"Monster Hunter" is opening in local theaters this week; it stars Ukrainian-born American actor Milla Jovovich, once the highest-paid model in the world, and, since appearing in Luc Besson's French science-fiction action film "The Fifth Element" in 1997, an action star as formidable as she is unlikely.
She's best known as Alice in the "Resident Evil" films but I remember her best from her screen debut as the little sister of Sherilyn Fenn's lead character in Zalman King's 1988 erotic thriller "Two Moon Junction." Milla was 12 years old at the time.
"Two Moon Junction" is hardly a good film, but it does have an indelible fever dream quality as well as a remarkable cast: it marks the last film appearances of Burl Ives and Hervé Villechaize. Louise Fletcher, Millie Perkins and Kristy McNichol are in it. You could make a lot of interesting connections through it.
"Fatale" is also opening, a noir thriller that stars Hilary Swank as a police detective who has a one-night stand with a married sports agent (Michael Ealy) who then becomes embroiled in a murder investigation she's conducting. Originally this was scheduled for a June release, which sounds about right given the relative star power involved. Swank, it's sometimes hard to remember, is a double Oscar winner ("Boys Don't Cry," "Million Dollar Baby").
If these aren't the sort of mid-December movies we're used to getting, at least the vaccines are rolling out, so we're no worse off than most of the country.
We never have been really, though one of the complaints I used to hear all the time was about how we never got a certain kind of movie in Arkansas. To hear some friends tell it, we were a cultural desert, where the theaters only booked sequels and remakes directed by Michael Bay and starring Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler.
This has always been inaccurate; Arkansas punches above its weight class culturally, and we have more opportunities to watch a wider variety of movies in theaters than a lot of much larger markets.
While economic realities limit the number of screens in a given market -- and our market is not terrifically large -- there are individuals who make efforts to bring foreign and independent films to our theaters. Sometimes it takes a while for a given movie to make it here, and every year there are one or two notable titles that don't have a theatrical run in our state, but the same could be said for 85%of the country.
We did OK. "The Clay Bird" and "The Brown Bunny" showed up on local screens. We aren't New York or Los Angeles or Chicago, but if you pay attention, you'll find lots of diversity in the local scene.
But one of the interesting things about 2020 has been how the pandemic has democratized the cinematic experience. While there's nothing like the big screen experience -- it has more to do with maintaining civic rituals than with the size of the picture -- streaming levels the playing field, at least for the technologically able and intellectually curious.
Now when a cinephile hears about an interesting film, it's usually just a matter of clicking on the right buttons to find a way to a given feature. As our theaters have struggled, operating at diminished capacity and hurting for fresh content from the studios (who are holding out until they can expect larger audiences than the ones currently on offer), streaming has, for consumers at least, opened up brave new worlds of possibility for audiences.
There are exceptions: "Nomadland," which screened at the Arkansas Film Society's Filmland event in October, is not likely to be available for viewing locally until February. And Lee Isaac Chung's Arkansas-set immigrant drama "Minari," now playing at select theaters in New York and Los Angeles, isn't streaming anywhere, though reviews of it have popped up online. (Our Piers Marchant wrote about the film way back in January, when he saw it at the Sundance Film Festival.)
"Nomadland" is a work of considerable cinematic merit, but I'll hold off writing more about it until more people have a chance to see it. I haven't seen "Minari" yet but will soon; I was very impressed with Chung's 2007 film "Munyurangabo" which screened in Arkansas in 2009. (Chung went to high school in Lincoln; "Munyurangabo" was shown here at the behest of one his former teachers as part of a fundraiser for the school's Beta Club. That's pretty charming.)
"Minari" is set in Arkansas. Naturally, there is a demand for the film to be shown here. But it might hit streaming services first, which will give everyone interested a chance to see it while at the same time skimming off some of the potential theatrical audience.
Another practical result of this migration to streaming services is the disruption of traditional gatekeepers, such as movie critics. For us it really is the best of times and the worst of times. Every day sees the arrival of another half-dozen or so films for best-of-2020 consideration. A lot of these are really indifferent, but some are pretty good, and the only way to tell is to watch them. And there isn't time enough to watch them all.
Though I did see "Iceland Is Best." And the disappointing John Hawkes/Logan Lerman drama "End of Sentence," which is surprisingly turning up on some year-end best-of lists.
Normally, by now I'd already have submitted a ballot with my year-end Top 10 list to my critics' organization. This year, as you may have noticed, is different, and our voting has been pushed back to Valentine's Day. But I still have a year-end movie essay to prepare for Dec. 27, the last Sunday of the year.
An off-the-top of my head listing all the movies that might be worthy of consideration resulted in 41 films. (Wait, make that 42 -- "Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga." Honestly. It's funny.)
That's not 42 perfect films, or even 42 films that can be recommended without qualification, but it's hardly indicative of a movie famine either. Businesses are collapsing, Hollywood is suffering, but 1,000 flowers are blooming. It's not always about commerce. It will be all right.