I want to talk about elation and movies. It can be the elation of watching something that seemingly disintegrates everything that is chipping away at you. It can also be as simple as the act of watching elation expressed in a movie. If it’s really that good, you’ll suddenly feel the intense warmth of being in the middle of ten or ten thousand people crying out in joy. You’ll express elation in your own right, which is different than simply watching a film you love.
Any movie can give you all this great stuff that I’m talking about. A movie that clearly wants you to connect immediately and intensely to the elation being expressed on the screen, and succeeding in doing so, is a slightly more special result. Especially if you’re cynical to the point of becoming a character on Portlandia.
I’m thinking about this in the wake of watching Beetlejuice under unusual circumstances. BBQ Films recently combined Tim Burton’s understandably beloved 1988 film with an actual wedding. BBQ filled a Brooklyn venue called the House of Yes with actors, props, sculptures, tombstones, and other elements associated with or inspired by the movie. The crowd was a mixture of ages, ethnicities, and genders, which is not too terribly surprising in of itself. What was surprising was to simply experience all of these people celebrating this silly, fairly perfect movie in a single location. All of these people were elated by not only watching the movie again, but by watching the movie with other beautiful weirdoes. BBQ Films incorporated live actors, dancers, and elaborate skits to surround a movie that doesn’t really need these things. That might be true, but anyone who was there will tell you that they’re going to remember watching the movie like that for the rest of their lives. You can be sure they will do this under the most positive mindset possible.
The elation that surrounded me for every single moment of this movie was palpable. It was also contagious, considering the energy had my own enthusiasm to absorb, as well. There was drinking, since The House of Yes is indeed a bar, but I don’t think booze made any significant difference one way or the other. I think everyone still would have quoted along, filled the interesting space of the venue with laughter, and cheered on the actual wedding that unfolded.
Elation ran through the crowd, celebrating the movie itself in a brilliant public setting. When the movie itself expresses elation towards the end, when Lydia celebrates passing a test at school, everyone sweetly, flawlessly lost their goddamn minds. Beetlejuice will be thirty years old pretty soon. That doesn’t make the movie any less potent. It can still connect someone to feelings of absolute, unshakable pleasure. In turn, it can still relate an energy that is as substantive to new viewers, as it continues to be to people like the ones who showed up with Beetlejuice tattoos. Several people told me that they were seeing the movie for the first time that night. They were stunned by the movie’s manic, unique energy. They were completely knocked down by watching what that energy can do with the longtime fans.
This isn’t meant to be a review of BBQ Films. They should be commended for planning, casting, and designing such a remarkable show. It’s just that I have to thank them for reminding me of the two key ways in which elation can be felt or expressed through film. The event reminded me of the silly, perfect, rolling high that sweeps over me, when I’m watching something that holds up everything I love about cinema. You need these reminders, and not just for film.
What movies make you feel elated? What movies do you think express that emotion in perfect form? If you’re depressed about the state of movies, or if you’re just fucking depressed, consider answers to those questions. It might help on some level.
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016): C-
This might be the softest C- in the history of Captain Canada’s Movie Rodeo. I want to give it a D. Part of me wants to fail this ugly, joyless fucker into my own personal, sad definition of oblivion. But I have to be honest. There are elements to this needlessly long, arrogant movie that I enjoyed. Let’s start there.
First of all, Ben Affleck’s Batman is a pretty good Batman. To be sure, his performance is sucked into the black hole of bizarrely pretentious self-importance that is Batman v. Superman. It’s not hopeless. Affleck brings the unhinged rage of an older Batman in fine form. There are naturally going to be solo Batman movies. I’m on board for them particularly if Affleck winds up directing. We’ve also got a great, suitably weary-yet-sassy-as-fuck Alfred Pennyworth in Jeremy Irons. If we can get him and Laurence Fishburne’s wonderful Perry Mason in the same room in the future, I’ll be okay with that.
And then there’s Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. She’s not in this movie nearly as much as I would have liked, but she does enough to make it clear that we’re in good shape with the inevitable solo Wonder Woman movies. If you are willing to isolate Affleck and Gadot from this soulless disaster, you can walk away from Dawn of Justice with a few shreds of optimism. I’m did exactly that, which is why I can give the movie a C-. There are a couple of other reasons, but those are the two big ones.
However, if you want to find beauty or a point in the actual Zach Snyder suckfest that is Batman v. Superman, things are going to get dicey. Snyder is quite possibly one of the worst directors of all time. To date, the only movie this man has ever made that I’ve enjoyed was Watchmen. That was largely because Snyder combined his giant boner for spectacular, hollow visuals with an almost fervent dedication for the source material. Here, he gets to work with pretty good screenwriters like Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer. The end result is a story that is desperate. Batman v. Superman is desperate to jumpstart the D.C. Comics universe. It is desperate to be taken seriously. It is desperate to prove to you just how different D.C. is going to be from Marvel.
In other words, there is a lot of desperation hanging over this movie. If the movie’s absurdly heavy-handed approach to storytelling works at all, it at least conveys that desperation early on. Within ten minutes, you have absolutely no doubt as to what you’re in for. At that point, if you stay, it’s on you.
There are some impressive visual moments to the film. Snyder can create breathtaking moments of light, fire, music, and chaos. What he can’t do is follow up on that with something, anything that might be construed as an element of forward momentum in filmmaking. His movies tend to be a series of lights and colors that make up the hollow shell of whatever he’s working on. Batman v. Superman is a staggering monument to his approach to movies. To be sure, there are some breathtaking moments throughout this very, very, very, very long movie. That’s all the movie is really. A series of moments. Batman v. Superman will go down in history as the longest trailer ever.
There is enough spectacle to keep you from rioting. However, Batman v. Superman is not the homerun D.C./Warner Bros needed for their cinematic comic book universe. You may have some slight, glimmering optimism for some of the solo movies. Then you’re going to remember that Snyder is still attached to the Justice League movie. Despair naturally follows.
A friend of mine believes the D.C. Cinematic Universe will self-destruct within a decade. Her contention is that D.C. will trail along as a distant second to Marvel at the movies, continue to succeed on television, and eventually sell the movie rights to Disney. We’ll get a Marvel vs. D.C. movie. History will look at Snyder as the insane, moronic love child of Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher.
And so it goes.
Zootopia (2016): A-
While Zootopia plays it pretty safe, particularly in terms of how it discusses issues like discrimination and stereotyping, it still manages to be clever and charming. You could even make the case that it’s too much of a good thing with its sharply told story, excellent voice cast, and varied attention to humor. The only thing that really keeps you from leaning in this direction is the fact that there doesn’t appear to be a trace of smugness to be found anywhere.
Zootopia is simply an earnest little story about a rabbit (Ginnifer Goodwin, whose kind, cheerful tone combines with the animation for a good performance) breaking social ground by becoming the first of her kind to join a metropolitan police force. It isn’t clumsy. It doesn’t get heavy-handed, as Goodwin’s Judy Hopps and Jason Bateman’s (his self-assured 1930s-style fast talk shtick works well playing a fox/con artist) Nick Wilde investigate mysterious disappearances throughout Zootopia. It throws a lot of jokes and low-key observations at the all, and most of it impressively sticks. With the talent involved, that shouldn’t be too surprising. It’s another win for Disney’s belief that the best of their movies can be enjoyed by the whole obnoxious family.
And unlike Frozen, there aren’t any songs for your goddamned kids to sing forever and ever.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016): B-
However you wind up feeling about this kinda/sorta/nah/maybe/or is it/sequel to Cloverfield, you won’t find fault with the performances. Mary Elizabeth Winstead gives a complex, believable hero-in-peril performance. She makes it easy to emphasize and ultimately root for the fact that her life goes from bad (car accident), to worse (underground bunker with John Goodman’s dark, disconcerting survivalist), to nine-wide-mile-fuck-show parade (the world might be ending). She is someone we don’t get to see headlining nearly as often as we should.
However, if there is a star to this fairly clever, well-paced movie, it’s Goodman. It’s hardly a secret that Goodman has been giving us brilliant-to-reliable performances for several decades. What’s surprising is that he is not more highly regarded for that fact. 10 Cloverfield is just one more case in point for a man who has been on a considerable roll for the last three or so years. While a small genre flick like 10 Cloverfield Lane may not be the kind of thing that generates considerable attention during awards season, this is something that ought to change. At least, as far as this movie is concerned. Goodman meets a challenging character in spectacular fashion. He moves from quiet resignation, to heartbroken despair, to dumbstruck rage without pause or difficulty. As solid as this atmospheric, creepy debut from Dan Trachtenberg might be, Goodman is without question the best reason to see 10 Cloverfield Lane. A lot of the successful tension that 10 Cloverfield Lane generates is from his performance.
Heaven Can Wait (1978): C-
With 2016 supposedly bringing us the first new Warren Beatty film in fifteen years (some silly shit about Howard Hughes), it’s worth taking a look back at someone who was once one of the most influential individuals in Hollywood. Although people like Buck Henry and Elaine May share credit for directing and writing respectively, this is one of the first films in which Beatty made it clear who was in control. The end result is something with the usual bloat that follows most of Beatty’s films. At the same time, the 1978 remake of Heaven Can Wait also brings a charming energy and laidback feel to it.
To be sure, over the course of a recently-departed spirit’s (Beatty) journey from heaven to a body that is not is, we understand why Beatty could get away with murder. Notoriously challenging to work with or for, Beatty nonetheless had a charisma that apparently worked on every front imaginable. It certainly works in his performance, particularly in the scenes with James Mason and Henry. The scenes between Beatty and former romance Julie Christie also provide a weird, awkward appeal.
This movie has been made a few times. I’m sure another version is due for this decade. Nominated for several Academy Awards in 1979, this might be the best version of the bunch. To be completely honest, the 2001 version starring Chris Rock is a regrettable, baffling misfire. Meanwhile, the 1941 version of this stage play (Here Comes Mr. Jordan) is good, but a little too creaky in 2016 to connect you to the story.
Fun fact: Beatty originally had Muhammed Ali in mind for the lead.
Pee-wee’s Big Holiday (2016): B+
It’s nice to welcome Pee-wee Herman back to the world of the living. Although the character has made sporadic appearances over the past few years, Paul Reuben’s iconic character is only now getting the comeback movie all of us hoped he would receive. Although the fact that this movie exists at all is something that owes at least some credit to the current nostalgia frenzy, there is no doubt that Reubens wants to be here. He has missed using Pee-wee to express fascinating perspectives on life, friendship, and travel. Don’t worry, because he has also missed using Pee-wee to express a style of humor that remains as subversive, and beautifully absurd as ever.
A chance, bizarre (naturally) encounter with actor Joe Manganiello sends Pee-wee off on a road trip to New York City. It’s a nice, simple setup, with the true gems of this surprisingly excellent, (finally) worthy follow-up to the 1985 classic Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, appearing consistently throughout. Pee-wee’s Big Holiday doesn’t try to update Reubens’ eye for surrealism or kitsch. It simply proves that Reubens still has material to mine from both of those subjects. Pee-wee’s Big Holiday plays around with offbeat movie throwbacks, humor that is entirely its own, and an infectious sense of joy about the odd details that exist under the seemingly timeless wardrobe of the day. It gives Paul Reubens and his best-known creation a place on the landscape that consists of much more substance than what you get from succeeding purely on nostalgia. The movie is also another reason to pay attention to the original works coming out of the Netflix factory these days.