Santo vs. the Vampire Women

1962 pelicula de lucha libre

Rating: 20/20 (see the "el Santo" rule, page 583 of the shane-movies handbook)

Plot: Some vampire women wake up in a dusty castle that nobody seems to know about. It's time to grab the daughter of a professor, apparently because the devil needs her for something. They wake up three vampire wrestlers, turn into bats, and fly off to simultaneously ruin a party and kidnap the daughter. Only El Santo can save the day!

This black and white entry in the Santo series is as good as the others I've seen, meaning it's one of the greatest films ever made. This one has some atmosphere, some really cheesy special effects (the bats are especially bad), and the regular arsenal of silly fight scenes, some which go on far too long. During a key vampire wrestler v. Santo in the ring scene, Santo's mask is nearly removed. Instead, Santo whips off his opponent's mask in what is arguably one of the greatest moments in movie history. I also really like how the vampire wrestlers fighting strategy is to rush behind their victims and karate chop their backs. Lots of fun. The version I watched was dubbed which, of course, added to the joy. I don't know if this one is as good as the ones with the Blue Demon, but if you're jonesing for a movie with Mexican wrestlers and vampire women, this will hit the spot. Wish me luck finding Santo vs. the Martian Invasion.

Reflections in a Golden Eye

1967 drama

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Captain Penderton lives with his wife Leonora at an army base. The captain is a closet homosexual and a weak man. Leonora emasculates him in public and cheats on him with friend and neighbor Major Langdon, a man married to Alison, a crazy woman who cut her own nipples off with garden shears. Alison threatens to divorce Langdon and run off to live on a shrimp boat with Anacleto, her effeminate Vietnamese helper with a fondness for watercolor and prancing. Meanwhile, Private Williams spies on the Pendertons, watching their arguments from their yard through open windows and even entering the house at night to watch Leonora sleep and fondle her lingerie. They all ride horses, but Williams does it in the nude and Penderton can't stay on the horse. There. I think I covered everything.

"Have you ever been collared and dragged out into the street and thrashed by a naked woman?"

This is a really strange movie. At times, I thought it was a tongue-in-cheek comedy. The performances (especially Zorro David as Anacleto and some of Brando's at times unintelligible dialogue) are odd, and the characters all seem tortured by their own dark secrets and quirks. Elizabeth Taylor, good here as Leonora, is probably the most normal character, but all the others seem completely off. Private Williams, in fact, I think goes through the entire movie without speaking, and the Lady Godiva horse rides aren't exactly normal. Brando's character keeps a spoon for sentimental purposes. And of course there's the woman who cut her nipples off. I found this movie to be impenetrable after one viewing. What's going on here? Something about sexual repression? Does Williams even exist or does he just represent Penderton's past? Or both? The movie's quite the riddle. It's definitely one of those movies where you feel like you're missing a bunch of pieces to the puzzle, things that you can't possibly understand because you weren't with the characters before the movie started. It's also one of those movies where what happens seems more important on a symbolic level instead of a literal level. But perhaps I'm reading too much into things. I liked all the performances in this but was especially impressed with Brian Keith as Langdon and even more especially impressed with Zorro David. It's an odd role for Brando who has to balance this tough guy side with this really vulnerable side, but it's a strong, appropriately restrained performance. The movie's also shot very well, a lot of it with a golden tint that sort of makes things unnerving after a while. And you almost have to give a bonus point here for a shot of Elizabeth Taylor's bum. Shut up! It is too her! A challenging but entertaining movie.

A Larst recommendation.

A King in New York

1957 comedy

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Following a revolution in his European country, King Shadhov retreats to New York. He's got ideas about making the world a better place with atomic energy, but he finds himself penniless after his trusted confidante flees with everything he brought to America. Fortunately, he's tricked into attending a dinner party that turns out to be a sort of reality show, and companies are all of a sudden willing to pay him thousands of dollars to use his dickfarts to sell products. At some point, he meets the son of communist parents and winds up having to defend himself against charges of being a communist.

This really takes its time getting anywhere, and once it does, you almost wish it hadn't. You could never accuse Chaplin of being too subtle, so the political stuff in this, especially with what was going on with Chaplin and America, isn't surprising at all. What was surprising to me was that there were actually some funny moments in this one. There's some fun satirical stuff here about commercialism, movies, and fame in America. This is also worth seeing because it showcases Chaplin's acting chops. I'm always surprised to see Chaplin not overdo things in this later films. It's not Monsieur Verdoux or the earlier silent classics, but I liked it better than Limelight.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

2009 stop-animated funk

Rating: 17/20 (Jen: 16/20; Abbey: 19/20; Sophie: 20/20)

Plot: The title fox reluctantly settles down, retiring from chicken thieving and getting a job as a newspaper man to appease his pregnant wife, Mrs. Fox. Seven years later, his itch needs scratching, and he moves the family into a tree with a view of the farms of Boggis, Bunce, and Bean and begins plotting a final triple-header job. He and friend Badger get some bandit hats and pull off the jobs. This ticks off the three farmers who seek revenge.

"That's just weak songwriting. You wrote a bad song, Petey!"

Lots of biases at play here: 1) It's a Wes Anderson movie. 2) It's based on a Roald Dahl book. 3) It's stop-motion animation. 4) I saw it on the big screen. But at least with the first three, it's a menage trois made in heaven. I always think Anderson's movies are refreshing, and I usually find stop-motion stuff refreshing, too. Combine the two, with Dahl's talking animal characters, and you've got something that's downright whimsical. Petey, one of the farmer's personal banjo players and almost a completely useless character, is my favorite character (voiced by Jarvis Cocker), but there isn't a character in this thing that isn't great. I thought the three farmers were really funny, but the majority of the screen time is talking animals. And I love when a cartoon has talking animals that are so human. Great voice acting, too, with a lot of Anderson regulars. The animation is spectacular although intentionally a little low-fi. There are lots of "How are they even pulling that off?" effects, and lots of times when there's an amazing amount of movement happening on the screen at once. This has a handful of laugh-out-loud moments, and although it almost goes a bit too far in the end, this is the type of movie that I'd love to watch again and again. Downright whimsical!

2009 seems like an incredible year for animated movies. And I've not even seen Ponyo, Mary and Max, or A Town Called Panic yet.


1964 cold war drama

Rating: 17/20

Plot: American planes armed with two nuclear bombs each are heading for Moscow. Since it's all a mistake, the American war machine does everything it can to stop them. The Russians aren't too happy about the whole thing and threaten to send their newest weapon of mass destruction, a device called The Dickfart Machine, to retaliate. President Henry Fonda gets a gas mask.

Interesting that this was released so close to the release of Dr. Strangelove, even by the same studio. This is actually a whole lot like Strangelove, only without all the penis jokes. This movie gets all the little things right. There's some great dialogue delivered by great actors. I like Fonda as our president, but everybody in this was solid. There's a realism to the performances, and although I'm almost positive there are some plot holes or at least some far-fetched scenarios in this thing, the characters' calm tension sucks you in and makes it all seem plausible. I really like how this is shot, too. Close-ups and long shots used to show characters emotionally attached or distant from the unfolding dilemma; the lighting, or in most cases a lack of traditional movie lighting; sly camera work (I especially like how the camera moves from character to character during some exchanges); and a complete lack of music help add to the tension. This ends in a shocking way, driving home a point that remains relevant even after the Cold War. That the movie can be shocking despite keeping all the "action" off-screen is part of what makes it great. The focus is on the characters making impossibly tough decisions, deepening the drama and tragedy. I also like the goofiness and cheapness of the technology they were using. There was something about that green screen with all those little dots and triangles that helped make the whole thing terrifying. This really cool flick was recommended by Cory.

Two things I didn't really get though: the entire conversation between Walter Matthau's character and the woman he slaps and the bullfighting dream/reference to bullfighting dream that bookend the film. The latter, I suppose, I understand, but I'm not sure if I liked it very much.

Russian Ark

2002 trip through a museum

Rating: 17/20

Plot: A guy stumbles awake at the Winter Palace of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. I think he's a ghost. Anyway, nobody seems to be able to see him, but he encounters a Frenchman in black who can and they wander about meeting historical figures and looking at pretty pictures.

Favorite scene: The Frenchman leaves a room. The door closes behind him, and he just stands there for a moment. The door opens slightly, and a guy's head and shoulders peek out. He blows a raspberry at the Frenchman who immediately blows one back. Then, the guy's head and shoulders go back into the room, and the door closes.

This movie is boring. Maybe even really boring. Part of the trouble was probably that I don't know anything at all about Russian history. I recognized some names (i.e. Catherine the Great), but those names might as well have been anything (Danny Doppleheimer, Lance Bickenstaff, Corrina Peabody, etc.)because they didn't mean anything to me. Despite the movie's relatively short running time (just a bit over 90 minutes), I had to watch this in two installments. My son couldn't make it through fifteen minutes. Having said that, this is a remarkable achievement, and the more I think about the amount of work that had to have gone into this production, the more I'm impressed. The film's famous for being the first film that is an uninterrupted single shot, the camera flowing through a myriad of rooms occupied by seemingly thousands of actors and actresses. The effect is dreamy, hypnotic, and exceptionally beautiful. There's artwork--naked people statues, paintings--and the architecture of this palace is artistic itself. Most of the time, the screen is stuffed with beauty, and I found my eyes wandering from corner to corner of my too-tiny television to take it all in. Technically, it's just an amazing long take. If one of these thousands of people screws up, everybody has to get back in their places and the whole shoot starts over again. And even though this movie was shot in 96 minutes or so, it actually involved four years in preparation, practice, and positioning. When I think about how much work had to go into things like lighting, I'm just amazed. Truly an ambitious and extraordinary feat. The guy who plays the Frenchman, Sergei Dontsov, is especially good, and I loved how the camera would drift over a wall or a painting or thousands of dancing people and then settle on the guy just standing there waiting. Russian Ark is also interesting because you get a first-person point of view. You borrow the anonymous narrator's eyes for 90 minutes which puts you right in this museum. And you don't even have to pay to get in! I wonder if there are any other first-person movies like this. Is anybody even reading this far? This is too dull, too haunting, too historically dense, and too Russian to appeal to most folk, but there's really something fascinating about the whole thing. It absorbs you.
I looked it up, by the way. The finished film was actually the fourth take. The first three had to be stopped because of technical difficulties.

Big Nothing

2006 black comedy

Rating: 11/20 (Jen: 12/20)

Plot: Ross has lost his job as a teacher and is looking for a job to help support his police officer wife and his daughter. He gets a job at a call center but is fired before he finishes a single day of work. But he does meet Gus, a scam artist who has an idea to extract thousands of dollars from a reverend. Gus's girlfriend also helps out. Things don't go as planned, however, and the night spirals out of control.

You know how some movies trudge along and don't seem to go anywhere? Big Nothing is exactly the opposite of that. This movie goes everywhere, and that's not really a good thing. The pace is so quick that you have no time to catch a breath, and although there are some fun twists and turns along the way, most of this movie is just relentlessly stupid. There's a fifteen minute chunk of this movie that is really good. The timing between twists and the humor work. Beyond that, this is a mess, the movie falling to pieces like a radio-controlled airplane that you spent an hour putting together and finally flew for the first time with things going well at first until you decided to do a few barrel rolls and fancy maneuvering through the monkey bars and watched in dismay while the toy his a guy holding a picket sign and burst into flames. It's like a Coen brothers' movie without a script, almost to the point where I think somebody said, "Hey, I've got an idea. People like those Coen brothers. Let's make us a Coen brother movie!" I liked Simon Pegg and Jon Polito in this movie, but I didn't buy anything that David Schwimmer was doing. He's not really the greatest of actors, is he? The music in this movie also really annoyed me.


2009 piece of shit

Rating: 6/20

Plot: Kate and husband John decide to adopt a highly intelligent and artistic nine-year-old Russian orphan. Kate, a recovering alcoholic, is trying to get over nearly accidentally killing one of her two biological children and a miscarriage. Things are going swimmingly until Esther, the family's new addition, begins misbehaving. She forms an attachment to John but has trouble getting along with her new mom who wonders if she might be evil. Bad stuff happens. And there's nothing more horrifying, ladies and gentlemen, than when bad stuff happens in a bad movie.

This is a Macaulay Culkin away from being The Good Son. There's also a bit of The Omen in here. In fact, the whole thing is derivative, entirely predictable in its unpredictability, and offensively bad filmmaking. You know that horror movie cliche where the filmmaker dicks around with you, letting you follow a character who is anxious or nervous and then suddenly jabbing you with a shockingly loud musical note or a noise and causing you to jump because the character has seen something scary before revealing that the only scary thing in the room is something innocent like a kitty or a child with a lollipop? If you like that, you'll love Orphan because that's a trick the director uses about ninety times. It's actually almost the entire movie. You also get some really terrible child acting, including a title character who can't remember if she's Russian or not, and several plot points that just don't make any sense whatsoever. Seriously, some of the decisions these characters make are just bewildering. There's a big big twist in this movie. Really, there had to be a big big twist because without a big big twist, nobody would care to sit through this one. But the big big twist is so stupid, crossing the line from "shocking" into "What the hell?" and forcing me, whether fair or not, to really want to kick M. Night Shyamalan right in the head. It was offensive more than anything else, an attempt to trick a reaction out of people. And that's the biggest problem with Orphan--it substitutes good storytelling, realistic character development, and genuine horror and suspense for manipulative movie cliches and lazy trickery and dickery. Trickery, dickery, dock. I really hate this movie, and I hope it's my least enjoyable movie watching experience of the year.


1973 caveman movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Themroc lives a monotonous life in an apartment with his mother and sister. He leaves for work, putting on yellow coveralls and painting a fence black while men in white coveralls paint the same fence white. One day, he sees something he's not supposed to--his boss and secretary getting it on--and he is fired. He walks home, growling at a few trains along the way. Themroc then rebels against society, using a sledgehammer to knock a giant hole in his wall, throwing everything he owns out that hole, and having sexual relations with his sister. When his neighbors are inspired to do the same, police come in riot gear to try to ruin their fun.

Michel Piccoli makes such a good caveman. He's in a handful of Bunuel films, yet this is still likely his oddest role. It really is a good performance, expression without words, visceral and with more emotional depth than you'd guess for a character who does little more than grunt. I'm not sure exactly what they're trying to say in this movie, but I think it would appeal to anarchists. It's shot in an almost anarchic style, filthy and free. Things got a bit repetitious after a while as the grunting and almost no plot started to feel less unique and more of the same stuff I'd been watching for an hour and a half. Since there's no dialogue in the movie unless you count guttural caveman grunts, so obviously, this is not a movie for everybody. I did find some of it very funny, and if you're the type of cinephile who can tolerate this sort of thing, I recommend you take a trip to Blockbuster and grab a copy. It'll be right between Them! and The Mr. O. Chronicles.

Drag Me to Hell

2009 horror-comedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Christine the bank loan officer has a nice job, a future promotion, and a loving boyfriend. One day, an old woman with a creepy eye tries to get a third mortgage extension, and Christine, trying to impress the boss, turns her down. The old woman puts a curse on Christine who, after seeking the professional advice from a psychic, finds out that she's going to be dragged to hell in three days. Oh, snap!

This roller coaster ride of a movie made me feel like I did when I watched and loved Evil Dead II as a kid. I laughed, jumped a little, laughed again, and sat in awe of Raimi's technical wizardry and childish creativity. Sam Raimi's that type of director who probably giggles uncontrollably while he works on his movies in the editing room. Drag Me to Hell is stuffed with gimmicks, has a dopey story, and is probably guilty of using those gimmicks to hide the dopey story. But it's also about as funny as a horror movie can be and as scary as a comedy can be and one of the most entertaining movies I've seen in a long time. Stylistic touches (askew cameras and quick zooms) and his skewed Stooges and Looney Tunes inspired dark humor are reminiscent of the Evil Dead trilogy although Raimi's Spidey powers allow for the finished product to look a lot more polished. It certainly is fun. The sound effects are also a lot of fun. Things clang when they're not supposed to clang and swish when there's no logical reason for swishing so that the film is aurally as adventurous and exaggerated as it is visually. There were two scenes I had to rewind to see a second time, and an early fight scene in a parking garage is arguably the greatest fight scene in movie history. I'm not even kidding. I can't remember seeing anything this completely ridiculous, a movie that so frequently had me shaking my head and saying, "This is insanity." I mean that as a compliment, of course. I definitely enjoyed this more than any Spiderman movie and can happily say that this makes up for the waste of time that Spiderman 3 was.

The Quiet Man

1952 wife-beating epic

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Following the death of an opponent and his retirement from boxing, John Wayne O'Leary returns from America to his Ireland birthplace. He purchases the old family property and falls in love with the redheaded neighbor Mary Kate O'Mulligan, apparently because she's the first woman he sees and looks like the type of woman who would be fun to beat the crap out of. Her brother, Hefty O'Topheavy, doesn't like John Wayne O'Leary, ostensibly because of his goofy hat, and does everything he can to keep the two apart.

Is there really enough story here for a complete movie? I was never all that interested in the romance. In fact, I had no interest in either John Wayne or Maureen O'Hara's characters at all and thought the peripheral characters, really in there only to add local color, were much more interesting. The main conflict, muddled by Irish courting customs that never made much sense to me, also really wasn't that interesting. The story clunks along, eventually building to a difficult-to-watch twenty minute scene glorifying spousal abuse which is immediately followed by a preposterous twenty minute scene in which Wayne and the brother engage in awkwardly old-timey fisticuffs. In the end, it all seems like a really long joke. John Wayne as a serious actor could be considered kind of a joke, too. This story and his character depend far too much on his acting ability, and he really have enough range to make a character that seems real. The real star of the show is probably Ireland's countryside, filmed beautifully with lovely splashes of vivid color. The movie's worth watching for Ireland alone probably, but I also really liked the odd assortment of minor characters and the music in The Quiet Man.

This was another Cory recommendation.

The Unholy Three

1925 drama

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A ventriloquist, a strong man, and a little person break free from a side show to live a life of crime. They come up with an ingenious plan involving cross-dressing, a giant monkey, and parrots. When a couple things don't go according to plan, the trio struggle to keep things together.

Let's go over this again. There's a cross-dressing ventriloquist, a strong man, and a little person disguised as a baby using parrots to rob people? And there's a giant killer monkey and a puppet? I'm in! This is a very strange film for the mid-20s, not surprising I suppose since it's a Tod Browning production with the always odd-looking Lon Chaney, an actor who didn't exactly avoid bizarre roles. Actually, it's not a great movie, more like an extremely silly one, but there are so many ideas straight from left field, that it's hard not to like the thing. I always enjoy Chaney, and he's good here playing a criminal with too much heart. I could have probably played a ventriloquist in a movie from this time period though. The little person (Harry Earles, playing a character named Tweedledee) is also really good, expertly transitioning from a mean little criminal to a baby and vice versa. There are some funny camera effects used to make the monkey seem gigantic and deadly, really succeeding only in making the monkey appear to change sizes from scene to scene. There's also a really goofy courtroom scene that leads to a completely unbelievable ending. Still, this is a silent oddball that is worth checking out.


1987 science fiction action mayhem

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Some tough guys, led by Arnold Schwarzenegger, is tricked by Carl Weathers into venturing into the South American jungle to find captured soldiers. While there, a scary alien thing hunts them one by one and strips them of their skin. Apparently it's a hobby.

I wonder if I'm the only person who can't watch Carl Weathers in this without inserting the line "You got yourself a stew goin'" after everything that he says.

"We pick up their trail at the chopper, run 'em down, grab those hostages and bounce back across the border before anybody knows we were there. And you got yourself a stew goin'!"

"Goddamn jackpot. We finally got those bastards. We got 'em. And we've got ourselves a stew goin'!"

Arnold: "Bleed, bastard. Bleed."
Carl Weathers: "And you've got yourself a stew goin'!"

It's really amazing how many of the actors in this ended up with a political career. Everybody knows that Schwarzenegger became the governor of California, and almost everybody knows that Jesse "The Body" Ventura became governor of Minnesota. But did you know that Bill Duke (Mac) later became a congressman in New York? Or that Richard Chaves (Poncho) was a senator for seven and a half days before being ejected from his seat due to a sex scandal involving a mollusk? Sonny Landham (Billy) became the mayor of Sugar Tit, South Carolina, and R.G. Armstrong was elected the president of Belarus. The Predator himself, a guy named Kevin Peter Hall, could have retired after a terrifically versatile career playing a mutant bear, an alien, a monster, another alien, another monster, another mutant bear, a mutant alien, a mutant monster, a mutant, a regular bear, and Harry from Harry and the Hendersons to become President of the United States, but he sadly passed away in the early 90s and never got the chance. This movie is pretty straightforward. You get exactly what you figured you'd get--a ton of explosions, some inexplicable; some stock characters; a fistful of Arnold one-liners ("Stick around."); action scenes piled on top of action scenes; some pretty good special effects; and a wafer-thin plot. Most of the movie looks like the director just said, "Hey, fellas, why don't you wander around the jungle here for a few hours. We'll film you and then pull out the best stuff to use in the movie." I do really like the jungle imagery in this. It's filmed really well. Some of the action sequences are fine; others make little-to-no sense. The Predator's look is cartoony whenever he's in his camouflage state but effectively menacing when he's not. The climactic fight scene between Arnold and the alien, a fight scene you know is going to happen before you pop the dvd in the machine, is actually kind of boring.

And I thought of a new movie idea, a screenplay I'm going to write and present to Arnold himself to get him back on the silver screen. The movie poster above actually inspired me because it almost looks like the movie is called Schwarzenegger. My movie, titled Schwarzenegger! (note the punctuation) will have Arnold playing himself with all the things and people he's ever beaten up or killed coming back to get their revenge. At the end of my movie (spoiler alert!), Sinbad is going to kill him. How badass is that going to be?

Jour de Fete

1949 French comedy

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Francois the postman delivers mail via bicycle in a quiet French town as its inhabitants prepare for the arrival of the annual fair. When he sees a short film at the cinema on America postmen, he envies their speed and reputation and becomes determined to match their rapidity.

It's shame this isn't readily available, and I'm surprised this wasn't Criterionized before the inferior Trafic. This is Tati's first film, before M. Hulot came along, and like his later and better known projects, this is a charming and quiet look at the humor of the everyday lives of everyday people, heavily inspired by silent slapstick classics and funny enough to force a few grins. Actually, I don't see how it's possible for anybody to watch this movie without having a goofy grin on his face from beginning to end. There's lots of great visual humor (a runaway bike, a ringing church bell, a romantic movie advertisement, a drunken bike ride, a race) and a lot more dialogue than in his other movies. Not that the dialogue adds much. The entire movie feels like a subplot filled with subplots, miniature stories without beginnings or endings that give the town and its people character. Unsurprisingly, there's a humorous criticism of a rapidly modernizing society and a gentle reminder about the importance of slowing down. I would some day like to live in a small town that has a hunchbacked old lady who walks around with a goat and narrates everybody's activities. This movie also made me want to own chickens. Add that to the shane-movies blog Christmas wish list with those other things I asked for.

Songs from the Second Floor

2000 black comedy

Rating: 17/20 (Jen: 12/20)

Plot: Tired pale souls wander in the solitude of a crowded purgatory.

I searched and searched for this about six years ago, finally found and watched it, and was kind of disappointed. Roy Andersson, not exactly a prolific filmmaker, has a follow-up which has just found its way onto dvd, so I thought it would be a good time to give this a second chance. I'm really glad I did because it really connected this time. There's a fragmented narrative in here--something about a corporation going out of business, a traffic jam, a guy burning down his furniture store for the insurance money, stuff that wouldn't be out of place in a Monty Python production--but the story doesn't matter. This one is all about the images, and Andersson's got the sort of eye that make a film survive entirely on images. The camera is static, moving (I think) during only one scene, and you really get the sense that you're watching a photograph filled with people and objects who decided to break the laws of photography and move around a little bit. They're photographs from incomplete dreams, stuffed with surreal imagery like multiple crucifixes, magician tricks gone wrong, scurrying rats, former generals trapped in cribs, the wandering dead, and group flagellation. The dialogue's occasionally dippy, and it'd be hard to argue with somebody who thinks the drab colors give this a monochromatically faded and depressing appearance, but there's something in every single scene that fascinates, whether it's because it cleverly connects to another scene, contains complex choreography with things or characters moving in the background, has interesting geometry and angles (lots of really long streets and hallways, sets actually constructed in a studio), or is just too bizarre to not pay attention to. One observation: the characters' interactions are so completely unnatural (I'm not sure there's one conversation with characters who are facing each other) that it's at least depressing and almost unnerving. That's one of the many aspects of this that make it not very easy and not for everybody, but it's a unique work of art with some heavy philosophy that was not only universally relevant at the beginning of the millennium but is actually even more relevant today. I look forward to seeing You, the Living, apparently the second piece of an unfinished trilogy. My favorite scene is the one in which the main character (or the closest thing to a main character this has) is introduced on a subway. It's a moment that was simultaneously beautiful and hilarious, just like all of the world's best things.

The Hangover

2009 comedy

Rating: 11/20 (Jen: 13/20)

Plot: A groom-to-be goes to Vegas with two buddies and his future brother-in-law two nights before his wedding. The next morning, groom-to-be Doug is missing, and the other three--now in possession of a baby, a tiger, and a chicken--have no memories of the last twelve hours. They try to piece together the clues to find Doug and get him to his wedding on time.

This isn't a completely awful way to spend nearly two hours. There were a few laughs. I liked the baby, Mike Tyson has a cameo, the brother-in-law was sort of funny, I like that guy from The Office, I like the guy from Community, it was fast paced, and there was a breast or two. A lot of the jokes worked, and some of them worked very well. But a little of this kind of humor goes a long way, and after a while, I got pretty tired of the whole thing. It started ludicrously, managed to get more ludicrous, and then all of a sudden surprisingly got even more ludicrous. That's fine, I suppose. It'll impress the college kids and probably even the high school kids, and they'll have something to text about on their media devices that according to a survey I just read about they spend fifty-three hours per week using. But this curmudgeon, a guy who embarrassingly needs at least a half an hour to type out and send the rare one or two sentence text, started feeling like somebody was hitting him with a rubber mallet. Probably a rubber mallet that smells like urine. The oppressive soundtrack didn't help. There were so many songs in this movie that the soundtrack has to be three or four compact discs. And they were all loud songs, too. I have to go to bed now.

Let the Right One In

2008 vampire movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Poor Oskar. He's underdeveloped, has goofy hair even for a Swedish kid, and is getting bullied at school. Luckily for him, an androgynous vampire named Eli moves in next door. He befriends her, sharing a Rubik's cube and having boring conversations. When the old dude who collects blood for her gets himself caught, apparently because he's an idiot, Eli's relationship with Oskar deepens and she convinces him to stand up for himself. Then, they have more boring conversations, occasionally through a wall using Morse code.

A handful of scenes in Let the Right One In (a title I don't fully understand, by the way) are beautifully and artistically shot and effectively creepy. The climax is especially startling and effective, a very inventive shot that leaves just enough to the imagination and ends up more shocking because of it. This movie has a consistent tone that I really liked, and for the most part, the children chosen for the roles do a terrific job. I just don't think this movie is consistently great. It doesn't really add up to much at all. The story's flimsy, and the characters don't have a lot of depth, instead working more as types than anything else. There are a few scenes where there was an obvious attempt to shock me (artistically!) instead of allowing the story to unfold naturally, and they were ultimately more of a distraction than anything else. A subplot involving an infected woman seemed unnecessary and really really silly, especially during a scene involving a bunch of cats that I think might be the funniest thing I see all year. The end of that subplot was actually pretty funny, too. I also had trouble connecting with the characters despite the good acting. I'll admit that there might be a vampire bias at play here, but I do think that's the reason why some of this seemed a little derivative and possibly why some of the characters seemed flat. This is a beautiful enough movie. In fact, it's really really beautiful. But it's also pretty pretentious and a little shallow. The goth kids would all love it though!

This was recommended by Cory, a former goth kid.

Bad Lieutenant

1992 one man show

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Lieutenant No-Name roams around the city, almost lifelessly, performing cop duties. In the spaces between, he gambles recklessly and obsessively, cavorts with whores, and drugs it up. Darryl Strawberry tries to make it to the World Series with his Dodger friends.

It couldn't have helped that I had to watch this movie in fifteen installments. But it couldn't be helped. I couldn't have my daughters walking in and seeing Harvey Keitel's penis. They'd be traumatized for life. And I couldn't have my wife seeing that either, frankly because it puts mine to shame. And although my son is at an age where he's mature enough to watch more mature movies, seeing Harvey Keitel jacking off next to a car or the rape of a nun might give the lad ideas and lead him into a life of jacking off on cars and/or raping nuns. I nearly like Bad Lieutenant. I think Harvey Keitel is frequently brilliant, but the performance is ultimately an uneven one. At times, his character is so bloated by badness that it begins to look like a parody of itself, more comical than anything else. During one final scene, when Keitel begins excessively whining like a wounded animal, I almost laughed, and I don't think laughter was what Abel Ferrara was going for in that scene. I also found a scene with Jesus almost uproariously funny. Lots of religious imagery in this one, far too much in fact. It almost felt less like watching a movie and more like the pope hurling religious objects at me. And I'm not sure if you've had the experience of the pope hurling objects at you, but it's not something I'd recommend. I do like a bunch of the stark and gritty scenes. Bad Lieutenant refuses to hide anything at all, and as uncomfortable as that might make the typical audience member feel, it does succeed in being realistic and at times emotionally charged. But this is Keitel's show. He's the center of every single scene, and when what he does works, which it frequently does, everything works. And when he doesn't, things unfortunately get sort of goofy.

As a baseball fan, why don't I remember this Mets/Dodgers playoff series?

Dersu Uzala

1975 story of friendship

Rating: 17/20

Plot: It's 1902, and Russian captain Vladimir Arseniev and some of his pals are dicking around in the Siberian wilderness. They find themselves discombobulated but luckily run into Yoda who helps them in their exploration and even saves Vladimir's life because Vladimir doesn't know how to make shelter with grass on his own. Eventually, Yoda and Vladimir, now BFF's, part ways only to meet again on another of Vladimir's outings later on.

Great story of friendship and survival told simply and gracefully by Master Kurosawa. Those Japanese fellows sure can photograph nature, and Kurosawa's got the eye to make the icy Siberian wasteland look simultaneously beautiful and treacherous. The characters are terrific, and their relationship wonderfully develops through the actions and expressions of the character rather than through unnecessary language. There's not as much action as you might expect from a movie calling itself a survival tale, but when there is action, like during the scene where Dersu and Vladimir have to collect grass to protect themselves from a harsh winter's night, the details are meticulous and the situations are tense. I really like those characters, especially wacky Dersu, and I was disappointed that the ending couldn't have been a little happier. I'm not typically the kind of guy who requires a happy ending, but these just aren't the type of characters who deserved the unhappy one. Although I love Kurosawa, this wasn't one of his movies that was on my radar, so I'm really glad Winter Rates recommended it.

Sita Sings the Blues

2008 animated myth

Rating: 14/20

Plot: The Hindu epic poem Ramayana juxtaposed with the contemporary story of the filmmaker's divorce. Sita accompanies Rama into the dangerous forest after his banishment from his father's kingdom. A multi-headed demon guy kidnaps her, and Rama, with the help of a monkey king, has to go get her back. Then, Rama decides that Sita is damaged goods. Meanwhile, in the present day, a couple's marriage disintegrates after the husband is transferred to India.

I really liked the mishmash of animation styles which added a nice variety to the proceedings. The movie is colorful and frenetic, and the mythology is easy to follow. The filmmaker, a woman scorned apparently, also uses the 1920s (?) blues of Annette Henshaw, and the choice of songs blends very well to the telling of the Ramayana. It helps to humanize the story and proves how timeless and universal the themes in the epic poem are. The story's told with a sense of humor, with snarky shadow puppets commenting on the finer details of the tale in between scenes, and the loose, irreverent animation helps keep all of this fun rather than bitter. After a while, I started to get a little bored. The epic poem rambles a bit, and parts of this felt like a series of music videos instead of a movie. I also thought that an intermission was a waste of my time, and hated several scenes that bombarded me with techno music. More than once, I thought this wandered into the too-much-of-a-good-thing territory, and the point was driven home a few too many times. Still, much credit has to be given to Nina Paley who apparently made all of this on her computer.

The Bad News Bears

1976 baseball movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Buttermaker, a former minor league baseball prospect, agrees to coach a little league team full of misfits. He drinks through the Bears' practices and barely pays attention during their first game against the Yankees. He realizes that the kids need him and decides to give it his all, and the Bears, after recruiting a gal with a rocket arm and a curve that breaks two-and-a-half feet and a hotshot motorcycle-ridin' centerfielder, starts to have some success.

The message about little league baseball and the parents/coaches involved is sadly a timeless one. I like the baseball scenes in this at once. The kids and their errors look completely natural, and the blunders and mishaps never seem too hammy. The kids can't always act, but they can play baseball not very well very well. Walter Matthau can act and is perfectly grizzled and curmudgeonly for this role. Like all the misfits-turn-into-superstars movies that would follow this one, the transformation isn't all that surprising or believable. This also isn't a terribly funny, probably because I'm not as easily amused as some people might be when watching children cursing, but it's entertaining enough. I do think the end gets it just about right.

I think I saw one sequel, but I haven't bothered with the Billy Bob remake. Worth my time?


1992 French movie

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Leo Lauzon's family is insane and dysfunctional. His grandfather attempts to kill him, and his siblings even have their own wing of an asylum. That's why he dreams his way out of his life, transforming himself through his writings into Leolo Lozone, the son of an Italian man who masturbated on a tomato that his mother later fell on top of. Yeah, I'm not sure about the science of that one either. He reaches adolescence and becomes sexually aware, discovering masturbation himself and fantasizing about an older neighbor named Bianca.

Forget the very solid performance by Maxime Collin as Leolo. And forget the lyrical and beautiful narration, the dreamy cinematography, and the couple Tom Waits songs used. I didn't need the literary script, the gradually episodic unfolding of this coming-of-age story. No, I was sold within the first ten minutes during a scene in which a guy enthusiastically ejaculates on some tomatoes. That scene could have lasted two hours and been enough for me. This movie has some really bizarre moments, perversely bizarre. But it succeeds because it allows you to connect to the characters no matter how strange their situations might be. This film consistently surprised me. It'll move along like a lullaby, leading the audience through a dream landscape, and then suddenly hit you with something funny, unexpected, and bizarre. I won't spoil, but there are scenes with meat, a grandfather, and a cat that are just wonderful. This reminded me at times of My Life as a Dog. I really didn't like the music that much, but I did start to wonder (too late unfortunately) whether or not each of the characters had his own music. That could explain why the soundtrack was so wildly uneven. There was gypsy music, throat singing, Tom Waits, silly French pop music, creepy ambient stuff. Like all good movies like this, this smoothly shifts from humorous to touching. This is a movie that I'll admit I didn't completely get this first time I watched it. Luckily, it's entertaining enough to eventually watch again.

A Winter Rates recommendation. And now I know where he got that "meat" idea.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

1945 Oscar Wilde adaptation

Rating: 17/20 (Jen: 11/20)

Plot: A dull rich guy named Dorian has an artist friend paint his portrait. After an extraordinarily gay conversation about how pretty Dorian is, he mentions how nice it would be if he didn't have to get older and eventually lose his good looks. An evil kitty overhears him and grants his wish. George Sanders comes in to show off his moustache ("My bitchin' 'stash, mo-fo," as he says) and say some things that are so witty that it causes grown men drop their pants. There's a puppet show, and a pretty blond sings the only song she seems to know ("Killin' One Bird with Two Stones Softly") over and over again, causing Dorian Gray to fall in love with her. Time passes, the painting starts changing, and Dorian Gray puts it upstairs.

Puppet xylophone action, spontaneous little person appearances, and George Sanders! Oh my! I really dug the cinematography in this one. The rich folks' houses look beautiful, and the seedier settings that Gray frequents are dark, dank, and sinister. The places in this movie are shot very well. The dialogue is as literary and witty as you're likely to hear. In fact, it's too written and unrealistically witty, especially whenever Sanders' character is involved, but that's what you get with Oscar Wilde. There are definitely a lot of words in this one, so many words that I didn't come close to catching them all the first time through. I do like Sanders in this, and I also like Hurd Hatfield as the title character even though he has less facial expressions than his painting. And speaking of that painting. Wow! The painting is shown in color a few times, and when it's unveiled about 3/4 of the way through the story, drastically changed from the first time we see it, it's a genuinely shocking moment. I'd love to have that hanging in my living room, but apparently it's in Chicago. I also doubt my wife would allow it to hang anywhere in our house. This is a great literary adaptation and a powerfully haunting fable about the consequences of a hedonistic and egotistical life style and the futility in avoiding the inevitable and trying to hide our true nature.

A Cory recommendation.

Gumby Dharma

2006 documentary

Rating: 14/20

Plot: The life and work of Gumby-creator Art Clokey.

What I learned from Gumby Dharma:

1. Why Gumby is green. Aside avoiding race stuff, green is "a product of life" and life, as we all know, equals love. Yeah, Art Clokey had hippie tendencies.

2. The origin of his name. It's not terribly interesting.

3. How Clokey's purpose for working with claymation had to do with the imagery being just below a level that creates nausea and seasickness, a level of excitement.

4. Why Gumby has a bump on his head. It's based on Clokey's father's cowlick and, as you'd probably expect, was to avoid the problem of Gumby being a phallic symbol.

5. What the voice of Gumby (the only voice for Gumby as far as I know) looks like. Yep, he's a large bearded individual, a guy who looks like he either just stomped out of the woods or rolled down a mountain.

6. That Prickles and Goo were named after something Clokey heard from Alan Watts about how there are two types of people in the world--prickly and gooey.

7. How Flying Burrito Brother and fellow Hoosier Sneaky Pete Kleinow got exactly one hundred dollars for the Gumby theme song.

8. That Art Clokey invented a bitchin' toy called Moody Rudy and enjoyed harassing women from his automobile with it.

9. That Art Clokey left his wife and family for sixties counterculture, experimenting with hallucinogenics, being a Buddhist, and getting his picture taken with Frank Zappa.

10. That Clokey produced a beautiful 70s short called "Mandala" that looks like something pretty special.

11. That Gumby was taken to India to be blessed by a holy man.

I can't say I really liked the cutesy Gumby and Pokey narration/interviews, and there's a ridiculous Gumby/Art Clokey dance number at the end of the documentary. Other than that, this is good stuff. Well, there's the troubling period for Clokey in the 60s when he apparently loses his mind. That was sad. Henry Selick and Harryhausen make appearances. I really liked hearing Clokey (and his son) talking about how Gumby and his friends represent different parts of their creator's personality. "They're all me," Clokey said.

R.I.P. Art. Thanks for the Gumby. And somebody buy me a Moody Rudy!

Idioterne (The Idiots)

1998 Von Trier joint

Rating: 18/20

Plot: Karen, a woman looking for answers and meaning in a life full of questions and futility, flees that life and joins a group of pretentious radicals calling themselves The Idiots. Led by the megalomaniacal Stoffer, they go out in public and "spazz," their term for acting like they are developmentally disabled. They make scenes in restaurants, during tours of insulation factories, at public pools, in the woods, and elsewhere. As they search for their "inner idiots," Karen tries to figure out what's going on and whether she belongs in the group or not.

First off, the self-important Lars Von Trier makes it very difficult to like his movies. He filmed this one as part of Dogme 95, an avant-garde filmmaking movement. And I expected to watch it and be reminded of a bowel movement. I don't want to spend too much time with this, but the "Dogme 95 Manifesto" includes the following rules, almost all of them strictly enforced for Idioterne:

1. On-location filming. No props.
2. No sound effects or music.
3. Hand-held camera.
4. Color but no special lighting.
5. No optical work and filters.
6. No "superficial action" (murders, weapons)
7. "Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden."
8. No genre.
9. Not widescreen.
10. No directorial credit.

Add to all of this pretentious artsy-fartsy nonsense the fact that this is a movie about people acting like they're mentally challenged, and I fully expected to kind of hate this movie. I really did. Instead, I unequivocally loved it. I honestly finished the movie and thought it was a real documentary about people who really did this. That's a testament to how great both the "story" and the acting is, the former not seeming written at all, natural and free-flowing, while the latter is the amongst the most realistic I have ever seen. At the center of this movie is Karen and her struggles although for most of the movie, she meanders around the edges of the group and has one of the least dynamic personalities of the idiots. But the action unspirals, the group's ideals are shattered, and we're left with Karen at the end, returning to her home and finishing the movie with an absolutely stunning moment that nearly made me cry. And that's strange because the majority of this movie is about as weird as anything I've ever seen. There are lots of funny Borat-like moments where the idiots interact with the unsuspecting public, but they're all moments that'll make you feel guilty while you laugh at them. That's probably Von Trier's jerky intent, making the audience uncomfortable, forcing us to leave our skin and dance around in our bones. The dogme rules don't exactly make this a comfortable experience either, and some shocking nudity and an even more shocking, and extremely graphic, orgy scene also force the audience far out of the comfort zone. Watching this without being affected in some way is impossible, and I think different people will grab different things from Idioterne. It's definitely not for everybody; in fact, I'm not sure it's for very many people at all, and a lot of people . For me, it's a shockingly original and amazing movie experience.

These Three

1936 melodrama

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Two college girlfriends, Martha and Karen, graduate with no real idea what to do with the rest of their lives. They decide to travel to an old house one of them inherited to turn it into a school for girls. When they get there, they find an uninhabitable house and a doctor playing with some bees in the attic. The doctor convinces them to fix the house up. The trio get the school going, and the brunette woman (Martha or Karen) and Dr. Joe become engaged. But when a troubled little girl, angry with being disciplined for being a pain in the ass, tries to get her revenge by spreading gossip, the lives of all three begin to unravel.

If I had to pick a least favorite decade in movies, it would probably be the 1930s. And These Three is ninety minutes of everything I hate about the decade. Actors who act like they're on a stage because they haven't figured out how to act in a movie, uninventive camera work, a suffocating score, unrealistic dialogue, and conflicts that are too easily resolved by the end of the movie. Although I like the central ideas (the ramifications that can stem from a single lie and the idea that children are evil), nothing about this thing rings true. When the characters spoke to each other, I couldn't help but screaming at my lap top (my dvd player is apparently broken), "People don't talk like that! Somebody slap those mo-fos!" I didn't mind Joel McCrea so much, and I enjoyed Walter Brennan in his small part as the "taxy" driver. But Miriam Hopkins and Merle Oberon, as Martha and Karen respectively, gave terrible, bloated, overly-melodramatic performances that actually made me want to spread vicious rumors about them. And the children's acting in this is brutal, especially Bonita Granville as the malicious Mary Tilford. Apparently, somebody (I'm blaming her parents) told her to "Give it your all, Sweety" before sending her to the studio to give a performance that I hated more than any other performance in recent memory. She screams nearly every line, has a few ear-piercing nervous breakdowns, and really makes any scene she's involved in almost impossible to watch. I looked her up and noticed that she played Nancy Drew a few years later. I was thinking about finding some Nancy Drew movies for my daughters to watch, but I would hate for Bonita Granville's wailing version of the detective to ruin the books for them.

This was recommended by Cory, apparently as revenge for my recommendation of How to Draw a Bunny.

O Lucky Man!

1973 black comedy

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Michael Travis is training to become a salesman for a coffee manufacturer when another employee unexpectedly dies, opening a door for him and giving him control over the Northwest part of England. He travels to his region to sell some coffee, apparently enters a dream, and has a series of surreal misadventures involving raunchy sex shows, top secret military locales, experimental hospitals, and hippie communes.

This sneakily surreal and completely fascinating satirical comedy-musical had been on my "Want-to-See" movies list for a while. It's likely way too long and definitely in the not-for-everybody camp, but I really enjoyed it. It's a movie with a rhythm of its own. There are a few outrageous moments (a very strange and shocking scene in the hospital most notably), but for the most part, this is a calm movie, filled with extended scenes and quiet humor. I really like Malcolm McDowell here. He's the center of attention for the entire three hours, and his performance just fits. It's the type of character whose shoes you can't imagine anybody else filling. Maybe that's just a Malcolm McDowell thing though. It's not just McDowell though because O Lucky Man! overflows with terrific comic performances, most of the actors playing three or four roles. Seeing the familiar faces pop up as brand new characters also added to the dreamy quality this has. I was surprised after I watched this movie how much I actually laughed out loud. This is a funny movie with no punchlines, and a few times, I think I laughed just because I felt the need to react in some way and figured laughing was as appropriate as anything else. There are a few times (once at the very beginning) when the film turns silent, black and white with title cards. Those are cool. Oh, and the songs. I thought this was supposed to be a musical, but the characters don't sing. There are interludes with Alan Price and his band though, and I enjoyed those songs and thought they added to the narrative. I won't claim that I completely understand what this movie's about, but it doesn't really matter. I thought this entire film was a treat, a baffling and refreshing and unique treat. Add this to the ever-lengthening list of great things that came from 1973.

The Devil, Probably

The feel-good film of 1977

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Details the final three months of existential angst as fatally disillusioned Charles tries his best to feel something in a world he despises. His pals try to show him pictures of baby seals being clubbed to death to make him feel better about the world he's not sure he wants to be a part of, but he decides to kill himself anyway. The end.

Geez. This wasn't just depressing; it was profoundly depressing. Being thematically depressing is usually enough, but this is stylistically depressing as well. As I've learned to expect with Bresson, I didn't quite grasp everything after one viewing. This is thickly symbolic. Like with Pickpocket, we've got lots of open and closed doors, and I think there's something going on with transportation. The way the characters are displayed on screen is very odd, lots of characters shown walking slowly from the neck or even waist down for extended periods of time. The camera sometimes lingers on, well, seemingly nothing at all a lot of times. At first I thought it was the product of a director who's apparently lost his mind, but I think there was something deeper going on there, too. The narrative feels incomplete, drained of anything that feels vital, and the emotionally detached acting makes it difficult to connect to the characters. The actors seem completely bored with their roles. But am I allowed to say "in a good way" following that? I really think Bresson's refusal to allow the audience to emotionally invest in anything actually helps what's going on in the protagonist's head to go on in the viewer's head. By the time one of the final scenes (involving classical music and a television) comes along, you're about ready to lose faith yourself and off yourself right along with Charles. That's a great scene. So is the final scene, a scene on a bus when the title is spoken by a guy who barely gets his name in the credits, and a conversation with a psychologist. This isn't the most fun movie I'll watch this year, and there's absolutely nothing that will dazzle you about Le Diable Probablement. It's difficult and heavy stuff, but I'm really glad I saw it.

A Winter Rates recommendation.


2009 animated movie

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

Plot: A miniature burlap man wakes up and goes outside. He meets another burlap man, and they're attacked by a robot kitty. The second burlap man, appropriately named 2, is captured. The first burlap man, the title character, finds some other burlap men and talks one of them into journeying to some smoke stacks to find 2. They find some other burlap men and one burlap woman, and then 9 puts a bottle cap into a machine and chaos ensues.

Well, I really liked the nightmarish, apocalyptic imagery in this, the dilapidated structures, the tattered backgrounds, all the dismal grays. The setting sets a tone here, and the animation is really beautiful. I also like the antagonist, a menacing giant insect-like machine and all of its wild creations. The creativity involved in creating this little world is astonishing. I don't, however, care for how the little burlap people move around. And worse, they don't have enough individual personality to make them real characters. They're all inventive, one of them is sort of a bastard, one of them is a tough guy/bully type, one of them is a warrior. But they lack depth that would have made me give a damn when one of them was threatened or when some of them perish. The flat voice work, with the exception of Crispin Glover (America's greatest actor), also didn't help. I really didn't understand this movie. As my brother said, the geography doesn't make sense at all. These burlap people were created and then didn't move more than a hundred yards before 9 finds them, and then they're all of a sudden zipping around this little world? It doesn't make sense. Neither did the majority of the rest of this. Souls? Satanic rituals? Soul-sucking robots? Burlap ghosts? Magical bottle caps? Still, the experience is worth watching. It's easy to get lost in this weird little world and wonderful to watch the explosion of creativity on the screen. I just wish it made more sense.

Shakes the Clown

1991 story of redemption

Rating: 6/20 (Mark: 9/20; Amy: 19/20; Amy's friend: 20/20)

Plot: A birthday clown named Shakes has a lot of things going for him. He's got friends, he's got a girlfriend with aspirations of becoming a professional bowler, and he's got a shot at a television gig. Unfortunately, his alcoholism has gotten in the way of his career. When rival clown Binky gets the television role instead of him, it sends him over the edge. His girlfriend dumps him, his boss fires him, and his friends are no help. That's what happens when your friends are Adam Sandler, I guess. Things get worse when Shakes is the primary suspect in the murder of his boss. Oh, snap!

You've got to respect a film that makes a large (and largely unfunny) joke out of alcoholism. It's a dark topic for a comedy. The problem with this movie is the lack of anything resembling comedy. It's stuffed with jokes and slapstick more likely to make you roll your eyes than smile. One of the first scenes shows a child peeing on Shakes' face, and the onslaught of scatalogy and vomitology never slows down. The writing is bad enough to make jail time for writer/director/star Bobcat Goldthwaite a legitimate possibility. It didn't take very long for me to want to urinate on Goldthwaite's face. I liked the idea enough, but the story was very thin, stretched like rubber vomit into a ninety-minute film and about as deep as a cream pie. I've seen a lot of movies where I find a lot of scenes that should have been cut, pointless scenes that add absolutely nothing to the story. More than half of the scenes in Shakes the Clown were like that. Robin Williams was also in this. That's rarely a good thing, but this was apparently during one of his non-sober times. This did get a bonus point for a midget mime. I'd apologize for throwing out the M-word after saying I no longer would, but the alliteration was impossible to pass up.

This is one of my sister-in-law Amy's three favorite movies.

Lust, Caution

2007 glacier

Rating: 14/20

Plot: In Japanse-occupied Shanghai, future-whore Mai Tai Tai and her university drama student friends naively attempt to assassinate Mr. Yee, a important Japanese official. It doesn't work out so well, but a few years later, a guy recruits them to try again. Mai Tai Tai works to become first a friend of Yee's wife, then an occupant of his house, and finally his mistress. They do it, repeatedly and roughly, and the time soon arrives when the crazy kids can get a shot at their man.

I liked the last third of the movie a lot better than the first two-thirds, but it couldn't completely save this one. This was so deliberately paced, too deliberately paced, and it was really hard for me to focus for two and a half hours. Scenes were stretched so much that the minutia squeezed to the surface from their pores, and I'm sure Ang Lee thought the minutia was important for the audience to see, but I'm not completely sure that's the case. This movie could have been a lot shorter. Lee had the same problem with the overrated Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger which both had scenes that were far too long, and his Incredible Hulk movie which was about two hours too long. I know the feelings between the two characters had to be given time to become believable, but I'm not really even sure they were all that believable. When the movie ended, I was convinced that the guy was a creep, albeit a creep with feelings (Tony Leung Chiu Wai who, I noticed after glancing at his filmography I've seen in a ton of movies, is very very good) but that the woman was nothing more than a materialistic whore. But maybe that was the point. I'm not the type of movie watcher who typically loses patience with slow-moving dramas, but I did lose patience with this one, and it's definitely a movie I respected more than I enjoyed.

Inglourious Basterds

2009 realistic war movie

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

Plot: In occupied France, Jewish-American soldiers brutally kill Nazis and collect their scalps. Meanwhile, pretty Shosanna, a young woman who witnessed the murder of her entire family after they were discovered hiding on a dairy farm, meets German war hero Fredrick Zoller. As he becomes more and more interested in her, she finds out that the movie theater she operates will be premiering Goebbels' new film, coincidentally the detailing of Zoller's heroism. She plots her revenge as the Basterds also plan how they can use the premiere to add to their scalp collection.

First off, Christoph Waltz as the "villain" in this movie is terrific. An early favorite for my actor of the year award. On the other hand, I'm not sure what to think about Brad Pitt here. His character and especially his accent don't make sense, and I'm not sure if that's because he's terrible or if I'm missing part of the point. He's a heroic hick, an homage (parody?) to Sergeant York maybe, and so goofy that it almost has to be intentional. This is a complex movie about the making of war movies, about revisionist history, about propaganda, and about the nature of heroism. This sucker's got depth, and more than any other movie I can remember seeing, it's really two films in one. You've got the very entertaining, very violent, and very humorous stuff on the surface, but there's so much subtext that it almost feels like a second movie underneath. This movie is a lot of fun to watch and a lot of fun to think about for a few days after you watch it. Tarantino toys with audience expectations and emotions enough to annoy a lot of people, but it's great seeing a director who is so sure of himself that he knows he can do anything he wants. It's almost to the point where the movie itself seems cocky. Other movies probably hate Inglourious Basterds because it's so stuck on itself and thinks it's all that. The extremely lengthy chunk of dialogue to start the movie, dialogue long enough to turn off anybody coming to the theater to see some war action and Tarantino stylized violence, is exceptionally gripping. Almost all the dialogue is great actually. The stylized violence is there, too, and it's also gripping. As with most of his work, Tarantino's movie wears its influences very well. There are more than a handful of scenes here, too many to mention them specifically, that are so amazingly executed that I had to pick my jaw up off the floor afterwards. An impressive work of art, and a huge comeback following Tarantino's dismally worthless little car movie.

Shop around the Corner

1940 romantic comedy

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

Plot: I really messed up on this one. I thought for sure I was about to watch Little Shop of Horrors around the Corner, the infamous film where Jimmy Stewart is repeatedly violated by a giant flower. Unfortunately, this has almost the exact same plot as You've Got Mail with Jimmy Stewart inventing the Internet and courting Margaret Sullavan through electronic mail.

OK, wait a minute. This takes place in Hungary? I didn't buy Jimmy Stewart as a teenager in It's a Wonderful Life, and I don't think he's very convincing as a Hungarian either. Despite that, I really like him in this. I don't always like him as much as some people, but he's got the right amount of charm and fragility in this to create a character that is very real within this kind of ludicrous situation. All of the performances are actually very good--co-star Sullavan, Frank Morgan (the Wizard) as the shop owner, the other employees in the little shop. Contrary to what Jennifer thinks, this is world's better than the Ryan/Hanks remake. It hasn't dated at all, and it doesn't manipulate the audience like modern romantic comedies seem to do. I can understand why this has been remade. It's a good story, and I did enjoy seeing it executed with grace and subtlety.

Dead of Night

1945 huggable thriller

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Walter Craig travels to an old house to meet with some people and shares with them that he is currently living a recurring nightmare. The psychologist doesn't believe him despite his ability to predict things that will happen. The other guests begin sharing their own tales of supernatural intrigue.

Interesting but a little dated "horror" film. The individual stories are a lot of fun in a Twilight Zone sort of way. In fact, I distinctly remember a Twilight Zone episode very similar to the first story with the hearse, and the Twilight Zone has about fifteen episodes with ventriloquist dummies. My favorite story-within-the-story is the final one with the schizophrenic ventriloquist. Some of the stories work a lot better than others, and some of the acting, most notably whoever plays the young woman, is over the top. The entire final sequence, an exercise in surreal dream logic, is surprising and very cool. Dead of Night's original structure, instead of just being a gimmick, aids in the storytelling and allows for tension and well-timed humor.

Recommended by Cory.

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

1992 clone

Rating: 9/20 (Dylan: 3/20; Emma: 11/20; Abbey: 15/20)

Plot: See Home Alone. Except place the child star who will later become a drug addict in New York City after he gets on the wrong plane and finds himself separated from his family. Other than that, things are almost identical.

Rob Schneider is in this movie. I don't feel the need to type much else about Home Alone 2. I think I probably could have written this screenplay with nothing more than the screenplay for Home Alone 1, ten bottles of white-out, a pencil, and forty-five minutes.

Love Happens

2009 terrorist attack

Rating: 7/20 (Dylan: 4/20)

Plot: Poor Mitch. Or whatever his name is. After his wife dies in an automobile accident, Mitch becomes a self-help guru, touring and writing books in order to help people move on after the loss of their loved ones even though he's far less than an expert in that category. While in Seattle, the hometown of his wife's parents and her parrot, he meets Jennifer Aniston and decides that having sex with her might help him to forget the past.

This movie starts with the cliche about making lemonade when life hands you lemons. I think the line (and subsequent similar banalities) is meant to show that Aaron Eckhart's character's self-help advice is trite and superficial. Still, it's a bad start to the movie. Actually, it might be the perfect start for this movie, an hour-and-a-half-or-so full of hackneyed drivel and predictable sludge. I stopped assuming Jennifer Aniston will eventually make a good movie a long time ago. She's the same character that she always is, and cute to the point where she becomes a real distraction. I don't know who this Aaron Eckhart fellow is, but he's got the range of a telephone pole. Love Happens' worst crime is when it spontaneously turned into a commercial for Home Depot. At that point, I turned to the guy sitting next to me on the plane (a guy who was on the first leg of a 26 hour trip to somewhere in the Middle East [or Middle Earth? I think he might have said Middle Earth.]) and said, "Can you believe this crap?" He opened his eyes and said, "Please stop talking to me. I really need to sleep." The best thing about this movie was probably the bird. And unfortunately, the bird wasn't even very good.