So it’s end of summer, and the weather’s been … uneven … and it’s getting darker earlier. My heart turns toward movies.
I walked past Movies in the Park last Friday, before quickly deciding I was not the intended audience for Marley and Me. But there are a few Fridays left for these free movies, the best deal in town. (And I’d never seen the cookie truck before — the cone of cookies for $5 was amazing. Reminded me of Sweet Martha’s without the line and at a fraction of the price.)
On Monday, I saw Batman and Harley Quinn at Lakes 10 in Hermantown. This cartoon couldn’t decide whether to take itself seriously or not. On the one hand, the villain (who used to be in love with the Joker) is on her own now, an empowering narrative. On the other hand, she’s diminished and demeaned by nearly every man in the film and basically a digression from the Batman story at its core. The movie offers a layer of feminist critique stapled to adolescent action-comedy that never once imagines a girl in the audience, basically (or a man who wanted Harley to be a rich, full character).
Thursday (today as I write this, though not as you read it) a Rifftrax Doctor Who, both part of the Fathom events our theaters host. (Doctor Who repeats next week.) Also in these series are Metropolitan Opera performances, Broadway shows, boxing matches, and Studio Ghibli festivals. These events can really enhance a rainy weekend. They are pricier, though — a live event via Fathom for just one night costs about $12-20.
But the real deals in town are Tuesday and Wednesday.
Last Tuesday, I saw Atomic Blonde for $5 at the Duluth 10, recently remodeled with reclining chairs (so nice) and with a full-service restaurant. The smashburger was excellent, at least as good as the burgers at the chain restaurant by the same name. The pizza bread and nachos were nothing to write home about — the nachos had real potential, but because they were served in a tightly stacked boat, the liquids in the salsa pooled at the bottom, and the bottom layer could be eaten with a spoon. A friend ordered the caesar salad, which was clearly premade and refrigerated (the croutons were chewy, not crispy, a giveaway of being in the fridge). I’ll be back, Smashburger in hand, with the drinks from Take 5 to wash it down, and someday I’ll try the pizza. My friend will likely eat before meeting me.
I’m going on about the food because Atomic Blonde was an orgy of violence. I’m not into that anymore (I sold my Reservoir Dogs DVD). Charlize Theron spends two hours being beat, over and over, and I know it’s supposed to matter, at some level, that she “wins” nearly every time. But I can’t watch that anymore.
Last Wednesday, I saw Detroit for $5 at Zinema 2. Detroit blends documentary footage with a reconstruction of the torture and death of black men during riots in the 1960s. I left with the same nausea I left Atomic Blonde with, amplified because I think the movie was trying to be “important.” But in a movie where no one becomes a person, fully realized, to me, all I really watch is black men beaten for being black, white women beaten and stripped naked for choosing to be with black men, and white men exonerated, without remorse. That doesn’t sound like a good way to spend two hours. It wasn’t.
Yesterday, I saw A Ghost Story, also at Zinema 2, again for $5 Wednesdays. The conceit of the movie is fun — a man dies and returns to the house where he lived, haunting it, wearing the same ghost sheets used in kid’s costumes, with two holes for eyes. The actual movie is wonderful, for about the first 45 minutes.
In those minutes, we see a couple intimately together, though as the movie progresses, we see tensions in the relationship: “We’re supposed to make decisions together,” she says to him, “Why am I the only one making them?” The man (played by Casey Affleck) withdraws from the relationship, though we don’t know why. (The movie provides a justification; it’s just junk.) His withdrawal doesn’t diminish his partner’s mourning when he dies suddenly in a car collision.
There is a scene, painfully long, in which his partner eats a pie brought by a friend. We watch her eat in silence. And eat. And eat. And if you’ve lost someone, you know what it means to become lost in the body in this way. No language, no thought, and maybe the pie will help you forget the emotions. But they return; she runs to vomit after the gorging. If A Ghost Story stopped here, as she moves away from the home she shared with him, it would become a remarkable story of grief.
But that would require a filmmaker willing to tell her story, or talented enough to tell her story. That’s not this filmmaker. The movie goes time-travel wonky, taking us into the future and the past of the site of the house, where we see a Latinx family move in after his partner leaves … where we see a settler family killed by arrows (I’m not sure why this little nugget and the background music wasn’t immediately flagged by someone as offensive). And we hear a ton of mansplaining about the value of art.
In that sense, A Ghost Story failed in the ways that Detroit and even Batman and Harley Quinn failed — because at moments, they stopped being stories and started trying to be important. (I’m looking back at some of my Saturday Essays for this site, and I’m wincing as I see the paragraphs where I tried to be “important” instead of just telling a story.)
Anyway. From free movies to one-night engagements, and with the promise of $5 movies on Tuesday and Wednesday, Duluth has options to see movies that can entertain and can spark thought.
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