Oprah Movie Club Pick for May: On the Waterfront

1954 Best Picture

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Following a murder, an ex-boxer, a guy who could have been a contender, begins to question the corrupt union boss he and his brother have been loyal toward. He falls for the victim's sister as he tries to decide whether to testify against Johnny Friendly.

This movie's a weird in-betweener, a transition between Hollywood melodramas of the 40's and something a little tougher and more authentic. Brando's rightfully praised for a more naturalistic performance, and he gives the kind of performance where you don't want to take your eyes off him. It's not even how he delivers his lines or how he builds rapport with the other characters. It has more to do with how he carries this weight. Even before we know anything about his past, you know that the guy is carrying around this pain beneath this tough exterior. Brando gets a few moments to really shine and takes advantage of those, but it's the quieter moments where you get glimpses of something boiling beneath that are most intriguing. Terry Malloy is tough and flawed, brutish and full of heart, and you don't need anything in the dialogue or story to even show us any of that. It's all in Brando's performance.

He almost out-Brandos the rest of the excellent cast. Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger, and Eva Marie Saint are all great, the latter especially getting a couple of her own big moments. Karl Malden is incredible as a priest, and has a really great scene where he delivers a sort of mini-sermon while having things hurled at him, the kind of thing that would make church a lot more interesting. As the movie is more about the dynamics between these characters than it is the plot, it needs strong performances, and it definitely gets them.

The black and white cinematography is great, the Bernstein score's often a bit too much, and there are plenty of pigeons. I think the story resonates because of the underlying messages, ones about second chances and redemption and the empowering strength of one courageous soul.

I also really liked the setting of this movie. There have been lots of classic films that take place on these docks, but I'm not sure the place has ever looked this misty and bleak on screen. Shots of the Empire State Building shrouded in fog seem ominous. Water's oily, and everything's dirty.

I'm not sure why it took me so long to see this movie. It's a good one!

Snow White and the Huntsman

2012 action fairy tale

Rating: 9/20 (Abbey: 10/20)

Plot: Snow White's mom dies, and her dad, the king, marries the next woman he meets. Unfortunately, it turns out she's terrible at sex, and on their wedding night, she stabs him with the kind of dagger you can only find in movies like this. Snow White is thrown into a tower until she reaches an age where grown men can legally drool over her, and she eventually escapes into some creepy forest. The evil queen sends her brother and Thor out to fetch her. Then--dwarves!

This movie is stupid and poorly written, but that's not its greatest offense. No, it's greatest offense is that it's really dull. It retains this identical stilted atmosphere for the duration, the movie having about as many different tones as star Kristen Stewart has facial expressions. It makes for a bloated, lumbering cinematic experience. It's a twisted fairy tale that lacks color and anything that would make it fun unless herky-jerky action sequences that run together and don't make a lot of sense is your idea of fun. It's hard to tell whether the audience for this is young adults or just regular adults, but I can't imagine people of any age watching this and having any interest in it. It certainly didn't take me long to lose interest in what was going on.

A lot of that is that none of the characters are interesting. They all speak like characters created by a person who skimmed a Writing Fantasy Movie Scripts for Dummies book. Kristen Stewart just might be incapable of playing an interesting character. Chris Hemsworth leans on physical prowess, an accent that doesn't make much sense although it's the sort of thing the ladies like, and a pretty boy image, but he brings absolutely nothing engaging to this huntsman character. There are a bunch of little fellows--seven of them, as a matter of fact--but they're not even really little people, just boring regular-sized guys made small with the black magic of special effects. I didn't like them, and that's even with shane-movies favorite Toby Jones playing one of them. And then there's Charlize Theron who is surprisingly really awful. She reminded me of Sharon Stone in Catwoman, and I don't mean that in a good way. She's over-the-top, but it's not really in a way that makes the character any kind of memorable villainess or anything. She has stupid things to say, takes baths in milk for reasons that either aren't explained or reasons I missed because I wasn't really paying enough attention, and has conversations with a gong for some reason. I know, I know. It's not a gong. It's a computer-animated gong that does nothing but remind you of Terminator 2, a movie that came out 25 years ago.

The best thing about movie is the evil queen's brother's hair.

I really hated this movie and will not be seeing the sequel.

Bad Movie Club: The Final Sacrifice

1990 action drama

Bad Movie Rating: 4/5 (Josh: 4/5; Fred: 5/5)

Rating: 5/20

Plot: Some kid with a red sweater has a run-in with a bunch of ski-masked cult members but meets a new pal with a mullet and denim who helps him out.

Bad movie action has a new name, and that new name is Zap Rowsdower. Behold!

That picture of action incarnate is Bruce J. Mitchell in his only role. It's not because Mitchell is a bad actor or doesn't belong on the screen. No, this is clearly a case where Mitchell came on the scene, changed cinematic action heroism forever, and then rode off into the sunset without anything else to say. From the moment he introduces himself--"I'm Rowsdower. Zap Rowsdower," natch--to the moment when he put beer in his truck to his final moment when he and the movie's other hero, young Troy, ride off together to their next series of adventures which unfortunately did not turn into a television series or a bunch of sequels.

It's not just Rowsdower who carries this thriller on his denim-clad shoulders though. A horde of ski-masked cultists led by a guy in a trench coat with a comically-modulated voice will almost make you want to grab your own ski mask and either find yourself a cult to join or start one yourself. And then there's the character Mike Pipper, some sort of shaggy recluse who talks a little like Tom Waits after a swift kick to the nut sack. Troy comes in and eats a sandwich off his floor in what winds up being one of the best action scenes of the movie. Just when The Final Sacrifice starts to feel redundant, Mike Pipper comes along to growl new life into the thing.

Truth be told, this isn't a complete disaster despite a lame story, superfluous foot chases through the woods, inexplicable ski masks, and bad acting. Tjardus Greidanus, a Dutch-Canadian filmmaker, has some idea what to do with a camera at least. The music also isn't terrible. As you'd expect with a first-time filmmaker, however, Tjardus has pacing issues and his movie never really gets going. But for fans of bad action B-movies, it's worth the time.


1982 French stop-animated sci-fi

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Aliens befriend a mountain climber who has a ball.

I was hooked from the get-go with stop-animated decaying of the title screen. Of course, I'm a sucker for this sort of thing anyway, and if you're a fan of Barta, Svankmajer, the Quays, etc., you would likely dig this, too. It's very repetitive, but with a cool synth-y Luc Ferrari score perfectly complimenting the visuals, there's something almost hypnotic about that repetitiveness. And I could have watched that mountain climber dancing with the giant ball for another couple hours. This is definitely a case where a lot of creativity and visual aesthetics makes up for a lack of plot (I'm guessing), a non-engaging narrative, and no real meaning. At least, I didn't grasp any meaning from any of this. It was a very easy movie to just absorb though.

I know nothing about the writer/director, Piotr Kamler, other than he seems to be missing a vowel in his first name. I'd definitely be interested in seeing more.

Danny Roane: First Time Director

2006 dark comedy

Rating: 10/20

Plot: A disgraced former sitcom sensation turned drunk decides to make himself a movie but can't stay away from the bottle.

I'm not sure what possessed me to give this a shot because I find Andy Dick, who wrote and directed and starred in this, off-putting. There are some funny bits, but the humor's a little too juvenile to work consistently. With a mockumentary approach, Dick seems to be making a bit of a confessional, but there's not really any revelations about drug or alcohol abuse. Instead, Dick just seems to want to use it as a springboard for physical comedy and poop and penis jokes. There's an attempt to push the envelope with some racial humor, too, but when that comes out about the same as the scatological stuff, it just fails to connect. The only thing more obnoxious than Andy Dick is the nearly constant music in this. No, nevermind. It's not more obnoxious than Andy Dick.

Frankie in Blunderland

2011 absurdist comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Frankie deals with troubles with house guests, naked fairy men, a hateful wife who is eventually kidnapped,

If this reminds me of anything, it's the work of Damon Packard, the guy who did Reflections of Evil. Packard actually makes a cameo appearance as a clerk. It's the kind of movie that could probably have a cult following, but it would be a cult with fewer people than most. It's a film I enjoyed more than my rating might indicate, but the weirdness feels a little forced at times, the cheapness of the whole production distracts, and the humor is inconsistent.

However, Psychedelic effects sprinkled here and there, purposely stilted dialogue, and a stream-of-conscious plot development give the movie a unique voice. It's got the feel of something that was made pieces at a time whenever the cast all had time off from their regular, likely more boring, professions. I've not seen anything else by Caleb Emerson, the director, although he's the kind of artist who is filled with so many ideas that anything he makes might be worth watching. I guess he's worked with the Troma people, and this has that sort of humor and that sort of feel although it's a little more experimental with the narrative and general structure. This is from a screenplay by Marta Estirada, a sadly deceased gal who fronted a punk band called the Lepers.

I'm not sure if there's any satiric value with this or not. They poke fun at Mormons with an alien Mormon character, but there doesn't seem to be anything deeper than superficial fun poking. The characters froth with anger in a way that makes you wonder if there's a cynical world view buried beneath the odd humor and non sequiturs. At times, the whole thing's like an acid-soaked soap opera, so I suppose there's a possibility this has the depth of your typical soap opera as well. Regardless, it's a semi-fun ride if you're into this sort of thing.

Billy Liar

1963 comedy

Rating: 17/20

Plot: Billy lies, probably because he's a liar. He leads a pair of women on while fawning for a third, is dishonest with his employer, and makes up imaginary writing opportunities. Will all his fibs finally catch up with him?

I don't know what's going on with that poster. The movie is a lot better than that poster. I guess you'd put it in the dark comedy category, but it wasn't all that funny. Instead, it's a character study of this titular character who really draws you in. Tom Courtenay plays him, and he helps create this engaging character. It's also a versatile performance as Courtenay's forced to maneuver this character back and forth between reality and a handful of Walter Mitty-esque fantasy sequences. Those recall a few British films, but this predates the ones I'm thinking about and still feels original anyway. I just love those English characters who are in no way likable and in some ways even detestable (think Alex in Clockwork) but still manage to make you root for them.

What's with all the shots of building demolition in this? I'm sure something's being symbolically torn down and maybe not replaced with anything, but I'm not sure what it is.

I really liked Julie Christie, who played one of Billy's love interests. I think I fell in love with her myself during a scene where she does this little playful walk.

I'd wanted to see this jazzy little movie for a while, and it was worth the wait.

Cutter's Way

1981 murder mystery

Rating: 16/20

Plot: After his friend Bone is briefly a suspect in the murder of a teenaged hitchhiker, Vietnam veteran Cutter decides to get to the bottom of things and find the real murderer.

This was something I'd wanted to see for a while but had trouble finding. It was worth the weight as it was a solid neo-noir. On the strength of a little bit of style, a score that features just enough singing saw, and strong performances by Jeff Bridges and an unhinged John Heard, this early-80's 1970's movie leaves an impression. It really does have a 70's feel. There's a grit, and it's got a pace and style that recalls something like Chinatown. But it's also got all this dialogue and these relationships that refuses to fill in gaps, and teases with all these ambiguities. 70's movies always seem more interested in the mystery than in providing the viewer with any tidy answers to clear up the mysteries, and this movie fits right in with that.

John Heard really is amazing here. The role demands a bit of physicality as he limps around with a cane and only has one arm and eye. He's half a man, but he curses and drinks like three men. He claims, in one of the movie's best lines, that the "routine grind drives [him] to drink" while he has to take tragedy straight. He's tortured by a past we barely get glimpses of, and the more we find out about the character, the more we're lost in his story and the less sense he makes. Heard plays him as a caricature, but there's this tragic undercurrent which makes him a breathing oxymoron. It's really a terrific character, and a terrific Heard performance brings him to life.

I'm not quite sure what this movie is trying to say about war, love, friendship, greed, sex, economic classes, hippie culture, paranoia, or anything else. There's a lot sprinkled into this, but no clear themes are nailed down. What it does deliver is a solid noirish tale with a pair of character studies and an ending that is as fantastic as it is ridiculous. I'm not sure why this movie isn't better known.

Movies-A-Go-Go: Independence Day

1996 sci-fi blockbuster

Rating: 9/20

Plot: Aliens attack Earth. The filmmakers unleash a similar attack on logic.

I watched this because I saw the preview for the upcoming sequel and thought it looked pretty good. Well, it looks expensive. I'd never seen this movie because I was only watching Japanese movies, David Lynch films, and silent movies in the mid-90s. Anyway, I no longer have any interest in the sequel, mostly because I don't think Harvey Fierstein is going to be in it.

Here are my Independence Day thoughts using the popular Movies-A-Go-Go format. Enjoy.

Title screen with vague alien noises, followed by July 2. Wait a second! They got the date wrong. This is the least patriotic movie ever despite the first shot being a moon-dusty American flag.

This moon footage looks about as fake as Stanley Kubrick’s moon-landing stuff from the late-60’s.

R.E.M.’s signature song has to be “It’s the End of the World As We Know It,” right? More than "Everybody Hurts" or "Losing My Religion"? It’s become almost a cliche to use it in disaster movies like this, but I’m glad that little bald guy is making a killing from its use.

No way I’d ever vote for a president who says everything in the exact same near-whisper rasp like this 27 year old guy. I'm not even sure Pullman is old enough to be president.

I have a feeling Jeff Goldblum wouldn’t shut up when playing chess and be completely unbearable.

This is really setting things up to include every cliche in the book, and the movie isn't even five minutes long. A young president people have lost faith looking for redemption, a smart and eccentric outsider looking for redemption, overbearing military guys, a crazy drunkard looking for redemption, an estranged wife. All we need now is a cool black hero, and it will be even better if he's looking for redemption.

Hey, that didn’t look like checkmate to me. Movies are docked points when they have inaccurate chess. Goldblum should know better.

Who writes dialogue for a guy in a biplane and a guy riding a motorcycle? I don't think they can hear each other.

This movie’s throwing a bunch of characters at me, but so far, I’m not interested in any of them. Drunk Randy Quaid has potential though.

Wouldn’t normal people be able to see something that is ¼ the size of the moon? The movie's practically shown us everybody in America already, but nobody seems to look up.

And there's a Harvey Fierstein and Jeff Goldblum kiss. Great, now I have to watch the rest of the movie with an erection.

I’m glad to see the president and his staff get their news from watching foreign news broadcasts in English on cheap televisions like everybody else.

Hey! I just met those pilot characters, and now they’ve died in expensive but ineffective special effects? It just doesn't seem fair.

Don’t bother Jeff Goldblum when he’s trying to print out something!

Try not to panic there, Harvey Fierstein.

Hey, it’s Link Wray! I guess Link Wray's guitar antics will suffice for a crazy guy's theme music as well as anything else.

One of Russ’s bullies just spit something out of his mouth. In his defense, that “sexual things” joke was pretty hilarious.

Landmarks covered up by giant shadows montage! I guess it was easier to impress people in 1996.

I hope the World Trade Center buildings survive this alien attack.

This alien spaceship sure is gassy.

What an eclectic group of New Yorkers watching this from the same block. I think I spotted several young basketball players, an old Jewish guy, an Asian, and a Hispanic in the same shot.

A lot of these people are acting surprisingly calm.

Will Smith shouldn’t even be allowed to wear shirts in movies.

That's for the ladies. . .

I wish I could watch my neighbors while urinating. In my next house, I’m going to make sure I consider window placement.

Harvey Fierstein is now running. That’s something that should never have happened on the silver screen. Will Smith shouldn't wear shirts, and Harvey Fierstein.

10,000 fender benders and Will Smith and his wife screaming at each other. The aliens haven’t even shown aggression yet, and we’ve already let them win.

“Postpone a Little Freaky-Deaky” will likely be a chapter title in my autobiography.

Wait a second. Is the president’s wife Sarah Palin?

With more references to alien sexual abuse, this has started to develop an interesting subtext.

This Quaid with his two sons scene is some of the finest acting I’ve ever seen.

“Jasmine kind of has a thing for dolphins.” I’m pretty sure that’s a subtle reference to Will Smith’s penis. Or maybe it's not even subtle? I think Will Smith is blatantly comparing his penis to a dolphin.

Speaking of Will Smith and aliens, is this movie Scientology propaganda or not? I’d like to know before I go on. Maybe it's not Scientology propaganda at all--only dolphin penis propaganda.

Who plays Tiff? (She's Kiersten Warren, and I don't believe I know her. I think I was confusing her with somebody else.)

Why did Goldblum need to draw that crappy picture to basically say “Aliens are using our satellites, and that’s causing them not to work correctly.”?

You can’t communicate with aliens using blinking lights. You have to bleat out a few notes on a synthesizer. Where the hell is Richard Dreyfuss when a movie needs him?

Oh, Tiff just went to the roof to hold up welcome signs. These guys must be the Scientologists.

Well, there goes Tiff. We didn’t even get to see her strip. What's the point of making her a stripper if we don't get to see her in action? How am I even supposed to care about this character's death?

R.I.P., Tiff. It would have been nice to see your nipples before you and the other Scientologists exploded. 

And there goes Fierstein. Is this movie even worth watching anymore?

I’d be running from special effects this bad, too. This foamy orange stuff is embarrassing.

Is the Statue of Liberty’s facial expression different?

This picture is awful. 

Every single scene with Randy Quaid and his sons is gold.

You know, if I’m watching The White House, The Empire State Building, and the Capitol Building obliterated onscreen, I should probably feel something. I'm feeling nothing which either means this is ineffective film making or I'm cold-hearted. Or maybe a little of both.

“Just a little anxious to get up there and whoop E.T.’s ass.” That got some laughs. I’m sure glad some people can have a sense of humor about the amount of lives that must have been lost when the two biggest cities in America and D.C. were CGI-blasted to oblivion.

These fighter pilots need to find a trench to fly down.

The sound effect accompanying the “green shit” the aliens shoot sure is cute. Squelchy pew sounds.

“Nooooooooooooo!” Those are my feelings about Jimmy’s demise, too, Will Smith. But at least his celebratory cigar is lit, right?

As long as Will Smith’s screaming heroic things, I’m going to feel safe. I think he’s what we needed during 9/11--just a wise-cracking Will Smith yelling cocky one-liners.

Will Smith just punched an alien. And this movie just became an asshole.

I should have started keeping track of how many characters say “My God!”

Is that “End Has Come” guy supposed to be Lyle Lovett?

The First Lady, who they don’t seem to recognize, doesn’t look “hurt pretty badly” actually.

I love how Will Smith’s character feels the need to say “Hey!” to get the attention of all these RV’s heading to Burning Man. They’re coming in your direction, Fresh Prince. And they probably can’t hear you. And they’re probably stoned.

Another “My God”!

Dr. Okun looks reliable.

Most of this movie is beyond stupid, but letting Jeff Goldblum and his dad into this top-secret place the president didn’t even know about is just idiotic.

“Can they be killed?” First off, that’s a very good question, Mr. President. Second, it’s possibly the most American question that could possibly be asked in a movie like this.

Geez. How many RV’s does it take to transport Will Smith and his new friend to a military base?

El Toro must have been really important to Will Smith. It’s the first time something bad has happened in this that he hasn’t had some witty and loud remark for.

Sarah Palin frowns on exotic dancing.

Dr. Okun and the other scientists don’t seem to know what the hell they’re doing here. Then again, Okun did know there would be a smaller alien guy inside the giant alien head. I wouldn't have known that.

This is like a really expensive B-movie that doesn’t know it’s a B-movie. I’m kind of amazed with how bad this is actually.

President: “What do you want us to do?”
Alien: “Die.”
President: “Ok, but after that, you’ll leave us alone, right?” (Note: This last line wasn't in the movie. It should have been though.) 

“Nuke ‘em. Let’s nuke the bastards.” Fuck yeah! America! Now I have something to scream during any future July 4th barbecues.

Oh, crap. Looks like you jumped the gun with the “we got the bastards” line, James Rebhorn.

Too bad Fierstein’s character died. Since the nuclear bomb didn’t have any effect, Fierstein’s voice being amplified and shot at the spaceships might have made a good Plan B.

What? They brought the First Lady back just so she could die? Now this movie’s turned into an even bigger asshole.

Good, it’s July 4th. Maybe the movie can end sooner than I think it’s going to.

During America’s greatest times of need, there’s still room for product placement. This Jeff Goldblum epiphany has been brought to us by Coca Cola.

Ahh, the sexual subtext is coming back as Goldblum’s plan seems to involve giving the alien spaceships an STD.

Rebhorn just threw out the word cockamamie, a requirement that his manager probably makes sure is in every movie contract he gets.

Why haven’t the aliens just finished us off?

Who would have guessed that Morse would be the real hero of this movie?

That’s a good speech, President Pullman. Anything that gets drunk Randy Quaid excited has to be. And I'm glad you can remain so stoic, possibly even indifferent, after your wife has fucking died!

Recycling propaganda, international circle jerking. And now the president is a combat pilot? I think I’m getting sick to my stomach.

Jeff Goldblum is the smartest person in the world (apparently) yet doesn’t know what “oops” means? I think that’s a plot hole.

I don’t even know where to start with the stuff that doesn’t make sense about how Will Smith is just flying this alien spaceship into space.

Goldblum: “Do it. Do it.” Like a horny teenager trying to talk the object of his lust into taking off her pants.

This score is relentless here. The only way they could have more music in this thing is to put a second score on top of the first one. I’m actually kind of surprised they didn’t do this.

My God! (To borrow an oft-used pair of words from this movie) Teenagers are talking--for the second time--about not wanting to die virgins. I can’t believe I was right about this one. I can't quite put all the pieces together to figure out what this is saying about sex, but it's definitely saying something.

Would Obama get in a fighter jet and attack a big alien spaceship? Doubt it. George Bush wouldn't even be able to work the seat belt or he'd put his helmet on backwards.

What? Randy Quaid’s character is going to end up being the big hero? Who would have predicted that?

Nothing can be easy, can it. Now Quaid’s unable to shoot off his missile. (Note: This is apparently called anejaculation, but I'd prefer "delayed ejaculation" to avoid getting into some Abbott and Costello routine. "I have anejaculation." "You do? Do you need to change your pants?" "No, I said I have anejaculation!" "I know! You had an ejaculation. I heard you." "Ahhh! I oughta. . ."

“All right, you alien assholes! In the words of my generation--up yoooooooooooouuuuuuuurrrrrrrrrrs!” I want you to keep in mind that somebody actually typed these words on purpose.

It would totally suck to have everybody hooting and hollering around you about 7 seconds after your father died, especially right after your father had the dumbest last words in human history.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. But c’mon, Will Smith. Jeff Goldblum’s character doesn’t want to die a virgin.

Missiles, cigars, tunnel exits. Can they make it any more obvious?

I think I need a soundtrack like this the next time I have intercourse.

Well, Pullman can pretty much just deliver streams of whispered obscenities in every speech during his campaign and still win his reelection, right? He could just quote Sarah Palin and probably still win.

“Happy 4th of July, Daddy.” If Charles Dickens had written this, he would have ended it the exact same way.

Regardless of who wrote it, I'm really glad it ended.

In the Basement

2014 human interest documentary

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A look at several people and what they hide in their basements.

My brother (anonymous) recommended this. I don't know who director Ulrich Seidl is, but after watching this, I'm intrigued. The documentary style is a bit like an Errol Morris or somebody like Errol Morris. There's something very artificial about the whole thing with some shots staged in a way that reminded me visually of Roy Andersson, and you know Seidl is edited all this footage almost like he's a sculptor. Hilariously, there are several shots where it looks like the subjects were told to pose for a still photograph and then filmed. Still, without any narration, it has an objective and hands-off feel where the viewer just gets to see what the subjects have to show us and hear their stories individual stories directly from their mouths. Most people watching this would probably think almost everybody shown in this thing is strange and that we are seeing skeletons in the basement, so to speak. If there had been commentary, I'd imagine the words, "But we all have secrets in our individual basements" would have been in there somewhere.

Be warned, especially since I wasn't, that there's some R-rated material here. There's an S&M couple, their scenes containing a little more scrotum than I usually like in my movies, and there's the little twerp at the top of the poster up there who claims he's popular with prostitutes, presumably because of the powerful load he can ejaculate. There's also an extended spanking sequence that seems to go on forever. I'm not sure I would have minded if the spanker wasn't wearing lederhosen. Juxtaposed with the more kinky basement dwellers are a guy who collects Nazi memorabilia, a guy who sings opera and operates an indoor shooting range, a dude with a ton of hunting trophies, a couple snippets of a guy with a toy train, and women with a washing machine and dryer. The most intriguing of all might be a woman who visits a very realistic (and creepy) baby doll that she keeps in a box and seemingly stores in different locations each time.

I'm not sure why Seidl arranges things like he does or what the central message of this is, but the visual style and dry humor kept me amused. And I'm definitely interested in seeming more from Ulrich Seidl.

Here was my favorite shot out of a lot of these very staged, but very cool, shots:

Unless I'm missing something, these women weren't featured in the rest of the movie. I don't know. Maybe one of them is the one with the doll? And the random insertion of this three in a very-typical basement, a shot that is maybe 10 or 15 seconds and not really odd at all, might be the oddest thing about this movie.


2016 crazy killer movie

Rating: 10/20 (Abbey: 12/20)

Plot: A deaf writer is stalked by a psychotic murderer.

Abbey picked this movie, and I went along for the ride. I was thrown off because nothing the psychotic murderer guy did made any sense. I guess he was supposed to be cockily sadistic, but it just makes it seem like he's terrible at his job. Or hobby. Whatever it is.

There are parts of this that are well done, but making the protagonist deaf ended up being nothing more than a wasted opportunity to experiment a bit with the genre. The cat and mouse game the two central characters is lazy, and after the characters' initial interaction, it drones. There are numerous times when the story could have and probably should have ended.

I should have ended this write-up. Now I'm looking at that 10/20 rating and thinking it's way too generous. This really is a movie about a guy who can't figure out how to break a window.

Bad Movie Club: Kung-Fu Zombie

1981 kung-fu chaos

Bad Movie Rating: 2/5 (Fred: 2/5; Johnny: found something better to do with his time)

Rating: 7/20

Plot: I don't really know.

Combining supernatural elements, a wacky vampire, zombies, a "Taoist wizard," slapstick comedy, and lots of kicking and punching, this is an incomprehensible mess of a movie. The climactic fight scene is entertaining enough, but it's not for the right reasons.

Captain America: Civil War

2016 orgy of superheroism

Rating: 14/20

Plot: After counting up all the money made from the countless other Marvel superhero movies, Disney executives--a mouse, another mouse, their dog friend who walks like a human, their dog who walks like a dog, a perversely pantsless duck, a pair of homoerotic chipmunks, another mouse, and a frozen severed head--decide to make another one. They checked their calendar and noticed it was Captain America's turn to get his own movie, but the cricket, in a moment of brilliance that can be expected from the most diminutive of the Disney executives, suggested they go ahead and include all of the superheroes. "Even Ant-man!" chimed in one of the mouses. "Yes! And we'll even throw in a couple superheroes who haven't been in other movies!" added another mouse. With "You have to spend money to make money" as their mantra, they got their computers and made themselves a blockbuster.

I'm wondering if this seemingly endless series of incestuous Marvel movies is a little too ambitious. Actually, I'm wondering if this movie all by itself was a little too ambitious. As my faithful readers know, the Captain America movies have been my favorites of these comic book movies, and a lot of that is because of their subtext. The first movie contained interesting sidebars on propaganda. The second had timely messages about the sacrificing of freedom for security. This one wrestles with ideas about what America's international role should be. As with the other Captain America movies, the themes are handled gracefully and intelligently, squeezed in between scenes of superhero fisticuffs.

I want to talk about those fight scenes. There are some special effects that are slightly askew, surprising for a movie released in 2016. Characters don't always fall right, they don't mesh with the surroundings perfectly, and there's some weird-looking superhero running. I hated an early fight scenes where Scarlett Johansson, Bird Man, Mopey Fire-Hands Girl, and Captain America are chasing terrorists around. The editing was jumpy enough to induce vertigo, and it was hard to tell what was going on all the time unless "what was going on" was just characters moving really fast. It's certainly possible that I'm just too old for this sort of thing.

However, these Avengers movies (and whatever they want to call this, this is really an Avengers movie, isn't it?) all have one big fight scene with all the heroes and heroines doing their things at once, sequences so smoothly choreographed and creatively storyboarded that you can't help but drool a little bit. This one, as you know if you saw any of the previews, features the split Avengers fighting each other at an airport. It's one of the best action sequences I've seen in a while, or at least it is until Ant-man does something that doesn't make any sense to me and makes the whole thing kind of stupid. The heroes get funny things to say--especially the new Spider-Man who can't shut up--and it's a blast watching all these different superpowers collide. It must have been a blast to write, too, and I'd love to know what ideas didn't make it past the brainstorming stage.

As exhilarating as that lengthy action sequence is, however, it doesn't really carry the emotional impact that it should. At this point, we know these characters about as well as we can even though some of them haven't even gotten their own origin stories yet. Captain America, Iron Man, and Ant-man have, and Spider-Man's had his origin story on the screen about twelve times. If I see that character's uncle die one more time, I'm calling it quits. But as intimately as we're supposed to know these characters and as much as we're supposed to understand their relationships, this big fight scene strangely lacks gravity. It's electric and it's funny (I did laugh out loud twice during this scene), but it doesn't have the impact that it should, probably because you know nothing's going to really happen to any of these characters. Well, except one of the black guys. You know that because it was given away in the previews. So the stakes really aren't as high as they could be and really should be, and the scene winds up not even mattering in the end. It's popcorn fluff which, to be honest, is what I paid to see anyway and shouldn't be complaining. You can't tell that to the woman a couple rows behind me who gasped audibly when something bad happened to the black guy though.

A lot of it has to do with how ambitious this all is. There are so many characters and so many angles that the real emotional impact and your connection with the characters gets a little lost in the CGI mayhem. At the same time, things are so simplistic. The characters are faced with a big decision, and all but one of them makes the decision with such ease. In a way, it's a perfect representation of the way politics works in America, a land where you really have to be either this or that with nothing in between. In this Civil War, you're either with Iron Man (really, this is an Iron Man movie as much as it is a Captain America movie, right?) or you're with the guy who got his name in the title. Children watching this movie won't care at all, but any reasonable adult is going to be torn between these two ideologies, and that's really what helps the movie work. Without a real villain, that conflict is what drives the movie, both with the plot and with the story's themes.

Technically, there is a villain, but he fails to stand out and has an evil scheme that is about as convoluted and perforated as Jesse Eisenberg's in the Batman v. Superman movie. This movie doesn't quite have a "Martha" moment, but it comes pretty close. By the time we get to the climactic fight scene, one that is supposed to be personal and probably intensely emotional, you're distracted with thoughts about whether any of this should have worked out anyway. Daniel Bruhl plays the villain, the terrifically-named Helmut Zemo, and I don't have the comic book background to know whether that character's a big deal or not.

I will say this about these characters. Maybe it has something to do with the amount of times they've been thrown at us in these movies, but the actors and actresses playing these superheroes have become these icons as much as Christopher Reeve became Superman. I'm not sure anybody else will ever be able to play Iron Man because Robert Downey Jr. does such a good job as Tony Stark. Chris Evans and his giant biceps will make all future incarnations of Captain America superfluous. From top to bottom, even if you don't have any interest in the superhero they're portraying, you're at least going to like the performance of the actor or actress in the suits.

Critics and regular people seem to love the way this movie balances the tension and action with the humor and lively characters, but you could also argue that there's a lack of consistency. They're juggling so many ideas and characters and alluding to previous movies and setting up future movies that it would be difficult to strike a consistent tone and get from point A to point B smoothly. And with so many characters, it's impossible to really flesh all of them out. To me, that's one of the flaws of a movie like this. Captain America, Iron Man, and, to a certain extent, Scarlett Johansson are round characters. The others are pretty thin. Spider-Man, as likable as this new kid playing him is and as funny as his quips are, is essentially just an enthusiastic teenager and really nothing more. Black Panther is vengeful and pretty much nothing else. Bird Man doesn't really have any characteristics, does he? And I still don't know what's going on with Vision. Like Thor, that's just a superhero I can't understand.

This sprawling Marvel universe shows no signs of slowing down. I reckon in another decade, there will be movies (maybe War Machine 2 or something) that feature well over a hundred superheroes and superheroines. Most of them will remain enjoyable and put underoo-clad asses in the seats, and I did enjoy watching this one on the big screen. I think it was my first Marvel movie that I saw in the theater actually. This third installment of the Captain America story depends too much on previously-established characters who don't really grow as much as the writers and director want us to believe and throws enough new characters at us to distract us into missing storytelling flaws.

I didn't think it was as good as either of the other Captain America movies.

Look Who's Back

2015 black comedy

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Hitler wakes up in 2015 (or thereabouts) at the site of his bunker and becomes a media phenomenon.

This had to have either been made before the once-mildly-amusing-but-now-absolutely-insane Donald Trump campaign success story or hurriedly in the early days of Trump's attempts to "make America great again." This movie's Hitler either steals from Trump with a chilling "Make Germany great again" or that's just how terrifying leaders talk. Don't be fooled by the terrible title or mistake this for something goofy. There are moments where it's as goofy as Borat--and it'll remind you of the Sasha Baron Cohen stuff that really connects as Oliver Masucci's Hitler interacts without a script among actual human beings--but it's always got that same satiric bite, too. And that satire manages to explain a portion of human history that allowed something like Hitler to happen and simultaneously warn that that history could indeed repeat itself because people are basically very easy to dupe.

I don't know if I liked all the subplot action involving a television studio although it does work as a metaphor. When this is all about Hitler being Hitler and mingling with people who are either real or actors who are very good at acting like they're real people, this is both funny and horrifying. That's really what makes it work as a black comedy, and as a black comedy, this is about as black as it can get. I'm not even sure there's any gray in this. It's been 83 or so years since Hitler came into power, but there are some out there who would argue that this is too soon, that a Hitler comedy is taboo. The Hitler as a fish-out-of-water idea feels both fresh and really easy, but there's enough subtlety with the comedy and such an intelligence with the way they run with the idea that it works. And Masucci is so good as Hitler. It feels weird to say this, but when Hitler's not on the screen in this movie, you sort of miss him a little bit.

The movie's funny although some will be annoyed at how hard its makers drive its point home. There's a closing montage that hammers you although Hitler's final line will give you the same chills you had when you heard him talking about making German great again earlier.

Oh, I want to acknowledge the neat little trick this movie plays on its viewers. It features a dog, but I really can't say anything more or I'll spoil things. So I'm not sure why I'm even bringing it up.

Bad Movie Club: Captain America

1990 superhero movie

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

Rating: 7/20

Plot: Captain America is born and battles a red-skulled Nazi.

J.D. Salinger's son plays our titular hero, but it's his fake ears that really steal the show here. This movie is mostly pretty dull, and I'm surprised at how neither the hero or villain seem to actually have any superhuman abilities. Captain America just throws his little Frisbee around. He doesn't seem to have super-speed or super-strength or super-anything. And Red Skull or whatever the hell his name is seems to only have shifting unclassifiable accents as his superpower. By the time they meet in the climax, a scene which inexplicably involves a piano, you're prepared to be completely underwhelmed and then are completely underwhelmed.

I'll say this though--there are two parallel scenes in this that, along with those fake ears, made this worth watching. In both scenes, Cap claims to be carsick so that he can steal another character's car. Maybe that was his superpower in this movie. I'll make a trip to the theater this weekend to see the new Captain America movie if I can be guaranteed at least one scene where the hero feigns carsickness to steal somebody's car.

Look at that poster, by the way. Is that the worst thing you've ever seen in your life, or what? And I'm pretty sure the poster is lying because I don't think this movie actually even made it to theaters.

This isn't a great bad movie and probably not even of any interest to fans of the characters.

Special Correspondents

2016 comedy

Rating: 10/20

Plot: Radio guys, after a mishap keeps them from traveling to South America to cover a Civil War, attempt to fake it while hiding out in New York.

Clever idea, but this just doesn't have enough to say. The chances were there, too, but opportunities to comment on the role of the media or government in these sorts of international situations are not seized. Instead, this misfires over and over. It's both not silly enough and not serious enough, and there wasn't a single time I felt like laughing.

There aren't a lot of movies that I watch and think are a complete waste of time, but the time spent with these unlikable characters should have been spent doing something else.

The Transporter 2

2005 sequel

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Frank, now transporting rich kids to and from school, is thrust into nonstop action when the kid is kidnapped by bad guys with a really confusing bad guy plot.

I'm not sure if fans of the Transporter franchise would agree, but this slice of action goofiness actually surpasses its predecessor. The plot might make even less sense, and there are some special effects that take away some of the realism. And there's Matthew Modine who gives an abysmal performance. However, you get your car chase scene, and the nonstop action sequences not involving cars are fantastic. Statham uses props--most impressively, a hose--in ways that recall some of Jackie Chan's most memorable moments. The editing is hyperkinetic but somehow still in control, and it's just a lot of fun watching Jason Statham kicking and punching people. This movie also benefits by having bad guys who are a lot more interesting than the ones in the first movie. Kate Nauta plays Lola, a nasty henchwoman who, for reasons you don't have to explain to me, doesn't wear clothes. Alessandro Gassman is also good as the main bad guy.

This might have the most improbable movie moment I've ever seen when Statham's forced to remove an explosive device from the bottom of his car.

The Transporter

2002 action movie

Rating: 13/20

Plot: A former special forces stud makes a comfortable living transporting things. Normally, Frank follows a few self-imposed rules that keep him out of trouble, but when he breaks one of those rules, he finds himself in the middle of a giant mess.

For anybody willing and able to ignore improbabilities, this action flick is going to hit all the right sweet spots. I really like Jason Statham, and he brings some quiet charisma to the action hero role. There's a charm there, probably because of his accent, and he can kick and tough-guy it up with the best of them. The action highlights include a ridiculous car chase, a handful of great fight scenes, and a scene that almost miraculously combines ridiculous car chase action with fisticuffs. This brings the blood to your nipples similarly to how the last few Fast and Furious movies do. That Statham's character stops long enough to have a sexual encounter is just beautiful.

Luc Besson gets co-writing credit here. That's a guy who knows how to class up even the stupidest action movies. Here, there's not much of anything you'd call sophisticated or intelligent, but it doesn't matter because this is the type of movie that will put hair on your chest. There were some spotty special effects, and the music is terrible, but the movie's the kind of fast-paced mindless fun that is likely to make you want to immediately give the sequel a spin.

The Gong Show Movie

1980 existential comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A week in the life of Gong Show host Chuck Barris.

This isn't the cult classic it could be, but maybe it's release on blu-ray will change that. I doubt it happens since there's really no reason for anybody to be thinking about Chuck Barris or The Gong Show these days. I'm not exactly sure what the studio expected when the concept for a movie based on this wonderfully unique and way-ahead-of-its-time train-wreck variety showcase, but I'm willing to bet it wasn't something this angsty. Barris, who does a great job playing an exhausted version of himself that is almost withering before our eyes, is self-loathing, and if the movie wasn't so messy, it would work as a metaphor that anybody stuck in a rut or trapped by his or her own life and lifetime of choices could connect with. The way Barris wears his hat, his quirky mannerisms, his shriveled posture, and his off-putting presence that makes you wonder who the hell decided he needed to be on a stage are all things anybody who watched The Gong Show (or caught the terrific Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) would expect. Combined with the behind-the-curtain existential caricature, there's an unexpected bleak murkiness beneath the chaos of the show auditions and performance montages. Barris is bombarded with The Gong Show, and it's become an unwanted extension of him, like an out-of control tumor that he desperately wants to lance. So frequently, the movie is more painful than it is fun which probably confused critics and fans of the television show at the tail end of the 1970s.

Of course, if you watch this, it's probably because you have fond memories or maybe just an interest in the craziness that was The Gong Show, a stranger precursor to America's Got Talent that could only have existed in the late-70s. When this goes into full Gong Show mode, it's a barrage of weirdness, just a chaotic collection of the talents of talentless human beings. You'll have bad jokes ("What do you call 250 Indian maidens without nipples?" being my favorite), bad dancing, bad singing, worse singing, worse dancing, and worse jokes. It's like the life of this very strange television show, a show that arguably survived more seasons than it should have, is flashing before our eyes, and although there are some moments you wish you could unsee, there's a lot of enormously fun bits, too.

And there's this:

After a while, you feel assaulted by these performances which I think is likely part of the point. Of course, those with a taste of this kind of odd stuff will be more comfortable with the more manic moments, but even those people might cringe a bit as this gets really insane. It all builds (or falls, depending on how you look at it) to an appropriately strange and slightly surreal denouement that somehow involves a horde of Gong Show contestants, a desert, and a marching band.

Chuck Barris, by the way, has a few country-rock songs in this. This guy really was something else.

Oh, and there's been a Vincent Schiavelli spotting! It's always a pleasure seeing that guy.

Robert Downey co-wrote this.