A Tentative Return to Normalcy

Cinephiles can stay at home with Criterion Collection gems or venture to theater openings for action-packed releases.

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A dim light has appeared at the end of the tunnel. It looks like there is a tentative plan for movie theaters to start showing films again this month, most likely with modifications made to enhance social distancing – such as strict limits on patrons per theater. Since the COVID-19 pandemic has essentially eliminated film events in Oklahoma for this month, I’m going to highlight two options for each of the other categories: flicks to catch in the theater and those to enjoy at home.

At Home

The always-solid Criterion Collection is working overtime to make sure cinephiles have a plethora of quality viewing options during lockdown. Their new releases for this month include two very different – but equally essential – films in the cinema canon. 

For those looking for laughs, The Lady Eve is a 1941 con-woman comedy from Preston Sturges, the king of screwball comedy. While The Lady Eve doesn’t quite reach the same manic pace of arguably Sturges’ best film, The Palm Beach Story, it does come with the added bonus of Barbara Stanwyck, one of the world’s best greatest comic actresses, as a woman who seduces hapless heir Henry Fonda. This DVD release features great extras, including a new video essay by the critic David Cairns, and an interview with director Peter Bogdanovich, whose own screwball classic, What’s Up, Doc?, owes a huge debt to Sturges.

For those made more somber and reflective by quarantine, check out Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry, one of the most singular films I know. A work that requires great patience but offers great reward, Taste of Cherry follows a solitary figure (the incredible Homayoun Ershadi) as he wanders around Tehran, attempting to find someone willing to bury him after he commits suicide. Though largely devoid of dialog, the film plumbs serious questions with subtlety and grace, building to a mysterious, evocative ending. The upcoming release comes with several critical essays and a rare 1997 interview with Kiarostami himself.

In Theaters

Nothing like starting out with a bang, is there? Theater going should get off to an exhilarating restart with the July release of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. Though currently shrouded in mystery regarding specifics, the film, set in the world of international espionage, looks to provide that specifically Nolan-esque combination of thrilling action and mindbending ideas that marks the director’s best films (Inception, Dunkirk, The Prestige). With a stacked cast that includes John David Washington, Robert Pattinson and Kenneth Branagh, Tenet should be just the shot of adrenaline needed to jumpstart Hollywood.

If you’re going to brave the theaters right now, it should be for a big spectacle that can’t be replicated at home. Tenet fits that bill, and so does the live action remake of Disney’s Mulan. Unlike recent Disney remakes that hew closely to the originals, Mulan looks like a more serious affair than the ‘90s cartoon, with wuxia-tinged action scenes and a notable absence of songs. Not for younger kids, the film should please those thirsty for cinematic action.