Kung Fu Panda

2008 animated kung-fu movie

Rating: 12/20 (Jen: 13/20; Dylan: 6/20; Emma: 5/20; Abbey: 20/20)

Plot: The title panda is the (adopted?) son of a soup cook who just happens to be some sort of bird. He enjoys eating. His dreams involve him evolving into a kung-fu master alongside his heroes, the Furious Five, who I believe got their name from an 80's rap group. When the turtle and mouse decide that it's time to pick a dragon warrior, all the villagers flock (some hop) to the top of a mountain to find out who it will be. The panda is (perhaps mistakenly) chosen, much to the chagrin of the monkey, the tigress, the snake, the stork, and the bug who have trained all their lives in order to someday become action figures and get their visages on boxes of fruit roll-ups. Meanwhile, a deadly kitty cat breaks out of prison and threatens to steal a scroll. Can the chosen panda be trained in time to defeat the deadly kitty cat? Oh, snap! He's too chubby!

Well, I like the idea of the movie better than the movie. As expected, it borrows heavily from traditional kung-fu movies, but it does so fairly clumsily, and the lack of character develop leaves me not really caring about what happens to any of them by the end. The movie looks fine even though the action sequences sort of blitz by and lack any of the real beauty of real martial arts movies. I was really hoping for an homage rather than a parody; unfortunately, this feels more like the latter too often. It's got that Dreamworks feel, but it at least doesn't have a bunch of unnecessary pop culture references. I'm not really sure what the problem was with 2/3 of my children although I do know that one of them is in a pretty bad mood and the other is always surly. Two of them are currently practicing their kung-fu while the third is making fun of them. One of them broke a tiny Christmas tree with some kind of rolling kick thing. Jen thought there were too many similarities between this and the Star Wars movies, but I think that might be more because of the similarities between the Star Wars movies and Kurosawa's samurai movies.

Ok, this makes 365 movies for the year 2008 alone. The Big Lebowski was the 365th movie from last December 27th. Take your pick with which movie completes my goal.

Steamboat Bill Jr.

1928 romantic comedy

Rating: 18/20

Plot: William Canfield, a steamboat owner/operator, hasn't seen his son William Canfield Jr. since he was a baby. He's thrilled when he learns that his son is coming to see him. His excitement vanishes when he realizes that his son is a flamboyantly homosexual twerp with a fancy moustache and a gay hat.

Every bit as good as The General (maybe?), this one's got some terrific physical comedy. Some of those stunts, especially during a climactic storm sequence, look extraordinarily painful. This is the movie with the famous side-of-the-building-falling-down-but-luckily-Buster-is-standing-right-where-the-window-is-so-nothing-hits-him scene, a scene so dangerous that half the crew refused to even stick around to see it. But that's not the only classic scene as rubbery, invincible Buster is bounced around like a Warner Brothers' cartoon character. The plot's pretty standard, but the comedy's great and Keaton's at the top of his game. Definitely a recommended silent comedy.

The Kid

1921 silent comedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: The Little Tramp stumbles upon an abandoned baby boy (the love child of a struggling artist and an aspiring actress) and after initially trying to get rid of him, finally decides to raise him as his own. Five years later, the tramp and the kid are working hard just to get by. The mother, now a successful performer, wants her kid back.

A bit overly sentimental, definitely a product of its time, with too many scenes that are just a little too precious. Most of the comedy works though, and I did laugh out loud, especially during the infamous "giant erection" scene. This stuff's timeless. In an age where everybody overacts, it's really an impressive performance from Jackie Coogan who, as a child actor, you'd almost expect to overact. At one point (still before he was ten), Coogan was one of the highest paid actors. The Kid doesn't seem as complete as the later Chaplin movies, and there's a dream sequence near the end that I absolutely can't stand. It seems tacked-on and completely unnecessary even though Charlie Chaplin flies during it.

Notes: Don't believe everything I type here. The "infamous" "giant erection" scene seems made up. Jackie Coogan being highly paid might be true. Flying Chaplin? That just sounds like a terrible band name.

La Joue (The Wheel)

1923 silent melodrama

Rating: 18/20

Plot: Sisif's been workin' on the railroad all the live long day. A tragic train accident occurs, and he rescues an orphan named Norma and raises her along with his son Elie. Fifteen years pass, Sisif continues to work on the railroad, and Elie becomes a maker of violins. Both men become infatuated with the blossoming Norma who also catches the eye of other eligible bachelors. This leads to some problems that apparently can't unfold in less than four and a half hours.

The pros: Stunning cinematography. Gorgeously experimental. Heavily philosophical and occasionally very moving. There are some shots here which could arguably be the best in film history, and that's not even an exaggeration. The use of rabid-fire montage (predating Potemkin seemingly) is ahead of its time and very effective in adding an excitement to the action--the train wreck scene, fisticuffs. The characters are lovingly developed, and the film as a whole is a poetic and beautiful experience.

The cons: The son of a bitch is 270 minutes long! 270 bleaker-than-bleak minutes!

Robyn Hitchcock: Sex, Food, Death. . .and Insects

2007 documentary

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Cult favorite Robyn Hitchcock rehearses and records and tours with some friends and discusses his songwriting, his career, and other things.

This is really more for fans, but it's really cool to see the enthusiasm this guy has for his work and the joy he gets from working with other talented musicians. Lots of interesting philosophical nuggets that may help uncover the truths behind the surreal absurdism of Hitchcock's lyrics. It's hard to rate this because Hitchcock has been my favorite musician for about 20 years, so I'm automatically going to like this a lot more than most people. I will say that I think I like this more than Storefront Hitchcock, the Demme-directed performance video, because Hitchcock is a lot looser and more comfortable and more himself here. Storefront Hitchcock is ok as a typical Robyn show, but there was something stiff about it.

365: The Big Lebowski

1998 movie

Rating: 20/20

Plot: Jeff Lebowski, a bowling slacker better known as "The Dude," has his rug urinated upon by a Chinaman which sets off a whirlwind of an adventure involving giggling artists, his seed, kidnapping, severed toes, double crossing, recreational drugs, lots of White Russians, a pomeranian, Jesus, theft of a car, a kid flunking history, a ringer, the Vietnam War, nihilists, known pornographers, a million dollars, and lots of bowling. But not The Dude. You don't get to see him bowl.

Seriously. He doesn't roll a single ball throughout the entire movie.

Rear Window

1954 thriller

Rating: 19/20 (Jen: 17/20)

Plot: A magazine photographer named Jimmy Stewart is cooped up in his apartment because he broke his leg jumping off a bridge to save an angel in another movie. With lots of time on his hands and nothing else to do, he sits in his wheelchair and spies on the neighbors across the courtyard. He also tries to figure out whether his girlfriend, a stylish socialite, is somebody he should marry. With one week to go before the cast comes off, he notices one neighbor acting very suspiciously and begins to suspect that there's been foul play. He gets help from his girlfriend, his nurse, and a detective pal.

Is there another movie where we get to see Jimmy Stewart's nipples? My favorite things about this movie--Miss Torso and the cigarette burning in darkness of Thorwald's apartment. My least favorite things about this movie--the flashbulb thing at the end and the fact that Jimmy Stewart's nipples are only displayed twice. I really like how the little stories in each of the windows unfold and how each seems to represent a different part of the protagonist's psyche--lust, fear, desires, creativity, hunger. I'll have to think about that more, but those little stories seem to characterize Stewart's character as much as his actions and words do. One of Hitchcock's best.

Maybe I should change the name of this blog from 365 Movies to Jimmy Stewart's Nipples.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

2002 fantasy movie

Rating: 15/20 (Dylan: 14/20)

Plot: The two hobbits, Dildo and Bongo, continue their journey to the jeweler to have their ring appraised. They meet with a tiny filthy old man who has some sort of bipolar disorder who tells them that he knows a shortcut, a really good one where they can walk across swamps with dead bodies submerged in them. Unfortunately, he's completely insane and doesn't have any idea where a jeweler might be. Meanwhile, the bearded guy, the grumpy midget, and the homosexual look for the other hobbits. The old man miraculously comes back to life and declares that he's no longer Gordo the Grey but instead Gonzo the White. The others shrug and roll their eyes because they have no idea what the hell he's talking about. "Is everybody in Middle Earth wacko or what?" inquires the bearded guy. Meanwhile, the other two hobbits, the ones who don't seem to matter to the story anymore, take some hallucinogens and have extended conversations with trees. The bearded guy, the grumpy midget, and the homosexual go clubbing because the bearded guy wants to meet some chicks. He hooks up with the help of his wingmen but then remembers he had a girlfriend in the first movie. They forget where they park their car, a 1984 Chevy Sprint, and spend the rest of the movie roaming Middle Earth searching for it. Christopher Lee gets all pissy about something and sends the ugly guys out to ruin everybody else's night out. Then the next movie is ready to begin.

This one really doesn't go anywhere, does it? And did I not watch closely enough and miss a tower? I'm only counting one tower here. I almost knocked this down another point to a 14 just because of the scene where the homosexual slides down a staircase on a something flat (a shield) and shoots arrows at the ugly guys. That was stupid. Large parts of this movie had to be explained to me by Dylan. I'm sure he got tired of me asking, "Where'd Gordo run off to?" or "When's Gordo coming back?" I'm not really looking forward to watching the third installment again. I'm just not sure I have the stamina for these bulbous fantasy movies. I think the guy who played Gollum overacted a bit, by the way. Peter Jackson should have gotten Don Knotts to play Gollum. That would have bumped my rating up to at least a 22.
My Precious...

Crazy Love

2007 documentary

Rating: 12/20

Spoilers below (if you don't know the story of these two)

Plot: This documents the love story of the century (the last century) in which boy falls in obsessive love with girl, girl loses interest, boy hires thugs to throw acid in girl's face which blinds and disfigures her, boy goes to jail for a long time, and boy and girl later marry and live happily ever after. Sweet stuff.

Intriguing, head-scratching story here, but the documentary style is so talky and dull. There's so much exposition here, and I lost interest in hearing about their childhoods and other things that really had very little to do with their relationship. The story of these bizarre people is definitely better than the documentary. Pugach's eyes might keep me awake for a few nights.

Night and the City

1950 British noir

Rating: 16/20

Plot: The night could be any night. The city is London. And Harry Fabian is an artist without an art, a two-bit hustler with a big imagination, bigger aspirations, and big plans that generally go nowhere. He's got a gal, he's got a lousy job with a nasty boss, he's got the wife of that nasty boss who apparently has the hots for him, and after he runs into a legendary wrestler, he thinks he has the perfect plan to weasel his way into being the top wrestling promoter in all of London. It doesn't work out so well for him, however.

On paper, this is sort of a goofy story, but it turned out to be a very nice piece of noir, stylish and complex and layered. From a moody shadowy chase scene at the very beginning to an ending that is predictable because you know it can't end any other way, this is quality story-telling, very well written with rich characters and great seedy settings in the underbelly of London. This is a lame thing to type, but this seems like a Coen brothers' movie. Not a very large role for Tierney here.

Shoot the Piano Player!

1960 French American gangster movie

Rating: 17/2o

Plot: Charlie's plays piano nightly in a jazz club before going home to sleep with his neighbor, a prostitute, and take care of his much younger brother. He's got a past, part of which includes playing concert piano and being in love, but in his present, he just wants to blend in, be shy, exist subtly. His older brother busts in one night looking for help as two guys he and the other older brother cheated out of money are after him. One of them wears a hat; the other wears a cap. Charlie and the waitress who loves him get involved in the mess.

Truffaut's follow-up to The 400 Blows is a neat blend of whimsy and drama. My favorite parts of this are the unnecessary parts, the bits that don't really seem to belong and may even distract from the main narrative but add a color or a texture that make this memorable. I know nothing about French actors, but I really like the guy who plays the title pianist. I also like the interior monologue that pops up every once in a while, mostly when he's with the waitress character. Great flick!

My Kid Could Paint That

2007 documentary

Rating: 15/20 (Jen: 14/20)

Plot: Marla is a four-year-old girl living with her family in New York. She just might be a painting prodigy, an abstract artistic genius whose work has been compared to Pollock. Or she could be the tool of an ambitious parent wanting to fool the art world and make some money. As her work creates a stir amongst art collectors, that money does start rolling in. But when 60 Minutes comes along, questions about the true artist behind the work emerge.

Good companion piece for the Who the Bleep Is Jackson Pollock? documentary I watched earlier this year. Both raise similar questions about the hypocrisy within the art world and about what makes modern art good art. The subject of Marla is approached objectively (in fact, the director seemed to be doing this all as a human interest story until the 60 minutes expose) and there's enough here to start conversation and/or argument although Jen and I both think we know exactly what's going on here. Interesting story, and I did like a lot of the paintings regardless of who painted them.

Funny Games

2007 remake

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A family of three make the drive up to their lakeside property for some relaxation. A soft-spoken young man in golf gloves comes over to borrow eggs. He drops them. She gives him more eggs. The dog scares him, and he drops them. He and his friend then terrorize the family with an unwanted game night.

I was worried about this one, but it seems to be a scene-by-scene remake of the original, also directed by Mr. Haneke. I probably prefer that original just because I don't recognize any of the actors. I'm still not completely sure what I think of this movie. It's a challenging couple hours for sure, maybe a little gimmicky. It's also quietly suspenseful with fine acting and interesting direction, especially in a long extended shot around the middle point of the movie. I'm a sucker for those. A terrifying experience with some scenes that still shock but nothing really new if you've seen the original foreign-language version. Well, other than Naomi Watts in underpants.

Anchorman: The Ron Burgundy Story

2004 classic comedy

Rating: 9/20 (Jen: 1/20 although she only half-watched it)

Plot: Step 1--Get Will Ferrell. Step 2--Figure out a profession and time period for Will Ferrell to have. Step 3--Think of some hilarious subplots. Step 4--Think up a bunch of really goofy things for Will Ferrell to say, things that college kids can quote when they're drunk. And boom! You've made a Will Ferrell movie! This time, it's the 1970's, and Will Ferrell is a local news anchorman in San Diego. It's a man's world. San Diegoans trust him with delivering the news and then he hangs out with the other male reporters and parties and talks about girls. But when a gorgeous anchorwoman with a cute butt comes along, it threatens to send his world topsy-turvy. Oh, snap!

This was recommended by a poker buddy who couldn't believe I had never seen it and referred to it as "a classic." It's not.

The Falls

1980 fake biographical catalogue

Rating: 18/20

Plot: A mysterious event (V.U.E. or Violent Unknown Event) has affected the world. Lots died, but others were affected in other ways--immortality, anatomical changes (chambers added to the heart, wings, webbed fingers), the obtaining of new languages, new genders, recurring dreams of water, the need to drive in circles. The Falls is an encyclopedic chronicle of 92 of these people, all with a last name beginning with F-A-L-L.

The cinematic equivalent to Gravity's Rainbow? I have a confession to make--it took me nearly an entire year to watch this three hour, twenty minute film. I started it in January, watched a little more in October, and finished it tonight. It's bewildering, frustrating, and difficult. However, it's also a work of unquestionable genius. As far as I know, there is nothing else even close to being like this. Self-referential with interlocking mini-biographies and themes or motifs or even characters who will pop up in later Greenaway movies, the focus isn't necessarily on the collection of stock footage, found footage, shots from early Greenaway shorts, and stuff Greenaway shot specifically for this film, but on the narrators (there are at least five) who dryly deliver dadaist details--magically realistic, absurdly humorous, head-scratching. The music--mostly Greenaway regular Michael Nyman but there's also a snippet of Syd Barrett and lots of Brian Eno in here--is really terrific. There's so much to digest here, so many parallels and so many allusions to literature, other films, folklore, science and anatomy, etc. that it makes me wonder what multiple viewings will reveal. Is this a grand, elongated joke, a riddle, a game, maniacal masturbation? Whatever it is, I dug it.

Lynch (one)

2007 documentary

Rating: 11/20

Plot: A portrait of the artist as a strange man. Footage of Lynch making Inland Empire and interviews with the director as he expounds on subjects like film, transcendental meditation, art, and hitting bloated animals with pick axes.

I guess I knew I was in trouble when the director's name popped up on the screen and it was blackANDwhite. What a self-indulgent mess this turned out to be. I truly enjoyed listening to a lot of what Lynch had to say and watching him work with his actors or on his set design. Whether you like his movies or not, he's an interesting and funny guy, and as a glimpse into the creative process, this should have worked. But the direction of this thing was such a distraction. Do I really need to see Lynch from the perspective of the floor? Do I really need to see Lynch through a layer of gauze? This became less about David Lynch and more about how clever blackANDwhite could be. Shame on blackANDwhite.

Mysterious Object at Noon

2000 thing

Rating: 10/20

Plot: ???

Allegedly inspired by the surrealist parlor game The Exquisite Corpse, this sort-of documentary tells a fragmented story of a crippled boy, his teacher, and a star child. Intermingling throughout, there are fairly random shots of Thailand daily life--folks selling tuna, kids playing soccer, people driving. And that's about it. This is probably the most boring movie I've seen all year. I like the idea, but the execution of that idea just doesn't work. Chunks of this dragged so much that I had to work hard just to stay awake. This starts nowhere, goes nowhere, and ends nowhere. I'm sure my tiny brain is completely missing the point of this one, but I'm not sure I care enough to ever figure it out.


1988 adaptation of the mythological tale

Rating: 16/20

Rating: Based on the play by Euripides, this is the dismal tragedy of the title bitch who, scorned by her lover Jason (the apples and Argonauts guy), goes apeshit and starts killing everybody. After all, hell hath no fury.

This is the realization of great director Carl Th. Dreyer's Medea script by wannabe great but pretentious director Lars von Trier. Dreamy, dreary, and beautiful, this old-looking and almost otherworldly film resembles Joan of Arc and the vampire movie as it lilts through a poetic sludge. The film starts and ends with water, and in between, a whole bunch of stuff--grasses, sheets, character's clothes, clouds--is filmed in a way that also reminds you of water. Definitely not for everybody as the fuzziness and unorthodox camera angles will likely get on most people's nerves. But it works to create a haunting atmosphere and wipe out any memory you might have of any Shirley Temple movies you might have seen. The acting's strong although the script sometimes isn't. I don't know if Dreyer was intending this as a silent film or talky, but I almost think this would have been more effective sans dialogue. Likely, I'll revisit some of the macabre imagery of this one in my nightmares.

The Littlest Rebel

1935 confederacy propaganda film

Rating: 4/20

Plot: (Warning--Spoilers!) Sweet little Virgie lives with her mother and father on a southern plantation. Her existence is a perfect one--she hosts her own birthday party with her young friends, bosses around the family's slaves and chastises them when they do wrong, and lives it up in the luxuriant comfort of her father's mansion. But then war breaks out and her father must run off to help the southern cause. Virgie has to deal with her father's absence, the burning down of her house, her mother's death, and her father's eventual execution in the only way she knows how--tap dancing and singing!

I had promised somebody that I would watch a Shirley Temple movie by Christmas. I thought it was my first, but she's apparently in Fort Apache. But this is my first time seeing Shirley Temple in her prime, when she was six and tap dancing and dimpling her way into America's hearts. And I've got to say that it was a worse experience than I ever could have imagined. This is a movie seemingly made in a topsy-turvy America, one where the Southerners have the moral high ground; where Northerners are arrogant, cruel brutes; and where slaves are perfectly content with the hand they've been dealt. Maybe the best compliment I can give this movie is that it is Birth of a Nation-esque. Because of the way black and white relationships work in this movie, I don't think it's appropriate for children. There's the stock clown character (a slave, of course, portrayed in a fashion that looks like it's straight off a minstrel show stage) who falls in holes he's dug as traps, contemplates why shoes are called shoes, says the Union can make the weather change because whenever they's around he don't know if it winter or summer out cause he's a-sweatin' and a-shiverin' at the same time, and is told to shut up by multiple characters. And there's something almost shocking about watching Shirley Temple verbally abuse slaves although, admittedly, she seems to be friends with them throughout most of the movie. More offensive to anybody who likes good realistic movie fiction would be scenes in which the soldiers interact with each other, the range of emotions Shirley Temple displays when her mother dies, and the melodrama displayed when Shirley Temple's character shares an apple with Abraham Lincoln. The dated humor will make you cringe rather than laugh, and the dated story might make any intelligent viewer physically ill. But the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae? Five words for ya: Shirley Temple in black face. That's right. Check it:


1987 comedy

Rating: 3/20

Plot: Up to his neck in gambling debts, Winslow concocts a plan to hire the world's worst orderlies with hopes that they will kill his uncle so that he can inherit his riches. Unfortunately, the only thing that winds up dead in this is the script.

80's rappers The Fat Boys--the Three Stooges of Rap--star in this unfunny 80's comedy. And it's completely obvious why they didn't follow this up with more movies. It's the type of thing you watch and just wonder how in the world anybody thought this was a good idea. The best thing about it might be some of the music. The Fat Boys rap a little bit, and 80's avant-poppers Art of Noise provide some of the soundtrack. The worst thing about this just might be the incredibly goofy cartoonish sound effects (boings, squelches, trumpets, birds, horns) that accompany some of the slapstick. Nothing in this even approaches funny. My brother and I saw this in the theater in '87 and didn't like it then either. And as white kids from rural Indiana, we were likely the target audience. The only reason I picked this up is because I was so stunned it had even been released on dvd that I lost my ability to think rationally.


1961 Bunuel drama

Rating: 18/20

Plot: The title character, a soon-to-be nun ready to take her final vows, is persuaded by the head nun to pay a final visit to her only living relative, a rich but reclusive uncle. He's not a very good person. Viridiana reminds him of his wife who unfortunately died in his arms on their wedding night (sadly, that sounds only a little worse than my honeymoon), and begs her to marry him. She's a bit shocked, refuses, and prepares to leave immediately. So the uncle has her drugged in order to take advantage of her and find a way to force her to stay. Then she leaves. Then something else happens. Then something else happens. And then she decides that she wants to devote her life helping vagabonds and cripples. Then some other things happen.

Incredibly uplifting Bunuel criticism of (surprise!) organized religion and society. Ok, not uplifting at all. But it's brilliant film making! There's a flawless quality to the direction here that comes across as so effortless, and although this doesn't have the weirdness of other Bunuel movies (no cows in beds or eyeball slittings here), there are some fantastic moments, most notably a "last supper" scene and a somnambulist sequence that is dreamy enough to allow me to use my surreal tag. Speaking of tags, I thought I had an incest one. I'm not sure why I don't! I love the final scene of this movie despite its goofiness. Apparently, censors didn't approve of an original final scene, but from the description I've read, it seems like Bunuel managed to sneak a little something extra into this one.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

2008 piece of galactic poo-poo

Rating: 4/20 (Dylan: 14/20; Emma 15/20; Abbey 19/20)

Plot: It's a time of war in the galaxy as Count Dooky and his Seperatists take on the Jedi and a bunch of clones. Dooky and Emperor Palpatine form an intricate plan involving a plot to kidnap Jabba the Hutt's baby in order to turn the Hutts against the Jedi and gain an edge in the war. Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Anakin's new apprentice (whose name I didn't bother learning) have to save the day.

Crap this is. Hate it I did. Now, keep in mind that I like Star Wars. I liked the originals as a kid, and I liked a lot about the prequels as an adult. I have a Jar Jar Binks tatoo on my scrotum. I make my own Boba Fett t-shirts. I speak fluent Ewok. I've swallowed exactly four Lando Calrissian action figures. I can't have sexual intercourse without first picturing Admiral Ackbar. But this is just bad, and it was bad from the get-go. I'll put it this way--this is a Star Wars movie that actually manages to make Yoda unlikable. The animation looks stupid when nothing exciting is going on and whatever plot there is is being moved forward. The action scenes aren't bad looking at all, but there are so many of them that my eyes started bleeding and then I got yelled at for getting eye blood on the couch. And the fight scenes you really wait for have absolutely no emotional punch at all. They're just there. How can you title a movie after a war and then show only a small percentage of the war that winds up having no impact on the war at all? None of this crap is vital to the Star Wars story. This is a very poorly written, incomplete movie that I wish didn't exist. And if I ever meet an adult who likes this movie, I'm taking a swing at him. I'm not even joking.

Tropic Thunder

2008 comedy

Rating: 13/20

Plot: With a big budget and big-name actors, a director attempts to film the story of a Vietnam War hero. Problems with that budget and with those actors drives the director and some of the crew into the wild to improvise and add some realism to the shoot. Unfortunately, the actors find themselves in the territory of some murderous drug smugglers. Oh, snap!

Me after the first 15 minutes of Tropic Thunder: Ha ha ha! Ha ha ho ha! This might be the funniest movie I've ever seen!

Me from minute 16 on: Oh, no! What happened? This thing's lost steam and has really turned into a mess! Oh, wait. Ha ho! That was sort of funny.

Yeah, I don't know what went wrong. There was a real spunk at the beginning of this and laughs aplenty, the humor somehow managing to work as this stupidly clever hybrid. Or a cleverly stupid. Then it seemed to lose that adventurous spirit and that edge and became sort of like every other comedy like this. Lots of really funny moments peppered throughout, of course, but unfortunately, a lot of script work was needed. Good cast though. And most impressive is maybe that the actors weren't all trying to overdo it, to outfunny each other. This could have been a really obnoxious movie. And I will say this: Robert Downey Jr. might be the best actor alive. He continues to take risks and show off a versatility that's impossible not to appreciate. Maybe it's the drugs?

Age of Gold

1930 surrealist dickery

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Scorpions defend themselves, deteriorating bishops are located, Rome is founded, men fall in love and then leer lustfully at the toes of statues, a son is shot, and they must get the cow out of bed as soon as possible. And what's Jesus doing in there of all places?

I'm not really positive there was a midget in this. The violinist was awfully short. Awfully short! However, even if there's not a midget in this, it's got the right spirit. Midget spirit! Follow-up to An Andalusian Dog is a bit more linear (there's a love story sort of weaving itself in and out of the nonsense) and probably more provocative. Bunuel's obsessions are here--attacks on the bourgeoisie, religion, and government. Alternately funny and disturbing, Age of Gold still works today and I can't imagine how revolutionary it would have seemed at the end of the 1920's. There's enough here to offend the whole family!

Ray Harryhausen: The Early Years Collection

2005 anthology

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Early works of special effects maestro Ray Harryhausen, some of which was filmed in his garage or backyard. Contains Mother Goose stories, fairy tales, some military instructional films, a pair of commercials, and sketches and experiments for projects barely conceived.

Love this stuff. There's such a charm to stop-motion anyway, but with Harryhausen, there was such character and personality in the animation. Lots of "How's he doing that?" moments here, and lots of subtle touches (slight head movements, a little twitch of an ear, a hand on the hips) that leave no doubt about the genius of this guy. It's impossible not to watch this stuff and not see the amount of love that goes into these effects. Magical!

The Alligator People

1959 b-movie

Rating: 10/20

Plot: A scientist in the bayou uses alligator hormones to help heal injured men. Paul Webster, injured in a plane crash, is one of those men. While traveling by train with his wife Joyce on their honeymoon, he winds up disembarking to make a phone call and not returning. Joyce later searches for him, only to discover that he has turned into a mutant part-man/part alligator. A man with a hook instead of a hand wants to kill him. She screams a lot.

Typical b-movie sci-fi stuff in that you have to wade through all the story to get to the brilliance of the last ten or so minutes. But there's some entertaining stuff going on here--Lon Chaney Jr.'s crazy drunken Cajun is great, the special effects are ingenious, the alligator wrasslin' scenes are very exciting, and Beverey Garland is easy on the eyes. It seems like this was conceived, written, and shot in about a week and a half, but it's worth seeing. Aside from the climactic moment when the transformation is complete, I especially enjoyed hearing the alligator men talk and watching Lon Chaney Jr.'s character's sharpshooting skills.

The Mask of Satan

1960 Italian horror film

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A witch and her mustachioed buddy resurrect 200 years after their executions to get their revenge.

The Mask of Satan (aka Black Sunday, aka Mask of the Demon, aka House of Fright, aka The Demon's Mask, aka Revenge of the Vampire, aka The Hour When Dracula Comes, aka Get Them Spikes Away from My Face, Sucka) is a tiny bit better than It's a Wonderful Life. An interesting bit of trivia: A spiky devil mask was originally used in It's a Wonderful Life, but the censors didn't like it very much and the producers ended up cutting the scenes. This is Mario Bava's first film, and it's a debut with the same low-budget creativity seen in his latter Kill, Baby, Kill! Atmospheric, moody, creepily foreboding, macabre. The plot doesn't always move along swimmingly, but the feel of the movie makes up for it.

It's a Wonderful Life

1946 silly movie

Rating: 14/20 (Jen: 18/20)

Plot: The happiest-go-luckiest man on earth, George "People Shouldn't Have Had Me Run on Film Because I Can't Do It Naturally" Bailey was born, saved his brother's life, saved a pharmacist's job, saved his podunk town, got married, and had sexual intercourse at least four times. It's a wonderful life! None of that matters, however, because his staircase railing is broken and he isn't man enough to be able to fix it. Within minutes, he becomes drunken and suicidal. As he's about to end his life by jumping off a bridge into the icy waters below, his guardian angel Clarence jumps into the icy waters. So George jumps into the icy waters below to save his life. Clarence, working on earning his wings, needs to convince George that life is worth living and shows him what the lives of others would look like if George had never existed.

The following is a partial transcript from a meeting following a showing of It's a Wonderful Life, then called Untitled Frank Capra Communist Propaganda Film:

Film Producer #7: But why does he keep shouting at everybody?

Frank Capra: Because he's excited! He's got his life back.

FP7: No, I'm talking about the rest of the movie. He spends the entire movie shouting.

FC: He does?
Film Producer #3: He really does, Frank.

FC: Well, that's acting. That's how Jimmy Stewart acts.

FP7: Well, I don't like it at all. Something must be done.

FP3: Yeah, I'm not sure I like all the shouting either. Nobody's going to want to spend 17 hours watching the longest movie ever made with a protagonist who shouts at everybody for no reason.

FP7: What if we give him a reason?
FC: What do you mean, Film Producer Number Seven?

FP3: Yes! We could have George born with a condition of some kind where he shouts unnecessarily.

FP7: How about this? How about we write in a scene where he has some sort of childhood injury which causes him to lose his hearing in one of his ears?

FP3: Yeah! The right one!

FP7: No, the left one.

Film Producer #4: And then his "acting" (finger quotes--actually the first time finger quotes were ever used) would make a little more sense. The character won't know that he's shouting.

FP3: I think this might work. Back to the studio, Frank Capra!

Film Producer #2: Anybody else think the movie is too long?

FP7: (Scratches self)

FP2: I mean, do we really need to show George using the potty for the first time or trying meatloaf? We have the longest exposition in film history here. It takes so long to get to the real meat of the movie and audiences have fallen asleep during test screenings.

Film Producer #5: The real meatloaf of the movie!

FP7: Are you drunk again, Film Producer #5?

Quite possibly the most overrated movie ever made. Definitely seems like the longest although, admittedly, I'm not used to watching movies with commercial interruptions and that probably made it seem longer. It's a very average movie, a little too manipulative and old-timey to fully appreciate. I gave it an 11/20 the first time I watched it, so maybe by the forty-seventh time I see this, I'll develop a soul and think it's a classic like everybody else.

Reign over Me

2007 drama

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Alan Johnson, a New York City dentist, is sort of bored with life. That is until he runs into an old college roommate who wrecklessly drives around a little scooter while listening loudly to music on headphones. Charlie's lost his family (9-11, of course) and he's also lost his grip on reality, spending almost all of his time with his record collection, his drum set, and a video game. Johnson and Charlie strike up a friendship, straining the relationship between Johnson and his own wife while seeming to help Charlie's mental state a little bit.

Very tidy, messy movie. It's overlong and Hollywoody. I also don't think Adam Sandler is good here at all which really hurt this movie's chances of having any real emotional impact on me. I just didn't buy it. Most, if not all, of the ending can be seen from about a mile and a half away. It's all just too convenient. There are definitely things to like about the movie (I especially like how the music is handled), but there's far too much weighing it down. I also don't understand the title.

Recommended by R.D.

Where the Buffalo Roam

1980 comedy

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Loosely based on the relationship between Hunter S. Thompson and his lawyer Laszlo. Dr. Thompson covers drug trials, Superbowls, and presidential campaigns from '68 to '72 while Laszlo throws wrenches at him.

Murray and Boyle are pretty good, but the movie really isn't. There's too much of an emphasis on the madness part of it all and not enough on the genius part. It's impossible not to compare this to the superior Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas which is probably really unfair. This is scattered and flawed and manic just like that one, but it's not scattered and flawed and manic in the best of ways. The episodes feel too much like comedic sketches and there's not nearly enough at the center of all the madness to make this stick.

Seacrest out.

Be Kind Rewind

2008 comedy

Rating: 13/20

Plot: The existence of a VHS-only rental store is threatened by foreclosure and the problem that nobody watches things on VHS anymore. The proprietor, Elroy Fletcher, goes on a little trip to celebrate the life of Fats Waller and leaves Mike in charge. He warns Mike to not let his bungling pal Jerry in the store, but Jerry, magnetized in a freak accident, winds up destroying the store's merchandise. Oh, snap! The solution to the problem is simple. They simply make their own ultra-low-budget versions of the movies to rent out to their apparently easy-to-please clientele.

This should have been so much better. There are funny moments and one terrific montage scene that appeared to be a single long take. But there was much clunkiness in getting from Point A to the funny remakes (I guess, Point C), and the subplots really got in the way. Also, and this might be due to illness, I didn't really get what this film was trying to say. Somewhere along the line I missed the point. I was surprised to look this up and see that it was from this year. I figured this was a pre-Spotless Mind movie that I had somehow never heard of. It actually has the feel of an 80's movie which isn't necessarily a bad thing in this case. I did laugh a few times, but I coughed more and fell asleep once and had to be kind and rewind to see what I had missed. I gave this movie a bonus point just because I'm in a bad mood which might not make sense to you but makes perfect sense to me. I know nothing about how this movie did in theaters (the fact that I didn't know what it was probably isn't good), but it seems like the type of movie that could become a sort of cult classic following its release on VHS.

No Way to Treat a Lady

1968 comedy thriller

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A master-of-disguise named Gill develops a hobby involving costumes and strangulation. He's pleased that his exploits move from tiny blurbs buried in the newspapers to front page stuff and begins to get cocky, calling up the lead investigator in his case and making things personal. The lead investigator works on the case and his love life.

I usually like these cat-and-mouse detective movies. This one reminds me most of In the Line of Fire with Eastwood and Malcovich, especially with the telephone calls and the show-off acting in the villain roles. There was some clever writing. Steiger's all over the place, chewin' scenes and spittin' 'em out, but it's a lot of fun watching him. The love story part of this gets predictable, the story gets a bit too wacky, and the movie hasn't aged very well (although it does feel more like a 70's movie than a 1968 one), but it was definitely worth watching.

Note: When I first added the "gratuitous midget" label, I figured I'd have 10-20. It's ridiculous how many midgets I've seen in movies this year. I'm not even actively seeking these out.


2006 narrative documentary

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Why bother growing up when you can dress up like a knight, paint your face, shout fantasy book cliches, and hit people with giant foam swords? Fantasy nerds meet bimonthly to do battle in public parks, attempting to take over hexagonal territories and get their names in gold on the wall of the Geek Hall of Fame.

Subjective peek at the world of LARPs (Live Action Role Players), both in the fantasy worlds they create for themselves and their real lives which aren't nearly as exciting. Watching the actual battle stuff is novel for about thirty-five seconds, but more interesting is the dichotomy between these people's (yeah, women are involved, too) actual and fantasy personas. The story of a schism within the most evil of the LARP clans (or whatever they're called) is a drawn out a little too much and get pretty dull. But watching this did make me feel bad about launching a frisbee into a group of these guys at a park a few months ago, so I guess it's at least somewhat successful.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

2006 documentary

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Bunch of liberals make a documentary about the MPAA, their anonymous raters, and what seems to be a variety of double standards. Private investigators are hired to find out the identities of the raters, and eventually the director submits his own film to the ratings board to further uncover their secrets. The result? Much wanking and whining!

I'm not sure there's anything new here, but this was at least an entertaining look at the world of movie rating. I especially enjoyed an animated look at the ratings system and some of the side-by-side comparison of filmed thrusting. A bit one-sided (though not necessarily by fault of the director) and the private investigator stuff really seems ultimately pointless or, at the very least, too cutesy for its own good. War stories shared by directors are insightful enough, but without any suggestions on alternatives, I'm not sure this fully works. It's interesting and maybe even vital for fans of movie history though. And it's got John Waters in it which is always a plus.

Mr. Hulot's Holiday

1953 comedy

Rating: 18/20

Plot: The most awkward man who ever lived vacations at a beachside resort and ruins the lives of nearly everybody else.

Gotta love a movie that can meander so aimlessly and shuffle along so pointlessly for an hour an a half. Nothing about this is uproariously funny, but there is a lot that makes me smile. It's fragile slapstick, and although the title character is always at the center of things, there's enough going on with the fringe characters to make them interesting, too. I imagine this is a like-it-or-hate-it type flick, but even those who aren't put under the spell and instead are put to sleep would have to admit that it's got a uniqueness that makes it endearing. There are ingenious sight gags that stick with you, some which will make you wonder how they were pulled off, and new pleasures reveal themselves with subsequent viewings. This is my second favorite Tati movie.

Quick gripe: Why is the American version of this thirty minutes shorter? If it turns out I'm missing a Hulot sex scene, I will likely write an angry letter.

Word Wars

2004 Scrabble documentary

Rating: 13/20 (Jen: 10/20, but she fell asleep)

Plot: Why is it always four? This documentary chronicles the tiles and tribulations (That's on the box. I only wish I could take credit for such a brilliant play on words.) of four "professional" Scrabblers as they prepare for the National Championship in San Diego where they can win (wait for it) a whole 25,000 dollars. A guy with gastro-intestinal issues, a ghetto genius, the number one ranked dude, and a guy who may or may not have some gambling issues play the game and do very little else.

Really jumpy, distracting structure with this one. The documentary also looks really cheap (Jen thought it was made in the 80's), but it's entertaining enough in the same way that A League of Ordinary Gentlemen, Spell Bound, King of Kong, or Fast Cheap and Out of Control are entertaining and objective glimpses at eccentric or obsessive characters who will likely always remain square pegs in our circular society. Same way a documentary on chess players or poker players would work. I would have liked to see more on the players who hustled in the New York City park. The interesting dilemma with Scrabble is that it's seemingly impossible to train and compete when you have a real job but that you can't make enough money at it to make it your real job. Recommended for folks who like any of those aforementioned documentaries or Scrabble fans.

When I play, I don't use trays that hold the letters. That would more than likely hurt my chances in a Scrabble tournament. I also like to rub the tiles on my bare chest between turns.

Koko, a Talking Gorilla

1978 documentary

Rating: 14/20 (Dylan watched some of this, laughed uproariously, and refused to give it a rating.)

Plot: Koko! She can speak in sign language with a blonde chick! Koko! She's the crazy funky star of this monkey flick! Koko! She's got a boyfriend named Mikey and a red sweater! Koko! She's also got a yellow one but likes the red one better! Koko! She belongs to the zoo and they want her to come back! Koko! But those researchers think that is just wack! Koko! Two hundred fifty pounds of furry funky fun! Koko! If it wasn't for the fur, she could almost be human! Koko! Oooh, Koko. Oooh, Koko. Koko, oooh oooh oooh. Koko, a talking gorilla, you're driving us wild! Whoo! Whoo! Whoo! Whoo! Koko!

Watching Koko with her trainer Betty reminded me of my classroom. Only it looks like Koko is a lot easier to teach. She also knows, unlike a few of my students, the proper place to urinate. I like that this presents all sides fairly and shows the interactions between Koko and her trainer (and Mike, who seems to be the only gorilla she ever has any interaction with) candidly. There's enough to be impressed by, of course, but at the same time, you get to see the bad times, too--some arguments between the two, times when Koko just ain't being a good girl. Entertaining stuff. Koko!

Death at a Funeral

2007 black comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: When the patriarch of an English family passes away, the family attempts to do the proper thing and have a dignified funeral. Unfortunately, things spiral hopelessly out of control. Unidentifiable midgets, wrong corpses, and ill-timed acid trips will do that to a funeral.

This might be the frontrunner in the "Best Use of a Midget" award for this year's shane-movies awards. That, of course, is the only end-of-the-year award that really even matters. Funny farce, but it could have been even better and much less predictable. There's an interesting mix of really cheap humor (poop jokes, midgets) and that kind of more-sophisticated, almost-stuffy humor. I chuckled, and that's about all I can ask for with a comedy. Word on the streets is that Chris Rock is remaking this.