Silent Saturday: He Who Gets Slapped

1924 tragic drama

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A scientist has his ideas stolen by a man he thought was a benefactor. Oh, and the guy also steals his wife. After being slapped by his rival and laughed at by the scientific community and their fantastic beards, he retreats to a life as a clown in a circus where he is slapped dozens of times a night as HE who gets slapped. He falls for a gal who rides horses. When the original slapper pops into the picture once again, He discovers that he might have a chance for revenge.

Of interest to any of my readers (ha!) who are trivia buffs: This is the first movie to begin with the familiar roar of the MGM lion. And fittingly, the movie has a dopey scene with a lion in it.

Is it just me or was Lon Chaney faces and shoulders ahead of nearly everybody else in the 1920s? What an actor! It's hard to believe that the same person is playing the scientist guy at the beginning and the unfortunate clown later on. Sure, there's some exaggerated mannerisms and expressions that were just necessary in the silent era, but there's something special about how Chaney creates these characters. It seems like the sadder the character, the better Chaney is. He really brings a heart to what should have been just a completely ridiculous story.

There's not a lot of variety to the sets here. There's a room or two at the scientist's house, a circus ring where a lot of the action takes place, a backstage pair of rooms that apparently contains one lion, and an area where scientists gather to laugh at other scientists getting slapped. That might be the same set as the circus though. And there's a repeated shot of Chaney laughing and pointing at a spinning globe. It doesn't seem like a great deal of money was spent on the production, but director Victor Sjostrom did just enough with a little to keep this interesting. I loved shots with a horde of clowns. I don't know for sure and am too lazy to look it up, but I'd guess the scientists and the clowns were played by the same people.

He Who Gets Slapped has a dopey name and a story that probably doesn't make a lot of sense, but it's a fine 1920's tragedy with a great Lon Chaney performance.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

2016 adventure comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A rebellious, chubby wannabe gansta kid and his foster "uncle" flee from the authorities after spending a little too long in the bush.

It's almost to the point where a Taika Waititi movie is an event for me, and my expectations for this comedy were high. Maybe too high.

I loved the environment, and I thought the kid's performance and especially Sam Neill's performance were both very good. And I did think the movie was pretty funny. It was nowhere near as funny as What We Do in the Shadows, but very few things are. The movie's story isn't particularly believable, and neither are the characters, but you don't really need them to be for a comedy. There are some bits that are predictable, and while the characters' relationships grow, your enjoyment of them probably won't very much. I can see some viewers not liking the kid very much and having that get in the way with the overall experience of the movie.

A lot of great moments and some lovable characters make this a comedy that is worth watching, but don't go into it expecting it to be as good as Waititi's previous work.

Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World

2016 documentary

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A look at the history, the effects, and the future of the Internet.

In Werner Herzog's capable hands, what could have been a dull look at a dull topic ends up fascinating and strange. There are moments that are informative, moments that are almost touching, moments that are surprising and funny, and moments that are nearly terrifying.

This is broken into ten chapters. It begins with the history of the net, dives into Internet addiction, touches on people who have allergic reactions to cell phone towers, aliens, and the dangers of artificial intelligence. If there's a weakness, it's a bit all over the place. It almost feels like the chapters should have been 20 minute episodes in a web series instead of lumped together in one documentary feature.

But Herzog's got a knack for finding interesting, somewhat eccentric individuals and letting them go nuts on camera about their passions. There's a lot of that here, and Herzog's voice--always welcomed--chimes in to talk about how ugly a hallway is painted or whatever else he feels like saying. For fans of Herzog's documentaries, this is yet another example of the director finding a little humor in the darkness.

Ice Age: Collision Course

2016 sequel to bunch of other sequels

Rating: 8/20 (Jennifer: wisely refused to watch; Abbey: 5/20; Buster: 20/20)

Plot: An asteroid is heading for earth, and the trio of characters from the original Ice Age movie and the forty thousand characters they've picked up in the sequels have to find a way to stop it.

This franchise is ludicrous. Please stop, Blue Sky.

Tati Shorts

1934-1976 shorts

Rating: None. I don't rate collections.

Plot: Various.

A hit and miss affair that made me more sad than anything else. For a 40+ year career, Tati should have more movies for me to enjoy. Maybe I'm just selfished, but it's unfortunate that he was burdened by perfectionism.

"On Demande une Brute" has Tati becoming a wrestler. Nothing memorable or even really very amusing happens.

Things really get rolling with "Gai Dimanche" about a pair of con men--Tati and his clownish pal Rhum--who gather a collection of folks for a trip to the country in a rickety vehicle. There are some humorous visual gags, and I think I even might have laughed a couple times. Tati might be at his best when he gets to play with some sort of contraption, and here, he plays with the ridiculous cars' doors along with creatively using the landscape and even the humans. There's nothing revolutionary here, but it was definitely a fun watch.

"Soigne ton Gauche," directed by Rene Clement is about a buffoonish farmer who gets his shot at being a boxer, and it's Tati showing off his talents at physical comedy. I loved it, and thought it was very funny.

Even better was "The School for Postmen," his directorial debut from 1947. It's Tati with his postman character from his first feature length film, and I'm not sure if there's anything new here if you've seen Jour de Fete. A few of the gags, I believe, were even repeated, but this is still a great and funny short.

Most disappointing was "Evening Classes," a short Tati made while working on Playtime. Tati, playing an acting teacher, pantomimes fishing and tennis like he did in the circus movie (Parade) I watched a few months ago. He also shows his students how to run into things and trip. It's not all that funny, and I was disappointed because I felt as if I had been teased by being shown some of the impressive Playtime set that didn't end up being utilized at all.

I was tricked into watching a 1978 short made by his daughter, Sophie Tatischeff, and I wasn't sure what the point of the whole thing was. It was charming enough, but I couldn't figure out why it was supposed to be funny. I'm not even sure it was supposed to be funny actually. There's also a soccer documentary that Tati was working on that his daughter finished.

I guess this isn't anywhere near essential, but if you're a fan of Jacques Tati's work, it's probably worth checking out. You're not going to be blown away though, so be warned.

The Illustrated Man

1969 Bradbury adaptation

Rating: 13/20

Plot: A man with skin illustrations (not tattoos!) harasses an amateur hobo and bores him with sci-fi stories.

I'm a fan of Ray Bradbury's work, and it's both because he's got great ideas and knows the words to turn those ideas into something magical or chilling or darkly humorous. The Illustrated Man is a collection of about twenty stories linked by a guy's skin illustrations. I don't remember if I've read it or any of the stories.

I have to stop and explain the "skin illustrations" thing I keep mentioned. There are a couple times when Rod Steiger's character snarls at Robert Drivas after the latter refers to his skin art as tattoos. "They're not tattoos--they're skin illustrations," he says. I couldn't stop imitating that, especially during the slower moments of the movie. My wife Jennifer loved it.

Actually, my favorite parts of this movie were when it was just Rod Steiger and Drivas talking out in the middle of nowhere. Steiger's got a dog named Peke with him, and the dog acting from Pogo is amazing. Sadly, that's Pogo's lone performance. Steiger's a lot of fun to watch in this. He chews the scenery beautifully. He urinates and makes a reference to a penis tattoo. Sorry, penis skin illustration. And I won't pretend the man isn't easy on the eyes. I mean, take a look at this poster:

And yes, I'm aware that he kind of looks like a young Donald Trump, and now I'm a little sick to my stomach and not sure that I can even go on.

Ok, I just found this image, and now I can go on:

The main problem with the movie were the stories within the story. Or the stories within the skin illustrations. There was one about parenting in the future, one with some fun Venus imagery and lots of rain that seemed almost endless, and a final one about the last day on earth that really never gets off the ground. I just didn't think the individual stories were as interesting as the conversations Steiger had with Drivas, and there really wasn't much going on there. It's just that the science fiction bits never really get going. They're ideas that probably work better with Bradbury's poetry. 

Made in the heart of the psychedelic era, there's some fun sets to see here, and the tattoos (sorry, skin illustrations!) themselves make for a cool visual. 

Silent Saturday: Long Pants

1927 dark comedy

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Shielded by the 1920's equivalent of helicopter parents, young Harry finally graduates from knickerbockers to long pants. He meets a criminal and impresses her with an array of bicycle stunts but is forced into another marriage and dreams of killing his newlywed in order to reconnect with the real object of his affection.

Frank Capra is credited for directing this, but it seems he was fired for creative differences with the star. Langdon wanted to take his character into some pretty dark places, and Capra wasn't a fan of the idea. I think Langdon was likely right as the dark comedy is really the only reason to watch this 1927 flick. The ideas are ahead of their time, and there's something daring about the idea of watching the star fantasize about killing his innocent wife. It almost clashes with the more typical silent comedy and slapstick. Langdon, who I think is pretty unlikable anyway, runs into things, pratfalls, and performs those aforementioned bicycle stunts. The bicycle stunts show him at his best, but there's absolutely nothing ingenious about the rest of this. Langdon just isn't as funny as Chaplin, Keaton, or Lloyd. So although I appreciate that this takes some chances that most creative minds in the silent era wouldn't think about touching, it ultimately just isn't all that entertaining or funny.

Other Langdon films on the blog: The Chaser, Three's a Crowd, The Strong Man.

Suicide Squad

2016 superantihero movie

Rating: 9/20

Plot: A bunch of awful people with specialized skills are assembled to fight a witch. Another incarnation of the Joker is involved.

I feel that I was duped into watching this because of the use of Sweet's "Ballroom Blitz" in the trailers. That's one of the catchiest rock songs of all time, and I want it played as pallbearers whisk my coffin out of the funeral home. And you fuckers better be dancing!

I was Movies-a-Go-Go'ing this, but I lost heart because I was bored out of my mind. This is not a movie that should have been boring. I become deflated early on.

None of these characters did anything for me. Not a single one of them. Will Smith's sharpshooter guy? A typical Will Smith badass, and I don't mean that as a positive thing. The Joker's girlfriend? The one-liners got tired really quickly. The witchy villain? I never even understood what was going on there. Lizard Man, Fire Man, Boomerang Man, the other ones I'm completely forgetting about? It's just a confusing collection of blah.

This also has one of the most oppressive soundtracks of all time. It's not that the song selections were bad because there were a lot of good nuggets there. But I swear, every single minute of this movie had it's own song. The movie was suffocated in classic rock.

I hated this movie. It's ugly. It's boring. It's borderline incomprehensible. It bites off way more than anybody could possibly chew and forces it down the audience's throat. And I can't imagine anybody--not even the biggest comic book fan--not choking on the thing.


1983 crime drama

Rating: 15/20

Plot: The rise and fall--[Spoiler Alert] a literal fall!--of Tony Montana, a white guy pretending to be a Cuban guy.

As an aspiring rapper, I had to watch this nearly three-hour movie. Pacino's as electric as always even when I don't quite buy the accent. You just can't take your eyes off the guy though.

I don't think I like this movie as much as other rap superstars, but I feel the need to give it a semi-high rating to avoid losing street cred.

Body Double

1984 Hitchcock rip-off

Rating: 15/20

Plot: An unsuccessful actor with peeping tendencies finds himself in the middle of a murder mystery.

Why pick one of Alfred Hitchock's pockets when you can thrust your hands in two of them? This never hides that it's borrowing heavily from Rear Window and Vertigo, but it does it with so much of that exaggerated style you'd expect with a Brian De Palma movie, that you just have to applaud the guy. It touches on the same themes of the obsession of an ideal and jacking off with the help of telescopes. It's got the same natural layers of any film about voyeuristic characters. The viewer starts to feel a little trashy as he secretly watches a character without that character's knowledge while he is secretly watching somebody else. There's another great lengthy chase sequence--this time through Los Angeles--like in Dressed to Kill, not quite as artfully choreographed but equally thrilling. And Melanie Griffith repeats these nifty dance moves.

If this was remade, which it shouldn't be, it should star Jessie Eisenberg, Nicolas Cage, and Miley Ray Cyrus. Don't pay any attention to me, Hollywood, because I don't know what I'm talking about.

The Player

1992 Robert Altman movie

Rating: 17/20

Plot: A movie executive finds his career and love life in turmoil when a budding younger executive threatens his job and a failed screenwriter threatens his life. He winds up killing somebody.

This was my introduction to Altman back when I was about ready to quit becoming a teenager although I think I might have seen M.A.S.H. at some point before this. I'm not sure I had seen anything like it, and that was way before I could identify the film references, know who half of the cameos even were, and more than likely not even understand the genres (noir, the murder mystery) that Altman was turning inside out. It's cheerily cynical, almost effervescently bitter, but I likely didn't know enough about the movie industry or Altman's career to understand why.

The scene with Whoopi Goldberg and Lyle Lovett, both who are just so good in this, in the police station where they interrogate Tim Robbins and reference Freaks is hilarious. Getting to see Tim Robbins naked and covered in mud was arousing. And seeing Burt Reynolds? That's also arousing.

My friend Kent first recommended this which reminds me how thankful I should be that I surrounded myself with characters who were much smarter and more worldly than I was in my late-teens and early-20s.

Does anybody think my blog writing skills have gone downhill? This is a disaster!

Anyway, I love this movie because of how it toys with the viewers' expectations, especially those of us who have seen more than 12 movies. I think that's how many movies I had seen before watching this the first time. That is not something I'd recommend.

This is for my wife, a woman who apparently is attracted to weird-looking men. 

Altered States

1980 sci-fi drug trip

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Researchers experiment with Mexican hallucinogenics and isolation tanks in order to de-evolve into rampaging ape men.

Bob Balaban!

More psychosexual shenanigans from Ken Russell, a dude not afraid to indulge. Here, he goes full trip, alluding to Coca Cola and linking sex with God ("What are you thinking about?" "God. Jesus. Crucifixion." might be the worst pillow talk of all time!). Both visuals and sound team up for a mind scramble, warping senses and making hallucinogenic drugs and isolation chambers seem horrifying and wonderful. Monkey man parkour--dig that ape transformation and William Hurt laughing at his monkey feet!--attracted the dumb guy in me while the psychological/philosophical mumbo-jumbo baffled. There's a story, but to me, it's secondary. The avant-garde-for-the-mainstream trip sequences--that's where it's at. A flashy psychedelic parade! I can't imagine watching this movie on actual hallucinogenics would be recommended. If Larry still read my blog, he could let us know.

My favorite scene isn't a trip though. It's where Hurt, in his de-evolved monkey-man state, frightens a janitor. That, or lovers turning to statues turning to dust, a terrific and poignant use of special effects to tell the true story of everlasting romantic love.

John Corigliano did the really cool score.

Hi, there!

I believe that thing is mentioned in the Bible, Donald Trump's favorite book. 

Did I mentioned Bob Balaban is in this movie? He plays the 7-eyed ram thing. 

Phantom of the Paradise

1974 musical

Rating: 16/20

Plot: It's like a rock opera version of The Phantom of the Opera.

In what's turned out to be an unofficial personal Brian De Palma Film Fest, I somehow forgot that I had watched this vibrant, colorful, and just plain odd horror musical. I'm fairly positive this would have ended up being my favorite movie if I had seen it as a teenager.

The songs are a little dated but really enjoyable, the visuals are outstanding, and De Palma's style is fearless. Just note the scene on a stage that combines two of my favorites--split screen and the long take. It's feverish, an array of wild imagery, the kinds of ideas--like all the best ideas--that more than likely fueled by cocaine. De Palma out-Rocky-Horrors The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and it's absolutely exhilarating.

At the same time, there's a heavy-handed satire about the music industry. It's the same fish-in-the-barrel jab that you've seen in countless other movies about the music industry, but here, the characters are such an exaggerated lot of villains, damsels, and tragic heroes, that you can't help love the thing. And in between the cracks of the big picture satire about a soul-sucking existence trying to make it big in the music business, there's more subtle pokes at music fandom and the fickle industry that caters to their needs.

Paul Williams, who plays the villain Swan, did the music for this, a genre-twisting score that has elements of glam rock, 50's rock, hard rock, and 70's singer/songwriter stuff, and it really is just about perfect. Swan makes a great bad guy, and I loved his glam rock creation Beef, probably because his name is Beef.

De Palma, like he always seems to do, pays homage to Hitchcock with a fun little spoof of Psycho's shower scene. This one involves a plunger.

This joins The Apple as cult rock operas that are much better than Rocky Horror.

Silent Saturday: When the Clouds Roll By

1919 action comedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: For reasons that are never really explained, an evil psychologist and his minions attempt to drive a superstitious guy to suicide.

This was Victor Fleming's directorial debut about thirty years before Munchkins and that 5-hour movie that put me to sleep. The guy came out of the gate with a creative energy. My favorite scenes in this are lightly surrealistic ones--a glimpse inside the main character's stomach as he suffers from heartburn, of course with fervently dancing items of food, and a peek inside Fairbanks' brain that predates Inside-Out. A wild dream sequence, a flood that reminded me of a Buster Keaton climax, and a scene where Fleming has Fairbanks dancing on a ceiling 32 years before Gene Kelly and more than 60 years before Lionel Richie are highlights.

Douglas Fairbanks was called a "whirling cyclone of energy" by his biographer, Jeffrey Vance. I probably don't know Fairbanks as much as I should. He's fun to watch, both the acrobatic stunt work and the acrobatic overacting. There are a whole lot of gratuitous slow-motion jumping sequences if that's your thing. The "whirling cyclone of energy" comparison is apt, and he drives this weird little movie.

Our story flies by at a pace that is completely unrealistic, but it never slows down enough to bore anybody like one might expect from a movie made before 1920. The story starts out goofy and only gets goofier once the romantic element is added, but that can't slow down the momentum. It's a dark, risky little comedy, and it never stops being fun.

A glimpse inside Fairbanks' stomach

Bad Movie Club: The Amazing Bulk

2012 superhero movie

Bad Movie Rating: 5/5 (Josh: 4/5; Fred: 3/5)

Rating: 2/20

Plot: After accidentally transforming himself into a raging purple CGI beast, Henry has to save the world from the evil Dr. Werner von Kantlove and try to win the heart of his beloved Hannah.

This was a bit of a bad movie white whale for me. After all, how could a movie shot entirely on a stage in front of a green screen and then utilizing really bad CGI and stock backgrounds fail to impress? This might be the most absurd thing I've ever seen in my time writing bad entries on this movie blog, and that's saying quite a bit since I watch a lot of absurd things. I'm still not sure about the filmmaker's intentions. Lewis Schoenbrung, who hasn't made another movie since this but made another Bad Movie Club venture called Aliens vs. Avatars, swears he didn't intend to make a bad film, but it's hard to believe when watching the purple Bulk fleeing from the military at the end of this movie. He passes a variety of stock footage cartoon characters which have no business being there, "kitchen sink" imagery as Josh put it, and it just has to be a joke. He runs past a leprechaun at one point, a weird troll guy, a plethora of cartoon animals, a golfer who looks like he stepped out of an Atari 2600 game. It's more than bad--it's ridiculously bad. I mean, just look at this thing:

There's no way somebody made that and thought it would pass as a serious attempt at filmmaking, right?

Part of me thinks Schoenbrun thought he was making something revolutionary here, a sort of low-budget superhero version of Sin City. He did reference Who Framed Roger Rabbit? in a response to criticism of his film, and that lends some credence to the theory. My guess is that he was putting this all together chronologically, decided that it was going to be one of the worst things ever made, and then went nuts at the end and threw in everything and the proverbial kitchen sink that Josh was talking about.

And you have to see how the characters run in this movie. The Bulk itself sort of shimmies along with the same repetitive movements, but the human characters all run in place while the background changes behind them, like they're in a Flintstones cartoon. It's hilarious.

The movie doesn't just look bad. It's poorly written, all superhero cliches and hammy jokes. The acting, likely not aided by the already unpolished performers being forced to act in front of a green screen, is among the worst you'll ever see. The music is mostly classical pieces that you've heard in movies before, including a nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey that inspired me to make a "Thus Puked Zarathustra" joke that neither of my Bad Movie Club friends seemed to enjoy as much as me. I mean, I had to "like" my own comment. Somebody had to.

Yes, the Bulk does have nipples. Because why not?

My God! If a child made this movie, he or she would be embarrassed with how it turned out. Lewis Schoenbrun has done something truly remarkable here, and the uniqueness of this piece of trash makes it a good-bad movie you should endure if you get the chance and enjoy that sort of thing.

"Thus Puked Zarathustra"? That's funny, right?


2012 science fiction prequel

Rating: 10/20

Plot: A bunch of scientists venture to a distant planet to attempt to discover the origin of their species.

Here's a prequel that's easily more disastrous than those Star Wars movies that fanboys have cried about for almost two decades. This is a mess, a movie that suffers from being overly ambitious while, at least thematically, not quite being ambitious enough. It seems that Ridley Scott wants to say something about humanity, our origins, our future as a species, or something else equally profound, but all the special effects keep getting in the way.

The first Alien movie is a favorite of mine, a classic of both horror and science fiction, and it works because it keeps everything simple. This movie has too many ideas. Scott put way too much on his plate here, and it ended up making more of a mess on the table than it did when that alien popped out of John Hurt's chest.

Rest in peace, John Hurt, by the way.

This was the second movie I watched in a row that had a title alluding to a mythological character. If I would have made the connection then, I could have gotten a streak going.

Mighty Aphrodite

1995 romantic comedy

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A sportswriter successfully discovers the identity of his adopted son's real mother after he turns out to be a genius and then starts to fall for her.

A charming movie right at the end of the portion of Woody Allen's career when he could pull that sort of thing off, this thrives with the great Mira Sorvino performance. I'm not quite sure if there's a myth this echos or if that was just Woody's excuse to have the hook of a Greek chorus led by F. Murray Abraham. It's a cute idea as the chorus's lyrics dart between comedy and tragedy just like the movie. There are lots of clever lines, both with the chorus and the modern characters, and the movie somehow survives Michael Rapaport, definitely no easy feat. An ending has a dash of bitter mixed in with the sweet.

It's not quite up there with Woody Allen's very best work, but it's still very likable.

The Lair of the White Worm

1988 horror movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: After the current Doctor Who Doctor finds an odd-shaped skull, a sexy lady with an affinity for Chutes and Ladders starts acting crazy. It turns out that she worships some giant worm that she's attempting to resurrect. Luckily, Hugh Grant's around to act charming and put a stop to it.

I have a love/hate relationship with the work of Ken Russell. I always feel that I should like him a lot better than I do. It's sort of the same feelings I have about David Cronenberg. I did like this slice of craziness a bit though, mostly because of the endless onslaught of phallic symbols. There are these great little moments in Russell's movies where he becomes a little unhinged and throws a scene in that can only be described as a scene you'd see in a Ken Russell movie, like a more hectic Kenneth Anger or something. Here, it's a wild scene featuring the raping of nuns beneath a crucified Christ hallucination guaranteed to make any Christian willing to see a movie called Lair of the White Worm unhappy. The effects are a little dated, probably even for the late-80s, but that only adds to the charm.

I almost fell in love with the villainess played by Amanda Donohoe, and that was before a wild sequence in which she's topless and sports an absurdly gigantic pointed codpiece. There's a cartoonish seductiveness to the performance that I thought worked perfectly, and a scene where she lures a Boy Scout to her home to play Chutes and Ladders (but a weird English version with snakes instead of chutes, something America wouldn't stand for because snakes are obviously the devil and could make Chutes and Ladders a gateway board game to something truly evil like Dungeons and Dragons); does a little seductive dance in her lingerie, the perfect wardrobe for a spirited game of Chutes and Ladders if you ask me; and then gets her guest to play the mouth harp, alluded to earlier in a double-entendre-stuffed dialogue. She then bathes him, bites him, and criticizes his body odor and halitosis before dunking him in the water with her foot. That's what I call a date! She's also watching a Melies short ("The Brahmin and the Butterfly") on television at one point, so I think we'd have a lot in common. I also taste good!

Hugh Grant's in there, too, acting simultaneously foppish and heroic. There's one scene where he has a dead man for an erection because yes, in a Ken Russell movie, even a corpse is a phallic symbol. A young Peter Capaldi brings his eyebrows and his bagpipe skills although the bagpipe scene is almost silly enough to ruin the entire movie. It's like Capaldi came to the set with them one day and said, "Hey, I can play this. Want to try to work it into the script somehow?" and everybody just went along with it because he hypnotized them with his eyes. The fact that he apparently needed to put on a kilt to really get those bagpipes going is a little comical, but I reckon it's an intentional joke. It makes as much sense as a scene where they play a record of snake charming music--because most people have those around--although I can't criticize that scene because of how excited the butler gets when recalling belly dancers.

So a few wild scenes and a director and performers having a little fun with the horror genre make this worth viewing even if it doesn't make much sense. The movie's so obviously about sex--and maybe the clash between religion and sex--that it keeps things nice and juicy. I with I would have caught it when it came out because I was probably the perfect age for this sort of avant-garde raunch.

Apparently, this is based on a Bram Stoker book.

Silent Saturday: Downhill

1927 drama

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A kid's life falls to pieces after he accepts responsibility for his pal's misdeed.

I haven't watched nearly enough silent movies in the past few years. To make up for it, I'm going to do one a week in 2017, and I might as well do them on Saturdays because then I can call it Silent Saturday and show off my alliteration skills. The kids love that sort of thing.

This is known as When Boys Leave Home in America, but I'm not the biggest fan of America right now and will use the British title.

I decided to start with this Alfred Hitchcock film that I'd never heard of. The story, in which we get to watch a poor protagonist's life unravel from one decision, is intriguing enough, and Hitchcock's style starts to come through a bit. There are some great shots, a little camera trickery, and a lack of dependence on any title cards to tell the story that show off the director's gifts. I thought Ivor Novello's performance was really good though the whole production does suffer a bit from some of the problems plaguing 1920's melodrama. A scene with a fever dream with a dizzying use of superimposition is a standout.

I'd recommend this to anybody who likes Hitchcock's better-known stuff as if foreshadows some of the master's style.

Nicolas Cage Birthday Special: Pay the Ghost

2015 horror mystery movie

Rating: 11/20

Plot: A college professor, distracted by a windsock man, loses his son on Halloween and tries to figure out how to pay the ghost because that's what the movie's title told him to do.

Hey, it's the Great One's birthday! Well, it was several weeks ago. I celebrated, like I have every year for the last few years, with a Nic Cage movie. I had low expectations for this one, and they were met.

I doubt this will be a good Movies-a-Go-Go. I apologize in advance.

It's the 17th Century, and and there are devil symbols! We’re off to a bad start here.

Modern times now because kids didn’t have dinosaurs on their pillows in the 17th Century. This kid, by the way, has a meticulously decorated room. And I think it might be the size of my entire house.

Hey, it’s Sarah from Prison Break. Nic Cage is hitting that? Way to go, Nic!

I always thought she looked like a Scientologist. I'm not sure if she is or not. 

Nic’s an intellectual fellow in this one. You can tell because he’s got his super-serious face, sideburns,  and a sweater vest.

What should Nicolas Cage be for Halloween? Man, that’s definitely not a question to be considered lightly.

I don’t understand the sweater vest. I’ve owned them, but I still don’t understand them. The preferred wardrobe for people who have cold abdomens but feel like their arms are going to be ok, I guess.

Crotch grab! Nic’s about to get some! Hiyah!

Nicolas Cage is reading Goethe to college students like it’s a Dr. Seuss book.

“Pretty good, huh?” Book slam! That’s how I’m going to end everything I read to students in class from now on.

He said “shit” at the end of his lecture. And that’s why he got that round of applause from his students. I’ll have to try that, too. I can't remember the last round of applause I got from my students that I didn't actually demand.

Nic’s son is riding is scooter around their house like he’s Danny in The Shining. That’s a bad sign for everybody. Ghosts are going to have to be paid.

He’s only got tenure because they heard about that round of applause after he said “shit” in class.

Sarah from Prison Break is also dressed as a pirate. Oh, man, I like where this is going.

Danny just spotted a CGI eagle!

You’d think that Nic could get in touch with his wife and son and join them for trick or treating since this isn’t the 17th Century and they do have technology.

Is that the shadow of a windsock man coming from the carnival? Oh, man, I like where this is going.

“Dad, you’re a cowboy!” Well, he sort of is. He’s about the best cowboy that Nic Cage can make.

Well, I know one blogger who's going to watch the rest of this movie with a boner. 

Sarah: “We will celebrate tonight.” He’s getting some two nights in a row then? This is very unrealistic.

Now, this is some happening Halloween carnival!

Nicolas Cage mirror scene--a wacky carnival mirror--but he doesn’t do anything remarkable in it.

Danny’s about to get lost. Heads-up here, Nic.

Is a fucking CGI bird going to whisk Danny away? (Note: His name isn’t Danny in this.)

Danny just said the title of the movie! Unfortunately, it makes no sense in this context.

Danny (actually, Charlie) has vanished, and a Nic Cage freakout is going to happen in 3-2-1. . .

Yes, there’s the windsock man! Bam!

Yes, I took a picture with my phone, emailed it to myself, downloaded it to my drive, and then uploaded it here. That, my dear readers, is dedication. 

Nic’s at his best when he gets to scream all his lines.

Oh, this is a sad discovery on Cage’s birthday. He may now be too old to run in movies. That was an awkward gait from the big guy.

It looks bad even in a still.
Two unfortunate things about this missing child thing that other bloggers wouldn’t even bother mentioning: 1) That was six dollars spent on an ice cream cone that was just wasted money. 2) Nic probably isn’t getting the sex alluded to earlier now.

I know losing a child is frightening and devastating and all that. But imagine going through that while dressed as a pirate and a cowboy.

I’m having a tough time taking any of these emotions seriously when they’re dressed like this. I’m sure the acting is fine here, but the wardrobe isn’t doing Sarah or Nic any favors.

Cage just woke up on the couch. I think he should still go upstairs and say, “Hey, still want to celebrate?” It’s at least worth a shot.

I can't stop thinking about this. 

Their home is like the Tardis. It’s much bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside.

Oh, good! Danny’s back!

Nevermind, false alarm. Just a dream sequence and an excuse for another jump scare.

Bottom-of-screen-words: “One year later” and then “3 days before Halloween.” Were both of those necessary?

I hope that windsock man somehow factors into all this. This could wind up being my favorite movie.

How’s this for a movie idea: A family of windsock people that does everything normal people do--has a house, goes to work, etc.--tries to live in a non-windsock world. Pixar, let’s get on that.

You can staple flyers all over the place if you want, Nic, but milk cartons is the way to go. (Note: I should not be joking about this, but I’m currently watching a scene where he’s chasing a bus on foot because he thinks he sees his son--still in his pirate outfit with his painted-on eye patch--on it. So if the movie’s going to treat child abduction like this, I can make light of it, right?)

Pay the ghost? Pay the bus driver!

Vultures on a dumpster. What this movie really needs is to be in the dumpster, probably on fire.

Ok, that was a cheap shot. The movie isn’t really that bad so far, and Nicolas Cage definitely isn’t the problem with it. It’s uninspired and heading into nonsensical territory, but it’s not a dumpster fire.

OK, now Nic is asking subterranean mole people about graffiti. Maybe the dumpster fire is right around the corner.

Oh, I like blind “Cover the fires!” guy!

Hey there, Sarah! That was not a “stupid fair.” It had a windsock man and six-dollar ice cream!

Wham! Another jump scare, this time with a kid who has a sack on his head.

Are we switching vantage points here? All but the trick or treating scenes have been from Nic’s character’s point of view. Unless he’s creeping around his wife’s house here, this is a wrong move.

Now she’s going to tell him that she saw his scooter moving around by itself. He just say, “What? You’re crazy!” and make her go away. Come on, Nic! Play “hard to get” a little here.

Nic’s getting all whispery now.

Bob Barker’s version of this movie would be Spay and Neuter the Ghost.

No, Nic! Don’t pay the scabby meth addict! Pay the ghost!

Forget it, black cop. It’s Chinatown.

This sure is a lot of film dedicated to watching Nic set a table and pour wine. I think there are more important things to address here.

Like the trio of sack-headed people who just burst into flames outside. Or the children who randomly appeared and made you drop your glass of wine.

And now we’ve got ourselves a psychic! And for some reason, our first introduction to her was her well-toned calves.

Is the psychic sniffing things? She’s good. Get ready to pay the psychic, guys.

Ok, nevermind. The psychic was just killed by a storm. Now you have to pay somebody to clean up your dead psychic.

So they’re taking a dead psychic out of the house without taking the couple in for questioning?

Another jump scare! What’s that screechy string sound that accompanies those? That horror cliche has to have a name, right? Does anybody know what I'm talking about?

Did she just cut a piece of hard candy on her arm with scissors? Pay the tattoo artist next time, Sarah from Prison Break!

That’s not the appropriate attire for a traditional Celtic Halloween party, guys. You need to be dressed like a cowboy and a pirate.

Yes! They’re walking into an Eyes Wide Shut outdoor orgy scene!

Nic: Do you recognize this symbol?
Teacher from Bayside at the Celtic Halloween party: Why, yes. That’s a piece of hard candy in a wrapper.

I’m going to have to check to see if there’s a Bayside School in New York.

There is. 

Did Nic just answer the phone with “All right”?

I’m no history professor, but this whole mother-in-the-17th-Century-getting-revenge-because-she-had-to-watch-her-children-being-burned-at-the-stake thing is something I could have figured out. Maybe it’s because I watched the beginning of the movie. But maybe it’s because I’ve seen other movies.

I’m not sure why the ghost is going around killing random people who are trying to help Nic and Sarah pay the ghost.

Nic’s running again. But it’s into the carnival, so I’m hoping for another shot of that windsock man.

That ghost is looking pretty ragged. Somebody should Oil of Olay the Ghost!

The blind dude again. He kind of reminds me of Tommy Wiseau.

Here’s a question: Why would a blind man be carrying around a flashlight?

Let’s see. He paid the Hispanic gentleman five dollars for information. Just how much would you have to pay a ghost anyway?

That endless sea of missing children dressed up for Halloween certainly is a creepy image. I like how the color has been drained out of this thing.

Have I spoiled the entire fucking movie? 

I wonder if these kids at least have costume competitions down there?

What does “Aaaaaiiiiiiieeeee!” mean in Celtic? Is Celtic even a language?

And now here come the rest of the kids, apparently they’re thinking they just came out of the ark in Raiders.

“Let’s go home.” A poor delivery of a poorly-written line. Also: Nic’s hair is a little too perfect after that ordeal.

Oh, crap. The kid’s not even going to know that he just lost a year of his life. But shouldn’t he wonder why his dad isn’t dressed up like a cowboy?

Wait, that’s really it?

Oh, not quite. More shots of that vulture. I guess it sets up the whole thing for multiple sequels. Pay the Ghost 2: There Was Interest is my guess at the title.

Happy birthday, Nic! 

Bad Movie Club: Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance

2015 improbable sequel

Bad Movie Rating: 3/5 (Josh: I forgot to ask.)

Rating: 3/20

Plot: I really don't know, but there's a lot of fighting.

And almost every single character from the first movie, regardless of how small the role or whether or not the character died, finds his way in this movie. Remember that guy who got his arm chopped off by Samurai Cop in the first movie? Here he is in this one, with a prosthetic arm that for some reason is in a sling. Fuji Fujiyama, the gravelly-voiced main baddie from the first movie? He died in the first movie, mostly because he didn't have a bulletproof vest like that black-assed guy, but a little detail like that isn't going to stop him from being in this movie, too. He's Cranston Komuro, and he might actually be better in this than he is in the first movie. He's at least more intelligible. And my favorite from the first movie--Joselito Rescober, the fabulous maitre d--shows up twice in this.

No Robert Z'Dar though. He sadly passed away before his scenes could be filmed. Because if an on-screen death of a character can't stop a character from being in a movie, the actual death of the actor apparently can.

And that's probably the problem with this whole production. Somebody wanted too much of a good thing. This was a movie funded by Kickstarter or one of the other crowd-funding things, and it feels like it was just made by a bunch of fans of that classic who don't understand how you can't make this kind of magic on purpose. This has all the pieces that the original has, but those pieces are smashed into their spaces with hammers. And it just doesn't work. Not even the silliest-looking CGI blood spurts of all time can make this one all that enjoyable.

What kind of tacky blog is this? I didn't even bother trying to get the rewind/fast-foward/play symbols out of this screenshot. 

The plot is nearly incoherent, so much so that I really stopped even paying attention to it. Matthew Karedas and Mark Frazer admirably do their best with intentionally poorly-written material as the Samurai Cop and his black-assed partner. Action scenes are piled on action scenes. Gratuitous nudity and awkward sex pop their heads in. A lot of the movie is really ugly to look at, but it sounds even worse with a relentless techno soundtrack that gave me a headache. It's just not really a fun movie at all. It's more frustrating than it is fun.

If nothing else, it's a movie that shows what 25 years can do to a person. Apparently, it makes them leathery.

But then there's Tommy Wiseau. I figured he'd have a small role in this, but he's actually playing the main bad villain. And he plays that main villain like only Wiseau can. He's got the Wiseau chuckle, he throws tantrums, and he says each line as if he learned it phonetically and has no clue what he's even talking about. If you can wade through all the stupidity and make it to the climactic fight scene, it's worth watching just to hear Wiseau's monologue.

"Hi, Joe. I was waiting my entire life for this. You think you're chosen one, Joe?" Joe says that he didn't say that, so Wiseau continues, incoherently. "There is no room for words, Joe. We have to do this. This is something we must do! There is no room for the words, Joe. No room at all! Ahhhhh! I kill you, Joe! This is my destiny, Joe! This is my birth rights! Why you are cheating my destiny, Joe? Ever since I burned. I earned, no burned. Not born, Joe. No one can stop me, but I can stop myself, but I will not stop myself, Joe. I own the palace. I own 25 of them, and I built more. I eat them for breakfast, Joe. You got that? I listen to humanity, Joe, and I buried it in my sleep! Ever since I was born, Joe. When I reversed little boys. Ahhhhh!"

Isn't beautiful? That's verbatim according to the Amazon Prime subtitles. All three points I gave this for the bad movie rating were because of this dialogue.

And then when they start smacking their swords together, as awkwardly as you'd imagine they would, Wiseau starts in with some trash talk: "I will piss on your eyes. I will throw a curse on you. Your mother will not recognize you! Chen Chow was my friend, and he became a woman after the influence of alcohol. Surpirse stranger. Ahhhh!"

Come on! I will piss on your eyes?

It was also great to see shane-movies favorite Joe Estevez in the role of the police chief. Dale Cummings, deceased, was unable to participate. Joe Estevez understands why he's asked to be in things like this and he unleashes a suitably terrible performance.

Finding Vivian Maier

2013 documentary

Rating: 15/20

Plot: The filmmaker gets his hands on tons of pictures and negatives from a mysterious and completely unknown woman who is either a nanny-photographer or a photographer-nanny. He tries to track down who she is and make her work available to the world.

At first, I worried that this was going to be a whole lot of the narrator/director/guy-who-finds-the-pictures. And it is a lot in the beginning, but this is a cool documentary mostly because of the story and he is a big part of that. My brother (known as "Anonymous" on here) recommended this a long time ago, and I got as far as putting it in my Netflix queue. It's a solid recommendation because the documentaries I usually wind up liking best are ones that unfold like mysteries, those you-can't-make-this-up type things that keep you focusing on a story. And I also like documentaries about eccentric artists, and as the interview subjects start filling in the pieces to this puzzle of a person Vivian Maier, she becomes more and more intriguing. There are details that make her endearing and other details that make her pretty unlikable, but I couldn't help being fascinated by the woman.

A lot of it is that I thought her work was really good. I don't know much about art, especially pictures that don't even move, but it's easy to see why the art world was ready to start stroking themselves after seeing her work. I really liked the pictures of individual people as she manages to bring out this humanity. You almost see their souls. She captures life in urban environments, finding a lot of subjects who look like they'd be more comfortable in photographs taken during the Great Depression or dust storms or something. The work is very human and very striking.

The documentary structure is fine, the story told mostly chronologically. What I kept wondering was what the artist herself, a woman who seemed to want no fame whatsoever, would have thought about all of this. In a way, there's an invasion of privacy, especially since there seems to be almost no stone unturned in squeezing every possible minute detail about the woman's background, photography interests, and nanny career. Vivian is brought out of her obscurity kicking and screaming. It doesn't seem 100% right to me, but her work is definitely something that the art world needed the chance to see.

Bad Movie Club: Samurai Cop

1991 action movie

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

Rating: I'll stand by the 2/20 that I gave this the first time.

Plot: See this blog post where I wrote an inspired plot summary that I am unable to top.

I think I pretty much covered everything the first time I wrote about this. We wanted to start BMC off in 2017 right, with a certified good-bad movie classic. Out of all the bad action movies I've seen (and I've seen a ton of them), this is probably my favorite.

Secondary reason we watched this: Tommy Wiseau is in the sequel which became available to us.

Oh, hai.