Movie Club Pick for March: The Rock-afire Explosion

2008 documentary

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

Plot: A look at the history of the Showbiz Pizza Place animatronic animal house band, The Rock-afire Explosion. The 'Splosion's fame was short-lived, but Creative Engineering, Inc. founder and band creator Aaron Fechter noticed a strong Internet fanbase early in the 21st Century. This documentary explores Rock-afire merchandise collectors, some who've even purchased their own Rock-afire Explosion in order to never have to completely grow up.

It's probably fitting that Michael Jackson footage found his way into this thing. Like the King of Pop, there are some people in this documentary who just can't or won't grow up. Jen seemed more startled about it all than I did. Me, I was filled with nostalgia while watching this thing. I loved Showbiz Pizza Place growing up (not that I ever dreamed of owning the Rock-afire Explosion like the guy in the documentary), and I'm sure those special trips to the restaurant contributed to my love of puppets and talking animals today. After all, it was the place where a "kid can be a kid," no matter how crappy the pizza tasted. So it was fun for me seeing the old commercials, footage of the band itself, a guy blowing in a Nintendo game to get it working. A scene in this also caused me to flash back to a turning point in my life. There's a scene near the end of this thing where you can hear the mechanisms, the clanking sound that the band members' parts make when they move around. I remember as a slightly older kid sitting up close to the Rock-afire Explosion and hearing that same sound and thinking, "My God! These guys aren't real at all! It's time for me to grow up." Soon after, I told my friend that it sounded like Mitzi Mozzarella needed some grease and that I was man enough to handle the task. I think that was the end of that friendship actually. My favorite scene in this was when they're taking Mitzi apart. It's like a Mitzi striptease, and like all my favorite stripteases, it goes all the way below the skin, right to the parts you've got to oil. Hot! I liked seeing the behind-the-scenes stuff in the Creative Engineering, Inc. factory. I was amazed at how quickly it all came together since animatronics, according to Fechter, is "everything in the universe put together." But he was making gasoline-conserving automobiles and leaf-eaters in 1973 with no interest in singing animals and then by 1978 had this band together. I really thought Fechter, a college graduate at 19, was a semi-impressive guy. Jen was less impressed, but I thought the guy was a genius. I wondered just what this guy could have accomplished if his brain wasn't as messy as the empty factory he still owns. He seems like the type of guy who should be saving the planet. And that sort of brings us to the central question this documentary explores--is the creation of an animatronic pizza joint band enough of a legacy? It doesn't seem to me that Fechter would say it was. He had bigger dreams left unfulfilled. The fans of the band, however, would surely tell you otherwise. There's a weird contrast set up by all this. You've got Chris Thrash (seriously, is that a real name?) who's had his dream realized just by owning his own Rock-afire Explosion and poor Fechter who, in the interview segments and that sad tour of Creative Engineering, seemed to have trouble deciding whether he was perfectly content or completely dejected. I could have done without the Cannibal Run-esque outtakes at the end or the whole thing about Thrash finding his Mrs. Thrash, she of the giant chest band-aid, and marrying her at skating rink or Fechter apparently hooking up with Rock-afire groupie who realized that Fatz Geronimo would never be interested in nailing her and figured Fechter was the next best thing.

Mitzi, if you're reading this, call me.

Kind Hearts and Coronets

1949 black English comedy

Rating: 18/20

Plot: Young Louis Mazzini feels cheated by his D'Ascoyne heirs who he feels robbed his mother of her family rights after she married out of love rather than because of social reasons. When his mother passes on, they won't even let her be buried with the family. That's the last straw for Louis who, already in a bad mood when childhood sweetheart Sibella decides to marry their childhood peer instead of him, decides to get his revenge by killing the eight members of the family standing in his way of becoming the Duke of D'Ascoyne. May the Force be with the D'Ascoyne family.

That "May the Force by with you" joke covers a lot of movie nerd ground. Alec Guinness isn't given a lot to do with any of the individual parts, but he does get to play all eight members of the D'Ascoyne family, including Lady Agatha the suffragette, who Mazzini either kills or who just die before he can get to him. This movie's actually in the Alec Guinness Book of World Records for having the most Alec Guinnesses in it. That's a fact, and you can look it up. Dennis Price as the emotionless, calculating killer is about perfect, too. It's a fine line of a character, and if stretched too thin or chewed on too much, it just wouldn't have worked. But Price, like the irony-soaked script, is perfectly suave. He delivers these wonderfully ironic lines (My favorites might be the one about how his principles wouldn't allow him to hunt and how it's difficult to kill people when you are not on friendly terms...oh, and the one about why he decides to kill the priest next...oh, and...nevermind. Just watch the movie yourself.) and you almost expect him to give you one of those big exaggerated winks afterwards. You almost have to root for a villain who's this funny and who recites poetry after he strikes. Kind Hearts and Coronets is one of those films where you don't really feel like you've watched a movie after you're finished. It's so literary and the script is so clever and well written that it feels like you've read a book instead. And I appreciate any movie that makes me feel smarter after I've watched it. I don't laugh very much at all when I watch Kind Hearts and Coronets, but I'd still call it one of my favorite black comedies.

Another thing for those of you who have had the pleasure of watching this one: I read that they had to change the ending slightly in America to fit with The Code. What the heck? How stupid did they think the average American was in 1949?

Sweet Movie

1974 sweet movie

Rating: 13(?)/20

Plot: Spoilers abound! It's also disturbing, so you probably shouldn't even read it. It's the juxtaposed tales of a pair of women--Miss Canada, the winner of a virginity beauty pageant who, as a grand prize, marries a rich Texan, is urinated on by his golden phallus, attempts to leave, is taken to the inside of a water (milk?) tower by a muscular black man, watches him skipping rope while naked, has intercourse, is shoved in a suitcase, meets a Latino pop singer, has intercourse with him on the Eiffel Tower, flees to a commune where the participants of a vulgar banquet show off an array of bodily functions, and eventually writhes around in a tub of chocolate. The other woman pilots a candy-stuffed boat with a giant Karl Marx head on the front. She picks up a young man, has sex with him, seduces a bunch of children, and then kills them all. The end!

Finally, the movie I've been looking for--something a little bit more disturbing than Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom. This is Dusan Makavejev, the same dude who directed Man Is Not a Bird, a pretty dull movie that went over my head during the notorious "man" movie streak. I'm not sure why I keep watching these Eastern European films from the 60s since I'm missing so much of the political context. I was born in a later decade and in another hemisphere and all. But hey, I almost got this one, seeing one of the woman as a representation of capitalism and the other as a symbol of revolution. It's a superficial reading, sure, and I don't know exactly what all the pooping and lip synching Spanish pop singers and Nazi documentary footage of a Russian massacre and grown men acting like babies and the blood/sugar/sex/magic and Battleship Potemkin allusions are all about. Unlike Man Is Not a Bird, this is anything but dull. It's wild and wildly unpredictable, not always in a positive way. It's challenging viewing, and, being the type of film that was banned pretty much everywhere, guaranteed to offend anybody who is even halfway decent. To me, the coprophilia, sexual depravities, and seduction of children is more shocking in this than in Salo because in this, it's all sugar-coated. This, much more than Pasolini's film, looks more like a movie packaged for the masses, more pop art than moody European drama, and your brain is just trained to expect a certain kind of images with colors that bright. It's also called Sweet Movie. I don't know if it was Makavejev's intent or what, but the bombardment of shocking imagery, after a while, started to feel a bit more comfortable. One early golden shower from a golden penis will bring out a "What the hell?" but the blow is lessened by the time you get to a scene where one man urinates into another man's mouth. Oh, who am I kidding? No, it isn't. That banquet stuff with avant-gardist Otto Muehl near the end is just disturbing in any context. But does it have artistic merit? I did like some of the set design, especially that funky boat and the collage work (the revolutionaries and pop icons pasted on the inner walls) inside. But yeah, I just don't know. I'm sure this movie is either a trashy masterpiece and much better than I think or just plain trashy and not nearly as good. Either way, I wouldn't recommend it to anybody, but it did make me think. About my movie choices.

And I kind of hope you didn't even bother reading this.

The Karate Kid

2010 remake

Rating: 12/20 (Abbey: 15/20)

Plot: Same as the 1984 version of The Karate Kid except the thirty-five year old "kid" Ralph Macchio has been replaced with Will Smith's daughter. Oh, and it takes place in China and has a Lady Gaga song replacing that Joe Esposito "You're the Best . . . Around" song.

When I was a kid, I was in a book with Grover, the Sesame Street Muppet. My mom or grandmother or somebody had sent away for it. It had my picture in it, and Grover used my name. And you can bet that I felt special as a seventeen-year-old kid, the only boy in my high school who co-starred with Grover in a picture book! I imagine this version of The Karate Kid is a lot like that only Will Smith's daughter's parents have a lot more money to spend on the project. The story is nearly identical, cheesy layer after cheesy layer. I think it might (shockingly) have even more montages though. The incomparable Jackie Chan replaces the incomparable Pat Morita, and the fight scenes are, and this is no compliment, a bit flashier. The big climactic "Crane" thing from the first movie is replaced by something incoherent and goofy, and probably because of the 1984 movie, I knew it was coming and just had to sort of wait for it in agony. "Oh, I bet Will Smith's daughter is going to try to pull that off in the tournament," I groaned. Jaden Smith isn't awful, even with all the bad lines she's forced to read, and the endless training montages looked authentic enough. The kung-fu aficionado in me probably liked those best. That whole jacket thing didn't quite have the impact that "Wax on/Wax off" had though. I also liked the lone fight scene with old man Jackie Chan beating up some children although I wished those children would have been dressed as skeletons. The biggest problem I had with this remake was its length. At five hours and twenty-three minutes, it just seemed a little long. I probably could have done without the couple hours of violin recitals and the montages could have been cut in half from fourteen to seven. I think Will Smith should have his daughter remake Teen Wolf next, by the way. Or maybe the three Back to the Futures! Hell, Jackie Chan could even take Christopher Lloyd's Doc Brown in that one, right?

The Bed Sitting Room

1969 post-apocalyptic black comedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: It's three or four years after the misunderstanding and unfortunate incident, namely the accidental start of a nuclear war that lasted two minutes and twenty-eight seconds including the signing of the peace treaty. Characters wander through a decimated and desolate England filled with broken dishes and mounds of shoes and dusty abandoned traffic jams. You've got a couple parents trying to take care of their daughter, a young woman who is seventeen months pregnant. You've got her beau, a guy in a white suit. You've got a guy who is convinced that he is turning into the titular bed sitting room. They all search for hope and peace in post-apocalyptic England while the new queen-by-default, Mrs. Ethel Shroake, sits atop her horse in front of an arch constructed of washing machines.

This absurdist Richard Lester film based on a play by Spike Milligan is a surreal, post-apocalyptic trip, like a more consistent and headier Monty Python. No, it's not a laugh-a-minute comedy. It's wry and dry and dreamily English, a Puddin' Pop for the subconscious. I was hooked during the opening credits when the actors are listed according to height instead of the typical order of appearance or billing. Dudley Moore was the second shortest on the list, by the way. I have a high tolerance for the absurd in movies and, ironically perhaps, a low tolerance for the absurd in everyday life. I realize that some people probably wouldn't find a movie where so many characters randomly and maybe senselessly turn into bed sitting rooms, parrots, and wardrobes very funny at all. I'm a sucker for that sort of thing though. Along with Dudley Moore, you get his partner-in-funny Peter Cook as his co-police-inspector riding in a funky hot-air balloon and Marty Feldman (you'd recognize him) as a nurse. I was most impressed with the landscapes assembled for post-apocalyptic England. Nearly vacant, a vast expanse of abandoned junk, those aforementioned shoe hills and broken china, and escalators leading to nowhere, I really bought the world and it's handful of inhabitants. It's all darkly cheeky and drearily comedic. And there may be some Swiftian satire packed in with all the garbage and ash, but I was missing too much context to pick up on it. I was just in it for the Puddin' Pop anyway. Next time I see this, it'll be back-to-back with Dr. Strangelove, by the way.

Look at that poster! No wonder nobody saw this movie in 1969!


2010 Dreamworks movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: The titular big-blue-headed supervillain, after a life living in the shadow of his heroic arch-nemesis Metro Man, finally defeats his foe and wins control over Metro City. But the criminal mastermind, despite also sort of getting the girl, soon gets bored without the yin to his yang and creates a new superhero to fight against. When the new superhero turns out to be corrupt, Megamind, for the first time, has to try to save the city instead of destroy it.

I never look forward to animated features from the Dreamworks people and wasn't all that excited when somebody at school picked this for our students to watch on their party day. However, the onslaught of pop culture references and terrible modern music [Why can't the Dreamworks people just hire themselves a Randy Newman?] didn't distract too much from a cute little story that turned superhero/supervillain conventions on their heads and toyed with some of the genre's cliches. I liked the characters and thought the voice talents brought some vibrancy to them. I'm not Will Ferrell's biggest fan, but he's good with this sort of thing and shows some voice versatility as the dynamic protagonist runs through a range of emotions and takes some time to poke fun at Marlon Brando. I liked Jonah Hill and David Cross, too, although the former's got that voice that makes me think, "Who is that guy? I know that voice!" without really knowing that voice and the latter just makes me wish he was making Arrested Development instead of messing around with this kind of thing. Tina Fey is also in this, and you know that Tina Fey wouldn't waste her time with something that wasn't intelligently written. I do like the premise, and although it doesn't quite pack an emotional punch, the adult humor works pretty well without ever being nasty. And I liked the whole good-needing-evil thematic thing and the change our "hero" undergoes, something that wouldn't have worked if his character wasn't so well drawn out. I was most impressed with the animation. The people aren't animated in a way that improves on what Pixar did with The Incredibles years ago, but there's a lot of neat, creative details in the settings. The animators were really showing off with textures and reflections in this one, and I liked how they used color motifs for the central characters. This isn't a movie I'd care to watch over and over again, but I'm actually kind of glad I did see it once.

Still, it amazes me that the people at my school aren't asking for my opinion on what movies the youth of America should be watching. I have my own blog! But for whatever reason, when I bring up classic 1920's comedies that the students would enjoy, I'm ignored. Maybe it's because they know I gave Beauty and the Beast a 14/20. I wonder if it would help if replaced the soundtracks to the silent comedies with some Lady Gogol or Justin Beamer hits?

Cobra Verde

1987 crazy man movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Notorious outlaw Francisco Manoel de Silva takes a job overseeing slaves on a sugar plantation. After he knocks up the plantation owner's three daughters, he's sent to Africa to get the slave trade rolling again. The plantation owner and de Silva both know the job will likely end in death, but de Silva decides to go anyway.

"Herzog does not know that I give life to the dead scenery." --Klaus Kinski

You can see the production problems soak through the lush scenery and chaotic and intense scenes that take place in that scenery. The narrative's unbalanced, almost like the story had to pieced together from hours of messy footage. I had trouble following what was going on some of the time. And Kinski's character is wildly uneven. Sure, the titular chap was a crazy bandit, but I'm not even sure Kinski's performance makes much sense in that context. Still, Kinski's his usual electric self, and watching him on the screen is always an experience. In Cobra Verde, the goings-on around hiim are anarchic. Herzog fills the screen with extras and constant movement in a lot of the scenes. Yet Kinski always manages to stand out, like a deranged Where's Waldo? where Waldo jumps up and down and wildly waves his arms and then tries to stab you in the eye with a comically-large pencil. That performance, along with Herzog's eye for filming in exotic and often dangerous locales as well as the inhabitants of those locales, make this an intriguing movie experience despite its imperfections. And Herzog's run of brilliant movie endings continues with a jaw-dropping scene in this involving a boat and a deformed man. Add the Krautrock Popol Vuh soundtrack and you've got yourself another Werner Herzog narrative that is definitely worth watching.

"Arrgh! You don't understand my genius, Werner!"

Spider Baby

1968 creepy comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Also titled The Maddest Story Ever Told, this concerns the Merrye children and their caretaker Bruno. The Merrye children all suffer from the Merrye disease which keeps them in a mentally regressive state. He keeps them away from society in a rickety mansion, and there aren't any problems unless you count the murder of a postman as a problem. One day, some relatives come to check out the place, and Bruno has to try to keep things together.

Saw this title on a "50 worst movies ever made" list, and since I'm working on achieving Bad Movie Aficionado status, I thought I'd check it out. It's disappointing that it's not really a bad movie (that and gems like Manos: The Hands of Fate and The Beast of Yucca Flats not making the top 50 make me trust this list a lot less) but it was still worth watching as one of those examples of a movie that does quite a bit in a very short time and with a very limited budget. It also works as an intentionally funny dark comedy. Note that I typed "intentionally funny" because this isn't one of those movies that is funny because of the filmmaker's ineptitude. Well, Lon Chaney Jr. does play Bruno. His screen presence is typically oafish, like a giant doddering and destructive hobo who's wandered onto the set, crashing into the set and accidentally ruining the picture. I can't tell if his drunkenly unsure "Wallah!" sound he utters when he pulls the lid off a platter of fried rabbit is intentionally comical or just because he's Lon Chaney Jr. and that's what Lon Chaney Jr. does. He does get one of the best lines when he says "How many times have I told you it's not nice to hate?" right before the camera pans to the postman's legs hanging out a window. That postman scene, the opening bit of macabre cartoon nonsense, is nutsy. Following really goofy animated opening credits, you get to watch him stumble around for about five minutes, wondering whether or not anything is actually going to happen in Spider Baby. But by the time he loses an ear, you're hooked. My other favorite moment is this little growl thing that horny Ralph does when he spots a woman. Ralph, the lone Merrye boy, is played by Quinn Redeker (The Young and the Restless), and it's a good, physical performance. The most bizarre thing about these shenanigans is that one of the characters is sporting a Hitler mustache. So this might be the only movie out there where you get to see Hitler kill a spider. Spider Baby has a nice soundtrack, ranging from noodly guitar to avant-garde dinks and donks, and I love the very cool "Itsy Bitsy Spider" variations used during some of the more suspenseful moments. A lot of this (a scene with a cat, the one boy/two girls, the mental regression) reminded me of Dogtooth although it was nowhere near as weird. I can see somebody putting this on a "50 greatest cult classics" list, but it doesn't belong anywhere near a "bad movies" list.

Samurai Jack

2003 television cartoon movie

Rating: 16/20 (Abbey: 18/20)

Plot: An evil, polymorphous sorcerer named Aku takes over the world. A child is sent far away from the villain to be trained as a samurai for the sole purpose of returning some day to bring order back to the world. And with his magic sword, he's nearly successful until Aku opens a portal and sends him to the future where he is dubbed Samurai Jack. The future's not bright as Aku rules and robots run rampant. Jack has to search for a way to get back to the past so that he can defeat Aku and save the world. Watch out!

Abbey picked this out, and I'm always in the mood for a little Samurai Jack action. This "movie" is really the first three episodes that set up the rest of the series. It's in three parts, and the three parts have the samurai cinema homages, the playful humor, and the fantastic action sequences that make the show one of my favorites. In part one, we meet Aku and have an montage where our young hero is being trained in different martial arts and other skills. In the second, he's flung to the future, so we get that science fiction twist on the samurai story. And some funny talking dogs. And in the third, we get a brilliant battle between the protagonist and a bunch of robot spiders. Consistently creative with artful fight scenes, a hodgepodge of eccentric characters, superb music, and simple but wonderful animation by Clone Wars guy Genndy Tartakovsky, the series is addictive and epic. And this movie kicks things off great. Tartakovsky seems to be influenced by the same exact stuff I love (samurai movies, Star Wars, Alice in Wonderland, spaghetti westerns) and the creative "camera angles," ever-changing assortments of sceneries, and the use of split screen during the action scenes keep things fresh. Watching Samurai Jack kick ass is all fine and dandy, but the humor injected into the storylines and the quiet moments are really what makes this all special. I love the use of sound effects, too. But those fight scenes! Like the rest of the series, you have violence in this that would make it completely inappropriate for children if the victims were human. You'd have limbs all over the place! But other than Jack getting scratched and bruised occasionally (and he isn't the type of hero who is completely invincible) and Aku who is just a black shape that sort of tears, the antagonists being cut down are machines. Robots don't bleed. Well, unless you count oil. And if you do and are disgusted by a little oil in your cartoons, the climax of the robot spider fight scene probably isn't for you as it makes the House of Blue Leaves scene in Kill Bill look like the violence in your typical Tom and Jerry cartoon. Actually, now that I think about it, those Tom and Jerry cartoons were exceptionally violent. Out of all the things I love, Samurai Jack is the one that makes me feel most geeky. But I'm not ashamed to admit that the news about an upcoming theatrically released Samurai Jack movie to finish off the story made me clap my hands and giggle and proclaim that I would probably dress up as a character to see it opening night. Samurai Jack makes me feel like a kid again, likely because I still rock the Samurai Jack pajamas (with the feet) when I want to have a more exciting night of sleep. And this kid, if his mother would let him, would call the premiere movie bitchin'.

The Book of Eli

2010 post-apocalyptic Bible lesson

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Eli's got a special book and a gun and a sword thing. He's been traveling a post-apocalyptic wasteland for a long time, goin' out west where the wind blows tall and Tony Franciosa used to date Tom Waits' mother. In fact, he's been heading west for thirty years, fighting off people who are trying to either steal his book or eat him or a little of both. A man named Carnegie, not played by David Carradine, witnesses Eli beating down some suckas and tries to get him to join his posse. He even sends the daughter of the blind girl he's currently banging to seduce him and convince him to stay. Eli ain't having none of that and stays focused on his mission to get his special book into the proper hands.

Denzel's never been cooler, and Gary Oldman's never been slimier. I like post-apocalypse movies anyway, this one a modernized take on the Mad Maxes if you replace gasoline with ideas. This one delivers some nifty, if not too reminiscent of other computer-aided action sequences from contemporary ultra-stylish action flicks, punch-'em-out scenes and shoot-'em-ups. One at a farmhouse, a house that like everything else in the movie is surrounded by enough shades of gray to make this almost a black and white movie, features a long shot where the camera drifts back and forth between the opponents. It's very stylish, very cool, and almost poetic. This also delivers visually. Things are digitally altered enough to make this more Sin City than the aforementioned Mad Max, but it's a look that gives the movie a uniqueness and creates some memorable set pieces. It's the kind of thing where you know the characters are probably spending a lot of time in front of a screen, but you don't really care because it all looks so cool. The story's so simple that there might as well not even be one, but it almost works like a tricky little fable about knowledge and the powers and evils that it can bring. And Tom Waits has a role, a character he nails like he always does, making you wish that he was in there a little bit more. Cool little flick, likely destined for the cult classic shelf more than anything. I do wonder how Christians could misinterpret this one though. After a single viewing, I'm not sure I'm confident in my own interpretation.

Tom Waits note: I read on a mailing list about Jackie "The Jokeman" Martling telling Howard Stern that he was taking acting classes with Tom Waits. I'm not sure if that means Waits was teaching a class or a fellow student of Martling. If it was just The Jokeman's idea of a joke.

Cannibal Holocaust

1980 first "found footage" film

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A quartet of cocky and shady documentarians travel to the jungles of South America to film some of the inhabitants. They never return. An anthropologist is sent to get the help of a guide and find out what happened to the kids. He finds their skulls and procures some film footage containing their last moments as something other than food. After he returns to the States, network executives, convinced that showing the footage to the masses is a good idea, watch the film with the anthropologist.

Give credit (or blame?) this for the Blair Witches and Paranormal Activities of the world. And being a sort of prototype, and a low budget one at that, it's understandably imperfect, a little rough around the edges, and uneven. The found footage stuff is really a film within the film, and the outer layer is just ho-hum traditional stuff. Knowing that the found footage stuff was coming up, I couldn't stop wondering who the heck was filming the anthropologist during his journey. The found footage stuff is as gruesome as violence and horror gets in film, for better and for worse. So realistic were the scenes of death, rape, and titular cannibalism, in fact, that director Ruggero Deodato was arrested and had to show a court how a scene featuring impaling was pulled off because people actually suspected the actors and actresses were murdered. I'm not sure the scenes are that realistic, but they are brutal and realistic enough to put this firmly in the not-for-the-squeamish category. Ironically, a film-within-the-film-that-is-within-the-film (sort of) does show actual firing squad execution footage, but guess that real violence is copacetic. The most visually disturbing or cringe-worthy scene in the entire movie doesn't feature human violence at all, by the way. No, the death and subsequent devouring of a poor turtle is, and I doubt I watch something more difficult in a long, long time. I did always secretly wonder what the inside parts of a turtle looked like though. I'm not sure Deodata is trying to say anything about the media or filmmakers treatment of third world peoples or trying to expose some of society's ills or if he's just going for the shock. I suspect it's the latter, and a lot of people would find this movie to be nothing more than a repulsive, exploitative piece of trash. I can understand that view; in fact, I wonder why so much of the violence shown had to be sexual and could have done without some really unnecessary nudity. I can't say I enjoyed all of Cannibal Holocaust, but you have to give this Italian movie some credit for ingenuity and accidentally inventing a sub-genre at the same time.

If you've got the balls, take the Cannibal Holocaust challenge. I was able to watch even the most gruesome bits of this movie while eating a noodle salad, a mango, and sunflower seeds. What can you eat while watching Cannibal Holocaust?

8 Mile

2002 Perry Como biopic

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Li'l Bunny Man (or something) lives in a mobile home with his mother and a little girl who is either his sister or his daughter. He works a tedious job in a factory but has big dreams of somebody making it big as a lounge singer. He goes to his friend's club to participate in rap battles since that's apparently the only there anybody has to do in Detroit, but once on stage, he chokes every single time. Meanwhile, there's a mom's boyfriend, there's a girl, and there's a rival rap-battlin' gang who are up to no good. Where's the Insane Clown Posse when you need them?

This would be a better movie if they gave me some reason to care a little more. They almost got there. I felt for Eminem's character, ostensibly based on the real Eminem. He's set up as the underdog nicely enough, but I never really bought in to that conflict with the New World Order or whatever they were called, and his other girl problems, work problems, and mobile home problems just seemed too much like movie problems. When things really start to go downhill for Bunny Rabbit Boy, it's such a quick succession of troubles. Bam bam bam. Hardships hit the guy faster than his lyrical flow. Eminem the actor is fine, but (and keep in mind that I'm not a rap battlin' aficionado or anything) I really couldn't see how he was any better at the contest thingy than the other guys. Kim Basinger plays his mother like she's unsure about the character, and the late Brittany Murphy might as well have been made out of cardboard. The music's completely appropriate, and I'll let you decide for yourself whether or not I mean that as a positive or negative. I enjoyed watching 8 Mile despite its bordering on either a vanity project or either a rip-off or update of Saturday Night Fever. It almost felt inappropriate to watch this without my b-b-b-boogie shoes near the end. So there were lots of things I enjoyed about this movie, enough to make me glad I watched it, but there was also so much that just caused me to throw my hands in the air and wave them like I just don't care. And by the way, would you call that an indeterminate ending? Unless a sequel planned, it seems that this just leaves Li'l Foo Foo in a situation where he's going to get the crap beaten out of him again, right? I mean, he called them gay and all.

Note: I have informed my principal that I will not be returning next year because I'm going to try to start my career as a battle rapper. 8 Mile inspired me, but a fortune cookie confirmed that the decision was a good one. Wish me luck.

Waiting for "Superman"

2010 propaganda film

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

Plot: A scathing, one-sided attack on public education. Documentarian Davis Guggenheim half-asses his way through detailing the problems with public education and how charter schools can magically fix everything.

Please keep in mind one thing as you read this: An incredibly "bad teacher" wrote it.

Two days ago (one day after I watched this movie), we brought a guy named Jasper Partygarden (Note: That is not his real name.) into our team meeting. Jasper shows up to school late most days if he bothers showing up at all and has problems staying focused in class. In a lot of ways, he's a mature kid. He's street wise, has a car that was wrecked when he let a fellow 8th grader (a girl he liked) take it for a spin, and is a good-looking, older-looking dude who could almost pass as a young college student if you threw him on a university campus. At the same time, he acts really immaturely. He grabs things off people's desks, falls asleep in class, and teases other students in ways you'd expect more from an elementary school student. He eventually revealed to us that he's getting jumped almost daily by "Mexicans" in his predominately Latino neighborhood. He also told us that he doesn't get to bed until around 2:00 a lot of nights because his mother is sick, his step-father isn't around much, and he's got to help take care of the seven other children in his apartment, three who are under the age of two. We teachers realized that a lot of Jasper's problems, and the reason for a lot of his immature behavior, is because he's got to be the man at home. There's no room for Jasper to be a child so he acts out at school.

I'm not bringing up Jasper to make excuses for public schools, but there are a lot of Jaspers in the middle school I work, Jaspers with a variety of problems, a lot of them that you probably wouldn't even guess existed. Waiting for "Superman" frequently mentions the "best teachers" at the "best schools," contrasting them with "bad teachers" at "failing schools," and I just wonder how these "best teachers" would handle a classroom of Jaspers. Where Davis Guggenheim and his researchers are dangerously misguided is that they think the problem with the Jaspers of the world and why they aren't getting a quality education can be blamed solely on the public education system. In reality, it's a much larger and scarier problem than education. Jasper is the result of bad parenting in a broken country filled with arrogant and complacent leaders and citizens.

Thing is, you don't even have to pay much attention to catch the solution to all the problems Davis Guggenheim points out--most kids need to be taken away from their parents. For whatever reason, that's not the conclusion that Guggenheim comes up with. Instead, he's got an agenda, and Waiting for "Superman," likely from its conception, was his attempt to find anything that helps support that agenda.

And I'd like to think that anybody with a little common sense would be able to see the holes in this thing, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Guggenheim's documentary is sloppy myth-making and a textbook example of propaganda. You've got the same tired data that's been passed around for years and never questioned or actually broken down (reading scores flatlining, standardized test scores, Finland has better schools statistically, blah blah blah). You've got the use of buzz words ("academic sinkholes," "drop-out facilities," etc.), cutesy animated sequences, and red herrings that manipulate and distract. You've got faulty cause and effect like when our narrator tells us that an achievement drop-off from the fifth to the seventh grade can ONLY mean one of two things--kids get stupid or there's something wrong with public education. And you've got the stories (climaxing in a seemingly endless scene where they're hoping to be randomly drawn to go to the charter schools) of some kids who really want to learn and who, perhaps coincidentally, also seem to have really supportive parents. This documentary suggests that charter schools are the answer while completely ignoring statistics that show they are just as unsuccessful as public schools. No, it's not difficult to find some charter schools that have an astounding amount of success, but that's just not the norm. One could just as easily find public schools that have an astounding amount of success; however, that doesn't fit in with Guggenheim's plan. I also love how this compares and contrasts American schools with the rest of the world without really comparing or contrasting. Finland's at the top of the pyramid. Wouldn't it have been interesting to know why? Most Americans, I would hope, understand that a lot of those schools ahead of America are there because they don't allow all of their students to even get an education if they aren't succeeding early in their education. But no, Guggenheim just wants us to know that if we replaced our lower six percent with average students, we could be right up there with Finland. Whatever that means. Another statistic that I didn't really understand, likely because I went to public schools--"Bad teachers" only teach about 50% of the curriculum while "good teachers" can teach 150% of the curriculum. What does that even mean? Nevermind. Don't even tell me.

You know, this is so horribly misguided and misses the point (or worse, it invents its own point and hits a bull's eye) that I've decided that An Inconvenient Truth is also probably a bad documentary. I'm going to adjust my rating and stop inviting Al Gore to my parties.


1968 psychedicasploitation

Rating: 16/20

Plot: None really.

So it's a product of its time, the technicolor acid-drenched psychedelic late-60s. And it stars the Monkees who don't quite have the charisma or charm of the Fab Four and, as really more of a joke TV band, didn't have the musical chops or pedigree to be involved in anything musically or visually trippy. And sure, some of the visual effects date it and the poster is awfully yellow. But for whatever reason, this freeform trek through the subconscious works. And the stream-of-conscious script by director Bob Rafelson and none other than Jack Nicholson is frequently clever satirically and makes it work as a metafilm. As a story, it's spilled soup, a hodgepodge of spilled soups actually that would likely scald a lot of people, but it does have this way of weaving in and out of itself in fun and surprising ways. The songs aren't too bad either. They're lower shelf psychedelic numbers maybe, but they still work here. Add Annette Funicello and a cameo appearance by Frank Zappa and you've got yourself a movie! And no they're not the Beatles, but this is loads better than the weirdo equivalent Magical Mystery Tour movie. And if you look hard enough through the surrealist sludge, you'll very likely find a little meaning, too. Sneakily intelligent and delightfully quirky, Head is a nice little relic that is worth seeing for fans of the goofball genre.


1993 Coppola film

Rating: 7/20

Plot: Joe accidentally kills his own father and partner in con during a scam. His father's last words hint that his twin brother, an Uncle Lou that Joe didn't even know about, may have stolen from him years earlier. "My brother took the cake. My brother took the cake." Bleh sound. Blood spit. Dead. When Joe travels to meet Uncle Lou and see about fulfilling his father's last wishes, he meets his Cousin Eddy and gets wrapped up in a dangerous con game.

OK, it's not that Coppola. It's those Coppolas, assuming you're willing to count one Nicolas Cage as a Coppola. More on him in a minute. Director Christopher Coppola proves that sometimes the apple can fall very very far away from the tree with this inept piece of filmmaking that he wrote and directed. Sure, he gives you enough neo-noir twists and turns to keep you guessing, but there are some genuinely head-scratching moments and maybe even ball-scratching moments that made me suspect this was actually some genius black comedy. Exhibit A: a scene with a lobster claw. Exhibit B: the acting, which just can't be this bad accidentally considering you've got some talented people involved. James Coburn gets to be not all that good twice. Charlie Sheen brings his tiger's blood and Adonis DNA to a very small role as a pool shark. The weakest link in this rusty chain of a movie is probably Michael Biehn, uninspired as the noir anti-hero. The narration is especially bad, but it brings up an important question--is it the chicken bad script or the egg bad acting that's the problem? My best guess is that it's a combination of both. This also suffers from a constant barrage of string music that really got on my nerves.

But then we come to what makes this movie worth watching and, along with the abysmal The Room, one of the funniest things I've seen in a long, long time: a deliriously unhinged Nicolas Coppola. I've seen Cage performances where he spends large portions of the movie unglued (Bad Lieutenant) or movies where he's just terrible (The Wicker Man) and movies where he's a little of both. Ghost Rider? But I don't have any idea how to describe this. And I'm not sure why Christopher Coppola allowed him to play his character this way with some really odd wardrobe choices that Cage apparently picked out himself, this weird mumbly accent thing, and the most over-the-top line delivery I have ever seen. When Cage is on the screen, you completely forget about the story and the other characters. It almost feels like you're watching a normal movie, say a really bad remake of Double Indemnity or something, and Cage barges into your house, smashes your television with a sledge hammer, and then starts dancing in your living room. He's like the class clown of the movie, distracting from what the teacher's trying to do, and I really wonder if he wanted his brother (I think?) to fail and did it all on purpose. I think it's got to have something to do with drugs though because a Nic Cage freak out of these proportions can't happen organically. I've often written about a Nic Cage movie having a Nic Cage moment or two. This is bursting with Nic Cage moments--the macho waving of the "We're Number One" hand signal, the triple fuck delivered when his car won't start, the rapid hollering of classic lines like "What am I? A fucking retard, man? Huh?", the inexplicable weird sidewalk dance that he does in one scene, the raw delivery of a normally innocuous line like "Would you like a piece of gum?" that transforms it into something really menacing, the way he drinks from a beer bottle after this unnatural dancing gait he uses to perambulate a strip joint, his snorting laugh, the longest fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck I think I've ever heard in a movie, his overuse of what I guess was a catchword of some kind ("Mommy"), the overall cadence, scenes where his voice changes into this high-pitched whine, "OK, baby girl. . . who sent ya?", a moment when he screams that somebody tried to kill him and follows it with an angry karate kick, the Tasmanian Devil growls he makes as he cries and humps a bed. It's mayhem, but career-defining mayhem if Nic Cage wants to be known as the most insane actor of all time. It's really a performance that has to be seen in order to be believed. Even then, you probably won't believe it. It'll make you say "Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!" though.

Brother's Keeper

1992 documentary

Rating: 16/20

Plot: The Brothers Ward have lived in the same dinky and rickety shack in the middle of Middle-of-Nowhere, New York. They've got the minds of four-year-olds but work hard. The other occupants of Middle-of-Nowhere, New York, don't pay much attention to them until Delbert is accused of murdering his brother for reasons ranging from euthanasia to, more bizarrely, sexual frustration. The townfolk rally around the brothers after he apparently confesses to the murder, an act that Delbert's feeble mind may not have fully understood.

Watching the Ward Brothers is a lot like watching the Beales in Grey Gardens, an oft-uncomfortable invasion of privacy that, at times, you almost feel bad watching. The brothers are simple minded, yes, but in a way, it's hard not to admire the simple lives they lead. It's just hard to believe that people like this exist in our fast-moving 21st Century culture, and that's even prior to the revelations that their dirty little shack might contain some dirty little incest secrets. So Brother's Keeper works as a cultural document. The dynamics of the whole city mice vs. the country mice thing added another layer, and the courtroom scenes were riveting. The documentarians treat the subject matter both objectively and lovingly. You can tell Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky spent a great deal of time with the brothers, and you get such an intimate portrait of them. We don't get all the answers because they don't really matter all that much. Brother's Keeper sets up more questions than it answers, but that's part of the beauty of it. I also really liked how this showed the media's despicably voyeuristic role in a case like this, the almost gleeful talking heads that flocked to Middle-of-Nowhere, New York, to report on the story. In the end, I felt almost happy that these filmmakers helped me see the humanity in this mystery, made me seem like a much better person than the slimy news reporters and the big city big-wigs. I ended up liking simple-minded Delbert quite a bit, and after the filmmakers contrast scenes with him admiring his chickens that he keeps in a run-down school bus converted into a coop with a brutally and graphically violent scene featuring a random guy slaughtering a pig, you just get the feeling that there's no way Delbert could have done anything cold blooded. Or maybe he could. Who knows? Euthanasia or death by natural causes? Perhaps it's the little liberal in me trying to get out, but I don't think it even matters.


1979 romantic comedy

Rating: 15/20

Plot: For aspiring writer Isaac, love doesn't come easy. His former wife and current lesbian has written a book containing every damning detail of their relationship. His newest fling likes him bunches, but the problem is that she's only seventeen and still in high school. And to make matters more complicated, he's fallen for pretentious Mary, the woman who his married friend Yale is sleeping with on the side.

It's not my favorite Woody Allen movie, and apparently it's not Woody's either. But I really like the last close-up of Woody, a guy who could really only be a leading man in a romantic comedy in his own movies, and that expression that he makes. As a comedy, this is pretty uneven and not really all that funny. The characters aren't easy to like except for maybe Mariel Hemingway's character and Woody himself. I do like the performers who play those characters even if I don't like the characters themselves though. Still, there's a certain charm and artfulness to the proceedings, and the black and white cinematography creates a sort of intimacy with the story's inhabitants. It also shows off the titular setting, almost working like a visual ode to the city at times. So this one kind of grows on you as it goes along, but it's ultimately such a downer, a comedy too cynical to be all that funny . It's a mixed bag of a movie, one that I've always wanted to like or maybe felt like I should like a lot better.

The Room

2003 masterpiece

Rating: 1/20

Plot: Johnny loves Lisa. He treats her right, too, promising her a bright future, bringing her flowers, and having some really awkward sex with some awful background music. But Lisa is sleeping with Johnny's best friend Mark on the side. Meanwhile there's Denny, a seemingly random kid, is having some problems with the drugs. There's no way things can end well. They sure didn't begin well. And the middle part? Yuck!

The Room is very much Tommy Wiseau's baby. He wrote, directed, and starred in the thing. He even put his big ol' face on the poster. Just look at him acting on that poster? Yes, he's that terrific the rest of the movie, especially if you're impressed with poorly-written lines spoken in this unidentifiable accent. It's a performance of Torgo Award proportions, and if this work of art--like a soap opera blended with the crafts of the mentally challenged--isn't the worst movie I see all year, I'll be surprised. This is trainwreck bad, from the opening badly-delivered line "Hey, Babe" spoken as our protagonist (the big face on the poster) walks into the room (variations of "Hey, Babe" are peppered throughout the dialogue, by the way) to the tragic denouement. The story's slow, most of the time threatening to go nowhere at all, yet it somehow still manages to meander like with the superfluous subplot with Denny, a subplot that I don't believe was every resolved. You also get a whole bunch of scenes with characters playing catch with footballs while standing about seven feet from each other. It reminds me of a middle school play production where the director decides he doesn't want the performers to just stand there and deliver lines and feels the need to give them something random to do. These characters sure loved their football though. Apparently, this has grown into a Rocky Horror type cult flick where people go to midnight screenings dressed as the characters. They throw plastic spoons at the screen and toss footballs around while wearing tuxedos. The spoon thing, by the way, is because there are these odd framed pictures of spoons decorating the room. No, not that room. Another room. Actually, I don't even know why this movie is called The Room. Wiseau said it's because he wants his audience to feel comfortable or something, but he also said that his characters play football in the movie because it's fun and a real challenge without the proper equipment. And he apparently claimed that the whole thing was meant as a comedy all along which might make him a genius. All I know is that I really enjoyed watching The Room, and it got more laughs out of me than any Steve Martin movie I've ever watched. And I'm not the type of person who generally finds continuity errors the first time I see a movie, but there's a great one early in this involving an apple, a Denny, and a staircase that is too obvious not to miss. My favorite line (contender for line of the year): "Hi, doggy."

I think all of my readers should see this movie as soon as possible. You can thank me later.

The Jerk

1979 comedy

Rating: 14/20 (Jen: 11/20)

Plot: The titular jerk recalls his rags-to-riches story from his beginnings as a black boy to the rise to the top that came with his little invention. Along the way, he takes on numerous jobs and meets a couple women, including one with a trumpet.

It's so random that you'll think there's no possible way it can add up to any thing, but then it adds up to something and you have a religious experience of giggling because a kid's t-shirt has the word "shit" on it. And your wife keeps asking, "What's wrong with you?" and you ejaculate something the consistency of marshmallow and ruin your pants and everybody else's pants. And you wish Bernadette Peters was there to see it because she's so darn cute and you regret your past actions that resulted in a restraining order that legally keeps you at least 150 feet from Bernadette Peters' trumpet. "Or is it exactly 150 feet?" you wonder to yourself. And you figure that writer/actor Steve Martin probably has the ADD and you wonder if he really even tried very hard with this one and part of you wishes that he could have focused a little better but most of you is glad he didn't. The Jerk is Airplane-silly, a comedy that hits the spot when you're in a particular spot. It sags a bit as it goes, but there's enough fun to make it worth the zero dollars that I paid to see it.

Poster image from

Awakening of the Beast

1970 didactic drug movie

Rating: 20/20 (See: Coffin Joe Movies Get a 20 or He'll Eat Your Face Off Rule)

Plot: Psychologists test the effects of hallucinogenics by monitoring volunteers. Coffin Joe invades their lobes and chaos ensues.

What I learned from this movie because Coffin Joe taught it to me and if I even suggest that he's wrong, I'll end up having my face eaten off: Coffin Joe's world is strange and made up of strange people, but none are more strange than me. That's how he introduced this delightfully messy movie.

I promise this is the last Coffin Joe movie I'll review because I don't know where I'm going to find any more of them. This is the one that halted his career, banned for twenty years, probably because it's perverted and subversive. Also known as Ritual of the Maniacs (I would have guessed Ritual of the Sadists from both the content and the Portuguese on the gruesome poster above), this is sort of like a Brazilian Reefer Madness as directed by somebody really evil. It's almost like a collection of cinematic short stories, each one a sort of cautionary tale about what might happen if you take LSD. In the opener, some creepy men picture a gal naked while a little record player plays a song about war. Then the girl starts stripping and they all watch before unwrapping a chamber pot. They all laugh, and the record reaches its scratchy conclusion.

In the next scene, a pretty girl is taken to an apartment. There's a guy suspended from the ceiling, a guy playing drums (not quite as manic as the piano guy in Reefer Madness), a guitarist lying on the floor, some guys who burst into song. She sees a guy smoking something; another guy starts stripping. Everybody starts snapping at her like they're all beatniks or extras in West Side Story before somebody asks, "Dig it, baby?" She craws through a window and stands with her legs apart on a table while the men take turns putting their heads up her skirt. They circle around her while holding up a finger and first chanting but later whistling "Colonel Bogey March" from Bridge on the River Kwai. They take turns, well, poking her before Jesus walks in and violates her with a long staff. That's what drugs can do to you, kids.

The third scene is much simpler--a guy watches three women remove their brassieres. He smells them, of course. They bend over and he kicks them.

One fantastic mini-story involves a well-to-do woman setting it up so that her black butler and her daughter (I think) get it on. She watches from a hiding spot while snorting cocaine and fiercely petting a pony.

And there's a scene I'm surprised isn't really famous, one that involves the washing of undergarments and a guy with an absurdly bulbous phallic jug.

A lot of the more gruesome scenes near the end, the ones that involve sadism and cannibalism and Marins' Boschian idea of Hell, are a lot of the more memorable scenes in the incoherent compilation Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind. One would guess that they'd make more sense in context, but they really don't. And that's the beauty of Marins and this misogynist acid trip or filthy nightmare or whatever you want to call it. Did I dig it, baby? Yes, I did, Coffin Joe! Yes, I did.

Finding Nemo

2003 Pixar movie

Rating: 18/20 (Jen: 18/20; Sophie: ?/20)

Plot: The entire world finds out that a clownfish is called a clownfish as Marlin, a clownfish who lost his wife and all but one of his babies after a shark attack, takes a watery road trip to Sydney in search of his missing son, Nemo. Along the way, he meets Dory, a blue fish with no short-term memory, and they encounter sharks, bioluminescent fish with gnarled fangs, stinging jellyfish, surf-happy turtles, a giant whale, seagulls, and a dentist. Can they reach Nemo before the little guy is given to a notorious fish killer with braces?

I was so amazed with the animation when this came out. Pixar's always so good with character, and the animation of the ocean critters along with the good voice talent (love Ellen as Dory) makes even the most minor characters in this memorable. This is a good adventure story, a buddies-on-the-road movie, and although it's episodic, it never seems choppy because it alternates between the dual stories of the father's adventures as he tries to find Sydney and the attempts by Nemo and his new aquarium friends to escape the dentist's office. Finding Nemo's got a great story and that typical Pixar heart, and right from the get-go, with a pretty intense shark attack scene, you know you've got a story that isn't just for children. The adventures are exciting, but there's some great comedy as well, including what I think was Pixar's funniest moment until Potato Head was given a tortilla--the scene with the dentist waiting room occupants watching and listening to the great escape. But as I said, it's really the animation that steals the show. There's an artistic realism to the underwater scenes, and it's hard not to be pleased with the splashes of color across the screen. Nearly eight years later, it's still hard to imagine that animation can ever look better than some of the imagery in Finding Nemo. Just compare this one to its under-the-sea contemporary Shark Tale, and you'll see that the Pixar folks were Buzz Lightyears ahead of their competition. And that's even without a Fresh Prince!

Sophie's started watching movies. Well, to be completely accurate, she's started watching parts of movies. She gets the dvd cabinet open and reaches for either this or Monsters, Inc. usually. Actually, she handed me Kill Bill Volume 2 this evening, but Jen told me that wasn't appropriate for a one-year old.

With this, I believe I've got all the Pixar movies on the blog finally. Now I can just wait patiently for Cars 2 to come out!

Exit through the Gift Shop

2010 documentary

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A used clothing store owner with a habit of filming every moment of his life gets involved with some graffiti artists in L.A. He films them while letting them think he's going to make a documentary that he never intends to make. But he really wants to meet the enigmatic street art star Banksy. They finally meet, and Guetta gets a rare opportunity to follow around the secretive artist. He does make the documentary, but it's so bizarrely terrible, that Banksy decides to redo it all himself, sending Guetta back to the States to start his own art career.

What starts out as a pretty intimate look at an art form that I didn't realize was a legitimate art form mixed with a biographical glimpse at a wacky French vintage clothing store owner and amateur winds up being a very entertaining assault on some of the hypocrisies and absurdities of the art world. And that little twist, pretty much where the focus changes from graffiti art to Thierry's own stab at making it as an artist, is refreshingly entertaining and very revealing. Don't get me wrong--I enjoyed the stuff about the artists, too, and a lot of the shots of them at work are really fascinating. The footage during the opening credits is really cool, showing what these guys have to go through for their craft including a Jackie Chan-esque escape from the po-po. The art itself is awesome, too. Then, the mysterious Banksy shows up, and with his painted elephants and his particular brand of renegade art, and this thing grows new skin. Initially, I thought I'd be annoyed by Banksy, probably because I thought he'd remind me of my middle school students. But his creativity and sense of humor quickly won me over, and how can you not respect a guy who manages to make Disneyland seem like a menacing place. I thought it was funny when the narrator kept alluding to a Disneyland interrogation room while showing shots of the "It's a Small World" ride. I also thought it was hilarious when, following Banksy's look at Theirry's insane attempt at documentary filmmaking (the results which were almost too insane to be true), the artist said, "Umm. It's when I realized that maybe Thierry wasn't a filmmaker and was maybe just a guy with mental problems who happened to have a camera." And then you get Thierry's overnight transmogrification into a pop artist. One wonders where the hell he got the money to become Mr. Brainwash ("Everything that I do. . .somewhere. . .brainwash your face.") but things sure wackify once that happens. Whether a meticulously planned and elaborate hoax or a legitimate documentary doesn't matter. This gets its points across so cleverly and in such an entertaining way that you won't even mind it's getting a point across. Very intriguing stuff.

Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare

1968 Japanese monster movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A vampirish demonoid is awakened from the dead and begins biting people on the neck, taking over their bodies, and denounce Buddha. Frog Man doesn't like it much and hops off to find his fellow monsters including Jabba, TV-Belly Man, Two-Faced Woman, Potato Man, Neck Girl, and Fat Yoda. They investigate and see about expelling the rubber man from the premises.

Well, my favorite monster didn't even make the poster. When I first saw him, I thought, "Hmm. That looks like an umbrella with an absurdly long tongue." Then another character called it an "umbrella monster" and I peed myself and had what can only be described as a religious experience. It's goofy stuff, perhaps even goofy by Japanese standards, but it's shot pretty well, contains an adequate amount of cool atmospheric settings, and does well at creating this weird mystical world. Maybe I wished it didn't have the comic overtones or wasn't so much for children, but this is quickly paced enough and so stuffed with goofy rubber monsters that I can forgive it. The snake-necked woman effects were fun, and I've already mentioned my favorite monster (the umbrella monster). But this isn't about individual monsters. This is about filling the entire screen with goofy monsters and pretending it's perfectly normal. The bad guy could be a little more engaging. I liked how the producers didn't seem to think biting people and stealing their identities didn't seem evil enough and decided to have him say "You suck, Buddha!" to make him the epitome of maleficence. Fun movie, and I'm thrilled that there are two more Yokai Monsters movies out there for me.

The Toxic Avenger

1984 superhero movie

Rating: 9/20

Plot: 90-pound weakling Melvin works as a janitor at a health club, and he's endlessly teased and terrorized by the beefier and more attractive clientele. One day, they pull the ultimate practical joke--throwing Melvin in a barrel of toxic waste. It's hilarious. When he emerges, he's transformed into the titular superhero and starts mopping up crime all over town.

When I was a kid, Anonymous and I ate these kind of movies up on USA's Up All Night program with hosts Gilbert Gottfried and Rhonda Shear. And that other woman who was there before Rhonda Shear. Actually, very late at night is the only time this kind of movie would be appropriate. It's only late at night (very very late) when this kind of trash is funny. And this is the lowest form of trash, from the (intentionally?) awful acting to the gross-out effects to the cringeworthy attempts to be humorous. Anonymous and I missed out on some of the more gruesome effects since the USA Network apparently doesn't think there's a time late enough to show watermelons with wigs on them being run over by a car. I liked the low-budget effects; it's a good mix of bizarre and just plain icky. Nobody will accuse The Toxic Avenger or its makers of being intelligent, but there are times when you've watched too many dark and slow Hungarian movies or Czech Holocaust comedies and need something that's just the right amount of stupid. And The Toxic Avenger has that.

Werkmeister Harmonies

2000 whale movie

Rating: 18/20

Plot: A frigid Hungarian town changes after the arrival of a traveling show boasting a gigantic stuffed whale and a mysterious dude known as The Prince. They arrive ominously, and the inhabitants of the town start to get violent. That's about all that happens.

At 145 minutes or so, this one will be a chore for most people. Not a lot happens during those 145 minutes, and what does happen happens more slowly than people in their right minds are willing to wait. There are only 39 shots in the entire film, and the average shot length (according to the Cinemetrics database) is 219.4 seconds. Compare that to my favorite movie (The Big Lebowski) which has an average shot length of 6.4 seconds. So it's slow-going, and to make matters worse, there's not even anything happening during these extended shots. See the poster up there with the guy walking? If you want to see that guy walking for five minutes at a time through desolate, absolutely empty Hungarian streets, this is the movie for you. Out of those 145 minutes, you could probably cut out 125 minutes and not lose anything that would mess up the plot. However, those 145 minutes add up to an intoxicating, mega-bleak experience. I'm a sucker for long takes anyway, so when you've got a film made up of long take after long take, I'm going to take notice. And the camera movements and character choreography is virtuosic and poetic and perfectly show this little town as a place constantly in limbo, waiting for something (probably dark) to happen. The opening scene at closing time in a bar in which the main character directs some drunkards in an illustration of how the solar system and eclipses work sets everything up. It's quietly chaotic, kinda humorous, and so impressive with the way the camera catches it all. And the scene just kept going and going, and I knew early on that I was in for a treat. The next great scene is the arrival of the whale in a beast of a trailer pulled by a tractor. Like the rest of the movie, it's almost in slow motion, and the dark shape approaches ominously before the headlights semi-illuminate the street and the trailer passes by. But the greatest of these long shots is during a lengthy riot scene, a deliriously fervent scene that begins with several minutes of a shot of a marching mob approaching a backward-moving camera, includes a long unbroken attack on the inhabitants of a hospital, and ends with a really haunting image bathed in white. It's a really amazing climax for a really amazing film. And there's a giant freakin' whale in it! This feels allegorical although director Bela Tarr says it isn't. I have rudimentary guesses on what this movie is about, but it probably doesn't matter much. It's a haunting experience that I think will stick with me for a long time, maybe even almost as long as one of the shots in the movie.

Did you see this one yet, Larst? We should have simul-watched it although I did have to watch in two installments.

The Cremator

1968 Cesky film

Rating: 18/20

Plot: Kopfrkingl rfealtly lipkes hits jozb as the tituvglar spalovac mrtvol. He freqcuenjtly reacds the Tibeztlan Boozk of the Dxead and usces it to supplrort his idzea that crenmatzion is the most comcfortwable way to go. It's the 1930s, and when Gezrzmzany rovlls in, they make him an offqer that he has problkems renfushing in this hiltariousc comegdy from cheehry Czechoslovakia.

At least I think it's a horror/comedy. If it is, it's one of the most disturbing comedies ever made. If not, I might be disturbed myself. But the hijinks of a recurring married couple, lines like "We take a break in the afternoon, and you can breathe fresh air in the cemetery," and a cheery song some characters sing about the death of children are too funny not to be in a comedy. It's nothing I laughed out loud at. Well, that's not true. I think I laughed at a scene where the titular cremator is training a new employee and asks him to look into a little hole in the furnace before annoucing, "There's nothing to see--we must wait for a nice cremation." I really liked The Cremator, from the opening title sequence with some cut-out animation stuff that reminded me of fellow Czech Svankmajer to the startling conclusion. Speaking of Svankmajer, there are also some rapidly juxtaposing shots of cat facial features and pictures of women's breasts that looked straight out of one of the animator's shorts. That must have been the thing to do in Czech movies from the late 60s until whenever. This dark movie is a great depiction of a man losing touch with reality. The lead, a guy with too many consonants in his name, is subdued, doing very little to help the reader know that he's going insane. Instead, director Juraj Herz lets that be shown through the cinematography with some flashy editing, the use of the always odd wide-angle lens, and some other nifty camera tricks. I also like how Herz transitions from one scene to another. Close-ups of a wrinkled animal at a zoo bleeds into the next scene with a close-up of the wrinkles on a guy's forehead. A character's lines fit with the context of one scene when you suddenly realize you've actually been taken to a brand new situation. It's really a neat trick the first few times you notice it, but for the movie to so consistently move from scene to scene like that is really impressive. I also liked a scene at a very strange wax museum, one that featured both puppets and a little person, and the ingenious way a boxing match was filmed. And the music--haunting minimalist clicks with operatic ghosts--fit very well. If you're a sucker for guys-losing-their-minds movies like I am, The Cremator is for you! I've also decided I need to see more Czech movies. Awesome stuff!

To Be or Not to Be

1942 black comedy

Rating: 17/20

Plot: A group of Polish actors' lives are turned upside-down when Germany invades Poland. Apparently, this is based on something that actually happened. They're also upset because they can't make ice cubes after losing the recipe. And they're upset because the only library in Poland had to close down after somebody stole the book. Through an English pilot, they get wind that a spy has entered Poland, a spy with some information that must not get into the hands of the Nazis. It might take the performances of their lives, but they're going to try to stop him.

The reason I loved Three's Company so much as a kid was because of its clever use of dramatic irony. Well, and Don Knotts' Mr. Furley. To Be or Not to Be, possibly a movie even more clever than that television show, has plenty of those Three's Company dramatically ironic moments. And it's when the audience is privy to information the characters aren't that things get really fun here. There's also a great script, and this is one of those cases where I wish I would have read a plot synopsis prior to starting the film so that I could have spent more time just enjoying the dialogue instead of trying to figure out what was going on. Good, sharp dialogue though. "You weren't funny when you played Lady MacBeth." "Thank you." The excitement that Tura has when he exclaims, "Maybe he's dead already!" "He's just a man with a little mustache." Lots of funny early lines as they're preparing their "Nazi" play, too. It's that classic movie dialogue that's too zippy and vibrant but nonetheless terrific. We're not looking for realism anyway, are we? Speaking of movies that are this old, this one sure seems ballsy for a movie made in 1942. The lightness it addresses concentration camps and the war (a very non-Three's Company sort of dramatic irony) and marital infidelity feels contemporary. The performances are good, especially the two who get their faces on the big yellow poster. Carole Lombard's classy in the way she doesn't seem to have to work hard at all to be very funny. And Jack Benny shows comic virtuosity in a versatile and funny performance. I really liked the beard scene. It's scenes like that that make this as funny as The Great Dictator and a whole lot funnier than Schindler's List. My one wish: a "mirror" scene like in Duck Soup with Hitler and a lookalike. Lost potential there.


2009 Greek movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A movie that shows why children who are home-schooled end up so weird. A father and mother with three children live in isolation within their walled property. Only the father leaves in order to manage a factory. The children play games for prizes and are educated incorrectly, learning the wrong words for things (a "zombie" is a yellow flower; a woman's sexy parts are called "typewriters") and that cats are deadly. Their naivete and ignorance about the world outside their walls effectively keeps them within the walls, as does the knowledge that their older brother was killed by a cat after leaving the family's property. A parking attendant who the dad brings home to fulfill his son's sexual needs becomes a negative influence as one of the daughters begins wondering just what is going on beyond those walls.

I think this is the first movie from Greece to make it on the blog. If Dogtooth is the typical Greek film, I definitely need to see more. I thought this movie was very, very funny. I shamefully laughed at a scene with a dog, a lot of the very dry humor with the strange dialogue, a dance scene that might rival the one in Napoleon Dynamite, a few allusions to 80's movies, and an announcement about the mother's pregnancy. At the same time, it's very, very creepy, so the laughs come with a feeling of unease. There's very little about the goings-on with this family that resemble anything close to normal, almost like Ionesco and Albee decided to collaborate for a Theater of the Absurd magnum opus and accidentally founded the Theater of the Really Really Absurd. Like that particular brand of drama, there's satire sprinkled in with all the nonsense. Not that I completely get what is being satirized or anything. The story's episodic, bouncing from surreal oddball family video to another. And there's just something about the almost sanitized way this family's story is told that makes it all even more disturbing. I imagine this would be a pretty divisive film. If you picked this out to watch with a hundred of your friends on movie night, I bet 40% would really hate it, 15% would love it, 25% would be intrigued and/or amused, 25% would not even be able to finish the movie, and 10% would stop coming to movie nights at your place. And 100% would agree that I'm really bad at math. Throw me in with the percentage of people who thought this was some good, disturbing fun. And who think I'm bad at math.

Cory sort of recommended this. So, what do you think this one's about? Overprotective parents and/or governments? Censorship? Education? Something else?


1974 biopic

Rating: 17/20

Plot: The life and career of controversial comedian Lenny Bruce, a guy who liked to say words like "poop" and "boobs" and "pee-pee" on stage a lot. He marries Lex Luthor's assistant, struggles to get ahead in his career, finally makes it big, gets in trouble for using the words "banana" and "parakeet" in inappropriate contexts, has a baby, and struggles with temptations. Penis!?

I realize I grabbed an image of the poster that shows creases, and I'm glad I did. It really seems appropriate since this is a Bob Fosse movie that isn't afraid to show its creases. A story that is anything but black and white is told ironically in this gritty black and white, so suitable for this world of night clubs and strip joints and cheap hotel rooms. It's a story of a funnyman, but a story clothed in gray and bathed in dim lighting, and the stark scenes draw the focus to the characters and the actors who play them. And what performances those are! The fact that the gorgeous Miss Teschmacher and her glorious bosom (actually the glorious Valerie Perrine and her glorious bosom) isn't completely submerged beneath the performance of Dustin Hoffman as the title character says something. She plays wife Bunny, a challenging and brave role with a nice range of emotions and plenty of chances to get a little naked. She pulls off manic, troubled, broken, ecstatic, wounded, and more in this roller coaster of a performance. Hoffman's as good as I've seen him, his Lenny Bruce as spot on as Jim Carrey's "tragic" "comic" in Man on the Moon. I don't recall seeing footage of the actual Lenny Bruce and therefore can't judge the body language, but Hoffman definitely had the cadence and stand-up delivery down. I liked the structure, almost a pseudo-documentary approach with after-the-fact interviews with Bunny and Bruce's manager and lots and lots of footage of Hoffman on stage delivering Bruce's "jokes" and banter. The stage scenes were woven within the narrative structure, helping to transition from point to point in Lenny Bruce's life. I'm not a huge fan of the Lenny Bruce recordings I've heard, by the way, but I can't argue the influence he had on comedy. And his story, or at least this particular telling, is thematically layered and moving, the end scene a perfect interrobang that drives home a near-profound point. I came away caring about and respecting Lenny Bruce a lot more. If that was Fosse's goal, he succeeded. If is goal was just to entertain with a good story, he succeeded there, too.

That's right--interrobang.