Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine

2003 documentary

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Garry Kasparov, possibly the greatest chess player ever to play the game, returns to the scene of what he believes is a crime, discussing the details of his 1997 match with IBM's Deep Blue which he lost 3 1/2 - 2 1/2. It's basically an hour and a half of Kasparov yelling, "Shenanigans!" while Deep Blue retorts, "Blurp blurp. I am a robot. Blurp. Blurp. Blurp!"

First, let me cover what I didn't like about this documentary, quibbles that nearly forced me to drop this a few more points. There's an annoying amount of stylistic touches with this documentary--whispered narration, some troublesome music, a few pretentious semi-reconstructed shots, and a few too many shots of the chess-playing automaton called The Turk. No, let me take that last one back. The Turk is cool. Overall, I would have liked more documentary and less dressing for that documentary. The good stuff in this far outweighs the stuff that annoyed me, however. Chief among those good things is Garry Kasparov's charisma. His recollections are fascinating, and I loved watching him ponder moves, squirm agonizingly, and gesticulate while facing his opponents. He's a guy who wears his emotions on his sleeve. And it's possible that he might as well have a post-it note that says "I'm paranoid!" slapped on his forehead. Still, he's so likable, and you want to believe him when he talks about how the IBM people cheated in the match. The documentary is objective although the multitudinous shots of The Turk almost hint that the filmmakers support a conspiracy theory of some kind. There was likely more in this one for me, a fan and terrible player of the game, than for people who don't play. I really liked the insight on the psychology of the game, probably the main difference between a human chess player and a machine like Deep Blue. As a chess player, I would have liked a little more detail on the games themselves, especially a clearer description of the controversial move in game two, but I think the games (with analysis) are included as a special feature on the dvd.

The Turk:

The Blood on Satan's Claw

1971 horror movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: It's the 1600s, and since there's not much to do in an English farming community, the teenagers all decide to become devil worshippers, a hobby which apparently involves raping and murdering each other. And we contemporary parents think Eminem is a bad influence on our kids!

There's a great deal to like about The Blood on Satan's Claw. Really, with a title like that, you'd better have a fairly good movie. This has an atmosphere or mood similar to The Wicker Man, and director Piers Haggard does a fine job creating atmosphere and mood with effectively unusual camera work and a really odd soundtrack. This feels different from most movies; there's a fuzz on the surface of this that never allowed me to feel comfortable with the setting or the characters. Speaking of fuzz, I also learned from this movie that Satan has fuzzy legs. This is imperfect storytelling. The plot either seems choppy or incomplete, and there were too many pieces missing for this story to flow. There's a really interesting character in this one, an evil girl with the wonderful name Angel Bleak. Or, if you don't trust my ears and go with what the Internet says, the not-as-wonderful name Angel Blake. She's played by the lovely Linda Hayden and manages to combine innocence and evil to create what would be a classic horror character if more people were willing to see a movie called The Blood on Satan's Claw. Plus, she disrobes! There are lulls and parts where this has difficulty making a connection, but it's just interesting enough to spend an hour and a half with.

The Magic Blade

1976 kung-fu movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Yen Nan-Fei arrives to battle master swordsman Fu Hung-Hsieh to settle a dispute over who is the better sword fighter. While they're fighting, they are attacked by professional assassins. They decide to have lunch instead and are attacked by more assassins. They have to work together, procure some exploding Peacock Darts, and figure out who's behind the plot to get rid of them.

Everybody was kung-fu fightin' in this one from the first minute to the last. And these cats, with their assortment of swords and other cool weapons (fans, Peacock Darts, explosives, a loaf of bread), are fast as lightnin'. The sword play, as good as you'd expect from a Shaw Brothers production, is seasoned with just the right amount of fantasy elements. You get impossible acrobatics, swords that can cut the branches off tree from a distance, doors and windows that close with the wave of magical hands. It's over the top, but it's never over over the top. The main character (Fu Hung) is a typical kung-fu action hero but there's a sprinkling of Clint Eastwood and Sherlock Holmes in him that gives him some depth. The antagonists are also interesting, mystical and mysterious, and the fight scenes are ingeniously fast and furious. I especially liked the cannibalistic and acrobatic Devil's Granny and the guy who made the good guys play Chinese chess. The Magic Blade has a story that only gets complicated at the very end, and I imagine its wall-to-wall action scenes would please aficionados of kung-fu fantasy flicks.

Space Master X-7

1958 sci-fi

Rating: 10/20

Plot: "Satellite terror strikes the earth" when a deadly space fungus is brought back to our planet. A scientist investigates the fungus, dubs it "blood rust," and then dies. Suddenly, a woman hunt is on as the authorities search for the scientist's ex-wife Laura who was visiting so that this movie could have a plot.

A couple sidebars:

1) Moe Howard is in this. He plays a taxi driver. I couldn't find any other Stooges.

2) Paul Frees plays the scientist. He was Dr. Vorhees in The Thing from Another World, but is mostly known for a ton of voice work including a bunch of things I watched as a child. He was Burgermeister Meisterburger! And the Ghost Host in Disneyworld's Haunted Mansion ride! And he did voice work for The Abominable Dr. Phibes. He also did "various voices" for the Jackson Five cartoon. From the credits, it actually seems like he did every voice on the show that wasn't a Jackson brother.

The worst thing about this movie is something that is quickly turning into a movie pet peeve for me--unnecessary or oppressive narration. This story is told by a senator, and his all-too-frequent narration just gets in the way. It's lazy storytelling. There's really not much to the weirdly named Space Master X-7 although it's actually got a pretty cool story. I like the noirish hunt for Laura. She thinks she's wanted in a murder investigation, and there's a nifty race against the clock as they try to find her before "Blood Rust" kills everybody. Unfortunately, there's not really a movie to go along with that story. There's not anything blatantly awful about the movie. This isn't bad enough to be an entertaining bad movie. The acting's fine, the writing's fine, the minimal use of special effects (the expanding fungus thing) is fine, the camera work is fine. In fact, Space Master X-7 just might be the most fine movie I've seen all year. But it's the same kind of "fine" that I am whenever somebody asks me how I'm doing. "How are you today, Shane?" I'll always answer "Fine" even when I'm smart enough to know that times are dark and getting darker and I'm more depressed than I was the last time the same person asked me how I was doing when I was really depressed. So, if a person I barely know and probably wouldn't want to see asked me, "Hey, Shane, how's Space Master X-7?" I would answer "Fine" but really not mean it. Recommended only to Three Stooges completists.

Breaker! Breaker!

1977 truckdriver kung-fu movie

Rating: 5/20

Plot: Chuck Norris, truckdrivin' tough guy, puts his ears on and gets word that his brother is lost in Texas City, California, a town run by a corrupt judge. Chuck, his roundhouse kick, a yellow t-shirt, and a tacky blue van with a giant eagle painted on the side go looking for him. Unfortunately for the citizens of Texas City, California, they're not smart enough to realize that the best way to get rid of Chuck Norris is just to shoot him.

Seriously, I'm with the Judge Trimmings (that's his name) on this one. "He was unarmed." When an action hero gets by on ingenuity, resourcefulness, or something else, I can accept it. But when he's walking out in the open in broad daylight, and the bad guys can't figure out a way to kill him, there's a problem. And speaking of Judge Trimmings (that's his name), what a character you've got here. George Murdock plays the character like he's in a Shakespearean production. He's Acting with a capital A. His lines clash incongruously with everybody else's in Texas City, California, things like "I'm gonna stick ya! I'm gonna stick ya!" repeated by a guy with a pitchfork and another hick whining, "The guy's a bad dude!" Texas City and its occupants reminded me a bit of the locale and characters in Deliverance, so imagine Hamlet replying to "Squeal like a pig!" This doesn't seem like an authentic representation of the profession of truck driving. At the end (SPOILER ALERT!), a bunch of unseen truckers, including one named Mudflapper, come to the rescue after easily locating this dump town (Texas City, California) sans modern technology and crash into buildings in their manic search for Chuck, all while taking turns crackin' wise on their CB's. Their CB banter sounded like the type of thing that was improvised, possibly by some of the dumbest people on earth. At one point, a trucker (maybe Mudflapper) says, "I haven't had this much fun since I broke my shoulder." I had to rewind that to make sure I heard it correctly. Without context (did I miss a prequel to this?), that makes no sense. This also has one of the most terrible musical montages I've seen in a long time with this insipid pop song accompanying scenes of Chuck Norris and Arlene just standing in various places. And there's a stutterer with a stutter that, just like the representation of truck driving, doesn't seem like an accurate representation of stuttering. Chuck Norris says, "I had a brother but I lost him," to him. There's also a wonderfully poignant moment when the stuttering character says, "I'm-I-I-I-I'mma, I-I'm m-m-m-m-m-ma-ma-m-mad at y-y-y-you," leading to one of the bad guys, the stutterer's brother, doing a little soul searching. Oh, and there's a scene where the stuttering guy makes love to a stuffed lion in a barn. But you can't talk about a Chuck Norris movie without discussing the fight scenes. They're nearly nonstop, but they aren't entertaining at all. I couldn't understand why a kick to the abdomen seems to finish off anybody. Maybe that's because Chuck Norris was the fight coordinator for Breaker! Breaker! I've never been roundhouse-kicked in the stomach by Chuck Norris though, so I'm not exactly an expert. I do know that if I was to remake this movie, I'd have anybody who is roundhouse-kicked in the stomach to violently explode in a CGI fireball. That would totally rule and oddly wouldn't really affect the believability of Breaker! Breaker! It all builds to a climactic fight scene where the hero, right after he's been shot, survives having hay and a tire hurled at him, fights off a man attacking him with a hook and later a bottle, and ends up killing the guy with a roundhouse kick to the abdomen. All while a horse watches!

Special note: Jack Nance followed his award-worthy performance in Eraserhead with a performance as a truck driver in this one. Maybe that's why Cory recommended it to me.

This trucker movie was recommended by Cory!


1982 computer movie

Rating: 13/20

Plot: This prequel to The Big Lebowski has The Dude, here a video gamer rather than a bowler, slurped into a computer, given a skin-tight glowing outfit and a Frisbee, and forced to battle a guy in a different colored skin-tight suit. Oh, snap!

I have mixed feelings about this one. Tron's got a unique look, but it kind of looks a little dorky. I think it even looked dorky back in '82, but in a way, it really doesn't seem dated. The computer world has to look minimalistic and cartoony, and ultimately, I always like how this movie looks. The action scenes (the motorcycle scene, that giant thing Jeff Bridges reassembles telepathically [?] and drives around, the climactic Frisbee toss) increase in lameness with each passing year, and the story is really confusing, especially for a Disney movie. Like all Disney science fiction movies, I wish this had a little more of an edge. It's vanilla sci-fi which is too bad since this could have had some interesting things to say then that would have still had relevancy today. Instead, it doesn't say much of anything. It's thematically lost. Is it a religious allegory? A fable? A warning? A muddled metaphor? Something else? The music is about perfect for the imagery. That's Wendy Carlos, formerly Walter Carlos, who did music for A Clockwork Orange and The Shining. Which reminds me of a question I have about this movie: Why would the programs in this have genders? Don't get me wrong. I'm glad Cindy Morgan is in this movie, probably just because I was tired of seeing only men in the skin-tight outfits. But wouldn't these programs lack genitalia? And would Jeff Bridges lose his genitals once he enters the virtual world? Or would he, since he's a programmer instead of a program, have conspicuous genitalia and become some sort of god in the computer world? It's something to think about. See, if somebody other than Disney made this movie, I'm sure genitals would have played a more prominent role.

Here's a guy who likes Tron a little more than I do:


1939 Western

Rating: 17/20

Plot: An early CBS experiment in reality television, this puts nine strangers in a stagecoach in 1880s Arizona, right in the middle of Apache territory with cameras watching them 24 hours a day. There's an outlaw, a corrupt banker, a couple broads, a horny guy, a wino, a Slim Whitman impersonator, a sheriff, and a guy in a gopher costume. Apaches, as any history book would accurately tell you, are bloodthirsty fiends, and when Geronimo's impromptu game of Smear the Queer is interrupted by stagecoach dust, the passengers find themselves in a little trouble. Luckily, John Wayne has taken a break from beating women long enough to help them out.

My Uncle Barry first showed me Stagecoach when I was 4 1/2 years old. Actually, he had taken all the on/off switches off all seven of his television sets and couldn't actually show the movie. He had it memorized and performed Stagecoach all by himself, playing all the parts and using a variety of props he'd found in his neighbor's kitchen. It was pretty exciting stuff, and I was inspired to write the first hip hop lyric alluding to a John Wayne movie. I can't remember all the lyrics, but "When you was out playing Bingo / We picked up Kid Ringo / Look, there's a motherfucking dingo / Drop your pants, boys / This stagecoach is about to throw down." My uncle couldn't demonstrate all the brilliance of this Ford Western. His one-man reenactment of the big Indian chase scene is lame by comparison, and his back yard isn't nearly as perfect a setting for this story as the stunning Monument Valley. And a perverse hip thrusting that Uncle Barry would perform whenever he jumped into his John Wayne character also doesn't make much sense in retrospect. My Uncle Barry, in a suicide letter, claimed that he watched this movie over forty times with Orson Welles while he (Uncle Barry) was directing Citizen Kane. Several years later, in a separate rambling suicide letter, he made a claim that the movie Stagecoach doesn't even exist and that it's only a recurring dream he has whenever there's a quarter moon. He tried to tell me that I didn't exist either. "But I'm right here!" I'd say. "Nope," he'd answer. "You're not." Sadly, he was usually right.

Warning from Space

1956 Japanese B-movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Starfish aliens from the planet Pyra travel to our planet to warn us of impending doom in the form of a runaway planet on a collision course with ours. But they're giant starfish, so nobody sticks around long enough to hear the warning. The aliens have to figure out another way to get the message across before it's too late.

I pretty much declared this to be the greatest movie ever made after the early appearance of the starfish aliens which are a little cheaper looking than the cover above might indicate. I really enjoyed the no-budget affects in this one. There's a trippy transformation from starfish to Japanese pop singer, the ominously approaching scorching fuzz planet, and streaking spaceships. There are also some good visuals when this turns into a near-disaster film, Planet R's proximity to ours causing intense heat and flooding. An evacuation of Tokyo scene was also really well done. This is an early color film, the first color Japanese sci-fi flick actually, and the colors in Warning from Space are sort of sickly or primitive. But like black and white science fiction from the time, the weird color actually gives this a little flavor. The story, admittedly lifted from at least two sources, is interesting although there are some moments that are definitely slower than others. Solid funk from the Japanese!

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

1958 movie

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

Plot: Big Daddy, a wealthy plantation owner, is the big birthday boy. He returns from a trip to enjoy some time with his two sons--firstborn Gooper and favorite Brick. Unfortunately for Big Daddy, somebody sent him the worst birthday present of all time--cancer. Before Big Daddy's return, Brick decides to try to impress the ghost of his late friend Skipper with whom he enjoyed a long homoerotic relationship, and he drunkenly breaks his leg while jumping over hurdles at a high school track. Everybody argues about various things. Maggie humps Brick's broken leg.

The first third of this movie is dominated by an argument between Brick and Maggie and it's got a lot of things working for it. First, the performers are good looking. People like to see good looking people. Second, the good looking people are Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor, and they're pretty good actors at the top of their game here. Third, the dialogue is crisp and caustic and dynamic and charged. I loved Brick's answer to his niece's question about why he's on the floor. "Cause I tried to kill your aunt Maggie." Finally (the "thing working for it" that I'm probably making up), I really like how the architecture and decor of the room is ingeniously used to visually represent this tension between the two, a tension that, since this all begins in medias res, the audience has no way of comprehending. I really dig how line, color contrasts, lighting, and mirrors are used to show the detachment between the husband and wife. It's great stuff. Overall, there's almost too much going on in this. The conflicts get as cluttered as Big Daddy's basement. Oh, and speaking of Big Daddy, out of all the strong performances in Cat, Burl Ives' performance as the patriarch is my favorite. And the guy just oozes sexuality! I sometimes have difficulty staying focused with play adaptations, but this dialogue-heavy movie is never boring. I don't like the title very much though. I would have called it My Leg Is Broken and My Nephew Has No Neck so Pass Me My Drink, Big Daddy or Gooper, Whoever Is the Closest to Said Drink. Maybe that's why I don't write plays.


1977 Jaws rip-off

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

Plot: Henry Fonda is digging a tunnel or something, and somehow awakens a giant octopus which begins terrorizing a nondescript beach community. It grabs babies and devours fisherman and ruins child yacht races. Somebody's got to stop it, and Richard Dreyfuss is nowhere to be found!

Dylan was convinced that this was a comedy and said it's the funniest one he's ever seen. He doesn't know what he's talking about though. Remember, he's the same guy who gave Dr. Strangelove a 6/20. I'm amazed at this piece of garbage's cast. John Huston plays his cliched character stoically. The sultry and seductive Shelly Winters really hams it up (no, Cory, she doesn't die in this one). And poor Henry Fonda just looks completely lost. There are far too many characters in this, and there's far too much incoherent dialogue. I really would have liked to see more tentacles, especially since that's the title of the movie, but maybe that's just my love of Japanese tentacle porn coming out. Almost frustratingly (not quite, but almost), there are some moments in this movie that are almost (almost!) good. There's some nifty stylistic touches when the monster's first making his moves during the exposition. It's style that feels plundered, but it's still a little style. The scene with the baby and the others are startling, more startling since we don't get to see the culprit right away. But it doesn't take too long to realize that we're dealing with complete ineptitude here. The underwater scenes are nicely done, but a lot of the shots of boats look like they're being filmed by a drowning man. And there are lots of close-ups of the backs of people's heads, the sides of boats, and (most alarmingly) crotches. There was a shot of a belt buckle that actually convinced me I was supposed to have 3D glasses on. I thought that belt buckle was going to wind up in my living room! The most embarrassing scene in the movie involves a hefty Italian guy (the underwater shots of his body are the most horrifying parts of this movie) enjoying a swim. The director plays the fake attack card (you know, the here's-some-scary-music-and-a-shot-from-the-perspective-of-an-attacker-because-oh-no-he's-about-to-be-attacked-but-no-it's-just-his-friend-playing-a-joke-ha-ha trick) very awkwardly. Twice! Withing two minutes! Also embarrassing is the soundtrack. Inspired by Jaws, the filmmakers knew they'd have to have a sort of memorable theme for the octopus, Tentacles' dum-duh, dum-duh. But the five-note motif used here, something that sounds like a cat falling on a piano, is just dumb. Things get beyond ridiculous when Bo Hopkins delivers a seemingly endless monologue while straddling a killer whale tank. It's nothing less than a magical movie moment, but it's only a prelude to a climactic battle scene (SPOILER ALERT!) between a pair of killer whales and the giant octopus. Yeah, that's exactly as badass as it sounds.

A Bug's Life

1998 Seven Samurai remake

Rating: 16/20 (Abbey: 19/20)

Plot: Mean grasshoppers threaten a colony of ants after clumsy Flik dumps the food they collected to keep the bullies happy. The lead grasshopper, the cleverly-named Hopper, doubles the order and gives the ants until the last leaf falls to collect. Flik is sent away to find some warrior bugs, but he brings back circus bugs instead. Together, they come up with a plan to rid themselves of their grasshopper enemies.

I love the nod to Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven here although if you count the inarticulate Tuck and Roll, you've actually got nine bugs that come to help the ants. This movie has a little trouble getting started since few of the ants really have any character. The exception would be the protagonist voiced by Kid in the Hall Dave Foley, but even Flik has to grow on you a little bit. Once Flik gets to the big city, the story, as well as the animation and the action, picks up. The circus bugs and P.T. Flea (The Empire Strikes Back's John Ratzenberger, Pixar regular) give the film funk and flavor, and as soon as they're introduced, the puns, some of them very bad, start flying so rapidly that you'll wish you had a fly swatter. There are three terrific action sequences in this although the climactic battle scene that takes place at night might be a little too intense. A Bug's Life is a funny movie, but, uncharacteristically for Pixar movies, a few of the jokes are a little on the cheap side. Still, A Bug's Life is stuffed with creative ideas, fun characters (Kevin Spacey's Hopper is a great villain), lively Randy Newman (of "Short People" fame) music, and terrific animation. I also really appreciate the messages behind the cute little bug story. There are lessons about noncomformity, the power of the imagination, facing up to bullies, and reaching goals despite your size. I'll always have enough of a sweet spot for Toy Story to love it a little more than this one, but it's hard to watch this and not think of it as a step up for Pixar.

Food, Inc.

2008 horror movie

Rating: 15/20 (Jen: 19/20)

Plot: Troubling expose about how food production has changed. It's not good. Essentially, we're all going to die if we keep eating.

Scary stuff, people. There's not much that was really revolutionary here. Animals are being maltreated. A handful of corporations run everything. Corn is used too often. We eat things that are unfit for animals. The meat we eat is filled with hormones and fecal matter. The government doesn't really care about us. Corporations try to mislead consumers or keep them in the dark about what is in the food they eat. A waterfall of chickens, no matter what anybody else says, is really kind of funny. They're mostly lessons already learned and this is a ton of information to try to digest. It's a ninety minutes bursting at the seams, like the typical American threatening to break apart the fragile fabric of his action pants. It's presented very well, however, and the documentary is as entertaining as it is informative. Similarly to Al Gore's horror movie about how we're all going to drown (same producers actually), this spits out the problems but left me pessimistic. There was a flashy little list of tips before the credits, but most of the solution to our food production problems can't be solved by the average Joe Blow. And this particular Joe Blow is way too lazy to really do anything about all of this anyway.

I believe this was recommended by Oprah. I wouldn't want to eat her either.

Crazy Heart

2009 The Wrestler remake

Rating: 14/20 (Jen: 13/20)

Plot: Bad Blake is a country music legend, but not the good type of legend that people still care about. He's more the washed-up legend who drives himself to bowling alleys in Texas to perform with local music talent in front of small crowds so that he can buy more booze and, if he's lucky, hook up with a floozy. He agrees to an interview with the niece of a piano player, and they hook up. He falls in love with her and her son, but he's got a little too much Mickey Rourke in him to make it work.

First off, I needed help from Jen to discover that this and The Wrestler have an inexcusable amount of parallels. They're not exactly alike since Jeff Bridges doesn't bleed nearly as much as the wrestler and Maggie Gyllenhaal doesn't repeatedly take her clothes off like Marissa Tomei, but other than that, this is about the same movie. Oh, and this one has a lot more country western music. That's probably the main problem with this movie for me--the music isn't really good at all. Bad's supposed to be a great songwriters, but the audience doesn't get to see any evidence of that in the film. There are lots of songs, but they either all sound the same, have really trite lyrics, or all sound the same with really trite lyrics. Jeff Bridges isn't really a terrific singer. He's adequate, but watching him perform as washed-up Bad Blake never really made me think that he was even a shadow of anything legendary. Other than that, Jeff Bridges is (surprise!) great. It's not a flashy performance, and he builds his character in a way that makes it seem like he didn't put any work into it at all. But it's a pitch-perfect performance, and it's hard to argue with the Academy since they're almost always right. I like the conflict with Colin Farrell's Tommy Sweet character, but when we finally get to meet Tommy Sweet, there's not enough to his character for that conflict to even matter. The conflict's more an internal one with Blake, I guess. I just wish there was more to this movie. It doesn't feel complete.

The Amazing Transparent Man

1960 invisible man movie

Rating: 6/20

Plot: A crazy ex-military guy helps Joey Faust, a career criminal, bust out of prison. With the help of a scientistnapped Dr. Ulof, he invents a way to use radiation to turn men transparent. Or, as most people would call it, invisible. Faust is sent out to steal more uranium so that an army of invisible men can be created. But Faust has other plans!

Faust is played by Douglas Kennedy who was in the incredible The Alligator People. He also played a cop in Invaders from Mars. Here, he is like a low-budget Bogart. His over-the-top gangsta performance entertains. The plot's dopey, and the special effects, or more accurately the complete lack of effects, make things dopier. Well, let me take that back. There are effects. A bag of money suspends in mid-air at one point. That, I suppose, puts the amazing in the film's title. The funniest parts of this movie occur whenever the invisible (excuse me. . .transparent) guy engaged in invisible fisticuffs, another nifty special-ed effect involving the visible participant sort of flailing around awkwardly. This is very clearly one of those movies that was outlined in forty-five minutes and written and shot (simultaneously) in about four days, but it's just "good bad" enough to be worth the the effort.

This Island Earth

1955 science fiction movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Guys with giant foreheads scientistnap Dr. Carl Meacham by tricking him into building an Interroceter and luring him to their pad with promises of free plane rides and all the radioactive pickles he can fit in his pie hole. When he gets there, he discovers that other scientists have been scientistnapped and that some of them have even been lobotomized. He and some floozy have to uncover the secrets of Exeter and his big-foreheaded friends before bad stuff happens. This involves a trip to a faraway planet and a groping mutant.

There's nothing great (or sensible) about the plot here, but this sure is a good looking 50s science fiction movie. I love the colors, and the visuals, especially on the alien planet, are very original and artistic. I also like the mutant alien thing, basically a guy in a cheap rubber suit, although I wish he did a little more. There's not really a single moment when that thing appears all that menacing. At times, watching this seems like walking into a pawn shop filled with B-movie cliches, but it's definitely a lot of fun, the writing isn't horrible, and the plot unfolds mysteriously and keeps you interested for the duration. Lead heroic Rex Reason sounds a whole lot like Gregory Peck. Really, if you close your eyes while this movie is playing, you'll think you're watching To Kill a Mockingbird, a seldon seen version of To Kill a Mockingbird with aliens and interroceters where Atticus says things like "I know everybody's seeing flying saucers and screwy lights in the sky. Well, you can put me in the booby hatch too, because, so help me, I saw this ship turn a bright green up there." The movie wouldn't be nearly as entertaining if you closed your eyes though. Rex Reason's not as bad as his name would make you think he is, and the other actors are pretty good, too. I'm not sure whether or not it's the "supreme excitement of [my] time," but I did really enjoy watching This Island Earth.

Swept Away. . .by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August

1974 anti-feminism propaganda

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Some rich snobby people go on a boat trip to enjoy some swimming, some fishing, and some verbal abusing of the hired help. One of the most abusive, a woman named Raffaella, decides she wants to venture from the boat despite protestations from servant Gennarino that it is too late. Turns out it is too late, and the two end up stranded on a rocky island. Pampered Raffaella realizes she needs Gennarino to survive, and the tables are turned.

I've not done this before, but I had to give this a bonus point just because it was directed by a woman. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the whole point of this one seems to be that women in a capitalist society need to be slapped around a little bit so that they'll eventually come to their senses, realize that men are superior, and ask to be sodomized. And a woman directed it? There's some political stuff in here that I don't understand because I'm not smart enough. In fact, I would have liked there to be a little more story and a little less soapboxing. Neither of the characters in this are likable (probably the point), so by the time they "fall in love," it doesn't really seem to matter all that much. There are some funny moments, and the island and blue sea settings are beautifully filmed. I just wasn't able to connect to this thematically or politically, and it took away my ability to really enjoy this movie. That, and some of the scenes of physical abuse, abuse that would have made John Wayne's character in The Quiet Man proud, were tough to watch. Admittedly, I watched this while sleepy and was distracted by my own thoughts of a remake in which Madonna being physically abused.

I'm surprised my spellchecker recognizes the word soapboxing.

Superman: The Movie

1978 superhero movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Superman's mom and dad (Ja Rule and Beyonce) send him in a space craft made from shards of glass just before the destruction of their planet Krypton, also made from shards of glass. He is adopted by a couple hicks, and when one of them dies, he abandons the other and goes to live and work in the big city as Clark Kent, guy with glasses. He gets a job as a newspaper reporter, befriends a whore and a gay photographer, and brings tights right back into fashion. Meanwhile, Lex Luther, internationally infamous wig thief, has plans to do villainous things. Will Superman be able to stop the plan in time? Will it matter since he (SPOILER ALERT!) apparently has the ability to reverse the spinning of the earth and, despite what any sober physicist would say about the possibilities, reverse time?

And that's the biggest problem with this movie. I know where the phrase "jump the shark" came from and what it means. I want to know why the phrase wasn't "spin the globe" or something like that? The first 95% of this movie really isn't that great. I loved it as a kid, and the nostalgic side of me likes watching all of these scenes that I would play out in my backyard. But it's not a great movie. That last 5% though? Whoa. It's almost as if Lex Luther got a hold of the script and, as part of a dastardly scheme, burned the last few pages and added this stupid ending instead. Dastardly! No wonder none of the sequels work. If Superman can just reverse time when things aren't going his way, what's really the point of anything else that happens? It reminds me of that time I was playing rock-paper-scissors with that bald kid who lived down the street. Every time I'd win (my rock against his scissors), he'd pull a machete out, chop off my hand, and say, "Rocks don't count if they're on the ground." After he did that twice, I didn't even want to play with him anymore. I'd probably rather have my hand chopped off than have to watch the scene in this movie where Superman and pink-pantied Lois Lane are flying around a very phallic Statue of Liberty (apparently, they've got one of those in Metropolis) while she reads bad poetry. Other issues/questions with this movie:

1) The special effects are really good except for a scene when young Superman is racing a train and he looks like he's made out of rubber. That's one of the many scenes that could have been cut from this movie.

2) How can Lois Lane be stretched out like that with outstretched arms right next to Superman while they're flying? Why so stiff? (That's what she said.) This is right before he drops her. That, by the way, makes it all seem like a candidate for the worst first date ever.

3) Why does Marlon Brando have an "S" on his chest? His name's Ja Rule. Shouldn't he have a "J" on his chest? Kairow, what am I missing here?

4) Why did they have to use Reeve's voice (dubbed) for the teenage Superman? That's not a teenager's voice! No wonder his classmates were creeped out by him. That voice and those rubber legs?

5) Maybe I'm just stupid, but I don't have any idea what's happening on Krypton. If there was never a sequel to this (maybe there shouldn't have been), all that stuff with the three leather-clad bad guys who wind up spinning through space in a triangular mirror wouldn't make any sense at all. And speaking of them, Marlon Brando mentions something about Irsa's perversion. Am I the only warm-blooded male watching this thing that thinks a prequel about Irsa's perversions would be a much better movie than any Superman movie they could make? You reading this, Hollywood? We're all waiting for Irsa's Perversions. You can even work in a CGI Yoda if you want.

6) Can Superman read minds? And if so, did he drop Lois Lane intentionally because he could hear her bad poetry?

7) Superman's disguise includes glasses and the parting of his hair on the opposite side. Come on. That's just ridiculous. He doesn't even disguise his voice like Christian Bale's Batman.

8) Full-frontal nudity? Is this the only super-phallus we get to see? And granted, he's just a boy, but we're talking about Superman's junk here. If this was George Lucas's movie, he would have already re-released this with an obscenely large CGI Superman penis by now. And probably thrown in a Yoda!

9) What's with those hula hoops on Krypton? I could watch those things for hours.

10) This movie is too long. So is this blog entry probably.

There are plenty of redeeming qualities though. The music is great, including the main theme played over the incredibly dynamic opening credits. I also like the cute little song that plays whenever Otis is up to something. I like Ned Beatty as Otis, and I think Gene Hackman is great as Lex. In fact, I can't imagine anybody else playing that part. Same with Christopher Reeve in the title role he seemed born to play. I like some of the humor, and there's a really big chunk of this movie (from the moment when Lois Lane's helicopter starts spiralling out of control until where things get really stupid at the end) that is pretty great. I also really dig the scene where Superman makes his ice castle. This is a movie I'll always secretly love despite its numerous flaws. I don't imitate it nearly as often now that I'm in my 30s although I can't think of a single situation in my life that the wearing of a big red cape wouldn't enrich.

The Pistol: The Birth of a Legend

1991 biopic

Rating: 9/20

Plot: A tall tale based on young Pete Maravich, a little guy with a big heart. He works hard, dribbling around his living room with a blindfold and practicing his father's basketball drills, until he winds up on starting for the varsity team as an 8th grader.

The only thing bigger than this kid's heart is the chunk of cheese the makers of this movie drop in your lap. Don't get me wrong; I appreciate the message behind the movie. But when a character actually said, "Pete, watching you makes me want to dream," I had to start giggling. It's cheese from the get-go as we open with a scene of an old Maravich conversing with his son or some other kid (something about dreaming, I think) while walking in an empty gymnasium. There's gratuitous patriotism; at one point, there's a completely random shot of an American flag. I think it's to remind the viewer about dreaming or something. There are also about five too many of those 1980s musical montage scenes. I thought the kid playing Maravich (Adam Guier) was great. He looked a little slow as he was making his moves, but you could tell he had some game when he was spinning the ball on his finger, making behind the back or head passes, and dribbling around. But enough's enough. I don't need to see another five minute montage with terrible music to show me how hard he works. I guess it was to show what a person should do when they have a dream or something. The very worst thing about this movie is the narration. Whenever the narrator says anything, it seems like he's interrupting. And it's completely unnecessary since whatever he says is usually repeated visually or through character dialogue right after he's finished talking anyway. I'm fairly sure that liberties were taken with the late Maravich's story, but there are a couple few scenes that would have really embarrassed him. There are probably some sweaters that would have embarrassed him, too. One scene involves young Pete (a little guy with a big heart) finally deciding to stand up to the bully, a comeback we've been waiting for the entire movie, when all he can say is, "You're a butthead." You're a butthead? Come on, Pistol Pete! A scene involving an intentional foul is so poorly done that it made half of the people I watched this with laugh. Somehow, he's knocked unconscious even though he didn't have an injury to the head. The head, as you probably know, is where dreams are kept. And the final scene? Whoa. I almost lost my lunch. The above poster has the same effect actually.

This was watched on the big screen at school with students. I forgot to ask them for their ratings. They're a bunch of buttheads anyway.


1962 masterpiece

Rating: 2/20

Plot: In a world where people don't move their lips when they talk, there's a giant caveman loose in the desert. He grunts "Eegah!" a few times, so everybody assumes that's his name because, you know, people usually go around saying their own names over and over again. A guy who claims to be a scientist, his daughter, and her rock 'n' rolling dune-buggy driving beau investigate.

The worst caveman movie I've seen all year, Eegah approaches a Manos or Yucca Flats level of ineptitude. The main issue is probably the sound. This might in fact be the worst sound editing in the history of cinema, and not just movies with caveman. It's almost like all the characters are ventriloquists with their volume rising and falling inexplicably. The best example is when the characters are following some footprints and this voice from the heavens, one that doesn't sound like any of the characters, warns, "Watch out for snakes!" while none of their mouths move. Eegah's grunts don't match his lips either, but the craziest sound problem is when Tommy (played by Arch Hall Jr. [the film was directed by Arch Hall Sr. by the way]) plays his guitar. He sings almost enough songs for this to qualify as one of the worst musicals ever (definitely the worst musical with a caveman), most of them as a serenade to his girlfriend Roxie even though he sings about somebody named Valerie in a couple of them. If you're keeping score at home, you shouldn't. Anyway, when Arch Hall Jr. plays his guitar and sings, a full ghost band accompanies him. He's got drums, background vocals, piano. Neat trick, Tommy! Eegah does have a bitchin' dune buggy in it. I know some of my readers are interested in dune buggies. In fact, this has the best scene featuring a caveman chasing a dune buggy with a stick that I'll probably ever seen. There's another great scene where Tommy and Roxie (or, more accurately, people who sort of look like Tommy and Roxie) are riding around the desert looking for her father, and Roxie keeps saying, "Whee! Whee!" Whee? They might have said that in the 1950s, Roxie, but this film was made in '62! This movie ends with a character talking about how giants must exist because they're written about in the Bible. I'm sure Bill Maher would have questions about that one.

Eegah, by the way, is played by 7'2" Richard Kiel who would use Eegah as a springboard to bigger and better things. Aside from playing Jaws in the James Bond movie, Kiel would get several opportunities to play thugs, tall goons, swamp monsters, tall men, and strong men.


2008 inquiry

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Funnyman Bill Maher travels the world to have some of his questions about religion answered. Or maybe he's traveling on the world because he's a superior human being who was sent to earth by something (Note: Not a deity) to tell us all what's what in a very smug way.

Points deducted because my research shows that this contains possible misinformation. More points deducted because of the amount of stereotyping and generalizing that Maher does. Not to say this wasn't entertaining because it was. I enjoy when people are made fun of because of their beliefs. I really do. But there was just something about Maher's approach here that rubbed me the wrong way. Part of the problem is that his stated goal with this is so far from what he's trying to do. He claims he's asking these questions because he really wants answers, preaching the "Gospel of I-Don't-Know." He doesn't. He's asking these questions because it gives him the opportunity to be funny and show how much smarter he is than the average person. His well-written diatribe at the end of this, a biased faux-summary of his discoveries, could easily have been written prior to production. As a documentary, this lacks cohesion. I laughed out loud a few times, and if that was his main goal (he is, after all, a comedian), then he succeeded. Somehow, I doubt Bill Maher's main goal was to make Shane laugh, however. If nothing else, this reinforces my belief that I need to visit the Creation Museum. They have animatronic dinosaurs there!

Gammera the Invincible

1966 big monster movie

Rating: 8/20

Plot: Russian planes carrying nuclear bombs are shot down. This wakes up Gammera, a prehistoric turtle who eats fire, has the ability to fly, and destroys things. He's made of rubber.

The ensemble cast here just might be the worst ever assembled. And it's not the dubbing (although that is ridiculous) because the worst offenders are the American actors. The characters in this one somehow manage to be goofier than the monster, a giant rubber turtle that can scoot through the skies like a flying saucer and spew fire. There's the Japanese photographer who can't figure out what to take pictures of without being told. There's the Christian Eskimos who warn the Japanese visitors about a giant prehistoric turtle for absolutely no reason. And just the name "Gammera" spoken by Eskimos makes dogs bark and children scatter. There's the general who butchers his lines so badly that when the other characters in the room are shown, they all have expressions like they're expecting the director to yell "Cut!" and start over again. Then, the senator in the room impossibly ends up being worse! There's a dopey child actor, a kid so obsessed with turtles (of course) that his teacher is threatening to expel him from school. But standing above them all is the scientist Dr. Contrare who is shown debating another scientist on a television program. Bad acting is bad acting, and in a movie like this, it's often difficult for a bad actor to get his performance noticed. But Alan Oppenheimer's performance stands out, a crochet needle in a haystack of awful performances. You'll see Alan Oppenheimer's name as a nominee for the Torgo at the end of the year. There are some dazzling special effects in this movie--burning planes, toy boats, flying Gammera. There's an explosion described by a character with the "only a nuclear bomb can create an explosion like that" even though it looks like a cheap firecracker. And I never knew that train cars full of gas sound just like gun shots when they explode. The monster itself isn't too bad. He apparently likes children, enough for me to suspect that he's a pedophile. He doesn't seem like a very intelligent monster although he doesn't have any other weaknesses. As one scientist so expertly opines, once Gammera is on his back, he can't get on his feet again. Really? I could have been a scientist if that's all it takes. The destruction of the miniatures is entertaining, and I really like one terrible transition from an attack of an airport to a bunch of kids dancing to a rock 'n' roll song with lyrics that go "Gammera! Gammera! Gammera!" I'm easily entertained though. It all ends rather stupidly and then finds a way to end again more stupidly by throwing the words "Sayonara Gammera" on the screen.

Watched on the big screen at school with frequent interruptions from colleagues.

La Femme Nikita

1990 French movie

Rating: 17/20

Plot: The titular femme is arrested as the only survivor of her gang's burglary attempt. She's convicted as a cop killer and burglarizer, but instead of sending her to prison, they send her to a training facility where she learns to be pretty. And how to kill people. Mostly how to kill people actually. Once she graduates, she's ready to be a pretty assassin although she still longs to be an interior decorator.

What I really love about this movie is the developing paradox. As Nikita makes the transition from killer to, well, another kind of killer, she somehow becomes more and more human, learning more and more how to appreciate life and how to love. It's complex characterization, and I really liked how I never actually felt that I had a handle on Nikita. Those are usually the kind of characters who stick with you. Luc Besson directs the story with a controlled style, and although I don't think this is as good as Leon, there's still this density that places this head and shoulders above other films in the genre. You do get a little Jean Reno, and he'll always move a film up a notch or two up the ladder of cool. Or three. I don't know how these rungs work! Pushing this further up that ladder though are some terrific scenes. It's not just the action stuff either (although a scene in a restaurant kitchen is great). There's a quiet character-developing scene where Nikita looks lost as she's shopping at a grocery store that I also really like. With a crafty sense of humor, some bitchin' violence, that aforementioned coolness, and confident direction, Nikita is just really rad. It suffers a bit from a terribly dated soundtrack, a last gasp of those 80s synthesizer-filthy scores, but that's a small quibble. Je suis un essui glace!

Recommended by Cory, a cat who knows how rungs work.

The Thing from Another World!

1951 science fiction movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Some army men discover a space ship buried in the ice somewhere near their Alaskan post. They decide to dick around with it and bring a space-monster-on-ice back to base. It turns out that he's a vegetable man! Vegetable man! He thaws, and havoc is wreaked.

A movie with a title this goofy isn't supposed to be this good. And speaking of the title, I'm sticking with the punctuation mark because the poster up there has one. Movies are always better when their titles include punctuation marks. Speaking of that poster, that's actually more of the monster than you get to see in the movie. It's more the suggestion of the monster, quicky glimpses, sound effects, and the after effects that create tension in this 50s Frankenstein-like-dude-on-the-loose flick. And the theremin-heavy score, of course. The winter wonderland setting also works well with the black and white to set the mood. Most interesting, I think, is the characters' banter, something that sets this apart from more ordinary science fiction movies from this time. You learn more about a lot of these people rather than just one or two of the most important ones, and there's a really interesting conflict other than the obvious man vs. space monster conflict. I also like the overlapping dialogue, almost reminiscent of Robert Altman. I think this one holds up very well. The fact that the monster is made out of celery is actually enough to make this a classic.

Forbidden Zone

1982 musical

Rating: 24/20 (Anonymous: 16/20) [Rating Note: I told Anonymous after watching this that I was going to rate it eight points higher than he did. Hence, the 24/20.]

Plot: The Hercules family lives just a large intestine above the Sixth Dimension, a mysteriously goofy land ruled by King Fausto, a little fellow, and his wife Queen Doris. Inevitably, one of the family members, in this case Frenchy, finds her way into the Sixth Dimension and has to be rescued by her family and friends.

"Hot damn! The Sixth Dimension!"

Ever want to hear the little guy from Fantasy Island say, "I love to feel your nipples harden when I caress them with my fingertips"? Yes? Well, this is your movie then, mo-fo! And that's not all. With Forbidden Zone, you get a guy in a gorilla suit, an evil half-man/half-frog creature, Danny Elfman playing the devil, lots of topless women, an old guy in boxers (boxers always threatening to unflap and give a little too much information, if you know what I mean) who humps everything he encounters, a human chandelier, racial stereotyping (the first character you see is in black face), bald beatboxers in jock-straps, askew jazz numbers, and Herve Villechaize. It's hard to believe that a film this weird can sustain momentum. A lot of weirdo flicks run out of gas and get stale, but not Forbidden Zone. This starts weird, gets weirder, continues to hit you with left turn after left turn, calls you a jackass right to your face, and then ends weird. And the whole time, blood's just rushing to your balls, and you're slapping the couch with your palm or accidentally (and unknowingly) fondling your own brother. This makes Rocky Horror seem like white bread by comparison. This is what Pee Wee Herman dreams about when not molesting himself inside an extra large container of buttered popcorn. This is David Lynch, John Waters, Tim Burton, and Terry Gillium deciding to travel back in time to the 1930s to make cartoons together after having a surgery performed in which they're attached at the lobes but then killing each other in a dispute over whether or not the frog should have a sex scene and the film being completed in their absence by the second coming of Christ. This is the type of music that people form religions after watching. The music is pretty incredible--an eclectic mishmash that is part-Residents, part-jazz, part-cabaret, part-cartoon-sound-effects. The entire movie is director Richard Elfman (Danny's brother) trying to create The Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo's stage show on the big screen. I didn't expect much, not being a fan of Oingo Boingo, but color me impressed. Fans of Danny Elfman's soundtrack work should seek this out as it's a lot of fun to see where he started. Any filmmaker watching this in '82 (Tim Burton maybe) would have no doubt been impressed with Elfman's potential, and it was fun for me to hear traces of Nightmare in a few of the songs. I was also impressed with the mix of animation and live action which, along with the black and white and the woman who played Frenchy's stage design, makes this unlike anything I've seen. This low-budget affair is far from cinematic perfection, but it's such an obvious labor of love, such an explosion of creativity, and such an oddball visual feast, that it's easy to forget the imperfections.

Forbidden Zone admittedly isn't for everybody. But I'm not going to like people who don't like it. Hot damn!


2009 Jesse Eisenberg movie with "land" in the title

Rating: 11/20

Plot: It's the late-80s, and recent high school grad James really wants to travel Europe before attending the N.Y. college he's been accepted to. Unfortunately, his parents have run into some recent financial trouble. James gets a summer job at Adventureland, an amusement park, befriends some wacky minor characters, and falls for the girl who's in those Twilight movies. They all learn about life! Angst!

I really don't like this Jesse Eisenberg guy. The poster proudly proclaims that this is from the people who brought us Superbad, and I imagine that disappointed a lot of people since this isn't nearly as stupid as that movie. It's not really funny at all actually, and I'm going to forget that I even watched this in a month or two. This seemed like something that should have been on television instead of on the big screen. Like every other recent movie that is based in the 80s, this annoyed me. I'm not sure if it was intentional or not, but this had the feel of a typical 80s comedy, and we all know that's probably not a good thing. I think a few of the jokes were even leftovers from the 80s.

Recommended by a guy from work.

Up in the Air

2009 George Clooney movie

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

Plot: George Clooney has George Clooneyed for a long time now. He's graying around the edges of his George Clooneyness, still managing to be George Clooney when situations call for a little George Clooney or, in some cases, George Clooney in George Clooneyesque proportions. But changes are sneaking up on George Clooney, threatening to send his George Clooney out of orbit and ultimately out-George-Clooneying any George Clooneytude that George Clooney can deliver. George Clooney.

George Clooney, the star of Up in the Air, plays a character I really shouldn't like or root for. He does a terrific job making that character somebody infectiously human and ultimately likable. There's great character development here, and there's some great chemistry with the performers to go along with it. I liked this movie better than Juno and maybe Thank You for Smoking, probably because neither of those has enough George Clooney. This has charm but seems a little formulaic to me even though the ending took me by surprise a little bit. I'm not sure why it did though, but it probably has something to do with George Clooney's involvement. I like how a lot of varying pieces in this all contribute to an overall something even though they never really come together completely.

Mars Attacks!

1996 spoof

Rating: 10/20

Plot: See title.

I really wanted to like this movie when I watched it back in '96 or '97. And I really wanted to like it now since I've seen lots of the sorts of movies this pays homage to since I first saw it. There are things I like about it. The impressive cast (pretty much everybody but Ricardo Montalban) enthusiastically works with really really bad material. The aliens look really cool, and there are some other nifty visual effects that brought to mind a whole lot of those B-movies that Burton is emulating. The problem is that the film just isn't funny at all, and Burton's tendency to go a little (or a lot) overboard is on full display here. The Sarah Jessica Parker/Pierce Brosnan subplot is especially stupid, and there are other characters who are introduced, developed somewhat, and then discarded for apparently no reason. Other than President Jack, I just didn't find a character in this mess to cling to, and by the time Burton decided to completely abandon all attempts at a coherent plot and go for a half an hour of mindless explosions instead, I just lost interest in the whole thing. And why wasn't Johnny Depp in this? That guy's dreamy!

At the Circus

1939 movie

Rating: 13/20

Plot: The Marx Brothers (Karl, Ballso, and Guitfizzle) investigate the theft of a circus owner's money.

Monkey? Check. Little person? Check! Groucho, Harpo, and Chico? Check, check, and check. OK, it seems like we have all the elements for a classic comedy, right? Well, not exactly. Somebody forgot to write a script with anything funny in it. This was pretty flat, and although there are some moments when it all almost gets good, it's so far away from the best Marx movies that I'd say it's not even worth watching. It's too bad, too, because the circus could have been the perfect setting for some Marx mayhem. As always, the songs in these, with the possible exception of Groucho's song about a tattooed woman, almost made me want to take my own life.

International House

1933 ensemble comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A buttload of people gather at a hotel in China to see the unveiling of a new invention--television! A buttload of mildly humorous happenings occur!

I almost gave this a bonus point for Cab Calloway's jazzy ode to marijuana. I enjoyed some of the risque humor in this although I don't believe I laughed a single time. Things were best when W.C. Fields or George and Gracie were on the screen. The former's physical comedy and double entendres are a lot of fun, and I liked watching the latter's rapport. I don't believe I'd ever seen Burns and Gracie before. There's not much to see with the rest of this unless you're a fan of too-typical 1930s movie humor and/or nearly incoherent plots. That plot is really jumpy, almost like we were missing half of the movie or the actors/writers made the whole thing up as they went along. But definitely not in a good way. Although far from great comedy, this is worth watching. I watched it at school on my big screen while I was probably supposed to be doing something else.

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T

1953 children's musical

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Bart's piano teacher, Dr. Terwiliker, is evil. It was a common problem from children growing up in the otherwise worry-free 1950s. Dr. T's plans involve marrying Bart's mom and kidnapping 500 young boys to play a giant piano he's constructed. Hence, the 5,000 fingers. Bart gets help from a friendly plumber to defeat the nefarious Dr. T.

I guess this is the best Dr. Seuss adaptation I've seen. When your competition is the awful Grinch movie, the lifeless Horton movie, and the malodorous hatted cat movie, that's probably not saying much. I believe this is the only feature-length Theodore Geisel screenplay. In a lot of ways, it's typical 50s children film fare, something that unfortunately dates it a bit. Most troubling are the songs. They're mawkish and nauseating, and if the particular dvd player I was watching this on had a working remote control, I likely would have been forced to fast-forward through some of them. But there's a lot to like with Dr. T, too. The kid (Tommy Rettig) is pretty good, and the set design is inspired, a good non-animated realization of those typical Dr. Seuss worlds. And there's lots of set here, too. Dr. T's lair is an expansive one and there are lots of nooks, contours, and shapes for your eyes to wander over. The incidental music is also pretty good, and one music number featuring a motley crew of musicians playing Seussian instruments is really great. And like all great children's movies, this approaches a sticky but universal theme in an abstract way. In this case, the underlying themes seem to be about the insecurities and feelings that surface when your mother starts having sex with your pedophilic piano teacher.


2008 documentary

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A grown man with a tattooed face makes excuses for his transgressions. Then, he becomes a cannibal.

Iron Mike is a fascinatingly complex dude. He's a heavily flawed fellow, and here he's telling his own story in a heavily flawed way, complete with what you have to assume are misrememberings and perplexing answers to questions you may not have even asked. A lot of the episodes in his troubled life, or more accurately his description of these moments, are entertaining. And for the most part, it seems completely candid, although with the amount of things that have been in this guy's system combined with the amount of times this guy's been hit in the head, you do wonder if he's the most reliable person to tell his own story. The most interesting thing to me about this is that he knows he's a heavily flawed fellow, and although he does try to excuse his bad behavior, it's not really in a despicable way. My biggest problem with the documentary was its heavy-handed documentary style. I could have done without the overlapping interview snippets or the split screen. One Mike Tyson is enough for me, thank you very much. I don't need to see two or three at the same time. Unless they're dancing. That would have been pretty awesome. This subject matter could have been handled in lots of different ways. Hearing it directly from the horse's ass's mouth makes for an interesting experience, and there's more than enough archival footage to fill in the gaps.

A Larst recommendation.

A Man Named Pearl

2006 documentary I was supposed to watch in June

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A man named Pearl in a small town in South Carolina decides to turn his yard into a topiary wonderland without having any experience with botany, gardening, or forming vegetation into abstract shapes. That little part of the world is transformed into a more beautiful place.

The world needs more people like Pearl, a guy who does when he's told he can't, a guy who brings a little light to a part of the world that needs it, a guy who has reasons to be angry but turns to beauty instead. It's inspiring, and it makes you feel good. I enjoyed watching Pearl at work with his skinny chainsaw thing, but I enjoyed even more the interviews with experts who seemed astounded by his ability to take shrubs discarded by a greenhouse and do this with them or have types of foliage flourishing far away from where they're supposed to flourish. This has the production values of a television documentary, but the subject is so likable and his philosophies, often extending almost metaphorically beyond his shrubbery, are worth hearing. This is the best documentary I've ever seen on topiary.

But I should have watched it in June.


1953 Japanese ghost story

Rating: 18/20

Plot: There's a civil war going down, but this doesn't affect a pair of peasant couples as they dream of riches and heroic deeds. Genjuro travels to the big city to make his fortunes selling pottery while neighbor Tobei longs to be a samurai despite his lack of sword and armor. Their greed and delusions of grandeur threaten to mess everything up.

A very-Japanese movie all about dichotomies. I think. Male and female. War and peace. Self and the selfless. The living and the dead. Delicately spiritual, this breezes along yet manages to make every minute detail seem like it's the most important detail that's ever appeared on film. The camera work is masterful, swirling this way and that way and back to this way, flowing and stumbling through a black and white world right along with the lost characters. The supernatural elements in here are almost fragile and help give the entire film this hypnotic, dreamlike quality. There's depth here but it's a liquidy depth that you might drown in if you don't wear a life preserver while watching. This says stuff, not obviously or in a preachy way, and is a very rewarding experience. I was really tired after watching this movie, and I'm not sure if it's because the movie drained me or I'm just really tired.