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

Image © A24

Image © A24

Well, it’s September again. Around this time every year, I take an increasingly brief look back at the summer movie season for Captain Canada’s Movie Rodeo. I can’t help it. The wasteland of originality is increasing. Yet my entire movie-watching life has existed around the concept of bringing out your biggest and flashiest movies in the months where people supposedly have more free time. Well, the kids generally do, which is why the season has often been researched and constructed with them in mind.

Of the summer 2019 movies that I saw the only two I really enjoyed that weren’t sequels/remakes/reboots were Midsommar and Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood. Quentin Tarantino won the season for me—Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a very close second—and I’m not sure how I feel about that. It’s a good movie, possibly a great one. But I suppose I was expecting more.

I say this nearly every year, but the 2019 summer movie season was the dullest yet. It has set a new bar for a commitment to making movies safer and duller than ever. I’m never going to go so far as to say big budget movies have no place in the world. They do, but there is less of an incentive than ever.

Let’s face it: When someone does make a movie that’s closer to unique than the norm, a lot of the time, we often don’t care. I understand that the issue is a little more complex than I’m making it. At the same time, I’d like to be excited about braving the July–August heatwaves to sit in an air-conditioned movie theater for two hours. What drives me particularly nuts about that is the fact that it’s not especially difficult to entertain me.

Yet, here we are.

Once Upon a Time . . . In Hollywood: The Movie (2019): B+

I’ve been oddly unenthusiastic about this movie. It sounded like a good enough time, but it also struck me as the safest bet Tarantino has ever made in his career. Nothing about the story of Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood—set during the days of Sharon Tate, the Manson family, drive-ins, and still being able to smoke cigarettes indoors—struck me as particularly exciting. I didn’t expect to hate the movie. I just didn’t anticipate anything memorable from a director whose penchant for the past is occasionally embarrassing to watch.

You know what? Almost all my assumptions were unfounded. Quentin Tarantino has rarely bored me. I should have kept that in mind. Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood has moments that feel a little too long. This is also offset for the most part by Tarantino somehow avoiding a death-by-drowning-in-nostalgia. I’m impressed that he could do that in a movie that weaves through several stories and characters in 1969 Los Angeles. The movie is more about making a little bit of noise, as your time and place are moving from centerstage to the claustrophobia of history. It is a fascinating, surprising approach from Tarantino. It certainly influences fantastic performances from Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, Bruce Dern, and Al Pacino. Once Upon a Time . . .in Hollywood isn’t a masterpiece, but Tarantino’s impressive resistance to complacency gives this film qualities that even some of his detractors might admire.

Also, the business of Sharon Tate and the Manson Family murders is handled with far more dignity and compassion than you ever would expect from one of the most controversial directors of our time. If nothing else, you should see the movie for that reason.

A Funny Thing Happened Along the Way to the Forum (1966): A+

The talent assembled for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is dizzying in hindsight. The film was directed by Richard Lester, photographed by the equally legendary Nicolas Roeg, produced by the notable Melvin Frank, and co-written by Michael Pertwee. We haven’t even covered the cast, which includes Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers, Buster Keaton, Michael Crawford, Jack Gilford, Patricia Jessel, and several others.

It is amazing to see so many greats creating a single, frenzied musical comedy about a young idiot in Nero’s Rome who falls in love with a courtesan. His slave sees an opportunity to gain his freedom. A lot happens after that. Trust me. A Funny Thing is worth watching just for its audacity of escalation. Just the fact that it all somehow works out, which is also true of the movie itself, is something of a miracle that must be appreciated. Furthermore, some of the songs are infuriatingly catchy.

Track 29 (1988): B-

Speaking of the late Nicolas Roeg, Track 29 may be the craziest piece of fuckery in a filmography filled with numerous examples of such. Fuckery is perhaps the only word that really applies. The movie is basically a story of an unhappy woman (Theresa Russell) whose meeting and interactions with a young English hitchhiker (Gary Oldman, who really, really goes for it here) take on ever stranger and darker twists. There is an odd B-story with Christopher Lloyd as Russell’s older, model train-obsessed husband that operates on the outskirts of the movie’s true madness for the most part. However, Roeg eventually brings everyone together for a conclusion that will frustrate and fascinate to the point of inducing a slight migraine.

The movie often feels as though it is challenging you to stick around. I say do it. The worst-case scenario is that you’ll see a movie you won’t forget anytime soon.

Life is Sweet (1991): B+

Most of Mike Leigh’s best movies revolve around working class families that are simply trying to get through the year intact. Leigh has explored several different concepts of family. While more straightforward in its storytelling, Life is Sweet takes us through the lives of twin sisters (Claire Skinner and Jane Horrocks) and their parents (Alison Steadman and Jim Broadbent). However, that is really where the simplicity of this narrative ends.

Life is Sweet can best be described as episodic. One event after another comes at this family from one direction or another. The results never fail to fascinate, simply because it provides us with another opportunity to learn about these believable, somehow relatable characters. Life is Sweet is inventive in its style and tone, and often hits you with one singular surprise after another in its writing and performances.

Judas Kiss (1998): C-

Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson did several movies together in their respective careers. It’s one of the screen couple partnerships that you should seek out at every possible opportunity. Even the offbeat, mostly disappointing Judas Kiss—perhaps the least known of their collaborations—is worth your time.

Most of that centers around Rickman and Thompson, who both play against type as a police detective (Rickman) and an FBI agent (Thompson) investigating a kidnap/ransom plot. That is noticeable in the case in the way they interact with each other. The noir elements of the film, played for dark humor laughs, largely fall flat. However, the movie shines when Rickman and Thompson are bantering with each other and investigating the crime. If nothing else, Judas Kiss is commendable misfire.

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.