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Captain Canada's Movie Rodeo / December 2018

 Image by Nathan Alan Schwartz

Image by Nathan Alan Schwartz

It’s December, so hopefully the assault of holiday bullshit hasn’t sent you into some sort of tequila-flavored tequila and clubhouse sandwich bender. If you’re like me, you survive this last month of the wretched year by pretending Christmas isn’t 99.9% responsible for this garbage. You also watch movies that either idealize the holidays or shred them with knives worthy of such an unstoppable evil.

Know what’s weird? I’m sure this has been mentioned in Captain Canada’s Movie Rodeo before, but I love Christmas movies. I do. I even love the ones that make it seem like everything will be okay, if we can all just focus on the true meaning of Christmas. It’s like being James Caan’s character in Elf, but also being secretly delighted that you’re in that story in the first place.

Christmas, or the holidays in general, are a lot like people. The concept is more appealing than the actual execution of it by actual stupid people.

Another weird thing? I’m definitely not alone on this Christmas movie thing. My wife is the same way. A lot of my friends have a long list of Christmas/holiday movies, despite their sincere feelings strongly indicating they wouldn’t. I suppose it’s just the idea of wanting to believe something really is as good as it claims to be. Movies can explore anything. Most of us are particularly drawn to best-case scenarios for absolutely hopeless concepts.

What are some of your favorite Christmas movies? Which ones take you away from the crap show of your ongoing reality? Let me know on Twitter, or wherever you feel the sudden urge to talk to me.

The Mule (2018): B+

 Image: Warner Bros.

Image: Warner Bros.

Despite his confusing, contradictory politics, I can’t help but continue to be fascinated by the films directed by Clint Eastwood. A lot of them (the man remains prolific) have become laughably ponderous. Others are highlighted by moments so inept, the entire movie falls behind it (yes, I’m referring to American Sniper). Reviews are starting to reflect these things. Eastwood seems genuinely unconcerned, which I have to give him credit for. He simply moves on to another project. Sooner or later, people who work like that get another one that’s pretty good. This brings us to The Mule, which has an alarmingly-spry-yet-oddly-and-seemingly-so-close-to-the-cold-grave Eastwood directing himself as a Second World War veteran who has become a dealer and courier for a cartel.

Yes, you obviously get to watch Eastwood fail to downplay the politics of such a story enough to have The Mule stand as a character study. The thing is, he doesn’t fail at it as spectacularly as you might expect. Eastwood can make genre films with the best of them. The Mule is generally too focused on dialog and building pressure as Eastwood’s desperate old man runs out of options to really dig into politics. For most, The Mule is whatever you want to take it as. This vagueness has become a problem of Eastwood’s, but it’s not a big problem here. The story and characters are more than enough to carry this.

Rebels of the Neon God (1992): A+

 Image: Central Motion Pictures

Image: Central Motion Pictures

In the last few weeks of existence for FilmStruck, I burned through as much of their catalog as possible. Obviously, a lot of those movies are things that should be seen more than once to be truly appreciated. Nonetheless, thanks to a restless career, I got through a lot. That will almost certainly be reflected in this column and in others.

I’m not going to lie to you: I really haven’t missed fervently keeping up with new movies that much.

Rebels of the Neon God is one of the treasures I came across. If I were to ever make a list of the best FilmStruck movies, this one would be somewhere in the top 5. Written and directed by Tsai Ming-liang, Rebels is a sprawling, careful story of two young boys. Their stories weave in and around one another, as they are both from roughly the same party of Taipei. Their lives are a sprawl of worn-down apartment buildings, malls, and video arcades (the aesthetics of this movie are very fucking popular right now). One (Lee Kang-sheng) is a petty thief with nothing but dry ambition. The other (Chen Chao-jung) is a loner sinking fast in isolation. Much of the movie keeps their lives separate. We simply move back and forth across very different-yet-relatable forms of estrangement from a chaotic society. If the stories connected, it would honestly still be pretty good.

Yet the stories do collide. The ways in which this happens are what makes Rebels of the Neon God so absolutely perfect and unlike anything I’ve seen in quite some time.

Sorry to Bother You (2018): B+

 Image: Annapurna Pictures

Image: Annapurna Pictures

Goddamn you, let me have my Halloween leftovers. I don’t know how you feel about 2018 in horror. I feel pretty good about it on the whole. While Sorry to Bother You, a powerhouse of a debut from writer-director Boots Riley, is not strictly a horror film. It has elements of dark satire, as well as some heavy doses of dystopian science fiction (well, fictionish…). I would still argue that in a lot of ways, Sorry to Bother You is very much a horror movie. Lakeith Stanfield, amazing as Cassius “Cash” Green, is definitely trapped in an overt and delirious nightmare of a world.

Even when his fortunes change, as he discovers his “white voice” (absolute perfection from David Cross) while trying to make the best of a miserable telemarketer gig, the world is still pretty fucking awful. His artist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson, adding another brilliant performance to a resume overwhelmed with them) knows the world sucks, and takes sincere steps to change it for the better. All of his longtime loved ones do. Cash responds with frustration and somewhat-understandable greed, which takes him deeper into the endless conglomerate that is poised to control most of the world.

Eventually, of course, Cash wakes up. I just can’t tell you anything else beyond that. Well, I can at least promise you that when the story takes a shift, you will almost certainly be on board for it. This isn’t a strict horror movie, but it covers a lot of the same beats. I also finally saw it about a week ago. November is a good month for horror, as well as horror that offers an overwhelming mirror of our own world.

Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell (1968): C-

 Image: Shochiku

Image: Shochiku

In the last few weeks of all-things-FilmStruck, this is the only thing that has come close to being a disappointment. I suppose I hoped for better claustrophobia and performances from this low budget alien invasion story, directed by Hajime Sato. What we get is something dull enough to feel like it goes on for much longer than eighty-four minutes. Not a single performance stands out, although Teruo Yoshida certainly tries to be a hero we can get behind. He succeeds, particularly as the movie starts narrowing the odds for the survivors. That shifts the pace into something a bit more engaging, and there are certainly some memorable moments on the makeup side of things. Still, you just expect more from a title as good as this one.





Hyenas (1992): B+

 Image: California Newsreel Productions

Image: California Newsreel Productions

This Senegalese satire, directed by Djibril Diop Mambéty, is apparently based on a Swiss-German play called The Visit. I didn’t know that going in. I still really haven’t bothered to learn about it. Nothing against the source material, but it’s hard to imagine I’ll enjoy any other version of this story more than I did with Hyenas. This version is hilarious from start to finish, features pitch-perfect performances (particular Ami Diakhate, as the old millionaire who pays her crumbling hometown a visit), and has a lot to say about desperate people.

You can say that desperation can be found in much of this story. I don’t think anyone would argue with that. A lot of that desperation is funny, but there are examples that are universal in their ability to remind us of how ugly people can sometimes become. Hyenas as a title is almost certainly a play on the story. The only knock I can really give this movie is the fact that the conclusion didn’t quite didn’t quite live up to the pace, and to the way this ensemble cast moved towards some sort of resolution. Perhaps, my expectations rose too high. Everything up to the last few minutes of Hyenas is to be treasured. The ending, while flawed, really isn’t that bad.


Gabriel Ricard writes, edits, and occasionally acts. His books Love and Quarters and Bondage Night are available through Moran Press, in addition to A Ludicrous Split (Alien Buddha Press) and Clouds of Hungry Dogs (Kleft Jaw Press). He is also a writer, performer, and producer with Belligerent Prom Queen Productions. He lives on a horrible place called Long Island.