RIORI Presents Installment #211: Frank Darabont’s “The Majestic” (2001)

The Film…

The Players…

Jim Carrey, Martin Landau, Laurie Holden, David Ogden Stiers and James Whitmore, with Brent Briscoe, Gerry Black, Catherine Dent, Bob Balaban and Hal Holbrook.

The Plot..

Screenwriter Pete Appleton is on Hollywood’s blacklist. When he opts for a road trip to clear his head he got more than he asked for. His car wrecks resulting in a head injury that literally wipes his worried mind clean.

Pete comes to in a small, costal town where he’s mistaken for “Luke,” a native son missing since World War II. A family reunion and the reopening of the town’s movie theater invigorate the community just as “Luke” remembers his true identity.

Sounds kinda like one of those old Frank Capra movies.

The Rant, pt 1: The Magic…

I’m a fool for the old Studio System back in the golden days of Hollywood. Well, the concept of it anyway; rival film companies vying to outdo each other at the box office, both in profit and talent. That’s my rose-tinted glasses talking. I am naive about the “Golden Days” of Hollywood. It’s an era I know precious little about. Kind of like how nostalgia works based on the good memories rather than the warts-and-all reality. I mean, wouldn’t it be great to go back to then (which probably wasn’t as different as is now) to witness how the magic and sausage were both made? Probably better in theory, but that’s what your imagination is for. Right Pixar?

The term “movie magic” has been well bandied as much as “The American Dream,” which has clouded our collective conscious. That ineffable feeling of going to the movies is a special event. Well, I still feel that way. Nervous excitement about how the stories on the silver screen play out with tight direction, a smart plot and inviting actors bleeding emotion for our entertainment. This is true now as it was then (I’d like to imagine). Despite how many may carp about the MCU being nothing but some cock-eyed roller coaster ride (eyes on you, Marty) those that queue up tp see Tom Holland’s exploits as the amazing Spider-Man had that magic in mind.

Dig. Maybe stuff like this qualifies:

My girl adores Tom Holland, and by extension she’s a Spidey booster despite being an ardent fan of DC’s heroines (EG: Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Catwoman, etc). Fandom knows no media. We caught Spider-Man: No Way Home on opening night. She bought the tickets well in advance and gave consideration to me who always wants to sit in the front row. It was the late night viewing and the theater was packed. Mostly with kids either dressed as Spider-Man and the rest doffed in Spidey tees as well as other Marvel characters. It was kinda like cosplay. Lots of moms and dads, too, perhaps also fans of our fave web-slinger. Maybe not Tom Holland fans mind you, and some maybe to catch another chapter in the MCU, but Spider-Man, Marvel’s star and workaday hero. He was the cause for all the hubbub. That and perhaps the fun feeling of catching a live baseball game rooting for the home team with strangers.

Here’s where that whole “movie magic” sh*t comes into play. I’m not gonna pull any punches here with spoilers because No Way Home was the biggest flick of 2021, so that means everyone from Mercury to Mars saw it. So the scene when MJ and Ned are trying to clumsily access the multiverse to find his BFF Peter he accidentally summons The Amazing Spider-Man Andrew Garfield instead. The crowd went wild. Applause and cheering all around. When was the last time you applauded at a movie? Me? After seeing Mary Poppins Returns with my kid. It just felt very natural. Just like with No Way Home.

Here’s some more “movie magic” context: in the same scene above Ned tries again to contact his Peter Parker and summons the original cinematic Spider-Man himself Tobey Maguire. More cheers. I cheered too, since I thought number 2 was the best Spidey movie, and it was cool to see Tobey in the tights again. Seeing Maguire as Spider-Man again sprouted an old memory of not so good times. Years prior my baby sister treated me to the cinema to catch Spider-Man 2 in its initial theatrical run. I was in a bad way at the time and she figured a Spider-Man flick would cheer me up. She was right. We had a lot of fun, even with her sweating me for info about all things Spidey. That kind of movie magic. When leaving the show after the credits were over (and I always watch all of the closing credits. I want my ticket for all its worth) she and I chatted about the film and asked me when the next one came out. I said 2007. She asked, “We have to wait that long?” I don’t know if she was actually curious about the final chapter or just hoping I’d make it that far. I’m still here and even covered Spider-Man 3, so I guess something clicked besides REDACTED.

As all those Spidey fans at No Way Home‘s premier whooped and whirled? Well, the only time I’ve seen such reactions on an everyday level is for the fave sports team on TV. I tend to agree with Marty to a point, but based against almost all of his movies what’s wrong with having fun at the multiplex? It’s all escapism at a basal level. You plunked yourself in a foreign environment, light years away from your trusty YouTube account, paid exorbitant prices for a bale of fresh popcorn and a soda so large you need a wheelbarrow to get the thing into the proper theater, and sit in a slung back chair that has been farted on more than you ever farted in your lifetime. Also, it’s dark.

And you’re lapping it up, making sure your phone is on mute. Even better, you left the fool thing in the car. Time to get away from it all, if only for around 2 hours. If you hear what I’m screaming it’s amazing how sitting in the dark with strangers watching a movie can be so transcendental. I can’t explain why, but it’s true. Call it movie magic.

If you don’t quite dig to what I’m saying, let me cite a chapter from Silver Screen Fiend¹. It’s a sort of memoir written by comedian Patton Oswalt; all about his memorable times at the movies through the lens of Gaugain. The following was Oswalt’s account of a viewing of Casablanca in one of those indie theaters in LA, natch. What follows might be the ideal definition of movie magic (edited for brevity):

“We got to the point…where Rick is sending Ilsa off to be with Laszlo…[a]bout to start the ‘Here’s looking at you, kid…’ speech. He actually got out the words, ‘The problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of—’ and the word ‘beans’ became warped and shrill and silent as the film broke. The f*cking film broke…and then…[l]aughter…everyone began whistling. We all started spontaneously whistling ‘As Time Goes By’…on a rainy Los Angeles evening in the little New Beverly Cinema. Elsewhere in the city…[b]ig movies were premiering to packed houses…And we were whistling in the dark. ‘As Time Goes By…’ 

Ah, that weird magic of cinema. Sitting in the dark with strangers who already knew the tune. Duh. This doesn’t happen much in cinemas, either for classic runs or the latest Spielberg caper. That bonding. The closest I can recollection I have was back in high school when me and my misfit buddies caught the thriller Speed on opening night. The house was packed. Before Fandango and MovieFone one could only secure tickets to some big deal flick was tp pay in advance at your local multiplex and scooping them up come showtime. Granted finding good seats was a bitch, be 4 got lucky and got to sit together in the middle on the left side of the theater, which was already half packed before the trailers started. To me it felt like a real event; let’s see how Theodore S Logan, Esq served as an action hero. Point Break was fun, but that was Swayze all the way. Speed was, as the Brits are known to say, quite the other thing, and Keanu’s performance shut down the doubters.

Stirring action, impossible stunts, a creeping mystery, Dennis Hopper chewing scenery, Alan Ruck’s best (and perhaps only) role since Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, this up and coming starlet Sandra something at the wheel, whoa Keanu Reeves as a convincing streetwise cop in a John McClane scanrio, and literally who the hell knew what was to happen next aboard this runaway bus? Quite enjoyable.

What follows I remember well. Towards the end of the second act me and low-life form buddies began to question each other—in hushed voices—what the hell is gonna happen next? Our murmurs caught the attention of the couple in front of us. In hushed voices, “I think that…” Us: “Yeah, yeah. Maybe.” And from the guy behind us in his hushed voice, “I think…” Us: “Right!” Too bad we didn’t see Jeff Daniels’ REDACTED.

We all know what a drag it is when people talk during a movie, but this little moment was where movie fans were talking about the movie underneath the movie. We didn’t want to interrupt the film. It’s not like streaming at home, and far too many moviegoers are mistaken thinking they are still in front of the dream screen at home.

The anti-Speed opposite happened when I caught the (original) Hellboy movie. I was there with my then g/f. She was patient with trying to get my comic book obsession. Halfway through the second act some doosh’s cell phone went off. This was before the polite requests from the previews to please mute your phones. Not that it would’ve mattered for this specimen. He answered his squawk box with all the courtesy of tripping over a casket. Not only did he answer, he began to describe the movie to the caller in loud headtones usually reserved for a Slayer concert.

I was so pissed I stood up in my seat and glared at him in the dim light. I missed a scene. He saw me standing. I think I blocked his view.

“Call you back.”

I plopped down and thought about that time watching Speed. I forgot how the movie ended. I think. Knew the finale was satisfying, but can’t even recall a damned thing. It’s been over a quarter century since I saw it. In the theater. Memories can get hazy, but emotions? I think not. The aforementioned was I all recall from watching Hellboy. That and something about chili and rotten eggs. Dammit. I was dating my high school sweetheart. Again. She said the scene I missed was really scary. Dammit.

Both sides of the same page I figure. Be it special or broken the times spent in the dark of the matinee are almost hallowed to movie fans. Geeks and strays with cell phones un-muted alike. It’s a gathering, far away from all that obnoxious reality. If only for at least 90 minutes. The bad, old world outside the cinema can wait.

Am I romanticizing all of this babble? You betcha and no cap. I suggest you catch Casablanca at least once. Or twice.

*golf claps*

The Rant, pt 2: The Machine…

Now about them “Golden Days” of Hollywood. Far, far removed from Spider-Man and CGI and even that nutty Tom Cruise guy. Things are different these days when making movies, and I’m talking about the business end of making movies. Not the throughput. The nuts and bolts and incessant hammering. Literally. Let’s set the wayback machine to the erstwhile “Golden Age,” roughly from the 1930’s into the early 1950’s. This was an ideal definition I lifted from StudioBinder to encapsulate how the somewhat notorious “studio system” functioned as well-greased machine, movie making industry:

The studio system was a business method where Hollywood movie studios control all aspects of film production, including production proper, distribution, and exhibition. Dominated by the Big Five studios (EG: Warner Bros, MGM, Fox, Paramount and RKO), all personnel including actors, crew, directors, and writers were under contract to the studios. It made for efficient and “assembly-line” style filmmaking that dominated the industry for about two crucial decades.²

Since complete control over everything there came a consistency, and when I say everythingI mean everything was monitored by studio heads. No film was cut and dried unless the likes of Louis B MayerJack Warner or Adolph Zukor and his crones said so otherwise. Demanded otherwise. Like you knew what you were getting into based on the studio. And MGM? “More stars than there are in heaven,” whatever that implies. Sounds enticing, though.

In making movies these days bow down to “complete artistic control.” To mean that the director is at the helm, and after that the actors with the scenarists and technicians at the ready. Such an approach came to an apex in the 70s, until unbridled ticket sales hit the skids with epics like Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate (not a bad film really, just hella long. Can’t fill enough showings with a 3 and half hour movie about pioneering). These days it’s almost sovereign to have budgets go way over limit with crossed fingers. Wasn’t always the case. Also prime actors once were not necessarily freelance. And agents weren’t always chasing the paycheck based on how their charges worked freelance. Nope. Once it was a lot more rigid than fluid. Almost hard to believe across the past 50 years. Prior the studio was the be all and end all regarding how films were made, marketed and well-stocked with their choice directors and actors.

The studio system was not unlike a meat packing plant. No room for waste, just the select cuts and prints. The output must be consistent as representing the studio en toto and its place in the Hollywood market. Regarding the almost draconian way the Big Five packaged their prime films reminds me of a quote from our favorite, friendly and always frosted celebrity chef, Guy Fieri: “No matter how tough the meat may be, it’s going to be tender if you slice it thin enough.” A wheat from chaff metaphor, and boy did the studios back then do a through threshing. It was nothing like the casino of Hollywood today, and that makes it all very interesting in comparison. To me at least.

The whole meat packing metaphor may seem sinister, but old Hollywood indeed ran their film production like an assembly line. The studios had their own select actors, directors, writers and of course standards. And all of it under contract; if you wanted to catch the latest Bogey flick sure as eggs were eggs it came off the Warner lot. And only theirs. If an actor want to audition for a role at a rival studio they would be “on loan” and a percentage of the profit from the movie’s takeaway would be deposited in the generous studio’s coffers. In other words: horse-trading.

Here’s an example of how shrewd studios could about the grooming and caring for their charges. I read once that the late, great Henry Fonda was hungry to play Tom Joad in Fox Studios’ big screen adaptation of Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath. The unique part about Fonda eventually scoring the role was that he was—in essence—trolled. The man was a dedicated actor for Fox, but had no contractual agreement with the studio. He wasn’t Fox’s “property” as it were. It took Fox Studio head Darryl Zanuck to bait Fonda by suggested either Tyrone Power or Don Ameche to take up the Joad mantle. Fonda wanted that role so bad he agreed to a 7 year contract with Fox. And only Fox. Ah, well. It’s a good thing in hindsight since Fonda earned his first Best Actor Oscar nomination for his troubles and provisions. No matter how tough the meat may be, right? Nowadays all actors need is a good agent to earn fresh roles. Wonder which deal is simpler and more lucrative? Doesn’t matter. Some things never change in La-La Land. The way you cut your meat reflects the way you live.

And back in the day the dailies could not wait to see how which roast (or turkey) from what lead studio released their tentpole against the competing and also very determined rival studio with their latest tentpole. It was not unlike the rivalry between New York and Boston. Or the powerful MCU against the scattershot DC films. Or Coke versus Pepsi, including all their froth. There was the competition. Which studio could deliver the goods over the rivals. There was a lot less scandalous sh*t also that propelled the race, unlike today where Ryan Gosling’s fiber intake goes under the lens on TMZ. Just saying.

It might sound as if I’m romanticizing those bygone days of yore. Maybe a bit, but the studio system would not permit any “modern classics” in the past 50 years as of recent memory, and I ain’t talking just post-Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Wolff? on the screen. In fact I felt that the cast or the writers were second and third fiddle to what the studio system held in its clutches. Their secret weapon. Not the actors, not really and definitely not the scenarists. Back then was kind of like today. Sure, we all want to see Brad Pitt, Jennifer Lawrence and/or Bob DeNiro in their latest projects, but that’s nothing new with the old skool stars like Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart and Katherine Hepburn. No matter where they all performed there was a fine line demarcaating box office gold or lumps of smoldering cold.

The directors. Those whose instincts stoke the fires of movie magic.

After free agency we were a captive audience to whatever Spielberg, Scorsese or Tarantino had to voice. Back during the relentless studio system years people were hungry for what Ford, Hawks and/or Lubitsch would deliver. And they delivered, time and time again, even with the motley cast who were assigned to both entertain and be under scrutiny. Like I said, back then actors were cattle, hand picked to star in the latest big deal picture. The directors? Ah, the men behind the curtain.

Kinda like directing wunderkind Frank Capra, the Spielberg of his day. Why him? Because regardless of the production, Capra’s style had an inviting, if not family-friendly execution regardless of the plot. There was always a light-heartedness to his work, and encapsulated what the best the studio system would allow. EG: creative control belying creative control. Capra’s films had atmosphere—breathing room—to allow the audience to digest what was going on, as well as a bit of winking humor also. Consider this:

It’s hard to believe these days that his epic life in the life of George Bailey, It’s A Wonderful Life was a box office bomb. The biggest of Capra’s mid-career. It was what only with the advent of TV and the freedom of public domain that Life became the inescapable Xmas blockbuster we know and love/loathe to this day. Even though Capra had a real winning streak of flicks pre-Life, and I figured unless Capra had such a prior winning streak we would not be citing his work now. Consider his classics like Lost Horizon, You Can’t Take It With You, Mr Smith Goes To Washington and the first and greatest black comedy Arsenic And Old LaceThat being said the hardline the studios took to their puppets allowed some leeway if they produced prime cuts. The best analog comes from the limping TV “success” of our fave blended family The Brady Bunch. The show was never a ratings favorite, but the network was patient in hoping the show would eventually find their audience. Over five shaky seasons. Producer Sherwood Schwartz convinced his studio to allow an audience to warm up to the fluffiness that was his bunch. Never happened, and like with Life God bless syndication. I suspect a little breathing room allowed Capra to spin his tales, as well as becoming the iconic director we appreciate today. When someone regards a current film as akin to a Frank Capra movie it’s a giddy complement.

With The Majestic director Darabont was trying to bring about that effervescent atmosphere of a Capra film. A tribute, you see. But mimicking Capra does not demonstrate the leeway the studio permitted. A calm desperation to deliver the goods and keep flop sweat at a low flow. No studio pressure—save budget and time frame—so long as the casting is stellar. Hollywood is still a machine, and if the throughput results in accidental art, well awards are good PR. It could be considered that the stranglehold the old studio system had was simpler than making movies today. All the moneychanging, agents and out of control budgets is very messy.

I’d like to think Darabont was trying to be quick to the chase, but up against modern muddling was something Capra didn’t need to worry about because it was inherent in his films.

Expectations must be met…

The Story…

Budding screenwriter Pete Appleton (Carrey) finally got his first break. His action flick Sand Pirates Of The Sahara was a breakout hit. Good thing, too since his girlfriend got good billing as the heroine in the movie. The world was Pete’s oyster, which stood to reason that his ship has come in. More writing would abound.


Pete’s ascension is disrupted by the Hollywood Blacklist. See, there are some snoops are weeding out possible Commies using movies as propaganda. The Red Scare. And Pete’s bullpen had the plugged pulled. There goes his meal ticket.

After a final victory dance at his fave bar, Pete opts for a road trip to clear his hazy head. Bad move, and he sure got his head cleared. Wiped is a better word.

Pete awakes on a beach on the costal town of Lawson, which time has long forgotten. After a dazed Pete wanders around the town square the locals believe that he’s “Luke,” Lawson’s favorite son, MIA war hero, back to bring some honorable recognition to the fallen after the War. He’s the guy that’ll set Lawson’s malaise behind.

Even Luke’s father Harry (Landau) recognizes the emotional bond and lifeblood Luke could offer to lowly Lawson. He was once exuberant to bring escapism and joy—the latest big deal movies—at his Majestic theater, and let Lawson’s citizens escape the misery of the War. If only for 80 minutes.

Luke the homecoming hero feels an unnatural desire to reconnect with Lawson, and Larry thinks he knows the way: re-open the Majestic! Fix it up and make is the corner of downtown again! Lawson still needs relief after the working week, not to mention escape the lingering memories about many good men gone by.

Without really knowing why, Luke totally agrees with his Pop’s scheme and sounds like best bet to cheer Lawson up. For some reason it seems oddly, pleasantly familiar…

The Breakdown…

Again I may have come across enamored by the old Studio System, but I wasn’t. That’s the curious thing about nostalgia, it the only thing that truly improves with age. All I really knew about the Studio System (thanks to Wikipedia, Quora forums and consulting with my fact-checking department of which I have none) is that there always had to be a rule regarding consistency across the boards. Makes sense. Maintaining quality requires an ever clean slate. I’d kinda like to believe back then it wasn’t about name actors, name directors and name studios that drew the almighty ticket/subscription/the next subscription/Disney as Borg but instead quality and a sense of integrity. Not really, save reaching the bottom line. Back then it was MGM. Tomorrow? Maybe Unilever. Or Disney. Or maybe Disney. The Star Trek franchise may still be Walter. You know, that prize fish Henry Fonda finally caught as he did the Best Actor Oscar he was denied for over 60 years possibly would’ve faltered under the Orwellian control of modern Universal Studios. Why? Here’s a decent story regarding the Studio System held their cards. For the better part of Fonda’s career he never had an agent, and his misfit daughter Jane accepted the Oscar in his honor while he was dying of cancer and hooked up to more hoses than that of the entire Chicago FD.

Wait. Where was I? Oh yeah, an esteemed actor wrung through my praise about the Studio System in a left hand way. That nostalgia thing, and recall I was not there for the System. Heck nor was my father, nor mom nor my many cats. Fonda’s Tom Joad performance notwithstanding what truth I learned about the Studio System I gleaned from the smart, gentle and avuncular Robert Osborne, far more than social media hacks. Osbourne was TCM’s resident friendly, stentorian movie critic/host who talked with us about that evening’s feature. Oddly enough TCM had worked diligently to compress most old skool products into sound bites. I don’t mean editing, I mean sponsoring. No commercials and all that. Thank you and your welcome. Let me explain again. Had.

Ever since Osborne passed in ’17 the programming at TCM got kinda stupid. Like when the recess supervisor turned their back for a moment and the kids whacking at tetherball reenacted the siege on Harper’s Ferry. Whoops. Just missed. No one was looking and they were. Save Osbourne. His legacy (to me at least) was his knowledgeable history of film, and his delivery was kindly as well as academic. He was not unlike Alex Trebek, but more laid back, and introduced to me a wealth of knowledge about cinema from back in the day. To wit, he fostered my interest in Kurosawa’s films the way no snob could.

An aside before I get all brutish again here’s an anecdote: One evening around Halloween time Osbourne was host to a bunch of classic scary films (EG: Psycho, Frankenstein, The Phantom Of The Opera, lotsa black-and-whites). That night’s offering was Robert Wise’s The Hauntingwhich may be the greatest haunted house movie ever cut. In sum thanks to Osbourne’s scholarly intro I tuned in as a lark and never had my heart pound so much. TCM had no commercial breaks, and my teeth were swimming about a third of the way through the flick. I did not dare leave the couch and risk missing something. When the dam broke it was the fastest pee ever without the influence of coffee or beer. Talk about a spiritual release.

C’mon, that was funny.

Thanks to Osbourne’s setup, I adopted a kind of weird second sight. Whatever Robert spoke about in the opening of that evening’s offerings, he adopted a marque relevant to the film. He informed/warned us about the impending atmosphere of what was coming next. Robert wished to chat about this week’s offering, and just like that one fast learns that with the firmament atmosphere can only go so far.

Even though the exacting expectations demanded by the Studio System did produce good product, but was like stoking a fire. As George Washington was credited he claimed fire is a great servant but a terrible master. That was attributed to his view on his new government. All those wonderful classics that are now iconic? They were produced via a blast furnace. Separating the ore from the stock. Render steel and shake away the slag to earn box office profit. And the scoria gets dumped into B-movie bins where immediate, loss leader tickets soar. Nostalgia, and enjoy some coke and smile. It’s all very pungent, and smell is the key sense that invites good memories. Like when grandma baked ginger men cookies and images of Santa float through your mental Rolodex.

Director Darabont must really enjoy ginger men, stainless steel and Robert Osbourne, too. Darabont who is one of the best overseas director to capture America on film gave in to his muse regarding Majestic…and went waaay overboard. Majestic was polished and shined to a silver sheen, and almost devoid of warmth and charm mimicking the best Capra output. It was style over substance, and all of it felt forced. Sometimes it seemed lifted.

To be fair, Majestic is very beautiful film both in aesthetics and honoring bygone Hollywood. The film sure felt like a production crafted out of the Studio System so much that it played as a product of its time, despite arriving at the turn of the century. Darabont may have figured to 2000’s were the optimum time to lionize the studios. Remind us f good thing past. Dateline 1951 and all that jazz. Darabont got the imagery well enough, but his vision was blurry. He was playing it too forced and got more than a tad wandering. Darabont was trying to reach for something. A throwback inspired by Frank Capra? A brief lesson on “naming names?” That whole movie magic phenomenon? An active nod to the fallen? All of this and none? Well, yeah. Shrugs all around.

I once quoted back in the High Fidelity installment is that we never want our director’s vision get in the way of their vision. Darabont lost the ball in the sun. He was so driven to recreate a Capra-esque movie he got blinded by the revelation of TechniColor…in 2001. Hell, even the above promo poster is blurred. Hate to figure style over substance again. That’s a real shame, since Darabont’s movie had a lot going for it but kept dropping the damned ball. What looks good doesn’t mean it smells good, like grandma’s ginger men. More got burned, trashed or smothered with green sprinkles this side of St Patrick’s Day.

To the point, Majestic was a failed tribute to the ol’ Studio Barons. Majestic was, all in all, simply a cheery period piece. Cheery by way of (almost) everything works out in the end. The acting is good. The setting is inviting. The plot is engaging enough to make us wonder, “What’s going on here?” All the T’s were crossed and all the I’s dotted. So what went wrong?

Nostalgia blinded Darabont. More like sentimentality, for an era he wasn’t born into let alone the country. Majestic was on the cusp of overloaded corniness. Such effective sentimentality worked for what I felt was Darabont’s inspiration, Will Wyler’s Oscar-winning opus The Best Years Of Our Lives. The film had well-defined characters, a sprawling plot that would make Taratino jealous and crisp black-and-white settings that reflected light in the most obscene way. This was what I felt Darabont was attempting to pay tribute to. Wyler’s direction was razor sharp, whereas Daranont’s film was in a perpetual state of playing both catch-up and trolling. In sum: crap pacing and crap editing.

This was sad, because here we had one of Carrey’s best roles as well as non-comedic performances. He carried the entire film. I mean the entire film. He emoted well without being mawkish. That made for a decent soft mystery here. I mean, c’mon. The hero with amnesia finding himself lost in Rockwellian, simpler life as tonic from the grind of some hustle culture and/or trying to find his way in life? Classic, and how or why? Makes for quality cinema of a million movies, and Carrey channeled his inner George Bailey with endearing aplomb. The hang up with Majestic that Carrey’s Luke was a constant man out of time. Sure, Lawson was a lonely, picturesque setting which time almost forgot, but the supporting cast (also excellent) seemed to constantly be playing catch-up to Luke’s sudden homecoming. Carrey’s Luke was a crux; a panacea to the malaise that had (forcibly) been cast over the town. In Biblical history that the apostle Luke was lauded for his artwork, notably iconography of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. A man of the palette, inspiring the lowly. Sound familiar? A man with all his talents Carrey should not be some Christ figure, which is how he was played out. Forrest Gump with short term amnesia maybe, but c’mon Luke was just a mild-mannered Average Joe. He went from being “nobody” to somebody, and good on him. Blame the denizens of Lawson for overreacting. Does Lawson “need” Luke, like some minor prophet? Kinda hushed some lighthearted feels. Bogged sh*t down.

Another thing that pissed me off about Majestic‘s execution that it reflected the same scam as Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close: Oscar baiting. It’s soft, pandering comedy-drama which robbed Daramont himself of the Best Director award in 1994 instead going to Spielberg lite filmmaker Robert Zemekis. Darabont has made a career on films based on Stephen King stories, not Winston Groom’s fodder. As far as King’s universe is concerned, why does Lawson creep along like Castle Rock? Lazy and predictable and in need of kick start. Why is it so many lonely towns attract the Oscars? I think it’s all about that old saw that you can’t go home again. Why is that? Because it only exists in your memories now. That whole pining for the “good old days” which Darabont tried very hard to recreate here with Majestic, but whether it be Bedford Falls, Pleasantville Castle Rock or even Lawson it just wasn’t there. One could claim that Majestic was just another holiday movie on the Hallmark Channel, but with a bigger budget.

In sum I got another suspicion about what Darabont’s muse was. For all its flaws, Majestic did indeed reflect a classic Studio System aesthetic for a 21st Century crowd. K made a sharp comment about how Carrey went from somebody to nobody like losing big time at Las Vegas. Riches to rags and back again, a classic old skool movie trope. Very Studio (EG Citizen Kane, My Fair Lady or even Disney’s Cinderella), a well flogged warhorse, trite and tired. Maybe Darabont was trying to educate the Millennial crowd with a taste of “how it was.” What with their iPhones, Playstations and Twitch accounts the yowwens just wouldn’t get a flick like from back in the day. Here kids. Here’s how it was done. If you consider this tack—and you probably shouldn’t—it was another aspect of how Darabont wanted to drill into the audience how to not go home again. If that was the angle, no one wants to be lectured to at the movies.

In conclusion (stop clapping you audience you) I knew for sure when Darabont’s love affair with Capra went all pear shaped and he shed his skin. It was the scene when Pete (not Luke) testified before the HUAC about the blacklist. Carrey channeled his inner Jimmy Stewart with precious little nuance, unlike the former’s performance in Mr Smith Goes To Washington. Another Capra classic. Tribute or con? Unsure on all fronts.

That awkwardness was the key to Majestic‘s downfall. Too much sentiment, too much nostalgia and too much trying to be a Studio film. There was no honest lightheartedness cut here like back in the day.

Save the piano scene. You hadda love the piano scene. Osbourne would’ve approved.

The References…

¹ Oswalt, Patton. Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life From An Addiction To Film. Pgs 168-169. Scribners, 2015.
² Abreu, Rafael. “What Is the Studio System? Hollywood’s Studio Era Explained.” StudioBinder, 12 July 2021,

The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? A mild relent it. It’s clear that Darabont has a soft spot for the Golden Age of Hollywood, but he’s no Frank Capra. The movie was way too fluffy and meandering for my attention span to invest in. Too bad.

The Musings…

  • “It’s good to be home.”
  • Bruce Campbell!
  • “The woman does wonders with an egg.” I liked that.
  • Harry made a good argument for what the “magic” is.
  • “Stranger On The Shore.” Get it?
  • That monument was…
  • “I taught him that! When you weren’t looking!”
  • That nasty head wound sure healed fast.
  • “I think I need some water.”
  • Wait, wasn’t that the idol from Raiders?
  • “Just filling in the blanks.”

The Next Time…

Beware the savages bearing a Bone Tomahawk.