Oprah Movie Club Pick for March: The Matrix

1999 sci-fi movie

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

Plot: A perpetually stoned guy is approached by a pair of clubs who each want his membership. On the one hand, he's got the snarling and toothy Snippy Republicans of America, a group who promises him sunglasses and neatly-pressed suits. On the other hand, he's got the Bald-Headed Freedumb Flighters, and they're also promising sunglasses along with cool leather outfits for when they're out and about and cheap K-Mart sweatshirts for chilling on their spaceship. The guy--Neo or Thomas Anderson depending on who you ask--is offered pills, and then finds himself in some pink goop with more holes in him than he could ever possibly need. A hot chick and some bald guys try to help him figure out if he's "the one" or if they're horribly mistaken and he's just "someone." Either way, a whole bunch of people are going to get kicked and shot in slow motion.

I ended a string of five Jesse Eisenberg movies in a row to actually watch the Oprah Movie Club pick on time for once. I have to say that I don't like this movie as much as the above kinda-high rating might indicate. I think it's a bit overrated actually. The storytelling isn't great, Keanu is distracting, and the dialogue is poorly written. It's a quintessential 90's movie though, and it's influential, my nicer way of saying that the Wachowskis should get a lot of the blame for poor Matrix imitations that came after this. Of course, a lot of my feelings about this movie are shaped by the two movies that came after this one, and that's probably not fair.

I'm going to have to watch those sequels again, too, because Abbey wants to.

Anyway, it's Movies A-Go-Go time. Here were my thoughts as I watched The Matrix for, I think, the third time.


"Juris-my-dick-tion crap."

Gosh, I hope Jimmy Stewart isn’t one of the cops chasing Trinity on the rooftops.

I think Hugo Weaving was cast based only on how he runs. That's some great form, Hugo.

What’s with the jewelry on this collection of people who come to get a mini-disc from Keanu?

Trinity knows why he sits looking at his computer all night? If the answer is “pornography,” I’m not sure she knows anything that anybody else wouldn't be able to guess.

I’d go looking for anything to get away from this awful Rob Zombie music.

Keanu’s expression to the Fed-Ex guy’s “Have a nice day” makes it seem like that was the most insulting thing a person can say to another person.

This phone call and guys with sunglasses office prank is a classic. "Hey, how can we get Anderson on the roof?" "Oh, easy. We just need to Fed-Ex him a cell phone and get some guys with sunglasses in the office."

Keanu’s monologue about how he hasn’t done anything and is a nobody is ridiculous. It's an internal monologue that should have stayed internal.

OK, it’s not just his running. Hugo Weaving's every move is perfect. Watch the way he jerks his hands out to adjust his sleeves! That's a sweet move. And that voice! He makes everything he says--”helping your landlady take out her garbage”--sound like the most important piece of information in the world. You just absorb every line of dialogue that Weaving pushes out of those weird lips of his.

There are too many guys wearing sunglasses in a room that doesn’t even have windows. I'm maybe just not remembering this trilogy very well, but there's no reason for the sunglasses in this, right? Other than product placement or because sunglasses look cool?

Agent Smith just pronounced the word “speak” like it has eight syllables.

Uh oh. Keanu now has no mouth. Terrible acting has become more of a challenge now, but if any actor can manage it, it's Keanu Reeves.

The “Gestapo crap” might not have scared him, but the insect in the bellybutton will.

“You are the one, Neo.” I think that’s a palindrome.

Oen eno eht era uoy. No, it’s not a palindrome.

“Listen to me, Coppertop.” “There’s only one rule--our way or the highway.” I am really not impressed with the writing in this thing. Why is the blonde lesbian calling him Coppertop?

That’s the biggest dildo I have ever seen, Trinity.

Unfortunately, I could not find a picture of Trinity's futuristic dildo. 

“Ah, God! Hurts!” Keanu Reeves actually said that. I turned the captions on just to verify. "Ah! God! Hurts!" is what they actually said.

The writing might be bad, but you have to give it to the Wachowski siblings for creating a unique look. I guess it has predecessors--Blade Runner, The Fifth Element, maybe Dark City--but this sci-fi noir approach still feels unique.

More sunglasses. It appears that Neo’s got a choice between people who wear lots of leather and guys in suits. Both talk really slowly, so it's going to be a tough choice.

Morpheus likes his theatrics with these pills and all. I've never even been sure what the blue pill would have done. Would he just have awakened in his apartment again?

Are connections to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz supposed to have meaning or is it just lazy writing?

Unfortunately, Neo, mirror goop is really hard to wash off.

"Ah! God! Hurts!"

That reverberating scream as we venture down Keanu's throat was such a great sound effect.

“Have you ever woken up as Michael Stipe in a pink goop with wires attached to you and wondered if you were still dreaming?”

Whee! Waterslide time! And then straight into one of those claw machines. And somebody won a Neo! All I’ve gotten is a few pieces of candy from those things.

Acupuncture. If they’re rebuilding muscles, shouldn’t he have some of those needles in his junk? I know there’s an orgy scene in one of the sequels that he’s got to prepare himself for, right?

I'm not proud of anything I've typed in the last five minutes. I probably shouldn't even post this.

Your crew has really stupid names, Morpheus. Mouse? Cypher? Tank?

You can load anything you need into the program? Maybe you should get some sides for your sunglasses, Morpheus.

It looks like they’re watching Koyaanisqatsi on their television set.

“Welcome to the desert of the real.” Oh, God. That's the worst line I've ever heard. And Fishburne delivered it with such conviction!

Why do the machines need humans exactly? Can’t they use plants? Or rabbits?

Duracel product placement. Duracel--the preferred battery for sci-fi metaphors.

You just got here and you’re already puking on the floor of Morpheus’s nice ship? Classy, Neo. Real classy.

Keanu Reeves looks a little like Sinead O’Connor.

See? Exactly alike!

You don’t have any holes, Tank or Dozer or whatever your name is? I’m sure you have a few holes.

Drunken boxing? I like how that was slipped into the learning montage.

“I know kung fu.” That line and delivery makes me laugh every single time I watch this movie.

Keanu is stealing Bruce Lee's moves. I saw that thumb to the nose, Keanu.

I’ve seen a lot of kung-fu in my life. This is not kung-fu, Keanu.

I think most of the dialogue in this movie was taken directly from Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” but I haven’t heard that song in a while.

“Whoa.” There it is!

Your body can’t live without the mind? Tell that to 75% of the students I’ve had in my teaching career!

Neo’s got to be wondering when he’s going to get some leather of his own.

Squiddy is a good name for a killing machine. Of course, when you're going up against Mouse, Dozer, and Switch, I guess Squiddy will suffice.

Why is everybody whispering exactly?

“You scared the bejesus out of me.” I’ve always wondered what the etymology for “bejesus” is. [Note: I looked this up. It is not interesting enough for me to reproduce here.]

Mouse’s monologue about Tastee Wheat probably could have been cut.

I know Cream of Wheat but not Taystee Wheat. I suppose this was product placement, too. That explains why the scene was in the movie. They must have gotten a huge check from the Taystee Wheat people. 

Actually, the conversation they have about how chicken tastes and masturbatory fantasies involving women in red dresses is fairly important thematically. The whole "What it means to be human" thing.

Who’s the bearded blind guy guarding the Oracle? I’m sure there’s some sort of mythological reference here.

The "potentials" are watching Night of the Lepus for some reason while bending spoons and making blocks levitate? I can't think of any reason why that movie would be referenced in The Matrix.

Thanks, Spoon Boy. That advice about a spoon not existing is good stuff.

I'm actually going to start putting "Played Spoon Boy in The Matrix" on my resume. Nobody's going to ask about it because nobody would think somebody would lie about that.

Keanu’s playing a “not too bright” character? Whoa.

Balls to bones? Is that a real phrase?

Geez! Spoiler alert, Oracle!

I wonder if The Oracle sees lung cancer in her future?

In all seriousness, Gloria Foster's performance in this is my favorite performance in the movie. It's probably just because I like old people though. [Note: I looked her up. She wasn't in much, but was in an episode of The Cosby Show and Leonard Part 6. That makes me sad because it means that she was more than likely raped by Bill Cosby.]

Neo doesn’t get to take one of the Oracle’s pot cookies for Morpheus? That seems unfair. I bet that spoon-bending kid is going to take more than his fair share.

Why’s Joe Pantoliano using a Ghostbuster proton gun thing to kill Tank and Dozer? That seems impractical.

Cypher’s getting all pervy.

I think Plato would have loved this movie. He got off on shadows in a cave, and the special effects are a lot better here.

It would really suck if that phone call is just a prank.

"Human beings define the world through misery and suffering." I agree completely, probably because I’ve heard a whole lot of conservative talk radio.

Ahh, how sweet. These agents are finishing each other’s sentences.

Man, Moss’s eyes are incredible. I think I just fell in love.

Oh, snap! Agent Smith is dissing humanity by comparing us to viruses, cancers, and diseases. C'mon, Fishburne. Snap out of this and hit him with a well-timed "yo mama" joke.

I think I’m siding with the agents here. Humans are a real problem.

This shootout following the metal detector scene is a thing of beauty. It’s the flying debris that does it. There’s nothing like techno music and slow-motion debris to get the heart racing.

The other two agents walking in Agent Smith and asking, “What were you doing?” I think they were reminded of that scene with the man in the bear suit in The Shining.

That’s right. I’ll find any opportunity to use this picture.

Fire and a flying door...those were some gross special effects. The effects are a little dated in this movie, but they were incredible for 1999. This one was surprisingly terrible.

More slow-motion debris. And I’m not sure the machine gunning from a helicopter is the best plan, is it? How did Keanu not hit Morpheus?

Is that helicopter bleeding?

"There’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path." Damn, I wish somebody would have told me that when I was 18. That's good stuff.

I have to find out who plays the homeless guy. I think random homeless guys in movies is one of my favorite things.

Ah, that little percussive four seconds, like from Morricone or a samurai movie. That spaghetti western shot in the subway with Agent Smith cracking his knuckles beats the silly bullet thing or wire-fu stuff. I wish the pre-fight stuff was stretched out even more.

Broken sunglasses now. That’s bound to piss him off.

“You hear that, Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability.”

That poor homeless man. If I’m understanding all this nonsense right, he just got subwayed right in the face.

Watch out! Squiddies!

“Oh, shit! That guy took my phone!” Guy. I doubt he's credited for this, but he definitely seized the day with his delivery of that line.

You needed “a little help” to know to kick through a door, Neo? And this guy’s supposed to be the one?

Watching stoned Keanu fighting Agent Smith without even looking is one of my favorite things. That's even better than when he said "Whoa" earlier.

Jumping into Agent Smith’s body has to be revenge for that insect intrusion from earlier in the movie.

Credits roll, and Abbey tells me that Spoon Boy was her favorite character.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

2016 blockbuster Marvel movie

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Superman and Batman are neighbors who don't like each other very much. Am I the only person on Earth who didn't realize that Metropolis and Gotham were in close proximity? I always thought both were supposed to be New York, but apparently they're based on Minneapolis and St. Paul instead. Bruce Wayne is ticked at the Man of Steel because his last movie wasn't very good. Superman's unhappy with Batman because his pets are too loud. The brother of that annoying little curly-headed girl in those 1990's Pepsi advertisements also hates Superman because he's an alien and Luthor--rich and white and male--is obviously a Trump supporter. He tries to get his hands on some Kryptonite because he saw the Christopher Reeve movie with Gene Hackman and knows that's the way to take the superhero down. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman makes a few appearances because Warner Brothers wants to set up future movies. More and more plot is piled on until the two superheros in the title of this movie that also inexplicably has a "v" with no punctuation meet to engage in the ultimate pissing contest. Then, a CGI crescendo!

For the first time in a very long time, I found myself in a mall. I wandered into a shoe store, looked at some hats at a store that sells nothing but hats, browsed in another shoe store, noticed that Spencer's sells ball gags now, and looked for Frisbees in a sporting goods store. It's what happens when you can't read a movie schedule and show up for a big spring blockbuster movie an hour before you're supposed to be there.

I began to despair and decided I have a fear of being asked if I found everything I was looking for. Is there a deeper meaning to that question? I'm a grown man about to see a superhero movie by myself. I'm wearing a smelly t-shirt, orange pants, and a sweat-stained hat. I'm a middle-aged man completely out of place in a loud shopping mall, completely out of my element. The ennui was oppressive, and when I checked the time on my phone, I realized that I was only through half of the longest hour of my life. "Are you finding everything you're looking for?" Everything? Have I found anything? Do I even know what I'm looking for? Do you mean "everything" in a concrete, materialistic sort of way or are is it a metaphysical everything?

A miniature train passed by. The driver appeared to be on the verge of suicide. The three children and one adult looked as if they just found out that they were tricked into riding a miniature train to hell.

Just as I had made the decision to circle back and purchase a ball gag, a tiny woman asked me if I wanted to take part in a survey. I enthusiastically answered, "Yes!" and then she told me that there was money involved. I answered questions about lunch meats and hot dogs, two things I know absolutely nothing about, and then was lured into a little room to answer more specific questions about lunch meats and hot dogs on a computer. I was told that I would be given four dollars. As the survey wound down, I asked how much it costs to ride that train.

"How much does it cost to ride that train?"

"I think it's five dollars." The other woman in the room nodded in agreement.

"Shoot. I'll be a dollar short."

"Well, you can do another survey if you want."

Of course, I told them I was interested. I would have been a fool not to! And after a more high-tech survey that involved some guy, special glasses, a purse slung over my shoulder, and shelves of toothpaste (something else I'm a bit of an expert in), I was given eleven dollars and left with just enough time to get to the theater to see the big blockbuster movie.

At one point, I told the guy who gave me the purse and made me look at shelves of toothpaste that we had to speed things up because I had a movie to catch. When I told him it was the Batman/Superman movie, he said, "Oh, I heard that. . .was pretty good from. . .people who saw it." The whole thing sounded suspicious. I wondered if the man had even seen other human beings who hadn't been in that toothpaste room in months. I didn't question him or say, "Oh yeah? Prove it! Who are these people?" which was what my instincts told me to do.

I did not think the movie was going to be pretty good, but for reasons I can't even explain, I was interested. The movie is neither great nor as bad as I expected. Those mysterious "people who saw it" that the guy in the toothpaste room may or may not actually have contact with were maybe throwing around "pretty good" too generously, but they weren't far off.

Here's what I noticed about the thing. I'll let you know when there are spoilers if you haven't seen this movie yet.

1. The music. I think I liked the score by Hans Zimmer, a guy who is apparently retiring from superhero movies, and Junkie XL. The music is definitely hard to ignore. As you know, I don't go to theaters often anyway, and I hadn't been in one of these theaters. The previews were loud, and the music in this movie was oppressive. It throbbed and vibrated the air around me. One of my shoes might have fallen off. I think I urinated at one point. But the music is never really in the way and generally enhances the action sequences and the music they give Wonder Woman, which I believe might be played by the flamethrower-guitar guy from the Mad Max movie, raised the hairs on my arms.

2. Why am I making a list here? Is it only to annoy my wife who has told me countless times that she doesn't like when I do numbered lists like this?

3. Gal Gadot is a beautiful woman and has the right legs for Wonder Woman. I have no attachment to any superhero character and don't really get excited about movies featuring any of them. I definitely had no real interest in a Wonder Woman movie despite liking the t.v. show with Lynda Carter when I was a kid. And like a lot of warm-blooded males, I've had my share of Amazonian-with-a-rope fantasies. After seeing her in action here, I have more of an interest. Of course, it could wind up being the next Catwoman. I assume it'll be a sort-of origin story where she works her way through the 20th Century and fights antagonists from other planets like she boasted she had in this movie. I wonder if she'll run into Captain America.

4. Speaking of origin movies, it was nice that this didn't have to mess around with all that. Superman already had his third or fourth origin movie in Man of Steel, and Batman's story just starts in medias res. He's middle-aged, graying a bit and surly, and although we get to see his parents murdered for the umpteenth time, there's no explanation for why Affleck's Batman is the way he is in this movie.

5. We do get far too many dream sequences. Bat levitation where Batchild strikes a crucifixion pose even though that should be Superman's move, a weird nightmare where Superman's got a legion of wasp people or something, something really odd involving a character I later discovered was The Flash (Flash? The Flash? Which is it?) even though I thought it was Robin while watching it. I think every one of those dream sequences could have been cut. They befuddled and muddied up a movie that already suffers from being way too muddy and befuddling.

6. There's a lot going on here. This gets from point A to point Z just fine. I liked the story even though it's got the same structure as every single other superhero movie ever made. You know, the whole starts quiet, hits a big moment, settles down to develop, hits another big moment, kablam with a crescendo involving an assload of CGI, settles down, end with some sort of cliffhanger thing? What's unfortunate is that it makes stops along B, C, D, E, F, G, and so on along the way, and a lot of those tangents didn't seem to fit. This was a really long movie, and it didn't need to be. I'm not sure I've seen a movie containing so many scenes that could have been deleted scenes. This movie is bloated.

7. [Possibly, there are spoilers here.] The way the other Justice League heroes are teased was really silly. Aquaman, The Flash (Flash?), some guy without legs. Watching Wonder Woman watching clips of those guys like she was checking out Youtube videos was just goofy. I'm also not sure why Batman decides at the end of the movie that he and Wonder Woman need to find these other characters. Aquaman looks capricious, Flash (The Flash?) seemed incoherent in that dream sequence, and the other guy doesn't even have legs. I don't even know who that legless guy is supposed to be. Ok, I just looked him up. Cyborg? There's a robotic superhero? I had no idea, but I am not happy about it.

8. [There are probably spoilers here, too.] There are all sorts of silly coincidences in this movie, things that just don't make sense. With this much money involved and the hordes of people who had to have come together to tell this story, you'd think that sort of thing wouldn't happen. Nobody looked at the screenplay and had the guts to tell somebody that the whole "Martha" plot point was stupid? It seems like a whole lot of rainy punching could have been prevented if somebody had mentioned "Martha" earlier. Later, Lois Lane somehow knows exactly what she needs to do even though she had just done the exact opposite and had nobody tell her anything different. Apparently, nobody at all lives or roams the streets at night in Gotham or Metropolis or wherever the big fight with the CGI antagonist took place. Superman starts hallucinating on a mountain and has a conversation with a dead Kevin Costner. Why's Lex Luthor, or Lex Luthor's son or whoever the hell he's supposed to be, need to have his head shaved before being Hannibal Lectered?

9) Just so many tangents! I think Zack Snyder, Academy Award winning screenwriter Chris Terrio, and David S. Goyer who wrote those Nolan Batman movies were overly ambitious. This movie would have benefited from being simplification. These guys wanted to show Batman and Superman fighting each other because it's sort of promised by the title, sprinkle the seeds of the Justice League because it's also promised in the title, give us a complex super-villain who in no way could be fleshed out enough with all this other stuff going on, say something about the roles of heroes in contemporary society, allude to things (like the Joker and Robin maybe?) that will likely pop up in other movies, have a giant goopy CGI shit-Kong for the characters to fight (Is that a spoiler? Should I not mention this thing?), and continue the in-your-face Christ metaphor. They wanted to launch, foreshadow, entertain, pontificate, and dazzle, and it's all just too ambitious.

10. [Spoilers] Having said all that, I did enjoy the story. I just didn't like the way it was told. And even though the Jesus figure motif was just as obvious here as it was in Man of Steel, I kind of liked the depth it added. Superman strikes Jesus poses, floats down from clouds, is called a God by Eisenberg several times, dies and resurrects, dies again and In a way, you could read this as a conflict between an optimistic belief in an omnipotent and completely benevolent deity and a dark, pessimistic atheism, the continued efforts to challenge religious beliefs and kill God that have taken place over and over again. Of course, Jesus never had sex with Amy Adams in a bathtub unless that's in a fifth Gospel that I haven't read. But as annoyingly conspicuous and clumsy as it is--Crosses? Really?--I did enjoy the subtext. It gave me something to think about during the big CGI fights.

11. The special effects and fight sequences are really well done. There's a chunk of movie where they work in some Batmobile action, and that doesn't look very realistic or obey the laws of physics. It does remind me of a comic book though, so I guess it works well enough. I'd have to see that goopy shit-Kong again away from the allure of the big screen to see if that CGI holds up. But the big fight between the title characters, the explosions, and the sprinkled action scenes during the build-up all looked great.

12. I thought Ben Affleck made a great Batman. Now, keep in mind that I have no attachment to the character, haven't read the comics, and couldn't tell you if it was an accurate interpretation of the hero. Affleck spends a lot of the movie moping, and he doesn't always have the best lines to say ("I'm a friend of your son" was especially bad), but there's some subtlety to his performance that makes this character in the middle stages of his life more than intriguing.

13. Jesse Eisenberg. I still have no idea what to think about Jesse Eisenberg. There are times when I really like him, and there are times where I think he's just about the worst actor working today. Here, I like what Eisenberg does with the character. Or I at least know what he's trying to do. He's got mannerisms and ticks that almost make you miss him when he's not on the screen, one of the true characteristics of a great movie villain. He's smart and he's mean and he's a little wacky, and Eisenberg gets a lot of the best lines in the movie. Unfortunately, the character is horribly written. There's a descent into madness that doesn't make a lot of sense, and you never really feel like you have a grasp on what he's trying to do or why he's trying to do it. I do like that the character is so prominent, and without him, there would be no indication that this is anything deeper than a movie where people with super powers beat on each other and then try to save the world. He brings some intelligence to the proceedings. But it's a shame the character wasn't fleshed out a little better.

14. I've heard other names tossed around for who should have played Lex Luthor. You know who should have played him though? Nicolas Cage. Don't argue with me because you're going to be wrong.

15. I don't know what to think of Henry Cavill. He still looks like Superman to me, but it's also pretty difficult for a person my age to imagine anybody but Christopher Reeve in that role. And there's just something dickish about Cavill. His Superman sure scowls a lot. But man, he looks good without a shirt.

16. Gosh, I hope Soledad O'Brien is OK.

17. Yes, I'm definitely convinced that I write blog entries that are lists sometimes just because I know it annoys my wife.

18. Do I like the dark tone of this movie, a superhero movie devoid of humor, brooding, and philosophically complex? Or do I prefer the piss-taking tomfoolery of a Deadpool? Or do I like something in between? I don't even know. I'm really asking. I mean, I guess comic book movies are supposed to be fun, but when the fun, humorous ones get dark, I have trouble buying them. And I don't watch movies just to be entertained. I like to think. This is a superhero movie that made me think a little bit and work hard to put all the pieces to the God puzzle together.

19. There's a scene near the end with Lois Lane and Superman that made me roll my eyes. Lane is played by Amy Adams again, but this time, they decided to give her a scene in a bathtub so that they could almost show her breasts. What the hell was that? I have nothing against the upper half of Amy Adams' breasts, but that whole scene was really awkward and unnecessary.

20. I might go back to the mall to do more surveys.

21. Wait a second! Where was Morgan Freeman? Isn't he supposed to be in every movie like this? Did he play one of the bats or one of Superman's wasp friends in Batman's dream? Maybe he voiced Goopy Shit-Kong?

22. I know that Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Ben Affleck's Batman, that robot with no legs, and Flash (The Flash?) are going to get their own movies. Call me weird, but I would like to see dead Kevin Costner get his own movie where he just wanders around playing with rocks and sticks on mountains. Two-and-a-half hours of Jonathan Kent ghost action!

23. Hold on a second! Don't Wonder Woman and Superman become an item in the comic books? Is there going to be a Lane/Kent/Wonder Woman love triangle? Will there be a menage a trois, one that will likely end up in Lois Lane being obliterated? Is Batman going to hit that instead?

24. [Spoiler] Does Jimmy Olsen get shot in the head in this movie or was that some other anonymous guy? I don't remember Man of Steel well enough to remember if Jimmy Olsen was even in the movie.

25. I need an excuse to see another movie at this theater so that I can A) purchase that ball gag and B) ride the train, probably twice.

The Tin Drum

1979 coming-of-age film

Rating: 18/20

Plot: Oskar, the son of either his uncle or another guy, decides to stop growing at the age of three. He spends his days annoying people with a toy drum and breaking glass with his horrifying scream. World War II comes along which ruins everything.

"We dwarfs and fools shouldn't dance on concrete that was poured for giants."

Are there other movies that show the birth of the main character from the point of view of the main character?

This movie feels like it's got one foot firmly placed in reality, one foot tap-dancing in a dream, and one foot kicking dust around in the absurd. That's right. This movie's got three legs. It's the type of movie that demands your attention, and for those willing to devote their attention to the lengthy story that never feels complete and frustrates with its tangents, it will likely resonate in different ways. People living in Europe, people who lived in Europe during the rise of the Third Reich, people with a rudimentary knowledge of 20th Century history, and dwarfs will probably view the movie in a variety of ways. And I imagine people will have different ideas about what Oskar represents. Is he a certain type of people pre-war, perpetually childish and powerless and beating on drums? Is he another type of people, trying to be heard with his screams and percussive talents in a world filled with adults and the consequences of adults? Is he a certain type of people post-war, stunted and looking for a place in the world? Is he a country? Is he a continent?

I love this movie from the start. It's got an otherworldly vibe, the sort of thing that fits right in with other 70's greats. It's timeless even though it all takes place during one of the most recognizable times in mankind's history. And from the get-go, you get a feeling that it's a movie that can take you anywhere. It flows organically, even when what is happening is really weird. It's thought provoking, and there's also some black comedy throughout. At times, it's difficult to approach because you get the feeling it's a very personal look at growing up during a time in history where things like this are happening, but at the same time, you're absorbed by these characters and their situations.

A lot of the greatness of this is in the performance of the kid who plays Oskar. David Bennett ended up topping the five-foot mark, but this was really his size at the age of 11 when he starred in The Tin Drum. You see the story through his wide eyes, and no matter how often you spend with the character--and I think he's pretty much in every single scene in this movie--you never really get used to him. He always seems out of place, alien. He carries the film on his little shoulders, and it's really a performance that would be remarkable for anybody. But for an 11-year-old to display this naive wisdom is especially amazing. Once you see this movie, you never forget this performance.

A still from a hilarious scene where Oskar tries aftershave, screams, and slaps his face with both hands. It's later referenced in Home Alone

There are other little people in the movie, too. Mariella Oliveri, I'm surprised to find out, wasn't in any other movies. She plays one of the little people performers later in the movie and gets a great final scene that combines tragedy and comedy beautifully. Fritz Hakl was really great as Bebra. I could have sworn he was also in Even Dwarfs Started Small, but I'm getting my little people confused again. Bebra has clown pals and plays beautiful music with glasses. I also liked the woman who played Oskar's mom--Angela Winkler. I especially liked her nude scene, and I think most fascists would have, too.

Once seen, this is the type of movie that is never forgotten. Of course, I saw it about ten years ago and had forgotten most of it, so what do I know? But that horse's head on the beach, allusions to Kristallnacht, Nazi dance sequences, scenes where Oskar madly plays that drum or breaks glass with his screeching, all those fish. It's all puzzle imagery in a completely fascinating and fantastic movie.

The Last Witch Hunter

2015 fantasy movie

Rating: 9/20

Plot: Vin Diesel hunts down and fights witches.

Vin Diesel gets his D&D on, and I hoped he had fun because I sure didn't. This bulges with gross special effects and dark cinematography, and although there is some comic relief, the vibe remained humorless. Vin Diesel runs around like a burly and punchier Sherlock Holmes. Witches shriek and growl. There's some sort of giant spider thing. The story is largely incoherent although that could definitely be my fault since I turned my brain off about fifteen minutes into this thing.

I will not watch a sequel to The Last Witch Hunter. I will watch any Fast & Furious/Witch Hunter crossover movies though.

This movie did have more gummy bear trees, butterflies, and cupcakes than I would have guessed.

Black Mass

2015 gangster movie

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Bostonian crime boss Whitey Bulger becomes an FBI informant and uses that relationship for even more crime bossery.

I don't connect with these gangster movies as easily as everybody else seems to, but this one really had a tough time keeping my attention. It's a movie that might have had a stand-out moment or two, but I can't remember any of them a few days after watching this. It's nice to see Johnny Depp play an actual human being for once, I guess, although Bulger definitely has his quirks. Actually, I didn't care for Depp's performance all that much. The rest of this is a sort of paint-by-numbers mob movie, and you get the impression that the Whitey Bulger story is both inflated and watered-down for Hollywood consumption at the same time.

I definitely felt all two hours and three minutes of this one.

Steve Jobs

2015 biopic

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Steve Jobs fails, fails again, and then succeeds, all while pissing everybody off with his natural charms.

I enjoyed the structure of this biopic. I'm not a huge fan of the genre anyway, but I'm not sure the world needed another biographical look at Steve Jobs. I actually didn't see the one from a couple years ago with Ashton Kutcher. This doesn't cover the life of Steve Jobs. Instead, it looks at three key moments in his career, showing the pre-showtime happenings of three big product releases. Fassbinder kind of plays Jobs like a rock star, and there's something vibrant about how everything swirls around him. This is all about a complex (and probably completely unlikable) human being standing face-to-face with crises both personal and professional. The performances and general flow of the story could almost convince somebody that this is archival footage, but even with a documentary-feel, you still get such an intimate look at the man at the center of things. And it's that naturalistic character study, the way the story penetrates the psyche of a man who seems like he wanted to be impenetrable, that really makes this powerful.

Fassbender, Winslet, Daniels, and the actors and actresses playing the auxiliary characters are all really good, but this one's all about the writing. You'd know this was an Aaron Sorkin screenplay without being told that going in. It's intelligent and wordy, and there's a great mix of humor and conflict. The way Sorkin uses these three moments to show so many dimensions of the character and fill in all these gaps about Jobs' past, his present, and his future is sublime. It's nothing you really think about while watching the movie, but afterward, you're surprised at how real this character became as you watched him wrestle with his demons, demean people, display his arrogance, and demean his arrogant demons. The whole thing seems so effortless. It's the type of flashy writing where it almost feels like Sorkin's screaming "Hey! Look at me!" was all over it, but it drove the movie without really standing out as unrealistic movie dialogue. It was flashy without being flashy, if that makes any sense. Sorkin and Fassbinder create a subject that is difficult to like, but at the same time, you feel that you know the character so well that it's impossible not to like him.

Great writing, a unique biopic structure, and solid performances made this a movie that I liked a whole lot more than I thought I would.

The Good Dinosaur

2015 Pixar movie

Rating: 14/20 (Abbey: 14/20; Buster: 20/20)

Plot: A young dinosaur having trouble finding his role in his Apatosaurus family finds himself separated from them and has to find his way back home with the help of a human child. Oh, I forgot to mention that. Humans and dinosaurs coexist in the imagination of the Pixar people.

It's odd that the Pixar people couldn't take an interesting premise like this and come up with something so derivative. It's not that this is a bad movie at all because it's really not. The issue is that the characters, their traits, the plot points, and all the twists seem to have been lifted from a bunch of other movies. There's heart, as you'd expect from a Pixar flick, but it almost feels like a transplanted baboon heart instead of an original human one. Other than the twist on the lost-person-with-a-helpful-pet motif with the pet being a human, nothing about this really surprises. You get an episodic road-trip buddy movie without a road, and it works, but it works a little generically.

When I am in supermarkets, I see movies for sale. Recently, I've been seeing Inside-Out, and I always think to myself, "That movie's too good to be sold here." It's the same with a lot of other Pixar movies. It doesn't make any sense because all the big new releases are going to be sold at the grocery store, but the thought's in my head anyway. The Good Dinosaur, along with Brave and Cars, are movies that don't seem out of place in supermarkets.

I will say this though. The animation absolutely blew me away. I'm talking specifically about the scenery stuff. Foliage, water, stormy skies, animal bristles, grasses, glowing things, mountain peaks. The imagery is stunning, and I could have sworn that it wasn't animated at all during certain scenes. Arlo looks rubbery in comparison, so much that at times, this looks kind of like Pete's animated pal against the real backdrops in Pete's Dragon. There's a clash there, and I don't necessarily mean this as a criticism because I actually liked the contrast. Brave also had gorgeous backgrounds, but this film tops it. Of course, the Brave characters did blend in a little better than the characters do here. Anyway, I don't think too many people are going to watch this movie and not find it extraordinarily beautiful.

And although it is derivative, it doesn't mean it doesn't have some stand-out moments. Sam Elliott voices the exact kind of animated character that you figure he would. The kid's cute enough. Director Peter Sohn voices an absurdly weird character that brought the closest thing I had to a laugh while watching this movie. The bird antagonists are kind of cool. But the gap between the storytelling and characters and the terrific animation is really wide. And that clash is much more distracting to me than the clash between the animated characters and realistic backgrounds.

Another supermarket-appropriate movie from Pixar worries me. I think part of this movie's problem might be that it was released the same year as the completely brilliant Inside-Out. That's kind of like The Beatles opening up for Lyle Lovett or something. It would have been silly to expect an endless supply of magic from Pixar. Four out of five of their last movies have been average at best though, and that's troublesome from a studio that seemed to have the Midas touch for so many years.

Still, that animation! Can settings be more realistic than they are in this movie? Man, did it look good!

Don Verdean

2015 comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A fraudulent archaeologist unearths Biblical relics in order to inspire the masses and strengthen the faith of church congregations. The head of a rival church and an unscrupulous pal help him dig a much deeper hole than he wanted.

"I'm here to tell you that each and every time you spoon into a bowl of Lucky Charms, you might as well be partaking of Lucifer's sacrament."

This is from Jared Hess but has a little more traditional conflict and structure than Napoleon Dynamite or Gentlemen Broncos. I think what I like about Hess's comedies is that the characters--in real life--would be so easy to poke fun at, yet the humor isn't really ever about poking fun. There's really nothing mean-spirited on the surface of Don Verdean even though I suppose you could say the screenplay is poking fun at religious zealots or blind faith. Instead, this is really the study of an unscrupulous character who may or may not have good intentions. You never really get a good idea of what Verdean--played by the ubiquitous Sam Rockwell--is really up to, whether original good intentions have somehow evolved into something selfish, or even if the guy ever had any good intentions at all. The developing out-of-control mess he finds himself in isn't anything that's going to cause anybody to feel sorry for the character. But it is funny.

Most of the funny comes from the writing, offbeat lines about Lucifer farting inside people's brains or promises that characters "will not return until [they] have Goliath's head in [their] carry-on" that can be expected from the guy who gave us Napoleon Dynamite. Dissing religion could easily feel like a fish-in-a-barrel thing, but the ideas in this are funny. The cast is also good at rolling with these quirky characters without transforming into something unbelievable. That's with one exception though. Jemaine Clement provides almost all of the best moments in this movie; however, his character is in the movie way too much. A little of Clement's weirdo, a character who reminds me of somebody Sacha Baron Cohen would have fun playing, goes a long way, and he needed to be an auxiliary character here. Will Forte and Danny McBride play dueling pastors, the former giving a great sermon about cereal that would really have made me think about my breakfast choices if I ever partook in the devil's gluten or dairy. Forte hisses and McBride whoops, both kind of magically. And I always enjoy watching Amy Ryan, too, probably because of her nose. Along with Lot's wife, Goliath's skull, and a Holy Grail, those characters make Rockwell's protagonist sort of slip into the background in his own movie. That's not a bad thing, and it's probably a tribute to Rockwell's subdued performance.

This movie doesn't seem to be popular with critics or regular people, but it made me laugh a few times. There are missteps for sure, and the storytelling isn't the best, but it's definitely worth watching if you like Hess's other quirky comedies.

The Giver

2014 dystopian movie

Rating: 11/20 (Abbey: 13/20)

Plot: I'm yawning just thinking about it.

It just sort of hits all the notes that you'd expect it to and does nothing more. Jeff Bridges mumbles his way through another questionable choice in roles. This is on solid ground thematically and at least tries to do some interesting things to compliment those themes with color trickery, but the story is a little sleepy, the scenes become redundant after a while, and neither the good guys or bad guys really do it for me. For a movie that has a lot to do with emotions and the importance of those emotions, this ironically failed to deliver any emotional impact at all.

I'm going to wonder if I saw this movie in a few years. "The Giver? Did I watch that one or not?"

Now that I think about it, I can't remember if I read the book. I don't have a book blog though and can't check.

Blood Sucking Freaks (or, Sardu: Master of the Screaming Virgins; or, The Incredible Torture Show)

1976 exploitative horror comedy

Rating: 9/20

Plot: Sardu and his diminutive associate operate a stage show called the Theatre of the Macabre by night and are up to no good during the day. They kidnap a critic who refuses to take their show seriously and a ballerina, the latter their effort to legitimize their art. A meddling detective and the ballerina's boyfriend try to figure out what's going.

What story exists in this sleazy 70's exploitative flick doesn't make a lot of sense. This is trashy, but at least it's lively trash. The nefarious leads take this about as far as it can go. This is Seamus O'Brien's lone performance other than an uncredited role in The Happy Hooker. Sadly, he was killed in a burglary in '77. He shades the character with a little Manos "master" and a lot of Vincent Price. I wonder if would have been able to shake off the sleaze from this to have any kind of career.

Stealing the show is his little person sidekick--Luis De Jesus. Now here's an ornery little fellow. He's got a cackle, and the overalls, beard, and little man afro combination make him comically wicked. Before sharing some of his finer moments in this motion picture, I should fill you in on his career. Most of his work is pornographic. His first role, appropriately in a short, is called The Anal Dwarf. That's moved to the top of my "must see" list. He's also in something called Let My Puppets Come from Gerard Damiano, the guy who did Deep Throat. He was also an Ewok and had a part in something called Fantasex Island which might be the worst title for any movie I've ever seen.

But what's Luis De Jesus do in this movie? Well, pretty much everything you'd like to see an evil little person do in a movie. He giggles, enthusiastically tortures a woman's finger in a vice, saws off body parts, wears camouflage overalls, eats an eye, dons a cowboy hat and rides on a naked woman's back, celebrates beautifully after blow-darting a ballerina, madly plays cymbals (apparently as a form of torture), tosses darts at a dart board painted on a woman's behind after drinking a beer while locking arms with O'Brien, exclaims "Whee!" while pushing a woman in a wheelchair toward a guillotine, nearly hyperventilates while holding a severed head, plays backgammon for lopped-off fingers, and gets the line "I used the whole chicken. The secret is cooking it alive," which I believe is supposed to be funny.

What's crazy about this is how comic it plays. A kidnapping scene which inexplicably features a dildo, the amount of times O'Brien calls his sidekick an "idiot," a really lengthy and perverse scene with a doctor in which he extracts teeth, cuts hair, drills into and then slurps fluids from a skull. Most scenes feel superfluous as the stuff that actually advances the plot would take up about 12 minutes. The rest of the mess is the definition of exploitative with lots of ultraviolence and nudity almost everywhere you look. If that's your thing, look no further than whatever this movie is deciding to call itself.

I had time to kill after school Friday because I was stranded and started watching this on my school computer. It took about 20 minutes of whipping slave women and other perversities for me to realize that was a terrible idea.

Bad Movie Club: Foodfight!

2012 animated movie

Bad Movie Rating: 5/5 (Olivia: 5/5; Eric: 5/5; Jeremy: no rating; Johnny: 5/5; Josh: 5/5; Fred: fell asleep)

Rating: 1/20

Plot: In a grocery store where the products come to life after closing time--Toy Story style!--a fascist Brand X threatens to fart all over everything.

I generally reserve the 1/20 ratings for movies that are not only aesthetically terrible but also somehow manage to offend. Foodfight! really hits you hard both ways. Rare is the movie that makes you feel like you were sodomized after you watch it. Rarer is the movie that makes you wish you were sodomized instead of watching it. It would be tough to pick between this and the Titanic cartoon with the rapping dogs as the worst animated feature film I have ever seen. Both have to be in consideration for the absolute worst movie of all time. Whether it's actually an enjoyable bad movie is probably up for debate because I could easily imagine somebody wanting to end his or her life rather than sit through this movie. I really can't remember seeing a movie this tone deaf, a movie that gets every single thing so dreadfully wrong. And it's this ability to get everything--and I really mean, everything--wrong that makes it something special.

The tone is completely off. The movie's too violent, too sexualized, too innuendo-fueled, too dark, too silly, and too dark and silly at the same time. Characters die (or seem to die) and characters find opportunities for terrible puns. Airplane things are unleashed from a villainess's hoo-hah. An anthropomorphic dog voiced by Charlie Sheen and a human female engage in grope fests and trade double entendre. Writer/director Lawrence Kasanoff apparently never decided what he wanted his movie to be nor who he wanted it to be for, and therefore, everybody suffers. Especially Mr. Clean.

How about the product placement in this thing? I can't imagine any company--Hostess, Procter and Gamble, Vlasic, Mrs. Butterworth, Kool-aid, StarKist, Chef Boyardee, Chiquita, and others--being happy that their mascots ended up in this crappy movie. Mr. Clean has no lines but might be in the movie the most. Once, a frog farts a green mist on him. Seriously, that's the kind of thing that happens in this movie. A frog that looks like something Picasso would have sketched while drunk out of his mind passes visible gas on the bald neat-freak mascot who then looks disgruntled before disappearing from the movie for a while. I think it was supposed to be funny, but it just made me feel, for the first time in my life, sorry for a mascot. Their appearances in this movie almost makes me want to boycott the products, and I'm sure that wasn't the intent.

This might be the ugliest movie that I've ever seen. The camera kind of swoops all over the place, never sitting still long enough for your eyes to figure out what the hell is going on. The characters are boxy and move awkwardly and inconsistently. The backgrounds change without warning, and I'd like somebody to explain to me why there's a fucking sky above the supermarket aisles when the lights go out. Watermelons splat with goopy green, like the animators had never actually opened up a watermelon before. Background characters look and move identically, even when they are standing right next to each other. The colors are wrong, the movements are wrong, the physics is wrong. The whole thing looks like a video game, but one of those video games in that weird transition phase before they started looking good. And don't get me started on Christopher Lloyd's character's movements. Actually, I don't even know where I would start. Even after the character is explained in what I believe was some kind of twist, the herky-jerky movements didn't make any sense.

Speaking of Christopher Lloyd, this has an impressive cast of voice actors. It doesn't make the movie any better, especially since some of them seem to come from the Eric Roberts (A Talking Cat?!?) school of voice acting. Charlie Sheen may have contracted HIV from this movie, and it's clear from the onset that he isn't bringing whatever Charlie Sheen considers his A-game. There are a pair of Duffs, an Eva Longoria who might be overdoing things, Edward Asner, Harvey Fierstein, Wayne Brady, Chris Kattan, and Jerry Stiller. Even writer/director Lawrence Kasanoff himself gets involved as Cheasel T. Weasel, a phallic and oily mammal. There's no rapport at all with the performers, likely because their lines were recorded separately and assembled later. I'm not sure how these B- and C-listers were tricked into having their names attached to this, but it's the kind of thing they'll want to leave off their resumes.

They're not helped by one of the most godawful scripts of all time. Take a look at these gems:

"Franky, my dear, I don't give a spam."
"Cold farted itch."
"More fun than a spanking." (A line followed by a creepy laugh.)
"For frying out loud."
"How about some chocolate frosting?" (A reference, I believe, to ejaculate.)

The puns will not only make you cringe; they'll give you a migraine. When Kasanoff attempts to go for more sentimental dialogue, he fails just as miserably, lines festering with cliches. It's enough to make a grown man sick to his stomach, and there aren't a lot of children who would even understand any of it.

Worst of all is the central message this movie seems to have, something about generic brands being evil while the name brands are somehow our saviors. I'm not sure what kind of message this is sending to children actually. Think I'm exaggerating? With the evil Brand X characters--a green, scaly Lieutenant X who sounds like a rejected Hanna Barbera character; the sultry Lady X who borrowed some of her moves from Jessica Rabbit although the latter never shot flying machines from her vagina; and a squat General X voiced by Jerry Stiller--you get flamboyant Nazi marches, intimidating regalia, and not-even-hidden references to genocide and concentration camps. It crosses straight across the line into tacky but then keeps marching until it reaches something beyond tacky.

This movie will offend every sensibility you have, but your moth will be agape as you've likely never seen anything this deliriously inept. I'd recommend it for the bravest of bad movie aficionados, but I wouldn't eat beforehand.


2013 science fiction movie

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Following an invasion where aliens destroyed most of the moon and forced us to use our nuclear weapons, a guy and the partner he also happens to be screwing keep drones operational and make sure the fiendish extraterrestrial Scavs keep out of their business. Haunting visions and the arrival of some humans have the guy questioning everything he's been told.

I like Tom Cruise, and I thought this movie looked really good. Cruise is probably at his best when his character is the type of action hero who can't quite figure out what's going on around him. His charm can drive a movie like the charm of no other current actor or actress. Visually, this is frequently stunning. You get dystopian shots of famous landmarks in various states of decay, and all the flying things are really well done. In fact, the science-fiction stuff blends in with the actual imagery as well as I think I've ever seen it blend before. The action sequences don't give you anything new, but the explosions and spaceship/drone chase sequences are exciting enough.

Unfortunately, the story really lets this one down. It's convoluted, a little confusing, and ultimately pretty boring. The story is sort of told like any similar sci-fi movie from the last decade and a half or so, but it's just not told as well or as coherently. A romantic excursion is lame, a winning move is contrived, and a plot twist is more strange than it is coherent.

I did like Morgan Freeman's character, and I should note that he does get to stand up quite a bit in this movie. He also gets some cool shades and what I think was a cape. So that's something.

I think there's an obvious nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey here (maybe even two or three), but I also thought this alluded to Wall-E.

The Forbidden Room

2015 Guy Maddin movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Submariners who may or may not be in a bathtub find themselves in trouble as they are quickly running out of air and are carrying an explosive jelly that will ignite if they try to surface. A mysterious lumberjack appears on board as the "hopeless men, hopelessly chewing" their flapjacks (you know, because of the air pockets) wonder where their captain is hiding. The lumberjack recalls trials--finger snapping, offal piling, testicle weighing, bladder slapping--in the lair of red wolves in an effort to retrieve a beautiful kidnapped woman. Then, she escapes on her own, through the doorway in a dream, and a guy sings a song about derrieres. Geraldine Chaplin cracks a whip; there's a squid theft; a volcano eats up fish, fowl, tire, necklaces, and tapioca pudding; a windmill guy searches for a new gardening boy; ducks cause a motorcycle accident; a bone doctor falls in love before female skeletal insurance defrauders force him to wear a leotard; a pelvic train contains a battle between a madman and a psychiatrist; a mustache has a dream; and a man tries to outbid his doppelganger at an auction for a bust of Janus. Then, Marv finishes up his lecture on bathing.

This very well could be Guy Maddin's masterpiece, but I'll refrain from officially naming it that until after I see it again and see if it all adds up to anything meaningful. Not that it has to, but it would be nice. This series of looping, oft-hallucinatory vignettes can be tedious, and that's coming from me, a person who enjoys weird movies and who is used to Maddin's warped homages to a cinema of the distant past. For somebody not acclimated to this sort of avant-nonsense, I can imagine it would be extremely tedious, and this definitely isn't the Guy Maddin movie to start with if you haven't seen him before.

There's a lot to love for the Maddin-phile. The performances are great, inflated 20s-era melodrama with the performers shot from odd angles and with odder lighting and colors. I especially liked Louis Negin as Marv (our guide to bathing in the fake instructional footage that bookends this) and a bunch of others. Maria de Medeiros, Mathieu Amalric, Udo Kier, Geraldine Chaplin, and others all play several different roles. There's antiquated special effects that simultaneously recall Melies and making you wonder how in the hell they were pulled off. The underwater submarine shots, a really cool-looking volcano (spelled valcano for some reason in title cards), the interior of a cave. It all looks very cool, especially with the odd color scheme and warbling effects Maddin utilizes throughout. Of course, it'll likely make a lot of viewers dizzy and/or sick, too. The music, by the director along with Galen Johnson (a philosophy professor, according to Wikipedia) and frequent Maddin-collaborator Jason Staczek, is all over the place but fits each mood and cinematic style represented perfectly. The music's probably best when the "women skeletons!" are forcing the poor bone doctor into that poisonous leotard.

Oh, wait. Did you think I was making up stuff in that plot synopsis? I wasn't. All that actually happened.

The styles are all over the place, recalling Universal monster movies, German expressionist stuff, 20's melodrama and slapstick, 60's sci-fi b-movies, war movies, and pretty much anything else you can think of. It's experimental and difficult, but always with that sneakily silly humor that Maddin squeezes into his stories, humor with a generous helping of the absurd. Maddin's title cards crack me up, I think because of the gratuitous exclamation points! And I dare you to watch "The Final Derriere," a musical number in a movie that isn't a musical, without a smile on your face. Geraldine Chaplin cracking a whip, a trio of lobotomies, a line like "Your brain is now as smooth as a little boy's bottom." It's really something special. The visuals frequently warble, for better or for worse, and it's heavy on the rotoscoping and double (or quadruple) exposure shots. Not everybody's going to appreciate what they're seeing, but I sincerely doubt anybody can watch this and say it's like something they've seen before.

Maddin's a director who's not afraid to take chances, and here, he's taking more of a variety of them. I'm not saying everything that happens in this movie is a glowing success, but for me, it's a thrill to see an established filmmaker challenging himself so much and trying so many different things in one 2 hour movie. Adventurous movie lovers should definitely check this out, but again, I wouldn't watch it before giving My Winnipeg or Careful or Brand Upon the Brain! a try first.

The Visit

2015 comedy-thriller

Rating: 12/20

Plot: A brother and sister, the latter an aspiring filmmaker, travel to meet grandparents for the first time. The old couple's behavior becomes increasingly stranger as their week goes on.

It's hard to believe that M. Night Shyamalan is making halfway decent movies once again. Not only that, the guy's inventing genres: the comedy-thriller. I had my doubts that this was straight horror/thriller stuff pretty early on, but I suspected I didn't know what I was thinking about. After all, I'm still halfway convinced that The Happening is also a comedy. However, I read that Shyamalan made three different cuts of the movie. One was straight horror, one was straight comedy, and the other was a mix of the two. So the movie improves instantly now that I know Shyamalan intended me to chuckle at the parts I chuckled at.

I'm more impressed that Shyamalan did this well with such a low budget. Of the problems this movie has, the budget isn't responsible for any of them. I wasn't quite sure I had mentally prepared myself for an M. Night Shyamalan found-footage movie though. It's not exactly found footage. It's footage from the brother and sister making a documentary. The kids are a couple of the warts this movie's got. The brother and sister are almost too different to make this work. She's overly intellectual, a prospective filmmaker whose vocabulary is a bit too vast. He's a freestyle rapper who likes to end his dope rhymes with the word "ho," like most pre-teens would, I suppose. The sister's played by a promising young actress, Olivia DeJonge, and the brother is a kid named Ed Oxenbould. Neither are bad, and both seem more natural in front of the camera at times than Peter McRobbie who plays Pop Pop. The problem is that they aren't directed to act like actual children, and it makes me wonder if M. Night Shyamalan was ever an actual child himself. I liked the performance of Deanna Dunagan as Nana a lot. No, none of them played things realistically enough for the found footage aspect to actually work, but that didn't get in the way too much.

There is a twist, naturally, and although that it was almost obvious enough to not even qualify as a twist, the ride was fun enough for it not to even matter. A weird chase under the house that's punctuated with an "I'm making a chicken pot pie" line and a wardrobe malfunction cracked me up even if none of it makes sense in the context of the entire movie. The first sign that something was amiss--retching--also (maybe inappropriately) made me laugh a little bit. There's a nifty convulsive freak-out in a chair that made me wonder if Dunagan was Nic Cage's grandmother. The very best scene is near the end, and I don't want to give anything away. It involves a game of Yahtzee though, and I'm smiling just thinking about it.

So the movie doesn't make complete sense, there are a few cheap scares and several scenes that just don't belong, and the kids' behavior might have you rooting for their tragic deaths by the halfway point of the film. But there are some nice touches, a lot of memorable moments, and a story that's interesting even if it's a little predictable. And Shyamalan does enough interesting things with the format and manages a cohesive creepy vibe. The Visit is a movie that makes me curious about Shyamalan's next project for positive reasons rather than seeing if he can actually make something worse than his last like I usually do. And I guess that's something.

I docked this a full point, by the way, for the final scene. It just made me angry.

Pee-Wee's Big Holiday

2016 bromantic comedy

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Pee-Wee meets a new cool friend who invites him to his birthday party in New York City and inspires him to live a little. Pee-Wee embarks on a cross-country trip where he has various misadventures.

The (now-trilogic) Pee-Wee movies really don't have anything to do with each other. The circus one has the guy living on a farm like he's been there all his life even though there's no mention of a farm in the first one. This one has the character talking about how he's never traveled or even been outside his town's limits when we all know he went looking for the basement of the Alamo in his big adventure. There aren't recurring characters, and other than his quirks, mannerisms, naivete, and iconic outfit, he doesn't even really seem like the same character. It almost lends credence to the idea that Pee-Wee has been a schizophrenic middle-aged man all along.

This wasn't any worse or any better than I figured it would be. I was excited about the return of the character because I always liked Pee-Wee, but a straight-to-Netflix directed by a John Lee who had only done television (including 17 episodes of Wonder Showzen) didn't feel all that promising. I couldn't imagine this thing having much of a budget, and despite the co-writer having some involvement in one of my favorite t.v. shows (Arrested Development), I just didn't have the highest of expectations.

What did surprise me was how they didn't go into the thing with a more interesting concept. Pee-Wee on yet-another road trip to get to his new friend Joe Manganiello's birthday party in the big city? That's the best they could come up with? And Joe Manganiello, complete with a reference to Magic Mike, is the best new friend they could find to participate in these shenanigans? Like, his first feature film, Pee-Wee's adventure is episodic, but it's more hit and miss here, and every beat kind of feels like something that's been done before. Pee-Wee meets a trio of women criminals, he encounters drama with a farmer and his lovely daughters, he visits a snake farm where the attraction seems to be ridiculously bad puns, he rolls with some traveling hair stylists and gets his own new hairdo, rides in a flying car, stumbles upon a grizzly hermit, and he befriends the Amish. Whereas the first movie ends with a delirious and wacky denouement, in this one, something just happens. It's Freudian and silly simultaneously, but after all the nearly-interesting misadventures leading up to it, you still kind of want to shrug and say, "That's it?"

There are still enough moments to make this worth a watch. The most memorable bits of the other two movies and the series are inspired by lunacy. When this travels into more creative areas, it's a mixed bag. An opening dream sequence with an E.T.-type lump of bad special effect would have almost made me want to give up if I wasn't a fan of the character going in. Then, a Rube Goldberg-esque series of gags where Pee-Wee is thrown into his day and visits various townsfolk before going to his job is kind of fun. There's this odd 50's vibe to the character's surroundings in his hometown, like a forgotten part of America that fell asleep before the turbulent 60s and just barely woke up, the kind of place where everybody waves at each other and nobody thinks a person like Pee-Wee Herman is the slightest bit disturbing. Dream sequences inexplicably in Spanish and with gratuitous sparkler action; a big musical number celebrating the Big Apple, seemingly a parody of On the Town and including a funny bit about the Empire State Building being the "world's tallest building;" the homoeroticism of the character's relationship with Joe (his extraction from a vaginal well, the forced near-touching of foreheads in a tiny tree house while they suck root beer barrel candy through straws); hallucinating Abe Lincoln, the Queen, and a devil Pee-Wee while trapped in the well; and a trio of female bank robbers (Jessica Pohly, a hot little Pepper; Stephanie Beatriz, and Alla Shawkat) who are almost like characters from a Russ Meyer movie. Other fun bits include a moment when Pee-Wee gets religious, a question about whether that aforementioned criminal threesome are witches, and a juvenile Amish/gesundheit gag that's repeated ad nauseam are other highlights.

But nothing compares to a scene that is easily the greatest moment in Netflix original movie history and quite possibly--and I don't mean this hyperbolically--the greatest thing I've ever seen in a movie. It's the kind of thing that you want to show to everybody, just randomly find people on the street, shake them, and shove your iPhone in their faces so that they can be a part of the magic. And that scene is involves a balloon and a group of Amish people. It's a work of genius, should have been the trailer for the movie, and will likely end up as the thing that Reubens is best remembered for. I'm not ashamed to admit that I've watched the scene 27 times already. About three-fourths of those times involved an act that would have gotten me arrested if I was caught doing it in a theater.

Reubens himself does everything he can with the character although the voice seems a little off. He's aged, but he hasn't done so physically. The mannerisms are there, the laugh is there, and the facial expressions that keep your eyes glued to the guy are there. He's spirited enough and can still pull off this awkward manchildish character well at the age of 60-whatever. I just wish he had a better story to wander around in. And I wish that that very unfortunate arrest and Reubens' loss of interest in the character wouldn't have temporarily expired the character during the remaining years of his prime because I know Big Top Pee-Wee wasn't the only thing left in that tank.

Mark Mothersbaugh did the music for this, by the way, and the score is relentless. I seem to recall that that's consistent with the other movies, but it didn't make it any less obnoxious.

Bad Movie Club: Superfights

1995 super 80's movie

Bad Movie Rating: 3/5 (Fred: 4/5; Josh: 4/5; Libby: not sure if she participated)

Rating: 9/20

Plot: A twerp who works as a bus boy in a warehouse (that line's repeated twice, so I know I'm right) has dreamed of being a superfighter, sort of a WWF organization run by a shady guy. He gets his chance after the shady guy sees him fighting off thugs near an ATM on the news. He superfights off the advances of his trainer, Angel, and has success in the ring. However, he discovers the sinister truth of what the superfighter organization is up to--robbing Chinese restaurants and taking steroids--and winds up superfighting for his life.

First, the fights. Siu-Hung Leung, the director and action choreographer, is no joke. He's been involved with Jackie Chan in The 36 Crazy Fists and Ip Man, the latter which might be the best kung-fu movie of the last ten years. And the fight scenes, mostly due to Brandon Gaines who moves well, are plenty good. And there are plenty of them. You don't have to wait long to get to the next fight scene in this one, so if pure action is your thing, this works fine. This was surprisingly Gaines lone movie role. The guy could definitely kick his way out of a paper bag if he couldn't act his way out. Even watching him go after mannequins in that warehouse where he apparently buses tables was exciting. Well, almost exciting. Now, it's completely obvious that a lot of the punches and kicks aren't actually landing, but there's still some spiffy high-flying gymnastics stunts and a few fun props.

One great scene has Brandon Gaines doing his best Rocky impression, running through the streets of wherever he's from while people cheer and ending up with an enthusiastic celebratory jump on some stone steps. If Gaines ever brags to people about his acting career, I imagine that's the scene that he shows off. Most of what he does, at least in the first half of the movie, is overly enthusiastic. The guy's a little spark plug, and you get the impression that he needed some Ritalin or something.

Having said that, the movie's pretty ridiculous, often in a fun way. My favorite character was the grandfather of the Mark's love interest, who during their first meeting, asks Mark to try to touch him. If Grandfather taught me one thing, it was that Tai Chi involves going for opponents' crotches much more than I would have suspected. The McMahon character's got some swiftly-moving legs, too, and he even displays some dance moves during the climactic fight scene. Angel, played by a Kelly Gallant who also finished her movie career with this movie, displayed a rockin' bod. My favorite line of the movie was from one of the Superfighter thugs: "Name's Dark Cloud, but you can call me Chuck." This movie has the second violent ceiling fan incident we Bad Movie Clubbers have seen in 2016, a terrific action sequence where cooks from a Chinese restaurant kitchen try to defend the joint with cleavers, a "Beast" character who engages in a little Tyson-esque cannibalism in a nutty fight-to-the-death sequence, acupuncture that didn't seem to work very well, and lots of really gross 80's-style movie score.

Take away some of the styles and stripes of the mid-90s, and you've got yourself a ridiculous action-packed 80's movie here.

Fans of bad-movie Gymkata might like this one. There's no pommel horse though unfortunately.

Olympus Has Fallen

2013 action movie

Rating: 9/20

Plot: North Korean terrorists take over the White House. One man stops them all.

America's laid on pretty thick in this one. I think the movie starts and ends with a flag. This movie is both implausible and predictable, and it suffers because of both of those attributes. CGI shouldn't be this bad in the 21st Century, and watching CGI helicopters crashing, CGI bullet holes forming, and CGI Washington Monuments toppling (the worst of it all), completely took me out of the action and story. Not that the story's any better. It's sort of like 24 amped up on steroids with Gerard Butler transforming from depressed guy to action superstar, complete with action superstar wit, once the killing commences. And what killing! This movie boasts quite the body count, most of the deceased succumbing because of the same CGI bullet holes somewhere on their persons. I mean, when you've got every man in North Korea's one million man standing army somehow getting into Washington D.C., I guess you have to expect that, especially with killing-machine Gerard Butler on the loose.

At one point, Butler says, "It doesn't add up. It doesn't make sense." I thought it might be an outtake where he was complaining about the screenplay, but it was actually a line meant to be spoken by the character. The movie's implausibilities make it a tiresome experience. I fully expected the marble Abraham Lincoln to stand up, march over to the White House, and save the day at some point. It would have made just as much sense.

Now that I've typed that, it's really a movie I want to see.

I learned that the director of this--Antoine Fuqua, who did Training Day--passed on the sequel which just came out because he didn't like the script. He didn't like that script but liked this one? London Has Fallen must be a real doozy then.

Despite the clumsy moments (stuff with Dave, the mole), predictability (What? The president wasn't on the plane?), and cliches (slow-motion screaming and one of those big cinematic "Nooooooo!" moments when the First Lady bites it), this might be worth watching to see an extra in a hospital scene really overdoing things on a stretcher. That's a guy who wanted to be seen.

Sorry for spoiling the movie up there. Chances are, you've already seen and hated this movie as much as I did though.

Something I wondered about: Do you think Morgan Freeman has it written in his contract that he gets to spend most of his movies sitting down these days?

Two Coen Brother Movies: Burn After Reading and No Country for Old Men

2008 comedy

Rating: 14/20

I could watch John Malkovich screaming "Fuck!" at people all day. He's so over-the-top and good in this movie, and his best scene might be where he's shown watching The Family Feud for no reason at all. Heck, I could watch John Malkovich watching The Family Feud all day.

This movie isn't without its problems and it seems like a Coen Brother excursion rather than a real movie meant to be taken seriously. Still, it does its comedic job well, has some memorable and loony performances, and has a few really memorable moments. It works as a comedy when it doesn't work as a Coen Brothers' movie.

2007 classic

Rating: 19/20 (Dylan: 12/20)

Maybe they were tired after making this modern masterpiece based on the Cormac McCarthy novel. This one is so heavy that it's tiring. It's entertaining from beginning to end, but this is one of their darkly serious movies with only brief moments that might be considered dark comedy.

A treatise on how the consequences of our choices lead to inescapable fate that chases us as relentlessly as we try to flee disguised as popular entertainment? Beautiful and grand. I think this is a movie that will be important forever, and I think every single moment in the movie is important to contributing to a dire theme. There's really not a second wasted in this one, and that's what makes it so great.

I already wrote poorly about both of these movies. Find Burn After Reading here and No Country for Old Men here. Or don't find them there because none of it is actually worth reading.

Bad Movie Club: Double Down

2005 Neil Breen movie

Bad Movie Rating: 5/5 (Josh: 5/5; Fred: 6/5; Libby: 4/5; Johnny: no rating)

Rating: 2/20

Plot: I already wrote about this movie right here, after we Bad Movie Clubbed it less than a year ago. I guess we're obsessed with Breen. My plot synopsis the first time can't be improved upon.

I didn't really know what to say about this movie the first time I watched it, and I don't really know what to say about it now. Sure, there's a lot of pretentious bad art out there, but I don't think anybody does it like Neil Breen. As I typed in the Bad Movie Club thread after watching this, the movie is like a collaboration between David Lynch and Tommy Wiseau. It's such a weird effort to fart out an artistic statement with all these angst-filled excursions, clumsy symbolism, and this fragmented storytelling. Nothing about the movie works, and that, my friends, is what makes it so deliriously spectacular.

There's part of me that believes this is all an elaborate scheme, that it's supposed to be a comedy. But then I see the 1 1/2 facial expressions that Neil Breen is capable of having, and it all seems so genuine. I think I've wrote this exact same thing before, but the beauty of Neil Breen is that he fails so brilliantly at every single aspect of his job as a movie maker.

As a writer/director: Breen fails to make human characters sound like human beings. Wiseau-esquely, he throws in an "I've got cancer" subplot that makes it feel like he's never engaged in actual human interaction. He writes a movie that has so much to do with technology, but I'm not sure Breen really knows how a computer even works. That's probably why they're not even turned on as his character pounds on them to redirect satellites or communicate with foreign governments or whatever the hell he's doing. That aforementioned fragmentation only works to further confuse the viewer, and I'm not sure at the end whether Breen's character is supposed to be good at his job or terrible at it. Or if he's just a lonely guy having a nervous breakdown in the desert. He spends most of the movie's tedious narration bragging about how good he is at subterfuge or whatever and then manages to screw up multiple times, including a lengthy hilarious scene where he assassinates the wrong people.

As an actor: Oh, my God, nobody does it like Breen. There's no way he had a chance to convince us that he could be an action hero as he darted around the desert hills in his mom jeans and a wife beater (though I might have been convinced if there were more scenes with him wearing the denim vest with medals), but you'd think a guy who's been an actual human being (allegedly) for 50 years or so could convince us that his character is a human being. Nope, not with Breen. His timing seems all off, he has no rapport with any other character in the movie, he doesn't even really have rapport with his surroundings when there are no other characters on the screen, and those 1 1/2 faces don't effectively show even one emotion.

It's not that anybody else in the movie is better. I think he found most of the other actors and actresses who end up in this movie at a real estate convention. Notice the parade of old guys in suits telling the camera that we need to move to level red or level orange or whatever. It's so inept that it's impossible not to love.

This will have your mouth agape for the duration, but my favorite scenes remain the following:

1) That pool scene. My God, that pool scene! Everything about that scene is so wrong that the whole thing becomes the most perfect movie scene I have ever seen.

2) A scene where he's eating tuna while driving and spills some in his lap. I'm sure your Jack Bauers and Ethan Hunts of the world have spilled food in their laps, but the directors of those t.v. episodes and movies don't have the genius to show the audience.

In case you haven't noticed, Neil Breen has become my personal favorite bad movie person. If I were to sculpt a Bad Movie Mount Rushmore, I'd put Neil Breen's face on the side of the mountain four times. He's that good. Or bad.

I've now written inadequately about this movie twice. Words just fail me when trying to put my thoughts about Neil Breen's movies in writing.