Capturing the Friedmans

2003 documentary

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A seemingly normal Jewish family near Long Island is torn apart by revelations of the father's pedophilia and accusations that both the father and the youngest son molested young boys during a computer class the former taught. Personal and more-than-slightly creepy home footage and interviews with slimy lawyers, vindictive judges, buffoonish detectives, and confused alleged victims are used to try to piece together the story of a family that nothing could ever piece together again.

Troubling stuff nearly jerked out the tears even though the direction (by the guy who invented Moviefone, by the way) is at times overly sentimental and contriving. Almost every ounce of this reality show is difficult to watch, but it is a fascinating glimpse at how quickly things can fall apart, how quickly fingers can be pointed, and how quickly folks can hop aboard the witch hunt bandwagon. Stuffed with unanswered questions, Capturing the Friedmans oozes despair. It's something I probably want to forget about but doubt I ever will.

The Fountain

2006 dramatic drivel

Rating: 10/20

Plot: A triad of stories! There's a bald guy having sex with a tree in a floating snow globe. There's the same guy (with hair though) researching a cure for cancer by cutting open as many monkeys as he can find while his author wife dies of cancer. And there's the story in that wife's book about some Spaniards who go searching for the Tree of Life. Ah, man, I think he just ate his girlfriend! Oh, snap! This monkey's gone to heaven!

Overly ambitious and ultimately really really pretentious stuff from the guy who brought us the interesting Pi and the abysmal Requiem for a Dream. I will say that I liked Hugh Jackman a lot in this. Not so much any of the other performances, and I even thought Rachel Weisz was borderline terrible. I didn't like the look of the movie at all. One word: slick. Everything looked artificial and computery, and at one point I thought for sure that I was watching a Smashing Pumpkins video instead of a movie. The dialogue, while an attempt for the cryptic and poetic, is strangely insipid. This is the kind of movie that makes its point with an ironing board, and I had to get a towel to wipe off all the pretension from the screen after it was over. It's really too bad. It seemed like a lot of love and hard work went into this.

What's New, Pussycat?

1965 comedy

Rating: 9/20

Plot: Michael, a hedonist, wants to settle down and live faithfully ever after with Carole. He finds it nearly impossible since every woman seems to fall for him. Oh, snap! His psychiatrist, a womanizer himself, isn't much help either.

Whoa-a-whoa-a-whoa. This movie sucks.

The Forbidden Kingdom

2008 martial arts movie

Rating: 9/20

Plot: A wimpy kung-fu film aficionado finds a nifty bowstaff in a Chinatown pawn shop. On the way home, some thugs stop him and nearly kill him. Suddenly, he is transported into China's distant past where he has to find a stone monkey king and give him back his staff. He gets help from a random teenage girl, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li, all who should have found something better to do with their time.

Well, that didn't work. What a loud, obnoxious movie this is. I think the biggest problem with this--a problem contributing to terrible dialogue, stupid computer effects, and this goody-goody lack of depth--is that it's far more American than it is Asian. Despite the appeal (I guess) of Jet Li and Jackie Chan kicking each other and Wu-Ping Yuen fight choreography, the action scenes are really nothing to get excited about. In fact, they're a little boring at times, and the wire work looks really clumsy and inappropriate. Straight outta the junk drawer!


1971 French comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Mr. Hulot is traveling to Amsterdam with a couple associates to show off a funky recreational vehicle at a gigantic car show. Unfortunately for him, trafic [sic] jams, accidents, the po-po, and general silliness get in his way. How do you say "Oh, snap!" in French?

Tati's last film isn't his best film, but it definitely has its share of zany, entertaining moments. So much of the movie lags, and whereas those lags generally build up to something great in Playtime, they often go nowhere at all here. At time, this moves as quickly as the trafic [sic] jams Hulot finds himself in. The final shot is great, and there are lots of other slowly-unfolding bits of brilliance. One complaint would be that there's just too much talking in this. As expected, not a lot to laugh out loud at, but there's still enough sweetly entertaining here to make it well worth seeing. On par with Mon Oncle if not as brilliant as Playtime or M. Hulot's Holiday.

Pale Flower

1964 Japanese noir

Rating: 14/20

Plot: After a yakuza is released from a prison sentence received following a night of stabbing, he decides to catch up with the old gang. He finds out that things have changed. Oh, snap! He struts into an illegal gambling house and becomes intrigued with a risky gambling woman. He forms an ambiguous relationship with her and watches as things get all mysterious.

Very solid noir but a little boring. There are lots of extended scenes of gambling here, and since I have no idea what game they're even playing, that failed to interest me. The characters all seemed a little flat, too. There's a stylish lack of style to this that gives the movie a little something extra though, and I really liked the avant-garde music used.

Duck, You Sucker

1971 spaghetti western

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Juan, a bandito, meets Sean, an Irish revolutionary/terrorist soon after he and his family rob a stagecoach. Sean demonstrates his expertise in explosives and intrigues Juan who tries to get his new friend to go along with him to Mesa Verde to help him fulfill his dream of robbing a bank there. Once Juan arrives, however, he finds himself in the middle of the revolution. Oh, snap! To make matters worse, Juan doesn't even know Sean's real name and keeps referring to him as John. Will this threaten their friendship/partnership or will they make it to Brokeback Mountain and go through with their plan of making holes and going in them? Or something.

Long, seemingly meandering but highly undervalued Leone epic. I love Leone's habit of stretching moments, those times when the camera just lingers on a subtly changing expression or distant haze or the tip of a pistol or an approaching train. Sure, it makes the movie twice as long, but so much of the mood would be lost. Great acting in this, both the comic Rod Steiger and the more straight man role of James Coburn. Also notable despite not having a single spoken word in the entire movie is the guy playing Colonel Gunter Reza in a Kinski-esque performance. Grand explosions, epic shoot-outs, and a ridiculous body count. Good, good story telling. I did think Morricone's score was a little uneven, maybe a bit too weird at times. I'm also not sure what I think of the flashbacks. The title alone maes up for everything wrong with the movie though. Great stuff.

Fando and Lis

1968 psychedelic love travelogue

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Fando and Lis, troubled lovers, attempt to travel to a mythical and magical town called Tar. Along the way, Fando faces temptation and doubts his love and Lis, dependent on her boyfriend to push her wheel-table for her, whines a lot. Mud people, transvestites, dolls, vampires, wasteland jazz bands, hide-and-seek fiends, a brutally unforgiving landscape, burning pianos, and bowling dominatrices get in the way.

This is very first-filmish and not as good as Jodorowsky's later El Topo or The Holy Mountain, but it's still a very entertaining hip thrust of surrealism with bizarre imagery galore with a story that is easy enough but not necessary to follow. Infantilely visionary, but there's a lot about this that reminded me of the whimsical and chaotic parts of Godard or the gloomier bits of Bunuel. Unhinged and nutsy, Fando and Lis sometimes crosses that line into territory that would disturb the average person. Money was definitely a factor, but Jodorowsky did a lot with what he had, creating a disturbingly desolate and rugged world and a texture that is unique. He certainly uses the landscape well here, using jagged rocks or tombstones to frame certain shots. One long shot in particular, where Fando is circling Lis while ascending from a little valley, is really cool.

The script for this was apparently only one page long.

The Ninth Configuration

1980 philosophical dramedy

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A new psychologist arrives at an American castle being used as a sort of experimental asylum for inmates who are Vietnam veterans and who may or may not actually be crazy. Among those inmates--an astronaut who chickened out at the last minute, a guy adapting Shakespeare's plays for dogs (because somebody has to do it), and a guy who thinks he's a superhero. As the medical physician and army guy at the asylum try to keep order, the quiet new psychologist seems like he could have a few bats missing from his own belfry. Oh, snap!

It took me a long time (half the movie) to even figure out what I was watching here. A more surreal, Cuckoo's Nest rip-off? A comedy? A mysterious drama? Something else? The first half of the movie is syrupy, and there's really not much of a recognizable plot for the longest time. Things are interesting, but they almost seem interesting in a too-manufactured way--the inmates and their obsessions and non-sequiturs are almost too goofy at times. I loved some of the dialogue ("I think the end of the world just came for that bag of Fritos I had in my pants pocket" may be the best line I've heard all year!), and a lot of the more philosophical stuff sort of sneaks up on you and somehow manages to not be pretentious or tossed in at all. In fact, the main theme I grabbed from this (the idea that belief in science requires just as much of a leap of faith as a belief in a deity) seems pretty fresh to me. The climax is brutal and might go on for too long and there are some unfortunate moments that date the movie, but this is definitely one of those movies that I might really like more after a second viewing when I can pick up on some of the foreshadowing that must have been in there. The setting (a strange bulky castle with all kinds of weird sculptures) was definitely cool. I'm surprised that I had no recollection of this film even existing because it seems like something that should have been mentioned to me at some point.

The Mouse That Roared

1959 satiric comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: It's poor economic times for the dinky Duchy of Grand Fenwick. For those of you with no map of imaginary lands, that's a tiny country somewhere in France. It's probably the only country in the Europe mainland that is English speaking. The duchess (Peter Sellers) is convinced by the prime minister (Peter Sellers) to send a small army of men with trusty longbows (an army led a third Peter Sellers character) to invade the United States, surrender quickly, and then watch the foreign roll in. The fatal flaw in that brilliant scheme? They might arrive during a air-raid drill, accidentally kidnap a guy with a dangerous bomb, and win the war instead. Oh, snap!

Dr. Strangelove it ain't, but this is pretty clever satire and worth watching. It's not uproariously funny and actually gets tiresome before it's sub-ninety minutes are up. There's a clunky subplot involving romance. Very Britishy.

The Desperate Hours

1955 drama

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Three cons--a smart mean one, a a thuggish stupid one, and a nice quiet one--escape from prison in none-other than Terre Haute, Indiana. I was born there, but not in the prison. They make their way to Indianapolis/Broad Ripple (I live near there!) and visit the home of the Cleavers soon after Wally's sex-change operation. They weren't invited, but luckily, there's enough chicken in the fridge for everybody. While waiting for a shipment of money from his woman in Pittsburgh (I've never been there!), Griffin and his two cohorts say mean and threatening things and quickly wear out their welcome. Waving guns around will do that. It looks bad for the Cleavers as they struggle with whether action or inaction is the best move. There seems to be no way out. Oh, snap!

Good flick with terrific mounting tension (so many loose ends add to it--the boyfriend, the cops, the girlfriend's traffic violations, the dumb little kid, the conflicts between the criminals, the trash man's arrival) and great acting. Really, even the brat isn't all that bad even though I couldn't get past my initial "Hey! That's Beaver Cleaver!" thoughts. Like a lot of 40's/50's thrillers, you know pretty much what's going to happen, but it's the stuff that goes out of the range of that pretty much that moves this from the pedestrian to the pretty great. Also impressive is the very realistic range of human emotions on display here. There might be moments where the characters are acting like movie heroes, but it's always due to their vulnerability and faults rather than the whims of a Hollywood screenwriter. I like Bogart here, and he gets some good lines. He does hold a gun like an old man though.

This was a Cory recommendation.

Wristcutters: A Love Story

2006 romantic comedy

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Oh, snap! Distraught after busting up with his girlfriend, a whiny emo kid kills himself and winds up in some kind of purgatory wasteland with an assortment of other oddball suicides. He befriends a Russian rock 'n' roll singer and tries to adapt to his new surroundings. When he stumbles upon the information that his ex-girlfriend has also "offed" herself, he takes off in search of her. He and his Russian buddy meet up with Mikal, a gal looking for the people in charge because she thinks she's there by mistake.

As expected, the best thing about this movie is Tom Waits. This has a sort of made-up-as-it-goes flow, and the main characters don't interest nearly as much as the background characters. There's stuff to like here, and I especially like the creation of this weird little desolate world, but it didn't completely work for me. It reminds me of a lot of movies and unfortunately never really seems to develop its own personality. Tom Waits, like Crispin Glover, needs to be in more movies. If Glover and Waits were ever in the same movie, I'd have a boner with a capital O.

Wild at Heart

1990 romantic comedy

Rating: [I have rewatched this. See the new review here.]

Plot: Sailor Ripley, released from prison following a killing in self defense, flees with his girlfriend Lula against the will of the Wicked Witch of the West. They encounter some weird people, grotesque automobile accidents, and the horrors of the crazy world while a pair of bounty hunters are sort of hot on their trail. They also smoke a lot of cigarettes and have sex. A lot.

[See new review here. I rewatched this.]

I still contend that every single movie should have Crispin Hellion Glover in it. Not a lot of Crispin Hellion Glover, but enough.

The Hitch-Hiker

1953 psychological drama

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Two men take off on a fishing trip to Mexico. Unfortunately for them, there's a psycho-killing hitchhiker on the loose. More unfortunately, they happen to pick him up. Oh, snap! The hitchhiker, Emmitt Myers, doesn't want to go fishing. Instead, he wants to go deep into Mexico for an experimental eyelid transplant surgery. The three men play all kinds of fun road games--license plate bingo, spot the cow, the alphabet game, etc.--and listen to the radio.

Supposedly the only film noir directed by a woman, Ida Lupino. I don't know about that. 1) There might be other examples. 2) I'm not sure this is even noir. 3) Ida Lupino sounds like a made-up person. This is OK, but it lacks any real suspense or tension and the characters, probably more typical of a movie from 1953, are pretty flat. It doesn't stack up against better noir or thrillers from the era, and there's something that just tells you that the movie will end the way it does, probably because that's the only way the movie can end. I do like the psychotic hitchhiker, and the story, though it seems derivative, had potential. OK enough for me to make a bad joke about my thumb being up, I guess.

The Face of Another

1966 Japanese drama

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Mr. Okuyama has been left with a badly disfigured face following an accident of some kind at his work place. Oh, snap! He feels a weighty loneliness, and his wife, although she claims none of her feelings have changed, refuses his sexual advances. He gets a psychiatrist to make him a very realistic mask so that he can once again be part of society and hopefully seduce his wife. The results are depressing as the mask seems to alter his psyche. To add to the fun, there's a parallel storyline involving a badly-scarred woman who seduces her brother and then kills herself. And the laughs just keep on coming!

This is something I'm going to have to see again. It moves slowly, but the imagery is strikingly horrific and surreal. Attention grabbed, you've still got to wade through a lot of philosophical/psychological dialogue, and I'm not sure if it was a language thing or just the fact that my mind is very small, but I got lost a few times. Intriguing themes--identity, different kinds of masks, freedom. It's like I fell into the existential deep-end but forgot my arm floaties. This is another Hiroshi Teshigahara film, and like Woman of the Dunes, one of the best movies I've seen this year, this has a unique style and completely breathtaking visuals. But it's heavy and it's ponderous, and therefore definitely not for everybody.

A Fistful of Dollars

1964 Italian western

Rating: 16/20 (Abbey: 20/20)

Plot: The Man with No Name (named Joe) rides into a dusty town with bloodstained streets. He plays two feuding gangs against each other in an effort to fill the pockets of his goofy vest thing with cash. The rest of the plot is unfortunately plagiarized from Back to the Future III as Joe and his trusty hoverboard work with his pal Doc Brown to try to get that train up to 88 miles per hour so that they can return to 1985, find Huey Lewis, and stop his career before he exposes himself (Oh, snap!) in Shortcuts.

Nope. Not as good as Yojimbo. It is interesting to note, however, that Kurosawa said he made more money from A Fistful of Dollars than he did Yojimbo. I don't know what to do now. It's obvious that Abbey likes these movies for the Eastwood, so I guess it's High Plains Drifter or Josey Wales or Pale Rider next rather than Once Upon a Time in the West. I think I'll try to get her to watch Duck, You Sucker with me.


1944 mystery

Rating: 16/20 (Jen: 14/20, despite the film's reputation as a classic!)

Plot: Somebody murdered the title whorish sweetheart, and a detective has to find out who did it. The suspects: the flamingly homosexual, bath-obsessed Waldo Lydecker; the more-than-likely homosexual Shelby Carpenter; some rich lady; a whorish model; Lee Harvey Oswald; Laura's lesbian maid; Lee Harvey Oswald's lesbian maid; and somehow, in a wild conspiracy, Laura herself. When Detective McPherson becomes enamored by Laura and her alcohol, things get really confusing.

Too imbalanced to be noir although it's noirish. My only real gripe about this movie is that there's not a focus on one character--the detective. Instead, we've got part of the story narrated by Waldo and parts of the story we're seeing from this third-person omniscient rather than limited (knowing only what the McPherson knows) perspective, and I think the movie's a little uneven because of it. Other than that, there's some great writing with witty dialogue and two truly brilliant scenes.

The Brain That Wouldn't Die

1962 science fiction horror film
Rating: 4/20

Plot: An arrogant surgeon, the son of a level-headed surgeon, has been experimenting with reanimation and limb transplant in his father's summer cabin. He decides to take his gal up to the cabin. His reckless driving, however, leads to her decapitation. Oh, snap! The surgeon (completely unharmed, by the way) manages to save her head, but the rest of her is consumed by fire. Luckily for him, he's an arrogant surgeon who's been experimenting with reanimation and limb transplant in his father's summer cabin. That's lucky for the rest of us, too, since the movie wouldn't have much of a plot without all that. The woman, or actually just her head, sits in some kind of casserole dish and complains. Typical woman's head. The surgeon runs to strip clubs and lurks in the streets trying to find a brand new hot body for his woman. His assistant, a guy whose gnarled left arm is a reminder that the arrogant surgeon hasn't had much success with his experiments, and some creature (a creature who looks a whole lot like that ugly guy in The Goonies) locked in a closet are also involved.

Fantastic cinema. You know you're watching something brilliant when the credits can't even get the name of the film right. The end credits called it The Head That Wouldn't Die while the opening credits had the other title. Brilliantly written and acted, this gem (filmed in 1959 but released three years later because it was just too good for 1959) combines grace with more grace. And while the raw horror is enough to tweak my waxy nips, there's also subtle humor, ingenious effects, and great (possibly plundered) music. Inspired genius.

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hour 11 Minutes

1965 comedic adventure

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Birdmen from around the world gather in England for a London-to-Paris flying machine race. Love triangles, duels in hot air balloons, international conflict, and (Oh, snap!) cheating are involved.

Based on a real event? The jokes ain't great and the slapstick doesn't really work either, but the film still has a sort of charm and is really great looking. The colors are fantastic, and the aerial acrobatics are dazzling. It's a fun movie, sort of a live-action Wacky Races, but it does seem to go on and on and on with running gags that aren't funny the first time and definitely don't work the fifth time. Love those airplanes though.

Shaolin Soccer

2001 kung-fu sports spectacular

Rating: 14/20 (Abbey: 20/20; Emma: 15/20; Dylan: 14/20)

Plot: A promising soccer superstar (Goldenleg) forced into early retirement and a kung-fu master who wants to bring kung-fu philosophies and discipline to the masses unite to form a soccer team. The latter gathers his brothers together and talks them into trying to reclaim their skills for use on the soccer field. They seem headed for a tournament victory. But, oh snap! Awaiting them in the finals of the soccer tournament is the fittingly-named Team Evil owned by none other than the man who ended Goldenleg's career. I think the owner's name is probably Mr. Evil, and his team will do anything to keep their record free of defeats. There's also a romantic subplot somewhere in this.

This is a lot of fun with tons of so-wrong-they're-nearly-right bonkers special effects and ridiculously silly plot developments. And we're once again reminded that things are cooler if fire is somehow involved. Watching the ragtag bunch of chubby or just plain dopey-looking kung-fu masters come to life and exhibit their skills is a treat despite the ultra-goofy goings-on. It's definitely original, especially if you overlook the mostly predictable plot line, and bonus points were given for the appearance of their semi-finals opponents (a bunch of women with handlebar mustaches) and the music number that was thrown in. As a full-blown spoof of American sports/action movies, this really would have smacked hard. Goofy fun.

Could this be the return of Kung-Furiday? One can only hope.