Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron

2002 horse movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A cartoon horse runs around the prairie, is captured by a guy with a mustache, escapes with the help of a Native American, hooks up with a girl horse, and listens to Brian Adams' music obsessively.

Is it just me or does it seem like half the movies I write about on here are cartoons? This is another old-school flat-D animated feature that, like The Iron Giant, more people should have bothered seeing. Actually, I have no idea how this one did in the theaters or with its subsequent dvd release. I do remember it coming out and the commercials boasting that it had "more action than Star Wars: Attack of the Clones" which Dylan and I thought was pretty funny at the time. Spirit: Stallion of the Blah Blah Blah doesn't even have Yoda! This does have a lot of solid action scenes though, enough to make it a horsey movie that boys would probably like. Vibrant music and animation perfecting capturing the American West circa when we was killin' all the Indians make this fun for both the eyes and ears, and I liked seeing the historical fiction narrative through the eyes of a horse. I liked the protagonist, voiced hunkily by Matt Damon back when he was skinny. Honestly though, one more Brian Adams song, and I would have left the house to find a horse to kick as hard as I could. This has a nice lively story with good themes for both the little ones and their parents. Dumb title though. It probably failed at the box office because nobody wanted to ask for tickets to see something called Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.

Paranormal Activity 2

2010 horror sequel

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Some demon thing is bullying a family, threatening to swipe their baby. And their little dog, too. It slams the cabinet door, makes messes, and stays out well past curfew. Oh, and it might be having sex with the pool cleaning device. If this is anything like the first movie [SPOILER ALERT: It kind of is.], then these people are probably going to die. And the dog. Dog's not making it either.

Second verse, same as the first? Except this bunch of paranormal activity involves a dog and a baby. The dog's good, maybe my favorite animal actor of the year. This builds suspense really well and has some moments that about made my stomach leave my body, but unless my recollection of the first movie is just wrong, the scares here are more of the loud, sudden noise or sudden movement variety than pure unadulterated psychological horror. This movie's got a pattern. It lulls you to sleep by showing you the series of blue-hued (see poster) security video where nothing is happening unless you count a pool cleaning robot thingy moving around as "something happening." But whereas the first Paranormal Activity movie managed to seem original despite borrowing heavily from Blair Witch, this one seems too much like a gimmicky Xeroxed copy. The acting's not bad although the dad doesn't always seem like a normal guy to me, and I'm still impressed with the no-budget affects and the amount of creepiness this conjures up. A lot of it is that it just takes away so much that is familiar about traditional horror movies--the music, a lurking camera, changes in perspective. The sameness of it all really creates a feeling of uneasiness. I do wonder how much the performances in this know beforehand or if the director just sticks them in situations and then makes things happen. I suppose that I could look that up, but I don't care about the movie enough to do it.

Spy Kids

2001 kid action movie

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Carmen and Juni don't even know that their parents are spies, but they are forced to play the spy game themselves when Mom and Dad are spynapped by an evil and eccentric genius.

First off, Danny Trejo is in this playing a character named Machete. So that's cool. I've gone ten years thinking that this is a pretty cool movie, especially for kids looking for an action movie to watch. Turns out that I was half wrong. This is a really dorky movie, and it's got some of the most annoying computer-generated special effects, effects that really make this seem like a live-action cartoon and just get in the way. Don't get me wrong. There's a creative spirit at play here that I do like. Any movie with this much color and with this many cool gadgets and bad guy cronies that look like giant walking hands can't be all bad. The leads give energetic performances. Antonio Banderas is as cool as can be, and Alan Cumming, even though he looks a little like Pee Wee, makes for an ok evil genius. The kids are as bad as you'd expect them to be, but they're not completely irritating. Well, actually that boy's hair is pretty irritating. I think it's CGI-hair. And Cheech Marin is also entirely CGI in this movie, I think. Anyway, the movie's kind of a mess. Rodriguez directs with vigor and makes an almost-fun movie here. It's just a tad bit too much.

For those of you who are fans of rich, Corinthian leather like I am, it should be noted that Ricardo Montalban is in two Spy Kids sequels.


2002 family fun

Rating: 2/20 (Dylan: 0/20; Emma: .5/20; Abbey: 20/20)

Plot: Pinocchio, as made by mentally challenged people.

"Who stole the salami?"

This may be the worst movie ever. Unless watching Roberto Benigni hop around like he's doing on the poster, only with less blue, is your cup of Pinocchio, you're not going to like this. Abbey claims to have liked it, but this might just confirm my theory that she's on drugs. At the 21 minute mark, Dylan started screaming in anger and ran upstairs. I continued watching but passed out and woke up later with the hair on half my head shaven. This is an ugly and stupid movie without a single redeeming quality. I will say this: We watched a dubbed version that is available on Netflix, and it was really tackily done. Sometimes, that can be comical; here, it's enough to make one old guy sick and a younger guy scream in anger and run off. Add to that some of the worst special effects you'll find. It's almost like there were real special effects, like Italian special effects or something, but the producers didn't think that Americans would understand them and dubbed them with really cheap C-studio special effects. A loud and painful movie.

Here's the question that I'm left with: What the hell is a puppet in Italy? Or a boy? Because a 50-year-old Roberto Benigni looked like neither. I think "puppet" must mean "ornery old man" or something over there. Or "one who inflicts great amounts of torment and pain." Or "character who is going to make your career much harder to defend to my friends."

Blood Tea and Red String

2006 stop-motion fairy tale

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Some bird-headed bipods and some upright white mice battle over the fluffy heart of a crudely-made doll. I can see why they're fighting though. That is one hot doll!

Matt knows how much I dig grotesque puppetry and recommended this one to me. It's not very long, and not-very-long is just about the right length since this one wore on me a little bit. I liked the characters and the entirely voiceless storytelling approach, and like most stop-motion geniuses, Christiane Cegavske's got a clever way about her, creatively but in an almost old-school way showing the movement of water or other non-character movement. This really does look like an old-school puppet production for children, only it's a bit too surreal and bloody and just plain weird. They do have the feel of those more kid-friendly Jiri Trnka films though with a fairy tale ambiance. And not unlike a Svankmajer movie, this utilizes sound effects really well. Cegavske does a terrific job creating this imaginative little world of hers, and she makes technical brilliance look so easy. I'd love to see more, but it seems that she's not in a situation where she's going to be prolific.

Winnie the Pooh

2011 cartoon

Rating: 15/20 (Jen: 13/20; Emma: 19/20; Abbey: 20/20; Sophie: too young to rate movies, especially ones this explicit)

Plot: Pooh wants honey, Eeyore's lost his tael, and Owl's got everybody convinced that a terrifying creature called a Backsoon has kidnapped Christopher Robin. It's just another afternoon in the bedroom of a terminally deranged young English boy. You just know that in a future sequel, Owl and Rabbit are going to convince him to start his classmates and/or parents. Actually, where are his parents in these movies? Somebody better check the freezer!

This is not your parents' Winnie the Pooh cartoon! No, in this one, Pooh Bear is disemboweled in what has to be the most horrifyingly grotesque scene this side of one of those Saw movies. Actually, this isn't a carbon copy of the older Disney Pooh material at all. It shares a love for childlike songs, endearingly simple and nostalgic animated backgrounds and characters, a wonderful playfulness, and sweet little stories. It actually does some things better than the original. It blends its stories, some from Milne's text and some created specially for this, really well, perfect for the no-attention-span of modern kiddos. The 2D animation doesn't look as flat as the characters weave in and out of their settings. And this is a whole lot funnier than the original with some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. This new Pooh's got a wackier tone that is different from its predecessor while not disrespecting the previous stories or its source material. (It should be noted that my wife, a Pooh aficionado, did seem offended by a lot of the goings-on here.) I also really liked the voicework despite having to initially get used to the slightly-different-sounding character voices. Some guy named Jim Cummings, an actor with a resume packed with versatile voice acting roles, does both Pooh and Tigger. We recognized Bud Luckey, the depressed clown in Toy Story 3, as (of course) Eeyore. Luckey's more of an animator than an actor, but he could make a career out of voicing depressed characters. Checking imdb.com, it looks like he's got a handful of roles on the animated horizon--suicidal monkey, despondent puppet, moody Amish guy, heartbroken octopus. One of my favorite people, Craig Ferguson, is perfect as Owl, and John Cleese should win some kind of award for not making me miss Sebastian Cabot. I didn't care much for the songs in this one although there were some clever lyrics. Pooh's a briskly-paced barely hour-long breezy flick that's great for young children and funny enough for older ones. And it might help Disney make a buttload of money with children's clothes and stuffed animals, so everybody wins!

13 Ghosts

1960 horror-comedy with really hard-to-see ghosts

Rating: 12/20

Plot: A family inherits a haunted house with 12 of the titular 13 ghosts. Luckily for them, they also inherited some special glasses that will allow them to see the ghosts. Then, Scooby Doo comes along and eats everything!

I wish William Castle was my grandpa. I don't even know why I want him to be my grandpa, but I do. 13 Ghosts starts with some of his goofball narration about the whole ghost-viewer gimmick, Illusion-O or whatever it's called. It's these glasses things where you use the red part to see the ghosts or the blue part to make the ghosts disappear. Or vice versa. I didn't pay much attention because I didn't have a ghost viewer. And that made it annoying when the words "Use Viewer" or "Remove Viewer" flashed on the screen. I could sort of see the ghosts at that time, but I had to squint, and I really only like squinting when I'm watching Clint Eastwood movies. I could hear the ghosts a little, too, despite any special ghost hearing aides. They sounded like cartoon chipmunks. The opening of this movie starts promising enough with some splashy paint effects and a picture that looks a little like Voldemort. The best part of the movie is about seven minutes in when a telegram guy (David Hoffman) slides on screen. It's easily the creepiest part of the movie. The housekeeper is played by the Wicked Witch herself, Margaret Hamilton, and although she's got the ears for the part, she looks bored out of her mind here. I did get to learn all about the Ouija Board in this. Yes, it's got one of those cliched Ouija Board (here pronounced Wee-Juh; have I been pronouncing it wrong all this time? It's not Wee-Gee?) scenes. Anyway, I did get to learn the etymology of Wee-Juh and the rule that it won't answer if you ask it a silly question. As a whole, this thing is weak on plot and gimmick and isn't successfully funny or scary.

The Tree of Life

2011 piece of abstract art

Rating: 18/20 (Mark: 17/20; Amy: 15/20)

Plot: In the beginning, there was darkness. Yadda yadda yadda. A dinosaur farts. A kid dies. Then, darkness again. The end.

Absolutely staggering, and this despite me not listening to Larstonovich and seeing in a movie theater. I'll go ahead and get my gripe out of the way: I was not a big fan of the whispered multi-character narration in this. I almost would have rather seen the almost completely wordless series of images that this would have been. The structure of Malick's family drama is going to frustrate a lot of people who see this. It's non-linear and episodic, excluding big moments in order to include minutia and memory tidbits, blending dream with the most mundane of human interactions, piling metaphor on metaphor and metaphor. That's what it is really, an orgy of metaphor. Metaphor porn, and if you're into that sort of thing, you'll get off while watching The Tree of Life. There's a story here, but it's a puzzle, like a fragile piece of porcelain that Malick has ballping-hammered into fine pieces and many years later attempted to glue back together again. This is one of those movies that almost speaks its own language. You clutch onto what's familiar--the actors, who I thought were good only because they didn't get in the way; the gorgeous visuals that you'd expect from something Malick took this long to put together; the haunting, largely classical score. And if you're like me, while you're working hard in the beginning to clutch on to something and trying desperately to put the pieces of the puzzle together or wondering why the hell there are dinosaurs, the movies going to clutch back. This one got a grip on me and still hasn't let go. It's poetry on the screen, big and ambitious and more than a little pretentious, a visceral experience that I think I'll carry in my bones for a long, long time. Was this storyboarded?

Malick apparently has four movies in production or filming. That would nearly double his output from the last 28 years!

The Iron Giant

1999 giant robot movie

Rating: 17/20 (Dylan: 12/20; Emma: 6/20; Abbey: 16/20)

Plot: Hogarth finds a new large metallic buddy one day. Unfortunately, the government wants to destroy him. With the help of a guy who owns a junkyard, he tries to keep a monstrous hunk of metal that is impossible to hide hidden.

Brad Bird's second best movie, The Iron Giant is a humorous and ultimately touching E.T. clone that succeeds on almost every level. I did have to deduct points for the lame Superman reference at the end though because it was just too much. The 1950s are captured perfectly with beautiful animation. I especially like the way the titular robot contrasts with nature, the visuals contributing to a theme, I guess. There are shots that, although maybe not as beautiful as some recent CGI-shots, are almost frameworthy. The giant itself is a sympathetic character. You can identify with him even though he's not a human character both as he struggles with identity and has tanks shooting at him. Of course, he is an anthropomorphized robot, the kind you can only get in a cartoon. This is a simple story animated simply with a great score and hardly a single wasted moment. It's a great last splash of 2D wonder before computer animation would completely take over.

John Mahoney's also got a part in this. I knew a guy who was in a movie with John Mahoney who was Frasier's dad. And Kevin Bacon was in an episode of Frasier which means there are only four degrees of separation between Kevin Bacon and me.

Shrek the Third

2007 sequel

Rating: 9/20

Plot: Shrek doesn't want to be the next king, so he and his friends travel to locate a true heir to the throne. Meanwhile, Prince Charming is still ticked off after the last movie failed to end the way he wanted it to, and he attempts to take over the throne himself. Oh, snap!

Well, they're just going through the motions now. I lost interest in the plot of this one almost right off the bat, and the characters, none of which I actually like at all, are even more grating here than they are in the first movie. There's not a single laugh to be had here, and the novelty that makes the first movie tolerable is almost completely gone. It's replaced with the reverberating sound of a cash register actually. I wish Dreamworks would grow a pair and kill a couple of these characters off. Pinocchio? Have him sawed in half? Gingerbread Man? Didn't he have his legs bitten off in the first movie? You know what else Dreamworks gets wrong here? There's a scene where a character actually does die, and they stomp all over it with halfassed humor. Then, they have a funeral scene where I'm actually supposed to be sad. In the fifteen minutes when this is all going on, they manhandle both emotions and leave me wondering why they even bothered. Why didn't they just have Shrek fart in Donkey's face for fifteen minutes instead? Pop songs, general loudness, allusions that aren't as clever as anybody thinks they are. This is just tired. They made a fourth one of these?

I've always wondered. You know how foreign countries translate the names of American movies and they sometimes turn out kind of funny? I wonder if this one is translated as Farting Moody Monster in Vietnam or somewhere? Somebody research that for me.

Red State

2011 shoot-'em-upper

Rating: 8/20

Plot: Some dumb kids use the Internet to find a cougar willing to have sex with, but they end up abducted by a religious cult with a leader who wants to kill them because they're homosexuals.

I stopped following Kevin Smith on Twitter after watching this movie. Said to myself, "I just can't follow somebody who made this movie on Twitter." Yeah, I've seen worse movies, but this one seems to have an agenda which makes it even worse. This is a movie that thinks it's more intelligent than it is when the truth is that Kevin Smith really isn't a very good director and doesn't have much of a story to tell here anyway. You put your characters in a mildly horrifying situation (note: This isn't really a horror movie as promised on the poster up there. It's definitely more of an actioner.), go nowhere with it, and then have a scene where everybody is shooting at each other that takes up about half the movie. The biggest problem is that you don't really care about any of the characters. This is a movie that doesn't really have a good guy. It's bad vs. bad, and unless everybody gets it in the end, you're not going to be satisfied. Speaking of the ending, how ridiculous does this thing end? The cutesy little trick that Kevin Smith pulls here should cause him embarrassment. The lone good thing about this movie? The performance of the versatile Michael Parks as the preacher man. In the hands of another director, this character and performance could have been something. In Kevin Smith's hands? Not so much. Kevin Smith, you just lost yourself a Twitter follower. And I'm a guy who follows Neil Hamburger!

The Start of a New "Man" Movie Streak: Winnebago Man

2009 documentary

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Jack Rebney's his name although nobody knew that when they laughed through a collection of outtakes and bloopers on the Youtube featuring the guy cursing up a storm and throwing hissy fits while trying to extol the features of the Winnebago for the company. Filmmaker Ben Steinbauer decides to dig the guy up and see how he feels about his Internet fame. He discovers a complicated man.

I never really liked Jack Rebney here, but I was intrigued by him. He played a character here, knowing that the camera was on him and that he would possibly be seen by dozens of people watching this movie, but the character he played was so inconsistent. The original footage that gave Rebney his Internet fame is funny enough and there are plenty of other humorous moments in this, but there are also some really touching moments. Rebney really is a complex figure, one who will not be worthy of a documentary for a lot of people who stumble across this, and I never really could pin him down. I thought the director kind of got in the way a few times and kind of wished he had less screen time. Made the whole thing seem self-indulgent or something. In fact, he got in the way so much that the climax has a sort-of forced feel to it, made Steinbauer seem more like a wrench-happy handyman than a chronicler of events. Rebney would have taken this in one direction that might not have been as interesting, but Steinbauer manipulates things and takes it in the direction he wants to go. Not that it doesn't work out just fine because it does, but it seems a little more forced than it should have. There's a little insight on the nature of unwanted fame, so easy to find with our 21st Century resources, and it made me wonder what Warhol would have to say about the Internet and our 15 minutes of fame. I also wonder how many idiots are going to go bug this guy after figuring out where he lives.


1976 movie with a title you have to put [sic] after when typing

Rating: 2/20

Plot: Scientists in Mexico discover half-people/half-octopi and piss one of them off. It responds in the only way an octaman [sic] knows how--tentacle slapping.

"How can I believe that there's a creature with arms of a sea creature that walks like a man?"

See, in Octaman, they don't make you wait to see the monster like in a lot of 70's B-monster-flicks. No, the guy in the rubber suit is all over this one, so the audience gets to be disappointed within the first ten minutes of the movie. I imagine some movie theaters would even give a person his money back within the first ten minutes of the movie, right? I thought I recognized the director's name--Harry Essex. He seems to have had a nice Hollywood writing career, but didn't direct very much. Octaman, as you'd guess from its quality, is the last movie he was allowed to direct. There's a David Essex acting in this movie, and this is his only movie credit. I'm just going to imagine that this entire movie was made because it was David's dream of being in a movie and Harry wanted to help him out. I really liked during the opening credits when it said that the movie, which is called Octaman, is "starring The Octaman." The rest of this thing doesn't disappoint. You get a liberal use of what I imagine was referred to as Octa-cam, lots of really awkward shifts to found footage, day-night continuity errors galore, and what might be the worst special effect featuring an octopus baby ever--the moving of an octababy that was actually Rick Baker's work. I'm sure it's not something he includes on his resume. There's a colorful crew of characters including some Mexicans who sing the exact two songs that you'd have them sing if you didn't know anything about Mexico but wanted your characters to seem Mexican. Go ahead and take a guess at the two songs they sit around and sing. I'll give you some time to think about it. Did you guess? You're right! "Cielito Lindo" (Aye-yi-yi-yi) and "Jarabe Tapatio" (The Mexican Hat Dance song). My favorite character might be Fake Cowboy #3 though, a guy who talks about King Kong as if nobody would have ever heard of that movie ever. Of course, with any monster movie, the real fun is watching the monster wreak havoc on its victims, and you get plenty of that here. Well, if you call flailing around action. And then there's a scene in which the titular beasts both slaps and squeezes, and it's double the mayhem. My favorite scene, and a scene that has to be the best use of a dummy I've seen in a long time, is when the man in the rubber suit throws a guy off a cliff after slapping his eye halfway out. But that's not just a flash in the pan bit of genius. You get Ernest P. Worrell giving a speech about environmental responsibility and saying cool things like "I don't savvy all that talk." Twice. Essex must have really been proud of that line. There's also a really cool scene where a guy is carving a little figurine out of a chunk of wood. Another character says, "You have talent, Evido," probably because they're all waiting around for the monster to attack again and have nothing else to talk about. But you have to see the carving that this guy made. A two-year-old with a knife could make what Evido did. But oh, that monster. See, a lesser director would realize that his monster looks completely ridiculous and that people are going to laugh and make sure to not include too many scenes with it, all in the name of building suspense or something. Not Harry Essex. Here's a guy who understands the potential for comedy and includes the Octaman in nearly every scene. You get to see him fight an alligator or crocodile or whatever the hell they have in Mexico, and you get a terrific scene where he slaps an RV and makes it bleed. There's also this inexplicable moment where he walks past a half-decayed cat. Just a terrifying monster. Well, until you realize that all you have to do to save yourself from his vengeance is yell "Back! Back!" Highly recommended if you enjoy stupid crap.

Being John Malkovich

1999 head trip about somebody's head

Rating: 18/20

Plot: A loser puppeteer gets a real job and discovers a portal leading to the inside of actor John Malkovich's head. He tells the cute woman he's crushing on at work about it, and she begins dreaming of ways to exploit it and turn a profit. The puppeteer's life begins to spiral out of control.

Here's a John Cusack movie that I like. I remember watching this when it came out and just digging how fresh it all seemed. It made me laugh, it made me think, and it made me fall in love with Catherine Keener. She's just so playful and cute here, and yes, I'm typing that fully aware that my wife is going to be reading it. Her response of "We'll see" to the question "What happens when a man goes through his own portal?" might be my favorite moment in any movie ever. I already loved John Malkovich although I can't say I was exactly in love with him, and this performance is brave and inspired. It's hard enough to play yourself accurately but when you're playing this satirical inflated version of yourself? Now that I think about it, my favorite moment in any movie ever might actually be when some random driver-by yells, "Hey, Malkovich, think fast!" before hitting him in the head with something. But yeah, Malkovich is brave here. Doing an interpretive dance in a towel, poking fun at his celebrity, possibly convincing audiences of this movie that he's good friends with Charlie Sheen. Actually, that's one of my favorite tidbits from this--learning that Charlie Sheen gets Malkovich's leftovers. Who knew? My favorite moment (and quite possibly the best few minutes of any movie in the history of cinema) is the delirious trip Malkovich takes through his own head. I giggled myself to the point of exhaustion, passed out, and woke up a week later facedown in the mud during that scene. Bonus points given for Keener, a monkey, and puppets, but most of these points come from the raw, arguably film-school-quality creativity and the willingness everybody involved had to take this wild concept and run with it.

For all you Andy Dick completists, he is in this one.

Cars 2

2011 sequel

Rating: 12/20 (Jen: 14/20; Dylan: 10/20; Emma: 4/20; Abbey: 10/20)

Plot: Lightning McQueen takes a challenge and travels to Europe to race against some cool European cars. While there, his friend becomes an embarrassing distraction, and the tow truck somehow winds up in the middle of this dangerous spy adventure.

The first Cars movie isn't one of Pixar's best, but it at least had some heart. The end gets to me, and the movie's worth seeing to watch the main character grow, to enjoy Paul Newman's performance as a crotchety old race car, and to appreciate the nostalgic little message. This movie has none of those things. It's one comic gag or cartoon slapstick scene after another, and most of the comedy doesn't work, at least for somebody like me who was more annoyed than amused with the character of Mater in the first movie. See, this one's got Mater as the star of the show, and it just doesn't work. It's like making C3PO the main character in a Star Wars movie. I wouldn't even agree that the character works in small doses, but an entire movie of Mater? I didn't ask for that, Pixar! I don't believe he says "Get 'R Done" in this one, something that dropped the first one at least a full point, but he does "Shoo-oot" enough to make me want to gouge my ears out. I kind of enjoyed some of the spy stuff with some action sequences and realistic animation that reminded me a lot of The Incredibles. The background and scenery animation is really great, and I liked a couple visual references to other Pixar movies. I'm also still amazed at Pixar's ability to inject so much personality into these car characters with very subtle facial expressions. But the story was too frenetic and unfocused, the spy stuff ran out of steam, and the comedy never worked for me at all. The movie's as shiny as a bucket of newly-minted quarters, but it just lacks that heart that I've come to expect from a Pixar movie. This is the first from the studio that I really have no desire to see again.

Curse of the Swamp Monster

1966 Larry Buchanan movie

Rating: 2/20

Plot: A crazy scientist conducts experiments on the indigenous people who live down the swamp (by the way, I think this takes place in Texas, but these natives are a pretty primitive people), attempting to make himself a pet Swamp Thing. Hey! That's kind of like the guy in Human Centipede actually! Some folks come looking for oil and interfere with his plans.

Forget the Human Centipede Halloween costume idea. I'll just go as this Larry Buchanan monster that he apparently uses in multiple films. This is the same creature that was in my Manos Award Winner It's Alive! from a couple years ago. Well, it's similar anyway. Thing is, I'm pretty sure I could put together the costume easily enough, too.

Larry Buchanan is fast becoming one of my favorite directors, and this one was no disappointment. The scientist, played by Jeff Alexander (crazy scientist in Buchanan's Zontar, too), is really great. I really didn't know what a head could look like his, and he reminded me of a cross between James Taylor and John Malkovich but more jovial than either. He's got himself a greenhouse with alligators (or crocodiles, whatever lives in the swamps of Texas) swimming in what appears to be milk. He also gets really scientific things to say, ramblings about "gill transplants," "acute congestion," how his "dear Mrs. Wesley" will be a "perfect subject for the new derivatives" and be an "instantaneous transformation." He also wears his sunglasses inside which might make him the coolest mad scientist ever. Speaking of inside, all the interior shots contain the shadow of a ceiling fan. I'm not sure if that's a Buchanan stylistic touch or an accident, but I liked it. Who puts a light over a ceiling fan? The sound effects are especially bad. There are times when the scientist and Richie are talking when it seems like Richie is a couple rooms over. There's also this incessant jungle drumming that maybe explains why the scientist is so batty to begin with. Richie's death scene is one of the best I've seen in a while, by the way. And Richie, you were just warned five minutes early to stay away from the quicksand, weren't you? Loved his weakly yelled "Help me" while he sank though. Richie's also the character who abducts one of the natives (one wearing jeans and tennis shoes during a really lengthy dance sequence) and gets the line of the movie, one delivered breathlessly: "I've been watching you dance. Be good, baby. There's nobody here but us chickens." Although, Alexander's delivery of "My beautiful indestructible fishman" is also nice. Indestructible, by the way? These things actually seem to die pretty easily. I also got a kick out of this bit of dialogue:

Doctor Bald Head: How can you locate oil without equipment? Seismographs?
Oil Guy: [Sigh] It isn't easy.

This movie's got some of the most awkward pacing you'll ever see with lots of extended shots of random snakes, guys staring at lizards, guys smiling at lizards. It's also got some bitchin' fight scenes. I could have sworn during an early fight that one of the characters had this expression on his face that asked "Hey, shouldn't we choreograph something like this?" About eight minutes later, there's a weird motel room fight scene that repeats sound effects and features a guy with his pants tucked into his boots. That's right, folks. If you're looking for an action-packed Larry Buchanan movie to enjoy this weekend, Curse of the Swamp Monster is worth checking out.

The Human Centipede: First Sequence

2009 entomologists delight

Rating: 10/20

Plot: Two women get lost in the woods after their rental car breaks down, and they wind up drugged by a sadistic doctor who, along with another poor guy, wants to use them to make the titular pet monster. None of the three are too happy about it.

I watched this because it was highly recommended by my brother who claims that it's the third best horror movie of all time. I'm honestly not sure it's a horror movie and laughed (inwardly, because they'll commit you if you laugh out loud at this sort of thing) more than I was scared, sort-of enjoying it almost as a black-psychocomedy. Most of the fun comes from the brilliantly comic performance of German Dieter Laser as Dr. Mengele or whatever his name is. Like a German Christopher Walken, he's got this face that would make most people think, "I don't know. Maybe I shouldn't drink water that this guy offers me." When he's working to cover his tracks, shooting somebody while the victim is pooping, opening a door, lethally injecting somebody with an evil stare that seems like that might be the actual cause of death instead of the injection itself, saying "Bite my boot!", or doing a chicken impression, Laser never fully convinces as creepy exactly but is 100% entertaining. My favorite scene is when he's explaining the impending surgery to the three future sections of his centipede and uses these rudimentary drawings. I also liked that the cinematographer's name was Goof de Kooning. I wish the other actors in this were a little better. They played things straight, screaming and ruining their mascara with copious tears, and although I can't imagine this being any good if they had played it any other way, the performances clashed with the comic tones. This movie wasn't nearly the gross-out fest I feared. It's actually about as tame as a movie with people's mouths being surgically attached to people's anuses can be, I think. I wouldn't call this the third best horror movie ever and I'm not going to rush out and see what will inevitably turn out to be eight or nine sequels, but I'm not totally disappointed that I watched this.

Seriously. Goof de Kooning.

Anybody want to go trick or treating with me dressed as the Human Centipede?

Shrek 2

2004 sequel

Rating: 12/20

Plot: The lovably flatulent ogre is back, fresh from his honeymoon with the fat chick. There's no time to just sit around and enjoy his swamp and his new married life though because the poor guy's got problems with his donkey, his in-laws, and an intrusive fairy godmother. And there's a cat in this one.

Dreamworks didn't really take advantage of their chance to make a half dozen or so Puss jokes, did they? I believe somebody at Dreamworks must be related to somebody in the Eels because they're in this movie and the first one. And I heard them in the third one, the Shrek movie I couldn't even finish, a few days ago. Speaking of music, here's the main question I have about this movie--the first time we meet the Captain Hook character singing at a piano in an inn, he's got Tom Waits' voice. But the second time, he's Nick Cave. What gives? I don't really like the more meandering story in this one, and the new characters, with the exception of the cat voiced by none other than Ricardo Montalban (well, he should have been), do nothing for me. The humor's flat, and I think the makers of this make a huge mistake with the kiddies when they give the characters they're used to completely different appearances for a lengthy amount of time. It was probably to sell action figures or something. Too many loud pop songs, too many pop culture references, and yes, too many fart jokes.

Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary

2002 silent vampire ballet

Rating: 16/20

Plot: It's Dracula but with a lot more dancing. Oh, and the titular vampire is Asian or, as people in the late 19th Century would say, Oriental.

It's shane-movies favorite Guy Maddin with his take on Bram's vampire tale, and if you like silent movies and ballet, you're bound to love this movie. Or if you're a fan of Maddin's neo-silent style and unique visual flair. This one's all about the flair really because the Dracula thing doesn't do a whole lot for me. Either Guy Maddin puts a tremendous amount of time and care into constructing each shot (and there are a lot of shots in this one--there are action sequences where things whip by at such a frenzied clip that it makes you old school dizzy) or he's some kind of savant. Creative set design, all those obscene camera angles that are all the rage, and experimental flashes of color make this one a visual stunner. Yes, there's plenty of ballet dancing, but it never gets in the way of the story and doesn't seem all that stagy to me. And mercifully, they dance in snippets generally with only a few longer numbers. And thankfully, though the story's obviously stuffed with a lot of dark vampire-on-vampire action, you still get some of Maddin's dry humor, especially in the use of words that appear on the screen. At least I think those are supposed to be funny. If not, then I feel bad. I really wasn't looking forward to this one, probably because I thought it would be more this than this. That and I didn't want my readers to accuse me of jumping on the vampire bandwagon. But like the rest of this guy's stuff (love that pun!), this is an idiosyncratic treat!

The Royal Tenenbaums

2001 tragi-comedy

Rating: 18/20 (Jen: fell asleep)

Plot: The estranged Tenenbaum patriarch decides, possibly for financial reasons, that he wants relationships with his wife and kids. They all have various problems.

How can a movie be this funny and sad at the same time? A lot of the credit has to go to the writing(Owen Wilson and Wes Anderson, maybe not in that order) but a lot of it belongs to the ensemble cast, fantastic from top to bottom. That includes the two mini-Stillers in the red jumpsuits on the poster there. And you, narrator Alec Baldwin! This is like a cartoon with real human beings, only they're not real human beings at all and this has a lot more color. My favorite thing about this movie are the little details, the way Anderson shades the corners of his shots by adding random dalmation mice or having all those little paintings on the walls of the Tenenbaum home. Seriously, you could watch this movie four thousand times and not be able to absorb everything to see. It's the comic timing that makes you laugh here at all these lines that you're not normally supposed to laugh at, like Bill Murray's "I want to die." And anything that Kumar Pallana says. That guy's probably our greatest living actor, and I'm not even exaggerating when I say that. And yes, this is the kind of thing where if you argue with me, I'll hit you in the head with a rake. This isn't a movie for everybody, but I do think it's an acquired taste. Watch it those four thousand times, and I bet the same things that I love will be the same things that you love--the hilariously troubled characters, the pacing, the happy chaos, the soundtrack, the unflinching wardrobe. Nah, a large chunk of the audience will probably gag on the style. Gene Hackman, sans towel, gives a performance in this that I think is special, building this uncomfortable rapport with every other character and nailing every single line he's given. Especially "Let's shag ass." Sloppy, sloopy, full of whimsy, teetering on the edge, and never predictable, this is just one of those that I enjoy watching the fourth or fifth time just as much as the first.

Mexican artist--Miguel Calderon. See? I'm not that lazy.

Criminal Lovers

1999 French movie

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Oh, those crazy teenagers! Pretty Alice convinces a naive virgin named Luc to help her murder a classmate. They flee to the woods like Hanzel and Gretel and wind up kidnapped by a guy who likes to take baths. Oh, snap! Seduction occurs.

Watching this Francois Ozon movie left me feeling about the same as I did when watching the other Francois Ozon movie on my blog. There are ideas, a few interesting shots, a general feel that I almost liked. It just doesn't congeal, and I was ready for the whole thing to be over pretty quickly. Apparently, I like my French movies more whimsical and lilting and light. I didn't really have issues with any of the pieces of this movie, but it didn't add up to anything that resonates. It hangs around, festers a bit, has a surprise, clunks along some more, and then ends in a way that left me apathetic and wishing I had watched Bonnie and Clyde or a French version of "Hansel and Gretel" with grotesque puppets. And yeah, I realize that's not saying anything at all since I'm going to choose grotesque puppets over anything else nearly every time. This is colored in a style that makes it all flat when it should be vibrant or suspenseful, and it's realistic in almost a stifling way where Ozon should have taken more advantage of the fairy tale parallels to create something more dreamy and timeless. This is a movie that just nearly takes challenges and seems halfassed because of it. Plus, we never get to see the gal naked. Natacha Regnier, by the way, was married to Yann Tiersen, the guy who did the music for Amelie. And that, friends, is how you end a blog post with information that absolutely nobody cares about. You know, as opposed to the rest of what's on this blog.

FINAL Urine Couch AM Movie Club: Kindergarten Cop

1990 action comedy

Rating: 6/20

Plot: A cop has to pose as a kindergarten teacher in order to find a drug dealer. It's just like a Fast and the Furious movie except with children replacing the cars.

It's my final Urine Couch AM Movie Club selection, and it makes me a little sad. I don't know what Gene Siskel's ghost is going to do without me actually. Probably try to find a transvestite, drug dealer, trucker, or whore or some combination of those to sit in the lobby and watch movies with.

First off, Arnold's performance in this is one of the worst "big name" performances ever. It's got to be. He stumbles his way through this one, fitting into a comedy like seven ham hocks trying to fit into a latex glove. It's awkward and messy! And I'm not sure who was in charge of his wardrobe, but I'd guess that person never worked in Hollywood again. Or I could be wrong and the various outfits he wore in this were part of the comedy. He starts the thing in this glasses/stubble/trenchcoat ensemble that, along with his size, made him stand out way too much for an undercover cop. Later, he's wearing these jeans that are the oddest color of pant that I believe I've ever seen. He's dressed up at one point as a farmer, singing through "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" with ukulele accompaniment, and yes, that's as wonderful as it sounds. But that's not the most ridiculous outfit they even put him in! No, that would have to be the V-neck with gray sweatpants that made it completely obvious that Arnold Swarzenegger has never actually been a real person. As ridiculous as his wardrobe makes him look, his acting is what makes him aggressively ridiculous. And I'll say it again--this has to be right up there with the worst acting performances of all time. He spends the majority of the movie doing this actually:

That's a face that 99.9% of people just can't make. And I guess that's something. You know how all those 80's action movies gave Arnold those great one-liners? This has all kinds of them! My favorites:

"I'm the party pooper." Come on. That's classic.
"I'm the new kindergarten teacher." You have to read that with the same intonation he used with "I'll be back."
"It's not a tumor. It's not a tumor at all!"
"Good. Now we are having fun." (Picture him with a ferret for this one.)
"What's that? It's a fire alarm! Aaahh!"
"Hi, kids! I'm back." (One of the more touching moments in the movie. What am I saying? One of the most touching moments in movie history!)

You also get to see Arnold threaten children comically, participate in a two-legged race, and act all tough in some scenes where this transforms from a comedy to what seems to be the worst television cop drama of all time. He throws down hard, too, like he's making up for all the time lost shooting those scenes with the kids. He is, after all, the party pooper. Speaking of those kids, they act circles around him. The kids are a lot funnier in this than Arnold, especially when given a chance to improvise. The scripted stuff is lousy though. One kid gets a recurring line that somebody should have been shot for writing--"Boys have a penis; girls have a vagina." The second time the kid says it, he finishes it with a flourish of unnatural arm pumps that Arnold probably taught him between scenes. That kid's name is Miko Hughes, and shane-movies aficionados will be interested to know that he was Billy Robberson in Cops and Robbersons, a movie I've never actually seen. Don't be surprised if you see Miko Hughes' name turn up on my end-of-the-year post. I'm also fond of this bit of dialogue:

"He's a poo-poo head."
"He's a poo-poo face."
"Yeah, he's a cocka poo-poo."

The bad guy's got a ponytail. Did I not mention that? This movie also has one of the most exciting action sequences I've ever seen. I don't want to give too much away, but there's a ferret bite, a gunshot, an Arnold slow-motion dive for a gun, another gunshot, and more exaggerated motions than you'd see if you were watching a pair of mimes.

Urine Couch AM Movie Club: 2 Fast 2 Furious

2003 disappointing sequel

Rating: 9/20

Plot: The disgraced former cop from the first movie--you know, the guy with the hair--cuts a deal and agrees to work with an old buddy to help catch a bigtime drug dealer.

That's right! Got to watch these mo-fos back-to-back in the lobby where a Urine Couch used to be. I figured it would be more of the same, but this one bored me to tears. I think it's because the characters move around too much. Boring Paul Walker and his boring face get a sidekick, Tyrese, a guy who seems dynamic only because he gets to work with Paul Walker for the entire movie. Nothing in this derivative plot grabbed me, and I don't think I liked a single character. This really seemed hastily thrown together, an obvious effort to get this to theaters before fans of the first movie forgot there was a first movie. I'm just taking a guess that typical The Fast and the Furious fans are the type of people who forget things. You get some cool cars and a few more-of-the-same action sequences with the cool cars, but this one was so boring that it actually made me want to do motel work. And, folks, that's saying something. Biggest problem: No Vin Diesel. And there's a sentence that I never figured I would type. I wonder if watching a television edit of this affected my level of enjoyment. Regardless, I don't have any interest at all in seeing any of the other ten or so sequels. Then again, Vin Diesel is in three of them.

Urine Couch AM Movie Club: The Fast and the Furious

2001 car movie

Rating: 13/20

Plot: An undercover prettyboy cop gets himself involved with some illegal street racers with snazzy cars in order to discover who's been hijacking semis. They're also known loiterers!

So, c'mon. Does this kind of street racing really go on? You'd think you'd want a less conspicuous car if you're going to be involved in this sort of thing. This is actually the second time I've watched this movie, and I liked it about the same both times--a little more than I thought I would but not quite enough to understand why there's about twenty more of them. The ultra-modern car race scenes are full of flash, quick zooms, nifty computer-generated shots of the innards of these cars, and good looking people looking all intense. The story's intriguing regardless of how unoriginal it really is or how paperthin and uninteresting the protagonist might be, and things don't really fall apart until the end when too many characters compete for camera time and the stunts completely take over. I did like the bit of moral dilemma that the cop has even though Paul Walker or whatever his name is plays the part like he decided he acting was just about "playing things cool" and making sure your hairs are all in the right place. He's got to have about the most boring face that I've ever seen, too. Believe it or not, I did like Vin Diesel. He's no "Macho Man" Randy Savage or anything, but he's the exact right guy for this role. And he's got a head shape that is difficult to argue with. And at least he's not Chad Lindberg who apparently is channeling Bobcat Goldthwait to play Extraneous Character #4--Jesse. For me, this one fails when it shifts gears (ahh, see what I did there?) and focuses on the romance between the cop and Vin Diesel's sister. This is a movie that just should have stayed in Guy Mode. For sports car enthusiasts or fans of bright blurring colors, this has a lot to offer. No, it's not the most realistic movie that I've ever seen, and you have to sit through some lulls, but I've definitely seen worse action movies. I don't understand cars at all and didn't have any idea what this crew of mechanics and street racers were talking about a lot of the time, so I'm likely not part of the demographic they had in mind when filming this thing.