FILM
Captain Canada's Movie Rodeo
50th Edition

Vintage Captain Canada logo by Noel Schornhorst. 

Vintage Captain Canada logo by Noel Schornhorst. 

At the moment, I’m thinking about a few things. I’m going over the movies that came out this summer, and I’m leaning on the thought that the really good movies were enough to lift the season as a whole. However, that doesn’t change my other thought that the summer was a pretty unremarkable one movie-wise. To that end, I’m also thinking about the fall movie lineup. There’s a great discussion about it that I already had with the rest of the Drunk Monkeys film department, so there’s not much to say about it here. I will say again that I think the next couple of months have a shot at releasing a better string of movies than what we got this summer. We’ll see.

And then I’m thinking about the fact that this is the 50th edition of Captain Canada’s Movie Rodeo.

I know, I’m surprised, too.

That doesn’t mean this has run for fifty months. When the column started about three years ago, I was originally cranking out two columns a month. In order to give the column some sense of focus, I limited myself to only reviewing movies I saw for the first time, starting at the point in which I started writing the column, regardless of how old the movie actually was. This would give me the ability to cover new films and older ones in equal amounts. The standing rule in the present is that I can review any movie I’ve seen since this column started. Is that a stupid rule? Possibly.

Two columns a month didn’t last more than a few months. I decided early on that only an idiot would take on two columns every month, and then bitch about not having enough time in the day to work on novels and poems.

On a completely unrelated matter, are you keeping up with my other monthly column Make the Case at Cultured Vultures?

Fifty is still a good number. I pitched this column to Drunk Monkey’s fiendish, oddly stylish overlord Matthew Guerruckey because I wanted to work for Drunk Monkeys. It was a newcomer to the literary magazine scene, and I fell in love with its mission and aesthetics almost immediately. I had just recently parted ways with Unlikely Stories, so I was looking for a new home. I found it. Although I’m currently lucky enough to also work with Kleft Jaw and CV, Drunk Monkeys maintains a significant place in my heart. So to speak, I’ve never, ever had a bad day at the office with these guys.

Where am I going with this? I don’t know. It’s an anniversary, and I like acknowledging those, if only because it gives me a chance to check the score, and see how I’m doing. If you have read one Captain Canada column, thank you. If you have read several, thanks again. On the chance that you have read all fifty, let me know, and if I believe you, I’ll buy you a drink.

And if you don’t drink, I’ll help you kidnap your enemy, tie them to a shopping cart, and launch that son of a bitch into oncoming traffic. We’ll make a weekend of it.

Captain Canada’s Movie Rodeo has been a blast. Thank you to Drunk Monkeys for letting me ramble about movies. Thank you to Matthew for his guidance and humor. Thank you to everyone on staff in the film department. We have a group of people who love movies that I would put against any other staff for any other publication or website. I love movies. I can talk about them forever. Through this column, I hope you’ve enjoyed my end of the conversation so far.

And the best is yet to come. There might just be a podcast coming down the pike. Stay tuned.

Magic Mike XXL (2015): C-

Pictured: a meeting of the Drunk Monkeys Film Department (Image © Warner Bros.). 

Pictured: a meeting of the Drunk Monkeys Film Department (Image © Warner Bros.). 

I’m probably not the target demographic for a movie about male strippers. If it hadn’t been for my need to show my girlfriend a movie at Richmond’s Byrd Theater, I don’t think I would have ever seen Magic Mike XXL. But I wanted her to see a movie at that theater, and I didn’t really care what movie it was.

Guess what? It was a good deal more entertaining than I ever would have guessed. A lot of that has to do with the movie refusing to take itself seriously for even a moment. As far as I can tell, Channing Tatum and the rest of the gang just wanted to hang out again, throw some dance choreography into a very loose plot about the guys going to a male stripper convention, and whatever came out of that would count as a movie. When I compare Magic Mike XXL to actual comedies that came out this year, the one about the oily dudes dancing for throngs of fever pitch women turns out to be a hell of a lot funnier than at least some of the movies that actually shot for humor. Then we’ve got the dance scenes. Not really my bag, but you know what? Fuck it. That shit looks hard. I can’t even make it up a flight of stairs, without the very real possibility of splitting my head wide open. When it comes to the various sequences that make up Magic Mike XXL, I couldn’t help but be impressed. If that means turning in my hetero card, whatever the Christ that even means, so be it.

Late Spring (1949): A+

Yasujirō Ozu’s Late Spring is the sort of movie you can build an entire film course around. It remains one of the most important Japanese films from the post-War period ever made. It is also quite possibly the best and most accessible Ozu movie. Yet at the same time, Late Spring is an enormously challenging, complex film, in terms of its narrative techniques, characterizations, and overall filmmaking style. If you have never seen an Ozu film, the simple fact that he tells a story that ignores moments we would consider to be obligatory, while emphasizing other moments we may not consider important at face value, is going to throw you a little. The slow pace of the movie, as well as a shooting style that can be described as extreme minimalism, can also frustrate those who have never seen one of Ozu’s films before.

Stick with it. Be patient. Engage an open mind. Late Spring is a masterwork from one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. In exploring the complex, beautiful, heartbreaking relationship between an aging widower (Setsuko Hara) and his daughter (the great Ozu collaborator Chishu Ryu), the great director crafts a film that is rich in true humanity. You can enjoy it on that level. You can also delve deeper into the themes of film, mainly marriage, family, and Japan’s postwar middle-class struggle to balance tradition with the appeal and demands of the modern world. In other words, you can take Late Spring on a variety of levels. Just take it on at all. It is profound, absolute lyrical beauty in a cinematic sense in every way possible.

Enemy of the State (1999): B+

At least one of my friends considers Enemy of the State to be Will Smith’s best movie. I’m not sure about that, but I will say it’s probably the late, underrated Tony Scott’s best movie. I wish I had seen Enemy of the State when it actually came out. That’s not a comment on the movie’s quality, or the question of whether or not it stands up with action-thrillers being released now (it does). I just suspect that watching it in a pre-9/11 society would have made for a different experience somehow. Obviously, I can’t prove that, but it’s interesting to wonder about it all the same.

Enemy of the State is indeed a well-made film. It does offer what was definitely, if nothing else, the best Will Smith performance up to that point. This is large, elaborate, slightly convoluted movie about a man who unwittingly becomes the target of a powerful government official. The concepts of surveillance and the right to privacy are handled nicely throughout, never once coming at the expense of presenting a movie that’s meant to be exciting. If you want to pretend Gene Hackman’s (come back, Gene, we miss you) mentor character is essentially Hackman reprising his character from The Conversation, another film that dealt with surveillance and privacy, that’s fine. Hackman is just one person in what amounts to a very large cast of familiar faces, but he’s definitely the scene stealer, as he was wont to be. Through it all, Smith does indeed remain the main attraction. He proves in the movie that his leading man charm had some flexibility to it, in terms of the kinds of films he could do.

The Blob (1988): A-

Also pictured: a meeting of the Drunk Monkeys Film Department (Image © TriStar Pictures). 

Also pictured: a meeting of the Drunk Monkeys Film Department (Image © TriStar Pictures). 

I’m pretty sure I saw this 1980s remake of The Blob when I was about seven (a big Captain Canada thank-you to whichever neglectful friend’s parents made that possible). Since I couldn’t remember for certain, I watched it fairly recently. I’m glad I did. Not only is this version of the fairly straightforward story of alien goo running amok in small town America far superior to the original 1950s version, but it’s one of the best horror films of the late 80s. What The Blob lacks in suspense, or what you might call good acting, it makes up in sheer brutality. No one is safe in this film. Stupid teenagers, old people, and obnoxious little kids are horrifically destroyed and/or devoured in true horror movie quality. This is something that was lacking in horror for a long time, but has since started to make a comeback.

The Blob is grim, violent stuff. Quite possibly, it is one of the most violent films of its decade. Modern gore fans who are looking for older films to dig on will want to make some time for it. Horror fans who haven’t seen it in years should consider it for reappraisal. It’s sadistic, but it’s the fun kind of sadistic. It manages to take a fairly silly concept, and turn it into something that isn’t necessarily scary, but is definitely packed with visuals and moments that are going to stay with you.

Not Quite Hollywood (2009): A+

Surprise of surprises, Quentin Tarantino is one of the interviewees in this look at Australian cult films of the 70s and 80s. Nonetheless, his enthusiasm is always welcome, and I could listen to his oddly infectious, pompous ramblings for at least two straight hours. He is not the only one featured in this documentary, with Not Quite Hollywood featuring recollections from a wide range of the players who created some of the most distinctive films of the era. Mad Max is obviously included in the documentary, but it’s far from the only title mentioned.

Not Quite Hollywood is more than just a wonderful, endlessly entertaining tribute to movies like Razorback, Patrick, Mad Dog Morgan, Turkey Shoot, Stone, Next of Kin, and others. It is also a grand, sweeping tribute to a style of reckless abandon storytelling and full-throttle filmmaking that is frequently imitated in this day and age, but rarely duplicated. The documentary is a big dose of nostalgia, but it presents that nostalgia with vibrant, absorbing energy. It leaves you with a long list of films to check out, if you’re new to the subject of Australian cult classics.