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United States, 1999, 97 min, Dir. Michael Patrick Jann
I know, it's surprising that Drop Dead Gorgeous isn't available on streaming platforms. The female-driven comedy about beauty pageant tomfoolery in Minnesota is an essential film of the '90s. That's a fact, despite it earning flop reviews and bombing when it premiered. Sometimes gems are too bright and reflective to be appreciated without a little distance.
Last summer, Hulu briefly acquired Drop Dead Gorgeous for streaming, which triggered a little earthquake of coverage. The New Yorker's Jia Tolentino wrote an article about how it is possibly her favorite movie of all time. There are many reasons to feel this way, but the thing I always love is how right it gets the Minnesotan sensibility.
The film's jokes progressively rely on a tension between tragedy and optimism. Can the characters force positivity when pageant queens are poisoned? Or when someone gets stuck inside a burning pyre? The Coasts perceive Minnesotans as nice, but what's often missed is the harshness their optimism rebels against. Minnesota can be a cruel, flat place—colder than Antarctica in the winter and swampier than Florida in the summer. (I've lived in Minnesota and Florida, and the Antarctica claim is real.) And yet, a Minnesotan could be snowed inside their home, with snowbanks ten feet high, and still shout "Oh, it's just chilly, you should've seen the Halloween storm of '91!!!!" while vacating their home via second-story window. Drop Dead Gorgeous's writer, Lona Williams, deeply understands this dynamic. CHASE BURNS
United States, 1987, 97 min, Dir. Kathryn Bigelow
The film is a gritty horror-meets-western, taking place on the dusty plains of Oklahoma and Texas. It follows recently-turned Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) as he rolls with a cantankerous and irksome group of vampires, avoiding sunlight and looking for blood. It's surprisingly graphic. The soundtrack is by Tangerine Dream, which adds a sort of Twin Peaks, synthy otherworldliness to all the bloodsucking. There's also an earnestness about the story and performances that makes it special. Interestingly, a remake of the film was announced in 2006, but then canceled in 2008 due to similarities to another little vampire movie coming out that year. JASMYNE KEIMIG
Japan, 1983, 107 min, Dir. Yoshimitsu Morita
I went into Family Game without knowing much. I've been digging through the work of Juzo Itami, the director of Tampopo, and grabbed this because he plays the father role. Also, I think it has a really good trailer.
It's very Japanese—particularly concerned with the hierarchy within traditional Japanese families, especially between older brothers and younger brothers. It dismantles this hierarchy, occasionally in ways that are very experimental, but never in ways that feel too precious. Directed by the self-trained Yoshimitsu Morita, The Family Game is credited as being one of the big works of art to promote a postmodern sensibility in Japan.
Headiness aside, the film is slick and easy to watch; the most interesting dynamic being, for me, the homoerotic tension between the tutor, played by hottie Yusaku Matsuda (whose character in Detective Story was the inspiration for Cowboy Bebop's protagonist, Spike Spiegal), and the younger son. I don't believe this homoerotic tension was intentional, but it's nevertheless there. Just watch the trailer. You'll see it if you know what's up. CHASE BURNS
United States, 1971, 110 min, Dir. Jerry Schatzberg
The film, which was co-written by Thee Joan Didion, focuses on Bobby and Helen (Kitty Winn), two lovers who slowly descend into heroin addiction in New York City. It's a rather depressing watch, as the couple unravels their relationship and their sense of selves to their addictions. Though Winn and Pacino give buoyant performances, I think the film often nearly falls into afterschool special territory. I blame Didion. JASMYNE KEIMIG