The moving image
Nick Abrahams on Elvis, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and Blade Runner | Issue 13 | 2018
My first job as a teenager was selling popcorn at the sole movie theatre in Drumheller, Alberta, population 7500. That started a lifelong habit and a passion for the movies.
dir. Bong Joon Ho 
Well-deserved Oscar for Best Film
I have thought about scenes from this movie dozens of times since seeing it. The film is constructed like a beautiful little puzzle box. Little in the film is without purpose or secondary meaning. The devotion of the parasitic family to each other is pretty powerful, notwithstanding the fact that they are, frankly, con artists. The film has love, humour, surprise, mystery, suspense, horror, hope and resolution. It is visually and aurally rich. Even with subtitles.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
dir. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman 
Great Animated Film which might get Overlooked
I admit it: I don’t find Spider Man that interesting a hero. And, while I enjoy a terrific animated film, I am well past the style of Saturday cartoons. However, I am so happy we saw this film, where multiple styles of animation are woven together to create characters, plot, emotion and charm. It is a very good film and should never be relegated to the bin of Children’s Movies.
The Big Short
dir. Adam McKay 
All-time Favourite Movie about Money
This is a brilliant film best watched in a format allowing you to replay scenes for greater understanding of the financial concepts or to discuss them amongst your family and friends. Unless this movie—and the documentary Inside Job narrated by Matt Damon—are made mandatory viewing, we are doomed to repeat these entirely man-made economic disasters.
Highway to Hell
dir. Richard Driscoll 
Worst Movie Ever
Can any movie with a cast including Peter O’Toole, David Carradine, Kerry Washington, Steve Gutenberg and Daryl Hannah be bad? Yes. Can it possibly be the worst movie ever made? Absolutely.
My husband has a penchant for watching train wrecks of movies and challenged us to sit with him and watch Eldorado (now known on video as Highway to Hell). We are good sports. And yet, at various points in this movie, we all abandoned him because it was not only bad, it was horrid. It was the stuff of nightmares. It's tagline is described as ‘the Jews Brothers flee an angry crowd of neo-Nazis to reach their next gig at the town of Eldorado, unaware that the town is filled with inbred cannibals’.
It helps to know that (according to Wikipedia) its writer/director, Richard Driscoll, was sentenced to three years in jail for financing the movie through VAT fraud. He deserves a longer sentence for lack of taste.
dir. Jordan Peele 
Important Movie mis-labelled as a Horror Film
Unlike my daughter, who is an expert in the genre, I really dislike horror films. But I finally bent to persuasion and watched this clever, attention-grabbing movie about racial relationships in America. The horror is in its accurate revelations of seemingly liberal communities when it comes to race. But it is not a horror film in and of itself. Like Parasite, there is a lot of symbolism in the movie and it is worthwhile digging into it online to fully appreciate the clever writing.
dir. Christopher Nolan 
Great Film mis-labelled as a War Movie
The men in my family are history nuts and appreciate war movies, so we saw Dunkirk while it was still in the theatres. I think this film was possibly overlooked, because many of my friends were not in the mood for a ‘war movie’. But the film is not so much a war movie as a magnificent feat of film-making, depicting the same series of events from land, from sea and from air. The scenes are woven together to tell the story of a tide-turning battle in World War II, during which ordinary men acted heroically as soldiers struggled. It is a quiet movie about very loud activities and is a work of art.
A Fish Called Wanda
dir. Charles Crichton, John Cleese 
Not for Dog-lovers
One could call this heist film a comedy about a capable lawyer—and there are not enough of those, so this one will always be a favourite. Granted, it might not entirely qualify as a romcom, in part because so many little dogs die. But it becomes funnier each time it happens.
dir. Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker 
Greatest Parody Film. Ever.
Forty years on, this is ‘surely’ one of the funniest movies ever made. Apparently, there is a plot. It is irrelevant. After watching this movie, a person cannot travel through an airport ever again without an occasional snicker.
The Dark Knight
dir. Christopher Nolan 
Greatest Batman Movie
I have been asked (by my son) to include the greatest Batman movie: this has to be The Dark Knight. Nothing more to add.
dir. Richard Curtis 
Best Winter Holiday Movie
This movie is standard holiday fare in our household—along with Polar Express and Elf. Richard Curtis is a master of conveying multiple plot lines, some of which just tangentially coincide at the airport. Although received equivocally by the critics when it was released, it has become a Christmas classic and has an astonishing cast. The movie is silly, charming, syrupy, poignant and funny (sometimes all at once). If you are lucky enough to come across the DVD version, the cut scenes and dropped story lines are worth watching.
dir. Taika Waititi 
Well-deserved Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay
This movie is beautiful, with jeweled tones—not a colour palette one would immediately associate with wartime Germany. It is funny, with lots of joy in the most unlikely of circumstances. It should, I think, have been more celebrated; but our current emphasis on political correctness causes people to be uncomfortable with the idea that mocking Adolph Hitler, and the blind obedience he commanded, can be funny. Sam Rockwell, once again, plays a seemingly irredeemable character, foiled by his own weaknesses, who at the end reveals a streak of more genuine humanity than the protagonists of the film.
Taika Waititi both wrote the screenplay for JoJo Rabbit (adapted from a book named Caging Skies) and directed it. What is truly great about this movie is that it prompts one to seek out other work directed by Taika Waititi. I had previously enjoyed his humorous Marvel film (Thor: Ragnarok). I also got a kick out of his film What We Do in the Shadows, which has also been turned into a TV show (filmed in Toronto) about three Vampire flatmates living in New York City. The next Waititi movie for me to watch will be Hunt for the Wilderpeople. (Shame about his Green Lantern though).
The Cat in the Hat
dir. Bo Welch 
Best Movie Critic Line Ever
‘The book was better, Mom’, said my then five-year-old son, shaking his head and without any sense of irony after watching The Cat in the Hat with Mike Meyers.
The Director's Cut
I worked every evening at that movie theatre in Drumheller, plus Saturday matinees, one week on, one week off. The pay was minimum wage but the movies were free.
Few old-style movie theatres remain. The old single-screen theatres are probably uneconomic to run. With their sticky floors and their stiff-backed seats—creakily springing vertical or grudgingly getting pushed down until they broke—an old movie theatre often seated well over three hundred people. Modern movie theatres feel more like shoeboxes, albeit with better sightlines.
Back then, the arrival of the courier at the theatre bearing new films in heavy circular metal tins and rolled-up posters seemed both magical and horribly mundane. It has been decades since I last saw the ripped end of a strand of film snake abruptly across the screen. I remember the pitch of anxiety: would the projectionist rethread the projector and get the movie running again? On occasion, an usher had to run up to the projectionist’s room to wake him first.
Most of us on the theatre staff were high school students. We had the full run of the theatre, except for the projectionist’s room. The ushers and popcorn girls had a regular turnover rate, but the projectionists stayed forever. Except that—they’re pretty well gone now, in the age of digitalisation.
The movie theatre was where we socialised. I remember sitting a few rows up from my younger brother, who was on a first date. I swear he gave a big yawn just to create an excuse to bring his arm up, stretch and casually rest it across the back of his date’s shoulders. For teenagers in a small town, the movie theatre was the place where we could pretend to be more grown up than we were.
Small towns and movie theatres had a relationship that was great back in the day and is I suspect still great today. Theatres were a place to disappear to for a few hours, to dream, to sit anxiously wondering if the guy or girl in the next seat might make a move. Sometimes we devoted more attention to observing who was showing up at the theatre and with whom than we did to watching the movie.
Some movies are like cotton candy. Once consumed, there is no lasting taste. The great movies are savored over time.
First published in RE: issue 17 (2020)
© Norton Rose Fulbright LLP 2021