1993 horror comedy

Rating: 8/20

Plot: A mean leprechaun wreaks havoc after his gold is stolen.

This doesn't work as a comedy or as a horror film, and considering that's the two things that it's supposed to be, that's probably not a good thing. Warwick Davis's lively performance as the titular fantasy creature saves it from being a complete bust, but it's also worth watching for Friends fans for the chance to see a young Jennifer Aniston looking as cute as a fucking button in colorful shorts and for fans of either Teen Wolf or Pee Wee's Big Adventure to see Mark Holton who played Michael J. Fox's tubby teammate in the former and Francis in the latter. Of course, while Aniston shows off some of the charisma that would make her America's darling a few years later, Holton shows that he really isn't a very good actor. It's worth any time you spend with this movie to hear him say "It's a magic rainbow!" though! Worse than Holton is Robert Hy Gorman, a child actor who was also in Rookie of the Year. I can't tell whether Gorman brings Holton down or if Holton brings Gormon down, but they're in nearly every scene together and probably don't help each other out. Warwick Davis, on the other hand, gives a ridiculously good performance. He unfortunately just has a stupid script to deal with and probably shouldn't be given as many lines as he's given anyway. What should be a silent horror movie killer ends up talking even more than Freddy Krueger. Only Leprechaun isn't really as funny as Freddy. He sings a little too much, and I'm not sure if I like or dislike that he's able to mimic other people's voices. Anyway, with the exception of a scene where the leprechaun loses a hand or the scene where he pogo-sticks a guy to death, most of this is really silly. But at least the leprechaun looks good.

Total Recall

1990 sci-fi action movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Douglas Quaid has an obsession with Mars and decides to invest in a virtual vacation, but things go wrong when real repressed memories of the planet come forth during the procedure. And then some bad guys are after him and Sharon Stone kicks him in the balls a couple times, so Quaid is forced to travel to Mars for real to take on an oppressive monopolizer.

Perfect example of a movie that manages to be both pretty clever and really really dumb. I've kind of grown to expect that from any movie made from a Philip K. Dick story or novel though. I'll say this though--with the allure of Sharon Stone in her prime hotness, Schwarzenegger's typically hammy performance, a really cool combination of B-movie mentality and neat special effects, and relentless action, this is never boring. There's a weirdness to the future depicted here that also keeps things interesting, from the mutants and a red-light district little person (Thumbelina, played by Debbie Lee Carrington with a sexy outfit and the action chops to make stabbing people or shooting a machine gun look realistic) to Arnold's frumpy lady costume and towel turban to three-breasted women and eyeball bloating. I don't know for sure, but I imagine this is about where Schwarzenegger's thing started to get a little tired. He enthusiastically throws himself into these roles though, and the 80's definitely wouldn't have been the same without the guy. In this, he runs around like a character in a Hitchcock mistaken-identity thriller on steroids, kills more people than many movie stars get to kill in their entire careers, and enunciate those trademark one-liners. The best (and by that, I mean the worst) is during a scene with a hyped-up-on-speed character named Benny and a drill car. Benny (Mel Johnson Jr.) gets enough ridiculous lines during that scene--seriously, who says, "I'm gonna squash you!"--but when our hero throws out a "Screw you!" pun? Schwarzenegger, please! And that's not even the most ridiculous line in the whole movie. No, that's the bizarre piece of writing that manages to be both a failed attempt at a tough guy movie line and bizarre product placement--"You'll be dead, and I'll blow this place up and be home in time for corn flakes." Seriously, actor Ronny Cox should have stopped everything during rehearsals and said, "Hey, guys. Are you sure you want me to say that in the movie?" Back to Schwarzenegger though--it's pretty bad when you're out-acted by an animatronic taxi cab driver, isn't it? The acting in this is universally terrible actually. Sharon Stone looks great, even in late-80's exercise spandex and a dated hair style, but her acting is embarrassing. And check out the scene where the characters are trying to clean up after the fucked up Rekall. Part of that isn't even the actors fault because it's very poorly written, but the whole thing is so unnatural that I just had to laugh. I did enjoy the brief performance of Roy Brocksmith as Dr. Edgemar though. I could have sworn I recognized his voice from somewhere, but I can't think of where that would be. Marshall Bell is credited with playing Kuato, but I'm not sure if that was just his abdomen the greasy puppet was emerging from or if he actually voiced the ridiculous thing. I liked the look of the puppet, but I still wonder if people in theaters laughed at the thing. "Open your miiiiiiiiiiind!" This isn't quite good enough to be classic sci-fi or anything, but it's inventiveness and wildly imaginative imagery more than make up for the stupidity in the storytelling or the awful acting. And did I mention there's a woman with three breasts, at least one that looks to be papier-mache?

Ender's Game

2013 sci-fi movie

Rating: 13/20

Plot: The titular child is brought to Battle School to be trained to lead the International Fleet in the second war with the Buggers who in this movie are called the Formics for some reason. Colonel Graff, using controversial means, works to form young Ender into the leader the world needs while he gets some help from a few of his peers and, later, Mazer Rackham, the hero from the first war with the insectoid alien race.

I'll admit--I actually gave this movie bonus points just because a guy I know named Bryan didn't like it. The guy's a tool, and I don't want to agree with him. I don't think it's a sci-fi classic by any means. Honestly, I didn't like the book very much either. The book is very drawn out and adds a lot of political stuff with Ender's siblings. This almost removes the siblings and their importance to the story entirely, probably because there just wasn't enough time for all that. Unfortunately, I'm not sure there was enough time for a lot of plot details that added some depth to the characters, and without a lot of that depth, I'm not sure a lot of what happens in this really resonates. In fact, I'm not entirely sure a lot of it would make much sense. It really does feel like a Cliff Notes version of the story, but since the story's a little bloated anyway, maybe that's not a terrible thing. Of course, the truncated storytelling came at the expense of the characterization. Even the main character was a little too flat to make any of this work as well as it should have. I did like the kid who played Ender, Asa Butterfield, a performance that would have seemed a little stiff if it wasn't exactly how I pictured him in my head when I read the book. He does get a few big emotional moments to show off including one where he faces off against Harrison Ford and holds his own. Hailee Steinfeld's in this, too, and she's good though underutilized. Viola Davis and Ben Kingsley are also maybe underutilized, but they also seem sort of out of place to begin with. I did like one kid, Moises Arias who played Bonzo (a name with a pronunciation the actors can't seem to remember). If I ever get my movie about the making of the television series Growing Pains off the ground, he's going to be my Boner. He looked a lot like the late Andrew Koenig, and it would be cool if he had both Bonzo and Boner on his acting resume. And no, you don't need to tell me what a terrific idea a movie about the making of Growing Pains would be. It's my idea, and I already know how awesome it is. Ford was also fine as Graff although I'm not entirely convinced he wasn't phoning it in a little. I thought the special effects were phenomenal--the no-gravity battle room stuff was so good that I actually could have stood to see more of those scenes and the outer space explosions are just as good as you'd expect them to be in a movie from 2013. Now, don't get me wrong. I don't believe every YA book needs to be stretched into a trilogy, but in order for Orson Scott Card's (idiotic homophobe and author) to really connect and having any meaning, this should have been at least two movies. In this abridged form, the characters are forgettable and the meanings behind their decisions just doesn't have much impact.


2013 baseball biopic

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

Plot: The story of how Branch Rickey brought brought a black man named Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Some people didn't like it very much.

Despite being a fan of both baseball and black people, I really didn't expect to like this and actually avoided it for a while. The advertisements made it look like a half-assed made-for-television production, and I felt that I knew so much about Jackie Robinson's story through my own readings, the Ken Burns documentary, and other things that there wasn't anything to see here. I'm happy that I was wrong about it.

But before I get too serious, I have to point out my best-worst editing that I've seen in a while, something that made me laugh because I've got the mind of a four-year-old. There's a scene that we're told takes place in 1945 where Jackie is stealing bases in a Negro League game with the Kansas City Monarchs. Then, it shows the Monarchs' bus stopping at a gas station and Jackie confronting segregation and getting to use a restroom. It cuts to a scene in Branch Rickey's office with Harrison Ford grumbling, "Get him. Bring him here." He's talking, of course, about Robinson. Then, one of the guys from that office is at the gas station. Jackie pops out of the bathroom and talks to the guy. Then, it's 1947. The only thing I can assume here is that Jackie Robinson was taking a dump for two years which, to me at least, is even more impressive than breaking the color barrier.

This might be a little by-the-book or color-by-numbers, but I liked the authentic feel. I couldn't figure out if they used CGI or actually reconstructed Ebbets Field for this thing, but it looked terrific and somewhat convinced me that I was actually watching baseball from the late-1940's except with a lot more camera angles. Helping give 42 that genuine feel was surprising work by John C. McGinley as the Hall of Fame announcer Red Barber whose phrase-turnings and vernacular might have been my favorite thing about the movie. Harrison Ford also gets a chance to growl out some old-timey idioms, making every conversation he's involved in fun and unpredictable. I wasn't sure I liked Ford's performance all that much initially, but the character and grumbling voice grew on me. I'm surprised a bit at how Ford's transitioned into an actor taking on these roles where he's playing old men, but his voice fits well and his face sags perfectly. This ended up being a remarkable performance of a guy whose actual motivation might have been sketchy but here is pretty much all heroic. Christopher Meloni and Alan Tudyk are also good in smaller roles, the former as the philandering Dodgers' skipper Leo Durocher and the latter as Phillies manager Ben Chapman who Philadelphia can definitely be proud of. Chapman represents the face of bigotry and assholery, the most in-your-face opposition for Robinson in the movie. Despite a lack of curse words, director/writer Brian Helgeland didn't pull his punches here. Also very good in a despicable cameo is the guy who plays a sheriff who throws Jackie out of a game in Florida. The guy was so recognizable, but I can't place my finger on who it is. Finally, Chadwick Boseman and Nicole Beharie play Mr. and Mrs. Robinson. I'm glad that both were important to the movie since Rachel Robinson was pretty important to the whole story. Boseman has Robinson's physique, and although there isn't actually all that much baseball in the movie, he looks the part of a baseball player. There are probably more than a few inaccuracies (I identified a few), but the story's about as well told as the story can be in a couple hours, and they really nailed a few scenes including my favorite with Pee Wee Reese's arm. It's not the most powerful movie about racial segregation you'll ever see, but it's a solidly told story and a great sports movie. I would have done away with the beginning of this which sets things up historically but was ultimately unnecessary and the end which kind of generically gets into Robinson's impact but not very effectively.

Identity Thief

2013 comedy

Rating: 9/20 (Jen: 10/20)

Plot: Successful businessman Sandy Patterson has his life thrown into a disarray when the titular criminal steals his identity. He decides to make the trip from Denver to Florida to fetch her and bring her to the police.

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Arrested Development and will always like Jason Bateman. And that's even knowing that my wife seems to have a thing for him. I think he's one of the best comedic straight men out there. He makes for a believable everyman, and I like how his voice gets high and crackly when he's perturbed. He's good at that. I'm not the fan of Melissa McCarthy that everybody else seems to be although I do think she's talented and funny with her big personality and fearlessness. She could be the female Johnny Knoxville. Unfortunately, it seems like Bateman and McCarthy showed up to do this movie and the producers said, "Oh, crap! We don't really have much of a movie. Writers! Make something happen!" It's the kind of movie that requires you to abandon all logic in order to enjoy because it really doesn't make any sense at all, but even if you're willing to do that and just go along for the ride, it's still not much fun at all. It's predictable, strangely bland, and just not funny at all. It wasn't Bateman or McCarthy's fault unless you fault them just for deciding to be in a stupid movie like this. Their chemistry is actually pretty good. They just had nearly nothing to work with here. It's all stupid characters making illogical decisions for periods of time that were way too long.

This Is the End

2013 apocalyptic comedy

Rating: 12/20 (Jen: 2/20)

Plot: It looks like it's the titular end for everybody, including some of Hollywood's most beloved comedic actors. A few of James Franco's buddies try to survive as the apocalypse rages outside.

As you probably know, I'm all about the special effects. And the special effects in this movie were terrible. I mean, James Franco didn't even look real. I like Franco just fine, but there are times when I'm convinced he's just not a very good actor at all. He's sometimes too manic and wide-eyed, and that's definitely the case there. It's still kind of fun watching him in his unbridled, manic state though, and it's obvious that he's having a good time making this after several years of more serious acting gigs. I don't mind Seth Rogen either although I also don't think he's a great talent. I do mind Jonah Hill, and I've never been able to articulate why. It might be his first name, his voice, his face. It might be that he's just not doing enough nude scenes. Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson (a black man), and Danny McBride round out the main crew with the latter probably getting out the funniest lines. The funniest parts of all are provided by Michael Cera, poking holes in his own image, going places where no Michael Cera has gone before. A cameo by Emma Watson is a welcomed sight later on, especially since the thing had turned into a real sausage fest. And speaking of sausage, that's really what this movie is about. It's improv comedy, the only kind of comedy that could have made this work at all. And the fellows are all good at that sort of thing except when you've got a group of guys together just riffing, there's really only one thing that it can evolve into--an endless stream of references to male genitalia. And that's really what happens here after a while. They get lost, run out of ideas, and go straight to the penis because penises are apparently always funny. I swear there's one scene in this where they're sitting around a fire in James Franco's living room and just taking turns saying the word "Penis!" in different ways. So while this movie starts out funny and fresh, it really loses steam by the end and kind of sputters on and on. And it ends with one of those boy bands from the 90's in a gag that just seems like the cheapest tacked-on gag in the history of movie comedy. I'm not completely unhappy that I watched this (Jen was) but it's nothing I'd ever watch again. At least there shouldn't be a sequel.

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

2013 comedy

Rating: 14/20 (Jen: made it about 4 or 5 minutes, right up to the point where the character gets his penis stuck in a carbonated beverage machine's change slot)

Plot: The titular octogenarian, following the death of his wife and the imprisonment of his daughter, is forced to drive his grandson across the country to North Carolina to his son-in-law.

I really didn't think I'd like this very much, but I'm not sure why because--Lord help me--I like everything else these Jackasses do. I guess I'm a sucker for this guerrilla-style movie making, and a lot of this made me laugh harder than I've laughed at a movie in a while. Of course, that is probably something that should embarrass me a little bit. Now, Johnny Knoxville doesn't quite have the acting chops or consistency of a Sasha Baron Cohen with his characters, and even though this thing actually was nominated for an Academy Award for makeup/hairstyling, I'm not sure how people not in on the gags believed this was an actual old person at times. But there's a lot of creativity with the set-ups of these pranks which more than makes up for the minor flaws or the tedium of the narrative. Of course, a lot of times the fun in these things is from the reactions of the bystanders. It's really difficult to believe that they're all 100% authentic and even harder to imagine why the hell some of these people signed release forms or whatever to allow their faces in this thing. I guess in our country saturated with reality shows and their superstars, people just want their 15 minutes of fame though. Knoxville, no matter how close he gets to being a Hollywood A-lister, isn't afraid to do anything on camera which is simultaneously juvenile and endearing. Here, the crew treads pretty uncomfortable territories, and there are a lot of moments where you just say to yourself, "No, he's not really going there, is he?" and then watch with an open mouth while he goes there. Still, there aren't any moments in this where it gets mean-spirited, and while the joke's often on innocent average Joes who don't know they're in on the joke, the joke's never really about them unlike some of Cohen's stuff which seems to be poking fun at the ignorance of the masses. No, this doesn't have anything to say about humanity like Borat or Bruno; this is more about creating situations for big laughs. And there's no question that it succeeds in doing that. Jackson Nicoll, the kid who plays Billy the kid in this, deserves some recognition here. He's pretty natural in this and has the type of punk face that makes the character believable. Of course, he might just be playing himself. But the wrong kid in this kind of thing could have been disastrous, and he pulls it all off very naturally, even seeming to make Knoxville laugh unexpectedly a few times. Catherine Keener also apparently plays the dead grandma, but I didn't notice that until the credits. That would have potentially given me the strangest erection.

Inside Llewyn Davis

2013 movie

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

Plot: A week or so in the life of a folk singer as he tries to make a living with his craft, crashes at various people's homes, and takes care of kitties.

Well, here's a big surprise: I really enjoyed yet another Coen Brother movie. This one's in the same ballpark as A Serious Man or Barton Fink, at least in its method of storytelling. The story refuses to go where you expect or maybe even want it to go, and it's stubborn in its refusal to answer all of your questions. Like Man and Fink, it's a character study of a guy you're probably not supposed to like all that much, one of those human beings who is not only flawed but seems to wallow in his flaws. Here, the titular folk singer is a little arrogant, directionless, and sort of bitterly apathetic. He's just the sort of character I enjoy watching in movies and just the sort of character other people can't stand watching. The performance of Oscar Isaac is pitch perfect. There's a tragedy to the character that you can't pinpoint, and Isaac has that ability that some actors have to keep his character's past just below the surface where you can only almost see it. And the cat can sing! This isn't listed as a comedy, but I thought parts were very funny. Isaac had great comic timing, but you sort of have to expect performers in a Coen Brothers' movie to have great comic timing. Even more hilarious is Coen-regular John Goodman who gets a really great character to goof around with, a heroin-addicted jazz musician. Almost everything Roland Turner says is hilarious, offensive, or a little of both. But nearly stealing the entire movie in a brief scene in this movie made up of a bunch of brief scenes is Adam Driver during the recording of a song called "Please, Mr. Kennedy" in which his warm-ups or practicing is something that makes me laugh just thinking about it. One of those brilliant things that I guess you could see in other movies but sort of expect them in Coen Brother movies. But it's not all fun and songs in this. In fact, it's kind of bleak, bleaker maybe because of the movie's circular structure and cat confusion. I'd have to watch this again (and I will sometime) to study the structure of this bad boy and figure out what the cat(s) symbolize. And as an excuse to hear the music again. I really had a head start with this one because I am familiar with the time period and folk music scene because of my obsession with Bob Dylan. The Dylan reference in this might give the best clue about what might happen to Mr. Davis, by the way. Maybe. I guess it would really be up to him. Oh, one more thing--I really liked the way this movie looked. The Coens didn't have their usual cinematographer apparently, but this movie--like a lot of my favorite movies--was nice and gray. There's also some great period detail. Maybe I'm just easily impressed, but I'm always more impressed with contemporary movies pulling off 1920's-1960's. How do they do that?

Bad Movie Club: The Devil's Rain

1975 devil movie

Rating: 6/20 (Fred: 4/20 [lowered it to a -5/20 due to the lack of a virgin sacrifice, however], Johnny: -5/20; Libby: 666/20 [obviously, my friends don't take my rating system seriously--she did say 6/20 later]; Josh: 6/20 [for the Devil's lack of storytelling]; Jeremy: 3/20 [watched only part of the movie and had no sound for a lot of it])

Plot: Satanists collect souls in a globe, and William Shatner and Tom Skerritt decide to fight back after their family is terrorized. Or something. I guess this is why I'll never be asked to write plot synopses for the backs of dvd covers.

It was Bad Movie Club vs. The Devil week! And I think we lost. This movie made very little sense to any of us Bad Movie Clubbers probably because, as Josh pointed out, it had absolutely no exposition. It was just Bam! William Shatner looking all serious! Then, Bam! Old man! Then, Bam! Guy melting! Then, Bam! William Shatner going to a ghost town and getting molested by devil worshipers, one who apparently is John Travolta in his first movie. I'd argue that the movie not only lacks an exposition but doesn't really have an ending that makes sense either. There was the titular Devil's Rain and then an insane devil's plot twist that left me scratching my head, not because I was confused but because I was checking to make sure I hadn't sprouted a goat horn or two because apparently that's something that happens. Just ask poor Ernest Borgnine. Borgnine looks lost and confused by this production. Shatner seems right at home in this, the second Bad Movie Club pick we've seen featuring the maestro. Travolta, sadly, only has a blink-and-you'll-miss-'em part in this although he's featured prominently on recent dvd covers, probably to get the Scientologists reaching for their wallets. And how do you draw in the Satanists? Easy! Get Anton Lavey to make a cameo appearance. Unfortunately for his "religion," this movie makes it into something slightly more embarrassing than Mormonism. Of course, this wasn't made to convert people to Satanism. No, this was made to thrill audiences with scenes of melting that will make the conclusions of The Wizard of Oz and Raiders of the Lost Ark look like they were made by a kid horsing around with 43 dollars and 95 cents worth of Play-Doh. That's why the ending with the special effects to make it look like people were melting from, I can only assume, the titular precipitation, lasted about 25 minutes. They leaned pretty heavily on that effect. They also went all-in on their twist ending by throwing out the following tagline:

"Absolutely the most incredible ending of any motion picture!"

That's the type of tagline that makes it completely impossible to deliver the goods. I mean, everything is going to be a let-down after that build-up, isn't it? "Most incredible ending of any motion picture!"? It's not and arguably not even "incredible" at all, but compared to the tagline on the poster up there--"Heaven help us all when The Devil's Rain!"--it's perfectly logical. Seriously, just try to figure that out. Heaven help us all when the devil IS rain? Heaven help us all when the devil's rain. . .the devil's rain does what? Maybe you have to imagine it in a William Shatner-esque cadence? Speaking of Shatner's magical delivery, here's a list of my favorite things that my friends said this week because I'm really too lazy to put together any more coherent thoughts about this movie:

Josh: "Apparently Shatner is in the middle of a sentence...this is the longest pause ever, though."
Johnny: [about Shatner] "Just look at this majestic bastard."
Josh: "This is the Wilhelm Whine."
Me: "Weather forecast called for just rain, but this looks like DEVIL'S RAIN!"
Fred: "We are really lost having not seen Devil's Rain 0."
Josh: "I think we missed The Devil's Rain 1: It's Getting Cloudy."
Libby: "Is this the movie Tom Hanks is watching in The Burbs?" (I guess we need to verify this one.)
Libby: "I was a little lost in Skerrit's stash there for a sec. . ." A little later--"Look at that tight little ass!" (The raw sexuality of Skerritt seemed to be the only thing keeping Libby awake actually.)
Johnny: "Tom's fighting style relies heavily on using his crotch."
Jeremy: "Fun fact: Shatner refused to wear a shirt in this scene."
Johnny: "Is this a Yankee Candle origin story?"
Me: "Special effects provided by Travolta's plastic surgeon." And--"M&M's needed to do product placement here. M&M's: Melt in your mouth--not in the Devil's Rain."
Fred: "So really wouldn't this be God's rain?" (It's a fair argument.)
Libby: "I'm in the mood for some cheese fondue."

See? Look at how much fun you're missing by not joining us Sunday nights at 9:30 Eastern Time. I forgot to mention my favorite actor in this: Woody Chambliss as an old man. He seemed so familiar, but other than a small role in Greaser's Palace, I can't find anything on his filmography that I would remember him from. Well, obviously unless I have some repressed memories of watching reruns of Gunsmoke. And I suppose that's possible. I've repressed a lot. I can only hope that I'm able to do that with this movie.

Guess who this is!

Borgnine Goat!

By the way, if you don't think this write-up makes a lot of sense, compare it to The Devil's Rain.

The Black Rider--The Casting of the Magic Bullets

1990 TV movie of a theater production

Rating: n/r (I don't feel like I can rate this because I don't speak German. Most of the dialogue is in German.)

Plot: Based on the German folktale Der Freischutz, this is about a guy who falls in love with the daughter of a hunter. In order to impress her father, he gets the titular bullets from the devil. These bullets are guaranteed to hit anything the guy wants. It all leads to a denouement that will be predictable to anybody who knows how depressing German folktales usually are.

This is a stage collaboration that has Robert Wilson doing the stage design (very German expressionistic) and direction, William S. Burroughs handling the story, and Tom Waits providing most of the song lyrics. Two of those people are my favorite people ever. Of course, I bought the Waits studio versions of most of these songs the day it came out because that's the type of Tom Waits fan I am, but other than some photos, I'd never seen the musical. I've always loved the songs, and it was fun hearing them sung by other performers, especially the haunting "November," the tragically-beautiful "Briar and the Rose" or "I'll Shoot the Moon," and the weird gothic polka of "Flash Pan Hunter." Or "Crossroads," a rockabilly beatnik downer with lyrics written by Burroughs. Oh, and the gnarly freak show sing-a-long title song. The band's good, but although you get to see them on the screen for parts of this, you don't get to see any of the weirdo instruments Waits used for the music for this thing. The story's easy to decipher even if you watch this without understanding a word in German (except for "Ich bin ein scheibenwischer" ["I am a windshield wiper."] which none of the characters said, probably because the story exists in a world without motor vehicles), and it eerily parallels Burroughs' own life story, at least the part where he was addicted to heroin and shot his wife in the head. Oops. Spoiler alert. There's a documentary on Robert Wilson on Netflix that I'm going to have to check out because I really liked the look of this. It's pretentious enough with all the characters the color of Klaus Nomi, but it's at least playfully avant-garde. There are laughs to be had with the production. The shapes and the acting styles recall 1920's German movies, and the sets are minimalist but clever in the way the space and color are used. The performers were terrific in a bilingual performance, belting out things with their voices that I thought were really amazing although maybe I'm really easy to please. And, of course, it's always great to hear William S. Burroughs' voice. He was one of those guys I could hear read anything, even if that anything is a sentence like "That's the way the teeth gnashes" which is grammatically painful. Anyway, this is also in that category of entertainment that a lot of people would hate, but for a fan like me, it's the perfect meeting of the minds of three geniuses, and I'm really glad I finally got a chance to check it out.

Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist

1997 bio-documentary

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Flanagan was a subversive writer and performance artist with cystic fibrosis. He died when he was 43 which, from what I understand, is a long life for somebody with that disorder.

Warning: This is not for everybody. If you can handle a close-up of a penis with a nail being driven into it, then you should probably watch this. To be completely straight with all y'all, I found that entire scene, as well as a couple others, really really difficult to watch. I squirmed a lot. Of course, the most difficult thing to watch is the titular artist's actual death which, although the moment isn't exactly shown on screen, there's an excruciating amount of the before and some snapshots his wife took of the after, enough that you really feel like you just watched a man pass away on screen. And that man is somebody you really get to know intimately, and while I imagine a lot of people--you know, the squares--would be repulsed by what Mr. Flanagan is into (like supermasochism, if that's even a word), it's still more than unsettling and very sad. I didn't care much for this guy's "art" or performances or whatever at all, but the way his personality and dark humor cuts through this sickness of his, makes him really hard not to like. It's one of the most powerfully honest things you will ever see. And that's definitely a for-better-or-worse type thing. Nothing is held back here, almost in an in-your-face way. It's hard to nail down (not literally here) his wife, a woman who is every bit as important to this story as Flanagan. And I was unsure what to think about Sara, a teenager with cystic fibrosis who pops into the story because the artist inspires her. I do wonder what the Make a Wish Foundation people (or whatever equivalent organization helped Sara meet Bob) thought about the whole thing. I'm not sure what it ultimately says about love and life and living and death or maybe it's just difficult to articulate what it says about all of those things. I do know that I probably won't see anything this difficult but might not see anything this powerful either. Evocative and surprisingly moving, this is definitely the type of thing that can't be forgotten. But again, this will be extremely difficult for a lot of people to watch.

Toys in the Attic

2009 cartoon

Rating: 17/20 (Buster: fell asleep)

Plot: A busted marionette, a teddy bear, a cute little doll, and some sort of potato man enjoy a halcyon existence in their suitcase home. One day, however, an evil head sends his minions to capture Buttercup the doll, presumably for nefarious purposes. The others have to travel other parts of the titular attic in order to save their friend.

This, sort of like what the outcome would be if you had Czech stop-animation guys do their own Toy Story, is the kind of animation I can appreciate. Buster, by the way, was completely mesmerized before dozing off. Unfortunately, I started watching it past her bedtime and she couldn't make it. There's so much creativity here, so many beautifully grotesque things to look at. The characters are fun even if they--the good guys, at least--don't have a lot of personality. The potato man, endlessly bludgeoned and hurled and splattered and flattened, added some slapsticky comic relief while the antagonistic bust--a creepy guy with a lot of paint on him--and his motley crew added enough darkness and intensity to keep things interesting for adults as well as make you nostalgic for the good old days when communism depressed everybody. I assume this is allegorical, but it's enjoyable despite the darker undertones. This is Jiri Barta's work, and unless you count his 1986 version of the pied piper story as full-length (it's just under an hour), this is his only full-length film. It's actually the first thing he'd done since 1989 which, if my math is correct, is a 20 year gap between projects. I'm not sure if he worked on this thing for 20 years or not, but the details and movements in this do make it seem like the type of thing that had to have been created with a lot of love and time. It's the kind of animation (stop-motion, Czech) that I fall for easily anyway, but it's also the kind of thing that can get tedious after a while. This never does, and the way Barta cleverly animates things like water or fire never look real but is always a lot of fun. So many moving parts in this thing, the kind of thing you might want to watch twice to see what may have been missed in the backgrounds. More fun and colorful and for kids, though not entirely for kids, than Svankmajer or the Quays, this blows things like Frozen and Planes away in its ability to continually surprise and excite. Definitely recommended if you like Eastern European stop-animated stuff. And anybody who doesn't is missing out.


2012 comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A loser loses his dog and tries to find it.

More non-sequitur comedy from the mind of Quentin Dupieux who brought us the wacky horror film Rubber about a murderous tire. That movie was fascinating but imperfect. This movie's the same way. Throw it in that pile of other movies that just aren't for everybody because Dupieux makes a very special kind of movie, nearly idiosyncratic but always built on a foundation of the history of wacko comedy reminiscent of everything from the Theater of the Absurd playwrights to old-style Marx Brothers or Abbott and Costello stuff. It doesn't always make sense. Or maybe it never really makes sense, but that's not the point. The point is that it's unusual enough, at times almost painfully trying-to-hard unusual, to bring out the chuckles. Dupieux makes movies as ridiculous as I would make if I could make movies, and I'm not sure if that's criticism or compliment or a little bit of both. Oddball gags that are almost as annoying as Salvador Dali walking a pet armadillo around New York City are aplenty: the perpetual rain at an office the main character continues to work in regardless of being fired, a landscaper who sketches a childish picture of a lawnmower, a palm tree transforming into a pine tree, a guy who paints vehicles without permission ("Sir, I took it upon myself to paint your vehicle blue."), a clock that hits :60 after the fifty-ninth minute, characters not recognizing each other, dead characters returning with no mention about how that is kind of unusual, a neighbor who refuses to admit that he jogs, the memory and subconsciousness of fecal matter. It's juvenile avant-garde, and if there's any meaning at all to any of it, it's certainly over my head. But it made me smile nevertheless. I liked the main character Dolph and the guy who played him (Jack Plotnick, who I falsely recognized as somebody I recognized), and I liked the very-cute Alexis Dziena who, turns out, is that naked girl from Broken Flowers. William Fichtner, a guy I usually like, is also in this, but unfortunately, he's playing somebody who I'm pretty sure is supposed to be Asian. And the accent is no good although I suppose that could be part of the comedy. I wouldn't put it past this Dupieux fellow!


2013 animated movie

Rating: 8/20 (Jen: 3/20; Emma: 5/20; Abbey: 3/20; Buster: 11/20)

Plot: The titular anthropomorphic flying machines are in a race around the world. The protagonist, a crop duster with aspirations of being a race plane, qualifies for the big race and has to overcome all sorts of obstacles, including (ironically) acrophobia, in order to stay in competition.

My expectations weren't high for this travesty, and I was still somehow underwhelmed. This is one of the most boring animated movies I have seen in a very long time. The characters were dull, a completely uncharismatic but nice-enough hero who I'll call Rodney because I really can't remember his name and a whole bunch of cultural stereotypes. They zip around the world and what happens is exactly what you assumed would happen all along, and it's all a lot like Cars except with all the originality and heart removed, like a Cars vivisected and gutted. And when your movie is a vivisected Cars, your movie sucks. Now I understand why this was made, and I'm willing to bet that most of the writers and animators involved in putting this together suspected that they were making something that wasn't really very good at all. But that doesn't make it any less offensive. At 91 minutes, this predictable tripe seemed as long as Ben Hur. After a while, I lost interest in what was going on and just concentrated on trying to predict what super-obvious landmark the planes would see next. The animation's pitiful. The characters in the Cars universe or whatever they're calling this (can't wait for Rickshaws, by the way) are rubbery anyway, the kinds of characters that could only appeal to children. Here, the characters move in fast and exciting ways, but that's about it. I hate the look of these things even more than I hate the look of the cars in Cars. And one of them is voiced by Dane Cook. And apparently, the Disney people didn't have their top guys working on the scenery either, and it barely earns a passing grade, especially when compared to the movie's contemporaries. And no, clouds and geographical features shaped like planes is not as clever as you think. Not even Ratzenberger can save this one. This, like the awful and awfully boring sequel to Cars, should never have been made. And I'm afraid they're not done milking the vehicles-with-faces franchise. Come on, Disney. You're better than this.

The Room (again)

2003 bad movie classic

Rating: 1/20 (Jen: 1/20)

Plot: I have already written about this movie here and don't feel like doing another plot synopsis.

Oh hai, blog readers.

Yes, I have watched this three times in the past three or four years although with only a few exceptions, I haven't been watching movies even twice the last several years. I guess you could say that I'm obsessed with The Room. I did, after all, read co-star Greg Sestero's book The Disaster Artist which is all about his friendship with Tommy Wiseau, a friendship I'm really jealous of, and (full disclosure) I only watched Rebel without a Cause because Wiseau had an obsession with James Dean. And watching Wiseau over-emote that sac-tingling "You're tearing me apart, Lisa!" right after hearing James Dean over-emote his own "You're tearing me apart!" with nearly identical gesticulations and camera angles is nothing short of euphoric. And yes, I may every once in a while pop on Youtube only to hear Tommy Wiseau enter the rooftop, talk about how he didn't hit Lisa, and throw a water bottle before greeting his buddy with that legendary "Oh hai, Mark." Or to hear him say "motherfucker" like only Tommy Wiseau can say "motherfucker." Or try to get my mind around what's going on in the conversation he has with the woman at the flower shop. Or watch the characters play football in tuxedos. Or watch what has to be the worst stunt choreography ever when Mark knocks another guy down with a rough hand-off. Or listen to Lisa's mother talk about her breast cancer. Or watch Tommy have his way with Lisa's red dress in what is one of the most baffling things I have ever seen in a movie. Or try to figure out Denny. Sestero's book--which is excellent, by the way, if you're a fan of this glorious mess of a movie--gave me new insight into how this all happened and a greater appreciation of the movie's magic. And if you asked me right now, I'd have to say that this is one of my top-three favorite bad movies of all time and in the conversation for one of my favorite movies of all time. I could almost watch it again right now.

But I actually watched this again because Jen needed to see it. I asked her for her thoughts just now, and she made a face like I had thrown half of a decomposing animal at her. When pressed, she was more descriptive: "It was awful. I hated it."

But don't listen to her. The Room will change your life. You should watch it immediately and not just because of Tommy Wiseau's naked buttocks.

I've lost sleep, by the way, imagining a scene with a flying car in this movie.

Thanks to Josh for loaning this to me so that we could watch it.

Cutie and the Boxer

2013 documentary

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Eccentric pop artist Ushio Shinohara and fellow artist and wife Noriko try to survive and create in New York City after 40 years of marriage.

I don't know how I'm supposed to feel here. On the one hand, I feel sorry for the titular Cutie who at times seems oppressed and stymied by her domineering and selfish husband. She wants to be an artist, too, and you could argue that her art is at least more likable than the work of her more-famous husband. I mean, the guy punches a canvas with boxing gloves covered in paint. Of course, he does make colorful sculptures (mostly of motorcycles) out of cardboard, and those are kind of fun although there's one scene in here that makes the whole creation look sort of lackadaisical. And then there's the couple's son, an alcoholic who seems to be the product of two selfish parents ill-equipped to raise a child. And as artists, there just doesn't seem to be much of a chance for them to ever have anything more than a modicum of success. On the other hand, there's something about this relationship that is endearing. They've been married for 40 years, so there's something that makes this relationship work. Ushio and Noriko seem to feed off each other and thrive because they're together. One touching scene has Ushio going out of town for a few days, and Noriko's excitement when he comes back home shows us exactly how she feels about the man. And she really lets him have it on camera and refers to him as a "bully" in her artwork, and you can see it in his eyes that he knows he's imperfect and probably borderline awful. But you can also see in his eyes that he knows that she loves him regardless of all that, and there's something beautiful about that, too. I like documentaries about art and artists, and I enjoyed watching these two live and work. But seriously, art created in about 4 1/2 minutes with boxing gloves is kind of stupid.

Bad Movie Club: Mosquito

1995 science fiction movie

Rating: 7/20 (Fred: 16/20; Josh: 10/20; Johnny: 18/20; Carrie: 8/20: Libby: did not finish; Ryan: did not finish)

Plot: After a big sci-fi alien spaceship special effect, mosquitoes grow to ludicrous sizes and start proboscising visitors of a national park to death. And let me tell you, kids. Dying by proboscis is no way to go. A ragtag group of scientists and tough guys try to survive the mutant mosquito epidemic.

First, that is about the trashiest poster that I've ever seen. Second, there's enough proboscis in this movie to at least make the Motion Picture Association of America give it an X rating. I don't think a person--male or female--should have to see that much proboscis or even hear about that much proboscis until they're in their mid-20's. Of course, I grew up in a religious home, and we weren't even allowed to mention the proboscis in any context but especially a sexual context. It was insect week for us Bad Movie Clubbers, and I'm glad we took on this movie from 1995 because I was in the mood for a movie that seemed like it came straight from 1984. The plot never really evolves past a people-running-from-the-giant-titular-insects thing, but the action starts early and is nearly relentless. We're introduced to a myriad of characters during an exposition that meanders way more than any movie has a right to meander. Fortunately, none of those characters matter and were only around to be sucked dry by the mosquitoes. And the sucked-dry humans look pretty damn good, as do the stop motion insects. Well, unless the special effects geniuses behind this thing are trying to get them to mesh with the scenery or interact with the characters. Then, it looks pretty dopey. I did like the use of bug-cam, first bug point-of-view shots that recalled Evil Dead. Speaking of that, there's more than enough gore, although it's far too cartoonish to take seriously. But if you're into eye-gouging or butt-gouging or other painful-looking proboscis pokes, there's plenty of that. There's also a great scene featuring eyeballs becoming engorged and popping which made no sense whatsoever but nevertheless inspired me to run next door, introduce myself to the neighbors, and tell them all about it. And here's what's really going to make b-movie fans giddy in their nipples: Gunnar Hansen's got himself a large part in this. That's right--Leatherface. And he wields the chainsaw 20 years after The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. So that's pretty awesome. There's also a scene featuring the token black character and a refrigerator that must have inspired a drunk Steven Spielberg or something. And yes, I realize that's a spoiler, but it's such a stupid scene that it shouldn't matter. Nearly plotless, this is a fun way to pass an hour and a half although the solution to the characters' problem is as ludicrous as it gets and doesn't seem to solve the bigger problem with the aliens. Of course, maybe they were setting it all up for a sequel--Mosquito 2: The Proboscis Returns.

The Invisible War

2012 documentary

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Apparently, American soldiers are raping fellow soldiers, and nothing is being done about it. God bless America.

Cory recommended this, and although I don't usually like my documentaries to be topical because I really just prefer to be a dumb American, this was well done. I mean, I did get off my lazy butt (not literally) and actually do something (no, not really) because I was inspired by what I saw. I went to a website and signed a petition electronically. No, I'm not going to write any letters to any congress people because I'd have to find out their names and probably proofread. Besides, I have this blog to think about. This thing doesn't write itself, ya know. I'm sure I was supposed to be shocked by what I saw here. Over 20% of women in the military say they've been violated. 15% of incoming recruits said they'd raped somebody or attempted to rape somebody, twice the rate of civilians. 40% of homeless female veterans say they were raped. The ridiculous notion that rape is an "occupational hazard of military service" which I'm sure is the kind of stupid thing that stupid people with way too much power in our country say that could make Uncle Sam eat is fucking red, white, & blue top hat just so he'd have something to puke up. (Another stupid thing that stupid people with way too much power say: "That's what you get for walking down a hallway full of drunk aviators." Really?) Anyway, I know I'm supposed to be shocked, and I was about as angry as I get when watching something like this, but I'm not sure anything about the American military can shock me, and I don't even care how unpatriotic that makes me sound. It's not like anybody reads this anyway. Or maybe it's not the military. Maybe it's just people, especially people in charge. And I don't care how misanthropic that makes me sound. This documentary begins with a bunch of commercials used to draw women into the military and interview snippets with gals who had all this enthusiasm as they were getting ready to serve their country. And then, bam, a quick and alarming succession of stories about being raped, specifics about a handful of the women before we move onto the military's reaction to the whole thing--interrogations of the victims, cases being given to men because women might be too sympathetic, the convenient misplacing of evidence. It's enough to piss off anybody who cares. The saddest part is the more psychological effects--and in at least one case, a physical one--for these women. Some of the stuff with the women seemed oddly staged though, and I wish some of that would have been replaced with more of the foray into the psychology of masculinity in the military. Of course, maybe they were right in focusing on the victims. Regardless, well done, makers of The Invisible War, because you got me to type in a handful of letters and put my name on a petition.

Favorite quotes from this: One woman talks about how she carries a knife and a cross everywhere with her because "You always have protection in Jesus, but sometimes you need a little bit more." There's also a soldier who claimed, "That's how they do things in Indiana," a reference to having a buddy kill a rape victim if she reported the crime to anybody. I guess I can add that to the list of things Hoosiers can be proud of.

The Pervert's Guide to Cinema

2006 psychoanalytical film study

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Slavoj Zizek, self-described pervert and a psychoanalyst/philosopher, walks us through readings of various popular films.

Slavoj Zizek, the titular pervert, will be one of my favorite discoveries of the year. Larry guided me to this series in three chapters, and I loved every minute of it although I did have to watch the 2 1/2 hour thing in two installments. My groin couldn't take it in one sitting. Zizek's got an Eastern European accent (born in Yugoslavia), the kind that would make me want to listen to anything he had to say anyway, but it helps that he's genuinely interesting. The great thing about this is that he takes a lot of movies I already really love--City Lights, Alien, The Conversation, Vertigo, Psycho, Duck Soup, etc.--and makes the think about them completely differently and somehow appreciate them even more. I learned so much from this. For example, did you realize that the Marx Brothers, just like the three stories of the Bates house in Psycho, represent the three levels of the psyche--the id, ego, and superego. Harpo, of course, represents the id. Or did you know that Joseph Stalin loved musicals? And where else are you going to find a psychoanalysis of a Pluto cartoon where the poor dog has ended up in hell with all the cats he's previously molested? Or hear a guy talk about how the audience for a film is sitting at the edge of a toilet bowl and that the films are the excrement? Or hear Alfred Hitchcock read a dirty limerick about an eel? Zizek is as hilarious as he is insightful. I got a kick out of his description of pornography ("There's another hole to be filled or whatever. . .") and just hearing him say the word "plumber" and his rant against flowers as something that should be forbidden for children because they're open invitations to insects to screw them. Of course, the guy also inserts himself into scenes from famous movies, taking over for Jimmy in Vertigo, steering a motorboat toward the shore from The Birds, sitting in Norman Bates' basement, or, most humorously, reacting when that little girl in The Exorcist starts cursing. It's all so captivating, the sort of intellectualism made palatable by Zizek's charisma. It's kind of like movie criticism for dummies, in a way, but I'm fine with that because I'm kind of a dummy. I can't even remember if Solaris was the "id machine" or the "libido machine" after all. I'm really not sure I'm smart enough for the movie. But I sure did enjoy it, and along the way, discovered that the birds are incestuous energy, that we ourselves are the aliens controlling our bodies, that the word is only half-created by a complete idiot (what Alien: Resurrection is apparently about), that you have to first beat the shit out of yourself before you can attack the enemy, that Chaplin was the first to fully understand that the human voice is an intruder, that Star Wars is really all about becoming a father, that we have a name for fantasy realized and that is nightmare, that "dreams are for those who are not strong enough to endure reality," and that "reality is for those who are not strong enough to endure dreams." A great look at a handful of movies for intellectual cinephiles or even faux-intellectual cinephiles like me, and Slavoj Zizek is one of my new favorite people.


2011 science fiction movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A woman gets married but winds up losing both her job and her husband on her wedding night as she deals with a crippling depression. Her sister takes her in, and they ride horses. Meanwhile, another planet--the titular planet actually--is coming dangerously close to colliding with Earth, and although I'm not a scientist, I'm pretty sure that would be a good thing at all. Jack Bauer looks at it with a telescope.

Another Lars von Trier joint that I've got serious conflicting feelings about. I almost liked Antichrist but was convinced by a reader that I really didn't. This doesn't shove any mutilation or Dafoe penis in your face and isn't uncomfortably surreal like that one. Instead, it's really really dull, probably the slowest-moving science fiction movie of all time. Of course, I guess you're not expecting von Trier to make Star Wars here, so something that moves like zero-gravity molasses shouldn't surprise anybody. This is in two parts--pre- and post-wedding--and after we get some very poetic and very beautiful still images backed by some Wagner, that wedding sequence, with its shaky camera work and focus on improvisational minutia, is about the most excruciatingly boring thing I've ever seen. Lars, I just don't want to watch that much of a rich couple's wedding reception. I think I've been to weddings shorter than that. The only reason I stuck with the movie was because I thought Kirsten Dunst might have a wardrobe malfunction. The second half of the movie is the slowly-unfolding sci-fi dilemma which isn't terribly interesting either since we were already shown what happens at the beginning of the movie. Well, minus the distraction of Kiefer Sutherland and his telescope. Now, the imagery is stunning, and I do like how that aforementioned big sci-fi dilemma doesn't happen like it would in a movie like Armageddon or something. It unfurls like a catastrophe like this really would, and instead of getting frantic news talking heads or screaming pedestrians, the approaching planet and its potential repercussions are developed through the characters' reactions, that languid pace, and the reflective tone. With its extended metaphor (almost as obvious as they come) and fine performances by Dunst and the not-at-all-naked Charlotte Gainsbourg, this almost works. But just almost. And it's really boring and very long, generally an awful combination. Of course, it's often stunningly beautiful, hence the conflicted feelings.

Rebel without a Cause

1955 teen drama

Rating: 16/20 (Jen: fell asleep; Dylan: 4/20; Emma: 8/20)

Plot: A troubled teen tries to adjust to yet-another new home where he makes a few friends and a few more enemies. It's a strange land where people say things like "I'll bet you're a yo-yo" and engage in the gayest knife fights you're likely to ever see. After tragedy ruins everybody's fun at a chickie run, the titular rebel runs off with Natalie Wood and a mentally-unstable kid to wait for the next big movie tragedy.

With the Dennis Hopper bonus point. This is Hopper's first movie role, and it's also, I believe, the first movie that any of my daughters saw with Dennis Hopper. Wait a second. Did they watch Super Mario Brothers with me? Maybe they saw him as King Koopa, one of the roles that probably helped him die with pride. And what else does Super Mario Brothers have to do with Rebel without a Cause? Well, my father claims that this movie changed teenagers back in the mid-50's, and he should know since he was around. I was around for Super Mario Brothers, and that was a movie that confused teenagers. And James Dean wears a jacket that's red, the same color that Mario sports.

But I digress. This is a movie that is really easy to like although you could make the argument that it isn't any good at all. And you could definitely make the argument that James Dean couldn't act. He overdoes nearly everything in this, and he's obviously stolen a lot of his facial expressions from James Franco and his methods from none other than Tommy Wiseau. Seriously, just check out how Dean rips off Wiseau with the big "You're tearing me apart!" moment during an early scene at the police station. But how about that emotional range? He goes from "I got the bullets!" to "Hey, jerk-pot, what did you do that for?" to laughing about mismatched socks like a guy who has actually felt human emotion, and it's a beautiful thing. But Dean's a Hoosier, so you cut him slack, and there's just something electric about him, probably because he's really beautiful. He's got a quiet energy in this, and he's really good with props. And that wink he gives Natalie Wood after he drops her off following the chickie run, a scene where nobody acts like a normal person would. Or that shot of him lying on a couch while his mom comes down the stairs. Not to mention that there's a shot where his crotch actually appears to be on fire. He also gets a great kiss although I'm pretty sure something had been applied to his lips during that scene. Or maybe he just has beautiful lips. I'm a staunch heterosexual man, but I'll admit I was watching his lips more than Natalie Wood during that scene. I've seen my fair share of dated movies, and although the dated dialogue (Jen poked fun before dozing off) and style places this firmly in one decade and one decade alone, there's a whole bunch of weirdness that makes this really interesting to me. Sal Mineo's character seems to have a myriad of mental afflictions. The "Drown 'em like puppies!" line, for example. The "Hey, I'm a crab" kid or the "Down there! Down there is Buzz!" kid, guys who may have been the same exact kid for all I know. And maybe that's the same kid who had a picture of a guy in his locker. Is that the same kid, too? I know it's a different kid--an older one--than the guy who played Beau, Natalie Wood's brother, really poorly. He's Jimmy Baird, and even though he wasn't a Hoosier, I'm giving him a pass on this one because he got to say "puss" in a 1950's movie and become the rival of all his acting peers. This is definitely the type of film where a red jacket can throw you off your game and cause you to forget what is normal or abnormal behavior. And drive you completely insane wondering why there's a diving board on the shallow end of the pool. Right to the what-the-hell "He was always cold" line, this makes you wonder if it's really meant to be taken seriously. Or this dialogue gem which I think is probably supposed to be funny:

"You ever been in a chickie run?"
"Yeah, it's all I ever do."

Funny? I couldn't tell because Dean didn't seem sure how he was supposed to deliver the line. Regardless of the intentions, this still tackled a serious topic in the 1950s, and it wasn't cartoonish teen violence. No, this is really a movie all about what it means to be a man, a movie about masculinity. Look at the dads in this movie. Dean's is feminized, Plato's lying about his father being a hero in the China Sea or a "big wheel" in New York, and we're told that "a man's got to be gentle and sweet." Then, the faux-domestication in the abandoned mansion, a scene that somehow manages to be comic, bittersweet, and a little haunting all at once. It all helps elevate this movie to something closer to special. This movie has always been important as the one Dean made before his death--an idea he obviously stole from Heath Ledger--but there's enough going on to make it worth watching aside from all that.

One weird thing that nobody in my family agreed was weird: a camera movement during a conversation when James Dean starts walking up the stairs. It's a tilt, and I can't recall seeing anything like it. Everybody else said I was making a big deal about nothing though.


2013 documentary

Rating: 14/20

Plot: An investigation of Seaworld and their treatment of their captive killer whales used in shows. The focus is on one named Tilikum that is responsible for three people's deaths.

Of course, there are multiple sides to every story, and the Seaworld folk declined to participate in this. They, as well as at least one person interviewed for this and the family of one of the victims, say that there's some misrepresentation and that the makers of this had an agenda to prove instead of an interest in being objective. So I don't know what to think exactly about the whole thing. Of course, who knows how much Seaworld is giving the family of the woman with the ponytail. And the guy who claims that a lot of what he said in the interviews wasn't used was one of the big guy's first trainers, so he doesn't have the insight that some of the others have. As a character study of Tilikum, the titular fish, it's fascinating and depressing. Actually, there's a lot that's depressing about this. I hated seeing the baby orca ripped from their families and the trainers recalling the violent acts. It's just hard to imagine the life that poor Tilikum has led although there are some days I'd trade with him in a heartbeat because of this fantasy I have of being straddled by a woman in a wetsuit. I'm not sure Tilikum would fit in my classroom though, and I am sure that some of my students would make him angry enough to inspire him to flap over and maul them. The descriptions and the footage of these accidents were chilling because of the overwhelming power combined with the intelligence of these animals. More chilling is the descriptions and footage of what human beings have done to these majestic creatures.

By the way, if you are ever in a situation where you're being eaten with a whale, I learned from Pinocchio what you're supposed to do. Build a fire and wait for the whale to cough you out. Easy solution.

Here's a link to an interview with the interviewed trainer who was angry after watching the film. It's an interesting read.


2012 downer

Rating: 17/20

Plot: An old couple adapts after the wife has a stroke.

Michael Haneke gives his movies and their characters so much room to breathe. Maybe more than any other living director, Haneke has the best chance to have a technique named after him--the Haneke, in which the director chooses to have absolutely nothing happening on a screen to force the viewer to be alone with no other choice but to contemplate what is happening, force the reader to be alone with his own thoughts for an amount of time that could very well make him uncomfortable. Here, we get shots of empty rooms, a woman vacuuming, a former student literally just sitting in a chair waiting for the other characters to come in, black screens, characters with their backs to us, a scene at a concert (the only scene I can remember that takes place outside the couple's home, now that I think about it) where only the audience is shown. It's unconventional, but definitely not in a loud way, only because directors aren't supposed to show us things that are this boring. And here's a word of warning: You really might be bored with this drawn-out melancholy, a meditation on the mundane. I found it poetic and extremely moving, mostly because of what went unspoken in the movie. The guy helping her on and off the toilet, washing her hair, cutting her food. They're actions that deepen a relationship that a bunch of words and images in a two-hour movie are never going to help us understand. It's really beautiful, and the pair of actors--Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva--are both so good. Especially Riva who, along with some help from the make-up department, manages to transform so much from the beginning to the end of this movie. And Trintignant just soaks her performance into his somehow. There's so much loss in his eyes, and I'm not sure if that's acting or if it's just eyes, but it's heartbreaking. Theirs is a relationship eroded by time and what time does to a person, an idea that makes the deliberate pace of this movie even more appropriate. It's a beautiful and devastating story. Oh, and did I mention there's a nude scene? Hell yeah, there is! From the intriguing opener to the poignant end, this is hard to watch, partly because it's slow and sad but mostly because it's just so human.

My favorite thing I've read about this movie: There's a scene where the old man tries to get a pigeon out of his house by throwing a blanket or something on it. Like most scenes in this, it seems like it goes on for too long. Trintignant said that it took a very long time to film the scene because Haneke kept trying to direct the pigeon. That's awesome.

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers

1956 science fiction movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: It's pretty much described in the title.

This would just be Bad Movie Club fodder without the amazing Ray Harryhausen effects, quaint in a good way and pretty stunning in black and white. Which reminds me--the dvd I grabbed of this includes a colorized version. Why? I can't imagine color making these titular extra-terrestrial vehicles any more menacing. The scenes of the saucers gyrating and hovering behind moving cars or buildings are really cool, and even the big finale where the ships are crashing into national landmarks in D.C. are great even though it's slightly less realistic than the destruction you'd see in a Godzilla rampage. I think it's all more endearing because it doesn't quite look real. Of course, the sound effect used does manage to make them more menacing. I also really like how the aliens sound in this although they are, with their shambling movements and stiff arms, a little goofy. And how cheap do their helmets look after Hugh Marlowe puts one on? Speaking of Hugh Marlowe, did you know his real name was Hugh Hipple? And did you know that Clint Eastwood is in this movie somewhere? I couldn't find him and didn't really see any characters squinting. Other notable effects: a zoom from Earth that must have been the coolest thing a lot of people had ever seen in 1956; some great fake-car driving, including one scene where Marlowe is mauling his poor wife who says he's "starting something [he] won't be able to finish" while blowing past another car which makes you wonder how fast she's driving (seriously, watch that scene closely); a cool brain-reading effect with a dangling revolving carnation; planes exploding and hitting the ground, a realistic-enough effect that makes up for the terribly fake running-around-in-a-forest-fire effect; and a final shot of Hugh Hipple's hairy back. It's cool seeing Washington D.C. in the 50s which looks pretty much like Washington D.C. now. Speaking of that scene, how would you like to be killed by having the Washington Monument fall on you? I guess if you're going to be killed by a Masonic phallic symbol, you might as well get killed by one of the most famous ones, right? Also, there's a shot of an old guy running around on the mall that is completely awesome. A big 50's sci-fi score (not that I'm complaining this time), some dopey voice-over narration, and references to the rice paddies of the Orient date this somewhat, and Earthlings seem a little stupid and trigger-happy which made me want to root for the aliens even though I'm closer to an Earthling. Still, this is some fun 50's science fiction, worth watching because of the Harryhausen and because they don't pull their punches in the destruction of some of our most notable landmarks.

Bad Movie Club: They Saved Hitler's Brain

1968 historical fiction

Rating: 2/20 (Josh: 0/20; Fred: 0/20; Libby: -5/20; Jeremy: 1.5/20; Johnny: didn't make it to the end of the film)

Plot: They saved Hitler's brain! Actually, it's his whole head. And they're keeping it alive on an island until it's time to unleash it and take over the world. Nondescript people try to put a stop to the Nazi shenanigans.

This is one of those spliced-together jobs with a lot of "movie" filmed in either the late-50's or early-60's and other stuff added, presumably so that underdeveloped and completely superfluous characters could get in slow car chases and then die, in the late-60's to beef this up into a feature-length film. That explains the varying fashions and hairstyles. The titular fuhrer or Nazis aren't even mentioned for the first 40 minutes of the movie, and we don't get the film's money shot, Hitler's head, until about an hour of some of the dullest and most incomprehensible movie has already happened. This was a pretty painful movie for my friends as indicated by the above ratings. In fact, when I gave it my 2/20, somebody asked, "For what?" Obviously, it's for the comical faces that Hitler's head makes, some looking like he's just passed gas. My favorite has him smirking after a character is shot. I'll save you the trouble. Here's Hitler's head:

Hitler's played by Bill Freed who did this and a comedy western directed by Francis Ford Coppola called Tonight for Sure that I'm pretty sure Francis Ford Coppola doesn't want me to know about. I assume Freed is Adolf Hitler in a flashback where he's not just a head in a glass jar, and if that's the case, he's got Hitler-esque gesticulations down. The only thing possibly worse than the plot, a plot made more baffling by the multiple movies being joined together by what I can only assume is scotch tape, is the lighting. It's terrible, casting giant shadows on fake-looking walls behind the actors. My favorite scene has a shot of four guys in a row with the one on the far left completely in shadows in every shot. He must have been pissed that he couldn't be seen in this movie. Or if he saw this movie, he more likely was pretty thrilled about it. There are also so many day/night continuity errors in this that you start to wonder if the director was doing it all on purpose as some sort of weird metaphor. Anyway, this is one that a bad movie aficionado should know about but might not enjoy. I would have found it difficult to endure without the help of my fellow Bad Movie Clubbers.

National Lampoon's Vacation

1983 comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: The Griswold family drives across the country to visit Walley World.

I had to give this movie bonus points because I find Chevy Chase so disagreeable. I assume this is better than I think it is and that the taint that is Chevy Chase fouls everything up. There's little plot, just an episodic structure giving them all chances to set up a collection of gags, and not all of them work as well as they did when I was twelve. Still, it's all memorable. Of course, I've seen this about 100 times, too, so maybe that's why it's memorable. Silly and only almost likable stuff. The best thing about the entire movie is its poster.

Philip Seymour Hoffman Fest: Leap of Faith

1992 religious comedy

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Pretending to be a faith healer and revival preacher, the oddly-named Jonas Nightengale winds up in a small farming community suffering from economic hardship, party because of a drought. Nightengale and his posse squeeze bloody cash from their turnips as he performs miracles and preaches the word of God. He connects with a crippled kid and his sister.

I almost really liked this movie, but it struggled to find a voice and I wasn't sure it knew what it wanted to say. First, let me get Philip Seymour Hoffman out of the way since he's the reason I watched this. He's not in it much of all and does nothing at all that would make you remember the guy. He's sort of playing the same guy from Twister but with a headband. Meat Loaf is also in this, but he and his man-boobs are also barely noticeable. I did enjoy his tie/shirt clash though.  And there's Liam Neeson trying to contain his accent as the sheriff of this nondescript American town. You will be ready to drop everything and listen when he utters, "I want to testify." But this is all Steve Martin's show, and he's good although I'm not sure why anybody would look at him and think, "Yep, that's a legitimate preacher man." I loved how physical he made the role, gesticulating and dancing and hooting and hollering and even pulling off a half shirt. And oh, dig that sparkly jacket that turned Martin into a human disco ball! It's a nice visual, as is the giant Jesus lurking behind him. I also enjoyed the choir although I was never sure where they came from or, if they were part of Nightengale's entourage, how they were paid. The trio of revival scenes are lively. This is more dramatic than funny, but it really fails to connect emotionally and meanders a little too much with characters I had trouble getting interested in. I do like the questions it brings up although it seems thematically uneven. I kind of thought I'd like this better the second time I watched it, but that wasn't really the case. Maybe I'm just angry because Marjoe Gortner didn't star in the thing.

Mommie Dearest

1981 biopic

Rating: 15/20 (Jen: 10/20)

Plot: Joan Crawford doesn't like wire hangers.

Over-length is the biggest issue with this biopic of Christina Crawford, based on her memoir about growing up as the adopted daughter of an apparently cray-cray Joan Crawford. I'm surprised that this was the first movie to sweep the Razzie Awards, especially since Faye Dunaway's performance, though often a little baffling, is actually really good. Dunaway transforms into the titular mother, throws every ounce of her being into the role, and delivers something that you will always remember even if you don't think it's very believable or any good. And that's worth something. Seriously, go ahead and find me a performance by an actress that is like this one. I loved it, every single out-of-key note, and I don't even care if it was accurate. How can anybody--and I'm looking at you, Razzies people--watch the magical scene at a board meeting where she screams, "Don't fuck with me, fellows! You forget that this is not my first time at the rodeo!" and not fall in love with this performance? Or when she chillingly tells poor Christina, after she failed to give her an authentic "Mommie Dearest," that when she told her to call her that, she wanted her to mean it. And "No. . .wire. . .hangers. . .ever!" is one of those scenes where you fear the actress is going to jump right through your television screen, search your own closet for wire hangers, and strangle you with one that she finds. I was also impressed with Mara Hobel as the child Christina Crawford although Diana Scarwid wasn't great. Hobel nails a "Jesus Christ!" after the aforementioned wire hanger infamy, and a lot of scenes with her are tough to watch because it seems like she's really undergoing considerable abuse. A scene featuring a haircut, for example, is really difficult to watch. Speaking of abuse, the reason why this movie has a bad reputation is probably because it manages to make child abuse, more than likely unintentionally, a little funny. Again, I'll reference that wire hanger scene, and there's another scene with some recurring raw meat that made me laugh, albeit uncomfortably. Of course, the absurdities of these situations help strengthen the idea that child abuse in any form or degree, is not just evil but absurdly evil. One could bring up the question of whether this kid had any right to complain though. I mean, she gets a birthday party with an organ grinder and a monkey, knife jugglers, and a carousel. I went into this expecting a bad movie, and I was surprised when it was actually a good one, carried by a memorable performance and memorable scenes. People might make fun that I liked this as much as I did, but you know what? Those people are all wrong, and I'm all right. Suck it.

Surprisingly, this is the first review I've ever written that's ended with "Suck it."


2013 animated princess movie

Rating: 12/20 (Jen: 17/20; Abbey: 18/20; Emma: 17/20; Buster: dnr)

Plot: Princess Anna doesn't understand why her fellow orphaned princess--Princess Elsa--has shut her out and started wearing gloves all the time and not leaving her princess room. During Princess Elsa's coronation, the princess gates are opened so that the commoners can see what princess dresses Princess Elsa and Princess Anna are going to wear as princess. Princess princess burly men princess princess princess snowman princess princess reindeer thing princess. Princess princess? Princess! Titular.

I had trouble pulling for any of these characters. It wasn't that any of them did anything wrong. I just didn't like their personalities. Apparently, if you double the princesses (Did I mention that this is a Disney princess movie?), it doesn't double the pleasure. And no, I'm not talking about a princess menage a trois, you perverts. These are teenagers we're talking about! There's just not a lot of personality with these sisters, especially the one that can make ice palaces even faster than Superman. The dudes don't fare much better. Anna's first love interest has irritating sideburns, sideburns that just aren't fooling anybody. And the other guy, the one with the reindeer, seems like a nice enough guy, but he's got slightly less personality than, well, his reindeer. Or that goofy snowman who the Disney people probably just threw into this because there weren't enough laughs. Unfortunately, that doesn't work. The plot points are sketchy which I'm sure is the case with the Hans Christian Andersen version of the story, but it's also weirdly complicated. And the songs! There are too many of them since the producers decided that every single character--even the reindeer and Guy at Wedding Feast Who Isn't Sure If He Likes His Drink--should get his or her own song. And although I've been singing "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" off-key in completely random situations since I saw this, I really didn't like any of the songs. They all had this modern pop song that just didn't scream classic Disney to me. I hated the troll characters, thought the animation was pedestrian, and didn't like watching any of the action sequences in this. This is definitely a step down from Tangled, the princess cartoon that this is seemingly trying to mimic.

Bad Movie Club: Starcrash

1978 science fiction weirdness

Rating: 4/20 (Fred: 22/20; Jeremy: 3.7/20; Ryan and Stephen: 4/20; Libby: 20/20; Johnny: 4/20; Cat Wall: 2 paws down; Josh: 5/20)

Plot: I already wrote a fine plot synopsis for this movie here.

It was the 50th bad movie for Bad Movie Club, and I wanted to make sure it was something good. So I recommended a handful of bad movies I've previously enjoyed, and this is what they sort of picked. I've seen it twice, and I still don't understand it at all. Totally incomprehensible! Still, if you can tolerate a movie where you won't understand what the hell is going on, this is solid good-bad movie entertainment.

But seriously. We've done 50 of these now. That's a remarkable achievement. I'm not sure which is more impressive--Bad Movie Club surviving for this long or this blog continuing despite nobody (including the author most of the time) having any interest in it.

I'm changing the way I title these posts. "Shane Watches a Bad Movie on Facebook with Friends" isn't concise, and I'm a fan of that whole brevity thing.

The Lives of Others

2006 movie

Rating: 17/20

Plot: A guy named Gerd, an agent for East Germany's secret police, is assigned a job to listen to the goings-on of a playwright and his actress girlfriend, but he does a terrible job.

I was going to give a lot of credit to the main actor in this, Ulrich Muhe, for how emotional the performance manages to be while he gets very few lines. But then there's another actor in this, Volkmar Kleinert, who plays another writer named Jerska (unfortunate name, isn't it?), and that character is so powerfully sad. And bald. So I started wondering if there's just something about old bad Europeans. But seriously, Muhe is really really good. It's hard for me sometimes to know whether or not a performance in a foreign movie is any good or not, but there's something really powerful about the controlled and quiet that guy's performance is. There's only one scene where you could say he's really making acting happen, a scene that really sold me on the guy actually when he starts crying while listening to a piece of music. The bald head, his expressionless countenance, and the clinical way he goes about his job can't entirely conceal that he's developing something for the titular others, and it's just perfect how all that is developed, right up to a very non-Hollywood ending and then another ending that brought a tear to my eye. Of course, you can't have a thriller with this much paranoiac characters (as Cobain sang, "Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not after you.") and surreptitious happenings without a lot of suspense, and this delivers there, too. I was intrigued watching them set up the apartment. The movie had either almost no music or a barely discernible score up to that point, but that scene was scored almost like a Hitchcock movie which I thought was effective. I also liked the dramatic irony with the playwright's neighbor tying a tie for him and being able to keep a secret. But these are the kinds of thrills that don't put you on the edge of your seat as much as they just make you really sad. You're not sure exactly how it's all going to be resolved, but you just know it's not the type of situation where things are going to be resolved in a way that is going to make you happy. Still, loved watching this one, a story about characters exercising free will in an oppressive society. That those characters' motivations and decisions could be argued long after the credits roll is a testament to how powerful the characters and the storytelling really is.

Cory recommended this.