page contents

FILM
Captain Canada's Movie Rodeo
March 2018

 Image © AMPAS 

Image © AMPAS 

Oh boy, let’s talk about 2018 Oscars! At the time this column will be released, the Oscars will have either just occurred, or we’re going to be a couple of days away from Hollywood’s big night to celebrate itself. Since I have to turn in each column by the 25th of the previous month, I obviously can’t share my opinions on the 90th Annual Academy Awards. If something interesting, we’ll have to get to it next month.

God help us, and please give me something else to talk about by then.

Obviously, the instinctual response to any given Oscar ceremony is to say “What in god’s name could they possibly have to celebrate?” That’s a fair question. It’s a little snarky, but it’s still a very fair fucking question.

Technically, the Oscars celebrate films, and the people involved in making them. It’s kind of a weird crapshoot though. We’ve also all pretty much come to expect that we are talking about Hollywood politics of the highest order, when we talk about the Academy Awards.

But really, the Oscars are designed to celebrate a concept of an artistic community. The art in of itself is often less important than the message the Academy wants to put out for itself. Keeping this in mind can make it hard to enjoy, or even give a single giddy shit about, the Oscars. However, that doesn’t mean the show isn’t without some merit. As always, it comes down to how much you are willing to pretend these awards are actually important. Personally, my interest wavers from one year to the next. It generally depends on the nominees, and my opinions of them. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve also added a rule that says I have to at least be able to tell the nominees apart. That is particularly true when we talk about actors, actresses, directors, and the films themselves.

This year, I guess you would describe my mood as “Less than completely, alarmingly cynical.” I can sincerely say I liked most of the movies that are up for Best Picture this year. The Oscar bait examples are clear (although The Post is pretty enjoyable for what it is). At the same time, I’m encouraged by the abundance of dark horse/unexpected contenders. Despite its massive success on every imaginable level, I didn’t think Get Out was going to get a Best Picture nomination. I didn’t expect to see The Shape of Water or Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri make the list either. What I suppose pleases me about the range of nominees is the fact that some of those unlikely contenders have a pretty good chance of winning.

The same can be said for the rest of the nominations. I am genuinely pleased to see Willem Dafoe, Frances McDormand, Octavia Spencer, Laurie Metcalf, and Daniel Kaluuya receive nominations for what will surely be high points of brilliance in their respective careers. There is a good range of actors and performances here, although it is nonetheless a flawed range at the end of the day.

No, the choices aren’t perfect. I have a hard time believing that the majority of the best performances of the past year came from white people. Yet that is once again the majority of the nominees. Casting needs to do better. The Academy needs to do better, if they want these awards to be more than a vaguely incestuous pat on the back. That is obviously a topic unto itself. We’ve covered it here at Captain Canada’s Movie Rodeo before.

We’ve discussed the Oscars before, as well. I’m not going to check past columns, but I hope this one is slightly different from the other times I’ve discussed/bitched about the Academy Awards. If you need something to do, check some past issues, and get back to me.

Anyone who feels that I’m just repeating myself will be entitled to a full refund. If you have no idea what that means, don’t worry about it.

Also, Lady Bird was a lovely film, but Jesus Christ, I really hope it doesn’t sweep Oscar night.

REVIEWS

Black Panther (2018): A+

 Image © Marvel 

Image © Marvel 

Is anyone actually surprised that Marvel’s latest is a spectacular, essential achievement in every possible way? I get that this is a piece of blockbuster from a company that will eventually, probably own the world (or just Amazon.com). Still, Disney and Marvel alike should be commended alike for trusting Ryan Coogler to do something singular and beautiful with one of Marvel’s most compelling characters. While Black Panther is very much another piece of this ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, it falls in line beautifully, and flawlessly, with the best M.C.U. movies. Meaning that while this is another win for Marvel, it is also ultimately a win for epic, unique visuals and storytelling.

Black Panther also finds time for great, complex performances. Only a cynic would whine about the film’s Hamlet/Lion King echoes. Coogler and the rest of those responsible for this masterpiece of the comic book movie genre should be commended for using performances, coupled with Coogler’s distinctive passion for engaging storytelling, to do something that is more than just a similar heartbeat to an older story. Chadwick Boseman, frequent Coogler collaborator Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Martin Freeman, and Danai Gurira are just a few of those performances that I’m talking about. Honestly, I can’t think of a single thing to criticize about this movie. It is miles above the formidable hype Marvel threw behind it.

Perhaps, the best part of this movie? Ryan Coogler is only 31 years old, as of this writing. Black Panther is only his third film. My imagination is too small to envision how he will top this, but I know he will.

Sweet Smell of Success (1957): A+

 Image © United Artists 

Image © United Artists 

I don’t know why it took me so long to see this. If anything, I guess it’s because I’ve never been a really big fan of either Tony Curtis or Burt Lancaster. I’ve enjoyed at least some of their more iconic performances. At the same time, neither has ever resonated with me, in the way other leading men of that era (Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum) do.

Still, I understand why this movie is a classic. I also have to admit that both Curtis (as a conniving, ambitious press agent in New York City) and Lancaster (as a powerful, dangerous, and deeply disturbed columnist) give two of the best performances of anything you will find in this decade. Beyond presenting New York City as a nightmare of concrete and sweating masses of hateful, energetic humanity, Sweet Smell of Success is an intense character study. I like that director Alexander Mackendrick, along with writers Ernest Lehman (from his novelette) and Clifford Odets, made the conscious decision to keep all of these sick, sad people beyond redemption. We empathize with the horror and survival instincts of Susan Hunsecker (Susan Harrison, playing the unhealthy sister of Lancaster’s J.J. Hunsecker), but we ultimately don’t really root for anyone. The love story that runs through this movie is fine, but we know better than to imagine the happy couple will survive in the long run. The only people in this world who survive are the ones who get out of the city. Or the ones who run things. Not the ones who think they run things, and that is one of the more extraordinary elements to Lancaster’s performance. Tony Curtis also deserves credit for going full-tilt into his efforts to break from his lovable romantic lead status.

Maidstone (1970): D+

 Image © Supreme Mix Company 

Image © Supreme Mix Company 

If it weren’t for Rip Torn, and rambling conversations that occasionally pull a glimmer of interest from the viewer, Maidstone would be the most embarrassing chapter in the long, overblown life and work of Norman Mailer. I’m not disputing whether or not Mailer wrote some good books in his lifetime. He did. I just also find most of his output to be the insufferable ramblings of a blowhard, who was barely a hollow imitation of Ernest Hemmingway in both his personal and private life. Maidstone is a great depiction of that, so you may be able to sit through this tedious story of a U.S. presidential candidate/filmmaker (played by Mailer), who allows for his chaotic, pretentious life to be the subject of a free-forming documentary. I barely made it through this. The only thing that really kept me going was the promise of seeing the infamous Rip-Torn-tried-to-murder-Mailer-with-a-fucking-hammer scene.

If nothing else, that scene delivers the goods. You do indeed get to experience the sights and sounds of Torn smacking Mailer in the head with a hammer (pretty hard, too), and then wrestling with him to the ground. Torn not only wins the exchange, but displays Mailer as nothing more than an aging hack with no control over his life. That scene is worth watching on its own. Furthermore, despite the agony that is watching this film from start to finish, Maidstone offers one of the best Rip Torn performances of all time. That goes beyond the moment, close to the end of this mess, in which Torn does to Mailer what I suspect many, many others wish they had done, at one point or another in Mailer’s long life.

Zouzou (1934): A-

 Image © Corona Films 

Image © Corona Films 

With a production period that currently stretches back more than eighty-three years, the iconic film starring the equally-iconic Josephine Baker can’t help but creak a little. Unless you watch silent films, this is likely to be one of the oldest films that you have ever seen. Yet Baker’s energy and appeal are universal, as well as timeless. They shine beautifully in this story of a haunted love between two circus performers (Baker, in addition to the great Jean Gabin). Baker was the first Black woman to ever star in a major film. It is something of a tragedy that she didn’t do more. She is luminescent in her performance here, combining exceptional abilities with her power as a musical performer. All of this is surrounded by a movie that bursts with charm and lovely energy. This movie deserves a much greater stature than the lofty position it currently holds with lovers of old films, or with those who appreciate the qualities and potential of a classic in the modern age.

Mom and Dad (2018): B-

 Image © Momentum Pictures 

Image © Momentum Pictures 

We kid ol’ Nicolas Cage an awful lot (with good reason). At the end of the day, behind all the memes and crazy, largely affection jokes, you still have a good actor. It just comes down these days to movies that know what to do with someone like Cage. Directed and written by Brian Taylor (who wrote and directed both of the Crank films), Mom and Dad is one of the most genuinely, non-ironically-enjoyable performances Nic has given us in at least a little while. He presents here a phenomenal, uproarious understanding of this movie’s weird, absurdly crazed story. Parents suddenly begin murdering their children en-masse? He’s on board with that. Clearly. He chews scenery with his usual enthusiasm, but the tone of the movie makes that something you would want in the first place. Clearly, Cage can still be a good fit for the right kind of dark comedy. His work here is joined by Selma Blair, who remains so much better than she often gets credit for being. Their children (Anne Winters and Zackary Arthur) are only occasionally annoying, which is an achievement unto itself.


However, if I had to pick one favorite element to Mom and Dad, it would have to be the cameo by the legendary Lance Henriksen. As a hilarious, terrifying threat, Mr. Henriksen hasn’t lost a step. He nicely encapsulates the joyful madness of this film.


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 Amazon.com and through their respective publishers. He is also a writer and performer with Belligerent Prom Queen Productions. He lives on Long Island.