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Captain Canada's Movie Rodeo

Image copyright Columbia Pictures

Image copyright Columbia Pictures

I have no idea when this column is going to join the rest of the inebriated chimps, but even if it’s a week or two down the line from today (July 22nd), it would be impossible to not at least mention the Aurora movie theater tragedy.

This really isn’t the place to go into a long-winded spiel about it. I’m not going to rant about guns, the media, the appalling conditions of our mental healthcare system. That’s a conversation for another place and time. Better, sharper social minds than I have probably said everything there is to say.

And if I were to say anything of substance I’d say it somewhere else.

That doesn’t mean they won’t keep saying it, but everything that’s worth saying has probably already been said.

We won’t talk about how a tragedy is a tragedy, and that knowing there are larger and more consistent tragedies out in the world does not make the grief of those who survived the shooting. Or those who lost someone who didn’t make it out alive.

Well, we won’t go into it, anyway.

What I will say is that I don’t think the safety of the movie theater is going to change in the aftermath of this. This is a column about movies, so that’s what I’ll comment on. It’s something that’s been kicked around by a few different voices. That the movie theater is a place to escape from the rest of the world, to find a temporary detachment from what’s out there by disappearing for a little while into a good film. How this living horror story will count those things amongst its victims.

I don’t see it that way. Part of me thinks it’s a shallow concern, but I suppose it has some validity. How many places do we really have in the world that takes us out of the things we live in day after day? For most of us it’s a small list of small pleasures. Hopefully in the wake of this event people consider things that have nothing to do with themselves. Hopefully. If thoughts like the one above pop in there, then I guess that’s fair enough.

What I do believe, with that thought in mind, is that it’s not something to worry about. Some will be shaken up at the very thought of something like this happening for a long time, I suppose. I won’t be. That doesn’t mean I’m stupid. It’s just not something I’m prepared to worry about. As far as I can tell I’m in a position to leave the planet at any given moment for any number of given reasons. That’s just the way life is going to go.

The list of things I fear in this world is considerable, to say nothing of fun roller-coasters like anxiety, but one of the personal responsibilities I’ve accepted is to minimize what those fears do to me when I’m out and about. To give in to being afraid of something like being shot at a movie theater is to give in fully to a universe I have virtually no control over. I can’t do that. My own list of sanctuaries, however frivolous they might be to others, is of significant importance to me. Movies are one of those sanctuaries. Movie theaters are another. I saw a midnight show of The Dark Knight Rises. I hadn’t been to a midnight movie since Hellboy II. I hate them, and that’s mostly just because the crowds bug me. I don’t mind a good house, but the midnight crowds tend to have a few too many obnoxious teenagers and other spectacular jackasses for my taste. I generally prefer to just wait for a less-packed show, or I just wait until it’s out of theaters.

That’s usually how I go about midnight movies, but The Dark Knight Rises was special. It was optimistically going to be the epic conclusion to a groundbreaking trilogy. It’s also a Batman movie, my favorite comic book character, and those two things alone made putting up with the crowds at a midnight movie possible.

I loved the film, by the way, but that’s not the point. For two hours and forty-five minutes, I was so completely absorbed by the movie that I wasn’t even aware that my brain remembered to tell my lungs to keep pushing and taking in oxygen. The rest of the jammed theater made a little noise, but I barely heard them. Darkness covered everything but the screen, and a near-complete silence filled everything but the words and sounds coming from the movie.

I loved the film, but I love it even more when any movie does that for me. I can almost get the same kind of fix watching it at home, but not quite. I’m a little picky, and I’m known to stick to old guns. The movie theater cannot be replaced anywhere else for me. I don’t care how big the screen is. I don’t care how comfortable the couch is.

The movie theater is one of my sanctuaries, and I’m not going to let fear the big, scary world change that for me.

The safety and escapism of the movie theater will endure just fine. Put your worries towards something that’s actually in danger.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012): B+

Confession time: I’ll never be a big fan of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. I love most of Raimi’s work, and there are a number of things I love about these films, especially the casting of villains, but I had a couple of fairly large problems with the series. Mostly I just could never get behind Tobey Maguire as Spiderman or the sour, irritating Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane. Anything I enjoyed about the movies always came back around to those two, and I just couldn’t enjoy them the way a lot of people seem to. I was pretty indifferent to a gritty reboot, but I came around to reconsider that just enough after seeing a trailer. So, you can call this the summer of surprises, because I was genuinely surprised at just how enjoyable and vastly-superior Marc Webb’s (the puns write themselves) shot at the series turned out to be. Andrew Garfield pulled the brooding emo kid card a couple of times, but he was largely everything as Spiderman and Peter Parker that I failed to see in Maguire. He was funny, conflicted and just the right amount of awkward. There’s a reason why Spiderman was one of the characters who changed the comic book industry in the 1960’s. He’s a complex character, and Garfield surprised me at how skillfully he handled everything that makes Peter Parker and Spiderman one of the great characters. It’s even better when The Amazing Spiderman throws Emma Stone as beautiful, sharp and very charming foil for Garfield, Denis Leary as her father (playing, well, Denis Leary), Rhys Ifans doing a nice job as Dr. Connors/The Lizard, Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben and Sally Field (who is thankfully does not get very much screen time) as Aunt Mae. It’s great that The Amazing Spider-Man is the kind of pure, giddy fun that I’ve always wanted out of a Spiderman film. The energy stays steady with sweeping shots of the city and quick, frantic cuts for the well-choreographed action scenes, and the CGI didn’t hurt the overall illusion (I didn’t really have a problem with how The Lizard looked). All of that is wonderful, without a good Spiderman, it just would have been another case of close-but-not-close enough. The Amazing Spiderman is the kind guiltless summer blockbuster the Spiderman universe deserves.

The Big Year (2011): C+

The Big Year does nothing to distinguish itself, but it’s hard to be a complete cynic about this cute, uncomplicated story of three men (Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson) competing in the bird-watching challenge known as “The Big Year” (which is indeed an actual thing). It’s a little too slow, and the heavy laughs you might expect to get from Martin, Black and Owen don’t come along as often as they should. Still it’s a good, amiable comedy that wanders a little too much, but still comes out with some of the better performances any one of its three stars have given us in recent years. That should be enough for their fans. Anyone else may not find anything special here. 

Ted (2012): C+

Ted is pretty much a two-hour episode of Family Guy, or American Dad, or The Cleveland Show (although I’ve only seen one episode of that). That’s okay. There are in fact moments from Family Guy and American Dad that I do think are pretty damn funny, and Ted, McFarlane’s first live-action feature, represents the best of his sense of humor. There’s only but so much plot and comedy a person can wrangle out of a man (Mark Wahlberg) living with a pot-smoking, heavy drinking, perpetually horny and foul-mouthed teddy bear (voiced by Seth) that came to life, after a childhood wish years earlier. Ted probably doesn’t need to run for nearly two hours, and some of the jokes smack of the same desperation that informs a lot of McFarlane’s work, but there’s more good than bad to be found here. Wahlberg is at his most appealing to me when he’s working with material that’s intentionally meant to be absurd and funny. He does just fine interacting with a childhood toy whose initial celebrity (even in the world of this film, teddy bears generally don’t come to life, so it’s a big deal when it happens) has long since passed. Sadly Mila Kunis doesn’t get a whole lot to do as Wahlber’s girlfriend, but she’s talented enough to make the best of what she’s given. It’s also not a huge surprise that McFarlane regulars such as Patrick Stewart, Patrick Warburton, Alex Borstein and others all pop in at certain points. Not a surprise, but not a problem either. Most of Ted’s humor works, and if this turns out to be the best comedy offering of the summer, I won’t complain.

Cinéma Vérité (2011): D-

It’s not that Cinéma Vérité is god-awful. So much as it’s just extremely disappointing. I would have imagined that HBO, a cast that includes Tim Robbins, Diane Lane and James Gandolfini, the direction of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (American Splendor) and a fictionalized story behind the making of PBS’ groundbreaking documentary, An American Family, would have made for a solid ninety-minutes. Lane seems to be the only one in this mess who has any idea of what to do. As a result her performance is the only thing that stands out. Everyone else is lost in a movie that barely gets started. The little bit that does get moving never really goes anywhere. 

Au revoir, les enfants (1987): A

Louis Malle’s story, taken from events in his own life, of a French-Catholic boy (Gaspard Manesse) befriending a Jewish boy (Raphael Fejto) at a boarding school during the Nazis occupation of France is depressing, without a shred of romance for its country and absolutely beautiful in every single frame. Au revoir, les enfants plays more like something we just happen to be watching from afar than anything that we would call a typical film. “Minimalism” is the word to remember as Malle takes us through the growing friend between the two outcasts, while the Nazis hover around the school in ever-tighter circles. The movie speaks softly, and that can be interpreted by some as too slow. That’s true in certain cases. With Au revoir, les enfants it’s the best way to tell the story. It builds slow, and digs into the heart and mind so subtlety, you don’t even realize what’s happened until much later. By then you’re hoping like hell that it works out for these kids. Unfortunately the smaller, more personal stories of World War II are filled with moments of genuine sorrow. It’s not a spoiler to say that Au revoir, les enfants is one of them. From the beginning you know you’re in for a long emotional haul. Even so you hope for the best anyway.