The Big Lebowski

1998 movie

Rating: 20/20

I don't remember what I wrote about this movie the last time I saw it (not on my birthday), but I probably don't have much to add. I would like to say that I just love that the movie ends with that Townes Van Zandt cover of the Rolling Stones' song. It reminds me that I need to find that Townes covers album. Dylan didn't make it through fifteen minutes, so I had to disown him.

Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster

1965 sci-fi horror movie

Rating: 4/20

Plot: Martian invaders, coming to our planet in order to find women suitable for breeding for repopulation purposes, shoot down NASA's lastest creation, a Frankenstein astronaut. Puerto Rico is terrorized by both while some moped-riding scientists try to find their robot and stop the aliens.

Terrific low-budget movie! This has absolutely everything you could want in a movie--a spaceship that is much larger on the inside than it is on the outside; a scary title monster (see poster), in the movie for probably less than two minutes; the title Frankenstein played by Robert Reilly, a guy who knew he had nothing more to achieve in acting after this performance and didn't act in a movie again for twenty-six years; bikini girls dancing to raunchy rock 'n' roll music; awkward pauses. And check out these two, Martian characters who creepily stare directly into the camera as they deliver their lines:

Sadly, this was director Robert Gaffney's lone movie. Again, it's gotta be a situation where the man realized that he had hit the pinnacle and wanted to leave while on top. This movie isn't as bad as Manos, Plan 9, Yucca Flats, or even It's Alive! that I watched last week. But it's still highly recommended for fans of bad movies.

Room Service

1938 Marx Brothers movie

Rating: 12/20

Plot: A theater producer tries to con hotel management into letting him keep his room despite his lack of resources. At the same time, he works with his colleagues (not surprisingly, a mute guy and an Italian immigrant) to procure a turkey.

This is very stagy, and although there are a handful of funny moments (the aforementioned turkey in what is one of the dopiest special effects of all time, a bit involving poisoning), you really have to wait a while to get to them. There's actually very little interaction between the "brothers" and none of them seem particularly inspired in this one. There's no cutting loose, so it's like the Marx Brothers in a box. I really doubt any single moment in Room Service will be brought up in a discussion about class Marx moments. It's disappointing because there was potential with the story.


1960 horror film

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A student's life unravels after he and a friend are involved in a hit-and-run accident. He and seemingly everybody he knows then winds up in hell. Oh, snap!

Definitely a more interesting movie than it is a good one, Jigoku reminds me a lot of those old propaganda films warning teenagers about what will happen if you experiment with weed. Here, the lesson is that you should choose your friends wisely and not befriend people who will trick you into killing people. It's ultimately just as silly as Dwain Esper's 30's "educational" films or Reefer Madness. It's really almost two separate films with the first half building sinful characters and the second half punishing them. The second half, of course, is the more interesting half with some low-budget Boschian imagery with lots of severed limbs, rivers of blood, and screaming. The visuals are surrealistic and gross (in fact, this is supposedly the first "gore" film) but they're not any scarier or more innovative than the depictions of hell in films that were made much earlier. Disjointed storytelling in the first half of the movie actually makes that a sort of weird experience, too, like watching off-kilter melodrama. Jigoku leans heavily on color symbolism and also employs some pretty inventive camera angles. This is much better than that horrible What Dreams May Come movie.

The Cave of Silken Web

1967 Shaw bros. psychedelic fantasy

Rating: 11/20

Plot: A journeying monk is lured into a cave occupied by sinister devil women who want to boil and eat him in order to gain immortality. His posse--a monkey man, a pig man, and a regular guy--have to act fast to save him.
Wackiness abounds in this Shaw Brothers' production, much more in the fantasy realm than in the kung-fu one. It's colorful and odd enough to make me ask, "What the hell am I watching here?" Really cheapo special effects and cartoony sound effects simulate magic while a smattering of dancey fight scenes and some goofy musical numbers help keep the pace incoherently swift. It's definitely one of those plots you just have to let happen. Nothing makes sense logically, and in a story where everybody's a shapeshifter, there's going to be some confusion. But although this isn't what I expected when I thought I'd resurrect Kung-Furiday, it wasn't a terrible way to spend an hour and a half.

It's Alive!

1969 worst movie ever contender

Rating: 1/20

Plot: A vacationing couple drives off the beaten path and right into the clutches of a deranged amateur zookeeper who puts them in a cage inside of a cave to later be fed to a Massasaurus, an aquatic dinosaur he keeps as a pet.

I don't know who this Larry Buchanan fellow is, but when I can safely put him in the same category as Ed Wood or mention him in the same sentences as Manos: The Hands of Fate, you should figure that he's pretty special. The level of ineptitude in this, easily the worst movie I've seen all year, is stunning. It starts with Yucca Flats style narration before showcasing the worst acting I've seen in recent memory (perhaps ever) with the delivery of poorly-written material seeming like it's being read by people who barely know how to read. The pacing, the poor lighting, the sound (to say it sounds like it was recorded in a cave is being too nice since a lot of it was recorded in a cave; most of it sounds like it was recorded in a safe inside a cave), and this otherworldly pointlessness really do contribute to make this one of the few films you can compare to Manos. But it reaches a whole new level of suck when you finally get to see the "it" in the title--a reptilian creature, "giant" in zookeeper description only, that looks to be a small child's art project made from leftover craft supplies, a couple ping pong balls, and garbage. Another highlight is an excruciatingly dull flashback in which the zookeeper's significant other details her arrival and subsequent torture, torture which escalates from being fed mice to being awakened rudely with a whistle. At one point, she attempts to run away and says, "It was like I was on a treadmill in some horrible nightmare," a description which could also accurately describe the experience of watching this movie. I wanted to take another full point away from my final rating when the movie ended with "The End?" but rules are rules and 0's or negative ratings aren't permitted. It comes close to earning it though. There are bad movies that aren't entertaining and bad movies that are worth watching again and again and then there's It's Alive! which is bad in an entirely new way--it's bad in a way that is almost disturbing, the product of what I think must have been a deranged mind. Seriously, something ain't right with Larry Buchanan, and yes, that makes me want to watch more of the nearly thirty movies (!) the guy directed.

Le Doulos

1962 French crime drama

Rating: 16/20

Plot: After showing up at a party wearing nearly identical hats, some French guys decide that they'll be seen as unoriginal. Instead of handling the problem like the mature adults that they are, they decide to kill each other.

Another hyper-cool and ultra-stylish French gangsta flick from Jean-Pierre Melville. The characters' motivations aren't always well-defined, at least in the beginning, which makes the plot a little confusing until things unfold completely at the end. Every character is duplicitous which makes for an almost out-of-control series of plot twists in an otherwise tidy and tight little story. Melville's visual flair, a sort of artful grittiness, is evident from the very first scene, and there's something really addictive about the unrelenting seedy tone this sustains throughout. I'm really starting to think that Jean-Paul Belmondo just might be the coolest actor of all time, but I think I might get him confused with another guy some times. Cool, cool stuff.

Looking for Richard

1996 documentary

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Aging actor Al Pacino pretends to appreciate Shakespeare as a ploy to get into Winona Ryder's pants. It works, but the joke's on him because all he really needed to do was front a 1990's alternative rock band at least as good as The Lemonheads which probably would have been much easier than gathering together all of these actors (pronounced here so that the second syllable pretentiously rhymes with "bores" instead of "burrs") and literary scholars (pronounced in the normal way). She also ends up stealing a few of his props.

It was great watching Pacino's enthusiasm for Richard III here. I'm not sure how much this succeeds in making the play more accessible or relevent to the (m)asses. In fact, this particular ass was just as confused as ever about what was going on in this play, especially the first act. There are so many characters, and I'm so far removed from the historical context. But it is still a highly entertaining glimpse at the heart and soul behind the scenes of putting on a production of Shakespeare's work. I would have liked to see more interviews with regular folk and, oddly enough, less of the Shakespeare since the play has the look of a really cheap PBS production. I did enjoy watching the performers showing off their acting chops, however, and Pacino's ever-shifting hunchback and gimpy arm was pretty funny. I also liked seeing somebody doing Shakespeare with a backwards baseball cap.
This was a Cory recommendation.

The Narrow Margin

1952 train movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A cop is assigned to escort a witness, the wife of a mobster, to Los Angeles via train.

Taut, suspenseful thriller that supports my theory that movies are better if they take place on trains. Part of me wishes this was longer although the other part of me thinks that the sub-80 minute length is just about perfect. This is stylish without being overtly stylish, and I especially liked the lack of soundtrack (the train noises being a suitable substitution) and camera work which made it impossible to ignore the closed-in spaces the good guys and bad guys were forced to share. Both gave the story a sense of realism that the occasional goofy acting and silly plot twists couldn't take away from. A nice crisp story with some clever dialogue and good characters. One question though: Why does the cop spend so much time wandering around the train? Wouldn't the woman have been a lot safer if he had just stayed with her behind locked doors the entire time?

A WR recommendation.

Last Year at Marienbad

1961 dream

Rating: 18/20

Plot: At a sprawling luxurious hotel, a man attempts to convince a woman that she needs to run off with him because they met and had an affair last year or some other time at the same place or maybe a different place.

First off, this is one of the most beautiful and most beautifully mysterious movies I've ever seen. Second off, it's definitely not for all tastes. For most, it might be frustratingly disconnected, exhaustingly redundant, and teasingly inconclusive. For me, this movie, with its gentle and repetitive narration, liturgical organ soundtrack, deliberate pacing, and and fragile textures is a hypnotic riddle from beginning to end and unlike anything else I've seen before. It was like falling asleep and waking up in Andre Breton's duffel bag or a haunted house of mirrors. Enigmatic and surreal, Last Year at Marienbad demands multiple viewings, but I'm almost positive that multiple viewings would do very little to help me unravel this bad boy. Ghost story? Sci-fi time travel nonsense? Esoteric romantic comedy? Murder mystery? It's gorgeous enough to be seen by everybody (shot by Peter Greenaway's cinematographer Sacha Vierny) and incomprehensible and pretentious enough to be loved by all!

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One

1968 meta shit

Rating: 15/20

Plot: William Greaves directs an inane conversation in Central Park. Meanwhile, his crew is filmed filming the inane conversation. A few times, the crew is shown sitting around discussing Greaves' ineptitude.

I won't pretend I know exactly what's going on here. Like Greaves' film crew, I'm a little more than perplexed by the shiznit taking place in the park, but it's a completely captivating look at the creative process and entertaining. It's very nearly a product of its time (scratching the surface of race relations, feminist issues, and being a fag in 1960's America) but retains relevance because of the questions it brings up about the process of creating a movie and watchability because of its playfulness. Miles Davis adds a fusiony soundtrack. I especially liked the philosophical homeless guy interviewed near the end of the movie. In a way, I wish there would have been more regular inhabitants of Central Park interviewed or shown wandering through the shoot, but perhaps Greaves was saving that for the four sequels that were supposed to come out following the success of this first installment. This is a challenging chunk of filmed anarchy that might serve as an interesting companion piece to Man with a Movie Camera.


1971 television movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A guy with a red car is terrorized by a truck driver in a scary-looking truck.

Steven Spielberg's first feature-length film (released in theaters about a decade later after being shown on television) is a pretty dang good psychological thriller with some deft camera work, a haunting score, and a building sense of realistic tension. The truck, since Spielberg wisely never shows much of the human behind the wheel, becomes the antagonist, and like all good thrillers, it (unexpectedly) is a great, menacing one. As weird as it sounds, the truck's performance is very good, and I'm sure that the truck could have gone on to have a very good career in acting if not for the typecasting and the addiction to heroin. There's a point in the movie where the whole big rig vs. Dennis Weaver conflict becomes a bit too silly, but the movie's just the right length and never drives into overly-precious territory. I wish I would have had Convoy ready to pop in as part of a double feature after this one. Or Maximum Overdrive!

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

2008 documentary

Rating: 10/20

Plot: Did you know that academic types who even think the words "intelligent design" are being persecuted by the rest of the scientific community? They're losing their jobs, finding themselves blacklisted, and being made fun of at parties. Ben Stein found out and doesn't like it one bit. The result? He gets all bitchy and makes a documentary about it.

Whiny propaganda spotted with fairly obvious pop culture allusions and some distracting historical footage, this fails to either entertain or enlighten. So entirely one sided, Stein spends almost the entire movie pulling half-evolved rabbits out of his ass, stacking the deck with Fascists and Nazi cards before fanning them out and saying, "Pick a card, any card," in that nasally voice of his. I watched this in four installments, partly because it's not all that interesting but mostly because of it's pretty gross and insulting, regardless of your views on Darwinism, intelligent design, or Ferris Bueller. The Holocaust? C'mon, Stein! Who died and made Ben Stein Michael Moore anyway? I think I'd rather spend a couple hours watching a creationist and a monkey tickle-fight each other.

The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico

2005 honky-tonkumentary (according to the poster)

Rating: 16/20

Plot: This mockumentary uses interviews, home footage, and concert video to trace the life and career of country music outlaw Guy Terrifico, a talented singer-songwriter who never actually released a finished album but who likely humped more drums than any other performer in the history of recorded music.

Sure, it's a musical mockumentary, but it is not just another This is Spinal Tap rip-off. This doesn't follow Guy Terrifico around (indeed, the title character is supposedly deceased) but instead is a very realistic look back at those who loved, hated, and both loved and hated the Haggardesque character. Merle Haggard and Kris Kirstofferson, both in the movie, are obvious peers, although the music a lot of the times sounds a little like Dylan when Dylan's straight and lucid. I liked the music enough to want to find the soundtrack. I really loved the performances. This is a low-key production and it's not actually obvious for a while that it's even about a fictional persona. The comedy is subtle and natural even with a few more slapstick moments and zanier photographs, and nothing here is really any goofier or more difficult to believe than the stuff in the Townes Van Zandt documentary or in Dig!. Peter Dinklage's appearance gives things away early on though. A very laidback but also very funny faux-documentary.

A Day at the Races

1937 Marx bro. movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Three of the Marx Brothers (Grabbo, Bongo, and Crappo) try to save a sanitarium from financial ruin. A race horse named High-Hat, a vet posing as a people doctor, and a pair of con men are somehow involved.

This took a little while to gain some momentum, but it ended up being a good Marx Brothers' flick. It's still bogged down a little with three or four too many musical numbers (or however many musical numbers it has) although as always, I enjoy watching the Brothers themselves handle the instruments. And I especially enjoyed watching Harpo manhandle a piano. I sure missed Zeppo. There are a handful of really good bits throughout, and I'm finally able to finger the exact reason why I like the Marxes so much--they are completely unlikable as human beings and simultaneously have this misanthropy that I think is lovable.

No Limit: A Search for the American Dream on the Poker Tournament Trail

2006 dorkumentary

Rating: 6/20

Plot: Their romantic relationship has failed. Their fledgling film company is failing. So they decide to try to capitalize on the new interest in poker and make a documentary about it. Susan, who claims to be a good player with previous tournament success, joins several tournaments, while Rob the filmmaker, a guy who knows absolutely nothing about the game, documents it on film. With a little luck, they might be able to save their company!

The most entertaining thing about this is watching the annoying woman lose tournament after tournament, blaming it all on really bad luck when it's completely obvious to anybody with even a rudimentary knowledge of the game that she just really sucks. I was rooting against her from the middle of her first tournament (which lasted an entire two hours, by the way) on until I fell asleep somewhere in the middle of her World Series experience. The abundance of whining pounces all over a few interviews with poker pros that are almost interesting, making the whole thing nearly unwatchable. A really terrible waste of time.


1977 family drama

Rating: 20/20 (Dylan: 2/20)

Plot: Surviving in the murkiness of a post-apocalyptic nightmare, Henry spends his days watching radiators and the plump-cheeked women within them and hanging out with his girlfriend Mary. After a visit to Mary's home, he finds out that he's apparently impregnated his girlfriend. They marry, and a mutant worm baby is born. Mary, possibly suffering from post-partum depression, eventually leaves, and Henry begins life as a single father. An obvious influence on Knocked Up.

Dylan's thoughts: Eraserhead was a terrible movie. The amount of time between different characters' dialogue seemed to increase later in the movie. This was annoying and probably used to make the movie seem longer. The movie was supposedly set in a post-apocalyptic world. Most of the weird events, however, seemed to be dreams. It was hard to discern what did actually happen and what wasn't real. The big reason for this was that the "real" parts were just as strange as the dream parts. The plot of the film was very faint. The basics can be slightly understood, but many elements (mostly the dream parts) had little to do with this plot. There were also many parts that seemed repetitive. These were usually in the night scenes and seemed to be a time filler just like the dialogue. The intended humor in the movie was not actually funny. It was a bit random but did not provoke a response. I found it more weird than funny. The acting was also really terrible. This is one of the worst movies my dad has ever forced me to watch.

My thoughts: This, like Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica and the book Trout Fishing in America, is one of the greatest artistic achievements of the 20th Century. And it doesn't even have the word "trout" in the title! This is obviously the type of movie you have to watch with your groin. Your subconscious will get it. That'll explain the internal vibration.

Yo Yo Girl Cop

2006 action clunker

Rating: 9/20

Plot: A juvenile delinquent is recruited by the po-po, given a yo-yo, and sent undercover to a private high school to stop a terrorist group from blowing stuff up or whatever they are trying to do.

It's pretty bad when about a week passes after you've watched something and you can't remember if you even finished the movie. This was hyperkinetic boredom, ultra-modern and technologically stylish in that way that makes me want to stop watching movies before I've started. The main character's thick legs weren't quite enough to keep me interested. This movie might have been better if it had two and a half more explosions in it or if that whole yo-yo thing made any sense whatsoever.

Raising Arizona

1987 comedy

Rating: 17/20 (Dylan: 6/20)

Plot: Lifelong miscreant H.I. McDunnough falls in love with offier-of-the-law Edwina. They eventually marry and move to a trailer seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Once they find out that Edwina can't have children, they decide to steal one of the quintuplets that unpainted furniture tycoon Nathan Arizona and his wife recently brought into the world.

According to Dylan, this is half as good as Pee Wee's Big Adventure. The best thing about this movie is its voice. The Coens borrow from decades of comedies while simultaneously create something that is uniquely their own. The quirky performances, the hammy direction, comic timing which somehow manages to be off and perfect at the same time, some great music. This is refreshingly entertaining from beginning to end. [Censored to hide blasphemous comments writer made about one Nicolas Cage.] Cage looks like a comedic genius in this one. Well, he sort of looks like a comedic genius in Ghost Rider and the Wicker Man remake, too, I guess.


1996 dada practical joke

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Fletcher Munson's a bored guy. He's bored with his marriage, and he's bored with his job as a speechwriter for a quasi-religious organization called Eventualism. That corporation might have a mole, a spy, or both a mole and a spy. Meanwhile, Munson's relationship with his wife deteriorates to the point where she begins to take steps to leave him for a dentist who looks exactly like him.

You've got to love a movie that doesn't need any excuse whatsoever to have a crazed exterminator named Elmo Oxygen who runs around town seducing housewives until he's offered a more exciting movie role and leaves the movie. Or maybe you won't love it. I don't think Steven Soderbergh really gives a shit. I've seen this one thrice now, and although nothing new is really garnered from subsequent viewings, it does help to know that this is the type of movie that you really shouldn't try to "get" and instead just let the thing crawl on top of you and wiggle around in a semi-violent and arguably inappropriate way. It is entertaining, and you will laugh. Or maybe you won't, but Soderbergh won't give a shit about that either. I do really love what this movie has to say about communication and relationships; it toys with language in an interesting way. For a movie allegedly shot without a script and largely improvised, the three distinct parts (showing the speechwriter, dentist, and wife's point of views) come together so well, overlapping in ways that are surprisingly meaningful. This is about as close as you can get to a Pee Wee's Big Adventure for adults, and the world would benefit from having more movies made similarly to this. Or maybe not. Soderbergh wouldn't care.

Pee Wee's Big Adventure

1985 children's movie

Rating: 15/20 (Dylan: 12/20; Emma: 17/20; Abbey: 16/20)

Plot: A borderline psychotic man-child has his prized possession, his bicycle, stolen. The title adventure is had as Pee Wee, following a tip from a fortune teller, heads to the basement of the Alamo to find the bicycle.

Hit and miss entertainment that both children and adults can sort of enjoy. Burton does a good job bringing Pee Wee's world to life for the duration of a full-length film in a way that doesn't become completely obnoxious, filling the screen with lots of color and stuff to look at. There are a few fun spoofs, some clever visual gags, and some memorably bizarre characters. There are also some moments where unfortunately things have been stretched pretty thin, and the climactic scene on a Hollywood set seems pretty derivative. Danny Elfman's score is really good though, and Paul Reubens, an enormously talented shoulda-been, is fun to watch for the most part. As a father, I wish the characters were a little nicer though. It's hard to root for Pee Wee at times because he's not always a very likable guy. Still, this sails along at a great pace and is entertaining even though it lacks the manic imagination of the television series. It also lacks Paul Reubens masturbation, but that's probably good since it's a kid's movie and all.

The Phantom Planet

1961 B-movie

Rating: 8/20

Plot: America is misplacing their astronauts. Another pair of astronauts is sent to a mysterious asteroid so that they can also get lost. One lands safely but is immediately shrunken because of the amount of gravity the planet has or some other scientific explanation like that that I'm just too tired to understand. Captain Frank Chapman joins the fight against

I'm not sure I understand all the shrinking since everybody winds up the same size anyway. It's not like they showed off any special effect brilliance or anything like that. It really adds nothing to the plot. Aside from a few pretty goofy moments, including when the monster from another planet is finally revealed, there's not much to see here. It's pretty typical 60's B-movie mumbo-jumbo, far too talky and with almost no action at all. Avoid it.


1986 horror movie

Rating: 6/20

Plot: The generic Potter family moves into an apartment building. While retrieving a ball, the body of the generic young daughter is taken over by a troll. This sets off a chain of events that I'm not sure I fully understood, but it somehow involved Sonny Bono being turned into foliage, a barely-clad Julia Louis-Dreyfuss prancing around, a little person, and Harry Potter Jr. running around trying to figure out what's wrong with his sister. That's right. The dad's name is Harry Potter in this. There's some battle between the evil trolls and an old woman that I was really too tired to follow.

Nowhere near as entertaining as the deliriously entertaining Troll 2, but it has its moments. It doesn't take itself seriously enough, so the parts that are supposed to be scary fail to scare. Unfortunately, the parts that are supposedly included for comic effect fail to add anything. The troll puppets are pretty funny, especially in the way they barely move, and watching Sonny Bono do his thang is great, but once you've made your way through the first twenty-five minutes or so, you've really seen it all.