The Grey

2011 survival story

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Following a plane crash, Qui-Gon and five other men try to survive brutal temperatures, blizzards, a lack of supplies and vittles, and mostly some really mean wolves. Or werewolves. It's possible that I watched a werewolf story and didn't even realize it. One by one, the monsters pick them off until Qui-Gon decides to end things once and for all with what he does best--a staring contest. Just like on the poster!

I actually spent the last three and a half hours having a staring contest with Liam Neeson on the poster for The Grey until I realized that I didn't have a chance of winning. That's how I felt about the human characters in this story, too, and throughout the movie, I prepared myself to be as pissed as I ever get when watching movies because I just knew that at least one of these characters--probably the one on the poster--was going to survive the experience. What impresses me about this movie is the harsh climate these actors had to endure. I assume the settings were real anyway because I couldn't see evidence that any of it was effects enhanced. And I'm pretty sure this is just the latest move by Liam Neeson to try to convince the world that he's a bad ass. I think his goal is to be in Expendables 8 or something. I thought the reactions and dialogue of the characters felt realistic, too. What didn't seem real at all were the wolves, and they distracted me. I'm not entirely sure the wolves were even supposed to be real and were there more as symbols, making this feel more like an allegory than an "Inspired by a True Story" thing like Alive or The Expendables. If it's truly an allegory, I wonder what each of the dudes represents. Aside from Guy Who Believes in the Afterlife and Guy Who Doesn't and Guy Everybody Seems to Hate, they aren't exactly fully realized. There are plenty of intense moments in this--a plane crash with interrupted dream sequences, wolves jumping from the darkness like they think this is a horror movie, Liam's prayer in which he calls out God, the frightening moment when you realize that Liam Neeson is going to have to wear that same sweater for the duration--and the experience is aided by shaky-cam and quick edits. Add a death in this to the list of terrible movie deaths when a guy is attacked by wolves while urinating. I almost made my plot synopsis "Guys get attacked by wolves mid-sentence and sometimes mid-pee."

Ottway's Prayer, which won't be confused with the Lord's Prayer: "Do something. Do something. You phony [censored word] fraudulent [censored word]. Do something! Come on! Prove it! [Censored word] faith! Earn it! Show me something real! I need it now. Not later. Now! Show me and I'll believe in your until the day I die. I swear. I'm calling on you. I'm calling on you! Fuck it. I'll do it myself."

Kung Fu Panda 2

2011 sequel

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

Plot: The titular panda and his pals return to stop an evil peacock from using a modern explosive weapon to destroy kung-fu and take over the world.

I'd suspect that if you saw and liked the first of these movies, you would enjoy this one, too. It's really more of the same with a great use of colors, the same interesting if a bit underutilized characters, a few new additions including Gary Oldman as the villain, and a lot of action sequences. The fight scenes, if my memory's any good, are better than the ones in the first movie. The animators have these kung-fu fightin' animals clash in some very creative ways, and the screen's filled with all this complex movement. I really liked how the peacock fought, the animators--folks who have obviously seen their share of classic kung-fu flicks--cleverly using his tail feathers like one of those fighting fans. As with the first movie, there's a mix of animation styles, and the 2-D stuff used to give some backstory or for dream sequences is really neat. The music is very good, and even better is the use of sound effects. The humor doesn't work for me at all, and the attempt to inject a little emotional depth into the story of a goofy panda trying to save the world with his kung-fu skills feels forced although I wouldn't want any less of Seinfeld alum James Hong's voice. I threw up all over my lap with the "My son is alive" ending. I also had to penalize this a whole point for a "Skadoosh"that reminded me that I was just watching a sequel. By the way, I don't see how a third one of these could work even though the ending seems to set us all up for one with a shot of a lost panda village or something. A third movie might just be 90 minutes of Jack Black saying "Skadoosh" actually. Actually, now that I think about it, that could work. Throw in an interesting bad guy--I'm thinking an evil walrus--and you might have something.

You know what could also work? An animated Bruce Lee movie. Think about it. That would be bitchin'!

I just noticed that this is directed by a woman, Jennifer Yuh, who is also directing the third installment. There's a delicate flamboyance here that just might be the result of having a female at the helm. I hope that doesn't offend any of my female readers because I meant it as a compliment.

Apollo 18

2011 found footage thing

Rating: 12/20

Plot: A trio of astronauts venture to the moon on a secret mission that NASA never tells us about. Those sons of bitches!

In space, no one can hear you say, "Puh-leeze!"

I saw a preview for this on the big screen during one of my rare trips to the theater, and I was pretty excited about it. A found footage horror flick that takes place on the moon? It's a really cool premise. And the moon stuff looked so good in the preview, even better than the stuff that NASA did with Neil Armstrong in their studios in the late-60s. The visuals in this are never an issue. There was never a moment in this movie that I didn't believe this was taking place on the moon. The filming is imperfect from a variety of cameras, as unprofessional as it should be since it's being shot by panicking astronauts. Some of the shakiness and jitteriness could induce seizures though. And this movie is suspenseful and scary. I was on edge for most of the movie until the end when I got frustrated and bored. The main issue with this movie is the astronauts are forced to say some really dumb things, and they do it in what I can only describe as a heroic monotone delivery. The movie is sans music, like a found footage thing should be, but it's got all kinds of chittering insect noises that often seem louder than they should be and eventually become grating. There were times when the chittering (the subtitles would say things like "Chittering intensifies," so that's not my word) almost seemed more like a soundtrack than the actual sounds of moon beings. A good found footage film isn't allowed to have anything in it that wouldn't be in the footage being found, and this one has some scenes from a barbecue that just don't make sense and a lot of shots of the astronauts sleeping. Of course, the first real scare is during one of those scenes, a scene of an astronaut going "Aaaaahh!" There's a surgery scene where this thing really jumps the crater (you know, because there are no sharks on the moon--or so NASA would have us believe), and this builds up to something so frustratingly stupid that it had me slapping my forehead. Rocks? Seriously? Rocks? This was disappointing because it could have been much, much better.

Shane Reviews the Greatest Movies Ever Made: Vertigo

1958 movie
Rating: 20/20

Plot: A skinny detective with a dopey, long-legged walk watches a cop fall to his death during a rooftop chase and develops a bad case of the titular inner-ear disorder. At least that's what I think it is. I'm not in the mood and don't have the time to look that up, so if you're somebody who stumbled upon this blog because you're trying to figure out what vertigo is, I apologize. I know you have to wear a corset after you get it though, and as far as I can tell, you also develop unhealthy infatuations with women who have weird eyebrows. The detective--Scottie or John or Johnny, depending on who you ask--agrees to follow an old pal's wife around to find out whether or not she's possessed. It all leads to an encounter with a creepy nun.
Every guy remembers the moment when he reached that magical age and first wanted to sleep with a girl. For me, that girl was Natalie. And cinemaphiles, if they're anything like me, probably remember that first movie that made you fall in love with movies. I watched Vertigo with my dad when I was a freshman in high school, and it's been my favorite movie since then unless I'm in a mood and tell people that The Big Lebowski or Manos: The Hands of Fate is my favorite movie. Regardless, Vertigo is the first movie I ever wanted to sleep with.
It's a movie I've loved for more than half my life without fully understanding. I'll watch it again and probably another time or two before I die, and I doubt I fully grasp what's going on here. There's a mystery that attracts me. It's a movie that I feel that I understand on levels that I can't understand. When I was a kid, it was the ending that really grabbed me. Holy hell! I was tickled that a movie could end like that. Of course, I still love the ending--the "I heard voices" creepy nun thing still almost shocking even when you know it's coming. Now, I like to go beyond the story with poor Scottie. He'd already lost the love of his life once not far removed from the traumatic experience that ended his career, and now he's lost her again. At least crazy Midge would probably still screw him if he gave her the chance. That's, of course, if Scottie can even get it up. We start with references to the guy feeling less than a man because he has to wear a corset, and the film's first dialogue links sex and brassieres with fear and dizziness. And the way Jimmy Stewart walks in this movie seems to suggest that he's not quite capable. That's right--Jimmy Stewart walks like an impotent man. All those references to water and boats, that "dolly cam" or whatever trick Hitchcock uses to show the audience the protagonist's vertigo that makes the staircase look so vaginal, just a monstrous oppressive vagina? I should have kept track of phallic symbols in Vertigo. There's the bell tower, obviously, giant sequoias (one which is cut down), and Coit Tower. Coit Tower? No wonder everybody in San Francisco is a homosexual!
And I can piece together that place and time is really important to this movie and its characters, but I can't get beyond that. Look at all the references to time though: an early picture in the husband's office of San Fran in the 19th Century, a line about how "anybody could be obsessed with the past," a cross section of the cut-down phallic symbol, a perfectly-preserved mission, Jimmy saying that they're "going back to the past, one more time," the amount of times characters talk about how it's too late. And the idea of control--Novak's character is controlled by two different men--hair color, dress, activities--in this movie. What's going on there?
Calling Hitchcock a master isn't exactly profound. His genius is on full display in this movie though. He uses setting so well. I love seeing San Francisco in the 1950s, and it's winding undulating streets almost seem to symbolize Scottie's experiences in this movie. The backgrounds often reflect the moods or changes in moods, most notably with the sequoias and the rocky beach where Scottie and Madeline kiss for the first time, a perfectly timed kiss accompanied by rising music and a perfect splash. Incredible. A lot of times, Hitchcock uses the setting to make Novak look absolutely stunning, a gal who--despite those weird eyebrows--is worth obsessing over. That profile against a background of gaudy red wallpaper? The colors zing in this movie. Speaking of Novak, how wonderful is the provocative title screens with Novak lips and an eye close-up that might, unless I'm just goofy, recall the eye-slicing shot from Un Chien Andalou? More shots just, especially after repeated viewings, drop the jaw. I wonder if I'm--with the knowledge that she knows she's being followed--really picking up on things during Scottie's following of Madeline. I could have sworn that I picked up a subtle glance or two. More tricky Hitchcock when Stewart's wandering around and thinking that he's seeing Madeline. I just know that's Novak in some of those shots. I also like the way Hitchcock makes the ceiling look so large and oppressive following that "trial" or whatever it was, Midge's walk down a gray hallway, that nutty dream sequence, the ghostly image when Judy puts her hair back and re-enters the room, the revolving kiss with the washed-out colors transforming into an entirely different setting before transforming back again, the really lengthy dialogue-free scenes where Scottie follows Madeline around with only the sound of footsteps and the music, the "dolly cam" and the shot of Stewart walking down the stairs after Madeline's death. Oh, and I love the slow pan across Scottie's apartment after he's saved Madeline from drowning in the bay, a slow pan that reveals her clothes hanging in the kitchen which lets us all know that he's seen her naked. This is a movie you watch and every single second seems intentional. If you've seen this movie recently, you're probably thinking, "Shane seems pretty easily impressed with all this," and maybe I am. But all these perfect little moments just add up to a perfect motion picture.
Stewart and Novak are terrific, really two of the finest performances you're likely to see. You really only need to watch one scene with a look the two exchange in the car on their way to the mission for the first time to find out that I'm right. Yes, Novak's eyebrows are the most distracting in the history of movies, but everything else about her is almost perfect. Perky breasts, eyes that know more than the audience does, lips that want to tell us more than the screenwriter is allowing her to tell us. My favorite Novak moment in this might be the first time she speaks, right around the 46 minute mark. Her "What am I doing here?" is such a simple but perfectly written line, another little part of this movie that just seems so brilliant when you watch this a second time. Stewart's even more brilliant in what I think is his best performance. If a Jimmy Stewart aficionado read this blog, maybe he could put in his two cents. He's masterful here though. The body language when he steps onto a chair, the way he stretches his neck to look at something, his gripping of a steering wheel. I also like how he walks up the hotel stairs, almost like he has to poop or something. The way his eyes examine Novak before and after the rescue, the madness in his eyes after Madeline's death, the way he becomes so quietly crazed, the little smile he gives Novak after she asks him what he is doing when they're making their second trip to the mission. He's speechless for a couple big chunks of this movie and still has this way of making his character say so much. It's brilliant.
Is this movie flawless? Probably. Sure it's got those eyebrows, and I'm not always entirely sure I like the big reveal and where it takes place. And sometimes, I have trouble figuring out why there's so much Midge in the movie. But then I realize that I don't know what I'm talking about and go back to believing that this is a perfect movie. It's one that I can't think of a single thing that needs to be changed about it.
Bernard Herrmann's score is one of my favorites, and so is that movie poster up there.
Next in the "Shane Reviews the Greatest Movies of All Time" series is Citizen Kane, the former "Greatest Movie Ever" on the Sight and Sound movie list. I'll write about that one on October 1st and not like it as much as Vertigo

The Pirates! Band of Misfits

2012 animated pirate movie

Rating: 16/20 (Emma: 17/20; Abbey: 19/20; Jen: fell asleep)

Plot: Pirate Captain (that's his name) desperately wants to win the coveted Pirate of the Year award, but he's terrible at plundering and pillaging. All he's really got is a strangely immobile beard. He befriends a lonely scientist named Charles Darwin (yes, same one) and lucks into a chance to win a science prize because of his pet bird.

Delightfully goofy and manic with enough little details that I want to see it again, this feature from the Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run people (well, Peter Lord--not sure where the other guy's run off to) isn't afraid to get a little politically incorrect or throw an obscure reference at you. I doubt either of my daughters recognized John Merrick in there, but that made me laugh, and leprosy, in my humble opinion, is always pretty funny. This is stuffed with clever references for adults, and what I like about them is that they aren't necessarily just timely references. And there's a funny monkey. This bursts with creativity--a variety of interesting characters stuff the screen; there's clever movement all over the place, especially in a couple action sequences that can only be created by somebody involved with the Wallace and Gromit stuff; the Darwin-meets-pirates idea is original and very funny; and the visual and verbal humor, some just as juvenile as you'll find in Chicken Run, give this a fast pace. The makers of this aren't shy about putting all of their ideas on the screen, and at times it's almost overwhelming. As with the other features and shorts, the characters are so simple, but their movements are so clever and complicated, and the addition of some CGI sky and water blends wonderfully with the stop-animation stuff. It's a great-looking movie, so good that you might mistake it for all-CGI, and there's just a terrific amount of detail put into each shot. I was sold near the beginning during a scene that managed to combine something called "Ham Night" with the Pogues and moonwalking. This is probably too odd and random to be an instant classic or anything, but I can't think of a recent movie I've seen that I've enjoyed watching more. Of course, I haven't seen that many movies recently, so maybe I enjoyed it just because it was a movie. Cartoon pirates always help though. You know, like in those Johnny Depp Disney movies.

Black Moon

1975 unicorn movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A teenager flees a war between men and women and ends up at a house inhabited by an old woman, a brother and sister both named Lily, a horde of naked children, and apparently a unicorn. Breastfeeding ensues.

Spoiler alert: I thought things were a little strange when Lily (the girl one) breastfed her own mother, but the end, in which the protagonist prepares to breastfeed the unicorn. I didn't exactly understand this movie. There was the whole male/female conflict which didn't seem to have much to do with the rest of the movie. "Sexual awakening of a young girl" seems lazy, but falling panties, phallic symbols, and the suspicions of incest do lead you to that sort of conclusion. And all the animals allusions in this mama: roadkill in the first shot that sets a dark stage, sheep approach, a snake, a centipede, a grasshopper thing, other insects, a gal riding a horse, a giant pig running with a quartet of naked kids, geese or ducks (like alligators and crocodiles, I can't really tell them apart), a piano-playing kitty, a rat that the old woman talked to, a bird, ants on a piece of cheese, another snake, a chicken pecking at a dead soldier's chest, a decapitated eagle, a yard full of sheep and turkeys. That's a buttload of animals! Malle's up to his tricks again. The guy's virtuosic, a real master craftsman, and I loved a lot of those animal shots, a run through the woods, off-road Pinto action with a windshield wiper knocking out broken glass, a stunning shot of a giant tank with opera music playing behind it, underpants effects, unicorn training. There's also maybe the funniest gag I've seen in a movie all year with a picture in a photo album that that main character looks through. It got a big ol' laugh out of me. And as close readers of this blog know, I really like unusual artwork in movies, and this has a fantastic painting of a guy cutting an eagle in half with a sword while a woman stands crying next to him. This works as a surreal comedy, a little like Lewis Carroll just like it says on the poster, although its goofily avant-gardish dick-around approach might make it a little too silly to take seriously. It's fun for those of you who like more adventurous stuff. And it'll probably be the only movie you ever see with a scene where a woman breastfeeds a unicorn, so that's something.

Libeled Lady

1936 romantic comedy

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

Plot: An engaged newspaper man has to postpone his wedding yet again when the titular socialite threatens to sue after the paper publishes a story about her extracurricular activities with married men. He calls former co-worker Bill Chandler to come in and save the day, and the pair devise a plan to turn the story into reality.

It was back in '93, and I went on a date with Jen to see Denace the Menace because going to see movies at the dollar theater was pretty much our thing. It was the first time I ever heard her use the word "cute" to describe a movie. That was the reason she liked it. "It was cute." Later, we saw Son in Law with the great Pauly Shore. I--of course--hated it. She described it as, you guessed it, "cute." So when this little movie that she snuck onto the Netflix queue herself when I wasn't looking finished up and she did that little laugh of hers that I love so much and said, "I liked that. It was cute," it really made me wonder if I liked it at all.

Here's some quick Son in Law trivia, by the way, since I'll more than likely never review that movie on this blog unless I watch every other movie that exists and am left with nothing but Son in Law: Pauly Shore might have been the reason I could not perform sexually when my wife and I tried to give it a go. I've never told Jen that I blame Son in Law for my penis's stage fright, but I'm fairly positive the movie had something to do with it. That was not a problem after Libeled Lady, however, so I had to give this a bonus point. Or, more accurately, a boner point.

If I was saying this to a room full of people, it would be the exact type of situation that I'd want my own trombonist who followed me around and played a little Price Is Right-ish few notes whenever I said something hilarious. My son plays the trombone, but there's something wrong with him and he wouldn't be able to handle the job. I mean, a teenage boy who doesn't find the word "boner" funny? That's not normal.

Of course, I remember exactly where I was when I first heard the word "boner" just like all of you do. I was in the 2nd grade. It was April 23rd at exactly 12:15. I was on the kickball field. Vernon's the one who said "boner," and for several years afterward, he was like a folk hero or something. In fact, I think they might have a statue by the kickball field behind Staunton Elementary. If not, they should erect (no pun intended) one. That or get themselves an obelisk.

So to make a long story short, I liked this movie despite Jennifer thinking it was cute.

Le Havre

2011 Aki Kaurismaki movie

Rating: 17/20

Plot: A poor shoeshiner with a sick wife helps an African immigrant.

Aki Kaurismaki makes movies about human beings for other human beings. When I watch these things, there are emotions that he deals with in ways that I can't quite pinpoint, but I don't think there's another director alive who handles his characters this delicately and gives his audience the chance to appreciate the insignificant gaps in their stories. Kaurismaki's movies have space, and I think that's why I like them so much. This one's no different. His camera moves, but you'd still describe this as minimalistic. Andre Wilms is so good as the husband, and I really liked the character's dry wit. Yep, liked him a bunch. In fact, I can't remember a character I've rooted for this much. Kati Outinen, another Kaurismaki regular, is just as good in the smaller role of the wife. Their relationship is beautiful, somehow complex and simple at the same time. There's a wonderful scene where Wilms and Outinen give each other a glance at the mention of a memory, and we realize that there's all kinds of depth and history with these characters that we'll never be able to understand. It's those simple moments that make this so great--Minie and Little Bob illuminated during their reunion, the looks on the frozen faces of the refugees when their crate is open, the black kid jiving to a blues record, a look given in a taxi, Little Bob's Michael Jackson jacket. The kid's really good, too, probably because he's quiet. I believe this is the first Kaurismaki release that got any recognition in America, and since I'd call him one of my favorite directors, I was really looking forward to seeing it. Like his other movies, it really makes me want to just sit around and watch nothing but his movies.

Henry Fool

1997 movie

Rating: 13/20

Plot: A garbageman named Simon meets the titular failed writer who helps his inner poet emerge.

This movie was so long, and although I really liked the performances of Thomas Jay Ryan as Henry, James Urbaniak as Simon, and Parker Posey as neither Henry or Simon, I didn't like their characters at all. There were some darkly comic moments in this, but like the Hal Hartley shorts I was tricked into watching, I found the whole thing agonizingly pretentious. And too long. I don't know exactly what it is, but I just have trouble trusting this movie, and its messages seemed muddled to me. It was like the Paul Ryan of movies. It should be noted that I watched this movie while extremely sleepy, however. It's probably the type of movie that I should give a second chance to, but it's just so freakin' long and I probably won't.

My brother recommended this one.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

2011 action movie

Rating: 25/20

Plot: The titular guy with the flaming skull has to fight the devil in order to save not only a boy's life but the entire world. Bring it on!

This whole movie feels like the cover of a heavy metal album that has come to live for the purpose of eating your stinking soul. That's especially true of flaming motorcycle cam scenes where Nic Cage's face starts contorting and getting all Ghost-Ridery. It's pretty badass. This sequel or reboot or whatever it is is a lot better than the first movie although that honestly doesn't say a lot. No, it's not a true 25/20, but there's a scene where the Ghost Rider pisses fire. And oh my God that might be the best thing that I've ever seen--Cage standing on the back of a moving truck demonstrating with some of his own flaming urine sound effects is magical all by itself, but when it changed to the Ghost Rider pissing fire, looking back at the audience, definitely breaking that fourth wall, and nodding his skull head? Holy hell, that's something to behold! It made me wonder if there was something I could buy in a toy store--similar to Hulk hands that make smashing noises or a Captain America shield--that would allow children to urinate flames. I'm a little confused about Ghost Rider's superpowers actually. Apparently, he can eat bullets, spin around while perpendicular about five feet in the air, survive missiles, turn all vehicles he drives into fire vehicles, and make people explode with a chain. And, of course, he can piss fire. The general tone of this movie feels different than it did with that first movie, but I'm probably not remembering it very well. There's almost non-stop action, right from the get-go with some crazy shaky-cam monastery kidnapping action and a car chase scene, but this also feels a lot more tongue-in-cheek. There's a humor I either don't remember or was too distracted to see. Nicolas Cage doesn't laugh at a monkey in this movie though. Cage's performance adds to his legendary list of unhinged credits. There's a scene where the Ghost Rider does a cute little dance while a nondescript bad guy says "Get some" which was nice, but the best scene is where he really loses his shit, makes himself twitch like no other actor is capable of doing, laughs like no other actor can laugh, and says "Scratching at the door, scratching at the door!" in this unearthly falsetto. He also threatens to eat somebody's stinking soul. He also narrates a bit (of course, because he's Nicolas Cage), reminds me of The Wicker Man remake with a line about bees, and gets a terrific line that I think might have been lifted from an original draft of Die Hard--"Merry Christmas, you assholes!" That line had to be improvised. And Nicolas Cage has to be on drugs. I also liked the too-brief performance of a guy playing a Swedish hippie who says, "Dude, what happened?" There are lots of "dudes" in this movie actually. And enough references to Twinkies to make me wonder if Hostess had some kind of deal. I can't imagine a urinating Ghost Rider being on a box of Twinkies next to the Twinkie cowboy with his lasso. Despite all the moments in this movie with a raw sublimity that will likely make you either spew blood or ejaculate right in your pants, this movie is a whole lot of dumb. When the devil gives the main bad guy the "power of decay," it apparently also involves giving him bad blond hair for some reason, and he succeeds in looking stupid rather than menacing. A big motorcycle stunt has either the dumbest or greatest musical selection backing it--a guitar-driven song with the lyrics "I got a velvet itch, I got a velvet itch, I got a velvet itch in my jeans." There's the randomly jerking camera, a trick I don't normally like in action movies and that here seems even more irritating. There's an unnecessary dig at Jerry Springer, and a subtitle that read "All chanting in demonic language." And a climactic fight scene on top of moving vehicles was about the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen, and I had just seen a leather-clad flaming-skulled guy urinating fire about an hour before. I did laugh at a whispered "Roadkill" that punctuated that fight though. I did appreciate a very obvious Wilhelm scream though. This movie is far from great, but at least it's a consistently entertaining bad movie.

Ju Dou

1990 romantic tragedy

Rating: 17/20

Plot: The rich owner of a dye mill marries the type of woman who's likely to sleep with any goofy-looking guy who's willing to spy on her. An employee and nephew of the owner does just that, and a baby is conceived. They keep that a secret, the owner has a stroke, and the boy grows into a pleasant teenager.

This is a story with tragic depth and more than its fair share of stunning moments. There's tons to like here. Most obvious is the look of the film which is just gorgeous, probably expected from a movie Yimou Zhang (also known as Zhang Yimou) is associated with. Goings-on are so perfectly framed by the architecture of this dye mill, and the simplest things--an ascent up some steps, a donkey's eyeball, dye swirling in a pool, a dusty light beam through a hole in the wood, rain dripping from a hole in the ceiling, a flashy red shirt on a blue rainy night, an old guy's saggy pants, a dyed fuzzy weed, a shot of a kid with an ax--and make them into the most beautiful things. And of course there's Gong Li's general shape. I also like foreign movies that feature characters working with antiquated tools. It's like pornography to me, and I enjoyed all the moving parts and creaking limbs in the dye shop. I also loved the contrast early between the shirtless sweating men with their grimy tools and the titular wife as she unfurls the translucent clothes in the sunlight. So beautiful. I really liked the acting in this, especially the lovely Gong Li and Li Wei who plays the uncle. My favorite moment might be seeing the uncle's joyous expression when the boy calls him daddy in front of his parents. I also liked his eventual demise, one made more tragic because you've got a mentally challenged kid laughing at you. Of course, I also liked seeing him row himself around in his little cart. It made me a little envious, and I wanted a little cart of my own. I was really amazed with how they made these characters look older. A lot of it probably has to do with the acting as I really felt the pain these characters were living as they were trapped by their own lies and secrecy. Add a minimalistic soundtrack that I think was played on David Carradine's flute, and you've got a delicate little tragedy. It's a downer, but it's a beautiful one, a movie with themes that extend way beyond the rural setting in this foreign land with its weird little tools. A question: What's with the baby-in-a-barrel thing? Upright in a barrel while wearing a snowsuit? What the hell is going on there? Oh, and around the 36 minute mark, Ju Dou tells the nephew to "suck it" while at the 54 minute mark, the old guy throws out a "Who's your daddy?" Both of those made me laugh.

This was a Cory recommendation.

The Orphanage

2007 horror drama

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A woman moves back to the orphanage she grew up in order to re-open the place. Her son starts talking and playing games with invisible people and then goes missing. Oh, snap!

This reminded me of The Others, probably because of the children and the ghosts. This is a genuinely creepy movie. Even the opening credits with this neat torn wallpaper effect are creepy. So are some creepy dolls. Sound effects and a really good use of quiet succeeded in making me feel uneasy. Now, I'm not sure if I would have felt that uneasy if I popped this in without knowing it was a horror movie. I just expected a dead orphan to pop out and giggle at me or something, but it's not that type of movie. This one gets under your skin. There are a few memorable scenes including one where the mother plays a game, shot with a lone camera that pans across a room several times, that make this almost special. It's an interesting little story with a poignant but maybe sappy ending, and with the manufactured creepiness, it's worth watching for fans of the psychological horror genre. Or for people who like orphans maybe. This is the second kind-of horror movie from Spain where one of the most memorable images involves a character in a shoddily-created creepy mask. Timecrimes is the other.

Get Low

2009 living wake movie

Rating: 13/20

Plot: An old hermit, tortured by his past and the source of a few urban legends, decides to hold a living wake

I'm one away from completing a "living wake" trifecta after this and The Living Wake. That's the superior "living wake" movie despite the presence of an Eisenberg because it was frequently funny. This one isn't supposed to be funny (at least I hope not), but it isn't really anything else either. I just never felt this movie. Bill Murray was fairly distracting with his usual low-key thang. Duvall isn't an actor I usually like very much anyway. Watching him chop wood in this movie does cement his status as a national treasure, however. But geez Louise! After the first ten minutes of this thing, I was worried that he would spend the entire movie grunting and groaning, but eventually, he started using things that sounded like real words, partially-articulate words of grouchy grumbled wisdom, most punctuated with this too-loud guitar diddling. And he says "umm" and makes some slurping noises. He looks the part of the grimy recluse, but he's really just a Hollywood hermit. Of course, if you're going to have a real grizzled old guy movie, it ain't going to be complete without Bill Cobbs as the obligatory old black guy. I'm going to have to check his filmography to see how many times he's played a character named Obligatory Old Black Guy. And I believe there was even a Wilford Brimley spotting in this. No, I don't have anything against old guys. There just wasn't enough of a payoff in this movie. I had to sit through a whole lot to get to this movie's punchline, and it just kind of left me scratching my head. There was room at the end for a little magic, but the movie's resolution was really botched.

Blog trivia: This is the first time I've mentioned Wilford Brimley on this blog.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

2011 comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Jeff, who lives at home, is going nowhere fast. Unless you count his mother's basement as a place. He's mother sends him on an errand to get supplies to fix a cabinet, and he runs into a guy named Kevin. That's not generally all that interesting, but he had answered a wrong-number phone call from somebody looking for a Kevin earlier that day and decided that there was some significance. Later, he runs into his brother, and although they don't really get along very well as adults, they work together to find out if his wife is cheating on him.

The Duplass brothers again, makers of The Puffy Chair, a movie I liked about as much as this one. Like that one, it's got realistic characters who it's not difficult to like. I suppose the Jason Segal and Ed Helms characters are based on the Duplasses. Some of the humor works just fine. I liked discussions about the anagram of K-E-V-I-N and the pussification of Gandhi. I'm not sure what the hell is going on with the music, and at times, this movie feels a little unfinished. The script, the filming itself. Something just didn't seem complete about it. But I give it credit for feeling, although there's some vague oddness there, like an actual unpredictable day in the lives of actual people. It comes together in a way at the end that you'll only really see in Hollywood. Still, despite the film's flaws, I think this one is worth checking out. And like I said with The Puffy Chair, I'm really interested in seeing how the Duplass brothers' careers grow.

Pepe le Moko

1937 French movie

Rating: 17/20

Plot: The titular gangsta hides out in the labyrinthine Casbah screwing various women while a guy in a funny hat tries to catch him.

I don't remember why I watched this movie. Did one of you recommend it to me? I'm really glad I watched it though because I loved it. First, it taught me a few things. The Casbah. Am I culturally illiterate for not really knowing that this place exists outside of a Clash song? What a great setting for a sort-of noirish tale about a guy everybody knows is doomed right from the start. He's doing his best to avoid prison while ironically trapped in a prison that he made for himself. And the angles of this setting really reminded me of a German silent movie or something. So cool. I also liked that there was a street called Inadequacy Street, a place I've visited more than a few times in my life. Another thing I learned: the French have funny-looking noses. There are some interesting characters here. I got a kick out of Pepe's thugs--a dude in a seersucker suit and another guy with a perpetual smile that makes him look like he's likely mentally challenged. And there's Pierrot who plays with a yo-yo constantly. My favorite scene is the death of Regis with his hysterics, an insane piano player, seersucker suit guy playing with the yo-yo, a cool shot of that toy swinging after the death, and a shot of Smiley standing next to an angel on the wall. Jean Gabin is good as the titular gangster as he has the looks and good rapport with the ladies in his life but also this consistent look of dejection under the surface. One shot clearly shows that Pepe's shirt is monogrammed with JG, by the way. I really enjoyed the dialogue in this, maybe more because it's a 1930's movie that, at least in French, didn't sound like all the characters were screaming at me. The rapport between Pepe and funny-hatted Slimane was great. "You don't arrest God." What a line! There are other terrific lines, too:

"Don't make me turn you into a stiff. You've got nice curls."
"I've got a face men love to clout."
"Some clocks read two o'clock and chime four when it's 11:45."
"Pity I don't know you better so I could smack you a bit."
"I don't like people laughing without me knowing why."
"What mascara do you use? You naughty thing!"
"You're only a half weasel."
"I told you the truth." The response: "Find another truth."

There are some great camera shots, too, some made more interesting by the M.C. Escher landscapes of the Casbah. Lingering smiles after hands are grabbed, a risque shot of jiggling mammary glands during a scene where Pepe sings, Ma's face as she plays the record from her youth, a cool looking blue-screen-enhanced (I think) walk to the harbor, Casbah architecture turning into waves, cheese, a poignant last shot of a boat seen through bars. It's just such a cool film, and I'm really glad that I had some reason to watch it though I've now forgotten what that was.

Cory, was this on the list?