Cloud Atlas


2012 epic

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Six semi-connected stories about human beings spanning from the 1840s to the 24th Century. There's a lawyer on a boat, a slave on the same boat, a bisexual composer, nuclear physicists, a reporter trying to uncover a secret, a publisher in a nursing home operated like a prison, that guy's brother, a clone, a bunch of other clones, a tough-guy rebel, Forrest Gump, a visitor from a distant and technologically-advanced society, and a guy with a hat. I'd like to apologize to any characters I may have left out.

This is the best thing that Tom Tykwer or the Wachowski siblings have ever been associated with, and I can't figure out why it A) wasn't critically lauded and B) the recipient of countless awards. I went into this thing expecting to hate it, partially because I thought it looked kinda stupid in previews and partly because of its almost three-hour running time. And it is an exhausting experience, one that I started too late at night and ended up watching in two installments. I still wasn't thrilled about the length, but when you essentially have six movies packed into three hours, you really can't complain. That's six movies for the price of one, people. This is also exhausting because it does take a little intellectual effort from the audience. The individual plots aren't that difficult to follow unless you, like me, are confused by science fiction. What might be frustrating to a lot of viewers is how these six stories are portrayed--in disjointed snippets, some lasting barely longer than a few seconds. There's a jumpiness that at first I didn't like or understand, but once I got used to the rhythm and started finding connections between the individual stories, it made sense. And a lot of the transitions between these time chunks were pretty brilliant. Also connecting the stories were that the characters in the different eras were played by the same actors. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, and Hugh Grant play six characters each while Jim Broadbent and Ben Whishaw play five each. Nobody gets away with just playing one character, and some of these performers brilliantly play people of drastically different ages, different races, and even different genders. A lot of times, they're unrecognizable. Well, not Tom Hanks. He's pretty easy to spot. Maybe it sounds cheesy or gimmicky, but it works with the movie's themes and it's all so well executed. Tom Hanks is mostly very good, but he and his forehead were a little distracting. I almost wished those parts were played by somebody not as easy to recognize. Don't get me wrong though--I'm not trying to put down Tom Hanks. I would never do something like that. Hugo Weaving plays villainous dudes, and he plays villainous dudes so well that you suspect the guy tortures small animals in his spare time. I found this whole thing enormously entertaining. There were several of those big memorable moments where you think to yourself, "Man, this is something special." There are fragments of dialogue that are very beautiful. There's action, romance, some humor. There's historical and science fiction, a story that plays like a political thriller and one that is nearly slapstick comedy. And there's a message that, while maybe simple when compared to the complex layout of this beast, is also beautiful. I really liked this! Epic, enthralling, and ambitious, this is a movie that I think people will finally be ready for in ten or fifteen years.

I fully expect at least one of my 4 1/2 readers to disagree completely. I'd love to hear why I'm wrong about this one.

The Legend of Hell House


1973 ghost story

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A husband-wife physicist team and a psychic agree to spend a few nights in the titular haunted house with the lone survivor of an earlier visit. There's some haunting.

I wanted to watch something penned by the great Richard Matheson after his passing last week, and this was available. The horrors are effective enough, at least psychologically, and I like that the movie doesn't depend on gimmicks. They're the kind of scares that get under your skin a little bit. The story and its little twist are as cool as you'd expect from something that came from the mind of Matheson. The dialogue's not always great, but I like the conflict between scientific thought and supernatural beliefs. And you have to appreciate when writers can throw in phrases like "ectoplasmic stalk." There's also one of the most arousing come-on lines in the history of horror cinema in this when the hornily-possessed spouse of the scientist says, "You...me...naked...that girl...together...clutching..scratching...biting," before dropping her nightgown. Hot! Oh, and there's ghost sex, something that makes my head hurt now as I try to think of some clever way to reference ectoplasm. This feels a little stuffy at times, but it's got some style. The soundtrack, with its rumbling unidentifiable wind instruments, works well, and there are all these weird close-ups of people's faces or times when their faces move into a shot that I liked. And there's a stuffed cat attack which is nothing short of amazing. I liked Roddy McDowall in this, and one moment where he freaks out--all shrieking and contorting--is probably one of the highlights of his career. Near the end, he engages in a little paranormal trash talk. "What size were you, Belasco?" "Funny little dried-up bastard!" Great stuff. Roland Culver is also really good in a very small role.

Animals Are Beautiful People


1974 nature documentary

Rating: 17/20

Plot: A look at life in an African desert.

Jamie Uys, director of The Gods Must Be Crazy, made this thing. Paddy O'Byrne narrates these animal antics, and there's a sense of humor that keeps this thing fresh and entertaining. That and the remarkable lives of these animals who have adapted to survive in a harsh climate in fascinating ways. There are a lot of beautiful things to see here, and at times, with the visuals put to a largely classical score, this out-Fantasias Fantasia. Of course, a lot of things in nature are beautiful only because they're kind of ugly and a lot of things in nature are beautiful because they're unusual. Both of those apply here. There are great lessons in this for actual people--not just animals who Paddy O'Byrne calls people. Watching the guide bird and honey badger's symbiotic relationship is amazing, showing the capabilities of species when they team up. Uys uses a lot of added sound effects, mostly for humor, and some very cheap visual effects, but this is mostly the result of filming animals for several years and then piecing it together in a narrative. And you get to see things you wouldn't otherwise get to see. I'd love to have the life of a the bird who spends 95% of his life just standing around like a stuffed bird. There's a scene where an ostrich chases a monkey followed by a guy acting like an ostrich. There are drunk animals, birds crapping out of tree slits, colorful worms, hiccupping worms in dancing seeds. I do feel sorry for the hyenas though. Paddy O'Byrne really trashes those guys. One of my favorite scenes had actual humans, bushmen teaching their children about animals by using pantomime. It was captivating, probably something I could have watched for an hour. This is one of the more entertaining nature documentaries that I've ever seen, and it manages to beat a trip to the zoo where you actually get to see some these guys up close.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist


2008 teen romantic comedy

Rating: 13/20 (Jen: 17/20)

Plot: Sad Michael Cera meets a girl who without his knowledge has been appreciating the mixtapes he's made for his ex-girlfriend who he still pines for, and they have an late-night first date trying to find the location of a secret gig by their favorite band.

This movie wasn't made for me despite my love for Michael Cera. I'm going to spoil things for you if you haven't seen this, so if you want to see this, stop reading. At the end of the movie, the titular couple are in a recording studio where Kat Dennings' character ends up making sounds that you would ordinarily hear when copulation is taking place or when somebody is enjoying an especially tasty doughnut. But then it's revealed that Michael Cera's character still has his pants on. Am I missing something here? This whole thing isn't a terrible love story, but it's not a profound one or even an all-that-believable one either. The leads are fine--he as the same dorky/hip character he always kind of plays and she as a sort of wounded girl on the threshold of something--but some of the auxiliary characters are annoying. The story's sweet, and a lot of the dialogue's really good. This tries very hard and might succeed for its actual audience which is not me despite my love for Michael Cera. I didn't like the soundtrack nearly as much as the one in The Perks of Being a Wallflower which might only succeed in dating me. Devendra Banhart does have a song, however, and he's also got a brief cameo, too.

Shane Watches a Bad Movie on Facebook with Friends: Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead


2006 horror comedy musical

Rating: 15/20 (Libby: 18/20; Fred: 17/20; Carrie: 19/20; Josh: didn't rate)

Plot: A fast-food chicken franchise builds on a Native American burial ground. Amidst protesters, those Indian souls take possession of the foodstuffs and eventually the workers and customers. Poultrygeist!

What a terrible punny title. The intention with our little bad movie club, obviously, is to watch a bad movie and make fun of it. Troma doesn't make unintentionally bad movies exactly. They understand their capabilities and the filmmakers are proud of what the disgusting and sometimes downright tasteless stuff they put on screen. And sometimes, as is the case here, they sneak in a movie that could actually be described as good. This accomplishes everything Lloyd Kaufman and his writers set out to do. Josh put it best: "Fun for the whole family: racism, sexism, fat people, geeks, lesbians, h[censored], [censored], handicaps [almost censored that one, too], white trash, rape, shit, vomit, and boobs." And, of course, a whole lot of cock. It's trashy, often looks stupid, and could possibly offend hippies, animal rights activists, Native Americans, liberals, black people, people with good diets, Middle Eastern peoples, women, and really anybody else. This pulls no punches, unapologetically and gloriously. And yes, there is the "choke the chicken" that you could have predicted before the movie even started. At the same time, there's some shrewd satire about our appetites as a society, both our literal appetites and our entertainment appetites, as well as some expected and bitter swipes at the (admittedly, fish-in-a-barrel-y) fast-food industry. The jokes are stuffed into this thing, and while a lot of them are terrible--some funny because they are terrible--a lot of this made me laugh the kinds of laughs that you almost hate yourself for. And did I mention that Poultrygeist is a musical? Because it is! With some standard musical choreography! The songs are good enough to sound like something from Rocky Horror and the lyrics are funny enough. The real fun begins when the mayhem does, and there are a few lengthy sequences where Kaufman and company are very obviously just seeing how many different ways they can think of for a zombie chicken to kill a human being. The violence is nearly orgasmic. Unfortunately for a lot of viewers, they'll miss out on the berserk zombie chicken mayhem because they'll turn the movie off during an extended scene where a bulbous man with gastrointestinal issues makes a mess of a bathroom. That's if they got past the creatively juvenile use of a Native American zombie finger in an opening scene featuring a guy with something other than an ax in his other hand. No, you don't want to know. This is a movie that surprises from its beginning to its end, and you might have as much fun watching it as it looks like the people who made it must have had. It's a real blast but definitely not for everybody. I wouldn't recommend it to my mother-in-law, for example.

Motorama


1991 road trip comedy

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Ten-year-old Gus decides to run away from home. He does it in style though, first stealing a Mustang and fashioning some leg extenders so that he can drive the thing. He starts out on an Odyssey across the country, stopping at participating Motorama gas stations to collect cards for a game in which he'll win a buttload of money by spelling out M-O-T-O-R-A-M-A. Unfortunately, he can't find the R. He does find a lot of eccentric characters, however.

Drew Barrymore is on a lot of the poster/dvd covers for this movie, and she's in the movie for literally about ten seconds and gets no lines.

This is one of the stranger coming-of-age movies you'll ever see, not surprising since it was penned by screenwriting genius Joseph Minion who wrote both After Hours and Vampire's Kiss. It's a surreal episodic little adventure that you're not sure is a comedy until you start laughing. There's a great cast. Jordan Christopher Michael plays the kid, this really unlikable little runt who steals, curses, and litters. He reminds me a little too much of Macaulay Culkin's character in the Home Alone movies though. John Diehl plays a dopey gas station employee named Phil who's got this interesting way of trying to impress God. The beautiful Jack Nance is hilarious in his small role as a hotel manager. Only Nance can deliver the line "I forgot to tell you. . .if you catch any squirrels, give them to me" like he does. Garrett Morris and Michael J. Pollard are funny, and both Meat Loaf and Flea are in this movie. You can correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think Meat Loaf, Flea, and Eraserhead have been in another movie together. Best of all is seeing Sandy Baron--one of my favorite Seinfeld characters, Jack Klompus--who plays a really creepy guy. All kinds of odd little details--currency that is very clearly not American, a road map that is very clearly not accurate, arm wrestling, multiple occurrences of auxiliary characters thinking the protagonist is a grown man or even an elderly man, and a trip through a Purgatory called Essex which features a Klan lynching and a priest being killed. The coolest scene might be where Gus meets another character, a much older character, who has also been playing the game. This movie has a similar rhythm to After Hours and might jerk around a little too much for its own good, but fans of existential coming-of-age road movies might want to check out this little gem. 

Dummy


2002 romantic comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Steven's a 20-something still living with his parents and sister. When he loses his office job, he decides to buy a doll and fulfill his dream of becoming a gastriloquist. While he works on his craft, he befriends a woman at the unemployment office and deals with his nutty friend and his nuttier parents.

Not sure why I didn't see this when it came out since I'm a fan of both ventriloquism and awkwardness. It's a comedy. Don't be thrown off by the poster which shows the titular doll like it's some kind of Chucky-esque horror movie. It's also a pretty funny comedy, one of those with characters so quirky that it would be hard for this to have anything more than a cult following. You've got a dad who builds model battleships while watching pornography, the main character's punk rocker pal played by Milla Jovovich who gives the worst advice ever, and a sister way over her head with a wedding planner business. The latter's played by Illeana Douglas who really does look like she could be Brody's sister. Brody's terrific with the ventriloquism thing, gradually getting better as the movie goes on. He does well with bringing out the puppet's personality which, in a strange way, brings out the personality of his own character. This is almost a coming-of-age movie with a guy in his late 20s. He acts like he's about 12, but he is expressive and nails awkward. Oh, and Jessica Walter is in this, playing a character not far removed from her character on Arrested Development which is fine with me. The story kind of falls apart, going a few places that are a little too unexpected, but there are plenty of low-key funny moments--Milla's punk move when listening to Klezmer music for the first time, the sister's bitchy criticism ("You look like a child molester!"), a magician's act with a rabbit, and Brody's attempt to get his gal in a romantic mood with a little Sousa. Sousa seduction! And "I always look both ways when I cross the street," a line that definitely needs context, is some pretty brilliant writing. If you like your comedy with a full serving of awkward, this one's worth checking out.

Ju-On: The Grudge


2002 J-Horror movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Ghastly shenanigans in an apparently haunted house.

No, I have not seen the American remake of this or one of the other Ju-on movies. I didn't know this was a sequel until after I watched it. I'm not sure what I'm missing (if anything) by not watching the first two. This is six connected short stories that aren't even displayed in chronological order. I'm not sure why movie makers do that. I consider myself of average intelligence with maybe a slightly above-average movie IQ, and I had trouble making connections between the stories. I had trouble remembering who each character was supposed to be though, and that probably has more to do with being American than anything else. I mean, if Kirk Cameron was in this, I would be able to recognize and remember him and know how he was attached to other characters in this thing. I ended up liking the structure even if I didn't know why it was necessary. I think it added a little mystery to the proceedings, and a bit of mystery injected into this kind of creepiness was a natural fit. This movie--and again, it might be because I didn't watch the other Ju-on movies--kind of leaves you hanging about what is going on and what has previously gone on, adding to this chilly, semi-surreal flavor. The imagery's enough to grab you, but there are more than enough effective jump-out-and-scare-you moments. Sound effects are also used effectively. I may have thought this was scarier than it was because of the use of kitties. I think I prefer my horror movies to end completely hopelessly. Who wants a happy ending for a horror movie? This one definitely ends bleakly enough, probably so they can make a dozen more of them. And like all good horror movies, this is one that scares you on levels you don't even understand.

This Is 40

2012 comedy

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

Plot: Pete and Debbie reach the titular age and deal with problems with finances, their sex lives, their parents, and their businesses.

What are people's opinions on Megan Fox? Does she have some degree of likability? I haven't seen a lot of Megan Fox movies--Transformers where I barely noticed her because it made my head hurt and Jonah Hex which I didn't like--but I almost always like when she's on the screen, and I know my wife has the hots for her. Is the consensus pretty much that she's hired for her shape? I like a lot of the talent in this. Apatow's wife (Leslie Mann) looks better than she sounds (didn't care for her voice) and has good chemistry with Paul Rudd. I always sort of like Rudd, despite the size of that chin of his. Apatow's daughters play their daughters. Albert Brooks and John Lithgow play the dads, the latter still looking a little confused from that Planet of the Apes thing. Apatow-regulars Segal and Melissa McCarthy and Chris O'Dowd are all funny in these, I'm guessing, largely-improvised scenes. Or at least they're based on improvisation. The humor does have a spontaneity to it that I like even though these comedians' streams-of-conscious too-often take them right to the scatological or genital to get laughs. Best of all might be Graham Parker playing himself, and I don't believe he makes a single dick joke. The problem with this movie is that there's way too much story. I like the relationship of the leads and their struggles to work through things even though things frequently got uncomfortable. But this movie's plot was the perfect storm of crappiness, and it was a lot to juggle, both for the storytellers and the audience. I guess that's why the movie had to be over two hours long, likely too long for a comedy like this. After a while, you're checking your watch as much as you're laughing. I really think about half of the subplots could have been dumped without making a difference, and that might be a clue that they're completely unnecessary. An editor was probably needed. That or somebody needed to finish the script. I was also a little annoyed at all the contemporary allusions, a thing I generally hate in movies because it pretty much ensures that people won't be interested in them in twenty or twenty-five years. I will say that my biggest laugh might have been the mention of John Goodman's name, however. This is funny enough and has a lot of recognizable situations for a nearly-40-year-old married guy like me to be worth watching, but it's unfortunately just way too long with far too many cheap laughs.

Taken


2008 action thriller

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Some criminals in Paris kidnap the wrong gal, the daughter of an ex-CIA agent. He's got 72 hours to get her back. Start the clock!

This 24-ish thriller ain't bad. It's fun seeing Liam Neeson in these kinds of roles. He's actually kind of shaped funny, but the Irish accent actually convinces you that these movies are smarter than they actually are. Is there another action movie superstar who could get away with saying, "I push one button and thirty agents will be here before you have a chance to scratch your worthless balls. Now quit jerking around and wasting my time."? Quit jerking around? That's just great. Speaking of jerking around, this movie doesn't do a lot of that. There's exposition only because there has to be, and then BAM! Kidnapped daughter, Neeson getting his ass-kicking tools ready, and ass-kicking. The action scenes themselves are typical, your standard car chases and punching scenes, but at just over an hour and a half, this is well paced. Neeson's character's also got the brains to keep this interesting when there's not action on the screen. Of course, this is a Hollywood action movie, so you know how it's going to end and are going to have to put up with some silly storytelling. Here, there's this whole subplot with a singer that somebody involved with this should have had enough sense to put a stop to. Even the woman who played the singer probably should have stopped and said, "Hey, guys, I know this is going to make me expendable, but shouldn't we just drop this whole thing with my character?"

Shaye and Kiki: Fun Bubble


2004 compilation

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Shaye Saint John and her charred doll Kiki have a series of mundane and repetitive adventures.

This is a compilation of about thirty short films featuring the titular characters. Here's the character's background: Shaye was a model who was involved in a car accident that disfigured her, so she had to replace a lot of her parts with mannequin parts. Or something like that. Shaye is the creation of performance artist Eric Fournier, now sadly deceased. These shorts definitely fall in the not-for-everybody camp and are alternately hilarious and horrifying. It's a maddening hyperkinetic dada art assault on at least two of your senses. The repetition alone is enough to drive some people batty, but the cheap computer effects, daffy minutia, and often terrifying imagery are what would make things unbearable. In fact, if I ever get the opportunity to prop somebody's eyes open and forcefeed their brain things like Alex in A Clockwork Orange, this is now on the list. I'm not sure if this stuff was created to say anything about society or not. Shaye is shallow enough to match a lot of cultural phenomena in our reality-show culture though, so there might be some lunatic fringe satire going on here. I laughed and probably had a nightmare or two that I don't remember, so I'm considering this thing a success. I mean, there's a scene where Shaye is in a washroom and the creepy doll keeps banging on the window. It's the stuff of nightmares, a scene easily more horrifying than I've seen in any horror movie. And then you get a repetitive scene where Shaye is trying to get a present indoors in the hilarious "Bake, Shake, Explode" which makes me laugh just thinking about it. And Shirley Temple 2000! made me laugh out loud. If you like gams, ever wished that the movie Mannequin was created under the influence of LSD, and like to feel really really uncomfortable when watching movies, this might be for you. Hypnotizing weirdness! One gripe: Grammar problems! Missing apostrophes annoyed me.

Looper

2012 time travel movie

Rating: 12/20

Plot: There's time travel in 2074, but it's only used by the mob. They send people who need to be disposed of back 40 years so that the titular assassins can take them out and incinerate the bodies. Apparently, it's impossible to get rid of a body in 2074. The loopers are paid handsomely, especially when they have to kill their own older selves. Joe faces a problem when his older self doesn't really want to be killed and instead wants to run around 2034 looking for some kid who's going to turn out to be an evil warlord or something.

I might give this movie a higher rating if somebody can convince me that it makes any sense. Time travel movies are tricky anyway, and they require you to suspend your disbelief in order to enjoy the things. The makers of Looper seem to realize that and just assume that you're going to let things slide and not think too much because it's all very entertaining. "Shut up and let us entertain you!" the movie seems to say. But I'm not sure this makes any sense, and the more I think about it, the more the apparent paradoxes annoy me. It's kind of a cool premise. But does the premise even make sense? Why couldn't they kill a person in 2074 and just send back a dead person to be incinerated? And why pull guns on people--especially the ex-loopers--in the future if the victims know they would prefer not to use the guns? This all builds to the exact climax I predicted as soon as Bruce Willis darted off in 2034 even though writer Rian Johnson tried to use a little postmodern trick to throw me off. The whole thing just gave me a headache even though there were things I liked about it. Gorden-Levitt is pretty good even though I do think he's a little too pretty and reminds me of plastic for some reason. But I like how you can see the Bruce Willis in him. Some of that's special effects, I guess, but he also nails the mannerisms and the voice. The whole thing where Bruce Willis--the future Joe--is angry at his younger self seems authentic. I mean, who doesn't look back at his younger self and get a little pissed off? The plot really toys with your emotions, making you wonder just who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. You struggle with which Joe to root for which makes sense, I guess, since they're actually the same person. I liked Jeff Daniels as Abe, and a scene where a guy is losing fingers, a nose, and eventually limbs is very well done. That's the kind of imaginative stuff that works in time travel movies. Unfortunately, this breaks apart when you dive in brain first and can't survive its paradoxical storytelling. And it morphs into a big dumb action movie by the end. I was happy to know that there are still hobos in the future though.

Another question: Why did they have the loopers kill themselves? Couldn't that create all sorts of problems? Wouldn't it be easier to have another looper take care of business? See, I keep thinking of these sorts of questions.

Much better time travel movies: Timecrimes and Time after Time.

Wife to be Sacrificed


1974 Japanese drama

Rating: 9/20

Plot: An ex-husband put behind bars by his wife escapes, kidnaps his wife, and gets his revenge.

It's unlikely that Masaru Konuma made any pleasant movies. This wasn't pleasant or entertaining although I imagine the target audience might get a kick out of some scenes and the creative use of lit candles. Things start cruelly and maintain it throughout, and that's pretty much all you get--just meanness. If there was any drama at all to the story, it might work, but this seems less like an attempt to tell a good story and more of an excuse to bust the kinkometer. There's very little style to transform this from smut to art. I did like how it was almost entirely sans music until for a pooping scene. That made me laugh. This was not a good movie, and you shouldn't even think about watching it, you pervert.

Chicken with Plums


2011 movie

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Renowned violinist Nasser Ali Khan is distraught after his violin is destroyed. Since he's unable to satisfactorily replace the instrument, he decides to retire to his death bed. His wife is unhappy with the decision.

This is a beautiful story, whimsically and imaginatively told. It toys with your emotions a little bit, starting out as a fantasy of sorts before transforming through flashbacks and flash-forwards into something that is borderline devastating. The main character is imperfect, but he's imperfect like most men, especially the artistic ones, and I had no trouble at all connecting with him. Mathieu Amalric is just about perfect in the role and reminds me of a character who belongs in an Aki Kaurismaki movie. Maria de Medeiros plays his wife, juxtaposing mousey with bitchy very well. I thought the name was familiar, and it turns out she was the beauty in Guy Maddin's The Saddest Music in the World. I also liked Golshifteh Farahani. She's got a great face and an even better name. The real star of this show, however, is its flavor. The source material is an Iranian graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, and it's directed by her and Vincent Paronnaud, the same team that put together Persepolis. Unlike that, this is mostly live action, but it's about as close to animation as live action can be. I don't know if it's the graphic novelist's visual sense or what, but there's a style to this that I just loved. An exotic and fantastical world is created from what is really a simple story. There's some magical realism with a shopkeeper's magic wand, a visit from a twenty-foot-tall Sophia Loren, and a visit from the Grim Reaper are more out-there sequences, but even everyday things like the way a bus curves through mountainous roads is displayed in a way that makes this seem like it comes from a fairy tale. There are some cartoonish special effects that don't come close to adding to any realism but still manage to fit. There's also some stylistic variety in a hilarious black and white flashback where a teacher compares the main character to his brother and encourages his classmates to boo him and a flash-forward where an animated version of the protagonist's son shoots a buffalo out of the sky before the story morphs into a sitcom that might poke fun at the United States a little bit. There's a variety with the animation styles used, too. And there are puppets, and as my regular 4 1/2 readers could tell you, I'm a sucker for puppets. Again, this isn't all whimsy and surreal vignettes. There's a heart to this movie--"The love you lost will be in each note you play."--and it hit me just right.

I think fans of Amelie might like this.

Major League


1989 baseball comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Like Slap Stick only with baseball and no Paul Newman. The owner of the Cleveland Indians throws together the worst collection of players she can find in order to come in last place and enable her to move the team to Miami. This was pre-Marlins, by the way.

This could have been much better and would have been much worse if Bob Uecker wouldn't have come along when the movie was starting to lose some steam and saved things. Pretty much everything he says in this is funny, and Major League Baseball should actually put him in the Hall of Fame a second time just for his appearance in this movie. James Gammon is also funny and brings the perfect voice for the team's manager. The other characters are hit and miss. The characters played by Dennis Haysbert (not easy to recognize), Charles Cyphers, and Corbin Bernsen are really just there for one joke, but the writers definitely do their best to get the most mileage out of those single jokes. Wesley Snipes is a little rounder as the terrifically-named Willie Mays Hayes, and Charlie Sheen's character has a little depth even though Sheen himself only seems to have a single facial expression. The best thing about them is that they all pass as baseball players. When baseball wasn't happening, the relationship between Berenger and Russo was, and I just didn't care about that subplot at all. I guess you have to try to bring the gals along somehow though, right? This has plenty of funny lines ("This guy here is dead!", "Look at this fucking guy.", "I look like a banker in this.", "He was a juvenile delinquent in the off-season.", "Yellowstone?", "Vaseline ball hit to short."), but nothing is quite as funny as that ridiculous mascot that the Cleveland Indians are still allowed to have--the offensively-grinning Chief Wahoo. Oh, and this starts with a Randy Newman song, and Randy Newman songs make everything better. His particular brand of irony really complements the Cleveland imagery during the opening credits.

The Achievers: The Story of the Lebowski Fans


2009 documentary

Rating: 13/20

Plot: A look at gatherings of fans of The Big Lebowski.

I like this movie as much as guy, but these people take it to the extreme. Initially, it kind of annoyed me, but they're not harming a soul, are able to connect with people they have something in common with, and seem to be enjoying themselves. This focuses on a lot of the titular fans, and I just didn't care that much about them. I did enjoy some of the little details about the writing of and making of the movie. You get to see how fans of this movie that was overlooked in theaters can turn people with very very small roles into near legends, and there's something kind of cool about that. James Hoosier, the rotund gentleman who plays Jesus's friend, has been in exactly one movie. And he gets maybe a couple minutes of screen time. However, in this documentary, he shows up at a bowling alley for one of these Lebowski fests and gets himself a standing ovation. Jeff Bridges also shows up to one of these to remind everybody just how cool he is, and you get to meet the guys who The Dude and Walter's characters are based on. Most of the movie showcases those fanatics though as they compete in trivia and dress-up competitions.

Zero Dark Thirty


2012 best picture nominee

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Based on the popular "Where's Waldo?" books, this concerns a ten-year-long manhunt for a guy who ends up being difficult to find because he wasn't actually, as suspected, wearing a striped shirt.

This is a movie about finding Osama Bin Laden whose name might actually have been Usama Bin Laden. Maybe that's why they had trouble finding the guy. They weren't even sure what his name was. It's that story, but it's also the story of one woman's struggle to have her voice heard. That's the most unfortunate thing about this movie because I didn't like the character and I didn't like the woman playing her. I realize Jessica Chastain was nominated for awards, but I just don't get it. She's really terrible, almost robotic in some scenes. She gets some Big Acting moments where she gets to cry or scream, but she was just crying and screaming, not really creating a character. I just didn't care about this woman, and that was unfortunate since she was at the center of the whole thing. Maybe it's the texting/chatting during one scene.

"He's here brb"
"Cool!"
"Wassup you talking yet?"

What the hell? I can't like a character who communicates like that. Of course, her biggest moment might be when she gets the great line "I'm the motherfucker that found this place, sir," a line delivered like she thinks she's in a teen comedy. Now, I don't know, maybe that's actually what was said by the real Maya in the real meeting, but it just seemed like it was completely out of place and inappropriate here. I wish the character could have thrown in a "Yippee Ki Yay" somewhere in there. I also didn't like the direction in Zero Dark Thirty. It's subject matter so easy that it seems kind of cheap. Bigelow starts with manipulation early--a black screen and 9/11 911 calls--before heading straight for the torture. At one point during an early torture scene, I almost called somebody to tell them everything I knew. The movie is poorly paced. Why, for example, are you showing me Zach Galifianakis feeding ice cream to a monkey? Here, clumsiness passes as grittiness and art. We get all these quick shots of car door handles, people buying fruit, trees, all filmed with the beloved shaky cam. It's a style that I was tired of before the movie started, and I definitely didn't acquire a taste for it as this overly long movie progressed. The final chunk of this movie shows the night Bin Laden was killed. Lots of darkness and shaky cam there, too, but very little actual suspense. And I'll tell you what. I'm your typical American with a real red-white-and-blue hatred for Osama Bin Laden, and if you make a movie about his death without it having an emotional impact at all, you've just failed. And no, I'm not talking about the lack of a dead-Osama money shot. I don't need to see that. I do need to feel something, however, and I was too distracted by clichéd action style techniques and bad acting from the lead for it to happen.

Question: Is the ending of this supposed to be ambiguous in any way? I mean, she identifies the body as Bin Laden's (How would she know, by the way?) and starts crying at the end, but can we really be sure they got the right person? The kid who was offered a glow stick didn't reveal anything. Did I miss something where there was undeniable proof that it was really the guy? Could Maya have lied when identifying the body because she would have looked like a complete fool otherwise?

Hillbillys in a Haunted House


1967 horror comedy country western musical

Rating: 3/20

Plot: The titular hillbillys [sic] have car problems on the way to something called a jamboree and have to stay the night in the titular haunted house. Songs are performed. Spies and a gorilla harsh their mellow.

So in the first shot, they're traveling in Boss Hogg's car with slightly more ornamentation, and they're singing a song about being "on [our] way to Nashville, Tennessee." I should have taken it as a warning, ejected the dvd, and hurled it at a chicken. If you like bland old-timey country and western music, you're in for a treat. There's really about 30 minutes of movie here, and the rest of it consists of musical performances. In fact, the final 20 minutes of the movie is the jamboree, so it's just a series of songs that have nothing to do with the haunted house. You get to hear Ferlin Husky, the guy who plays Woody, sing "Livin' in a Trance," a song which sounds like it was recorded in a cave or something but is at least more awkward than it is terrible. Some random people then show up to tell the hillbillys [sic] that they never come near the house even though they are standing inside the house while saying that, and they perform a couple impromptu songs because the movie's plot wasn't quite ready to get started. They do "The Cat Came Back" which features two gitfiddles, a couple guys just standing around, invisible drums, and a guy hitting a small shovel with a brush before complying with the woman's request for a love song, a song that has her twitching in a way that made me wonder if she was reaching orgasm. That gal--Boots, played by a very fetching Joi Lansing--gets her own random song later during a fantasy dream sequence. "Gowns, Gowns, Beautiful Gowns" might be the most pointless things I've ever seen. Later, a character watches television, and Merle Haggard gets a song. There are probably over 15 songs in this motherfucker! And if you don't like country and western music or don't enjoy laughing at terrible film-making, there's nothing for you to see here. I've seen this on a couple "Worst Movie Ever" lists, and it probably deserves to be in consideration. It's very poorly written. I believe this chunk of dialogue is supposed to be humorous:

Woody: Where are we?
Gas station guy: Sleepy Junction.
Woody: Sleepy Junction.
Boots: Where are we?
Woody: Sleepy Junction.
Boots: Oh.
Jeepers: Hey, Woody, we're in Sleepy Junction.

Jeepers is an actual name of a hillbilly, and he's played by Don Bowman who was the host of some country music countdown show. His only other acting credit is the movie this is apparently a sequel for--The Las Vegas Hillbillys. He plays "Don Bowman" in that though, and not Jeepers. As Jeepers, he gives a performance that manages to still seem like one of the worst performances ever even though the movie is a complete disaster anyway. That first shot with the hillbillys [sic] singing in the car? He isn't singing, merely sitting in the back in what seems to be an illegal way. And he can't even get "just sitting there" right! He looks bored. That's actually the best he gets in this movie, too. Most of the time, he looks like he's got ADD or is some kind of tweaker. He spends most of the movie twitching and squinting, but he does get a moment to shine when he starts yelping about seeing a "weirdwolf" in the closet. Oh, and he does get his own song during the jamboree--"Wrong House Last Night" and it is a thing of beauty, one of those things that has to be heard to be believed. Bowman can't even sit still during a fifteen or so minute scene where he just needs to watch television. That, by the way, is one of those "What the hell?" moments as the country music he's watching is interrupted by the faces of Carradine, Chaney Jr., Rathbone, and Ho--the four bad guys. Why their faces start appearing on the television screen to stare at Jeepers is beyond me. Speaking of those guys. You would probably never expect Lon Chaney Jr. to be any good, and he isn't. Neither is Basil Rathbone, though he's the best of the bunch. John Carradine might be the worst of them all, but somebody named Linda Ho isn't far behind. Her acting consists of reading lines phonetically. I did like this conversation:

Woody: We're entertainers.
Ho: What kind of entertaining do you do?
Woody: I sing and pick a guitar.
Ho: How nice. (With this absolutely disgusted look on her face that I'm not sure was supposed to be there.)

The best performance is by George Barrows as Aniatole the monkey. John Carradine's character really hated that gorilla. It was never actually explained why these spies traveled with a gorilla, but I've never been a spy and don't know much about how these people operate. I guess having a gorilla around would make perfect sense. Anyway, George Barrows is the guy who plays one of my favorite movie monsters of all time--Ro-Man in The Robot Monster. Ro-Man is a gorilla suit from the next down and a deep sea diver's helmet for a head. Barrows has one of those acting careers I love looking at. He acted in 108 titles, and he played 16 gorillas. At least! Some of his roles were just names, and those might be gorillas, too. He also played Monstro in a movie and Slouchy McGoo in the Adventures of Superman television series. And he played "henchman" a lot. Barrows and his suit (I'm going to go ahead and assume he owned his own gorilla suit) are actually the best special effect in the movie. Some wobbling skeletons, bats on strings, and the "weirdwolf" mask are nothing short of embarrassing. There are also some lightning effects in a night sky when the action is clearly taking place in daylight and a couple visible boom mics, but if you have problems with that, you're nitpicking. I almost feel bad criticizing something that I'm sure was made by very nice people for very nice families to sit around and enjoy, but it's one of those works of art where everything just came together so imperfectly to make something so magical and deserves to be seen by connoisseurs of crappy movies, even those who don't like gorillas or country and western music.

The City of Lost Children


1995 fantasy

Rating: 18/20

Plot: An evil guy, with the help of six clones and a little person, attempts to extend his life by stealing the dreams of children. One of those children is the "brother" of a strongman who teams up with an orphan thief to save him.

Hot damn, how I love this movie! Everything about it! From the whopper of the opening with the multitudinous Santas, a chilling little nightmare with wobbly visuals, to the happy little ending, the director duo of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet use the film medium to show us things that we've never seen before. And there's just something beautiful about that. They build a world, an unknown time and an unknown place, that we've never seen before. There's a ton of brown, dilapidation, decay, general stickiness, and it's the perfect place for this little story to take place, this grotesque little fairy tale without a glimpse of a single fairy. There's a little Dr. Caligari in the landscapes, a little sci-fi, a whole lot of imagination. Love the details, especially all the stuff in the background of the bearded original Dominique Pinon's underwater home. Speaking of Dominique Pinon--how brilliant is he in this? There are seven of him, often on screen at the same time, and his facial contortions and slapstick silliness are hilarious. Daniel Emilfork plays the evil Krankg, and he nails evil but not without a bit of humor. The scene where he becomes Santa is uproariously hilarious. Emilfork's got the perfect head for this movie and this character. I also love the Octopus twins choreography, and there are plenty of sight gags with those two, my favorite being where the one smokes a cigarette and the other blows out the smoke. I'd also watch a cooking show hosted by those two. I think Tati would have appreciated the Octopus. And then there's Mireille Mosse, a little woman with a giant head. It's another example of perfect casting, maybe one of my favorite little person roles ever. And that's just for the line "Good bye, Grasshopper." This movie is just pure child-like imagination unleashed. Flea hypnotism, Cyclops men forcing a fellow Cyclops man to watch his own murder, a talking brain in an aquarium. It's one of those rare stories where nothing that happens feels borrowed. Also, it's the type of story where nothing simply happens. Instead, you get all these Rube Goldberg shenanigans. The demise of the Octopus and Miette's breaking into a room are the best examples. Add Badalamenti's beautiful score, and you've got yourself a classic! I do believe, by the way, that this thing is symbolically chunky, a story about innocence and what happens when childish innocence is corrupted by things in the adult world. It hurts my head trying to pick this thing apart, however. For me, it's a movie to just absorb. I can still remember the first time I saw this; it put a smile on my face for weeks. Subsequent viewings are just as rewarding. It's one of those movies that I really can appreciate more because I don't remember any of my dreams. This, and a litter of other movies from the Lynches, Jodorowskies, Maddins, and Svankmajers of the world, are substitutes for dreams and nightmares that float away from me before I wake up. Just beautiful, imaginative stuff.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower


2012 coming of age movie

Rating: 16/20 (Jen: 19/20)

Plot: A shy high school freshman befriends step-sibling seniors, and they spend about a year trying to figure out the title of a David Bowie song.

This might have hit me a little more than similar movies because Charlie and I would be about the same age. I was introverted and knew a lot of the music from the movie. And I liked the Smiths. Of course, I would have recognized the Bowie, and I never would have stood up in the bed of a rapidly-moving pick-up truck even if I wanted to impress Hermione Granger. Charlie had bad things happen to him, and I never did. Still, spirits kindred enough, and I really felt and pulled for the guy. I wanted the kid to bang Hermoine! I have no idea who Logan Lerman is or what kind of career he's about to have--he seems busy enough which makes perfect sense to him because of how good he was here--but I thought he was great. It's a controlled performance. A kid doing too much in that role would have completely screwed things up. Ezra Miller was almost a little too much. That kid, by the way, was born the year I graduated which makes me feel incredibly old. I thought Watson was good enough, but there's something kind of, I don't know, artificial about her. But I did think the characters, even the auxiliary ones, seemed real in a movie-kind of way, and their stories sneak up on you and take hold in ways that you didn't really expect. I was surprised that I laughed at all, and I was surprised at how bad I felt for the characters at times. Oh, and neither Jen nor I recognized Mary Elizabeth as Mae Whitman, "Egg" from Arrested Development, which is something we thought was funny. I've tried wrapping my mind around what it means to be "infinite" as Charlie describes himself at the end of the movie, and I've settle on that meaning different things for different people. Whatever it is, there's something kind of beautiful about it.

I had a "Bust a Move" moment as a high school kid. I think it might have even involved Young MC! Man, I would have loved this movie as a high schooler.

Shane Watches a Bad Movie with Friends on Facebook: The Giant Behemoth


1959 giant thing movie

Rating: 12/20 (Fred: 14/20 [Note: He did fall asleep for about ten minutes during this movie.]; Libby: 10/20; Carrie:  15/20; Ozzy: 16/20)

Plot: Atomic bomb testing leads to the formation of the titular monster which invades London.

Think about that title--The Giant Behemoth. Can you really have a tiny behemoth? Love the redundancy there. And then look at that tagline at the top of the poster. The biggest thing since creation!? That seems like the type of thing they put up there because they couldn't think of anything else and figured they could think of something else later but then forgot. The biggest thing since creation! I'm pretty positive I've seen bigger things. And I know my wife has if you catch my drift. Anyway, behemoth is a good word to know. And so is bathyscope which, thanks to this movie, my friends and I now know how to spell. This week's bad movie genre was "big things wreaking havoc" and although it took a while for havoc to be wreaked, the monster payoff was a satisfying one. I didn't expect stop-motion animation, and it wasn't the greatest stop-motion animation that I've ever seen, but it added a little personality to an otherwise drab production. Yes, the beast is stepping on the same toy car several times, you see the same people running and screaming in terror, and the behemoth takes far too long to trudge down a single block. But the special effects are at least fun, and the extras do a great job fleeing in terror. You do have to wait a long time before that payoff though. Clumsy science drives the first part of the movie, but at least the acting isn't too bad for a 50's sci-fi flick. My favorite performance by far is that of Jack MacGowran who plays a paleontologist. He's got the oddest expressions and plays the part as if he wasn't sure how a paleontologist should act so just decided to play it nonhumanly. The makers of this leaned a little on giant music to create suspense that otherwise probably wasn't there. This isn't the greatest giant monster movie you're likely to see, but it's not a terrible one and has a final twenty minutes that are definitely entertaining. Oh, and a great scene where the behemoth, which in this movie is pretty large, attacks a boat.

Savages


2012 drug movie

Rating: 10/20

Plot: Successful marijuana growers battle dangerous Mexican drug lords, and unfortunately, the love of both of their lives gets involved. They have to go to drastic measures to save her.

I am having a very difficult time understanding the relationship that drives this story. You've got the two pot guys--Buddhist Ben and war veteran and general badass Chon--and the one girl played by Blake Lively and named after a Hamlet character. And they're all in love, but it's not a love triangle. No, it's this relationship where they all live together and Blake Lively screws them both and everybody's happy with it. Call me old-fashioned, but I just don't see how that works. And if that doesn't work, the whole movie doesn't really work. I didn't like any of the three major characters. Taylor Kitsch played the badass, and he was just your typical movie badass and nothing more--tattoos, haircut, muscles, scowl, and not much else. Aaron Taylor-Johnson was the hippie, another stereotype more than a real human being. And Blake Lively was nothing more than a pretty face and later a damsel in distress. Oh, and she provides some bad narration filled with terrible puns--war-gasms, a play on Buddhist/Baddhist, a joint venture. Those and the Shakespeare references just were a little too cutesy-clever, especially for a character who was completely bland the rest of the time. Travolta's character had potential, kind of an unlikable pussy. And Travolta's not bad, but he's not really in the movie enough to really get the chance to nail down the character. Del Toro, Demian Bichir (who I know as one of the actors who has gotten a chance to fondle Mary-Louise Parker), and Salma Hayek (wearing a terrible wig) all get parts that Mexico can be proud of. Del Toro does his best to make his character completely despicable, but it's nothing we really haven't seen already. And that's probably the biggest problem with Savages--it just doesn't take any chances. There's some of Stone's experimental trickery that you get with his non-historical dramas like Natural Born Killers or U-Turn, but here it just seems mainstream and gratuitous. The biggest trick of all is when Stone provides two separate endings. Unfortunately, neither one of them is satisfying. And neither is this movie. It lacks inspiration, seeming to borrow ideas from television dramas more than anything else, and never develops the edge that it probably would like to have.

Logan's Run

1976 sci-fi nonsense

Rating: 13/20

Plot: It's 2274, and everything's great in a hedonistic society where people don't do much of anything but enjoy each other's company. And wear bad clothing. Man, people in the future dress poorly. The only problem is that everybody dies at the age of 30 in a Carousel ritual. Some citizens don't like that and try to flee, and it's up to the Sandmen to chase them down. The titular Sandman, while on a mission, discovers that there's more going on than people think.

This is often unfairly compared to Star Wars which came out only a year later and looked so much better. It also seems to have a few things in common--the use of national landmarks, I guess--with Planet of the Apes which came out around eight years earlier. Neither of those movies had Farrah Fawcett, however, and Logan's Run definitely has some Farrah Fawcett. It's also got Michael York who looks even more plastic than he normally does, and Jenny Agutter who out-cutes even Farrah Fawcett. This is a little cold, maybe even for a science fiction movie, so I don't really care much about the characters or their relationships. The most dynamic relationship is between Logan and his Sandman buddy played by Richard Jordan. The best two characters aren't main characters at all. There's one of the dumbest-looking robots ever, a robot named Box voiced by Roscoe Lee Browne. "Welcome, humans!" And then there's Peter Ustinov who stumbles into the movie and starts eating the marble. The breathy laugh when he comments about his name, the way he says "Cats!", gratuitous lip-smacking, a terrific elderly hip thrust during a poem recitation. And his "Nothing sadder than a dead fish" makes me wonder if Ustinov was allowed to improvise during his scenes. He's great and hammy though, and a movie that was already visually interesting and only kinda dull really picks up when York and Agutter run into his character. A lot of the special effects are so crappy that it's a wonder they were allowed to happy (The use of sparklers is a bit of a distraction, for example), but I really did like how a lot of this looked. The Carousel scene is really dopey, but it's visually neat. There's also some great music--all abstract synthesizer tinklings--and a fair share of nudity for a movie rated PG. For a sci-fi movie about a dystopian society, you almost want a little more depth, some kind of big message, but this one's here mostly for entertainment and doesn't really deliver anything like that.

The Search for One Eye Jimmy

1994 mockumentary

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A film student decides to make a documentary on his old neighborhood but instead joins a manhunt for the titular moron.

This was pretty funny but very uneven. Really, I was glad I watched it just for the interesting cast. The ubiquitous Sam Rockwell pops up near the end and is as funny as you'd expect him to be. Steve Buscemi plays a creepy loser, the kind of role he was built for. This movie, he gets to spend a lot of screen time with a cardboard wrestler. Michael Badalucco's the butt of a lot of jokes, mostly a recurring gag about the size of his head. I was pretty sure I spotted him in Zubaz early in the movie, but they turned out just to be ill-fitting sweatpants. Samuel L. Jackson is a mentally-unstable Vietnam vet who gets to say, "If my dick hadn't been blown off in 'Nam, I'd whip it out and piss in your face." Nicholas Turturro may get the funniest lines, and I'll credit him since a lot of this seems to be built on improvisation. Referring to his glasses as "subscription" and explaining the names of his father and himself ("Who's your father?" "Junior." "Junior Senior?" "Yeah." "And you're Junior Junior?" "That's right.") were funny. There are actually a ton of Turturros in this, probably breaking some kind of record for most Turturros in a movie. John's in it only briefly but memorably as Disco Bean, "temperamental artist and neighborhood legend," and this thing is probably worth seeing for his dance moves alone. It's a kind of physicality that reminded me of what makes him so great as Jesus in Lebowski. Tony Sirico's also really funny, and Jessica Beal makes an appearance. This isn't great filmmaking exactly, but I thought it was a funny enough entry in the mockumentary genre.

Raging Bull


1980 boxing movie

Rating: 20/20

Plot: The story of boxer Jake LaMotta and how Jake LaMotta leaked all over the floor.

Ok, I know I just called it a boxing movie, but it's not really a boxing movie. It's a movie about a boxer. There's a difference, and that difference is what elevates this to its status as one of the greatest movies of all time. This has scenes that take place in boxing rings. They're filmed in a way that puts the audience right in the ring. The use of slow motion, the black and white grime, a camera that just leers, background sounds and the way those background sound (including birds?) are recorded just forces you to focus, and that's true of the scenes in the ring as well as outside the ring. Scorsese has this way of making this movie stuff, in some weird way, more real than reality, and that's even with the boxing scenes probably not looking all that realistic. But again, it's not a boxing movie, and Scorsese and company aren't all that interested in creating realistic boxing scenes. No, they want to create a picture of a self-destructing man's soul, the colors of that soul's bruises, the depths of its creases, and the shapes of its scars. It's not necessarily a soul you want to spend much time with, but this, maybe more than any other biopic, just traps you in there and almost forces you to watch. After a couple hours with LaMotta, you really almost feel like you've been pummeled for fifteen rounds. And there's such a range of emotions you feel with this subject. You hate the guy, you sort of feel bad for the guy, you laugh at the guy, you're scared for the guy, and you're scared of the guy. A lot of the power in this character and this movie comes from De Niro's otherworldly performance, that ability to crawl inside LaMotta's skin. De Niro likely had to take extra long showers after some of these scenes. LaMotta's character is one that doesn't make a lot of sense, but De Niro makes him make sense, makes all his flaws real. It's one of the greatest performances of all time, the kind of performance that is so good that it could almost kill a movie if that makes any sense. The kind of performance that could completely overshadow what everybody else is doing. I remember seeing this as a kid and actually believing that old flabby LaMotta was being played by a different, chubbier and older actor. Still have trouble believing that transformation. With De Niro's brilliance, it's remarkable that anybody else in this movie can float, and the fact that they do is evidence of their own abilities. Pesci can freak out like the best of them, and every single scene that Pesci and De Niro share has this great rhythm to it, as well as this electricity that you just don't see with a pair of actors all that much. Part of it might be the writing, but the words didn't stand out so much. They could have been reading grocery lists back and forth to each other, and it still might have worked. And Cathy Moriarty's performance is simply stunning. In a movie about men, she manages to not be completely swallowed up. Her eyes cut through the screen, blink right in your living room. She and her character have this power, and it's amazing to me that can deliver this type of performance since A) she was only 19 or 20 when it was filmed and B) it was her first movie. Just amazing. Scorsese's directing tricks are subtle, but he's a master, here squeezing this raw intensity on the screen. A terrific, exhausting movie.

Halloween


1978 horror movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A lunatic escapes from an asylum, returns to the childhood home where he murdered his sister, and starts killing off teenagers who are having sex. Donald Pleasence chases him around.

Carpenter is so skilled at doing a lot with not much at all, and that gift's on display here. This is cheap and doesn't even really have a story that is all that intriguing. It does deliver the scares, mostly the things-jumping-out-at-you kind of scares, but it's more effective at delivering a creepiness, creepiness with a barely-discernible sense of humor below the surface. This definitely has a little style. The long shot at the beginning with the first-person perspective works really well. I'm sure that sort of thing had been done prior to 1978, but I'm not enough of a cinephile to know when. This also has so many wonderfully choreographed sequences, like one where Jamie Lee Curtis and her friend are talking with the latter's cop father and then pulling away while Pleasence walks up and introduces himself before Michael Myers drives past in the background. It's all one shot and so perfectly timed, and it's got this gritty effortlessness. Myers is very creepy when lurking around, but should psychotic killers really drive around in station wagons? And at what point did they decide to make him freakishly strong? I really liked a shot where the camera lingers on Myers while he's standing and admiring his work killing Bob, the guy with giant glasses. Following that, Myers pretends to be a sheeted ghost, and I still can't decide if that's the stupidest thing I've seen recently or one of the coolest. Jamie Lee Curtis? I'm not seeing any acting potential here ("The keeeeeeeeyyyyys. The keeeeeeeeyyyyyyss!"), and she looks like she's about thirty years old. Her character is worse at killing psychotic killers than Curtis is at acting the part. Why does she keep throwing the knife away? The character is good at locking herself into places. Either that, or she doesn't fully understand how doors work. That's one of the many horror moves in this that either were already clichés or that would become cliches. Also, I wouldn't hire Jamie Lee Curtis to babysit any of my children. Donald Pleasence is his usually awesome self here and lends a certain elegance to the whole thing, best exemplified in his delivery of the line "He came home." Pleasence is taking this movie so seriously, even when his character is parking in a handicap space, and if I see the sequels (I never have, by the way), it'll be because of him. The music, as famous as those "Tubular Bells"-sounding piano tinkerings in the theme are, is occasionally grating. I didn't remember a clicking sound in the theme and thought something was wrong with my device. When I found out it was supposed to sound like that, I was annoyed. What I did like were the cheesy sound effects accompanying some of Michael Myers' moves. Loved that kung-fu electronic springy sound when Myers leaps onto a car, and although I can understand the argument that the sound effects were goofy, I was glad there was a sound effect every single time the killer appeared in the movie. Something else I liked was the complete lack of enthusiasm in whoever was the voice of a teacher during one scene. I haven't been able to put a name to that off-screen role unfortunately. This movie works as a cautionary tale, like a lot of slasher pics do, a warning to teenagers that premarital sex can be deadly. This movie predates AIDS by a few years, but when my peers and I first stumbled upon these horror movies where teenagers were having the sex, the disease, in its abstractness, was almost more terrifying than any Michael Myers could possibly be, no matter how many times he seemed to be dead but got back up. For us, it was almost like Michael Myers put a face on the disease. I think that's why nobody I grew up with had sex before marriage.

Silver Linings Playbook


2012 best picture nominee

Rating: 15/20 (Jennifer: 19/20)

Plot: Pat, a substitute teacher who spent a few months in a mental institution after beating up the man his wife was sleeping with, moves into his parents' attic. He tries to figure out a way to reconcile with his wife, a difficult task because of a restraining order. He meets a friend of a friend who happens to be a friend of a friend of his wife. She's got problems of her own, and the two figure out they're in a romantic comedy. Things progress from there.

Boy, was I wrong about this one. One, I assumed that I wouldn't like it, an odd prediction since it has Bradley Cooper in it. Two, I thought for sure it was setting up for a Shamalammadingdong-esque twist where protagonist Pat was just imagining all of these people. I'm still not entirely sure I want to believe that everything that happened in this movie actually occurred in the movie's reality. I want there to be something a little deeper with this story, I guess. The main character is bipolar, so I guess hallucinations or delusions wouldn't really have fit. Still, that cop who keeps popping up at just the right moments, Chris Tucker's character--the lone black man in Philadelphia, it seems--showing up inexplicably in all these places, all the pieces falling together so unnaturally. It's hard to take at face-value, isn't it? As pure rom-com cotton candy though, this is really pretty good. I really liked the performances. Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence play characters who really should be unlikable, but their performances here are a testament to how good looking they both are. I'm not sure I'd call what Lawrence did best-actress-award-worthy, but she's good and really easy to like and root for. And there are all these gratuitous shots of her posterior which the Academy Awards people must have enjoyed. Bradley Cooper might have been a little too wide-eyed at times, but he wears a trash bag better than anybody I know. De Niro and Jacki Weaver plays his parents, the latter more in the background but very funny when talking about her crabby snacks and homemades. De Niro's character is sneakily nuanced, his performance barely under control. He's good though. It's a great ensemble cast that really helps this thing swim, and the thing just was refreshingly entertaining despite the pain that some of the characters were suffering. It does kind of hit a point--the "parlay bet" scene--where things get a little too unbelievable, and after that, it all feels a little too much like a movie. Again, those pieces fall into place a little too neatly. You really almost expect that you're being set up for a devastating ending to this thing, at least for a handful of the characters. But they're all so likeable that the Hollywood endings slapped on this ends up being satisfying.

Or maybe the complete lack of a twist is the twist? That this so comfortably embraces its Hollywoodness should maybe be applauded.

Here's a twist--I'm giving movies Bradley Cooper bonus points from now on. In fact, I might do it retroactively. I'll have to find my A-Team write-up.

The Man with the Iron Fists


2012 kung-fu movie

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Some bad guys try to steal some treasure, and it's up to a blacksmith and a government official to stop them.

This is a kind of labor of love for Wu-Tang Clan's RZA who co-wrote this with Eli Roth, directed, and ill-advisedly stars in the thing. I suppose the directing is admirable. Man looks as good as any other modern kung-fu movie with some dazzling acrobatics, some ok special effects (not the CGI wolves at the beginning--that's one of the grossest effects I've ever seen), and a lot of bloodletting, including much spurting and even some visible viscera that could get fans of that sort of thing excited enough. The story's not awful but a bit of a mess, not the worst thing that can happen to a kung-fu movie. It was good to see both Gordon Liu and Pam Grier, the latter whom the guy who works across the hall from me referred to as his "celebrity crush" although I'm sure he's talking about Pam Grier in her prime. The former is somebody I might have a celebrity crush on, and I don't even care if it's Gordon Liu in his prime or not. When I think of kung-fu, I think of Russell Crowe, and he sneaks into this thing as an under-realized perverse anti-hero with the not-as-clever-as-RZA-thinks name Jack Knife. I had to give this a bonus point because Crowe's character refers to his phallus as "the baby's arm" when requesting to put it inside Lucy Liu's character. Speaking of Liu, she's absolutely awful here, delivering lines that I'm sure both she and RZA think are much cuter than they actually are. Her performance is worse than RZA's, but he shouldn't have been in his own movie either, at least not with a speaking role. He seems tired or high, or maybe he's both. The more traditional kung-fu hero is played by Rick Yune, and I don't like that character at all. It'd be fine if there was a cool bad guy, but we're given Silver Lion played by a guy named Byron Mann. Silver Lion looks way too much like Revenge of the Nerds' Booger to take seriously. And later, there's an even worse bad guy--Dagger! If you're watching a kung-fu movie and can't root for the good guys or the bad guys, the kung-fu movie is in some serious trouble. The most intriguing characters--other than some disappointingly only nearly-nude whores that are definitely not utilized to their full potential--are the Gemini Twins who aren't in the movie enough and really don't have that much to do. They're barely more than a deleted scene or two that made it into the movie because RZA filmed the stuff and didn't want to cut anything. There's an "Attaboy, Luther" moment when a random voice in the crowd says, "Gemini Stance!" A clumsy flashback done so poorly that it managed to be comical was probably the film's worst moment, one that might showcase the director's limitations more than anything else. A worse decision, however, was the use of Wu-Tang Klan music (Ol' Dirty Bastard if I'm recalling correctly) and other questionable choices. I'm also not sure what I thought about the use of animal growls during fight scenes, but I probably didn't like those either. There's a guy made from metal--didn't I just see that somewhere else?--and a bunch of unique weapons that show RZA's potential with this sort of thing, but he, as a classic kung-fu Shaw Brothers aficionado, really should have known better and not released something that seems like less of an homage than a tacky rehash of other recent modern martial arts flicks. The credits, by the way, seem to be a prelude to a sequel which has bird people in it, and despite the inclusion of bird people, that movie looks like it could end up even worse than this one.

Wreck-It Ralph


2012 cartoon

Rating: 13/20 (Jennifer: 16/20; Dylan: 12/20; Emma: 13/20; Abbey: 20/20; Buster: 19/20)

Plot: The titular video game baddie--a bulbous-fisted bully who destroys buildings--is tired of living the life of a villain and covets the popularity of his counterpart Fix-It Felix, a guy with a hammer who scrambles around fixing Ralph's messes. Ralph decides to bolt and find a game in which he can be the hero and win both a medal and the admiration of other video game characters. Things don't go well at all.

I really wanted to like this, but it was just too much. There's some humor, and it was good seeing Q-Bert again. There are more than a few nods to video games from my childhood as well as people younger than me, an obvious attempt by the Disney people to grab everybody. There's a bunch of action, and the whole thing is animated really well. The voice work--especially Alan Tudyk as the really unlikable King Candy, but also Reilly, Silverman, the almost too-recognizable McBrayer, and Jane Lynch, the latter who might have the funniest lines--is really good. Is Jack McBrayer going to be in every animated movie from now on? That seems like the kind of thing that could happen.

Studio Executives: Ok, and we need the voice for this little pipsqueak of a character. Who should we use?
Other Studio Executive: Duh! Jack McBrayer? Heard of him?
Studio Executive: Great choice! He's right next door finishing up work on another animated movie. Let's fetch him!

That's right. Jack McBrayer is the kind of actor who is fetched. I can only recall one other animated feature film with his voice (not that I've seen them all), but I have a feeling I'm about to get really sick of the guy. Sarah Silverman stretches things a bit. I didn't recognize her voice, but Jennifer did. Anyway, the voice work is fine. The characters, however, aren't all that likable. There's really nobody to latch onto here. Ralph's not a bad character, but he just doesn't work as the emotional center for this thing. For one, we're supposed to buy that he's forced into this bad guy life but is really a hero at heart, but he acts so selfishly in this movie that I had trouble seeing that heart. He's also not very bright. Secondly, about midway through the movie, the audience is jerked from his story into Vanellope's (am I missing a pun here?) world and the conflict in that game. Like the colors, camera swoops, and barrages of sound thrown from my television screen, the clashing stories was just a little too much to take. I didn't like Vanellope's character either, and the limited amount of feeling that I could spare for these characters was stretched really thin. I liked a lot of what I saw and I really thought it was a creative idea with loads of potential. I just wish the story wasn't driven by too many modern animated movie cliches and had better characters.

This got me thinking about modern animated films that are very visually busy compared with the older, much simpler animated treats such as, say, Bambi. How do you think somebody in the 40's would react to seeing something like this? Would they vomit? Froth? Convulse? Flee in terror? A combination of those? I wonder what effect modern entertainment--especially visually with a definite shift from very simple ideas to very complex ones and the sonic barrage we get nowadays--has on children and their minds?

Life of Pi


2012 best picture nominee

Rating: 16/20 (Jen: 12/20)

Plot: It's the exact same plot as Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain except instead of gay cowboys on a mountain, there's an Indian boy and a tiger on a lifeboat.

I made it through about 1/3 of the book several years ago before I remembered that I didn't like reading and stopped. When I heard that a movie was being made, I wondered if it was filmable. I saw previews and snippets during the Oscars, most backed with this faux-Enya music, and fully expected to hate the movie. I ended up really digging it although my date hated it. At one point, she said, "If that tiger starts talking, I'm done." And I think she rolled her eyes more during this than with any other movie. I could feel them rolling. The eye-rolling isn't entirely unfair. This little fantasy is filled with all kinds of little details that just don't seem right. Bananas, after all, really don't float. The man-shaped island, a silly rainbow, meerkats that stand around and watch a tiger devour them. A lot of this is just silly. Add in some obviously-CGI animals, and this is a little hard to take at times. Don't get me wrong. This is some of the best CGI that I've seen, and I'm amazed at what they do with these animals. You really get to the point while watching this where you can't tell what is real and what is created by a computer, and then you start doubting that any of it is real. Is Suraj Sharma, painfully sympathetic in the role as young Pi, a real person or was he made by some flabby guy with too-large glasses sitting in front of a computer monitor? What about the bulging eyes of Irrfan Khan, the guy who is also really good as the older Pi? Are they real? They kind of look like Large Marge's eyes. Ang Lee's visual effects wizards must have had a lot of fun creating these waves, tossing in some extra stars, rustling animal fur, piling meerkat on meerkat, maneuvering colorful fish just below the surface of the water. And as plastic as it all sometimes looks, it really is stunningly beautiful at times. I didn't care for a new-agey display where Pi looks into the depths of the ocean and sees a whale made out of different animals, a variety of ocean life, and eventually the sunken ship, but that might have been because of the aforementioned faux-Enya music more than anything else. For the most part, this is just gorgeous. Besides, the inability to tell what is a visual trick and what is really real matches the storytelling ambiguity, the uncertainty of the viewer in knowing what parts of Pi's story is real. The unlikely friendship--a one-sided one apparently--has a beauty that matches the visual beauty, and I almost wanted to cry while older Pi was describing his feelings but Jen's audible eye-rolling ruined it. This is fluffily philosophical and not all that dense although that gives it enough space for the viewer to have the freedom to let the thing develop a bit in his or her own mind. And although there's definitely an adventure/survival story element during the majority of the movie, there's also a lot of playfulness and humor as well. Good stuff.

The Brainiac


1962 Mexican horror/sci-fi hybrid

Rating: 15/20

Plot: The titular baron del terror, if you go with the Spanish title, is burned in 1661 for being witchy and generally foul. He finds himself in 1961 via comet where he gets his revenge by killing off the descendants of those who executed him. Some astronomers try to stop him.

This gets a 15/20 from me because it's the most ridiculous monster that I've seen in a very long time. See that thing on the poster? That's not the drawing of a child who stumbled upon this movie on cable and then drew a picture of the thing. That's actually what the guy looks like! Those rubbery finger things move a little like lobster claws, spongy lobster claws. And his face, very obviously a mask, inflates and deflates, almost as if somebody is pumping air into it to make it look more alive or something. And that forked tongue ludicrously extends in a way that I assume is supposed to be menacing. This picture doesn't quite do the thing justice:


So the special effects aren't very good. Just check that burning baron in an opening scene and, after way more astronomy than you're likely to need, a comet. Or when the comet lowers a giant rock to the ground with a visible string. Or the use of what seems to be a flashlight turned on and off while pointed at the baron's face--when he is in his human form--to make him seem hypnotic since he's supposed to be, you know, hypnotizing people. But there's just something special going on here. There's a great atmosphere created, mostly with the lighting. Early on, there are people in black hoods against a backdrop of almost nothing, just a few fake trees. It reminded me of the setting for a Universal monster movie. There's also a great scene with the monster's shadow on a wall as he approaches a victim in a sheer nightgown. And despite the goofy look of the monster, you've got to appreciate his modus operandi. There are so many awkward silences during which the baron in his human form and a character who is about to die just stare at each other. And when he doesn't have a living human handy, he's got a goblet full of brains to snack on. There's also an actress I really enjoyed watching in this--Rosa Maria Gallardo. Boy, oh, boy. In a lot of ways, The Brainiac is just your typical B-movie; however, it's one of those type of movies I won't forget about which makes it stand above the others. Director Chano Urueta might have been going for cheap thrills here, but he accidentally stumbled upon something nearly magical.

Shane Watches a Bad Movie on Facebook with Friends: Starchaser: The Legend of Orin

1985 animated science fiction

Rating: 13/20 (Fred: 12/20; Josh: 11/20; Libby: 13/20, although she fell asleep; Carrie: technical difficulties)

Plot: Robots keep humans underground as mining slaves until one finds a magic sword hilt and pops up the surface to have a look around.

We wanted a bad animated flick for the Bad Movie Club this week, and although I was really pushing a Titanic cartoon on my friends [Note: A different Titanic cartoon than the one with the rapping dogs that I reviewed last year], they eventually decided on this one. I agreed because I had been accused of being a Bad Movie Club dictator and wanted to change that perception. Libby suggested it initially and fought hard to get everybody else on board. Then, of course, she fell asleep long before it was over.

I actually kind of liked the movie. The storytelling's a mess, and the titular hero--the Luke Skywalker of this Star Wars rip-off--is a little lame. The main baddie--the Darth Vader--isn't very compelling and never seems quite as intimidating as he should. I think it has more to do with his wardrobe choices than anything else. There are a ton of creative ideas, however, including these mandroids that search for body parts in a Dali-esque swampy landscape and a really cool spaceship--the Millennium Falcon of this movie. The action sequences, especially the little spaceship battles, are as confusing as they are well done, and there's even a scene in which a cigar-chomping character named Dag--the Han Solo of this movie--violates a female android by manipulating her butt circuits. Dag calls Orin a "little water snake"--kind of like how Han Solo calls Luke "kid" in the original trilogy--which made Josh decide that he's going to call me his "little water snake" at school next year which makes this barely effective teacher want to do something else for a career. There really were a lot of Star Wars parallels, but this also seemed to borrow from Masters of the Universe, Dune, Back to the Future (only because they were life vests like Marty), and Terminator. As mentioned, the story's got issues. There's a lot of meandering and too much of a blind kid, a character that leads to an ending detail that nearly ruined the entire movie. Oh, add the Gospels to things the makers of this borrowed from. I forgot that one. More annoying than the blind kid is a little fuzzy glowing thing--the Ewoks of this movie--that randomly save the universe a few too many times. So although there is some cool animated landscapes and nifty-looking characters, this is a little too much of a mess. Of course, I didn't watch this in 3D like I was supposed to, so maybe I'm missing out on the artistic genius. I did enjoy the score, a very synthy and cheesy 80's sound that had my toes tapping throughout the movie.

That poster up there is very misleading, by the way. That blind kid never rides a horse.