2015 comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Losing confidence in the Apollo 11 mission and fearing that the Russians will make it to the moon before America and make us look like a bunch of dicks, the government sends a troubled CIA agent to fetch Stanley Kubrick and create some moonwalking footage. A desperate agent of a rock band and his pal who, like Kubrick, has a beard, get involved which leads to all sorts of wackiness.

This has potential cult classic written all over it, but it almost seems like that's precisely why it was made. As a movie that brings a conspiracy theory to life and then twists it with a Three's Company-esque case of mistaken identity, it really doesn't have much of a chance to be anything else. It's certainly got an odd rhythm with a bit of screwballery mixed with something closer to British humor although the latter might just be because it takes place in England and has Harry Potter's friend in it. It's one of those movies where you kind of have to let yourself flow in its groove. Psychedelic rock, 60's period excursions, a few musical nods to Kubrick's films, a computer-enhanced drug trip or two, and several odd auxiliary characters contribute to giving this one an oddball feel that definitely won't appeal to everybody.

If you are conditioned for this sort of thing, there's plenty to like here. Ron Perlman's at his bulky best, just a big old chunk of brutish mumbles. He's appropriately ultraviolent here, breaking bones and shooting off heads, and he gets to put on a hippie, puffy-sleeved shirt. Rupert Grint's good as the character who really drives the story. You have no confidence that he can get anything done or even survive the story, but although he's unlikable and unscrupulous, you almost want to root for him anyway. Robert Sheehan is the funniest as the guy who sort of looks like Stanley Kubrick but who really doesn't. I nearly feel in love with Erika Sainte, likely because we get to follow her up the stairs for what seems like an outrageous amount of time, and some guy named Tom Audenaert plays the experimental filmmaker role that seems to have been written for Galifianakis well enough.

This movie's a little all over the place, and if you think about the plot or its characters enough, things will fall apart and feel as unlikely as the chances that man has ever walked on the moon. But watching the avant-stupid film-within-a-film "Bounce" (twice if you count the credits), that wacky drug trip, and the moonwalking climax that had me laughing uncontrollably even though I felt stupider doing it made this comedy worth the watch.

Oh, I also liked the animated opening credits. They looked like something straight out of Pepperland.


2015 biopic

Rating: 14/20

Plot: After the death of his mother, a Hollywood writer with gigantic ears is raised in a circus where he befriends a talking mouse and becomes a clown. After imbibing something in a barrel--never a good idea, especially outside a circus tent--some imaginary psychedelic elephants encourage him to attempt flight, and with the help of a magic feather, he becomes the only and most famous flying elephant in the world. Unfortunately, some circus freaks accuse him of being a communist, and that threatens his career.

Not as good as similarly-themed Hail, Caesar! or Good Night, and Good Luck, this look at the infamous Hollywood blacklist focusing mainly on Dalton Trumbo suffers a bit from a paint-by-numbers approach. It resonates mainly because of good screenwriting (because it better have good screenwriting) and some really good performances. From a storytelling perspective, it deals too much in extremes. The good guys are all really good, and the bad guys are all really bad, and there's not really much depth except for some Trumbo family conflict and a conflicted Edward G. Robinson. It's a simple reading of Trumbo's story, and the character's put on a pretty high pedestal.

For you Breaking Bad fans who miss seeing a whole lot of Bryan Cranston's gorgeous body, you're in for a treat with this one.

Cranston's pretty good although the character starts to feel redundant after a bit. One character accuses Trumbo of saying "everything like it's going to be chiseled on a rock," and it seems like every other line is smug and witty. When Cranston gets the opportunity to portray Trumbo as a normal human with something close to normal human problems, the work is really good. Mirren, Goodman, and others play characters who are types, but they play them well enough for you to forget that. I thought Louis C.K. was pretty bad here and in the movie way too much although I was impressed with his cough-on-demand abilities. It's really an ensemble cast that kind of swirls around Cranston, and for the most part, it works well even when the characters feel more like something you're reading out of a history book than people made of flesh and sinews.

I'm really not sure about actors portraying very famous faces in movies like this. David James Elliot plays John Wayne, and even though he's not overdoing things or throwing out a cheap impersonation, it never feels right to me at all and is almost distracting. Michael Stuhlbarg has better luck as Edward G. Robinson, likely because he's not as recognizable a personality. It's probably the same with Christian Berkel, the guy who plays Otto Preminger, a colorful version of the director who provides some humorous bits late in the movie. Dean O'Gorman plays Kirk Douglas, a celebrity who is sort of in between. He's not John Wayne, but he's not exactly a nobody either.

Although people aren't terrified of Communists, this story of 1st Amendment infringement still feels timely in a way. It's an important story more than it is a great movie although it's worth seeing for the performances and some good writing.

Ip Man 3

2015 action sequel

Rating: 14/20

Plot: The Ip Man saga continues as our hero tries to save a school from some thugs and a guy with a menacing but still goofy face tattoo.

This is better than the first sequel but fails to match the actiony near perfection of the first Ip Man movie. Like with that second movie, I watched this loving all the fight scenes and wishing I was watching more fight scenes when the director decided to try to push the various plots along instead. That makes me feel just a little bit dumb, but it really has more to do with how good the fight scenes are. There are four absolutely terrific ones--one at a school, one in a shipyard with about five hundred ax-and-wrench-armed thugs, one with Mike Tyson of all people, and a final one-on-one fight that you've been waiting to see all your life whether you knew it or not.

Yen continues to display this quiet grace that gives this character its drive. I didn't care much about his wife or her cancer, probably because I'm a heartless dumb guy who just wants to see people getting their heads slammed into the ground or their arms busted. Jin Zhang very nearly out-dazzles Yen, not exactly an easy feat, and I might have to check out his filmography to see more of him in action. They're both just so fast, and I'm not sure how much of this is effects-enhanced, but watching them fight a bunch of no-name punks individually and then each other in the climax is just about as good as kung-fu action gets. You'll likely drool if you're a fan of the genre. Mike Tyson is oddly non-charismatic at times, but it's really great seeing him in action. He combines speed and power in a way that has you believing he's actually a match for Ip Man.

I absolutely hated the pair of scenes with Bruce Lee. I thought that Bruceploitation stuff had ended, and the impersonation felt a little tacky.

Well worth watching for kung-fu fans solely because of the exquisite fight choreography even while the story leaves you wanting a little more.


2015 crime drama

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Apparently, there's some issues with drugs and violence right around the border between America and Mexico. Instead of just building a wall to keep the drugs out, a CIA task force recruits an FBI agent and her partner to go try to win Nancy Reagan's war on drugs.

A lot of tense moments and some really good performances--especially by Blunt, Brolin, and a chilling Del Toro--add up to something nearly great even when it feels derivative. Its themes are a little too obvious, but there are some terrific moments throughout the movie. The characters' relationships and their motivations often leave you guessing.

I'm tired. I shouldn't have even started this blog entry.

The Revenant

2016 best picture nominee

Rating: 16/20

Plot: After being sexually assaulted by a bear, a guy is stranded in the woods by his so-called buddies and left to die. In retrospect, it's one of the meanest practical jokes ever seen in a movie. He doesn't die, however, and instead seeks revenge, much to the chagrin of Mad Max.

This isn't quite the revolution that Birdman was, but it's one of those cinematic experiences that will stick around for a long time. I guess my only gripe is that it's really pretty empty in the end, a movie that looks great and has a handful of great performances and the best CGI-bear that you've likely ever seen but also a movie that doesn't really add up to much of anything. It's your typical man vs. nature survival story drenched in revenge.

Leo DiCaprio got the accolades and his face on all the posters, but to me, Tom Hardy stole this show. His performance is stunning, almost haunting, and he creates this loathsome character that is both very simple and strangely complex. Really, it's Hardy's character's story anyway. He's the cat who drives the story, and he's the one haunted by Leonardo DiCaprio's ghost. DiCaprio's performance is fine but arguably not award-worthy as he spends the majority of the movie grunting and moaning.

God damn it! There's Domhnall Gleeson again. This guy is ubiquitous. You can't throw a rock and not hit a movie that Domhnall Gleeson's in.

The real star of this movie is the scenery and cinematography. I'm too lazy to look up where this was filmed, but it might be one of those situations--like Arizona's Painted Desert--where it's impossible to make it look bad. Still, Alejandro Inarritu's got something special brewing with this string of greatness he's on, and this is one good-looking film. I love the use of natural light, and there are so many shots in this movie where you have to give everybody involved degree of difficulty points. Stand-out scenes include that aforementioned brawl with the CGI-bear. It's imperfect, but still probably the best animal-on-human or vice versa action I've ever seen. The best action sequence comes earlier though when some fur traders go at it, the camera moving so fluently through all this choreographed violence. It's stunning. And Inarritu succeeds in something that seems very difficult. He takes this James Fenimore Cooper tinted epic and somehow makes it very personal. The Emmanuel Lubezki cinematography puts your face right in the action, like Lubezki's giving you a swirly or something. It's brutal and relentless, and added to the sheer length of this story, you kind of feel exhausted after watching the thing.

This seems like a very easy movie to write and a very difficult movie to film.

I enjoyed the score quite a bit and was surprised to see it was composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto, his first Hollywood score in around 17 years. Sakamoto's score fits with the pace of the film, one that's often glacial and only punctuated by action and grunting.

Oprah Movie Club Baseball Pick #2: The Sandlot

1993 movie

Rating: 14/20 (Abbey: 15/20)

Plot: New kid Scotty Smalls tries to fit in during his first summer in the neighborhood. He becomes the ninth player on the sandlot baseball team; looks up to the best player, Benjamin Franklin Rodriguez; and eventually forces the team into a face-to-face confrontation with a monstrous dog.

"You're killin' me, Smalls."

I've seen two references to that lately, once on a t-shirt this weekend, and it's led me to believe this movie is more popular that I thought. I saw it back in '93 in the movie theater with a girl I kind of liked. Wait, that's not right. That was Rookie of the Year. Who did I see this with? Was it my wife, another girl I kind of liked?

This movie bugs me because it should be better. It's about something, there's palpable nostalgia, and the characters, though annoying, are memorable and say memorable things. I like what the movie's about. There's this lovely idea of this game that goes on forever that any adult watching this knows can't really go on forever. And then there's this lurking threat, this monstrosity of a dog threatening to take that childhood magic away. In the end, it's memories--even ones bloated with exaggeration--that win out and keep childhood alive. Really, that's one of the beautiful things about baseball--how it keeps the pulse of time ticking--and that's what makes it the perfect activity for these kids to spend their time with. The majority of this movie brushes up against subplots--Smalls' relationship with his step-dad, infatuation with a hot lifeguard--but none of it's developed. The focus is on all these nostalgic tidbits that paint this Rockwell-esque idealistic picture that, although definitely set in a specific time period, manages to still feel timeless in a way. Near the end, the writer/director David M. Evans figured out that he needed a central conflict and made the little idiot who had never heard of Babe Ruth hit a priceless baseball artifact over the fence. But before that, the episodic structure is great and developing this time and place even when there's not much of a story and the lively characters.

This suffers a bit from some child acting, like all the young performers were sat in front of Bad News Bears and told to just emulate them. They do succeed, for the most part, in being actual boys, trash-talking, lifeguard-leering, time-wasting prepubescent boys. The rapport between the boys, kind of a Bad-News-Bear lite, is fun enough, especially for a family movie. The movie has less to do with story and more to do with their relationships.

If there's an antagonist at all, it's time. The boys are enjoying a game that can't really go on forever, and because they're little boys, they're just too stupid (or naive) to understand that. Time's going to eat away at their game, their sandlot, and their memories. At the very least, time will distort their memories, bloating killer dogs and adding several feet to their home run distances. You ever notice how small places from your childhood are when you return as an adult? Go find the hallways of your elementary school, and you'll feel like a fucking giant. I'm not accusing our storytellers of dishonesty or anything, but you get the sense that the narration is a little unreliable.

Despite likable characters and a great sense of Hollywood-manufactured nostalgia, this is far from perfect. David M. Evans tiresome narration, the deluge of fun but predictable 50's rock music, and a feel-goody look at small-town America is a little too glossy. The narration and soundtrack recall The Wonder Years and Stand By Me respectively, and that gloss almost absurdly ignores the discrimination of the era. I mean, are we really supposed to believe that James Earl Jones, a guy who finds his way into every sappy baseball movie, really had a chance to beat Babe Ruth's records? Or that the black kid's going to be allowed in that pool? It's almost like Evans had plans for Jones' character to lament never getting his chance in the big leagues because of the color of his skin but chickened out and blinded the character instead. Maybe that's just a little too heavy for a family movie.

Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable enough and really nails all the right baseball feelings for adults who loved the game as kids. Its ability to simultaneously exude happy-go-luckiness and wistfulness is what makes it a winner despite its lack of ambition and other flaws.

Bad Movie Clue: Laser Mission

1989 action movie

Bad Movie Rating: 2/5 (Fred: 2/5; Josh: 2/5; Jeremy: gave up; Libby: no rating; Johnny: technical difficulties kept him from finishing)

Rating: 6/20

Plot: Brandon Lee and a large-breasted woman have to stop people with bad Russian accents from--wait for it--succeeding in their laser mission.

Brandon Lee only acted in ten movies, and this was one of them. Between kicks and gunfire, he's got some terrible writing to wade for, but he's at least as solid as an action hero as anybody else who punched and shot people in this era. He's almost got something you might mistake for charisma. My favorite character was Manuel, played with indistinct nationality by Pierre Knoesen. I'm pretty sure he was there for comic relief. This was our second bad movie featuring Ernest Borgnine, and he and his eyebrows deliver. There's a redundant and overused theme song called "Mercenary Man" by David Knopfler, and an absurd body count. I don't like giving away endings for movies that nobody will ever see to people who aren't even reading this blog, but things almost get entertaining during the climax when the main bad guy turns out to be impossible to kill. The guy's like the Terminator or something.

The best thing about this movie is conversation we had before we started where Johnny brought up a great line of dialogue from Showdown in Little Tokyo. 


2015 Best Picture nominee

Rating: 13/20

Plot: An Irish woman moves to New York and falls in love with an Italian guy.

Saoirse Ronan is fine as the lead, a woman Donald Trump wouldn't want in the country. I liked a sex scene that was realistically awkward, and there were nice period details. Unfortunately, this was the least gripping story I've seen in a long time. I had no interest in any of these characters.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

2015 comedy-drama

Rating: 17/20

Plot: A high school senior who's had success blending in finds things unraveling when his mom forces him to befriend a classmate with leukemia.

This effervescent charmer with heaping portions of pathos isn't without its issues. It drifts, the last act is a classic example of just-a-bit-too-much, and there's manipulation. Part Fault in Our Stars and part The Perks of Being a Wallflower, this always threatens to turn into just another quirky coming-of-age story.

But I'm through talking about anything negative with this movie because I fucking loved it. I loved every single minute of it. I laughed more than I can remember laughing at a movie in a long time, just sitting on my couch in the wee hours and laughing in the darkness. I cried a little bit even when I knew exactly how this would end and possibly could have written the thing myself if I had any drive whatsoever. I fell in love with the characters, pulled for "Me" even when he threatened to become unbearable, and wished I could spend more time with Nick Offerman as Greg's dad; RJ Cyler, a bit of a throwback as Earl; John Bernthal as the boys' favorite teacher; and even Molly Shannon who is usually fairly irritating. There's magical cheese throughout, tangents for the story's tangents, and so many bones tossed for artsy-fartsy movie buffs.

You do have to wonder who the audience is. It's got a teen or college-aged vibe as a coming-of-age story, but at the same time, there are so many references to foreign films and avant-garde cinema. I was as well versed in that sort of thing at 19 as I'd expect anybody would be, and I wouldn't have been close to as well-watched as I needed to be to catch a lot of the allusions.

God, where do I even start? I'll start with the soundtrack, Eno-heavy and just about perfect. Lately, I've listened to nothing but Brian Eno's poppish albums from the 70s and The Smiths, so this was familiar. I don't talk to anybody about Brian Eno, but I suspect he's better known for his ambient works. The vocal pop stuff is some of my favorite music ever though, and even though I'm very familiar with it, the music still somehow managed to surprise here. I think it's all about context. "I'll Come Running" was used in a touching montage that nearly brought a tear, and there's "The Big Ship" in another perfect place in a 2015 film (The End of the Tour was the other). It's just a perfect song in a perfect moment, and I nearly want to weep just thinking about it.

I don't know. I'm kind of an emotional wreck right now anyway. And I think I'm a sucker for these types of movies. And I'm pretty sure I've figured out why. Just like I enjoy surrealism because they can fill a void I have by not remembering any of my dreams, these movies kind of help me live vicariously through 20-year-olds playing teenagers and experiencing a type of childhood that I never had.

Anyway, this isn't about me. This is about this movie, and like I said, I loved every minute of it. I thought the direction was really interesting. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and cinematographer Chung-Hoo Chung use space in interesting ways. The framing is often surprising, and I loved how the camera swirled during conversations. It's a beautifully shot movie, a tinge of grit giving it a timeless quality and a sense of freedom that makes you feel like these characters can go anywhere at all. It's just so refreshing, making the funnier parts even funnier and the more touching moments that much more touching.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the film parodies that Earl and Greg make. My favorite might have been 2:48 Cowboy, or that was at least my favorite title. References to Werner Herzog hooked me, and My Dinner with Andre the Giant, A Sockwork Orange, and My Best Actor Is Also a Dangerous Lunatic have the duo tackling some of my favorites. This one made me laugh, too:

Did I make it clear enough that I loved this movie?


2015 Best Picture

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Boston newspaper people uncover Catholic child abuse scandals.

This movie made me incredibly sad, but that was balanced out by getting to watch something so well done. It's a great cast although I was never convinced by Michael Keaton's eyebrow's Boston accent. Mark Ruffalo continues his great run with a performance in which a lot is going on, none of it all that obvious. Liev Schreiber continues to fascinate me. Rachel McAdams apparently has no interest in me even though I have my own movie blog. Stanley Tucci, John Slattery, Keaton, and pretty much everybody who has a line in this is really good.

I like how this manages to build even if you know the entire story. You know what they're going to uncover because you watched the news once or twice and sort of believe Brian Williams, but it still manages to shock. Of course, the subject matter--both the Catholic church part and the child abuse part--isn't all that difficult to shock a person with. As I get older and more jaded and more cynical, that shock doesn't come as easily. It's replaced with something closer to despair.

It's the same reason I don't like to watch the news.

But this reminds me of the great dialogue-and-character-driven films of the 70s. There's a little grit with the dialogue, and it's a joy watching the characters' dynamics and listening to the dialogue. I can never remember if I enjoy watching people working in movies or if it wears me out, but I really liked the glimpse at newspapering. Watching the great ensemble cast running around and trying to put pieces together, all that journalistic detective work, was fun even when the subject matter was as troubling as it was.

I have no problem with this winning the Best Picture in what seems to be a pretty weak year.

Oprah Movie Club Baseball Pick #1: The Natural

1984 ultra-sentimental baseball story

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Prospective baseball great Roy Hobbs, led by his penis, winds up shot in the abdomen before making his big league pitching debut. Fifteen years later, he tries to make it back as a slugger while ghosts from the past hurl bean balls at him. Cue Randy Newman music.

I'm surprised this isn't on the blog somewhere because it's one of those movies I've seen a whole bunch of times. I could almost hum it note-for-note. Apparently, I've not seen it in the last however-many-years-I've-wasted-my-life-away-writing-this-movie-blog-that-nobody-reads though.

Anyway, here are my real-time thoughts on this, the first of four Oprah Movie Club baseball picks. Next up, if you're playing along at home, is The Sandlot. The National Anthem's been belted out, the umpire's bellowed a hearty "Play ball," and the increasingly-popular Movies-a-Go-Go is ready to roll.

Oh, I think I had completely forgotten that Randy Newman did the music for this. Now that I think about it, I do remember reading about how “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” was originally written for this movie, but they couldn’t figure out how to animate the Roy Hobb’s baseball bat’s lips for the big musical number so he recycled it for that little Pixar movie.

I wish I had enough time to just stand around enjoying flashbacks of playing catch with my father. This dad’s advice was all about not relying just on your natural abilities. My dad’s advice had more to do with how I should find something other than baseball to do with my time because I “threw like a fucking crippled girl.” His words--not mine.

Note: My father never said that. I should probably make that clear. 

This daddy death scene is the exact reason I’ve never chopped wood. At least in a non-euphemistic way.

Great. First his father dies while chopping wood, and now his favorite tree has been struck by lightning. No wonder he appears to be so pensive.

And there’s that main theme. It makes more sense when Roy Hobbs is circling the bases in slow motion after a dramatic home run. Here, during the making-of-a-baseball-bat-out-of-a-tree-that-was-struck-by-lightning-the-day-your-father-died-while-chopping-wood montage, it’s a little bit ridiculous. You know what I'm talking about, right? That six-note thing? Doo-doo. . .doo-do-do-do. It's what I hummed every time I popped out to the second basemen when I played little league.

Who am I kidding? It still sounds awesome.

Wonderboy? Before burning that into his new bat, he probably should have spent a little more time thinking about that name.

Oh, you’re not hiding anything from me, Levinson. I recognize the look Roy and Iris are giving each other after the proposal as the screen fades to black. She’s about to experience Roy’s other Wonderboy.

“Hang on to the water wagon, old timer.” Why don’t people talk like this anymore?

Roy Hobbs is such a terrific baseball name. It’s simple but effective, the kind of name that you could hear and say, “Yep, baseball hall of famer.”

I think Whammer here is supposed to be based on Babe Ruth, but it’s hard to be sure. I think I need to see a better shot to see if he has little-girl legs are and maybe watch him run. Or maybe drink himself to death.

Shit-kicker? Huckleberry? That’s not very nice, Whammer.

Just how dry was Whammer’s granddaddy’s scalp anyway? I won’t know if Roy’s throwing spitballs or not until I know for sure.

A Joe Don Baker deleted line: “Try striking me out without my hat and after I’ve spit all over my hands, poopy-pusher!” Maybe he should have taken off that vest.

The Whammer’s swing is not very good. That last pitch was a straight fastball, and it looked like he was completely fooled by it. I'm not trying to brag or anything, but I think I could have hit Robert Redford in my prime.

Great, Roy. With that strikeout, you just got yourself murdered.

This conversation about whether Roy Hobbs has read Homer is a great example of two people who don’t have a clue what the other one is talking about. He doesn’t know what a book even is, and she’s not sure if a homer in baseball is a good or bad thing.

By the way, Barbara Hershey's character's got crazy eyes here. I'd probably still be interested, but I'd be on my toes.

Robert Redford’s performance as young Roy is the greatest performance by an older guy playing a kid since Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Ok, it’s not just striking out Whammer that got Harriet's murderous juices flowing and led to attempted murder. One has to blame the fact that he also can't control the little Wonderboy in his pants.

Hold on, readers. There are likely going to be several Wonderboy/penis references in this.

Harriet keeps disappearing. Is she supposed to even be real? What’s she symbolize exactly?

Wilford Brimley, because they didn’t have the technology in the early-80s to have a CGI walrus play the coach.

Here’s a coach--wanting to be a farmer, talking about choking to death, raving about the water fountain, calling his players snakes--who really knows how to inspire confidence.

I love Red. And the Red/Pop combination is really great.

Doctor Dizzy? Sounds like a vertigo specialist.

In my opinion, Major League Baseball should retire the number 9 just like they have 42. Is that politically incorrect?

Bump Bailey’s quote about not wanting to slide because he had a cigar in his pocket is probably based on reality. Players in the 80s didn’t want to slide because they had vials of cocaine in their back pockets.

That's right, Tim Raines. I'm talking about you. 

I’d say any time Roy Hobbs leaves a hotel without an extra hole in him, he should count it as a success.

“Pretty good food, huh? You can’t spell it, but it eats pretty good.” Oh, that Richard Farnsworth.

This Bad News Knights montage is great, punctuated with Red’s “That’s kind of a bad play there” that made me laugh. I love Red! Every team should have one.

Who plays the “Losing is a disease guy”? Losing is like polio? Losing is like cyphillis? The bubonic plague? If I ever coach middle school softball again, I'm quoting this speech verbatim.

Batting practice scene...more slow motion, and I think the chubby bat boy just shat his pants. I love the echos in this scene. Clangs and cracks, cracks and clangs.

Michael Madsen hit a home run and made sure his girlfriend saw it. Hobbs hit and made sure the chubby bat boy saw it.

I'm not going to say this is the result of steroids, but Hobbs is obviously juiced. Ask Jose Canseco because he would know.

Pop is not impressed with the name Wonderboy either.

“Hey, I lost it in the sun.”

This Wilford Brimley shower scene is just as horrifying as the one in Psycho.

Chubby bat boy’s voice is terrible. Obviously, his baseballs haven’t dropped, so to speak.

George Wilkosz played him, and it was his only acting role. They probably needed to find him a hat that fit properly. 

Another deleted line--Iris in the coffee shop listening to guys talking about Hobbs knocking the cover off the ball: “Wonderboy? I was once boinked with Wonderboy!”

The lesson from Bump Bailey’s death is clear: The harder you try at something, you more likely it is to kill you, especially if a wall is involved.

Bump Bailey’s death is really convenient.

“Seems to be a slight mistake--Olson’s hitting the ball.” I love baseball banter.

Robert Redford has a pretty nice swing in this movie. And he still looks like a middle-aged man. And that’s what makes it all so perfect.

I’d love to know what Hobbs’ statistics are for this season.

“Hey, Roy, what’s it take to be a big leaguer?”
“Well, try not to get shot in the abdomen by the first pretty woman you meet on your way to join your big league ball club."

Now Robert Duvall is disappearing!

Judge’s story about the dark…

“A pure canard.”
“What’s a canard?”
“A prevarication.”
You’ve got to know your audience, Judge. This is a guy who didn’t know what a book was earlier.

This movie has a great cast.

Hey, I want to see Kim Basinger’s gorgeous silk pajamas, too!

I want it to be known that I have refrained from making two Wonderboy jokes during these scenes with Kim Basinger. I think that’s a sign of maturity or something.

I’m not sure how they got the light to look like this during this beach scene, but it’s impressive.

Be careful, Roy, or you’re going to get some sand in your Wonderboy.

Kim Basinger is bad luck? The last guy she dated only ran through a wall and killed himself. It's probably a coincidence.

What’s the message about women supposed to be in this movie? It’s almost bizarrely mysogynistic, isn’t it?

Keep playing like this, Roy, and they’ll replace you with Bump.

The Walrus just got booted for arguing a play at third. If only they had instant replay.

Shit! Now Iris disappears at the train station as Roy watches her from his seat! First Harriet, then Duvall, and now Iris?

Quick text-only Harry Carey impression, since they’re at Wrigley: “And here’s Roy Hobbs at the plate. Roy Hobbs’ name backwards would be Sub-bah yor. Budweiser! Holy cow!”

Hobbs isn’t keeping his eye on the ball. That’s the reason for his slump. If I was the Knights hitting coach, I could tell him that. And I'd add that losing is like polio.

No wonder the crowd seems so irritable here. One, they’re rooting for the Cubs. Two, they probably are all coming off experiences using the troughs in the Wrigley restrooms.

Well, you’re going to have to pay for that clock, Roy.

Glenn Close or Kim Basinger?

“What happened to you, Roy?”
“Well, after getting engaged to you, I decided to chase the first piece of tail I saw on the train ride. . .”

I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m pretty sure it would be hard to pick Basinger’s character over Iris. I mean, her name is Memo.

You can keep giving Roy hints that the kid’s his, Iris, but you have to remember something: You’re not dealing with the brightest individual in the world here. You might need to spell this one out for him.

Why would the chubby bat boy have homework? Isn’t it the middle of summer?

“Goodbye, Mr. Spalding!” is a good home run call. I've often dreamed of being a baseball play-by-play guy, and have come up with a few of my own:

"Adios, baseballio!"
"Look out, bleachers! This ball's a-comin' at ya!"
"Wazzle dazzle! That ball skidooed!"
"Get the fuck over that wall, bitch!"

Man, post-win celebrations have apparently gotten less rowdy. I don’t remember seeing this much underwear dancing after modern pennant clinches.

I’m not sure what’s more arousing--the bow on the back of Basinger’s dress of Darren McGavin’s voice.

“You’re standing awful close, Gus. I can’t tell if it’s your toes I’m feeling or mine.” I’m really perplexed by that line.

Clearly, Roy Hobbs doesn’t know the lyrics to “Darktown Strutters Ball” or whatever this song is.

A lot of his on-field heroics have been impressive, but Roy Hobbs becoming the first man to give birth to a silver bullet at Tower Maternity is probably his most impressive feat.

Must have had a snoot full? Umm. What?

That's what she said. 

Of course it was a great party, Roy! It’s not a great party unless you end up nearly dead in a maternity ward.

You’re not going to convince him with money, Memo. You’re going to have to go straight for his Wonderboy.

Wait, does Robert Duvall’s character live at the stadium? Does he live on peanut shells and Crackerjack or something?

It’s unclear to me why Harriet killed herself after shooting Hobbs.

I’m sorry, but it’s a little distracting to have Roy in the maternity ward.

Well, if you can’t be the best at baseball, you can at least be the best at having women attempt to murder you. I'm not sure they keep those statistics on the back of baseball cards though.

I’m not going to argue that this isn’t one of the cheesiest movies ever made if you want to think that, but that “God, I love baseball” line gets me every time.

Apparently “Pick a spot and work at it” and “Confidence and concentration” are pieces of advice that work in any sport. Baseball. Fly-fishing. Thanks, Dad!

Luckily, Memo is a much worse shot than Harriet. She came closer to shooting her own foot than hitting Roy.

Brimley’s got a strange chest hair thing going on in this “Best damn hitter I ever saw” scene. It’s like he has a stuffed animal shoved down the front of his t-shirt.

Note: I now have "Wilford Brimley chest hair" in my Google search history. 

I know I was joking about people disappearing earlier, but I really like how some of the characters are like ghosts in this. They are more shades of something rather than actual somethings. It gives this kind of a haunting quality that adds to the mythos.

That was a nasty pitch by Youngberry to strike out the guy who hit before Hobbs.

I remember I once called time from left field in a little league game in order to confer with the pitcher, and the coach took me out of the game and called me a "little moron." Times have certainly changed.

The Knight with the bat logo isn’t quite as iconic as my team’s birds-on-the-bat, but it’s a good one. Has a minor league team adopted that? If their hat was more interesting, I’d love to have one.

Oh, man! You know what’s going to happen, but you still can’t wait for it to happen. That’s the mark of a great movie scene, isn’t it?

A pitcher change in the middle of an at-bat is a little unorthodox.

Lightning? Really?

Not Wonderboy! Oh, this game is fucking over!

Don’t worry, Hobbs. That’s nothing a little Viagra won’t fix.

“Go pick me out a winner, Bobby.” That one gets me, too.

Savoy Special. It looks like Redford is trying his best not to laugh. Like the chubby bat boy (and countless other young boys who saw this movie and had aspirations of being a big league star), I carved my own bat as a kid. It was misshapen though, and the knob looked like a deformed baby's foot. And I got splinters every time I touched it. I called it The Quality Smacker.

The most amazing thing about this movie, other than Hobbs getting some kind of record for women trying to kill him, is that he used a single bat for almost the entire season.

Kirk Gibson didn’t bleed! And we all know Curt Schilling was faking that bloody sock thing in '04. And that makes Roy Hobbs a greater hero than either of those clowns.

I’m not sure why all the scoreboards are exploding, but still, what a great ending. Randy Newman’s theme, a slow-motion rounding of the bases, the shots of the reactions of all the main characters. What a great movie moment that is.

Wait a second. If that home run ball hit a light in fair territory, it would have to be around a 900-foot blast, right? That's something like 450 Wonderboys!

Other than wanting to know how many home runs Hobbs hit this season, I’d love some statistics on how much financial damage Hobbs caused to stadiums during the season.

This final shot of Roy playing catch with his son is touching and all, but you know the kid’s going to have to see his father die the first time he tries to chop lumber. And that makes it bittersweet.

Crimson Peak

2015 period horror movie

Rating: 12/20

Plot: A woman who sees dead people gets hitched to a sketchy guy and his creepy sister and moves into a dilapidated mansion where she sees more dead people.

Largely, this is dull, but these period things aren't really my bag. There are a lot of pretty visuals, but the oozing clay, the snowflakes falling from a giant hole in the mansion's ceiling, creepy ghosts, and all that color seem a little forced, almost like they're just there to distract you from finding out that the story isn't very good. There are certainly memorable moments in this, but I'm not sure it all comes together to make anything all that memorable.


2015 boxing movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: The son of late boxing champion Apollo Creed seeks Rocky's help as he launches his own professional boxing career.

I guess I should have done my research. I popped in thinking I was getting a spin-off movie for the American version of The Office and an intimate look at the Creed character. Instead, this is another Rocky movie. The focus is less on Rocky and more on the guy who gets his name on the poster, but it's still a Rocky movie. And as those movies go, this is probably the best since the original. I'm not sure it's the most memorable, but the bulk of the memorable moments aren't memorable for the best reasons.

In a way, it reminds me of The Force Awakens. This is a movie that doesn't really take many chances, and it kind of hits all the same notes that Rocky did. It's your classic underdog story updated for the 21st Century. You wonder if something like that is completely outdated because the world is a more cynical place these days, but creating these strong, conflicted, and imperfect characters who you can really root for is something that never really gets old. Creed's fight is an internal one, a man wrestling with legacy and ghosts, and what I like most about the character is that he's never unlikable. He's never cocky, never spoiled, never bitter. There's a moment in the middle where he makes a mistake or two, but he begins this story the same way he ends it--as a likable dude you want to pull for. I thought Michael B. Jordan was about perfect. First, the guy can punch and has a body that's very similar to mine. As with all Rocky movies, there are training montages, and although I'm pretty sure I'm not a homosexual, I really couldn't take my eyes off this guy's body. The character doesn't have a ton of emotional range, but Jordan's always right about where he needs to be.

And hey, there's also a bonus underdog story with this because Rocky himself is forced into a situation where he has to fight. No, he doesn't get in the ring although I wouldn't be surprised to find out they're trying to squeeze one final Rocky-in-the-ring moment in before Stallone explodes in a mess of steroids and plastic. Rocky's thrust into situations, and Stallone's really great at playing this guy who wears his past. It weighs on him. Stallone gets line after line that feel like Rocky movie cliches, the type of things that Mickey would have said after he ate way too much bean salad. It's inspiring and all, but it's the quieter moments that really got me.

This movie always threatens to burst, and I'm not sure I ever like the romantic subplot--this movie's got an Adrian--or some of its tangents. But the feel-good stuff works for the most part, and the boxing scenes are really good. I don't think you watch Rocky movies for boxing realism exactly, and the final fight scene will simultaneously have you pumping your fists and rolling your eyes a little, which admittedly is much better than pumping your eyes and rolling your fists. My favorite fight was one in the middle, a circling camera capturing 1 1/2 rounds in what I think was one extended shot. Jordan might say, "Come on!" too much, but it's an exhilarating moment nonetheless.

Are they going to keep making these?

Bad Movie Club: Infra-Man

1975 superhero/monster movie

Bad Movie Rating: 3/5 (Johnny: 1/5; Fred: 2/5; Josh: no rating; Jeremy: no rating; Libby: 3/5)

Rating: 14/20 (This is what I gave it the first time I reviewed it, so I decided to stick with that.

Plot: Infra-Man tries to save the world from Princess Dragon Mom and her crew of mutants.

I was happy to revisit this delightfully odd movie in which the Shaw Brothers bring together the superhero genre, giant monsters, science fiction, and kung-fu. I don't really have much to add to my original write-up that is linked up there, but I am a little surprised that my Bad Movie Club colleagues didn't dig this one a little more.

Somebody should buy me Infra-Man action figures:

That second one comes complete with Thunderball Fists! You know, cause you can't roll into battle with mutants without your thunderball fists.

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

2015 zombie horror-comedy

Rating: 11/20

Plot: Scouts try to survive an outbreak of zombies.

"I'm so fucking sick of zombies!"

I don't know why I keep subjecting myself to zombie movies. If you plan on watching this, you should do it with a group of friends and play some Movie Cliche Bingo. This has characters you've seen before, action shots you've seen before, and dick references you've probably seen before if you watch the right kinds of movies. As a whole, it doesn't really work, but when you look at the individual parts, you're frustrated with how unoriginal the thing is. There's just nothing that surprises in this, and for a movie called Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, that's just disappointing.

Cloris Leachman is the best part of the movie. Well, either her or the cat puppets. Or Todd Packer from The Office. Or the sneaky little gag where one of the zombies is wearing a YOLO shirt ironically. Or maybe the way those deer intestines looked.

But I'm grasping at zombie penises here because any movie where the cliches beat the fun, memorable moments 4-1 just isn't going to interest me all that much. Solid special effects are overwhelmed by unlikable, poorly-drawn characters. Bursts of creativity are drowned in cheaply raunchy boob and dick gags. Mildly amusement is stomped all over by general loudness. This isn't completely unpleasant and probably not even a waste of time, but there's nothing here that is going to cause this to stand out in a movie universe oversaturated with zombie flicks.


2015 man vs. nature movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A bunch of people take on a mountain and the mountain

From the previews, I figured this would be a flashy and visually-spectacular tale of survival, and I don't really mean either of those in a positive way. I was surprised at how non-showy it was. You've got grand sweeping shots of people on mountains, and there are some moments where you wonder how they got a camera where they got a camera. For the most part, this is straight storytelling without the dazzle, and I think that makes it stronger in a way. Other than that ladder scene on the poster up there, you don't have many big action moments with music crescendos and snappy cuts. The mountain just kills them quietly, a silent assassin. As menacing storm clouds lurk, the screen and the sides of the mountain grow darker, and Everest somehow manages to feel smaller and grittier. I wasn't sure how much of this involved real shots of actors and actresses on mountains and how much this was enhanced by CGI, but the fact that I couldn't really tell is a testament to how good it looked.

The ensemble cast is really good, and I especially liked Josh Brolin and John Hawkes who played the most intriguing characters. Brolin nails this character who bounces between arrogant but likable bravado and this submerged oh-shit-I-shouldn't-be-on-this-mountain anxiety. Hawkes plays a character who you want to root for even when most of you know he deserves what he gets. Everybody else is good, too, but I still had trouble connecting with the characters and really feeling like they were anybody but people who may or may not die on a mountain. There are attempts with two of the characters to sap things up by showing their significant others, but there are so many characters that their stories are stretched pretty thin.

This movie is good enough, but I still prefer Touching the Void.

Would You Rather

2012 psychological thriller

Rating: 9/20 (Abbey: 13/20)

Plot: Iris wants to help her brother get a bone marrow transplant and agrees to participate in a violent game of Would You Rather at a sadistic rich guy's house.

I don't know why I should feel the need to explain this to any of you, but I feel the need to explain why I watched this. Abbey wanted to watch a horror movie and wouldn't listen to any of my suggestions. Her friend suggested this and a couple others, and she put this on. The concept is as intriguing as anything else in this post-Saw era of torture porn, and there's some dark comedy that made it almost enjoyable. Or maybe it's just a darkly comic performance from Jeffery Combs of Re-Animator fame. Combs, as well as Jonny Coyne who plays the butler and the kid who plays Combs' son, chews scenery as ridiculously as you can imagine any actor playing this role, and after a while, you figure that it's intentional. He laughs almost constantly, jovially sadistic, and it's the kind of laugh you could imagine 1920's villains letting loose. And the fact that his name is actually Shepard Lambrick makes me laugh for some reason.

Once the little dinner party gets going, this proceeds about as you'd expect. Characters bleed, and there's an action scene that only acts as an interlude to the characters bleeding. There's a doctor character who the movie wastes a lot of time on for some reason. For the most part, characters die in the order you figure they'll die, and Combs seems to be the only person amused by the whole thing. June Squibb continues being nutty on screen, and a couple of her scenes actually made me laugh. I'm not sure that was director David Guy Levy or writer Steffan Schlachtenhaufen intended though.

This is the perfect example of a movie that isn't really all that good anyway but that is completely ruined by its ending. I think I probably groaned at this attempt to Shyamalan the denouement, the type of thing that O. Henry, if he happens to be in hell and the devil decides to have a movie night, would shake his head at and say, "That is totally not how you do it, Schlachtenhaufen." It's an ending bad enough to anger people.

How are there not 2 or 3 sequels for this yet?

The Penguins of Madagascar

2014 animated spin-off

Rating: 13/20 (Abbey: 13/20; Buster: 20/20)

Plot: A quartet of clever penguins try to stop an evil octopus from doing something dastardly.

This was recommended multiple times by my friend Josh, but I hesitated for a few reasons. First, my own kid didn't even want to watch it. Second, I really hated Madagascar. Third, I suspected that Josh was trying to get revenge for my recommendation of Trash Humpers.

This is better than Madagascar. The animation is lively, the story reminded me of the chaotic freewheeling fun of old Looney Tunes cartoons, the penguin characters (well, at least three of them) have likable personalities, there are some cute visual gags, and John Malkovich is as good voicing an evil octopus as you think he'd be. I wonder how Malkovich felt about some of the puns, a lot of them plays on celebrity names, he had to get through with this thing. "Nicolas, cage them." "Hugh, Jack, man the battle stations." "Kevin, bake on." When I first met Malkovich in movies, he seemed humorless to me, the type of actor who would probably bite somebody on the head if he even heard a pun. It wasn't really until Being John Malkovich that I saw him differently. Movies like this are sometimes only as good as their bad guys, and this shape-shifting octopus is a pretty good one.

The best thing about this, and what hooked me since it was right at the beginning of the movie, is that Werner Herzog provides his voice (that voice!) as a documentary filmmaker. I'm sure that was a stretch for him. I'm willing to bet this is the first time Herzog's said the words "chubby bum bums."

Once the story really settles in, it becomes a little predictable and loses steam. I also didn't like the North Face, a high-tech undercover spy organization, much. Scenes feel superfluous, and I think any more time spent with these characters would have been too much time. But there's enough fun for both adults and kids.

The Delicate Delinquent

1957 comedy

Rating: 12/20

Plot: After a mentally-challenged janitor is mistaken for part of a 1950's Hollywood street gang member, a cop decides to use him as the subject for a reform project.

This was Jerry Lewis's first movie without Dean Martin and if you believe the poster, his biggest laff-a-thon. That's right. Jerry Lewis's movie's posters can't even spell correctly. The movie's completely harmless. You've got the naive charm of 1950's gangbangers, and Jerry Lewis doing his totally unrealistic wacky thing that the French seem to love. Darren McGavin plays the straight man, the cop trying to reform Lewis's character. The movie's got the type of excursions you'd guess it would have, making the movie closer to 2 hours than the 80 minutes it should have been. Of course, if you cut it to its bones, you'd lose the nearly great moment where Jerry Lewis rocks out on a theremin.

I didn't laugh at this movie at all, but it's mild amusement for Jerry Lewis fans. Hardly a laff-a-thon, however, and I don't even know if I'd call it a laugh-a-thon.

Bad Movie Club: Mazes and Monsters

1982 Tom Hanks movie

Bad Movie Rating: 2/5 (Fred: 2/5; Johnny: 3/5; Josh: 2/5)

Rating: 5/20

Plot: College kids playing a Dungeons and Dragons type role-playing game take it to the next level, a level involving fake skeletons and caves. Their newest player begins to confuse fantasy with reality.

This movie is the second worst thing to ever happen to the World Trade Center.

This was our club's first experience with Tom Hanks. It's his second movie, and although the Tom Hanks charm is still present, the performance is not up to his usual standards. Of course, he doesn't have a lot to work with. The script does him no favors, and I thought there were a lot of lines he trudged through where you could just tell he didn't quite believe in what he was saying. The movie's best two moments involve what I'll call the Tom Hanks Whining Voice which you would know if you heard it. Sheriff Woody uses it when he and Buzz don't quite make it onto the moving truck near the end of Toy Story. He first uses it in a phone booth when he's talking about how he might have killed somebody, and then it happens again while he's trying to fly off the World Trade Center because he has spells. That scene is so deliriously awful, almost too good to be true. You get mawkish music, terrible acting and even worse writing, and a group hug.

The weirdest thing about the movie is not Tom Hanks' character though. He's probably supposed to be the weirdest because he's the one who, you know, goes nuts. But the guy we thought was supposed to be the main character--Jay Jay Brockway played by Chris Makepeace who was Rudy in Meatballs--but then turned out to not be the main character had the strangest stink on him. He had a talking bird who claimed birds can't talk, he had the most confusing collection of hats you'll ever see, and he was at the center of a suicide tangent that ended up going nowhere. Oh, and his mother kept remodeling his room. I think some of that--or maybe all of it, including the conversation he has with his bird about killing himself--was all there for comic relief.

The funniest thing about this is probably the naive look at role-playing games. This is clearly written by somebody who has no experience with D&D. Hell, I'm not even sure this is written by somebody who has experience with Chutes and Ladders. It seems to serve as a warning to parents about the dangers of these kinds of games. Along with drugs, junkies putting hypodermic needs in change slots of pop machines, and communism, role-playing games and Satan were the scariest parts of the 1980s, and this movie is clearly trying to feed off that parental fear. And thankfully, it gets almost absolutely nothing right other than the game using dice. It takes everything to the extreme so that Tom Hanks' character starts to remind you of that guy who is wildly playing the piano in Reefer Madness. It's the fun type of wild propaganda that could only come from the 1980s.

If you enjoy performances by famous, Oscar-winning performers before they became famous, this is a good place to look. Or, you could just watch this scene and say you've watched enough.

And don't act surprise when you see the posters below. You should have guessed that this was going to happen:

He has spells.


2015 Best Picture nominee

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A kidnapped woman and her son escape their imprisonment in a shed and then try to adapt to the world outside their room. Sorry, room. The world outside room. For some reason, the writers of this don't like article adjectives.

My 14/20 might be generous, and it's probably only because of how impressed I was--for the most part--with the performance of Jacob Tremblay. The movie rests on his shoulders even though Brie Larson won the Best Actress Academy Award for her performance as his mom. This is a story told from his point of view. There are perspective shots where you're seeing first [the] room through his eyes and later a world he's never known through those same eyes. You could never expect a performance by a 9 or 10 year old to be perfect, and there are some warts here. However, Tremblay manages to bring this character to life about as well an actor can bring a character to life.

A little of the seeing-the-story-through-the-little-kid's-eyes shtick goes a long way, and eventually, the movie just kind of runs out of steam. There are still emotional moments--mostly very bleak ones--but once the movie's over, it's just hard to figure out what you were supposed to get from the thing. I kept thinking there was some sort of postpartum depression subtext, but I think I was probably way off. This appears to be completely straightforward, almost annoyingly straightforward, and although it touches on post-traumatic relationships, the role of the media in stories like this, and the persistence of children's innocence in an increasingly horrifying world, it never really gives you a lot to grab onto. It just starts to feel empty after a while, like it's there just for entertainment value when it should be there for something else. Then, William H. Macy is stumbling into the picture, and things just feel like a very dark offering from the Hallmark Movie Channel.

This reminded me--for some reason--of the movie Clean, Shaven. That, too, was a movie that ultimately felt a little empty.


1964 Japanese drama anthology

Rating: 18/20

Plot: Four mildly horrific ghost stories with suggested necrophilia, ghostophilia, a musician playing for an audience of ghosts, and a guy who sees faces in his tea.

I hesitate to call this a horror movie because it isn't scary at all. It creeps up on you and makes you feel uneasy, but it's not really a horror movie. It is one of the most shockingly beautiful movies you'll ever see. I've seen a lot of movies, but I can't recall seeing a movie that was like this. I suppose you could compare it to other Japanese horror movies, but it's really doesn't have any true peers. The four stories are sort of like minimalist Twilight Zone episodes that are a little more philosophically weighty. The stories are told deliberately, and most of the time, you can map it all out in your head long before its fully developed. There's a weirdness, I'd even say an otherworldliness, to the stories. They're simple stories, all involving ghosts, but there's this intensity to each of them. Part of that is the pacing. Director Masaki Kobayashi gives his audience plenty of space to work with, probably enough space to make a lot of Western viewers uncomfortable. Another part of it is the visuals, especially the color. There's a staginess to a lot of the backgrounds--one story even has what appear to be blue eyes painted in the sky--with some scenes almost appearing like high-quality outsider art. There are barely any shots in this 3+ hour movie that you couldn't frame and hang in a museum. There are colors that don't even seem like they belong in our world; you want to grab them from the screen and throw them around where you might see them every day. They're images born from dreams and images that can inspire more dreams. You'll see things in this movie that you've never seen in a movie before.

The score is by Toru Takemitsu, and it perfectly compliments the expressionistic imagery. It's hauntingly avant-garde.

This would also be a candidate for that museum movie list I referenced one blog entry ago. It's like a big beautiful poem of a movie.

This was my Criterion pick for my brother and me. I don't know what the next one is.

The Turin Horse

2011 (final) Bela Tarr film

Rating: 18/20

Plot: A man and his daughter share potatoes as their horse dies over a period of 6 days.

Stunned. You watch a Bela Tarr movie, and that's really the only way you can feel. And this, along with being his starkest and most minimalistic, is possible his most stunning. If you've never seen any of this Hungarian director's movies, here's a statistic that will let you know what you're in for:

This movie is 2 hours and 26 minutes long, and it contains only 30 shots.

If you're a fan of the long shot like me, you'll appreciate a movie where the shots average five minutes. If you're a fan of boredom, this is also the movie for you. This movie is almost relentlessly boring. The father and daughter, who other than some gypsies and a neighbor who are in a pair of scenes, are pretty much the only characters you get, and there's nothing superficially dramatic about anything that is going on. You see the duo engaging in the same repetitive chores and routines. They eat boiled potatoes with their fingers, they try to get the titular horse to do something, she fetches water from a well (so exciting that they decided to sell the movie by putting it on the poster), they sit and look out the window, they get dressed, they go to bed. And that's pretty much it. The audience is aware that the horse is probably not going to make it and that the already downtrodden father and daughter's situation will likely get worse. But that's it. They try to leave once, the come back, and the wind howls like crazy.

Eventually, you figure out what Bela Tarr has done in this, a haunting vision of the apocalypse. This is the creation story in reverse, They lose their animal and they lose their water, and by the end, a voice from above has said, "Let there not be light anymore." And with the gorgeous black and white cinematography, stunning image after stunning image that you're forced to absorb because Bela Tarr is going to put it in your face for around five minutes. I included a Bela Tarr movie in my list of movies I'd want to show in a museum, primarily because of the visuals, and he's at the top of his game here. The opening shot is a lengthy (obviously) tracking shot of the horse pulling the man and his cart through a foggy wasteland with gnarled trees in the background, accompanied by the haunting score by Mihaly Vig. That score is either as repetitive as the visuals or it's the same song played over and over again. Either way, it effectively accompanies the quietest and loneliest apocalypse you're likely to ever encounter. The first line of dialogue isn't even delivered until the 21 minute, 40 second mark, so you're left listening to the wind, watching all those leaves that might actually be giant ashes instead of leaves since there aren't even any trees around, and absorb every inconsequential motion made by these people. The lack of color almost assaults you. The gray is oppressive, and as you're sucked into the downfall of this doomed pair, you just find yourself profoundly moved and spiritually drained.

So don't get me wrong. This movie's an absolute joy to watch. It's also a major drag.

There's a neighbor who wanders in to borrow some booze. While visiting, he delivers this lengthy (obviously) monologue that references Nietzsche. He rambles about humans defacing everything, God being dead, human beings not even existing because good and evil don't exist, and about how the cities are gone. And you know what? It almost seems like comic relief after everything that preceded it. How weird is that?

There actually is some humor to all this, strangely enough. It's just the type of humor that might make you weep for several days afterward and probably lose sleep.

This movie sticks. I'm not likely to forget what I experienced here. I'm going to be shocked if I see a better movie this year.

Oh, and that horse? That fucking beast can act! I swear there's a scene where the horse cries. "Horse" is played by Ricsi, and this is his only film role. See? Here's his imdb page:

EDIT: Bela Tarr did not make it onto my museum movie list after all. In fact, he didn't even make it into the honorable mentions part. Whoops.


1928 semi-silent romance

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A lonely guy and a lonely girl meet and spend a romantic day together at Coney Island. However, when disaster strikes, they become separated, and they realize they forgot to get each other's cell numbers.

"I'm so tired of being alone that I can't stand my own company."

Been there, Jim.

This was at the threshold between silent cinema and talkies, so director Pal Fejos decided just to go with both. That, I believe, was a bit of a mistake. The experiments with sound effects are slightly awkward but work fine and give this some charm, but when the spoken dialogue comes in, it's embarrassing. What makes it worse is that the characters are given some awful things to say. Like, "You found your little lamb." And yes, it's obviously the guy who says that. I'm also fairly positive that a real woman--as opposed to an actress pretending to be a real woman--would have dumped this guy after his third "Gee." This works best at the beginning, juxtaposing the two leads at work and living their lonely little lives, and it works most impressively because there are almost a complete lack of title cards. Glenn Tryon and Barbara Kent, with the help of typical 1920's sentimentality, are perfect pictures of loneliness. Their lives are actually so sad that you figure this movie will either end with the couple being together or some sort of suicide scenario.

The most interesting thing about this is Fejos's use of special effects. Splashes of color, lots of double exposure, an impressive amount of extras and confetti, quick-shot montage, a camera that might move more than in anything else from the silent era that I've seen. It doesn't all work--listen to that repetitive, grating whistling for the wind during a storm--but it does keep things interesting even when the story's started to drag.

Some questions: Can you really be arrested for "picking up girls"?

Check it out if you're a fan of romantic comedies from this era.

The Walk

2015 drama

Rating: 16/20

Plot: See this, except Philippe Petit has been replaced by an American former child actor pretending to be French.

I was actually impressed with Joseph Gordon-Levitt here. At first, I wasn't sure if it was special effects or the work of stunt doubles, but apparently he really did perform his own French accent in this. Honestly, I'm not even sure I could tell whether somebody's fake accent was a bad one or not. To me, Gordon-Levitt's accent sounded fine. At the very least, it wasn't a distraction for me although you do have to wonder why they didn't, you know, just get a French guy to play Petit.

Gordon-Levitt also did some tightrope walking after training with Petit although I'm pretty sure Robert Zemeckis was using special effects trickery for the walk across the Twin Towers. I don't think Gordon-Levitt was really on the Twin Towers. Aside from developing skills to make him look like an actual tightrope walker, the time with Peti probably helped his performance. The most memorable thing about Man on Wire is Petit's infectious enthusiasm and vivaciousness, and Gordon-Levitt captured that wonderfully, forming this character who takes on the world with wide eyes and passion. As with the documentary, you really feel in love with Petit, as crazy as that son of a bitch is, and even though you already know the story, you're still on the edge of your seat as you root for him in this ridiculously crazy endeavor.

Speaking of being on the edge of your seat, Zemeckis really did everything he could to give this former-acrophobic a bad case of vertigo. The special effects in this are outstanding, and I can only imagine what it would have been like this to catch this in 3D in the theater. You really feel like you're up there with Petit. Zemeckis shows off a bit, his camera soaring around Gordon-Levitt and over him and scaling walls and plummeting. Petit ends up on that tightrope at right around the 1 hour and 30 minute mark, and for the next 25 minutes or so, you're sitting there with your stomach in your throat and your eyes glued to the screen.

The final fourth of the movie is exhilarating, but it's not like the rest of the movie isn't worth watching. Zemeckis gives the exposition of Petit's story some flair with some of his characteristic perspective shots. What he did with feathers in Forest Gump or other things in those creepy animated movies he won't stop making, he does with hard candy flying through the air, the flight of an arrow, or a shot from the reverse side of a piece of paper Petit is drawing on. Along with some splashes of color in a black and white world--stop lights, brown shoes, a checkered pattern of a restaurant patio, obviously a wire--it gives the non-WTC scenes an effervescence. Add in a French-language version of "These Boots Are Made for Walking" and a pretty cover of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne," and you've got some lovely set-up. I also loved the performance of chameleon Ben Kingsley. He plays Petit's mentor and has some of the funniest and most poignant lines. Sure, some of the dialogue in this is a little ponderous, and there are some schmaltzy moments, but Zemeckis sure knows how to dazzle.

You could argue that this entire movie is superfluous following the release of the excellent documentary. We know how the story goes, and that does take away a little of the suspense. The movie probably isn't necessary as a story, but this does two things better than the documentary. First, it gives you that experience. Again, I can't describe well enough how good the effects are here and the magic that Zemeckis works to put you high above Manhattan with Petit, feeling not only this thrill but that sense of accomplishment and that realization of a crazy dream. Second, it's a wonderful tribute to the Twin Towers. There are a couple moments in this that brought tears to my eyes, including a final bit of narration from Gordon-Levitt and an absolutely perfect final shot.