Dancing Outlaw

1991 documentary

Rating: 6/20 (Mark: 4/20; Amy: ?/20)

Plot: Documentary about Appalachian mountain dancing fiend Jesco White.

My brother promised me a "documentary surprise" and then popped this in the VCR. Dancing Outlaw is normally the sort of thing I'd get a kick out of, but I couldn't understand a single word any of these people said. After the initial "What the hell?" reaction during a scene where Jesco is doing his mountain tap-dancing thing against a backdrop of filthy nature in the proximity of what must be the white trash capital of the world, there's really very little to see here and even less to enjoy. The biggest problem is that this could have been advertised as the type of film that finds something beautiful in our ugly world, Jesco being a kind of diamond in the rough. Instead, Jesco isn't a very likable or talented guy, and he really contributes to the ugliness as he yells incoherently at his wife or pisses on the legacy left behind by his more-talented father. This is documentary trash. Thanks, Mark!

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call--New Orleans

2009 sequel to Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Terence McDonagh, a cop in New Orleans, gets a promotion, a good thing since this movie couldn't have Lieutenant in the title without it. But Terence starts to turn bad, another good thing since Bad is also in the title. With drugs, stolen paraphernalia, more drugs, gambling, drugs, and lizards, McDonagh beings to lose it. Then he completely loses it, stumbling to find a way to end a downward spiral.

I had my doubts about this one, especially since Herzog's other venture into the mainstream (Rescue Dawn) kind of stunk. But Werner works his voodoo magic here, throwing us something contemporary and oft-mainstream but with a tasty helping of the wonderfully bizarre. There is one scene in particular that I can say is unequivocally the best thing I have ever seen in my life and quite possibly the best scene in the history of film. No, I'm not exaggerating. It's a scene I immediately rewound to watch a second time, watched several more times while the dvd was still in my possession, and have Youtubed at least two times since returning the dvd. It's the type of scene that you think about a couple days after watching the movie and start having one of those religious experiences where you can't stop giggling and when somebody interrupts the religious experience with a stupid question, you snap at him and tell him that if he pulls that crap again, you'll stab him right in the neck. I wish I could tell you more about the scene, but telling you more about the scene would spoil it. Of course, it's impossible to write about this movie without talking about the enigmatic genius of Nicolas Cage, one of America's greatest living actors. Also unequivocally, I can say that this is one of the best acting performances of the decade. Cage brings the weird and he brings it hard, a perfect fit for Herzog's skewed visions, much much closer to a sort of neo-Kinski than to National Treasure's Ben Gates. There aren't too many actors, and maybe not a single other actor, who could have played unhinged and out-of-control so well, and I don't think there are many actors who could have pulled off the comic aspects of the character that are hidden below the surface of this drama. His performance is so physical. He contorts his body (the character has back problems), moves like a madman, and says so much his eyes in this movie, another quality that reminds me of Klaus Kinski. I can't say enough about Cage's performance here, but I can say (unequivocally) that I hope he's in another Herzog movie before he starts filming Ghostrider 3. Even without an appearance of Harvey Keitel's little Harvey and a bunch of over-the-top Christian symbolism, this is easily the better Bad Lieutenant movie. Don't miss it!


1969 sex and drugs movie

Rating: 9/20 (Mark: 7/20)

Plot: A guy named Stefan graduates from college, probably with a degree in Douchebaggery, and looking to sow some wild oats, he travels to France, burglarizes, and meets a lovely heroin addict. Together, he and Estelle travel to Ibiza where they sit around naked and look bemused. Eventually, Stefan becomes hooked on the wacky junk. Several more extended scenes of the two doing naked things, sometimes with other people, interrupt lots of other scenes where nothing interesting at all happens.

Sssshhh! Banana peels!

The Pink Floyd soundtrack is badass, and after Patrick played that for me in its entirety about fifteen years ago, I put More on the docket and then completely forgot about it. It wasn't worth the wait. It's like the worst and least entertaining Godard movie that Godard had nothing to do with. It's also like the longest fable ever made, an excruciatingly long fable moralizing about drugs and obsession with about as much playfulness as your average Greek myth. Indeed, the story is loosely based on the story of Daedalus and Icarus which is a cute enough idea but here only works to make the whole thing seem even more (pun intended) pretentious. I did wonder about the title. I think it's called More because as you're watching, you'll keep wondering how much more of the movie you'll have to suffer through. Hey-oooooo! [Banana peels!]

Gas-s-s-s or It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It

1971 hippie fest

Rating: 11/20 (Mark: 13/20; Amy: 12/20)

Plot: A bunch of (probably smelly) people fight for survival after a poisonous gas kills everybody over the age of 25.

An anarchic mess of a movie with a psychedelic clash of ideas, like acid-baked concert poster mash-ups, and a sloppy soundtrack, Gas-s-s-s is one of those movies that I really wanted to like but couldn't. It's packed with ideas and all kinds of things to look at. But like a lot of movies like this (I type that knowing that there really aren't a lot of movies like this), it actually suffers from having way too many ideas and things to look at. The humor's goofily dated, and there's just not anything for the typical viewer (and I consider myself 100% typical) to grasp on to. It was like I'd been put on a roller coaster that was falling apart and told that I couldn't hold on to the rail thing or I'd have to start the ride over again. The guy next to me liked the ride a little more than I did, but at least I didn't drink and vomit up an extra-large cherry Slushie and something called a "jumbo dog" like the guy behind me. This is a product of the rebellious early-70s, probably more interesting as a counter-culture relic than as a cult classic. It's probably a must for Roger Corman or Bud Cort fans though. Speaking of the latter--as I continue in my quest to see every Roger Corman movie (bet you didn't even know that was even a quest!), I continue to be amazed by the guy's versatility. And even if his movies aren't always good, they are almost always interesting and worth watching. Gas-s-s-s is, too, but its potential is unfortunately wasted by a half-assed pseudo-absurdist script and no-budget aesthetics. It's also a movie I'll never discuss with anybody because a) nobody has seen it and b) I don't want to try pronouncing the title. Gas-s-s-s. I'm afraid I'd accidentally put an extra couple s's in there.

Tight Little Island (Whiskey Galore!)

1949 comedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Based on the true story of a tiny Scottish island whose inhabitants are mourning the lack of whiskey (oh, snap!) until a ship carrying boxes and boxes of the stuff wrecks within peeing distance. They grab as much as they can, but are forced to hide their booty when the authorities come to investigate.

Another winner from Ealing, this tight little movie manages to shove in a whole lot of funny into roughly the same amount of time one of those Robin Williams' improvisational ramblings lasts. I liked this movie like I like black licorice or like I like writing sentences with way too many likes in them. The flavor is undeniably unique, something that a lot of people might not be able to appreciate very much, but it hits just the right spot with me. The actors are absorbed into this dinky little seaside town, and it's the look at the characters as much as the look of the town that gives this so much color. This briskly paced farcical movie didn't waste any of my time. We're introduced to a conflict, a situation comes along to push things along humorously, and it ends. There wasn't anything that had me on the floor laughing my ass off (OTFLMAO as the kids say), but the situations kept a smile on my face almost the entire time. I really loved the townsfolk's attempt, shown in a delightful montage, to hide the plundered spirits. That's right, readers. I just used the word delightful. It's a good word to describe this movie actually. I do wonder if there's a better dvd release of this though. I wonder if this unfairly lost a rating point or two because of how murky the picture I got was. Maybe Criterion should take care of business with this one.

Another quality Cory recommendation. It's good to know that the guy's good for something! OTFLMAO!

Mary and Max

2009 cartoon

Rating: 17/20 (Jen: 16/20)

Plot: Lonely 8-year-old Australian Mary befriends lonely autistic Jewish New Yorker Max after randomly pointing to his name in a directory and writing him a letter. They have the Noblets and a love of chocolate in common, and apparently, that's enough. They're pen pals for twenty years.

So there's a glut of animated movies these days--the traditionally-animated, the computer-generated stuff, other styles like that disturbing rotoscope stuff used in The Waking Life and those commercials. My favorite, without a doubt, is claymation, and since Mary and Max is a beautiful example of that technique, you're probably going to wonder if there's some bias. Probably. However, I did watch this twice just to make sure. What I noticed the second time--there certainly is a lot of farting in this movie. So if you're a fan of both claymation and farting (I consider myself an aficionado of gassy emissions humor), you'll probably love this. It's more than just farting though. This is one of those types of animated flicks that captures humanity much better than actual actors can. Max tells us that humans are "complicated souls," and I just love how simply Adam Elliot's little movie describes the key to surviving in a really ugly world with some really ugly people--find somebody beautiful to cling to. The claymation is stunning and enhances the storytelling. The settings are stark, bringing the focus to the two characters. Mary's Australia is colorful but bleak, littered and scabbed and occasionally dangerous. Max's is bleaker because it's mostly without color, just splashes of red to interrupt the grays and darker grays. His New York is as grotesque as the big city in The Triplets of Belleville and humorously almost vacant. There's a homeless guy, a woman who zips by on a scooter a few times, and a punk rocker who reappears, but the New York streets are otherwise empty. Their worlds have ugly and mean in common, but their relationship, although borderline creepy/inappropriate, makes them livable. Mary and Max is insanely funny, filled with ideas that seem torn from Roald Dahl's notebooks and quirky Amelie-esque narration and tangents. Watching this a second time, I noticed a lot of funny little details. The movie is also very touching. There are holes in each of the characters' biographies, but you really get to know them in this intensely intimate way, and you feel their ups and downs deeply. I also appreciated the very realistic and touching portrayal of Aspergers. This is a beautiful looking and beautifully-constructed little movie that further supports my belief that 2009 was the best year for animated movies. As always, I've put almost no thought into that belief. I don't have to put much thought into whether I love this movie or not though.

My favorite scene has a mime in it.

One more 2009 animated feature to watch, the French A Town Called Panic that looks like it could be a religious experience.

"Breaker" Morant

1980 war movie

Rating: 17/20

Plot: During the Boer War, a war that nobody's even heard of, three Australians are put on trial for killing Boer prisoners-of-war and a missionary.

"Breaker" Morant is a movie that just seems different, and I think I finally figured out why. As I watched, the pacing seemed off. After finishing, however, I realized what is different about the pacing--there's nothing wasted here. Everything the director shows us contributes to either the flashback sequences or the courtroom stuff. Most films like this would take a different approach, I think, with superfluous character development or extraneous scenes designed to pull at our guts, but this just lays out the facts, revealing them incrementally in the flashbacks or the courtroom revelations. Of course, the way the story unfolds is a little different too. There's nothing that really dazzles in this. The performances are great from top to bottom, but none of the actors draw attention to themselves and give any of those obvious award-winning performances. Edward Woodward (The Wicker Man) is great as the title character, but Bryan Brown and Lewis Fitzgerald are also good as the other two lieutenants on trial. And Chris Haywood, providing some lighter moments as Corporal Sharp, was also really good. The war scenes are exciting, but the court room scenes are even more powerful. I really liked the flashback structure, and knowing nothing about the true story this is based on, I was surprised by how wrong I was about what actually happened or how things were going to turn out. This raises interesting questions about war, specifically the idea of "war crimes," and justice, and it's really a nice little gem of a movie.

Note: I may or may not have given this movie a bonus point for a bawdy limerick. Knowing me, I probably did since "bawdy limerick" is my favorite literary genre.

This Cory recommendation wasn't one I looked forward to watching or really expected to like. I guess I should trust him a little more.

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

2009 Terry Gilliam movie

Rating: 11/20

Plot: The titular doctor roams England with a rickety theater wagon, luring some lucky customers into the Imaginarium, a trip through Parnassus's dream-drenched mind. Much earlier, he'd made a deal with the devil, Mr. Nick, and as his daughter's sixteenth birthday approaches, he knows that she will soon belong to him. Parnassus and Mr. Nick decide to have a competition to see who can get five souls first. Meanwhile, the performers have rescued a man hanging beneath a bridge, and he decides to travel around with them.

This is one of those cases where I'm really frustrated. How can I not like this movie? It's obnoxiously fantastical, another visual treat from the fertile subconscious of Terry Gilliam. It's got a little person, a monkey, and a Tom Waits puppet in it. It's got Tom Waits himself with a mesmerizing performance as the flamboyant Mr. Nick. It's got a really interesting story submerged beneath the onslaught of visual peculiarities. So how do I not totally love this thing? There are lots of problems actually. Sure, you can gorge on the visuals if you're into that sort of thing, but there are lots of times when there's much too much going on, CGI-mayhem that leads to a sensory overload with tinkertoy surrealism and forced field trips to a schizophrenic's painting studio. The visuals are often neat, but there's this timeless anachronistic quality to the whole thing where everything seems out of place. It's difficult, I imagine, for the average person to get a grip on what's going on in Gilliam's worlds. As a fan of a lot of his work, I even found this one difficult, and it made me wonder how messy the man's kitchen must be. Things stutter along, get weird, stutter along some more, stop, and stutter, and after a while, I started wondering when things were going to get started. By the time the giant unfurling tongue, dancing transvestite policemen, and a giant robot woman driven by the devil (all three which looked straight from Python), I had already lost my ability to focus and had to dump a half glass of raspberry lemonade on my lap to get my leg to stop vibrating. Heath Ledger is in this movie, and I think he did a fine job. I can't be sure because it was hard to get a grip on his character until some twistiness at the very end. Depp, Law, and Farrell step in for scenes with Ledger's Tony after Ledger's death, and although I suppose the different actors playing the same role could work on some level, I didn't completely get it here and it was just one more thing about the film to frustrate the heck out of me. Tom Waits really is terrific playing Mr. Nick, borrowing a sleazy and dapper tone that he's used in more than a few of his songs. And I liked Christopher Plummer here, too. But Verne Troyer (you know, Mini-Me) proves to the world that he's not an actor. At all. His is one of the worst performances I've seen in a long time. Verne is no Herve, and nothing, not even a scene where he's in blackface, made me glad that he was in the film. Big mistake with that casting decision, Terry. This was a movie I was looking forward to for years, and I'm really sad that I didn't like it.

There's a chance I'll watch this again some day, and there's a chance I'll like it a lot better. Then again, I've always said I'd give The Brothers Grimm (couldn't finish) and Tideland (wasn't sure if I liked it or not) another chance and never have.

The Day the Earth Caught Fire

1961 end-of-the-world movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Thanks to stupid Communists and their stupid atom bomb tests, the earth has a screwed-up axis and is now hurtling toward the sun. This makes everything really hot and really orange and gets Al Gore excited enough to assault a few more women than he normally would. Some newspaper men work to unravel the truth about the chances of earth's inhabitants as the changes wreak havoc on the climate and weather.

One of the characters in this has such a great line, something like how in four months we'll have the delightful smell of charcoaled mankind. I'm paraphrasing, but whatever the exact line was, it sure made me hungry. This talky sci-fi disaster flick works extremely well despite that talkiness because it's so well written. There's a darker humor beneath the surface of this otherwise serious story, and the science behind it all never seems all that far fetched. I loved the start of the movie--everything soaked in this ominous orange with an ominously lurking camera. Apparently the heat of the sun can not only turn everything orange but melt telephones. It's not something I've ever thought about, but I guess it makes perfect sense. I like how the story was pushed along in tidbits, the audience finding out what's going on as the men in the newspaper office begin to uncover the mystery. I think it helped put the audience inside that mystery, and it was a relief to have the problems uncovered by intelligent and witty English folk rather than a studly action hero type and a damsel-in-distress you normally get with sci-fi B-movies. The main character was studly enough. Actually, he was really sort of a sleazeball, but he was a charming enough sleazeball. This isn't heavy on the special effects and won't dazzle modern audiences like The Day after Tomorrow or other movies that use computer graphics to destroy national monuments, but there's a lot of stock footage (I think) and stuff that looks like stock footage that works really well to show the abnormal weather and the terror that it causes. This smart science fiction tale was directed and co-written by Val Guest who directed another interesting sci-fi/horror thing called The Creeping Unknown that I need to see again some time.

This was recommended by Cory.

Toy Story 3

2010 cartoon

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

Plot: The mouse is getting behind on his payments to keep Walt Disney's head cryogenically frozen, and after a failed attempt at a bakesale--failed because of pre-sale rumors abounding involving Goofy and perverse activity and cupcakes--they decide it's time to wheel out Woody and Buzz and the other toys and make another Toy Story movie. They struggle to find a plot and eventually decide to just redo the one from Toy Story 2 with a few twists and a whole bunch of new characters because then they can make a lot more money with action figures, etc. "Because kids," the mouse said, "will even want toys based on characters who were only in the movie for a few seconds."

Don't get me wrong though. I loved seeing a brand new Toy Story movie, and this has to be considered one of the most successful and maybe even the best trilogy of all time. Most of the success comes from the audience already knowing and loving all these characters. Parents and their children have seen the other two Toy Stories dozens of times, so you go into this third one with Woody, Buzz, et. al. already feeling like you grew up with these toys or that they're your best friends. If they are your best friends, however, you really should go out and meet some actual people. So there's no wasted time or need for a lengthy exposition, and the previously-developed characters just slide right into the newish story. Newish instead of new, by the way, because there are quite a few parallels between this and its predecessor. The story is a little tidier than number two, and the animation is a lot better than either of the others although the toys thankfully haven't been given any kind of technological upgrade to make them look better than the very first installment of their story. But the human characters look a lot better and move a lot more naturally than in the other movies. The parts of Toy Story 3 with humans (good to see Sid again!) really couldn't have been done when the first movie came out. And the atmosphere and backgrounds are also vastly improved, creating a ton more depth than we had the first time we met these guys. When the characters are in peril in this movie, like in a genuinely frightening and intense scene where they are about to die, the background textures add to the mood. Compare that with the most frightening scene in Toy Story when Woody and Buzz are trapped in Sid's scary room, and the atmospheres in this new one blow the old stuff away. There were a lot of allusions to the first two movies, including a lot of repeated lines which sort of annoyed me, and there was also a continuation of the references to the original Star Wars trilogy. I also appreciated the references to prison escape movies with the toys' busting out of a daycare center. There was also something going on in that scene that I couldn't stop laughing at, so much that I really started feeling like a fool after a while. There are a ton of funny moments in this, but there are some pop culture references that seemed a little too easy, and I got to the point where I'd cringe whenever Barbie and Ken were on the screen. With over three hundred characters, including a nod to the wonderful My Neighbor Totoro, the screen is just filled with stuff to look at. It's a feast for the eyes. As a parent, this was a strangely emotional experience for me, but a lot of the tears seemed a little more forced in this one than in other Pixar features like Up. Very good movie, and like most Pixar movies, I look forward to seeing it again.

Little Man -- "Man" movie #137

2006 comedy

Rating: 4/20 (Jen watched nearly the entire movie but said "Nuh uh" when I asked for her rating. I think she might have really enjoyed it!)

Plot: Calvin is a diminutive con recently released from the big house. His brother (I forgot his name but he's played by Tracy Morgan so his character's name is probably something like Tracy Corbin) picks him up, and they're immediately up to no good, stealing big ass diamonds and rapping. The diamond somehow winds up in the possession of Mr. and Mrs. Edwards, and Calvin has to pretend to be a baby in order to get it back. And yes, it's just as stupid as it sounds. I can't figure out Jen liked it so much!

The bottom of the barrel seems like a good enough place to stop. Who knows what the hell you'll find if you managed to break through the bottom of the barrel and start tunneling through the earth. I suppose Jingle All the Way and Clifford with Martin Short and Charles Grodin is down there somewhere, worms maneuvering through the vacant eye sockets. The body of E.T. might be in the late stages of decomposition too, but only because some punk kid stole him, threw him in the back of a pick-up truck, kicked him around in an improvised soccer-like game played without goals and with more tackling, and then dumped him in close proximity to the barrel. The creepy Polar Express is down there, hopefully without a grave marker so nobody will ever find it again. But I definitely don't want to go beyond the bottom of the barrel, so we're stopping this "Man" movie experience at movie one hundred and thirty-seven, what I believe to be blog post (actual movie post and not any of that other perverted nonsense) number one thousand. I am 100% convinced that I now own the record for watching the most movies in a row with "man" in the title, but I'm also 100% that there will only be four and a half people, my faithful readers, who will ever know about it. I've wondered many times about how tedious this might be for my faithful readers and nearly abandoned the "man" movies to watch something like Space Balls or How Stella Got Her Groove Back, but I pressed on and on and on and finally reached what can only be described as a magical moment. No, I take that back. It can also be described as the greatest achievement in the history of mankind. I'm half serious. Come on, Ebert and Maltin! Let's see you pull this off! I don't even think you watch all the movies you review, Leonard, and there's no way you're going to put off watching the latest Werner Herzog movie to continue a "man" streak of this girth, Roger. That's right, bitches, I'm calling you out, throwing down the gauntlet, thrusting the pelvis. I might not be able to write a single meaningful word about a movie that I watch or know even a little bit about what I'm talking about, but let's see you watch even ten "man" movies in a row. Ten! And I watched one hundred and thirty-seven of them, some which I even paid attention to and didn't fast forward over. I won't pretend it was easy, especially with He Was a Quiet Man, Man in the Mirror: The Michael Jackson Story, Madman, and The Pumaman, but the really good ones (Man from the West, The Man Between, The Thin Man, Big River Man, Little Big Man, Fred Tuttle: Man with a Plan, Odd Man Out, Batman and Robin, The Elephant Man, Man in the Glass Booth, The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Wicker Man, Dead Man Walking, The Invisible Man, The Weather Man, The Man Who Would Be King, The Man Who Came to Dinner, A Man for All Seasons, The Man Who Wasn't There, The Cameraman, and Dead Man) made it all worth it. There are sure a lot of good movies with "man" in the title.

OK, so I didn't finish that Jack Frost movie. We'll go with one hundred and thirty-six and one-third as the official count. Still, I'd like to see Gene Shalit's mustache even come close to that number. And I bet I could kick Gene Shalit's ass in a fight simply because I've watched more kung-fu movies than him.

Thanks again for putting up with this, faithful readers. Now back to movies without "man" in the title.

Last Man Standing

1996 gangsta flick

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Yojimbo but with guns and fedoras and Bruce Willis instead of swords and kimonos and Toshiro Mifune.

This gangster film, apparently shot on a used but abandoned B-Western set, is a convoluted rehash of the "Man with No Name" idea, most recently rehashed in Sukiyaki Western Django and Lucky Number Slevin with none other than Bruce Willis, stolen thirty years ago with Clint and Leone for A Fistful of Dollars, and first used in Kurosawa's excellent Yojimbo even though he borrowed imagery from the American Wild West and a central character from Dashiell Hammett. So as the kids are saying today: It's all good. This nearly works but I kind of got lost in the plot, probably because there are far too many gangsters and none that I really cared all that much about. By the time Christopher Walken rolled in, I had already gotten to the point where I was checking my watch, the same point where I realized I didn't even have a watch on. It was probably shot off my wrist by one of the characters in this movie during one of the gangster's dozen (same amount as a baker's dozen for you squares out there) scenes where there's nothing but a flurry of gun fire mayhem and thick dust. There are a few times when characters are shot and fly backward fifty feet, some of them disappearing onto the set of Yojimbo where Kuwabatake Sanjuro looks at him in confusion before trying on his shoes. I know even less about physics and guns, especially firearms from the Prohibition Era, than I do about movies, but it seemed a bit ridiculous. Good thing they didn't have their backs to me because I'm not sure my trash guys will take dead bodies. They won't take old furniture! I like movies with beat-up, dusty towns like this and Bruce Willis, although he looked a little fatigued, was just the right guy for this, but this doesn't have nearly the character and voice that Kurosawa and Leone had. And unfortunately, it's just begging to be compared to those films.

I bought this for fifty cents early in the "man" movie challenge. It was probably worth that much.