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Captain Canada's Movie Rodeo

Image  ©  Sony  

Image © Sony 

Honestly, I thought people would be a lot more upset with those leaked Sony memos. We’re learning all kinds of neat things because of them. We know we’re not getting The Interview anytime soon, which is thus far sparked far more outrage than anything else connected to the memos. Fair enough. No one likes to see an entire country that supposedly doesn’t negotiate with terrorist groups cave in to a hacker group that may or may not (sources say they do) have ties to North Korea. Sony is clearly terrified at whatever else the hackers might have. Judging by what we’ve seen so far, perhaps Sony should be afraid.

We also discovered that if anyone really did require proof of the natural-as-breathing racism that still dominates the industry, the conversations between Scott Rudin and Amy Pascal about what Pascal could discuss with President Obama (Rudin’s suggestions largely consisted of films depicting slavery, as well as actor/comedian Kevin Hart) should suffice. It’s a story that’s rapidly becoming overshadowed by Sony shelving The Interviewindefinitely, but it’s a story I’m interested in nonetheless.

Scott Rudin being an asshole is not a new story either. The EGOT-winning producer (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) has had a bad reputation with assistants and people in similar positions for most of his hugely successful career. Allegedly, Kevin Spacey’s performance in Swimming with Sharks is based on him. A number of people have since come to his defense, since the leaked emails made the news a couple of weeks ago. There are depictions of Rudin as a man who believes in art over celebrity, who ultimately means well, and who can be counted on for acts of great generosity.

That’s all well and good. I’m pretty sure Amy Pascal has redeeming features as a human being, too. Most of us do. What matters about these memos is the fact that they very clearly add thousands and thousands of exclamation points to things about the movie industry most of suspected were rampant in the first place. The comments found in these emails about topics like Angelina Jolie (although to be fair, Jolie’s proposed Cleopatraremake sounds like a really, really, really stupid idea), combining the Jump Street and Men in Black franchises, and the likelihood of Obama liking movies about slavery point to a very disheartening reality: Anyone who has been hoping to see substantial change in the attitudes and actions of the people who by and large run the film industry in North America are going to have to keep hoping. It’s not going to happen. The industry is not going to change for the better, even if it seems like it is.

Bigots and sociopathic pirates will continue to dominate Hollywood. They will continue to make up the bulk of the Academy of Arts and Sciences, who votes on the Oscar winners every year, amongst other tasks. Their money will dictate influence. That influence will give them the ability to make us feel as though the industry is a better, more varied place than it was twenty or fifty years ago. Perhaps it is in a variety of small ways, but not in any significant form. We will see things like representation behind and in front of the camera improve, as it has been improving by so-small-it’s-insulting leaps and bounds over the last few decades, but only because it’s financially worthwhile to those who are responsible for supposedly existing on a plane between creativity and economics.

The hacked Sony emails simply prove a lot of things we already all understood about Hollywood. Knowing you this is whatever you want it to be. In other words, you can either be extremely depressed, extremely pissed off, or indifferent to a reality that is never going to change on the large scale. Personally, I’m dancing along all three of those mindsets. I realized earlier this month that all my cynicism about 2014 in film was misplaced. When I looked over my picks for the ten best movies of the year for Drunk Monkeys’ year-end poll, I realized that this year was a year of spectacular films and encouraging variety.

So I suppose the Sony emails prove to me that no matter what, the miracle that great films are made within the system will continue to be the case. I guess that’s something. I suppose it’s just depressing to be reminded that success in an intensely artistic medium is not as dependent upon that artistic aspect as an extremely naïve person might think it would be.

I was wrong about 2014 being a weak year for movies. I’m unfortunately still right to be at least a little wary of and disheartened by stories like what happened with Sony (isanyone surprised that the studio is at a complete loss as to what should be done with theSpiderman franchise? Or their supremely depressing/hilarious cowardice in the face of hackers?), or the fact that in another ten years, Disney is probably going to own everything on the fucking planet. 

Interstellar (2014): A- 

Image  ©  Warner Bros. 

Image © Warner Bros. 

I’m certainly not going to say anything about the science behind the movie. In the end, I really don’t care all that much. What matters to me personally are things like stories and characters. Interstellar, which may well be Christopher Nolan’s most ambitious film to date (which is saying something), has both of these things in more-than-generous amounts. It’s big enough a movie in every sense of the word to leave you truly doubtful that Nolan will ever be able to reach the heights of a film like this ever again.

Who can say? What we know now is that this is what a blockbuster is capable of, when it is in the hands of someone who actually knows how to combine technology with humanity. There are moments in which Interstellar gets close to a self-inflicted sense of purpose that borderlines satire. Thanks largely to Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, and David Gyasi, Interstellar stays firmly rooted in something that manages to remain very real for the most part. In a story that involves scientists and pilots flying a potentially doomed mission into the galaxy, in order to have the chance to even pretend that humanity can be salvaged, creating a film that doesn’t become obliterated by filmmaking technology is a considerable achievement. For Nolan, who has pulled off that trick repeatedly at this point, creating films that have far more fans than detractors, the stakes are getting higher and higher.

Some would even venture to say that he is the most important filmmaker of our generation. I’m not prepared to go that far just yet, but it’s admittedly a small club of filmmakers who are making movies on this scale so successfully. Where he goes from here is a tempting question to think about, by the time Interstellar is through with you.

Don’t worry about it. Focus on this rather magnificent entry into the world of science fiction and cinematic spectacle. The two schools of thought are neatly combined here. Who knows if 2001 Space Odyssey was an inspiration for this, although it stands to reason that it probably was. Comparisons between the two are inevitable. 2001 Space Odyssey is justifiably hailed as a masterpiece, even to this day. People who have grown tired of Nolan’s style will probably despise any implication that Interstellar will one day be regarded in the sort of tone people attribute to 2001. But it almost certainly will. His films are huge in every sense of the word, but they are far from empty.

Gone Girl (2014): A-

If any one filmmaker comes close to David Cronenberg’s legendary talent for making us wish our own skin would just take a fucking hike, it may well be David Fincher. Like most of his previous films, Fincher packs Gone Girl with plenty of style. It’s a well-shot, aesthetically-compelling-in-a-low-key-kind-of-way thriller. It also loads that visual flair with enough viciously depicted psychological trauma to make Gone Girl perhaps the most troubling, upsetting film yet from Fincher. One of the neatest tricks Gone Girl perpetrates is in the form of a first half that feels slow. It almost feels too slow. When that changes, when things shift into a decidedly surreal gear for the film’s doomed, mad couple, you realize that everything happens for a reason. At least, when the people involved in the making of the film know what they’re doing.

The atmosphere is important, but the real star of Gone Girl is Rosamund Pike. Fincher of course gives everyone in the movie the mood necessary to carry out what is an overwhelmingly dark, comfort-crippling film. The Atticus Ross/Trent Reznor soundtrack helps, too, hardly sounding as though the collaboration between the three men is anywhere close to exhaustion. All this should be taken under consideration, but it’s really Rosamund Pike and Gillian Flynn’s screenplay (adapted from her hit novel) that sums up why people have responded to this movie so profoundly.

Pike’s performance benefits from a consistently flawless ability to keep us completely clueless as to just what is going on in her mind. A more-or-less complete picture is in place by the end of the movie. At that point, we’ve endured so many surprise revelations about just how ingrained and elaborate the kingdom of her deranged psyche really is, we don’t feel altogether safe with what the movie leaves us with. Ben Affleck is in fine form here, as well, as is Neil Patrick Harris, but Pike is the one who is going to get the love and affection during awards season.

With Flynn’s complex, concise script in her corner, she is able to play the “Gone Girl” as a character who is much more than just a mental case. At times, she makes a compelling case for the things she says and does. For some viewers, it’s a disquieting thought to find oneself agreeing with someone they might perceive to be a monster. For others, Gone Girlrepresents a natural psychological reaction to an impossible set of standards, stretching from the surface of the earth, to the dark side of the moon.

Horrible Bosses 2 (2014): D-

Okay, I’m the asshole for believing that Horrible Bosses 2 had a shot at being amusing. Not surprisingly, Kevin Spacey steals just about the entire show. That, and the fact that Charlie Day and Jamie Foxx are seemingly the only two in the main cast who appear to be trying, are the only good things you’re going to take away from an unfortunate sequel to a surprisingly hysterical film.

Everyone else is wandering around in a plot that tries to find harmony between new twists and familiar territory. It’s a travesty in either camps, and it’s downright painful when it tries to combine these things. Chris Pine should stick to bland action movies, being a dreamboat, and playing a warmed-over Captain Kirk. Everyone else should just admit that they came into this for an easy payday. Jason Bateman’s “I wonder if they mailed the check” face dominates virtually the entire film. Jennifer Anniston is as confused and bored as we are. Every chuckle is followed by ten to fifteen minutes of silence that would have driven H.P. Lovecraft into screams and stammers.

Horrible Bosses 2 will get a lot of watches and rentals from people who loved the first movie. Fine. Let them suffer like I apparently allowed myself to suffer. Nothing is funnier than realizing that you just wasted an hour and forty minutes of your rapidly-dissipating life. 

Chef (2014): A- 

J ohn Leguizamo, Emjay Anthony, and Jon Favreau in Chef (Image © Open Road Films)  

John Leguizamo, Emjay Anthony, and Jon Favreau in Chef (Image © Open Road Films) 

Another movie that has a good chance of doing well for itself come awards season, Chef is the kind of charming that’s never cloy. It has a sweetness in its story of a chef (Jon Favreau) going back to the beginning with his work, his creative passions, and most of all, his family, but it’s not a patronizing kindness.

Favreau has always been a really good director, as well as a pretty good actor. He showcases both of those talents nicely here. He gives the kind of performance that suggests he was the more talented one between him and longtime friend Vince Vaughn (who is curiously absent from a film filled with collaborators and pals of Favreau’s). Nothing about Chef, its huge cast of familiar faces, or the appealing, distinctive-each-time chemistry Favreau maintains with virtually everyone he shares a scene with is going to change the world. It’s simply a story that makes starting over again late in life a plausible, likeable possibility. Even if you think such a thing is bullshit, Chef makes it hard to go its entire running time without smiling, or being pleased with Favreau’s character for making good on his potential one more time.

Rewind This (2013): A+

Like a lot of documentaries that deal in a bygone era, Rewind This perhaps works best if you were actually there. For the younger crowd, the entire concept of VHS has a good chance of making them pity the poor, deprived bastards of this particular bygone. Those ignorant wretches, who had to actually visit brick-and-mortar stores to watch the latest movies, or discover a strange gem with the potential to change very specific lives forever.

Neither the filmmakers nor the interview subjects (including Cassandra “Elvira” Peterson, Lloyd Kaufman, and Frank Henenlotter) are insane enough to suggest that VHS is somehow a superior technology to what we have now. However, the film and its personalities do suggest a certain sadness for what video stories and VHS did for Cinephiles and even writers/directors. Several of the filmmakers featured in Rewind Thiscite the VHS boom of the 80s and 90s as the primary reason why their most beloved works found the audience that they couldn’t find in theaters.

If film is a religion, and it certainly is to some (arguably, it’s more reliable than gods or goddesses with even the best of intentions), video stores were one of the primary places of worship. That’s a slightly off-kilter way of thinking about it, but in the end, Rewind Thisis a celebration of film. It is a history of a technology that had a significant impact on the film industry as a whole.

Video stores are exceedingly rare in this day and age, but they do still exist. I live in a town that has two of them. In terms of vibrant film history, video stores are as important as drive-ins. You don’t need them, and I’m certainly not telling you to run out and buy an old VCR (although some movies that are available on VHS can’t be found on DVD, streaming, or even on the torrent sites). Even so, if you get an opportunity to walk through one, take it. If you’ve seen Rewind This, you may get a sense of why these people are so in love with their anachronisms. Sooner or later, all of us have a few of those, and they’re impossible to toss aside.