Weekend Watchlist | Period Pieces

By The Pitt News Staff

A new year usually means looking into the future, but this week The Pitt News staff is spicing it up with some blasts from the past. Here are some period pieces we think you’ll enjoy.

Blinded By The Light (Amazon Prime) // Sinéad McDevitt, Digital Manager

My dad’s from New Jersey, so my family has always had a healthy respect for Bruce Springsteen. That means we got a kick out of watching Gurinder Chadha’s 2019 film “Blinded By The Light.” It’s based on the life of Sarfraz Manzoor, who helped co-write the film, and his love of Springsteen.

Set in the small British town of Luton in 1987, the story follows Javed Khan (Viveik Kalra) a second-generation Pakistani immigrant coming of age during the height of Thatcherism. Javed struggles to follow his passion as a writer, chafes against the strict expectations of his father (Kulvinder Ghir) and contends with the anti-Pakistani racism of his neighbors and classmates.

However, he finds unexpected solace in the music of Bruce Springsteen. Over the course of the film, Javed comes into his own with the encouragement of his teacher (Hayley Atwell), his friend and fellow South Asian student Roops (Aaron Phagura), and his crush Eliza (Nell Williams).

It’s a very heartwarming story about passion and family and, naturally, has an amazing soundtrack. Even if you don’t love Springsteen as much as my dad does, you will definitely enjoy this film.

Marie Antoinette (Amazon Prime) // Colin Kennedy, For The Pitt News

Sofia Coppola’s 2006 retelling of Marie Antoinette’s life makes for a great watch if you’re one of the many Pitt students spending the weekend sheltering-in-place. The film could easily appeal to any number of different types of movie fans — history buffs to rom-com lovers. I credit its historically accurate retelling paired with its modern-day language script for the broad appeal.

Starring Kirsten Dunst playing the titular role, “Marie Antoinette” provides as much of the early 2000s alternative rock scene as it does the lead-up to the French Revolution. The Strokes, The Radio Dept. and similar bands of the era are used for the soundtrack, which allows Coppola to contrast sounds and sights of two different time periods. What I like about this is that the movie doesn’t feel like a period piece, even though it is one.

If you are looking for an elegant, and perhaps unexpected, coming-of-age movie, check out “Marie Antoinette.”

The Prestige (Amazon Prime) // Patrick Swain, For The Pitt News

When I was a child, magicians amazed me. Simple sleight of hand was enough to enthrall a birthday party’s worth of kids. Pick a card, any card — who can resist the allure of a magician’s innocent trickery? This childish enchantment has snuck its way into serious grown-up cinema, with one film in particular transporting the audience to the late nineteenth century.

Christopher Nolan’s 2006 adaptation of “The Prestige” tells the suspenseful tale of rival magicians in 1890s London. The two illusionists, Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, duel over dominance of London’s cutthroat magic scene. Behind the scenes of each enchanting performance, the two feverishly invent new tricks to deceive and thrill theatres. They harness new technology at the turn of the century, courtesy of Nikola Tesla (David Bowie), to electrify their audiences. The magicians ceaselessly sabotage each others’ acts and personal lives, deepening a feud with fatal consequences.

The twists and turns of “The Prestige” unveil a darker side of magic performance, perpetually prompting the viewer to question whether they can believe their eyes. I felt like I sat among a bewildered audience in the Victorian era as I watched a truly unpredictable story unfold. Nolan’s haunting period piece will leave you mystified.

The Irishman (Netflix) // Mera D’Aquila, Staff Writer

The soft, crooning sound of The Five Satins’ doo-wop classic “In the Still of the Night” begins to play as the black screen fades to the hallway of a nursing home, bathed in delicate sunlight drifting in through open windows. The camera staggers through the winding corridors before it lands upon an elderly Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) and a view of his prized liberty coin signet ring — a reminder of his past love affair with the mafia. This is the opening scene of Martin Scorsese’s 2019 film “The Irishman,” which is, in my not-so-subtle opinion, a masterpiece.

Of course, I may be biased. Not only is this a gangster picture — my absolute favorite of all of the movie subgenres — but it stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, who all boast film catalogs that I have become unhealthily obsessed with. Nevertheless, “The Irishman” is an indisputably brilliant encapsulation of a period of social unrest, political strife and a rapid rise in organized crime.

The 1950s and ‘60s serve as the dominating landscape for the film. Frank Sheeran, an Irish-American, borderline-sociopathic war veteran, becomes a hitman for Russell Bufalino’s (Joe Pesci) crime family. Entrenched in the darkest criminal depths of North Philly, Sheeran gets acquainted with the president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). Hungry to cement his power among the working class — and decidedly fed up with the federal government and its newest proxy, John F. Kennedy — Hoffa turns to the Bufalino crime family for financial assistance and “political favors.”

Unlike other classic mob flicks, which seem to paint the ‘50s and ‘60s in rose-tinted fashion and are filled with glorious mob “heroes,” “The Irishman” provides a much more dreary side to the figures of the mafia. These characters, like the decade they dwell within, are not perfect — they have flaws, weaknesses, fears and secrets. This film, in all of its subterranean beauty, is the perfect deep dive into mid-century crime in America.