Star Wars: A New Hope

1977 space samurai movie

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

Plot: This first installment in the Star Wars franchise mainly focuses on the adventures of intergalactic space hero Jek Porkins who, for the bulk of the movie, is hiding in the background or in multiple disguises. He's hard to spot as a fat Jawa, Jabba the Hutt (special edition only), as a fat stormtrooper, a droid, as Darth Vader, as a musician in the Mos Eisley cantina, as Princess Leia's left bun, etc. Porkins finds himself in a situation where he almost singlehandedly must save the galaxy from the Empire's brand spanking new space station--the Giant Ball of Doom. It's round and it's creepy and it can destroy planets by shooting them with a green light. Luckily, the bad guys built the thing with a long trench that leads to a space station's equivalent of an Achilles heel so that Porkins can lead the rebels in its destruction. Kablooey!

I don't have much to say about this one. I love it and always will. There are always things I look forward to seeing every single time I watch this movie--Alec Guinness's sly little smile the moment before he dies, when Luke interrupts a meeting to brag about shooting womp rats, the surreal visual of C3PO walking across the undulating sands of Tatooine, the climactic assault on the Death Star, almost everything Han Solo says, the sand people. And there always seems to be something new to notice. This time, it was noticing that one of the Jawas is a hell of a lot taller than the others. He's the Manute Bol of Jawas apparently. Check out the leg Princess Leia is showing on that movie poster. And Luke's chest? I bet women were really disappointed when they accompanied their boyfriends or husbands expecting to see a hunky hero and being stuck with "But I was going to Toshi Station to pick up some power converters!" Dylan wanted to watch this.

The Match Factory Girl

1990 Finnish drama

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Iris lives a lonely life. She works at a match-making factory all day before going home where she lives with her parents and sleeps on the couch. She attempts to venture out and meet guys, but it doesn't work out. One night, she meets a bearded fellow and wonders if she has a future with him. She does, but it's not the future either of them had in mind.

This really reminded me of Jarmusch, and I thought this short flick managed to set a tone and tell a story very well with very little dialogue (almost none for the first 30 minutes of the movie) and some rather mundane imagery. There's very little movement, too, and the somber, almost clinical way Iris's story is told forces you to focus on every single detail as the story progresses. Blink and you're completely miss the humor in this one, but it's there and it's dark. Like Aki Kaurismaki (writer/director who I didn't think I knew but who apparently did the Leningrad Cowboys movie I saw last year), the actress playing the main character does an excellent job while seemingly doing nothing at all. Her face, expressionless and shockingly unchanging, subtly tells tales that really couldn't be told any other way. I'm wondering if there's any connection between this movie and the old "Match Stick Girl" Christmasy story. Two other movies are included in the Criterion set, and I look forward to checking them out.

The African Queen

1951 classic movie

Rating: 13/20 (Abbey: 1/20)

Plot: During World War I, a Canadian mail man and a missionary spinster travel down an unnavigable African river via the title vessel, another obvious phallic symbol. They fight white water rapids, waterfalls, crocodiles, German soldiers, and the elements. The mail man performs hippopotamus impressions until the woman (I can't remember their names. If only the characters would have used the names before or after every single line they spoke or something!) can no longer control herself and pounces upon him like a hippopotamus on a sexy dwarf. Between the physical manifestation of their sins (i.e. frequent boinking), they concoct a stupid plan to construct a torpedo or two to take out a big German ship off the coast of Africa.

Seriously. Is anybody going to deny that Bogart won the Best Actor award only because of that hippopotamus impression? This movie has more flaws than memorable moments. Not once did it feel like these characters were facing immediate peril. When the crocodiles were sliding down the bank into the water? No, they were safely in a boat. When the Germans were shooting at them from that fortress? No, the movie wasn't ready to be over yet. When the expert boatswoman Hepburn had to maneuver the ramshackle boat through dangerously violent waters? Hippo, please. I did enjoy the obvious green-screen effects. I didn't enjoy watching the impossible-to-buy romance between the leads. More believable would have been a romance between Bogart and the leeches. I'll give this some credit for the on-location filming as well as the dangerous in-studio filming. That alone can't save this from drowning in its own silliness though. Any movie that doesn't earn the 20 rating from Abbey has to be pretty bad.

The Big Bus

1976 disaster movie spoof

Rating: 11/20

Plot: It's like Titanic but on a nuclear-powered bus making a nonstop trip from New York to Denver. And there's a terrorist in an iron lung instead of an iceberg. And everybody ends up ok instead of just the rich people. And nobody draws any pictures of any naked people.

This parody of disaster movies predates another faux disaster comedy by a few years. This one is played a little bit straighter (though it's still wacky) and probably isn't as funny. That's right. I'm referring to United 93. This has some moments (the Airplane-esque bus driver bar fight scene is almost funny, and I like the recurring cannibalism joke) but a lot of the jokes fall far short of funny. Ruth Gordon is in this and underused. The lead is played by a guy named Joseph Bologna, but that's all he's got going for him. There's almost nothing memorable about his character. There are moments when this teases you and almost becomes a funny movie, poking fun of lots of disaster movie cliches. Unfortunately, even those moments are few and far between.


1974 movie

Rating: 20/20

Plot: I think this one's about a guy (Jake Jake Gittes) who really wants a glass of water. Unfortunately, he doesn't have a glass, and a midget keeps trying to cut his nose off. He gets a Coca Cola instead, but some Chinese man keeps putting pee pee in it, presumably as a joke. Then, a guy gets killed. Then, a woman gets killed. Then, another guy gets killed. Then, Jake finds a glass for his water, but it is dirty. He then cleans the glass and finds water, but the water is dirty. He gets a water filter, a really expensive one from a store in Chinatown. He buys it for really cheap, even cheaper than the advertised price because he's got a coupon. He takes it home to try it out. Meanwhile, another person gets killed. The water filter malfunctions, and Jake drops his glass in despair. Then, he spills antifreeze on his pants. He cleans up his mess, changes pants, figures it's time he pushed a giant boulder up a small but steep hill, can't find a boulder or a hill, and decides to go ahead and take the water filter back to the store for a full refund. But he can't remember where he bought it from or find the receipt. All he knows is that it was somewhere. . .in Chinatown.

The best thing about this movie is that absolutely nothing, it seems to me, is irrelevant. Everything matters here--every line of dialogue, every gesture, every nuance, every plot point, every nipple, every cigarette, every fish, every moment. This is such a well put-together drama. It's humorous when it needs to be humorous and humorless when it needs to be humorless. There's also this existential funk that makes everything completely pointless. Poor Jake is doomed to repeat the mistakes of his previous life no matter what he does to prevent those mistakes from being repeated. There's something deeply unnerving about watching a poor guy who seems to have so much control over everything as it gradually unfolds, no matter how much things threaten to unhinge, but ultimately be nothing more than another unfortunate human being caught in the mechanism. I have always been confused about the bifocals but can forgive something like that since it's just a path leading to the greater philosophical issues anyway. It's hard to imagine noir from the 70's topping the classics, let alone surpassing many of them, but this taut drama has perfect acting, fantastic writing, a plot that is somehow overly complex while staying very very simple, and more twists than a thousand middle-aged dwarfs at a Chubby Checker look-a-like contest for dwarfs. That would be something to see, by the way. A room full of dwarfs who looked like Chubby Checker? Punch my ticket!


1960 stream-of-conscious crime drama

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A sociopath named Laszlo and Michel rolls into Paris following the theft of a motor vehicle and subsequent offing of a police officer and undoubtedly some other things. That's how the dude rolls. He contacts an American girlfriend, a woman who is damn near cute as a button, and tries to find a way to get her to first sleep with him and second flee with him to Rome where he might be able to sleep with her again and again. Detectives are in hot pursuit, a fact to which Michel seems nearly oblivious. Then, as seen on the poster, he gets shot in the back.

Godard's first film is interesting in a lot of ways. There's a freeform trouncing across the genre in that typically Godardesque way. There's the protagonist (whose arrogance and sly humor are reminiscent of the guy in Man Bites Dog) and his offbeat mannerisms, his misplaced desperation and often perplexing motivation, and his way of breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience. Of course, you know he's doomed from the start, but you enjoy watching his destruction unfold anyway. There's a quiet junk-poetic tension that the action of the movie jerks along. The cinematography, a stumbling handheld camera work, and a jazzy score contribute. And I always like movies that break the rules. There's a subtle madness I like about Breathless. Breezy and hip.

Buster Keaton Saturday: Go West

1925 comedy

Rating: 15/20 (Abbey: 20/20; Jen: 19/20 [actually, she fell asleep and missed the last third of the movie]; Emma: 17/20; Dylan: 9/20)

Plot: Down on his luck, penniless, and lonely Friendless roams the country in search of a place where he is wanted. Or at least needed. He rides the rails to the West and winds up completely out of his element on a ranch working as a cowboy. He befriends a cow named Brown Eyes and does the best he can. But trouble's afoot as a neighbor and rival rancher threatens to stop a shipment of Friendless's employer's steer to the stockyards. Can Buster save the day? It's the 1920's! Of course he can!

From guest blogger Emma: "My favorite part is when Buster tries milking the cow. I like cows. They're my favorite animal. Buster's funny. When's the next Buster Keaton Saturday?"

From guest blogger Jen: "I'm sorry but I was uncomfortable. I stayed awake for most of it."

From me: The climax of this involves a stampede through the streets of Los Angeles. Buster leads the way in a costume that makes it all so exquisitely absurd that it leaves no questions about why the surrealists were fans of Keaton's work.


1975 blockbuster

Rating: 16/20 (Jen: no rating because she fell asleep. She claims she saw this in a theater with her dad and sister but that she was wearing 3-D glasses which I believe means that she's confusing it with the third Jaws movie or that she's weird. She did watch both The Last Temptation of Christ and Casablanca with 3-D glasses.)

Plot: In the pacific waters of the Atlantic Ocean that surrounds Annuity Island, a special place where the sun doesn't rise and fall gradually but instead sort of dances up and down, a giant phallic symbol with teeth threatens the tourist season. "Children can't see the giant phallic symbol!" cries the police chief. The mayor disagrees, and following a gathering of homosexuals for what can only be described as the most massive phallus hunt in the history of Ambiguity Island, he declares the beaches safe from penii and open for business. But they're not, and the phallic symbol still roams freely, eventually severing the rest of some dude's body from his leg in what was quite possibly the most grotesquely kinky sex scene filmed during the 1970's. Three men--a pirate-turned-hippie-turned-pirate-again, a guy who works at a zoo (as a janitor), and a professional jerk-off racer--venture out to find and, at the very least, make the phallic symbol more inoffensively flaccid. They spend most of their time seeing who can come closest to pissing on a buoy that is hundreds of feet away. None of them even come close.

Mr. Spielberg manages to transform pulp into something artistic. This is a case where things--Williams' score, the visuals, the slight-of-hand dramatic tricks up Spielberg's sleeve--blend so nicely to create lots of genuine tension and surprise. The triumvirate of heroes are realistically flawed and their dialogue, their fears, and ultimately their companionship ring true. They're likable because they're real. The story is hokey-pokey, unscientific, and offensive to sharks, unfortunate creatures who, although highly intelligent, can't operate cameras and are unable to film a rebuttal. I also would have changed the ending to something with a little more of a thematic backbone, something like the shark eating everybody on Epiphany Island, jumping out of the water, and giving a big high five to the monster in 20 Million Miles to Earth. It'll always be my opinion that in these Man v. Nature movies, Nature should always win since that's how things wind up anyway. Despite its flaws, however, there's lots in the way this is filmed (the use of space on the screen, the angles, the withholding of even a single shot of the villain for the first 2/5 of the movie) that keep this cool. There are moments that scream out, "This is the 1970's!" but there are more moments that, for better or worse, plant the seeds for the blockbusters that follow.

I don't know. Is there anybody else who has anything to say about this movie?

Man on Wire

2008 documentary

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Phillipe Petit dreams of walking on a tightrope between the World Trade Center buildings, two really tall buildings that used to be in New York City but have since been replaced with bickering and disillusionment. This documentary details his struggles to plan the impossible and the accomplishment of the feat itself while reminding us all that the French are a gay peoples who deserve to be mocked relentlessly.

"Every day for him was like a work of art." That's what Petit's (pronounced PEA-TIT) girlfriend said of him. It's a joy to listen to the title man on the title wire speak of his dreams and his philosophies as he does it so enthusiastically. The story is cool and I love the ideas at the heart of this, and PEA-TIT is an inspirational figure. That, or he's a dumbass. The documentary style, with loads of reenactments (most bizarrely in a gratuitously reimagined sex scene following Petit's release from police custody), isn't always great, and there are some pacing problems, but you've always got to give credit to a film that manages to keep you on the edge of your seat even though you know exactly how everything turns out. The structure and editing keep things entertaining. It's a narrative documentary, but the story's not told chronologically.

This was recommended by lots of people (RD, Larst?). I was supposed to watch it with my brother but he cancelled with a wide variety of excuses including fatigue, American Idol, and something he referred to as (I'm not making this up), a "jerk-off race" which I imagine he would do very well in. I sort of feel bad for watching it without him.

The Independent

2000 comedy

Rating: 13/20

Plot: B-movie director Morty Fineman, director of 427 films, is in the twilight of his career. He wants to make a movie based on the life of a serial killer (a musical), but is finding it impossible to find financial backers despite getting help from his estranged daughter. He owes loads already and tries desperately to find a way to make money to continue doing what he loves to do--make motion pictures with lots of topless women and some sort of trendy political message.

I'd never heard of this and wasn't sure if Jerry Stiller could really carry an entire movie, but it's really pretty funny and Ben's dad does a great job playing, I assume, the exact same character he always plays. He's not exactly versatile like his son. I like the mockumentary style, but this doesn't stick consistently with that genre and moves into more of a straight narrative and sort of loses focus. The funniest bits are the clips from his movies (titles like 12 Angry Men and a Baby and my favorite title, World War III II) and the interview cameos with people like Ron Howard and Peter Bogdanovich. There's also a filmography running alongside the credits which is amusing; check it out on wikipedia. Venus de Mofo; Neat but Not Clean; One-Eyed Wink; What Planet Is This? (Oh My God It's Earth!); Assassin in a See-Through Blouse; Unknown Epidemic, Run!; A Stranger Wears My Pants; Go Tell It on the Mountain, Just Get the Hell out of My House!; A Very Malcolm Xmas; Talkin' Dirty to the Dead; Pong: The Movie; The Bodacious Oasis; (Steam Rises as) The Hup Swamp; and The Man with Two Things are all movies I'd pay to see. Actually, that list is probably better than the movie. Just read it. And if you think it's funny, you'll probably laugh at least three times while watching the movie.

I wonder what a much-maligned guy who wears poker shirts to poker games would think of this movie. . .


1985 Utopian fantasy

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Society is deadened, feelings seemingly forbidden by law. Blueish-collar worker Sam juggles a relationship with his mother that sickens him, a job that is exactly as dead-end as he would like it to be, and his fantasies involving a woman he's only barely made eye contact with. Meanwhile, metallic gods bring the hammer down, and bureaucrats read from pamphlets as thick as bricks.

The problems with this one are that it requires more viewings than most people are probably willing to invest, that there is probably just too much movie here and it'll likely leave some viewers drowning in it all, and that some of it seems a little dated. But the rest of it--the acting, oddball characters, absolutely incredible sets and more incredible visual appeal, the noirish complex plot, the music--is explosively imaginative. I can't imagine how some of this was pulled off without computer animation. The movie stays fun and funny while all the time being oppressively depressing and sharply satirical. It seems weird to me that there was a time when Terry Gilliam was one of my favorite directors but that I didn't really care for this movie all that much.

The Animation Show Volume 3

2007 animation compilation

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Volume three of Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt's cavalcade of innovative and creative animators.

Well, it starts with Beavis and Butthead. I ain't a fan. Things really get started with "Rabbit," a clever little rape of nostalgia that is a very good looking dark comedic fable. It's worth finding on your Internet. "City Paradise" is an ultra-modern clunker. "Everything Will Be Ok" is my favorite Hertzfeldt piece ever, which is probably saying much at all, but this very dark offering of stick figure chaos and no-budget surrealism works. It's funny and unnerving. "Collision" is a kaleidoscopic minimalism that looks like somebody's screen saver. "Astronauts" features homoerotic computer animated space travellers and seems like a one-tone joke that frustratingly lacks a punchline. Bill Plympton has two pieces in the compilation, one very typical that I imagine his fans would like and one that is a little more adventurous--a sleepy noirish tale that is almost really good. "Carlitopolis" combines live action with computer animation in a way that could have been cool, but it looked like an exercise, like showing off. "No Room for Gerald" is the animated equivalent of the dogs playing poker painting, and "One D" doesn't work from the get-go as (I assume) something that is supposed to be funny. I hated a short called "Tyger" even though it had a pretty cool mishmash of styles including a puppet. "Versus" was almost good while "Learn Self Defense" completely lacked humor. There's a nifty existential love story called "Abigail" that takes place during a plane crash. It's a fun little nightmare. I could barely watch a self-indulgent piece called "Dreams and Desires" before the disc finishes with an homage to 80's video games called "Game Over" by that guy who does stop animation with household items. All in all, some of these things are worth seeing once, a lot of them are not good at all, and a few of them are pretty incredible. There's a nice variety at least.

Animal Crackers

1930 comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: It really doesn't matter a whole lot. Captain Spaulding (Groucho) returns from adventures in Africa in time to get mixed up in a bunch of nonsense about an expensive painting and the crooks attempting to steal it. Zaniness ensues.

Like The Cocoanuts, this one is really stagey. There's an odd mix of almost postmodern humor that is wildly ahead of its time and the really dated romantic subplot with the even more dated musical numbers. And like The Cocoanuts, when the Marx brothers are on screen, the puns and double entendres and non sequiturs are fast and furious and frequently funny. Lots of "Oh, so that's where that line comes from" moments. When the Marxes are nowhere to be found, this is really sort of lame. And I love watching Chico and Harpo playing the piano and harp respectively, but the extended scenes really sort of hurt the pacing of this one.

Buster Keaton Saturday: "The Goat"

1921 Buster Keaton short

Rating: n/a (Abbey: 20/20)

Plot: It's a case of mistaken identity as Buster, thinking he's wanted for murder, must run from cops and from ambitious men who want to collect a little reward money.

Hilarious short with some undeniably classic scenes. The action's quick, really packed tightly into this 30 minute short, and there are lots of clever sight gags. Keaton's physical genius is on display. Any time you get to spend a Saturday night with your family watching Buster Keaton being chased is time well spent. I haven't seen a lot of Keaton shorts and therefore have nothing to compare "The Goat" to, but this seemed like a strong one. My kids laughed, and that's really all that matters to me. The next Buster Keaton Saturday can't come soon enough. Heck, I might make every single day a Buster Keaton Saturday! It's my calendar, so I can do anything I want. I dare you to stop me, you sons of bitches.

Flags of Our Fathers

2006 war movie

Rating: 14/20 (Dylan: 12/20)

Plot: So what we're left with is our memories. Swirling stars above a city of stone, silver buses and snapping fingers. I fondled a girl and rapped for nickels outside a smorgasbord while you watched a dying man desperately attempting to win you a stuffed seal from a claw machine. Just how baggy did I wear my pants back then? And did I ever tell you that I never actually wrote that rap song, the one about Dave Winfield, the one you told me was clever but were likely far too smart to actually think that? It doesn't matter. The stuffed seal didn't care, so why should anybody else? All those dead people, that black wall, and the teasing of a rainbow umbrella lifted toward a glum sky. What was I doing, and why was I doing it? That's what I'd like to know.

Dylan didn't like the structure of this one (he did say that he liked the movie), but the bouncing between the war scenes on Iwo Jima and the travels of the three surviving flag raisers worked well. The movie is too long and at times seems redundant, and the last twenty minutes or so is bogged down by some narration which almost makes it seem like an entirely different movie. I like the messages at the heart of this movie, and Eastwood does a good enough job of portraying the harshness of war as well as the harshness of post-war realistically. But I was bored far too often with the safe direction and the Hollywoodiness of it all. We'll watch Letters from Iwo Jima soon enough, I suppose.

My Own Private Idaho

1991 gay movie

Rating: 12/20

Plot: In this unpopular sequel to Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Bill and Ted decide to become male prostitutes in late 18th Century Philadelphia. Bill winds up with Yellow Fever and Ted can't stop laughing at him. "Look at your eyes, Bill! Look at 'em!" Eventually, Hitler comes along in his own time machine, and the boys, following the miraculous recover of Bill, have to stop him from using a nuclear weapon to blow up Roosevelt's ancestors and change the historical future. Oh, snap!

I can't be the only person who thinks this movie is uninspiring and flat, right? Bad acting and Shakespearean pomp suck the life out of this one, and I don't care for how this one meanders. Most, I'd assume, would find this whole ordeal pretentious, but I do like how a lot of it looks with Van Sant creating this dreamy aura while experimenting both sonically and visually. There's just too much distraction in this art schoolish affair that keeps the story from really having an emotional impact.

Encounters at the End of the World

2007 documentary

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Werner Herzog ventures to the unforgiving landscape of Antartica to discuss humanity's inevitable extinction with philosopher/fork lift drivers and other "professional dreamers."

Herzog captures rare breeds and gives us their stories on our big and small screens. He asks questions that have no answers and then gets answers. "Why is it that a sophisticated animal like a chimpanzee does not take advantage of inferior animals? He could straddle a goat and ride off into the sunset." This, as Herzog says, is not another movie about penguins. It's a movie about mankind dreaming its way straight into extinction and is a profoundly moving, if kind of odd, experience. Some of the photography is stunning, but you can get that sort of thing elsewhere. What this offers is Herzog's unique blend of found art--the ability he has to find the surreal hidden in the mundane--and his philosophical ramblings. His narration, although I could listen to his voice for hours, is at times oppressive. He cuts off one interviewee's story with a "to make a long, drawn-out story short" and another one's with "her story goes on forever." This is a fantastic companion piece to Fata Morgana, and it's cool to see that Herzog's modus operandi hasn't changed all that much in the 35+ years since he made that one. Lots of moments in this one which will require a second viewing, but I loved the interaction with an aloof penguin expert: "I tried to keep the conversation going. 'Dr. Ainly, I read soemwhere that there are gay penguins."


1927 comedy

Rating: 13/20 (Dylan: 11/20; Emma: 17/20; Abbey: 20/20)

Plot: Ronald graduates at the top of his class and attends his graduation ceremony with his proud mother. Mary, the girl of his dreams is also there, and following a speech in which he criticizes athletics, he is told that she could never love a man who wasn't an athlete. When he goes off to college, he tries his hand at baseball, track and field, and rowing, which in 1927 was actually considered a sport. Unfortunately, his rival Jeff also has his eyes on Mary and is more than a little more athletically gifted. He's got girth!

There are good bits here, but this is overall a sub-par Keaton feature film. Some of the sketches go on for too long, and some are just extraneous. His attempts to get a job, for example, are unnecessary to the storyline. There's also a scene that is a bit racially insensitive, but it was nothing that would be overly shocking to anybody who's seen a Shirley Temple movie. What keeps this from being as good as other Keaton movies, although it does have some very funny moments, is that it's far too episodic and doesn't have the flow of a The General or Our Hospitality.

This, by the way, is the first of many consecutive Buster Keaton Saturdays. I announced this to two of this blog's readers last night, but neither really seemed all that excited.

If I Should Fall from Grace with God: The Shane MacGowan Story

2001 documentary

Rating: 12/20

Plot: A documentary about how everybody in Ireland is ugly. Mainly, the cameras follow around one particular ugly Irishman, Shane MacGowan, former frontman for Irish folk-punkers The Pogues. He was also in an earlier band called The Nip Erectors. He drinks a lot, but a lot of other ugly people call him a genuis. But his self-destructive behavior threatens not only his musical career but also his life. Check out those teeth!

I love that the last line in this documentary is a woman saying, "Don't worry, Shane. Your teeth will grow back." Non-Pogues fans probably have no need to watch this. Lots of music, some old footage when Shane still had teeth and a voice like an angel. Or at least one of the two. There's also a lot of unintelligible interview footage which, I think we'd all agree, is the very best kind of interview footage.

The Cocoanuts

1929 musical comedy

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Hammer owns a beachside hotel in Florida. It makes no money. He tries his best to swindle his way into riches while at the same time, some jewel thieves concoct a plan to rob from a rich visitor. The other Marx Brothers get in the way of both plans. And then there is much singing!

Too much singing. Hokey-pokey subplots and insipid song and dance numbers get in the way of what the Marx Brothers are doing. They do their thang in this, their first movie--the fast talking funk, Zeppo's physical stuff, the musical instrument dabbling--but it's a messy thang and there's nothing really all that memorable like the classic scenes in their better work.

The Shaolin Temple

1982 kung-fu movie


Plot: Chieh Yuan wants revenge on the man who killed his father. Monks help him out which then causes trouble for them.

Jet Li's first film is a strong one. The fight scenes are lively and creative and, at times, very long. They're also very complex with giant melees that fill the screen with action. Definitely very traditional kung-fu, the choreography depending on nothing more than the skills of the participants rather than any special effects or wires. And although Li's skills are as fun to watch as in his later works, he doesn't even come close to overshadowing the work of the others. In fact, they could more than likely have all beaten me up. Add a variety of weapons and a dude who does flips off his head, and you've got the recipe for some quality action. This is a kung-fu movie I'll definitely watch again.


2009 movie

Rating: 15/20 (RD: 15/20)

Plot: The times they have a-changed, and in an alternate universe 1980's New York City (in which Richard Nixon is inexplicably still president and American won in Vietnam), superheroes have been outlawed and crime is everywhere. People live in fear of a seemingly inevitable nuclear holocaust. Following the murder of aging costumed hero The Comedian, another costumed superhero called Rorshach runs around in a fedora to warn his former cohorts about a potential threat against all superheroes and try to figure out who's behind it. Comic books explode as invitations to the apocalypse are mailed out.

I was unclear about my own anticipations going in, and coming out, I was more unclear about whether what I watched was brilliant or crappy than I have been following a movie in a long time. I'll borrow from RD, my friend who recommended and loaned me the graphic novels a few years ago (I should add, by the way, that without that reading, I might have been completely lost during this nearly three-hour movie): it was almost as if this movie had two directors, one who wanted to make a silly blockbuster that would make fanboys drool and pee their pants in delight and another who understands subtlety and grace and wanted to focus more on the depth of the graphic novel--the philosophy, the satire, and the dark dark humor.

The brilliance. An absolutely stunning opening scene followed by a gorgeous opening credits with bizarrely artistic visuals that simultaneously shocked, amused, and enlightened while "The Times They Are A-Changin'" blared. The rest of the visuals--seamless CGI, breathtaking imagery, fight scenes straddling the line between over-the-top and over-the-over-the-top. The story itself which retains the difficulty of the graphic novel's narrative structure, unfolding gracefully with flashbacks and (maybe?) flashbacks within flashbacks. There's so much to see; this is an absolutely jam-packed nearly three hours. And this is the exact kind of movie that excites me, the kind you just want to discuss endlessly and the kind which I believe people will be discussing for years and years. Nuances, depth, power, ambiguity. So much of this is so great, transcending comic book movies and blockbusters, baffling and tickling the audience, and holding that mirror up to our world in a way that reflects now, twenty-five years ago, sixty-seven years ago, and two hundred years ago. But. . .

There was so much wackiness, so many times when the movie loses focus, and so many unfortunately embarrassing moments in this. There was a necessary but troublingly campy sex scene, a few too many of those moments where this slipped into goofy action mode (self-parody?), and lots of stuff that should have easily ended up on the cutting room floor. There was some genuinely awful acting. There were some truly odd soundtrack choices ("99 Luft Balloons"? Was that incidental or was that supposed to be on a jukebox since the setting was the 80's?) and some scenes that might have been unnecessarily super-ultra-violent. I also hated this animated creature that was in the movie for no apparently reason. It looked really stupid.

I'll add four more things. 1) I really look forward to seeing this again. It's a feast. 2) I don't see movies often at all in movie theaters. I almost forgot that I had to buy tickets and am lucky RD was with me or I would have probably been beaten and arrested. But I wonder how much seeing movies in theaters makes those movies seem more impressive than they would be on my television screen. 3) I believe this is better than any Batman movie ever made. Add any Incredible Hulk movie to that. 4) My favorite audience member comment: "Doesn't anybody in this movie wear clothes?" I doubt I see more big ol' blue CGI penis this year.

The Monster Squad

1987 children's horror movie

Rating: 4/20

Plot: Some really dorky kids form a monster club, somehow get Fonzi to join them, and retreat to a clubhouse where they talk about monsters and plan for the events of this movie. Then Dracula, after recruiting a wolf man, Frankenstein's monster, a swamp thing, and some famale vampires, arrives to take over the earth or something and look for Van Helsing's diary which the main character's mother just happened to pick up at a yard sale that day. A German fellow and the main character's father, who since this is a movie from the 80's must find a way to reconnect with his son, help out.

This script was terrible. A pet peeve of mine is kids cursing in movies. This one annoyed me right off the bat, and then creeped me out later when there was a discussion of a five-year-old girl's virginity. The special effects in The Monster Squad were worse than they were in the 1940's classic monster movies which this movie seems to be pissing all over. Another pet peeve of mine is bad child acting, and this had about forty-seven examples of it. If it was bad in a funny way, I could forgive and forget, but this was just bad. Offensive bad. A student actually brought this in to watch instead of Apollo 13. I told him no, but he told me to take it home and watch it anyway. Now I'm probably going to fail the kid.

The Rocker

2008 Jack Black comedy that he actually has nothing to do with

Rating: 6/20

Plot: Fish is the passionate drummer for a 1980's hair metal band called Vesuvius. The other members of Vesuvius dump him after their manager convinces them that it's a good idea. Apparently it was, as they ride that volcano all the way to the rock 'n' roll hall of fame. Fish is bitter but eventually accidentally joins a teenage relative's garage band which then becomes a smashing success. Rock on!

The music in this is horrible, and I don't think Rainn Wilson, as much as I like him on The Office, can carry a movie. This is a paint-by-numbers comedy with barely enough going on to hold my attention for the duration. I will never speak of it again.

Apollo 13

1995 movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A sequel to the box office flop Apollo 12, this episode in the series features our three heroes--Roy Davenport, Sebastian Futon, and Rocko Picnic--as they travel to the distant conical planet called Borkenloaf to attempt the rescue of the American president from the clutches of space monkeys who are repeatedly and ingeniously molesting him with tobacco-stained gloves and extraterrestrial prods. The problem is that Borkenloaf is so far away (nearly 1,200 miles!) and they are without a spacecraft (destroyed in the final moments of Apollo 11 during the climactic space tornado scene) and must walk instead. "Chin up," says Picnic. "You weren't chosen for this mission because you're a God damn puss." They must tangle with space squid, space centipedes (later, a video game), and space koala bears along the way. Conflicts arise when Davenport finishes off the last of the potato salad and Futon is accused of deeds of which only Futon could be accused. Can the astronauts settle their differences in time to work together to save the president? Will a figure from Davenport's checkered past threaten the mission? Will this movie make enough money to justify an Apollo 14? Based on a true story.

I don't hate Tom Hanks. Not at all. But I do have a problem with him that is really hard to articulate. The only way I can put it is that he is just too Tom Hanksy. This isn't a bad movie. But like Tom Hanks, this movie is just too much a movie. I don't know if it's due to spoilers or with what I thought was sterile direction, but I was never moved by anything that was happening on the screen and never on the edge of my seat. There was a moment in this when what was happening on the spacecraft got kind of boring, probably because the movie was nearly six hours long, and the stuff on earth became more intriguing. Actually, now that I think about it, that stuff was probably always more intriguing. I was never able to empathize with the astronauts in this one except for maybe Sinise's character who was on earth anyway. This, like most movies based on historical events, would have been much better with puppets. But gosh, I hope we go back to the moon some day. I can't think of anything better to do with all of this money America has saved up.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

2008 romantic comedy

Rating: 7/20

Plot: Heartbroken composer Peter Bretter takes a trip to Hawaii to try to forget his actress girlfriend Sarah Marshall. She happens to be there with her new rock star boyfriend which makes things difficult.

This wasn't funny. And I can find no reason why Jason Segel's penis needs to be on the screen multiple times. I guess you know you're in trouble when the best thing about the movie is Billy Baldwin. These movies from the guys who brought us The 40-Year-Old Virgin are getting tired. I did appreciate the puppets near the end though.

El Norte

1983 drama

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Enrique and Rosa, Guatemalan peasants, decide to flee the violence of their homeland to look for some really good shopping malls in the land of the free and the home of the brave. They travel via bus, trucks, boats, train, elephant, chimp, motor scooter, children's backs, moon shoes, vines, skateboards, pogo sticks, more boats, tank, giraffes, dog sleds, magic carpet, cereal boxes fashioned into skis, each other, a circus train, rockets, skates, unicycles, ostriches, a race car, pterodactyl, wagon, police car, Oscar Meyer Weinermobile, submarine, jet skiis, crotch rockets, hot pockets, Calista Flockhart, jeeps, giant rats, bumper cars, flying saucers, underground burrowing, mules, kites, falcons, hot air balloons, cold air balloons, giant tire, shopping cart, feet, magic snowman's back, plastic motorized car, mammoth, Segways, clown car, Volkswagon van filled with hippies and pot smoke, big rig, little rig, medium-sized rig, tractor, llama, and a rainbow until they reach America. Then, everything is peachy because they're in America which is always a welcoming, wonderful place for immigrants.

I believe I need to see this one again. I was distracted by a my own gloominess and fatigue. The saga of these two unfortunate souls isn't always easy to watch, and not just the devastatingly sad scenes. Check out the scene in the sewer amongst the rats, a couple which the siblings ride upon. Some interesting settings, atmospheres decorated with some almost surreal touches working as a virtual road trip through Central America. The third part of the film, in Los Angeles, gets a little melodramatic and loses some steam. The filming looks cheap, and the characters are likable but not exactly a draw, but this is important story showcasing the plight of numerous people and is still topical 25 years later.

The Gambler

1974 drama

Rating: 10/20

Plot: A literature professor struggles with addiction and alienates his family and friends. He should learn a lesson when he finds himself drowning in a dangerous forty-four thousand dollar debt and has to have his mommy bail him out, but he goes right on gambling.

If only there were Oscars awarded for chest hair. This movie isn't very good; it's dated and overlong. It's one of those movies that threatens to end several times but then doesn't. I'm not saying a movie has to have a nice tidy tight resolution, but this one goes absolutely nowhere. The character doesn't get, learn, change, or anything. And that's a problem with a movie like this. He's not really likable, but he's not exactly unlikable all the time either. He's just kind of there, and I got really tired following him around after about an hour. The point was sort of driven home after ten minutes. I really didn't need the additional hour and a half.

The Straight Story

1999 David Lynch joint

Rating: 17/20

Plot: True story of Alvin Straight, an Iowan with bad hips who travels to Wisconsin via John Deere riding lawnmower to visit his sick brother he hasn't spoken to in nine years. Leaving his daughter behind, he makes the 266 mile trip in six weeks on the 60's John Deere while facing storms, giant hills, and menacing 16-wheelers. He also interacts with a variety of folks along the way.

I thought I had a label for movies that make me cry. I'm not sure why this one grabs me so hard because it's quite possible that I'm being manipulated. I can forgive though when a movie is this beautiful. I've seen this twice previously and only checked it out this time because my brother saw it recently and didn't like it. I can only conclude that he is a heartless bastard. Lynch's direction is excellent here, such a delicate directorial hand. It might be my favorite Lynch movie actually. The movie is both touching and funny with several quirky locals, almost like Disney-fied versions of the typical members of the lunatic fringe who inhabit Lynch's films. No backmasking midgets though. The dialogue is unrealistic, but in such a homey way that it can also be forgiven. My favorite bit of dialogue involves Straight trying to buy a grabber from his local hardware store. It's such a wonderful mix of character acting and well-written dialogue and makes me smile just thinking about it. Now, my brother didn't think either Richard Farnsworth or Sissy Spacek acted well in this. He's wrong. Spacek, playing the mentally challenged daughter of Straight, isn't easy to watch, but she's very good. And the old man is perfect, one of those roles you can't imagine could be played by anybody else. Watch the scene where Straight shares war stories and tell me the acting is bad. Both roles are also so physical, and I think my brother probably missed that because he was too busy being wrong. Disney and David Lynch--a match made in heaven!

I have to come clean though. I might have given this movie a bonus point just to annoy my brother.

Cats and Dogs

2001 children's movie

Rating: 5/20 (Dylan: 6/20; Emma: /20; Abbey: 19/20)

Plot: Cats and dogs fight.

These talking animals creep me out, and combine that with a talking Jeff Goldblum, something else that creeps me out, and you've got one creepy movie. The special effects can't save this piece of crap story. These computer-generated cats and dogs really don't come to life which makes it nearly impossible for an adult to hop on board and enjoy this even a little bit. Great idea on the drawing board, I think, but this would have worked much better as traditional animation than with this creepy live action + Jeff Goldblum formula they dreamed up. Definitely one of those movies that you watch while thinking about all the starving people out there who could have been fed if the money that went into this project was used to help them. Actually, thinking about starving people is a lot more entertaining than watching Cats and Dogs.