Mystery Fest: Little Fugitive


1953 masterpiece

Rating: 18/20 (Buster: no rating)

Plot: A little kid, convinced by his brother and brother's friends that he's shot his brother to death, runs away to Coney Island. He's ruthless! He's rough! He's the titular little fugitive!

Note: I gave this movie a bonus point for the appearance of Will Lee who played Mr. Hooper on Sesame Street. That's worth something, right?

Dopey poster there, but don't let that dissuade you from checking this movie out. It's all about the visuals as this could almost be, and maybe would have benefited from being, a silent movie. A trio of photographers--Ray Ashley, Morris Engel, and Ruth Orkin--made it with, I'm guessing, a budget of whatever the food and rides at Coney Island the kid enjoys cost them. Engel did a bit, but those other two didn't do anything at all unless you count writing Son of Flubber as something. But you can tell it's created with photographers' eyes. There are extended, entirely wordless montages backed with a score that is nothing more than a person playing a harmonica, and those work best as the directors have that rare ability to make the mundane--an abandoned plastic shovel, rain on the boardwalk, carousel horses' contorted faces, scattered waste paper baskets on a street--seem like they're the most important things you will ever see in your life. White chickens and red wheelbarrows, you know. I really liked the almost purgatorial imagery when Joey first gets to Coney Island with monkey marionettes, animatronic clowns, too-fast spinning carousels, growling barkers, and those horses' faces that I mentioned. That carousel is the first adventure Joey tackles while enjoying his life as a fugitive. There were so many angles and shots in that scene that it makes you wonder how many times the kid had to ride the damned thing. Precariously, too, as he reaches futilely for that ring. Let's go ahead and call that a stunt. Joey's fleeing from his home is brilliantly filmed, too. I love how the camera angles work there as he almost runs into cops, low angles to help us feel it through the little guy's eyes. Another scene I loved was the one with Mr. Hooper where the kid is having one of those head-in-a-hole photographs. This one makes him a cowboy with a pair of six shooters, but he's a cowboy suffering from microcephaly. It's one of those scenes or images--and there are a lot of them here--that says so much without having to say anything at all. The movie's got this odd feel, but it's definitely not the bad kind of odd. It's a refreshing sort of oddness with that weird harmonica score ("Home on the Range"? Really?), dubbed dialogue, the montage and stretches of story that do nothing to actually advance the story. The acting from the children is really strong. Richie Andrusco plays Joey, and it's his only film role so he's Peter Ostrum before Peter Ostrum. Richard Brewster plays the brother, and this was his only acting role, too. Really, almost everybody but Mr. Hooper didn't do anything after this movie. The kids might overdo it a little at times, especially in the scene where they stage the brother's murder. "Lenny's shot! Lenny's shot! You shot him, Joey. You shot your brotha!" But the bad acting actually fits there because they were supposed to be kids acting. This is a terrific little movie that deserves more attention. It influenced the French New Wave and Truffaut. But it also reminded me--mostly because it's a kid running around by himself in a place where a kid shouldn't be by himself but also because of how unaware Andrusco seems to be that he's in a movie--of Crazy and Thief, that movie that I wrote about a couple weeks ago and really wanted you to watch. I think this might mean that I'm a sucker for movies where children are walking around by themselves. (See also: My Neighbor Totoro). This movie's got a touching ending, by the way. Well, the ending before the ending. There's a punchline to this whole thing that might be the one thing I'd change about the whole movie. The ending before that, however, is very nice.

Buster, by the way, was intrigued by this one. She told me at one point, "I'm never going to shoot people." We'll see about that, I guess.

Mystery Fest: Serpico

1973 cop drama

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Based on the true story of honest cop Frank Serpico who starts tattling on fellow cops who are up to no good and then gets shot in the face because crucifixion has gone out of style.

 That beard and hair that develops as the titular cop's story progresses is an obvious Christ figure attempt, right? Or maybe the real Serpico modeled his head hair and facial hair after Jesus, too. This is another great film from 1973 that is burdened with a terrible award-nominated score by Mikis Theodorakis. And it's not just that it's dated even though it is dated. The problem is that a lot of the music just seems inappropriate. There are early scenes where we get to see Serpico early in his career, and the background music sounds like it's straight out of a romantic comedy montage. I wondered if it was supposed to represent--in tone--young Serpico's idealism, but although the music does grow in intensity a smidgen, it's really all pretty cheesy. I also think the film's pacing is strange. It feels much longer than it actually is and a little disjointed, like chunks of the story are missing. It jumps to high points instead of flowing, and honestly, I'm not sure if that's a bad thing or not. It requires you to fill in some gaps, create parts of Serpico's story in your head. For example, there's his love interests. There's really no warning leading up to his first girlfriend's bathtub announcement that she is going to marry some Texan if he doesn't marry her unless I missed something. You have to fill in those gaps. It does help round Serpico's character, however, as we find out what his priorities are. What I do like a lot about this is the consistent grit. You feel it right away with the great opener, a whistling siren over white-on-black credits and an opening shot of a bloody Serpico. There's talk that could make you wonder if the guy's a criminal or a hero if you don't already know the story. That driving rain, those rhythmic windshield wipers, and all sans music of any kind which makes you wonder how much better this whole thing could have been without Theodorakis. The movie would not have survived without Pacino and the performance he brings. What's interesting to me is that this was filmed in reverse with a bearded hippie Pacino gradually being trimmed to the clean-cut greenback he is at the beginning of the story. That's what makes the performance so remarkable. Pacino seemingly warms up and really gets going, turning on the intensity as this thing drives on, but in reality, he filmed the most intense stuff first. I'd imagine that would be difficult to do as an actor. He gets some terrific moments in this--singing opera loudly in his car, getting to say "Now I gotta do my pee-pee in the dark," and trying to sit down during a scene at Felix's after announcing that he "can shout anywhere!" and nearly falling off his chair. Again, that's the sort of thing that has to be left in there because it adds to the grit, just like the "God wants you in church often" graffiti written clumsily on the side of the "potato machine" that Tony Roberts, who also gives his own solid performance, is talking about. The scene that really stands out in this movie? A great one where Pacino's silhouette is shooting at an approaching practice target.

Bad Movie Club: Mutant Hunt


1987 sci-fi movie

Rating: 4/20 (Johnny: 2/20; Josh: 3/20; Fred: 10/20; Libby: 5/20)

Plot: An evil scientist uses a serum to turn cyborgs into sex-crazed killing machines. Some action heroes do their best to stop him and them.

There's not really anything as cool as that poster up there. That's a little misleading although the "mutants" do have the ability to extend their arms and there might be a helicopter. And there's a damsel in distress or two, one who is supposed to be one of the action heroes but who doesn't do much but get saved by the men in the movie. Tim Kincaid, who also directs under the names Joe Gage and Mac Larson, has directed a lot of mostly-straight-to-video winners including Robot Holocaust, Breeders (filmed back-to-back with Mutant Hunt), Bad Girls Dormitory, and Tough Guys: Gettin' Off, the latter which might be pornographic. And gay. Something called Cop Blowers, which Kincaid also acts in, might also be a little pornographic. And gay. And no, I'm not sure what I mean by "a little pornographic," so don't ask. After watching an extended scene where the hero Matt Riker fights a pair of cyborgs in his tighty whities, I guess it shouldn't surprise anybody that Kincaid would spend the latter part of his career dabbling in homosexual pornography, especially since that scene lasted well over a half an hour. This definitely isn't high art. It's not even low art. It's art that is more of the "Hey, we've got a camera and five days with nothing else to do, so let's write a movie script and film it" variety of art. We were all pretty befuddled by the plot but appreciated the work by the sound effects guy. The melting or malfunctioning or whatever cyborgs, the closest things to the titular "mutants" being hunted in this thing, showed off some special effect competency. The sets--urban alleys, tighty whities guy's apartment, the place where main bad gal Cher happens to be--look even worse than you'd expect a movie made for 99 dollars to look although one scene does contain two plants. It's all bad, but what makes it that special kind of bad worth watching are the fight scenes which have to be among the worst I've ever seen. I'm willing to bet there will be more Tim Kincaid for Bad Movie Club in the future.

I thought this would be the first Bad Movie Club that I missed, by the way, but I got back to my hotel room in New Jersey just in time to watch the thing on an iPad. Maybe it would have been much better on the big screen like Tim Kincaid and God intended?

Oprah Movie Club Pick for June: Death Race 2000

1975 dystopian racing movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Five racers and their navigators compete in a violent cross-country race in the dystopian future of 2000. In that titular competition, racers earn points by killing people with their cars. A terrorist organization is up to no good, however, as they attempt to blow up the racers in some wacky attempt to overthrow the government. Meanwhile, popular racer Frankenstein discovers something interesting about his navigator.

All kinds of cool in this Corman-produced and Paul Bartel-directed exploitation flick. It's really got everything you'd want in a B-movie--creative car designs that make them look like something you'd see in the Hot Wheels section of a toy store and say, "No way a car would ever look like that!"; really cool and note-quite-politically-correct racers; an interesting enough plot that doesn't get in the way of the car race mayhem; some gratuitous nudity, the kind that fans of gratuitous nudity will really enjoy; explosions; David Carradine dancing in his underpants; and some gory deaths.

This isn't all action and violence though. No, there's a generous helping of black comedy here, the darkest kind that references the killing of children and the elderly and suggests that certain characters might have artificial penises. There's also a little satire, a very pessimistic look at America. There's Pennsylvania, the "seat of liberty," and a reference to the "American tradition of no holds barred" which reminded me of a wrestling movie I once saw called No Holds Barred, another movie that's capable of making people think, "God bless the good ol' U.S.A." There's a great off-kilter rendition of the national anthem and more discordant Moogy patriotic songs that also might be poking fun at American ideals and American sheep. As a proud American, I was happy to see what the country is going to look like in the year 2000 with an awesome painted futuristic urban background because it turns out we'll have a cartoonish monorail system. And I don't even care that there might be an oppressive totalitarian government because if it's giving its citizens cartoonish monorails, I can live with everything else. Besides, the regime's flag--red and white with a fist that has a lightning bolt in it--kicks some serious ass. Seriously, who's messing with a country that has a fist on its flag? You know what else is awesome about the imagined future of this movie? There are still kids who wear overalls and push tires with sticks. Oh, and future America also isn't afraid to show nudity on television. There's even the threat of a naked cat fight. The potential for that was actually good enough for me in this case. I'm a grown man and capable of filling in gaps. The movie also jabs at fans of sports, I think, suggesting that people are capable of rooting for anything as long as there are rules associated with the activity. Like, most people aren't going to root for the death of children, but if you give the killer a helmet and some cool equipment (in this case, a car) and develop some kind of point system that makes killing children worth a lot of points, those same people might cheer enthusiastically. Our hero Frankenstein puts it best: "Why do you love me? Because I kill people?"

As I wrote up there, a lot of those death scenes (none involving children, by the way) are pretty brutal. The first is a crotch shot courtesy of Stallone's character, Machine Gun Joe. You get goofy music and silly blood with that one. Later, people are bludgeoned, heads are smashed, and victims are impaled or sent flying into the air. Watching those cars in speeded-up film is fun, and I did wonder if they ever had a Matchbox or Hot Wheels promotion for these bad boys. It also made me wonder if I should add horns to my 2001 Toyota Camry. And do you like explosions? Cause this movie's got some, including a terrific [Spoiler Alert] hand grenade pun and a detour fake tunnel ploy that would make Wile E. Coyote slap his forehead and exclaim, "How come that shit never worked for me?" I paused that scene, and it shouldn't have worked for anybody. The positioning of a fake tunnel just doesn't make sense if there's only sky behind it. Anyway, I liked watching those racing scenes. There are lots of angles, close-ups of car parts, car-cam. The great Bartel pulls off racing here which makes me want to see another coast-to-coast racing movie he did with Carradine called Cannonball!. And where else can you watch a scene where a guy bull-fights a car?

You get lots of cool characters here, too. Herman the German isn't around all that long but gets to say "I hope your buzzbomb has enough juice in its warhead this year" while checking his crotch. A booby navigator left us far too soon unfortunately. Calamity Jane, Matilda the Hun, Machine Gun Joe. This is another movie that deserves action figures. Stallone may have peaked here as Machine Gun Joe although punching women probably isn't his proudest moment. Of course, any character played by David Carradine is more than likely going to be the coolest character in the movie, and his Frankenstein is no exception. The dude's a shadow here, a bad ass shadow in all black and sometimes wearing a cape. He also gets the best car, an alligator-looking thing (or crocodile-looking thing?) with jagged teeth. He gives great answers to reporters' questions ("Stand in the middle of Route 66 tomorrow at 8 o'clock."), flirts with Stallone's girlfriends, and beats up Sly while wildly inappropriate music plays. He "lost an arm in '98, lost a leg in '99" and has half a face and half a chest. Half a chest? How does somebody have half a chest? He also claims that his "taste buds got wiped out in the crash of '97" which makes me wonder what the writer of this thing was on when he penned it. Other great lines:

"She's gaining on us, Mama, and she's got murder on her mind." That's just poetry.
"Some people may think you're cute, but I think you're one large baked potato." Take a guess at which character said this one.
"Hey, cornball, what's the fastest way through here?" and "You lousy stinking dirtball. You've got two seconds to live!" which makes me think they let Stallone write some of his own lines.

The role of Frankenstein was offered to the slightly-less-cool Peter Fonda, by the way, but he thought the movie was "too ridiculous for words" and wanted nothing to do with it. He was probably just afraid of the scene where the character dances in his underwear, a scene that fulfills our fantasy of watching a masked Carradine (any of them) dance in his underwear. That's such a cheesily artistic scene there. There are some other fun characters, too. There's the Real Don Steele because we wouldn't want to get him confused with a Fake Don Steele, Harriet Medin's silly performance as rebel mastermind Mrs. Paine, and a guy who looks like Captain Kangaroo doing his best Howard Cosell impression.

All in all, this seems like a movie that really is too ridiculous for words, one with half-cooked ideas or ideas that just shouldn't work. However, it all comes together to make something that's a lot of fun, darkly funny, and completely memorable, a very likable cult classic. I have not seen the remake of this or any of its sequels, but I can't imagine they're more enjoyable than this original.

Bad Movie Club: The Marsupials: The Howling III


1987 sequel

Rating: 6/20 (Carrie: 4/20; Josh: 3/20; Fred: 5/20; Libby: 6/20; Erik: don't believe he made it to the end)

Plot: Werewolves in Australia have sex with humans.

Some terrible acting, half-baked social commentary that might be about aboriginal people but that could also work with AIDS, a pinch of bestiality, goofy puppet effects, long-snouted wereplatypuses (I looked it up--platypuses or platypus are the correct plural form of platypus. Platypi is incorrect. Platypodes would be more correct. I indirectly learned something completely useless to me from watching this movie.), clumsy comedy, a little ballet, were-nuns, a terrific performance by somebody named Burnham Burnham (or maybe Burnum Burnum--seems to depend on who you ask) as a bearded Outback guide medicine man guy, the cutest little baby weremarsupial you'll ever seen, a generous helping of Ozploitation, a nearly incomprehensible plot, what I can only assume was real footage of natives dancing around a real werewolf, an ending that refuses to come. This is solid bad movie stuff. We didn't end up watching King Kong Lives.

King Kong


1976 remake

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Second verse, same as the first. I'm King Kong, the ape, I am. King Kong, the ape, I am, I am. I grabbed blondie from the sacrificial altar. But here's Lebowski coming after her. And so on.

There was a possibility that we'd be watching the sequel to this--King Kong Lives--for bad movie club, and although I knew this story and really had no reason to watch it, I kind of wanted to watch it anyway. It's not really as bad as I remember it. Its worst problems are pacing and dialogue. The leads are pretty good for having nothing to work with. "Holy mother! That looks as old as the pyramids of Egypt!" It doesn't matter who you are--you're not pulling off lines like that. Of course, Jessica Lange just needs--and I realize how chauvinistic I'll sound with this, but it kind of goes with the character type--to look good anyway, and she pulls that off. My God, she pulls that off! I don't completely understand it, but this non-lucid swaying move this damsel-in-distress pulls off is the stuff of masturbatory visions. She looks so good in this, coming pretty close to out-Faye-Wraying Faye Wray. And I have to compliment whoever did her wardrobe because they nailed it. I'm not sure why she would have any interest in Jeff Bridges, especially after seeing him in a 1920's silent film drunken stupor. There's a little Lebowski in that performance, isn't there? Maybe it's just the hair, but he's like a stoner scientist or monkeyologist or whatever he's supposed to be. And then there's an over-acting Charles Grodin (just watch that scene where he falls in a goddamn hole) who gets a should-have-been-juicier villain role. Somebody thought it was a good idea to give him a mustache which, from the very beginning, you expect to see him twisting like he's the type of guy who might tie Jessica Lange to a railroad track or something. Not that I would have minded seeing a little more Lange bondage footage since the stuff on that sacrificial altar just wasn't realistic enough. Something else I wish this 70's version would have had the King Kong balls to show on screen--a King Kong rape scene. Not as a pervert, mind you, but as a person interested in science. I mean, the characters (Grodin, I think) make a reference to it. "He's going to rape her!" As a person interested in science, I'd like to know how something like that works. See how long I went without mentioning the titular ape, by the way? The movie really makes you wait to see the big guy, too. I don't mind that really. Audiences are forced to wait to see the original King Kong, and Peter Jackson doesn't show his CGI creation in that inferior newest version for a long time. But the pacing of this just feels off, and the big moments--the first appearance of the monster, the escape from the circus or whatever the hell that is, the climbing of the building(s) and ensuing fight high above the streets of New York--just aren't big enough to make the wait worth it. Kong looks so small compared to that wall. I like his face though, at least to show some of the emotions that are important to this particular monster. And I did really like this smile Kong has after Lange gets wet, a smile that shows he's as much of a pervert as I am but more dangerous because Grodin probably wouldn't look at me and think I was capable of raping anybody. What that face or anything else doesn't really capture is the menace, the ferocity, the danger. A lot of that is that the effects don't really work. The miniature forest effects are lame at times, showing that special effects hadn't really advanced much since the Gargantuans shambled through similar trees. There's a lot of green-screen weirdness, and I got a little tired of seeing the same obviously-fake hand grabbing at Lange's character. There's more waiting around and general silliness while we wait for the inevitable Kong-in-the-Big-Apple scenes, and then those end up very short and filled with the opposite of whatever suspense and emotional impact are. First, I wanted to see a flattened Charles Grodin and was disappointed when it didn't happen. There's a giant gas pump thing and Kong wearing a crown that all made the thing so silly. The only thing realistic about seeing Kong's escape was this great screaming from a lady as he busts out of that cage certified escape proof by the New York Department of Cages. And then, the ape's moving through the city but making sure he doesn't destroy anything at all. It's like somebody said, "Ok, you can use our city, but you have to be very careful that you leave it exactly like you found it." Watching a shot of King Kong leering in a window made me laugh, and I probably shouldn't have been laughing during any of that stuff. Climbing on the World Trade Center just looked tacky, pretty much from any angle, and I'm not sure whose idea it was to have him jump from one tower to the other, but it was stupid. And I never really understood Bridges' realization that Kong was heading to the Twin Towers anyway, but that might be because I didn't pay enough attention early on and can't think like a scientist unless I'm thinking about giant apes raping human beings. I was just in New York for the first time and found out that those two building don't even exist anymore. There's a lovely and touching tribute to the buildings, but I kept thinking there should be a chalk outline for King Kong there as well. I guess that would upset some visitors though. How about the inaccuracy of that poster up there, by the way? First, none of that takes place during daylight hours. Second, it makes it look like the action in that scene will make the movie worth watching. I guess that's what posters are supposed to do though. Third, it makes Jessica Lange look like Prince Adam from Masters of the Universe. Let's see you find another movie blog that alludes to Prince Adams in any of the King Kong movies. Fourth, Kong has the same general shape I do when I'm naked except he's got a lot more hair, and the movie King Kong didn't really look like that.

Sisters

1973 thriller

Rating: 17/20

Plot: A nosy woman thinks she sees a murder and tries to get somebody to believe that it actually happened. The murderer? One of the titular sisters, of course! But are there even two sisters? And who's the guy who looks like an insect? And what's in the sofa?

If you're going to pinch a director's style and make yourself a thriller, I guess you might as well make that director Hitchcock. That's what De Palma's got going on here although I suppose you'd call it an homage. Whatever you want to call it, De Palma nails it here, using a few of Hitchcock's tricks like they were his own tricks. Hitchcock comes to mind immediately with the opener--a fetus zooming toward us. It's not what you see there though; it's the music, fucking awesome Herrmann score. Heavy on the oboe, the kind of foreboding woodwind that lets you know that one--maybe two--people are going to die in the next hour and a half, probably mysteriously. And there's Margot Kidder with guys in the African Room, showing off a French Canadian accent that would have confused Clark Kent. Kidder's fetching, and it's easy to see why Superman wanted to see her underpants so much. I don't know what to make of that accent. Jennifer Salt as that nosy neighbor wasn't bad although I didn't completely buy that character. I liked William Finley as husband/doctor Emil, a guy with a weird bruise or birthmark and jutting scapulae. In one scene featuring a hypnotism, he leers into the audience. The best performer in the movie is uncredited, Catherine Gaffigan as crazy Arlene, going nuts about telephone cooties and really having her very own "No wire hangers ever" moment. But this movie's greatness has less to do with the actors or even the characters and story and more to do with the style. There's a scene with cake-purchasing and writhing juxtaposed that is just so good, a great repetitive bird in the moments preceding some violence, and a terrific and slyly surreal black and white flashback dream sequence that were amazing. But one scene--that scene, the one that you'll remember most--with the crazed orchestral music and a sudden switch to split screen? Wow. I'm not sure how split screen was used prior to Sisters, but it's used to perfection here. And when the actions on both sides of the screen finally merge? It's just amazing. De Palma had the flash in this, his first attempt at a thriller. He didn't just borrow little stylistic touches or film language from Alfred Hitchcock though. This also has some brilliant bits of dark comedy, especially with a final shot that almost works like a person telling you the punchline of a joke that he started three weeks ago, long enough that you completely forgot the rest of the joke. It's a brilliant end to a brilliant movie.

There was also Tab product placement. I feel like I'm being stalked by Tab.

Foxfur


2012 fantasy movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Foxfur has or have her or their reality or dream-life disrupted or ruptured when two UFO theorists are missing. She tries to figure out what dimension or maybe what year it is. She finds a bow and arrow.

This is a Damon Packard joint, and there's another guy who somebody needs to throw a ton of money out so that he could have no trouble putting his vision on screens for us. The guy's filled with ideas, he's smarter than everybody else, and makes the kind of movie magic with limited funds that just makes you wonder what he could do with more. What I love about Packard (Note: I've only seen this and Reflections of Evil) is that he doesn't allow budget limitations to affect his imagination. It's almost as if they guy's saying, "You don't think I can do much without a lot of money? Well, take a look at these ideas!" and then just throwing in anything that he can think of. It doesn't always seem coherent, but then again, I'm not the smartest movie fan in the world. Packard ties in UFO's, archery, elves, kitties, conspiracy theorists, inept rappers, some kind of fairy, M*A*S*H, sky ink, vehicular manslaughter, apathetic salesmen, humans' obsession with gadgets, multiple dimensions, and kitchen sinks to get his point across. At least I think kitchen sinks were involved. And no, I don't know exactly what that point might be. Like Reflections of Evil, this has some weirdly exaggerated sound effects and some dubbing and a sense of misanthropy. Unlike Reflections of Evil, this has more of a mainstream plot--actually, I feel ridiculous typing that--and has more dialogue. The dialogue's funny, like snippets of things Packard's remembered from dreams. A character saying, "Subatomic, fool. I know that shit," a hip-hop scientist or something. Another favorite: "I shaved it off while you were sleeping," a line that probably wouldn't be funny to any of you even in context but the kind of thing that makes me laugh. Oh, and this great dialogue:

"Why are you in a wheelchair?"
"I don't know."

With an actor who sounds a little like Albert Brooks and about six different women playing the titular heroine which I'm sure means something. Maybe it just means that his actresses kept leaving like my actors did when I made my movie in high school. Anyway, one of them screams all her lines which is something that I can respect.

This is not a movie I would recommend to a lot of people.

Crazy and Thief

2012 adventure movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A little girl and her young brother, the titular characters with a star map, go on an urban adventure to find a time machine belonging to Baby Jesus. Along the way, they face a giant and a cyclops!

I loved this movie. Loved, loved, loved. It's just short of an hour which is precisely how long it should be, and I was smiling for the duration. The ending, which I won't give away because I want you to click on the link below when you find yourself in a situation where you want to be happier than you are and have an hour to spare, gave me that type of smile where it feels like part of your face is about to blow apart and make a complete mess. I remember when I was a child and people I knew got themselves video cameras. They'd film their children opening Christmas presents or playing sports or just doing the most mundane stupid things. The kids would ham it up, so obviously aware of the camera, and the parents would be left with a video that only they could barely appreciate. And even the parents would know that the video was lame. The kids? They'd just be embarrassed by the whole thing. Essentially, Cory McAbee (director of the brilliant The American Astronaut and the fun serialized Stingray Sam, funky sci-fi musical Westerns) is just filming his kids. And I know what you're thinking. A director releasing a movie with his kids kind of sounds annoying. But you know what? When the kids are this cute, you not only excuse it, you downright enjoy it. I was impressed with the children, Willa Vy McAbee and John Huck McAbee, kids who don't seem aware of the camera at all. In fact, you're almost fooled that you're just tagging along on a little adventure with these two and that there is no adult presence at all, something that's kind of funny since that would mean there's a 7-year-old and a 2-year-old wandering around the city all by themselves. Willa Vy is a good little actress for someone so young, and the obvious love she has for her little brother is refreshing. John Huck gives what is very likely the greatest acting performance by a 2-year-old in the history of cinema. Sure, the kid needs subtitles, but that's also part of the charm to this whole thing. You can't understand Sylvester Stallone all the time either, right? I'm a fan of 2-year-olds in general, probably my favorite age, and although I suspect there was some coaching/scripting from Dad, the strategy seemed to be letting the camera roll and just capturing whatever the kid wanted to say. And that's great because 2-year-olds, this one in particular, say things that make me smile. The music also made me smile. Once again, it's The Billy Nayer Show providing the soundtrack, and if you've seen the other McAbee movies--and you definitely should--then you know what to expect. "Walkin' with Their Eyes Closed," "I'm a Rocket," a song that plays when the kids visit a pet shop, and a kickass song accompanying a ride on a mouse are not ever going to be hits in our world, but they're a lot of fun. It's the perfect music to accompany the deeds of interplanetary traders and space pirates, and it's the perfect music to back an adventure in the city by two little kids. And yes, even though these characters arguably don't do much at all, it's still an adventure. In the minds of children, peeling a lemon for roughly ten percent of a movie's length, watching a door opening and closing, engaging in a discussion about how dirty a chair is, collecting flies, riding on a mouse, arguing about what a room is and whether baby pigeons have them, encountering a guy with a beard (Graham P. Stanford, a carpenter who has acted in only this), and encountering another guy who looks like he's perpetually winking (Gregory Russell Cook) are open-ended pieces of an adventurous afternoon. If we learn nothing from the McAbee children in this, we should learn that there are a lot of stars in the world if you're young enough and know where to look for them. It's a lesson a lot of people need to learn.

I'm not completely sure whom Cory McAbee makes movies like this for, but I can tell you one thing: The world would be a better place if this was mainstream. Here's a link so that you can watch this often-funny, consistently-clever gem:

https://vimeo.com/88615309

Odd Thomas


2013 supernatural mystery movie

Rating: 12/20

Plot: The titular short-order cook with psychic abilities tries to stop something evil from happening.

Let's talk about that stupid name. You're costing yourself a few rating points automatically when you call your protagonist Odd Thomas. Things started out well enough, vibrant and darkly humorous, but that hyper-kinetic modern style with the cutesy transitions and video game camera movements only goes so far. Odd Thomas's story just isn't very good, and the character, although likable enough, doesn't have much charisma at all. I thought his cooking skills were almost as impressive as his clairvoyance. I did like the special effects with the Bodachs, these fluid malevolent things that jerk and ooze and shamble. Their CGI movements were impressive. The real flesh-and-blood bad guys? Not so impressive and nowhere near memorable or even coherent. Fungus Bob's got interesting hair at least, but in the end he's just sort of a guy with cameras whooshing near him. Daniel Dafoe is in this, almost playing a completely normal character, grabbing tummy ticklers, etc. I could see Odd Thomas being the main character of a television series where he runs around solving supernatural mysteries, something that would probably be about as successful as Pushing Daisies. Unfortunately, the character really didn't get a story that he could shine in.

Mortified Nation


2013 documentary

Rating: 14/20

Plot: People read their adolescent diaries in front of crowds.

I was a little annoyed with some of this, people taking advantage of their Warholian 15 minutes of fame in our reality-obsessed culture. Most of this is made up of performances, and they're a little hit and miss although a lot of them make up for being misses by coming from people with interesting and sometimes touching backgrounds. I like this idea as a psychological tool, a way to exorcise a few adolescent demons. Sure, it's a room full of people making fun of their most embarrassing secret thoughts, but it's ok because they're in on the joke. I guess I'm glad I watched this, but I don't think it's something I'd watch as a television series. And it could easily become a television series.

The Sting


1973 Best Picture

Rating: 18/20

Plot: A grifter's long-time partner is murdered, so he befriends an older conman in order to pull off the "big con" and get his revenge.

I can't believe George Roy Hill had the balls to rip off the iconic music from the opening credits of Ben & Arthur. What do you all think of the ragtime score? I like it, but I'm a fan of the music anyway. To me, it just fits the mood. Ragtime's got its own smoke rings, but at the same time, there's a playfulness that matches our story and its characters. In a weird way, it reminds me of Tarantino's use of surf guitar music in Pulp Fiction which makes me start wondering if The Sting is the 1973 equivalent of Pulp Fiction. Or is that just an insult to everybody involved? This movie just emanates a coolness. It's something I remember watching as an infant, just two months old right on Christmas, and being confused by the twisty, complex plot, but the movie had a carousel and Robert Redford wore a great suit and Newman says, "Sorry I'm late, guys. I was taking a crap." Redford and Newman established rapport in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, so it's not a surprise here even though the characters are much different. And this really is a character film more than a crime movie or a period piece or a comedy or a drama even though it's all of those things, too. Love how the characters are subtly drawn here. With Newman's Henry Gondorff, it's in his eyes, a guy who's looking to recapture a little something and has all the confidence in the world which is only too bad because he's not really done much of anything with it. Redford's Johnny Hooker is sprightly and has the shape of a comic book character, and you appreciate him for his muddled motivations. There's also a submerged vulnerability with the character that you only catch glimpses of a couple times. But it's there, friends. It's there. What a team, and so much fun to watch in a movie that keeps the audience guessing. And how much fun is it watching Newman do card tricks? Are those his hands or is there movie trickery going on there? I could have watched another half an hour of that, and that's probably true of the poker game on the train, too. Shaw's a cool but perfectly naive antagonist Doyle Lonnegan, and Luke Skywalker's grandfather, with similar deep and dulcet tones of his son; Ray Walston; and Charles Durning round out a great cast. The Chicago skyline and streets look great, and the 70's gritty look also gives this an authenticity. All that might seem like the ingredients of a great film, but none of it is what makes this movie the classic that it is. No, the real genius here is the brief appearance of Leonard Barr with his popcorn-eating duck joke. Genius. Ironically, the titular sting, being the moment when the conned person realizes what's happened and feels the pain, isn't even shown. The movie's too classy for that probably.

Teeth


2007 horror comedy

Rating: 12/20

Plot: A chaste high school student uses her vagina dentata to defend herself against penises.

Part of me wants to give this an extra point because Chuck Prophet teaches us, in the song that plays over the closing credits, exactly who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp. Apparently, I did, although I suppose Chuck Prophet might not be singing to me. There's another song called "Love Is Worth Waiting For" by Denee Hanna and Dave Lichtenstein that was like a poetic hammer to the groin. A lot of this movie feels like a trauma to the groin (thanks to Heywood Banks for putting those four words in my head) as the horror part of this movie mostly involves severed bloody penises lying on floors. Most men, I suppose, just don't want to watch that sort of thing, especially this redundantly. If the movie was just that, it wouldn't be worth anybody's time. Well, maybe yours. You might have enjoyed it. And I kind of thought going in that this was going to be a Cronenbergian pseudo-artsy gross-out thing, but it wasn't because the audience doesn't even get a glimpse of the titular chompers. Plus, there's some goofy dark comedy that keeps this pretty light. Of course, it's possible that Cronenberg is funnier than I give him credit for being, so maybe I don't know what I'm talking about. I did sort of chuckle at parts of this. A character named Toby's got some of the greatest screams I've ever heard a male scream in a movie, there's a terrific line--"I haven't even jerked off since Easter!"--in there, and a hilarious punchline from a surgeon ("It hardly seems worth it.") followed by laughter from the other doctors and nurses. Oh, and I loved a gynecologist's reaction after discovering our protagonist's gift. "It's true! Vagina dentata! Vagina dentata!" See, you have to love a movie that teaches you a little something, and I've found a way to work "vagina dentata" into conversations four times since see this. And I was only slapped after two of those. I'm blaming feminism, but that's not something you can ever be sure about. Either they were feminists or they put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp. Speaking of bomp bah bompers, is there a strong feminist theme in this movie? I'm not sure. If there is, I'm not sure it's effective in delivering its message. Either way, it's not something I want to think about anyway. I'm too busy thinking about how cute Jess Weixler was and appreciating the reference to the B-movie The Black Scorpion. I also liked some of the visual humor here. The phallic and yonic symbols might have gotten a little tedious in the early going though. And the nuclear coolant things? Is that a reference to diphallic terrata? I'm going to have to assume that it is. Oh, one more thing--if you watch this movie, listen to the sound effects because they're great. Oh, wait, one more thing--at the very end of this movie, there's an old guy doing this lip-smacking tongue thing. The actor's name is Doyle Carter, and if there's a better performance in a movie about vagina dentata, I'd be shocked.

I'd like to apologize for this blog post.

Stir Crazy


1980 comedy

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Two disillusioned buddies decide to leave New York City and venture west. Along the way, they have some car trouble and get a job at a bank to earn money to pay for repairs. They're framed for bank robbery and sentenced to 125 years in prison where the white one is discovered to be adept at riding bulls.

Yeah, the story's a mess here because everybody in the late-70's/early-80's was on crack. That's right--even Sidney Poitier. As far as I know, this is the highlight of Poitier's directing career unless I find out he directed Ghost Dad or something. Stir Crazy's story's got that crazy anything-goes-even-if-it-shouldn't 80's feel, and there's a scene in a strip club because all 80's comedies need to have one of those apparently. Not that I mind. I'm a warm-blooded American male and all, but the raw sexuality of one Gene Wilder combined with the strip club scene is almost too much for my middle-aged heart to take. But this story--it almost feels like it was made-up as they went.

"Well, we got them in prison. Now what do we do?"
"How about we have a rodeo?"
"That's a great idea! Get Gene Wilder a hat!"

Speaking of Gene, one of the two great Genes in acting history, I watched this in honor of the man's birthday. There are other Gene Wilder appearances that I like better, but he's nearly comedically perfect in Stir Crazy, all excitability and naivete and hair. Seriously, almost every single thing he does in this is perfect. Correcting his own grammar in front of a pair of cowboys, demonstrating his prowess with a speed bag, "getting bad" as he and Pryor walk to the jail cell, saying things like "This is my first frisk" or "Do they know I hate confinement" or "I only have one speed--balls out," screeching following his sentencing, freaking-out in the prison, meeting Erland van Lidth (Dynamo in The Running Man) with this perfect facial expression and posture, or intimidating with his karate moves. It's all comedy gold. Pryor's fine as well, a guy who could handle his coke, and the pair have good rapport. The movie makes me laugh. Here's a question though. The real robbers get in the woodpecker costumes, happen to know the little song that Wilder and Pryor's stand-in (because he apparently was too good to prance around in a woodpecker costume) sang, and start robbing the bank. The little girl in the cowboy hat who asked Wilder and Pryor if they were real woodpeckers--you know, because that makes sense--is still there. What the hell's up with that? Ok, that's not a real question. It's rhetorical.

Escape from Tomorrow


2013 Disney movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A family of four spend time at the Magic Kingdom and Epcot Center on the last day of their vacation. That morning, the father learned that he was losing his job. As the day goes on, he starts to lose his mind.

You might know the story behind Randy Moore's little movie here, but here it is if you don't. Moore filmed the majority of his movie at Disney parks--Disneyland, Disney World, and Epcot--without getting permission from the fine folks at Disney at all. And that's ballsy. It might sound like a stunt, but he had his reasons, none of which I'll really get into here. The actors, actresses, and crew all got season passes and filmed this thing, and it's so hard for me to believe that it ended up as good as it did. It's hard to pinpoint a genre with this thing. It's often really funny, but it's not really a comedy. There are some horrifying moments, and the monochromatic look at Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and It's a Small World are nearly capable of giving somebody nightmares, but I wouldn't call it a horror movie. There's a bizarre science fiction element in there, but it's definitely not science fiction. There's a very human drama that unfolds, though absurdly. So who knows what it is. I know one thing though--it's entertaining and, although uneven, pretty brilliant. I did really like the look of the movie. The cinematography is impossibly great, and that black and white really does creep things up a lot. Of course, the music used might here, too. Moore, probably knowing how litigious the Mouse can be, didn't use any of Disney's music. For the Small World sequence--a psychological mind-melter with the closest thing to straight-up horror in the movie--he uses this music that sounds like something Danny Elfman might hear in his nightmares. There are some special effects in some scenes added after the fact, and with the little Small World dolls, you'll either laugh or shit yourself. Or, like I did, a little of both. There's some very obvious green screen work used in this, but it somehow gives the whole thing this weirdo charm that I liked. So what's the movie about? Well, there's some stuff in this about father/son relationships. There's a lot of sex, too. Dad can't control his libido in the Magic Kingdom, probably because of all those princesses and Mary Poppinses running around, and a lot of the humor comes from his pursuit of some very young French girls. There's a Tiki Room phallic fountain shot that is just brilliant, and some very funny sex-related lines--a reference to Emily Dickinson's beauty, the line "Not in front of Tigger," and the funniest reference to a "hidden Mickey" that you will ever hear. The real meaning of all this is a bit of a riddle to me, to be honest, but I know Walt Disney wouldn't have liked this at all. You can't trust those Disney people anyway, photoshopping out all of Walt's cigarettes and all. Anyway, I doubt you'll think this is a great movie, but the surreptitious filming and the oddness of the finished product make it easy for me to recommend. Oh, and here's another poster:


Bad Movie Club: Maximum Overdrive


1986 sci-fi horror movie

Rating: 10/20 (Josh: 4/20; Fred: 3/20; Libby: 9/20; Jeremy: 18/20; Johnny: 1/20)

Plot: Earth's submerged in comet tail dust and there are unseen aliens. Somehow, this all adds up to a bunch (but not all) of the machines coming alive and attacking people. Folks holed up in a truck stop try to keep from being killed by a bunch of trucks.

Stephen King, a guy who could be accused of writing B-novels, wasn't attempting to make high art here. He's making a B-movie, and with its darkly comedic moments, its fearlessness, it's balls-to-the-fucking-wall attitude, some cool crazy machine special effects, a solid and slightly-insane sci-fi B-movie premise, a fair share of blood, and some silly characters portrayed by people who can't act, it successfully entertains exactly like you'd think a movie from a first-time director who was admittedly "coked out of his mind" would. Turn your brain off with this one. There's an attempt to explain why the machines become so destructive and murderous, but it doesn't make any sense at all. Aliens? Comets? And why do a lot of the non-truck machines--lawn mowers, ice cream trucks, steam rollers, Walkmen, wheeled platforms with machine guns mounted on them (What the hell, by the way?), soft drink machines--come to life while cars and other things don't? And why do the mindless machines even decide to work together, and how do they communicate? It's not exactly a well-thought out story, but that's not a problem because there's a truck with a fucking giant goblin face on the front of it. And there are explosions! And there's a scene where a child is run over by a steam roller! And there's Emilio Estevez! When the hero of the movie is Emilio Estevez, you can be sure that you'll eventually be rooting for the inanimate objects to kill everybody. And that goes for every Emilio Estevez movie, including that one where the kids play hockey, not just movies where trucks have fucking giant goblin heads on the front of them. Estevez is one of the more capable actors in the movie. My favorite character might have been a guy whose voice is often heard over the other characters saying obvious things. "The truck stop is on fire." That sort of thing. I'm not even sure the character exchanges actual dialogue in the movie. He just gets all these asides. But my favorite character and worst acting performance in a movie filled with crappy performances is Ellen McElduff as the waitress Wanda June, a character who gets two separate rants where she tries to hammer home a theme for this movie. "We made you!" she screams. "We made you!" Or maybe there's no theme at all. Anyway, I think she and other actors in this must have dipped into King's cocaine supply when he was off watching dailies or something. One more thing about Stephen King--he refers to his own movie here as a "moron movie" and that he didn't know what he was doing and will never direct again. I just love how part of his reason for doing this in the first place was because he'd seen other people (you know, like that hack Stanley Kubrick) mess up so much and wanted to show them how it was done. Well done, Stephen King. I do think this is better, mostly because it's sneakily humorous, than a person might expect, but I'd agree that it's a "moron movie." At times, it feels like he's letting the child inside him make all the decisions, right down to the size of the explosions, allowing the characters to have a rocket launcher and a seemingly limitless supply of ammunition, and including only music by AC/DC. The latter worked pretty well, however.

One more note: I was 12 or 13 when this movie came out. My dad took me to a video store and let me pick out something to watch before taking me to his house for the weekend. Usually, he just picked things out which is why I had to watch things like The Sand Pebbles or The Spirit of St. Louis as a little kid. Turns out that he was right in not giving me a shot at picking out movies because this is the type of shit that I picked out. And it's really the first movie I can remember watching where I thought, "This is a really bad movie. Like, seriously, this is really bad. Why was this made?" I'd been bored by movies before and hated movies, but I can't remember a movie I watched before this that I thought was just plain bad. It might be my first good-bad movie experience actually.

Hercules



1997 mythology cartoon

Rating: 15/20 (Abbey: 10/20; Emma: 13/20; Buster: 2011/20 [Best movie ever!])

Plot: Hades gets word that Zeus's kid might get in his way when he's trying to take over the universe and sends his thugs to take away the titular future-hero's immortality and do away with him. They screw it up because one of them is Bobcat Goldthwait. Hercules grows into a young adult, finds himself a satyr to train him, meets a girl, and starts ridding Greece of treacherous monsters. But Hades might have one last trick up his sleeve.

I'm really not sure about the fiery Baptist music in this. Sure the movie needs a Greek chorus, but that "Gospel truth" stuff didn't really seem to fit. Actually, I'm not sure I liked any of the songs and none of them are memorable save for the lively "Zero to Hero" sequence. The animation style is a vibrant combination of old and new and seems to preview the look and tone of the superior and more cohesive Emperor's New Groove which came out a few years after this one. Olympus looks cool, and the gods and goddesses are all sorts of shiny and colorful. I'm not sure who gave the animators the go-ahead to give Zeus such wacky nipples, and I'm not sure whose idea it was to make Rip Torn the King of the Gods, but it is cool how he goes three-quarters when he hurls those lightning bolts. I did like their decision to make Danny DeVito's character Philoctetes look exactly like Danny DeVito but was confused about why that character was sans nipples. He's a good character. At first, I wondered if he was necessary or just a way to pass time like that stupid snowman in Frozen, but without DeVito, we wouldn't get that Karate Kid reference in this thing. And references to Mr. Miyagi always make things better. I didn't really like how Hercules himself looked, especially the in-between age one with the humongous calves and normal-looking everything else. The character moves and seems to have a lot of the same facial expressions as Aladdin, doesn't he? "Meg" (Why's she named that anyway? Shouldn't she be Persephone?) has beautiful animated curves and maybe the best hair of any female Disney character. And there's some cleavage. I think I recall this movie not doing very well, and it was probably because we're a Christian nation. Christians don't like other deities, and they definitely don't like cleavage. It's a double whammy of sin. They do seem to like stories about bad guys trying to kill babies though. Meg gives a great example of bad cartoon character acting when she starts crying at one point, but I'm not sure how Christians feel about bad acting. Of course, everybody (as in, you guys) was right about the Hades character. He is a great villain, kind of a concoction of other Disney villains in a way. I'd probably put him right before the Queen of Hearts on my villain list a few posts ago. James Woods gives him a presence and this unexpected personality. I like his eyes, the yellow drooping eyes of a villain who is kind of tired of all this shit, and the blue fire hair that turns into angry fire when he's pissed, the scrawny fingers, and the pointy teeth fit the Lord of the Underworld perfectly. And I like how the Disney folk were willing to go a little dark with the character. Shape-shifting sidekicks Pain and Panic are fun, too, and both Bobcat and Matt Frewer give the characters personality. I think I like my villain sidekicks more on the bumbling side. I also liked how the mortals were drawn and the shapes of their body parts, comically exaggerated caricatures to distinguish them from the deities. Their absurd pointed noses, their flab, their gnarled bits, their stretched necks. There's just so much variety and color to all of this. And I love the backgrounds, bits of sky almost reminding me of the rotoscoped backgrounds in Wizards. And how cool is that whirlpool of souls? There's a dark Disney image for you, something that could have come straight out of Fantasia. The animation never feels like it has a consistent voice, but it always keeps you on your toes, especially during the action scenes with all the flying around, the stomping hulking Titans, the monsters, comic destruction. Man, I loved how the Hydra moved around. I was digging it when it just had a single head, but things got really cool when it had fifty or however-many. I'm not sure I liked that Pegasus sidekick of Hercules though. The gags are hit and miss, as are the anachronisms--5,000,001 served, references to indoor plumbing ("It's gonna be big."), a mythological high five, Zeus called "Mr. Hey You Get Off of My Cloud," the wanna-buy-a-sundial guy, all the puns, and references to I Love Lucy, Midnight Cowboy, Marilyn Monroe, Nike Air Jordans (too easy)--but there are definitely some funny moments. Some of it's groan inducing, but it does keep things lively and unpredictable. And the "small underworld after all" was nice. This was much better than I expected it to be, and a lot more fun. Even if you don't like the characters, the conflict, the songs, or the animation, you'll still have a fun enough time trying to catch all the mythological allusions stuffed in there. I wonder if Disney ever had plans to explore the stories of the other characters in this world?

Dear Mr. Watterson


2013 documentary

Rating: 13/20

Plot: A documentary about the Calvin and Hobbes comic and its reclusive titular creator.

I'm a fan of the comic--but who isn't?--and appreciate the ideals of Bill Watterson. But I knew I was in trouble at the title screen. The title dear mr. watterson appears beneath a Wattersony watercolor autumnal tree followed by a "by Joel Allen Schroeder" which made me instantly suspicious. Schroeder narrates himself and seems to be finding excuses to put himself on camera. It's off-putting. There's really nothing new here. Most of this feels like a long commercial for Bill Watterson, and the accolades are poured on by fellow artists and other people to the point of redundancy. This moves through arguments, lackadaisical, that comic strips are a legitimate art form and that Calvin and Hobbes is perhaps the shining example or epitome of the medium, an exploration of Watterson's admirable anti-licensing stance that has cost him tens of millions of dollars, and a look at what makes the man's work so enduring. There's also a look at some pre-C&H artwork. But there's no Watterson. Just a lot of Joel Allen Schroeder. And I suppose Schroeder does what he can without Watterson, but I'm just not sure this achieves much of anything. Well, as a love letter to the guy, it's about as effective as it can be. It'd be the type of love letter that you'd read and think, "Why is the author talking about himself so much?" though. A better use of my hour and a half would have been to just sit down with some Calvin and Hobbes books. At least it's not quite bad enough for me to want to see Calvin urinating on the director though.

Her


2013 science fiction movie

Rating: 17/20 (Jen: 15/20)

Plot: A professional letter writer named Theodore, following the end of his marriage, falls in love with his new operating system.

Joaquin Phoenix is on a roll since retiring from acting to become a rapper. Playing himself in I'm Still Here showcased a sometimes-brilliant, surprisingly avant-garde sidebar. He was all-the-way brilliant in The Master. And here in Her, he gives a perfect performance. Seriously--perfect. There isn't a missed note in this entire performance. Of course, he's cheating, using a pitiful mustache as a prop. It's unlikely that anybody's going to have a mustache like that in the future, isn't it? But Phoenix and that cookie duster portray a wide array of human emotion in this way that take it outside the frame, beyond just Hollywood movie person emotions. Maybe it's just that some past version of myself--the scrawny acne-spotted 17-year-old one who thought he was funnier than what he actually was--could identify so well with this character, but I really felt what this Theodore character was feeling throughout his story. A lot of the responsibility goes to the way Spike Jonze told the story visually, but you have to give credit to Phoenix and his nuances in a refreshingly easy-going virtuoso performance. I also thought Scarlett Johansson, or more accurately her disembodied voice, was great as the titular operating system. Jen didn't, but for me, Johansson provided a voice that, if it didn't sound like it could actually belong to an inanimate object, was a voice a person could fall in love with. Speaking of voice work, I have to acknowledge Kristin Wiig's work here as "SexyKitten," a voice performance that both turned me on and had me laughing. I'm into references to dead cats, I guess. That's part of the charm of this movie actually. It's not exactly a comedy, but there are moments that are humorous. And it's accessible science fiction, delicate sci-fi really that doesn't leave you cold. There were some odd futuristic touches, but they weren't really in your face. There was a plausibility to the gadgets and obsessions of this near-future society. The urban landscape was beautiful and crystal clear in a way that just made sense. The color palette, likely. The sidewalks crowded with aloof, tech-addicted humanoids is just a tiny evolutionary stumble away. Theodore's job was a satiric little jab at contemporary human emotion while helping develop that character so well. I think I might have trouble believing that men will wear their trousers waistband that high in the future. They all had those things tugged as high as my 8th grade history teacher, Mr. Watts. Is there something I'm missing with those waistlines or is it a stylistic non-sequitur? I didn't like scenes where Theodore was playing the video game with the foul-mouthed alien although the foul-mouthed alien was a cute little son of a bitch. I had really looked forward to this one, halfway expecting to be disappointed and fully expecting to see something really quirky, the latter which wouldn't have bothered me since I'm a fan of quirk. Instead, this was a deeply emotional story, poetic and beautiful. This movie's lovely because it's lovely at its core, and it's made lovelier by the good performances (Amy Adams, Chris Pratt, and Matt Letscher, too), the stunning pristine visuals, and the music provided by Arcade Fire. Lovely.

Since I've now seen all the Best Picture nominees from 2013 (most recent list of Best Picture nominees that I have all seen--2005), it's probably a good time to make my personal list of best movies from the year. Here it goes in roughly the order I would put them in:

1) Wolf of Wall Street
2) Gravity
3) Inside Llewyn Davis
4) Her
5) Saving Mr. Banks
6) Nebraska
7) The Lone Ranger
8) Captain Phillips
9) The Act of Killing
10) Rush

Just off the top-ten: Dallas Buyer's Club, 42, 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Philomena, Monsters University, Mud, Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus, Prince Avalanche, Blue Jasmine, Cutie and the Boxer, Bad Grandpa

Worst movies of 2013:

1) A Talking Cat?!? (can't believe this was released in 2013--seems like I saw it 5 years ago)
2) Parkland
3) Evil Dead
4) Planes
5) The Hangover Part III

Other bad ones: Pacific Rim, Machete Kills, R.I.P.D., World War Z, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Identity Thief

Bill Murray Fest: Stripes


1981 war comedy

Rating: 13/20

Plot: A pair of buddies just drifting through life decide to join the military.

This is a movie of excursions with an ending that doesn't seem to remember how the story began or what happened in the middle. Most of what happens in this movie is extraneous. That's not really a problem with this kind of comedy (really a stoner comedy, ain't it?), but I don't think it's very funny and the pacing isn't very good. I mean, did we really need that lengthy mud-wrestling scene with a blubbery John Candy and Bill Murray screaming his head off? This movie really needed an editor, but there are moments. Murray gets another big pep talk moment, and he's at his most sarcastic in this movie. Sarcastic Bill Murray is about the best Bill Murray. Also, his rapport with his pal Ramis and Ramis's sharp-looking afro is evident. I also enjoyed a scene where he throws a basketball through a window and then asks for a "little help." John Candy's poker game is kind of fun, and the choreographed graduation scene is really good. I liked William Oates as Sergeant Hulka, and it's always nice to see John Larroquette reference loofahs. Larroquette claims he was inebriated during a lot of this, and it's actually hard to believe the majority of the cast wasn't imbibing. If they were, that could explain the loose feel of the production. The slapstick and irrelevancy really needed a better story or a little more structure to go along with it though. It's a dumb comedy that occasionally works, and although I doubt I wouldn't have expected anything else in a comedy in 1981, I do now.

Bad Movie Club: Hard Ticket to Hawaii


1987 Andy Sidaris classic

Rating: 6/20 (Fred: 10/20; Josh: 10/20; Libby: 13/20; Johnny: 14/20; Jeremy: 131/20; Ozzy: no rating)

Plot: Two former FBI agents or current FBI agents or one FBI agent and one gal in witness protection (we couldn't figure it out) procure some diamonds while lounging on the titular 50th state, and the big drug kingpin who they belong to wants them back. Meanwhile, there's a cancer snake.

Do you like boobs? You do? Good. How about guns? Do you like guns? Yes? Well, then I have a director for you--Andy Sidaris who wrote and directed this dazzling piece of cinema, ostensibly when he was about 12 years old. There are three scenes in this movie that place this in a higher echelon of bad movies, but if you haven't seen this and are striving to become a bad movie aficionado, you should just go watch the movie right now. This is the kind of stuff that will have a greater impact if you go in blind. But here are those three scenes:

1) The good guys are driving along. They see a skateboarder, one of the bad guys in a "disguise" or something, standing on his hands on his board. They continue driving. The bad guy hops in the passenger seat of the car and they catch up and pass the good guys. The skateboarder then gets out of the car with the skateboard and a blow-up doll and skates toward the good guys while shooting his gun. He gets hit by the good guys' vehicle and goes flying into the air. One of the good guys pulls out his rocket launcher and fires twice, blowing up the bad guy and the sex doll.

2) The good guys have to get past a guard on the beach. His name's Shades because he wears sunglasses. They think they've found a weakness though--he and a girl play catch with a Frisbee every day. "I can use that," says one of the good guys. He constructs a weapon--a Frisbee with razor blades around the edges. He takes it to the beach and starts playing with Shades, a guy eager to show off his Frisbee catching and throwing skills. Then, the switch the the razor blade Frisbee! Shades loses fingers and gets a razor blade Frisbee in the side of his head.

3) That aforementioned cancer snake, near the climax of the movie, pops out of a toilet and starts attacking one of the women. The guy who we thought was the main bad guy but actually wasn't gets bitten several times, but he's invincible and therefore just fine. A bustle ensues. Enter: one good guy with, you guessed it, that rocket launcher. He aims at the snake and fires. The snake's head explodes.

References to James Bond, boobs, a bad guy who is either a cross-dresser or just disguising himself as a woman or both, an original song that used the title of the movie in its lyrics, boobs, another song with the title of the movie, a snake puppet, Chinese stars and nunchaku, more boobs, sexy time music featuring a Pan flute, an inconsequential football playing character named Jimmy John Jackson,  a scene which could be the textbook example of "gratuitous nudity," random sumo wrestlers, a snake photobomb, boobs, the following dialogue:

Girl: "Tell me--what do you feeeeeeeel?"
Guy: "One man's dream is another man's lunch."
Girl: "You son of a bitch."

Other fantastic pieces of writing: "If brains were bird shit, you'd have a clean cage." "In a pig's ass!" "Just when you thought it was safe to take a pee."

I apologize for this not making a lot of sense. This is what happens to me when my brain's overloaded with boobs and guns. But seriously, if you enjoy this sort of thing as much as I do, this one's going to be a hit. And you can bet that this won't be BMC's last Andy Sidaris movie.

BIll Murray Fest: What About Bob?


1991 comedy

Rating: 12/20

Plot: A psychologist/author starts to lose his own mind when his patient, the titular agoraphobic, follows him and his family to their vacation spot and refuses to leave.

I don't get this movie. Richard Dreyfuss spends most of the film seeming like his head's about to pop, screaming his lines like somebody doing a Richard Dreyfuss impression. It's a good one though, and I did enjoy watching him work with puppets. Bill Murray spends the movie doing his half-assed Bill Murray thing. Faking Tourette's Syndrome might be one of his finer moments. And I guess I can understand how some people might think hearing Bill Murray say "testicle-head" or "bosum-beaver" or "barf-breath" or "douche-mouth" might be funny. But I didn't think these guys had enough comic rapport to make up for a story or characters that just aren't very good. The Guttmans were probably the best thing about the movie because it's always funny to hear old people yell, "Son of a bitch!" and references to Hitler are almost always humorous. Really, nothing about this is memorable. I didn't remember any of it from twenty years ago, and I'm really having trouble remembering anything about it from watching it a week ago. Maybe if this thing was a little darker, more fluent, or just plain funnier, it would have worked. It was nice seeing possibly extraterrestrial Julie Hagerty though. If that gal had more than one expression, she would have been huge.

The Edge

1997 man movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A rich guy, his hot wife, a photographer who may or may not be sleeping with his hot wife, and a bunch of other people venture out into the middle of nowhere to take some pictures. While looking for an Indian's wrinkles, their little plane crashes, and the two guys on the poster up there and one black guy who isn't on the poster have to try to find a way back to civilization while avoiding the jaws of the bear on that poster up there.

The situation of these characters seems completely implausible here. Alec Baldwin, giving a really inflated and inconsistent performance, plays a character who can only exist in a movie, a sort of caricature of assholery or personified douche. And I don't like when movies have characters who seem artificially intelligent, and Anthony Hopkins (excuse me, Sir Anthony Hopkins) is the type of guy with a photographic memory who makes you want to roll your eyes every time he starts to talk about something he knows that you don't. His first line contains a grammatical error anyway, so really, how smart can the guy be? And Elle Macpherson. I've had better and don't think she's worthy of Helen of Troy face-that-launched-a-thousand-ships status. Plus, her name's Mickey Morse in this. You'd think somebody involved in the screenwriting process would see that on the page and say, "Maybe that'll come across as silly," and reach for the white-out. But none of that matters because this movie is saved by the performance of Bart the Bear. I thought Bart looked familiar and looked him up. Turns out that he's the son of the female bear who fights Leslie Nielson in the wonderful Day of the Animals. Bart the Bear had quite the acting career but was unfortunately typecast and never got a chance to show any versatility. But man, he's good here. I'm not sure if a non-human can be nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, but Bart should have. He's just that good in this movie. I imagine there were some special effects used in this, so we can't be sure how much of the scenes with Bart and the actors involved both Bart and the actors, but it all looked flawless to me. Bart was sometimes shown in long shots, surrounded by mist or trees and foliage. He looks freakin' intimidating. And there are times when Bart the Bear just fills the screen, baring teeth and growling. He looks freakin' intimidating then, too. It's just an amazing performance. Hopkins, a hack compared to Bart, does his best to keep up, moving from calm to growling about blood and screaming things like, "Today, I'm gonna kill the mother fucker" or "Come and get me, you motherfucker!" but Bart the Bear's thunderous motherfuckers hit the viewer harder. I assume Bart threw out a few motherfuckers anyway. There weren't subtitles for his lines. "I'm going to tear you to pieces like [Spoiler Alert] I did that black guy, you motherfuckers!" I don't speak bear, but it doesn't take a genius to translate some of this. Nature lovers, at least those who don't mind watching the occasional animal die, will have a lot to love here, scenery that you just want to absorb. The movie's all peaks and trees and chilly waters and unbroken snow. I also thought the music in this was tremendous, especially the little theme that plays whenever the bear makes an appearance. That's Jerry Goldsmith who scored a few notable films in his career. The Edge is a wilderness survival story that you might have trouble buying combined with a human conflict element that you also might have trouble buying, but they wind up adding up to something that is consistently intense.

Josh, founder of the Bart the Bear fan club, recommended this motherfucker.

Bill Murray Fest: Larger Than Life


1996 elephant movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A motivational speaker's father dies, the news which surprises him since he had always thought his father was already dead. He travels to collect his inheritance which turns out to be a trunk of clown memorabilia and an elephant. He's forced to transport that elephant to San Diego by a certain date or face consequences.

I don't even care if you make fun of me for liking Larger Than Life. In fact, if this movie didn't completely fall apart at the end, we're talking 15 or 16 out of 20 territory here. My friend Josh explained this pretty well. It's Bill Murray doing what Bill Murray does best--playing a character who doesn't really want to do what he is forced to be doing. And transporting an elephant across the country is definitely not what he wants to do. Murray's one-liners are great ("My father was a giant?"), and some of that improvisational feel. His rapport with the elephant is also really good. The elephant is played by Tai, an actual elephant as opposed to five or six people operating a giant elephant suit although I would definitely be interesting in seeing that as well. Tai's only acted in one other movie--Rosie in Water for Elephants--but he or she was also apparently in Exit Through the Gift Shop. It's a great animal performance though. The evolving bond between Murray and Tai is entirely believable because of the pair of good performances. Watching Murray try to drive a semi might be worth the price of admission alone--"I don't know how to drive this!" The movie's other truck driver, a pre-Oscar-candidate Matthew McConaughey as Tip Tucker, is ridiculously unhinged. I'm pretty sure he's playing his redneck a little gay, but I really had trouble telling. He's so over the top and gets so many lines very quickly. The ones you catch, like "How do [elephants] do it? I mean, make whoopie?", almost make you want to rewatch his scenes to see what else he said. The contrast between an ultra-cool Murray and an ultra-silly McConaughey is a lot of fun. I liked this movie's pace and its quirky humor. But man, that ending, a scene at an airport where the rubber band of implausibility was stretched too far and just stamped. And when Murray said, "You know they say an elephant never forgets, but what they don't tell you is that you never forget an elephant," I almost wanted to punch my television. I couldn't figure out why Bill Murray would agree to say something like that. For a moment, I'd convinced myself that Larger Than Life was too cool of a movie to have something that gross in it and that it was ironic. But then there was a "Where are they now?" scroll. One more note: a guy at a truck junkyard was really good. I believe his name is Greg Ward, and he's only been in four movies. One of them, however, is playing "Tosses Camera Off Cliff" in Slacker. There's a movie I need to see again.

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane

1976 little girl movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A 13-year-old future lesbian who lives alone can't seem to keep her guests alive.

Man, I dig that poster although it is a little misleading. There isn't a single teddy bear in this movie. It also makes this look like it's going to be a horror movie, but it's really not. I don't even think I'd call it a thriller. It might be a black comedy actually. My favorite Jodie Foster is the young Jodie Foster. I definitely prefer her 70's output to the stuff she's done as an adult. I like how her character's story here begins in medias res. Foster's got filthy feet in this movie, but she pulls off smart titular "little" teenager effortlessly and there's just something magnetic about her even if this isn't what you'd call a pitch perfect performance. Martin Sheen's pretty awful, and his character makes almost no sense. The trick or treating, the pumpkin stuff, an attempted groping, a desire to see Jodie Foster's hamster, an ass slap. And he has hair like a Baldwin. Heck, this is probably what made Jodie Foster decide she wanted nothing to do with men. Sheen's wacky, but this is the perfect example of one of those movies where the flaws are what makes things interesting an memorable. The limping random hopped-up magician randomly cycling by with his top hat and cape, the latter which just has to be dangerous to wear on a bicycle ride. The 70's cop music, terrible anyway and really out of place here. A scene with an umbrella and a reference to "Mary 'Fucking' Poppins," silly but probably necessary for a colorfully tense moment in a few scenes later. Poor Gordon the hamster and his demise, shit that just doesn't make sense but a scene you'll not forget. A poor disguise and a subsequent scene that might have you reaching for your pipe that is not a pipe or maybe your cigar that is only a cigar, tapping your chin with your index finger and saying, "Hmmmmm." And a crucial scene featuring tea cups seems ridiculous, but you have to love how the music picks up there. Appreciate that ambiguity at the end. What exactly was the plan there, Jodie Foster? It's a cool little movie with a dumb title, a movie that is more intriguing than it is good but just intriguing enough to be good. When you watch this again, listen for that hamster wheel. It's a great sound effect.

Would Jodie Foster Ass Slap be a good name for a band?

Oprah Movie Club for May: Nobody's Fool


1993 dramedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: An old guy with a bad knee's gone nowhere with his life. He left his wife and one-year-old son but only got five blocks away. He keeps working for a guy he can't stand while flirting with his wife when he's not around. He loses at poker and at horse race betting. And he's never gotten a chance to know his grandsons, one who is named Wacker. When his son rolls back into town for Thanksgiving, Sullivan's luck starts to change.

If it wasn't Paul Newman in this role, you probably wouldn't like the character of Donald Sullivan very much, especially in the beginning. Really, you don't even like him played by Paul Newman. He appears to have no redeeming qualities as he's in the last laps of a wasted life. He's got an estranged son he's not seen in three years, he hasn't seen his ex-wife even though they live in the same tiny town, he seems to be taking advantage of a nearly-dead Jessica Tandy whose house he lives in, he walks with an obviously fake limp, he does shoddy work for little pay and then seems to piss it away. Newman's playing a character who seems to wear his sins, like an invisible albatross or two, as he shuffles around the first third of this movie. The only reason you even think about rooting for the guy is because Bruce Willis plays a much bigger asshole, something he seems pretty good at. However, one of the big ideas of this movie is about understanding people in their contexts and allowing people to grow on you. That's the phrase used a couple times in this movie--Newman's character "growing on" people. His character grows on you--the viewer--even if you never fully understand him because the movie gradually feeds us all these little details that make him not only seem like an actual human being but a mostly likable human being. You have to love his words of wisdom to others--"Hang in there" and "Don't get stuck"--two tidbits of dialogue that don't seem all that important but actually do kind of help you understand where he's at and how he got there. I also like how he's learned to adapt to the people around him. He's got an enemy who he seemingly can't beat, but he finds a way to have little victories against the guy and plays poker with him like he's a buddy. He's genuinely admired, for reasons that are never really clear, by Tandy's character, and Tandy's character is the type who we just have to trust because she's got so many wrinkles. He might have a thing for Melanie Griffith's character, the wife of his philandering nemesis, but he spends a lot of their conversations helping her with her marriage problems. He's a good friend to a guy named Rub (or Sancho) and his terrible lawyer. He flirts with a bartender like the coolest old pervert ever. And when his son and grandson enter the scene, he bonds with them the only way the character knows how which is very different than characters in other movies might. Oh, and he knows how to deal with the fuzz, too, turning a little more ornery. Sully's a guy who's learned that varying individuals need varying sorts of interactions. He's good at dealing with people even if he's not had much success with people, and a lot of the fun and humor of this is watching those different interactions. The only thing Sully has difficulty dealing with is the past, his own sins and the sins of his father which he also seems to wear. Luckily for us, those performers Newman interacts with are mostly really good. This has a good ensemble cast. Melanie Griffith is always hard for me to watch because she reminds me of Renee Zellweger, but she's good here. Tandy's fine in her last role and, if I may say so, smokin' hot. I can't believe that a dweeb like Dylan Walsh is going to be Paul Newman's son, but he's fine. I thought Gene Saks was good as the lawyer, and Pruitt Taylor Vince is really good as the wonderfully-named Rub Squeers. Rub Squeers? Oh, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman is in there as a loathsome cop, aggressively delivering all his lines and not really convincing anybody that he's capable of playing a cop at this stage in his career. There are a bunch of little moments that I really liked in this movie. There are a bunch of great one-liners for Newman. I couldn't tell if they were the types of lines that only Paul Newman would have been able to pull off or if they were good lines made better because they were coming from his mouth. There's a surprising little scene with Griffith's ta-tas that I liked quite a bit and might have watched three times. The scene where Rub decides to quit is funny and almost seems like it would fit in a Wes Anderson movie, the aftermath involving some sidewalk driving, a gunshot, and a punch. I was touched by a scene where Rub and Sully are talking about dick length and other things, and there was an odd scene where one of the grandson's gives the lawyer his leg, a big dramatic moment that I know how to be symbolically important in a way I didn't quite get. A final poker game was humorous, especially the single line delivered by Bruce Willis's new secretary ("There is?"). And then there's a shot of Jessica Tandy sitting down with some tea, snow outside the window behind her and then, as the camera pulls back, in the foreground, too, almost like it's snowing in the room. It's such a beautiful scene, the kind of shot that Tandy deserved in her last movie. My biggest gripe with this movie is that the music was so awful, distractingly blase and often just not really fitting at all. I hated it.

One question: Who died? Newman's character is a pallbearer, but for whom? Did I miss something?

Thanks to Josh for picking this movie. Sorry about the tardiness, Oprah Movie Club participants!

The Book Thief


2013 Holocaust movie

Rating: 10/20

Plot: Liesel, the titular young thief, moves in with new foster parents someplace where there are Nazis. She makes a friend or two and learns about the horrors of World War II.

Quite possibly the most boring movie ever made.

Bill Murray Fest: Nothing Lasts Forever


1984 unreleased near-masterpiece

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Adam Beckett wants to be an artist. Unfortunately, he isn't able to pass the artist test given by the governing body in this dystopian New York--the Port Authority. He's assigned to a job watching traffic until he befriends a homeless person, discovers secrets subterranean, falls in love, and takes a trip to the moon on a flying bus.

Fascinating little unreleased gem here, reminiscent of Cory McAbee (The American Astronaut) without the music or a quieter Terry Gilliam or even shane-movies favorite Guy Maddin. It's got Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd, both who seem like they're doing their best to blend. They're supporting players here, but Murray's lunar bus conductor is a fun enough character. He's got one very Bill Murray bit of physical comedy where he leaps onto a moon golf cart and kicks his leg up. If you saw it, you'd say, "Yep, there's Bill Murray!" The main character's played by Zach Galligan, fresh off his work in Gremlins, and he's a likable Everyman. Eddie Fisher also makes an appearance as himself, but you can ignore every single person in this movie because it also features the legendary Larry "Bud" Melman (Calvert DeForest) with a performance as brilliant as you'd expect it to be. And that alone makes this worth digging up, especially for David Letterman fans. Lawrence Tierney also makes an appearance in this thing, by the way. Oh, and an old lady who I know I've seen before who might be the worst actress I've ever seen. She says, "Is that Eddie Fisher? I thought he was dead. I'm one of his biggest fans!" like she knows she's got to get the words out before she forgets them. This has a surreal pace and some weird subtle touches--an outrageous mustaches, a poster for "Civil Defense" with a mushroom cloud--that give it a unique style. It's also got a little nudity for a gag that is easily the closest laugh-out-loud funny moment in the movie--the Port Authority's art test. And nudity in a PG-rated movie is always nice to see. This movie's got a fun mismatch of styles, from 1940's melodrama with a boisterous score to bleakly satirical stuff poking at the art world (a shirtless German artist counting to a million while on a treadmill) and consumerism (the daffy "It's a Small World" type song that plays ad nauseam on the moon) to low-budget sci-fi. Dig those moon effects, so awesomely quaint. And I had no clue that the moon was inhabited by Hawaiians. The cinematography, mostly black and white but with a few Wizard-esque color sequences, is impressive, the first half with this greasy dreaminess while the moon stuff is all technicolor cheese. This might not be anybody's favorite movie, but folks who like their comedies a little on the weird side will be glad they checked it out.