A shot of a polluted industrial site featuring enormous coal heaps and many smokestacks under smoggy skies in Manufactured Landscapes

Critic’s Picks – Original-Cin’s Jim Slotek takes over Hollywood Suite

May 15, 2020 By Jim Slotek Go Back

Jim Slotek is the founder and editor of the movie blog original-cin.ca, and longtime member of the Toronto Film Critics Association

There are not enough happy accidents in this world. And rifling through a list of available movies to program on the Critics’ Picks night on Hollywood Suite led me to a kind of cool one.

I sensed no overriding theme from the list, except for the fact that I first saw all but one of these films in theatres – a sad reflection on this moment in history.

But when I looked at Hollywood Suite 2000s, I realized that the three movies I’d picked were Canadian. I hadn’t set out to bleed maple syrup. I simply saw three titles that jumped out at me. With its follow-ups Watermark and Anthropocene, Manufactured Landscapes was the first of the trilogy of artful and compelling documentaries about humans’ effect on the planet made by artist Edward Burtynsky, Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier – a trio I dubbed “The Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” (Baichwal quoted the line when she accepted a Canadian Screen Award).

Fido was an unusual vision for a zombie movie, a satire on the Cold War, set in the 50s, where the walking dead served as a metaphor for commies at the gates (except inside the gates, zombies were kept as slaves via controlling technology). A human/zombie love story on the side, it contained one of Billy Connolly’s most touching performances (and an almost wordless one).

And Goon? It’s simply the second-best hockey movie ever made (after Slap Shot), based on the true story of a New England bar bouncer who slapped on skates and became a team tough guy. Seann William Scott proved he could act. Canada’s best comedy director Michael Dowse proved FUBAR wasn’t a fluke. And Allison Pill proved she makes everything better (has there ever been a more romantic sentiment than, “You make me want to stop sleeping with a bunch of guys”)?

As a career film critic, the 70s are important to me, because it was the time in my life (teens, early twenties) when I paid to see movies, as opposed to being paid to see them.

I had like-minded friends, and what was there to do in Thunder Bay besides go to the movies? We’d been laughing our heads off at Monty Python’s Flying Circus on CBC (and nearly getting into accidents when sketches like The Argument Clinic would pop up on the car radio on the local CBC station).

Scene from And Now for Something Completely Different. John Cleese as a customer holds up a bird cage to show Michael Palin as a pet shop clerk. Inside the cage, bereft of life, is a stiff, fully horizontal ex-parrot which has clearly ceased to be.

And Now For Something Completely Different was a must-see on its second theatrical release in 1974 (despite the fact that many of the sketches originated in the show). It shifted our appreciation for the Pythons to the big screen, and primed us for the blissful release of Monty Python and the Holy Grail the next year.

Play Misty For Me is the only movie on this list I discovered on TV, as a late-night movie in the late 70s. I was intrigued by the idea of Clint Eastwood directing (it was his debut), and that he cast himself, not as a cowboy or a cop, but as a jazz deejay. Jessica Walter, who should have become a way bigger star, gave a Glenn Close-calibre portrayal of a psycho stalker/romantically-obsessive fan.

And in 1979, I was at the exact right age for a quirky, feel-good coming-of-age movie like Breaking Away, given that I was in the process of breaking away from my own home town. The promising Dennis Christopher, who played the Italian-spouting cyclist Dave, is the hardest name to place today in a cast that included Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern, Jackie Earle Haley and Paul Dooley (in his best role as Dave’s exasperated dad).

But a career as a film critic beckoned. And in 1982, while working for the Ottawa Citizen, I covered my first Toronto International Film Festival (then modestly called The Festival of Festivals).

There I believed I’d discovered a movie for the ages in Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Quest For Fire, about three cro-magnon stooges (Everett McGill, Ron Perlman and Nameer El-Kadi) looking for a new flame after their communal fire goes out (they were not the most advanced primates in the movie).

I believed I was looking at the next Oscar Best Picture. It did ultimately win for Best Makeup, but had no other nominations.

There was, to me, something almost hypnotic about how good Jon Landis’s An American Werewolf in London was, with its skillful injections of humour into the horror mix  (including Griffin Dunne as a sarcastic corpse).

It was released just before I bought my first VCR. And after seeing it in the theatre, I recorded it on that other new medium, pay TV, and played it for everyone I knew. Like Dennis Christopher, American Werewolf star David Naughton didn’t go on to have the kind of career you’d expect from the star of a hit movie. But he did get a short-lived sitcom called Makin’ It, and sang the theme song which hit #5 on the Billboard charts.

Despite my obsession with Julie Delpy, the less said about the sequel, An American Werewolf in Paris, the better.

A pilot in a space suit with a smashed face shield stands in a desert. Black smoke is rising in the distance. Scene from The Right Stuff.

The Right Stuff? That’s a no-brainer. I’d read most of Tom Wolfe’s books, and I consider his chimp’s-eye-view chapter to be one of the finest pieces of writing in his canon. Everything about that movie was spot-on, from the spam-in-a-can disgruntlement of the astronauts, to Ed Harris’s John Glenn to Dennis Quaid’s cocky Gordo Cooper to Sam Shepard’s strong, silent Chuck Yeager. A ridiculously good cast all around.

Call it a coincidence that there are two movies about psycho fans here. The Shining is a masterpiece, but Misery is arguably the truest-in-spirit adaptation of any Steven King novel, a claustrophobic two-hander between the terrified, injured James Caan and his “caregiver,” Kathy Bates (who rightly won a Best Actress Oscar for the character of Annie Wilkes).

In retrospect, Misery also anticipated the modern-day online phenomenon of fans demanding a say in their heroes’ creations – “Don’t kill that Avenger, don’t cast a woman in a man’s role.”

If you have trouble processing what you’re seeing, it’s often the sign of a very good film. So, it was with David Fincher’s Fight Club, which initially baffled me, and provoked some fascinating interview conversations with stars Brad Pitt and Edward Norton (who considered it a passionate anti-Boomer manifesto, and was happy to break the first rule of Fight Club to say so at length).

And I’m eager to revisit Election, Reese Witherspoon’s best early movie. Tracy Flick, her ambitious wannabe student body president, is remembered by many as a screen villain, at war with the disillusioned nice-guy teacher (Matthew Broderick) who sees through her.

Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Flick in Election sits primly at a desk in a high school. Attached to the front of the desk is a handmade sign reading "Tracy Flick for President! Sign up for tomorrow." On the desk are a glass fishbowl filled with election buttons and three clipboards.

This is a movie that is getting a re-think in many corners. Tracy’s crime, in retrospect, is that she is an ambitious young woman. Seen through 21st Century eyes, she might even be the hero of this story.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Hollywood Suite 70s Movies – HS70

Hollywood Suite 80s Movies – HS80

Hollywood Suite 90s Movies – HS90

Hollywood Suite 2000s Movies – HS00

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