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

steven-spielberg.jpg

Since we’re probably going to be arguing about Netflix/streaming services and Oscars until next year’s ceremony, we may as well get it out of the way here at the Movie RodeDo I think movies like Roma should qualify for Best Picture and other major Oscars?

Sure, why the hell not. Honestly. No disrespect to the likes of Steven Spielberg, but any argument against such films qualifying is classist and selfish at best. It’s also mildly astonishing that someone as intelligent and insightful as Spielberg wouldn’t see how such opinions might be particularly upsetting to POC filmmakers, women filmmakers, and other marginalized groups. Currently, their sole filmmaking sin is not having the clout to get their movies into theaters for a few weeks.

So, do I believe movies should have to spend a certain amount of time on the big screen, before they are granted the opportunity to even be considered for an Academy Award?

No. Honestly, such arguments or beliefs are asinine gate-keeping that we really don’t fucking need at this point. In anything, the older generation will struggle against the tide of changing times. The response is to either roll over and die, fight the tide, or accept that things change, whether you fucking want them to or not. Spielberg should be smart enough to do the third, especially since his beloved Academy is in greater danger of cultural irrelevancy than ever before. Would the Oscars honestly be less prestigious with fewer restrictions? Does it honestly matter?

I will say, specifically in Spielberg’s defense, since he’s whining about this the most, that I’m not here for people who suddenly act like Steven Spielberg isn’t a significant reason why a lot of us are here to watch and argue about movies in the first place. We don’t have the time or space here to debate the pros and cons of the blockbuster film era that he helped to usher in. I do think it’s a little hilarious that Spielberg is now on the other side of an argument that something is going to ruin film forever.

In the end, dismissing Spielberg’s opinion is a rational response to someone who just doesn’t seem to believe in the long-term benefits of more filmmakers having a seat at the so-called table. However, I am not in the mood for anyone who wants to dismiss his talent or importance. Even if he’s wrong, and even if this is a stupid argument, he’s at least earned the right to be wrong.

I’m not a big fan of Netflix either, Steve, but come on, man. It’s ultimately called progress. It won’t even devalue your own little gold statues.

Gate-keeping, which Spielberg arguably endured for the first decade or so of his career, has been poisoning culture for centuries. Hollywood, to an extremely depressing degree. Why not at least pretend we’re good enough to break the pattern?

No? Fine. The Steven Spielbergs of the world can only whine about this shit for so long. Like all old things, they will eventually just goddamn die.

And then we can do this all over again!

The Other Side of the Wind (2018): B+

Image © Netflix

Image © Netflix

From 1970 to roughly 1976, Orson Welles worked relentlessly to complete what should have been a monumental achievement in the late stages of his career. Featuring a sprawling cast (including John Huston, Oja Kodar, Peter Bogdanovich, Dennis Hopper, Lilli Palmer, Mercedes McCambridge, and many more), a strange film-within-a-film, and a take-no-prisoners quality within its mockumentary stylings, The Other Side of the Wind is a masterpiece for Welles.

The Other Side of the Wind is the culmination of years of effort on his part, and the complications the movie went through in the years after his death. We had to wait some 40+ years to see the film for ourselves. It was worth the wait. The Other Side of the Wind is manic, inventive, and a savage depiction of artists, artistry, the film industry, and Welles himself. It is a shame that most of the cast has long since died. They deserve to see a finished product. Welles shouldn’t have had to die before finding vindication. To the very end, even through the wine and frozen food commercials, Welles was a force of nature and a true creative genius. The Other Side of the Wind is proof of that.

Alita: Battle Angel (2019): B-

Image © 20th Century Fox

Image © 20th Century Fox

Speaking of movies with long production histories, I would swear to you I was in high school, when I first heard that James Cameron wanted to adapt Yukito Kishiro’s manga. That was almost 16 years ago, in case anyone is keeping track. Lucky for us, James has decided to just make mediocre Avatar movies for the rest of his life. We’re still stuck with him here as a producer, but the directing duties go to Robert Rodriguez. It feels like it’s been a while since a truly entertaining Rodriquez movie, as well.

Yet entertaining is exactly what we get here. The notion that these characters have been whitewashed (an issue which is less black and white here than it was with, say Ghost in the Shell) is something you can decide for yourself, it’s hard to deny that Rodriguez has made a supremely enjoyable film. Rosa Salazar in particular, playing the cyborg Alita, gives this dazzling array of complex fight sequences and a sci-fi ruin of a landscape more heart than you might expect. The clear setup for more films is just tiresome to deal with at this point, and the movie occasionally doesn’t seem to know where it wants to go next. Those are nonetheless minor complaints. Alita: Battle Angel is quite frankly thrilling, which makes it one of the most surprising successes of 2019 thus far.

An Angel at My Table (1990): A+

Image © Fine Line Features

Image © Fine Line Features

Directed by Jane Campion, An Angel at My Table is a monumental tribute to Janet Frame, one of New Zealand’s most famous writers. At a running time of 2 ½ hours, An Angel at My Table isn’t so much a case for Frame’s greatness as an author, but more of a portrait of an artist in three chapters. Much of the film’s material is taken from three autobiographies that Frame had published up to that point. Her works emphasized a brutal honesty, a desire to do more than just endure in the world, and other qualities that made her a success in her lifetime, and a revered, vital piece of literary history in the years since her passing.

An Angel at My Table will almost certainly whet your interest to read some of Frame’s books, if you haven’t already. Campion’s film works nicely in the sense that you don’t even have to know who Janet Frame is beforehand. The movie, with a particularly remarkable performance by Kerry Fox as the adult version of Janet, simply presents you with a fascinating human being. What you decide to do with this character sketch when it finishes is your choice.

Everyone Off to Jail (1993): B+

Image © Antea Films

Image © Antea Films

Everyone Off to Jail is a masterful take on the art of escalation. You don’t have to be particularly interested in politics. You don’t really need too much background on the forces that shaped this satire from legendary writer/director Luis García Berlanga. All you need to really do is relate to the desperate efforts of one man (José Sazatornil) to get the money owed to him by a government that has absolutely no intention of giving even a tenth of a fuck about some guy who wants to get paid.

The film is primarily set in a prison that is being commandeered for a celebration. It is one of the few stable components to this film, as things get pretty chaotic early on. Everyone Off to Jail builds beautifully to its frenzied conclusion, adding more and more madness to the proceedings as time goes on. Chances are, if you get into this movie at the start, you will be satisfied with the ending.

Savage Streets (1984): C+

Image © Motion Picture Marketing

Image © Motion Picture Marketing

Despite being a pretty silly movie, even at the time of its release, Savage Streets is still a lot more fun than many of the joyless, bland vigilante/revenge dramas of the period.

The movie benefits a good deal from how deeply committed Linda Blair seems to be to her character, a young woman who seeks revenge against the scumbags who assaulted her deaf-mute little sister (the legendary Linnea Quigley, in one of her few non-horror roles). Savage Streets is pure exploitation, and no one is going to mistake the movie for striving to be culturally sensitive. Or any kind of sensitive. If you understand that going in, and you’re fine with that, Savage Streets is a blast. If nothing else, it provides Blair with one of her most enjoyable post-Exorcist role.

Critics were entirely too unkind to her in reviewing movies like these. Certain actors or actresses almost always have the ability to elevate less-than-stellar material. Blair did that several times in her career, and Savage Streets is one of the most enjoyable examples.


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.