Captain Canada's Movie Rodeo

The cast of Big Trouble in Little China (Image © 20th Century Fox) 

The cast of Big Trouble in Little China (Image © 20th Century Fox) 

Many, many columns ago (this is the 46th edition of Captain Canada’s Movie Rodeo, in case you’re a big fan of trivia that will surely impress your imaginary friends and stuffed animals), I couldn’t think of a single topic to consume the intro. What I did instead was simply touch on various things that have caught my interest, but are not deep enough topics to warrant several hundred mildly deranged words. It was a desperate measure by a deeply unhappy, ultimately stupid man.

Anyway, let’s do that again:

  • Netflix is testing out ads? As a joke? Granted, I don’t think this is something that will ever climb to YouTube levels, but it’s a troubling thought all the same. Netflix has become a great place for TV shows, and a mediocre place for movies that don’t feature zombies, and do not suck. Thankfully, they are far from the only show in town. I will never fail to at least understand why people use apps and torrents to get the content they want. Netflix and ads is not a big deal, but it is an exasperating measure from a company that is seemingly run by maniacal children. 
  • A remake of Big Trouble in Little China? I’m not even sure how that can be a thing, given how incredibly bizarre and singular that film is. Remaking movies in general can be tricky, particularly when the movie is a beloved entity, but taking a second stab at something that qualifies as a cult classic strikes me as even more difficult, and even less likely to succeed. Honestly, the 1986 John Carpenter/Kurt Russell collaboration is kind of a mess, but Jesus Christ, it’s an extremely entertaining mess. I like Dwayne Johnson as much as any aging wrestling fan, but his presence as the star of the proposed remake is not enough to make me think that this is one of the worst remake ideas to come down the wire in quite some time.
  • The Human Centipede 3 exists. Amazingly, it’s probably not the worst movie Eric Roberts has ever done. I won’t watch it. There is no smug self-satisfaction in that. The Drunk Monkeys Film Department is actually planning to do a conversation about those of us who still watch movies that have no other point for existence beyond violent shock value, and those of us who just can’t hack that horrible kind of bullshit anymore. I’m obviously in the second camp. I can still occasionally get behind watching a bad movie to celebrate all its terrible components, but The Human Centipede 3 represents a different breed of garbage. It is completely joyless, and I am pretty sure I can say that without ever actually watching it. I don’t even know if the people who made the movie are people who like making movies. I just know that they want me to be horrified and disgusted. While I don’t have a problem with people who watch movies for that reason and no other, I feel like life is short and grim enough as it is. I would rather spend that time watching things that have a point, even if that point is completely absurd. For example, as disappointing as Tomorrowland is (more on that later), I can at least surmise that the people responsible for screwing it up at least had some kind of storytelling goal in mind. 
  • Why is there is an Entourage movie? 

Tomorrowland (2015): D+

Talented actress Britt Robertson endures some ridiculous bullshit (Image © Disney). 

Talented actress Britt Robertson endures some ridiculous bullshit (Image © Disney). 

On paper, Tomorrowland has a lot going for it. Brad Bird is the enormously gifted filmmaker who has helmed movies like Ghost Protocol, The Iron Giant, and Ratatouille. It makes sense that he would direct a movie that features time travel, robots, and enough retro imagery to fill a four-story museum. Damon Lindelof has written a ton of TV (most notably, Lost) and film, and some of it is very good. Combine these things with a huge budget, an appealing seasoned pro in George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, and wonderful young female leads (Britt Robertson as the plucky aspiring scientist, and Raffey Cassidy as a robot from the glory days of the Tomorrowland metropolis, who naturally knows martial robots), and there is a lot about Tomorrowland that sounds promising.

Yet much like the city that Robertson travels to, all that promise doesn’t really lead anywhere meaningful. Tomorrowland has some dazzling scenes of the city that was going to save humanity, particularly during the flashback scenes involving Clooney’s Frank Walker. It also has a plot that moves from intriguing, to confusing, to muddled, and then just annoying to cap off the experience. For a movie with so many good things working for it, it is just a little astonishing to watch how quickly Tomorrowland descends into tedious, disorganized disaster. One of the most obvious sins of the film is in the way it just assumes depth with its story and characters, rather than letting those things actually develop and grow over the course of things. This is bad enough, but when we are also treated to infuriatingly long exposition scenes that stop everything else in the movie to explain why Tomorrowland was created, and why things went so horribly wrong, the movie becomes a sad waste. You’re going to realize this at around the forty-five minute point. Strap in. You’re going to have to sit through a lot more.

By the time the overall intent of Tomorrowland’s plot and purpose takes shape, you’re not going to care. You will instead feel as though you just sat through a movie that wasted a good cast, intriguing characters, beautiful special effects, and the occasionally magnificent action sequence on a profoundly flawed screenplay. Tomorrowland half-heartedly strives to be a multitude of cinematic experiences simultaneously. When the “Wait, really?” anticlimactic ending kicks in, it is safe to say that you’re not going to be very interested in any of those experiences. Tomorrowland is deeply rooted in mediocrity. The worst part about that is the fact that it clearly had the potential to be something great. 

Catchfire (1990): C-

Director/star Dennis Hopper disowned this film, which could also very easily be called Stockholm Syndrome: The Motion Picture, and it’s not hard to see why. Catchfire is a mess, much like Tomorrowland, but Catchfire is a mess on a completely different level. The most frightening thing about this story of an artist who witnesses a murder (Jodi Foster, who has a long career of trying to give audiences something relatable in cinematic insanity) and a hitman (Hopper) who falls in love with her is the fact that Hopper made this after getting sober. You wouldn’t immediately assume that, as you sit through this bizarre, self-indulgent horror show of a creative effort.

Yet with Catchfire, things are at least interesting for the most part. Hopper built his post-tequila-and-cocaine-for-all-nine-daily-meals comeback on playing intense, disturbed individuals. As a hitman who falls in love with his assignment, he is certainly both of those things. Chemistry between his character and Foster’s is indeed there, even if it makes for a highly uncomfortable, problematic viewing experience. Catchfire is also at least worth trying for the eclectic batch of friends Hopper collected for the project. This list includes Vincent Price, Joe Pesci, Bob Dylan, Charlie Sheen, Fred Ward, and Dean Stockwell. No one seems to quite know what’s going on, which may be a consequence of the various people who took a shot at the script, but they try their best all the same. Catchfire is a small, ultimately forgettable movie, but it does have a weird cast of personalities. There are also flashes of the directorial brilliance that Hopper routinely hinted at throughout his career, but ultimately failed to realize beyond the early success of Easy Rider.

Maggie (2015): B-

With Maggie, director Henry Hobson clearly seems to be more interested in creating his bleak post-apocalyptic dream world, than he is with making a well-paced film that lets the actors do their thing. Nothing is inherently wrong with the script by John Scott III, which focuses on a father watching helplessly as his daughter succumbs to a zombie virus. Hobson simply squanders the opportunity to make what is ultimately a very good movie a small classic, at a time in which even diehard fans of the subgenre are getting a little burnt out on one crappy movie after another. 

In the end, most of Hobson’s stylistic touches, as well as his achievement of making a 95-minute movie feel twice as long as that, are forgivable. Both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin provide the phenomenal performances that lift this movie to a much higher score, than it would have received without their participation. With Schwarzenegger, we are left with the very reasonable thought that under the right circumstances, he is a far more effective, nuanced actor than he generally gets credit for being. Breslin is absolutely fearless in playing a character who has to find a balance between bravery and terror in the waning, painful final moments of her life. Hobson’s film is at its best when things are focused firmly on the character study component. When he becomes obsessed with lighting and irritating, pointless camera angles, Maggie suffers. That this movie gets such a high score in spite of those drawbacks is a testament to the outstanding work of the two principle leads. Maggie is an excellent example of what good acting can do for an otherwise average film.

Calvary (2014): A+

Chris O'Dowd and Brendan Gleeson in Calvary (Image © Entertainment One) 

Chris O'Dowd and Brendan Gleeson in Calvary (Image © Entertainment One) 

Clearly, any time Brendan Gleeson and John Michael McDonagh get together to make a movie together, good things happen. 2009’s The Guard is one of the best films released for that particular year. Calvary goes into much darker territory, but it is no less effective in the execution of an extremely complex story. It is easily one of the best movies that came out last year. It utilizes Gleeson’s incredible for playing men made weary by long, painful marriages to deep, personal convictions. These marriages burn bridges, ruin familial relationships, and leave the individual in question with more questions than answers. Gleeson brings humor to these characters, which blends with varying measures of regret, and it is almost as though his Father James character in Calvary is wearing these things around his neck. The anchor is obvious, and we suspect early on that it will kill him faster than the parishioner who visits him at the beginning, and promises to murder him in a week for the sins of a (different) priest who molested him as a child.

Obviously, I’m not going to tell you who that parishioner is. I also won’t tell you how surprised you may or may not be. What I can tell you is that The Guard offers a fantastic cast (may M. Emmet Walsh live forever), a dialog-heavy script that is nonetheless enthralling from start to finish, and an impressive ability to juggle a variety of themes. Perhaps the biggest surprise in Calvary is the performance of Chris O’Dowd. Known primarily for comedy, O’Dowd seizes the opportunity to do something quite different from anything he has done thus far. His work here is just one of the many incredible accomplishments of the film.

While the movie is absolutely brutal in its depiction of the legion of horrors that follow an act of extreme child abuse, particularly one perpetrated by a supposedly trustworthy community (the Catholic Church), it does not condemn the church as a whole. If anything, McDonagh’s script and Gleeson’s performance puts forth the idea that there are in fact good people within the priesthood, desperate to help their communities in any way that they can. In the end, the viewer is allowed to decide whether or not such institutions do more harm than good. Considering the immense weight of failure Father James feels towards every aspect of his life, you may come to the unfortunate realization that good individuals within corrupt organizations can only do so much. Calvary is not a film about hope. It is however something that will stay with you for a very long time afterwards.

Desk Set (1957): B-

One of the stranger Katherine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy vehicles, Desk Set is amusing in 2015 for its depiction of what was considered a fantastic computer in the late 1950s. However, it also features a great script that nicely illustrates why Hepburn and Tracy were such a remarkable team, and why they were able to carry a romantic comedy well past middle-age. The story of a reference library worker (Hepburn) and a man who has invented a computer that will make the human element in the reference library unnecessary (Tracy) is dated in terms of its specifics. In terms of the broader story of polar opposites inexplicably connecting anyway, it holds up surprisingly well. It might be a little difficult to see that fact amidst so many dated references, and the kind of fast-talking New Yorker movie shtick that is routinely mocked today, but Desk Set is still easy to enjoy as more than just an artifact. The timeless, winning exchanges between Hepburn and Tracy guarantee that.