I binged hardcore this month—the month it seems like I’ve been waiting all year for—and went to all the films I most wanted to see. Included in the list are: Sicario, The Martian, Crimson Peak, and The Last Witch Hunter.
If you know me, you would expect the one I’d pick if I had to pick one to recommend everyone go see would be Crimson Peak. Of course, this would only be natural. I think Guillermo del Toro has the greatest vision and quirky storytelling style of any contemporary director/writer in his class right now, even better and more exciting than Peter Jackson’s, Jerry Bruckheimer’s, or Joss Whedon’s. He brings monsters and stories to life on the screen so beautifully and vibrantly that you can only sit back and absorb his epics and instantly watch them a second time afterward to relive all the elegance and moments you might have missed.
You’d think my pick would be Crimson Peak, but this time you’d be wrong. For once, GdT’s vision became a little overburdened, in my opinion, by his movie’s simplistic story and stifling set. Yes, the movie was about a specific manor and the events that transpired there in the late 1800s, but because of this, audiences weren’t treated to the grander scope of place and story that usually typify his movies. After 2013’s Mama, a GdT haunted-house story doesn’t have quite the same impact as it might have, regardless of the quality of acting by the main characters (which was wonderful, particularly Jessica Chastain’s, which was marvelous!). However, this was the only one of the four that excelled in passage of the Bechdel Test.
If I had to pick one to laud without reservation, (and because I’m too nice to make you read this whole post to find out the best of them) it would be Sicario. This film is a study in building tension and excitement. Unlike most films, The Martian for example, you can’t quite be sure from one scene to the next what the movie’s ultimate climax will be, but there are plenty of breadcrumbs to keep you riveted to the trail along the way. Benecio del Toro is a master at understated intensity, and Emily Blunt absolutely knows how to carry a dramatic role without being in the slightest melodramatic. This film is 5-plus stars without question. Failed the Bechdel Test however.
The Martian lived up to the hype, but I don’t think you can get Matt Damon in a movie without it being an automatic hype machine. (We’ll just pretend Elysium never happened.) While nothing in it surprised me, even though I haven’t read the novel, and every turn was predictable to the point of being cliché, it still had enough hero appeal to make an audience root for the movie’s namesake. Nope on the Bechdel Test, but that’s not surprising given it being a high-budget male-main-character film. Shitty, but true.
And finally, The Last Witch Hunter. Not quite there when compared to the Riddick series, but fun and light nonetheless. Both An Aging Hipster and I were surprised by the slower pace of the story itself, yet we were still entertained by its lack of campiness and better plot development than expected. The costumes and CG were fun, but overall, this one is definitely best rented on a night when the cheaper IPA and $2 bottle of wine are flowing freely. Vin smiles a lot, which surprised me. Bechdel Test fail.
Now we get to the substantive part of these overall reviews. For those who don’t care about social commentary, this is where you may bow out. I’m going to recap the events surrounding our viewing of The Last Witch Hunter, which added a shocking and unfortunate turn to the experience. No matter how you feel about guns and the right to bear arms, here is the result of living in a country where gun ownership prevails.
File this story under “gut check.” Before the lights dimmed as we sat in last night’s theater, I observed a solo white man in a hooded sweatshirt, baseball cap, and sunglasses (in a dark theater) walk up the aisle and stand awkwardly in the row for a while before finally taking a seat. Oh, and he was carrying a heavy-looking black backpack. An Aging Hipster and I have started sitting in the back row at theaters because…well…we like to keep an eye on things. I pointed this strange-looking and strange-acting dude out to Hip, and we both couldn’t help but stare at him until he settled in and a pulled a large bag of chips from the backpack. Okay, we thought, just a guy having a picnic at the movie. And yet…
After the film ended, we left the theater behind this guy and a another couple. The three of them were in some kind of heated exchange, but I wasn’t sure over what. It seems one may have bumped into another. It quickly escalated to the point that when we reached the exit, both the freaky dude and the man he was in an argument with stopped and wouldn’t go through. It was a standoff. Rage was flying. The next thing that happened is the freaky dude says he’s not going out first, he’s not going to walk in front of the other man, and that he was going to “put something in the back of his head.” He then unshouldered his backpack and reached to unzip it. Hip and I squeezed out, and he urgently asked the counter staff (in his drill sergeant’s voice, which is formidable) to call security. The kid at the counter stared at Hip blankly, as if he’d spoken in Klingon. Hip repeated himself, and asked if they even had security. The kid said no. Mind you, I’ve had my bag searched twice by the ticket takers at this theater, yet still they had no security. Um…? Last night, however, no bags were searched.
Within another couple of minutes, the man whose life had just been threatened and his girlfriend finally managed to ease past the crazy, yelling, threatening dude to the parking lot. Crazy dude followed them out, still yelling, and then continued to rant like a madman long after they were no longer in sight. Jeff and I could still hear him when we got to our car.
My instincts knew this dude was off the second I laid eyes on him. People: ALWAYS listen to your gut. This is America, home of the mentally ill gun-toting crowd that only gets worse with each passing year. It grieves me that even the act of going to see a Vin Diesel movie requires such intense situational awareness that I now sit in the back row to avoid getting shot from behind and spend the previews not looking forward to new films, but analyzing the other people at the theater, wondering which one might pull a weapon and where their blindspot might be in case they need to be tackled. What the fuck? As the Jello Biafra and Guantanomo School of Medicine song says, “When you jump at the sight of your neighbor, arm yourselves against them instead. Stiffened up like a porcupine, welcome to Panic Land.”
At what point do we recognize that there is a sickness in a society where one has to measure the risk of getting shot against the decision to do such basic things as go to school or the theater? The question I keep struggling with is what I as an individual can possibly do about such an endemic and multifaceted problem, which is only exacerbated by the conflicting agendas of personal rights vs. making responsible social agreements and laws. It’s so easy in the movies to beat the villain and live happily ever after. Maybe that’s why we sometimes prefer our fantasy worlds to these more and more frequent examples of what our real lives in American are becoming.
PS: I’m not actually proposing we all arm ourselves. I’m pointing out that’s where we’re headed. Imagine your next Sunday outing:
“Well, dear, do you think we should take the Sigs with us?”
“No, dear. Don’t be absurd. You know the theater is going to be filled to capacity! Damon’s latest Oscar is sure to draw the crowds. We should take the ARs. We might have to lay down a heavy suppressive fire to get clear should anyone lose their shit.”
“You’re right, of course, dear. I’ll go grab some extra magazines.”