The films reviewed in Captain Canada’s Movie Rodeo are pulled from a list of films that was started when the column started. The list covers everything I’ve seen for the first time between 2012 and the present.
Guys, I think I’m finally over Tim Burton.
“What took you so long?” is the response I’ve been getting from at least a few people. I don’t know if that’s fair. Burton’s work from about 2000 onwards has been consistently inconsistent. We get a movie like Big Fish or Sweeney Todd. Then we get wretched turd carnivals like Dark Shadows or Alice in Wonderland, or we get something that’s not terrible per say, but also ends up being oddly unsatisfying. In that case, I’m talking about Big Eyes. I realize it has a 72% rating with Rotten Tomatoes. I also can’t believe I’m the only one who thought that movie needed a different director. A better director? I wouldn’t say that. I might say someone who had a deeper stake in telling that story. Initially just a producer, Burton later signed on to direct, as well. I can watch Big Eyes again. I’m still going to feel like that was a mistake.
Big Eyes is always going to strike me as a missed opportunity. When you’re talking about a filmmaker of Burton’s caliber, which are best represented in decades that are behind him, a missed opportunity is a more annoying waste of time than the usual.
And then there’s Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, which is actually a shittier example of the opinion I just expressed with Big Eyes. Burton directing Ransom Riggs’ bestseller made sense in my head. Then I saw a trailer. I thought “Gosh, that’s underwhelming.” I saw it anyway. Without actually reviewing the movie here and now, “underwhelming” would have been nice. It’s awful. It’s a good Samuel L. Jackson bad guy performance, brief flashes of visual eminence, and very little else. It’s an appallingly lackluster effort from a man who seems to be trapped in terminal boredom. That’s the only explanation that makes any sense to me. He peaked a while ago, secretly knows that, and doesn’t think anyone else has caught on.
A Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children sequel? God, no. The live-action Dumbo? I honestly don’t care. Do you? I’m asking. Couldn’t Disney think of someone else?
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children has been out for a while now. I’m getting into this whole thing now because I was thinking about movies that haven’t aged well with me. It carried me over to actors, and then directors. A lot of stuff I liked growing up has held up with me, even if it’s just that ever-dangerous nostalgic buzz. Some things lose their charm. The Tim Burton movies I saw as a kid are still pretty great to me. I also wouldn’t put it past Burton to make at least one more classic in his lifetime.
I’m just not even remotely interested in paying attention.
What are some movies that haven’t held up for you? What about directors, actors, actresses? Give me some names or titles, and we’ll talk about them in the next column. This is one of those endlessly negative subjects that I can talk about for a lot longer than I should probably admit.
Logan (2017): A+
We’re early into the year, but I’m always fond of hedging my bets. To that end, I’m going to be very surprised if Logan fails to remain amongst my personal top five best movies of 2017. In what Hugh Jackman promises to be his final appearance as Wolverine (believe him), we have one of the grimmest comic book stories ever brought to film.
In fact, as brilliant as Logan is, it’s hard for me to imagine very many future superhero movies taking risks as bold, even frightening as the ones this film embraces. James Mangold and Jackman (along with co-screenwriters Scott Frank and Michael Green) have indeed crafted a game changer within the genre, as a number of critics and others are saying. You see this in the story, the pacing of the film, and with a flawless cast. It will serve as an influence for a genre whose source medium has always proven itself to be versatile, even in the face of snobbery and derision. However, I have a very hard time believing that any major studio will ever again put nearly 100 million dollars into a MOVIE that begins in a state of weary oblivion, and ends on a note so somber, you won’t be able to believe they actually told a story like Logan.
Except they did tell that story. Logan takes heavy cues from westerns and low-key dystopian nightmares. It imagines a state of hopelessness far more permanent than anything an actual super villain could hope to come up with. Yet there is hope. There are elements throughout of family, love, and a profound sense of rising, despite the ragged consequences of regret and age, to roar and fight the forces of evil, perhaps for the last time. Logan expresses these themes and others in its story, atmosphere, and in the performances of the cast. On that last one alone, Jackman, Patrick Stewart (in a performance as Oscar-worthy as Jackman’s), Dafne Keen (a serious force of nature as the engineered mutant X-23), Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant, and Boyd Holbrook help to create what Logan ultimately is. It is certainly the best X-Men film, possibly ever.
And the best superhero movie? I’ll let you decide that. At the very least, I can’t imagine a serious argument against the opinion that this is one of the best movies of its type to date. If anything, it may have just created something that is entirely its own.
Chicken with Plums (2011): A-
Six years after its release, Chicken with Plums (from Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud) is a wonderful blurring of the lines that generally organize the cities of our dreams, the cities of our past, and the endless, frightening potential of what happens when everything returns to dust. His violin destroyed, Nasser Ali Khan (a wonderful voice performance from Mathieu Amalric) succumbs to sorrow, and loses his will to live. What follows is an animated odyssey through his dreams that is nothing short of a 94 minute visual marvel. It’s too bad that this film has already fallen into mild obscurity. Although highly regarded upon its release, Chicken with Plums has had to deal with the consequences of being an animated film that didn’t come from Disney, Dreamworks, or even Studio Ghibli. There are a lot of animated features like that, particularly in the last ten years.
If you need an animated film that juggles scenes of melancholic heartache with scenes of near-orgasmic joy, and you haven’t come across Chicken with Plums, you’re in for a wonderful experience. It is still one of the most unique animated films currently available. It is an inspiration in storytelling and style for those who are desperate for something a little different.
Public Access (1993): B-
Filmed in eighteen days on a budget of 18, 000 dollars, Public Access is weird, almost malicious stuff from Bryan Singer, who directed and co-wrote the film. In terms of style, energy, writing, and performances, the film is fairly far away from Singer’s later, far better known work on Apt Pupil, The Usual Suspects, the X-Men film franchise, House, and more. You can get a sense of some of the thematic elements that later appear in some of those things, but it’s all fairly rough, and quite faint. Singer’s on again/off again obsession with loners who bring chaos and eventually obliteration to order can be found here. Beyond that, it’s entirely in the eye of a film student with too much time on their hands.
And if you don’t care about any of that, Public Access is an early 90s indie gem that still offers a great deal to those who discover it. Working with the simple premise of a mysterious stranger who shows up in an idyllic town to start a public access community talk show, and seriously fuck everything up for everyone, Public Access is a pretty straightforward character study. The complexities are found in the dialog, in the consistently, intentionally murky vision of the drifter with a desire to destroy everything, and in the surprisingly potent low-budget atmosphere. It’s not great early 90s American independent cinema, but it is good enough, and fascinating enough, to warrant a watch in the present.
Club Paradise (1986): C-
A movie directed by Harold Ramis, featuring a cast with names like Robin Williams, Pete O’Toole, Jimmy Cliff, Rick Moranis, Andrea Martin, Twiggy, and Joanna Cassidy, sounds pretty amazing. Ten minutes, and you’ll understand why this film has largely been forgotten, despite the people involved. It’s a complete cinematic mess of the highest order.
There is a story. I think. I watched Club Paradise about three years ago, sitting on the floor at the Port Authority bus terminal at three in the morning. A bus delay had me stuck in Manhattan for several hours, and I didn’t feel like walking around with a ton of a luggage. Under these specific circumstances, I watched Club Paradise, and I can faintly recall the story of a stressed-out firefighter (Williams) moving to a little-known Caribbean island to start life anew.
And then the movie just kind of collapses. Everyone still seems to have a good time, but what’s left is strictly for fans of Ramis, Williams, or anyone else in this movie. Anyone from that crowd will have more fun than they would probably care to admit. The scenes between Williams and O’Toole are quite frankly hilarious, with O’Toole having an approach to his role that clearly involved pretending he was in something else entirely. The movie falls into a series of vignettes, with a loose story that ultimately manages to focus on most of the characters saving the island from greedy developers. One thing about Club Paradise that gives the film its odd, mutant charm is the way most of the movie seems to consist of everyone making it up as they go along. Considering the improv heavyweights who make up the cast, this theory isn’t improbable. Club Paradise is amusing, and worth the time, just to watch that idea unfold. Occasionally, given the people involved, it suggest something that could have been a classic.
Nobody Knows (2004): A+
With a running time of nearly two-and-a-half hours, Nobody Knows isn’t a light drama. Hirokazu Koreeda (who wrote, produced, and directed the film) is telling the story of children abandoned by their mother to a small apartment in a blisteringly hectic, sprawling Tokyo. He takes his time in doing so. He also refuses to let us breathe, perhaps escape for a moment the grim situation that escalates for the children, who are only somewhat prepared for something they never imagined. We spend two hours and change with a complex series of familial relationships. We also spend that time dealing in such subjects as survival, loyalty, abandonment, and far more than I will cover here. Nobody Knows is the kind of multifaceted masterpiece that delights at the same pace it horrifies. Something disturbing is expressed in a great deal of this movie’s story, which never rushes, or falls into storytelling clichés. The details of what will disturb you within this film are going to be filled by your own emotional responses. One of Nobody Knows’ great triumphs is how that experience will vary wildly from one viewer to the next.
And through all of that, there is the almost-unshakable promise that no matter who you are, something about all of this is going to gnaw at your sense of wellbeing. Nobody Knows tells a truly singular family story.