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Captain Canada's Movie Rodeo

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I guess the J.J. Abrams/Star Wars thing is a pretty big deal. And it is, but I can only put so much emotional investment in Episode VII, or prequels featuring Han Solo and Boba Fett. I do love Star Wars, but that affection is really just limited to the original trilogy. I can sit through the other three, and I can enjoy elements of them, but if I never get another chance to do that in my life, I’ll probably be okay. And I’ve seen roughly ten or fifteen minutes of Clone Wars.

The holiday special, you know the one I’m talking about, is a glorious train-wreck monument to bad programming decisions, and I’d rather not remember how many times I saw any spinoff that involved those goddamn Ewoks.

I like Star Wars. I really do. I’m just more likely to put my dwindling enthusiasm for life into getting excited about other things. I’m sure the franchise will not suffer from my lack of participation.

And although I’m aware that putting the two in a showdown is kind of stupid, since one is science fiction, and the other one isn’t (and it doesn’t make sense to argue the merits of one classic example of a genre against a classic example of a completely different genre), but if you push me into the age-old argument of Star Wars vs. Star Trek, then it’s going to be Star Trek just about every single time. It’s probably just because Star Trek gives me more to do in terms of material to enjoy.

Doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to Episode VII. It would be nice to see a Star Wars movie that would leave me as delirious with excitement (ever walked out of a movie, and thought that you should have just stayed for another screening?), or one that would at least not leave me struggling to think of the things about it that I liked. I’m pretty confident J.J. Abrams can make that kind of Star Wars movie. It’s just that I’ve never gotten the profound life-changing experience out of the franchise that so many of my friends have. The original trilogy make up three movies I really enjoy watching (any one of them is a good fix for my not-too-terribly-secret man-crush on Mr. Harrison Ford). That’s about it. When people start talking about Star Wars the way I talk about the movies that mean the world to me, I can only match their energy but so much.

The next couple of years are going to be interesting for Star Wars fans. I’m definitely up for seeing what develops for Episode VII (bringing in Lawrence Kasdan helps with that). And yeah, I’d love to see a few familiar faces come back for one last dance.

Awards season is chugging along. If it wasn’t for Tumblr, I probably wouldn’t know about anything but the Oscars. I don’t think I’m really missing out on a whole hell of a lot. I can just barely do an impression of someone who is looking forward to the Oscars. I was once again not nominated for anything, never mind that I in no way contributed to motion pictures over the past 12 months. I was just kind of hoping to be surprised.

Oh well.

The Hunger Games (2012): C-

The Hunger Games is not meant for me. I am not the target demographic for Suzanne Collins’ monumentally popular book series. The only way I ever see myself reading the books is if I’m trapped in the trunk of a car with a flashlight, and that’s the only thing to read on hand. Nothing personal to the people who have made Collins’ rich enough to pay me to pierce my own nipples in the middle of Wal-Mart. I just never saw anything to do with the books that struck me as even guiltily interesting. I won’t make a big deal about the Battle Royale comparisons, but I will say that The Hunger Games, in which youths battle for the honor of their district in a suffering, dystopian future, did remind me an awful lot of Koushun Takami’s novel (which in turn gets some cues from Stephen King’s The Long Walk). It doesn’t really matter in the end. I haven’t had a burning urge to read the books, and I only got around to the movie a little while ago. I didn’t expect much from director Gary Ross (who wrote Big, and directed Pleasantville), and I wasn’t anticipating any surprises from the cast, the story, or anything else. And my lukewarm enthusiasm was more or less matched by what I got. What I did take away from The Hunger Games was a better understanding of what all the fuss is about with Jennifer Lawrence. She is the only bright spot in what is otherwise a very slick, very pointless, very bland epic. Her performance creates an action hero figure as intriguing and considerable as anything that has been created in years. She manages to find what little sincerity and energy this story has to offer. Everyone else is either fine, or content to trust that people will love this because it’s The Hunger Games. This is a couple of floors higher on the monument to eye candy mediocrity, but that’s not exactly the kind of thing that’s going to make me bemoan the fact that the next film isn’t due to come out until November. Or shake with anticipation over the fact that the third book is going to be two films (don’t act surprised) until I break something in my neck. But Jennifer Lawrence? Yeah, I’ll see the next movie for more of what she can do with her character. Good casting goes a long way, and the sequel may just have more going for it in the hands of a director better suited for this kind of thing.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955): A-

This might not be as well known as some of John Sturges’ other films, The Magnificent Seven or The Great Escape, for example, but Bad Day at Black Rock is as much fun as either of those movies. It’s an addictive, ageless story, with every plot point, every shot from William C. Mellor, and every performance just building on the fun. Spencer Tracy is suitably cranky for the part of a middle-aged stranger who shows up in a barren, isolated desert town, and throws the small, haunted population into chaos by his mere presence. They need to know if the secrets they’re slowly dying to protect are in danger of being exposed. You might be able to figure out early on what Tracy’s intentions are in the near-ghost town, but if you do figure it out, you’re not going to mind. Nothing in this movie’s extremely tight running time of 81 minutes lags. Sturges has us running as soon as we get off the train with Tracy. Anyone who wants to learn how to tell a story that hits every note, and hits them beautifully, in less than ninety minutes would do well to study this classic. And if that’s not enough for you, Bad Day at Black Rock also features an amazing collection of character actor legends, including Walter Brennan, Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, and Dean Jagger. That alone would have at least kept me through to the end.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012): C-

A D+ seems a little harsh, but I was definitely expecting a little more fun than what I actually got from this fairly underwhelming film based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel. The title tells us everything we need to know about the plot, and there are plenty of quick-paced, well-made exchanges between Abe and those darn hordes of godless vampires (and all of these sequences hold up well in 2D), but what’s lacking from Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and what killed it for me in the end, is a complete lack of fun. The humor a movie like this needs isn’t just lacking, it’s non-existent. Too much self-aware humor, and the joke wears itself down to thin air long before the movie is over. Not enough, and you’re left with something that begins to annoy you, when you realize that you’re expected to take it seriously. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has none, and although Benjamin Walker makes for a very good Lincoln (Mary Elizabeth-Winstead, however, is sadly wasted as Mary Todd Lincoln), and that helps things along, all we’re left with in the end is a very average, instantly forgettable action movie. And that’s too bad. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter warrants a C-, but just barely.

[REC] (2007): B+

[•REC] (2007) I’m not a really big fan of “found footage” horror movies. Someone somewhere is going to pay dearly for the fact that I actually managed to sit through (sober) the first two Paranormal Activity films. Troll Hunter is the only recent example of a decent film (and Troll Hunter is actually very, very good) in this genre that I can think of, and I’m happy to add [REC] to that small list. It’s not a complicated story, but this tale of demonic possession turning into a full-blown epidemic wrings some beautifully shot, natural looking brutality, genuine suspense, and a few creative turns out of the undead-are-about-to-fuck-us-all-up premise. Manuela Velasco, as the reporter who finds herself trapped in the apartment complex with several others (all of whom turn in authentic performances), not to mention the Patient Zero in question, gives a performance that makes me feel something I haven’t felt for a horror movie heroine in a good while: I’m actually interested in finding out what happens to her.

The Exterminating Angel: B+

If you only know this movie from Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, it’s worth taking a shot on this long-standing Mexican art house classic to get a better understanding of the joke in Allen’s film. Luis Buñuel demands a fairly high suspension of our disbelief, of how much absurdist satire we can handle in just one movie. I can handle quite a bit, personally, and I never got a sense that the satire was getting too absurd. I also never felt as though the film’s social commentary took on overbearing or pretentious tones. Even if you don’t care about the social commentary, and you don’t have to in order to enjoy The Exterminating Angel, you’ll at least get a kick out watching a very fine cast go through a long, grim, and very funny decline, as they simply cannot leave the house (the reasons for which are never firmly revealed, which might bother some people) they have descended upon for a dinner party. The Exterminating Angel is, if you don’t want to look at it any other way, a study in how people behave when everything goes to hell. The findings in Buñuel’s masterful caricature of humanity are not pretty. Not everyone trapped in the house is a bastard, but the decent are definitely outnumbered. One of the best jokes in The Exterminating Angel is the fact that these findings would probably match reality quite nicely.