A Weekend in the Cinema: LOGAN; TABLE 19; BEFORE I FALL; THE SHACK (kind of)

For much of my life, I’ve made a concerted effort to see wide release movies in their opening weekends. Though rival studios only really focus on one element when choosing release dates – $$$$$ – unintentional connections can still be forced made between the flicks because most contemporaneous art tends to comment on shared factors intrinsic to the time and environment in which they’re produced. As such, I shall attempt to explore these ideas – BRIEFLY, I swear – every Monday through the lens of the weekend’s slate after having the opportunity to see them all (within reason). Due to their different release dates from city to city, independent films will be excluded from this series, which I’m dubbing “A Weekend in the Cinema” (STEPHEN SONDHEIM/A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC REFERENCE ALERT!!!). Without further ado…

All three (or I guess four) of March 3rd’s wide releases suffer from flawed screenplays that fail to transcend the more artistically restrictive conventions of their chosen genres. Logan is the biggest and also probably the best, less a testament to its (disappointing) quality and more a reflection of the overwhelming turpitude of these offerings…

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You’re just NEVER going to believe this, but Logan isn’t nearly as good as you’ve heard (critics so lowering their standards for superhero fare never ceases to baffle me). 

Last weekend, Get Out inspired/forced a reappraisal of my formerly espoused thoughts regarding Blumhouse Productions in a piece that also indicted the similarly monotonous Marvel Studios. Perhaps due to this widely held conception of their work (which in no way diminishes their commercial success; audiences like what they like, apparently), 20th Century Fox – owners of the film rights to all X-Men characters – have set themselves up as counter superhero programming with last year’s Deadpool and now Logan. Thus far, they’ve been widely acclaimed for such PURPORTEDLY novel takes on an increasingly tired genre. 

PURPORTEDLY is the operative word there (thus the all-caps). Deadpool looked to crude up the normal PG-13 template, and Logan appears to add substantial doses of dark violence to the mix, relocating a familiar superhero to a potentially refreshing western setting. Unfortunately, these changes prove optically superficial at best. Though they may seem different on the surface, both run into the most crippling trapping of the genre: superhero movies almost always prioritize forwarding the narrative plot to reach the next action scene over actually telling a coherently engaging story populated by sufficiently developed characters.

Logan may be set in the desert, and it may cast Wolverine as the customary solitary figure of the Old West begrudgingly tasked with protecting innocent souls from oncoming bad guys, but classic westerns in fact focus much of their duration on building characters, culminating in a final, wildly entertaining showdown made much more intense after getting to know the participants (another indicator of how little the creators cared about substantially homaging westerns: it’s shot on digital – distractingly so – as opposed to film). Sure, a few scenes could be mistaken to contain legitimate character development, but this development only serves to justify lurching the proceedings to the next explosion. As such, the characters feel less like actual human beings with nuanced depth and more like shallow devices merely driving the expectedly convoluted plot forward. As always, more than two screenwriters on a project (there’s three here) often results in a lack of the type of personal imprint that should be at the core of all artistic expression. Studio movies should not feel like products of corporate conglomerates.

Logan and Deadpool nobly attempted to mooch off the current superhero craze plaguing Hollywood to green light alternative sorts of pictures, but they only manage to subvert the stylistic mold as opposed to altering how these stories fundamentally operate. For these cape-clad ventures to truly invert Marvel’s formula, their screenplays need to adopt wholly new structural beats as opposed to hitting tired ones again and again and again and again and again and…you get the idea. 20th Century Fox should adhere to the sentiment that Professor X expresses to Logan here: “Don’t be what they [Marvel] made you.”

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Logan and Table 19 share more than just Stephen Merchant. If the former’s inferior screenplay merely prevents the flick from scaling the memorable heights of its own genre, the latter’s cumbersomely unstructured mess of a script sinks almost every component of this mirthless affair, most criminally the uniformly talented cast (though I’m a tad concerned by Anna Kendrick’s perpetually increasing coal trove of regrettable role choices), who had absolutely no chance of bridging the senseless tonal fluctuations between (painful) sitcom-level cheap humor and, well, (painful) sitcom-level saccharine character DRAMA (all-caps to capture its subtlety!), whose pervasive artificiality makes giving a shit about basically anything here practically impossible. 

That sentence was as overly long as this 90 minutes of dreck felt. 

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In the same way that Logan fails to sufficiently escape the tiresome conventions of its own genre, Before I Fall…falls (hehe, see what I did there?!) prey to the most pitiful of the young adult genre: corrosive condescension regarding the high school experience, epitomized in the tacky dialogue (I can just hear all involved falsely boasting to themselves, “This is totally how high schoolers talk!!!”). The writing gives off the impression that the disingenuous creators are too far removed from the ages and experiences of the characters to write about them perceptively or even accurately.

In their derivative fabrications (Groundhog Day should sue), the teenage years come across less as what they’re actually like and more as how too many previous movies have reductively portrayed them: Bullying! Losing one’s virginity! Taking for granted the finiteness of time, AKA having to say goodbye to a previous life for the first time! Fidelity! Back stabbing best friends! Partying! Why should we care about any of these when they’re so standardly portrayed! Unlike the digital cinematography betraying Logan’s intended tone, the Twilight-franchise-meets-Lifetime-movie aesthetic here matches the nature and quality of the content. It’s never a good sign when the lone star of a movie is the freaking music supervisor…

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The cyclical narrative structure of Before I Fall reminded me of a release from earlier this year: A Dog’s Purpose, a movie that follows the spirit of a dog from one body to another, forcing the audience to sob through multiple heartbreaking instances of man’s best friend being devastatingly wrenched away from their owners, one joyful but inevitably tragically-concluded reincarnation after the next. I’m bringing up this PETA-ravaged and generally puzzling flick because the only creatures on Earth who could compel me to see a movie with veiled religious undertones are…DOGGIES!!! Since it doesn’t appear like The Shack – the fourth wide release of the weekend – cast any dogs in leading roles, I shall skip this faith-centric tale. Not to dismiss a piece of art out of hand, but I just can’t support genres that prioritize subscribing to and reductively reaffirming pre-existing agendas over presenting a complicated dramatic landscape (which is a common pitfall in more liberal, forcibly socially-conscious fare as well); such a genre convention is just too odiously simplistic for this card-carrying artistic agnostic to bear.

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