Captain Canada's Movie Rodeo

Image copyright Lionsgate

Image copyright Lionsgate

I guess it’s good that people just inherently assume I’ve seen The Hunger Games. I don’t want to think of it as a bad thing. If people just inherently assume that I do nothing but watch movies (and then occasionally write about them), I guess there’s nothing I can really do about that.

Although it’s not so much that I don’t have a life outside of watching movies, as it is that I just don’t get a whole lot of sleep. It’s always been like that for me, and it’s something that’s worked its way into my conversations and writings for a long time now. It might just be that I’m defensive. I’ve never slept well, and I’ve always worked within the idea that I would rather get in some movies, or maybe some reading, rather than trying to find sleep that’s clearly not going to come to me.

So, that helps, but I unfortunately don’t get to keep up blockbusters as they move in and out of the theaters. Part of the problem is that I don’t live near a movie theater anymore. The other problem is that I just can’t afford it. I’ll get around to movies like The Hunger Games eventually. It’s more likely that I’ll wait. I’m pretty sure I’ll survive, and there’s more than enough to keep me busy besides.

There are quite a few movies I’d like to see this summer though. That’s always going to be the case. It’s just a question of being able to.

I kind of miss living in Charlottesville, VA. Entirely too much of my time there was spent at the movies.

The Tree of Life (2011): A

When the 2012 Oscars were announced, there was a great post making the rounds on Facebook and elsewhere, of what the posters for some of the bigger nominees would look like if they were actually honest in their advertising. All of them were pretty spot-on, but at the time I had seen the post, I had not yet seen Terrence Malick’s intense, dreamlike and extremely ambitious theological and philosophical epic. The parody poster is the same as the actual poster. It just substitutes The Tree of Life for the word “Wuh?” Having not seen the movie I could only appreciate the joke but so much. I had heard it was an intensely difficult film to get into. That it was slow, bizarre and played to its own logic and style. So, I was able to appreciate the truth-in-advertising-poster on that level, but it wasn’t until I saw the movie for myself that I finally understood the “Wuh?” At the end I didn’t feel like I had even seen a movie. It felt more like someone getting the money necessary to fully visualize their dreams and ideas on the meaning of life, and other such weighty issues. It just happened to have names like Brad Pitt (in one of his best performances), Sean Penn (who looks as lost as the rest of us) and Jessica Chastain in it. Technically, however, it’s still a movie, and as a movie it is indeed slow, bizarre and playing to its own logic and style. At the same time it’s absolutely riveting, beautiful throughout its slow (but not tediously so) pace and so richly compelling that I left the movie feeling as though I had missed something. I have no idea if Malick, who has been crafting thoughtful, fascinating films for decades (Badlands, Days of Heaven and several others) went out of his way to create a movie that would make me feel this way. What I do know, or at least what I suspect, is that this there are seemingly two stories at play here. One is the story of a family in the 1950’s. The other is the story of the universe and of our own world. What Malick does so beautifully in The Tree of Life is tell these two stories, have them meet often and finally have them join as one story by the end. That’s what I took away from my one and only viewing. That opinion could change by watching it again, and I’m honestly curious to see if that happens. The Tree of Life had that kind of effect on me.

Cannibal Holocaust (1980): C-

The grandfather of the “found footage” genre doesn’t offer much more than shock value, but some of that shock is indeed as potent now as it was over thirty years ago. A New York University professor returns from the Amazon with footage of a doomed documentary about an indigenous being planned by some of his students. That’s the first half of the movie, and it’s a fairly dull first half. The rest of the movie is watching the “footage”, and that’s where Cannibal Holocaust still retains some of its force after all these years. Anyone who doesn’t want to witness scenes of animals being tortured can either avoid the movie, or pick up the DVD edition that edits of all those bits out. There is a horrible, grimy, bleak face to this movie, and that does give the movie a weight that slicker, more well-known “found footage” films (like Paranormal Activity) severely lack. This won’t be the most shocking movie you’re ever going to see, but it can still stay with you.

Point Blank (1967): A+

John Boorman’s 1967 revenge film is considered a cult classic, and that’s not difficult for me to understand. Lee Marvin’s cold, ridiculously cool performance is only the start. Boorman here directed a film that didn’t necessarily invent the noir revenge film, but he certainly took Richard Stark’s novel, The Hunter, to heights similar movies have been trying to reach ever since. Point Blank is just perfection from start to finish in its cast (especially John Vernon, Caroll O’Connor and Angie Dickinson), story, style (a visual punch that is as fresh now as it was when it was released over forty years ago) and energy. It’s vintage Lee Marvin, but there’s a lot of other things about Point Blank to enjoy.

Catch-22 (1970): D+

I’ve been meaning to finish reading Joseph Heller’s classic novel for years. I suppose it was only a matter of time before I got around to seeing the movie, but I still would have liked to have finished that book first. Oh well. Whereas I would love to finish the book I left Mike Nichols 1970 adaptation feeling as though I wouldn’t have missed anything by missing the movie. Some consider this to be a cult classic, and have praise for the performances by Alan Arkin, Orson Welles (who certainly steals the scenes he’s in), Art Garfunkel, Martin Sheen, Martin Balsam and others, for the movie’s dark comedy and commentary. I’m possibly just being unfair to the movie. I had high expectations of something I had been meaning to see for years. Like The Tree of Life, it might be worth giving Catch-22 another try even if the motivation for doing so is different. For now I was just very disappointed, and that’s reflected in the rating. It wasn’t bad, per say, but it was definitely that inadequate.

Jane Eyre (1943): A

I actually did read this in high school, although I don’t remember it particularly well. This is somehow the first film adaptation I’ve ever seen, and I liked it enough to think that it might be time to see the others. The gorgeous, perfectly-gothic backdrop lends itself well to Joan Fontaine’s performance of a woman, who becomes governess to a young girl in the care of a brooding, mysterious bachelor (one of the great, appropriately-intense Orson Welles performances). The mood and performances, especially Welles and Fontaine, are what continue to make the 1943 version of Jane Eyre worthwhile.

Paranormal Activity 2 (2010): F

That’s it. I give up. I’m not going to bother with the third movie, and I’m sure as hell not going to look forward to the upcoming fourth. The first film was an interesting premise that crumbled under unlikable characters and dullness masquerading as realism. The sequel is even worse. It didn’t even have a nice, sharp jolt at the end as in the first one. Paranormal Activity 2 is literally everything I disliked about the first movie blown up to greater heights. I’m amazed I was able to sit through the whole thing. I guess I was hoping to the bitter end for some kind of surprise.

The Hangover Part II (2011): C-

More of the same, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The greatest strength of the first Hangover was its fantastic comedic performances from the cast. That tradition is maintained here, and it forgives the fact that the story is almost beat-for-beat the exact same territory we visited the first time. The guys party, wake up in desperate, hazy circumstances and go from there to the business of picking up the pieces. That’s nothing special, and that’s fine by me. I didn’t expect anything from The Hangover Part II beyond the wonderful, at-times-brilliant chemistry between Ed Helms, Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis and Ken Jeong. I got that, so I’m not going to complain about the movie’s failing points. Can that momentum continue with a third film? Who knows.

They Might Be Giants (1971): A+

One of the best Sherlock Holmes movies I’ve ever seen, even if it’s not technically a Sherlock Holmes film. George C. Scott would have made a fine Holmes (and would get fairly close to the role in a 1986 TV-film adaptation of the Poe story, The Murders in the Rue Morgue), but I think I like this variation even more. Instead of being Holmes Scott is extraordinarily likable as a delusional millionaire who thinks he’s the great detective. His quest to find Moriarty takes him and his “Watson” (Joanne Woodward, who plays against Scott with great, serious humor) through a city that feeds into Scott’s harmless madness superbly. It’s a great premise supported by an equally great cast. They Might Be Giants suffers from being a little dated, but I’ve personally never had a problem with that kind of thing. I just had a great time with everything to do with this.

Cedar Rapids (2011): B+

Surprisingly likable film from Miguel Arteta (Chuck and Buck) and writer Phil Johnston, Cedar Rapids gets much of its appeal from Ed Helms as an amiable, sheltered insurance salesman sent to his concept of the big city (Cedar Rapids) for a convention. Helms is at home playing the socially-awkward spas, but he gets considerably more to do here. That might be due to a sweet, nicely-written script, or it might be the benefit of supporting talent like John C. Reilly, Kurtwood Smith, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr. (my favorite performance in the entire film), Stephen Root, Sigourney Weaver and others. Either way it’s the best performance I’ve ever seen from Helms, and he does a lot to make Cedar Rapids succeed as a pleasant surprise.