8 1/2

1963 masterpiece

Rating: 20/20

Plot: A guy tries to make a science fiction movie, dreams.

"Happiness is being able to tell the truth without making anybody suffer."

Did you know that Fellini cites this as one of his favorite films ever. That's ballsy, isn't it? This is the most pretentious movie that I've ever seen, but it's hard to not love every minute of it. In fact, just take a look at the opening scene with a camera swimming through a traffic jam, threatened asphyxiation, a daring escape, and a kite man. It's one of and maybe the best opening scenes ever, and if Fellini had made that and nothing else, he could still be considered one of the greatest directors of all time.  This movie blends fantasy, reality, and nostalgia as effortlessly as you'll ever see them blended. One of those isn't even very interesting, and if you get bogged down with lengthy dialogue that isn't nearly as interesting as the visuals (or the vegetables, as I typo'd), I understand. It's the sort of movie that you can't understand entirely because some of it doesn't feel like it was made for you but that you just want to absorb. The style forces you to open up to what beguiles, allow the movie to violate you. There are constant surprises at what jumps or slides in front of the camera, a choreography of faces, movements that make the whole thing feel more like a 2 1/2 hour dance instead of a narrative. Every note's about perfect, so perfect that the aforementioned kite man actually feels like one of your own dreams and a woman's teeth, a man's tremor, ghosts with umbrellas, rhythmic marching, a guy's legs dangling on a bench, Saraghina with a Rumba twerk, a woman lifting her head to reveal her face beneath a ridiculous hat bill, a wife's nostril flare, etc. etc. feels like your own memory has been invaded. Speaking of that hat bill, how about that Claudia Cardinale! My, oh my, what a beauty. A little dance reminds me a little of Uma, and a scene where she's listening to a piano, a little swirling finger and a tap on a guy's head and a lift of her leg, made me fall in love like I was falling in love for the very first time. And then Barbara Steele, from Black Sunday, with a beauty you can't unravel. The timeless mysteries of cheekbones and cleavage and shaped eyebrows! There's an amazing sequence here, a "harem" scene that is as chaotic as it is poetic and as comical as it is erotic. They just don't film them like that anymore. I imagine it's a scene that's shown in an endless loop in some museum somewhere. Two scenes take place at a set for the director's science fiction movie, comically immense and completely useless scaffolding. The first has lights that are so splotchy, so noticeable in a movie where every other shot is pristine. The finale, which of course features a parade of sorts, makes you feel happy to be a human being for once. Guido, played as a total dick by Marcello Mastroianni, says, "I thought my ideas were so clear. I wanted to make an honest film. No lies whatsoever. I thought I had something so simple to say. Something useful for everybody. A film that could help bury forever all the things we carry inside ourselves." When I saw 8 1/2 the first time, I was young and didn't understand what the heck I was supposed to be seeing. This isn't the kind of movie you can understand as a seven year old, you know. I totally got La Saraghina, however, that kind of infatuation that you can only explain with the most intimate sorts of hand gestures. I think now, as a middle-aged guy so many movies and images from the entire history of film bouncing around in his head, the whole thing's deceptively simple. And it is easy to see how this could be one of somebody's favorite movies even though I'm partial to the short film that I made as a high school senior. That's probably better than 8 1/2.

Philip Seymour Hoffman Fest: Happiness

1998 dark, dark comedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A kid tries to ejaculate, succeeds.

This remains the most difficult movie I've ever seen, and that's worth something. I wasn't mentally prepared for the thing when I saw it however-many-years ago, and watching it again in 2014, I think I've decided that you can't really be mentally prepared to see some of this. It's the polar opposite of elevator music, a work of art so dedicated to and consistent in its cynicism, so uncomfortable that it's capable of making your ancestors squirm. An opening scene with that much Jon Lovitz is enough to make anybody uncomfortable. You're thinking, "Wait a second! This is a lot of Jon Lovitz! Is this supposed to be happening? Shit! Why is this much Jon Lovitz happening?" I wonder how many theater-goers walked out after seeing Jon Lovitz for that long. If that didn't happen, I'd still be willing to bet that this has some kind of record for most walk-outs. One masturbation scene would be enough to chase middle-aged ladies from the Bible Belt out, but this has a trio of masturbation sequences--Hoffman jizzing on a wall with an "Is your pussy all wet?", Dylan Baker as one of the most disturbing characters you'll ever see gratifying himself in the back of his car with a Kool magazine, and a final few minutes that somehow--almost magically--manages to be uplifting. It's almost like the characters are trapped inside of this movie, like they're living out a punishment for crimes they did in other movies or something. It's dark stuff, but the off color palette and the schmaltzy music give it the feel of an after-school special or a soap opera which makes the whole thing even more disturbing. At times, it works like a series of short jokes, complete with punchlines. And you might laugh, but you'll instantly--even if you're completely alone--look around with the hope that nobody is watching you laugh. My favorite of these depraved characters might have Jared Harris's Vlad with his "I like lesbian" claim and his killer version of "You Light Up My Life." Ben Gazzarra's in there, and Jane Adams (she's got that weird-cute thing going), Lara Flynn Boyle, and Lila Glantzman-Leib play a trio of siblings with a relationship that is pretty difficult to watch. Philip Seymour Hoffman's not on the screen much at all, but disturbs when he does, neurotic incarnate. It was kind of like he was going for Milton in Office Space, but a Milton whose soul has been completely shattered and whose conscience is pissed off and drunk. It's the type of character Hoffman plays so much better than anybody else which for some reason is a sentence that makes me sad to type. Dylan Baker, unsettling because of how normal looking he is, gives a career-ruining performance as a pedophiliac father. It doesn't take long in this movie for every single word the guy says to creep you out, profoundly. He's the character who should give us nightmares. "You'll cum one day. You'll see." Every single conversation he has with his son feels like it should be from a horror movie. I really like the kid who plays the son, too. His name's Rufus Reed, and he hasn't done much of anything since this, his first role. But he nails it whenever he says "Daaaaad" as he addresses his father, like he's trusting the guy because that's his role in life but knows in some inner part of his being that he's frightened of the guy. "Ronald Farber says his penis is 11 inches long. Is that possible?" is probably not a line that I should have laughed at, but I wanted to ease the tension of this thing by laughing at something, having some other emotion than whatever I was feeling.

A Philip Seymour Hoffman Fest can take us to some really dark places.

Oprah Movie Club Pick for the First Half of February: Terminator 2: Judgment Day

1991 action sequel

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A future which actually ceases to exist after what happens in this movie sends a liquid metal man to the 1990s to kill off a kid with River Phoenix's hair. At the same time, the kid (as an adult) sends the same model of the titular killing machine to help protect himself.

Maybe I'm completely missing something, but this doesn't make any sense, does it? What would Doc Brown say about all of this? Once Sarah starts shooting the black guy and threatening his family, wouldn't all the characters' hands start disappearing in pictures? Is there something that I'm missing from this movie or the original or the sequels I haven't seen that explains the logic behind all this time travel stuff. If the nuclear holocaust is stopped and that playground isn't destroyed and Skynet (my former Internet provider) never existed, then the first Terminator from the previous movie would never have needed to be sent back to kill off John's mother because there wouldn't be robots that want John dead. And John's father wouldn't have come back to protect Sarah, knocking her up in the process. And therefore, John's hand would have started disappearing and Doc Brown would have been going apeshit. Am I wrong here? Did James Cameron, perhaps blinded by his own special effects, not think this all the way through?

I'm just going to say it--I don't think this movie is as good as the first Terminator movie. It reaches too far with a twitching robot arm that ultimately malfunctions.

There's a lot that I did like though. And the number one thing I liked was the performance of Danny Cooksey who was Sam on Different Strokes, the kid with goofy red hair. Here, he's got a goofy red mullet. Cooksey plays John's best friend--Mullet Boy--and almost all the best scenes of Terminator 2 feature his character. Unfortunately, he's not in the movie all that much. He shines with lines like "Your foster parents are kind of dicks" and "I'm gonna get some quarters; I'll be right back, alright?" and gives the douche-iest high five I think I've ever seen in a movie. There's also a great "Wah!" that should be used in a bunch of future action films and called the Cooksey Wah, and a shot of him lifting a tiny boombox over his head with one hand--proudly, the only way one can hoist a boombox--is iconic. I'd love to see a spin-off film with Cooksey's character, maybe where cyborgs are sent from the future to try to give him a haircut or something. And if you tell me his character comes back for the next movies in this franchise, I'm totally in!

A side note: I just love the fact that these kids steal 300 dollars so that they can play Missile Command. In 1997 or whenever this is supposed to take place!

As with the first Terminator movie, Cameron shows off a knack for making characters who don't matter at all stand out in the brief amount of time they're on screen. Here, you get Bol a Gol Gardening guy with a "Praise the Lord" bumper sticker on the back of his stupid-looking truck. That guy's "Hello?" is better than any special effect, stunt, or action sequence in this entire movie. I can't be 100% sure, but I think it's a guy named J. Rob Jordan who was in an episode of Matlock and not much else. There's also a guy who gets hit in the kidney with a smoke grenade and actually says, "God, it hurts!" and a toolish jock who, no matter what he does with his life (he's a stuntman actually) should be known as the "Fuck you, you dipshit!" guy. Oh, and I liked the guard at the sanitarium who licks Sarah's face for unexplained reasons. That guy needs his own prequel, too, while they're making these movies. Fox really messed up with the Sarah Connors television series. They could have had a whole Guy-Who-Licks-Mental-Patients series, and people would have been all over it.

The bad guy--Terminator X or whatever--is cool, but he gets a little redundant after a while. I did like watching himself ooze back together after he was hasta-la-vista-babied away. That was a neat special effect and probably a science experiment at the same time. Robert Patrick's a pretty believable robot and cold-blooded killer type, but the dude's mostly expensive special effects and kind of boring in his invincibility. And once you see a giant pit of lava, you know exactly how he's finally going to die. I'll admit though--I really expected a surprise ending where Danny Cooksey sweeps in and urinates on the T-1000 and says, "Taste that, bitch! Nobody tries to kill my friend!" or something before all the characters head back to the arcade for some Gauntlet. If wishes were horses, Terminators would ride.

I don't even know if I like the other characters. I thought Arnold Schwarzenegger was terrific in the first movie, but as he's developed into a cyborg with more and more human feelings, I really started rolling my eyes. Arnold's best in this when he's not speaking at all or speaking in very short sentences. I like the early scene in the biker bar right up until "Bad to the Bone" ruins it because he doesn't say anything that isn't necessary, like a robot on a mission probably would. By the end of the movie, you just wish he'd shut up, especially after the "I need a vacation" line which seems like it belongs in another movie. Maybe Jingle All the Way could have used a line like that. But you do get to see his naked haunches right after a B-movie special effect. He certainly looks cool though, wearing shades for no reason and driving that Harley around. Well, cool until the gimme-five-up-high-down-low-too-slow gag which I can't believe survived any cut of this movie. That shouldn't have even made the special 20th Anniversary Mentally-Ill Second Cousin of the Director Cut.

Speaking of Arnold's high-five partner, Edward Furlong is awful in this. And he's got asshole hair. Listen to when he says, "Miles Dyson! She's gonna blow him away!" and tell me this kid could act. Unfortunately, he's in this movie as much as Arnold, Sarah Connor, or the T-1000, and way more than Danny Cooksey. I was rooting against the kid from the get-go, and that's even with knowing that my future and the future of all humanity depended on his survival. And I'm amazed to find out that Linda Hamilton won Best Female Performance and Most Desirable Female at the MTV Movie Awards for this role. I mean, you'd expect the MTV Movie Awards people to have more sense than that. She's awfully butch here, especially when she goes to Dyson's house. She unleashes her inner-Sigourney, and it never quite works for me.

I feel that I have to give credit to everybody for the physical stuff they had to go through for the parts. I read a little about Arnold Schwarzenegger injuring himself and Hamilton training intensely for the roles. And Danny Cooksey had to grow out his hair a little bit. Oh, and if you look closely, you can see a bit of Robert Patrick's penis. I had to rewind it twelve times and pause for an amount of time that was more than likely not acceptable, but I did catch it. That's two Terminator movies, and two penises. The stunts in this movie are really good for the most part. So are the special effects except for a shot of Arnold rolling after falling off a truck. That looked really dumb, and the movie was lucky that the liquid metal melting together scene was soon after that to make us all forget about it. There's another scene with an obvious dummy being dragged behind a car. The make-up and prosthetics attached to the actors were realistic though, and I really liked a part where Arnold takes the skin off his forearm and hand even though I can't figure out why that actually needed to happen. There are plenty of intense action sequences including one that takes place in an elevator that I wished was a little longer and a few truck/motorcycle or truck/truck or truck/helicopter chases that are typical but nevertheless skillfully shot and impressive. I also liked the slow-motion swinging morphing into some terrifying and chilling imagery with burning playground equipment that reminded me of when I got suspended from elementary school. A dream sequence with some nuclear bomb stuff was equally frightening and realistic enough that I mistook it for stock footage only to find out later that it wasn't. Looked real enough to me though.

I can't figure out exactly why people seemed shocked to find out that I'd never seen this movie. If you want to turn your brain off and enjoy it as a pure popcorn flick, it's great for that. But it's not as good as the first, simpler movie, and I guess I expected something this highly regarded to be a little more intelligent. It baffles me with questions about how the movie can even exist since they've rewritten the future which essentially would erase the past. It gives me a headache just thinking about it, so if you can straighten it all out for me, I'd appreciate it.

Philip Seymour Hoffman Fest: Along Came Polly

2004 romantic comedy

Rating: 11/20 (Jen: 14/20)

Plot: Uptight actuary Reuben Feffer's wife leaves him for a scuba instructor on their honeymoon. He meets the titular free-spirited gal and falls for her despite their differences.

Let me make something perfectly clear: This is probably only worth watching for Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance and a two-second shot of Jennifer Aniston that a lot of guys could really get behind. Hoffman's enjoyable as the douche-ily-named Sandy Lyle in a pure comedic performance. Lyle's a jackass with no filter, the kind of character who is in no way believable as an actual human being but who you really enjoy watching. I'd love to see Crocodile Tears, the movie his character had a role in as a kid. Then again, I dig accordions. Hoffman's funny when falling, laughing, sharting, and soloing in too-tight sweat pants, but I would have really loved playing basketball with the guy. I'm adding "Make it rain!" and all the variations on the rain theme to my trash-talk repertoire. Oh, and "White chocolate!" It's actually great seeing Hoffman pull off dumb comedy. He's so funny; unfortunately, the rest of this really isn't. Aniston's ok playing the exact type of character she plays, and Ben Stiller's probably fine playing his. Hank Azaria is charmingly annoying and a little naked, but Alec Baldwin, one of the Baldwin brothers, is annoying without the charm. His accent makes him sound like an old Jewish woman from Brooklyn, and I'm sure he and writer/director John Hamburg though it was hilarious but it's really not. Neither is Baldwin's fart scene. Actually, there are a lot of anus gags in this, including the aforementioned sharting. Now, I'm never going to dis a reference to sharting. I love a good shart as much as the next moron, but the potty humor really brought this down a few notches. It doesn't quite reach Shrek levels of flatulence, but it's got about the same amount of maturity. This feels a lot like being hit in the balls with a VHS copy of There's Something About Mary.

Philip Seymour Hoffman Fest: The Ides of March

2011 political war movie

Rating: 15/20 (Jen: 16/20)

Plot: Governor Morris is making a run for the presidency and has a good chance to win because of his hair, the bone structure of his face, and his smile. Stephen Meyers is one of his aides helping him run a clean campaign, but things hit a snag in Ohio with a good old-fashioned scandal. Meyers works to save the campaign and then his career.

Clooney co-stars in this film that he directed and helped write, but he's not Sam Mraovich and knows what he's doing. I don't have a lot of interest in politics, even when things get this dirty, but this has enough twists and turns and suspense to keep you interested. It's really about the performances. Clooney's Clooney, but this really isn't his story anyway. Ryan Gosling is quite the charmer, idealistic with a smidge of shadiness that makes everything that happens later in this film completely believable. Evan Rachel Wood's the center of scandalous attention and almost manages to make it seem like it's all worth it, and Marisa Tomei plays a reporter. Gregory Itzin, who I know from a smarmy and greasy performance on 24, plays another slimy guy here. There's no way this guy would make it as a politician because his face just screams "Don't trust me!" And Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti are dueling campaign managers who really needed more screen time together in this thing. That would have been fun. It's a great cast that easily makes this worth the time even though the story feels derivative and by-the-book. But the story is intriguing, and I like how the characters all end up a little incomplete with pasts that are only hinted at and not fully developed and futures that are completely up in the air. The movie's also got a great ending.

Shane Watches a Bad Movie on Facebook with Friends: Ben & Arthur

2002 romantic drama

Rating: 1/20 (Libby: 2/20; Josh: 1/20; Fred: 3/20; Jeremy: Did not make it to the end. Complained that the movie was "sucking the life out of" him; Carrie: 11/20)

Plot: All the titular duo want is to be allowed to get married. They face threats from Arthur's brother, Ben's ex-wife, and the church.

Here's the movie that has convinced my mother that I'm now into gay porn. But you know what? It's totally worth it because I--a lover of terrible movies--might not see a worse movie this year. And for that, I have Sam Mraovich to thank. Sam Mraovich proudly displays his name during the opening credits about forty-three times. He directs! He stars! He collaborates on the music! He cinematographies! He edits! He casts! He produces! He executive produces! He writes! I went ahead and counted the amount of times the name Sam Mraovich appears in the credits, credits over a swirling burgundies and oranges with the familiar sounds of "The Entertainer." It's eleven fucking times. Eleven! I think "Catering by Sam Mraovich" was even in there somewhere. This is completely Sam Mraovich's baby, a grotesque baby that's the product of a guy sexually abusing himself. Sam Mraovich can't do any of the things he credits himself with even adequately, and that makes this a Room-esque experience, as frightening as it is magical. There's the story, heavy on the message "If I am not good enough to get married in this country, then I sure as hell ain't dying for it!") and taken to such bizarre extremes that you'll assume the writer has been whacked a little too hard with his dildo a few too many times. Sure, the wife of a guy who suddenly decides he's gay and in love with a dumpy, balding gentleman is going to be unhappy, but the particular brand of berserk she displays before abruptly leaving the movie never to be seen again doesn't make sense at all. And yes, religious people persecuting homosexuals is completely believable, but excommunicating a poor guy because of the actions of his brother or helping a member of the congregation to hire a hit man? And sure, religious people could be labeled superstitious, but a scene where brother Victor tapes a vial of holy water to Arthur's door with the hopes that he'll see it, drink it for some reason, and be cured of gayness is about the stupidest thing I've ever seen in a movie. And I'm not going to give away the weirdo ending or anything, but suffice it to say, there's a naked baptism, gunshots, and bungled incest. The actors, obviously all people who are friends of Sam Mraovich (Possible exception would be Jamie Brett Gabel who plays Ben and looks a little too pretty to be real-life friends with Mraovich; my guess would be that he just wanted to be an actor and was using this as a springboard into something bigger. Of course, I'm probably wrong since he's done nothing else since this.), don't have much to work with, but they're awful from top to bottom. I was surprised to see that Michael Haboush, the guy who played the brother, has been in over fifty movies including a few with exclamation marks--Vapid Shallow Models Must Die! and Naked Boys Singing! I'm not sure I want to verify this for fear of further alarming my mother, but I'm pretty sure a lot of the titles in his filmography qualify as gay porn. He also plays a transvestite in Nip/Tuck, and his first role, all the way back in 1977, was as "Kid Eating Hotdog" in The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh. If you like terrible acting, this has plenty to enjoy. Bill Hindley as Father Rabin, Gina Aguilar who gets a great death scene as the duo's attorney, Arthur Huber as a P.I. who shines in about a minute-and-a-half of screen time, and Loretta Altman who plays my favorite character Mildread, a woman who doesn't want coffee and then does want coffee and then later has a door slammed in her face in a scene that made me laugh out loud. Mildread. I can't decide if that name is a spelling error or an attempt at punning. But seriously, what actor can do something with dialogue like this:

Ben: Tammy, I'm gay. I've already told you that.
Tammy (with a gun, by the way): Ben, I'll be gay, too, and then that'll make it all right for us to get married again.
Ben: You are not making any sense!
Tammy: Hey! I don't make sense? You don't make sense! I make sense, that's who makes sense!

Of course, that could be ad-libbed. If it was, it was more than likely ad-libbed by Sam Mraovich since he did everything else. I have to assume he was in charge of the set design, my favorite setting being Victor's church where the priest sits in a folding chair at a folding card table that has a can of colored pencils on it. Those colored pencils might have been half the budget for this thing actually. He's in front of a really weird picture of Jesus that a child probably drew in his sixth grade art class and stained glass window painted on the cardboard. It's impossible to judge which of the many things Mraovich does poorly is the worst, but the acting has to be right up there. Although I will say this: There's a scene where he talks about opening his own porno shop and gives this little smile that's capable of haunting any homophobe's dreams, another scene where he prances, another scene where he prances again, and a scene where he does this little interpretative dance while auditioning for a job at a club ("That was great. Now let's see your penis.") that will all make you wonder why he's only been in two other movies since this one. This is a magical mess of a movie that ranks up there as one of the worst movies I've ever seen. I'm not sure I can recommend it to anybody not watching with a group of friends on Facebook unless you're a real glutton for punishment though. I don't know how we Bad Movie Clubbers can top this, our 47th bad movie.

Philip Seymour Hoffman Fest: Twister

1996 weather movie

Rating: 10/20 (Emma: 11/20; Abbey: 8/20)

Plot: CGI tornadoes roar through the Midwest while Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt fall back in love with each other.

Those tornadoes look really good, though sluggish. Of course, I've always thought tornadoes were sexy, sadistic twisting bitches. But this movie is less story and more an excuse to show off the titular weather phenomenon, and after the initial "Look at them tornadoes!" moment, interest wanes. Cows flailing around, water tornadoes, swirling leaves and crap. It just gets boring, especially once you realize that most of the sound effects just involve people growling. And then, even if you're a meteorologist, you're forced to focus on the plot. There's a conflict involving rival storm chasers, but you won't care about that at all. There's the rekindling romance between the divorcing Paxton and Hunt, but you won't like either of them. Nor will you like Paxton's new girlfriend. And there's the whole backstory about with Hunt's childhood experience with an F-5 tornado that makes her career choice seem perfectly logical, at least in a movie this dumb. I mean, if you watched your dad sucked into a tornadic abyss when you were a child, why wouldn't you want to work in a career that reminded you of that every day? "So, what made you decide to work in the circus?" "Well, when I was a little boy, I watched a clown kill and eat my father." "Oh, that makes sense." I don't know if I hate Bill Paxton exactly, but I hate him so much in this movie, that I'm pretty sure I just hate him altogether. The script doesn't help him, and neither does the way his character is written. I think a child must have written this because the characters say all these stupid obvious things. "Hurry...let's go...we have to get this heavy thing off your aunt." Awful dialogue from awful characters. At one point, somebody makes the claim that Paxton's character is not in all this for the money but for the science. A few minutes later, he's punching off a guy's hat because his design--a metallic contraption filled with Christmas ornaments--was stolen. What about the science, Bill? Paxton's throwing out this cool guy schtick but gets lines like "What a wiener" which is just embarrassing. My favorite Bill Paxton moment is when Hunt, sarcastically, says "She's nice" and he replies "Ha!" a little like Nicolas Cage would. Jeremy Davies, a guy who can't control his own hands, is also in this as part of the ragtag crew. I don't like that guy. Philip Seymour Hoffman's also there and is easily the best thing about the movie as he talks about the suck zone, screams "Whoo-hoo!" out the window of the Barn Burner, drinking from a ceiling straw, trash-talking the competing storm chasers, saying things like "imminent rue-age," and screaming all his lines. "We got one, baby!" "You just missed that truck! Awesome! Awesome!" He's fun to watch in a movie that is otherwise not that much fun at all. Emma liked him, referring to his character as the druggy guy. I know one thing that could have saved this movie. During a ridiculous scene at a drive-in theater, The Shining is being shown. The tornado eventually (and predictably) rips through the screen, and that's where they missed a golden opportunity. They should have had the tornado grow a face and say, "Here's Johnny!" I would have bumped this up to a 15/20 with that scene. Of course, the product placement--Dodge trucks can apparently survive anything, and when cola cans are needed, they can only find Pepsi--may have caused me to reconsider.

Philip Seymour Hoffman Fest: Boogie Nights

1997 masterpiece

Rating: 20/20

Plot: A former rapper starts a career as a porn star and becomes a sensation in the industry as the 1970s transform into the 1980s.

God damn, what a movie. And that's really what it's about--the anything-goes 70s turning into a decade of fear and doubt and darkness thanks to Ronald Reagan, AIDS, and hair bands. I'm going to write about this movie like you've seen it because you have. Chances are, you've seen it multiple times because the re-watchability of this thing is really good. You'll watch it six times, provided you're a warm-blooded male, just to see Roller Girl again and again and again. But there's a crescendo this builds to, William H. Macy's Little Bill's demise with one of my favorite on-screen grins every, that is the turning point you expect from the beginning. And bam, it's the 1980s, and not even Roller Girl's gold pants can save us. Suddenly, erections are depressing again. No, none of these characters get AIDS and die, and Ronald Reagan isn't even mentioned, but you know it's all there because we're living in the future. You know that Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw are going make the idea of boogie-ing into something terrifying, and eventually, Burt Reynolds and a few other characters in Boogie Nights, the Internet will be invented, unleashing a seemingly endless supply of cat pictures and pornography and--in rare and glorious cases--cat pornography that will make you extraneous.

I think my favorite thing about this--and the reason that people will be studying it in 50 years--is the almost complete lack of specific references to people and events during the time period. There's a bit of Fresca product placement and the spectacular soundtrack. You get Jethro Tull, Three Dog Night, KC and the Sunshine Band, Marvin Gaye, Juice Newton, Rick Springfield, Night Ranger, the fucking Beach Boys, the Electric Light Orchestra. It's wall-to-wall killer music that perfectly captures the age.

My 4 1/2 readers know I'm a sucker for long shots, and this starts with a great one after a black-screen prelude. The camera floats like it thinks it's in Enter the Void, swooping into the night club and eventually getting to Marky Mark, a guy who doesn't like to be called Marky Mark anymore. That unbroken shot is amazing, and so much has to go right to make that happen. Roller skating, dancing, John C. Reilly's curls. You know you're in for something special right away. And that's before you find out that there's a character named Jack Horner. That sounds sleazy enough. This movie actually oozes sleaze.

Anyway, some random notes because I can't think of any way to make this coherent:

Would you want to shake a guy's hand after he's claimed to jack off for money? I don't think I would.

Quick drug shots, snorting rather than injecting--pre-Requiem which makes me wonder if that movie's even more overrated than I thought. Wait, never mind. Forgot about "ass to ass" again.

I love the details in Mark Mark's room. It's a shame about a couple of those posters.

I'd probably buy a stereo from Don Cheadle, but only if he was wearing that shirt. He'd have me at "It curls your stomach. It makes you want to freaky deaky." Seriously, any product that makes me want to freaky deaky is worth the purchase.

Was Jack Horner a role written specifically for Burt Reynolds? I can't imagine anybody else playing that part. He gets the best writing of his career to play with here: "Juices flowing in the torpedo area, in the fun zone." "When they spurt out that joy juice, they just have to sit in it to find out how the story ends." "Aim it at her tits, Eddie." "Don't just ram it in there like that. This is not a hole in the wall, pal. It's Rollergirl."

But it's "This is the film I want them to remember me by" that hits the hardest.

Camera moves unorthodox in some of these scenes, like in the "Aim it at her tits" scene. Love the camera movements. Man, this Paul Thomas Anderson can direct.

"I don't take my skates off." A zoom to Burt's face. That's perfection, right there. Absolute perfection.

I like the Altman-esque ensemble cast with some dialogue that almost-but-not-quite overlaps in more long takes, the camera drifting from character to character at a party by Horner's pool. More incredible shots. You just drift around through these incredibly entertaining characters, picking up tidbits about their personalities but not enough to get in the way. It's like you're at that party.

Poor Little Bill. William H. Macy plays loser so well. Of course, the mullet helps. "My fucking wife has an ass in her cock in the driveway!" I can't type that without laughing. I'm not sure if that line was written that way, a mistake by Macy that was left in, or something developed in improvisation, but it's one of the best collection of words ever strung together. Shakespeare never wrote anything that good.

"I don't take my skates off." Seriously, everybody should get a chance to roll, proverbially, with a gal like Roller Girl at least once in his life. Heather Graham's got sexy wheels.

Great entrance by Philip Seymour Hoffman. I think they gave him CGI freckles, but I can't prove it.

Reilly's sugar tree and bees poem makes me wonder why this is considered only a "drama" and not a "comedy drama" with the comedy coming first. I think this movie is hilarious. Well, until the murder-suicide. It gets a little dark at that point.

Dirk Diggler power! Wide-eyed! I really like Wahlberg in this movie, enough to use his real name at least once. The character's a great mix of naivete, ambition, cockiness (pun intended), and immaturity. And phallus.

Speaking of the phallus, Anderson's choice to not show us the member until the very end of the movie is brilliant even if it seems like an obvious move. I love watching the other characters--the crew and everybody else who gets a gander at the schwang--reaching to seeing it. Then, "I could do it again if you need a close-up" followed by visual humor so obvious that you can't help but appreciate it with a champagne bottle.

Matching shirts! And a dance scene that will make you believe in the God of Disco.

Burt Reynolds' laugh is the only laugh that I would consider iconic. No, wait. Let me take that back. We'll add Vincent Price. I want to make a three-hour loop of Burt Reynolds and Vincent Price laughing together. Call it "The History of Film" and show it at an art museum.

Add portraits of Dirk Diggler to the movie art that I'd like to have hanging in my house right next to the titular picture of Dorian Gray in that movie and a bunch of other crap. This seems like a cheap way to get a "titular" in this blog post, by the way, but it doesn't matter because nobody has read this far.

Reilly with nun-chucks and the line "Let's go get some of that Saturday night beaver." If you're reading, John C. Reilly, I have bad news for you. You can continue this career of yours if you want because you're probably making some money. But you will never ever top that right there. That's your pinnacle, and you hit it pretty early and you hit it pretty hard.

Philip Baker Hall is cool, and Floyd Gondolli's entrance is a great one, all deep bags under the eyes and a powder blue suit. "I like the simple things like butter in my ass and a lollipop in my mouth." I don't even know what that means, but I don't care because it's the kind of thing you want to find every opportunity to say.

Suddenly, Buck Swope's turned into Rick James. And this dialogue happens: "You sitting alone? "Yes." For whatever reason, that was hilarious.

Todd Parker--another ridiculously cool entrance. I think Thomas Jane should be in more movies.

Hoffman, as expected, shines in this movie. He stands out in a movie with this many insanely good performances. Showing off his car, that lunge at Marky Mark, crying "I'm a fucking idiot" ever and over again. Hoffman crying again, always some of the saddest things on film. Later, he attacks a wedding cake in a way that only Philip Seymour Hoffman can. And I don't know if it's because this is my Philip Seymour Hoffman Fest or if he's just this good, but even in backgrounds of scenes, you want to watch what he's doing. Check him out during Dirk's "Mickey Mouse bullshit" the next time you watch this.

Hey, my grandmother had some of those sailor faces on the wall surrounding an anchor during a scene where they do crystal meth. 1983 sounds about right. Maybe I love this movie so much for nostalgic reasons. It forces me to recall when I did crystal meth with my grandmother back when I was a ten year old.

Reilly and Marky Mark have good rapport. Reilly's dance moves while his pal is cutting his demo are incredible. Wahlberg's also really good there as he acts like he can't carry a tune. I don't really remember his music career. Maybe he couldn't carry a tune?

"That's not an M.P. That's a Y.P." There's something else I need to incorporate into my everyday dialogue.

There's juxtaposed violence, ominous with ominous bells, and then a trio of cars. The direction there is amazing! Then, a botched robbery, and I'm not even entirely sure what happened to all the characters. But my main question: Who sits and reads a hunting magazine in a doughnut shop that late at night?

Alfred Molina's character? He's not hamming it up at all! What a ridiculous sequence that was though--Cosmo with his firecrackers, the line "He's Chinese," the cassette labeled "My awesome mix tape #6" which made me laugh, and "It's coming down for puppies!" That's right--he says, "It's coming down for puppies!" I verified with subtitles and everything.

Did you know Sean Penn's brother is in this?

I'm telling you--the Beach Boys "God Only Knows" is perfect there. Of course, I might be of the opinion that the Beach Boys are always perfect anywhere they end up.

Another long shot follows Burt through his house, including a quick shot of a portrait of Little Bill. I want that one, too. I'd put that at the top of the stairs.

Is there a movie with a final shot or near final shot (or important shot?) taking place in front of a mirror that isn't good? Just wondering. You should probably know, by the way, that my penis is about that long, but only if you look at it in one of those funhouse mirrors. Full disclosure: I was once arrested while looking at my penis in a funhouse mirror.

The above "full disclosure" is not true at all. I have never been naked in a funhouse.

On through the end credits. I don't watch them sometimes, but I had this on. What's with the weird whispering at the end?

This is a modern classic like Lebowski and Pulp Fiction that just begs to be watched over and over again. The stars aligned perfectly for this one.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham

2013 television movie

Rating: 12/20 (Jen: 14/20; Emma: 11/20; Abbey: 12/20)

Plot: It's 1963, and the titular family from Flint, Michigan, decides to visit family in the titular city where some of them encounter segregation for the first time. 

I'd read this book by Christopher Paul Curtis which I liked enough, and Abbey had to read it in her English class and wanted to check out the movie. It's very faithful to the book, meandering just where that one meanders and serving as a nice history lesson about the segregated South and some of the insane lengths certain bigots would go to show off their hatred. Two tones are juxtaposed--the more comedic stuff at the beginning characterizes the family members while the stuff in the South is as nasty as it's supposed to be. With the book, I thought parts were extraneous; here, added with clumsy direction and a glossy cheapness, it was sort of annoying. Also annoying is this experimental camera trickery that just did not work at all. Once the family sets out on their trip, we get some film that's made to look like it's documentary footage or home video stuff. It's pretty silly. The climactic scene, one that is supposed to be powerful and emotional, is a total mess where the lack of budget bleeds through and camera shakiness and pristine extras who don't seem to know what they're supposed to be doing create the wrong kind of chaos. I enjoyed some of the performances. Harrison Knight is OK as the oldest child, the mischievous Byron. Wood Harris and Anika Noni Rose are great as the parents, and LaTanya Richardson steals the show as Grandma Sands even if the character comes across as more of a cliche than an actual person. Unfortunately, you get some bad acting from Bryce Clyde Jenkins and Skai Jackson, not surprising considering their names are Bryce Clyde and Skai. This is a worthy effort but kind of a messy failure, and I'm sure there are better documentaries or even fictions made about the subject. 

Reel Injun

2009 documentary

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A look at how Native Americans have been shown in movies from Edison's early film experiments to  Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, the first Inuit-made film. 

"We cheered for the cowboys, never realizing that we were the Indians." 

I don't know for sure, but I think I heard Philip Glass in there somewhere. And a little Nick Drake. I was pretty sure I was going to be annoyed with Neil Diamond (not that Neil Diamond) who co-wrote and co-directed this with Catherine Bainbridge. The guy was on screen as much as Michael Moore in one of his films. However, he stays out of his own way for the most part. The overall message of this isn't anything new, but it was a great tour of how Native Americans were treated on film, from the first moving images of Thomas Edison featuring some dancing Natives Americans, through the 1920s when natives were seen as heroic and noble, into the 1930s and on when John Wayne and John Ford (blamed a little too much here, I think) turned them into villainous stereotypes, into the 70s when perceptions were starting to change in films like Little Big Man and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and to the present day when films about Native Americans are being made by Native Americans. It's a wealth of information. Did you know, for example, that Crazy Horse's name was really Crazy Horse? It was closer to Horses with Spirit, and every photograph of the guy is probably a fake since he would never allow his photograph to be taken. Did you know that Pocahontas should have been nine years old in the Disney movie? Did you know that Iron Eyes Cody, most recognizable as the guy crying about some litter in the famous commercial, was Italian? You probably do know the story of Marlon Brando sending a Native American gal to accept his Oscar for The Godfather as a protest for what was going on at the Pine Ridge Reservation, but it's cool to see that stuff. Did you know that you can get John Wayne toilet paper in Monument Valley? There's a lot of this that's amusing, and a lot that's very very sad. In the former category, you get a discussion of the "Rez car," like a Native American hooptie, a movie with white guys in red face and language created with backmasking, and a clip of Bugs Bunny saying, "That one was a half breed." Well, maybe that last thing belongs in the "very very sad" category with the depressing story of Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance who starred in The Silent Enemy, a silent movie with real native actors, but who later committed suicide after it was revealed that he was one-third black. Along the way, there's plenty from shane-movies favorite Chief Dan George, scenes from a "Native American" camp for boys that are so ridiculous that I can't believe they're real, and an interview with a stunt man with messed-up teeth that is entertaining because of how intense the guy is. Jim Jarmusch and Clint Eastwood also make appearances. Very entertaining, informative, and important documentary. 

"Chuck Connors as Geronimo? That's like Adam Sandler as Malcolm X!" 

These Amazing Shadows

2011 documentary

Rating: 16/20

Plot: This is a look at The National Film Registry which chooses films that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" to include on their "Great Big Lists of Movies That Are, Like, Totally Awesome." 

But really, it's more of a love letter to movies and their importance in our lives and the history of our country. You do get some information about the creation of the Registry. It starts with color-happy Ted Turner yuckily proclaiming, "Last I heard, these were my films," when criticized for making changes to great movies. You know, because people are incapable of enjoying a black and white film. You learn that they select 25 films per year and can't include a movie until it's ten years old (so I assume The Room made it last year? I haven't checked yet.) but really, this is most interesting as a walk through film history and a glimpse at why movies matter with sound bites from people like John Waters, John Lasseter, Leonard Maltin, Zooey Deschanel, Christopher Nolan, Tim Roth, and most emotionally, George Takei. I liked a couple quotes from this, the ideas that "movies create order out of the chaos of our lives" and Walt Disney's belief that for every laugh in a film, there should be a tear. I got a kick out of a magical film from '25, an early sound film featuring Gus Visser and his singing duck. A commercial for paint called "The House in the Middle" was another amazing document, and I was really interested in censorship with the 1930's Baby Face and the argument that censorship keeps one era from talking to another era. Film as a dialogue between the past and the present is a concept I'm not sure I've put much thought into, but it makes sense. There's also a lot of footage of the people who work on preserving films and the sad statistic that I'd heard before that about half of movies made before 1950 are gone. That's just so depressing. And you know what else is depressing and completely baffling? The Room is not on the list for some reason. At least Eraserhead is on there. 

I'd recommend this to anybody with a love for movies. 


2009 documentary

Rating: 11/20 

Plot: Mormons don't like curse words or naked people and aren't supposed to watch R-rated movies. Some entrepreneurs in Utah decide to ignore the little FBI warning at the beginning of movies and edit them for content in order to rent out PG versions to the public. 

First, there is a Philip Seymour Hoffman appearance as Brandt from Lebowski, the scene where Jeff Bridges meets Bunny for the first time. It was one of the many clips they showed in original and altered versions to show just how incoherent these people made these movies. They mentioned a couple movies (Brokeback Mountain being one) that were impossible for them to edit. I'm surprised that Lebowski wasn't one of them. The film had to end up being about thirty-five minutes after the took out all the objectionable material, right? I also saw a copy of Face/Off in the video store a couple times and wondered if they left Nicolas Cage's line about how he could eat a peach for hours in there or if they took that out. I was reminded of Cinema Paradiso, a movie they did end up showing a clip of, with this whole thing, and it was a little disturbing. With the priest in that movie, he was doing it for reasons you could call noble. The people who run these businesses--the titular original and the numerous copycats--seem to be in it for the money. Of course, I might only think that because of the obvious bias of the documentarians. This had the reek of subjectivity all over it, and along with that, the music and montage (mostly meaningless shots of the video store walls) brought this to amateurish levels. I was also a little annoyed because I felt like the directors Andrew James and Joshua Ligairi were tricking the audience with a big reveal about Danny Thompson, the guy they focused on the most in this. Maybe "tricking" isn't the way to describe what's going on, but it definitely seemed like they were taking some delight in what happened. Or maybe I misread the whole thing. There's one emotional scene that cracked me up where poor Thompson details his psycho-sexual evaluation in which a device was attached to his penis while they played stories about a variety of sexual conducts and measured how aroused he became. It was fitting, I guess, that scenes from A Clockwork Orange were intercut with that.  You also get to hear Dan Rather make some terrible puns and hear a guy say, "Maybe I'd be attracted to tables." But no, I didn't like this. 

It did remind me that I haven't seen Cinema Paradiso in a really long time. 

John Carter

2012 sci-fi adventure story

Rating: 13//20

Plot: A confederate soldier named John Carter is whisked away to Mars where he finds himself in the middle of another Civil War. He encounters mysterious shape-shifters, long blue acrophobic guys, and a hot princess. Oh, and thanks to his bone density and the weaker gravity on the planet, he has a 400-foot vertical leap. Unfortunately, there's not a basketball hoop in sight.

I think I might have really liked this as a kid. As an adult, I really just liked looking at Lynn Collins' skin. It didn't take me very long to lose track of what the fuck was going on in this, that's for sure. This is essentially a really really expensive B-movie, and it's a movie with an almost intimidating amount of ideas. I'm not familiar with the Edgar Rice Burroughs book, so I can't be sure whether some of these creatures and settings are from his brain or the minds of the Disney magicians, but at times, some of what you're seeing seem like they could have come from William S. Burroughs instead. I liked the look of the blue, four-armed Martians who were kind of cool in a Jar Jar Binks kind of way. Bald floating guys, sand storms, Martian eggs, insect-like flying machines, abominable arena bears. There's definitely a lot to look at, but they probably should have spent a little more time on the titular hero's running and hopping around because he looked as stupid as Christopher Reeve running in that 1978 Superman movie. The biggest problem with this, the thing that really keeps it from being a good movie, is that the characters aren't interesting at all. This might sound racist, but I can't tell the blue guys apart from each other, even when they talk since Willem Dafoe and Thomas Haden Church kind of sound the same. Princess Dejah Thoris only looks good, and the Martians who look human are almost devoid of personality and don't make villains who are intimidating, menacing, or really anything. I suppose the bald guys are the most interesting, but I never really understood what was going on with them and their personalities were lifted directly from Agent Smith in those Matrix movies. John Carter's worst offense is that the hero is unlikable. Actually, maybe unlikable isn't the right word. The character doesn't really do anything to make him unlikable, but he's just so dull. I blame Taylor Kitsch who delivers every line like it's a chore or like his voice is another muscle to flex. He plays the character largely free of emotion, and for some reason, that made it hard to root for him. That and his voice although I have developed a pretty mean impression of that voice. I don't understand why science fiction dialogue and intonation has to be so stilted.

Philip Seymour Hoffman Fest: A Late Quartet

2012 movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: The Fugue is ready to celebrate their 25th season together, but the quartet's patriarch learns that he has Parkinson's which seems to set in motion a series of conflicts that threaten to tear the group apart.

What a beautiful movie this is! I don't think I ever would have watched this unless somebody told me to or I had a Philip Seymour Hoffman Fest. It's the type of adult movie that I generally try to avoid, but I really kind of loved it from the very beginning, an opening scene with the titular quartet walking to their positions on stage for the performance that bookends this movie with their names appearing above them. And then Walken quotes T.S. Eliot:

"Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future, and time future contained in time past. If all time is eternally present, all time is unredeemable. Or say that the end precedes the beginning, and the end and the beginning were always there before the beginning and after the end. And all is always now." 

I wanted to write out what I thought this movie was all about, but any theme I tried coming up with seemed like it made about as much sense as this. I think that quote does set things up nicely though, and I like how this gradually puts pieces in place for us with these characters and their complex relationships and then having their pasts and maybe futures clash beautifully for that moment on the stage together. Not everything is resolved here for you people who like to have everything resolved, but I think that's part of the point. It's a stunning look at the human condition and how egotism, betrayal, jealousy, selfishness, loss, sacrifice, and a myriad of other things not only can't get in the way of human beings making beautiful music together--proverbially and literally--but how those things all provide the fire needed to bring out artistic passion. Maybe. Metaphorical art maybe? I loved a line from Walken that really sealed it for me: "I can be grateful. . .for even one transcendent moment." I'm not a musician, and I don't have any expertise in classical music although I do listen to it when I want to trick myself into thinking I'm smarter than I actually am, so if the narrative of this borrows its structure from music, I wouldn't know. I'd like to think it does though because that would be cute. There's a great ensemble cast here. Christopher Walken gets a non-cool and completely serious role, and he nails it. I could probably hear him say anything though if I'm in the right mood. He's best in a heartbreaking scene where his wife sings. Philip Seymour Hoffman gets himself a sex scene with a beautiful actress named Liraz Charhi, has a couple scenes where he is running recreationally, and, more believably, eats with his fingers. He's as great as you'd expect him to be with a wide range of emotions. Catherine Keener's always good, and Mark Ivanir is too as the other person. Wallace Shawn, a guy with two first names, and Imogen Poots, a woman with no first names, are also really good. And I really liked seeing Liraz Charhi in the three scenes she had in this movie. Initially, I wondered if any of these actors could actually play their instruments. Apparently, they took enough lessons to fool non-musicians into thinking they were actual musicians. It fooled me anyway. The soundtrack, as expected, is really great. 

Did I mention that there's a metronome in this movie? I probably don't need to remind my faithful readers what I think of metronomes. 

Philip Seymour Hoffman Fest: The Savages

2007 family drama

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A drama professor and his aspiring dramatist sister are forced to face their insecurities when their estranged father on the other side of the country begins showing signs of dementia. 

Intriguing opener with some elderly dancers emerging from topiary'd bushes looks like it could have come straight from a David Lynch movie. And that's followed soon enough with a shot of Philip Bosco (Two Philips in this movie! How many would the Screen Writers Guild allow you to have in one movie?) writing on the bathroom wall with his own fecal matter. In my humble opinion, you can't have enough fecal matter in a movie although I've heard that the Screen Writers Guild likes to keep the amount of scenes involving excrement to one or, for obvious reasons, zero if it's a movie featuring Sylvester Stallone. And what did poor Stallone do to deserve this? Here I'm trying to pay tribute to the great Philip Seymour Hoffman, and I have to take a shot at Sylvester Stallone for no reason. That hardly seems fair. But I digress. This is billed as a comedy/drama, but the drama should definitely come first. And there are a lot of people who won't see much comedy in this at all. I'm drawn to dark humor, but this is pretty depressing. When you don't have any characters at all who seem the slightest bit happy, it's difficult to call something a comedy. Still, there are funny moments for people who like poking fun at human suffering. The two Philips are joined by Laura Linney. I'm not sure I'd automatically think of pairing her with Hoffman as siblings, but they have a great screen rapport here, and I ended up buying the relationship. Of course, I think I'm learning that Philip Seymour Hoffman had this ability to make anybody he acted with better. Linney pulls off both smart and really insecure, a woman defeated in ways she doesn't understand by her past. She's also the more likable of the siblings since she has at least a little bit of a heart left. Hoffman's a jerk, but you see why after you put all the pieces together. And really, putting pieces together is what this movie is all about. Hoffman gets some memorable scenes here--he has to act in this ridiculous contraption after hurting his neck, drives in a pain killer haze while singing in German, carries a balloon around in a funny bit of visual humor, and snatches a sympathy card in anger. I'd also like to know if the baby picture shown in this was really of him or if all babies sort of look like they could be Phillip Seymour Hoffman. There's also a great scene where Hoffman cries while eating eggs. "Your brother won't marry me, but when I cook him eggs, he cries." I don't know if I like seeing anybody cry (except for my students maybe), but he sure is good at it. I'll have to keep track during Philip Seymour Hoffman Fest, but I think the guy cries in a lot of movies. Anyway, I liked these two together, and I really liked a scene where they have a cross-country phone call with much different weather, a nifty visual to show their different personalities. Bosco is also really good as the dad, lost and feisty and unhappy with his own skin. Writer/director Tamara Jenkins could have taken a cheaper, easier route with that character, and I'm glad she didn't although the ending feels Hollywoody enough. I'm not sure the titular family is really likable, but I didn't mind spending this amount of time with them at all. 

This was a hard movie to steal a poster for because of that Oliver Stone movie. This is the superior "Savage" movie though.

My apologies Sylvester Stallone just in case he Googles himself and finds this.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

2011 foodie documentary

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A look at the titular sushi master and his Tokyo restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro. Jiro works passionately to perfect his craft, and even though the viewer doesn't get to eat any of his food, we get to consume his philosophies.

Quick question: Is "Massage the Octopus" some kind of sex act because it sounds like it might be one. Or maybe it just sounds like it should be one.

The social studies teacher on the other side of my wall plays a lot of videos in class. He might be a former Teacher of the Year for our district, but he apparently doesn't know how to use the volume button. I've brought it up with him before. A few weeks ago, he caught me in the hall and warned me that he was going to be playing a bunch of footage from Japanese game shows in order to introduce Japanese culture to his students, and I got to hear the sounds of Japanese game shows all day. Long after my classroom was aurally assaulted by those sounds, I started wondering if that was the best way to introduce 7th graders to Japanese culture anyway. What point does the social studies teacher want to get across there? What is the typical 7th grader going to assume about Japanese people with that stuff?

As I watched this movie that my brother recommended, I thought about how much the first 10 minutes of this would have been the perfect way to introduce Japan to students. Jiro goes along with this Zen-like attention to detail, an ability to be ecstatic doing the same thing over and over and over again, and this desire to achieve perfection that he'll never be willing to admit that he's achieved even if he does get there, and I was completely fascinated by him. I was amazed to find out that he's been at this for something like 78 years, since the age of 7 when he was on his own. So his story is a fascinating success story on its own, but look at the lessons you can learn from this guy and the way he does business and life:

--It's not about money at all.
--You can never know it all.
--The importance of doing something "for life." And staying passionate about it.
--Always look ahead and above yourself.
--The "no-home-to-come-back-to" parenting style.
--You're only as good as your team.
--Only accept the best from people selling you tuna or rice, from the people you work with, and yourself.
--There's no such thing as a peak.
--Probably other stuff

I've never actually eaten sushi that didn't come from a grocery store (one sample), and I've never seen sushi like it's prepared at Jiro's restaurant. But I'm going to admit that I was almost sexually attracted to his creations. There was something just so artistic about the whole thing, and I liked how they pressed the fish with their fingers. I think it has something to do with the Phillip Glass music. Once again, this proves that documentaries are always better when they have Phillip Glass music. Jiro's creations are aesthetically pleasing visually because he seems to consider what he does to be more artistic than nutritional. There's something Zen-like there, too, the creation of art that you know isn't going to survive and be appreciated at any time in the future. I loved watching these people work and the meticulous attention to detail in every step along the way. I also liked the mega-serious tuna expert guy, and a scene at a tuna auction is pretty insane. And a rice expert, a ball of giggling insanity. I did sort of feel sorry for Jiro's oldest son who, because of tradition, is still chugging along as an apprentice at the age of 60-whatever while his younger brother has opened up his own sushi joint, and I'm not sure a scene where Jiro visits his parents' graves was really necessary. Still, this documentary made me feel very warm inside and was a much better introduction to Japan than a series of clips from game shows.

Philip Seymour Hoffman Fest: Doubt

2006 nun movie

Rating: 17/20 (Jen: fell asleep)

Plot: The principal of a Catholic school suspects a liberal priest of being like most other priests.

It's a ton of fun watching two actors--Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman--at the tops of their games. This is almost entirely dialogue driven, and that pair of antagonists get more than a few scenes to try to eat each other with words. There's just so much ummph behind each and every phrasing, and I don't think I've seen a pair nail every single word so perfectly before. They push on each other, hammer away, bicker like pros. Sometimes, it's less about the writing and more about the delivery. Sometimes, it's just a word, Streep saying "Candy!" or "This" or Hoffman saying "Intolerance" in ways that show you how much performance matters. They're words like claws. Streep's Sister Aloysius recalls Nurse Ratched, only a little more in-your-face and bitchy. She's got an accent and a loathing of ballpoint pens and Frosty the Snowman which apparently celebrates the pagan belief in magic. I'd find it hard to believe that anybody can watch this movie and root for her character from the first time we meet her, a shot where she's slapping a kid on the back of the head during a church service. That's the first time we see Hoffman's priest, too, giving a sermon about the titular feeling. He's good in two sermon scenes, and hopefully they're enough to get him into heaven. Hoffman gets to show off his extraordinary basketball skills, the same ones he showed off in Along Came Polly. He also creates continuity errors with a forehead vein. Each actor is great individually, but they really seem to turn it up when they're in scenes together. "Where's your compassion?" Hoffman will ask, and Streep will answer, "Not anywhere you can get at it." Some of the most violent dialogue you're ever likely to hear. And I love how the two are shot, sometimes with crooked camera angles and sometimes with just the way they're positioned. In a way, I feel sorry for poor Amy "Am I in the way here?" Adams who just can't keep up, but her character is important as the on-screen representation of the movie's audience trying to make up our minds about who to believe. And that's where this movie really gets interesting. It toys with you, creating doubt with the likability of the characters, subtle clues or red herrings, obvious clues or clues that just seem obvious. It's a movie that requires you to decide for yourself without any real evidence, and it's the kind of thing that could bring out a person's biases and reveal more about the person watching the movie than any of the characters. In a way, it reminds me of that short story "The Lady or the Tiger?" It's the kind of art that holds up that proverbial mirror in front of the viewer. Two people watching in the same room, provided one doesn't fall asleep about five minutes after the movie's started--won't have the same reaction to the central plot or questions of pedophilic behavior or a scene where a boy's mother (played terrifically by Viola Davis in a small role) has a reaction that might not make a lot of sense to some people. It's a powerful movie that'll challenge your thinking a bit. And three more things I want to mention: 1) A pair of birds, the symbolism which I didn't understand. 2) Alice Drummond, the actress who didn't like Dan Marino in Pet Detective, brilliant as the elderly Sister Veronica. 3) A scene where the wind picks up and some leaves swirl around a character. I avoided this movie because I thought it looked really boring. It's definitely not boring!


2013 movie where Matthew McConaughey keeps his shirt on (for the most part)

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Two boys living off the mighty Mississippi help a fugitive hiding in a boat in a tree on an island. 

This movie is too long, and I'm not sure I was that interested in the main plot line about a murderer who a bunch of tough guys are after. What elevates this movie are its themes about love and how the main character--not the titular character--is trying to figure it all out. With apologies to Foreigner, he wants to know what love is and feel what love is and he wants you (or anybody) to show him. That's apparently why he puts so much faith in Mud and his stories which in no way can be the God's honest truth because nobody else around seems to love right. His parents are heading for divorce, his best pal and partner-in-crime Neckbone's got an uncle who seems to be a womanizer and all-around offender of women, older boys are just interested in copping feels. Reese Witherspoon's character eventually lets him down, too, despite the fairy tale romance he believed that whole thing to be. And then there's the relationship he forms with a high school cougar, a relationship which turns out to not be exactly what he expected or wanted. I wasn't sure what Ellis was ultimately supposed to learn from all this, but I decided this is a movie about how love can let you down but that you'll still come out just fine on the other side. Or maybe it's not about that at all since the kid doesn't even know what the audience knows by the end of the movie. McConaughey continues to take roles that he's about perfect for, and he does a good job creating this mysticism or at least mystery. You don't trust what he says, but you trust that it's a real character who's saying it all. And look at Sam Shepard and Joe Don Baker! I was most impressed with Ray McKinnon who played Holly Hunter's fiance in O Brother, Where Art Thou? as the dad in this. It's a controlled performance, and he's got these eyes that let you know there are tons of things he'd like to say that he can't because it's not in the script. The way he attacks a Ding Dong package was enough to sell that character. And give credit to the boys--Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland who play Ellis and Neckbone respectively. This dives into territories that feel too Hollywoody at times, and I'm still not sure the ultimate payoff is completely worth it, but it's a well-acted story with a lot of the natural beauty of the Mississippi to look at. If I ever watch this again, it'll be to keep better track of the religious imagery though. Crosses on shoes, snakes, a motorcycle. Were there more? And what's the deal with Mud's superstitions? And why does he seem to appear out of nowhere the first time we see him? 

We're the Millers

2013 comedy

Rating: 9/20 (Jen: 13/20)

Plot: After his stash is stolen, drug-dealing loser David is forced to go to Mexico to smuggle a gargantuan amount of marijuana across the border so that his drug boss doesn't kill him. With a neighbor kid, a homeless girl, and a stripper who lives in his building, he travels incognito as the titular family in a recreational vehicle. Then: comedy! 

These are very difficult-to-like characters (I mean, one is a virgin! And he's weird looking!) played by actors and actresses willing to demean themselves to be about half as funny as they think they are. Jennifer Aniston, at this stage in her career, does not have to play a stripper and have a lengthy scene where she disrobes, a scene that doesn't--at least logically--move the plot along and isn't funny at all. A later scene involving a lot of kissing will also make you question Aniston's choices. Will Poulter plays the virgin, creepily, and he gets a nice moment where he drops his pants and flashes fake genitalia. The clumsiness with how that scene is shot makes it seem like director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Rawson?) went into this with the attitude that he was going to shockingly show us a boy's genitals and didn't really need to worry about the technical side of things. That scene will be shown in Poulter's "in memoriam" thing on the awards shows when he dies. Emma Roberts is barely noticeable. And I'm surprised Jason Sudeikis, playing the really unlikable "dad" here, isn't hit in the nuts repeatedly. It's that kind of movie, the kind that starts with a series of Internet memes--double-rainbow guy, etc.--and is stuffed with modern references that nobody will even understand in ten years. I hate when comedies give themselves a very short shelf life. Ed Helms is another actor who needs to start making better decisions because his likability is about to expire if it hasn't happened already. Not even Nick Offerman and Nick Offerman's mustache can save this. I really hated this movie and am embarrassed that I laughed a couple times. 

Mario Bava Fest: Black Sunday

1960 horror movie

Rating: 18/20

Plot: A 17th Century witch is understandably pissed when she's sentenced to death and has an iron-spiked mask hammered into her face before her burning. A couple hundred years later, she is brought back to life by some bumbling visitors and decides to try to inhabit the body of a girl who sort of looks like her.

Bava's first is my last for January's Mario Bava Festival. Yes, it's already on the blog somewhere, but I'm bumping it up a couple points because it's just that good. I think some clumsy dubbing got in my way the first time I watched this. New to Bava, I'm not sure I knew that I was just supposed to watch the thing. Also known as The Mask of Satan, this is Bava adding his own visual style to an otherwise classical presentation. The set design and a lot of shots could have come from a silent horror movie or one of those Universal monster movies. But man, I love how the camera moves in this, weaving through trees and maneuvering through the kind of house you'd expect to see in a movie like this, and in one terrific long shot, leading a girl as she goes out to milk a cow. Some of Bava's shots are so perfectly framed. He uses the architecture and gnarled tree branches as well as any director, and along with the lighting and an omnipresent mist, it all creates a mood of supernatural mystery. Dig that grave emergence scene, the movement of a phantom horse and carriage where it looks like it's in slow motion with everything else at regular speed, the shot of Javuto driving said coach like he's being filmed in 1923, a pan and a swirl on a dead face, a great shot of Asa's hand and long long fingers, a partially-decomposed face complete with maggots, and glowing cloudy orbs transitioning into a brass instrument bell. Oh, and who can forget that harshly satanic scene with the mask and the bulbous hammer? It's gorgeous stuff, and if you watched this entire movie without any sound at all and had no clue what was going on in the story, you really wouldn't mind. There's also the standard beautiful woman Bava loves to show off. This time, it's Barbara Steele who is so good in dual roles that you might not realize she's playing dual roles. Just so good, and an undeniably influential piece of horror art. I'd have to see Kill Baby, Kill again to decide whether this is my favorite Mario Bava movie. It's probably the one newcomers should watch first.

Shane Watches a Bad Movie on Facebook with Friends: Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn

1983 post-apocalyptic sci-fi

Rating: 9:/20 (Fred: 12/20; Carrie: 8/20; Josh: 6/20; 6.7/20; Johnny: 6/20)

Plot: Mad Max rescues a chick and then has to rescue her again after the titular bad guy kidnaps her. So he drives his little tank thing, finds a friend or two, and drive and drive to find him. Along the way--Richard Moll. 

Things I'm sad about: 

1) That I couldn't see this film as God intended me to see it--in glorious 3-D! 
2) That the sequel the makers of this ambitiously set up never was made. 

Here's a Spoiler Alert: Jared-Syn is not destroyed in this movie. No, he goes on a ride on Disney's Space Mountain and disappears. This movie has a ton of sand and lots of vehicular explosion. There is a lot of dopey moments where they're obviously trying to take advantage of the 3-D. You won't care about the characters in this--not even Richard Moll--and you might not even be able to find anything you'd call a plot. However, it's not all bad. There's a cool variety of post-apocalyptic vehicles which get maybe more screen time than the actors, some pretty good costumes, and a few interesting creatures including a bunch of cyclopes and a guy with a metal arm that spews anti-freeze at his enemies. Oh, and there's a lightning crab monster that is not a special effect that I reckon anybody would be proud of. This movie's also got it's own Cantina scene which, believe it or not, looks a little cheaper than the one in A New Hope. And for all you Kelly Preston fans, this movie's also got Kelly Preston. 

Why is this movie called Metalstorm, by the way? Is it because that's the most badass title in the history of cinema? It must be. There isn't anything resembling a storm of metal in the movie. Maybe that only showed up in 3-D? 

This isn't a particularly inspired motion picture or even a very good one, but I think I would have really liked it as a kid, especially if I had gotten to see it in 3-D. The title screen alone would have had me ruining a perfectly good pair of pants. 

The Act of Killing

2012 documentary

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Documentary guy Joshua Oppenheimer and some anonymous friends talk Indonesian death squad gangsters Anwar Congo and Adi Zulkadry into reenacting their titular violent deeds in the style of Hollywood musicals, gangster dramas, and Westerns.

I'll start this with the same Voltaire quote that was used to preface this documentary: "All murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets." That's almost insanely juxtaposed with a shot similar to the surreal image on the poster above, pink-clad dancers near the mouth of a giant metal fish. And the other bookend for this chilling and utterly mesmerizing documentary is what I can only describe as a phony exorcism, Congo attempting to vomit away his sins or something in one of the more painful and beguiling scenes I can remember seeing in a movie. I generally like my documentaries more human than historical; this is, sadly, a little of both. For large parts of this, I suspected that I was being had, that this was all a little too strange to be real. It's stuffed with moments that are unforgettable, jaw-dropping, or just plain nutty. A cha-cha'ing executioner, boasts that they were "more sadistic than the Nazis," a story about a girl sucking off six guys and not losing any cum followed immediately by a prayer, a guy showing off his collection of crystal animals before exhibiting immense pride for his Billy the Bass, a bizarre "Born Free" musical number in front of a waterfall, a gangster who spends a great deal of the movie hamming it up for the camera in drag. A lot of this is funny, kind of in an uncomfortable way. You don't see a lot of black comedy in documentaries. And, of course, a lot of it is nightmarish. There's a profound indifference that makes you a little sick, probably most despairing in a stand-out scene where they're reenacting the burning of a village. It was just like watching a nightmare where the most sinister people in that nightmare are having too good a time. Congo himself is an enigma, sometimes in a hot pink cowboy hat. There's a scene where he's watching some of the film they're making and calls to his grandchildren, "Come watch the scene where Grandpa is tortured and killed." He seems to be acting during a lot of this after the acting is over, and one scene threatens to turn into a complete cliche, one that brought out the beginnings of a groan in me until the director called him on his bullshit and turned it all into something else. This is a guy who craves redemption, it seems, as he's forced to relive his past or in some cases relive reliving his past, but he doesn't seem capable of getting rid of the indifference or pride. This is chilling but engrossing, even through the credits where a large percentage of the crew and even two of the directors are listed as Anonymous. That's almost a little gimmicky. Most chilling is that I'm not sure this really says anything at all. It doesn't give a voice to the victims or really make a statement about what is going on, more like a couple of these death squad guys taking the part of unreliable tour guides through a hell they don't seem to completely comprehend. It's baffling and worth discussing. Good stuff, a documentary that reminds me of something Werner Herzog would put together. He and Errol Morris executive produced the thing. I do wonder if it's a little too long though.

Mario Bava Fest: 5 Dolls for an August Moon

1970 murder mystery

Rating: 10/20

Plot: Swingers attempt to swindle a chemist during a getaway on an island and then back stab each other literally and figuratively.

Don't watch this movie. Watch Bava's next feature, A Bay of Blood (or Twitch of the Death Nerve) which has a similar premise (people being murdered on an island) and is much better. This is an Agatha Christie type murder mystery that, to be perfectly honest, didn't make a hell of a lot of sense. Did you know that her original story was Ten Little Niggers, by the way? I am not making that up. And I'm happy to provide you with that little bit of trivia because now my blog might enjoy more traffic from white supremacists who happen to be fans of Mario Bava. More than likely, that's the demographic I'm writing for anyway.  The only thing I really liked about this was that all the dead were hung in a meat locker which was always shown with this carousel music. For whatever reason, that struck me as funny. This has almost none of the style you'd expect from a Mario Bava movie except for a scene with some spilled glass balls rolling down stairs and the no-way-that-could-be-accidental placement of a carrot following one death scene. Of course, any bonus point I would have given this for the use of a carrot as a phallic symbol is taken away when there's a continuity error in a later shot and the vegetable moves. This movie feels somehow more sleazy than the other island movie even though it lacks nudity. And it's pretty boring with most of the murders taking place off-screen. The biggest bunch of nothing happens for the first 20 minutes or so. There are some swinging dancers or dancing swingers, a peeping Tabitha, parlor games that oddly involve faux human sacrifice. Even the waiter guy is dancing. I'd not mind partying with these characters, but I'm not exactly glad I had to spend this hour and a half with them. This is a movie that is not as good as its title.