Fear of a Black Hat

1994 hip hop mockumentary

Rating: 11/20

Plot: A year in the life of rap trio NWH (Niggaz With Hats). When the niggas discover newfound success, conflicts between the niggaz fester.

Ah, what this could have or should have been. It lifts the style, the plot arc, and even some jokes straight from This Is Spinal Tap, stealing them as freely as rap groups have sampled from James Brown. It's nowhere near as funny or as natural, however. It starts with a really cheap joke about gratuitous language. From there, there are some hits and lots of misses. The main problem is that it has a very staged/scripted feel instead of having a foundation of improvisation. There are also too many cameras in some scenes, and they make a huge mistake by adding cartoonish sound effects during a scene involving guns. It does nothing but take away whatever documentary realism it might have. I do like the female rap quartet known as Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme though, and the roomful of Ices made me laugh. But most of the jokes are just too obvious. So is the satire. Misogyny, violence, superficial politics in rap lyrics, rapper feuds, and the idea that all black people steal things are targets that are much too easy to hit, and they aren't hit in necessarily clever ways here. The songs are reasonably well done although they all sound pretty much the same. I wish this one was better because the potential was definitely there.


1996 David Cronenberg joint

Rating: 5/20

Plot: A few horny people hump each other amidst the greasy shadows and carnage of various car crashes.

Scars and cars, gnarled metal and steaming nipples, strangely dispassionate sex fiends and general stickiness! Step right up! See the bearded woman! See Joey Scales, the Fish Boy and his waving flippers! See James Dean's ghost dry humping a muffler! See Holly Hunter swallow a twisted sword! Step right up to the Cronenberg freak tent! Yes, we have yet another David Cronenberg movie that I just don't understand. What's his intention here? Is it to make me feel like taking a bath? Is it to finally convince me that James Spader, at least in my mind, has become more of a pet peeve than an actual person? Who can identify with the really flat characters in Crash? I don't know, but I don't want to be within spitting (or ejaculating) distance of them. This movie is thoroughly unpleasant.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop

2009 comedy

Rating: 8/20

Plot: Die unpassende mallspindel muss das mall von den mittleren dieben allein verteidigen und gewinnen sie das herz eines reizenden mitarbeiters. Ha ha! Er ist sehr fett und reitet ein Segway. Ha ha!

Ableitung und nicht lustiges. Ich rollte meine augen vier weitere mal, als ich mich lachte nullzeiten lachte. Kevin James ist nicht schrecklich, aber er ist wie ein armes mannes Jack Black. Wies Jack Black diese rolle zuruck? Reinfalle Kevin James herum viel! Ha ha! Er ist liebenswert, abert ich bin nicht ich mag ihn sicher. Ich wurde in das aufpassen dieses an der schule betrogen. Ja, erhielt ich zahlend diesen film aufzupassen. Ha ha!

What's Up, Tiger Lily?

1966 action comedy

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Spies race to get their hands on a top secret egg salad sandwich recipe.

Despite this being the third time I've seen this movie now, the best thing I can say about it is that it, at times, is mildly amusing. Allen took a Japanese action spy flick and redubs it into this nonsensical egg salad plot. This starts out as a novel and fun little movie, but it quickly wears out its welcome and loses steam as it goes. There are some funny moments scattered throughout, but the execution definitely isn't as good as the original idea. A lot of the humor actually comes from admiring how terrifically awful the original movie would be on its own. Some of Allen's jokes are pretty funny in the same way his early stand-up and written work, always edging toward the absurd, is pretty funny. A lot of the humor probably worked a lot better in 1966 while a lot of it probably never worked at all. The bizarrely incongruous soundtrack and occasional live performances by The Lovin' Spoonful are kind of fun though. More fun than the meta-appearances that Woody makes anyway.


1984 movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Childhood pals Birdy and Alfonzo deal with their difficult war experiences, the former losing his humanity as he becomes more and more avian in a mental institution while the latter struggles to hold on to his own sanity. Through flashback, their odd and possibly homoerotic relationship and feathery adventures are traced.

If you can only see one movie in which Matthew Modine shares an intimate moment with a bird, this should probably be it. Modine's really very good as Birdy. While there's not exactly a wide range of emotions with the character, he pulls off what must have been a tough role physically while understanding the quietude and naivete of the character. Nicholas Cage, on the other hand, is wildly unpredictable, predictable, I suppose, since he is America's worst actor. Peter Gabriel (this was his first soundtrack; the far superior work on The Last Temptation of Christ came later) sounds really dated. There are a lot of memorable scenes, including a bit of a jokey ending, and some other scenes that are shot beautifully, but as a whole, Birdy is a little uneven and a little too long. Although a lot of this crosses the line into dopey and oddly overly-sentimental territories, there are a lot of surprisingly touching and tender moments as well. Sandy Baron (the guy with the astronaut pen in the Seinfeld episodes) is great as Nicholas Cage's dad.

Big Man Japan

2007 monster movie

Rating: 12/20

Plot: The current Big Man Japan--a sort of superhero who, when electrocuted via the nipples, grows to enormous size in order to fight monsters--finds his popularity waning. In fact, despite coming from a long line of popular Big Man Japans (Big Men Japan?), popularity that peaked with his grandfather, it seems that nobody likes the sixth Big Man Japan at all. He lives alone, mundanely discussing why he likes seaweed and umbrellas, and waits for calls to go to the power plant to increase in size and battle monsters. A documentary filmmaker captures both sides of his life.

Oh, I wanted to like this movie so much. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if I'm rating it too low actually. It's got really goofy monsters, a faux-documentary style, a great dry humor. There's also a surprising intellectual depth, or maybe an intellectual ambiguity, that makes it a lot more interesting than just a parody of Japanese monster movies, something which, by the way, doesn't need to be parodied. It's got an almost disturbing jarring effect as it juxtaposes the guy sadly and mundanely detailing the minutia of his sad and mundane every day life with the completely bizarre battle sequences with imaginative and stupid-looking monsters. I like the contrasting effect though; it's disturbing in a good way. There's a genuinely surprising ending (with another jarring contrast) that leaves things richly ambiguous. And it keeps you thinking long after the movie has ended. So why don't I like it very much? That's hard to articulate. I don't like how it seems to abandon the mockumentary approach a few times. I don't really like how the movie looks at times. Some of the monsters are original and cool (I especially like the one that uses an eye on a retractable stalk as a weapon), but more than a few of them were just dumb looking and made me wish they'd gone to more traditional looking foes for Big Man Japan. The fight choreography itself is also really weak. And I think the political statements, although they seem like they'd be really obvious and heavy-handed, are confusing to this Westerner. I'm really not sure what this movie is trying to say. Is it about Japan's past and the influence of other cultures? Is it about the effect of consumerism, specifically an American influence, on Japanese culture? Is it about future concerns? There's a chance I would like this more if I watched it again. My rating has changed from a 12 to a 14 to a 13 and back to a 14 then back to a 12 after all. But for now, this reminds me of how I feel about Popeye's fast food restaurants.

After Hours

1985 riddle

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Paul's ready to unwind after another boring day at his boring job with Balki Bartokomous. While reading at a coffee shop, he strikes up a conversation with an attractive girl and calls her up later that night. After hours. When he decides to meet her for a date (after hours), it sets off a surreal chain of events that all add up to one really crappy evening for poor Paul.

About halfway through this movie, Jen walked into the room, watched for a little bit, and then asked what was going on. This is the type of movie that makes questions like that nearly impossible to answer which is one of the reasons I love it. So much happens to poor Paul, the protagonist being a sort of straight man for one giant cosmic joke. There's an exquisite randomness to the proceedings, but at the same time, some parallel moments, some recurring imagery, and some self-referential gags fool you into thinking there's a method to the madness. Is there? I'm not sure it matters. This is a nearly-hilarious black comedy, something you can only watch late at night (after hours). It also works as a sleep-deprived absurdist noir, as a goofy Hitchcock homage, and as a cartoonish suspense flick. Very much in the like-it-or-lump-it category of movies, I think it's easily one of Scorsese's most fun movies.

The Thief of Bagdad

1924 silent adventure movie

Rating: 15/20 (Abbey: 15/20)

Plot: Things are bad for the title thief. Poor guy can't even afford a shirt. This is the story of his quest to find a way to cover his nipples, a quest during which he must face monsters, evil princes, and a running time of almost two-and-a-half hours. Luckily, his nipples turn out to be magical, and when rubbed (only in a counterclockwise motion), magical things happen.

I'm sure I've seen other Douglas Fairbanks movies, but I don't remember him gesticulating this wildly. He really stands out in this movie, not just because he's much better looking than anybody else but because of his uncontrollable flailing and other completely unnatural movements. The most impressive thing about this version of The Thief of Bagdad is the grand set design complete with enormous doors, cavernous caverns, and ambitious palaces. The sheer size of all that is amazing. There are also some ingenious effects, especially for 1924. The monsters are fairly well done, and magic carpet/invisible cloak trickery looks good. I was most disappointed in the action sequences as I figured Fairbanks would be involved in a lot more stunts. I thought that was what he was known for. But the action sequences are few and far between, and there's such a lengthy set-up to a lot of them that it becomes frustrating. I really wish I could have just watched the highlights from The Thief of Bagdad. The camera also does very little in this movie with almost all of the action taking place from side to side which, at times, gives this about as much fluidity as a film strip. At times, I felt my eyes droop, and Abbey, although she was initially fascinated by Douglas Fairbanks' nipples, eventually lost interest. Still, future films had a lot to borrow from this early adventure movie.

James and the Giant Peach

1996 animated Dahl

Rating: 13/20 (Jen: 13/20; Emma: 14/20; Abbey: 20/20)

Plot: Orphaned James lives in a sad, gray (actually, grey) world with a pair of ugly aunts, one who has similar facial expressions to my mother-in-law. They mistreat him, underfeed him, and work him to death while he dreams of someday escaping and traveling to New York City to be find playmates. A passing hobo gives James some magic glowing worm things which, because he's a clumsy fool, James spills. The worm things work their magic, and a giant peach grows on a tree where nothing grew before. The aunts exploit financially until one night, James crawls inside the peach, meets a bunch of insect friends, and attempts to travel via peach and seagulls to New York, New York.

Interesting visuals with a mix of live action and stop animation. Like in Selick's other feature films, he does a good job with the creation of some nifty settings, all bleak when it needs to be bleak and rosy when it needs to be rosy, but there's sometimes so much going on at the same time on the screen (especially when all the insects are around) that things get blurry. The story's great, but none of the insect characters are. They look fine, but the voices bringing them to life don't do nearly enough to, well, bring them to life. So while the bizarre plot points (the whole rhinoceros thing, the cool-looking shark robot thing) and setting textures work great to create a wonderful fairy tale world (I love when the weirdness isn't toned down in kid flicks), the characters, especially for puppets, are really pretty two-dimensional. It makes the movie almost simultaneously fresh and visually exciting and kinda bland. There are a few really beautifully animated moments, including the How-the-Heck ghost pirate scene, but this also lags a lot for a movie that is barely 70 minutes long. It's also not one of Randy Newman's best efforts. I really wanted the handful of songs that had vocals to end seconds after they started. It's likely that the biggest problem with James and the Giant Peach is that it's sandwiched in between Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline, but I didn't like it much when I saw it in the theater either.

The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood Jr.

1996 documentary

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Alternatingly loving and loathing look at the life and career of B-movie director Ed Wood, from his completely normal childhood to his first film (a short Western) to his last (Plan Nine from Outer Space) which happens to be considered the worst film ever made.

There are some tender moments, some humorous moments, and some moments (mostly from the bizarrely vain Vampira and Bela Lugosi's bitter son) that get downright hateful. Most of the interviewees look back lovingly and/or sadly at the man. The majority of this documentary is made up of well-assembled interview segments and scenes from Wood's work that showcase his flaws and his complete ineptitude. And although there are some fascinating bits of insight (Vampira's claim that Orson Welles gave her the clap, the details of Tor Johnson's baptism and family's eating habits), there's not much that can be garnered from this that you can't get directly from "enjoying" Wood's oeuvre or from Tim Burton's exceptional biopic. I was a bit annoyed with the sets designed for interviewees (Vampira, for example, had skulls and webs all around her; maybe that was her bedroom though), but I did like how one guy had a ventriloquist dummy for no reason at all. Messy in spots and annoyingly beginning with an overture, this is overall a hit and miss affair. It's worth watching for fans of Wood's work though.

Four Rooms

1995 comedy

Rating: 8/20

Plot: New Years. It's Ted the bell hop's first night at a ritzy Los Angeles hotel, and it's not the smoothest of first nights on the job. He encounters a coven of witches trying to resurrect the goddess Diana, stumbles into a perverse psychosexual drama, babysits Antonio Banderas's children, and participates in the reenactment of something some guests saw on an Alfred Hitchcock television show.

Way too bizarre to be entertaining and way too silly to be funny, Four Rooms nearly fails on every level. There are four directors, and while all show signs of being able to add a personal stamp to some unique stories and situations, none of the stories manages to be anything I'm glad I watched. In fact, they all kind of float by like off-color jokes that make you groan. The jokes you forget to tell people later. It's almost like they're all trying to outdo each other and are left with giant messes, like preschoolers painting and peripherally spotting their peers adding more and more colors and feeling they have to add more and more color to their own work until one of them winds up drowning so that the news people can stand outside the preschool with giant microphones talking about how this is a tragedy that nobody in the neighborhood wanted to happen. Allison Anders' lesbian witch fantasy is strangely boring. Although I will admit that I enjoyed hearing another movie so soon after Naked Lunch that takes advantage of the beauty of the word jism. There's far too much showing off that gets in the way of Alexandre Rockwell's part of the story, and there's not really much of a punchline to that joke. Rodriguez's "babysitting" story is disturbing in all the wrong ways. By the time Tarantino's turn comes around, you're already frustrated enough to really hate his wordy script or his acting ability instead of just sort of hating them. Tarantino isn't always horrible as an actor, but he's always funny looking. And sometimes it seems that instead of becoming a character, he's instead decided to make a mannequin of himself and beat you over the head with it. This is one of those times. And glueing it all together is Tim Roth's bell hop in what has to be considered one of the most obnoxious performances of all time. He twitches, screams like Miss Piggy when she's angry, talks like Miss Piggy when she's in a loving mood, and almost blinds you with over-emoting. It's the type of performance bound to make almost everybody watching it completely uncomfortable. The lowest point of this movie is right before the last story in which Tim Roth calls his boss and wastes more of my precious time by giving a synopsis of what happened in the first three sections. Completely superfluous, and completely superfluous movie scenes is a pet peeve of mine. But it gets worse as another pet peeve finds its way on to the screen--Kathy Griffin, one of the few people I know of who can singlehandedly guarantee a jism-free evening. To say something nice, the music in this, the neo-lounge sounds of Combustible Edison and stuff from Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh, was a lot of fun. I'd much rather have just heard the soundtrack to this film than actually seen it.

In other news, somebody gave her an award??

The Last Detail

1973 movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Two Navy lifers have to transport an inexperienced kid to a Marine prison because he tried to steal forty dollars. Along the way, they decide to treat him to one last good time for his eight year sentence begins.

Perhaps I'm a dope, but I was sold on the authenticity with this one. I imagined that this is exactly what life in the Navy was like in the 1970's. Jack Nicholson distracts me in nearly every movie he's in, but he, Otis Young, and Randy Quaid (speaking of dopes) delivered realistic portrayals of Navy men at similar but completely different points of life--being young and fearful of losing freedoms you always imagined you'd have and being older and feeling trapped by your decisions and dismayed at the ennui. The dialogue is crispy and sometimes lewdly funny, and the rapport between the three men develops perfectly as they travel together and trash hotel rooms, locate whores, drink, drink again, and enjoy the perfect fifty cent sandwich. If nothing else, this movie made me want to grow a mustache, wear one of those Navy hats around, smoke a big cigar, and say things like "Grab your cocks and drop your socks! We're going to party!" An entertaining and different sort of buddy road movie. Oh, and before I get angry comments from the Randy Quaid Appreciation Society, I'm not saying that he's a dumb guy or anything. His performance here as a mild dope (as opposed to the absurdly dopey or mentally challenged dopey characters he seems destined to play) is very good, and I found it very easy to identify with his character. So get off my back, Randy Quaid Appreciation Society. Get off my motherfucking back.

Cleo from 5 to 7

1962 drama

Rating: 18/20

Plot: Cleo[patra] (Florence), a French pop singer who assumes she's dying from cancer, awaits confirmation from a doctor that she is indeed a French pop singer. Or that she's dying. She wanders the streets of Paris, visits with friends, and tries to come to grips with her mortality.

And what a breathtaking examination of a person dealing with her own mortality this is! I was sucked into Cleo's black and white world that is nowhere near black and white (figuratively speaking anyway) from the very beginning and stared transfixed until the fantastic ambiguous ending. No, it's not ambiguous like that. You'll know Cleo's fate by the end of the movie, but there's a great, almost startled expression that actress Corinne Marchand has as the curtains fall on this one that manages to perfectly encapsulate everything that must have gone through her gorgeous little head in the hour and a half this movie takes place. This unfolds in real time like television's 24. It even gives updates on the time almost like chapter titles, and a few times, I listened for that giant thunking clock noise that 24 uses. There wasn't any torture though unless you consider watching somebody ride a bus or walking in silence for a minute or so is boring enough to be considered torture of the audience. A lot of the movie, the transitioning from friend to friend or from place to place forces the viewer to focus on the minutia. Personally, I liked the leisurely pace, and you get to see some neat parts of Paris. And it's filmed beautifully; there are several moments when the slightest camera movement or vehicle movement or character movement causes a shot to unfold into this seemingly accidental bit of directorial brilliance. Director Agnes Varda really takes advantage of the entire screen, whether it's to display the beauty of Paris's bowels or Cleo's face. Michael Legrand scored the thing, and his music adds a buoyancy to the proceedings. This is the type of movie that forces the viewer to bring experiences to the table, I think. Cleo is one that sat on my shelf for a long time because I was just never in the mood for something I figured would be pretty dull. More often than not, it seems these end up being the best movies. I'll take it back to the library so it can sit on the shelf there and be ignored by all the dying people who are always in my way.

Robyn Hitchcock: I Often Dream of Trains

2009 concert film

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Cult artist Robyn Hitchcock reflects on his 1984 solo album I Often Dream of Trains and performs the album (with a few extras) with some pals.

I just did some math. I've been listening to this guy for over half my life. He's one-third of Shane's Holy Trinity of Musical Peoples. I like all of his albums at least partially and a lot of them I love and a few of them I'm obsessive about and will always listen to. This is one of the latter, so it's cool to see him introspect on the times when the songs blossomed and the 25 intervening years since. Some of the songs (the title track, "Uncorrected Personality Traits," "My Favourite Buildings") are performance staples anyway, but a few probably hadn't been performed live in a long time. There's some of his typical between-song banter, largely improvised but with some that are obviously a little more written, but the focus is mostly on the songs with sparse instrumentation (piano, one or two guitars, the occasional trumpet or shaker) played in a quiet atmosphere. Interview snippets from, appropriately, a train add a bit of background on some of the songs although it's more likely that some of Hitchcock's descriptions will confuse more than enlighten. I really like how the main bulk of the concert was bookended by "I Often Dream of Trains" as a low-budget early-eighties video and then again in the live setting with more visuals from the video contrasting Hitchcock now and Hitchcock then. The whole thing is a lot looser than Demme's Storefront Hitchcock movie even though the song and visual variety add a little something extra to that one. My only gripe is that the show should have ended with the final haunting notes of the title track. Instead, Hitchcock flees the stage, exchanges his polka-dotted shirt for a flowery one, and performs an encore made up of recent songs. The encore was extraneous. Oh, and I guess I can gripe that not every song from Trains made the cut. The acapella "Furry Green Atom Ball" is definitely one I would have loved to see. A must for Hitchcock fans.

This is on Sundance a couple few more times this month. Catch the fever!


1974 absurdist play adaptation

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Suddenly, everybody is turning into rhinoceroses, and Gene Wilder doesn't approve. Pressures to become a rhinoceros are driving him mad, mad enough to raise his voice in that strained high-pitched way he does in every single one of his movies. But he'll continue resisting or die trying.

I didn't know this existed, or I likely would have watched it in high school and told everybody that it was my favorite movie. It addresses an issue that I was fond of back then (conformity, the same issue my movie Are You Asleep? addressed so elegantly and professionally), and I liked Ionesco. We even (incredibly) read Ionesco's The Sand Box in another class taught by the teacher who taught the class I made my movie for. No wonder that nut case was my favorite teacher. Anyway, Rhinoceros. Ionesco? Gene Wilder? I expected to dig this one, but it was way too long, way too stupid (read: it misses "absurd" and hits stupid squarely between the eyes), and way too repetitive. You get the message about halfway through and then it's drilled into your head by Gene Wilder's strained, high-pitched voice until you're almost ready to tell the kids they can turn Spongebob Squarepants back on. And speaking of Spongebob, what's the appeal of this show? I know why kids like it, but why do so many adults seem offended when I groan whenever the show is mentioned? "You don't like Spongebob?" No, I don't. And you shouldn't like it either. Anyway, Rhinoceros. And Gene Wilder. Don't get me wrong--I actually like Gene Wilder, and he is one of the bright spots in this otherwise dismal film experience. Zero Mostel's completely bloated performance is fine, too. But this just goes on and on and on, and there's not a single line or visual gag that made me smile, let alone giggle until my groin itched. And speaking of itching groins, should I have mine examined by a doctor? I seem to scratch obsessively, sometimes with my wooden "tea-stirring" spoon. Think it's a fungus? Anyway, Rhinoceros. This is proudly a low budget affair; there's not a single rhinoceros to be seen, the creatures' attacks are rudely pantomimed instead. That's pretty neat actually, as I think that's exactly how it works in the stage production, but after the fourth or fifth time seeing the characters looking at the camera and screaming, "There's another rhinoceros! We have to do something! Ahhhh!", it gets to be a little much. I also really enjoyed one scene where Wilder's character is walking the streets and can't see anybody's heads, sort of like how genitalia was concealed behind things in one of those Austin Powers movies. Or maybe all of the Austin Powers movies. Those weren't very good either. Anyway, Rhinoceros. Or not. Maybe it's not really interesting enough to waste a lot of words on.

Night on Earth

1991 Jim Jarmusch movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Five synchronous episodes in five taxi cabs in five cities. An aspiring mechanic drives a casting agent home from the L.A. airport. A German cab driver in New York tries to get Yo-Yo from Manhattan to Brooklyn. An African in Paris transports a blind woman to a pier. A verbose, loud-mouthed Italian drives a man who isn't a bishop to a place the man who isn't a bishop would probably rather not go. And in Helsinki, one tortured soul picks up three others to give them a ride across town after a night of drinking.

Another movie I didn't like very much the first time I saw it. After the first segment (the one with Winona Ryder), I figured I still wouldn't like it, but Night on Earth just gets better and better. Trudge through segment one, and you'll be rewarded. These are typically Jarmuschian character studies, as well as studies of time and place, but in short story form. The style might be a little different than Down by Law or Strangers in Paradise, but that love he's got for the characters he creates is still there. It's also got that quiet poignancy that sort of sneaks up on you. The attention to details, or the patience Jarmusch has in drawing focus to certain details, is still there, as are the deadpan humor and terrific irony. The dialogue's presentation is unique in that it allows the audience to see both sides of the conversation as if from the front of the cab and therefore makes extraneous camera movements or multiple views completely unnecessary. Exterior shots--mostly, it seems, of the seedier parts of the represented cities--are well shot, and the midnight drunken circus music of Tom Waits (bias alert!) perfectly compliments the wee hours of the freaky ghost town settings. It's easy to pick a least favorite of the five segments (and honestly, I don't exactly hate Ryder's story), but picking a favorite among the other four is difficult stuff. I can imagine Roberto Benigni would get on most people's nerves, but I love that guy. The last story (the Finnish one) has the guy who I'm going to start referring to as my favorite actor as soon as I bother learning his name, the guy in Kaurismaki's Ariel, Shadows in Paradise, and Leningrad Cowboys movies.

Ok, I'm not that lazy. Matti Pellonpaa is his name. I am too lazy to figure out how to put dots above the a's in his name though.

Question for Cory: Which Jim Jarmusch movies have you seen?

Marley and Me

2008 depressing comedy

Rating: 9/20 (Mother-in-law: 15/20; Jen: 11/20; Dylan: 12/20; Emma: 12/20; Abbey: 20/20)

Rating: Two fairly boring people get married and start scratching items off their goals list. They get newspaper jobs, buy a house, find themselves a dog, and start their family.

I loathed this movie. It's essentially the Cliff Notes version of marriage and family, like a two hour montage with the occasional montage-within-a-montage. It drags. If it's a comedy (I honestly couldn't tell; there are some moments that are supposed to be funny), then it's criminally unfunny. If it's a straight drama, it's predictable and sickeningly manipulative. The story progresses exactly as you figure it would complete with an ending that, if you've ever seen another movie with a dog's name in the title, you'll know before even popping the movie in the dvd player. Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson collect their paychecks although they do nothing to create authentic characters or inject a little life into these characters we're supposed to identify with, pull for, appreciate, experience. This is just filled with so much clumsy sentimentality. The quick way it tosses in mid-life crisis or postpartum depression and then yanks it back almost with an "Oops! Excuse me. That shouldn't be in there. Let me show you some more mildly humorous dog slapstick stuff instead!" attitude is borderline offensive. It wasn't my idea to watch this, but I sure expected to enjoy it at least a little bit. At least the dogs were good. And by the way, this is nowhere near a movie that most parents will want their children seeing. It really makes me wonder if Owen Wilson started feeling depressed after filming Marley and Me, maybe seeing it as the beginning of the end of his career. Awful movie.

Naked Lunch

1991 unfilmable book adaptation

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Bill Lee's an exterminator who accidentally shoots his wife in the forehead soon after the discovery that she is shooting up his bug poison. It's also soon after he begins taking in the stuff intravenously and soon after a giant roach tries to convince him that she is an enemy operative who needs to be disposed of. He escapes to Interzone where he continues to work for a variety of strange entities.

This was definitely better than I remember it and almost makes me wonder if I should give every other Cronenberg movie I've hated another shot. It's easily the most I've enjoyed a David Cronenberg joint, but a lot of that probably comes from already enjoying the Burroughs' book. Cronenberg keeps things pretty even which is good because a more chaotic approach would have made this repulsive and junky. Regardless, there's a lot of coolness here. The special effects are pretty cool (mostly grotesque insects and anthropomorphized typewriters), the music is about perfect, and the story weaves in and out of reality like a psychedelic mystery. Drug noir? There are some great performances; Peter Weller is excellently on-edge as Uncle Bill himself, and Judy Davis is wonderful in very difficult dual roles. If you "exterminate all rational thought" like either the Ginsberg or Kerouac character tells you to early in the film, you'll enjoy the mysterious reality-bending and slyly surreal plotline and dialogue gems like "I'm shooting up your roach powder," "The centipedes are downright arrogant," and (my favorite) "Mugwump jism can't be beat." But if the reference to mugwump jism doesn't make it completely obvious, this is definitely the type of movie that isn't for everybody. It is a good companion piece for Barton Fink (mostly as a surreal look at the difficulties of writing something) and Fear and Loathing (for obvious reasons).


2001 animated feature

Rating: 12/20 (Emma: 15/20; Abbey 10/20)

Plot: Once upon a time, an ogre fighting gastrointestinal disorder finds friendship and true love. And they all lived happily ever after.

There's a fart joke one minute into this movie. Then, thirty seconds later, there's another fart joke. If the first two aren't enough, there's luckily a few more right around the corner. Whenever I think of Shrek, I think of fart jokes. I used to think of crap, but that's unfair. The movie isn't crap, but, despite a intriguing premise and a few good ideas, it really isn't much more clever than an 80 minute series of fart jokes. Oh, and pop songs. Fart joke, montage with a very loud pop song, fark joke, montage with a very loud pop song, fart joke. And so on. I don't really like the animation in Shrek. There's a plastic sort of ugliness that recalls the really cheap Barbie computer-animated things that those producers seemingly are able to crap out weekly that my daughter likes. Shrek has about four different facial expressions. I do like some of the settings that are created, but I think computer-animated settings were done much better in Ice Age. A lot of people like the characters in Shrek, but I don't think they're all that well rounded, definitely more types than actual flesh 'n' blood characters. I do think some of the voice talent is really good, especially Eddie Murphy. I realize that's part of the type since it's parodying fairy tales and the stock characters of fairy tales, but it still hurts the overall story and makes it feel a bit cold. There's a novelty in the first fifteen or so minutes, but the fairy tale allusions and pop culture references eventually wear thin. I really don't care much for the humor in Shrek either. I believe I laughed once while watching this the first time (the first scene with the Gingerbread Man), and I like the scene with Robin Hood until it begins parodying kung-fu movies and then just gets stupid. You also get some all-too-typical adult humor "hidden" throughout, but it's neither funny or appropriate. One of my gripes with Dreamworks animated movies is that they use that sort of humor (and maybe the loud pop music) to make these things enjoyable with adults. Pixar does it with heart, but heart is too difficult to pull off, I guess.

War of the Gargantua

1966 monster mash

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Japanese researchers raised and studied a cute little brown monkey man. They call it a gargantua even though it's the size of a seven year old. One day, it escapes. Years later, a not-so-cute brown gargantua starts eating people and destroying miniature villages and rocking toy boats. Naturally, the gargantua that escaped from the researchers is blamed, but then it turns up later on as the green one's brother. They don't get along very well as the military is brought in to put a stop to the destructive mayhem.

"Do you still want to wet nurse that monster?"

As expected, this is very close to being the greatest movie ever made. It starts with a bang, a giant octopus's (good effects, too!) attack of a boat interrupted by the mean gargantua leading to a goofy fight between the two. With singing saw accompaniment! It's a great start. There's not as much lag time with this one as some of the other Japanese monster movies. The action scenes are still a little redundant at times, but they come relentlessly with the necessary moments of dialogue and plot development being peppered in instead of vice versa. The gargantua look like guys in monkey suits, but the special effects are really pretty good in this one; obviously, there's a bigger budget than the earlier Ishiro Honda movies I've seen. A lot more miniature houses, buildings, and forests are flattened in this one. There's also a lot more blood and human violence in this one. The green gargantua gets pretty beat up as the story progresses, and it shows with the large patches of fur that fall off or the blood on him. I'm not sure I could convince anybody that they're terribly engaging monsters, but I really like the brother-against-brother plot. I really enjoyed watching this one, and anybody who enjoyed it as a child should find it and relive the memories.
Great. Now I've ruined the magic!

The Lady from Shanghai

1947 noir

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Michael O'Hara pretends to be an Irish American to fulfill his ultimate desire--getting Rita Hayworth in a funhouse so that he can trick himself into thinking there are hundreds of Rita Hayworths and have the ultimate orgasmic experience. Oh, the mess those carnival workers are up against!

Another Orson Welles' movie I like more than the more highly-regarded Citizen Kane and Ambersons. Much is made of the brilliant[ly goofy] funhouse scene, but this whole thing is shot with an ease and genius that makes every single scene great to watch. The performances are terrific, especially if you can ignore Orson's silly accent and too-pretty face, and that Rita Hayworth sure was easy on the eyes. I really liked Glenn Anders' George Grisby, an overly-crazed performance displayed mostly in almost uncomfortable close-ups. This whole thing has this awkward profundity, exceptionally well written and literary, but obviously pretty tongue-in-cheek. I laugh every time I think about Welles' delivery of "Well, I came to. . .in the crazy house!" and the beyond-nutty courtroom scene (more ludicrous than A Place in the Sun's, I'll admit) is almost hilarious.