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Ben Vanelli

In this article by The Perkiomenite’s senior editor and avid film fan, Ben Vanelli, readers can hear about some movies reviewed by Ben himself to watch in their free time this month. Check back for a new monthly list of recommendations! 

March isn’t one of the months that sees many big movie releases— it’s too early for the blockbusters and too late for the Oscar bait— but this isn’t the kind of year that has seen many theater releases, so let’s see what streaming has to offer this month:

 

Netflix

Chef (2014) 

Director: Jon Favreau

MPAA: R

Favreau, most well known for directing 2008’s Iron Man, takes on a passion project about a restaurant chef who starts a food truck business after a scathing review claims he’s lost his touch. Favreau has a true, real-life passion for cooking, and it shows here as he stars in the leading role. While it’s mostly standard filmmaking and camerawork, the story at the center is actually a very touching one between father and son and is supported by a surprisingly funny screenplay and a fantastic soundtrack. Don’t watch on an empty stomach. 

 

The Two Popes (2019)

Director: Fernando Meirelles

MPAA: PG-13

Religious films are often, for lack of a better word, propagandist. However, The Two Popes is exactly the opposite. Instead of providing answers, it asks questions that can be impossible to answer by telling a true story of a conservative religious leader amid the rise of a more lenient one. The conversations between Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce feature some incredible dialogue on top of perfect acting from two legends of the art. Meirelles’ trademark flashy editing style also keeps the film visually interesting.

 

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010)

Director: Edgar Wright

MPAA: PG-13

Based on the comics, Scott Pilgrim is an oddball comedy about a Canadian youth who needs to fight off his love interest’s seven evil exes in order to ensure their relationship’s stability. Michael Cera was perfect for this role, his talent highlighted by Edgar Wright’s visual and verbal comedy. The video-game-like sequences are unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a film, and they’re used perfectly. 

 

Hulu

Hell or High Water (2016)

Director: David Mackenzie

MPAA: R

Any neo-western starring Jeff Bridges is sure to be a hit, but Hell or High Water is a few levels above anything you might expect with a description as simple as that. It features some great performances from Chris Pine and Ben Foster in a complex story of family, loyalty, and aging. Swift direction and dialogue lock this film up as a memorable one.

 

Rocketman (2019)

Director: Dexter Fletcher

MPAA: R

An Elton John biopic was necessary; a musical Elton John biopic was more than anyone deserved. Taron Egerton is phenomenal as the rock pianist, and he’s accompanied by the underrated Jamie Bell as John’s songwriter and friend Bernie Taupin. While it does fall into some tropes here and there, the music sequences keep things interesting, the maturity with which substance abuse is handled is beyond respectable, and strong visuals make for a complete and satisfying life story of the musician. 

 

Creed II (2018)

Director: Steve Caple Jr.

MPAA: PG-13

Creed II may just be the most complex film in the Rocky series, covering a wide range of topics, from the distance of parents and children to rivalries, to the humanization that a child can bring to a man dealing with fame. This credit goes to director Caple Jr., and of course, Sylvester Stallone, whose script was not just a love letter to his most acclaimed works, but also an addition to it. Michael B. Jordan is also very dedicated in the leading role, with all these elements making Creed II one of the best in the Rocky franchise. 

 

Amazon Prime Video

Back To The Future (1985)

Dir. Robert Zemeckis

MPAA: PG

For those who don’t know Back To The Future, I’m imploring you to pay close attention to it on your first watch. Put your phone in a different room. Shut out the lights. Watch it on the biggest screen you have. There’s nothing like seeing this classic for the first time: with all its humor, charm, and American spirit, Back To The Future is maybe the greatest example of storytelling that exists. Its conflicts are funny and tense, and it’s just incredibly entertaining. 

 

Zodiac (2007)

Director: David Fincher

MPAA: R

The hunt for the Zodiac Killer was infamously unsuccessful. The movie about it was the exact opposite. Fincher takes a deep dive into the thoughts and motivations of the people behind the search, especially Robert Graysmith, the obsessive investigator whom Jake Gyllenhaal portrays masterfully. A lot of well-done suspense and paranoia is found here, thanks to Fincher’s atmosphere and some great cinematography. 

 

The Elephant Man (1980)

Director: David Lynch

MPAA: PG

The Elephant Man is the true story of Englishman Joseph “John” Merrick, who was born with a horrible facial deformity in 1862. With the help of a doctor, portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, Merrick is given a chance to live with some sense of normalcy after surviving only by being exploited in circuses. The Academy was unofficially forced to create a makeup award category because of this movie, whose achievements in makeup and hairstyling are nearly unmatched, especially considering the time period. But it’s Lynch’s atmosphere and empathy for the main character that makes this film truly memorable, even if some Hollywood tropes show their faces. 

 

HBO Max

Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

Director: Shaka King

MPAA: R

(Streaming through Mar. 14)

This biopic follows Bill O’Neal, a petty criminal given the chance to stay out of jail, only if he assists the FBI in assassinating Black Panther party leader Fred Hampton by providing them with information. It’s a sorrowful story of freedom of self vs. freedom of community, with Lakeith Stanfield giving a great performance as O’Neal, who unfortunately put his needs before the civil rights aspirations of Hampton, although it’s easy to see why: the FBI insisted that Hampton was a terrorist, and they paid O’Neal well beyond his wildest dreams. On the other side of things, Daniel Kaluuya has already taken home a Golden Globe for his role as Hampton, whose fierce campaign for civil rights will never be forgotten. 

 

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

MPAA: PG-13

In preparation for Godzilla vs. Kong, I think this is a good film to view. It’s nothing special, but it’s a lot of fun. In the story, Vietnam War soldiers and wildlife experts are assembled to complete a mission to the mysterious Skull Island, where they find King Kong as an enemy, only to learn later that he is in fact a protector of the island from even more sinister monsters. There are some impressive visual effects here, and again, it’s just mindless fun that’s executed well.

 

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Director: Milos Froman

MPAA: R

Words can’t fully express my admiration for this film, and that’s why I love cinema. It does not have to use words to tell us a story, as is exemplified in the final scene of this beautiful film, in which a not-so-mental man (Jack Nicholson) takes up residence in a mental hospital, encouraging residents to stand up to the authoritarian Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). Ratched represents a vile kind of human being, whose soft tone on the outside only covers a cold, unempathetic interior who must have her way. This film won the Big Five Oscars— Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, and Screenplay— and rightfully so. The final piece of music and the final scene, however, is one of the reasons that movies should be recognized as art.