Oprah Movie Club: Joe vs. the Volcano

1990 romantic comedy

Rating: 16/20 (Jen: 13/20)

Plot: The titular loser's stuck in a dead-end and depressing job in the depths of a gray building where artificial testicles, amongst other things, are made. As a hypochondriac, he makes frequent trips to the doctor. He complains that he doesn't feel right, and a doctor informs him that he has brain cloud and only five to six months to live. Joe quits his job with style and takes a secretary out. The next day, an eccentric gazillionaire shows up and makes Joe a proposition. He wants to pay for Joe to travel to a Pacific Island and throw himself in a volcano so that he can get his hands on a mineral needed to make superconductors. Yeah, I'm not sure that made much sense either. Joe agrees, buys a lot of stuff with Ossie Davis, and then begins his journey.

So how cute is that Meg Ryan? I've always been apathetic when it comes to Meg Ryan, but I was really impressed with the trio of characters she played here--the secretary, the flibbertigibbet (Full disclosure: I had to give this movie a bonus point for using flibbertigibbet.), and the yacht lady. Cute as a freakin' button, no? Tom Hanks? Well, I was distracted by his hair in this one, maybe even more than I was when I watched The Da Vinci Code. He's kind of like the straight man in this giant cosmic joke played on his character, and the performers around him, even though they're barely more than cameos, are memorable and a lot of fun. I always enjoy Dan Hedaya, and he's funny as Joe's boss with all those repeated lines about how so-and-so can get the job but can he do the job. Robert Stack plays the coolest-sounding doctor ever, Lloyd Bridges is hilarious as Graynamore, and it's always good to see Ossie Davis. The luggage salesman (Barry McGovern), Abe Vigoda, Nathan Lane. They're all great periphery characters. You really have to be willing to let go of the real world and just accept the way things happen in this movie, but if you do, I think this one's a rewarding experience. It's like a fairy tale with a little more depth, a story about letting go, taking chances, and living the big life that you've been given. It's probably too surreal and free-floating for the rom-com crowd and too goofy and Meg Ryan-y for a lot of people, but I thought it had enough giant dogs to make it worth anybody's time. And hammerhead shark puppets! That made me laugh. This one's worth watching multiple times, by the way, to catch some recurring imagery (check out that lampshade) and repeated lines (lots of "soul" stuff here).

Joe vs. the Volcano was Barry's pick for the Oprah Movie Club.

Young Frankenstein

1974 comedy classic

Rating: 18/20

Plot: A descendant of Dr. Frankenstein tries his best to live a life of obscurity but can't escape his famous ancestor's reputation. He inherits his castle, gets himself a hunchbacked Igor and a sexy laboratory assistant, and finds the notorious doctor's secret library. He begins to experiment.

I'm just going to say it--Gene Wilder's work in this is the greatest acting performance of all time. Let me make sure I'm being clear here because I'm not just talking about a performance in a comedy or a performance by a person with hair like that. I'm talking about the greatest acting performance of all time. His highs and lows are pitch perfect, and so is his comic timing. And I just love it when Gene gets mad. It's exhilarating, and I would honestly not be surprised to open a National Geographic and find an article about a tribe of people in some country I've never heard of who do nothing with their time but chew on leaves and have religious experiences while watching scenes from Gene Wilder movies. Now I'll accept one argument to my claim that this is the greatest acting performance of all time. Only one though--that Gene Wilder tops himself as Wonka. I'll give you that. The psychedelic boat ride scene with that creepy poem is about as good as it gets. But his work in Young Frankenstein has got to be in the top two. The rest of this cast is great, too. Love Feldman's hammy Igor, Boyle's monster, Leachman's Frau Blucher, and Teri Garr's Inga, the latter with sex appeal that rivals Mamma Fratelli's. Kenneth Mars' inspector character isn't around much but nearly steals every scene he's in with a Peter Sellers-esque role. Not all the gags work here, expected with something that Mel Brooks put together, but when this connects, it hits hard. Fans of childish word play will have a head start. And I really like how Brooks keeps things classic with the black and white, the score, and the elongated exterior and interior shots of the castle. One could argue, by the way, that things go a little too far with a song and dance number when Frankenstein and his creation perform "Puttin' on the Ritz" as it almost clashes with that classic feel. But you know what? Just thinking about that scene cracks me up so much that it's difficult to both type and swallow. And I know that tribe in the National Geographic loves that scene. That's probably why they don't wear pants actually!

Me: Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein--greatest performance in movie history.
Jen: Gene Wilder? What happened to his career?
Me: He had cancer.
Jen: That's not funny.

The Goonies

1985 slice o' childhood

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

Plot: Two brothers are about to lose their house and hangout of the titular gang of dorks because some land developers want to get their hands on the land. Luckily, they conveniently find pirate One-Eyed Willy's treasure map in their attic and decide to go treasure hunting. It's an adventure that leads them to the hide-out of escaped criminals.

"But Jen, you've got to see The Goonies! I can't believe you didn't see this as a kid!"

I'm not sure why I said that. I hadn't seen this movie since I was twelve, and it wasn't really one of my favorites anyway. As an adventure story, it sufficed between installments of Indiana Jones maybe, but this isn't really something that I remember enjoying all that much back then or that made me nostalgic now. I guess I was just surprised that my wife hadn't seen it. Chances are, some of the kids in her neighborhood watched it on their VCR's, and if that's the case, I'm sure my wife would have at least heard the movie as a child since it's probably the loudest movie of all time. If you want the experience of a daycare with much older children but don't want to leave the house, pop The Goonies in. It's an hour and forty minutes of prepubescent boys screaming as loudly as they can. Sometimes they urinate. Sometimes they curse. Now I'm no prude, but with the amount of shits in this movie, I had trouble figuring out who the audience was supposed to be. I don't imagine older children would like it, and I don't think 1980's parents would be too happy with the potty mouths. I don't know. Maybe I am a prude. More offensive than that is the acting of Jonathan Ke Quan, Short Round himself. I can tell you why that kid didn't have a more fruitful acting career--he's fucking annoying. Midway through this movie, I was hoping that scary guy from Temple of Doom would pop out and rip his heart out. And every single scene that features one of his dumb inventions manages to top (or bottom) the previous one. Corey Feldman's annoying in a different way, but the other kids aren't all that bad. Oh, wait. Jeff Cohen's Chunk is obnoxious, too. There's another guy who Hollywood thankfully decided didn't deserve to be in more movies. The guy who played Sloth even got more work than him. Actually, I'm surprised there wasn't a sequel called Goonies 2: Sloth and Chunk Gay It Up. And before you tell me--yes, I am aware that this has a sequel. I don't think my eardrums could tolerate it though. I did like most of the adult actors though. Joe Pantoliano and Robert Davi make good bumbling crooks, and the always-fetching Anne Ramsey's as nasty as you'd expect her to be. There's another sequel that should have happened, by the way--Goonies 3: Mama Fratelli's Bedroom Adventures in 3-D. Robert Duvall could have been in that one. Or a Quaid brother. Or both Quaid brothers! That son of a bitch would almost write itself, wouldn't it? Opening credits. A bunch of gratuitous sex scenes. Sloth busting in on Mama Fratelli and Dennis Quaid doing "The Double Kangaroo" and yelping out, "Hey, you guuuuuuyyyyys!" Roll credits while some Cyndi Lauper song plays. Boom! It's a billion dollar idea. This movie is disappointing because in the hands it was in, it really should have ended up a classic adventure story for kids. Instead, it's annoyingly loud, inappropriate, and not nearly as much fun as it should be.


1996 bromantic comedy

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Mike is a comedian who recently moved to L.A. to from New York to make it big. He becomes despondent after his long-time girlfriend breaks up with him, and his friends drag him from party to party and bar to bar in an attempt to cheer him up.

Is it just me or is Vince Vaughn actually funnier the Psycho remake than he is in this movie? This movie's just not for me. There's too much Big Voodoo Daddy, and too many allusions to things in the 1990s, a decade I don't really like that much anyway. Seriously, these references are going to firmly lock this comedy in that decade, and it seems dated to me watching it fifteen or so years later. My biggest problem with Swingers is that I either can't connect to characters like this or I just don't buy that characters like this actually exist. First, you've got Jon Favreau's dopey protagonist, a comedian who doesn't say a single funny thing in this movie. Vaughn's character is annoying, and I think I broke a finger or two punching my television after I'd finally had enough of the deluge of "baby's" and "money's" that smother the dialogue. Baby? Money? Did I hibernate in the mid-90s and somehow miss a time when people used these terms? Was it a West Coast thing? Whatever the case, it was grating here. I laughed during a scene where the characters were playing a hockey video game and smiled during a rendition of "Stayin' Alive," but other than that, I can't say I'm happy that I watched this.

Swingers trivia: At the 1:16:29 mark, an extra looks into the camera.

Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Fantasy

1976 x-rated musical fantasy

Rating: 8/20

Plot: The titular librarian's got "all the right equipment but [she] don't know how to put it to work." At least that's what the mechanic who's got his eye on her says. She begins to dream about living a more adventurous life, right there in the library, when a talking white rabbit visits. He leads her through a mirror into a sexual wonderland. Sex is had; songs are sung. And there are enough bad puns to make you gag.

For my money, the "Dingaling" song (not to be confused with anything Chuck Berry ever sang) during the Humpty Dumpty scene is the best song from a musical of all time. "His dingaling up, his dingaling up, he can't get his dingaling up!" And I'm not just saying that because of the lesbian nurses although they probably did put me in a better mood. This is my first dip into the porn genre here on the blog. I'm going to try to make a whole bunch of entries tonight to hide this one from my wife. Honestly, this mid-70's sexcapade seems pretty tame, but I don't (honestly) have anything to compare it to. Heck, you see neither pecker nor snatch until the twenty-three minute and twenty-one second mark although the nipple did make an earlier cameo. Mostly, this is just nutty, probably as you'd expect from something calling itself an "x-rated musical comedy." The comedy is terrible, cheap attempts at copping Lewis Carroll's word play that could have been penned by anybody who's worked a cash register at an adult video store. The music is 70's cheese, but it's not bad, all things considered. And there's that "Dingaling" song. I suspect this has a little more plot than your standard pornographic flick, probably enough to be frustrating for somebody looking to shoot his wad early and often. When people in goofy costumes aren't having sex, this almost looks like a cheaply-made experimental movie, almost like something a Kenneth Anger might throw together if he was feeling especially randy. You could almost argue that there's a point, a narrative outlining a journey of sexual awakening for a typical girl. Mostly, it's just nutty though. You get characters in spandex and furry hats and mittens, talking rocks teaching the art of auto-manipulation, the Mad Hatter's 9 3/4 "thingamajig" (that's not his hat size!), and Richard Brautigan (no, not really) as Jack. It's a little bit of fun for a little bit of time, probably more for people who enjoy watching other people doing it in a variety of ways.

Now don't tell my wife or her sister that I watched this. Thanks.

Street Thief

2006 faux-documentary

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Although reluctantly, the titular professional Kaspar Carr gives two documentary filmmakers permission to follow him around as he gets some work done. Then, something goes wrong. Then, some other things happen.

This is a fresh look at the crime genre thanks to the director and star's borrowing of the currently faddish mockumentary sub-genre. In a way, it's a lot like one of my faves, the great Man Bites Dog, only not nearly as violent or dark. Director Malik Bader plays the thief, and apparently he does a good enough job that there are some people who think this whole thing is real. I enjoyed the complex character, components of real street thieves Bader encountered while living in Chicago. There are things about this that will frustrate a lot of viewers. Not a lot happens for large chunks of time, but for me, the attention to minutia was appreciated as it really helped characterize and add to the enigmatic, open-ended denouement. The film's style gave it this ultra-gritty feel that also contributed to the real-ness of the story. I enjoyed the twists and turns of this guy's story and thought this was a really interesting character study. It's fun to read message board posts about how this is real, too.

Reservoir Dogs


Rating: 18/20

Plot: A gaggle of criminals attempt to steal some jewels, but it doesn't turn out very well.

Still fresh--20 years later. It's a canned food movie. I could complain about Tarantino as an actor. You know, I think I will complain about Tarantino as an actor. No, the movie's wouldn't be the same without him in there, but that doesn't mean he should have been in there. When he "acts," it just looks like he's about to bust into a series of uncontrollable giggles. Still, it somehow manages to fit, just like these criminals discussing Madonna and arguing over tipping manages to work. I could watch Harvey Kietel kicking somebody for hours, and I even like Tim Roth here, even when he seems to be channeling Bobcat Goldthwait. Verbose and wormy Buscemi, unhinged and shuffling Madsen, Chris Penn rocking that track suit. I'm sure if Tarantino had a do-over, he'd put Chris Penn in a pair of Zubaz. And then there's Laurence Tierney who kicks everybody's ass, both on screen and probably literally. It's amazing to me that Tarantino had such a command of things with this first effort. The plot is effortlessly complex, fragmented in a way that manages to enhance the feelings involved with these characters. His characterization, dialogue, use of music, utilization of the Wilhelm Scream, and numerous left-turns look like the work of a guy who has made at least two movies! It's the work of an auteur and something that, after you're finished, makes you say, "Wow! That was as cool as it gets!"

Has anybody seen the Asian movie that Tarantino ripped off with this?

And hey, readers, do you know what I just discovered? Zubaz pants are only $29.99 on the Zubaz website. You should check it out!

Midnight in Paris

2011 romantic comedy

Rating: 15/20 (Jen: 13/20)

Plot: A screenwriter-turned-struggling-novelist and his fiance travel to the titular capital with her parents. Gil falls in love with and is inspired by the city, but isn't as thrilled with all the time they're spending with Inez's pretentious friends. He stays at the hotel one night while she goes out partying, and during a late-night stroll, he magically stumbles into the 1920s and meets up with Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Stein, and other literary heroes and artistic luminaries who, along with a mysterious little hottie, inspire him creatively.

It's Woody Allen making a romantic comedy with elements of fantasy, so what's not to like? This one's got the time travel which is cool, and it's fun watching out for all these people I'm going to pretend I've actually heard of. The comedy's more cute than it is funny, and although I almost like Owen Wilson has a goofy Everyman, I was really questioning whether or not he was working here. Ultimately, I decided that I liked the dopiness and naivete that Wilson brought to the character. It helps the viewer experience his story with the same big eyes he's got throughout the movie, and the performance takes any cynical edge this could have had. Like he did with New York City previously, Woody captures Paris on the screen beautifully and in a way that makes it just the type of place where a modern fairy tale like this can happen. I think he's having a lot of fun with all the literature, art, and music allusions, too. I'm not sure Dali had Adrien Brody's nose, however, and I'd like my dad to see this to tell me how good Corey Stoll's Hemingway is or isn't. In other news, I might have a thing for Marion Cotillard. Don't tell my wife!

The Beaver

2011 Muppet prequel

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Some antisemitic guy gets depressed and starts talking to and through a the titular puppet that he found in a dumpster. His family has a problem with it.

If Hesher is an after-school special with a bad-boy edge and a ton of curse words, The Beaver could be described as an after-school special with a puppet. There was a lot of potential here actually with a story that could have had some real depth and could have packed a real emotional punch. Unfortunately, it's very poorly written and doesn't feel fully realized. And I'll have to admit that I feel a little cheated since I went into this thing thinking we'd have scene after scene of Mel Gibson making love to his own hand. But that's likely my fault. Mel Gibson is dynamic in this, a chance to show some versatility. His character's got all sorts of angles, and good old Mel handles them all in a way that doesn't make the character as dopey as a character with a beaver puppet should be. And that's important. When the story focuses on his character and his family, this is actuallypretty good. But there are tangents, and when we move to the subplots involving his oldest son's love interest etcetera, this fumbles.

It's a shame this wasn't a box office smash because I could spend hours playing with them. Probably inappropriately.

Escape from New York

1981 action movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: It's the future, and New York City is a walled maximum security prison. Actually, it's the past if you're watching this in the future and not in the past that was 1981. And I just took some of those words straight from the poster which is just the sort of thing that keeps people from following this blog. What? He plagiarizes from movie posters? That guy's got no credibility. Back to the movie--the president has crash-landed in Manhattan, a problem since he's carrying Samuel L. Jackson's briefcase and all. An ex-Marine (or something) and current criminal named Snake Plissken is coerced into flying in to save him. And the world!

Dang, this movie looks so good. The Big Apple's all oily and moody in the early flyover scenes, and it's impossible not to think about September 11th when the plane's heading for the city. And maybe--just maybe--that's where Osama bin Laden and his gang got the idea for this movie. And if that's true, we should blame John Carpenter for 9/11. Or Snake Plissken. Snake Plissken. What a name. You almost have to give bonus points just because the hero's name is Snake Plissken. And you're just not a true American if you don't give bonus points to the movie for having a hero who sports an eyepatch and a pair of Zubaz. It's like they looked at Kurt Russell and said, "I don't know about this guy. He can flex his cheek muscles and all, but does he really look tough enough?" before somebody suggested, "I got it! Let's get him an eyepatch!" and somebody else suggested, "And a pair of Zubaz!" Pretty cool supporting cast here--Harry Dean Stanton, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Isaac Hayes. None of them rock the Zubaz though which actually might make them slightly less ridiculous than the hero. And yes, I'm fully aware that my mentioning of Zubaz and especially the providing of a link to the Zubaz website is as bad or worse than product placement and that that could be another reason why I don't have more people wanting to read this blog. But hey, if the people who make those idiotic pants decide to throw a little money my way? It'll all be worth it.

Zubaz--best pants ever! Dare to be different! Buy some today! Better yet--buy some tomorrow! If you don't, I will more than likely blame you for the 9/11 attacks.


2010 troll movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Some documentarians--a couple guys and a gal--investigate murmurings of some kind of monster in the woods. Hey, wait a minute!

Actually, the kids are trying to figure out what's killing bears, but they stumble upon a guy who claims to be the titular hunter of trolls hired by the government to keep these giant trolls in their place and the secret of their existence a secret. He reluctantly agrees to let them tag along, probably because the girl is kind of cute.

Hell yeah! Rampaging trolls? I'm all over that. This puts a new spin on both monster movies and the found footage genre. The special effects are very good in that the giant trolls manage to mesh with the settings, but I do with they would have done a little more. They're really kind of there to be seen and then later turned to stone or evaporated. One would think that this found footage stuff would get old, but this Blair Witch-but-with-special-effects works because it's got a sense of humor. It toys with Norwegian folklore and never quite takes itself seriously enough to be a straight horror movie. The acting works well enough to keep the "This is real!" claim at the beginning afloat even though there isn't a single person on earth who is going to watch this and think it's real.

Well, I take that back. I did have a student this week who genuinely thought the Paranormal Activity movies were real. Maybe I should show him this and see what he thinks.

I liked the title character played by Otto Jespersen, ruggedly and aloofly, and I may have given this movie a bonus point for how pretty Norway looked. This is a very cool movie with a nicely indeterminate ending, and I'd say it's a must-see if you're into trolls.

The Devil's Sword

1984 Indonesian kung-fu craziness

Rating: 7/20

Plot: There's the titular sword, a crocodile nymphomaniacal goddess who enslaves the men of nearby villages, a guy who wears bedazzled diapers and a shiny headband who sometimes floats around on a rock, and a bunch of crocodile men. Mayhem!

I might have to check out more Indonesian kung-fu movies or at the very least some Barry Prima. I'm sure the guy's like the Indonesian Bruce Lee. Only better because he hasn't died yet. Hell, he probably never will. The story for this thing, by "MAN" according to the credits, isn't all that important. It's Indonesian poetry, with action hero Barry Prima who almost knows movie martial arts fighting guys dressed up as crocodiles. This has some of the most inept fight choreography you're ever likely to see, guys moving slowly like they're waiting for their next scripted lunge. If head-loppin'-off's your thing, this has several decapitation scenes. You also get guys sailing off at ridiculous heights after being sliced, sliced with a sword that isn't even the demon sword. And those silly crocodile men who sometimes, but not always, hop into action. Seriously, check this out:

There's one scene (if you're in to this sort of thing) where Barry Prima has sexual relations with a crocodile. Not a crocodile man, you pervert, but an actual crocodile. See:

You'll just have to take my word for it that it's even hotter when they're moving. Actually, that might be a crocodile man after all. I couldn't focus because I was freaking out! I think it was the synth-laden score, or maybe the funny feeling that the crocodile queen gave me during those hypnosis scenes. She was a hot little number, living in her underwater den where special effects look a whole lot like cheap magic tricks. The scene where she's on a spinning bed surrounded by a ring of fire is exactly how I imagined sex to be when I was nine. And there's a huge orgy scene near the end of this (it actually interrupts the big climactic action scene and brings everything to a grinding halt) that I'm sure was an inspiration for that goofy rave sex scene in that third Matrix movie. This has some other cool characters, too. A skeletal boat man was pretty rad. I was really digging the kung-fu stylings of this guy with a skinny neck (I think his name was Skinny Neck Guy) who waits around for a while before flipping into action and showing off this uniquely awkward style. But his demise is unfortunately very quick. The crew of evil warriors are cool, too, with their interesting weapons and their ability to burrow underground or fly around, but the preface to their big battle scene was so lengthy. At least they threw out some good Indonesian kung-fu trash talk: "You polluted bitch hound!" and "Dirty daughter of a whore!" were my favorites. The witch hag, an evil warrior whose weapon appeared to be a bundle of weeds, was neat. I don't want to give too much away, but you don't ever want to count her out, even when she's cut in half. Oh, I just gave too much away. I guess it won't hurt to show you this then, a hideous monster in a cave filled with all kinds of half-assed booby traps:

This is recommended for anybody who's ever wanted to see Barry Prima have sex with a crocodile. I realize that's a very specific fetish, but I'm sure you people are out there.

The Station Agent

2003 movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: The oddly-named Finbar McBride becomes the titular station agent after his only friend passes away and leaves him a tiny bit of land and an abandoned train depot. He clearly wants to be left alone but reluctantly befriends a hot dog vendor who sets up his stand in the weirdest place imaginable and a female artist who almost runs him over twice. Oh, and the guy's a dwarf. I forgot to mention that part.

All three of these characters and the performers who play them are extremely likable. Peter Dinklage is so good as the main character. He displays every single emotion that the script calls for, mostly without having to say a single word. It's really good seeing him in a starring role, and watching his character grow (Oh no he didn't!) is a rewarding experience. Bobby Cannavale brings an enthusiasm as the gregarious purveyor of hot dogs, and Patricia Clarkson is really good as a secretly complex character. Great cast. If there's a problem, it's that the characters don't have enough to go on here. They've got their back stories and their share of unspoken issues, but what we see on the screen isn't a whole lot of story. Still, as a quirky character study, this works really well. I like these movies where you have these characters who need each other, especially if they don't really understand how or why they need each other. I would have liked to have seen more of Paul Benjamin actually, but this movie wouldn't have made much sense if he lived more than ten minutes into things. A sweet little movie that is almost exactly what it needs to be.


2010 after-school special

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Dwight from The Office loses his wife, and he and his son are having difficulty coping. Dwight grows a beard while son T.J. obsesses over purchasing the car his mother was killed in from the junkyard. Dad mopes on the couch; T.J. deals with a bully who makes him lick urinals. Enter the titular uninvited guest, a long-haired tattooed rocker with a scary van and a dirty mouth. He makes a mess of everything.

I'm not sure if the poster is supposed to look like somebody left it in his pants pocket and accidentally sent it the washing machine or not, but I guess it fits. It's heavy metal and all, right? This movie and Gordon-Levitt go for attitude over substance, but this movie really felt flat to me, like an after-school special with a whole bunch of cussing. I kind of liked the titular character, more as a symbol than as an actual flesh 'n' blood slacker, but Gordon-Levitt is just a little too sure of himself here, leaning too heavily on the character's written antics and fuck-filled lines and not giving Hesher any real depth. Comically, it works though. The Star Wars trash compactor scene re-enactment is a hilarious bit of frantic genius. I also really liked the "on one condition" flatulence bit, something I might borrow for my personal life. Which might make the point since, as I said, he's really more of a symbol for this father and child anyway. Rainn Wilson's not bad in a more dramatic role, but he's got the same problem with a lot of sitcom stars with very recognizable faces--it's just hard to take him seriously. The youngster, Devin Brochu, really does a good job with an emotionally tough role. His character is put through quite a bit. Hell, he falls off his bicycle at least three times in this movie. I realize that's probably a little stuntman though unless Devin Brochu is the Tom Cruise of child actors or something. Natalie Portman's performance is dull, but it might have more to do with her character being pointless. Well, no. She's actually just not very good here. I didn't buy that character at all. Things are just implausible in this, and although the sentiments are nice, I just had too much trouble connecting with these characters and their story in a way that was meaningful.

Creature with the Atom Brain

1955 walking dead movie

Rating: 11/20

Plot: A Nazi and a gangster with an ill-fitting suit reanimate dead bodies and then use radio control to attack people they don't like. Chet Walker, a guy who is either a scientist or a doctor or possibly both, tries to figure out what's going on before it's too late.

Nifty opening shot introducing the opening credits, one similar to Double Indemnity actually, with one of the zombified figures lumbering toward the camera. This is another 50's sci-fi flick with some daffy science. I never did figure out Chet. Scientist? Detective? Both? His name's Chet, so you'd think he'd be a scientist/detective. He does own a centrifuge, and he keeps a Geiger counter in his trunk. I liked the character. He cracks a few jokes to give this a lighter tone, and there's a funny running gag about him wanting to engage in sexual relations with his wife. I really liked a scene where he comes home and sees his wife bending over on the porch. He eyes her for a bit before getting this giant grin and walking to his house. I believe this was the inspiration for Sir Mix a Lot's song. This movie apparently inspired Roky Erikson, too, since he's got a song with the same title. The movie isn't really all that frightening, but I do like a few shots where shadows are used nicely. My favorite scene, despite the presence of really-bad-child-actor Linda Bennett, involves a child's doll. It made me laugh. So did seeing the news eporter's name--Dick Cutting. This is a movie that isn't nearly as bad as its title.

The Giant Claw

1957 giant bird movie

Rating: 5/20

Plot: A troublesome alien bird that is "as big as a battleship" is on the rampage, wrecking airplanes and destroying buildings. Electronics specialist Mitch MacAfee tries to figure out a way to stop it before the hand of the person operating the beak gets tired.

You might think that a movie that Fred F. Sears (that second F. probably stands for Fred, too) made only a year after Earth vs. the Flying Saucers wouldn't be so bad, but you'd be wrong. No, this is impressively inept filmmaking, a science fiction movie that would probably offend most scientist. Or maybe just confuse them. The bird is described as being made from antimatter, and I guess that makes sense. It all sounds really scientific, and we kind of have to believe the character because he's got a giant model of an atom. You've also got to appreciate when these 1950's B-movies explain what a UFO is to the audience. Maybe the acronym wasn't widely used back then? The story is dull, and the acting is bad. So dull and bad, that they must have felt like they needed to go a little crazy with the amount of bird scenes. In some movies, they save the monster and the big special effects for a little later in the film. With The Giant Claw, it does start out as a fuzzy blob during some initial scenes, but you still get to see the monster early on. Early and far too often, especially since the monster looks like this:

Now I know what you're thinking--that looks realistically terrifying! I'm actually thinking my mother must have seen this still from the film and that it's the reason she refuses to fly. The obvious-toy plane crash is as realistic as "obvious-toy plane crash" might make it sound. None of that's as terrifying as the police officer played by Robert Williams, a gravedigger in Hang 'Em High. He's a cop who can't keep his hands off his own belt buckle, and gets superb lines like this one: "If you see this big bird, it's a sign that you're gonna die [dramatic pause] real soon." Louis Merrill acts squares around the rest of the crash as "Pierre," a French character played by a man who is definitely not French and who's probably never heard the language spoken. Pierre's cool because he's got Eraserhead hair. That hair might be the best special effect in this entire film actually. It's definitely not the child's Play-doh globe at the beginning of this thing, an image followed by a film strip I think I might have seen in my 8th grade science class. But none of that's important, readers, because the giant antimatter bird is coming right at you in 2-D!

You really need to imagine that with the incredible sound effects, my favorite being the chomp-chomp sound that you can apparently hear whenever a bird "as big as a battleship" makes when eating a paratrooper. The Giant Claw is nearly entertaining for the duration. And hey, if you get bored, you can play a drinking game where you drink a shot every time you see a wire to help the bird move or the toy airplanes fly around. It all builds to a stunning climax during which the monster destroys New York City, including a scene where he's perched on the building doing his best King Kong impression. Or maybe he's impersonating that Korean ape from A*P*E. I wouldn't put it past him. Anyway, it's the most damage a puppet has caused since. . .well, I thought I had a joke there.

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!

1990 romantic movie

Rating: 13/20

Plot: A mental patient kidnaps an actress, suggests that they get married, and refuses to take no for an answer.

I've got to start with this since I'm a pervert: I have a new favorite sex scene, the bathtub scene in this movie featuring the lovely Victoria Abril and a wind-up diver toy. That's worth the price of admission alone. I guess my problem with this one is that the movie had to be about Antonio Banderas and Victoria Abril and their characters' relationship and not more about Maximo Espejo, the director played by Francisco Rabal. He gets a great line though: "When you put your heart and genitals into something, it always ends up personal." I might have that put on my tombstone. Banderas is fine, but the lead characters lacked depth, and their love story was actually pretty boring, despite all the bondage. Morricone's score is dull, 80's fizz. There is a nifty and colorful musical number with a trumpeter who has a mini-pompadour, cheese-covered keyboards, an old lady, a young girl, and a polka-dotted lead. And there's some He-Man figure decor which, for whatever reason made me laugh a little bit. But if I ever watch this again, it'll be for the toy diver scene which makes me cry just thinking about it.

Fish Story

2009 movie without a single fish

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Oh, snap! A comet heading straight for earth threatens the existence of all life on our feeble little planet. Thankfully, a Japanese punk band recorded the titular rock song back in the 1970s. Wait. What?

A second viewing might make large chunks of this seem superfluous, but it was so much fun watching everything come together that I don't mind. I was sold from the beginning with an old guy in a motorized wheelchair pushing over some bikes with his cane before a shot showing the ominous fireball. There's an obligatory Bruce Willis allusion, paranormal record collectors, end time prophets uttering things like "Even if today is the last day of the world, I will still plant my apple trees," fruit tort faux pas, apple pie kung-fu, and a funny nod to The Karate Kid. The real one--not the one with Will Smith's daughter. This is a sharp little movie puzzle, and I'd like to check it out again to see what pieces I may have missed. That song ain't half bad either!

Office Space

1999 comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A guy gets fed up with his office job and decides that he's not going to do it anymore. Results are unexpected. He tries to bag a waitress who doesn't have enough buttons.

Speaking of that waitress, here's an earlier contender for 2012 Most Arousing Movie Moment of the Year: Jennifer Aniston's character saying, "I love kung-fu." Yeah, I got wood. This movie probably isn't as funny as you think it is. I don't think it's worth watching more than once although I know more than a few people who seem to watch it all the time. It's amusing, and I like the laid-back tone that is mostly created by Ron Livingston as our protagonist, Peter. He's like Charlie Sheen without the whores and blow, Sheen-lite. I do really like his line about how "every time you see [him], it's the worst day of [his] life." The exaggerated character types somehow manage to seem realistic which works in this comedy's favor. Stephen Root's fun as Milton, and John C. McGinley's funny in a more natural way in a pre-Scrubs role. The look on his face when he finds out that the boss's feelings about Peter don't match his is really funny. This meanders and loses its way a bit during the final third, and I got a little bored. It's not a bad little comedy though.

Project A: Part 2

1987 sequel

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Dragon Ma is assigned to get rid of some gangsters in town. Meanwhile, some pirates from the last movie are looking for him to get their revenge. Apparently, they understood what was going on in the last movie better than I did and are pissed off about it.

This sequel delivers similar excitement from Part 1 in chunks, but it's not the wall-to-wall action of its predecessor and makes even less sense. There's some cuteness with a pair of handcuffs, an excellent fight scene early in the movie with bruising and flopping that look like outtakes from the first movie, and another 1920s comedy allusion. This time, it's a nod to Keaton and his most famous stunt. Mixed in with all this is a lot of silliness. I did like one line quite a bit: "I'm just wondering what to do with your corpses." That's something I might start saying to my students. The comedy that isn't physical comedy, just like in the first movie, falls completely flat, banging its head even harder than some of these stunt men. I did like this early exchange:

"You can't go around mugging ladies on the street!"
"But we're muggers!"

The motley collective of baddies is fun. There's Fatty, Shades, Stumpy Top Hat, Japanese Alan Thicke, and my personal favorite, Grand Meat Guy who gets all kinds of great one-liners during a Batman-esque "crusher" scene. "How 'bout a little oil?" "You're well lubricated." "I'm going to crush your knob off."

Stick around for the credits or you'll miss Jackie Chan singing a wonderful pop song. Actually, go ahead and miss that. Turn this off right before the credits unless you want to find out the name of the Japanese Alan Thicke.

Project A

1983 kung-fu action comedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Gaily-dressed Navy guys fight crooked cops and mischievous pirates. Lots of folks wind up concussed.

I love the nods to my man Buster and Harold Lloyd here, and this will be a ton of fun for fans of kung-fu movies and silent comedies. Since I'm a fan of both, it seems like Jackie Chan made this just for me! I will say this--the comedy in this is awfully silly, and almost caused me to drop this another point or two. The plot isn't anything worth talking about either. It's typical Hong Kong martial arts movie nuttiness with more characters than necessary and a lot of extraneous scenes. The latter exist to stuff in more fight scene while the former are on-screen to get kicked in the head or thrown around. Chan takes his lumps as well because he's never an invincible kung-fu action hero. His stunts are as impressive as they usually are, and the fight choreography is completely ludicrous but endlessly entertaining. Chan et al. showcase fast flailing moves and insane bone-crushing stunts. I've never seen so many heads bouncing off floors, dressers, banisters, or whatever other parts of the scenery that are constructed just so heads can bounce off them. As always, Chan's fight choreography uses the setting and its props in excitingly creative and humorous ways. Vibrant and painful stuff. I liked how the camera would linger on stunt men as they writhe and groan after a particularly painful head bounce. A highlight involves a clock tower.

Oh, and for you Sammo Hung completists, he's in this one as a sort of Jackie Chan sidekick.


1976 Korean King Kong kookiness

Rating: 2/20

Plot: There's a guy in a poorly-constructed ape costume on the loose. He's beating up sharks, destroying models that are as poorly made as the ape costume, and most terrifying of all, fluctuating in size. The army's called in to help. Meanwhile, the monster goes ape for Kurt Cameron's mother. And God ain't gonna stand for that!

Look at that poster! I want that son of a bitch hanging in my living room.

It's 1976. Korea finds out that America is going to release a Kong Kong remake and decides to beat them to the punch with this thing, a half-serious-attempt/half-spoof that ends up a fantastically entertaining affair for mostly wrong reasons. The action's fierce from the get-go in this one as we start in medias res because as most Kong aficionados would tell you, all that stuff on Skull Island is pretty dull. No, here we start on the boat with some characters talking about how they hope the gas will keep the monster out. Cue a big giant monkey hand (great effects, as you could probably guess) and an "Oh shit!" leading into some badly-edited chaos ending in the boat blowing up in a sparkly explosion. And you'd probably guess that an explosion would end the big opening action sequence, but you'd be wrong. The magic is only beginning as we have a fight scene between the guy in the ape costume and a rubber shark (a Jaws reference maybe?) in which the monkey dunks and spanks his foe repeatedly. You could almost say that the movie jumps the shark right here, but you'd have to quickly correct yourself and say that it actually spanks the shark instead. Great fight scene though, almost masturbatory.

The monkey on land is even goofier than the monkey fighting a rubbery shark in the water. Now I'll admit that I've not actually studied gorillas, but I'm fairly positive the guy in this suit hasn't either. I'm not sure apes act like this, and if a bunch of monkeys ever got their hands on this movie and watched it together, they'd get ahold of a bunch of typewriters and a room so that they could eventually type out a letter of complaint to the makers of this movie. The monster in this has terrible posture and kind of humps around awkwardly. Later, during a scene which has to be included just as filler, we get to see the ape throw a snake for no reason (it's not nearly as exciting as the poster makes it look up there) and actually hit the camera. Lesser filmmakers would probably have shot that scene over again, but not the makers of A*P*E.

Speaking of that title, what's with the asterisks? A M*A*S*H thing?

But back to that monkey because believe it or not, there's a scene in this that actually manages to top that ape-on-shark action at the beginning. You didn't think a movie as classy as A*P*E would shoot its proverbial wad too early, did you? This scene involves some parasailors. One points and screams. Then, there's a shot of a cow. Then, there's a shot of the ape lumbering over a fake cow. It's pure bliss, but where I shot my wad (non-proverbially) was when the ape started clapping and dancing. But the ultimate monkey shot (that's a pun though it has nothing to do with anybody's wad) might be one of a peeping Kong with mouth agape that made me laugh for a solid thirty-five minutes because I have time in my life for thirty-five minute fits of laughter.

Other special-ed effects: The makers of this really seem fond of their fake-rocks-on-strings trick, and there's a scene where the monkey vomits blood. It's beautifully realistic.

Just as the makers of this have seemingly never seen an ape, they also have likely never seen humans or heard them communicate. The Korean characters are great as they speak English without dubbing. An American character named Colonel Davis (played stoically by Alex Nicol) seems to be impersonating The Duke with all his lines. Imagine John Wayne saying "Now what kind of bullshit you trying to hand me?" and you've got Colonel Davis. My favorite Colonel Davis tough guy moment is when he yells, "Screw the logistics!" in a way that would make Chuck Norris cower in fear. Oh, no wait. I forgot that he says, "Let's see him dance for his organ grinder now!" That's badass! The curly-headed hero gets plenty of chances to be manly, too. He's the type of guy who jumps on the sides of Jeeps and says, "I'll just hang on here," after all.

But the most awkward or unnatural human moment in this? There's a scene with fleeing Koreans, and you just have to see this one guy running down the stairs. It just has to be the guy who plays the ape without his suit.

Oh, there's also a scene of endless battle preparation, a montage that actually features one soldier who waves at the camera.

You also have to wonder what kinds of movies the makers of this have seen. At one point, the ape disrupts the production of a kung-fu movie that apparently features circus performers. And what kind of movie is Joanna Kerns' character making in this? They show the filming of two scenes of this movie-within-a-movie, both featuring attempted rapes. The rapist, by the way, might get the line of the movie: "Gentle? This is a God-damned rape scene and you want me to be gentle?"

This makes four Korean monster movies I've seen in the last month, and although this is definitely the worst of them, it's also the only one I would wholeheartedly recommend to anybody.


1989 horror movie or possibly black comedy

Rating: 15/20

Plot: In antiseptic 1950s suburbia, young Michael begins to suspect that there's something not quite right with his parents. He's got enough trouble trying to adapt to a new school in a new hometown without having to worry about whether or not the dietary habits of his parents are socially acceptable.

Bob Balaban is a guy with a name I like to say and a guy I always like seeing in movies or television shows. He's directed barely a handful of movies and a bunch of television shows, but Parents is the only thing I've seen that he's directed unless I watched something accidentally. I really liked how he visually told the story. He frames this typical suburban middle-class home in a way that somehow transforms the setting into a perfect location for a horror film, and some playful and surprising camera angles keep this whole thing interesting even when the story he's working with isn't. I'm not totally convinced this is a straight horror film. There's a consistent creepy vibe, even when what is happening on the screen isn't anything threatening, but there's also a healthy dose of dark comedy that give this a different kind of fun than the type of fun your average horror movie is going to give you. Some dream sequences and possible hallucinations give this a surreal flavor and also make the last third of the story a little indeterminate. That, or I'm just slower than the average Randy Quaid fan. Speaking of him (I think it's Randy; I still get them confused), this might be my favorite Randy Quaid role. He manages to maneuver realistically between 1950's sitcom wholesome and unnerving, often in the same scene. I also want to mention Bryan Madorsky, the kid who played the kid. He's really got a kid-from-the-Shining in him, and although they don't really succeed in making him seem like a real kid, he still does a really nice job. This was Madorsky's only movie though. Parents isn't exactly a classic of whatever genre it belongs in, but it's got a feel that makes it seem fresh 20+ years after it came out.

Withnail and I

1987 comedy

Rating: 18/20

Plot: Two unemployed actors go on a vacation to the countryside, apparently because doing absolutely nothing can get exhausting. They have hilarious misadventures.

"We've gone on holiday by mistake!"

So it turns out that the great Daniel Day-Lewis was offered the Withnail role but didn't take it. As good as he is, it's just hard for me to imagine that anybody could top what Richard E. Grant does with this character. That's high praise. Really though, none of the performances in this one really stand out from the others because they're all good. Even that guy's afro gives an award-worthy performance. This movie is so quotable, but typing the lines I like the most just wouldn't do them justice. You need to hear them in the almost no-context context in which they're presented from the lips of these character actors. "No, it was like this long white hat" would probably be hilarious if you read it in the script, but it's magically hilarious when Ralph Brown's Danny says it. Withnail and I makes me laugh, but there's also this melancholy bubbling beneath the surface, and the end really gets me. I think my favorite moment might be a look on Withnail's face following a sharp "Ponce!" Love this movie. It's got voodoo qualities!

The Beaches of Agnes

2008 biographical documentary

Rating: 17/20 (Mark: 18/20--I think.)

Plot: Director Agnes Varda strategically places mirrors on a beach, finds some naked people, converses with an animated cat, and reminisces about her life and work and marriage to Jacques Demy.

Varda directed one of my favorite movies from a few years ago--Cleo from 5 to 7, a movie that nobody saw based on my recommendation because nobody cares a bit about what I write here or takes me very seriously. I'm not sure why I haven't seen any more of her movies, especially since one of her documentaries has been sitting on my shelf for months. Varda is funky old avant-gardist with two-toned hair, a ten-year-old artist in an eighty-something-year-old's body. She's how I like my avant-gardists actually--frothy and whimsical. I loved how this traced her development as an artist, from her photography to her movie making, and I was touched at the stuff about her director husband Demy, the guy who did The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, another flick I really dug. The way she chooses to tell her own story is very playful and borderline pretentious. But that aforementioned froth and whimsy makes this not only a palatable but an absolutely delicious experience. See? Maybe it's sentences like that that cause people to not take me seriously. I was a little apprehensive about seeing this because my brother had promised me Captain America and I thought this might be boring compared to that, but it was definitely not boring. This was a fun little documentary to absorb. I would probably recommend you get your hands on a few of Varda's movies though. You know--like I didn't. Also, for you randy avant-gardists out there: This does have both trapeze artists and a beach sex scene, neither which involve Annette Funicello. Oh, and the animated cat was Chris Marker, director of this and this. They're both good films, but you're not even going to click to see what they are because you don't respect me.

Oprah Movie Club Pick: Gamera vs. Guiron

1969 turtle superhero movie

Rating: 5/20

Plot: As rumors of unidentified sort-of hovering objects swirl, a Japanese kid and Beaver Cleaver stumble upon an abandoned space craft constructed from cheap cardboard and what appears to be pieces of discarded stoplights. The ship takes off with the lads inside, leaving a whiny homely girl behind. While she tries to convince Mom that the boys did indeed fly off in a spaceship, the boys have landed on the tenth planet in our solar system (sorry, I didn't catch the name) where they watch some goofy monsters fight and are forced to endure the annoying voices of the planet's only inhabitants--two gals wearing capes. But these girls have a plan for the boys, and Gamera (a friend to children apparently) is needed to save the day.

Kent picked a classic for our first Oprah Movie Club pick of the year. There's one other Gamera movie on the blog, the superior but not nearly as much goofy or fun Gamera the Invincible. This one begins with some gross effects that look like they could serve as the backdrop for a really cheap Pink Floyd cover band, probably one called The Vegetable Men, and then makes us wait a while before we see any monster-on-monster action. The worst dubbing I think I've ever heard is enough to keep things entertaining though. It's not just the poorly-chosen voices for the characters either. No, there's something terribly wrong with the pacing in the delivery of the lines, almost like that guy from the "Hooked on Phonics" commercial who could barely get through a story about a train is reading everything. The child actors are irritating, but there's an adult actor who actually makes them look like master thespians in some early scenes where they're together. His name is Kon Ohmura, and I'm not sure how he Konned his way onto a movie set, but he's in another Gamera movie and a few other things. His character here (Goonjob? Coonja?) is there for comic relief, just like the rest of the movie, and Ohmura's wonderfully Torgorific as he's threatening to shave the children's heads [Spoiler Alert: That's foreshadowing!] or even just standing around. That's right. Ohmura's the type of actor who can't just stand there during a scene without being a complete distraction. That's talent, folks.

Finally, we get a Gamera sighting when the kids leave the earth's atmosphere. A nearly endless Gamera/spaceship race brings the action hard. You also get a close-up of the inside of Gamera's mouth (Do you ever get to see a close-up of the inside of Godzilla's mouth?) as he, I'm pretty sure, attempts to make out with the ship. But the best action sequence is the superbly realistic scene on that tenth planet between a metallic birdy thing and what I thought was a monster with three-fourths of a dolphin for a head but what actually turned out to be a monster with a knife for a head. Didn't find out until later that the latter was the menacing titular bad monster in this movie. It's not much of a fight. Guiron repels a cheap-looking yellow beam and dismembers the metallic birdy before doing a Jabba the Hutt impression. It's pretty badass and kind-of gruesome for a monster movie intended for children. But honestly, Guiron is so dumb looking that it's hard to take any of it seriously. He could have been raping my grandmother, and it wouldn't have seemed all that bad.

When our hero gets to the planet (because he's a friend of children, and there are children who need savin'), he gets beat up pretty good by the villain. He even bleeds some green stuff. He recovers later on, of course, probably because the producers of Gamera vs. Guiron weren't finished demonstrating their complete disregard for all things logical. First, the heroic turtle is on his back at the bottom of a lake and can't get up no matter how much the boys yell his name or how much he struggles. But then a giant rock hits him in the chin, a development that inexplicably gives him strength. The two battle again (hence the "vs." in the title), Gamera repeatedly racking himself and nearly teabagging Guiron before doing some gymnastics and, as one of the boys explains, "dancing go-go." I love it when Japanese monsters dance. The good guy wins, there's an improbable spaceship repair and some of the worst blue screen work you're likely to see this week, and we eventually get to a happy ending. It's really only happy because we get to see Goobjohn again.

I enjoyed the cheapo set design of the alien planet. It looked like a muted sci-fi train set. The interiors were probably borrowed from another cheap Japanese science fiction movie, and I'm sure the only requirement the casting director was looking for with the child actors was that they were well behaved enough to not run around and accidentally knock down a cardboard wall or two, an act that would have likely cost the studio tens of dollars. As Guiron tries to get to the children and destroys the building their in, large rocks fall all around and even on the children. They don't seem to harm the boys though thankfully, and that makes just as much sense as rocks falling from the ceiling of a building that looks to be made entirely of metal.

It all ends with a nice message about how the world could be a nice place without traffic accidents, the same thing Al Gore's been preaching for years. He probably saw this one actually. I don't know about you, but I was slightly aroused because of the squeaky-voiced alien chicks, even when they were threatening to "eat their brains raw." And you've got to dig the cutesy music. What is it with Japanese children's movies and irritating and inane sing-a-longs?

Ip Man 2

2010 sequel

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Ip Man moves to Hong Kong after the events of the first movie. He sets up a kung-fu school and eventually draws in a few students, but he meets resistance from the other martial arts schools in town. Meanwhile, a British thuggish boxer smashes his way into Hong Kong, insults everybody, and

Well, it's not as good as Ip Man. The first half makes a good run at it, setting up an old-school kung-fu conflict with rival martial arts schools dissing each other. It's easy to love just how good the movie looks and Donnie Yen's smooth ferocity and ridiculous speed. And then look--it's the legendary fatso Sammo Hung. When the fight choreographers just allow these guys to kick and punch at each other, things are really really good. A scene where Ip Man meets some students from one of the rival schools in an attempt to fetch one of his students from their clutches contains a lot of thrills and excitement, and Yen uses props in a way that would make Jackie Chan proud. Then, during a scene where Ip Man battles a few kung-fu masters, including the aforementioned Hung, on a wobbling table, they suddenly decide to lean back on some special effects that make the fighters look a little cartoonish. Don't get me wrong. I was entertained by the whole thing, but it was a little goofy and killed the realistic feel that a biopic like this should have. After all that is almost settled, the movie shifts gears again and turns into Rocky IV. Or whatever Rocky movie has the big mean Russian guy in it. Then, you get a guy named Darren Shahlavi chawing down on the scenery as British boxing stud Twister. He's a weirdly arrogant villain, but the ensuing fights between him and the kung-fu guys never make any sense to me. Let's see--Twister's powerful but boxing-gloved punches vs. a guy who is using his bare hands and feet? I don't care how ripped the guy is, isn't who should win the fight kind of a no-brainer? Yeah, yeah. I get it. It's all sort of symbolic anyway. There wasn't really a moment during this movie where I didn't want to be watching it, but it's definitely kind of a let-down following the great first movie.

There's an appearance by a famous guy at the tail end of this movie. I wonder if he'll be a character in the third Ip Man movie.

Leon: The Professional

1994 hitman movie

Rating: 17/20 (Dylan: 18/20)

Plot: The titular hitman, an immigrant living in New York City, tries to keep a flower alive in a harsh world. After his 12-year-old neighbor's entire family is murdered by crooked D.E.A. dudes, he reluctantly takes the girl under his hairy wing and teaches her the tricks of his violent trade.

With a rating as high as this, I sort of prove that I really don't know what the hell I'm doing here. I love this movie, but it's stuffed with problems--things that I'd more than likely trash another movie for. Natalie Portman gives a fantastic performance as a young person, proving that it actually can be done. She shows a range of emotions, all realistic, and has the right face to pull off being simultaneously innocent and bad. However, is her character all that realistic? I realize that girls mature faster than guys and that the experiences in her home might cause her to be a little more sexually curious or open to violence than other 12-year-olds, but I don't completely buy the scenes where she's coming on to Leon. Gary Oldman is also brilliant, just one of those bad guy performances that is so good that you really end up wanting to root for him, but he's brilliantly hammy and very nearly crosses a line here. In a bad movie, I'd likely make fun of the performance. But the entire scene where he's directing the trashing of Mathilda's place? Everything that follows "I like these calm little moments before the storm"? Mesmerizing, one of those examples of acting where you just can't wait to see what he's going to do next. You learn a bit from his character, too. 1) Don't ruin Gary Oldman's suit because apparently he doesn't like that. 2) If Gary Oldman tells you to go inside a place, you'd better go inside a place. Oh, and 3) Gary Oldman isn't going to be killed while he's taking a dump. Jean Reno plays the title professional like he's possibly mentally challenged or, at the very least, emotionally underdeveloped, and it's the only thing that makes the parts of this story nearly a love story acceptable. The goofiness with the Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe references in a game of Charades or what has to be the worst ventriloquist act ever clashes so beautifully with the scenes of Leon working. I think, by the way, that a prequel could work where Leon hits the stage with his pig oven mitt to try to start a career in entertainment. One of the most beautiful scenes in this movie is where Portman is standing at Leon's door and begging for him to open it. "Please open the door." You know he will, probably because you've either seen the movie or you've seen a preview of the movie where the characters are walking through the streets with a plant or sharing a carton of milk. But that doesn't make the opening of that door, an act which bathes Mathilda in light for a moment, any less beautiful. Great stuff. I also really respect such a violent movie pulling it all off with a score that includes so many sleigh bells. One more little oddity: the gray guy that sits in the background of Aiello's place and doesn't do anything at all.

The Help

2011 movie

Rating: 11/20 (Jen: 15/20)

Plot: A woman who wants to be a writer but apparently has nothing at all to write about gets a housekeeping advice column gig at a small-town newspaper. She has a maid write the column for her. That gives her a brilliant idea--collect a bunch of maids, have them share their scatological stories, and then make that into a book. She waffles, thinking maybe it's a better idea to go with her original plan and just copy The Old Man and the Sea word-for-word and put her name on it, but eventually decides to have the maids do her work for her. Oh, I get it. They help her! The Help!

I don't imagine that I'm the audience for this movie. No, this movie is made for white women who have a whopping two hours and twenty minutes to spare, probably a white woman with a maid because white women without maids aren't going to have the time to watch the thing. This is the sort of bloated Hollywood thing made to win some awards and jerk some tears, and everything is just right about the thing. The actresses (The Help trivia: The total amount of time male characters appear on screen for this is a record low one minute and thirty-seven seconds.) act just like their supposed to, the 1960's segregated South looks just like it's supposed to, and the music sounds just like it's supposed to. And the movie takes no chances, fails to challenge, and has almost no depth, just like it's probably supposed to. You don't need substance when you're just there to provide light amusement for housewives, right? Just throw a few "raggedy asses" into the script and a poop joke that would also appeal to most fourth grade boys even though they wouldn't watch this movie on account of all the cooties. They also force-feed the audience a cutesy little catch phrase, something you can put on all the posters maybe (The Help trivia: If you cut out all times a character says "You is kind. You is smart. You is important.", the movie would actually only be forty-three minutes long.), but it just made me want to correct grammar. This is just the type of movie that people will say moved them because it was artificially constructed to do just that. I was just bored out of my mind for way too long and will likely remember nothing about this movie in a few months other than it had a lot of black people in it.

Jen let me know repeatedly that a lot of these scenes "ain't never was in no raggedy-ass book," and I think the dulcet tones of her voice kept me awake.