But this year's Little Person of the Year award goes to Jordan Prentice, not only for In Bruges but for his work as a groupie in the The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico. If you read my review, I actually credit Peter Dinklage with the performance, just as a reader of mine mistook Prentice for Dinklage in In Bruges. The least I can do is give him the Little Person of the Year award. Sorry, little guy!
Best Performance by an Animal: Josephine the monkey in The Cameraman, The Circus, and The Kid Brother.
Best Lines: "You stink. You're a stinker and you stink." (The Lion in Winter) "Mugwump jism can't be beat." (Naked Lunch) Rex Reed's "Where are my tits?" (Myra Breckinridge) "You fat barrel of monkey spunk." (Shawshank)
Movie Moment Most Likely to Make Me Laugh Outloud at a Funeral If I Accidentally Think about It: Bruno's fears that he's about to pay-per-view Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium because the remote control is wedged in his butt crack.
Most Magical Movie Moment #1: Natalie Portman laughing while Dustin Hoffman dances on bubble wrap in Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium. It's a scene that lasts 15 minutes.
Best Buster Keaton Moments: A tie between the shot in "The Twilight Zone" of a 60-year-old Buster in his underpants and the chase scene in Go West where he's dressed as Beelzebub and running from cattle.
Best Alien: Bug-eyed aliens from Killers from Space.
Best Zombie: Bob in Dawn of the Dead.
Best Documentary: Man with a Movie Camera. Although Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One, Chang, and Herzog's Lessons in Darkness aren't far behind.
Best Reader Comment: "Giving the greatest Disney animated film a 14 is bull$#!^"
Most Magical Movie Moment #2: Watching Buckwheat giving the pope a bath in Harmony Korine's Mister Lonely.
Best Special Ed. Effect: Car hits mannequin in I Married a Monster from Outer Space.
Best Opening Credits: Watchmen.
Best Spoken Words: The way Orson Welles says "a ham sandwich" in F Is for Fake.
Most Magical Movie Moment #3: Chaplin's musical barbershop shaving routine in The Great Dictator.
Best Action Sequence: The climactic chainsaw fight at the end of Motel Hell.
Most Magical Movie Moment #4: Godzilla's victory dance on Planet X in Monster Zero.
Best Movie Dance Scene Not Involving Godzilla: The wonderfully choreographed mice dance in Coraline.
Most Ludicrous Moment: Lois Lane surviving a flight into space in Superman IV: The Quest to Kill a Franchise.
Best Tearjerking Moments: (tie) The first twenty minutes of Up and the last scene in The Straight Story. And almost all of Buster Keaton's Free and Easy.
Most Magical Movie Moment #5: Nicholas Cage laughing at a monkey performing karate in Ghostrider.
Best Chest: Douglas Fairbanks in The Thief of Baghdad.
Funniest Moment Not Involving Nicholas Cage Laughing at a Monkey Performing Karate: The terrorism bit in Jackass II.
Best Line of Dialogue That I Forgot to Include Up There: Jessy from Greaser's Palace: "I bring you a message. Exactly six miles north of Skagg Mountain in the Valley of Pain, there lives an evil devil-monster. His name is Bingo Gas Station Motel Cheeseburger with a Side of Aircraft Noise and You'll Be Gary Indiana. And he loves to hurt people. The last time I saw Bingo Gas Station Motel Cheeseburger with a Side of Aircraft Noise and You'll Be Gary Indiana, he told me what he wants to do. He wants to come down here and kill each and every one of you. But I said to him, "Bingo, wait a minute!" And the reason I said that is because I believe in you people. I believe you can do the job. I believe you can help each other. I believe you can make this world a better place to live in. That's it."
Worst Acting: Tim Roth in The Incredible Hulk? Tim Roth in Four Rooms? Nic Cage in Ghostrider or anything else I watched with Nic Cage? The gardener in The Mad Monster? Nope. It's Joe Don Baker in Final Justice. When you suck worse than Nic Cage, you know you suck.
Best Samurai Moment: The battle with skiing ninjas in White Heaven in Hell, the final installment of the Lone Wolf and Cub series.
Most Horrifying Moment: The sight of Sean Connery in a red diaper in Zardoz.
Most Magical Movie Moment #6: Watching the T-Rex eat a little person in The Valley of Gwangi.
Most Magical Movie Moment #7: Brad Pitt's final scene in Burn After Reading. The smile does it.
Another Tearjerking Moment That I Almost Forgot: Jek Porkin's death in Star Wars: A New Hope.
Random Thing That's Kind of Sad: That I know the name "Jek Porkins" at all.
Best Sex Scene of the Year: Tough one this year. There was Jan Svankmajer's animated meat sex in the short called "Meat". Svankmajer's man-on-seven-foot-puppet sex scene in Faust was pretty hot. And how can anybody forget the extremely erotic scene in Watchmen or the artfully steamy scene in The Brown Bunny? The absurd corncob scene in Troll 2 was about as sexy as it gets. The award, however, goes to Matthew Modine and a bird in Birdy.
Best Forehead: Another close one! Tom Hanks in Apollo 13? Tim Robbins in Shawshank? Nic Cage in Ghostrider? Nope! The award goes to Orson Welles for the work his forehead did in The Third Man.
Movie That Most Missed Richard Harris: Whatever Harry Potter movie I saw this year.
Best Musical Act: It's hard to beat Tom Waits holding a burning umbrella while performing "9th and Hennepin" in Big Time, and Robyn Hitchcock was great to see as a wedding singer in Rachel Getting Married. It's always great seeing Chico and Harpo do their thing, especially in A Day at the Races when Harpo completely destroys a piano. The hyperkinetic musicians from Underground deserve mention. The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne's marching band with female genitalia for heads sure was something. And the chimney sweeps' spontaneous musical number from Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? was a beautiful moment. And the Woman in the Radiator singing "In Heaven Everything Is Fine" in Eraserhead is just classic. However, nothing tops the piano/drums duo that Werner Herzog found in a brothel for Fata Morgana.
Most Magical Movie Moment # 8: The hobgoblins-stealing-golf-cart scene from Hobgoblins.
Best Superhero Movie: Watchmen
Best Monster: Lots to choose from here. Harryhausen's octopus, the "It" from It Came from Beneath the Sea. Harryhausen's creatures in the aforementioned Gwangi. Harryhausen's horned cyclops with fuzzy legs in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. Harryhausen's skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts. The dinosaur puppets in Future War. Those fantastic and terrifying trash bags in Attack of the Giant Leeches. "Frankenstein" in Frankenstein vs. the Space Monster. The aliens in that one are really cool, too. The ridiculous troll puppets in Troll and Troll 2. The monstrosities from Big Man Japan. King Ghidorah? The stop-motion turtles in Laserblast. The twin gargantua from War of the Gargantuas. Werewolf's werewolf. The rubbery phantom in The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues. The rubbery monster in Zaat? The rubbery monster in It's Alive!. They're all so good that I can't pick a winner.
Best Chase Scene: Harold Lloyd's in Speedy.
Best Animation: I saw about 30 animated movies this year. The very best were likely Norshteyn's "Tale of Tales" and Khrjanovsky's "Glass Harmonica" from the Russian animation compilations. Spirited Away got the highest rating, but I'd seen that already. So the award goes to The Adventures of Prince Achmed from 1926. Coraline isn't far behind. Beauty and the Beast, however, is.
Most Magical Movie Moment #9: Watching Charley Bowers' doll come to life in one of his 1920's short.
Movie Moment That Filled Me with Nostalgia Like No Other: Harrey Caray's explanation of where Mark Grudzielanek's nickname (G-man) came from. Or, his home run call of a ball rolling between two outfielders.
Best Opening Scene Not in a Pixar Movie: The opening scene of The Killers.
Most Magical Movie Moment #10: The funhouse scene at the end of The Lady from Shanghai.
Best Actress: Tura Santana as Varla in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! There is no second place.
Best Actor: Matti Pellonpaa in various things. He's my new favorite actor. But there were a lot of great performances this year: Kumar Pallara in Bottle Rocket, Coogan in Hamlet 2, Crispin Glover in everything he's in, Shintaro Katsu as Zatoichi, Don Knotts in The Private Eyes, Joe Estevez's brilliance in Soultaker, Angus Scrimm's menacing performance as the Tall Man in Phantasm, Bob Dylan in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Slim Pickens in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Michael Bryer as the hippie in Laserblast (his only acting performance), Jean-Paul Belmondo in Le Doulos, Sonny Bono as both man and foliage in Troll, Vincent Price in everything he was in, Bela Lugosi in Bride of the Monster, and Tor Johnson in both Bride and Plan 9. Whew.
Most Magical Movie Moment #11: The wacky training scene from Mr. Freedom. Actually, lots of Mr. Freedom was magical.
Most Magical Movie Moment #12-20: Various amazing and/or impossible shots in I Am Cuba.
A Year of Great Villains: The Great Dictator, Charles Muntz (Christoper Plummer's voice in Up), Shelly Winters in Cleopatra Jones, the Tall Man, Gene Hackman as Lex Luther in Superman IV: The Quest to Make You Hate Superman Movies, the deep voice in Alphaville, the producers of The Cannonball Run, Bill from the Kill Bill movies, Audrey Jr. in The Little Shop of Horrors, the creepy dude in Spoorloos, General Paul Mireau in Paths of Glory, David Cronenburg, the Other Mommy in Coraline, the truck in Spielberg's Duel, the weird children in Village of the Damned, the evil aliens in Plan 9 or Frankenstein Vs. the Space Monster, the sausage makin' farmer in Motel Hell, the religious right in One Nation Under God, A Clockwork Orange's Alex, Cruella Deville in 101 Dalmations, and W. from W.
Worst Movie of the Year: Take your pick from these genuinely bad movies with absolutely no entertainment value: the Rollerball remake, My Name Is Bruce, the exploitative How's Your News, Ghostrider, Zombie Strippers, Monster Squad, Cats and Dogs, Final Justice, The Cannonball Run, Cronenburg's eXistenZ or Crash, Call of the Cthulhu. It was an ugly, ugly year. I'll have to give the title of Worst Movie of the Year to Begotten, mostly because it's a terrible movie but also because a reader insulted me after I wrote about not liking the movie. Congratulations, Begotten. You're the worst piece of crap I subjected myself to this year.
Most Unpleasant Movie Experience of the Year: That honor goes to another "Worst Movie" contender--Zu Warriors. I still can't wash the taste of that one out of my mouth.
Best Worst Movie of the Year (aka The Manos Award): Zaat, Monster-a-Go-Go, Future War, Laserblast, Hobgoblins, Plan 9 from Outer Space, The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues, Werewolf, Attack of the Giant Leeches. Those are all bad movies. Really bad movies. But they were at least entertaining movies. I figured Troll 2 would win the Manos Award without a fight this year, but then I saw It's Alive! and Frankenstein vs. the Space Monster in the same week and they blew me away with their ineptitude. I'm giving the Manos Award to It's Alive! though simply because of the "The End?" at the end of it and the use of an exclamation point in the title.
Best Movies That I Had Never Seen Before of the Year: Lots of contenders
Last Year at Marienbad
Paths of Glory
My Life As a Dog
Cleo from 5 to 7
I Am Cuba
Man with a Movie Camera
Synecdoche, New York
The Spirit of the Beehive
The Last Laugh
The Adventures of Prince Achmed
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
But the best new-to-Shane movie of the year is The Color of Pomegranates. That's right, anonymous. Eat it.
My readership increased from 4 1/2 to 5 1/2. Very pleasing.
My most common rating was, once again, 16. I only gave three 19's and three 1's.
Movie I watched the most: Up. And I cried both times.
There were two movies that I started but could not finish.
Average rating (again, assuming my math is correct): 12.6, down a few tenths from last year. I did intentionally watch a lot of terrible movies this year though.
And this isn't a statistic, but I am going to start another blog in 2010 while continuing this one. It's going to be devoted to ice creams. The goal => 365 ice creams in 2010.
Thanks for reading, everybody!
Rating: 4/20 (Dylan: 2/20; Sarah: 2/20)
Plot: People start disappearing mysteriously in a friendly swampland community. The local law enforcement refuses to believe that it's the result of anything but human foul play, but a game warden named Steve believes there's something else in them waters.
The giant leeches look like floating meat-filled trash bags that somebody has glued some rubber things on. It's not a pretty sight. But I'll admit that I was strangely aroused at the sight of the meat-filled trash bags on top of the hillbilly victims. Who wouldn't be? I'm not sure the trash bags looked anything like leeches. In fact, it seemed like the producers of this thing (Roger Corman and his brother Gene were involved although they didn't direct this--that would be Bernard Kowalski who would go on to direct seven episodes of Knightrider) couldn't decide early on what the monster in the water was as the characters kept calling the thing an octopus or squid. Regardless, they weren't exactly terrifying. More terrifying was the amount of chest hair that Steve the game warden had. It was like the guy was wearing a sweater, and a horrifying sequel to this called Attack of Attack of the Giant Leeches' Steve's Chest Hair should have been made. There's one poorly-edited scene in particular that made this worth popping in. Two characters are rowing around looking for the leeches (which they think are swamp octopii) and one of them says, "Let's look over in them reeds." Then there's a shot of an oar poking at some of them reeds. Then there's a shot of the boat in the middle of the swamp. The characters exchange a few lines and then one of them says, "Let's look over in them reeds" again. Then back to the oar poking at the reeds. It's fantastic editing.
I'm going to try to learn a little something from each movie I watch from now on. Here's what I learned from Attack of the Giant Leeches: Giant leeches are ten times more dangerous when they're wounded. Take that bit of information with you the next time you go camping near a swamp.
Plot: French officer Andre Duvalier wanders lost on a beach. He spots cleavage and tries to chase it down. "Come back here, cleavage!" he screams. Then a bird attacks him. He eventually loses the woman and finds himself in an old lady's house with (Warning: Here comes some terror!) THE SAME BIRD THAT ATTACKED HIM. She tells him of a castle with the Baron So-and-So in it, and he decides to go there to look for the woman. Then, there's all kinds of terror. And then there's even more terror!
It's really not hard to believe that this was written and shot in just four days using the same set as the just-finished The Raven. Actually, it is hard to believe that this was written at all. It's almost completely incomprehensible, almost more the story of Jack Nicholson drowning in a gigantic cauldron of plotless sludge than anything else. It's also hard to believe that it took not only Roger Corman but four other directors (including Coppola and Bogdanovich) to complete this mess. But perhaps that's why it's the mess that it is. This lacks the atmosphere of the Poe movies, and although Nicholson is pretty good (and fun to watch as he's starting to discover his voice), Karloff looks bored and confused in his scenes. The shocking finale, involving a bunch of water and a character who slowly turns into what I believe is chocolate pudding, is a laugher, but it's not worth sitting through the rest of the boring seventy-some minutes to get to it. The lesson we can take from The Terror? I think it's that you have to write the movie before you shoot it.
Plot: Eric remarries following the accidental but suspicious skull-bashing and drowning death of his wife. He removes the furniture from the home, I think because it reminds him of his first wife, but leaves a painting of her and builds an elaborately silly grave for her. And he keeps the peacocks. Oh, and he apparently keeps his wife's skull. He also keeps the gardener, Mickey, who was great friends with the first wife. Once new spouse Jenni moves in, she starts getting creeped out by disappearing peacocks, spontaneously appearing skulls, limping gardeners, and scary sound effects. Has the ghost of the first wife come to haunt the newlyweds or is something more sinister going on? Only the peacocks know the truth.
This opens with a narrator audaciously promising a free casket to anybody who dies of fright while watching The Screaming Skull. Although there's one scene that does effectively create adequate suspense with little more than weird lighting and well-utilized sound effects, there's not much in here that will likely scare anybody to death. The producers probably should have offered a free coffin to anybody who was bored to death instead. There are parts of this that reminded me of Manos which, depending on your taste for movies that are both terrible and entertaining, could be both a good and bad thing. The music is similar to Manos, the plot makes about as much sense, and you get the impression that this might have been made by somebody with mental problems. There's also the character of the Mickey the halfwit gardener played by the director Alex Nichol in a performance that can only be described as Torgo-esque. It's a great character and a terrific performance. Goofiness abounds as a multitude of skulls float around and attack characters during an exciting denouement. There's also a ridiculous ghost that falls apart after it's hit by a thrown chair. It was terrifying. In fact, I think I almost died during that scene.
Rating: 13/20 (Jen: 16/20; Becky: 18/20; Tom: 8/20)
Plot: An extremely whiny wannabe writer named Julie moves to Queens with her supportive and loving husband. She hates her friends and her job and doesn't understand why nobody else thinks she's the most important person on the planet. Since all egomaniacal whiny wannabe writers wind up starting blogs, she decides to start her own, a three hundred and sixty-five day adventure in which she'll cook all five hundred and some recipes in the Julia Child cookbook. Her irritating story is juxtaposed with Julia Child's life with her own supportive and loving husband and her developing interest in cooking. The two meet, and the bitter elderly Julia Child (***spoiler alert***) defeats Julie in an epic fight with utensils and rolling pins and then forces her husband to watch as she debones her and devours her lifeless carcass while giggling madly through blood-stained false teeth.
I would have really liked this if it was just called Julia. Meryl Streep is great in her portrayal of the quirky and fascinating Childs. There's some humorous banter between her and her husband, and there are also some very touching moments as well. When the movie focused on Julia Childs, this was actually good. Unfortunately, there's a Julie in the story, too. She wrote the blog, she turned the blog into the book, and the book and blog gave her the easy fame she longed for. If the character in the movie is anything like the real person, as I suspect is the case, then the real person is irritating, pretentious, and hopelessly self-centered. The most revealing part of her story is when she finds out that Julia Childs hates her. It was easy to see why. Almost everything she says is irritating, and every minute detail of her life is blown up into a major drama. As my faithful readers know, I'm not generally a hateful fellow, but I genuinely hope that people start randomly attacking her with food at all her future speaking engagements. Julie is played by the mousy Amy Adams, sort of a Meg Ryan lite. And it's hard to imagine an actress lighter and fluffier than Meg Ryan. This is the type of role that will likely cause me to never give her a fair chance in another movie. Actually, her annoying character in this might cause me to completely avoid any future Amy Adams movies unless Crispin Glover or Vincent Price happens to be in them as well. So, to sum it all up: Meryl Streep is great. Somebody needs to slap around Julie Powell. Oh, one final note. If you watch this hoping to see a Julia Child sex scene, expect to be disappointed. Close counts only in horseshoes and hand grenades and not in Julia Child sex scenes.
Plot: There are mysterious happenings near the beachside campus of a two-room oceanography university. The government sends two men--an FBI guy and a scientist--to run around the beach in their suits and try to figure out what's going on. And what's going on? It's hard to tell. There's a guy shooting harpoons at people. There's a dopey-looking man-sized monster bobbing around and occasionally groping unsuspecting swimmers and boaters. There's a mysterious beam of radioactivity. And a suspicious guy with a suspicious mustache.
This is the second dopiest rubber monster I've seen all year, I think, second only to the similar thing that shuffled through the dreadful Zaat. The scariest thing about this movie and its monster was actually that the "phantom" sort of looked like Jar-Jar Binks in some shots, and I thought I was accidentally watching a film about Gungans. The plot for this one wasn't easy to follow, probably because it didn't interest me enough to even care but also because the characters' motivations weren't always clear. There were double crosses all over the place, but I wasn't always sure who was being crossed. There are some unintentionally humorous bits, mostly because of Wood-esque dialogue and the monster effects, but this is the type of movie that I will forget that I watched in a couple days.
Plot: Poor clumsy Seymour is about to lose his job at a little shop of flowers owned by Gravis Mushnick. That wouldn't be good because he's got to take care of his mother and Audrey, the woman he loves, works there. In his spare time at home, he is nurturing a flower of his own that he brings into the shop with the hope that Mushnick won't get rid of him. Mushnick's intrigued because a customer who comes in to devour flowers tells him it's intriguing, and Seymour gets a week to see what he can do with the plant. Seymour soon learns that the only way to make the plant, which he names Audrey Junior, grow is to feed it humans. Oh, snap!
This was notoriously shot in just two days. That's evident, but not necessarily in a bad way. The participants look like they're having fun, and the production, although cheap and dirty, has a free and lackadaisical quality that makes it fun for the audience. The central idea is about as weird as it gets, but the dialogue is filled with some really bizarre bits of black, absurdist humor. At times, the dialogue almost seems like something from a Marx Brothers movie. The acting's as bad as you'd expect from actors who are only given a single take, but again, that sort of adds to the fun. Jack Nicholson has a small, and really utterly pointless, role as masochistic dental patient Wilbur Force that's also fun to watch and arguably better than anything he's done in the last ten years. It's not hard to see how somebody could watch this and not think, "Man, this would be really great as a musical!" The movie's also got a nice message although you really feel sorry for Seymour at the end. Another thing I like (and another Marx-ish [not Marxist] touch) are the odd character names: Burson Fouch, Siddie Shiva, Hortense Feutchwanger, Frank Stoolie, Dr. Foebus Farb.
Rating: 10/20 (Dylan: 6/20; Emma 2/20; Random Guy Sitting Next to Me on the Plane: 14/20)
Plot: Orphan Buddy, intrigued by Santa's sack, crawls in while the jolly old elf is busying himself under the orphanage Christmas tree and is dashed away to the North Pole. He's adopted by Papa Elf and tries his best to make toys and perform other elf tasks, but it becomes obvious to him, because of his size and lack of elf skills, that he isn't an elf. He decides to travel to New York City and find his real father.
As a displaced-person-trying-comically-to-adapt-to-his-new-surroundings comedy (i.e. Crocodile Dundee, the television series Perfect Strangers, and seemingly anything with Pauly Shore in it), this is an original and humorous idea, and I suppose Will Ferrell is the perfect man to fit those tights. Unfortunately, not much of the actual writing is original. This is as predictable as it gets. I understand that it really has to be--it's a Christmas story and it's got to have a happy ending where the elf man gets the girl, the grouchy guy becomes a better father, and Christmas is saved--but it really makes everything way too light and fluffy. Like all Will Ferrell movies, a handful of the material works and brings, at the very least, a grin while the majority of the jokes and slapstick moments and quotables make you wonder not only why you continue watching the movie but why you even should go on living. The second half of the movie is especially cringe-worthy. You frolic along with Buddy through an exposition, and then it feels like somebody, probably James Caan, has kidnapped you, put you in a sleigh, and crashed through a candy cane forest to hurry toward an action-packed climax. Dizzying! You watch because you want to checkmark your list of predictions and because you're on an airplane and have nothing better to do. At least this wasn't as bad as the worst movie I've seen on an airplane--The Polar Express--which I still suspect was part of some ingenious terrorist attack. The one question I'm left with after watching Elf: Was Bob Newhart embarrassed after his participation in this movie?
Rating: 14/20 (Jen: 16/20)
Plot: Batman and Robin must save the world from four brilliant villains--the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler, and Catwoman. That's right. Not just one villain. Not even just two or three. Four villains! And not just Gotham City. Not just America. The entire world!
Best Batman movie ever made or, as anonymous says, "the energizer bunny of bad movies"? Is Adam West's performance the greatest performance in any Batman movie? And is the shark attack scene the most thrilling action sequence in Batman movie history? Discuss.
Plot: Two lovebirds, Rex and Saskia, are on holiday in France to do some cycling and bickering. While at a gas station, Saskia is abducted by a sociopath professor. Rex obsesses for the next three years, eventually getting the attention of Raymond, the abductor. They meet, and Raymond promises Rex that he'll give him the details of what happened to his girlfriend if he travels to France with him.
It took me a while for me to understand what's good about this. The music sickened me, and visually, it resembled something produced cheaply for television. Saskia blah-blah-blahed about some dumb dream, and they got gas several times. I had gas, too. I was beginning to lose my patience, wondering if this would remain as exciting as a road trip with people you don't necessarily like to talk to. Gradually, however, this got its hooks in me, and I was drawn into the mystery of the story and the passions/obsessions of both Rex and Raymond. And when Raymond begins detailing for Rex, I was completely captivated. It's impossible not to share Rex's plight from the moment he meets Raymond until the end of the movie. I got used to the bad music and 80s look of the movie. What was more difficult to get used to was the genuine feeling of unease Spoorloos gives you.
Rating: 7/20 (Jen: 3/20)
Plot: Boris is a curmudgeon, a misanthropic former near-Nobel winning physicist who lives alone in a messy apartment following his divorce. A cute runaway from the South winds up on his doorstep. She needs food and shelter, and he decides to help. They sort of fall in love. Then a bunch of other things happen, none of them the least bit funny.
I like Larry David. I really do. So I was pretty excited when I read that he was making a film with Woody Allen. I thought it would be a perfect hilarious storm of neuroses. But oh, Woody. This is a stinker. I'm not going to blame Larry David, although he should have probably read the script and decided on his own, "I better turn this down. I don't think I can convince anybody that I'm a genius. Heck, I don't even think I can convince anybody that I'm an actor." Ninety minutes of movie and my wife and I didn't laugh a single time. That would have been fine if it was clever or sly or witty or something instead, but it wasn't any of those things. It almost seemed like Woody Allen completely lost interest in this movie and decided to rush to an ending, completely ignoring reasonable character development or logic. There's also an annoying breaking-of-the-fourth-wall thing where Larry David's character talks to the audience. It doesn't work. In fact, nothing in Whatever Works works. I should have watched a few episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm instead.
Language arts teacher gripe: At one point in the movie, the genius corrects another character's grammar, saying that she used an objective pronoun (us) when she should have used the subjective pronoun (we). Unfortunately for the genius (and for Woody Allen), he was wrong! It was a hypercorrection and dropped this thing another point for me.
Plot: Balloon twisting enthusiasts meet at Twist and Shout, a balloon art convention. This documentary clumsily tells the stories of eight balloon twisters. They range from dull to barely interesting.
Not a bad subject for a documentary, but this really cheap production didn't do it for me. The stories go all over the place, and there are more than a few times when the filmmakers are guilty of getting just a little too precious, especially when telling the rags-to-latex story of the girl who lived with her mom and sister in the travel trailer or when referring to the death of a legendary balloon twister. Highlights include the gospel balloon twister John Holmes whose professional goal is to have as many video releases as his namesake. And yes, he makes crucified Christs out of balloons and tears up while talking about them. There are also some balloon twisters who create pornographic balloon art. I didn't expect to have to turn this off when one of my daughters came into the room. And there was one woman who not only twisted balloons but who added ventriloquism to the act. She has a six-figure income, and it's hard not to watch her and think about how terrific this country is.
Plot: Four middle class inmates share a French jail cell. They face long sentences and have decided that their only hope is to escape. They've got a wonderfully subtle plan that involves hammering through the floor. Unfortunately, a new guy arrives and they don't know if they can trust him. They do, and together, the men make le trou.
Ahh, I love the prison escape movies. Great Escape, Alcatraz, A Man Escaped, Shawshank, Stalag, Grand Illusion, Papillon, the television show Prison Break. Without question, this one needs to go near the top of the list. Psychologically tense, Le Trou toys with ideas about how movies are supposed to go. Unlike Alcatraz, this seems a little more realistic to me because there's not a recognizable face. That could be because this is French, but I believe Becker used non-actors here. I really did enjoy the audacity and brute force the men use to bust through the floor of their cell, but I also like the tiny details of their plan that are revealed. The pacing allows for you to both appreciate those finer details and feel like you're in there with the hopeful prisoners. I also really liked the character development at the beginning of this. I thought I was going to have trouble keeping the characters apart, but they're developed into separate entities very naturally early on. Le Trou is a prison escape movie that not only thrilled me but one that really hit me in the gut. I felt these characters. And I'm so happy I got to see most of them in their underpants.
This was a winter rates recommendation.
Plot: Some children living in the same neighborhood play an elaborate game of war. They're having a blast until Kenny, the boy playing the general, gets mad because he doesn't think a bunch of the other boys are playing right. "C'mon, fellows! You're supposed to do what I say because I'm the general." The war game eventually falls apart when Walter's dad comes outside and yells at all the kids for digging giant trenches in his back yard and blowing up a birdhouse. Walter's punished. Two other boys are also punished for ruining good school clothes. Later, the boys stop playing war and begin lusting after women instead.
I'm not sure why I always avoided this movie. It's probably because I don't usually like war movies. This one is pretty close to perfect though, an early Kubrick work that unflamboyantly shows off his virtuosity. The battle scene, with an impressive long tracking shot, is wonderfully realistic and tense, and the court martial scene, the climactic scene with the three scapegoats, and the gripping finale are all memorable. There's also an underlying gray humor, most obvious in the cockroach scene but also in the irony and absurdities of these characters make. The general himself, a non-comic performance (contrast to the characters in Strangelove) by George Macready, makes a great villain, ironically the only real enemy in this war movie since you don't ever get to see the soldiers on the ant hill. I love how Kubrick shows his shallowness and heartless egotism in the simple scene where he's conversing with the soldiers in the trenches. Thematically solid, this succinct near-masterpiece has great emotional and philosophical depth. Powerful shiznit.
Recommended by Cory.
Plot: Three stop-animators and four pieces by Andrei Khrjanovsky.
I likely picked this up for the stop-animation, but I was bored by those three shorts. Michail Kamanetsky's "Wolf and Calf" and Vadim Kurchevsky's "My Green Crocodile" are both kiddie works with cute talking animals and bright colors. Nikolai Serebryakov's "Ball of Wool" is more of an animated fable for adults about greed. They're fine, but they're nothing I really care to ever think about again. It is likely the only time a movie will make me wonder what a sex scene between a crocodile and a cow would look like though. The four Khrjanovksy works are fantastic though. "There Lived Kozyavin" is a brutally absurd look at the work of an office peon who faithfully follows his boss's order to "Look for Sidrow" and winds up circling the globe. "Armoire" has the same sort of surreal imagery and subtle humor. Things get wackier with "King's Sandwich," a playful short with bizarre contraptions and grotesque characters that reminded me a lot of Sylvain Chomet's characters in Belleville. The real treat in this volume is "Glass Harmonica" in which Khrjanovsky plunders images from easily recognized works of art. It's the language of Dali's wet dreams and as hilarious as Bosch's The Last Judgement. I was left wondering how Mr. Khrjanovsky got away with all of this subversive art working in the Soviet Union. The twenty minutes that make up "Glass Harmonica" are the best animated twenty minutes I've seen in a long time.
Plot: Some nondescript Frenchman travels to Spain to a castle where his sister has died under, what he believes is, mysterious circumstances. His sister's husband Nicholas Medina, the son of a torturin' man, and his sister try to convince him otherwise, but strange goings-on and half-truths only cause the mystery to grow.
One of many Roger Corman "Poe" movies. This has a style and a subtle edge that really makes it an effective horror movie. Vincent Price is about perfect as Nicholas, acting circles around his co-stars. There's a quiet psychosis with the character; he's calm but there are demons squeezing through his pores. The interior of the castle makes a great creepy setting, and Lex Baster's score wonderfully compliments. There are some odd, monochromatic washed-out flashback scenes that I couldn't decide if I liked initially. I eventually decided that I did. The first half of The Pit and the Pendulum is a little slow, but when things roll, they really roll. The finale--the part that has to do with the title--is stunning with its imagery and its twists-and-turns. From the pendulum scene until the breathtaking final shot--great filmmaking.
Plot: Dr. Eric Varnoff, expelled from his own homeland, experiments with radiation in order to create a race of superhumans who will do his bidding. He's got rotund Lobo and a rubber octopus to help him with his evil plans. A newspaper reporter tries to uncover his secrets.
There's a lot wrong with this movie. There's typically Woodian embarrassing writing, a lack of variety in the sets, and some really goofy special-ed effects. The much-maligned rubber octopus really is ridiculous. At one point in the movie, a guy falls on top of the octopus and sort of flails around, occasionally picking up a tentacle himself to simulate an attack. Then he actually gets up for a little bit only to fall down on top of the octopus again. The story's ludicrous, just barely making enough sense to qualify as a plot. However, Wood-regular Tor Johnson is a menacing presence, and Bela Lugosi, in his final speaking role, is brilliant. His performance alternates between creepy and powerful and strangely touching. He should have won an Academy Award for this. It's his performance that actually makes this a real movie. No, it's not enough of a real movie to fool anybody into thinking it's actually good. People are still only going to enjoy this because of the complete ineptitude, but it's not nearly the travesty that some of Wood's other movies are.
Killer octopus! Oh, no! I just picked up its tentacle and put it on top of myself again! Somebody help me!
Plot: An enormous collection of some of the world's funniest people and Bob Saget ruminate a filthy vaudevillian joke.
This would have been a lot better if it was about half as long. If nothing else, it helps me discover that I don't think I like comedians very much. The interviews with the comedians are edited to make this into a pissing contest. There's also this vertigo-inducing thing going on where you get rapid quick-cuts of the comedians telling the joke from multiple angles, I guess so the producers can show off the fact that they had more than one camera. I never figured out why that was necessary. There's nothing especially clever about any of this, but it does have a lot of very funny moments and gives a glimpse of the inner workings of how funny people make the funny. Overall, it's not as outrageous as it wants to be and in no way succeeds in being as funny as it thinks it is for ninety minutes. It's definitely not for everybody although there is one scene that I doubt anybody could watch without uttering, "My God! This is the greatest thing ever filmed!" That's right--I'm referring to the scene where the mime delivers his version of the joke. That was comedy gold.
Plot: Patrick Bateman, a Wall Street big shot, enjoys a luxurious lifestyle, sipping rich people things, living it up in rich people places, and enjoying pretentious conversations with his big shot buddies. His nights, however, are filled with sexual depravity and murderous excursions. It's the American dream!
OK, I'm willing to admit that there's a possible Christian Bale bias at play here. He's not actually my problem with this movie though. I just don't think it adds up to anything. As a black comedy, a lot of the over-the-top dialogue and plastic imagery in the first quarter of the film works pretty well. Gradually though, it just feels like somebody's tried to beat an idea into my head. The violence becomes distracting, the sex becomes even more distracting, and after the first twenty minutes when the movie's already shot its wad, there's no place for this to go. It's the type of movie with a nasty habit, a need to continually remind you how mischievously clever it is, a movie with a too-wide grin and hands perpetually rubbing together, a movie that can't stop patting itself on the back. It's also a movie that insults the intelligence of its audience, the type of ultra-modern film that substitutes thoughtfulness and depth for this really glossy provocation. That's why I didn't like American Psycho. Or maybe it's just Christian Bale.
Plot: Bored youngster Milo is tired of spending all his time moaning and groaning about having nothing to do. So he does what any youngster would do in the late-1960s--he experiments with hallucinogenic drugs. The hallucinations began almost immediately. A tollbooth, actually a phantom one, materializes, and
It's a dull bad trip in a dull movie. I had high enough expectations--I like Tom and Jerry and I remember the novel fondly as kind of a poor man's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland with a boy Alice. But the late-60s/early-70s seem like the dark ages for animation. This is dated and boring, and although there's some imaginative characters and settings, it's just all so sluggish and silly. Blandly creative or maybe creatively bland. The voice work doesn't work, bad plays-on-words really stand out, and I hate the kid, both the flesh and blood and animated versions. And those songs! There must have been a rule during the dark ages of animation that all animated features were required to have really bad songs. I don't know who did the songs for this, but I'm sure he left it off his resume. I'd much rather watch a couple hours of Tom and Jerry cartoons than this. Unless they're the ones with the little gray diapered mouse (Jerry's cousin?). I hated that character. This, by the way, was a cartoon that Abbey couldn't even finish watching. She also likes Tom and Jerry.
Plot: In the fictional town of Hohman, Indiana, in the fictional 1940s, little Ralphie waits for Christmas and dreams of Santa Claus bringing him a BB gun even though his parents, his teacher, and even Santa warns him that he'll shoot his eyes out. Meanwhile, he deals with bullies, listens to the radio, watches his parents' passive-aggressive battles concerning a lewd lamp, hangs out with his friends, and curses.
I hadn't seen this in a while and completely forgot that it takes place in Indiana. Is it insanely popular in the rest of America (or, just the middle part of America) or is this strictly a Hoosier thing? I don't think this is uproariously funny, more mildly humorous and nostalgic, but it's quotable, has a couple scenes that could accurately be labeled as holiday movie classics, and is a rare example of a movie with heavy narration that actually works. I really like the goofy kid, played by Peter Billingsley, and I think the rapport between his parents works really well. Nice, subtle period details add to the flavor and make this one fit just like a comfortable shoe. I guess that's why people like it so much.
Plot: Chronicles the creative life and work of the Smith family who perform as the Danielson family, from the early days in which principal songwriter Daniel Smith forms the group with his siblings--performing in nurse and tree costumes--to when life takes the members of the group their separate ways. Sufjan Stevens and his stupid hat are also all over this.
Enjoyable enough glimpse at a very creative mind. At times, it seems like Brother Danielson is knocking on the door of wherever the hell Brian Wilson and Daniel Johnston reside. In fact, Daniel Johnston's actually in this. But it's clearly a case of the music and appearances being stranger than the reality as the family seem really grounded and live completely normal lives. The documentary is structured in a frustrating way, and there are some scenes or performances that went on too long. I also could have done with less Sufjan Stevens, probably because his hat was really really silly. I would have been interested in seeing more reactions to this from the Christian community since it seems that a large percentage of their fans are non-religious. I loved the Danielson's music the first time I heard it, but I assume it would be absolutely grating for most people--it's rhythmically bizarre and Smith sings in a strained falsetto. I also have to assume that large parts of this documentary would be grating to most people. There's a lot of concert footage, rehearsal stuff, and recording scenes. But sprinkled in with all that is a look at a loving family with an amazing creative energy, a positive message about being true to yourself, and an insightful peek at the creative process. It's worth a look for anybody with a tolerance for music a little left of the dial.
Note: Smith watches and discusses the documentary Salesman, a movie I enjoyed some time last year.
Rating: Fashion klutz Bruno gets himself fired from his Austrian television style show. He decides to move to Los Angeles with the hope of becoming internationally famous. Inspired by America's finest and famous, he attempts to make connections, adopt African babies, and find a cause to support. Eventually, he even tries, with the aid of some friendly Christians, to cure himself of homosexuality.
The scenes that nearly had me on the floor: the interview with Mariah Carey*, the focus group watching his television show and interview with Harrison Ford, the casting call for babies to pose for pictures with his adopted son, the lessons on how to defend yourself against a homosexual, the hunting scenes. It's impossible not to compare this with Borat. Personally, I think it's better. There's no goofily pointless Pam Anderson plot, and there are less scenes that either don't work or go on far too long. Bruno's story does parallel Borat's quite a bit, and at times, the gross-out or potty-mouthed stuff seems like it came from a mind belonging to a man who was working too hard to top himself. But I was entertained from start to finish although I can't remember a time when I felt as uncomfortable while being entertained. This also works satirically, and it takes a special kind of talent to make something that is simultaneously incredibly stupid and profoundly witty at the same time. Bruno was easily my least favorite Ali G Show character, but I really liked what Cohen did with the character in this movie. Once again, I feel that Cohen should be in discussion for "best actor" awards. His comic timing, the physical comedy, and his ability to create this absolutely ridiculous character that becomes so real are awesome. I don't understand how he can do this stuff without breaking character and bursting into laughter, and I also don't understand how he did some of this without being killed. The guy who plays the assistant (Lutz) is a bit overshadowed, but he also does an amazing job.
I will watch this with the commentary now.
*Ya know, they're really all interchangeable. Apparently, it was Paula Abdul, not Mariah Carey. My apologies to both divas.
Plot: Young Victor (ha ha!) loves his little dog Sparky (ha ha!) and casts him as the lead in homemade monster movies. Until Sparky gets struck and killed by a car that is. Oh, snap! In school the next day, Victor learns that electricity can be used to revive dead animals and decides to try it out with his beloved dog. Frankenweenie!
I never bothered to see this (probably because it's called Frankenweenie) even when I thought Tim Burton was all that back in high school. It's a little too cute and sweet for it to be something I'd typically be in love with, but it's worth watching. It's definitely got shades of Burton's later work with some Nightmare Before Christmas-like imagery in scenes that take place in a pet cemetery and a windmill and some dark and askew humor. The dog's also cute, even with its thick Frankenstein monster stitching and neck bolts. There's some good camera work, some nice crisp black and white cinematography. Apparently, this is being remade as a stop-motion flick.
By the way, I want to make sure everybody knows that I no longer think Tim Burton is all that.