Night of the Ghouls

1959 Ed Wood movie

Rating: 2/20

Plot: There's strange goings-on out in the middle of nowhere. Two old travellers become either scared or amused depending on how you read their acting and report those strange goings-on to the po-po. Detectives are sent out to uncover the mysteries of a strange house and a phony spiritualist.
I've just gotta say that the scene in this movie with the fake seance is likely the best thing I've seen all year. Mute, motionless skeletons, a dancing trumpet, a disembodied head in blackface, stunned (maybe; the acting isn't very good) onlookers, a dancing ghost, terrible dialogue. It has been a while since I've seen Plan 9 from Outer Space, but this is possibly an even worse and therefore even more entertaining chunk of B-movie. So wrong that it's. . .well, it's still completely wrong. It's the very best kind of wrong though!

Fighting Elegy

1966 romantic drama

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Piano virtuoso (but only when he plays with his penis) Kiroku attends an Okayama middle school in 1930's Japan. He falls in love with Michiko, the daughter of a Catholic family who lives in the same house. Perhaps to hide his true feelings and his frequent unwanted erections, he focuses on picking fights with gangs and trying his best to break rules at school. He's expelled and moves away where he continues to pine for Michiko's piano.

This is more Seijun Suzuki, but it's such a different Seijun Suzuki that you might not even realize it. There's some flashes of Suzuki flare (most notably, a classroom scene and some shots that really couldn't have been anybody else's). I absolutely loved the comic fight scenes, completely baffling and unrealistic. Apparently, this is a satirical look at the youth of 1930's Japan, but I'm not nearly intelligent enough to "get" all that. This might not be as exciting as the other Suzuki movies I've seen, but it's worth the time.

Ball of Fire

1941 comedy

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Bertram Potts is one of eight professors working on an encyclopedia. Potts, who specializes in language, is working on an article about slang, but he doesn't know anything about it. He ventures out to find experts and comes across a nightclub singer who has ties to the mob. She initially refuses his request to help him with his slang article, but once she finds out the police are after her, she decides to hide out with Potts and his colleagues. She disrupts things.

Cute enough but too old-fashioned. There were times I almost wanted to laugh, but I would have had to laugh so politely that my wife would have suspected that I had become a homosexual. The writing isn't bad at all, but it's more clever than funny. Gary Cooper wasn't believable as the studious nerdy type, and none of the gangsters were very believable either. I did like Stanwyck's character, but during the second half of the movie, she either became a prop or just wasn't around much. This also suffers from having that 30s/40s tendency to tidy everything up, and mostly unrealistically make everything turn out happily. My biggest gripe, however is that if you're going to make an updated version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, you've got to include midgets. There's not a midget to be seen in this one.

This was another Cory recommendation.

Tears of the Black Tiger

2000 khao pad western

Rating: 14/20

Plot: It's a psychedelic eastern western love triangle! With spurts of blood! Dum and Rumpoey are childhood soul mates, but Rumpoey's father, the governor doesn't approve and arranges a marriage with policeman Kumjorn. Captain Kumjorn's got issues with a local gang led by the ruthless Fai. Dum, better known as Black Tiger, happens to be in that gang. Meanwhile, a jealous gunslinger in Fai's gang looks for a way to get rid of the Black Tiger and his stinkin' harmonica.

It's certainly a unique movie, borrowing from Leone and colorful Asian films and apparently Warner Brothers cartoons to create something that is simultaneously touching, action-packed, and cartoonishly goofy. Juggling all that isn't easy though, and the initial awe and novelty wears thin, especially during lengthy flashback scenes. The dizzying action, the use of painted backgrounds (see above), the cornball choreography of the gunfight scenes, and the gorgeous set pieces are terrific. But was it apparently too difficult to maintain. The dialogue is (probably deliberately) hokey, and the characters are (also probably deliberately) nothing more but character types, but this works as both parody and entertainment and is a lot of fun to watch if you've got a high tolerance for cheese. Peckinpah blood in a kaleidoscopic Old West. I'd definitely see it again!

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons

1973 chapter of the Lone Wolf and Cub series

Rating: 14/20

Plot: The Kuroda tribe seeks the wandering assassin's services and sends five representatives to challenge Itto to a fight. Defeated one-by-one, they reveal a piece of information required to accomplish the task and 1/5 of his payment. Then, he goes out and chops some heads off.

With a convoluted plot and a weird and strangely detached subplot involving Itto's son, this one appeared early to be the weakest of the series. It's saved by an absolutely brutal display of sword frenzy at the end as well as the earlier typically-great fight scenes. That climax though. Whoa, Nelly! The over-the-top bloodfest brought out both a laugh and a fist-pump, and that's really all a guy can ask for on Samurai Friday. Some funky camera angles are used in a scene that is otherwise a whole lot like that House of Blue Leaves scene in Kill Bill. A gripe: it seems like these films came out pretty rapidly which on the one hand enables the kid playing Daigoro to play him in each installment but on the other hand makes me wonder what this could have been with a little more time put into it. It's great stuff, but at times, there's some sloppiness. One more of these to go, and from the preview on this dvd, it looks like it can be summed up in two words--ninjas skiing. Booyah!

Betty Blue

1986 snooze fest

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Wannabe writer Zorg (?) and his title girlfriend struggle to make their relationship work despite financial troubles and the latter's mental illness. He gropes her and wanders around naked. She gets groped and walks around naked. Their travels take them from a seaside community where Zorg (?) works as a handyman to a town where they work at a pizzeria and finally to a new town where they run a piano store. She goes crazy, probably from all the excessive groping. Zorg!!

The French certainly have no problem with male full-frontal nudity. Maybe they should? I don't know about the theatrical version, but this director's cut seemed endless. The biggest problem for me is that it's like the makers of this couldn't decide what they wanted it to be, and so what it ends up being is whimsically tragic which just comes across as completely artificial. There were definitely things that were well done (I almost Freudian typo'd "well hung"), but overall, this just fails to add up to much of anything. Some beautiful things to look at (Betty Blue's breasts are all over the place!), but so much of the three hours just seemed extraneous. The length of Betty Blue sort of drains the life out of it. It's also that type of movie that actually has an odor. Literally! I never want to see this movie again. And please don't mention it to me.

Youth of the Beast

1963 yakuza movie

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Tough guy Jo joins two rival gangs Yojimbo-esquely in order to solve the mystery of the death of a pal and maybe avenge that death. Violence ensues.

This is the first of Suzuki's incomprehensible yakuza films, and it's cool that he came out swinging. It's more comprehensible than Branded or Drifter, but there's still enough flamboyance and visual flare here to make it completely obvious that it came from the mad mind of this one-of-a-kind director. Very 60's and very stylish (almost Bondish), Suzuki's got an eye for color and physical geometry. A final gunfight in a tortured setting, one in which our hero finds himself at an early disadvantage, and a much earlier scene involving a one-way glass and complete silence are so ingeniously shot that it gave me wood. Literally! Shapes within the sets are also used to frame characters or physically display the conflicts. Tricky? Sure. But it makes for a fun and fancy free violent romp that I'm sure Tarantino loves. Oh, and like the main guy in Branded to Kill, it looks as if this one might also have cheek implants. What the hell? I'm adding a cheek implant label in case I see Branded to Kill or Eraserhead or Alvin and the Chipmunks or U-Turn any time soon.

The Ten

2007 comedy

Rating: 9/20

Plot: Ten separate stories, one for each of the Ten Commandments. Narrated by Paul Rudd while struggling with the "adultery" commandment.

Poop! This is nowhere near consistently funny and is probably very close to what the writers of Saturday Night Live would come up with if television could be R-rated after 11:30. Gay jokes, poop jokes, prison rape jokes, ventures into the childishly absurd. There are funny bits, and I'm almost ashamed to say that I did laugh out loud a few times. Now, however, I can't remember what I could have possibly laughed about though. I will say that this will be worth wasting the 90-plus minutes if seeing Winona Ryder have sex with a ventriloquist dummy is something you've always wanted to see. It was definitely on my list! Poop!!! LOL!

Brand upon the Brain!

2006 magically realistic silent dramedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Guy Maddin (the movie's director), summoned by his dying mother, returns to the island on which he grew up in order to paint the lighthouse his parents used as both an orphanage and a laboratory for bizarre experiments with anti-aging treatments. While painting, he reminisces about his childhood on the island--the overbearing mother's suppers, his faceless father's tinkerings, his first love, his sister's first love, the tics and twitches of his friend Neddie, and other bizarre happenings.

A fantastically and grotesquely unique offering from Canadian Guy Maddin. It's like a silent movie that would have driven 1920's audiences completely insane and likely kick-started an even Greater Depression. Vomit-inducing jump cuts, obscene camera angles, general fuzziness. It's a singularly odd effort, an oddness that is difficult to sustain in a movie that might be a little too lengthy for its own good. This thing toured (tours?) with guest narrators (Isabella Rossellini is the default narrator on the dvd, but I couldn't pass up the Crispin "Hellion" Glover option!), sound effects guys, an orchestra, and even a castrato. That'd be a hoot! Too bizarre for most tastes, but I really like this guy's voice. Spazzy montages set the mood; images melt into poetry and struggle to tell a tale or two. The title cards and the narration ("Good for dippin'" and "What's a suicide attempt without a wedding?") are very funny, especially when they completely clash with the imagery. And Katherine Scharhon, who plays young Guy's love interest Wendy and the alter-ego detective Chance Hale, needs to be in every single movie. To date, this is her only role. It's not a movie. It's an experience!


1962 something-rather

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Well, it's not about a guy running through a jungle and swinging over big holes or skipping across ponds on the heads of crocodiles but never ever getting anywhere. It is sort of like that though. A migrant worker and his son meander. Stalking them is a man in a white suit who at first just snaps photographs from afar but eventually attacks and fatally stabs the father. Oh, snap! He returns as a ghost and finds himself in a world of ghosts while he tries to uncover the mystery of why the man in the white suit killed him.

What a terrific debut movie from that Teshigahara dude! Some truly haunting moments. Hypnotic and cautiously paced, lots of wow moments abound in this little Kafka-esque existential ghost-mystery. The first walk through the ghost town, the unbroken shot of the chase preceding the murder, the first moments of the afterlife shared simultaneously for a pair of enemies, the landscape. There's surreal convolution--dips into a Lynchian syrup--and I wonder whether repeated viewings would help unravel things. Beautifully and ambitiously shot, and although it's not as experimental or weird as The Face of Another or as stunning as Woman in the Dunes, it's still an amazingly accomplished work for an auteur's debut. Depressing stuff, although Dylan saw quite a bit of it while working on some writing and kept laughing at it.


2007 animated feature

Rating: 17/20 (Abbey: 20/20)

Plot: Remy is a rat with an atypical interest in fine cuisine. His interest leads to the forced retreat of his friends and family into the sewers of Paris. Meanwhile, Remy, led by (probably drug-fueled) hallucinations (maybe not drugs; maybe it's that special chemical imbalance that makes geniuses into geniuses), meets the son of his cooking idol. Together, they form a symbiotic relationship. The rat contributes cooking genius; the person uses hands. Interest in Gusteau's restaurant picks up, an interest that doesn't make the antagonists (the restaurant's owner Skinner who has more lucrative plans for frozen foods bearing Gusteau's name and a snobbish food critic Anton Ego who previously dismissed the restaurant and Gusteau's ideas that "anyone can cook") happy at all.

Every time Pixar makes a movie, I see the previews and predict that I'm finally going to be disappointed. And nearly every time, I've been pleasantly surprised. Not with Cars. That one's not that good. Ratatouille moves a step beyond pleasantly surprising into something pretty great, definitely higher echelon Pixar. For sentimental reasons, it's not my favorite Pixar movie, but it might be the most fully realized and consistently terrific one. The animation is shockingly great with that mix of things looking highly realistic and beautiful but not so realistic that you wonder, "Why is this even animated?" Enough of the cutesy remains. There are some scenes where there's so much going on, arguably too much action, but those Pixar details are still there. It's really unbelievable. The characters (and voice talent--Oswalt, Brad Garrett, Will Arnett, and especially Peter O'Toole as the critic) are great with the exception of one, actually the main human character who is distracting. Funny, energetic, suave, and touching. For whatever reason, the scene with the title food chokes me up a little bit. Typical Pixar with a great mix of creativity and heart. Better than The Incredibles, and I look forward to seeing what Brad Bird does next

The Long Goodbye

1973 comedic mystery

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Philip Marlow's stuck in the 1970's with his cat. After a desperate search for the right cat food, he helps a friend in need get to Mexico. This sets off a chain of events that forces surly Marlow into situations he'd probably rather not be in. Or maybe he doesn't really care all that much.

This is a quirky and misanthropic movie that is more Beat the Devil than The Big Sleep. Seems to be directed by Altman in a bad mood, a guy disgusted by people, 1970's America, Raymond Chandler, movies, and really anything else. It's just got that vibe. Having said that, it's still a really entertaining character study, and Gould does a great job creating that sort-of overblown stock character, almost like a caricature more than a believable actual living and breathing person. It's also a very funny movie. Not funny enough to laugh at though. Not ha-ha funny. I didn't LMAO. Odd, drifting movie with some smallish but really memorable scenes (the bottle, the suicide) and minor characters hovering around the lunatic fringe. It's definitely the type of movie that grows with subsequent watchings which, according to my father, is one thing that makes a movie really great. Along with Gould, I really liked the performance of Sterling Hayden as the writer. A mute Arnold Swarzeneggar is also in this, but I don't think it predates Hercules in New York as his first film role.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (Again?)

For purposes of clarification. . .

If a guy is trying to watch 365 movies in one year and is falling further and further behind, does he get to count a movie that he already watched once this year but was forced to watch again yesterday as it was played at his school to reward the students for their uninspiring mediocrity during the first grading period of the school year?

I think I'm going to have to count it.

The Lodger

1944 thriller

Rating: 16/20

Plot: In this hilarious prequel to the television sitcom Three's Company, Jack Tripper is on the loose in London, spilling the blood of showgirls and whores and fooling Mr. Furley into thinking he's gay. It works because he's British and went to good schools and therefore fairly gayish. Scotland Yard gets involved after a scam involving Thighmaster knock-offs rips off some large-thighed and desperate women.

Shadows and fog, fog and shadows. Moments lag, but when this thing's good, it's really good. Very atmospheric right from the opening scene where the camera floats over a moody street littered with shadows of policemen and drunkards. I like how the camera moves in this one, and the acting (almost over the top) is good. There are some great scenes here--an awesome finale, a a killing, another killing. I've not seen the original version of this (silent Hitchcock). This has the style and feel of a silent film actually. The one main difference, I suppose, is that the characters talk a lot in this one.

20 Million Miles to Earth

1957 science fiction monster movie

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Following an expedition to Venus (which as all you astronomers know is 20 million miles away from earth), astronauts crash land off the coast of Sicily. Some fishermen and an annoying little boy come to the rescue, but all but one of the astronauts perish. That lone survivor manages to escape with only a scratch on his arm. Later, the annoying little boy discovers a giant (plastic?) tube of green slime. He does the smart thing--opens it, plays with it, and sells it to an old man with lots of cages. Havoc ensues when the Venus creature begins to rapidly grow and threaten to destroy Rome. Oh, snap!

Hokey dialogue, very obvious blue/green screen effects, an incomprehensible disregard for science (and common sense), and a plot parallel to King Kong in far too many ways. . .all overshadowed by the awesome stop-motion effects of Harryhausen as the giant lizard thing busts through walls and bridges and wrestles with people and elephants. Sure, I'll continue preaching that special effects can not make a bad movie good. I can live being Mr. Double-Standard. I'll take these stop-animation effects over CGI and other modern tricks any day! My biggest gripe: My hope that the monster would fight Chuck Norris near the end of the movie left me slightly disappointed. Was that a faux-Wilhelm in there? Fun, fun movie.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

2007 thriller

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Hank's a divorcee struggling with making ends meet and unable to pay a nagging ex-wife child support. When he's approached by his older brother Andy regarding the robbery of a mom and pop jewelry store in the suburbs, he decides to hop on board. When the mom and pop turn out to be the brothers' actual mom and pop, the robbery threatens to tear apart the family. Things don't go as expected. Oh, snap! Etc.

I did like the narrative structure (non-chronological, different perspectives, overlapping scenes) and I liked the general story. It's the finer details that are flimsy, and the far-too-many unresolved moments leave the unimaginative flaccid. And the acting is close to terrible with Ethan Hawke scene chewing, Philip Hoffman acting all Philip Hoffman, Marisa Tomei looking completely lost, and Albert Finney giving the type of performance that made me wonder if he was in the middle of having a stroke. There's nothing that gives this any flare, and although it consistently succeeds in creating tension, the resolution makes it all seem like a waste of time. It's not bad, but it seems like it's all been seen before. But how about Marisa Tomei's nipples? Is there an Academy Award for nipples? If not, somebody should get on that.

Tokyo Drifter

1966 yakuza b-movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Powder-blue suited Tetsu follows his boss into the straight life but meets obstacles everywhere he steps, namely an old rival gang. Oh, snap! He decides to drift, leaving his girlfriend and his father figure of a boss behind. Then things get complicated.

Suzuki was fired by his studio for making "incomprehensible" movies. This incomprehensible movie's got lots of stylized action and a genius eye for color, stuff that could make Tarantino stick his hand down the front of his pants never to be seen again. The soundtrack, which apparently consists of a single song, is oppressive, but with a wry humor and unique vision, this thing's really fun to watch. Loved the loads of goofiness in that climactic dance club scene. I do prefer Branded to Kill though.

A Hard Day's Night

1964 musical comedy

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Four members of a hippie band run around with the grandfather of the bassist and make mischief. The one with the big nose turns up missing right before a big show. Oh, snap!

It's a breath of fresh air. Most amazing is that it doesn't seem dated to me. It's not quite a modern music video like the kids are all watching on the MTV7 (although honestly, I've not seen a modern musical video in maybe 10 years), but the world would probably be a lot better if it was. It's an hour and a half of exhilarating cheekiness. The Beatles are all good actors most of the time, and there's a natural fun in Richard Lester's almost freeform direction. Non-sequiturs a-go-go! Is it better than Yellow Submarine though?

South Park: Bigger, Louder, Uncut

1999 animated comedy

Rating: 12/20

Plot: A raunchy movie's foul language corrupts the youth of America. Mothers fight back by putting a series of events in motion that lead to America declaring war on Canada. Meanwhile, Satan and Saddam Hussein await the final sign of the apocalypse so that they can rule the world together. Oh, snap! The South Park children (minus the one that always dies) have to act fast to save the world from Satan. And censorship!

A lot of this is timeless satire although this movie won't ultimately have the staying power of a Duck Soup or Weekend at Bernie's II. I prefer Parker and Stone's Team America, a movie I've yet to find another fan of. There are lots of clever moments and tons of really stupid ones in this, but nobody can deny that the songs are genius. I won't be able to get "Uncle F*cker" out of my head for weeks.

I own this movie. What I really wanted to watch wouldn't work on the laptop. Not that I'm making excuses.

Valdez Is Coming

1971 western

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A lynch mob surrounds an interracial couple and Bob Valdez, a sheriff who is actually attempting to bring the conflict to a resolution via words instead of bullets, ends up shooting the husband in self-defense. After finding out that this black man was wrongly accused anyway, Valdez attempts to gather some funds to give to the widow. Tanner, the cat who wants to marry the woman who was married to the man who was killed by somebody who was not that black guy who Valdez killed (Oh, snap!), rejects Valdez's plea for 100 dollars. Tanner and his men actually humiliate and torture Valdez instead. Our hero find that he must resort to violence and kidnapping to get what he wants.

Burt Lancaster is a real presence in this. Valdez Is Coming is far from perfect, but it is very entertaining and contains a really great (maybe frustratingly great) ending. But it's really Lancaster's movie, and he makes a better Mexican than even Charlton Heston! A bit of an atypical, oddball western, but definitely one worth seeing.

The Spook Who Sat by the Door

1973 sociopolitical action flick

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Dan Freeman becomes the CIA's first black agent by mixing an Uncle Tom 'tude, his natural athletic ability, his intelligence, and more than a little hard work. Little do they-who-sort-of-wanted-integration know, Freeman was simply absorbing the training so that he could train young angry black men and put a little scare into whitey. Oh, snap! It's war!

Well, it's a conversation starter, I guess. Not a very slick production and far too much talking for an action movie, but it's still a fascinating thing to watch. There's such a hostility. I bet this was absolutely terrifying to white American upon its release. I liked the parallels between Freeman's training and his subsequent training of his own "agents," and I did think some of the action scenes were well filmed, especially given what must have been a B-movie budget. Editing was needed though as some of the scenes were superfluous and a lot of the character development completely pointless. If this movie had Dolemite in it, by the way, it would have been one of the best movies of the 70's!

McCabe and Mrs. Miller

1971 anti-western

Rating: 18/20

Plot: An ambitious businessman moves into a growing town in the American Northwest with the hopes of opening up his own brothel/gambling facility/eatery. A high-class and business-savvy prostitute comes along and makes him a proposition. Together, they open up and operate the finest house o' whores (The International House of Whores) them parts had ever seen. All's good until Wal-mart sends some of its thugs to buy out McCabe. After they make him a few offers that he can refuse, they move on to Plan B that involves sending a halfbreed in a goatskin coat, a giant, and a kid to kill him. Oh, snap!

Love this movie. The Cohen soundtrack (really, just three repeated songs), the poetic violence, the writing, the acting, the continually evolving set (the town was built as they filmed), the atmosphere. It's all great. There are only a few movies I can think of that have such a consistent tone--the colors, the impending sense of doom, a damp heaviness. I'm reminded of last year's There Will Be Blood actually, both with that consistent tone and the themes involving business, religion, and drinking milkshakes. Both Warren Beatty and Julie Christie were great, but I also love all the typical fringe characters who brought nuances and texture to the little brown town. As expected, Altman drops the American western on its head, and the result is something that left me speechless. Knowing Altman can do no wrong, I think I need to give second chances to Brewster McCloud and maybe Gosford Park.


1996 lesbian thriller

Rating: 10/20

Plot: Following her release from a prison sentence, lesbian Corky gets a job as a maintenance lesbian in building. She meets lesbian Violet, the wife of a mafia guy. They concoct a plan to steal 2 million dollars in mafia money, but not before they engage in lots and lots of lesbianism.

Wachowski Brothers' first flick certainly has some neat gimmicks but suffers from having the general generic feel and look of an after-school special. A really graphic after-school special. There are moments that are bearable, but the acting of Jennifer Tilly is simply unbearable. Lots of unintentionally funny moments apparently result when you give Jennifer Tilly really bad lines to read. Gina Gershon isn't much better, and I suspect most of the problem is that the dialogue is so terribly written. Joe Pantoliano is pretty Joe Pantolianoish and as entertaining as he usually is, but there's so much dopeyness around him. It doesn't help that the whole thing looks like an excuse to show some cheap lesbian action. It's better than that last Matrix movie though.

La Constellation Jodorowsky

1994 documentary

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Interviews and career synopsis of Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Some fascinating tidbits and footage, especially the scenes from the "Panic Movement" stuff and the artwork for the abandoned Dune project. The documentary, unfortunately, is a real mess from the get-go and really takes a self-indulgent turn at the 3/4 mark and spirals aimlessly for what seems to be 2 and 1/2 hours before thankfully ending. Any interview/documentary that starts with the subject being asked "Who are you?" is bound to be pretentious although there's a definite fanboy idol worship going on with filmmaker Louis Mouchet. Nothing all that revealing, but it's an ok introduction to Jodorowsky.