Wait until Dark

1967 Helen Keller biopic

Rating: 13/20 (Jen: 12/20)

Plot: The Three Stooges look for a doll stuffed with packets of heroin in a blind woman's apartment.
They concoct a really complex plan

Other than a couple nifty suspense scenes, including a suffocating and intense climax which has the second best use of a refrigerator I've seen in a movie during the last couple weeks, there's not much to see here. The story's ludicrous, that aforementioned plan involving numerous telephone calls, costumes (seriously, why are costumes necessary to fool a blind woman?), signals, and a van making no sense for a criminal who apparently doesn't have problems resorting to brute violence. And why do they need to mess with the blinds in the apartment to signal to their cohorts in the van? Wouldn't a flick of the lights (you know, since the woman is blind) work well enough? Plot holes galore, plot holes big enough that Audrey Hepburn's blind character could probably see them. Speaking of Audrey, I really didn't think she was right for this role. The cutesiness didn't seem to fit her right here, and she was really awkward when interacting with the terrible child actor. Alan Arkin's character is more interesting, but there's just something unnatural about the performance, like he's working too hard at being cold and calculating. There's entertainment value here, but most of what happens here is stuff that can only happen in a movie, like it had it's very own Wait until Dark logic. It really hurt my chances to completely enjoy the movie although the suspenseful moments were really well done.

Recommended by Cory.

First Men on the Moon

1964 documentary

Rating: 15/20

Plot: International lunar landers touch down at the same exact spot on the moon where they'll find a piece of paper and a withered flag proving that people had actually already visited the moon seventy years before. Back on earth, they visit the elderly and likely cuckoo former writer/amatuer astronaut to get the scoop. The scoop turns out to be really silly!

Here's a movie featuring Ray Harryhausen's effects where the effects don't completely steal the show. The effects you'd see and say, "Oh, that's Harryhausen alright," are even more of a distraction than anything else. At times, the moon beings, anthropoids with bee features, are animated but most of the time they're costumed people. Kind of weird. You also get a skeleton and a pair of monstrous centipede things. With the latter, it's almost like Harryhausen said, "Hey, I still have some time. Let me throw another creature in there." Now, the space effects and the moon atmospherics are impressive. I really like this version of the moon, one that would no doubt annoy the type of person who looks for scientific accuracy in their sci-fi films. I really enjoyed the set design though. This is better acted and written than your typical B-picture, dialogue peppered with some humor and good characterization. Edward Judd and Martha Hyer bust out of what could have been pretty generic roles as a pair of lovers, and Lionel Jeffries is very good as a crazed scientist character, very reminiscent of Back to the Future's Dr. Brown actually. I figured I'd mention him since I'm seeing Back to the Future references everywhere these days. I like the story despite the goofiness (Jeffries' character has created an anti-gravity paste which he applies to a metallic bulb in order to travel to the moon; the characters wear diving outfits for the trip), and it's only a big moment and a much better ending away from being really good. That ending, which just sort of grabs you and jerks you out of the story before throwing a "The End" on the screen, really is a stinker. Definitely worth checking out for fans of Harryhausen, H.G. Wells, and creatively preposterous science fiction movies.

Howard the Duck

1986 box office sensation

Rating: n/r (I couldn't finish it.)

Plot: A duck named Howard and his recliner is yanked from his planet and ends up in an alley somewhere in Cleveland. He meets a punk rock girl who takes him to a janitor to help him get back home. There's probably a bad guy later on, and I'm sure Howard has to try to phone home with a mouth full of Reece's. It's just another one of those cases where somebody has ripped off the plot of E.T. and managed to make an even more disagreeable movie.

The only movie I can think of that might be worse than a trip to Cleveland, Ohio. I watched this for three reasons:

1) I didn't think it could possibly be as bad as I remembered or as everybody seems to think.

2) If it is as bad as I remember or as everybody seems to think, it might fall into "good-bad" territory, and I could point and laugh at it.

3) I wanted to use a "quacking up" pun on the blog.

Unfortunately, it's not either of the first two. It's a terrible movie--poor writing, embarrassing effects, a main character who is impossible to like, auxiliary characters who aren't any better, an incoherent plot, dozens of details that date it--but it's nowhere near entertaining. It's excruciating, so excruciating that I gave up on it after Tim Robbins' second appearance. Like the majority of decisions in my life, the decision to watch Howard the Duck was a bad one, leaving me depressed and very unlikely to quack up any time soon.

Best in Show

2000 mockumentary

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Eccentric show dog owners travel to compete at the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show.

This is a really funny movie until Fred Willard pops in. Then, it gets side-splintingly hilarious! It seems like a lot of these mockumentary subjects are about things I'd never watch a real documentary about. I have no interest at all in dog shows. But I still really liked how Best in Show played the dog show part so straightly. The actors play their roles as comic caricatures, not believable in the least, but the dog show itself, other than Willard's hilarious non sequiturs and dada commentary as an unqualified announcer, isn't played for laughs much at all unless their actions/words just add a bit to the previously established quirky character traits. I think that makes the "umentary" part of this a lot more realistic. The "mock" part, as you'd expect from a Christopher Guest joint with this ensemble cast, is great. There's not a lot instantly quotable here, nothing truly classic, but all the subtle pokes and tickles add up to a great time. A lot of the funny is nonsense, verbal slapstick and easygoing visual silliness, but there's some nice subtle satire in there, too. Guest is the type of comedic writer (though a lot of this has an improvisational feel) who understands how flawed, miserable, and disturbing human beings are but who also knows that's what makes them kinda funny. I'm not sure how much the presence of these beautiful and classy doggies helps these sore thumbs of humanity stick out, but that might have something to do with it. This may have gotten a bonus point for poor ventriloquism. And in case I didn't make myself clear, everything Fred Willard says in this is hilarious.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (again)

2008 action movie

RatingPlot/: see my original thoughts here

I saw this again for a pair of reasons: 1) Abbey wanted to see it. 2) Cory promised he'd watch the brilliant comedy The Happening if I watched this again. My thoughts are about the same. I really enjoyed the first half, and completely disagree with people's complaints about Harrison Ford being too old to do this sort of thing. I think he does a remarkable job with a character that he hasn't touched in twenty years. And during the first half of the movie, I don't mind Shooby Leboof either. I think he and Ford have a nice rapport, although maybe not quite as good or as funny as Connery and Ford in the third movie. I really like how the franchise is pulled into the issues and fears of the 1950s, and the alien twist, although on the surface seeming completely out of place in an Indiana Jones movie, works as a link to B-movie sensibilities of that era just like the original movies borrowed so heavily from the ebb and flow of the action serials they were based on. One difference in my opinion is that I don't like the overall look of the film as much as I thought I did. There's an onslaught of special effects and computer graphics, at least compared to the earlier films, that just does not fit. The second half of the movie, pretty much from the beginning of the jungle chase scene on, ain't pretty. I'd say that things just keep getting dumber and dumber and dumber, but the Shooby Leboof Tarzan impression happens too early. That's definitely a low point of the franchise. No, Indy 4 is not Raiders of the Lost Ark, but I still think it serves its number one purpose--entertaining dumbasses.

Revised ratings: I should probably go ahead and give Raiders a 20 since it might be my favorite movie of all time. Temple is a 12, but that's being generous. Crusade is a 16. And this one is in the 13/14 range, right in between the other two sequels. Indy 5 needs to have either Short Round or a young Greedo in it or I'll be pissed.

Feet First

1930 talkie comedy

Rating: 15/20 (Abbey: She didn't watch enough of this to give it a rating, but she sat down and watched a little bit, declared this "the worst movie ever," and left.)

Plot: Harold (I'm guessing that's his name since that seems to be the name of every other Harold Lloyd character) is a shoe salesman with much, much loftier ambitions. He meets and falls for a girl, the daughter of a wealthy businessman, and through no fault of his own, convinces her that he is a big wig in the leather industry. Through some fault of his own, he winds up on a cruise with them and has to fight to not blow his cover.

Abbey's wrong about this being the "worst movie ever," but this probably has my vote for the "gayest movie poster ever." Look at that thing! The thing Harold Lloyders (that's the term I've come up with for his fans) will notice is that Lloyd pretty much plagiarizes his own Safety Last! with an up-the-side-of-a-tall-building stunt that takes up the last twenty or so minutes of the film. But it's different because he gets to talk in this one, so we get to hear both his fear and racial insensitivity. A dimwitted black janitor (played by Willie Best in one of the most racially-insensitive movies of all time [The Littlest Rebel, with Shirley Temple in blackface]) shows up for comic purposes, and Lloyd gives him the nickname Charcoal. Since, according to the Wikipedia page for this movie, Lloyd had parts of this redubbed to change his name from Harold to Charlie for reasons never explained, it seems like he could have redubbed it so that he said "Hey, black janitor!" instead of "Hey, Charcoal!" But it's a minor quibble, and my man Buster had more embarrassing moments in his career. Anywho, Lloyd's building hijinks, here the result of accident rather than in Safety Last! when he climbs the building intentionally, are just as entertaining, straddling a line most film makers wouldn't have even known existed between dangerous and hilarious. So I can forgive the whole "My first talkie stunk, so I'd better recycle an idea that worked well in an earlier film" thing. There's not much to see with the plot here. There are a lot of funny moments and sight gags, but you have to trudge through a lot to get there. The movie really picks up when Lloyd gets on the boat. Like Safety Last!, this is not a movie I would not recommend to my acrophobic (or homophobic, I guess, because of that poster) readers.

shane-movies trivia: This is the second movie in a row with a Samuel Taylor Coleridge reference. That beats my previous record of one.

The Most Dangerous Game

1932 adventure movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Bob, a famous big game hunter, is having a blast hanging out with his friends on a boat, drinking cognac and saying profound things like "There are two kinds of animals--the hunters and the hunted. Luckily, I'm the hunter and nothing can change that." But then his boat explodes and sinks, and all of his friends drown or are eaten by sharks. Oh, snap! Luckily for Bob, he washes ashore on the island of Count Zaroff. He's a hunter as well, so they have all kinds of things in common! Things are going along swimmingly until Count Zaroff tells Bob that he's going to send him out into the wild so that he can hunt him, ending their friendship before it even gets started.

And it's a 1930's film, so you know exactly how it's going to end. I don't feel bad about giving away too many details up there because the poor dialogue in this (and the title) makes it fairly easy to figure it all out really quickly anyway. The problem in this movie are the same problems I have with the short story, one of the worst I've ever read. The story's kind of cool although very unrealistic. All the scenes that take place on the boat are a hoot. The camera tilts at one point (you know, because the boat is sinking), and the characters all flail in different directions, some while emitting girlish screams. Then, you've got some shark stock footage and a classic line--"Oh! He got me!"--screamed by a guy who the shark just got. And Robert Armstrong's portrayal of a drunk guy, sort of a cross between Harry Caray and a low-budget W.C. Fields, is absolutely terrible. Unlike the short story, this has a lot of redeeming qualities. The second half of the film (the part with all the huntin') is exciting enough, and the jungle they're racing through (King Kong's jungle actually) and Zaroff's pad are ideal settings, creating a nice atmosphere for the adventure story. I really liked the guy who played the evil Count Zaroff, a guy named Leslie Banks, even though you could put (see Leslie Banks as Count Zaroff in The Most Dangerous Game) after a definition of "hammy performance," chewing up the scenery with teeth that could rival those of any actor. Joel McCrea and Fay Wray (I think she was in King Kong, too) are fine in typical 1930's roles, and the music, although nearly constant, is pretty good. The best thing about this is the duration. At just over an hour, this doesn't really waste any time with extraneous details. It gets to its point, has the characters run around for a bit, and then ends. The short story, if I'm remembering correctly, is just the opposite. That thing seemed endless. The world would probably be a better place if Leslie Banks would devour every last copy of that short story.

My Winnipeg

2007 "docu-fantasia"

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Canadian director Guy Maddin revisits his sleepy hometown while at the same time attempting to escape it. He combines reenactments, archival footage, and oddball imagery to construct a portrait of Winnipeg. Well, it's not Winnipeg exactly. But it's his Winnipeg.

"Docu-fantasia" is not my word, by the way, but it does manage to capture what is going on with My Winnipeg. Maddin is the director of The Saddest Music in the World, Careful, and Brand upon the Brain!, all which showcase his appreciation for all things antiquated--silent melodrama, antique cameras, title cards. It's gimmicky, but it's a gimmick I can appreciate, so I love the movies. This is a heavily-narrated documentary on Winnipeg, sentimental and at times bitter, and also on Maddin's childhood, but the director's style--and this is a melange of influences working here--and a lot of the more fantastical elements of the city's history that he creates--frequent references to a hidden pair of rivers beneath the pair of rivers that are on the surface, the story about the horses trying to run through one of the rivers and freezing with only their heads being above the ice surface, the long-running television show about a guy who threatens to jump off a ledge and is talked back into the apartment by Maddin's mother every week (see poster)--give you more of a general feeling than information. Sure, I came away from the documentary knowing a little more about Winnipeg, but more importantly, Maddin's able to use the images and his narrative text to help me feel some of the more unique aspects of Winnipeg. Maddin's Winnipeg is a Winnipeg that hits you in the gut. It's a movie about loss, ennui, regret, family, hard work, values, escaping the past, and other stuff, shared in a way that I think most people can connect with despite a lot of bizarre subject matter and the off-the-wall film techniques. The movie also has this amazing ability to make things that just shouldn't be important into things that seem really important. I laughed frequently, but there were several moments that were downright touching. I really liked the extended sequence about the hockey players and the old sports arena, and the reenactments, featuring what I assume really is Guy Maddin's actual mother, are endearingly pointless. I'd recommend this, but somebody who's already seen (and enjoyed?) some of Maddin's other films would probably appreciate it a little more.

Edit: It's not Guy Maddin's mother. It's actress Ann Savage who was most famous for playing Mrs. Thornhill on Saved by the Bell. My apologies to everyone involved.

At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul

1963 Brazilian horror film (the first)

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Coffin Joe is an evil undertaker. You can tell because he's got an evil-looking top hat and a cape, and the severed hand motif in his home decor is pretty creepy. And he eats meat when he's not supposed to! Blazenly! Anywho, Coffin Joe really wants a son. His wife is unfortunately barren, so he does what any reasonable evil undertaker would do. He kills her sadistically, then kills his best friend, and finally rapes his best friend's wife. But will his evil extracurricular activities catch up with him on the Day of the Dead? Du-du-dummm!

Marins has got a real presence, like a Brazilian Vincent Price. Now maybe that's just because everybody else in this movie looks like a farmboy, and Coffin Joe is wandering around with that cape and top hat thing, but I really like this absolutely Satanic character, and I think Marins shows some acting chops. This is a cheap movie. It starts like an Ed Wood movie with two introductions (Coffin Joe himself and a gypsy woman who paces her pad with this gigantic skull) reminiscent of Wood's The Amazing Criswell. The gypsy woman gives the audience a warning like you'd get in a William Castle horror film, and it displays the showman side of Marins, more circus barker than director. Marins is the type of director who does a lot with very little (check out the owl special effect or the especially creepy parade of souls), including what seems to be sound effects ripped off from a Disney "Sounds of Horror" record I had when I was a little kid. The violence is gruesome, especially for a grainy black and white movie, and also kind of goofy. The spider scene? Not for the arachnophobic. The bathtub scene? That doesn't even make sense. The abrupt end to a poker game? Well, ok. But you know, it all adds up to something to a well-paced, atmospheric, and at times genuinely creepy horror movie. Somehow, you get this feeling that something really evil is behind the making of this movie, and that gives it an edge.

More Jose Mojica Marin on the murky horizon.

Star Wars Uncut

2010 remake

Rating: n/r (but Dylan gave it a 16/20; he gave the original a 14/20, by the way)

Plot: See Star Wars: A New Hope.

Except this is fans from all over the world filming, contorting, or animating fifteen second segments of the sci-fi classic and submitting them to a website where they hopefully will get votes and make it into the final film. And it's completely bizarre and hilarious. This interactive approach to filmmaking is one of those things where you just have to say something like, "This is exactly why Al Gore invented the freakin' Internet!" This might be too jarring for a lot of people. You'll have a fifteen second clip with Star Wars characters colored on paper sacks butting up against people in cheap costumes swinging cheap light sabers at each other in a fenced-in backyard. A lot of these "directors" have a lot of talent. I especially enjoyed the clash of animation styles. Even more of these "directors" have a great sense of humor, taking the proverbial piss, throwing in some Kill Bill or Simpsons references, and really having good creative fun. Star Wars has been parodied and poked at so many times that something like this shouldn't work at all. But this thing works (maybe best in installments; Dylan and I watched it in chunks) on a few levels. It's surprising and hilariously awkward, it's frequently very clever, and it's often pretty dang cool looking. But it's also a weird homage to the movie, its influence and the adoration that people all over the world have for these characters and this timeless story.

You can watch it here: http://www.starwarsuncut.com/
Or watch a trailer (really, a 4 1/2 minute chunk of the movie [all a lot of you will be able to take] as the characters escape from the Death Star) here: http://io9.com/5515343/star-wars-uncut-is-finished-and-headed-to-theaters
Or you can just wait and watch it in a theater since the above article says it's heading to theaters.

No End in Sight

2007 horror movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A documentary about how our elected officials and the people they work closely with are sometimes really silly.

Quick confession: This documentary was so scary that I eventually decided to mute my television. Watching the antics of Dubya, Dick "The Man with One Face" Cheney, Booty Rice, and Donald Duck without the sound wasn't any less scary, so I ended up playing "Yakety Sax" over and over again as a soundtrack to the film. Then, I watched the documentary at twice the normal speed so that it looked more like outtakes from Benny Hill's show. It turned out to be hilarious that way! I typically avoid politics, and I didn't really need to be reminded about the goings-on of what will undoubtedly later be thought of as a Mt. Rushmore of ruination and American embarrassment. I'd be lying if I said I enjoyed this, and I'm not sure I really know enough to figure out if I'm being duped by a deluge of propaganda. I'm also not sure how much of this is new information or how much is just a rehash of stuff I would already know if I paid attention to the always-reliable American media. I did think a lot of this--image juxtaposition, the repeated "declined to be interviewed for this film" line, one-sided narration--was a little too obvious; the statistics and interviews of the people involved were effective by themselves. This is shocking, jaw-droppingly so, like a horror movie where you already know the ending but are stuck on the edge of your seat anyway. I'd love to watch this with a Bush supporter to find out how he'd justify any of this. God, I wish this was a mockumentary.

The hippie half of Cory recommended this documentary.

Brewster McCloud

1970 bird documentary

Rating: 16/20

Plot: After stealing from the wardrobe of Waldo (of Where's Waldo infamy), the titular Brewster hides out in a bomb shelter deep within the Astrodome. He spends his time studying birds, developing intricate wings so that he can fly, and exercising his flying muscles to prepare for when the big day arrives. He's helped by his guardian angel, the woman in the shower in that one scene in M.A.S.H. Meanwhile, a mass murderer is apparently on the loose in the greater Houston area, and a

Whether or not you actually like this movie (and I suspect there's only a small percentage who will), you've got to at least appreciate how different it is from anything else, even other Robert Altman movies. I imagine there are a lot of Altman fans who wouldn't necessarily like anything about this movie, and a lot of fans of Brewster McCloud who might not like any other Robert Altman movies. But I don't know who those second group of people might be. Part-fantasy, part-social statement, part-murder mystery, part-nature documentary, the mash-up that is Brewster McCloud succeeds as an oddball in the oeuvre of Robert Altman and cinema in general, like a crazy aunt you forget you have until you read about a news story about how she's living in a studio apartment with more than thirty cats and piles of Popular Mechanics magazines with all the eyes cut out of the pictures. About that comedy--a lot of it's the sort of humor where you're not even sure if there's an intent to be funny. There's an odd combination of the old-timey slapstick you'd expect to see in something from the 20s (chase scene with a portly Astrodome security guard and Brewster before the latter has gotten a line), word play reminiscent of a Laurel and Hardy feature (a hilarious exchange between the detective and a guy about the height of a suspect), and really dry humor that you might miss if you blink (opening music credited to Francis Scott Key). The movie begins with a tongue completely piercing a cheek and popping out the other side and never goes back in, a big ol' middle finger of a movie after Altman's success with M.A.S.H. I really like Bud Cort in this, but Sally Kellerman as that sexy wingless guardian angel and the always-sexy Shelley Duvall are also really good. This is a fun movie that gets better with repeated viewings, and I'd definitely recommend it to three or four people, none who I have actually met yet.

No Impact Man: The Documentary

2009 documentary

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

Plot: Colin Beamer (That's not his name, and I'm too lazy to look up his name. That's OK though because now when he Googles himself [it's likely that he frequently does], he won't get to my blog and have his feelings hurt by my comments on what is essentially an advertisement for himself.) decides to live one year without refrigerators, toilet paper, electricity, or anything else that makes an impact on our environment.

Colin Blorpin didn't direct this movie about himself, but I have no doubt that he rounded up the posse to have it made. I'm sure he really cares about the environment and hopes that his experiment will motivate others to do something. He nudges up against some good things here--buying locally and seasonally, knowing where your food is coming from, eliminating the amount we waste as Americans--but there's not nearly enough details about the hows and whys. So No Impact Man fails to make much of an impact at all, and it seems like less of an informational piece than a big publicity stunt. Which, I suppose, makes it effective. I now know all about the Bathworth family, especially about how much he wants to sell books.

Jen added this to the list during my streak of "man" movies, a streak which, by the way, might have just as much of an impact on the environment as this movie.

Note: I might just be in a terrible mood and taking it all out on this movie and this poor guy who might be completely genuine and who I am judging unfairly. I apologize to Colin Blipper if that's the case.


1974 horror film

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Paul Toombes is a horror film actor, famous for playing Dr. Death. When his girlfriend is murdered, Toombes loses his mind and his career and is committed to a mental institution. He's lured to England to film a television series with his old character, and upon his arrival, people start dying. Oh, snap!

This is a really boring movie. There's nothing wrong with Vincent Price or really even his character or the fictional character his character plays. In fact, Dr. Death looks pretty cool, especially during one of the few good scenes in the movie--Dr. Death stalking one of his female victims through an elaborately landscaped yard. But a few good-looking scenes and a solid Price performance isn't enough to salvage this oft-incomprehensible borefest. It's either confusing (what the heck is with the weird spider woman?) or I got bored and lost focus. At first, I thought that some of the movies-within-the-movie were interesting, but I started to recognize them from other Vincent Price movies, and then it all just seemed cheap and lazy. Bonus points award for not only Vincent Price but Vincent Price singing, something that always makes movies a little better.

King Kong Escapes

1967 King Kong movie

Rating: 7/20

Plot: Some people with their own submarine venture to Kong Island for reasons that I can't remember, and discover that the King himself is alive and kicking. And beating his chest. Naturally, he falls in love with the only female on the submarine. Meanwhile, a guy who you know has to be evil because he's got a cape builds a King Kong robot because he wants to extract something precious from the depths of the earth. When that doesn't work, he decides to kongnap the titular hero and use him.

This is quite the ridiculous slab of Japanese funk, but I'd much rather watch this movie than either the 1976 King Kong or the Peter Jackson remake. It's worth the price of admission (free if you shove it down the front of your pants and run out of the store like I did) for the shots used to show that Kong is enamored by the girl. He wiggles, rolls his eyes, and quite frankly, looks like he's masturbating. Which begs the question--is there a movie that features King Kong jism? Is there a movie called King Kong Jism? What about a (probably pornographic) movie called King Dong? What about a band called King Kong Jism? This movie's got a little something for everybody with the exception of bodies looking for the aforementioned jism. Hey, there's another great band name--Aforementioned Jism. You get some wonderful dubbing. And by wonderful, I mean absolutely horrible. A lot of the characters sound a little like John Wayne. You get some rikongilous fight scenes with guys in goofy suits, including a T-Rex thing that does this goofy drop-kick thing. And that King Kong robot? Hell, yeah! You get some terrific dialogue. "Don't sink the ship" and the poetic "He's an oriental skeleton, a devil with eyes like a gutter rat" spoken about the bad guy whose name just happens to be Doctor Who. You get plenty of irritating sound effects if you're in to that sort of thing, and a whole bunch of shots meant to show perspective, shots designed to prove that we're not just looking at toys in a bathtub but that somehow make things worse. It's all pretty stupid, but at least it's never dull.

I just looked it up. There is a porno parody called King Dong. There's also a Chinese restaurant called King Dong. And a variety of other websites. There isn't a movie called King Kong Jism though.

Witchfinder General (The Conqueror Worm)

1968 period drama

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Matthew Hopkins appoints himself "Witchfinder General," travelling the countryside with his thuggish assistant Stearnes to falsely accuse and and put to death people thought to be witches. Soldier Richard Marshall's girlfriend's dad, a priest, is accused, and Richard goes AWOL, risking treason to come to her aid.

Vincent Price said that this was his best horror movie performance. It's a more serious Vincent Price, menacing and ruthless. It's a solid performance, strange when juxtaposed with his campy run as Lionheart in Theater of Blood. This isn't a scary horror film at all, but it's got this creepy tone with a strange period details similar to movies like Blood on Satan's Claw or even The Wicker Man. The horror has more to do with what actual people--indeed, characters whose thinking is sadly inspired by actual historical thinking--are capable of than the more fantastical ideas we get in most horror films. The ending earns a big wow with its ability to shock and horrify. Oh, by the way: I don't know what the American title (The Conqueror Worm) has to do with anything or if it's really based on an Edgar Allan Poe story. I don't think it is, but there is something literary about the dialogue, and a lot of the dialogue between Hopkins and Stearnes drips with a dark irony. "Men have strange motives for what they do." "We're doing God's work." Price recites a poem at the beginning of the movie, and that might be one of Poe's. I could look it up if Angie wouldn't have stolen the "Complete Works of" book that I used to use as a doorstop. All I know is that this movie has a Vincent Price sex scene, and my life will never be the same again. Or did I just imagine that?

Aguirre, the Wrath of God

1972 movie

Rating: 19/20

Plot: Mr. Aguirre leads an expedition with his pals to find gold. It's an almost identical plot to Disney's The Huffalump Movie except it takes place in South America in the 16th Century. And Tigger has been replaced with a crazy man.

Cinematic poetry! My favorite movies are those that are uncategorizable, and although Aguirre, the Wrath of God is very clearly a movie, it's just not a movie that is like a lot of other movies. Werner Herzog's penchant for filming in impossible locales and his eye for filming those locales very well makes the Peruvian rain forest just as important as any character in this thing. In fact, since you don't really get to see much of the natives who attack Aguirre and his posse, at times it almost seems like the conflict is with the setting. The location is hauntingly beautiful, violent, and lawless and adds to this mysterious feel that pervades the film. The wonderful Popol Vuh score also contributes to that feel. Herzog not only has an eye for filming on location, he's got a willingness to allow his camera to film happy accidents, to deviate from the script and allow some of the fringe details to evolve spontaneously. One of my favorite of these moments is an extended--and seemingly pointless--scene with a guy jamming on a pan flute thing while Aguirre stands next to him. He allows the story to meander, and the story, I think, is more mythic and more mysterious because of it. Klaus Kinski's performance is a scary one even though this isn't anything like a horror movie. He's the perfect picture of madness, delusional and paranoid and megalomaniacal. As I've probably typed in these pages before, it all starts with Kinski's eyes. But as Aguirre, he's required to do so much physically, like Nic Cage in the Bad Lieutenant movie. Aguirre often seems more insect than human, walking with an awkward limp and a hunched back and with an expression on his countenance that makes it look like his mind hurts. I love his performance here, and knowing a little of the legends behind the filming of it (see: My Best Fiend or watch Aguirre with Herzog's commentary) adds a new dimension. Herzog is always good with endings, and the denouement of Aguirre is memorable and moving, definitely one of my favorite movie endings ever. It's one of those cases where you think, "How was this even filmed?" but then you just stop thinking about it and decide to just be glad it was.

I don't want to alienate my four and a half readers, but I've thought about making a rule that there are certain movies you just have to watch if you want to read my blog. This would definitely be one of those movies. I've decided not to make that rule, by the way, but you should see this movie anyway so that you can see Klaus Kinski pick up a monkey. That's something that every cinemaphile needs to see.

Theater of Blood

1973 Vincent Price movie mayhem

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Shakespearean actor Edward Lionheart doesn't handle criticism very well. In fact, after being overlooked for a critics award, he crashes their little party and leaps to his death in the Thames. Only he doesn't die, instead hooking up with the motley crew of homeless folk who pull his body from the river and getting his murderous revenge, offing the critics one at a time using methods inspired by some of The Bard's most violent deaths.

Released a couple of years after one of my faves--The Abominable Dr. Phibes--this Vincent Price horror/dark-comedy has more than a few similarities. But that's fine with me. Vincent Price is always Vincent Price, pound for pound one of the most entertaining actors ever, but this is the Vincent Price I really love, the one who walks into every single scene with two handfuls of rancid pork products and facial hair with a life of its own. Vincent's performance in this is all over the place in this one. He does Shakespeare, and plays an effeminate afro-headed hair stylist, a murderous chef, a demented surgeon, and in a completely surprising moment, a trampoline-bouncing fencer. Sure, he's always Vincent Price with that inimitable voice and overall presence, but he really shows quite the range here, and I think he's having a blast in this role as Lionheart. And watching him beat an egg, or more accurately, diabolically beating an egg? Nothing short of movie magic, and quite possibly the first scene I'd show people in an effort to prove that Vincent Price is one of the greatest of silverscreen geniuses. The murders are extremely gruesome. When a decapitation is only the third or fourth most disturbing death in a movie, you know you're in for some fun. But I guess that should be expected from a murderer who's inspired by the deaths in Shakespeare's work. What's not expected is that it will all be so funny. This is a creative pot of colorful insanity, fun and fastly-paced, with that amazing tour de force performance by one of the finest actors ever. Recommended for those of you with a sick sense of humor.

The Caine Mutiny

1954 boat movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Rub a dub dub, a bunch of men in a tub. Mother-fixated horndog Ensign Keith hops on board the titular rickety ship. The first guy in charge (Lt. Capt. Sergeant Commander) is replaced by a new guy who looks and acts suspiciously like Humphrey Bogart. It doesn't take long for the rest of the crew to figure out that this guy is not only a stubborn and unfair disciplinarian, but probably batshit insane and a little yellow. After a series of questionable decisions, the titular mutiny occurs during a storm. Then, there's a court martial.

Here's an action drama with the rawness and depth you'd expect from a Disney production. Maybe that's just because of Mickey Mouse's pal Fred MacMurray, but more than likely it's something else. Stuffed to the gills with big, big music and images of actors almost looking like they're actually on a boat, this sounds and looks like an enthralling dramatic adventure story, but it's really pretty flat. The characters are types, and the acting, including with Bogart's Queeg but especially with Robert Francis's Keith, is just ho-hum, exactly what you'd expect instead of being challenging or creating characters with depth. The story's fine, but it just seems like nothing fits right with this movie, like a Japanese man singing the blues. My favorite scene:

(Keith and his special lady friend are standing outside saying romantic things to each other, things that were apparently written by somebody who has never heard real people talk and gets his inspiration from romantic movies from the 1930s. Keith kisses his special lady friend on the forehead.)
Special lady friend: Keith! There are people.
Keith: I don't care. Let them look!
(More forehead kissing ensues.)
Special lady friend: It's getting late.
(Scene fades. And the next shot is a waterfall the following morning. It's symbolic.)

That kind of seems sexually explicit and borderline offensive because of how the rest of this movie feels. And that's really the main problem with this movie. It's ok. It's butterscotch pudding. If you really want to eat some pudding, butterscotch pudding is fine. But it's a boring pudding that nobody really wants. If you have to watch The Caine Mutiny, it's fine, but I don't see anything here that makes it seem like something that anybody really wants.

Yet another Cory recommendation! He's apparently a big fan of butterscotch pudding.

The Lavender Hill Mob

1951 comedy classic

Rating: 18/20

Plot: Mild-mannered and completely harmless Henry Holland has faithfully worked with a bank, overseeing the transfer of gold bars from Point A to Point B for many years. Secretly, he dreams of stealing it all and smuggling it out of the country. Unfortunately for him, there's no way to accomplish that. Until he befriends neighbor Alfred Pendlebury that is! Together, they formulate a plan, assemble a crew, and attempt the heist.

This movie is politely hilarious, an orgy of ironies. It's a literary comedy, one that might not make you bust a gut but still manages to be a million times funnier than most comedies you get. Twists and turns abound as the men's plans go horribly wrong, fall apart even more, start to come together, and threaten to completely unravel. Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway are fantastic and very funny, and the minor players--the other half of their gang, their landlady--are also really good. This is the type of movie you can easily watch again a few days later, and it's nearly impossible to pick a favorite scene. There's just so much packed into a tidy little eighty minutes. The delirious police chase, the scene at the Eiffel Tower, the scene where Guinness's character in the warehouse after the heist, the scene where they try to find some criminals to help him. It all manages to feel manic, like something threatening to burst the seams and make a mess all over the place, yet completely laid-back and nonchalant at the same time. Good, good stuff. I still probably prefer Kind Hearts and Coronets, probably because the ending is better, but this is, as Alec Guinness would have said, pretty bitchin'.

Another Cory recommendation. He knows what he's doing most of the time.

Reversal of Fortune

1990 blacker-than-black comedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Claus von Bulow has been convicted of the attempted murder of his extremely rich but troubled wife. He hires lawyer Alan Dershowitz and his team of dwarves to take his case.

Blink and you'll miss that this is supposed to be comedic. Things certainly started slowly enough. The murder-mystery aspect bored me, I wasn't caring for Jeremy Irons at all, and the whole thing had the look and feel of a television movie. But as soon as Ron Silver found his way into the story, things picked up. His character added a jolt that for whatever reason made everything about this movie a little better. What I really like about Reversal of Fortune, and what must have been kind of unique, is that it's not one of those courtroom dramas where the actors all get a chance to lawyer or judge it up and scream courtroom cliches. Instead, the focus is on the much-more-interesting research that goes into a case like this. We get the minutia, and it's fun to watch all the tiny little pieces coming together. I also liked the moral dilemma that Dershowitz was up against, and every time we got to see him play basketball, it was comedy gold, or at least comedy pudding. Jeremy Irons' cold apathy eventually grew on me, becoming just the right amounts of pretentious and chilling. Irons almost becomes pitch perfect, creating a character that you'll despise enough to want to throw the book at (maybe literally throw books at him) but at the same time think he just might be innocent. The writing's really witty, so Irons gets lots juicy dialogue into which to sink his teeth. I really liked the line where he explains his apathy by saying he doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve. I also got used to the story's structure, an at-first-off-putting disjointed series of scrambled flashbacks that becomes a puzzle where you have too many pieces and not nearly enough table.

Another quality Cory recommendation.

Back to the Future III

1990 sequel

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Marty has to travel back in time to 1885 in order to save Doc Brown from being shot in the back by an outlaw. Unfortunately, the Delorean is damaged, so getting back to 1985 is a problem. But who would want to live in 1985 anyway? The music isn't as good, and Huey Lewis's penis hasn't even been invented yet.

Ah, a return to form. I love the Western/sci-fi mash-up here. The performers are all likable again, the meanness and general suckiness of the second installment is gone, and the story feels original again. This references its predecessors quite a bit, mostly in ways that are kind of funny or just neat (the bell tower connections), and I also liked allusions to some classic Westerns, most humorously with Marty telling everybody that his name is Clint Eastwood. I also like some of the anachronisms this new context for the characters allows--moonwalking, Frisbees, and the hilarious cowboy garb that the Doc insists are what men actually wore in the Old West. Thomas F. Wilson returns, and he not only gets a great character to work with in Mad Dog Tannen, but he absolutely nails it. Whereas the second movie in the trilogy looked like somebody had eaten too many helpings of special effects and vomited all over the movie, this goes for a less plastic approach. It also lacks the jarring frenetic quality of the second movie, instead sticking to a simple story told simply. There is some creative camera work, however. I really like some of the transitions in this, scenes where you have characters talking in the foreground while a new action is introduced in the background. I do think the final twenty minutes are a little goofy. I didn't care for the climax/denouement, probably because the return of the hover board from the second movie reminded me of how much that one stunk. Overall though, this is a fun ride.

I was talked into seeing this movie in the theater before I saw the second one. It was one of the most important moments of my life.

Away We Go

2009 romantic comedy

Rating: 14/20 (Jen: fell asleep while we watched it, finished it the next day while I was at school, and then refused to rate it)

Plot: John and Maya, a seemingly happy couple happily living in sin, are expecting their first child. They convince themselves that they're not where they want to be to raise their child and go on a road trip all over America and Canada, meeting with friends and relatives to find the perfect place.

Cute little movie with likable leads and an assortment of quirky extras. I really want to call the movie "sweet" but I'm almost afraid that will offend the movie, and I wouldn't want that. John Krasinski is going to have a tough time shaking his character from The Office. Here, he plays a vulnerable guy, romantic in every sense of the word. It's not an entirely different character from his Jim but it's different enough, I guess. At least he's got a beard. Maya Rudolph--Minnie Ripperton's kid--is really good, too. She's not conventionally pretty, but she still exudes this cute vibe I kind of dig. She lacks a beard. Neither Krasinski or Rudolph over-do things here, and they bounce off each other naturally. The dialogue isn't natural at all, but I liked it. The movie was sneaky funny with the couple sort of playing straight man and woman to some terrifically goofy and sometimes terrible human beings. The majority of the side characters don't seem realistic at all, and it almost works to make the movie seem more like a parable than an attempt at verisimilitude. This movie's got its share of bigger names in some of those almost-cameo roles, and there are some very funny performances in there. I really liked what this movie had to say about trying to make it in a world that is kind of ugly, and I thought the ending really nailed it.

Kairow recommended this movie when we saw Jimmy Tupper vs. the Goatman of Bowie. And it's not even based on a comic book!


2010 documentary

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A documentary about grown men who hang around outside Wrigley Field to collect baseballs that leave the stadium.

A real treat for baseball fans, even diehard Cub haters like me. This is often funny, somehow made even funnier by Bill Murray's narration. But more importantly, it's often poignant, digging in and discovering truths about not only baseball and the generally heavy-hearted fans of the most embarrassing team in baseball but about life. More than anything, this is a movie about anticipation, people who wait and wait--probably infinitely--but who never lose hope. And there's something really cool about it. There's also something really cool about seeing just how much this team and this baseball field means to its city, and it really made me want to see another game at Wrigley. The Ballhawks themselves are entertaining, humorous, and complex individuals. There's an old guy who dresses like a young guy, a veteran (the Babe Ruth of Ballhawks who has an absolutely staggering 4,000+ baseballs), a guy who takes it way too seriously, and a controversial guy who breaks all the Ballhawks' unwritten rules. The director (Michael Diedrich) started out to make a film about these outsiders (literal outsiders) because he thought that the Cubs were going to win the World Series. They didn't because they're the Cubs, but an interesting accidental second story emerged when the Cubs people decided to extend the seating in left field, making it more difficult for balls to actually leave the stadium. The added conflict adds a dimension. There's far too much music, but this is a wonderful little documentary that all baseball fans (and especially Cubs fans, I reckon) will enjoy.

Back to the Future II

1989 sequel

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Doc Brown and Marty have to travel into the future to save the latter's kid from making a terrible mistake. While there, Biff steals the Delorean and travels back to 1955 to give his younger self a sports almanac. Biff's then able to build a fortune and make life really miserable in 2015 despite everybody getting the chance to fly around on hover boards. So the time travelling duo has to travel back to 1955 to fix things. And it all somehow pisses Crispin Glover off!

Me, minutes ago: "And it's only the first part of a trilogy. I'm sure the next one has to be great, too!"

Whoops! This one stinks! It can all be explained with a simple mathematical equation, the Glover Theorem:

Good movie with Crispin Glover - Crispin Glover = stinky movie

This is a complete mess from the get-go and gets my vote for most dissatisfying sequel of all time. The performers I enjoyed so much in the first movie are so over-the-top and sickeningly silly. Fox and Wilson have multiple roles, and instead of being clever like Zemeckis probably thinks it all is, it's just plain stupid. I was embarrassed for everyone involved. Of course, Zemeckis is also the same guy who gave us that creepy Polar Express garbage (possibly one of the worst movies ever made and so far the only movie that has made me wish the plane I was on would crash into a mountain) and who apparently thinks a remake of Yellow Submarine is necessary. The future whatever-town-that-is looks ridiculous, the special effects get in the way of the storytelling, and we're rushed through the fairly bizarre first-half story in a way that convinced me it was scribbled down furiously by either a coke addict, Robin Williams, or both instead of being written. The second half of the film is a little better, and things are almost salvaged with all the clever back to the past in Back to the Future moments, stuff that people who get off on time travel can really get excited about. But it's unfortunately too little, too late and nothing can save this from being gross.

Speaking of gross--I forgot to mention this in the Back to the Future write-up, but these movies have to have some sort of record for most product placement. Geez Louise! There aren't many scenes in these two movies that you can watch without seeing an advertisement for something.

Oh well. At least Crispin Glover made a wad of dough from this movie without having to do an ounce of work. I'm giving the movie a bonus point just for that.

Back to the Future

1985 time travel classic

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Marty McFly, a guy who apparently is on an eight-or-so-year high school graduation plan, zips to 1985 via his eccentric scientist friend Doc Brown's Delorean/time-machine. He saves his future dad from injury by pushing him out of the way before his future grandfather hits him with a car. Unfortunately, that's how his parents met, and Marty McFly has inadvertently changed the course of history. He has to get his folks together before the rest of his body disappears like his hand does when he's trying to play guitar and sing a Chuck Berry song, all while Doc Brown tries to figure out a way to send him back to the year 1985. It's a thrill a minute!

I haven't been able to get the music of Huey Lewis out of my head since I watched this. I'm not talking about the last time I watched it either. I'm talking about since I watched it in 1985. But since 1993 and the release of Robert Altman's wonderfully-depressing Short Cuts, I haven't been able to not have Huey Lewis's music stuck in my head without it being accompanied by the image of Huey Lewis's penis. And the really interesting thing is that on certain days--stormy ones when my hair is longish and unkempt--that combination of Huey Lewis's music and penis actually seems to have the power to send me into the past or into the future. No, I've not been able to harness this time travel power and go wherever I want. Once, I went to 1985 and watched Back to the Future in a theater with my younger self (no, my younger self didn't see my current self) and my friend Vernon. Once, I traveled into the future, the year 2025 to be exact, and found out that I turn into a fat guy. (Yes, my future self did see my current self and couldn't keep his hands off me; we may have made out.) But anyway, this is one of those movies that gets a hefty nostalgia bonus as well as the Crispin Glover bonus. It's not perfect film-making, but it very well might be close to perfect story-telling. Self-referential and endlessly surprising (unless you've seen it a dozen times, I guess), this has great character development and a contagious creative energy. I absolutely refuse to pay attention enough to stick my fingers in the (probably numerous) plot holes because this is the type of movie you really want to watch with the innocent gut of a child instead of the mind of a snobby adult. Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd have great chemistry. The former is perfectly likable and gives a performance that makes this easy to watch countless times. The latter's performance is inspired and perfectly loony. Of course, Crispin Glover is great because he's always great, but this movie has one of my favorite Crispin Glover moments, his character's big turnaround. It makes me cry every time. I also like Thomas F. Wilson as the villain here. This movie is a tremendous amount of fun. And it's only the first part of a trilogy! I'm sure the next one has to be great, too!

I Am a Fugitive from the Chain Gang

1932 prison movie classic

Rating: 17/20

Plot: It's hard times for James Allen, World War I hero. He returns home and then leaves home to find his fortunes, instead getting arrested for helping rob a hamburger joint. Prison, as well as the titular chain gang, aren't nearly as much fun as James had heard it was, and after a while, he plans his escape. Then he does escape, eventually becoming a highly successful engineer in Chicago. However, thanks to a nasty woman, he finds that he can't exactly escape his past.

Paul Muni's name sure is big on the poster up there. It's bigger than the silly title of the movie! That's appropriate actually because his performance really is that good. Atypical for early-30's drama, his is the type of gritty and realistic performance that you'd expect from a more modern actor, like a John Ritter or the kid who played Steve Urkel. The story might get a little tired as James' life gets better, bogging down the movie somewhat, but the first half of the movie has a true grit and the social commentary, although maybe not exactly timely, still delivers. It's a tough movie, the type of movie that would have no problem beating up Gone with the Wind to teach it who's boss. I'm not sure if the ending should be famous for being shocking or for completely dropping off at the end, almost like the screenwriter had a deadline to meet. I liked it well enough though. I was really impressed with the camera work, the movements throughout the prison or around the chain gang. That's also atypical for a 1932 movie. Add this to the list of movies that have full sentences for titles.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

1956 science fiction classic

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Pod people are surreptitiously landing on earth (aka Earth, the earth, and The Earth) and snatching bodies. Several of Dr. Kevin McCarthy's patients claim that their spouses, friends, and relatives are not acting like themselves. The whole town seems paranoid, but then Dr. McCarthy discovers the truth--that alien pod folk are creating doppelgangers in an attempt to skew voting for America's new favorite television reality show--Tony Danza and Twelve Other People in the Same House?! Lol!? McCarthy and the woman with whom he's currently banging have to warn everybody else before Steve Urkel wins!

Because of my inability to make spaces, it's actually been a while since I watched this one. It was around the time Kevin McCarthy died, and I'm pretty sure that shane-movies.blogspot.com is somehow responsible, responsible in one of those cosmic ways that you can't begin to understand without the use of recreational drugs or maybe just lots of cough syrup. Or maybe mouth wash! I had a chess player a couple weeks ago, back when I couldn't make spaces, who had a small bottle of mouth wash with him during chess club. I thought he was just pretending to drink it, but I noticed later that the bottle was empty. That cat's the type of cat who can understand the cosmos and the connection between Kevin McCarthy's death and my blog even if you can't. Cory recommended this movie. I hadn't seen since my dad made me watch it as a kid, and I probably appreciate it more a little now. The acting is solid for a cheapo sci-fi movie from the 50s. The writing's intelligent. The characters are given things to say that actually gives them a little personality instead of just saying all the typical wooden things that wooden characters say in a lot of sci-fi flicks from the era. And I think it's neat thinking about this in the context of 1950's international affairs and/or political goings-on. Quite obviously, this has to be a warning to parents of will happen if they allow their children to listen to filthy rock 'n' roll music (i.e. that black guy, Bing Crosby, that guy who boinked his twelve-year-old cousin, and that guy who used to pee on his guitar), but the message still rings true because children are currently being lured to the dark side by the hip hop and and the devil novelty entertainment provided by "Weird" Al Yankovic. My favorite scene is the one in Dr. McCarthy's friend's house with the creepy featureless body.


1980 golf movie

Rating: 9/20

Plot: Mildly humorous goings-on go on at a country club. Danny the caddy tries to raise money for college. A stuffed gopher wreaks havoc.

The gopher being so obviously stuffed is likely the best joke in this movie. But there's not a single laugh to be had in this classic comedy. Nothing comedic genius Chevy Chase says is all that funny. Comedic genius Bill Murray is funnier but still not funny. And Rodney Dangerfield is just irritating. Some many comedy legends on one golf course, and whoever wrote this couldn't come up with one funny thing to have them do or say? Pitiful. Lump this with all those 80's comedies with its sloppy plot and envelope pushing that gives me a headache and makes me wish I had popped in one of Tati's movies instead. I've never seen it, but I actually wonder if that Bagger Vance movie is a funnier golf movie. Is there a stuffed gopher in it?

The Good, the Bad, the Weird

2007 Korean Italian American Western

Rating: 14/20 (Mark: 16/20; Amy: refused to give me a number)

Plot: Everybody was gun fighting. Those cats was fast as lightning. An outlaw, an assassin, and a petty thief fight over what might be a treasure map discovered on a train somewhere in China.

This is thoroughly enjoyable, both with the visually-exhilarating style and the nonstop bursts of ultra-fantastical shoot-'em-up action scenes. Really, it's about as close as you can get to a movie that is too much of a good thing. There's not much new with the story, like a joke it seems I've heard before even if I don't remember the punchline, and the trio of characters weren't nearly as interesting as they should have been, their characterization barely extending beyond their descriptions in the title. The film makes up for it with an addictive creative energy, a mishmash of what must be anachronisms and period detail, and a solid and boggling denouement. There are frequent nods to Leone although it lacks the poetics and subtleties those Clint Eastwood movies, replacing them with frenzy. This is a fun action movie if it's not exactly a great one and a good mash-up of classic spaghetti Western tones with something decidedly modern, just the kind of movie I imagine Tarantino would want to spend an evening with.