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.
“You’ve seen The Hospital?”
This was a small conversation I had the other day. The guy I was talking to, probably in his mid-30s, scoffed. “Of course I’ve seen The Hospital.”
Not of course. Fuck you. I can count on both hands the number of people I’ve met who have seen that movie, and I’d probably still have a few fingers left.
For me, there is no significant joy in being a member in good standing of a movie fan club whose membership numbers are somewhere in the low double digit range. At least, there is nothing I derive from liking a movie that’s obscure or forgotten that I would call pleasure. I don’t know about you, but when I come across a movie, TV show, album, or whatever the case may be that I really enjoy, I want to tell people about it. The Hospital is a good example of this thought. Despite the presence of an Oscar-winning actor (George C. Scott) and screenwriter (Paddy Chayefsky,) the 40+-year-old film is not remembered by very many people. It probably doesn’t help that a good chunk of the movie’s original audience is now dead.
Still, it’s an amazing dark comedy. I always recommend it for the performances (especially Diana Rigg, who is pretty much great in everything), the dialog, and for the brutal condemnation of the American medical establishment. It was a bleak mess forty years ago, and things are scarcely better. When things do take a turn, however slight, for the better (Obamacare), something comes along to fuck it over (the GOP). The Hospital was aware of these circumstances several decades ago, and the movie’s tone is one of mildly courageous cynicism. What else can you do? Fight? Throughout the film, we see protestors try to make sense of their surroundings. We watch them struggle to be heard. We watch them collapse under the weight of the rest of society. Under the weight of their inability to sift through the chaos of their movement, they scarcely have a prayer. This is something that goes on around the movie’s main thread of an alcoholic doctor struggling to keep his sanity, but it’s a societal comment that is consistently uttered by the screenplay throughout. For me, The Hospital is one of the strongest, most enduring social commentary/dark comedy films of all time.
And yet very few people have seen it. Even taking into account the fact that a large number of people turn up their nose at anything that wasn’t released in their dim lifetime, this movie still doesn’t have a lot of champions. There are literally thousands of movies like that. I have a few favorites that qualify. The Hospital was just one that occurred to me the other day, as I was watching it for the first time in a couple of years.
What are yours? Name a movie that you love, which no one else in your various social circles seems to remember. Someone mentioned The Slums of Beverly Hills to me the other day. That’s a good one. It’s currently on Netflix. It’s one of the best dysfunctional family movies ever made.
The Watermelon Woman would be another. I keep waiting for that movie to find a new audience in these supposedly enlightened times of ours, but no dice.
Ghost in the Shell (2017): C-
My actual awareness of this thing called Anime began with Ghost in the Shell. I saw it in 1997. I had seen Anime before that, including Akira, but the 1995 animated version of Ghost in the Shell was the first time someone told me what I was watching. I was naturally enthralled. It doesn’t hurt that the original feature-length film from director Mamoru Oshii offers one of the most frantic, intense openings in the history of animation. Essentially, the film started me on a mild obsession with Anime, which more or less continues to this day.
The original Ghost in the Shell offers distinct cyberpunk-fused visuals, a strong story, and a compelling cast of characters. If someone wanted to make a live action adaptation, the blueprint is certainly there. When everyone got together to make this $110 million spectacular, they clearly paid attention to the visuals. Nearly every scene in the 2017 Ghost in the Shell is aesthetically thrilling. From the film’s faithful recreation of the animated original’s more memorable scenes and moments, to the remarkable achievement of creating the most elaborate cyberpunk metropolis ever put to film, the atmosphere and design of this movie are flawless. If you care about nothing else beyond these elements, you’ll have a great time.
It’s when we start to look at the rest of the movie that things begin to disintegrate. As far as the casting of Scarlett Johansson as a character who was originally Japanese is concerned, you can make your own judgments as to whether or not that is acceptable. It is true that both the publisher and creator of Ghost in the Shell have each made it clear that they aren’t particularly concerned about the issue. It is also true that whitewashing continues to be a deeply prevalent practice with Hollywood films. Asian actors working in the industry are struggling still to find roles that aren’t steeped in stereotypes. Ghost in the Shell could have been a major win for those who desire better representation. It would have been a win for children who rarely see themselves in heroes, or as the lead of a massive blockbuster.
Instead, the lead role went to an actress who happens to be phenomenally talented in a range of roles, including action movies. Johansson is sufficient as Major Mira Killian/Motoko Kusanagi. It doesn’t really matter that she is. You can easily make the case that Johansson didn’t need this role. No Caucasian actor does. This isn’t the movie’s only flaw, but it’s one that may prove difficult to ignore. Better casting may not have made a difference at the box office, but it might have given the film a more satisfying tone.
From poor casting, the rest of the movie is a consistent disappointment. Looking past the visuals, you’re left with a rambling attempt at creating a unique, fresh take on a legendary story. Director Rupert Sanders, with only one feature under his belt, was a poor choice to bring all of these elements together. It isn’t entirely his fault. His plodding direction has to contend with a lackluster, unimaginative script. Wait until you get to the part where the movie tries to explain why a white woman is playing a character who was originally Japanese.
Ghost in the Shell is lazy and arrogant filmmaking. It almost feels like everyone involved thought that between casting an established action movie heroine, and the gorgeous imagery, everything else would fall into place. It doesn’t. When you’re done with that imagery, and when you get past an excellent, highly welcomed performance from the iconic Beat Takeshi, there isn’t a lot to recommend. Ghost in the Shell is watchable. It is also one of the most disappointing comic adaptations of all time.
Rubin And Ed (1991): B+
At this point, if Trent Harris’ Rubin and Ed is remembered for anything, it’s for Crispin Glover’s infamous Late Night with David Letterman appearance in 1997, as the character he played in this film. Except for the fact that Glover neglected to tell anyone about this decision, and for the fact that Rubin and Ed had not even been released at that point, it went over really well.
Watch the YouTube video. I’ll wait.
Eventually, the movie came out to little attention in 1991. Chaotic and cartoonish, Rubin and Ed is a disjointed road movie. It is the story of a partnership between two very different men. Howard Hesseman (WKRP in Cincinatti) is a failing, obnoxiously optimistic businessman. Crispin Glover is a reclusive, socially inept weirdo. Their paths eventually cross in a story that loves and tortures these distraught characters in equal measures. Your ability to enjoy this story hangs on whether or not you like these people. Barring that, you may just want to see what happens to them. Either way, Rubin and Ed is strange fun. It offers good performances from both Glover and Hesseman. The tone, as well as the film’s depiction of the odd circumstances that sometimes create a friendship, aren’t for everybody. Those who do appreciate this type of insanity will know they’re in for something good almost immediately.
Bigger Than Life (1956): A-
Nicholas Ray’s 1956 classic with James Mason, Walter Matthau, and Barbara Rush is a lot of things. The main thread is a relentless attack on prescription drug abuse and medical malpractice. On this front, things get a little heavy-handed, but only occasionally, and never for more than a moment. Bigger Than Life still offers a surprisingly sharp, contemporary bite in this regard, as well. The widescreen cinematography, manic energy, and Mason’s psychotic performance all help Bigger Than Life’s 1956 perspective remain relevant, engaging in the 2010s. Best remembered as a man who could deliver a line with palpable droll disdain, James Mason could also be enormously entertaining as a bug-eyed madman. He makes the most of the opportunity to play one here. His performance is still the centerpiece of this movie. He chews scenery with giddy abandon, but it’s never overwrought. Most of the moments created through his approach are terrifying.
There are additional threads to Bigger Than Life that are well worth keeping in mind. They are there if you want to delve deeper. Is the movie an attack on consumerism? Is the whole thing a haymaker against toxic masculinity, suburbia, and repressive gender roles? It may add to your enjoyment of the film to consider the larger social climate of America in the mid-1950s. It might even be fun to see how much (or little, depending on your perspective) has changed since then.
Girlfriend’s Day (2017): B-
Beyond Better Call Saul and Mr. Show, several Bob Odenkirk supporting performances are worth a look. Girlfriend’s Day (which he also co-wrote) gives him the rare opportunity to be the lead. Girlfriend Day’s world consists of a pervasive noir atmosphere, love as a near-depleted resource, and a constant parade of bizarre characters and circumstances that are always seen with dry, slightly cynical humor. Ray is the best we can do for a hero in a time and place like this. Odenkirk is quite frankly brilliant at playing people who aren’t completely aware of how the world sees them. Girlfriend’s Day provides him with the chance to play someone who is only too painfully aware of how invisible he has become. Ray is a sad sack, but Odenkirk deftly keeps him from being too pathetic.
The dry noir comedy stylings of Girlfriend’s Day aren’t for everyone. Ray’s motivation to continue living at all becomes muddled at times, as well. Still, it’s a dark comedy that uniquely satisfies both of those genres. The movie also succeeds by offering a believable glimmer of hope at the end. The third act sustains itself, and the conclusion actually makes sense. These are rare traits in comedies that endeavor to do more than try to appeal to everyone simultaneously.
The Rainbow Thief (1990): C-
By no means Alejandro Jodorowsky’s best film, The Rainbow Thief nonetheless stands as a savage, unpredictable, and somewhat flawed charmer. No one in their right mind would start someone’s education with this filmmaker here. Jodorowsky hated the film so much (which included significant problems with co-star Peter O’Toole), he disowned it.
Keeping all of this in mind, I still kind of like this strange bastard of a movie. There is only a thin story of a thief (Jodorowsky) trying to survive long enough for the alleged inheritance of a deranged friend (O’Toole) to kick in. That’s not a lot to sustain eighty-seven minutes of misery, surrealism, and bedlam, but Jodorowsky has done more with less before. Here, his performance as Dima is something that he certainly shouldn’t be ashamed of. More often than not, his characterization of Dima, often along the lines of a Charlie-Chaplin-Tramp-On-Acid, is one of the strongest reasons to stay with this movie. His hilariously tragic misadventures are another. The bizarre, slightly touching relationship his character shares to O’Toole’s is a one more thing that keeps this movie from imploding.
Ultimately, The Rainbow Thief fails to live up to its great opening. This involves a millionaire (Christopher Lee, in one of the strangest performances of his career) treating his family like shit, treating his dogs like honored guests, partying it up with a bunch of prostitutes, and finally suffering a heart attack. The rest of the movie doesn’t quite recover from something so effortlessly memorable. If you get through that opening, and you’re still interested, you’ll find something that’s more entertaining as an oddity than anything else. As oddities go, you can certainly do a lot worse. The Rainbow Thief manages to be fascinating for the most part, even when it isn’t very good