The Skeleton Twins

2014 drama

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Twins who haven't spoken to each other in ten years reunite after both attempted or contemplated suicide on the same day. They deal with past losses and their current failures as they try to put their relationship back together again.

I haven't watched Saturday Night Live in a long time, so I don't know which hilarious skit these characters are based on. This is listed as a comedy-drama, but the emphasis is definitely on the drama part of that. This is a movie featuring depression, the loss of a parent, attempted suicide, alcohol abuse, the death of fish, adultery, disintegrating marriage, statutory rape, and adults dealing with adulthood after having terrible parents. If you think any of those are hilarious, then you might think this is funnier than I thought it was. This movie's really bleak, and although both SNL veterans (from seasons I didn't see at all) give very good performances, neither of them are really funny at all, save for a scene when they're apparently given a chance to improvise in a dentist's office. I can't remember anything I've seen where Hader has a significant role, but I liked what he did here. His character's awfully mopey, but he pays homosexual naturally enough and without any flamboyance that some of his SNL cohorts might have been tempted to have. And I can't remember anything I didn't dislike Kristen Wiig in. I used to think she was very attractive, but that's only because I thought she was absurdly tall. Now that I know she's only 5'5", I've lost interest. Their characters are interesting to me because there was part of me who just wanted to dislike both of them. They're flawed human beings, and they know they're flawed yet insist--possibly because they're fighting against various sicknesses and troubled pasts--on continuing to be flawed. The film's bleakness is the result of knowing early on in this movie that things would more than likely not end up happily for either of them. The suddenly-ubiquitous Ty Burrell and Luke Wilson are also good, and Wilson's easily the most likable character in this entire thing. Monty Hall's daughter is good in the single scene--an important scene as the twins' mother. Initially, I hated the way this movie ended, but the more I think about it, the more I suspect it's supposed to be a little ambiguous. And my favorite kinds of endings are ambiguous ones. This is a good movie, but you need to be warned that it's not a fun movie at all. Josh recommended it to me.


2015 horror comedy

Rating: 13/20

Plot: A successful podcaster, because that's a thing now, ventures to Canada to interview and probably make fun of a kid who accidentally cut his leg off with a sword. Unfortunately, those plans fall through, but he stumbles upon another interesting subject. He makes the trip to the storyteller's house and makes a new friend who just happens to want to turn him into a walrus.

I was pretty sure--before watching this--that Kevin Smith was trying to match the trajectory of M. Night Shammalammadingdong's career. I could imagine him saying, "Yeah, I just made a movie as bad as Red State, but what until you guys see the final results of my movie about a guy turning into a walrus!" He'd seen The Human Centipede and thought, "Yeah, that movie was immensely popular. Let me have a crack at the weird-guy-turning-people-into-animals genre!" But the joke's on you, Kevin Smith, because this movie actually ended up extremely entertaining. And it's funnier than Clerks, though because it's more ambitious, probably not as good. It's a movie where its flaws definitely get in the way, but since it doesn't take itself all that seriously, it just doesn't matter that much. But I'll point them out anyway. There's an early special effect featuring the "Kill Bill Kid" that I wasn't even sure was supposed to be real. All the stuff with Justin Long's co-host and his girlfriend is boring. Long and Haley Joel Osmont play characters that are complete dicks, podcasting shock jocks keeping it "real and raunchy" with the Not-See Party, a pun that is both lame and unnecessary. And there's Johnny Depp, almost unrecognizable, who pops in as Guy Lapointe and nearly causes this whole thing to jump the walrus. Depp's acting is so over-the-top bad here, but it fits in with what Long is doing. Long's got his mustache that makes him look pervy and untrustworthy, and there are also way more scenes featuring him urinating than should be permitted. His scenes with the crazy guy are a lot of fun though. Long's reactions to Park's storytelling are completely unnatural, and his shock and terror as he realizes what is happening to him is comical, probably party intentionally comical. "Holy shit! There's no leg there!" I don't know if it was intended or not actually, but the silliness of the line combined with the delivery of the line made me laugh out loud. Long's performance is a strange one. Michael Parks' performance was easily the best thing about this movie. He was also the lone bright spot in the dreadful Red State. Here, every single note of his performance is just perfection. He balances this dark humor with this twisted creepiness, throws out words like "rapscallion," restrains giggles, performs a killer version of "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider," and has one terrific moment where these mocking screams transform into animal growls. It's just incredible stuff, and the movie, especially if you enjoy this sort of grotesque humor, is worth watching only because of what he's doing. The walrus looked ridiculous, but that was probably intentional. I mean, it did have a visible human face on it, after all. But that first shot of Long as a walrus? Holy shit, that's something to behold. And this movie is pretty informative as well. I learned that walruses never cry, something I never learned at the zoo. All the walrus at the Indianapolis Zoo ever taught me is that walruses are perverts that will flaunt their walrus junk in the presence of children. This movie really makes no attempt at all to say anything. There's one piece of dialogue--"Is man indeed a walrus at heart?"--that threatens to turn things philosophical, but the movie's really not satirical, and it's probably not even intelligent. I would like a clever t-shirt that makes use of the phrase "Go full walrus," by the way. Be on the lookout.

A nice touch: A Big Chug "Eh" Lug cup recurring gag.

Guardians of the Galaxy

2014 space adventure

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Five misfits team up to help Gabe Kaplan coach his way to a college basketball coaching contract.

These Marvel movies are all pretty much the same. If you were to lay them on top of each other, you'd see that their ebbs and flows are all similar. I don't think that makes them any less likable or anything, but it's something that should be pointed out. They all build to a big climactic battle scene that is a little too long and probably doesn't make too much sense. This one gets all purple and explode-y, and I really lost track of what was even supposed to be going on. This also struggles to have a consistent tone at times. The predominant tone is light with a story and characters who aren't taken too seriously by the screenwriters. But then there are the flatly-written bad guy characters who all talk like they think they're in Dune or something. You know, that stilted sci-fi deep voice talking. And they're talking about orbs, the type of thing we've been seeing in science fiction adventure tales for years. Add a little romance and some half-assed angst because that's supposed to give the movie more heart or something. Luckily, the characters are all so damn likable, so the cliches are easier to forgive. And those guardians are anything but cliches. Rocket's voiced perfectly by a Bradley Cooper who doesn't sound like Bradley Cooper. He's humorously mean-spirited, just the cutest little guy. Green Woman (Sorry, I'm not dorky enough to remember the name or a good enough blogger to look it up) your typical female sci-fi action hero. Groot (an easy name to remember) is a character I figured would be pretty useless before I actually saw the movie. I mean, he's a tree. I expected a wooden character, but they manage to give the thing some personality, like a barky Chewbacca, and it's easy to understand why he's a fan favorite. I might have liked the heavily-flawed but hilariously literal Drax, played by wrastler Dave Bautista. And I like Chris Pratt because I'm a Parks and Recreation fan. He's not exactly showing off any range here, but there's something very likable about his Star-Lord. Of the bad guys, I liked blue Yondu played by Michael Rooker with no attempt to hide a thick Southern accent. The characters' personalities almost popped off the screen, and there were a lot of interesting fringe characters as well, the kind of thing you expect from a Star Wars film. In fact, this entertained about like one of the prequels and had the same kind of glossy space battle scenes. The climax has a sword fight (a sword cat fight, in fact), some spaceships shooting at each other, and some characters trying to sneak into a place which really reminded me of the action juxtaposition from The Phantom Menace. And yes, I might just be typing that to piss off geeks. It seems like the kind of thing I'd do. This was funnier than Episode I though even though there wasn't a Jar-Jar to be seen. Unlike Dune--this movie could easily have been just as much of a failure as Dune, by the way--this has a character making a reference to eyebrow weirdness, and I really liked how there was comedic confusion with idioms two or three times in the dialogue. You don't think about linguistics during a sci-fi movie, but if people on earth get confused by idiomatic expressions, of course people across the galaxy will. I liked the movie's humor, something that added to the fun. I didn't like the sentimentality, however. "We are Groot" and "Take my hand" brought this to absurdly sentimental places while a pre-Marvel comic swirl and credits sentimental goopiness got things started off badly. It certainly is a great-looking movie though. The world building and space fight scenes are incredible. I loved the imagery, especially during the first sci-fi scene where Pratt is walking around with that cool mask with the red-glowing eyes. The whole thing clashed beautifully with whatever song played on his mix tape and his dancing. The mix tape soundtrack is a cool idea, by the way, something else that gave this movie a unique science fiction flavor. The special effects weren't all good though. There were some really sketchy movement effects--Superman's leg syndrome--during some scenes, and a lot of explosions just didn't look right at all. Of course, it didn't matter much since you're basically watching a cartoon anyway. All in all, this isn't the masterpiece that some people made it out to be, but I do look forward to more installments in the Guardians story, even if they are structured almost exactly the same as all the other Marvel movies.

Man Push Cart

2005 drama

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Man push cart.

I planned to watch this during my famous "man" movie streak and then again during my New York Movie Fest, but I didn't end up watching it for either. Ramin Bahrani directed that short film about the plastic bag that sounds like Werner Herzog that I wrote about a few weeks ago when I said I was going to start watching and writing about more short films and then didn't. My wife frequently shows me these "Humans from New York" posts on this Facebook thing she follows where a random human in New York gets a chance to tell his or her story. This kind of feels like a 90-minute version of one of those. You feel sorry for the protagonist and you really feel his plight as an apathetic camera follows him around for a few days while he befriends a guy, meets a girl, and pushes that cart around like he's Sisyphus perpetually pushing his rock around. You feel it because of the minutiae of it all. You see the guy preparing the little paper cups of tea multiple times and all those extended scenes where he struggles with that cart, mostly pulling the thing despite what the title of the movie wants you to believe. The guy's backstory unfolds slowly, these little pieces of the past of this guy that you don't really have any reason to care about until you realize that he's a human being. Like the best character studies, this one has a character who deepens as his story goes. Not that there's a tremendous amount of story here. We wouldn't want our character to get bogged down by plot, after all. I like that Bahrani doesn't feel the need to tell anything resembling a nice tidy Hollywood story. Things end unresolved, loose ends like tea bag labels. It's probably up to the viewer whether or not the resolution (well, "ending" is probably a better word for it) is one of hope or despair.

Fast Break

1979 sports comedy

Rating: 12/20

Plot: A New York City deli clerk with aspirations of being a head basketball coach at the college level lands himself a job at an unknown college in Nevada. He's got no scholarships to offer and makes only about 60 bucks per victory, but he's promised a lucrative three-year coaching contract if he can beat Nevada State, a perennial college basketball powerhouse. He assembles a ragtag team of street ballers and starts whipping them into shape.

There are classic sports comedies. You've got Keaton's College or Harold Lloyd's The Freshman from the silent era, and modern ones like Slap Stick or Major League or The Bad News Bears. Or the often-hilarious Field of Dreams. And there are a bunch that people think are good but actually aren't. This one's a little different because the team, while it's filled with underdogs, is never really an underdog. They blow away everybody from their first game together. The team's made up of a thuggish criminal (of course with a heart of gold), a preacher who knocked up a 15-year-old, a pool hustler, and a women, the latter played by Mavis Washington in her only role. They're interesting characters, but there's not really enough time to develop them. They've all got mad hoop skills, too, and so does cut-off-jean-shorted Gabe Kaplan, the reason I watched this movie in the first place. Kaplan's good, sort of a poor man's Billy Crystal, and I'm still surprised he didn't have more of a career. He's got a great voice and inflection, and everything he says just feels completely natural. There's a rhythm to his dialogue in this, and his character's easy to like and root for. The story in this is actually a little less predictable than you'd think for something like this although it will probably all end up exactly like you think it would. For a comedy, it's not exactly outrageously hilarious, but there are a few funny moments, like when a character instructs another to "put on some black music" before the latter plays the Mills Brothers or a scene featuring a lot of marijuana. Oh, and look who did the score for this thing--David "Fucking" Shire. That guy was ubiquitous in the late 70's.

Upstream Color

2013 mystery

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A woman is kidnapped and hypnotized with the use of some sort of orchid worms. The thief had motives, ones that affect the poor woman's life. She later meets a man to whom she feels linked, and the two try to get to the bottom of what happened. 

I just described something that makes the movie sound like your typical Hollywood dramatic thriller, but this is anything but. This is more like cinematic poetry, another one of those movies that you feel more than you understand. Like Enemy, as well as a bunch of other movies that I'd even call favorites of mine, I understood just enough of this to like it although there are more than a few loose ends. This one's more difficult to connect with because it's much more abstract, and the characters seem to exist in some sort of dream landscape rather than the product of a damaged mind. Dialogue is scant, and the movie often progresses for several minutes without characters saying anything at all. Instead, you have to piece things together through imagery alone, and questions will abound. It also makes it difficult to connect to any of the characters although I came closest to liking the pig-farming musique concrete guy. During his scenes in the movie--mostly ones where he's just sitting around among pigs or wandering around collecting noises--the sounds become important, and those sounds work so well with the visuals. Thank director/writer Shane Carruth for that because he also composed the music for this film. If you don't recognize his name, he's also responsible for the better-known time-travel mind-bender Primer (another movie I didn't understand and have been meaning to rewatch), and like Primer, this is one that demands your attention. With Carruth, the argument's going to be that the guy purposely makes his movies difficult or complex or bewildering to hide the fact that he can't tell a good story or isn't a good director. However, I think the guy's a force to be reckoned with, and the way the story in this is spliced together and paced, it's hard to miss that there's a genius at work here. Seriously, this should have won some sort of editing award. They have those, right? This is a movie about cycles--orchids, worms, humans, pigs--and breaking cycles. I can't put my finger on any specifics, but I think the themes, though abstract, are still easy to connect with. And the abstractions move so poetically, so tantalizing, and so quietly, that you probably don't even need to connect with anything concretely anyway. It cuddles up with you subconscious and forces itself into your dreams. 

Bad Movie Club: Can't Stop the Music (redux)

1980 masterpiece

Bad Movie Rating: 5/5 (Josh: 5/5; Fred: 5/5; Libby: 5/5; Johnny: 5/5; Kristen: 5/5; Jeremy: no rating; Bryan: didn't watch--just sort of taunted us because we weren't watching Iron Sky)

Plot: An origin story that never got the sequels the public craves, this movie deals with the formation of the Village People.

I already wrote poorly about this movie here, the first time I became a gay man.

God, I love this movie. Love! The songs are infectious. Seriously, regardless of what your musical preferences are, try watching this and not having the songs invading your every thought for a week. The performances are off-the-wall and terrible from top to bottom, but it's all so enthusiastic. It's a ridiculous slab of entertainment from a ridiculous time between the 70's and 80's, a piece of pop culture that doesn't really seem to fit comfortably in either of those. There's a video for a song about milkshakes and a YMCA montage that are among my favorite things I've ever seen in any movie ever. Seriously, the YMCA sequence ranks up there with the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark and a myriad of other scenes that make me giddy just thinking about them. The movie's delirious, filled with all these what-were-they-thinking-here moments, and there's a surprising lack of plot for a movie that is as long as this one is. It's all just so beautiful. Heartily recommended, an absolute bad movie musical classic. You'll wonder why this didn't destroy careers. You'll wonder how that penis slipped into a PG-rated movie. You'll wonder how anybody can watch Leather Man without falling in love. You'll wonder why you're foot is tapping. And you'll wonder how you even thought your life was close to complete before you brought Can't Stop the Music into your life.

Why did the Bad Movie Club rewatch a movie? Well, that was our way of celebrating movie number 100. That's right--we've done 100 of these now. And instead of feeling like I'm completely wasting my life away, I'm instead weirdly proud of this accomplishment. Can't Stop the Music, as Fred said, might even be more fun during a second viewing, and it was fun to watch Bruce Jenner doing his thing in this with the recent news of his transformation. No, I don't really want to joke about a thing like that, but when the first line in this movie directed to his character is "What's in your box?", you almost have to.

Black History Month Film Fest: Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde

1976 horror movie

Rating: 9/20

Plot: A black doctor obsessed with healing livers creates a serum that turns him into a honky who kills prostitutes.

You always want to look for some social commentary when watching these 70's blaxploitation movies, but as hard as I tried to find something, I'm pretty sure this is devoid of any subtext or meaning. Sure, the doctor sort of transforms into a pasty-looking hulking Caucasian when he becomes a whore-killin' monster. And there's some criticism of the pre-Hyde doctor since he doesn't do anything to help the black community or understand the ghetto. And the dude's name is Dr. Pryde. You know, I've almost convinced myself that there is some social commentary in this thing. Former American footballer Bernie Casey plays the dual-roles of the good doctor and the horrible Hyde, strangely non-athletically. His screams in this are a little goofy. This story really doesn't go anywhere and is never scary, so it doesn't work as a horror movie. At least it's not as effective as Blacula. I either haven't seen the black Frankenstein movie (Blackenstein, naturally) or have completely forgotten it. My favorite thing about this movie is a pimp character named Silky played by Stu Gilliam, the guy who played the cook in The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again. Gilliam's odd character injects this with a little life when it starts to lose momentum--frequently--and he gets a great scene where he pulls a knife on a car that is pinning him against a wall. The climax also takes place at the Watts Towers in L.A. I had to edit the article on Wikipedia about the towers to include that bit of information. It's an interesting location with which to conclude a film.


2013 drama

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A guy with a split personality lives in a city attacked by giant spiders.

Just watch this movie. Don't read this crap because it won't make any sense and it will more than likely spoil the experience.

And don't watch this one unless you're willing to wrestle with it. It's the type of movie I really love--one that I just don't completely understand. This is the second doppelganger movie I've seen in the last month, but while the other (The Double) was more of a quirky dark comedy, this one's kind of a Hitchcockian subtle thriller. Generally, I like more humor in my existential funk, but this one ends up being wonderfully ambiguous and crawls all over your mind like a spider. It's a movie that breaks storytelling rules. Things are probably not chronologically ordered and reality's all bent out of shape, the sort of experience that matches what's probably going on in the protagonist's (protagonists', if that makes you happier) mind. A quote at the beginning--"Chaos is yet order undeciphered."--clues you in that this is going to be a struggle for anybody not willing to pay attention. I'm not going to offer any interpretation or explanation because I have a fear of being wrong about things. Suffice it to say that the movie is a storytelling puzzle, like a more twisted Memento; that Jake Gyllenhaal, in a terrifically-nuanced pair of performances, is actually supposed to just be one person instead of a pair of doppelgangers; that there aren't really any giant spiders in the story although there might be little spiders; and that the movie is an artsy-fartsy look at infidelity and one man's inability to commit; that recurring themes of dictatorships and historical patterns are meaningful. It's really more of a movie that you feel more than you understand, but unlike some movies I don't fully understand where I just end up frustrated, I felt I had enough of a grasp on this one.

It's one you feel the need to rewatch immediate afterward or research a bit, and since there were a handful of ideas that slipped through the cracks, I did the latter. I was really impressed with this very thorough explanation/analysis. I'm not sure I buy the chronology presented here or if this all adds up, but it does fit in mostly with what I thought was going on. And it's interesting, though very long. Check it out if you've seen the movie.

I'm going to give this movie another spin in a few months.

Black History Month Film Fest: Coming to America

1988 comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: An African prince, bored with his pampered lifestyle, isn't thrilled with the idea of marrying the woman who has been raised and trained just to marry him. He gets permission from Darth Vader to postpone the wedding and spend some time in New York City where he hides his true identity and tries to meet a princess.

A couple decades of Eddie Murphy futility almost makes you forget how talented the guy is. Both he and Arsenio Hall play multiple characters (more on that later) and are both just so likable and versatile. I was actually surprised that Hall didn't have more of a career in movies. He should have. If Coming to America was made today (even with Eddie Murphy involved), it would be a lot more crude and probably mean-spirited. I like that this story isn't like that at all although I don't think it's an especially funny movie. It's more the type of movie where you enjoy the predictable story with its artificial Hollywood happy ending and the performances of Murphy, Hall, James Earl Jones, and Louie Anderson (the only white person in his entire movie).

The real reason I watched this movie? I have exactly one black friend, the guy who works across the hall from me. Now, before you question that admittedly-low amount of black friends, you should remember that I only have something like four friends altogether. My lone black friend is a fan of Coming to America. We go to a bar trivia night on Thursdays so that we can find out how little I know about pop culture and history and especially music. One of the first few times we participated, there was a Coming to America question--How many roles did Arsenio Hall play in this movie. The answer is four--Semmi, the prince's confidante; a guy at the barber shop (those might be my favorite scenes, by the way); the preacher, and an ugly woman. My friend said, "Hold on--I got this!" and then put his head down to make sure he got it right while the rest of us came up with answers for the other questions. After all, that's why my black friend is there. He handles the low number of "black people questions" that we get. And I can type that because they're his words. Eventually, he confidently gave us the answer--four.  The answer the MC gave us--three. My black friend is a very laid back, cool guy, but he almost lost his shit. And although this was several months ago, he still talks about it all the time and holds it against the trivia guy. Of course, it doesn't help that he messed up the answer to another question that had to do with rappers. And last Thursday, he cheated us in two rounds by not giving us points. And my black friend pointed out that there wasn't a single "black people song" in the music round. (Apparently, Michael Jackson doesn't count.) My black friend is convinced that the trivia guy is racist and against our team--The Sticky Pizzles. He might have a case, too. I mean, not only were there no "black people questions" but the guy was sort of teasing us with "almost black people questions," like playing a rap song that happened to be performed by white guys or using a Prince song that was performed by Tom Jones and the Art of Noise.

Anyway, that would make a good movie right there--a movie about a racist trivia guy and our fight to overcome those obstacles so that we can win fifteen bucks. Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall could play my friend and me, and they could both do it, too, because they're so versatile.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman

2014 animated adventure

Rating: 14/20 (Jen: 16/20; Emma: 15/20; Abbey: 18/20; Buster: 20/20)

Plot: A really smart dog and his adopted son have time travel adventures. Sherman, the boy, is sent to school though where he bites a bully. This puts the adoptive relationship in jeopardy, and when Mr. Peabody tries to have the bully and her family over to patch things up, the dog, the boy, and the bully are sent into a series of time-hopping adventures that threaten to dismantle space and time.

There sure is a lot of story here, and the logic of the world created here and its cartoonish sciences doesn't always seem logical. But I suppose it's just as illogical to start picking apart a movie like this. It's animated well, utilizing all the abilities of modern CGI to create lush backgrounds and cartoon action while at the same time remaining faithful to the 2-D characters. Those characters are lovable enough, and I thought Ty Burrell's voice worked perfectly for Mr. Peabody. The modern spin put on these characters' time-travel escapades is fun, and the movie is really pretty funny. There's enough juvenile hijinks for young audiences and enough to keep adults engaged for most of the running time. However, it is the sort of thing that just seems like it would work better as a television show. And I didn't like the Penny character at all. And I'm not sure time travel story aficionados would like this because the time travel logic doesn't always add up. But the fun historical cameos and almost insanely-quick pace of this whole thing--it really only slows down a few times to get a little sappy with the "father"/son relationship stuff and the Penny/Sherman budding friendship--make this worthwhile family movie night entertainment. Inevitably, there will be sequels although this really would probably work better in smaller chunks on television.

The Hands of Orlac

1924 drama

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A concert pianist loses his hands in a train accident, but doctors are able to transplant him some new ones. Unfortunately, the new hands belonged to a murderer, and they cause him to overact.

I'm sure somebody's already had the idea, but I think this would work better if the main character ended up with the hands of a chronic masturbator. There are two 70's movies about penis transplants--Percy, which features music by the Kinks and involves the penis of a womanizer, and The Amazing Transplant where the transplanted penis once belonged to a serial rapist. My movie is still going to involve transplanted hands though, and the main character has to deal with an uncontrollable urge to whip it out no matter where he's at and start jerking off. I'm thinking a Celine Dion heavy soundtrack and a protagonist played by Crispin Glover but with a penis created by the magicians in charge of the Muppets. Let me know in the comments below if you've got any money and would like to produce this son of a bitch. The Hairy-Palmed Hands of Orlac? Self-Graftification: The Movie? Squeeze Me Once, Shame on You But Squeeze Me Multiple Times in Public and We've Got Some Really Big Problems? I'm still working on a title.

There are things I liked about this silent drama although it was overly long and pretty boring. I liked the atmosphere at the beginning with some great lighting and a gnarly train wreckage scene. It does beg the question: What exactly happened to this guy on the train where only his hands were damaged? I suspect that since I haven't seen as many silent movies lately as I used to watch, that maybe the atmosphere was more typical of silent dramas or horror movies and that I just wasn't really used to it. The versatile and usually fun Conrad Veidt starred and delivered this sluggishly over-the-top performance. It's not good acting exactly, but I think I still loved it. Regardless, he had the fingers for this--abnormally long fingers that almost worked like an organic special effect. I haven't seen any of the remakes of this story, but I'm guessing they're a little more quickly paced than this one. This was so slow--too slow--and just kind of became redundant after a while. I did, however, enjoy the updated score by somebody named Paul Mercer. Sometimes, the modern scores they add to reissues of these movies just don't work, but this one was effective.

His Hands, My Shaft
Take My Hands off My Meat!
See You Later, Ejaculator
Come and Cum Again
The Glands of Orlac

Black History Month Movie Fest: Snow on tha Bluff

2011 horror movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A few days in the life of a drug dealer living in a part of Atlanta that I probably shouldn't visit. He steals a video camera from some idiots and uses it to film his exploits.

In a way--kind of a scary way--this is an interesting companion to Wild Style. This, concerning the lives of men and women (actually human beings though--I want to make that clear) who live in this purgatorial ghetto, is much more violent and a lot less fun though. Maybe it's more like Kids then. The time's, they are a changin', and this dark version of people trying to live out some version of the American dream almost slaps you in the head with its cinema verite style, its refusal to reveal just what is real and what is fiction. And since the guy--Curtis Snow--and almost everybody else associated with the movie play themselves, you have to assume that a lot of it is not fiction. The result is something really unique, like an urban Blair Witch Project where the witch is dope and inner-city violence. It's raw, really rawer than raw, and the curse-laden dialogue, the drugs, the violence, and especially a scene where the main character is cutting dope with a very young child sitting next to him will make a lot of people really uncomfortable. But that's just because people are uncomfortable being shown things that they'd rather not exist. After a while, this starts to become a little redundant, but at just under 80 minutes, its length is about perfect, and that redundancy doesn't really take away from its raw power. In fact, it sort of adds to it. This protagonist is sort of reliving the same day over and over again, and sadly, it's a cycle that is going to be difficult to break. So the redundancy actually manages to deepen the feelings associated with the film. This movie's unapologetic and brave, the kind of art that seems really dangerous. It's ugly, but it's well worth watching.

Black History Month Movie Fest: The Spook Who Sat by the Door

1973 drama

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A black man becomes one of a couple handfuls of token black CIA operatives and uses the newfound knowledge to start an underground revolution.

I just love how this movie ends, completely indeterminately and, in some ways, foreboding. You know as in this whole "This problem is not going away, so Whitey better learn to live with it" type way. And that's probably a spoiler, but I can put a spoiler alert notice right here because I'm the type of guy who starts a write-up about a movie by talking about the ending. You have to love a movie with a title like this. I'm guessing the title had to come before the book was written. Author Sam Greenlee probably noticed that "spook" had thrice meanings (Side note: Is there a word like "dual" but for three? Thrual? That should be a word even though it's difficult to say, especially if you've been stung on the tongue by a hornet three times or something. "Elp! Elp! I ben thung on da tongue thool time!") and said, "A spy, something scary, and a derogatory term for a black person? Hey, I can make a story out of that!" And what a cool story it is although it's a little heavy on the dialogue and paced a little clumsily. Technically, there's not much brilliant going on with the story, but the ideas are so in-your-face that you have to appreciate it all, the incendiary dialogue outlining the problem almost punishingly clear. Lawrence Cook played the lead with a coolness that makes you wonder why he wasn't in a bunch of other blaxploitation action pictures. Even cooler is the score by Herbie Hancock, great 70's fusion funk that fits with the mood perfectly in most of these scenes. The messages behind all the ultra-cool are pretty clear and a lot of it is still relevant today. A conversation with the CIA hopefuls and self-watering-down the competition definitely rings true, as does a theme about underestimating what a group of people are capable of doing. And white people's greatest fear--a black guy who works really hard and has no obvious faults. It's the kind of thing that this movie is all about--turning the American dream into a nightmare. The movie was considered too dangerous for some people back in the early-70's (another great movie from the year I was born, by the way), but I'm glad it survived.

I swear that ubiquitous chubby white guy with a mustache who fights Bruce Lee and Sonny Chiba in Fist of Fury and Street Fighter respectively is in this thing, too. Either that or all white guys in kung-fu movies look the same. And yes, I'm probably aware that that sounds a little racist, but I refuse to apologize for it.

Bad Movie Club: Showgirls

1995 drama

Bad Movie Rating; 5/5 (Fred: .5/5; Josh: 5/5; Jeremy: "went downstairs," probably euphemistically, and did not rate the movie; Mark: 2/5

Rating: 4/20

Plot: It's like Black Swan, but with ineptitude and stripping.

I'm not going to write about this movie again. It was an Oprah Movie Club selection a few years ago, and I wrote extensively and incoherently about it then, probably with a pants tent. You can find that by clicking on the link below this picture:

Gone Girl

2014 drama

Rating: 13/20 (Jennifer: 15/20)

Plot: A creep's wife turns up missing. A media circus ensues while the guy and some detectives try to figure out the truth.

I didn't like this movie for the same reason I don't like television cop dramas. For all their glitzy grittiness, they just seem all that realistic. I didn't trust any of the motivations of any of these characters, and that was from top to bottom. Ben Affleck's character, Rosamund Pike's character, the detectives, Neil Patrick Harris, the wife's parents, the college student. None of what these characters did or felt or said in this movie ever felt coherent. Affleck and Pike's performances are fine, but the characters were so flatly written. There were dimensions, but they were flat movie drama dimensions if that makes any sense. I just never felt that any of these characters were real, and in a drama like this, that's going to sink things. I was drawn into the story for the duration even though the movie was entirely too long, but so much of it just seemed silly or implausible, and the former clashed with the Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross score. I'd give some examples, but it would spoil the entire movie. I didn't think the story was predictable, one thing the screenplay definitely had going for it, even though that might actually be because nothing makes much sense. I'm not exactly sure what this movie is supposed to tell me although it makes for a cynical metaphor for marriage. It could have had something intelligent to say about the media's role in cases like this or the way American audiences of said media react to this sort of thing, but it really doesn't do that. Instead, it just kind of entertains in a way that a bloated television drama would entertain, except with a lot more blood and raunchiness.

I mistakenly thought this was a Best Picture nominee, and I'm happy to see that it isn't.

Black History Month Movie Fest: Petey Wheatstraw, the Devil's Son-in-Law

1977 comedy

Rating: 4/20

Plot: A watermelon's twin--a child born wearing a diaper--grows up to be a kung-fu fighting stand-up comedic bad ass, and after he and his entourage are mowed down by machine guns after a funeral by the malicious duo Leroy and Skillet, he makes a deal with the devil to marry his daughter so that he can return and get revenge.

And yes, that's all as awesome as it sounds. What a way to start off the Black History Month Fest in the middle of February!

Every movie with Rudy Ray Moore is something to see. He's possibly the worst actor of the 70's, the movies make little to no sense, and have special-ed effects and kung-fu fight scenes that make it seem like those neighbor kids in their backyard choreographed the whole thing. And in case you don't know me very well, I do mean all of that to be complimentary. Nobody involved in this production believed they were making anything resembling a good movie. At least I don't think so. There's something about Rudy Ray Moore, a pinch of naivete or maybe the way he says "sons of bitches," that makes it seem like he wasn't entirely in on the joke. However, he probably was, and that makes the guy a complete genius. I really don't know much about Moore and should probably research the guy.

This all starts with a wild pre-credits birth scene. A guy named J.B. Baron plays the doctor, ineptly, his only role other than one of the Dolemite movies. Petey's a breech-birth baby, born a talking ten-year-old with a diaper. It's a nutso scene that toys with stereotypes like Jemima head wraps and watermelon afterbirths. Actually, the watermelon pops out first, so I suppose that makes Petey Wheatstraw either the afterbirth or the watermelon's twin. It's really hard to keep track of that sort of thing.

Then, blam--a bass-happy funk theme song by Nat and Mary Dove. It's one of about a hundred highlights of this incredible slice of entertainment. Can one movie have a hundred highlights? Am I misusing the word highlights? This has a kung-fu training scene, new to the Rudy Ray Moore movies, I believe.

There's a scene where his car is being stripped, the thieves seemingly only interested in taking his back seat and one tire. Moore's "God damn!" is award-worthy there, and the Benny Hill chase scene that precedes a wacky brouhaha is nothing short of amazing. Rudy Ray Moore--27th Wonder of the World, and if you don't believe me, you won't argue when you hear him say things like, "I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast, but I can sit on a tombstone and produce baby ghosts" or "You'll steal from your momma, you'll even take the limbs off a tree, but I'm gonna kick your ass for messing with me." The way this guy says "ass" is worthy of its own museum actually--the Rudy Ray Moore Ass Museum, a building people can just stand in to wait for a recording, Old Faithful-like, to play a line from his movies. And if that doesn't convince you, watch the shaking jowl thing he does between punches and kicks. Bruce Lee had his bird noises. Sonny Chiba had his weird facial expressions. Rudy Ray Moore shook his jowls. He's got his kung-fu noises, too, especially in an extended scene where he's poised at the edge of a roof in these green underpants and matching t-shirt. That scene, my friends, was such a display of raw masculinity that I thought I was Bruce Jenner for a little bit. Of course, that's nothing compared to a scene where Wheatstraw comes back from the dead, roughs up some bad guys, and says, "Tell your boss I'm still alive and I'm mad as a hornet in a bumblebee hive!" You know, a line that makes a guy literally piss himself after one of the least manly screams of all time. Later, it's revealed that he shat himself as well, and even later, it was revealed that I had also indeed ruined my pants.

A scene involving the death of Larry is pretty intense, at least as intense as some jumpy imagery followed by the worst acting I've ever seen can be. Some kid named Bryan L. Roquemore played young Larry, and if you can find me a death scene that is as funny as this one while not trying to be funny at all, I'd love to see it. Petey Wheatstraw's reaction is about what you'd expect: "Leroy and Skillet has gone too far!" You kidding me, Dolemite? Shooting 20 people or so outside a funeral is going too far? That funeral massacre is crazy, but it's even crazier in reverse after Wheatstraw's meeting with the devil. That devil (Lucipher) is played by G. Tito Shaw, the kind of cool Beelzebub with a straw hat and salmon pants. And a briefcase! Later on, he gets a nice montage where he's jogging around in a red jumpsuit, and it's really hard to imagine any God being able to defeat this guy in the end.

This is a comedy, of course, but it's the kind of comedy that I can't imagine would appeal to anybody who isn't a small child. Yet clearly, this is a movie made for an adult audience. There's a comedic sequence in a graveyard with a homeless person who is really amazing. I'm not sure who plays him because apparently he's in the credits with a name and not just "Bum at Cemetery," but I couldn't understand a word he said. There's another scene where Wheatstraw finds something that kind of looks like a bomb, and we're treated to the most ludicrous bomb sequence since that one with Batman.

Things with Moore really turn magical when he gets this Satanic magic wand sort of thing. It's cinematic gold watching him try to control both that vibrating wand and his own acting. He sort of turns into Abar: The Black Superman at that point: combing little boys' hair, turning jerks into dogs, and transforming obese women into women who can fit into their lawn chairs. The juxtaposition of the large woman trying to squeeze into that lawn chair and Moore dancing down the street might be the most amazing thing I have ever seen in a movie. Hell, it might be the most amazing thing I've seen in my life!

I don't think I've ever seen more watermelons in a movie before.

Another scene has a demonic orgy, a scene that is followed by a breaking-the-fourth-wall wink that might be enough to turn any guy into a Satanist. There's a lot of Satan in this one including one of the best kung-fu demon fights I've ever seen in a 70's blaxploitative flick. The end features a climactic rooftop fight scene where that magic cane seems to have exactly one magic power--bludgeoning. It's a scene that rivals my favorite Satan-on-a-roof scene from Miracle Man. It all leads to a twist ending that is absolutely chilling. Chilling and laughable.

This does attempt to sneak in a little cultural significance--the dreams of urban black children, inner-city violence, education, racial disharmony--but its failure in that matches the failures of the rest of the movie. One thing this movie doesn't fail at? Entertaining the heck out of me!

Bad Movie Club: Gunda

1998 Indian action movie

Bad Movie Rating: 5/5 (Fred: 5/5; Josh: 5/5; Libby: 5/5; Jeremy: was not able to finish)

Rating: 5/20

Plot: The Indian Jeff Goldblum wages war against Bulla, a guy with a mustache, and his henchmen after his father and fiancee are murdered. And holy hell does it hurt!

This might be the most amazing movie ever made. You know you've stumbled upon a good-bad movie classic when the film is this terrible yet still has a rating of an 8.3 on imdb. This movie's got a little of everything, but only if you think "everything" only includes a handful of gaudily-choreographed song and dance numbers and an endless array of fights. I only wish I could speak whatever language they speak in India because the subtitles seemed a little off. I had trouble keeping my eyes off the colors and action anyway. I mean, when there's a sequence that features both a monkey and a baby, you don't even want to blink, let alone take your eyes off the action. That's the best way I can think of to describe this film actually--it's a movie you don't want to blink during. The hero, played stoically by Mithun Chakraborty, is another one of those guys who has no business being showcased in an action movie like this. He's wonderfully goofy, but it's the bad guys who steal the show. Look at this fucker:

Look at him again! Because he just might be my new favorite actor. Sorry, Nicolas Cage, but Mukesh Rishi's entered my life. That's a great picture of him from this movie because it seems like he's at the end of one of his lines. Over half of his sentences ended with a drawn out vowel sound that made me laugh every single time. His cronies, in any other movie, would be highly entertaining, but next to Rishi's Bulla, they just can't keep up. And he says things like "I am not just a bubble. I am a volcano," "Wear the ring of my lust," and "Whatever I do, I do it in the open." That last line was his catchphrase, and none of us could figure out what exactly he was talking about. It doesn't matter though because Bulla is probably the greatest villain in silver screen history.

The fight scenes in this are as ridiculous as the musical interludes. And they're wonderfully inconsistent. In one street scene, the characters are flipping and flying around like they're in Keanu Reeve's kitchen. In another, there might be just traditional punches and kicks until there's a really good one which might be instant-replayed six or seven times. The hero has the odds stacked against him in nearly every fight scene, but luckily, nobody in this movie can shoot very well at all. Not that I'm dissing Shankar's obviously mad skills. I mean, when you can dodge a bullet from two feet, you're not a cat to be messed with.

We had to watch this movie in two installments. You know why? It was because our faces were being melted off by the glory that is Gunda, and a break was required after the first hour and twenty minutes. This, ladies and gentlemen, must have been what the Nazis found in the Ark of the Covenant at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.


1935 silent Russian movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: The life of a loser who actually has the surname Loser.

A polka-dotted horse, a grain house with feet, thieves stealing a box of nothing, lots and lots of circles, a woman trying to hang herself on a windmill, nuns in translucent tops, bulbous soldier masks--this is a movie that doesn't make a lot of sense as a narrative but is consistently entertaining because of its ideas and imagery. Well, as consistently entertaining as you can expect a Russian silent movie to be. There are absurdist leanings; it's stuff that recalls both Keaton and the surrealists. There's also all sorts of satire that I didn't understand because I'm not living in Russian in the 1930's. It all feels very subversive though with attacks on religion, the rich, the army, and gender roles. Happiness manages to be really smart without overtly saying anything at all. Definitely worth checking out for fans of Russian silent cinema.

Typing "Russian silent cinema" may be a new pretentious low for me, by the way.

The Interview

2014 controversial comedy

Rating: 7/20

Plot: A couple of jackasses with a successful talk show are sent to one of the Koreas (like alligators and crocodiles, I get those confused) to assassinate the evil dictator.

This is almost exactly as good as I thought it would be. I had to watch it in two installments because James Franco kept yelling at me. Franco, by the way, is pretty terrible in about half of the movies he's in. He's trying way too hard here. This performance seems about as painful to him as shitting a concrete block. Everything's strained, like he's trying to squeeze every single bit of funny out of every unfunny line. A real friend would tell him to stop doing this kind of stuff. Seth Rogan, a real friend, isn't much better, but that's what I expect from him since he's never really seemed like an actor. Every time I see him in a role, I think, "Seriously, how did this guy even get in movies?" Of course, if he stumbled across this blog, he'd probably say, "Seriously, why does this guy think he's qualified to write about movies?" This movie pushes the envelope but actually misses and falls over the table and right onto the floor. I didn't laugh once, but at least I feel more American after watching it. I even went out and purchased a pair of red, white, and blue underpants as soon as it was over. God bless America, a country where people have the right to make something like this and still end up with a career.

James Franco baffles me. I'm anxious about the film adaptation he's making of the book about the making of one of my favorite movies ever--The Room. I think he's going to screw the whole thing up, and a bad movie about the making of that bad movie is the kind of meta that could cause the world to implode. This project could end all movies.

Short: Plastic Bag

2009 short film

Rating: none

Plot: A thrown-away plastic bag desperately tries to find his way back to his maker.

I'm going to start throwing more short films--maybe one a week--on the old blog. This first one is by the director of Man Push Cart, a movie I meant to watch during my famous "man" streak from a few years ago and then again during my New York Movie Festival. It's in my house now, so maybe I'll actually watch it soon.

This first short is a great way to spend 18 minutes. We're guided along on this quiet little journey by the plastic protagonists's inner thoughts, and those inner thoughts are read by one of my favorite voices--Werner Herzog's. Imagine Herzog narrating an existential journey of an inanimate object as it tries to navigate and find meaning in a world that it doesn't understand. The central metaphor here is a fragile one, and a lot of the imagery--a bag twisting in the air and later in the water among jellyfish--is spectacular. Nothing here is really anything new, but Herzog fans and folks who like movies that star inanimate objects will be interested.

Bad Movie Club: Raiders of the Magic Ivory

1988 action adventure

Bad Movie Rating: 2/5 (Fred: 3/5; Jeremy: 2/5; Josh: 3/5; Libby: no rating)

Rating: 6/20

Plot: A couple of badasses, including one named "Sugar," are hired to venture into the mysteriously redundant Hell From Which No One Returns in order to find a magically glowing stone. And about 5,000 nameless people die!

"Sugar," one of those types of actors who just shouldn't be an action hero, is played by James Mitchum, and yes, that is the son of Robert Mitchum. See the resemblance?

If I had any female readers (I don't think I do), they're not reading any further because they'd be far too distracted by James Mitchum, son of Robert Mitchum, in that fetching red silky robe. With that mustache, that come hither look, and that mustache. Mitchum and his co-star and killing buddy Mark do a lot of walking in this movie, probably more walking than in any of those Hobbit movies. Christophers Ahrens played Mark, and he wasn't in many movies. However, one was apparently an adaptation of Maldoror. About a zillion army men, some kind of witch doctor guy, and some cannibalistic cult members. Oh my! Villains in this becomes less threatening as this goes on since you figure out after about the 500th person has been shot or blown up that any new threat is just going to add to the body count. You have to appreciate a body count like this one though. It's a body count of Weng Wengian proportions! We also learned that you can drive from Vietnam to Miami by train, but probably only if you've got James Mitchum's mustache. This whole movie's about as macho as movies get. All the punching and shooting and blowing up gets you about halfway there, but add the way the characters so liberally throw around "son of a bitches" or "bastards" and you've really got something that'll put hair on your chest. Because that's how men talk! And the whole movie ends up with [Spoiler Alert!] James Mitchum becoming the keeper of the celestial peace which I kind of wish Robert Mitchum would have died before having to experience. The whole thing actually makes me a little sad.

Oprah Movie Club Pick for January: The Last Temptation of Christ

1988 religious movie

Rating: 17/20

Plot: The word becomes flesh, but flesh has its fears and doubts and confusions because that's what flesh is--stretchy elastic over a bundle of fears and doubts and confusions. Christians everywhere throw their fists into the air and and start torching movie theaters because flesh also does that. The soul shrugs and wonders how Harvey Keitel got involved in all this.

I don't want to spend too much time on the controversies surrounding this movie, but it is important. Scorsese says he made this film because he wanted to get to know Jesus better, and I can't put thoughts into the heads of people who picketed this and threatened to boycott theaters without even seeing the movie, but if I had to guess, I'd guess that their problem was that they weren't willing to get to know Jesus better. Or maybe for people who don't really understand what Jesus is supposed to be all about. At the heart of Christianity is the idea that God became a person, experienced humanity for 30 or so years, walked around the Middle East telling little Zen koans, got himself crucified, and then rose from the dead in time for Jerusalem's big Easter egg hunt. And it's that first part--ok, and maybe the last two parts--that are the most important. And becoming a human has to involve everything that being a human being actually involves. Jesus couldn't cheat. He's not Bill Belichick. So the Christ in this is probably the most realistic Christ ever portrayed on film with a spectacular performance by Willem Dafoe, and it's a realistic Christ because he's one who fears, has pride, expresses doubt, and desires to rebel. If the humanity of Jesus isn't completely real, the whole thing's just a bunch of magic tricks, isn't it?

There's a quote at the beginning from the novel's author, Nikos Kazantzakis, about the "merciless battle between the spirit and the flesh" with the soul being the arena for that battle. That's humanity. And that's the central conflict of The Last Temptation of Christ. Jesus, while on the cross, has a creepy little girl convince him to climb down and get a life. What follows has to be looked at as a dream sequence, a fantasy, a big old "what if," and that, of course, is where some Christians will start to get irritated. Well, unless they already have problems with Willem Dafoe playing Jesus or a screenwriter with the last name Cocks, or the idea that all the disciples have New Yorker accents. The doubts and the temptations for Christ in this movie are all part of that humanity, and I'm sorry, but if you're not willing to accept that Christ was a human being, you're not really a Christian. And no amount of arson is going to change that.

You know you've made something as an artist when you get that kind of reaction, by the way. When people start burning down movie theaters because they don't like your movie, you've probably made something that matters. See also: Stravinsky's debut of The Rite of Spring or Bob Dylan plugging in his guitar.

Anyway, I think the message is a beautiful one, at least if you take the half an hour or so where Jesus gets married, has sex with a tattooed prostitute, hooks up with Lazurus's sister, and has a couple kids as a dream sequence. Jesus said earlier that he had to be willing to be that sacrifice and willing to die the painful death that he does. His decision in the movie is to accomplish--in fact, that's the verb he uses at the very end of this--what he was supposed to accomplish, and I can't understand why this wouldn't be extremely touching for a Christian. It's like a Christian It's a Wonderful Life, isn't it?

I like the spiritual quest that the first half of this movie is about. I imagine it's the typical spiritual quest. It's unavoidable ("You can't cast God out, can you?"), painful, and filled with contradictions. You struggle to understand the message and eventually decide to accept whatever that message (love or the ax) happens to be. Dafoe (and he really is the best Jesus in film history) has a question which starts with meeting a ghost and becoming purified when his inner-snakes break free. He learns to pity, struggles with his confidence ("What if I say the wrong thing? What if I say the right thing?"), finds some scruffy-looking guys to follow him around, goes through some wacky temptations in the desert, and finally starts delivering a message that doesn't translate very well at all. It's all so realistic. You don't see Jesus stumbling around in other movies. Maybe that's another reason why a lot of Christians didn't like this thing? Maybe they just like to see their Jesus getting beaten and bleeding a lot like in the Mel Gibson thing. Those Christians love their money shots.

The performances in this are pretty good. I wasn't sure that I liked the disciples having voices like characters in any other Scorsese movie, but I ultimately decided that I kind of liked it. Keitel got himself a Golden Raspberry Award for his performance of a very non-Biblical Judas. I thought the character was far more interesting here than he is in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, and I thought Keitel's performance was fine. I also liked how Keitel's playing a character who is going to beat somebody up even in a religious movie. John the Baptist doesn't get much screen time, but his scene is a wild one, and John is played by none other than Andre Gregory. And he's playing essentially the same character as the one in My Dinner with Andre. John Lurie plays James (one of the disciples, you heathen), so he gets to talk about fishing. And of course Harry Dean Stanton plays Saul because who would be better in that role? David Bowie's Pilate, bringing in yet another accent. I guess the Romans all have English accents though. Oh, and there's a random Nazarene dude who calls Jesus an "idiot," a word that I'm sure didn't exist back then. That guy? Freakin' Irvin Kershner! How about that?

Nope. I just looked up the etymology, and idiot comes from the early 14th Century. So maybe that's what Christians had a problem with.

And then there's Willem Dafoe. Man, his performance is powerful. He's subdued when he needs to be, and he lets out the emotions when he needs to do that. As good as Dafoe is though, I can't help but wondering how awesome Gene Wilder would have been as Jesus, especially when Dafoe raises his voice a little. By the way, Christopher Walken was actually considered for this role, and so was--you'd better sit down for this--Eric Roberts. Dafoe's perfect though. And did you know they used these eye drops on him to make his eyes more God-like or something and they ended up blinding him for three days?

I have to talk about the score. Peter Gabriel's score was one of the first soundtracks I can remember owning. I can't even remember who tipped me off that it was any good, but it was before I saw the movie. I had a cassette copy for a really long time and eventually bought it on compact disc. I listened to it far more than I should have. It's not a perfect movie score or anything, but it's something I've always connected with. I do really hate the music during the scene where Jesus comes into Jerusalem on his donkey because it starts to sound like a Peter Gabriel song. Those "whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa" vocals are irritating and make you want to reach for the sledgehammer.

You know what else? "Shankar" (the name in the credits) plays violin. Shankar, as you probably know, is the hero of Gunda, another very spiritual movie experience. I assume it's the same guy.

Random notes/questions:

There's one quiet, seemingly unimportant scene that I really like with a curly headed guy who talks about how he longs for God's voice. His line about "the more devils we have inside us, the more chances we have to repent," is awesome. I don't think that guy's from the Bible, but he's a great foil for Jesus during the early part of his spiritual journey.

Jesus's first sermon begins with an extended "uhhh." Then, he starts off with a hilarious joke about a guy spilling his seed on the ground. Jesus sort of sounds like a nut there, all that stuff about God sneaking up to him and digging his claws into his head, and he definitely doesn't sound like he has a promising public speaking career ahead of him.

Random tree miracle where he throws apple seeds on the ground and causes a tree to materialize? That's weird. But it's not weirder than the snake during the temptation scene who actually says "Look at my breasts." The orgasmic "Oh, Jesus" that snake says soon after that is probably why Barbara Hershey was nominated for a Golden Globe award. And then, Jesus has a conversation with a lion that sounds exactly like Harvey Keitel. Has one of those Scary Movie type parody movies lampooned that scene?

Easily the worst scene in this movie is the one where Jesus rips his own heart out. First, the heart seems a little low, but I guess Jesus has to go under the sternum to avoid the ribs. Second, the heart seems a little small. Third, I couldn't stop thinking about how this would work as a football pep talk. There's no way your football team isn't winning a game after your coach rips his own heart out of his chest and shows it to you.

After a while, this turns into a Greatest Hits of Jesus sort of thing. I know most of these miracles, but I don't remember one where possessed dudes pop out of the mud and grope him and his disciples. The water-to-wine miracle is done so casually, suavely. That's cool Jesus right there. Lazarus's coming back from the dead? Man, that wailing noise is so haunting, and I think it's repeated during the crucifixion scene. The movie nearly becomes a touching zombie movie at that point.

Why doesn't anybody thank Jesus after any of these miracles? I know idiot was part of the vernacular of the time, but "Thank you" wasn't?

This kind of feels unraveled a bit in the middle, but there's always the message at the center that makes it work.

"The semen backs up into his brain." I don't know what else to do with this quote, so I'm just putting it right there.

Golgotha looks nearly perfect, a stark hill littered with human bones (inexplicably) and twisted trees or maybe they're crosses. And the crucifixion scene--the money shot!--is so powerful. The nail protruding through the back of the cross, the camera following Jesus as he's raised, those contorted naked bodies hanging there. Then, there's a stunning lack of sound, not even any crowd noise at all for a while. But it erupts! The music intensifies wonderfully, buzzing like an insect choir, and Jesus asks God to forgive them. Oh, and that slow pan from behind the crowd where Jesus stays in the center of the frame. It's just stunning stuff. Most of this is filmed simply, like your typical Biblical epic, but this crucifixion scene is exquisite and masterful.

The creepy little girl shows up. And when she's helping Jesus off the cross, it's all silent again except for the withdrawing of the nails and some footsteps. You see a crowd taunting an empty cross. That has got to be the most horrifying image in cinematic history to a person who believes in the death and resurrection of Christ.

I absolutely love the final shot that disintegrates into colored nonsense. It's something I remembered from seeing this about 20 years ago, and I thought it was a weird but stunning way to end a film that was otherwise fairly straightforward. And now I've read that Scorsese is saying that was a happy accident. Wow.

Question--if you were filming a version of the Gospels, what twelve actors would you cast as the disciples?


1981 sci-fi mystery

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Who cares?

I don't like David Cronenberg movies for the most part, but the part of me that likes weird movies keeps feeling the need to watch them. This one's got an idea that's nearly-interesting, but there's something about Cronenberg's style that just bugs me. He shoots his proverbial wad early (probably literally) with an exploding head scene, and then the story and its boring protagonist just sort of meander around through Canadian thriller sludge for what seems to be too long. It's almost like the characters never really come completely alive, and I think it's that way with all of Cronenberg's movies. Stephen Lack's the guy we have to follow around the entire movie, and he's got about as much personality as a mango. I do like Patrick McGoohan as a scientist guy and Michael Ironside as the creepy antagonist though. Fucking Howard Shire (I think he had his name legally changed to Fucking Howard Shire, didn't he?) gives this a score that is inoffensive. My favorite thing about this might be the I-gotta-fart faces that the scanners make when they're doing their scanning.

I've got to fart.

I've got to fart. 


I'm probably not going to watch another David Cronenberg movie for a while. I think what makes me angry about them is that I feel like I'm missing something that other people are totally getting. 


1984 science fiction movie

Rating: 10/20

Plot: A duke is sent to a desert planet with a valuable spice and sand worms in order to do something that something that is probably important but that I can't quite recall right now. But it was a trap, and the duke's assassinated. The kid, who does not drink coffee, wants revenge, and he's the chosen one or something because that's the type of story this is.

This is a really expensive B-movie. B-movie plot, B-movie characters, B-movie fight scenes, B-movie acting. If it wasn't for the impressive array of eyebrows, some really creative set design, and some interesting effects, this wouldn't be worth watching at all. Unless you happen to be a fan of Sting's futuristic underpants.

With undergarments like that, it's easy to understand why this guy can have sex for 72 hours straight.

I watched to reacquaint myself in preparation for the Jodorowsky documentary, but I'm not sure it matters as I found large chunks of this almost entirely incoherent. And as good as the visuals were in spots, special effects were often sketchy. Arguably, Lynch does better with this sci-fi action stuff that you'd expect. Other than some weirdness, some gross-out imagery, and Lynch regulars like Nance, MacLachlan, and Dourif, there's really not much you'd describe as Lynchian here. Oh, well there are some sludgy dream sequences. The pacing is stuffy, and the whole thing ends up landing somewhere in between an interesting artistic failure and something that is just mind-numbingly dull. I did enjoy some of the score--Toto and Brian Eno, I guess--and the brain fish man in the giant black toaster. I also liked exactly two characters--Dourif's guy with the comically-large eyebrows and Kenneth McMillan's festering Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, although the latter's ability to float around was a little goofy. My biggest gripe was the amount of internal monologue going on in this. I got so sick of hearing characters flatly delivering their thoughts, especially since I wasn't smart enough to even know what was going on anyway.

My history with this movie: I saw this at my dad's house when I was a kid and didn't understand it and thought it was boring. So, the same sort of experience I had this time around. I thought the whole thing was like a non-fun Star Wars. And then somebody bought me a board game which my brother and I really liked. It seems there are multiple versions of this game because a Google Image search turns up a lot of things I don't recognize. This is the one I had:

This game was much better than the movie. And I'd like to point out right here--officially--that I was a lot better at it than my brother. It was like the one-bounce volleyball of board games.

Anyway, I'm ready to watch Jodorowsky's Dune now to see how much better that would have been than Lynch's version.

In the future, we'll all have eyebrows like this:

Or this:

It's part of the evolutionary process. Keeps the sand worms away.