There’s more than one way to peel an orange. Likewise, there’s more than one way to watch a movie.
On a film’s opening weekend, a producer or director can be instantly banished to movie limbo depending on the initial gross. On the other hand, many films overcome immediate criticism and low box yield to achieve bona fide cult status.
Case in point: The Big Lebowski was not a high grossing film upon initial release twenty years ago, and yet there’s not a single person I know who’s not familiar with this 1998 release as the years have been very kind to its reputation. Name another 1998 film off the top of your head that can claim the same (Saving Private Ryan, Shakespeare in Love, The Thin Red Line?).
The recent release Solo is considered a box office flop based on its initial gross in proportion to its budget, yet to my eyes that Star Wars prequel was an easier sit than last weeks’ release of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, a film that in its opening weekend grossed more money (over $700-million) worldwide than Solo has taken in in the same world since its May 25 premiere (roughly $355 million plus change). An indie film or documentary can top off at $10 to 50 million and be considered a smashing success.
However, your humble scribe has come up with a corollary to the opening weekend conundrum. What kind of mood do the previous week’s world events put the viewer in the humor to see?
Because I have to tell you, after the shit show that was the last few days’ social media dialogue of refugee children in cages and Supreme Court nominees, the last thing I want to see is a feel good indie comedy. I’m thinking more along the lines of an acerbic social satire like Dr. Strangelove, just to prevent me from going out and starting a bar fight like Casey Affleck in Manchester By the Sea. I need a Garden of the Finzi-Continis, 1970 Italian film by Vittorio De Sica that follows an aristocratic Jewish family who live in such an opulent citadel they don’t realize the slow change to fascism under Mussolini’s Italy. Perhaps, even something more nihilistic than the end of the world. Hello, Lars von Trier or Gasper Noe.
Note: there are some serious spoilers in the upcoming paragraphs.
Most of this weeks and next releases are lightweight rethreads of familiar tropes. A father-daughter bonding gets a swift refrain in Hearts Beat Loud (River Oaks, June 29). Nick Offerman gives his usual scene-stealing performance as a once-hipster dad trying to connect with his daughter, Kiersey Clemmons (Dope), on the eve of her moving across the country to attend college at UCLA.
His Red Hook, Brooklyn address and going-out-of-business vinyl record store just reeks of self-entitlement, but with a quirky twist. Toni Collette briefly appears as his landlord and sings a karaoke version of the obscure new wave standard “Bruises,” by Chairlift.
Nothing really happens in Hearts Beat Loud, even when things are happening. The film will come and go just like a fluctuation in weather although its main song, “Hearts Beat Loud,” by Keegan DeWitt, is a sure bet to get awards consideration at year’s end with its catchy beat.
Eating Animals (AMC Houston 8, 9/29) presents some disturbing facts about factory farming, but it’s hardly any more alarming than previous and better directed documentaries on the same subject like Food, Inc. Some states have outlawed taking pictures of farms that mass-produce food at the cost of animal comfort. I get it — meat is murder. The Solo and Jurassic World film crowd are not going to see this film ever, and those that do have already been granted the self-awareness of their dietary and philosophical disposition towards consumption.
Damsel (Edwards Grand Place, 6/29) deserves a passing glance because its very narrative displays a subversive force. This absurdist western from the Austin-based filmmaking team of the Zellner Brothers (David and Nathan, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter) focuses on a sodbuster (played with a sense of suspicious motives by Robert Pattinson) who hunts for the men who kidnapped his fiancé Penelope, played with a vengeance by Mia Wasikowska.
The main reason to lift this average attempt to mine the magic of 1970s westerns like El Topo or Greaser’s Palace above the fray is its inflammatory vision of the 19th century — women are more resilient than men. But while history hides facts underneath legends, Damsel sets the record straight by telling the story for the first hour from the focus of Pattison and then bumping off his character and continuing the tale from the point of view of Wasikowska. Don’t get too excited, this territory was already mined a generation ago in Jarmusch’s mid-1990s Johnny Depp starrer and Neil Young soundtrack enabled Dead Man.
Ant Man and The Wasp (in all theaters July 5) delivers another rote superhero film, but the big payoff moves the gratuitous journey through big and small to the point where the film ties the events that have just occurred into the Marvel Universe. Namely, the ending of Avengers: The Infinity Wars, a film that ended with the majority of the superheroes dissolving just as if they were caught up in the rapture of ancient legend once Thanos acquires all the infinity stones. (Thanos is the perfect villain/anti-hero for our times as he’s a bad guy with a small conscience that doesn’t give a shit at how many people have to die for him to sit on the throne of master of the universe.) While Thanos doesn’t appear literally in Ant-Man and The Wasp, his influence figures pretty big in the ending.
In the cynical times in which we live, its hard to imagine that corporate Disney would walk away from billion-dollar franchises like Black Panther just to introduce new and unproven super heroes without a trilogy of the original franchise. Translation: All the super heroes offed in Avengers Infinity War, will be jolted back to life in whatever bullshit reversal the series dictates in the sequel.
This brings us to Sicario: Day of the Soldado. The Spanish language word “sicario” translates as “hitman,” while “soldato” equivocates “soldier.”
Under the helm of Italian director Stefano Sollima, whose credits include the Italian television series version of the Mafia film Gomorrah, SDOTS moves from one black op to the next nefarious covert operation with abandon. The action plotting is infectious.
Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin headline without a sight of Emily Blunt, although the ambiguous ending — after one of the main cast is supposedly slain by a border cartel gang — makes the story more intriguing by suggesting that the supporting teen male and female actors caught up in the crosshairs have a future as off-the-grid assassins in Sicario 3.
The film comes alive multiple times by moving from covert torture ops in the Middle East to undercover extraction operations in our neighboring Mexico. If you’re looking for contempo references to the mock border war now being conducted by the current corrupt administration, look no further than this exciting and thought-provoking film.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado is currently playing at multiple theaters.