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Captain Canada's Movie Rodeo
February 2018

Hattie McDaniel 

Hattie McDaniel 

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. 

Probably, they’re going to make a movie about Hattie McDaniel, the first African American to win an Academy Award. Probably, this will be a good thing. Despite the staggering racism, even for the time, of the first African American Oscar winner receiving the distinction for playing a black maid named Mammy in Gone with the Wind, one of the most racist movies of all time, McDaniel was an extraordinary actress. I won’t ask you to watch Gone with the Wind. What I will do is ask you to believe me, when I tell you that in a better world, McDaniel would have won an Oscar for something far worthier of her talents. She spent her relatively short, largely unhappy life trying to break down Hollywood’s monstrous attitudes towards color and gender, which, believe it or not, were even worse during her heyday of the 1930s and 40s, than they are now.

Things seem scarcely better in 2018, as wage gaps, misogynoir, casual sexism, and more continue to dominate that specific industry. Still, I would argue that things were even bleaker, before and after McDaniel won her 1940 Oscar for Gone with the Wind. McDaniel tried her best to use the win as a springboard to a wider range of roles, for herself, and for others. Ultimately, she found herself torn between her need to work, and her desire to use her stature to create better opportunities for people of color in Hollywood. When she died in 1952 at the age of 57, it would be a full twelve years before the second African American Oscar winner came along. She didn’t even live to see Sidney Poitier win for Lilies of the Field, which finally began to break down some of the wretched barriers that were erected alongside the first movie studios in California, at the dawn of the 20th century.

Again, those barriers seem to be persisting in 2018, but we’re not going to delve too much more deeply into that subject. It isn’t something we can casually cover in a column like this.

But the announcement of a McDaniel biopic makes me hope the movie will achieve two things:

  • Emphasize that McDaniel was a powerful screen presence who deserved better, even if she often had no choice but to make career choices that focused on her self-interest, rather than on the larger social issues some accused her of derailing.
  • Emphasize the profound destruction and harm white supremacy has caused to the film industry. This is particularly tragic in a historical context. I will love movies across the entire history of the medium until the day I die. But my enjoyment comes with the heavy price of knowing that white people exploited, ignored, and destroyed decades of potential from artists of color. It’s going on to this day, but it somehow seems worse when you go into the history of film. There are great artists from every decade, and so few of them are not white guys. When I want to look through the best Cary Grant movies of all time, I have a deep library of possibilities to explore. If I want to look through the best Bert Williams movies of all time, I have a smattering of choices that only exist because of the powerful persistence of people like Williams. And generally speaking, those choices are mired in racist caricatures. I can do that with artists of color in the film industry from the birth of the medium, all the way up to roughly the 1960s. Even then, it’s still depressingly difficult to find examples of artists of color who realized their full potential.

Worse yet, much of the history of what performers of color achieved, in spite of the obstacles placed before them, is likely lost forever, neglected by the industry that didn’t want Hattie McDaniel around in the first place. Remember, The Ambassador Hotel, which hosted the Oscars in those days, was a segregated hotel. They barely made an exception for McDaniel.

This is a significant part of the history of people in color in Hollywood. Luckily, through the hard work of others, at least some history that showcases the amazing talents of marginalized peoples in American film, has been preserved. Those examples can be riveting, but they also remind me again and again that the damage caused by white men and women is legion. Examples can be found in literally every aspect of American history and society.

I love film, and I retain an obsession with movie history, so those examples are the ones I find myself thinking about the most often.

I know I’m asking for a lot from this possible Hattie McDaniel biopic. I just understand that the debt owed by whites, particularly here in the U.S., to people of color is profound. Even if we just focus on the history of film, white people can never restore what was taken away from people who just wanted to create, tell stories, build worlds, and inspire. A movie about someone like Hattie McDaniel, if it is done correctly, can at least acknowledge this debt, without going into something as asinine as blunt, useless white guilt.

Acknowledgement of the damage white people have done is a start. Unfortunately, we can’t even seem to get that off the ground. Then there’s the gall to be shocked when people of color reply that they could give a shit if we acknowledge it or not. They’ve moved on, and their commitment to building a history built on the spaces they have seized and nurtured for themselves gives me a measure of hope.

At the same time, unhappily, that hope is tinged with a steady sadness over what could have been. To be honest, I say that from a certain perspective of selfishness. Think of all the movies that could have been made in a more welcoming social climate. Imagine where film as a medium would be, if everyone had gotten a fair shake from the start.

How can you not be at least a little depressed by such thoughts?


Paddington 2 (2018): A+

Image © Studio Canal 

Image © Studio Canal 

I expected to enjoy Paddington 2, provided the movie wasn’t undone by some horrible, unnecessary need to up the ante. The great thing about Paddington is that we’re talking about a character and a story that’s pretty hard to screw up, provided everyone involved knew to respect and adhere to the spirit and humor of Michael Bond’s source books. When I saw a trailer, I took away the perception that in terms of my suspicions about the movie, I was probably safe.

So yeah, I expected to enjoy Paddington 2.

I just didn’t think it was going to be the first perfect movie of 2018. Generally speaking, I don’t usually approach January with those sorts of expectations. I’m usually just trying to delude myself into thinking that a new year can mean a fresh start. Aren’t we all?

Paddington 2 isn’t just a good film, something that honestly will appeal to people of virtually all ages and tastes. It is also vastly superior to the 2014 film, which was also very good. You don’t even really need to see the first film, or read the children’s books, to get a handle on the plot. Having settled in with the Brown family (Jesus Christ, guys, Sally Hawkins just can’t be stopped these days) in London, Peru import Paddington has another adventure. It involves an antique book, a vain, unhappy actor (Hugh Grant, who is a little too good at tapping into that kind of thing), a shockingly whimsical stint in prison (which features one of the most pleasing Brendan Gleeson performances in recent memory), and a bunch of other stuff. The story is not revolutionary. It is astonishingly well-told though, and it is presented with such surprising warmth and cheerfulness that it feels like a truly original piece of filmmaking.

Yeah, that is indeed a very tall order for a movie. Certainly, a lot for a sequel to a family friendly film about a bear that talks, gets into repeated accidents, and loves the HELL out of marmalade. Yet here we are. Paddington 2 hits every single mark you would want from a movie that you just want to enjoy for what it is. Even if the bar for January movies wasn’t so very, very low, this movie would still be a standout for 2018.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970): B+

Image © Warner-Pathé 

Image © Warner-Pathé 

If we’re being honest, I’m a very, very casual James Bond. It borderlines flat-out disliking the films, but I can still enjoy the best examples of the series. For me personally, none of those examples include Roger Moore, who played Bond several times. Sorry, guys. I’m 32, so it’s entirely possible that I might feel differently, if he had been the Bond of my childhood.

And without Bond, there isn’t a lot for me to care about with Moore. I watched The Man Who Haunted Himself in spite of all that. Regardless the cast, I can definitely get behind the story of a man (Moore) whose car accident leaves him with the growing, insane suspicion that a doppelgänger is taking over his life.

Moore himself said that his work here was some of the best of his career. I agree with him, and not even in a condescending way. Moore is so good here, as the charming, slightly edgy businessman who is ill-prepared for the madness that leaves the operating table by his side, I almost want to revisit his Bond movies. Of course, this is a terrible idea. I won’t. But Moore’s descent is so understated, nuanced, and then off-the-rails-into-outer-space crazy, towards the end of the film, I walked away from this movie with a much higher regard for his acting. That is one reason to keep watching. The other would be director Basil Dearden’s masterful attention to suspension on a shoe-string budget.

Cherry 2000 (1987): C+

Image © Orion Pictures 

Image © Orion Pictures 

A cult favorite for many years, director Steve De Jarnatt’s Cherry 2000 (from a screenplay by Michael Almereyda), Cherry 2000 is finding renewed interest through this whole thing we’re apparently doing with cyberpunk’s comeback. Part of that comeback is just the fact that there is something about the aesthetics that will always, always engage us. The other part is an inevitable outcome to all of this shit that’s going on with technology. Cherry 2000, if you catch it in just the right mood, can strike you in some ways as being eerily accurate in its depiction of a hardened, technology-driven society.

Keep in mind that Cherry 2000 is set in 2017. We just barely made it through that nonsense ourselves, so that might be some of the recent interest in this somewhat-dated-vision-of-the-future, somewhat- convoluted story of a dude (Sam Treadwell) who hires a tracker (Melanie Griffith) to take him to a replacement for his robot sex slave (Pamela Gidley). The movie’s points about the fractured state of the country, our relationship to human and other concepts of sexuality, and more are pretty straightforward. Honestly, I don’t know how much of it is truly inspired by that, and how much of it is just “Hey, let’s do a grittier blade runner with Melanie Griffith as a badass post-apocalyptic warrior.”

Honestly, it doesn’t really matter if the movie is sincere, or if it just wants to be a flashy, visually-unique theme park ride into a hell that sounds plausible enough these days. It’s a fun ride, and the performances contribute to that nicely. Sometimes, it really is that simple.

Tokyo-Ga (1985): A+

tokyo ga.jpg

If you’re a fan of iconic Yasujirō Ozu’s intensely low-key masterpieces about the challenges of finding a place for tradition, modern needs and desires, and family in varying periods of modern-day Japan, then your relationship to his work is likely a little complex. The movies themselves are enjoyable for their performances, for Ozu’s unique, frequently snail’s pace, and for other reasons. However, the depth of the films inevitably draws us to thoughts about other things from our lives. Certainly, our own relationships to our families is one of those things.

Wim Wenders, who has made several incredible films of his own, explores his own relationship to Ozu, while also exploring the relevancy of his work in what was late-20th century society at that point. Wenders provides a focused narrative for a documentary that gently strays from the main point of discussing Ozu on several occasions. It never feels jarring, but rather like a natural progression of what can happen when you take your value of an artist’s work, and apply it to broader subjects. The fact that Wim Wenders is also the director of such beautiful, perfect films as Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire adds another level to your enjoyment of this gentle, affecting experience. The interview with Ozu collaborator and cinematographer Yuharu Atsuta is the only exception to the tone of this film. It is an emotionally devastating conversation with someone who not only misses a director who brought out the best in him, but also, a dear, beloved friend, who left the world much too soon.

Bright (2017): F

Image © Netflix 

Image © Netflix 

Is Netflix really going to make another one of these?


Christ. Kill me.

My review of this movie is pretty much every bad review of this movie. I learned that after trying to explain my experience with the Joel Edgerton/Will Smith Netflix Original. So this will have to suffice, if you really want to know what I thought of Bright.

I think all of the above is the best I’m going to do. I just can’t respond to a movie that makes me feel so depressed afterwards, and depressed for so many reasons. I can’t.


Gabriel Ricard writes, edits, and occasionally acts. He is a columnist with Drunk Monkeys and Cultured Vultures. His books Bondage Night and Clouds of Hungry Dogs are available at and through their respective publishers. He is also a writer and performer with Belligerent Prom Queen Productions. He lives on Long Island.