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Captain Canada's Movie Rodeo

Image copyright Miramax Films

Image copyright Miramax Films

I don’t understand why people hate open endings. I was thinking about the strange ending for Birdman (Michael Keaton has apparently taken over this movie rodeo, as we were also talking about him in last month’s column), as I left the theater, and began annoying the entire city of Ashland, Oregon with a cigarette.

I’m not going to spoil the ending for you. I’m only going to tell you that you’ll either really, really like it, or you’re going to really, really hate it. That might be a spoiler unto itself, but nonetheless.

Put it to you this way: How did you feel about the end of No Country for Old Men? Did it make you want to put your head through the window of a really stupid-looking little car? Did you tip over every baby carriage you came across, lest the child grow up to make movies with endings that are left up to the opinions of the crowd? If you did anything along those lines, then I’m not sure you’re going to be all that pleased with the ending for Birdman.

But why is that the case? Why do endings that offer very little in the way of warm, familiar resolution make certain people so very, very angry? I’ve witnessed with my own exhausted eyes people who I would normally consider to be perfectly rational, ranting for hours after the fact about the “weird” ending of the movie they just saw. I suppose I at least understand their reason. I just don’t particularly get why that reason exists.

Some open endings are clearly the product of a lazy writer, who wrote themselves into a corner, painted the corner, became extremely stoned on the paint fumes, and cobbled together a “mysterious” conclusion as to why their parents ever wanted to have children in the first place. There are plenty of examples of those endings to be found.

However, I do believe an ending that doesn’t really solve anything is a concept that can be handled properly. I believe there are just as many examples of that to be found. What about the ending for the original Italian Job? Granted, that’s more of a cliffhanger, but the fates of the characters are still left up to the viewer to determine. I can’t even begin to imagine someone having an issue with that ending.

But some people do. These people will sentence all ambiguous endings to a lifetime of community college writing classes. They want clear, definitive endings. When the credits role, they want to see the next thirty years of that film’s universe mapped out before them.

Real life is a spinning, badly constructed carnival ride of disease, bedlam, and constant, suffocating uncertainty. I get that, so I imagine that for at least some people, the movies shouldn’t resemble real life too closely. We have to deal with enough goddamn mystery in our lives. Why should we have to deal with even more in the movies we watch?

I’m guessing that’s one of the reasons as to why people hate unclear endings, but I would be curious to hear from people all the same. Do you hate ambiguity in a movie’s climax? Why?

For me, when those endings are done properly, it’s probable that I’m going to be building, smashing, and then re-building the thirty seconds that follow the actual end of the movie. It’s a certainty that I’m going to be doing that for the next several hours.

Birdman (2014): A+

Michael Keaton in Birdman (Image © FOX Searchlight Pictures).

Michael Keaton in Birdman (Image © FOX Searchlight Pictures).

At least a couple of people have now told me that when it comes to Birdman, Edward Norton’s performance as a vain, insufferably pretentious actor far outshines Michael Keaton’s character, who is no longer able to keep his slow-burn nervous breakdown at bay, on the eve of a potential Broadway-fueled comeback.

You can make the case for Norton being the best actor in the film, particularly if you want to consider the possibility that he was dismissed from The Avengers for reportedly being too big a pain in the ass. But here’s the thing: When it comes to the latest film from Alejandro González Iñárritu, you’re going to realize that everyone in this film is absolutely riveting, turning in some of the best work of their respective careers at this point.

Birdman is a crowded boat. You can’t disregard the wonderful work from Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Adams, or Naomi Watts. Even with the bulk of the movie focusing on Keaton’s character coming to grips with age, the fleeting nature of fame, family, and his craft, everyone in the film gets time to shine. Iñárritu has plenty of fun with style, bringing such touches as a movie that feels like a two-hour tracking shot, but he smartly lets the cast dominate most of our attention. They do. Although Keaton can naturally relate to an aging actor who is decades removed from the fame once achieved by playing a superhero, both he and Iñárritu wisely avoid a performance and a film that rests solely on our understanding of this connection. You don’t have to know that Keaton played Batman in 1989, but that knowledge can certainly enhance things to a certain degree.

In the end, Keaton scores so well with this performance, and only part of that is because of his experience with the Batman franchise. He is visibly drawing from other sources and inspirations. We should also never forget that at one time, there was hardly anyone who could match his ferocity and manic energy in a film cast. Birdman promises an actor playing the relatable role of a lifetime. That element is certainly in play here, but the film quickly becomes much, much more than that specific gimmick. Iñárritu has been bringing out the best in people with movies like 21 Grams andBiutiful since his career began. Is Birdman the best film he’s made to date? Even if you hate the ending, you might be inclined to think so. I did.

The Fourth Kind (2009): F-

Strictly in terms of UFO movies, this may well be worse than Fire in the Sky and Skyline put together. At the very least, those movies have moments.

Milla Jovovich is as bad a motherfucker as any other aging action star on the planet. She is the fantastic centerpiece of a dismal film franchise, based on a video game series of varying quality. She has proven herself time and time again to have a presence and energy as viable and singular as anyone else who is associated with movies that are by and large terrible.  Even she can’t save this “based on true events” nonsense about a therapist who uses interviews with abducted men and women to get closer to understanding the circumstances that surround a tragedy from her own life.

The instant watch library on Netflix features tons of bad horror movies, equal in population to that of a small town that’s being attached by glittery vampires. You’ll be tempted to scour through those B-negative Z grade films, hoping to find a gem or two. And you will. But doing so will mean sitting through horror movies that don’t merely insult your intelligence. They force your intelligence to adopt a level of hopelessness that would have sent even Nietzsche scrambling to find gif sets of kittens play-fighting in a small box.

I’m not saying horror movies have to strive for scientific integrity. I’m just saying that in the world of bad horror films, the ones that pretend to be a lot smarter than they really are the ones that give the most enduring genre in film history the bad reputation it still has in some circles. If you’re trying to win someone over to horror films, showing this to them will probably result in being slapped with a sock full of quarters for an hour and a half. And you’ll deserve that, too.

Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013): A+

It doesn’t hurt to have seen the 1984 David Lynch-directed adaptation of Frank Herbert’s legendary science fiction epic. However, if you simply go in to Jodorowsky’s Dune cold, you’ll still walk away with an appreciation of the process that continues to make or break the future of a film’s production.

Virtually everyone involved in the failed attempt at brining Herbert’s book to film is interviewed, offering straightforward insight, as well as an opportunity on our part to appreciate the intense frustration of what could have been. However you feel about Lynch’s version of Dune, it’s hard to argue with the unspoken notion that the documentary puts forth. Namely, that an enigmatic, psychotically driven, and endlessly creative man like Alejandro Jodorowsky could have made one of the greatest science fiction films of all time. When you consider the talent that would have been involved, a list of names that would have included David Carradine, Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson, Mick Jagger, and Salvador Dali, it’s not unreasonable to bemoan what will never be. Quite frankly, even at this point, Jodorowsky, who is presently in his mid-80s, makes you believe that he could mount his own production of Dune right now.

The film is also highlighted by interviews with such visionary figures as H.R. Giger and Jean Giraud. Much of the fascinating tribute that Jodorowsky’s Dune ultimately is focuses on how influence this long-dead project would later serve to other films. You can decide for yourself if that’s true. But you are most certainly going to wish everything had come together for Jodorowsky and company. At this point, the relationship between Jodorowsky and Dune will have to settle for being one of the best documentaries on the process of film producing and filmmaking ever made.

Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980): B-

Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones in Coal Miner’s Daughter (Image © Universal Pictures).

Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones in Coal Miner’s Daughter (Image © Universal Pictures).

I frequently hear or read about people praising older actresses like Helen Mirren, Jessica Lange, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, and Gina Torres for continuing to do such phenomenal work, at an age in which many actresses of similar ages (or younger) are relegated to consistently thankless roles. I’m definitely not going to take anything away from those arguments, because they’re absolutely right in praising those women. However, I’m hoping that Sissy Spacek, who hasn’t appeared on screen since 2012, will eventually join that list. As recently as 2011’s The Help, she was doing phenomenal work.

She has been doing good work, pretty much since the beginning of her career. Coal Miner’s Daughter, which rightfully earned her an Oscar, is a good case in point. Her depiction of Loretta Lynn is so perfect, so honest, and so disinterested in actually winning an award, the film retains an ageless quality that makes it well worth discovering, in a decade that has given us so many flat, soulless biopics. Spacek’s portrayal of Loretta Lynn on the rocky road to superstardom is enhanced even further with any scene she shares with Tommy Lee Jones. As Doolittle Lynn, Loretta’s husband and fellow musician of many years, Jones showcases the intensity that would finally make him a bankable star in the early 90’s. Even if you absolutely detest country music, you won’t be sorry you dug this out of the forgotten Oscar winner archives.

Rosebud (1975): D-

As far as Peter O’Toole (the sole bright spot here) goes, the story of his casting is something along these lines:

He was brought on to play the lead in a story about a reporter/CIA agent who goes after a terrorist group that has kidnapped five wealthy young girls, but only because of the vicious acrimony that developed between director Otto Preminger, and the film’s original star, Robert Mitchum. Amongst other things, Mitchum decided to express his displeasure with one of his co-stars by whipping out his dick during one of the scenes.

We can only guess at what kind of set this created between director and star.

In the end, Mitchum either quit, or was fired.

When O’Toole was brought on as his replacement, Mitchum greeted the news by saying “That’s like replacing Ray Charles with Helen Keller.” In Mitchum’s own way, he was mocking Preminger for replacing one binge-drinking troublemaker with another.

However you feel about that story, or in the way in which Mitchum described Preminger’s choice for a replacement, I can promise you this: That story was profoundly more interesting than virtually anything this movie (which also features Peter Lawford, Richard Attenborough, and a very young Kim Cattrall) will show you, over the course of two inhumanly long, sadistically tedious hours.

Preminger made some excellent films in his career. Working from a script written by his own son, he doesn’t seem to have much of a heart for doing anything with what is actually a reasonably interesting story. It’s an interesting story, but it’s one of the many dreadfully dull films that were made in this time period. O’Toole seems as lost as everyone else, but at least he tries to make something of it. He gives the movie the few worthwhile moments it can claim. You’ll find this movie on Amazon Prime. If you’ll allow me, I would suggest watching The Fourth Kind instead. If you’re desperate to kill brain cells in a way that will safeguard you from the additional consequences that follow hooking yourself up to dual IVs of fried chicken skin and Jack Daniels, The Fourth Kind is slightly less terrible. I can only recommend Rosebud (which is a word that now has a profoundly different meaning in certain circles) to people who will watch anything Peter O’Toole appeared in.

If you have that mindset, then you’ll be fine, because you’ve already sat through some of the worst movies ever made.