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.
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!
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. . .
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.