Let's raise a glass to escapism: to those times when the world pushes back too many times in a row and you just say f*ck it and head off into outer space to battle tyranny with just a hand-me-down spaceship and your ragtag crew of homies. Or out redefining courage and sacrifice on some mortar-torn shithole battlefield. Or battling supernatural spirits your girlfriend accidentally called up through her Ouija board.
There's a human tendency to zone right out when things get too hard to handle — not for forever, but long enough to catch a breath. Movies give us that breather, a dark refuge from the flash-bulb tedium, and ever-pressing doom of everything else. It's probably no coincidence that post-election box office numbers for last weekend were up almost 50 per cent ($49 million) over the same weekend in 2015 as people sought a shared human experience, an escape, from these increasingly crazy times.
Of course, the world always seems like it's ending when you're a teenager at peak awkwardness and The Edge of Seventeen, opening this week at Whistler Village 8 is about just that. Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) stars as Nadine, a sensitive, intelligent high-schooler who should be poised on the threshold to adulthood but is instead battling inner turmoil, disillusion and overall angst. Then she discovers her best (only) friend Krista's new boyfriend is actually her own older brother — hello rock bottom.
Woody Harrelson stars as the hip, wise teacher who does what every adult wants to do when confronted with teenage problems — he laughs. Canadian-born writer-director Kelly Freemon Craig has crafted an interesting update for the teen genre though. She gives Nadine a solid backstory, (mostly) believable angst, and a teetering emotional existence that juggles pain and self sabotage with intelligence and potential. Through strong characters, and solid performances, The Edge of Seventeen clings to the new-kid position alongside classics like Juno, Ghost World, Weird Science or Heathers. On a side note: anyone who loves high school movies (and who doesn't?) should check out the MTV movie podcast 'Skillset.' The host speaks with a cadence that takes getting used to but every episode this season focuses on high school flicks.)
The other flick opening this week is Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a PG Harry Potter spinoff. Writer J.K. Rowling is back onboard, along with the director of the last four original Harry films so expect more of what you liked (or didn't) in this new tale of a cheery wizard (Eddie Redmayne, on fire) who arrives in New York and loses his luggage, a suitcase full of mystical beasts that promptly escape. The visuals are taut, the acting is solid and Rowling, in a screenwriter role working from her own source material, seems to have made a conscious decision not to play it safe or easy this time around. The characters and pacing aren't perfect yet but damn if it doesn't suck you in a little bit, especially for an obvious franchise set-up flick. To be continued, you can count on that.
The download of the week is 1980 punk rock documentary The Decline of Western Civilization. Through live concert footage and candid, "at-home" interviews with core L.A. bands of the era such as Black Flagg, the Germs, X, the Circle Jerks and Fear at a time when they were still struggling to pay the rent (or find a venue they hadn't been banned from), Decline is an untainted immersion into a subculture that few see. So disenfranchised that their stars will hurt themselves to keep from getting bored or pose for (old-school film) selfies with a dead housepainter, no one noticed until the next day.
With the recent U.S. election, bad news on climate change and a sort of pervading sense of inevitable doom in the media, I'm interested to see if there will be a corresponding increase in punk rock as young people turn to anarchy as an escape. Scream, dance, spit and party, it's evolution baby.