Oprah Movie Club Pick for July: Kung Fu Hustle

2004 kung-fu comedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Gang turf wars disrupt the slummy harmony of Pig Sty Alley. Meanwhile, Sing and his pal--a pair of halfwit secondhand crooks--pretend to be members of the notorious Axe Gang, a plan that doesn't go very well. A lot of people get kicked as the Axe Gang wages war on Pig Sty Alley and its hidden kung-fu talent. Then, a frog man.

What a fun and completely ridiculous movie! It's got a great look, too, although you can see right through the CGI with flailing characters looking all blubbery and splitting beams looking all glitchy. But it's just got this crisp look, and the dark but colorful 1930s world created in the opening scenes is really well done. Pig Sty Alley looks great, too, almost like a set Tati would have constructed for a movie. One great scene has the camera whisking through the town to show what its inhabitants are up to--they're swatting flies, engaging in a little domestic violence, playing checkers, apparently pooping. And the way the camera moves around the characters gives this a freshness that appeals to me. The irreverence gives this a manic edge, a wackiness that might make you wonder if insanity and/or drugs were involved, almost like the type of action movie a very clever four year old would make after he's devoured the pudding and Fruit Loops. But the martial arts action is legit. Star/writer/director Stephen Chow spends most of the movie as a wanna-be, but he shows off the skills when needed. His best moment is when he laughs after demonstrating how evil he is by stealing ice cream. The cool-looking Axe Gang--how could you not love a group of ax-wielding bunch of thugs wearing black top hats and showcasing some great dance moves while they do their axin'-- are mostly around to give major characters something to punch. I'm just a top hat, an ax, and a few bitchin' dance moves away from heading up my own Axe Gang, by the way. The trio of kung-fu masters in Pig Sty Alley are great with their individual fists, forearm rings, and staffs, and I loved the creative choreography in the "Why don't we spar a little before we leave?" scene, one of those great scenes that really has no reason to even be in a movie. Most of the characters--The Beast, the killer Guqin assassins, the landlady, and her husband--are aided by special effects, but it doesn't make the cartoonish fight scenes any less beautiful. The springy and boinging and whooshing sound effects don't hurt things either. Warner Brothers and kung-fu mashing-up isn't that much of a stretch anyway, is it? This is Road Runner kung-fu! The comedy works only some of the time, usually when it's more visually than humor. I'm not sure how well this is translated, but the humor doesn't always translate well and the dubbed voices are pretty ridiculous. The slapstick visual humor is great though even at its most obvious or goofiest. Chow sizing up the Alley to find a "worthwhile" opponent is a clever little scene. The whole movie has a made-up-as-we-go feel, and I don't mean that as a criticism at all. There's a looseness which makes this a great its big hits and even its occasional misses a lot of fun. The lesson here, I believe, is that if you're going to go ridiculous, go completely ridiculous because half-assed ridiculousness just won't suffice. The landlady's cigarette, a character inexplicably named Doughnut (I think) who steals lines from other movies, a freaking toad man, a kitty silhouette getting sliced in two, and a little kid being urinated upon. Really, what's not to love here? This is the definitive film for immature martial arts movie fans.

I'm assuming this will go as well as the other Oprah Movie Club discussions, and I can't wait to read your thoughts about Kung Fu Hustle.

Pink Flamingos

1972 high art

Rating: I don't want to give this a rating.

Plot: Divine and her son Crackers live in a pink mobile home with Mama Edie and enjoy their notoriety as the filthiest people alive. That title is challenged, however, by the Marbles, a couple who kidnap women and sell babies to lesbians. Filth vs. filth action ensues.

For a movie I don't really enjoy, I sure have seen this enough times. I find it impossible to rate. It's a terrible movie and very much the "septic tank explosion" that the person compares it to on the poster there. It's revolting for the sake of revulsion with its dumptruck load of talking anuses, fecal matter, sex acts involving (and killing, reportedly) chickens, magic marker hair dye jobs, bad narration (Waters himself), egg men (Paul Swift who was in three other Waters' movies), drug references, arson, curse words, syringe violation, and transexuals. But something that succeeds in shocking and sickening this much almost deserves respect, right? Waters is either a very sick individual or a guy who had a perverse vision and with almost no budget succeeded in bringing that vision to life on drive-in screens. And if you dare look hard enough, there's a message beneath all this madness, and disturbingly prescient message at that. In a way, this foreshadows the extremes people will go to in order to have their Warholian fifteen minutes of fame and predating reality shows by about twenty-five years. Of course, reality shows don't go to these extremes. Nobody eats dog crap on reality shows. Or did they do that on Fear Factor? With its anti-style, in-your-face ineptitude, and belligerent distastefulness, this is unlikely to be a movie that very many people can sit down and enjoy. Still, it's a unique statement and an unforgettable piece of work.

The Limits of Control

2009 movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A guy who does not speak Spanish globetrots on a mysterious mission, exchanging matchboxes with strangers, lugging around guitars for a few days, and drinking espresso.

It's my blog, and if I want to give a movie a Benefit-of-the-Doubt bonus point, I will. Because really, I didn't understand what this movie was about. It was frustrating, like when I sat around and contemplated the sound of one hand clapping and never really figured out what the hell that was all about either. I don't know who's controlling or limiting who in this movie. Jarmusch plays around with language barriers again, this time with a recurring gag where the protagonist is asked if she speaks Spanish. There's all these random characters who pop in, and one of them is very naked, and after a while, this does have the feel of a reflective batch of non-sequiturs or a quiet explosion of Zen mantras. Two espressos, not a double. Is that just funny or does it mean something? A guy prattles on about the memory of instruments, Tilda Swinton pops in to reminisce about film and the "old stuff," a guy says that we're all just a set of shifting molecules, two characters mention that the universe has no center and no edges, and there's discussion of Bohemians and hallucinations. The guy changes shiny suits a few times, travels from here to there, and runs into Bill Murray. There's a cool shift in settings, from the artsy modern imagery and weird architecture of the early scenes to a more run-down dilapidated and dusty setting by the end. I'm sure that means something, but I'm clueless. Bill Murray is called The American in this. Is he a symbol? Why's there a skull on his desk? I could meditate on this film or think about whether my belly button actually exists. This crawls by at a snail's pace, so if you've got the brain for what Jarmusch is trying to do, you definitely have enough space for your mind to crawl around in. There's a coolness to the proceedings, and Isaach De Bankole very nearly creates an iconic hero, but this is one that is very difficult to sink teeth into. I suspect my rating is either way too high or a little too low. What do I know anyway? I'm just a set of shifting molecules. I might see this movie again to figure it out in ten or so years.

Larry anti-recommended this movie, but I watched it anyway.

The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)

2011 sequel

Rating: 8/20 (Mark: 18/20; Amy: 13/20)

Plot: A sexy parking attendant with a disturbing obsession with The Human Centipede (First Sequence) decides to make his own human centipede out of people he's crowbarred in the head at the parking garage. All he needs is Ashlynn Yennie who played a character in the first movie. Luckily for Martin, she's got nothing else going on with her career.

Thank God this was in black and white. There was a lot of this that I just did not need to see in color--an unfortunate scene with a baby and a scene featuring lots of fecal matter. Well, pretty much all of the scenes. Actually, there was a lot of this that I didn't really need to see in black and white. It's true what they say--what has been seen cannot be unseen. The first movie was a piece of work itself, but it had a fun performance by Dieter Laser as the bad guy, a little bit of style, and some very dark humor. As you'd expect, this has a lot in common with that movie. There is a filthy style to this. The film's got this greasy look to it that fits. The centipede-maker, an obese loner named Martin, is played creepily by a guy named Laurence R. Harvey. His body shape, masturbatory method, weird eyes, bad hair, smile, and everything else--his physical performance really is a good one--builds this character you wouldn't want to meet in your dreams. The character's not played for giggles like Laser's guy in the first movie. There was almost no background on Dr. Heiter in the first movie, at least that I can remember. You just knew he wanted to hook three people together to make a pet centipede. Here, we get enough background about Martin to make him a little more human and a lot creepier. And this second installment of a series has some humor although it's very very sick humor. This movie completely fails, however, because it doesn't know when to stop. After a while, it's like somebody telling you the same joke over and over, each time repeating the punchline a little bit louder. You'd just want to cover your ears and tell that person to go away. You almost want to do the same here. Director Tom Six, likely in an effort to top the shock or raise the torture porn bar, just doesn't know when to stop. The best horror movies work because of the subtleties. Six grabs the back of your head by the hair and shoves your face in the horror, and he does it over and over again. I don't recall seeing a trailer for this movie, but I imagine the voiceover said, "Now with more nudity! More blood! More shit! More bondage! More screams! More graphic surgery scenes! And yes, Human Centipede fans--more centipede!" My brother, who loves these movies, covered up his eyes and refused to watch some parts of this. I'll give him credit though. He ate Hardee's food before this, knowing that he was going to watch this movie. It takes a real hero with a real hero's stomach to eat Hardee's food in the first place. I know veterans of WWII or the 9/11 firefighters are often referred to as heroes, but they've got nothing on my brother. I almost regurgitated Hardee's food, and I didn't even eat any of it. A movie that can make you vomit somebody else's food is some movie, and that's just the type of movie this is. The sequel's concept may have had potential, and I really did like Harvey's performance, almost in a way that makes me feel guilty. Unfortunately, this is a movie that almost begs its audience not to like it. I obliged.

If I give a "Best Beard" award this year, Bill Hutchens will likely win it. He played a perverse psychologist. Martin's mother was played by Vivien Bridson who might find herself with a Torgo at the end of the year. It was one delightfully batty performance. Technically, Harvey could win the Billy Curtis Award for little people because he is called a midget in this by two different characters. I'm not sure whether he's eligible or not and will have to dig up my rulebook. And despite my brother's promise that this movie has the "greatest masturbation scene ever," I don't think it beats the one in Borat's new movie.

By the way, if you were an actor or actress in this movie and played a part of the centipede, would you tell people? Would you put it on your resume?

Oh, and Hardee's representatives, you can thank me for the product placement with cash. I do not want coupons because your food, at least the last time I ate any of it over twenty years ago, is garbage.

You, the Living Redux

2007 Roy Andersson movie

Rating: 18/20 (Mark: 16/20)

I watched this movie again, this time with my brother. He gave it a 16/20 after I told him it was a 17/20. Turns out that I gave it an 18/20, so I'll stick with that. My favorite movies are the ones that look crafted, like somebody didn't just care about the movie as a whole but every single thing that the audience will see or hear in the movie; the ones that look like they belong in museums; the ones made by auteurs, those that are not just movies but movies that you've never seen before; and movies that make me want to laugh and cry at the same time. I've seen this twice and still don't know completely what it's about. Throwing labels at it or trying to describe what it's about doesn't seem all that appropriate. And answering "What's this movie about anyway?" with "It's about life" doesn't make much sense. There's a lot of humanity in these 50 or so vignettes. How somebody unpacks messages from You, the Living will likely be based on his own experiences and feelings about humanity. You should watch it because it's a treat.

After we watched this movie, I had a vanilla milkshake and enjoyed every ounce of it.

Jennifer's Birthday Movie Celebration: First Blood

1982 action movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A Vietnam War veteran travels to Oregon to visit a friend and finds that he's not as alive as he used to be. While looking for a place to eat, he's bullied by a brutish sheriff and eventually arrested for, I think, having a flag on his jacket. He escapes and retreats to the woods where he's hunted by some police officers who haven't realized what a badass he is.

Seriously, what's wrong with having a flag on your jacket? That's what seems to bug Dennehy initially although that character was probably just looking for an excuse to screw with Rambo. And I think that's the lesson here--you don't screw with the mentally ill. Cause if you do, you'll end up with a knife against your throat or your gas stations on fire. I don't know what to make of Stallone's performance here. The performance is fine for this sort of action/adventure thing, and Stallone, as evidenced in Rocky, can pull off mentally challenged very well. He does a lot of grunting in this movie and really seems more animal than human, something I probably already suspected anyway. He's physically perfect, and the action scenes in the forest with ubiquitous Rambo injuring the silver-hatted (or was the color messed up on my television?) cops are great in the way they build suspense. An earlier escape scene's fights are lame by comparison with cops who don't flail very well, especially goofy David Caruso who can't even get kneed in the junk right. When Stallone actually has to act like a human being, he's less realistic, and the dialogue ending with "I can't find your legs" made me laugh, probably inappropriately. The smaller roles are played laughably. Jack Starrett as Galt makes a run at Silliest Actor in First Blood early with the delivery of "If you don't fly this thing right, I swear I'm gonna kill you" but then you've got John McLiam (Boss Keen in Cool Hand Luke) as "Orvil, Guy with Dogs" who's got a voice like a Dukes of Hazzard extra. Leroy the painter, by the way, would easily win Silliest Actor in First Blood but it's an uncredited performance which unfortunately makes him ineligible. Both of the hunters are pretty bad, too. "What happened, son?" "I see him over there!" I think these guys must have been related to Ted Kotcheff or something. But there are good performances as well. Richard Crenna was born to say "To eat things that would make a billy goat puke" and is the perfect Trautman in this, and Brian Dennehy is always entertaining. And some guy named Dan Hill should receive a lifetime ban from recording studios for that "It's a Long Road" song that plays during the credits. I'd rather piss off Rambo than have to hear that again.

This was watched in honor of Jen's birthday. She's got a thing for Brian Dennehy.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

2011 monkey mayhem

Rating: 10/20

Plot: A scientist experiments with drugs to help Alzheimer's patients and ends up with a monkey who is more intelligent than most Americans. In fact, Caesar probably would have been smart enough to see previews for this movie and decide not to spend the money to see it. After an act of violence forces The Man to separate Caesar from his scientist buddy, he gets angry, gives the same drug to a bunch of damn dirty apes, and breaks out to cause a few explosions.

There's a funny scene in this movie where Franco's character meets his love interest for the first time. Caesar starts making these hand gestures that are very obviously sexual, but Franco's character covers with a "He thinks I should take you to dinner." Other than that lone scene, I can't think of another reason to even watch this movie. It's a big dumb summer blockbuster that's all special effects and no depth. A basic plot outline would sound like something that has a lot of potential, and a prequel to Planet of the Apes to explain how the maniacs blew it all up and why they deserved to have that gun nut damn them all to hell in the first movie isn't a terrible idea. And this is much better than that Tim Burton travesty that resulted in me taking a trip to the zoo just so I could get in a shouting match with an ape. But no, this is just embarrassing. You get a really big start with a buttload of fake-looking monkeys. The CGI monkeys in this look so fake, as a matter of fake, that after watching this, I wasn't even sure if I'd ever seen a real monkey. And there are times when I can see that what the special effects gurus behind this did is really pretty remarkable. The actors' rapport with the fake looking animals, all those monkeys on the screen moving around at the same time, and even Andy Serkis's skills in giving Caesar so much personality all make you think, "Yeah, I'm sure a lot of money went into this and it's really a remarkable achievement." But those monkeys just don't look real at all, and that took me completely out of the movie. And Serkis? I hope he isn't reading this because I don't want to hurt his feelings, but I think what he does is really pretty overrated. Caesar overacts, and it gets worse the older he gets. And the more scenes we get of Caesar (or any of the monkeys for that matter) moving around, the more ridiculously cartoonish they look. The only thing even coming close to that level of ridiculousness would be John Lithgow's distracting performance as Franco's father. I'm just not sure Alzheimer's is supposed to be this funny, but I laughed at Lithgow's delivery of this "Look at him go!" line and then again at these expressions he was making as he was wrecking his neighbor's car. No, I didn't really want to laugh at a character with Alzheimer's. It just didn't seem right. Draco Malfoy (ok, Tom Felton) didn't seem right either. He almost blasphemy screams "It's a madhouse! It's a madhouse!" at one point and then, even tackier, gets a "damn dirty ape" line. Felton better be careful or he's going to be typecast as "young punk bully guy" and miss out on his chance to eventually be a James Bond. All this builds to a silly looking action scene on a bridge that is about as thrilling and realistic as the scenes in that last big action movie you saw. It's violence that takes no chances, likely to avoid an R rating, I imagine. And there's just no real tension or any reason to care about what's going on with either the underdeveloped monkey characters except for maybe Caesar or the human characters who don't even have names. But you'll dig it if you like fake-looking monkeys jumping around and destroying helicopters. I had hope going into this movie, but this was nothing but disappointment. And now I have to make another trip to the zoo to take it out on some animals who had nothing to do with the production of this.

My Week with Marilyn

2011 movie

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

Plot: Colin Clark really wants to work with movies and gets his chance with Sir Laurence Olivier as he films The Prince and the Showgirl with the titular hussy. Clark forms a friendship with Monroe despite warnings that she'll break his heart. Meanwhile, Monroe's habitual tardiness and inability to remember her lines begins to annoy Olivier.

If you don't mind a movie about Marilyn Monroe where the actress playing Marilyn Monroe is outshone by actor Kenneth Branagh playing Olivier, then you might not mind this so much. Michelle Williams is a fine Marilyn Monroe. When she's playing the real Monroe, the vulnerable one away from the public eye, she lacks the charisma of the real Marilyn Monroe, but I suppose that's the point. Williams nails the public persona, the flashy and flirtatious matinee idol/sex symbol. That sparkle is almost there, and that might be the best compliment I can give a person playing this role. Eddie Redmayne as Clark was the least interesting thing about this movie. I like the story here just fine with all the constant warnings this guy got but how he didn't care because he understood what the experience was all about. The movie is very much a movie, a fairly bland telling of the story, but I'm probably not going to complain because I did, after all, get to see a butt.

Purple Noon

1960 remake of 1999's The Talented Mr. Ripley

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Rich Mr. Greenleaf sends Tom to Europe to retrieve his son Philippe who seems to be on an endless vacation. The senior Greenleaf believed the two were BFF's growing up. Philippe continues dicking around, so Tom decides to kill him and steal his identity so that he can buy a closet full of white jeans.

That poster is courtesy of Poland in case you're wondering. I was wondering why Cory would not only recommend a movie starring pop star Prince but why he claimed to have "thought of [Shane] when [he] saw it." I started watching and said to myself, "Why is Prince a white dude, and why's he speaking French?" Turns out that Prince isn't even in this movie, and neither is any artist formerly known as Prince. It's Alain Delon, a guy I've liked in a few other movies that don't have Prince in them. He's good here, too--creepy in an almost pleasant way which makes his whole persona that much creepier. He plays the sort-of two roles here really well with just the right amount of subtle differences, and even though he's convincing as a crafty dude, he's also got this palpable naivete that makes you know that he ain't getting away with any of this no matter how sly he thinks he is. There's a great little look he gives when an old woman tells him, semi-ironically (I have to say semi-ironically since I don't know what ironic means so that if somebody calls me on it, I can say, "Well, I did say semi-ironically.") "This is no time to be killed." Philippe, played by Maurice Ronet is such an unlikable guy that I actually couldn't wait for him to be murdered. I enjoyed the early characterization in this. So much is revealed when the mischievous duo buy a blind man's cane from him and then use it to pick up a woman. I like the little details, too. The fish market scene with its wild music and close-ups of all those fish faces, all the focus on the set-up and equipment when Tom is practicing his pal's signature, that kind of stuff. The ending is great in a lot of ways that other movie's endings aren't great, but my favorite scene is a murder scene, a death by Buddha where the victim's last sight is a chicken a few rolling tomatoes. His last words--"Ahwa-oo-oo." That guy deserved to die, too, mostly because he's a jerk who can't park. The aftermath of that act of violence, a hand over the banister with some ironic music and a situation where the dead must smoke a cigarette, is really nice, too. With constant jazz burbling below the surface and all kinds of tasty foreshadowing, this well pieced-together suspense story is a good one with or without Prince's involvement. Definitely recommended for people who know what ironic means or probably even those who don't.

The Dark Knight Rises

2012 blockbuster

Rating: 16/20 (Kent: 19/20; Dara: 15/20)

Plot: [Spoiler free!] One of my creepier experiences was when I was at a grocery store in Terre Haute called Great Scot. I was eight, and one of my favorite things to do was roll the Coke bottles down the noisy conveyor belt. My mother wandered off--as she frequently did--to take care of the bottles, and I was approached by a guy in a raggedy trench coat. He had a mustache, one of those mustaches, and I didn't trust him, mostly because one of his hands was submerged in the folds of the trench coat. In my eight-year-old brain, I could only assume that he either had a gun or a penis in that unseen hand, and either way, I wasn't comfortable with the way this trip to the grocery store was going to end. "Hey, kiddie," he said in a way that could be described as damp, "want to see my Batman comic." I ran off and found my mom loading up the cart with Zingers and told her about the encounter. "Well," she said, "I've warned you about that."

Is there another third superhero (I know, I know--Batman ain't a superhero) movie that is any good at all? Superman III is a travesty. Spiderman III is embarrassing. I don't remember the other Batman's third movie, but I assume it's awful. I had my doubts about this one, but it's a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. The Dark Knight is better, mostly because of Ledger's use of hand sanitizer, but I really enjoyed where this one took the characters and where it left them. Now, you need to be aware that I am typing these words as a person who does not read Batman comic books. I don't know how faithful Nolan is to those, but I really don't care about that sort of thing all that much. There are a handful of new additions to the cast. As much as I like Matthew Modine, I don't really understand why his character is around so much or why he's Matthew Modine. I wasn't excited to see any Catwomen in this, maybe because of that dreadful Halle Berry movie, but Anne Hathaway has a nice shape to her and her character was really interesting. The rapport with her and Bale was great. The other new addition is the villain Bane played by Tom Hardy. He's a good villain, a combination of evil brains and terrifying brawn, but having to follow the Joker? Those are tough purple britches to fill! Still, it's a great character until the very end when something unfortunate happens which lame-ifies him a bit more than I'm comfortable with. A lot was made of the voice when the previews came out, but I really liked it even though I really wish I had subtitles during a couple scenes. It was Sean Connery in a gas mask. Bale's voice remains irritating. I guess I understand the need to disguise his voice, but why does he need to use the deep-voiced, gravelly Batman voice when it's just him and Alfred? Bale, as I said an hour or so ago, makes a good Batman, but I think he's an even better Bruce Wayne, and this trilogy is really more about Bruce Wayne and his redemption than it is Batman. Or maybe it's about Gotham City, a microcosm of modern humanity. Marion Cotillard isn't very good in this, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt turns on his action hero switch and makes his character work. I also really liked how this connected to the other two movies, referencing the first thematically and tying it all together in some nifty and relatively non-cheesy ways. This movie does have one of the lamest death scenes you're ever likely to see. No, I'm not even talking about that one. I'm talking about the one that comes after that. There were also all kinds of time problems during the climax. I thought for a moment that I was watching 24 or something. As with the first movie, you've got some stuff that happens right when it's supposed to happen, but I can probably ignore that. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention Michael Caine when I wrote about Batman Begins, and I don't want to forget him here. Where the other actors play their parts, Caine manages to rise to a new level here. His story in this third movie was surprisingly touching. These movies aren't perfect, but even though I'm far from an expert on this kind of movie, I'm pretty sure it'll be the best superhero trilogy for a very long time. At least until they get start on those Plastic Man movies.

Am I weird for wanting a Catwoman action figure? How about if I purchase one while wearing a trench coat?

The Dark Knight Redux

2008 middle movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: I once played poker with a woman dressed as Heath Ledger's Joker. It was around Halloween time, but it still didn't make a lot of sense. It was before I saw The Dark Knight, so I didn't know if she was imitating the character or just gassy. I'll tell you one thing though--I'm pretty sure people dressed as movie characters have more tells than people dressed as ordinary people. If I'm remembering correctly, I won almost 13 dollars that night.

I like how all three of these movies open with a bat symbol.

What an opening this one has! Wisely, this starts with the Joker who is the most intriguing character in a trilogy with a lot of intriguing characters. Unwisely, this doesn't end with the Joker, and when I wrote about this movie the first time, that was the biggest problem for me. Once the antagonist is gone, there's no need to continue things unless you're trying to set up the third movie which Nolan isn't even doing here. I didn't get it. Why the hell does this movie keep going? Watching this a second time, it makes a little more sense. The movie isn't the Joker's story. If it was, we'd be disappointed because there isn't a beginning to the story. And it's not Batman's story either. This is really Harvey Dent's story, his fall from grace, and his eventual demise. And as Harvey Dent's story, that final 30 minutes or so is absolutely necessary. Of course, the problem is that the character who gives this film its fire is gone, and Two-Face, no matter how many times he flips that coin of his, just can't carry that final chunk of movie. It's not Aaron Eckhart's fault; he's fine as this brash character, really another perfect choice for a role in these movies. No, it's all the Joker's fault. So back to that opening. From the get-go, nearly everything Heath Ledger does here is perfect. I even love the way he walks, this swagger that he's got, in the opening scene in the bank. And the music in this opening bit is incredible, building this perfect tension. Since childhood, I was always more attracted to the villains in movies--Boba Fett, Lex Luthor, The Blockheads, the list goes on--and as an adult, Ledger's villain is one you can really sink your teeth in. And although you might not want to completely get on board with what the guy is doing, the Joker's argument does actually make some sense, doesn't it? This isn't really a movie about good vs. evil anyway. It's more a clash of philosophies or ideologies, and that's what really gives it its strength. It definitely gives the most dynamic fifteen-or-so-minutes in the entire trilogy (arguably. . .I might have to reconsider this one) its power. The interrogation, the rush to the buildings where Dent and Maggie are about to be blown to smithereens, the Joker's prison games. Is there a fifteen minute chunk of movie that is as intense as that? There's another powerful scene where the camera circles Maggie Gyllenhaal and the Joker. Intensity. Whenever Ledger's on the screen, this is magical. His disappearing pencil, the dark humor in the dialogue, his greed at the bank, his shenanigans when he meets the mob, the burning pile of money, the dangerous game he plays near the end of the movie. It's all so good, but you know what my favorite Joker moment is? It's when he is leaving the hospital and stops to use the hand sanitizer. Such a beautiful little detail. The rest of the cast? More of the same. They're fine, and Gyllenhaal is an improvement over Tom Cruise's ex-wife. William Fichtner gets a small part as a badass bank manager. The action stuff is fine, thrilling enough and refreshingly filmed with few computer-aided special effects. There's a dopey helicopter crash though. This is a nearly-great movie which is why its flaws are so frustrating. Batman's new voice? The whole sonar cell phone thing? "Have a nice trip? See you next fall." Did that line actually happen in this movie?

I really liked a truck driver's performance in this. I think his name is Jim Wilkey although Jim Wilkey is only credited with stunts. His performance was even better than Heath Ledger's!

Batman Begins Redux

2005 superhero movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: But Batman isn't a superhero, Shane! I know it's a free country and all, but you shouldn't even have the right to type a blog entry about this movie if you think Batman is a superhero. You just don't get Batman. The character is too cerebral for you or something. Why don't you go find some Japanese website that will sell you bootleg dvd's of season one of Plastic Man or something. Or watch Up again and avoid comic book movies altogether. Geez Louise!

A couple questions: Why, if you know your son had a traumatic experience with bats after he fell in a well and frequently has bat-related nightmares, would you take him to a weirdo opera that has bats in it? That's just bad parenting. And how did Liam Neeson get all those bats on that mountain?

I'd promised to give these movies another shot and figured that the week prior to the release of the last movie was a good enough time to make it happen. I've seen them all now and liked these first two a little better than I did the first go-around. First thing I notice is how perfect the casting is. I've trashed Christian Bale many times on this blog, but that was only because he looks like a guy who started yelling at me (for no good reason!) at a shopping mall once, right in front of The Gap. Who knows--maybe it actually was Christian Bale? But still, that's no reason to hate him as an actor, and he's a really good Batman, at least in this one before his voice changes. He is a lot more believable as an actual human being during scenes where he's not required to think or show any emotion though. Tom Wilkinson as Falcone is really good, just the perfect accent for the part he's playing. Ken Watanabe gets to stand around. Gary Oldman is just about as good as it gets here; he adds a depth to this character who, from my limited comic book and Batman experience, always seemed like a fairly generic character. Liam Neeson is his usual awesome self with his "Death does not wait" and other trash talk. Morgan Freeman plays himself, but he plays that part really well. And what the hell? Mark Boone Junior is haunting me or something. Dude actually showed up in my dream the other night, did this little juggling fiery bowling balls trick while saying, "Got my eyes locked on you, buddy--I'm doing this instinctively!" The dream ended with the whole world on fire. One criticism that I had about this movie the first time was a villain that I couldn't get too excited about, but the Scarecrow character--played in a kind of silly way by Cillian Murphy, a guy with a silly first name--is fascinating. Weaponized hallucinogenics? The weak spots are Gus Lewis as young Christian Bale and Linus Roache as Batman's dad, both not on the screen enough to really matter. Batman's dad should have been Gary Sinese or--and I might be stretching things a bit here--Denzel Washington. On the screen more than enough to matter is Katie Holmes who is just not a very good actress. The action sequences don't always thrill me. An early one in prison is so choppy and quickly edited that I actually got a little dizzy. I could have watched a lot more of those old-school kung-fu-ish training sequences with Liam throwing out all these little Yoda-esque nuggets of wisdom. The destruction of the League of Shadows pad was fine if you suspend your disbelief enough, but that slide down the mountain to save Liam Neeson looked ridiculous. Once Batman pops into the movie, the action works better. A brawl at the dock, one that played on the whole idea of fear as a weapon really nicely and showed off Batman's ninja skills, was great, all swooping black and peek-a-boos. There are a couple big action scenes where things happen just in the nick of time, all too typical of big big action movies. It takes away some of the realism and reminds me too much of the television series in those moments. And it's all set to this giant movie music from Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard which really fits but almost cheapens things. Things are poured on really thick in the end with a Bruce Wayne and Gordon love subplot. Throw in a bunch of scenes with a badass bat tank with thankfully only a few dopey jokes to interrupt the proceedings, and you've got a very good first act for this trilogy, one that never really feels like it needs to find its feet at all.

Oh, I forgot to mention Michael Caine. Did it surprise anybody at all that he's perfect for the role of Alfred?

Lo

2009 romantic comedy

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Justin's girlfriend April has been abducted by a demon, and he has to use a book of spells she left behind to call upon Lo, a demon who looks a heck of a lot like Lord Voldemort, to get her back.

I wanted to like this extremely low-budget independent romantic comedy because the concept is kind of neat, maybe more for the stage than the screen, and the director Travis Betz is a fellow Hoosier. The modern take on the myth of Orpheus unfortunately just isn't clever enough or entertaining enough to keep a person's interest. At the start, I thought I was watching low-grade horror until the titular demon shows up, starts calling the guy Dinner, performs a demon-head-busting-open magic trick, tells the main character to clean the shit from his pants, and asks, "Where the fuck am I?" He's got a little Beetle Juice in him. And he really does look like Voldemort, but that's just probably the lack of nose. I don't think my problem with this is the single setting with a few flashbacks mixed in. The problem was more to do with the Lo character being a little too dopey. There was also too much dopiness in the asides with gay Nazi demons busting into songs (though I imagine "Demon Girl" with a demon saxophonist is deservedly a big hit in hell), a random dancing demon waiter that made me ask "Why is this happening?", and a flashback scene complete with canned laughter. It wasn't until a second flashback scene featuring these weird gold-painted heads sticking out of the wall that I figured out that I'd already seen this movie, nearly fifteen years before it had even been made. There's also a scene where the guy talks to his hand, but it's not nearly as entertaining as when that happens in Evil Dead II. I do enjoy scenes in movies where a bunch of characters laugh in creepy ways at another character, and this does have a nice one of those. The demon costumes probably aren't bad for the budget this movie had, but I think I've seen better masks on trick or treaters. There's just too much exposed flesh in the eye-holes. In the end, this isn't funny enough to work as a comedy and not emotionally compelling enough to work as anything else. A scene at the end is supposed to be touching, but I was distracted because the actors just couldn't pull it off. This movie does contain a line that reminded me of something I said when I proposed to Jennifer though: "Tell me you won't eat me, and I'll make you my wife."

Mousehunt

1997 mouse movie

Rating: 16/20 (Jen: 15/20, Dylan: 15/20; Emma: 18/20; Abbey: 18/20)

Plot: Two down-on-their-luck brothers who don't really get along inherit a seemingly worthless house and a string factory from their father. They find out that the house is potentially worth millions, the lost design of a famous architect, and start fixing the place up. In their way stands a mouse who isn't happy about the human intrusion. Mousehunt!

"A world without string is chaos!"

I've seen this one many times, but I hadn't seen it in several years. Always really liked this one, a vibrant family non-animated cartoon comedy that's fun for adults and children and only slightly risque for the latter. There's a visual flamboyance--maybe expected given director Verbinski's later work--that I really like, and the special effects are really great. The shots that follow the mouse as it maneuvers through tight spaces in the house are a lot of fun, and my family started making fun of me when I kept asking, "How are they getting the mouse to do that?" It's hard to tell which scenes involve a live trained mouse and which ones are manufactured with the magic of special effects, so I'm just going to assume the whole thing is done with a real mouse and declare that mouse to be the greatest mouse actor and stuntmouse to ever grace the silver screen. Speaking of rodents, I'm now two-thirds of the way to a rodent trifecta after this and Rat. Somebody suggest a third for me. Rodent trifecta would be a good name for a punk band, by the way. The human actors are almost as good as the mouse. Nathan Lane and Lee Evans bounce off each other well, both stretching these unrealistic comic situations--enough comic mischief to give this a PG rating without the aforementioned risque scene--as far as they can without destroying any potential for believability. Lee gets the funniest moment in this or almost any other movie I've seen recently during a scene where he screams "I've got you now, little guy" at an auction. That whole scene is slapstick perfection though. Christopher Walken has a small part as Caesar the Exterminator, an underappreciated role. Only Walken can deliver a line like "What's that--horse? Fiendish! I won't eat it!"--a line that looks completely nonsensical on paper--and turn it into comedy gold. William Hickey, playing the boys' father in flashback and in painting form, looks like he could fall to pieces at any moment. There's an absurdity to the action scenes and a few no-way-real-people-survive-that moments that might remind you of Home Alone but with a mouse, and the overall flashy comic tone gives it just the right amount of cartoonishness. It's like Tom and Jerry or a Donald Duck short where you know the characters will be OK even after you just watched them explode. There are a few darker comic moments though, including a wowser opening that shows the tail-end of a funeral that sets an irreverent and humorously violent tone for the rest of the movie. The music's terrific, too. I don't think this first feature from Gore Verbinski is highly regarded, but I think it's a very entertaining and almost special little movie.

Dinosaur Island

1994 dinosaur movie

Rating: 7/20

Plot: Some military guys' plane crashes, and they end up on the titular island. Luckily for them, the scantily-clad women who inhabit the island believe they're gods who have come to destroy the lamest-looking T-Rex you're ever likely to see.

"Die, you dinosaur dick!"

Jim Wynorski and Fred Olen Ray co-directed this movie, one that I'm sure very few people would confuse with Jurassic Park which came out the previous year. This one's got more boobs in it though. Jim Wynorski, subject of this documentary, and Fred Olen Ray teamed up to direct this one. The former's got Busty Coeds vs. Lusty Cheerleaders, The Hills Have Thighs, Busty Cops and the Jewel of Denial, The Devil Wears Nada, House on Hooter Hill, and The Bare Wench Project on his resume while the latter is known for Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Dirty Blondes from Beyond, The Teenie Weenie Bikini Squad, Bikini Frankenstein, Tarzeena: Jiggle in the Jungle, Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfolds, and Girl with the Sex-Ray Eyes. Out of Olen Ray's 125 director credits, 19 have the word bikini in them. So I shouldn't have been surprised that there was a bare breast in the first second of the film. Literally, the first second. But if any of my wives are reading this, I watched this because I love dinosaurs. Fans of breasts should be happy. Fans of dinosaurs? Well, not so much. And fans of movies where the dinosaurs and the characters are really on the same island will be really disappointed. And the funniest thing about the whole movie, to me at least, was this note before the title credits:



I don't know where they stole these dinosaurs from (I assumed stock footage), but it's obvious that whatever cheap camera was used to film the creatures was not the same cheap camera used to film everything else. But the makers of this don't really expect anybody to buy that the dinosaurs are real. No, this is a little more tongue-in-cheek, the script made up of jokey rapport that is more miss than hit. "You got a problem with your privates, Private?" is a classic though. And I did chuckle when one of the island gals said, "Maybe they can save us from The Great One," which made one of the soldiers ask, "Jackie Gleason?" but in retrospect, that was a pity chuckle. All kinds of cartoony sound effects are used in this, too. The fight choreography is extra special, and the acting is about as bad as you'd expect it would be. Worst of the bunch is Antonia Dorian as Princess April, all open-mouthed and doe-eyed and delivering every one of her lines with this angry surprise. She's potentially my blog's first female Torgo winner. The woman playing Queen Morgana is bad, too. Apparently, she mistook "savage" for "wooden person" or something. But I don't know what I'm complaining about. You've got dinosaurs, guys with guns, bare-breasted splash fights, a cat fight complete with a wardrobe malfunction or two. What else could a warm-blooded American male want in a movie? But again, I want to make it clear that I only watched this because I like dinosaurs. That and I was fooled into thinking Jeff Goldblum would be in it.

Rat

2000 comedy

Rating: 15/20

Plot: An Irish guy, after a night of drinking, metamorphizes into the titular rodent. His wife, son, and daughter try to figure out what to do about him. A writer moves in with the family to write a byook with the hope that it will be made into a feelm some day.

That's how they pronounce those words. I'm not really sure how they'd spell them, so I just did my best. This play on Kafka's short story is frequently clever even if it doesn't seem to have all that much to say. There were a lot of cool visual things going on. There's some funny visual humor with the dude's empty clothes, a picture where a resemblance to a rat can be seen, the drying out of the rat after it nearly drowns in a glass of beer, a hurling over a fence, a scene with a washing machine. There's also some interesting camera work. I dug the rat cam which I imagine was accomplished by giving a very tiny camera to a very tiny man and having him run around the room or down the sidewalk. Or I guess the very tiny camera could have been attached to a mouse. There's also some weird camera work during a family meeting where the camera sort of slithers around the characters, really invading their spaces. It was nearly distracting, but I kind of liked it. The whole thing's got a playful tone although the actors play everything straight. The performances were all fine even if the accents made it difficult to understand them at times, but I was really really impressed with Imelda Staunton, best known for her voice work as Bunty in the great Chicken Run, who played the wife. Her character here is hilariously ruthless, and she really drives this thing. The oddly-named Niall Toibin (explains why they say "feelm" and "byook," I guess) is very funny as a priest. We learn from him that the fridge is a very dangerous place to put a demon, and there's an exorcism scene that is hilarious. We also get to hear part of a sermon, and although I had no idea what Toibin's character was talking about, he ends it with "If I hit you, you'll die bouncing!" which is how more sermons should end. At least I think that's what he said. Again, the accents. The story is a little too simple perhaps, and the characters' motivations are confusing by the end of it all, but this is a fun enough little movie that very few people have probably seen. One of my favorite bits: The daughter's reading of a letter from Dad.

Note: I gave this a bonus point since I watched it right after Smokey and the Bandit since that movie would make everything else look like crap.

Look at that poster. On the one hand, I like the minimalism of the poster there with just the three colors and the short title in a simple font. But how many people are going to see this movie based on the "From the director of" advertisement? Or that horrible tagline?

Smokey and the Bandit

1977 truck movie

Rating: 17/20 (Jen fells asleep a little before Burt Reynolds' first appearance.)

Plot: The titular outlaw drives a Pontiac Trans Am as a blocker for truck-driving pal Snowman as they attempt to illegally haul a load of Coors 1,800 miles in 28 hours in order to win a bet. On the way back, Bandit picks up a hitchhiker who has just fled from her wedding, an act which will later inspire Garry Marshall to make The Runaway Bride. The father of the groom, a tough sheriff named Buford T. Justice, chases relentlessly. Because the Bandit is played by Burt Reynolds, there's time to stop for sex.

On the surface, this is a chunk of 1970's sleazeballery, your typical counter-culture truck drivin' action/comedy flick. But this is the Shakespeare of truck drivin' films, less a movie really than a transcendent experience, a film that comes from some place you could never understand. Watching Smokey and the Bandit isn't like watching another movie. Well, at the very least, it shouldn't be like watching another movie. If you watch Smokey and the Bandit correctly, you really have to leave your body and watch yourself watching the movie, and I'm convinced that only the most virtuous viewers can make that happen. I watched this movie back in the late-70's, probably because my step-dad was a truck driver. I'd been to church, but watching Smokey and the Bandit is what really convinced me there was a God. How else could one explain Burt Reynolds' mustache? The speed of these vehicles? The human capacity for coming up with the idea that drives the plot of this movie--a bet to illegally transport Coors across state lines in time for Big Enos and Little Enos's party? Burt Reynolds is a force. There's no way his laugh, his crotch, his smile can possibly be organic. There are a limited number of possible effects that the Bandit character can have on individual audience members. Woman will at the very least want to smell Burt Reynolds, and in more extreme but also more likely cases, they will will want to have a sexual encounter with Burt Reynolds. And men? They will either shit in their pants or, in more extreme but not all that likely cases, want to have a sexual encounter with Burt Reynolds' hat. And almost everybody watching Burt Reynolds in this movie will want to get in his motor vehicle and drive it as fast as he can, just praying that somebody starts chasing him. But as amazing as Burt Reynolds is in this movie, it's really Jackie Gleason that is the heart and soul of this movie. Gleason, mostly improvising, has dialogue that John Keats wishes he would have been alive to write. No, I'll take that back. John Keats wishes he would have lived long enough to even hear lines like these:

"Give me a diablo sandwich, a Dr. Pepper, and make it quick. I'm in a God damn hurry."
"There's no way that you came from my loins. Soon as I get home, first thing I'm going to do is punch your mama in the mouth."
"You sumbitches couldn't close an umbrella."
"Get off of there, you Schnauzer's tit."
"My name is Smokey Bear and I'm tail-grabbin' your ass right now."
"Do what I say you pile of monkey nuts."
"Duck or you're gonna be talking out your ass."
"Nobody make Sheriff Buford T. Justice look like a possum's pecker."
"This happens every time one of these floozies starts poontanging around with those show folk fags."
"I'm going to barbecue your ass in molasses."

Combine writing like that with the cinematography, Burt Reynolds' mustache, and the grace of Sally Field and you've got yourself something a little closer to poetry than just your average movie. The incomparable Jerry Reed plays Snowman so well that you wonder how much of his life was spent talking on a CB radio. He also contributed a song or two that you won't be able to get out of your head for a week or so after you watch this movie, especially if you're like me and had to watch it six times straight. Paul Williams plays Little Enos, and he's not really a little person but I'm using my tag anyway. He wrote "An Old Fashioned Love Song" which became a hit for Three Dog Night, the first band I ever saw in concert. He also wrote "We've Only Just Begun" and "Rainy Days and Mondays" for the Carpenters and, most importantly for me, "Rainbow Connection" for The Muppet Movie.

Two bits of Shane trivia: 1) I stopped wearing jeans, for obvious reasons, after seeing this movie. 2) Sally Field was my first lover.

Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter

1966 Western Horror hybrid

Rating: 5/20

Plot: The titular outlaw and his burly sidekick Hank Tracy are on the run and hide out in a castle where the titular daughter of Dr. Frankenstein's daughter and some other guy are experimenting with the regeneration of humans.

First, I had to penalize this a point for having an inaccurate title. Frankenstein's daughter isn't even in this movie; it's his granddaughter. This movie is more boring than a movie called Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter should be. The famous outlaw is played by John Lupton who I know exactly one thing about--he's the most boring actor to ever live. This also has Rayford Barnes playing Lonny Curry, a twerpy backstabber and member of the Wild Bunch gang in this movie. I noticed that he somehow found his way in Pekinpah's The Wild Bunch, and as far as I know, twerps weren't allowed in that movie. His performance is also boring. Roger Creed plays the generic Wild Bunch gang leader and puts the accent on the wrong syllable in the word decoy, but it's expected because most of his work in film was as a stuntman. He probably hit his head a few times. Cal Bolder's got too much muscle for the Old West. He's an imposing enough figure, but his voice doesn't match his body. I did like in one scene how he punches a guy who falls back into a horse with enough force to knock off the horse's rider. I'm not sure why Bolder, after he's Frankenstein-monstered, is named Igor by the granddaughter. Didn't writer Carl K. Hittleman, who also did some writing for The Buster Keaton Show and wrote Billy the Kid vs. Dracula, read Mary Shelley's novel? (Note: I typed that with the knowledge that there is no Igor in Frankenstein.) I really can't think of any reason why anybody would want to see this. My favorite thing about it was the shot of a Wild West town with the creepy mansion overlooking it from a hill in the background. I also kind of liked these goofy red, yellow, and black helmets with antennas that one of the scientists and the soon-to-be-resurrected people wore. I'm not even sure two of the colors on that helmet existed in the 19th Century, and I'm not sure what those helmets were supposed to do. Either the subject on the table gets a helmet or everybody in the room gets a helmet, right? Did this movie not have enough of a budget to get a third helmet? I was confused by the whole thing and have had trouble sleeping since watching this. This movie also lost a full point for having what might be the most irritating sound effect in the world.

My favorite thing about this is a note before the movie about how the company releasing this on dvd is dedicated to preserving film history. Really? This movie?

Soup to Nuts

1930 comedy

Rating: 10/20

Plot: I don't know. It's something about a costume store trying to stay in business. Firemen are involved somehow. It was two in the morning. I had to dry my blanket and planned on watching this for forty minutes or so. I kept listening for the dryer to stop so that I could turn this off, get my blanket, and go to sleep. Next thing I know, the movie's over. The dryer was still going. I think the dryer and Shemp Howard conspired to force me to watch this entire movie. Or, more realistically, Shemp Howard has been reincarnated as my dryer.

I watched this more because Rube Goldberg wrote the story, but you can look for yourself on the poster to see how it's marketed. It's not a Three Stooges movie though. They're in the beginning and end of the movie, but they're peripheral characters. Sadly, they and Fred Sanborn, the latter who is playing a fireman as quiet as Harpo, are the funniest things about this movie. Sadly, since they aren't funny at all. There's not a laugh to be had in this mostly-incoherent mess. The dialogue is about as funny as you'd expect from a 1930 comedy (yes, I'm biased) and the slapstick doesn't work at all. A few sight gags nearly work during a climactic fire-fighting scene, but it's the type of thing that only succeeds in making me wish I was watching Harold Lloyd or Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin or somebody else who wasn't screaming at me. I wouldn't watch this if I were you. You'll be disappointed if you're a Three Stooges fan. If you're not, you'll still be disappointed.

The Squid and the Whale

2005 family movie

Rating: 17/20 (Jen: 16/20)

Plot: The Berkmans decide to end their troubled marriage and decide to have joint custody of their two sons. The sons find it difficult not to pick sides while their parents attempt to move on in their different ways.

Something like this can only be autobiographical which makes me kind of sad. This might as well be a Wes Anderson movie. Baumbach and Anderson are buds, and the dialogue and dysfunctional families made up of unlikable but easy-to-love pseudo-intellectual souls in this could easily have been characters in that or that. One of those characters is played by Jeff Daniels, an actor who always surprises me. I'll probably be surprised when I find out that I've already written that on this blog before probably. He's so good here playing a character who doesn't know he's going to be laughed at. I connected with the character, probably because he reminds me of somebody I know. Nothing that Daniels does here is dazzling, but this father is one complex character, one that is as shallow as can be while simultaneously having a whole lot of depth. And look at who else is on that poster: Jesse Eisenberg, a guy who my long-time 4 1/2 readers know I have a don't-mind-too-much/hate relationship with. This was the first time I noticed him, and the one character he's capable of playing is the perfect character for this spot. The other kid, Owen Kline, is really good, too, and I'm not just saying he's good for a child actor. It's one of those roles that makes you wonder why parents would allow their child to participate. It's not the cursing as much as it is the jism. Laura Linney is just as good as this character who, on the surface at least, is more likable than Daniels' character, even though she just might be the worse human being. It depends, I guess. Daniels' character is unlikable because of some personality flaws; Linney's character acts selfishly. With four unlikable characters driving this sorta-story, this movie might seem difficult to enjoy, but the characters are played so well and the script combines absolute despair and humor so well. It's humorous, but it's an uncomfortable kind of humor, partly because the performances are good enough to make you think these are real people and partly because you're really laughing at other people's misfortune. Personally, I don't have a problem with that because I do it anyway. The dialogue's fantastic, sneakily self-referential, the sort of words that bury truer meanings. It's entirely possible that I'm just impressed that a movie can survive under the weight of both an Eisenberg and a Baldwin brother. One big question, however: How is it that nobody seems to recognize that Eisenberg's character has ripped off a Pink Floyd song? He could probably have gotten away with a Syd Barrett b-side, but not something from The Wall. Speaking of music, a few tracks by both Bert Jansch and Loudon Wainwright III don't hurt matters here. I really can't think of another movie that is this depressing but still manages to be this enjoyable. It's not a downer despite being sort of a downer as Baumbach pretty much eviscerates his parents on screen. My favorite little scene is when Daniels, Eisenberg, and Eisenberg's girlfriend go to a movie. Short Circuit was vetoed in favor of another movie, one completely appropriate for a father to take his teen son and son's girlfriend to.

I'll have to check, but I believe this is the only the second time I've used the word jism in a blog entry. That's almost shocking. Anybody want to take a stab at the other movie I used that word in? I'll buy a doughnut for the first person to guess it unless I suspect that you looked it up. Then, I'll just imitate Wonka and say, "You get nothing!"

Cory's Birthday Movie Celebration: Godzilla vs. Destoroyah

1995 monster movie

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Godzilla's having an allergic reaction and develops a nasty glowing rash. It's painful, and he decides to take his frustration out on the architecture. Meanwhile, some scientists invent themselves a new kind of crab that threatens humanity. Godzilla's son, Godzilla Jr., shows up, a little upset because dad hasn't been attending his t-ball games. A bunch of fire happens, and the Japanese Al Gore starts telling everybody that the world is going to either blow up or melt. They combat the inevitable with ice tanks and ice planes while more fire happens. Then, almost shockingly, there's even more fire!

Fire! This is the type of movie that can burn you if you get too close to it. I mean, just take a gander at that bitchin' poster there! What the hell is this movie called, by the way? Cory called it Godzilla vs. Destroyer which seems to be what the characters in this are saying. IMDB has it as Godzilla vs. Destroyah while most other sources seem to add the extra O. I think the title screen had the extra O, too. I'm pretty sure this movie is the victim of a typographical error, and those, as you know, can be more deadly dangerous than Godzilla.

I think this is the third time that I've watched a Godzilla movie on Cory's birthday which, if you think about it, is actually the lamest present imaginable. I'm going to start doing this for other people. Oh, it's your birthday, Dad? I'll watch that time travel movie with Superman. For my brother's birthday, I can watch Amelie. For my wife's birthday, I can pop in First Blood. No cost to me and I get to watch a movie. Anyway, happy birthday, Cory. Last year, I goofed and picked a random Godzilla movie that wasn't one of his faves. This year, I grabbed one that he actually likes.

This movie is almost as good as its poster up there with all that fire and smoke. Of course, we all know that there's no way a movie can be as good as that poster. The world would melt. The big guy looks extra menacing in this since parts of him are glowing orange. He also looks extra pissed, right at the beginning of all this before the giant explosion that precedes the title screen. That explosion is there to foreshadow more explosions. It seems the people in charge of this 90's series asked themselves, "What is missing from those original Godzilla movies?" and answered it with "Extraneous explosions!" It all matches the explosive mood that Godzilla seems to be in at the beginning of all this. He even shoots flames from his mouth that are capable of making water explode! I thought maybe I had missed something from a previous movie. I mean, why's he so irritable? Luckily, science is used to explain it all logically--Godzilla's got a power reactor for a heart. I think E.T. had something similar going on, but it didn't put him in a terrible mood. The special effects in this thing are a little fancier than the older movies, for better or worse. Some are pretty bad though. Near the beginning, you've got a couple shots with Godzilla behind the city, just dwarfing the buildings, with people in the foreground who could easily see or hear the monster not reacting at all. The big ice plane often looks like a toy, and some of the cars look even worse. For the most part, however, the special effects are pretty cool with stuff turning all orange and explode-y, unfortunate fish decomposition, Godzilla slithering around on the surface of the water all Loch Nessy. The mini-Destoroyah don't move all that smoothly or realistically, but I liked watching them. In other Godzilla movies, the giant things are menaces to whole cities or all of humanity and the destruction is mostly in long shots. Here, these little guys let us see some hand-to-crab-leg-and-blue-steam combat which I think makes the terror a little more personal. Or at least intimate. There's a scene with a woman in a car that reminds me of Jurassic Park or something with some very real tension and a camera filming as close as the scared victim is. The little Destoroyah guy even has an Alien-esque mandible extension that, to me at least, made the whole scene with the woman in the car seem a little dirty. One goofy special effect that I really liked--when that blue steam hit the soldiers battling the mini-Destoroyah, this little swirly thing appeared on their chest before they perished. If you have to have a monster kill you, you might as well die in a psychedelic way. It took a while for the action in this movie--well, after the initial pissed-off Godzilla scene, of course--to get going. I got a little bored with the people parts of the movie, and there was a little too much science going on. Once the dangerously radioactive Godzilla shows up again and that ice plane has to get involved, it's pretty much non-stop explosions though. That scene with the ice plane, despite it looking like a toy, was fun, and I'm happy that director Takao Okawara was able to find the coolest fucking guy in Japan to pilot the thing. The fight scenes that make up the last thirty minutes of the movie are pretty badass although explosion and white flash heavy. I still have no idea how all the mini-Destoroyah combined into one giant one, but I'm glad there weren't added scenes with scientists explaining it to me. Some spewing liquid was an added treat. Apparently, Godzilla's fire not only makes water explode but can make Destoroyah regurgitate egg yolk. Things even get a little emotional at the end with a touching father-son reunion. But of course, that's nearly destoroyahed by the two chicks in the helicopter describing what is happening. That was commentary that I didn't need. Godzilla's eventual meltdown, almost like a reptilian Wicked Witch, was downright grotesque and surprisingly moving. And a final shot with a zoom through all this smoke and destruction to a shot of Godzilla Jr. was terrific. There's also a great score that reminds me of the 60's Godzilla scores just like it should. Well, except for the repetitive rousing numbers for the scenes with the ice plane and ice tanks. Those were pretty lame. Despite this movie's flaws, this is a really entertaining action movie. I do think I prefer the older ones though.

Two more little things that I liked in this movie: 1) There's a character named Commander Asshole. Well, unless I heard that wrong. 2) There's a scene with a guard in an aquarium where he is whistling "Singin' in the Rain" and stops to say hello to a fish. I wouldn't mind seeing a prequel about this guy and his relationship with the one fish out of all the fish in the aquarium that he interacts with.

My spellcheck told me that destoroyah is not a real word.

Rushmore

1998 Wes Anderson movie

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

Plot: Hopelessly ambitious and underachieving Max Fischer befriends the father of some obnoxious classmates and falls for a young widow with a cute accent who begins teaching at the titular school. It leads to a love triangle and an attempt by Max to impress Ms. Cross that winds up earning him an expulsion from the school he loves.

Am I the only person who didn't know the following tidbits about Jason Schwartzman? 1) Talia Shire is his mother which, I believe, also makes him the son of Rocky. 2) He's Nicolas Cage's cousin.

I have my doubts that Jason Schwartzman, an actor who kind of annoys me in large doses, will ever top what he does here. His performance as Max, one of those characters you either love to hate or hate to love, is a great film debut. Bill Murray turns in a performance with some real edges and complexities, one where he perfectly balances a neurotic fervor and a calm resignation. It's really the first of these great Murray performances where he's found a niche after a career of hits and misses and wastes of his time. I know somebody will probably argue with me about that, so I'll go ahead and clarify: Yes, I liked him in Kingpin. But here, his way of not driving the action of the story but reacting to it is pretty brilliant. I think it's something you notice more the second or third time you see the movie, but the way you can see how he feels in this without the need of any superfluous dialogue is part of what moves me about these characters and their relationships.This is the movie where Wes Anderson, for better or worse, starts to become Wes Anderson. You've got the killer soundtrack (I wonder if I've ever used the word "killer" as an adjective on this blog before), the attention to detail, the quirky humor. One specific soundtrack note: hearing "Oh Yoko" makes me laugh anyway, but hearing it in a movie is about more than I can handle. Rushmore just works so perfectly and originally as a coming-of-age story, a tale of redemption for more than one character, and as a comedy. It's as refreshing as a bottle of Sprite or putting on your first pair of Zubaz.

My favorite scene, maybe in any movie ever, is the one where Rosemary shares a carrot with Herman Blume. Other little things that I love about this movie: Colin Platt is credited as "Boy Portraying Frank Serpico," Kumar Pallana is in this one ("Best play ever, man."), Bill Murray's shot-blocking abilities on display, etc.

The Dictator

2012 comedy

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

Plot: Jennifer, who is not even pregnant, craved movie theater popcorn. I wanted a banana milkshake. We checked to see what was playing at the dollar theater in Greenwood, Indiana, and found something that at least one of us wanted to see. When we first started dating in Knoxville, Tennessee, we drove to the dollar theater all the time, and it didn't even matter what was playing. We saw Last of the Mohicans, a movie that I didn't even like, twice. We saw Cliffhanger, Dennis the Menace, Son-in-Law with Pauly Shore, and Under Siege 2 without seeing the first one. The popcorn was awful, the floor was sticky, and my attempts to make out with my wife were thwarted. It was just like old times!

This is more Ali G Indahouse than Borat or Bruno, but I thought it was very very funny. It's scripted, an actual movie, but it still has that Cohen flavor and is best when, like in the best parts of those more improvised comedies, he pushes buttons and hits you hard with the satire. And Cohen's not the type of comedian who is afraid of pushing buttons, and he luckily has the type of director in Larry Charles who's not afraid to push buttons along with him. There are more than a few moments in this one where you will almost not believe that he went there, my favorites being a scene that takes place in a helicopter that isn't actually even that well written but still works so beautifully and a masturbation sequence that ingeniously incorporates a scene from Forrest Gump that made me laugh a little more loudly that I prefer to laugh in public. The film's plot isn't all that interesting and it's a bit more derivative than I want to see from Cohen. The love story with Anna Faris is a necessary evil, I suppose. The versatile Ben Kingsley's good, and so is Jason Mantzoukas as Nuclear Nadal. Megan Fox, Edward Norton, John C. Reilly, the ubiquitous Kevin Corrigan, shane-movies favorite Chris Elliott, and Gary Shandling also have Muppet-style cameos. Another thing I liked about this were some of the set details which gave this, on top of the slapstick and oft-crude dialogue humor, a little more of a visual element. With each passing appearance, I'm more and more convinced that Cohen is a comedic genius. The writing, the delivery, the flexibility with the characters, the impeccable comic timing. He's just about the best at what he does, and I'll eagerly await his next movie. This movie, by the way, was not one that I had high hopes for, but I'm sort of glad Jen had a hankering for disgusting popcorn.

God Bless America

2011 satire

Rating: 10/20 (Jen: Originally, she told me 16/20. After she heard my rating, she changed hers to a 6/20 and said she was "just kidding." I'm starting to think she's not taking my rating system seriously.)

Plot: Frank's more than a little fed up with the state of affairs in the titular country in which he lives. Well, he's fed up with television and the popularity of certain imbecilic reality and news programs. More personally, his wife has left him, his daughter's become a preteen spoiled brat, his boss has fired him, his neighbors are too loud, and his doctor has informed him that he's got a brain tumor that will kill him. He responds like most level-headed fellows would--by taking his aggression out on a teenage reality star. He murders her, befriends one of her classmates, and goes on a killing spree.

Bobcat Goldthwait always shows enough promise and an exciting willingness to take risks as a filmmaker that I keep giving his movies a shot. It almost paid off with the not-so-bad World's Greatest Dad in which we got to see Robin Williams' lil' genie. As established, that was something I've been wanting to see since he nanu-nanued into our hearts in the late-70s. But there's not a penis to be seen in this movie. The biggest flaw with this Bobcat piece is that it is that it's just as objective and balanced as the right-wing news guy he's making fun of. I'm fine with an anti-meanness or anti-vapidity theme, but this is so anti-red state that it becomes embarrassing. Or blue state. The Republican ones. I get those confused just like I get alligators and crocodiles confused. Anyway, I can support a director who wants to criticize America and its entertainers for being generally nasty or contributing to a dumbing-down of mankind. But to pick on Nascar fans? Why was that necessary, Bobcat? Why make fun of people just because they harmlessly like something that you don't like? Goldthwaite's handling of dark comedy ranges from queasily humorous to really clumsy and oddly predictable. Some of the reality show or "news" spoofs are pretty good, but it's a lot like shooting fish in a barrel and after a while seems about as funny as something you'd see on Saturday Night Live. And they're disturbing, probably because despite the absurdity of it all, it's so close to reality. I did enjoy the performances of the leads. Joel Murray is perfectly cast to play this guy who's reached rock bottom, probably because he kind of looks like he could be from Eastern Europe. He spends too much time being too much of an action hero or acting as Goldthwaite's mouthpiece, however, ranting against televised singing competitions and morning radio talk show farts or saying things like, "Why have a civilization if we're not interested in being civilized?" And Tara Lynne Barr, likely because Ellen Page was a little too expensive, played her character enough as a child to make her activities in this even more disturbing. She's as cute as Winnie Cooper and might have herself a career in the movies. Their good performances can't elevate this mess though. Goldthwaite succeeds in offending, but it's because of his preachiness instead of the way he probably intended.

Pete Smalls Is Dead

2010 comedy

Rating: 12/20

Plot: K.C., a former screenwriter who can't get over the tragedy of losing a loved one, owes ten thousand dollars to a loan shark who has stolen his dog. He's lured back to Los Angeles to attend the funeral of his titular deceased former colleague by another friend who promises to help him out of his financial troubles. They ride on a scooter through a muddy, convoluted mystery plot that I had trouble understanding.

I only popped this in because I wasn't able to finish I Am a Sex Addict and needed another movie with a full sentence for a title. Well, that and the Peter Dinklage, former Billy Curtis Award winner. And then look who shows up to complete my Mark Boone Junior trifecta! Mark Boone Junior, the only man who is capable of completing a Mark Boone Junior trifecta. Gosh, I really wanted to like this one, mostly because it seems like it was made for The Big Lebowski fans. Indeed, there were a few parallels--Dinklage's got Bridges' facial hair, Mark Boone Junior reminds me a bit of Goodman's character, Steve Buscemi makes an appearance in this ridiculous curly blond wig, there's a twisty and barely-or-maybe-not-even-decipherable neo-noir storyline, and a missing rug. Well, it's a dog, not a rug. That's pretty close to the same thing though. Buster Keaton also makes an appearance on a pair of postcards and a book of matches. But even though this was occasionally very funny--a panda costume heist; a funeral with bags on heads and a corpse made of marzipan; the sight of seeing Mark Boone Junior and a football-helmeted Peter Dinklage on a scooter--it's frequently more frustrating. Dinklage is really good as the straight man in this. Tim Roth and Rosie Perez, two performers who have an ability to take something already kind of messy and make an even bigger mess, are also in this. I really wanted to like this, mostly so that I could introduce it as a little sleeper to my 4 1/2 readers and be some kind of hero. Unfortunately, it just didn't work for me.

I Am a Sex Addict

2005 autobiographical comedy

Rating: n/r

Plot: Filmmaker Caveh Zahedi turns the camera on himself to examine his history as the titular sex addict.

I didn't get to finish this. I started it on Netflix Instant at about two in the morning the day that it was supposed to expire. When I tried to finish it after waking up, it was gone. It's too bad because I was enjoying the quirky style of this sorta-documentary, the staged reenactments, the playful metafilm quality, and the fun experimental tone. Also, there was going to be some more nudity. This was good enough and interesting enough that I'll start the whole thing over and try again when Netflix lets me. It's not something I'm willing to have mailed to my house though.

I hope this review was helpful.

The Mother of Invention

2009 mockumentary

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Vincent Dooly, inventor extraordinaire, has dreamed of winning the Young Inventor's Award. Unfortunately, there's a more talented young inventor standing in his way, an inventor whose ideas actually do sort of work. Now, at the age of 25, Vincent has one final chance to win the competition and put himself on the map as an inventing superstar.

In order for a mockumentary to work, there's got to be a certain amount of believability. The Mother of Invention doesn't have that. It also doesn't have a likable protagonist. In fact, Dooly--played with a speech impediment by Andrew Bowser who also directed this thing--is way too annoying. And there's so much exposition with the character. We're shown way too many failed inventions. It's almost like the writers of this just decided to throw every single idea they've ever had at the screen with hopes that some would stick and be funny. The inventions are silly, and the absurd situations and oddball character just go too far to make this work as a documentary. A few of you might remember that name Andrew Bowser from Jimmy Tupper vs. the Goatman of Bowie which I watched during my "man" streak. This movie is more consistently funny than that one although it's not nearly as believable as a faux-documentary. And maybe I am overrating the believability factor with this genre. Maybe an audience really has to buy what's going on for one of those found footage horror movies to work more than a comedy like this. The comedy here, when it does stick, is very funny. Jimmi Simpson is especially funny as the rival inventor although I don't like that that he spells his first name with an i. Mark Boone Junior plays Vincent's estranged father, and he's good, too. After Memento, by the way, I'm now 2/3rd of the way to completing an unplanned Mark Boone Junior trifecta. I really liked the footage this showed from Tears of a Child, Vincent's movie project that looks like it'd be right up my alley. And there's a very funny gag at the end of this. In fact, it might be the funniest gag I've seen all year. And a glance at the opposite page might reveal that there's a little something else going on. Anyway, if you're a fan of the genre and don't mind sitting through a lot of stuff that doesn't work, you might like this one OK. And I'm going to continue to have faith in Andrew Bowser. I think there's a possibility, once he learns to edit and have a story with enough in it to legitimately fill ninety minutes, that he'll make a near-classic or two.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

1996 cartoon

Rating: 14/20 (Jen: 17/20; Abbey: 20/20)

Plot: When I was in fourth grade, I was in desperate need of an identity. So I started wearing leather pants and gave myself a nickname--Quasimodo. Only I didn't know how to spell it. I insisted that all my friends call me Quasimodo--it was Quasi for short--and even my teachers in fourth, fifth, and sixth grade called me that. Imagine how embarrassed I became when I found out that Quasimodo was a lonely ugly hunchbacked character who spent all his time in a belfry masturbating to figurines he's made in the likeness of the townspeople!

This is a very hit 'n' miss affair from the Disney folk. They handle dark and mature very well here, but that butts heads with the comic relief, almost all of it provided by a triad of gargoyles and almost all of it falling completely flat. Timon and Pumbaa have become gargoyles, make a bunch of fart jokes, threaten to spit on mimes, and are--to me, a non-child--extraneous. And contrast those gargoyle gags with scenes where babies are being thrown into wells because they're demons who need to return to hell where they belong, and it just seems to silly. That's pretty freakin' dark for a child though, right? Add Esmeralda's pole dancing, a scene which seemed racy and inappropriate for young viewers but succeeded in making me really horny and a villain who's just a little too complex to be understood by most children and just as horny as I am and you've got a movie that doesn't seem kid-friendly. But then you've got the gargoyles who seem like they're thrown in to say, "Hey! Don't worry because this is a children's movie after all!" This leans more toward opera than it does musical at times, and it takes a while to get used to the style of song. A lot of them are depressingly boring songs, including a big number at the beginning that is probably called The Bells of Notre Dame," a song in which they embarrassingly mispronounce Notre. Notra? Tell that to South Bend, Goofy! The "You're So Ugly So You Have to Stay in the Belfry, Ugly Guy" song is another stinker, but "Out There" is good enough to be considered as a minor Disney classic and the song the villain sings about Hellfire and the number in the Court of Miracles are pretty great. The animation is so-so. The scenery, the streets of Paris and the innards of the church are really well done except they goofed and forgot to put an Eiffel Tower in there. Esmeralda's animated well enough to give a dead gypsy wood, but Quasimodo is kind of ugly. A Disney hero should be better looking than that. What kind of kid is going to want to play with a Quasimodo action figure? Chester McBlondy (I don't remember the name of the other tip of the love triangle) has a bad haircut, so nobody's going to want that action figure either. Add him to the pile of uninteresting, wooden Disney hero guys. I don't really like how the characters move in this either. There's an unnatural glitchiness that shouldn't have been there. This isn't an upper-echelon Disney feature, but it's not bad. Reboot sans gargoyles and they might have something.

The Great Muppet Caper

1981 shenanigans

Rating: 16/20 (Jen: fell asleep; Dylan: 13/20 ; Emma: 18/20; Abbey: 20/20)

Plot: Kermit and his twin brother Fozzie are newspaper men who, along with their photographer Gonzo, aren't doing a very good job. They get one last shot to report a big story and travel to London to get a scoop on a jewel heist.

For my money, this is the funniest of the Muppet movies. And Jim Henson's just showing off here in this more freewheeling and irreverent follow-up to The Muppet Movie. He's got Muppets swimming, a Muppet multitude riding bicycles, Muppets flying through the air, Muppets climbing up the sides of buildings. There are so many moments where you just scratch your head and wonder, "How the hell are these puppets doing that?" Yes, the story is more than a little goofy, and a lot of the puns are very nearly painful. But the cameos aren't as obtrusive as in the predecessor (Peter Falk is particularly funny), and, if I'm remembering clearly enough, there are more Muppets involved in this one. The Swedish Chef, that eagle guy, Stafford and Waldorf, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, Bunson and Beaker, and a bunch of others not even I can name all have their chance to be funny. A lot of this takes place in a dilapidated hotel called The Happiness Hotel, the only free place Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo can find in London. It's a place slightly better--maybe a fourth of a star better--than the motel I worked at. Only it's got a bitchin' bus. And when I imagine that bus without all those Muppets hanging out the window, it makes me want to tell a stranger about it while grabbing him by the shoulders and vigorously shaking them. Charles "Freakin'" Grodin hams it up--in a good way--as the villain while John Cleese and Peter Ustinov are also funny in small roles. Oscar the Grouch also has a brief cameo appearance. But it's really the five guys who do the voice work for thirty-three (if I counted correctly) Muppets that are the stars here. The Muppet movements and, as weird as it feels to say this, facial expressions helps them blend into the settings and make them feel like living things, but it's the voice work that gives them their personalities. Lots of laughs during this family movie night, so much that I'm surprised Jen didn't wake up. Oh, and this makes yet another musical for family movie night. The songs in this are fine if not especially memorable. The Electric Mayhem get to throw down on the bus. I wonder if that bus would have been allowed at the airport. My boss at my motel told me that I had to take the magnet with our name off the door when I picked up customers at the airport because "we are not allowed there." I never asked what the hell he meant by that.

I'm going to have to re-evaluate my ratings for all these Muppet movies. The Muppet Movie and the new one were both 15/20 according to the blog. Treasure Island was only a 12/20, but it's not very good. I guess Manhattan isn't on the blog, so that might be an upcoming family movie night pick. But that rating for The Muppet Movie seems awfully low, especially since it does have memorable songs and, if I'm remembering correctly, a wild Muppet sex scene.

Trivia time: Charles "Freakin'" Grodin was in one of the worst movies I have ever seen. Want to guess what that was?