Mr. Blandings Builds His Dreamhouse

1948 comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: The Blandings live in a stuffed New York City apartment with not enough bathrooms and not enough closet space. While Mr. Blandings is shaving one day, a thought crosses his mind--he should kill his family for the insurance money. His wife is cheating on him with a 17 year old kid who dresses up like Uncle Sam and waves to people, and his two daughters, he suspects, are secretly plotting his death. The only thing stopping them, he imagines, is that they haven't found a method that will be both clean and excruciating. By the time he's finished shaving, he's abandoned the idea to kill his family and realizes that what the they actually need is a goat. A really good goat. Then he abandons that idea as well (for a while) and decides to buy an old fixer-upper in Connecticut. A house that needs fixed up. Not a goat. Problems with the new house and property arise and snowball, leading to what can only be described as a cliched 1940's Hollywood comedy murder/suicide. R.I.P. Mr. Blandings. R.I.P. goat.

This is one of several movies my father claims is his favorite. It's cute enough and there are some mildly funny moments. I thought the entire subplot involving his suspicions of infidelity were superfluous. If my neck didn't hurt, I'd give this movie a 15.

Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell

1974 feast of blood

Rating: 14/20

Plot: The final confrontation between Itto and the Yagyu clan. He's killed off three sons in previous movies, so the guy with the white beard and eyepatch sends his daughter, a juggler, to take care of business. Dead. Then he remembers that he has another son and attempts to align with him to hunt down and kill the assassin. Dead, dead, dead. Finally, Itto winds up at a ski resort where he must face hundreds of sword-wielding skiers. Spoiler alert: Dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, dead.

Completion of the hexology is about what you'd expect. There's blood, people cut in half, gratuitous breast flashes, swords sticking out the tops of skulls, etc. This episode seems a bit darker at times and then almost slipping into self-parody during the denouement when Lone Wolf is slicing up assassins on skis. Another near-ludicrous bit includes three zombie assassins who have the ability to burrow underground like moles. Weird but it works in these movies. It's too bad this concludes the series, not only because I could sit around watching this stuff all day but also because the ending wasn't quite the satisfying resolution this series deserves. The graphic novel series' ending would have been great to see.

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Dark City

1998 science fiction noir

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Poor guy wakes up in a strange bathtub in a strange bathroom adjacent to a room which happens to contain one murdered hooker. Oh, snap!

I need to see this one again. I don't like Jack Bauer at all in this one, and the ending winds up chaotic and silly. Still, this seems to me to be a better-looking, less-pretentious Matrix. Really impressive is the attention to detail in this imaginative bleak world created.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad

1958 adventure

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Oh, snap! A bald magician with a lust for lamps has turned Sinbad's average-sized girlfriend into a really tiny girlfriend. Sinbad must return to the mysterious island where the giant cyclops lives in order to get a piece of a two-headed bird's egg so that his girlfriend can once again return to normal size. It's adventurous!

Ok, so the story is really goofy. And the acting is about as bad as it gets. But once again, Harryhausen's ingenious effects are there to save the day. A horned cyclops with fuzzy legs, a breathing and tail-swinging dragon, a four-armed green woman, two-headed birds, another swashbuckling skeleton. What more could you want? The film climaxes with a fight between a cyclops and a dragon which, along with the dinosaurs fighting in Gwangli, makes it completely obvious that Harryhausen was just an imaginative little kid who made his playtime available for everybody else to watch. My biggest gripe about this, other than the acting which is truly horrific, is that the genie is played by a little kid when a midget could have easily been substituted. Right up there with Argonauts and maybe even more enjoyable as it has just as many monsters while not being as long.

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium

2007 family film

Rating: 11/20 (Emma: 17/20; Abbey: 19/20; Dylan: Missed 1st 20 minutes and stubbornly refused to rate)

Plot: Approaching 250 years of age and on his last pair of shoes, the title proprietor of a magical toy store is ready to leave the earth. He's passing his legacy to the store's manager, Natalie Portman. But will the departure of Magorium cause the store to lose its wonder? Can a little kid who collects hats and a workaholic accountant help save the store?

There are things I really wanted to like about this. Lots of potential. Unfortunately, it ended up looking like a strangely half-assed production, extremely predictable and trite. I'm most offended by the terrible puns and schmaltz, but there are also some special effects that were just embarrassing. The movie also jars you with whimsical but pointless dopiness butted up against forced poignancy and reflective bits of dialogue. The scene that typifies the movie? Natalie Portman's character laughs at Dustin Hoffman's character as he dances on bubble wrap for approximately twenty minutes. I'm not sure if I'm exaggerating or not, but exaggerating doesn't seem like something I ordinarily do. After that twenty minutes, different music starts up and they have a conversation about death. Then it's time for another scene, probably something involving a monkey, a giant ball, or something that is funny because it's moving around in a way that it shouldn't move around in. There's also a lack of character development that actually distorts the movie's central themes. Natalie Portman's character and the little kid don't grow; the accountant's character changes far too abruptly. I actually was optimistic about this one but it's another one of those films that is not as good as its opening credits. It really reminds me of Jumanji or, especially, the sort-of sequel Space Jumanji, and that is not even close to a good thing.

Horton Hears a Who!

2008 Dr. Seuss adaptation

Rating: 11/20 (Dylan: 8/20; Emma: 16/20; Abbey: 19/20)

Plot: When the obnoxious title elephant hears what he perceives to be a scream from a floating speck, he feels compelled to save whoever made the scream. He discovers that the speck is actually an ultra-microscopic world inhabited by Whos. He decides to move the speck to safety, but standing in his way (for reasons I can't fully comprehend) is a bitchy kangaroo. Meanwhile, on Whoville, the mayor tries to convince everybody that the elephant and their dangers exist.

This is the best screen adaptation of a Dr. Seuss book yet! All that essentially means, however, is that it isn't the equivalent of exhuming Theodore Geisel and urinating freely upon his corpse while standing next to a burning pile of his books which seemed to be the goal of everybody involved in the production of The Cat in the Hat. The main problem with this cartoon is that it is too loud. Just look at the title. Even it has an exclamation point! I have no problem at all with the animation, and in fact, I think this comes a lot closer to capturing the whimsical Dr. Seuss world than the other adaptations, maybe even the classic Grinch cartoon. There was texture, especially in the scenery, and a lot of the background stuff (weird contraptions, sight gags) were fun. Unfortunately, I had to hear it, too. I would have preferred seeing stills and having a narrator (preferably Werner Herzog, but I wouldn't be too picky) read from the book. The added dialogue was rarely worth adding, and the characters (too many, by the way) weren't all that likable. They almost had too much personality. I'm not saying that Jim Carrey and Steve Carell aren't very good at what they do, but I bet having no-name actors voice the roles would have actually helped matters. Or, Crispin Glover could have played all the parts. He wouldn't have overdone it. The movie's also too long at just over 79 minutes. Lots of scenes seemed extraneous, and a musical finale was so dreadful that I pointed to the television and screamed, "You're losing a full point for that, creators of Ice Age!" That probably explains Abbey's rating of 19/20.

By the way, am I the only person on earth who would love to see a full-length feature film version of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish?

Phantom Museums: The Short Films of the Quay Brothers

Animated shorts from '84-'03

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Animated realizations of the nightmares of Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam.

These macabre, surreal miniature epics creep and crawl through the shadows of Joe the Plumber's dank subconscious. Busted puppets are employed to dust off bric-a-brac and twitching baubles, uncovering perversity, fears, obsessions, and things Joe the Plumber will never ever understand. Moody musics (Stockhausen the most known name; some guy named Lech Jankowski does the music for 2/3 of the shorts though) accompany grotesqueries. Strings waver, eggs vibrate, antiquated instruments flutter, and feathers dance. The Quays are brilliant with set design, mostly artistically-designed miniatures in black and white, but the camera work is stunning as it maneuvers delicately through secret places, loses focus, becomes engulfed in shadows, etc. Less comedic (more uneasy) than Svankmajer, seemingly an influence since one of these pieces is named after him, these surreal shorts are abstract spectacles, the works of visionary auteurs. My favorites: "Street of Crocodiles" and "Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies" but also, for sentimental reasons, the videos for rock-and-rollers His Name Is Alive which was my introduction to the Quay world. Recommended for Eraserhead fans.

People my age may recognize this MTV-commissioned short:

The Quay Brothers are likely Youtubable. Check it.

Great World of Sound

2007 dramedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Martin gets a job as a music producer, a sort-of talent scout in charge of locating prospective artists and getting them to fork over some money in exchange for some time in the studio. If it sounds like a shady operation, that's because it is. Clarence, a father of six, is simultaneously hired and trained by Shank (yeah, that sounds like the name of an honest businessman) and becomes Martin's partner. They travel to Birmingham, Louisville, Nashville, and Indianapolis to discover new talents, and even though they make a pretty good team, Martin's conscience starts to get in the way.

I spent much of the movie wondering how the scenes with the "try-outs" (there are lots of them, maybe even too many) looked so natural. I'm guessing the performances were real and the lines from the two leads were improvised. At least two of the auditions had to be written and staged, but the others were surely from actual aspiring musicians/singers who answered some sort of ad. Lots of subtle humor in this, but there's also a heart to the film. As the drama unfolds, it's almost impossible not to empathize with Martin as he struggles with his new job and his relationships. The movie's far from perfect and really falls apart at the end, but I do like the actors who play Martin and especially Clarence a lot and think it's a promising start to Craig Zobel's career as a filmmaker. Unlike with Brown Bunny, I didn't recognize Indianapolis in this one.

High Plains Drifter

1973 weird western

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A mysterious stranger rides into tiny Lago, a town with a checkered past of shadows and whip cracks. He kills a couple three roughies, rapes a woman, and agrees to help the townspeople by protecting them from three guys just released from prison who may have a reason to come and shoot up the place. But it comes at a price--anything the stranger wants. So he makes the midget the sheriff/mayor and paints the entire town red. Hell arrives.

Strange western. With Eastwood in his "Man with no Name" role and little person Billy Curtis, there's almost too much tough guy in this one. The plot is simple enough, but there are layers and a lot, I think, that is open to interpretation. (I have my own theories involving Angels of Death and purgatory.) My favorite tidbit about this is that Eastwood wrote to John Wayne about potentially working with him following the release of this movie. John Wayne apparently hated the violence in High Plains Drifter so much that he wrote a pretty nasty letter back saying he had no desire to work with him. Odd, because the violence doesn't seem especially graphic when compared to earlier Leone or Peckinpah movies. And it may just be my sick mind, but I thought this movie was more comedic than it was violent. I wonder if Wayne would have worked with Billy Curtis. Man, that would have been something.

Burn After Reading

2008 black comedy

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

Plot: Simple-minded Chad and lonely aspiring plastic surgery patient Linda, both employees at a gym, stumble upon a cdr containing the memoirs of the recently-dismissed C.I.A. agent Osbourne Cox. After he rudely turns down their request for a reward, they, thinking what they have is top-secret information, decide to blackmail him. It doesn't work out very well. Caught in the crossfire are Cox's cheating spouse and the womanizing sexaholic with whom she is sleeping. And that, Steve, is how you avoid ending a sentence in a preposition.

This is one you've got to stick with because it sort of grows on you as it builds to some typical Coen moments. Like Lebowski, this is built on well-written and oft-hilarious dialogue (also, parallel or repeated lines are used frequently), but something about it seems a little half-assed, a Coen toss-off, at times even a private joke to which few people will be hip. (There you go again, Steve.) I like the performances although McDormand and Pitt might over-do it a little. The unpredictability goes a long way, and I think the comedy works despite frequently venturing into such dark territory at times that the writing only seems to nudge up against comedy or tiptoe the line between funny and uncomfortable. But shouldn't all good comedy make people uncomfortable?

The Color of Pomegranates

1968 biographic poem

Rating: 19/20

Plot: Sayat Nova was an Armenian troubadour. He was born, had a childhood, read books, saw a nipple and a seashell, touched a chicken, learned the lute, fell in love, dressed in red, dressed in black, reflected, entered a monastery, swam in a river of lambs, moved his hands around, lit candles, and died.

So Parajanov made an even better movie than Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. The fact that I have never seen a movie like this and will never see a movie like this again means something. With no camera movements and no dialogue (not to mention how the "actors" all stare expressionless directly into the camera), this is far from conventional. But it's also the most stunningly original thing I've ever seen. Symbols float in shots that belong on museum walls. Delicately surreal, jaw-dropping, and hypnotic, The Color of Pomegranates sucks you in and spins you, tickles your mind, licks your lungs, strokes your lobes, and sets fire to your genitals (in a good way). This is one of those movies you watch and then say, "I can't believe I just watched that." Can't remember the last time that happened. Actually, after watching this, I can't remember any other movie I've seen. I would not be surprised at all if this is the best movie I see this year.


1994 Svankmajer flick

Rating: 17/20

Plot: See Marlow, Christopher.

This version of the Faust story is a lot funnier than 1920-something silent Murnau version. It's even, arguably, more visually imaginative and fantastically stylized. Arguably. Svankmajer's mix of live action, marionettes (sometimes sans strings), and stop animation creates an off-kilter universe of twitching cobwebs, junk-drawer chicken bones, and closet ash and shadows. And a dude has sex with a seven-foot tall wooden puppet. I know what folks'll say. Folks'll complain that this is too much of an onslaught of the random, too much of that weird-for-the-sake-of-weird type stuff. But I disagree completely and think that this grows with multiple viewings. Surrealist funk that hits you right in the loins! This isn't my favorite Svankmajer movie, but it is my brother's and is probably one of the easier ones to locate.

Things to Come

1936 science fiction movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: In 1940, a second World War breaks out. It's a long, devastating war, one that leaves civilization primitive and plague-ridden, a world of rubble and mist. Zombies and barbarism abound. But not to worry, kids! Science and technology is here to save the day! Let's build a flying machine! Let's dress in silver! To the moon or bust, caveman!

The ideas of H.G. Wells are interesting if not exactly prescient and the special effects and imagery isn't all that dated. The unfortunate thing here is that the movie is so boring. This is great whenever nobody is talking, but it's laughable and silly whenever they do. I think that's likely because the English are mostly laughable and silly and boring. The montages of war-torn society have a modern feel, and the set design (the ravages of war and the futuristic civilization 100 years after the war) look terrific. Too bad there's a story. I reckon this is something that fans of the sci-fi genre should check out even if they won't enjoy it all that much.

Jason and the Argonauts

1963 mythological romp

Rating: 16/20

Plot: All young Jason wants to do in life is put together a slow-pitch softball team that ccan ompete for the national title. What's standing in his way? An addiction to medication for hyperactivity and his own phallic hallucinations. Not having any previous problems with hyperactivity, the medication slows him down significantly as it makes him hypoactive and languid and forces him to pay far too much attention to things, sometimes waiting for days for somebody to finish a story that was already long finished. The hallucinations (a giant phallic bronze statue, harpies, a multi-phallic lizard, a grotesquely lopsided dildo, a talking phallic figurehead) also slow him down in his quest to find softball talent as he's thrown him trembling into the corners of his phallic ship. Can he find a starting pitcher before the big tournament begins?

It's too bad there's so much cheese on the edges of this epic. At the heart, you've got some of Harryhausen's best work. The story is pretty stupid and sprawling with that mythological goofiness. There's not a lot to love when there's not monsters on the screen. I'm not sure this story would even make a lot of sense to anybody without at least some background in mythology. The characters are also wooden, and they aren't helped by trite dialogue. But it's easy enough to forgive that when you've got classic action sequences like when the giant statue guy pops out from behind the mountain or when those skeletons start doing their skeletal thang. Bitchin' stuff! Despite its problems, it's at least as good as anything Peter Jackson's done with the possible exception of Meet the Feebles.

The Circus

1928 comedy

Rating: 17/20 (Emma: 16/20; Abbey: 20/20)

Plot: The Tramp, hungry and broke, waddles onto the grounds of a circus. While checking out the scene, he's mistaken for a pickpocket and chased into the big top by the po-po. The crowd laughs uproariously which inspires the ringleader of the struggling circus to hire him as a clown. He isn't very good at it. He does, however, fall in love with the oft-abused daughter of the circus's owner.

Hmm. I'd always heard this was not a very good movie and that Chaplin himself ignored it completely when writing about his career. My girls and I thought it was hilarious. Lots of great (Keaton-esque) gags--the chase scene, a hall of mirrors, some magic tricks, an irritable horse, a tightrope act, troublesome monkeys, a lazy lion, lots of kicking--and that pathos that's in so many of Chaplin's films. The ending is especially touching although it could be argued that it's very artificial and impossible to buy. If you could only see one silent comedy and have always had a desire to see Charlie Chaplin depantsed by monkeys, this is the flick for you!

One note: When Chaplin's character first meets his love interest, an equestrian, she reveals that she actually is part of the circus. He looks behind him at a poster of a female sword swallower and gets a look in his eyes that suggests he's thinking of something other than swords. It's a cool bit of bawdiness that slipped past. I was really hoping the movie would end with a scene Vincent Gallo could be proud of but was disappointed.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed

1926 (possibly first) full-length animated film

Rating: 18/20

Plot: Based on The Arabian Nights stories. An evil African magician conjures up a flying horse, part of his plan to marry the princess. Prince Achmed is tricked into taking off on the flying horse, and it takes him to China which, apparently, is a land full of demons. There, he falls in love and has numerous adventures including battling the demons in order to save his love interest.

This is stunning and needs to be seen by more people. It goes far beyond the historical value of being (maybe) the first animated feature-length movie. The look is a unique one, the animation of silhouettes on psychedelic backgrounds. It sort of reminds me of shadow puppets, but the details are exquisite and the figures are artistic and creative. It's easy to appreciate the amount of time and care that went into this. By far the best animated movie I've seen with the character Aladdin.

The Valley of the Gwangli

1969 dinosaur western

Rating: 15/20 (Abbey: 20/20)

Plot: Somewhere just south of the Rio Grande, a cowboy circus manages to procure a special new attraction--a miniature prehistoric horse called an eohippus. Female cowgirl/circus performer T.J., whose act jumping with a horse into a pool of water has become stale, trains the eohippus, despite warnings from the gypsies that this will lead to the deaths of everybody involved. Meanwhile, her ex-boyfriend/circus colleague turned entrepreneur Tuck Kirby rides back into her life with a business proposition. An archaeologist, a midget, and a Mexican child called Lope also get into the mix as they travel to the Forbidden Valley and find out that there's more there than just itty-bitty horses.

Cowboys fighting dinosaurs? Hell yeah! You can almost imagine the meeting where this idea was pitched to executives. "Wait a second. Did you say it would be cowboys fighting dinosaurs. Let me stop you right there because I don't need to hear another word. Let's roll!" This is the movie for you if you've ever wanted to watch a T-Rex eat a midget. The special effects (Harryhausen again) are great even though the dinosaurs do occasionally change colors. There's an amazingly well-done shot involving the cowboys lassoing the dinosaur, and I have no idea how that was pulled off. The placing of the stop-motion animation within the landscapes amongst the actors is nearly seamless, and there's a couple nifty fights between the T-Rex and another dinosaur and later between the T-Rex and a performing elephant. The music's a bit much at times, but the sound effects are really impressive--lots of great screams, screeches, and dinosaur roars. The story is super-goofy and a little too reminiscent of King Kong except the T-Rex doesn't seem interested in having sex with the leading lady. Writer Willis O'Brien did work on King Kong. This dinosaur movie is superior to Jurassic Park despite the lack of Jeff Goldblum. At least it's more fun.

The Brown Bunny

2003 movie

Rating: 2/20

Plot: Bud finishes a boring motorcycle race and heads out on a boring road trip to California. Along the way, he has boring encounters with desperate women who all have flowery names. His mind can't shake reminisces of an ex-girlfriend Daisy.

Ok, somebody should be arrested for giving Vincent Gallo the two hundred and fifty-three dollars to make this movie. It's January 8th. I've heard the best album of 2009 already, and I believe I've seen the worst movie I'll see this year. Self-indulgent, tacky, and extremely dull, The Brown Bunny starts nowhere (a pretentiously filmed motorcycle race) and ends with a shocking revelation that would make M. Night Shyamalan say, "No, that twist just doesn't work. It's, like, dumb." Gallo wrote, directed, and starred in this, but he probably should have found somebody else to do all three. Actually, he probably just needed to hire a plug-puller, somebody to say, "Vincent, this movie sucks!" before pulling the plug ( doesn't even matter!), destroying all footage, and giving the camcorder to a little girl so that she can film her My Little Ponies having a tea party--an NC-17, shockingly pretentious tea party. The movie's poorly filmed, reminiscent of a lazy artist's diarrhea, and the bulk of the ninety minutes is what looks to be home video footage of Vincent Gallo driving, eating, sitting there, driving, using the bathroom, driving, pumping gas, and driving. How this movie didn't ruin Chloe Sevigny's career is beyond me. Indianapolis was briefly in this movie and, I'm sure, is embarrassed about it.

It Came from Beneath the Sea

1955 science fiction monster movie

Rating: 11/20

Plot: When Commander Pete Mathews' submarine is attacked by the unknown in the depths of the Pacific, a pair of marine biologists who just happen to sleep together are hired to investigate. They use B-movie science to figure out that the attacker was a gigantic radioactive octopus. Well, of course it is! The Navy and scientists have to act fast as the monster destroys other ships and plunges toward San Fransisco. But there's also time for a really awkward love triangle.

First off, the Harryhausen animation is, as expected, excellent stuff. Watching the creature destroy the Golden Gate bridge, tear down a building, and squash San Fransicoans is a lot of fun. Unfortunately, there's a lot to trudge through to get to the good stuff. There's not even a tentacle until the 27 minute mark and after that, there's not another octopus sighting for another 30 minutes before the assault on the bay area begins. Now I'm not the kind of guy who is easily aroused by the sight of tentacles and must have constant tentacle action in order to enjoy a movie, but the rest of the movie should at least give me a little something. The stock characters are the exact opposite of interesting, the writing's trite, and that aforementioned love triangle is just a bizarre distraction. And there's so much talking. All-too-typical and a little on the dull side. My advice would be to keep a finger on the fast forward button until you catch a glimpse of one of those sexy, sexy tentacles.

Note: I do like that the title is a complete sentence. I think I'm going to seek out movies with complete sentences as titles. I welcome suggestions.

Note: Ok, I probably am the type of guy who is easily aroused by the sight of tentacles.

Lessons of Darkness

1992 science-fiction documentary

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Herzog films burning oil fields in Kuwait and the workers trying their best to put the fires out.

Entirely engrossing piece here. Herzog narrates (at first, I thought, unnecessarily) and places the burning oil fields in a different context, almost like a disturbingly cautionary sci-fi movie, capped by a disturbing final line that for whatever reason stuck with me until I went to sleep. The imagery is spectacular, almost like a mixture of 2001 and somebody's home video of their vacation to hell. Swirling operatic music accompanies the startling nightmarish images of apocalypse, and it's all very very effective.


2004 comic book movie

Rating: 10/20 (Mark: 11/20; Amy: 12/20)

Plot: Near the end of World War II, Nazis are in Scotland trying to do something. While that something is about to take place, something else happens which somehow releases Hellboy, a red surly ape baby with a deformed hand. The government puts him somewhere with some other freaks for some reason and try to keep citizens from knowing about him but for various reasons occasionally unleash him. Other than that, he just sits around grinding his horns and complaining. Fifty years later, the same Nazis return and attempt to do something else (or maybe the same thing) and Hellboy and his fish friend and fire girl have to save the world.

Another one of those movies I needed to have explained to me. I'd been thinking about seeing this since hearing that the sequel is pretty good, so when my brother mentioned wanting to see it, I decided to make the trip across town to watch it with him. It's got elements--some pretty cool characters (my favorite being the guy with the gas masks) and sets and lots of style, at least at the beginning. Unfortunately, it's also got one really obnoxious character poorly played by the apparently useless Selma Blair, far too many comic book tough guy one-liners that really make Hellboy seem too worldly, and a final half hour that turns into a cartoonish mess. Special effects are fine but inconsistent, and there's one scene involving Hellboy running that made me laugh out loud and scare a cat. Perhaps the biggest problem here is that I didn't really like the Hellboy character. He was just too grumpy and looks sort of silly. And any movie that forces me to imagine something that looks like Hellboy having a sexual encounter with Selma Blair automatically loses points. I had to give the point back for Jeffrey Tambor though. I've got no real interest in seeing the sequel but probably will at Mark's place eventually.

Fata Morgana

1971 oddball documentary

Rating: 14/20 (but could quite easily be a little bit higher or way lower)

Plot: None really. Herzog films lots of stuff, mostly, I'm guessing, in Africa. He films jets landing, desert landscapes, mirages, the carcasses of airplanes or other vehicles, the bones of dead animals, people in goggles, people without goggles, some animals, and some unidentifiable things. He throws it all together in three parts titled Creation, Paradise, and The Golden Age. Throw a female voice narrating a creation myth and some weird poetry and you've got yourself a documentary!

One of the most bizarre documentaries I've ever seen, Fata Morgana (Mirages, apparently) is sort of like a low-budget Koyaanisqatsi mixed with Errol Morris's glimpses at eccentrics. I'm not sure it all adds up to much; it really looks more like a dada-documentary or something. But it does have some moments of true beauty and even more of those fantastically entertaining "What the heck?" moments and it's for the most part entertaining. And it does capture this world that may only exist in Herzog's editing room but that is nevertheless worth exploring. This documentary seems to become more and more unhinged as it progresses although there's not exactly anything normal about starting out with five or so minutes of airplanes landing and following it up with the weird creation myth and images that seem to have nothing to do with that creation myth. But by the end, you've got the natives pointing and looking confused, a strange musical duo (a pimp on drums and distorted vocals and a woman on piano) that according to the commentary was filmed at a brothel, a guy with a ukulele who can't control his laughter as another guy reads poetry, and a turtle expert who informs us about where the food enters and leaves the turtle. And those goggles in the above picture with the guy holding the lizard? Herzog forced those goggles upon no less than three people he encountered. I rewatched some of this with commentary provided by Herzog, some other guy, and Crispin Glover. It was not exactly enlightening.

Year Recap--the awards post

Important things first--2008's Midget of the Year was a tight race. After all, out of 365 movies, 52 of them had a midget. The candidates:

Don't Look Now had one creepy midget. So did The Brood, but that movie was absolutely terrible.

The Holy Mountain and Simon of the Desert both had crippled midgets, and both movies were a whole lot better than It's a Wonderful Life which had no midgets.

The Terror in Tiny Town had all midgets, and early on, I figured Billy Curtis was a shoe-in for Midget of the Year. He was terrific as the diminutive cowboy hero.

But the prize goes to Peter Dinklage from Death at a Funeral. I still can't think of that scene without laughing hard enough to fall down and hold my stomach. I did just that last night at a grocery store, right next to the pickles, and an elderly woman asked me if I was ok. I said, "Yeah, just laughing at the exploits of a midget." She looked up and down the aisle and, seeing no midget, scooted away, likely figuring that I was a drug addict. It's a scene that has to be seen to be believed. And set your vcr's, for Dinklage is going to be on the upcoming episode of 30 Rock which is a show everybody should be watching anyway. He also played the bad guy in Underdog which was a movie I had forgotten that I watched this year. So he's sure been busy. I'm sure winning my midget-of-the-year award is a highlight of his career though.

Other stuff:

I saw 22 Japanese movies which seems really low. I saw 27 French movies, 11 Italian movies, and 10 movies from Hong Kong.

I saw 36 documentaries on a wide variety of subjects. 32 movies I watched were animated or had animation. I saw 48 comedies, another 37 movies that were supposed to be comedies but weren't funny, and 14 movies that were funny but weren't supposed to be. I saw 22 horror movies and another 15 that were supposed to be horror movies but turned out to not be scary at all. There were 33 science fiction movies and a large bulk of "romantic" movies, 88 to be exact. According to the labels, I only saw 21 silent movies, but it sure seems like a lot more than that. 32 movies I labeled as "surreal" and I really tried to use that term correctly. I saw 7 movies with Vincent Price, 1 movie with Shirley Temple in black face, and 1 Sylvester Stallone movie that he actually wasn't in (Ran). I also saw 23 kung-fu movies and 11 samurai movies.

Looking at the other labels--I saw 17 movies with handlebar mustaches, 84 movies with ill-fitting pants/underpants, 15 movies with eyepatches, and 17 movies with cannibalism. The 79 movies I watched with nudity lends credence to my wife's claim that I seek out movies with nudity. The fact that I saw 27 movies with male frontal nudity (if I gave an award, Ewan McGregor's junk in that dull Peter Greenaway movie) and only 23 kung-fu movies likely means that I'm a homosexual. Suprisingly, I only saw 8 movies with puppets. I saw a whopping 224 movies with violence but only 154 movies with blood.

Jen only picked out 10 movies, including the huge surprise that was The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. My children picked out 12 more.

I paid for only two movies this year--the new Indiana Jones movie cost whatever two tickets costs, and I got the poker comedy The Grand from the dollar rental machine at the grocery store. Wall-E, by the way, is only the second Pixar movie I haven't seen in a theater.

I gave out three 20's, but two of those were for El Santo movies. The rating I gave out the most was a 16. I gave 57 movies a rating of 16. I only gave two 1 ratings. My average rating, assuming my math is correct, was a 12.978.

One of those was the worst movie I saw all year, the dreadfully offensive Facing the Giants. A runner-up, even though it had a rating better than Manos: The Hands of Fate, would be the terrible remake of The Wicker Man.

My best personal discovery of the year--The Lone Wolf and Cub series. Also worth mentioning would be the movies of Guy Maddin, Mario Bava, and Preston Sturges.

Here are the best movie experiences of the year. I'm including only movies that I had either previously not seen or have not seen bunches of times. That elimates favorites like Rear Window, The Gold Rush, Mr. Hulot's Holiday, Duck Soup, The Triplets of Belleville, The General, and The Big Lebowski. And The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly which I didn't want to include in the above sentence because it would have forced me to use semicolons.

The best bad, all highly entertaining and highly recommended:

Manos: The Hands of Fate
Night of the Ghouls, which I watched on my birthday because I couldn't find The Big Lebowski and continue my tradition.
The Beast of Yucca Flats
The Happening

The best good:

The Passion of Joan of Arc
Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors
The Falls
The Holy Mountain
McCabe and Mrs. Miller
Woman in the Dunes
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood
Days of Heaven

Finally, one last statistic. Amount of shane-movies readers? Four! I hope to double that in 2009!

The Shawshank Redemption

1994 movie

Rating: 17/20 (Jen: 16/20)

Plot: Fancy pants banker Andy Dufresne is sentenced to two life terms in prison for killing his wife and her lover. It's a crime he claims he did not commit. "And how am I going to serve two life terms anyway?" he says, tears rolling down his babyish cheeks. "I've only got one." He attempts to adjust to prison and the frequent invasion of his anus and befriends another lifer, a black Irishman called Red. Red, serving a life sentence for sexually abusing penguins, learns from his new buddy all about how hope can set one free.

"What is your malfunction, you fat barrel of monkey spunk?" Captain Hadley had all the best lines. Actually, the writing is part of what I love about this movie, and I'm not just talking about lines involving monkey spunk. This is, after all, the movie that introduced "pinch a loaf" to my vocabulary. Some of the dialogue taken on its own might seem hokey, but with quality acting, it manages to sound smooth and natural. Morgan Freeman seemed born to play Red, and Tim Robbins is, as usual, very good although he probably has the largest and most distracting forehead in Hollywood. There's nothing all that spectacular about this story, but it's one that's told very very well. The film looks beautifully gritty and is stuffed with some truly great moments--the Mozart, the birdman, the warden's conversation with Robbins' character during inspection, others. Jen thinks this movie is predictable. I'm amazed that a movie can have so many Hollywood moments, things that really should make me sick to my stomach, but that it all still manages to work extremely well.

Note: Now that I think about it, Tom Hanks' forehead is by far more distracting. I can't even attempt to explain what's going on with that thing.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

2007 wizard romp

Rating: 13/20

Plot: It's year five for Harry Potter, and Lord Voldemort is causing problems. So is the Ministry of Magic. Following the tragedies of the last movie, both Harry Potter and Dumbledore are no longer trusted heroes. Harry nearly gets himself expelled (drugs) and the new Dark Arts Defense teacher, straight from the ministry, is a pain in the arse, giving the students meaningless book work and refusing to allow them to use actual magic. Eventually, she takes control of the school. Harry and his friends form Dumbledore's Army, a covert posse that trains in a secret room in order to protect themselves from Lord Voldemort--a freaky noseless guy who is invading Harry Potter's mind--and the other evil wizards. Harry turns emo.

This is a step up from the last movie, but it still has the same fundamental problem--the books are too long and too detailed, and so much gets cut that I'm not sure the movie makes complete sense. The result is a (still-long) sketchy story with lots and lots of interesting scenes that wind up feeling unconnected and unresolved. At least there wasn't any of that Quidditch nonsense in this one. I don't know who the new director David Pate is, but he does a good job and I'm glad he's finishing the series. Already being four deep into a series like this, some of the ideas and imagery that seemed whimsical or fresh back in movie one would be difficult to make whimsical or fresh, but there are some nice touches in this one. It doesn't quite have the look of the third in the series, but the special effects look a lot more realistic than the other movies, even that rubbery giant guy. But there's so much going on and so many characters and so many things that just seemed tossed in either to continue a thread from a previous movie or prepare for something in one of the next three that this just doesn't work completely. And it's hard to criticize a movie just because Richard Harris died, but I really liked him. One thing I really liked was the commentary on education--school's leadership and the government's involvement, the emphasis on standardized testing, etc.

The Collected Shorts of Jan Svankmajer

1965-1992 animated shorts

Rating: 18/20

Plot: A collection of Czech stop-motion surrealist Jan Svankmajer with images yanked from twisted dreams and perverse memories. "A Game of Stones" is about rocks. "A Quiet Week in the House" is about an intruder drilling holes. "Meat Love" is about meat engaged in coitus. "Food" is about breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There are two Edgar Allan Poe stories. "A Trip to the Cellar" is about a little girl trying to get a basket of potatoes. "The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia" details the autopsy of a statue of Stalin. Etc.

Surrealism doesn't get more fun than this. Unforgettable imagery ranging from the hilarious to the grotesque and occasionally managing to be hilariously grotesque or grotesquely hilarious. Lots of "What the hell?" moments countered by amazing "How'd he do that?" moments. I love how in the later shorts, Svankmajer begins using people, stop-animating them just like he would his puppets or clay sculptures although I probably like the earlier shorts best. Likely unlike anything you've seen unless strange late-night dietary habits somehow fuel funky nightmares. Or you've got some wires crossed in your head. Recommended if you do have wires crossed in your head or if you've ever wanted to watch furniture have sex or enjoy voyeuristically watching vegetables rot.