Wondering what to watch? Amid a surprisingly busy box office weekend this weekend sees adventures across various tundras. One movie in the desert (Lawrence of Arabia), one in outer space (Guardians of the Galaxy), and one in the internet itself in the excellent critical darling We’re All Going to the World’s Fair.
The appearance of the latter is an opportunity to catch up on one of the most acclaimed films of the year, though it’s a film that’s as peculiar as it is prescient about how people exist in the online space. The others are also pretty safe bets for a quiet weekend, as Lean’s classic epic Lawrence of Arabia is a perfect way to spend a long afternoon, while James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy manages a story that manages to feel personal even when working on Marvel Studios’s conveyor belt.
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We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (2022) - Shudder
Many filmmakers have tried to take on both the parasocial and aesthetic trappings of the internet through film; the ScreenLife movies like Unfriended and Searching, for example. But few have pulled off the surreality, and even transcendent experience, of living on the internet like Jane Schoenbrunn’s We’re All Going to the World’s Fair.
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The slow, hallucinatory style, mixed media and increasingly rough look conjures memories of late night encounters with YouTube obscurities that seem like they’re from another dimension, beginning with a macabre internet challenge where it’s main character Casey pricks her finger and uses the blood in a strange ritual for access to the “World’s Fair”, begun, as many things are, by an internet challenge.
But there’s a gentleness to some of it as well — such as in Casey finding momentary pause in watching a projection of an ASMR video.
Schoenbrunn’s creepypasta approach to body horror also, as per the director, leverages its different textures as expressions of dysphoria, as Casey experiences extreme dissociation and changes in behaviour and personality, practically possessed as she immerses herself in a role-playing horror game online.
Watch a clip from We’re All Going to the World’s Fair
Reality and fantasy begin to blur as the isolated teenager seeks the ‘World’s Fair’ and encounters strangers past the witching hour, the internet shown both as an ethereal other place as well as potential for companionship and self-understanding, all contained in the cold glow of a laptop screen.
Also on Shudder: Mad God (2022), The Villainess (2017)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962) - Netflix
A classic tale of imperialistic, white saviour hubris, unspooled over indelible imagery and some of the best film craftsmanship of all time, there’s not much you can say in praise of Lawrence of Arabia that hasn’t been said before.
Read more: Everything new on Netflix in September
David Lean’s colonialist epic knowingly wars with its own moral ambiguity over 228 glorious minutes, full of ravishing spectacle that never loses sight of its title character’s psychological struggle rooted in self-hatred, and his desire to separate himself from his own whiteness that Lean smartly highlights throughout, from its stirring portrait of revolution to its devastating and subversive ending. (Not to mention this is probably the best editing of film ever, courtesy of industry legend Anne V. Coates.)
The effusive praise which myself and other critics heap on Lawrence of Arabia, if this was any other film broadly considered an immovable part of film history canon, might lead to overly high expectations and suspicions of overpraise. But it surpasses such notions regardless. If you haven’t seen it, set aside your Sunday afternoon.
Also on Netflix: Napoleon Dynamite (2004), Aeon Flux (2005)
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) - BBC iPlayer
Maybe the most personal that Marvel Studios features have been (and will ever be) is within the confines of James Gunn’s handling of the Guardians of the Galaxy series.
As with the other comic book icons strip-mined for resources by the House of Mouse, it’s easy to forget that this particular roster of misfits was plucked from relative obscurity. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s versions of the characters being the most familiar but still mostly known by comic book nerds with a long memory (I mean this affectionately).
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Without the benefit of hindsight, Walking, talking trees and racoons felt like a massive gamble, but Gunn infused the found family of intergalactic ex-cons with a real sense of tragedy, doing everything to illustrate the extent of the baggage that they all carry. Its follow-up Volume 2 might be even better, as Gunn got a better handle on how to manage VFX work as well as his surprisingly lush digital photography.
But Volume 1 still oozes with personality as well as pathos, starting with its “Awesome Mixtape” of needledrops including a wealth of dad rock and disco, as well as maybe the first and last time Chris Pratt truly charmed as a blockbuster frontman and face of a franchise.
The series may have grown famous to the point that it now feels disingenuous when Djimon Hounsou famously utters “…who?” when Star Lord (Pratt) introduces him, but Gunn’s film still feels authentically misfit.
Also on BBC iPlayer: Late Night (2019), Starter for 10 (2006)