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Wednesday, September 9, 2020

I don’t really have nightmares.

As a young child, I used to have them fairly regularly. I’m fond of telling a touching childhood story about the time I dreamed I’d been snatched up and spirited away by a scary man in a white van (it was at the height of the “stranger danger” craze that gripped the 1980s) and woke my mom up in the middle of the night, crying, to tell her about it.

“I had a bad dream,” I said between sobs. “I dreamed I was kidnapped.”

My mother, paragon of empathy, rolled over, opened one eye, appraised her somewhat pathetic youngest child, and said matter-of-factly, “Don’t worry. They’d bring you back.” Then she rolled back over and went to sleep.

I haven’t had a nightmare since.

I do, however, have stress dreams. And no matter what the source of the stress might be during my waking hours, my subconscious always manifests my worries as dreams about my movie theater job, ones in which I am late, struggling with foreign equipment or unfamiliar facilities, trying to run an unscheduled special event, attempting to work a sold-out show solo or some combination of all those things.

The more time I spend away from the theater as I await the arrival of a Phase 3 reopening, the more those stress dreams start to feel nostalgic instead of stressful. I’m not saying that I’d welcome equipment failure or an unmanageable crowd, but if that’s what normalcy looks like, I wouldn’t hate it either.

However, at this point, I’d just plain love to go to a movie that’s showing in a proper theater instead of my living room. Although that might not be possible in Whatcom or Skagit counties, which languish in Phase 2 sans movie theaters (wear your masks, people!), the Phase 3 paradise of Island County is just a short drive away.

First of all, before you undertake any journey outside your current small geographic comfort zone, be sure and avail yourself of a test for COVID-19. It’s quick, easy and they no longer have to stuff a swab up your nose until it nearly touches your brain to get the job done. Recent circumstances have dictated that I be tested a couple of times, and so I have sampled testing facilities in Whatcom and Skagit counties and was impressed by both.

Once you’ve been found to be in good health—at least as far as COVID is concerned—if it’s a big-screen experience you’re seeking, Oak Harbor Cinemas is the place for you.

The recently refurbished three-screen theater reopened—at 25 percent capacity and with COVID-19 safety measures in place (for more information about those measures, see http://www.cinemasafe.org)—on Sept. 4, just in time for summer’s most-anticipated blockbuster, Tenet, to hit cinemas nationwide.

Seemingly every industry has been hit hard by and forced to adapt to COVID-19, and the same goes for Hollywood. Right at the time they were set to kick off their planned annual onslaught of the blockbusters that earn them most of their ticket revenue, every movie theater in the United States went dark. At that point, the question became: To stream or not to stream?

Some movies, such as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s hotly anticipated Black Widow standalone film, chose to delay release until such time as they can have a proper theater rollout so as to have the best chance at recouping their production and publicity costs, which in the case of Black Widow are said to be somewhere in the $200 million range.

Other films, most notably Disney’s recently released live-action remake of Mulan, decided to forgo waiting until some nebulous point in the future when a wide theater release might be possible and opted for letting people watch it via their dedicated streaming service, Disney+. Of course, because it’s Disney, that standard $7 monthly fee that got you Baby Yoda won’t cut it, and if you want to watch the problematic lady warrior do her stuff, it’ll cost you an extra $30 for so-called “Premier Access.” Given the movie’s $200 million production budget and the fact that Mulan is no Baby Yoda, looks like the Mouse House will have to take the hit on this one.

However, if you’re Christopher Nolan—the anachronistic director who is among a rare few filmmakers whose movies are a major cinematic event regardless of story or subject matter—you say, “Screw all that,” release your blockbuster in the middle of a pandemic and let the chips fall where they may.

Of course, in order to do so and get away with the gamble, your movie has to be pretty damn good.

By all accounts, Tenet is classic Nolan fare: Visually dazzling, multilayered, nonlinear—and puzzling. This is the man who turned telling a story backward into an art with Memento, transformed superhero cinema into brooding film noir with his Batman trilogy, and proved himself to be the master of world-building—and maddening endings—with Inception. He brings all those skills to bear with Tenet, his predictably polarizing but deftly rendered take on a spy thriller starring John David Washington and Robert Pattinson.

As much as he’s known for his stunning filmmaking style, Nolan is also famous for insisting his movies be experienced in a theater setting, IMAX, if at all possible. He’s downright stubborn on the subject, so when it became clear that Tenet’s expected bells-and-whistles rollout would fall victim to COVID closures, talk of a streaming release was quickly off the table—if it was ever on, that is.

Because of that, Tenet (pictured) has gotten a worldwide theatrical release, and Nolan—a man not known for crafting reality as it actually exists—has given us a moment that is suddenly, blessedly kind of normal. But to experience that sense of normalcy, you’ll have to make your way to Oak Harbor Cinemas, where Tenet is currently showing on two of the three screens.

The third screen has been given over to X-Men offshoot The New Mutants, a movie that has been righteously panned by critics after sitting on a shelf at 20th Century Fox for more than two years (I bet right about now that they’re wishing they’d released it on its originally scheduled date). It’s the last Fox X-Men movie before the franchise is taken over by the far more capable Disney, who will no doubt breathe new life into it. No matter how cheesy this movie is, it’s got a couple of things going for it: 1. It stars Maisie Williams, aka Arya Stark. 2. Nothing says “normal summer” quite like watching a crappy X-Men movie in an air-conditioned theater.

See you at the movies.

Oak Harbor Cinemas is located at 1321 SW Barlow St. in Oak Harbor. For showtimes and info: http://www.oakharborcinemas.com.

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