pushes all the chips in and gets a ferocious performance from Florence Pugh. It’s disorienting in the way it lures you in, hyper-confident in how it wants to get its message across. A jolt.
If you really commit to the POV storytelling and the elusive editing, you get a fireball of style, performance and theme. Yes, it’s on the nose, but in the same way Rocky Balboa punching you is. It’s going to naturally be divisive, but I’m all in on it.
Also, what the movie does with Harry Styles here is hilarious, and I really hope all the off-screen hubbub doesn’t keep people from appreciating what a great casting decision that is.
Where to Watch: Theaters
For better or worse, this is one of the most provocative American films of the past few years. Dominik is just too monumental a filmmaker to step into such a precarious situation and not make something worth discussing, and Blonde is, at the very least, worth a very nuanced conversation on … just so, so many things.
In some moments, you feel like you’re watching the definitive American celebrity nightmare, a titanic indictment of the way our culture chews up and spits out entertainers, never more horrifying than during the “Golden Age” of Hollywood. Ana de Armas just falls into Monroe; it’s such a crushing performance, one that fully seems to understand Monroe’s trauma and her inability to break away from her on-screen persona. At its best, Dominik doesn’t push the film into exploitation and keeps it a fever dream of a woman battling her own iconography, searching for a home, yearning for family and safety.
Though, this film is chocked full of uncomfortable half-truths and cruel fiction. By focusing so heavily on Monroe’s real and imagined pain, she becomes nothing more than a theme. Though it’s clearly proper to lambast sexual violence, misogyny, the celebrity machine and the darkness of early Hollywood, the film doesn’t grant Monroe her agency or any sort of complexity. She’s merely a plot device in her own story. De Armas’ sensational performance can only do so much to add those layers. There are moments that are so grotesque in trying to show Monroe at rock bottom, ones imagined at times to reinforce the fire and brimstone…they’re just ill-advised and occasionally salacious. It’s not intentional as the film clearly wants to be an avenging angel, but as unconventional as this biopic is, it deserves Monroe more of her actual joys, of the good moments that make the righteous indignation of the bad ones more cutting.
This is just one of those movies that’s hard to really come down on one way or the other after you watch it. The filmmaking, score and especially lead performance command respect, but that landmine of a script really might veer far, far too hard into the mystic. Monroe’s story is a tragic one, but it’s still hers. It deserves to be told, but how much creative freedom can you use until it veers into exploitation? How much more pain does Monroe have to go through for you to understand that your audience gets the point? Monroe suffered, but she also lived. To tell the full story of her life, to truly respect her memory and time here, you must capture the vibrancy. No one is solely their pain. It doesn’t take away from the noble intent, but intent doesn’t always match full execution. As much as I respect so much of what this film brings to the table, I also question the point of this approach. At times, it really works. When it doesn’t? It’s a hard sit. This just can’t be the biopic where the subject only gets lost in the confusion and darkness.
Where to Watch: Netflix (Sept. 28), theaters
Dan Trachtenberg didn’t need to prove anything after directing certified masterpiece 10 Cloverfield Lane as his first feature, but this is a quite good, generously gory Predator flick. Amber Midthunder is a heck of an action star in a film that’s saying just enough for it to be meaningful, and the creature design on the Predator is very cool. I’d say this does some things better than the 2010 film (crisper direction, refreshingly simple), but the ensemble in that film and gnarly sense of fun is just too good to ignore. It’s a lot better than The Predator. This is the future of this series, though: small genre films across history where unlikely warriors face off against the galaxy’s scariest hunter. Good stuff. Give Trachtenberg the eternal blank check already. Also, great movie dog. A very good boy.
Where to Watch: Hulu
Zach Cregger is a sicko, and we’re all the better for it!
Barbarian: the only horror film sponsored by Hampton Inn.
A hell of a good time at the movies, and a twist you’ve really got to see to believe. It’s best to go in as cold as you can, but just know that Cregger balances his eye for horror craft and the looniness of what’s to come better, at least to me, than the evolution of the social themes at play.
If you had fun watching Malignant, you’ll have fun with this. I’d probably take the former, but I’m glad we have this to stun audiences once it all starts … well, just go see it. It’s worth the ride.
Where to Watch: Theaters
Still Working 9 to 5
If you’re a fan of 9 to 5, it’s hard to really imagine you not getting what you would hope for out of this documentary. This could’ve just been a glorified DVD extra, but the film works because it both loves the film so much and what it stood for. This is a fitting ode to a cultural landmark, one that is chocked full of fun behind-the-scenes anecdotes and helpful context into how the film really made a dent in the 20th century feminist movement. It’s just a swell way to pay homage to a classic, and a great reminder of why the film has stayed so relevant and beloved over the years.
Where to Watch: Theaters
A downright depressing retelling of the Princess Diana tragedy, pieced together in a Senna-style collage of media coverage. We only see these people as they were formally seen by the press (and “press”), building a seething indictment of how dehumanizing the dissection of celebrity can be to an audience who grows to see humans as just characters on a soap opera. Though, with this approach, you still lose the humanity of trying to understand who these people were. It’s unavoidable due to the approach, and the thesis is clearly trying to show you how harmful this was, right down to a gaggle of what I think were media folks playing Uno and making flippant remarks and dark jokes about Diana’s car crash and death as it was reported in real time.
The style keeps us from seeing the humanity, which is by design and still limiting. It’s best viewers for understanding what it’s attacking, but tweaks would’ve helped us better understand who was being attacked. It’s an effective study in salaciousness that only gives you that salaciousness, which really can make Diana come across as what she was painted out to be. Spencer did a much better job helping us understand that side. Watch this as a supplement to Spencer and The Queen. You almost need to with this approach.
Where to Watch: HBO Max
Minions: The Rise of Gru
In four years, Minions: The Adventure of Chicken Minion will make two billion dollars and save the cinematic experience once and for all.
It’s no Minions ‘15, but watching the Minions try to land a plane and learn kung-fu is far more enjoyable than whatever the hell was going on in Lightyear. I’m not sure why I enjoy the Minions more now than at their heyday, but these little guys grow on you. Good for Otto.
It makes me laugh that Quentin Tarantino is going to probably watch this with his son and hear the Nancy Sinatra cover over the opening credits, hinting that the people who made this movie seem to have heard Tarantino Jr. watches Despicable Me 2 on repeat. Not to mention that this is the weirdest Kill Bill homage I’ve ever seen.
Where to Watch: Peacock (Sept. 23), theaters, VOD
I don’t know if I cast Harry Shearer as Liddy, but this is a way better satire of Watergate than I’ve seen before. I like this version better than what actually happened. Michelle Williams daydreaming about Richard Nixon is funny enough to recommend this alone.
Where to Watch: Hulu, VOD
It’s weird this and Blast from the Past came out so close together. Strange times. This one is more serious, more “trying to say something,” and it’s taking a very 90s approach to address the simulacra of 50s living. Tobey Maguire, Joan Allen and especially Jeff Daniels are all tremendous here, and Gary Ross gives it just enough of a personality to give it an edge. Don Knotts is also doing his thing here, which I appreciate. I don’t know if this is a great movie, but it’s certainly a moving one. Probably great for its time. Hella shade for Leave It to Beaver, though.
Where to Watch: Hulu, VOD
Blast from the Past
Good guy/future Oscar winner Brendan Fraser keeps this thing afloat, but I miss this kind of fleet studio comedy that’s not trying to really do anything but tell a good story and have a good time. Fraser’s lab puppy phase is still one of the most endearing modes of anyone in the modern studio system. Sure, there were funnier/better movies to come out at this time, but hell, I’d take this over most of what is put on Netflix to imitate what came before in the studio comedy realm. Also, Chris Walken is really sweet here, too. A good time!
Where to Watch: Hulu, VOD
Stand by Me
Siri, play “Nosetalgia” by Pusha T featuring Kendrick Lamar.
Now this is how you do a coming-of-age movie. The Sandlot can eat its heart out. River Phoenix will break your heart; the world’s best best friend. The comedic genius (?) Jerry O’Connell in this was basically me as a kid, I think? Well, a mix of him and Wil Wheaton. I hung out with a lot of Corey Feldmans. My mom never would’ve let me go on an overnight camping trip that would secretly be a mission to find a dead body, though.
Rob Reiner should’ve gotten at least like one cool mention in a Beastie Boys song for his hot streak.
Where to Watch: Netflix, VOD
Avatar (rewatch, IMAX 3D re-release)
The standard in modern blockbuster filmmaking. I don’t make the rules.
Where to Watch: Theaters (for a bit), Disney+, VOD