First Spaceship on Venus

1960 science fiction movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Some space taffy is found at an excavation site, and following examination, it's decided that the space taffy actually contains a message from the planet Venus. A rocket ship with an international crew is sent to figure out what the Venusians want. On the way, the crew discovers that the message is actually all about plans to invade our planet.

I really sort of liked this movie. Sure, it's choppy and has terrible acting. Sure, it is overly verbose, and, to make that verbosity worse, has really poorly written dialogue. But there's an artistic quality to this cheap science fiction movie that makes it all worth it. There's great imaginative set design with some odd special effects that give this some charm. Popcorn meteor showers, great moogy sound effects, superimposed drifting fog, syrupy lava flows, hopping spidery Venus inhabitants. Venus has a really nice texture, gnarled and weather-beaten and kinda Seussian, and the designs for the space vehicles are pretty good. There are some space craft details that push this ahead of the typical flat B-movie science fiction ships. There's also a funky little chess-playing robot that rolls around like a tank and occasionally mumbles something about the weather. I even liked the bizarre wardrobe choices--uniforms with seemingly random letters on them, odd spacesuits that looked almost like chipmunk costumes, rubbery planet-exploration suits. And even though it's a little too talky, there are some nice themes about persevering through tragedy and fear and possibly even about the importance of Earthlings uniting in order to overcome the problems we face. Good 50's sci-fi drama!

Invaders from Mars

1953 b-movie

Rating: 9/20

Plot: Body snatchers from Mars travel to earth, burrow beneath the ground, and start making mischief. Beaver Cleaver is on to them, but nobody will listen to him. Oh, snap!

Luckily for the makers of this movie, the Martians hid beneath the sand in this town that seems to have a lot of sand because it saved a lot of money that would have been used on special effects. This is a silly and boring b-movie that combines a no-fat version of The Twilight Zone's menace with the golly-gee 1950's naivety. Child actors are often annoying, and even though the kid in this isn't completely terrible, making him the focus of the movie probably isn't a great idea. This is also another really misleading poster. The tentacled thing in the dome, though pretty cool, is on the screen for less than a minute, and the Martians don't do anything but get shot, fall down, and get back up again so that they can stumble around and get shot some more. They're not in it very much either. The action scenes consist mostly of what looks to be stock footage of tanks and army activity or a little kid running around screaming. C'mon, people. If you're going to make a really cheap science fiction movie, at least make it funny!

Waltz with Bashir

2008 cartoon

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Ari can't remember much about his experiences in the 1982 Lebanon War. He finds various friends and combat peers and interviews them, gradually piecing together enough memories to complete a picture of his dark past.

This is a stunning animated documentary. The quiet, reflective narration of director Ari Folman combines with apocalyptic, hallucinatory imagery so well here. I imagine what I felt as I watched the memories unfold is close to what Ari Folman felt as he lived the experiences, and that in itself is impressive. It takes a little while to get used to the unique animation style (a conglomeration actually with mostly cut-outs), but once I did, I had no problem feeling the pictures. It's like watching a series of somebody else's nightmares. There are tiny details (shadows, slight gestures, subtle movements) that make the scenes incredibly poignant. The use of animation freeing up the director to explore his memories in such a visually unique way succeeds in making it all look exactly like dreamy, half-forgotten memories should look. There's really some unforgettable stuff throughout this; the frightening beginning and haunting ending that bookend are especially powerful. I also liked the soundtrack by Max Richter who, after hearing The Blue Notebook a few years ago, I decided would be good at just this sort of thing. Waltz with Bashir definitely isn't an easy watching experience (as a matter of fact, it's pretty devastating), but it's an artistic triumph and well worth checking out.

Recommended by Cory.

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

1949 cartoon

Rating: 12/20 (Abbey: 5/20)

Plot: "The Wind in the Willows" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" in animated form.

File this in one of the lesser Disney tiers. Not much magic here. I'm betting it has something to do with World War II, but the animation looks much cheaper than the classics that preceded it, and the entire production looks somehow incomplete or half-assed. There are moments in Ichabod's story (the main character's movements, the use of sound effects to create the mood in during the climax) where it's almost great, but there was almost nothing at all that I liked about the Mr. Toad half of this. Bing Crosby's voice (especially when singing) for Ichabod sounds wildly inappropriate, and Basil Rathbone, whose voice I usually like, doesn't do anything for me as the narrator for Mr. Toad's adventures. The animation isn't colorful, the backgrounds are flat, and nothing moves on the screen except for the characters which makes it look like a second rate production. It's actually hard to believe that this came out nine years after Pinocchio. Worst of all, the characters aren't even likable. Mr. Toad is annoying, and Ichabod is greedy and manipulative. I'm actually happy that he (spoiler alert) got his dome busted open by a jack o' lantern at the end. The peripheral characters aren't much either. The headless horseman is menacing enough, but he sort of zips by. Brom Bones, Ichabod's antagonist, is a lot like that bully in Beauty and the Beast. What was that guy's name again? If only there was a song about him or something so that I'd remember his name.


1996 movie

Rating: 3/20

Plot: Some archaeologists digging around in the desert sands of Arizona discover an odd half-man/half-something-else skeleton. Immediately, they start brawling. One of the men scrapes his leg on the skull of their discovery, and while recuperating in the hospital, he transforms into a werewolf. Later, other characters who already sort of look like werewolves being to show signs of lycanthropy. An evil archaeologist might be responsible.

False advertising! I was so ready to watch Joe Estevez in another award-worthy performance, but he only a minor character in the first quarter of the movie. Oh well. This still qualifies as a really good bad movie. I was really confused by the nationalities of some of these people. What I initially thought was just extremely awkward, stilted acting turned out to be the result of casting the inhabitants of some unidentifiable foreign land, most likely a land where emoting or facial expressions have been outlawed. The woman archaeologist seems either bored out of her mind or confused throughout the movie, and, like Jimmy Stewart or Vincent Price, the simplest tasks seem difficult for her to pull off in a way that makes her look like a normal person. The evil archaeologist not only has a thick accent but also has this strange intensity that makes nearly everything he says laughable. My favorite character is a Santa Claus militia man who gets all the best lines and nearly steals the movie. The wolfman special effects range from mildly humorous to uproariously abysmal. The wolves sometimes look like tiny Sasquatch, sometimes like bears, and sometimes like dollar store Halloween masks fashioned into a kind of filthy puppet. There's also a really weird soundtrack, odd cello music that never really seems to fit right. It's all awfully silly stuff. Just don't watch it expecting to see a lot of Joe Estevez.

Better Off Dead

1985 teen angst comedy

Rating: 11/20 (Jen: 7/20)

Plot: Poor Lane Meyer. His girlfriend Beth has dumped him for his skiing rival. He's left with one choice--to kill himself. Unfortunately for him, he's not very good at it. Unfortunately for us, it's not very funny. Things start turning around for him when he meets a French exchange student and gets a chance to race against his rival.

There's a lot of quirkiness here. There are crazy paperboys, Asian drag racers, stop-animated hamburgers. Although these bits actually might make the movie more entertaining, they also distract, almost as if they were thrown into the movie so that the audience won't notice how bad it is. This is definitely stuck in the mid-80's. A few clever ideas (the failed suicide attempts not really being one of them) don't add up to much here, probably because they have to peak their heads out from underneath a predictable, cliched story and predictable, cliched characters. I don't know why I watched this. I was going to give this a bonus point because Curtis "Booger" Armstrong was in it, but I had already deducted a point during the opening credits because the director's name is Savage Steve Holland. Then, I looked up Savage Steve Holland and noticed that his breakthrough was animating the Whammy on the game show Press Your Luck and gave the bonus point right back.

Chang: A Drama in the Wilderness

1927 nature documentary

Rating: 17/20 (Jen: 13/20)

Plot: A couple guys who would later go on to make a little movie called King Kong film jungle inhabitants (Kru and his family) in Siam. Their struggle for survival is threatened by leopards, tigers, and thousands of elephants. Luckily, mankind is smart and therefore always comes out on top in conflicts with nature.

Chang has a lot in common with Nanook. They're both adventure/survival documentaries taking place in lands the audiences would have no chance of visiting. They're both anthropological studies. They both contain some stunning footage of what man has to do in order to survive in the wild. However, there are some key differences. For one, Chang is made by actual filmmakers, so the shots, especially of the animals, are a lot better. There's really some excellent footage of jungle life in this, some which looks like it might have even been dangerous to capture. There are also more characters in Chang and, from the middle point on, more of a story. The way we see the animals is also completely different. In Nanook, the animals are nothing more than potential food. When the animals are on the screen, the focus is still on the human characters and what they're doing. In Chang, the animals are shown being animals, and it's amazing how some of them (monkeys mostly) even have some personality. I also think Chang is more entertaining than Nanook. Not a moment in this one drags and the scenes in which jungle folk tackle every day tasks don't get boring because not every single minute of those every day tasks are shown. I especially liked watching them construct booby traps. This probably can't be considered a true documentary because a large percentage of the scenes were obviously staged. It's almost like hours and hours of footage was shot and then reassembled as a story. But it's very well done and definitely worth seeing as both an early documentary and a prelude to King Kong.

Jen laughed uproariously several times while watching this and seemed especially entertained by a monkey. She also rooted for the elephants during the climactic elephant stampede scene. She didn't seem to like this very much but told me she had to bump it up a few points because it was really good for the 1950s. I'm not sure, but she might have been drunk again.


1979 low-budget horror movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: An evil undertaker transforms corpses into dwarfish slaves. Brothers Mike and Jody, along with a friendly ice cream truck driver, try to unravel the mysteries surrounding the mortuary and its very tall mortician.

I wasn't aware that that many people had sex in graveyards. I like movies that can teach you stuff. I expected to laugh my way through this and then write a review similar to Troll 2's. Even though I did laugh quite a bit at some really silly dialogue and no-budget effects and it does have an ending a lot like Troll 2's, there was a style and coolness to this that I couldn't ignore. Honestly, there were times when I thought this could have been the work of Kubrick. Thing is, writer/director Don Coscarelli does a whole lot with the nothing he's got to make this movie. There are some genuinely horrifying moments, admittedly more than a few of those figures-popping-onto-the-screen shockers that became so cliched but also a lot of moments that are scary because ominous and unsettling atmospheres are created. Nightmarish imagery and some creepy, though pretty amateurish music, set quite a tone here. And the lurching, omnipresent Tall Man played by Angus Scrimm (What a name!) is just as intimidating as any Jason or Freddy. Growling robed little people, twitching disembodied fingers, flying metallic spike balls, ice cream trucks, uncontrollable urination, illogical explosions. There's so much to love here! Now I've got to see about getting my hands on a copy of Phantasms II-XVII!

Note: This blog no longer uses the words midget, midget-esque, midgety, midgetacular, midgetry, extreme midget action, midget-cinema, midgetabulous, midgetploitation, or especially midget funk as the m-word apparently offends. I will still seek out movies with midgets and be entertained by midget funk but will, from this point on, use the words little people. I apologize for the inconvenience.

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

2008 documentary

Rating: 16/20

Plot: All about the volatile America of the 60s and 70s and the vanguard journalist/counter-cultural voice who was at the heart of it all. This covers the Hell's Angels writings which got him on the map, his writing for Rolling Stone, his running for sheriff of Aspen, his attempts to search for the American dream in Las Vegas, his unique coverage of the 1972 presidential campaign, and his failure to complete his assignment to write about a boxing match between Ali and some guy who makes grills. Hunter does some drugs, shoots some guns (once at himself), and wreaks some serious havoc.

The title is accurate because even though the focus is on the good doctor, it does a great job of interweaving the cultural happenings that stirred his emotions and kept his fingers tapping on that typewriter. There's a ton of archival footage mixed in with famous people lovingly (though not ignoring the man's flaws) sharing anecdotes that shape Thompson as both a writer and a human being. The filmmakers also do a terrific job of using a lot of Thompson's own words, some in the doctor's own voice and some read by others, including Johnny Depp. The amount of music used in this, although it does aid in the creation of a timeline, is overwhelming and oppressive, and the large chunk of Thompson's funeral shown at the end kind of cheapens things. Hunter S. Thompson, whether you like him or agree with his lifestyle and philosophies or not, is such an intriguing personality that it's impossible not to be entertained by his story. This documentary tells that story really well. It also made me want to read some Hunter S. Thompson!

Legend of Fong Sai Yuk

1993 martial arts movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: The secret Red Lotus Flower Society want nothing more than to get rid of the evil emperor. A tough guy is sent out to locate a list of the society's members, a list that includes the name of local kung-fu hero Fong Sai Yuk's dad. Fong Sai Yuk enters a kung-fu contest in which the prize is the daughter of a rich dude. Later, his mother, disguised as a man, fights the rich dude's wife in the same contest and the latter is smitten by her. Somehow, I'm making this sound more confusing than it actually is.

Oddly, the plot of this bit of tongue-in-cheek kung-fu mayhem isn't difficult to follow at all despite a variety of madcap goings-on. The plot doesn't matter much as there is enough wall-to-wall action to make you want to turn off the old mind anyway. High-flying wire work combines with a creative use of setting and props to make some sparkling fight choreography. It's violent, but until the climax, the violence isn't serious. You've got opponents balancing on the heads of the spectators, the superhuman abilities, some wacky gravity-defying nonsense. It's fun stuff. I also like the rapport between Jet Li and the woman playing his mother. An argument could be made that there was too much comedy in the beginning or that it got too serious in the end, but changing either side would have ruined the fun. A couple good fight scenes between Jet Li and the guy hunting down the list.


1955 Carl Dreyer movie

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Old pious Morten had a farm. E-I-E-I-O. And on this farm, he had three sons. E-I-E-I-O. Agnostic Mikkel lives on the farm with his pregnant wife Inger and two daughters. Johannes is nuts, frequently wandering to the fields and announcing that he is the Messiah. And youngest son Anders wants to marry Anne, the daughter of a tailor who Morten doesn't like very much because of differences in their religious faiths. So they cluck cluck there, and they cluck cluck here. Here a cluck cluck. There a cluck cluck. Everywhere a cluck cluck.

Ordet (The Word) is a sneakily dense, slow-moving but intense look at religion, specifically the issue of faith. I didn't completely understand it. I really wish the differences between Peter the tailor and Morten's religious ideas were made a little clearer. Morten was a happy Christian while Peter was more of a depressed worshipper, but what does that mean exactly? This builds so slowly that I initially thought I was bored out of my mind. The camera moves slowly, the characters talk and move slowly, and the backgrounds are static and too gray even for a black and white film. But gradually, I was hypnotized by the thing, drawn into the characters' lives, so that when the pair of climaxes came, they were deep and meaningful whereas they might seem trite and meaningless if I just told you what they were. There's not a lot of camera movement, but when it happens, the movements seem so important. Really, there's something seemingly important about the lack of movements too, I guess. There's a focus on the characters, no setting distractions except for maybe the occasional lamp or picture, and almost nothing that can be described as action. It's that minimal quality that give the relationships and conversations the characters have this quiet intensity. The ending is powerful, but, at least for me, thematically perplexing. I was pretty sure I knew what the film was trying to say (again, re: faith), but the more I thought about it, the more I was confused about why the movie ended like it did. That ending was very well handled, however, with the same dreamy rhythm of the rest of the film, sans music, extraneous movements, or wasted emoting. I look forward to watching this again in another format (I had a vhs copy, so a Criterion release of this would be nice upgrade) to uncover some of the mysteries and symbols (a bird cage? candles and lamps? Johannes stick? the relationship of Anders and Anne as a marriage of religious ideas?) tucked inside it.

Recommended by Cory. And if you're reading this, R.D., I'd be interesting in hearing what you think about this one.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

1987 sequel

Rating: 8/20

Plot: Superman tries to disarm the entire world while. At the same time, nemesis Lex Luther uses his knowledge of cloning and fission to create a nuclear man, who he names Nuclear Man, in order to get rid of the Man of Steel once and for all.

I was too old to see this when it came out. Either that or I saw Superman III, actually a worse movie, and decided that I was done. This has all kinds of signs indicating that this was just a tired franchise with nothing more to add. Except for Gene Hackman's performance as Lex Luther. That's still an inspired performance that makes him the sort of terrific villain that you really love to root against. Too bad the writers didn't help him out much. And too bad they gave him a completely useless and obnoxious side kick and had an apparently blind person handle his wardrobe. Most of Superman IV feels like attempts to construct a "Best of Superman" montage. The best example of this self-plagiarization is in that attempt to reconstruct the romantic Lois Lane and Superman flying around scene. Of course, you've got the damsel in distress motif again with Lois Lane nearly biting it in a freak subway accident. How many times can one character nearly die in freak accidents? You've also got all kinds of moments where physics/science/common sense is completely disregarded. Business suit clad women in space? Stopping a volcano with the top of a mountain? Using a giant net to hold the world's nuclear missiles? Moving the moon without negatively affecting things on the earth? Using scissors to cut a hair that is supposedly strong enough to hold one thousand pounds? Giving Superman the ability to make bricks with his eyes? Nuclear Man is goofy looking, and some of the special effects are really tacky. Add to all this the message at the heart of the film, a message that is subtly hammered into your head multiple times, and you've got a pretty terrible movie. But at least it isn't as bad as III. And at least Christopher Reeve is still pretty good.

Who's seen the new one? Is it worth my time?

Dumb and Dumber

1994 comedy

Rating: 9/20

Plot: Harry and Lloyd (Harold Lloyd?) are two idiots who dream of opening up their own pet store. Unfortunately, they can't keep jobs and are having trouble saving up the money. One day, Lloyd drops off a beautiful woman at the airport. When he sees that she forgets her briefcase, he retrieves it. The friends make plans to drive a dog van to Aspen to find the woman and give her back her briefcase. Hot on their (in this case literal) tail are a couple criminals who also want the briefcase. When they get to Aspen, a love triangle develops.

Anne McInslop is the person with whom I have been friends the longest. She likes W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers, and when she was shocked that I had never seen her favorite movie, Dumb and Dumber, I figured it was probably worth checking out. As a result, our friendship is now over. Jim Carrey is very Jim Carrey in this role. He's good at this sort of thing even if I don't think this sort of thing is anything worth being good at. He's made a ton of money doing exactly that sort of thing, so I doubt anything he might read here will hurt his feelings. The comedy is just loudly juvenile and too obvious. Jeff Daniels completely transforms himself here and does a good enough job, but I can tell during a few scenes in this movie that he's regretting the decision to do take this part. You can see it in his eyes. I see those eyes every day when I look in a mirror at school, so I know exactly what regretful eyes look like. I had two good laughs--one during their protagonists' rendition of "Mama's Gonna Buy You a Mockingbird" and another after a line about John Denver. But there were far more moments that gave me good groans. I'm not attempting to think of this in the context of the mid-90's. Maybe diarrhea was original and funny fifteen years ago. To make matters worse, this movie also has a real pet peeve of mine--Harland Williams. I don't know what it is about him (it might be the sideburns), but whenever I see him, I want to punch the screen. A good friend, it seems, would know that. You hear that, Anne McInslop? A good friend would know that!

Ali G Indahouse

2002 comedy

Rating: 9/20

Plot: All really dumb gangsta Ali G wants is to save the rec center, but he gets caught in the Chancellor's ploy to embarrass and oust the Prime Minister. Britain ends up loving his Keepin'-It-Real attitude, and the Prime Minister ends up even more popular.

I didn't know this movie even existed or I would have not enjoyed it a long time ago. On the one hand, there are actually a lot of funny bits and Cohen's really good with physical comedy. On the other hand, there are more than a lot of fart jokes and penis jokes (there might even be a joke about a farting penis in there somewhere) and Cohen's really bad with knowing when enough's enough. I would have loved to see the Ali G character in a Borat-esque faux documentary because the stuff with the character on the HBO show is hilarious. Also, even though there is a bit of satire in this, it seems a lot dumber than the Borat movie, an excuse to make those aforementioned penis fart jokes and nothing more. This is more miss than hit, the silly narrative is flimsy, and the sketch comedy too sketchy.

Monster Zero

1965 monster movie

Rating: 14/20 (Jen: 10/20)

Plot: Earthlings discover Planet X, a new planet that seems dangerously close to Jupiter. They travel there, seemingly in a few days, to investigate and plant a goofy-looking flag. They meet the inhabitants of Planet X, underground mole people who speak in an eerie monotone that should have probably given away the fact that they were up to no good all along. They also, oddly enough, call their planet Planet X. Turns out that Planet X has a few problems. There's not enough water and a flying three-headed Ghidarah won't leave them alone. They ask the earthlings to lend them Godzilla and Rodan in exchange for a special medicine that can cure anything. But can the inhabitants of Planet X be trusted?

My expertise in Godzilla flicks is next-to-nothing, but this is definitely an enjoyable movie. I really thought about boosting the rating by five just because of that little victory dance Godzilla does on Planet X. That's one of my favorite movie moments of the year! I would have liked to see more of the monsters, just like when I watch kung-fu movies and want to see more fighting. The special effects are great for the 1950's which, since this movie was made in the mid-60's, gives this a sort of childish naivete. I saw strings attached to Ghidorah, but I still really liked the effects involved to make that monster work. He's flying, he's flapping, he's gesticulating with his tail, and he's waving all of his heads around. I had my brained turned completely off, so I didn't even try to figure out how he worked. Stop-animation? Puppetry? A three-armed man in a suit? Nick Adams has some great lines as the astronaut who is smart enough to figure out that things aren't what they seem but not smart enough to do anything about it. Aside from certain aspects of the holey story (this screenplay was obviously written by a team of scientists), I did have a couple questions: 1) Why is the rocket ship flying through clouds on its way to Planet X? 2) What's with the footprints they find on Planet X? The X-ers seem to walk normally, but those footprints look like a flamboyant drunkard's footprints. Regardless of its many flaws, you've got giant monsters pushing each other around, giant explosions, cool aliens, model destruction. And that funky dance! What's not to love?

This was watched in honor of Cory's birthday.

Monsters, Inc.

2001 animated movie

Rating: 15/20 (Jen: 17/20; Abbey: 20/20)

Plot: There's an energy crisis in Monster Land. Monsters, Inc. uses scaring to convert children's screams into energy, but kids have gotten harder to scare. To make matters more difficult for the company, a toxic child is on the loose. Sully and Mike, two monsters who are about to break the scare record, are forced to deal with the child before somebody finds out they have her. Meanwhile, mean monster Steve Buscemi has other devious plans.

Like some other Pixar movies, the action sequences at the end are a bit on the ludicrous side. That quickly-paced stuff with the doors is just wacky. The characters at times look a little rubbery, but the computer animation in this does seem to be a big step forward from A Bug's Life and the Toy Story movies, improvements which continue with the next two. Sully's hair is frequently cited as an impressive animated feat, but I really like how the animators use light/dark in this one. There's some interesting shadow work and some setting textures that I really like. The story is very creative, and while the humor doesn't always work, there are a lot of very funny moments. I love the Abominable Snowman (Ratzenberger, of The Empire Strikes Back fame), and Boo's too cute for words. Pixar nailed "cute little kid" with this one--the wordless babytalk, the mannerisms, the mischievousness. The characters are well-developed and well-voiced (Goodman and Buscemi are especially good; Crystal ranges from excellent to sort-of annoying.). The ending gets me nearly every time. At times, it almost seems like there are too many ideas stuffed into one movie (in a bad way), but this is still a creative and fun family flick that is easy to enjoy again and again.

High Sierra

1941 movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Roy "Don't Call Me Mad Dog" Earle is pardoned from prison. An old dying friend, the friend who helped him get released, needs him to help with the robbery of a hotel. He drives west to meet the pair of amateurs and the woman who will be working with him. Along the way, he meets some old people and their club-footed grand-daughter, and he becomes enamoured with the young girl. Things don't go as planned.

High Sierra needed to dive a bit deeper. There are depths that are approached or at least are approachable, but the filmmakers never quite get there. It's like a kid who dog-paddles around in the shallow end of the pool while continually peeking over at the big kids jumping off the diving board into the deep end. Maybe he even tiptoes over to where he can just barely keep his head above water, but then he hurries back. Bogart's character was stockish when he should have had some real emotional depth and layers. The pair of romances comes across as silly and naive instead of painting the picture of a man who desperately wants to be loved and settle down into something that resembles an honest life. There's a lot of build-up to the heist scene, and when it happens, it's one of those "That's it?" lame situations. Nothing happens that would require any heist expertise, and then it's filmed in such a static style, that it's nowhere near the climactic point it should be. And there's something about watching Bogart cuddle with a dog that is just wrong. This also contains what may be the worst bit of acting in Bogart's career--a scene in which he is having some kind of nightmare and sleeptalks. Seems like director Raoul Walsh should have yelled, "Cut! Alright, let's try that again without all the unnatural twitching." This isn't a terrible movie--Bogart's got some cool moments, the girls are pretty, the story's ok--but it should have been so much better.

Ghost Town

2008 romantic comedy

Rating: 11/20 (Jen: 9/20)

Plot: A New York City misanthropic dentist with zero people skills dies for seven minutes during a colonoscopy and revives with the ability to see dead people. These dead people follow him around and ask for favors, and he falls for the widow of one of the more obnoxious ghosts.

I liked Ricky Gervais enough to sit through this one, probably because I could identify with his character. He went around saying all the things that I generally keep in my head. Lots of "You go, girl" moments. The story is cutesy and probably a bit too reminiscent of another story with "ghost" in the title or even some stories without "ghost" in the title. It also suffers from a romance that never seems credible, and a central character whose changes just don't seem plausible. The script follows a too-familiar formula, so even though there are some very funny moments, it never seems fresh. And why does Greg Kinnear make me want to both kick him and offer him a piece of gum?

Game of Death

1978 kung-fu movie

Rating: 8/20

Plot: Billy Lo is an action movie hotshot. Some gangsters want him to join them to do some evil things, but he doesn't want any part in it. They try to kill him. He fakes his death in order to uncover their identities and take them out.

My advice: Rent this and skip the first hour and five minutes. Just put your finger on the fast forward button until you see Bruce Lee in the iconic yellow and black jumpsuit. Then, enjoy the rest of the film. The last thirty-five minutes range from tolerable (an ok kung-fu-on-motorcycles scene) to sublime (the footage Bruce Lee actually filmed for this). Once Bruce Lee gets to the restaurant/tower, there's some great stuff. He fights with the nunchucks and he beats up Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and he does it with that Bruce Lee personality/charisma that you don't see anywhere else. The first three-fourths of this movie is just crap though, and unfortunately, it's not nearly as entertaining crap as the exploitation sequel Game of Death II. There are some similarities though, at least more similarities than there are between the guy they have standing in for Bruce Lee and Bruce Lee himself. It's really a shame because Bruce Lee's vision for this movie seems really cool. Oh, this does have a good fight with Robert "Goofy white guy in the two Dragon movies" Wall. Watching him get beat up is always entertaining.

Zu Warriors

2001 martial arts fantasy

Rating: 3/20 (Jen: 1/20. She didn't even give it a chance though!)

Plot: Some guy covered in special effects wants to destroy the Zu Warriors, possibly because he's jealous of their special effects. They have a contest to see who has the best special effects.

This reminded both Jen and me of the Power Rangers television shows that some of our children watched. It looked about that tacky, but to be fair to the Power Rangers, at least they made perfect sense all the time. This was just about the grossest thing I've ever seen. About 90% of the movie was ugly CGI. It was like humans trying to wade their way through a video game or maybe a screensaver. I've decided that I just don't like these martial arts fantasy things, but really, I'm not sure I can accurately label this a martial arts film. The characters kicked (mostly at the air) and made some kung-fu poses, but those kung-fu poses just ignited some special effects wizardry--giant rings flying from hands, metallic wing things swooping through the air, iridescent tornadic swords. I had no idea what was going on about three minutes into the proceedings. I couldn't tell when characters died or remember who certain characters even were. What makes it worse is that I didn't even care. I have no idea how I even finished watching this. It definitely wasn't pleasant and quite possibly my worst movie-watching experience of the year.

The Fire Within

1963 bummer

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Alain is separated from his American wife and recovering from alcoholism at a hospital. One day, he decides to kill himself. First, he hitches a ride to Paris to meet up with some old friends and search for some reason to live.

More Louis Malle but this one is a very exhausting and cynical movie. The tone is set very early on and is unrelenting. There's a great scene in the hospital at the beginning where the protagonist is alone with his thoughts. He moves about the room, adjusts things, studies knickknacks, paddywacks, doodles. There's such an attention to little details in that scene and it really pulls you into the mind of this guy who, once the gun appears on screen, you know is planning to off himself. Maurice Ronet stars. As in Elevator to the Gallows, he's terrific in this, a quiet performance that has this terrific tension boiling just beneath the surface. Just a pitch perfect performance. The direction isn't heavy-handed, mostly passively eavesdropping on conversations Alain has with his friends. However, there is a lot of symbolism, and I don't understand one symbol--a round-headed wooden toy that is shown a few times and locked in a briefcase at the end. I really like the music, Erik Satie's bleak piano score that sounded really familiar. Poignant and depressing stuff, a very gray movie. It's very interesting to watch this movie so close to My Dinner with Andre. They're very different in tone and theme, but there are definitely some connections between the two.

Note: There are a lot of slug bugs (aka punch buggies) in this movie. Enjoy it with a friend!

Dark Star

1974 science fiction spoof

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Four astronauts have been aboard the title ship for twenty years. Their mission has something to do with flying around and blowing up unstable planets. They run into some problems with a beach ball with claws and a talking bomb that threatens to end their mission.

According to Carpenter, this is Waiting for Godot in space. That's not a bad way to think about it. It's also like a no-budget 2001 except it seems even more languidly paced. It's pretty neat, but definitely not for everybody, the kind of film that could never be anything but a cult classic few have heard of. The scene with the beach ball later, almost bafflingly, became Alien, and a scene in which one of the astronauts teaches the bomb "a little phenomenology" is great. I'm amazed when directors can take almost nothing (I think a lot of the props came from John Carpenter's kitchen) and create a mood, and this one has this sickly alienation, this sense of tediousness, that almost overwhelms. It's sketchy and a bit stupid, but it's also unique and fun and definitely worth seeing.

My Dinner with Andre

1981 movie

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

Plot: Two theater guys who haven't seen each other in a few years meet at a restaurant. They order food and talk for almost two hours.

It's amazing enough that a conversation between two theater guys can keep me entertained for this long. I don't think there's a dull moment in this. The conversations starts rambunctiously with Andre talking ceaselessly for about 45 minutes, detailing his adventures abroad, his encounters with half-men/half-goats in churches, being buried alive, his desire to have a flag, his experiences with beehives. I'm not sure if it's Andre Gregory's voice, his slight mannerisms, his diction, or what, but his stories are completely captivating. And occasionally very funny. I think I could have listened just to him for twice the amount of time. It seems silly to use the word action-packed, but that's really exactly what it is. Then, conflict is introduced when Wallace Shawn's "character" replies and we realize he doesn't quite buy all this mysticism and experimentation in Andre's new way of living. As the core of their conversation develops, the issues become clearer--science vs. religion, experiencing life vs. living life, the importance of letting things go haywire, the dangers of comfort and electric blankets, etc. There's nothing flamboyant about My Dinner with Andre, almost no style. Director Malle uses a mirror to sometimes show the faces of both men while they're talking, some close-ups, and minimal music (just the beginning and the end) but that's about it. The focus is on the words the men exchange which for whatever reason are so easy to digest, to picture, and to connect with. I think this is a movie that people have heard of more than they've seen, and that should change. It's such an enjoyable experience, and a film that sticks with you for days.

Two questions: What's with all the references to the Holocaust? And what does Andre's last line mean? Everything else he says is pretty clear, but the last line about his son being a baby and then picking him up is strange.


1990 thriller

Rating: 8/20

Plot: After a pleasurable day at Summerfest, four teenagers are involved in an automobile accident. One of Martin Sheen's relatives (no, not that one. . .no, not that one either), an angel in a black trenchcoat, tries to take their souls, but they aren't ready to die yet. So he chases them through the land while "Yakety Sax" plays.

I would say that while I was watching Soultaker, I felt as if my soul was being taken but it would be too easy. This is definitely a product of 1983, but unfortunately it came out in 1990. An alternate title could be Timewaster which is shocking considering how cool the poster looks. I mean, check it out. Joe Estevez in a doorway with lightning all around him? How can that miss? Despite this movie's problems, I actually sort of liked the story and thought Joe Estevez's performance was especially gripping. He's built up quite the resume, by the way, acting in 190 television shows and movies including, Max Hell Frog Warrior. Actually, he's had 90 roles (mostly movies) since 2000 which is just an incredible pace. Lots of zombie movies. He'll catch up with Martin soon enough. I also liked writer and star Vivian Schilling and think she should do more five minute slow-motion scenes in her underwear.

I just did a little reading about Max Hell Frog Warrior. That's going straight to the top of my list of must-see movies! Director Scott Shaw has adopted what he calls "Zen filmmaking" which essentially means he films without the use of a screenplay. Look at this thing:

Hell yeah! Anybody want to buy this for me?


1940 Disney movie

Rating: 18/20 (Jen: 13/20; Emma: 7/20; Abbey: 15/20)

Plot: A lonely puppeteer, who perhaps is the dumbest man alive, makes a puppet out of pine. After teasing the cat with it, he makes a wish upon a star or something and goes to bed. A star fairy visits and turns the wooden puppet into a wooden boy. She instructs him to make good decisions and be brave in order to turn into a real boy, one not made of wood. A horny cricket is given the job of the puppet's conscience. When Gestapo the toy maker wakes up, he's happy to have a wooden son, and they dance around in a way that can only be described as gay. Pinocchio is sent to school the following day but decides to skip because some talking animals convince him that acting is much easier. It's an eventful day. He's kidnapped twice, gets his nose stuck in a hole, partially turns into a donkey, smokes for the first time, and gets his first erection. The cricket also tries to sell him for firewood. Eventually, the star fairy does turn Pinocchio into a real boy, albeit the type of boy who is going to be picked on frequently during his adolescence. Seriously. Just look at him.

One question: I don't get how purchasing an island and building an elaborate amusement park in order to turn little boys into donkeys is really a lucrative business.

Much more than Snow White, this one looks like a perfect culmination of the creative spirits and groundbreaking animation techniques that the Disney folk had been dicking around with for years. I really like how the bad guys work in this, especially how they don't violently die like in other Disney classics. These villains are still menacing but work more like archetypes, symbols of problems that every young wooden boy will inevitably face during childhood--temptation, taking the easy way out, hedonism, peer pressure. The action sequences are fun to watch, especially within the 1940's context. The animated characters move, not only back and forth but front and back as well. There are vibrant colors and good textural details creating what I guess is Italy but, just like in the best stories like this, don't really look like any particular time or place. There's also a depth to the settings which I imagine must have been pretty mindblowing at the time. In fact (and I'm typing this without having seen Snow White in a while), it might be world's better than Snow White. Good characters, too. The cricket not only provides some comedy relief but also, ironically, makes the story more human with the everyman narration. Geppetto, despite his idiocy, is likable and has some funny lines ("Lie back down, Pinocchio. You're dead."). And I like the peripheral characters as well. I also like that there's an intelligence to Pinocchio; not all of this is stuff that a child will appreciate. For example, I love the irony with the "I've Got No Strings" song as Pinocchio is obviously being guided by forces that he can't understand. Pinocchio is an intelligently written and artistically animated achievement and one of Disney's very best.

Stray Dog

1949 Japanese cop movie

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Following shooting practice, a rookie cop named Murakami has his gun stolen on a crowded bus. Embarrassed, he goes on a hunt for the thief. He finds a mentor in a veteran cop named Sato, and together, they work on finding the culprit.

Kurosawa! I almost don't need to say anything else. This looks and feels like an ordinarily copper-chasing-a-bad-guy movie, noirish with some suspense, but it's got such well-defined characters that it becomes something a little deeper. I'm reminded of Slacker and the "Should Have Stayed at the Bus Station" character's ideas about choices people make and how drastically different things would be if opposite choices were made. That's sort of what this movie's about with Mifune's character not only looking for his gun but investigating exactly what his life could be like if he'd chosen a life of crime instead of life as a cop following his experiences in the war. It's interesting to me that as the audience finds out all about the bad guy, a character who isn't seen, you're really getting a glimpse at Mifune's character, a character you do see but who isn't characterized directly. I didn't really like the actual ending, but I did like what should have been the ending with a pair of characters lying in a field. There's also some nice footage showing post-war Japan and a lot of a Japanese baseball game. Good flick, and the inspiration for Rush Hour 4.


2009 movie

Rating: 7/20

Plot: During the opening of an elementary school time capsule, a college professor's son opens up an envelope to find a piece of paper filled with seemingly random numbers. Upon further investigation, those numbers give the dates, the casualties, and the longitude and latitude coordinates for major disasters taking place in the fifty years since the burial of the time capsule. The college professor realizes that the numbers falling into his hands was not accidental and rushes around trying to prevent the final three disasters from occuring.

Nicolas Cage is on a roll! The meanest thing I can say about this one is that it reminded me of Shymalongadingdong's The Happening, although it's nowhere near as terrible (or as funny) as that one. Still, I did laugh at a few inappropriate times, mostly at America's-worst-actor Nicolas Cage's screaming of a few lines. One scene involving a baseball bat, a tree, and the line "You want some of this?!" almost had me on the floor. The almighty special effect can't save a pair of action scenes from being either schmaltzy or ludicrous, and all attempts to insert some emotion or meaning into this one seem forced and gay. The twists and turns in this are sloppy, the equivalent of driving your car on an unpaved road that is winding for no particular reason. Even with that, there's some predictability. I'd give credit for a good ending, but I'm not sure if the ending was actually good or if I was just happy that the movie was ending. I can't recommend this like The Happening, but it does make me wonder how long it's going to be before Nicolas Cage and Shymalongadingdong combine forces to make what will without a doubt be the worst movie ever made.

Alphaville, a Strange Case of Lemmy Caution

1965 science fiction noir

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Private eye Lemmy Caution, posing as a newspaper photographer, is sent from the Outlands to Alphaville, a planet (I think) that has forbidden free expression and emotion, to assassinate its computerized dictator, Alpha-60.

I believe Alphaville is much-maligned, but it grows on me with each viewing. For one, I love that this movie had an alternate title of Dick Tracy on Mars and a working title of Tarzan vs. IBM. There's a nifty clash of pop culture, B-movie trash, reckless philosophizing, and pretentious highbrow art going on here. There's also such a blatant refusal on Godard's part to make anything even close to commercial or appealing. Tackily and flamboyantly low budget (the characters are in cars but I think we're supposed to believe they are space crafts of some kind) and with action sequences that are laughably ridiculous, this still manages to work as visual poem about the battle between imagination and logic as well as, I think, a critique on formulaic art. There's some deft camerawork and some really cool touches (the poolside death sentences, the toad-like voice of the computer, the allusions to cartoon characters and other pop icons), and Eddie Constantine is perfect as the ultra-cool protagonist or, more accurately, a parody of ultra-cool protagonists. And Anna Karina is in this which is automatically worth a bonus point or two. It's an avant-fart from Godard, silent but deadly, and this feller's a smeller.

Movie Crazy

1932 talkie

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Harold Hall, a delusional Midwesterner, dreams of going to Hollywood to pursue an acting career. Unfortunately, he's funny looking and talentless. When a picture of a better looking guy is accidentally slipped into an envelope sent to a big-time producer, he's invited to Hollywood for the chance to live his dream. He meets a girl, meets another girl, and soon realizes that neither being an actor or a lover is necessarily easy.

Other than a few barely-funny moments, this is really not very good at all. There's a cute enough story and Lloyd is still likable (although not as likable from the moment you hear his voice), but so much of this was awkward and dull. It succeeds most during moments that look like they're pulled right from one of his silent movies. There's a too-lengthy scene involving a magician's coat (a scene that would fit just as well in any other Harold Lloyd movie as it does in this one) and a too-lengthy fight scene that is reminiscent of the climax of The Kid Brother except without a monkey. The romance plot is ludicrous, and the dialogue humor seems really forced. Also, I think Lloyd is terrific as a silent actor. The mannerisms and expressions are perfect in his silent comedies, but here, he seems out-of-place and often over-emotes. In fact, there are far too many times when his acting is just bad. There are some Lloydian moments that make it worth wading through the other stuff, but this was mostly a disappointment. I'm definitely not in a hurry to see more of his 1930's work.

For Heaven's Sake

1926 comedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Uptown rich kid Harold falls in love with downtown preacher's daughter Hope. When he accidentally becomes a philanthroper, he wins her affection; however, his rich peers aren't happy to hear he's marrying the girl.

Some great stunts, not all of them provided by Lloyd himself, and some hilarious visual gags make this quick little comedy another winner from Harold Lloyd. This has a fun cast of quirky characters, all of them more interesting than the romance at the heart of the story. I loved the little reverse chase scene (for lack of a better description) in which Lloyd's character angers the town's riffraff so that they'll chase him into a church service, and like in Speedy, there's some very exciting and well-choreographed vehicular mayhem at the end. And just like in Speedy, I'm amazed at the special effects, the pacing, and just the ambition of the grand race-against-the-clock scenes. It really looks as if people could have been killed. There's also a funny fight scene, a great scene where he has to round up drunkards, and some other funny bits involving Harold's absentmindedness/aloofness. Lots to like in this one.

Renaissance: Paris 2054

2006 science fiction cartoon

Rating: n/r

Plot: I don't know. I didn't stick around long enough. I think it had something to do with futuristic mimes.

Maybe I'll give this one another shot some day, but I could not stand the animation. The high constrast stuff with blacker-than-black blacks and blindingly white whites made this seem cold. I figured that the visual style might be the only quality worth watching it for (I was bored by the story and characters almost immediately), and that didn't exactly grab me. Anybody seen this? Should I give it another chance when I'm in a better mood? Should I have even bothered making a blog entry about it?

Some Like It Hot

1959 wacky romantic comedy

Rating: 17/20 (Jen: 14/20)

Plot: Two musician pals (Joe and Jerry, played by real-life gay lovers Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) struggle to make ends meet in late 1920's Chicago. After accidentally witnessing the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, they have to figure out a way to escape the mob. They decide to become Josephine and Daphne and join an all-girl band on their way to Florida. They fight for the affection of Sugar Kane Kowalcyzk (played by one of JFK's girlfriends) while trying to keep their true identities and genders hidden.

Lots of clever and very funny moments. It doesn't surprise me that the screenplay is clever and funny--some good running jokes and lots of more subtle moments that you'll miss if you're not paying attention. The action sequences with the gangsters, especially at the beginning, are also well done. The musical numbers sprinkled within the narrative are also fun and, in some cases, arousing. There were multiple times when Jen caught me with my hand down the front of my pants while Monroe was on-screen, but what's a guy supposed to do? Boop-boop-a-doop! She's good in this, just devious enough, just innocent enough, and just tempting enough to create a core for this story when it's about ready to lose control completely. There's an energy boiling under the surface of this one, a fervency, that makes it snap, crackle, and pop and raises it above your typical romantic comedy. My only real complain is that Jack Lemmon is a little too hammy, but his overly wacky performance does contribute to the movie's overall energy. How daring would this movie have seemed in the late-50's?

Spirited Away

2001 Japanese cartoon

Rating: 19/20

Plot: Chihiro and her parents are moving to a new home in a new town. She's only ten and doesn't really want to move, but children don't get to make those kinds of decisions. On the way, her father detours and takes the family to an abandoned theme park. While there, her parents gluttonously devour the goods at an abandoned restaurant and turn into pigs. A boy named Haku tries to convince her to leave, but it's too late. Spirits gradually arrive and frequent a bath house. Chihiro has to find a way to transform her parents back into parents and finds out that getting a job at the bath house is the only way. A big-headed witch, a stinky spirit, a six-armed boiler room man, anthropomorphic dust mites, a magical ghost thingy, and dozens of other unusual character help and/or get in her way.

It's really difficult for me to articulate why this film connects with me like it does. For whatever reason, it seeps into the lobes. I think I would give this a 20 if I were Japanese. I'm sure there's some references to Japanese folklore, Japanese customs, or Japanese history that I'm not hip to that unfortunately probably hurts my chances of ever fully understanding this. I can appreciate the real sense of wonder and dreamy mystery, the gorgeous animation, the originality of the characters, and both the gentle fragility and thematic depth of the story. Like a Japanese Alice in Wonderland, it doesn't actually have to mean anything at all to succeed, but like all great works of art (and this is a great work of art), it's completely open to interpretation and does mean several things at once to difference audiences. Is it a coming-of-age story? Is it a critique of the greed and thoughtlessness of contemporary society? Is it about the contrast between the innocence of childhood and the futility and confusion of adulthood? Who knows? But it is exactly what an animated fairy tale should be. If dreams were as good as this, I would never want to wake up. Miyazaki has borrowed from the world we inhabit and managed to create an entirely new world, one with its own rules, its own logic, its own norms. Enchanting and wonderful and vivid and rich and magical and fantastic, this world in Spirited Away is impossible to forget and a joy to ponder. It's easy to feel lost but at the same time absorbed, and that's exactly what makes this animated movie about as good as animated movies can get.

One Nation Under God

1993 gay documentary

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Homosexuality was considered a mental disorder until 1974 when that was corrected by psychologists. A lot of ultra-conservative Christians didn't get the memo apparently. This documentary is about the religious right's attempts to cure homosexuality.

There's a rambling, sort of unfocused structure to this combined with an ending that gets far too preachy, but this is still a fascinating and fairly scary look into Christianity's attacks on gays. On the surface, it looks subjective enough, featuring interviews with both sides and no heavy-handed narration, although it's pretty clear where the makers stand on the issue. A lot of the spotlight is on Gary and Michael, two formerly cured gay men who worked as part of a gay-curing organization called Exodus International who later somehow uncured, probably because the devil got to them. There are other insightful interviews and a lot of neat footage showing the variety of angles taken to get rid of the homosexual desires. The cover alludes to A Clockwork Orange, and that's actually an accurate comparison. A psychologist telling a man to pleasure himself to a picture of whatever until the moment of climax when the picture could be substituted for that of a naked woman? Attempts to associate physical pain or sickness with images of scantilly-clad men? Giving butch lesbians makeovers to make them feel more feminine? Geez, Louise! Simultaneously funny, educational, and horrifying.

God's Cartoonist: The Comic Crusade of Jack Chick

2008 documentary

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Attempts to uncover the mystery of reclusive fire 'n' brimstone comic artist Jack T. Chick by interviewing associates, collectors, and experts.

I really thought this would be a lot more interesting. There really didn't seem to be enough material here. It delves into how three individuals really helped shape Chick's worldview which helps things make a little more sense, but there's not nearly enough about the man himself or the production of his little comics. I suppose spoiling the mystery would destroy some of the fun, but it makes this seem incomplete as a documentary. I did like the animated bits, the recreations of some of the Chick tract stories in his style. And it did show enough of the comics to give somebody unfamiliar with the work an idea at just how talented, and offensive, that work is.

Last Days

2005 movie

Plot: 12/20

Plot: The last extraordinarily dull days of a musician who sort of looks like Kurt Cobain. He swims, eats cereal, messes with a guy who works for the yellow pages, wanders around, avoids phone calls. That's pretty much it.

Like Elephant and Gerry, this is impossibly dreary from the opening scene. The languid pace and the long, still shots (a cup, an abandoned room, leaves blowing) are the main contributors, but knowing this is at least loosely based on Cobain and therefore knowing exactly how it will end doesn't help matters. It's almost entirely plotless, and the lead doesn't do or say anything to force the audience to connect with him or really care what's going on. In fact, he barely has any lines of dialogue, and most of that is mumbled stream-of-consciousness ramblings. So although parts of this are artistically shot, this ultimately is just a really frustrating ninety minutes that I wished I had done something else with.

The Mad Monster

1942 mad scientist/monster movie

Rating: 5/20

Plot: A wacky scientist, ticked off at the rest of the scientific community for scoffing at his ideas, finds a way to turn a mild-mannered, extremely dopey handyman into a bloodthirsty, sort of dopey wolf man.

I was thinking that George Zucco made a pretty good mad scientist, so I looked him up. He acted in 98 movies from '31 to '51. In 20 of those movies, he played a character named Dr. _____, an average of one doctor role per year. In a handful of others, he played a professor. He played 8 different doctors from 1941-43. That's almost three doctors a year! Anyway, his acting in The Mad Monster wasn't any good, but it was still probably the best thing about the movie. This is a frequently dull B-movie with a derivative plot and goofy dialogue. If you pay attention and generally enjoy this sort of thing, you might be entertained by some really poor lighting and some repetitious set use. The monster's inconsistent coiffure is also pretty fun. The monster itself is actually less entertaining than the dopey gardener alter-ego who is just unbelievably dumb. I mean, I can suspend disbelief and accept that a guy's been turned into a wolf man unleashed to do an evil mad scientist's bidding, but I couldn't believe a person could be as dumb as this gardener. Too bad Universal's The Wolf Man came out in 1941; otherwise, this could have been the definitive wolf man movie.

I Am Cuba

1964 Soviet/Cuban film

Rating: 18/20

Plot: Cuba, circa revolution. There are four stories here. The first shows Cuba's most destitute juxtaposed with the rich enjoying the festivities at an American night club and one bearded guy's night with a prostitute. The second deals with a sugar cane farmer who is about to lose his property. The third concerns the conflict between rebellious students and the authorities, and the final part is about a farmer being pressured to join rebel forces in the mountains.

Although there was very obviously an agenda here and although this could be used to teach about a variety of propaganda techniques, I really really enjoyed watching this beautiful film. It's a visual feast, and there were countless times when I thought, "Wait a second. Cameras just aren't supposed to do that." This 2 1/2 hour movie is just stuffed with the most elaborate and complex shots, long shots with hundreds of people, numerous props, and a variety of architectural or natural obstacles. One example is during a funeral scene. The camera follows a coffin ahead of a funeral procession through the streets. Then it stops and starts moving several stories upward along the side of a building. From there it moves vertically, across the street into another building where people are making cigars which, as I understand it, is all people in Cuba do. It then moves forward through the room until it reaches the window where it is supposed to stop. But it doesn't. It keeps going and going, hovering above the middle of the street for a while. It's ridiculously amazing, and there are lots of shots like this--cameras diving into water, meandering through swarms of folks at a night club, wandering slums dizzyingly with a character, swimming through the flames of a field, stumbling around a farm decimated by bombs. There's poetic realism to the proceedings, and one could almost mistake this for a documentary. It's such an intimate portrait of, well, at least what the filmmakers see as Cuba and its people. Absolutely amazing and highly recommended.

The Wrestler

2008 best picture nominee

Rating: 16/20 (Mark: 18/20; Amy: 15/20)

Plot: Randy the Ram's career wrastlin' peak was twenty years ago when he heroically won an epic bout against the Ayatollah. Now, he struggles to make ends meet, sometimes paying rent on his trailer-park property and supporting his drug and lapdance habits by winning B-league local wrestling matches and working part time at a supermarket. A heart attack and multiple staple injuries force him to reflect on his life, his career, and where he's at in both of them.

This excels when it stays gritty and harsh. Mickey Rourke and Marissa Tomei (as the wrestler and the stripper respectively although vice versa might have been interesting) give realistic, gutty performances, and the handheld cinematography, something that occasionally bugs the heck out of me, works really well to bring you right into the action during the wrestling scenes, into the physical pain during the post-match locker room sequences, and into the emotional struggles of the characters. This is Aronofsky's best film (I think. I don't remember Pi too well.), but he has a way of stepping on the narratives a little bit. That happens here with a spelled-out-for-the-non-thinking-crowd Hollywoody scene preceding Randy's debut as deli counter guy, some artsy sound effects, and some unnecessary incidental music. This has interesting things to say about identity and survival, and the ending is about perfect. It works really well as a dark, depressing study of an extremely flawed individual and packs a real emotional punch, not like those fake wrestling punches even though some of the direction might make it feel like that. Confession: I don't really know if Marissa Tomei's acting was any good in this, and I really doubt any other heterosexual male will be able to tell either.

This broke the tradition of seeing only comic book movies at my brother's house.

Final Justice

1985 action-packed crime drama

Rating: 4/20

Plot: Geronimo is a Texas lawman who runs into a pair of brothers involved with the Italian mafia. After they shoot down his partner, he chases them over the border into Mexico, shoots one, and arrests the other. Then, while escorting the brother back to Italy, he loses him in Malta and breaks all kinds of rules to capture him again.

This embarrassing Dirty Harry clone is, according to user ratings on, the 19th worst movie ever made. It's probably not that bad. Joe Don Baker plays the cool, anti-heroic Geronimo, completing his Clint impression with some squinting and his own repeated "Do you feel lucky?" catchphrase--"You think you can take me? Go ahead on. It's your move." I was surprised to find out that this movie was only a pointlessly repetitious hour an a half because it seemed to be at least a pointlessly repetitious three hours. Geronimo is a very unlikable hero, and Joe Don Baker has absolutely no charisma. Not much to latch onto there. The villains aren't even interesting. By the middle of this movie, you really don't care who wins the struggle although you probably secretly wish they will all somehow die to prevent a sequel from being made. Really awful, but there are some moments that are dumb enough to make you laugh.

The Cannonball Run

1981 comedy

Rating: 4/20 (Jen: 2/20, although she didn't pay attention enough to catch the intricate genius of The Cannonball Run)

Plot: Based on a real event, The Cannonball Run tells the story of some highway scofflaws and degenerates trying to win an illegal cross-country automobile race. Showing this movie in theaters should have probably been illegal, too.

Criminally unfunny. From the blooper clips shown during the closing credits of this piece of crap, it looks like the cast is having a good time. That's good because I can't imagine the audience having a good time at all. A lot of supposedly talented people are involved, but other than the genius of Burt Reynolds' mustache and Farrah Fawcett's assets, there's not much to appreciate. I like to think of this movie as a recipe: You add the comic stylings of Burt Reynolds and Dom Deluise, sprinkle in a little Farrah Fawcett and a couple other babes, pour in the timeless comedic talents of Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., add a pinch of Jackie Chan in a hatchback, throw in some mindless explosions and silly slapstick, top with the endlessly hilarious Terry Bradshaw and the stuttering Mel Tillis, and let simmer for what seems to be five days and you end up with. . .well, I don't know. Something you'd rather eat than watch, I guess. There's not a laugh to be had here. The bits don't work, but in The Cannonball Run, they're given a chance to work again and again which, of course, just makes you sick to your stomach. I might be wrong here, but I think some of the people associated with this movie might have used pseudonyms to escape what would have to be the inevitable end of their careers. David Shamroy Hamburger? Frank Bueno? Snuff Garnett? Come on! Those aren't real people!

Some Shane trivia: I first saw this movie at the Indiana Theater in Terre Haute, Indiana, making this the second worst movie I ever saw at that theater. All I remembered about the experience were the dozens of bats flapping over our heads though. Actually, now that I think about it, it may have been the sequel that I saw at the Indiana. That brings up a question, by the way. How could anybody have thought a sequel to this was a good idea?

Hail the Conquering Hero

1944 comedy

Rating: 16/20 (Jen: 13/20)

Plot: Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith, the son of a war hero, is discharged from the marines because of hayfever. Feeling like a failure, he stalls his return to his mother and small-town home and sulks in a bar. He buys a group of broke marines a round of drinks, and they get the bright idea to help him out of his melancholy by calling ahead to his home town and announcing that he is returning a war hero. Erecting a statue in his honor won't be the greatest of his problems.

It might not be as snappy (and there are some sappy moments), but it's still a clever little Sturges' comedy. There's a bit of satirical play and, of course, some great comedic writing, although there's not much here that is laugh-out-loud funny. It also lacks the Sturges' lunatics that generally frequent his movies. I didn't like the bit-over-the-top Eddie Bracken much as the title hero although I did like almost every other performance. I do appreciate this film for poking fun at what it's poking fun at, even more terrific for coming out in '44.

The Tale of Despereaux

2008 talking mouse movie

Rating: 9/20 (Jen: 13/20; Emma: 15/20; Abbey: 20/20)

Plot: During the kingdom's annual soup festival, soup aficionado Ratso Rizzo, a rat, sneaks into the queen's bowl and scares her to death. The soup festival is cancelled, indefinitely, and it no longer rains, incomprehensibly. Everybody's sad. Dumbo the Mouse, Ratso, a farm girl with Downs Syndrome, and a wacky vegetable man have to save the day. Too bad they couldn't save the movie!

I didn't like a single thing about this blander-than-bland movie. I didn't like the bland characters, walking and talking cliches, and the actors providing the voices did nothing to inject them with any personality. It's a Who's Who of People Who Got Paid a Lot to Do Voices in This Movie. I didn't like the bland music. I'm not a composer, but if there wasn't music in this movie, I'm pretty sure I could have hummed a more interesting score. I hated the bland animation, from the colorless settings to the expressionless characters. This was truly an ugly film. The action sequences were dull, and the intermittent humor was humorless. If you'd have told me that there was a character made from vegetables in this, I would have been excited, but that character seemed out of place and confused me more than anything else. Actually, a lot of this fairy tale cross-pollination mish-mash crap confused me. Maybe the problem was that I couldn't get past trying to imagine what it would look like if Despereaux and the princess "got it on" because even though a theme of this story is that you can change the world for the better no matter how small you are, I'm not sure we can extend that idea into the realm of erotic love. I don't think the princess could have ever been sexually satisfied by Despereaux. Oh, well. Maybe we'll find out in the sequel--Despereaux Gets Some Tail. I wasn't expecting much from this anyway (I couldn't even finish the fairly short book), but this extremely flat and personality-free movie ended up being worse than expected.

The Palm Beach Story

1942 romantic comedy

Rating: 16/20 (Jen: 14/20)

Plot: Life after Tom and Gerry's marriage has not quite been happily ever after. They're struggling financially and about to lose their apartment. Luckily, a hard-of-hearing Wienie King, gives Gerry seven hundred bucks. When Tom comes home, he doesn't quite buy the story of the Wienie King, and it leads to an argument. Gerry decides to go to Palm Beach to get a divorce. Her husband races to stop her.

Possibly the most befuddling opening credits of all time. It's just a little more befuddling than the end of the movie. This has some great eccentric characters, my favorite being the Frenchman Toto, and lots of Sturgian oddball moments, moments that would never ever happen in real life but are definitely hilarious on the screen. Snappy dialogue and a ludicrous story make this a fast-paced, fun romantic comedy. Mary Astor pops in near the end of the movie as a bazillionaire's sister and nearly steals the show. The other performances are very good, too, though McCrea, playing a straight man of a husband, is hard to notice. There's an almost stream-of-conscious style to Sturges comedies, like trains dangerously close to falling off the tracks, that makes them deliriously entertaining. They're definitely addictive. And how can you not love a movie with a Wienie King in it?

Killers from Space

1954 B-movie

Rating: 3/20

Plot: Scientist Martin is killed in an airplane accident while surveying a nuclear testing site. Shockingly, he arrives back at the base completely unharmed except for an L-shaped scar on his chest. He's given a lie detector test and tells a story about bug-eyed aliens who never blink and mutant insects and lizards that the killers from space will use to take over the world. Nobody believes him.

1950's B-movie. Aliens. Radiation. Giants. Typical stuff. This one's got a great title though! Laughably goofy no-budget stuff here with Peter Graves apparently under the impression that he's playing a statue. The aliens are really cool, all black with those gigantic eyes. A scene where Graves tries to escape from a cave and keeps running into the giant lizards, a scene which seems to last for fifteen minutes, is also great in one of those ways where you're thinking, "These special effects are terrible," followed by, "My God! This scene's been going on for fifteen minutes! What the hell? Didn't they already show that lizard twice?" followed by, "This is the greatest thing I've ever seen!" Those lizards and goo-goo-googily-eyed extra terrestrials are only in the movie for a brief middle portion of the movie; the rest of the film does drag a bit. Lame dialogue, mumbo-jumbo B-movie science, and terrible cinematography where parts are too dark to even tell what's going on and actor's faces are shown in disturbing close-ups for no apparent reason. This was a Mystery Science deal which I like because it tricks me into thinking I have friends to watch the movie with.

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman

1958 B-movie

Rating: 4/20

Plot: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Especially if alien visitation and radiation causes her to grow to a height of 50 feet. That's exactly what happens to Nancy Archer, and once titanic, she goes after her cheating husband. He's the size of a normal man.

It's gotta be one of the best movie posters of all time. Unfortunately, it's not very accurate. Less than ten percent of this movie is a gigantic woman wreaking havoc on the city, picking up cars, bustin' things up, etc. This isn't the most entertaining no-budget B-movie, but the laughable effects are fun. There's a gigantic foam hand that is used several times (for two giants) and the translucent quality of the giants certainly doesn't help matters. This was obviously made by a feminist.