Richard joins CP24 to have a look at Canadian movies and television shows coming to VOD and streaming services. Today we talk about the second season of “Only Murders in the Building,” the mystery comedy starring Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez on Disney+, the return of the sci fi head scratcher “Westworld” on Crave and the season four, volume two of “Stranger Things” on Netflix.
When we think of westerns, images of cowboy hats, stagecoaches and John Wayne usually come to mind. I say usually because while those may be the most common icons associated with the genre they’re not the only ones.
This weekend, Cowboys & Aliens adds spaceships, extraterrestrials and laser guns to the existing formula. To research the movie’s western half, director Jon Favreau watched classic movies like Stagecoach and Destry Rides Again. Then he spent time with Alien, Predator, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind to find the sci-fi feel he was after.
“If you do it right,” he said of the film, “it honours both, and it becomes interesting and clever and a reinvention of two things that people understand.”
So call it a spacetern or neo-western if you like, but it isn’t the first movie to mix and match sci-fi with horse opera.
Michael Crichton wrote and directed Westworld after a trip to Disneyland. The Pirates of the Caribbean ride inspired him to imagine an amusement park where vacationers pay $1,000 a day to interact with robots programmed to replicate life in different periods of history. When a computer malfunction sends Yul Brynner’s black-hatted cyborg gunslinger (the actor wears the same costume he wore in The Magnificent Seven) on an animatronic rampage through the western theme park the old west becomes a place of high tech terror.
Sci-fi westerns aren’t always set on Earth, however.
The animated feature Bravestarr: The Legend sets the action on the planet of New Texas, located 1,956 light-years from Earth. Bashing together the best bits of Star Wars and traditional oater plots, the movie features cool western space toys like rocket scooters with fairings shaped like horses’ heads and a villain named Tex Hex. When Hex invades New Texas the town must get a new lawman. Enter Galactic Marshall Bravestarr. “We needed a hundred lawmen to tame New Texas,” reads the film’s tagline. “We got one. You know something? He was enough.”
Outland, the 1981 Sean Connery space thriller isn’t exactly a sci-fi western, but it is based on one of the most famous cowboy movies of all time, High Noon. A critic for the Boston Globe wrote, “Outland marks the return of the classic western hero in a space helmet,” and noted that its themes of loyalty and betrayal echoed High Noon.
I find amusement parks disturbing; the grinning clown faces, the creepy organ music, the suspicion that the games are rigged.
I always feel like their bright sunny facades are hiding dark secrets. In this weekend’s Adventureland, a new coming-of-age comedy set at a seedy carnival, rancid corndogs and fixed games are the extent of the ominous goings-on but despite the movie’s tame portrayal of carnival life I can’t shake my (possibly irrational) fear of fun fairs.
Apparently I’m not alone.
Filmmakers have set hundreds of stories on fairgrounds and usually somebody is up to no good, but often the action is a little more extreme than cheating at a ring toss.
An all-star cast, including Henry Fonda and George Segal, headlines 1977’s Rollercoaster, a compact thriller about a terrorist who is blowing up rollercoasters at amusement parks all over the country. The film is most memorable for its use of the Sensurround process — speakers were placed around the theatre to make your seat shake as the rollercoaster blasted by.
In Westworld, amusement of a different kind can be found at Delos, an adult amusement park split into three sections, Medieval World, Roman World and Westworld, a cowboy themed funland where rich tourists pay $1,000 a day to interact with robots. In this western setting paying customers can do whatever they like to the robots — befriend them or kill them — and all goes well until a computer glitch allows the automatons to fight back. No one is laughing at this amusement park. Directed by Michael Crichton, he riffed on this idea twenty years later, replacing the robots with dinosaurs in 1993’s Jurassic Park.
Two other movies represent the extremes of amusement park movies. In the campy Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, the painted rock band must thwart an evil scientist who is cloning humans in his laboratory, hidden deep inside the bowels of an amusement park.
On the other hand Carny, the 1980 Gary Busey film, is so realistic in its look at life on the fair grounds you can almost smell Bozo the Clown’s greasepaint.
The king of carnival movies, however, is Freaks, a 1932 oddity deemed so disturbing one critic suggested it was only for the “morbidly curious and the psychically sick.” The film’s production manager said most of the preview screening’s audience ran out of the theatre.
“They didn’t walk out,” he said, “they ran out.” What kind of movie could draw this kind of fire from critics and audiences? How about a melodrama that featured real, honest to goodness sideshow performers who unleash a sadistic and nightmarish fury on a pair of circus entertainers who betrayed them?