Eisenstein in Guanajuato


2015 biopic

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Director Eisenstein ventures to Mexico to make a film, experiences a sexually awakening, and meets some new dead friends.

Peter Greenaway, at this stage in his career, definitely lets it all hang out, doesn't he? This has the feel of a work made by an auteur who doesn't listen nearly enough to the voices in his head that tell him to calm down a bit. I'm not sure I expected a film this whimsical from Greenaway. I was surprised by the amount of penis though. But there's trippy split-screen flashes, strange added backgrounds, swirling computer effects from circa-1997, lines repeated rapidly for no discernible reason, goats and flies and gun shot sound effects, wildly spinning cameras, and even some infantile animation that make this visually unique and always a little surprising even when it all kind of gets in the way of the narrative or character development.

Of course, with any Greenaway movie, you're going to expect visual dazzle. Despite not having cinematographer Sacha Vierny around, this is still the feast for the eyes you'd expect from the maker of The Cook, His Wife, the Thief, and Her Lover or A Zed and Two Noughts. There are some great symmetrical shots, a lengthy sequence where the camera revolves around actors in a large room, shots through floors, a surreal sewer sequence, and a great long shot with slow panning through all these pillars. There's also a sex scene that is so sensually filmed and only slightly ruined by what has to be the worst pillow talk imaginable, the kind of pillow talk that references Aztecs and syphilis. Apparently, you can't have a movie that takes place in Mexico these days without showing loads of skulls, and there's a wild parade and post-parade sequence that involves the following of a maid and a blind and deaf bell-ringer whose symbolism I could never put my finger on. It's all beautiful even when you don't fully understand what the hell is happening or care about what anybody is talking about.

Michael Nyman isn't around either, but I really liked the music. There was an eclectic mix of intense orchestral stuff, ethnic music, and chirpy classical stuff, and it contributed to the overall rhythm of this. That rhythm is an odd rhythm, and it's driven by this virtuosic, R-trilling, and deliberately over-the-top performance by Elmer Back as Sergei Eisenstein. His hair might be the best on-screen coiffure since Eraserhead. Back's like an animated character, all waving arms and posturing. In a lot of his scenes, he's nearly dancing. And his words--and there are plenty of them, probably way too many--also dance. Lines like "I have a prick only fit for peeing" come out like strange poetry.

As you also might expect from Peter Greenaway, things get way too esoteric. I often watch his movies feeling like I'm not smart enough to be watching his films, and a movie with so much chunky symbolism and so many references to famous people and ideas, I felt like I got a little lost in it all.

I'd kind of stopped believing in Greenaway at this point in his career, but this movie makes me want to go back to watch some of his other recent movies. Especially if there's going to be this much penis!

The Devil's Advocate


1997 demonic drama

Rating: 13/20

Plot: A hotshot lawyer plays small-ball in Florida until he's recruited to a more luxurious life working for a law firm in New York. Soon, temptations

This is a great example of the type of mess that Hollywood can end up with when the writers and directors ambitiously bite off way more than they can chew. There were certainly things I liked a lot about the movie, most notably the wacked-out performance of Al Pacino. I'm not sure if the big reveal of Pacino as Beelzebub was supposed to be a surprising one or not. I mean, it kind of gives it away in the title, doesn't it? Pacino's performance is unhinged, and the viewer sits completely worried that there's going to be on-screen eye proptosis or whatever it's called when dogs' eyes pop out when they're dropped. Every nuance feels deliberate with Pacino, and there are so many of these little twitches, eyebrow raisings, smacked lips, shrugs and slouches, tilts, and eye darts that watching the performance is almost exhausting. I'd listen to arguments that what Pacino does is a little too silly ("Where does he fuck?" "Everywhere!"), but I loved every second he was on the screen.

In fact, Pacino somehow makes Keanu Reeves better, and Keanu Reeves is very nearly awful in this. I think he must have spent some time at the Nicolas Cage Academy of Shifting Accents because I'm not sure what's going on with his here. The screenplay calls for a pretty boy with a gleam, and they get that, but trying to accept Reeves as a person with actual emotions is just as much work as watching Pacino here. Reeves' performance almost singlehandedly topples the entire movie.

What really messes things up, however, has more to do with all this general weirdness which I think was supposed to work as foreshadowing but instead just kind of stick out like vague, deformed growths. A weird baby dream that features entrails, a demon woman formed with gross special effects, and one of the most grotesque and un-erotic sex scenes you're likely to see stand out, but there's a lot of weirdness thrown into this. Add some courtroom drama that is really silly--though honestly, for me, the sillier the better with Hollywood courtroom stuff--and you've got something that is more goofy than it is intriguing, shocking, tense, mysterious, or whatever it's actually supposed to be. The movie, a bloated endeavor, ultimately fails and clumsily deals with themes of pride and temptation, but it's really never boring.

I think Josh might have just recommended it because he knows how much of a Paul Benedict fan I am.

Alps


2011 drama

Rating: 13/20

Plot: The titular group starts a business where they impersonate deceased loved ones.

Had high hopes for this, Yorgos Lanthimos's follow-up to Dogtooth, and tried to watch it about six different times. A lot of its failure to connect is probably my fault. I'm not sure I was willing to put in the effort required to really connect all of its pieces. The acting is fine, and there are a lot of nice moments throughout the movie, but you kind of figure out what it's all about, at least on a superficial level, early on. After that, it just seems like it goes on and on. This was a really long 93-minute movie.

I'm looking forward to seeing The Lobster, and I'd like to see Dogtooth again. Maybe I'll give this one another shot in a few years and like it better. Maybe my expectations were just off.

Death by Hanging


1968 satire

Rating: 16/20

Plot: In Japan, a Korean rapist and murderer is hanged. He survives, however, and loses his memory. Everybody involved decides they need him to remember his crimes in order to attempt a second hanging and work to reenact his wrongdoings and refresh his memory.

The satire, though borderline preachy, connects, and the story--likely because its protagonist has a name that is a single letter--recalled Franz Kafka. Things start normal enough with an almost-documentary feel, the camera showing us every mundane inch of the building in which the execution will take place. Most of the action takes place there, the characters kind of trapped in this philosophical discussion, R.'s sins, and eventually their own failings. The reenactments were over-the-top and funnier than I would have expected. This delivers its points a bit too hard, and I don't have enough background in Japanese/Korean relations to understand exactly what was going on there. But this Theater-of-the-Absurdist Nagisa Oshima comedy still clicks, building to a finale that is both wacky and shocking.

Doomsdays


2013 apocalyptic comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Two drifters break into houses when the owners are away, drink a lot, smash up some cars, and meet new friends.

"How about a little fire scarecrow?" It just might be my favorite cinematic allusion of the year. Telling you where it comes from would ruin the surprise.

Those of you who know me know that I enjoy movies that seem to go nowhere at all. This is a movie that definitely doesn't go anywhere. It sort of threatens to, just as it sort of threatens to develop some themes. I actually doubt this is a good movie, but I laughed a bit. I'm also not sure if I liked this movie more or less once some sort of conflict developed.

This is writer/director Eddie Mullins' first effort, and I'm intrigued. Leo Fitzpatrick, the villain from Kids, is one of the wandering duo. I liked Justin Rice, the more hipsterish of the two, as well.

The Imposter


2012 documentary

Rating: 13/20

Plot: A creepy dude takes on the identity of a missing teenager, and the family doesn't seem to notice.

This is a very odd story, but I didn't like this documentary's style at all. It manipulates with a too-leisurely pace and all these reenactments, and despite the twists and turns of a truly unusual story that keeps you guessing, it still somehow feels a little redundant. And Dateline-y.

Special Feature: Top 10 Worst Movie Fathers

It's Father's Day, a day that allows me to sit and ponder what a terrible father I am and how I should have never been allowed to have four children. As a fan of movies, a cinephile like me is left with one option to make me feel better about my dad game--think about how there are a lot of movie fathers who are even worse at it than I am. This was a hard list to put together because there are a lot of terrible fathers to choose from. I'm not even sure these are in an order that makes sense.

If you're in the same situation, check out my list of Top 10 Worst Movie Fathers below. You'll start feeling a little more like Atticus Finch or that bald guy in Annie in no time!

Michael Waits, from Troll 2


You shouldn't be surprised. I'm obviously going to find every opportunity to mention this movie. But when you're the patriarch of a family who not only takes your family to what is apparently the worst vacation spot in America and then repeatedly ignore the warnings of your more-intelligent son, a son who has gotten the lowdown from Grandpa Seth, you deserve a spot. Not only does Mr. Waits not listen to his son. He yells at him for pissing on hospitality. That's just not the encouragement a kid needs.

Note: You could argue that another Michael--the father from Manos: The Hands of Fate--could have been here for similar bad vacation decision making. However, his daughter got to meet Torgo, and that makes up for it.

Royal, from The Royal Tenenbaums


There are probably a few guys (and one fox) from Wes Anderson films who could have made the list. You only have to look at how Chas, Margot, and Richie turned out to figure out what a bad father Royal is. Sure, he's trying to redeem himself toward the end of his life and arguably rescued his family from a sinking battleship, but a little white lie about having cancer probably isn't the best way to go about that. As a guy who explains his asshole tendencies by saying it's always been his style, his response to his daughter's play or his habit of shooting his kids with BB's shouldn't shock anybody.

Note: Bernard Berkman from The Squid and the Whale could make the list for similar reasons. He's also a total asshole.

Frank, from Klown


This guy basically kidnaps his girlfriend's son in an effort to convince her that he is father material, and on the ensuing canoeing trip, he proves that he is in no way father material. Actually, just bringing a kid anywhere around his buddy Casper should probably be enough to scare most mothers off, but the canoe trip shenanigans prove again and again that Frank himself shouldn't be anywhere near children.

Dr. Frankenstein, from Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein


Lots of movie fathers could make the list because they want their children to be dead, but Dr. Frankenstein here gets a boost for a few reasons. First, he apparently couldn't make children the natural way--with birds and bees--and had to assemble children from dead people's body parts, glue, thread, some duct tape, and some electricity. And then, he decides it was a terrible idea and doesn't want his children anymore. Doesn't sound very nurturing to me.

Henry Spencer, from Eraserhead


Another Henry, and he's here for the same reason--he doesn't want his kid anymore. Apparently, the monstrosity that Henry Spencer helps conceive is getting in the way of his lifestyle. It's also kind of ugly. I suppose you could read this story a little differently and see Henry's decision late in this movie as an act of mercy, but to me, he represents every father who is ill-equipped to be a father in the first place and then doesn't do a very good job of it once it happens.

Darth Vader, from A New HopeThe Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi


But wait! His name means "father," doesn't it? Yeah, but when you cut off your kid's hand, don't even seem to know how many children you even have, blow up the adoptive home planet of one of your children, send a dude who apparently disintegrates people to chase you around, and kill your son's mentor in front of him, you're not winning many father-of-the-year awards. I blame any lack of father figure in young Anakin Skywalker's life. That's probably where Jar Jar should have stepped up his game. Of course, at least Darth Vader had some aspirations for his kid. He did, after all, want to rule the galaxy with him. But it's a bad start to your fatherhood when you start force-choking your wife during her pregnancy.

Harry Powell, from The Night of the Hunter


In case you missed most of this movie, Harry isn't just a religious guy who married a poor widow because he wanted to help her take care of her children. He's kind of a jerk.

"Father," from Dogtooth


Sometimes, the damage done by fathers is more intellectual or psychological, and the father from Dogtooth is maybe the best movie example of that. Some dads won't let their children read Harry Potter books. The way this guy, admittedly with help from his wife, shelters his kids makes those hyper-religious zealots seem downright progressive. As one of my favorite songwriters wrote, "There's so many ways you can screw up a child." This guy's really really good at it.

Jerry Blake, from The Stepfather


All that creepy bald guy from Lost wants is that ideal American family. See? Look at how he's snuggling with that doggy up there. Like Harry Powell, Jerry's into marrying widows, but when cracks start developing in his perfect picture of patriarchy, he loses his mind and starts getting stabby. I may have forced my son to play baseball at a young age and engage in relentless practice until he decided he hated the sport, but I've never stabbed anybody. 

Note: Pan's Labyrinth has another dad who would fit in with Blake and Powell in a bad step-dad category. 

Colonel Fitts and Lester Burnham, from American Beauty


I guess it's possible that lots of dads lust after their daughters' friends and have midlife crisises or collect Nazi plates and would likely vote for Donald Trump. All I know is that if I don't start moving faster with this blog entry, Father's Day will be over.

Jack Torrance, from The Shining


It's another vacation-gone-wrong. And it's really gone wrong when you end up chasing your son through a labyrinth with an ax. I may not know two of my children's exact birthdays, but I've never done anything similar to that. Of course, you could argue that the whole thing isn't Jack's fault and that being married to Shelly Duvall would drive anybody to this sort of behavior. And you have to admit that Jack does work really hard, so maybe he's a better role model than most people give him credit for. But no, that whole ax thing just doesn't seem very affectionate.

Bill Maplewood, from Happiness


I'm not sure there's a father on this list I'd least like to be in the same room with. It sure is surprising that Todd Solondz could write a character who is this deplorable, isn't it? I think the worst thing about Bill Maplewood is that while you doubt the existence of a lot of Jack Torrances and some of these other guys, you know there are Bill Maplewoods in almost every suburb. And that's terrifying.

Ed Wilson, from Natural Born Killers


Another father of the silver screen capable of giving a person nightmares. I'm just giving this Rodney Dangerfield character respect by putting him in this list. I think this character's made worse both by how Oliver Stone creates him and how he looks exactly like Rodney Dangerfield. "Who am I now? The bad guy?" Well, that line about how your daughter won't see your face for an hour doesn't exactly make you a good guy, does it?

Noah Cross, from Chinatown


My son Dylan has never seen this movie, and I would be a terrible father if he read about why Noah Cross is an utterly despicable dad and had the entire movie spoiled for him. No, it wouldn't make me as bad a father as Noah Cross, but it still wouldn't be good. So I'm not going to include any details here.

Daniel Plainview, from There Will Be Blood


Hey, at least he takes his son bowling!

Dishonorable Mention:

Wayne Szalinski from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, probably because his stupidity endangered the lives of his children.

Pa Cox from Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. I'm not a great father, but I know "the wrong child died" is just not something you should ever say to your kid. Favoritism isn't good.

Both Gremlins and Anomalisa for giving us dads with terrible gift ideas.

Robin Williams in the ironically-titled World's Greatest Dad or Mrs. Doubtfire, the latter in which he transforms from apathetic dad to creepy stalker and likely gave his kids psychological issues. And in another Robin Williams' movie, that dad in Dead Poet's Society could also qualify for a list like this.

Nicolas Cage is in a pair of movies with bad fathers. He plays one having a mid-life crisis in The Weather Man, and his character has an overbearing father in Birdy.

The guy in Delicatessen. I mean, I may have accidentally kicked my daughter in the face while playing disc golf and then blamed her for it, but I've never tried to eat any of my daughters' boyfriends. Yet.

I'm not a fan of the dad in Searching for Bobby Fischer.

Sylvester Stallone could almost make a list like this, both for some of the Rocky sequels and Over the Top. But he's Sylvester Stallone, America's funnyman, and I just can't put him in there.

Oldboy?

I was going to mention the Lone Wolf and Cub series, but I stopped myself because I remembered that he's actually the greatest father of all time.

Who did I miss, boys and girls? Leave comments below if I'm forgetting anybody.

Anomalisa


2015 animation for adults

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A customer service guru travels to Cincinnati to speak at a conference and tries to decide whether or not to visit the zoo or have some chili. He meets a new friend.

Chalk this up as a movie that I definitely wanted to and expected to like a lot more than I did. The animation is beautifully done. I loved the setting details even though there weren't actually a lot of different locations. The main character's hotel room, a seemingly endless hallway, the hotel's basement, the interiors of a plane and taxi cab. I think that might be it. There were great details with the characters and their clothing, too. I think a lot of why I like stop-animation so much--and those of you who know me know that I'm a sucker for stop-animation--has to do with the textures. This uses the medium creatively but without showing off as the character engages in mundane activities like getting ice, wiping a mirror clean (see poster!), or pour drinks.

I'm not sure how I feel about the "acting" of these puppets. On the one hand, there are some great nuances, almost indiscernible facial tics or slight posture changes, that really help fill in gaps about the characters and all the things they experienced before this movie started. They're very minor moments, but in a movie where not all that much actually happens, they really stand out. On the other hand, there are times when the puppets' acting isn't great or the voice work doesn't seem to mesh. I like David Thewlis a lot, but I never really felt that his voice fit this character. Jennifer Jason Leigh's voice fits somewhat better, but there are times when I just didn't like her delivery. Cleverly--but maybe too cleverly, Kaufman--Tom Noonan voices "everyone else" in the movie. His contribution isn't supposed to be anything startling, so what he does for the characters is just about perfect.

The movie's quite the downer. Ennui is established early on, and it's so thick that when the main character does sense a little excitement in his life, the feeling is almost palpable. In the end, you're not sure if the character's been on a journey at all, and it's a little depressing watching the guy get from Point A to Point A again. At the end, I just wasn't sure what insight about life or being human I was supposed to gain from any of this. There's a point where the character, in a lengthy monologue that is either brilliant and darkly funny or too long and absurd, asks what it means to be human. I guess I just expected the puppets with their faces that looked like they could have fallen off at any moment to help answer that question.

There was so much potential here, and while I definitely didn't hate the movie, I didn't exactly love it either. What seemed oddest to me was that it forces you to trudge through the minutia of this guy's visit to the Queen City but then whips through some major plot points a little too rapidly. So a big revelation about the movie's title, an emerging internal conflict with our unlikable protagonist, and what might be a mental breakdown feel rushed or tacked on. The movie's smart while not quite being smart enough, funny without being funny enough, and bleak without being sad enough to really make you feel anything.

Of course, there's plenty of puppet sex if that's your thing. It's my thing, so you don't have to be ashamed to admit it if it's yours, too. This blog is a safe place. The sex scene in this is almost touching, but it felt endless to me. But who am I to argue with full frontal puppet nudity. And yes, I'm aware that Full Frontal Puppet Nudity would make a great band name.

It's entirely possible that I would like this a lot better if I watched it again. In a way, I feel like I grasped things too easily with this one which might mean that I failed to grasp a lot of its finer details or discover its hidden secrets. So maybe I'll give it another go sometime.

The Nightmare


2015 horror documentary

Rating: 13/20

Plot: A terrifying look at sleep paralysis.

This is Rodney Ascher's second feature-length documentary, and since his first was the delightful Room 237 about The Shining, this one about sleep paralysis intrigued. There's a lot to keep you interested, including a variety of fascinating anecdotes by people who suffer from this strange phenomenon, but the reenactments start to feel a little cheesy and redundant after a while. You're also just not real sure what you're supposed to take away from any of this. There are a lot of creepy moments in this one, but its style eventually got old. You should watch it only if you're entertained by the subject matter rather than having a desire to be enlightened about it.

The Bourne Ultimatum


2007 action sequel

Rating: 14/20

Plot: More running around the world and getting himself involved in fisticuffs and car chases for Jason Bourne.

This is my favorite of the Bourne movies although it's nearly identical to the other movies in every way. I watched these (and had plans to watch the one without the charming Matt Damon) to prepare for the new installment coming out this summer, but I don't know if I have interest in seeing Matt Damon, as charming as he might be, running around the world and getting himself involved in fisticuffs and car chases any more--especially with the way those action sequences are edited in these movies. As dangerous to epileptics as Pokemon cartoons.

The Bourne Supremacy


2004 spy sequel

Rating: 12/20

Plot: Jason Bourne, or whatever the hell his name is, is framed for a crime and has to try to survive as he continues to uncover secrets about his life.

I didn't like the first Bourne movie, and I didn't like this one either. These movies just don't work viscerally for me. The action sequences are so jumpy that it makes it really difficult to actually absorb anything at all. The character's fine, and I like Matt Damon, but the new director, Paul Greengrass, picked up where the first movie's director, Doug Liman, and seems to be using Matt Damon to make me dizzy.

Tokyo Tribe


2014 Japanese hip-hop musical

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Gangs fight each other while rapping.

This is a little like a modern Japanese West Side Story with rapping and a lot more violence and nudity, and if that sounds like your sort of thing, you'll probably find something to like in this messy movie. The gangs, so flashy and stylish that you almost have to laugh, are about as realistic as the snapping and strutting Jets and Sharks. My main issue with this--and the reason it was exhausting enough that I had to watch the thing in three installments--is because it's very dialogue heavy and, as an non-traditional traditional musical, almost every line is sung. With hip-hop, it seems like there are twice as many lyrics anyway, so this ended up being a lot of reading for me. And that's unfortunate because visually, there were a lot of interesting things going on. Most of the movie is very obviously filmed on a stage, something else it has in common with West Side Story, but the camera maneuvers through all this action and all these characters in exciting ways. One scene that takes place in a red room and features nearly-naked people acting as furniture, looks like Peter Greenaway may have been a consultant. Fight scenes and hordes of characters are filmed in exhilarating ways, and at times, the cinematography reminded me a little of Gaspar Noe's work. There are also some virtuoso long shots in this thing including a terrific one to start things. In fact, if you do decide to watch this, I'd recommend you don't bother trying to follow any plot or look for any characters to latch onto and just appreciate the visuals and the beats. There's not much of a story here anyway, and the amount of characters can be a little frustrating.  Of course, I wouldn't want to eliminate any characters because the auxiliary characters are a lot of fun in this, especially a beat-boxing waitress and a kung-fu-fightin' little person. Throw in a little blood, allusions to cannibalism, and an elderly DJ, and you've got yourself something that is at the very least always interesting even when it starts to feel redundant.

This is my first exposure to the director Sion Sono. He's the director of Love Exposure, a movie pretty high on my must-see list. I'm intrigued after watching this one.

Rock the Kasbah


2015 comedy

Rating: 10/20

Plot: A washed-up rock 'n' roll manager ventures to Afghanistan with Zooey Deschanel to make some quick cash but ends up stranded. He

Bill Murray plays washed-up well, but I think I've decided I really only like him in Wes Anderson movies. People making movies with Bill Murray in them have to understand that you need more than a scene where Bill Murray belts out "Smoke on the Water" in order for the movie to work. To be completely fair, this does have some moments, and there's plenty of Cat Stevens. But its name-dropping becomes so tedious, and the story, apparently based on a true story, is a real mess. Instead of taking advantage of an opportunity to actually say something about the situation in Afghanistan--or any 'stan because, if I understand things correctly, there are situations in those places--or about the trials and tribulations of females in the Middle East, Barry Levinson and company just try to make things wacky. When things do turn meaningful, you can't take things seriously.

Hardware


1990 science fiction thriller

Rating: 13/20

Plot: In a post-apocalyptic future, a guy buys his girlfriend the head of a killer cyborg which reassembles itself like the Iron Giant and starts eviscerating people.

This is from director Richard Stanley whose career seems to have been derailed after his The Island of Dr. Moreau screenplay. The budget's obviously very low, but there's enough weirdo style here to set this apart somewhat from other Terminator or Alien clones. It starts audaciously enough by taking the Bible out of context, the sort of thing that most religious folk can appreciate. "No flesh shall be spared" from Mark something-something more than likely was Jesus referencing killer robots. The opening weirdly-tinted desert shots with a character who looks cool enough to deserve an action figure are awesome. From there, odd details give this that written-by-a-drooling-middle-schooler vibe. Iggy Pop's voice is in there as a radio announcer, a little fellow named Mark Northover plays junkshop dealer Alvy who gets a terrific audio-only death scene, there are close-ups of a telescope-wielding peeper's wet mouth as he masturbates while watching Stacey Travis engage in various activities in her apartment, a character has a really wacky drug trip, and that aforementioned perv sings this "wibberly wobberly" song which he punctuates with a proud "I made that up." There's some sick humor and a lot of that sort of violence where you can tell the director no only wanted to kill off characters but punish them. There's great production design along with what might be too much weirdness, and the movie seems to get a little stupider as it goes along, not necessarily a bad thing.

Oh, I also liked the killer robot and how the thing was animated.


I watched this because I noticed that Dust Devil, another Richard Stanley movie, was leaving Netflix at the end of a month and decided to watch it before it was too late. And then, I decided to watch Hardware instead and didn't end up watching Dust Devil. Is that detail important enough to include in this blog entry? Anyway, this movie was a pleasant surprise, and I kind of enjoyed it.