Dark Forces

Columnist Cate Gable encounters dark forces at the Kiggins Theatre in Vancouver, Washington.

No, with my headline I’m not referring to questionable and dangerous U.S. foreign policy or the impeachment inquiry currently being conducted about a “very stable genius.” I’m not talking about ominous hurricanes in the Gulf; or the fact that a chunk of ice larger than Los Angeles just broke off the Amery Ice Shelf in East Antarctica (it’s called D28 and it’s 600 square miles in area); or that there’s another wobbly enormous one called the Loose Tooth that’s also ready to drop. And, no, I am not talking about the fact that the success of our local sport fishermen meant that commercial fishermen were shortchanged. (That’s just plain not fair.)

These are all unfortunate circumstances that we could no doubt dissect and argue about ad nauseum. But let’s put all that aside for now: what I’m talking about is the dark times we’re having on the Big Screen. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinions about what makes for a bad movie, so here are a few of mine. But I should also add that by “bad movie” I don’t mean it’s something you can’t still enjoy. In fact, some movies are so bad that they actually exist in a unique and charming category all their own; some even become classics — “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” comes to mind.

Anyway, let me tell you about a couple recent bad movies I’ve seen.

‘Downton Abbey’

I should first say that I am and was a total fan of “Downton Abbey” the television series (and I don’t even have a television!). I got suckered in immediately, even realizing it was just a low-down soap-opera dressed up in period haut couture. What would those entitled and pampered sisters do next? Would Lady Edith ever find herself? Who would stop that dastardly Thomas? And would the butler Mr. Carson ever realize that he was in love with Mrs. Hughes? It caught onto me like a bad habit, like an accident on I-5 — I just couldn’t look away.

I will admit though that after all the time it took Lady Mary to fall in love with Matthew — then to have Julian Fellowes kill him off just as their baby arrived and they were in the throes of marital bliss — well, I nearly turned off the Crawleys and their serving entourage for good. Fellowes was toying with us! He threw us, the abbey’s adoring audience, under the bus (or in Matthew’s case, under a speeding motor car.) Anyway, I finally forgave him and did go back. And I did go to the movie.

On Rotten Tomatoes — perhaps the best known site for movie reviews (https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/downton_abbey) — Regarding Downton, we get everything from “The movie knows what it is and is on top of its game” to “This is just a bunch of highfalutin horse crap!” And there you have it. My take is somewhere in the middle.

I enjoyed it because I went with a group of friends and it was just a small part of a grand evening. But it was exceedingly dark — the cinematography made everything look like it was set in Batman’s Bat Cave (especially when we are looking in on the “downstairs” stories); and they started us off with the cliff notes version of the whole darn six-year TV series (pulease… why do you think we’re here?); and the storylines were so rushed and crammed together it felt like we were just watching someone’s life flash before their eyes before they died. The movie hopscotched around from one plot line to the next in a frenzy to get everyone’s story shoe-horned into the time allotted (though one romance string was left untwined, so a sequel, I’m sure, is already in the works.)

And, as is generally the case, all the best laugh-lines — most of them delivered by the indomitable Maggie Smith — were in the trailer. So, I say save your money. (My alternative recommendation for a charming period piece with top-notch acting and a dynamite screen play is “The Railway Children,” 2000, directed by Catherine Morshead.)

‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’

Then there’s the darkness of space. I just happened to be in Vancouver last week on Thursday for the new “Star Wars” prequel with Alden Ehrenreich standing in as a young Harrison Ford. (The Kiggins Theatre in the ‘Couve is an old timey one-screen theater that opened in 1936 and it’s a fantastic place to see films. The seats are comfy; the sight lines are great; they serve good popcorn and ice cream sandwiches and beer and wine; and the movies they show are really off-main street — though the theater is actually on Main Street in downtown Vancouver.)

I usually stop by the Kiggins just to see what is showing and this time I happened upon a sort of pre-Halloween spectacle. Because one of the movies’ producers was going to be there after the show for a Q and A, “Star Wars” fans showed up in force: there were Storm Troopers in white from head to toe; Jedi Masters in robes and layered get-ups; light sabers; Empire soldiers; and one all-black Darth Vader. (I stood close enough to get my picture taken with him; fortunately he wasn’t excessively rasping.)

The costumes were great, and the mood in the theater was festive. The movie — meh. Is it my aging ears, a bad sound system, or the lack of clear enunciation? I really needed subtitles. After the first five or ten minutes I simply gave up trying to understand the dialogue — it was all Wookie-talk to me. But as it turned out, no dialogue was necessary. The bad guys were clearly visible with scars and scary devilishly looking murder implements; and the good guys were smiling and had nice hair, so the plot ambled along predictably.

The best scenes, as always, were the warp-speed chase scenes, in this case into the outer reaches of space where either black holes and creepy menacing monsters flailed their arms and roared; or wicked pirates, even more wicked than the folks already doing wicked deeds, fired their blasters at we-could-never-really-tell. Probably the most fun was seeing the Millennium Falcon: the movie really is an origin story both for Han Solo and his ship.

I love sci-fi: watching someone else’s ideas about other worlds and life forms is fascinating and titillates my imagination. But I would nominate other top films in this category. (IMHO, James Cameron’s “The Abyss” is brilliant; and the visuals in “Avatar” are stunning.) Solo was too low for me.

Yes, both “Downton Abbey” and “Solo: A Star Wars Story” are bad movies, but they were still entertaining; though not nearly as enjoyable as the new documentary about the extraordinarily gifted Linda Ronstadt. Don’t miss it. It’s the perfect antidote for dark forces. The music throughout is phenomenal; and if the last ten minutes don’t move you profoundly, your heart must have stopped.

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