Day of the Dead

1985 zombie movie

Rating: 10/20

Plot: Third film in Romero's "Dead" trilogy takes place in an underground bunker. Zombies have overtaken the world, outnumbering living humans four billion to one. A group of scientists reside with a group of military men. The scientists want to experiment on the zombies. The soldiers just want to shoot the zombies in the head. The zombies just want to eat.

Tom Savini's special effects are great here, and the actor who plays Bob the domesticated zombie gives what might be the best zombie performance in the history of the genre. But that's about all that's good here. The story is lame, and this installment just lacks the special something that Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead have. The 80's synthesizer music is embarrassingly dated. I'm probably not allowed to complain about the terrible acting or the dialogue with this type of movie, but I am allowed to complain about the pacing. This is far too talky for a zombie movie and the characters, instead of being developed into meaningful entities, really just become like living zombies themselves. That might have been the point, but it didn't help the movie any. Day of the Dead also doesn't have the clever social commentary that Dawn of the Dead did, and the imagery fails to connect in a meaningful way. The overall message of this entry in the series seems to be that when society is faced with an unsolvable problem, the only solution is to run off to a beautiful tropical island. And zombies should never be allowed to use guns. That should have been a rule from the get-go.


2004 rockumentary

Rating: 16/20

Plot: This follows the careers of two West Coast rock bands with punny names--the Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. The former finds some success, especially in Europe, but struggles a bit as they deal with major label pressures. BJM, led by the charismatic and likely psychotic Anton Newcombe, hovers around the edges of success and major label interest; however, the explosively unpredictable behavior of their frontman always gets in the way. A sort-of rivalry develops. At least in the head of Newcombe.

In case you keep track of this sort of thing, this makes two movies in a row with exclamation marks in the titles. This really must have been a labor of love for the director as it seems to be synthesized from what must have been around a zillion hours of home footage, concert footage, and interviews. It winds up being one of those almost accidental bits of documentary greatness, sort of like a Hoop Dreams, where a story gradually develops and then unfolds in ways that could never have been written. There's humor, horror, and drama as Newcombe falls to pieces and sabotages his chances at rock 'n' roll stardom again and again. Kicking his bandmates in the middle of songs for misplaying things, arguing or engaging in fisticuffs with audience members, roller skating while wearing a fuzzy hat. My favorite bit involves the Brian Jonestown Massacre's annoying tambourine player (pictured above) who makes the claim that he can leave the band and find success with another group. He does nothing but play a freakin' tambourine! Lots to love here if you're entertained by watching human beings falling to pieces.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the Eighth Dimension!

1984 science fiction adventure movie

Rating: 10/20

Plot: The title character is a rock star, a surgeon, a scientist, and a superhero. After successfully entering the 8th dimension in his fancy rocket car, he and the Hong Kong Cavaliers must battle aliens from Planet 10 who are trying to destroy earth.

This is one of those cases where you can use the word "unique" and not mean it in a very nice way. This movie is a mess. There are some dryly humorous moments, but the plot is so sprawling and the characters just seem to be there to add decoration and aren't developed much at all. The acting is hammy (Lithgow is really out of control) and the special effects are about as good as you can find in a Power Rangers episode. The acting and special effects are supposed to be like that, but there's just this lack of fun and energy that flattens this movie. The bizarrity is over-the-top and distracting. I remember not remembering watching this as a kid. I doubt that I liked it then either. I actually expected to like this cult classic a lot more than I did.

Buster Keaton "Saturday": Steamboat Bill, Jr.

1928 silent comedy


Jen 18/20

Dylan 15/20

Emma 18/20

Abbey 20/20

I watched this recently and have nothing new to add. With Dylan's unusually high rating, however, Steamboat Bill, Jr. gets the highest average rating of any Buster Keaton movie we've seen so far.

The Freshman

1925 sports comedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A nerdy 30 year old who apparently sort of looks like me gets ready for his freshman year at Tate University. He desperately wants to be popular and does everything he can (using a goofy handshake that involves a jig, buying ice cream for everybody) to gain that popularity. He tries out for the football team but only makes it as a waterboy. Until the final game, that is, when everything that you thought was probably going to happen starts happening and Harold gets the chance to be a hero.

This is better than Keaton's similar film, College, and has some very funny moments. The climactic football game is funny enough, but it's outshined by an early series of gags involving attempts to keep an poorly manufactured suit together during a party. I also nearly laughed every time Lloyd began that silly dancing handshake thing. I don't usually praise title cards in silent movies, but this one has some clever ones, taking some jabs at education that still seem appropriate today. The typical 1920s comedy romance is a little hard to buy, and I thought it was a little hard to side with this underdog since his only motivation was achieving popularity. I really like some of the smaller moments that develop his character subtly and sweetly--Harold's adjustment of a newspaper clipping about him on the wall near a picture of his hero and the scene where he enjoys having buttons sewn on by his love interest. This is a conventional but charming silent comedy.

Iron Man

2008 comic book movie

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Part two of the biography of baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken who broke Lou Gehrig's "iron man" consecutive game streak. This is the part of the future Oriole superstar's story in which he winds up in Afghanistan where terrorists are forcing him to build a fancy missile. Instead, he builds a suit of armor and busts out of there. "Ain't no time to [censored] around," he said. "I've got spring training to get ready for." Cue Black Sabbath song.

It's starting to get to the point where if you've seen one comic book superhero movie, you've seen 'em all. And I'm not entirely sure why I keep subjecting myself to them. Robert Downey Jr. (the greatest actor of all time) doesn't really need to be in this. His performance seems half-assed, and anybody who sort of looks like him (read: dreamy) would have sufficed. I'm not sure what was going on with his facial hair anyway. About one-fourth of this movie consists of montages of Robert Downey Jr. building things and despite the guitar music accompanying that building action, I wasn't exactly moved. The story is predictable and really sort of lame in a way that mirrors the recent Hulk movie, and although I know I should probably not tear something apart because of what seem to be scientific illogicalities (of which this has many), that stuff really seemed to get in the way of the story here. I also thought the Iron Man looked dopey, and the action scenes, even though the special effects were adequate, were mostly at a distance which did nothing to bring the action into my living room. And I hated the rock 'n' roll soundtrack. Ho-hum.

Synecdoche, New York

2008 film experience

Rating: 17/20 (Jen: 3/20)

Plot: Theater director Caden Cotard is struggling with his work and almost every aspect of his life. After a successful production of Death of a Salesman and the awarding of a grant, he decides it's time to make something more creative and personal. He has a city constructed in a large warehouse and casts hundreds of actors to act out the minutia of the lives of him and the people. Gradually, he falls to pieces.

This is either one of my new favorite movies or a big ol' piece of crapola. I just can't decide. I laughed out several times, and I nearly cried more than a few. Hoffman's performance is heart-shattering, and his transformation from a middle-aged theater director to an old decrepit man is remarkable. This really works well as a character study of a disturbed (diseased?) man struggling with his mortality, every single choice he's made in his life, and a universe that he's unable to control. It's about as quirky as movies get, and it's definitely not easy. In fact, I plan to see it again very soon (possible this weekend) to try to figure out just what I saw the first time. There are so many fine details submerged in the chaos that I know I missed a lot. It's a riddle, but unlike other movie riddles I couldn't solve, I'm not sure I need answers to enjoy it. Actually, this seems more like the type of movie you don't really watch and understand as much as you interact with it, let it bounce around your head. This head-scratcher isn't for everybody (see Jen's rating which, I'll admit, quite possibly could be more accurate than mine), but you should watch it anyway. It's a movie I thought of all day (when I wasn't doing my job--playing chess on a computer at school), and that's usually a sign that I just watched something good.

The Kid Brother

1927 silent comedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: The Hickory family--the sheriff, two tough-guy sons, and one Harold Lloyd--is an important family in Hickoryville. Harold falls for Mary, a woman who rolls in with a medicine show and has to use his wits, since he doesn't have the brawn, to get back the town's money that has been stolen by fiends and save his father's reputation.

Solid tale with some fun moments. The problem with Harold Lloyd though is that he's not Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin. Too bad for him. I did really like the sweet moment following the scene where Harold meets Mary in which he climbs a tree, and I really like the music in this one although that does become a little redundant. There's a very lengthy fight scene on a boat that, although humorously endless, has some great moments. And The Kid Brother not only has a monkey but the monkey from Chaplin's The Circus and Keaton's The Cameraman that Dylan said was his favorite actor. That still didn't pull him down here to watch it with me though. It's not the monkey's most brilliant role.

Modern Times

1936 silent comedy

Rating: 18/20

Plot: Modern times is hard times as the Tramp and his recently-orphaned love interest try to survive. The Tramp works in an assembly line until a series of misfortunes force his employee to have him committed. When released, bad luck continues to follow him around until he meets the girl and then it follows both of them around.

Interestingly, I didn't really like this movie the first time I saw it, probably about fifteen years ago. I love it now though, not just as a comedy but as a cry against a too-modern world and the negative effects that technological innovations can have on society. This was Chaplin's last silent (it does use sound effects very cleverly and, even more cleverly, there are several moments when spoken voices can be heard but they are only heard through machines), made several years after everybody else was making talkies, and it's cool watching him stick to his guns and make something so quietly poetic and visually wonderful in the midst of the changing industry. Chaplin often came at you with a heavy fist, but the message here is definitely below the surface of the comedy. There are some classic scenes--the automated eating machine, the Tramp being sucked into factory gears, a roller-skating-while-blindfolded stunt, troubles with waiting tables. I also love the way the music (Chaplin's, of course, and according to co-star and wife, obsessed over) works with the action, making the visual hijinks of the Tramp almost cartoony. Speaking of music, it should be noted that Chaplin's voice is in this one during a scene where he sings a nonsense song (seems dirty to me) in a restaurant. The combination of dada lyricism and pantomime is pretty brilliant there. The gripe could be made that this movie is too episodic and, yes, probably a bit sappy, but it's still a timeless classic that will likely always manage to entertain.

Masters of Russian Animation: Volume III

Animation from 1978, 1983, 1990, and 1979

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Shorts about rainbow blobs conversing with pipe smokers, injured ants trying to return home, cats befriending mice to the chagrin of babushkas, and children feeding apples to crows while bulls jump rope with little girls and Death taps brides on tender shoulders and asks, "May I cut in?"

Vladimir Tarasov's "Contact" shows us that hippiedom came to the Soviet Union kinda late. Some of the animation looks like it would fit right in with Yellow Submarine. It's a fun little short but nothing spectacular. Neither is "Travels of an Ant" although the insect voices, all done by director/animator Eduard Nazarov, are really cute. It's a nice little children's story. It's hard to believe that Alexander Guriev's "Cat and Company" comes from the 90's. Color schemes (purple birds flying over a yellow background?), style, and music makes it look like something straight out of the late 70's. It was a yucky cartoon. Finally, you get to the nearly 30 minute "Tale of Tales" (the original title "The Grey Wolf Will Come" didn't make it past the censors) which is unique and beautiful. There's a mix of animation styles (cut-outs, stop motion) and this gray and white texture that gives it a dreamy, sort of silent film quality that makes it really exciting visually. It's such a fragile-looking movie, almost like the images would start to crack if I stared too hard. I don't understand much of the symbolism (or narrative if there is one). If I had to guess, I'd say it contains a lot of allusions to Russian folk tales. Even without fully understanding what is going on, however, this is still a stimulating 30 minutes. The wolf is cute!


1974 science fiction thing

Rating: 7/20

Plot: Sometime in the distant future, the people of earth have been divided into two separate societies--savages in red diapers and silk-clad immortals. An exterminator named Zed sneaks into the mouth of the savage's god (Zardoz) and. . . nevermind. This is all pretty stupid.

This movie starts with a giant stone head proclaiming, "The gun is good. The penis is evil." Then, it vomits guns as a bunch of guys with bad facial hair and red diapers run around retrieving them. Then, Sean Connery (a scantily-clad one) winds up inside the head where he points a pistol at naked people in giant ziploc bags. After that, the movie gets really weird. Then, it manages to get weirder. Zardoz has the feel of the brilliant The Holy Mountain, but there is one key difference--it sucks. Sean Connery looks as baffled as I felt as he runs around in his little leather pants and silly hair and giant boots. His appearance in this movie makes me wonder if he lost a bet or something. There's some really nifty imagery in this movie that saves it from being a complete waste of my time. I especially liked when Sean Connery's character winds up in a psychedelic house of mirrors. But this thing seemed endless, completely inept, wonderfully vacuous, and really really silly. Lots of "What the hell?" going on here. I haven't looked this up or anything, but I bet this movie broke a record for actors asking, "You want me to do what?" during the production.

The Stunt Man

1980 action comedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Cameron, a Vietnam veteran on the run from the police, stumbles into a production of a war film directed by eccentric director Eli Cross. After he contributes in the death of a stunt man, Cross offers him a job as his replacement. The pay's good and the leading actress is attractive, so he accepts. He starts to wonder, however, whether the director wants him to survive his stunts or not.

Though flawed, The Stunt Man really has it all. Action. Suspense. Mystery. Humor. Romance. Philosophical reflections on our perceptions of reality and deity. Nudity. Intrigue. A great performance by O'Toole as the god-like director. Well-choreographed comedic stunt scenes. Twists. A fine score. A terrific script. And I absolutely love the opening scene involving a vulture, half-eaten apple, and a helicopter. With The Stunt Man, it's all about the dichotomies. This movie manages to be an over-the-top action movie and an art film simultaneously. It manages to be very subtle and in your face at the same time. This is a really interesting, multi-layered movie that will either come together or fall to pieces with subsequent viewings. It's not perfect (blame the editing), but it's a treat for both the brain and gut.

Sans Soleil

1983 documentary

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A woman reads from letters sent to her from a globetrotter. He meditates on time, space, and memory. Pretentiously.

Rich stuff here, really thick with ideas and visuals. This feels a lot like Herzog's Encounters or Fata Morgana, bizarro travelogues that showcase earth as alien territory. Here, there are mystical locales in Africa and Japan, bookcased by volcanic tragedy in Iceland. There's also an excursion to the streets of San Francisco and a mini-essay on Hitchcock's ideas about memory as seen in Vertigo. Kitty temples, zombie dancers called baby martians, pope exhibits, sex museums, sleeping passengers on boats, animal masks, blood gushing from giraffes, Pacman, the striking of streets to scare away moles, Japanese horror, wartime terror. It's the alien strange juxtaposed with the mundane. Combined with the voiceover ramblings and the synthesizer bleeps and bloops, the experience is really bizarre, almost surreal, but beautifully unique. The whole thing is poetic and rambling and almost overwhelmingly difficult, but it has a way of washing over you, sucking you in, and sticking with you. I watched this in installments, a lot of segments multiple times, and random bits keep creeping into my conscious thoughts. The experience is a dense and dreamy one, and I'm sure multiple viewings would unravel some of the mysteries. I plan on revisiting this one soon; however, it's that sort of film that most people would have problems getting through once.

Free and Easy

1930 talkie

Rating: 9/20

Plot: American comedy genius Buster Keaton independently made several 1920's silent feature-length comedies and comedic two reelers. He wrote, directed, and starred in the movies. He even did all of his own stunts, some of them very dangerous. In 1928, he made what he later described as the worst business decision of his life and signed a contract with MGM studios. After one great movie and one so-so movie, Keaton was ready to make his first talkie. He liked his voice and was ready to combine his one-of-a-kind physical humor with some dialogue humor. Unfortunately for Keaton, MGM's filmmaking practices were very regimented which conflicted with the more improvisational, on-the-fly style that Keaton was used to. Keaton still had ideas, but none of those ideas got through. They wouldn't even let him do his own stunts, fearing that he would die or seriously injure himself. The movies were still successful enough, at least at the box office if not from a cinematically historical perspective, but they were not Buster Keaton movies. In fact, there would never be another Buster Keaton movie again. Keaton turned to alcohol, and his marriage fell apart. He made a few MGM movies before being relegated to a gag writer for other on-screen comedians including the Marx Brothers. Nearly eighty years after Buster Keaton made his first talking picture, Free and Easy, Shane watched it and was sad for several days afterwards.

There are numerous reasons why this is a bad film. Two scenes, however, are all anybody needs to know about.

Scene number one: Buster's character (named Elmer just like in the last movie) is escorting an aspiring actress to Hollywood. He holds the train tickets for her, her mother, and himself. Suddenly, the train begins to pull away without him. "Alright," you say, "this will something good." You rub your hands together as you imagine him hopping aboard a moving train. The scene ends with Buster holding onto his hat and running to catch up with the train. It immediately cuts to Buster standing on the back of the caboose with the brakeman. They have a conversation about how Buster can't enter the train. "Ok," you say to yourself, "now he's going to outsmart the brakeman and probably end up on top of the train somehow! Then, following some death-defying stunts, he'll find the girl and his mother and get them their tickets! This will be great!" Instead, Buster takes a seat next to the brakeman and looks disappointed. Sort of how I must have looked.

Scene number two: Buster has trespassed on a studio's backlot, hoping to find the actress. He snuck into the studios in a very uninteresting manner, by the way. Suddenly, the security guard spots him. "Finally!" you say to yourself. "We'll get one of those famous Buster Keaton chase sequences! This will be great!" He hides behind some rocks of an Old West set. He messes up the scene, in a very uninteresting manner, and then has to run from the security guard and the cast and crew of the Old West picture. "Oh, man!" you hear yourself say, audibly because when you're talking to yourself, you at least feel like you have a friend. "Now we're cooking!" But there is no cooking. Buster's character winds up in another scene, nothing funny happens, and then he winds up in another scene. By then, you've completely lost interest.

Free and Easy is an awkward and depressing movie experience. I hate this movie.

Buster Keaton Saturday: Spite Marriage

1929 silent comedy with sound

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Elmer's a lonely presser of pants. Completely obsessed with the leading actress in a Civil War play, he attends the performance every night and has every line memorized. Unfortunately for the poor pants presser, her man happens to be the male lead in the play. While hanging around backstage, Elmer finds himself filling in for an actor with some sort of legal problems. He doesn't do well, but afterwards, when his love interest's boyfriend starts devoting too much of his time to a pretty blond, the actress marries him out of spite. A bunch of things happen, and they eventually wind up on a boat.

This isn't really a silent movie since there are numerous sound effects throughout. Keaton actually wanted it to be a talkie as he, unlike Chaplin, was ready to embrace the new era of motion pictures. MGM didn't have the studio space apparently. This is a charming little romantic comedy (as expected) even though it's not up there with the independently-produced Keaton feature films. I laughed hardest at a scene involving a fake beard (actually, that was the only laugh), but there are some other good moments as well--a classic "putting the drunk wife to bed" scene and some fisticuffs on the boat where Buster takes on an entire gang of baddies. Stunts are again low key, and a lot of the movie just seems like it could have been made with any leading comedy actor. Keaton's talents were wasted here, so this lacks the magic of most of the rest of his 20's output. I did like the girl (Dorothy Sebastian) in this one. She flops around nearly as much as Keaton.


1987 action movie

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Rookie cop Murphy gets all shot up by a giggling bunch of thugs in what has to be the worst first day in the history of employment. That's what you get for workin gin Detroit, I guess. He's reconstructed as a half-robot/half-Murphy by a Omni Consumer Products into a crime-fightin' machine. Fragments of memories surface, and Robocop wants revenge.

So what happens if Robocop gets shot in the lower half of his face? Seems like an attack on the mandible would do some damage. You'd think the bad guys might be smart enough to figure that out. "Hey, there's one part of Robocop that isn't covered with metal. Let's aim for that since shooting him in the chest during the last 45 minutes of this movie hasn't worked." I don't think I buy the Robocop-as-post-modern-masterpiece idea, but this is still a goofy, ultraviolent movie that manages to be entertaining enough from beginning to end. I do like some of the satirical jabs at consumerism, our violent society, progress (?), and the media, but I don't think this is cohesive or consistent enough to be taken all that seriously. I think the part where the guy drives his truck into a giant container of toxic waste might be one of the greatest moments in the history of movies made about half-robots/half-cops though. I'll give Robocop that much.

Night at the Museum

2006 family comedy

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Unemployed Larry Daley is a disappointment to his son. He manages to land a job as a night security guard at a museum but discovers the exhibits come alive at night because of some Egyptian gold tablet thing or something. Just as he starts to get the hang of controlling things at the museum, he finds out that he also has to stop criminals from stealing the Egyptian gold tablet thing. All while simultaneously winning the affections of his son and the pretty tour guide! Go, Larry Daley, go!

I think there's a clever premise here, but it too often takes these nose dives into these chasms of stupidity. Why does Teddy Roosevelt need to have a crush on Sacagawea, for example? Why does the Easter Island head demand gum? There are some funny moments, but there are more occasions when the story is cliched and predictable or the gag goes on for too long. At times, this thing sparkles with life and is both fun and kid friendly, but at other times there is way too much going on and the action gets chaotic and distractingly unbelievable. There's a mean monkey, too, and I just can't tolerate mean monkeys. Mickey Rooney might be the best thing about this movie although I also liked Ricky Gervais as the museum's manager/director/whatever-they're-called and Steve Coogan and Owen Wilson as miniature gladiator and cowboy. This is a big loud movie (the kind of movie I watch parts of in pain, just wishing it was a silent comedy), and perhaps the nicest thing I can say about it is that it wasn't as awful as I thought it would be. I'd also not object to seeing the upcoming sequel.

This was a school movie. I suggested Buster Keaton movies instead, but my colleagues weren't interested.


2002 remake

Rating: 3/20

Plot: I don't know. I stopped paying attention after a few minutes. There's lots of rollerballing with intermittent music videos.

I had to invent a new blog label--"Movies I couldn't finish"--for this one. Glad I decided to pop in this loudly obnoxious piece of crap. And now, all of a sudden, I hate the first movie and the rap stylings of L.L. Cool J. Way to go, remake of Rollerball. Way to go. I'm not sure how big the list of people who thought this was a good idea is, but all of them should be lined up and kicked right in the rollerballs.

The Lion in Winter

1968 historical drama

Rating: 17/20

Plot: I'm not great with history. Let me see if I've got this right. Henry VIII or IX has his wife, Queen Katharine, locked in a tower because she was "bitchy," a perfectly valid reason to have a queen locked up in 5th Century B.C. England according to the King Handbook. But it's Christmas time, which in the 5th Century was actually called Christmas tymme and had nothing to do with Santa Claus (not born yet) or Jesus Christ (mangers hadn't been invented yet) but everything to do with elves (not featured in the movie) and festive damnation and giant banquets offering varieties of puddings, and Henry the XII or V is in good enough spirits to invite his wife to a Christmas celebration. They've got a lopsided tree and everything, so it seems the appropriate tymme for the king to announce which of his three sons will sit atop his throne after he shakes off his mortal coils and no longer needs a throne. A gay French guy and Henry III or CXVII's mistress are also invited. They sit around screaming insults at each other and having a terrific time until one of the sons puts his finger (the dirty one) right in the pudding and ruins it for everybody else. Christmas tymme ends.

I really can't remember the last time I enjoyed dialogue this much in a movie. Every single line, it seems, is so crisply written and venomous, and it's just a ton of fun watching O'Toole and Hepburn (as well as the supporting cast) deliver them. It's sometimes difficult for a movie that is so dialogue-driven to engage me for over two hours and historical or period pieces are really not my bag, but this one packs such a saucy punch, that it's almost impossible not to be entertained by what is going on. I really like that this movie tricks you into thinking something big is going to happen, that all the tension and conflict is building to something, and then (spoiler alert), that something really never comes. This has got to be one of the most dysfunctional families in cinematic history, yet they are so much fun to watch and so much fun to root against. I think I rooted against them anyway. I don't know. Maybe I did like them. With all the brilliant writing, by the way, I believe my favorite line is the very simple one spoken by son John that seems to come from a Monty Python movie--"You stink. You're a stinker and you stink!" I might start saying that to my students.

This was a Cory recommendation.

Invisible Invaders

1959 B-movie

Rating: 6/20

Plot: An advanced alien species, one who apparently believe the moon is a planet, decide to finally invade earth after watching Earthlings become advanced enough to make atom bombs and potentially engage in space travel. The alien beings declare war on earth people and use dead bodies to move around in. Really really slowly. War is declared on planet earth a few more times, and a hockey game is disrupted. Egads!

Really too-typical B-movie stuff with terrible acting, plot holes galore, and silly effects. Most oppressive of all is some pointless narration. I think I heard the same narrator on filmstrips in my elementary school classrooms actually. Stock footage is used for some of the more explosive scenes, and it seems like the same exact footage of the zombie aliens tottering down a hill near our heroes is used five or six times. Five or six also happens to be the number of notes used in the little bit of music that is repeated ad nauseum. There are some moments that are in the so-bad-they're-funny category, but there's a lot of this that is just pretty boring, too. There's even more that's incomprehensible. I really never understood why the "invaders" ever needed the dead bodies. Why couldn't they just stay invisible? And why was the avant-garde stylings of Japanese noise artist Merzbow the only thing that could stop them, turning them, I think, into marshmallows which then turned into pillows? This might be worth watching as an influence on both Romero and Wood.

The Lost World

1925 silent adventure story

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Based on a novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this tale of adventurer Professor Challenger and his claims that dinosaurs inhabit an area near the Amazon. It all makes perfect sense when you think about it. The media has a field day as Challenger becomes the laughingstock of London. He assembles a team to travel back to the area and hopefully rescue somebody's father. When they get there, they find a monkey man, a Porkosaurus, a Dinklesaurus, a Tyrannosaurus Rex, a Chunkysaurus Rex, a Borbotamagus, a monkey, crocodiles or alligators, a person, trees, a Brontosaurus, and a Gizmosaurus. They're amazed.

The special effects in this mid-20's adventure yarn are extraordinary for their time, excellent stop- animation stuff recalling later Harryhausen. Indeed, this is the first movie to use stop-animation to make monsters come to life. Detailed sets add a certain realism to the proceedings although the camera is often too detached from the far-off dinosaur-on-dinosaur action for the viewer to really feel any real fear or get any kind of boner whatsoever. The whole thing lacks the iconic imagery of King Kong, but it's safe to say King Kong wouldn't have even existed without The Lost World. The acting and story are pretty much what you'd expect from a silent adventure story; there's a superfluous romantic side-plot and some really dippy character development. However, for an 85 year old special effects extravaganza/adventure story, this one amazingly still works and manages to be entertaining beyond the historical importance of being the first loose-monster-causing-mischief-on-the-streets movie. And you've got to love that monkey man!

The Last Laugh

1924 silent German drama

Rating: 17/20

Plot: An aging man immensely proud of his job as a ritzy hotel doorman, along with the accompanying big-buttoned uniform that he gets to wear, shows up to work one day to find out that he has been demoted because of a misunderstanding on the previous night. Because of his many years of service, the hotel gives him a job in the washroom. Stripped of his uniform, he can't face being also stripped of his dignity and steals the uniform back to hide the loss of his job and status from his wife and his neighbors.

This is a much, much better film if stopped before the epilogue. I happened to love the downer that was the real ending even though there is a really nice one-shot sequence where the camera moves from patron to patron to waiter to patron to waiter in a crowded fancy restaurant that is really cool. Really, everything up to that point in this Murnau film is about perfect. The acting, especially from the lead, is spectacular for 1920's drama, so good that not a single title card is even needed to tell the story. Of course, it's not just the acting that tells the admittedly simple story here. The camera actually does most of the work, and it's amazing to see a 1924 film in which the camera does this much work. The fluidity (especially), the creative angles, the effects, the zoomings in and out. Impressive and undoubtedly influential stuff. Seriously, find me a camera that moves this much in the first half of the 20's. The set is also worth mentioning, a beautifully realistic construction of a city with towering and leaning buildings. Also impressive is the use of lighting and shadow in the movie. Along with the setting changes--the literal placement of our protagonist--the lighting mirrors the temperament of the unfortunate ex-doorman. My favorite scene--when the wife discovers her husband's secret and runs away screeching. It probably wasn't meant to be funny, but I couldn't help myself and may have chuckled.

Buster Keaton Saturday: The Cameraman

1928 romantic comedy with a monkey

Rating: 18/20 (Jen: 16/20 [stayed awake!]; Dylan 13/20 [3-point bonus for the monkey who he claims is the best actor he's ever seen in a movie, human or animal); Emma: 19/20; Abbey: 20/20)

Plot: Buster's a street portrait tintype photographer who falls for a gal working in an MGM news office he spots and photographs during a ticker tape parade. He unloads his camera for a barely-working, used motion picture camera in order to impress the girl, but his attempts to win a job only prove how inept he is. So, he gets a monkey!

It's entirely possible that this is Keaton's best acting performance and definitely his most charming. He wasn't fond of close-ups, but it seems the new studio (his father-in-law convinced him to sell everything to MGM in what would turn out to be the sad beginning of the end of his career) demanded them. Ironically, the close-ups allow you to see how expressive Buster's inexpressive face really is. Also ironically, Buster Keaton is upstaged for perhaps the only time in his career. By a monkey! Seriously, Josephine the Monkey (same monkey, by the way, who molests Charlie Chaplin's face in The Circus) can act! I love the interaction between the star and the monkey; it reminds me of the rapport he has with the cow in Go West actually. The stunt work in The Cameraman is toned down a bit--just a couple pratfalls here and there, some vehicle hijinks, a falling scaffold--ostensibly an MGM decision made to protect their new star. But the physical comedy is still very good, favorites being a scene in a dressing room and a rainy ride home. All of Keaton's comedies are romantic ones, but the romance in this one seems less like a device to build the comedy around than in some of his other films. This is a great movie.

I've got to wonder though--do my children just pretend to love these movies to spare my feelings or do they really like them? I guess I should just be thrilled that Jen stayed awake for a Buster Keaton Saturday.


1975 science fiction sports movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: In the not-so-distant future, corporations rule the world. On the one hand, this apparently means that everybody can live happily ever after in a world without war. On the other hand, individuality is outlawed and humans really don't act much like humans any more. Humans still need blood, however, so a mega-violent sport called Rollerball is used to feed that monkey. Jonathan E., in a ten-year career for the Houston team, has become the star of the sport in a society that is no longer supposed to have stars. The corporations attempt to announce his retirement from the sport, but Jonathan E. isn't quitting before he's got answers.

Rollerball is a fantastic sports movie if it isn't quite a fantastic science fiction movie. But it's probably that, too! The game sequences are top-notch with great camera work capturing the quick and dirty action of this invented sport involving roller skates, a metal ball, a blinking vagina, and motorcycles. I definitely enjoyed watching the choreography of the Tokyo team. There's also a philosophical message at the heart of this that, although heavy-handed at time, you really have to pay attention to grab. Caan's good here playing really the only character I think he can play, and John Houseman is nice and menacing as the head of the corporation or whoever he's supposed to be. I probably could have done without the romantic subplot, but you can ignore that to focus on the plushy symbolism and 70's coolness and come away with a rewarding experience.

The 2002 remake came with this one. I'm debating whether or not I should bother. It's got L.L. Cool J., so maybe it'll be great. Anybody seen it?


2008 Oliver Stone joint

Rating: 13/20

Plot: The high points of George W. Bush's personal life and political career.

This has a tendency to linger and is guilty too often of going for the cheap and obvious (i.e. famous Bushisms). I also question the timing of something like this. However, it's a fascinating two-hour romp, filled with moments of genuine humor and absolute horror. The acting, or impersonations, is very good. Brolin brings a Bush character to life in a way that makes you appreciate him as a flawed human being while at the same time wanting to catch him on fire. Richard Dreyfuss is amazing as Cheney and probably deserved a nomination or at least an offer to do a couple sketches on Saturday Night Live. I also really liked James Cromwell as W.'s dad. The woman who plays Condoleeza Rice is terrible though. I also hated the music in this movie.


1973 ode to life

Rating: 18/20

Plot: Life goes on as usual in a small 1930's Italian town as the fascists rise to power. Memories and mammaries, randy uncles screaming from treetops, circle jerks in automobiles, blind accordionists, life and death. Characters drift in and out of frame.

Another great movie from 1973! I love these kinds of movies that gently wash over you, grab you and place you in a familiar yet completely unfamiliar world for a couple hours, and just make the world seem more comfortable. I think this has the feel of M. Hulot's Holiday (especially with that recurring motorcycle rider), albeit a lot less talky and modern. You feel like a voyeur, catching glimpses of the lives of characters you're not really supposed to but then feeling a lot better because of it. There are magical moments, some great humor (love the fart jokes and especially a masturbation scene), and some lovely images (the "snowfall" bringing on spring at the beginning of the film and the peacock in the snow). Meandering and buoyant.

Journey to the Seventh Planet

1962 science fiction movie

Rating: 12/20

Plot: It's the future (2001) and the United Nations has sent a team of horny space explores to investigate Uranus. A powerful presence on the planet invades their minds and turns their thoughts and memories into mirages. Mostly, buxom women and flirtatious windmills.

Pretty cool low budget affair with some extra-crappy special effects and dopey dialogue. Strong ideas, reminiscent of Solaris actually, and I really enjoyed the psychedelic imagery of the sets and some of the dated effects, including superimposed stock footage of a "giant" spider and a stop-animated clay cyclops dinosaur thing. Chunks of this journey succeeds in being mysterious if not entirely eerie, and there's never really a dull moment. Lots of nearly incomprehensible ones though. This'll be right up your alley if you like this sort of thing.

La Jetee

1962 science fiction non-motion picture

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Things ain't good in post-war Paris. Scientists are exploring time travel with human guinea pigs for the purpose of finding a solution to modern problems. One poor guy, during an expedition to a time before the war, becomes infatuated with a woman from the past.

Ninety-nine percent of this half hour flick is still photography, often enigmatic and often nightmarish imagery providing the visuals for the narrator's story. The lone scene with movement is seemingly random, but the effect is nonetheless powerful. The still lifes give this a coldly disturbing ambiance. Add a cool little time travel story (although admittedly, the surprise ending wasn't much of a surprise at all) and some eerie sound effects/music, and you've got yourself a winner. A dreamy little visual essay on time and memory.