The Best and Worst of My Week In Movies

Way back in the day (like when my parents were kids), there was this thing called “seeing a double feature.” You’d go to the theater with a ridiculously small amount of money and a group of friends and spend the entire day watching action movies with buckets of popcorn and milk duds for throwing at the backs of people’s heads. Although movies are now offensively overpriced, there’s still something so enticing to me about a double feature. You immerse yourself in not one, but TWO entirely different realities in the span of a couple of hours. College problems seem distant from the cushy theater seats, surrounded by strangers and total darkness other than the glaringly bright screen. It was this idealism that led me to my personal high and low of 2019 movies in less than five hours.

 

We’ll begin where I began my night, with the worst. Though rated at an abysmal 58% Rotten Tomatoes score, I still took my chances with the horror movie Ma––what can I say? I have a soft spot for horror movies. The trouble with this movie started, well, immediately. Even though I walked in a few minutes late (apparently missing a small reference that would come back later), the plot seemed like a fairly standard setup: innocent new girl in town starts hanging out with a rough group of friends, and trouble ensues.

 

The teenagers soon meet the main antagonist, SuAnn, soon known simply as “ma” throughout the film. Played by Octavia Spencer, even the award-winning actress couldn’t save this quickly sinking ship–-though she sure gave it her best shot. With dialogue that sounded like the writers mashed the predictive keyboard and called it a day, the movie was a horror long before Ma pulls a gun on one of the kids.

 

I honestly couldn’t tell you if the movie flew by or tediously dragged on. On one hand, it was filled with foreshadowing that led nowhere and so many plot twists (though I guess that’d require a plot) that I could barely keep my head straight. On the other hand, Ma somehow managed to incorporate every tired horror movie cliché known to humans. As the movie progressed, Ma’s antics grew increasingly ridiculous and seemingly without motive. Though she was perhaps meant to be a sympathetic character (the old I-was-bullied-and-now-want-revenge trope), SuAnn seemed like little more than a deranged lunatic who was a little too good at holding grudges.

 

As the movie made its perilous journey to the climax, it was clear that there would be little resolution for the millions of loose ends left carelessly dangling in scenes previous. Though Ma’s actions toward the protagonists were certainly grotesque, they were also so absurd the theater laughed together like old friends at the characters’ torture. In all honesty, my favorite part of the whole movie was the commentary from the row of teenage boys sitting behind us in the theater––at least that dialogue was somewhat coherent. Though I am naturally inclined to support horror movies (the most underrated genre, I’ll say it again), Ma shone a light on why critics rarely take these movies seriously.

With part one of the double feature complete, there was a lot riding on our second choice: Rocketman. Armed this time with pizza, popcorn and about 11 servings of Nerds candy, I was hopeful that we could end the night on a high note. Telling the complex story of rock legend Elton John (with executive producer Elton John, nonetheless), this seemed like a far more promising choice.

 

This movie, like Ma, had the potential to fall into tired tropes; a biopic about a 70’s rockstar isn’t exactly a revolutionary concept, after all. At the beginning of the first scene, where we see a feather-clad Elton attending rehab, I was apprehensive that this movie, too, was headed toward an old approach of a worn-out genre. My worries, however, were quickly soothed when Elton stood up, faced the camera and broke out into a full-on musical number.

 

Throughout the film, we see Elton and those around him struggling with the realities of homophobia and superstardom. Not only was this film able to dive into complicated themes (beyond “look, I was such a rockstar”), it did so through dance numbers and intricate costumes. I found myself dancing in my seat, laughing along with the characters, and crying hysterically––sometimes all at once.

 

Rocketman was clearly a labor of love. Despite the slightly over-dramatized characters (it is a musical, after all), the audience saw a dimension of Elton that could only come from true vulnerability. Even the soundtrack, which was composed of exclusively Elton John’s work, found a new light in the film. With a musical-theater sound, Taron Egerton and the rest of the cast did the already legendary music justice.

 

Though I wasn’t alive to see the historic rise of Elton John, I felt deeply connected to the story and the music. This movie did such a good job constructing a somewhat surreal version of Elton’s life that I was hanging onto the edge of my seat waiting for the end.

 

Whereas Ma was tired, Rocketman was refreshing. Rocketman told an old story in a new way, while Ma didn’t really tell any story at all, but still did it in a way I had seen before. Even as the second act of a double feature, I found myself completely lost in Elton’s world (how could you not be?) while I was firmly grounded in the theater of Ma. Though I won’t be rushing to buy Ma on DVD anytime soon, I’d still recommend the double feature for anybody who has a spare day and a couple of bucks to spend. While they differed in quality, both movies offered a sort of vintage bonding experience unique to the theater.