January Movie Club Selection: Field of Dreams

1989 baseball fantasy

Rating: 11/20

Plot: After a choppy backstory that explains a broken relationship with a father and how he married the most annoying woman in Iowa, Ray Kinsella settles into the present day where he struggles to stay afloat as a corn farmer. One afternoon, Ray is standing in his field (this is apparently something that farmers often do) and hears a voice telling him to build something so that somebody will come. He giggles. He later hallucinates and decides, because of his father's lack of spontaneity, to build a baseball field so that Shoeless Joe Jackson can boss him around on it. Shoeless Joe and his friends start playing on the field regularly, and Ray semi-retires so that he can sit on the bleachers and do absolutely nothing. But more voices lead him to Boston to find Darth Vader and then Minnesota to find J. J. Hunsecker.

Right away, we know why Cory loves this movie. For there, right on the Kinsella television screen, is Jimmy Stewart himself (in Harvey)in the first of two too-obvious references to mental illness. The other is that "I'm Crazy" song playing at a farm supply store.

I'd seen this movie once with my father about twenty years ago. Until I watched it again, I thought it was a pretty good movie that I actually liked. Turns out that it's a big sloppy mess of Hollywood treacle that I really kind of hated. It starts with the music. After some overly dramatic big Hollywood music accompanying pictures of young Ray, we get to the shots of Ray in his cornfield with the creepy ambient music that plays whenever he hears dead people. Here's what I want to know--does Ray also hear the creepy ambient music? After about fifteen minutes, I was already tired of the five-note piano theme that played every time something important happens. Later, I wanted to invent a drinking game or something like a drinking game where I shoved a pencil in my ear every time that music played.

I don't mind stretching my imagination, suspending my disbelief, or whatever. Field of Dreams forces me to stretch things a little too thin. Take for instance the hallucinations that lead him to his epiphany. He keeps asking if he's crazy because the script has him ask it about ten times. The answer has to be "Yes!" doesn't it? Nobody in his right mind is going to build a baseball field in that situation. Then, after he gets the "Ease his pain" message, he just happens to show up to a really awkward book-banning discussion where author Mann's name pops up, and he makes the connection? I loved that book discussion by the way. People randomly yelling out, "Pervert!" or "He's probably a communist!" And it climaxes with the most un-arousing catfight in the history of cinema. It's hard to swallow that a big coinkydink leads him to want to travel to Boston and Mann. But when his obnoxious wife starts in with the "I had a dream you were watching a game at Fenway with Mann" thing? I might have thrown up anyway, but that five-note piano motif came on and made it happen a little quicker.

The acting--I didn't like it, almost top to bottom. Burt Lancaster's the best of the bunch, but there are some moments when he's reading his lines like he's in a hurry, almost like he feels he has to finish them before he dies. Young "Moonlight" is maybe the worst, wide-eyed and talentless. He even overdoes winking. Amy Madigan is just too much, but maybe Ray's wife is supposed to be irritating. It's almost like Madigan read the script, thought it was a comedy, and played everything for laughs. James Earl Jones doesn't really fit inside his pants or his character, and Mann's behavior and dialogue is so inconsistent. There's an obnoxious child actor, Gaby Hoffmann; the only thing she accomplished was making me wish Ray and his wife were childless. At one point, Ray's brother-in-law (right before he shoves her off the top of the bleachers and nearly kills her) asks, "What the hell is she talking about?" and that was exactly what I was thinking. I wanted to give Timothy Busfield (Ed's brother on the TV show Ed) a high five. And there's Ray Liotta who seems bored with his role as Shoeless Joe. And good ol' Kevin Costner. His idea of "acting" is apparently looking into the distance and nodding or, sometimes, looking really confused. My favorite Costner moment is during a scene where he's driving his VW van and practising how to greet Mann. It's nearly a Nicholas Cage moment.

Some random questions I had:

--Ray is telling his daughter Shoeless Joe's story while building half of a baseball field--clearing it of the corn, smoothing out the dirt, planting the grass seed, putting up the lights, assembling the bleachers, etc. Is he a really really slow storyteller or a quick builder of bleachers?

--When Shoeless Joe arrives, there's all this baseball equipment just sitting there ready to be used. Where did that come from?

--Was Shoeless Joe supposed to be kind of a jerk? I thought he was kind of jerky.

--Why was Ray's wife wearing a beanie at one point?

--Time travel? Seriously?

--Where did the umpires come from?

--Is the line "Who is this? Elvis?" supposed to be as funny as I thought it was?

--How about the line "You guys are guests in my corn"?

--The six minutes after the little girl is shoved from the bleachers--does it turn into a comedy there?

--Wouldn't the "Hey, Dad? Want to have a catch?" line really confuse John?

This is the type of movie that stretches sentimentality so far that it snaps and hits you right in the brain. Or the groin. Hard. It's just too, too much. And most unfortunately, Ray and his wife are trying to figure out how the baseball field can be a financial enterprise at the end of the movie. That was a sickening thematic twist there, wasn't it?

I'll end with something positive because I don't want to be all negative with the first movie club selection. There's a scene where James Earl Jones walks into the cornfield. Before he enters, he stands there with a dumb grin on his face, sticks his hand in and out a few times, laughs really awkwardly, wobbles a bit. I had to rewind and watch that several times. Take it out of the context of Field of Dreams, and it's absolutely hilarious.

True Grit

1969 western

Rating: 15/20 (Jen: 14/20)

Plot: Same as True Grit with The Dude except this one has The Duke.

In Germany, this is apparently known as Der Marshall. It was probably unfair to watch this so close to the new True Grit because this one looks almost flat by comparison. John Wayne's his normal larger-than-life self, this time with an eyepatch, and he gets a chance to ride a horse really fast and twirl guns around to remind everybody why he's the icon that he is. But he's not as good an actor as Jeff Bridges, and Bridges' Rooster is a better character in every way, nostalgia aside. Wayne still won an Oscar for this role though. This version didn't have the quirks and left turns of the Coens' take, and I missed them, probably because I enjoy left turns and quirks. This is straightforward, almost a movie that's afraid to take any chances. Again, I realize comparing it to the razzle-dazzle of a 20-teen's remake is completely unfair. Besides the Duke, you get a lot of character actors to fill in the story (Duvall, Hopper), and the girl (Kim Darby) wasn't terrible. But Glen Campbell? Casting Glen Campbell as Leboeuf was probably a mistake. This True Grit is a solid if not classic Western, and if you haven't seen it in a while, you should probably watch it before you watch the newest version.

By the way, I'm pretty sure the new True Grit is two points better than this version. I'm afraid rating another Coen Brother movie a 17/20 will cause somebody to accuse me of being a third Coen Brother or something.

I Walked with a Zombie

1943 voodoo drama

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Nurse Betsy takes a job on a plantation in the Caribbean. The plantation owner's wife is in a sort of walking coma (you know, like a zombie), and Betsy decides to try to cure her. After some failed efforts, she begins to wonder if voodoo is the answer. Meanwhile, she begins to fall in love with the husband.

I'd wanted to see this a while back because of the Roky Erickson song of the same name. Since this has unofficially become Jacques Tourneur month, it seemed like the perfect time to finally check it out. It's a concise nearly-thrill-free thriller, low budget and maybe not as stylish as the other two Tourneur movies I've seen recently, but it does have a few nice scenes. There's a fine moody scene involving a shadowy staircase with the a woman in a black nightgown pursued by a predator in a white dress that's really nice, and there's an atmospheric romp through a field. Some voodoo nuttiness jazzed up things, and I really liked the freaky-eyed guy on the cover, the character who was the most zombified although the titular zombie was actually somebody else. The early depiction of a strange and exotic culture is a bonus. However, a warning: If you're looking for a good zombie movie, this one would likely disappoint.

Toy Story

1995 movie

Rating: 20/20 (Jen: 20/20; Abbey: 19/20)

Plot: Cowboy Woody is Andy's favorite toy. Andy goes everywhere and does everything with Woody--helps him stop antagonistic potato heads with diabolical schemes, throws him around, repeatedly smacks his groin on a stair railing. Woody and the other toys are happy. Until the threatening arrival of a new spaceman toy, Buzz Lightyear. Wait a second. The characters' names are Woody and Buzz? That seems kind of dirty.

Go ahead and try to argue with me that this isn't a 20/20. Go ahead. I dare you, readers. An impressive start to Pixar's reign of delight with terrific "new" animation (Jen and I saw this in the theater without the one child we had; I was mesmerized) and wonderful characters. The Pixar peeps hit a home run right away with a story that has their unique brand of humor and heart and creative spirit and depth. The often funny and exciting and occasionally touching and (surprisingly) human story's aided by a lively score from the ubiquitous Randy Newman. The voice talent, especially stars Tom Hanks and Tim Allen who were not Pixar's first choices, are great, adding real personalities to the characters. This is not my favorite Pixar movie, and when you've watched it over a thousand times (bad parents that we are, we let Dylan watch it over and over again after it came out on video), you notice some flaws, mostly continuity errors. For example, Andy must live in a tower or something because I'm pretty sure he's got windows on every wall in his room at some point in the movie. The "You're flying!" moment still gives me chills almost every time. Movie magic!

Note: If you care to read it, I do have an alternate "Andy is psychotic" reading of the movie. In it, the toys are of course not actually alive, Sid is actually Andy, Andy's mother is chopped up and stuffed in a toy box, and Pizza Planet is the cafeteria at an asylum.

Louisiana Story

1948 fake documentary

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A boy and his pet raccoon ward off alligators on an otherwise idyllic Louisiana bayou. Things change when an oil company rolls in and sets up its equipment.

Note: There were better poster choices than the one I picked. That makes Louisiana Story look like it could be a love story between a boy and his raccoon, and I don't want you to get the wrong idea. It's not.

A thrill-packed, fun-packed masterpiece from Nanook of the North director Robert Flaherty, a guy who, rather than document reality, manufactured his own artificial realities. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but this one is a real mix of positives and negatives. On the one hand, the narrative part of this narrative documentary is intriguing, and just like in Nanook, Flaherty's filmed in a location that 1940s audiences would find oddly exotic. The black and white bayou is shot beautifully, and I really liked watching the innards of the oil derrick. I also enjoyed watching the peaceful picturesque existence of The Boy (played by Joseph Boudreaux but apparently Alexander Napolean Ulysses Latour in the film) as he sloshed along fishing and talking with his pet raccoon. Boudreaux, like the rest of the ragin' Cajuns in the movie, is a non-actor. Although that lends a bit of authenticity to the proceedings, it also is one of the main problems with the movie. Whenever the characters interact with each other, it seems so staged and unnatural and kind of annoying. This would have been a lot more effective as a silent film. I imagine that Nanook would been pretty goofy if he was filmed in an era where we could hear him talk, too. The part of the movie that makes it "thrill-packed" enough to let them use those words for the poster above involves a heart-stopping battle with an alligator. Or crocodile. Whatever lives down there. Flaherty uses some exciting movie music and alternating shots of the menacing alligator and the boy swinging a stick. The scene goes on and on, and it's pretty silly, even for the 1940s. Speaking of the exciting movie music, composer Virgil Thomson actually won a Pulitzer Prize for the work. I'm not Joseph Pulitzer (or Crocodile Pulitzer or whoever that award is named after), but I actually hated the music. It was just too much, clashing with the simple scenes of the boy in his boat. I would have preferred some simple Cajun music. Or even some complicated Cajun music. Or some crocodile music, simple or complicated.

Ichi the Killer

2001 cartoon yakuza movie

Rating: 10/20

Plot: Ultra-violent and sadistic killer Kakihara hunts for his missing boss Anjo and the three million dollars that must have gone with him. Along the way, he tortures various people in various ways before running into the titular killer. Showdown! Get me the aspirin!

Every time I see a Takashi Miike movie that I don't really like very much, I feel a little bummed. In fact, most of the time I spent with this sickeningly flashy and nauseatingly violent movie was spent feeling bummed. The characters should be more interesting, the gross violence should have some kind of point, and the movie shouldn't have given me such a headache. It's loud and modern stuff, and instead of getting an actual story with a multi-layered conflict between Ichi and Kakihara, you get excursion after excursion. There's guys hanging by the skin from hooks, hot grease dumped on naked backs, and nipples sliced off. At one point, and in a space of about a minute and a half, you get to see a guy cut in half vertically, blood spewing comically from a staggering woman's neck, and a guy pierce his own face with a metal rod thing. The Japanese love that kind of thing, I've heard. I wish it all added up to something, but Ichi the Killer just felt like a completely empty and very long two hours. [Insert joke about how this movie made me feel like Kakihara was torturing me here.]

I did learn a little something though--not only do the Japanese love watching movies with nipple slicing, they also love Kentucky Fried Chicken. Despite Miike's attempts to shock the puke out of me, the appearance of a grinning Colonel Sanders was the sight that shocked me the most.

49 Up

2005 installment of a documentary series

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Filmmaker Michael Apted films and interviews a couple handfuls of seven-year olds. Then, every seven years, he finds them and checks in with how they're doing. In this installment, they're forty-nine and, for the most part, pretty boring.

My main problem with this is that I don't really like human beings all that much. This is definitely a case where I like the idea of a movie better than the actual movie. Filming people every seven years? That sounds like a fantastic idea. I can see that being a profound and maybe even humorous experience, glimpses at the human spirit, microcosms of humanity that we can watch and learn more about ourselves. Unfortunately for Michael Apted (and me, I guess), these people are really boring. It's probably because they're English. Out of the ten or so folks who were interviewed for this series, there was really only one guy I enjoyed learning about or wanted to find out more about, a guy who at thirty-five was homeless. He was interesting. I can't really imagine anybody wanting to spend time with any of these other people. For somebody who hasn't seen 7 Up through 42 Up, these biographies were a little on the sketchy side, too. I was most amused when the subjects seemed angry at Apted and lashed out at him. Perhaps they were having difficulty figuring out the point of all this just like me. This has more depth than a reality television series, but it's got that same kind of voyeuristic feel that modern television audiences seem to like. Only there's not a Kardashian sister in it. There's something fascinating about watching people age, and I think I would have liked this a lot more if I had followed the series from the beginning. And maybe if this particular collection of people weren't so dull.

True Grit

2010 Western

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

Plot: The guy in that one Coen Brothers' movie killed another guy, one we never see but who was more than likely in at least one Coen Brothers' movie. His daughter wants vengeance. She wants it bad! So she finds a tough guy with an eyepatch, the guy who was in that one Coen Brothers' movie, and hires him to take care of business. A guy who has never been in a Coen Brothers' movie but who was in another movie with a guy who was in a Coen Brothers' movie tags along because he's been looking for the guy who was in the one Coen Brothers' movie for a very long time. A guy who looks like a bear shows up later.

Nice traditional, old-school Wild West action here, shaded with the Brothers' dark humor, offbeat characters, and stylized ultraviolence. Cause nobody just gets stabbed in the chest or shot in the head in a Coen Brothers' movie. They create big moments whenever their characters get theirs, moments that are oft-graphic, sometimes blackly humorous, and almost always thrilling. There's almost a coldness to their death scenes, and the poor characters pass to the next world without dignity. That's not a criticism, by the way. And the next worlds that most of these characters will inhabit probably aren't going to be a very nice one, like where the Care Bears live. No, most of these characters are going to end up in some dusty purgatory where their scars will itch. Being a Coen Brothers' movie, there are certain things you can just expect walking in: a great meaty script with lots of humorous things for the characters to say, stunning visual storytelling, and a few moments you'll want to talk about later. You know, like guys being shoved into wood chippers. And you get all that, as well as some terrific character acting. Mattie's played by somebody named Hailee Steinfeld, and although she's good, this really isn't her movie. This belongs to Lebowski, and every word he speaks is drenched in tobacco juice and whiskey and broken glass and filth. Bridges' Rooster is that type of character who is very funny without making any effort at all to be funny. You have to love Bridges' versatility. Matt Damon and Josh Brolin are also good, and the rest of the supporting cast, sometimes only on the screen for a few odd moments, help color in the Coens' askew vision of the Wild West. What I didn't expect walking into a Coen Brothers' movie: a heavy-handed Hollywoody score (I'll have to hear it again actually; Jen says it's a nod to the classics of the genre, and I think it could help with the myth making.) and such a traditional, simple story. The latter was no problem. What bugged me was the end where simple was thrown out of the saloon to make way for a goofy and unlikely denouement where a few too many things happen. As with all Coen Brothers' movies, I look forward to seeing this again.

Jen and I made a rare trip to the theater to see this one. We saw previews for a movie that must be based on the old Rockin' Robots toy and a movie about Neil Armstrong finding Transformers on the moon. Jen leaned over during both and (too loudly) said, "I am all over that! Booyah!"

Make Way for Tomorrow

1937 weeper

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Bark and Lucy Cooper, the elderly parents of five children, get those ingrates together and announce that they are losing their home. None of the children will take both parents in, and Bark and Lucy are forced to live apart for the first time in many many years. Things don't work out so well, and eventually, he's on his way to live with another one of his offspring in California while she's on her way to an old folks home. They get together for one final afternoon and evening and celebrate their lives together while dreaming of a time when they can share a home again.

Not much in the first half of the movie grabbed me. I liked the two central characters fine as 1930's characters. The children were all about the same, selfish and ungrateful. The interactions between the characters were depressing and even a little uncomfortable. Things developed dismally and then proceeded to get even more dismal. The movie wasn't terrible, but something was missing. Then, at about the halfway point, it became magical. What was missing was apparently face-to-face old people interaction. The scenes during the second half of the movie where they're spending time together are nothing short of beautiful, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried a little bit. That second half of the film is packed with touching moments, my favorite being where the Coopers break the fourth wall, interrupting a kiss to glance back at me crying on my bed. The film's structure--the movie throws out the main conflict right away with little background or character development and saves revelations about the protagonists for the end of the film as they discuss their lives together--creates this startling contrast. Especially troubling is the juxtaposition between how they're treated and talked about by their own children and their experiences with a car salesman and a hotel manager. I imagine the uncompromising conclusion wouldn't be satisfying for every viewer, especially one looking for a bright and shiny 1930's Hollywood ending, but it works as a saggy exclamatory mark at the end of a beautiful and touching movie.


1996 movie

Rating: 9/20 (Jen: 12/20; Emma: 13/20; Abbey: 20/20)

Plot: Poor Matilda, a sweet intelligent little girl with cruel and dishonest parents. They don't want her to be imaginative, think for herself, or read books. Finally, she's allowed to go to school, but the principal of the school turns out to be even more cruel. Luckily for Matilda, she's got a wonderful and inspiring teacher. That and a special power!

My guess is that Danny DeVito was attempting to make the loudest, most irritating movie of all time. This is the type of movie that doesn't really have characters or much of a plot. It has overblown caricatures, more abrasive than comic, and some loosely connected situations for those caricatures to do stuff in. It's got the feel of one of those non-animated Disney family comedies from the 70's. You know, the ones with what was considered "comic mischief" back then, stuff with talking cats or kids who wake up with the ability to fly or something. This is based on a Roald Dahl story, generally a positive, but here, his usual macabre humor has been substituted for something mean and tacky.

And perhaps it's just me, but it was difficult for me to watch this because I couldn't stop picture the versatile Danny DeVito and wife Rhea Perlman doing it. Go ahead and close your eyes and picture that for a moment. Good for them being one of those rare Hollywood couples who can manage to stay together for so long though!

Roald Dahl seems to be Abbey's favorite author. She was reading this book which is why we ended up watching this. I'm glad she liked it.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

1988 comedy

Rating: 17/20

Plot: An actress attempts to confront her actor boyfriend who has decided to leave her. She's got a suitcase full of his things and wants to talk to him before he leaves on a trip. His wife, his son, his son's girlfriend, the actresses friend who happens to be dating a terrorist, and the actor's new mistress all get involved. It's madness!

My favorite character in this is the blond mambo cab driver who has a mini-convenience store in his taxi. Like the rest of the movie, he's like a gaudy cartoon, his hair clashing with everything else on the screen. At one point, he's told to "follow that cab," and he replies, "I thought this only happened in the movies." His experience was just like mine. Most of what happens in this farcical black comedy would only happen in a movie. And there's not much you see in this film that looks like anything in real life. Almodovar uses color here as well as any director I've ever seen. In fact, this movie is really more about colors and shapes than it is about the characters and what they're doing. There are so many scenes that showcase Almodovar's visual creativity, his unique vision. The wife's profile as she rides on a motorcycle. Projected light cutting the screen in half horizontally. Two policemen simultaneous sipping gazpacho. A shot of a character in a telephone booth with another character obliviously storming past while, in the background, a third character ominously approaches. And my favorite--the shot of the mambo cab driver crying. As my regular four-and-a-half readers know, I'm a sucker for visuals, and this is a feast for the eyes from beginning to end. The story started difficult and at first, I thought I was going to have difficulties connecting with so many women characters, but their story bounces around wonderfully and is consistently surprising and very very funny.

Night of the Demon

1957 horror movie

Rating: 17/20

Plot: American psychologist John Holden travels to London for a conference on the paranormal. Plans to work with Professor Harrington are changed when the professor manages to electrocute himself while trying to flee from a giant funky-looking demon. Skeptical of all things in the realm of the paranormal, Holden doesn't listen to the warnings of Harrington's neice or believe the strange things that occur following his arrival in England are anything more than coincidences. Unfortunately for him, he's been cursed by cult leader and part-time clown Julian Karswell, a guy who tells him he's scheduled to die in just a couple days.

I know, I know. The movie's called Night of the Demon or, in America at least, Curse of the Demon. It's got a B-movie plot about devil worshippers and curses. It starts with B-movie-style narration, a guy rambling about this-and-that over shots of what could be stock footage of Stonehenge. And it's got a demon monster thing that looks exactly like it does on the poster up there. Yeah, on the surface, it smells an awful lot like a B-horror flick, cheap Satanploitation from the 50s. Instead, it's a tense, quickly-paced little thriller with atmosphere galore and some genuinely spooky moments. Plenty to dig here--demon-aided wind storms, cult leader parlor magic tricks, anthropomorphous slips of paper, killer smoke, a hand on a banister, a killer demon-possessed kitty. Speaking of the latter, and giving this even more of a B-movie flavor, there is a fantastic scene where the main character wrestles with a stuffed animal. I love those. This movie shoots its wad early, against Out of the Past director Jacques Tourneur's wishes apparently, by showing the demon in the first five minutes of the movie. And it looks decently menacing from a distance, stumbling through the trees like a clumsy Japanese monster. An unfortunate close-up makes me wonder if it's a borrowed head from a Roger Corman horror movie. The demon pops up again later in a nearly identical way. There are a few nice shots with parts of the demon though. But this movie is much more effective, and easily more suspenseful and mysterious, during the middle bulk of the movie when the demon is nowhere to be seen. Something about the dialogue, and I'm not sure if it's in the writing or the characters' rapport which at times seemed rushed, was a little off. But despite any flaws this movie might have, this little horror movie's got a lot of character and demonic charm, and Tourneur's great directing eye for visual storytelling and mood making keeps it interesting from start to finish.

By the way, I gave this a full bonus point for the performance of Reginald Beckwith as Mr. Meek, a medium. He's on the screen for only a short time but it's a magical short time. I wanted a Mr. Meek spin-off movie! Beckwith walks into the scene a normal guy, becomes completely unhinged, starts doing all these weird voices, and then finishes and leaves the movie. If this was the only job Reginald Beckwith ever had, he still would have deserved a lifetime achievement award for this scene. And don't tell me those weird voices were just some really well-done dubbing job because it will crush my spirit.


2008 horror allegory

Rating: 11/20

Plot: A pair of Swedish brothers work alongside Russian soldiers to form the boundaries between their countries following a lengthy war. They get to a tiny village with a mysterious sauna. One of the brother's sins come back to haunt him.

It's lazy viewing on my part probably. I kind of lost interest in this one early on despite some good costumes, creepy settings, and a mysterious vibe. My brain, numbed, never recovered, and by the time the really strange final fifteen minutes rolled in, it was too late for me to figure out what the hell was going on. The characters aren't "people" enough to be real. Instead, they seem to work more as figures in an allegory. Likewise, the story feels incomplete. It starts in the middle, doesn't really go anywhere, and ends in a baffling flurry of nightmare imagery. We're in more weird than affecting territory here. Sauna does seem to have interesting ideas and some terrifying, maybe even memorable, imagery, but as a horror story or a fable, it feels unfinished. But like I said, that could be my fault. It's one of those types of movies I needed to watch with somebody smarter so that it could be explained to me.

Repo! The Genetic Opera

2008 genetic opera

Rating: 8/20 (Anonymous: 12/20)

Plot: It's the year 2056, and folks organs aren't working too well anymore. Luckily, there's GeneCo, a company that helps the needy get transplants. And if the patient can't make make his or her payments? Well, the organs are repossessed violently by a masked singing repo man. A girl with a mysterious illness, her dad, a grave robber, the president of GeneCo, and his idiot children all sing about it.

Apparently, there are a ton of posters for this one. One of them even clearly says at the top "From the producers of Saw" and a little bit lower "Paris Hilton" but that didn't stop my brother from grabbing this and inviting me over to watch it with him. For the most part, Repo! The Genetic Opera looks and feels just like something made by the producers of Saw that happens to have Paris Hilton in it would. For a musical to work, the music has to be good, and the throbbing gothic industrial shit in this is not, lyrically or sonically. Musically and visually, this is pretty gross. I was surprised that this movie had the budget it did. The sets were elaborate, and the dark future the makers of this envisioned is fully realized although it suffers from some CGI-ugliness. The concept is clever enough to deserve a decent budget, I suppose, but it's so poorly executed. The acting is bad universally, and strangely, a lot of the performers don't sing very well. I suppose it would be hard to have to sing such poorly written lines while trying to keep from laughing though. Perhaps that was the situation with actor Bill Moseley, a guy who's had a lengthy career doing small bits in horror movies including Army of Darkness. Nearly every time he was given screen time, I wanted to laugh, and I'm not sure that was the intention. When the producers of Saw tried to inject a little dark humor into the proceedings--a few bad puns here and there, some gross-out stuff--it didn't work at all. Repo! The Genetic Musical ends up nothing more than an attempt to make the next Rocky Horror Picture Show. I don't like that movie at all either but wouldn't even recommend this to people who do. For those out there who happen to enjoy this sort of thing, it sets up nicely for a sequel. Anonymous and I will be there opening night, probably dressed up as Blind Mag and Luigi Largo respectively.

Paris Hilton, by the way, plays a character whose face falls off. I thought for sure I was watching a Carl's Jr.'s commercial during that scene.

Out of the Past

1947 noir classic

Rating: 18/20

Plot: Detective-for-hire Jeff Bailey's attempting to live a quiet life in a do-nothing town, working at a gas station and dating a nice girl. A mysterious man from his past pops up and yanks Bailey back into his less-prosaic days. While driving with his girlfriend to meet Whit Sterling, he fills her in on his backstory, telling about the time he was hired by Whit Sterling to find estranged girlfriend Kathie Moffat, a woman who shot him a couple times in the abdomen before her departure. He finds her, and although she seems like the type of gal who could shoot him in the abdomen a couple times and then depart, he starts nailing her. Sexually, I mean. And since Robert Mitchum is in the movie, things don't work out so well after that.

Speaking of sex, this movie has a great 1940's sex scene. Mitchum and seductive Greer flee a rainstorm on a beach (interestingly [and symbolically], backdropped with all these nets) and go back to her place. He kisses her on the neck, the lights go out, the camera pans to the right, and the blustery night pushes the door wide open. Damn! Is that hot or what? Mitchum's great as usual as the doomed protagonist, a guy who, no matter how good he is at his job, is going to wind up dead by the end of the movie. He's one of the few actors who can have this layer of machismatic confidence not quite hiding a layer of doomed resignation. His performance fools the viewer into thinking the guy's in control of a situation that he just has no control over. What a face that Mitchum has. Greer's perfect as the femme fatale. From the moment she appears on the screen (a great shot with a great line, a line paralleled a few scenes later, that goes with it), you no that she's no good. And there's Kirk Douglas again, his character a nice contrast to what Mitchum's got going on. Director Jacques Tourneur, a Frenchman, uses light and dark and shadows and symbols to tell this story, one that grows more and more complex as it goes until it's so muddy that you have to pause and give your mind time to catch up a bit. This is nearly noir perfection, from the first appearance of Sterling's darkly-dressed thug at the beginning to the expression of the deaf kid at the end.

Shane-movies trivia [Spoiler Alert!]: I think it would hurt to get shot in the groin.

The Intruder

1962 drama

Rating: 16/20

Plot: William Shatner arrives in a small southern town where school integration has just become the law. People of the town don't like it much, but most have decided that there's not much they can do about it. Until The Shat comes along, that is. He pontificates the crowds into a lather, inciting violent acts and threatening behavior against the blacks.

If this movie was better known (it was the only movie Roger Corman made that lost money according to the dvd box), Shatner's villain is the kind of character that could have ruined his career. Just seeing Captain Kirk admire a burning cross or riding (sans white hood) in a convertible with three Ku-Klux-Klan guys made him despicable enough, but he's so slimy in other scenes that have nothing to do with racism, too. I wish I could type with confidence that the character and the actions he ignites in this dumpy town with these dumpy people are exaggerated, but it's an unfortunate and embarrassing part of our American history. At times, it's almost like a Cliff Notes version of the segregation/integration issue, but it's still a ballsy movie, especially for the early 60s. I imagine that if the same exact movie came out today, and I wouldn't be as impressed, but there's just something cool about a movie coming out at this time where the clear line between the good guys and bad guys pretty much separates the white characters from the black ones respectively. Even the white characters who end up doing right things are flawed enough to make them less than heroic. The score's powerful with its driving horns, and there's an intense denouement that, if not entirely satisfying nevertheless works very well, leaving things as open-ended as they probably were at the time. Good movie.


1972 blaxploitative horror movie

Rating: 11/20

Plot: In the 1500s, blac guy heads to a castle in Transylvania to protest slavery. The owner of the castle happens to be a vampire and kills his girlfriend before biting him and dubbing him Blacula. Years later, some homosexuals buy his casket and, apparently without checking to see if it has a body in it, transports it to Los Angeles. Blacula pops out and starts vampiring it up, enjoying the city's night life and chasing after a groovy gal who sort of looks like his lost love. But with an afro. Play that funky music, vampire!

Dracula Negro might be a better title. Blacula made me think I was about to watch something really stupid, really low budget, and poorly written and acted. Actually, Blacula is a fairly clever twist on the Dracula story. Some of the acting is what you'd expect from a funky 70's flick like this, but fellow Hoosier William Marshall, the guy who plays the titular vampire, delivers a very un-campy performance with some surprising emotional ummph. He's like a black Christopher Lee. I was right about the budget and writing though. It's bad puns galore and make-up that appears to have been made out of cake frosting. The vampires kind of look like undead desserts. Of course this isn't terrific cinema, but it's also not nearly bad enough to be all that entertaining unfortunately. The plot drags, and the whole thing's filmed lifelessly. I have no desire to see the sequel, and I'm pretty sure that makes me a racist.

Ivan's Childhood

1962 war movie

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Poor Ivan. Germans killed his parents. He attempts to avenge their deaths during World War II by acting as a Russian spy, taking advantage of his tiny frame to sneak around undetected and bring back important intelligence.

I told Jen that she had to watch this with me because I watched (survived) the painful Meet Me in St. Louis. She agreed, but she didn't last five minutes. Too bad because this is one terrific movie! I've got plans to watch all of Andrei Tarkovsky's movies this year and decided to start with this, his first. Although this maybe isn't as avant-garde as the other movies of his I've seen, there's still a lot of stunning stuff going on here, especially for a directorial debut. What you notice first is the cinematography. The black and white gives this a dreamy quality, and the locations (swamps with streaks of dark trees cutting across gray skies, dilapidated buildings devoured by war) are filmed so beautifully. Ivan's Childhood is also the type of movie that makes you think about lighting. Three or four dream sequences, including a startling bit with a truck full of apples that represents the most experimental part of the movie, give Ivan some backstory as well as bringing his character, in his current state, closer to you. The kid (Nikolay Burlyaev) is really good, a child performance that rivals Jake Lloyd's in The Phantom Menace. The ending is a real downer but just about perfect. It, along with a few other scenes, are so good that you almost have to pause the movie to pick your jaw off the floor. A real soul rocker!

Next Tarkovsky movie: The Mirror. If anybody's interested in simul-watching, let me know.


2008 death movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: After Daigo's orchestra is disbanded, he and his wife move to his old hometown where he takes a job with a travel agency. It's not a normal travel agency though because the destination is the afterlife and his clients are dead. He learns the trade from the boss and tries to cope with life's changes. When his wife finds out exactly what his new career involves, she's pissed. Oh, snap!

So I kept thinking about how much I liked the performance of Tsutomu Yamazaki, the older gentleman who played Daigo's boss. He seemed familiar, and since I've seen my share of Japanese movies, I figured I'd likely seen him in something before. Turns out he played the truck driver in Tampopo, one of the first movies I recommended to reader Cory who recommended this to me. In a lot of ways, this reminds me of Tampopo (also known as Dandelion apparently); it's very Japanese, delicate to the point here it almost seems breakable and alternating between very humorous moments and some poignant scenes that make you cry. I enjoyed watching the rituals, and both actors (Yamazaki and Masahiro Motoki as the main character) do a good job with the minute details involved with preparing the dead bodies for burial. Watching Daigo's growth in this is a beautiful experience. He makes some startling decisions at times in this movie, and it's neat how as he gets more and more involved with death, he develops a better understanding and appreciation for life. It all builds to a revealing and touching climax that I thought manipulated very effectively. This is very foreign film, Foreign with a capital F, and the pacing was difficult for me, a fan of Ghostrider. I can't imagine many American filmmakers who would show this many scenes of a guy playing the cello outside. Departures handles the idea of mortality and the emotions involved with the death of loved ones as well as any movie I've ever seen. The sheer amount of death in this movie, a body count rivalling the Kill Bills, should make this the most depressing movie ever, yet it manages to be really uplifting. Lovely stuff.

OK, that comparison to Kill Bill is a huge exaggeration. This barely has any kung-fu at all although there is a pretty bitchin' scene where the couple battles a killer octopus.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

2010 rom-com fantasy mayhem

Rating: 15/20

Plot: 22-year-old Pilgrim's on the rebound after being dumped by his girlfriend. He spends his time playing with his band, Sex Bob-ombs (Mario reference), and hanging out with his high school girlfriend, Knives. They've even held hands. One night and falls for Ramona. Things are going well as they start dating, but soon, her evil ex-boyfriends start appearing out of nowhere to battle Scott, Mortal Kombat style!

I'm not a gamer although I have spent considerable amounts of time with a joystick, and yes, I'm aware there's a double meaning there. I'm not a comic book guy, and I probably wouldn't have known this was based on graphic novels if not for Kairow. Romantic-comedy ain't my genre, and over-the-top action movies annoy me. I really doubt, since I'm fastly approaching elderly, that I'm anywhere near the right demographic. Scott Pilgrim is a loud, often repetitive assault on the senses, a barrage of wackiness and fantastical mischief. But you know what? It's a hell of a lot of fun! It's a fervent and fresh approach to your old boy-meets-girl story, managing to have a style of its own despite plagiarizing from everything from the Batman t.v. show to Donkey Kong. It's a potpourri of pop-culture regurgitations, spewing technicolor from the television screen right in my lap, but I didn't mind a bit. The pace is rapid, and the jokes come a mile a minute. Not all of them connect (more than a few probably because I'm twice as old as Michael Cera) but it's stuffed full with so many of them that the fpm (funny per minute) is still impressive. Speaking of Michael Cera, an actor young enough to be my son, he plays the same character he always plays but with bushier hair. I still like that character, but I wonder what's going to happen to this kid's career when he hits puberty. Creative, energetic and, if not especially meaningful, lots and lots of fun. I would definitely see it again.

Beck (the American Cornelius) and Cornelius (the Japanese Beck) did songs for this.


1968 samurai comedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A ex-samurai bumps into a farmer who desires to become a samurai in a dilapidated old town with a few people and a chicken in it. They end up on opposing sides of a gang war.

More a parody of samurai cinema than an actual samurai movie, Kill! is an entertaining ride albeit a convoluted and wacky one. I really liked Tatsuya Nakadai as the "Man with No Name" character Genta. He seemed recognizable, but that's probably just because all samurai look the same. And that's not racist because samurai ain't a race. Look it up. Look up Nakadai's resume, and you'll see a ton of movies I've seen though. I remember watching this movie before I should have (like, before I'd watched a bunch of the other movies on Nakadai's resume), and I understood it even less. This time, I dug it despite not completely being able to follow every twist and turn, every betrayal and backstab. The cinematography's nifty, the camera often finding itself in places other directors wouldn't put it, and Okamoto, like so many other Japanese action directors, sure can frame a scene. He also knows how to set a mood, from the claustrophobic fort the seven guys hole themselves up in to the ubiquitous dust during the opening ten or so minutes that reminded me more of a spaghetti western than anything else. And speaking of that genre, I thought the music, obvious nod to Morricone, was strange but also strangely fitting. Pretty cool flick, the personal level of coolness probably determined by how many of these types of movies the viewer has seen.

Kihachi Okamoto is the director of a really bitchin' movie called The Sword of Doom, by the way. You should definitely see that one.

Ace in the Hole (The Big Carnival)

1951 movie with one too many titles

Rating: 18/2o

Plot: Newspaper man Chuck Tatum's career is in the toilet, mostly the result of extracurricular activities that have gotten him fired from big-city publications. He attempts to get a fresh start with a dumpy paper in Arizona where he hopes for a big story to put him back on the map. On his way to cover a frog-jumping competition (or something), he stumbles upon a guy trapped in a mine. He quickly realizes that engineers can get him out quickly, but Tatum, along with the man's wife and the sheriff looking to be re-elected have reasons to keep him in there longer. The nothing-Arizona town turns into a circus.

Kirk Douglas overacts in this. Actors who read their lines while sparks come out of their eyes usually are. Douglas chews up the scenery, chomping down on the Arizona desert and gnawing on the newspaper office. He's at the center of nearly every scene in the movie, so that could have been a problem. Instead, his performance is so full of energy and he gets such great lines to say ("I could do wonders with your dismembered limbs"; "If there's no news, I'll go out and bite a dog") that you not only get used to it, but you actually start to like him as this really despicable figure. I like how you can tell that Douglas, even when he's just standing there or moving from point A to point B, has got his mind running. You can see the conspiratorial gears grinding in his mind right through his eyes when he's talking to Jan Sterling's character or Ray Teal as the sheriff. Billy Wilder gives us a ton of great shots in this film, and one great one has all three of those characters' faces on screen while they're listening to talk about a drill. They all have that gears-a-runnin' look in their eyes. I also like a shot near the end where Tatum's shadow covers the character who happens to be speaking--Jimmy Olson. It almost looks like a mistake, but it perfectly symbolizes the completion of Tatum's corruption of Jimmy Olson. Fur on a rocking rocking chair, and a final shot of the trapped guy's dad after everybody clears out are also terrific. Ace in the Hole, or whatever the hell you want to call it, is a darkly humorous, well-paced, cynical, and ultimately tragic story with an eerily contemporary message. It's ahead of its time and is right up there with Wilder's Sunset Boulevard, Double Indemnity, and Stalag 17. Man, what a director.

Ace in the Hole trivia, courtesy of imdb.com: Chuck Tatum has a line where he mentions Yogi Berra. Yogi Berra was a baseball player for the New York Yankees. I probably didn't need to tell you that, but if Kirk Douglas was one of my five-and-a-half blog readers, he wouldn't have. In a letter about the line he wrote to Billy Wilder, Douglas asked, "What the hell is a Yogi Berra?"

Bonus Shane trivia: I liked a line in this about a guy wearing both a belt and suspenders so much that I stole the idea for a writing project I'm working on with my own conspirator. I did this unapologetically because that's the type of cat that I am.


1990 documentary from Iran

Rating: 16/20

Plot: The story of a gentleman who, after being mistaken for director Mohsen Makhmalbaf on a bus, decides to pretend to be him to gain the trust of a family and access to their home. It gets him into some trouble because it's apparently illegal to impersonate famous film directors.

Unusual stylistic hodgepodge here. It's a semi-documentary. Director Kiarostami's line between fact
and fiction is a fuzzy one. On the one hand, you get footage from the actual trial. It might even be too much of the actual trial. The details get a little repetitive and border on the minutia. On the other hand, you get reenactments of some of the interactions with the fraudulent Sabzian and the Ahankhah (spelled backward: Hahknaha) family including their initial meeting on the bus and several mundane conversations in their home. And who better to get for the reenactments than the actual participants themselves. The whole thing just seems odd to me, but it makes for a multi-layered documentary about film, celebrity, pride, and an assortment of other things. I know nothing about Abbas Kiarostami other than his parents maybe named him after a crappy band, but judging from this, I'd guess he's the intellectually playful type. There's a scene early in this where a taxi driver is standing around waiting. The camera doesn't follow the police into the house where an arrest takes place. No, it stays with the taxi driver. At one point, he kicks a canister and it rolls, seemingly forever, down the street. The camera follows it and follows it and follows it. Later, when the news reporter who took the taxi with the police officers (it struck me as funny that the police arrested the guy and they all drove away in the cab) is going door-to-door in search of a tape recorder to borrow, he sees the canister and gives it a healthy kick. Does it mean anything? I don't know. But it's the kind of detail I like in my movies. Special credit needs to go to the "actors" in this, especially Sabzian. I've heard it's difficult playing yourself, yet those reenactments looked like they could have been documentary footage. This isn't everybody's cup of tea, but for some, it would be an interesting and rewarding experience.


2006 cartoon

Rating: 14/20 (Jen: 17/20; Emma: 13/20; Abbey: 20/20; Sophie: ?/20)

Plot: It all comes down to a final race between three cars with the winner, including a cocky rookie race car named Lightning McQueen, getting the Piston Cup. That's apparently a big deal. On the way, he gets stuck in a dumpy little forgotten town called Radiator Springs where he's forced to repave a road that he destroyed. Can he complete the task in enough time to get to California and the Piston Cup championship? Will his selfish feelings change as he gets to know the locals in Radiator Springs?

For me, it can be summed up in three simple words. More accurately, two words and a part of a word. Two and a half words. The words? "Get 'r done." A lot of the animation, especially the stuff at the tracks, is beautifully done, and I like Lightning as a good dynamic character voiced by Owen Wilson. It's my least favorite Pixar movie, and I wish the Pixar geniuses would tackle an Incredibles 2 instead of following up this or the monster movie.

Now, to be the opposite of randy since not enough people have participated in the poll to help me figure out the appropriate level of randiness, I'll force my children to type something about Cars.

Abbey: Cars the movie is the best movie ever because it has lots of action. I love how Lightning is a race car. When Lightning was in the truck, I liked all of the toys he had. At the end I liked how Lightning saved a racing car. I thought it was really nice when they found Lightning in Radiator Springs. They were all taking pictures.

Emma: A lot of movies are somewhat amazing and the other ones are kinda boring. But there is also a middle. Cars, in my opinion, is one of those in the middle. I like some of the parts like the whole idea of the movie but it was predictable... in some parts. cows are awesome. MOoO

Moo indeed.


1944 Hitchcock movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A black guy, a nerdy guy, a guy who likes dancing, a guy who doesn't like to wear a shirt, a snobbish socialite, a young woman, and maybe a couple people I've forgotten about survive the sinking of their ship. Tension mounts when they pick up one of the Germans who torpedoed their ship. They debate what to do with their "prisoner" but soon realize they may have to rely on his expertise to save them from their predicament.

I was skimming a trivia page for Lifeboat and came across this nugget: Members of the crew noticed that Tallulah Bankhead was performing sans underwear and brought the issue to Uncle Alfred's attention. Hitchcock answered, probably while chewing on marbles, "I don't know if this is a matter for the costume department, makeup, or hairdressing." I told my wife this, and she asked (with that scrunched-up face she makes some times), "Are you putting that in the blog?" I said, "Of course!" She suggested I start writing cleaner and "get rid of the randiness." So that brings us to the first shane-movies poll of 2011! Please leave your answer(s) in the comments. Do you:

A) want less randiness
B) want a lot less randiness
C) want more randiness
D) want a whole lot more randiness, randiness of Mary Poppins proportions!
E) want nothing but randiness
F) want no randiness at all
G) want the exact same amount of randiness
H) want the same amount of randiness but desire some diversity in the randiness
I) have no problems with randiness as long as it's not too gross or read too close to dinner time
J) have problems even remembering any shane-movies randiness in previous entries
K) have no problem with randiness as long as it's in an entry about randy old Uncle Alfred's movies
L) just want me to write about the movies and not go on and on about randiness
M) want this to be the randiest blog in the history of the Internet
N) think I should start having give-aways like some blogs my wife reads

Quick note: Two movies in a row to start this year with a compound word for a title. Although I'm not sure Timecrimes is a real word.

The movie? Well, John Steinbeck wrote it, based on Hitchcock's idea, and Hitchcock directed it. For a 40's movie that takes place entirely in a boat (Hitchcock experimenting again with a one-setting movie), it sure manages to seem realistic. I like that Hitchcock wasn't afraid to take a tense situation and throw in some comic moments. There are a lot of characters for one lifeboat, and I wish they could have been developed more. This is the type of movie that forces the viewer to put themselves in the situation of its characters and imagine making the same choices though, and it is a story more about the situation than the individuals involved. I really liked Walter Slezak as the enigmatic German, always calculating and with motivations that don't entirely make sense to me. Odd ending, one that made me wonder if Hitchcock was messing with me. Speaking of the director, you've got to look close for his trademark cameo, but it's a clever one.


2007 Spanish time travel movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Hector, a really dumb middle-aged gentleman, doesn't seem to do much. He makes a mess in his driveway, tries to take a nap, and lounges in a lawn chair in his backyard. It's while engaging in the latter that he spots a woman stripping in the woods. After his wife takes off, he decides to investigate further. When he finds her, a man with pink bandages attacks him with a pair of scissors and he flees, eventually arriving at some kind of research laboratory and getting in a time machine. Things get confusing.

This, an enjoyable if flawed puzzling mindbender here, one of those time travel yarns where the story loops on itself a few times, will likely be the best movie I see all year directed by a guy named Nacho. The main flaw is with our protagonist Hector. Very few decisions he makes in this story make sense. The movie sets up this paradox, fiddling with the old noggin, and is entertaining even when you know what's going to happen. There just has to be plot holes, but I don't want to think about it that closely. It's a concise and dense little psychological thriller, working almost as a modern sci-fi parable, but it doesn't have a lot of depth and has a maleficent punchline. Despite playing a dumb character, I thought Karra Elejalde did a good job with an at-times physical role, and I really like Barbara Goenaga as "La Chica en el Bosque" and wouldn't mind seeing her breasts in more movies. Nacho himself plays El Joven, but he probably should have found somebody else to take the part. I imagine somebody could watch this and pick it to pieces, but if you like time travel movies and don't mind turning your brain off for an hour and a half while watching one with an especially stupid title, you might like this.

It appears that there will be an American remake of this, probably because people in America don't like to read.