Sunday Matinee: The Paleface

Other than the action serials of the 1930s and 40s there was very very few leading roles for women as the hero. Most leading roles at the time were primarily drama, mother of a family struggling to keep the family together and such or a woman trying to become a star was another popular theme. But there the odd hero role for women.

Starting in the silent film era there was the odd western about a female gunfighter. 1918 had The Gun Woman. In the 1935 Annie Oakley a bio-pic about the sharp shooter starred Barbara Stanwyck, in 1935 The Plainsman starring Gary Cooper as Wild Bill had Jean Arthur as Calamity Jane but only in a non fighting side role. 1941 had the romanticized bio-pic Belle Starr (Gene Tierney) the notorious outlaw although the movie makes her more sympathetic, less of robbing criminal and more of a patriotic freedom fighter.
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REVIEW: Tomb Raider Is Serviceable Fun

Back in the day (2001), when Angelina Jolie was announced as the incarnation of the world’s (second) most famous tomb raider, the decision was celebrated as a victory for Girl Power: Finally, a female hero carrying an action film.

Besides the fact we have progressed astonishingly little in that regard (word by word, the same was said of Wonder Woman last year), it’s worth mentioning Jolie’s Lara Croft movies were not great. Not only the plot was unwieldly, Angelina played a sassier version of herself and not really a character.

The main change the 2018 version of Tomb Raider is that Alicia Vikander actually plays Lara Croft. The film is simple but cohesive and the action set-pieces are fluid, as opposed to the choppy style of some other genre specialists (ehem, Michael Bay, ehem).

In this incarnation, Croft is an bike courier/MMA aficionado living paycheck to paycheck. She doesn’t have to. Lara has inherited millions of dollars from her missing father, but she is reluctant to take a penny as she hasn’t given up hope that her dad may resurface.

On the verge of caving in, Lara stumbles upon a clue of her father’s whereabouts: A restless man, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West) may have ended in Japan, in pursuit of the resting place of a witch with devastating powers. And he wasn’t the only one in pursuit of the grave.

Tomb Raider is one of those rare cases in which the marriage of an European filmmaker’s sensibilities and a Hollywood production works out. Director Roar Uthaug, responsible for the low-budget, high-octane tsunami flick The Wave, keeps things grounded in reality. Because Indiana Jones’ parentage is undeniable, Uthaug embraces it, leading to effective sequences of Lara Croft using brains and brawn to escape from impossible situations.

A reliable performer, Alicia Vikander brings her low-key charisma to the role. She is immensely watchable and brings a modicum of verisimilitude to ludicrous scenarios. Fans of the videogame (the film is based on the 2013 reboot) are served with winks and nudges, without going overboard.

As the first movie of a would-be franchise, the film does a good job sticking to the story at hand and not overloading in mythology, so often the kiss of death of origin stories. A strong supporting cast (Walton Goggins, Kristin Scott-Thomas and a criminally underused Derek Jacobi) and rather amusing set pieces make Tomb Raider an enjoyable popcorn flick. 3/5 prairie dogs.

Tomb Raider is now playing everywhere.

Sunday Matinee: Brenda Starr, Reporter

Brenda Starr was a popular comic strip that had started in the 1940s written and drawn by one of the few female comic artists working at the time Dale Messick. The comic followed the adventures of Brenda Starr a reporter who got into all sorts of adventures (Messick came up with it after her all female pirate comic got rejected). The series was so popular it lasted until 2011 in newspapers.

Columbia Pictures loved adapting comic characters into serials, Superman, Batman, The Phantom, Congo Bill, Terry and the Pirates and many more so it was not much of a surprise that they adapted Brenda Starr.
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REVIEW: A Wrinkle in Time Could Use Some Ironing

Storm Reid is Meg Murry in “A Wrinkle in Time”

Director Ava DuVernay has had a remarkable career. Outside forays in music videos and television, her films have been consistently powerful: The fierce family drama Middle of Nowhere, the revelatory doc 13th and the heart-wrenching Selma, they all have left an indelible impression. It wasn’t a surprise Disney would pick her to head the adaptation of the emblematic sci-fi novel A Wrinkle in Time. She has the chops and the sensibility to pull it off.

Which is why it pains me to say A Wrinkle in Time is not up to par. It’s not necessarily DuVernay’s fault. The script is agonizingly obvious (kids are more sophisticated viewers than the movie gives them credit for) and commits a capital offense for an adaptation of this nature: It nearly forgoes world-building. Also, as seminal as the Madeleine L’Engle book is, it’s 56 years old, and every plot point has been recycled to death.

The one thing A Wrinkle in Time has going for is zeitgeist: All major social movements crystalize in the story of Meg (Storm Reid), a brilliant 13 year-old who -following her father’s disappearance- has turn sullen and withdrawn. Well on her way to hopelessness, Meg and her family are visited by Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), a kooky figure who seems to know more than she should about Meg’s dad and his interdimensional travel theories.

Soon Meg, her would-be boyfriend and her annoying little brother head to other worlds in search for the missing father, under the tutelage of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Oprah, supernatural, benevolent beings battling the Darkness, the source of all evil.

I could go into further details, but there is no end to all the narrative details the movie both tackles and glosses over. While nobody expects a page-to-page recreation, A Wrinkle in Time does a poor job explaining the mechanics of the story. Things happen. It’s magic. Moving on. A poor casting decision (Meg’s younger sibling is hard to understand and much of the plot hinges on him) further hinders the film’s unfolding.

Ava DuVernay manages however to keep the visuals interesting, particularly when choosing practical effects over CGI. For brief moments, the film becomes tactile, relatable. Makes you wonder what could it have been… with a better script. 2/5 prairie dogs.

A Wrinkle in Time is playing everywhere.

Sunday Matinee: The Tiger Woman/Zorro’s Black Whip

In 1944 Republic Pictures came out with another jungle girl serial The Tiger Woman starring Linda Stirling as the Tiger Woman. Sterling’s costume is actually a leopard print but whatever.

Two rival oil companies are trying to get the rights to drill in a jungle which is protected by the Tiger Woman and her tribe. Allen Saunders (Allan Lane) works for the one oil company but teams up with the Tiger Woman to fight the more evil oil company.
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Sunday Matinee: Jungle Girl/The Perils of Nyoka

So all the past few weeks of jungle girl movies have been leading to this 1941 action adventure serial from Republic Pictures, Jungle Girl!

Jungle Girl was the first sound serial to have a female lead. Well not quite – there was the 1933 remake of The Perils of Pauline and there was the 1935 serial Queen of the Jungle which just reused footage from the 1922 serial Jungle Goddess. But this actually the heroine swinging on vines and saving lives and fighting bad guys instead of just being a damsel in distress. Very very loosely based on Edgar Rice Burroughs novel of the same name the movie stars Frances Gifford as Nyoka Meredith the jungle girl of the title. The plot has Nyoka moving to an remote tribe in the jungle where her father Dr. John Meredith (Trevor Bardette) has fled and becomes doctor for the tribe displacing the witch doctor Shamba ( Frank Lackteen).
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Sunday Matinee: The Savage Girl / The Jungle Princess

Continuing with the jungle girl series today’s Sunday Matinee is 1932’s The Savage Girl.

Rochelle Hudson plays the title character, a young woman who has grown up in the jungle who is sort od a female Tarzan, trying to keep the animals of the jungle safe.
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Sunday Matinee: Trader Horn

There are lots of silent films that featured female leads, sometimes as the hero, more often than not as the damsel in distress and sadly most of the movies have been lost. The only other major film would the brilliant Les Vampires which I’ve previously done.

Despite the pre-code era with several strong female lead roles, there isn’t really any action roles for women other than supporting or again the damsel in distress.  Sadly we have to jump to the 1940s action serials before we see a female lead.
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Sunday Matinee: Ruth Roland

One of the worst and greatest tragedies of the silent film era is how many movies have been lost forever, never to be seen again. Something like 70% of American silent films have been lost. So it’s especially frustrating to find something that sounds cool only to discover there is no chance of ever seeing it.
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Sunday Matinee: The Perils Of Pauline

The success of What Happened to Mary and The Adventures of Kathlyn would kick start a several action serials featuring female leads. In 1914 The Perils of Pauline starring Pearl White as Pauline, a young woman who is to inherit a vast fortune but her guardian Mr. Koerner (Paul Panzer) is plotting her death so he can get his hands on the money.
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REVIEW: Up ‘The Stairs’

Regent Park in Toronto is an area in transition. Once a drug traffic and sex trade hub, gentrification has turned the neighbourhood around. Alas, the district’s denizens remain in the borough, trying to survive day in and day out.

The Stairs sheds light on their existence by focusing on their daily routine. The approach is respectful of their choices and prevents any judgement from seeping through. Director Hugh Gibson interviews a handful of residents in the course of five years, and documents their struggle with sobriety and their efforts to gain stability. They fail more than succeed, but the realization that there isn’t a way out is somewhat freeing.

The one element that sets the subjects in The Stairs apart is their community involvement and genuine concern for their fellow men. This trait makes them more relatable and their stories more heartbreaking.

While cinematographically flat, The Stairs has an immediacy that elevates it above similar ventures.  Three prairie dogs.

The Stairs will be playing at the RPL Theatre from Thursday 25th to Sunday 28th. Director Hugh Gibson will be in attendance for Q&A.

Why Do Media Outlets Support Government Grants To Anti-Abortion Radicals? (Trigger Warning: Gory Anti-Abortion Propaganda)

CBC has a column DEFENDING the $54,000 grant that paid for this crap? Huh.

The above is from the website of one of the butt-hurt anti-choice organizations that won’t get summer jobs grants this year.

Sorry for the photo but there’s some bullshit needs cutting through and this pic from the website of the Canadian Centre For Bioethical Reform makes the Trudeau government’s point better than anything our Prime Minister could say himself.

This crap should not be funded by ANY pro-equality government.

That’s why I’m disappointed to see the media pile-on against the Trudeau government’s move to block job grants to anti-choice organizations. Not sure CBC, the National Post and the Globe & Mail‘s writers have thought their opinions through.

(CBC’s columnist once wrote this drivel¹ so I’m not sure why CBC would even let her near the topic.)

Want to read about the government’s job grants controversy? Read my editorial. It’s better.

1. Of course sex-selective abortion is evil. This is still a stupid and (depending on the writer’s personal abortion views, probably disingenuous) column. Anti-abortionists love talking about sex-selective abortion because they can twist the topic to make a moral-sounding case for the slippery-slope abortion restrictions they want legislated. Don’t listen to them. The remedy to the problem would seem to be public education, not telling women of different cultures when they can and can’t have abortions. Amplifying the voices of people who make deceptive sideways arguments against abortion rights is in my view a poor editorial decision by the CBC.


Sunday Matinee: What Happened To Mary

It’s 2018 and this year there looks to be at least three movies featuring female action heroes. The Tomb Raider reboot, Red Sparrow with Jennifer Lawrence and most recently Proud Mary. With all that has happened lately in Hollywood and in the world in general I thought it would be a good time to take a look at the evolution of the female action hero.

To start things off we have to go back over 100 years ago. The first movie serial in the United States was 1912’s What Happened to Mary. Produced by Thomas Edison’s film studio Edison Films the movie wasn’t a true cliffhanger serial although there were 12 chapters released monthly. Each installment had a ending. But in a brilliant move each episode was released to coincide with the serial story of the same name published in McClure’s The Ladies’ World magazine.
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Sunday Matinee: Charade

On January 28 and 31 Cineplex is playing the excellent 1963 movie Charade as part of the Classic Film series.

Directed by Stanley Donen, the film is kind of mix between a romantic screwball comedy and a thriller. Regina “Reggie” Lampert (Audrey Hepburn) while on a skiing trip decides she’s going to divorce her husband Charles when she gets back to Paris. While at the ski lodge she meets Peter Joshua (Cary Grant). When she returns to Paris she finds that her husband has been murdered.
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Sunday Matinee: Elevator To The Gallows

Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet) and his lover, the married Florence Carala (Jeanne Moreau) plot to kill Florence’s husband who is also Julien’s boss.

While the husband is working late Saturday night, Julien sneaks up the outside of the building using a rope and shoots and kills the husband. He then makes it look like a suicide. Julien leaves the building, starting his car and then notices that he left the rope hanging from the side of the building.
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Sunday Matinee: Suspiria

Dario Argento’s classic horror movie about a young woman (Jessica Harper) attending a dance school in Europe and discovering something sinister is happening at the school, is turning 40 this year.

Synapse Films did a 4k restoration on the movie that took four years to complete and has been screening the restoration in select theatres this year. It apparently looks amazing. They’ve also just released the restoration on blu-ray this month.
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REVIEW: ‘The Last Jedi’ is Star Wars’ Best Film Since ‘Empire’

Rey (Daisy Ridley) looks into the horizon, as all you do in Star Wars.

As satisfying as The Force Awakens was, as the dust settled, it became clear than J.J. Abrams had basically remixed A New Hope for a new generation without bringing new ideas to the fore (heck, Abrams went for yet another Death Star, the most cumbersome of weapons). Considering this development, concerns over The Last Jedi being another Empire Strikes Back weren’t unfounded.

Enter Rian Johnson. The writer/director behind the brainy indies Brick, Looper and The Brothers Bloom explores corners of the Star Wars universe never seen before on screen, without breaking the mold. Chief among them, a scenario beyond the battle between good and evil that has characterized the saga. Johnson also takes full advantage of the visual possibilities and deliver the most unique-looking episode of the franchise, without becoming a CGI hodgepodge like the prequels. Continue reading “REVIEW: ‘The Last Jedi’ is Star Wars’ Best Film Since ‘Empire’”

Sunday Matinee: Pulp

Director Mike Hodges and Michael Caine decided to follow up the brilliant Get Carter with another gangster like film, the 1972 movie Pulp.

The difference this time out is instead of a serious and gritty crime drama Pulp is more of a comedy. It has goofy moments and jokes, then some gritty crime. Michael Caine stars as Mickey King, a novelist who writes books like My Gun is Long and The Organ Grinder under pen names Guy Strange, Gary Rough and the amusing S. Ódomi. Caine is hired to ghost write and autobiography of retired actor Preston Gilbert (Mickey Rooney).
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