2009 Recap!

I saw exactly 40 movies with little people this year, so the Little Person of the Year award had lots of contenders. Billy Curtis was again in the running for his role in High Plains Drifter. The versatile Danny Woodburn had a nice part in Watchmen. Jordan Prentice was great as Jimmy in In Bruges. Peter Dinklage, last year's winner, was in Elf. And how can you beat Raymond Griffiths as "Desperate Dwarf" in the abysmal 9 Dead Gay Guys, a little person who isn't afraid to get a little naked?

But this year's Little Person of the Year award goes to Jordan Prentice, not only for In Bruges but for his work as a groupie in the The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico. If you read my review, I actually credit Peter Dinklage with the performance, just as a reader of mine mistook Prentice for Dinklage in In Bruges. The least I can do is give him the Little Person of the Year award. Sorry, little guy!

Best Performance by an Animal: Josephine the monkey in The Cameraman, The Circus, and The Kid Brother.

Best Lines: "You stink. You're a stinker and you stink." (The Lion in Winter) "Mugwump jism can't be beat." (Naked Lunch) Rex Reed's "Where are my tits?" (Myra Breckinridge) "You fat barrel of monkey spunk." (Shawshank)

Movie Moment Most Likely to Make Me Laugh Outloud at a Funeral If I Accidentally Think about It: Bruno's fears that he's about to pay-per-view Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium because the remote control is wedged in his butt crack.

Most Magical Movie Moment #1: Natalie Portman laughing while Dustin Hoffman dances on bubble wrap in Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium. It's a scene that lasts 15 minutes.

Best Buster Keaton Moments: A tie between the shot in "The Twilight Zone" of a 60-year-old Buster in his underpants and the chase scene in Go West where he's dressed as Beelzebub and running from cattle.

Best Alien: Bug-eyed aliens from Killers from Space.

Best Zombie: Bob in Dawn of the Dead.

Best Documentary: Man with a Movie Camera. Although Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One, Chang, and Herzog's Lessons in Darkness aren't far behind.

Best Reader Comment: "Giving the greatest Disney animated film a 14 is bull$#!^"

Most Magical Movie Moment #2: Watching Buckwheat giving the pope a bath in Harmony Korine's Mister Lonely.

Best Special Ed. Effect: Car hits mannequin in I Married a Monster from Outer Space.

Best Opening Credits: Watchmen.

Best Spoken Words: The way Orson Welles says "a ham sandwich" in F Is for Fake.

Most Magical Movie Moment #3: Chaplin's musical barbershop shaving routine in The Great Dictator.

Best Action Sequence: The climactic chainsaw fight at the end of Motel Hell.

Most Magical Movie Moment #4: Godzilla's victory dance on Planet X in Monster Zero.

Best Movie Dance Scene Not Involving Godzilla: The wonderfully choreographed mice dance in Coraline.

Most Ludicrous Moment: Lois Lane surviving a flight into space in Superman IV: The Quest to Kill a Franchise.

Best Tearjerking Moments: (tie) The first twenty minutes of Up and the last scene in The Straight Story. And almost all of Buster Keaton's Free and Easy.

Most Magical Movie Moment #5: Nicholas Cage laughing at a monkey performing karate in Ghostrider.

Best Chest: Douglas Fairbanks in The Thief of Baghdad.

Funniest Moment Not Involving Nicholas Cage Laughing at a Monkey Performing Karate: The terrorism bit in Jackass II.

Best Line of Dialogue That I Forgot to Include Up There: Jessy from Greaser's Palace: "I bring you a message. Exactly six miles north of Skagg Mountain in the Valley of Pain, there lives an evil devil-monster. His name is Bingo Gas Station Motel Cheeseburger with a Side of Aircraft Noise and You'll Be Gary Indiana. And he loves to hurt people. The last time I saw Bingo Gas Station Motel Cheeseburger with a Side of Aircraft Noise and You'll Be Gary Indiana, he told me what he wants to do. He wants to come down here and kill each and every one of you. But I said to him, "Bingo, wait a minute!" And the reason I said that is because I believe in you people. I believe you can do the job. I believe you can help each other. I believe you can make this world a better place to live in. That's it."

Worst Acting: Tim Roth in The Incredible Hulk? Tim Roth in Four Rooms? Nic Cage in Ghostrider or anything else I watched with Nic Cage? The gardener in The Mad Monster? Nope. It's Joe Don Baker in Final Justice. When you suck worse than Nic Cage, you know you suck.

Best Samurai Moment: The battle with skiing ninjas in White Heaven in Hell, the final installment of the Lone Wolf and Cub series.

Most Horrifying Moment: The sight of Sean Connery in a red diaper in Zardoz.

Most Magical Movie Moment #6: Watching the T-Rex eat a little person in The Valley of Gwangi.

Most Magical Movie Moment #7: Brad Pitt's final scene in Burn After Reading. The smile does it.

Another Tearjerking Moment That I Almost Forgot: Jek Porkin's death in Star Wars: A New Hope.

Random Thing That's Kind of Sad: That I know the name "Jek Porkins" at all.

Best Sex Scene of the Year: Tough one this year. There was Jan Svankmajer's animated meat sex in the short called "Meat". Svankmajer's man-on-seven-foot-puppet sex scene in Faust was pretty hot. And how can anybody forget the extremely erotic scene in Watchmen or the artfully steamy scene in The Brown Bunny? The absurd corncob scene in Troll 2 was about as sexy as it gets. The award, however, goes to Matthew Modine and a bird in Birdy.

Best Forehead: Another close one! Tom Hanks in Apollo 13? Tim Robbins in Shawshank? Nic Cage in Ghostrider? Nope! The award goes to Orson Welles for the work his forehead did in The Third Man.

Movie That Most Missed Richard Harris: Whatever Harry Potter movie I saw this year.

Best Musical Act: It's hard to beat Tom Waits holding a burning umbrella while performing "9th and Hennepin" in Big Time, and Robyn Hitchcock was great to see as a wedding singer in Rachel Getting Married. It's always great seeing Chico and Harpo do their thing, especially in A Day at the Races when Harpo completely destroys a piano. The hyperkinetic musicians from Underground deserve mention. The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne's marching band with female genitalia for heads sure was something. And the chimney sweeps' spontaneous musical number from Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? was a beautiful moment. And the Woman in the Radiator singing "In Heaven Everything Is Fine" in Eraserhead is just classic. However, nothing tops the piano/drums duo that Werner Herzog found in a brothel for Fata Morgana.

Most Magical Movie Moment # 8: The hobgoblins-stealing-golf-cart scene from Hobgoblins.

Best Superhero Movie: Watchmen

Best Monster: Lots to choose from here. Harryhausen's octopus, the "It" from It Came from Beneath the Sea. Harryhausen's creatures in the aforementioned Gwangi. Harryhausen's horned cyclops with fuzzy legs in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. Harryhausen's skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts. The dinosaur puppets in Future War. Those fantastic and terrifying trash bags in Attack of the Giant Leeches. "Frankenstein" in Frankenstein vs. the Space Monster. The aliens in that one are really cool, too. The ridiculous troll puppets in Troll and Troll 2. The monstrosities from Big Man Japan. King Ghidorah? The stop-motion turtles in Laserblast. The twin gargantua from War of the Gargantuas. Werewolf's werewolf. The rubbery phantom in The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues. The rubbery monster in Zaat? The rubbery monster in It's Alive!. They're all so good that I can't pick a winner.

Best Chase Scene: Harold Lloyd's in Speedy.

Best Animation: I saw about 30 animated movies this year. The very best were likely Norshteyn's "Tale of Tales" and Khrjanovsky's "Glass Harmonica" from the Russian animation compilations. Spirited Away got the highest rating, but I'd seen that already. So the award goes to The Adventures of Prince Achmed from 1926. Coraline isn't far behind. Beauty and the Beast, however, is.

Most Magical Movie Moment #9: Watching Charley Bowers' doll come to life in one of his 1920's short.

Movie Moment That Filled Me with Nostalgia Like No Other: Harrey Caray's explanation of where Mark Grudzielanek's nickname (G-man) came from. Or, his home run call of a ball rolling between two outfielders.

Best Opening Scene Not in a Pixar Movie: The opening scene of The Killers.

Most Magical Movie Moment #10: The funhouse scene at the end of The Lady from Shanghai.

Best Actress: Tura Santana as Varla in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! There is no second place.

Best Actor: Matti Pellonpaa in various things. He's my new favorite actor. But there were a lot of great performances this year: Kumar Pallara in Bottle Rocket, Coogan in Hamlet 2, Crispin Glover in everything he's in, Shintaro Katsu as Zatoichi, Don Knotts in The Private Eyes, Joe Estevez's brilliance in Soultaker, Angus Scrimm's menacing performance as the Tall Man in Phantasm, Bob Dylan in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Slim Pickens in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Michael Bryer as the hippie in Laserblast (his only acting performance), Jean-Paul Belmondo in Le Doulos, Sonny Bono as both man and foliage in Troll, Vincent Price in everything he was in, Bela Lugosi in Bride of the Monster, and Tor Johnson in both Bride and Plan 9. Whew.

Most Magical Movie Moment #11: The wacky training scene from Mr. Freedom. Actually, lots of Mr. Freedom was magical.

Most Magical Movie Moment #12-20: Various amazing and/or impossible shots in I Am Cuba.

A Year of Great Villains: The Great Dictator, Charles Muntz (Christoper Plummer's voice in Up), Shelly Winters in Cleopatra Jones, the Tall Man, Gene Hackman as Lex Luther in Superman IV: The Quest to Make You Hate Superman Movies, the deep voice in Alphaville, the producers of The Cannonball Run, Bill from the Kill Bill movies, Audrey Jr. in The Little Shop of Horrors, the creepy dude in Spoorloos, General Paul Mireau in Paths of Glory, David Cronenburg, the Other Mommy in Coraline, the truck in Spielberg's Duel, the weird children in Village of the Damned, the evil aliens in Plan 9 or Frankenstein Vs. the Space Monster, the sausage makin' farmer in Motel Hell, the religious right in One Nation Under God, A Clockwork Orange's Alex, Cruella Deville in 101 Dalmations, and W. from W.

Worst Movie of the Year: Take your pick from these genuinely bad movies with absolutely no entertainment value: the Rollerball remake, My Name Is Bruce, the exploitative How's Your News, Ghostrider, Zombie Strippers, Monster Squad, Cats and Dogs, Final Justice, The Cannonball Run, Cronenburg's eXistenZ or Crash, Call of the Cthulhu. It was an ugly, ugly year. I'll have to give the title of Worst Movie of the Year to Begotten, mostly because it's a terrible movie but also because a reader insulted me after I wrote about not liking the movie. Congratulations, Begotten. You're the worst piece of crap I subjected myself to this year.

Most Unpleasant Movie Experience of the Year: That honor goes to another "Worst Movie" contender--Zu Warriors. I still can't wash the taste of that one out of my mouth.

Best Worst Movie of the Year (aka The Manos Award): Zaat, Monster-a-Go-Go, Future War, Laserblast, Hobgoblins, Plan 9 from Outer Space, The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues, Werewolf, Attack of the Giant Leeches. Those are all bad movies. Really bad movies. But they were at least entertaining movies. I figured Troll 2 would win the Manos Award without a fight this year, but then I saw It's Alive! and Frankenstein vs. the Space Monster in the same week and they blew me away with their ineptitude. I'm giving the Manos Award to It's Alive! though simply because of the "The End?" at the end of it and the use of an exclamation point in the title.

Best Movies That I Had Never Seen Before of the Year: Lots of contenders

Last Year at Marienbad
Paths of Glory
Le Trou
Bresson's Pickpocket
My Life As a Dog
Cleo from 5 to 7
I Am Cuba
Stray Dog
Man with a Movie Camera
Synecdoche, New York
The Spirit of the Beehive
The Last Laugh
La Jetee
The Adventures of Prince Achmed
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
Blue Angel

But the best new-to-Shane movie of the year is The Color of Pomegranates. That's right, anonymous. Eat it.

Some stats:

My readership increased from 4 1/2 to 5 1/2. Very pleasing.

My most common rating was, once again, 16. I only gave three 19's and three 1's.

Movie I watched the most: Up. And I cried both times.

There were two movies that I started but could not finish.

Average rating (again, assuming my math is correct): 12.6, down a few tenths from last year. I did intentionally watch a lot of terrible movies this year though.

And this isn't a statistic, but I am going to start another blog in 2010 while continuing this one. It's going to be devoted to ice creams. The goal => 365 ice creams in 2010.

Thanks for reading, everybody!

Dementia 13

1963 horror mystery film

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Louise and her husband John are boating. He informs her that according to the will, his death would mean that she wouldn't get any money. Then he conveniently dies. Louise ties on an anchor and hurls his body into the lake. She then writes a letter from John to his mother explaining that he won't be able to visit on the anniversary of his little sister's funeral. She then travels to Ireland to visit the Haloran castle and find out what she can about her husband's family. It turns out that they're really weird.

I was really confused during most of Dementia 13. There's a whole lot going on, the characters' actions don't make a lot of sense, and there are two actresses who look exactly the same. This one has a lot in common with Psycho. It's nowhere near as good though it does have a lot of individual scenes, some stylistic touches, and two pretty blond women who look exactly the same that make it worth watching. It's also worth watching for anybody wanting to see what Francis Ford Coppola was up to before he started doing stuff that made him Francis Ford Coppola. The ax murderin' scenes are very well done although I think it accidentally gives away the murderer too soon. A scene at the beginning where the husband is dumped from the boat and sinks followed by his still functioning radio is also a nice scene. I'm not sure they'll be easy to find, but I'm going to try to find Dementias 1-12 to watch.

Attack of the Giant Leeches

1959 giant thing movie

Rating: 4/20 (Dylan: 2/20; Sarah: 2/20)

Plot: People start disappearing mysteriously in a friendly swampland community. The local law enforcement refuses to believe that it's the result of anything but human foul play, but a game warden named Steve believes there's something else in them waters.

The giant leeches look like floating meat-filled trash bags that somebody has glued some rubber things on. It's not a pretty sight. But I'll admit that I was strangely aroused at the sight of the meat-filled trash bags on top of the hillbilly victims. Who wouldn't be? I'm not sure the trash bags looked anything like leeches. In fact, it seemed like the producers of this thing (Roger Corman and his brother Gene were involved although they didn't direct this--that would be Bernard Kowalski who would go on to direct seven episodes of Knightrider) couldn't decide early on what the monster in the water was as the characters kept calling the thing an octopus or squid. Regardless, they weren't exactly terrifying. More terrifying was the amount of chest hair that Steve the game warden had. It was like the guy was wearing a sweater, and a horrifying sequel to this called Attack of Attack of the Giant Leeches' Steve's Chest Hair should have been made. There's one poorly-edited scene in particular that made this worth popping in. Two characters are rowing around looking for the leeches (which they think are swamp octopii) and one of them says, "Let's look over in them reeds." Then there's a shot of an oar poking at some of them reeds. Then there's a shot of the boat in the middle of the swamp. The characters exchange a few lines and then one of them says, "Let's look over in them reeds" again. Then back to the oar poking at the reeds. It's fantastic editing.

I'm going to try to learn a little something from each movie I watch from now on. Here's what I learned from Attack of the Giant Leeches: Giant leeches are ten times more dangerous when they're wounded. Take that bit of information with you the next time you go camping near a swamp.


2008 animated movie

Rating: 12/20 (Cory: 16/20; Dylan: 8/20; Emma: 18/20; Abbey: 20/20; Olivia: 20/20; Ashley: 20/20)

Plot: A dog named Bolt stars in his own action-packed television show about a dog named Bolt. The show's producers keep him believing that he really is protecting his owner Penny in order to make the dog seem like a better actor. Following the shooting of a cliffhanger in which Penny is captured, a series of circumstances result in Bolt being shipped to New York. He has to travel to Hollywood to find and save Penny. A kitty and an obnoxious hamster help him.

Randy "The Macho Man" Savage plays "Thug" in this one. Last I heard from him, he was shilling beef jerky and calling out Hulk Hogan on a rap album, probably with his eye on a future Wrestlemania rivalry match. Maybe that's his goal here, too. "Hulk's got his own reality show? I'll do voice work for a cute animated Disney movie about a dog. How you like that, Hulk? Ooooooh yeeeeaaaah!" Randy "The Macho Man" Savage has had his head slammed into far too many turnbuckles to know where he's at most of the time, but even he could watch Bolt and know exactly what's going to happen. "Is Bolt predictable? Ooooooh yeeeaaaaah!" He'd also tell you that some of the characters work (the title character's fine, the cat's fine, the pigeons are great) while the bulk of them are either stock characters (the agent, Penny) or really annoying (the hamster, the other pigeons). Randy "The Macho Man" Savage probably chuckled a little while watching this. Some of the gags involving the dog thinking he's got superpowers when he actually doesn't work well enough in the first half of the movie. Maybe he even spat half-masticated Slim Jims into his lap. But the movie falls apart in the second half when it tries to pull your heartstrings until they ache and throw two too many action sequences at you. Bolt isn't horrible, but it's a color-by-numbers animated feature that I'll more than likely see with another name in a couple years.

Bolt trivia: Did you know that Randy "The Macho Man" Savage, star of Bolt, was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team in 1971? He was a catcher.

The Terror

1963 terrorble movie

Rating: 8/20

Plot: French officer Andre Duvalier wanders lost on a beach. He spots cleavage and tries to chase it down. "Come back here, cleavage!" he screams. Then a bird attacks him. He eventually loses the woman and finds himself in an old lady's house with (Warning: Here comes some terror!) THE SAME BIRD THAT ATTACKED HIM. She tells him of a castle with the Baron So-and-So in it, and he decides to go there to look for the woman. Then, there's all kinds of terror. And then there's even more terror!

It's really not hard to believe that this was written and shot in just four days using the same set as the just-finished The Raven. Actually, it is hard to believe that this was written at all. It's almost completely incomprehensible, almost more the story of Jack Nicholson drowning in a gigantic cauldron of plotless sludge than anything else. It's also hard to believe that it took not only Roger Corman but four other directors (including Coppola and Bogdanovich) to complete this mess. But perhaps that's why it's the mess that it is. This lacks the atmosphere of the Poe movies, and although Nicholson is pretty good (and fun to watch as he's starting to discover his voice), Karloff looks bored and confused in his scenes. The shocking finale, involving a bunch of water and a character who slowly turns into what I believe is chocolate pudding, is a laugher, but it's not worth sitting through the rest of the boring seventy-some minutes to get to it. The lesson we can take from The Terror? I think it's that you have to write the movie before you shoot it.

The Screaming Skull

1958 horror movie

Rating: 3/20

Plot: Eric remarries following the accidental but suspicious skull-bashing and drowning death of his wife. He removes the furniture from the home, I think because it reminds him of his first wife, but leaves a painting of her and builds an elaborately silly grave for her. And he keeps the peacocks. Oh, and he apparently keeps his wife's skull. He also keeps the gardener, Mickey, who was great friends with the first wife. Once new spouse Jenni moves in, she starts getting creeped out by disappearing peacocks, spontaneously appearing skulls, limping gardeners, and scary sound effects. Has the ghost of the first wife come to haunt the newlyweds or is something more sinister going on? Only the peacocks know the truth.

This opens with a narrator audaciously promising a free casket to anybody who dies of fright while watching The Screaming Skull. Although there's one scene that does effectively create adequate suspense with little more than weird lighting and well-utilized sound effects, there's not much in here that will likely scare anybody to death. The producers probably should have offered a free coffin to anybody who was bored to death instead. There are parts of this that reminded me of Manos which, depending on your taste for movies that are both terrible and entertaining, could be both a good and bad thing. The music is similar to Manos, the plot makes about as much sense, and you get the impression that this might have been made by somebody with mental problems. There's also the character of the Mickey the halfwit gardener played by the director Alex Nichol in a performance that can only be described as Torgo-esque. It's a great character and a terrific performance. Goofiness abounds as a multitude of skulls float around and attack characters during an exciting denouement. There's also a ridiculous ghost that falls apart after it's hit by a thrown chair. It was terrifying. In fact, I think I almost died during that scene.

Julie and Julia

2009 duo-biopic

Rating: 13/20 (Jen: 16/20; Becky: 18/20; Tom: 8/20)

Plot: An extremely whiny wannabe writer named Julie moves to Queens with her supportive and loving husband. She hates her friends and her job and doesn't understand why nobody else thinks she's the most important person on the planet. Since all egomaniacal whiny wannabe writers wind up starting blogs, she decides to start her own, a three hundred and sixty-five day adventure in which she'll cook all five hundred and some recipes in the Julia Child cookbook. Her irritating story is juxtaposed with Julia Child's life with her own supportive and loving husband and her developing interest in cooking. The two meet, and the bitter elderly Julia Child (***spoiler alert***) defeats Julie in an epic fight with utensils and rolling pins and then forces her husband to watch as she debones her and devours her lifeless carcass while giggling madly through blood-stained false teeth.

I would have really liked this if it was just called Julia. Meryl Streep is great in her portrayal of the quirky and fascinating Childs. There's some humorous banter between her and her husband, and there are also some very touching moments as well. When the movie focused on Julia Childs, this was actually good. Unfortunately, there's a Julie in the story, too. She wrote the blog, she turned the blog into the book, and the book and blog gave her the easy fame she longed for. If the character in the movie is anything like the real person, as I suspect is the case, then the real person is irritating, pretentious, and hopelessly self-centered. The most revealing part of her story is when she finds out that Julia Childs hates her. It was easy to see why. Almost everything she says is irritating, and every minute detail of her life is blown up into a major drama. As my faithful readers know, I'm not generally a hateful fellow, but I genuinely hope that people start randomly attacking her with food at all her future speaking engagements. Julie is played by the mousy Amy Adams, sort of a Meg Ryan lite. And it's hard to imagine an actress lighter and fluffier than Meg Ryan. This is the type of role that will likely cause me to never give her a fair chance in another movie. Actually, her annoying character in this might cause me to completely avoid any future Amy Adams movies unless Crispin Glover or Vincent Price happens to be in them as well. So, to sum it all up: Meryl Streep is great. Somebody needs to slap around Julie Powell. Oh, one final note. If you watch this hoping to see a Julia Child sex scene, expect to be disappointed. Close counts only in horseshoes and hand grenades and not in Julia Child sex scenes.

The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues

1955 B-horror sci-fi flick

Rating: 4/20

Plot: There are mysterious happenings near the beachside campus of a two-room oceanography university. The government sends two men--an FBI guy and a scientist--to run around the beach in their suits and try to figure out what's going on. And what's going on? It's hard to tell. There's a guy shooting harpoons at people. There's a dopey-looking man-sized monster bobbing around and occasionally groping unsuspecting swimmers and boaters. There's a mysterious beam of radioactivity. And a suspicious guy with a suspicious mustache.

This is the second dopiest rubber monster I've seen all year, I think, second only to the similar thing that shuffled through the dreadful Zaat. The scariest thing about this movie and its monster was actually that the "phantom" sort of looked like Jar-Jar Binks in some shots, and I thought I was accidentally watching a film about Gungans. The plot for this one wasn't easy to follow, probably because it didn't interest me enough to even care but also because the characters' motivations weren't always clear. There were double crosses all over the place, but I wasn't always sure who was being crossed. There are some unintentionally humorous bits, mostly because of Wood-esque dialogue and the monster effects, but this is the type of movie that I will forget that I watched in a couple days.

The Little Shop of Horrors

1960 black comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Poor clumsy Seymour is about to lose his job at a little shop of flowers owned by Gravis Mushnick. That wouldn't be good because he's got to take care of his mother and Audrey, the woman he loves, works there. In his spare time at home, he is nurturing a flower of his own that he brings into the shop with the hope that Mushnick won't get rid of him. Mushnick's intrigued because a customer who comes in to devour flowers tells him it's intriguing, and Seymour gets a week to see what he can do with the plant. Seymour soon learns that the only way to make the plant, which he names Audrey Junior, grow is to feed it humans. Oh, snap!

This was notoriously shot in just two days. That's evident, but not necessarily in a bad way. The participants look like they're having fun, and the production, although cheap and dirty, has a free and lackadaisical quality that makes it fun for the audience. The central idea is about as weird as it gets, but the dialogue is filled with some really bizarre bits of black, absurdist humor. At times, the dialogue almost seems like something from a Marx Brothers movie. The acting's as bad as you'd expect from actors who are only given a single take, but again, that sort of adds to the fun. Jack Nicholson has a small, and really utterly pointless, role as masochistic dental patient Wilbur Force that's also fun to watch and arguably better than anything he's done in the last ten years. It's not hard to see how somebody could watch this and not think, "Man, this would be really great as a musical!" The movie's also got a nice message although you really feel sorry for Seymour at the end. Another thing I like (and another Marx-ish [not Marxist] touch) are the odd character names: Burson Fouch, Siddie Shiva, Hortense Feutchwanger, Frank Stoolie, Dr. Foebus Farb.


2003 Christmas comedy

Rating: 10/20 (Dylan: 6/20; Emma 2/20; Random Guy Sitting Next to Me on the Plane: 14/20)

Plot: Orphan Buddy, intrigued by Santa's sack, crawls in while the jolly old elf is busying himself under the orphanage Christmas tree and is dashed away to the North Pole. He's adopted by Papa Elf and tries his best to make toys and perform other elf tasks, but it becomes obvious to him, because of his size and lack of elf skills, that he isn't an elf. He decides to travel to New York City and find his real father.

As a displaced-person-trying-comically-to-adapt-to-his-new-surroundings comedy (i.e. Crocodile Dundee, the television series Perfect Strangers, and seemingly anything with Pauly Shore in it), this is an original and humorous idea, and I suppose Will Ferrell is the perfect man to fit those tights. Unfortunately, not much of the actual writing is original. This is as predictable as it gets. I understand that it really has to be--it's a Christmas story and it's got to have a happy ending where the elf man gets the girl, the grouchy guy becomes a better father, and Christmas is saved--but it really makes everything way too light and fluffy. Like all Will Ferrell movies, a handful of the material works and brings, at the very least, a grin while the majority of the jokes and slapstick moments and quotables make you wonder not only why you continue watching the movie but why you even should go on living. The second half of the movie is especially cringe-worthy. You frolic along with Buddy through an exposition, and then it feels like somebody, probably James Caan, has kidnapped you, put you in a sleigh, and crashed through a candy cane forest to hurry toward an action-packed climax. Dizzying! You watch because you want to checkmark your list of predictions and because you're on an airplane and have nothing better to do. At least this wasn't as bad as the worst movie I've seen on an airplane--The Polar Express--which I still suspect was part of some ingenious terrorist attack. The one question I'm left with after watching Elf: Was Bob Newhart embarrassed after his participation in this movie?

Batman: The Movie

1966 superhero movie

Rating: 14/20 (Jen: 16/20)

Plot: Batman and Robin must save the world from four brilliant villains--the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler, and Catwoman. That's right. Not just one villain. Not even just two or three. Four villains! And not just Gotham City. Not just America. The entire world!

Best Batman movie ever made or, as anonymous says, "the energizer bunny of bad movies"? Is Adam West's performance the greatest performance in any Batman movie? And is the shark attack scene the most thrilling action sequence in Batman movie history? Discuss.


1988 psychological thriller

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Two lovebirds, Rex and Saskia, are on holiday in France to do some cycling and bickering. While at a gas station, Saskia is abducted by a sociopath professor. Rex obsesses for the next three years, eventually getting the attention of Raymond, the abductor. They meet, and Raymond promises Rex that he'll give him the details of what happened to his girlfriend if he travels to France with him.

It took me a while for me to understand what's good about this. The music sickened me, and visually, it resembled something produced cheaply for television. Saskia blah-blah-blahed about some dumb dream, and they got gas several times. I had gas, too. I was beginning to lose my patience, wondering if this would remain as exciting as a road trip with people you don't necessarily like to talk to. Gradually, however, this got its hooks in me, and I was drawn into the mystery of the story and the passions/obsessions of both Rex and Raymond. And when Raymond begins detailing for Rex, I was completely captivated. It's impossible not to share Rex's plight from the moment he meets Raymond until the end of the movie. I got used to the bad music and 80s look of the movie. What was more difficult to get used to was the genuine feeling of unease Spoorloos gives you.

This Is Not a Test

1962 Cold War movie

Rating: 4/20

Plot: A deputy sheriff is ordered to set up a roadblock in order to catch an escaped convict. Within five minutes, about fifteen people have gathered. Nobody new shows up in the next half an hour though. While the travellers are waiting, news comes that an atomic bomb is on its way. They deal with the situation in various ways until finally the sheriff thinks of a brilliant plan to save their lives--getting inside a truck trailer. Those are bomb proof, right?

I really wish this would have been a test. A more accurate title for this movie would probably be This Is Not a Movie You Want to Watch. Or maybe This Is Not Worth Your Time. Or This Is Not Professionally Made. To be completely fair, this does have a good premise. It's also got a great scene where an angry crazy guy starts slamming chickens on the ground. Unfortunately, once the situation is set up, there's not a single thing that happens (other than the guy throwing the chickens) that I cared about. Terrible performances abound. I would be really surprised to find out that this movie took more than two nights to make--one night to write and one night of shooting. Supporting that idea is the "ending" to This Is Not a Good Enough Plot for an Entire Movie. I'm less frustrated with the indeterminacy and more frustrated with the three characters who ran off with a new plan for survival and were never heard from again. It's almost like they weren't able to finish the movie. This should be remade with a terrorist attack plot. And puppets.

Christmas on Mars

2008 psychedelic Christmas movie

Rating: 10/20

Plot: A space station floats above Mars on Christmas Eve. Things aren't going well on the space station--supplies are running low, morale is low, there's a bit of cabin fever, and the guy hired to dress up as Santa Claus has gone crazy and committed suicide. They take on a guest, a mute alien, and try to avoid catastrophe.

To say this isn't for everybody is an understatement. It'll attract a certain crowd though--people with a good supply of hallucinogens and holiday cheer. I was impressed with the shoestring budget set design. This was made over an eight year period in the backyard of Flaming Lips' frontman Wayne Coyne. It's definitely a case where the creative minds involve manage to overcome the problem of limited finances to put together some visuals that are really cool. A lot of the sets were put together seemingly with dollar store purchases and household appliances. The pacing is very deliberate, the story is freaky, and the effects are trippy-dippy. Shades of Solaris are within, but this reminded me a whole lot of The American Astronaut and Dark Star. With some Eraserhead mixed in. And maybe a pinch of It's a Wonderful Life. Some of this was pretty funny and a lot of this was really pretty, but there was really nothing to latch on to. The acting is also about as bad as acting gets, and the characters don't have enough substance to make them matter. The dialogue is really poorly written, clunky and unnatural. There are definitely way too many words in this; it would have been a lot better if it had as many as 2001. This is a movie that is fun because it doesn't take itself seriously at all while at the same time being a movie that would have benefited from taking itself a little more seriously.

Bonus points awarded for a scene with a marching band that had female genitalia for heads.

Whatever Works

2009 comedy

Rating: 7/20 (Jen: 3/20)

Plot: Boris is a curmudgeon, a misanthropic former near-Nobel winning physicist who lives alone in a messy apartment following his divorce. A cute runaway from the South winds up on his doorstep. She needs food and shelter, and he decides to help. They sort of fall in love. Then a bunch of other things happen, none of them the least bit funny.

I like Larry David. I really do. So I was pretty excited when I read that he was making a film with Woody Allen. I thought it would be a perfect hilarious storm of neuroses. But oh, Woody. This is a stinker. I'm not going to blame Larry David, although he should have probably read the script and decided on his own, "I better turn this down. I don't think I can convince anybody that I'm a genius. Heck, I don't even think I can convince anybody that I'm an actor." Ninety minutes of movie and my wife and I didn't laugh a single time. That would have been fine if it was clever or sly or witty or something instead, but it wasn't any of those things. It almost seemed like Woody Allen completely lost interest in this movie and decided to rush to an ending, completely ignoring reasonable character development or logic. There's also an annoying breaking-of-the-fourth-wall thing where Larry David's character talks to the audience. It doesn't work. In fact, nothing in Whatever Works works. I should have watched a few episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm instead.

Language arts teacher gripe: At one point in the movie, the genius corrects another character's grammar, saying that she used an objective pronoun (us) when she should have used the subjective pronoun (we). Unfortunately for the genius (and for Woody Allen), he was wrong! It was a hypercorrection and dropped this thing another point for me.

House of Usher

1960 Poe adaptation

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Another nondescript dude arrives at another creepy mansion, this one dilapidated and encircled by a misty swamp and dead foliage. This time, the nondescript dude has come to retrieve Madeline Usher, a gal he met in a night club in Boston. The nondescript dude is desperate, refusing to take no for an answer. Unfortunately, ghastly older brother Roderick Usher doesn't want his little sister going anywhere because the family is cursed. Roderick believes to end the bloodline of debauchery, perversion, and violence, he and his sister must die without producing any more Ushers.

The first of Corman's Poe adaptations, House's got a literate script from Richard Matheson, music by Lex Baxter, a monochromatic dream sequence, burying alive, and the greatest actor of all time in common with The Pit and the Pendulum. That would be the incomparable Vincent Price in case you don't know anything about movies. It's not quite as good as The Pit and the Pendulum, but I'm still amazed at Corman's ability to do a whole lot with little time and not much money. Corman's so good at creating mood through setting imagery. Here, you get gnarled tortured trees and a relentless fog to set the mood. The first shot of the house is electric. The denouement for House of Usher is powerful and intensely scary even though the demise of the house is the silliest thing I've seen since Village of the Damned. No, wait. It's sillier. My favorite thing about this one (other than the white-haired Vincent Price, of course) might be the paintings of the Usher ancestors that hang on the walls. That is one attractive family tree!


1959 pickpocket movie

Rating: 17/20

Plot: You can pick your friends. You can pick your nose. But you can't pick complete strangers pockets. Superman Michel disagrees and gets his thrills lifting cash and wallets from the unsuspecting at race tracks and on trains. His dying mother's nurse is kind of hot and seemingly interested in Michel, but she doesn't have pockets and is therefore of no interest to the titular pickpocket.

So I've seen a few Robert Bresson movies now. They've all been great--intriguing, thought-provoking, auteuristic. They've also all frustrated me because there's always a depth that I feel I'm not reaching, something heavy and spiritual. I've always felt that I needed to see them again to "get" them. Pickpocket is no exception. It's stark and realistic, but it still feels like a fantasy or at the very least a parable. It's a simple story, like Crime and Punishment without an ax, and it makes you wonder if Bresson picked Dostoevsky's pocket. And like Dostoevsky, there's a philosophical density that almost makes your head hurt. It definitely doesn't seem like Bresson, or his pickpocket protagonist, likes the world very much. Bresson uses non-actors in this as well as an almost stubborn refusal to have any style whatsoever. It forces you to focus on the story's fringes--the stone-faced expressions of Michel, the knowing glances of his victims, the opening and closing of doors. There is one terrific montage scene where Michel and his cohorts work together to pick pockets at a train station. Perhaps I need to think about it more, but I'm not sure I like how Pickpocket ended. Maybe that just means I need to see it again.
I've got another recommended Bresson movie coming up soon.

Twisted: A Balloonamentary

2007 documentary

Rating: 10/20

Plot: Balloon twisting enthusiasts meet at Twist and Shout, a balloon art convention. This documentary clumsily tells the stories of eight balloon twisters. They range from dull to barely interesting.

Not a bad subject for a documentary, but this really cheap production didn't do it for me. The stories go all over the place, and there are more than a few times when the filmmakers are guilty of getting just a little too precious, especially when telling the rags-to-latex story of the girl who lived with her mom and sister in the travel trailer or when referring to the death of a legendary balloon twister. Highlights include the gospel balloon twister John Holmes whose professional goal is to have as many video releases as his namesake. And yes, he makes crucified Christs out of balloons and tears up while talking about them. There are also some balloon twisters who create pornographic balloon art. I didn't expect to have to turn this off when one of my daughters came into the room. And there was one woman who not only twisted balloons but who added ventriloquism to the act. She has a six-figure income, and it's hard not to watch her and think about how terrific this country is.

Le Trou

1960 prison break movie

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Four middle class inmates share a French jail cell. They face long sentences and have decided that their only hope is to escape. They've got a wonderfully subtle plan that involves hammering through the floor. Unfortunately, a new guy arrives and they don't know if they can trust him. They do, and together, the men make le trou.

Ahh, I love the prison escape movies. Great Escape, Alcatraz, A Man Escaped, Shawshank, Stalag, Grand Illusion, Papillon, the television show Prison Break. Without question, this one needs to go near the top of the list. Psychologically tense, Le Trou toys with ideas about how movies are supposed to go. Unlike Alcatraz, this seems a little more realistic to me because there's not a recognizable face. That could be because this is French, but I believe Becker used non-actors here. I really did enjoy the audacity and brute force the men use to bust through the floor of their cell, but I also like the tiny details of their plan that are revealed. The pacing allows for you to both appreciate those finer details and feel like you're in there with the hopeful prisoners. I also really liked the character development at the beginning of this. I thought I was going to have trouble keeping the characters apart, but they're developed into separate entities very naturally early on. Le Trou is a prison escape movie that not only thrilled me but one that really hit me in the gut. I felt these characters. And I'm so happy I got to see most of them in their underpants.

This was a winter rates recommendation.

Paths of Glory

1957 war movie

Rating: 18/20

Plot: Some children living in the same neighborhood play an elaborate game of war. They're having a blast until Kenny, the boy playing the general, gets mad because he doesn't think a bunch of the other boys are playing right. "C'mon, fellows! You're supposed to do what I say because I'm the general." The war game eventually falls apart when Walter's dad comes outside and yells at all the kids for digging giant trenches in his back yard and blowing up a birdhouse. Walter's punished. Two other boys are also punished for ruining good school clothes. Later, the boys stop playing war and begin lusting after women instead.

I'm not sure why I always avoided this movie. It's probably because I don't usually like war movies. This one is pretty close to perfect though, an early Kubrick work that unflamboyantly shows off his virtuosity. The battle scene, with an impressive long tracking shot, is wonderfully realistic and tense, and the court martial scene, the climactic scene with the three scapegoats, and the gripping finale are all memorable. There's also an underlying gray humor, most obvious in the cockroach scene but also in the irony and absurdities of these characters make. The general himself, a non-comic performance (contrast to the characters in Strangelove) by George Macready, makes a great villain, ironically the only real enemy in this war movie since you don't ever get to see the soldiers on the ant hill. I love how Kubrick shows his shallowness and heartless egotism in the simple scene where he's conversing with the soldiers in the trenches. Thematically solid, this succinct near-masterpiece has great emotional and philosophical depth. Powerful shiznit.

Recommended by Cory.

Masters of Russian Animation Volume VII

1997 compilation

Rating: n/r

Plot: Three stop-animators and four pieces by Andrei Khrjanovsky.

I likely picked this up for the stop-animation, but I was bored by those three shorts. Michail Kamanetsky's "Wolf and Calf" and Vadim Kurchevsky's "My Green Crocodile" are both kiddie works with cute talking animals and bright colors. Nikolai Serebryakov's "Ball of Wool" is more of an animated fable for adults about greed. They're fine, but they're nothing I really care to ever think about again. It is likely the only time a movie will make me wonder what a sex scene between a crocodile and a cow would look like though. The four Khrjanovksy works are fantastic though. "There Lived Kozyavin" is a brutally absurd look at the work of an office peon who faithfully follows his boss's order to "Look for Sidrow" and winds up circling the globe. "Armoire" has the same sort of surreal imagery and subtle humor. Things get wackier with "King's Sandwich," a playful short with bizarre contraptions and grotesque characters that reminded me a lot of Sylvain Chomet's characters in Belleville. The real treat in this volume is "Glass Harmonica" in which Khrjanovsky plunders images from easily recognized works of art. It's the language of Dali's wet dreams and as hilarious as Bosch's The Last Judgement. I was left wondering how Mr. Khrjanovsky got away with all of this subversive art working in the Soviet Union. The twenty minutes that make up "Glass Harmonica" are the best animated twenty minutes I've seen in a long time.

The Pit and the Pendulum

1961 Poe adaptation

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Some nondescript Frenchman travels to Spain to a castle where his sister has died under, what he believes is, mysterious circumstances. His sister's husband Nicholas Medina, the son of a torturin' man, and his sister try to convince him otherwise, but strange goings-on and half-truths only cause the mystery to grow.

One of many Roger Corman "Poe" movies. This has a style and a subtle edge that really makes it an effective horror movie. Vincent Price is about perfect as Nicholas, acting circles around his co-stars. There's a quiet psychosis with the character; he's calm but there are demons squeezing through his pores. The interior of the castle makes a great creepy setting, and Lex Baster's score wonderfully compliments. There are some odd, monochromatic washed-out flashback scenes that I couldn't decide if I liked initially. I eventually decided that I did. The first half of The Pit and the Pendulum is a little slow, but when things roll, they really roll. The finale--the part that has to do with the title--is stunning with its imagery and its twists-and-turns. From the pendulum scene until the breathtaking final shot--great filmmaking.

Bride of the Monster

1955 horror movie

Rating: 6/20

Plot: Dr. Eric Varnoff, expelled from his own homeland, experiments with radiation in order to create a race of superhumans who will do his bidding. He's got rotund Lobo and a rubber octopus to help him with his evil plans. A newspaper reporter tries to uncover his secrets.

There's a lot wrong with this movie. There's typically Woodian embarrassing writing, a lack of variety in the sets, and some really goofy special-ed effects. The much-maligned rubber octopus really is ridiculous. At one point in the movie, a guy falls on top of the octopus and sort of flails around, occasionally picking up a tentacle himself to simulate an attack. Then he actually gets up for a little bit only to fall down on top of the octopus again. The story's ludicrous, just barely making enough sense to qualify as a plot. However, Wood-regular Tor Johnson is a menacing presence, and Bela Lugosi, in his final speaking role, is brilliant. His performance alternates between creepy and powerful and strangely touching. He should have won an Academy Award for this. It's his performance that actually makes this a real movie. No, it's not enough of a real movie to fool anybody into thinking it's actually good. People are still only going to enjoy this because of the complete ineptitude, but it's not nearly the travesty that some of Wood's other movies are.

Killer octopus! Oh, no! I just picked up its tentacle and put it on top of myself again! Somebody help me!

The Aristocrats

2005 dirty joke

Rating: 12/20

Plot: An enormous collection of some of the world's funniest people and Bob Saget ruminate a filthy vaudevillian joke.

This would have been a lot better if it was about half as long. If nothing else, it helps me discover that I don't think I like comedians very much. The interviews with the comedians are edited to make this into a pissing contest. There's also this vertigo-inducing thing going on where you get rapid quick-cuts of the comedians telling the joke from multiple angles, I guess so the producers can show off the fact that they had more than one camera. I never figured out why that was necessary. There's nothing especially clever about any of this, but it does have a lot of very funny moments and gives a glimpse of the inner workings of how funny people make the funny. Overall, it's not as outrageous as it wants to be and in no way succeeds in being as funny as it thinks it is for ninety minutes. It's definitely not for everybody although there is one scene that I doubt anybody could watch without uttering, "My God! This is the greatest thing ever filmed!" That's right--I'm referring to the scene where the mime delivers his version of the joke. That was comedy gold.

Plan 9 from Outer Space

1959 B-movie

Rating: 2/20

Plot: The first eight plans didn't work, so aliens (from outer space) try a ninth plan to contact humans (on earth) and attempt to stop them from building some sort of super-weapon capable of destroying the entire universe. Plan nine involves resurrecting the dead and having them move about a really lame graveyard set very slowly. Some brave police officers and a handsome airline pilot try to get to to bottom of things and put a stop to. . .plan nine from outer space!

Contrary to what Seinfeld things, this isn't the worst movie ever made. It is a really entertaining B-movie with everything a B-movie buff would want in a crappy movie--crummy repetitious sets, atrocious dialogue, visible wires, actors who die and need to be replaced by shorter actors who don't look all that similar, actors who seem too confused by what they're supposed to say to deliver their lines well, continuity errors galore. For me, it's hard to separate this movie from the other immortal works of Ed Wood Jr. Together, they're an amazing display of ineptitude. This one's special because it's Bela Lugosi's final screen appearance and because somehow some iconic imagery (Vampira or The Beast of Yucca Flats' Tor Johnson menacingly penetrating gray fog as they approach the camera) sneaks in. It's also got Criswell's enigmatic narration, another thing that links this to Yucca Flats. But really, it's that dialogue that stands out and makes this the classic that it is. At times, it seems like it's written by a person who has never actually heard human beings communicate. As bad as this movie is, you've got to credit Wood for making something that is impossible to forget and likely a film that will be enjoyed for another 50 years.

American Psycho

2000 satirical shocker

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Patrick Bateman, a Wall Street big shot, enjoys a luxurious lifestyle, sipping rich people things, living it up in rich people places, and enjoying pretentious conversations with his big shot buddies. His nights, however, are filled with sexual depravity and murderous excursions. It's the American dream!

OK, I'm willing to admit that there's a possible Christian Bale bias at play here. He's not actually my problem with this movie though. I just don't think it adds up to anything. As a black comedy, a lot of the over-the-top dialogue and plastic imagery in the first quarter of the film works pretty well. Gradually though, it just feels like somebody's tried to beat an idea into my head. The violence becomes distracting, the sex becomes even more distracting, and after the first twenty minutes when the movie's already shot its wad, there's no place for this to go. It's the type of movie with a nasty habit, a need to continually remind you how mischievously clever it is, a movie with a too-wide grin and hands perpetually rubbing together, a movie that can't stop patting itself on the back. It's also a movie that insults the intelligence of its audience, the type of ultra-modern film that substitutes thoughtfulness and depth for this really glossy provocation. That's why I didn't like American Psycho. Or maybe it's just Christian Bale.

The Phantom Tollbooth

1970 Chuck Jones cartoon

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Bored youngster Milo is tired of spending all his time moaning and groaning about having nothing to do. So he does what any youngster would do in the late-1960s--he experiments with hallucinogenic drugs. The hallucinations began almost immediately. A tollbooth, actually a phantom one, materializes, and

It's a dull bad trip in a dull movie. I had high enough expectations--I like Tom and Jerry and I remember the novel fondly as kind of a poor man's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland with a boy Alice. But the late-60s/early-70s seem like the dark ages for animation. This is dated and boring, and although there's some imaginative characters and settings, it's just all so sluggish and silly. Blandly creative or maybe creatively bland. The voice work doesn't work, bad plays-on-words really stand out, and I hate the kid, both the flesh and blood and animated versions. And those songs! There must have been a rule during the dark ages of animation that all animated features were required to have really bad songs. I don't know who did the songs for this, but I'm sure he left it off his resume. I'd much rather watch a couple hours of Tom and Jerry cartoons than this. Unless they're the ones with the little gray diapered mouse (Jerry's cousin?). I hated that character. This, by the way, was a cartoon that Abbey couldn't even finish watching. She also likes Tom and Jerry.

A Christmas Story

1983 Christmas comedy

Rating: 15/20

Plot: In the fictional town of Hohman, Indiana, in the fictional 1940s, little Ralphie waits for Christmas and dreams of Santa Claus bringing him a BB gun even though his parents, his teacher, and even Santa warns him that he'll shoot his eyes out. Meanwhile, he deals with bullies, listens to the radio, watches his parents' passive-aggressive battles concerning a lewd lamp, hangs out with his friends, and curses.

I hadn't seen this in a while and completely forgot that it takes place in Indiana. Is it insanely popular in the rest of America (or, just the middle part of America) or is this strictly a Hoosier thing? I don't think this is uproariously funny, more mildly humorous and nostalgic, but it's quotable, has a couple scenes that could accurately be labeled as holiday movie classics, and is a rare example of a movie with heavy narration that actually works. I really like the goofy kid, played by Peter Billingsley, and I think the rapport between his parents works really well. Nice, subtle period details add to the flavor and make this one fit just like a comfortable shoe. I guess that's why people like it so much.

Danielson: a Family Movie (or, Make a Joyful Noise HERE)

2006 Christian rock 'n' roll documentary

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Chronicles the creative life and work of the Smith family who perform as the Danielson family, from the early days in which principal songwriter Daniel Smith forms the group with his siblings--performing in nurse and tree costumes--to when life takes the members of the group their separate ways. Sufjan Stevens and his stupid hat are also all over this.

Enjoyable enough glimpse at a very creative mind. At times, it seems like Brother Danielson is knocking on the door of wherever the hell Brian Wilson and Daniel Johnston reside. In fact, Daniel Johnston's actually in this. But it's clearly a case of the music and appearances being stranger than the reality as the family seem really grounded and live completely normal lives. The documentary is structured in a frustrating way, and there are some scenes or performances that went on too long. I also could have done with less Sufjan Stevens, probably because his hat was really really silly. I would have been interested in seeing more reactions to this from the Christian community since it seems that a large percentage of their fans are non-religious. I loved the Danielson's music the first time I heard it, but I assume it would be absolutely grating for most people--it's rhythmically bizarre and Smith sings in a strained falsetto. I also have to assume that large parts of this documentary would be grating to most people. There's a lot of concert footage, rehearsal stuff, and recording scenes. But sprinkled in with all that is a look at a loving family with an amazing creative energy, a positive message about being true to yourself, and an insightful peek at the creative process. It's worth a look for anybody with a tolerance for music a little left of the dial.

Note: Smith watches and discusses the documentary Salesman, a movie I enjoyed some time last year.

The Cincinnati Kid

1965 poker movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: The kid's the best five-card stud player in town. He knows it and everybody else knows it. But he can't become The Man until he beats The Man, the venerable Lancey Howard. He gets his chance when The Man rolls into town with his big bankroll. The kid's pal The Shooter, recognized as one of the best and most trustworthy dealers in the business, sets up the game, but breasts, betrayal, and bad beats might stand in the way of him reaching his top.

When the cards are a-flyin', this is a terrific poker movie, probably the best I've seen, with realistic tension, great character acting, and a real understanding of how the game works. The women are beautiful (Tuesday Weld and Ann Margret if you're keeping score) and the men are cool. The smoke-strangled hotel rooms and oily dives serving as the setting for the poker games set a mood and the camera work brings the audience right into the heart of the game. It's good stuff. In fact, there's so much goood poker in this that it might be a turn-off to people who don't know the game. For me, there might be a bit too much going on between hands, but I do like how some of the side plots, namely Shooter's financial struggles and tension with his flirtatious wife, work their way into the picture's central themes. Steve McQueen and Edward G. Robinson are both great in this, complimenting each other well as rivals with enormous respect for one another. Really, the performances in this are great from top to bottom.


2009 comedy

Rating: 16/20

Rating: Fashion klutz Bruno gets himself fired from his Austrian television style show. He decides to move to Los Angeles with the hope of becoming internationally famous. Inspired by America's finest and famous, he attempts to make connections, adopt African babies, and find a cause to support. Eventually, he even tries, with the aid of some friendly Christians, to cure himself of homosexuality.

The scenes that nearly had me on the floor: the interview with Mariah Carey*, the focus group watching his television show and interview with Harrison Ford, the casting call for babies to pose for pictures with his adopted son, the lessons on how to defend yourself against a homosexual, the hunting scenes. It's impossible not to compare this with Borat. Personally, I think it's better. There's no goofily pointless Pam Anderson plot, and there are less scenes that either don't work or go on far too long. Bruno's story does parallel Borat's quite a bit, and at times, the gross-out or potty-mouthed stuff seems like it came from a mind belonging to a man who was working too hard to top himself. But I was entertained from start to finish although I can't remember a time when I felt as uncomfortable while being entertained. This also works satirically, and it takes a special kind of talent to make something that is simultaneously incredibly stupid and profoundly witty at the same time. Bruno was easily my least favorite Ali G Show character, but I really liked what Cohen did with the character in this movie. Once again, I feel that Cohen should be in discussion for "best actor" awards. His comic timing, the physical comedy, and his ability to create this absolutely ridiculous character that becomes so real are awesome. I don't understand how he can do this stuff without breaking character and bursting into laughter, and I also don't understand how he did some of this without being killed. The guy who plays the assistant (Lutz) is a bit overshadowed, but he also does an amazing job.

I will watch this with the commentary now.

*Ya know, they're really all interchangeable. Apparently, it was Paula Abdul, not Mariah Carey. My apologies to both divas.

Motel Hell

1980 horror comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: "It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent's fritters." That slogan right there should turn any carnivore off Farmer Vincent's pork products. The sausage man sets up booby traps in order to kidnap travellers. He and his sister then bury them up to their heads in his garden and surgically remove their vocal cords. After fattening them up a bit, he is ready to use their flesh as the secret ingredient for his meat products. Yum!

My thoughts during the first fifteen minutes: "This is barely watchable. Why am I watching this crap?"

My thoughts after I figured out that this is a comedy: "This is actually pretty good, a mildly entertaining dark comedy. Cannibalism is always funny!"

My thoughts during a climactic fight scene which I won't spoil for you other than saying there's a chainsaw fight with one of the participants wearing a pig's head like a mask: "If this isn't the greatest thing I've ever seen, then where did this erection come from? Booyah!"

Nope, this one shouldn't have worked, and I fully expected this to be a terrible movie that I could laugh at and then trash here at shane-movies.blogspot.com. But it succeeds in being kinda creepy, and succeeds in being kinda funny, and it succeeds in being really entertaining. There's a completely ludicrous romance subplot and some moments when this gets a little too stupid. It's also called Motel Hell which probably costs it a few rating points automatically. But this was still a pleasant surprise. 1980 was a great year for John Ratzenberger, by the way. Superman II, The Empire Strikes Back, and Motel Hell? Sure they're minuscule parts, but how many other actors get to be in three blockbusters in one year?


1967 English comedy

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Short order cook Stanley Moon has a thing for waitress and co-worker Margaret. Too shy to do anything about it, he decides to take his life. Enter: the Devil, George Spiggott who gives Moon seven wishes in exchange for his soul. Unfortunately for Moon, the devil isn't very trustworthy.

This is very English and therefore not riproaringly hilarious or anything, but the script is very clever and the off-kilter sketches are absurd and fun. Bedazzled is the type of movie that keeps threatening to lose control, teetering on the edge of insanity even, but still somehow seems completely under control or restrained. There are a lot of jokes packed into this script, some so dryly subtle that you'll likely miss them if you're not paying attention or if you're just not very smart. I like both Peter Cook and Dudley Moore as well as the supporting cast. It might be a little dated, and a few of the scenes seem to go on for slightly too long, but it holds up well.


1984 movie with such a dumb title that it shouldn't be nearly as good as it is

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Young Victor (ha ha!) loves his little dog Sparky (ha ha!) and casts him as the lead in homemade monster movies. Until Sparky gets struck and killed by a car that is. Oh, snap! In school the next day, Victor learns that electricity can be used to revive dead animals and decides to try it out with his beloved dog. Frankenweenie!

I never bothered to see this (probably because it's called Frankenweenie) even when I thought Tim Burton was all that back in high school. It's a little too cute and sweet for it to be something I'd typically be in love with, but it's worth watching. It's definitely got shades of Burton's later work with some Nightmare Before Christmas-like imagery in scenes that take place in a pet cemetery and a windmill and some dark and askew humor. The dog's also cute, even with its thick Frankenstein monster stitching and neck bolts. There's some good camera work, some nice crisp black and white cinematography. Apparently, this is being remade as a stop-motion flick.

By the way, I want to make sure everybody knows that I no longer think Tim Burton is all that.

Romance and Cigarettes

2005 musical

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Nick is a married man with three daughters, but Kate Winslet has beautiful red hair and a sexy accent which she uses to say filthy things. So he hits that. Wife Kitty doesn't appreciate the extracurricular banging, and Nick, possibly going through a mid-life crisis, tries to put his life back together. They all sing about it.
This is disappointing as a musical, as a comedy, and as a drama. So much talent was involved here. Gandolfini, Sarandon, Winslet, a small Buscemi part? Even Christopher Walken and Amy Sedaris are in this! Great cast, right? John Turturro's directing, the Coen boys are producing. That's a lot of talented folk, and in bits and pieces, there are definitely likable moments. But as a whole, this fails. The songs (plundered pop tunes) don't work, the characters' motivation is often confusing or nonexistent, the dialogue is insipidly lousy, and once you mentally drain this of its goofy ornamentation, there's barely a plot. Walken might be the best thing about this one as almost everything he does is funny. No, wait. It's the poster!

The Rookie

2002 Disney movie

Rating: 10/20

Plot: Jim Morris's dream of pitching in the major leagues ended because of a shoulder injury. The injury, aside from making it impossible for him to pitch, also strangely left him with the ability to make only two facial expressions--a kind of disappointed one and a befuddled one. He gets a high school teaching and coaching job and promises his team that if they start winning, he'll try out for a major league baseball team or, as a sort of compromise, try out for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Suddenly, this forty-year old can throw ninety-eight miles per hour, faster than he threw when he was in his twenties. He works his way through the Rays minor league system and makes his debut for the big league club in Arlington. There's a bunch of stuff about his family and his dad in there, too. And he talks on the telephone a lot.

This is a movie that manages to make baseball boring. As well as father/son relationships. And living your dream. It makes that boring, too. I'm pointing my big but slightly drooping foam finger at Dennis Quaid, an actor whose lack of range made it really difficult to for to have any interest in his character or his story. It's too bad because the story of the real Jim Morris is an interesting enough footnote in baseball history. This telling of it, unfortunately, is really sappy. Even George Brett would tell you there's too much pine tar on this bat. By the time you wade through all the dopiness, all the extended conversational treacle, and all the lengthy shots showing Dennis Quaid attempting to make a different facial expression, the interest is gone. With a story that wouldn't be believable if I didn't know it was based on a true story, The Rookie is a typical and painfully average sports movie.

Even George Brett would tell you there's too much pine tar on this bat? I don't like to toot my own proverbial horn, but that's award-worthy shit right there. I should be nominated for. . .well, something.

Jackass Number Two

2006 comedy

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Morons pull pranks and perform stunts, mostly to entertain themselves, it seems.

You know you're in good shape when somebody says, "We have rectal bleeding," within the first ten minutes of the movie. Several chapters involving horse semen, malfunctioning rockets, launched shopping carts, fecal matter, the exposed testicles of the elderly, beer enemas, puking, bull attacks, flying wee men, pubic beards, and death-defying moments later, I had laughed quite a few times and even laughed until tears came once. I should probably feel a little guilty for liking this as much as I did, but I refuse. The mayhem is faster, funnier, and more dangerous than the stuff they did in the first movie (or on the television show, of course), and the beginning scene and ending musical number that bookend the body of this are really well executed. That closing musical number even pays tribute to Hollywood musicals and even Buster Keaton. I was reminded of Keaton quite a bit while watching Jackass Number Two actually. No, I've not yet found the movie in which Keaton's ass or testicles are displayed. With a lot of the stunts, you get exactly what you think you'll get (bike with a rocket being shot into a lake) but there are a lot of set-ups that take the stunt one unexpected step further, giving the audience a second unanticipated punchline. Does all of it work? No. Some of this is hard to watch and not really all that entertaining. But when this hits, it's home run after home run. Brilliant stuff! My favorite scene? Likely the extended terrorist bit near the end.

By the way, watching this made me realize what Tillie's Punctured Romance from 1914 was missing. If the kicking in Tillie's Puncture Romance would have been in the groin instead of directed at the backside, I think it would be considered one of the most influential and uproariously funny comedies of the early 20th century.

Village of the Damned

1960 creepy movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: The small village of Midwich lives a peaceful, damned-free existence. But things change when there's a mysterious blackout during which several of the women are impregnated. Less than nine months later, creepy big-headed blond children with psychic abilities and superior intellect are born. Damn it!

This movie isn't great from beginning to end, but most of it is made up of really great scenes. The stage is set immediately with the blackout and ensuing outsiders-trying-to-figure-things-out scenes. The black and white sudden ghost town, with its circling tractors and wrecked buses and overflowing tubs, is shot soundlessly in a way that creates a genuine unease. Later, you get the creepy children with their cheaply glowing eyeballs, and their vacant stares and monotone voices (although now that I think about it, there might have been only one who spoke) work to set a mood that contemporary directors may have tried to accomplish with overly-stylized shots or top-dollar effects. Of course, the final scene would have benefited from somebody spending a little dough. The finale also seemed a bit quick to me.

Babe: Pig in the City

1998 sequel

Rating: 12/20 (Jen: 7/20; Abbey: 20/20; Emma: 17/20)

Plot: For reasons that are never clear to me, Babe and the farmer's wife have to fly to a city following an accident in which the farmer falls into a well. They stay at a hotel filled with monkeys, kitties, and dogs, and various things happen. Babe has to save the day.

What the hell? Parts of this movie look really cool. The imagery of the imaginary city (like a cross between an American city with its skyscrapers and Venice) works to create this otherworldly feel which places this firmly in fairy tale territories. It's all very pretty. I also like the special effects and animal training that went into bringing these characters to life. Most of the voice work was good (Stephen Wright was a monkey) while a few of the new characters were interesting, probably more interesting than the ones in the first movie which, excluding a couple few, aren't in this much at all. But I had an extremely difficult time following the plot of this thing. More specifically, I had a tough time figuring out why this particular weirdo plot was chosen as a sequel to the much-simpler and sweeter story in the first movie. During the last of what seemed like forty-seven climaxes, I kept thinking about the quiet beauty of the climactic scene in the first movie. It's stunning how different this one is from its predecessor. So while I really did enjoy seeing a lot of what I saw, most of this just didn't sit well. No wonder there wasn't a third one of these. The only logical next-step would be to put Babe in some sort of Dante-esque or Boschian afterlife, and that would be more troubling than seeing the near-drowning of a cute little dog.

Actually, I'm starting the petition. Sign below if you would buy a ticket for Babe: Pig in Hell.

Tillie's Punctured Romance

1914 silent comedy

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Swindling city chap Charlie elopes with farm girl Tillie in order to get at her daddy's money. They move to the city, and Charlie abandons Tillie when she gets into a little bit of trouble. Later, Tillie inherits a large chunk of money from her uncle, and Charlie has to knock her off her feet again.

This is only worth watching for historical reasons if it's worth watching at all. It's the first feature-length comedy and Chaplin's first film. Marie Dressler as Tillie, however, is really the most interesting aspect of the film. There's nothing special about what Chaplin does, the movie isn't funny at all, and it really doesn't even make much sense. Most of the comedy involves the characters kicking each other in the behind. I wish I would have counted the amount of times the characters kicked each other. I bet it was about as much as the average kung-fu movie though. Tillie's Punctured Romance failed to make me laugh; heck, it failed to make me even smile. The Birth of a Nation from 1915 might actually be funnier.

Waiting for Hockney

2008 documentary

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Delusional pencil artist/waiter Billy Pappas works for eight and a half years in his studio (located conveniently in his parents' home) on an insanely detailed sketch of Marilyn Monroe. He has high hopes that he's about to rock the art world and wants artist David Hockney to validate his hard work. Unfortunately, he's got an encouraging entourage.

First off, the picture itself, once the filmmaker finally decides to reveal it, is pretty incredible. I'm not sure about the decision to wait so long for that unveiling. There's so much of a build-up that pretty much anything is going to be underwhelming, but it's still a pretty magical moment once it's unveiled. The eventual meeting with David Hockney, also built-up and highly anticipated, is only shown in photographs and discussed by the eye witnesses. It sort of takes away some of story's spunk. Still, this can be stacked up with a couple fistfuls of other documentaries and fictions about artists and their art and the philosophical questions about what art even is.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeouisie

1972 Bunuel comedy

Rating: 16/20 (Jen: 13/20)

Plot: Six snooty friends try unsuccessfully to have dinner together.

This isn't a hilarious comedy. It's sort of a comedy for people who think the typical Frasier episode is way too wild. It's more funny on an intellectual level, probably funnier for Bunuel himself than anybody else. Well, not anymore since Bunuel is dead. The surreal elements are subdued; there's nothing too goofy here, but characters wander in and out of dreams. I think some of them might even have dreams within other characters' dreams. Puzzling stuff, definitely puzzling enough to frustrate probably anybody who watches this. I really enjoy scratching my head though.

A Night at the Opera

1935 musical comedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Poncho, Lefty, Karl, Stinky, Shifty, Bimbo, Gordo, and Jacko Marx destroy a night at the opera.

When ranking the Marx Brothers movies I've seen, it would be Duck Soup at the top followed by everything else. A Night at the Opera is consistently cited as one of the best if not their very best, and I can understand why. The story is easily the most cohesive, the pacing is much better, and their are some classic bits. I don't think those classic bits are as uproariously hilarious as some of their others, and this one does suffer from that 1930's need for comedies to have endless and bland musical numbers. And while I do always enjoy watching the obligatory Harpo and Chico musical numbers, this one isn't their best. Still, I'm just nitpicking. This is not only a great 1930's comedy, it's (as the poster says) the funniest picture ever made.