Oprah Movie Club Pick for June: V for Vendetta

2006 Britney Spears biopic (you know, the bald thing)

Rating: 17/20 (Rubber Duck: Oops. I forgot to ask him.)

Plot: A clueless guy named Mr. V. just doesn't understand Halloween. Not only does he dress up a week late, but his "tricks" include throwing knives at people and blowing up buildings when he doesn't get an adequate amount of candy. He's too old for Halloween anyway! He meets that stripper from that one movie and tries to impress her with his jukebox and barber skills.

I tried to get Rubber Duck, official June Oprah Movie Club picker, to do the write-up for this one because a) he's a better writer than I am and b) he's smarter and probably has a better understanding of the movie than I do. Unfortunately, he's got better things to do, so you're stuck with me.

I have not read the Alan Moore/David Lloyd comics this is based on. Kent, who wrote about this movie and the comic previously on his own blog, can give some background there.

I tried to take some notes during this movie, but I was worried Rubber Duck would poke fun at me. I wrote down "a vice of Larder" at one point, so apparently notes wouldn't do me much good anyway.

As entertainment, I think this movie is solid stuff. You've got one of the most intriguing and unforgettable characters ever in the titular V. Hugo Weaving doesn't get a chance to act much as V since he's hidden behind a mask the entire movie. It's more like he's doing voice work for an animated movie. It's good voice work though. What's amazing to me is that the mask is so expressive when shot from different angles. There are times when you're watching the Guy Fawkes mask, and it almost seems to change expressions. And I still swear that there are a couple scenes where they add blush to that thing. Portman's as good as she usually is even though she unfortunately kept her clothes on the entire movie. Like Sinead O'Connnor and Britney Spears, she helps prove that bald women can be beautiful. She's run through a range of emotions in an oft-physical role and does a great job. There weren't as many action scenes as I remembered. Some key explosions that felt more artsy-fartsy than Rambo-ish, probably because of the classical music score, and two dazzling fight sequences that remind us the Matrix boys had something to do with this. It's poetic violence and never corny. John Hurt also stands out as Adam Sutler. The story is told vibrantly. It's artistic and stylish. But the beauty of the film is the way it can have so much emotional depth. Unlike the Matrix movies, even the only one that anybody could call any good at all, this one forces you to care about not only the characters but what they stand for. There is a little twist at the end that makes me cringe though.

Thematically, this is a little gummy. It's one of those thickly thematic movies, one that you don't really stop trying to piece together for a few days after you watch it. I like what it has to say about the power of ideas, how they can be dangerous and how they can be our saviors. But the story's packed with messages about faith, about symbols, about fear, about words, and about truth, all hitting home in timeless ways with an ending that I'd describe as cynically optimistic. It's all pretty powerful stuff, and I look forward to hearing what you people have to say about it.

One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest

1975 movie that should be on everybody's top-500 list

Rating: 20/20

Plot: McMurphy is lazy. Unfortunately, he's also a criminal and has to serve time in prison where they'll make him work. But he's got a plan--pretend to be insane so he can be transferred to a mental institution and serve out the remaining days of his sentence without having to work. He adds a little chaos to the gentle existence of the asylum, changing a few inmates' lives for better or worse. He also finds an enemy in the head nurse--Nurse Ratched.

I could have sworn that this came out in 1973.

First off, I'd like to point out that I don't see Nurse Ratched, stoically played by Oscar winner Louise Fletcher, as the real villain. She's a bit passive-aggressive maybe and gets on McMurphy's nerves, more as a symbol or maybe as a woman than through anything she actually does, but it's not like she's outrageously malicious or anything. McMurphy's biggest antagonist is himself, and each time I watch this, I see Nicholson's character as a failed Christ figure who, although he does do his part to save a soul in the end, ends up getting in the way of himself as he tries to do fulfill whatever mission he might have. He takes his "disciples" fishing, retiring to the bowels of the stolen ship in order to have sexual relations with a woman (don't think Jesus did that), and botches a few miracles. Jack's electric in this, really one of my favorite acting performances ever. I love the last moments of the big going-away party at the end when McMurphy sits and waits for Billy to finish doing his business. There's an extended shot of just Jack's face, and his expressions in that fifty seconds or so show loss, optimism, fear, indecision, happiness. Amazing stuff. But the ensemble cast around Nicholson is also great, portraying these crazies in a way that doesn't blow them up into comic figures (though there is plenty of comedy here) but creates these very human moments where you really feel the characters' pain. Observe that first therapy session--you have the circle of guys who can communicate, eventually fit in with society again, or whatever surrounded by all the lunatics who will never fit in again, the ones who stand in the background staring at nothing, hit a punching bag with a cane with a persistence that makes him almost a hero, or elegantly dances to the music in his head. I really like the expression on Harding's face when he realizes that nobody will help him with his problem. During that entire scene and probably all the conversations the "group" has, director Forman uses close-ups and distance shots perfectly. Danny DeVito (I'm counting him as a little person, by the way) is really good as Martini, William Redfield could easily have won something as Harding, Christopher Lloyd plays ornery and angry so well as Taber, and Brad Dourif and his Lyle Lovett-esque hair are heartbreakingly good as Billy and Billy's hair respectively. And Will Sampson is unforgettable as the Chief. I love that scene where he's striding across the court during that basketball game, the first time his character shows any personality whatsoever. He says so much for being a mute. I also like the nurse who is always with Nurse Ratched but whose only line is a lengthy scream near the end of the movie. When I saw this movie as a youngster, its themes of conformity and freedom resonated. I think it's captured best in the looks on the inmates' faces when Nurse Ratched asks, "Did Billy Bibbit leave the grounds of the hospital?"

Now, let's see why this isn't on Cory's top-500 movie list.

In the Line of Fire

1993 live-action Tom and Jerry cartoon if Jerry was an old man and Tom wanted to kill the president

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

Plot: Secret Service agent Frank is getting old. It's been almost thirty years since he failed to save President Kennedy, and he probably should have been fired. I know it's not the same thing, but if a bunch of my students die while in my classroom (enough to equal one president), then I'd probably end up losing my job. It's all silly with Frank's situation anyway because everybody knows that Kennedy didn't really actually die, and he lived to see the broadcast of the fake moon landing while hiding out in Italy with Marilyn Monroe, Lee Harvey Oswald, and an alien thirty years before they started planning out the September 11th Twin Tower attacks with their crazy neighbor Osama. But I digress. This movie is all about some really smart nutcase who wants to kill the current president. Frank's too old for this shit, but he really has no choice.

So this maybe wasn't as good as I remembered. Rene Russo's character is distracting, but I guess the girls have to have something to watch in this movie, too. Assassination plots don't appeal to most females, but all gals enjoy watching an old guy putting the moves on some younger broad. Guys will dig the cat-and-mouse game between Eastwood and Malkovich. With the former, you get an intriguing good guy with a meaty background and a tired old pro's attitude that makes him unafraid to stick his middle finger up to bureaucrats who try to stand in his way. Some moments he's funny; others, he's just pissed off. This was the movie that made me a huge Malkovich fan. You got to love those villains who are smarter than everybody else, and it's great hearing him taunting his opponent and cracking-wise. This movie has some action--a short foot-chase, a longer rooftop chase, some shooting--but the real action takes place in the lines between the dialogue, and Eastwood and especially Malkovich are terrific and creating these suspenseful on-the-edge-of-your-seat chilling moments with nothing but conversation. You've got two actors who are at their best when their characters are pissed off, and there's enough going on in their characters' lives to give them plenty to be pissed off about. There's not really anything new in this movie, and I suppose you could point out more than a few cliched moments if you really wanted to. But if you just focus on those two characters and their riveting little chess match, it makes for an engrossing thriller.

Two questions I'll ask any of you have seen this movie: 1) Is Frank really a heroic character? 2) Was anybody else rooting for Malkovich to succeed?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

2010 monkey-maker

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Harry Potter and his buddies are on a hunt for pieces of Voldemort's soul and the sword that will destroy them. If I had to divide my soul into seven bits, I'd hide the pieces in the following: my disc golf bag, my beat-up copy of Revenge of the Lawn, my autographed picture of Peter Mayhew (That's right, bitches!) that my brother gave me, my koala cup from the zoo that I drink tea out of, my Samurai Jack action figure, the souvenir penny with a picture of the three-eyed guy that I got at a Ripley's Believe It or Not, and Harry Potter's forehead. Then, I could fulfill a life-long dream of playing hide-and-seek with Hermione.

I am glad that Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint were able to do all of these movies. I wish Richard Harris would have been able to Dumbledore his way through all of these, but them's the breaks. This entry in the series is really dull and very poorly paced. As J.K. became more and more verbose with her books, the movies stayed about the same length. Chopping inevitably had to occur. This book is, I believe, a little shorter than the book or two preceding it, and most of the book describes camping. Camping is really kind of boring anyway, so to stretch this into essentially a five-hour movie doesn't make much sense. Well, unless you're trying to fill Hermione's magic bottomless bag thing with wizard cash, I guess. This juxtaposes scenes of the wizard trio camping with some jumpy and barely coherent action sequences. Director David Yates really only has one trick up his directorial sleeve (like a wizard's sleeve only without the perverse connotation): jerking the camera around. During a wand fight, the camera whirls higgledy-piggledy, and things get so wobbly during a chase through a forest that I'm pretty sure I would have had a seizure if I had seen this in the theater. I'm glad I wasn't a kid when these movies came out. I would have probably run around my big yard with a stick while screaming, "Halitosis bonerificus!" and jerking around so much that my neighbors would have thought I was epileptic. The special effects are still really good for the most part, the exception being when some good-looking CGI in the dark suddenly turns into a car chase thing that looks like it came right from Matrix II where the light makes the CGI look terrible. But the whimsy of the early movies is completely gone and replaced with nothing but dread. No, I don't think the tone of these last couple movies should match the first few, but it does suffer from not having the emotional versatility of some of those. There's a scene I really want to see in the final installment of this cash cow, but I'm not in a hurry. Speaking of that, was Alan Rickman in this movie for less than five minutes or was that my imagination?

And before you ask--No, my autographed picture of Peter Mayhew is not for sale. Neither is my soul. J.K. Rowlings' soul might be though if the price is right.

Day of the Wacko

2002 Polish character study

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Exactly as advertised, this is one day in the life of a obsessive-compulsive teacher who doesn't get along with the rest of the world. All he really wants to do is write a poem, but his underwear is irritating his crotch, the woman upstairs is practicing her karate, and a dog is pooping underneath his window.

It's the little things that make this movie very funny. Not that you really want to laugh all that much because the protagonist's life is about as sad as a movie life can possibly be. But there's something funny about watching this guy do everything in sevens or tug at the crotch of his pants before sitting down or take a crap in a neighbor's yard or complain to his mother about his students or confront his enemies or maneuver through a mine-field of dog doo-doo or whatever he's doing. This is one of those movies that goes nowhere. It has a little bit to say about the Golden Rule maybe, or more accurately about the dangers of making yourself some Golden Rule martyr, but there's not much story here. Instead, this is the sort of movie that really digs into a character, probably deeper than most people really want to even go, investigating the minutia of the guy's existence. It's almost more of a biopsy than it is a film. You feel sorry for the guy while not really liking him and laughing at him rather than with him, and there's not really a point in the movie where you feel optimistic about the poor guy's future. Ultimately, I did end up liking and maybe even identifying with the guy. I do wonder if there's anything I'm missing by not being Polish person, and I'm pretty sure some of the subtitles were either untranslatable Polish idioms or just plain wrong. Those who like their comedy dry and miserable might like this; a lot of viewers will like it about as much as they like polka music though.

Summer of Nicolas Cage Movie #10: Vampire's Kiss

1988 vampire comedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A guy who works at a publishing company is bitten by a vampire woman and then gradually turns into a vampire himself. Or does he? Can his psychologist help him in time or is the poor guy doomed?

What's with Nic Cage's inconsistent accent in this movie? Is he supposed to be English? Whose idea was it to have his character talk with an accent? That's your first thought as you watch Vampire's Kiss, a movie that features a Nicolas Cage performance that might be second only to Deadfall in a Wacky Cage Performance competition. If you haven't seen Deadfall yet, by the way, check it out immediately. Vampire's Kiss is stuffed with Nicolas Cage moments. Observe and be aware that there are probably numerous spoilers:

At the 4:04 mark, you get to see Cage put some moves on a floozy while Stevie Wonder looks on.
6:08--He drunkenly removes a coat and throws it as only Nicolas Cage can throw a coat.
7:00--Dress shoes with no socks, Nic? Classy!
7:34--Cage says, "Shoo! Shoo!" followed by one of the greatest man vs. bat scenes you will ever see in a movie. This is the point in the movie when I got my first boner.
8:04--The way Cage flicks his hair back here. Movie magic!
8:19--Cage demonstrates that he can't laugh like a normal person. At 8:28, he repeats the exact same laugh.
10:01--Cage changes his accent three or four times in one monologue. Let's see Jimmy Stewart do that!
13:03--"Holy shit."
13:24--Cage's character admits to his psychologist that he was aroused by the bat that entered his apartment. It makes me feel better about being aroused by the scene.
15:06--Cage checks himself out in a mirror (the first of many mirror scenes) while the soundtrack to every single 80's movie plays in the background.
16:33--Cage puts the moves on another lady, showing off that irresistible Coppola charm. With the accent!
18:38--Some scatting--"Digga digga digga digga duh duh duh." Awesome.
19:37--"I gotta take a piss." It might be all about the context here, but this line made me crack up.
20:32--We hear Cage's character's answering machine message. It reveals that he can't even make something like that sound normal. It's not the answering machine message of a human being. It's one of a god.
21:13--"Yeah, well fuck you too, sister!" This is how I want to end all of my conversations.
21:55-22:48--Possibly the best dialogue in the history of film, mostly about how "drunk and horny" Cage's character was.
23:32--"Tuesday!" Again, it's all about the context. Poor Alva, by the way.
25:09--A big Nicolas Cage point! If you saw it, you'd recognize it from a few other movies. And with it, a classic Nicolas Cage delivered line: "Am I getting through to you. . . Alva?!"
26:05--"Fucking grease hole!"
26:18--Cage's character is in pain. What's the best way to show that? A rapid biting motion.
26:35--Just when you're wondering if this movie can get any better, it adds mimes. Freakin' mimes!
30:36--Cage's character is nervous and frightened. What's the best way to show that? Rapid head nodding and slamming.
31:56--Close your mouth, Nicolas Cage!
32:36--He develops a speech impediment. Alva! Maybe the whole accent thing is actually supposed to be a speech impediment, too.
33:10: A hop on a desk and another point. Two Nicolas Cage points in less than twenty minutes? I'm surprised the world didn't end.
33:34--Old lady in bathroom. "What are you doing in here?" What a cameo! Helen Lloyd Breed, you just might win yourself a shane-movies blog award at the end of the year for that work.
35:09--Weren't sure about whether Nicolas Cage could laugh normally before? Here's more evidence that he can't.
35:55--Another fight scene, this time with paper. Man vs. paper!
36:24--The fight continues with everything else in his apartment. Man vs. stuff in his apartment!
39:46--I know I've said this a lot before, but here is truly the greatest dialogue ever written, ending in Cage's infamous recitation of the ABC's. No other actor in Hollywood, living or dead, could do this. This scene alone is all the proof you need that Nicolas Cage is the greatest actor of all time.
40:06--"I never misfiled anything! Not once! Not one time!" Again, it's all about the context, but the way he crosses his arms and then quickly puts his hands on his hips, it's probably a plot-hole that his character wasn't institutionalized right away. Cage is so good with over-the-top mannerisms.
41:38--Mescaline? Geez.
43:45--Pause the movie here! Gaze into Nicolas Cage's crazy eyes and completely lose your mind! You will never recover. Never! By the time you push play again, you will also be a vampire.
47:00--You get to watch a bit of another vampire classic, Nosferatu. Keep Max Shreck's movements and body language in mind because it'll make Nic's imitation of him later that much sweeter.
48:28--More scatting and an invitation into Cage's shower. It seems like the scatting would scare most females away.
48:59--More mirror action with a great Nicolas Cage expression as he touches the glass.
49:30--Nicolas Cage eats a live cockroach. Ho hum.
51:19--Exaggerated whistling during a search through a Rolodex.
52:00--I required a break and took a long nap. When I woke up, the moon was gone and it was Tuesday! And a tumor on my back had tripled in size! I do not think this was a coincidence!
55:40--Worst fake puking I think I've ever seen, more golden because it follows some unintelligible yelping.
1:00:03--No reflection! Now we know why those other weird mirror shots were there. This movie is genius! "Oh Christ! Oh Christ! Oh, God! Where am I? Where am I?" This piece of brilliance is punctuated with the words of a disgruntled guy trying to take a dump. Movie magic!
1:00:58--Surely this movie can't get better, can it? Now Nic is doing this weird hiccup thing and holding his arms like he's a bunny.
1:03:23--Head bobbin' and the lamest chase scene down a stairwell that I've ever seen.
1:04:30--I'm laughing at a rape threat! This movie has turned me inside-out. But it was a rape threat made with a wagging tongue.
1:04:45--Another big fight scene, this time demonstrating the inner conflict going on with Cage's character. He begins slapping himself. That's right--man vs. his own palm. There will be no winner.
1:06:08--Ba-hoo! And in case you missed the genius of the Ba-hoo! the first time, Cage repeats the Ba-hoo! at 1:06:14. I pause the movie to Ba-hoo! a few times myself. I become one with Nicolas Cage and the cosmos smiles down upon me.
1:06:49--"I'm a vampire! I'm a vampire! I'm a vampire!" It's hard for me to believe that there are some people who will watch this movie and not realize it's a comedy.
1:07:01--More home destruction.
1:09:30--Nic Cage attempts to eat a pillow.
1:10:38--A phone freak-out. And a Nicolas Cage freak-out is always worth watching, probably twice.
1:11:38--I missed a portion of this scene where Cage's character buys some vampire costume teeth because I had fallen to the floor, drooling. It ends with a classically comic "I will take the plastic" that is hilarious in context. There's a great skipping-alternating-with-jogging thing that makes me giggle.
1:12:35--Now he's talking with inserted plastic teeth and that silly accent? Did this movie just get even more magical? Hell yes, it did!
1:13:49--Bird chase!
1:17:45--And now we have Nosferatu at the discotheque.
1:24:02--Nosferatu freaks out at the discotheque! "I'm a vampire. I can prove it!"
1:24:57--There's a rambling, likely improvised monologue that is mostly about the sun but for whatever reason contains the line "She's just a high school cunt." Then, the sun!
1:26:52--Cage flamboyantly finds himself a stake and tries to have somebody kill him.
1:27:24--I swear to God that I'm not making this line up--"Me vampire!"
1:27:53--Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh! I am vibrating internally at this point.
1:29:04--He runs into a wall. That's always funny enough, but then Cage's character starts a lengthy conversation with it. Touching stuff.
1:30:57--Another actor laughs at Nicolas Cage's performance.
1:32-59--Channeling Keanu--Whoa! Nosferatu as a skateboard punk?
1:35:09--"Born in Philadelphia"? What?
1:36:00--A "conversation" with Sharon--wow. The mannerisms. The voice. This is tragic, comic, and hallucinatory. I have urinated in my pants at least two times and didn't even realize it.
Last line--Ohhhh! I cry uncontrollably, stuff myself into a mini-fridge for an hour, and emerge again to start the movie all over again.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

2002 biopic

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Based on the memoir of game show innovator Chuck Barris where the author claims that he worked secretly as a CIA assassin while developing such gems as The Newlywed Game, The Dating Game, and The Gong Show.

Well, looky there! It's the ubiquitous Sam Rockwell again. I'd either forgotten or didn't ever know that this is a Charlie Kaufman screenplay. It's his type of tale, but with George Clooney's direction, it's really more Chuck Woolery than Wink Martindale if you know what I mean. The Clooney does a fine job, by the way, not afraid to be a little experimental in approaching Barris's story and creating all kinds of nice moods to show the contrast between his mysterious and dangerous life of intrigue and his zany and hopelessly optimistic life as a television producer. I enjoyed some of the noirish and thrilling scenes in gray European alleyways just as much as the scenes of Barris showing Network suits the unbroadcastable Dating Game clips. Barris isn't exactly a likable character, but both sides of his coin make for some movie fun. And Rockwell can be thrown into that category of actors who are almost too good playing the real-life famous fellow they're playing. George Clooney and Julia Roberts play characters who in no way can be real which is probably the point, and Drew Barrymore once again succeeds in making me wish that somebody other than Drew Barrymore was playing the part. Barris's "life" is perfect for a black comedy, and even though this is fun and satisfying in a kind of dark way, I do like that Clooney plays it all straight. There's no winking in this movie, and I think that makes it a better film. Nostalgically, I enjoyed seeing the Gong Show clips since I remember watching that show as a little squirt.


2010 geriatric action film

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Frank is retired and extremely dangerous. RED! He lives a boring little domestic life, the highlight being when he gets to flirt with Sarah over the phone when he makes calls to the government pension people about his checks. Life's boring until one A.M. when some people show up to kill him. He picks up Sarah in Kansas City and then rounds up some old old friends to help him figure out who is behind the attempt on his life.

How do you make yourselves a serious stack of dough in Hollywood? Do what the makers of Red did and just hire a bunch of big-name actors--action superstar Bruce Willis, Mr. Cool (and black) Morgan Freeman, the always-fascinating John Malkovich, the currently hotter-than-hot Helen Mirren--add a pile of explosions and gunfights, throw in a little romance with cute-as-a-button Mary-Louise Parker, and watch the magic happen. I guess the hook is that they're a bunch of old farts, and watching a bunch of old farts kick ass is a hoot. The characters have such a lack of depth, and their story seems derivative and tired. Improbable gun battles, some lazy dialogue, and a plot constructed from cut-and-pasted cliches. Throwing in any amount of Morgan Freeman acting like a badass doesn't wash all that away. Some of the action sequences are beyond stupid. As with a lot of these dumb action movies, none of the bad guys can shoot very well at all. There's a scene with Malkovich's character shooting a bullet at a missile thing that doesn't make any sense, and another slow-mo step from a spinning crashed car that I think made my wife ultimately decide to give up on this one. I did almost like Malkovich's character. He plays psychotic and paranoid very well, but his Marvin becomes less interesting as the movie goes on. Don't tell my wife, but I have the hots for Mary-Louise Parker. And don't you worry. I can type that here because she only skims this crap. Parker's "straight man" character here is nothing more than an annoying distraction though. It's my wife who skims this crap, by the way. As far as I know, Mary-Louise Parker has never visited this blog. That's about as likely as. . .oh, I don't know. Bruce Willis's character surviving this movie?

Summer of Nicolas Cage Movie #9: Snake Eyes

1998 movie

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

Plot: Shady Atlantic City policeman Ricky Santoro gets involved in the assassination of the Secretary of Defense while watching a heavyweight prize fight. As the mysteries surrounding the killing unravel, he starts to see his dreams of somebody becoming the mayor slip away. He and his best friend try to hold it all together.

Nicolas Cage in charge of holding things together? Not in this movie, Cowboy! This is unhinged Cage, a Cage on speed, overblown and tacky. He's awesome, especially in the lengthy opening sequence where he's dressed in this flamboyantly sleazy outfit and interacting with people like nobody would ever interact with anybody. Nicolas Cage is the only actor I can think of who overacts on movie posters. But as you know by now, I mean this as a compliment. He gets a juicy dynamic character to chew on here, and it's fun to watch him make Santoro a "Cage" character. As a movie, Snake Eyes is really kind of a failure. It falls completely apart at the end, getting really unrealistic and stupid, and the story doesn't really have a lot of meat on it. But with Brian De Palma's flashy direction, it's at least a very interesting failure. I dug the camera choreography, most notably in the lengthy opening where you meet Santoro and some of the other notables and see the assassination from our main character's viewpoint. It's an extended shot, maybe fifteen minutes or so where the camera swims all over the place, and it's even more impressive when you think about how many people were involved. I'm a sucker for the whole same-story-from-different-angles storytelling, and this one does it with style and finesse. There's another neat shot where the camera moves over a series of hotel rooms. Nothing we see going on in those individual rooms is important to the story, but it adds some nice shading to the proceedings. I also really liked a very suspenseful scene where two characters are in a race to reach another character. The performances around Cage's could have been better (Gary Sinese has this smugness that always annoys me), and the last half of the movie doesn't live up to the potential of the first half, but this has a lively pizazz that definitely makes it worth watching. And that awesome Cage performance, of course.

The Last Airbender

2010 soul-sapping experience

Rating: 5/20 (Abbey: 13/20)

Plot: A little kid with a blue glowing arrow tattoo on his bald head is the chosen one or something and as the titular last airbender, has to journey to far-away lands to learn how to bend water and fire and dirt. Fire-bending people are trying to get in his way.

Abbey's a fan of the television cartoon series that this is based on. I kept having to ask her questions about what the hell was going on in this piece of supernatural crap, but honestly, I didn't really care all that much and was just trying to stay awake. This was probably the most bored that I'll be with a movie all year. The characters were flat, and they might as well have been played by statues. That's about how much personality they all had. And I just didn't get this bending thing. The characters made these little kung-fu moves, and through the magic of special effects, crap moved around. I got that, but the fight scenes didn't make any sense to me. I kept trying to apply logic, paper-rock-scissors type rules, to the whole thing, but what element beats what? It seems like water would beat fire. What beats air? At least closing my eyes and trying to figure that all out kept me from having to see this movie. It looked synthetic, synthetic and ugly. And like Drive Angry, the criminals responsible for this have tried their best to take advantage of that fad with swooshing water and flying fire. No type of glasses will help this look any better though. The biggest issues here are with the storytelling though. This fantasy-adventure tale is told by a person who has no idea how to pace a movie or write dialogue. And who might that person be? M. Night Shmaltzydong, of course! And he tells this story so humorlessly. I've seen bits and pieces of the cartoon, and there's some humor in that. This thing is sickeningly stiff, as if somebody wanted this epic tale of bending crap to be super-serious and decided to suck out anything that could potentially cause the audience to have fun. And the best news? There are at least two more installments required to finish this story. I won't watch those with 3-D glasses either. In fact, I'd rather have somebody poke my eyes out than watch any more of this shit.

Mr. Robinson Crusoe

1932 silliness

Rating: 10/20 (Dylan: 7/20)

Plot: A tough guy bets his buddies a thousand dollars that he and his dog can survive on a deserted island. He befriends a monkey, a parrot, and at least one goat and uses his ingenuity to make his short stay as comfortable as possible.

Ever want to see a monkey milk a goat? This is the movie for you! Want to see Douglas Fairbanks bounce around like an idiot juiced up on caffeine pills? This is also the movie for you! This was on some non-profit cable channel while I was at my parents, and it made Dylan and I laugh for all the wrong reasons. You get an overly enthusiastic Douglas Fairbanks (did he really transition to the talky era this poorly?) talking to all of these animals and building these sometimes-clever contraptions with unrealistic speed. You see him spend twenty minutes building a hammer, and then twenty-six island days later (that's how many days are in June, by the way, if you go by his character's calendar), he's got this entire city built. The references to Robinson Crusoe got tiresome, and this has a really lame depiction of tribe life that looks like a cross between Hawaii and Africa. Also, I'm not sure if it's because this thing hasn't been cleaned up or if the technology made it difficult to film on an island back in the early-30s, but this looked and sounded terrible. The actors all sounded like they were speaking their lines into a can while standing in a cave. I think the script must look something like this:

Douglas Fairbanks' character: Mmubua hayaba vvummbar!
Saturday: Mwey hrtung phungby.
Douglas: Phungby? Ha ha ha! Mmum pood mroth yort!

I know what the parrot was saying though. He said, "OK!" About a dozen times. Couldn't they have found a parrot with a larger vocabulary? This movie also has a scene with bananas that might be the single dumbest scene involving bananas that I've ever seen. Favorite line, spoken by Douglas Fairbanks' friends as stand on their yacht and use binoculars to watch some natives: "Oh. Mama spank." At least I think that's what the guy said.

One Day in September

1999 narrative documentary

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Eight Palestinian terrorists, angry that they had put in so many hours training for a bobsled competition that didn't even exist because it was the summer games, kidnap some Israeli athletes and trainers and demand that an impromptu bobsled competition happen immediately. The media and German security helps them out but can't get the bobsledding set up in time to make them happy. Things end badly.

This is a suspenseful narrative documentary in the same vein as Man on Wire. Michael Douglas narrates, but he's used sparingly. I think he's almost completely unnecessary because when this story really connects, it's utilizing the actual images from the tragedy, the news reports, and the interviews with the family members of the victims and one of the terrorists. That last one there--one of the terrorists, a guy hiding somewhere in Africa--gives this documentary a little more force. Without that guy's perspective, the story would have been incomplete. It doesn't exactly make you sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, but it does make the story more well-rounded. The news footage succeeds in supporting the idea that the media is filled with fools who often get in the way and do more harm than good. It's best demonstrated in the scene where the poorly-trained German security men dressed in 70s athlete garb are positioning themselves for a sneak attack-and-rescue mission, a mission that is thwarted because the terrorists are watching it all unfold on television. It's tragically comical. I really liked how this makes the story personal, especially with the interviews with the wife of one of the victims. It also makes it perfectly clear that the terrorists weren't the only bad guys in this story. They were the baddest bad guys maybe, but the ineptitude of the Germans in handling a crisis like this and the lack of sympathy displayed by the Olympic organizers (the decision to continue the games while all of this was happening) puts them in the bad guy camp as well. This succeeds because it manages to create all this suspense even though you know how it all ends. And despite already being given the knowledge that none of these people are going to survive, you still are forced to root for them, optimistic about their chances. I did get really annoyed during a montage of horrifying images set to some rock 'n' roll at the end. Completely unnecessary.

Dead Alive

1992 zombie funk

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A nuts monkey captured on Skull Island (probably not that Skull Island) winds up in a zoo where it bites a woman and turns her into a zombie. Her son, poor Lionel, has to take care of her while trying to nurture a new relationship with the gal who works at the market. It doesn't get any easier for Lionel as his mom begins to infect other people.

Peter Jackson's best movie? None of those Hobbit movies or the King Kong remake even had a guy using a lawnmower as a weapon. Discuss in the comments below.

If this had been around for me to see in high school, it probably would have been my favorite movie, something I could watch back-to-back with Evil Dead II whenever I needed to fulfill my splatter-comedy needs. This is definitely splattabulous, splatrageous, and splatterific, a lot bloodier than anything Raimi will ever do. It pushes the envelope and then pushes it more, pushing it so that it goes all the way through some guy's skull so that his brains and blood stain the walls. Does it straddle the line between violence and humor? No. It sort of stomps all over the line until the blood and laughs fuse together into this scrambled mess of joke-telling bowels and slapstick viscera. I felt completely silly doing it, but I laughed out loud so much as I watched this in the wee hours while lying in bed that I woke up my poor wife a few times. And I'll admit that it didn't feel right to answer her "What's so funny?" with "Oh, this character is throwing around this zombie baby!" or "Intestines are chasing a guy around his house!" The amount of gore in this thing has to be seen to be believed, and just when I think I've seen a zombie die in the most bizarre or creative way possible, Jackson gives me something even more ridiculous to see. A mind that conceives some of the imagery in this has to be a deranged one. Dead Alive (or Braindead elsewhere) has nothing at all to say about society. It makes no grand statements and really doesn't even tell its story all that well. But from the appearance of the stop-motion (?) monkey to the thrilling and sloppy climax, this doesn't let up, assaulting the senses with the most creative gore you're likely to see and some sick, sick laughs. Recommended to film lovers who haven't grown up yet or anybody who wants to see what Peter Jackson was up to before he started filming endless scenes of Hobbits and elves walking around.

Easy Rider

1969 hippie manifesto

Rating: 17/20

Plot: A couple hippies strike it rich with the resell of some cocaine. They decide to get on their motorbikes and travel across the country to New Orleans. Along the way, the meet some hippies, a bunch of people who don't like hippies, Jack Nicholson, and some whores. Then, they die.

I'd taken all these wonderful notes about Easy Rider, how it's a laid-back indictment of the American dream with a graceful and poetic narrative-within-the-narrative about the history of America and the failure of capitalism. Stuff about the symbolism of Captain America driving a motorcycle fueled by cash and how free sex is more pure than sex you have to pay for and how freely chasing your ideals will only get you shot by some rednecks. Or maybe it was wasting their freedom got them shot by the rednecks. It was great stuff, but you'll have to take my word that it existed because I ended up wadding it up and stuffing it down my pipe and smoking it. I like the three leads--nonchalant and doomed Peter Fonda as Wyatt, the continuously giggling Dennis Hopper as Billy, and the lively Jack Nicholson in that goofy football helmet. I also really like the look of this movie; Laszlo Kovacs' cinematography perfectly captures the American landscape and the mysteries of our past, working almost like a visual folklore. Although I think a lot of the scenes were filmed by stoned locals Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda encountered on the journey. Easy Rider takes a turn for the weird near the end during a cemetery acid trip scene, dating the movie somewhat but nevertheless a nice trippy diversion. This is a movie just flooded with music, probably too much, and people who don't like this movie very much will argue that in addition to the thing being a relic from an era they probably don't like much, about sixty percent of the movie consists of shots of the actors riding their motorcycles while flower power anthems blare. Fair enough, but it perfectly captures the moods and wasted ideals of the time, and if you look a little deeper, you'll see it's packed with meaning. One thing I can't stand though--the blinking transition thing. That's just irritating.

Summer of Nicolas Cage Movie #8: 8MM

1999 thriller

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Surveillance expert Tom Welles is hired by an old lady to find out if a "snuff film" discovered in her late husband's safe is real or not. Welles gets help from an LA porn peddler, and clues begin pointing to one particular purveyor of violent pornography. It's a long and winding and especially dangerous road.

Bonus points awarded for the loud use of Aphex Twin's "Come to Daddy" near the end and for Peter "Karl Hungus" Stormare, my other favorite actor. Lebowski, Prison Break, "Slippery Pete" in one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes, Carl's partner in Fargo. He's even in Bergman's Fanny and Alexander. You can go ahead and argue that the guy doesn't deserve a lifetime achievement award of some kind, but you will lose. He gets to show off his character acting chops with a great character here, the sleazy Dino Velvet. He has this ability to deliver a line in a way that makes it seem like the greatest writing ever. And his final lines? I don't want to spoil anything, but he's got a great death scene in this. Acting legend Nicolas Cage is fairly subdued here, and there isn't anything I'd call one of those Nicolas Cage Moments I really enjoy. Cage is actually one of the most realistic things about the movie which probably means there's a problem with the other characters, the story, etc. His protagonist is a flawed thriller hero; he doesn't have his priorities straight, he makes more than a few mistakes, and he isn't afraid to weep. He's also more brains than brawn, and it's fun to watch him work. I also liked Joaquin Phoenix as the wonderfully named Max California, and James Gandolfini is always kind of fun. 8MM's story gets darker and darker as it goes along, sending Tom Welles on a downward spiral of perversion, degradation, and violence. The movie's got a layer of grit and sleaze that keeps it intriguing even if it's not always that realistic or if it starts to fall to pieces by the end. There was probably a missed opportunity in here to make a statement about exploitation in cinema, but the writers apparently didn't want to go there.

Wow. I just did a little research and discovered that this has Torsten Voges in it. Who? Why, he's another one of Lebowski's nihilists. That's two-thirds of the nihilists! I'll have to watch this again to see if there's a Flea cameo I missed.

Rock 'n' Roll High School

1979 high school musical

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Thanks to rock 'n' roll, the students at Vince Lombardi High School have no interest in obeying the rules or getting an education. After yet another principal has a nervous breakdown, the school board hires Ms. Togar to clean things up and make the school a place of learning. Her agenda conflicts with student Riff Randell, a big fan of punk rockers The Ramones.

This punksploitative teenage comedy's got less laughs than Fast Times at Ridgemont's High, but at least it's got Clint Howard and The Ramones. The Ramones, by the way, display some terrific acting chops. Dee Dee Ramone was so bad that his lines were reduced to "Alright! The pizza's here!" but I can't imagine he's much worse than Joey Ramone who mumbles unintelligibly during his scenes. They get their chance to perform a ton of songs though, so if you're a fan, this is worth checking out. A couple of the songs work like music videos, especially during their first appearance when they show up in their "tour bus," a convertible in which they sit like only punk rockers could. There's also quite a bit of concert footage, and you've got to love a band with a lead singer who needs subtitles for the lyrics. Despite the solid analogy comparing punk rock haters to Nazis with the calling of Principal Togar's plan the "Final Solution," this is really like cartoon punk, almost like Disney decided to make a punk rock movie. Other than The Ramones, the characters aren't especially memorable, and the humor falls completely flat in this low-budget flick. Roger Corman produced.

Summer of Nicolas Cage Movie #7: Fast Times at Ridgemont High

1982 high school movie

Rating: 14/20 (Jen: 12/20)

Plot: Teenagers at the titular high school titillate each other, take some drugs, rebel against their teachers, get their priorities all wrong, knock each other up, make poor decisions, work toward their likely depressing futures, and masturbate.

This episodic look at high school in the eighties barely has Nicolas Cage in it at all. It is filled with a ton of colorful characters and their various misadventures. A few of those misadventures are interesting and/or meaningful, and unfortunately, a few of those characters are annoying. That's right, Sean Penn. I'm talking about you. I did like some of the interactions between his Spicoli and Mr. Hand though. This movie didn't make me laugh, and I didn't hit me on a nostalgic level since it's a bit before my high school time. As an artifact from the 1980s, it's maybe an above-average teen comedy, but if you're watching it only because you're a fan of Nicolas Cage, you're going to be really disappointed.

The Draughtsman's Contract

1982 Peter Greenaway movie

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Mr. Neville, the titular Draughtsman, is hired by the wife of a rich guy to draw twelve sketches of his property while her husband is away. The price? Twelve sexual favors, the going rate in 17th Century England. As he sketches, he begins to unravel some secrets about the family, secrets that gradually start to involve him.

I've probably pointed this out before, but I'm not really smart enough to be watching Peter Greenaway movies. I just pretended to like The Falls because it was the first year of this blog's existence, and I wanted all the readers I was going to have to be impressed with my intellect. Other Greenaway movies fly so far over my feeble head that I can't enjoy them at all. And sometimes, they just have too much of Ewan McGregor's penis. This one fogged up the brain, but I enjoyed its characters, their period dialogue as ornamental and frilly as their garden and wardrobes, and the way Greenaway frames his scenes. This is Greenaway's first narrative film, and he came out with his ideas guns blazing. I've criticized him for having way too many ideas, being so intellectually gloopy that there's no way the average person can connect to his movies, but there's something comforting in knowing that the artsy-fartsiness hasn't been something that developed over time but that existed right from the get-go. This puzzling little movie reminded me a lot of Last Year at Marienbad, a riddle that was a favorite from a couple years ago. Like that movie, there's nothing happening that is all that bizarre (most of the movie is a guy drawing sketches with Peter Greenaway's hand) but their interactions just don't seem right. Of course, this movie does have a statue that walks around or sometimes urinates. You can add "Peeing Statue Man" to my list of Favorite Characters Who Don't Get Any Lines. Michael Nyman provides the score. It's a gorgeous and strange film that might give you the most enjoyable headache you'll ever have. Surprisingly, there's not much nudity at all, so you perverts looking for that sort of thing should find something else to watch. Actually, almost all of you should find something else to watch.

Sherlock Holmes

2010 Sherlock Holmes movie

Rating: 5/20

Plot: The famous titular detective and his trusty sidekick Dr. Watson embark on an adventure to solve the mystery behind a giant octopus and a Tyrannosaurus Rex that are attacking London. Unfortunately, it's not nearly as fun to watch as it sounds!

The Asylum is a film production company that attempts to capitalize on current blockbusters by filming their own direct-to-dvd low-budget versions. They've got a DaVinci mystery movie, a King Kong movie, a film unbelievably called Snakes on a Train, their version of Transformers which they call Transmorphers (with its own sequel), and even a movie based on High School Musical called Sunday School Musical. This has Sherlock Holmes fighting against robots and dinosaurs which is exactly what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created the character to do. Don't let the excitement of the imagery on the poster fool you though. This movie is flat-out dull. None of the actors are right for their parts with the exception of the villain played by Dominic Keating who's like a much-cheaper Gary Oldman. The special effects are so bad that they distract. They're not even bad in a way that lets you laugh at them. And when Sherlock Holmes said, "The game is afoot," I wanted to punch out everybody associated with the movie. They could have saved a lot of time by just digging up Doyle's corpse and taking turns urinating on it while wearing deerstalker hats. It would have saved a lot of cash, too. Well, maybe not a lot of cash. Speaking of cash, I didn't have to spend any money to see this movie, yet I still feel ripped off. That's the kind of movie this is. That probably won't stop me from seeing The Day the Earth Stopped though. And Paranormal Entity! Or The Terminators!


2003 Crispin Glover movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: The titular character's a delightful young man who works as a clerk in the company that his father started. He lives with his feeble mother in a house that is too large for the two of them and deals with daily harassment from his father's former friend and Willard's boss. He's lonely and frustrated. Luckily, he befriends some gregarious rodents that live in his basement and gets to share all kinds of fun adventures with them.

This might have the best performance from a rat that I'll ever see. No, I'm not talking about Socrates, the white mouse that Willard favors. Big Ben is the one I'm talking about. There are some quietly disturbing scenes of Ben just lingering, brooding, scheming. In a way, Ben's a lot like this movie. It's also quietly disturbing and brooding. The creep sneaks up on you in this one although with Crispin Glover's performance, the beginning isn't exactly cheery. Glover's performance, I should mention, might be the best I'll ever see from a half-man/half-rat. It's the type of performance that makes every other actor in the movie look like he's just not trying hard enough. He's also got such good rapport with his rat co-stars. Dig the gleam in his mousy eyes and the way he commands, "Tear it," as he discovers that he has some influence over the rodents. And the way he tells Socrates, "I hate everyone but you. Let's go to bed." Oh, man. Only an actor of Glover's caliber with his general psyche can appropriately balance the horror and dark comedy in this role, and Glover, just as you'd expect he would, knocks it out of the park. I just love it when he gets really angry and screams like no man should ever scream in a scene at a funeral home. Other favorite Crispin Glover moments: "You think you're funny?" after one of the rats does something really terrible and his response to his mother's "What are you doing in the bathroom?" of "I'm going potty." Speaking of his mother, Jackie Burroughs is brilliantly weird in that role. And hilarious during a conversation where she changes Willard's name to Clark and later during a Three's Company-esque misunderstanding. You've definitely got to suspend your disbelief quite a bit in order to not let some of the plot details get in the way, but this is an often funny and even more often horrifying look at a damaged mind. Great opening credits, too, with a nifty movie theme, some cool animated stuff, and a preview of some of the movie's imagery. It ends even better with Crispin Glover's version of "Ben". For you purists out there, Michael Jackson's version can be heard earlier during a scene with a kitty that is both hilarious and disturbing.

My favorite little joke from the movie is the brand name of the nuts that Willard feeds the rats--Mumm Nuts!

Summer of Nicolas Cage Movie #6: Matchstick Men

2003 crime dramedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Frank and Roy (Is there some significance to that name combination? I'm too lazy to look it up.) are partners in con (OK, I did look it up. Roy Allen and Frank Wright made root beer. Allen & Wright Root Beer. A&W. There you go.), the older Roy a mentor to his younger partner. Roy's got some psychological problems, however. He's agoraphobic, has numerous tics, and is obsessive-compulsive, especially with cleanliness. It hasn't gotten in the way of him being a successful con man though. But Roy's life is turned upside-down when he finds out that he has a teenage daughter, a girl who a psychologist has helped him contact.

What a fun movie! And what a great freak-out performance by Shane-movies hero Nicolas Cage. By the way, has anybody else noticed that I have his name spelled wrong in the blog label? I've known about that for a while and could have fixed it, but it would take away time that I have for researching the history of root beer. Cage's performance in this is wild and wonderful though. The panic grunts and yelps, the tics, the way he yells "Pygmies!" whenever he feels that he's losing control, the contortions. And Matchstick Men might have my favorite Nicolas Cage line ever, a line that is delivered in a way that only Nicolas Cage could deliver it. Responding to a guy in a pharmacy who asks him if he's ever heard of lines, Roy replies, "Have you ever been taken to the sidewalk and beaten until you PISSED BLOOD?!" It's something you have to rewind and watch at least twelve times. He has another great Nicolas Cage moment when he freaks out about an ashtray and another when he is picking out a suit to wear. The ubiquitous Sam Rockwell and Alison "I'm not Ellen Page" Lohman are both great. I really like that Sam Rockwell every single time I see him. And amazingly, Lohman pulls off fourteen-year-old when she's only five years younger than me. Hans Zimmer provides a playful score with some Frank Sinatra cuts mixed in. This isn't a typical Ridley Scott movie, but I like a lot of what is going on with the direction and general storytelling. At times, to help the audience get into the mind of the protagonist, you get a Nic Cage cam with some jerky camera movements, animated Sam Rockwells, and close-ups or extended shots of the minutia that his character focuses on. As a character study, it's got some genuinely touching moments, and as a con man drama, it's consistently surprising and a lot of fun.

Oh, and guess what song it uses? If you guessed "Beyond the Freakin' Sea," you are correct.


1998 Japanese horror movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Japanese teenagers trying to rent Jigoku from their local video store are accidentally given a copy of Japanese remake of Jingle All the Way with Japan's versions of Sinbad and Arnold Swarzeneggar. They quickly learn their mistake but feel drawn to the video and watch the entire movie. One of them had already seen the American original Jingle All the Way and kept pompously talking about how the Japanese remake isn't nearly as good. The phone rings, and a week later, they all die.

I was really disappointed to discover that this movie doesn't have a single Hobbit in it.

This doesn't have the glitz and glam of the remake with Naomi Watts. I actually think that works to make the story eerier. The menacing soundtrack and scratchy sound effects add to the experience. Ringu (and The Ring) has one of those movie moments that will forever be famous; the problem is that you can't watch it for the first time twice. It doesn't take away from the power of the scene or anything, but it's a bit watered down by appearing in two different versions of the story and being spoofed in one of those Scary Movies. It's been a while since I saw the remake, a movie I also liked, but this one seems quieter, more reflective, relying more on characterization and setting a realistic sinister mood than on traditional movie scare tactics. I think I prefer the video in the Hollywood remake, but the one in the Japanese version is sufficiently creepy. And watching either one of them over and over for an hour and a half would be better than watching Jingle All the Way once. But seriously. No Hobbits? That's a little misleading.

Something Wild

1986 existential romantic comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: The good news--Successful businessman Charlie has just been promoted to vice president! The bad news--his wife and children have left him, and he's a little lonely. That's probably why he falls for Lulu, a free-spirited and sexually adventurous gal who kind-of kidnaps him for the weekend. They get busy in a cheap motel room before heading off to meet her mother and attend her high school reunion. That's where they meet Ray, played by an actor named Ray, Lulu's ex-husband who just got out of jail. Ray isn't happy to meet Charlie at all. Oh, snap!

As likable as I think Jeff Daniels is (and heck, the guy's very nearly lovable), his character is too dopey in this. I really had trouble rooting for the guy after a while, especially after Ray came along. Daniels' character suddenly had this wide-eyed hero-worship thing that was annoying. There's nothing wrong with Ray Liotta, but the movie jarringly shifted gears when he came along, changing from a quirky screwball rom-com to a quirky and unpredictable but ineffective thriller. I liked Melanie Griffith and the blend of flirtatious and naive that she brings to the character. And she's Melanie Griffith, so there's a little bit of naked in the movie. There's a whole lot of music in this, and I had to give a bonus point for The Feelies playing the high school reunion. This has an 80's feel, never good since the 1980's were the worst decade for cinema, but it recalls After Hours a bit with an everyman character being tossed around by the universe. I guess the difference is that Charlie has a little more control over his situation. Well, his nutsack does anyway. There's a Jonathan Demme quirkiness that makes this whole thing an entertaining weekend, a something wild about Something Wild that keeps it a notch above most other romantic comedies. And since I typed that last sentence, I probably shouldn't be allowed to blog anymore. So long, everybody!

Summer of Nicolas Cage Movie #5: Drive Angry

2011 3D mayhem!

Rating: 6/20

Plot: John Milton (oh, geez) is angry as he drives in search of some devil worshippers who killed his daughter and are about to sacrifice his granddaughter. Oh, and he escaped from Hell. That might be a spoiler. Sorry about that. Milton meets a waitress, kills her fiance with an air conditioner, and takes her along on the trip. Meanwhile, a mysterious man known as The Accountant pursues Milton while he pursues the devil worshippers. Cue "Yakety Sax"!

There's a muffin reference in this one.

This movie assaulted me--throwing slow-motion bullets, coins, flying cars, baseball bats, severed fingers, pieces of glass, blood, and whatever else its makers could find into my living room. Because you see, just having all hell breaking lose is fine, but it's really nothing compared to having all hell break lose in 3D! I mean, did I enjoy watching William Fichtner of Prison Break walking toward me? Sure, but when I imagine what I missed by not seeing him walk toward me in 3D, it makes me. . .well, angry. And then it makes me want to drive. Angry. By the way, should I penalize this movie for having a grammar error in the title? It should be Drive Angrily. This is the type of movie that doesn't care about that though, the type that if you tried to correct its grammar would get all in your grill and say, "What are you? A fucking English teacher or something?" It's also the type of movie that would probably pick fights with other movies. "You think you're bad ass or something, Real Steel? Watch me throw a car over the side of this bridge! Woooooooooo!" I swear to God that I'm not making this up, but Drive Angry actually threw a punch at me while I was watching. Luckily, I had just bent down to grab an ink pen that I had dropped, and the punch didn't connect. It would have hurt, too, because Drive Angry's fist was all on fire and made of iron. My whole face would have probably exploded! Just the soundtrack of this movie could probably kick your ass. "Raise a Little Hell," a classic played during an opening scene where Nicolas Cage's character shoots a guy's hand off (right into your lap thanks to 3D technology) while things explode and "Fuck the Pain Away," another aggressive song that's played minutes before a scene where a guy punches a naked woman. I need to buy the soundtrack because it would be perfect for times when I need to drive angrily. Or as William Fichtner describes Nicolas Cage: "Angry with attitude." Fichtner's easily the best thing about this movie, by the way. His character doesn't make a lot of sense, but he's kind of cool, and Fichtner understands that he's playing a comic character. The guy who plays the leader of the Satan worshippers (Billy Burke, apparently taking a break from those teenage vampire movies) is really awful. He's got an unidentifiable accent and looks like he's auditioning for a David Copperfield biopic or something. And our hero, Nicolas Cage? Well, this isn't his best performance, and I'm surprised his skull wasn't on fire in this movie. For the most part, he looks exactly like he does on the poster up there--angry. I did like his aggressive-kiss-coffee-drink move though, and there's a great scene in a hotel room where he simultaneously smokes a cigar, drinks whiskey from the bottle, has sexual intercourse, and kills a bunch of Satan worshippers who are attacking him with garden utensils. In case I wasn't clear--that's all happening at the same time. I imagine it's pretty close to Nicolas Cage's honeymoon actually.

My favorite Cage line: "It's still in there. The bullet. I can feel it."

Back to the 3D thing. The ways the makers of Drive Angry try to take advantage of the technology is laughable. The CGI in this movie is some of the worst I have ever seen, and I wonder if it wouldn't look as bad in a theater with the 3D glasses. It wouldn't have come close to saving this movie though. But the next time I have an opportunity to see a Nicolas Cage movie in 3D, I'm watching it with aviator goggles.

The Source

1999 documentary

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A history of the Beat from when Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs met at Columbia University in the mid-40s, through their rise to pop culture icon status, to their deaths.

This works fine as an introduction to the Beats and their literature, but in covering fifty years in about ninety minutes, it's a huge shallow pool of a documentary rather than anything a fan of the writers can really sink their teeth into. I know that recordings exist of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs reading pieces of On the Road, Howl, and Naked Lunch respectively, but the makers of this documentary wanted that star power and grabbed Depp, Turturro, and Hopper to do the readings. Not sure how I feel about that, but I have to admit it was pretty cool to see a couple of them really get into the reading. I don't want to mention which two for fear that the other one will stumble upon my blog and have his feelings hurt. Good seeing a really mean and bitter Gregory Corso (my personal favorite Beat poet), Herbert Huncke, the Fugs' Ed Sanders, Ken Kesey, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, Philip Whalen, Laurence Ferlinghetti, Timothy Leary, and Amiri Baraka. It was especially cool seeing a lot of footage of Beat muse Neil Cassady. Along with the insight from the authors, this is stuffed with a lot of pop culture snippets, an attempt to show the Beats' influence on movies, television, and music as well as art and literature. There was a Lord Buckley spotting (just on a poster), a clip of Groucho, a Tom Waits song, and a little bit of Bob. If nothing else, this movie did make me say, "Hmm. It's been a while since I've read On the Road; maybe I should pull that out," and then later, "I'm going to dig out my Ginsberg discs to hear him read Howl," and then, "Where is my copy of Naked Lunch anyway?"

Summer of Nicolas Cage Movie #4: Amos and Andrew

1993 semi-satirical comedy

Rating: 13/20 (Jen: 14/20)

Plot: Successful playwright Andrew Sterling moves into his new vacation home on a ritzy New England island. His neighbors spot him trying to hook up his television and, since he's a black man, assume he's robbing the place. They call the police who show up and, since he's a black man, start shooting at him. It's an election year, so when the police chief realizes his mistake, he convinces a drifter/petty thief named Amos to pretend to be a kidnapper. The plan doesn't work as well as you'd think.

First off, is it just me or is Bobby Darin's "Beyond the Sea" used in too many movies?

This isn't a bad little movie. The comedy works even if the satire is too sloppy to make any coherent points. Brad Dourif plays a ridiculous character, Dabney Coleman is really good as the police chief, and our stars do an adequate job. It's not Samuel L.'s typical role. He gets to hit one guy in the head and wrestles around in the grass with Nicolas Cage a little, but he spends most of the movie passively waiting for things to develop. Nicolas Cage is pretty subdued here. He's got a great monologue about sea monkeys ("I wanted my family to be more like a sea monkey family.") and demonstrates his acting prowess in a scene where he chugs a beer and does this weird exaggerated head circle thing. And I'm only four movies in with the Summer of Nicolas Cage, but I've already seen him doing hand-stand push-ups in a prison cell in two of them. I think I may have even seen him doing hand-stand push-ups in a prison cell while "Beyond the Sea" plays in the background in two movies. I'm having trouble deciding whether or not this movie should have had more of a satirical edge. On the one hand, it would have given the movie more substance, but it also could have made the movie preachy. As a comedy of errors, it was fun enough. I don't know if I'd call it "hysteriskt roligt" though. The above poster, by the way, is misleading. Some of you might check this movie out because you like the way Nicolas Cage's hair looks there, but that is not how he really looks in this thing. He's a lot scruffier.

Shane-movies trivia: I hurt myself a little trying to do a hand-stand push-up. I also broke a porcelain figurine. It was all very un-Cage.

I Love You Phillip Morris

2009 gay romantic comedy

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

Plot: Stephen Russell,, an on-the-surface happily married police officer , is involved in a car crash. Immediately afterward, he turns gay, proving once and for all (since this is a true story) that people aren't born gay and that the conservatives have been correct all along. He also turns to a life of white-collar crime, conning his way into very comfortable life style with his boyfriend, Jimmy. Until he's arrested. But life really begins for Stephen in prison when he meets the Phillip Morris in the title, a shy gay man who he eventually gets to bunk with. And yes, "bunk" is a euphemism there. Once they're released, Stephen tries to create a happy life for Phillip and him the only way he knows how--illegally.

I could have used a few different posters for I Love You Phillip Morris, but they were all, for whatever reason, pretty gay. This is a good comedy, and it's great for a romantic comedy, aided by two likable leads. Jim Carrey gets some good material to work, and although that side of him that people have been sick of for ten years occasionally rears its ugly head, his flamboyance never really goes over the top and the tender moments are believable. Ewan McGregor's just as good as Phillip. You really feel his vulnerability, and for whatever reason (probably because he's English), he wears gay pretty well. It's a fabulous performance, and I'm not just using the word fabulous because this is a movie about homosexuals. It's shocking to me that he's in a movie where he engages in gay sex and doesn't show his penis on screen though. I believed the two as a couple for most of this and thought they had good chemistry, and the make-out scenes were hot. This feels like too much, too exaggerated to have actually happened, and I wonder how much they stretched things for Hollywood. Comparisons to Catch Me if You Can are probably obvious, but this one is a lot livelier and has this radiance that feels refreshing. It's not all bright, however, as it approaches subject matter nearly taboo for comedy. There's what I thought was a twist that I saw coming, but it was really well done and led to one of the most touching scenes Jim Carrey will ever be involved in. It's all a hell of a lot funnier than Brokeback Mountain though.

Summer of Nicolas Cage Movie #3: Adaptation

2002 orchid movie

Rating: 18/20

Plot: Charlie Kaufman, straight from the critical success of Being John Malkovich, attempts to adapt best-selling novel The Orchid Thief into a screenplay. He struggles with the material while at the same time struggling with life in general. Meanwhile, his brother Donald decides to also become a screenwriter and is having no problems with his serial killer murder mystery The Three. This puts Charlie in a bad mood. He tries everything--a meeting with the original author, the same writer's workshop that Donald attended, even getting his brother's feedback--as he tries to meet deadlines and get the script finished.

A special treat for Nicolas Cage fans for a few reasons. 1) He's kind of fat in this one, so there's actually more Nicolas Cage on the screen than in any other movie. 2) He plays twins, Charlie and Donald, so at times, you get two kind-of-fat Nicolas Cages on the screen simultaneously. It's almost an overdose of Nicolas Cage. 3) For my money, it's his finest acting performance. If you've got any doubt at all about the talents of Nicolas Cage, probably because you've seen his new Drive Angry or The Wicker Man or Ghost Rider, this is probably the one that'll convince you that you've been wrong about the guy. And really, all you need to do is hear him say "Banana Nut--that's a good muffin" in order to be convinced. I'd imagine that playing twins, especially if they share a lot of screen time and actually interact with each other, would be difficult. If Hayley Mills would ever answer my creepy letters, I'd know for sure. Cage is terrific here as a set of twins, so good with body language, voice modulation, and barely perceivable nuances that you know right away which character is which. I think a lot of the credit for Cage's performance has to be given to Spike Jonze, and Cage has even said that he did what the director told him instead of going with his natural instincts. I wonder if Meryl Streep as author Susan Orlean and Chris Cooper as the titular orchid thief John Laroches did the same thing because they're just as terrific. And when you have three acting performances that are this good in a movie? Hold on to your hat! All three were nominated, and Cooper won for best supporting actor. Jonze's direction is solid, too; I was most impressed with the way the intersecting parts of this story are edited in a way that, although it makes you a little uncomfortable because it is jarring, manages to hold all these massively complex parts together. But the real star of this show is the screenplay by the Kaufman "brothers," a multifaceted rare jewel of a script that will bounce around your noggin for days after you've seen this. The story is so layered, so self-referential, so meta-clever, and so thematically complex that it's like an action movie for intellectuals, the type of movie that'll make really smart people pump their fists and grunt. Kaufman's script bounces off itself in some really cool ways, and the more you think about it, the more surprising ways it makes connections. Adaptation is really the anti-Con Air, a movie that you really have to put some work into in order to fully enjoy. It's either the type of movie that you have to watch a few times to have a grasp (not a complete grasp, mind you) or the type of movie that proves I'm not as smart as most people. I do enjoy movies about the creative process (i.e. Barton Fink, Naked Lunch, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, even Black Swan I guess) though. There's just so much here, and I really wish I would have waited until next month to make this the Oprah Movie Club selection for July. This is a unique film and a good muffin of a movie.

And Hayley Mills--if you happen to Google your own name and find this, please write me back and send those pictures I've requested.

Heavy Traffic

1973 cartoon for adults

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Michael Corleone (why does that name seem familiar?) lives in a too-tiny apartment in New York City with his parents. When he's not working on his pinball wizard skills, he spends his time huddled over a desk sketching the humans he's interacted with on the city streets, including his parents. He's an underground comic, and that's what they do. He befriends an African American prostitute.

I don't know. I definitely felt a little dirty after watching this. Heavy Traffic is the kind of cartoon you have to wash off yourself if you see it. I guess that's an appropriate feeling when you watch an X-rated cartoon though. This is Ralph Bakshi, the guy who did Fritz the Cat, those Lord of the Rings cartoons, and the terribly boring Wizards. It's more similar to the raunchiness of Fritz than the fantasy stuff though unless there's some scene in Lord of the Rings where Frodo exposes himself to a goblin that I'm forgetting about. It really makes Bakshi seem misanthropic. He draws all these oddly-proportioned grotesque exaggerations of pimps, hookers, bums, and con artists. It's those seedy characters you can't really find in a metropolitan area unless you find a rock and flip it over. The animation style's straight from the unsavory 1970s for the most part, characters who move around like they're a member of Fat Albert's posse or are on their way to sing a School House Rocks type song instructing children on how to dispose of a prostitute's corpse, how to know when you're a dope fiend, or where to hide your pornography. There's also a fair amount of experimentation with a mix of live action and the animation. Seeing Bakshi's completely unnatural characters walking against photographs of the city streets does look pretty cool actually, and I liked some of that 70's funkadelica when the animator's shapes and colors go completely nuts. This is a little uneven and wears out its welcome before its seventy-six minutes or so are up, but it's not a bad little cult cartoon flick.

Vernon, Florida

1981 documentary

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Errol Morris visits the eccentric inhabitants of the titular rural community. They wax poetic about turkey hunting, worms, the human brains, gophers/turtles, God, crime, and sand.

I popped this delicious slice of life in because it was at the tail end of a list of somebody's favorite movies. I'd seen and loved everything else on the list, and I've enjoyed all the other Errol Morris documentaries I've seen. This one is just under and hour, but it's an hour jam-packed with comedy gold. Like a folklorist, Morris just turns the camera on these folks and lets 'em have the floor. There's no polish, no explanation, no real organization that I could see, just interwoven snippets of these (almost all) men sharing their odd obsessions with the camera. Interestingly, Morris actually was drawn to Vernon because in the late 50s/early 60s, two-thirds of self-amputation accident insurance claims came from there. The documentary doesn't address amputation at all though. You get a wild turkey hunter sharing stories of his greatest triumphs; an old man who seems to be an expert on the brain ("You ever see a man's brains? I've seen them. I've picked them up, scooped them out, put them in, do them up like brains."); a "wiggler" farmer who at one point is just showing off when he says the words "regular wiggler;" the Steve Irwin of Vernon who shows the camera a turtle and says, "Now this here is a gopher" and later claims that he could get 1,200 or 1,500 dollars for a possum in an auction; a cop whose biggest concern might be people stealing clothes pins; a guy with a jewel; and a woman with a jar full of "growing sand." Yeah, sand that grows. In a couple years, that sand will fill the jar. The style and pace and pointless subject matter will try the patience of some of my readers (looking at you here, Barry), but I thought it was fascinating and very very funny. The most bewildering moment for me: a guy tells a story about a 65-year-old mule with a hole in his throat. I had trouble understanding the guy, but I think he was describing pulling the mule out of the river and finding that a whole bunch of fish were swimming around the inside of it. Or something. Other things to look out for: At the 32 minute mark, a guy picks his nose with his thumb. And at the 36 minute mark, you get to see Michael Cera singing in the back row of a choir. I don't know exactly what Errol Morris's real intentions were, but if it had something to do with filling Shane with joy, it's a success.

Watch on the Rhine

1943 movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Sara's been in away in Europe for eighteen years, presumably because her mother is really annoying. While away, she meets a troublemaker named Kurt and has three children who prove that "annoying" is something that runs in the family. They arrive in Washington for a visit, and a Romanian house guest, a guy who's staying with Sara's mother only because he knows there wouldn't be much of a movie without him, learns some of the family's secrets. He attempts to extract money. Oh, Bodo!

It's always interesting to me to see movies like this out of their context. It's a movie about Nazis and WWII, but it really only touches on the historical stuff lightly, and its themes of dedication, sacrifice, and tough decision making are still relevant today. Unfortunately, this is bogged down by what feel like 1940's movie cliches. You get that oh-no-she-didn't stock mother character used for comic effect. Her loud utterances probably had 1943 audiences' sides splitting. You get dialogue that feels painstakingly written, stagy. You get a romantic subplot tossed in, probably to add a bit of light to an otherwise dark ending. But really, the characters of David and Anise just aren't necessary in this thing. A rousing patriotic score that's just a little too much. And Watch on the Rhine has my biggest pet peeve of all--bad child acting! Now if it was just Joshua, the firstborn who speaks in this terrible accent, I could probably tolerate it. And the middle child, a daughter, is just a girl and doesn't get too many lines anyway. But the third child is intolerable. And his name is Bodo! Bodo! How director Herman Shumlin didn't recognize that Bodo, played by Julia Roberts' brother actually, just wasn't working is beyond me. Seems like a good director would have had Bodo fall off the train early in the movie.

Sara: Honey, have you seen Bodo?
Kurt: Yeah, Bodo fell off the train about a half hour ago.
Sara: What? And you didn't tell me about it? Aren't you concerned?
Kurt: C'mon, Sara. You've met Bodo.
Sara: You've got a good point there, Kurt.
Joshua: Mother? Father? We shall be ever so happy now that Bodo is no longer with us.
Kurt: Shut your pie hold, Joshua, or you're going to be the next to "fall" off this train.

Since Herman Shumlin wasn't able to recognize that Bodo didn't work, he was only allowed to direct one other movie, the only Hollywood director ever to be blacklisted because of a Bodo. Now Oscar-winner Paul Lukas is really good. His quiet brilliance emanates and actually makes Bette Davis into a better actress. He's got this quiet strength, this unspoken but palpable fatigue, and eventually a powerful resolution that makes him heroic in an unflashy way. There's no way this guy would have a child like Bodo. Bette Davis, sure, but not Paul Lukas.

Summer of Nicolas Cage Movie #2: Gone in 60 Seconds

2000 car movie remake

Rating: 8/20

Plot: Master car thief Memphis Raines is pulled out of retirement after his little brother Cleveland Raines gets into a little trouble. He's got three days to get a crew together and steal fifty luxury automobiles to save his brother's life. Oh, snap!

There's only one reason to watch this movie--a scene where Nicolas Cage's character, right before the start of the big car-stealin' action, pops in "Low Rider" ("All my friends know the lowrider. The lowrider is a little higher. The low rider drives a little slower. Low rider is a real goer.") because they've got fifty cars to steal in one night, damn it, and that's the only way Nicolas Cage can get juiced up for this crap. His character goes into this little trance; wiggles and then sticks his fingers up like he's either meditating or flashing gang signs or, as only Nicolas Cage can, simultaneously meditating and flashing gang signs; jerks around a bit; and then says, "Ok, let's ride." That scene is awesome! Trust me. My description of this doesn't do it justice. Take your pants off and Youtube it.

There are multiple reasons to stay away from this movie though. The overuse of the term boosting. Boosting cars, going boosting, hey--I'm boosting in here, boosting this, boosting that, Angelina Jolie's boosting, Robert Duvall knows boosting, boosting boosting, I'm a booster he's a booster wouldn't you like to be a booster too, everybody was kung-fu boosting, check it--I'm boosting, can you keep it quiet because I'm boosting, fifty car boosting--that's absurd, boosting legends, all we are saying is give boosting a chance. It was irritating. I imagined all the actors standing around, going over their lines and arguing about who gets to say boosting. "Why does Robert Duvall get to say 'boosting' twice?" "Hey, Dominic. What do you think about my character saying 'boosting' right here?" All of these characters, including Memphis Raines, are boring. Angelina Jolie brings nothing to the table. Robert Duvall is quickly becoming a movie pet peeve of mine as he just stands around and looks dopey in every movie he's in. Here, he plays a pointless character, the unflappable old-timer veteran booster type, and does his usual stellar job of standing around and looking dopey. And the producers of this really missed an opportunity by not naming his character Booster Cogburn. Giovanni Ribisi, the guy who plays Tallahassee Raines, rubs me the wrong way, too. With an action movie or heist-type movie you need one of two things: 1) Good action or 2) Good heisting. I'd prefer the meticulous planning and creative scheming over the big dumb action scenes any day. Gone in 60 Seconds actually doesn't have either one though. You get a lot of scenes with people turning keys or sneaking around or drawing lines through car names on a list (I wonder, by the way, how these people can be so high-tech and then use chalk and a blackboard for their big fifty car list) and have to wait for the very end of the movie to get a good action scene. It's a car chase with Memphis and some cops. It's so-so but nothing to pump your fist about. The best thing about this Nicolas Cage movie is that it's out of the way. Gone in 60 Seconds? I wish this movie would have been done in 60 seconds. Wakka wakka wakka!

"Keep it real. Think slow. We'll get through this." Thanks, Nicolas Cage. Those are definitely words to live by.

Black Swan

2010 ballet movie

Rating: 17/20 (Jen: 15/20)

Plot: Man! Ballet competition is cut throat! Nina is an aspiring ballerina with an overprotective mother. She's also an aspiring drug addict/lesbian. And she's got poison ivy or something. She finally lands a coveted role--Donkey Girl in The Fragrant Codpiece--but begins to lose her mind with the pressures that come with the approaching performance, the demands of the oozing director, and the catty remarks of her jealous colleagues.

Wait a second. Darren Aronofsky is just making the same movie over and over again. Isn't this The Wrestler in tights? Or maybe it's a The Wrestler/Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo hybrid. This should get bonus points for making ballet intriguing. I didn't think I was liking this movie much, but I'm a sucker for folks-losing-their-minds movies or these movies about artistic obsessions, and this one just kept getting better and better. And on any given day, the little Aronofsky tricks to make the experience of gracefully losing one's mind might be too much, but on the particular day, this was a thrill ride of emotions, a visceral and downright haunting experience. My movie-watching companion was freaked out, and at times this does grab you the way a classy horror movie might. Aronofsky distracts with lesbian action, writhing Natalie Portmans, some modern effects that seem straight out of a comic book superhero movie, and some difficult-to-watch body scenes. But the themes addressed are universal, and the story is complex enough to keep the mind involved throughout. Natalie Portman can do more than writhe. She can also look happy, look sad, and moan, and she does all that like an Oscar award winner should. And I know there's a bit of controversy about how much ballet dancing she actually did, but whatever amount of this was her was impressive. A lot of times, it's hard to buy the main character as a great musician or great athlete, especially if they're supposed to represent the very best. I was never not convinced that Nina was the best little swan princess around. And, as a bonus, she writhes! The structure of this is like a powerful rock song. It develops slowly and then reaches this amazing crescendo, all crashing emotions and flurries of intense beauty, perfectly aided by the score, mostly (appropriately)from Swan Lake. And it all looks so good. Aronofsky uses so much blacks and whites that it might as well be a black and white movie, and when you do get some other colors thrown in, especially during the climactic moments of both the movie and the ballet, it's almost shocking. Black Swan isn't perfect, but it's the perfect example of a movie that you finish with your mouth wide open and one that you can't quite shake from your head for a few hours afterward.