It’s been a while since the last Wednesday Wow post. It isn’t so much a lack of things that invoked a “Wow!” so much as that they were the wrong polarity of wow — negative rather than positive. (Speaking of which, I’ll be posting soon about Sprint-which-is-now-T-Mobile, Apple, and some other tech companies that have wowed me in quite the wrong direction. Why are tech companies so awful?)
But as I watched some videos by one of my new favorite YouTube channels, The Critical Drinker, I was (in both senses of the word) positively wowed by two of his videos about two outstanding and worthwhile movies.
And in general, he does some of the best movie reviews I know.
The Critical Drinker is the alias of Will Jordan, a published novelist who hails from Fife, Scotland. He is best known for his Ryan Drake action thriller series of novels. His Amazon page lists nine of those, two novellas in that series, and a few other novels. And it seems there is a film adaptation of his first Ryan Drake novel, Redemption, in production.
As a critical thinker, the name of his YouTube channel immediately caught my eye, and I’m glad it did. I’ve been enjoying his videos ever since. We seem to be very well-aligned in how we think about storytelling and movies. He has a few videos I’ll post another time that squarely hit the “modern movies suck (because they’re infantile)” nail on the head.
[I’ll warn you now that the Drinker is not for the faint of heart or the easily offended. His opinions have a razor-sharp edge that I find delightful, but which some may find … challenging.]
I’ve been singing the same tune for a while now, but that’s grist for another mill. Today I want to post about two of his positive videos I watched recently. By coincidence, both movies star Michael Douglas, which is part of the wow factor. More importantly, both are outstanding must-see films for anyone into cinema or storytelling.
So, pour yourself glass of something, get comfortable, and let’s get right to it.
Firstly, a tour de force of dramatic writing and acting, Falling Down (1993). Written by Ebbe Roe Smith (who is an actor with this single gem of a screenplay to his name) and directed by Joel Schumacher, this tragic story charts a very bad (and final) day for its lead, William Foster (Michael Douglas).
As Drinker explains, the film’s title comes from the old tune, London Bridge is Falling Down. The song connects its two main characters, Foster and Sergeant Martin Prendergast (Robert Duvall).
Also connecting them is a sense of ending. Foster has been laid off from his defense department job, and Prendergast is on his last day on the job before retiring. (The canonical movie trope is that it would also be his last day period, but the film subverts that in a way that will still break your heart.)
The film starts off as what might seem a typical action thriller. Foster, jobless, is stuck in unmoving freeway traffic on the hottest day recorded in Los Angeles history. Then his air conditioner breaks, so in despair and rage he abandons his car and walks off, briefcase in hand.
His goal is to make it to his daughter’s birthday party (but we learn later that he is divorced, and his wife has a restraining order against him). As he walks across Los Angeles, he encounters a series of difficulties from various humans that escalate in violence. While we’re inclined at first to cheer for Foster’s rage against the machine, the story turns dark, and we realize Foster is the villain.
Prendergast, after interviewing witnesses at the various scenes of what seem unrelated incidents comes to realize one person is involved as well as who it is.
The movie ends with a tragic showdown between them when Foster realizes how far he’s fallen this day. He takes the only way out he can see.
The story is classic tragedy: a protagonist’s fatal flaws lead to their undoing and death (and so giving away the ending really isn’t much of a spoiler; it was foreordained almost from the beginning).
When I saw this film when it came out, I was totally wowed. The script is taut and almost perfect. Douglas and Duvall give us excellent and memorable performances. Their character arcs move in mirrored directions, one down, one up, but they are in many ways similar.
It’s an extraordinary film that I’d give the strongest Wow! rating. If you haven’t seen it, and you cherish good stories, definitely seek it out.
It was pure coincidence that the very next video I watched was about another cinematic gem starring Michael Douglas, The Game (1997). It’s directed by David Fincher, who also directed Seven, Fight Club, The Social Network, and several other acclaimed films.
Drinker wisely says little about the plot, and I will follow his lead. This is a film with surprises, especially the ending. It’s a story you’ll want to experience for yourself.
It’s well written, well directed, well-acted, and generally well-made. It’s another film I gave a Wow! rating to when I first saw it. (Or would have. It was many years later that I came up with my Wow!—Ah!—Eh!—Meh!—Nah!—Ugh! rating system.)
When I talk about how bad modern movies are, it’s in contrast and reference to movies like these. Stories that don’t insult one’s intelligence. Stories that compel and stick to the ribs of the soul. Stories written by adult minds for adult minds. Stories that are what storytelling is really all about.
I will say that Michael Douglas is a gift to American acting. It’s worth taking a look at his body of work to see the many presents his presence has brought us.
Bonus: Speaking of great American actors, the next Critical Drinker video I watched was about yet another outstanding addition to American cinema and to the Western genre in particular. I’m speaking of Unforgiven (1992), starring, produced, and directed by, Clint Eastwood.
The cast includes Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, and Richard Harris (among others). It was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won four of them, including Best Picture and Best Director. It is, in a sense, the Western to end all Westerns.
In common with Falling Down, Unforgiven is a tragedy with an arc that ends in death. Many see it as Eastwood’s apology for all the fantasy Westerns of his career. I tend to see it more as just truth.
This is yet again a film that earned a Wow! rating from me when I first saw it. All three of the films here are extraordinary works, must-see movies for any fan. If you have somehow missed them, it’s high time to rectify that mistake!
Drinker has many other videos recommending other gems that I’ll post about in the near future. (Spoiler: Have you ever seen JCVD? Yet another unregarded gem.) In the meantime, I recommend checking out his channel.
Stay critical (and drinking), my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.