13 Assassins

2010 samurai movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Based on the board game Candyland, this concerns the titular assassins trying to carry out a plot to kill Lord Licorice. The evil lord of the Candyland domain gathers Plumpy, Mr. Mint, King Kandy, Jolly, Queen Frostine, Gloppy the Chocolate Monster, Gramma Nutt, and about two-hundred other warriors to try to stop them. Lots of gingerbread men get sliced.

I'd almost like to see a four-hour director's cut of this or something. The size matters when you're talking about samurai, I guess. You can really take it in three separate chunks--the assembling of the thirteen, a romp through the forest to get to Lord Licorice et al., and a 45-minute slicin' and dicin' marathon which ends with a body count that is about as high as you're likely to see in a film. That third section is about perfect. There's the calm before the storm with this ominous haze, the fortified nowhere town that looks like a crazy version of a Mouse Trap, a child urinating. If it wasn't for the goofy CGI flaming bulls, that part of the movie would have been perfect. You've got the samurai bloodbath pornography if you're into that sort of thing and enough continued character development and emotional depth to make it not completely meaningless. Those first two parts? Well, there's an attempt at character development with the first third, but it really didn't do much for me since I couldn't distinguish the characters from one another anyway. There are also some training scenes that I liked and could have used more of. The second third is nifty, working almost like a buddy-buddy-buddy-buddy-buddy-buddy-buddy-buddy-buddy-buddy-buddy-buddy movie, and they pick up the thirteenth "assassin" who winds up being the most intriguing character. But you know that this is just a prelude to the aforementioned samurai bloodbath pornography, and that's the real reason why you popped this in anyway. You wanted some Takashi Miike mayhem--necks sliced through, limbs flopping all over the place, folks disemboweled, nipples punctured. Other than a difficult-to-watch scene featuring a woman with no arms and legs, this is tame for Miike, and the violence is approached in a more human way, especially during a scene where a character kills for the first time. Miike's surprisingly (to me, at least) made himself an old school samurai picture. Well, the hari kari is awfully squelchy. And the bad guy, a dude who isn't really named Lord Licorice, is a little more ruthless than you'd normally expect. I loved that character, not just because he said cool things like "Does daddy monkey have hard bones, too?" (I wonder if that's poorly translated or actually what he said) but because of his reaction to the attack on his life. My favorite scene--the lead assassin makes a fish and hook analogy to describe how they were trapping the army of seventy. When the army turns out to be two hundred, he says, "The bigger the fish the better," and this one guy's reaction is like "Dude, that analogy just ain't working for me anymore." Anyway, good samurai flick.

The Catechism Cataclysm

2011 comedy

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Father William is not a very good priest. His parishioners don't get his stories, and he spends more time watching viral videos on Youtube than with the Word. He's encouraged to take a break by an older priest, and he meets up with an old acquaintance who used to date his sister and convinces him to go on a day-long canoe trip with him. The adventure starts with Father William accidentally dropping his Bible in the toilet, and things go downhill from there.

I had to give a bonus point or two for that title, the only reason I watched this movie. It never really feels like a real movie to me, and I'm not sure there's much of a point--at least I missed it--but this made me laugh a few times. His defense of an old-lady-with-a-gun-story with an "It's in the book of Job" made me giggle, but almost immediately, I wondered if this is the type of character who can carry an entire movie. Steve Little's weird looking and has an even weirder voice, and his Father William seems more like an auxiliary character than a protagonist, somebody who should be in a film even less than that bald guy from Airplane! And who wears a helmet for a canoe trip? You get used to this guy's oddness, and since comedy involves surprises, I think that hurts a bit. I liked the friend, this cool loser played by Robert Longstreet. I'm not sure it's a chemistry between the two as much as it is a complete clash of characters, but the dynamic was good enough to carry a movie that is largely made up of scenes where they're just talking. Well, until Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn come along and wacky things up a lot. I liked Robbie's stories, especially the love story between Miquel and Maria and a lollipop. Touching stuff, even when Robbie ends the scene by snapping at William that "it's not an amazing boner story." I will say this about The Catechism Cataclysm: I think I'll remember it. And I'm curious to see what else director Todd Rohal does even though I don't generally like people named Todd. This is the sort of movie I think I could probably make. No, I don't necessarily mean that as a bad thing. I'd have a lot less music though. The ironic heavy metal music didn't bother me in this as much as the big dramatic movie music. Music in contemporary movies has really been bugging me lately. It seems like it's only there because somebody thought it was supposed to be there.


2009 documentary

Rating: 14/20

Plot: C-Movie directing icon Jim Wynorski attempts to make a feature-length film called Witches of Breastwick in three days.

I'm not familiar with Wynorski's work, but he makes the type of movies I hate to love. His famous is 1996's Chopping Mall. And yes, Witches of Breastwick was finished and released and even got a sequel. He likes boobs a lot. Here's a list of a bunch of his other movies:

Busty Coeds vs. Lusty Cheerleaders
Dinocroc vs. Supergator
Busty Cops 1 and 2
Busty Cops and the Jewel of Denial
Busy Cops Go Hawaiian
The Hills Have Thighs
The Devil Wears Nada
The Lusty Busy Babe-a-que
Bone Eater
House on Hooter Hill
The Breastford Wives
The Da Vinci Coed
Alabama Jones and the Busty Crusade
Bad Bizness
Cheerleader Massacre
The Bare Wench Project (and its sequels The Bare Wench Project 2: Scared Topless and The Bare Wench Project 3: Nymphs of Mystery Mountain)
Scream Queen Hot Tub Party
Munchie (and Munchie Strikes Back)
Ghoulies I-IV
976-Evil I and II
Sorority House Massacre II (I don't see a 1)
Big Bad Mama II (don't see a 1 for this one either)

It's 90 titles in a little over 25 years. Let's see Martin Scorsese top that!

There's some footage from previous movies to give you a taste of Wynorski's repertoire. His claim is that all you need is "big chase plus big chest" and you've got yourself a winner. He's also, although maybe not a great filmmaker, really smart as evidenced by his ability to make quick films based on current movie trends. For example, his Dinosaur Island was made for 190K in order to take advantage of the Jurassic Park craze. His frequent collaborators, most who have a love-hate relationship with the guy, talk about his past failures and notable triumphs, my favorite being his direction of some extras with the words "Run, you fucking monks, run!" The documentarian also interviews his mother who hasn't seen many of his movies but who really liked Chopping Mall. She didn't like the nudity in it though. "Nudity. Why did he have to do that? You just didn't do that. Not even in your own house did you do that." What? Most of the movie chronicles Wynorski's attempt to make the movie in three days and the problems that arise when one attempts to make a movie in three days. As a connoisseur of bad films, I enjoyed watching the process, and Wynorski himself, quite the asshole, was interesting as either this really complex guy or this really simple guy. On the one hand, he's simple to pin down as a guy who enjoys boobs and fire. On the other hand, you wonder what he really wants with his career and what he could have been if some breaks would have bounced his way. There's one absolutely painful five minutes where an actress named Julie, classically trained, tries to deliver a line about a tow truck. She does have a fantastic rack, however.

The Evil Dead (+ bonus short)

1981 horror film

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Like The Social Network, this is based on Mark Zuckerberg's story. Five punks retreat to a cabin in the woods and unleash evil demons when they read from (here's the joke's explanation in case you didn't get it) a book with a face on it. They fight to survive!

This isn't the goofy cinematic masterpiece that its sequel is, but it's a quality low-budget horror film. The tone's a lot different in this one although there are hints of the inventive camera work, wild creativity, and sick humor that makes Evil Dead II so memorable and fun. There's lots of squelchy body parts sloshing around in the blood and guts and milk, and there's one scene where a woman is violated by foliage that will either arouse or horrify you. Or horrouse you, maybe give you a horrection. Bruce Campbell takes a lot of punishment here, and it would be hard for somebody seeing these for the first time to believe that he takes even more in the second installment. I believe he's attacked by shelving more in this one than he is the zombie demons. I love a shot in the cellar where the camera leaves Campbell and circles all the way around the setting before settling back on the character again, a shot that is reused in Evil Dead II. I also like how the demons here don't just try to kill Ash and his pals. No, they taunt him first, like demon zombie trash talk. Joe LoDuca's clacky junkyard score is the perfect companion for the foreboding tone of the early scenes and the frantic ack-there's-a-zombie nutsiness later that follow. Once those start rolling, this is so fast paced that it's impossible to get bored. It all ends in some lovely stop-motion demon decay following by a "Join us" or three and a terrific abrupt ending. That Raimi is able to create something so memorable and chilling with almost no budget is a small little miracle.

Speaking of fun gory movies, I was moved recently to watch this short German film, a parody of those goofy job safety videos. This one is called "Forklift Driver Klaus: First Day on the Job" and is really funnier if you go into it without any prior knowledge. It's terrific! Find it here at Youtube.

The People vs. George Lucas

2010 documentary

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A look at the titular director, the man who became a corporate machine--not unlike his samurai-influenced creation, Darth Vader. Well, Anakin didn't become a corporation exactly, but you get the idea.

That's one of the interesting points this another-Star-Wars documentary suggested. Don't assume this is all a (probably juvenile) fanboy attack on George Lucas, somebody who's just upset at the midichlorians and Jar Jar Binks or who-shot-who-first, though all three of those are ranted against quite a bit. Yes, most of this--the emphasis on Lucas as an ultra-capitalist, the seemingly endless tinkering with the "finished" films, the disappointment of the second trilogy--is negative, but the tone is often more sympathetic than vicious or attacking. There's a lot packed into this 90 minutes--tons of fan rants, a few famous folks chiming in, archive footage of people of doing nutty things like camping in line for opening nights or dressing like Ugnauts, fan tribute stuff. There's a lot of footage from Star Wars Uncut. A lot is made of Lucas's inability to leave his movies alone, but it also praises him for being open to fans dicking around with his stuff. My favorite moment, a clip that I had to fight hard to keep from giving this a 35-point bonus, showed none other than Wesley Willis singing a song about Jar Jar. And speaking of Jar Jar, there's a clip from Attack of the Clones where Jar Jar looks straight at the camera with this big goofy grin, a big FU from George to haters. And I have to get my hands on the Star Wars Holiday Special because that looks like the greatest thing of all time.

I watched this in honor of A New Hope's 35th birthday.

Dark Days

2000 documentary

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Marc Singer films the people living by the Amtrak tracks in underground tunnels beneath New York City.

So this guy Marc Singer makes this one documentary and then decides it's enough of a legacy and makes nothing else. He's like the Jeff Mangum of documentary film-making. The tone's set early with the more-black-than-white photography and a pan along the "homes" of these people accompanied by a D.J. Shadow track. Of course, you know exactly what the movie's about, and almost immediately, you feel the situation as you see these rickety shacks. Then, you get to meet the people, and although some are a little strange--my favorite, Lee, who hams it up a bit for Singer's camera ("He eats martians!')--most are relatively grounded who have survived difficulties and have managed to live in the dark below the city for more years than you can imagine. Singer lets his camera do the talking here, and the shots we get are random--some full of meaning, poignant; some humorous, some, like a scene with a "toilet," just pretty darn gross; some heartbreaking. A new conflict is quickly introduced in the last fourth of this and too-quickly resolved. Prior to that storyline, the images and snippets of dialogue shared by these people who I doubt would consider themselves homeless make for some good movie poetry.

Down by Law

1986 somnambulistic Three Stooges movie

Rating: 18/20

Plot: A former D.J., a pimp, and an Italian immigrant wind up in the same jail cell where they chant about ice cream and plan a break-out. Then, they break out.

These Jarmusch films sneak up on you. The genius of them, that is, tapping you on the shoulder and then doing a funny little shuffling dance step when you turn to look. Or sometimes just flashing you a goofy thumbs-up sign and giggling. The genius of Jarmusch is in how he uses the silent moments, spaces. The same part of me that likes the poetic and quietly slow perfection of a baseball game is the part of me that loves Down by Law and Stranger than Paradise. You get space to deal with your own thoughts, crawl in there with the characters, soak in the gray details. Jarmusch is also so good at taking advantage of his settings, here the dirty city and almost hauntingly empty streets (A quick thought: I was surprised to see so many names in the credits. As with his other movies, Jarmusch doesn't waste much time showing us superfluous characters. He's got to have some kind of record for lowest extras to movie ratio.), the architecture, a very limited and sparse jail cell, the bayou. There's just so much for me to love here that I wonder if Jarmusch made this movie just for me--an oily street littered with Tom's broken records and discarded things, the prostitute's giggle after the "bygones be bygones" line, the punky guy, that long pan over the prison bars over Lurie's "fake jazz," the mention of Beepy Rapozo and the imagining of all this insane shit, a brawl scene that makes think I could take Tom Waits in a fight if we came to blows, Waits in a hairnet (a dream come true), the appearance of Benigni and how he changes the film's tone and brings a little sizzle, Benigni's standing around and failed attempts to talk to Lurie and Waits (classic Jarmusch here), the line "Cigarettes don't help with hiccups, not in this country," the aforementioned nutty "I scream for ice cream" scene that makes me smile whenever I think about it just because there's not another director alive who would put that on the screen, Tom Waits' unnatural but engrossing performance that I can't take my eyes off (a scene where Jack tells him that he's going east and Tom gives a little twitch of his hand--it's a brilliant twitch!), "Jack! Jack! Do you have some fire?", the way Waits says "Bob," the amatory dance in the cafe, a sinking row boat, the final Bob Frostian shot that is almost overwhelmingly beautiful and sad. If you don't at least like this movie, I don't want anything to do with you.

We Bought a Zoo

2011 movie

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

Plot: Benjamin writes about his adventures for a magazine, but he's about to have his greatest adventure ever when he buys a zoo and tries to get it up and running. His two children and he try to get over the death of the family's matriarch which seems awfully whiny since they seem to get all the free lasagna they can eat. The tiger's sick, and Scarlett Johannson's there to wave her cute little ass around.

I really thought that I was liking this sweet little movie, but the longer it went on, the less and less I liked it. In fact, I can't think of a movie with such a sharp descent from "Ehh--this isn't too bad" to "Oh my God! I need to wash the stupid from my eyes!" I will say this though: I like Matt Damon here. I don't know if the real Benjamin Mee is this likable, but Damon makes the character very easy to root for, despite or maybe because of his flaws. I also thought his daughter, played by a cute little girl named Maggie Elizabeth Jones, was really good, but then I remembered what human children are actually like and ended up irritated by what was actually on the screen as a cute little prop than an actual character. The son (Colin Ford) isn't much better at playing a human child, but that might just because I don't like people named Colin. Worst of the bunch is Elle Fanning, the convenient love interest for son Dylan, who acts like she's either been drugged, hypnotized, or hypnotized and drugged. Or maybe she's supposed to be vacuous in an almost eerie way, probably the product of home schooling. And Scarlett? Gosh, I want to like her as an actress, but she doesn't seem to have much range (but I haven't seen her in any superhero movies) and her character here was dopey and weird. I just have a tough time believing her as an actual female even though she wouldn't have slept with me in high school just like every other actual female. She looks more like a Scientologist than a person. And what the hell is up with Thomas Haden Church's head? I think there's something living in there. But these people aren't the main problem with We Bought a Zoo and neither is the amount of times the little girl says "We bought a zoo!" Although that repeated line might symbolize the collective problems I have with this syrupy thing. There's just too much movie here. It's predictable, and even the montage, Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl" of all songs, shows up right when you know it will. Not bad soundtrack selections, by the way, with a choice Dylan cut and some Cat Stevens or whatever the hell he's calling himself these days. But I digress. There's what I imagine was penned to be the emotional heart of this movie, a scene featuring a tiger, that is just so artificial, and that's about where the movie falls to pieces. Add a fallen tree and a "Hi, Mom" that came closer than any movie to making me shove the business end of a spoon into both eyes and the handle into both ears so that I wouldn't see, hear, or be reminded of the scene again. Somebody should have stopped production and said, "Wait just a second--we can't show this shit to people!" Yeah, artificial. That's how I'd describe this one.

The Godmonster of Indian Flats

1973 monster sheep movie

Rating: 3/20

Plot: Mine fumes or something create a mutant sheep in a place that might be called Indian Flats but seems to be called Virginia City, an old mining town in the West. The godmonster is taken to the lab of the scientist you typically see in towns like this that movies like this take place in. Meanwhile, a businessman strolls into town wanting to purchase land for reasons that I didn't bother paying attention to, but some guy named Silverdale isn't selling. When the businessman refuses to leave town, Silverdale has to get his main thug, the town's sheriff, and the town's sheriff's sideburns involved. Later, the godmonster ruins a picnic.

This is the type of movie that will change your life. You just won't be the same after the closing credits of this one. There's all kinds of nonsense at the beginning with the guy I thought was going to be the main character. I think his name must have been Tito. We're told it's a "time full of banjo dust and starry-eyed broads looking for a good time," and Tito steps off a sheep truck in Reno, wins two-hundred bucks in a slot machine in a room that is at first completely empty but then almost full a few seconds later, and then ends up in a room with these people

where he is eventually beaten and robbed. I posted that picture only because I'm pretty sure that piano man is either Shane MacGowen or the crazy drugged piano player from Reefer Madness. Then, he's in his barn where there's a sheep attack that is sonically and visually the most bizarre thing I've had the pleasure of experiencing in a while. First, the guy's in a darkened barn while the sheep running at him are in daylight. Then there's the sheep noises, one which I swear is a a guy going "Baa! Baaa!" Eventually, I lost track of what was going on and just assumed the guy was being sheep-gang-raped which, I have to admit, is a movie first for me. Next morning--sheep mutant. But the main conflict of this movie is Silverdale and his cronies vs. the black guy who rolls into town looking to buy some property, and that conflict dominates the screenplay. In fact, the godmonster doesn't really do much of anything for about an hour. When filmmaker Fredric Hobbs finally unleashes the mutant sheep, the movie becomes magical. He lumbers around with his freak limbs--scaring girls trying to picnic; dancing with Tito's love interest in a scene that rivals the dance scenes from Pulp Fiction, Beauty and the Beast, or anything from Footloose; and blowing up gas stations. He's about as intimidating as John Merrick after a night of drinking. But it doesn't matter because although he's in the title of this thing, he's really nothing more than a distraction. This movie's really jumpy with some odd transitions where sounds or last pieces of dialogue bleed into next scenes. There were a few times when I just lost track of what was going on, and I suspect most of the characters did, too. One baffling scene features a fake dog funeral complete with a tiny dog coffin following a fake dog murder following a wacky parade. It put me in a stupor from which I still haven't recovered. The movie also contains the following brilliantly-written line: "I've been following you all the way from the glory hole." If I had a nickel for every time I've heard that. . .

This isn't really a trailer as advertised, but it does contain two great godmonster scenes.


How to Train Your Dragon

2010 animated movie

Rating: 14/20 (Abbey: 20/20; Buster: ??/20)

Plot: An inventive but dorkish Viking, a boy who happens to be the son of the most famous and gifted dragon hunter on the island, wants to be a a dragon slayer himself. His name's Hiccup though, so it's unlikely. During a dragon raid, he manages to wound a Night Fury dragon, one of the scariest and most difficult to kill. They end up becoming first friends and later lovers causing Hiccup to question his people's hatred of the beasts.

I got bored with these characters, their story, and, strangest of all, the action sequences really quickly, but this one grew on me a little as it went. I never did like the main character, most likely because of his voice (Jay Baruchel), but Craig Ferguson almost made up for him. Astrid, the girl probably added in the script's second or third draft so that girls would have a reason to watch a movie about a bunch of boys and men fighting dragons, was arguably even more annoying. And I didn't like Toothless the dragon either. But for a movie with a bunch of characters I didn't care about or like, this wasn't that bad of a movie. That's mostly because of the animation which blows everything else I've seen from the Dreamworks people out of the water. The landscapes are terrific, the human characters are realistic without being overly realistic, and the textures of things like dragon skin, tables, clothing, fire, and the geography give this not only a realism but an artfulness. I really liked the look of the movie, just not the rest of it. Attempts to inject a little heart into this cartoon about dragons seemed really contrived, and even Buster rolled her eyes a few times. Yes, I did give this the customary Craig Ferguson bonus.


2011 comedy

Rating: 14/20 (Jen: 16/20)

Plot: Annie's BFF Lillian is getting hitched, and Annie, of course, is asked to be the maid-of-honor. Her life stinks in numerous ways, but she's happy for her friend. A rivalry develops with a new friend of Lillian's who seems to want to take over BFF duties.

My brother recommended this one which surprised me a little bit because he does not like to laugh. Though it's not on the surface much different than the majority of the modern comedies we have dumped on us, especially the ones with the name Apatow attached to them (he produced this), I found this one more consistently funny and easier to like. There are moments when everybody involved seems to be trying a little too hard and the dependence on gross-out gags, something that irritates me if I'm not in the right sort of mood, was there. But the almost-improvisational feel this has gives the characters and their relationships a very natural rhythm. I don't know anything about Kristen Wiig other than she has too man i's in her last name. I don't know her SNL work and don't remember her in the movies I've seen in which she's had smaller parts. Here, I was impressed, and not just because I thought she was kind of cute. She's got this ability to be absolutely adorable and ugly at the same time, and her ability to pull off this character who is likable and unlikable at the same time really makes this movie work. I don't care much for Minnie Ripperton's kid, another former (?) SNL alumnus, though. It's Melissa McCarthy, the Molly in some show I've never seen called Mike and Molly, who really steals the show though. At first, I was thinking, "This character is hilarious, but she's either not going to be in this movie very much or they're going to kill it by having her in way too many scenes." She ended up being in the movie a lot, and "a lot" was the perfect amount of screen time for her. She was physically very funny, and the outrageous and often absurd bits of dialogue make me wonder how the other actresses got through the scenes without laughing at her. I also liked Chris O'Dowd's character, but I'm pretty sure I was supposed to. O'Dowd, by the way, could probably end up in every romantic comedy. In the end, this isn't a terribly deep or even very original movie, but it did succeed in making me a little happier than I was before I started watching it. That's something.

The Phantom Carriage

1921 drama

Rating: 16/20

Plot: According to legend, the last person who dies during a calendar year is required to drive the titular carriage to pick up dead souls for the next calendar year. That person looks to be David Holm, a drunken jackass who, for reasons that aren't explained immediately, a dying Salvation Army soldier is asking to see. Holm's old friend, the current phantom carriage driver, takes his disembodied soul on a journey through his sins.

A bit A Christmas Carol or It's a Wonderful Life, this funky little tale of regret and redemption was hugely influential on fellow Swede Ingmar Bergman who was quoted as saying "The Phantom Carriage is the best motherfucking movie I've ever seen. It's my generation's The Bad News Bears." Some of it just looks like a slow silent drama, and I don't really like my silent films this "talky" with a dependency on title cards to tell the story. Like most silent movies, this one is most effective when the visuals are allowed to tell the whole story. However, the imagery and special effects, eerie double exposure shots, make this a haunting and, by the end, emotional experience. I really liked the acting. The guy who played Holm overdid it at times with some exaggerated laughing or arm-flailing, but for the most part, this didn't look like 1920's silent melodrama acting at all. And the story telling seemed really ahead of its time with its use of flashbacks and even flashbacks-within-flashbacks that had me scrambling for a plot synopsis to make sure I was keeping up. I've read that people hate some of the music in different releases of this, but I liked the music in this--all scratchy violins and ambient noises. And if you like movies where crazy guys are killing doors with axes like Jack in The Shining, this might have the first on-screen ax-to-door scene in movie history.

The little kid inside me loves that Swedish films end with the word slut.


2010 black comedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Introspective Oliver Tate's got typical teenage problems--parents who don't get along, a desire for popularity, and a desperate need for sex. Chances for the latter begin looking brighter when he actually gets a girlfriend, but his parents' woes seem to intensify when an ex-boyfriend moves in next door with one of the ugliest vans you're ever likely to see.

Oh, I really kind of loved this movie. It's got the feel of an Amelie with the whimsicality of a first-person-narrated Wes Anderson movie. Originally, I decided to watch this only because the kid reminded me a little of Bud Cort. Craig Roberts isn't Bud Cort exactly, but he is the kind of quirky character Cort would have played in the 70's. He's either really really good in this movie or he's directed really well. Really, everybody delivers nice subtly funny performances, and they have witty writing to work with. I'd quote, but so much of it is in the delivery and context and the way the dialogue blends with the playful style of the film. The dad, played by Noah Taylor, is perfect as a character "the color of eggshells." My favorite moment is with the girlfriend's dad played by some guy named Sion Tudor Owen which I think is probably the name of a Star Wars character. His reaction to a light problem in his home which is one of those scenes that you think about a week after you saw it and still laugh. Lots of references to light in this one actually as well as, of course, submarine allusions. This breezy but poignant coming-of-age story was directed by Richard Ayoade who had a cameo in Bunny and the Bull, another comedy I really liked.

The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings

1976 baseball movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Negro League pitcher Bingo Long's in the declining years of his baseball career. He's disgruntled, tired of the way the owners of the baseball teams treat the players. The firing of his pal Rainbow after a beanball is the last straw, and Bingo gets together some stars from various teams to form an all-star barnstorming team. The owners, understandably, are irritated by that.

Nice little baseball movie here and probably the second best movie that Billy Dee Williams and James Earl Jones were in together. And was Richard Pryor an Ugnaut? Maybe him, too. The comedy didn't quite work for me in this, but the baseball and it captures the feeling of the late-30's and the oft-flamboyant trash-talking Negro Leagues and African American life style so well. And I should know because I grew up a black boy in the late-1930's. I enjoyed the parallels, the writers having a little fun with baseball lore. There's a catcher half the size of Midget Cadell and a one-armed player a la Pete Gray. Richard Pryor's attempts to break into the majors as a Cuban and later Chief Tokohama was straight from my favorite baseball story of all time when a black player tried to break into the league in 1901 by claiming to be a Native American. And some of Bingo Long's antics--sitting his outfielders down, for example--seemed straight from Satchell Paige's biography. So it's a lot of fun as a baseball movie, and there are some nice social themes in there as well. Don't go into it expecting something Major League funny though. The characters are more likable though. Billy Dee's smile is infectious, and James Earl Jones is great here. This is the best baseball movie he's ever been in, of course.

Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie

2012 comedy

Rating: 10/20

Plot: The titular guys waste the titular billion dollars they got to make the titular movie and try to run a run-down shopping mall in order to make money to pay off their debt.

Those of you who aren't entertained by references to the "penis hole," watching children defecate on a guy, watching one character urinate on another, or Jeff Goldblum need not apply. This goes far beyond your typical gross-out comedy into something more bizarre. This is based on a Cartoon Network's Adult Swim show that is just as bizarre but in much shorter installments. The punchy absurdity of that works for its principal audience--people who eat drugs. Here, the absurdities piled on absurdities is exhausting, and although there was enough to laugh at here (shamefully) to make it worth it, especially if you're in the mood for this sort of stupidity, it's probably too much for most people to handle. I'm not even sure fans of the show would be too excited about what comedians Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim have done here. Will Ferrell and Will Forte are both pretty funny in this. John C. Reilly? Not so much.

The Lion King

1994 Shakespeare adaptation

Rating: 15/20 (Buster: 20/20)

Plot: Hamlet but with talking animals and a gay meerkat.

Ah, this is what the Disney magicians do best--loads of color, anthropomorphized animals, and disturbing parent death. I've not always liked this movie, more than likely because it came out while I put bicycles together at Toys "R" Us and heard "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" and "Circle of Life"--the former which I would utter breathlessly in my wife's ear while engaging in sexual intercourse with her from 1994 to around 1997--four times an hour which was torture that no Geoffrey's helper should ever have to endure. Not that the songs are bad here. I like what Elton John does there, and "Hakuna Matata," though more than a little annoying after you've heard it more than 1 1/2 times, is a fun little number. If "Hakuna Matata" would have been in the Toys "R" Us radio rotation, I more than likely would have put myself in the cardboard compactor thing and ended it all.

You really see 2-D animation differently now, even when comparing it to other 2-D animation. The colorful "I Just Can't Wait to be King" sequence is great, but it really kind of looks like ass when compared to the stuff in The Princess and the Frog. Disney was always so good with animals, and I like their movements in this and the subtle tricks the animators use to give them personalities. The "camera movements" seem stiff and computery at times.

I'm only half-kidding about the Hamlet comparisons. Clearly, Scar isn't having sex with Darth Vader's wife, Nala doesn't drown herself, and Simba doesn't die at the end. That would probably be too much for a Disney movie. Of course, Scar's the type of villain who also might be too much for a kiddie flick. He's a very adult villain, the sarcasm and venom wonderfully voiced by Jeremy Irons. His song's not very good though. The token gay characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, are funny, but they and the "Hakuna Matata" song, so fun and colorful and playful almost seem inappropriate after the darkness of the previous scene. And I've always wondered about how Simba ages during that scene. Were they really singing for that long? Yoda monkey's a fun little character. I got my picture taken with him at Disney World, and I had an unfortunate and obvious erection in the shot. It was the same situation with Mary Poppins at Epcot. My favorite character is Ed the hyena. That mo-fo needs his own prequel, maybe something called The Lion King 1/2. The bird's unnecessary, and his "Morning Report" song is about the worst thing I've ever seen in my entire life. That includes Holocaust movies. I think it was added for a "Special Edition" thing, left out of the original for very good reasons. Simba's dad is kind of a dull character, and I think the feminist would have problems with how little the female characters do in this. I wouldn't want James Earl Jones as a father though! If he's not cutting off his kids' hands, he's letting monkey's hold his newborn children on rocky precipices! I wouldn't be surprised to find out that that inspired new fathers to hold their babies up like that on the roofs of hospitals similar to how people who get on boats have to imitate that whole "King of the World" thing from Titanic. Not a fan of the big fight at the end of this, a scene bathed in far too much red and using too many slow-motion swiping shots.

Bubba Ho-Tep

2002 horror comedy

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Elvis, after exchanging identities a long time ago with one of his many impersonators, is living out his final years in a rest home that just happens to have an Egyptian soul-sucking mummy attacking its inhabitants. John F. Kennedy, now a black man, arrives and the iconic duo team up to fight the titular mummy thing.

The novelty fades away after the first fifty minutes of this, but it's really difficult to not like a movie about an elderly Elvis and a black JFK, the former with a penis that doesn't work and the latter with "a bag of sand back there [in his head]." Ossie Davis is so good here in a role I bet he never thought he would play. "I'm thinking with saaaaand here." The "Shit, that ain't gonna stop him" response to Elvis's "President Johnson's dead" line. It's a performance that should be nothing but stupid, but Ossie brings this cool class to it and makes something that shouldn't work actually work. And I'm going to go ahead and call Bruce Campbell's Elvis brilliant because it's my blog and I'm allowed to type anything I want. He manages to balance all the Elvis cliches and some real humanity. Campbell's Elvis is human and broken with a penis that doesn't work, so you end up feeling for the character in a way that's surprising, even when he says lines like this one: "Do I look like an ickyologist to you? Big ol' bugs--bugs as big as a peanut butter and banana sandwich. What do I care? I got a growth on my pecker." Bruce also gets to show off his action superstar chops with an Elvis vs. "bitch cockroach" accompanied by rockin' guitars. Unfortunately, that aforementioned novelty does wear off eventually, and all those flittery sound effects and whooshy sounds with quick shots of random stuff got a little old. The final thirty minutes of this just isn't very good, and the biggest problem might be that that titular antagonist isn't memorable, iconic, or interesting. There is a cool scene where the mummy's moving through the strangely-lit hallway though. My favorite scene is a conversation between our two heroes where there's this big dramatic movie music that leads to Kennedy asking, "Would you like a Ding Dong?" When that's more thrilling than the climactic fight this builds to--a battle between a couple old guys and an uninteresting mummy--it's probably an issue. But seriously, Bruce Campbell is really good in this.

The End

1978 black comedy

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Sonny, a high-livin' philanderer, is informed that he has less than a year to live by one of the landlords from Three's Company. He decides to take his life instead and says his goodbyes to his ex-wife, his lover, and his daughter. Unfortunately, he's not very good at killing himself and ends up in an asylum instead where he meets a schizophrenic named Marlon who decides to help him with his goal of ending his life.

This is another one that I had fond childhood memories of, and it's more than likely the first dark comedy I ever saw. I thought it was hilarious when I saw it as a seven year old. Then again, I thought suicide was hilarious back then, probably because of that episode of the Bozo show where Wizzo kept trying to hang himself but couldn't because he couldn't properly tie a knot and kept falling into a plastic swimming pool full of pudding instead. I saw this with my step-dad and mom in a motel with peeling wallpaper, and in the middle of the movie, I had to defecate. My step-dad commented on how long I spent in the restroom and how the sound of my fecal matter hitting the toilet water "didn't sound much like a man's" fecal matter. I'm not sure I ever recovered from that, and I still try to avoid situations where somebody might hear me defecate.

Burt Reynolds directed and starred in this. The premise alone is pretty funny, and Dom DeLuise, once he finally makes his way into the movie, is almost brilliant. It was probably a good idea not to have DeLuise in the first two-thirds of this actually because too much Dom would have been a bad thing here. Reynolds himself overdoes things a little bit. He screams a lot, apparently because screaming is funny, but does get a few really funny lines including the class "When I think about killing myself, I get a hard-on." Overall, this movie doesn't seem written enough though. Norman Fell makes an appearance as a doctor, but my favorite character might be Robby Benson's Father Dave Benson. Oh, and since this is a 1970's Burt Reynold's movie, cute-as-a-freakin'-button Sally Field is also in this, sometimes not wearing pants, and I, for one, am all for that. There was a lot of potential funny with this, and I would not mind seeing a remake, preferably one that doesn't have Vince Vaughn in it.

Note: That episode of the Bozo show does not really exist. I am making that up.

Eating Raoul

1982 black comedy

Rating: 13/20

Plot: A boring and seemingly asexual married couple need some money to open up their dream restaurant. When they accidentally kill a swinger with a frying pan and find a wad of cash in his wallet, they get an idea to do that for a living. A friendly dominatrix and the titular swindler help them with their business.

There's a parade of perverts in this movie and think you've seen it all until the door swings open to reveal none other than Billy Curtis--my favorite little fellow--with a dog and a very funny voice. I'm sure this wasn't his proudest moment. Then again, the guy played Mayor McCheese, so maybe vanity wasn't a big deal for him. Paul Bartel, one of Corman's buddies, directed and starred in this. He looks a lot like Chris Elliott, something that probably made me like his character more. As a writer/director, it doesn't seem like Bartel's had a lot of interaction with actual people because the dialogue is awkward and silly. Maybe it's intentional. He gives it this off-50's sitcom texture with some corny music, the couple sleeping in a pair of twin-sized beds, and this general prosaic feeling. It reminds me in tone of Parents with a dash of A Bucket of Blood but it's too silly and not clever enough. I did pick up a line that I will likely use if I ever have sexual relations again: "Look out! Here comes the duke now!" Oh, and this is only the second movie that I'm aware of that uses the word "pendejo" (Do you know the other?), a word I used in class the other day and immediately regretted it since my Spanish-speaking students ooooh'd like I had just cursed. Anyway, this movie gets a big bonus point boost for the Billy Curtis cameo, but it's otherwise kind of a one-gag movie that in the end seems like just one huge joke with a punchline that's given away in the title. Should I have typed "spoiler alert" before telling you that?


1970 demon movie

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Picnicking college kids find a laughing old guy and an old book in a cave and incur the wrath of some devil monsters. That, in case you don't have much picnic experience, is worse than ants.

There's a promising start with the opening credits, creepy Bernard Hermann-esque music with shots of clock innards, something I never mind seeing in movies which makes me wonder if I should have become a watchmaker. Then, this really goes nowhere for a while. There are a few minutes of a guy running awkwardly and a car driving by itself and then some talking. The story's told in flashback by the lone survivor of the worst picnic of all time. That's one of the few reasons this 1970 movie feels like a 50's B-science-fiction movie. There's some terrifically bad performances throughout Equinox. Director Jack Woods keeps popping up as the creepy Forest Ranger Asmodeus. Woods apparently thought it would be good for his career to show extended close-up shots of himself doing this:

A crazy laughing guy in a cave is really awesome, and I'll have to figure out his name if he ends up winning my Torgo Award this year. And science fiction/fantasy author Fritz Leiber has a small role as Dr. Waterman and although he gets no speaking parts, he still manages to be really awful. It's a special performance. Things aren't looking good, but then there are these great stop-motion tentacles, a stop-motion ape thing murdering a stop-motion old-guy-from-cave, and a stop-motion devil bat thing that nearly saved the movie. I'm a sucker for that sort of thing anyway. Low-budget effects, but pretty cool. There's also an exploration of the evil book that reminds me a lot of what Sam Raimi did with his book in the Evil Dead movies. Parts of this manage to be effectively eerie, and it's worth a look if you like 1950's B-movies that were made in 1970. Oh, and it ends with a "The End" that morphs into a question mark which you've got to love. You just imagine the makers of this saying, "Hey, our story won't really make anybody think that a sequel is needed, but just in case, we should probably put a question mark at the end!"

Question: Why did Criterion release this one?

The Grapes of Death

1978 French zombie movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Elisabeth is traveling on a train to meet her fiance and befriends a fellow passenger. When her new BFF excuses herself, a guy with a gross neck wound comes and sits by her. She later discovers that her BFF dead in the bathroom and flees the train in terror. She wanders around a nearby town and finds a lot more people with gross wounds who all chase her slowly.

This is all atmosphere and very little story and has its own sort-of incoherent dream logic that can be frustrating, but this isn't a bad cheap little movie. There's a dreamy fuzziness that's either the result of the low budget or an attempt to dreamify this unfortunate woman's story, and a lot of shots are just out of focus. If that's intentional, it might be a lousy idea. Some gory scenes in the middle of all this wandering around--one features an ax and a girl nailed to a door while another has a pitchfork and a rubbery abdomen--are shocking detours, and there's a fantastic scene where a guy makes out with a severed head if you're into that sort of thing. And why wouldn't you be? Being a French zombie flick, you're bound to get a scene where a woman freely disrobes in order to prove that she's not infected. Guy One watching the unplanned strip tease tells her, "You didn't have to do that" and Guy Two shoots him this great look. Also, since this is French, I'm just going to go ahead and assume that it's all lesbian symbolism. Check out that title, by the way. It's a good one, sure, but is that the correct translation? I don't speak French exactly, but I'm pretty sure this one's actually called Mort's Raisins.

Riki Oh: The Story of Ricky

1991 kung-fu movie

Rating: 10/20

Plot: The titular guy who can't decide how to spell his name winds up in a prison run by corrupted officials and has to put a few fist-shaped holes in a few guys in order to survive.

This was high on my list of Things Shane Needs to See for a really long time, and then I finally saw it and ended the experience surprisingly flaccid, especially for a movie with so many internal organs that end up external. Naturally, I had to see it again, only to discover that although it's technically a pretty bad movie, it's one you just can't look away from. It's ridiculously dumb, the dumb exemplified best in a scene where our hero spills a dude's intestines with one punch, hits another guy so hard that he explodes, and takes a spike through his hand without batting an eye before "Tattoo Guy" (my name for him) says, "Hmm...you're not bad." Not bad? He just disemboweled a guy with his fist and made another guy explode! Tattoo Guy sure has high standards. There's another intestine-heavy scene featuring what might be the pun of the year--"Alright! You have a lot of guts, Oscar." Despite all the mayhem and very-low-budget gore (these inmates' heads look like they're made out of Play-Doh), this movie strangely lacks personality. The characters are either too goofy or bland, but at least the bland ones fit in with the ugly and bland prison setting with its tomato-soup-colored floors. But a movie that can't find its personality despite scenes of nails on faces, heads being punched off, multiple eviscerations, guys skinned alive, chin demolition, hand destruction, and a guy with an effeminate voice kicking a dog in half for no good reason is a movie that has some issues. Some distracting dubbing doesn't help. But as a bonus to all the kung-fu gore, you do get a great scene where a guy takes a dump and sings "Satisfaction" about as poor as one can sing it and another scene where Japanese people are playing basketball, a spectacle that probably looked exactly like you'd expect it to look.

The Ruling Class

1972 black comedy

Rating: 17/20

Plot: After the 13th Earl of Gurney Carradines himself while wearing a tutu, Jack becomes the 14th Earl of Gurney. The problem? He's a paranoid schizophrenic who is convinced that he is Jesus Christ. This does not sit well with his uncle who, along with his mistress, cooks up a plan to send Jack straight to the institution. Meanwhile, his psychologist tries to cure him using a second Christ, a plot that works in convincing Jack that he is not Jesus but something very different than Jesus. Oh, snap!

I need to get one of those galvanized pressure cookers. This movie is probably way too long, and I only laughed a little on the inside, but Peter O'Toole's performance multifaceted crazed performance, the smart little satiric pokes, and the unpredictability of it all make it a unique and worthwhile experience. This juggles genteel and manic so well, with characters acting just like they should one moment before bursting into spontaneous song and dance numbers the next. When the butler or whoever he is starts singing early-on in the story, I scratched my head and thought, "This isn't supposed to be happening, but I'm glad it is." Even the other characters didn't seem sure that it was supposed to be happening. O'Toole carries the film as Jesus and Jack and the other Jack. His entrance with a smattering of halo-ish light around his head is terrific. O'Toole's great at spitting out these absurdist rants ("I can cock my little finger with the best!") but his physicality here is also impressive, whether he's dancing around, hanging on his cross/bed, or being tortured by the Electric Messiah. Man, I loved that Electric Messiah ("Sometimes God just turns his back on his people and breaks wind and the stench clouds the globe...I am the high-voltage man!" is something I'm probably going to find opportunities to quote), and the shots of O'Toole wrestling with a gorilla wearing a top hat were beautifully absurd. Bad night for Christ there, and I think that gorilla stuff might be straight from the Bible although it's been a while since I've been to church. I think this is a movie that Bunuel would have enjoyed, and it reminds me a little of those Lindsay Anderson movies that came out around the same time. No, I didn't completely understand the film's message, but this was a fun ride right until the chilling climactic scene in the House of Lords.

This was kind of recommended by Cory.

Oprah Movie Club Pick for April: The Muppets

2011 Muppet movie that can't be called The Muppet Movie because there already is a movie called that

Rating: 15/20 (Emma: 18/20; Abbey: 19/20)

Plot: The aptly-named Tex Richman is about to buy the land upon which sits the former Muppet studios because he wants to drill for oil there. When Gary, his girlfriend Mary, and his little felt brother Walter find out while vacationing in Hollywood, they find Kermit to let him know and help him reunite the Muppets for a telethon to raise money to save the studio. Those curmudgeons who always sat in the balcony crack wise.

I have to get this out of the way before I type anything else--I've always loved the Muppets and probably always will. I love them unapologetically and unconditionally. If Scooter bounced over to me and hit me squarely in the groin with a baseball bat, I would grimace and fall down writhing in pain and ask, "Scooter, what was that for?" but it wouldn't keep me from loving the Muppets. I think it's the texture of their "skin" that I like so much. And it looked great in this movie--you could see the felt, and all the colors of these colorful characters, especially when they filled the screen with their movements all at once, just hit my nostalgic sweet spot and made the child within me giggle. I don't want to go on and on about the material Muppets are made of; I'm not a pervert or anything.

This really is a movie that's all about nostalgia. I can't imagine a fan of the brilliant television show or the other movies hating this despite some flaws. It's true to the original stuff and, at least I think, the overall vision of Jim Henson. There's some self-referential stuff peppered in the script and a fan favorite song playing over the closing credits. All of the characters show up except for that John Denver Muppet, and the new character, though possibly guilty of being a little on the bland side, is just too likable not to like a little bit. Really, I wanted to give Walter a noogie. Not that I'm a pervert or anything. It was great seeing all the characters in something a little more traditionally Muppety than the parodies they've appeared in more recently. The start of their big show with their theme song nearly jerked tears from me!

The humor's also slap-happy meta-, and Muppet-esque, and although Muppet-esque humor probably isn't for everybody, I laughed more during this than I've laughed at anything for a long time. I laughed like a little boy, too. I laughed at Muppet teeth, a robot offering Tab and New Coke, Swedish Chef subtitles (and that "Say hello to my little friend" reference was so funny), a human replacement for Animal in Fozzie's Moopet band (Dave Grohl, the first of two Nirvana references), Punch Teacher, Tex's unlikely and surprising burst into a rap song, hip-hop Fozzie's "Wakka Wakka," and the barbershop quartet version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" which was about the best thing I've ever heard in a movie and my new second movie scene that takes place in a barbershop. That's right, Chaplin still has the top spot.

This is a Muppet musical, and I actually enjoyed the songs. There was one nice nod to a song from an earlier movie (I won't give it away, but it has to do with rainbows and connecting) that was beautifully done, sonically and visually. The duet about being a "Muppet Man" or a "Manly Muppet" managed to be both touching and hilarious.

Jason Segal and Amy Adams were both potentially bothersome, but they were fine here. I enjoyed Segal especially with this wide-eyed "Holy cow! I'm in a freakin' Muppet movie!" look that he had throughout this thing. You expect and at times put up with all the cameos, just like you kind of have to wade through a few terrible jokes to get to the really funny parts. The story was ok but predictable, but there were an awful lot of side plots. So many stories! This also almost overflows with themes, and although a lot of those themes really connect, it almost seems too ambitious at times.

Still, I'm not complaining about anything I saw here, and I was enormously entertained by this. And I am thrilled that this Muppet comeback wasn't completely screwed up.