Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors

1964 romantic comedy

Rating: 18/20

Plot: Following the funeral of Ivan's father (a tree falls on him), he meets and skinny-dips with the daughter of a family with which his family is feuding. Later, she drowns. Oh, snap! He tries his best to live a normal life and winds up marrying another woman, but can't fall out of love with Marichka, the childhood sweetheart who haunts his dreams. So, he mopes around a lot and grumbles about having to share his vodka. His wife begins practicing sorcery in an attempt to change her husband's heart, and her actions lead to a weird pagan love triangle and a drunken fight with axes. Oh, double snap!

But the plot doesn't matter. It's all about the visuals! This has been sitting around the house for a while now, and I've been afraid it would bore me. I'm glad I finally felt in the mood enough for it because it's amazing and far from boring. Seeing the rituals and daily goings-on of these Carpatian folk makes for an odd enough experience, but the experience is doubly disorienting with the visual flare of director Sergie Paradjanov, a person I've never heard of. The camera (lots of times handheld) whirls, dives, loses focus, absorbs colors, slashes, swims, swoons, floats, jerks, and dances in electrifying ways that I've never seen before. There's so much visual creativity here used to make the beautiful into something even more majestic. Loved the surreal camera angles; really, almost every single shot in the movie was artistic and strange and just about perfect. Lots of religious imagery, colors and tones, and nature stuff, no doubt symbolic in ways that I'm too dopey to even understand, add to the depth of the story and gives it a perplexing grip. This is one of those films--like The Wicker Man, Herzog's Aguirre: The Wrath of God, The Story of the Weeping Camel, and the first Inuit movie The Fast Runner (the latter which I didn't like)--that creates an otherworldliness that just bewilders. This is one of the best movies I've seen all year that nearly everybody I know would really hate.

The Omega Man

1971 sci-fi adventure movie

Rating: 10/20

Plot: See the superior The Last Man on Earth and the completely awful I Am Legend. Only this one has more black people.

This is comparable to the Vincent Price movie right up until the monster things start talking. When Charlton Heston is driving around, playing chess with a bust, and screaming, "There is no phone ringing, damn it!" it's all fairly entertaining. There's just too much human interaction in this. The acting is terrible. The zombies are stupid looking. The music is so bad that it somehow manages to look stupid, too. A product of the early 70's as much as the Will Smith version is going to be firmly stuck in this decade, this barely entertains and grows more and more tedious as it goes on. At least the chess in it looks real enough.

The Big Animal

2000 drama

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A camel wanders into the front yard of a lonely Polish married couple. They adopt the big animal. The other townspeople react negatively; they alienate, exploit, threaten, hate on, etc. Eventually, there's unwanted groping and/or fondling of the camel. Oh, snap! The man ignores it all, loves his camel (appropriately), and plays his clarinet.

Nice little movie, beautifully shot and well acted. Especially brilliant is the camel in a tour de force performance. It's the best performance by a camel that I've seen since the defecating camel at the end of W. Herzog's Even Dwarves Started Small. Allegoric, symbolic, metaphoric, or whatever, this works as entertainment but also as a brief philosophical statement, almost like a cinematic haiku. So simple and so much more beautiful because of it.

13 Tzameti

2005 drama

Rating: 15/20

Plot: 22-year-old Sebastian, a roofer who owns at least two ladders, finds himself in a financial bind after the owner of the house he's working on dies without paying him a dime. Oh, snap! He accidentally intercepts mail containing an invitation, and the promise of money lures him to take the old man's place. What he stumbles upon is darker and more sinister than he could have possibly imagined.

Don't want to give away too much about this one just in case my reader(s) (Ah, who am I kidding? "Reader" is pretty safe.) decides to check it out. Suffice it to say, this is an extremely moody film packed with crisp tension, impressive acting (especially from the lead), and some very clever and seemingly effortless direction. Stark black and white photography adds to the bleak. Taken as an allegory, this is mighty dour shiznit, pure delightful pessimism, almost like a rabbit punch to the soul. Taken as mindless entertainment, it's still gripping stuff even if you know exactly where it's probably going because you know exactly where it can't go. Like Kafka writing a noir screenplay.

The director (Gela Babluani) is apparently working on an American remake. Brad "Sock It to Me" Pitt is somehow involved. Good night moon!


2007 romantic comedy

Rating: 7/20 (Jen: 13/20)

Plot: A pie-making genius/waitress finds out she's having a baby with a husband she is no longer in love with. So she decides to start sleeping with her ob-gyn. Cause she's a whore. A subplot involves another waitress who sleeps with her boss. She has two good excuses though--her husband is an invalid and she's also a whore. They celebrate their whorish ways by making pies!

This is thematically offensive (the main idea being that if you are unhappy with your marriage, you have the right to sleep with somebody better) and probably even more offensive in its predictability. Not one thing happens in a way that isn't completely expected. There wasn't a laugh to be had, and most of the time I wasn't even sure whether or not it was supposed to be a funny movie. I believe this soap opera is Jen's revenge for being forced to watch The Holy Mountain, but she claims that's not the case. Overhead shots of pies being made were beautiful and, for me at least, sexually arousing. Other than that, nothing at all to see here. And, it should be pointed out, feminists would bash this movie if it was called Waiter and featured males behaving in exactly the same way as the female characters did. I'm just sayin'.

The Films of Kenneth Anger Volume Two

Shorts from 1964 to 1981

Rating: 12/20


Scorpio Rising is about a gay motorcycle gang who go to a party because they've got great juice. "Juice me!" they keep saying.

Kustom Kar Kommandos is a low-budget commercial.

Invocation of My Demon Brother is about how Mick Jagger should never be allowed anywhere near a Moog synthesizer. It's also about how the 60's were turbulent times.

Rabbit Moon is about how wearing nothing but the color white will transform even the manliest of men into the gayest of bunnies.

Lucifer Rising is about how when the devil rubs his hands together, pyramids are built and volcanoes explode. Satan!

I watched these a couple weeks ago and forgot to post about them. This stuff is interesting, especially if you are a fan of the penis, but none of it seems all that revolutionary and most of it is pretty boring. It frequently hints at genius but genius not ever able to reach full potential. So all in all, this is more frustrating than anything else. Most interesting is Invocation of My Demon Brother although that Jagger music is abysmal. Powerful imagery though. The rest of this underwhelms.

Lent to me by my brother. Satan!

Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle

2004 comedy

Rating: 4/20 (Jen: 1/20)

Plot: See title.

I always feel like there's a gap in my movie education whenever people I know talk about movies like this. "What? You haven't seen Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle?! It's effin' high-larious!" Well, it's not. Neil Patrick Harris is nearly funny, and I accidentally laughed once or twice (I liked when Kumar was urinating on a bush and another guy walks up and starts peeing on the same bush), but there's no way I would call this effin' high-larious. And I suspect that Dude, Where's My Car and the Harold and Kumar sequel aren't funny either. I think canned laughter would have helped me out a little bit. I did love those special effects with the cheetah though! This reminded me of all those comedies from the 80's that I didn't like--Police Academy, Weekend at Bernies, E.T. No, maybe it's actually those 90's comedies that are all the same that this reminds me of. Would this have been funny if I had any experience at all with pot? What about if I'd had recent experience with whatever White Castle serves as meat?

I could use an effin' milkshake.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

2007 action adventure movie

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Historical treasure hunter Ben Gates is back and all ready for the chance to make a sequel and watch the dough roll in. This time, finding the treasure (in this case the legendary Mayan city of gold) will also (somehow) save his family name (implausibly) and reconnect him (clichely) with his estranged wife (lamely). The ever-deepening mystery of Abraham Lincoln's assassination (you sockdologizing old mantrap!) takes Ben Gates and his posse to France, England, Washington, and South Dakota. Or North Dakota. I can never remember where Mt. Rushmore is. I'm pretty sure it's South Dakota though. Ben Gates would know! He knows everything!

When the first movie came out, it was already my third favorite movie of all time before I had even seen it. The line "[normal dramatic Nicolas Cage voice] I think the dollar bill is trying [changing into an overly dramatic Nicolas Cage whisper] to tell me something" was something I quoted for months! When I finally saw that first movie on a plane, I was disappointed that it wasn't in the movie. I was surprised, however, that I liked that first movie. It was an entertaining pile of stupid, and all the historical stuff worked into the story seemed fresh. This sequel is as entertaining, probably only worse than the first because it's no longer fresh. Suspend disbelief, ignore plot holes galore, tolerate America's worst actor, allow the action to take place much much too quickly, excuse Disney's lack of grit, and forgive the abundance of cliches, and this is easy to enjoy. It's not great film-making and probably far from it, but nothing about this one would make me not want to watch a third installment.

I watched this one at my school. That's right. We're two weeks into the school year and already showing our kids movies. All the children on the team watched it though, so we at least didn't leave any of them behind.

The Grand

2007 improvisational comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Poker players converge on Jack Faro's The Rabbit's Foot casino for a winner-take-all ten million dollar poker tournament.

There's lots of talent in this one--David Cross, Harrelson, Michael McKean, Dennis Farina, Larry David's t.v. wife, Kotter, even Chris Parnell--and a few criminally unfunny ones. That's right, Raymond, I'm looking in your direction. There's also some neat cameos from poker celebrities (I especially liked seeing Doyle Brunson) although Phil Gordon, a poker player/commentator I actually like, overdoes it a whole bunch. It's a good ensemble cast with lots of eccentric goofball characters, most notably The German played by none other than Werner Herzog. There's a guy who, although his talents are behind the camera, needs to be in front of the camera more. Not necessarily in Harmony Korine movies though. The German talking about his need to kill something every day or looking for his pet bunny after his ousting from the tournament are hilarious. (A cut scene in which he reveals a secret he's discovered after travelling the world would have been the funniest bit in the movie.) The problem with The Grand is that there's far too much focus on the numerous subplots (relationships with fathers, attempts to save The Rabbit's Foot, the announcer's book, Raymond's worries about his fantasy football team) and not enough on the players doing their thing at the tables. When the jokes work, it's like flopping a flush, but when they fall flat, which they very often do, the feeling is more like having your opponent hit his three-outer on the river to take the rest of your stack. The poker in this, by the way, doesn't make a lot of sense. A movie pet peeve of mine is where chess doesn't make sense in movies, and although the poker looked real enough, the decisions these "professional" players were making annoyed me.

Jen didn't stay awake for the entirety of this one.

I had to give it a bonus point just for getting to her Werner Herzog say, "I've had a goat. To strangle a goat. . .that makes you feel really alive."

I recently watched this again, laughing more the second time, I think, than the first. I own this movie and couldn't find another comedy to watch. I feel bad for writing bad stuff about Phil Gordon. He's fine here, and so is Michael Karnow as his obnoxious co-host who sells his own books on his poker systems. There is a lot of inside poker humor that might not appeal to people who don't play the game, but there's really enough kookiness for the whole family. And Herzog! Man, I had to watch a couple of his scenes twice.

Spiderman 3

2007 summer blockbuster

Rating: 4/20

Plot: Friendly neighborhood Spiderman, happily enormously popular, battles personal problems, his best friend, and a guy made out of sand. He gets a brand new Spiderman suit to wear to church, and then gets all angsty because it gets a tear in it. His once-beloved aunt starts to get annoying, so he plots ways to rid himself of her, ultimately deciding to execute a plan involving a blender and Phyllis Diller. Then another bad guy, one who screeches, enters the scene, pouts dramatically, takes cheap shots, gropes himself, etc. leading to a climactic fight scene that looks just like all the other fight scenes.

This movie sucks.

No picture available.

Independent America: The Two-Lane Search for Mom and Pop

2005 documentary

Rating: 5/20 (Jen: 2/20)

Plot: A married couple gets themselves an SUV in order to travel 10,000 miles in order to prove what everybody already knows--Wal-Mart is bad. They have two rules, both which they break: 1) No Interstates and 2) No shopping in anything but locally-owned businesses.

Self-indulgent crapfest! These people made me hate them (and their dog) more than I hate Wal-Mart. It wandered like an SUV taking nothing but back roads across the country, and hammered the audience over the head with its message so much that the whole thing actually seemed pointless. As Peter, Paul, and Mary used to sing: "If I had a hammer, I would throw it through my television to make this movie stop." Honestly, Jen and I ended up [censored] and ultimately were [censored] with about twenty minutes to go. I hadn't gotten that much action since we'd [censored] at the historic Indiana Theater while "watching" Homeward Bound. [Censored]. That's right. We paid to see that one when we should have just stayed home and [censored] instead.

Thanks to my brother for giving me this one to watch. I should kick him right in the head!

No picture available.

Killer of Sheep

1977 urban drama

Rating: 16/20

Plot: An African American family (once known as a black family) fights against dissatisfaction and negative influences in 1970's Los Angeles.

An independent strike against blaxploitation, Killer of Sheep boasts a complete lack of anything even remotely fancy (or even professional). Almost entirely style free in a way that makes it all seem stylish, director Burnett filmed this as his thesis using unprofessional actors and a loose, episodic structure. The result is realistic, not realistic in that Hollywood way where there's ultimately redemption or an ultra-sad scene at the end but closer to a kind of photorealism. It's not a documentary, but it really might as well be. Some troubling scenes depict meanness, ennui, laze, and the unbearable heaviness of a decaying life--brother and dog-faced sister, numerous slaughterhouse scenes, depressingly dropped engines. I love the implied connections between what the kids are doing (throwing rocks at each other, dangerously leaping from building to building, tossing dirt on clean clothes seconds after hung on a clothesline) and the actions of the adults. There's a harsh poetry to this movie that allows you to ignore the rough and scarred exterior (it's got to be one of the cheapest movies ever made), including an "actress" who gives what is without a doubt the worst performance ever. A murky and honest slice of life that I think I like more the more I think about it.

White man, rarely jumping:


1970 war comedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Army surgeons Hawkeye, Duke, and Trapper John raise hell at a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War. In between brilliant surgical work, they challenge the bureaucracy and dream up various ways to deal with the horrors of war.

One of those movies where the faults (i.e. an abrupt ending, too many characters, pointlessly episodic plotless structure, dialogue you can't quite pick up) are what makes the movie great. I don't think Altman's style quite gels as much here as it will in later movies (from Nashville to A Prairie Home Companion), but the experimental direction still makes the movie worth watching on its own. Altman's use of close-ups that don't look like close-ups and whatever he does to give the picture a bleak gritty look is successful, but the trademark use of the overlapping dialogue works only some of the time. It's hard not to love the black humor and complete irreverence as sacred cows are stomped upon, and it's great to see a war movie in which there's not a single shot of a war shown. The closest is a football game at the end involving both sides trying to cheat their way to victory. A metaphor? The football scene also shows the only gun shot in the entire movie. Was this, as I've read, the first major film to use the f-word? If so, I'd be forced to bump up the rating by a point. This came out the same year as the almost equally irreverent Catch-22. I haven't seen that in a while, but it seems like there are more than a few similarities between the two films. Dr. Strangelove, too?

Here I am watching the movie:

The General

1927 historical comedy

Rating: 20/20 (Dylan: 11/20; Emma: 15/20; Abbey: 20/20)

Plot: Johnny Gray has two loves in his life--his girl Annabelle and his train engine The General. The former is less than impressed when Johnny can't get himself enlisted to fight for the South in the Civil War. The latter is stolen by Union spies. Oh, snap! Johnny Gray's in hot pursuit as he attempts to single-handedly rescue train and girl.

The girls actually made me watch this one. Classic comedy made better by the historical authenticity and the fact that it's based on a true story. My favorite thing about this is that the comedy comes so naturally. In lots of slapstick, the comedy is an excuse to have a characters, a setting, plot, etc. With The General, you've got the story at the forefront and the comedy fits in around it. Not a lot of the slapstick is forced, and a lot of it is subtle, almost stuff you might miss the first time. The comic timing looks complicated and is executed perfectly. Iconic shots, great gags, classic moments. I actually wouldn't call this my favorite Buster Keaton movie, but it's his best.

Me and somebody and dog:

The Pillow Book

1996 drama

Rating: 10/20

Plot: Nagiko's the daughter of an aspiring Japanese writer. As a child, she derives pleasure from having her father write on her face. She adores her father and also has aspirations of becoming a writer. One day, however, she walks in on her (heterosexual?) father and his homosexual publisher completing a book deal that somehow involves the publisher putting his pants back on. Oh, snap! The body-writing thing develops into a sexual fetish as she reaches adulthood, and luckily for her, she can find lots of guys who want to write on her and then have intercourse with her. Later, she meets her father's publisher's lover and finds a way to get revenge.

Parts of this are undeniably beautiful as expected for any Peter Greenaway movie. And if you've always had the urge to see extended scenes involving a naked Obi Wan Kenobi (not Alec Guinness at 82...although that would have been great!), this is the movie for you. The score (specifically the Japanese stuff and the French pop song used repeatedly) works well with the imagery, the exception being this really tacky trip hop stuff. There's some interesting things going on here, most notably a picture-within-a-picture (also, unfortunately, twenty-five pictures-within-a-picture) thing (sort of like how people can watch multiple channels at the same time), the layered visuals, and the use of text (unfortunately, in multiple languages). Watching this, it's impossible not to see that it's coming from an auteur and virtuoso. That doesn't mean it's a good movie though. In fact, it's so pretentious and dull, I didn't even want to finish watching it. If not for all the penis, I'm not sure I would have. It's difficult when it doesn't have to be and insipid and vacuous when it shouldn't be. It's a lot closer to Greenaway's The Cook, The Monkey Trainer, His Lover, and the Archbishop (which I remember only as being boring) than Drowning by Numbers or A Zed and Two Noughts (which I loved despite the pretensions). Peter Greenaway's got huge ideas and ambitions, and although there's definitely nothing at all wrong with that, it's exactly what's wrong with The Pillow Book. It's artsy at its most fartsy with the tricks and style suffocating the substance. Frustratingly fartsy!

The Holy Mountain

1973 surrealist sci-fi religious horror romantic comedy fantasy adventure murder mystery

Rating: 18/20 (Jen: 2/20)

Plot: A thief wanders through a religious wasteland with a midget amputee. They enjoy a frog/chameleon circus and run into some Roman soldiers selling Jesuses. They force him to drink something, and while he's unconscious, they make hundreds of paper mache models of his crucified form. Oh, snap! He wakes up, destroys most of those, and then carries one with him to a high tower. After entering the tower via a giant golden hook, he meets an alchemist (Jodorowsky himself) who tells him everything he could possibly want to know about the holy mountain, a place where the immortals live. He also introduces him to the world's most powerful individuals, each a representation of one of the planets, and trains them to overthrow the gods and possibly achieve everlasting life.

Jodorowsky once said, "Most directors make films with their eyes; I make films with my testicles." I believe him! Any movie with the line "Rub your clitoris against the mountain" has to be in any discussion about the greatest films ever made. The Holy Mountain, which I might like even more than El Topo, is a two hour hallucination, a bombardment of the grotesque, a scrambling of the senses. Jodorowsky--actor, writer, director, artist, composer--uses unsettling imagery to satirize mostly religious ideas but also other aspects of society (war, money, art). This thing is just an audacious explosion of creative ideas, almost too much for one audience to handle; I don't think I've ever seen a movie with so many flashes of visual brilliance. I wonder about the budget for this. Lots of extras, lots of props, lots of impressively and artistically designed sets. It's surely not for everybody (see Jen's rating), but it is more than likely unlike anything else you've seen before or will ever see again. After all, it's got this in it:

Just one of the many scenes that made me say, "This is the best scene in the history of cinema!" I didn't take my eyes off the screen, but I think Jen probably rolled her eyes every time I said it. Almost overwhelmingly brilliant stuff!



1950 romantic comedy

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Eve Peabody's a hardluck nightclub singer who travels to Paris without a dime. Taxi driver Tibor helps her out for the night and falls in love. She runs off while Tibor pays for gas and sneaks her way into a ritzy party where she pretends to be a baroness. Just as things are ready to fall apart, a soon-to-be-jilted husband comes to her aid and offers her a job--seduce his wife's boyfriend to teach her a lesson. Things are going well with the plan until Tibor manages to find her. His presence could ruin everything! Oh, snap!

This Wilder/Brackett-penned comedy threatens to become completely unhinged a few times, but things ultimately hold together and finish up like anybody would expect it to. The crisp, witty banter is often more clever than uproarious, but there are some genuinely funny moments, my favorite involving a telegram from a daughter with measles and a subsequent phone call. There's also great comic timing and good rapport between the actors. I like the leads (Claudette Colbert and Don Ameche), and I really like John Barrymore as the husband. It's a lot of fun watching the twists and turns as the characters try to one-up each other. Sophisticated and gay screwballery that should probably be more widely known. Interesting note: the studio apparently liked an initial draft of Midnight's script but wanted revisions. They hired Wilder and Brackett to handle those revisions, apparently unaware that they had written it in the first place. The writers, of course, just typed it up again and sent it back.

Another Cory recommendation.

I found the camera which means you get to see this:

The Gunfighter

1950 western

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Middle-aged Jimmy Ringo, the fastest draw in the West according to some, is tired of his notoriety. Brushing off cocky young punks wanting to make a name for themsevles or men with scores to settle exhausts him until he is finally ready to ride into that sunset to a place where nobody knows who he is. After killing one of those aforementioned young punks in self defense, he rides to a town to talk his old flame and their young son into disappearing with him. Not-so-hot-on-his-trail are the brothers of the young punk, three guys who aren't concerned in the least about whether Ringo's girl will talk to him or not. They just want him dead. Oh, snap!

Gregory Peck has some great moments in this even when the performances around him are pretty weak. This would frustrate anybody expecting a movie called The Gunfighter to actually show the title character drawing a gun, but it works as a more reflective, psychological, moody piece that sort of topples the myth-making of traditional westerns. Well-written and well-paced, this succinctly packs in small amounts of humor but loads and loads of tension. There are also shades of philosophies that will turn up in later westerns like High Noon and The Shootist. Bob Dylan sang about this movie in the mid-80's. I'm named after him! And a different western! And my dad!

This was a Cory recommendation.

I don't know where the camera is.