Cinema—such a hefty word—as we once knew and loved it, is caught in the lattice of a fraught impasse. Streaming is now indisputably king and emperor and commandant; old-school gurus such as Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh, and yes, even Michael Bay, have made peace with this new world order. The very idea of going out to a movie with your pals and colleagues and loved ones is now quite a big deal, not something you just sort of do because it is Friday night and you need a readily available, no-stakes communal activity to keep you motivated to stave off the arrival of Monday. Sure, occasionally the auteurs and even the somewhat auteurs will release an event film here and there, but for most of the year—and especially during the grim, cold, holiday-adjacent weeks and the swamp-ass humidity doldrums of deep summer—there seem to be two primary options in theaters: Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, which feature characters such as “Ant-Man” (he can shrink) and “Doctor Strange” (he’s a doctor), and the various remakes, reboots, and reimaginations of the stuff you already loved and assimilated 20 years ago, fare that might perhaps tickle, but also might crush, your sense of nostalgia.
However, and definitely by accident, Last Christmas has provided us with a blueprint—or at least a hastily drawn crayon schematic—to upend the current order. Last Christmas, which was released last weekend, is a bizarre holiday film starring Daenerys Targaryen (RIP, should have been you, Jon Snow) and Henry Golding that is based quite literally on the Wham! song of the same name. You know, that strangely glum and downbeat Christmas (inasmuch as it mentions Christmas quite often) song about giving someone your heart and then their giving it away the very next day? Well, that weird bummer of a song is now an actual movie that exists in reality, and, not only that, is an extremely strict and literal adaptation of the source material (they took “heart” to mean “literally, a person’s central organ,” is all you need to know). And as odd as that choice may seem, well hey, at least we’re talking about it! The thing is, there are hundreds, nay thousands, of pop songs with a somewhat loose narrative structure that can be readily tweaked and easily transmuted into an 89-page movie script.
This disruptive tactic, taking pop songs at their lyrical word and making them into films, just might inadvertently open an entirely new vein of creativity and force a completely new genre upon us, a genre that can compete with MCU spinoffs and future remakes and reinterpretations of The Big Chill and The Goonies alike. With that in mind, I present to you the First Wave of Random Songs Taken Extremely Literally and Made into Feature Films.
An extremely sassy and delightfully raunchy rom-com starring the always friendly Paul Rudd as a recently widowed father who wears an eye patch (this is never explained). He has a bit of an unrequited crush on his coworker Gretchen (played by Naomi Watts). However, Gretchen refuses to go on a date with him until he (1) forgets her past, which is fine with him, of course, no big deal who even cares, and (2) impresses each and every member of her close-knit friend group, who are portrayed by Cate Blanchett, Keira Knightley, Aubrey Plaza, Emma Watson, Julianne Moore, Billy Eichner, Meryl Streep, Christina Ricci, Zendaya, Vanessa Hudgens, Glenn Close, Rose Byrne, Maggie Grace, Sophia Bush, Mos Def, Emily Blunt, Lizzy Caplan, Kate Winslet, Queen Latifah, Michelle Yeoh, Joe Pesci, and Jennifer Love Hewitt. This film is three hours long, and the last 45 minutes is mostly an extended dream sequence of Paul Rudd learning to dance, capped off by the infamous and somewhat disturbing “slam your body down and wind it all around” sequence.
The newest and least important documentary by Werner Herzog. In it, Herzog quixotically attempts to interpret and explain the lyrics of Seal’s timeless banger “Kiss From a Rose” as Seal sits across from him, sipping domestic beers and telling Herzog, “No, that’s not what the song is about.” After an hour and a half of this and lo-fi B-roll of people standing around talking to each other and laughing about stuff, Herzog says “Very well, you have brought me low with your quotidian obstinance and your sluggish bandersnatch zeal, what is the song actually about, Mr. Seal?” Seal then looks into the camera and says it is about a giant rose that kisses people. The live studio audience begins to slow-clap in unison, as Herzog wipes a tear from his eye and whispers, “It has been accomplished.”
A semiautobiographical period piece set in South Central Los Angeles on January 20, 1992. A cast of mostly unknowns (with the notable exception of Jonah Hill, who plays four or perhaps even five different characters) meticulously re-create Ice Cube’s eponymous “good day,” from his delicious breakfast sans pork, to getting a call from a girl with whom he’d like to spend more quality time, to an extended flashback recounting his unlikely triple-double, to a wacky and enjoyable trip to 7-11, to finally, Cube and all his favorite fellas watching the Lakers beat the SuperSonics, a basketball team that no longer exists. This film draws comparisons to David Lynch’s The Straight Story, which was the story of a man and his loyal tractor, another film in which the main character didn’t even have to use his AK-47 for anything at all, which always makes the audience feel nice.
An incredibly pointless yet extremely whimsical feature film that everybody you know loves before they even see it. Directed by Michel Gondry from a script by Lena Dunham, Electric Feel is a cleverly told, if very familiar, story about a Below Average Joe (Adam Sandler) who falls in love with a woman with supernatural electric powers (Salma Hayek) who also teaches him to swim. Lot of swimming in this movie—too much, you could say.
A lovely, fragmented, yet brutally elliptical slice-of-life film by Claire Denis beginning with the final melancholy meeting between two former lovers, our unnamed narrator (Carrie Coon) and Richard (Idris Elba), and then continuing with an absolutely bonkers second act dominated by a wild dream sequence imagining Richard buying his figure skater lover (Alicia Vikander) a washing machine and a percolator. There’s also a strange subplot about genocide and Brexit. Then it just sort of ends. Brilliant. Fucking brilliant.
An experimental picture by Darren Aronofsky done in the style of a random early-20th-century silent film. This brave feature tells the very relatable story of losing a girl to a taller, more successful man. It stars Scarlett Johansson (as the woman), Jake Gyllenhaal (as the taller man), and Tobey Maguire (as the Other Man Who Is Not As Tall). Nobody speaks, but at one point Tobey Maguire screams.
A film based on the Don McLean folk ditty. It is mostly about Jason Biggs’s having sudden and arresting carnal relations with a pie (from America of course) featuring a few other actors you may remember (Alyson Hannigan, Seann William Scott) and several others that you do not (not sure of their names). Not starring Emilia Clarke.
Directed by Shia LaBeouf from a script by Harmony Korine, this fever dream of a film is shot in black and white for no discernible reason. It is the tale of a man (played with workmanlike noncharisma by Dave Franco) who is slowly losing his sanity. Due to a misunderstanding with a preacher and a college dropout, he books a trip back to his hometown on a train. Eventually you realize the entire film is actually the train’s daydream. So, it’s left somewhat unclear if the train is “crazy” as the title implies—however, it’s at the very least a weird train, and definitely going through some shit. The train is voiced by Samuel L. Jackson in a career-defining performance.
A lot of people have asked me if constant headache is written from the perspective of a dog— Joyce Manor (@JoyceManor) April 25, 2015
The latest and hippest A24 film by some random skinny and brilliant director who also happens to be several years younger than me and would never read my screenplay, even if I forced it into their scrawny, talented hands myself. The film is told from the perspective of a good, well-behaved, and incredibly noble dog (a mutt) observing his owner/best friend go through an existential crisis and always being like, “I have this CONSTANT headache!!!!”
Both the dog and the dog’s human friend are played by whoever it is that plays Steve from Stranger Things. Joe … Something?
Closing Time is a low-budget dramedy centered on the bleak daily grind of a hapless barback named Jacob Wilson Munson (Jesse Plemons), who each night is given the unenviable task of kicking out the various almost unrealistically quirky patrons of a Minneapolis dive bar called Semisonic. Each scene in the film begins at roughly 1:45 a.m. and is told in a series of acid-washed vignettes that culminate in Plemons’s wearily telling customers that it is “Closing time, time for you to go out in the world” and telling the myriad local barflys, exuberantly crunk undergrads, and bored hipsters to finish their whiskey and beer and to gather their jackets and move it to the exits. There is a confusing subplot in which the bartenders (Adam Driver and Chloe Sevigny) keep guessing who is going to take Plemons home from the bar, and Plemons keeps repeating, “I know who I want to take me home.” However! The twist ending is that the bar wasn’t in Minneapolis after all. It was St. Paul the entire time.
A horror-comedy starring Timothée Chalamet as a mysterious stranger in a conservative town who has tambourines for hands. He tries to become a gardener but is very bad at it, and children are mean to him. He then tries to become an accountant but is bad at it, and adults are mean to him. The Tambourine Man finally makes a friend, another stranger in town, also played by Timothée Chalamet but with normal hands. He asks the Tambourine Man to play a song for him, and it turns out he can make beautiful tambourine music with his tambourine hands. Then they go on a trip on the Tambourine Man’s magic ship (he doesn’t like to brag about his magic ship, which speaks to his integrity), which he barely ever uses. They visit a haunted forest, see some foggy ruins, and smoke weed and confess to each other that they both voted for Donald Trump in 2016, though Mr. Tambourine Man did so by accident. Feel-good film of the millennium, lots of laughs, so many feels.
A sepia-toned Noah Baumbach joint featuring Greta Gerwig and Michael B. Jordan in an old-school fast-talking slapstick comedy about a pair of opposites-attract sort of lovers that are always arguing and getting the best of one another. Jordan plays an overdramatic and extremely needy man who texts Greta with imagined crises at every opportunity, including a confession of how he stole her keys just to feel alive. In the third act, Gerwig’s character is revealed to have an identical twin, and Jordan has trouble choosing which twin he likes better (we’ve all been there). Oh yeah, the theme of the film is the crushing and arbitrary puritanical obsession America has with “work” as something that defines your worth and use to society at large. Honestly, people in this country work too much. It’s both unseemly and sad and slowly killing us all.
Alex Siquig lives in Baltimore, drinks MD 20/20, and writes about things like Game of Thrones, the Willennium, and the life of Doug Funnie.