As blockbuster after blockbuster gets bumped to 2021—or in some cases, all the way to 2022—film fans have the opportunity to discover movies that in other years might’ve been overshadowed by the latest installment from James Bond or Jurassic Park. With the launch of virtual cinemas, not only can one find new and interesting films to enjoy safely from home, but the rental can do a bit of good, too, as a portion of the purchase supports the venue directly. In the case of the new independent feature Major Arcana, written and directed by Josh Melrod, that bit of support for whichever cinema you rent through is about the only good that’ll come of watching this clunky, poorly performed drama about a grifter coming home to build a cabin and settle his recently deceased father’s estate.
Ujon Tokarski stars as Dink, a carpenter who’s been off the grid for a few years; we meet him as he returns to his rural Vermont hometown to follow up on the small matters left behind after his father passes away. There’s a bit of money, some land. There’s also his bitter, aging mother Jean (Lane Bradbury) who wants the money to fuel her own gambling addiction; and Sierra (Tara Summers), Dink’s former flame and a hot mess of her own, dating a jerk named Craig (Collen Doyle) but easily talked into making bad decisions around Dink.
Without saying much of anything to anyone upon his return, Dink sets about building his future home in the backwoods; Melrod and cinematographer Ramsey Fendall linger over Tokarski’s strenuous solo work, from skillfully chopping down the trees he’ll need for lumber to fashioning the supports required to shape the wood into workable logs to hauling the massive things into place. The process of building the cabin is threaded throughout the film, and in the end turns out to be the most interesting thing about the whole affair. According to the film’s press materials, Tokarski is not an actor by trade at all, but a skilled carpenter in his own right—so it makes sense that he seems so comfortable in the building scenes, as if communing with the wood through the exhausting work.
Unfortunately, there’s the pesky problem of a plot around Dink’s cabin-building project, and it’s here where the film becomes nearly unwatchable with dialogue so strained it’s cringe-worthy. Sometimes it’s the case that a less-than-stellar cast misses their mark on the delivery of otherwise decent writing; here, the writing is incredibly rough, with lines of dialogue reading like what someone thinks people in movies sound like, not what people actually sound like. That the cast is uniformly underwhelming doesn’t help. More than once, I found myself repeating a line out loud, delivering it in three or four different ways just to hear how it might sound with some emotion behind it.
Completing an independent feature film is no small feat, and it brings me no joy to report when a film is just not very good. It’s an accomplishment that Major Arcana is available to audiences, and certainly there are moments of beauty in Tokarski’s work in the woods. But creating a feature film in and of itself is not a recommendation for it, and when there are countless other options for movie nights in these days, from streaming platforms to virtual cinemas and more, spending an evening with a not very good film feels like a special kind of punishment no one asked for. When you’re looking for ways to support your local cinema through a virtual rental, look to options other than Major Arcana.
The film is now streaming through Music Box Theatre’s Virtual Cinema.
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