Something about Mary l Chuck's World

By Chuck Sigars | Dec 26, 2018

In the mid-1970s, the late Pleistocene era, just as we were crawling out from under the Ice Age and practically nobody had cable TV, a local PBS station in Chicago began airing a monthly show featuring a couple of newspaper film critics.

It was eventually named “Sneak Previews,” and in a few years it was national, weekly, and the most popular show on public television.

The critics were Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, writers for rival Chicago papers (again, this was a very long time ago), and the show became must-viewing for anyone interested in movies.

Ebert was a Pulitzer Prize winner already, and the show made both men rich and famous, as well as (eventually) close friends along with being rivals. Both have sadly passed on, too young, but I imagine they inspired a new generation of young people who wanted to grow up to write about movies.

Little kids, 8 or 9 years old, probably saw a job that looked like much more fun than anything else.

And then they grew up, and if they were lucky to get a paycheck writing about movies, they most likely didn’t like “Mary Poppins Returns.” Or that’s my theory.

Because, like many people, I’ve been exposed to quite a bit of noise about this sequel to the beloved 1964 classic original, and I’m one of the original fans. I went to see “Mary Poppins” when I was 6 years old, and I made sure my kids saw it, too.

But the next generation, whom we sometimes refer to as Generation X, has a clichéd reputation as a cynical group. That’s the only explanation I can think of as to why this remarkably popular movie with accolades piling up has received a few negative reviews in fairly large publications.

I haven’t seen the movie. I’ve heard enough that I’m sure I’ll enjoy it, and of course people are welcome to their opinions. It just struck me as strange, these few outliers hanging around, and it also made me wonder how we get our information now.

This is the time of year when we start to see the end-of-the-year lists about everything, from people who passed away to TV shows to film and music. The people who write these are professionals, for the most part, who spend a good deal of time watching and listening to popular entertainment.

Cynicism aside, they fulfill the traditional critic’s role as an enthusiast and a bit of an expert, helping to guide our choices.

I just don’t think it works anymore. We have too many choices, and while we can always (speaking of movies) take a look at Rotten Tomatoes, which aggregates critics’ reviews and posts a score that can be helpful, we’re mostly stuck these days with word of mouth and intuition, as well as a glut of franchise films that keep fans returning for the next chapter.

So we’re on our own, and even as the award shows increase, fewer are watching. And fewer are going to the theaters to see films, which may not be a big deal, just evolution of the industry, but again: How do we know going in what to expect, assuming we’re the kind of people who don’t like surprises that waste a couple of hours of our time?

And I can’t help you.

Not only am I not a professional critic, I managed to make it to a theater exactly four times this year. I was persuaded to see “Black Panther” by my wife, a good call and an excellent movie for what it was, which is superpowers and fancy costumes.

I saw “Dead Pool 2” because I promised my son I’d go with him. I laughed, even with the superpowers.

I went by myself to see “The Old Man & The Gun,” the Robert Redford (apparently) swan song, which was sweet and simple, and surprising me lately with talk of award nominations. I was unaware that such a small, quiet film could generate that kind of enthusiasm.

Finally, last weekend a friend asked me to join her family in a showing of “Mary Queen of Scots.” I’m the last person usually interested in this kind of historical set piece, particularly since I wouldn’t know a Tudor from a Stuart if they wore nametags.

I have what I imagine is a typical education in world history, in which I can casually toss the Picts and the Franks into casual conversation and then fake a sudden attack of laryngitis.

But that may have been the best thing I watched all year. Not only are two of our finest young female actors the stars (Saoirse Ronan as Mary and Margot Robbie as Elizabeth I; Ronan is 24 and already has three Oscar nominations under her belt), but their lives and relationship take up essentially the entire movie, two women front and foremost on screen, while the story shows us that the dynamics between powerful, competent women and the men who envy their abilities and positions haven’t changed much in 500 years.

There’s historical leeway taken and it’s not for everyone, but I was struck by how this ancient history becomes relevant in this strange and wonderful medium.

But I think I’ll hold off on judgment until I see the other Mary descend with her umbrella into London. Music, magic, fantasy and nostalgia may just be what 2018 called for, not a moment too late, and practically perfect, as always.

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