Oprah Movie Club: Once Upon a Time in the West

1968 Western

Rating: 19/20

Plot: Some guy who might have a name travels the Wild West in search of some talented musicians to complete a band he wants to start--The Belt and Suspenders Blues Band. At the beginning of our story, he's got himself on lead harmonica, and all he needs to complete the band are a back-up harmonica, a gitfiddle, a drummer, a stand-up bass, a washboard, a bottle blower, a harpist, a bassoonist, a tromboner, another tromboner, an accordionist, a piano player, a lead singer, four mildly-attractive women for back-up singers, a beat-box, and another back-up harmonica player. Meanwhile, a guy who's usually a good guy but in this movie is a bad guy has been sent by a guy with his own train to scare a nerd with "the worst hair west of the Mississippi" and either does a really poor job or a really good job. Then, his wife--Boobsy McWhoresalot--shows up and starts distracting everybody. She realizes that her honeymoon is likely ruined and makes some coffee. A bunch of ugly guys are shot, and it all builds up to a thrilling climax when a dying man pats Boobsy on her sweet sweet behind.

"How can you trust a man who wears both a belt and suspenders?"

See, I didn't remember this movie had a character who wore both a belt and suspenders. There was a line in Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole about belts and suspenders and a line in a novel that will remain unfinished because I'm too much of a dumbass to write a stinking chapter of it with a character who wears both. I might need a "belt and suspenders" blog label. Can you imagine Nicolas Cage playing a character who wore both a belt and suspenders? Pants would literally be shat!

Did everybody but me know that Dario Argento co-wrote this?

There's more goodness in the first fifteen minutes of this thing than most directors can dream of putting together in their entire careers. Bird taunting, whistling metal, a stutterer, veins on a dark hand, a ticket flying right into my living room. Under the direction of Leone, I'm pretty sure I could have watched these characters sit around and do absolutely nothing for two hours and forty minutes or so, all scenery and glorious sound effects. I'm not sure who's decision it was--Morricone's or Leone's--to not have music over the opening scene at the train station. If it was the composer's decision, this might be his best work. And that's saying a ton. This movie doesn't need to go anywhere. You've got a screen packed with details, and you just want to absorb it all. There are chunks of this movie where it's barely a moving picture. The pace is leisurely, and that allows us to just savor it. It's more a summertime movie pace, but it's the kind of pace I love, especially when there's so much to look at. Of course, contrast the overall pace to the blink-and-you-miss-it climactic gun fight.

I also love the character's dynamics and the often confusing relationships. They operate with these unwritten rules, this code that shows that Leone's version of the Wild West has this underlying structure. In fact, you almost wonder what samurai movie Leone lifted the story and its characters from. The characters, by the way, are just so complete. You don't need their back stories. All it takes a few moments on the screen and a few lines of dialogue and you just get them. Bronson ain't Eastwood, but everything he says is so cool. Fonda makes a great bad guy (love his sinner's smile), and Claudia Cardinale is so cute that I'll likely dream about patting her behind myself. Robards' Cheyenne is a complex and tragic figure. And they all get their own music! The periphery characters fill in the gaps. As Scott commented (premature commentation, by the way, but I'll allow it), Elam's "wandering eye" is a nice little detail, but really all of these characters' faces twitch or contort in ways that mine can't. I should know because I spent some time in front of the mirror trying to look tough after watching this movie. Leone's really put together a Who's-Who of Grizzled Guys. He sure loves his close-ups.

My favorite moment: Fonda searching Morton's train while the camera pans over a ground littered with dead bodies. When Fonda exits, it's almost enough to convince you that Leone was the greatest director ever. As I type this, I can think of about fifteen other favorite moments or shots in this.

This is a big movie, successful as a Western revenge epic or as an ode (or maybe an elegy) to the American West. Poetic and shockingly beautiful.

I should add that the way Charles Bronson holds that harmonica is perfect.

Taxi Driver

1976 movie

Rating: 20/20

Plot: Travis Bickle gets a new job driving a taxi, makes a few buddies, starts a hobby collecting guns, gets involved with politics, gets a pretty girlfriend, and decides to experiment with his hair.

I may have given bonus points for this for being indirectly responsible for nearly getting Ronald Reagan assassinated. Just think about how powerful that is for a moment. Yeah, I know that The Cat in the Hat could probably drive a person to kill, too, but that's different.

Some questions for my readers who have seen this:

1) Is Travis Bickle a hero?
2) Isn't Travis Bickle dead at the end of this movie? Is that meant to be ambiguous or am I missing something? If he's not dead, is it a happy ending?
3) Is this a war movie?

Here's the most disturbing thing, for me at least: Travis Bickle is relatable. Think about that, too. He's a lonely figure in one of the most crowded cities in the world. He's trapped in this insomniac pessimist fever dream. He can't understand why his date isn't happy about being taken to a pornographic movie theater. It's almost like this story was ripped right out of every man's diary.

I love how that Bernard Herrman sax-heavy score and the filthy backdrop of New York City's prettiest bits almost sexualize the parts of a taxi cab at one point in this movie. I was aroused, and I don't even really find cars all that attractive. I think it might be the color yellow. Then again, Cybill Shepherd's hair didn't do much for me at all. Oddly, Albert Brooks' hair did.

Another question: Did Jodie Foster have good parents?

Harvey Keitel and Peter Boyle's characters should have gotten spin-offs or prequels.

Love Gene Palma as "Street Drummer" enough here to check out every other film he's ever been in. That's only two movies, one a documentary about pornography and one a John Ritter movie. He should have also gotten a spin-off.

I love the linearity of Bickle's story. Every scene is a step in the direction this character is going. And every single scene, arguably, is important.

Here's a question for discussion: If you could invite any six movie characters to have dinner with you, which six would you invite? For me, it would be Travis Bickle, Mary Poppins, and four others. I haven't finished my list yet.

The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao

1964 Tony Randall tour de force!

Rating: 14/20

Plot: It doesn't matter. Tony Randall is a force to be reckoned with.

At the one hour and thirty minute mark, there's a scene where a Loch Ness monster eats a cowboy while these insane bagpipes blare. And not even that can top what Tony Randall is doing throughout the movie. He's a melting pot of dialects, and that's only when he's the titular character. He plays all seven faces here, and every one of them is hot in its own way. Of course, seeing Randall sans shirt rock a Pan flute would make even the most stoic housewife quiver. Randall's goofily off the wall in this and only slightly racist. The story's not entirely coherent, but it's still a lot of fun. I liked the quaint special effects with the snake and that Loch Ness monster, but my favorite scene takes place at Merlin's magic show when there's an extended shot of a kid playing pocket pool. There's another great bit of child acting during Mike's (Kevin Tate) juggling speech. "I can do it! Look, Dr. Lao!" Right there, that's really what acting is all about. This is corny and dated, but it's not a bad addition to the Western fantasy genre. And Tony Randall, if I didn't make this clear earlier, is a force to be reckoned with.

Papillon

1973 prison escape movie

Rating: 17/20 (Dylan: 14/20)

Plot: The true story of Henri Charriere, a thief wrongly arrested for the murder of a pimp. He's sent to an island prison in South America and decides that he doesn't like it very much. He develops a friendship with the wealthy and mousy Louis Dega who helps him plot an escape. His attempts don't work out very well.

"Put all hope out of your mind. And masturbate as little as possible." I have given similar advice.

This second feature in this little prison escape movie festival Dylan and I are enjoying might be a little bit long with an ending that is a little too short. If that makes any sense. You've got a lengthy set-up with some characterization and an introduction to the notorious setting. The prison escape and ensuing outcomes should have been split evenly in thirds for the rest of the movie, but nothing at all should be changed about the first prison escape attempt and the solitary confinement scenes that were the result. And that would have made a movie that you could debate is already too long even longer. Anyway, a minor quibble. There's so much to love in this. You get another cool prison-escape guy with Steve McQueen, and as much as I have trouble understanding what Dustin Hoffman is trying to say through his nose in some of his movies, he's as good as I always expect him to be. Not Mr. Magorium good maybe, but still good. There's a scene where McQueen and Hoffman wrastle a very authentic-looking alligator (or crocodile, whichever they have down there) that is almost as harrowing as the scene in Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium where Hoffman and Natalie Portman are playing with bubble wrap. Speaking of the realism, that's one of the things I really like about this one. There's a brutality here that you just can't help but absorb, especially in that aforementioned solitary confinement sequence. The bugs, the cracks on the walls, McQueen's pasty skin, the beads of sweat, the costume filth, the cold cold cement, and even the darkness feel as real as you can possibly hope something on your television screen could feel. Later, it's the weather, the mud, the lepers. Even a chicken gets injured! This story meanders wonderfully, takes time to really savor the minutia. Contrast that to the brute quickness of a guillotine scene. Startling and effective without any unnecessary trickiness. I also liked a couple surreal dream sequences in this, and the opening scene with a prisoner march through the streets with more extras than I think I've ever seen in a movie was also an impressive cinematic feat. My favorite line: "Blame is for God and small children." Cool, cool movie, one made even cooler knowing that it is probably 100% true, not fabricated a bit.

The Invention of Dr. Nakamats

2009 documentary

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A few days in the life of the titular inventor, a Japanese genius with well over 3,000 patents including, apparently, the floppy disc.

He speaks about himself in the third person, takes pictures of every one of his meals to chronicle his eating, claims that he will live to be 160 years old, egotistically names things after himself, gets only 4 hours of sleep a night, takes credit for inventing glass (OK, that's partially taken out of context), can tell how good a camera is by smelling it, invented radio-controlled roller skates, and created a pencil and notepad that can be used underwater since his best ideas come when he is 5 seconds from death and needs to nearly drown himself in order to invent. Nakamats is eccentric, almost the point where you wonder if he's just dicking around to mess with the documentarians, but he is fairly interesting. There's almost this arrogance or feeling of self-importance that makes him unlikable. At the same time, he's such a funny little man that you wind up liking him. The documentary filmmakers don't get in the way at all here. Nobody attempts to explain or refute or anything else. You get about an hour of Nakamats doing his Nakamats thing, about the time that you can handle.

[Rec]

2007 found footage zombie movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A news reporter and cameraman doing a piece on the lives of firemen get trapped with a bunch of people in a quarantined apartment building. It's zombilarious!

First, there's nothing too intelligent or original about this. I want to get that out of the way right off the bat. Also, I want to throw my main gripe out there--the found footage realism is screwed up with this little what-where-they-thinking? camera trick in the middle of this. But if you're just wanting something scary in that things-jumping-out-and-scaring-you kind of way, this Blair-clone delivers pretty hard. Don't misunderstand. It's not The Blair Witch Project exactly. Here, the filmmakers don't depend solely on mood, ambiance, subtle creeps, and mere suggestions of the evil that is lurking about. No, with [Rec] (dumb title, by the way), you have a lot of the violence and mayhem take place right in front of the lone camera. I was impressed with the set-ups, almost a choreography, and the apartment building's winding stairwell and long hallways gave a lot of opportunities for some creative horror shots. The final scenes take place in a room packed with details. So there's creepiness in this movie, but there are also those Rarr! Creepy thing! scenes that made me pee a little bit. And there are a lot of those. If you're into that sort of thing, I'm sure you'll like this. That this found footage genre hasn't gotten old yet, at least for me, is pretty amazing. I think I like that this genre's got legs.

Death Rides a Horse

1967 Spaghetti Western

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Oh, snap! Young Bill watches a gang of Wild West thugs kill off his ma, his pa, and his sister. Bill's spared, becomes a sharpshooter, and looks for revenge, a dish which is adequately served tepid. Meanwhile, Lee Van Cleef finishes an extended time in prison and is looking for the same people. They get in each other's way.

There's no shortage of these awesome Spaghetti Westerns. And Lee Van Cleef has no shortage of cool, especially when he gets to play a tough and complicated character like this guy. John Phillip Law can barely keep up. He's charming, probably plays his character too naive, and sells "tough cowboy" about as well as Alan Ladd. This has a nice assortment of bad guys, and I like how they all follow this samurai-like code despite being, you know, bad guys. And like a lot of Westerns made in Italy, this has plenty of left-field twists. And the Morricone? The main theme is so big that Quentin Tarantino didn't have to steal for Kill Bill; no, "Death Rides a Horse" pushed its way into the production and demanded to be a part of The Bride's tale of revenge. So powerful, something that really grabs at your arm hairs. Speaking of that Bill, this Bill's got more than a little in common with that Uma, enough so you get the feeling Tarantino drew some inspiration from this. This one's got a brutal beginning to set up a nice revenge tale, one with more quick zooms on these characters' gnarled faces than you're likely to see in your average kung-fu revenge flick. Definitely recommended for fans of the genre. My favorite scene: three notes played by the piano man.

Cool Hand Luke

1967 movie about Christ eating eggs

Rating: 19/20 (Dylan: 13/20)

Plot: The titular ex-war hero is put in jail for what seems to be an absurd length of time for cutting the heads off parking meters. He doesn't like jail all that much and tries to escape over and over again.

Dylan and I are going to work our way through a big list of prison escape movies, and this is the first. So far, all this little prison break film festival has done is prove beyond a reasonable doubt that I have a gay son. I mean, how can you watch Joy Harmon as "Girl Only in the Movie to Wash a Car and Show How Horny Inmates Can Be" washing that car and give this only a 13/20. That extended scene sure extended me! That's just one of a whole bunch of memorable scenes in this. The boxing match, the egg scene ending in Newman striking a Christ pose, the chain-gang rushing to finish the road, the "Night in the Box" speech so fantastically parodied in Toy Story 3, the famous "failure to communicate" line that I borrow all the time to use in my classroom, a little Dennis Hopper, a little Harry Dean Stanton, a little of Kokomo Indiana's own Strother Martin (a man who taught Charlie Chaplin's children to swim), Newman singing "Plastic Jesus" in a scene that nearly jerked tears from me. You also get one of the coolest "bad guys" of all time with Sunglasses Man, a character the Coens would later lift for O Brother. One of those late-60's counterculture in-praise-of-nonconformity flicks that I like so much with the added Christ figure angle, another of my favorite motifs. Add a terrifically cool Newman performance and you've got something pretty special.

Special note: I will not have any problem at all if any of my children are homosexuals. I just wanted to get that out there.

Dead Snow

2009 Nazi zombie movie

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Some medical students go on holiday (isn't that what it's called over there) to a cabin out in the middle of Norwayere. That last word is a portmanteau word--Norway and nowhere. I think I did a good job with it. Expect more portmanteau words as my confidence builds. A mysterious stranger stops by, warns them about Nazis, and then leaves. Then, as expected, Nazi zombies.

I think this will satisfy your desires if you get a hankerin' for some Nazi zombie action. I guess that's a sub-genre--Nazi zombie movies. I think I've only seen one other (Shock Waves), but it wouldn't shock wave me to learn that there were dozens more of these. I was just happy to see Norway again to be honest, but there's enough in this movie to keep it fun enough. It's not for the squeamish, however. Most of the movie is red blood and wrinkled gray on white snow, and there are some scenes where you get more red than gray or white. And disembodied body parts. And scenes where guys stitch up wounds in their necks while blood gloriously and noisily continues to spurt out. This alludes to Evil Dead, Brain Dead, Friday the 13th, Indiana Jones, and April Fools Day in ways that might be fun to fans of those films. It's also got a contender for line of the year when the stranger says, "If you stand with your intestines in your hand, will you know what to do?" Speaking of intestines, Nazi zombies seem to like them. The screenwriters must like them, too. Lots of intestine action, but nobody gets choked with his own intestines. I think I have a label for that. I'm not sure how I liked how these zombies moved. What I really didn't like about this were the clashing tones. This went from deadly serious with mutilation and head squishing to, after a pause, a terrible and ill-timed joke that made things too goofy, even for a Nazi zombie movie. I also hated the big scary music that was used throughout this thing. Sure, the big scary music probably made me jump a few times, but it was a detriment to the overall tone of the movie. This is good in chunks (pun probably intended), but it's a little uneven and just seemed to be missing something.

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies

2006 parody

Rating: 15/20

Plot: The titular megamaniacal spy is sent to the titular city to run a chicken business and investigate the titular spies.

Berenice Bejo. I don't know how her name is actually pronounced, but I'm going to say it so that it rhymes with "very nice pea-ho." Anyway, I might put her on the list--the list of women who, if they decided because of the celebrity status that this blog has given me, send their people to find out if I'm interested in dating them (that's how we celebrities court each other), I'd consider it. Hold on a second! Only if my wife leaves me. This movie delivers the funny even though you have to read everything. It's like a sophisticated Austin Powers in a way, like how Austin Powers would be if that titular spy was played by Will Arnett instead of Michael Meyers. Or maybe it's more Steve Carrell. Jean Dujardin's got the right kind of obnoxious charm for the role, and he doesn't step out of bounds here as silly as this sometimes gets. I think part of the reason this works is because the spy story is interesting enough to keep the momentum whether the comedy side of things is working or not. The movie looks good, too, cool visuals that make this look just like a spy flick from the 60s should look. I especially liked an underwater sequence that was sort of like a skeleton junkyard. This probably does have more homoerotic giggling flashbacks than your ordinary 60's spy flick would. I really liked the music. My favorite bit of dialogue:

OSS 117: What's that smell?
Guy: Chickens.
OSS 117: And the noises?
Guy: Chickens, too.

It's probably funnier in context. Or maybe it's just funny to me because I'm French. What do I know? After all, I'm the guy who gives bonus points to movies with Berenice Bejo in them.

Airplane!

1980 comedy

Rating: 15/20

Plot: See Zero Hour!, another movie with an exclamation point.

That the plot of this is lifted so accurately from that disaster movie is my favorite thing about this movie. Well, with the possible exception of Leslie Nielsen. Now, I was pretty sure that I'd already written about this movie for this blog, but I used my newest blog feature (the much more comprehensive search box to your right) and couldn't find it. This movie makes me laugh and groan alternately. Surely, the Abrahams/Zucker/Zucker combination who wrote this knew that a lot of this material would inspire groaning. Of course they knew it, and don't call me Shirley. This has a great cast, a collection of actors who get it and realize the importance of not overdoing the lines. All except for one guy--Stephen Stucker--whose performance is maybe one of my least favorite comedic performances ever. He sticks out like a mangled thumb, the clown prince of stomping, an I'm almost embarrassed for him. He didn't have a long career, probably because he almost singlehandedly ruined this movie. I wonder how many scenes had to be deleted because they were Stuckered. This movie was probably supposed to be three hours long until they realized they'd have to remove 90% of Stucker's scenes. But enough about him. I watched this movie because I desperately needed to laugh at something really stupid. It succeeds at that, maybe better than any other comedy. I do, perhaps unfairly, blame this movie for a lot of stuff that follows it. That includes the sequel.

The Man Who Saved the World

1982 Turkish Star Wars

Rating: 2/20

Plot: A pair of kung-fu fightin' astronauts (or are the cosmonauts in Turkey? [or did Turkey not even have anything that even remotely resembled a space program?]) land on what must be Tatooine where a demonic wizard is doing a variety of things that he hopes will result in, I believe, the destruction of the world. They battle his evil minions and try to locate a magic sword while parts of the Raiders of the Lost Ark score plays in the background.

That might be the poster of the year. Always good to start with the positives.

Seriously, this just plagiarizes music from the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films. Not only that, it plagiarizes space battle sequences from A New Hope. It's not just little snippets either. This is huge chunks of film. They look odd because they're squashed into a different aspect ratio, but I still think it counts as stealing. It's strange hearing the Indiana Jones theme while X-Wings fly around the Death Star.

Watching the credits, I noticed that Turkish people already have good Star Wars names, so that makes things easy. I also noticed that the company that produced this beast is named Kunt Films.

This actually looks like the type of movie that would be produced by Kunt Films. And no, I'm not really sure what that means. But wouldn't this thing be in a Kunt Films production:



That's the Darth Vader of Turkish Star Wars, an evil wizard. Of course, this differs from the Star Wars trilogy because the Turkish Star Wars Darth Vader dies which means he won't end up being anybody's father if there's ever a sequel to this thing. And that, dear readers, is how you spoil two movies in one sentence. Although I doubt anybody reading this hasn't seen the Star Wars films, I still should probably apologize. Hopefully this other image from The Man Who Saved the World will make up for it:


Yeah, that picture is random, but so is most of this movie. After the initial Star Wars space battle scenes, there's a lengthy scene where the hero and the other hero ride on horses to the Raiders theme. The horse-riding scenes are chopped up with shots of monsters. Now what I can't figure out is why the makers of this thing decided to show us close-ups of these growling beasts.


Toilet tissue mummies, obligatory tinfoil "stormtroopers, an absurdly-large and unwieldly magic sword, chaotic fight choreography, trampolining, the most maddening sound effects I've ever heard, metal hands, sliced furry things, exploding decapitated heads (Seriously, what the hell? A mummy thing is decapitated. The head is thrown at another mummy. Explosion. Does that make sense in Turkey?), blue robot lasers. It's all pretty brilliant. And this ends in what has to be the worst special effect I have ever seen. I don't want to spoil it for you, but it's the evil wizard's head chopped in half vertically. If nothing else, this movie has inspired me to look for the Turkish Titanic movie. Oh, snap! These guys:

Moneyball

2011 baseball movie

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

Plot: The somewhat-true story of Billy Beane, ex-ballplayer and GM of the small-market Oakland Athletics. Going against traditional baseball logic and the advice of his team scouts, Beane leans on the advice of math whiz-kid Paul and attempts to replace three key players lost to free agency with misfits no other team has much interest in. After a slow start, his team begins winning, giving credence to his oddball ideas.

This is a solid movie with some good performances (Full disclosure: I had no idea that was Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Art Howe) but the music gives it the atmosphere and depth of a television drama and more than a few Hollywood touches keep things a little flat. For a die hard baseball nerd, this is a real treat as you get in-depth look at the innards of a professional baseball team. I especially liked, even if they weren't all that realistic, the phone conversations that Beane had with other general managers as trades were (almost) discussed and dealings were done. There could have probably been more baseball action, but it might have distracted from the real story. The combination of actual footage and reenactment was really well done though. Pitt "just talks" his way through this (Jen's words, not mine) but has enough personality to make you want to follow the character around. Initially, I thought his story meandered a little too much, but it all came together nicely at the end. The "annoying" little girl (again, Jen's words) who played Pitt's daughter (Kerris Dorsey) was really good in limited screen time. Also given screen time: actual baseball player Royce Clayton as Miguel Tejada. Oh, and that White Sox first base coach (Tom Gamboa) who was attacked by drunken fans in Kansas City. No, that can't be right. He must have been a Royals first base coach attacked by fans in Chicago.

Chad Bradford, the guy with the goofy wind-up, trivia: Bradford would literally scrape his knuckles on the pitcher's mound dirt occasionally when he threw pitches.

Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure

2011 documentary

Rating: 14/20

Plot: In 1987, a couple of friends fresh out of high school migrated to San Francisco from the Midwest and signed a lease to stay in a cheap pink apartment building. On the way out, their new landlord warned, "Oh, by the way: The neighbors can get loud." Those neighbors--two old men named Ray and Peter and their occasional guest Tony--would bicker loudly at all hours of the night. One of the kids confronted the men and was subsequently threatened. They decided to record the two's arguments, eventually making taped recordings of the spirited and drunken conversations to give to their friends. And long before the word "viral" ever became a thing, the tapes were exchanged enough times to make the arguments of Ray and Peter a cult phenomenon. This documentary takes a look at the phenomenon and the ensuing arguments when people tried to make a buck from it.

This is the sort of thing that I have an interest in. I've had the recordings for a long time, and I was excited about the documentary coming out. After watching, I think I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. On the one hand, the audio documents themselves are fascinating and frequently hilarious. But it for sure crosses the line into exploitation, and watching the pair who recorded Ray and Peter attempt to strike it rich with their "art" rubbed me the wrong way. It's not just them either; there's a pretty big group of people who have illustrated Ray and Peter's fights for comic books, remixed the recordings, or attempted to have movies made. Most telling in this is when Eddie Sausage and Mitchell D. change the liner notes of their cassettes to include copyright information. There are also some things about this that kind of annoyed me. The reenactments were on the goofy side, and their attempts to get an on-screen interview with Tony, the only surviving voice from the recordings, made me a little uncomfortable. I might feel a little dirty the next time I pop in my Shut Up Little Man! recording, but it won't stop me from enjoying it anyway.

My favorite line from those recordings remains the same: "You always giggle falsely. You don't have a decent giggle in you."

Broken Flowers

2005 mystery movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Don Johnston's a sad Don Juan, but his life just isn't complete. His latest in a series of likely hundreds of girlfriends walks out on him, and the same day he gets a letter from an anonymous former lover informing him that he has a 19-year-old son who might be looking for him. His nosey neighbor does some research and sends Don on a journey of self-discovery in which he visits four of his girlfriends to find out which one sent the letter. Journey of self-discovery? That sounds like crap they'd write on the back of a dvd box.

This movie can be summed up by describing the contrast between Don and his neighbor, humorously played by Jeffrey Wright. Winston's got the family, a cluttered but colorful home, a bubbling enthusiasm, a desire to explore and seek answers. Don's alone in a quiet and almost bare-by-comparison house and almost seems resigned to the fact that he is going to die alone. This is as enigmatic as most Jarmusch flicks are, and although I'm sure Don's journey is supposed to represent the stages of something-rather, I can't place my finger on what those stages are or even what they're the stages of. To me, this is a movie about reflecting on the past in order to attempt to grasp something that was missed. I love the mystery of the thing and the little visual pink clues dropped all over the place. Murray's fun to watch although he isn't terribly funny. As usual, he shows off this ability to say more without any words at all than most actors can say with an entire page of dialogue.

This reminds me: I need to see that other Jarmusch movie that I haven't seen yet.

Trees Lounge

1996 downer

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Tommy the mechanic's not very good at life. He lost his last job because he stole some money from the garage and gambled it away. He can't find another job because nobody wants to hire a mechanic who will steal money from the garage and gamble it away. And he's lost his girlfriend. At least he's got the titular bar, a place where everybody knows your name but is too drunk to pronounce it. Can an ice cream truck and a new young friend turn Tommy's life around or is he doomed to be just another loser on a bar stool?

Buscemi tells this could-have-been biographic tale of loserdom without any style whatsoever, and I don't think there are too many characters out there who could wear a complete lack of style as well as Tommy. Buscemi's good in the role. He just plays "loser" so well, something I'm sure he's going to be really proud of. Bronson Dudley is a presence as Bill, a character who gets almost no lines and is basically in the movie just to drink himself to death. All he needed to play his part well is the right face, and he's definitely got that. I'm sure Mr. Dudley would be equally proud to know that. This moves as plotlessly as the life of an alcoholic probably moves. It never idealizes, never Hollywoods it up. It also has multiple scenes with an ice cream truck, and ice cream truck driver has become one of my dream jobs along with postman, taxi driver, and gigolo.

When the Wind Blows

1986 cartoon

Rating: 17/20

Plot: An old couple prepare for nuclear holocaust by following the instructions in a government manual. It works fantastically!

I don't know this for sure and haven't researched, but I'm pretty sure the old dude is supposed to be Charlie Brown all grown up. I'm not sure why he develops an English accent though.

File this along with the devastating Grave of the Fireflies in the drawer marked "Cartoons That Might Make You Cry." Like Grave, this one shows how the violence of war affects everyday people, only this one's got a funny old retired couple instead of children. This one also isn't quite as devastating. I don't think. It's been so long since I saw Grave and I don't see myself popping it in again. The animation style is mostly very traditional and very simple; however, there are moments when it ventures into more experimental territory like during a dreamy dandelion sequence or some shots post-bomb. And I do really like how the "camera" moves through the old couple's house in this one. Watching the colorful--though muted--couple maneuver through the gray chaos after the war, like personified naivete wandering through a landscape of hate, makes for some unforgettable imagery. The writers and animators don't hold back--these characters cough up blood, lose their hair, develop festering boils, and soil themselves. It really clobbers you over the head with its point and toys with you emotionally, but I've got the kind of sensibilities that fall for this sort of thing. And even though the Cold War (in my opinion the most boring "war" we've ever had) is long gone, what this addresses is timeless and very very real. The sad truth at the heart of this movie--that old people are really pretty stupid--will unfortunately never go away.

World's Greatest Dad

2009 dark comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Lance has always dreamed of being a professional novelist but has settled on being a mediocre and unpopular teacher of poetry at a high school. He tries his best to raise his little hellion of a son, a socially-awkward and potentially dangerous young man. Things aren't going great with the art teacher he has a secret relationship with either. Things start to look up for the poor guy following an unexpected tragedy.

I may have given this one a Robin-Williams'-penis bonus point. I've heard rumblings about Robin Williams being famously well-endowed. This movie reveals the truth. But that's a spoiler, and I probably shouldn't have started with it. It's too late now, and there's nothing I can do about it. So Robin Williams' penis is big, and Bobcat Goldthwait is one sick, dark writer. World's Greatest Dad grabs tattoos by the balls and shakes it around until more taboos spill out. More people will squirm at what happens in this more than they'll laugh, but I found the movie engaging for its duration. I loved Daryl Sabara as the son in a performance that spells out awkward with all capital letters. Thinking about a shirt with his picture almost makes me laugh. I thought I knew his face but couldn't quite put my finger on it. Then I found out that he's the kid from Spy Kids, and it's great to see that he's grown up and become the type of actor who is willing to be in awkward masturbation scenes. I know Antonio Banderas would appreciate it at least. Sabara is like the anti-Cera here. Now before you Cera fans jump down my throat, let me make it clear that I like Michael Cera just fine, even when he's sporting a mustache like in this picture. Anyway, Sabara gives us a great comic performance here. Williams is good as well although there are far too many close-ups of him. I could identify with his character as a language arts teacher, especially with the kid who plagiarized Queen/Bowie and recited "Under Pressure" as his own original poem. I had a student do that with Johnny Cash once. I also liked the haiku that a character named Andrew recited. You can almost tell that Goldthwait's got some ADHD issues or something by the way his movies flow. This is no exception, and it always seems like things are threatening to become unhinged at any moment. The movie's good, but there just seems to be missing a big of reality or something that keeps it from being great. I did appreciate the Santa Claus Conquers the Martians poster hanging in the background in one scene.

Clerks

1994 comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A convenient store clerk and a neighboring video store clerk have various adventures. Dante's got girl problems, and all he wants to do is play hockey. After all, he wasn't even supposed to be at work today.

I appreciate this movie more than I like it or laugh at it. I like its laidback feel, what it is compared to other early-to-mid-90's comedy films, and what Kevin Smith and company do with almost no money at all. The movie and its characters feel personal, and I think it makes for an overall warm viewing experience. I like the oddball little slice of life and the shenanigans of these goofy characters. I've never really found this movie to be all that funny, however. This is the classic example of the type of movie that seen in a context is completely brilliant but that time hasn't been all that good to. In fact, I'm going to go ahead and blame this for all of the people who think that anybody can make a movie. James Nguyen, the famed director of Birdemic: Shock and Terror, probably saw this and thought, "Hey, if this is a movie, then I bet I could make one!" Not that that's an entirely bad thing, of course.

Playing hockey on the roof, by the way, would be dangerous. I just want to point that out for any kids who might be reading this. If you are going to play hockey on the roof or anywhere else, might I suggest you do it in a pair of Zubaz. Zubaz are a pant that allows you the comfort and flexibility needed to make some sweet music as you skate around your competition on the court. Or ice if you're into that. You can find all kinds of reasonably priced Zubaz in a variety of colors here. Embrace the awesome!

Attack the Block

2011 hip-hoppin' sci-fi

Rating: 10/20

Plot: A group of thugs battle fuzzy aliens.

I didn't like any of the characters in this. And I know what you're thinking--oh, snap! Shane-movies is a racist movie blog! But check yo'self, fool. I didn't not (double negative is fine here because the movie characters wouldn't mind--a new shane-movies rule) like the characters because they're black inner-city kids. I just don't like people from England. And "English" isn't a race, so it's cool. These kids were really unlikable heroes, not just in an anti-hero way either. I guess I like my anti heroes to be working alone. This crew's rude and criminal, and I hated the way they talk. I can't say I have any experience in the bowels of South London, and I suppose people really might talk like this, but I can't imagine people actually talking like this. I don't have a problem with slang and in fact proved beyond a reasonable doubt how hip I am when I typed "Check yo'self, fool" up there, but this dialogue's about 85% slang (actual statistic) and really irritating. I was rooting for the alien monsters, partially because they're fuzzy since it's difficult to root against creatures that are fuzzy and partially because they were mute. They were loud though. A lot of this movie is just special effects and noise, and once the action of this gets started--pretty early in the proceedings--it doesn't let up much at all. When it does, things are clumsy. When you don't care for the unlikable characters, you don't really have any interest in seeing them develop or grow. Not that they do a whole lot or anything. That's not the type of movie Attack of Block is. It's not the type of movie that I'll really remember either. And for a movie that is mostly fuzzy aliens fighting inner-city kids, that's probably a really bad thing.

Note: I was going to give this an 11/20 but decided to start calling this "the Goonies of my generation" and immediately changed the rating to The Goonie.

Birdemic: Shock and Terror

2010 masterpiece

Rating: 1/20

Plot: A young couple fall in love. Eagles inexplicably begin attacking; sometimes they explode. The couple fights for survival and learns about the importance of taking care of the environment.

James Nguyen directed this. The story goes that it took him four years to make this beast of a film, and he was understandably disappointed when Sundance rejected it. To promote the film, he decorated his van (probably the same one in this movie) with fake blood and birds and drove around blaring screaming and screeching sounds out of speakers. He got the idea for Birdemic: Shock and Terror from watching The Birds and An Inconvenient Truth.

This'll be the worst movie I see this year. It's The Room quality but with more action. You know, because of all the exploding birds. They don't show up right away though. Like Hitchcock, Nguyen gradually builds up the suspense. The first forty-five minutes involves the main characters hooking up, but about half of that time is used for scenes of the guy character driving around. There's even a lengthy scene where he leaves his house, gets gas, and then goes back home. That's it. Nothing else happens. He just gets gas. Another great scene that seemed utterly pointless involves a business meeting-turned-celebration where the actors stand around clapping for a very long time. I'm talking about an unnaturally long time.

Unlike Hitchcock, this movie's got this wild is-this-thing-on camera work and the worst sound problems you will ever experience while watching a movie. I don't think I'm wrong about that either. And the birds look like cartoons and don't mesh with the real stuff at all. It's the worst CGI that I've ever seen, and I'm pretty sure your average ornithologist, when given very tiny magic markers, could have done a better job just drawing directly on the film. And, as I mentioned before, they sometimes explode when they collide with things. The juxtaposition between the romantic plot of the first half of this movie and the bird apocalypse of the second half is so jarring. There are a couple of scenes that might foreshadow a bird apocalypse, but for the most part, it's just wham-bam-thank-you-m'am! Bird attack! Add the most irritating sound effects ever, and you've got something pretty special. Is there a film school for special ed. students because this looks like a project that might have come from a place like that. Just check it out for yourself:

Yeah, those are coat hangers that they're defending themselves with. But don't worry--the guy in the brown shirt's got a machine gun in his van, and believe me, he knows how to use it!

The lead actors are awful. Alan Bagh might as well have been made of plywood. His co-star, Whitney Moore, is cute as can be, and I nearly gave the movie an extra point just for her posterior. But the "supporting casts" (that's what it says in the credits) is what really makes this a magical experience. Moore's character's mother seems bad at first, but then there's an extended shot where she's giving a thumbs-up sign that made me change my mind. There are two child actors playing Susan and Tony, and they are truly awful, even compared to other bad child actors. But in this movie, they just fit right in. There's a hippie character whose lines are stolen from John Lennon songs (and An Inconvenient Truth) and he might get the line of the movie when he says, "Whoa! I hear a mountain lion!" Guy-in-Easy-E-Shirt and Lady-on-Bus-with-Colorful-Shirt are only on the screen for a few minutes, but they really shine. So good. And just when I think periphery character acting can't get even worse, our characters enter a gas station and meet the gas station employee. Oh, boy. There's also a great musical number called "Just Hanging Out" sung by somebody named Damien Carter.



There's another picture of a bird attack. I know I didn't set it up or anything, but neither did this movie. And I wanted to both shock and terrify you. I apologize if you wet yourself. Here's what happens to you after you get attacked by these birds, by the way:

The thing that makes this one even more special is that Nguyen's got an environmental message that he wants to hammer into our heads. It's clumsy hammering though, like he's using a giant inflatable hammer and trying to drive in a thumb tack. There are news snippets (fake ones) about polar bears dying, scenes where the main character is trying to have solar panels added to his house, conversations with an environmentalist/bird professor ("You certainly know a lot about birds." "I should. I'm an ornithologist."), and my personal favorite touch--a scene of serenity near the end of the movie where the characters eat seaweed on a beach, serenity that is interrupted by the little girl saying she wants a Happy Meal which apparently is the cue for the cartoon eagles to start attacking again. Nguyen must not like McDonalds.

I wonder how Nguyen feels about Zubaz, the best pants money can buy?

This movie is highly recommended to all lovers of bad movies. It really has to be seen to be believed.