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.
To say that I love Mel Brooks would be an understatement that borderlines ridiculous. It’s a poorly-kept secret that if you can make me laugh, and if you can make me laugh often, you’re going to generate a lot of goodwill from me. I don’t think I’m unique in that respect, but it’s still something I take seriously. Chances are, if you’re making me laugh on a regular basis, then you’re saving my life. I mean that.
You shouldn’t have to preface a criticism with gushing accolades. If it isn’t clear by now, Mel Brooks is special. I need to make it clear that the best Mel Brooks movies continue to inspire me to engage as much of the world as I can reasonably manage. Blazing Saddles is included on that list of Mel Brooks films that delight me even when I’m not watching them. The mere fact that they exist at all is sometimes enough to cheer me up.
So it’s depressing, if only just a little, when Mel mentioned a couple of months ago that Blazing Saddles simply wouldn’t be made in today’s PC culture. He is entitled to feel that way. I’m entitled to tell him the following:
Thank god Blazing Saddles wouldn’t be made today. In 1974, Blazing Saddles was a comedy that needed to be made. It represented a crucial step in the evolution of comedy, particularly comedy in film. By 2017, one would hope that we have evolved the potential of comedy in film to a point far beyond the ground Blazing Saddles broke in the early 1970s. Blazing Saddles is still hilarious, and in many regards, remains as relevant now as it did 40+ years ago. But in terms of creating characters and stories a few decades beyond its initial theatrical release, why would we want to go back?
I honestly don’t know what Mel Brooks is complaining about. Shitty comedies continue to be made on the foundation of the taboos Brooks and company broke with Blazing Saddles. A lot of really good comedy is also being made by people inspired by icons like Brooks, but with a desire to bring their own ideals to their own ideas. This is why Mel Brooks is a living legend. The value of the best of his work finds resonance and more with people from a myriad of backgrounds, and we aren’t just talking about film or comedy. Brooks’ complaints about the current PC culture back in September would make more sense if they came from a director whose work had truly diminished with time and perspective. Brooks’ best films haven’t lost as much as a gleam of their appeal to audiences from multiple generations. Even in the PC world Brooks takes issue with, people from all walks of life love Blazing Saddles.
Why am I complaining about something a legitimate comedy god said, more or less in passing, a good couple of months ago? I think it’s because I’m tired of people whining about what PC culture is supposedly doing to comedy. I get that Jerry Seinfeld can’t do colleges anymore, and that sucks, dude, but I don’t see things in comedy being limited or suppressed. People continue to like what they like, and most comedians/comedies continue to find audiences. Part of our new reality is that people don’t have to settle anymore. People also have the means to be anything but quiet about someone or something they find offensive. It’s exhausting if you want to focus on something you don’t agree with, or don’t want to agree with, but it ultimately doesn’t prevent you from enjoying whatever it is you enjoy.
Meanwhile, the so-called PC culture is creating some of the best comedy of all time. Fluff is still being produced in great amounts, and there is plenty of racism, sexism, and other subjects that some people apparently must keep in their media consumption. These are the folks who still believe Donald Trump, Bill Cosby, Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, and Harvey Weinstein are innocent.
At the same time, the demands of the so-called PC culture for smarter comedy that doesn’t rely on old, relentlessly tedious tricks is giving us comedy with teeth and considerable depth. Some of the darkest, smartest satire is being produced right now. Some of the most impressive examples of physical comedy in modern history can be found on YouTube or wherever as I write this. Surrealist humor is in the best shape perhaps ever.
I suppose in the end, and I admit that this is pretty silly, it just makes me a little sad that Mel Brooks doesn’t see all of that.
Then again, since Mel has seemingly managed to meet the very low bar of going an entire career in Hollywood without sexually assaulting anyone, maybe I’m being too hard on him.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017): A+
My expectations for Blade Runner 2049 were grand, yet somehow extremely vague at the same time. I was hoping for a film that would stand on equal ground with the original, which continues to be one of my favorite films of all time. At the same time, I couldn’t define those expectations any further. I knew I wanted something remarkable from director Denis Villeneuve, featuring a screenplay by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green. I knew stars Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling were important to the film. Again, I just couldn’t be more specific. Going into the film, I guess you could say I was an optimistic blank slate. In an era of having to aggressively avoid being manipulated by social media, mainstream media, and that weird guy down the block who keeps screaming at raccoons, an optimistic blank slate feels like some sort of Zen experience.
Where am I going with all of this? Good question. If you haven’t seen the film, I don’t want to tell you any specifics. I can only tell you that Blade Runner 2049 is one of the best movies of 2017. It is thrilling, terrifying, and all of that is wrapped up in some of the most incredible visuals I have ever seen. On every possible front, including performances (hell, I even enjoyed Jared Leto’s work here), Blade Runner 2049 was a success for me. It’s difficult to remember the last time 163 minutes went by so quickly.
The Big Sick (2017): B+
When people praise The Big Sick, I hope they’ll recognize just how remarkable the film really is. The story is about a comedian (Kumail Nanjiani, as a version of himself), who begins a relationship with a woman named Emily (Zoe Kazan), who good-naturedly heckles him at one of his shows. Their relationship is complicated, and then abruptly ended, by Kumail’s complex relationship to his Pakistani Muslim background. He refuses to introduce Emily to his family, who wouldn’t approve of their son being with a non-Muslim. Emily gets sick. Kumail bonds with her parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano), as he tries to understand why he feels compelled to stay with Emily while she is sick. Their relationship resumes, but with severe complications. The ground of this movie never feels very farm. Not until the very end.
What makes The Big Sick so impressive is how the movie covers so many different topics. The larger focus of the story is how we cope with a crisis. There are numerous internal and external crises throughout the film. The movie rarely feels as though it has bitten off more than it can chew. It rarely fails to present complex performances and perspectives for difficult subjects like family, tradition, death, and other things we have to put up with simply by being alive. The Big Sick moves between comedy and drama with a skill that will likely score the film some Oscar nominations in a few months.
Eating Raoul (1982): A+
Shame on me for waiting so long to see this. The world was a slightly better place, when Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov were appearing in movies together. You can find them in several horror films and comedies of varying quality. Eating Raoul is the best of their collaborations. Directed by Bartel, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Richard Blackburn, Eating Raoul is social satire that you can just as easily relate to in 2017, as anyone could have when the movie was released over thirty years ago. Bartel and Woronov are a married couple who dream of moving up the social ladder. They believe they will achieve this by opening their own restaurant.
Somehow, they go from the restaurant dream, to murdering people in the local swing community. A third cohort (Robert Beltran, as the titular Raoul) gets involved. The movie hits a ridiculous peak pretty early on. Amazingly, it stays there, and we are completely enraptured by one of the silliest, funniest movies ever made. Bartel and Woronov are at the center of the appeal. Even though they aren’t particularly good people, or even very remarkable, we root for them anyway. The secret of Eating Raoul is at the center of the movie’s ludicrous plot and cartoon pace. At the end of the day, we relate to Bartel and Woronov’s characters. We get where they are coming from.
World on a Wire (1973): B+
Directed by the astonishingly prolific Rainer Werner Fassbinder, World on a Wire might just be the German iconoclast’s best film. It is certainly one of his most accessible. Running at three-and-a-half hours, the film takes its time, as it takes us deeper into the story of a man (Klaus Löwitsch), and his efforts to understand the massive conspiracy going on around him. We are right there for every moment of that ride, particularly when the notion that everything in the world of this film is in fact a fantastic simulation. World on a Wire perhaps influenced Blade Runner 2049. There are some parallels to be found. If you don’t care about that sort of thing, you should still watch one of the best German science fiction films ever made. It’s a slow, occasionally ponderous mystery. It is also enormously engrossing, more often than not. Think of World on a Wire as a gentle mind fuck. Things won’t take a turn for the severe, until long after the movie has finished, and left you with its thoughts.
Who Are You, Polly Magoo? (1966): C-
“Bad” might be too strong a word, but the satirical tone of Who Are You, Polly Magoo? runs out of steam at around the halfway mark. That is too bad. The parts of the movie’s humor that do work have an unfortunate relevance in our present. The movie also offers a very good, surprisingly nuanced performance by Dorothy McGowan, in what would be her only film role. At the same time, there are lengthy moments in the film in which writer/director William Klein is seemingly presiding over a movie that only occasionally knows what it wants to say. There is an obnoxious degree of bloat to this film.S o much so, it’s hard to appreciate what the movie does get right. There are better skewerings of the fashion industry out there, I promise you.