Fred Tuttle: Man with a Plan

1996 mockumentary

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Vermont farmer Fred Tuttle, a widower who lives with his sick father, needs money. He comes up with a plan (not the titular plan) to run for congress because congressmen make 80,000 dollars a year doing almost nothing. He starts his campaign against the incumbent, the normally-unopposed Bill Blachly. Despite tremendous odds against him, Fred Tuttle manages to raise thirty dollars and twenty-seven cents and starts to become a serious contender for the seat.

This is down-home goodness, very cheaply produced but full of local flavor and colorful caricatures. I was surprised how much I laughed out loud, but Tuttle himself was funny nearly every time he opened his mouth, and although a lot of the humor didn't work at all (see: the shady newspaper reporter holding up a barn wall), there were more than enough times when this just hits the spot. I love the "plan," an anagram he repeats throughout the campaign--Friendly, Renewable, Extra Terrestrial, and Dinky. He'd have my vote based on Dinky alone! I loved his interactions with a speech coach, his promise to debate Blachly "any time, any place, and in any language," and his promise to put a "chicken in every egg." Writer/Director John O'Brien has a style that grows on you as the movie goes, and I like how he finds humor in the little things. I've never been to the state, but O'Brien uses sneaky sight gags (again, not all of them funny) and several shots of its landscape to make it seem like a bizarrely beautiful and wonderful place. I'm fairly positive there's not a real actor in this thing as O'Brien uses locals at the annual "World's Fair" and demolition derbies. And I'm pretty sure that this was shot sans script, and the freedom given to these normal people to just improvise as themselves went a long way in painting a realistic picture of the place and its political landscape. At times, I wondered if the performers were even aware they were performing as a couple of these scenes make Fred Tuttle look like a 73-year-old Borat. This movie might be tough to find, but it's worth the trouble. Why should you watch Fred Tuttle: Man with a Plan? Same answer the character gave when asked why people should vote for him--Why Not?


2007 video game movie

Rating: 10/20

Plot: A bald hitman with a bar code on the back of his head to kill a guy and ends up in the middle of a political conspiracy. He meets a whore.

I guess I'd rather play the video game. For an action flick, this was really dull, so dull that I lost focus and had trouble figuring out what was even going on. The established pattern definitely grew tiresome quickly as loud and violent action scenes played leapfrog with quiet scenes that advanced the plot. The titular hitman played uninspiringly by Timothy Olyphant was as flat as flat can be, a pancake hitman. Of course, he was supposed to be a genetically-engineered assassin, more robot than guy, so I suppose he's not suppose to have a lot of color. But he's not the type of character I want to follow around for an hour and a half. Hitman's really got nothing that makes it stand out from any other movie like it, an almost offensively average movie, so it not only forces you to turn your brain off, but it isn't even much fun. At least the girl was cute, and I enjoyed watching Robert Knepper play a Russian.

The Pumaman

1980 Italian movie about English-speaking Aztec superheroes

Rating: 4/20

Plot: Kobras, an evil gentleman, has gotten his hands on a magical Aztec mask which he intends to use to control the world. An Aztec arrives to find somebody, specifically Pumaman, to stop Kobras. Well, it's either an Aztec or Jack Nicholson's buddy in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. The Aztec locates Pumaman, paleontologist Tony Farms, and gives him a magic belt which gives him yellow pants, a black shirt with a picture of a mask on the front of it, and a red cape. Suddenly, he's got destructive claws, night vision, and the ability to fly, and he's all ready to put a stop to the evil Kobras's evil plan.

Well, Pumaman sort of flies. It's not exactly the best special effect I've ever seen. It's essentially the actor bent slightly at the waist and making a flailing motion with his hands in front of a blue screen. It's not good at all, but apparently the producers of The Pumaman thought the flying effects were their ticket to box office success because it seems that over half of this movie is scenes of the low-grade, no-budget superhero stumbling through the air. The costume's ludicrous. I'm pretty sure I could grab articles of clothing from my closet and drawers to put together a better costume than Pumaman's. Add dopey fist fights, a space ship thing that looks like a Pokemon ball, Stonehenge, fake heads, disco funk, and black leather outfits. Despite the low quality of the movie, there's still a lot of wisdom squeezed into the dialogue of The Pumaman, most provided by the Aztec. Before watching this, I didn't know that dinosaurs became extinct because they forgot how to love each other. Now I do. And I'll definitely take the "It's not how one sleeps but how one wakes that is important" proverb to heart. I don't know anything about Aztec religious beliefs, but I'm going to have to find a church to see if I can get my hands on one of those belts. Or an Aztec buddy! Pumaman!

The Minus Man

1999 serial killer movie

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Vann drives a brown pickup truck, not particularly with a destination in mind but just going wherever he goes. He stops occasionally to poison people and bury them in shallow graves, but other than that, he doesn't have much to do. He stops for a while in an oceanside town, staying in a room once occupied by the estranged daughter of his landlords. He gets a temporary job with the post office, is gifted a pair of tennis shoes, and poisons some more people. Merry Christmas!

There's some intriguing bits and pieces to The Minus Man, but it really never gets anywhere. Like Vann, it just drifts. As a troubling glimpse into the quietly disturbing mind of the typical "He always kept to himself" and "Seemed like a normal guy" type serial killer, this is fairly effective, and it's fun watching Owen Wilson take on this kind of role. Owen's good here, but it's the type of character everybody's seen many, many times before. I do like the focus on the subtleties, the psychological aspects of this sort of thing that are sometimes drowned in a sea of contrived suspense sequences, chase scenes, and ugly violence in other movies like this. The plot takes a goofy twist near the end, and I didn't feel full afterward. Not that I wanted to follow these characters around longer, but I just wish there was more depth here. Still, it's much more adept than Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer at showing the inner monologue of a screw-up and calmly violent soul.

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

1997 spoofy comedy

Rating: 9/20

Plot: Groovy secret agent Austin Powers has himself cryogenically frozen after his nemesis Dr. Evil has himself cyrogenically frozen some time in the psychedelic sixties. Some time in the future, Dr. Evil comes back with an evil plan to destroy the world. Powers is unfrozen to put a stop to it.

"The militant wing of the Salvation Army." And that's about it. The only thing in this movie that I thought was even marginally funny. I saw this when it came out but was surprised how I remembered every single detail as I watched it again. I did remember correctly that there's very little funny about this movie. Part of the problem is that there are quite a few of these spy spoof things, a lot even with a psychedelic hue. An over-saturation maybe. A lot of it is a dependence on potty humor. You get penis jokes, poop jokes, urine jokes, innuendo. Those are crutches for the non-creative, and if I want to enjoy that kind of humor, I'll just lock myself in the bathroom for a few hours with a couple puppets or, if I'm feeling really frisky, three puppets. I'll give credit to Myers for creating two unique characters. Personally, I think the Dr. Evil character is a lot more fun than the titular man of mystery, but even he gets a little old by the end of this. Elizabeth Hurley provides some eye candy and there's a lot of color to enjoy, but this movie doesn't have nearly enough material. Maybe they saved it for the sequels.

Batman and Robin

1997 superhero movie

Rating: 4/20

Plot: Homoerotic superboys Batman and Robin have to save Gotham from an ice man and a hippie.

My random thoughts as I watched Batman and Robin, a movie recommended by Barry, one of my favorite blog readers:

--Great choice to start this movie with close-ups of both Batman and Robin's rear ends.
--Batman on Ice? Oh, my. This is full of stupid.
--I'm 4% into this movie and have realized that 90% of the dialogue in this is going to be made up of bad puns.
--These action sequences make no sense. People float. And Batman certainly went through a lot of flipping and sliding just to kick Schwarzenegger in the chest, all while Arnold just stands and watches.
--Nice to see that Mr. Freeze has to copulate with his little rocket thing in order to drive it. I believe I just saw hip thrusting as he said, "Oh, yes!" Apparently, Mr. Freeze and his rocket climaxed simultaneously.
--This movie only has one color in it--blue. That's not going to work for me.
--I wonder how much better this movie would be if I turned the sound off?
--I wonder how much better this movie would be if I turned the visual off?
--What the hell is Uma talking about and why is she saying it like that?
--"Yes. Yes. Let the poisons and toxins dig a grave for you into the dirt you love so much." Now that is some sharp writing.
--OK, here's a shot of Mr. Freeze becoming Mr. Freeze. It's shot by a security camera but it has zooms?
--"I trust you, Alfred." Oh boy. I think we're going to see the first Bruce Wayne/Alfred make-out scene in Batman movie history.
--Great, the picture's cock-eyed again. Why does that keep happening? Should I tilt my head? Should I just go with it? Should I call somebody? Should I bang on the side of my television?
--Wait a second. I think the crazy scientist guy who made the Mexican wrestler was one of the bad guys in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 show. I'm too lazy to look it up. Speaking of that show, Batman and Robin wouldn't be a bad candidate for that show. Except it's so loud that I doubt the robots would even be able to be heard over it.
--Uma just claimed she had a "literal change of heart." She sounds like Madonna in this movie.
--Mr. Freeze's machine runs on diamonds. I'm no scientist, but I don't see how that makes sense.
--Enter Alicia Silverstone, apparently hypnotized before her scenes.
--Even the extras are laughing at Uma's acting job here.
--"In Gotham City, Batman and Robin protect us. . .even from plants and flowers."
--Mr. Freeze watches a really well-filmed home video. The home video, taken on its own, might be better than this movie. In context, it's just a piece of a crappy puzzle.
--Ahh, we make a visit to Les Baxter's house. Jen, who started watching parts of this, asks if any of these scenes go together. In Les Baxter's house, we get some characters from Where the Wild Things Are and a dancing monkey.
--I was wondering to myself just how many awards Elizabeth Sanders, who plays Gossip Gerty is going to win in her career. Her "ooohs" and "aahhhs" in this are amazing. Unfortunately, it seems that she only has played Gossip Gerty in multiple Batman movies. Elizabeth--if you're reading this--you are not going to win Oscars playing Gossip Gerty!
--Batman flashes his gold card. OK, these people aren't even trying. This has more in common with the television show than the movies. But not in a good way.
--Love the cartoonish sound effects.
--Also love this bit of dialogue:
Uma: We've got work to do.
Bane: (nods) Uhh. Monkey work.
--I think I just watched the worst chase scene ever. A case down a statue's arms? And Batman disengaging Robin's engine and nearly getting him killed?
--This movie has to be the worst thing any of these actors and actresses has been involved in or will ever be involved in. It's definitely the worst movie Elizabeth Sanders has been in.
--Alfred's brother's name is Wilfred? Nice.
--Jesse Ventura? There are too many future governors in this movie.
--Dayglo cannibals in a condemned Turkish bath. More of those cartoon sound effects. I'm starting to see the hidden genius buried in the murk of Batman and Robin.
--Ah, an A Clockwork Orange visual reference. And I think I saw Coolio. And the kid in that old Art of Noise video from the 80's. I can dig it. I'm not sure what the hell is going on with this motorcycle race, however, and I don't think a bunch of those colors are supposed to happen.
--Repetitive techno music. At the one hour and twelve minute mark, I vomit.
--Alicia Silverstone hovering over the city. . .it doesn't quite look real, and I can't help wishing Robin would drop her.
--Uma and Jesse Ventura just kissed. C'mon. That's not kosher.
--Wait a second. Batman's suit has nipples on it.
--If I'm ever attacked with a cool mist, I hope I can still utter "My lungs!" like the guy in this movie.
--Seems like this movie is reaching an end, but there are still forty minutes left. I'm not sure I have the stamina. Or the will to continue living. If given the opportunity, I would allow Uma to kiss me just so I wouldn't have to finish the rest of Batman and Robin. And I'd get to find out what Uma tastes like. She probably tastes like Quentin Tarantino. And that probably doesn't taste very good at all.
--Poison Ivy is not a great villain. All she does is blow dust, slow down the action, and quiet the bombast.
--At the one hour and thirty minute mark, a break is required.
--Once resumed, this movie treats me with an awkward attempt at poignancy. I feel like the wind has been knocked out of me.
--Gotham City's got some pretty dopey architecture.
--I'm just going to stop trying to decipher what Arnold is saying. I can assume a pun about being chilly is involved.
--Well, it's only a single line, but Guy in Observatory (I think I've decided it's Michael Paul Chan) could win my Torgo Award this year. "Who is this nutball?" I loved the delivery of that line. Too bad Arnold iced him.
--Alicia Silverstone's conversation with Alfred in the bat cave makes no sense. But she sure gets a chance to show off her acting chops. "Suit me up, Uncle Alfred."
--Ahh. A Batgirl posterior close-up. That's better than the architecture.
--More great dialogue, almost Shakespearean:
Poison Ivy: Kiss me.
Robin: Tell me your plan. Then I'll kiss you.
Poison Ivy: Kiss me first; then, I'll tell you.
Robin: No, tell me your plan first. Then I'll kiss you.
Poison Ivy: How about you kiss me first. Following that, I will tell you my plan.
And so on. This scene ending with faux lips is icing on the cake of stupidity.
--Great--more incoherent blue action scenes.
--"It's one of those days!" Yes! Michael Paul Chan is unfrozen to clumsily deliver another line!
--Is this movie ever going to end?

Thanks for the recommendation, Barry.

Odd Man Out

1947 thriller

Rating: 18/20

Plot: Following a prison escape that takes place before the movie begins, Johnny McQueen, a member of an underground Irish organization, helps plan a robbery with the other members of his group. Apparently, the group needs money to buy matching hats and belt buckles. The robbery doesn't go exactly as planned, and Johnny is injured and abandoned by his friends. He wanders the streets of the hopeless city searching for help and trying to evade the police.

I doubt this is the "most exciting motion picture ever made!" like the above poster claims. Johnny McQueen doesn't turn into a Hulk-like creature either like the above poster might suggest. Here's a movie poster you just can't trust. Regardless, this is still one hell of a movie. It's a case where there aren't really any stand-out scenes that blow you away, but everything adds up to something that will. Carol Reed is a maestro, and this is a story shot by a wizard. I love the look of the city, similar to the look of some of The Third Man's settings, where the streets look oily and shadows loom. Poor McQueen (you've got to love movies that force you to root for or sympathize with bad people) doesn't exactly move through the city--he spirals. You've also got all these shots with insignificant action going on in the background, but it adds to the texture of the locale. Reed uses some camera trickery to show the dizzy perspective of our protagonist on the way to the robbery and later when bubbles from a spilled beverage start talking to him. I also like other minor details--some graffiti that reads "Skibbo is here" behind McQueen, a sign that prohibits Jitterbugging, a scene where a bartender maneuvers through an excited crowd by spinning thrice. The acting is terrific universally, but I especially like W.G. Fay, Robert Newton, and whoever played Kathleen's mother as the priest, the painter, and Kathleen's mother respectively. Most of the characters, a lot of them quirky, aren't in the movie for very long, but they leave an impression and help nail down the themes about selfishness and alienation in a crowded and hopeless world. On the surface, you've got a man-on-the-run suspense thriller, but it's what's below that surface that makes Odd Man Out so great.

Cory recommended this one.

The Family Man

2000 Nicolas Cage movie

Rating: 10/20

Jack Campbell's got it all! He's a hotshot businessman with a high rise apartment, a Ferrari, and sleek underpants. On Christmas Eve, on the verge of a gazillion dollar merger, he decides to buy eggnog on the way home and has a run-in with a punk trying to rob the eggnog store. He tells the punk that he has no regrets in life, and the punk looks at him knowingly, so knowingly that you realize he's not a punk at all but actor Don Cheadle. When Jack wakes up the next day, his apartment's turned into a home in the suburbs, his Ferrari has become a mini-van, and his bikini briefs have transformed into boxers. He's married to his former sweetheart, has a pair of kids, and sells tires for his father-in-law's business. Oh, snap! He tries his best to figure out what the hell's going on so that he can return to his normal life.

What if. . .

I had decided to watch a different movie, say The Projected Man or Little Big Man or maybe Encino Man?

it was discovered that Nicolas Cage was not only the nephew of Martin Scorsese but the son of the guy he looks exactly like on the above poster, Jimmy Stewart?

Frank Capra had come up with this idea, the idea of a character seeing how his life would be different if different choices would be made, and filmed this sixty years ago?

Jack Campbell's skull would have suddenly caught fire and he hopped on a motorcycle and started hunting down bad guys?

I got a second chance to watch this movie for the first time?

Tea Leoni's shower scene would have been over an hour long?

this movie didn't have big chunks that made absolutely no sense?

Jack Campbell's really odd behavior in his new life wouldn't have been so awkward that his wife and friends would have had him committed?

this wouldn't have been so episodic, so chunky?

this movie wouldn't have had "man" in the title?

I had a heart and not groaned audibly when, after playing a ten second game of chase in an area no bigger than ten square feet, Jack Campbell's daughter, who previously thought that aliens had taken her real daddy, said, "I knew you'd come back"?

I fell asleep halfway through this and missed the ending, therefore never ever figuring out what happened to Jack Campbell, a character I had trouble caring about anyway?

the above poster wouldn't have been so silly and never inspired me to make fun of it in this blog entry?

I told you that, similar to how his father Jimmy Stewart is best in movies when he's really angry, Nicolas Cage is at his best when his character is frustrated by confusion?

Nicolas Cage's line "Is this like a Christmas [big pause] JOKE?" had been answered with a gigantic "Yes!" by a narrator and followed immediately by the sudden appearance of an accordion quintet whose playing inspired the characters and two dozen elves to dance for the remaining hour of the movie?

this idea would have been handled by a writer, director, and actors who were far more competent?

Jack Campbell would have been allergic to bees?

Trouble Man

1972 blaxploitation flick

Rating: 11/20

Plot: There's trouble for Mr. T when he's hired by Chalky and Pete to stop the masked men who keep showing up with guns and robbing the participants of their craps game. There's a lot more than meets the eye for this suave, ultra-cool private detective as he finds himself in the middle of a gang war. Oh, snap!

This is a much better movie than the Dolemite movies and probably Cleopatra Jones. Mr. T, this one sans mohawk and extraneous jewelry and "I pity the fool" catch-phrase, isn't nearly as much fun though. T's as smart as he is cool, and although the plot was convoluted and gummy, I enjoyed the ride when the character was strutting around trying to put pieces together with the help of his gigantic polyester ties. However, other than the titular detective, you don't get a single other engaging character, and no real bad guys to latch onto. The majority of this is low-grade shoot-'em-up stuff, and Trouble Man's just too straight to make it worth the trouble.

Man in the Mirror: The Michael Jackson Story

2004 VH1 original movie

Rating: 2/20

Plot: An unauthorized biopic about the guy who ended up buying the bones of the guy the last movie I watched was about. Following early fame and fortune as a child singing sensation with his brothers, Michael Jackson becomes the King of Pop, buys a ranch, pretends he's Peter Pan, burns his scalp, molests a lot of young boys, marries Elvis's daughter, divorces Elvis's daughter, has some children, has some plastic surgery, and gradually turns into a white man.

Before I pushed play, I thought I was going to watch a documentary. Nope. It's an unauthorized biopic. And being an unauthorized biopic, they weren't able to get the rights to any of Michael Jackson's songs. That's right. This is a movie about the life of Michael Jackson that doesn't include a single Michael Jackson song. Oh, there are a lot of scenes where he's performing, but there are no Michael Jackson songs. There's just something completely wrong about that. It's like making a movie about Babe Ruth without showing any scenes with Babe Ruth playing baseball. But that's not the only problem with Man in the Mirror: The Michael Jackson Story. No, no, no, this movie has more problems than Michael Jackson had quirks. First, this has more awkward moments than any movie I've ever seen. Take this bit of dialogue between Michael and sister Janet:

Michael: (enters room) "Hey, Tink."
Janet: (looking up) "Hi, Peter Pan!"
Michael: "I'm Peter Pan!"
Janet: (clapping) "And I'm Tinkerbell!"
(A tickle fight ensues.)

Or this one between Michael Jackson and a little boy:

Little Boy: "Hi. . .you're famous."
Michael: (shakes head wildly like he's in a cartoon or like he's trying to get a wasp out of his hair) "Am I?"
(A tickle fight ensues.)

Or look no further than a scene where Elizabeth Taylor tells Michael Jackson, during the time when the molestation accusation is causing him problems, that she'll always be there for him. It's a corny scene. But the next shot is with a group of photographers taking pictures of an apparently nude Michael Jackson (as I recall, part of the investigation) while Jackson's assistant stands in front of him and holds up a painting of Elizabeth Taylor. What the hell? That might give me nightmares. At one point, Elizabeth Taylor tells Michael, "This is not a joke." It's really hard for me to see this production as anything but a joke.

Don't believe me that this is stuffed with awkward? Look no further than Michael and Lisa Marie's first date, a date where they apparently go outside to look at stock footage of butterflies. One of them lands on Lisa Marie's finger, and Michael points out that "That's rare" and that it's probably because Lisa Marie is sweet. Then cut to what might be the worst montage I've ever seen--shitty music (not Michael Jackson's music though) with different shots of Lisa Marie and Michael striking slightly different poses with some trees in the background. Right at the moment when you're about to throw up, it cuts to a shot of the happy couple in the bedroom where Michael (thankfully!) announces that he doesn't believe in premarital sex. But they still kiss. And if you ever find yourself in a position where you're forced to watch this movie (i.e. you've died and gone to hell), you will still throw up all over the floor.

OK, you still don't believe me? Then take this line of dialogue, spoken right after a news person has made fun of Michael Jackson for naming one of his children Blanket. "But he's like a blanket. . .a blanket of love."

The camera work will make you wish the people involved had gone to a film school where they taught the students about tripods. There are so many scenes where the camera will very quickly pan to another character and stop to, for whatever reason, shake a little bit. You're jerked very quickly from episode to episode, and although it touches upon most of the most difficult times in Jackson's life, it's mostly very pro-Michael. The acting in this travesty is almost as good as you'd expect to get from any television commercial. Flex Alexander, an actor who presumably used a pseudonym to protect his career, had terrible writing to work with, but his Michael Jackson isn't far from what you'd expect to see in a late-night parody. The woman who plays Elizabeth Taylor (Lynne Cormack) gave another performance that seemed like a parody. In fact, I thought at first that it was Saturday Night Live's Cherie O'Teri. A lot of the story is pushed along with words that pop on the screen. It's insightful stuff. Like "A dream come true." Or, "Michael's new friend, Manny." And somehow they manage to tie in O.J. Simpson and 9/11.

This will easily be the worst movie I see all year. So why am I giving it a 2/20 instead of a 1/20? Outstanding special effects (I'm thinking a powder) used to show Michael Jackson's weird skin discoloration thing. I was impressed with that.

The Elephant Man

1980 movie

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Victorian doctor Frederick Treves stumbles across the titular attraction while strolling through a freak show. He makes an arrangement with the elephant man's slimy owner to borrow him for science. He shows off his find in front of a bunch of other scientists, but as he spends more and more time with the freak, he realizes that there's a John Merrick inside, a intelligent and sophisticated man who desires, feels, and deserves dignity.

The memory of watching this, for whatever reason, with my father when I was a kid has always stuck with me. When Merrick was finally unveiled, the image was shocking. It still is. I couldn't believe what my young eyes were seeing on the screen. As an adult, I think this movie is extraordinarily depressing, almost too depressing. As a visual essay on the true nature of man, it's just so pessimistic. A lot of that is probably the result of Lynch's typically cold style. It's actually his second warmest movie and his first "straight" story, but the camera is so often detached from these characters, the audience often being forced to look at Merrick from a distance. Maybe that's the point. I do wonder (now, not while watching) how much of that detachment is intentional, an attempt by the filmmaker put the audience into a situation where we're in the exact same position as the people who used or leered at the real Merrick. There are a lot of uncomfortable scenes in this story, times when you almost want to leave the room so that the elephant man can have some privacy. A lot of this movie is very cold, clinical. An exception is the scene where the doctor first sees Merrick, and the camera slowly zooms to the point where just Anthony Hopkins' face fills the screen just at the time a single tear moves down his cheek. Of course, the next part of the story is Treves moving Merrick from the side show to the laboratory stage, really just another side show, so it's not easy to pin down the doctor at all. This movie came right after Eraserhead, and although The Elephant Man seems like Sleepless in Seattle compared to Lynch's first work, you still have some pretty strange moments. It's difficult to figure out what's going down in the first scene, but it certainly seems like it's showing an elephant raping a woman, and the harsh textures, fuzzy and wobbly camera work, and grating music wouldn't exactly make the typical moviegoer feel like reaching into the popcorn bucket. The opening scene was definitely creepy enough to turn Jen off the film. As with Eraserhead, Lynch shows off an ability to create these amazing textures and moods with nothing more than images. I've never been to Victorian London (yet!), but I like the murky, sickly, melancholy one that Lynch creates for these characters to inhabit. What atmosphere! And the first shot of Merrick's distorted image is striking enough, but the shots of him covered (like in the above poster) stuck with me just as much. Gorgeous black and white cinematography here. Anthony Hopkins is quietly good as the torn Treves, and John Hurt's performance, although hidden beneath tons of make-up, is exceptionally touching. They'll get the most credit, of course, but Anne Bancroft and especially John Gielgud are also great. This is one of those movies that holds a mirror up to society. Unfortunately, humans kind of suck.

Special Note: R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) is in this which reminds me that David Lynch, according to David Lynch, turned down the chance to direct Return of the Jedi. That would have made the second time Lynch worked with Kenny Baker. And looking up Kenny Baker, I see that he played a character named Bruce Foreskin in something called Boobs in the Woods. So it's good to see that his career is going well.

Jimmy Tupper Vs. the Goatman of Bowie

2010 horror comedy

Rating: 14/20 (Kairow: 10/20)

Plot: Jimmy Tupper is a complete loser. He's a Starbucks employee by day and nothing more than an alcoholic joke to his friends by night. And nothing about him indicates that his future will be drastically different. One night, his friends decide to dump Jimmy, who has passed out once again, in the middle of the woods and leave him. When he doesn't show up for work the next day, his friends go looking for him. They find him, beaten and bloodied and raving about having to fight off a goatman attempting to drag him away. When his friends don't believe him, he decides to camp out in the woods with a camera in order to capture footage of the Goatman of Bowie.

Warning: Spoilers! I generally try to avoid including spoilers, but I can't help including him while writing about this one.

Sometimes when I watch a movie, I can't help thinking of the rating I'm going to give it. Here's my thought progression as I watched Jimmy Tupper Vs. The Goatman of Bowie with my good friend, Kairow.

OK, I knew this was one of these Paranormal Activity/Blair Witch/Cloverfield found footage deals going in, but this party scene at the beginning is absolutely brutal. This is looking like a 3/20.

I like this Jimmy Tupper fellow. His friends sure are mean though. But at least it's sort of funny. This might be a 6/20.

What's this graduation footage doing in here? Who are these people talking about a Barbie doll collection? Back to a 2/20.

I'm penalizing this a point for making me dizzy.

Oh, my God. Nothing is happening here. I hope Kairow will speak to me again after this. I'm sure glad my wife didn't come to see this. Is this even a movie? 2/20 still.

This is almost like one of those jokes that was almost funny but then isn't funny at all but just keeps going and going, the Brett Favre of jokes, and eventually becomes funny again just because of its endurance. I'm bumping this up to a 7/20.

Marshmallows and bacon! 9/20.

Uh oh. I'm not sure this movie's going to have a goatman in it. I paid to see a freakin' goatman! If I don't see a goatman by the time this ends, I'm taking the life of everybody in this theater. 7/20.

My God! Look at that goatman! 15/20!

The ending! Goat men? Absolutely bad ass! 36/20!

I really enjoyed this movie. The found footage stuff makes the first sixty minutes seem almost endless. It builds anticipation if it doesn't quite build enough tension or suspense. Now, I think I have a lot more tolerance for this sort of thing than most people. I appreciated Tupper's meanderings, and I like how his character gradually deepens as he blathers on about making comic books or how he hates his friends. And his explanations of his plans to lure the goatman to his camp are hilarious. In a way, he reminds me of The Grizzly Man's Timothy Treadwell as his most pitiful. I was completely fooled into thinking this would end one way, then fooled into changing my mind about how it would end, and finally being way off with either of my guesses. At first, I figured this was going to add up to nothing at all, that there would be no goat man, that this was an almost Theater of the Absurd type of found footage parody, a mash-up of Blair Witch and Waiting for Godot. Even though I know how the movie ends now, that's still probably not too far off. The found footage stuff is realistic. There's nothing in this that feels contrived, but that might make this less entertaining for less patient viewers. A violently quivering camera, even during scenes that aren't supposed to be the least bit suspenseful, also adds to the realism, but again, this might make Tupper tedious for a lot of the audience. Most real of all, is the performance of lead actor Andrew Bowser, the same guy who directed this unless there are two people named Andrew Bowser working on the same project. He's a very believable loser, and I really felt I was experiencing all of this with an authentic person instead of just a character in a horror movie. One question, however--quite abruptly, this changes from a found footage thing to a more traditional horror movie at the end. Kairow liked it more at that point, but I thought the juxtaposition was strange, and I'm not sure I understand why it changed abruptly. Still, that last fifteen minutes is pretty rad.

I saw this at the Indianapolis Museum of Art as part of the Indy Film Festival. It was the only movie in the festival with the word "man" in the title.

The Manster

1959 science fiction horror film

Rating: 11/20

Plot: A crazed Japanese scientist is experimenting with human evolution in his secret laboratory conveniently located next to a burbling volcano. At the beginning of the movie, he has to kill off one of his mistakes, a killer ape man who was formerly the scientist's brother. Screaming in a cage, is a disfigured woman who was once the scientist's wife. As the scientist wonders who will be the next subject for his experiments, an American journalist wanders in to conduct an interview. The scientist asks him a few inappropriate questions, drugs and injects him, and sends him on his way. Instantly, the journalist's personality changes. He starts cheating on his wife and refuses to return home. Eventually, he starts noticing some physical changes as well, specifically the appearance of an eyeball on his right shoulder. It's not good.

The movie's also probably not good, but I enjoyed this little sucker. The intro is striking--bathing women, the appearance of a hideous ape man, a splash of blood, and the scientist's mutated wife (like a character from Freaks) screaming and shaking the bars of her cage. It all looks cheap but effectively creepy. It almost makes the next forty minutes or so a complete let-down as the filmmakers made the unwise decision to have some sort of plot and fail to maintain that level of creepiness, but it all picks up again when the guy unveils his shoulder eye, an area which eventually sprouts a head. It's one of those movie images that somebody watching this movie isn't likely to forget. I also really liked the build-up to that scene where theremin (or was that a saw?) music would play whenever the guy looked at or touched his shoulder. To be fair, the story in that intervening forty minutes is fairly interesting. I liked watching the journalist change psychologically before the physical transformations happened, possibly a metaphor for the "monsters" that men can become when they give in to temptation, drinking too much or cheating on their wives. This was a very B, Japanese/American co-production, and although the cheapness almost bleeds from the screen and the acting (especially Tetsu Nakamura, undoubtedly "acting" in a language he's not entirely comfortable with) is no good at all, they do quite a bit with very, very little. The Manster, also known as The Split and Doctor Satan and (most boringly) The Two-Headed Monster, is worth checking out.

"Oh, Snap! I'm not supposed to have an eyeball there!" (Note: Not an actual line from the movie.)

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

1962 Western

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Senator Ransom Stoddard and his wife arrive in the town of Shinbone to go to the funeral of an old friend, Tom Doniphon. Some newspaper men harass the senator about his visit until he sits down and tells them the story of his very first visit to Shinbone, a visit which starts with being beaten and robbed by a bully of a rancher named Liberty Valance. This treatment inspires Stoddard, an up-and-coming lawyer, to introduce a little law and order to the Western town and its surrounding ranches. He also opens up a school to teach the children and illiterate adults to read. But Stoddard's reasoning and the information in his law books doesn't change the ways of Valance and his posse, and inevitably, Stoddard will have to stand up to him. Doniphon, local tough guy who says "Pilgrim" far more than the average cowboy, doesn't think Stoddard's got what it takes. Doniphon also doesn't like that Stoddard seems to be interested in the girl he plans to marry.

This is great Western drama that often looks like a parody because of far too many gigantic personalities--an overacting Jimmy Stewart, at times almost seeming like somebody else doing a really poor and over-the-top Jimmy Stewart impression instead of an actual Jimmy Stewart; burly John Wayne being all John Wayne-y; Vera Miles hyper-playing her stock female Western character; Lee Marvin as the titular bad guy, ugly and mean and a little too hammy; Andy Devine squealing his lines as the sheepish sheriff with the great name Link Appleyard; Bobcat Goldthwait as one of Valance's men; a stutterer; the newspaper editor Dutton Peabody played theatrically by Edmund O'Brien, a guy who apparently is trying to prove here that he is classically trained or something; and finally, an overly-grandiose orator at the convention late in the film. It's personality overload, and it all adds up to something completely unrealistic and unintentionally comical. I do really like the story and its conflicts though. The Hallie-Tom-Ransom love triangle could have been developed better. The Liberty-Tom-Ransom hate triangle is great though. Nothing needs to be said by any of the characters to show the audience that Tom and Liberty don't like each other and maybe have a bit of a history. And Jimmy Stewart's anger, anger that I'm would please any diehard Stewart fan, contrasts so well with the cool and cocky Marvin. I really like some individual scenes, my favorites being scenes that I think a lot of directors might have reshot. There's a scene where Jimmy bumps his head and then continues on with his lines. He drops or knocks over things, and messes up his lines more than once, but, even if it's not intentional or written into the script, it really adds to the character, this geeky lawyer who you are positive won't be able to kill the tough bully in the end. Ultimately, I like what this movie has to say about Wild West myth-making, the "printing of legends," and the clash between the Wild West philosophies and the big city ideas that Stoddard brings to Shinbone. But come on. Watch the "pick up my steak" scene over again, and try to convince me that it's not funny.

The Postman Always Rings Twice

1946 noir

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Drifter Frank Chambers wanders into a Southern California town and takes a job as a handyman in a small restaurant, mostly because of how the proprietor's wife looks in her tiny white shorts. Soon enough, Frank and Cora are pawing at each other. Cora doesn't love Nick, her older husband, and she really wants to own and run the restaurant all by herself. Frank wants to continue sleeping with Cora. They decide to end Nick's life prematurely and live the dream. It doesn't go very well.

OK, I'm going to be in the minority with a lukewarm response to this one. But if somebody in the know told me that The Postman Always Rings Twice is a parody of film noir, I would snap my fingers and say, "Aha! I knew it!" So much about this is color-by-numbers noir. The characters are stock, the dialogue is riddled with cliches, and the couples' ploys and exploits are so unbelievably stupid, that there's no way they're a writer's honest attempt at crime fiction. I mean, just look at this bit of dialogue:

Cop: Cats are poor, dumb things.
Frank (with a goofy grin): Yeah. They don't know anything about electricity.
Cop: Killed her deader than a doornail.
D.A. :Yes, the cat's dead all right. Well, accidents can happen in the weirdest sort of ways.
Cop: Never saw a prettier cat. Killed her deader than a doornail.

On paper, that looks like it could have been penned by Ed Wood, and the actors deliver the lines like they think they're in one of his movies. Lana Turner looks the part, and her legs really steal the show, but her acting is brutal. I will say that the scene in which she's introduced (a rolling lipstick tube, those white shorts, some slyly suggestive banter) is easily the best scene in the movie. John Garfield's performance is definitely weirder and probably worse. He seems completely lost, an actor who doesn't understand where his character's coming from or where he's going, and his dialect comes and goes. From the swiftly blossoming romance between the two leads to the accelerating but stuttering dramatic moments, I didn't buy a single thing that happened in this movie. That didn't necessarily stop me from enjoying the film, but all that enjoyment came from this being comedy rather than straight noir.

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

1956 movie

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Meet Tom Rath--WWII veteran, businessman, father, titular man, generally nondescript guy. He's got a nice home in Connecticut, a nice job in New York, a loving wife, some loud children. But Tom Rath isn't without his problems. He's haunted by things that happened in the war, and money's tight. So when a fellow commuter shows him an open door leading into the chromium jungle, Rath decides to enter.

I like the general ideas here, the character study of a guy who superficially is as mundane as the gray suit he wears to the job but who, like most people, has so much bubbling subcutaneously. The color gray's important, too, as Rath is a character who you really can't define in blacks and whites. The almost alarming thing about The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is the lack of depth, especially given how long this movie is. Overlong even. This is technicolor melodrama wading in the shallow end of a swimming pool filled with squirmy things. It skims along the story's surfaces like a stone, bouncing across issues like war trauma, infidelity, career changes, the importance of money, the importance of family, honesty, and a man's moral obligations. But you only get ripples, not anything to really reflect upon or digest. I also didn't like Gregory Peck. I've liked him before, and I wish I sounded like him when I talked because I think it would be funny to say things like "Oh, man. My underpants are bunched up again!" in a Gregory Peck voice. Or, "I'd give top dollar for a nipple-softening machine." But here, Gregory Peck is cardboard, and cardboard, when you put it in water of any depth, just gets soggy and useless. I'm fairly positive this is the longest movie I've ever seen.

Readers, what words do you think would sound funny if spoken by Gregory Peck?

The Man in the Glass Booth

1975 movie

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Arthur Goldman, a Holocaust survivor and successful Jewish businessman, lives in a ritzy pad overlooking New York City. A guy with an afro and an assistant named Charlie help meet his everyday needs, but they can't help noticing that their eccentric boss seems to be getting nuttier and nuttier with each passing day. Seemingly paranoid about the appearance and reappearance of a blue Mercedes, he has Charlie run some unusual errands. Eventually, men with guns burst in and arrest him, accusing him of being a Nazi war criminal instead of one of their victims. He's taken to Israel for a trial and is forced to sit in a dunking booth.

I'm not going to pretend to fully understand this movie, but it's one of those I can't stop thinking about hours after it's finished. I'm perplexed by the plot twists, bewildered by a large percentage of what Goldman said in both his apartment when talking to members of his posse or during the trial, and I'm confused by what was almost an indeterminate ending. But this is undeniably powerful, provocative, and emotionally difficult stuff. This is definitely not an easy movie at all, raising a lot more questions than it attempts to answer. I'm not Jewish and I'm not a Nazi, so maybe that's why I had a difficult time with it all. The movie's based on a Robert Shaw play and is very heavy on the dialogue, a lot of it spoken in a thick German accent. About 90% of what's said in this is spoken by Maximilian Schell as Goldman, essentially making this like a one-man show. And what a one-man show it is! He froths, he pontificates, he raves, he cracks joke, he moans. You feel sorry for him, you're amused by him, you want to watch him die and then fry in hell. Schell puts the audience on his back and, as you grasp some loose skin of his bald head, runs up and down hills and demands that you say, "Whee!" I said, "Whee!" His is truly one of the most remarkable and stunning performances I've ever seen. There are monologues that dropped my jaw and silent moments that he somehow managed to fill with an overwhelming intensity. It's the kind of character he probably needed numerous showers to wash off himself. He was nominated for the Oscar, but the prize went to Jack instead. Unforgettable, gripping stuff here. If you've not seen this, you should see it so that we can discuss it. It's definitely one of those movies you want to talk about immediately after you've watched it.

The Incredible Shrinking Man

1957 sci-fi flick

Rating: 16/20

Plot: After being spritzed with insecticide and made sparkly by a cloud of radioactive material, poor Scott Carey notices that he's started shrinking. It's incredible! He fights to remain relevant until an accident forces him to also fight for his survival.

First, I should point out that I gave this a bonus point for a Billy Curtis appearance, my "Little Person of the Year" back in 2008 when I still used the M-word. Midget. He had only a small role (pun absolutely intended!), but he's always good to see. On the surface, this is pretty typical 50s sci-fi nonsense with a little action-packed survival story tossed in. But I'm convinced that The Incredible Shrinking Man is so much more than that, a kind of psychological allegory or a philosophical wet nightmare. All that stuff about dualism at the end, the infinitesimal and the infinite, the closing of circles, an existential nightmare transitioning into a heroic standing-up to infinity, a backhand to Nietzche's withered cheek, a dab of theology, a little bit of Zeno's paradox thrown in. What a closing monologue and last line! Sure, it's reaching, but it succeeds in getting the butter from the popcorn to the brain. There's a thick layer of sticky context here--symbolic spiders and their webs, man's eternal struggle to eat a piece of moldy cake, the nightmarish possibility that you could be devoured by a pussycat, fire and water symbolism. Aside from all that, it's a good movie anyway. There's some bad acting and an oppressive score, although the opening music featuring a trumpet and theremin is really good. The special effects are outstanding. The killer cats and spiders look real and menacing beside poor shrinking Scott. The sets and effects used to create a new world for the titular character are great. The guy did have translucent legs at one point, but the fact that this never really looked all that dopey is impressive. This is from a Richard Matheson story, and its themes of loneliness and figuring out your place in the world connect it with his The Last Man on Earth and its various remakes. This was a pleasant surprise, and anybody given a free copy of The Incredible Shrinking Man should probably watch it.

The Man with One Red Shoe

1985 action comedy

Rating: 7/20

Plot: For reasons I've completely forgotten, a guy wants to trick the CIA into setting up surveillance on a completely random guy at an airport, the titular red-shoed guy actually. The CIA guys fall for it. My plot synopsis is funnier than anything in this movie.

Actually, Tom Hanks was probably a lot funnier in Philadelphia. After a really lengthy exposition leading to the introduction of Hanks' character, I figured things might pick up. They didn't. Weak ideas were stretched into weak gags. Tom Hanks brushes his teeth with shampoo. His plumbing is screwed up. He takes a softball to the head. He gets AIDS. His best bud's wife makes chimpanzee sounds. A woman's hair gets caught in his zipper. Yeah, I know what you're thinking. That all looks hilarious on paper. And I'm sure that's what the screenwriters were thinking. Unfortunately, there wasn't a single moment where I was glad I was watching this movie. And don't get me started on the plot and its potential holes. Any plot here was just an excuse to pile improbabilities on top of improbabilities for supposedly comedic purposes. And why were there so many crooked shots in this? I wondered several times if I had started to doze off and tilted my head, but apparently the camera was just askew. The only thing that made this movie worth my time is that it's the second "man" movie I've seen in a row with Tom Noonan. He's improbably and hilariously injured in this one!


1986 thriller

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Retired FBI guy Will Graham, the guy who caught Hannibal Leckor, is yanked from the beach by his friend Dennis Farina to stop another serial killer known as the Tooth Fairy. To accomplish this, he has to get inside the killer's mind, something that apparently involves talking to himself a lot.

I suppose modern television crime shows like all the CSI's make this seem kind of tame. Some of the things I liked about this--an adequate amount of suspense, an intriguing bad guy or two, a really nice attention to detail as the investigation evolves--are things that I could see weekly on those shows. I guess. I never watch them. Manhunter gets pretty gloopy in the middle, taking more than a few incoherent turns along the way and nearly imploding. A silly denouement and an appallingly intense synthesizer score, like I imagine elevator music in hell to sound like, didn't help things. Neither did the cliche-stuffed main character played by William Petersen, a guy who apparently is on one of those CSI shows. There are far too many scenes with Petersen talking to his reflection, his television screen, or his tape recorder. Still, the story has that attention to detail that makes it really gripping, and the film's got more than enough style. The camera seems to have only one movement, but it's a good one, and there are a lot of great shots, my favorite being the first shot of the Tooth Fairy. Character actor Tom Noonan plays that character with a realistic creepiness. There's even something creepy about his posture. Brian Cox's Hannibal Lecktor might not be the best Hannibal Lecktor ever, but he's really good playing the always fascinating villain. This one might not have much depth, and there are definitely things that irritated me about it, but I'm still glad I watched it.

A bonus point was awarded for a Chris Elliott spotting. Unfortunately for my blog readers, Chris Elliott is to movies with "man" in the title as Puxatony Phil is to winter. When I spot Chris Elliott, that means six more weeks of movies with "man" in the title.

Sam the Man

2000 movie

Rating: 8/20

Plot: The titular author struggles with his second novel and his relationship, probably because he isn't really a very good writer and can't stop sleeping with ever other woman he happens to sniff.

With a vanilla jazz score; a cast of television C-listers (a guy from Becker, a guy from Ed); a lead played pretentiously by Fisher Stevens, a poor man's Adrian Brody; and an alarming lack of depth for a character study like this, this movie is just generic and sucky. I couldn't stand Sam, and I got frustrated waiting for some kind of character transformation that I wasn't going to buy anyway. At one point, he describes his writing as not being a story but "a moment" and how he's focusing on what is "important" or "meaningful." Unfortunately for anybody trudging through Sam the Man, there's nothing important or meaningful here. The interactions between unlikable characters range from awkward to irritating. I'm not completely sure what director Gary Winick or anybody else involved with this project were going for, but they apparently didn't get there.

The Mackintosh Man

1973 spy thriller

Rating: 14/20

Plot: English intelligence agent Joseph Rearden is recruited by the titular man to pose as a diamond thief in order to be arrested, infiltrate a spy ring, and uncover just who is behind it all.

Not a bad little Huston action thriller although I was pretty confused most of the time. Paul Newman's performance is weird. I'm not sure exactly what his nationality was supposed to be, but he definitely wasn't convincing as an Australian jewel thief as his accent drifts in and out. He's not convincing as an action star either, especially when he's awkwardly punching or kicking people during a big escape scene. Newman sort of goes through the spy motions, and there's no depth to his character. The plot's pretty typical for this sort of thing. A big twist barely seems like a twist at all. There's nothing new with the action scenes although a prison bust-out sequence is nifty and a car chase, mostly because of the locale and the vehicles involved, is fun. I liked Maurice Jarre's repetitive score, reminiscent of the zither madness in The Third Man. I had trouble identifying the instrument, but it was something atypical, and I liked how the music felt free to just stomp in whenever it wanted to.

The Wicker Man

1973 pagan musical nightmare

Rating: 19/20 (Anonymous: 20/20; Amy: 16/20)

Plot: A policeman from the Scottish mainland flies to a mysterious island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. The island's inhabits, a bunch of heathens, aren't cooperative as they prepare for May Day festivities.

What I love most about this movie is its sense of humor. Sure, it's got an assortment of musical selections that can stack up against the soundtrack of any other movie. It's got a great scene with Britt Ekland (Mary Goodnight in the recently-reviewed The Man with the Golden Gun) dancing around naked. It's got another of those Christopher Lee performances where he plays a sophisticatedly evil and tongue-in-cheek baddie. It's got loads of weird-looking beige-teethed Scots wearing an assortment of animal masks. It's got a gradually unfolding and hypnotic mystery that builds to one of the most shocking images in the horror movie history and a jaw-dropping finale. It's got a thematic backbone, delicious irony, and a literate script. It's got a sex scene with stuffed animals. It's got some beautiful shots of this exotic and erotic locale and its people. And it's unique. There just aren't movies like this. But what I love most is that sense of humor. No, it's not as funny as the remake with Nicolas Cage (few movies are), but there's so much hilarity as the islanders dick around with the detective. This is a movie with more great moments than a movie should be allowed to have (love the hare, the dance they're all doing at the end), and it would be difficult to find a movie as unsettling as this one.

And yes, Anonymous, the gravedigger (Aubrey Morris) was the guy in A Clockwork Orange.

X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes

1963 science fiction horror film

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A scientist experiments with eye drops that temporarily give the owner of the eyeballs x-ray vision. Of course, there are some negative consequences. Otherwise, there wouldn't even be a movie.

Pretty typical sci-fi B-flick stuff but with some of that Roger Corman magic, a bit of visual flair and some wild ideas. This couldn't be more obvious thematically, but I can forgive that because the movie's fun, from the opening shot of a disembodied eyeball to the final chilling shot of the titular (come on!) character hanging with some religious folk. Ray Milland is good in the lead role. I really liked the costume he wore when he started working for a carnival, a colorful get-up that includes a scarf with an eye drawn on it worn over his actual eyes. I recognized Harold J. Stone who I recently saw as a detective in The Wrong Man. The biggest surprise, however, is seeing Don Rickles as a carnival barker. When you make over three hundred movies, you're bound to develop a good eye, and Corman shows off his in a few scenes of this movie, one with an injured girl and a well-placed scarf and another with Rickles looking through a window. The weirdo effects used to give the audience Dr. Xaviar's perspective looks a little dopey and don't make complete sense, but it's effective in giving his story a different flavor. I also like an effect where the camera zoomed through Milland's head after he used the eye drops for the first time. This has a good score, especially the song at the opening, and that ending really is pretty shocking. My wife was in the room and had to turn her head.

The Man Who Never Was

1956 WWII movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: The English want to attack the Axis in Sicily, but they don't want them to find out about it before it happens. In order to convince them that they are actually going to attack in Greece, they plant some confidential information (basically a briefcase that has FYOBFFLOL ["For You Only Best Friend Forever Laugh Out Loud" for my non-military readers]) on a dead guy, take him for a submarine ride, toss him in the Mediterranean, and push him toward the shores of Southern Spain. The right people find the body, and a spy is sent to England to investigate this dead guy. Even though this sounds a little like Weekend at Bernies II, it's actually based on a true story.

This is a look at the chess game behind World War II, and I loved the cat-and-mouse game going on here. The first half of the movie is devoted to the meticulous scheming and all the arrangements they had to make for the plan to succeed. They're excellent heroes because they're smart heroes. They, Lieutenant Montagu and Lieutenant Acres played respectively by Clifton Webb and Robert Flemyng, also have good rapport and talk with each other with this dry English humor that gives this a little something extra. The second half brings the spy into the picture. He's smart as well, and there's a lot of fun and suspense in watching him try to find some evidence that the titular (I can't help myself) man is a fake while they run around trying to fill in the gaps. There's nothing flashy because there doesn't need to be anything flashy in this story where the truth is definitely more interesting than fiction. I like how director Ronald Neame (Tunes of Glory, A Man Could Get Killed, Man with a Million) focuses on the minutiae. The tiny details lend a realism. Cool little war movie!

Bicentennial Man

1999 garbage

Rating: 4/20

Plot: A boring family purchases an android and they quickly realize that he's not an ordinary robot. He seems to have more emotion than your average android, and he has a creative side. Then he wants to be a human. Blah blah blah.

The makers of this need to confess that they stole the idea from 1980's television show, Small Wonder. Unfortunately for anybody seeing this movie, this lacks the charm and wit and coherency of that sitcom. And when your movie isn't as good as Small Wonder, you've got a big problem. The offenses in this movie are reminiscent of everything that's wrong with E.T. and A.I, two of the most offensive movies ever made. Manipulative, ultra-corny, and stupidly written, Bicentennial Man has almost nothing at all going for it. It doesn't work as comedy, but in its defense, I'm not sure it's even supposed to be a comedy. It doesn't work as science fiction or drama because it doesn't make sense consistently. I couldn't believe how bad this movie was during the first twenty minutes, but it continued to shock and reshock me by gradually getting worse. By the time a second robot is added to the storyline, I was almost ready to go to the store, purchase a new television, and then throw the new television through the television I was watching just because it seemed like the right thing to do. I know the oldest daughter wasn't talking about the film her character was in when she said "It's stupid" and "I think it sucks," but I can't think of a more accurate way to describe this garbage. Oh, the biggest stain of all? Hallie Kate Eisenberg, the curly-headed and dimpled annoying child who was in some popular Pepsi commercials around this time. I actually stopped drinking Pepsi products because of her, and now here she is in Bicentennial Man. God damn it all! Why I didn't gouge my eyeballs out with a spoon and stop watching this during the first twenty Hallie Kate Eisenberg-filled minutes is a mystery to me. And in looking up her name, I've noticed that she's the sister of Jesse Eisenberg. I now hate the entire Eisenberg family. God damn it!

I might be in a bad mood, but if I am, Bicentennial Man is the reason.

Dead Man Walking

1995 piece of liberal propaganda

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Convicted murderer and rapist Matthew Poncelet has nothing to do but count down the days to his execution and write letters to nuns. Sister Helen Prejean answers his letter with a visit, later helping him find a way to work on an appeal and becoming his spiritual counselor. She later is forced to interact with the family of his victims.

I thought this was going to be just a bunch of left-wing nutjobs asking me to be sympathetic to violent criminals, but that's not quite what's going on here. Somebody pro-death penalty could claim that director Tim Robbins et. al. are making an anti-death penalty statement with this and probably get away with saying it. However, this is as objective a cinematic approach to an issue like this can get. The death sentence at the heart of this movie is seen from every angle--the guy sitting in death row, the victims' angry families, the folks who work in prison or death row, the nun torn by it all, and even the victims themselves. No matter what you think of capital punishment before the opening credits, I think this movie challenges you to think things over again. Not that it's here to change your mind or anything. But it is thought-provoking. The acting is really good universally (even Jack Black in what has to be one of the funniest movies of his career), but at the center of it all, you've got two of the most powerful lead performances in recent movie history. Susan Sarandon's Sister Helen is just the right amount of tortured, nothing but heroic as a woman of conviction. Her performance is deep and quietly passionate. Sean Penn is one of those actors who I always forget is any good at all. This is the perfect type of role for him since he looks like a scumbag anyway. His thick mumble is tough at times, but he's real good here in a very challenging role, forcing you to see the human being who's almost unrecognizable, smudged by his sins and hidden beneath layers of his own hatred. No, you won't end up liking that human being, unrepentant racist/murderer that he is, but you will find it impossible not to take notice of the human being. Such powerful performances, and the dialogue between them is rich and realistic and rewarding. Where this could have ended up manipulative and sanctimonious or overly didactic, it stays deeply moving and reflective. I was touched by more than a few scenes. I wish Robbins would have shown less of the crime. He intercuts jumpy dimly lit flashes of flashbacks in scenes with characters walking or whatever, and it almost gets to be a bit much at times. But I suppose I know why theses scenes are in there.

The Strongest Man in the World

1975 family fun

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Some dopey college doofuses throw some chemicals together in an attempt to do something to a cow. It gets mixed in with some cereal that one of them eats, and they discover that their concoction gives the user super strength for a limited period of time. This comes along at just the right time since the school is experiencing some financial difficulties. Some bad guys come along.

There aren't too many non-animated Disney features that I love or even like, and there are quite a few I wish would be wiped out of existence. That's right, Cat from Outer Space. I'm looking at you. This is somewhere in between. It's typical Disney family science fiction goofballery with some special effects being used for humorous purposes. As expected, there's nothing hysterically funny or memorable here. It's harmless (unlike The Cat from Outer Space) but incredibly boring. This is the type of family film that you watch and can't imagine a single member of the family actually enjoying it. There's too much story for children. There's no nudity or violence, so Dad's not going to like it. Mom doesn't really like movies that much anyway. Grandpa's dead. We don't allow Uncle Pete in the room when we watch movies because he can't keep his prosthetic hand out of his pants. And Aunt Bertha is confused by Kurt Russell. Speaking of Kurt Russell, he falls out of the movie halfway through and doesn't come back until the end. I'm not sure where he went because I yawned and lost track of the characters. I don't want to write anything else about this movie.

Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man

1951 comedy

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Bud and Lou graduate from detective school and are ready to solve some crimes. They get their first case when a boxer accused of murdering a manager arrives to get help in finding the real murderer. This particular boxer, Tommy Nelson, is also able to turn himself invisible and plans on using that ability to help them in their search.

Another misleading movie poster here. This movie isn't the riot it promises to be, and there is no scene where Abbott (or Costello since I don't care to know which is which) fondles a woman's left breast with his neck. The best thing about this is that they use the invisible man special effects, pretty much the same ones used almost twenty years before in The Invisible Man, in some creative and mildly humorous ways. The problem is that Abbott and Costello aren't really funny. I'm far from an expert on the history of comedic cinema, but surely this kind of comedy was dated by the time the early 50s rolled around. I can't think of anything else to write about Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man.

The Man in the Iron Mask

1998 Three Musketeers movie

Rating: 12/20

Plot: King Leonardo the XIV isn't a very good king. In fact, he's an asshole, and nobody in France likes him except for one of the four musketeers who is sleeping with the queen mother. When King Leonardo makes a military decision based only on his sexual desires (a move he must have learned from reading about King David and Bathsheba), Musketeer Malcovich's son is killed in battle. The three musketeers who aren't sleeping with the queen mother decide to bust the man in the iron mask, Leonardo's brother Leonardo, out of prison and pull an ol' switcheroo.

If you were magically transported via a magical remote control and a time machine into this movie and asked anybody in France, "Hey, how's King Leonardo XIV working out for ya?" you would fall to sleep before the answer was finished because the Frenchman or Frenchwoman answering your question would deliver a verbose answer so monotonously that you'd think, "Oh, man. Is this answer ever going to get to an endmark?" and then decide to close your eyes for a little bit, just a little bit like you do sometimes when you're driving, but then fall fast asleep. The Man in the Iron Mask needed some of that bumpy pavement they put on the shoulders of highways so that the bumbabra-bumbabra-bumbabra noise wakes you up before you hit a tree, a ditch, or a hobo. I don't know whether to blame the dialogue, the bland music, or the acting, but this was just so stuffy. I normally like John Malcovich, but his uninspired performance here typifies what's wrong with this. He always performs his dialogue in a very deliberate Malcovichian way that ends up making the movie a lot longer, but here, it just seems like his character is struggling to get the words out, almost like he can't believe he used to be a musketeer but now has to say such boring things. He and the other musketeers (Irons, Depardieu, Byrne) each have moments where they shine, but more often than not, they overtheatricize and get all actor-y and make me think I'm watching performances instead of characters. And the biggest problem of all? I might be able to tolerate a single Leonardo Dicaprio in a movie, but this one has two. He plays two characters who not only look identical but act identical even though the story would seem to require that they don't have that much in common. I don't even know if Leonardo Dicaprio is a good actor or not, but I don't like him here one bit. I don't think the part(s) suit him, and I thought his face was tedious. This movie did get better as it went along, but it unfortunately went along a little too much. Or maybe a lot too much.

The Weather Man

2005 comedic character study

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Dave Spritz works for two hours a day and makes over two hundred thousand dollars a year. He tells Chicago what other people guess the weather is going to be like. He's no meteorologist, but he's got a pretty face and knows how to point at pictures of clouds or a sun with a smiling face. He's got a chance for a job as weather guy for a national morning program. However, Dave Spritz has some problems. He's separated from his wife, a woman who has already found his replacement. His son is on the drugs. His daughter's classmates call her Camel Toe. His father might be dying. People throw milkshakes at him.

I was actually shocked to see this labeled as a comedy on the poster up there. Sure, I laughed quite a bit while watching this, but I laugh at all Nicolas Cage movies whether they're supposed to be funny or not. Nicolas Cage's work provides more unintentionally comedy than the work of any other living actor. Now that I think about it, I can see The Weather Man as an intentional comedy, albeit a very dry, very deadpan, very dour one. And I can see Nicolas Cage as something close to a comedic genius. I'm starting to wonder if what I refer to as "Awkward Nicholas Cage Moments" (compare with Awkward Jimmy Stewart Moments and Awkward Vincent Price Moments) are intentionally awkward. The best example is a scene where he is chasing a car while holding a McDonalds apple pie. I always have problems accepting Cage as an Everyman, but here I think he works as a guy who, nearing the middle of his life, is having an extremely difficult time accepting that his life choices have dropped him smack dab in the middle of some kind of cruel cosmic joke. What always threatens to be trite and fluffy ends up wonderfully layered. It's thick with metaphor and really explores Spritz's life with a fine-toothed comb, just like all good character studies should. It refuses to answer all the questions, just like a lot of movies I usually like (see: A Serious Man, a similar movie [that might be a warning]), but allows the audience to make up its own mind about this dynamic character. It takes you through some difficult material, but I think Cage's performance and the humor snuck into it all makes it more digestible. Michael Caine plays Cage's father. I can't figure out why he's got an English accent, but aside from that, he's perfect. You can read so much in his character's face. The performance is deceptively simple and incredibly nuanced. There's a scene with Caine and Cage having a conversation in a car that, even though it had something incredibly cliched and silly tossed in, really touched me. And I love how Caine had to get his son to stop and define simple ordinary things during their conversations. "David, what is a Frosty?" It's the type of writing that seems like it's there to pass the time, but I thought it was great how these questions really forced Spritz to start examining some of those finer details of his life. This is one of those happy surprises, a movie I expected nothing from but ended up finding very rewarding. I was also surprised to see that Gore Verbinski directed this between a couple of those pirate movies. And long after he made the criminally underrated family-friendly masterpiece Mousehunt. Despite that last pirate movie, I like Gore's work.


1989 superhero movie

Rating: 13/20

Plot: All of Gotham's criminals are talking about a mysterious crime fighter who dresses as a bat and can't be killed. Batman! One night, Batman throws one particular criminal in a giant pot of soup. He emerges disfigured and annoyed and decides to take out his frustrations on the people of Gotham.

I'm not sure I actually ever saw this movie all the way through. I was 16-ish, watching this in a theater with Krissy. There was fondling involved, lots of it as a matter of fact, and Krissy was a lot prettier than anything in the movie. And I'm including that scene where Jack Nicholson's over-the-top Joker is dancing purple-suited in an art musuem with his henchmen, one who has a boom box on his shoulder. There's not a movie critic alive (or in the case of Gene Siskel, dead) who doesn't realize giving a henchman a boom box is like pumping an action scene full of steroids, automatically increasing the level of bitchin' by 27%. Other than that, one of three scenes that date this movie with weird, out-of-place Prince (was he Prince in 1989 or was he a symbol?) funk tunes, there's not much going on in this overlong movie. For an action movie, it sure is boring. The action sequences are dull and often hard to see through this murkiness or, in several scenes, wryneck-inducing lightning strike editing makes it hard to figure out what's even going on. As with the most recent Batman movie, the performance of the guy playing the bad guy gives the film almost all of its energy. Nicholson's Jokering is off-kilter and deranged, although the script calls for far too much demented laughter and lame puns. Regardless of a thrilling score and piles of explosions, there's just something stiff about this whole thing. Of course, there was always something stiff when Krissy was around. Wacka-wacka-wacka!

Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl

1919 depressing movie

Rating: 18/20

Plot: The yellow man loves Buddha, and after watching some visiting sailors engage in fisticuffs on the streets, he becomes further convinced to travel east and share that fat dude's teachings. He arrives in London, has no luck getting the message out (probably because he's yellow), and ends up running a shop that sells things nobody would want. One day, boxer's daughter Lucy wanders past. She's got a hard life because her father's abusive. The yellow man falls for her and gets a chance to get close to her later in the movie.

What a beautiful little movie this is. Silent drama doesn't always connect with me. A lot of times, they're boring, brutally boring. And although this suffers a bit from the limitations and tendencies of typical films from this period, there's a lot here that seems years ahead of its time. Aside from all the technical stuff and the interracial romance, this is the earliest movie I've seen that's leaned so far over into tragedy and has an ending like this. The performances range from hammy and unnatural (see: Donald Crisp as Lucy's daddy) to controlled and touching and haunting (see: Gish). In between would be the yellow man played by Richard Barthelmess, a white man. The story Griffith is telling here is nothing new. It's simple, poetic and emotionally walloping but simple. There are way too many title cards used to push the story, a lot of them, even though have a literary quality, completely unnecessary. This works best when Griffith tells the story and creates the moods with images alone. This just jumped over one or two other movies to become my favorite film of the nineteen-teens.

The Invisible Man

1933 science fiction

Rating: 17/20

Plot: A ambitious scientist with a bitchin' pair of sunglasses experiments with a twelve dollar chemistry set he bought at a discount store to find a way to reach his dream of being naked all the time without anybody being able to see how underdeveloped one of his nipples (the right one) is. He succeeds, but the concoction makes him batty, deluded, power-hungry, and surly. He figures out that not only can he now walk around naked, but he can probably steal bicycles and play practical jokes on people. And rule the world! Oh, snap! How can the authorities capture somebody they can't even see?

I wish this movie was a silent one. The main flaw is that overinflated early-30s acting that threatens to suffocate certain scenes. The landlady's screams might be the most obnoxious sound I've heard in a movie in a long time, and I don't really like Claude Rains' demented laughter that I guess is there to remind us that there's a dangerous invisible guy in the room. Despite that, this is great early sci-fi. My daughter Emma sat on the couch and watched some of this with me. At one point, she asked me how they were doing the invisible man special effects. That's part of the beauty of a movie like this. Nowadays, this movie would be made with computer effects. It could look a lot more realistic. Or, it could look choppy and glitchy. But there's just something pure about the effects used in this movie. They're pretty cool and must have been really cool in 1933, and they make you wonder how it was all pulled off almost eighty years ago. A bicycle riding by itself, books and cigarettes floating across the room, doors and windows opening by themselves, invisible asses indenting rocking chairs, men being tossed around. And the iconic image of the titular (there's that word again) character pulling the bandages off his face. Good stuff. I also like an opening panning shot of the innards of a tavern (complete with a guy playing darts at a 45 degree angle) and a montage of people locking their doors. This is a fun science fiction film, light on the horror as the invisible guy seems more like a jokester than a terrorist. One question though: Why would a criminal mastermind who is trying to elude the po-po tell everybody exactly when and where he's going to kill somebody? "I'll kill you. . .I'll kill you at 10:00 tomorrow night." My favorite scene: The invisible man's girlfriend Flora comes for a visit. He announces to his partner that he's going to get ready for her visit and leaves the room. When Flora shows up, there's only one thing different about him--those bitchin' sunglasses. For whatever reason, I thought that was hilarious.

The Man Who Would Be King

1975 adventure

Rating: 18/20

Plot: Daniel Dravot and Peachy Carnehan, two big-balled former British soldiers dicking around in India, decide to cross dangerous Afganistan (where the Taliban hide in caves) to reach Kafiristan, a heathen land where they plan on becoming kings. They teach villagers to use some guns they brought along, and after Daniel is struck with an arrow during battle but does not bleed, the Kafiritanians decide that he is the son of Alexander the Great.

God's holy trousers, what a fantastic film this is! Connery and Caine have great chemistry in what's essentially a buddy/road movie. The dialogue's fresh and witty and enriches the adventure yarn. This isn't exactly a comedy, but there are a lot of times where you get a whiff of a controlled Monty Python with the two leads like a mature Abbott and Costello type comedy team. The greatness with The Man Who Would Be King is that it spits in the eyes of tradition, genre-crossing like a She-Devil in plaid pants, unhinged and groovy and barely holding together with absurd poetics and half-assed histories. Snake charmers, dudes with insects on their faces, dope smokers, holy men, and filthy beggars line streets pre-credits, splashes of brown and more brown and crazy ethnic musics and an antsy camera helping them shiver on the screen. It paints an exotic picture right off the bat. John Huston found some nice places for this story to sit, and the shots of snow-covered mountains, desert battlefields, bottomless chasms, and towering temples help give it all a unique personality. And so many extras! There are very few times when the screen isn't stuffed corner to corner with stuff to look at. The Man Who Would Be King grabs your ears and eyes, tickles the pickle, mesmerizes. This is the type of movie you want to consume entirely, absorb. Costume design, a great score, cinematography. Yeah, you can chew and chew on this one. It's a lot of fun, but there's a poignancy just below the surface of the action and humor. Great stuff.

Note: Reportedly, this is Ass Masterson's second favorite movie. (Wikipedia)

Grizzly Man

2005 crazy person documentary

Rating: 17/20

Plot: For thirteen summers, Timothy Treadwell had ventured into Alaska to hang out with grizzly bears and foxes. During his later trips, he even videotapes himself with the bears. Several times, he tells his camera that he would die for these bears, and then, as if to prove that he's not just all talk, he and his girlfriend Amy are devoured by a bear he nicknamed Grumpy.

On a technical level, putting all of Treadwell's footage and Herzog's interviews into something this cohesive and meaningful is quite the achievement. I really like how Herzog focuses on the smaller aspects of Treadwell's story. The Cliff Notes version of this is that Treadwell and his girlfriend were eaten by a bear and that it was really gruesome. But Herzog gives us a much more complete picture of this nutty guy. He's much more than just a victim of a bear attack. My favorite moments from the interviews and from Treadwell's footage are the ones that are almost insignificant to the actual story--details about him working in a restaurant, his parents holding his stuffed bear, Timothy discussing his sexuality, lingering shots of the Alaskan landscape. Treadwell's footage is both haunting and sad, haunting as we see some of his last moments on earth and hearing him earlier seem to predict his death, and sad as we get such intimate glimpses into the soul of this tortured and pretty unstable guy. There's definitely some weirdness in this documentary, so much that I can understand why a lot of people might be put off by the whole thing or even think the entire thing is an elaborate hoax. Herzog's narration is often goofy and far from objective. He unapologetically shifts from documentarian to commentator several times. A lot of the interviews seem rehearsed and unnatural, as does a "candid" moment when the coroner gives Timothy's friend the watch that was found on his arm. I have no doubt that there was some coaching involved and that Herzog is guilty of creating a great deal of this reality, but I'm not sure that matters much. You also get such a disturbing picture of Timothy in his films, from the faux-action stuff where he's running around like an adventure seeker to the times when he completely spazzes out and turns himself inside out so that his internal dialogue is on full display, that he doesn't seem like he could possible have been a real person. There's an absurdity to all of this, and Timothy Treadwell was an absolutely absurd human being, but you're not going to get a more chillingly complete picture of this sort of obsessive personality. It's easy to see some parallels between subject and director here. This is dense stuff. The horrors and beauties makes Grizzly Man the type of movie that will bounce around your noggin for a long, long time after you've shut it off.