Plot: The one-armed swordsman, Wang Kong, is travelling in Japan to receive martial arts training with some monks. He meets a family of three and decides to travel with them. They come across what appears to be a funeral procession which the young boy disrupts. The mother and father are killed immediately, and Wang Kong slashes up some people and runs off with the child. Zatoichi stumbles along and agrees to travel with them despite their language barrier. Misunderstandings lead to distrust as the blind Zatoichi and the one-armed Chinese man have to fight off hordes of bounty hunters. Lots of people get sliced open.
A gigantic body count here. There's some wonderfully poetic blood splatterin' and some terrific fight sequences. Genres cross with the Zatoichi samurai stuff (humor, swordplay, Zen-like reflection and philosophy) clashing with the early kung-fu one-armed swordsman stuff (high flying, punch and kick choreography). I prefer the fight scenes with Zatoichi (the one-armed swordsman is a pre-kung-fu boom stuff that looks a little slow and unnatural), but the climactic fight scene between the title characters is good stuff. There's almost zero rapport between them since they don't speak the same language. In fact, you're required to read two sets of subtitles to explain puns as they try to communicate. I could watch this blind bastard cutting people up all day, so it's a good thing there are about 300 Zatoichi movies. They're a little formulaic, but I still haven't seen a bad one.
This is me watching, I believe, my eleventh Zatoichi movie:
Plot: Following his victory over an undefeated Italian tag-team, Santo is recruited by scientists and anthropologists to accompany them on a trip to someplace that probably never existed in search of the tomb of a prince and the treasures within. They unleash de furio de la momia and Aztec mayhem after the disturbance of said tomb, and Santo watches members of his party die off one by one or run off like cowards.
Not nearly as much wrasslin' action in this, but the three fights outside the ring, the climax obviously involving the mummy, are good. El Santo even fights a panther in a scene that ends with a flash of butt crack. There are of course some unintentionally humorous moments. There's also a character (apparently some kind of Mexican Amish scientist) in the movie only for comic value who rivals Jar Jar Binks as least necessary (and least funny) addition to an action movie. At least he, unlike Binks, gets his by the end. Nowhere near the best Santo movie I've seen, especially because of a predictable ending that looked like something right out of a Scooby Doo cartoon, but because of the El Santo Rule, this is still a 20/20.
El Santo's Crotch? Meet my finger!
Plot: A guy of indeterminate race wears his sunglasses at night. He has a sister of indeterminate race and an African American soul-singin' brother who is struggling with his career because he either doesn't sing songs fast enough or sings them too fast. The sister falls for a white guy who is very obviously a square. Then all the characters sort of walk around and sometimes dance.
This has that near-documentary look that lends this some realism. It didn't seem improvised to me at all though; instead, it just seemed poorly acted and sort of dully written. It's an interesting passing glance at race relations during a very specific time in New York City, but as a film, it feels really incomplete and sketchy, more of an experiment (it was Cassavetes' debut) than a complete realized work of art. There is one truly great scene and one nearly great scene, but the rest of this unfortunately clunks instead of glides. At around an hour and a half, this actually managed to oddly seem longer than Faces.
Me, a black Native American:
Plot: Sullivan is a successful director of comedy films. He decides he wants to make O Brother, Where Art Thou?, something with a little more meat, something that will accurately reflect the lives of the most troubled persons in troubled America. As one of the studio bigwigs points out, however, Sullivan has never suffered a day in his life. Impulsively, he decides to borrow some hobo clothes from the studio and embark on an itinerary-free adventure with only ten cents in his pocket in order to know what real trouble is. He runs into troubles along the way--his inability to get out of Hollywood, meeting an aspiring actress who insists on coming along, and ultimately getting himself arrested.
I liked this story, and I liked Veronica Lake (especially dressed as a male tramp in a way that wouldn't fool even the most idiotic hobo). Unfortunately, this wasn't funny at all. There was a lot of typical 40's slapstick and verbal jabs, but this lacked the ironic punches and crisply black comedy of Unfaithfully Yours. The plot and mood were all over the place. There was the fast-paced goofiness in a wild car chase that reminded me of something from a Mickey Mouse cartoon. There were quiet moments when the protagonists tried their best to blend in at the railroad stations and the soup kitchens. There was a moment both touching and desperate during Sullivan's time behind bars, one that reveals (somewhat preposterously) one of the themes of the movie--the importance of comedy. One thing that was very interesting to me was how blacks were shown. The black characters ranged from a very typical cook character stumbling around in a kitchen to much stronger, more realistic characters, the latter, I imagine, being fairly revolutionary portrayals for the early 40s. This is one of those rare movies that would benefit from being a little more drawn out. At just over an hour and a half, it didn't quite have enough time for the romance to realistically develop or for the audience to really believe the troubles of the protagonist.
I've often dreamed of being a hobo:
Rating: 15/20 (Dylan: 11/20; Emma: 11/20; Abbey: slept)
Plot: It's early 1930s Fascist Italy, and the title anti-hero has abandoned the Italian airforce. Flying the skies as a humanoid pig (the result of a curse), he's employed as a bounty hunter to protect the seas from sky pirates. Those sky pirates are a filthy lot. An egomaniacal American pops onto the scene, falls for Porco's love interest (and seemingly any other female), and decides to challenge Porco in a dogfight to make his name internationally known. I forget his name. Porco flies off to have a mechanic in Italy, right under the government's nose, make repairs to his red plane. He meets the mechanic's outspoken and talented niece (another Miyazaki strong female character) who winds up coming back to his hide-out. Conflicts collide, and Porco's puzzling past is gradually revealed.
This is Miyazaki, so of course it looks great--beautiful hand-painted skies especially. The air flight and fight scenes are a lot of fun, and the title character is complex and dynamic and unfortunately voiced by Michael Keaton. (The only other voice I recognized, by the way, is Brad Garrett from Everybody Wants to Screw Raymond.) I could have used a little more diversity with the storytelling (this is definitely a more simple story than a lot of the other Ghibli stuff), and the plot crosses the line into melodrama at times. Really, it's a plot that could have been lifted from 1940s Hollywood although most of the melodramatic stuff is left unresolved by the sketchy, partially indeterminate end. There are some funny moments, both for me (sort of an adult) and my children, but it's really that Miyazaki attention to details, sometimes very small details, that give Porco Rosso flight.
Note: I only picked this up so that I could use that pun.
Here I am:
Plot: Honestly, I'm not sure. The title character is a thief-turned-spy or a spy-turned-thief. She's assigned by somebody who might work for the government to oversee a transaction involving diamonds, a transaction that might involve Arabs. A suave wealthy Englishman wants the diamonds. Modesty recruits a sidekick, the British equivalent of Silver Spoon's Rick(y) Schroder. A bunch of old guys (also mostly suave) drift in and out of the movie, and it's quite possibly that Modesty Blaise slept with all of them. She's both clever and slutty!
I liked the style--lots of color flaunting and some really stupid camera choices like shooting scenes through wine glasses. Things are kept disorienting, and most of the movie looks fun. Terrence Stamp (General Zod in Superman, a voice in Halo 3, and also the main character in The Collector) is also in this, and he just might be the greatest actor of all time. Some of the Bond-esque weapons (most notably, an umbrella and a seagull the characters put together during a pivotal scene [although once again, I couldn't really figure out what was going on there. . . signalling the Arabs?) were cool. My biggest problem with this, other than the confusion about what the hell was going on, was that I couldn't figure out what it even was. Satire? Dry comedy? More straight spy stuff? It doesn't sustain a cohesive mood or voice, and that gives it a real scattered, clunky feel. Cheesy in the wrong places. Not goofy in the right ones. I'm not sure what I expected from this since I've never even heard of the comic books this was based on, but I still managed to wind up disappointed.
I wasn't born until 1973.
Rating: 16/20 (Dylan: 8/20; Emma 11/20; Abbey fell asleep within ten minutes)
Plot: Kermit's a swamp rat keeping it real with nothing but his banjo, his songs about rainbows, and his dreams. When he meets a Hollywood producer, he gets an ambitious idea--find his way to the showbiz capital of the world to become rich and famous. At the same time, businessman Doc Hopper, owner of a chain of restaurants specializing in frog legs, wants Kermit to sell out and become spokesman for his company. While journeying, Kermit befriends a criminally unfunny bear, a rock band, a pig, a Gonzo, a giant hairy thing, and a couple scientists. Together, they hit the road, evading Hopper and his thugs while attempting to reach their dreams.
First off, I completely missed the "one-eyed midget" played by Tommy Madden in this one. It's impossible to imagine that I could miss a midget, but I was probably distracted by another of my obsessions--puppets. This movie has everything--guns, car chases, suggested sexual relations between a vulture and a chicken, a Skip Spence reference (see: Animal), a psychedelic bus, music, terrible puns, a puppet riding a bicycle, a whorish pig, gratuitous cameos. The cameos were a bummer. Bob Hope, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Big Bird, Telly Savalas, Mel Brooks (big surprise--he overdoes it), Milton Berle, Orson Welles, Edgar Bergen (his last role. . .he died a few weeks after shooting his cameo), and others. It's in the spirit of the show (but where was John Denver?) but got a little tiring after a while. Some of the jokes were pretty terrible, maybe ripped off from a lost Marx Brother movie, but that sort of added to the charm. There are lots of cool visuals and lots of "How are they doing that?" moments, and the vocal performances and most of the songs are excellent. Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem nearly steal the movie, and their song "Can You Picture That?" is a highlight.
"Anybody's lover, Everybody's brother I wanna be your lifetime friend.
Crazy as a rocket, Nothing in my pocket, I keep it at the rainbow's end.
I never think of money, I think of milk and honey, Grinnin' like a Cheshire Cat.
I focus on the pleasure, It's something I can treasure, Can you picture that?
Let me take your picture, Add it to the mixture, There it is I got ya now.
Really nothing to it, And anyone can do it, Its easy and we all know how.
Now begins the changin', Mental rearrangin', Nothing's really where its at.
Now the Eiffel Tower's Holding up a flower, I gave it to a Texas Cat.
Fact is there's nothing out there you can do,
Yeah, even Santa Claus believes in you.
Break down your walls, Begin, believe, begat.
Be a better drummer Be an up-and-comer Can you picture that?
CAN YOU BAGGY THAT?
All of us are winnin' Pickin' and a-grinnin' Lordy how I love to jam.
Jelly belly giggling Dancing and a wiggling Honey that's the way I am.
Lost my heart in Texas, Northern Lights affects us, I keep it underneath my hat
Aurora Borealis, Shinin' down on Dallas, Can you picture that? Can you picture that?
Use it if you need it, But don't forget to feed it, Can you picture it?"
There's a good message poking its head out from all this meta-nonsense, and although the humor and deluge of songs would make this difficult for some people to watch without audible groaning, it's impossible not to appreciate the creativity and artistry of Jim Henson. Speaking of him, this story is apparently based on his own.
Here I am enjoying puppets:
Plot: The father of a seemingly normal family decides to bring home a rat as a family pet. The mother objects. Immediately, the rat has a profound impact on the family's lives and relationships with each other. The son comes out of the closet. The daughter attempts suicide and later becomes a dominatrix. The maid, her husband, and the daughter's boyfriend become involved in the shenanigans. Desperate to keep the family from falling completely apart because of the pet purchase of her apathetic husband, the mother successfully seduces her son. The daughter fails in her attempts to seduce her father. The children and mother go on a retreat to figure things out, and the father dreams of shooting them all. It's hilarious!
I wish this would have worked, but it ultimately fails as satire, parody, and as black comedy. It overstays its welcome as a bizarre and shockingly subversive but cowardly poke at society. See, it's called Sitcom but the story and characters presented are the exact opposite of the pristine existence portrayed in old school American sitcoms. It's irony. There are moments and then there are awkward moments and then there are moments that I guess are intentionally awkward. I'm just not sure I felt what I was supposed to. I'm fairly sure this was supposed to be artistically unpleasant, but it just ended up unpleasant. Director Ozon takes chances and dares to be different, but there's very little style and humor that is more puzzling and unknowingly juvenile than funny. Canned laughter would have improved the movie. Maid nudity would have, too. Left me empty.
Here I am violating my own ear:
Plot: Belle is a complete whore. Magic gloves! And they all lived happily ever after.
I liked Cocteau's surrealist Orphic Trilogy (especially the first two-thirds) better, but this had the same sort of dreamy, atmosphere and ingenious special effects--backwards filming, tricky mirrors, moving statues. Memorable imagery works, but unfortunately, some old-time overacting and a goofy script, the latter which could actually be more of a problem with translation, keep this from being really great. Cocteau was a poet, and the majority of this looks like the work of a poet. After an extended exposition, slowly unfolding melancholic scenes of Beauty lamenting her situation in the Beast's castle, and a believably paced romance, the end feels a little rushed, almost like the director got bored and just wanted to end things. Choppy ending. I don't really care for the fairy tale's ending anyway.
My wife, a beauty, took this photograph of beastly me watching Beauty and the Beast:
Plot: El Santo, as usual in the middle of an important wrestling tournament, runs into trouble as Dr. Frankenstein's daughter, a chip off the old genius block, decides she needs his blood to make herself immortal. The serum she's been using on herself and her cronies, it seems, lacks durability. Aside from that concoction, she's also turned a man into a fiercely powerful half-man/half-gorilla and created a monster from seven different dead guys just like her dear old dad. She kidnaps Santo's shrieking redheaded girlfriend (Santo, in my opinion, could do a little better), and Santo and his girlfriend's sister run off to rescue. Will Santo defeat the monsters and make it back in time for the finals of his wrestling tournament? If you don't know the answer, you've never seen a Santo movie!
I made a rule a long time ago that any movie featuring Santo can get no less than a 20. This one doesn't have his cohort The Blue Demon in it, and it isn't quite as campy as the other Santo movies I've seen, but it's still entertaining goof. There are enough plot twists to nearly make it incoherent, so that's a definite bonus. Love the music in these, and the Santo against five bad guy action sequences are entertaining. One great scene features the hypnotized girlfriend of Santo approaching her boyfriend to gouge out his eyes after being directed by Ms. Dr. Frankenstein to do so. The eyepatched bad guy, who is supposed to be watching the proceedings, explains that it brings back the memory of him losing his own eye and is giving him goosebumps. The scenes with the monsters are hilariously stupid. Dylan (he refused to watch this, saying "You already made me watch two of these.") said, "Santo sure does get choked a lot," after turning to watch one scene. It's my dream to make a rock opera based on Santo.
Here I am, remembering my own (too short) career as a Mexican wrestler:
Plot: Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with exceptional olfactory powers under a table in a fish market in Paris. When his mother is hanged, he's sent to an orphanage and eventually winds up being sold and working for a tanner and then a perfume maker with a really large nose (played by Dustin Hoffmann's nose). His gift enables him to make the world's greatest perfume, but he wants to continue to experiment, extracting the scents of deceased cats and abandoned iron. He sets off for Grasse to discover the perfect, and more than slightly grisly, ingredients to concoct a smell that could impress the French and put his name on the map.
Lots of this was beautifully ugly, but unfortunately, this whole thing just seemed like a seemingly endless joke with two punchlines, neither which actually worked. I didn't like the style much. Admittedly, I don't care for these period pictures regardless, but Tykwer's visual flare gets downright obscene. As in Run Lola Run (a movie that I seem alone in actively hating), it's a case of style over substance, more specifically style hovering over substance with gigantic gloved hands squeezing the life from its victim. Good costumes, great imagery, a somewhat intriguing story, and wonderful dusty props that lend this some authenticity tangle with oppressive narration and soundtrack, a flatulent bumbling script, unrealized characters, and far too much trickery. Definitely moments (classy nudity, a fun little violent montage) but most the movie failed in making me feel anything at all.
Here I am, probably able to smell myself:
Plot: Chance is a gardener working at a Washington D.C. property which he has never left. His only knowledge of the world comes from watching television--news shows, Sesame Street, exercise programs, commercials. His elderly employee dies, the maid leaves, and Chance has to enter the world for the first time. Shirley MacLaine's limo backs into his leg, and he's taken to the mansion of her rich dying husband to recover. The movers and shakers of Washington mistake his peaceful simple ignorance and ramblings about gardening (the only topic he knows anything at all about) for peaceful Zen-like profundity and political/economic metaphor and accept him into their world. Then Shirley MacLaine touches herself.
If the idea of Shirley MacLaine masturbating excites you, this is your movie. Peter Sellers' performance was quietly exceptional, and although the movie is far from perfect (for one, it's too long; for two, there are scenes that seem written for televised sketch comedy), he brings it much closer to perfection. There's a great, unexpected ending which leaves everything completely open to interpretation, and the satire (on television, on politics, on projection) makes this a thinking-man's comedy. I, of course, didn't get any of that; I only laughed at the conversational slapstick and at Shirley MacLaine pleasuring herself while Chance watches television and stands on his head. Good performances and a great script.
I watched this in my bed:
Plot: Through a stream 26 snippets (each titled with one of the letters of the alphabet in reverse order), director Su Friedrich tells the story of her relationship with her father.
This is old-fashioned avant-garde, utilizing very little sound; stock footage, home video, and poorly recorded television series excerpts; surreal scratchy imagery of female body builders, circus performers, women bathing, and roller coaster rides; and a deliberate artsy-fartsy pace. The story is complex and made even more complex with the literary narration read by a young girl, a script that includes mythological and poetic allusions. A lot of this didn't seem to add up, more than likely because it connects only on a personal level, but a lot of this was also fairly moving. My bias against female avant-gardists is reflected in the rating.
Here I am, nearly weeping:
Plot: A group of boys at a repressive boarding school decide to rebel against the teachers, the midget schoolmaster, and his scholarly beard. They act up, engage in pillow and food fights, perform magic, and curse at the midget.
A precursor to both 400 Blows and If. . ., both which I've watched this year and enjoyed, this Jean Vigo movie unfortunately feels rushed and incomplete. It reminds me of Simon of the Desert in that it could have wound up as something really great if it had a chance to be fully realized. I'm wondering if something got in the way of Jean Vigo's vision. Random snippets of child misbehavior and touches of surrealism give this an anarchic feel that builds, without tension, to a climax I fully expected to be more startling than it was. There's a great midget in this one.
Here I am, inspired by this movie to do a handstand on my desk tomorrow:
Plot: A kid obsessed with guns kills a chicken. Later, he breaks into a hardware store and steals a gun, only to get busted when he slips and falls down. After four years in a juvenile detention facility and four more years in the military, he returns to his home town. Everybody says, "Wow! You look just like Orel Hershiser!" During a night out with his friends, he meets and falls in love with a carnival sharpshooter. They shoot things off each other's heads and get married. When the money runs out, they turn to lives of crime.
Crazy! This was a fairly good and fairly modern Bonnie-and-Clyde-esque movie, nice and quick. Nothing groundbreaking with wasted moments and no characterization, but a solid story filmed with some sense of style. Car scenes were very well done, including an extended single shot bank-robbing scene shot from the back seat. There's a final scene that looks great even if somebody really should have gotten ahold of the script prior to filming. AKA Deadly Is the Female, this works as a metaphor for the dangers of marriage. And it's yet another case where gun=penis.
Note: I may have spotted a midget during a scene at a carnival. I couldn't be sure and didn't feel like rewinding to confirm.
Plot: Executives at UBC, a struggling fourth television network, watch in disgust as their ratings continue to dive. They fire their veteran news anchor Howard Beale who counters by telling his television-viewing audience that he is going to kill himself on air. Faye Dunaway, programming director, realizes that there's an audience for crazy old guys who curse on live television and the network gives him a "prophet of doom" show during which he can ramble to the masses.
Positively prophetic. The parts of this that are gritty and almost documentary-like are very good. There's a realism and flow that make it work. Then there are the other parts where this is just like a movie. There are unnecessary subplots including an affair between Dunaway and William Holden's characters, and too many scenes that seemed designed just to give the actors an excuse to act their butts off and win Academy Awards. This holds up fairly well today, mostly because of its prescient ideas about television in America, despite the name-dropping of 70s television series and icons. It just seemed overlong, overwritten, clunky, very cynical, and too sure of itself to really really like.
Something about Faye Dunaway rubs me the wrong way: