2008 fairy tale

Rating: 16/20 (Jen: 14/20; Dylan: 5/20; Emma: 12/20; Abbey: 15/20)

Plot: An animated version of the trippiest episode of The Golden Girls. Dorothy, Blanche, Sophia, and Rose are caught shoplifting make-up from a Walgreens and spend the night in prison. They meet a drug dealer named Ponyo behind bars, and once they're all back on the outside, the girls after paying a small fine and promising to never do it again and Ponyo on a technicality, the girls score some hallucinogens which they ingest by a dumpster. Ponyo says, "Enjoy the dope, ya old bags," before riding off on a scooter. Dorothy, Blanche, Sophia, and Rose begin to hallucinate. Blanche mistakes Rose for a scorpion and stabs her seventy-four times, later claiming that it was in self-defense. Dorothy walks into the sea, mistaking herself for a mermaid, and, because she's not really a mermaid, drowns. Sophia flees, eventually winding up in Tokyo. Ponyo is never heard from again.

I just don't get the logic of Miyazaki's worlds. The world these characters inhabit doesn't obey any of the laws that hold the real world together, and the narrative progression doesn't always make complete sense. Plot holes? More like plot canyons. You'll walk away from Ponyo with something that almost looks like a completed puzzle, but then you'll check your pockets and find fifteen (maybe sixteen) more pieces that you didn't realize you had. And how did the puzzle pieces get in your pocket anyway? You didn't put them there. It must have been an evil wizard, you figure, and then you laugh at yourself because there's no such thing as evil wizards. I don't try to completely understand any of these Ghibli studio movies, at least the first time I watch them. I just let the evil wizards in through the crevices and permit them to tickle me. As with other Miyazaki cartoons, there are some environmental themes, lovely animation, and surreal touches. And like the others, it seems to be told from the perspective of a child, almost to the point where you feel like you're missing things as an adult or even peeking in on a world you're not necessarily supposed to peek in on. The settings are beautiful, especially the unnatural underwater scenes filled with creatures (and colors) that don't really exist. I also liked most of the characters although I was never sure what was going on with Ponyo's father or the grumpy old woman. And I really like the anthropomorphizing of the water during the tsunami scene. I have to go now because an evil wizard is going to try to hide my car keys.

Army of Shadows

1969 war movie

Rating: 17/20

Plot: The precursor for MTV's reality show The Real World, this follows some members of the French Resistance as they find various ways of resisting, stopping only to bicker about who put his finger in the peanut butter or ate the last of the ice cream. Unlike the MTV show, however, some of these guys die instead of just being people you wish you could see die on camera.

Here's the cool thing about this one: there's (if I recall correctly) no violence shown on screen in this one, yet there's this incredible underlying but palpable fear of violence. This is the quiet side of the French Resistance, and nearly all the action takes place inside the characters. Most of the suspense comes from these characters simply making difficult decisions, so instead of getting a gripping action-packed film, you get a gripping reflective and philosophical film, albeit one that is just as exciting. I just love how all the characters go about their business nonchalantly. There's nothing stunning about the performances, but you can see fear beneath the pores and a resignation that they will more than likely die because of what they're doing. They're great characters doing extraordinary in really ordinary ways. They really are more shadows than they are men and woman. The story is almost frustratingly episodic, and many would consider the ending a bit of a let-down, but each individual anecdote is intriguing and packed with tension. But it's that quiet, relaxed tension, almost like Melville was filming this in a library or near sleeping children and had to use an inside voice the entire time. This film is as good as any at showing the human side of this sort of thing. There's nothing tricky here--no special effects, no explosions, no shoot-outs. Just good drama. Man, this Melville cat was good. Expect a review of his Bob the Fumbler, an action-packed tale of a French running back with tiny hands, later this week.

Another solid Cory recommendation.

Where the Wild Things Are

2009 piece of garbage

Rating: 10/20 (Jen: 5/20; Emma: 5/20; Abbey: 1/20)
[Original "6" rating traded for a "10" with my brother.]

Plot: Max is youngster suffering from schizophrenia and endangering the lives of those around him. Where the Wild Things Are is a glimpse at his battered mind, a trip to his world inhabited by CGI-furballs. If there is ever a Where the Wild Things Are II, proving beyond a reasonable doubt that there is either no God at all or that He has abandoned us, it would most likely be about Max's experiences in an asylum.

This might be one of the most joyless film experiences I've ever had. There wasn't a single moment in this movie where I was glad I was watching it. In fact, I wouldn't have finished this if I had been watching it alone. And I had high hopes for this one, curious to see how Spike Jonze would be able to stretch a fairly thin picture book into a full-length movie. Turns out, he doesn't. This has virtually no plot, existing only as jumbled symbolism or half-assed allegory. The people part of the movie is depressing. The wild things part of the movie, a part I eagerly awaited as I figured it would be filled with fantastical imagery and whimsy, was somehow even more depressing. And the imagery? It just looks stupid. The monsters don't always move fluently, especially when they leap, and there's never enough background to make this look like a finished movie. All attempts to attach any of Max's fantasy to his real-world problems--childhood fears of things like war, the eventual demise of the sun, global warming, etc.; alienation; growing up fatherless--come across as offensive. There is absolutely no reason for children to see this movie, absolutely no reason for adults to see this movie, and absolutely no reason why this movie should have been gotten the greenlight in the first place. See that monster behind the tree in the poster? I can only imagine that he's trying to hide from embarrassment at his involvement in this movie. I sincerely hope this is the least enjoyable experience I have with a movie this year.

My brother tried to warn me about this one. I didn't dream it would be this abysmal.


2006 musical

Rating: 17/20

Plot: A Dublin busker, busking when he's not repairing Hoovers in his dad's shop that is, meets and falls for a Czech immigrant who lives with her mother and her young daughter. They spend lots of time together, eventually writing and recording music.

This is a unique musical and love story with two extremely likable leads. They're played by a pair of non-actors, played very well as a matter of fact. Admittedly, I thought I was going to hate this movie ten minutes in. The camera was shaky. It sort of has a faux-documentary feel. And I just didn't know where things were going. I wasn't sure I liked the guy's voice. However, there were so many moments that just got me, mostly moments that were way off in the fringes, subtle glances and barely whispered lines. The (nameless?) busker's father isn't in a lot of scenes, but the father-son relationship is given some emotional depth with no extraneous dialogue or wasted time. I also like the guy who pushes buttons in the studio. He makes this quick transition that, for whatever reason, almost made me like human beings. The acting is wonderful throughout, otherwise these characters just wouldn't work and a scene where they're playing with a frisbee on a beach would just seem silly. The main relationship in Once is between the guy and the gal, of course, and there's not a single moment in that evolving relationship that doesn't ring true. These are two people who need each other, at least for a week or so, and their discovery of each other at just the right time is so beautiful. I guess I can't write about Once without mentioning the music. There may be a few times when a song goes on a little too long, as well as a couple times when I felt like I was watching a music video, but the songs are awfully good. I wasn't able to catch all of the lyrics though. This is simple and cheap storytelling, and it's the better film because of it. This is the type of movie, like Kaurismaki's work, about likable everyday folks struggling with life, and like Kaurismaki's work, it somehow just hits the spot.

A Cory recommendation, and one that I'll also be recommending to people.

Dogtown and Z-Boys

2001 skateboarding documentary

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Details the genesis of extreme skateboarding with California's Zephyr surfing (later skateboarding) team near Venice Beach in a small community called Dogtown. When the waves were quiet, they'd be forced to surf the concrete, eventually, thanks to a terrible drought, finding their way to empty swimming pools. In the mid-70s, they find overnight fame and success and go their separate ways to influence future generations of skate punks.

Great documentary by a couple of the Zephyr gang. There's an astounding amount of video and still photographs, and the participants give comprehensive and, for the most part, humble anecdotes and details to create a complete story. I was surprised with how interested I was in this stuff considering I'm old enough to chase people like this off my lawn. Even more impressive is how director Piralta was able to make clear the impact these kids had on the sport to a guy like me who wouldn't be able to attempt standing on a skateboard without breaking an arm. I was left with very few questions. And I imagine, a skateboarding fan and aficionado would find this just as rewarding. The story's very well-paced although it nearly grinds to a halt at one point when there's a focus on a few of the individual members instead of the collective. That punk Sean Penn narrates. There's also a terrific soundtrack. I'd type more, but I have to go buy a skateboard and empty out somebody's pool. I'm about to get gnarly, bitches.

This was a Kairow recommendation that I finally got around to watching.


1985 Koyaanisqatsi clone

Rating: 14/20 (Mark: 14/20)

Plot: Time-lapse footage of nature juxtaposed with time-lapse footage of people. Sound familiar?

This is reminiscent of Koyaanisqatsi, far too reminiscent. There's a bit more emphasis on art and architecture. It lacks the cohesion of Koyaanisqatsi, and the music, though not nearly as redundant, lacks the power of the Glass stuff. There's some stunning imagery here, but it's not organized very well. Slowly evolving desert images or shots of immobile pyramids butting up against high-speed tours of canals just didn't mesh very well. A lot of the footage didn't need the trickery of the time-lapse photography, although I did like seeing the time-lapse stuff combined with panning. I just can't recall seeing that before. This is worth seeing, and short enough to not seem like a complete waste if somebody doesn't think it's worth seeing. It's artful enough; it's just not well organized. Koyaanisqatsi builds to a crescendo and makes its (similar) point poetically and powerfully. Chronos hiccups a few times, stumbles around, and then ends. This did teach me one thing though--I'm not a very cultured fellow. I didn't even know where a lot of the landmarks were located.

Ninja Assassin

2009 ode to stabbing

Rating: 9/20 (Mark: 6/20; Amy: 6 or 7/20)

Plot: Jack at the video store told us that there wasn't one. There was one, but it really didn't matter.

I don't know what the Wachowskis had to do with this, but somebody needs to stop them. If you look up "stylized violence" in the dictionary, you'll have a description of this movie. There's blood flying all over the place, mostly startlingly contrasting to a swampy darkness on the rest of the screen, probably to hide any lack of real kung-fu skills. I correctly predicted that there would be a decapitation within the first five minutes of the movie. My brother said that characters were losing more blood than people actually have in their bodies. I had to wring my shirt dry when the movie finally ended. I'm not saying that this much violence is necessarily a bad thing, but that's all this movie has going for it. There are some gorgeously brutal moments, some fine but ultimately repetitive action sequences, and some more brutally gorgeous moments. But that's it. You won't care about the characters, you'll stop worrying about what's going on, and you'll slap your forehead as things get more and more preposterous. It's all just a bunch of showing off, lots of "Look at what my computer can do!" moments, and I think any real ninja watching this movie would be offended. Lots of laughable dialogue, laughable bad acting, and laughable action scenes, most memorably a scene when ninjas are running against the highway. I looked this movie up and discovered that the Wachowskis didn't care much for the original script, and writer J. Michael Straczynski apparently finished his rewrite in just fifty-three hours. It shows. I did pick out a Wilhelm scream when a ninja is blown off a roof with a rocket launcher. Yeah. That's the type of movie this is. It's the type of movie the Academy usually loves, the type where you can watch ninjas being blown off roofs with rocket launchers. The problem isn't that it's impossible to take any of this nonsense seriously. The problem is that this nonsense takes itself way too seriously.

Breaking Away

1979 Indiana movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Dave and his three friends are in limbo, recent high school grads who have no plans to go to college and no real plans to get jobs either. They're just free-floating in Bloomington, Indiana, swimming in the quarry, brawling with the college kids, and cruising in a borrowed clunker. Except for Dave that is. Dave spends most of his time on his bicycle, dreaming of racing with the Italians and even pretending to be an Italian foreign exchange student to impress a coed. His friends and parents are annoyed with his obsessions.

Filmed entirely in Bloomington, and it's cool to see some familiar sights. This is another well-written story about Hoosier underdogs, but in a way, it's the anti-Hoosiers. There's no way anybody could accuse Breaking Away of being overly sentimental. The story is told unpretentiously, and the characters grow on you naturally with very little trickery. Breaking Away also has a better score, mostly Italian opera pieces accompanying Dave's workouts. There's really no bombast at all with this movie. It's as quiet as a small town, and the human drama and themes are almost submerged beneath the, at times, barely important plots and subplots--the conflicts between the "Cutters" and the college kids, the troubles Dave has connecting to his father, the boys' search for love, their half-assed search for employment, the individual bicycle races including the climactic Little 500. My brother, a cyclist, calls this the best sports movie ever. I'm not sure about that, but I do think it is a great portrait of that confusing time between high school and real life and another chance to root for some likable underdogs.


1986 Indiana movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Based on the true story of the 1954 high school basketball team from Milan, Indiana, a small-town team that overcame all odds to win the state championship after the hiring of coach Lex Luther.

A real schmaltz-fest, just dripping with treacle, but this Hoosier unapologetically loves it. The synth-laden score fixes it firmly in 1986, but that's one of its few flaws. Solid performances by Hackman and Hopper as the unorthodox and much-maligned coach and town drunk respectively, but the supporting cast--namely, the players--brings a down-home realism to rural Indiana. I'm so glad my state wasn't painted with the same brush that painted the landscape and characters in Deliverance or something. Good dialogue, too. The movie's got a ton of heart. I could have been spared the lackadaisical love story between Hackman and Barbara Hershey's character, but the other main subplot, Shooter's redemption, develops realistically, allowing you to care and root for his character. The basketball action itself, and there's a whole lot of it, is shot well, each of the games becoming their own little stories. I also enjoyed seeing the old gymnasiums. This is a well-written underdog story about second chances, worth seeing even if you have no opinion on whether or not Indiana moving to a class system was the right move or not.

The Gold Rush (again)

1925 movie

Rating: 19/20

Plot: Same as it was the last time I wrote about this movie.

Here's the deal. Friday was a wasteful party day at my school, and my team decided to show the students a movie. It was decided that the team would watch Old Dogs, the classic film featuring the comedic stylings of Robin Williams and John Travolta. I protested mightily, not because I didn't think my students would enjoy Old Dogs, but because I don't really care what my students like and didn't have any interest in watching Old Dogs. My teammates wouldn't listen to me, but I decided to bring in my own movie to show the students in my classroom. "But they'll like Old Dogs. You can't show a silent movie to them." "Yeah, they would like to eat chocolate frosting straight out the can for lunch every day--doesn't mean it's good for them." I gave the good news to my students. They groaned and whined. I told them that I was only doing it because I loved them. They reached for their weapons. I quickly started the movie. I had my students write down their ratings (figured I'd get more honest ones that way), and here's what they had to say. They'd probably better articulate their feelings about The Gold Rush if they had a better writing teacher.

Elizabeth: 17/20. It was good. Funny, interesting.
Harley: 13/20. It had a lot of comedy, but there was just too much. It had romance and little action.
Candice: 10/20. It was OK I guess. It had interesting parts.
Sean: 16/20. Narrated, would've been better if own voices
Kayla: 20/20. Unique
Jasmine: 10/20. It was okay the action wasn't that bad but we could tell it was fake.
Robin: 9/20. It was boring. Well at least to me it was. There were some funny parts here and there.
Morgan: 1/20. A waste of my time, boring. (Morgan later admitted that she rated and wrote that during the opening credits.)
Kris: 5/20. This was moderately humorous movie back in the "20's" but as times change, the hearts (?) of funny does too. It is also has no audio which means there is more showing the audience what happens rather than telling us. Overall it was an OK movie. It was better than it seemed.
James: 15/20. It was funny, and the narrator said different things than they were. (Note: Funny-looking kid.)
T. T. : 15/20. Boring, funny, good but depressing. (I can't even figure out who "T.T." is.)
DeArion: nr. DaArion snuck out of my classroom and didn't watch the movie. He apparently watched Old Dogs somewhere else.
Makaela: 5/20. It is at least a motion picture. It wasn't very interesting to me. (Note: I couldn't figure out what she meant with "It is at least a motion picture." I finally figured out that she was talking about how it was silent but at least the characters were moving.)
Brad: -20/20. (Note: This kid's a doofus. He whined loudest of all before the movie started, put his head down for a lot of the first fourth, and watched the last three-fourths with interest. I even caught him laughing.) Terrible.
Mireya: 18/20. Because you had to imagine what they were saying. It was funny because of the man. I like when the house was going to fall.
Jared: -20/20. It's retarded. It's black and white. (This kid's grade just plummeted.)
Kore: 15/20. It was funny and good. But it was boring.
Bria: 11/20. Boring.
Courtlyn: 2/20. To be honest, I hate black and white movies, and I would of liked the other movie.

I was disappointed. They watched with interest and laughed at the appropriate times. I really thought they were liking this more than they said they did. Oh, well. What should I show them next time? (Must be G or PG.)

The Mighty Peking Man

1977 monkey movie

Rating: 15/20 (Dylan: 8/20)

Plot: A expert hunter is called upon to find a giant ape that flattened a jungle village in the Himalayas. They travel to his supposed location, and after the group encounters a lot of problems, the hunter is abandoned. Oh, snap! Luckily for him, there's a scantily-clad jungle woman nice enough to help him out. And she just happens to be the Mighty Peking Man's girlfriend. To make a long story short--King Kong.

There are a lot of things about this movie that nearly convinced me it's the greatest movie ever made:

1) It's really a great telling of the King Kong story, much better than the dismal 70s version or that Peter Jackson masturbationathon.

2) The hero! He's savvy and brave, but he's also very human. The love triangle (actually, I guess it's a square) is realistic.

3) The giant ape! Like the brothers in War of the Gargantua, it's a guy in a velvety-fur suit. He stomps around, beats his chest, climbs buildings, throws rocks, squashes bystanders, swats at helicopters. He does everything that King Kong can do but in Chinese!

4) Watching the wild jungle girl climbing up and down a tree. It's likely the best tree-climbing scene in the history of cinema.

5) The miniatures. Does anybody use toy Tonka trucks and plastic tanks better than the Shaw brothers do in this? Loved watching the mayhem unleashed upon the big city once Peking Man escapes.

6) The dubbing. It's fairly enthusiastic, and I love how one very minor character pronounces it as PAY-king man. I don't know what nonsensical grunts sound like in Mandarin, but the English actress who dubs the jungle girl's in does a fantastic job.

7) Tiger vs. Man wrestling matches! And something you learn from The Mighty Peking Man: When a tiger bites a man's leg off, it's accompanied by a "ching" sound effect like you'd hear in a kung-fu movie. There's also a bitchin' elephant stampede. Jungle madness!

8) The music! The score's fantastic!

9) Possible wardrobe malfunctions.

10) I can't think of a tenth reason.

11) I can't think of an eleventh one either.

I've seen this movie twice now. Next time, I'm watching it with my pants off!

The Fearless Vampire Killers or: Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck

or, Dance of the Vampires

1967 horror comedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A pair of clumsy vampire hunters travel to Transylvania in search of vampire hearts to hammer some wooden stakes into. They stop at an inn because Professor Abronsius needs thawing, and Alfred, his young assistant meets and falls for the beautiful red-headed daughter of the innkeeper. She's swiped by a vampire while bathing, however. Oh, snap! Can the professor and Alfred get to the castle and save her in time?

I'd only known Sharon Tate as a name. I'm not going to claim that she's the greatest actress who ever lived or anything, but there sure was something appealing about her. There is a lot to see in this movie. The cinematography is often stunning, the settings are sensual, and the quirky goings-on in the backgrounds force your eyes to examine every inch of the screen to suck it all in. But despite the gorgeous imagery, my eyes were a little angry every time Sharon Tate wasn't on the screen. But my eyes needed to calm down since most of her scenes seemed to take place in bathtubs. This is an unusual movie, a sometimes baffling movie. Unfortunately (I guess), it's neither scary or funny, and you'd figure that a "horror comedy" would be at least one of those. But there are enough of those How's-Polanski-Doing-That? moments to make it not really matter. I did have a lot of trouble understanding the actors, especially the Jack MacGowran who at times looked like Dana Carvey doing some failed Saturday Night Live character. And after a bit, I really stopped caring about the plot so that I could focus on Sharon Tate and the way Polanski weaves his camera through the gray corridors of this really cool castle. There are some really cool mirror tricks, and a great vampire ball scene where the vampires are all gray, like they've been borrowed from a Roy Andersson movie. Seeing them mingle with the still-human characters in an ornate ballroom was a nifty effect. Cool vampire flick! It does have too many names though.

Body Heat

1981 noir retooling

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Ned Devine, a womanizing lawyer, is trying his best to sweat through a hotter-than-hot summer. He meets married and rich Matty Walker whose husband is conveniently out of town five days a week. They become friends and have many adventures together, mostly playing badminton. One sultry afternoon, Matty serves wildly, and the couple watch their last shuttlecock somersault right into the gutter. Oh, snap! Without a shuttlecock, they can't play badminton. They brainstorm substitute activities and finally decide on having sex and killing Matty's husband which, if you think about it, is a lot like badminton.

Here's my favorite thing about this movie: It is so reminiscent of other movies, borderline ordinary even. On the surface, it seems derivative, a modern update on noir. It's like somebody was carrying around a box of noir and accidentally dropped it down the stairs and all the noir shattered and scattered all over the place so the clumsy guy had to clean up the mess and piece it all back together and glued pieces together randomly and came up with Body Heat. That might sound like a bad thing, but in this case, I don't think it is. Although everything about Body Heat is familiar, I can't place exactly where I've seen any of it, although there's a whole lot of Double Indemnity. Oddly enough, the borrowing of ideas, moods, textures, and maybe even shots somehow makes this seem timeless. This is stylish, right from the opening shot of Hurt watching a fire from his hotel window. I really liked the jazzy score and the banter between Ned and Matty. I thought it was great how their "hookin' up" (or whatever the youngsters are calling it these days) was stretched out and developed, almost to the point where you were on the edge of your seat waiting for the couple to finally get naked. Steamy stuff, so steamy that I had to wipe off my glasses. There's also great mystery burbling beneath the action of this movie; you know something is askew although you can't quite figure out exactly what that is. There were a few awkward moments. The conversation the married couple and Ned have at the restaurant seems contrived, and I think every scene with the niece could have been deleted. I had questions about the random appearance of a clown, the use of the word "dorkus," and a strange scene where everybody in a room decides to smoke at the same time except for the flamboyant Ted Danson. I also had to rewind and pause one scene so that I could read the writing on a bathroom wall:

"Eat my shorts"
"Death to tourists"
"Sofa sucks"?
"Big Al eats here"
"Whip it good"
"Surf Punks"

This was a Cory recommendation.

Take the Money and Run

1969 comedy

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Virgil Starkwell is a career criminal. Unfortunately for him, he's terrible at it. The inept bungling burglar finds love but can't find a way out of his life of crime which humorously makes things difficult for him. He also looks a lot like Woody Allen.

There are some very funny moments in this faux-documentary--"gub," a scene with a ventriloquist dummy, a bad spit shine, a cellist in a marching band, glass theft. I'm bugged that Woody can't keep documentary consistency and loses cohesion because of it. There are scenes with multiple cameras, and more than likely, the events being captured wouldn't even have one camera. The typically absurdist slant is mostly fun, and even though this isn't exactly a Woody Allen classic, it's still worth the time.

Boudo Saved from Drowning

1932 Renoir comedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: The titular ragamuffin decides to jump into the river and end it all, presumably because rude Frenchmen won't stop laughing at his beard. Middle-class bookseller Listingois spots the suicide attempt from his window and runs to the river, dives in, and saves Boudo from drowning. That's where they get the title for the movie! Boudo turns out to be a pest, a filthy and crude house guest who ends up making life miserable in the Listingois household. Oh, snap! Lesson learned, Monsier Listingois: Don't invite a dirty hippie into your home.

Cool little comedy which stands up surprisingly well for a movie nearly eighty years old. Maybe it's because it's in French. There's very little flare though Renoir's direction is still unspectacularily great, assured and confident. I really liked the character and Michel Simon's performance as Priape Boudo. Priape? Yes, the randy bum did play on the name, alluding to the Greek fertility god Priapus who is known for his gigantic permanent erection. Something about Michel Simon reminded me of Will Ferrell, never a good thing really, and I imagine Ferrell could easily pull off this type of character in a reimagining of the story. Or maybe he could just jump off a bridge? I didn't really understand the satiric elements of Boudo, likely because I don't live in France in the 1930s, but I still really enjoyed this amusing little tale.

The Princess and the Frog

2009 Disney cartoon

Rating: 16/20 (Jen: 16/20; Abbey: 17/20; Dylan: 10/20; Emma: 15/20)

Plot: All Tiana wants is to start her own restaurant to honor her father's dream and share her culinary talents with the people of New Orleans. She's been saving for years, coins and wadded-up bills in tin cans. Finally, she's able to purchase the property and bring her dreams to life, but the deal falls through at a masquerade party thrown by her childhood friend's family. Oh, snap! Meanwhile, a penniless prince has arrived in town and, tricked by a voodoo trickster Shadow Man with connections to the other side, has been turned into a frog. Tiana, a gal who knows her fairy tales, kisses him and immediately transforms into a frog herself. Oh, double snap! They journey in search of a way to reverse the curse while the Shadow Man tries to take over the city of New Orleans.

It's unfortunate that we didn't check this out in the theater. There was an amazing amount of color, color that just exploded on my tiny television screen, and I really wish I could have seen them bigger. Color is really what The Princess and the Frog is all about. There's a great local color with vibrant New Orleans and the surrounding bayou as the backdrops. And there are really colorful characters including a bunch of Cajan fireflies, a trumpet-blowing alligator, a blind old witchy woman, and others. The main characters are also lively, both with their personality and their movements. At times, it does seem like the characters are detached from the background, but for the most part, I like how they mingle with the setting, especially during the musical numbers. Lots of musical numbers, mostly, of course, penned by the ubiquitous Randy Newman. But really, who else could have done the soundtrack for this one? It's great work, too. The characters leap off the screen during the song and dance numbers, all engulfed with swirling kaleidoscopic imagery. Black princess Tiana is a worthy addition to the Disney princess canon, and her prince, though bordering on obnoxious at times, is a great dynamic character. And John Goodman's in it, and even yells out "This is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass!" a few times. But my favorite character is the bad guy, the flamboyantly evil Dr. Facilier, aka the Shadow Man. I love how his shadow has a mind of its own, and when he conjures up the evil spirits, who also appear as shadows, the animation gets wonderfully surreal. My expectations weren't incredibly high for this, probably a combination of me not being a princess and Disney not making things happen lately. But even though a lot of the ideas seem borrowed from other Disney animated features, it's all so beautifully executed and becomes something fresh, a jazzy fairy tale that's a feast for the eyes and ears.


1938 comedy

Rating: 15/20 (Dylan: 11/20)

Plot: Laurel (he's the skinny one, right?) is left to guard the trenches as the rest of his squadron, including Hardy (he's the fat one, right?) charge. And guard that trench he does, for twenty years after the war is over. Buddy Hardy (the fat one?), now unhappily married, reads about him in the newspaper and goes to meet him. He brings Laurel (the skinny one, I think) back to his house, but their stupidity gets them into trouble after trouble.

I tricked Dylan into watching this by telling him it was widely-considered the "greatest war movie ever made." That was a lie, but I don't feel guilty about it because he kind of liked it. This is, I believe, my first exposure to Laurel and Hardy's full-length film career. I didn't have high expectations and was pleasantly surprised with the comedic hijinks of the duo. The comedy is maybe a bit dated, like all my favorite comedy, but there's a visual element that I didn't figure would be in their movies. I like the stuff that could only make sense in dream logic--Laurel pulling a glass of water out of his pocket or smoking his "pipe," for example--and I was really surprised how much both Dylan and I laughed at their antics. The story, or what passes as a story here, is episodic, but my ADD self can appreciate that when the alternative is the more story-driven comedies of this period. I'll be checking out some more Laurel and Hardy films soon!

Oh, I almost forgot. Not only does this have a great scene with a little person, there's also a moment where Laurel teabags Hardy.

Punishment Park

1971 social statement

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Pseudo-doc chronicling a group of counter-cultural anti-establishment troublemakers ranging from subversive folk singers to people who want to blow up government buildings as they are sentenced and given the option of jail time or a trip to Punishment Park where they have three days to run through a desert to reach an American flag while policemen chase them.

This is one of the most consistently realistic mock documentaries I've ever seen. There's no way this Punishment Park was even considered, let alone something that actually existed, but it's hard to watch this without being almost fooled that the government had set something up like this. A lot of the credit has to go to the actresses and actors--the hippies, the pigs, and the members of the tribunal. The desert setting also contributes, giving this a harsh realism. The story is tense, filled with bile and what looks to be actual hatred, both from the screaming maltreated hippies and the less-obvious government people whose loathing was a little more submerged. The complete lack of music, the handheld cameras, and what I think was probably largely-improvised dialogue also helped. As a metaphor, this at times delivers its message a little too forcefully, an allegory that could have been two pages but ended up as twenty. And I don't think the good guys in this always look like good guys. There's also a moment when the documentarians turn subjective (when documentarians attack) and I'm not exactly sure that was necessary. But this is a completely engrossing product of its time, one whose relevancy today is more than a little scary. Strong stuff, likely to offend a bunch of people, even people who might agree with the politics. But most hippies would love it, assuming they can afford dvd players to watch it on and could squeeze in some time to watch it between all their dope smoking and not bathing.

Blackboard Jungle

1955 teacher movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: War veteran Richard Dadier (pronounced "Daddio") takes a job teaching English at an all-boys high school only to find out that it's more dangerous than any battlefield. He and his colleagues try to reach the boys because, as a colleague once told me, you've got to reach 'em to teach 'em. But the boys, like ants, are just mean. Oh, snap!

This doesn't hold up very well in 2010. I like the performances. I like Glenn Ford fine despite his character not seeming in any way realistic or coming within chalk-throwing distance of anything that resembles a good teacher. I like the kids despite them being caricatures or stereotypical exaggerations of thugs. You have to give Poitier credit. He does well playing a high schooler, especially considering he would have been, unless my math is way off, around 27 when this was made. I also think it's really interesting how this movie handles race. Issues are maybe only suggested, but at least they're not entirely ignored. I just don't think this was or ever will be a realistic portrayal of what school is like. The storytelling is really episodic. There's no flow to Dadier's first semester, more a choppy progression where the character just has thing after thing happen to him. There was almost no transition between Dadier as a struggling and hated teacher to the point when he starts to reach them, ludicrously by showing them a filmstrip. And the scene in the library? And the goofy dialogue? Yikes. It's all too much. This is still worth seeing, but almost more as a cultural artifact, evidence of how the squares viewed education and delinquency. And perhaps amazingly, there are still some issues raised that are relevant in public education today.

Tokyo Zombie

2005 zombie comedy

Rating: 8/20

Plot: Two knuckleheads who spend their work hours practicing jujitsu instead of actually working accidentally kill their boss and bury his body on Black Fuji, a giant mountain of trash and other buried murder victims. I'm not sure why exactly, but the dead on the trash mountain start coming to life and biting people. The two knuckleheads try their best to survive the zombie epidemic.

OK, Tokyo Zombie. You got me! I told myself a few weeks ago that I was done with zombie comedy movies, but you told me, "Hey now, Shane. Give me a chance. I'm from Japan." I said, "I don't know, Tokyo Zombie. I think the world just has too many zombie comedies, and I've got better things to watch." But Tokyo Zombie said, "Japan, Shane. Japan! You like Japan. I'm quirky. My comedy's dark. I'm hilarious!" I said, "Oh, I just don't know." Tokyo Zombie persisted, and I finally gave it a chance. Fooled! Other than getting to see the Japanese Rick Moranis and a twenty minute scene involving a guy ripping the head off a Howdy Doody toy, there was nothing to see here. Stylistically, it reminded me a little of Shaolin Soccer without all the cartoony special effects. The humor was dumb, lowbrow, and, worst of all, predictable. Tokyo Zombie and I won't be speaking to each other any more.

Creature from the Haunted Sea

1961 monster and gangster comedy (I guess)

Rating: 5/20

Plot: "The most astounding adventure ever afflicted upon man." At least that's what the narrator told me. American gangster Renzo, for reasons that I never completely understood, finds himself on a boat with his posse and a handful of Cubans and the Cuban National Treasury. He decides to unload the Cubans one-by-one and blame it on a sea creature that, according to legend, roams the waters. He doesn't realize that a very real muppet is roaming the waters and helping him in his task.

Another Corman picture, one in which Roger really takes the piss. There was no way they worked on this for more than a week, probably while they were still writing the script. I knew I was in for something goofy while watching the animated credits during which a ridiculously harmlesss sea thing runs comically across the screen. But I still didn't realize this was even a comedy until it just got to the point where it was too ludicrous not to be one. The gangsters meet the Cubans in a rainforest after they drive to the destination in a convertible, a limo, and a Volkswagon bus. For about five minutes, I couldn't figure out what was going on because I couldn't understand what anybody was saying thanks to bad sound and thick accents. I did catch a character say, "Do you understand?" which made me answer back "No, not at all." I really need to stop talking to the movies I watch. Then some things happen and a Volkswagon bug comes along and there's a chase scene through the jungle that makes that chase scene in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull look like high art. I was still clueless, but then they ended up on the boat and everything calmed down a little bit. I had to pause the movie to take a breath. Dopiness abounds in this one. Nothing about the plot really makes that much sense. You have a CIA agent (also the narrator) working undercover with the gangsters, but he never seems to be invited to their meetings. He listens at the door, narrates that he can't understand anything that they're saying, and then is seen listening at the door anyway for several subsequent scenes anyway. He also says, "But my real name is XK150," at one point which is interesting because I almost named one of my children that. Another enlightening bit of narration: "It was dusk; I could tell because the sun was going down." None of the other characters make sense either. Renzo is pretty much a low-budget Bogart, something like a Humphrey clone that went horribly wrong and was discarded in a dumpster outside the laboratory but Corman came along and decided to use him anyway. Speaking of Bogie, there's a gang member called Happy Jack Manahan who is supposed to perpetually smile because of muscle spasms from too many Bogart pictures. I don't even know what that means, but I do know the character doesn't even smile that much in the movie. The most nonsensical character, and the character who represented the moment when Corman's tongue actually penetrated his cheek and wiggled freely in the air, was a guy whose dialogue was mostly animal imitations including "the mating call of the Himalayan Yak." The characters forget each other's names, run into each other, and butcher their lines, all things that would make an ordinary director yell "Cut!" But Corman is no ordinary director! The excellent Fred Katz (Little Shop of Horrors) provides some interesting music that at times clashes with what you see on the screen. And I haven't even talked about the frightening monster yet!

Hell yeah! I would have expected this thing to steal my cookies rather than feel in danger because of it, and I don't know how the actors kept from laughing. Maybe that's why most of the creature's appearances involved it sneaking up on the characters so that they wouldn't see him and start laughing. There were some great underwater scenes with this thing, a lot of them blocked by large fish that would swim in front of the camera. 5/20 might be a little high for this film; however, it is a comedy that made me laugh. Maybe my grade is even a little harsh. Regardless, this deepens my appreciation for the great Roger Corman.


1999 comedy

Rating: 11/20

Plot: High schooler Tracy Flick is running for student body president. Things look good since there's nobody running against her. Popular history teacher Mr. McAllister, student council sponsor, dislikes her, however, partially because she's that annoying overachieving type and partially because she was involved in a scandal that got his best friend and colleague fired. So, he encourages Paul, school sports hero, to run against her. Things don't go according to plan.

There's a terrific first shot--a close-up of a sprinkler oversaturating a football field. Then, we meet the teacher, and as a teacher, I recognized some of his morning, most notably the refrigerator that he decides needs cleaned out. A janitor gives him the evil eye which made me smile. Not a bad start, I thought! From there, unfortunately, it's all downhill. Immediately, I jotted down that I hated the duo-narrators, but then it turned into three narrators. Then, it turned into four narrators! Later on, I decided to start narrating myself.

"I looked at the clock again, wondering to myself why I couldn't care less about the outcome of this election."

"I wondered to myself why Mr. McAllister had a problem with Paul's sister deciding to run for president since it looked like she might win which would get him precisely what he wanted."

"I thought about earlier scenes, trying to find a reason why Tracy would know that Mr. M and his wife were having trouble conceiving while nobody in the school seemed to know that she had had sex with a teacher."

All four narrators are that naive, unreliable type, frequently telling the audience things that differed from what was seen on the screen, and I couldn't figure out which of the characters I was supposed to connect with and root for. The football player is the most likable of the bunch, but he's way too stupid to actually like, almost like he's working hard to search for his inner-Keanu. And the guy who plays him, Chris Klein, is terrible, also like he's working hard to search for his inner-Keanu. Reese Witherspoon isn't horrible, but her character is completely distasteful. I wanted to punch her through my television screen. She also pronounces illegible wrong. The football player's sister? She added very little to the story, almost to the point where she didn't need to be in the movie at all. And Matthew Broderick's Mr. M didn't make sense at all to me, a character full of illogical contradictions. This is the type of movie that addresses some controversial issues like inappropriate teacher/student relations, adolescent lesbianism, infidelity, and teen depression, each with an annoying lack of depth. That wouldn't be a problem, but none of it is particularly funny. Along the way, things get gimmicky. There's a fantasy sequence near the middle that is just jarring, there's a sort of screeching theme music used for Tracy's character that is just grating, there's some archival footage of New York City that is just anachronistic, there are some weird camera angles (during a sex scene, a crying scene, and a ludicrous praying scene) that were just amateurish, and there's a bookend gimmick that just makes the ending (part of it anyway) predictable. At least there was a Donovan song in there somewhere. Out of all the characters, the one I came the closest to liking was the principal whose chastising of some rowdy students during the presidential candidates' speeches was the funniest part of the movie. However, not even that could draw a chortle from me.

Main thing I learned from this movie: young lesbians enjoy swing sets.

Sorry, Cory.

Confessions of a Superhero

2007 documentary

Rating: 15/20

Plot: The ups and downs of the lives of four people who dress up as superheroes and walk Hollywood Boulevard to pose for pictures with tourists and collect tips.

Nice objective look at four interesting and, for the most part, likable individuals. There's thankfully no narration, but there is some questionable editing. You get to meet Superman (see poster), a guy who kind of looks like Christopher Reeve, has noticeable sweat stains in the armpit of his suit, makes dioramas in his spare time, and has an obsession with Crystal Gayle. His story takes him (the year hero Reeve dies) to a Superman Festival in Metropolis, a town with lots of crime according to one resident because lots of black people have moved in. He enters a Superhero look-a-like contest and has a nice surprise up his sleeve. His appraisal of his Superman memorabilia collection? Over a million dollars! You get to meet the Hulk, a black wanna-be actor who finally gets his big break in a kung-fu spoof of Game of Death called Finishing the Game, a guy who worries that his bad teeth could keep him from reaching his acting aspirations and who feels like a loser. He wears a mask with a mouth in a perpetual scream that made me laugh. You get to meet the girl-next-door former high school cheerleader and prom queen with some self-esteem issues who made her way to Hollywood to become an actress but wound up as Wonder Woman instead. She's got an agent, she has some auditions, and we see enough of her to think that she might actually have a shot. And then there's Batman, a guy with some serious issues that need to be addressed before he kills a bunch of people. Again, according to him. He's a delusional Batman with a checkered past, a guy who seems to lie quite a bit. At least that's what the Hulk thinks. Batman also says several times that he looks like George Clooney, something that gives him hope that he'll eventually make it. I guess he might from certain angles to a person with severe vision problems. They're essentially panhandlers, but they're lovable panhandlers. Happy in what most sensible people would call their delusions, these underdogs are really easy to like and root for. I can't believe how much I cared about Superman's look-a-like contest, but I really really wanted him to win that thousand bucks. I love a scene where Superman is dumping wads of cash out of his underpants following the arrest of Elmo. (That sentence doesn't seem like it makes complete sense.) There's also footage of a music video that he appears in with a little person. There's lots of great, funny footage, but they're almost moments you feel bad for thinking are funny because you really do feel for these people. Well, maybe not Batman. He just needs some help. Lots to learn in this one though. Superman tells us that Ghostrider doesn't smoke, and we know he's right even when Ghostrider tells him, "I'm made of fire!" Marilyn Monroe informs us that "Orientals" are cheap. We learn that Mr. Incredible and Elmo are a bit too aggressive with tourists. Good stuff.


1954 giant thing movie

Rating: 18/20 (adjusted--1 bonus point for each Wilhelm Scream)

Plot: Strange things are afoot somewhere in New Mexico. Turns out, gigantic ants, the product of nuclear testing, are causing problems. An old man, his daughter, an FBI guy, and some state policemen have to figure out a way to stop the spread of these giant insects before they destroy humanity.

The most shocking thing about this horror movie? Definitely that it isn't all that bad. From the appearance of the title (in striking red with the exclamation mark--always a bonus) to the well-done climax in Los Angeles sewers, this is really a pretty good film. There are moments of typical B-movie acting and dialogue. A couple drunkards really overdo things, and the now-late Fess Parker is amazingly awful as Mr. Crotty. I do worry that watching this movie last night played some part in the death of Fess Parker, but that doesn't make much sense. I really like some lines in this, ones that seemingly defy logic: "The blood must be 10-12 hours old." "Everything seems to indicate a homicidal maniac." The old man's order of "Get the antenny!" The old man's talk about a Biblical prophesy come true. The guy who kept shouting "Make me the sergeant in charge of the booze," something that I'm sure a fan of this movie has shouted uncontrollably during a period of inebriation. Other flaws in logic? Sure. Why is there only one ant footprint? What's 9 years have to do with anything? Why's there a ribcage? Where did these small town coppers get a couple bazookas? Are there really 700 miles of Los Angeles sewers? But you know what? None of that really matters. This movie has one dull filmstrip too many, and at times, I really wished they'd stop all the talking and get to more scenes with giant ants ("Shoot the antenny!"), but there's a lot of good here. I really like the use of props--pieces of cloth, bones, twisted guns, discombobulated baby dolls. And I really think they do a great job creating atmosphere with desert winds and wildly swinging hanging lights. I also liked the little girl, especially in the scenes where she's stunned into silence. One more note: This movie has not just one and not just two but three Wilhelm screams. My well-trained ears heard them all, probably because my ears don't have all that much to do. Jen doubted me, so I made her look it up, and sure enough, there are three Wilhelms in Them! I don't care what you say. That is just freakin' awesome.

What I learned from watching Them!: ants are kind of mean.

This was another Cory recommendation.


1974 mime movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Malcolm Shanks is a mute puppeteer living with his sister and brother-in-law. His life is not the happiest of lives, but he can always escape and take comfort in his puppet creations. One day, he's hired by a weird looking scientist who is experimenting with the reanimation of the dead. When the scientist dies one night, Malcolm decides to continue the experiments.

Oh, how I enjoyed this delightfully creepy, mime-tacular William Castle flick. The poster above took the words right from my fingers--deliciously grotesque. OK, I wasn't really going to type that, but it is accurate. Marcel Marceau plays two roles, one speaking. He's good in both despite being slathered in some really bad make-up for the scientist part. One mime is usually all you need for a movie, but this one's got a trio of mimes. That's right. Three mimes! When they're reanimated, the fun really begins as they become undead contortionists. It's funny stuff. Before the human reanimation, the scientist and Shanks bring a frog and a chicken back to life. This doesn't come close to resembling a normal movie, but it's got great macabre humor. The bulk of this movie is silent. There are even old-timey title cards used like chapter titles. There's also some very good, though frequently incongruous, music used throughout. The gypsy circus hoedown music contributes to the bizarre atmosphere. Are there problems with Shanks? Sure. It does start to fall apart a little bit once the motorcycle gang shows up. This is the type of movie that you can't watch without announcing out loud, "This is the best movie I have ever seen." You'll realize you're wrong, but you'll still be really happy you watched it. If you're kind of weird. This was William Castle's last movie. He ended his career with a silent bang!

The Earrings of Madame de. . .

1953 movie

Rating: 18/20

Plot: The title Madame decides to sell earrings, a wedding gift from her husband, because she needs to pay off her debt. Her husband buys them back and then they go to Constantinople and then Madame de's boyfriend gets them and then Madame de has them again and then people get jealous and mean. Oh, snap!

This is one of the most beautifully filmed movies I've ever seen and probably the most colorful black and white movie ever made. There's so much to see; from corner to corner, the screen is stuffed with the flowing movement and ornate details. Swirling and mesmerizing, the camera work almost becomes more important than the story or the characters. And it's not all extraneous or Ophuls just showing off. When the husband and lover are sitting down for a conversation, the fencers battling in the background foreshadows their increasingly more volatile conflict. When the camera follows the characters movements, like in the very first scene when our protagonist is trying to decide what to sell to pay off her debt, it gives you a point of view that helps you connect with them. I really like how the background goings-on sometimes become more important than the stuff going on in the foreground, like when a waiter crosses a dance floor and you can see the two lovers dancing alone in the reflection of mirrors. There are numerous great shots where characters will walk behind something so that our view is obstructed and then pop up in an open window or a doorway at precisely the right moment. It's gorgeous stuff, but don't think this is all about the cinematography. The acting is also very good, and the story, with the journey of the title earrings as a hook, is fascinating as a sort of artistic soap opera. I especially liked the husband (Charles Boyer). Some of his expressions are just perfect. I was absorbed, knowing that things wouldn't end well for everybody while enjoying the unfolding. The simple music is also very good, and I loved hearing the main theme played with a Turkish flavor during the scene that took place there. This is just a fantastic movie, one of those that you almost want to watch again instantly, and definitely one of the best I'll see all year.

A Cory recommendation that I probably should have loved much earlier.

The Besieged Fortress

2006 narrative documentary

Rating: 16/20 (Dylan: 6/20)

Plot: A colony of termites build a giant dirt castle and try to live a peaceful existence doing termite things. The queen becomes an egg-laying machine, the workers run about working, and the soldiers watch out for non-friendly neighbors. They have to survive ant attacks, fire, and flood, and through something they call Termite Power! (yes, the punctuation is required), they manage to get by. But an army of really mean ants steadily makes its way toward their home. Oh, snap!

I can't imagine how much footage of termites and ants had to be collected to construct the story that John Cusack narrates here. The images are breathtaking, otherworldly in the way it brings you right into the lives of these tiny bugs. The close-up photography is phenomenal, and the footage is often sped up to spare the viewer from having to see the action unfold in real time. Sure, some of the imagery is grotesque, especially for entomophobics, but it's amazing to see what these little creatures are capable of. For example, did you know that a buttload of ants (that's a scientific-sounding amount) can beat down a big ol' snake? Did you know that ants can form ropes and climb down each other to attack dirt castles? It seems impossible that some of these shots are even real because the shots inside this castle are just too intimate. You almost expect one of the termites to look at the camera and give the audience a dirty look. I'm still sure that one lizard that is shown a few times is an animated lizard, but Dylan told me it was the real deal. He'd know because he's part-lizard. The story itself, one of survival and adventure, is exciting and intense although it does suffer from not having a central character to root for like an animated version of this would. I'm also not sure the narration was really necessary. I think enough of the story could have been told using only the images. At the very least, it should have been Morgan Freeman. Main lesson learned: ants are kind of mean.

This was recommended by my brother, Anonymous.

The Man Who Fell to Earth

1970 artsy-fartsy science fiction

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Alien David Bowie comes to earth in search of water. Apparently he's thirsty. He's able to use his planet's advances in technology and inventions to start a billion-dollar corporation with the help of an attorney and a science professor. He's then able to fund a space exploration project. Unfortunately, his girlfriend and America get in his way.

Frustrating. I love a lot of the imagery, especially the noisy contrast between David Bowie's orange hair and the New Mexico landscape. See also: the contrast between Bowie's quiet home planet and loudly modern Americana. I think Bowie et. al. do a fine job, and there are some really cool moments--Bowie watching multiple televisions, a very strange sex scene, another very strange sex scene some disorienting editing. I also like the cross-pollination of genres. This is part-fable, part-Western, part-sci-fi, and part-love story. It's also part-flatulence. There's just so much clutter. This is a movie that needs to clean out the garage and yard sale the forty-five minutes that just doesn't need to be there. I like some of what this movie has to say (specifically about American materialism and violence) but it says it too pretentiously and not really very clearly. There's definitely a lot to like with The Man Who Fell to Earth, but you really have to be willing to like it for a lot longer than most people will want to. The ending's also a bit of a let-down.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

2009 cartoon

Rating: 12/20 (Jen: 14/20; Emma: 18/20; Abbey: 20/20)

Plot: Flint Lockwood has always wanted to be an inventor. His dad's never supported him while his peers always made fun of him. At least he's got the support of his mother. But oh snap! She dies! He goes on inventing, usually with poor results. But he's getting close to his light bulb with a device that transforms water into food, and during the town's unveiling of a sardine-themed amusement park, he decides to test it out. The result? Oh, double snap! Giant foodstuff rains from the heavens which, although it temporarily puts the town on the map and fills tummies, starts to be problematic.

This was creative with a chance to be good but ended up loud with a chance to annoy me instead. I liked the animation fine. Well, everything but the people who looked a little flat and plastic. But I enjoyed the tones, and the screen was filled with lots of action to look at most of the time. Probably too much actually which might explain why I got a headache a quarter of the way through this and just wanted it to end. I really didn't like the characters or the humor in Cloudy, and all attempts to inject a little meaning into the absurdity felt unnecessary. Mr. T provides the voice for one character, the one character who represents one of the most annoying animated characters in recent history. This has some likable moments but it wears out its welcome fairly quickly. Maybe I needed to see it in 3-D.

Time after Time

1979 time travel movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: H.G. Wells chases Jack the Ripper, a former friend, to late-70s San Francisco after the latter steals his time machine. He meets Mary Steenburgen, later typecast as a love interest in time travel movies. She helps him acclimate. He tries to keep her safe from the Ripper. They meet Cyndi Lauper who immortalizes their love story in a pop song.

I'm not going to think too deeply about this one because I'm fairly confident thinking about it too deeply would be just like spinning it around really fast while giant chunks of plot fly off and get all over the walls. Not to focus on the negative, but this has the look of a television movie, and the special effects are likely to be the worst I see all year. What's the best way to show that a time machine is actually working and not just sitting there? Sparkly things! It's 1950s Disney special effects, and it's kind of embarrassing. This also has one of my movie pet peeves--bad chess. And there was an unfortunate scene in a discotheque. However, this definitely has more goods than bads. I always like Malcolm McDowell, and here, he's a very good H.G. Wells, not necessarily a historically accurate version of H.G. Wells but a character named H.G. Wells with a very similar biography. I enjoyed hearing him talk about things like vaporizing equalizers, and I really liked how the man-out-of-his-elements motif was used. Watching McDowell confused by escalators, taxis, and toothbrushes was humorous, and I nearly laughed every time he said the word "motor car" or whenever he used a telephone. But I also like what this movie says about modern society, the futile dream of utopia, and about violence ("The first man to raise a fist is the man who's run out of ideas.". This movie has a dark humor (when the detectives walk into a hotel room where a murder has taken place and there's a severed hand on the floor, that is supposed to be funny, right?) and a fun, although predictable, story.

Recommended by Cory.


2009 best animated feature

Rating: 18/20 (Kayla: 14/20; Steven: 16/20; Dillon: 14/20; Rachel 15/20; Cameron: 17/20; Mariana: 9/20; Etzlin: 10/20; Antwana: 20/20; Alivia: 11/20; Courtlyn: 14/20; Wendy: 20/20; Cody: 15/20; Anthony: 13/20; Bradley: 12/20; Yoselin: 17/20; LaDon: 19/20; Ashley: 15/20; Darrian: 20/20; DeArion: 15/20; Brenna: 17/20; Jeremiah: 19/20)

This is already in the blog, but I got paid to watch it last week. I like it even more each time I watch it, something I wasn't sure would be the case when I first saw it in the theater. It's so beautifully constructed, especially if you buy into my "reading" of the story. It shakes you up, it excites you, it makes you laugh. It's poetic, it's mature, it's silly, it's graceful, it's magical. It's fun for little kids, it's fun for teenagers, and it's fun for adults. Great music, great voice acting, and great animation. It's a work of art, and in Pixar's top three.

Side note: It was standardized testing week, and my grade was finished. I had a choice to show this or The Pacifier with The Rock. The kids voted for The Rock, but then I told them that their vote didn't even matter and to shut their mouths and stop whining about things.

Star Trek

2009 franchise milking

Rating: 11/20

Plot: The story of how Jim Kirk, Johnny Spock, and the other people find their way onto the Enterprise. The Uvulas are wreaking havoc in galaxies far far away, and the Star Trekkers have to put a stop to it before they turn planets into black holes.

My first question--best acting performance by a child: Young Anakin Skywalker or Young Spock? I'm not sure I've got the type of bones that would typically be tickled by this thing. I'm not a Star Trek fan. I've seen two of the other movies (don't remember them) and I've seen a few minutes of the television series with Nimoy and Shatner. I've got mp3's of Nimoy and Shatner singing. They're novelty items, but I sure like those a heck of a lot more than I like this movie. I really doubt I'm missing much here by not being a Star Trek fan though (i.e. when a guy introduces himself as Leonard McCoy [sic?], I suppose I was supposed to jizz all over myself; I did recognize some "May the force by with you" type lines that are probably the equivalent of a fanboy reach around) because the movie just isn't good. The acting, and not just from the kid who plays Young Spock, is absolutely terrible, especially during rambunctious action scenes. And they get really stupid things to say. I bet there are plenty of outtakes where the actors couldn't finish their lines because they started giggling inappropriately. Some of this dialogue makes George Lucas seem like Shakespeare. The story is essentially a rip-off of your typical kung-fu movie--fathers' deaths being avenged, etc. The action scenes are implausible. Physics is disregarded, monsters are goofy looking, the space explosions are tiresome, the camera angles are awkward, and the oppressive soundtrack is sonically abusive. The plot isn't great either. A plot twist (I think; do all Star Trek movies have time travel and alternate realities?) seems tired. I also have a problem with a future where cops are flying around, but where we still listen to the Beastie Boys and have the same exact ringtones. But that's nitpicking. There are far bigger problems with this Star Trek nonsense. This, by the way, will be last Star Trek movie I ever see.

Recommended by numerous folk.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

2009 wizard movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Black sketchy things are swooping from the gray skies of England and killing folks dead. Yes, it's a dangerous place for wizards and witches. Harry Potter, a boy who's recently learned that he's the chosen one, returns to Hogwarts School of Wizardry for his sixth year. Hogwarts has become a den of sin, the wizards and witches retreating to isolated nooks and crannies to drop trou or raise the robes and make the magic happen. Sometimes it's even witch on witch action! Dumbledore's wand twitches perversely.

This sure is a good looking movie. I'd still like to know--do these movies, especially the ones for the lengthier novels, make complete sense to somebody who hasn't read the books? The action still seems jumpy. I almost expect the characters to all be out of breath as they rush from scene to scene, location to location. Rowlings' characters are great, and the actors who portray them do a terrific job bringing them to life. I still don't like the new Dumbledore though. There are some pretty intense moments, one featuring zombies and one featuring a chase through some tall grasses, that are filmed in this jerky style that, appropriately, made me a little uncomfortable. The climactic scene wasn't nearly as emotional as it was in the book, but it's possible that's only because I read the book and knew what was going to happen. This chapter in the Potter heptalogy (or are they making eight of these movies?) has a nice visual flair with great, mostly dark imagery and some flawless special effects. I really like these Potter movies as a whole series even if I don't love them all individually. This one is in the upper echelon of them though.

Groundhog Day

1993 holiday classic

Rating: 15/20 (Jen: 13/20; Dylan: 12/20)

Plot: A misanthropic and egocentric weatherman reluctantly makes the trip to Puxatony to see if Phil the Groundhog sees his shadow or not. Like most rational people, he realizes that this is a tradition that future generations will make fun of us for. He wakes at 6:00 to the vocal stylings of Sonny and Cher and lives his day, a day ending a blizzard stranding him in Puxatony. When he wakes up the next day, it turns out to not be the next day at all, starting what seems to be an endless stream of Groundhog Days for the poor weatherman.

This is a great premise, and for the most part, it works. Bill Murray is good here as a character that I can't imagine many people liking or rooting for even though he does learn how to be a human being by the end of the movie. That guy knows how to deliver a line, and a lot of contemporary funnymen could learn something by watching this. Chris Elliott is also in the movie, always a plus. He should have played Puxatony Phil though. There are some times when there are almost too many ideas thrown in the script. I think there's even some jokes about kitchen sinks in there. And when the romance starts developing, the movie starts to lose a little steam. Does this count as a time travel movie?

Sidebar: I recall seeing this at the Indiana Theater with Jen, but she insists I'm making that up.

The Quiller Memorandum

1966 spy movie

Rating: 15/20 (Jen: 12/20)

Plot: Quentin Quiller is playing an elaborate and deadly game of hide-and-seek with neo-Nazi fiends in Germany. Obi-Wan Kenobi helps him out. Several people try to give him cigarettes, and he gets it on with a sexy school teacher. Not bad for a cheap weekend spy fantasy camp run by amateurs!

"Can I help you?"
"Yes, I'd like two tickets for The Quiller Memorandum."

I wouldn't have done it. I wouldn't have seen this movie in a theater back in the mid-60s because I wouldn't want to say that title through that little hole in the glass to a person who can probably barely hear me. Even if the man who would later play Obi-Wan Kenobi was in the movie. This could have used some more thrill and a more engaging main character. Segal's Quiller doesn't really do much. But it all works in a kind of quiet way, and there are a couple really good scenes. I also liked the music performed, I believe, by the Quiller Memorandumers. The Pinter-penned script makes this quite a bit different from your average spy movie.

Go West

1940 Marx Brothers movie

Rating: 16/20 (Dylan: 12/20)

Plot: S. Quentin Quale, Joe Panello, and Rusty Pane try to make money with land that doesn't belong to them that the railroad really wants.

Expectations weren't high for this one, but I really enjoyed it. It doesn't have the staginess of some other Marx Brothers productions, the word play and visual gags are top notch, and any attempt at a story doesn't get in the way of the fun. The final twenty or so minutes that take place on a train (one that leaves the tracks and is almost entirely demolished by the end of its journey) is wonderfully inventive and humorous. I've heard that Buster Keaton worked as a gag writer for the Marxes once his career finally fizzled, and with this train scene, especially knowing how much Buster liked trains, it sure does look like the work of him. The obligatory piano and harp playing interludes (here, spread apart) are really good. I told Dylan that I could watch Chico's fingers for a couple hours without getting bored. Groucho gets a great line that I will probably quote often: "There's something corrupt going on around my pants." As with a few Marx Brothers movies I've seen, there are a couple unfortunate musical numbers, both with really strange vocals that almost sound like somebody's playing around with a record player.

The Hurt Locker

2009 Best Picture nominee

Rating: 14/20 (Rubber Duck: 14/20)

Plot: Hours and hours of bomb diffusion. It's an activity that, while it might not be all that interesting to watch on a friend's nice television set, is apparently like a drug to some guys.

I haven't run the new nickname by my friend yet, but I don't think he'll mind since it's from one of the greatest movies of the 20th Century. Convoy.

Here's another of those great movies whose greatness I'll need to have explained to me. I'll give director Deuce Bigelow one thing--she sets a tone and style early and never wavers. The movie is one almost-tense bomb diffusing scene after another, filmed with that ubiquitous handheld camera style. There's a realism to the goings-on, but after a while, I'd just had enough. By the time Bigelow is ready to mix things up by tossing in a shockingly grotesque scene that almost made me toss my cookies, I was ready for the whole thing to be over. The acting was really exactly what it needed to be, realistic and natural enough for me to believe these were real soldiers. Unfortunately, I didn't really like any of them, and two of them (probably because I was sleepy) I kept getting confused. This is the type of movie people will watch and automatically assume that it says something, but it really seems pretty empty. And it's long. Too long. I could have actually figured out that there wasn't a point to this in half the time. At least the unfortunate scene where the soldiers are wrestling and punching each other in the stomach could have been cut. This movie lacks tension (stretching scenes far longer than they should be stretched does not create real tension) and after a promising start, I got bored by the plotless structure, maybe because the movie's promising start actually continued through the entire movie. It was a fight to keep my eyes open at time. Rubber Duck will have to let me know if I snored at any point during The Hurt Locker.


1938 romantic comedy

Rating: 15/20 (Jen: 14/20)

Plot: Up-and-coming business guy Johnny Case is all set to start bringing in the serious dough. And he's marrying a rich girl. Everything's looking grand! But rather than being excited about the prospects of being a big-toothed dog in a dog-eat-dog world and boinking the little rich girl, he's got other things on his mind, namely taking an extended vacation while he's still young enough to enjoy it and boinking the little rich girl's oddball sister.

The second best movie called Holiday that I've seen all year. It's charming if not entirely believable or engaging. It's definitely the type of movie you watch and think, "Man, this would be a lot better if it had a chimpanzee on a unicycle!" Really, once you've got a chimpanzee on a unicycle on the mind, anything you see on the screen is going to be disappointing. I liked Johnny's friends the Potters more than any of the major characters. I never could figure out why Johnny Case kept doing acrobatics, standing on his hands or backflipping. It did make Holiday a little more extreme, I guess.

The Killing

1956 crime drama

Rating: 18/20

Plot: A group of guys attempt to rob a horse racing track.

A great combination of a modern non-linear narrative structure, quality performances, a Jim Thompson-penned script, and a style that shows that Stanley Kubrick had decided to become Stanley Kubrick. The cinematography is great, and this is the type of movie you'll watch and actually notice the lighting. The Killing actually has only one real flaw but it's a major flaw--a Yucca-Flats-style narrator who functions sort of like a wrist watch in this. I did like the very realistic attention to detail, even when those details weren't exactly very realistic. It's tautness contributes to its greatness, too. With no bloating or anything cutesy, there's just not a wasted moment in this one.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

2005 neo-noir

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Professional thief Harry Lockhart dives into a movie audition to avoid arrest and winds up getting the part of a private detective. He attends a party where he runs into his childhood crush and meets Perry, a real private eye hired by the movie producers to let Harry tag along to see what the life is like. All three become involved in a murder mystery.

I suppose this is one of those cases where the story just doesn't matter all that much. The narrative is neither coherent or interesting, but the characters are colorfully cool and the dialogue is fresh. This has the pacing of a Lebowski which I like although it suffers from too many trendy touches and random stylistic dickery. I don't think Downey completely works as a narrator in this, but his character is likable in a sort of unlikable way. This is the type of story where you feel almost jerked around by the twists, like you're on a carnival Tilt-a-Wheel while wearing your trendiest jeans, but it's never in a way that induced either vertigo or vomiting. I just wish the tale was told with a little less gloss and glitter, maybe with one less "bang" in the title. It's a fun flick, but it needed some gristle.