Hard Eight

1996 drama

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Professional gambler Sydney is hungry, so he goes to a diner. He meets a down-and-out curly-headed guy and decides to help him. He takes the kid under his wing and becomes a father figure to him. Later, he meets a waitress and helps her out, too. The curly-headed guy and the waitress get married but during what can only be described as the worst honeymoon ever, they need Sydney's help once again. Ghosts from Sydney's past come back to haunt him and threaten the relationship he's built with the curly-headed guy.

This movie should lose a full point for having too many names as it's apparently also known as Sydney. Regardless of the title, it's a sort-of dopey, too-cool-for-its-own-good drama. I thought the performances were pretty wacky. There was something too nonchalant about Philip Baker Hall in the title role (obviously, he plays "Hard Eight"), and John C. Reilly looked out of his element. Samuel L. Jackson always borders on wacky. Gwyneth Paltrow is pretty good though. There are a lot of moments when the story drifts off course, and a twist in the film's second half really doesn't add a damn thing to the story. I hope I'm objective here. I don't want to penalize this because it doesn't come close to reaching the level that P.T. Anderson will in his later work. This should have been better, and I'm sure the director would agree. Philip Seymour Hoffman has a tiny part in this (back when he had to L's in his name), but I'm not sure whether or not it's a character winter rates would want to be.

Buster Keaton Saturday: Battling Butler + extras

1926 romantic comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Alfred Butler, a pampered rich boy, decides to toughen up by living out in the wild with his valet manservant. While there, he's smitten by a wilderness girl. Her brother and uncle (dad and grandfather? cousin and brother?) rightfully suspect that he's nothing more than an effeminate weakling and do not approve. That is until they mistakenly think he's Battling Butler, a champion boxer. Alfred does nothing to convince them otherwise and eventually finds himself in a situation where he meets the real Battling Butler face to face.

This has its moments. The finale is kind of neat and the first half of the film, where Butler and his valet (played by the hilarious Snitz Edwards) "brave the elements" is pretty funny. Once Buster becomes a boxer, however, it's just not as much fun, and it leads up to a climax that is really un-Busterlike. There's a lot stretched into a full-length feature film, and there's nothing resembling a classic Buster Keaton moment here. It does have an interesting story and for the most part is paced fairly well.

I also watched "The Boat" from 1921 (not to be confused with Das Boot) and "The Frozen North" from 1922. "The Boat" is a classic and has a lot of memorable scenes. My step-father laughed uproariously at a scene involving an anchor. It's a funny little movie. "The Frozen North" is not a complete film (at least my version wasn't), but it's an odd little surreal and slightly entertaining story. Keaton is apparently parodying contemporary films with this, and I think a lot of the humor is lost without the context. There are some interesting moments though, including the strangest dogsled you'll ever see. Keaton does play a mean character in this one. He robs and kills. My original plan was to force my parents to watch "The Boat" and The Navigator, but my children turned it into an all-request Buster Keaton Saturday and we ended up watching a bunch of shorts we've previously seen.

The Third Man

1949 thriller

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

Plot: A pulp writer with a girl's name arrives in post-war Vienna to meet his buddy Harry Lime who has offered him a job opportunity. He's all ready to greet his friend in the traditional way ("When I open the fridge and see a Harry Lime, I throw it in the trash ha ha ha.") when he's instead greeted with the news that his friend has died. But the man with the girl's name realizes there's something amiss and runs around trying to put some pieces together. He's nearly driven insane by zither music.

This movie is flawless, a perfectly told labyrinth of a mystery. Graham Greene's script combines dry humor and tense drama while the set design, the sound (even the zither), the use of light, and the odd tilting camera angles contribute to capture an offbeat but entirely effective mood. Robert Krasker's (Academy Award winning) cinematography is as good as it gets. War-scarred black and white Vienna is beautiful. Great performances. Orson's menacing forehead nearly steals the show, but Joseph Cotton, as the poor, flawed individual who refuses to leave the web he's found himself trapped in, is also really good. This blends genres well, and all the elements add up to something that was very ahead of its time then and is still very different now.

Speedy

1928 silent comedy

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Ingeniously quick-thinking but sometimes ditzy Speedy has trouble holding down a job as his obsession with baseball frequently gets into the way of his duties. He still makes enough to take his gal to Coney Island. Meanwhile, a railroad company is trying to get rid of his girlfriend's father's horse-drawn trolley business, and Speedy is called upon to save the day.

Ok, I'm ready to admit that Harold Lloyd deserves to be mentioned in the same sentences as Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. This is every bit as good (and honestly, probably better) than Safety Last!,and with the handful of other Harold Lloyd silent comedies I've seen this year, it's clear that he produced a body of work that is as consistently good as the other two. Speedy is fast-paced and a lot of fun even though it's a little choppy. It's really like two or three separate films. The first half spends a lot of time developing the characters and their relationships and has some very humorous, but subtle, sight gags and quiet comedy. The second half of the film deals with the conflict and is raucous and action-packed. There are street brawls and a chase scene that is absolutely amazing and as exciting as any chase scene I've seen in any more modern movie. Just the sheer amount of extras used for the second half of the film amazes me as tons of guys (one with a peg leg) engage in fisticuffs and hundreds of folks are forced to dodge an out-of-control trolley. The lengthy climactic chase scene is so thrilling and brilliantly photographed that I had to watch it twice. It was also neat to see 1920s New York with what seems to be miles and miles of streets and shots of Coney Island and its weird attractions. There's also a Babe Ruth cameo. This was Harold Lloyd's last silent movie, and the only 1920s movie I can remember where a character flips the bird.

In Bruges

2008 fairy tale

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Two hitmen are sent to Bruges (It's in Belgium) following a job. Ray, a greenhorn hitman, doesn't like the fairy tale Bruges while the seasoned veteran Ken digs the chance to chill and catch some sightseeing. They patiently await a call from Harry, their boss, and instructions for what to do next. Meanwhile, Ray meets a woman and a midget.

Infectiously entertaining blend of dark comedy and tense drama. The Waiting for Godot-like first third gradually introduces the town (another case where the setting adds a great texture to a film) and creates a mystery while introducing the main characters. And Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson have chemistry in which the latter becomes almost like a straight man for the former. Good comic timing there. When the film's main conflict is finally introduced, there's a great tension and some fantastic irony as all three main characters find themselves in philosophical quandaries. There's some depth to this one. Plus, there's a midget. One could accuse McDonagh of laziness, trying to get a laugh the cheap way by throwing a random midget into the proceedings, but the truth is, the midget is a really cool character and I like how he stumbles in and out of the story. The final shot is terrific though the actual resolution is a little too much like the punch line of a joke. In Bruges isn't without its problems (I thought the romantic sub-plot sort of got in the way), but it's a fantastic debut from writer/director Martin McDonagh, and I look forward to seeing more from him. Heck, I actually look forward to seeing this movie again.

This movie was recommended by three people.

The Lady Eve

1941 romantic comedy

Rating: 16/20 (Jen: 12/20)

Plot: Rich and naive Charles has just finished studying snakes in the Amazon. He meets Jean, a con-artist, on a boat and falls for her. She plays with his hair for an hour and fifteen minutes and purrs a lot. After a misunderstanding involving Charles being conned, they go their separate ways. Later, Jean comes up with a plan to annoy poor Charles again.

No surprise that this romantic comedy has crisp and snappy dialogue and more than a handful of wacky moments as that's what Sturges does. Stanwyck is great in (sort of) dual roles; she oozes a sexiness and almost everything she says is tantalizing, requiring me to watch most of this movie sans pants. I didn't care for Fonda as much. His character is too dopey, too much the schmuck, but the supporting cast is really good. The plot, at least in the second half of the movie, is also a little clunky. Still, it's a lot of fun watching this romance unfold and then struggle to survive.


An American Carol

2008 comedy

Rating: n/r

Plot: Something about terrorists hiring a Michael Moore-esque director to help them with their training videos, I think. And the Michael Moore character wants to abolish the Fourth of July. He's fat!

I lasted nearly 15 minutes before deciding that I had better things to do. I saw no laughs on the horizon. I guess "From the makers of Scary Movie 13" on the cover should have been a clue.

The Man without a Past

2002 Aki Kaurismaki movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Arriving in a new town, our protagonist is attacked by some thugs, beaten very badly, and robbed. He loses his memory and tries to put some kind of life together--getting a home in a sort of shanty town, repairing a juke box, finding employment, and hooking up with a Salvation Army worker.

Ho-hum. Another great Aki Kaurismaki movie. I can't quite place my finger on it, but there's something a little different about this one than the previous three I've seen this year. The pacing is the same, the camera still doesn't move, the comedy is just as dry, the romance is still quirky, the characters are still awkward, and the ending is similarly sweet, but there's something different. Nevertheless, another great one. If I could watch nothing but Aki Kaurismaki movies for an entire month, I'm not sure I'd mind. Unfortunately, I'm not sure I can even find any more.

Edvard Munch

1974 superlative film

Rating: 16/20

Plot: The life of artist Edvard Munch, from when he bled from the mouth as a child to when he got it on with a cougar to when he accidentally bought too much red paint and had to use too much of the color in his work during what later was known as his "angry red stage."

Pretty impressive multi-genre pseudo-documentary. It combines narrative, voiceover narration, diary excerpts, art critique, and (oddly) interviews in a way which succeeds in creating Munch the person and setting a context with late-19th century Europe. This is very long, maybe even too long, and definitely not for the ADD crowd. Chunks are very very slow, but I like the way the narrative swirls in and out of itself, repeating images and connecting his artwork to both his life and what was happening culturally. The scenes where Munch worked (in various styles) were really well done.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

2000 Homer adaptation

Rating: 18/20 (Jen: 17/20)

Plot: It's a faithful adaptation of The Odyssey of Homer. In the middle of 1930s middle America, three escaped convicts (logorrheic Everett and his dopey companions Delmar and Pete) try to find their way to a treasure before the valley's flooded and said treasure is submerged at the bottom of a lake. And, of course, before the law catches up to them. Along the way, they bump into blind prophets, sirens, Babyface Nelson, prospective governors, and a cyclops.

I love everything about this movie. I love the comedy which perfectly combines brilliant performances with brilliant writing. I love the music, the timeless folk music that manages to both capture the Great Depression era and seem otherworldly. I love the Homer allusions and the nods to Hollywood screwball comedies. Most of all, I love the cinematography where the settings add so much color and become just as important as the characters. This film's got such a texture, an impossible-to-duplicate texture, that makes this a one-of-a-kind piece of filmmaking that I imagine will keep it around forever. It's got to be close to impossible to watch this movie without smiling often. It's definitely one of those movies I can watch again and again without ever getting tired of even though people watching it with me might get tired of me laughing in anticipation of certain upcoming gags. Both literary and dumb, there's enough here to appeal to nearly everybody, and it'll even teach you a few new vocabulary words. It's hard to believe that this is only the third best Coen comedy. It might have the single best Coen Brother scene, however, with that can't-believe-I'm-seeing-this KKK rally that even has a Wizard of Oz reference. Any discussion of "best movie musical ever" must include O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Short Cuts

1993 Altman movie

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

Plot: A loving look at the more hateful aspects of humanity in Los Angeles circa 1990. Policemen, bakers, limo drivers, waitresses, fisherman, artists, pool cleaners, night club singers, cellists, Huey Lewis, and doctors lie, cheat, manipulate, kill, cry, dance, fornicate, make accusations, earn their livings, and decay.

Jen and I are both wearing light green shirts today, too. We saw it in '93 at the theater (we're both Lyle Lovett fans), but I like it a lot more now. Great ensemble cast (not a stinker in the bunch) and their nearly-intertwining stories, despite the three hour length of this bad boy, are never even close to dull. The stories don't really begin, meander hopelessly, and then frustratingly don't have anything resembling a satisfying resolution which makes Short Cuts a unique, and arguably frustrating viewing experience. The connections between these hopeless souls are never vital, but they're nifty connections nevertheless. It's like Altman has taken fifteen different strands and tried to make a rope but ended up with something that looks more like something a kitten has coughed up. But in an artistic way. For the most part, it's a three-hour downer but with Altman almost encouraging you to laugh at the plights of these individuals. It sits the fence between misanthropy and sympathy, contempt and amusement. It's a challenging chunk of time, but the quality performances, virtuosic direction, superb script, cool music, and numerous sweet and toxic moments make it worth the effort. Powerful drama.


Mister Lonely

2007 Harmony Korine film

Rating: 13/20

Plot: A lonely Michael Jackson impersonator living in France meets a Marilyn Monroe impersonator who lives on an island with a bunch of other celebrity impersonators. Her husband is Charlie Chaplin and daughter is Shirley Temple. Also occupying the island are the Three Stooges, Sammy Davis Jr. Abraham Lincoln, James Dean, a Pope, Madonna, Queen Elizabeth, Buckwheat, and Little Red Riding Hood. Michael Jackson decides to live with them, and they work together to put on a fantastic stage show. Meanwhile, a priest in South America teaches his nuns to fly.

Well, it's Harmony Korine's best movie yet. His work is still just a little unhinged, a little uneven, a little too silly. There are large chunks of this movie and single shots that are really brilliant. It's sprinkled with great, unforgettable imagery that is either bizarrely poignant or poignantly bizarre. Korine's either got a good eye or is developing one (I can't remember Julien Donkey-Boy that well and have intentionally forgotten the dismally awful Gummo), and there are a lot of Herzogian moments in Mister Lonely. Werner himself plays the priest (he was also in Donkey-Boy, Korine and he apparently have a mutual respect for each other). There's something about watching Buckwheat giving the Pope a bath or the Three Stooges shooting sheep that is endlessly entertaining. And most of the scenes with the nuns are really beautiful. But just like Gummo, this sort of has that weird for the sake of weird thing that makes it seem more masturbatory than artistic. If I could figure out what it all adds up to, I think I'd like it a lot more, but I'm not really convinced it even adds up to anything at all. Lots to like--the raw originality, the odd beauty, some great music--but it's just not enough. Channel it, Harmony!

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

2006 comedy

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Borat, Kazakhstan's number one journalist, is sent to America to film a documentary on what makes the country so great. He falls in lust with Pamela Anderson after catching an episode of Baywatch on a hotel television and sets out for Los Angeles to find her.

On the one hand, this makes the misanthropic half of me laugh more than anything else. Attacks on idiocy, brutal satire, jabs of irony. On the other hand, there's something so hateful about a lot of this, and it's often unnecessarily crude. On the one hand, I really love the interaction with the actual, unsuspecting masses--the rodeo crowd, the guy trying to teach Borat how to tell jokes, the gun store owner, the used car salesman. On the other hand, the Pamela Anderson plot is cheesy and low-brow and pointless. On the one hand, Cohen's probably a genius and would have been deserving of a best actor nomination for this largely-improvised role. On the other hand, I really didn't need to see his ass. I like Borat and I'll likely see it lots more times and I look forward to seeing the new one with the gay character, but when I think about how good this movie should have been, it really annoys me. Channel it, Borat!

Beauty and the Beast

1991 Disney movie

Rating: 14/20 (Abbey: 20/20; Jen: 19/20)

Plot: Belle is a beautiful but lazy nerd who does nothing but read about dragons. She's the daughter of a kooky inventor. She catches the eye of Gaston, a burly hunter who hangs around with a midget. He nudges the midget one day and says, "Midget, check this. I'm going to hit that." Attempts to hit that prove fruitless. Belle's dad gets lost on the way to an inventor's contest and ends up the prisoner of the Beast who lives in an enchanted castle with talking furniture and a horny candlestick. Belle sacrifices herself for the freedom of her father, and eventually they fall in love and everybody lives happily ever after. Except for Gaston, who aside from having a bad case of blue balls also plummets to his death at the end.

Beauty and the Beast is a good enough movie. It's got lots of nice color and some great animated landscapes. There's Disney's typical creative energy bubbling below the surface of this telling of the classic fairy tale. Unfortunately, it's got lots of problems. First, it's an old school musical complete with dancing and furniture choreography, but there's really only one great song. This is a short movie, but there are still a lot of extraneous moments, most of them songs. The worst offender is the song about Gaston which does nothing but pound home what we already figured out about him. I don't like him much as a villain anyway. Actually, I don't really like any of the characters. The romance happens much too quickly, too quickly to really feel anything, so the ending, which should have been magical and beautiful, ends up as a ho-hum moment with really lazy animation. Belle is just another Disney princess; she's got nothing to offer other than being a pretty prop. The Beast is a jerk who deserved what he got anyway, and his transition into a loving and gentle creature is really contrived and unrealistic. I always imagine that once he's a prince again, he runs off and finds somebody better since he's obviously just using her to break the spell. And there's not really a likable or memorable talking inanimate object either. They're there mostly for comic relief and are more annoying than necessary. I was really hoping Belle would accidentally drop the little teacup (Chip?) and end that misery. And despite some really beautiful animated moments, there are just as many times when the characters and the scenery don't mesh, making it look more like one of those straight-to-video deals than a Disney big-budget theatrical release. Cocteau's version of the fairy tale, although flawed, is better than this one. And I still don't get the ending to the fairy tale. Why does he need to turn back into a prince? Isn't the point that she loves him for who he is and not what he looks like? And why were all the inanimate objects punished by the sorceress? What did they do wrong?

Abbott and Costello Go to Mars

1953 comedy

Rating: 7/20

Plot: Oddly, they don't go to Mars. The bumbling duo accidentally steal a rocket and go to New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Then, after being hijacked by escaped convicts, they end up on a Venus inhabited by a bunch of feminists, but there's no Mars at all.

Nowhere near as funny as Troll 2. Actually, I laughed a single time, but that was only because the Lou Costello dummy they used to flop around in the rocket during take-off was much skinnier than the real Lou Costello. Stale stuff, and I can't actually imagine this not being dated comedy even in 1953. I might check out Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein which I think is supposed to be a much better movie, but I'm not really excited about it. How can you have a movie set partially in Mardi Gras and not feature exposed breasts? I was on the edge of my seat waiting for Lou to take off his shirt.

Lou Costello is the portlier of the two, right?

Les Enfants Terribles

1950 drama

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Paul and his older sister Elisabeth are close. Really close. Following a snowball fight accident and the death of their mother, they become recluses, shutting themselves off from society so that they can play bizarre games and argue in the privacy of their own room. When Paul falls in love with the boy who injured him with a snowball and later a girl who looks a lot like that boy, Elisabeth starts to get a little jealous.

I really expected to like this one a lot more than I did. I think it suffers from being seen so close to Troll 2. But with the talent involved (I love both Melville and Cocteau), I had enormously high expectations despite the stylistic differences in their films. In a way, this combines those styles fairly well with Melville's stark and simple narratives and character studies balancing Cocteau's dreamy free-floating surrealism, but I have to admit that I just wasn't all that interested in these siblings while watching this. I was a little bored. Parts of whatever narrative this has float like poetry, but the movie seemed too long and didn't have a single goblin or double-decker bologna sandwich. Sacre bleu!

Troll 2

1990 atrocity

Rating: 2/20 (Dylan: 1/20 [Almost immediately, he finds a movie worse than Yellow Submarine.]

Plot: The Waits family agrees to exhange houses with another as some sort of vacation. So, they pack up and head out to Nilbog, a tiny farming community. Meanwhile, the youngest member of the family, Joshua, is being warned by his deceased Grandpa Seth that going to Nilbog is a terrible idea. The rest of the family doesn't listen. Then the inhabitants of Nilbog, none of them trolls, try to turn them into vegetables and eat them. Can Joshua convince his family that they are in trouble before it's too late? Can Grandpa Seth and a double-decker bologna sandwich save the day in time?

There's so much to love about this, the recent subject of a documentary called Best Worst Movie, I believe the project of the kid who played Joshua. For the most part, this looks like a legitimate effort to make a horror film although there are scenes (the erotic corncob scene, most notably) that make it seem like it was a comedy all along. Regardless, I haven't laughed this much at a movie in a long time. I can't believe this movie was written. Seems like the screenwriter would have stopped at one point and said, "Ya know. This just isn't working. Let me get started on something else." Then, I can't believe this movie was funded by a studio. And that nobody at the studio at any time, pre- or post-production, didn't say, "Now why are we calling this Troll 2 again? There aren't any trolls in the movie, are there?" Then they found people willing to ruin their careers by directing Troll 2 and ruin their reputations by appearing in the film. Money was paid to somebody to score the film. The managers at the movie theaters didn't say, "Now wait just a second. . .you realize it takes a lot of effort to put those letters up there on the sign, right?" Posters had to be made. Maybe. I had trouble finding one. Yes, lots of magic had to happen for Troll 2 to come to life. Luckily it did, for Troll 2 is a timeless piece of art. You've got what has to be some of the worst child acting of all time. You've got more quotable moments than you can remember. Dylan and I have been saying, "A double decker bologna sandwich!" since we saw this. But the mother's request to "Sing that song I like so much" followed by the family singing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" was hilarious. The rapport between the entourage of the Waits' daughter's boyfriend's friends made it seem like the script had been written by a person who had never seen a teenager before. There's a great anti-meat sermon delivered by a character who winds up on fire later in the movie. My favorite line might have been from the dad, a guy whose performance probably would have been the worst child acting performance ever if he were a child: "I had an imaginary friend when I was young. But it wasn't your dead grandpa!" There's impromptu dancing, a goblin party complete with a song creepy enough to make the music from The Wicker Man seem like "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," chainsaw tickling, friend-flavored milkshakes, that aforementioned seductive corn cob scene, and a tacked-on twist ending that makes no sense at all. There are some goblins (midgets or children in rubber masks) that I laughed at every single time they appeared on the screen which was a lot because I think they only had about five goblin masks for the whole production. And wait until you see how Joshua stops his family from eating goblin food they find at their vacation home! I could go on and on, but that would take away time that I could be spending watching Troll 2 again. I'm really afraid that anything I try to watch after seeing Troll 2 will just seem boring.
You can watch this on hulu.com for free. And you should!

eXistenZ

1999 piece of shit
Rating: 4/20
Plot: Genius video game maker Allegra Geller and some video gamers convene in what apparently is a barn to try out her newest creation--eXistenZ! A kid with a tooth gun tries to kill her, and Allegra and Ted Pikul have to travel into her game to. . .well, I'm not sure what they have to do.
Why do I keep watching David Cronenberg movies? I feel like I'm missing something every time I do. For example, was this a comedy? Parts of it were definitely funny, but I'm not sure if that was intentional. Is the acting deliberately bad? Is the really lame reality vs. fantasy theme stretched to such a degree of lameness that it in fact implodes and becomes this intelligent satire that isn't lame at all? Was it Cronenberg's intention to create a movie that made me wish I could shoot myself in the face with a tooth gun and end it all rather than finish the movie? I was left with questions other than "Why do I keep watching David Cronenberg movies?" Why were Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law allowed to act in other movies after this one? Why did the studio allow a movie to have such a stupid name? eXistenZ? That costs it a few rating points right there. Is Canada to blame for this? This is as bad as that Mario Brothers movie and manages to make the script for Tron look like Othello. There's very little in this movie that looks or feels normal--tooth guns, writhing and throbbing fleshy video game systems, two-headed insects, Willem Dafoe--and the onslaught of weirdness makes the experience entirely unpleasant. I always feel really dirty after watching a David Cronenberg movie, and a shower was even required after this one.

Buster Keaton Saturday: Two Shorts and a Twilight Zone episode

"The Scarecrow" from 1920 is a delightful short
where Buster (spoiler alert) has to win the heart of a girl. This one involves an imaginative one-room house, a lengthy scene in which Buster is chased by a dog, another chase scene involving a farmer and a fat guy, and a wedding on a motorcycle. Clever and fun with some amazing acrobatics. In fact, it's delightful! The kids really liked this one.

"The Paleface" is a racially insensitive but delightful short from 1922 about Native Americans (or Indians as we call them in these parts) losing their land. Buster is a butterfly collector who stumbles onto the Indian's land. Unfortunately for him, they had just decided to kill the first white man who walks through their gate. Later, he winds up a part of the tribe and aids them in their fight against the white men. Some good moments (and lots of Indians-chasing-Buster scenes) in this average short. Not as delightful as "The Scarecrow" but still delightful enough.

Also delightful was "Once Upon a Time" from season three of The Twilight Zone (1961) in which Buster plays a janitor in the 1890s. He's disturbed by the rising cost of meat and the clamor. He finds a time travel helmet and travels to the 1950s where meat is more costly and the clamor more clamorous. The first part of the episode is an homage to the silent comedy era complete with the music and the title cards. Really cool. When he gets to the 50s, it turns into a talky. It's delightful for Buster Keaton fans, but I imagine it must be regarded as one of the cheesiest Twilight Zone episodes ever. My kids were pretty bored with it although they did like hearing him talk. This was Jen's first ever Twilight Zone experience, and she has no desire to ever see another episode. And by the way, if you've ever had the urge to see a 60-something-year-old Buster Keaton in his underwear, this is the Twilight Zone episode for you. Old men in their underpants = delightful!

Ravenous

1999 black comedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Cowardly Captain Boyd accidentally becomes a Spanish-American War hero. His general sees right through him and sends the coward to an outpost in the Sierra Nevadas to work with a pair of Indians, a guy with sideburns, a blonde soldier, David Arquette, and a religious guy. One night, a nearly-dead frozen traveller pops up with a disturbing tale of cannibalism. They go to investigate.

Really well-done movie here. Part-darker-than-dark-comedy, part-suspense thriller, part-action, part-Western, part-horror movie, part-myth, Ravenous works on a variety of levels while sneakily becoming a metaphor about America's manifest destiny. I'm not familiar with anything else director Antonia Bird has done. I am surprised this movie was directed by a woman just because it's so, well, gross. Parts of Ravenous are difficult to watch no matter how much fun you think cannibalism is, but it's at least an artistic grossness. Guy Pierce is pretty good, especially during the first 20 or so minutes when the character is created without any dialogue. But Robert Carlyle steals the show as the villain. His rather multi-dimensional character is really cool. The location's beautiful, the Sierra Nevadas creating a texture that helps create a mystery and depth for the story. The music is also really good. Damien Albarn (the guy from Blur and the Gorillaz) and Michael Nyman do the soundtrack, and at times, there's this strange ominous hillbilly vibe going down. The best thing about this movie is that in so perfectly blends genres and manages to remain slyly humorous despite being a movie about cannibalism. There are some fine, subtle comedic moments that make this a lot of fun to watch. There's a fight scene at the end that is a bit too lengthy and ludicrous, but other than that, I can't think of a lot of negative things to say about Ravenous. It's bitchin'!

Repo Man

1984 cult classic

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Punk kid Otto stumbles into a job as a repo man. Seasoned repo veteran Bud shows him the ropes. The job's a dangerously intense one, and Bud and Otto run into antagonists the Rodriquez Brothers and somehow get mixed up in conspiracies involving aliens and radiation.

Harry Dean Stanton is the best thing about this flick. Well, the soundtrack is pretty cool, too. The whole thing seems pretty aimless, and it's considerably dated. You could show the final scene and its dazzling special effects to somebody who hasn't seen this movie, and they'd say, "1984, right?" I couldn't stop thinking of the giant plastic ketchup tubes that would be on our lunch tables when I was in elementary school and how we'd squeeze the condiments directly into our mouths because that's how things were done in the early 80s. Ronald Reagan would watch us and laugh and laugh while stroking his missile. That's exactly what this movie reminded me of. There are a few interesting moments and some characters who would have been great if they would have been developed further, but this just doesn't add up to much at all.

This Is Spinal Tap

1984 mockurockumentary

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Advertisement director Marty DiBergi follows heavy metal rockers Spinal Tap on a fateful American tour in support of their latest album, Smell the Glove. Conflicts arise due to their waning popularity, management problems, artistic differences, and a lack of record label support.

You know the jokes are coming and can even quote them, but they still surprise and make you laugh. I'm a sucker for both the faux-documentary format and improvised comedy anyway, and this is the one of the best. It all comes naturally, nothing winding up too hammy or strained, so natural that somebody watching excerpts could easily be fooled into thinking it's legitimate. You've got to pay attention though. The first time I saw this movie with Wombat McClain, he wouldn't stop quoting lines before they came (he also wouldn't stop making sexual advances) so I was a little distracted. He also kept giggling in advance and spilling his plate of corn. This helps prove my theory that movies should almost always be watched alone. I do wonder what Wombat McClain is doing these days though. Probably listening to King Crimson and creeping people out! And eating corn, of course. Dude loved his corn.
This is not Wombat McClain, but it might as well be:

The Farm: Life inside Angola Prison

1998 documentary

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Glimpses at the lives of six inmates at the largest prison in America, a prison so large that it actually contains a small town for the prison's employees to live. The camera follows a guy with terminal cancer, two guys who have reformed and are ready to service their communities, a guy on death row, a twenty-four year old new arrival, a guy who didn't do it, and a guy who needs a dentist. The only way out seems to be death for them.

What's a prison documentary without a rape scene or two? Nevertheless, gripping objective filmmaking here. I would have liked to see at least one of the six inmates wind up with a happy ending, but I suppose that wouldn't represent the reality of their situations. Learning about the logistics of a place this gargantuan was fascinating (i.e. the amount spent on toilet paper). I thought the warden came across as a pretty interesting fellow, much more optimistic than I figured he would be. Most disturbing was a scene with a parole board that I just couldn't believe. The warden you figure knows he's got a camera on him and might be adapting his personality a bit. These parole guys act as if there's not a camera in the room and provide what is the most shocking bit of dialogue I've seen in a long time. This never gets sappy or preachy, never suffers from the filmmakers getting in the way, and is a compelling hour-and-a-half.

The Killers

1946 noir

Rating: 17/20

Plot: A pair of fairly rude hit men arrive in a sleepy town to take out the Swede, a gas station worker. An insurance investigator named Reardon interviews faces from the Swede's past and gradually unravels the mystery.

The opening scene of The Killers, in which the menacing hit man look for the Swede in a cafe, is so entertaining. The hit men are interesting fellows, and come across as those types of smart-ass hired killers you can only find in a movie like this. This is based on a Hemingway short story, and I wonder how much of his dialogue was used. It's a well-written script, and the way the story unfolds through flashbacks of various characters keeps the mystery alive until the very end as the deceased gets into deeper trouble the deeper you get into his back story. Burt Lancaster's first role, and I'm not sure it's all that memorable. It's more the story and the way it's told with The Killers. In fact, the narrative's structure is maybe why I think this seems a little more modern to me than a lot of its 1940's cousins. I'm also impressed with the cinematography. It's got all those noirish shadows and two long unbroken shots early in the movie that are really amazing.

Slacker

1991 movie

Rating: 17/20

Plot: A day in the life of Austin's lunatic fringe. Should Have Stayed at Bus Station, Grocery Grabber of Death's Bounty, Hit-and-Run Son, Espresso Czar/Masonic Malcontent, Dostoyevsky Wannabe, Been on the Moon Since the 50's, Tura Satana Look-Alike, Comb Game and Sadistic Comb Game Players, Pap Smear Pusher, Sidewalk Psychic, Happy-Go-Lucky Guy, Traumatized Yacht Owner, Recluse in Bathrobe, Guy Who Tosses Typewriter, 'Conspiracy A-Go-Go' Author, Hitchiker Awaiting 'True Call,' Old Anarchist, Teacup Sculpter, Scooby Doo Philosopher, Papa Smurf, Bike Rider with Nice Shoes, Handstamping Arm Licker, Dairy Queen Photographer, Old Man Recording Thoughts, Day Tripper, and dozens of others wander, interact, and philosophize.

This movie has such a unique rhythm and flow that I'll admit isn't for everybody, but if you just allow yourself to float with the current, it's a treat. Definitely an experience as the rules of cinema are completely trashed. It's metaphysical comic pages, sleepy koans, and scrambled haiku, and you can wait for a central character, search for a central theme, or try to follow a plot, but it ain't gonna happen. Ideas, ideas, ideas! They come in sketches and jabs, and I'm not really sure they all fit together and add up to anything, but that's not the point. I think this works as one of the most insightful and humorous glimpses at the minds of human beings in film history. Linklater's camera is a completely objective one, and the characters stick around until they're finished sticking around and then wander out of the motion picture never to be seen again. The approach--filming snippets of characters and then passing the baton to another character or set of characters who have wandered on screen--never gets tiresome, but I sort of wish it was all real time. There's some amazing acting considering nobody in the film is an actor, and the dialogue, on which the actors collaborated, just seems fresh and is quotable and humorous. What's really cool about the movie is that you could close your eyes, reach in and grab a random character, and probably find enough in that character to make devote ninety minutes to. Slacker is probably too weird to be an instant classic or a voice for Generation X or anything like that, but I can't imagine many people watching this and not enjoying at least parts of it. Different viewers will definitely feel connected to different scenes and have different favorite characters. This is also the type of movie that will change every time you see it.

Becket

1964 historical drama

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Sad times in 11th-Century England as two homosexual lovers split up.

Love the dynamic between a randy and spiralling-out-of-control O'Toole as Henry II and Burton as the calmer more contemplative Becket. Both characters have a passion though, and it comes across through some great dialogue. Like The Lion in Winter, the script seems to be written by a person who realizes that every word matters, and while watching, I felt that it was important not to miss a single word of the dialogue. Henry's got some of the bile and bite of The Lion in Winter Henry, but there's also a strange repressed tenderness and hurt in the character as well that makes him even more interesting. The developing conflict is very real and very tragic because there's a heart to the characters. I must say that I was a little bored whenever O'Toole wasn't on the screen although one of my favorite and most powerful scenes is when Becket excommunicates the guy. But O'Toole has a way of taking a character you're really supposed to hate (he's abusive to everybody including his mother, he's power hungry, he's too much the coward to come out of the closet, his facial hair is a little wacky, he whines) and making him not only immensely entertaining but somebody you sort of like and want to see more of. I think I like his Henry II in The Lion in Winter a little better maybe, but I like the sets better in this one. It's a very good-looking movie with vibrant colors and period textures. I also liked John Gielgud who plays the (also gay) French king.

This was recommended by Cory.

Contempt

1963 Godard drama

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A screenwriter is summoned to Italy by an American producer to work on an artsy German screened version of The Odyssey directed by Fritz Lang. The writer's wife accompanies him, and artistic and personal tensions begin to take a toll on the marriage.

This is the least adventurous Godard movie I've seen, and I'm really not sure I'm smart enough to have even watched it. There are some film and literary references I don't really get. I'm still trying to make connections between the voyage of Ulysses and the disintegrating marriage in Contempt, and I'm also not completely sure what Godard is trying to say about the cinema with this. I am smart enough to lust after Brigitte Bardot, however. I can handle that. This movie's broken into three parts--an exposition where the beginnings of a conflict between the husband and wife fester, a long argument that takes place in the couple's apartment, and a trip to the producer's home. It's the middle section that really stands out here. Several long takes are used to show the couple almost in real time, and there's a rhythm to the dialogue that is just perfect. It's an emotionally exhausting scene, and Godard uses the walls of the apartment and the decor to frame the actors and represent their conflict visually. All dialogue, but there's a choreography that makes it almost like a fist fight. It's a fantastic long scene, and Michel Piccoli and Bardot come across as very real and natural in it. There's another great scene near the end where the screen is almost split in half by the geography--Piccoli sulks on a gray hillside while Bardot swims in pure blue waters. Naked. And I've got to say, Bardot isn't just mesmerizing physically here. Her performance is equally mesmerizing, and there's a mystery to her character that is very appealing. Jack Palance and Fritz Lang are also terrific as the jerk-off producer and as, well, Fritz Lang. Neither of them are naked though. Although I'm not sure I like how it ended, I thought this was a well-written and brilliantly acted story that puts the viewer right in the center of a flawed protagonist's artistic and marital struggles.

Yellow Submarine

1968 animated musical

Rating: 14/20 (Abbey: 20/20; Dylan: 2/20)

Plot: Pepperland is overrun by Blue Meanies, and it's up to Captain Fred to find help. He travels via title vehicle and gets the Beatles to help out. After many psychedelic adventures, they find their way back to Pepperland to fight off the Blue Meanies and their minions in the only way they know how--rock 'n' roll!

Dylan: "This is the worst movie ever made."

This is nowhere close to perfect, but it's always entertaining. This is stuffed with ideas, and sometimes the animation can't catch up with the sheer amount of them. There's so much going on on-screen at the same time that your eyes also have trouble keeping up. I guess this lends a bit of rewatchability to it, but it's also headache inducing. There are moments of sublimity, however. I love the "Eleanor Rigby" sequence. I really like the "Sea of Monsters" sequence, too. The biggest problem is that it needs to be 20 minutes shorter. There's a big fight at the end, the Beatles sing "All You Need Is Love" and get rid of the giant blue glove, and the movie's at a logical stopping place. But then it goes on for another 20 minutes with a couple of lesser songs. Most of the songs actually seem forced into the story of the movie, but individually, they mostly work pretty well as music videos. The main Blue Meanie, by the way, has to be the most flamboyantly gay character in movie history.

I had to trick Abbey into watching this instead of Beauty and the Beast or Spy Kids by getting out my Yellow Submarine action figures.

Hello Again Everybody: The Harry Caray

2006 television documentary

Rating: 12/20

Plot: The life of broadcasting legend Harry Caray. This runs through his childhood; his years with the Cardinals, the A's, the White Sox, and the Cubbies; his love for drinking, dining, and socializing; his impact on the cities he worked in; and his death.

It's probably impossible to be a baseball fan and not appreciate Harry Caray. I always claimed to hate him because he was the Cubs guy, but he's a lot of the reason I watched nearly every Cubs game that was on. He's also probably a lot of the reason why I'm a baseball fan. This documentary was good at bringing back some memories and making me laugh. Longtime partner Steve Stone on Harry's pronunciation of Mark Grudzielanek's name was really funny. Paraphrase: "Harry never got his name right and finally said, 'Well, they all call him G-Man in the clubhouse, so I'll call him that.' There wasn't a single player who called him G-Man." I also loved seeing footage of Harry's traditional "It's way back. . ." home run call when the ball was actually rolling between two outfielders. Unfortunately, the documentary's kind of a mess. There's a loose structure, but it feels like a first draft. There's also a ton of interview snippets (Bob Costas, Stone, Ron Santo, Ryne Sandburg, Pat Hughes [who also narrates]) in which Harry Caray anecdotes are shared, but I would have loved to see more of Caray broadcasting and less footage of his funeral and none of his grandson interviewing fans on the street. This is a really cheaply-made PBS documentary.

The Meaning of Life

1983 sketch comedy

Rating: 11/20

Plot: The Monty Python guys examine life from birth to death which is about how long the movie seems to last.

This needed to be either funny or meaningful. It was neither. The bits don't know when to end, and they're likely dead on arrival anyway. The worst offender would be the really fat guy throwing up repeatedly in the restaurant scene. They shoot some fish in some barrels, they get crude, and they sing some ridiculous songs. Monty Python fans would enjoy parts of this, but I doubt many would enjoy it as a whole. I thought for sure that I had watched this a long time ago and completely forgotten it. Now, I'm ready to completely forget about it again.

Europa

1991 movie

Rating: 17/20

Plot: World War II has ended and idealistic American Leopold arrives in Germany. His German uncle gets him a job as a "sleeping car conductor," and while training for the job, he falls in love with the daughter of the owner of the railroad. He soon finds himself in the middle of a conflict between occupying Allied forces and some Nazi terrorists called Werewolves. It hurts his job performance.

Lars von Trier recently said, "I am the best film director in the world." I'm not even paraphrasing or taking him out of context. That's what he said and that's what he meant. Whenever I watch his movies, I can almost hear him whispering that from behind me. I'll be watching a scene, maybe even mesmerized by a scene, and I'll hear him whisper, "Psst. Shane, I am the best film director in the world." That's why I'm almost always ready to hate his movies. And while he is pretentious, manipulative, and artsy-fartsy, the movies are at the very least interesting and more often than not really good. Ten minutes into this one (which my brother recommended), I thought, "Finally! A Lars von Trier movie I can trash." But gradually, the hypnotic narration (literally here), the film's mesmerizing style, and the Kafka-esque story sucked me in. There's a sort of second-person narration that puts you in the center of the noirish thriller, and even if you don't really like the main character or if the actor who plays him isn't very good, you still identify with him. The narration, with some creepy background music, also sets the tone and creates this ambiance for the rest of the film. The rest of the film is stylistic, likely a love-it-or-hate-it type feel, that fits the noirish story perfectly. Crisp black and white with occasional red splashes, double exposure (or whatever it's called...the actors are clearly acting in front of screens most of the time), and striking imagery lend a unique feel to this one. Lots of stylistic trickery going on here, but I never saw through it. My only gripe would be with the acting which seems really awkward and lifeless at times. Still, this is a really good movie that won't be easy to forget.

This might be called Zentropa in America. I'm not sure why that'd be the case though.

Ice Age: The Meltdown

2006 movie

Rating: 10/20 (Abbey: 20/20)

Plot: Global warming! Oh, snap! Sid the sloth, Diego the saber-toothed tiger, and Manny the mammoth must travel to a "boat" at the end of their valley in order to survive an upcoming hydrapocalypse. Sid struggles with his place in the herd, Diego struggles with aquaphobia, and Manny struggles with the possibilities of being the last of his species. Along the way, they meet a couple of annoying possums and a female mammoth and then everything is resolved exactly like you would have figured it would be five minutes into the movie.

From the script (which has some annoying adult humor) to the character developments to the animation, this whole thing looks half-assed. You've pretty much got the same characters doing the same things. The interesting landscapes from the first movie are gone and replaced with stuff not worth noticing. The new characters are annoying (the two possums actually reminded me of Thing 1 and Thing 2 from that terrible The Cat in the Hat movie), and the old characters quickly wear their welcome. The best parts of the movie are the bits with the prehistoric rat thingy (see above) and his attempts to procure an acorn, but even that is completely rehashed.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

1999 afro-samurai gangster flick

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Ghost Dog, a black contract killer who adheres to the philosophies and codes of the samurai, finds himself a target of a clumsily inept mob. He and his pigeons have to take care of business.

I noticed the other day that I had no Jarmusch movies on this blog and felt the need to remedy that. I'd actually always avoided this movie despite a recommendation from a buddy, and I'm not exactly sure why. Jim Jarmusch? Good. Samurai? Good. Comical mobsters? Good. I'm not sure why I'm surprised to like this rather special movie so much. It has a lot to say about personal codes, fading traditions, communication, friendship, stereotypes, and loyalty. And it's really fucking entertaining. There's action, there's laughs, and there's a great performance by Forest Whitaker in the title role. A hammier performance would have easily destroyed the character and the film, but Whitaker plays it suave and delivers exactly what the role calls for. Ghost Dog's interesting because it's more the characters, their motivations, and the philosophies that push the plot forward rather than just a story. With typical Jarmusch nuances, those characters that meander just outside the fringes of normalcy, and thematic depth, this is the type of uniquely entertaining movie that will be rewarding again and again. I'm going to have to watch Dead Man again soon to see if there are some thematic connections.

Empire of Passion

1978 ghost story

Rating: 13/20

Plot: The wife of a rickshaw driver begins an affair with a younger man. Together, they decide that the husband needs to be out of the way, so they get him drunk, strangle him, and throw him in a well. But then there's nobody to drive the rickshaw! Oh, snap! The townspeople start gossiping about the woman and her disappearing husband. To make matters worse, the woman begins seeing her husbands ghost all over the place, and this really throws off her concentration when she's trying to have sex.

I thought there was something stale about this one. The ghost was creepy, and the sex scenes were erotic , but there was just something missing that was apparently needed in order for me to feel the story. Something stifled. Maybe the problem was that it was just a little creepy and a little erotic? The movie seemed a lot longer than it was, and the actions of the characters didn't always make complete sense to me. I really think I would have liked this movie a lot more if everything wasn't so literal. There were some nice moments (the opening scene of a foreshadowing spinning wheel and shots from within the well) that make me think Nagisa Oshima, a director I'm not familiar with, is worth checking out, but the movie as a whole did not impress.

Zatoichi's Vengeance

1966 Zatoichi movie, the 13th in the series

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A dying gambling cheat hands Zatoichi a bag of money and tells him to take it to his son. The title masseuse has no clue where to find the gambler's family but stumbles upon them in a town overridden with gangsters. He becomes a Shane-esque hero for the boy while at the same time questioning the decisions of his violent past after conversations with a wise wandering blind priest/musician.

Interesting entry in the series as Zatoichi struggles with his conscience and guilt and loneliness and fills out a bit as a character. Fortunately, it doesn't stop him from hacking up the bad guys by the end of the film, and that's exactly what the last 15-20 minutes are. There isn't necessarily anything new in the action sequences, nothing that you don't see in any of the other Zatoichi movies, but there sure seems to be a lot more of it in this one. Huge body count although, unlike the Lone Wolf and Cub series, there's almost no blood. This is beautifully shot with a sword fight between silhouettes on a bridge at dusk maybe being the highlight. The story is a little convoluted (a lot of these are), but this one comes together very nicely at the end as Zatoichi tidies up financially. And I'd like to mention again how good of an acting job Shintaro Katsu does bringing this character to life. The fact that I'm not tired of these movies probably has a lot to do with him.

I wonder if I should have watched these Zatoichi movies in order.

Jubilee

1978 punk rock unpleasantry

Rating: 5/20

Plot: Thanks to a mystic mime with a shimmering crotch, Queen Elizabeth I, an advisor, and a midget are able to travel to 20th Century England. They find that it's a pretty trashy place. Living in that modern England are several filthy punk rockers. Like most punk rockers, they're funny looking. Scantilly-clad Crabs, spiky-haired Mad, the shirtless Amyl Nitrate, Chaos, Angel, Sphynx, and Viv, bored out of their minds, talk a whole lot and then run out and do what punk rockers do best--act punky. They vandalize, murder, pillage, and expose themselves. This likely upsets the midget. Then they play Monopoly. But, since they're punk rockers, they don't follow the rules! Hell yeah!

Made with his non-actor punk rocker friends on a budget of apparently sixty-five dollars and seventy-three cents, Derek Jarman's Jubilee looks exactly like you'd expect it to look. It looks like trash. Now I understand that Mr. Jarman was probably intentionally making a trashy film and that's generally something that I can appreciate, but this was not entertaining or insightful at all. I believe the non-relatable characters rambling long and philosophical, the shocking images of late-70's counterculture, Hitler allusions, and the bad hair were supposed to make me feel something, but that's the biggest problem with this movie--I didn't feel anything at all. Jubilee is a poorly written and even more poorly acted, and with the possible exceptions of pretty boy Adam Ant and oft-nude Crabs (my brother's favorite part of the movie, it seems), there's very little here worth seeing. This is gross, languid, and stupid when it needed to be full of energy and dangerous. It's not shockingly memorable enough to be as "good" as a John Waters' movie, it's not satirical or smart enough to be A Clockwork Orange, and it's not original enough to be truly avant-garde. It's nothing more than an embarrassing pop culture artifact that nearly made me wish I was watching a movie about deviant disco dancers instead.

Sort of recommended by my brother.

Nanook of the North

1922 narrative documentary

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Anthropologist Robert J. Flaherty goes where the huskies go and avoids the yellow snow while filming an Eskimo family in their quest to survive in the harsh Canadian climate. The title pater familias hunts for walrus and seal, which the family devours raw, and builds an igloo. He also tries to eat a record.

The first feature-length documentary is a good one. The amount of staging makes this seem far from factual (in fact, Nanook's wife wasn't really his wife), but this still looks like an accurate depiction of what life in this particular brand of wild would be like. Of course, it's not like documentaries since Nanook have exactly been 100% objective. It's probably more exciting as a historical document than a movie, but there are some exciting moments--Nanook's struggles with a seal beneath the ice, the intricacies of building an igloo, Nanook molesting a walrus. I really like the scene where Nanook and his family are shown a phonograph. It's such an odd moment, one that arguably doesn't even need to be in the film, but the strange little detail adds some personality and makes Nanook really easy to like. He's also got these fuzzy pants that I'd like to buy, not only for myself but for my entire posse. Nobody's going to mess around with a gang in large fuzzy white pants. Flaherty wasn't exactly a filmmaker, but you wouldn't know it by watching this silent film. I expected shivering to get in the way of quality cinematography. I would have liked to see more of the Northern Canadian landscape, but the focus was kept on the family and their struggles with that landscape so I can forgive that.

Another Cory recommendation.

Begotten

1990 film school project that probably got a low grade

Rating: 4/20

Plot: A masked individual hacks away at him/herself with a straight razor and finally dies. A woman emerges from beneath the corpse and wanders aimlessly while fondling her breasts. Suddenly, she's pregnant. She wanders some more but outside in a bleak and barren landscape. Then, in an uplifting twist, a twitching guy (her son?) is attacked by cannibals. In the end (spoiler alert!), giant burlap-clad people make pudding.

This disturbing little avant-garde nonsense is definitely one of those "either you like it or you're normal" type movies. There's not another movie that looks like this one out there, but that honestly just makes me feel a lot better about "out there" than anything else. I will give credit to the man who plays "twitching guy" because there's some quality convulsing that goes on for about half of this film's length. Let's see Tom Hanks pull that off! Recommended for anybody who likes to watch grainy disturbing image after grainy disturbing image with some ambient music and minimalistic sound effects including birds chirping, scraping, farts, thunder, crickets, slurping, dripping, gurgling, more crickets, dragging, and rubbing. I never thought I'd say this, but there are so many grainy disturbing images in this that I got a little sick of them and don't even know if I can call myself a fan of grainy disturbing images anymore. The same thing happened with me and Will Ferrell actually. Seriously, if you watch five minutes of Begotten (which, if my little review has inspired you to, you can see online), you've really seen it all. While watching this, I couldn't help but wonder if the director's main purpose was to make a movie that is more difficult to watch than footage from the Holocaust. This is apparently one of those "cult films," but these cult members probably need to drink the Kool-aid as soon as possible. To Elias Merhige's credit, at least he hasn't made a sequel.

Ariel

1988 Aki Kaurismaki movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Taisto's having a bad day. The coal mine where he's worked has shut down and his father decides he's had enough and takes his life in a restaurant bathroom. But at least he gets a Cadillac out of the deal! He withdraws his savings and heads to a place that isn't the place he is at in order to start over. He has trouble with the law, thugs, and finding employment. He also meets and falls for a divorced mother.

Watched this one right after Shadows in Paradise even though it was very very late. But I couldn't think of a reason to wake up the next morning at a reasonable time, and the first Aki Kaurismaki movie put me in the mood to watch another one. So I said, "Hell yeah, mo-fo!" and popped this son of a bitch into the player. It's actually may be the best of the three movies that make up this "trilogy" about lonely working people finding love. It's probably the strangest with some really bizarre developments that really get no reactions from the characters. Father committing suicide? No acknowledgement. Sentenced to jail time? No reaction. These kind of odd character details combined with Kaurismaki's style (a camera that rarely moves, little dialogue) make this both otherworldly and familiar at the same time. I hate to mention Jarmusch again, but like his films, this guy's stuff just pulls you into this quietly offbeat world that you just can't help being entertained by. Maybe I didn't laugh at the deadpan humor in the cracks of these desperate characters' story, but I smiled more than I generally do at three in the morning. Gimme more, mo-fo!

Shadows in Paradise

1986 Aki Kaurismaki movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: The story of an on-again/off-again romance between a lonely, socially-awkward garbage man and a grocery store cashier. When she helps him bandage up a wound on his hand, he gets the nerve to ask her on a date. He takes her to play Bingo; needless to say, the date doesn't work out. But following drastic measures the woman takes after losing her job, she gets some help from the garbage man.

No wonder that Kaurismaki movie (The Match Factory Girl) I watched earlier this year reminded me of Jarmusch. Apparently, they're good buddies, and Jarmusch even had a cameo in the Leningrad Cowboys movie as a used car salesman. This, like The Match Factory Girl and Ariel (see next blog entry), have that same quiet tone that Jarmusch's movies have with a pace that forces you to focus on the subtleties, the quirks, the fringe details. The minimalistic film's story stumbles along in a slow motion stream-of-consciousness that reflects life pretty accurately, and there's an unpredictability here with the characters' expressions, mannerisms, and words that makes this a complete joy to watch even when things aren't necessarily joyous for them. This is the type of movie that just hits the spot. Despite miserable characters, bleak settings, and sad situations, this little movie still made me happier than any non-animated film has made me in a long time.

The Private Eyes

1981 comedy

Rating: 14/20 (adjusted for Don Knotts bonus)

Plot: Inspector Winship and Dr. Tart have been sent from Scotland Yard to a sprawling mansion to investigate the murders of Lord and Lady Morley. Occupying the secret-passageway-ridden mansion are the adopted daughter of the Morleys and a motley assortment of hired help including a samurai, a hunchback, and a guy with no tongue. They encounter ghosts with bombs, buzzard puss, cleavage, a torture chamber, and a few murders as they investigate the case.

Quite possibly the funniest movie ever made, The Private Eyes benefits from the chemistry between Knotts and Conway and top-notch old-school humor. I'll come clean and admit that I can't look at Don Knotts without laughing. All Don Knotts has to do to get a laugh from me is be present in a scene, and he's present in many scenes in this movie. Conway, who co-wrote the script, is also good. Screwiness, horror, an intriguing story, twists and turns, cleavage, mystery. This film's got it all! An undeniable masterpiece!

Man with a Movie Camera

1929 documentary

Rating: 18/20

Plot: None. A man with a camera photographs Russians going about their everyday business from dawn until dusk.

There's so much to see here. The titular man risks injury to capture some unique and kinetic moving pictures of everyday people absorbed in mundane activities. I struggle to understand exactly what the point of it all is (one could discuss its connection with modern day reality television or paparazzi, I suppose, but I'm not sure Dziga Vertov was familiar with MTV's The Real World--Tucson or how grotesque that Amy Winehouse looks in cut-off jean shorts); however, I sure enjoyed watching it. There's a lot of shots of men and women interacting with machinery which, in a way, makes this an interesting companion for Chaplin's Modern Times. Director Dziga Vertov uses (invents?) an assortment of film tricks--double exposure, stop animation, split-screen, slowed down film, etc.--which makes this not only an important document for sociologists but folks interested in cinema. Even if you're not interested in either, the images come at your rapidly enough that the movie remains interesting for its duration. Vertov creates a language of images here that is startlingly unique today and must have really blown 1929 audiences away. The version I watched had music by Michael Nyman who scores Peter Greenaway's movies, and it's always great to hear his stuff.

Recommended by Cory.

Buster Keaton Saturday: Seven Chances

1925 comedy

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Poor Jimmie and his financial broker partner are facing financial and reputational ruins as well as jail time. Luckily, a lawyer pops by to inform Jimmie that he stands to inherit seven million dollars from his grandfather. Unluckily, he can only inherit the fortune if he is married by 7:00 on his 27th birthday which, because this is a movie, is that very day. Jimmie, his partner, and the lawyer rush around to find a willing bride.

The first half of this is very sweet, funny enough, and perfectly ordinary. I like the story just fine and Keaton and (especially) Snitz Edwards who plays the lawyer are great. But Harold Lloyd or really anybody else could have starred in it. It's a good first half of a movie, but it doesn't really seem like a Buster Keaton movie. Then, a scheme of his partner's draws about a thousand potential brides to a church which sets off a more typically Keaton chase scene, reminiscent of the short "Cops" but with blushing (and ticked off) brides taking the place of the po-po. It's always fun to watch quick little Buster dart around, and his athletic prowess is definitely on display during those last twenty minutes. Interestingly enough, I think I was more amused by that first half. The jokes work well although there are way too many title cards.

Because I couldn't find the remote control and was too lazy to get out of bed, I also watched the two shorts on this dvd. "Neighbors" (1920) is a very good and very funny short with sort of a Romeo and Juliet story, kind of like Our Hospitality but in the city. It's stuffed with stunts which makes it one of the more cartoony Keaton shorts. There's also a great gag involving pants, and there's another one of those terrific how's-he-doing-that moments. Keaton's father plays his character's father in this one. "The Balloonatic" (1923) is also worthwhile despite its made-up-as-we-go plotline. The Buster vs. the wild scenario that makes up the bulk of the short is fine, but it probably didn't help I watched it after the superior "Neighbors."

Ashes of Time

1994 movie

Rating: 10/20

Plot: A recluse in the desert acts as a middle man to find swordsman for people who have problems that need solved. There's a guy with a wine that makes you lose your memory, a woman with eggs, a swordsman going blind, another swordsman who doesn't like shoes, horse thieves, and a man who winds up being his own sister.

This was so boring. I was immediately turned off by that texture that a lot of Asian films seem to have where everything looks runny, like it's been stone washed. This movie is really overly stylized with lots of slow motion undulating and off-colors and jerk cuts. Those are all technical terms, by the way. The fight scenes are dully shot with those quick cuts, some slow motion, and a lot of close ups. The actors might have martial arts skills, but you definitely couldn't tell the way the action sequences were shot. This was really cheap and ugly art, and I don't want it anywhere near my fireplace. It's too bad because I thought there were some possibilities with the structure of this (I like how it's broken into chapters based on seasons although that's not a new idea), the general idea, and the poetic voiceover narration.

Choke

2008 movie

Rating: 9/20

Plot: Victor wants to know who his father is. Unfortunately for him, the only person who has that information, his Alzheimer-suffering mother, can't even recognize him. He works at a Colonial Williamsburg-esque park during the day and at night scams restaurant patrons by pretending to choke on food so that he can be saved and then later sent money. Or something. He also spends lots of his time at sex-addiction meetings. He has a friend who masturbates a lot.

It really felt like half of this movie was cut out or something. It's such a choppily-paced story that I wound up discombobulated beside the ottoman. And my zipper was down! Quirks-a-go-go! I felt completely disconnected from the characters and really only stuck around for the nudity. Disappointing.

Dirty Harry

1971 action movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: If there's any type of person the misanthropic title cop hates more than anybody else, it's hippies. And San Francisco is currently being tormented by a maniacal one who is sniping random folks from rooftops and promising that he'll continue his bad behavior until the city forks over 100,000 dollars. And he does it all while giggling which ticks off Dirty Harry even more. So, Dirty Harry grows his hair really tall and goes after him, breaking more than a few rules along the way. His struggles with counting make the task even more difficult.

A lot of this movie is too dark. Was that just a problem with the dvd version I saw? I suppose this is the movie that a lot of people have been trying to copy for a few decades now. The story's actually a little weak, and the villain is a little campy (I prefer Malcovich in In the Line of Fire), but there's a coolness working here and combined with some good writing, real characterization, and exciting action scenes, this will likely remain a dated but timeless classic shoot 'em up flick.

Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2

2003, 2004

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Beatrix Kiddo, a member of The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, gets knocked up and decides that it's time to hang up her samurai sword and settle down in Texas. Bill, her old boyfriend and father of her unborn child and head honcho of the aforementioned squad, doesn't like that idea and crashes her wedding rehearsal in a violent manner. Four years later, after Beatrix wakes from a coma, she's not very happy about it and wants revenge. So she hunts down Sonny Chiba, gets herself a sword, and does some killin'.

There's such an odd combination of grace and mayhem in these movies. The fight scenes and choreography are terrific, but the quiet moments preceding and following the fight scenes are terrific, too. Sure, that killing spree in the House of Blue Leaves is entertaining and beautifully choreographed, but the long-shot prior to Beatrix's arrival and the tranquil wintry scene following that slaughter are in some ways even more exciting. I've seen enough kung-fu movies to appreciate the allusions in both halves of this revenge epic, and I've seen enough spaghetti westerns to appreciate the allusions in the second, less frenetic installment, and it's really an interesting marriage of these movies. Tarantino's got a good eye and ear, and the visuals and music collide in stunning ways throughout both volumes. There are some song choices I don't like, but for the most part, the recycled soundtrack stuff fits great with the action. And while there's truly some virtuosic filmmaking going on here, Tarantino often gets in his own way and makes a mess of things. Kill Bill is probably far too ambitious and sprawling, and it could easily have been a series of films. I would have loved to see more characterization for the other assassins anyway. The dialogue is strong although once again, Tarantino's goofiness gets in the way (see that "Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids" line). There are also a lot of great humorous moments hidden amidst the strewn limbs and blood-stained walls. My favorite is the conversation with Bill and the four-year-old daughter:

Bill: What movie do you want to watch?
Daughter: Shogun Assassin.
Bill: Shogun Assassin is too long.

Together, these are a really solid, if uneven, film. It is a bit jarring that Beatrix goes from killing about a hundred people in the first half and only one in the second.

Up

2009 movie

Rating: 16/20 (Jen: 17/20; Dylan: 11/20;Emma: 18/20; Abbey: 20/20)

Plot: Lonely widowered Carl Fredrickson is about to be shipped to an old person's home because he's a menace to society. Instead of losing the home his wife and he constructed out of memories and love, he decides to transport it to a waterfall in South America, both as a way to escape the retirement home and to fulfill a promise he had made to his Ellie a long, long time ago. Unbeknownst to Carl, a boy scout has accompanied him. They make it to South America where they run into exotic birds, talking dogs, and a childhood hero with a zeppelin.

I fully expected this movie to end in what I thought was a predictably unpredictable way. Instead, it threw me off by unpredictably ending in a predictable way. The movie is better with my ending, I think, and I'm sticking with my slightly different "reading" of this one. I can't really say anymore about that without spoiling things. Lovable characters, solid animation (not as stunningly sharp as Ratatouille though), and a quirky little story add up to another Pixar win. Like Wall-E, I think the action bits go a bit too far (that's part of my "reading" though), but the humor works throughout with lots of visual and verbal gags and the colors and details make this a feast for the eyes. It's also a very touching film, managing to make me weep within the first ten minutes which is probably a new record. Lots of little details are going to make this a movie that you can return to again and again although, like Ratatouille, a large chunk of this one is more for adults than children.


Note: I did not see the 3-D version of this movie. 3-D is for suckers.

Rachel Getting Married

2008 drama

Rating: 11/20 (Jen: 13/20)

Plot: Kym (this movie lost a point just for this spelling) is released from a rehabilitation center to participate in her sister's wedding with her dysfunctional family. Drama unfolds.

I can't figure out if Shane Getting Annoyed or Shane Getting Uncomfortable would be a better alternate title for this movie. First off, Anne Hathaway's performance is really inconsistent. At times, she's terrific and makes it easy to become emotionally involved in her character. At other times, she's shaky, almost confused by her character. Speaking of shaky, this is filmed in that faux-documentary style with handheld cameras, and that gets old really quickly. There are some extraordinarily awkward scenes in this that go on far too long--endless toasts at a wedding rehearsal dinner, some sort of variety show, a weird scene involving an impromptu dishwashing competition, and a reception that seemed twice as long as any reception I've ever been to. That reception, by the way, included the only reason I wanted to see this movie in the first place as Robyn Hitchcock plays a wedding singer and performs a couple songs. He's juxtaposed with an annoying rapper though which perfectly illustrates what's wrong with this movie. There's some good, maybe even some great, butting violently up against the bad in a way that makes this ultimately clunky and unsatisfying.