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FILM / Captain Canada's Movie Rodeo / June 2019 / Gabriel Ricard

Image © Criterion

Image © Criterion

It has been a couple of months now, since the Criterion Channel launched across a vast array of streaming devices. FilmStruck died its sad death, leaving the world without a place to explore the history of film properly. Criterion is certainly not the entire history of film, nor was FilmStruck. Yet both provide a vital link to film history, which in and of itself is the chance to explore incredible films of all shapes and sizes. FilmStruck offered the only means of exploring that history online. There are similar arthouse services, such as Mubi, but they simply don’t have the resources that FilmStruck had access to—namely, the Warner Bros library, as well as everything in the Criterion catalog (nearly 1000 films). The loss of that was genuinely saddening.

Criterion promised to return with their own service. They have done that, launching an app that has been successful and robust in its selection from the word ‘Go.’ Film does not begin and end with Criterion or Janus Films, but they are a vital contributor to global cinema. They don’t just deal in arthouse obscurities. They have made a reputation on finding, restoring, and releasing films from a variety of different sources, decades, countries, and other categories. Their current catalog, as a whole, is a treasure trove of history with a vibrant, powerful pulse. It is as important for those films to exist somewhere within this purportedly glorious age of digital streaming options.

Even if the number of people who care is smaller than the number of people who watch the latest Netflix release, these movies should remain easily accessible. If digital streaming can’t accommodate film history, obscurities, and orphans of their time and place, then I honestly don’t see much of a point in the whole thing.

The Criterion Channel is an A+ from top to bottom. Let’s emphasize that further by using this edition of Captain Canada’s Movie Rodeo to look at five titles available on the service. These are movies I’ve discovered since it launched in April. There are already hundreds to choose from, with subscription prices starting at $10.99 monthly or $99.99 for the year.

I’m sorry FilmStruck couldn’t hang around. At the same time, I think there’s potential for the Criterion Channel to be even better. Hopefully, we will have ample time to see.

Manilla in the Claws of Light (1975): A+

Directed by Lino Brocka, Manilla in the Claws of Light is a painful story to watch unfold. A poor fisherman named Julio (Bembol Roco) comes to Manila to search for the woman he loves. Not an ounce of romanticism exists in this story, which sees Julio swallowed up by increasingly difficult circumstances. Although the city of Manila at that time, and in that place, is the electrifying, human character you expect it to be in something like this, the parts of the city we spend most of our time in are run-down.

At the same time, don’t let the city define the whole movie. There are good people in this story. There are moments of friendship, longing, desperation, and cruelty. The city is there to absorb all of it, but these things will always find a way to continue, even when these characters cannot.

Mysterious Object at Noon (2000): B+

Mysterious Object at Noon fools you with a seemingly simple premise. Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul moves his camera through a series of people, all of whom contribute something to a larger narrative about a boy and his teacher. The approach creates a fluid series of encounters with people and places. All of them are delightful. Each one adds something that feels like a journey through not only a story, but through the concept of storytelling and storytellers. Again, this is a pretty simple premise for a movie. Thinking that is fine. Just don’t be surprised when the movie ushers you along to places and thoughts you never expected to have.

Dinner at Eight (1933): B-

Dinner at Eight is still an enjoyable blur of fast-paced dialogue with tons of plots and characters. One of the many hits directed by George Cukor, whose career spanned some 50 years, and who directed a number of female-lead films with the likes of Katherine Hepburn. Dinner at Eight is more of an ensemble piece, with an impressive cast of stars and character actors of the day. A New York socialite (Billie Burke) decides to throw a dinner party. This sets in motion the various characters and stories that will eventually meet for that dinner.

While the movie sometimes shifts awkwardly from comedy to drama, it is still a largely satisfying collection of some of the best actors of the day going through a script that you could honestly be filmed today with minimal changes. Good writing can always find a way, and that’s something Dinner at Eight can still display nicely after so many years.

Uptight (1968): A-

On the night of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, a troubled, hapless alcoholic named Tank (Julian Mayfield) makes a traumatic decision. It sets the whole story, set in Cleveland, down a path that makes it clear to us where we’re going. Uptight will end in tragedy. Stories like these always do. While the movie obviously makes room for social and political commentary in the face of a national horror story, Uptight is at its heart a portrait of a man who didn’t think he had any other choice. He has done his best with mental illness and more. It wasn’t good enough for almost anyone around him, with the possible exception of his prostitute girlfriend (the late, perpetually riveting Ruby Dee).

Uptight makes the fate of Tank clear, but it also casts him as an unfortunate figure. As the world chokes on violence all around him, with revolution thickening over the skies, we just hope Tank is allowed to depart on his own concept of dignity.

I Killed My Mother (2009): A+

Actor/writer/director Xavier Dolan’s first film is a heavy single mother/son story. While most of the movie focuses on a young, closeted high school junior (Dolan) named Hubert, I Killed My Mother still makes sure there is room enough to create a fully realized character in Hubert’s mother Chantale (Anne Dorval, who dominates every scene she’s in with an extraordinary presence). It is an impressive first film for Dolan, who has since directed others.

I Killed My Mother is arguably still his best—if only because it comes with the urgency to tell its story, and also for the remarkable chemistry between Dolan and Dorval. Their relationship is so openly and clearly expressed; it captures so many nuances of their individual selves and their connection to one another, leaving viewers with no choice but to process their emotional responses to the film. This movie will make you think of your own mother, regardless of whether that’s a good thing. It is because of such honesty that I Killed My Mother is impactful viewing.

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.