Captain Canada's Movie Rodeo

Image copyright Columbia Pictures

Image copyright Columbia Pictures

See, because I’m Canadian, and a movie rodeo sounds better than “I get entirely too little sleep, and the best way to fill the time is by watching movies at four o’clock in the morning.”

Makes sense, right?

I’m sure the fact that I average somewhere in the neighborhood of two or three hours of sleep a night will catch up to me someday, but for now, I’m grateful to still have the time to dig on the fact that I will never live long enough to see every movie I want to see. There just isn’t enough time. I like that. Movies are second only to personal experience, in terms of the things that most strongly influence my work as a writer and actor. It’s always been that way, but movies are also still one of the few things in my life that can be a matter of pure pleasure. I watch entirely too many, and I talk about them entirely too often. It drives those closest to me nuts.

So, if nothing else, this column will serve as a way to alleviate that. I might be less inclined to ramble about film if I’ve just spent a couple of hours writing about them.

I might be. I won’t know, until I give it a shot.

The King of Marvin Gardens: A+

There’s a slow, strange crawl to this Jack Nicholson/Bruce Dern film that’s absolutely addictive. It’s strange to see a movie in which someone is even more deranged than Nicholson, but The King of Marvin Gardens gets a great deal of its punch, even after forty years, from Bruce Dern’s earnest, manic performance as an Atlantic City hustler who convinces his little brother, Nicholson, to put his radio DJ job on hold to work on a plan for fame and fortune that stretches back to their childhood. Nicholson is brilliant as the straight man, a role he has rarely played since, and his reactions to the chaos surrounding Dern’s life is likely to mirror your own. At times The King of Marvin Gardens feels like a documentary on the everyday weirdness of a town that doesn’t know it’s finished. Desperation fuels the motivations of Bruce Dern, his gal Friday (a wonderfully crazed Ellen Burstyn), her stepdaughter (Julia Anne Robinson), Nicholson (who often seems only interested in supporting the childhood dreams he shared with his brother) and the long menagerie of weirdoes they meet over the course of the film. The only one who seems to have a good bead on the times is Scatman Crothers, as a crime boss Dern has prior dealings with. Everyone else is merely scrambling for bread crumbs amidst a disintegrating cityscape. It’s depressing, but it’s also one of the best examples of the American dream gone awry ever committed to celluloid. The timelessness of The King of Marvin Gardens lies within the fact that pathetic dreamers are still plugging away at small schemes. They won’t succeed, but we’ll follow their journey into their self-inflicted hell all the same. It distracts us from our own endeavors. Just try not to focus too much on the fact that the Atlantic City of The King of Marvin Gardens can be found as readily today as when the movie was released. It doesn’t matter where you are. If you go outside you’re certain to find outcasts trying to make the most of their bleak surroundings. They just won’t be as entertaining.

Hugo: A+

I liked The Artist, but the more I think about it, the more I think that Martin Scorsese’s gorgeous, flawless adaptation of Brian Selznick’s novel should have been the one to win Best Picture. Anyone aware of Scorsese’s deep love of film will find a lot to take from a story of a young boy finding the means to deal with his father’s death by uncovering the whereabouts of a long-lost film pioneer. That love of movies is found in every frame, but such a thing would be overshadowed if the film were to fail as a great, well-shot and wonderfully performed movie. Thankfully Hugo hits every one of those points.

Yes Man: C

Jim Carrey has proven his range in Man on the Moon and Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind, so it’s unfortunate to see him throw the same comedic punches that he’s been throwing for years, as a man whose life takes a sharp turn after seeing a seminar on accepting any and all challenges with a “yes.” He holds the weak story and supporting cast together, but it’s obvious that his heart isn’t in it.

Sucker Punch: D-

Style over substance can in fact work, but I was so conscious of director Zach Snyder’s (who also came up with the story) desire to create a visual, turbulent and violent wonderland that I was bored long before the epic conclusion came around. Emily Browning deserves to go on to better things, but in Sucker Punch, her performance as a mental patient escaping the horrors around her through dreams is lost in a sea of images, That are more concerned with looking good than pushing a potentially good story forward.

The Rite: D-

Anthony Hopkins channels some Max Von Sydow to fantastic effect, but his performance is the only thing that holds this dull, verbose exorcism thriller together. Everything else about The Rite can be forgotten as soon as the movie is over.

Eagle vs. Shark: C+

Quirkiness in a movie is a lot like cuteness. Too much of it can sink the whole thing. And although Eagle vs. Shark suffers from this a little too much it’s difficult to be completely cynical. A large part of that is due to Loren Horsley. Her work here, as a fast-food jockey who falls in love with a terminally awkward jerk, is good enough to forgive everything else about a movie that’s fine but a little too self-aware of its quirkiness for its own good. Horsley makes up for just about every plus this movie has going for it.

Reds: A+

At three-and-a-half-hours Warren Beatty’s Reds, based on the life and work of American Socialist John Reed, is a long haul indeed, but anyone willing to stick through it can expect an epic of story and acting that never collapses under its own ambitious weight.

Tony Takitani: A+

The bizarre, cerebral writings of author Haruki Murakami will forever prove to be next-to-impossible to adapt to film, but the late Jun Ichikawa proves it’s possible here. Murakami’s short story centered on a man grieving over the loss of his shopaholic wife is fully realized by a steady pace, quietly stunning cinematography and effective, low-key performances. Its energy isn’t going to work for everyone, but it definitely worked with me.

Everything Must Go: A

Raymond Carver wrote some of the most human, deeply insightful short stories of all time. This film captures that dynamic, and is further supported by Will Ferrell nailing the role of a man picking up the pieces of a life filled with heavy drinking and disappointment. That sounds depressing, and it is at times, but Everything Must Go also possesses as much wit and warmth as its source material. Ferrell could stand to find a few more roles like this.

Raw Meat: C-

It’s likely that there is a bounty of films about a cannibal living in the sewers. This one is probably one of the best of them, but the stars, particularly Donald Pleasance and Christopher Lee, turn in performances that mix nicely with the ludicrous premise. Certainly worth a look for fans of either actor (although Lee’s time on screen clocks in at less than five minutes).