The Deer Hunter: The Sundae Presents Bonus Episode 2

Ciara and Dean co-host The Sundae Presents, a podcast in which they each make the other watch films they haven’t seen. We have a film emergency! Dean watched The Deer Hunter, so he and Ciara recorded a bonus episode. They talk about its portrayal of Russian-American identity, the controversial Russian roulette sequence, and how much its director loved lying.

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Entering The Twilight Zone

Despite the near-constant refrain that this or that season of television is really more like a “ten-hour movie,” the birth of TV as a medium is tied much closer to radio than cinema. Genres that developed on the radio jumped to TV, from sitcoms to soap operas and game shows to police procedurals. Like radio, early television drama was broadcast live, often performed twice, once for the East Coast and again for the West Coast. “Like a child in hand-me-down clothes, television inherited the best and worst that radio had to offer, from the Ed Wynns and Jack Bennys, who made millions of Americans laugh every week, to the blatant commercialism that drove the system,” Jeff Kisseloff writes in the introduction to The Box, his oral history of early TV. “Television did it all, but radio did it first.”

I wrote about The Twilight Zone for Current Affairs. You can read it here!

The Sundae TV Awards 2022

What a weirdly fantastic and fantastically weird year of television we’ve had. We said goodbye to previous award winners Better Call Saul, Better Things and Derry Girls, all of whom represented one of the two dominant themes of the year: good shows staying good. It’s Always Sunny? Still good. Taskmaster? Still good. Ted Lasso? Still good.

But Ted Lasso also represents the other theme: our extreme uncertainty about how to classify many shows as dramas or comedies this year. Some of it was new shows like Peacemaker, or new to us shows like Doom Patrol and Succession, that straddled the divide. But we also had favourites like Ted Lasso that seemed to shift from one to the other. While we put thought into our process and considered qualities like a show’s structure as much as or more than its tone, some of our decisions are likely to feel arbitrary or even absurd to you, reader. All we can say is: deal with it, because we are not explaining or justifying that shit every time.

And with that little bit of housekeeping out of the way, please enjoy as we pass judgement on the last TV season (June 2021 – May 2022). As well as the classic drama and comedy awards, we also have two awards for reality, variety and documentary television, including game shows, professional wrestling and whatever Eric Andre is doing at any given minute. We picked our winners by consensus, so only shows we both watched were eligible to win, but we each picked a runner-up, regardless of whether the other has seen it.

You can find each of our full slates of nominees at the bottom of the post. We recommend checking them out if you’re looking for recommendations.

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Pieces Isn’t Exactly What You Think it Is

Pieces had an all-time great tagline: under a picture of a chainsaw and a woman’s lifeless body, the poster reads, “Pieces: it’s exactly what you think it is.” You know the whole story immediately. You know exactly the kind of cheapo exploitation horror you’re in for. It’s a slasher movie about women being chopped to pieces.

I wrote about the Spanish giallo Pieces for Crooked Marquee! You can read it here.

Interview with the Vampire: The Sundae Presents Episode 19

Ciara and Dean co-host The Sundae Presents, a podcast in which they each make the other watch films they haven’t seen. Dean shows Ciara his favourite film of 1994, Neil Jordan’s gay vampire fantasia Interview with the Vampire. They talk about how gay it is, the complexities of vampires as metaphors and Tom Cruise’s electric performance as Lestat.

Interview with the Vampire The Sundae Presents

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The Kids Haven’t Changed, You Have

When I think about the formative influences on how I watch and think about cinema, it doesn’t take long to get to John Hughes. His teen movies – The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Some Kind of Wonderful as well as, to a lesser extent, Sixteen Candles and Weird Science, and his teen-movie coda about twenty-somethings, She’s Having a Baby – are baked into my DNA. Hughes comes before everything, for me, a near-inarticulable kind of deep-down fundamental. John Hughes’s movies are a key part of a largely unwritten pre-history of how the part of my brain that watches films was formed, and – much later – thinking and reading about them was part of the slowly-and-then-all-at-once of my figuring out that all I really wanted to do was write about movies. Before Hadley Freeman decided to devote herself to full-time transphobia, she wrote a book about 1980s movies including Hughes’s called Life Moves Pretty Fast, and it’s barely an exaggeration to say I’m not sure if I would be the person I am now without reading it. Even when I wrote about the formative role The Social Network played in my development as a film critic – literally calling it the movie that made me love movies – I exalted it in part by citing its John Hughes influence. To say they’re good films feels like a tautology – they’re such a basic part of what I understand the words “good film” to even mean.

A lot of things I loved as a teenager, I return to them with a worry in my chest about having grown out of whatever it is. That’ll it seem hollow and superficial to my adult eyes and ears. But I never worry that about Hughes’s teen movies. The opposite is true: whenever I revisit these films, they reveal new depths, new pleasures, new wits, new layers of emotional complexity.

Hughes has, I think, become reasonably well-respected – as well as being beloved of beloved filmmakers like Sofia Coppola or Greta Gerwig, his work has endured in a way you couldn’t ignore if you tried – but a part of me will always think of him as misunderstood. John Hughes gets used as a shorthand for teen movie clichés in a way that seems disconnected from the work itself. It’s been years since I read this quote from Richard Linklater about wanting Dazed and Confused to be the inverse of a John Hughes film, and I still get annoyed about it regularly:

The drama is so low-key in [Dazed and Confused]. I don’t remember teenage being that dramatic. I remember just trying to go with the flow, socialize, fit in and be cool. The stakes were really low. To get Aerosmith tickets or not? That’s a big thing. It was really rare when the star-crossed lovers from the opposite side of the tracks and the girl gets pregnant and there’s a car crash and somebody dies. That didn’t really happen much. But riding around and trying to look for something to do with the music cranked up, now that happened a lot!

But John Hughes didn’t make films about teen pregnancy and car crashes and dying. Sure, Pretty in Pink is about a rich boy and a girl from the wrong side of the tracks falling in love, but it spins that story with a grounded realism that’s quietly devastating. If you want a teen movie where the drama is low-key and the stakes are really low, John Hughes is your guy. After all, his best films are about getting detention and skipping school. The stakes are – from an adult point of view – rock bottom. Hughes’s genius, in part, is that they don’t feel that way.

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Star Trek: The Motion Picture: The Sundae Presents Episode 18

Ciara and Dean co-host The Sundae Presents, a podcast in which they each make the other watch films they haven’t seen. Ciara shows Dean the polarising first Star Trek film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture. They talk about why it’s nicknamed The Slow-Motion Picture, whether Kirk and Spock are boyfriends, and the beauty of its abstract special effects.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture The Sundae Presents

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The Road Not Taken: Revisiting Stanley Donen’s Two for the Road

2022 has been a year of rom-com milestones. There’s Annie Hall (forty-five years), Moonstruck (thirty-five years), and My Best Friend’s Wedding (twenty-five years), just to name a few. This year also marks the fifty-fifth anniversary of a film about love, which for various reasons, didn’t receive the same level of attention as the more formulaic rom coms of its time. But it’s more than likely the world just wasn’t ready for it yet. 

In 1967 Stanley Donen, the director behind Singin’ in the Rain and Funny Face, took a risk and released Two for the Road to a mainstream film audience. Borrowing from the French New Wave style of the time, it tells a non-linear story of a couple, Joanna and Mark Wallace (played by Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney) and their long term relationship. The film’s style freely moves back and forth between various timelines as it follows their ups and downs. The transitions appear seamless as it uses the same location to tie the narrative together (it all takes place on holiday in the French Riviera at different points throughout the years). This was (and still is) completely different to other rom coms in its way of telling a love story in film. It focuses on the entire relationship, not just the exciting parts of love, like the meet-cute or the courtship. But what really set it apart in a market chock-full of sickly-sweet romance was its honesty about human behavior.

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