Movie Club Selection for April: Do the Right Thing

1989 joint

Rating: 19/20

Plot: A day in the lives of a handful of Brooklynites on Stuyvesant Street. It's so hot. How hot is it? It's so hot that it can melt the melting pot! Racial tensions burble.

A recipe for disaster--an Italian-run pizzeria with no pictures of black people on the walls, some old-school blacks who have been there and done that several times over, some new-school disillusioned punks, a guy with a boom box and only one song, Korean grocers, a sprinkling of Hispanics. Mix all ingredients in a large pepper pot with two quarts of water over intense heat. Season with Chuck D. and Flavor Flav screaming things about Elvis at you.

Speaking of Public Enemy, I wonder if "Fight the Power" won or was at least nominated for Best Song. And speaking of the songs, here's some interesting trivia: I noticed that left-handed pitcher Bill "Spaceman" Lee did the musical score for Do the Right Thing. Unless (and this is doubtful) there's another Bill Lee out there.

This movie has an infectious energy that is impossible not to love, from the Rosie Perez dance off against herself during the opening credits to the powerful and devastating denouement. It's alive, alive in a refreshing way. The amount of color rivals Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, and I'm not just referring to Samuel L. Jackson's array of hatwear. The neighborhood's drenched in color, like some little kids got a hold of a box of Crayolas (the bulbous 900 crayon box) and just went nuts. The characters are colorful, too. Stuttering Smiley, weirdly contrasting with the backdrops in almost every shot he's in. Ossie Davis's Da Mayor brings his street wisdom and contradictions. Sal and his sons, Sister Mama, Mookie, Radio Raheem. The latter, by the way, reminds me of a young me actually. When I was in middle school, I carried around a boom box and blasted my Spike Jones and the City Slickers "Best Of" cassette. Also, my peers used to call me Sweet Dick, so this movie brings back all kinds of memories for me. But I digress. Such colorful characters, and the actors who bring them to life are terrific. For three-fourths of the film, we're treated (and it is a treat!) to comic vignettes, the story bouncing rapidly from character to character. I loved seeing the characters roaming about in the background when it wasn't their turn to be the center of attention, too. But there's this building, underlying intensity, this anger bubbling beneath all those colors, so the climax, even though it successfully shocks and disturbs, isn't totally surprising. Finally, I was impressed with the deft camerawork in this one. There were some really creative camera angles, and I liked how smoothly the camera maneuvered through the characters on Stuyvesant Street. It slides with grace, especially impressive when showing conflict. The scene with Smiley hanging up that picture borders on "Too Much," but I think it's powerful, leaving things wonderfully foggy. This movie is stupid fresh!

I'll save discussions about the movie's message for the comments.

Step Brothers

2008 "comedy"

Rating: 6/20 (Anonymous: 4/20; Pump or Astro-Pretzel: 3/20)

Plot: A couple unemployed middle-aged good-for-absolutely-nothing jackasses become the titular step-brothers after their parents hook up at a convention and later marry. Initially, they can't stand each other, but once they realize they have a lot in common, like their shared affinity for night vision goggles, they become friends. But their shared interests and attempts to start their own company threaten to tear the happy newlyweds apart.

I wanted to watch In the Line of Fire, but my step brother wanted to watch this instead. We fought over that for a while--rolling around on the floor, poking eyes, farting on each other, giving wedgies, kicking nutsacks, etc.--before realizing that we had a love of Mary Steenburgen in common. Then, we high-fived each other awkwardly, and he broke his finger. And that story, ladies and gentlemen, is just as clever as the one in the movie Step Brothers. Attempting to recapture the magic of Talladega Nights, a movie I've been told is a classic, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly stupid it up in this one that reminds me simultaneously of a whole bunch of predictable 80's crap and every single other Will Ferrell movie I've ever seen. There's not a single laugh to be had in this thing. It fits right in with that disturbing trend in modern comedies where lazy writers assume that creating really uncomfortable situations for characters who could never actually exist is automatically going to be funny. Awkward is not a synonym for hilarious. I should know because I looked it up, and I'm an English teacher.

It took me a while to remember it, but I made a promise around Christmas that I would not have another Will Ferrell movie on this blog. See? I'm really sorry that my own step brother made me break that promise. Maybe I'll fart on him later.

Girl Shy

1924 silent romantic comedy (with horses)

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Because of a speech impediment and a less-than-impressive status as a poor tailor's assistant, some character probably named Harold has trouble meeting women. He's girl shy. But that doesn't stop him from writing a piece of nonfiction with the ambiguous title How to Make Love to Women and attempting to find a publisher for the tome. He eventually does meet a girl on a train and engages in the lengthiest and most awkward sex scene in silent cinema history. A horse is involved.

Question: If a stutterer stutters in a silent movie, and there's no sound enabling you to hear it, does it make a sound? Another solid Harold Lloyd movie with his typically likable protagonist, some very sweet romantic moments, and an explosion of craziness at the end where the actor does something wildy funny (i.e. climbing up the side of a building [Safety Last] or clang-clang-clanging on a trolley through New York streets [Speedy]). In Girl Shy, he's racing against the clock, stealing cars and endangering the lives of everybody around him. I bought the sweetness of his character a little more than in some of his other movies, but I also enjoyed how he had no issues with misbehaving like a four-eyed gangster rapper. And I'm really impressed with the amount of vehicles they managed to throw into that wild chase scene at the end. I think it was a zeppelin away from breaking some sort of vehicular record. This also may have gotten a bonus point for a Harold Lloyd spanking scene. Hot! No way any warm-blooded male could watch that without becoming aroused. Which reminds me--a baseball coach at my school was telling me today that one of his players couldn't make it to practice because he injured himself by "diving onto his bed with a hard-on," hurting the member. It's doubtful, but I wondered if he was watching Girl Shy when that happened.

Another really gay movie poster, by the way. It might not deliver the gay that Feet First delivers, but it's still really gay.

Band of Outsiders

1964 Godard funk

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Two buddies named Franz and Arthur meet the fetching Odile in an English language class. They fall for her, likely because she's fetching, and try to persuade her to help them steal a wad of cash from a bureau in her aunt's house. Love triangles, Hollywood B-movie imitation, half-assed crime sprees, and dancing ensue.

This is Godard at his most playful, most winking, and most ornery. Snippets of jazz in the score, a scene featuring a minute of silence (I think it's short about twenty seconds though), a lengthy dance sequence, wanton melodrama, cheeky omniscient narration. Following (not directly) the more sophisticated Contempt and Breathless, this is like a crazy uncle of a movie, standing up right in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner to show you that he's got his napkin sticking out the opened fly of his trousers, a cloth phallus that he, of course, points to with both thumbs. I like the three leads. Well, I guess Sami Frey as Franz (reminds me of John Lurie a bit) and Claude Brasseur (no relation) are fine. I enjoyed some of Franz's mannerisms anyway, cool-guy pointing and show-off Fedora tricks. But honestly, I'm not sure how either of those guys did because whenever Anna Karina was on the screen, I couldn't take my eyes off her and nothing else mattered. I'm not just talking about nothing elses in the movie either. Nothing else in life mattered, nothing in the past, nothing in the future, and certainly nothing in the present. She's a goddess! The narrative's simple, but the dialogue's clever, self-referential and almost-funny. The style's simple, too, but deceptively so, especially during a scene in Odile's house where violence begins to escalate, a scene that almost works like a ballet with Godard using the architecture similarly to how he used space in Breathless. Tarantino named his production company after this movie, and it reminds me a bit of Jeunet's work although that could just be the playfulness and narrator use. This is one crazy uncle you won't complain about after you catch him fisting the stuffing when Grandma turns her back.

Cat People

1942 Meow Mix commercial

Rating: 17/20

Plot: A horny guy marries an immigrant who may or may not be a cat. Person. Cat person. He realizes soon after their wedding day that she has no interest in sleeping with him and decides to hook up with his secretary. The wife, already stressed out because she thinks she's a cat, finds out. Cat fight!

Jacques Tourneur's films are stylish but not overtly or extravagantly stylish. This is a quiet Tourneur movie like I Walked with a Zombie, meaning it doesn't have a big goofy demon like or Night of the Beast a big Robert Mitchum like Out of the Past. What it shares with those movies is Tourneur's good eye. The visuals don't pop, and there's nothing in this movie that you could describe as flashy, but I really like how shadows and light (especially shadows) are used to frame the titular Cat Person. The great-named Simone Simon plays her, and I liked her accent in her face, not necessarily in that order, in this. Like the direction, her performance is quiet, and she plays desperate very well. The dialogue's really good for a 1940's semi-horror film, too, but it's the simple style that really makes this a winner. It's a sneaky non-style where the director's making it look so easy, but this is stuffed with some terrific scenes--the pool scene, the pet shop scene, some shots at a museum and in the guy's office. Mysterious and quietly haunting.

Master of the Flying Guillotine

1976 kung-fu classic

Rating: 16/20

Plot: After a one-armed man kills a pair of his former students, the blind and bearded titular master of the titular weapon of mass decapitation goes on a one-armed man killing spree to get revenge. The shenanigans threaten to ruin a kung-fu tournament.

It's no wonder this is a favorite of Tarantino and kung-fu aficionados. It's balls-to-the-wall action, that sort of uncouth action that nudges aside any semblance of plot. The characters are very colorful. The least interesting character is probably the hero, the one-armed boxer played by director Yu Wang. I'm not even sure that's a knock on the one-armed boxer played by director Yu Wang, but when you have a disco-dancing flamboyant Thai boxer, a guy named Wins-Without-a-Knife who wins with a knife, and a guy whose arms extend to a length of about ten feet when he fights, having only a single arm is not going to seem like a big deal. I like when the weirdness in these movies is played straight. I'd almost understand if, following the first time that guy's arms extended, there was a comic shot of a guy with really big eyes and a springy noise sound effect, but Master of the Flying Guillotine doesn't have anything like that and is better for it. The bad guy's awesome, and the guillotine might be one of the most menacing weapons in the history of martial arts movies. I didn't think about the special effects used to make the guillotine be a flying one, and that's a credit to the special effects team. This is a "tournament" martial arts film, and there's a bulk near the middle made up of a series of fights. It's a great excuse to show a variety of characters and fighting styles. Another thing great about this is the music, some really cool krautrock stuff including Neu!. And the climactic fight scene between the one-armed man and the blind man? As epic as you'd think a fight between a one-armed man and a blind man would be! Definitely recommended for fans of the genre.

Sherman's March: A Meditation on the Possibility of Romantic Love in the South during an Era of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation

1986 self-indulgent documentary

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A guy's given some funds to make a historical documentary about General William Tecumseh Sherman's March to the Sea that devastated the South during the Civil War. He gets sidetracked and ends up making a documentary about his failed attempts to find love. Tracing Sherman's path, Ross McElwee meets various women, falls for them, and then watches his chances at a lasting relationship with them fall to pieces. Meanwhile, nightmares about nuclear war keep him up at night.

Full disclosure: I had to give this a bonus point once I found out the title was much longer than Sherman's March. At 2 1/2 hours, this is a little too long, and I'm not really sure who the audience would be for this sort of thing. People like me, I guess. It's got a Woody Allen vibe (or maybe a Michael-Moore-without-a-Point vibe), philosophically self-conscious, and folks annoyed by Woody's filmed dissertations on romantic love would likely be just as annoyed with this but for a lot longer. And it's essentially a guy making his own reality show in a time that predates reality television. But I like how McElwee's inner conflicts revolving around art as well as love become universal, and the freeform approach is as revealing as it is humorous. The film tackles a trio of discursive topics--love, nuclear bombs, Sherman--but they somehow come together as a cohesive whole. It's also a series of nice portraits of random people from America's South, almost working as an ethnological study on the side. You've got militia men, a woman who thinks slavery should be allowed for blacks who want to be slaves, and island-dwelling hippie chicks. The episodic, meandering structure makes this a very watchable, entertaining 150 or so minutes, and chances are, if you don't mind the guy, you'll probably enjoy this movie just fine.

The Legend of the Suram Fortress

1986 folk tale adaptation

Rating: 17/20

Plot: All these crazy Georgian cats want to do is build their goddamn fortress, but it keeps falling down. Drastic measures have to be taken to ensure that the walls will stand.

My third Sergei Parajanov movie (see this one here and that one there, both highly recommended for anybody with a tolerance for the unconventional) and another winner. This one came after a lengthy sabbatical when Parajanov was jailed for homosexuality and smuggling religious icons [My guess is that doing just one of those is fine, but combined? Oh, boy.] and is somewhere in between The Color of Pomegranates and Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, borrowing the folkloric source material and general narrative feel of the latter and the visual flair and complete abandoning of cinematic conventions of the former. Being from Georgia, Parajanov's movies are naturally foreign, but his are in this second level of foreign movies, the types of film that seem almost alien or made by a creative spirit who either hasn't seen very many movies, refuses to be influenced by other movies, or just can't obey the rules. His movies are in a different spoken language, but they're also in a completely new cinematic language. Like Pomegranates, this has these great artistic shots filled with numerous colors and is stuffed with symbols, most which I'm missing too much cultural context to really connect with. The actors stare mutely directly into the camera, and although there are some close-ups, most of the movie is made up of these deep deep (way back, it might be, it could be, it is) long shots where you almost have to squint to see what's going on. The narrative's confusing, but the strong mood makes up for it and I always felt like I had enough of the plot to grasp on to keep me from being frustrated. Also like Pomegranates, I couldn't piece everything together, but the visual details and novel camera work kept me interested for the duration. It's like my brain was saying, "Hey, wait a second. Can we pop in Dumb and Dumber or something? This Russian crap is confusing!" but my eyes just kept saying, "Ssshh! Hold up a second. Let's see what Parajanov shows us next!" and my brain answered, "Fine! I never get what I want! I need to be in the cranium of somebody who's not a pretentious knob!" and my eyes said, "If you don't shut up, I'm coming up there!" My ears then added, "Hey, the music's really cool, too! It'd be nice if I could hear it over your bitchin', Central Nervous System!" I had to pause the film so my nutsack, the pacifist, could break up the little fight. Anyway, a great movie for that class of cinephile like me who appreciate visuals and aesthetics more than anything else going on in a movie.

There's one more essential Parajanov (Paradjanov?) film--Ashik Kerib--to watch and then I'll revisit those other two again. And speaking of movies from this area of the world, I just remembered my goal to watch all of Tarkovsky's movies this year.


2010 comic book movie

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Although he's not been bitten by a radioactive chicken or peed upon by a radioactive monkey, comic aficionado Dave decides to become a superhero. He sends off for a costume, dubs himself Kick-Ass, and wanders the city in search of crime to fight. He finds out quickly that fighting crime ain't all that easy after his first attempt puts him in the hospital with numerous broken bones. But he doesn't give up on his dream and eventually gets some media attention for his exploits. Meanwhile, a father/daughter crime fighting duo with actual superhero training and a hodgepodge of weaponry make plans to overthrow a big-time crime lord responsible for the death of their wife/mother. Their paths cross.

I'm not a comic book guy. Kairow is, and that's probably why one night during our freshman year at Johnson Bible College, the two of us and a guy called Wombat dressed up as superheros, left our dorm after curfew, and tried to find our campus security guard. I'm not completely sure what our goal was. We were probably just bored, and after Kairow had discovered that his pant leg (after he cut it off to make himself some bitchin' jean shorts) actually fit over his head, there's no way it wouldn't become a mask. And if he had a mask, he'd have to have a cape. And if he had a mask and a cape and a thing of Stain Stick and a cool superhero name like Stain Stick Man, then I'd have to have a costume. So I become the Human Fly with a jock-strap worn over some running tight things and a see-through hat over my face. And a tennis racket. I think that was the only thing I ever used the tennis racket for actually. Wombat was the type of guy who had both boxing gloves (no, he was not exactly a boxer; too round) and a monk outfit, so he became the Boxing Monk, probably the ballsiest of the trio since his face wasn't even covered. We waited outside our dorm entrance for a while before wandering off to find the security guard. We finally located them (didn't make me feel all that secure, I must say) and approached the car. Then, probably anticlimactically, we had the following conversation:

Stain Stick Man: Hello!
Security Guy: Hi.
Stain Stick Man: What are you boys doing out so late tonight?
Security Guy: Not much. How about you guys?
Stain Stick Man: Just fightin' crime.

Then, we walked back to the dorm. And that was pretty much that.

My point? We almost came up with this idea before the comic book was written. And it was a much more entertaining way to spend ninety minutes. No, I'm not saying that the makers of Kick-Ass ripped us off and owe us royalties or anything. I'm not exactly saying that it's a rip-off of anything. But it did have a tone similar to Scott Pilgrim, only less thrilling and with a protagonist who wasn't quite as likable or Michael Cera-ish. The romantic subplot made it seem derivative, like an 80's movie, and there wasn't anything going on with the main plot that felt like anything I've never seen before. It wasn't funny enough or playful enough to be satire either, so to me, it was just another comic book movie, and aside from a couple vibrant fight scenes featuring the cute little girl, a pretty tired one. Oh, and Nic Cage's surprisingly subdued performance as Big Daddy. I like how he Adam Wests it up when in the superhero garb, and the majority of the fun in Kick-Ass, is courtesy of America's finest actor. Craig Ferguson's also got a cameo, and it's always good to see him.

Rat Pfink a Boo Boo

1966 superhero B-movie

Rating: 5/20 (Mark: 11/20)

Plot: After twenty-two years, Mark and Shane get to sit down and watch a movie they had only dreamed of seeing. Rat Pfink a Boo Boo! Shane decides that he likes technology after all, stops lamenting the death of the video store and even mom 'n' pop record stores, and declares that he is no longer a luddite. He agrees to be a guinea pig for the latest movie technology involving microchips implanted into the hypothalamus but passes away during the surgery. Fortunately, he died the happiest of men because he got to see Rat Pfink a Boo Boo before he died. His life flashes before his eyes, but he realizes it's not his life at all because he never stood up in the sidecar of a moving motorcycle driven by his sidekick, a mentally-challenged groundskeeper. He would never have been able to point with that kind of superheroic enthusiasm.

I really feel bad about giving this movie a 5/20 because a) I really really enjoyed watching it, and b) it's a borderline classic for a movie made for twenty dollars. In fact, despite the lowest production values you're ever likely to see (just check out those superhero costumes constructed of various articles of clothing garnered at Sears), completely inept filmmaking, and the worst comedy writing ever (admittedly, I did chuckle when Rat Pfink reminded Boo Boo what their one weakness is), you do get what I'd call some iconic moments. I want a poster of Rat Pfink and Boo Boo on the Pfinkmobile, Rat Pfink standing like Batman or Superman wouldn't have to balls to stand and pointing straight ahead. I'd probably stare at it for hours a day and never get any work done though. The story's completely schizophrenic. For the first forty minutes, there's not a single clue that this is even a superhero movie. It's barely a story even, a psychological non-thriller about some punks (one who likes to hide out in just the right trash can) crank-calling the girlfriend of a pop singer in order to later kidnap her and demand a ransom. Then, boom. Superheroes and comedy. There's an endless fight scene in a what I assume is Ray Dennis Steckler's (The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies) backyard followed by an endless car chase. Then, boom. A killer gorilla. So Rat Pfink a Boo Boo (the title, by the way, was a mistake, but Steckler couldn't afford to fix it) has a little bit of everything unless you're looking for a plot. It doesn't have much of one of those. Mark enjoyed the "colorful" black and white and the gnarley go-go music.

Our heroes:


2002 movie

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Alex goes out for a night of partying with current boyfriend Marcus and ex-boyfriend Pierre. She's raped and beaten nearly to death, and the two boys go hunting for the criminal in order to get revenge.

It's not a movie that I can give away the ending to because, like Memento, it's told in reverse chronological order. Instead, I don't want to give away the beginning which, with the help of Beethoven's 7th (2nd movement, the one I've told people I'd like to some day die to), gave me a genuine emotional jolt. The entire movie's an experience unlike any other. I don't necessarily mean that in a positive way, and I'm not likely to recommend this movie to anybody. Argentine director Gaspar Noe (this is my first Noe movie) displays a gift for making a movie into a very raw, visceral experience, and Irreversible is a movie you watch more with your guts than anything else. Discombobulating camera angles in which the handheld camera spirals and bends and undulates, barely discernible off-kilter incidental music, sickening lighting effects, and long takes where either nothing at all happens or too much to handle is happening make this a queasy viewing experience. Noe's techniques, which I'll tell you again are the types of things that a lot of viewers will despise, put the experiences of these characters, especially a scene of brutal violence and the infamous and seemingly endless rape scene, right in your face. It's strange because the effects and storytelling techniques make you aware that you're watching a movie and that these actors will be just fine, but it just doesn't sit right and you're disturbed. I had difficulty sleeping after watching Irreversible and didn't feel like watching a movie for several days afterward. And the reverse chronological order thing? Unlike Memento, a movie that felt cold and gimmicky to me the sole time I saw it, the trick adds an emotional intensity and fits right in thematically. I imagine that Noe reached his cinematic goals with Irreversible. I can't imagine that I'll ever feel like putting myself through it ever again. I do, however, really want to check out more of his oeuvre.

I also want to see Memento again.

Yellow Brick Road

2005 documentary

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

Plot: A New York program called ANCHOR (Answering the Needs of Citizens with Handicaps through Organized Recreation [Note: Shouldn't the acronym be ATNOCWHTOR then?]) brings together a collective of actors with a variety of disabilities to put on a stage production of The Wizard of Oz. The documentary captures everybody at work as they prepare for opening night and gives a glimpse of a few of the actors' lives outside the theater.

My favorite being the guy who was showing off his stuffed characters from Disney's The Great Mouse Detective. I was touched by this documentary and its subjects. My only gripes? I wish the performers would have done their own singing. The film opens with the mostly-wheelchair-bound Tin Man singing "If I Only Had a Heart," and I really liked his voice, and not just because he reminded me of a certain singer at Johnson Bible College. And I really wish we could have seen more of the actual production and really wonder why we didn't. Even though that makes it all a bit anticlimactic, this is still stuffed like a scarecrow with great moments--the hysterical reaction when one gal gets a part, watching the guy who played the Cowardly Lion show off his acting chops, the Tin Man's curtain call, the mayor of Munchkin Land trying to get his one line memorized. Yellow Brick Road is ultimately a look at some individuals who, despite not fitting most people's ideas about what actors look like or sound like, are given a chance to do something they love doing, and it's an absolute pleasure spending some time with them.

The Lickerish Quartet

1970 sex comedy

Rating: 11/20

Plot: In their big fancy castle, a middle-aged married couple watch a pornographic movie with their twenty-something son. The son objects; the father cracks jokes. Eventually, they decide to get out and walk to a carnival where they enjoy the stunt driving of a trio of motorcyclists. When the female driver removes her helmet, they recognize her as one of the actresses in the movie they were watching. At least they think it's her. Naturally, they take her back to the castle, have some really awkward conversations, and then show her the pornographic movie. The next morning [Spoiler Alert!], they all have sex with her. Individually, of course, because together would just be disturbing.

Came across this title in a "Cult Movies" book, and I can't say I'm really glad I did. It drools like the 1970s, weirdly alternating between jerk-off material smuttage to pretentious dick-with-the-audience arthouse flick. It's an Italian movie, and it has the feel of one even though the dialogue's in English. The acting is stilted, forced and awkward, and the writing doesn't help the actors out much. Observe:

Girl: Who has the gun?
Father: What gun?
Girl: To do the shooting?
Father: There isn't going to be any shooting.
Girl: Of course there is.
Father: Of course there isn't!

Actually, with dialogue like that, it's hard to imagine that this isn't a comedy. An artsy erotic comedy! I actually did laugh quite a bit if you stretch your definition of "laugh" to include scrunching up one's face and saying, "What the hell?" I really liked the father's butterfly joke and its subsequent no-reaction. And I agree with the father that watching erotic movies in reverse and at a higher speed is worthy of a hearty guffaw. And how can you really hate a movie with a magic show, a motorcycle stunt scene, a spirited game of hide and seek, and a shot of a python swallowing a baby pig? You can't. I won't complain about the nudity either. Star Silvana Venturelli's easy on the eyes. The taste I can't wash out of my eyes, however, is the visual of the father and the visitor rolling most unerotically on a library floor that happens to have the definitions of sexual terms all over it. That was following the foreplay which consisted of the couple throwing books at each other and the father resenting his son. Yeah, it's that kind of movie. Awesome song during that scene though, all layered psychedelic guitar noodling. There's some neat elements here, but the pretentious camera play, random shots of feet and people falling down the stairs, World War flashbacks, and the overuse of visual motifs just scream artsy-fartsy. It was like director Radley Metzger decided he better make The Lickerish Quartet artistic or risk offending his mother and, after realizing he had no story whatsoever, decided to just befuddle the audience by blending present and past, reality and fantasy, motorcycles and shadow puppets. "See, Mom? It's not pornographic. It's Art!" Unfortunately, the pseudo-intellectual erotic mess it adds up to is no more intelligent than the erotic mess I made while watching it.

How about that tagline, by the way? "Beyond the physical edge. . ."

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

1970 sex ed video for girls

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Inceptionesquely, menstruating Valerie dreams a little dream and then a dream-within-a-little-dream, little-dreaming of earring-thieving vampiric chimera, foul grannies, guys with ukuleles, lustful priests, stake burnings, lesbian smoochings, and funky little poisoned demons. Thanks for the trip, Valerie!

As beautiful and as visually interesting this little Czech trip through a pre-pubescent girl's subconscious was, I'm really glad it wasn't much longer. I appreciate cloudy technicolor symbol-laden seemingly-plotless abstract and surreal foreign films as much as the next guy, but this is almost hyper-dreamy if that makes sense. If it's not the sexuality, it'll be the vampires that offend the sensibilities of the religious right, and there are some startling shots of the black-cloaked pale-faced, dysodontial, gaunt figure contrasted against the softer backgrounds of the village. The colors in this beg to be remastered. They're muted and fuzzy, maybe appropriately so, like colors worn away from being from once-upona fairy tale times. This is definitely a case where director Jaromil Jires (don't ask; I don't know him) makes up for the whole no-plot thing and what seems to be a limited budget with a consistent vibe, alluringly hypnotic. It's a frustrating yet tantalizing visual treat, like an Alice's Adventures in Wonderland without the hallucinogenics or a Heidi with fistfuls and a liberally dog-eared copy of The Softest Metamorphosis--A Nubile Girl's to Her Body and How to Avoid Priests and/or Vampires.


1988 animated classic

Rating: 17/20

Plot: See Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

My favorite retelling of Carroll's book, Svankmajer's Alice is, in my opinion, represents the master animator at the peak of his grotesque powers. The story's essentially the same, and most of the characters from the novel find their way into Svankmajer's Wonderland. Svankmajer's vision and leftfield creativity breathes unique life into them, making the White Rabbit a sawdust-leaking stuffed buck-toothed thing, the March Hare a wind-up toy, the Mad Hatter a wooden marionnette, the Caterpillar a sock puppet, and, most disturbingly, Bill and the White Rabbit's other pals a perverse menagerie of skeletal reptilian things. The pace is quick, and there's plenty to see, especially for lovers of quirky nightmares. The narration kind of annoys me, probably more so because of some terrible dubbing, but I can put up with that because it's such a treat visually. I definitely could have done without half the lip close-ups though. Nevertheless, bitchin'!

Little Otik

2000 horror comedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Bozena and Karel want a child more than anything else in the world. They receive some upsetting news when a doctor tells them they'll never have a child. To cheer his wife up, Bozena unearths a tree root that's kind of in the shape of a human baby and presents it to his wife. They pretend it's real and play parent at their weekend house, and nine months later, with the aid of some faux stomachs, fool their neighbors and friends into thinking they have had a child. Problems arise when the wooden baby develops an impossible appetite.

This doesn't have as much animation as Jan Svankmajer's Alice or Faust. When you finally get to see the root baby come to life, it's truly horrifying and very realistic. The breast-feeding and temper tantrum scenes manage to be even more terrifying than watching a real-life baby. Otik is based on a Czech folk tale, a story learned when a neighbor girl reads from a picture book, and like the best folk tales, this has its share of gruesome moments. It's particularly gruesome when the titular child eats, of course, but watching the other characters eat isn't much better. And they certainly enjoy an interesting array of soups. But Otik isn't all horror. It's also very humorous. A scene where a guy on the street fishes babies out of a tub with a net and wraps them in newspaper is very funny, and as disturbing as it is, a scene featuring a pedophile's crotch hand made me laugh. That pedophile's crotch is the first animation you see in this movie, by the way. The funniest bit is when the husband brings the root to his wife and says, "Guess what I've got for you." It just seems like such a cruel thing to do to a woman who can't have a child, but I laughed and laughed anyway. I really enjoy this movie, but I wonder if Svankmajer had trouble with funding. There are parts of the movie that seem incomplete, especially the ending, and I really wish there could have been more animation, even if was just surreal vignettes that had nothing to do with the main conflicts. Like crotch hand! I imagine the film's theme has to do with human greed, especially since an alternate title is Greedy Guts.


2010 Night chronicle

Rating: 9/20

Plot: Right after a man jumps to his death from a window far above the van he lands on, a black guy, a white guy, an old woman, a younger woman, and a mattress salesman enter an elevator in building 333. The elevator malfunctions, apparently because it's possessed by the devil. Devil! A detective and the audience try to figure out what the hell is going on.

As soon as the words "The Night Chronicles" popped onto the screen, I had mixed feelings of glee and disappointment. On the one hand, this wasn't an actual M. Night Shyamalanadingdong movie, so it was unlikely that the level of comedy would meet my expectations after watching his brilliant comedy The Happening. On the other hand, M. Night now apparently thinks he's become the next Alfred Hitchcock and there's going to be a whole bunch of this crap, and some of it's going to be really bad. Devil isn't a complete disaster. In fact, the premise is sort of cool, and in the hands of a better writer, one without so many A's in his last name maybe, this might have ended up fairly good. As the film begins, you get these upside-down aerial shots of a city, and I was thinking, "Oh, my God. Shyamalan couldn't even find a director who knows how to properly hold a camera!" Once the detective comes along to solve the mystery of the falling man, things get ridiculous. And that's at the beginnning of the movie, so I guess things get ridiculous fairly quickly. The detective has trouble finding the broken window because of a moving truck or something, and it made me wonder if he was the right man for this or any job. It's just like when you hear the characters in this (especially the mattress salesman) interact with each other? It made me wonder if the writer, the director, and the actors and actresses were the right men and women for the jobs. I really wondered if anybody involved in the production of Devil has ever heard actual human interaction before. My favorite bit of dialogue is the bit about toast falling "jelly-side down" or whatever. Seriously, who wrote this garbage? So is Devil watching despite its many sins? Overall, no. It's too gimmicky and too silly to really enjoy. Or maybe I'm completely wrong and it's the gimmicks and the silliness that make it enjoyable. Who knows? All I do know is that I'll never look at devil-possessed elevators the same way again. In fact, next time I'm in an elevator with other people, I'm just going to go ahead and kill everybody just to be on the safe side. It might just save my life, and I'll have M. Night Shyamalan to thank for that.


2006 family comedy

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Three generations of men who abuse their bodies--a chronic masturbator, a competitive eater, and a taxidermist. A rooster refuses to just be an innocent bystander, a love triangle ensues, and the gaunt guy's grown tired of feeding a bean bag chair with a face.

Need proof that I'm not just a man but a man's man, a man with a golden stomach, and a man with intestinal fortitude? I ate while watching Taxidermia. Had an entire meal, enjoyed a second helping, and munched on a few sunflower seeds. I don't think you could do that. No, that's not an official challenge because I'm not sure you should actually see this movie. Within the first minute of the movie, a guy dabbles in a little foreplay with a candle before pleasuring himself autoerotically, the scene (and the character) climaxing with the ejaculation of fire. Four feet of firey jism! That's in the first minute! It's that type of movie. By the time you get to the competitive eating and subsequent ring of barfing and the Jabba the Hutt doppelganger and the artsy grotesque denouement, your quease organs are overworked and your lobe's been sufficiently stroked. Taxidermia, a film by my new favorite director Gyorgy Palfi (Hukkle), is like gross-out artsy-fartsiness, but it's undeniably shot beautifully. There's an absolutely stunning scene featuring a bathtub and another that starts with a pop-up book about a matchbook girl and ends with astronomical ejaculate. It's beautiful ugliness, and even though the visuals are firmly in the "Not for Very Many People" category, it's impossible to deny that they're artistic. And memorable. I also really liked Taxidermia's score. The movie's also very very funny in very very sick ways, and if that's your bag, then there might be something for you in Taxidermia. Actually, I'm not even sure that's entirely true. I just know that when I think of a scene featuring a hole, lubricant, and a rooster makes me chuckle and then immediately feel dirty. But what's it all about? Or is it about anything at all? Well, add it to the list of Eastern European funk that I don't think I can fully appreciate due to a lack of historical context. I wasn't even sure if Hungary was still a country. However, the more I thought about all this, the more it started to come together. And I read a message board post from a real Hungarian (they do still exist!) that really brought home the genius of this thing. Man, oh, man! I can't wait to see where Palfi goes from here. This guy's a force to be reckoned with!

Note: There were a few poster options I had with this one. One was an image from the fire ejaculation scene which I'm sure made tons of people want to see this movie.

Despicable Me

2010 cartoon

Rating: 14/20 (Jen: 16/20; Dylan: 14/20; Emma: 16/20; Abbey: 20/20)

Plot: Oddly-shaped supervillain Gru is losing his touch. He's finding it increasingly difficult to get funding through the Bank of Evil for his evil-doings, and the neophyte criminal mastermind Vector, a guy who managed to steal the a pyramid of Giza, is stealing his thunder. Gru decides to use a shrink ray gun to shrink and then steal the moon. Unfortunately, Vector snags his shrink gun and Gru is having a difficult time retrieving it. When he finds out that his nemesis has a weakness for cookies sold by a triad of orphans, he decides to adopt the children and use them to get his shrink gun back.

Newcomer Illumination Studios combines a hilarious script, some wonderful visual humor, lovable characters, great voice talents, and some good old-fashioned cartoony funk to create a very good first full-length feature. It's strange because I really didn't think I was enjoying this very much, but the characters and story grew on me quickly. I wasn't sure what Steve Carell was doing with his voice, but that grew on me, too. Without the central character working, this wouldn't have succeeded at all, but Gru has the right combination of dim-witted and criminal genius, submerged emotional stuff and genuine mean-spiritedness. I enjoyed watching him do his evil thang throughout the story and bought his predictable transformation. The narrative is paced well with the right amounts of action, humor, and emotion, but there were some moments that seemed extraneous and unnecessary. The music's a little hit or miss, too. My biggest gripe would be with the Minions, the yellow pill-shaped guys. They're there, I suppose, to add to the cuteness and general hilarity, but a lot of the time, they're just kind of obnoxious. Overall, however, this is some fun animation, and everybody in my family enjoyed it. Their exact words, when asked:

Jen: It was fun.
Emma: It was fun.
Abbey: It was funny.
Dylan: It was fun.

They're helpful.

The Incredibles

2004 superhero cartoon

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

Plot: Bob and Helen Incredible, out-of-work superheroes, try to adjust to normal-person life after saving the world's been outlawed. Helen takes care of their three children while Bob works in a cubicle he barely fits into. On the side, Bob secretly meets with his friend Samuel L. Jackson to park and listen to police scanners and catch some motherfucking criminals. One day, he's contacted by a mysterious woman with a job offer involving the travel to an island and destroy a robot ball. Since Bob just lost his job, he eagerly takes the job but soon discovers that he might be in for more than he bargained for.

See, these are the characters the Pixar folk should be working to bring back to the screen. Those cars and those monsters were fine, but there are so many stories that these characters could be used to tell. Not that this is my favorite Pixar movie. It's not. But it is an exciting story, cool in a James Bond sort of way, and animated with a great attention to detail. The island scenery is realistic, and there's a depth to the animation, especially during scenes where the little fast guy is zipping around where it's impossible to see everything regardless of how much you slow things down. In 2004, it didn't seem like the CGI magicians had quite worked out making people or their movements realistic. Watching this on the big screen, I was impressed with the movements of the human characters, not just because of the semi-realism but because they moved, gesticulated, and grimaced with personality. I especially liked flamboyant Buddy (Jason Lee) and sarcastic and smirking Helen (Holly Hunter). There are still some moments where things just don't look quite right. Helen's butt looks weird in some shots (yeah, I looked), but that might be because I don't understand the physics of an elastic posterior. My favorite two characters are a pair of minor characters, both of diminutive stature. I love every hilarious moment Edna Mode's on the screen, and the fact that director Brad Bird actually does her voice is awesome. And the always-wonderful Wallace Shawn voices Bob's boss, a perfect depiction of Napoleon Complex. The narrative's exciting, tossing you around with some twists and turns, and the music is just as incredible as the titular Incredibles. As with all of Pixar's movies (now they really are all on the blog), there's a lot here for both big people and their kiddies to enjoy. Maybe the big people just a little bit more though.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

1937 cartoon

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A lunatic flees from another lunatic, breaks into the home of some mentally-challenged little people, throws a party with a bunch of filthy animals, and finally attacks the owners of the home with soap. The other lunatic locates her and tricks her into eating a poisoned apple by cleverly saying, "Here, eat this apple." She dies. [Spoiler Alert!] Luckily, the antidote seems to be the saliva of the notorious philanderer Prince Charming, a cat known for his sloppy smooches and wandering hands.

I don't want to trash a classic, but I really don't like this movie very much at all. When you compare it with other early Disney animated features (Pinocchio, Fantasia, even Dumbo), it just doesn't seem as good. Yeah, I know this was the first, and I know when you compare Snow White to modern cheapo straight-to-video animated crappings, it's way ahead of its time and very impressive for 19-freakin'-37. But with about thirty-five years of Disney animated features under my belt, I think the animation in this is hard to watch. The characters in the foreground (and they're always in the foreground) don't mesh with the backgrounds. The backgrounds look completely flat and lifeless. Snow White has unnatural physical features and almost no chest. I want breasts on my Disney princesses. I do like how the dwarves are animated; they've got character and move in a lively way. The dwarf (Wait a second--do they actually like being called that? Is that as politically incorrect as using the dreaded M-word?) movements combined with their individual personalities are where the Disney creative spirit is most evident. I always like how Disney animates animals, but the good animal stuff in this is merely foreshadowing for better stuff that would come later. I also really don't like some of the voices, especially the titular princess. The witch is fine though. The songs? "Someday My Prince Will Come" is a classic although the randy double entendre is uncalled for. The "Heigh Ho" song (Ho? C'mon, Disney!) has always been one of my favorites. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, for me at least, will always be one of those classics that is more important than it is fun to watch. In my likely blasphemous opinion, I think the Disney people should animate a remake. Snow White could look almost identical (with boobs), the dwarves and witch(es) could look exactly the same, and modern technology and better voice work could help make the story live up to the classic status.

Another idea--Disney should hire me as a creative consultant. I wouldn't even demand an outrageous salary or anything. Walt's head--if you're reading this, give me a call.

No Time for Sergeants

1958 comedy

Rating: 12/20 (Jen missed the beginning but said she's give it an 8/20.)

Plot: Country bumpkin Will Stockdale is drafted into the Air Force. He's simpleminded and naive and makes life difficult for his commanding officer Sergeant King and new pal Ben.

Andy Griffith acts like he's attempting to make his character bust through the screen and bite your face off. And I don't mean that in a good way. He's a lumbering doofus of a character, lovable enough but way too much of a character to make this realistic enough for the comedy to work. Myron McCormick as the sergeant and Nick Adams as Private Ben are guilty of the same thing, almost like the leads have realized that the script isn't very funny and feel the need to out-funny each other with outrageous caricaturization. I kept waiting for the comedy to add up to something, turning into something satirical maybe, but it remained nothing more than a very very mild goofy comedy, like slapstick where slapping and the use of a stick has been strictly forbidden. That's fine because I can appreciate a dumb comedy as much as the next dumb American, but there wasn't a single thing that tickled any of my funny bones, and other than the criminally underused Don Knotts, I doubt I'll remember a single gag from No Time for Sergeants in a few months. In a way, this feels like an American take on a Jacques Tati type movie, the simple man who is thrown into a technologically-advanced world, or a world where the rules and regulations don't seem to match up with how the main character goes about things. But, typically American, the main character talks way too much and kind of stomps all over everything. I don't know. Maybe the the whole thing's a metaphor for our military?

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?

1964 "monster musical"

Rating: 3/20 (Dylan: 2/20)

Plot: Jerry takes his girlfriend and his buddy to an amusement park so that they can run around like teenagers in the 1950s used to. While there, Jerry is seduced by a stripper and hypnotized by a murderous prognosticator which I guess makes him a Mixed-Up Zombie. Or an Incredibly Strange Creature. Whatever he turns into, it understandably messes up his love life.

According to the poster, this is starring an actor named Cash Flagg, but don't be fooled. Cash Flagg is Ray Dennis Steckler, a guy who apparently wanted to prove with one movie that he could neither act or direct. It's famously bad, known for its ridiculously long title (although Roger Corman's 1957 The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent beats it) and for being cinema's first "monster musical," a genre that in hindsight is likely unncecessary. About half of the movie consists of these excruciating song and dance numbers. They were bizarre and badly performed and succeeded only in making me feel like a Mixed-Up Zombie who wanted to stop living. The poster also advertises that it was filmed in Terrorama which must be a euphemism for "We only had a budget of a hundred bucks." Actually, I found through my research (that's right; I research) that the budget for this was 38,000, money apparently used unwisely. Steckler also used a nifty trick he called Hallucinogenic Hypnovision which involved people in masks running around the theater scaring the audience. Another interesting bit of trivia: the producers of Dr. Strangelove were annoyed at the original title of this film (The Incredibly Strange Creature: Or, Why I Stopped Living and Became a Mixed-Up Zombie) and threatened lawsuit. Anywho, the movie, one that might inspire a person to use words like anywho. It's got an unscripted quality, probably because Steckler was the type of director who didn't use scripts. Scripts? Who needs 'em!? Steckler also apparently utilizes a special filming technique called Nausea Cam, most naturally during scenes on a roller coaster and almost naturally during some of the dancing scenes but not naturally at all when the actors are just standing there having a conversation. The actors look nauseated themselves a lot of the time. My favorite character in this mess is Ortega, the fortune teller's assistant. I think he might be one of the titular strange creatures. He might have been just a clown or a hobo though. My favorite performance, however, was Atlas King (another pseudonym?) as Jerry's friend Harold. Atlas is only in one other film, another Steckler masterpiece released the same year. I'm sure bad sound contributed, but I couldn't understand a word the guy said, something that surprisingly didn't really make the movie any more difficult to understand. And the bad sound didn't make the other actors unintelligible. Dylan watched this with me as a punishment and took his own notes. He gave me his notes, so if you don't believe me that this film is a must-see, maybe you'll trust him: muffled/undiscernable voices, dark and blurry and hard to see, really bad music, really bad dancing, camera angles--what's with that under-the-car shot?, disembodied voices, day/night continuity errors, random and irrelevent shots, long boring songs that don't advance the plot, no incredibly strange creatures in the movie. See? It's exactly what lovers of bad cinema look for in a movie!

Note: Ray Dennis Steckler directed Rat Pfink A Boo Boo, a movie that I have been wanting to see for twenty-two years.

You can watch this on Hulu or, with the Mystery Science Theater robots, on Netflix.

In a Lonely Place

1950 broken love story

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Dixon Steele, the oldest high schooler on the planet, has a book report due by Friday. Unfortunately, it looks like he's about to fail remedial English once again because he's got a lot of drinking to do and no time to read a book or report on it. Luckily for him, he runs into the goody-two-shoes who works at the book store, a gal who has read the book. He gets her to just tell him the story and then sends her home. The next day, the principal calls him in to the office and accuses him of murdering the book store girl, something that is against the school's rules. Just as the principal reaches for a detention slip, drama club president Laurel walks in with an alibi for Dixon. Inevitably, Dixon and Laurel hook up and even make plans to go to Dixon's 32nd prom together. But can their teenage romance last with the murder mystery still hanging over Dixon's head?

The reason this movie works is because of how director Nicholas Ray treats the characters. He doesn't spell anything out with Bogart or Grahame's characters; doesn't hide their imperfections, those flaws that will ultimately lead to them being as miserable you expect them to be at the end of the movie; and doesn't judge them or really ask the viewer to judge them. Their story is a tragic one, and it never feels like movie tragedy to me despite having such heavy contributions from the score (a good one) and the cinematography (also good--especially the lighting). Bogart's great with this sort of ambiguous character. He's quick and witty and tough, but at the same time needy and fragile and so unsure of himself. It's easy to sympathize with him. The audience's opinion (or at least mine) bounced around quite a bit--yeah, he probably did it; nah, this is just an unlucky break for him, probably another in a long line of unlucky breaks; wait a second, what did he just say?--and it almost seems like he wouldn't mind being put away for the hatcheck girl's murder whether he did it or not just to make up for past sins. Gloria Grahame's also really good, and her Laurel is another intriguing character, one who you feel sorry for because you know she's probably making the same exact mistakes she's made before while trying so desperately to do the right thing. Their romance feels real, real and real doomed, and it's tragic because neither of them really did enough to deserve the problems their budding relationship encounters. Well, unless Dixon killed that poor girl. That wouldn't have been very nice. This is a well-written drama, impressive in how it characterizes and fills the viewer in on the characters' pasts so well without the use of flashbacks or any dialogue that brings up specifics. Look closely enough, and you can almost see their souls. The story's tight with a consistent tone that, for whatever reasons, reminds me of noir or Vertigo even though it really has very little in common with either. One question though--those opening shots of Bogart driving in a car. What the heck was going on their? That was some of the most unnatural screen work I think I've ever seen. I kinda liked it though. And I also kinda liked this movie!