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FILM
Captain Canada's Movie Rodeo
April 2018

 The cast of  The Cloverfield Paradox  (Image © Netflix) 

The cast of The Cloverfield Paradox (Image © Netflix) 

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.

A few weeks back, Katie Rife, one of the best writers at The A.V. Club, wrote a pretty terrific piece about the current rocky relationship between Netflix and cinema. I won’t waste your time by summarizing it, but I would suggest reading it, if you want to stick around for the next 300-500 words of ranty stuff.

Basically, the article makes it clear in no uncertain terms that Netflix ultimately doesn’t really give a shit about movies. They certainly don’t give a shit about films that were not produced/released by their ever-growing in-house movie studio. You can even make a compelling case that short of something like the laughably-pathetic Cloverfield Paradox, Netflix puts most of their marketing muscle behind promoting their original shows. It is difficult to spend any amount of time with Netflix, and not feel as though cinema is getting the shaft. The fact that television/scripted programming is arguably better now than at any other time in recent memory appears to also mean people are watching less movies on average. At the same time, people by and large are still clearly interested in movies. It is just becoming that much more difficult to get everyone excited about films that are not star vehicles (which is a dying concept anyway), or one part of a seemingly endless franchise. Would that change, if Netflix spent more time promoting/offering movies? Maybe. Maybe not.

Still, the fact that Netflix doesn’t seem to really care about movies is a depressing thought. It seems to be gaining more momentum within the company, as well. The offering of non-Netflix Original movies on the streaming giant is pretty pathetic, when taken as a whole. If you love foreign films, or films that were made before, say, 1985, you can pretty much go fuck yourself. Oddly enough, Hulu, which has always been more keenly associated with television, has a selection of films that is arguably better than what you can find on Netflix. Amazon Prime is also providing film lovers with a haven away from the world of entertainment that Netflix is currently trying to shape.

However, both Hulu and Amazon Prime, while fine resources for cinema, ultimately offer a drop in the bucket of what is actually out there. Older/foreign films are still being largely ignored at all of these sites. If you want something along either of those lines, you are going to have a lot more luck with something like Fandor or FilmStruck.

What am I rambling about? I guess I’m hoping that people will remember that if you like movies, and you’re getting a little sick of how Netflix seems to feel about movies, you aren’t screwed. All of those streaming services I mentioned offer alternatives to those who still want to watch films, if only once in a while.

At the risk of sounding like a complete dork, there are also free options for those who can’t/would rather not pay for something like Fandor. You would be fucking amazed at what you can find at your local library. In addition to services that offer streaming content, libraries have more or less taken up the mantle of the largely long-gone video store. It’s not a perfect system, but even the crappy libraries seem to have a decent selection of DVDs and Blu-rays these days.

It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing. Which is just about what Netflix is giving us these days.

REVIEWS 

A Wrinkle in Time (2018): C+

 Image © Disney 

Image © Disney 

A Wrinkle in Time is not the flawless adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle’s groundbreaking, vital 1962 novel that I was hoping it would be. Still, there is more good here than bad, even if the good feels like it is part of a larger film that doesn’t quite bring itself together. A lot of people are calling Ava DuVernay’s biggest film (in terms of scope and budget) to date a mess. I wouldn’t go that far. Unfortunately, there is still something about this movie that feels infuriatingly incomplete. I don’t think that is the fault of the source material.

I also don’t think that it is DuVernay’s fault. I wouldn’t even extend a significant amount of blame to the solid script by Jennifer Lee. I just think that sometimes, for whatever reason, everything just doesn’t quite come together in the way that everyone was hoping. If you were hoping this movie would fail, I sincerely hope you go fuck yourself in hell.

To be sure, the movie is the visual wonder I was hoping for. Those visuals never really stop being extraordinary either. A Wrinkle in Time also benefits from a wonderful, diverse cast, which includes Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Oprah Winfrey, and Chris Pine. Storm Reid as Meg Murry would be at the top of that list. She is confident, clever, and a wonderful hero for children of all ages. Ava DuVernay clearly tries to combine the visual wonder with grounded, believable performances---Even when we are dealing with some pretty remarkable beings. Again, all of this ambition eventually collapses, and never really seems to settle on what kind of movie it wants to be. Nonetheless, kids will almost certainly love this film from top to bottom. Adults may have a slightly rougher go of it, but I would encourage you to focus on the film’s finer qualities. Fans of the book will either be disappointed, or they will at least appreciate the profound effort made by DuVernay and others to do right by this iconic fantasy material.

If you’re like me, you will probably embrace both of those reactions.

 

A King in New York (1957): B+

 Image © Archway Film  Distributors 

Image © Archway Film  Distributors 

Confession time, assuming I haven’t confessed this in Captain Canada already: I’m not what you would call a Charlie Chaplin fan. I like a lot of his work, particularly the brilliant Modern Times, but I also find it hard to escape the notion that he might be a teensy bit overrated. Worse yet, his fan base, consisting largely of alleged scholars and obnoxiously earnest film buffs, makes it nearly impossible to discuss Chaplin and his work seriously. I hate to be the one to break this to you, if you resemble these remarks, but no one should actually occupy a pedestal, when we’re talking about artists.

Still, I will never dispute Chaplin’s brilliance, or the fact that he was an early pioneer of the notion that comedy could be deathly serious or melancholy. A King in New York, which he also wrote, produced, and directed, would prove to be his last leading role. The story of an exiled king’s first foray into America offers a veteran of comedy in what would arguably be his last truly great film. A King in New York doesn’t have the same weight in its social commentary as The Great Dictator, but there is some potent, relevant digs at contemporary American culture to be found. On the other end of things, if you just want some comedy, Chaplin will likely meet those needs here. Even in his 50s, Chaplin was still a powerhouse of timing and flexible charisma. That drives this film more than anything. A King in New York reminds me that a good deal of the praise Chaplin has received through the years, at least in the specific terms of his work, is more or less well-deserved.

 

Konga (1961): C+

 Image © American International Pictures 

Image © American International Pictures 

I wasn’t alive when this very low-budget King Kong rip-off starring Michael Gough (the best Alfred Pennyworth ever---piss off, Caine) was released. Nonetheless, I have a feeling that audiences knew they were sitting through some pretty ridiculous shit, even in the long-gone days of the early 1960s. Konga is not a great movie, but as silly horror movies go, it is likely to be one of the most enjoyable you’ve seen in recent memory.

Everything about Konga is absurd, and difficult to comprehend on such an astonishingly low budget, but this is one of those movies where understanding that is part of the fun. Part of the enjoyment with this film will come from an ironic place. I never really like that, but the thought is tempered by the fact that Michael Gough gives one of the best performances of his career here. Even as the plot descends into absolute madness, he remains deeply committed to his character. There is an attention to craft here that makes the movie a little more appealing than it would be otherwise.

Beyond that, Konga should also be seen for its special effects. Like almost everything else in this movie, they aren’t great, but their silliness and weirdness are so charming, you will enjoy them for reasons other than quality. They just don’t make bad movies like this anymore.

 

Where is the Friend’s Home? (1987): A+

I wish I could have seen this wonderful Iranian film from writer/director Abbas Kiarostami as a child. There is an enduring appeal with this film by those who had that opportunity. Still, there is something about the charm and weight of this seemingly simple story, in which a child (Babek Ahmedpour) who tries to reunite his friend with their homework, or they will be expelled from school. I have to imagine those qualities can grab you at any age. You just have to be prepared for a movie watching experience that emphasizes the power of a pace that knows it is being gentle, almost congenial, for a reason.

Where is the Friend’s Home is more than just a peak into Iranian life at that point in time. It offers that benefit in abundance, but the story of childhood friendships, and the courage that drives us to do right by our friends, something a lot of us lose as we get older, is something that should appeal to virtually anyone.

In other words, even if you don’t particularly care about looking into Iranian life (which is dumb, because you should always be game to learn about other cultures), you can still appreciate and relate to a story that is largely told through the fearful, curious eyes of a child.

 

Goodbye, Christopher Robin (2017): C-

 Image © Fox Searchlight Pictures 

Image © Fox Searchlight Pictures 

With Disney preparing to roll out a movie about the fictional Christopher Robin (to be played by Ewan McGregor) in 2018, visiting this movie can be a little on the brutal side of things. This is particularly true, if you don’t know a lot about the background behind one of the most important children’s books of the 20th century. Goodbye, Christopher Robin doesn’t really talk about Disney at any particular length. The film instead focuses on the rise of A.A. Milne as a children’s author, which led to a fractured, ultimately devastated relationship with his son, the real Christopher Robin.

If you already know Milne’s unhappy story, then this movie isn’t going to surprise you. Really, it isn’t going to do much of anything. There is a strange emptiness to Goodbye, Christopher Robin that sucks the life from good performances by Domhnall Gleeson (as Milne), Margot Robbie, and Kelly MacDonald. The movie seems to just breeze through a sad biopic checklist, with a serious doubling down on the unfortunate aftermath of the success of books like House at Pooh Corner. The end result is a movie that is distractingly unhappy.

Perhaps, that distraction comes from the fact that the movie’s atmosphere, with regards to the story, is oddly detached. Goodbye, Christopher Robin can’t get away from a tone that suggests a storyteller who doesn’t really want to talk to us, but feels obligated to. As a result, we are beaten down by the cruel circumstances of Christopher Robin Milne’s childhood and adult life (without even getting into the film’s factual errors), but we don’t feel much in the way of anything else. For a movie and story like that, a sin like that is close to unforgivable.


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.