Dallas Buyers Club

2013 drama

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

Plot: Rodeo hustler and electrician discovers that he has AIDS and is given only a few weeks to live. He begins to illegally acquire medication and then sets up the titular "club" to help others suffering from the disease.

What's with that rodeo clown that keeps popping up? He's symbolic of something. I've been to a few rodeos, and the clowns were always one of the best parts. The best part, and sadly something that didn't make it into this movie, was when they had a monkey in cowboy get-up riding on a dog. If Dallas Buyers Club had a monkey riding a dog, it would have been the best movie of the year, easily. The performances
overshadow the storytelling. McConaughey's performance is as great and as powerfully as everybody says it is. Most obvious is the physical transformation. I don't know how much weight McConaughey lost for this role, but it's shocking to see how gaunt he looks in this. He looks like a completely different person. More impressive is how he manages to create a character who is not really likable at all--trailer trash cliche, womanizer, drug addict, generally immoral human being--but who still earns your sympathy. The story isn't told in a completely believable way unless there's new information about AIDS and how it actually makes people way more intelligent overnight. When I was a kid, we all thought you could get AIDS by looking at a water fountain that somebody with AIDS walked past, and that didn't turn out to be true. I'm not exactly an expert. So I didn't buy the character 100% from a story angle, but I completely bought into the character emotionally. The other big award winner Jared Leto's transformation was even more shocking. I'm willing to bet that some people who didn't know who Leto was wouldn't have even been completely sure of his gender. It's a pair of award-worthy performances, both which had me skeptical before I watched this thing, and I thought the partnership or maybe even the friendship that formed between the two was touching. Jennifer Garner, seemingly channeling Hilary Duff, is a bit of a distraction for some reason. This had a low budget and seemed to be filmed very quickly, and that leaves a lot of grit that just seems suitable for the time period, the subject matter, and the settings. AIDS has been shoved to the periphery to make room for terrorism, celebrity gossip, and political bile, and if this does nothing else but bring the issue back into the light briefly, it's done enough. But aside from the disease, it more universally has something to say about the worth of all human beings. It's rarely a movie that entertains, but its statements are powerful ones.

Saving Mr. Banks

2013 movie

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

Plot: Walt Disney, the guy who created Mickey Mouse, tries to convince P.L. Travers, the woman who created Mary Poppins, to let him make a movie adaptation based on her nanny. She's not very easy to work with.

Here are something you need to know about me before reading my thoughts about this movie: Mary Poppins makes me horny. Travers' books, so much weirder than the Disney musical, are arousing. The Disney movie gives me a raging hard-on from beginning to end, and I can't see a chimney sweep or a carousel without immediately feeling the need to hide my crotch. Seeing the Mary Poppins in the England part of Epcot Center last time we were there nearly ended my marriage. I've actually avoided watching Mary Poppins the last several years because it's more than likely just going to result in a mess that I have to clean up. I would strongly recommend that you see Mary Poppins or at least know Mary Poppins intimately (typing those words made me tingle) before seeing this because it enriches the experience. It's about Disney trying to make a Mary Poppins movie, but really it's about so much more. I was reminded of a lot of things as I watched this--the unparalleled creativity of the folk at Disney, the force that was Walt Disney, how terrific those songs from Mary Poppins are, how much work and love goes into the making of a movie, and how much more meaning there is burbling beneath the surface of movies we love. Man, those songs are good. And watching B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman as the Shermans playing and sometimes even creating "A Spoonful of Sugar" or "Let's Go Fly a Kite" or "Chim Chim Cher-ee" (my personal favorite) was wonderful. Novak and Schwartzman can't get in the way of what the big personalities in this are doing, and they don't. They represent the creative spirit, react to Travers' unpleasantness, and stick in the background. I love what they and their songs represent though--the power of music to transform the soul, to fuel the imagination, and to unleash buried memories. Paul Giamatti's limousine driver in this is one of his more touching characters, and I really liked the evolution of the relationship between his Ralph and Travers although it's the sort of thing that could only happen in a movie like this. And Colin Farrell is pretty amazing as Travers' dad in the numerous flashbacks, nailing loving father and tragic disappointment. I didn't know the story behind the story going in, but once I figured out how it was all going to go, it was impossible not to get choked up. Of course, the heart of this story is the conflict between Disney himself and the difficult author. Emma Thompson's performance is easily one of the best I can recall seeing in a long, long time. She made me laugh more than a few times, saying the sorts of things that I wish I could say, and she made me tear up a few times, too. She had Travers' voice down, at least to my ears when compared to the actual recordings of Travers played during the credits, but a lot of the greatness was because of her body language, facial tics, and just the way she could glare at another character. A good glare has to be developed. Tom Hanks got himself a mustache but looked a little too healthy. Maybe if he would have lost a bunch of weight like McConaughey or like Hanks did in Castaway, he would have been nominated for an Oscar again. Or maybe writers Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith should have just given Disney AIDS. I don't think everything else about this story was 100% accurate anyway, was it? Hanks is the type of actor who knows exactly when to step on the gas during a performance. There are subtleties in the performance including a lot of little things he does to make his Disney authentic, but he really shines in a lengthy speech near the movie's climax. It's impossible to dislike Walt Disney when watching this movie, and I suppose the Disney people wouldn't want it any other way. Speaking of Tom Hanks, here's a question: Would any of you have been able to predict that somebody who looks like Tom Hanks would have a career with so many iconic roles? I wouldn't have. Saving Mr. Banks is a movie about movies and has so much to say about the power of imagination. It brought feelings of nostalgia, made me laugh, and made me cry, and you can't really ask more from a movie than that. It had just the perfect amount of magic for a movie about Disney. Delightful stuff, friends. See it if you're a fan of what Disney does.

Bad Movie Club: The Nasty Rabbit

1964 spy comedy

Rating: 4/20 (Fred: 8/20; Josh: 4/20; Jeremy: 4/20; Libby: fell asleep)

Plot: Russians release a nasty rabbit somewhere near Idaho in order to unleash a bacteria which will destroy America! Spies from various countries and a wannabe heartthrob pop star try to stop the Soviet's number one spy before it's too late.

We begin with a scene that I can only imagine was filmed in a real submarine, probably because the splashing sound effects sounded so real. It was the first of a glut of sound effects that gradually wore fragments of my skull and started poking at my brain. This movie is corny on the surface, but beneath its epidermis is something more sinister--a seeming effort to assault the senses of the audience. It's a terrorist assault, a movie that hurt your eyes, then hurt your ears, and then scorched the hairs in your nostrils. That's right--it's a movie you swore you could smell by the end of it. Don't get me wrong. This is an enjoyable bad movie. Something as dated as thirty-year-old caramel corn has to have some entertainment value, but if this had gone on any longer and if I had watched it alone, I more than likely would have gone insane. Random sound effects and musical snippets--slide whistles, old-time car horns, springs, the freakin' "William Tell Overture," somebody banging their head on a kitchen sink, etc.--gave this a low-budget surreal flavor, and by the time the characters were Benny Hill-ized (Benny Hill-ated?) for a climactic chase sequence that looked about as dangerous as anything you're likely to see in a movie from any decade, it all made perfect sense. This also stands out because of some in-your-face racial stereotyping. There's a Mexican spy, for example. And just as you'd expect from a five-year-old who wrote and directed this movie after binge-watching Looney Tunes cartoons, he's got a giant sombrero and a mustache. Oh, and his name's Pancho Gonzalez, of course. There's a Japanese guy who keeps falling out of a tree. There's a German guy who throws out Nazi salutes and is brutish because that's how all German guys act. There's Liz Raney, who allegedly financed most of this, who plays a whorish Italian or French woman. Or who knows, maybe she's both. And there's a little person playing a Jewish guy named Maxwell Stoppie. He spends a lot of the movie inside a television, and there's one incredible stunt where he plants his face in the German guy's crotch. That's called Initiating a Teabag where I come from. Arch Hall Jr., son of Arch Hall Sr., is the real hero because he's white and knows exactly what to do with a guitar. This was written by Hall Sr. as yet another attempt to make his son into a star. Hall Jr. was also in the wonderfully bad Eegah which featured Richard Kiel, and Richard Kiel is in this one, too. A guy named Ray Vegas plays the Mexican spy, and a couple named Lolly and Pat Vegas wrote the songs in this. I assume they're related which makes this whole thing a family affair. A dysfunctional family affair. Anyway, I found the entire thing enormously entertaining and a great way to celebrate Easter since it did have a talking rabbit in it. Oh, I didn't mention that the rabbit talked? Yeah, he gets some hilarious quips where he breaks the fourth wall, like when he wonders if John Wayne had to go through all of this to become a star. Hilarious. One more thing I want to mention--the opening credits. They used wooden cut-outs of bunnies for them which was low-budget genius.

Also known as Spies-a-Go-Go.

Random, out-of-context comments from Bad Movie Clubbers, some which could and should be used on teh packaging for the next dvd release of this movie:

Libby: "Should we be smoking weed for this?" (Answer: Probably.)
Josh: "Oh shit it talks!" (Maybe I should have put a [Spoiler Alert] up there before giving away that the titular rabbit talks. If you know that going in, you won't have the same feeling in your crotch that we had in our crotches when that rabbit talked for the first time.)
Fred: "Why is every stereotype watching him land?"
Jeremy: "If they use ALL of the stereotypes, it makes it ok."
Josh: "This music is schizophrenic."
Libby: "Pretty sure I saw Elmer Fudd and Speedy Gonzalez."
Me: "Weirdest propaganda I've ever seen."
Josh: "Laughing Moose O'Brien." (This is the name the best spy in Russia gave himself to blend in with the cowboys at the jamboree or wherever the hell he was at. He said the line, "Laughing Moose O'Brien. That's me. I'm a cowboy from Montana, Oklahoma." And that tells you everything you need to know about the brand of humor this movie has.)
Me: "Bunny eating sound effects! Man, if this didn't win an Academy Award for sound, it's a travesty [sic]."
Fred: "This might be the most culturally offensive BMC yet. Even topping Big Money Rustlas."
Jeremy: "I can't imagine why they have another half hour of this stuff."
Me: "Whoa. I did not see that twist coming. Nor did I understand it." (The ending of this is something. The thing just begs for a sequel, but I'm sure Arch Hall Jr. is too old for this shit now. Maybe Arch Hall the Third though?)
Josh: "I was digging for my cyanide capsule."

It's a Disaster

2012 black comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: The world begins ending while eight oblivious people try to enjoy a couples' dinner.

First off, that's a great poster. Am I allowed to give a movie bonus points for a poster? This is better than the other recent apocalyptic comedy, the one with all the big names, but it's might not be as funny. This is understated, and that's good because sitcom-style buffoonery would have ruined it. This forces you to focus on the characters and their relationships more anyway. It's more about that than the end-of-the-world fun. Aside from a scene with a neighbor, the minor character who lets the main characters know about the titular disaster, and a brilliant punchline that punctuates the story, the comedy isn't obvious at all. Two characters play the closest thing to comedic oddballs--the beautiful Rachel Boston and whoever played her boyfriend (I can't even recall what he looks like)--but everybody else plays this like straight drama, even David Cross, the most famous of the group. The screenplay has the characters bouncing around from conversation to conversation or uncomfortable situation to uncomfortable situation, and after a while, you sort of want something to happen. I did like that ending though. Maybe it was just a combination of a dinner party, some hipster characters, and the black comedy, but I was reminded of The Last Supper when watching this. I need to see that movie again. Anyway, great poster.


1982 visual poem

Rating: 20/20 (Jen: 17/20; Emma: 11/20; Buster: fell asleep)

Plot: Plot?

This has been one of my favorite movies since I first saw it, probably because I'm a sucker for movies where people are moving really fast. I mean, Godfrey Reggio is really just ripping off Benny Hill for most of this movie, only doing it far more pretentiously and with less slapstick. I'm amazed that this movie--one that took six years to create including three years for the score--was anybody's first movie. One, it's so ambitious. Two, it's completely flawless. Three, it's so original. Actually, don't quote me on #3 there because I don't know what I'm talking about. I'm unaware of a predecessor to Koyaanisqatsi, but there are probably a lot of examples of visual art that led up to this, though probably not feature-length films or anything calling itself a documentary. It's the kind of movie you watch a lot of while holding your breath. And it's the type of movie--the rarest of movies--where you want somehow watch yourself watching the movie if that makes any sense at all. It probably doesn't. I was a little mad at my family when watching this. They wouldn't stop talking, told me that it didn't matter because the movie had no dialogue, and didn't appreciate this nearly as much as they were supposed to. Shame on all of them, and they're lucky they weren't all disowned on the spot. Flawless visually, Koyaanisqatsi also has one of the best scores of all time. I can't imagine a more perfect marriage of music and imagery than what's happening here with Reggio's photography and the stunning music of Philip Glass. Glass had no interest in scoring movies, but was convinced by stuff Reggio showed him, and it's just a heavenly blending of talents. Reggio, once he was given Glass's music, then recut the movie again to better match the music. It's just bliss, the sounds and pictures so naturally streaming together as one entity and flowing right to your groin. At least my groin. I can't think of a movie where what you hear and what you see manages to work together so well to become what you feel. There are moments from movies, mostly movie moments that do it partially because of nostalgia--Raiders or Star Wars with John Williams, for example, where it blends well because it's just so fucking familiar; chunks of 2001, maybe, where it feels like the cosmos is composing classical music; probably one or two scenes from Smokey and the Bandit--that have the same effect, but we're talking about an hour and a half here. And the blend is strange since a lot of this movie is about clashing--the clash between nature and people, landscape and industrialization, early man's philosophy and contemporary man's philosophy, stillness and movement, calm and chaos, peacefulness and violence. They're images and sounds that say so much but without preaching. It's bombast, but so poetic and pure that you forgive the whole thing. This stuff you soak in, from the rolling landscapes to the jumbo jet choreography to the implosions to the blurs of humanity and vehicles to the swooping deserts and oceans to the swooping urban landscapes to the shots of people looking directly into the camera and watching us from the late-70's and probably thinking that we're as beautiful as we think they are. Yes, guy with sideburns and a mullet and a shirt with a giant eagle on you. I'm watching you and digging your natural beauty. And guy enjoying a double scoop of pink ice cream? Eat it well, my friend. Eat it well. And then, slow down, for there's a giant moon that looks like it had to have been Ansel Adamsed up there on the screen. And that thing's bigger than all of us. Even bigger if you saw this on a theater screen. There are not a lot of movies I care about seeing on anything but my television or, in some cases, on my phone. This is one of the few that I'd like to see on the big screen, probably sitting there with a piece of candy stuck to my face and a profound boner.

I wish I could be more poetic in writing about this movie. It deserves better than what I can do here. Seriously, Koyaanisqatsi doesn't deserve a write-up that ends with the word boner. Or maybe, if you think about it, that's exactly what it deserves.

Oprah Movie Club Pick for the First Half of April: Fresh

1994 chess movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: 12-year-old Michael, the titular drug delivery boy in the projects where he resides, tries to survive the harsh lifestyle of the streets and protect the people he loves. Meanwhile, he plays chess with his father, Mace Windu.

At times, this feels like an after-school special with a peppering of motherfuckers. Now, I can't really say much about the authenticity or the lack of authenticity with this culture and its characters. I grew up in Happy Go Lucky White Boy Land (that was the actual name of the town where I grew up), and nobody in my home town had even heard of drugs. And use of the word "motherfucker" was generally frowned upon. I thought the adults seemed authentic for the most part. The kids and some of the dialogue? Well, I just don't know. Still, a lot of this sounded like it was penned by somebody who others would label the Urban Shakespeare of something. The dialogue, stuffed with street jargon and hip hop-isms that were around back when I was the only cracker in Happy Go Lucky White Boy Land listening to rap music until McDonalds started dicking around with the genre for commercials, made me want to incorporate or re-incorporate a lot of phrases into my own vernacular. Using "stupid" as an intensifier ("I'm stupid late"), buggin' out, trippin', stop frontin', bust it, dope, wack, illin'. I got a little nostalgic. Oh, and calling people G or Homes. Such colorful dialogue with people wanting to "grease that motherfucker like Sunday bacon," calling people "you big gorilla monkey ass," or compare a beer to "a tub of piss somebody farted in." That last one might actually be Shakespearean now that I think of it. I wish I could say things like that without sounding too much like that fat kid named Chuckie in this. I also wish I could get away with talking to students like Fresh's teacher does in this. Not only does she drop a "You must be trippin'," but she has these gems as well:

"Who do you think you are, the land of Oz?" (At least that's what I think she said.)
"Shut up and wipe that stupid looking thing that you probably think is a charming expression right off your face, boy."
"Boy, who's talking to you--me or that floor?"

She seems like the kind of teacher who's left a few kids behind in her day if you know what I mean and I know George Bush and his cronies do. Of course, Fresh's real teacher is his estranged father played by none other than Samuel L. Jackson, an actor who is probably going to be playing my favorite character in any movie he happens to be in. Here, he's a fedora-wearing chess player, imparting wisdom that--of course--can be taken literally and metaphorically because that's exactly the type of movie this is, and it's all as wonderful as you'd expect it to be. There's some nice chess trash talk, and Jackson gets to say things like, "If your mind is somewhere else than take your ass over there to keep it company. I'm not going to waste my time with some half-assed fishcake opponent." That's something I guess I could try to pull off, but I doubt I could. Jackson doesn't get a ton of screen time, and I'm not quite sure his character isn't extraneous, but he's great. Just as great is Giancarlo Esposito as Esteban. And he's naked, and I'm not going to hide the fact (but perhaps should) that the guy's got a rockin' bod. Esposito's character has the same kind of calm ferocity that Gus has in Breaking Bad. There is a whole lot of bad acting from the children in this though. Sean Nelson plays the lead well enough although there's a little inconsistency. He doesn't quite have the emotional range to handle every scene his character finds himself in, but he nails an emotional final scene. Luis Lantigua plays his friend Chuckie, his only other role except for a part in a Law and Order episode that came out the same year. The reason for his abbreviated career is probably because he's terrible. Of course, he's not given the greatest dialogue exactly and spends most of his scenes saying "I bust those dope moves" again and again although at least once he says, "I got stupid juice" instead. He's a ridiculous character, and didn't really seem any less ridiculous after I figured out that "I bust those dope moves" was the movie's clumsy way of hammering the idea that he's the knight in Fresh's little chess game into our heads. The idea of having people in Fresh's life represent chess pieces is a good one although I wish it was more fully realized or maybe more complex. I am glad this didn't go full after-school special though and have the character escape his troubles by playing the board game because that would have been stupid. Fresh's scheming is put together cleverly enough. And the chess was pretty legit in this, too. Well, except for Jackson telling his son "that was the first time you ever checked me" which made this sound like it was written by somebody who has never played chess before. But there are some real players mentioned, and I liked watching the few chess scenes in the park in this movie. Fresh's "would have been mate in four if you weren't so dumb" is classic, and I wish there would have been more scenes with Nelson or Jackson playing chess with other people. I don't imagine extended chess scenes would have been all that popular in the 90's or any other time either. Of course, the movie's not really about chess. It's about drug crime, and as expected from a movie about drug crime and children either at the center of it all or on the periphery, there's a lot about this that's intense or just plain sad. A shot of a basketball with no sound other than the shuffling of feet was shocking and nearly brought tears to my eyes. There was also a pair of scenes with a dog that were hard to watch, both because they just looked a little too real. Michael Vick would probably think so, too. I also liked policeman Stewart Copeland's score, mostly because it wasn't too obvious. I'd never heard of this movie, but I liked it a lot despite its flaws. It would have been a checkmate if only Samuel L. Jackson could have had the line "En passant, motherfucker!" in there somewhere. He definitely should say that in one movie before he's done.

Sorry about being late on this one, Oprah Movie Club participants. Reminder: We're also watching Searching for Bobby Fischer by the end of the month. Chess!

The Wolf of Wall Street

2013 wolf movie

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

Plot: Based, one would think loosely, on the sinful tale of greed, obsession, drugs, infidelity, fraud, and etc. of Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker who rose to riches unscrupulously and tried his best to keep from bursting.

How many 2013 Best Picture nominees are based on true stories? Is it above the average or about the same? I realize that I could easily research this and that it's probably my job as a guy who writes half-assed blog posts about movies, but I really don't feel like doing it. I liked this movie, exhilarating from beginning to end, a lot, and Jen says it's because it's a guy movie, that I only liked it because I like boobs and butts. That's true. I'm a fan of both boobs and butts. But I also liked Jonah Hill's performance as Leo's smarmy associate and what will likely be the funniest masturbation scene I see all year, more glasses as props, the accent, enough cause for me to stop disliking the guy and just dislike most of his choices in roles he's going to take; Leo himself, amazing as another larger-than-life character played by an actor not afraid of dents in his image as evidenced by several sequences in this movie including one where he's goofy on Quaaludes, a scene that has to be seen to be believed; Margot Robbie, woman with two first names who is simply a revelation here and destined for big, big things, and yes, I realize she's got both boobs and a butt, both displayed here wonderfully, but she's nearly half my age and I was more impressed with her New York accent anyway, or maybe it was her cheekbones; the tossing of little people at targets and a long discussion about utilizing little people, but that tossing scene where I knew right away that I was watching something audacious and that my laughter and attempts to high-five myself likely punched my ticket for a Willy Wonka-esque ferry ride to hell or something; Matthew McConaughey, God bless him, and his neck and his manic-ness and the little humming, chest-thumping thing he's not embarrassed at all to do; the sneaky critique of the American dream, American greed, American hedonism, American excess, how you can criticize the snorting of cocaine from prostitute's cracks or the marching band or infidelity or drugs drugs drugs all you want but those are the very things this country was founded upon if you take the time to skim random pages from a Thomas Jefferson biography or two; back to Margot Robbie because I have to mention the scene where her character shows her body to DiCaprio and how I couldn't help but ooh and aah whilst in the presence of my wife which probably explains her comment RE: boobs and butts; moral and resolution indetermination with subway breaths and ink pen sales attempts with respectively Kyle Chandler's slouching and Leo's perfect teeth; just the sheer amount of people in this thing, me wondering how there's even any room for cameras to squeeze in some of these rooms; the unapologetic redundancy of imagery here, Leo's grinning voice-over mocking everything you think you believe in while visual after visual featuring varying degrees of debauchery, unapologetic debauchery, debauchery which hammers you on the head and reminds you, "Better check to make sure your pants are zipped up, young man, before you even touch the doorknob--get yourself some habits and stick with them like they're your religion!" and then announces that it doesn't care if you just saw the same thing five minutes ago and threatens to show the exact same thing to you again in another five minutes; the titular wolf and his thrustings and gesticulations cause the king of the world can do that sort of thing and get away with it; the way this pops off the screen, aurally and visually, a movie that throbs in your living room and I imagine in movie theaters; every minute of all three hours, the length usually the first thing I'd gripe about and complain that I didn't get a Gone with the Wind or Ten Commandments intermission as I sat in a pool of my own warm but cooling urine but not regretting it at all because I wouldn't have wanted to miss anything, just maybe the highest compliment--the piss test?--a person can give a movie like this; the questions this raises, abstractly and surreptitiously because if you blink, you're going to miss the point, but there are definitely questions about who the real villain is in this whole thing--Jordan Belfort and his motley crew or the people ignorant enough to let Jordan Belfort happen, Martin Scorsese, at this stage in his career and at the age of 70-something who can make movies as vibrant and daring as this even with those glasses of his, and a reminder that I probably need to give Gangs of New York some Oprah Movie Club love and watch Shutter Island which I never bothered seeing despite thinking everything else Martin Scorsese has made the past however many years he's made things is wonderful and how I can finally understand what John S. Hall meant when he sang that King Missile song about wanting to chew his fuckin' lips off and grab his head and suck out one of his eyes because that's exactly how I feel; flavor flavor flavor. . .and decadence!; the wildest ride, one that I can't imagine anybody being bored even though a friend of mine told me that she was bored by the thing but it might be because she doesn't like boobs or butts; one of the most interesting and eclectic soundtracks you will ever hear, "Sloop John B" nudging up against Mingus's bass, Cypress Hill prancing around Sousa's grave, Romeo Void and Eartha Kitt and Devo. Man, this three hours goes down so good. It's Boogie Nights for the 20-teens, A Clockwork Orange for people who suffering from a bowler phobia, one of the most American films you will ever see. And, boobs and butts, goldfish and prosthetic penises, drug trips and platters of lunch meat, helicopter crashes and shaved heads, little people tossing and raging. So vibrant, so electric, so funny--this bad boy of a Best Picture nominee shimmers like no other movie I can remember seeing recently. I loved it.

I don't feel that proofreading would make a difference this time, and I refuse to do it. My guess is that it's flawless writing anyway.

12 Years a Slave

2013 best picture

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

Plot: A free black violinist is man-napped and sold as the titular slave.

At the risk of sounding insensitive, I just have to ask one question: What's the point? This is a good movie, maybe even the definitive film on the subject matter, but what does it really say about the human spirit? It's almost completely devoid of anything resembling hope. It's like director Steve McQueen is taking our hands and saying, "Ok, gang, this is going to be about two hours of brutality. You'll shake your head, drop your jaw, wince a little, get angry, probably even hate yourself and a large portion of humanity during the thing. Hold on tight, now. We're not going to pull our punches. We're going to get right in there and shove your face in one of the most hateful parts of American history. But if you hang in there, I promise you one thing--I will let you look at my Academy Award." Then, he'll add, "You can't touch it though."

But what's the message here? What do we learn? How does this help us grow as people? What's it change? It's a textbook version of the American slavery story, allowing some white actors to spit out the word "nigger" and snarl a little or maybe a lot. So, the message is that people, especially white people, are evil. Well, we already knew that. That's nothing new, especially for kids growing up with more of an emphasis on multicultural education in schools. Black people were treated like property, deprived basic human rights, beaten severely, taken away from their loved ones, and even killed. White people aren't very nice, not here and not really at any time in history. We're shown excruciating and excruciatingly lengthy scenes where the main character is hung by his neck and staying alive only by dancing on his tiptoes or a woman is stripped and severely whipped. The latter's a long shot that has to last about five minutes but seems to last about twenty, and it's difficult to watch and recalls Mel Gibson's Jesus movie in its ability to make us cringe. There's a line here, and I'm not sure where it is or if it's crossed or just how jagged it is. No, I'm not asking for a watered-down version of the story. But skipping from one terrible deed to the next like this did just kind of felt like they were saying, "Hey, look at this? Pretty awful, huh? Look at it some more!" But other than the gut impact and the realization that people have the capabilities of being as evil as we thought they could, what does it all add up to? Perhaps most importantly, what's it do to the American collective consciousness?

And what about black people? What do we learn about blacks? That they're capable of playing violins? That they were once not even considered human beings by a large segment of the American population? If it's not one of those two, I'm not sure what the message is because that's all we're given here. And that, to me, is what makes this sort of exploitative. I know it's based on a true story and all, and that story is a crushing one with the characters and their plights handled with compassion. But where's the part about blacks being human beings? You'd think McQueen would know better. This is the story of one man's descent into becoming less than a man, and he huddles in the despairs associated with that loss of his humanity for a couple hours before emerging once again. The story's bookended with scenes with Solomon's wife and two children, he shows off an intelligence when he helps Cumberbatch's character find a way to transport logs more efficently, and the fact that he plays the violin is bowed (not drummed, I guess) into our heads several times. But where's the part about hope? Where's the part where the black man is the hero? We really need Brad Pitt to squint his way down from Canada to be the big hero in this? As great as Chiwetel Ejiofor was--and he was great--startlingly quiet, intensely hopeless, and emotionally wrung in a role that had to have been as challenging mentally as it was physically--isn't he really more of a prop in this? He's a character who grabs us in very murky water and weighs us down until we're drowning in despair, and that's all very well and good if that was the director's intention, but I'm not sure if it's sophisticated enough, has enough tragic depth, or sings enough. It's hopeless for the sake of hopelessness.

The imagery is the type of stuff that will stay with you for a long time after you watch the movie. Still, other than the shock and awe, I'm not sure if it's enough to really make you feel the story or for a white middle-aged guy like me to really empathize with the characters. 12 years seemed like 2 hours, just enough time for me to get to the bottom of my popcorn bucket. The story's so episodic, a brutal outline. It's glossy stuff, but does the movie sweat enough? The focus on two black characters--and I do want to emphasize once again how terrific Ejiofor is but also praise Lupita Nyong'o's work as Patsey, another physically demanding role, especially so for a first-time movie star--helps give us focus, and it's easy to identify with the conflict on a personal level. I really didn't like how the characters talked in this, and I don't even care if it's historically accurate. I wasn't around in the 1840's to hear plantation owners or slaves communicate with one another, but to me, this sounded a whole lot like the voices of people who wrote in the first part of the 19th Century. There's a seasoned or stylized standard English here that just felt weird to me. But again, I don't really know what I'm talking about. One thing I did love was the music, some experimental textured stuff that I think must have been what Hans Zimmer provided mixed with the old folk and work songs from the era. The former helped capture the darkness while the latter helped the authenticity.

I almost feel like I'm being too hard, maybe because of the high expectations I had going in knowing that I was watching the best picture of 2013. Don't get me wrong. The movie's good, troubling and emotionally powerful, and this is a story or historical subject matter that, like the Holocaust, can't be told too many times.

American Hustle

2013 best picture nominee

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

Plot: A con man and his partner are busted and forced to work for an FBI agent who wants to make a name for himself and take down some mafia big wigs and shady elected officials.

This movie's a lot of fun with four leads going against the grain to play these larger-than-life characters. Bale hams it up with ridiculous hair and prop sunglasses that he can't keep his hands off. And a gut. The guy's a hot dog, not exactly nailing anybody who could be a real person here but nailing something. I like what he does with his posture most of all. Well, at least when he's not doing something with his sunglasses. Amy Adams's has a wavering English accent which is supposed to be a wavering accent. Wow, does she look good in this movie, always threatening to have a wardrobe malfunction right on my television screen, showing a lot of leg, allowing a butt double to step into the shadows for her. Jennifer Lawrence is the other babe in this, and I'm not sure if I liked her performance at all, but she and Adams share a kiss which means I have to say that I liked them both or put up with people asking if I'm a homosexual. Lawrence is almost too cute for the role, and I don't always buy her emotions. Gosh, I always really want to like her, but she's only just-OK here. Once again, the Academy Awards people seem to be enamored by her posterior more than anything else. The always-fetching Bradley Cooper also gets some fun hair and is best in scenes where his character is losing control. He shows off an ability to lose it, and although he's still good looking in this movie, it's a step or two away from the typical leading man roles he's had. Louis C.K. and Robert Deniro are also really good in smaller roles. The movie's a hyperbole, a loosely-told story based loosely on a true story, loosely. Everything's amplified--the period details, the character quirks, the stylized shots--and caricaturizes the time period and makes it seem like every single character is on some kind of drug. Surprisingly, there's not a mention of drugs in this movie that I remember. It's character driven, and the dynamics between the characters manage to be surprising, fun, and emotional, but the time and place is just as responsible for helping this thing sizzle. And it's got some sizzle. What I'm not sure it has is much depth. It sort of floats around, tells its story, and finishes but leaves you wondering what the whole point was. It just sort of feels empty, like a car running partially on fumes but mostly on the strength of people pushing it down the road. However, since those people pushing it seem to be having so much fun, it's hard not to like this movie. It's infectious and vibrant, and I guess that's enough. This is something I would watch again, but I'm really not sure I would like it as much. Or maybe I would. I do seem to like movies featuring con men. And the experience watching this for the first time kind of reminds me of when I first saw The Big Lebowski, one of my favorite movies which, I'm almost ashamed to admit, was not one of my favorite movies after I watched it the first time.

My favorite thing about this entire movie is all the ties.

Bad Movie Club: Chopping Mall

1986 horror movie

Rating: 7/20 (Josh: 3/20; Jeremy: 7.4/20; Johnny: 4/20; Libby: 5/20; Fred: 2/20)

Plot: Teens partying after-hours in the titular shopping establishment face off against a triad of security robots that take their jobs a little too seriously. The teens are killed in a variety of ways, ironically none which resemble chopping.

You lose a point for a bad pun in the title, Chopping Mall. This first came out as Killbots but didn't do well because people thought it had something to do with transforming robots. Those robots don't look menacing enough at all, but they sure can kill in a variety of ways, including a great scene featuring an exploding head. And as Jeremy said, they kind of act like dicks. They don't just finish you off quickly in this. No, they set you on fire so that there can be some agony involved. They just don't chop which should probably knock this down another point. And they look a little silly with those old-people grabber tools for hands. Their menace was backed by a redundant electronic theme song which I liked, but I couldn't stop wondering if they were actually playing the music, kind of like how I hummed my own John Williams-esque music or whatever when I played outside as a kid and a few times as an adult. With the noise from the tank tread, it made it impossible for the killbots to sneak up on anybody, but that's not the kind of thing that would stop this director. This is a Jim Wynorski jam, and he voices all three robots (wish they had a wider variety of things to say actually) and even performed a stunt in this and broke a rib. That's dedication to your art, ladies and gentlemen. And since it's a Wynorski movie, there are going to be some boobs, gratuitously. Of course, it's an 80's slasher movie, so the sex-leading-to-death motif's got to be in there regardless of who films the story. The plot goes exactly where you think it will except for a few surprises near the end where you find out how dangerous paint or pet stores can be and it's revealed that a character has just been standing around not helping at all for a while which makes him kind of lame. But that's a spoiler alert. There are probably a lot more in this list of stuff people said while we watched the movie:

Johnny: "It's a BMC within a BMC. How meta!" (This did have a little movie-within-the-movie and showed the end of Attack of the Crab Monsters. That gave this three "The End" screens which is almost like Them! having three Wilhelm Screams but not really as impressive. Anyway, I thought it was worth mentioning.)
Libby: "Does he get naked? Cuz if he doesn't, you're wasting my time." (Libby might have been inebriated for this one.)
Me: "Coke AND McDonalds product placement." (I guess it's unavoidable since this was filmed in an actual mall, but there did seem to be a lot of product placement. I wanted to see an Orange Julius but was disappointed.)
Josh: "You ALWAYS jack it utilizing your peripherals." (This probably needs context. Hell, all of this probably needs context.)
Me: "I wouldn't let any of my daughters date a guy who chews gum like that." (John Terlesky played "Mike" who chewed gum obnoxiously and perpetually. He won't win, but I'm nominating him for a Torgo Award just because of how he chewed gum.)
Johnny: "Paul Blart Robot is as menacing as Gargamel from The Smurfs."
Johnny: "Lotta chifferobe busting going on." (Yes! It's catching on!)
Jeremy: "The awkward conversation tomorrow with the boss will be about having to discount a sofa with semen stains on it."
Libby: "Is this janitor in every fucking 80's movie?" (That janitor, Libby, is Will Gill Jr. a guy with a stupid name who plays "security guard" a lot. He doesn't have nearly as many movie jobs as Dick Miller though, who plays Walter Paisley in this. He works in a lot of movies. Sculptor, pizza delivery guy, bartender, security guard, doorman, peddler, repairman, night manager, policeman, impound clerk, storekeeper, another security guard, vendor, motel manager, cab driver, waiter, pawn shop clerk [in Terminator], theater owner, teacher, diner owner [as Walter Paisley, the same name he's given here, in Twilight Zone: The Movie], broadcaster, animal trainer, waiter again, seaman, factory watchman, bookstore owner [in The Howling, also as Walter Paisley], prison guard, more cops, pianist, game show host, sketch artist, couple more taxi drivers, reporter, fashion photographer, soldier, "gangster dressed as a cop," rigger, wrangler, another cop, another waiter, another taxi driver, and an Indian wearing hat which I suppose isn't a job. And he plays a horseshoe player in Motorama. And Walter Paisley again in Hollywood Boulevard and A Bucket of Blood. If this doesn't prove that I have too much time on my hands, I don't know what does.)
Fred: "Jock asses." (Jock asses bustin' up a chifferobe. I want a real reason to say something like these exact words.)
Josh: "So they bully you to death?"
Josh: "Why are the robots repositioning the bodies?" (It's a fair question.)
Jeremy: "I hope later they all pose as mannequins." (This was about 50 minutes before they all posed as mannequins.)
Fred: "Damn, those Dockers really do never wrinkle!"
Libby: "She just motorboated a flare." (Where else other than BMC can a person type a sentence like that?)
Me: "Dropping Mall" (My own clever attempt at punnery!)
Jeremy: "The coast is clear. Shit, didn't check right in front of me." (Seriously, this is all pretty funny in context.)
Fred: "Still amazed at those Dockers!"
Johnny: "Rick Moranis's twin shot his eye laser thing out. Jeez, follow the intricate plot."
Josh: "Can robots be 'bastards'?" (Another fair question)

That's enough of that.

My favorite thing about this movie is probably the random appearance of Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov who apparently are playing the same characters they played in Eating Raoul. There was also a gun store in the mall (come on...) called Peckinpah's which was kind of cute.

Bad Movie Club is every Sunday at 9:30. This Sunday, we'll be watching either a religious movie or a movie with bunnies.

Warm Bodies

2013 zombie romantic comedy

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Romeo and Juliet, but with zombies.

I don't care what you do with the genre anymore--a movie with zombies just isn't going to seem creative. This one has its moments, but I didn't really like either of the leads, the too-obviously-named R and Julie. Nicolas Hoult spends the movie shuffling. It's a tough task to give a character any personality and make him likable when the character is of the walking dead variety, but Hoult nearly makes it happen. I hate how he redevelops an ability to talk though, but that's probably not his fault. Teresa Palmer's Julie might actually have less personality. John Malkovich's also in this, but his character could have been played by anybody. Anyway, R gets a hoodie because there's no other way to show the audience that he's the young slacker type, and this plays like an angst-ridden teenage romance flick, not much different than I imagine those Twilight movies to be. Those Romeo and Juliet parallels might be a little amateurish. Heck, this thing even gets its own balcony scene:

Julie: "R? R? Wherefore art thou, R?"
R: "Uggh. Buuuuuuu."

Their relationship builds sweetly enough, I guess, with a little bit of montage, some left-of-the-dial rock tracks, and a few other tricks that might seem as tired as the whole zombie thing. The movie seems to be actively avoiding the Z-word for a lot of this. They're "corpses" here instead. This plays by most of the rules already established in the countless other zombie movies which just seems kind of lazy to me, but there are some new twists. Like the talking. One "conversation" between R and Rob Corddry's character is a clever idea but not all that well executed. And then there's the idea that eating brains gives you the memories of the victim, something that seems more like a cheap device than anything else. There's some satirical imagery at the beginning, parallels to the mundaneness of real life, these poor dead people living (well, not living exactly) a banal existence where they're zombie-walkin' around an airport. I liked a shot with R stumbling around all the other zombies that flashes to color. He's still a zombie, but suddenly, everybody else is alive but zombified anyway, just standing around and talking into their hands. Satire might be a little too obvious though. I also liked the sneaky record vs. mp3 player metaphor in there although throwing in a stereopticon might have been taking it too far. Oh, I didn't like the boneys or whatever those scarier zombies were called. Those things looked stupid. Actually, the problem wasn't that they looked stupid. It was more that they all looked and moved exactly the same. Silly CGI. This isn't a terrible movie; I just can't decide if it had unfulfilled potential or if it was ZOA. That's Zombified On Arrival which is probably not nearly as clever as I want it to be.

Wild Strawberries

1957 Bergman movie

Rating: 20/20

Plot: An old guy drives to get himself an honorary degree and takes his daughter-in-law along with him. They stop at a few of his old haunts, are haunted, and pick up some hitchhikers.

Even if you halfway read this blog, you're probably aware that I'm a sucker for a few things. Movies about old people. Dream sequences. Scandinavian movies. Black and white. Movies that effortlessly blend past, present, future, dreams, and reality. This has all those. Oh, and it's also the type of movie that you just can't understand the first time you see it. You'll feel it, you'll identify with some of it, the moods will be palpable, you'll venture into the depths of the thing and get a little lost, and then you'll notice it's somehow ventured into the depths of you and gotten a little lost. Bergman gives you plenty of space to let this drip into the parts of your subconscious that can roll with it, and when the pieces almost fit together, it grips at you, gently. And when that happens, it's pretty magical. I'm amazed that Bergman can either tell a simple story in a very complex way or a complex story in a very simple way. It's one of those. There are layers to everything here. The past is the past, but it's also the present. The present's the present but it's also bogged down by the past. The future's certain, but it's also uncertain. Reality and dreams are a blanket, one you can't keep your toes underneath. A hitchhiker is a hitchhiker but he's also a stage in the game and she's got the same name and the same hair and you just want to lay her down in the bushes and have at her if you know what I mean. Lord, I hope you do. Come on, people. What's the titular fruit represent, with those little nipples, that cum-hither cap, the juicy juice, a body that is all red, red lips. Sneaky feel-good, especially since you're not sure you like Dr. Isak Borg very much, but more than almost any other movie you'll ever see, you really feel like you understand the guy more and more as his trip goes along. Sjostrom (he doesn't get umlauts either but doesn't care because he's not around to read the blog and probably doesn't even know what a blog is) gives a performance that is quiet, a character haunted by his decisions, a little guilty, and teased by his past. And you can see all that under the Sjostrom's surface, but there's a radiant hope that also oozes more and more as he continues on this journey, and it's that hope that gives this it's feel-good denouement. Bibi Andersson--coincidentally the stage name I used when I used to strip at that nursing home back in my early-20's--is a blond sprite, and you almost want to drink her off the screen. This is Bergman at his most thrilling, tackling big ideas with personal vignettes, accomplishing the near-impossible by making somebody else's memories turn into your won. And that's the trick here that makes this so magically beautiful--this becomes your past and your dreams. Oh, and speaking of dreams, how about that dream sequence that starts things off here? A coffin, clocks with no hands, people with no eyes. It would be silly in color, and people who dream in color are all lunatics anyway.

Trivia: I read somewhere that Bergman had filmed a sequence that was nothing more than a five-minute series of fart jokes. It wasn't included as a deleted scene on the disc I had, but that would be something else.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

2013 movie for teenagers and middle-aged women who want to be teenagers

Rating: 12/20 (Jen: 14/20; Emma: 15/20)

Plot: Katniss and Peeta, both from the land where people have stupid names, are fresh off their shared victory in the 74th Hunger Games. Now, they have to tour the other districts so that old people can whistle at them and flip them off in futuristic ways. Of course, in this dystopia, that gets you killed immediately. If you tackle an enforcer of the law, however, like Katniss's other boyfriend--Jimmy?--then you get beaten. The bearded guy gets all mad and forces past winners to compete in the next round of the titular game, and that--shockingly--includes Katniss and Peeta who everybody thinks are in love because that makes for a better story or something. Oh, snap!

I really sort of hate these movies. And I want to know what the feminists have to say about the character of Katniss Everdeen. Other than making a scene at her weigh-in or whatever where she hangs a dummy, what does she really do in this movie? She's just sort of being used, right? She's a pawn in a game that I couldn't understand all that well because I went into this without having read the book or forming enough of an emotional connection with either the first book or movie to remember it all that well. I think she might have killed somebody in this with her bow and arrow skills, but I couldn't be sure because the action sequences, though less shaky than in the first movie, still had so many quick cuts and camera zoops that it was hard to tell what was going on. Nothing in the arena made much sense to me. There was a stupid clock thing, poisoned fog, cartoon monkeys, a stone Lazy Susan, plans for electrocution. With the big reveal at the end which I don't want to give away even though I'm likely the last person on earth who had any interest in seeing this movie and then saw it, I don't see how that made much sense. The old characters didn't really grow at all in this. Jennifer Lawrence is nearly impossible not to like, but I still don't really like her in these movies. Hutcherson's Peeta is as boring in his moodiness as he was in the first movie, but apparently, that's what the teenagers like these days. They want their dystopian pop characters to be a little angsty. Woody Harrelson phones it in as Haymitch, the character with maybe the most potential to be interesting but manages to only be inconsistent. Hemsworth's Gale, Katniss's real love interest (maybe...who cares?), is in this a little more, and the producers do their best to transform him into some kind of hotshot heroic type. Oh, and there's that Elizabeth Banks who is all over the place. Philip Seymour Hoffman's paid to stand around and occasionally be cryptic; apparently, Hoffman was saving all his fuck's and big angry moments for the third and fourth movies. What are they doing with that character, by the way? Is he going to be computer generated like the monkeys? Donald Sutherland might give the best performance as a flatulent cliche. There's a litter of new characters, but none of them are interesting. Well, the one takes her clothes off in an elevator, but unless nipples are involved, I have to reason to care. I did like the old woman who was carried around like Yoda for most of the movie. It gave me a great idea for a Hunger Games Halloween costume, but I'm going to have to first find somebody strong enough and willing to carry me around. I was surprised at how silly the dialogue was in this thing. The conversations between Sutherland and Hoffman should have meant something or been foreboding or something. They sort of advanced the plot and set us all up for a big yank-the-carpet-from-under-us moment at around the time when the movie but not the story finishes. The silliest dialogue was during a scene at the back of a train where Katniss and Peeta are having a really deep conversation about what their favorite color was. Maybe it was just the overly-dramatic music during that scene, but I was moved. Make fun of the conversation Anakin and Padme (or whatever she was calling herself in Episode II) had about sand, but it's not any dumber than that conversation. I am not looking forward to the second half of this trilogy. And that's a sentence that I shouldn't have to type on here.

Penn and Teller Get Killed

1989 comedy

Rating: 11/20

Plot: The titular magicians try to avoid being murdered after Penn tells a television audience that he wishes somebody would try to kill him.

Penn Jillette has to be the most unlikable person who I actually like. Something about him rubs me the wrong way. It might be the boisterous atheism which is something I never understand. Or maybe it's his ponytail. Or maybe it's just because he seems to dwarf anybody he's standing around. Or maybe it's just because of the amount that he has to talk having a mostly-silent partner. Or maybe he seems kind of full of himself. Regardless, I just like the guy. He's a fan of The Residents, he was one of the most likable Celebrity Apprentice contestants, and he's got a black sense of humor that is hard not to love. The latter drives this movie that the duo wrote, and if you like the duos dark comedy magic stylings, you'll probably watch this and be glad you did. It's just not a very good unfortunately. The plot is thin, really just there as an excuse more than to tell a story, and the acting is sometimes pretty bad. There are set-ups that really don't make a lot of sense either. Why are they practicing magic on a beach, for example? There's also a ton of Coca Cola product placement and even a random plug for Cocoa Puffs. There's surprisingly little magic in the whole thing, but even more alarming is that there's not much humor. I don't think I laughed a single time even though I did kind of like one line a lot--"With the Velvet Underground playing, I like to watch the Three Stooges."--mostly because I just couldn't figure it out. Oh, and you get to see Teller using nun-chucks right after the whole thing shifts to this weird noirish black and white thing. And yes, Larry, they're called nun-chucks with Teller uses them. I enjoy Penn and Teller's unbridled creativity and dark humor, but it just didn't translate very well to a full-length film. And although the resolution was unique (and maybe frustratingly confusing), the whole thing was sort of bland compared to what it should have been. Still, I'm probably glad I watched it.


2013 race car movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Rival Formula One drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda try to win races.

Oh, I wish this movie didn't have the flaws it does. Ron Howard should know better, but the Hollywood runs deep in Opie. He almost makes up for it by giving us a glimpse of Chris Hemsworth's ass--god-like, if you must know. The main problem with this movie is that everything is so spelled out for us. We get the personality differences of these two characters really early on, but it's continually hammered home throughout the movie until it feels redundant. At the end, there's a conversation that seems wildly improbably anyway, where the characters define exactly what their relationship is, and it was just a completely unnecessary chunk of dialogue. It's baby food for viewers who just popped this in their dvd players to watch some cars move really fast or maybe, if they're lucky, to see some gnarly crashes. Speaking of cars, there is quite a bit of Formula One car festishizing here, and I doubt I get this much of a boner (a boner with a capital O, of course) seeing cars again this year. I'm not a car guy at all, but there were all kinds of interesting shots of car parts--no, I can't identify any of them--and I really enjoyed seeing those quick shots during the races. Race car innards, smooth curves and fleshy tires. Trust me, it was pretty hot. I might know the least about race cars than anybody else living within ten miles of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and I really don't have any interest in racing at all, but the scenes where they're racing--and there were a lot of scenes where they'r racing--where so well done, all thrilling race car shit with rock music accompaniment, that I was on the edge of my seat. As a sports movie, this really works. As a dual character study, this also works. Neither of these guys is easy to like, but I liked how the story forces you to switch your allegiance throughout the story. Who you root for shifts as you realize that the one guy isn't a bad guy at all and the good guy isn't admirable but then realize that the other guy is sort of an asshole and the one asshole is sort of heroic. It's an interesting dynamic, classic frenemies, and the lead actors are really good. Thor just looks the part of a cocky race car driver, and the guy is definitely capable of standing in the background and looking pretty. And I'm wondering if my wife is going to read this and be more upset that I got a boner watching cars drive quickly or that I seem to have a thing for Chris Hemsworth. Daniel Bruhl (more offended that he doesn't get an umlaut on this blog or that he wasn't nominated for an Academy Award?) is so good as Lauda, just amazing. I don't know who I could drop out of the best actor nominations, but it's almost shocking that his performance or even the way he pronounces the word "asshole" when he calls people that wasn't good enough to get the nomination. It's really one of those performances you can't take your eyes off of, and he almost overshadows his co-star who was also really good. Incredible stuff. Howard and his big Hollywood friends nail the period details, and I like how Peter Morgan's script has so many of these scenes with double meanings, the most obvious being Lauda's groans when he's having bandages removed and simultaneously watching a race he can't participate in. The story, regardless of how embellished it might be, is the sort of thing that seems like it happens just so that somebody like Ron Howard can come along and make a movie about it. And it's tackled really well here, probably in a way that would still put somebody on the edge of their seat even if he knew all the particulars about the story. It's a terrific sports movie, and they wouldn't have treated me like I was stupid throughout a lot of it, it would have had a shot of being the best movie of 2013.

Machete Kills

2013 sequel

Rating: 8/20

Plot: President Charlie Sheen recruits the titular badass to stop a guy who hates Jews from doing whatever he's trying to do.

There's almost nothing to like in this ill-advised sequel, a movie that feels like it just has to be a low-budget sequel made by a money-hungry studio with no input from Robert Rodriguez, the director who made the first installment which was an enjoyable piece of trash. But look! Robert Rodriguez did co-write and direct this complete waste of time. Things start out foreboding enough with what I thought was a fake trailer for Machete Kills Again which features the character in space, lightsabers, a guy in a metal mask, a cheap Justin Bieber reference, and an appearance by Lady Gaga. Turns out that Machete Kills Again. . .In Space! is going to complete the trilogy unless that was just a threat. Rodriguez craps out a bunch of half-baked ideas, hoping for something that will connect as unpredictably as the best stuff from this movie's predecessor. But showing us Charlie Sheen as the President of the United States, a cheapo "Put on your 3D glasses" sex gag, shots of a beauty pageant gal firing a machine gun, and the nearly-perfectly-shaped Sofia Vergara with machine gun breasts is just not enough. What's Vergara doing in a movie like this anyway? I know why Antonion Banderas is around, and I guess Mel Gibson, who probably gives the best performance in a movie with no good performances at all, has to do something with his time. I'm even kind of embarrassed for Lady Gaga that she has to be in this, flashing as much ass cheek as she usually does and almost-but-not-quite seeming like a real actress for her brief time on film. Danny Trejo, I suppose, is still cool, showing off a neat twitch thing he does with his eyes, but he seems worn out from the first movie. Nobody, Trejo or Rodriguez or whoever else was involved, seems to know what to do with this character, and I'm surprised at how much he just kind of stands around. When there is action, it's weighed down with some really poor special effects. There are a few decapitations and gross-out death sequences if you're in to that sort of thing, but chances are, you're going to be bored by this even if you are into that sort of thing. This is a sequel that even the most die-hard fans of the first movie should avoid. And I'm already hating my future self for wasting time with the third movie in the series. What's wrong with me?

Frances Ha

2014 hipster comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: The titular gal's trying to make it as a dancer in New York City. She lives with her BFF, but they start to grow apart after Sophie moves in with her boyfriend. Frances drifts and tries to get her dancing feet settled somewhere.

Greta Gerwig has a name that I don't really like, but at least her name isn't Frances Ha which would be the worst name of all time. Gerwig, who co-wrote this with Noah Baumbach, is very sly here. There's an awkwardness to the character that causes her to stand out, not necessarily in a good way or a bad way but just in a way. The character's likable even when you don't like any of the decisions that she's making, and you root for her even when things seem completely hopeless. I bet the character's naive airiness, whimsical or refreshing to some, would irritate some viewers. In a way, Frances Ha is like a coming-of-age story with a protagonist in her late-20's. But although a little irritating, it's the exact kind of character Gerwig wants her to be, and the performance, one where the character is always just slightly off or slightly out of place or slightly slight, has a confidence that I like. Honestly, I don't think I liked any of the characters in this movie. Yes, I'm sure I didn't like any of them. I do like the idea of the movie and its characters though, like a less-absurd Jarmusch movie in cool black and white, the type of movie where not enough really happens and the characters alienate you. It's the exact kind of movie that I usually like more than other people. The movie wasn't all that funny, and I guess I had more trouble connecting with these Baumbach characters as much as I have his characters in the past, maybe because the character at the center of it was a woman. I am not, in case you haven't been following along, a woman. Or a dancer. Or a New Yorker.

The Croods

2013 caveman cartoon

Rating: 13/20 (Jen: fell asleep; Emma: 6/20; Abbey: 15/20; Buster: no rating)

Plot: Thanks to global warming, the titular family of cave people have to flee their safe home and head toward a mountain with a new friend. The cave patriarch isn't happy about it because he's a conservative who doesn't even acknowledge global warming.

If you're going to make an animated movie about cavemen, just go ahead and get the rights to Captain Caveman and give that character the full-length feature film that he deserves. Nicolas Cage could have handled the raw emotion of Captain Caveman, right? Check out these character names: Grug, Eep, Guy, Ugga, Gran, Thunk, Belt. A three-year-old could have come up with those, right? The characters were the least interesting thing about this movie, and there weren't a lot of them. It seems like animated movies have been throwing as many characters as possible into these movies, probably to sell more merchandise, but maybe Dreamworks doesn't do that. Nicolas Cage's character (Grug) was the protagonist, and as much as I love Cage, I didn't really think his voice worked well here. He was a little distracting, probably because he was Nicolas Cage. The rest of characters were stock, but the lessons learned about family, fatherhood, and the willingness to change worked. It almost seemed like they came up with the themes they wanted to tackle before going to the drawing board for the characters and settings. The movie's made with the themes at the center with a lot of action and slapstick--and I mean a lot of action and slapstick--squeezed around it. Lots of movement in this makes it feel brisk at times and tedious at other times. Hardly a minute passes before you're on another wild chase or something. I did like the animation, probably some of the most beautiful and creative of any cartoon from 2013. Right as I got tired of all the browns, there was an explosion of creativity and color, vibrant foliage and unusual animals that I'm guessing never really existed. Of course, I've never been to the Creation Museum, so how would I know? This isn't an animated classic or anything, and I'm not even sure I'd want to see it again, but it's entertaining enough to watch once.

The Night of the Hunter

1955 horror film

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

Plot: A shadowy preacher man, more than likely the titular hunter, rooms with a dude who hid 10, 000 bucks before his arrest. Once freed, the preacher man, even though he can clearly see that it's Shelley Winters, marries his widow in order to extract info about the money's hiding place from her two young children. They don't want to tell him where the money is, and he starts to get mad.

First, I don't know if that's a real poster or not, but it's awesome. This, out of perhaps any movie ever made, deserves an awesome poster. While looking for a poster to steal from somebody, I came across a blog put together by a guy named Lou Romano that I enjoyed. Here are some screenshots from The Night of the Hunter. This has been one of my favorite movies for a while, and I'm surprised it isn't already on the old blog here. And the main reason it's one of my favorites is because director Charles Laughton and cinematographer Stanley Cortez tell the story so well visually, and as anybody who's ever read this blog knows, I'm a sucker for the visuals. Mr. Romano's site shows off a few of the innumerable stills from this movie that could easily be hanging in a museum. Laughton, who directed only this, called this "a nightmarish sort of Mother Goose tale," and a nightmarish sort of Mother Goose tale just has to look a certain way. And this has that look. It's all about the interplay between light and shadows, a relationship that mirrors the contrast between "love" and "hate" on Harry Powell's knuckles, and the angles. I love how Robert Mitchum, playing one of the most evil characters in movie history, is often preceded by his own shadow. He's literally foreshadowed in a bunch of these scenes. It's most stunning when his silhouette appears on their bedroom wall, a shadow that makes no sense, by the way, when you see where Mitchum is standing and where the streetlight is positioned. It's not always Mitchum's shadow either; the first time the children encounter him, they're eclipsed by a shadowing "hand" in an absolutely stunning shot. And I love all these perspective shots, gigantic animals--and there are a lot of animals--as the children are rowing down an oily river, one shot that resembles shadow puppetry where Mitchum's riding a horse in the background that was accomplished by having a little person on a pony. At least I think I really read that and didn't dream about reading it. The movie starts audaciously enough with some disembodied children's heads in space, one kid on the far right really overdoing things. It winds up sort of book-ending the whole thing, but it's still a little weird and warns you ahead of time that you're about to see something a little different. Anyway, the imagery is indelible if that's the right word for it and the music, Walter Schumann's score but even the hymns sung by Mitchum or the stuff sung by the children, only enhances the experience. Mitchum's great at playing the type of bad guy you never really figure out, and I could watch him wrestle with his own hands in that silly scene over and over again. And who wouldn't want to marry a guy who has fights with his own hands, especially if that guy has a train for a penis like Mitchum has in this? He's a character you won't forget, especially moping around these impressionistic sets and shadows. Shelley Winters is close to awful, especially on her wedding night with some faux-fainting, but the fudge lady makes up for that. Oh, and the image of her character at the bottom of a lake is beautiful enough to make up for any flaw in this movie. Sorry for the spoiler, but you've already seen this. Kids from movies made during this time are often problematic. Billy Chapin is fine as the boy, but it's clear that Pearl gets her acting abilities from her mother. Little Sally Jane Bruce, 6 or 7 when this thing came out, wasn't in any other movies after this one. I guess if you're going to be in only one movie, you should make it as great as this one. I fucking love this movie!

Bad Movie Club: No Holds Barred

1989 wrestling movie

Rating: 7/20 (Johnny: 9/20; Libby: 12/20; Fred: 6/20; Josh: 10/20; Jeremy: didn't rate it [and I'm not fully convinced he even watches these things--he might just poke in once in a while to type something ("Come on, Hulkster!"] to make the rest of us think he's involved. It's not a bad strategy actually.])

Plot: Wrestler Rip's the WWF champion, but an executive for a competing television network wants him to jump ship and wrestle for him. When those plans fall through (because Rip is a jock ass, obviously), Brell tries to find a new way to gain viewers. He starts the creatively-named "Battle of the Tough Guys" after seeing some bar-fight action in a decrepit dive. The ultimate tough guy--murderous Zeus--wins the competition, and Rip is compelled to meet him in the octagon with. . .No Holds Barred!

This movie's got all sorts of problems. If you're making a movie with Hulk Hogan, and Hulk Hogan isn't the worst actor in the movie, there's an issue. Kurt Fuller plays the villain in this, and he plays it with sharpened teeth and bile leaking out of his eyes. There were times where I worried that he was going to start chewing on the walls or have his eyeballs pop out of his head in this. Now, Fuller is obviously a more accomplished actor than the Hulkster, but the former's performance make's Hogan look halfway competent in this, and that is no easy feat. A second problem is that Joan Severance is in this movie and doesn't get naked even once. Of course, with a PG-13 rating, you didn't expect to see the same parts Severance enjoys showing off in other movies. Also, the script is so dumb that it can only appeal to middle-school boys, widely considered the dumbest people on Earth, and an R-rating with nudity and real violence would have kept them out of the theater. A third problem: There's a little person in this movie, but all he does is sit in a cage in a rough bar. You've got to unleash those little people, Hulk Hogan! You can't keep those guys in a cage. That's just like keeping your light under a bush. Oh, no! You've got to let that shine! The massive presence of Tommy "Tiny" Lister as Zeus, the sight of Hulk Hogan in absurdly tiny shorts where it's revealed that he's doing push-ups after it was implied that he was violently masturbating, a pie fight that stops a robbery, a romantic subplot that is as cheesy as it is half-assed ("You build bigger walls than I ever could!"), a theme song featuring the movies title but with a bunch of extra R's, a performance by the Hulkster that is probably the best of his that I've ever seen (not that that's saying anything at all), a ginormous gentleman in overalls, all the wrastlin'. Nothing really could have saved this D.O.A. concept and story. And regretfully, I'm wondering if maybe BMC going the distance in a match with No Holds Barred was somewhat responsible for the death of the Ultimate Warrior. I hope not because I wouldn't want that on my conscience. There are loads of other jock asses at least partially responsible for No Holds Barred finding its way into our lives who should have it on their consciences.

I can't think of anything to write, so here's some of the crap we typed while watching. This will clear everything up.

Fred: "What's the over-under on the mentions of 24-inch pythons?"
Johnny: "I've got it paused on Hogan's slobbering jowls." (This after a Netflix malfunction forced us to pause.)
Johnny: "The story goes Vince McMahon and Hogan rewrote the whole script after it was finished by a professional." (This information almost explains everything you need to know about this movie.)
Jeremy: "Man, that guy loves to say jockass." (There were five or six of that clever insult in this script.)
Libby: "That man can move in heels!"
Johnny: "Does Hogan look a little rapey right now to anyone else?"
Josh: "Is Hulkster going to be wearing spandex for the entire movie?" (Answer: Not quite. Almost though.)
Josh: "Midget in a cage was the ONLY thing I wanted at our wedding."
Me: "Guhhhh! Whuuuu! Uuuuuu-ooo-uuuuu! (Tiny Lister: 'Ok, I can do that just like the script says, but what if I said "Muuuuuhh!" instead of "Guhhhh!" there?')"
Johnny: "I'm just guessing Rip and Randy have different fathers." (Randy was the Hulk's brother in this movie, and apparently nobody even thought about finding a Randy who looked remotely like Hulk Hogan (then again, who does?) or had a similar physique. My biggest disappointment in this movie was that Rip's final match--which, if I can spoiler it for you, is a dramatic victory--didn't inspire Randy to get up out of his wheelchair and start walking around.)
Josh: "Falls down a well, eyes go crossed. Gets kicked by a mule...becomes Zeus." (Lister's overall look and performance might have been the best thing about this movie, by the way.)

We also picked tough guy names while watching this movie. Mine was Rocko Meatglaciar. Johnny was Jared Syn. Josh was Steve McQueer or Braggin Big Balls Baducci. Libby was Long Crack McShaggins. Jeremy went with Steel Lightning.

Rip! My arms are at least this greasy at least half of the day.

I don't know what emotion this is supposed to be, yet Hulk Hogan is still not the worst actor in this movie.


1987 bum movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A bum returns to his old town to look for a shoelace. He finds it! He meets up with some old pals, some who actually exist, and visits his ex-wife.

What a skimpy dvd release of a really good, mostly ignored movie. The menu screen boasts a "play" feature and a "scenes" feature, and that's it. You can't even get subtitles for this thing which is too bad because hobos sometimes mumble. If this movie has flaws, one might be that it's a little too glossy although they did get the teeth right. But it's hard to forget that you're watching very rich people playing very poor people. That might make Meryl Streep's performance that much more impressive. She's got an accent which almost threatens to become a little too much, but shows off a versatile singing voice in an absolutely heartbreaking scene and gets to jerk off a dirty guy in a car. More accurately, the guy uses her hand to jerk himself off. That probably has a special name, but I'm not sure what it would be called. Nicholson's almost as good, wearing miles of despair on his face while still having enough swagger to make the coulda-been aspects of his life even sadder. And there's my man Tom Waits in the type of role he's perfect for, a silly drunk. He wears a perpetual childish grin, and gets to say things like "Cancer's the first thing I ever got" and "That Charles Darwin, he's dead. Master of botany." There's also a great little detail where he has to zip his pants. Oh, and he sings--"Big Rock Candy Mountain," first boisterously and later as a hobo lullaby. This movie's long, and it's really a downer. But it's packed with really good scenes. There's a cool shot of Waits sleeping on a sidewalk about five feet from the foot of a bed behind glass in a storefront window. There's a hallucination featuring Nathan Lane, maybe the worst kinds of hallucinations, where he asks, "Why'd you kill me? My brain poured out." There's a great small performance by a woman Streep gives a toast to. There's a fight in the street between Streep and Nicholson that was powerfully sad, a real shot in the gut. There's another hallucination of a flashback or maybe a flashback with a hallucination in it. And another great moment with Streep's character in a church. Great lines--"My duck died." "Lubricate your soul."--in this although you could accuse it of being a little too talky. I think a lot of this could have survived with just the imagery, as Hollywood glossy as that was. Ironweed feels more like a poem than a movie, does its business abstractly. It's a movie that feels so American and addresses themes about the human condition and the worth of our lives with poignancy. There's a scene featuring a great sound effect--a need scratching the inner part of a record that has long finished playing--and that works a little like this movie. This is one that scratches in your head for a bit after it's over. It's a damn-near classic that needs to be discovered.

A Band Called Death

2012 music documentary

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Brothers from Detroit form a band in the early 70's in order to play the "pure rock 'n' roll" that isn't heard on the radio, creating one album that nobody heard but that would have invented punk had it been heard. Years later, the combined powers of obscure record collectors and the Internet bring the titular band and their music to the masses for the first time.

Cool little story about the power of good music to eventually reach an audience. And the music is good, music that literally popped out of the speakers if you believe Elijah Wood, a man who doesn't seem to know what the word "literally" means. This is a movie that starts with Henry Rollins and his thick neck--a neck that has the same circumference as a fat woman's thigh--but Jello Biafra showing off some of his record collection later makes up for that. There are a lot of cool moments in this thing. I was touched by the tale of how one of the brother's son discovered his dad's old band while living halfway across the country. This also has a ton of photographs and memorabilia, an amazing amount for a band that didn't really exist. All three brothers are very likable, and you feel good seeing the two surviving brothers enjoy this new and unlikely success. And the other brother? He seemed like a fascinating cat, all mystical and spiritual and forward thinking and, from what my untrained ears can tell, a hell of a guitarist. I'm not entirely sure I buy the reports of his prescience, but it makes for a good story. There are moments of levity, too, like when the brothers are reminiscing about trying to convince the other brother that Death was a terrible name for a band. The reasons why they don't change the name, however, definitely make you think. Of course, I did like Rock Fire Funk Express, an older name they used, and might have to use that if I ever learn to play an instrument and form a band worthy of the name Rock Fire Funk Express. This might have shown a little too much of the band's reunion tour although a scene where they are watching their sons play their old music is very very cool. It's worth watching for fans of the genre or feel-good documentaries.

The Spectacular Now

2013 movie

Rating: 12/20

Plot: A high school senior with a bit of a drinking problem falls asleep in a plain girl's yard and then befriends her. They don't seem to have a lot in common, but they try to make their relationship work.

I watched this because it was on somebody's top-ten list for 2013. I had a really difficult time connecting with the characters or their problems. I don't know if I liked this movie's protagonist, and I'm not sure if I was supposed to like him. First, I should ask this: Is it appropriate to make up a drinking game for a movie about a teenager's problems with alcohol? Because I did, drinking a shot every time there was a scene in which Sutter Keely took a drink. And then I got alcohol poisoning and died, and now this blog has to be ghostwritten from now on. You won't notice the difference because the ghostwriter can't write and doesn't really know what he's talking about either. Maybe I'm being too hard on the young character, but I just kind of thought he was a loser, borderline lovable but far too directionless to really like. However, I did like the kid who played him--Miles Teller--and assume that he's really this gregarious sort of jackass in real life. His relationship with Aimee was almost sweet and evolved naturally enough, even in the beginning when nothing really made sense on the surface. But really, what did these two really have? Was there anything real there? I'm not sure he was sober during any of their encounters, and I never could figure out what she saw in him unless she just wanted to date a popular kid. He's never really the ideal boyfriend, is he? Actually, now that I think about it, was he even popular? He had an ex-girlfriend, but did the guy even have any friends? I guess I just didn't understand the movie's characters or their trajectories, and without that understanding, a moment of intimacy seemed cheap, a weird accident made me laugh inappropriately, some father issues seemed cliched, and the indeterminate ending seemed forced. It's like a coming-of-age movie where the character doesn't really come of age. The movie's poorly paced, and seems weirdly stuck in the ruts created by countless other teenage romance dramas that came before it. I'll admit though--I may have been biased going in because this movie has such a stupid title.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

2014 comedy

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

Plot: A bunch of people fight over a painting after the death of an old woman.

Here's the exact moment all of you feared the second you saw the title of this movie in the "Coming Soon..." part of my blog. You thought, "Oh, boy. We all know what's going to happen here. Shane, a Wes Anderson fanboy, saw this movie in the theater, and now he's going to gush and give it a rating that is way too high." It was a solid prediction on your part, but let's face the facts, Nostradamus. This was a pretty easy one. There are few filmmakers this idiosyncratic. If you like one thing he's done, you're likely to like nearly everything. In my case, it is everything, and I'm not ashamed to say that. Anderson's vibe is one that people don't even bother to duplicate although there will likely be Anderson-esque touches in movies for years and years. Here, Anderson is at the peak of his powers, getting Hollywood stars--including a bunch of his usuals--to take on very small roles, including a few things that can barely even be called cameos (I swear that I spotted George Clooney in this for about .8 seconds) and look and act absolutely ridiculous, something they're willing to do because they know they'll be part of something really great. Ralph Fiennes is new to Anderson's quirky hyper-stylized fantasy world, and he's a perfect fit along with young co-star Tony Revolori. Good comedic rapport between those two. Willem Dafoe plays my favorite character, maybe, if you'll excuse the hyperbole, ever. He plays one of those dark comedic characters that will make you laugh just thinking about him. Adrien Brody, Mathieu Amalric, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel. Harvey Keitel! The guy's barely recognizable and plays such a cool character. Schwartzman, Murray, and Wilson--three Anderson fixtures--are barely in there at all. Tilda Swinton (also unrecognizable), F. Murray Abraham (old), Tom Wilkinson, Jude Law, shane-movies hero Bob Balaban. It's almost too much, and there's absolutely no way a storyteller can adequately characterize this many characters and make you care for any of them. Arguably, the two main characters--third if you count Zero's birthmarked love interest played by somebody named Saoirse Ronan, a name I can't even pronounce--aren't even that well defined, but that's fine because this isn't a movie about characters. This is a movie about a time that has long passed at right around the time it starts to die away. It's not a place that can possibly be real even though it's got some of the same colors and shadings. It's a free-styling romp through the same kind of fairy tale land that the characters in Moonrise Kingdom or The Fantastic Mr. Fox inhabit, everything's nuanced, movements and speech patterns so prepared. You laugh at things you're not supposed to laugh at, cringe with delight, and most important just feel so good about everything that you're seeing and hearing. There are so many shots in this that are just so perfect, that typical Anderson attention to detail added to childlike art backdrops and cheapo-special effects. You get fingers and decapitation, James Bond-like ski/sled chases, Asian pornography, a flying kitty, monks, the goofiest shoot-out you'll ever see (seriously, look for a Clooney), the funniest prison break ever. Oh, nevermind. I can't say anymore because it's the surprises that will make this so much fun for you. It takes a little bit of time with a stumbling frame story to get going, but once it does, it's a hoot, guaranteed to please fans of any other Wes Anderson movie. It's almost like the collection of characters, like the silly painting at the center of this conflict, is just an excuse for Anderson to put his vision on the screen. It's the best kind of ridiculous, and I can't wait to see it again and again.