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Looking Back, Maybe Forward

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Being that the only notable new release (at least in local theaters) this past weekend was Wonka, a moment of reflection presented itself. Not to dismiss Willy's origin story; to the contrary, I've long immersed myself in the source material and the revelatory 1971 adaptation. I'll continue to skip Tim Burton and Johnny Depp's portrait-in-rictus from 2005, thanks very much.

Furthermore, as an ardent admirer of director Paul King's visionary work on The Mighty Boosh, I trust he has brought an appropriate degree of joyfully uncomfortable psychedelia to bear on the proceedings. And it has been rather pointedly pointed out that I may be a Chalamet stan (the youth will let me know if I'm using that correctly), dating back almost a decade. Regardless, something about an overwrought, ostensibly playful musical drawn from a bygone era but shot through with modern touches failed to compel me to action. And by action, I mean the 10-minute trip to the theater.

Instead, I once again moodily pondered a year gone by and found more than a few movie things for which to be thankful. Of course, the centerpiece of the year, the flashpoint of much contentious conversation, was and is Barbenheimer. In a moment that felt fresh and hopeful and completely manipulated, Barbie and Oppenheimer, two movies that could not be more different, landed at the summer box office and ostensibly announced the return of movies. I remain skeptical (if not cynical) as always, but the resounding successes of those two ambitious, modern but also traditional projects serve as a convenient emblem of a year of new work by established voices, possibly to the detriment of some of the quieter stuff.

Through the end of last year, even, the hangover of the plague lent a tentativeness to theatrical releases. The conglomerates in control of the means of distribution remained trepidatious about box office returns. Moreover, the "failure" of some ongoing franchises seemed to throw the conventional wisdom into question. And so we lived in a mini-epoch, a sort of truncated '70s/'90s during which unlikely movies found life, both out in the world and in the living room.

But now the movies are back, or at least it has been a rather noisy year. And to be fair, there have been some lasting favorites released into the world, a precious few of which I did not see on the big screen.

As the end of the year has been, in customary awards-begging fashion, freighted with prestige releases, I'll cast back a little further to start.

(Disclaimer: Kelly Reichardt's Showing Up, Celine Song's Past Lives, Takashi Yamazaki's Godzilla Minus One, Alexander Payne's The Holdovers and Ridley Scott's Napoleon — among many others, I'm sure — are notably absent from this list. I don't get invited to advance screenings and I still have a day-job to go to. Excuses, excuses. To the Wayback machine!)

John Wick: Chapter 4 was, if my records are correct, the first proper new release of the year that brought me childlike joy supported by appreciation of craft that is my true fix. Simultaneously expanding the palette of the franchise while offering more than one surprisingly emotional coda, it probably remains my lizard-brain/romantic favorite.

It was followed rather quickly by Air, which, if largely forgotten, still occupies a space in my fan-nerd's heart for Affleck and Damon's self-effacing humor and earnestness.

Beau is Afraid, something of an anti-Air, struck me at the time as one of the most remarkable, audacious statements of the year and still does. Grotesque, beautiful and terrible, it is an incomparable work of cinematic self-flagellation, both on the part of its writer-director and its star.

Are You There God? It's Me Margaret triggered nostalgia for an un-lived experience and era, creating a palpable atmosphere of adolescent uncertainty, but couched in a feeling of parental support and security that our collective real world seems to be actively siphoning away.

Joyride and No Hard Feelings, both female-led "raunchy" comedies from major studios, should signal a renaissance in the genre; not enough people saw them. Comedy is difficult and should be celebrated.

I don't have to say much about Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One. The title alone is robbing my word count. But it's great.

Oppenheimer is the movie-bro select of the year; I might like Barbie more. Both are grand achievements from which assholes will hopefully learn something.

Killers of the Flower Moon, as I've said, is maybe the definitive work from our living grandmaster. It has its detractors and some of their opinions merit hearing. As a work of art though, I find it unassailable.

Same goes for Dicks: The Musical.

I've written about The Killer, May December, The Boy and the Heron and Leave the World Behind, recently. It is important to say the names again.

John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.

NOW PLAYING

ANYONE BUT YOU. Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell try to make their exes jealous in a destination wedding rom-com. R. 103M. BROADWAY.

AQUAMAN. Momoa dons his trunks for his last dip in the DC franchise. BROADWAY (3D), MILL CREEK (3D).

THE BOY AND THE HERON. Hayao Miyazaki animated adventure about a boy who travels beyond the veil to see his mother. PG13. 125M. BROADWAY (DUB), MILL CREEK (DUB), MINOR.

GODZILLA MINUS 1. The kaiju origin story goes back to its roots in postwar Japan for intense horror with emotional weight. In Japanese. PG13. 125M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

THE HUNGER GAMES: THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES. Prequel to the dystopian juggernaut series. PG13. 157M. BROADWAY.

THE IRON CLAW. True life tale of pro-wrestling brothers and their father/coach. R. 130M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

MIGRATION. Animated duck adventure voiced by Elizabeth Banks, Awkwafina and Keegan-Michael Key. PG. 92M. BROADWAY (3D), MILL CREEK (3D).

TROLLS BAND TOGETHER. Animated musical sequel with a boy band plot and wow, good luck, accompanying parents and guardians. PG. 91M. BROADWAY.

WAITRESS: THE MUSICAL. Hometown girl Sara Bareilles reprises her starring Broadway role in the film adaptation full of songs she wrote. 144M. BROADWAY.

WONKA. Timothée Chalamet brings his bone structure to the candy man's origin story. With Hugh Grant in Oompa-Loompa mode. PG. 112M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

Fortuna Theatre is temporarily closed. For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema (707) 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre (707) 822-3456.

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