The Man Between

1953 post-WWII thriller

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Former-Nazi Ivo Kern works for the Commies in post-war Berlin, aiding in kidnapping and transporting folks from the West to the East. They should have put a freakin' wall there or something! Kern wants out but finds it impossible. Meanwhile, Claire Bloom arrives from England to stay with her sister. A romance seems to develop, but Kern might be using the girl for shady reasons. Or will the two find love and hook up? Oh, those crazy kids!

I liked the second half of this film a lot better than the first, the part of the film where I had to think way too much. Things really get exciting when the characters are sneaking around the shadows of dilapidated Berlin buildings. There's a great score, brilliant cinematography with Third Man-esque broken-tripod camera angles, and terrific shots of a city landscape torn to pieces by war. The cinematography alone makes this worth the price of admission, but moody James Mason and innocent Claire Bloom are good leads. It all builds to one of those endings, a memorable final shot on a snowy street. The story, though parts are a bit confusing taken out of the historical context, is essentially a timeless one of love doomed by place and time. This isn't quite the film that The Third Man or Odd Man Out are, but Carol Reed sure knew how to make "man" movies. That's especially surprising since he had such a sissy name.

This movie supports my theory that films are better when the most of the shots are askew.

Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman

2000 horror-comedy

Rating: n/r

Plot: Well, apparently a mutant killer snowman from a first movie is brought back to life after a laboratory accident. He travels, naturally, to a beach resort to get revenge on some really boring characters. After travelling as water, he manages to collect a carrot and charcoal in absurd ways and eventually, I'm guessing since I couldn't finish the movie, becomes an entire mutant killer snowman.

This is not just a movie that I couldn't finish. This is a movie that forced me to wonder what the hell I'm doing with my life. After shutting this one down, I sat in a motionless, depressed funk for what I thought was a week and a half but turned out to be only seventeen minutes and twenty-three seconds.

Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman

2005 drama

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Efficiently proficient and prolific, Albert Pierrepoint followed in his father's bootsteps and hanged people for a living. When he's not delivering groceries, that is. And probably only people who had it coming. He didn't seem like the type to hang random people. Pierrepoint executed just over six hundred during his twenty-two years, and that was just when he was supposed to be delivering groceries! Eventually, the so-called "Babe Ruth of Hangmen" reconsiders his stance on capital punishment.

The director certainly takes a languid approach with this one, not only showing seemingly every meticulous detail in claustrophobic settings but showing these meticulous details over and over and over again. It delivers the point home and comes as close as I imagine it can come to helping a guy watching a television screen understand some of the feelings of the increasingly-troubled titular hangman, and Timothy Spall, without any of the pomp or tricks that people usually see in great acting performances, has a quiet magnetism. His performance is half the picture, and he gives Pierrepoint's story a realism and poignancy in a very natural way. Plus, I dig his cheeks and wonder if implants were involved. Still, this visually sucks you into a gloom, and after a while, the movie starts to seem much longer than it actually is. Its interesting subject matter and gripping internal conflict make this worth checking out.

The Man with the Golden Arm

1955 drug movie

Rating: 16/20 (Mark: 12/20; Amy 11/20)

Plot: Frankie Machine, a poker dealer just released from prison, dreams of drumming in jazzy night clubs to make ends meet and take care of his injured and whiny wife. He's got a friend who is half-man/half-turtle, a new suit, and his own brushes. He's also got the scrumptious Kim Novak. And pretty eyes. Oh, and a heroin addiction. I almost forgot about that one. When things don't work out with his drumming aspirations, mostly because he's not very good, he decides to become a James Bond villain and forges a gold cast around his left arm to use as a bludgeon.

I liked the way the camera moved in this one, a sneaky bit of style that never got in the way of the storytelling but added a little cool to the proceedings. Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak are fine; Eleanor Parker ain't; and there's an odd assortment of supporting characters who give this a quirky flavor, including a sluggishly-sauntering pedestrian extra with a hat who I swear I saw in nine different scenes. As a drug movie, this is understandably a little dated, but I still like it twice as much as most modern drug movies. Yeah, Requiem for a Dream, I'm looking at you. I thought the scene with Frankie Machine fighting through withdrawal rang true and liked the amount of edginess that they were allowed to have in this mid-50s production. This movie might also wind up winning the 2010 shane-movies award for "Best Use of a Dummy" which I'm sure would make Otto Preminger pee on himself in his grave. This movie goes on a little longer than it should, and I'm not sure I bought it all, but I definitely liked it a little more than I expected. Bonus point for some nice poker scenes.

Zatoichi and the Doomed Man

1965 Zatoichi movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Zatoichi meets the titular domed man in jail. The man, soon to be executed, informs him that he is innocent and pleads with the blind swordsman to get him some help once he's released. Zatoichi is sick of getting into trouble every time he helps somebody out, but eventually finds himself involved anyway.

Good entry in the Zatoichi series has plenty of swordplay but also has a more comedic tone than most of them. It's been a bit since I've seen this blind mo-fo in action, and I'd almost forgotten how much I like watching his movements, not just in the swift sword swipes and pouncing pirouettes, but in Shintaro Katsu's actions portraying a blind guy. And this reminds me of a dream I had and immediately forgot about. In the dream, Shintaro Katsu, not as Zatoichi but as himself, rides to my front door in a rickshaw. I'm sitting on a chair that I don't have that is on a porch I don't have. I'm wearing booty shorts and smoking an absurdly large red and yellow pipe with a goat's head carved into it. Orange smoke billows from the pipe, and I keep wondering how bad I smell, so bad, I fear, that the neighbors across the street might be able to smell me. Katsu tells me not to worry about it and points with a cane (again, he's not Zatoichi but does still have his cane sword) at my shorts. He says, "Your worries lie in those tight, lime-green shorts." When I don't say anything, he explains. "Don't come crying to me if somebody tries to rape you." Then, just like in all these nocturnal meanderings of my subconscious, the dream ends with my dream self weeping uncontrollably and my real self waking up in a puddle of my own urine.

Man from the West

1958 Western

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Link Jones don't want to be an outlaw no more. But after being abandoned in the middle of nowhere with two others by the train they were riding following a failed robbery, he finds himself face-to-face with his old boss and forced to once again join the gang. He tries to balance feigned loyalty to his posse and concern for his fellow train passengers.

What a pleasant surprise this "man"/Mann Western was! I wasn't expecting much since I had never even heard of this one, but it's solid stuff. I've liked other Anthony Mann Westerns, but in this one, he's second to no one, not even Ford, in using landscape to help tell the story. Link, played stoically by a fatigued-looking Gary Cooper, is one of those characters who is in control in a situation there's no way he can control. As things look bleaker and bleaker, the landscape reflects that, becoming harsher and harsher--from civilized town to a rickety train to a dilapidated farmhouse to a ghost town to miles and miles of brown jagged rock. It's all beautifully photographed, as are the characters. Lee J. Cobb's Dock Tolbin looks like he just rolled off the set of a movie in which he's been shot at by Clint Eastwood while Leone looks on, and there's something raw and tense about his performance. I also liked Jack Lord as another of the baddies. They're definitely not the bad guys I expected to see in a late-50s movie. I think that's what I really liked about The Man of the West actually; it's not a glossy Hollywood Western but one not afraid to get some dust on the lens. There's a great scene with the death of one character. In other Westerns, other good Westerns even, this unfortunate character (second from the bottom on the cast list) would have caught the bullet, fallen down, and died. In The Man of the West, the camera follows him as he stumbles around and moans in extreme pain and then lingers on him from a few moments after he finally, almost mercifully, expires. Harsh stuff. There's another great scene with Julie London's character, a woman thrust into a damsel-in-distress type situation, in an uncomfortably humiliating moment, and Cooper, with a knife drawing a trickle of blood from his throat, forced to watch. Another Western would keep Link 100% chivalrous. Link would grit his teeth and curse the mean guys under his breath. But here, you read something else on his face. There's conflict, a part of the old outlaw Link who really might enjoy what is going on. There's a tense and introspective flavor and an unexpected darkness to The Man of the West that anticipates future Westerns. I liked it a lot.

The Man from Earth

2007 science fiction My Dinner with Andre

Rating: 8/20

Plot: At a professor's going-away party, he makes a startling announcement, revealing to his pretentious friends that he is 14,000 years old. They're not sure whether he's crazy or telling the truth.

Despite a fantastic, intriguing premise and the delivery of a science fiction movie without a single action scene or special effect, I hated almost every second of this movie. The biggest problem is probably that I just didn't want to hang out with a bunch of smarmy college uber-intellectual professor types for an hour and a half. There wasn't a single character I would want to spend any more time with no matter how many years they've lived on earth. Unfortunately, the actors playing them weren't very good either. It's probably unfair for me to criticize the production values of this thing, but from the opening shot, I thought I was watching a car commercial. Behind the dialogue, there's this nearly constant music, stuff that I would describe as light adult techno. The story's cool and the script is intelligent, but don't get me started on plot holes, plot holes that somehow manage to exist without there even being a plot. The dialogue is heavy with historical allusions, intellectual name-dropping, and after a while it gets tedious. By the time a bomb is dropped, the only reaction that makes sense is "Oh, puhleeeze!" I did enjoy some of this film's ideas, specifically the connections made between the teachings of Buddha and Jesus, but this should have been a lot better.

Our Man Flint

1966 spy spoof

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Controversial super-agent Flint is called upon to save the world from super-terrorists who want to use an earthquake machine to wreak havoc.

Shane, of shane-movies, really has nothing to say about this movie. He apologizes for the inconvenience.

Man of Marble

1976 Polish movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A female film student works on her dissertation, a documentary about Birkut, a Polish bricklayer used in propagandii as a Socialist symbol. It's a swift rise and a painful fall, the filmmaker discovers as she interviews individuals from his past and searches for Birkut himself.

This is really long and as dry as marble, so a lot of patience is required. I suppose this could be a case where the movie is much better than I think it is, but I'm not Polish and I'm not a Communist and I'm not opposed to Socialism and therefore lack the context for this to make complete sense to me. I'm not qualified to write about most of the movies I write about, but I'm even less qualified to write about something like this. It do kind of like the structure, an almost Citizen Kane-esque gradual unveiling of a character. Except there's no sled. The scenes with the director aren't terribly exciting, but I do really like how much fake news footage, propaganda films, and other footage is mixed in. The stuff looks authentic, and the guy who plays the titular man does a really good job. It really gives it a sort of fake-documentary feel and a different flavor. So did the soundtrack, reminiscent of 70's blaxploitation funk. Some of the music is so bad that I'm sure there wouldn't be a lot of people who would oppose removing it and replacing it with something better. I'm far too lazy to look it up, but I do wonder how a movie this critical was even allowed to be created and shown to people.

Special shane-movies trivia: This is easily the least humorous Polish movie I've ever seen.

Nothing But a Man

1964 movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A transient black railroad worker decides to settle down when he falls for the daughter of a preacher man. Like a lot of black men living in the 1960s South, he struggles in his efforts for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The title immediately brings to mind of the line that is in most versions of the ballads and tall tales about John Henry, probably not coincidentally another black railroad worker. To paraphrase: "A machine's nothing but a machine, but a man is a man." Here, we have a moving and realistic portrayal of a man, a man caught in a machinery of racism and prejudice in the deep South, and I really like how honest that portrayal is. This isn't a platform for director Michael Roemer to whine about conditions for blacks in the South during the early 60s; instead, it's an honest examination of both those conditions and a flawed man trying his best to pursue happiness within that context. This has, I think thankfully, more to do with relationships between blacks living during this time period, pervading low standards and a lack of male role models. Duff truly is nothing but a man--working as hard as he can to get buy, desiring more, making mistakes, growing because of those mistakes, moving on. It's a hard look at a struggling young marriage and a father who has pretty much abandoned a son. This is low-budget, having the feel of a 70s or 80s television movie, and the acting is really raw. It gets in the way and keeps this from being a true masterpiece, but I did like and appreciate this one more than Killer of Sheep. I really liked opening shots of railroad work with harmonica accompaniment and a scene showing a wild church service.


2004 superhero movie

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Teacher and big-time loser Shinichi spends his nights perfecting a Zebraman costume, his tribute to a thirty-year-old television show that only aired for seven episodes but that he is nevertheless obsessed with. After meeting a new friend, he starts to develop actual powers. Just in time, too, since aliens are trying to blow us up. Can Zebraman stop them in time or will the little green guys kill us all?

This usually doesn't trip me up, but the special effects in Zebraman, especially the computer animated stuff in the final third, fill the screen with such ugliness and ineptitude that it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Almost literally. I finished this movie, and it felt like I had eaten bad special effects. A ludicrous and incoherent climax combined with those awful colors, swirls of runny action, and garbled bombast stomps all over all the good stuff from the first two-thirds of the movie. And there is a lot to like in the first two-thirds. I always like Miike's sense of humor, here not quite as sick as in some of his previous work, and the almost-but-not-quite satirical quality kept me asking, "Is this for real?" Broken down, it's a pretty straight comic bookish superhero tale though. There's a lot of heart, a
likable protagonist, and an off-kilter funk that gave this a unique flavor, even when scenes showing the original Zebraman television show reminded me of the Power Rangers, and the low-key moments clashing with goofy action sequences reminded me of Big Man Japan. But then Miike makes us watch absurdly cartoonish bobbleheaded aliens and green newborns, and it all just gets gross. I'm probably aware that the grossness is intentional, but it didn't make it any more fun to watch. This was a great idea, but one poorly executed.

Man of a Thousand Faces

1957 biopic

Rating: 13/20

Plot: The life of silent film legend Lon Chaney, father of talkie film legend Lon Chaney Jr., from his childhood growing up with deaf parents to his career as a make-up maestro in Hollywood.

I can't say I ever really bought this one. Cagney does an admirable job, and I liked the behind-the-scenes reconstructions of Chaney playing some of his most famous roles. But this never really feels like an accurate portrayal of the man, and so much of the film seems incomplete and boring because the director breezes over so much. The fact that I was far more interested in finding out more about the life and work of Lon Chaney before I started the movie than I was halfway through Man of a Thousand Faces is telling. Also telling--halfway through this, I started wishing I was watching a Lon Chaney Jr. movie instead, maybe Hillbillys [sic] in a Haunted House or Spider Baby, or the Maddest Story Ever Told. This is melodrama that never grips, and storytelling that rarely moves.

Teenage Caveman

1958 Corman clunker

Rating: 5/20

Plot: A twenty-something-year-old teenage caveman with a stylish haircut breaks his tribes rules by venturing beyond the river, meeting dangerous creatures and putting his people at risk. Oh, snap!

Teenage Caveman is a crappy movie, made with a budget of ten dollars and fourteen cents and a director who apparently had a time frame of four and a half days. Most people, I reckon, are going to be offended because Robert Vaughn as the "teenage" caveman has better hair than them. I didn't realize cavemen used hair products. Corman makes an attempt to give this some depth. There's all this talk about the three gifts to man that had me scratching my head, and there's a pretty nifty twist ending that, if you decide to see this, I might have ruined for you just by telling you there's a twist ending. There's also a classic Corman monster, one that rivals the muppet from Creature from the Haunted Sea. Heck, given the amount of footage that seems lifted straight from other crappy movies, Corman might actually have used the same monster. This probably isn't a B-movie I'd recommend to B-movie aficionados.

Big River Man

2009 documentary

Rating: 17/20 (Dylan: 20/20)

Plot: Fifty-four year old Slovenian national hero Martin Strel has swum the Danube. He's swum the Yangtze. And he's swum the Mighty Mississippi. Now it's the Amazon's turn. This documentary covers his 66-day swim of the almost 33,000 mile river with the help of two bottles of wine a day and a funky mask. Along the way, he loses his mind and enters the 4th dimension.

I learned a lot about Slovenia from watching Big River Man. They enjoy horse burgers there. Horse burgers are a little like chicken burgers but made from horse. Slovenia itself is shaped like a chicken. Slovenia is the DUI capital of the world. There's a "Learn the English Language" recording that teaches Slovenians to say "I am a drug dealer." This is a documentary you'll watch and wonder if it's real or not. Strel seems fatter than life, and the film just seems too funny to be legitimate. In fact, Dylan and I stopped watching this to do a little research and found out that the guy is real and has completed these amazing swims. He's just got more than the average amount of crazy, the type of fellow that Werner Herzog wouldn't mind following around with a camera for a while. This documentary blends hilarity and adventure so well. You get the impression that Strel's navigator, a guy with no real training in navigation, and Strel himself are hamming it up a little for the camera as they gradually lose their minds, but there's something eerie as well as hilarious in the way the swimmer's mind is completely gone in the last stages of his Amazonian swim and in the time following the feat. I still have no idea what he was talking about when he claimed he had entered and was stuck in the fourth dimension, and there are great scenes where he fashions a goofy mask to protect the skin of his face from the sun, runs off with his navigator and is later found naked and unresponsive on a beach, smears mayonnaise on his head and tries to use jumper cables to electrocute parasites that have attempted to burrow into his skull. He also references an Amazonian penis fish that enters the body via the urethra. And when they do, according to Strel, "no more penis." This is an adventurous journey into dementia with some nice hippie environmental messages built in, and it's one of the most bitchin' documentaries I've seen in a long time.

The Amazing Colossal Man

1957 man-who-changes-size movie

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Poor Lt. Col. Manning. After being exposed to radiation during a bomb test, he recovers but begins growing. And growing. And growing! Soon, he finds himself as a sixty-foot bald giant in a diaper. The growth disturbs his mind, and he begins terrorizing Las Vegas.

A Bert I. Gordon joint, and like the other movie of his on this blog (Earth vs. The Spider), it's almost exactly what you'd expect from this sort of 50s B-movie with only a few scenes that make it worth watching. The science doesn't make sense, and the plot goes exactly where you think it will,. It's a plot with some plot holes that are more colossal than the colossal guy's diaper! But the acting and special effects, with the exception of some transparent colossal man body parts, aren't as terrible as a lot of these cheapo affairs, and although it doesn't have as much of an existential subtext as The Incredible Shrinking Man, it does get moody and philosophical. Manning's growth and the parallel transformation of his mindset probably works metaphorically in the context of 1950's fears, but I watched this in 2010, a time when people don't have anything to worry about. I was left with one big question: There's a scene where Manning, big but not as colossal as he ends up, goes on a picnic with his wife. No, they don't "do it" afterwards, you perverts. But in the background, you can see an automobile that the couple apparently drove to the picnic site. However, there's no way Manning would have fit inside the car. These are the type of B-movie questions that keep me up late some nights because they inevitably lead to other questions. For example, how does Manning, big enough to be moved from a hospital to a circus tent, dispose of his fecal matter?


1990 comic book mayhem

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Dr. Peyton Westlake is having difficulties in his efforts to produce fake skin in his laboratory. He's also got girl problems and a funny haircut. When some bad guys blow him and his laboratory up, he repairs his disfigured face and body with masking tape and putty and wanders through the darkness to seek revenge.

This isn't a great movie, but it's still worth watching for Raimi's typical visual thrills and wry sense of humor. Raimi's superhero tale nods and nudges both the old and the new, both B-sci-fi nincompoopery and polished big-budget comic book flicks. Darkman's a ton of fun until the incoherent finale where it does its best impression of a Batman movie and bursts at the seams with nonsensical action and makes a big sloppy mess all over the screen. Liam Neeson is really awful any time his character is thrown into an unnecessary serious moment, especially anything relating to the unnecessary romantic sub-plot. For evidence, watch a scene where he gets angry after winning a carnival game and not being allowed a pink elephant for his girlfriend. During the action scenes or scenes where Neeson is alone, he seems to be channeling Raimi's boy Bruce Campbell, especially in a scene where he says, "They took my hands!" or in the carnival scene where he repeats, "See the dancing freak--pay five bucks!" ad nauseum. I really loved Danny Elfman's weird score, his trademark vocals perfect against oddball montages and Raimi camera swoops. The contrived but creative skin transplant stuff works well as Darkman ingeniously plots his revenge. It's only when the dumb action scenes stomp all over the proceedings that Darkman gets a little tiresome and typical. My favorite scene: one of the bad guys has a prosthetic leg/machine gun that he uses early in the movie. It's how the posse sneaks a weapon into the place where they want to shoot up some other guys. A few scenes later, during a scene in which it wasn't necessary to sneak a gun in, the camera pans past a guy shooting a machine gun and then continues to pan to the guy hopping on one leg while he watches. That's either really really funny or I'm drunk again.

Kairow, have you seen this one?

After the Thin Man

1936 sequel

Rating: 16/20 (Jen: 15/20)

Plot: Nick and Nora return from their honeymoon, the retired private dick swearing that he's finished solving cases for good. But not so fast, Nick! Nora's cousin's hubby's been missing for weeks, and her family wants Nick to find him. The couple have no problem doing that, but the case gets a bit more difficult and dangerous when somebody murders him. Oh, snap! Nick has to discover the identity of the real murderer in order to save his cousin-in-law from the electric chair.

As with the first in the series, the banter between the couple is more interesting that any of the Dashiell Hammett mystery. It inspired the wife and I to entertain ourselves by pretending to be Nick and Nora. We glued a bunch of fur to our eleven-month-old and taught her how to bark. Then, we imitated the snappy dialogue of Loy and Powell. I played Nora.

Me/Nora: Let's go solve a mystery, Darling.
Wife/Nick: You drink to much.
Me/Nora: (Weeps uncontrollably and becomes unresponsive)
Baby/Asta: Woof!

It wasn't quite as good. And this one, although entertaining from start to eventual finish, is not quite as good as its predecessor. It tosses in Jimmy Stewart in an interesting role and an assortment of oddballs to populate Nick and Nora's house for a funny surprise party. The murder mystery and its subsequent solving is dopey and convoluted, but I think that's part of the appeal with these things. We'll get to the others in the series soon.

Note: It's hard to get glued fur off baby skin. Find an alternative.

The Man with the Screaming Brain

2005 B-movie

Rating: 5/20

Plot: A rich guy shows up in Bulgaria for reasons I don't care to remember and, through a series of seemingly random events, is murdered by a cute gypsy woman. His cab driver is killed by the same woman. A crazy scientist procures both corpses and fuses their brains together. The rich guy and the cab driver might not agree on a lot of things, but they both wouldn't mind getting their revenge on the woman who killed them.

Bruce Campbell--nearly the modern Hollywood tall tale character that Chuck Norris has become--wrote, directed, and starred in this, a labor of love that apparently took him 19 years to go from his screaming brain to my television set. Bruce Campbell is not a very good writer. He's not a talented director. And despite what I said about his Ash in Evil Dead II being one of the greatest performances of all time, he's not a traditionally good actor at all. I'll give him credit though. The guy knows his audience and what they want. This comically pays homage to both cheapo sci-fi movies from fifty years ago and to the rest of Campbell's oeuvre, and I can imagine a lot of Evil Dead II fanboys giggling with glee while watching Bruce's titular man doing and saying just the kinds of things that Bruce Campbell's characters usually do and say. The most entertaining scene takes place in a restaurant as Bruce is adjusting to life with the cab driver's brain being fused to his own. His left hand (controlled by the right half of his brain which belonged to the cabbie) is piling salad on a plate while Bruce screams, "Gross! Gross!" and tries to fight it. A following scene involves Bruce putting his scarred head into a filthy toilet because his cranium is burning. Unfortunately, that's sort of how I felt while watching this movie. Most of the humor seems written by a man with no brain, and the story, though lifted almost directly from a variety of B-movie sources, lacks the cheap charm and unintentional comedy of the classically bad. This isn't as much of a waste of time as My Name Is Bruce but anybody in the mood for this sort of thing, unless they're a Bruce Campbell obsessive, should look elsewhere.

Man Bait

1952 book store thriller

Rating: 12/20

Plot: A frequently tardy book store employee makes a date with a guy trying to shoplift a book. On their first date, they come up with a half-assed plan to blackmail her boss. It doesn't work out so well.

First off, here's an example of a movie with not only a misleading poster but a misleading title. Man Bait is a great title because it can be about a gorgeous woman who lures men to their doom in a noirish thriller or a tale about a demented fisherman who poisons homeless people to use pieces of their flesh as shark bait. Unfortunately, this is about as exciting as you'd expect from a movie that takes place almost entirely inside a dusty used book store. The first scene is actually a bunch of employees, far too many employees for this book store, arriving and getting ready to work. I spent the first ten minutes of the movie trying to figure out who the main characters were going to be. And those leads--the boss, the girl, the new boyfriend--are such boring characters that I actually began to long for more scenes of the others working in the book store. The blackmail scheme is not only uninspired and dull, but it's completely far-fetched. Trying to get money from the manager of a small book store that has way too many employees? It doesn't make sense, and the way things conveniently fall into place (actually, out of place would be more accurate since it's a blackmail scheme gone awry) is forced and silly. These people just aren't acting like people are supposed to act. Things pick up a bit after a key death, and there are a few nearly suspenseful moments in the final third of the movie, but by then, it's not salvageable.

The Invisible Man Returns

1940 sequel

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Geoffrey Radcliffe, a guy with a name that makes you want to sucker punch him, is scheduled to hang after being convicted of killing his own brother. But he didn't do it! Oh, snap! His fiance weeps as the day approaches. A scientist with a concoction to make people invisible, just like his brother in the first movie, shows up to help Radcliffe out. He sucker punches him and apologizes immediately. "I'm sorry," he said, "but your name is Geoffrey Radcliffe." Once invisible, Radcliffe runs off to find the real killer. It's a race against time, however, because the invisibility formula will gradually make him lose his mind. This is loosely based on the life of O.J. Simpson.

How do you make a sequel to a classic movie, one that isn't all that different when you boil it down, without offending audiences and making it totally suck? Add Vincent Price! This is his first horror film although there's really nothing horrifying about it. His character is an invisible man for whom you can root since he's been wrongly accused of a crime. To compensate for the inability to use facial expressions, Vincent really hams it up, and I don't know about viewers in 1940, but I was pleased to know that his character goes commando. The mystery isn't all that mysterious; like a Scooby Doo cartoon, you'll know who the real murderer is before you're supposed to. Also, in the intervening nine years, the details of the first invisible man have apparently become exaggerated as one character claims that "hundreds of lives" were lost. This offers nothing new with the special effects despite the nine years. They're fine, but it's more of the same. I did really like one scene with invisible Geoffrey messing with a character named Mr. Spars. Some quick camera movements and some nifty effects really brought Spars' fear and confusion to life. This is a fine sequel, somewhere in between the Abbott and Costello comedy and the original The Invisible Man and definitely required viewing for Vincent Price fans.

Harlow Hickenlooper: One Man, a Striped Jacket, a Straw Hat, Three Stooges, Hundreds of Pies, and Thousands of Adoring Fans

2008 documentary

Rating: n/r

Plot: A look at the life and work of Indianapolis independent children's entertainer Hal Fryar, better known as Harlow Hickenlooper. Includes lengthy stories from Fryar and a ton of old clips.

From what I can gather, a Hickenlooper fan named Steve Pyatte put this together and gave it to Fryar as a gift. It's not exactly a professional work, so I didn't feel like giving it a rating, but I'm sure glad I watched it as a Hoosier. I'm only marginally familiar with Hickenlooper, but it was great watching the 80-something year old Fryar talk about his work and his colleagues with such enthusiasm. Even though his stories were all over the place and at times almost like jokes that only he would get, the guy is so likable and excited that you want to listen to him for hours. From how he got his first television gig (a guy who played a cowboy character quit and at 6'2", Fryar fit in the costume) to working with William Shatner and Shari Lewis (both using the show as a platform to peddle their own work) to behind-the-scenes footage of his work with the Stooges in The Outlaws Is Coming! this is a wonderful look at a time and television genre that won't exist again. As Fryar says, without whining, kids living in a world where everything is automated just wouldn't appreciate this sort of thing. As an Indianapolis guy, I enjoyed seeing crackly footage of Fryar flying a kite at Brookside Park (I've disc golfed there) and walking through a haunted house at the Indianapolis Children's Museum. My favorite moment: Hal Fryar talking about how excited he was when he showed up on the set of the Three Stooges movie and seeing a chair with his name on the back of it.

As a bonus, there was some stuff about another local television personality named Sammy Terry who I remember very fondly. That guy was great! He showed terrible horror flicks and had a terrific creepy laugh.

The Man Who Planted Trees--A Tribute to the Extraordinary Animator Frederic Back


Rating: n/r

Plot: Eight animated shorts by German-Canadian animator Frederic Back.

"The Man Who Planted Trees," as the title might indicate, is the real showcase here. Like about half of these pieces, it's haunting, almost impressionistic animated artistry with muted colors and an emphasis on movement, sometimes abstract movement. Swirling animal morphing. And as with most of Back's work, this has environmental themes. It's a good story, but I probably could have done without Christopher Plummer's narration even though there's really not anything wrong with it. I just think the visuals were good enough to tell the story.

"All Nothing" was nominated for an Oscar, but unlike "The Man Who Planted Trees,' it didn't win. It's a creation story but one where Adam and Eve transform into fish people at one point. It's also got an environmental theme, this time about man's destructive relationship with nature. In a way, this stuff reminds me of Fantasia with the movement perfectly complimenting the music or vice versa.

"Crac," violent industrialization as seen from the perspective of a rocking chair, won an animated short Oscar. The animation here is a little more crude than the last two, but it's effective in telling this beautifully nostalgic and ironically very human story in this short rocking chair biopic.

"The Mighty River," the last film chronologically in this collection, bored me. Like "Crac," it's a biography of a non-human, this time the St. Lawrence River. The animation is beautiful--lots of swimming colors and dancing shapes--but the narration made this like something you'd see at Epcot Center while waiting to do something else that's more fun.

"Inon" and "The Creation of Birds" both have Canadian-Indian motifs and characters and both, as you could probably expect by now, deal with environmental themes. Neither absolutely thrilled me although both were different visually or stylistically than the other stuff in the collection. "Inon" is a really bad day described with abstract imagery, and "Birds," I think, used cut-outs.

"Illusion" was a great story, a tale of a magician/one-man band frolicking into a childlike paradise and transforming all the beauty into modern artificiliaties. Birds and flowers were turned to wind-up toys. Buildings and billboards eventually dominated the landscape. Again, Back's animating that conflict between nature and modernizing man. And like the last short, "Taratata," it also deals with the differences in the minds of children and adults. "Taratata" is a compare-contrast of two parades, the first filled with bombast and giant mechanical floats, one featuring animatronic lumberjacks chopping down endless trees. The second parade is the imagined parade of a group of children, and of course, is more pure and innocent.

Back's animation is great, but I wanted to mention how impressed I was with the music, too. I believe the same guy, Normand Roger, did the music for all but one of these. The versatility alone is impressive as the music goes from orchestral stuff to throat singing accompanied by Jew's harps and everything in between. And more often than not, the music is helping the animated figures move.

Recommended for fans of animation, especially if you're not the type who'll be annoyed by all the hippie environmental stuff.

The Incredible Melting Man

1977 50's B-movie

Rating: 6/20

Plot: Astronaut Steve West is the only member of his crew to survive a mission to Saturn. Apparently, the sun's rays passing through the rings of Saturn is hazardous to astronauts. Steve wakes up covered in bandages in a hospital, and when he removes them, he discovers that he's melting, like a mound of M&M's or a giant raisin in the sun. Upset that he now could easily win first prize in a fecal matter costume contest, he's filled with rage and a hunger for human flesh. A gelatinous hulk, he chases nurses, decapitates a fisherman, and snacks on the elderly. Somebody needs to stop him; unfortunately, he gets stronger as he melts! Oh, snap!

Rich Baker's special effects succeed in making the titular man into an incredible goopy and disgusting mass of sewage. He's gross, and unlike a lot of very similar movies, you get to see lots of him from beginning to end. And parts of him. I like when his friend, during a search for him, stumbles across what looks to be some foliage that somebody vomited on and says, "Oh, my God. It's Steve's ear." There's not a lot of scary here; there's hardly a story actually. It's fun enough though. I mean, it's almost impossible not to love a scene where a fisherman's head floats down a stream indefinitely. Or a scene with a nurse catching a glimpse of the melting man, screaming, and running indefinitely down a gigantic hallway in slow motion before crashing through a glass door even though there was nothing to suggest the melting man was even pursuing her. But he climbs through the same door seconds later anyway. Or how about the classic line--"He more he melts the stronger he gets!" What? I'm not a scientist or anything, but I'm fairly positive that makes no sense. The soundtrack was interesting enough, ranging from noises that sound like a three year old dicking around with a synthesizer to something that sounds like futuristic hoe-down music. For whatever reason, it makes me happy that this movie was released in 1977. Like swimming, you shouldn't watch this movie after eating. Or before eating. Or while eating.

Jonathan Demme is in this movie.

Inside Man

2006 Spike Lee joint

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A super smart criminal matches wits with a super smart cop after taking some hostages in a New York bank. Somehow, Jodie Foster is involved.

Cool heist movie with enough twists and turns and folds to keep me interested all the way to the end. It's not always totally believable, and the story may be so brittle that you don't want to start poking at it, but it's well acted, and I like how it all unfurls. This is one of those movies that gets better and better as it goes along, as it effectively creates tension and intrigue. Lee tells his heist tale with grace and without cliche, and even though a lot of the ingredients are the same as the ones you'd find in any heist thriller director's kitchen, this still manages to be an original. Do the right thing, and give Inside Man a chance!

Little Big Man

1970 big little epic

Rating: 18/20

Plot: A 120 year old bag of wrinkles shares his life story--raised by Indians, lived with a preacher and the sultry Faye Dunaway, worked with a snake oil peddler, drank with Wild Bill, became a gunslinger, married an immigrant, lost his wife, married an Indian, became a hero, became a drunkard, and was the lone white survivor at the Battle of Little Bighorn. But he might be fabricating a bit.

You know, it just occurred to me when I typed the above that the climactic moment takes place at Little Bighorn and Dustin Hoffman's character is Little Big Man. I love this epic Western funk despite some flaws. Every time I see this, I laugh the first time Hoffman's character speaks in the flashback. His deep, nasally voice just doesn't seem to fit his appearance. I'm not sold on his old man voice either exactly, but even kind of pulling off playing the same character as a teenager and a 120 year old is impressive. One could accuse Little Big Man of being too episodic or a little jumpy, but the narrative structure works as it lends credence to the idea that Jack Crabb could be making the whole thing up. Plus, there are plenty of parallel episodes to pull it all together by the end. Little Big Man is often very funny and often very poignant and sometimes both simultaneously which really makes the movie special. As much as I love what Hoffman is doing here, it's Chief Dan George who really steals the show as the wise and goofy grandfatherly Cherokee chief. It seems like every single line he has in this movie is either hilarious or beautiful, delivered with perfect timing and cadence and hitting you just right. I loved his reference to "the black white man," his inquiry about whether Hoffman's white wife shows "pleasant enthusiasm when [he] mounts her," and his explanation of why he calls his snake wife Doesn't Like Horses. But my favorite line in this (and maybe any movie) is when Chief Dan George says, "There is an endless supply of white men, but there have always been a limited number of human beings." Beautiful. Oh, I also like how General Custer pronounces the word gonads, but that's just because I'm immature.

I gave this movie a gonads bonus.

Demolition Man

1993 action movie

Rating: 12/20

Plot: It's 1996 and tough-guy copper John Spartan finally catches dangerous criminal Simon Phoenix. He has to break a few cop rules and blow up a bunch of stuff to do it, but he does it. Phoenix is cryogenically frozen. Spartan's cyrogenically frozen, too, because if he wasn't, this wouldn't have enough in common with Austin Powers. Many years later, in a time when society has banished violence, sex, and bad language, Phoenix manages to escape. Reluctantly, they thaw Spartan so that he can team up with Sandra Bullock to once again capture the dangerous criminal.

Denis Leary, who plays mole man Edgar Friendly in this movie: "Demolition Man. . .giant piece of shit."

That might be a little harsh. This is a lot like The Running Man except the action sequences are arguably sillier and more senseless. And probably more explosiony! Bigger-than-life action hero Stallone (see Samurai Spy, the only other Stallone movie I have on this blog) plays the type of character he's supposed to, but he's thrown into a society with new rules that he's not used to and that gives the character a little twist. Like The Running Man, this one is sometimes cleverly satirical. The only surviving restaurant in 20-whatever is Taco Bell, citizens are fined for cursing, Schwartzeneggar is actually the president, and there's a museum with a room devoted to violence to show what past society was like. Wesley Snipes is an adequate baddie, sort of a Dennis Rodman without the tattoos and piercings. Sandra Bullock is as useless as she normally is. There is a Stallone/Bullock sex scene, a really goofy virtual reality thing that might prove that neither Stallone or Bullock have actually climaxed. I had my doubts about them anyway. But despite the occasional humor and clever jabs at society, this ends up being nothing more than your typical sci-fi action flick, action scene piled on action scene piled on Stallone's pecs. It's not always pretty, but it's generally sweaty.

Man of the Century

1999 comedy

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Newspaperman Johnny Twennies is threatened by some gangsters who want him to write a fake story about the death of their boss. Honest Johnny doesn't want to do it. While trying to fix that problem, he's trying to deal with his artist girlfriend, a mother who is trying to arrange a marriage for him, and a new girl he's met who he wants to help out.

Despite the lame plot synopsis, this one's a unique treat. The comedy is so low-key or dry that almost don't realize it's a comedy at all. It reminded me most of The American Astronaut, and just like that one, this definitely won't appeal to everybody. At a brisk 77 minutes, this still has time for lengthy scenes of the main character walking up long flights of stairs (with a song about how he's a "dig-dig-a-doo man by nature") and a crazy spontaneous swing number. The soundtrack is all gypsy jazz and scratchy swing, appropriate since the protagonist is a walking anachronism, a guy living in modern times but who roars like he's in the 1920s. He taps out his column on a manual typewriter, dresses like the guy on the above poster (he is, in fact, the guy on the above poster), and uses language stuffed with the period's slang. It's a random quirk that's never explained. Random but fun ideas make up the bulk of this actually. At one point, the character goes to work via a secret passageway that ends in a trash can in his office. I really liked how the first 85% of the movie had this stream-of-conscious thing with random characters popping in and out and seeming to have nothing to do with anything until the end where it all comes together in a completely random and unbelievable way. Sort of. Not all of the humor works though. Take the following dialogue, for example:

Woman: Are you gay?
Johnny: Of course I am--gay as a day in May!
Woman: Oh, are you bi?
Johnny: By myself mostly.

Don't let that turn you away from this one, however. This is an oft-clever, charming breath of fresh air.

The Running Man

1987 movie in which Arnold Schwarzenegger says "I'll be back"

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Ben's a cop framed for the slaughter of starving women and children in a future dystopian society. He and some revolutionaries bust out of prison, but Ben is later apprehended and forced to be a contestant on futuristic version of Family Feud, one that involves far less surveys but far more goons trying to kill off the players with saws. Soon after the host says, "Let's play the Feeeuuuuuuud!" Ben realizes that in order to survive, he's got to stop running and fight back.

Naturally, when I first saw former Family Feud host Richard Dawson, I called 911 and angrily screamed, "Where the hell is Wink Martindale? Where is Wink Martindale?!" until I realized that I was talking into a colorful plastic Shirt Tales telephone instead of a real telephone and had dialed Rick Raccoon, Rick Raccoon, Mr. Dinkle instead of 911. The police would not be able to assist me. I sat, distraught and damp, and watched The Running Man anyway. Turns out that Richard Dawson is the best thing about the movie. He plays slimy extremely well here, and is a terrific villain. But when the best thing about your movie is a game show host, your movie probably isn't very good. To be fair, the makers of The Running Man scrape against some pretty good ideas. I liked the theme song ("We bring you joy. We bring you strife."), the mention of an "entertainment division" of the Justice Department, another game show alluded to called Climbing for Dollars, court-appointed theatrical agents, an old cursing woman, and another chance to see Jesse Ventura and Arnold in the same movie. Unfortunately, where this could have taken advantage of the opportunity to have a satirical edge, it instead spirals into a mindless and unpleasant action movie. Ventura's character probably said it best--"This is garbage." I did like some of the stalkers (not the opera singer with Christmas lights on him) though, even when their names or gimmicks are just an excuse for Arnold to throw out some pun-laden one-liners. This movie also loses points for The Running Man's 80s dance party intro which seemed endless and bad font for the title credits. That's right. I'm criticizing a movie for its font.