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Captain Canada's Movie Rodeo

Image copyright Lionsgate

Image copyright Lionsgate

Twice now, the Drunk Monkeys film department has participated in what we call a Drunk Monkeys Movie Club event. It’s a fairly straightforward concept. The editorial department picks a movie, I write up a little carnival barker advertisement for it, and then we generate interest on social media. We’re going to watch the movie, and we’re going to talk shit about it on Twitter every step of the way.

I’m certainly not going to say it’s a revolutionary concept. It’s not. You also have to consider the possibility that you’re going to mildly annoy some of the people who are following your Twitter. We considered that possibility with Drunk Monkeys Movie Club, and we decided to go for it anyway, in the end. It was fun, brought in a decent range of contributing voices, and kept everyone on their toes. For the first film, we covered The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. We wanted to go a different route for the second film, so we chose The Usual Suspects. Those are fairly different contrasting films on a number of levels. Both of them are considered classics by large groups of fans and critics. Both films were screened for Movie Club with the understanding that anyone who chimed in on Twitter had already seen them.

It was a safe assumption. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly consisted largely of a live conversation about the film between Matthew Guerruckey and I. It was fairly easy to keep up with, and I think the whole thing made for interesting reading for those who followed along. The Usual Suspectsturned out to be a bit different. Several people not only followed along, but chimed in with observations, trivia, opinions, and reactions. Things got a little chaotic at times, but it was at least fun for me to keep up with everyone. We even tagged people like Kevin Pollack and Kevin Kline in some of our tweets. Neither responded. It would have been pretty neat if they had.

Watching movies is a solitary thing, yet we do seek out people to share in the experience. We feed off the energy of a crowd in a movie theater, good or bad. We get really excited about sharing a movie with someone who has never seen it before. In those cases, you’re probably the kind of person who glances at them while they’re watching. You remember how it was for you, and you want to see if their body language suggests anything you remember thinking, when you saw the movie in question for the first time.

And then there’s the fact that if we watch the movie with someone, we generally want to talk about it with them when it’s over. We want to discuss it with people on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, or wherever we choose to waste our time. There are even movies that people watch and actively participate in watching together. Rocky Horror Picture Show is a good example of that. And then you have the enduring legacy of Mystery Science Theater being built at least partially on the premise that sharing in the experience of a really, really bad movie is something that’s worth seeking out.

Hell, the entire aim of this column has always been to tell people about the movies I’m watching. It’s something of a one-sided conversation, but it’s a back-and-forth dialogue I imagine between myself and anyone who might be reading this all the same.

What I love about movies, and what I really enjoyed about Drunk Monkeys Movie Club, is the contradiction of something that exists as a solitary activity, but also as a means of establishing community. For many of us, we want to engage our response to a film we’ve just seen. There are a lot of ways to accomplish that. A free-for-all exchange of thoughts and theories on Twitter is one such method.

It’s been a lot of fun so far. It has given me yet another method for indulging one of my passions.

Our next Movie Club Event will be a live-tweet of the 2012 horror/comedy classic The Cabin in the Woods, next Monday, October 20th at 8pm EST.

12 Years a Slave (2013): A+

The fact of the matter is that’s it is unfortunate that when it comes to movies that depict the black experience, the only thing critics and the media ever seems to pay attention to are those stories that deal with slavery. When you combine that fact with movies like Exodus: Gods and Kings having predominantly white casts, it’s easy to see why some look to 12 Years a Slave with a wary eye. That’s a little unfortunate, given that this movie deserves every bit of praise it has received.

This film version of a memoir that was published by Solomon Northup in 1853 is a story that definitely deserves to be told. It’s just that it would be nice if that story could share space with stories that have nothing to do with slavery. Nonetheless, 12 Years a Slave offers one of the most intense, vivid depictions of slavery ever committed to film. No one is going to doubt the integrity of Steve McQueen’s desire to bring Northup’s book to brutal, unflinching life. It’s not going to be white guilt that fixes your attention to Northup’s terrible journey. It’s going to be the way in which McQueen doesn’t let up for even a second. It’s also going to be the unfathomably good performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael Fassbender, and Benedict Cumberbatch.

The psychological changes Northup endures over the course of his experiences demands a very specific, very complex performance from the actor playing him. Ejiofor has been turning in tremendous work for years. It’s no surprise that his intensity and emotional depth as an actor allows him to pull off one of the best examples of an actor serving as the centerpiece to a major film with several intricate mechanisms. 12 Years a Slave is a formidable entry in the world of successfully telling an extremely ambitious story. Considering this came from a perfectionist like McQueen, it shouldn’t be surprising that this movie is so good.

The House of the Devil (2009): C-

In writing and directing The House of the Devil, Ti West endeavored to do something different with the horror genre. Whether or not he succeeds is going to depend mightily on how patient you are.

If you’re okay with the fact that almost nothing happens for about ¾ of the movie, then you’re probably going to consider this film to be one of the best horror movies released in recent years. There are plenty of horror movies that are designed with the idea that everything, absolutely everything is going to have to build towards a climax that’s going to leave you shaken and nauseous with your own skin. Against a backdrop that was shot on 16mm film, The House of the Devil believes in its final twenty minutes so intensely, it’s willing to believe you’ll sit around for a pretty uneventful hour to get to it.

And you will, because even if the movie’s conclusion is a little on the weak side, and even if the pace of the movie screams tedious at times, The House of the Devil is still pretty gripping.

You will stick around. You will be impressed by the fact that for the most part, its excruciatingly slow pace is going to be part of the overall experience. You will become impatient, and you will become increasingly uncomfortable with moments where something may happen, but doesn’t. It just builds a little more tension. It breathes a little faster. The House of the Devil isn’t flawless, but it does reveal that one cinema’s oldest, most enduring genres still has the potential to surprise even the most jaded fan.

Berberian Sound Studio (2012): B+

Berberian Sound Studio is another interesting experiment within the horror genre. It’s a first-rate psychological thriller from writer/director Peter Strickland, and it has one of the best performances from Toby Jones to date (an extremely underrated actor, by the way).

However, the ways in which Berberian Sound Studio builds on the tension in its story of a sound engineer who is slowly becoming undone, as he works on an Italian horror film, are worth paying attention to. Everything in Berberian Sound Studio is very keenly experienced through the eyes of its protagonist. There is no villain here, no monstrous figure in the shadows. The terror begins and ends in the mind of Jones’ character. There is a lot of weirdness going on around him. We have to follow him through that. We also have to inhabit the increasingly troubling ways in which Jones’ character comprehends everything that is happening to him. This is a character who is already fragile at the start of the picture. By the end, we are just as confused and afraid as he is.

Because the scary parts of Berberian Sound Studio is entirely dependent upon Jones’ ability to show us how far gone he is becoming, the movie is allowed to operate at its own pace. There are going to be moments in the film in which you feel like very little is happening. Don’t believe that for a second. There is not a single moment in Berberian Sound Studio that is not deliberate. Each piece of the movie is designed to give its abrupt ending as much weight as possible. For the most part, the movie is successful in trying to do something a little different with the psychological thriller trope. Even though you are almost certainly going to wonder what in the hell just happened, when the film reaches its unsetting conclusion.

Le Notti Bianche (1957): A-

Known as White Nights in the States, Le Notti Bianche is something of a strange duck. It is arguably the best film Luchino Visconti ever made.

When compared to other significant post-War Italian films, Le Notti Bianche feels like an anomaly. There really isn’t anything like it. The film establishes a strange pace right from the beginning, in relating Fyodor Dostoevsky’s story of two strangers beginning a tumultuous relationship after a chance encounter. It relies heavily on that pace to give the characters the space necessary for us to notice and appreciate their many complexities and layers.

In order to accomplish that, the film puts a great deal of the burden of telling this sad, lonely story on the shoulders of Italian icon Marcello Mastroianni and Maria Schell. These are intensely difficult, painfully human characters, trying to exist in the neorealist world Visconti has made.

No one is going to deny the notion that Le Notti Bianche deals in the human condition, and that it goes about this in a fashion that isn’t for everyone. If you’re someone who needs their films to have at least some element of the fantastical going for it, Le Notti Bianche is going to be a moody, unpleasant experience. If you want a fine example of Italian film, of the ability to tell a story that hurts so much because it’s all so very real, Le Notti Bianche will come your way eventually. You’ll be glad it did.

Trust Me (2013): B-

Thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Clark Gregg is a pretty big deal these days. Speaking as someone who has been a fan since seeing The Adventures of Sebastian Cole as a teenager, I’ve always enjoyed the guy’s output. Although his work as a screenwriter (he co-wrote What Lies Beneath) and a director (Choke) has been interesting, he hasn’t really produced anything significant. Trust Me is a potential game changer in that regard.

In his story of a fading child actor agent who is taken in by a viciously ambitious young girl (Saxon Sharbino), Gregg is clearly writing and directing from personal observation. He wants us to be uncomfortable with the way children are looked upon in the film and television industry, and he succeeds more often than not. He rounds out his film with an excellent supporting cast (particularly Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney) that allows for the film to be a little surreal, without ever actually getting into outright parody.

Certain scenes do feel a little contrived, and the ending leaves a lot to be desired, but Trust Me still has far more strengths than weaknesses. It gives us a clear indication that as a filmmaker, Gregg is worth keeping an eye on.