Mario Bava Fest: Hercules in the Haunted World

1961 mythology movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: After the evil Count Dooku  puts the mythological demigod's gal pal in a trance in some devious plot to become the ruler of wherever she's supposed to become the ruler in, Hercules and a couple buddies have to venture to the Underworld to retrieve a magic stone to save her.

Reg Park's got the guns and charisma to play the titular strongman, and I think he nails the action-hero deity side to the part while also nailing the human side. A young Christoper Lee, for some reason with a dubbed voice which just didn't sound right at all to me, is perhaps menacing only because of how tall he looks. I'm not sure how I felt about the guy who played Theseus (George Ardisson) who I thought was a little dopey-looking. I just didn't buy him as a mythological hero, probably because he had to be on the screen with Hercules most of the time. That or he's making out with the ladies. He does that a lot. Not sure if this was pre- or post-Ariadne and the labyrinth because I'm not up on my mythology. I wasn't even aware that Hercules and Theseus were buddies. I am enough of a nerd to recognize the name Procrustes and his infamous bed, and that whole scene could not have been gayer. First, I didn't realize he was a petrified tree monster, and although he was almost not completely dorky, I still can't think of anything less menacing. And when he said, "You should be longer," I thought that Theseus was going to joke, "That's what she said."  I'm actually kind of disappointed that he didn't because it would have been so cool if Mario Bava was the guy responsible for the "That's what she said" joke. This sword and sandal flick has its share of mumbo-jumbo, some of it narrated by a voice that has to belong to an elementary school librarian, and that makes it feel a little bit stiff. It's hard to take a story seriously when people are talking about the "grotto of Procrustes" and dragons swallowing moons. And honestly, I was a little bored with the story and just paid attention to Bava's visuals, especially in the scenes taking place in the Underworld. Bava might have invented brand new colors for this thing, and I loved watching a magic ship in a psychedelic perpetual dusk-dawn. Scenes featuring gnarled trees, perfectly-fallen magic apples, the emerging of the dead, and vines that bleed were really cool, and Bava's visual brilliance kept things interesting even when the plot wasn't very interesting at all. Those visuals are so cool that I'm surprised Bava wasn't doomed to make movies like this for the rest of his career.

Oprah Movie Club Selection for January: The Usual Suspects

1995 crime movie

Rating: 17/20 (Jen: 18/20)

Plot: A guy with a messed-up foot, one of the titular suspects, shares a serpentine tale with a policeman.

I guess I never thought about it, but director Singer got the title for this from Casablanca.

Josh, a guy who doesn't appreciate Jack London's "To Build a Fire" nearly as much as he should, picked this movie for the Oprah Movie Club. Well, sort of. He told me it was one of his favorites and noticed it wasn't on my blog. I guess I picked it for the Oprah Movie Club since I hadn't seen it in a while. There's a twist, but it wasn't a twist since I had seen the movie. I'd contend, however, that this movie is better a second or third or fourth time through. When you know everything, you pick up on the little clues sprinkled throughout the movie that you wonder how you didn't notice the first time. I asked Josh what he liked so much about this movie, and he cited the writing as one of the reasons, and as an exercise in foreshadowing, it's so well done that you do want to watch it two or three more times after you see it a first time. My favorite of these clues, by the way, is the urine we see in one of the opening shots, a thick urine that turns out to be a genius bit of nudgery if you're really really paying attention. However, a really good twist ending with some clever storytelling leading up to it is not enough to make a movie great. The actors create memorable characters even if I kind of wish they each had their own prequel to further develop them. Well, not Stephen Baldwin. Baldwin faces are generally distracting, and his is not an exception here. But career criminal Keaton (Byrne) or Fenster (Del Toro, with that odd accent) or especially Pollak's Hockney should each get their own movie. Kevin Spacey is a guy I never want to like, but he's about perfect here, a guy playing the role of a guy playing a role. Just as the viewer could get lost in Verbal's (perfect nickname, no?) story as it unfolds, refolds, and unfolds again, you could almost get lost in his performance, and it's something else that makes subsequent viewings rewarding, when a lot of his lines become dramatically ironic when the pieces are all together in your mind. His "devil" is that type of character you need to see more than once to discover how fully realized he is, how multi-dimensional or complex. You can throw out the adjectives or other descriptors, but you can't nail him. He's a cocky son of a bitch, essentially spending the length of the entire movie dicking around with the police just because he knows he can and saying that he's scarier than God. And, of course, he calls himself the devil in the film's most memorable line: "The greatest the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist." Spacey's performance is exceptional, but it's one of those that didn't even seem very good the first time I watched this. It wasn't until I watched it knowing that he's a character playing a character that I realized how brilliant it is. I enjoyed the rapport of all of them when they're in scenes together, especially the comic stuff in the jail cell. I wish there was more of that. Josh mentioned a great melding together of scripted writing and improvisation, and I'm really not sure how much improvisation there is, but I did like some of the humor in this thing. Singer's direction has very little style. It's simple really, something that almost clashes with the incredibly complex plot.

Question: You can call Soze/Verbal a genius prankster all you want, but didn't he completely screw up in this? I mean, the authorities end up with a pretty accurate picture of the guy, so the anonymity is gone. His tomfoolery is going to make it impossible for him to ever show his face again, right?

Oh, there are spoilers up there if you haven't seen this movie. I can't think of any reason why I should keep the Oprah Movie Club write-ups spoiler free.

Pitch Perfect

2012 musical comedy

Rating: 14/20 (Jennifer: fell asleep; Emma: 18/20)

Plot: All Beca (you almost lost a point because of that spelling, Pitch Perfect) wants to do is make music and be a disc jockey, but her dad, who happens to teach at the same college she attends, makes a deal with her and talks her into participating in an extracurricular activity. She joins one of the numerous a capella groups, The Bellas, and tries to shake things up as they compete for a chance to win some competition that I have doubts actually exists.

Why the hell did I like this movie? I'm trying to think of reasons why I don't like it, but gosh darn it, I can't help myself. This is something Emma likes, so I decided to watch it with her. I fully expected to hate the thing, but the cute a capella opening for the Universal Studios screen peaked my interest, and it's hard to hate a movie that features projectile vomiting before the credits even begin. The comedy is a little too raunchy for my tastes, or maybe it's just the wrong kind of raunchiness, but I did laugh a few times, especially at the antics from the commentators played by John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks. Of course, we did watch this very late at night, so maybe my defenses were down. Trying to catch everything the mumbling Asian Bella said became a little game. I think she must have been played by Hana Mae Lee because that kind of looks like an Asian name. "Want to see a dead body?" is when I first started paying attention and caught "I set fires to feel joy," "That's adorable," and "I ate my twin in the womb" that made me all chuckle. But as I said, my defenses were probably down. Look at me! Making excuses for liking this movie! This is the very definition of a guilty pleasure. And the musical moments were pretty fantastic. I liked the "riff off" in what seemed to be a very dangerous part of town, and I would have loved to see more from the group that used sock puppets. Clever stuff going on with those musical numbers though, and they were consistently surprising. I liked Adam DeVine who I know only from this latest season of Modern Family, but there's something about the kid's face that I don't care for. The cut of his jib, I guess. But he nailed expressions in this, and I couldn't stop watching him to see what that stupid face would do next. I also liked Rebel Wilson in this, surprising since the sitcom she's currently starring in is annoying. There were several scenes I could have done without in this--a scene with some old guys makes no sense and seems out of place--and I thought the love story was too Hollywood, but that's probably expected in a movie that is made for girls in their late teens. Oh, and a realization: Anna Kendrick really needs to play Han and Leia's daughter in these new Star Wars movies. She's got Carrie Fisher's face. Disney wouldn't even have to Jar-Jar-ize her to make that seem totally realistic.

Anyway, I liked this movie, will see the sequel when it comes out, and will fight anybody who makes fun of me for either of those first two statements. I've been looking for an excuse to fight somebody for a long time anyway.

Mario Bava Fest: The Girl Who Knew Too Much

1963 thriller

Rating: 16/20

Plot: While vacationing in Italy, pretty Nora either witnesses a murder or imagines that she witnesses a murder. At any rate, she now knows too much which might make her a target. She desperately tries to get somebody to believe her story while taking cues from the mystery novels she loves and doing a little detective work of her own.

This is also known as The Evil Eye for some reason, but I prefer the take-off of the Hitchcock title. This is a better movie than Hitchcock's whatever title you go with. This is Bava's last movie in black and white, and it's considered the first giallo movie which Wikipedia tells me is a "mixture of thriller, sexploitation, and horror conventions." The black and white is appropriate because it allows a lot of the story to take place in shadows where it belongs. Bava didn't like the story much and wanted to focus more on film techniques. He said it was "too preposterous" and added, "Perhaps it could have worked with James Stewart and Kim Novak, whereas I had. . .oh, well, I can't even remember their names." Their names are Leticia Roman who is absolutely fetching as the titular girl and John Saxon as her love interest. But the style probably is the real star of the show here. There's a jazzy score (not Les Baxter who was used for the American release), another cool-looking dead lady and a bizarre scene where a cat rocks her bed under blinking lights, all these off-angles that show how our girl's world has gone askew, all that greasy black and white, general fuzziness, shots looking up at nuns and creepy daughters, swinging light bulbs, and cameras looking up from newly-dug graves. I loved one shot where a murderer spends an inordinate amount of time trying to pull a knife from somebody's back. Another great, and admittedly preposterous, scene involves Nora setting a trap for a suspected prowler which adds a little goofy humor to the thrills. Despite what Bava said, I thought the story was solid, and although I probably should have seen the surprise ending coming from a mile away, I only sort-of guessed it correctly. It was really well done though. This is a very likable and accessible Mario Bava movie and maybe not a bad place to start if you want to get your own Mario Bava Fest going.

Shane Watches a Bad Movie with Friends on Facebook: The Fantastic Four

1994 unreleased movie

Rating: 5/20 (Josh: 7/20; Johnny: 6/20; Jeremy: 8/20; Libby: 4/20; Fred: 5/20)

Plot: Four astronauts have a bunch of science happen to them which manages to make them slightly more fantastic. They become Stretchy Man, Clobberin' Man, Fire Man, and Invisible Seamstress Girl and face off against a metallic mumbler named Dr. Doom who has plans to blow up a city or something.

Hey, at least the score is pretty good. This movie was never officially released and was only created in the first place because the Neue Constantin film company's rights to the titular superheroes was about to expire. Roger Corman said he could produce the thing for under a million bucks, and they shot it in about twenty-five days. Honestly, I'm not sure why they bothered spending any money at all for a movie that they never actually intended to release to the public. The special effects, credited to "Mr. Film" believe it or not, are about as embarrassing as you'd expect for a movie made for that amount of money, especially a scene where Fire Man turns into a cartoon and chases down a laser. Effects to make Stretchy Man elastic were also ludicrous although I'll be the first to admit that a final shot in this of his arm waving from the top of a limousine was pretty rad. Dr. Doom's costume ain't bad, and they must have worked extra hard on giving his fingers articulation because he shows those babies off any chance he gets. The other costumes? Well, just look at that shot of the foursome up there. Rock Man's a stiff plastic, and the other three have uniforms that look like they belong on the set of a television superhero parody. It's not good. When Invisible Seamstress Girl surprised the others with the costumes, they didn't seem interested in wearing them, and she was the only one to wear hers for several scenes afterward. My favorite character was Mole Man who, according to one of my Facebook friends, is actually called Mole Man. However, I don't see a Mole Man in the credits and think he must be the Jeweler played by Ian Trigger, a guy who ostensibly brought years of Shakespearean stage performance to role. Josh appreciated the gravitas he brought to the movie. Of course, when you've got the script these fine thespians were given to work with, it's going to be tough to make things happen. Here, they're forced to say things like "This is neat!" or, when flying in space as alleged astronauts, "This is really awesome!" or "We're motorin'," things astronauts just aren't allowed to say. The writing didn't matter much when Rock Man or Dr. Doom spoke because I couldn't really understand either of them anyway. Well, unless Rock Man said his catch-phrasey "It's clobberin' time!" which he says at least three times in this. Some guy named Wurst provides the score and went all out, balls to the cello. I think he threw every musical idea he's ever had into this movie. This is predictably terrible, but I'd wager that it's more palatable than any Fantastic Four movie that's been made since. I'm ashamed to say that I don't know how many that might be.

You can find this unreleased gem on Youtube.

Mario Bava Fest: A Hatchet for the Honeymoon

1970 hatchet movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A psychopath with a tragic past has a violent hobby--killing brides with a hatchet. A detective tries to put all the pieces together to catch him.

This movie has the best pick-up line ever: "We'll go to my place. My wife will see something she'll never forget--not even in hell!" Surprised that didn't work out for the guy, especially since he looks so much like Clint Eastwood in parts of this movie. If I were a woman and Clint Eastwood said that to me, I'd jump at the chance to go to his place. Hell, I might jump at the chance even as a man. Here's a film that isn't really very good at all but is saved by Bava's customary stylistic touches. The murder sequences, lots of them involving reflections in the titular murder weapon, are experimental and probably a little pretentious. There's a really cool shot after one key murder involving an arm hanging and dripping blood from a banister, and I liked another scene featuring a bunch of toys. And the mannequin room seems like the perfect place for scenes from a Bava movie to take place. I need to get myself a mannequin room actually, a place where I can just light candles, try on veils, and make out with plastic women. The story's not all that interesting and the cat 'n' mouse game between killer and detective, if there was actually a cat 'n' mouse game, wasn't very interesting at all. The twist, if there was actually a twist, turned out to be pretty predictable as well. Things do get a tad more interesting with the story when it turns into a ghost story though. This is unfortunately the most dated Bava movie I think I've seen. There's so much music, and much of it just isn't very good. And there's some voice-over narration where the guy says things like "I must go on wielding the cleaver." The guy's fashion sense is pretty incredible though. Stephen Forsyth is a guy who knows how to rock feminine belts and ascots, and there's a scene where he eats an egg while wearing this black and white jump suit thing that is pretty special. This isn't all bad, but it's not one of the first ten Bava movies you should see, and I'm not even positive I've seen ten Bava movies yet.

One cute touch: Forsyth is watching Black Sabbath at one point in the movie and uses that to explain to the detective guy why the neighbor heard a scream. The detective later says that he watched the movie and there was no screaming during that part which struck me as kind of funny. As did the wife's performance and the "wielding the cleaver" line. Maybe this was a dark comedy actually.

Mario Bava Fest: Danger: Diabolik

1968 funk

Rating: 16/20

Plot: The titular super-thief super-thieves seemingly just to impress his girlfriend which, if you ask me, is pretty awesome. And with those legs, she's totally worth it. The government sends a rival criminal out to help them catch him.

This has Bava taking on the spy genre without a spy, displaying the adventures of this Bond-esque anti-hero in a way that could only come from the swingin' sixties.  He's got gadgets and gizmos apleanty, a super cool underground lair with a rotating bed full of money and a Dr. Phibes alarm system, a sweet car, and twice the smarts of anybody else in this movie. Diabolik is played by John Phillip Law who was Sinbad in one of those movies with the Harryhausen stop-motion creatures, matched wits with Van Cleef in the awesome Death Rides a Horse, and played that winged angel with a pistol in his pants in Barberella all around the same time which shows some versatility and a penchant for choosing roles in movies that would become classics. Sure, Diabolik might be a stuntman half of the time since the costume--impeccably stylish--covers most of his face, but I'm giving Law credit for this perfect comic book hero posture he has in several shots and this acrobatic flip he does over the hood of his car. Marisa Mell plays his gal-pal Eva, and she's just stunning. There's a between-Eva's-legs shot with Diabolik holding this giant hose that I'd love to posterize. Man, those two look good together, even in a stylish shot where they're seen in a rear view mirror, and the scene where they're enjoying each other carnally, a sex scene with only partial nudity, on that rotating bed with the money all over and Morricone's score is bliss. That followed a twin shower scene that was a delightful tease. Oh, and speaking of Morricone, his score here is wild and terrific, and that includes the "Deep Deep Down" song that grew on me after about the 48th time. The music perfectly compliments what's going on on the screen, and Bava gives us plenty to look at here--a funky 60's nightclub scene, action scenes galore, imaginative sets, a Jaguar going off a cliff without Cat Stevens music accompanying it, great costumes, Marisa Melli's legs, etc. It's an overload of style, and the completely ludicrous storytelling only helps, right up to the very cool and very ambiguous ending which may or may not set things up perfectly for a single that I'd love to see. This never really takes itself seriously, or more accurately, it takes itself about as seriously as a comic book. There's a humor there--a cartoonishly cool police sketch thing, exhilarating gas and--of course--some anti-exhilarating gas capsules, an obvious dummy that turns out to be just that. Loads of fun, especially for fans of the wackier James Bond movies, maybe the Avengers, or movies like Austin Powers movies that aren't Austin Powers movies. Bava nails yet another genre.

Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony

2012 documentary

Rating: 12/20 (Emma: 17/20; Abbey: dnf; Jennifer: dnf)

Plot: I was going to type something here, but it's pretty much in the subtitle. This looks at several of the titular My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fans as they go to conventions with like-minded fans.

I took a break from Mario Bava Fest because my daughter wanted to watch this. Movies like Trekkies or those documentaries looking at obsessive Star Wars fans (or fans of role-playing games, or Tolkien, or whatever else a lot of people would consider geekdom) kind of set you up to think that this might poke fun at the unexpected adult fans of My Little Pony, but this is almost all positive and even has a few stories that you could describe as heartwarming. The tale of a young man with Asperger's trying to make his way to a convention where he comes out of his shell was moving even if it did seem a little artificial, and I liked the scenes with a teenage Brony and his ultra-conservative dad who can't figure any of this out. For all the interesting characters, you had to put up with boring subplots about 20-something Bronies (well, a Brony and a Pegasister or whatever the female equivalent is called) in love, a guy who makes techno music inspired by the show, and a kid making laser shows together. And voice actor John de Lancie who really got the ball rolling on this after discovering what kind of impact this show he voiced a villain for had on people. There seemed to be a lot of scenes in this with Bronies adoring de Lancie. And after a while, this just started to feel like a 90-minute advertisement created to justify the existence of Bronies and their conventions. And that kind of sickened me more than the good stuff warmed my heart. Some animated sequences explained the history of the various My Little Ponies incarnations if anybody actually cares about any of that. And if you need an explanation of how this show is a positive influence on its fans, that's all spelled out for you, too. I understood this movement a lot better after watching this movie, so the documentary succeeds there. However, it's not as entertaining as documentaries about other obsessive fans and does feel a little too much like propaganda after a while.

Mario Bava Fest: Kidnapped (aka Rabid Dogs)

1974 crime thriller

Rating: 16/20

Plot: After a robbery-gone-wrong, three-fourths of a crew of criminals are forced to kidnap a woman, a middle-aged man, and the latter's sick son. They drive and drive and drive.

Note: This has an even more jumbled history than Lisa and the Devil/House of Exorcism. Whoever was financing this thing died before it was finished, and Bava only had a rough cut which was never released during his lifetime. Later, his son added a few scenes that most fans seem to think are not only unnecessary but actually ruin a surprise ending, replaced a sort-of-goofy jazzy score with one filthy with synthesizer, and changed the opening credits, replacing this gauzy pink shot with reverby crying with white letters over a black background and music that does not bode well. I wanted to watch Rabid Dogs, the Bava cut, but couldn't find a subtitled version and settled for Kidnapped which is easy to find. However, I did watch several chunks of the Bava cut sans subtitles to compare the two and would probably agree with seemingly everybody else that it's the superior version. The rating above sort of splits the difference and adds a bonus point so that this Mario Bava movie can get the customary 16/20.

This is a tense, mostly single-setting suspense thriller with some terrifying psychopaths. Almost all of it takes place in a car which, despite the fact that they're driving all over the place, gives it a claustrophobic feel that makes you feel as trapped as the characters. And really, they're all trapped even though only half of them are actually the kidnapped ones. You can kind of guess from the get-go that this isn't going to end well for most--if not all of the characters--but the twist Bava gives us is downright nihilistic. This is your typical crime drama in a lot of ways but flavored with enough cynicism to turn off a lot of people. In a way, the story reminded me of something Tarantino would tackle. There's some dark humor and some genuinely depraved moments like when we find out why the character named Thirty-Two is named Thirty-Two, a bit of dialogue that made me try and fail to figure out how the metric system worked. And there's a scene with forced urination that made me proud to be a human being. I hated the music in Kidnapped, but I'm not sure the jazzy score would have really worked either. I would probably prefer that sleaze to the sleaze in the re-edited version though. The trio of bad guys are interesting enough. There's the cool-headed one, a wacked-out younger guy named Blade for obvious reasons and played wide-eyed with just the right amount of insane rage by Don Backy, and Thirty-Two played menacingly by George Eastman. A movie like this isn't going to work if I don't feel a little scared for the "good" characters, and the kidnappers are unhinged enough to make that happen. It's too bad Bava never got to finish this because there's enough here to convince you that it could have been a classic crime movie. Luckily, the unfinished and bastardized versions suffice, and that ending, especially as we get it in Rabid Dogs, is pretty incredible and quite possibly one of the biggest downers you're likely to see.

Mario Bava Fest: Lisa and the Devil

1973 macabre fantasy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Tourist Lisa wanders off from her tour group where she is creeped out by a bald guy buying a mannequin. She's picked up by a couple and their chauffeur, but their car breaks down in front of a dilapidated mansion where that bald guy works as a butler. Oh, snap! Murder, confusion, a musical carousel, necrophilia, and cake with sprinkles invade her walking nightmare.

A note: This is another Bava movie that was apparently butchered for a U.S. release--House of Exorcism. That title was meant to capitalize on the success of The Exorcist and makes no sense unless the American version manages to actually work exorcism in somehow. The Devil version has nothing to do with exorcism. Both of the versions are currently on Netflix, but this one seems to be the one to watch if you decide to have your own Mario Bava Fest.

This one substitutes atmosphere--although it's not entirely sans Bava's atmospheric showiness--for mystery. Looking for the logic in the storytelling is frustrating as it seems like it's all made up as they go. However, there's a dreamy vibe, and the wandering, oft-illogical stream-of-consciousness flow helps this all make about as much sense as that weird dream that you had last night but can't quite remember. This is Mario Bava getting his surreal on, from a scene near the opening where Telly Savalas as the titular devil purchases a mannequin to the truly what-the-fuck-just-happened ending that may or may not reveal that Hell is actually not where everybody thinks it is. Elke Sommer is the stunning straightwoman in this comedy of terrors. No, it's not a comedy, but I would bet the devil would find it really funny. This is Satan's slapstick, and I'm also willing to bet he'd get a kick out of the kinky little nude scene Sommer has, too. Man, Bava can film his women, but he can also film the hell out of bald men. Savalas's butler/devil is creepy enough and would have had a chance to be a horror icon if it wasn't all played so low-key. And maybe if there were less scenes where he's offering people lollipops or talking to taxidermied hares or singing, "To all acquaintances and dashing through the snow." See, that's the kind of stuff that gets Beelzebub cracking up. This is the type of movie that would be a little too beguiling and frustrating for a lot of people, but for cinephiles who don't need their movies to make a lot of sense, this will wind up being a nifty little puzzle that might keep them up for a little bit longer the night they watch it.

Blog note: I seem to be giving all of Bava's movies a 16/20. What's the mean?

Mario Bava Fest: Black Sabbath

1963 horror anthology

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Three tales of horror narrated by Boris Karloff. First, a woman learns the consequences of stealing from ugly deceased people. Then, a woman starts receiving threatening phone calls from a man who she is not supposed to receive phone calls from. Finally, vampires.

I decided that it was about time I had a Bava marathon and started with this, the movie that gave the band Black Sabbath their name. After some cool shots of Karloff's multi-colored face, one behind some dripping water, the first story--at least in this American version which shuffled the order and took out the lesbianism in one of the stories--blew my fucking mind. The very first shot, artistic and completely unnatural shows off Bava's eye and visual flair and gives away that he was actually trained as a painter. "The Drop of Water" was not only the best of the three stories here, it was something I watched and was convinced that Black Sabbath was going to be the greatest horror movie I'd ever seen. It's the most surreal of the shorts, filled with atmosphere and color and uses only a tiny bit of dialogue to move the story along. I love creepy houses in horror movies, and this colorful mansion, with its kitties and dolls, didn't disappoint there. And the dead woman in this has to be the creepiest corpse I have ever seen. She's not the least bit realistic, and I suppose Bava was having a bit of a laugh with it. Dripping spilled water, a fallen hand, a buzzing fly--even before there's any greedy woman vs. the supernatural conflict, these little details all add up to something sinister. Once, the supernatural hi-jinks really get going, I dare you to find a story more atmospheric and spooky than this one. Brilliant sound effects accompany Bava's imagery, and it all adds up to something horrifying fun. Oh, and dig that fly cam!

"The Telephone" is not nearly as atmospheric or stylish, and I didn't like the story so much. Since this is the story most butchered for American audiences who apparently can't handle a little lesbianism in their horror films, I wonder how much that hurt it. I did like the jazzy score, and the use of multiple camera angles to show Rosy which really gave the impression that she was being watched. And the line, "No, Frank. It's not you. You're dead. Don't you understand? You're dead!" Michele Mercier and Lidia Alfonsi as Rosy and Mary are easy on the eye. You don't have to watch much Mario Bava to realize that he knew how to film gorgeous women. They're stunning.

Finally, Karloff himself stars in "The Wurdalak," a period vampire story. I wasn't too excited about the prospects of watching anything to do with vampires as I'm not a fan, but the technical aspects and Bava's imagery were more interesting than the story ever could have been anyway. There's a Benny Hill-ized horse and some fake blood, and Boris Karloff runs off to fight a vampire and apparently comes back transformed into Kurt Vonnegut. And he gets one of the best lines I've heard in a long time--"What's the matter, woman? Can't I fondle my own grandson?" Seriously, he actually says that! As an old-school vampire story, this worked better than I figured it would, and I loved the final shot and a scene involving a severed head.

Great start to Bava Fest 2014. If you're interested in having your own Bava Fest, the movies are easy to find online, and there are two reasonably-priced collections available. I doubt you'll regret it.

Fist of Fury

1972 kung-fu classic

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A crazed martial artist tries to solve the mystery of who was behind the murder of his teacher even though it's fairly obvious who's behind it. Once he figures out whodunit, he's more than ready to punch and kick them.

I always knew this as The Chinese Connection and The Big Boss, the first Bruce Lee feature film, as Fists of Fury. I guess they've decided that this is Fist of Fury now which is fine by me because it's a more appropriate title. Whatever it's called, it's really where Bruce Lee became Bruce Lee which is all that matters. Bruce Lee really needed to be Bruce Lee longer. This isn't his best acting, and you could pick this movie apart and criticize the weak plot all you want. Yi Feng's death involves a sword that is inexplicably bent. And that character, supposedly a tough guy, is a portly gentlemen with glasses, about as hard to take seriously as that squat guy with glasses who is like the only character who gives Sonny Chiba a hard time in The Streetfighter. Martial arts movie casting directors must have thought chubby and myopic seemed tough in the early 70s. There are obvious dummies used in the first big fight scene at the enemy dojo, and there's some funny day/night continuity trouble that makes it seem like Bruce Lee was pulling a rickshaw for about 24 hours. Bruce Lee fought some goofy-looking white dudes in his career, and Robert Baker just doesn't seem all that menacing. Maybe it's the suspenders or maybe it's because he kind of looks like a giant Gene Wilder. And maybe it's the subtitles where the person trying to create a Russian accent makes him say idear. And then there are lines like "Take him to the house and let him rest there" after a character's taken a freakin' shovel to the head or "Goodness me; what a time we're having" following one of the goofiest strip teases you're likely to see in a movie. And there's all this Japanese/Chinese racism stuff that I have no context for and made very little sense to me. But you know what? This is a Bruce Lee movie, and you're just not allowed to nitpick. You just have to appreciate. No, it's not Lee's best acting, and he really overdoes things in some early scenes and absurdly transitions from impulsive angry mo-fo to a controlled master of disguise pretending to fix a telephone, but there's still that charisma that is impossible to ignore and makes him stand out as the star of this thing more than any other kung-fu guy can stand out. You just can't take your eyes off him. Part of it is that he's one of the best-looking human beings I have ever seen. I'm not ashamed or embarrassed to say that I actually welcomed all the times he took off his shirt in this movie. The power and quickness displayed during that scene at the dojo? I don't see how a person can't be impressed, even when he's throwing those aforementioned dummies around. And the bird chirps! Oh, my God, how I love those bird chirps! Then, you get some truly iconic moments where he kills a guy in the kitchen and there's that lingering trembling titular fist with no sound but cascading cymbals. So awesome that I had to watch it six times. Later, when he's facing the giant Gene Wilder, there's that slow-motion arm moving thing that will always be one of my favorite film moments in film. There's something really cool about Bruce Lee playing a psychopath, and there's really no other way to describe him here or explain the ending which might have been inspired by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It doesn't make the ending any less cool though. And c'mon, the two scenes that give Bruce the opportunity to shine with the nunchaku? Those alone make this worth whatever amount of money you spent to see this unless you spend four thousand dollars because then you just got yourself ripped off. Just cool moment after cool moment, especially in the first and last thirds of the movie. The middle section might have a little too much plot for me. And Baker, with those strong-man antics and his suspender flip and curly hair, really isn't a bad tough guy. And at least the main baddie has a bitchin' mustache. Oh, and I also love the theme music, this awful faux-Morricone. This might be a flawed classic, but there's just too much awesome for it not to be a classic.

Fred and Vinnie

2011 comedy

Rating: 8/20

Plot: The titular Fred is an awkward almost-successful actor living in L.A. The titular Vinnie is his friend and pen pal, an overweight agoraphobic guy with a parrot. When that parrot dies, Vinnie decides to move out to L.A. himself to attempt a career in showbiz. He says with Fred, and it doesn't work out too well.

I'm going to reread this later and feel really bad about writing it. I really don't want to make fun of Fred Stoller, the writer and star. You know him even if you don't know the name, and chances are, you're even usually happy to see him in the small roles he usually plays, like Ray Romano's cousin on the Everybody Loves Ray Romano show. What you learn from this movie is that you're not going to be happy seeing him for about an hour and a half. In fact, his acting is awful in a way that made me embarrassed for him and manages to out-bad the writing in this movie. And the writing is bad. When the funniest part of the movie is a bad subtitle--"Wow, Nolan Ryan, Ted Griffin, Barry Bonds," says Fred as he's looking through Vinnie's baseball cards--then it's a bad comedy. This feels very much like a first draft comedy, the kind of writing where they thought, "We'll look at this again later and add some funny parts," but then ran out of time. Either that, or it's entirely improvised by a bunch of people who didn't realize they were making a comedy. I just don't understand how a guy who's been in the business this long can write a gag about a movie called Ski Potty and not only think it's good enough to stay in the movie but be a recurring joke. Of course, after a while, I actually kind of wished I was watching Ski Potty. But back to Stoller. Again, I don't feel good about picking on the guy, but I don't like anything about him in this movie. I don't like how he holds his arms, how he runs, how he talks (kind of like Ray Romano), how he blinks, or how he clears his throat. I don't like how he says "Huuuuuuh?" after a character asks him if he's finished in the bathroom. I've heard playing yourself in a movie or television show is really difficult, but you'd think Fred Stoller could at least pull off "human being" convincingly enough. Nobody else is any good either, and Scott Chernoff, playing a stereotypically gay man, might even be worse. Stoller's not the only Fred in this movie. Fred Willard, who seems to be popping up everywhere, makes a very brief appearance, one that just might be more embarrassing than his Paul Reubens-esque theater behavior a couple years ago. After seeing a 7.2 for this on imdb, I thought maybe I was about to stumble upon a hidden gem of an independent comedy. Instead, I'm wondering how I even finished it.

If you're reading this, Fred Stoller, I'm really sorry. At least that subtitle error was kind of funny though, right?

No Man's Land

2001 war movie

Rating: 17/20

Plot: In some place that I've never heard of, two groups of people I've never heard of are having a war for reasons that are unknown to me. A series of circumstances leaves three men trapped in the titular area between the two front lines. One of them, presumed dead, was placed on a bouncing mine as a booby trap for his soldiers who would eventually try to recover his body. U.N. peacekeepers in sky-blue hats arrive to help out, and the media shows up to do what the media usually does. And as expected, it's a satirical clusterfuck.

I'm going to go ahead and get the characters' names down because it's important that they have them. They're named Ciki, Nino, and Cera, and they're as important as Private Ryan or any other guy who makes war a little more personal for people sitting on couches or in theater seats or, as I prefer to watch movies, lying naked in the bathtub. No, media lady, not "every trench is the same." This, maybe doing it better than any movie since Dr. Strangelove, satirizes the absurdities of war. It's not as flat-out funny or as zany as Dr. Strangelove, but it delivers its message just as strongly. And it is very darkly funny, especially a few asides with a picture, some cigarettes, language barriers, a childish argument about who started the war, a middle finger apparently understood in every language, and a Rolling Stones t-shirt. At least the latter seemed funny to me. Of course, it's not all fun and games. There are also scenes of great tension and great sadness. I fell in love with a buzzing fly as the Sergonians are hunting for the Basnivavian guy, and dripping sweat from the German mine expert was a perfect little detail. And although you know exactly what's going to happen the Borgnesian Buddy Hackett who gets it near the beginning of the movie still manages to shock. I kind of expected almost all of this to take place in the trench, one of those one-setting deals that could have been written for the stage, and initially, I thought things were getting a little sloppy once the media got involved. But that was precisely the point, and the perfect storm of media meddling and "peacekeeper" ineptitude along with some soldiers who seem to know barely more than I do about the situation led to the tragically absurd denouement of No Man's Land. This is a horrifying look at human nature and how we just can't get along even when we do know some of the same chicks, and it's got an ending that will probably stay with me for a long, long time.

Note: This beat Amelie for Best Foreign Film in 19-whatever, but I'm not going to hold that against it like a Jaws fan would. I haven't had the time to fall in love with this like I have Amelie. And this might have been slightly more important than Amelie, especially looking at the countries that collaborated to produce the thing--Bosnia and Herzegovina (which seem like they might be made up), Slovenia (another made-up one?), France, Italy, UK, and Belgium (I've heard of those last four).

Cory recommended this one.

The Reader

2008 literacy PSA

Rating: 16/20

Plot: In post-WWII Germany, the titular 15-year-old reader becomes romantically involved with a much-older Rose, a Titanic survivor. She teaches him the ropes sexually, something that is bound to make Cal Hockley even angrier than he was after finding out that she was posing nude for Leonardo DiCaprio. In exchange for the sex, Michael reads to her because apparently she is some kind of word whore. While in law school, years after she abandoned Michael, he spots her in court where she is being tried for war crimes as a former guard at a Nazi concentration camp. Michael wonders if he knows a secret that Rose wants to remain a secret even though it might save her from a life prison sentence.

Or maybe Winslet's character is the titular reader. Nah, Kross/Fiennes has to be the reader because about half the screen time in this is devoted to those two actually reading. I suspect that Cory recommended this to me because I'm an English teacher and person who knows how to read instead of a guy who really really wanted another movie to be made that had something to do with the Holocaust. Or maybe he knows how much I like seeing Kate Winslet naked. Speaking of that, here's how my mind works. I started thinking about how much action Michael was getting just by reading books aloud to Kate Winslet and started thinking about other reading incentives. You know, like the Pizza Hut Book It! program or Six Flags Read to Succeed thing. Think about how teenage boys would embrace reading and start tackling Russian classics like The Lady with the Little Dog if they got a chance to sleep with Kate Winslet afterward. Read a book, see Kate Winslet naked. Read another book, she bathes you. Read another book, you get to fondle her, lightly. Read another book, a tongue can be involved. Read a fifth book, and you get penetration. Sure, they're not going for that sort of thing in the Bible Belt, but in more progressive school districts, I can see something like this revolutionizing education.

Winslet is really good and deserving of whatever awards she won for this thing although I'd argue that things might have been a little more realistic with German performers. And co-star Ralph Fiennes is just as good even though it always seems like this kind of thing is just too easy for a guy like him. I was most impressed with David Kross, however, and he didn't even get his name on the poster. I believe he had more screen time than either Ralph Fiennes or Kate Winslet's buttocks even though initially I thought he was only going to be around to set up a much larger story with Fiennes and Winslet. Instead, he gives the performance of the movie, just nailing emotionally every single thing a 15-year-old coming-of-age would be going through in this situation--curiosity, joy (pretty easy when he has to be happy seeing a naked Kate Winslet though, I guess), confusion, anger, betrayal, innocence, epiphany, heartache. He's so good and every bit as naked as Kate Winslet, maybe even more naked. And he'd probably rather be naked than wear the swimming trunks he's forced to wear in this thing. Bruno Ganz, who reminded me that I need to see Wings of Desire again, is also really good as Michael's professor. At the center of all this, much more than the Holocaust which is around only to add a dimension, is the love story. That first seduction scene is so well done, right down to the dripping of the faucet. Coal's involved; coal, the oldest trick in the MILF book, I think. The sex scenes are as tasteful as a bicycle ride through the country, and they're just as palpably passionate as the scenes where young Michael is reading to Hanna which is not to say they're not passionate because there is something beautiful about those, even when he's reading from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn which seemed strange and inexplicable to me. And the emotional stuff got to me, probably because my defenses were weakened by sickness and/or crippling depression, but I either cried or nearly cried during a confession and an unwrapping of cassette tapes. Another powerful scene, although one that threatened to become pitifully cliched, showed Michael touring one of the camps alone, a scene sans anything fancy at all and barely even with music.

But my favorite moment of this whole movie was easily an "Attaboy, Luther!" moment when the sextet of defendants walked into the courtroom for the last time and one guy belts out a "Nazi whore!" There's an extra who just saw and grabbed hold of his moment to shine. You have to love that.

I'm not sure this really deals with the big issues well enough, but it sure is chunky. There's the idea of sex and literature taking place of actual communication, something that I imagine would be tough to share with your daughter. The need for scapegoats; human beings' abilities to fulfill what is needed for fellow human beings; how we handle guilt, both individually and collectively; the prioritizing of our faults; redemption for the sins of the masses; who deserves kindness and when; whether or not a person is necessarily the sum of his or her biggest decisions. And allegorically, young Michael and old Michael seem to represent different stages of a country dealing with its own troubled past. This certainly does tackle a lot, but even without all that, it's a powerful enough and completely believable love story, a little predictable but no less powerful.

Me and You and Everyone We Know

2005 comedy

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Christine is a lonely performance artist without an audience. Richard is a recently-divorced shoe salesman with an injured hand. They meet and begin an awkward romance. Richard's sons, meanwhile, form their relationships on-line until the older kid meets a few of the neighborhood girls. Richard's coworker, a museum manager, and a guy with a penny are also involved.

I don't know anything about director and star Miranda July, but I want to see more after this, her feature-length debut. This is such a charmingly odd comedy, and although it's as quirky as can be, it still manages to be a more honest look at humans and the way they connect and interact than most human dramas we usually get from Hollywood. I always wonder about movies like this where child actors are engaged in behavior or get dialogue that most parents would not want their children involved with. Here, children experiment with fellatio, there are encounters with timid pedophiles, and there's a six-year-old's invention (unless I'm just naive) of a new sex act with his typed desire to "poop back and forth." It doesn't surprise me that July is an actual performance artist because a lot of what happens on the screen is less about moving any of the number of plots along and more an excuse to take mini visual excursions, whimsical life wrinkles that feel like comical koans. Like, a picture of a bird in a tree sitting in a tree. Or a fish's last moments in life. Or a knock at a window followed by self-immolation. Or a hamburger wrapper that really is a hamburger wrapper. Or a penny tapping the post of a stop sign. Or the length of a romance covered in a few-blocks walk from work to a parking spot. Or lame ascii art featuring the titular me, the titular you, and the titular everyone. Or a little girl shopping for appliances. Or the gift of a stuffed animal. This movie made me smile, and then it made me smile when I thought about how it made me smile, and then it made me smile again in a way that completely surprised me. It's all so refreshing, right down to the all-Casio score. This is the kind of movie--maybe a bit too quirky for a lot of people--that I watch and love because it's not like any other movies. And other movies shouldn't be like this one. A lot of movies try to nail love or ennui or human interaction or loneliness or countless other human emotions, but it takes a flamboyantly skewed eye like July's to do it in a way that manages to surprise us or somehow resonates. I think it has something to do with a childlike storytelling quality that it has. This is a beautiful and very funny movie. I can't wait to see the only other movie she's directed.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

1969 movie

Rating: 19/20

Plot: Wild West outlaws are forced to flee to Bolivia with their girlfriend after a relentless posse begins to track them down. Crime doesn't pay, but it sure is a lot of fun.

Since seeing this again, I've engaged in an internal dialogue trying to determine what to make of Burt Bacharach. On the one hand, the "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" montage with Newman and Ross riding a bicycle seem completely out of place, and things get even sillier when it morphs into circus music and Newman's performing stunts. Even in a movie with a comedic tone throughout, right up to the violent climax, it just doesn't fit in. In fact, it's a scene that I'm not sure would fit in any movie ever made. Another scene dirty with Bacharach once the character reach Bolivia also seems a little too kooky and misplaced. But then I think, "What the hell? Burt Bacharach is the shit, and Paul Newman's bicycle stunts are about the greatest thing that's ever appeared on the silver screen, and if you want to argue about it, I'll slap you in the mouth." And when you start threatening to slap your own mouth, it's just not an argument worth having.

This is one of those movies I'd probably tell people is one of my favorites, and it's really all about watching two superstars at the top of their games with a script by the great William Goldman that they both deserve. Newman and Redford's rapport and comic timing are perfect as these flawed anti-heroes. Newman's a little less than a tough guy, more brain than brawn here although it's his character's belief that he's smarter than he actually is that makes him vulnerable in the end. But Newman's coolness bleeds into that character, and you know that it really doesn't matter all that much with Butch because live or die, he's doing exactly what he's been placed on Earth to do. His character's established wonderfully at the beginning--after the brilliant opening scene with the sepia photographs and newsreel footage--when he discusses the beauty of the old bank. Redford's characterized just as beautifully when he's cheating or not cheating at cards and then gets a chance to show off his quick-draw. And he gets a mustache which almost matches his hair. Man, those cats are cool together. This scene between them might be one of my favorite scenes of all time:

Butch: Well, that ought to do it.
Sundance: Think you used enough dynamite there, Butch?"

And then Strother "I'm not crazy; I'm just colorful" Martin comes in and steals the show! Coming in this late and outshining the combined powers of Newman and Redford can only mean that Martin's performance as Percy Garris is one of the best supporting character-actor type roles ever. Katherine Ross is not able to keep up with the pair as the "teacher lady," but her first appearance, where the camera just leers and we get a beautiful close-up of buttons, is coolly erotic. And I love how the bad guys--er, good guys--are never seen, all a barely-spotted white hat and thunderous hooves. As we all know, bad guys are more menacing when you can't really see them. Of course, this simple story is about a lot more than just two cool outlaws trying to escape their deserved fates. It's about how the times they are a-changin' and how some, like our protagonists, are unable to adapt and therefore left behind. This is really a story about guys afraid of evolution, and that posse the boys can't shake is the future. Some guys can't escape their past. These guys can't escape their futures. That opening scene with Newman reminiscing about the beauty of the old bank establishes the idea while the bicycle--eventually abandoned in a mud puddle--and the Bacharach lounge-pop seems to represent it. Jeff Corey's Sheriff Bledsoe says it best: "Your times is over and you're gonna die bloody, and all you can do is choose where." Breezy dialogue, an extended chase action sequence through lovely scenery, bicycle stunts, and an iconic final shot. This is about as enormously entertaining as a movie can be.

Shane Watches a Bad Movie with Friends on Facebook: Deathstalker

1983 fantasy flick

Rating: 9/20 (Fred: 21/20; Libby: 12/20; Josh: 10/20)

Plot: The titular hero--though more of an anti-hero if you ask me--is sent to find a magic sword, a magic amulet, and a magic chalice before the bad guy can get them and undoubtedly do something awful. Along the way, he rapes a few women and enters a tournament.

This has to break some kind of record for having the most crap in it that just doesn't have anything to do with the actual plot of the movie. That tournament? Doesn't matter at all. The couple of love interests thrown at Deathstalker? Nope, there's no reason to care or even learn the women's names. Throw in an old guy who seems to be nothing more than an excuse to see some more scantily-clad bimbos, a BFF our hero finds along the way, and gratuitous mud-wrestling, and you've got a collection of stuff that just doesn't matter all that much. Plenty of fighting and nudity which makes this the perfect realization of every male geek's fantasies. With a rousing score that makes this feel a bit like a spaghetti western at times. This starts about as great as a movie can with a title screen complete with a pair of daggers for T's and an unprecedented quadruple taint, four barbarian taints within the first minute of screen time. It was glorious, ladies and gentlepigmen, just glorious. The hero's introduced, and he's got to be one of the most unlikable heroes ever encountered. It's hard to root for a rapist anyway, but add in some cockiness and 80's hair and you're really asking for a lot, producers of Deathstalker. But the producers of Deathstalker don't care about a plot that makes sense or even a plot at all, so they're surely not going to get hung up on creating a likable hero. They're just here to show us some T&A, and they definitely accomplish that purpose. There's easily more naked women action than fighting even though there's supposed to be a tournament at the center of all this. With that, I was rooting for the Pigman, maybe until Hammerman came along anyway and squashed opponents into puddles of oblivion. But a scene with Pigman contemplating and then taking a bite out of a pig head was so Zen. And there's a scene where Pigman rips off a guy's arm and beats another guy with it, and it's hard to argue something like that. There are a few other classic scenes in this though--a henchmen's transformation into a woman, said henchman's rape ending with a "What the hell are you?", a decapitated wizard dude picking up and replacing his own head, evil guy's bloodier-than-bloody death. I love, as a middle-aged man, watching these movies that would have been my favorite movies as a kid if the Internet would have existed. This is about as far from cinematic perfection as you can get, but it's a ton of fun. And I've already shot my wad thinking about the three sequels which I will be watching--with or without my Facebook friends--as soon as possible.

That poster's bad-ass, but I want to warn you that there's nothing that looks like that in the movie. That's completely misleading. The poster is, by the way, created by Boris Vallejo who made the one for National Lampoon's Vacation.

Larstonovich, have you seen this one?

After Earth

2013 sci-fi movie

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Humanity has been forced off the titular planet after we failed to listen to Al Gore. While in their new home, an alien race invades and uses blind predators called Ursas which smell the fear of their victims and then kill them and impale them on tree branches. Thankfully, one human dumbly-named Cypher Raige has perfected the art of "ghosting," a way of eliminating all fear in order to hide from the Ursas. He becomes a big deal after teaching the other rangers to do that. Meanwhile, his son, even though he has similar physical gifts to his father's, is an emotional wreck because of a violent episode in his past and can't become an official ranger. Son Kitai tags along with Dad as the latter travels to train a group of rangers, but along the way, they run into some asteroids and have to escape via wormhole. They end up crashing, predictably, on a quarantined Earth where only crew members with the surname Raige survive. Dad's badly injured, and Kitai has to make a long and dangerous journey to find the back half of the ship to send a distress signal home.

This is nowhere near as bad as I expected it to be, and its main problems aren't even really M. Night Shammalammadingdong's fault this time. This is the first movie he's directed that wasn't "written by" M. although he did write the screenplay. No, this is all from an idea that Will Smith had one day for how to get his son a lot of screen time. The whole thing reeked of Scientology from the get-go, but I'm not sure there are really any connections between those beliefs and the plot of this thing. Of course, I don't know much about Scientology. Instead, it has more to do with Moby Dick, and you could probably, if you wanted to invest that much time, figure out that this is a sci-fi retelling of the Melville classic. It's too bad my wife didn't watch this with me. She could have helped me with some of the Dick parallels since she pretended to read the book once. That at least makes it somewhat interesting. And I liked a lot of the visuals and would argue that this has better special effects that are at least as good as that Hobbit movie. The asteroid sequence looks cool and so does the ship's destruction. Violent shots of dead baboons and a bunch of guys impaled on tree limbs are also pretty cool, and a lot of the landscapes--both on Earth and wherever they end up--look great. Of course, not all of the special effects look good. When the baboons are alive, they're almost comical, and whenever the Ursas pick up a character, it looks unbelievably stupid. This movie also suffers from its lack of ability to overcome its implausibilities. Back to those baboons for a moment. How can Will Smith's kid outrun hundreds of crazed CGI-baboons, especially when he's not used to Earth's gravity which apparently makes him heavier? Actually, that scene seems perfectly logical when you compare it to the one where he becomes a flying squirrel and tries to out-fly an angry CGI-bird. The Smiths are both flat enough to take a lot of the wind out of this thing, something I was willing to blame Shammalammadingdong for until I read that the elder Smith really directed his son in this and coached him on how he should act. It seems like Scientology has finished vacuuming out all of the Fresh Prince's personality. He's ultra-stoic, like the bravest cardboard you'll ever see. I actually thought he was worse than Jaden here. The kid's developing the physical features needed to be an action hero although his voice is hard to listen to. He's got a weird unidentifiable accent in this for some reason. They're both pretty wooden, and since they're the only characters in the majority of this, it makes the whole thing a bit of a chore for parts of it. The writing certainly doesn't help them, so maybe it is M. Night's fault after all. I mean, "My suit turned black. I like it, but I think it's bad," is not great writing. I'm not sure there's a child actor alive who could have pulled that one off after his Halloween costume started changing colors. The music is also really awful, awful in disruptive ways. Luckily, the visuals, including some great shots that show off Shammalammadingdong's visual eye and a pretty good story with some emotional father/son depth that makes it easier to connect with than a lot of science fiction keep this from being a complete disaster. In fact, it's Shammalammadingdong's best film in many, many years.

The Details

2011 black comedy

Rating: 13/20

Plot: A doctor's life begins to unravel when raccoon start attacking his landscaping.

"Why don't you just go fuck one of your raccoons?"

I suppose the less you know about what happens in this movie, the better experience it'll be. So I'm leaving the plot synopsis at that. I like my comedies like my comedies like I like my men, and this one's as dark as they come. But it's almost a cheerfully black comedy, one that relishes a little too much in the darkness which gives the movie an attitude that I'm not sure I like. The performances are good, with Toby doing his best to take a role that will help him shake off his Spiderman costume. He's a suitable everyman, the kind of actor needed for this story, and he manages, for better or for worse, to be likable even when he's at his most despicable. In two scenes, he shows off the blood vessels in his neck, and in one, he does some pretty magical things with his tongue while his character checks out some online, vegetable-related pornography. But before you heap awards upon him for that tongue thing, watch him play basketball in this movie. He plays like a pre-werewolf Michael J. Fox, and as we all know, that's not a good thing at all. Elizabeth Banks is also pretty good and nails the climactic scene both comically and emotionally, not always an easy thing to pull off. And I loved Laura Linney's performance as a nutsy neighbor and Dennis Haysbert's as Spiderman's buddy in need of a kidney. This movie's a little all over the place and spends too much time in a few areas and maybe not enough in others. One character simply disappears, and a few others make questionable decisions that would not really happen in real life. I guess that's acceptable in a cheerfully black comedy though. At least it's never boring. I also liked how it was set up for us with a series of random objects--the titular details, I guess--that were all going to factor into the story somehow. It was kind of fun watching how they popped up. This isn't a very funny movie, but it is amusing and manages to say a little bit about the character of human beings, infidelity, friendship, and raccoon. And a scene taking place in a church, complete with a dancing member of the congregation, is too cool to believe.

Buffet Froid

1979 black crime comedy

Rating: 17/20

Plot: In a nearly empty urban world, a guy with a knife either murders somebody or doesn't murder somebody at a subway station. He goes home and meets a new neighbor, a police investigator who happens to be his only neighbor in a high-rise apartment building. The next day, his wife is found murdered. Later, the man who murdered his wife pays him a visit, and along with the police detective, they have a few drinks. Then, a new character comes along, a guy who was a witness to the crime at the subway station, and asks the main character to kill somebody for him. Then, some other things happen.

It's a tough movie to write a plot synopsis for because I really don't want to give anything away and not a lot makes sense anyway. This has a script that feels like it came from a Theater of the Absurd dramatist, and it's both humorous and a little disturbing is that none of the characters react to what is happening--like, murder and stuff--the way they're supposed to. This has all the pieces you need for classic noir or a good detective story. You have a femme fatale, a detective, a murderer, a murderee, etc., but none of them are playing their roles correctly. The acting's brilliant, especially Depardieu and Bernard Blier, the father of Bertrand Blier who wrote and directed this. They all play it straight, straight enough to make people wonder if this is really a comedy, like characters in a very serious dream. But then they get lines like "I'll teach you to cuddle me!" and "Violins get on my nerves! I'm allergic!" which helps clue you in. All sorts of weird little details threaten to become symbols in this thing. Depardieu's character wears a coat perpetually, but why? A ridiculous picture of a husband hovers over his wife with Depardieu. The majority of the movie takes place in a city devoid of extras and happen at night. Then, in a shift that seems very sudden, they're in the country and there's daylight. Depardieu's knife is alluded to frequently. All sorts of things going on to keep it interesting for the parts of your brain that enjoys puzzles. The best thing in this movie that is written well and has really good performances is the scenery and cinematography though. I like the geometry of this movie. Shapes, characters in frames, background colors that make it look like Mark Rothko was in charge of set design. There's shapes and lines in every shot which seems like something that would be true for every movie, but if you watched this movie, you'd probably see what I mean. Some shots are symmetrical. There are also some interesting things going on with light including one shot with the trio of characters--like Dada Stooges--with Depardieu in the center, the police guy with a background of city lights behind him and the murderer with urban darkness. I thought maybe that was giving a lot away, but there's really no telling with these characters. Oh, the movie's also got some great wallpaper. This is not really an accessible black comedy that would appeal to people who like, say, Fargo, but if you're a fan of Roy Andersson or Luis Bunuel, give it a try. Oh, and see it twice so that you can devote one entire viewing to wallpaper deconstruction.

Dealin' with Idiots

2013 improvised comedy

Rating: 12/20

Plot: A comedian decides that his next movie will be based on the titular parents and coaches who come to his son's little league games.

This is better than the scores of lousy reviews it got, and I may have given it a bonus point just because I felt a little sorry for it. I did think it was very funny, but it never feels like a complete movie, more a series of humorous interactions pieced together into something that is about as long as your average movie. It's a movie about a guy getting ideas to make a movie, and as he tells one character, "When I'm done, it might not be interesting." If you don't find the interactions as funny as I think they are, it's probably not going to be very interesting. The biggest problem is probably the story's ending which is about as bad as any ending I can remember seeing. The climax is terrible enough, but then it manages to get even worse with the final shot and some weird dancing thing. I have no idea what Jeff Garlin was thinking there. I'm also confused about the decision to include his character's father as some kind of ghost. I probably only watched this because I follow Garlin on Twitter and because there are a few familiar faces for fans of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Those faces aren't the only reason this reminded me a bit of Curb. The goofy music and the improv style also gave it that feel. J.B. Smoove, Fred Willard, Bob Odenkirk, and Richard Kind are veterans of this kind of comedy and are as funny--though in spots more than streams--as you'd expect them to be. Luenell (from Borat) steals a baffling scene at Smoove's house where a collection of characters work on their autobiographies. My favorite line in the whole thing: "Lose and get a cupcake! I'd say that's the attitude of a winner!" I feel like I'm trying to talk myself into thinking this is better than it is. It is funny and a good way for a Curb fan upset that Larry David isn't working on a new season of the sitcom to spend his time. That ending is inexcusable though.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

2012 epic third

Rating: 12/20 (Jennifer: fell asleep; Dylan: 9/20; Emma: 17/20; Abbey: 11/20)

Plot: The titular hero, a guy Leonard Nimoy sang about in this song here, has his hole accosted by some filthy bearded guys and a really tall hobo who want him get on a pony and ride with them 1/3rd of the way to the filthy guys' former home where a dragon now dwells amongst piles of gold coins. Along the way, they are forced to fight ugly guys and even uglier guys, and Bilbo steals a piece of jewelry from a shrunken King Kong.

Jennifer: "I don't even know what a hobbit is."

Sometimes I take notes while watching a movie, and sometimes I use those notes and questions to help me write the crap that nobody reads here. Instead of writing something real and spending even more time than the nearly-three hours I've already spent with this movie, I'm just typing out my notes verbatim with a few additions where I felt the need to explain my thoughts. Seem lazy? Well, you're not reading this anyway, so it doesn't matter.

Really bad wanton death fire effect. And where's the fucking dragon? They're not even going to show me a dragon?

Elf on a moose! If that doesn't make you laugh, you're not human. Why does only one elf get a moose though?

I want to see a hobbit mailman. They obviously have them since Bilbo has mail.

Did hobbit feet look like this in those Lord of the Ring movies? I don't remember. Those feet would stop me from having sex with a hobbit right there.

Gandalf says he wants to share in an adventure like a perverse uncle.

I need subtitles from Gandalf. Let's see him work a spell to help him stop mumbling.

Gandalf vandalized!

3-D roll throw! I definitely should have spent the thirty dollars to see this in the theater.

Ain't no party like a dwarf party. They sure can belch and make ball jokes. But why does Bilbo have all this food?

Let's be honest--their map kind of sucks. It looks like a child drew it.

I like the actor who plays Bilbo. Martin Freeman. Still, it's offensive that they didn't use a little person wearing those house slippers that look like bear feet. Lots of little person actors out there could use the work.

Somebody just said that hobbits are light on their feet. Seriously? With those giant meaty things?

Cool beards in this movie--this is the beardiest movie of all time. What about the hobbits though? Do they shave or do they just not grow facial hair?

Golf? Did I hear that story about troll heads rolling in rabbit holes correctly, Gandalf? That's how golf was invented? They have golf in Middle Earth? Surely this wasn't in the book.

Oh, good. A second song. Emma is pleased that this is a musical.

Ponies! Instead of sweeping grand shots with predictable music that show characters walking, we get the same shots with characters riding ponies.

"You think a night raid by Orcs is a joke?"

Orc fight--here's some more clumsy special effects. This does not look good.

Lead beard guy--"Noooooo!" In a way, I want something tragic enough to happen in my life where I get to look at the sky and say, "Noooooo!"

Dwarf Mr. T.

Orcs must speak the same language as Bib Fortuna. I believe that's the geekiest thought I've ever had.

Radagast--a crazed hippie surrounded by CGI animals

This journey is kind of like a vacation where dad stops at every rest area. Or maybe it's like when he gets off every single exit.

Bunny-led sleigh. What the hell?

Trolls carrying ponies--that sounds like it would be hot, but this is another effect that looks just terrible, even in the dark where they like to hide bad computer effects.

Trolls speak in English accents and have speech impediments? You learn something every day.

Troll taint--that would be a hell of a band name.

All these action sequences are sluggish.

I've been waiting for Gandalf to do something that a wizard might do. Finally, he breaks a rock. That defeat-the-troll-with-sunlight thing seems really cheap though.

Why does Radagast have toothpaste in his hair? Or is that bird crap? His encounter with a ghost in the rubble of a castle is my favorite part of the movie so far.

Hold on! That bunny twitching his leg! Yes! Best thing I've ever seen!

Wow, those wolf things look even faker than the rest of the stuff in this.

"We have no ponies!"

Bunny sled fleeing from orcs--this is setting special effects back several years. This movie looks worse than The Phantom Menace.

Gandalf? Do something wizardy!

I'll see the second installment of this in the theater if I'm promised more of that bunny twitching his leg. What would that look like in 3-D?

Elf v. dwarf junk: Elves are taller, but why do I think dwarfs probably have them beat in the genitalia department?

Well, I wouldn't want to eat elf food either if it was offered in a threatening-sounding elf language. Wait, there are hot harpists? Ok, I'll eat.

"I don't like green food." Cory?

Wait, only elves can read this map? It's got a mountain and two roads on it. Even a woman could read that thing!

Hugo Weaving. I'm really sick of this guy.

If Cate Blanchett tried to communicate with my telepathically, I'd just nod and pretend I knew what the heck she was saying to me. Or I'd fondle her and then say, "Oh, I misunderstood what you were trying to say there."

That shot with Blanchett turning slowly with that crescent moon behind her is so flamboyantly pretentious.

Even waterfalls in this movie don't look right. Those waterfalls are wack.

And there's Christopher Lee. And now I'm confused. I'll need Dylan to try to explain what's going on to me.

These movies are worse when elves are involved.

New drinking game: Drink a shot every time somebody says "Dwarf scum"

Lee's character: "[Radagast] is a foolish fellow." And he's on mushrooms? That explains why he thinks a bunny-led sleigh is the best method of transportation, I guess.

Blanchett disappeared!

I complain about a walking montage. Dylan says, "They're questing. You have to have shots like this when they're questing."

"Oh, no. Now there's a rock monster?"

This rock monster thing is about the stupidest thing I've ever seen. And how did every single character survive that scene?

What are these things? Goblins? Their home is kind of neat, but the Bilbo/Goblin fight was really stupid.

Why's the king of the goblins have a wattle?

Gollum can't sing worth shit. Is it my imagination or is he more comically schizophrenic here? And taller? I guess that's because he's had the ring.

I guess I don't really understand what this ring does.

Great, Bilbo and Gollum are going to exchange riddles for fifteen minutes because this movie was going way too fast. Gollum will never replace Alex Trebeck, by the way. I need subtitles for him, too.

OK, the goblin king is a little too jolly. And that's not a wattle. That's a giant one-ball nutsack hanging from his chin. Peter Jackson stole this idea from that movie with Hugh Jackman.

Wizard action! Finally!

Ok, I know this is a fantasy movie and all, but the scene where the ring flies in the air and lands on his finger? I'm not buying that.

I do like that the ring has its own theme music.

Great. Now I've lost my wedding ring trying to throw it in the air and catch it on my finger.

Goblin Wilhelm scream.

The CGI dwarfs and Gandalf are running a little two rapidly on the little bridges. This looks comical. And it's endless.

Why's the main orc named Hot Dog?

Hot Dog's evil laugh is pretty amazing.

Pine cone bombs? Smokey Bear is going to be pissed!

Bilbo just saved the man bearded guy's life--everything about that scene is dumb. The music? Dumb. The quickness with which Bilbo gets there? Dumb. His sudden prowess with that sword? Dumb.

Giant eagles again? Give me a break.

Why don't they just go the rest of the way via giant eagles? Those eagles really left them in an inconvenient spot. I'm blaming the eagles for this needing to be three movies.

Cool ending, but the shot of an eye isn't giving me any hope that the dragon in the next movie is going to look better than any of the special effects in this movie.

Should I whine about not getting a full movie there?

Play It Again, Sam

1972 romantic comedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A film critic's wife leaves him because of "insufficient laughter" even though he does guffaw occasionally, and his married pals try to get him back on track by setting him up on some dates. He starts to fall for his friend's wife.

You can't watch this without first seeing Casablanca since this spoils the classic during the opening credits where Allen's character watches the ending. I really liked watching Woody watch that movie, by the way. It also makes a handful of references to Casablanca, references that go beyond just the title. Bogart, impersonated almost perfectly by Jerry Lacy, is in this quite a bit, or at least his spirit is, kind of like Woody Allen's Jiminy Cricket. This was made about fifteen years after Bogie's death and kind of works as a nice tribute to him and his character Rick. It's also the first of several movies that Allen and Diane Keaton would make together. Nothing physically should make these two compatible, but I also love the chemistry they have on screen together. I can't say I like Keaton's hair in this movie, but it still might be better than Woody's hair. This is a bit different than their other collaborations. Allen wrote this (as a play) but did not direct it. I can't notice the difference there. The main difference is that this has a lot more physical comedy from Woody Allen. There's more slapstick here than in other Woody Allen movies although he's essentially playing that one character he played in the 70s. Not all of the physical comedy works. There's some terrific physical comedy in Allen's apartment during a double-date scene. And then there's a scene with a hairdryer that should have ended up on the cutting room floor. Mostly, this is funny because of the dialogue and Allen's character's inner-monologue which is mostly outer-monologue. "You have the most eyes I've ever seen" and "You were all out of bourbon so I made you a straight water" are lines that made me laugh, and a scene in a museum where a gal talks about a Jackson Pollock painting is really funny. And there's an uncomfortable conversation about rape if you happen to think rape is funny. All in all, this is a charming and bittersweet romantic comedy that fits right in with Woody Allen's best movies.

Big Trouble in Little China

1986 cult classic

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A truck driver gets mixed up in Chinese mysticism and folklore while trying to help a buddy find a girlfriend who was kidnapped by some thugs and taken to the depths of Chinatown. There, they find the titular big trouble with everybody kung-fu fighting, evil sorcerers doing evil sorcerer things, and a few monsters. And he can't find his truck!

A couple things. First, it's impossible to argue with a poster like that. John Carpenter wanted to make himself a kung-fu movie, but he apparently found it impossible to control himself and added those goofy monsters and magical mayhem which just makes this thing explode with goofiness. For the better, I think, because the mashing together of a trucker movie hero, martial arts bedlam, supernatural mumbo-jumbo, comedy, and Western themes (apparently it was originally supposed to take place in the 19th Century and was rewritten for modern times) give it a unique feel. Second, this is probably my favorite movie title ever. It's at least the one that I say the most while hardly ever making an actual reference to Kurt Russell or a hog-tied Kim Cattral. I use it as a threat, lowering my voice slightly and saying things to my children or students like, "If you don't so-and-so, there's gonna be big trouble in little China." They respond by looking a little confused.

The thing that really stands out with this is the cool set pieces. There's an early fight in the streets of Chinatown where the action kicks off (and punches off) early in this and never really lets up, and that action sequence with a pair of warring gangs and Kurt Russell's Jack Burton clutching a knife in the cab of his truck is ridiculous. Then, just when that whole scene--where the only thing missing might have been Buster Keaton trying to film it all--started to fizzle, you get some dopey special effects and the appearances of Thunder, Lightning, and Rain. How'd you like to be Rain in that trio, by the way? You've got three badass supernatural warriors, and one of them is like "Yeah, I get to be Lightning--flashy, baby!" and another one is like "Yeah, Thunder--Ka-boom!" and then you're like "Rain? Drizzle drizzle?" The characters are cool but kind of transition from completely invincible to pansies as this thing goes. The sets for the bad guys' lair in the subterranean depths of Little China are great, much more vast than your typical B-movie, and I especially liked a horrifying swim to safety. There's probably too much color for an evil lair though, and I bet the interior decorator was fed to one of those monsters after the work was completed. The monsters are just the right amount of cheap for a production like this. Their appearances are an amusing surprise even if they don't really have that much to do. Kurt Russell is a guy who's impossible not to respect because 1) he was nailing Goldie Hawn, 2) he was Snake Plissken, and 3) the mullet. How about that Russell/Hawn Hollywood relationship, by the way? 30 years strong, right? Are they still together? That's a long relationship considering it just started because Kurt Russell was enamored with Goldie Hawn's posterior. But I digress, especially dangerous for me when I'm moving into Golden Hawn's posterior territories. I like Jack Burton here, a neo-John-Wayne-ian vulnerable but otherwise cliched action hero with arms that barely fit on the screen. His line "I feel kind of invincible" is pretty great. His friend played by Dennis Dun can certainly move, and the martial arts stuff in this is really pretty good throughout. And then there's one of the handful of actors who will make you say "Oh, it's THAT guy!" as Lo Pan. That's right, the recognizable voice of the always-cool James Hong. Here, he's wearing about seventy pounds of make-up. Victor Wong is also really good as a bus tour guy who turns out to be more than a bus tour guy. This thing never lets up on the gas and is fun for 90 minutes even though there's no way it should have gone on for longer than 90 minutes. And it's got a really cool ending.

The Rainbow Thief

1990 fatherless movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: An eccentric millionaire goes into a coma while partying with some colorful whores. His relatives worry that his riches will go to his equally nutty nephew, Prince Meleagre, a guy who's shacked up in the sewer with a low-life criminal named Dima where he spends most of his time seeking enlightenment and performing ventriloquist acts with his dead dog Cronos. Eventually, Uncle Rudolf passes away, and then there's a big surprise. 

Here's a problem, probably: I finished watching this movie and had no real idea who the titular rainbow thief was. The whores? Omar Sharif's character? O'Toole's character somehow? I guess it's more likely that it's Sharif's character since it's a singular thief in the title even though the prostitutes were called something like the Rainbow Girls. 

I also had problems stealing a poster from somebody else, too. I didn't like the above one because of the green sticker with the 12 on it. It makes O'Toole look like he's some Godzilla monster on the prowl or something. But it beats this one: 

That doesn't even make it look like anybody actually tried. I'm not even sure that's Peter O'Toole from this movie. And "You can just live. Or you can live it up." as a tagline? What? That is not the movie I just watched.

The movie I watched was, for the longest time, the last movie Alejandro Jodorowsky directed until The Dance of Reality which apparently is only out in some parts of the world. I had low expectations despite how brilliant I think Jodorowsky's other stuff is, partially because the director has "disowned" this movie, the result of frustration at not having much control over the thing. Though it's not as wild or challenging as El Topo or The Holy Mountain or even Santa Sangre, I still thought it was a pretty good movie. Kind of hard to watch though since it's never been released on dvd and didn't even see a U.S. release theatrically. And that makes little sense to me since it pairs Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif again. Hey, it worked for Lawrence of Arabia, didn't it? Sharif is really the star of this dreamy story, and he's really good as a petty thief. O'Toole's around but never leaves the sewer setting and doesn't get a lot of lines. Christopher Lee is also in this as Uncle Rudolph, surrounded by Dalmatians, clashing cymbals together while riding on some kind of motorized vehicle with a parrot. He feeds his guests giant bones and gives his dogs caviar which probably explains why his relatives are worried about his fortune. And then the scantily-clad Rainbow Girls come in, dance around him, and surround his bed which I imagine is a pretty typical night for somebody like Christopher Lee. There's also a little fellow who gets a big role, a guy helping hock potato bug stuff and wearing a cool suit with a bowler. He's Jean-Yves Tual and has interactions with an extremely tall man, including one scene where he's spun around which I'm not afraid to admit gave me a boner with a capital O. The little person/tall person visual weirdness isn't the only thing Jodorowskian about this movie. There's a carnival atmosphere for a lot of the movie with jugglers and puppets and a fortune teller named Madame Claire who happens to be played by a man. There's a lot of animal imagery including one scene with rats drowning and a sound that is about as horrifying as any sound I've ever heard. And it's a narrative propelled more by symbols and metaphor than anything else. You could look at all of Jodorowsky's movies as reflections of himself. El Topo reflects his religious or mystic side. The Holy Mountain is about Jodorowsky as an artist. Fando and Lis is probably about Jodorowsky as a lover. The Rainbow Thief, a movie he didn't write and was apparently not allowed to make any changes to (he was even threatened), isn't about him at all, but I don't see it as adding up to anything that he should want to detach himself from. And just like Jodorowsky's movies represent him, all the characters in The Rainbow Thief seem to add up to one guy, Omar Sharif's character. The big and little guys, the millionaire, O'Toole's character, and even the whores are really all the same person. And with that reading, this is less of a story about a friendship between O'Toole and Sharif (although a reading about friendship might be just as powerful) and more about one man's quest for enlightenment, one man abandoning what is really non-essential in life and focusing on what is real, the real "gold" that O'Toole rambles about. You know, a symbolic dog and a walk under a rainbow.

So despite what Jodorowsky thinks of his own movie, I really kind of dug this one.