Welcome back to another edition of The Letterboxd Files with Cory.
If you’re a bit sweltered by this asinine Nashville heat that we’re experiencing, sit back, crack open your favorite Arnold Palmer-related beverage and comb through the Letterboxd Files. The only thing hot here are the takes.
We’ve got a mix of recent watches and some Letterboxd reviews from the vault, previous Woodroof watches that you can, well, read thoughts to. Why not! Life is short, shorter if you’re out in this heat for too long. It’s hot is what I’m saying. Ok, let’s get to it.
I don’t know *what* was going on in the world in 2004, but Jersey Girl is just delightful. The big school review and George Carlin’s last scene with Affleck…*sniffles* I’m not crying, you’re crying.
Kevin Smith should make another film like this. He’s got it in him!
I wonder what would happen if this got released today on, like, Netflix or something without any fanfare. Genuinely curious if it would get any vitriol. It’s just a sweet, open-hearted movie about fatherhood.
This is why the Razzies are bad.
Where to Watch: HBO Max, Cinemax, VOD
Adam Sandler’s best Happy Madison production since the 1990s, and I’m pretty sure that’s not even vaguely hyperbolic.
Hustle is just the formula done right with the sports drama; Jeremiah Zagar is such an out-of-left-field choice, and he runs with it. The way he uses a hovering camera to shoot basketball is nothing short of revolutionary for how we tell stories involving sports. Having an actual score and actual cinematography in a Sandler joint… the stuff of legends.
It’s Sandler’s best role since Uncut Gems and an all-time performance for his catalog. He does such restrained work, finding those little character beats that help build up who Stanley is and what he’s gone through. He also lets it fly in that exactly right moment; it’s such a stock character post-Rocky in the wrong hands, but here, Sandler makes his Sugarman feel so real you’d swear he was portraying an actual member of the 76ers. The older he gets, the more Sandler is, and I cannot believe I am saying this, filling in a little bit of the gap Gene Hackman left when he retired – those wounded, likable character actor roles that blend drama and comedy seamlessly, the guy you can’t help but root for even when he’s being an absolute ass. It is one of the most surprising things. Also…Anthony Edwards??
Where to Watch: Netflix
Godard’s apocalypse is about as abstract and antagonistic as expected, and it hits even harder all these years later as you acknowledge that nothing has changed and that we’re veering even closer to making his nightmarish dissolution of society even more a reality. Gives “eat the rich” an even deeper meaning. That traffic jam sequence is one for the ages. Uncomfortable, but y’know, reason for the season.
Where to Watch: HBO Max, Criterion, VOD
This has to be one of the most random deep casts in a comedy ever: Brendan Fraser, Adam Sandler, Steve Buscemi, Chris Farley, Joe Mantegna, Judd Nelson, Michael McKean, Ernie Hudson, Reg E. Cathey, David Arquette, Harold Ramis, Michael Richards, Allen Covert, Amy Locane, Nina Siemaszko, Michelle Hurst, Marshall Bell…
Cameos by Kurt Loder, Rob Zombie, Lemmy Klimister, Mike Judge and White Zombie…
A fascinating comedy that deals with a very specific angst: the decline of authentic rock as a major cultural currency in the 90s, mixed in with some anti-LA police sentiment post-Rodney King riots. I genuinely have no idea how this got bad reviews; what I’d do for a starry comedy with something on its mind. It’s pretty funny, but it’s also saying something interesting about the relationship between commercialism and art, and also how easy average white males can ascend in that world. Didn’t expect that!
Any movie where David Arquette is just hanging out in the background for a majority of the runtime is good in my book.
Where to Watch: HBO Max, VOD
Searching for Mr. Rugoff
Good stuff! I had no idea one man was responsible for basically most of the entire indie/arthouse experience.
I want a job working as a hype man for indie movie theaters.
Where to Watch: VOD
*Leonardo DiCaprio jumps up and points at the screen when the big moon is out*
I’m going to walk in with a baseball bat Warriors style the next time someone complains about this era of movies like Moonstruck being an Oscar movie. My gosh, what I’d give for them to even make movies like this anymore, much less for them to garner audience and awards attention! Everyone is great, but Vincent Gardenia should’ve won that Oscar. Nic Cage should’ve been nominated. I won’t grouse about Cher winning, even if I think she’s like the fifth or sixth person on the roster here. It’s a deep bench!
We need more Norman Jewison movies. I tell ya, we miss directions like him working more than we’ll ever admit.
Where to Watch: HBO Max, Cinemax, VOD
Joe Versus the Volcano
I now get why Roger Ebert was so obsessed with this film. It’s practically perfect, has one of the best Tom Hanks performances, three good Meg Ryan performances, and is a lyrical fairy tale about embracing life for what it is, rather than what you feel like it has to be. Just such an unforgettable experience.
Where to Watch: HBO Max, Cinemax, VOD
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
A napkin gets slid Kevin Feige’s way. On it is written, “Let Raimi Be Raimi.”
The music note fight, making [REDACTED] a legit Raimi villain and having her [HILARIOUS REDACTED THING INVOLVING THE CAMEOS], laser focusing on the downsides of being a lonely superhero, all the creepy dead stuff, the Elfman score, getting a great Cumberbatch performance, embracing the funhouse horror vibes that mark his earlier work as much as he can, those mind-bending multiverse jumps with visual panache, Waldron toning down the jokiness into well-timed quips that don’t feel like winky Community gags that take away from any sense of seriousness, a story that doesn’t feel too built on previous work and stands alone with the Strange movie before it, actual contained themes and character beats, memorable supporting characters, all those whip pans, close-ups on eyes and comic booky flourishes, a Groovy Bruce cameo…I’m glad we got one more Raimi superhero movie. Loved it. Top-5 MCU.
Where to Watch: Theaters, Disney+ on June 22
Any Given Sunday
I’ve figured it out: Adam McKay is trying to be the new Oliver Stone and is only somewhat finding success (Big Short did well, Don’t Look Up didn’t, Vice is more Nixon than JFK).
What a picture! Hot, sweaty, angry, loud, scuzzy, bruising, ahead of its time. A marvelous breakdown of football from all angles, so gloriously overwrought in a way that captures nearly everything about the sport that makes it such a strange, difficult, dirty, addictive monster. It makes some very funny mistakes (no way Willie Beamen has that much endorsement/popularity after two starts), but that almost makes the satire better.
It was also edited by cocaine. More Oliver Stone movies! This one was fantastic.
Where to Watch: Netflix, VOD
Pick of the Litter (rewatch)
I watched this with my dog last night, who didn’t bark at the screen once. I got very emotional for a variety of reasons. I think my dog enjoyed it?
Where to Watch: AMC+, Kanopy, VOD
Sure, it’s a bit wordy in what it’s really trying to say, but it’s still riveting when it’s really on its fiery sermonizing. It’s the best sports movie of the year (sorry, King Richard), if only because of how it deconstructs the football movie tropes that are used to keep this discussion from ever being mainstream in sports movies.
The way it attacks the big coach speech – and the way J.K. Simmons delivers it – is one of the best moments I’ve seen in a movie this year. I don’t think the whole movie reaches that level of scathing clarity, but it’s stunning to see such a beloved moment in movies flipped on its head to show how dirty some of this stuff really is at the end of the day. I was floored by this, just because of how it operates against itself and the audience’s expectations.
Some of the talkier monologues are balanced by Stephen James’ impassioned performance; Alexander Ludwig is also quite good as James’ right-hand man in his crusade. Uzo Aduba has some great moments, and Timothy Olyphant has one great scene that he just nails. LilRel Howery’s really good, too, in what seemed like a thankless role at first.
I think it helps to have some knowledge of college football and the struggles of the athletic pay situation before watching this because the film doesn’t do a lot of hand-holding. It’s a fascinating “what if” staging told through the vibes of Friday Night Lights. This might be my favorite narrative film about the game and culture of football since FNL and Big Fan, too.
Don’t let this one slip you by. It’s a little jagged around the edges with its homilies, and it might be more riveting to football fans than anyone else. The twists to me emphasize a normal news cycle in the sport when a story evolves; I’ve seen crazier stories play out in real life. Even when maybe it’s one twist too far, it’s still a deeply compelling expose on the hypocrisy of the NCAA and the danger of the “warrior” mentality that makes college athletes second-class citizens in their own sports. Might be for a niche audience, but for the right folks, it is engrossing. The ending makes it, too. A great surprise.
Where to Watch: VOD
Sword of Trust
Probably one of the best Trump-era movies designed specifically to address the complicated feeling of loving someone who held beliefs you didn’t agree with, as well as an astute examination of the grift and how even hucksters can get played by the right hand. Marc Maron is sensational and his scenes with Lynn Shelton are devastating to watch now. Rest of the cast is game with Shelton’s quirky vibes and half-truths, and it’s pleasantly economical in setting and really digs a nice niche for its characterizations. It’s a damn shame we won’t get anymore movies from Shelton; she was the kind of singular talent that really should’ve been more celebrated and could’ve really done some amazing things yet.
Where to Watch: Netflix, AMC+, VOD
I didn’t know how great this was? A pristine coming-of-age movie and the *exact* movie every writer in their teens should watch before they go out and embark on the craft. It’s just so…true! Mike White remains one of the most underrated screenwriters/televised writers of his time. I really liked White Lotus, but I’d almost put this up with School of Rock for White’s career in terms of resonance. Also, one of the most randomly deep comedy ensemble of all time. A few little aged jokes/scenarios you could sand off, but other than that, a heck of a time and much more moving than I ever thought it’d be for how writers become who they are and how the people in your corner shape and mold you.
Where to Watch: Fubo, Showtime, Starz, Cinemax, VOD
Death to Smoochy
Danny DeVito, like Tom Green, just missed the cultural boat with sneaking such a deranged vision past studio safeguards, but DeVito actually tried to coat the gut-wrenching depravities with a moral code. Smoochy is solely good, and it’s a small miracle such a rigorously tasteless romp somehow manages to find such grace notes. A sincerely great dumpster dive of a movie, like an R-rated Josie and the Pussycats (‘01). It’s stunning WB greenlit both of these and released them within a year of each other. Rarely does something so tasteless on the surface produce such depth. I hope this finds its audience; this would bring the house down with the right midnight audience.
Where to Watch: Hoopla, VOD
The fact that the pinnacle of this film puts the three lead characters in garbage bags yelling nonsense into the air is much more scathing than any review that could ever be written.
Zach Braff seems great; I’m sure people enjoyed this in 2004, when apparently a gas leak infected the minds of all who watched this movie and made them think this was a charming little indie movie. It is not. It is no better or worse at times than the most hair-raising moments of absurdity in The Room. If Braff was Tommy Wiseau and not the star of a very good sitcom, this would’ve been burned off the face of the Earth. All of the characters are either miserable weirdos or mannequins, and then there’s Natalie Portman’s character who literally inspired a terrible movie trope. She does not exist because she’s nothing more than Alyson Hannigan from American Pie, another movie that has aged horribly, mixed with a dorky internet chat room circa 2003. Also, I’m sorry, but how did we go so long before retiring slurs toward disabled people? Also, what was with that fireplace scene? Every minute of it. The tap dancing; the big reveal; the Velcro guy.
I hated this movie but I also didn’t hate it? I think Braff’s quaint direction and his Shins needle drops are just the bee’s knees. If this movie was just him moping around his hometown to 00s alt-rock, with no dialogue or absurd love interest, I’d eat it up. As it is, it’s the most cloying example of festival brain that I’ve ever seen. It’s everything that was wrong with an entire era of filmmaking. And still, it’s fine? No, it’s not, it’s brimstone. But I didn’t mind some of it? I liked the part with the shirt. But this is bad. But it’s also not that bad. But it *is* that bad. But I liked Braff’s moping. But Portman. But uh. Ok. I’m mad at myself the ending charmed me. This was so stupid but I’m glad it has a happy ending. This movie made me dislike a Peter Sarsgaard performance. This movie broke my brain.
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime, VOD
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (rewatch)
11 years later, it remains the best video game movie ever and a top-shelf comic book movie, and one of Edgar Wright’s best movies. It’s a personal favorite. It’s centered on such a challenging character, too, something I appreciate as we’re thrust into the action with a fixture point that’s not nearly as empathetic as we’re comfortable with in the Joseph Campbell formula. Pilgrim is kind of a tool, and that’s the beauty of this, it’s always teetering a fine line for Scott and what we, as an audience, are able to look past with his immaturity. This film is not, and has never, been about a guy fighting ex-boyfriends to woo a woman at its core, It’s a very 2010 version of studying toxic masculinity, even within a protagonist whose name is in the title. The only main characters in this who operate with any sound moral code are Ramona, Knives and Kim – they’re objectified and shunted by the men around them, but in reality, they’re always in control (even when they’re brainwashed).
This is Scott Pilgrim’s journey of self-discovery, how he learns how to not be such a self-obsessed ass and to actually learn how to properly court a woman. He makes a lot of mistakes, and I don’t think the film absolves him of what he does to Knives or gives him and Ramona a fully happy ending. In the end, Pilgrim gets a chance to pursue Ramona the right way. He’s mature enough to be a good partner. The dated nature of this is how the film chooses to tell this story from Scott’s perspective and not Ramona’s, which would’ve solved some of this film’s inherent timestamp. But it’s doing what it needs to tell a rigorously compelling story about a guy who learns to respect himself and others. We got plenty of these stories around this time, but few told as spiritedly as Scott Pilgrim. We just, thankfully, are advancing past only hearing this story from the man’s point of view. It’s no more or less dated than, say, Knocked Up or any of the peak Apatow films.
Seeing this again in a theater was obviously a treat; it’s as electric as it was 11 years ago, and even funnier. I love this movie. I respect what it was doing back then while also acknowledging it’s both ahead of its time and of its era.
Where to Watch: Peacock, VOD
This is how it’s done; a classic example of the weird stuff that Michael Eisner let slip through the cracks during his last days at Disney, and certainly more off-brand and delightfully crude than anything Iger would let happen. I know folks praise Gravity Falls, and I’m sure it’s good, but nothing in the post-Iger days of Disney could match what Teacher’s Pet was cooking in the lunacy department. One of the best voice casts of the 00s, too.
Is this movie good? I think so! It’s slight and sweet, weird as hell but still batting in the cages. The music is catchy and compliments the visual gags and crass, post-modern animation. Gary Baseman is a different cat! I love how close this teeters to a soft PG-13.
I’ve been humming “Small but Mighty” in my head all week after watching this. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. Long live Jerry Stiller and long live Teacher’s Pet.
Where to Watch: Disney+, VOD
Beavis and Butt-Head Do America (rewatch)
I am infinitely stupider for watching this yet, yet again, and I’m so, so happy I am.
I can’t go to the movies (still) so, y’know, it’s not a bad way to simulate a midnight movie? I saw this in a theater at midnight in 2015, and it was just so wonderful.
What a pair of glorious morons; this movie is still such an affront to intelligence and deliriously funny. Mike Judge needs to make another movie.
Note: this was screened in January 2021; he made another movie; it is a Beavis and Butt-Head sequel; I can die happily
Where to Watch: Paramount +, Pluto, VOD
You come at the king, you best not miss.
One of the greatest films of all time and one of my deepest favorites, and I take so much joy that the TikTok generation is in love with this. It doesn’t have a flaw; it’s perfect storytelling and its emotional payoff is a landmark. I don’t think Brad Bird is poking a hole of art criticism here as much as he is challenging critics to look past the rubric and find value in what stirs our emotions. My hot take is that Anton Ego wasn’t a very good critic in the first place and Remy’s dish help him realize he was doing this all wrong and reminded him why he loved food, and criticism, in the first place. I think film criticism can, at times, lose the love we put into it if we look at art as something to be judged as opposed to something to be cherished and enjoyed if possible. I think Bird would be the first person to tell you to be honest about how you like or dislike something, but I think he’d also challenge his critics to shoot from the hip rather than fiddle around for the proper retort.
I think Ratatouille makes for better criticism, if only because it reveals the irony that the worst kind of criticism is the kind that seeks to only critique.
Note to self: I think I want this to be the last movie I watch before I, as a 200 year old, kick the bucket.
Where to Watch: Disney+, VOD
The New Mutants
Between the time I first saw the first trailer (Oct. 2017) for this movie and I sat down to watch it, these are things I did:
– Had three birthdays
– Finished grad school
– Got a job and got promoted
– Started an adjunct teaching career
– Fell in love
– Had surgery
– Got engaged
– Planned a wedding
– Lived through a pandemic
– Got married
– Moved into a new house
– Covered an NFL draft and got credentialed for my first major film festival (Sundance)
This is the strangest trajectory for a release of a major studio film I’ve ever seen, bar none. It’s weird as all get out that this film sat for so long, only to be unceremoniously banished to empty theaters in COVID times. Disney clearly wanted to get rid of this as quickly as possible and make whatever money it could to offset any previous investment, and showed very little interest in making this thing anything else than an afterthought. It’d be breadcrumbs for the birds and quickly rushed to home video to continue maximizing its financial potential. It is the anticlimactic official end to a superhero series that’s been around since 2000.
It’s also not terrible! Its an inconsequential piece of confused tone, with jockeying going on to make it a John Hughes film, a teen horror, an X-Men movie and an extension of that Sparks romance stuff Josh Boone found on the quite good The Fault in Our Stars. I feel bad for the guy…this major project of his has stunted his career, and I wish him all the best. He’ll find more work. But this clearly could never decide on what it wanted to be and just had too much working against it at the corporate level to really ever have a chance. Hey, teacher, leave those kids alone!
I think they genuinely had the right idea in place of doing a mid-budget, smaller-scale teen horror flick to get into the Essex side of X-Men, but it doesn’t work past concept. The filmmaking is uneven and can’t ever pick a lane. Boone has a knack for working with young actors, but the script is free of any characterization. The cast, solid as they are, has to do all the work past the obvious beats (they’re teens, they’re mutants, they’ve seen some stuff), which really isn’t a great call here.
The film has been relentlessly edited, I’m sure, leaving 90 minutes sewn together unconvincingly. But it’s not outright bad – you can see glimmers of something more interesting and accurate bubbling to the surface, but it’s not enough. In better hands, in a different world, etc. But as it is, it’s hard to be anything but blasé for these New Mutants.
It’s basically a Freeform pilot for a television show we’re never going to see. It’s not scary enough to be effective horror, but Boone tries all he can to maximize the teen side of it, his comfort zone. It’s certainly better when it’s just focusing on them being kids than them being mutants, but none of it ever really clicks.
But I still didn’t hate it! I came away moderately satisfied, at least from a “I’m fine with giving this 90 minutes of my time” sort of way. I didn’t outright dread the experience like last summer’s truly dreadful Dark Phoenix. That movie is just not good. This one is kind of a 7/10 split; not exactly a disaster but a missed opportunity to do something unique and fun. The powers that be didn’t help, and this film was doomed from the first postponement. Disney axed it from existence and sold it for scraps. I don’t know if it’d had been that much better than this if Boone made the film I’m sure he set out to make, but it would have been better than this. It’s not all that bad, but it’s surely middling and ultimately a disappointed considering how good that teaser was, so long ago.
This and Dark Phoenix being the close of the X-Men series is wild to me. What a fall from grace. I enjoyed Apocalypse alright, but man, even that’s not all that great. Days of Future Past/Logan should’ve been your ending. Not like this. Not like this.
And that’s New Mutants! What a strange saga this turned out to be. A harmless, ultimately lightweight superhero film with nowhere to go.
Where to Watch: HBO Max VOD