2015 Turkish drama

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Five girls raised by a grandmother and uncle are kept secluded in their prison-like home as their guardians suspect they'll become whores.

Let me give you an update on my characters-with-sideburns movie streak. It ended after four because I can't remember if any characters in The Treasure had sideburns. I have to assume they did because it seems like people from either the Hung Republic or Gary would have sideburns, but I can't use assumptions to keep that streak alive. Mindhorn definitely had a character with sideburns though. This movie does not, at least that I can remember, so the streak would have ended anyway. I really need to play these things out better.

This movie was recommended by my friend Eb. Well, sort of. Technically, he didn't recommend it at all. But I watched it because it was 9th on his list of favorite movies from this century. I'd never heard of it, but I liked the characters, felt their conflict, and was moved by their experiences.

I suppose it's a metaphor, but there was no obvious reason why this movie was called Mustang. That, and the lack of sideburns, completely threw me off my game.

The Treasure

2015 Hungarian comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Neighbors hire a metal detector to look for buried treasure.

Imagine how funny a comedy from Hungary would be. That's exactly how funny this movie is. It's definitely more in the blink-and-you'll-miss-it's-a-comedy school like Kaurismaki or Jarmusch than a Will Ferrell comedy.

Wait a second. Does Hungary even exist anymore? My knowledge of Eastern European countries is unreliable because those countries have changed so much since I had to learn about them in school and for the most part, that chunk of the world is ignored by American media.

I haven't been drinking and I don't smoke pot, but I just made myself giggle because I imagined Hungary breaking into two countries like I think Czechoslovakia did and becoming the Hung Republic and Gary. And now I have to end this review because my nose started bleeding.


2016 action comedy

Rating: 12/20

Plot: A washed-up actor is asked to revisit the cheesy detective character he played on 80s television because a criminal says he won't talk to anybody else.

I watched this only because one of my favorite musicians references it in a song on his newest album. It's worth watching, especially if you have a high tolerance for really dumb comedies. Julian Barratt, one of the Mighty Boosh guys, co-wrote the screenplay and plays the actor who played the titular detective. There are a lot of absurdly humorous moments throughout although the story is frustratingly both sloppy and predictable.

My favorite bit was a shot of a Mindhorn puzzle that showed it had 96 pieces. Who makes a puzzle with 96 pieces?

Mississippi Grind

2015 road-tripping drama

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A luckless gambler is befriended by Deadpool who becomes his good-luck charm as he travels to New Orleans to make enough cash to pay off some debt.

This movie feels like it comes from the 1970s, the only thing giving away that it doesn't being that Ryan Reynolds isn't a little kid. Speaking of Ryan Reynolds, I can't be the only one confusing him with Ryan Gosling, can I? I seriously can't tell them apart, and I fear they might take my blog away from me if they find out. Adding to my paranoia is that I'm not even sure who "they" might be in this scenario.

Ryan Reynolds and Ryan Gosling. They look exactly alike, just like crocodiles and alligators. Clearly, one of them needs to be killed.

So let's do a poll! Should Ryan Reynolds or Ryan Gosling be killed? Vote in the comments below!

The only other thing I want to say about this movie, one that I watched because I haven't played poker in a while and wanted to watch a poker movie, is that Ben Mendelsohn is excellent in it. This performance, his work in Rogue One, and upcoming projects make me excited about this guy.

There is some good poker in this, by the way, if that's why you'd think of watching this. There's not a ton of scenes with characters playing poker, but the poker scenes that are in this--including one where Mendelsohn's character picks up a tell from an opponent--are well done.

Of course, this is coming from a bad amateur poker player.

I think I'm going to write a screenplay where Ryan Reynolds and Ryan Gosling can't tell each other apart and go on their own individual mass murdering sprees. Or maybe I'll pitch the idea to Charlie Kaufman. That seems like a Kaufman thing.

The Measure of a Man

2015 French drama

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A guy has trouble finding a job.

Vincent Lindon's strong, very-subdued performance and director Stephane Brize's need to show characters doing nothing significant for long periods of time give this some realism.

It appears that I have some sort of movies-featuring-guys-with-sideburns streak going. I wonder how long I'll be able to keep that up! Everybody hold on!


2017 superhero western

Rating: 14/20 (Emma: 15/20; Abbey: fell asleep)

Plot: Wolverine, auditioning for a sitcom where he lives with a crazy old man and an albino, has his retirement from superhero work interrupted by a little girl and a guy with Anakin Skywalker's hand.

This was rated R, probably because Hugh Jackman wanted to say "motherfucker" and director James Mangold thought the audience would enjoy seeing metal claws going through people's skulls.

This is a more mature superhero movie than your typical Marvel fare, and it works for the most part though I didn't really buy the attempted connections to the movie Shane. The actions scenes had a gritty intensity, and there are a pair of scenes that I imagine would be really emotional to X-Men fanboys. The movie's a bit bloated at two-and-a-quarter hours, but all in all, it's a lovely swansong for the characters played by Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart.

Silent Saturday: Menilmontant

1926 French drama

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Orphaned sisters fall for the same guy.

This was apparently critic Pauline Kael's favorite movie.

With dizzying montage and a complete lack of intertitles, this is an intriguing little silent drama. It's definitely little. I didn't have the time for a longer feature last Saturday, so I cheated and watched this one that clocks in at around 40 minutes. Trust me though. There's a lot packed into that 40 minutes. This starts with one of the most shocking scenes of violence that I've seen in a silent movie, the rapid-fire editing transforming the violent act into something you feel with your eyeballs. From there, the story gets convoluted and, for me at least, a little tough to follow. It's a case where the story doesn't matter nearly as much as the delivery though as director Dimitri Kirsanoff throws trick after trick at us--hypnotizing double exposure, that dizzying montage, etc.

In the Mouth of Madness

1994 horror movie

Rating: 13/20

Plot: An insurance fraud investigator is hired to locate a missing horror author.

John Carpenter unhinges his jaw and unleashes this wacky story complete with rubbery effects and nightmarish surrealism. It's fun and definitely worth a watch, especially if you like your horror movies more weird than scary, but the story really doesn't make a lick of sense. It's definitely an example of one of those movies that contains far too many ideas. A lot of it works. I loved the ending, Sam Neill's attempt to leave this strange town, some of those rubbery monster effects, and a memorable scene featuring a dude with an ax. It's a mess of acid-drenched semi-horror that probably could have had something to say about the creative process or art's effect on humanity. It doesn't, too busy with just delivering a silly story, but it really is too entertaining to gripe about.

Note: I had to edit and add an extra point. I forgot that I had wanted to give this an extra point because Sam Neill's character has a tub of popcorn in one crucial scene.

I also really liked one line: "God's not supposed to be a hack horror writer." Maybe this movie is actually better than I think.

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter. . .and Spring

2003 Buddhist drama

Rating: 18/20

Plot: A Buddhist master tries his best to train a pupil, but the kid's awfully horny. He does a lot of "one-hand clapping," if you know what I mean.

That "one-hand clapping" joke should win me an award. Are there awards for blogging? There has to be, right? I'd do the research, but I have a few of these things I have to write tonight and not much time. Bloggies? Anyway, if any of you guys who read that plot synopsis can stop laughing long enough to submit my blog for an award, I'd appreciate it.

I had guessed that this one-setting film would be quiet, meditative, and probably a little boring. I couldn't have been more wrong. This had Fast and the Furious action compared to what I had predicted. I was surprised at how much drama they managed to pack into this while at the same time staying very simple, as well as quiet and meditative. After the first chapter, which you could probably guess covered spring, I thought each installment might work like a little koan. The first certainly did as the kid, in the spring of his life, makes a mistake and then has to suffer both immediate and ultimately long-term consequences. I didn't expect the individual chapters to work together so well to tell a cohesive story.

The kid is played by various people, but the old monk stays the same--Yeong-su Oh. He's really good, especially when he's not saying a word. It's an actions-speaking-louder-than-words type performance, and he manages to create this character who the audience learns as much from as his young follower. There are a handful of moments in this that I'd describe as touching, and none of them wouldn't have worked if I didn't buy that this guy was really a monk on this little floating monastery. Oh nails it.

I really want to live on a floating monastery. There would be drawbacks. I'd have to stop watching movies and doing this blog, for example. But I definitely wouldn't grow tired of the surrounding landscape. It was stunningly beautiful, and watching the setting change with each new season gave it all this wonderful poignancy.

Sex on a floating monastery. That's been added to my bucket list.

I'm not Buddhist and likely missed some of the symbolism. What, for example, do the different animals represent in Buddhism? I actually know the answer because I looked it up on the always-reliable Wikipedia. Even without understanding all of the symbolism in this movie, however, there's no way a person is going to watch this and not get something out of it. It's the type of movie that I watch and end up feeling like a better person afterward.

But not a good-enough person to keep from making zen masturbation jokes.

The Conjuring 2

2016 horror sequel

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

Plot: The Warrens travel to London to help out a woman with a demon problem.

Very much more of the same from the first installment of this franchise. What I like about James Wan's direction--a lot of which still reminds me of the camera movements and creative scares in Evil Dead II--is still here. The camera slips through the creepy house in fun, ingenious ways, and there are a lot of frightening sequences that seem fresh among the usual jump scares and predictability.

With the narrative, this could have used some honing. There is probably one or two evil entity too many although the trio of figures used are effective in delivering the creeps. Two of them, it seems, are being used to set up other movies in the franchise, one that I think is about to get a little confusing. This story is probably a little more confusing than it needs to be, too, often because there's just too much going on. I'm not sure that's a complaint because it might be what makes the whole thing pretty damn entertaining.

Vera Farmiga reprises her role as that guy with the sideburn's wife.


2016 documentary

Rating: 11/20

Plot: A look at the lifestyle and politics of Furrydom.

With anything like this, you hope it's not exploitative. And you hope it's entertaining. There's a fine line between those two, and I'm not sure filmmaker Dominic Rodriquez, who puts himself on camera far too much in this movie, is careful enough. It's not clear what his motives are exactly. This does a good job explaining why Furries do what they do, but it seems like that's pretty easy to figure out anyway. There's a conflict involving some Furry infighting that becomes almost interesting, but nothing is ever resolved and it's unclear who the villain is. The focus in the second half of the documentary on that conflict seems like an excuse to show people in their Furries garb mowing their lawn or talk about how it's not really possible to have sex while in costume.

I really like that poster though.

One from the Heart

1981 drama

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Tired of each other, a pair of lovebirds in Las Vegas venture out in search of new companions.

Here's another one that I've owned the soundtrack to for years without ever seeing the movie. That's because it's all songs composed by Tom Waits and performed by him and Crystal Gayle. There are some great Waitsian lines here and there, and they both sing pretty, but the piano-based tunes about heartbreak and nocturnal ennui all kind of sound like each other. It's not something I've listened to much.

Coppola claims that this finished product does not reflect his artistic vision which explains the results. I'm not so sure I believe him. The main problems with this movie are very weak character and story development. The characters are a pair of lovable losers played by Teri Garr, whom Coppola seems most interested in showing in various stages of undress, and Frederick Forrest. In some ways, they're just fine as a typical late-70s/early-80s couple, drawn to the artificiality and neon of that particular time period. They're nondescript and antsy. At the same time, they're a little bland, and I don't think the script does them many favors. It definitely doesn't help transform them into anything fleshier than a soap opera character. And although there's a conflict, it doesn't really develop into anything that anybody is going to care about.

That might be because the visuals in this are such a distraction. It's a pleasant distraction, but the appeal, early on, becomes less about the story and these characters--even when Teri Garr is a little naked--and more on the gorgeous colors, the artificial Sin City that Coppola constructed on a soundstage, and the fascinating transitions from one character or setting to another. Visually, this is good enough to be worth a watch.

Also, if you're a Nastassja Kinksi or Harry Dean Stanton completist, you probably need to see this. Or Tom Waits since he's got a cameo as a trumpet player. I don't think he plays the trumpet.

I Am Not Your Negro

2016 documentary

Rating: 16/20

Plot: James Baldwin died before finishing a project on Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. This documentary uses text from that unfinished project, Baldwin interviews, and archival footage to finish it.

I didn't even need to watch this because I don't even see color.

I'm sure there are some ignorant but well-meaning human beings who might say that, and those people are precisely the people who do need to see this. This reminds us that "not seeing color" isn't the right thing to do at all; indeed, the right thing to do is to see color, see it in its historical context and in the middle of present ongoing turmoil and oppression.

I teach an adult basic education class and was having a conversation with one of my students who is from some country in South America. I try not to ask them directly where my students from other countries are from because it's not a question I have to put up with as a white guy and it just doesn't seem fair. He became a citizen in the 90s, has traveled in Canada and Europe, and was in various parts of the United States before eventually settling in Indiana. He told me--in the most non-racist way this could sound--that he sees a lot of blacks as lazy because they're unwilling to work hard and make their lives better. My argument was that his assessment was unfair because it takes away 200 years of context. He acknowledged that things were bad in the past, but I couldn't get him to see that all of that stuff in the past began a heinous series of cause-and-effects that have led to the present, a present that still contains a lot of people who do not want blacks to have the same opportunities as whites. I brought up teachers and how studies show that a lot of us who would never consider ourselves racist might have lowered expectations for black students without realizing how damaging that can be. I brought up how popular culture doesn't provide nearly as many black heroes for children to look up to. I brought up a lot of things as we chatted for about forty-five minutes and ignored double negatives and verb tense, nothing really changing his mind and nothing really changing my mind. He's a nice guy, but I probably should have stuck to the grammar.

I'm far from an expert on any of this, but I'm happy that I'm at least aware. And that's what this movie is all about--making people aware. It does it in an almost confrontational way that I imagine would annoy its target audience, but I'm not sure it has a choice there. There are moments too visually powerful to ignore, a barrage of imagery that people have seen time and time again, and Baldwin's words that often dig deep into the viewer's conscience. A lot of the more powerful moments involve juxtaposition. The narration of a film about the beauty of America is heard over images of the Watts riots, for example. And it builds to three troubling climaxes--the murders of Evers, Malcolm X, and King, Jr., all three who were friends of Baldwins.

Samuel L. Jackson acts as Baldwin's voice. He's not the Jackson we're accustomed to hearing, not the one who says "motherfuckers" all the time, and I wonder if I even would have known it was him if I didn't know it was him going in.

Three powerful quotes sum up what should be learned from this film.

"The story of the negro in America is the story of America. It is not a pretty story."
"Not everything faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."
"History is not the past. It is our present."

I was extraordinarily naive when Obama was sworn in a little over eight years ago as our first black president. It's a little embarrassing how naive I was, little old white me sitting in Indiana and thinking everything was going to suddenly be just fine now. This is a sobering reminder that we think we've come a whole lot farther than we actually have and that what we continue to refuse to face is likely what will keep America from ever being truly great. My fear is that this will only succeed in preaching to the choir, that bunch of liberal American history revisionist snowflakes who don't really care about the country.


2016 comedy

Rating: 13/20

Plot: An armored truck driver is convinced to pull off one of the biggest heists in history.

Several times during this movie, I asked myself the following question: "Why the hell am I laughing at this?"

When I saw a preview for this before some other movie last year, I thought it looked pretty funny. It kind of came and went and I forgot all about it until seeing it there on Netflix. I didn't have high expectations, but I like a lot of what Zach Galifianakis does, sort of have a thing for Kristen Wiig even though I know I shouldn't, and know in my heart that Owen Wilson has never made a bad movie. Part of me had no choice but to have fun watching this stupid movie just because of how much fun everybody involved seemed to be having. Are they having more fun and likely laughing on set more than most viewers? Yes, probably. But there's still an enthusiasm here that I at least appreciated.

When this Jared Hess movie depends on more subtle quirks, it lands. There's some broad slapstick, a few fart jokes, a disgusting Montezuma's Revenge pool gag, and similar cases of monkey business that made me wonder what I was doing with my life, but there's a lot in this that's genuinely funny. The main joke, of course, is that this is based on a true story but is far too ludicrous to retain any amount of credibility. It's like the trio of screenwriters weren't content with just finding one of those "stranger than fiction" real-life stories and decided to really stretch the limits. It doesn't exactly work as a narrative, and the characters are a little too flat to ever be anything you can really care about, but it does succeed in being funny.

I'm sure if I watched this on another day, I would really hate it. So be warned.

Queen of Katwe

2016 chess movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A girl from Uganda learns how to play chess and then gets really good at it.

I had tried to inspire students in my class with Phiona's story by having them read parts of the ESPN Magazine article this was based on. It didn't work. The story presented in the movie is roughly the same, and it is an inspiring story of overcoming obstacles and persistence. However, it's a paint-by-numbers situation, a Mickey Mouse-tainted production that never really feels all that realistic to me. Ugandan drama unfolds like Disney live action drama. The chess, despite a few nifty combinations that are shown, also doesn't seem that real. Admittedly, I haven't played in a chess tournament for a long time. One game seemed especially unrealistic.

Of course, if the chess and the tournaments were more realistic, it would have been boring for most audiences. It probably would have been more boring for me, too. This gets the points across, albeit in that Disneyfied vanilla way, without the need for the chess.

Solid performances made up for the grating music.

Is it just me or are there a lot of chess movies? Keep in mind, this is from somebody who used to play a lot of chess.

God's Pocket

2014 comedic drama

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A guy with a meat truck tries to hold things together after the mysterious death of his step-son, an asshole.

This was Philip Seymour Hoffman's final completed movie, and the movie starts with a Hoffman sex scene. If nobody remembers anything else about Philip Seymour Hoffman, they should remember that the guy knew how to film an impressive sex scene. His work here is truly inspiring, and I found myself banging my wife with a little extra gusto the night after I watched God's Pocket.

This movie, John Slattery's feature debut, is a bit of a mess at times, meandering way more than something that takes place over just a few days has a right to do. I'm also not sure he ever nails a tone, kind of wavering between this sort of desperation-laden drama and something close to dark comedy. It wants to be quirky, and it wants to be dark, and I'm not sure Slattery ever really successfully mixes the two as well as the Coen brothers do. You question the motives of a lot of these characters. At the same time, the questionable motives succeed in making this a little more realistic. After all, don't you spend a lot of time questioning the motives of people you actually know? The characters inhabiting this story are the kind of bumbling tough caricatures you're likely to only see in a movie, but the themes still connect.

Good performances help things. Hoffman is very subdued, giving almost a wearied performance. It fits the character though because the character barely gets a chance to rest in this thing, dealing with burden after burden that you can tell--at least while watching an actor like Hoffman--wears him down. John Turturro plays that sort of shifty, greasy character you never completely want to believe in because you recognize him as John Turturro. The improbably gorgeous Christina Hendricks plays Hoffman's wife, something that almost seems like a gag itself, and the great Richard Jenkins is in there as a drinker with a newspaper columnist problem. The rest of the cast colors this corner of humanity called God's Pocket.

You're not going to be completely satisfied with how everything's wrapped up here, but that's probably part of the point. You're going to have to deal with that.

I ended up liking this movie a lot more than I thought I would, probably because it was recommended a long time ago by somebody I no longer trust.

Bad Movie Club: Night of the Kickfighters

1988 kickfighter movie

Bad Movie Rating: 3/5 (Mark: 2/5; Johnny: 3/5; Josh: 4/5)

Rating: 7/20

Plot: A millionaire with his own cool laser has the more likable of his two daughters kidnapped by a bunch of people with hats that make them look like they have mullets. They're led by a woman with an incomprehensible accent and a very tall bald man. The millionaire calls in the nondescript action hero, a kickfighter who assembles a ragtag collective of meth-head weapons experts, a black guy, a freakin' magician, and a loquacious floozy.

We watched this to celebrate the life and career of Adam West. Having seen a pair of West's movies before with the Bad Movie Club--Zombie Nightmare and Omega Cop--so it was Night of the Kickfighters chance to shine. Things start slowly with this one, the only intrigue being the bad woman's towering henchman (played by Carel Struycken, the guy who played The Giant in several Twin Peaks episodes and Lurch in the Addams Family movies) and his ridiculous grunting sounds and the bad woman herself, played by Marcia Karr, a woman who couldn't make up her mind what accent she wanted to use for this character. Later, she'll get a nice moment where Lurch strokes her hair as she strokes a snake, but the first part of the movie is just her failing to act seductively and garbling every single line she has.

Things pick up a little once Adam West emerges to show off his laser. After that, the movie can finally find what passes for a plot in a movie like this. There's a clumsy car chase with a chauffeur who knows his way around a dangerous car chase, the hiring of that nondescript hero, and the recruitment of his team of magicians to take down the bad guys and save both daughter and laser. OK, so there's just the one magician--Aldo, played by Philip Dore who is actually Philip Dorr in this one--but he's the most entertaining thing about this. One of his tricks involves a blow-up sex ninja doll, and most of his lines are delivered with the kind of gusto you'd expect from a magician during a performance.

The fight choreography is laughable, especially whenever Carel Struycken is involved. That guy is apparently only good at being tall. The best--and by that, I mean worst--fight scene in the movie takes place when the main kickfighter guy finds his black pal in some sort of shady bar. There's a dude playing the piano, a scantily-clad woman dancing, and a bunch of guys who want to fight for some reason. It's all pretty stupid.

Lots of those guys with the mullet hats die as the crew infiltrates Marcia Karr's lair. The weapons and magic tricks used by the kickfighters are almost fun. There's a moment of peril, some Jeeps, a silly denouement, and a jarring transition to a beautiful wedding. And then it all ends with a song over the credits called "Carry On" with a terrifically awful vocal performance by somebody named Tony Reyes.

Sorry about those spoilers. And rest in peace, Batman.


2016 drama

Rating: 12/20

Plot: An Indian kid gets lost.

I'd be lyin' if I told you that I thought this was Best Picture nominee material.

This is based on a true story regarding a very real serious issue with children getting themselves lost in India. And then apparently growing into stud muffins like that Dev Patel up there. The story's all nice and uplifting, at least partially, and I don't think that's a spoiler because you figured it would have to be in order to be different enough from the rest of these missing Indian children stories for anybody to care. The problem is that the story really starts dragging and then manipulates in the end, jerking tears from rolled eyes. Lay on a little Nicole Kidman pretty thick, give the viewer the biological mother money shot, and get some sappy music for the background, and you've got yourself a Best Picture nominee.

I liked the kid who played young Dev Patel. His name is Sunny Pawar. He was cute enough to make me care and played the part with just the right amount of desperation and courage. I actually thought he was more convincing than Dev Patel, who was nominated for the Oscar. His performance is fine, but it's a little too obvious. His character's emotions are felt more as a result of the manipulation rather than anything Patel is doing. He certainly is pretty though.

My biggest gripe with this movie is that the whole thing is really just an extended advertisement for Google Earth. Don't get me wrong--I love Google as much as the next 21st Century guy, but that doesn't mean I want to see a 2-hour commercial about how wonderful one of their services is. The movie doesn't even try to hide that it's a commercial. Garth Davis, according to his bio on imdb, is an "internationally renowned commercials director."

That wraps up all of last year's Best Picture nominees, by the way. I guess I'd go with Hell or High Water as my pick although I'm not against Moonlight taking the prize. Of course, we all know Swiss Army Man should have been nominated and won the thing. It was overall a pretty weak selection of Best Picture nominees though, wasn't it? This, Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, and Manchester by the Sea really underwhelmed.


2002 movie

Rating: 18/20

Plot: Film decays over time, often beautifully.

This is a little over an hour of silent film footage assembled and recontextualized by director Bill Morrison and scored by Michael Gordon, a co-founder of the avant-classical collective Bang on a Can. It's a meditation on the fragility of both humans and our artistic endeavors, our mortality, and exactly what time can do when it's feeling a little antagonistic. The found footage used to put this together seems to be decaying before our eyes. Morrison's collected mostly nameless fragments of film that are now over a hundred years old in various states of deterioration, and instead of making any kind of attempt to restore them and release them close to the way they were intended like a lot of "lost" silent movie footage, he recognizes the beauty of that decomposition. I was transfixed throughout as the images flickered and danced on my screen, sometimes as psychedelic as the backdrop of a Pink Floyd concert, images ranging from humorous to horrific, always so very fragile. Your eyes are quickly trained to try to find outlines, bits of human forms or structures, or something recognizable as this transitions from one film fragment to another. Sometimes, images are just blurred or blistered, fighting to overcome inevitable decay. Other times, the decomposition has already won, and any remaining recognizable images have just given up and decided to blend in as another amorphous blob. From the first time I watched the slowly spinning whirling-dervish guy to the final shot of that same guy, I was just stunned by how beautiful this all looked. And I'm pretty sure I had tears in my eyes with the final shot of that whirling guy.

You can find lots of still images of Decasia with a Google image search, but it's not as effective as seeing it all swim before your eyes. Here, however, is one that I thought captured the central metaphor of it all so perfectly, a boxer jabbing at the inevitability of decomposition:

Just so, so good. This is one of those movies that I never wanted to end. And some of my faithful readers (Note: I like to pretend that I do have some because it keeps me going.) might remember a special feature where I listed movies that should be projected on the walls of museums. Well, this is the kind of movie that is absolutely perfect for something like that.

As incredible as this is visually, I don't want to deny the beauty of the score. Gordon's assembled a 55-piece sinfonietta, and the music they produce--driving, sometimes harsh, as fragmented as the images--is just perfect. Not all of the instruments sound properly tuned, and it's raw, sometimes unnerving, and almost dangerous. I loved every second of what I was hearing. The music in this becomes just as important as Philip Glass's music in Koyaanisqatsi.

Go watch this as soon as you can because it's wonderful. I don't think you need to have an appreciation for silent cinema or avant-garde movies, but consider this is coming from somebody who has an appreciation for both.

Pieles (Skins)

2017 drama

Rating: 12/20

Plot: People with various deformities live their lives.

I'm not sure who is going to love this if I didn't. This is the sort of project where it seems like Eduardo Casanova made it with me in mind for his audience. Lavish color schemes? Little people? Hopelessly obese nudity? Fart jokes? A naked old lady? Mermaid references? A silly animal costume? It seems like it should be right up my alley!

There really is quite a bit to like here. This is director Casanova's first feature, and I'm pretty sure I'd be willing to dive into anything he does in the future. And that's despite the guy looking like this:

Looking him up, I noticed that he was born a year before I graduated from high school which is a little depressing. You can see the potential the guy has. The use of color--all those pinks and lavenders are intoxicating--and his courage to take chances in this first major project impresses. Skins boasts the most challenging assortment of characters since perhaps Freaks, conventionally-attractive actors and actresses caked in tons of make-up rather than appearing in anything close to their natural state. There's an automatic weirdness to any movie featuring so many characters with deformities, but it's an in-your-face weirdness that just isn't quite as effective as the subtle kind of thing that Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos has going with movies like Dogtooth or The Lobster. Casanova (a surname that I'm starting to doubt is his real one) is effective with his dark humor when things are subtle, working in some nice irony in a few moments, but there are times when he went just a bit too far. There's a scatalogical moment that is not much fun to watch, and a fart joke that just didn't need to be there. Of course, there was also a ridiculous unicorn mask that gave me one of the better laughs I've had in a while. But throw in some references to Facebook and Instagram that just didn't seem to jibe with the sorta twisted fairy tale tone of this movie, an embarrassing special effect complete with lipstick, and some terrible music, and you've got a film that is just a little bit too inconsistent to be good.

There's a great little person performance. Vanessa, who suffers from achondoplasia, is really good as a character tortured by the role of Pinkoo that she's been forced into playing. She's played by Ana Maria Ayala in what is her only movie role so far. The characters aren't really the issue with this although I'd admit they probably aren't a collection of characters that would appeal to everybody. There's a girl with her anus and mouth switched around, a guy with Body Identify Integrity Disorder (which might exist) who wants to be a mermaid, that hopelessly obese lady I mentioned before, a woman with a face that appears to be melting, the burn victim she shares a boisterous sex scene with, a girl with no eyes, and a guy who jerks off to pictures of deformed people. I enjoyed watching their stories intertwine, sometimes in ingenious ways. I'm just not sure if there's any depth to the whole thing. Other than any obvious--and probably childish and naive--ideas about people's physical appearances, this doesn't seem to have that much to say.

I would definitely recommend it to anybody who really likes pinks and purples though.

My favorite bit of dialogue:

Guy: "Why did he want to be a mermaid?"
Woman: "Because he was a son of a bitch."

The Driver's Seat

1974 dreamy drama

Rating: 12/20

Plot: A woman travels to Italy with a very specific goal in mind.

My brother recommended this one, not regarded as one of Elizabeth Taylor's best movies. Her nipples do make an appearance if you have any interest in seeing that. I didn't know I did until it was happening, and now I feel as if my life has changed. It's like my life can be divided in two clear parts now--the time before I saw Elizabeth Taylor's nipples and the time after I saw them.

I just had a feeling while typing the paragraph above that I have seen Elizabeth Taylor naked before, but I don't want to spend too much time researching that just in case my wife decides to check my Google history again. I remember somebody's buttocks pretending to be Taylor's buttocks in Reflections in a Golden Eye, but I really don't know if I've seen her nipples. It makes my claim above that my life has somehow been changed seem even more ridiculous.

This is almost a really good movie. An intriguing twist that tied all of the nonsense together was fun even if it left quite a few loose threads. The structure of the mystery, in which we meet various characters she interacts with and then see them in an after-the-fact time being questioned about Elizabeth Taylor's enigmatic character, keeps things interesting. And there are quite a few shots that I really liked, including the opening scene right before those nipples make an appearance with all these mannequins in various states of undress. Apparently, I have a thing for mannequins.

Actually, there's no "apparently" there. I most definitely have a thing for mannequins. It's why I'm no longer allowed in a J.C. Penney store.

The movie's also got this haze, almost like you're watching parts of it through a thin, barely-perceptible layer of 1970's gauze. That definitely could have just been the result of watching this on Youtube, but I thought it added to the dreamlike mood I believe director Giuseppe Patroni Griffi was going for. It has, for better or for worse, a feel and pace that fans of 70's Italian dramas will likely be comfortable with, but I did get a little bored at times. It was boredom mixed with frustration as you really have no way of of knowing what's even going on most of the time. That kind of ambiguity can work well in a movie, but here, it's a lazy ambiguity. With Taylor's character not really being all that well developed, there's just not much to latch onto here.

My favorite things--well, not related to nipples or mannequins--in this movie, also apparently called Identikit, were the wacky performance of one of the randy guys she encounters and a great line in an otherwise weirdly-penned screenplay. That line--"When I diet, I diet. And when I orgasm, I orgasm. I don't believe in mixing the two cultures."--should probably be used as the verbose title of a perverse cookbook.

Silent Saturday: From Morn to Midnight

1920 expressionist masterpiece

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A guy embezzles a chunk of change from his bank, leaves his family behind, and flees to the big city to buy himself a top hat and look for passion. It goes about as well as you might expect. 

If you love both silent cinema and avant-garde tomfoolery, I think I found the film for you. I loved the look at just general strangeness of this surreal morality tale. The sets are twisted and minimalistic, sometimes almost like something a child could have put together. Of course, I mean that in a loving way. Just check out the gnarled bank doors with, naturally, the word "bank" written above them. Well, here, check it out for yourself: 

That's not the bank, but you get the idea. And it's not just a few sets; there are a bunch of these lovely and grotesque sets, like the somnambulist in Caligari had an allergic reaction to some sleep medication he was on and vomited them all up. Again, I mean that in a loving way because I really did love to look at this movie. I'm not even sure if the above simile makes any sense anyway. 

The story drifts and doesn't always make a lot of sense, making the production even more dreamy. Or nightmarish. The motivations of the protagonist, especially since he seems to have a loving family, are unclear, and his decisions once he's got all that money and attempts to look for "passion" to buy (that's the intertitle's words, not mine) are baffling. I wouldn't say the plot follows dream logic; it's more like a half-assed fable. I guess there's a lesson to be learned here, but it's not all that easy to identify with the story's central character. 

By the way, is this supposed to take place over a single day? I don't know why I'm asking you because you haven't even seen this. But is that title meant to be taken literally? 

Aside from the unique set design that kept my eyes glued to my screen, there's other stuff to enjoy here. There's some light, primitive animation, including some really cool flashes of light that are supposed to be cyclists. There is a pair of little people--a waitress and a guy watching the bike race. There are some odd special effects, including a blizzard and these recurring skulls. A guy at a secondhand shop has a beard that might be the longest I've ever seen in a movie. There's brief nudity and a ridiculous painting. There's some terrific melodramatic acting that would stand out in most movies--even most silent movies--but seems to fit in perfectly here. Just check out the scene where the main character's mother finds out what's happened to her son and raises her arms in the air and then just leaves them like that for the duration of the scene. And finally, there's my new favorite intertitle ever--"Holzbein!" I'd tell you what that means, but I don't want to spoil anything. 

This movie apparently wasn't even shown in Germany after it came out and is lucky to survive. It did play in Japan somehow. I'm really glad it survived because it really is one of the more unique movies I've seen. I strongly recommend it. 

Murder of a Cat

2014 dark comedy/mystery

Rating: 8/20

Plot: A loser's best friend, a cat named Mouser, ends up murdered, and after the police don't seem to care, he decides to solve the case on his own.

This was as quirky as I expected, but it just didn't work on any level. The mystery wasn't intriguing, the comedy didn't work, and the lead performance by some guy named Fran Kranz was obnoxious. The best part of the movie is probably the above poster which satirizes the artwork for Anatomy of a Murder.

J.K. Simmons, a guy who will seemingly take any role offered to him, plays a sheriff in this. Greg Kinnear is also in there.

I wish I wouldn't have watched this, but I did and there's nothing that can be done.


2016 documentary

Rating: 14/20

Plot: This walks through the rise of Norwegian world chess champion Magnus Carlsen, the "Mozart of chess."

My favorite part of this was watching the footage of young Carlsen, who I believe was 13 at the time, playing a game against former champion Garry Kasparov. The contrast between Carlsen and Kasparov was a lot of fun to watch.

I wasn't a Magnus Carlsen fan before this movie. I'd seen a few of his games, but I assumed he was really cocky. He also grabbed the championship from a guy I used to call my favorite chess player, Vishy Anand. After watching this, it's hard not to like and root for the guy. I knew how this chess championship ended up, but the games still had me on the edge of my seat. And instead of pulling for Anand, I found myself wanting to see Carlsen win. His training, his dependence on intuition rather than robotic memorization, and his obvious love for the game made it easy to root for the guy.

I was touched by the strength he got from his family, and I was amazed by his abilities, especially in a scene where we see him play a bunch of people at once while blindfolded. It gives me a headache just thinking about how those guys do that.

As a chess player, I wish it would have gone into more specific details about the individual games, but admittedly, that would have turned off a lot of viewers. As the title might indicate, it's more about the personality than it is the chess anyway, and it's effective in telling the story of this impossible force of nature.


2015 psychological horror movie

Rating: 11/20

Plot: A woman is paid to be the caretaker in a creepy New York mansion and ends up being really bad at the job.

My brother recommended this, and I really expected to enjoy it after the initial black and white shots of a strangely desolate New York City and the interiors of this fancy house. Unfortunately, there's such a gap between the quality of the cinematography and director Mickey Keating's artistic eye and the movie's central character or her story. Visually, this is borderline great. Keating uses every angle of this house well, sometimes giving us shots that other directors wouldn't likely even consider. The contrast between the white walls of most of the house and the darker character is often striking. Askew angles only sometimes mirror what must be going on in the main character's mind, and random shots of staircases, doors, and other things sometimes just seem to be there to pass the time. Still, the visuals are what draw you in and keep you interested.

A lone character's descent into madness is the kind of thing that's been done many times before, and it's usually done a lot better than this. Lauren Ashley Carter's performance never really works for me. She's pretty good at walking in slow motion, but when she's called upon to show any real emotion, it seems like she's out of her element. I never believe what Carter and Keating want me to believe about the character no matter how many shocking sequences are thrown at me, and by the time Carter has a phone conversation with what I suppose was her attempt at a demonic-sounding voice, the performance became almost comical. She did show off a lovely set of eyes, however.

Keating also throws all these editing tricks that grew tiresome. A few uses of a nearly-subliminal demon face or whatever the hell was thrown in there with a metallic screeching noise or quick cuts of the character's face or other rapid-fire montages might have worked, but when they were used ad nauseum, they only showed that Keating is a bit of a one-editing-trick pony. It got irritating.

Nothing surprised me about this character's journey as I had the whole story mapped out in my head way before it all unfolded. And the end was a bit of a cop-out as Keating refused to provide the answer to a frustrating riddle.

Keating, with his visual sense and willingness to take some chances, might be worth keeping an eye on, but he's going to need some originality and better storytelling to match the unique visual appeal.

The Conjuring

2013 horror movie

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

Plot: A family of six moves into a new house that apparently is already occupied by Satan.

Based on a true story, eh? This is a little too all-over-the-fucking-place, extending the limits of credibility, but it's still a fairly entertaining ride. Director James Wan, the guy who did the best Fast and the Furious movie, has a visual flair that reminded me a little of Sam Raimi, and the way the camera scoots around the interiors of this haunted home keeps things fresh even when the jump scares and horror cliches make it seem pedestrian. Some of the set pieces work very well, good old-fashioned nut-clinching horror sequences. Others fail to fit with the other horror antics, random happenings that kind of keep the whole thing from making complete sense. It's almost like the ghouls were part of some improvisational horror troupe, and not all of their bits worked as well as others. Cheap scares got in the way of the stuffed that worked, causing this to be frustratingly uneven.

I'm still intrigued enough to check out the sequel, maybe just because I have a thing for Vera Farmiga. Or maybe I have a thing for Patrick Wilson's sideburns. No, it's probably Vera Farmiga.

Kong: Skull Island

2017 King Kong movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: John Goodman takes a bunch of military guys and some scientists to the titular island in order to win a bet, and it turns out to be a bad idea because of a giant monkey and some reptiles with arms.

Forget the monster brawls and action mayhem that most people went to the theater to enjoy. This movie is all about John C. Reilly sneaking his Dr. Steve Brule character from Tim and Eric's Awesome Show Great Job! into a blockbuster. You can argue with me that it's not Brule, that I'm only imagining it's Brule because Reilly's playing a guy who's kind of crazy and has John C. Reilly's hair, but you're going to lose the argument. I mean, his jacket clearly reads "For Your Health" on the back, and that's Brule's catchphrase. So, checkmate.

This movie isn't without its narrative issues and annoying cliches, but it's got terrific special effects and some thrilling action sequences. Once those helicopters take off from the ship to fight through storm clouds to get to the island, the movie just doesn't let up. There's not much time to develop these characters into anything but types, and you could probably pick out which characters will survive Skull Island and which ones won't, but let's be honest with ourselves. You're not seeing a King Kong movie because of the human characters.

I will say that the movie touches on something interesting by creating two distinct philosophies with how the characters wanted to deal with the situation. You had one camp that was aggressive, one that wanted to dive into a problem with both dicks and weapons blazing while the other had a more passive ideology. I think this was meant to reflect the times during which the movie actually took place--right at the end of the Vietnam War--but it managed to fit in with our numerous current conflicts around the world, too. There were some nifty lessons burbling beneath the surface of Skull Island, but the movie wasn't all that interested in exploring those all that deeply.

King Kong looks so good in this movie, but I would have liked to see his penis. Actually, I would have liked to see a hornier version of the iconic monster. A non-horny King Kong just doesn't work. If Brie Larson (or John Goodman, really) can't get the big guy going, I'm not sure what's going on.

The post-credits scene reveals some serious monster funk in our future, and I probably got overly excited about that.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

2016 wizard movie

Rating: 12/20

Plot: An immigrant comes to New York City and lets some of his beasts loose to wreak havoc.

For a while, this had the same kind of novelty as that first Harry Potter movie where you feel like you're seeing all this movie magic in a movie about magic for the first time. Here, that magical Harry Potter world is transplanted to the Big Apple circa mid-20s. The city looks gorgeous and realistic, and the special effects are top-notch as the wizard shit blends perfectly with it.

The problems in this have more to do with storytelling. There's far too much going on in this convoluted tale with its assortment of characters, some you don't really care all that much about. For me, I had trouble caring about the main characters. The villain is so obvious that he winds up being boring, and Eddie Redmayne, though there's something charming about him--likely just his "Englishness"--he really spends the entire movie sharing slight variations of the same facial expression. Katherine Waterston fails to become engaging, and although there are some moments between Redmayne and the aspiring Muggle baker played by Dan Fogler, those scenes just aren't fun or funny enough.

Not much about this is much fun after that novelty wears off. The fantastic beasts are pretty goofy, you get tired of the meandering plot, and the movie seems to have a hard time deciding if it wants to be whimsical or dark, ending up in an unsatisfying place in between the two.

There were some underlying themes touched upon that recalled events in our current political climate. I kind of wish those would have been addressed more overtly.

The Hourglass Sanatorium

1973 movie dream

Rating: 17/20

Plot: A guy takes a train to a sanatorium to visit his father and becomes trapped in a timeless dream.

I'd been wanting to see this for a while after enjoying Wojciech Has's The Saragossa Manuscript, and it definitely didn't disappoint. This is as drifting as movies can be, guiding the viewer through a labyrinth of surreal imagery and tantalizing but ultimately meaningless symbols and motifs that only make sense in wacky dream logic. The set design is the star of the show here as the character wanders through a M.C. Escher wet dream. The exploration of this sprawling, dilapidated mansion always surprises as the character runs into and odd assortment of characters, battle sequences, and mannequins. There's an incredible attention to detail with the sets, and you don't want to blink for fear that you'll miss some of it. It's one of the most beautifully dreamy movies I've ever seen.

I also loved the score by Polish composer Jerzy Maksymiuk, music that perfectly complimented the visuals.

In the end, I couldn't quite crack the riddle but loved the ride. There's quite a bit about the fluidity of time and the unreliability of memory. Both time and memory feels more elastic the older I get. This is one of those movies that a person could watch at different stages of their life and have it hit them in different ways.

I had some issues with the sound and subtitles, by the way. The sound was a little ahead of the visuals, and the subtitles were way behind which made the experience even more disorienting for what was already a disorienting movie. I don't think it affected my enjoyment, but I would love to see this again.

Endless Poetry

2016 autobiographical sequel

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Alejandro Jodorowsky's life story continues.

It's a little hard to write about this movie because I don't feel like I'm the audience for it. It feels very much like Jodorowsky is his own audience. That's not really entirely true because the themes are universal--father/son relationships, masculinity, the power of art, identity, the importance of puppets, etc. However, some of this is so personal--intensely personal--and I almost felt like an eavesdropper during one scene.

This is an extension of the first of Jodorowsky's autobiographic movies, continuing the story of Dance of Reality. If you liked that, chances are you'll like this one. If you didn't like that one, you'll dislike this one for the exact same reasons. At times, things almost get a little too silly in this magically-realistic portrayal of the artist's past. There's a moment at the very end that I wouldn't want to give away, but it's one of the cheesiest things I've seen in a while. There's also a goofy appearance of an instrumental version of "If I Were a Rich Man, a moment where two characters walk on a truck that reminded me of an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, a Torah cigar box, and a possible Flea cameo that almost distracted from the tone and made it all a little too comedic. Old-school Jodorowsky fans might say the entire movie is a little too goofy, but for the most part, I think it strikes a perfect tone as the director, one whose sense of humor isn't exactly a recent development, attempts to construct this part of his life where poetry and whimsy come alive in his life.

The movie's title is appropriate as poetry is at the center of the thing. Jodorowsky's father, played once again by Brontis Jodorowsky, tells him during an earthquake that his "mind is more powerful than any earthquake," the kind of thing that would be encouraging and motivational if it wasn't coming from abusive Jaime. Later, Jodorowsky acknowledges that his father gave him the strength "to face a world in which poetry no longer exists," something it seems almost like the director figured out during the process of writing/directing Endless Poetry. Lorca becomes influential, and along with a sidekick Jodorowsky befriends, poetry becomes an act and the meaning of life turns out to be life. It's inspiring watching an artist become an artist, and it's inspiring watching a guy with Jodorowsky's creativity and fervor living a poetic life like this, seeing that moment where he sold his devil to the soul.

Pamela Flores returns as Jodorowsky's mom, still singing all of her lines. She also plays a second character in this, and she's just stunning. The hair color, the privates-grabbing walks, the tattoos, the non-penetration sex scene beneath a water buffalo wall trophy. Her performance in the first installment was fearless; here, she's brave in a pair or roles, and I had trouble keeping my eyes off her, probably because of that aforementioned hair color.

If you have no interest in any kind of story or themes and just want to watch the world for a bit through Jodorowsky-tinted glasses, there's plenty to appreciate here. You just have to appreciate the elderly director's creative spirit, still flourishing as he closes in on the age of 90. He has plans to make three more of these movies. I'm pulling for him because I could use more of this kind of thing. It's a Fellini-esque carnival of grotesques, and although he does recycle some older ideas and images, he also hasn't run out of ideas. The guys in black moving props around, that cartoonish flasher, the look of the Cafe Iris with its zombified patrons, dog children, and the transformation of his hometown mix with skeletal dancers, clowns, an absurd use of colors, puppets, puppet boobs, the singing mother, and lots of little people to create something that can only be described as Jodorowskian. And it's all just so lovely.

Speaking of little people, you get three good little people performances here. There's a little fellow in the Cafe Iris who is great, but he's competing with a little Hitler outside of Dad's business. And then there's the lovely Julia Avendano in her only film performance, and she's spectacular. as Pequinita. And I'm not just saying that because of the sex scene. Or maybe I am. I can't even tell anymore.

There's a Tom Waits' song in this one. It's an instrumental from The Black Rider.