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Captain Canada's Movie Rodeo

Image copyright Focus Features

Image copyright Focus Features

I feel like I’ve written myself into a corner with these introductions. Writing this column has been a great deal of fun, and I hope people have been digging it, but I’m not entirely sure why I’m so obsessed with developing an idea that I can use to get us into the actual reviews.

One of my problems is that I get fixated on trivial, stupid things, and it can take ages to shake me out of doing that. Why does the damn introduction need to be near-essay length? Why does there need to be an introduction at all?

The whole point of this column is to write about movies. Anything else I do should just be screwing around with the window dressing. It should be a surprise even to me, what I’m going to do to get my brain going (and that’s really my primary motivation for these introductions to begin with). It should be like telling someone that the dynamite strapped to my chest are actually hot dogs, but then adding that I have no idea if my homemade flame-thrower actually works.

Does that make sense? I sure as hell hope it does.

I understand the logic behind Regal Cinemas running ads before movies telling me that the movie-going experience cannot be recreated at home. I’m the kind of hopeless romantic who will always believe that certain movies absolutely must be seen in a darkened theater with people who are just as hopelessly romantic about that kind of nonsense as I am, but if Regal Cinemas or anyone else thinks I’m actually going to pay money to see something like, let’s say, Madea’s Witness Protection or Hit and Run, then they’re enjoying the kind of drugs that a broke writer like myself can only dream of. I’d like to see the ads gone. They reek of desperation, and I don’t think they’re going to magically convert the masses to see more movies in theaters.

I saw the trailer for Magic Mike the other day, and I’ve been even further convinced that Steven Soderbergh can make a movie about damn near anything. With that in mind I’m looking forward to his dark comedy reimagining of The Polka Dot Door.

Ted looks a lot funnier than I ought to admit aloud. Mark Wahlberg excels in comedy. I just don’t want to give Seth MacFarlane any more credit or time (and I know he’s extremely dependent upon receiving both of these from me in particular) than he’s already gotten. I think he’s all set on those fronts.

I will be very, very, very surprised if Hyde Park on Hudson doesn’t score Bill Murray a second Oscar nomination and possible win. Watching him take on Franklin D. Roosevelt was eerie in its accuracy. I have always believed Murray to be one of the very best actors of my lifetime. I’m hoping Hyde Park on Hudson will give me further evidence to point to.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012): A+

I’ve said before how nice it is to have high expectations over a movie met and then exceeded, and it demands repeating again with Wes Anderson’s first live-action film since 2007’s disappointing (at least to me) The Darjeeling Limited. The great knock against Anderson’s films is that they tend to follow a very specific style and pattern. My argument against that has always been that if someone can do some really wonderful, pleasing things within that style and pattern, then what’s the problem? And believe me when I tell you that Anderson finds a lot of creative, unique touches in his very specific way of creating a film. With Roman Coppola co-writing the script Anderson gives us a film that features all of his usual visual and musical touches, which you’ve either been looking forward to or dreading, but he also gives us a story that stands apart from his other films. Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are two young actors I could very easily imagine myself seeing again in other films. Here their chemistry as two young lovers who escape from their circumstances (he’s an orphan with a wilderness youth group, and she’s from a self-absorbed, somewhat eccentric family) to be together on a small island, in which both of their circumstances exist on opposite sides. Their romance is sweet without killing you with that sweetness. It brings together their circumstances (which includes Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand and Edward Norton in humorous, low-key performances one and all). There’s even room for Bruce Willis as a quiet, tired sheriff of the small island (one of his best performances) and Bob Balaban (remember the NBC executive from Seinfeld) as the narrator. Moonrise Kingdom gave me all of the things I love about Wes Anderson’s films. Most of all the feeling after the movie that I absolutely have to see it again as quickly as possible. Who knows what I missed the first time? Moonrise Kingdom isn’t revolutionary by a long shot. It’s just funny, sweet and strange without the arrogance of needing to tell us of its strangeness over and over again. Anderson lets his direction, the cast and the story speak on that front. I loved everything those things had to tell me.  

Brave (2012): B+

Is this the most groundbreaking film Pixar has ever created? Not really. Is it even the best film Pixar has ever released? I wouldn’t say so. It’s still an absolutely gorgeous film that never lacks on great voice performances, (especially Kelly McDonald as a strong, believable and complex female protagonist and Billy Connolly as her father), a pleasing story of a mother and daughter struggling to find common ground and the kind of humor that Pixar has built its name on over these many years. All of these elements are alive and well in Brave.

Recoil (2011): C-

“Stone Cold” Steve Austin glares at people, shoots some of them and goes to war with Danny Trejo. That’s really all I can say about this Canadian-produced crime story. I freely admit that Steve Austin movies (and he’s made several over the past few years) are one of my most shameful guilty pleasures. I don’t care. I like the guy, and I’m game to see him blow things up, scowl and win fights that are inexplicably choreographed along pro wrestling lines. If any of that appeals to you, then join the guilty pleasure party. The rest of you, I suspect, moved on after the first sentence.

Larry Crowne (2011): C+

There’s nothing particularly special about Tom Hanks’ directing and writing (along with Nia Vardalos) effort, but that’s okay. Hanks seems to be having a lot of fun playing a recently laid-off, divorced Navy veteran who returns to college, romances one of his teachers (we’ll just pretend it’s someone besides Julia Roberts) and finds a surprising (to him, not us) rapport with some his much younger fellow students. The movie leans pretty heavily on Hanks’ charm, and that does carry us a nice bit of the way. You’re not going to feel like you just wasted your life on this, but you probably won’t feel like you just saw something of extraordinary weight either. A movie like this settles comfortably into being average pretty early on, and as long as it doesn’t entertain delusions of being something more, I’m fine with that. At the very least it’s worth seeing George Takei run away with the whole show as one of Hanks’ university professors.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012): C

The romantic energy between Steve Carell and Keira Knightley leaves a lot to be desired, but each still turns in good work in this end-of-the-world story that definitely can’t seem to figure out just how much dark comedy it wants to go for. Lorene Scafaria’s creative story and sharp eye for commentary may have benefitted from not pulling quite so many punches. This could have been an absolutely razor-sharp mediation on doomsday with room to spare for humor and romance. Instead it’s just a jumble of these things that never quite comes together. Entertaining (Patton Oswalt and Rob Corddry are great, and I wish they could have been hung around the film longer), but it’s a story that could have been a lot more than that.

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974): B+

If you can get over how ridiculously annoying Alfred Lutter is as Ellen Burstyn’s young son, you’ll probably enjoy this early Martin Scorsese film (his fourth) about a woman who leaves town after her husband dies (it wasn’t a huge loss), gets a job as a waitress, sleeps with Harvey Keitel (I think we can all imagine how that works out) and falls in love with Kris Kristofferson. Scorsese is clearly at home with just about any type of story, and it’s fascinating to see that even at this early a point in his career. What the movie lives and dies on though is Ellen Burstyn’s Oscar-winning performance as a woman who probably deserves to have all her dreams come true. Part of that is because she’s pretty likable. An even bigger point is the fact that at no point in this amiable, well-aged film does she leave that screeching, demonic son of hers in a grocery store. Noteworthy also for featuring a Jodie Foster that’s so young you may not recognize her at first. I certainly didn’t.