Half Japanese--The Band That Would Be King

1993 documentary

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Traces chunks of the history of indie rock 'n' roll superstars Half Japanese.

Lotsa gushing in this one, including gushing from the always-bulbous Penn Jillette. There was some nifty video footage, but it didn't seem to come from a variety of sources. Highly enjoyable seeing how much fun Jad Fair seems to be having as he performs, however, and there was great footage from a performance at a nursing home in which an old guy whips out a harmonica, stumbles onto the stage, and starts playing with the band. That is rock 'n' roll! Love the quote about how the band wrote only two kinds of songs--love songs and monster songs. The documentary was a little uneven, but I did learn a couple of things:

1) That it's easy to play the guitar. The thin strings make higher sounds while the thicker ones make lower sounds. You can also move your hand up and down the thing to change the sound.

2) Jad Fair has come "very close a few times" to reaching his goal of writing the most popular song in history.

My sister was asleep in the room. She later called the music "terrible" and the movie a "stupid thing" and accused me of having the television at too high a volume. I'm sure her rating would have been lower. My wife was asleep on the couch and can sleep through things that are terrible.

No picture was taken of me watching Half Japanese--The Band That Would Be King.

Barbarella--Queen of the Galaxy

1968 Science Fiction

Rating: 13/20

Plot: A whore is given the task of saving the universe. A robot makes innuendos, and Jane Fonda writhes and moans. Several wardrobe malfunctions and explosions later, Barbarella saves the galaxy while simultaneously giving me an erection.

Psychedelic and goofy fun with special effects that make Star Wars and 2001 look like movies that have much bigger budgets. They ain't got Jane Fonda, however! Jane Fonda's legs should have won an Academy Award, and if there was some kind of award for best sex scene ever, the stimulatingly spicy scene between the title character and Dildono (I've actually spelled his name wrong here, but this is how it should have been spelled) would win without question.

I really did enjoy this movie and not just because of the spiciness. It was visually interesting and since it never even thought of taking itself seriously, remained fun throughout. I also noted that both Duran Duran and Matmos got their names from this movie although I did see that the character and weird watery substance in the movie had names that were spelled differently.

Special note: This makes the second movie in a row that I've watched with Marcel Marceau in it. Complete coincidence.

Here I am becoming aroused:

Silent Movie

1976 hilarious Mel Brooks comedy

Rating: 9/20

Plot: Idiots attempt to get money and stars together to shoot a silent movie. People fall down a lot, and a studio is saved. Maybe. I lost interest and can't remember.

A timeless classic with slapstick and sight gags galore! That stuff never gets old. I knew from the first gag (in which a pregant woman climbs into the back of the Three Stooges' convertible and the car tips back on its back wheels) that this would be a laugh-a-minute comedy and that my knee would be red from slappin'. And when Burt Reynolds showed up in a shower scene that rivals Psycho for most hilarious shower scene in cinematic history, I knew I was watching something special.

He was the bandit and looks great without a shirt!

The funniest moment of the movie, although I honestly didn't even come close to chuckling even once, involved Marcel Marceau's cameo. And sadly, if the funniest part of the movie involves a mime, you know you're in trouble. I find it hard to believe that this wasn't dated before its release. I really like my humor a little more subtle than this.

Here I am laughing hysterically while enjoying Silent Movie:


2006 Terry Gilliam surreal fantasy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A little girl, already living in a world with heroin, bad lighting, and flatulence, flees with her father after her mother dies. More bad things--including more flatulence--occur, things become really weird, things become disturbing, somebody throws up, and somebody turns into caramel. The little girl retreats into her imagination to escape harsh realities, meets a mentally challenged man and a woman who may or may not be a ghost, and a phallic symbol explodes.

Utterly bizarre and one-of-a-kind, and definitely one of those movies that is hard to have a firm opinion of after a single viewing. I grumbled to my lovely wife (Cousin It) that it was too weird-for-the-sake-of-weird and over-the-top and that Terry Gilliam was shock directing to get a reaction and that too much of this was just disturbing and that I love when film makers are daring but that there were just too many chances taken here. But after I finished watching and tried to put the pieces together on what I think is probably entirely allegorical, the more I think I liked it. For one, the little girl (Jodelle Ferland) was fantastic, giving a versatile and award-worthy performance as the young protagonist.

Jeff Bridges is always good, and the other co-stars (especially Brendan Fletcher) were great, too. And the disturbing and surreal imagery, gorgeous sets, and cinematography will make this one easy to watch again, something I'll definitely need to do again to figure out if it's entirely brilliant or a complete crapfest.

A special note...I see a lot of strange movies and a lot of my favorite movies are strange movies. This has to be a top five strangest for me though. Utterly bizarre!

Here's chilly me trying to figure out what is wrong with Terry Gilliam:

Sure Fire

1993 Independent movie directed by Jon Jost

Rating: 13/20

Plot: A businessman has big plans to get folks to move from hectic California and Arizona big city lives to the calming comforts of Southern Utah. He talks a lot. Then his friends and family have extended monologues and dialogues. There's a hunting trip, and things happen. Bible verses flash across the screen. A child jumps on a trampoline, and there are trees.

The main problem with stylistic films like this one, especially low-budget stylistic films, is that if the audience is annoyed by the style, nothing in it will seem to work. And Sure Fire is almost jarringly stylistic. There are really really long dialogues and monologues (I think...other characters are present, but it seems as if the characters are thinking outloud) and sustained shots of the Utah landscape and of roads. The dialogue which drives the character development is shot strangely--a patient camera focuses on unflinching characters as they have extended, mostly one-sided conversations. It's weird, and along with the minimal guitar score and stark setting create a foreboding, haunting mood.

I enjoyed Tom Blair's intense performance as Wes, the entrepreneur at the center of the movie, and the director's ability to create such a powerful mood with subtle tricks, a camera, a sound guy, and snippets of detached dialogue that seemingly had little to do with anything. However, the plot seems to slip into a forced denouement that I had trouble buying and the storytelling made it difficult to make personal connection. It was an 83 minute movie that should have been like a haiku--every word and shot vital to the story. Instead, about half of the film was disposable, and although it's poetic and uncomfortable and moody and occasionally beautiful, it never really works completely.

Here I am watching Sure Fire in my bed:

Meet the Robinsons

Animated, Family, Children
Rating: 11/20 (bonus point for handlebar mustache)
Plot: An orphaned kid inventor travels to the future and tries to save the world from the misguided deeds of a man with a handlebar mustache and a talking bowler.

Meet the Robinsons is a colorful film that is fun for the eyes, and these computer people are getting better at making cartoon people look more like real people. The movie is burbling with creativity, and there are all kinds of nifty structures and gadgets to see in the Dr. Seussian future--tubal and bubbly transportation, singing frogs, trampolines built into the ground, sausage cannons, etc. There's enough going on visually to maybe require multiple viewings and definitely keep a child entertained. And I'm sort of a sucker for handlebar mustaches and will always support the use of evil hats in movies.

But you see all those characters up there in the picture? Yeah, there are a lot of them. The main one (Chester or Wally or something) is in the middle with the spiked hair and the glasses. I can't remember the other characters' names either. Even though this was a computer-animated, and therefore more 3D-ish cartoonary, the characters were frustratingly two-dimensional. This, like the Dreamworks movies, tried so hard to out-Pixar Pixar, and end up with something that just looks like the product of people who have tried too hard. There's no heart and soul here. The story is really predictable and tidy and full of holes. The characters don't become real, and there's no reason to care about any of them--even Chester or Wally or something. We find out just as much about the octopus (he's a butler) as we do the guy in the back with a pizza (he delivers pizzas) and, sadly, almost as much as we do about the main character. And although there's an attempt to tie everything in thematically, and even a link to a quote from Walt Disney, it just seems forced. I can picture the writers in a room saying, "Well, Finding Nemo and Toy Story had clear morals...we better squeeze some kind of lesson into this!" The quirk machine was turned up to 11 which leaves a finished product that feels more like a rough draft, a series of gags and slapstick that never really adds up to something coherent. Weirdness was substituted for humor and good storytelling, and I just couldn't latch on.

Wife's rating: 13/20; ; Dylan's rating: 11/20; Emma's rating: 15/20; Abbey's rating: 18/20

Here's the top half of my head enjoying Meet the Robinsons:

It! The Terror from Beyond Space

1958 B-movie
My rating: 11/20
Plot: A space travellin' guy goes to Mars with some other space travellin' guys. An unseen monster kills everybody but him. A second rocket is sent to Mars to pick him up and take him back to earth where he faces murder charges since, as everybody knows, Mars doesn't have monsters. The monster ends up on the ship. Havoc is wreaked.

"Mars is almost as big as Texas...maybe it's got monsters."

Somewhat typical of science fiction from the time period, filmed in black and white in a style that reminds me of The Twilight Zone. There's a complete disregard for science as the space travellers try to kill the creature, inexplicably resembling something from an "Attack of the Swamp Thing" kind of movie. Is it really wise to use grenades inside a small rocket ship? And opening the rocket ship's doors seems like the type of plan that would end up killing everybody.

There's a lot of similarity between this and Alien except there are no characters walking around in ill-fitting underpants. Ill-fitting spacesuits, yes. No undergarments though. The first 1/4 of the movie is interesting in an Alien-sort of way, too, with tension mounting with shadows and sound effects telling the story. There are women characters, but they are not heroically displayed like Ripley or her underpants. Instead, they exist like I imagine they do in most 50's science fiction--to create love story subplots, to clear tables after the other characters have finished eating, to look scared, and to top off the coffee.

The monster is silly. He's a pigeon-toed slimy thing. "It" is Ray Corrigan in a rubber suit. Instead of looking menacing, he sort of stumbles around and grumbles with raised three-fingered hands. The monster was actually much, much scarier as a shadow or as an unseen lurking thing. I figured an actor with "It" on his resume would have it made and looked up Ray Corrigan. He plays a gorilla (or "Gorilla Man") or ape in 17 different films. No kidding. Talk about your type-casting! He also played numerous monsters and a one-eyed innkeeper.

Here's me watching It! The Terror from Beyond Space:

Why I Like Stroszek So Much

1977 movie

First off, I've seen this three times, once with the commentary on. I haven't seen it in a couple years though.

I just recommended this movie to blog reader and good friend R.D. so I figured I'd put my thoughts in an actual post instead of in the "recommendations" comments where Cory brought this up. I know winter rates has seen it. I know that my wife fell asleep during it, and that my brother for some reason has refused to watch it, probably because he watched The Color of Pomegranates on my recommendation.

But anyway, here's a bit about why I like this movie so much.

It's got to start with the performance by Bruno S., a non-actor. I don't think you need to know his back story in order to appreciate his performance, but it does give the performance depth, I think, and it explains where some of the quiet intensity in the character comes from. He spent nearly the first 25 years of his life in an asylum and had absolutely no social skills upon leaving. When Herzog found him, he was sort of just getting by as a street musician (pretty much exactly what he does in the film). He was in one other Herzog movie, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, but other than that hasn't acted. And this performance, I think, is so amazingly powerful. Aside from that aforementioned intensity, there's just this focus that he has that makes him impossible to ignore. He brings to life this character who is not only confused by life, but tortured by it. I honestly think his is one of the best acting performances I've ever seen.

I don't know if I love the screenplay or if I love what has to be a lack of screenplay. The characters seem to float through this mysterious bastardization of the American dream (it is, I believe, the most accurate depiction of the American dream in film history). They've got no control and are pushed by forces they can't possibly hope to understand. It seems like the direction/writing goes right along with that. There are times when it seems like Herzog is filming one of his weirdo documentaries instead of filming from a script. It 's liberating and gives the movie a passion and realism that I don't think it could have otherwise. There's also a humor, but it's a spontaneous humor, not a written humor. I love the scene with the hunter. Really, I almost want to laugh just thinking about that old man. I also think the scene in Berlin with the baby is fantastically powerful and poignant. So much of this movie sticks around long after the movie has ended.

I also love the imagery--the stuff in Berlin and then the desolate beauty of the American Midwest. Herzog is known for filming exotic and difficult places, and here he somehow makes Wisconsin look exotic and difficult. The finale in Cherokee, North Carolina sounds almost comical when described. You've got the circling truck, Bruno on a ski lift with a frozen turkey, and the coin-operated animal tricks, all with that maddening Sonny Terry music in the background. If that doesn't scream Americana, I don't know what does! According to the commentary, Herzog's crew hated it all so much that they refused to work and forced him to film it all on his own. I love great movie endings, and all of my favorite movies (i.e. City Lights) have great ones. Herzog's good at endings, and I think the dancing chicken rivals his best--the monkeys at the end of Aguirre: The Wrath of God and the midget laughing at the defecating camel at the end of Even Dwarfs Started Small are also brilliant. Sure, some people would say, "But the chicken dances for so long! Why? Why? Why!?" But I just love how Herzog's camera lingers in his films and this seen is the perfect example of that. I couldn't imagine a more perfect amount of time to see that chicken.

According to legend (urban legend?), by the way, Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division, committed suicide while watching the closing scene of Stroszek. I'm not sure about the validity of that story.

The film's just got this mystique, this aura, this strangeness. It's such a simple story and even a simple telling of the story, but at the same time it's open to interpretation, I think. It's not just about the American dream (nightmare?). I really don't think two people can see this and see the same thing, and that's how all great art should be. Thematically, it's nowhere near uplifting. It's relentlessly bleak, but it's got this unique color and quirkiness that makes it much easier to swallow than the typical bleakness of life. And to me, there's an honesty to this bleakness. It's what makes this movie a rewarding experience for me and what makes something like Slumdog Millionaire disappointing.

As any of the four and a half readers of this blog probably realize, what I love in movies that I love are the moments on the fringes. This movie is almost all fringe! For whatever reason, it's something that I can easily connect with and something that I feel completely comfortable with. I'm not even sure if I'd call Stroszek the best Werner Herzog movie, but I'm pretty sure it's my favorite.

As winter rates could tell you, I love accordions.