The Luzhin Defense

2000 drama

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Aleksandr [sic] Luzhin is a brilliant and passionate chess player but has almost no ability to live any semblance of a normal life beyond the 64 squares of a chessboard or interact with anybody not made of wood. That is until he meets Natalia, the eccentric-lovin' daughter of wealthy parents, during the preliminaries of a chess tournament in Italy. She's attracted to his erratic genius; he wants to get in her pants. Or nudge her with his bishop, promote his pawn, exploit her flanks, have her mount his knight, etc. Will his obsessions get in the way of his newfound happiness and his ability to win the tournament? And what about the bearded guy?

I had to give a bonus point because the chess was real. The play of the grandmasters might not have looked real. They played awfully fast, but of course, nobody wants to sit around watching characters pondering moves over a chess board for the time it would take to make it realistic. I almost always enjoy Turturro, and I like him here as the obsessive genius type he plays so well (see, Barton Fink). The other characters are all pretty flat, and the antagonist's motivation doesn't make a lick of sense to me. The ending was unexpected, but not necessarily in a good way. Actually, the last fourth of the movie was a flurry of plot twists and silliness that butted heads with the reflective tone of the first three-fourths. I should admit that I did at least like the characters enough to get a little emotional and tear up a little at the end.


1991 animated shorts

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Compilation of shorts by animator Bill Plympton.

I've always liked the idea of Bill Plympton much more than the actual product although I did used to enjoy the MTV shorts they used to show in between these things they used to show called music videos. When these are short enough (his audience would have to be somebody with a very short attention span) and burbling with that crazy dark creative energy he's known for, these really work as entertaining little tidbits. "Your face" is pretty brilliant. I also liked the onslaught of 10-or-so second snippets near the end of the collection, and the "How to Quit Smoking" piece was cute. Unfortunately for this collection, there's a lot of stuff that nobody but Bill Plympton's mother would really want to see. She'd keep some of this in a box in the attic with all his old report cards and elementary art work. I really sort of wish there were times during my most mundane days when somebody would tap me on the shoulder and I'd turn around and the shoulder tapper would have a television sitting on his head and on the television would be a Bill Plympton short and I'd watch it and laugh and then thank the shoulder tapper and then walk away. I'm not sure if watching all of these at once (or in two installments) is recommended.

Myra Breckinridge

1970 crapfest

Rating: 7/20

Plot: Myron becomes Myra following a sex change operation. He/she travels to Hollywood to claim his/her part of the estate of Buck Loner, an old Western entertainer turned movie bigwig operating his own acting school. Then, all kinds of shocking things happen.

There are actually some positives here. Raquel Welch. Film critic Rex Reed screaming, "Where are my tits?" The plundering from other films. But the movie is so sloppy with such unfocused direction, that this just becomes boring and difficult to watch. A pony with too many tricks isn't any better than a one-trick pony, I guess. I kept wanting to give bonus points for effort on this one, but it never really succeeds on any level. It attempts shock early and often and then more often. The attempted satire of Hollywood falls flat and seems pretty vacuous. Mae West was probably very proud of her work in this one, especially considering that every scene she is in seems gratuitous. And by the way--blink and you'll miss the midget.

Son of Rambow

2007 dramatic comedy

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Will lives a sheltered existence under a protective God-fearing mother's thumb. He's forced to sit in the hall whenever teachers at school show videos, and he reads Bible verses in front of movie theaters as some form of protest against violence in cinema. It's during one of his classroom movie times that he meets little hellcat Lee Carter who exposes him to a pirated copy of the first Rambo movie and opens the already imaginative Will Proudfoot's eyes to a new exciting world. They form a special bond and work together to make their own Rambo-esque movie.

Sopping wet with sentimentality and with characters I unfortunately just didn't care about that much, this really could have been a lot better. There are some nifty touches--some quirky characters, some animated fantasy bits--but this just sort of plods along, never rising above anything more than a quirky novelty until it abruptly changes into a feel-good story about friendship and family. Too bad. I really wanted to like this one.

The Incredible Hulk

2008 blockbuster

Rating: 9/20 (Mark: 7/20)

Plot: Bruce Banner has a problem where he turns green, gets really big, and turns monosyllabic whenever he gets really angry. The science is too complicated for me to explain to you cretins. Of course, I understand everything perfectly because I'm practically a scientist. I understand the nuclear reaction stuff involved, and I understand how when large and green, Hulk is capable of defying the laws of physics. And how Bruce Banner's bones, muscles, skin, nipples, and hair all manage to grow enormously while his pants always stay on? Yep. Perfect sense. Anyway, Bruce, his girlfriend, and Mr. Blue are working hard to find an antidote; unfortunately, the military keeps interfering and making our hero get all smashy. Oh, green snap!

Firstly, the environmental subtext here is sickening. The "Go green" message is so in-your-face that it makes me want to go out behind the house and burn a stack of tires or kill one thousand pigs and dump their carcasses in a river. Not a river that's close by either. No, I'd drive miles in a Hummer and take numerous detours to see the world's largest prairie dog, the factory where Jello is made, and Geronimo's bones. Take that, Mother Earth! Up yours!

Second comic book movie in a row at my brother's place. We started to watch a compilation of avant-garde shorts, but I became terrified at the prospect of seeing a penis and made the switch. This Hulk movie isn't a lot better than the Ang Lee version if it is at all. It's got embarrassing cameos and the clumsiest set-up for a sequel that I've ever seen. The special effects are at times tolerable, but a lot of the CGI stuff just looks ridiculous. The worst problem is with Hulk's antagonist, played by the always-wacky Tim Roth. Now, I like Tim Roth in a lot of things, but everything he does in this is awkward, sometimes awkwardly funny. He can't even walk right in this. And without an engaging bad guy, a movie like this just isn't going to work. The only reason the bad guy exists is to set up the bombast at the end. The conflict doesn't resonate, and there's almost no real tension created. As with all comic book movies, I had trouble figuring out what the heck was going on a great deal of the time, and more than once, I wished that I had left it on the penises. And come on, makers of The Incredible Hulk. Hulk smash? Really?

I Married a Monster from Outer Space

1958 science fiction movie

Rating: 10/20

Plot: A planet is destroyed, and the inhabitants are faced with a problem. The solution is to have an invasion of our planet and snatch the bodies of males with plans to later impregnate the females. Ob la di, ob la da, life goes on. Unfortunately for perky-breasted Marge, she's married one of the fiends and nobody believes her when she tries to warn the others. Oh, snap!

Pretty derivative and predictable 50's sci-fi slop with some really goofy special effects. I especially enjoyed watching the car hit the mannequin, the fuzzy mist that envelops the humans whenever their bodies are taken over, and the guy's head that turns into semi-congealed pudding near the end. Really clumsy comic relief brings things down, especially since the science fiction stuff is played entirely too seriously.

Ghost Rider

2007 action movie

Rating: 3/20

Plot: Aptly-named Johnny Blaze is riding in the tire tracks of his daddy, a motorcycle stunt rider. When he discovers that his father is terminally ill, he makes a deal with the devil, selling his soul in exchange for a healthy father. It doesn't work out so well. Years later, his skull catches on fire and he starts speaking in comic book one-liners. This really seems to screw up his life.

What's that? You watched the remake of The Wicker Man and still require further proof that Nicolas Cage is America's worst actor? Look no further than the scene in Ghost Rider where he is laughing at a video of a monkey performing karate. "Mack, you touch the Carpenters or that chimp video again, we're gonna have a scrap on our hands." Or watch every time he talks to himself in a mirror in this movie. Or watch every other time he happens to be on the screen. He really matches up with well the almost equally bad Eva Mendes here. This movie is almost like a terrible joke. Actually, to be positive, I watched the previews of this when it came out and rated it a 1/20 without seeing it. So, it turned out to be three times as good as I thought it would be. Which seems about right since the movie is also about three times longer than it should be. Maybe the best thing I can say about the movie is that you can pause it at any time and have a pretty good cover for a pretty bad 80's heavy metal album. It's good to see that Peter Fonda is making such excellent career choices at this stage in his career.

Bottle Rocket

1996 comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Perpetual loser Dignan, criminally ambitious, forms a small-time crime team with friends Anthony and Bob Mapplethorpe. They flee town after the successful armed robbery of a bookstore. Anthony, following his recent "escape" from a mental hospital where he recovered from exhaustion, falls in love with a motel maid. More ambitious plans lie ahead, however, as Dignan works to align himself with a criminal mastermind/landscaping business owner.

This is a fine debut even if it doesn't quite seem like a complete Wes Anderson movie. There's a looseness and not nearly the attention to detail on display in his other movies. There are a few hilarious moments and more than enough of those typically Anderson quirky bits of subtle comedy. The characters never really evolve, but they're at least likable. The movie also never adds up to anything thematically. Anderson-regular Kumar Pallana is probably the funniest thing about this movie.

The Ascent

1977 Russian WWII movie

Rating: 16/20 (Dylan: 6/20)

Plot: Two Russian partisans leave their posse to travel through Nazi-peppered and brutal wintry conditions in order to find some food. They reach a village but discover it's been decimated. The one who sort of looks like Jesus is wounded, and the other helps him to a farm house. When German soldiers capture them there, they face their seemingly inevitable deaths in different ways, one with cowardice and selfishness and the other with dignity and bravery.

This is such a simple movie. There's nothing fancy, nothing much to look at, nothing spectacular about the dialogue or the story. However, it works as a powerful, if incomplete glimpse into the human soul. Told in stark black and white (actually, it seems almost entirely white at times), the film forces you to focus on the characters, so much that it almost feels like you're looking right through them. Without the shock and awe of a Saving Private Ryan, this manages to be more gripping and emotional. It's definitely a brutal couple hours. There's some Christian religious allusions here which makes it really interesting for a 1970s Soviet film. I'm baffled by the title. There is a literal ascent in the movie, but I'm not sure it's enough to have the movie named after it. The Plunge would have been a more appropriate title.

The Call of the Cthulhu

2005 silent movie

Rating: 5/20

Plot: A guy tries to uncover the mystery of the mysterious Cthulhu, a item you can buy at Taco Bell, eat, and almost instantly regret.

Such a terrible movie. I'm not even fully convinced the idea (apparently, taking an H.P. Lovecraft story that was supposed to be filmed in the mid-20's but wasn't, imagining what exactly that would have looked like, and then putting together a really cheap-looking laughable version) is a good one. It certainly doesn't look good, sort of like a silent film made in the digital age. Blue or green or gray screens were obviously involved. The story is a convoluted sloppy mess. At one point, there is a flashback within a flashback within a flashback. The film leaves the viewer on the edge of the seat. Suspense builds and builds until that magical moment everybody is waiting for when the monster emerges from what appears to be a gigantic cardboard box and does its Cthulhu thang. And boom! It looks like something that Harryhausen could have put together in thirty-five minutes. Well, if he was forced to wear mittens and had somebody hitting him in the back of the head repeatedly with a broom.

The Dark Knight

2008 summer blockbuster

Rating: 13/20

Plot: The Joker, tired of stealing from mob banks, unleashes madness on Gothem City. Batman, the cop, and the district attorney try to stop him.

Just when I thought this one was over, it went on for another (nearly incoherent) 40 minutes, keeping me up way later than my normal bedtime of midnight and making me grouchy this morning. As with most comic book movies, I didn't understand a lot of what was even going on, and Dylan wasn't around to explain it to me. Harvey Dent's transformation near the end befuddled me. But probably not as much as Batman's voice befuddled me. There was way too much movie here--Nolan was trying to fill half a paper cup with forty-three thousand pounds of grape jelly, the sweet kind that you can get at the 99 cent store, the kind that makes you feel really guilty for no good reason. That's why, after a little less than five and a half hours of sleep, I woke up with a mysterious purple stain on the front of my pajama bottoms. And I'm still going to contend that the action sequences in these two Batman movies don't make a lot of sense. Pass the popcorn, biatch!

Elevator to the Gallows

1958 French new wave noir

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Julien and Florence have planned the perfect crime, meticulously planning the murder of the husband in order to escape into the happily ever after and do each other. Unfortunately, a rope is forgotten, a car is stolen, and Julien winds up trapped in an elevator. Florence panics, and the teens get themselves into a little bit of trouble at a motel. Oh, snap!

Cool little movie with Miles Davis honking with some Frenchmen for the soundtrack and claustrophobic settings (not just the obvious title elevator) dripping shadows and dread. The thriller's tight and the story's punchy, irony so thick you can shoot it with a gun. The ending won't be spoilt, but there's a great interrogation scene that made me laugh a little bit despite the tenseness. Delightful!

Mon Oncle

1958 French satire

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Hulot meanders back and forth between two worlds. His is a raucous antiquated life in town, drenched in the traditions and sweat of the working class. His sister's is an ultra-chic, ultra-modern world with fish fountains, electronic gadgets, and gimmicky [dis]comforts. Much to her husband's dismay, she continually gets Hulot's help with their son who adores his uncle. She also tries to get him a job at her husband's factory or hook him up with the neighbor lady.

Thought I'd revisit this to make sure I didn't like it more than I thought I did. And I'm not sure if it's because this was the first film de Jacques Tati that I saw (I think it was anyway) or because I just didn't pay any attention, but I was way off on this one. This is right up there with his best with sight gag after sight gag and some of those trademark delicate satirical stabs. It's a funny movie, maybe even funnier, if not as poetic and playfully artistic, as Holiday. Favorite gags: the house's eyes watching Hulot's escape from the garden, the footprints at the interview, chaos at a garden party which would amuse Bunuel, Hulot's attempts to figure out the kitchen, the shot of Hulot's serpentine walk to his apartment, and the ingeniously choreographed dance number at the end. I'll always insist that the best thing about these movies is all the stuff that doesn't matter--the subplots that go nowhere, wandering dogs, fringe characters, the distractions.

Revenge of a Kabuki Actor

1963 revenge movie

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Yukinojo is a transvestite who is pissed off at some people about something. So he really slowly develops a plan to use his fighting skills and his acting skills to get his revenge on them. And apparently me.

There's some weird stuff going on here, recalling Seijun Suzuki. There are some strange visuals and some interesting uses of color. Other than that, there's not a lot going on. To be fair, I was feeling way too lazy to watch this and kept thinking about that time I went to a circus and watched the ringmaster shoot a trapeze artist. I likely would have really enjoyed this under different circumstances. Like, if I were a gay man who liked samurai movies but made sure my gay friends didn't know.

The Spirit of the Beehive

1973 drama

Rating: 17/20

Plot: A family in post-war Spain struggles with identity. The beekeeper father is withdrawn and depressed. The mother is having an affair. Isabelle, the malicious older sister, mistreats the gullible younger sister Anna. After the two children watch Frankenstein, Anna's sister convinces her that the monster lives nearby. A fugitive drifts in, setting off a series of events that causes Anna to withdraw into a fantasy world of poisonous mushrooms and Frankenstein monsters.

Funnily, I didn't really think I was liking this one while watching it. It's that typical "Shane movie," slowly-evolving with a dependence on visuals more than on dialogue and story. The acting is good, an emphasis on body language and very little dialogue. Child actors are never supposed to be this good. Words are scarce, and none are wasted. There's something really depressing about the way the family members are filmed; they're alienated, lonely, broken. And that's shown artfully not just with the lack of communication but also in the way they don't share camera time. The girls are on the screen together at times, but the husband and wife never are. That's most striking in a scene where the husband is coming to bed late after obsessing over bees he has in a glass hive, and his wife pretends to be sleeping. The camera never drifts from her while we see the sheet tugged and a slouched shadow on the wall and hear his getting-into-bed sounds. Lots of people will find this all boring, but I thought it was a mesmerizingly realistic glimpse at troubled people. Poetic and moving, this has to be one of the most quiet movies I've ever seen. I wonder what I'm missing politically or historically, but a knowledge of Spanish history wasn't necessary for me to enjoy this one. I think this has a lot in common with Days of Heaven (visually) and that strange Terry Gilliam movie Tideland (narrative and thematically).

The Beautiful Washing Machine

2004 drama

Rating: 12/20

Plot: A lonely guy who recently ended a relationship buys a sexy secondhand washing machine. Initially, the machine doesn't work right. He discovers the problem--the washing machine has a soul. It's a soul that he begins to exploit, first in the privacy of his home and later as a prostitute. Then the movie gets really boring and I lose track of what is going on.

Dullsville. I suppose under the right circumstances I might have liked this more, but it was so slow-moving. And aimless. Movies that move slowly don't typically bother me, but when something is moving slowly toward nowhere, there's a problem. This is a movie I'll forget that I watched in two months.

Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

1964 black comedy

Rating: 20/20 (Dylan: 6/20)

Plot: Oh, snap! The Cold War is on, and batshit insane General Jack Ripper, suspecting the Commies of contaminating the precious bodily fluids of Americans, uses a loophole in the chain of command and sends bombers to blow up the Soviets. British Captain Mandrake, locked in a room with Ripper, tries to convince him to reconsider; meanwhile, in the war room (where no fighting is allowed), the president, his advisors, and the title scientist communicate with the Russians and try to figure out a way to reverse the crazy general's actions before bombs are dropped and the Doomsday machine kills all humanity.

I need to have my son's head examined. This, by the way, is not a movie about war. It's a film about sex, and that is why it's brilliant. Well, that and the direction, Peter Sellers' multiple roles, the rest of the acting, the dialogue. This is one of the funniest movies ever made that won't make you laugh. Actually, you might laugh, but you won't laugh until afterwards, when you're sitting by yourself thinking about how the movie is more about sex than it is about war.

Ghost World

2001 dramatic comedy

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Two really obnoxious girls are graduating from high school and have plans to withdraw from society and get an apartment together. Along the way, they decide to be really mean to a lonely weird-looking man whose sin was apparently placing a personal ad wishing to connect with a woman he met at the airport. The girl who isn't Scarlett Johansson winds up befriending the socially awkward record collector, and the two girls begin to drift apart.

Here's an example of one of those movies I find it impossible to love nearly as much as everybody else seems to. I just can't like the characters (Buscemi's being the exception) enough. No redeeming qualities which make me want to root for either of them. And although there's a quirkiness and some details that will stick with me, the gripes it makes against society (I think) come across as art-schoolish and juvenile. I'd watch this as a television show and would likely even like how it ended. It seems to me that with the confusing symbolism and unclear message, this is really open to interpretation and that there is probably more than meets the eye, but I've seen this twice now and wasn't grabbed either time. My brother really likes this movie but since he doesn't like The Color of Pomegranates, I'm not sure his opinion can be trusted.

Pineapple Express

2008 stoner comedy

Rating: 9/20 (Jen: 7/20)

Plot: A guy and his drug dealer get mixed up in stuff, and it isn't nearly as funny as it should be.

This would have worked with a much better script and much better acting. It loses a point for forced sentimentality near the end and loses the rest of its points for being too one-note and for making me roll my eyes forty-three too many times. There are moments, but you have to wade through some real garbage to find them.

Clue: The Movie

1985 movie

Rating: 11/20 (Dylan: 4/20; Emma: 20/20; Abbey: 20/20)

Plot: Six strangers are invited to a mansion dinner party in what appears to be the beginning of a terrible reality show. After a while, they find out what they have in common--they've all been blackmailed by the host. Murder and mayhem follow.

The actors certainly try very hard in this one. Too bad there's not much script to work with. The multiple endings thing is campy, and the plot ends up being a real mess. I do like the maid though. If you're a fan of movies based on board games, you'll be happy to know that both a Monopoly and Candyland game are being produced. Seriously, a live-action Candyland. If they can somehow squeeze a French maid into the story, I'll be there opening night.

Zombie Strippers

2008 attempt to make a cult classic

Rating: 2/20

Plot: Government experiments to make an army of undead soldiers results in the spreading of a virus and the subsequent zombification of strippers at Freddy Krueger's underground strip club. Highly trained soldiers are called in to stop the madness.

For a movie with both "zombie" and "strippers" in the title, this sure is boring. Shame, shame, shame. If you make a zombie stripper movie, and it turns out to not be entertaining even the least little bit, you should have your movie-making privileges suspended. This is a stupid movie that is not worth watching.

Charley Bowers: The Rediscovery of an American Comic Genius

Comedy shorts from 1926-1941

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Shorts, mostly involving Bowers' characters inventing weird contraptions. And most seem to have something to do with eggs. The films were "lost" until discovered somewhere in France. Hence, the "rediscovery" in the title of the collection.

The comedy is sub-standard here, and Bowers doesn't have nearly enough screen presence for even these 20 minute films. But these are still worth watching for the ingenious use of stop-motion animation. Each short, in fact, contains at least one surreal animated bit (cars hatching from eggs, giant chickens, anthropomorphized shoes) that add a flavor to these things, making them uniquely cool and entertaining. The inventions, complicated devices reminiscent of Rube Goldberg machines, also come from the mind of an inspired madman. This Bowers fellow was one creative dude, and the effects (which I doubt had a precedent) probably do make him a genius, if not exactly a comic one. Unfortunately, disc two in this set contains stuff he did once sound was available, and then the humor gets really embarrassingly bad. Still, recommended for fans of stop-motion or silent comedy.

The Magic Christian

1969 movie from 1969

Rating: 12/20

Plot: An eccentric multi-gazillionaire named Guy Grand befriends and eventually adopts a homeless guy of indeterminate age. Together, they mischief make, exploring just how much people will do for money.

Another misleading poster considering Raquel Welch and her whip are on screen for less than a minute. That was in a part of the movie where it almost seemed like they knew they weren't going to get a high enough shane-movies rating and decided to up the ante. "Let's throw some random midgets in there! How about a guy in a gorilla suit? I know! Raquel Welch cracking a whip near over fifty topless women!" The movie's a mess, and I'm not sure what purpose Ringo Starr plays. It's a pointless character. The satire works occasionally and there are a lot of humorous moments, but the stream-of-consciousness approach and the dated look only go so far. This is definitely a product of its time although it is also at times strangely similar to Freddy Got Fingered. Why is it that I always want to like Peter Sellers more than I end up liking him?