1956 flying monster movie

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Coal-miners in a small Japanese village disturb and accidentally unleash killer giant caterpillars. Upon deeper investigation, they discover a new terror--gigantic Pterodactyls capable of knocking over toy cars and destroying vacant toy cities. Can they stop the beasts before everything is blown over?

Quick question: Should I be watching the Japanese or English versions of these movies?

I didn't dig this one as much as Monster Zero although the story is easily more coherent. It just lacks the complete mayhem and entertaining goofiness of Monster Zero. The special effects in this range from really really good and nearly seamless to completely laughable. This has such a conventional storyline, and I was really disappointed in how little Rodan actually did. He flew around a couple few times, blew over some motor vehicles, screeched like an airplane, and made some Japanese women scream. On a good night, I'm capable of at least two of those! The climax was a major disappointment--about 20 minutes of explosions while Rodan and his girlfriend cowered in holes. Although Rodan won't be one of my favorite movie monsters (he's sort of dull actually), this was still pretty enjoyable. I did, by the way, watch the American version, and the really poor dubbing probably delivered the majority of the fun.

A Cory recommendation.

The Model Couple

1977 movie

Rating: 10/20

Plot: An average couple is chosen to take part in some experiments. They're given a home, and their every move is watched by not only scientists but by all of France. It's pretty dull.

Another William Klein movie. The best thing I can say about it is that it anticipates the flood of reality television shows that are currently omnipresent. But it looks so cheap, has such bad music, and is more boring than any movie should be allowed to be. Compared to the visual feasts of those other two Klein movies, this is flat and surprisingly poorly shot. I can't not recommend this one enough.

Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?

1966 fashion satire

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A television crew collects footage on a "Who Are You?" documentary on American-in-Paris fashion model Polly Maggoo. Meanwhile, a prince has fallen in love with her picture and tries to win her hand in marriage.

This is sort of a mixed bag, but it's every bit as audacious as the other William Klein movie I watched recently (Mr. Freedom) albeit in a completely different way. Stylistically, this has a little bit in common with Godard and the avant-gardists. When the satire comes visually, this is really cool. A fashion show unveiling ridiculously impractical metallic costumes and a great scene with Maggoo going through a series of absurd psychological tests were probably my favorite bits. I also liked a speedy model montage and a scene utilizing collage art where cut-outs are used to reassemble Polly's face. There are some really cool set pieces--the "Death of Paris" cemetery shoot, scenes in the prince's room with all his mechanical toys and a crotch rocket). Klein, who actually started as a fashion photographer, has a good eye and there are some fine visuals. Some hand-held camera stuff and use of plundered footage give parts of this a documentary feel, and that also works really well. At times, however, there's a bad case of logorrhea which bogs the film down a bit, and I'm not really sure the attempts to connect all this zaniness with Cinderella really works. Attempts to break the fourth wall add pretension, and weird noise assaults baffle, but a crazy scene in which some chimney sweeps randomly burst into song makes up for it. There's actually not a bad movie with chimney sweeps.

The Lady Vanishes

1938 black comedy/mystery

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

Plot: Following an avalanche, travellers are forced to stay the night in a hotel in a small town constructed from toy train miniatures and toy cars. They enjoy a wild night filled with puppetry, perverse sex acts, and perverse sex acts with puppets. The next day, they hop on board a phallic symbol. Iris, an American broad abroad, befriends a frumpy older woman, but after some clumsy flirting and a nap, the older woman winds up missing. Iris frantically searches the train, but not only does nobody know the passenger's current whereabouts, they all deny that she existed in the first place. It's puzzling. A man with a thin moustache decides to help investigate, but it's only because he didn't get a chance to sleep with Iris the night before and thinks this will increase his chances. It does, and nine months later, Iris becomes the first woman in history to birth a puppet.

Below the surface, there's a lot to be frustrated with here. The spy stuff is filled with holes, the special effects are silly, some of the comedy is dated, there isn't enough of some characters and too much of others, and the pacing doesn't always make a great deal of sense. However, some of what seems like flaws when you think about the movie later ultimately work to make the movie more fun. Hitchcock takes his time getting to the actual story, introducing the odd assortment of peripheral characters and setting up what looks to be a straightforward comedy. It sets the rest of the movie (i.e. the real story) up as a charming and whimsical English excursion rather than a tension-filled or action-packed suspense thriller. I like that Hitchcock's tongue is in his cheek here. Not that there isn't some tension and action. Once we get to the woman's vanishing, Iris's dream-like mysterious experience is a treat, and once the mystery is actually solved (sort of), there are some good action scenes including a claustrophobic bit of fisticuffs and, later, a shoot-out. Hitchcock really does pan over a toy city with toy people and toy cars after the credits, seemingly deliberately, but he makes up for it later with some deft camera movements in the closed-in spaces of the train corridors and a nifty effect that looks like a stunt involving passing trains. This is a cool early Hitchcock flick that combines humor and thrills very smoothly.


2009 animated feature

Rating: 18/20 (Jen: 17/20; Emma: 13/20; Abbey: 1/20)

Plot: The title character finds a tiny door in her new home, a pink apartment building. After she procures a key to the door, she's eventually able to enter a vaginal tunnel into an alternate universe where everything looks almost exactly the same but with improvements. She enjoys the new idealized world until she discovers that her alternate mother wants to take her eyes, replace them with buttons, and make her stay forever. Oh, snap!

As my faithful four-and-a-half readers have figured out, I'm a sucker for this sort of stop-animated stuff. Keep that in mind as you read below. You'll have to allow some gushing. However, winter rates and anonymous--you both need to grab this one!

First off, this isn't a movie for children. I should have done my research. The nightmare imagery squeezed its way into my dreams, which generally I don't even remember, and I know my daughters went to bed creeped out. This is an emo-folktale with the look of Selick's Nightmare before Christmas and with an Alice's Adventures in Wonderland vibe. Perhaps lumping it with any other work of art is unfair though because Coraline is a completely unique experience. I know I could watch a "making of" feature on the dvd (if there is one) to get my answers, but I'm not sure how portions of this are even animated. It's stop-animated like Nightmare or James and the Giant Peach (or the recent Tom Thumb movie I watched which the memory of, I'm sad to say, now looks like shit in comparison), but there are textures, movements, backgrounds, and shades that almost have to be CGI. Regardless, it's a mind-boggling feast for the eyeballs. There are scenes (a garden in the "other" world, a choreographed mice dance, etc.) where I couldn't believe what I was seeing. There are colors the animators use that don't actually exist anywhere outside of this movie. There are details (slightly wavering chandeliers, movements in snow globes) where you can see the amount of love that went into creating this world and these characters. There's such a complexity to the movements, several characters making a myriad of movements in the foregrounds and backgrounds, that really raise the bar with stop-animation. There's a richness or a depth to the settings that makes you want to rewind certain scenes to watch them again to make sure you've soaked it all in. Accuse me of hyperbolizing all you want, but this is one of the most beautiful movies I've ever seen. The characters are crafted similarly those in Nightmare Before Christmas except they look more human and there's a lot less of that grotesque exaggeration, the Russian guy's tiny legs and the enormous bosoms of one of the actresses being exceptions. Where the puppetry outshines Nightmare and James and the Giant Peach is in the facial expressions. Although there is some choppiness (especially in the early scenes) when characters rapidly change their expressions, the sheer amount of expressions the characters have is amazing. They must have had thousands of puppet heads to use. The narrative, although at times derivative in one of those can't-quite-put-my-finger-on-it ways, stays fresh and unpredictable, and there's a tidy little life lesson for children even though they'll be too scared to figure out what it is. This is a dark and intelligent movie, a movie that doesn't feel the need to sprinkle in some humor or pop culture references to lighten the load which I think will help give this cult favorite status for a very long time. I didn't have high expectations for this even though I really like Nightmare Before Christmas (partially for reasons that have nothing to do with how good of a movie it is). The mediocre James and the Giant Peach and that Monkeybones movie and Tim Burton's The Corpse Bride had me anticipating something that wasn't going to be any more than OK. But unhinged, imaginative, and exhilarating, this is the most excited I've been while watching an animated movie since The Triplets of Belleville, and I'm looking forward to see it again soon. Hell, I might even buy it.

A Place in the Sun

1951 drama

Rating: 14/20

Plot: George Eastman, a kid renting-to-own his leather jacket, has become annoyed when others, in his presence, refer to him as What's-His-Face or, when talking directly to him, What's-Your-Face. He decides it must have something to do with his bad posture and walks the alleys where he knows unlicensed chiropractors cluster in the shadows with semi-legal instruments. When something called The Vertibrayer Machine (actually a donkey with a flashlight taped to its head) rips a hole in his shirt, What's-His-Face storms off. He meets a pair of women trying to buy the same watermelon. One of them, the one on the right, has one hand, the one on the left, that is abnormally larger than the other hand, so What's-His-Face becomes perturbed. As we all would. The other woman looks a lot like Elizabeth Taylor and gives What's-His-Face what he will later, under oath, refer to as one "mighty wood." To him, there's no alternative, so he kills the big-handed girl by accidentally submerging her head in a lobster tank. He attempts to hide in the middle of the road following the crime (an accidental one) but is caught, tried, and sentenced to death, appropriately by being squeezed to death by a large rubber hand.

OK, somebody is going to have to explain to me what is so special about this movie. I know somebody will (keeping my fingers cross that it's burymore). I really felt that the entire first half of this movie was a complete waste of my time. Montgomery Clift's performance is just fine, but I never care for his character and there's almost no versatility with the role. The second half of the movie nudges up against greatness a few times, but it's not enough to make me forget that the first half of the movie is about as exciting as the above poster makes you think it will be. I like the tension in the climactic boat scene although it went on long enough for me to start yelling, "C'mon! Just kill her!" at my television screen. There are two scenes involving radios that I really like, and the photography throughout the movie is terrific. Color might have ruined the movie. But other than Clift, the acting isn't great. Elizabeth Taylor does nothing special; Shelley Winters gives a performance that gets more grating as the movie goes on, almost to the point where I wanted to kill her; Raymond Burr is ludicrous in a completely ludicrous courtroom scene; and the peripheral stock characters are mostly cardboard. I didn't really buy the romance either, no matter how many exhausting minutes were spent with Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor talking about how their romance was real or kissing. Nope, not even when a final image of Eastman's walk to the electric chair is overlayed with an earlier image of the two kissing. This ain't a bad movie, but I don't think it's all that close to being a great one.

The Night of the Iguana

1964 drama

Rating: 16/20

Plot: In a movie that obviously inspired Speeds 1 and 2, a horny minister loses his God license and scrambles to put some sort of life back together giving bus tours to spinsters in Mexico. A pretty teenager's sexual advances threaten that job, and the Reverend Shannon decides to hijack the party and try to win the ladies over at the beachside hotel owned by a flirtatious widow. Later, a prudish artist and her poet grandfather stop by to stay a few nights at the hotel. Fragile lives collide.

I really like what this has to say about man's frailty (expressed elegantly at the end with the wonderful poem), man's continual grasp for meaning in life, man's need for earthly relationships as well as Godly ones, and especially "man's inhumanity to God." It also tackles one of my favorite conflicts--the internal battles caused because people have both earthly bodies and spiritual souls. Unfortunately, the ideas were a bit convoluted, gummy, like the writer was trying to put too much in one cup, and I'm curious to find out whether some of the philosophical themes would be clearer during a second viewing. It's frustrating in a way because I felt like it teased an itch instead of scratched it. I really liked Burton and Gardner in this. Kerr was just kind of there, and Lyon, I thought, was really pretty bad. Her "C'mon, Hank! Give it to him!" during one of the silliest fight scenes I've ever seen, one that probably should have only been seen on the cutting room floor, was grating. She looked good though. I really like the texture of the dialogue. I'm surprised at how much I like the line "Nothing human disgusts me" considering that I'm disgusted by almost everything human. Burton's lines have the right blend of pissed-off bitterness, tired desperation, and this accepted brokenness, all of it ineffectively hidden beneath a confident exterior. Credit's got to be given to both the writing and Burton's performance there. The dialogue's peppered with plenty of quiet humor, too. The black and white, on-location photography (a shadow of the Garden of Eden, in a way) perfectly complimented the fim's story and themes. I may have enjoyed this on more of an intellectual than aesthetic level, but I did like it and will see it again some time. The guys with the maracas, by the way, nearly stole the movie. I'd like to have a shirtless guy with maracas following me around all the time. That sounds a lot gayer than intended.

Time Bandits

1981 little people extravaganza

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Kevin, an imaginative youngster living in a house where imagination doesn't seem to be allowed, makes a giant mess with his toys. Then, in a stunning twist ending, he kills his parents.

If Terry Gilliam made this now, it would likely be one of the greatest children movies of all time. You get the sense he's still learning the craft, hinting at the greatness to come in Munchausen and Brazil, both movies which I like better than this one. At times, there's an 80's kid fantasy flick vibe (see: The Neverending Story), but there's the playfulness, the imagination, the terrific character acting (with a few big names), and the grabass jamboree of historical and folkloric references make this more timeless and, well, fun. Some moments threaten to cross into kid-unfriendly territories, but I probably should have forced the children to watch this one with me. It's definitely the type of movie that will swoop right over the heads of a lot of children (and adults probably), but there's enough zaniness and action sequences to keep them interested. The humor and allusions are directed toward the adults. The rambling plot, always threatening to become incoherent at any second, and a climactic goofy fight scene that goes on far too long could be a turn off for a lot of people, but I really think it'd be mostly people who don't like to enjoy themselves who would really hate Time Bandits. Of course, for me, it's the stampede of little people who are nearly on screen the entire time that makes this a near-masterpiece. I suppose I'm a lot like the Napoleon character in this when he says, "Little things hitting each other. That's what I like!" You're not going to find a movie this side of Even Dwarfs Started Small or Big Terror in Tiny Town with more little-people-per-square-foot-of-screen. That should be a statistic.

Big Time

1988 concert video

Rating: 18/20

Plot: Rock 'n' roll superstar Tom Waits makes various audiences simultaneously guffaw and whimper by sharing alley cat anecdotes, malodorous circus tangos, wounded ballads, left-field historical tangents, and bastardized didactics. The groundlings shrug and scratch their balls. The previously initiated have their lobes stroked.

This isn't just a performance video. This is a religious experience. This is too fantastic for 95% of the world's population. It'd be like staring at the sun intentionally after cutting off your eyelids, the devil poking you in the backside with a foul-smelling pitchfork. That's likely why this has (absurdly) never been released on dvd. It's not enough that Tom Waits is one of the greatest songwriters in the history of recorded music. There's the presentation, too. Props (burning umbrellas, showers with floating bulbous bubbles, a swinging light, feathers) add drunken carnivalesque color, color that extends well outside the lines and obliterates boxes. The band, only occasionally emerging from the shadows, bleat and honk and bang and shuffle tightly and expertly, holding everything together like a rickety dilapidated train. They've done it all before, many times. The focus, of course, is on Waits. He's a chameleon; he's a box office ticket seller, a barker, a guy wanting to sell a watch, a demented preacher, a filthy old man, a stand-up comedian, a dreamer, a guy flipping playing cards into a hat, a janitor, a light operator, a wolf in another wolf's clothing, a lounge singer, and a bum. And he's a guy who can't stand chihuahuas. All of the demons inhabiting Tom's skull get their chance to rock the microphone, his twitching and contorting body their vessel, his pained face squeezing out the poetry. Absolutely stunning. And somebody needs to release it on dvd!
An anecdote: After Big Time came out, Waits said that he was really disappointed, heartbroken while watching it because he always expected he'd look like James Bond on the big screen. He doesn't. He's got more tricks than James Bond though. And a lot more watches.

The Blue Angel

1930 uplifting German melodrama

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Professor Garbage, respectable while not necessarily respected, confiscates some suggestive postcards depicting leggy Lola currently performing at a burlesque show at a dive called The Blue Angel. With his students distracted and corrupted,the good professor decides to do something about it. So he makes a trip to The Blue Angel to lust after the lovely Lola himself. Quick ruination ensues.

Boy, that Marlene Dietrich had legs, and she knew how to use them. Her legs' performance is very very good, especially good for 1930, and Emil Jannings gives a quiet, realistic (especially for 1930) performance as the tragic protagonist. Jannings is a very good actor, and there seemed to be no problems transitioning from silent to sound movies. Really, though, it's the scenes where he remains silent where he is the best. Right from the beginning, in his apartment and in his classroom, you get the feel that he's living an incomplete life. The tone is somber throughout although it's not all gloom. There are some humorous touches (the way the professor blows his nose, his teaching of the correct pronunciation of the word "the") that I like. Symbolic imagery (dead birds, clowns and clown collars--admittedly obvious in that early form sort of way) doesn't get in the way. I really liked a scene in Lola's room when the professor studies two side-by-side reflections of himself (hinting that there's another professor about to emerge) and another with a singing bird and cage-life shadows on the wall that echoes the very first scene of the movie. The scenes in The Blue Angel, filled with magic and bawdiness and clowns, are well done, the screen cluttered with all kinds of posters and props and other things to see. There's also some expressionistic scenery, mostly in the street scenes, that give a visual for the emotional claustrophobia the professor is about to experience. There are some slower moments and some parts of the plot that might have benefited from being stretched. As an almost-fable starring Emil Jannings, this does have a lot in common with The Last Laugh. I think I might prefer The Last Laugh despite that weird ending it had.

Give it another go, winter rates.

The Company of Wolves

1984 werewolf funk

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Angela Lansbury helps a teenage girl lose her innocence by telling her inappropriate stories about werewolf sex.

The goth kids might like this one. Neil Jordan's werewolf movie is a very English fractured fairy tale, dirty in a prim and proper way. It's got its share of frolicking. Bits of this gag you with its pretensions. From the start, it's very stylish, but it almost looks like it's an extraordinarily stylish televised movie instead of a theatrical release. The music is really awful, and the symbolism (animals in nearly every scene and more phallic symbols than necessary) is a little goofy. But there's still stuff to like in this. The dialogue is peppered with some subtle dark humor. It didn't make me howl or anything, but it did help this seem not-so-serious. Some of the setting imagery is really good, foggy swamps and gnarled things that look like they came straight outta Tim Burton's wet dreams. I never did decide whether I liked the special effects or not. I'll give credit for the interesting werewolf transformations. Lots of creativity there. The effects to make that happen don't look real at all, but they're still pretty cool.

Question: When did close-ups of doll heads become a horror movie cliche?

Escape from Alcatraz

1979 prison escape movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Only three people escaped from the notorious Alcatraz prison. It was all at the same time, and apparently one of them was Clint Eastwood. This is their story.

Good flick. Clint is Clint, with that familiar mysterious aura and squinting. His presence is almost distracting in this movie, and as much as I like Clint Eastwood, this could have possibly been a better movie with an unknown. I did think the casting of Patrick McGoohan (ironically, the Prisoner) was perfect. There are few moments in this that are cliches or that will become cliches during the next decade (as well as some Shawshankian touches), but there are more moments that are off and keep things irregular and interesting. The first scene in the cafeteria could almost be classified as Lynchian. Noodle-slurping thugs, match stunts, a guy called Litmus because his face turns red/blue when he's hot/cold, a dude talking to his pet mouse. It manages to remain thickly suspenseful even though you know from the beginning whether or not they make it. And it's also just slow enough to appeal to the thinking man, those who want the escape plot to unfold gradually and not miss a single meticulous detail. Good music, too. As always, more shower scenes would have been great. I'm not sure I saw enough ass.

Anybody know any good female prison escape movies?

Mr. Freedom

1969 satirical farce

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Freedom-fighting superhero Mr. Freedom is summoned to France to fight off the French Anti-Freedom movement and communists from Switzerland. The French don't want him, so with the aid of Marie Madeleine and other freedom-lovers (Dick Sensass, M. Drugstore, Freddie Fric), he starts his own organization to battle against the evil Moujik Man and Giant Red China Man. And Jesus.

There's a nerve near my left elbow (only my left elbow) and very close to the ulnar nerve. And like that nerve (the funny bone), this place near my left elbow (only my left elbow) tingles on occasion, generally when stroked. I call it the absurd bone, and it tingled like a mo-fo the duration of this combination of deranged agitprop and pop art diarrhea. This work by documentary filmmaker William Klein was just crazy, utilizing comic book effects (gun shots you'd expect to see in the old Batman t.v. show), insane humorous touches (pink KKK guys, Yves Montaud's cameo as the deceased Captain Formidable), the goofiest costumes you'll ever see, inflatable villains, and excessive and almost sickening colors. The stoopid clobbers you over the head with this one, but at the same time, it's impossible not to catch the genius and the message behind the madness, no matter how heavy-handed the latter might be. I'm sure that anti-American message wasn't appreciated in the center of the Vietnam conflict, and the scary thing is that the message is just as relevant today and still wouldn't be appreciated. I couldn't believe it when Mr. Freedom said, "You with me or against me?" in a way that made it seem like this was made during Bush's administration. There are some terrifically comical scenes throughout this. Freedom's appearance in his red white and blue costume made from sports equipment, his guns a-blazin'. The freedom pep rally with songs and speeches and a video montage of what makes America great that I had to watch twice. The trip to the U.S. Embassy that resembled a colorful supermarket. The wild training of the freedom fighters, absurd in an almost Heironymus Boschian way. There are some great lines in this. Every conversation between Dr. Freedom and Mr. Freedom is hilarious, and Mr. Freedom's rambling speeches, which he delivers in this quick cadence, are great. The first question at the American Embassy--"Welcome, Mr. Freedom. How's Batman and John Wayne?"--made me laugh. I won't spoil more. This easily has both rubbery boots in the "not for everybody" camp, but if you're in need of having your absurd bone stroked, this might be the film for you. And if you're a communist? Well, I'm not sure there is a more anti-American movie. I look forward to more William Klein flicks.

Science if Fiction: 23 Films by Jean Painleve

Short nature documentaries from 1928-1982

Rating: n/r

I dealt with some ridicule for watching these over several days, but I'm not sure why because it's the sort of thing that's usually parked in my alley. Painleve came from an avant-garde background (apparently the surrealists and other avant-garde filmmakers would borrow his footage for their own projects), and these movies were shown in avant-garde theaters and cine clubs in Paris. Painleve uses close-ups, magnification, microscopic views, slow speed, fast speed, and a variety of other tricks to show things that you either don't know exist or wouldn't ever expect to witness. And it's all with a background of weird experimental electronic music, people banging on pots and pans (literally), or jazzy scores. Most of the footage is of underwater creatures--alien beings--and the black and white shots reminded me a lot of the Harry Smith Heaven and Earth Magic I watched last year. Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd could have performed in front of the short about liquid crystals, a kaleidoscopic series of images that also reminded me of some of Stan Brakhage's work. Undulating sea urchins, anguished male seahorses birthing twitching seahorse babies with bulging eyes, close-ups of yolk sacs, more yolk sacs than you can shake a stick at even, an orgy of slithering octopii with a breathless old pervert narrating, jerking agitated shrimp running from Groucho Marx, the perversely beautiful acera ballet and another hermaphroditic orgy, vampire bats lurching grotesquely around to hot jazz and sucking at a guinea pig, serial mollusk killers, tumbling brittle stars and feather stars with stalks and suckers waving constantly, single-cell worms heavily magnified, burrowing sea urchins, an octopus molesting a human skull. It's mesmerizing and educational, but you really won't want to take your focus off the visuals and read the subtitles much. Painleve gets clever at times, juxtaposing footage of seahorses with scenes of race horses and doing the same with the vampire bats and clips from Nosferatu or frequently ending the shorts with animated creatures spelling FIN, and I really liked that more playful quality. Not all of this stuff was golden. The "math" movies weren't worth watching (except for the one on the 4th dimension which taught me that 4th dimensional beings can see all our organs at once and extract our bones without breaking the skin), and the 1920's silent shorts were repetitive and dull compared to the later films about the same animals. The "research films," one about eggs and one called "Experimental Treatment of a Hemorrhage in a Dog," were also really dull, and a stop-animated cartoon called "Bluebeard" was ugly and didn't really fit in. My advice, if you like this sort of thing, would be to watch the 8 or so films scored by Yo La Tengo, ignore the narrator, and enjoy the otherworldly visuals.

Cleopatra Jones

1973 blaxploitation flick

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Cleopatra Jones is a U.S. special agent sent to Turkey to deal with a drug situation, the result of which ticks off drug lord Shelly Winters. Shelly Winters makes a call and has some crooked cops mess with her friends. She returns to get to the bottom of things.

Much better production values than the more comical Dolemite movies. Cleopatra is a cool strong African American female character. She's stylish, she can kick white guys in the head, and she's got a little James Bond in her. The poster above says she's 6'2", but she looks 7 feet tall at times. Maybe it's the hair, but it's more likely her attitude and presence. The fight scenes in this are less than stellar and a lot of the plot just involves Cleopatra asking where people are, but there is one fairly impressive car chase and Shelly Winters' goons (Doodlebug Simkins, Pickle, etc.) are interesting characters. Winters herself is a wacky villain, in a good way, the kind of outrageous, off-kilter bad gal whose hair color changes for no apparent reason and who kills off her own henchmen just because she's pissed off. It's a good role for her, one that I imagine did a lot for her career. I don't quite understand why Cleopatra has no difficulty beating up lots of white guys, sometimes simultaneously, but then seems to have problems in a one-on-one fight with Shelly Winters. A fairly entertaining product of the 1970s.

On the Beach

Feel-good film of 1959

Rating: 17/20 (Dylan: 8/20)

Plot: The Cold War swings into action and almost immediately ends. Now, thanks to radiation, everybody's going to die. Stupid people. An American submarine reaches Australia where they wait anxiously for news about whether the radiation cloud will reach them. The last men and women on earth confront their impending doom in various ways.

I love it when a movie can be removed far from the context in which it was first seen (1950's Cold War fears) and still retain relevancy. On the Beach has an interesting story and characters anyway, but to me, its greatness is in the many great moments that it has. When Peck's character talks about his family for the first time, the cock-eyed camera visually reminding us what a cock-eyed world we live in, he's acting straight from the heart. Dylan told me while we were watching this that Gregory Peck is the 5th best actor of all time, (Two video game voice actors and Keifer Sutherland are ahead of him.) and he is really good in this, a perfect blend of nearly-submerged melancholy and tired hope. That scene is his best in the film. Every second of the scene in San Francisco is pitch perfect. Each member of the crew takes his turn peeking through the periscope, ending with the rhythmic clang of the periscope's handle and tears in his eyes, is a moving scene, and the submarine drifting away from the guy who decided to stay behind is another memorable, great scene. The Grand Prix race (and the after-effects in Julian's garage) is really well done. The look on Julian's face captures this perfect bittersweetness, such a hopeless fulfillment of a dream. The last image of the movie is also fantastic. Well-acted from top to bottom and shot with some great details (loved the bicycles). That sure was a roomy submarine though, wasn't it? And I could go without hearing "Waltzing Matilda" for a very long time.

Monster A Go Go

1965 travesty

Rating: 1/20

Plot: An astronaut is sent into space to do something. When he returns, his vessel crashes into a field and he somehow (blame radiation, I guess) transforms into a ten-foot tall monster. He go-goes around the field killing people.

I had a mass media class in high school, and one of our assignments was to make a movie. I storyboarded a clumsy avant-retard quasi-satirical story, gathered a few friends together, and made my masterpiece. Ok, I'm not bragging or anything, but I did get an A after turning in something that I believe is a slightly better movie than Monster A Go Go. Monster A Go Go might be the worst movie I have ever seen, and I can't believe it was made in the 1960s. It actually looks like it could have been made in the 1860s. It also looks like it might have been made by people who have never seen a movie before and aren't quite sure what they look like. The level of ineptitude reaches, heck maybe even surpasses, Manos: The Hands of Fate or The Beast of Yucca Flats levels. It's hard to see, it's hard to hear, and it's hard to even stay awake enough to figure out what the heck is going on. With a title like Monster A Go Go, I expected this to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek and corny, but it's about the stiffest, dullest thing I've ever seen. There's a ton of talking in this movie, from the boring conversations the scientists are having to the narrator who sounds like an old-timey newscaster, another thing it has in common with Yucca Flats. The monster is on the screen for less than a minute, and his mutilatin' is described after the fact by the narrator instead of being seen. That sure manages to suck any chance for drama or tension right out of this thing. The monster sort of looks like a ten-foot tall James Taylor at the beginning and a bald, flaky thing at the end. One thing it has in common with the movie I made in high school--Halfway through my production, every single member of my cast left or refused to participate any longer. I was forced to shoot the rest of the movie on my own without any actors. It wasn't easy. It seems that the same thing happened to the makers of Monster A Go Go as main characters either look completely different or drop entirely out of the movie altogether. The music was also terrible. If I had had a Casio in high school, I might have thought about scoring my movie despite not knowing anything about music. Well, I'm pretty sure that's what they did for this movie, too. It sounds like a chicken playing instruments at times. This doesn't have any of the magic of Manos: The Hands of Fate, so I can't recommend it. The best thing about the movie is its title, and when that title is Monster A Go Go, you know know you're in trouble.

My Life as a Dog

1985 coming-of-age movie

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

Plot: Ingemar is growing up in 1950's Sweden. His father is gone, somewhere near the equator loading bananas, and his mother is dying. Since Ingemar and his brother do nothing but stress out their poor, sick mother, they are sent to an uncle and grandmother for the summer. Ingemar interacts with the family and the odd assortment of townsfolk, begins to discover sexuality, and learns to cope with death.

Sex and death. That's really what life boils down to, and this movie does such a terrific job of showing the discovery of (and the relationship between) both of them through the eyes of a likable kid. This movie's got some quirks (a neighbor who persistently hammers nails into his roof, an old man who has Ingemar read descriptions of ladies' undergarments from a catalog, the uncle who listens to the same record over and over again while building a tiny circular "summer house" in the backyard) but it's also got a great deal of heart and soul. I'm always amazed when there's a movie, usually a foreign one, with a bunch of child actors who manage not to annoy me. The kids in this are great, their performances resembling children at playtime much more than a bunch of kids being directed and trying their best to act. The frequent connections made to Laika the space dog were problematic for me while watching the movie, but after I had a chance to think about it, I realized how important Laika was as an extended metaphor to hold the episodes in the movie together. Apparently, this was Kurt Vonnegut's favorite movie. It makes me wonder whether this is the type of movie that only Hoosiers would like. I doubt it though. Bittersweet and quiet, this one hits you emotionally, not so much with what the characters say (though there is poignancy there) but with great visuals requiring some reading between the lines. There's something about this that forces you to really focus on every little detail, not because you have to but because you want to. It requires you to pour yourself into the movie as it pours into you. I've had this sitting on the shelf for months now because I figured it would be boring. I'm glad I was so wrong.


2008 biopic

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Well, I really thought this was going to be the biography of Kirk "Milk Dee" Robinson, one half of the late 80's/early 90's rap duo The Audio Two. Their biggest hit was "Top Billin'":

"Check it out: MC am I, people call me Milk. When I'm bustin' up a party, I feel no guilt. Gizmo's cuttin' up for the suckers that's down with me. The One of us, that's how I feel. To be down, you must appeal to the Two, we're rated R, we're gifted, and we're going far down the road to the bank. While I'm here, I'd like to thank Mom and Dad, they knew the time. Gizmo's scratching. Milk Dee's rhyming. Milk is chillin'. Giz is chillin'. What more can I say? Top billin'. That's what we get, got it good. Since you understood, would y ou stop scheming and looking hard? I got a great big bodyguard." And so on.

Milk isn't about rappers. It's about homosexual politician/activist Harvey Milk and his fight for gay rights and against American idiocy. But that's boring. I demand a biopic on rapper Milk Dee! If it's about Gizmo as well, then I'm fine with that. Are you listening, Hollywood? Let's get on the ball with this one!

Milk's a better movie than Slumdog Millionnaire and everything else I've seen from last year even though it didn't win. Sean Penn deserved his Oscar. I don't know why, but I'm always suprised when I see what a good actor he is. He's really good here, transforming himself with his voice, his expressions, and his mannerisms into Harvey. His performance sparkles! I was also really impressed with the period work that went into this. Stock footage, grainy film, and wardrobe were used to give it a 70's feel, and I'm not even sure how 1970's San Francisco was reproduced so accurately. It looked too big to be on a studio but blended too well to be special effects. The amount of actual footage used in this makes it remarkably documentary like. Some of that actual footage touches, some of it shocks, and some of it (I hope) embarrasses. The storytelling is well done though patchy in parts, and I appreciate how Van Sant some of the darker, less heroic moments in Milk's life. The supporting cast is also very good, but I would have liked a little more characterization with a few of them. The story needed to be told as much as Milk Dee's story does, and I'm glad it was told with the elegance and the maturity that it was. God bless America!

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

1973 western

Rating: 16/20

Plot: The times they are a-changin'. Yeah, I realized I've already referenced that song this year on this blog. But it fits here because Bob Dylan is in this movie, and changin' times is exactly what this movie is about. Dylan's songs are in this movie, but that one isn't. It could have been though. Would have fit in nicely during the opening or closing credits. The first Bob Dylan album I heard in its entirety, by the way, was Desire which was released a few years after the soundtrack to this movie came out. It's got more instrumentation but a similar feel to Dylan's soundtrack. I didn't listen to Bob Dylan at all until I was eighteen, despite being named after him. I didn't see my first Peckinpah movie until I was in my early 20's. I hadn't really given Westerns a chance. I wonder what would have happened if I had started watching Westerns in high school. I bet I would have started sporting a cowboy hat and maybe even boots. My peers would have looked at me and wondered what was up. I would have probably shrugged and said, "The times they are a-changin'." But I digress. This movie is about the breakup of two legendary homosexuals.

I really like this movie although it should have ended up much better than it did. And I'm not completely sure which version I watched or whether it was the definitive version. I don't think Peckinpah ever got to see a version that matched his vision. This is a great story (obviously since it's been filmed fifty times) and I dig Peckinpah's retelling of it as a meditative elegy for the Old West. Very good cast. Sadly, the weakest link is none other than Dylan uneven performance as Alias, but he actually nails the mysterious, antsy character during most of his scenes. James Coburn is perfect as Garrett. There's despair with every gesture, even when he's engaging in coitus with five women at once, and every word he utters is accompanied with a heavy sigh. Kristofferson is also very good, and all the minor players (mostly, it seems, actors with experience as character actors in westerns) help fill in the details and bring an authenticity. As expected, Peckinpah's settings and period details have that authenticity already. I can imagine this movie would frustrate anybody looking for a solid narrative structure. It almost works more like an allegory. There's great scene after great scene, but the character's motivations don't always make a lot of sense and some of those great scenes don't really seem to belong. But the greatness of the character development is undeniable, and all of those scenes that the film's producers probably wanted on the cutting room floor are indispensable. On the surface, a scene with Coburn being shot at by a guy on a passing boat does nothing for the advancement of the plot, but without using any words at all, it manages to add so much thematically. That's only one of my three favorite scenes though. The scene where Garrett makes Dylan's character read the labels on cans is so wacky that it's good, and Slim Pickens' death scene with "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" is touching stuff. And while I'm on the subject of Slim Pickens--it's quite possible that he's the greatest actor of all time.

The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb

1993 stop-animated bastardized folk tale

Rating: 15/20

Plot: The poor Mr. and Mrs. Thumb are thrilled with the arrival of their first son despite his freakishly tiny stature. They name him Tom because they like the alliteration. He's kidnapped and taken to a laboratory where genetically mutated creatures are experimented upon. A skeletal spider-like creature helps Tom escape, and he meets up with a race of elvish beings as large as him. They try to help him reunite with his father.

I sure hope Jan Svankmajer gets royalties from this. This has a similar dirty look, a very similar use of sound effects, and the same surreal texture that really makes Svankmajer so unique. Even the people are pixilated (posed just like the stop-animated puppets) in the same herky-jerky style Svankmajer uses in his work. Sort like Peter Gabriel in that "Sledgehammer" video. Despite the stylistic plagiarism, this is a really cool flick. It's almost entirely dialogue free, and when the characters do talk, the communication is mostly in groans, mumbles, and squelching noises. Combined with some interesting music, the sound effects and people noises (I swear I heard some fart noises) help create the atmosphere. The puppets range from really bland to really cool. The minor characters inhabiting the laboratory are imaginative and Quay-esque, reminding me almost of Syd's creations in Toy Story. Tom (and the other small humanoids) doesn't do much for me though. He's an ugly earless clay thing, sort of like an upright Golem. A bland protagonist isn't a terrible thing though as he's contrasted against the nightmarish, junk-littered wasteland. There are some dark details in the creation of the settings, stuff I'd imagine would make the animation pretty difficult. Every single setting is infested with twitching or hovering insects. Random, odd props (a crucified Santa Claus, rows of hypodermic needles, a guy in a diving suit rummaging through toxic waste) add to the texture. This starts to sag a little bit about the time when Tom meets the elf guy, and for a while this is too reminiscent of fantasy, but it's definitely worth seeing for fans of this sort of twisted stuff. Too bad the "Bolex brothers" don't have any other feature-length films.

A Galaxy Far, Far Away

2001 documentary

Rating: 8/20

Plot: Attempts to document the eccentrics who geek over Star Wars obsessively, interviewing the toy collectors, the costume-wearing conventioneers, and the weirdos who waited in line forty-two days before the premiere of The Phantom Menace.

Just like Trekkies except with a different franchise, a lot less objectivity, and a lot more snarkiness. Filmmaker Tariq Jalil is as much a "character" in this movie as Michael Moore is in his. I don't need to see footage of Tariq Jalil and his buddy surfing the Internet to find other aspring filmmakers willing to shoot footage of people standing in line for Episode 1. I didn't need to see footage of Jalil interviewing a reporter from a Los Angeles news show and then showing the exact same interview from the station's camera that appeared on the evening news. You made it on the news, Jalil? Los Angeles now knows you're a maker of documentaries? Good for you! Jalil's voice is incredibly annoying and the approach to the subject matter was condescending. There's some entertainment value here if you just let the visuals and the people speak for themselves. What's not to love about a hip hop Boba Fett or breakdancing stormtroopers or a band in Star Wars costumes (a really tall Yoda on bass guitar) singing about, well, Star Wars? But when Jalil tries to make it much more by juxtaposing his footage of people buying Star Wars toys with people in Kosovo fighting for food, I really lost interest. And patience. This shouldn't have been a documentary about how witty Tariq Jalil can be.

Here he is. He's important.

Scarface, the Shame of a Nation

1932 Howard Hawks production

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Tony Camonte is a little gangsta with a big heart and even bigger dreams. After gang leader Louis Costello is knocked off, police suspect that Camonte is their man, but since there's not a body, they can do nothing about it. Habeas Corpus, Latin for "there ain't no body nowhere so's there's nothin' nobody can do about nothin'." Camonte continues to work his way up the gangster ladder but begins ticking off his peers and create some conflicts within the gangster community when he starts to extend his responsibilities with some freelance work. Another conflict develops when his sister, with whom he is overly protective, starts wanting a little more freedom.

I'd give this the slight edge over the too-long 80's Scarface. It's very good for an early talkie even though it does suffer from the staginess and over-acting and occasional stuffiness of those early 30's productions. This version of Scarface is packed with some great character actors who give the somewhat pedestrian script some flavor. It's also got action scenes that are way ahead of their time. Car chases, shoot 'em ups, etc. all in crisp black 'n' white and drenched in shadows. The introductory scene, one of those long shots I'm a sucker for, is really nice, the camera smoothly moving from the street to inside a club and then lingering just long enough for a gangster's whistling shadow to stroll in and take care of business. It's a great scene that sets the stage. I also like some of the (admittedly heavy-handed) symbolism in this. Paul Muni is a good Scarface although I don't always like his accent and the horrible bow tie/collar combination he sports. Another thing that annoyed me was the preachiness. The movie starts out by proclaiming itself as an "indictment of gang rule and the callous indifference of the government." That's fine, I guess, but the story really grinds to a halt with a sententious speech in the middle of the movie and some other didactic moments. It's just too much, and it seems odd as somebody could easily accuse the filmmakers of glorifying the gangster lifestyle as much as they are criticizing it.

101 Dalmations

1961 Disney movie

Rating: 16/20 (Abbey: 20/20)

Plot: Pongo, the pet of an apsiring songwriter called Roger, is horny. When he spots a sexy dalmation named Perdita, he arranges for his master and hers (Anita) to meet up. Roger, also being horny, can't complain, and the couples have sex like mad in a montage that is now considered one of Disney's most controversial moments. The result of the weeklong sexfest is fifteen puppies. Roger and Anita, still surprised that they have birthed dalmations, are approached by Cruella de Vil who wishes to purchase the puppies in order to make them somewhat useful to society--by making coats from them. Roger and Anita, however, are selfish, foolish children, and even though they could use the money, they don't want to part with their puppies. Good luck cleaning up all that crap, idiots. Better make sure they can't get to your trashcan, ya morons.

I was wrong about this one. We can bump it up a tier. The mix of humor and action is very natural, so the story itself is a lot of fun. I don't think it's the best animation the Disney people have ever done, but the drab and static backgrounds are textured in a way that it doesn't really hurt the pictures, sort of like in The Great Mouse Detective or Winnie the Pooh. The simple storybook settings fit in fine and help keep the focus on the characters. And I really like how those characters are animated. The humans (especially the housekeeper and Roger) are given nuances, realistic expressions, quirks, etc. that bring them to life. And I'm not sure if it's because I'm seeing this for the first time as a dog owner or not, but the dalmations are really animated very well. There's nothing that sticks out as being especially revolutionary with the way they're animated, but their movements and their expressions, mostly very subtle ear droops or tail wags or head nods, are perfect. The scene with the dogs and their lookalike owners at the beginning is pretty funny. The best scene in the movie might be the offscreen birth of Pongo and Perdita's puppies, though the stroking of a puppy back to life is a bit much. That leads into Cruella's appearance (unfortunately her second) in front of a backdrop of lightning and shadows which is great. She's a great villain, like my favorite Disney villains more a respresentation of something than an actual person. Here, the villain is greed. The bad guys (Cruella and her dopey henchmen) smoke and drink and say things like "I'll pop 'em off and you do the skinnin'" and come across as meanness personified. Even Cruella's car and her phone look evil. Another little touch that I like are the black and white television shows the characters are watching--one about a brave dog battling a hefty outlaw (foreshadowing), one with dancing flowers, and a game show called "What's My Crime?" I don't know why I liked that so much, but I did. Good music, a good story, good action sequences, good humor, cute dogs. There's enough to like here to safely place it in Disney's top ten.

Question of the day: Pinocchio's bad guys don't die. Cruella doesn't die. I think it's because they're symbols who, even though the protagonists eventually defeat them, are always going to be around. Most Disney villains die though, lots of times in very dark ways (Tarzan, I think, being the darkest). I don't have time to think about this, but what other Disney villains are spared?

Future War

1997 movie that Claude Van Daame apparently turned down

Rating: 3/20

Plot: Evil beings borrow a few dinosaurs from earth's past and a few humans from earth's future to use as "trackers" and slaves. One of the slaves manages to escape and somehow ends up in 1990's America. As dinosaur heads and cyborgs chase him, he gets help from a nun. No kidding.

Another day, another terrible movie. The best part of this one is an (unintentional?) pun. The evil alien things are referred to as "handlers" several times during the movie, but the reason they have to kidnap earthlings to use as slaves is because they lack hands. Handlers lacking hands? Oh, the irony! That does bring up a question though. How did they build spaceships or time machines or whatever to come to earth for dinosaurs and people? And the cyborgs who chase him have hands. When were they created? That might be a plot hole. Regardless, if the best thing about your movie is a pun, you know you're in trouble. The first twenty minutes of so of Future Wars is the characters slowly walking through what I believe is the director's basement. It's a long, slow build-up to what can only be described as a special effects extravaganza--dinosaur PUPPETS! That's right--PUPPETS! They're intimidating puppets though, puppets that might scare the average three year old. Unfortunately, it limits what the dinosaurs can do in the movie. They can open their mouths and growl. They can lunge toward the camera. They can be held really close to the camera with the actors in the background so that they appear much larger than they actually are. Ummm. . .I guess that's about all they can do. Another effect used shows dinosaur and cyborg perspectives, an infrared deal for the former and this ugly robot visual thing for the latter. It's pretty distracting. The star is Daniel Bernhardt who, as the box above proudly proclaims, went on to do bigger and better things. I don't know who Agent Johnson even is from the Matrix sequels. Maybe Daniel Bernhardt is the reason why the last two Matrix movies sucked so much. Was he responsible for bringing down the franchise? He certainly doesn't help Future Wars very much. Here, he's a sort of Van Daame light. He roundhouse kicks frequently, screams at bums, runs in a way that would make Jimmy Stewart call him awkward, and has this stumbling way of talking (ostensibly because he doesn't know English although he picks it up in a couple hours) that makes the awful dialogue seem awfuller. Another thing I noticed: Following the 20 or so minutes of wandering around the director's basement, it flashes back to the runaway fleeing through a labyrinth of empty cardboard boxes as a dinosaur and a cyborg chase him. The cardboard boxes aren't supposed to be anything else. It's just a maze of empty cardboard boxes. It's shockingly cheap looking. But then there's a second fight scene in a maze of cardboard boxes and a third scene where cardboard boxes feature prominently. It really makes you start to wonder. I'm not sure what I started to wonder, but I wondered something.

Natural Born Killers

1994 Oliver Stoned movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Mickey and Mallory haven't enjoyed the easiest lives. None of that matters, however, after they meet and fall in love. They marry and take a romantic road trip for their honeymoon.

This is one of those movies like Team America: World Police, Pirates of the Caribbean, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, The Happening, The Life Aquatic, and Punch Drunk Love, the type of movie that I really like but have to answer a scrunched-up face asking, "What? You like that movie?" whenever I mention it. It's wildly imperfect. And Oliver Stone takes so many chances and dicks around so much that it winds up looking, at times, like the cinematic equivalent to vomit. But I really like what this movie says (about society's sick attachment to violence, the way the media feeds that monkey, our willingness to consume crap, the power of love) and I have to respect a movie that takes these kind of chances. When I saw this in the theater, it was so unlike anything I had ever seen. Tinted film, cameras askew, distorting faces, psychedelic imagery, grotesque visuals piled on top of grotesque visuals, the ornery and almost irrational switching from different color film to black and white and back again, headache-inducing tomfoolery. I was mesmerized then and still am when I watch this one. It's completely over the top, but it needs to be over the top. From the beginning bit of darker-than-darkly comic ultraviolence that introduces the two killers to the scenes with Mallory's family and her abusive father (genius casting of Rodney Dangerfield) that parodies a situational comedy complete with canned laughter to the amazingly ludicrous prison escape, it's impossible to take your eyes off the screen. Is it too much for most people? I'd have trouble arguing that it's not excessive. There's far too much going on in scenes. It's an assault on the senses. Your poor inebriated eyes want to separate to watch what's going on in different parts of the screen. Your ears are attacked by what sounds like multiple songs being played at once (which is what literally is happening at one point). Speaking of the soundtrack, it's just as uneven as the movie, but there are some really interesting choices, and this was my introduction to Leonard Cohen. If I remember correctly, Trent Reznor had something to do with the soundtrack. The performances are nearly perfect from top to bottom. I remember how shocked I was seeing Woody Harrelson who I only knew as Woody from Cheers. Nothing will make me like Juliette Lewis, but I can't think of anybody else who could have been as effective as Mallory. Tom Sizemore injects just the right amount of creep to his performance, and Robert Downey Jr. out Geraldoes Geraldo. And Tommy Lee Jones' performance as the warden just might be one of my favorite performances ever. It's one of those complete transformations and so over the top. Jones is constantly threatening to cross what must be a really thin line between mad genius and what-the-heck-is-this-over-acting-bozo-doing territory. The actors really look like they're having a blast making this movie. So much of Natural Born Killers is just plain wrong, and while I'd never blame anybody for not liking it, I can't help digging it. Definitely the feel-good movie of 1994!

Please use the comment feature below to ask "What? You like this movie?" and tell me how it makes you think of the words "cinematic vomit" when you think about it.


1978 junk drawer science fiction

Rating: 4/20

Plot: Space turtles battle some guy on earth. They kill him and fly off to their turtle planet, but they leave his death ray (aka Laserblaster) behind. Enter Billy Duncan, a guy with a van. Billy's been bullied, has been told by his girlfriend's dad to stay away, and has the police harrassing him. He stumbles upon the alien weapon while strolling in the desert, and laserblasting ensues. However, the crystal that makes this weapon function unfortunately also starts to mutate him into a fanged, twitching zombie mutant. And the turtles are coming back for their gun! Oh, snap!

First, the good: the space turtles are stop-animated with these squiggly little baby voices, and they're pretty cool. The rest of this movie is bad and ugly. There's some miscasting. The lead isn't the bullied type, and one of the bullies is your typical nerd which makes that whole subplot completely implausible. Billy's girlfriend's dad is crazy in a very strange, almost intense way that seems unnatural. Roddy McDowall is also in this. He must have lost a bet as he looks completely out of place as a doctor. His name is also mispelled in the closing credits. The movie is so clumsily paced with some scenes finishing and then lingering for a few seconds, almost as if the director had yelled, "Cut!" and nobody could figure out how to turn off the camera. Aside from the aliens, the special effects are laughable. Most of the film's budget must have been spent on explosions. Lots of things, mostly cars, explode in this movie, and each explosion is shown from four camera angles. The filmmakers sure were proud of their explosions! There's a lot of dopeyness in Laserblast that makes it worth the time. Watching the protagonist twitch around as he looks for things to blow up is fun. Actually, the most glorious part of the entire movie might be when he finds the gun and runs around the desert pretending to shoot it while making "Pow pow pow" sounds like he's six years old. Great stuff. At one point, he blows up a pinball machine and a mailbox for no reason, and later he shoots at a billboard that says nothing but "Star Wars." A guy named Michael Bryar plays a hippie guy who picks Billy up. Wasted, he also twitches around, sort of like a cross between Torgo and Michael J. Fox. I hoped I could see other Michael Bryar movies, but this is his only one. It's almost like he said to himself, "You know. I pretty much hit perfection with my role as 'Hippie Guy Who Picks Up Hitchhiker,' and I want to go out on top!" and then retired a legend. Good for him, but the world was robbed. Another note: This is one of those B-movies without any extras at all. Every person on the screen is an actual character which makes it look like they live in a town with six people. It's weird.

All about Eve

1950 best picture

Rating: 17/20 (Jen: 16/20)

Plot: Aging Margo Channing is a freaky bug-eyed alien from the planet Bettedavis who is posing as a Broadway superstar but has plans to take over the world with her alien pals. She's managed to fool everybody around her--Bill, her dopey producer and boyfriend; writer Lloyd and his wife Karen; her assistant Birdie; thousands of admiring fans. The government suspects that something is up, however, and sends an undercover agent named Eve to befriend Margo and stop her before it's too late.

This movie is too long. It's very well written, but it's hard not to watch this without thinking about how written it is. The dialogue never seems natural. And Anne Baxter's Eve is really a pretty weak character, probably because of the dynamic and more flamboyant character Bette Davis plays. Baxter does innocence just fine here, but there's nothing about her performance that makes me believe she's really manipulative or hungry for fame. I guess that might be the point since the other characters (other than Birdie) don't see it either. Having said all that, the good stuff far outweighs the bad with All about Eve. That aforementioned dialogue is literary and witty and sharp. Lots of lines, especially Margo's but also Addison Dewitt's, have just enough bite. There's also the right amount of humor beneath all the drama. I didn't laugh out loud though. The performances are great, the actors bouncing off one another and blending into the story so naturally. I like the structure of the story. There's the revelation right at the beginning that Eve is a snake. I like how instead of the narrator telling us that, we see it in the actors' faces at the awards ceremony. And I like how there's gradual suspicion about her intentions building up to Margo's drunken breakdown at her boyfriend's birthday party. That entire party scene is terrific. I also love the final scene with the mirrors. Sunset Boulevard should have won best picture, but this is still pretty good.


1988 pile of Gremlin crap

Rating: 2/20

Plot: An old man houses mischievous and deadly space hobgoblins in an (unlocked) vault behind two (unlocked) gates on a studio backlot. Kevin, a new security guard, accidentally unleashes them into the night. This is apparently a problem as they enjoy killing people by either distracting them by making their fantasies come true and killing them or by jumping into their hands and allowing themselves to be shaken violently. Kevin and his idiotic friends have to stop them!

I was hoping this would be a sequel to Troll 2, but while it sucks in a similarily delightful way, it's an entirely different story with entirely different monsters. And oh, those monsters! Perpetually grinning, sneaky little Gremlin-esque bastards! There are four of them used in the movie although it seems like a lot more than that die. I think two of them are puppets because their mouths can move up and down. The others are just stuffed things that are thrown at the actors. Their features are static and their appendages don't move at all. It's not so much a special effect as it is a special ed. effect. When this movie attempts horror, it fails miserably. When this movie goes for laughs, it fails even worse. Unless, of course, the whole thing is meant to be a comedy; then, it's a laugh goldmine! It's actually too bad not to be tongue-in-cheek, I suspect, or at least the type of thing where they started out making a legitimate horror movie but decided later they'd better try something else. The most amazing thing I can say about the actors in this is that they don't giggle uncontrollably while being attacked by stuffed animals. The characters, all brazenly promiscuous teenagers, look like the 1980s threw up on them, and nothing they do makes any sense. And I'm not just talking about when the hobgoblins have taken over their minds and forced them to hook up with phone sex operators or strip tease at a place called Club Scum. Average activities don't in any way resemble the average activities of any teenager who has ever lived. Seems like somebody involved with the production of Hobgoblins should have been smart enough to say, "Wait a second, Rick Sloane. Teenagers don't really dance in their living rooms like this. Especially for this long." One of the most awkward scenes involves a macho fight with garden tools. The fight goes on just long enough to, for whatever reason, make me feel uncomfortable. "Wait a second, Rick Sloane. Teenagers don't fight with hoes and rakes in their front yard. Especially for this long." Then, Kevin's girlfriend yells at him for being such a wimp while the winner of the duel and his girlfriend have intercourse in a van parked in the background. It's more a work of art than a movie scene. The image that will stick with me forever, however, is the first appearance of the title creatures after they have stolen a golf cart and are driving away. It's right up there with other iconic movie images--King Kong atop the Empire State Building, those two idiots standing on bow of Titanic with outstretched arms, E.T. and that dumb kid jumping over the moon on the bicycle, The Shining's "Here's Johnny" scene. The end of this movie is particularily bewildering as wimpy Kevin, who you suspect all along will do something heroic, ends up doing nothing at all. The shocking twists don't even end there. There's also a character who pops back into the movie despite being completely engulfed in flames with no hope of being saved at Club Scum. The resolution to the Hobgoblin problem appears to be the result of the screenwriter getting bored with his own script and just deciding to end the thing. Lots of laughs in this one.