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Men and Top Gun: Maverick

click to enlarge How it feels every time I check the news.

Men

How it feels every time I check the news.

MEN. I first became aware of Alex Garland as a screenwriter in 2002, when 28 Days Later was released. Directed by Danny Boyle, that picture — not to be confused with the almost contemporaneous Sandra Bullock rehab comedy with a very similar title — delivered a new, kinetic perspective on the zombie/rage virus genre (yes, I realize there is a distinction between the two; consider it acknowledged, purists) and served as a reminder of the vibrance and versatility of Boyle as a director. It also introduced me to Garland as a writer of formidable imagination and, perhaps (this was early days), a bleakly misanthropic artistic sensibility. His novel The Beach had been adapted by John Hodge and directed by Boyle a couple of years earlier — being a contrarian, I was something of a DiCaprio denier at the time. I sort of remember the movie being serviceable but the novel is lost to my ever-diminishing recollection.

Garland worked steadily for the next decade, publishing novels, writing original screenplays, adapting the work of others (including 2012's vastly under-appreciated Dredd) and scripting video games. In 2014, though, he left an indelible impression with his feature directorial debut, Ex Machina (2014), a sort of brain-breaking exploration of the approaching singularity, isolation and, in what would become a primary theme, man's inhumanity toward woman but with, you know, a sense of humor.

In 2018, Annihilation, which Garland adapted from the novel by Jeff VanderMeer and directed, pushed even further into the realm of psychological sci-fi established by Ex Machina. It defies description and is certain to distance or offend a significant portion of casual or uninformed viewers, but to me remains rapturously, disconcertingly immersive, with a mood and atmosphere that actively resist ambivalence or disengagement. It was one of the great achievements of that year but hasn't enjoyed the legacy response of Ex Machina.

I've been remiss in attending to the limited television series Devs (2020), which Garland created, wrote and directed. This is largely to a strong sense that the person with whom I cohabitate would not enjoy it and forcing the issue would create a situation that could diminish the experience of the work; it's about compromise.

Garland returns with Men, which might seem to be a simpler, scaled-down version of his vision but might in fact be his most thematically complex work to date.

Harper (Jessie Buckley) has rented herself a beautiful manor house in the English countryside, at least in part to recover from the complicated, untimely death of her husband. The landlord Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear) seems nice enough, despite his provincial mien and awkward, unintended boorishness. But everyone else in the village, all male and eerily alike, immediately resonates as a villain, most of all the mute, naked, self-lacerating individual who develops an unhealthy fixation with Harper. And then things start to get weird.

Men is haunting, grisly, scary and, above all, a heady exploration of blame, love and undeserved guilt. Buckley excels as always and Kinnear does freaky, consistently surprising work. As an aside, the theater in which I saw this was almost filled with teenagers who were dismayed by what they saw; I'm not sure what they were expecting. R. 100M. BROADWAY, MINOR.

TOP GUN: MAVERICK. While much of the world has been anticipating this new entry with a protractedly held collective yawp of joy, I've been indifferent. Despite my childhood fascination with the US Navy's F14 Tomcat fighter plane, despite my being of an appropriate age to think of Top Gun (1986) as a vital, influential text, I've never felt any particular connection to it. Which is not to say I haven't seen it, because I most certainly have, long ago. For whatever reason, I was too busy being traumatized by Full Metal Jacket (1987) and losing myself in Apocalypse Now (1979) to fully engage with the probably purer pleasures of Tom Cruise's arrival to super-super-stardom. I have friends, more dove-like and vocally anti-military than I, who count the first Top Gun among their all-time favorites. Go figure.

As usual, how wrong I was. Cruise returns, these decades on and coming off a somewhat mixed bag of late career choices, to deliver a movie that I suspect he is literally the only human being capable of shepherding, executing and opening. Rejoining two of his favored recent collaborators, director Joseph Kosinski and co-writer Christopher McQuarrie, Cruise has made a purely enjoyable, seemingly unassailable work of pure energy and connection. Neatly sidestepping potentially thorny politics, Maverick instead drills into the pure physicality and mental plasticity required of a modern fighter pilot. And it is note-perfect. PG13. 137M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.

NOW PLAYING

THE BAD GUYS. Sam Rockwell, Craig Robinson, Awkwafina and Marc Maron voice an animated adventure/comedy about reformed animal criminals. PG. 100M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

THE BOB'S BURGERS MOVIE. The animated feature has the Belchers battling a sinkhole. Starring Kristen Schaal, H. Jon Benjamin and Dan Mintz. PG13. 102M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. Benedict Cumberbatch dons his cape for another Marvel mind bender. PG. 126M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA. Big dowager energy. PG. 125M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE. Reality unravels and multiverse Michelle Yeoh comes to the rescue. With Ke Huy Quan, Jamie Lee Curtis and the legendary James Hong. R. 146M. MILL CREEK.

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2. Animated video game sequel about a very fast hedgehog. PG. 122M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456.

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