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Madmen ... road rage ... mutants. Reel life back in our real lives

Want to go to the movies this weekend?

It’s been so long, too long, since we’ve heard that question that just the notion of being able to ask it brings a tentative moment of joy.

The Varsity Theatre in Ashland and the Tinseltown theaters in Medford are returning light to the big screens — albeit with pandemic restrictions in place and with the hope that moviegoers will be respectful of the health and personal space of the other brave souls who have decided that they no longer can hold back their craving for butter flavoring.

You might find yourselves asking: “Has it really been all that ...”

Yes, and there’s no need to finish the question.

Hollywood has done what it could to stem the tide of the shutdown, through streaming services and the like. Heck, Quibi even presented a plethora of performers acting out “The Princess Bride” — which only made most of us discover that, somewhere out there, there is something called Quibi.

But now, brave soles can begin walking back in the land of cushy seats, mood lighting and crinkling candy wrappers to escape, if only for a couple of hours, society’s current rasher of trials and tribulations.

Or ... can they?

For it seems that the movies greeting returning patrons this weekend might be too on-the-nose when it comes to our present-day turmoil.

Take, if you will, the most-anticipated of the new releases screening locally — “Tenet,” the latest mind-bending offering from director Christopher Nolan, the director behind such previous head-scratchers as “Inception” and “Memento.”

By now, you might have heard that “Tenet” (the movie) is about a protagonist who is called “The Protagonist” who makes his way backward, forward and sideways through time in order to save the world from the devious desires of a dastardly tyrant named Sator.

And, if you have a passion for linguistics, you’re aware that “tenet” (the word) is not only a palindrome — which means it can be read the same backward, forward and sideways — but is at the center of the Latin word puzzle known as the “Sator Square,” which dates back to the days of Pompeii.

So, if you’re ready push today’s troubles aside to watch a film about a madman whose thirst for absolute power has the unnamed masses searching forward, backward and sideways for a way to keep him from achieving his goals ... then “Tenet” is the film for you.

After which, you likely will be in arguments over what the movie was actually about for years to come. After all, “Inception” hit theaters 10 years ago ... and people who saw it (and even those who didn’t) are still debating over whether the top in the final shot stopped spinning.

Speaking of madmen in the seat of power, another weekend release is the straightforwardly titled “Unhinged” — which puts Russell Crowe in the driver’s seat of a thriller in which he plays a man who takes out his road rage on a woman and her son.

As with the protagonist in “Tenet” being called The Protagonist, Crowe’s hell-on-wheels motorist is simply referred to as “The Man” (although, in the end credits, he is given the name of “Tom Cooper.”) And, frankly, standing up to The Man makes more of a cinematic statement than running for your life from Tom Cooper.

Fans of this genre of film might first think of another offering from the year that brought us “Inception” — the overlooked and underappreciated “Rubber,” which told the heartwarming tale of a car tire with psychokinetic powers that rolls across the California desert killing underdeveloped secondary characters.

Wait, you’re saying to yourself, wasn’t that a Stephen King movie? Nope, sorry, you’re thinking of the 1986 classic “Maximum Overdrive” — and the fact that I know that tells you how long we’ve been without butter-flavoring.

Of course, the gold standard of road rage movies is Steven Spielberg’s 1971 TV classic “Duel,” which featured Dennis Weaver (whose character’s surname is Mann) driving a Plymouth Valiant in a desperate attempt to escape a truck driver who not only didn’t have a name ... but was never seen.

No wonder Weaver preferred riding his horse through the streets of New York City in “McCloud.”

OK, how about something for the kids — or at least the kids cowering in the corner inside all of us.

Nothing like a good, old-fashioned banding of outcasts who are being held against their will under the watchful eyes of a sadistic authority figure.

No ... they haven’t remade “The Breakfast Club” (although it might be worth it to see a new generation tackle the Detention Dance).

I speak, of course, of “The New Mutants” — for what else do we think of teenagers as but some deranged version of proto-humans.

“The New Mutants” is yet another offshoot of the Marvel Comics empire and, if that wasn’t enough brand-name power for you, it brings together cast members from such cult favorite television series as “Game of Thrones,” “Stranger Things” and “13 Reasons Why.”

All being studied in the type of hospital where no one ever thinks that putting such gifted people together in one place might not be the smartest idea, the superheroes in training boast such powers as teleportation, the ability to harness solar energy, and leap into the air for self-protection.

There’s a also a Scottish girl who can turn into a wolf, in opposition to her strong religious beliefs, and a mutant who can bring the fears and desires of others to life.

As an illusion, natch — since, in real life, a mutant who had the ability to control others by manipulating their fears and desires wouldn’t wind up in a psychiatric hospital, but in politics ... and would require a mutant ability to go backward, forward and sideways through time to end their tyranny.

Then again, it’s only a movie.

Mail Tribune news editor Robert Galvin has a lifetime supply of butter-flavored butter in his bunker at rgalvin@rosebudmedia.com

Robert Galvin