Balls of Fury

2007 sports comedy

Rating: 6/20

Plot: Olympic table tennis failure and Jack Black lookalike Randy Daytona is recruited by an FBI agent to come out of retirement and get himself involved in the dirty underworld of ping pong, specifically with the invite-only and deadly annual tournament that Christopher Walken's character has. The audience scrunches its collective brow and demands to have its money back immediately.

The good: I really enjoyed the scenes in which ping pong was played. During the matches, there was very rarely anything stupid going on, and the special effects involved worked perfectly to create something that looked very real and very exciting. That was about it though. The rest of this Dodgeball/almost-every-kung-fu-movie-plot rip-off stunk. The characters, with the possible exception of James Hong's (the James Hong who was in that Seinfeld episode where they are trying to see Plan Nine from Outer Space but can't get a table at a Chinese restaurant) role as the elderly eccentric teacher character who uses unorthodox methods to educate, aren't interesting, and the plot is just an excuse to get to the next situation that is supposed to be funny. I was in the mood for something stupid and funny, but sadly, I didn't laugh a single time. This, I guess, is what happens when you set out to make a cult classic. For whatever reason (and perhaps unfairly), I blame Will Ferrell for stuff like this.

Here I am watching Balls of Fury:

The Mummy

1932 "horror" movie

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Archaelogists accidentally bring Imhotep back to life, and he has high hopes of gettin' it on with the soul of Helen, a woman who seemingly popped out of nowhere to waltz around like a lobotomized whore. The third point of the Egyptian love triangle is forced to step up his game both as a hero and a love machine, somebody who can truly live up to the name of Frank Whemple. Imhotep searches fruitlessly for a good wrinkle cream. Whemple, after briefly lamenting the loss of his father (Sir Whemple!) off camera, displays pants bulge, hence the "It Comes to Life!" tag on the poster to the left. As expected, the mummy, the girl, and the Whemple decide to forgive and forget and have cinema's first threesome.

This has always been considered part of the lower eschelon of Universal monster movies from the 30's, and there are some good reasons for it. It moves more slowly than Boris Karloff's character himself walks. It's weighted done by melodramatism and a completely unbelievable love subplot. It's boring and lacks the memorable imagery (with the possible exception of Karloff's expressions) of the Draculas and Wolfmen and Frankensteins of the time. It has dated poorly. The sets were effective, and I approve of the absence of that sort of cliched scary monster with bandages and moans. Instead, Karloff is charmingly wrinkled, scarier psychologically than physically as he mopes around and utters esoteric mummy talk in pear-shaped monotone. When you paw through the cheese, there's probably a good movie here; unfortunately, the slightly-over-one-hour film seemed more than twice that.

Here I am watching The Mummy on the 3,700th anniversary of my death:


2007 comedy

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Three maladjusted high school seniors find themselves invited to a party, partially due to their promise to provide alcohol. They see it as their last chance to get girls to like them before they go off to college. They share misadventures along the way, become separated, and then get all gay by the end.

Like Virgin, this attempts to combine really lowbrow comedy with a slightly more artistic edge, and it fails. The characters are funny and they frequently say funny things (especially the police officers), but I don't think this has the depth it seems to think it does. In fact, the plan seemed to be to make a movie that college kids could endlessly quote. Those college kids, ya know, really dig the dick jokes, and Superbad might have more dick jokes than jokes that aren't dick jokes. To be fair, one of the funniest gags, repeated during the credits, involves an affliction the fat character shares with 8% of kids in the world--an uncontrollable urge to draw penises. There were also enough f-words flung around to rival Lebowski. When the "message" behind the madness comes in, I really felt like I was being hit over the head with it. There was a certain genuine feel to parts of this that I really liked, but at the same time, there were far too many Hollywood teen-movie moments. Although better and funnier than most comedies that are like this (and definitely worth my time), there's nothing new, nothing classic, and nothing all that special about this. I do like that Michael Cera, however. He's the next Jimmy Stewart!

Here I am, slightly underwhelmed:

Game of Death II

1981 kung-fu/Bruce Lee exploitation

Rating: 7/20

Plot: I wouldn't know where to begin. I believe revenge is involved. I know there's a monkey in there somewhere.

This is simultaneously one of the most ludicrous things I've ever seen and a film stringing together enough beautifully choreographed and athletic fight scenes to give me wood. Firstly, the ludicrous: Bruce Lee died after only filming 30 minutes of the original Game of Death, great action scenes (including a fight with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) taking place in a tower. After his death, the movie was made without him using stand-ins (including, I believe, Bruce Li who starred in numerous features of his own). That's borderline silly enough, but the makers of Game of Death II took it a step further--they made a sequel to the movie years after the star of the film had died. And he's still the star of the film! This is cut 'n' paste wackiness with stand-ins (I believe two of them), lots of dialogue filmed from behind "Bruce Lee," actors changing shape and clothes in the middle of conversations, walls in rooms changing color and decoration drastically, footage and deleted scenes from his other films, and even (I'm pretty sure) footage from Lee's actual funeral. I've read, although I didn't exactly spot it on my own, that there's even a scene where a cardboard Bruce Lee is used as a stand-in. The illogical plot reflects the plundered approach--it's senseless, spontaneous, and really really stupid. You're unaware who the real bad guys are in this one, probably because the filmmakers were also completely unaware who the real bad guys are. Most shocking of all is when Bruce Lee's character dies (as stupidly as Boba Fett in Return of the Jedi, I might add) in the middle of the movie and the brother, getting no screen time in the first half of the movie and being described as a porn-lovin' lazy slob of a disappointment, suddenly becomes the star of the movie. It was almost as if they had run out of footage of Bruce Lee (some, I swear, they had already used more than once anyway) and decided just to kill him off. In tribute, they show a montage of stills from Lee's career that is completely out of place since they are so obviously pictures of a celebrity and not the character in the movie. It's so bizarre and utterly unnerving.

Now the good: The bulk of the fight scenes in this were stunning and lots and lots of fun. Fast and furious, there's a good exhibition of mad kung-fu skills in this, from the master's easy fight with one of the challengers as he calmly drinks his tea to the brilliant and long climactic battle at the end. Along the way, you've got Bruce Lee's brother killing Gilbert Gottfried, a fight with about sixty silver-clad scientists (?), a ridiculous battle against a guy dressed as Tarzan, fisticuffs with what might have been a robot, and a kung-fu fight with a man in a lion suit who was probably supposed to be an actual lion. So many laughs and so many what-the-hell moments.

The Edukators


Rating: 11/20

Plot: Three pretentious revolutionaries show their disgust for capitalism by breaking into the homes of the rich, rearranging all of the furniture and decor without stealing anything, and leaving a note saying "Your days of plenty are numbered." Their relationships become strained when one break-in leads to a kidnapping.

Aside from misspelling the title of the movie, this started out fine with security shots of one of those horrible rich family's homes before the aforementioned horrible rich family arrives home to discover that their stuff has been shuffled. The interior shots of staked chairs and porcelain figurines in the toilet, almost like dadaist art, are funny. From there, unfortunately, it's downhill. A bloated movie with dialogue that felt like it was being delivered from a pulpit instead of from characters in a film. I enjoyed the parts of the movie that were about the relationships of the three characters, even when those become a bit convoluted, but all the "We say we want a revolution, well, you know, we all want to change the world" stuff was pretty draining. None of the characters grew on me although I did think two of them were really attractive. The direction was too modern and too sure of itself, but there's some beautiful nature happening (and it's shot very well) when they retreat to one of the character's uncle's cabins. With a softer hand, this could have bordered on great.

Note: Apparently an American remake of this is planned.

I survived an unfortunate spoon-to-the-eye mishap and made it to the end of this lengthy film:

Black Snake Moan

2006 drama

Rating: 8/20

Plot: A mentally-challenged whore and her mentally-challenged former-boy-band-member boyfriend make whoopee. The boyfriend immediately needs to vomit in a toilet; the whore's leg starts itching and she begins hearing things--somebody wildly playing the maracas, a train, crickets. The boyfriend white snake grunts and then runs off to join the army, only to return about a week later because he had to vomit too often. She sleeps with a round man and then goes to a party where she swallows about twenty-seven different types of pills and drinks a lot. The night ends with her boyfriend's shady best friend punching her several times and throwing her out the side door of his pickup truck. Samuel L. Jackson wakes up the next morning, black snake moans, and finds the whore and her magical underpants that never get dirty sprawled out on the road. He ends up chaining her to a radiator and making her listen to his terrible blues music. A couple days or a few weeks or a month or so pass and everybody lives happily ever after. Or they die. Either way, nobody really cares.

This goes for gritty but succeeds in only being really silly. The acting is bad, the script predictable, the story Hollywood. It's hard to believe that a movie that features Christini Ricci chained to a radiator in her underwear can be bad, but bad it is. Justin Timberlake is a terrible miscast. And is Samuel L. Jackson really on a roll or what? This and Snakes on a Plane in one year? Maybe he can star in a black Adam and Eve story and complete a snake trifecta. "It wasn't me, God. That woman made me eat of the forbidden fruit after that motherfucking snake gave it to her. Damn!" It's entirely possible that what I saw as heavy-handed moralizing was a little more light and tongue-in-cheek, but it doesn't really matter. An ugly, rambling loosey-goosey, self-contradicting, poorly-written, gooey and trashy movie. I felt insulted.

Interview excerpts with Son House that bookended the movie were cool.

My crotch took a picture of the rest of me watching Black Snake Moan. Here's the picture:

The Graduate

1967 romantic comedy

Rating: 17/20

Plot: 20 year old Benjamin graduates from college and faces malaise and uncertainty. He naively and reluctantly enters an adult relationship with Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father's business partner and friend of the family. Lots of off-screen coitus occurs until, after his father forces him to go on a date with her, he falls in love with Mrs. Robinson's daughter.

Cute talent with the female leads, both seeming perfect for the roles, especially Anne Bancroft who walks a thin line between sexy and dangerous. Hoffman, in his first big role, doesn't seem great at all for the first 1/4 of the movie, but his character grows on you. This was such a tight script, often self-referential, and stuffed with classic lines. Very well written. It's the smart man kind of funny. A lot of the shots and film tricks are dated, and during one ten minute span, "Scarborough Fair" could be heard 3 1/2 times. ("Sound of Silence" was in the movie at three different times, I believe. I did like the Simon and Garfunkel music, however.) The realism of the first half of the film shifts to the overly fantastic in the second half while Benjamin attempts to hook up with the daughter, but there's some nifty parallelism going on between those two halves. And I especially liked the ending. It's an ending that is about as perfect as an ending could be.

Note: Bonus points given for a hilarious use of a midget and for the casting of Norman Fell, Three's Company's Mr. Roper. Interestingly enough, he was also a landlord in this.

United 93


Rating: 13/20

Plot: Based on an American folk tale, the story involves terrorists hijacking planes and crashing them into things. The passengers on the title plane want to crash into the ground instead. A plan is hatched!

Oops. I thought this was a sequel to Airplane! It's not though. It's a 9/11 movie, and although I fully expected it to completely suck because it's a 9/11 movie, it really didn't. It's faithful to the memory of these people and never even approaches anything over-the-top, slimy, slippery, sticky, cheesy, drippy, Nicolas Cagey, or tasteless. Even the catchphrase "Let's roll!" is something you might miss if you're not paying attention rather than being something an action hero utters. Instead, it just recreates the chaos of the day in real-time and allows the audience to reflect. There's some acting that seems to be a little too much, but I like how the movie has very little music and almost nothing going on stylistically. It's very un-movie like. Tension and anticipation are created naturally, and the scenes on the plane are made horrific and claustrophobic with the use of handheld cameras. I'm still not sure I understand the point though. We already know the beginning, the middle, and the end of this, and I can see how this would just be too much for some people to take. I'm not sure this contributes anything to anything.

I also couldn't help wondering how much better this would have been with Steven Stucker reprising his role as Johnny from Airplane! Steven Stucker walking in every once in a while to say something hilarious would have made this much less depressing. Maybe the people responsible for Meet the Spartans will someday make a spoof of this one. If they do, Steven Stucker should be in it!

Note: This movie was indeed inspirational. I started penning notes for Let's Roll: The Musical while watching this. Maybe I'll star in and direct that once I start and finish that kung-fu/zombie sequel to The Diary of Anne Frank I've been planning for years. Steven Stucker, if you're out there, get in touch with me. I need to know if you can sing!

Here I am watching the movie:

Horse Feathers

1932 Marx Brothers' musical comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: College president Professor Wagstaff (Groucho) wants his Huxley to beat rival Darwin (get it? Huxley? Darwin?) in the upcoming football game. He recruits a pair of idiots, mistaking them for the ringers he was looking for in a speakeasy. There's anarchy and mayhem, a love trapezoid, kidnapping attempts, and quips.

The absurdity of these Marx Brothers movies is always worth the time, although this isn't up there with the brilliant Duck Soup or the slightly-less-brilliant A Night at the Opera. The plot is secondary as Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Leppo, Zeppo, Dodo, Bingo, Slappo, Poncho, Lefto, Bozo, Gorgonto, Bobo, Loco, Taco, and Gringo screwball it up in a script occasionally watered down with lousy puns but always keeping you on your toes listening for the next twisted line that you can almost audibly chuckle at but ultimately won't. The legs of these Marx movies amazes me. The movies are fun and the jokes aren't dated. And any time you get to see Chico and Harpo play the piano and harp respectively, it's a treat. And Groucho's song "I'm Against It" should be my new theme song:

"I don't know what they have to say
It makes no difference anyway
Whatever it is, I'm against it.
No matter what it is or who commenced it,
I'm against it!"

Here I am laughing my ass off:

Jesus Camp

2006 horror documentary

Rating: 12/20 (Jen: 10/20 "I have mixed feelings." "I don't really think anybody should watch this.")

Plot: Follows three evangelical Christian children (although two get much more screen time) as they head out for a camp in Devil's Lake, North Dakota called Kids on Fire to become warriors for Christ. They're unleashed to battle Satan and change the world. A few children, you wish, would literally catch on fire.

Special appearance by Ted Haggard himself who looks straight into the camera, points to the audience, and says, "I know what you did last night."

"Had it been in the Old Testament, Harry Potter would have been put to death!"

Creepily amusing footage abounds. The filmmakers juxtapose clips from the Jesus Camp and church services and the camp founder Becky Fischer with snippets from a radio talk show host (he says the most important thing in the film perhaps: "God has a special place for people who mess with children.") and definitely gets a message across. I enjoyed watching the footage--Christian rap, a guy who prayed and bobbed back and forth like a chicken, bottled holy water, the praying over a Powerpoint presentation, the discomfort on the onlooker's faces when the kid with the bowl cut was talking about how he doesn't believe everything in the Bible, the little girl who tried to evangelize to a group of black men in Washington D.C. and walking away saying, "I think they're Muslim," the woman homeschooling her children and criticizing global warming specifically and science in general, the best mullet ever captured on film (a mullet filled with the Spirit, no doubt!), and my favorite scene where the kids are blessing a perpetually smiling life-sized cardboard cut-out of President Bush. There was even a puppet show in the deleted scenes which, if in the final cut of the movie, would have given the film the puppet bonus of +2 points. But something about the documentary style and the propaganda techniques used turned me off. There were lots of shots of grass, water sprinklers, giant bowling pins, trees, the landscape outside a moving car window, and other "props" that really didn't fit in with anything and only bloated the movie. And I'm also convinced that the directors took liberties with the footage--picking and choosing some pointless but "damning" scenes (kids in the camp harmlessly sharing ghost stories), taking quotes from the children out of context, the use of creepy electronic music. It was all unnecessary, for sadly, this just isn't a topic that needs stretching. The footage alone, taken in context, would have worked fine. The most frightening moments were actually when the camera was impassive and just let the evangelicals do their thang.

Thanks for the recommendation, Randall. Worthwhile viewing.

Jen and I getting ready to speak in tongues while watching Jesus Camp:

Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance

1972 Samurai movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A Shogunate executioner is framed and his wife is murdered by some people who apparently don't like him very much. He gives his infant son a choice between a ball and a sword (death and the chance to be with his mother or an opportunity to look cute and travel through hell with his father), and then sets out for a violent world to seek revenge. A self-proclaimed demon and assassin-for-hire, he runs into some people who want him to kill some other people for some reason, and he has sex with a prostitute. Lots of people die, and then Lone Wolf and Cub walk off toward the next movie in the series.

Flyin' limbs a-go-go! This had some of the best sword action I've ever seen in a samurai movie, quick action complete with spraying blood and falling heads. It's definitely the best sword action I've seen from a chubby man with a double chin. The others are no match for him as he's not involved in anything that resembles a closely contested battle. He's clever like Zatoichi, kills with absolutely no expression on his countenance, and is a sort-of anti-hero who is easy to root for though. Although this had its moments (a seen in a spa, breasts, some nature shots, some calm-before-the-deadly-storm pauses), this lacked the consistent visual poetry and the philosophical details of the top notch samurai stuff. The fight scenes, especially the climax complete with its surprises, make up for it, however.

Special note: This is the second movie in a row I have seen in which the protagonist kills people while holding a child. That's probably disturbing.

Put this on my Christmas list:

Here I am watching the first 'Lone Wolf and Cub' in the series and thinking that 5 of my 365 movies will probably be the rest of the series.


1992 Hong Kong action-packed candy wrapper

Rating: 13/20

Plot: A cop you just know is hard-boiled because he does his killin' with a toothpick in his mouth teams up with an undercover cop to bring down the really mean guys who shot his partner forty seven thousand times in Hong Kong Disney World's Magical Tiki Tiki Room. They use guns that don't need to be reloaded and witty rapport in their attempts to bring down the villains, and all kinds of other people die, usually by being shot with a bullet that throws them twenty feet into the air. Explosions galore!

In Hard-Boiled's defense, this is nowhere near my favorite genre and I could be a little biased. But with the completely far fetched, though extremely exciting and well-choreographed, gunfight scenes; music and cinematography that more than likely made this seem dated a few years before it came out; laughably trite dialogue; subplots both silly and extraneous; a plot that seems secondary, an excuse to get to the next explosion, because it probably is secondary and an excuse to get to the next explosion; stock characters forced to wade through cliches; and too much Hollywood influence, I really think I'm being fair. I had high hopes watching the beginning scene with Yun-Fat's character gnawing on that toothpick in the serene comforts of a teahouse filled with caged, singing birds, a scene that quickly erupted into a poetically violent cartoon. But then the plot started, and I wiped myself free from my own drool and trudged through the rest of the movie. Two more very well scripted explosive gun fight scenes--one in a factory and one in a hospital, the latter reaching for heartstrings and for some reason attempting to pile on more tension by including newborn babies--made this worthwhile viewing. However, any movie that is better when you watch only three extended scenes while fast-forwarding the other hour can't be all that good. It's a big dumb movie. Fortunately, lots of people like 'em like that.

Dylan, during the climactic hospital scene: "Didn't that guy already pop out of the window and die?" I'm not sure if he was right or not, but honestly, it doesn't even matter.

Here is my hat (on the edge of my head!) checking out motorcycles exploding in midair or heroic slides down side rails while shooting:


1968 British drama

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Reality and fantasy blur as Mick challenges the establishment and prematurely covers up his sins.

This is A Clockwork Orange's Malcolm McDowell's first film, and like his role as Alex, he's probably the only person who could have played Mick. Definitely touches of Alex in this character though. The cup overfloweth visually and thematically. Scenes featuring grown men in drawers, wandering repressed women, tigresses, bottled fetuses, and flung grenades. Ideas? Commentary on war? Commentary on alienation? Commentary on love and sex? Commentary on freedom? Commentary on conformity? Commentary on anarchy? Satirical and slyly surrealistic. I'm reminded of Naked and of Fight Club and Saved by the Bell (The College Years), for some reason, Dazed and Confused even though If.... isn't anything like those movies. There are some clunky scenes and a stuffy feel with a lot of the movie, the latter probably because it's English. And for no seemingly good reason (my research indicates that the reason was strictly financial), the movie switches from black and white to color randomly. However, there was tons to love about this, and it's definitely a movie to see again to see if any pieces fall together.

Here's John Merrick watching this movie:

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin

1978 martial arts classic

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Rebels have set up headquarters in a small town and await their chance to take out the regime. There's a violent attack and most of the rebels get sliced or arrested. Chia Hui Lui (which translates in English as "Huey Lewis's Chia Pet") evades and runs off to the Shaolin temple where he hopes to be trained. "I should have learned kung-fu instead of ethics," he says. After five grueling years, he becomes a master kicker and puncher and weapons-swinger and runs off to take care of business.

This started as pretty standard kung-fu fare with some quality early fight scenes and a plot that really didn't seem to matter, but it eventually turned into something a little more beautiful and interesting. The bulk of the film, as a matter of fact, isn't about fighting or revenge at all; it's got more to do with the training the kid has to go through (the 35 chambers). We see the protagonist learning about balance, sight, quickness, stamina, strength, concern for his fellow man, etc. as he carries buckets of water, rings bells, jumps on logs, punches giant logs with mirrors on them, headbutts giant sacks, and impresses his Shaolin masters. Although other kung-fu movies have shown extended scenes of training (lots of Jackie Chan's earlier movies), they've been more montages while the training in this one, as well as the interwoven Shaolin philosophies, seem to be a lot more important. The fight choreography is exciting and poetic, and the weapon variety keeps those fights from getting samey. Good flick.

Note: Dylan watched most of this with me and gave it a 12/20. His main problem was that he couldn't understand why characters would die from being poked in the chest. Abbey, as seen below, watched a chunk of this and told me that she'd give it only a 1/20.

Fiend without a Face

1958 B-movie

Rating: 7/20

Plot: See that woman in the towel on the movie poster to the left? It's funny how they put that on the poster because although she is in a towel very briefly during one of the many pointless scenes that don't make any sense in this movie, it's not anywhere near to being integral to the plot and she's not, as the poster shows, being startled by one of the ultra-scary title fiends or in front of tough-looking guys.

Oh, the plot. You could probably make an educated guess and get 90% of it right. Radioactive stuff causes the thoughts a formulaic character (in this case, a crazy eccentric reclusive scientist) to materialize as these monster things that are at first slurping invisible things but later shown as brains with antennae and tails. These "mental vampires" start causing problems in the farming community, jumping on people's backs and sucking out their brains and somehow their spines and leaving them dead on the floor with shocked expressions on their faces. They even get the mayor! The formulaic townspeople tire of this eventually. An army base is blamed, and the captain from It! The Terror from Beyond Space, here playing a formulaic military major, tries to solve the mystery, at one point getting to see the formulaic woman in the towel and at another point getting in one of the worst fistfights ever captured on film. Can the captain from It! The Terror from Beyond Space get the radiation machine turned off before the mental vampires kill his screaming woman formerly in the towel and the other people? Or, will it be too late?

Other than some nice stop animation (used nicely during a brief scene when the monsters are invisible and later when they're not), there wasn't anything I liked about this. It was very typical--bad acting, bad story with an abysmal climax, cliches piled on cliches, cardboard characters. It also had that typical B-movie convenience where everything just clicks together so nicely and flashlights on chests in living rooms are necessities, not clutter. And I swear that flashlight is used in two different scenes as two different flashlights in two different characters' hands within five minutes. But, of course, it's a small town. Maybe there's not that much of a flashlight selection at the local hardware store. Anyway, look at these monsters:

Inexplicably, they're not shown for the first 3/4 of the movie. It looks pretty stupid seeing people grabbing at their throats and dying while ostensibly invisible beings slurp their central nervous systems from the backs of their heads. You almost think the director is trying to build suspense by not showing the antagonist, saving the horror of what the beings look like for just the right moment in the movie. If that were the case, there should be some payoff. The creatures should at least be somewhat frightening. Nope. They're human brains with antennae and a tail (spinal cord?) that either slowly squirm disgustedly on the floor or somehow fly through the air. Oh, well. If I wasn't entertained or scared by the proceedings, I at least learned all about the dangers of radioactivity. It can be bad, you know, if in the wrong hands.

Here I am wondering if this would have terrified me in 1958:

A Big Hand for the Little Lady

1966 Western

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Henry Fonda, his wife, and their child arrive in a Laredo, Texas bar/inn on their way to San Antone. They got forty acres waitin' for 'em, and they's got some farmin' to do; however, the 19th Century equivalent of a flat tire causes them to temporarily halt their travels. The annual big poker game between the richest dudes in the area just happens to be taking place in a closed-off back room of the inn, and Fonda's character wants a piece of the action. While his wife is at the auto mechanic's shop getting the wagon fixed, he does get involved despite promising her that he wouldn't. He loses a bunch of money because, apparently, he is terrible. Then, in a game of five card draw, every player at the table gets a huge hand, and Fonda has run out of money. Jason Robards gets grumpy and says something in a gravelly voice, a voice that smells like bourbon. Then a bunch of other stuff happens, nothing which has much interest for this viewer who wanted more poker action, and the movie ends.

Honestly, I picked this movie up thinking it would be a movie about spanking. It wasn't. It wasn't, unfortunately, about poker either as not a single hand was shown. Not even a single card of a player's hand was shown (although we did find out that a guy had three deuces while another had a full house during one hand). This was completely unbelievable as a poker movie. The game was unrealistic, and although the players were gritty, watching the players' faces light up when they looked at their cards during the big hand was really painful for me. There's a surprise twist of an ending that could be seen (at least pieces of it) from a mile away regardless of plot holes shot into it that make the whole thing not work in the first place. The movie was fun enough, but the good cast seemed to have phoned it in and there was a complete lack of style. I did like Jason Robards though.

So, Jason Robards (if you're reading this), good job! I liked you as Cable Hogue, too!

Here I am wishing I could play poker at this table:


2006 pseudo-documentary

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Follows the insanely typical school year of three inexperienced public educators and one first-year vice principal

I believe that a large bulk of this was entirely improvised by students and teachers at a real school somewhere in Texas, and it's amazing how well they pull it off. Great ensemble cast. The Office-like mockumentary does a good job showing the nuances of the profession and the daily combination of humor and funk. I smiled watching rookie mistakes, a lot which I made my first few years (see setting up students only to watch them call the bluff) and some which I've made recently (see the hurling of desks). And seeing the despair on the completely inept, first-year teacher Mr. L. was heartbreaking. So much of this is believable that it just had have been scripted by teachers--interaction with parents, interaction with peers who are a bit too straight-shootin', interaction with students who just don't want to be there. Some scenes which stretched too long (the slang spelling bee) and some scenes that seemed completely out of place (what's a dream sequence doing in a documentary?), but the documentary format worked well and allowed the individual stories to meander and keep things episodic and fresh. Occasionally, there was a dip into the overly sentimental, but the characters never seem to ask the audience to feel sorry for them and the funny, mostly unpredictable script worked throughout. And I still can't believe how real the (I guess) real students looked--so authentic in their apathy and dismal expressions.

Favorite line (paraphrased): "How are you going to staple 30 tests without a stapler? You can't!" Favorite snippet just might have been when the vice principal sat down at a piano and sang, "You can teach if you want to. You can leave no child behind" to the tune of Men Without Hats' "Safety Dance."

Here's somebody who often wishes he did something else for a living watching Chalk:

Haxan: Witchcraft through the Ages

1922 Danish silent documentary

Rating: 16/20

Plot: The documentary covers the history of witchcraft and proffers an explanation that hysteria was the cause of strange symptoms that were seen as signs that a person was a witch in the Middle Ages and beyond. Yeah, it seems like odd subject matter for a 1922 silent documentary.

This had to have been the feel-good hit of the summer of '22! The movie had a little bit of everything! An Al Gory slide-show presentation with shots of diseased people, bewitched shoes, witches milking broomsticks, orgies. A pointer was even used to specify! There were monks poisoned by cat feces and dead bird juice, monks later transformed into vile grabass monks!There were numerous scenes of demon fellatio! Witches dancing with reindeer! A woman with gigantic hands shoveling what appeared to be syrup into her mouth! Yep! She was a witch! Filthy elderly person torture! Insect demon birth! Horse skeletons! Disembodied souls and ghostly-white witches superimposed over cloudy skies! Soup made from babies and toads! Two scenes (I do not shit you) in which demons ferociously churned butter. Old women throwing buckets of piss at cursed doors. Homoerotic S&M scenes! Preconception abortions. Urinating kitty vandals! More torture! Satan bludgeoning nuns! As usual, the pictures speak more loudly than the words. Satanic blow jobs:

There was some interesting information in this odd little movie, and lots of the camera trickery/special effects were probably pretty innovative for 1922--see the aforementioned witches, the scenes of hell, and especially the nifty stop animation used to animate coins. A lot of the imagery reminded me of F.W. Murnau's Faust which came out four years later. There could have been less narration (I'm not Danish, after all, and therefore do not like to read), and I never was clear whether there was a tongue firmly planted in cheek with this or not. Honestly, it doesn't matter. It's worth seeing just for those two butter-churning scenes.

Note: This was rereleased in '68 with a Jon Luc Ponty jazzy score and William S. Burroughs narration. I've got that on now, and despite the fact that I love Burroughs' voice and like Ponty just fine, this shorter version really doesn't work at all. Those silly avant-gardists!

Trivia: The director, Benjamin Christensen, actually plays both the devil and Jesus.

Here I am learning all about the history of witchcraft:


1999 German nearly-silent futuristic fairy tale

Rating: 15/20

Plot: An ugly blind man, his ugly wife, and their uglier son try to save a dilapidated bath house from demolition and the threat that it could be replaced by something that isn't a bath house. Anton, the ugly son, falls in love with the smell of Bjork's undergarments and eventually gets to see her swimming naked with a fish. Ostensibly, there is a woody (i.e. hard-on). Unfortunately, tragedy strikes and Bjork seeks the thuggish and more than likely shaggy arms of a slippery-lookin' devil named Gregor (also ugly), and Anton has to simultaneously fight for the love of the pop star and for the survival of his family's bath house.

Tuvalu is quirky, gorgeously filmed, and almost too precious for its own good. The set design, with a multi-storied bath house with crumbling walls and a labyrinth of rusting pipes looked like something straight from a Mad Max movie, apocalyptic and at times nightmarish while somehow always remaining whimsical and beautiful. The feel of the set was further enhanced by the use of both old school black 'n' white and old school color, lots of sepia tones for the indoors scenes and lots of off-blues for the water and outdoors scenes, both used as an homage to silent movies. Both the colors and the set, the herky-jerky plot, the use of ugly European actors, the lopsided cinematography and weird close-ups of the ugly actors' faces, and the dry humor were all reminiscent of Delicatessen, so much in fact that I probably should have deducted points for the blatant rip-off. Oh, and the overly-exaggerated sound effects--lots of creaking and squeaking. The film had no dialogue other than various grunts and squeals and the occasional uttered name, and this, with all the sepia and the Chaplinesque slapstick, recalls the silent film era. Parts of this cross the line into way-too-silly territory, but it's a fun, very French little fairy tale of a German movie that I'm glad I got to see.

Here's a picture of an ugly person with Bjork followed by a picture of an ugly person watching Tuvalu:


1985 Kurosawa samurai

Rating: 18/20 (Abbey: 1/20)

Plot: see King Lear. . .or, samurai try to survive in 16th century Japan after a nuclear holocaust. . .or, two of three sons (the two dumbasses) betray their father in an attempt to have the best picnic locations in all of Japan. They fight over robes and decide in the end to put a stop to the madness (the "chaos" in the title) like all real men put a stop to madness--an epic masturbation contest!

Surprise surprise! Another masterpiece from the greatest director who ever lived. I can't imagine the care and time taken to paint this epic. Such a striking use of color and both natural (i.e. rolling hills) and man-made (i.e. burning castles) imagery. The scene with the biggest chunk of violence completely captivated me, a scene with almost no sound, startling images (men holding their own severed arms, lots of blood and arrows), and no extraneous effects. It is a little disarming getting a glimpse into the director's old age worldviews and ideas about life, an apathetic God, lost humanity--ideas so depressing, cynical, almost hopeless. Absolutely stunning stuff.

Here's a still from the controversial "Masturbation Contest" scene:

And here I am with Abbey. She watched about an hour of this with me, asking me what the subtitles said when she couldn't catch all the words. When asked what she would rate it, she said she'd give it a 1 out of 20. I asked her why and she said, "I'd give it a one because it was stupid."

Pandora's Box

1930 German Pabst silent melodrama

Rating: 16/20
Plot: This is the tragic story of a woman's face and three too many erections.

Another moody, bleak one. I thought the storytelling was a little sloppy and about 30 minutes too long. The sloppiness may be part of the point as Lulu (the "Pandora") and the poor unfortunate souls she comes in contact are pummeled with life and circumstances that seem random and unfair but are almost entirely the result of Louise Brooks and her pretty pretty eyes. This was decidedly modern--in the camera's movements and in almost all of the acting, the lilts and gapes of the former and the uncharacteristic (for the time and genre) lack of pomp of the latter. Brooks herself was fantastic, and she needed to be considering the amount of time the camera would focus on her face. It's also amazing how few title cards were needed to carry the plot--the actions of the story did it just fine. This is one of those silent pictures in which the silence really helps create the atmosphere for a lot of the scenes. Bleakly, the darkness grows progressively in this until it almost becomes suffocating, all the way to the point when the piled-on sins of the characters become deadly.

Trivia: First lesbian role in motion picture history

Speaking of lesbians, here's a big ol' lesbian checking out Lulu's curves in Pandora's Box: