1978 trucker movie

Rating: 15/20 (Jen: 3/20)

Plot: Was the dark of the moon, on the sixth of June, Rubber Duck was in a Kenworth, pullin' logs. Cabover Pete with a reefer on, and a Jimmy haulin' hogs. They was headin' fer bear on I-10, 'bout a mile outta Shaky-Town. Rubber Duck says, "Pig-Pen, this here's the Rubber Duck, and I'm about to put the hammer on down." Cause they had a little old convoy, rockin' through the night. Yeah, they had a little ol' convoy, ain't nothin' gonna git in their way. They're gonna roll this truckin' convoy across the USA. Convoy! Rubber Duck said to Pig-Pen, "Uh, you wanna back off them hogs?" Pig-Pen said, "10-4, 'bout five mile or so, 10-roger, them hogs is gittin' intense up here." By the time they got into Tulsa Town, they had eighty-five trucks in all. But they was a road block up on the clover leaf, and them bears was wall to wall. Yeah, them smokies as thick as bugs on a bumper. They even had a bear-in-the-air. Rubber Duck says, "Callin' all trucks, this here's the Duck. We about to go a huntin' bear. Well, they rolled up Interstate 44 like a rocket sled on rails. They tore up all our swindle sheets and left 'em settin' on the scales. By the time we hit that Chi-Town, them bears was a-gettin' smart. They'd brought up some reinforcements from the Illinois National Guard. *****SPOILER ALERT***** There was armored cars and tanks and jeeps and rigs of every size. Yeah, them chicken coops was full a bears an choppers filled the skies. Well, they shot the line, and we went for broke with a thousand screamin' trucks. And eleven long-haired friends of Jesus in a chartreuse microbus. Rubber Duck says, "Hey, Sod Buster, listen. You wanna put that microbus in behind the suicide jockey? Sod Buster answered, "Yeah, he's haulin' dynamite. He needs all the help he can git." Well, they laid a strip fer the Jersey Shore and prepared to cross the line. Rubber Duck would see the bridge was lined with bears, but he didn't have a doggone dime. He says, "Pig-Pen, this here's the Rubber Duck, we just ain't a gonna pay no toll." So they crashed the gate doin' ninety-eight. Rubber Duck says, "Let them truckers roll! 10-4."

This movie has a good message: "Keep the bugs off yer glass and the bears off yer ass." I remember this being one of my favorites as a kid, my step-father being a truck driving man and all. He had a CB handle (Yellow Streak) and that was about the only cool thing about his job. I made up my own CB handle (I forget) and talked to truckers. I just love the dialogue in this. It doesn't sound realistic to me at all, but I was never a truck driver in the sixties, so what do I know? Peckinpah's grit works so well with this truck-driver western; there are moments when you feel that you need to get up and wipe dust off your television screen. The counterculture message is a bit dated and probably was in the late-70s when this came out, but the freedom-at-any-cost message is still just as important. Lovable characters in this, the kind of folk you can only find if you pick up rocks and scrape them off the bottom. They all get great lines and even better names: Love Machine, Spiker Mike, Widow Woman, Big Nasty, Pack Rat, Sneaky Snake, Lizard Tongue, Old Iguana, Septic Sam the Sewer Man, Silver Streak. I always figured that the C.W. McCall lyrics were written for this movie, but the song came out first. This might be the best movie ever made that was inspired by a song, but I'd probably need to think about that a little more. Great bar-fight scene, great music, great ending. I have no reservations about calling this an overlooked 1970s classic.

I was inspired to come up with my own trucker handle. I'm trying to decide between Quasimodo and Golden Shower. What would your CB handle be?

Monsters Vs. Aliens

2009 animated crap

Rating: 8/20 (Abbey: 20/20; Emma: 16/20)

Plot: The government is keeping rubbery-looking monsters in a top-secret facility, including the recently giantized Susan Murphy who was hit by a meteorite a few days before her wedding. When aliens invade earth, the monsters are called upon to help save earth.

It's eight years after Monsters Inc., a movie with similar-looking characters and some humans, but these animators can't make characters that look any better. The monsters look rubbery, and the people move funny. This is really an ugly movie. The action sequences are nonsensical. There are all kinds of problems with the animation, proportional and continuity errors, that make it looked like they rushed through this thing or never got a chance to put the finishing touches on it. Toy Story's continuity errors you notice when you watch the movie dozens of times, but these stand out during the first (and last unless somebody decides to torture me) viewing. The soundtrack is so loud that it hurt my old man ears. The characters are cardboard, and there wasn't a single one I liked. Nope, not even the bad guys. The humor wasn't humorous. I'm actually having trouble thinking of anything at all that I liked about this movie. Oh, wait! They animated a nice butt on Susan. I'll give them credit for that. This is probably the worst Dreamworks movie I've seen, and I even saw Shark Tale. That this movie depressed me more than Dear Zachary says a whole lot.

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son about His Father

2008 documentary

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Filmmaker Kurt Kuenne collects home videos and runs around the country collecting interviews following the murder of his childhood friend, Andrew Bagby. When suspect #1, former girlfriend Shirley Turner, reveals that she's pregnant with Andrew's baby, Kuenne decides to make his film a tribute to Andrew so that son Zachary can in some way know his father.

Spoilers, I guess. For the full effect, you should go into this knowing nothing. This is difficult to write about and was almost impossible for me to give one of my silly little ratings. I really couldn't stand the style of this documentary, and I thought it was really manipulative. The style was oppressive and distracting. There's too much going on at once a lot of times--rapid-fire interview clips, overlapping voices, really loud sound effects, shots of rain on windows or seagulls, sort-of reenactments, too-cute line repetitions ("He was never late" used when Andrew was late for a meeting and later for his birth), too much music. At times, the style is not only distracting but really tacky. It often seems like it's more about Kurt Kuenne than it is about Andrew or Zachary. However, the story is so absorbing, and the almost overwhelming amount of documentation here (the home footage Kuenne shot as a child, the police stuff, the "live" footage of Shirley interacting with Andrew's parents) gives such a complete picture of this story that you really feel like you're experiencing all this right along with Andrew's family and friends. It's shocking, and I broke down while watching it, had trouble sleeping that night, and couldn't stop thinking about it the next day. As the story unfolds right in front of Kuenne's camera, it hits you right in the gut, and I actually felt physically ill by the end of this. There's a point to all this pointlessness, and it's a point that is pretty well made. You do wind up hating the right people after all this is over, and I ended up with a desire to want to find Andrew's parents and give them a big hug. This is haunting, staggering, and absolutely devastating stuff, probably not for everybody.

Recommended by Cory, likely to get me back for my recommendation of The Grave of the Fireflies.

Waiting for Guffman

1996 mockumentary

Rating: 14/20 (Jen: 11/20)

Plot: Speck-on-the-map Blaine, Missouri is celebrating its 150th birthday with an amateur stage performance about the town's history. Corky St. Clair, a dramatist with unrealistic aspirations, gets together a couple travel agents, a Dairy Queen employee, and a dentist and prepares his show. And what a big show it is, for Guffman, straight from Broadway, is due to arrive, enjoy their performance, and get them a shot on the big stage.

I'm not sure there's one joke I'm going to remember in this one. No, I take that back. I'll remember David Cross's cameo as a ufologist. Still, I chortled quite a bit, as much as I would during three episodes of Parks and Recreation anyway. Guffman satirizes middle America fairly well, and I like how the characters, other than Christopher Guest's Corky, aren't over-the-top. Good comic performances from those types of guys who are good at this sort of thing--Eugene Levy, Don Lake, Fred Willard, and the wonderful Paul Benedict. In case you don't know the name, Paul Benedict is that one guy. It all builds up to the big night and the big performance, but it's sort of like a firework that's a dud. It pops a little, throws out a couple sparks, and fades. Overall, this is like a joke that builds to a predictable (but still funny) punch-line, but it's a fun enough way to pass some time. I can't get enough of the mockumentary format.

You, the Living

2007 comedy

Rating: 18/20

Plot: A collection of despairing people wade through the absurdity of every day life. Sometimes, they dream.

Now here's a hilarious zombie movie! There's no traditional narrative here, so this would likely frustrate a lot of viewers. But for the sleepy and adventurous, this is a treat. You, the Living is made up of 40-50 vignettes, snippets of lives that will either make you laugh while you feel like crying or cry while you feel like laughing. These barely-connected somnambulistic characters who weave in and out of these abbreviated visual jokes really are like zombies, wandering lifelessly, suffocating under the weight of a gray blanket of despair. But in a hilarious way! The version of humanity that Roy Andersson displays is one whose wooden dance floors have been walked upon by both muddy shoes and muddy feet. And visually? I can't remember a movie I was this impressed by visually. Roy Andersson's camera doesn't move (OK, it does move twice, but only a little bit) during these single-shot snippets. There's very little movement on the screen. In fact, there's a scene where something is boiling on a stove, and the steam rising from the pot almost seems inappropriate, like things are starting to get a little too crazy. But the movie's never boring. Most of that is because Andersson frequently hits you with something entirely unexpected, like a weird-looking character who wanders into the scene. And you can pause this at any time and have something on your television screen that looks like it belongs in a museum, probably one of those museums that would hang up an empty frame and call it art. This is one of my favorite movie experiences in a long time, and if I still took pictures of myself watching movies, you'd get to see a gigantic goofy grin that I had on my face during the entire film. An hilarious ode to hopelessness, a visual essay on life's little ironies, a collection of one-panel comic strips. Hot damn! I loved this movie bunches!


2009 zombie comedy

Rating: 10/20

Plot: The world is crawling with zombies, just like in every other zombie movie. And there are only a few survivors, just like in every other zombie movie. There's a nerdy virgin with a set of rules that have helped him survive the zombie epidemic, and there's Woody Harrelson, probably playing a character named Woody, who is your typical action hero, albeit one with a hankerin' for a Twinkie. They drive in search of survivors and run into a pair of swindling sisters. The four eventually decide to drive to an amusement park because all kinds of nifty zombie killin' effects can happen there! Just like in every other zombie movie.

This movie is stupid, unapologetically stupid. I'm not sure the world needed another zombie comedy (see the slightly better [as I recall (since it's also more than slightly forgettable)] Shawn of the Dead and the [also not funny but at least visually different] Fido) yet. When I want a zombie comedy, I'll just watch the satirical Dawn of the Dead again. It's not nearly as flashy, and it doesn't have Woody Harrelson in it, but it's got style and originality, things that Zombieland lacks. I didn't laugh a single time. I think I needed a laugh track or something to let me know what was actually supposed to be funny. I did kind of like the film references in the dialogue. The closest this actually gets to funny is a cameo appearance from an always-reliable funnyman, but that whole segment of the movie actually felt pretty contrived. Actually, the only reason why I'm glad I watched this movie is because it made me type all these words, including the word funnyman, which reminds me how much I like to use the word funnyman. "Who's on Letterman tonight, Shane?" "Why, it's funnyman David Cross!" Sonically, visually, make-uppily, action-ally, plottily, and characterily, this is all been-there/done-that. And the worst thing is that there'll probably be a sequel. I won't see it though.

District 9

2009 science fiction

Rating: 14/20 (Dylan: 9/20)

Plot: A behemoth hovers over Johannesburg, South Africa. Of all places. A big hulking metallic behemoth! Formerly inhabiting this behemoth are extraterrestrial beings resembling shrimp who the humans will later insensitively call prawns. The prawns have tummy aches, and the nice humans bring them to the ground to live in a ghetto. Elvis sees it all and writes a song. "And the dust flies / On a warm and racist Johannesburg morn / Another ugly monster baby thing is born / In the ghetto. / (background prawns) In the gheeeeeettoooooooo!" Some guy named Wicky or something is put in charge of the relocation of these aliens. The aliens don't like the idea. Some other things happen, and Wicky's arm gets all messed up.

I was really digging the first half of this, the part that is a hilarious mockumentary. Once it turned into a full-fledged science fiction action movie, I started looking at my watch. I've got a watch that can transform into a bitchin' personal nipple tweaker. It doesn't tell the time very well, but it's pretty good at tweaking nipples. So, I began to daydream, wishing that the movie was over so that I could commence nipple tweaking in the privacy of my bathroom. I liked the guy who played Wicky at the beginning. He reminded me of my favorite actor, that one guy, and his awkward and goofy way of communicating with the aliens made me chuckle a few times. Then the real plot started and the movie lost focus. Frustratingly, the style was really inconsistent. You can have a fake documentary or you can have a more traditional third-person story, but you can't have both! After a while, the shaky handheld cameras are in places that they're not supposed to be, as if documentarians would be following this guy through all these treacherous action sequences. The guy with the camera must have been the guy in Man with a Movie Camera. Then, the action is broken by news footage or an interview. Very discombobulating. I liked the acting for the most part. I thought the documentary stuff was very realistic, and the movie looks pretty good with the exception of some jerky CGI, especially with a goofy mechanism during the action-packed climax that made me wonder if I was watching Transformers II instead of a movie that is nominated for Best Picture. The attempt to give this some historical significance by placing this in Johannesburg couldn't quite hide the fact that the story was pretty weak. Really, the historical allusions were too obvious and distracting. That point could have been made a bit more subtly. The CGI Elvis cameo was also completely unnecessary.


1987 satirical biopic

Rating: 14/20

Plot: American adventure-seeker William Walker is sent to Nicaragua by Cornelius Vanderbilt to spread a little democracy with his ragtag army of misfits dubbed The Immortals. Soon after, he declares himself the president of the country and ticks everybody off.

Frustratingly uneven stuff here. Director Alex Cox has no shortage of intriguing ideas, and there are some moments in this that are visually impressive. Add Joe Strummer's eclectic score, and you've got something that looks and sounds really good. Ed Harris gives an (intentionally?) over-the-top performance as the title character. The blood's exaggerated, there are numerous (intentional!) anachronisms, the supporting performances are really hammy, and the black comedy is chaotic. There's also a narrator who inexplicably shifts from first to third person and back again. There's a lot I liked though. This has the best version of "Moonlight Sonata" I've ever heard, one that sounds like it was recorded on broken instruments. There's also some bestiality and cannibalism, and a great scene where a guy laughs at a bird. Oh, and Peter Boyle's got some bitchin' sideburns in this one. It's a fun little movie, probably the most bizarre historical movie I've seen. Those anachronisms--watching cars speed by carriages, characters reading Time magazine, and a helicopter descend on the proceedings--are humorous, but they also help nail down the point. But after an hour and a half of this, I felt like I'd been squirted with too much satirical venom from Cox's multi-colored plastic squirt gun. Or bludgeoned with a plastic squirt gun, especially with the contemporary footage used over the closing credits. It's a ballsy but messy film, one that I can like more than laud.

Drifting Clouds

1996 Aki Kaurismaki joint

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Middle-aged married couple Lauri and Ilona have financial trouble when they lose their jobs as a bus driver and head waiter in the same week. They do their best to keep their dignity and survive.

Man, I love this guy's movies! This is another fairy tale, a movie where life happens to some regular people but they come out ok in the end. There's just something about the simple style, the simple dialogue, and the simple stories in this Kaurismaki movies that make me so happy. As with the others, a lot of the beauty of this is in the fringe details, the kinds of things that no other director would draw attention to. I loved a scene when Illona took an order, opened a little window into the kitchen and hollered out the order, and then went into the kitchen to cook the food, all to give the impression (maybe even to herself) that she was working in a nicer restaurant. And I love how the husband, when despairing, would just walk into his house and fall face-forward onto the floor. They're sad situations, but they're situations you're allowed to laugh at because this is an Aki Kaurismaki movie and you know things will turn out just fine for the characters in the end. I also love the dialogue. A lot is said in very simple ways, but there's also a lot said when things aren't said at all, when Kaurismaki's long shots extend a little longer than they're supposed to, like in the scene where Lauri buys a color television and they just sit there staring at it even though it's not turned on. This was supposed to star my favorite actor, Matti Pellonpaa, but he died during pre-production and was no longer able to do it. Aki-regular Kati Outinen (Shadows, Match Factory Girl, and The Man without a Past) is in this though. I like her. She's strange looking in a strangely appealing way. Maybe it's an acquired taste because the more I see her, the more attractive I think she is. It's a shame that this guy's movies aren't easier to find.

Naked States

2000 documentary

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Spencer Tunick, artiste, travels America with the goal of photographing nudes in all fifty states. Art!

Part of the reason why I didn't like this was because of Spencer Tunick. I can't quite put my finger on it, but something about the guy's demeanor rubbed me the wrong way. His "art" was a little too random, and I didn't like his photography anyway. As he asked a variety of people--men and women, conventionally attractive and less-conventionally attractive--to pose nude, he had this looky-at-me-giggle-giggle-I'm-an-artist attitude that I thought was intolerable. My favorite footage in the documentary was when Tunick went to a nude beach and figured he could boss everybody around while they were trying to enjoy themselves with naked beach bowling and other activities that ugly naked people do and then started whining when he wasn't getting his way. There was irony in his claims that he was somehow a savior for these people, that he was in some way liberating them from their fabric bondage while he was whining about them not doing exactly what he told them to do. I'm starting to believe that the less we know about and see or hear our artists, the better. I definitely saw far more of Spencer Tunick than I ever needed to see. Aside from all that, this isn't a good documentary anyway. It has the look and feel of your typical reality television show. I'm also annoyed that they left out Indiana because naked Hoosiers would definitely have bumped this up a couple points.

A Serious Man

2009 riddle

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

Plot: Larry's a midwestern physics professor with a wife and two children. One day, his life gets much more complicated. His wife tells him that she is leaving him for their friend Sy. His son is addicted to the marijuana. His daughter steals from him to save up for a nose job. One of his failing students is trying to first bribe him and later sue him. Suddenly, not much makes sense about Larry's life. He seeks the counsel of a triad of rabbis.

I expected more straight comedy here, but this is more Fink than Lebowski or Burn After Reading. It's pretty clear early on that watching this movie will be like wading neck deep through an existential funk. Like Old Testament Job, albeit more comically, poor Larry is tested, dragged through shit, and spun in dizzying circles. It's hard to not feel for the guy. Accuse the Coens of being unnecessarily difficult, convoluted, and obscenely quirky if you must, but they have a way of making films that closer than any other filmmakers' works to matching the confusion of human existence. A Serious Man is a film that questions rather than answers, and it does it in a way that is typically Coen while being something completely new. This is the type of movie I'll likely never feel that I've completely grasped, possibly because of what I miss by not being Jewish or by not being smart enough to understand simple philosophical concepts. But I'm fascinated by what seems to be a lack of answers from the three rabbis (faith, mystery, and abandonment?), by the connections with Biblical Job, by the recontextualizing of that Jefferson Airplane song, and by the unlikely marriage of spirituality and science to fool us into thinking the world is a logical place. I need to watch this again and will have no problem doing just that.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

1974 Peckinpah joint

Rating: 16/20

Plot: When the daughter of some wealthy plantation owner winds up pregnant, he demands the daddy's head. Part-time piano player and full-time loser Bennie finds out about the bounty for Alfredo Garcia's head, and visits one of his old flames. She informs him that Alfredo has already died, and the two , who decide they're in love, travel to his grave to retrieve the head and collect the bounty. Things don't go smoothly, however.

On the surface, you've got a grimy, slow-paced action story that looks like a product of its time. But this work's got some dimensions, layers of grime that make this the type of movie that's got a soul. It's the soul of a sinner or a drunkard or a guy who rubs his junk on vegetables at the supermarket, but it's still a soul. The locations match the grimy plot. Pekinpah paints Mexico to be a truly magical place here, all dilapidated buildings, homely people, dust, and wrecked cars. The Mexican landscape and the faded colors of the dumps and dives these characters inhabit give this the feel of a raunchy dream. At one point in the movie, there's a family that is chasing the protagonist. They're driving this wonderfully battered blue car, something that looked like somebody had taken a sledge hammer to it. It made me laugh out loud. And although the pervading mood is one of despair or hopelessness, there is some off-the-wall humor in this movie. The protagonist is a great character, an A-grade anti-hero. If I had to be a loser, I'd choose to be this guy, a guy who doesn't care how badly his tie clashes with his shirt, sleeps with his sunglasses on, shoots pistols in the air while driving his convertible, takes exaggerated swigs from his bottle of vodka while he drives, and says really cool things like "You two guys are definitely on my shit list" and "You're looking at me with your goddamn fuckin' eyes." I haven't seen a lot of movies with Warren Oates, but I have to imagine this was the defining role of his career. He's got a way in this movie of simultaneously slurping in everything around him while looking utterly defeated the entire time. It's one of those performances you'll remember, simple but very effective. This is far from perfect (I can't figure out why Kristofferson's scene was in this), but it's a great movie about the price you have to pay to obsess, chase your dreams, and have things your way and the type of cult classic I imagine could be in some people's personal top tens. Other people? Not so much.

A Larst recommendation.

The Fly

1958 horror movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A brilliant but obsessed scientist has invented a matter-transport device which he uses to create a defect on an ash tray and kill a kitty. Once perfected, while his sex-starved wife waits upstairs, he decides to test the machine on himself. But unfortunately and improbably, a fly sneaks in and the scientist winds up with a fly head and fly arm. And somewhere, buzzing about and irritating everybody, is a fly with his human head. Vincent Price, the scientist's brother-in-law, tries to get to the bottom of things.

Oh, man! Dig those special effects! When the fly-man hybrid is finally unveiled, it looks just like I'd expect--in my darkest of nightmares--a guy with a cheap fly mask to look like. This dorky effect is only topped near the end of the movie when you get to see the fly with the human head. There are some really silly bits of dialogue, especially when taken out of context. "[The cat went] into space. A stream of cat atoms." "You're a murderer just as much as Helen. She killed a man with a fly head. You killed a fly with a human head." "Is this the fly you have been looking for?" But it all kind of works as an original sci-fi flick with a creative premise. And, of course, you've got the incomparable Vincent Price playing "guy who looks disappointed and bewildered." Vincent Price, guys with insect heads, great female screams, a memorable ending. It all adds up to pretty good B-horror fare.

Tunes of Glory

1960 drama

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Colonel Jock Sinclair drank with his men and sang and danced with them until that day when a shot rang out and he stood alone!

Man, oh, man! Bagpipes galore! I guess your liking of this movie would depend on your tolerance for wheezing. The bagpipe is to Tunes of Glory as the zither is to The Third Man. But like that zither, I think the bagpipes add flavor to this yarn. The characters involved in the conflict, played wonderfully by Alec Guinness and John Mills, are both flawed to the point where you really don't want to like or root for either of them. But as their characters develop, you really start to feel sorry for both men, especially since you know that things aren't going to turn out well, probably for either of them. Both actors give terrifically nuanced performances; there's burbling beneath the surface--subdued rage, exhausting pasts, wounded pride, and wiry scars. You catch these characters in the middle of their lives, but the characterization and acting is so strong that you don't even really need to know anything that happens to these guys before the movie or after the movie. This is simple storytelling, dialogue and character driven, and although everything that happens makes perfect sense, it's the depth and ambivalence that makes it most rewarding. That and the bagpipes! Bagpipe fever! Grab it while it's hot!

A Cory recommendation.

The Tiger in the Snow

2005 romantic comedy

Rating: 15/20

Plot: An Italian poet/professor is enamored with a woman named Vittoria. She travels to Baghdad, and Giovanni gets the news that she's been injured. Apparently, there's some war going on in Iraq or something. He travels (impossibly) to Iraq, finds his love interest in an overcrowded, under-supplied hospital (impossibly) and takes care of her when her doctor can't (impossibly).

Perhaps it's because I just watched City Lights yesterday. And perhaps it's because I've seen Benigni's Life Is Beautiful, a movie that I unashamedly love, three times. But The Tiger in the Snow sure seems to have a lot in common with those. Roberto Benigni seems to rub a lot of people the wrong way, but I like the guy. He gets a lot of things right in this one. Things begin surreally, a beautiful dream sequence in which Tom Waits is a wedding singer. There are more surreal touches along the way, but since the characters don't seem bothered or thrown off by them, I won't either. There's a playfulness to the drama and a darkness to the comedy that I really like. And there are some really terrific shots--a beheaded Hussein statue with a quarter moon poised above it, the aforementioned dream scene, the shot that gives the movie its title, a great shot with Benigni's character's love interest riding away on a trolley. Are there times when Benigni overdoes things a little bit? Sure, it happens. But he's got a way, like Chaplin, of pushing just the right buttons at just the right time. This is a beautiful, kinda quirky love story with just enough good to make up for its flaws.

Edit: I forgot to mention this. This movie has one of the best descriptions of poetry that I've ever heard.

City Lights

1932 romantic comedy

Rating: 20/20 (Jen: 16/20; Emma: 2/20; Abbey: 1/20)

Plot: After interrupting the unveiling of the city's new statue, a little tramp has a pretty good day. He meets a beautiful but blind girl selling flowers. It's love at first sight. He also befriends a drunken millionaire after saving his life and gets to spend the night on the town with him. He has a series of misadventures while trying to use his new friendship to help out the flower girl.

Any discussion of this movie really should start with the ending, a perfect one that gets me every time. There are lots of humorous moments (unless you're a girl in the third or sixth grade apparently) but there's nothing outrageous here. No scaling the side of a building or running from police or being attacked by monkeys while on a tightrope here. The humor is quiet and graceful. The opening scene is also great (and you get to hear Chaplin's voice for the first time; sort of), and it's followed by a lot of funny episodes, highlighted by the boxing scene and a trip to a restaurant with the millionaire. There's magic in every scene with the tramp and the blind girl. It's the little things that develop their relationship and set up one of the best endings in movie history. Chaplin stubbornly refused to make this his first talkie, and I'm so glad he did. Words would have ruined this one. City Lights is Chaplin's masterpiece and one of my favorite movies.

Masked and Anonymous

2003 movie that I don't really know how to describe in just one or two words

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Musician Jack Fate is released from prison in some anonymous country where the people say they want a revolution. Well, you know, we all want to change the world. The fat man in the powder blue suit (Mr. Sweetheart) who is promoting the benefit concert promises that this could resurrect Fate's dead career, and the newspaper man keeps asking him for his opinion on everything. But Jack Fate just wants to play music.

90-95% of the music I've heard in 2010 has been Bob Dylan. I'm immersed in Dylan, all greasy and stained because of it, so I figured it was time I give Masked and Anonymous another chance. It still sucks though. Of course, the music is good. Dylan and his band interrupt the "story" (thankfully) to play some originals and standards, and Dylan's songs, sung by him as well as a culturally diverse collection of others, pepper the proceedings. It's great music, recorded right in the middle of Dylan's latest reemergence as a musical force. The movie, directed by Larry Charles (another Curb Your Enthusiasm connection; it's just not a good year for them), looks really good. Wherever-it-takes-place has just the right amount of grime and despair to be a suitable back-drop for whatever-the-hell-is-going-on. But the rest of the movie? Pretty sucky. I've never seen so many talented people (Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Luke Wilson, and others) working so hard with such bad material. The dialogue is senseless, making this a land where the characters speak to each other in riddles. Their motivations are unclear, and it's impossible to figure out who the good guys and bad guys are here. It really does feel like these characters are pulled directly from Dylan song lyrics, and I can't believe I'm saying this, but that's just not a good thing at all. Nothing clicks here, and I was frustrated that I couldn't figure out exactly what was going on in this movie. Worse, I actually lost interest in trying to decipher the thing.

Island of Lost Souls

1932 science fiction funk

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A ship carrying a menagerie to a mysterious island picks up a shipwrecked nondescript guy. The captain doesn't like him very much and decides to maroon him on the island. And living on the island happens to be Dr. Moreau and the mutant results of his animal experiments. The nondescript guy isn't happy about it and has to wait for his girlfriend to pick him up.

A lot of this is surprisingly very modern for the early 1930s, mostly because of the very realistic make-up for the half-man/half-beast things. They're the real show here--monkey men lurking in the shadows, dudes with missing ears, guys with more back hair than my Uncle Barry. Nic Cage even makes an appearance at the 1:05 mark, his first movie role, I believe. The on-location shooting adds a realism and moodiness. The jungle island (probably not really an uncharted one) looks good. There's a lot about this that dates the movie, too. You've got goofy fisticuffs; any time the characters start punching each other, the film speeds up for some reason. There's also a great scene where an obvious dummy is thrown overboard. There's also some dialogue that is very written ("They're vivisecting a man!") but the acting doesn't have that over-the-top stagy feel at all. Charles Laughton is really good as Moreau, but he really didn't even need to be all that good with that facial hair. I also like the fact that every guy in the film (except the monkey men, of course) are wearing white suits. One thing really interesting about this was the complete lack of music. I almost always like it when movies don't have music. It usually adds to the tension and realism, I think. Here, however, I thought there were some moments that just seemed weird sans score. It was strange to see a movie without a score from this time period. Did it happen often? Overall, this is a great adaptation of a classic novel, realistically tense, quickly paced, and mysteriously entertaining. Or entertainingly mysterious?

A Cory recommendation.

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

2008 musical supervillain comedy

Rating: 12/20

Plot: All Dr. Horrible wants is to be admitted into the Evil League of Evil, run by the notoriously evil Bad Horse. Oh, and he also wants the girl he sees biweekly at the laundromat. But his nemesis, Captain Hammer, is standing in the way.

Doesn't Neil Patrick Harris have better things to do with his time? I don't know what this thing is. It's too short to be a real movie, but it has a beginning, a middle, and sort-of-an-end like a real movie. It's divided into three acts, and as Act Three was ending, I was sort of annoyed that I had two more acts to watch. Then, the credits came. This has quirkiness to spare, as quirky as you'd expect a musical superhero movie to be, but there's nothing actually funny. The songs aren't terrible, but they're not great either. The story is interesting enough, but it


1998 sports comedy

Rating: 8/20

Plot: Two losers invent a dumb game--a hybrid of baseball, basketball, and the Gong Show--and find fame and fortune when the game hits it big. But problems come with success, and the losers have to fight against outside forces that threaten to

I guess the "from the director of Naked Gun" should have given me enough of a clue. This isn't worth seeing. It starts out promising enough with some satirical jabs at modern professional sports and the failings of some of its heroes. But then it gets to the story, and it's all so typical, so predictable, and so entirely flat. I guess part of the problem is that the sport is so stupid, and unfortunately, it's not stupid in a humorous way. It's just like a more offensive or more obnoxious game of Horse. To be honest, I have played games of Horse that were far funnier than anything in this movie. The characters aren't likable at all; they say "dude" too much. I really think something like this could have probably worked, but somebody should have spent a little longer than twenty-three minutes writing it.

The Junkman

1982 car crash porn

Rating: 12/20

Plot: What better way to summarize the plot than to just steal the chapter titles? So, here it goes: Opening credits, the set up, riverbed chase, assassin plan, James Dean Festival, lady with a gun, who shot the sheriff, plane attack point, point blank shooting, wrapped around a tree, crashing front ends, smashing traffic, big wreck, crashing pig man, shooting from plane, flying through James Dean, over the cliff, plane crashing, flipping car, flying over plane, blowing up a house, gun shots in collection, blowing up cars, chasing Corvette, on top of cars, church lady, Goodyear Blimp landing, roof top fight, bombs away, end credits.

And with that, you literally get a chapter that almost sets everything up, a stunt scene while the main character finishes filming his movie, and then 45+ relentless minutes of car crashes. This movie boasts (both on the cover and in an introduction by the widow of the star/writer/director H.B. Halicki) that it's in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most car crashes. Plot? You don't need a stinkin' plot! It's the pointlessly repetitious twisting of metal, an orgy of crashes, boisterous and nearly pornographic, the sort of thing that forces you to say, "Dude!" with an emphasis on the first vowel sound. Duuuuuuuuude! It's jaw-droppingly stupid. In the late Halicki's defense, he's really good at that sort of thing. The first half of this film is really a lot of fun, and the crashes and stunts are shot well. Then, the movie dive-bombs like a plane being flown by a man trying to drop hand grenades on racing vehicles as Halicki probably said, "Whoops! We forgot to put a story in here!" and re-sets-up everything. And the movie can't find its momentum again, the perfect example of a film that shoots its proverbial wad far too early, a cinematic premature ejaculator. By the time the main character is leaping from the Goodyear Blimp, you're just wishing he was back in that car again, slamming into mailboxes that for whatever reason stick to the hood of his car, saying cool things to himself, showing off his sideburns, and occasionally leaping over flying planes in slow-mo. My favorite quote: A policeman says, "My unit is on fire!" which sounds painful enough. There's also a great scene where the cars chase each other through a James Dean Festival, and as the cars are departing, a guy hurls a rock at one of them. My favorite character though is the "eccentric pig farmer" in ill-fitting cut-off shorts. Every moment he's on the screen is movie magic. He's played by Ronald Halicki, prospective Torgo Award winner. Hmm. I wonder if he's related to the director.


2009 sci-phi-losophy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Sam's an employee of Lunar Industries, their only moon-based employee actually. It has something to do with energy. But he's nearing the end of his three-year contract and looks forward to returning home to his wife and daughter. He's been on the moon for so long that he's forgotten how to groom himself. Luckily, he's got a friendly gay robot named Gerty to help him out. He begins hallucinating, not really a problem until he crashes his giant vehicle into a crater and getting blood on his space helmet. Oh, snap! This sets off a chain of events that get Sam wondering about who he is, who he works for, and whether the lunar erections he gets are real.

This lacked the robot-man sex scene that would have bumped this to a 20, but I still really liked it. It's a moody, philosophical sci-fi creepathon that can sit on the shelf right next to Solaris (the George Clooney one, of course) and 2001. Just like those two movies, I was confused about what was going on a lot of the time, but the direction, the settings, and the tones set a mood that one can easily identify with even if one doesn't understand why the loneliness, the despair, and the discombobulation seem so familiar. Sam Rockwell's performance is great, creating a character who is easy to identify with. There's a delicate balance to what he does here, and he manages to remain very human and real with a character who could have ended up being pretty goofy. It's safe to say that if Rockwell wasn't good in this, the movie would have been a failure. This is the type of movie that toys a bit with audience expectations. There's a Hal-esque robot, but he doesn't turn out like Hal at all. You expect certain "twists" because you're used to seeing those types of twists in action movies or psychological thrillers, but then you don't get 'em. It's low-key in a way that is almost disarming. I also really liked the look of this movie. It must have been shot in the same studio where NASA shot the moon landing. A lack of color and the creepy electronic music (Clint Mansell) also contribute to the gloom. And gloomy it needs to be because I don't think this is a very cheery movie thematically. The future doesn't look too good for our souls, does it? I did like some of the sneaky humorous touches though, like when Sam removes a "kick me" sign from his gay robot friend.

This was a Larst recommendation. He's kind of like my gay robot friend!

Ripley's Game

2002 psychopathic character study

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Tom Ripley, an American with "too much money and poor taste," likes games. After being insulted at a neighbor's party, he discovers that the Jonathan, the insulter, is dying from cancer and figures that he's the perfect teammate for his latest game. A former associate comes to Ripley because he needs a guy killed, and he gives him Jonathan's number. A follow-up murder is then required because, just like you can't eat just one potato chip, you can't kill just one person. Ripley fights to remain in charge of his game.

At times, this seems to have the production values of a made-for-cable movie. And the characters' motivations are either far too complex for my weak mind to comprehend or just nonsensical. It's probably the former. I'm not Tom Ripley, ya know! But despite its flaws, this movie just works, mostly because it rests on the shoulders of John Malkovich, a guy who was born to play just this sort of psychopath. It's sexy stuff! Ray Winstone's also very good playing just the sort of character he's really good at playing. There's some great dialogue in this ("Hold my watch because if it breaks, I will kill everybody on this train."); I'm not sure if it's the writing or the delivery that makes the lines so much fun. But it's the dialogue and the performances that help you forgive the flaws in this movie. There's a great scene on a train (and I'm a sucker for great scenes that take place on trains!) that is both violent and comical. The movie even threatens to turn into an adult Home Alone movie near the end. It's amazing to me that this was essentially a straight-to-dvd release because John Malkovich really needs to be seen on the big screen. His eyes are too small for a normal-sized television.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle

1973 movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Eddie's a small-time gunrunner, facing a second chunk of jail time. He's looking for a way out and even considers ratting out his colleagues to avoid the slammer. His friends might not like that very much.

This movie's anti-flash. No pomp, no circumstance. Just the hopeless efforts of a world-weary guy trying to dig himself out of a hole with nothing but a religious pamphlet and a fake fingernail. It's gritty and realistic, just like 70's crime movies should be, and the acting, especially Mitchum as Eddie and Peter Boyle as Raymond's dad, is perfectly subdued. Eddie is such a loser, a tragic loser, but you feel for the guy as his life slowly and sadly unravels. This is downbeat, with not enough happening to seem like a real movie at times, but that somehow adds to the despair. The narrative's deliberate, but it lets you feel the characters a bit more and focus on some of the details of the gun trade, something I've thought about getting involved in if this teaching gig doesn't work out. This is the type of film you get to roll around in and get a little dirty.

Laila's Birthday

2008 movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Former judge turned taxi driver Abu Laila leaves for work and promises to be home by 8 to celebrate his daughter Laila's birthday. A series of misadventures threaten to get in the way of him reaching his goal.

This tricky little movie sneaks up on you. There just doesn't seem to be much happening to this guy, but then the end of the movie comes and you say, "Huh. I liked that." I did find the ending especially touching, and the entire movie puts a very human spin on the current goings-on in Palestine. I really thought the guy playing the dad (Mohammad Bakri) was fantastic, the perfect example of an actor who can say very little while expressing a whole lot. One thing I don't understand, perhaps because I'm an American with little knowledge about what goes on beyond my front door--if the parents' last name is Laila, and the little girl's first name is Laila, wouldn't that make her Laila Laila? Laila's Birthday is a simple but very effective film.

The Incredible Mr. Limpet

1964 war movie

Rating: 14/20 (Abbey: 20/20)

Plot: Bookkeeper Henry Limpet tries to enlist in the Navy, but they reject him. He goes home and whines to his fish about it. While visiting Coney Island with his wife and some guy named George, he falls into the water and turns into a cartoon fish. His wife and George assume that he's drowned. He meets a cantankerous crab and a sexy lady fish. Mr. Limpet also learns that he can be very valuable to the American Navy. He becomes a secret weapon, leads a Navy convoy through the Atlantic past a bunch of Navy submarines, and almost singlehandedly helps the Allies win World War II. Based on a true story.

My biggest worry about war movies like this is that many people are ignorant enough to watch this movie and think it all happened just like this. The mixture of animation and live action is ok, but the story is a little on the hokey side. There are also a few songs in this that are bad enough that somebody should have had enough sense to say, "Those are terrible. Let's just leave those songs out." Of course what makes this one of the greatest of World War II movies is the presence of Sir Don Knotts (I assume he was knighted) with a truly inspired performance. I'm too lazy to verify this, but I assume he won an Academy Award for this performance as I can't imagine a performance topping this one. This is a good family movie, except there is a graphic cartoon-fish-on-cartoon-fish sex scene that didn't need to be included. But as a guy who enjoys graphic cartoon-fish-on-cartoon-fish sex scenes, I can hardly complain. My only real complaint? That this incredible movie wasn't four times as long!

Mix-Up ou Meli-melo

1985 documentary

Rating: 15/20

Plot: In an English maternity ward in 1936, the Wheelers and Rylants have baby girls. They get mixed up, however, and (oh, snap!) the daughters are raised by the wrong parents for years and years.

Mix-Up resonates with me, probably because the same thing happened to me. Twice! This is a very unusual story, and the documentary style actually makes it even more unusual. There's an odd mix of playfulness and rigidity with documentarian Francoise Romand's style. About half of the shots are obviously staged. You get shots with characters standing in the foreground while other characters walk into the background, interviews with a person while a couple others watch from a window, etc. It's strange. My favorite was an interview with a brother who talked about overhearing a conversation as a boy while he was hiding underneath a table. So, of course the interview was conducted while the guy, as an adult, was underneath a table. The subjects also seem to be reading a lot of their "lines," making the subject matter seem oddly detached. There's definitely an artiness to the proceedings. You also get to see these otherwise boring people doing the most mundane things, like making tea. Peter Greenaway regular Michael Nyman (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat) provides a Michael Nyman-esque soundtrack to this oddball of a documentary.


1997 psychological thriller

Rating: 16/20

Plot: There are strange things done in the midnight sun. And one of those strange things north of the Arctic Circle in Norway is an author's murder of a 17-year-old. Swedish Jonas Engstrom and his partner Erik Vik arrive to investigate, but Jonas has to fight to stay sane following a second death, a barking dog, and relentless sunlight.

The detective side of this is overshadowed by the personal drama of the main character, a guy slowly losing his mind because of guilt, an ambiguous past, and his insomnia. And speaking of shadows, it's interesting that the movie is noirish while not having a single scene that takes place at night. No shadows, no gloomy evening. In fact, it's the exact opposite--bright lights, white fog, snow, and blinding morning. It's a good hook. There are a lot of scenes that are very well done in this. An early scene where the police chase the bad guy through the foggy Norwegian landscape is haunting and claustrophobic, and some jerky handheld camera work puts you right into the head of the nervous protagonist. There are lots of other fine, moody scenes. The story itself might be a bit pedestrian although I do like that you've got both a criminal mastermind character and a good guy who sort of has to become a criminal mastermind himself. I like when the good guys and bad guys interact or play little cat-and-mouse games, but the bad guy in this doesn't have all that much personality. Actually, the good guy doesn't either. Maybe that's the point though. Insomnia throws two normal Joes (or Svens) into situations where a few poor decisions tear their worlds to pieces. I've seen the American remake with Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hillary Swank. It was a while ago, but even though I thought that movie was pretty good, I think this original tops it.

I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With

2006 fat guy comedy

Rating: 9/20 (Jen: 5/20)

Plot: A fat actor living in Chicago with his mother is having a bad day. His agent drops him, he's fired from his job, and his girlfriend dumps him. He sneaks out of an Overeaters Anonymous meeting and heads right into an ice cream shop where he meets Sarah Silverman, a woman I'm not even convinced is human. She's bizarre, but he digs her, and eventually, they do it.

Jen hated this movie so much that she's barely spoken to me today except for a few times when she's hollered things. It's not been a good year for Curb Your Enthusiasm-related movies as Jeff Garlin wrote, directed, and starred in this affair. Sure, you get to see Sarah Silverman, suspiciously sans head, in underpants, but you don't get to see Jeff Garlin in underpants which is why I took the chance with this one anyway. There are a couple mildly amusing moments, but I only laughed one time during a scene involving a giant pirate head. But I laugh at mascots all the time, so that probably wasn't really funny. Seriously. Next to the place where I get gas, there's a Kentucky Fried Chicken, and the first time I saw the Colonel (not him, but some sort of statue) sitting on a bench inside, I laughed for a solid ten minutes. Gas was leaking all over the ground, I was rolling around and holding my sides, an elderly woman kept asking, "Is he having a seizure or something?" It was great. And sporting events? If there's a mascot involved, it doesn't matter what the final score is. Everybody wins! My first erection was actually at Busch Stadium in St. Louis as I watched Fred Bird dancing on top of the visitor's dugout. I've been to Disney World a few times, but I'm no longer allowed to go back because I humped Pluto's leg and fondled Baloo the Bear. It's a lifetime ban, one that I think is really unfair. But I digress. Back to this ridiculously titled movie. The story's a bit random, and there were too many characters in this movie for only a few minutes. The writing had an improvisational quality to it, usually something I'm not going to mind at all, but the problem was that it just wasn't all that funny. So, to recap: Sarah Silverman trying on underwear? Good. Pirate? Great! No scenes with Jeff Garlin trying on underwear? Depressing. What do we learn? A two-hour movie featuring nothing but Jeff Garlin on top of Mr. Redlegs while Sarah Silverman tries on underwear in the background would probably be the greatest movie of all time. Get crackin', Hollywood!

The Butcher Boy

1997 misbehaving child movie

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Francie Brady tries to make the best of life despite having an insane ma and a violent, alcoholic da. At least he's got his BFF Joe. Francie and Joe, when not playing cowboys or chipping at ice in a fountain, spend their time harassing Mrs. Nugent and her son Phillip, a family guilty of nothing more than having a more normal life than Francie's got. Francie's beguiling charm and gift of gab gets him far, but it can't save him from all the tragedies that befall the Brady family and threaten to tear Francie and Joe apart.

Brutally comic and whimsically tragic, The Butcher Boy is a strangely familiar film, one that apparently inspires me to write in oxymorons. It's well written, quotable even, but you've got to make sure you watch with the captions since the Irishness makes this very nearly a foreign language film. Eamonn Owens (Eamonn? Seriously?) plays Francie, and he plays 'm well, a performance that makes you feel really guilty for rooting for or rooting against the character. Right now, I'm having a tough time coming up with a better child acting job, and he's just such a great character. Sinead O'Conner's also in this movie, playing a cursing Virgin Mary. That right there is worth a bonus point. And Stephen Rea as the dad is also very good. There are some strange moments in this, surreal ventures into Francie's gradually weakening mind that involve aliens, atomic bombs, and pigs, and there are some shocking bits of ultraviolence that will likely turn off some viewers. A lot of dark territory is covered here--alcoholism, abuse, suicide, pedophilia--but the darkness is submerged beneath a layer of marshmallow humor, something else that might offend a lot of viewers. This was the second time I saw this movie, and it's just as fresh, daring, riveting, and surprising as it was when I watched it years ago.

Paranormal Activity

2007 (?) horror film

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Katie and Micah have shacked up. Micah takes a break from dicking around on his guitar and ogling his girlfriend's cracking rack to purchase a video camera with plans to record paranormal activity. Katie, it seems, has been stalked by a demon since childhood. They summon a psychic, but he can do nothing but unleash a few dickfarts, drool over Katie's cracking rack, and suggests they contact a demonologist. Gradually, as Micah fails to heed the warning to not taunt the demon, things get worse.

There are a lot of good things about this movie. It's a classic example of how to do a lot with very little. The effects are minimal and the bogeymen are camera shy, but the creeps are very real. There are some very scary moments in this movie, most of the time when nothing happens at all. And every single time the sleeping-couple-in-the-bedroom shot was repeated, I tensed up, knowing that something ranging from mildly spooky to pants-peeingly terrifying was going to happen. Very mild, seemingly harmless activities (a door closing, a light turning on) became intensely frightening within that dimly-lit home. I was also impressed with the acting, especially with Katie Featherston. She's also got a cracking rack. For three-fourths of the movie, this couple is the center of attention. Since this is one of those "discovered footage" deals (a la Blair Witch and Cloverfield), it's important that the acting doesn't seem like acting. These kids do a great job. There are also some almost awkward, very human, and playful moments exposed in the footage that make this a little more realistic. This horror movie isn't without its problems. It's got its share of goofy moments, and the ending is a little on the cheap side. And after a while, that sleeping-couple-in-the-bedroom shot set the audience up too much. You're able to brace yourself because you know that something's about to happen, and that might have taken some of the shock away. Still, it's impossible to know exactly what's going to happen and what sound effects are going to accompany it, and that keeps you on your toes.