Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

2006 action

Rating: 12/20 (Dylan: 14/20)

Plot: All of the characters from Pirates of the Caribbean: Give 'em the Rum so's He'll Stop 'is Whinin' return and huddle up to try and remember what had happened to them at the end of the last movie. A wedding is interrupted by arrest, and Captain Jack Sparrow has to find a squid-faced guy's heart so that he can pay off a debt. Then everybody else decides they might as well look for squid-faced guy's heart, too. A giant tentacled sea creature rapes a boat. Sparrow is diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, but that doesn't stop the cannibals from trying to eat him. In the middle of the movie, the characters have to again conference to attempt to figure out what's going on, and following that, they decide to have a swordfight. CGI-pirates frolick and gesticulate, sometimes in that order and sometimes in the opposite order. The movie ends just in time for the third part of the trilogy--Pirates of the Caribbean: Where'd You Park the Boat, Matey?

I enjoyed the first of the trilogy more than I thought I would and possibly more than I should. I still like Depp's character and visually, this was a lot of fun. The computer effects don't get in the way, used more effectively to paint artistic artificial sets than the action scenes with the giant sea creature or Davy Jones' and his mutants. The story's sort of a mess, really loopy and goopy and scattered and battered, and this lacks some of the charm and fun and creativity of the first movie. Subplots and sub-subplots emerge and muddle things up. Honestly, I'm not even completely sure what's going on leading into the third movie because one character's actions seem contradictory and I couldn't even understand what another character said half the time. The stunts and action scenes in this were over-the-top (the hour-and-an-half sword fight, the escape from the cannibals), but there's enough excitement in this, as well as more than enough attractive imagery, to make this worthwhile.

Note: There are a pair of pirates used for comic effect in this. They're sort of the R2-D2 and C-3PO of the Caribbean. I looked up the one with the artificial eye because he seemed familiar and remembered that he was the guy from The Office (the boring English version, not the superior American one). His first film credit is something I absolutely have to see--The Man Who Fell in Love with a Traffic Cone. Come on!

The Haunting

1963 horror

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Dr. Markway, a researcher in psychic phenomena, gathers together a group to spend several nights in the supposedly haunted Hill House. It's a house with a violent history, described as one character as a "house that was born bad." Skeptical Wally (Beaver's brother), a lesbian with esp, and a woman who may have had experience with poltergeists meet so that they can overact and say witty things to each other. Paranormal activity ensues which gives the four actors an excuse to overact even more. Seriously, just check out the poster to the left. It's motionless overacting. That can't be easy! Based on a Shirley "The Lottery" Jackson novel.

Let me start with this--I hated every single character in this. I hated their voices, their facial expressions, their rapport, their gestures, and (in the case of one woman) their audible thoughts. The story was dopey, and the music score and pacing dated this considerably. In fact, I would have guessed this was produced five to ten years earlier than it was. I'm not good at guessing people's ages either. All faults can be nearly forgiven, however, because of two things: the technique and the setting. The latter, a creepy mansion shown in exterior shots against eerie blueish clouds (note: the movie is not color), is almost a character itself, and camera tricks--puzzling angles, artistic effects, and swooping movement--add to the creepiness of the characters' situation. There's plenty to see in the architecture and decor of the house, and the director Robert Wise takes advantage of all the available sights both exterior and interior. The source of the haunting is never really palpable. The characters and audience never see anything concrete, although I guess they do hear noises and see a rubbery door and feel cool breezes or, in one scene that should have been great, feel something else. So I suppose there's palpability, but it's not the typical scare tactics of traditional horror flicks. Nothing jumps out at you or bleeds or oozes or growls. I don't have much horror film background, and I wonder if The Haunting is unique in not showing the ghosts or monsters or martians or murderers or what-have-you that is threatening the characters. This is psychologically intriguing but ultimately misses. Also important to note: There was a subplot involving lesbianism. No nudity though, Jen.

Here I am with my own special effect:

Woman in the Dunes

1964 drama

Rating: 18/20

Plot: A teacher with an interest in entomology takes a three-day excursion to the dunes to find desert insects and hopefully discover something that will get his name in a book. He misses the last bus and is persuaded by the desert inhabitants to stay with the title character. She happens to live in a rickety shack at the bottom of a sand pit. Upon waking up the next day, he realizes he's fallen into a trap and since he can't get out of the sand pit, has been effectively tricked into having what amounts to a marriage with this woman. Along with the woman, a widow who refuses to even attempt to leave because her husband and daughter are buried in the sands nearby, he has to shovel sand to be lifted out of the pit in baskets. Apparently, it's being sold by the neighbors. He plots various escapes using bondage, futile climbing, and birds, taking breaks only to get himself a little somethin'-somethin' or to get sand out of his crevices.

This isn't erotic or even romantic as the cover seems to suggest. Instead, this works (I think) as a rich, dark, cynical allegorical/metaphorical take on marriage. There's plenty of despair, and I'm not even sure if the ending qualifies as a happy ending. Director Hiroshi Teshigahara ends indeterminately, in a way, and doesn't spell much out. The majority of this is driven by symbols (sand, lots of water, masks, flesh, soap, ladders, birds. . .all working as metaphor), but it doesn't come across as pretentious at all. Instead, it's completely beautiful and engrossing filmmaking. This director's got himself some eyes! Almost every shot in the 2 1/2 hour film is crisp, interesting, beautiful, and at least nearly perfect. The shots of gently moving insects, skin smooth and rough, and especially drifting and shifting sands are breathtaking. It was really difficult to want to move the eyes down to read the subtitles half of the time. Absolutely fantastic cinematography, and I honestly can't imagine a black and white film looking better than this one. "Slow" moments also force reflection like many Japanese pictures seem to do.

Note: I seem to be watching a lot of movies with deserts and/or kidnapping. Simon of the Desert, El Topo, Black Snake Moan, The Collector (this was nearly a reversal of that one except the kidnapee was the collector of insects), The Edukators, The Mummy.

Here I am watching the best movie I've seen this year:

The Beastmaster

1982 fantasy

Rating: 12/20 (Dylan: 10/20 although he said he liked this. I'm not sure the boy understands the rating system. I mean, didn't he see the breasts?)

Plot: A trio of hideously deformed women who apparently left their pants on the set of Macbeth warns Rip Torn and his evil eyebrows that a baby is about to be born that is gonna get all up in his bidness. Rip Torn sends a witch to perform a forty-seven step abortion involving blue Jello, a cow, a fire, cackling, and fingernails. A nosey guy interrupts, awkwardly kills the witch, and adopts the boy as his own. At some point, he's named Dar which, I should note, is Rad backwards. That's not a coincidence because Dar has a truly radical talent--he can communicate and control animals. After his village is slaughtered by Rip Torn's thugs, Beastmaster takes a journey seeking revenge. Well, that and finding some animal pals to accompany him. Oh, and checking out the breasts of naked slave girls.
This was a likable, but dated, fantasy flick. There was so much (especially with the script but also with the set design and cinematography) that keeps this a product of its time. I thought the pre-CGI special effects were great, and the work with the animals was really good. Moments annoyed me (see: the cute ferrets) and moments were unintentionally funny (I had to pause every time he introduced himself with "I'm Dar" so that I could laugh for twenty minutes. . .during some scenes, I had throw in my own "I'm Dar"), but for the most part, this was a fun little movie. Creativity (those cannibalistic robed things and the eye ring were cool) and some interesting shots (mostly exterior stuff but also some interesting mood-aiding set design) make this worth watching.

Note: My wife claimed after hearing about this that I have an obsession with breasts and only watch movies because of the boobs. Little does she know, I actually have a (probably unhealthy) sexual attraction to Dar. Can't fault me for that though! Dar!

I'm not Dar:

Dylan is hiding.

Simon of the Desert

1965 Luis Bunuel half-movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Ascetic Simon, after spending six years, six months, and six days standing on a pillar in the desert, comes back to earth into the arms of adoring locals and his mother. He immediately ascends a ladder to another nearby, taller pillar where he continues his prayers, his fasting, his lifting of hands, and his deliverances of words of divine wisdom, sometimes while battling temptation from Satan's breats and/or tongue, and sometimes while standing on one leg. Locals come and go, and a third tempting leads to a startling denouement.

Bunuel, I believe, ran out of money and wasn't able to finish this in a way that would match his artistic vision, hence the brevity. Too bad, because this is an intriguing, predictablably satiric and pessimistic look at religious devotion. Simon, despite appearances and wonderfully portrayed by whoever it is who portrays him, isn't a figure used by Bunuel to make direct attacks at organized (or disorganized) religion, but a complex figure torn between his sometimes fuzzy ideas and the ideas of a modern world. The temptation scenes--Satan incognito as a female, bearded Christ; a moving coffin opening to reveal a right breast--are surreal. The dialogue between Simon and the public is revealing. The humor is typical of Bunuel's work, sort of a subtle wittiness, funny more on the inside than out. The juxtaposition of the final scene with the rest of the movie (a final scene, I'll admit, made me think, "Yikes! This is really stupid!") unfolded into a thing of complete genius. Great use of a bowlegged midget, too! I could easily have watched another forty-five minutes of this one.

Shane of the living room:

The Terror of Tiny Town

1938 midget musical western extravaganza

Rating: 6/20 (But as you know, I apply bonus points for certain features--puppets, nudity, Klaus Kinski, etc. This one got all kinds of bonus points for having handlebar mustaches and midgets. With the bonus points, I'd actually have to give this a 34/20. That is, if I counted it all up correctly.)

Dylan's rating: 12/20

Plot: Bat Haines, a midget villain, is wreaking midget havoc as he plots to take over the midget town called Tiny Town. In midget cahoots with the midget sheriff, he attempts to take advantage of a midget feud between two midget families. It's sort of like a Hatfield and McCoy thing. But a midget version. Meanwhile, the lovely Nancy Preston arrives in town to stay with her midget uncle. The hero, one Buck Lawson (a midget) shares a midget picnic with her shortly after saving her from certain midget death by stopping her out-of-control midget stagecoach. The midget uncle and Buck's midget father gets all up in his midget grill (sort of like a Romeo and Juliet thing...but a midget version) and the midget Bat Haines gets a chance to put his midget plan in action.

The plot, sets, acting, dialogue, action scenes, musical numbers, and almost every other aspect of this movie is typical of really bad, B-Westerns. The only difference is that the film's cast is made up entirely of midgets. And maybe some children. It was hard to tell. The only other movie I've seen with a cast of all little people is Even Dwarfs Started Small which, for my money, is a superior all-midget movie. Most of this one is straight-shootin' although there are some really terrible puns and some sight gags (two midgets playing a bass, midgets walking under saloon doors, Dylan's favorite scene involving a midget chasing around a duck). It's worth the investment just to see the midgets riding Shetland ponies around and for the midget fisticuffs during the edge-of-your-seat climax. Trust me. Movie magic!

Note: The title credits called the cast "Jed Buell's midgets". I wondered if this guy traveled around with a midget entourage. Picture that in your head for a moment. Pretty intimidating stuff.

Note: It seems that almost all of the cast of The Terror of Tiny Town were Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz which came out the following year. At least one midget had a fairly distinguished career. Billy Curtis, who played the hero, acted in over 90 television shows and movies. According to Wizard lore, Judy Garland made reference to the Munchkins as "little drunks," partially because Curtis wouldn't stop flirting with her. I don't know for sure (and neither are around to verify or discredit), but I bet he hit that.

Here's a chronological list of Billy's cinema and television credits: The Hero, Hercules the Midget, Munchkin, Midget, Midget, Midget Judge, Papoose, Bodyguard (in Hellzapoppin'), Midget, Melinda the Chimp, Major the Midget, Midget driver, Eddie a Midget, Midget in Wings, Newsboy, Vaudeville Midget, Midget, Midget, "Baby" Joe (midget), Midget musician, Dugan, Man, Midget Barker, Little Man, Captain Rudolph del Nemo, Mighty Mite, Billy Curtis (midget), Little Man, Makuba (Jungle Jim in Pygmy Island), Midget in Deli, Mole-Man, Midget in Agent's Office, The Laughing Badman, Gino, Clown, Slim (Midget Carinival Employee), Tut, Big Executive, Circus Midget Clown, Damu, One of Hermine's Midgets, Midget at county fair, Midget (The Incredible Shrinking Man), Harry Earles (Midget Actor), Super Pup/Bark Bent, Harry, Charlie McCarthy, Captain Borcher, Martian, Colonel Petite, Mascot, Monk Carter, Danny, Newsboy, Big Mike the bartender, Midget, The Man from Flush, Midget (The Monkees), Augie, Spaceman #3 (The Beverly Hillbillies), Gypsy, El Lobo-Ito, Jack O'Lantern (Bewitched), Small copper-skinned ambassador (Star Trek), Child Ape (Planet of the Apes), Edmund B. Ratner, Johnson, Lucy and Ma Parker (?), Toy cowboy, Arizona (Gunsmoke), Mordecai (High Plains Drifter), Slick Bender, Toulouse, Secret Service Man, Charlie P., Roger Robot (Laverne and Shirley), Menchkin, General Voomak, Little Person, Barnaby, Jack, Elf 2, Teddy's Voice, Reverend Lynch, and Creature. It should also be noted that Billy Curtis was the only person who ever played McDonalds' Mayor McCheese. They got rid of the character after Curtis's death in 1989. I'm thinking very seriously of trying to see as many movies with Billy Curtis in them as I possible can.

Here I am (regular-sized person):

Children of Men

2006 futuristic apocalyptic action flick

Rating: 16/20

Plot: It's the year 2027, and things are looking bleak. There have been no births in over 18 years (which, honestly, might not be such a terrible idea), and the world is collapsing under the weight of all those terrible things doomsayers have warned us about. It's probably the fault of our SUV's and doughnuts and bottled water and the election of a female president and homosexual Teletubbies. Clive Owen's ex-girlfriend, Maude Lebowski, wants him to use his connections to transport a pregnant girl to what might be safe hands in a place that might still have daisies. Along the way, he experiences problems, among them an inability to find a good pair of shoes.

My expectations weren't incredibly high with this even with the recommendation from somebody I trust implicitly. And I generally have mixed feelings about these kinds of futuristic things anyway. With the same cast, budget, script, etc., this could have been absolute junk in different hands. It wasn't exactly flawless anyway (the story is a little clunky and there's too much cleverness), but for the most part, I was floored. The action scenes are among the most realistic and naturally tense I've ever seen. I have no clue how some of the extended, one-shot action scenes (one involving a car, another involving a bus, another involving a siege) were filmed. I don't think CGI is the answer. The choreography, attention to detail, teamwork, and artistic vision involved is mindboggling and really made the movie something special. The bleak landscapes and London's disarray created was stunning. The cinematography draws the audience into the film, and (for better or worse) parts of this almost seem like a video game. I could definitely understand somebody's gripe if they claimed it was too video-gamey. I, however, leaned in and soaked it all in.

Note: I had to turn this one way up due to a combination of a running dishwasher and English accents. I might have hearing problems.

Here I am watching Children of Men:


1980 avant-garde B-movie

Rating: 17/20

Plot: An intellectual befriends a nomad who may have murdered a woman. They meet and, I believe, fall in love with the same woman. As the years pass, they may or may not get involved with each other's wives. They may even be the same person. If you've ever seen a Seijun Suzuki film, you'll know why I'm having trouble with this one. It's either difficult or I'm a complete idiot. Or both.

As expected, a stylized effort from Suzuki although it isn't the same stylization that made those oddball 60's films (Branded to Kill and Tokyo Drifter) so brilliant. This is so slow moving and so completely Japanese, and it sort of sucks you in, forces you to look around its meticulously-constructed strange new world, and almost hypnotizes you, setting you up for a knockout ending. It's chaos unfolding in slow motion. There are surreal touches (crabs emerging from the private parts of a woman washed up on a beach, all of the characters in the film watching a fireworks show that doesn't seem to exist, rocks falling onto the roofs of houses), but for the most part, everything seems realistic on the surface. Beneath that surface, however, is an entirely different matter. This sort of hit me like a Japanese David Lynch movie. As a matter of fact, the opening scene is a close-up of a record playing (the song is the title of the movie) during a creepy conversation between unseen characters (a conversation that is perfectly duplicated later on) which reminded me of Inland Empire. I believe Suzuki's modus operandi is to keep things open to interpretation; in fact, I think I remember reading something about how he doesn't even want to understand his own movies. In this one, he seems to be toying with the characters a little. It seems to me that the two main male characters might be two sides of the same protagonist, and I'm not sure how many actual female characters exist either, especially since one woman plays at least two different characters. The whole movie could be an allegory that has to do with a clash between East and West cultures. The intellectual and his wife seem more American/European; the wanderer and his wives and lady friends seem more Asian. And then they die or don't die. I'm sure it means something. And that's the beauty of this lovely, sometimes chilling, movie--it's the kind of movie that you can't stop running through your mind. It'll even force you to turn off the cd player in the car on the way to playing disc golf.

Note: This is considered the first of a trilogy (thematic or style rather than characters/plot) filmed after Suzuki was fired from his studio for not making movies correctly. I can't wait to see the others.

Me, directly after my cerebellum was extracted:

Strangers with Candy

2005 comedy

Rating: 10/20

Plot: A prequel to the television show, this follows Jerri Blank from prison as she meets her step-mother, finds out her father is in a coma, returns to high school, tries to fit in, and joins the science fair team in an attempt to get her father out of the coma.

More silliness than you can shake a stick at, but as I feared, this is more like a Strangers with Candy episode stretched into 90 minutes. It's thin. There are a lot of funny moments, mostly (just like the television show) involving Colbert and Dinello's teacher characters or flashes of absurdity (the doctor sliding down the bannister, anything involving the donkey mascot). Unfortunately, I'm not sure this science fair premise would have even ended up being one of the better episodes of the television show. The whole thing seems thrown together and too much like a reunion of a television show instead of a stand-alone movie. There was no time for real character development, and there wasn't nearly enough screentime with the minor characters. Principal Blackman didn't seem himself although the line "We've got over 3,000 students and 12 teachers" was funny. Three episodes of the television show...much funnier. I have to admit though--I could watch the scene where Jerri is watching monkeys on television over and over again.

Here I am mid-laugh:


2005 documentary

Rating: 10/20 (Jen: 9/20)

Plot: Two English demonstrators are sued by McDonald's after refusing to apologize for comments made in a flyer. They represent themselves in a court case against the clown's money and expensive lawyers. The court case lasts almost as long as this movie seemed to have lasted. Lives are touched, and McDonald's ceases to be a corporation.

Very cheaply made and completely unengaging (Jen's word), a documentary without any style at all. There was substance though, lots of information that everybody either knows or should probably know about McDonald's role in the environment (flimsy, possibly faulty cause-and-effect propaganda here), animal cruelty (some scenes not for the squeamish), advertising strategies (although really, if this is news to people...), their treatment of employees, and the lack of nutritional value in the food (again, if this is news...). Unfortunately, everything came across as self important, and some scenes/interviews were completely pointless. The funniest part of the film might have been when the male defendant revealed that he and the female defendant were not involved sexually. Other parts of this equally dopey, especially the use of actors in courtroom reenactments. And heck, the movie started with a Star Wars-esque text scroll!

Note: I would have given this bonus points if the Hamburglar or Grimace were interviewed.

Jen and I watching McLibel:

American Movie

1999 narrative documentary

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Budding filmmaker Mark Borchardt doesn't want to shovel snow or vacuum carpets at the cemetary anymore, nor does he want to deliver The Wall Street Journal at six in the morning. Instead, he wants to make a feature film called Northwestern. Oh, he wants to read The Wall Street Journal, as well. Unfortunately, he is short on cash. He decides instead to finish his short film, Coven. He begs money from his skeptical Uncle Bill and gets help from a bunch of his friends, some who are undoubtedly mentally challenged. Finally, he's able to premiere his horror masterpiece at a Milwaukee theater, more than likely confusing the audience in the process.

Mark Borchardt might have some talent. Indeed, some of the shots in Coven, including in the dvd bonus materials, are pretty cool. Unfortunately, empty pockets and alcohol get in the way and probably kept the short from being what it could have been. Plus, Mark might be a little crazy. This documentary following him around during his quest to make his dream come true is very funny, sometimes almost devastingly sad (although not as sad as a whole as it probably should have been), and really pretty inspiring. I enjoyed every scene with Uncle Bill, especially the rerecording of his opening lines from the short film. When Mark said, "Alright...take 37," I chortled. The scenes with Mark trying to put one of the actor's heads through a cabinet door and where he's describing in great detail the cleaning of a toilet at the cemetary were also great. The filmmakers (the real ones...not the subject of the documentary) treated the "characters" with respect, never getting too fancy or taking cheap shots. Reminiscent of the equally entertaining Lost in La Mancha (although arguably not as depressing), this beautifully shows how painfully difficult it can be to want to make something.

This was my brother Mark's recommendation.

Here I am wondering what I would look like with Mark's hair:

Nosferatu the Vampyre

1979 horror remake

Rating: 16/20

Plot: It's Dracula. A really old pale guy laments the fact that he can't get a girl to like him on account of his silly looking ears. "Cursed! Cursed with these monstrostities [sic]! All the kids on the playground called me Batboy." He mopes around for a while and finally decides to go to the woodshed to fashion himself some wicked fangs with the use of an electric sander. He then falls in love with the sander and injures himself during attempted intercourse. Blaming his misfortune on Black and Decker (Franz Black and Hans Decker, the guys at the local hardware store who sold him the discount sander from the clearance aisle), he seeks revenge. Or a good manicurist. He ends up getting a haircut instead and regretting it instantly. He takes a trip on a boat to forget his troubles and befriends several rats. Together, they produce their own musical comedy--"The Frantic Athletic Cup". They're booed fiercely during the first show, tossed from the boat, and spend the rest of the movie regretting every decision they've ever made.

This is probably not as good as the original 20's Murnau version (I think...it's been a while) but it is infinitely better (well, twice better) than the Coppola thing, despite the substitution of Tom Waits for the annoying giggling Renfield in this one. The annoying giggling Renfield delivered one of the more laughable acting performances I've ever seen, and the acting was the biggest problem (only problem?) with the film. Werner Herzog produced two simultaneous versions--one in English and one in German--and the heavily-accented English combined with this oddly tired, confused acting really made the English version difficult to watch in parts. I watched snippets of the German version, and it didn't seem much better though. The movie was also a little choppy; you could tell scenes were hurried (one take only, probably due to a combination of budget, the need for two language versions, and time). The individual scenes themselves, however, were almost perfect. Kinski is as good as anybody who's seen Kinski would think he'd be in this role. He's got the eyes for the part, and his timing is so perfect in the elongated, tension-filled scenes. His presence completely overwhelms the scenes he's in. And with the imagery and set design, there's enough to look at to make up for the story we already know and the acting we wish we could ignore. The castle in this is perfect and haunting. Herzog paints with shadows and somber colors, and by slowing down scenes, he creates an almost hypnotic tension if not something completely terrifying. Almost every scene with Kinski is beautiful, but my favorite image is during the great "pestilence" chapter, a scene featuring a "last supper" with a family feasting while in the company of scuttling rats. There's also some really sexy mummies and a nicely choreographed pall bearer dance scene. Great rats though. It adds backbone to my theory that Werner Herzog (my favorite director) could direct animals as well as people. (See: the monkeys at the end of Aguirre, the defecating camel at the end of Dwarves, the dancing chicken at the end of Stroyzek.) This could have been the greatest horror movie ever made, and it is one of the best remakes of all time.

Look! I'm terrified!

Danny Deckchair

2003 romantic comedy

Rating: 7/20

Plot: While hosting a barbie, scruffy Danny, seemingly bored with life and recently cuckolded, drifts away in a lawnchair with helium balloons tied to it. He lands in what must be the imbecile capital of Australia as the townspeople can't put two and two together to figure out that he's the missing guy they keep mentioning on the television. He falls in annoyingly unbelievable love with a woman who has almost no personality at all and inspires the imbeciles. Will Danny reveal his true identity to his new friends? Will his wife and old friends ever see him again? Will anybody watching the movie even care?

Poorly written, predictable, greasy, schmaltzy and insipid. There's an idea in this somewhere, but nothing about this was executed properly. It attempts quirk and heart and maybe even magical realism, but comes across as nothing more than stupid cheese. I'm actually a little angry at Australia after viewing this one, and all those people who would like this and use a word like "delightful" or "charming" to describe it should be urinated upon. Or they should be forced to watch City Lights. Or, better yet, they should be forced to watch City Lights while being urinated upon. It's a romantic comedy with the plastic romance you can only find in bad movies and with not one funny moment to be found.

Here I am wishing that I wasn't watching Danny Deckchair:

The 400 Blows

1959 French drama

Rating: 18/20

Plot: A disillusioned adolescent raises hell. Trouble at both home and school forces him to react--he spins, ogles, steals a typewriter, reads Balzac, fibs, catches part of his bedroom on fire, engages in subtle homoerotic romance, ticks off his teacher, conjugates, slinks, runs away, drums his fingers, and goes to the beach.

As I've said, I love good endings. This one has a classic, an image of a look into the camera that says more than millions of words in thousands of movies. Truffaut succeeds because he constructs a plot where nothing is wasted and every scene builds to that final shot. At the same time, few of the scenes really scream at you and seem to matter. There's nothing fancy here because there doesn't need to be. Subtle comedy intermingles with the despair of adolescence. Great lead actor. A human is created, and the kid makes it easy to want to follow him around. Well-constructed autobiographical film-making, tragic and life-affirming and beautiful.

Bonus points awarded for puppets.

Me, who during my own childhood never got above 280 blows:

Week End

1967 avant-garde comedy/drama

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A bourgeousie couple take what is supposed to be a pleasant trip to visit the parents of one of them, although secretly, they are hoping for their deaths. The trip starts out terribly with a fender bender that leads to neighbors shooting bullets and arrows and serving a barrage of tennis balls at them. The trip only gets worse--ghastly traffic jams, numerous burning automobile accidents, kidnappings, and a piano concert that seems to go on forever.

Radical filmmaking reminiscent of Bunuel's choppier surrealist works and Songs from the Second Floor, crazily episodic, disturbing, and darkly humorous. This benefits from a very made-up-as-it-goes approach, and although not all the extended scenes work, they all manage to seem really important. Classic epic traffic jam scene featuring giraffes, chess players, broken bodies, picnickers, and people playing catch between cars and building to a devastating denouement is jaw-dropping, one extended tracking shot nearly worth the price of admission alone. Very meta film--minor characters ask if they're real or part of a movie and flashy title cards proclaim the film as the end of cinema. I didn't care for all the political stuff (nor did I completely understand it...indictments of both Western Culture and cinema) and those title cards seem tacky and overdone, but this is very entertaining absurdism. Comedy roadkill and satiric chaos! As the opening credits promise, this is a "film adrift in the cosmos."

Here I am, also adrift in the cosmos:

The Day the Earth Stood Still

1951 Science Fiction

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A mild-mannered spaceman arrives in Washington D.C. with his own theremin and Gort, a robotic thug with no sign of genitalia. He parks his spaceship illegally and is given a good ol' American greeting--he's shot. After escaping from the hospital and sneaking around incognito (under the guise of a pedophile), he's shot again. He leaves, but not before giving humanity nearly the same message Rodney King would give 40-some years later.

Bloated and strangely sterile science fiction with a message that, although universal and timeless, feels like it was delivered via Gort smacking you upside the head with it repeatedly. Everything seems so dated about this; however, in the context of the early 50's, I'm sure the effects and even the message would have been revolutionary. In that context, it might be a little more atypical--the plot isn't advanced by minor characters being violently acted upon and the "fears" aren't created with special effects or lurking slimy things. Unfortunately, there's just no tension at all, and none of the characters are worth caring about. The punchline was the moralizing of the alien Christ figure. A complete destruction of Washington D.C. would have been a lot cooler to see. I would have also enjoyed a sex scene with the robot. Maybe some Gort-on-midget action. Then, this movie would not only be famous for it's "Klaatu barada nikto!" line but also for introducing the expression "He's hung like Gort" into the vernacular. Bad B-acting and choppy characterization also hurt this one a bit, making it seem more dated than it probably should.

Here I am, considering very seriously whether I should start loving my neighbor and stop carrying out senseless acts of violence (ultimately, I decided to stay just the way I am):

Super Mario Bros.

1993 action adventure

Rating: 4/20 (Jen: 1/20 [She couldn't make it all the way through though. "If you'd let me give a movie a zero, I would. I'd even go into the negatives with this one."], Dylan: 2/20, Emma 9/20, Abbey 15/20)

Plot: Mario Mario and Luigi Mario (no, I'm not kidding) have to save the world from the nearly-sinister Dennis Hopper and his devolving (like, reverse evolving) machine. They also have to save their girlfriends. There's a subplot that involves Luigi attempting to lose his virginity.

It's a sensory overload. Everything is so big and loud here that it actually becomes repulsive. Power Rangers-esque effects, terrible acting, a story that makes little sense and barely resembles the video game at all, and a bad bad script featuring humor from the 80's combine forces to make a four and a half hour film that makes you wish you were watching somebody play the video game instead. In fact, I would have rather watched somebody play the first level of the video game over and over again (having the first menacing turtle thing kill Mario in the exact same way every time) while having somebody else hit me in the back of the head repeatedly with a plastic pipe. This should have ruined careers. John Leguizamo...ok, maybe his career was just starting out. But what the hell were Bob Hoskins and Dennis Hopper thinking involving themselves in this? Or Mojo Nixon. If your movie don't got Mojo Nixon than your movie could use a fixin'? Hoskins, at least, acknowledges that this is the worst thing he's ever done. I'm more embarrassed for Hopper. Hearing him recite lines like "You know what I like about mud? It's clean and it's dirty at the same time" was painful. This was the first movie based on a video game, and it probably should have been the last. The 90's weren't great for movies anyway, and this is one of the worst of the decade.

Note: I did doze off once during this movie, but I don't think I missed anything important.

Here we are. Jen may be a little mad at me here. Goomba shoe!

Planet Terror

2007 1970's zombie movie

Rating: 10/20

Plot: Cardboard cut-outs try to save the world from zombies. The zombies ooze. Luckily, everybody knows how to handle a gun.

It's pointless to give this a rating or say much about it. It's the movie that most adolescent boys probably dream of making--sexiness, things exploding inexplicably, guns, more guns, over-the-top gore. There's enough fun, and it's well done for what it is, but what it is is pretty pointless. It's a movie with a little bit of everything. Except substance.

Here I am admiring the gore:

The Pursuit of Happyness

2006 Drama

Rating: 12/20 (Checking my notebook, I watched this about a year ago and gave it an 11/20...must have been in a bad mood because I'd give it a 13 or maybe even a 14 this time. The 12, then, is an average.)

Plot: A failed white rapper spends the remaining savings from his lone hit single, "I'm Gonna Boogie [Am I?]" on juice boxes (Ecto Cooler) which he believes will keep longer than they actually will. They expire, as do his hopes and dreams. And his aspirations. But he tries to make it big and live the American dream, balancing hard work and harder work with looking for places to sleep and trying to figure out to do with his son's hair. I think it's supposed to be his son. It could have been a midget sidekick. He's hit by a car during one of the numerous times in the film when he's running across a street without looking (main theme of the film: look both ways before you cross) and dies. Miraculously, he wakes up with powerful robotic hands, hands which he quickly realizes could give him an edge as he attempts to get a job as a stockbroker in the competitive world of stockbrokering. Lord knows his lack of experience ain't gonna give him no edge! Lord, have mercy! The protagonist, the late M.C. Ecto Coolio, finds out too late that the midget has been stealing his stationery and is quite possibly a fiend. "Shoulda known it by the twitch in his eye," says Ecto with a twitch in his eye. There's a climactic battle in which his opponents, united with his former sidekick (or is it a clone?), attempt to use his own stationery to "make him bleed...make him bleed good." But as the movie's tagline promises: "Robotic hands don't bleed!" Based on a true story.

After two sick days in a row, I decided I might as well go do my job today, forgetting that it was a student half day in which I'd be professionally developed. That's sort of the public educator's equivalent of getting breast implants. I was scrambling to figure out what to teach the youth of America when somebody reminded me that I wouldn't have to teach them anything at all and that our team had already planned on watching this movie. This actually isn't much different than my normal day except a movie usually isn't involved. It was a nice way to get back into the swing of things following my four-day weekend.

Originally, I accused this movie of being predictable and sappy and too Hollywood. Not sure what my problem would have been. The Fresh Prince does a great job in this, and even the kid is ok. I usually despise child actors (exception: Anakin Skywalker in Episode I). There are some moments that'll make ya cringe, but there are also some really touching, really authentic moments, most of them dealing with the relationship between the father and the son. It's peppered with humor, and although it's in no way flashy or modern, it still manages to maintain a style. It's written well, although it is difficult to see through the syrup at times, but it's really Will Smith's performance that makes the movie what it is. He's instantly likable and gives a completely believable performance, more than likely one aided by the natural chemistry between him and the midget. Earlier, I wrote that Michael Cera might be the next Jimmy Stewart. That's probably wrong because Will Smith might be the next Jimmy Stewart. Heck, he might be the original Jimmy Stewart!

No picture of me watching this movie is available.

Monsieur Verdoux

1947 black comedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Following economic depression, the charming title character loses the bank job held for 30 years. Forced to find a way to support his invalid wife and young son, Verdoux starts a new business--find wealthy women, persuade them to put their finances in a vulnerable position, and then kill them. He travels via train, juggling his actual family and his numerous financial possibilities, and tries to outwit captors.

Written by Charlie Chaplin based on an idea given to him by admirer Orson Welles, this is a pretty tightly structured dramatic comedy. There are some old timey slapstick moments (rarely involving Chaplin himself and mostly involving the family of one murdered woman), but for the most part, this has the feel of something a lot more modern. The plot is similar to Kind Hearts and Coronets, possibly a superior film, but fractured in that the murderer has to drift back and forth between those he's interested in killing. The characters grow a little bit instead of just popping into the movie as props to be killed. There's not a laugh-out-loud moment in this. Instead, the humor depends on dramatic irony where a large part of the dialogue between characters takes on double and even triple meanings. Initially, I suspected Verdoux's character would suffer from being too flat, but there was room for growth, and it's brilliant how it's easy to feel both hatred and empathy for the man. I believe this is the first Chaplin movie in which he isn't the Little Tramp, and he made it pretty easy to forget that it was him in the first place. My wife didn't know when I asked her. Aside from two spots when he sort of winks at the audience through that fourth wall, there's not much Little Tramp in this at all, and his performance as the title character is really good. I also liked the photography, in particular a shot involving a staircase and another involving a door, a hallway, and a window and another involving a greenhouse. There were also a few extended scenes that managed to maintain both humor and suspense. The only gripe I have is a little preachiness at the end with an attempt to thematically tie in Chaplin's ideas (pacifism mostly, but also some really pessimistic ideas about politics and humanity including possibly his opinions on dropping the twin big ones on those poor Japanese women and children). Seemed a tacked-on stretch to make Monsieur Verdoux too much of a symbol, and the lack of subtlety was unnerving. Chaplin, by the way, was booted out of the country for his views in the early 50's, and Monsieur Verdoux flopped majestically.

Look! I watched this movie with an unpleasant stain on the front of me!

How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman

1971 Brazilian black comedy (or so it says on the box)

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A delicious, well-hung Frenchman is captured by some locals in the jungles of late 16th-Century Brazil and mistaken for a Portuguese guy. The locals consider the Portuguese enemies because they have given aid to their enemies--the Mookoopacapica. The Frenchman tries his best to escape or win over the tribe since they've promised to eat him in eight months. They give him a wife, and he makes gunpowder and helps them win a battle against their enemies. Then they eat him. Ironically.

The combination of this being very cheaply produced and filmed on beautiful location gave this a more authentic, almost documentary feel. Also adding to the authenticity was the costuming--every character but one (I believe) is completely nude for the majority of the film. I would have nominated this for best costume design if it were me, but it is rarely me. The movie stumbled from the gate, almost too different or National Geographical to want to watch, but it got going once the Frenchman in the title attempted to acclimate. I kept thinking how great this could have been with a director like Werner Herzog and a lead like Klaus Kinski (the latter, of course, not making any sense since he spoke German), but Nelson Pereira dos Santos, the director, has a good eye for natural details and knows how to use a lack of sound for effect while the lead actor was, as I mentioned in the plot synopsis, well hung. Other than the goofy title and the situational irony, I found it difficult to believe that this could be considered a comedy. It's important to note that even though you know he's going to be eaten (I hope I'm not giving away the ending...it says it right in the title of the film!), the ending still works due to an affecting set-up.

My pants, folded:

The Collector

1965 psychological thriller

Rating: 13/20

Plot: General Zod, a butterfly-collecting outsider, wins a sizable chunk of change and decides to buy a large house out in the country, the main reason is that it's got a nice little cellar thing in which he can lock kidnapped women. He kidnaps a pretty art student and tries desperately to make her fall in love with him.

Read an interesting bit of trivia--this movie's ending was apparently not the kind of ending that was allowed by censors in 1965, but the reviewer, a newlywed, actually fell asleep and didn't finish watching the movie. The ending is pretty good, too, and a more Hollywood ending (of which I can think of at least three), would have made it a far inferior movie. The acting, I thought, was a little spotty, and the music was oppressive, but the story went at a Hitchcockian pace and managed to keep me interested with, for the most part, only two actors and a single setting. That single setting (also reminding me of Hitchcock in more ways than one), however, was a real find--lots of beams and bricks and curves and creaks that would have made it nearly impossible to not make pretty while filming. I didn't always believe what was going on, and I really would have liked to see a nude scene even though a nude scene would have created a contradiction with the title character's mindset. The development of that character's mental flaws was very good and almost real.
Here I am watching The Collector and wondering if I'll ever be able to fulfill my fantasy of kidnapping a pretty art student:

The Short Films of David Lynch


Rating: 14/20

Plot: Ranging from the 55 second 'Premonitions Following an Evil Deed' to the 30-odd minute 'The Grandmother,' these six short films show the development of Lynch's techniques and vision.

'6 Men Getting Sick (Six Times)' is wholly animated. In the interview segment prior to the minute short (the interview segments are great, by the way...I could listen to David Lynch talk for hours probably), Lynch says that he wanted "to see a painting move and have sound." That's pretty much what is going on with the abstract, surrealistic '6 Men'. It's crudely animated and has sirens and is meant to be looped.

'The Alphabet' from 1968 is nightmarish and a little silly. Dark stuff though.

'The Grandmother' from 1970 predates Eraserhead and contains similar imagery and ideas, especially in the really strange way the people interact with each other. There's no dialogue--only grunts and whine and barks. I thought this was pretty difficult to watch. Very bleak mix of dark live action and child-like animation and including some stop-motion animation with actual people. Creepy kid brother to Eraserhead.

'The Amputee' was made while on hiatus from Eraserhead because he had run out of money. This wasn't worth watching.

'The Cowboy and the Frenchman' from '88 was the oddball of the bunch, and if it weren't for the wackiness of Wild at Heart and that failed television shows he did in the early nineties ("On the Air"...I looked it up), you might not even think it's Lynch at all. He toys with cliches and stereotypes affectively and the "western" turns out to be pretty hilarious. I love when Lynch's sense of humor pops out from the darkness of his films.

The best of the bunch is the 55-second short he did for the one hundredth anniversary of the Lumiere brothers' camera along with 39 other directors. I'd seen that, and 'Premonitions Following an Evil Deed' is one of the few that were memorable. What he does with this rudimentary camera in his 55 seconds is absolutely stunning. It might be my favorite 55 seconds of Lynch's career actually.

Here I am watching these short films (not pictured: me):