I beckon you to enter the world of my imagination (my Dark Place, as it were), in which I’m picturing a plucky young screenwriter preparing to submit the final draft for his character-drama to the studio on the eve before his deadline. He leans back in his dormitory-style office chair, stretches, cracks his knuckles, and emits the sort of self-assured “ah” that’s normally uttered by varsity athletes following a quickie. He’s given his baby a thorough polish, our screenwriter – the formatting is sound, the dialogue is the stuff of Shakespearean soliloquies, and every line has been assiduously checked for amateurish grammatical, errors and spellinkg mistaekes.
Ahh, the holidays. A season of shared mirth, mutual generosity, brazen consumption, and the intentional counting of one’s blessings. For those who perhaps did not have a particularly #blessed year, the latter can be an especially difficult practice. When I personally looked back on 2018, I was dismayed to see that it was mostly full of anguish and misery… theatrically, I mean. Overall my life was quite nice, because I’m a product of middle-class white privilege that I refuse to check because I have no idea what the hell that means. Anyway, there were some horrible, painful, excruciating, nauseating, and outright boring movies this year – the sort that I love to express my loathing for publicly because it gives me a fleeting shot of self-worth. However, in the spirit of the holidays, I’m now going to talk about a recent film I actually loved, and not just because nobody seems to have heard of it and it’s barely surpassing its production budget…
I’ll make this quick.
I saw Bohemiam Rhapsody this month and was pleasantly surprised to find that, contrary to those early scathing reviews, it was just bland and unremarkable, making it one of the best films I’ve seen all year by default. Critical reaction towards the Freddie Mercury biopic has been polarizing since its wide release, with some lauding it as a pitch-perfect representation of Mercury’s life and others decrying it as disrespectful to the point of homophobia. As with The Last Jedi, I find myself balanced in the middle of the critical teeter-totter, not hating it, not loving it, but also not remembering most of it despite having seen it last week. Then again, I can’t really recall what I had for breakfast on any given day, due to the inordinate number of head injuries I’ve had in my life.
It’s Saturday afternoon in my rural, central-Albertan hometown — Thanksgiving weekend, 2018, to be precise. Autumn is in full swing. The foliage has transitioned to a dazzling array of orange and yellow hues, the fires that had been ignited in the preceding week by up-and-coming arsonists have finally been quelled, and our local millennial population is collectively intaking a potent narcotic compound known as ‘pumpkin spice’ through every orifice in their bodies. How does one spend such a picturesque afternoon, you ask?
Why, at our Theatrical Symposium for Degenerate Fancies, of course!
When I was in college I saw Blade Runner for the first time. I didn’t love it, but I pretended I did in an effort to impress my fellow freshmen with my supposed intellectual prowess. Thus began my Communications and Media major and my ardent exploration of films, which soon whisked me into the wondrous worlds of David Fincher, Ridley Scott, Paul Thomas Anderson, Alfonso Cuarón, David Cronenberg, and Stanley Kubrick. In those days my primary interest was in seeking out films with aesthetic merit in order to analyze them thematically, decipher their symbolism, and interpret universal meaning.
Imagine, if you will (in your best Rod Sterling voice), a precocious four-year-old boy with a wooden crate brimming with toy dinosaurs – the sort with zero points of articulation because it was the 90’s and kids were still capable of using their imaginations, dammit. This boy spent his languid preschool afternoons guiding his motley herd on epic journeys through valley-like ditches, rainforest-esque gardens, wasteland-ish gravel lots, and oceanic sloughs – occasionally by way of the Millennium Falcon. The stakes were always high for this heroic herd and dangers lurked around every shadowy corner – from monstrous plush t-rexes with mint Beanie Baby tags to vicious velociraptors that had been bloodied with a red Sharpie to swarms of oversized bugs from a dollar store bucket to the mighty and terrible cat-god-of-wrath Whyskerssa (whose tender mercies hinged on proportionate blood offerings). These adventures were the sort of masterful works of fiction that village elders recount to wide-eyed youngsters over late-night campfires – noting, of course, that any resemblance their tales may bear to characters or events from The Land Before Time is purely coincidental.
There are few things in this world I hold in greater disdain than stupid movies. I’m talking about the action-dependent, spectacle-driven, CGI-saturated, studio-spawned, soul-sapped, Frankenstein’s monster-type movies that dominate the summer cinemascape by pandering to the lowest common denominator. Movies like the upcoming Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and The Meg, which both already look more nauseating than a bucket of KFC chicken in a carnival Zipper and so thinly-written to have only used single-sided script paper.
A Ghost Story is the exact opposite of those sort of action-heavy movies. In fact, it’s so far in the opposite direction of those movies that there’s almost no action in it at all – not even simple actions like moving, talking, or facially expressing. That featured image heading my article? That’s a GIF!
Today we’re going to deviate from my usual analyses of Plot and Character and delve into something I seldom have interest in discussing – theme. Thematic analysis has its place, of course – mostly in the hands of arthouse critics who relish the death of the author or sociology students who labour under the delusion that 2006’s Crash was somehow good – but for myself I’m generally less concerned with the question “What does it mean?” and more interested in the questions “Does it work?” and “Why or why not?”
Then I saw Ingrid Goes West. Obviously too late to include it in my 2017 Top Ten, which is a damn shame because if I had even known this film existed when assembling that list it would have bumped Thor: Ragnorok down into the dishonorable mentions and nestled itself somewhere around sixth place. Beyond merely being a great film and an effective Character tale, Ingrid Goes West deserves attention for having something important to say – something an entire generation of phone-slinging, social media-inundated hashtaggers desperately need to hear.
Recently I took a reprieve from my usual lineup of Schwarzenegger films and Seinfeld reruns to view a movie that I’d slotted on my cinematic hit list years ago but had lacked all conviction to actually sit my ass down and view. That film was 2010’s The Fighter, which stars Mark Wahlberg as a man with a Boston accent and Christian Bale as a person with intense emotional problems and possibly bulimia. Oh, there’s also some boxing in it too, I guess.
I did not love this movie – which apparently puts me in a minority group with less representation than Asian stand-up comedians – but neither did I think it was necessarily bad. I’ll concede it was competently made (until the finale – we’ll get to that), well-acted, and presumably well-written (it can be hard to tell through all that wicked pissa Bostonspeak, yah suh). My immediate problem with The Fighter is that it represents a crossover between two genres that I take greater pains to avoid than personal interactions with the elderly – sports-related movies and dysfunctional family dramas.
Ahh, Christmas time – a festive season of peace, love, and goodwill extended to everyone you spent the rest of the year flipping off. Families congregate under chintzy decorations and pretend to tolerate one another over extravagant feasts, Die Hard loops endlessly on an impulsively-purchased 4K TV, and everyone represses all their inner rage that’s been mounting since the last election and forces some good cheer on a holiday that’s devolved into a cynical capitalistic cash-grab.
Seems like a good a time as any to discuss Mayhem – no, silly reader, not the state of Warner Bros’s accounting department following Justice League’s opening weekend; I’m talking about the new action-horror-comedy extravaganza by world-famous director (reads off cue card) Joe Lynch. Since premiering at Cannes back in May it’s been heralded by critics as Office Space meets The Purge, and since viewing it myself I’d personally add the endorsement ‘on cocaine’ to fully capture its spirit.