January 30th, 2016

Berthold Run

A short circuit

Several months ago, I watched and enjoyed the film American Ultra — I found it more affecting than I'd expected, as it took its ridiculous premise and wrung a nice amount of drama, as well as some audacious comedy, from it. I started trying to write more, in a blog entry, about American Ultra.

And started thinking of Natural Born Killers.

Somehow, something in the newer film reminded me of the older film, but as I thought further about why, I realized I didn't know. The characters in one ain't like the characters in the other; the directing styles are hugely different; the newer film is tight-focused, while the older film touches on all sorts of aspects of society and pop culture. After puzzling about it, I decided that something about Ultra's climax reminded me at some level of the Natural Born Killers scene where the murderous Mickey and Mallory Knox are arrested in a garishly-lit all-night pharmacy. Again, at some level. Somehow. Sort of. Otherwise, no. I tried to justify it as "a Natural Born Killers where you like the characters," but I then accepted that there was no useful link between the two. It'd be a reach, like analyzing Apollo 13 for phallic imagery.

What else could I write about American Ultra? I realized I couldn't think of anything much deeper than "I liked it." At best, I'd likely repeat ideas already said better by the film's supporters. And because there was no mandate or deadline for me to write something, anything about it, I stopped trying. Found other things to write about. I always eventually do.

I do take the "say something!" seriously. When I made myself the film reviewer for the Hermiston Herald, the paper I worked at from 1997 to 2000, my single worst-written review was for 1998's BASEketball. For that, I fell into a bad habit of reviewers and just regurgitated the plot, without really saying how I'd reacted to it. The only thought I had that was anywhere near an insight was that the film would likely seem funnier when viewed very late at night. The bulk of it was a review that didn't review, that was "this!" without "why did I feel that about this?" I hope I stopped regularly doing that in, oh, GRADE SCHOOL ENGLISH CLASS.

(An aside: some of the reviews I wrote back then that I was proudest of were ones where I barely brought up the plot, like my Truman Show review. That, to me, is more interesting and, I hope, compelling — as it's about the "why," not the "what.")

Sometimes the mind makes surprising connections. In the case of me trying to puzzle out my positive reaction to American Ultra, my mind made a connection that made no sense, a leap that shouldn't have happened. Thank goodness I realized that.

Writing still surprises me, all these decades since I started doing it.