Oprah Movie Club Selection for May: House (Hausu)

1977 Japanese coming-of-age story

Rating: 16/20 (Mark: 16/20)

Plot: Gorgeous isn't too happy about her father remarrying following the death of her mother. She writes a letter to her mom's sister and invites herself and some friends over to her house (the titular house) for the summer. On the way [Spoiler Alert!] they purchase a watermelon. Soon after their arrival, one of the girls disappears. More and more bizarre and possibly supernatural things start happening to the girls. A suspicious kitty lingers.

Some Hausu trivia: The Japanese studio Toho asked director Nobuhiko Obayashi to make a film like Jaws. As George W. Bush would say--"Mission accomplished!"

The second half of this film is likely exactly what Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel had in mind when they invented movies way back in 1929. It starts off like an after-school special though, albeit an artsy-fartsy after-school special directed by a guy who really wants to be an Artist with a capital A and isn't shy about using every stylistic trick in his bulging back of tricks. Before the manic free-for-all Evil Dead-like horror/comedy that everybody who watches this movie will remember (the part with homophagous pianos, demented kitties, killer chandeliers, disembodied heads, dancing skeletons, mouthy eye sockets, menstruation symbolism, inexplicable bananas, aunts retreating into refrigerators, etc.), you get a gaggingly-colored "dull" melodramatic coming-of-age story, but even with that, there's a sense of foreboding and enough wackiness that you know, even if you weren't warned beforehand, that somebody would be eaten by a piano later in the movie. The dvd special features told us that Obayashi started with commercials, and with Hausu, it seems like he wanted to regurgitate every single stylistic trick he'd learned, presumably because that's what American Steven Spielberg does. It reminds me of when I took Vernon to Palestine, Illinois, for their Labor Day weekend rodeo events and we decided to raid the cabinets and refrigerator and dump every ingredient we could find into a cup so that we could dare each other to drink it, probably because that's what we imagined our hero Steven Spielberg did during his spare time. We drank it, and it was disgusting. A majority of people partaking in Hausu might also think it's disgusting, mostly because the images, although the aforementioned tricks used to create those images are familiar, aren't anything the typical viewer is used to. This is weird even by Japanese standards, and you never have any idea what to expect next. I mean both of those as compliments, by the way.

I'm still wrapping my head around what it all means. You've got some pretty obvious symbolism throughout (ripe watermelons, blood, bananas [I guess?]), and the horror, even though it's too comically over-the-top to actually be horrifying, seems to represent the horrors in a young girl's life as she has to deal with changes. My theory: The girls (intellectual Prof, creative Melody, athletic Kung-Fu, hedonistic Mac, sweet Sweet, imaginative Fantasy, and pretty Gorgeous herself) are all chunks of the same young girl, a young girl who discards of various aspects of her personality as she blossoms into womanhood. So what do you think, Oprah Movie Clubbers?

My prediction, by the way: This will be a bit more devisive than Do the Right Thing.

The Story of a Cheat

1936 fictional biopic

Rating: 17/20

Plot: The titular cheat pens his memoirs from his tragedy-tinged childhood damned by mushrooms to the wild affairs and various criminal ventures.

Sacha Guitry wrote, directed, and starred in this classy little gem of a movie. I'm trying to think of a way to describe its style. Airy? Compared to most movies from the 1930s, this feels fresh and new, ironic since Guitry borrows heavily from the silent era. It's got virtually no dialogue and a voiceover narration (also Guitry) from top to bottom. But although it covers an entire guy's life, it's only eighty minutes long and paced in a way so that it seems like only half that. I'm not the biggest fan of narration in movies unless it's noir (almost necessary) or apparently a French film. Guitry's voiceover in this recalled Amelie for whatever reason. Maybe it's just the language though. At any rate, the tone is a playful one, and Guitry seems to have creative juices to spare, evident right off the bat with the cute title screen and introductions of the composer, the cinematographer, the actors, the set design folks, etc. I also liked his sense of humor. Writers didn't kill off entire families like Guitry did until the Coens came along. Breezy and (dare I say it?) whimsical and brisk, this is definitely worth a chunk of an afternoon.

Shaolin vs. Evil Dead

2004 kung-fu zombie movie

Rating: 8/20

Plot: Something about the star of Kill Bill and a pair of sidekicks fighting evil and giving the dead proper burials. It involves voodoo papers. His brother's turned evil and fights against him every step of the way. There are hopping zombies all over the place, too.

First off, I want to find the guy who played Buck (Michael Bowen) in Kill Bill Volume 1 and put him in the kung-fu sequel to The Diary of Anne Frank that I plan on writing and directing some day. That way I'll be able to put "From the star of Kill Bill 1" on the top of my dvd box and make a little extra cash despite having dialogue as bad as the dialogue in this movie:

Master: Take a piss!

Kid: What? Now?

Other Kid: You heard the master. Do it.

Kid: [Pisses]

Other Kid: Master, why did you tell him to take a piss?

Master: I need virgin's pee.

See, sometimes it's poor translating combined with poor dubbing that makes it all sound much worse than it actually is, but I'm not sure that's the case here. Maybe with the later "Where do you come from, devil? How dare you invade my little brother?" is the result of the translation/dubbing combo though. This whole thing's a lot of nonsense. Why do the zombies hop? What's with the ad nauseum chanting? Why's that kid keep slamming his groin into a wall? Does a suddenly materializing Mike Tyson tattoo really give a person special powers? Why so many references to whizzing? What the hell are voodoo papers? There are a few moments when this movie almost looks good, but for the most part, it's one of those modern kung-fu flicks injected with some horror that isn't very scary and some humor that doesn't fit at all. The special effects are the scariest part of this, a kind of CGI nightmare. The Shaolin vs. Evil Dead story isn't even completed in this movie which is really frustrating. Clips during the credits promise a sequel, and it looks like they've found a way to make the special effects even uglier. I have no interest in sitting through the sequel to figure out what the hell this one was about.

Basket Case

1982 horror sleaze

Rating: 10/20

Plot: Duane travels to the big city with a basket containing the lumpy blob of a brother who was formerly attached to him. They're not there to sightsee though. Oh, no. They're on a mission of revenge to kill off all those responsible for separating them. But Duane finds love, and brother Belial isn't happy about it at all.

What percentage of female first-time viewers of Basket Case (to be honest, I can't imagine there are many female fans of this movie) watch and just pray that there will be a Bilial sex scene somewhere in the sleaze? They'll get their wish with what will undoubtedly win my annual "Sex Scene of the Year" award. As a guy who enjoys both puppets and stop-motion, there's no way that I'm not going to enjoy Bilial. This is one of the cheapest movies you'll ever see, but it's got this grimy style and filthy charm that, although not something that will appeal to everybody, puts this a notch above its landfill-dwelling brethren. The most obvious thing you have to overlook is some of the worst acting ever. Kevin Van Hentenryck, the guy who plays Duane, is like a poor man's Bud Cort, and the periphery characters (mannish prostitutes, hotel managers, shady doctors) are played by actors/actresses who are each worse than the one who preceded them. Bad acting can be entertaining, but the stuff in this crosses a line into a new level of bad. I really enjoyed some over-the-top sound effects and a really weird soundtrack. There's a funny "woo-woo-woo" thing during a scene when the camera reveals an empty basket (Woo woo woo!), and the exaggerated squishes, wickery creaks, and audible drooling give this a disgusting edge. Basket Case isn't played 100% straight, and I laughed most during some flashback scenes, including an operation scene with some hilarious dubbing. This has enough sticky violence, creative garbage cinematography, and fun for somebody in just the right mood.

I'm pretty sure most of the budget for this one was spent on the basket, by the way. It's a pretty nice basket.

Zontar, the Thing from Venus

1966 remake

Rating: 3/20

Plot: Dr. Taylor befriends what he believes is a friendly alien from Venus and helps him figure out a way to come to earth to solve all of our problems and make us as technologically advanced and wonderful as his planet. But Zontar turns out to be a mean "thing" and actually has other plans, plans involving mind control and mayhem! Arrgh! Zontar!

So somebody at Azealea Pictures decided that it would be a good idea to remake a Roger Corman B-science fiction flick (It Conquered the World) with a worse director. See that poster there with the menacing "thing" that looks like it could be straight from the sketchbook of a possibly schizophrenic child? That's actually a fairly accurate visual. The "thing" doesn't look much better than that. I swear, by the way, that I've seen that exact screaming woman in the exact same pose on a poster for another movie. This is just as bad (just as good if your glass is half full) as Larry Buchanan's other movies (see Attack of the the Eye Creatures [sic] or It's Alive [the proud Manos Award winner for my blog two years ago]) which means it's fun enough to watch at least seven times and has this mystical quality that almost makes it worth basing a religion on. This is stuffed with some juicy dialogue, philosophically insightful stuff about good and evil. There's a lengthy quote at the end about how man needs to find the answers within as opposed to without and about how "war, misery, and strife have always been with us and we shall always strive to overcome them." I'm not 100% sure, but I think it was plagiarized from The Diary of Anne Frank. Oh, and the reason the thing is called Zontar? That explanation is priceless. There's also some really unfortunate attempts at comedy, mostly courtesy of a pair of soldiers. One of them says "I saw a funny-lookin' boid" about six times (because it's funny?) and once, my response (an "Ehhh" like I'd been punched hypogastrically) was the exact same as one of the characters. Zontar, as I mentioned, looks ridiculous, like a greasy owlish swamp thing with pterodactyl wings. When Larry Buchanan makes that thing fly though? That, ladies and gentlemen, is movie magic. Well, assuming seeing funny-lookin' boids is magical. My favorite scene: panic in the streets; a woman stops a policeman to ask a question about manually operating an iron lung. What the hell? The fact that she yells "Stop!" while standing face to face with the policeman adds another level of greatness.

I have to go. I have more Larry Buchanan movies to watch. God bless America!

Legendary Weapons of China

1982 kung-fu movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Assassins are sent to hunt down a kung-fu master who was teaching students to not die when shot by bullets but who ran away when he discovered that it was impossible not to die when shot by bullets. A bunch of fighting takes place.

This is bookended by the opening credits which showcase the titular legendary weapons and a lengthy fight scene at the end where the pair of foes use more than a dozen legendary weapons. It's enough swish-swish-swooshing to make even the most experienced martial arts aficionado a little dizzy, but that climactic fight scene is properly considered one of the best ever. There's an emotional edge, too. But like most Shaw Brothers' flicks, that's not really what we're looking for here. This one's colorful and confusing, muddled by too much comic relief and a potpourri of characters, some who don't even seem to know their own genders. I was really confused by a con artist character and didn't always understand the motivations of the characters. But once this gets going, it goes hard, and that array of legendary weapons is enough to make any kung-fu fan as stiff as a Chinese spear. Even Charlie Sheen's butler would call it epic.


2009 cartoon

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

Plot: Gargamel and his crew of marines have found their way on Pandora, a planet that needed its name changed during the Avatar script's rewrite. They want to use their clunky robots and and hibernation tubes to harvest some fairy juice from the rhizoids of Pandora's foliage. Unfortunately, the blue bipeds, scantily-clad hippies, who inhabit the planet use that same fairy juice to get high, an activity that takes up the majority of their time. The Navajo of Pandora ain't giving up their fairy juice easily! Gargamel develops a plan involving the most expensive Halloween costumes in the history of the holiday, and a few marines, including one nondescript guy who is only on the mission because his twin brother died, dress up as Navajo in order to befriend the real Navajo and abscond with the fairy juice. "Shove it all down the front of your pants if you have to," Gargamel ordered. "Me and Chuck'll still smoke it!" When it seems that the Navajo has no interest in cooperation, the marines decide they're going to have to take over forcefully and even, if push comes to shove, knock down their giant tree and, just to show them who's boss, piss all over their fiberoptic weeping willow. But the Navajo, as feisty as Ewoks, have a few tricks up their blue sleeves, including holding a three-day music festival with Country Joe and the Fish, Sha Na Na, and Joan Baez. Brown acid is taken, hair is plugged into freaky-looking horse tails, and the Navajo reach a higher level of consciousness, unfortunately making us all a little bit dumber in the process. How's about an explosion? How's about one in 3D?

I enjoyed watching this for a couple reasons: 1) Dylan and I, along with a couple of our robot friends, found it fairly easy to make fun of with the predictable plot, the hamfisted political message, and especially the inane dialogue, and making fun of things is how my family feels better about themselves. 2) It was pretty. It's the type of movie that distracts me with thoughts about how much it costs to make something this big and sparkly and how many pairs of leather pants that would have bought me when I was a fourth grader. Because when I was a fourth grader, I wanted to be a movie like Avatar. I wanted be clad in leather pants and a Michael Jackson jacket and just be able to walk into my classroom, saunter up to the gal I happened to like that week, and point with both hands in an exaggerated way at my crotch. Maybe thrust a bit, possibly spin depending on my mood. The gal, I'd imagine, would have been understandably impressed, with or without the 3D glasses. And then I could have pointed in that cool way I always wanted to point (like a finger gun, thumb waggling) but couldn't because I didn't have the leather pants to do it. Would I have any substance? Possibly not, but that's not what fourth graders cared about anyway. Avatar is a movie that brazenly waggles its thumb in the air, thrusting its leathery hips willy-nilly, splashing hos with bucketfuls of colors that probably don't even really exist. It all looks pretty good, expensively good. My tiny screen (Dylan and I watched this on an Ipod touch that we propped up against a Sparky Anderson statue that we got at Great American Ballpark recently, by the way) was soaked in all these gorgeous colors, and I was impressed with the creativity that went into designing these lush surrealistic landscapes. Pandora's a lovely place to visit. I wasn't as impressed with the interaction between its characters/wildlife and the setting. Things in Pandora looked too shiny and plastic. But it's a quibble because I enjoyed nearly everything on the screen that wasn't terrible blue-screen acting or laughable dialogue. I thought the robot things that mimicked the movements of their drivers were really goofy. I'd like to have one though, just because I think it would be funny for people to see me and a robot in which I'm riding simultaneously point at their crotches with two hands. Unfortunately for the King of the World, cardboard cutout characters added to a story that feels derivative adds up to a pretty boring eight hours of movie if you take away all those pretty visuals. Which I'm sure is close to what all my love interests in fourth grade would have thought about me, too. "Yeah, he's got a pair of leather pants and can do a pretty mean centipede on the cardboard during recess, but I really can't stand the guy. And why's he point at his crotch so much?" To me, there's very little difference between this movie and Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, a movie I watched while wearing a welder's mask.

Deliver Us from Evil

2006 documentary

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Apparently, Catholic priests have been molesting children and the church has been covering it up for years. Who knew? Director Amy Berg finds herself a pedophile willing to speak on camera about his experiences with being shifted from parish to parish following molestation accusations.

She finds him and takes him to a park to interview him. A park just crawling with sexy little children. It's difficult for me to figure out why exactly. I guess she was more concerned with getting a nice shot of Father O'Grady leering at a little boy than just letting his words speak for themselves. Getting it all directly from the pedophile's mouth is really the only novel part about Deliver Us from Evil. This is all old news, right? This is just Amy Berg jumping at the chance to shock and awe with a documentary subject, finding herself a bad bad priest and a composer who isn't afraid to pour it on pretty thick and then pretty much letting the documentary make itself. Because there's not exactly anything new here. There's nothing about this that will help anybody heal or help solve the problem. It's shooting priests in a barrel, and although finding parents willing to cry their eyes out on camera makes for some pretty good documentary footage, it's all pretty pointless in the end. And speaking of parents, you get just as upset at the parents in the stories of these molested children as you do the criminal priests and the higher-ups who help cover it all up. Father O'Grady, by the way, seems mentally ill. I'm not real sure why he agreed to appear on camera anyway, but there seems to be something wrong with the guy's mind. Other than the insatiable urge to touch children, I mean. There's just something missing, and you can see it in his eyes. Don't get me wrong--the information in this documentary is important. I just really didn't like the film's style, organization, or length. It felt like a television expose that was twice the length, one that wasn't exactly organized in a way that enhanced the experience. It's like a color-by-numbers documentary that didn't quite know when to quit. I guess I can be happy after watching this that my mother quit being a Catholic before I was born and that I'm smart enough not to put my children in situations that are dangerous to them. Other than that, I'm not sure why I needed to watch this.

Lights in the Dusk

2006 Aki Kaurismaki movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: The most pathetic man on earth, a security guard in Helsinki, falls for a blond gal who he doesn't realize is way out of his league. They begin dating, but it turns out she's only using him so that she and another guy can steal jewelry from the mall where Koistenin works. Meanwhile, a woman who Koistenin purchases hot dogs from wonders why he isn't interested in her.

Getting to see an Aki Kaurismaki movie has become like a special ocassion for me. This is Kaurismaki attempting noir, complete with the biggest dupe for a protagonist you'll likely find, a pretty nasty femme fatale, and lots and lots of smoking. The camera floats a little more in this than in some of Kaurismaki's earlier work, but the style hasn't changed much. Things still crawl along at a snail's pace (but in a good way!), slowly enough to frustrate most folks used to watching movies with scenes where stuff actually happens. That's what I like about these movies though. You really get to appreciate the nuances of these quirky, mostly sad and desperate characters. Kaurismaki's characters aren't exactly rushing through life, really making Finland seem like the lethargic place on the planet, and it would almost seem unnatural to see them do much of anything. In fact, it's almost shocking to see any of his characters moving around much at all. The jewel thieving probably has the most rapid movements, and it's shot so that you don't even really see the characters. Another scene involves our protagonist and three burlier fellows taking it outside, and the director chooses to not have the camera go outside at all. Instead, he focuses on a swinging door and, once it stops swinging, just a door. Then, the three burlier fellows come back in, just as we expected they would. It's sad and it's humorous, and that's just what's really awesome about these movies, their ability to be both simultaneously. I don't want to say bittersweet because it would sound like a cliche. I think the only appropriate adjective is Kaurismakian. By the way, this has a poignant sweet ending, the sort of ending that you learn to expect from this guy, so it's not all despairing over the miserable existence of a true loser.

Somebody needs to make this guy's movies more widely available. One a year. That's all I'm asking for.

The Talk of the Town

1942 romantic comedy

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Hunky Leopold Dilg is innocent! He's too Cary Grant not to be. Nevertheless, he's been arrested for arson and its subsequent arson. He manages to escape and retreat to his friend Nora Shelley's house, a house that has unfortunately just been rented to renowned law professor Michael Lightcap. Their philosophies clash while they half-assedly battle for the affections of Miss Shelley. As expected, a threesome ensues. And it's fiery stuff!

Cary Grant isn't as good an actor as either of his two co-stars, the sophisticated Jean Arthur or the cute-as-a-button Ronald Colman, but the three of them have this classy chemistry and get some nicely written stuff to bounce off each other. The dialogue's funny even though it failed to draw a single laugh from my melancholy soul, but I liked some of the philosophical/political stuff in there, the characters almost working more like symbols than actual people. This is one of the most literate screwbally script I've heard. I also really liked how this thing was shot. The quick edits of the preface set up the story in a cool way, and there was some interesting camera work during conversations with characters with some breakfast panning and the use of a stairway rail. I also really liked shots that managed to squeeze all the characters on the screen without seeming completely unnatural like a lot of movies from this era. You get all kinds of scenes where things are going on in the foreground while Cary Grant can be seen on the other side of a window. Director George Stevens knows how to utilize every inch of my television screen. There's one shot that befuddled me though. I don't recall a lot of close-ups in this movie, but there's this extreme close-up shot of a character named Tilney as he starts to cry. There were a few reasons why I liked the tears at that point in the movie, but I thought the close-up was odd. And I have to confess that I didn't really care for the ending of the movie at all.

The Illusionist

2010 French cartoon

Rating: 18/20

Plot: The titular magician's getting old, and with the emerging popularity of rock 'n' roll musicians, so is his act involving a squirrely rabbit and various objects stuffed up his sleeve. He travels to Scotland where he befriends a young maid named Alice. She travels with him to England where he struggles with his art and uses his meager funds to buy her shoes and dresses.

Ventriloquist, by the way, is a "belly talker" as ventri means belly and loqu means talk. Latin roots. Engastrimyth is from the Greek and means "stomach talker." I figured you'd find that interesting.

I love Tati, I love French whimsy, I loved Chomet's The Triplets of Belleville, and I was pretty sure I would love this movie. I might not be right about a lot of things, but I was about that. There's a wonderful texture to Chomet's 2D animation. A scene near the end with a shadow makes me tear up just thinking about it, but there are all kinds of tiny details that I just loved in this--the radiance of a jukebox, shadows over golden grasslands, a twist of a coat in front of a mirror, window reflections, the clown nose of the downtrodden. The style and the settings make me nostalgic, and I'm not even sure why. I've never been to Scotland, France, or England. But there's just something about the way the places and backgrounds are drawn. I loved the way this film looked. And like Triplets, I love the way Chomet has his characters move. Again, he exaggerates the grotesqueness of human beings, putting the needle on the old quirk-meter well into red. The hup-hup-hupping acrobats. The melancholy clown (a scene where he listens to calliope music alone in his room is just beautiful). The little fellows who run the hotel. The ventriloquist and his dummy (loved that first appearance of the dummy!). The way the rock band sashays off the stage. They all interact in a nearly dialogue-free little world because words just aren't that necessary. All you need to do is watch a handful of silent films to find that out. This has that silent film funk but with a slightly more complex range of human emotions. Inferences need to be made, and there's definitely some wiggle room here, allowing for a variety of hunches about what's going on with these characters. I'm definitely the type of movie watcher who's moved more by imagery than words, and it's great how Chomet tells so much story without having to explain things with any superfluous language. And then you've got the Tati influence. It's Tati's story, personal and heartbreaking, and this medium is perfect for capturing the Hulot mannerisms, the Tati-type sight gags, and the overall flavor. Chomet does capture Tati's movements very well, from the way he chases after his rabbit to his careful maneuvering over an extension cord. It felt good seeing Tati again even if it was just an animated version of him. Maybe that's where the feelings of nostalgia come from. This might have a little more sentimentality than Tati's live action films, but it's that sentimentality of the aforementioned silents and therefore feels very comfortable to me. Comfortable is a good word for this maybe. The French have this way of making movies that you inhale instead of just watch. They're movies that are like old shoes, and this is a real old shoe of a movie, one that feels like it's just always been there, more beautiful because of its dust and scratches and the fact that it smells just like my old foot.

The Saragossa Manuscript

1965 dream epic

Rating: 17/20

Plot: A collection of frames, stories within stories within stories that are within other stories. A soldier retreats into an abandoned house to keep from being blown to pieces. He finds a large book with some unusual pictures. An enemy soldier translates the book for him and discovers that it was written by his grandfather. The grandfather's story is all about him trying to discover the quickest route through the mountains to Madrid, a haunted voyage that involves sleeping with his own cousins, stalking crows, repetitious gallows, demon-possessed men, erect gypsies, and the Spanish Inquisition.

A free-floating dream of demons, hanged men, kissing cousins, and skull chalices, The Saragossa Manuscript is a too-long masterpiece of visual brilliance, surreal mystery, and weaving narratives. It's so beautifully photographed in black 'n' white with terrific imagery, landscapes littered with bones, gnarled trees, ornate palaces, war-stricken towns with dilapidated buildings. This is the sort of movie that you can love to watch for its three hour length. Not necessarily completely understand, mind you, but feel with your eye buds and absorb. It's really got a similar, very organically weird, feel that those Parajenov movies I love have, movies that float. I also loved the musique concrete soundtrack that complimented the imagery. Those weaving narratives? It's too much to swallow in a single viewing as the viewer is forced to follow a story told by somebody telling a story within somebody else's story that is already a part of the original story, almost Inception-esquely. But they interconnect in pretty brilliant ways, constantly surprising while bewildering. The results are mysterious, romantic, and at times very very funny, my favorite bit of humor being the grunting of a possessed man. Possession slapstick! It's all an enormously entertaining and completely unique experience.

Apparently, this was the favorite film of Jerry Garcia, a maker of ties. Luis Bunuel, the "Spanish Allen Funt," also dug it.


2009 children's horror film/possible sequel to The Shining

Rating: 5/20 (Emma: 2/20; Abbey: 1/20)

Plot: Poor little Willy's got no friends, his parents don't really pay attention to him, and to make his life even more miserable, his family is moving to a new place. And he's seeing monsters. Luckily, his childhood stuffed toy comes to life and septuples in size to hang out with him.

Biggest laugh I've had in a while: When looking up information for this movie, I saw it described on several websites as being about a boy and the bear from The Shining. And Gooby does like like the man in a bear suit in my favorite scene in The Shining which might make this the greatest movie of all time. Then again, it might represent the main problem with Gooby as a children's movie--that it's terrifying. Unless you happen to think that the main problem is that the name of the movie is Gooby. It's one of those titles I can't imagine people wanting to ask about for at a ticket window. "Two tickets to, umm, Gooby please?" I thought for sure there'd be a twist ending where it's revealed that Willy is schizophrenic. I assumed this was like an after-school special about mental illness. It's really the only way this could have made any sense at all. I figured the whole time that he would be the only person to ever see Gooby, but it didn't turn out to be that way at all. Toward the beginning of the story, he does see a CGI monster thing, the reason Gooby shows up in the first place, I think. But the man-in-a-suit Gooby and th CGI monster never interact, so I'm not real sure why that CGI monster was in this thing at all. Maybe they intended to have Gooby do battle with the CGI monster but realized that a CGI monster and a guy in a suit would look ridiculous. I couldn't believe it when I saw that this movie came out in 2009, probably because it's got the sentimentality of an 80's kiddie flick and everything it rips off comes from that era. The story's dopey, the dialogue is embarrassingly awful, and the way this plot develops would make even the men with the most cinematic intestinal fortitude lose their cookies. Gooby, by the way, eats a lot of cookies in this, sort of like E.T. with the Reese's Pieces minus the distasteful product placement. That would put Gooby a notch above E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, but at least there's not a scene in the latter where E.T. farts and then starts fanning his crotch to waft the smell in Elliot's direction. Gooby does that because that's the type of friend Gooby is. And that's the type of movie Gooby is.

And for your amusement, here's a picture of the bear from The Shining (best scene in that movie, by the way) and a picture of Gooby from Gooby (there is no best scene in that movie, by the way):

A Nous la Liberte

1931 French satire

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Emile and Louis are tired of wasting away in a prison cell. They long for freedom, so much that they feel the need to sing about it even. They attempt an escape, and while Emile makes it to the other side of a pair of walls, Louis is captured again. Or maybe it's the other way around. Anyway, the guy who breaks out winds up becoming a rich and successful owner of a factory that makes phonographs, a device that apparently played MP3's back in the 1930s. Eventually, Louis also, regardless of his actual intention, succeeds in breaking out of jail and meets up with his buddy when he gets a job at the factory.

It's just a guess, but I'm thinking Rene Clair wasn't totally ready to embrace the new technology that would allow the characters of his films to speak, just like his buddy Charlie Chaplin. So much of A Nous la Liberte reminds me of silent comedy, and Clair tells the story of these two guys visually a lot of the time. And visually, this movie's really impressive. I'm not sure there's anything I'd describe as fancy with the camera work or its movements, but the cinematography definitely has more of a modern feel than almost all the other comedies I've seen from the 1930s. So although we do get to hear the characters communicate, I'm not sure we really need to because the visuals do a good enough job telling the story. We definitely don't need to hear them sing. The songs aren't very good anyway, and if you call this a musical, you have to call it a half-assed one. Satirically, it seems pretty subversive, actually exploring similar ideas as Chaplin's Modern Times. Maybe that's why the studio sued Chaplin for cinematic plagiarism, but really, I don't see that much that these movies have in common. I'm a sucker for great visuals, it's one of those whimsical French dealies, and this is just the kind of comedy that hits my sweet spot. Yes, that's a reference to my taint.

A very cool Cory recommendation. I think the movie poster probably first attracted him.

Why Worry?

1923 silent comedy

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A guy probably named Harold travels to the tropics with his nurse and valet for convalescent purposes but ends up accidentally becoming part of a violent revolution. Viva la Harold Lloyd!

His character isn't really as likable here, but this swiftly-moving excursion is still fun. The protagonist (probably named Harold) is the type we laugh at because he's oblivious to what's going on around him, nearly for the entire movie. I liked the sight gags as he's exploring the town, mistaking men knocked unconscious for men taking their siestas. It's not until near the end that Harold (I'm guessing) undergoes a bit of an unbelievable undergoing and turns into Rambo. I easily could have done without the romantic subplot which seems like it was tacked on in a script rewrite or something. The best part of this movie isn't even Lloyd actually unless you've ever wanted to see what a Harold Lloyd movie would be like if Harold Lloyd was a little person. His costar, a giant named John Aasen, steals the show. IMDB lists his height as a bit over seven feet, but he dwarfs Lloyd and seems a lot taller than that. Guinness apparently had him at nearly nine feet. Somebody's tape measure was broken apparently. The absurd situations, including an attempt to pull out one of Colosso's hurt teeth, between the odd-looking duo are a lot of fun. "Colosso" was the first acting job in Aasen's versatile career. He also played a Giant Swordsman, Giant, The Giant, Circus Giant, Giant Man, Very Tall Golfer, Giant, Circus Giant, Giant, and Shorty. That's some diversity! Wait a second. Very Tall Golfer?

So, Cory...what did you think of this one? Worth seeing, but I reckon you don't like his character all that much. Amazingly, Maltin's got this rated higher than Safety Last! and Speedy.

Jackass 3

2010 high art

Rating: 13/20

Plot: More comic mischief from the Jackasses. This time, they utilize 3-D technology so that it looks like the fecal matter is coming right into your living room! Huzzah!

Well, I felt like showering after watching this one, so that's something. I didn't watch this in 3-D, of course, but I can see where that would have been kind of fun. The colorful and gimmicky opening scene has the boys being pelted with paintball pellets, kicked in the face, and abused with little booby traps that might have been borrowed from Wily E. Coyote's attic. And they're wearing funny costumes. And some times it all happens in this slow motion. Now I don't possess a high-def television, but the images in this were impressively crisp anyway, fantastic news if you want to see every detail of a fat guy wearing some transparent plastic suit designed to make him ooze sweat. Or vomit. Or poop. Or urine. Or hair glued to somebody's palms right after it's been yanked from some other guy's chest. You get the idea. This is definitely not the movie I'd pick to watch with my grandmother if, following some miracle, she was resurrected and really wanted to watch a movie with me. Unless she picked it, of course. I'm not going to deny the dead the right to select a movie for movie night. There's something nice about seeing the jackasses willing to do all this gross or dangerous or gross and dangerous stuff despite their advancing ages. You get the sense that some are doing these things reluctantly though. And the stunts in Jackass 3(D) aren't as consistently hilarious as the ones in part two, the Empire Strikes Back of Jackass movies. I think they peaked (Wait a second. There's no way peaked is the right word here.) with number two. But I had more than a few chuckles, and as with the other stuff, I'm glad I watched it. I laughed most heartily at a scene involving a score or more of little people, one of their set-up/written gags. I'm a grade school kid in a thirty-seven year old's body though, so I, of course, enjoyed the slapstick as well. After all, if you can't appreciate video footage of a guy getting hit in the balls, you're just not a real American. There are people who could argue that the world would be a better place without these movies. I'm not sure I could successfully argue with those people actually, but I'm happy the movies do exist. Long live the Jackasses!

Who Am I?

1998 premake of The Bourne Identity

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Special agent Jackie Chan tumbles out of a helicopter, bangs his head on a tree branch, and forgets who he is. He befriends a tribe of Native Americans living in South Africa but reconnects with society after helping a woman win a off-road racing event. Suddenly, everybody's trying to kill him, and he finds himself in a situation that he must kick his way out of.

The last twenty minutes or so contains some great kick-'em-in-the-noggin action with a dangerous glassy slide and a furious fight on a rooftop. Most of what precedes that final act is just dumb and confusing action story-telling. There are twists and turns that either don't make sense or just don't work, some awful acting, a bunch of explosions, a bunch more explosions, a car chase, some guns. It feels derivative, not a problem if the action's got me on the edge of my seat or if the characters are interesting. That's not really the case here though. I like my martial arts movies simple. I just want to see cats kicking each other. I don't need all this story, especially this sort of convoluted story that I have to pay a lot of attention to. That final twenty minutes? That's something I could watch again. The rest of it? Don't need it. By the way, I don't think he actually makes that face he's making on the movie poster above at any time during this movie. So if you were planning on renting this to see him make that face, don't waste your time. You'd be better off enlarging the image and shaking your monitor around and making explosion sounds with your lips.

Safety Last! (Again)

see original review here

1923 movie that is better than 2008's College Road Trip

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Students at an inner city school go on a field trip to the high school they'll be attending next year. When they get back to their school, they're treated to a movie. One group of students with an especially mean teacher doesn't like the movie that they're being shown (certified classic College Road Trip)and force-feeds them a silent comedy instead. The students whine and whine, and the teacher, probably because he's the devil, just sits back and laughs.

I even gave them a slip of paper to write some comments and rate the movie. When asked to describe the movie in one word, I got these answers:

old fashioned

Their ratings: 15, 7, 14, 10, 8, 10, -20, 2, 15, 10, 1.5, 2, 8, 10, 17, 10, 1, 1, 3, 13, 2, 0, 9.5, 10, 3, -20, 1

But just like the last time I forced silent comedy on the youth of America, they watched for the duration (I read lots of noise from my two neighbors watching College Road Trip) and laughed at the appropriate times. They really got into the climactic building-climbing scene, oohing and aahing. Sure, Harold Lloyd got called "gay" a few times, and I know the music drove them absolutely nuts. Nevertheless, I think a lot of them liked the movie a lot more than their scores might indicate.

Other gripes (from their sheets):

"I didn't like having to read."
"The end was really good."
"It's not a movie. It's a big waste of time."
"It has no sound to make up for the silence."
"Black & white movies are boring and old."
"I don't like that the guy lied to the girl."
"It was funny. He was always doing something or getting into trouble, but he got by with it."
"I liked that he was trying to impress the girl but was an epic fail at life."
"I liked the music."
"It's too hard to understand."
"It was a horibile movie."
"People were moving too fast in some parts."
"It was mildly entertaining. Not bad--better than I expected." Same person: "I didn't like that the guy was lying through the whole thing."
"It had some funny stuff that made me laugh."
"No talking is boring!!!!!!!!!"

One more thing: Looking back at my old write-ups for Harold Lloyd movies, I always get annoyed with myself when I see how mean I was to the poor guy. I never called him "gay" or anything, but I was completely wrong in refusing to put him in the same class with Keaton and Chaplin. Dude's a comedy stud even though he moves too fast in some parts or stars in movies that are too hard to understand.

And here's a shot from the Harold Lloyd appearance on The Simpsons. Unless he's just yellow on my computer.

The King's Speech

2010 best picture

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

Plot: In this hilarious remake of Harold Lloyd's Girl Shy, Harold is a future king of England who conquers his fear of public speaking (glossophobia, if you care) after driving a trolley ridiculously fast through New York City's busy streets and climbing a 12-story building. Thankfully, he lives to tell about both so that The Queen with Helen Mirren can happen sixty years later. I just don't know what I'd do if The Queen with Helen Mirren didn't exist. This also, I believe, rips off The Karate Kid. Not the original. No, the remake with Jackie Chan. I'm not sure how the Oscar people didn't catch that.

The only gripe I have here is the same gripe I have for any movie featuring a character who stutters: Mel Tillis of Cannonball Run and Cannonball Run II fame didn't get his chance to shine in a serious role. The King's Speech is that sophisticated sort of movie made so that people can throw awards at it. Not that they aren't deserved. Colin Firth's excellent as George VI. Realistic stuttering, I imagine, is difficult to pull off. I'm not a professional actor or anything although I do frequently act out scenes from my own screenplays while standing in front of a full-length mirror. And I've tried to pull off realistic stuttering, admittedly to practice in case I'm ever in a situation where I can make fun of people who stutter. Can't do it. So Colin Firth's ability to not only pull off a realistic stutter while simultaneously showing off the range of emotions that he does (quietly showing them off, I should note) is impressive. His isn't the only impressive performance--Geoffrey Rush matches Firth classy word for classy word while Helena Bonham Carter's really good as the queen. I like the way the movie is shot, too. Backgrounds are used to accentuate the characters' emotions, and there's a crispness to the picture that I really like. The movie's also not all stuttering all the time either. The natural development of the friendship between George and Lionel is just right, and there are some humorous moments in the dialogue, my favorite being during a dinner scene when somebody farts and both men point at each other before Guy Pearce's character pokes his head through a hole in the ceiling and reminds everybody that "the smeller's the feller" before blowing a raspberry, winking awkwardly, and disappearing to bugger a tart or something.

I'm starting a petition to get Colin Firth in either Cannonball Run III or a television remake of the 1970's sitcom Alice, by the way. Let me know if you're interested in signing it by leaving a comment below.

Edit: I had spelled Colin Firth's name incorrectly four times. Luckily, I fixed it before he saw it because that's the sort of thing that could ruin his year.

Battle Royale

2000 cult classic

Rating: 15/20 (Mark: 18/20)

Plot: Forty-two students are transported to an island, given a random weapon (firearms, paper fans, nunchucks, tasers, etc.), and instructed to kill each other off. Their old teacher, "Beat" Takeshi Kitano, is there, too. I think there's something like this in the "No Child Left Behind" act.

My favorite thing about this movie: I busied my brain trying to guess how a pair of binoculars and/or a pan lid were going to come into play, and then nothing ever materialized. Battle Royale gets some points for effort. People who don't like it will tag it with a violence porn label. People who do like it will talk about it as a satire of the Japanese educational system and how society demands that children compete against their peers. And maybe I'm just desensitized to this sort of thing, but I didn't think it was all that violent. And I didn't think the satire--muddled and missing a few pieces--added up to much. There are a ton of characters in this, but the ratio of interesting characters to uninteresting ones is a problem. I liked the teacher (and Kitano [Zatoichi in the 2004 version of the blind swordsman movie]is always pretty awesome) and the crazy girl (Chiaki Kuriyama--Gogo in Kill Bill Volume One) and maybe the mean kid who doesn't get any lines. The others, including the rest of the forty-two children, aren't really memorable. I'm not sure I'm willing to sacrifice the quantity and variety of violent acts by limiting the amount of characters, but there sure were a lot of characters to keep track of in this. And, as you can probably guess, they all looked almost exactly the same, which made any subplots or connections between the characters kind of confusing. I did like that this movie wasn't afraid to show not only all those scenes of Japanese pop idols dying tragic deaths but also showing it all with a healthy dose of black humor. The action's paced well, and I liked how this explored the varying psychologies of children put in traumatic situations. This definitely lost a point because of the sickeningly melodramatic score. I have no problems watching a kid with an ax sticking out of his head stumble around on a television screen. However, I have no tolerance for bad film music.

Sherlock Holmes

2009 action movie/bastardized lit

Rating: 13/20 (Jen: 11/20)

Plot: Slobbish detective Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson attempt to solve the mystery of who is trying to terrorize Londoners. Turns out that it's a dead guy! Oh, snap!

The more this went on (and on and on), the more I actually ended up liking it. Unfortunately, it was never enough to completely save the movie. This is one of those movies that seems like it was written by eight different people. They all started out in same conference room around a massive oval table, a picture of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in front of an empty chair to give them inspiration. Maybe they all smoked opium, listened to violin music, and wore deerstalker hats to get in the right mood. In fact, I'm sure they all must have been smoking opium. They had trouble agreeing on much, just as you'd expect from a gaggle of writers, and decided to split up, write portions of the plot on their own, and reassemble later to paste it all together. So Guy #1 ran off with his head full of all these supernatural elements because he digs vampire movies; Guy #2, the traditionalist of the bunch, left with his convoluted explanations to show off Holmes' deductive knack and powers of observation; Guy #3, lover of action movies that he was, decided to storyboard a few ultra-modern fight scenes; Guy #4, lover of romantic comedies that he was, figured a little romance on the side wouldn't hurt anything; Guy #5 figured it was about time to put all that research he'd done on Masonry back in graduate school to use, also remembering the popularity of that Da Vinci Code movie; Guy #6, awakened from yet another terrorism-fueled nightmare, decided to put his irrational fears to use and include biological weapons; Guy #7 had writer's block and failed to contribute anything at all; and Guy #8, a chemist without any friends at all, decided to Bill-Nye-the-Science-Guy is up and add a bunch of stuff that nobody but he and the friends he would have had if he had had any would understand. They reconvened and threw all their ideas on that big oval table. But some dastardly foe, likely from a rival movie studio although that's yet to be proven, set the table on fire! The writers panicked, rapidly assembling the most coherent story they possibly can before their hard work perished in the flames. Sure the final result was a complete mess, but they decided that modern audiences won't mind if there's some nifty special effects to go along with it. I was a little annoyed by the slow-mo modern fisticuffs and Guy Ritchie's flashy direction. It's all stylistically interesting but very distracting. The story was also frustratingly complex, and after a while, I was so confused that I just gave up trying to figure out what was going on. Yes, it does all come together in the end, but it wasn't enough to make up for the previous 110 minutes of frustration. I don't easily forgive when something or somebody makes me feel so stupid for so long. The special effects team did create some cool settings (love moody London here), and as readers of my blog know, I always like Robert Downey Jr. He and Jude Law have fine chemistry. Rachel McAdams also provides some eye candy. I suppose there are enough nods to the original source material to appease some Holmes-aphiles while the purists will likely turn up their noses and pooh-pooh the whole thing. I'm somewhat in the middle. I'm not in a hurry to see this again even though it's the type of thing that repeated viewing could help, but I wouldn't mind renting the sequel when it comes out.

The Little Mermaid

1989 Disney cartoon

Rating: 14/20 (Jen: 18/20; Abbey: 19/20; Sophie: ?/20)

Plot: Spoiled, whiny, horny teenage mermaid Ariel has an obsession with the human world, especially after saving the life of a hunky but otherwise nondescript prince, a guy who could very well be the same prince who's in all the other Disney prince and princess movies. And frankly, that makes him a womanizer. Boy, don't try to front. I-I know just-just what you are-are-are. Lollipop, must mistake me--you're the sucker to think I would be a victim not another. But I digress. Ariel's mad at her dad, the king of the ocean, and against the wishes of her Jiminy Lobster, she gets some bippity-boppity-boo help from a maleficent but extremely hot sea witch. She's given temporary legs and has three days to get a smooch from the nondescript prince or the sea witch gets to turn her into a withered piece of poop with eyes. The catch? She doesn't get to use her voice! Oh, snap!

I believe this is regarded as a Disney modern classic, but it's really pretty. . .what's the word? Meeee-diiiii-ocre. It's the Disney people going through the motions. The animation is. . .what's the word? Reeeeeeally flaaaaaat. A possible exception might be the "Under the Sea" sequence, but that musical number really should have been a lot better than it was. I'm not sure there's a single lovable character in this. In fact, they're all kind of. . .how do you say it? Annoyyyyying stock cardboard cut-ooooooouuuuuuts. Ariel is just a cute little bundle of irresponsibility and a really dangerous role-model for little girls. Like most folk tales, the ending of this would have been more satisfying if Ariel was punished for her stupidity. A final scene with Ursula pointing and laughing and the lobster saying, "I tried to warn her, King Triton, but she just wouldn't listen to me, probably because I'm a lobster!" with Ariel turned into a really sorrowful piece of poop with eyes would have been perfect. Ariel was irritating, and I definitely liked the character more after they decided to shut her up for about a half hour. Also irritating: all the sex in this one. I believe this is the movie where Disney animators gave one of the human characters an erection. That's disturbing if you notice it, but the thinly-veiled references to sex are especially bothersome. This is really a movie about the sexual awakening of a young girl. Phallic sharks attack her, and it's hard to ignore the subtext there. Then she falls in love with Prince Handsome. Why? Well, she sees him, first from far off and then up close. It's all physical with Ariel. I can't remember if the line "I want to jump his bones, Scuttle" is actually in the movie or not, but it might as well have been. She loses her fins, gets herself a vagina (not sure if mermaids have those), and longs for sexy time with her man. There's some weird sexual tension going on with Ursula and Triton, too, and I'm not sure what that's all about. I'm sure if a Little Mermaid prequel was ever made (No, Disney people, I am not asking for this!), you'd find out that Triton and Ursula used to be an item back in fish college or something. Ursula is one of Disney's lamer baddies, by the way, but she does get the best song in the movie. Ariel's "What's the Word?" song makes me sick to my stomach. I've not thought about this from a feminist perspective, but it seems they'd have a problem with one of the movie's messages--women should just shut up and be there to look pretty. It's really a shame that the great Buddy Hackett ended his movie career voicing Scuttle, actually in the sequel to this, a movie that I can almost guarantee will never be on this blog.


Pistol Opera

2001 Suzuki movie

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Pretty much the same as Suzuki's Branded to Kill except with a female protagonist and a lot more color. "Stray Cat" is ranked third in the hierarchy of assassins and needs to kill "Hundred Eyes" in order to reach the top. There might be a pay raise involved.

This one just didn't sit right. It's a very colorful movie and I'm a sucker for colorful movies, but the colors in this felt more like plastic supermarket colors to me. The characters were just kind of there, mingling with all those colors as they tried to shoot each other, and I just didn't have any interest in anything they were doing. What they were doing actually made very little sense, and although that's just fine (maybe even the norm for a Seijun Sukuki flick) if the visual and the style are cool enough to make it all worthwhile even as complete nonsense, this one didn't quite offer enough. The final ten minute climactic fight scene (predictably against the exact person I figured would be involved) is visually stunning, indeed a sort of opera sans songs. There's a poetry to the surreal backgrounds, stagy color usage, and character movements, and I'm glad I stuck around to see it finish up. But really, the trailer for this, one that I remember as making Pistol Opera seem like it would be a solid ninety minutes that looked like that final ten minutes, is the only thing you need to see. You'll understand the plot just as much, and you'll still have time to watch a better movie, like Branded to Kill or Tokyo Drifter.


2010 outsider artist documentary

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Mark Hogancamp was severely beaten outside a bar by a few thugs. He wakes from his coma brain-damaged and traumatized and instead of dealing with a complicated real world that he can't control, creates a World War II town called Marwencol with soldier action figures and Barbie dolls that he can. Elaborate stories of romance and adventure develop in Marwencol, and Hogancamp photographs it all. Eventually, his "art" is discovered, and Hogancamp gets to show off his world at a New York City art show.

If you enjoy outsider art or stories about outsider artists like me, Marwencol's definitely a movie you should check out. It's the lone film of director Jeff Malmberg (although I do see film editing for fine works of art like The Hottie and the Nottie is on his resume) and he does a fine job giving us Mark's story objectively. The more Hogancamp's character develops in Marwencol, the stranger he gets, but Malmberg passes no judgement and it's obvious that his subject trusts him and considers him a friend. And I think that's what makes this so good. Hogancamp lets Malmberg into his little world, and we get an intimate look at both the little world and at its creator. Details about the latter (how he walks his army figure's Jeep every day; his love interests; some odd little surprises near the end) are interesting, but this movie's got another layer when the plots and subplots in Marwencol are shared. A lot of those reflect how Hogancamp sees his reality and how he deals with the trauma and the loneliness he feels after the attack, but they're also cool little fictions, the sorts of stories that Tarantino could probably tell really well. A third layer deals with Hogancamp's introduction to the world as an artist, something I'm not sure he's entirely comfortable with or really even cares about. It raises those questions about the purity and purposes of art. There's no denying that he stills of his characters interacting in Marwencol are pretty awesome though. I'm really really glad that Hogancamp shared this world with Malmberg and that Malmberg shared it with us in this great little documentary, a fascinating glimpse at a troubled mind and the very positive way that those troubles are dealt with.

Hogancamp's pictures: