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


I’m grateful that the folks at Criterion are not only launching a streaming service, but that it’s technically available for signup now. I’m not cynical, but part of me hopes humanity fucks off, before the so-called streaming wars get started. We’ve got contenders coming from Disney, Warner Media, Apple, NBC, and presumably elsewhere.

I know. I would swear that war is going on right now. Apparently not. Or at the very least, it’s going to get exponentially more tiresome.

I’m not immune to caring. I’m feeling pretty good about the whole Criterion Channel thing. I just have a strong suspicion that this is going to end in the most depressing way possible. It seems as though we’ve established that having a billion choices (which somehow doesn’t have room for movies made before the 80s) isn’t nearly as much fun as it might sound. I get that there’s a Late Capitalism thing going on, but do we really have to put up with this shit? Do we really need all of these services existing, pumping out thousands of hours of content that most people will never get around to seeing, since we seemingly can’t fucking stop watching Friends or Final Destination? Are we really going to have an economy dependent upon an industry that can’t possibly sustain itself?

Okay, okay, I’m getting off track.

Somehow, my point is that I’m glad the Criterion Channel is going to happen. The point I’m circling around to is that I wish there was a better way to enjoy this stuff.

Goddamn, I cannot possibly be the only one who feels a surreal rush of relief, when I finally find something to fucking watch.

Suspiria (2018): A+

A small part of my reaction to Suspiria is complete fucking surprise that I liked it as much as I did. I wasn’t against a remake, and I was intrigued by the trailer. That alone put it ahead of most horror remakes. My personal problem with a lot of remakes of horror movies is that generally, I just don’t feel like going back to the story again. Despite depression-bingeing MST3K all goddamn day about three days a week, I’m more interested in looking for films that will generate some sort of heavyweight, enduring surprise.

That’s where the remake of Suspiria gets interesting.

As a remake of an established classic, which was directed in 1977 by Dario Argento? I genuinely don’t know. It has elements of Argento’s original, co-written by Daria Nicolodi, particularly in the basic setting and story. The resemblances are there. It just doesn’t settle for similarities, or for simply mining the same territory. Director Luca Guadagnino has created something here that expands on the universe of these characters and ideas. He also goes for broke on the brutality side of things, while pounding us with a spiritual, psychological mystery that is wild and batshit crazy enough to exist in plain sight. Suspiria 2018 is quite frankly unreal on every possible level. It is one of the most original horror movies to come out in this decade. Paradoxically, it is also a stirring tribute to the 1977 classic. That’s really all I can say about the movie. The casting, the characters, the pace, and everything else defy description. You really have to engage those things for yourself and see this movie immediately.

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018): B+

Image © 20th Century Fox

Image © 20th Century Fox

Drew Goddard has done well with taking established genres and tropes, and messing around with them in a creative, sincere way. He did that to near-perfection with 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. He plays things a little straighter with Bad Times at the El Royale, but the love of noir still shines through to the point of a deliberate, occasionally distracting stylization. And while these characters, who have gathered at a once-great hotel along the California-Nevada border for one shady/downright sinister reason or another, are well-played and well-written, it could be argued that Goddard loves them a little too much.

I’m just saying, 141 minutes is a little ridiculous for a movie like this. Call it a borderline-reckless creative decision, because that means the movie has to stay interesting in a universe that frequently demands patience from the audience. To Goddard’s credit, particularly in the first half of the movie, his creative risks pay off. Supporting a strong, multi-character story that manages excellent tension and a handful of surprises, Bad Times also features a stellar cast. Goddard’s affection for their characters works nicely with pleasing performances from the likes of Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, and the scene-stealing Cynthia Erivo.

Again, all of this mostly works. The proceedings get a little frustrating, but it’s good to see a genuinely entertaining noir in the 2010s.

Dust Devil (1992): B-

With Nicolas Cage allegedly teaming up with writer/director/weirdo Richard Stanley for an H.P Lovecraft sort of thing, it seemed like as good a time as any to finally watch Stanley’s defining film from start to finish. This is on that list of movies I have started at different points throughout the years, but never finishing for one ridiculous fucking reason or another.

While there is a part of me that wishes I had seen this in its heyday, Dust Devil has menace and purpose enough to remain a better-than-average supernatural horror story. The excellent character Robert John Burke as the titular Dust Devil offers an essential, tangible representation of Stanley’s more abstract concepts about the nature and purpose of the universe. Shot on location in Namibia, which is southern Africa, Stanley certainly makes the most of the barren, somewhat-bleak surroundings. This seems like a perfectly reasonable place for something terrible and all-encompassing to menace a police sergeant (Zakes Mokae) and a woman (Chelsea Field) on the run from an abusive husband (Rufus Swart).

Dust Devil is strange, occasionally-beautiful stuff. It is a cult curiosity that will absolutely appeal to a very specific kind of person. If you’re still reading, congratulations.

Star 80 (1983): B-

Image © Warner Bros.

Image © Warner Bros.

For a very long time, my entire understanding of this movie revolved around an old Bloom County strip from the 80s. Oh, and the dozens of references to Eric Roberts’ sex chair that apparently exist in popular culture.

The murder of Playboy model/actress Dorothy Stratten will probably be a Neflix documentary before too long. Too bad it probably won’t be quite as interesting as Star 80, which gives Stratten the dignity of someone who is more naïve than stupid, and who is clearly just trying to make the best of what life demands of her. Mariel Hemingway conveys all of that in what is probably still the strongest work of her career. The other side of that is Eric Roberts as Paul Snider, Stratten’s husband, manager, rapist, and murderer. This is easily the strongest work of his career, as well. Star 80 doesn’t make him sympathetic, but it doesn’t make him one-dimensional either.

Star 80 is a sprawling, damming characterization of the horrible transition that shifted the cultural landscape into what would be the weird, largely awful 80s. This is a fascinating time capsule with strong true crime elements. This story is going to get kicked around again, especially with that exploitive, hateful turd Hugh Hefner presently dead, hopefully burning in hell.

Take note, the movie does depict the numerous, nearly-unfathomable monstrosities Snider perpetrated against Stratten. I’ll let you read up on it a little and decide for yourself.

By the way, Hefner sued this movie for the way it depicted him. Just something to keep in mind.

The Unholy Three (1930): C-

Lon Chaney Sr’s single sound picture is really only worth watching for that historical note, and very little else. The appeal of the film, a remake of an earlier silent movie Chaney had made, is very keenly tied into whether or not you know who Lon Chaney is. If you don’t, you’re left with a movie that is more often than not dull, and with characters who are more often than not forgettable. Still, Chaney would have clearly done well in the sound era. This movie shows that in no uncertain terms, and you may even be able to take that away from the film.

I don’t know. A long-time fan of both Chaney Sr and Jr, the novelty of seeing what could have been with Chaney, had he not died of cancer shortly after this movie was completed, is an archaic gimmick that runs out of interest by the time it’s over.

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.