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🎬 "Have you seen this chicken?"

🎬 "Have you seen this chicken?"
By Eric Johnson • Issue #89 • View online
As if 2020 wasn’t enough already: On Wednesday, the sky turned orange. On Thursday, it was a hazy, sickly yellow.
Other than bad air quality, I’m not in any immediate danger here in San Francisco; the fires roaring up and down California and across the western US are a surreal “out there” sort of threat, a reminder that climate change is disrupting all of our lives, albeit unequally. I’ve been in a depressive funk most of today (I write this newsletter on Thursday), but I can only imagine what it must be like for someone living in the fires’ path.
Once again, I feel privileged to have the luxury of escaping for hours at a time to the movies in this newsletter, of thinking about something else. But please join me in taking the time to do what we can: Register to vote, request an absentee ballot ASAP, and vote early for Joe Biden. A vote for anyone else is a vote for more orange skies.
- Eric

🎤 The Lives of Others
The Lives of Others is an excellent, tense, politically resonant drama about privacy, freedom of expression, and the potential for change.
It’s not showy in any particular way, but mesmerizing performances and a damn-near-perfect script carry it all the way. In 1984 East Germany, Ulrich Mühe plays an officer of the secret police (the Stasi) renowned for his interrogation skills, who is tasked with snooping a successful playwright, only to find himself involved in the playwright’s life in a way that no one would expect.
Every single scene here matters, and we learn just enough information to keep the stress level up and the stakes interesting. Without giving anything away, this is also one of the best “what would you do if …?” movies I’ve yet seen, offering numerous implicit invitations for the viewer to try and empathize with the film’s many well-realized characters. Highly recommended.
The Lives of Others | Official Trailer (2006)
The Lives of Others | Official Trailer (2006)
I watched The Lives of Others on Blu-Ray, and it’s not currently streaming anywhere, but here’s where you can rent/buy it.
🕛 Midnight in Paris
A typical Woody Allen stand-in protagonist, played by Owen Wilson, goes on an especially fantastic adventure in Midnight in Paris, which I rewatched this week for the first time since it came out.
While visiting Paris with his fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and her family, Wilson goes out alone at night and repeatedly finds himself in the 1920s, which he imagines to be the city’s golden age. The people he meets are, almost to a person, super-duper famous and played by famous actors from our time. The surprises of who’s next are fun for first-time viewers, but on this viewing, I was less enchanted.
We’re told that Wilson loves the past and hates the present, but his feelings about the latter are badly communicated, lacking the specificity that defines Allen’s best work. Our hero never seems to have much of an issue with actual Parisians or the way they live their lives; the story would be stronger if Wilson spent more time with non-famous people in both past and present. Nevertheless, this quick, oddball film has enough great moments that I still recommend it.
Midnight in Paris | Official Trailer HD (2011)
Midnight in Paris | Official Trailer HD (2011)
Midnight in Paris is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
⚓ The Hunt for Red October
I’d never read a Tom Clancy novel or seen any of the movies based on his books, but I had a vague sense that a Jack Ryan story would be a balls-to-the-wall cheesy action adventure. I was pleasantly surprised to find that The Hunt for Red October is more cerebral and political than I expected.
Don’t get me wrong: There’s still a healthy serving of cheese and some odd-but-ultimately-validated casting choices. Sean Connery plays a rogue Soviet submarine commander who largely speaks English in Connery’s Scottish brogue (the film handwaves this away with an admirable audacity). A shockingly young-looking Alec Baldwin is Ryan, the CIA Analyst trying to use what he knows about Connery’s character to prevent WWIII.
I was skeptical, initially, of the decision to intercut between the American and Soviet ships throughout the hunt, but the reasons for that creative decision quickly get clearer, and I liked Baldwin’s ability to make Ryan both a believable badass and a total dork when called upon. The climactic final action scene was a little too jerkily paced for my liking, but overall, this was a very good hunt. Recommended.
The Hunt for Red October - Trailer
The Hunt for Red October - Trailer
I watched The Hunt for Red October on Blu-Ray, but it’s also currently streaming on fuboTV, Showtime, and Sling TV.
💸 Hustlers
I liked Hustlers when it came out last year, but I didn’t fully appreciate then how good it is. I liked it even more on a second go-round this week.
The film follows Constance Wu as a young woman working at a strip club in New York City, and Jennifer Lopez (in a role that absolutely should have earned her a Best Actress nomination) as her partner in crime, as they set out to grift NYC’s worst people (finance bros).
Hustlers is written and directed by a woman, Lorene Scafaria, which I call out only because it’s immediately evident that this is not a movie about strippers that will be defined by the “male gaze.” Scafaria, in extended homage to Martin Scorsese, constructs here a sympathetic crime drama with charming, believable characters and several surprisingly heartwarming scenes between JLo and Wu.
I also loved the perfect needle-drop-driven soundtrack, which situates every scene in time as the story progresses from 2007 to 2014. Recommended. 
Hustlers Trailer #1 (2019) | Movieclips Trailers
Hustlers Trailer #1 (2019) | Movieclips Trailers
I watched Hustlers on Showtime, but it’s also currently streaming on fuboTV.
🐿 Ice Age
Ice Age is one of the first movies I remember seeing in theaters as a kid and concluding, “I didn’t like that.”
For most of my childhood, I saw anything and liked everything, because children are stupid and more easily impressed than adults; this leads to a glut of family-friendly entertainment where the creators don’t try as hard as they could — an apt descriptor for this movie.
The premise is promising enough: Three mammals and a baby have to travel some long distance to reunite the human kid with its family, and along the way they all learn more about each other. But the whole script reeks of “punch up” notes from the studio, because their progress is frequently interrupted for dull slapstick and poop jokes.
There are, eventually, some surprisingly touching scenes that hint at this film’s possible Pixar-esque aspirations, but the characters don’t really earn those moments. Skip it.
Ice Age (2002) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers
Ice Age (2002) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers
I watched Ice Age on Vudu, but it’s currently streaming on Starz and DirecTV.
🐧 The Wrong Trousers
I will always have a place in my nostalgia-ridden heart for Wallace and Gromit, and particularly for The Wrong Trousers, their second and favorite-by-popular-consensus adventure.
Clocking in at only 31 minutes, it’s more of a short film than a movie, but I decided to highlight it here because it’s my newsletter and I make the rules. Also, owing in large part to the time-consuming nature of stop-motion animation, The Wrong Trousers checks all the right boxes for me: It’s packed with funny details, there’s not a wasted moment, and the creativity is off the charts.
I’m resisting the urge to talk about the story because it’s a simple little tale that’s fun to see with fresh eyes. Just go watch it. Recommended.
The Wrong Trousers Cracking Toast! 360p
The Wrong Trousers Cracking Toast! 360p
The Wrong Trousers (and the other original Wallace and Gromit shorts) are currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
🦸‍♂️ The Incredibles
Because I watched it about 10 times when I was younger, I knew The Incredibles was good — but I had forgotten just how good it is.
This would be a top-5 Pixar movie if the studio hadn’t churned out so many other masterpieces (my 5: Inside Out, WALL-E, Ratatouille, Toy Story 3, Coco). Like all of those films, The Incredibles is propelled by a clever script and winning set of characters, with the added spice of some surprisingly good action scenes — a first for the studio.
It’s hard to remember back to 2004, when we only had a couple superhero movies every year at most, but it’s to writer/director Brad Bird’s credit that this film still holds up now, dozens of spandex spectacles later. I also have to shout out Michael Giacchino’s instantly-recognizable score, a brassy homage to James Bond and other 1960s spy films. I’d watch this movie with all the dialogue and sound effects muted — the score and visuals alone would be enough. Recommended.
The Incredibles (2004) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers
The Incredibles (2004) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers
The Incredibles is currently streaming on Disney+.
🦸‍♀️ The Incredibles 2
The action scenes in The Incredibles 2 are even better than the first film’s, and it’s immediately noticeable how much better animation got in the 14 years between the two movies.
For the most part, the characters we knew and loved in the original are back in good form, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that there’s something a bit … off about their chemistry. The central conflicts don’t criss-cross in this movie as much as they did in the Incredibles, making the story feel more like a very long (but very good) TV episode with an “A” plot, a “B” plot, and so on.
Conceptually, though, there’s a lot to like about this sequel: The villain(s) are intriguing, the new characters are fun (albeit distractingly weird), and we get several great scenes with the best character in the Pixar canon, Edna Mode. Recommended.
Incredibles 2 Official Trailer
Incredibles 2 Official Trailer
The Incredibles 2 is currently streaming on Disney+.
🔢 Every Movie I've Seen in 2020, Ranked
(new additions in bold)
  1. The Godfather
  2. 12 Angry Men
  3. Do the Right Thing
  4. Knives Out
  5. Parasite
  6. Arrival
  7. Airplane!
  8. The Lives of Others
  9. Hot Fuzz
  10. Boys State
  11. Hamilton
  12. Groundhog Day
  13. All About Eve
  14. West Side Story
  15. The Farewell
  16. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  17. What We Do in the Shadows
  18. Spotlight
  19. Booksmart
  20. Her
  21. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
  22. Moonrise Kingdom
  23. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  24. Your Name.
  25. North by Northwest
  26. The Incredibles
  27. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog
  28. The Wrong Trousers
  29. The Old Guard
  30. Thank You For Smoking
  31. Little Women
  32. Marriage Story
  33. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
  34. La La Land
  35. Sunset Boulevard
  36. Ford v Ferrari
  37. A Fish Called Wanda
  38. Bringing Up Baby
  39. Gremlins
  40. Apocalypse Now
  41. The Hidden Fortress
  42. Hell or High Water
  43. Moneyball
  44. Hacksaw Ridge
  45. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
  46. The Lunchbox
  47. Heat
  48. Little Miss Sunshine
  49. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
  50. Coming to America
  51. Hustlers
  52. Shrek
  53. Wet Hot American Summer
  54. Dolemite Is My Name
  55. Good Will Hunting
  56. Palm Springs
  57. The Grapes of Wrath
  58. Fantasia 2000
  59. First Cow
  60. Kedi
  61. Honey Boy
  62. The Great Escape
  63. Annihilation
  64. The Hunt for Red October
  65. Wordplay
  66. Boyhood
  67. 1917
  68. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood
  69. The Philadelphia Story
  70. Dark Waters
  71. Hail, Caesar!
  72. The Death of Stalin
  73. 50/50
  74. Hannah and Her Sisters
  75. Horse Feathers
  76. Enemy of the State
  77. Captain Phillips
  78. Uncut Gems
  79. Frost/Nixon
  80. The Incredibles 2
  81. How the West Was Won
  82. Almost Famous
  83. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  84. Bad Education
  85. Godzilla
  86. Just Mercy
  87. Midnight in Paris
  88. Da 5 Bloods
  89. High Fidelity
  90. Guardians of the Galaxy
  91. My Fair Lady
  92. The Hateful Eight
  93. Happy Gilmore
  94. Gates of Heaven
  95. Emma.
  96. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
  97. Home Alone
  98. Gremlins 2: The New Batch
  99. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
  100. Braveheart
  101. Bicycle Thieves
  102. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  103. Frankenstein
  104. Hugo
  105. All the Money in the World
  106. My Big Fat Greek Wedding
  107. Live From the Space Stage: A Halyx Story
  108. John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch
  109. Onward
  110. Hidden Figures
  111. Pain and Glory
  112. Bambi
  113. The Great Dictator
  114. Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events
  115. Anastasia
  116. Hot Rod
  117. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
  118. Animal House
  119. You’ve Got Mail
  120. The 39 Steps
  121. (500) Days of Summer
  122. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  123. Modern Romance
  124. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
  125. 3:10 to Yuma
  126. The Big Country
  127. Ghost
  128. History of the World: Part I
  129. The African Queen
  130. Greyhound
  131. Bamboozled
  132. Bullitt
  133. Dracula
  134. The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer
  135. Howard the Duck
  136. Bride of Frankenstein
  137. The Descendants
  138. The Hangover
  139. Joker
  140. Kingpin
  141. 28 Days Later
  142. Bridesmaids
  143. The Great Gatsby
  144. Hang ‘Em High
  145. 13 Assassins
  146. Creature From the Black Lagoon
  147. Ice Age
  148. Kentucky Fried Movie
  149. High Anxiety
  150. Romancing the Stone
  151. Crocodile Dundee
  152. The 40-Year-Old Virgin
  153. Hard Ticket to Hawaii
  154. Gods of Egypt
  155. The Gentlemen
  156. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
  157. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
  158. The Last Airbender
Did you enjoy this issue?
Eric Johnson

I'm reviewing every movie I watch, and watching every movie I own. Settle in, this is going to take a while.

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