The Last Few Movies I Saw: Episode XVIII – Here We Go Again

As always, I rank the films on no concrete scale or rubric. Just what I thought of them. The further down the list, the more I liked it. It’s not science, guys.

Meh:

Remember. It’s funnier than an average rom-com, but that’s a low bar.

Comedian Amy Schumer (Inside Amy Schumer) stars in Trainwreck (2015), a mean-spirited by-the-numbers rom-com with one or two really good laughs. Judd Apatow (Knocked Up) directs and Bill Hader (SNL) co-stars as the perfect but vaguely awkward man who lets an alcoholic Amy treat him like garbage until she decides to just be with him. It’s a story of a character’s personal growth, but if you never really like the character you won’t care and if you’re not sure if she’s even learned anything you may be hard-pressed to call it an arc. I don’t care what the genders are, people being selfish and crappy to each other is neither romantic nor charming. Also features Alison Brie, Colin Quinn, John Cena, Tilda Swinton, Randall Park, and Dave Attell.

If we keep running we might find “The Road to Wellville.”

I did not get Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster (2015). I did not dislike it. I just didn’t quite get it. Colin Farrell (Seven Psychopaths), sporting a truly wonderful mustache, is a quiet man at a surreal mansion getaway where tenants are required to find a mate within 45 days lest they be turned into an animal (Colin chooses a lobster). I think it’s a metaphor for the social stigmas of being single, but it was all a little too dry and slow for me. A tepid, but refreshingly strange outing to the cinema. Also stars Rachel Weicz, Michael Smiley, John C. Reilly, and Ben Whishaw.

No peace. No pussy.

It took me awhile to get into the rhyming dialogue and beat poetry delivery of Spike Lee’s Chi-raq (2015). Lysistrata (played by the fabulous Teyonah Parris) starts a revolution to end gang violence in the bloody streets of Chicago by getting all women to deny their men sex of any kind until the shootings stop. It’s a bit stagey at times (in a stylized but awkward way that doesn’t always work), but the energy and humor and pulse of desperation make this movie worth a look. A bit tonally uneven, which is a shame because I feel like there’s a great film in there somewhere. Also features Angela Bassett, Samuel L. Jackson, Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Steve Harris, Dave Chappelle, Jennifer Hudson.

Guilty pleasures and amiable lectures:

Close the door! You’re letting Tarantino’s ego out!

Quentin Tarantino. An obnoxious egotist who makes some fun movies. The Hateful Eight (2015) looks great and packs some great people into its tiny cast. A bounty hunter called The Hangman (Kurt Russell) escorting his bounty (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to her execution gets snowbound in a shifty cabin full of untrustworthy characters. The moments of tension are great—although nothing close to Inglourious Basterds or Django Unchained—and it has a few surprises, but when every character is so hateful it can become hard to care about what happens to them. Samuel L. Jackson is half the reason the movie is as entertaining as it is. Jackson has a fantastic mental showdown with Bruce Dern’s character too. Also stars Tim Roth, Walter Goggins, and Michael Madsen.

So it has come to this. I’m doing a Samurai Cop sequel.

Samurai Cop (1991) is one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me. It truly is one of the BEST bad movies out there and you owe it to yourself to watch it now. The surprise sequel Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance (2015) is decidedly underwhelming by comparison. The film spends a lot of its time winking at the audience and dusting off all of the old cast for their own quality moments of varying hilarity. Instead of a crappy old school B-action movie we get a seriously incomprehensible Lynchian mess of flashy colors and lady murder. In a post screening Q&A, Matt Karedas (Joe “Samurai Cop” Marshall, himself) expressed disappointment with the finished product and said he was uncomfortable murdering so many women in the film, feeling it was against Joe’s character. For however impossible the plot is to follow, I loved a lot of the cheesy winks and wacky, forced cameos. Bai Ling and The Room‘s Tommy Wiseau add a lot of over-the-top zany surreality to the finished product, but seeing Mark Frazer and so many of the original cast reprising their roles in this stupid film was just what I needed. It looks like everyone is having fun. And this movie actually gave me newfound respect for Bai Ling. She plays it well beyond eleven. Fans of the original will undoubtedly be as dismayed and baffled as Matt, but should check it out anyway for a stupid adventure with your favorite cult movie heroes.

I came here for Keegan-Michael Key. Excited for “Keanu”!

Jason Strouse’s quiet little comedy-drama about an ineffably likable high school teacher (played wonderfully by Matt Letscher) is sweet. It’s charming. It’s actually a bit too clean and simple at times. But Teacher of the Year (2014) manages to more closely resemble the anxieties of actual teacher life than most teacher flicks. Mitch Carter (Letscher) is a great educator who has to make a choice between staying where he’s always been or taking a bigger job across the country. The cast is good (Keegan-Michael Key and the Sklar Brothers add needed hilarity) and it has enough satisfying character moments to eclipse some of its contrivances. It’s not pretentious and it should make you smile, whether you’re in education or not. Co-stars Tamlyn Tomita, Jamie Kaler, Larry Joe Campbell, and Sunny Mabrey.

A bit more on board:

I’m the best part of the movie and barely mentioned on the poster. Admit it. You can’t pronounce my name.

I love the Coen Brothers (Fargo, No Country for Old Men) and even lower tier Coens is still watchable (Ladykillers is pushing it though). Hail, Caesar! (2016) is not a masterpiece, but it is breezy and fun. The story is pulled in perhaps too many directions (The Big Lebowski made it work). Ultimately we may be a little fuzzy on what was being said and why we should care (Burn After Reading did it better). It’s all rather showy and cartoony (Hudsucker Proxy and Raising Arizona were more successful here). It’s about old Hollywood (Barton Fink, while weird, was far more engaging). It tries to depict a crisis of faith (A Serious Man, anyone?). In the end, Hail, Caesar! is a series of wacky scenes vaguely connected and told in the mock-buildup fashion of classic Coen shaggy dog tales. Not great. But not bad. Stars Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich (possibly the best part of the show), and a host of cameos from Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Clancey Brown, Wayne Knight, Christopher Lambert, etc. So what’s it about? The red scare? The calculated fakeness of showbiz? Who cares? Eat your popcorn.

Say “War on Christmas” one more time.

Michael Dougherty’s Krampus (2015) is a gleefully dark Christmas story full of demonic gingerbread men, ghoulish holiday gifts, and the wicked elf ruler of them all. A boy accidentally curses his family’s stressful yuletide proceedings when he summons the dark version of Santa Claus: Krampus. It’s silly and simple, but the surreal sense of dread, coupled with the right tone of comedy, propel this anti-holiday flick beyond Gremlins (perhaps). Did I mention the fantastic creature effects? The evil Jack-in-the-box and the nightmarish lord of them all look wonderful! The use of puppets and suited monsters definitely add to the uneasy texture of this kooky flick. Features an extended stop-motion flashback sequence and Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Conchata Ferrell, David Koechner, and Allison Tolman.

The closest I’ve gotten to being interested in soccer.

What if you could get the two lowest FIFA ranked teams in soccer and have them compete against each other on the same exact day as the World Cup final? Two Dutch soccer fans did just that and made it into a documentary called The Other Final (2003). If you like underdogs, this is for you. It’s underdogs versus underdogs! Watching the sadly forgotten teams of Bhutan and Montserrat meet on the patchy green amicably and in the spirit of pure sportsmanship is a charming little departure from big commercial athletics. As a bonus, I learned more about the countries of Bhutan and Montserrat than I ever knew before.

Let’s take it up a notch:

You will forever think differently about fish, pigs, and monkeys.

I’m a Stephen Chow fan. Shaolin Soccer and Kung-fu Hustle are masterpieces of comic fantasy. Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (2013) is a fantastically innovative adventure and compelling retelling of the classic Chinese legend. While some of the ambitious visuals may falter beneath occasionally uneven special effects, one must applaud Chow’s typically confident direction of the impossible mayhem. Tragedy and comedy go hand in hand in this action-packed tale of demon hunters and romance unrequited. Like Chow’s previous films mentioned, Journey to the West is accessible to children for its monsters and fantasy but complex and surprising in its narrative cogs. At the end of it all, I found myself both exhausted and delighted at having seen something unique. Shu Qi, Wen Zhang, and Huang Bo star.

And I want to come out on a swan.

Kristen Wiig (SNL) plays Alice Klieg, a mentally ill woman who wins the lottery and decides to make a show based on herself (her thoughts, her memories, her hobbies, etc.) in Shira Piven’s Welcome to Me (2014). Honestly, I can’t imagine a single other person playing this character. Wiig straddles a weird line between comedy and sympathy for mental illness. The usual obvious satirical fodder of television politics rears its head too, but the real heart of the film comes from the endearing character and Wiig’s performance. There’s a lot of goodies in this clever little movie that I’ll just recommend you watch it. Also features Joan Cusack, Linda Cardellini, James Marsden, Wes Bentley, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Robbins, and Alan Tudyk.

Say “Tommy Wiseau” in the mirror three times and a drama student rejoins the fastfood industry.

If you got excited by Tommy Wiseau’s mention in Samurai Cop 2, then you’re going to love this: The Room fan Rick Harper got deep into Wiseau’s world a few years back. So deep they may not be on speaking terms anymore. So deep he tracked down most of the original cast and crew and made a documentary about the famously awful cult movie. I had the special privilege of seeing the world premier of Room Full of Spoons (2016) in Madrid. If watching The Room brings you joy; if Tommy Wiseau fascinates you with his captivating oddness; if you’ve ever had questions about how the film was made or where Tommy comes from…watch this documentary.

What’s this Panama Papers thing I keep hearing about?

2016 Oscar winning film about the Catholic priest pedophilia cover up, Spotlight (2015), is solidly cast, well written, and an important reminder of the significance of investigative journalism in our world. This is like the sister film of All the President’s Men (1976). Not merely satisfied with looking into the interviewing process of gathering data via cold calls, personal interviews, and reading through old documents, Spotlight, like All the President’s Men, deals a lot with the nature of the politics game and media strategies involved in a high profile, high risk scoop dependent on secrecy and facts. And the personalities uncovering the story bring added realism to this slow-burn drama. Stars Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Stanley Tucci, Liev Schreiber, Rachel McAdams, and John Slattery.

MORE! MORE!

https://i0.wp.com/thedoteaters.com/tde/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/bitstory_tls_snap_crowd-624x274.jpg

It was a slow night.

I gave a needed re-watch to a film I never really got on board with as a child. I saw the original Star Wars trilogy when I was 4 or 5 years old. Our home did not celebrate the knockoffs I later came to love. Starcrash and Battle Beyond the Stars have since become films I frequently recommend. Knowing this, and somewhat prompted by “Trailers From Hell“, I gave The Last Starfighter (1984) another chance. No, not all of the effects hold up (some of the earliest examples of CGI), but it is such an amiable breath of fresh air that it hit me just right. A video-gamer named Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) living in a dusty trailer park gets a surprise visit from a strange alien visitor (The Music Man‘s Robert Preston) sent to recruit him to defend a distant planet. Alex’s alien mentor, Grig (played by Dan O’Herlihy), is an understandably favorite character. It’s basically everything you want it to be. It’s unapologetically fun and squarely 80s sci-fi cheese. Maybe never confused with a truly “great” film, I submit we retain slots for the wonderfully good.

Him: There’s pigs. Her: I know.

Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color (2013) is assuredly not everyone’s cup of tea. It is a hypnotic, elliptical enigma. If you thought Primer was alienating and indecipherable, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Categorized as a sci-fi movie, imdb.com summarizes the plot thusly: A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives. Which is more than the film itself clearly communicates and more succinct than I could blurb. For whatever reason, I enjoyed it immensely. But then…I also liked Beyond the Black Rainbow and Under the Skin a lot too.

Imagine how betrayed you’d feel if this picture was all you knew about the movie.

High-Rise (2015) is Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s 1975 novel. Tom Hiddleston plays a businessman who moves into the latest architectural wonder created by Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons). It’s got all the modern conveniences and it is stylish beyond compare, but things gradually devolve into anarchy as the classes and perceived entitlements of its tenants begin to clash. This is not Snowpiercer. This is not an action movie. The objectives are intentionally vague. It’s brand of satire is unabashedly dark and murky. It’s sexy and weird and claustrophobic. Also stars Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, and Elisabeth Moss.

Well, at least it’s not Scientology.

Here’s a slow-burn that caught me off guard. I went to see Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation (2015) knowing pretty much nothing about it. I think that helped. The story of a group of estranged friends reuniting under cryptic circumstances—and what increasingly feels like a cult pitch—sucks you in and holds you under as the tension and suspense uncomfortably builds before a final act that does not disappoint. The driveway to this California dinner party is lined with warning signs. Watch it. Stars Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, and John Carroll Lynch.

This is the end:

After all that, what could I list as my top three films? (As my whims sit these evening anyway.)

That’s never a good sign.

S. Craig Zahler’s directorial debut has been lauded. And for good reason. Bone Tomahawk (2015) blows Tarantino’s latest film out of the water. Kurt Russell is Sheriff Hunt. He and his elderly deputy (Richard Jenkins), a greasy gunslinger (Matthew Fox), and one man with a broken [possibly gangrenous] leg (Patrick Wilson) go on a rescue mission to save the cripple’s wife (Lili Simmons) from a mysterious tribe of albino cannibal troglodytes. Valley of the Gwangi was cowboys versus dinosaurs. Now we got cowboys versus cave-people. And for however schlocky the synopsis may sound, this is a genuinely good movie. It is sensitive and earthy. More drama than gore-fest (though, there’s a bit of that too). It’s a well-written surprise whose humor and heart make it more than just that movie with the cannibal troglodytes in the wild west. And can we just give all of the acting awards to Richard Jenkins for his performance already? The man is glorious. Also features Sid Haig, David Arquette, Evan Jonigkeit, James Tolkan, and Sean Young.

Caitlyn who?

How does a kinetic comedy-drama about a jealousy & meth-fueled transgender sex-worker on Christmas Eve in Hollywood filmed entirely on iPhone 5s sound? The very first scene of Sean Baker’s Tangerine (2015) sets up everything you need to know: Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) just got out of prison and just found out her pimp and boyfriend, Chester (James Ransone), has been cheating on her with a cisgender chick (Mickey O’Hagan). In addition we have the subplots of Sin-Dee’s best friend (also trans, also a sex worker), Alexandra (Mya Taylor), quiet ambitions of being a singer and an Armenian cab driver (Karren Karagulian) trying to avoid his family on Christmas Eve to find Alexandra. The whole chaotic pot comes to a boil and we, the audience, are there for the show. Maybe you don’t feel like you relate to any of these characters. Perhaps it all sounds too much like an episode of Cops. Or maybe you don’t mind walking a mile in someone else’s shoes and observing their lives and their dreams and their problems. These characters are not the typical archetypes of American cinema. It may take a moment to step into their world and get used to the frenetic tempo and saturated colors, but perhaps you shall be rewarded.

Welcome to Wakaliwood.

Nabwana I.G.G. has been making insane, low-budget action movies in the slums of Uganda for years. I was introduced to his work via Alan Ssali Hofmanis, an American who moved to Uganda and dedicated his life to helping Nabwana complete more films. Who Killed Captain Alex? (2010), on all accounts, could not be a good movie. But it is. The plot is all but incomprehensible and the effects and props are fakey-fake. But this was made in the slums. For nothing. And a mad, anarchic joy permeates every moment of this glorious, cacophonous proceedings. Unlike The Room, which I love because it is terrible, I love Captain Alex because it was so alien and new and wonderful. By way of the Voice Joker (gleeful narrator who vaguely helps tell the story between wisecracks), we are given a glimpse into life in the slums and, more tellingly, their interpretation of American action cinema, the genre they were first introduced to and the one they choose to troll. They are having fun. Infectious fun. I can’t guarantee that you will like it as much as I did. But after hearing the history of slum cinema from Alan and viewing this feature on the big screen at midnight I only know one thing: I can’t wait to see Nabwana’s next film in which I may have a brief cameo getting my own head blown up by the Ebola Hunter. Call me crazy, this was my favorite movie-going experience in awhile.

That’s my list. Disagree? What did you see?

The Last Few Movies I Saw: Episode XVII – Wrapping Up 2015

 As always, I rank the films on no concrete scale or rubric. Just what I thought of them. The further down the list, the more I liked it. It’s not science.
Although, it must be said, I did not dislike any of the films this time. Even the lowest ones on the list might be worth checking out and I’m glad I watched them.
Meh/Misguided:

“What was that? You backwards troglodyte, you. Have some wine.”

The Last Supper (1995), directed by Stacey Title, has a good premise, but quickly proves it’s not as clever as it thinks it is. A group of pretentious college liberals decide to poison conservative idiots over dinner and bury them in the backyard. It’s quirky. It’s dark. But it’s a little too smug for its own good. It presents simplistic caricatures of right wing beliefs (some of which are genuinely held by a frightening portion of the population, but they are played so ham-fistedly it fails to register as meaningful) and pretty much zero attempt at presenting a left wing perspective (apart from murderous hatred toward their ideological adversaries). Bill Paxton (Twister) and Ron Perlman (Hellboy) make memorable appearances, but it is probably Courtney B. Vance (The Hunt for Red October) who steals most of the show with his cold, calculating performance as the group’s ringleader. Also stars Cameron Diaz (Charlie’s Angels).

Not exactly Don Bluth.

What do you get if you cross The Secret of NIMH (1982) with Watership Down (1978) and try to tell a gritty noir with cats? You get the bizarre German cartoon Felidae (1994). While I don’t count this as a good film, I can give it some points for trying something offbeat and I did want to know where the story was going. My beef: you can be an adult animation without being so forced and unnatural about it. The unintentionally awkward cursing and gory violence is so over the top at times that it feels more like South Park than Chinatown. The serial murder mystery itself is a bit of a letdown and our protagonist, Francis, is so feckless and flat that it barely registers when he’s fleeing danger or having casual sex with feral felines. It doesn’t work, but as a curiosity, it’s not a total waste of time and the animation isn’t bad.

Stop it and make “Hellboy 3.”

Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak (2015) looks gorgeous and was eagerly anticipated by me, but something was missing. In its earnest attempt to pay homage to classic haunted house films like The Haunting (1963) and The Innocents (1961), it just comes off as a bad aping of those superior films. I was also reminded of Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) and the wild color palette was reminiscent of the exaggerated Italian horror flicks of Mario Bava (Black Sabbath) and Dario Argento (Suspiria). Hearkening back to such classic ghost-mansion cinema can be a good thing…as long as it improves upon or diverts from them in some innovative way. I still love del Toro and I love the sumptuousness of the costumes and sets and the dense atmosphere, but a romantic horror tale that lacks both decent romance and horror counts as a bit of a misfire for me. Pan’s Labyrinth, Cronos, and The Devil’s Backbone are all marvelous examples of the slowburn terrors that lurk in the Mexican auteur’s wheelhouse. Maybe my problem is I watch so many films that they have to work extra hard to titillate me.
Interestinger:

As a kid I remember reading in an old Guinness Book about Hoffman portraying the widest age range ever in this film. I wonder if anybody has it beat yet.

Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde) directed the strange revisionist western Little Big Man (1970) starring Dustin Hoffman (Marathon Man). The film—told in flashback—may be one of the earlier examples of cinema being sympathetic to the Native Americans, portraying them as victims of a truly horrific genocide and the white Americans as the evil, arrogant savages stealing lands without mercy or feeling. It’s quite episodic and perhaps a little too cartoonish for the seriousness of the subject matter, but it’s odd quirkiness makes it at least a watchably uneven history lesson. I enjoyed Hoffman and Faye Dunaway (Network), but ultimately the portrayals of the Native tribes and the American generals were so comic-booky and naive, it took away from what could have been a very impactful film.

“I need you to scream directly into my soul.”

Toby Jones (The Mist) stars as an English sound engineer working on Italian horror flicks in Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio (2012). It’s a slow, seemingly plotless movie that lingers on one timid sound man’s gradual descent into a subtle madness. It takes its time and you may want it to do more or go deeper, but I was engaged enough with the character that I didn’t mind not knowing where it was going…or if it would go anywhere at all.

“I do Wes Anderson and movies like this now. Murray Christmas, folks.”

Gosh, is it that time in Bill Murray’s career already? I love Bill Murray and nearly all Bill Murray movies and, while I can’t say the same for Theodore Melfi’s St. Vincent (2014), I won’t say it’s not passably amusing. Murray plays a crotchety old war vet who reluctantly befriends a precocious young boy (Jaeden Lieberher) in this schmaltzy dramedy that seems intent on hitting many of the predictable indie beats. Despite it’s familiar formula and a few questionable accents (my brain knows Murray too well to accept the NYC brogue he dons), the charm of the cast (including Melissa McCarthy and Naomi Watts) makes you forgive a multitude of contrivances.

Where Are We Now?:

Dumb luck.

In the spirit of Forrest Gump (heck, Little Big Man too), a lovable but somewhat simple old man recounts his wild history-romping life with peaceful detachment in Felix Herngren’s The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (2013). Allen Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson) decides to escape the nursing home and embarks on a lackadaisical adventure  full of stolen money, gangsters, car chases, new friends, and at least one elephant. Throughout the modern day shenanigans, Allen tells of his life as a haphazardly globe-trotting self-taught demolitions expert devoid of political affiliations (he’s on every side of history from revolutionaries to Franco to Stalin to Truman). It’s a light-hearted comedy with a refreshingly pensive pulse.

You know Francis Ford Coppola, right? His daughter directed “A Very Murray Christmas” on Netflix. …and yeah, he did “The Godfather.”

Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now) directs Gene Hackman (The French Connection) as a surveillance expert whose own past and the potential futures of those he spies upon addle him in The Conversation (1974). This is one of those gritty 70s movies your film professor talked about and I’m only just now getting to it. It’s a gradual descent into paranoia and ethical dilemmas. Also features John Cazale (Dog Day Afternoon).

Prepare to be alienated.

Gregg Turkington stars as a burnt-out comedian (in the spirit of his Neil Hamburger character) hitting gig after depressing gig in the Mojave desert in Rick Alverson’s Entertainment (2015). The characters are unpleasant and dim and thoroughly exhausted. The film itself feels Lynchian in its elliptical oddness. The weird insights we get into these unlikable people and their circumstances speaks more to our own human interactions than our demand to be entertained by a clown.

Getting Higher:

Yes, one of his friends is Zero from “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

Rick Famuyiwa’s coming-of-age tale of three high school kids from Inglewood who wind up with a bag full of unwanted drugs is a colorful breeze. Dope (2015) hits a lot of familiar genre marks, but, like St. Vincent, gets by on its style, wit, and charisma of its lead (played by Shameik Moore). It may not be the most original story, but its attitude covers a lot.

The main villain is a lactose-intolerant transvestite obsessed with increasing his social status by way of genocide. We haven’t seen that before.

Coraline (2009) and ParaNorman (2012) were marvelous stop-motion fantasies with edge and flair to spare. Laika Studios’ The Boxtrolls (2014) is another cinematic gift brimming with imagination and style. A young boy, raised by the hunted subterranean creatures, must rediscover who he is and unite the warring civilizations. An amazing voice cast (Sir Ben Kingsley, Jared Harris, Richard Ayoade, Nick Frost, and more) and spectacularly realized hand-crafted visuals make this family adventure a memorable treat.

The kid is annoying in this movie…but I think that’s part of the point.

 “If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of The Babadook (2014)”, an Australian horror flick directed by Jennifer Kent. When a strange picture book appears on her son’s shelf, a widowed mother (Essie Davis) unwittingly unleashes a most unnerving evil presence that latches onto them. What follows is a gripping examination of the negative powers of grief and loss. The Babadook is far more insidious than a mere supernatural monster. And that is one of the reasons this chiller lingers in the memory.
Visions:

I know. I know. I’m late to the game. I still think I love “Bronson” more.

I finally watched Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011). Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine) stars as a stoic mechanic and getaway driver who becomes increasingly entangled with criminals after he helps out his next door neighbor (Carey Mulligan). Like all Refn work, it’s languid and stylish and brooding and violent and absolutely hypnotic. Also stars Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, and Christina Hendricks.

Get a good look. This is what socialism looks like.

 Jules Dassin’s Rififi (1955) is a masterful example of heist cinema. It has all the ingredients that would eventually become the staple of the genre and, for an early outing, it hits the marks extremely well. The setup and ensuing heist is fantastic, but as things turn sour in the aftermath of the crime, blood is let and it all culminates into a magnificent, heart-pounding final act.

Why don’t we dress like this?

For people who like the 80s and like awkward indie flicks and like hilariously over-the-top gore, Turbo Kid (2015), directed by François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell, is a blast and a half. In a post-apocalyptic 1997, Mad Max-ian marauders on bicycles rule the wastelands. Where Kung Fury (2015) ran out of steam minutes into its short runtime, Turbo Kid maintains a straight face and continues to present absurd visions of violence, wild characters, and wacky dialogue delivered in earnest with unyielding confidece. It looks great and the cast does a fine job with the bonkers material. Laurence Laboeuf in particular shines as the unflappably weird Apple.

“Fan Service: The Motion Picture”

I took the Kool-aid. J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) is a great big-budget science-fantasy speeder chase down Nostalgia Lane. There’s plenty stupid to the plot, but the cast shines (Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, Harrison Ford) and the special effects scintillate. It’s amazing how much more immersive and tangible models, puppets, animatronics, real locations, and constructed sets are. And humor. And engaging characters. And emotional depth. And recognizable stakes clearly established in each lightsaber and spaceship altercation. While it’s an extremely busy story and it does retread a lot of the original film’s plot points, it also just feels good to be back in the Star Wars universe. This is the movie fans have been waiting for since 1983.

The Final Crest:

Maybe don’t bring the kids to this one.

Folks who love fairy tales that don’t shy away from the darkness will undoubtedly enjoy the sumptuous Tale of Tales (2015), directed by Matteo Garrone. A series of haunting medieval yarns overlap in this anthology of old Italian fables by Giambattista Basile. Stylish and sexy but also savage and grotesque, it’s an uncompromisingly adult trek through fairy tale kingdoms that comes highly recommended. Features Salma Hayek, Toby Jones, John C. Reilly, and Vincent Cassel. Weird and beautiful.

“Nobody respects Santa Claus anymore.”

It may be hard to explain why I liked Miguel Llansó Crumbs (2015) so much. In a post-apocalyptic Ethiopia, a hunchbacked scavenger named Candy (Daniel Tadesse) embarks on a private adventure to request Santa Claus (Tsegaye Abegaz) to allow him to reclaim his Kryptonian throne and board a perpetually hovering spaceship with his woman. It’s slow and surreal and might best be described as Turbo Kid as imagined by Werner Herzog. It may not be for everyone, but it has enough innovative and clever details to entertain an odd person like me.

“I killed Mufasa. His vagina was all wrong.”

For some reason, this weird film has not left me. David Cronenberg (Videodrome) directs Jeremy Irons (Lolita) as a pair of identical twin gynecologists in this enigmatic thriller, Dead Ringers (1988). When they split sexual duties with a famous client (Geneviève Bujold) it opens up the doors of insecurity in both of them. When she discovers the trick they’ve been playing on her and ends it, the brothers begin a spiraling journey into obsession, addiction, and a longing to understand the nature of their individual identities. It’s a disturbing slow-burn, but worth it if you get Cronenberg and you want to see one of Irons’ best performances.

Whatever. Any recommendations for me?

The Last Few Movies I Saw: Episode XIV – Fury World

Ordered by my increasing opinion of them.

Walk Away:

Incidentally, I think the black rhino just went extinct this year.

Robin Williams (Hook), Edward Norton (Moonrise Kingdom), and Catherine Keener (The 40 Year Old Virgin) star in Danny DeVito’s Death to Smoochy (2002). How you could make a black comedy about the seedy underbelly of children’s entertainment so bafflingly unfunny is anyone’s guess. You would think the jokes would write themselves. I remember wanting to see this when it first came out, hearing it was terrible, then hearing it had a cult following and wasn’t that bad. I thought maybe it would be like Ben Stiller’s The Cable Guy, reviled for being so dark but discovering reports of its suckitude were greatly exaggerated upon my own personal viewing. Nope. This is a garish groaner that thinks it’s wackier than it really is. Stick with Matilda or War of the Roses.

Meh/Misguided:

Terry might be the most comically evil character in cinema history.

OK. OK. OK. The Karate Kid, Part III (1989) is in no way anything less than a ludicrous mess of nonsensical garbage piled upon a plate made of lunacy. It’s messages are contradictory. It’s thrills are awkward, comically contrived, and unearned. It’s lead actor (Ralph Macchio) is clearly coked out of his mind. It’s motivations are embarrassingly childish. Yet, all these truly ugly miscalculations make it humorous in the same way we enjoy Troll 2 and The Room.

Get it? It’s eating “Jaws”. It’s a metaphor. You know, symbolism? Darn it all, we are clever bastards. …On another note, how many sharks must they go through a day to feed this thing. Great whites can’t be cheap.

I wanted to like this one. Dinosaur movies are something of a rarity and I was excited to go back to the park. Alas, Jurassic World (2015) is a joyless, candy-painted shot of novacane. It looks colorful, but I felt nothing the whole film. The original Jurassic Park (1993) is a cherished classic, yes, and two of the in-between sequels are sort of okay to varying degrees, but this latest entry feels even more geared toward children and the Marvel superhero audiences. It isn’t the overuse of CGI, either. For me it lacked character, discovery, tension, or genuine thrills (you need character for thrills to register). The best, most highly rendered special-effects in the business can’t save a foundering script or a lack of charisma. Ironically, the film’s central satirical parable of the necessity of upping the ante to awaken jaded audiences produces the blandest entry in this ever diminishing franchise. It’s faster, hammier, cheesier, lazier, stupider, less challenging, and ultimately has trouble forcing the fun. The first Jurassic Park was a milestone of cinema at the time and it was unlike anything audiences had ever seen before. In Jurassic World‘s failed attempts to infuse steroids into the series, its creators have fashioned a movie that looks exactly like all the other sterile, terrible kiddie action movies of the last several years. Instead of being happy it’s less insulting than the Transformers movies, we should be asking for better movies. At least dinosaurs fight each other in it.

Guilty Pleasures:

“I Love Lucy”? Oh, so your parents were talented. I see, Desi, Jr.

Horror legends Vincent Price (House of Wax), Peter Cushing (The Curse of Frankenstein), Christopher Lee (The Wicker Man), and John Carradine (House of Dracula) star in the creaky comedy-horror B-flick The House of Long Shadows (1983). The actors’ ages are showing and you’re worried for their joints every time they lift a pewter goblet and, truth be told, the story is dopey and the script, for the most part, fails at being either comedic or horrific. However, if you’re a fan of the withering cinematic warlocks listed above, you’ll probably enjoy watching them effortlessly outshine both the silly script and Desi Arnaz, Jr.

I’m gonna hijack the Declaration of Independence.

Con Air (1997) is of historical significance if only because it may be the first film Nicolas Cage’s zaniness broke free of its previously Oscar-winning tethers. Donning the worst mullet, worst Southern accent, and worst back-story, Cage and a stuffed bunny board a prison plane full of psycho mutinying inmates (John Malkovich, Ving Rhames, Dave Chappelle, Steve Buscemi, Danny Trejo, and others make up the airborne cast). It’s dumb, loud, and a mostly unintentionally hilarious blast in the spirit of Face/Off. It’s nonstop nuttiness in the guise of a serious action thriller. Also features John Cusack (1408) and Colm Meaney (Get Him to the Greek).

Interestinger and Interestinger:

ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa…

Right after I heard the news of Christopher Lee’s passing I watched Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966). Hammer vixen, Barbara Shelley (Village of the Damned), co-stars in this loose biography of the bizarre Russian mystic who weaseled his way into the last Czarina’s good graces. It may not be the most memorable movie, but it’s got some good moments and Lee gives a fun performance as the titular hypnotizing wacko. Tom Baker (Dr. Who) is still my favorite Rasputin though.

God…all the plaid.

Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt) puts some gorgeous black and white photography to good use in Nebraska (2013). Bruce Dern (Silent Running) and Will Forte (SNL) star as an alcoholic, dementia-addled old man and his good-natured, long-suffering son respectively. Woody Grant (Dern) believes he’s won some prize and demands to go to Omaha to retrieve his cash (everyone else knows it’s all a scam). Reluctantly, his son David (Forte) agrees to take him—if only to ensure the stubborn patriarch’s safety. When Woody starts telling family and locals of his dubious earnings before he’s even collected the nonexistent dough, the small town drama begins…but not without some comical Midwestern moments. It’s pleasant, humorous, and ultimately a tender little film.

They’re just reading about the Rachel Dolezal thing.

This film is timely, intriguing, and—while somewhat high on its own cleverness—raises a lot of good points…if in a smug and sort of pretentious manner. Justin Simien and Adriana Serrano’s Dear White People (2014) is the closest thing we have to a Do the Right Thing for generation-blog. Black, white, and mixed race ivy league students verbally spar over racial privilege and politics. It’s wonderfully cast and hits its points efficiently and does a good job of leaving enough ambiguity for audiences to mull over. And it delivers its messages in a genuinely funny and entertaining way. For a movie dealing with so many hot button issues it’s a wonderfully watchable film.

Beyond Our Borders:

Me and my shadow…

Set in a weird Iranian town called Bad City, Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) is a sumptuously photographed off-beat vampire flick that feels like a slowly creeping dream. It’s dark, doleful, deliberately paced and, while it most assuredly won’t be for everyone, it’s a rich example of inventive horror that explores vampire tropes in ways that rival Let the Right One In or Only Lovers Left Alive. You’ll never look at the ghostly specter of a flowing black burka atop an aimless skateboard the same way again…if you’ve ever seen that before to begin with. Like a lot of offbeat neo-vampire fair, it’s a wry but sexy slow-burn.

Ever see Hogan’s Heroes?

La Grande Illusion (1937) is a classic jailbreak POW movie directed by Jean Renoir (La bête humaine). The story concerns French officers and soldiers being held captive by the Germans during World War I. What sets La Grande Illusion apart is its daringly human portrayal of the enemy. People are people and just happen to be French or German. For a classic war movie, it is almost refreshingly absent of nationalism. It’s rightfully ranked alongside The Great Escape, Stalag 17, and The Bridge On the River Kwai.

Finding Our Way Through the Shadows:

Yup. Looks like traffic court.

Orson Welles (Citizen Kane) adapted a story by Franz Kafka with Anthony Perkins (Psycho) in The Trial  (1962). Shot in Europe, the story unfolds like a subtle nightmare. A man is put on trial, but is never told the charges and he becomes entangled in the fuzzy dream logic of this world’s chaotic legal system. It feels like a trip down the rabbit hole and the cinematography and gritty interiors and landscapes add such strange beauty and texture to this peculiar project that was apparently, like many of Welles’ films, under-appreciated at the time of its release.

The mummy strikes!

Here’s a challenge readily embraced by director Delmer Daves: can you hide your protagonist’s face for the first half of your movie? Better yet, film most of it in POV. Somehow Dark Passage (1947), starring Humphrey Bogart (The Maltese Falcon) and Lauren Bacall (The Big Sleep), nails it and, rather than it coming off as a cheap gimmick, really utilizes the unfamiliar technique for solid narrative effect. It’s a classic mystery noir about a man who escaped from prison (convicted for the murder of his wife). While there are many brilliant scenes in the movie and clever camera angles, my favorite bits might be the conversation with the taxi driver and subsequent meeting with the plastic surgeon. The POV really pulls you into the story in a surprising and effective way.

Admittedly, I’ve only seen Bullitt on a plane, but I liked this better than Bullitt.

A quiet getaway driver played by Ryan O’Neal (Paper Moon) is trying to avoid being set up by an obsessed police detective (Bruce Dern). That’s really all you need to know for Walter Hill’s The Driver (1978). Not to be bogged down with too much dialogue or too complicated a plot, The Driver is all gorgeous 70s style and fantastic car chases. The film exudes coolness. Isabella Adjani (The Possession) also co-stars. Watch it. It’s great.

Really, a Tough Call:

That honestly can’t be good for the rabbit.

Fans of the Coen Bros.’ Fargo may be familiar with the oft reported case of a Japanese woman who, believing the film to be a true story, went searching for where Steve Buscemi buried the suitcase full of money in the snow. The Zellner Bros.’ Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014) is a fictionalized version of how that woman came to America in search of that money. Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim) gives a heart-breaking and deeply internalized performance as Kumiko, a sad misfit obsessed with treasure hunting. Her journey from the alienating officetels of Tokyo to the isolating snowdrifts of Minnesota is weird, awkwardly comical, and touchingly disconsolate. This movie comes highly recommended. It’s a quiet and vaguely surreal film that sits with you hours after watching it.

Maybe even more enjoyable than The Road Warrior.

Everyone saw it. Everyone loved it. And, truly, I get it. Mad scientist George Miller’s fourth installment of his Australian cult series, Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), really is a masterpiece of dystopic action and brutal but balletic car carnage. There’s an adrenaline that doesn’t quit and a score that pulses aggressively forward and an explosion-filled chase crammed with Frankenstein vehicles that doesn’t let up. It’s got a lot typical Miller quirk and visual inventiveness. Tom Hardy (Bronson) and Charlize Theron (Prometheus) stoically lead the way through a stark, unforgiving desert, but it is Nicholas Hoult’s character, Nux, who gradually becomes the real emotional core of the film. Motorcycle grannies, bungee guitar mutants, muscle cars souped up with spikes and tank treads, and chainsaw-wielding gas-mask guys atop 50 foot pendulums swinging over erupting furnaces of vehicular devastation not your thing? You may not enjoy this, if that be the case. Whether you’re a longtime fan of the Mad Max series or a newcomer, this is gleeful, calculated, visceral mayhem. It ought to be a crime to be this bonkers and badass.

THE LAST FEW MOVIES I SAW: EPISODE XIII – Avengers 2 is in there somewhere, I wager.

I am unstoppable. As always, organized by my increasing enjoyment of them.

Meh/Misguided:

Shine on, you crazy monkey.

Shine on, you crazy monkey.

I imagine the helper monkey industry suffered a blow after this flick hit VCR’s across America. George Romero (yeah, THAT George Romero) directs this horror thriller about a quadriplegic law student whose monkey-nurse, Ella, links minds with him to exact a series of revenge killings in Monkey Shines (1988). It’s ridiculous, silly, and full of laughable monologues, but that’s kinda why I watched it. Stupid, but enjoyable because it is so nonsensical  and stupid. John Pankow and Stanley Tucci co-star.

"Ridiculous."

“Ridiculous.”

I was truly disappointed. Dirty Work (1998) may star comic geniuses, Norm MacDonald and Artie Lange (and feature Don Rickles, Chevy Chase, Chris Farley, Jack Warden, and be directed by Bob Saget), but it has that lazy, squeaky clean Happy Madison stamp all over it. The movie wastes Norm and Artie’s talents with the obvious, by-the-numbers plot and yawn-inducing script. It has one or two entertaining scenes and some great line deliveries speckled throughout, but for a big Norm MacDonald fan this was a letdown. It does, however, boast the funniest prison rape scene.

Better, but still kinda meh:

"Henchman" doesn't sound as cute, I guess.

“Henchman” doesn’t sound as cute, I guess.

Gru is an evil genius who wants to prove his thievery prowess is not outdated by stealing the moon. He adopts three orphan girls who show him the value of family. He has an army of eraser-like minions for comic relief and added cuteness factor. Despicable Me (2010) is a likable enough little film with some nice design and cool gadgets, but it never quite wows.

Wokka. Wokka.

Wokka. Wokka.

For completion’s sake I watched Muppets Most Wanted (2014). It’s not exactly a bad movie, just maybe not a great Muppet movie. The stuff that works best is the stuff that’s a little more daring, unusual, and un-Muppety, while the Muppets themselves feel somewhat stale and lost in the wrong movie. I chuckled at a few gags, I enjoyed the gulag stuff, and I liked a few of the songs quite a bit, but I think these Muppets need to retire or be taken in a more interesting direction.

Okay…:

Get it?

Get it?

Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) directs this pitch black comedy about mental illness starring Ryan Reynolds. The Voices (2014) is not funny. Comedic mainly in premise and presentation, its content is downright disturbing. Jerry (Reynolds) talks to his dog and cat and they talk right back. Representing opposing sides of his chemically imbalanced brain, they confuse him to the point of serial murder. The voices themselves (also played by Reynolds) are well defined and interesting, the cinematography and effects are handled beautifully, and the supporting cast (Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, and Jacki Weaver) are fine, but for some reason I could never shake the uncomfortable meshing of horror with this strange sense of comedy. In Monsieur Verdoux it works because he’s not mentally ill, he’s just a greedy, murdering jerk. Maybe it’s brilliant and I’m just missing it, but for me this was a tragedy in comedy clothing.

Jane

Hiya, big boys. Ya miss me?

Bob Hope spews one-liners and Jane Russell is tough as nails in the cowboy comedy, The Paleface (1948). It’s not Bob Hope’s best and it bears a lot of the cringe-worthy Native American stereotypes common of this era of Hollywood. The whole time I kept wishing it was My Little Chickadee with W.C. Fields and Mae West (the married relationships in both movies are similar). It’s whatever. All in all, an inoffensive comedy romp…except for Native Americans.

1

Spoiler alert: we’re all full of alien ghosts.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015) is a documentary about the Church of Scientology. We see all the seedy inner workings, the lies, the scandals, the power struggles, the ruined lives. It’s something that would be truly interesting to someone who had no idea what the Church of Scientology was prior to viewing. The movie is a great primer and lesson in cult practices with genuinely fascinating central figures. My problem was that I was familiar with most of this stuff before I watched it so it never struck me as anything groundbreaking. Having visited their free museum in Hollywood and gotten a free street stress test (for laughs) already, I gotta say: they do a crap job of covering up being a pack of deranged wackos. Someone who needs this documentary to tell them that has clearly never discussed Scientology with a Scientologist before. It’s an important expose on stuff that should already be common knowledge.

Now with more tableaux vivants.

Now with more tableaux vivants!

A Field in England (2013) is a black-and-white minimalist psychedelic period drama set in an empty field near a 17th century battle. If that doesn’t get you, you probably won’t like this. A cruel alchemist enlists some deserters to dig up treasure for him. There is eating of magic mushrooms and violence. It’s slow and weird and has a lot of dick. It had some individual scenes I really enjoyed, but I never “got” what it was about. Maybe I need to watch it again.

Fun:

Yep. Hulk smashes again.

Yep. Hulk smashes again.

Yeah, yeah. I saw Joss Whedon’s Marvel’s Avenger’s: Age of Ultron (2015). I’ll come clean, I still don’t entirely get the appeal of most of the Marvel superhero movies. I don’t think they’re all bad movies. They just all look like the same candy-colored cartoon violence buildings-exploding movies. I never feel the weight of the threat and I never really feel tension or suspense in any of them. Call Nolan’s Batmans overly dour and brooding, but at least I felt the tension and stakes. That said, the best bits for me were the smaller character moments (Thor’s face when Captain Planet almost moves the hammer) and some of the dialogue was punchy and fun. Most of the action blurs together, but I did enjoy Iron Man fighting the Hulk. Not having read the comics, I have no idea what the magic stone things are or what they do or what the flying robot guy with the cape was or what his powers are and a bunch of other stuff was lost on me, but I can’t say it was a poorly done movie. It was exactly what I thought it would be and exactly what the audience is looking for, I’m sure.

Argh, it's a  bug's life for me.

Argh, it’s a bug’s life for me.

If you thought A Bug’s Life was too talkie, check out Minuscule: Valley of the Lost Ants (2013). Based on a series of French short animations, this quirky comedy features adorable cartoon bugs against real life backgrounds. Wordless, and relying entirely upon humorously juxtaposed sound effects (flying beetles sound like car traffic), wide-eyed expressiveness, and cuteness factor, the film tells the story of a lost baby ladybug who helps a colony of ants protect its bounty of sugar cubes. It’s slight and simple, but cute and clever enough to sustain your attention. The chases and battles are pretty fun.

A Trip:

"No matter how smart or well-educated you are, you can be deceived."---James Randi

“No matter how smart or well-educated you are, you can be deceived.”—James Randi

I’m a fan of magician, skeptic, and chicanery-exposing James Randi. An Honest Liar (2014) is a documentary that covers portions of his fascinating life (mirroring much of the life-trajectory of Houdini) and his mission to reveal spiritualist con-artists for the charlatans they are. It’s a loving tribute to the old codger. Like Going Clear, it may not cover anything new for people already familiar with the man’s life work, but it was nice to see it all in one place.

Most reckless family project ever!

Most reckless family project ever!

In all honesty, Roar (1981) is not a good movie. Yet, I love it. Meant to be squirrelly family comedy with animal hijinks, the film actually plays like a taut, nail-biting thriller. Let’s back up. Tippi Hedren (The Birds) wanted to make a movie with lions. In order to realize her dream, she and her family raised hundreds of lions and big cats for several years. The story shows a family trapped in a house with these aforementioned hundreds of lions (and a few tigers, cheetahs, panthers, and a couple bull African elephants). Wacky, right? Except there’s no special effects or stunts. It’s just an actual family in constant peril and threat of being mauled by mobs of wild carnivores. It is one of the most insane movies I’ve ever seen. Much of the cast and crew (including Tippi’s children) sustained multiple injuries from animal attacks throughout the filming. This film is madness manifest.

Any movie that blows up a Coke machine can't be all bad.

Any movie that blows up a Coke machine can’t be all bad.

The Monkees’ surreal musical Head (1968), may not quite live up to the same high-spirited whimsical anarchy of The Beatles’ films (although, it might be better than Help!), but it’s got enough zany meta quirk powering its engines that it’s still a fun romp. The film is basically a series of mostly unrelated vignettes and episodes mocking television, war, advertising, and whatever else set to some great tunes from The Monkees. Bonus points for having the most bizarre use of Victor Mature ever.

Here at the institute, we're all about science.

Here at the institute, we’re all about science.

Panos Cosmatos concocts a truly weird and deliberately paced sci-fi horror about telepathy in Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010). Trapped for the purposes of study, a young woman is observed by a cold and mercurial scientist at the Arboria Institute. There isn’t much dialogue and not much is explained, yet the film is so visually striking and surreal that it has a weird appeal. The textures and atmosphere and colors and cinematography are so hypnotic that I could recommend it on aesthetics alone. The brokenness of the doctors is fascinating and the imagery sticks in the mind. Not for everybody, but certainly for some.

The Curious Sandwich:

Yeah...

Yeah…

I re-watched Mike Judge’s cult classic Office Space (1999). I loved it when I first saw it, but strangely it might have been even funnier on this second viewing. Maybe because I now have had experience working in an office and I too have become increasingly critical of the inanity of professional formalities. The movie is still hilarious and still a biting indictment of what adulthood is expected to be. Still Judge’s best film and still a breath of fresh air. The great cast includes Ron Livngston, Gary Cole, Diedrich Bader, Jennifer Aniston, John C. McGinley, and Stephen Root.

Already over "Gangs of New York."

Already over “Gangs of New York.”

Sergio Leone’s films seemed to get longer the older he got. Once Upon a Time in America (1984) feels like the 4 plus hours it is, but its atmosphere is so rich and its scenery so sumptuous that you don’t mind soaking in the beautifully realized details of an old New York City long gone. Robert De Niro and James Woods are Jewish gangsters growing up during the Prohibition. Told in flashback, we witness the friendships, betrayals, murders, and regrets of a lost era. While the movie is slow, I don’t think I’ve ever seen more beautiful cinematography or New York City look more detailed and gorgeous.

No animals were harmed or drugged in the making of this motion picture.

No animals were harmed or drugged in the making of this motion picture.

Dave Chappelle stars as a weed loving janitor who must raise money with his stoner roommates to get their buddy out of the slammer (he’s jailed for accidentally murdering a diabetic police horse via Funions and pizza). Their plan is to sell weed, but when Chappelle falls in love with a substance teetotaler he has to choose between the kush or the bush. Yes, Half Baked (1998) truly is a stoner classic that I had somehow never watched in its entirety. Thing is, it’s legitimately funny and Chappelle proves to be the perfect leading man for this story. Cast highlights include Steven Wright, Clarence Williams III, Jim Breur, Harland Williams, and a bevy of fun cameos (Tommy Chong, Snoop Dogg, Willie Nelson, Jon Stewart, Janeane Garofalo, etc.). Rachel True is hot, but playing a thankless role as the hot girl.

Yeah, I sandwiched Leone’s crime epic between two infantile comedies from our childhood.

Ever Stalwart:

Oh, I'm sure he makes it.

Oh, I’m sure he makes it.

William Wellman’s Wild Boys of the Road (1933) is a pre-Code Depression-era road drama about kids of laid off fathers who decide to become train-hopping hobos rather than be a financial burden on their families. It’s a simple, if somewhat optimistically unbelievable, premise but the journey they go on is fascinating, mired by troubles, and despite amputations, thuggery, and possible rape somehow still resiliently optimistic. It’s a very American film. It’s a side of humanity that is both harsh and rarely depicted in old Hollywood flicks (sans Charlie Chaplin movies). Gritty yet sweet, Wild Boys of the Road is a curious time capsule that any cinephile should investigate.

"What kind of clown are you?" "The crying on the inside, I guess."

“What kind of clown are you?”
“The crying on the inside, I guess.”

How had I never seen Bill Murray’s only directed movie? [Co-directed with Howard Franklin] Quick Change (1990) is a great comedy about the post bank heist anxieties of trying to navigate New York City to get to the airport on time. Bill Murray, Geena Davis, and Randy Quaid are bank robbers who have had enough of the daily grind and so decide to retire early. Jason Robards is the cop hot on their trail. It’s great suspense and great comedy. I was especially pleased to see Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci in supporting roles. Despite Quaid’s overly hammy performance, the movie manages to be a sweetly cynical crime caper.

CONSUME

CONSUME

Much like Half Baked, I had never sat down and watched John Carpenter’s They Live (1988) all the way through. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper stars as a drifter who stumbles upon a secret. When he dons the weird sunglasses he sees the world for what it is: an elaborate advertisement to force humans to blindly consume. Naturally, the conspiracy is all orchestrated by gross, lipless aliens. It’s got some great lines, ridiculous fights, wonderful social satire, and a grim dose of truth. It also has one of the best movie endings ever. EVER! Keith David co-stars.

The Wave Finally Peaks:

This car is ready for the rave.

This car is ready for the rave.

Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton star in Alex Cox’s darkly weird cult sci-fi comedy, Repo Man (1984). Otto (Estevez) is a punk who winds up repossessing cars with a bunch of lunatics who like to pop uppers and wax philosophic about the art of being a repo-man.  It’s a truly unique movie that is neither obvious nor exactly easy, but it is an unforgettable and quirky viewing experience.

Also you'll want to murder Richard Basehart too while watching this movie.

Also you’ll want to murder Richard Basehart too while watching this movie.

Federico Fellini directs the great Anthony Quinn in La Strada (1954), but the real star is Giulietta Masina. It’s the story of a poor, naive country girl who is sold to a nomadic strongman. Though she is optimistic and full of wide-eyed wonder and good humor, her sweet character and odd appearance earn her no respect in the eyes of her abusive master. It is a compelling drama set against the landscape of rural Italy.

Life is but a dream.

Life is but a dream.

Robert Altman made some pretty enigmatic movies in his time. As loopy as Brewster McCloud was, 3 Women (1977) might even be more odd…if less obviously so. Sissy Spacek is an awkward country waif who gets a job nursing the elderly. She immediately attaches herself to the awkward and vapid Shelley Duvall character. They develop a strange, uncomfortable bond and bizarre connection with a silent painter played by Janice Rule. After an accident their roles are turned upside down and the mystery of who these characters are only gets weirder. This movie is a quiet type of insanity and I really had no idea where it was going scene to scene. As baffling as much of it is, I kind of loved it. Weeks later, I’m still thinking about it.

"Keep driving."

“Keep driving.”

My favorite of the bunch is The Hitch-Hiker (1953) directed by Ida Lupino. It’s a simple set up. Two fishing buddies (Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy) on their way through Mexico pick up a hitchhiker who turns out to be sociopath and serial killer (William Talman). The rest of the film is a series of tense situations as the killer plays sick mind games with the two helpless men as they try to figure a way to communicate and outsmart their captor before he kills them both. It’s a fabulous vintage suspense thriller.

The Definitive Subjective Ranking of the Best Theatrical Muppet Songs

I grew up watching the Muppets. Loved The Muppet Show, Muppet BabiesFraggle Rock, Sesame Street, The Jim Henson Hour, you name it. The Muppets’ variety act lent itself to parodying countless popular songs over the years, but it also led to numerous original songs, some of which are really hard to forget. This is a ranked list of the original songs from the theatrically released Muppet movies (the lack of cover songs kinda kills Muppets from Space, unfortunately).

Is this list subjective and based on my temporary whims? Definitely. Disagree? Tell me your favorite Muppet songs. But I did. I ranked 50 Muppet songs. Like a goddamn man. A MAN!

[Pictures and composers names taken from Muppet Wiki.]

Sorta Forgettable:

me

50. Let’s Talk About Me – (The Muppets, 2011) Chris Cooper gets crazy as Tex Richman and sings a mean-spirited hip hop number. Sadly, it’s not that memorable. [Bret McKenzie]

Wedding.mtm

49. He’ll Make Me Happy – (The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984) While it’s nice to see all the characters at Kermit and Piggy’s wedding it’s just too slow. And isn’t Piggy a modern, liberated pig? Does she really need a frog to make her happy? What’s the message here? [Jeff Moss]

The_Magic_Store

48. The Magic Store – (The Muppet Movie, 1979) After so many great songs in their very first big screen adventure, I’ve always felt their big closer was a bit of a letdown. The spectacle feels artificial. [Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher]

Whistling_Caruso

47. Whistling Caruso – (The Muppets, 2011)  It’s whistling. Walter whistles to save the show. It’s okay, I guess. [Andrew Bird]

Mary_-_Me_Party

46. Me Party – (The Muppets, 2011) It’s light and breezy and gives Amy Adams and Miss Piggy something to do. Not the worst, but not my favorite. [Bret McKenzie and Paul Roemen]

Rightwhereibelong

45. Right Where I Belong – (The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984) Kermit snaps out of his amnesia after a truly jarringly insult-filled rant against Miss Piggy. Then we get this slow, forgettable little ditty. [Jeff Moss]

Canttakeno

44. You Can’t Take No for an Answer – (The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984) It’s a montage of Muppet rejection as they walk around the city. Like a lot of songs from Manhattan, it’s not the most memorable. [written by Jeff Moss]

Weddingchart-1080p

43. Somebody’s Getting Married – (The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984) It’s cheery. It’s upbeat. But why does it make me feel like everything is so forced? Did every single Muppet really care this much about Kermit and Piggy tying the knot? The highlight is the dancing tuxes. [Jeff Moss]

Something_better

42. Something Better – (Muppet Treasure Island, 1996) The two Brian Henson (son of Jim) directed Muppet films actually are some of the strongest for song consistency. Both Treasure Island and Christmas Carol boast some strong musical numbers. This trio of the boy Hawkins, Gonzo, and Rizzo is not one of them. [Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil]

A Bit More Personality:

Go_back_there

41. I’m Going to Back There Someday – (The Muppet Movie, 1979 and Muppets from Space, 1999) This is where the Gonzo mythos officially started. On the show he was a background character, but in the movie he became more fleshed out and this was his most bizarrely sobering moment. He’s hinting at suspecting that he’s an alien from outer space, yet it’s strangely serious and wistful. It’s a little slow, feels out of character for the usually more zany Gonzo, and I never really got it, but it ain’t bad. [Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher]

number1

40. I’m Number One – (Muppets Most Wanted, 2014) Ricky Gervais sings with Kermit’s doppelganger, Constantine, and it’s got a few great lines, but it goes a little too long and Ricky seems like he might be playing it almost a little too kid-friendly. I found that distracting and it didn’t entirely work for me. [Bret McKenzie]

MUPPETS MOST WANTED

39. Interrogation Song – (Muppets Most Wanted, 2014) This one has so much personality and a lot of clever lyrics and Ty Burrell gives his all as the Interpol agent, but I was still trying to get over the new Sam the eagle voice and this song, while funny, felt to be the most kidsy Muppet song ever. A little too soapy and kidsy for me, I guess. [Bret McKenzie]

Rat_scat

38. Rat Scat (Something’s Cookin’) – (The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984) This song introduces Rizzo the rat and company, but it’s more of an amusing spectacle than a great song. [written by Jeff Moss]

boomshakalaka

37. Boom Shakalaka – (Muppet Treasure Island, 1996)  It builds a lot of tension and suspense for the big comedy reveal of Miss Piggy being an island goddess who then takes an awkward fall down a flight of stairs, but there’s not a whole lot to it lyrically. [Hans Zimmer and Nick Glennie-Smith]

When_love_is_found

36. When Love is Found – (The Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992)  This song reprises “When Love is Gone”, but with an obvious shift to a more joyful tone. It’s a good payoff at the end, but this reprise does not outclass the original somber theme sung my the crestfallen Belle. [Paul Williams]

When_love_is_gone

35. When Love is Gone – (The Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992) I know. Everyone hates this one. The thing is, it’s not a bad song. It’s serious, yes, but appropriately compelling. Sung mournfully by Scrooge’s lost love by a woman who had the thankless task of being completely serious in a movie with wacky felt animals and monsters. [Paul Williams]

Officially Muppets:

Walter-Man

34. Man or Muppet – (The Muppets, 2011) So this won the Academy Award for best song. Jason Segel and Walter explore their identity crises and it all comes to a satisfyingly silly conclusion. It’s funny and Muppet-y, but I submit this is not yet the best song from The Muppets. [Bret McKenzie]

cabin fever

33. Cabin Fever – (Muppet Treasure Island, 1996) The crew gets a little stir crazy and it’s the perfect timing for a wacky song. It happens at a lull and it operates purely as filler, but it’s welcome filler. The line, “And now that we’re all here, we’re not all there,” is perfect Muppet lyrical lunacy. [Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil]

together again

32. Together Again – (The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984 and Muppets Most Wanted, 2014) It’s buoyant and one of the more iconic Muppet songs. It’s a pleasant and small Kermit-led charmer. [Jeff Moss]

Sayinggoodbye

31. Saying Goodbye – (The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984) It’s a touching farewell that sees many beloved characters going their separate ways. It’s a surprisingly human moment from the Muppets. [Jeff Moss]

MUPPETS MOST WANTED

30. We’re Doing a Sequel – (Muppets Most Wanted, 2014) This is Most Wanted‘s version of “Hey a Movie!” from Muppet Caper. It even has villain Ricky Gervais popping in, echoing Charles Grodin’s appearance in the Caper opening. It’s cute and has some nice pop culture references, but “Hey a Movie!” is tough to beat. [Bret McKenzie]

Night_life

29. Night Life – (The Great Muppet Caper, 1981) This is an unapologetically abrasive Electric Mayhem song whose loud beats are matched and timed with the backfiring of their ramshackle, multicolored tour bus. The joke is that this is why they don’t get many gigs, but I actually like this willfully obnoxious jam. [Joe Raposo]

Hispaniola_Figurehead

28. Sailing for Adventure – (Muppet Treasure Island, 1996) It’s funny and has a solid tune with some classic comedy lyrics (“People die by falling overboard!”). It lags a bit when Hawkins and Long John Silver sing, but overall it’s a song full of the anticipation of a high seas adventure. [Barry Mann]

Higher and Higher:

Scrooge3

27.  Thankful Heart – (The Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992) This was the bouncy finale song Scrooge earned. It fills the screen with all the characters he was a dick to throughout the film and suddenly all is right with the world. It always puts a smile on my face. [Paul Williams]

Blessusall

26. Bless Us All – (The Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992) Another one most people probably forget, but it’s one of the sweetest and most tender songs the Muppets ever did. Framed as a prayer around the Cratchit family table, little Robin leads and even Miss Piggy appears genuine in this quiet moment of tearful thankfulness. Fully aware they are all on the edge of tragedy, the family takes stock of what they do have—even if it all only be temporary. [Paul Williams]

Scat

25. Christmas Scat – (The Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992) This is about the only time there has ever been a genuine connection apparent between Kermit and Robin. Nobody ever likes Robin, but this short, upbeat scene shows a beautiful affection that had never been previously shown. [Paul Williams]

MMWtrailerNov20-0082

24. The Big House – (Muppets Most Wanted, 2014) Prison jokes set to music featuring Tina Fey with Jemaine Clement, Ray Liotta, Danny Trejo, and a solitary confinement-bound Josh Groban singing backup. It introduces Kermit to the gulag. It’s so enjoyable I can even get over rhyming getaway with get away. [Bret McKenzie]

Marley_and_marley

23. Marley and Marley – (The Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992) This might be the weirdest Muppet song ever. Longtime peanut gallery hecklers, Statler and Waldorf, become actual characters in the Dickens classic as Jacob and Robert (Bob?) Marley. It’s mostly dark and dour, a terrifying warning about the consequences of greed and selfishness, yet it takes breaks for a couple offbeat “doh-ho-ho” jokes. The suitcases sing backup as Scrooge is wrapped in ghostly chains. [Paul Williams]

GMC-UnderwaterBubbles

22. Miss Piggy’s Fantasy – (The Great Muppet Caper, 1981) This number is purposely over-the-top and it is hilarious. Pretty much anytime Miss Piggy has a number, it’s going into her absurdly treacly imagination. Synchronized swimming ballet reminiscent of Busby Berkeley and Charles Grodin lip synching in a truly hilarious manner make this a great one. It’s trying to outdo the previous film’s “Never Before, Never Again” and maybe it comes close, but not close enough. [Joe Raposo]

Feelslikechristmas

21. It Feels Like Christmas – (The Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992) The jovial Ghost of Christmas Present sings this very cheery introduction to the joy of Christmas morning. We see so many characters spreading good cheer and love that it really is quite infectious. [Paul Williams]

Steppin_Out

20.  Steppin’ Out With a Star – (The Great Muppet Caper, 1981) This is a really nice sequence showing Kermit getting ready for his big date with who he thinks is Lady Holiday. It has all the excitement of getting ready to go out on a first date. Fozzie and Gonzo also join in the fun. The puppetry was always impressive in this sequence as well. [Joe Raposo]

Even More Fun:

mmw

19. I’ll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu) – (Muppets Most Wanted, 2014) This is the most Flight of the Conchords song Bret McKenzie ever snuck into a Muppet movie. It’s a very funny and kinda sexy sequence where Constantine dials up the faux-charm and promises Miss Piggy all the romantic things in the world—including armadillos. [Bret McKenzie]

Propirate

18. Professional Pirate – (Muppet Treasure Island, 1996) This is a high stakes song about moral ambiguity and it’s funny as hell. Tim Curry leads the pirate chorus as they try to lure Jim Hawkins to their side and betray Captain Smollet. A regular sea shanty, but with some Muppet spice. [Barry Mann]

Canyoupicturethat

17. Can You Picture That? – (The Muppet Movie, 1979) This is probably the best Electric Mayhem song. They rock out in an old church as they disguise Fozzie’s Studebaker. It’s a lot of fun and ends on a nice joke when Kermit and Fozzie finally see their psychedelic work. Fozzie: “I don’t know how to thank you guys.” Kermit: “I don’t know why to thank you guys.” [Kenny Ascher and Paul Williams]

Neverbefore

16. Never Before, Never Again – (The Muppet Movie, 1979) Miss Piggy’s imagination certainly is a wild place. She first lays eyes on Kermit the frog at a fair and immediately goes into a hilarious dream montage borrowing cues from every romantic cliche off a pulp romance novel cover. This might be the funniest Piggy song. Highlights include her pretty much amorously forcing herself on the all-too-gallant amphibian in a field and her final note that turns into an abrasive scream. [Kenny Ascher and Paul Williams]

Piggy_and_Kermit

15. The First Time it Happens – (The Great Muppet Caper, 1981) It’s a peaceful waltz where Kermit and Miss Piggy fall in love and we are completely in their heads. This is one of the few times in Muppet history where the pig and the frog are on the same page romantically…maybe because nothing is spoken. [Joe Raposo]

happy song

14. Life’s a Happy Song – (The Muppets, 2011) Jason Segel and Walter sing this joyous and silly intro to the film. It sets a safe and light tempo that borders on self-parody. After this song you accept the soft, sweet cheesiness of the rules for this new Muppet world. McKenzie’s songs always felt more intimate and cute compared to the bigger sounds of some of the previous films’ scores. This is a nice introduction to that change. [Bret McKenzie]

Powerful Stuff:

always love you

13. I’m Gonna Always Love You – (The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984) This is another moment that’s all Piggy. Once again her imagination runs wild and we get the first appearance of the Muppet Babies as she fantasizes about what it would have been like had she met Kermit when they were all babies. It’s a catchy and stupidly cute little tune. [Jeff Moss]

Love_led_us_here

 

12. Love Led Us Here – (Muppet Treasure Island, 1996) This might be the most powerful moment between Kermit and Piggy. As Capt. Smollet and Benjamina, they dangle upside-down off a cliff as a candle burns through the rope. Realizing the end is near they stop fighting and embrace their fate as they profess their love and pontificate on how destiny has led them to what seems like disaster, but maybe it has brought them closer. It’s weirdly emotional. [Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil]

IslandHeads

11. Shiver My Timbers – (Muppet Treasure Island, 1996) Following a fantastic instrumental prologue and a salty Billy Connolly narration, we are plunged into a densely atmospheric pirate adventure with weird Muppet critters singing an ominous warning while cutthroat buccaneers bury their treasure. It’s got an intense build and it’s one of the few Muppet songs that actually feels dangerous. And the tikis. My god, the tikis. “One more time now.” [Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil]

greatmuppetcaper-01

10. Hey a Movie! – (The Great Muppet Caper, 1981) This might be the fourth wall breaking-est song the Muppets ever did. They pretty much give away the whole story and set the tone for the rules of their movie world. This was the first time the Muppets were not about being a variety show and were just straight up diving into genre storytelling, but they retained their sense of anarchy throughout and this song showcases that perfectly. [Joe Raposo]

1moresleep

9. One More Sleep ’til Christmas – (The Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992) This song is so soft and happy it’s hard not to love. It really does feel like a special night as Kermit and the rat bookkeepers tidy up and walk home, taking a moment to even join some skating penguins. “There’s no such thing as strangers when the stranger says ‘hello.'” [Paul Williams]

ForkinRoad

8. Movin’ Right Along – (The Muppet Movie, 1979) This was the charming, pun-filled road song that became the pulse of the whole film. Fozzie and Kermit are so full of hope for their new lives. You really buy their camaraderie. [Kenny Ascher and Paul Williams]

The Final Countdown:

pictures

7. Pictures in My Head – (The Muppets, 2011) This was my favorite song from The Muppets. In it, Kermit quietly reflects on his past regrets and his fading memories of his distant friends. We’d never seen Kermit this wistful and defeated before. It was strange and sad and then sculpted itself into something hopeful and magical as all the pictures came to life and sang to Kermit before retreating back into its own pessimism. Wonderfully crafted and kinda moving. [Jeannie Lurie, Aris Archontis, and Chen Neeman]

MCC-Screengrabs-George-a

6. Scrooge – (The Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992) What a great intro to a movie and a character. This was the first Muppet movie to try to be a reinterpretation of a classic bit o’ literature and they had to set the stage right and explain the tone and geometry of this world quickly. They did a great job and give many obscure characters a chance to shine as the camera movesd to every Muppet-filled nook and cranny of this Victorian street. It explains who Ebenezer Scrooge is with both levity and brevity. Alongside passages taken verbatim from Dickens we also get more Muppet-y lines like “Even the vegetables don’t like him.” Genius. [Paul Williams]

GMC-MuppetsOnBikes

5. Couldn’t We Ride? – (The Great Muppet Caper, 1981) Following a quarrel between Piggy and Kermit, this sublime song is pure elation. It’s Caper‘s version of “Rainbow Connection”. All the Muppets are riding bicycles without a care in the world. It was an impressive feat of puppetry as well. What starts as a quiet moment between a frog and a pig becomes a universal feeling of good feelings and serenity. [Joe Raposo]

MMW-SomethingSoRight

4. Something So Right – (Muppets Most Wanted, 2014) This is an epic moment that follows Miss Piggy’s emotional uncertainty following an uncharacteristic proposal from a frog who she thinks is Kermit. It’s a solid song with emotional depth and cashes in on the precedented joke that Piggy is a Celine Dion fan. Celine does indeed join in for a nice cameo, as does Dr. Teeth, Floyd Pepper, Scooter, Rowlf, Pepe the prawn, and even the rarely used Lew Zealand and Link Hogthrob (Beaker steals the scene with six well-placed “mee’s”). Piggy has another fantasy about her life with Kermit—having freak babies and growing old together. It’s a wonderfully executed song and features the most random assortment of side characters. It’s Most Wanted‘s “Pictures in My Head” moment and I daresay, it surpasses it. [Bret McKenzie]

Rainbow_connection_1

3. Rainbow Connection – (The Muppet Movie, 1979, The Muppets, 2011) What? The Muppet anthem classic isn’t number one? Blasphemy! Outrage! Well, it’s just my opinion. This really is one of the sweetest songs ever and it’s easy to see its universal appeal. Rather than go after jokes and gags, Kermit simply sings from the heart, putting words together for no other reason than they sound pretty and full of hope. The perfect introduction to the optimistic world of the Muppets [Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher]

SomethingBetter

2. I Hope That Somethin’ Better Comes Along – (The Muppet Movie, 1979) This is a quiet moment of male bonding between Kermit the frog and Rowlf the dog (both voiced by Jim Henson). They sing a duet lamenting their failed love lives. It’s simple, playful, real, and even finds time for a few welcome jokes. It’s like a scene from Casablanca and at the end we feel closer to both of them. [Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher]

Happiness_Hotel_Song

1. Happiness Hotel – (The Great Muppet Caper, 1981) “Happiness Hotel” is an apologetic welcome to a shabby, hole-in-the-wall inn when Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo get to England. It’s sung in a bouncy, rinky-dink sort of way by the entire Muppet peanut gallery. It’s loaded with gags, puns, clever dialogue, and rhymes. What makes it great is it has that mock-apology sensibility that The Muppet Show always had. The whole idea of The Muppet Show was that a motley band of misfits and oddballs were trying to put on a variety show every week with Kermit and others usually trying to cover up backstage mishaps or onstage shenanigans while Statler and Waldorf heckled in the sidelines. The show was supposed to be about a flawed revue act that the characters were always apologizing for but, just like this song, the pretend problems are what made it great and funny. This song feels like a loving and energetic tribute to the original spirit of the old show. And it ends on a stinger where long-suffering straight man, Sam the eagle, opens his door, scans the room tacitly, and then finally mutters, “You are all weirdos.” Classic. [written by Joe Raposo]

Originally published for net.sideBar March 30, 2015.

http://www.netsidebar.com/the-definitive-subjective-ranking-of-the-best-theatrical-muppet-songs/

The Last Few Movies I Saw: Episode X – So we meet again.

Once again I give you a list of the last few movies I watched ordered by my increasing opinion of them. Ones that didn’t impress me so much are at the top and further down you scroll the more I loved them. Weirdly, for this time, even the movies I didn’t really like I still found interesting. Basically, there’s nothing on this list I wouldn’t recommend. I’m not sorry any of these movies were made.

Meh/Misguided:

zerotheorem

“The Church of Batman the Redeemer needs you.”

Those who know me know I love me some Terry Gilliam (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), but since the dawn of the aughts I haven’t been wild about any of his cinematic fever dreams. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was the most interesting recent outing of his, but even that felt troubled and jerky. Christoph Waltz stars in the low-budget sci-fi, The Zero Theorem (2013). There are a lot of ideas going on and most of them are good ideas; the meaning of life, the loneliness of existence, the persistent search for understanding, the desperate desire for connection and control, the alienation of a technological society, etc. Some of the imagery and background gags were enjoyable too. Gilliam’s got some tricks up his sleeve, but why does this film feel like an unfinished student play at times? A lot of it feels stagey and the comedy feels a little out of place. I like some of the surreal turns, but I sort of wish this was a darker movie with less awkward comedy and less bright colors. I wanted to feel the heaviness and emptiness that I believe it was trying to convey. I’d call this movie “leftovers from Twelve Monkeys and Brazil”, but those would have had more balls and personality.

snowpiercer

Movie to movie you can never tell how elfen and pretty she will be or how grotesque and haglike she will be. I sort of love Tilda Swinton.

Snowpiercer, aka Seolgungnyeolcha (2013) seems to have gotten a lot of high praise from critics and I’m somewhat baffled as to why. It is a vaguely smarter dumb action movie than the average dumb action movie. It’s quirky humor/bloody violence combo rings profoundly of either tone deafness or an awkward cultural translation. Korean filmmaker, Joon-ho Bong (The Host), is no slouch behind the camera, but the mostly non-Korean cast seems lost or weirdly out of place. Tilda Swinton is fun as a sniveling, Coke bottle-eyed cartoon character villainess, but ultimately the film’s stifling depression and dourness outweighs its more fun and imaginative strokes. The satire feels stale and obtusely obvious and the dialogue probably could have withstood a few more once-overs. Maybe if it had been a wholly Korean movie with a more consistent tone it would have been great. Who knows?  It needed more Kang-ho Song. Less Chris Evans.

noah

And two black swans?

Darren Aronofsky (The Fountain) has not directed a movie yet that is not worth seeing. That said, Noah (2014) ranks rather low on my Aronofsky totem pole. It’s a far more consistently joyless experience than Snowpiercer, but I suppose that’s to be expected in a story about God killing everyone. The mythic quality is what worked best about it. I guess I just wanted less mopey-ness in a biblical epic. Aronofsky’s take on the Nephilim—turning them into creaking rock monsters—was interesting but, dare I say it, abrupt and overused. The last act had me yawning and checking my watch. This is a movie with a lot of interesting ideas and is artfully made and it actually feels closer to a biblical legend than anything I’ve seen before (yes, including The Ten Commandments), but it just wasn’t my cup of tea and maybe I can’t exactly put my finger on exactly why. Did it want to retell a famous religious epic? Did it want be a character study of a man’s quest to please his maker? Did it just want to get an environmentalist message out there? Perhaps all in one? I wish this movie was as fun for me to watch and dissect as was the absurd religious controversy surrounding it. Chalk it up to my artless personal taste, but watch it anyway.

Let there be fun:

anchorman2

“The skeleton ran out of shampoo in the shower…the human torch was denied a bank loan.”

If you liked Anchorman, then you’ll probably enjoy Anchorman 2 (2013). It’s more of the same and still pretty funny. While the zany spark of madness that was “What is this movie?!” in Anchorman is gone, this sequel manages one or two worthy qualities. Kristen Wiig is hilarious as Brick Tamland’s equally infantile love interest and the plot surrounding the sensationalization of 24 hour news is on point with the real travesty of the state of modern media. It may not be as fresh, sharp, and guffaw-inducing, but you get what you pay for.

guardians_of_the_galaxy

“Remember that episode of “Little House on the Prairie” where Laura gets a pet raccoon and then it gets rabies and then Michael Landon has to kill it and they all cry and then it turns out that it was a different raccoon that had rabies and then the pet raccoon comes back and they all cry again? That episode friggin’ kills me.” *click-click*

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) was fast, exciting, fun, and not nearly as clever as it thinks it is. Was it one of the best Marvel movies to come around? Yes, but I haven’t exactly been a huge fan of the Marvel superhero movies. Not being familiar with the comics, however, this was an enjoyable and consistently entertaining space adventure with some welcome humor (and there could have been more…let’s see if this baby gets the Hellboy 2 treatment in the sequel), some likable characters (big surprise that Drax was more than a bloodthirsty oaf—he turned out to be very interesting), and a healthy dose of classic rock surging through its central nervous system. I liked it. I’m glad it was so successful. I hope director James Gunn is allowed to take even more risks in the sequel.

lego

I wonder if they got any corporate sponsorship.

Chris Pratt was in another fun movie this year: The Lego Movie (2014). It’s colorful and clever. More colorful and clever than I was expecting. There were some genuinely smart and innovative gags and the story was fun and functional oo. Who knew a move based on a child’s building toy would have had so much life?

“Seriouser and seriouser,” said the White Rabbit:

mostwantedman

“But vhy are ve all schpeaking English?”

One of the last films to feature Philip Seymour Hoffman is a spy thriller about German counter-terrorism based on a novel by John le Carré called A Most Wanted Man (2014). It is a pensive, decidedly un-glamorous story of the war on terror as seen through the eyes of Intelligence operatives. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy had more stylishness, but this is a welcome gritty edition to a genre that seems to have few admirers these days. When a Chechen refugee comes to Hamburg he has the eyes of several spy factions watching him. The central pull of the subdued drama deals with the emotions on the personal level of espionage and the backstabbing and calculated, sting-like setups. Director Anton Corbijn trusts the story, his talented cast, and grounded realistic approach to pull us in. Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright, Rachel McAdams, and the rest of the cast are good as well.

calvary

“It’s shite, m’boy.”

Martin McDonagh and John Michael McDonagh have allowed us to see Brendan Gleeson in some of his finest performances. They’ve also apparently made some sort of deal where they get to kill him a lot in their movies too. J. M. McDonagh’s Calvary (2014) is an enjoyable character study. Gleeson is a country priest in a small Irish village where everybody knows each other. The first scene has a hidden man behind the confessional tell the priest that he will kill him the following Sunday. The priest knows who it is, but doesn’t tell anyone. Instead we get a week long of soul-searching. There are many memorable scenes of poetic simplicity. Just watching these folks interact with each other would be entertaining enough, but the added suspense of the fatal secret the protagonist carries adds much tension and weight to this thoughtful, beautifully shot film.

Dawn of the Docs:

audienceof1

And God said let there be more crappy movies made in his name!

Extracting twisted pleasures from observing the destructive delusions and inevitable failures of others is why the Germans invented the word schadenfreude. An Audience of One (2007) is a documentary that follows the big Hollywood dreams of a strange pastor (only recently introduced to the movies) who pools his congregation’s money to make a Christian-themed Star Wars space adventure. Between the amateur casting, the lack of production coordination, the costly trips to Italy, and the electricity being cut from not paying their bills and illegally staying in the studios, this man’s poor obsessed vision is a woeful trainwreck of biblical proportions. By the end of the film you get the impression that Pastor Richard Gazowsky is insane and running his church’s money (and congregations faith and patience) into the ground. Thank god they got it all on film.

bigriverman

“You’re cute, but where is there a giant glass boot full of beer?”

Borut Strel aids his father, Martin Strel, an internationally championed distance swimmer from Slovenia, in this documentary by John Maringouin, Big River Man (2009). Strel is overweight, borderline alcoholic, and he has swum the Danube, the Mississippi, as well as the Yangtze, and, at age of 53, he set his sights on the Amazon. The film introduces our peculiar protagonist and then follows him on his preparations and eventual arduous tackling of the Brazilian behemoth. All 5,268 kilometers of it. We watch as the river takes its toll on him and his psychotic American navigator descends into madness and the doctors tell him to stop and his son looks on and watches. It’s like Herzog and Colonel Kurtz rolled into one (if that isn’t redundant). Strel’s stubbornness and charisma are ultimately what steer this film and they are mighty rudders indeed.

dune

“If you’ve seen any of my movies then you’ve probably seen either me or random members of my immediate family completely naked and having sex with amputees.”

Three documentaries in a row?! Deal with it. As a film nerd, I have long been obsessed with the film that never was; Alejandro Jodorowsky (The Holy Mountain) had planned to adapt Frank Herbert’s Dune and he planned to use the talents of H.R. Giger, Pink Floyd, Jean Giraud, Dan O’Bannon, David Carradine, Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson, Mick Jagger, Salvador Dalí, and more. Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013), directed by Frank Pavich, chronicles the obscure Chilean artist’s doomed project. Jodorowsky is one of the pioneers of the midnight/cult movie and one of the most personal and bafflingly bizarre filmmakers of all time. Watching him retell the tale of how his most ambitious project went kaput is both dazzling and heart-breaking. If this charming documentary is the closest we will ever get to seeing Jodorowsky’s vision of Dune then so be it.

A wonderful place:

longgoodbye

The 1970s: when being an aimless, schlubby, unkempt, smartass slob meant you could be a movie star.

Robert Altman (M*A*S*H) is responsible for some of the great American movies and his contemporary retelling of Raymond Chandler’s mystery, The Long Good Bye (1973), is definitely worth a look. It’s a small movie with seemingly little frills. Set in 70s LA, Elliott Gould stars as detective Philip Marlowe, but honestly the mystery hardly matters. Great mystery stories, for me anyway, are more about the detective character and the atmosphere. Altman’s film has both atmosphere and character so little else matters. The dialogue crackles and the scenes unfold unpredictably.

judex

…it’s French. Wearing a tuxedo and a rooster mask while holding a dead pigeon is like saying “hello” for them.

Georges Franju (The Blood of Beasts) directs this enchanting pulp mystery and homage to early 1900s Louis Feuillade serials, Judex (1963). A mysterious cloaked figure threatens the life of a corrupt banker and our story begins. The sumptuous photography and healthy smatterings of surreal delirium create a charming atmosphere full of intrigue, poisons, capes, disguises, blackmail, stage coaches, bird masks, magic, and murder. It’s pulpy fun with enough twists and turns to keep things going, but the look of the film is really what sold me. I’ve never seen Feuillade’s Judex from 1916, but having seen his entire Fantômas series I’d say this seems like a worthy tribute.

congress

It’s like if “Cool World” was good and had a really good story and it was just good. Y’know?

Waltz with Bashir director, Ari Folman weaves a refreshingly weird tapestry of impeccable animation, surreal plot devices, and societal allegory with The Congress (2013). Robin Wright stars as herself. She’s an industry star who made it big with a few early hits, but has since become difficult, torn between work and personal life, and acting less and less (although she’s also in A Most Wanted Man). Her agent (Harvey Keitel) pushes her to sign a new contract that will give her entire identity to Miramount Studios. They scan her whole body and own her emotions, figure, expressions, voice, etc. and can keep her forever young to sell movies, products, whatever. Years into the future she will travel back to the studio to see what they’ve done to her soul. In a drug-induced cartoon hallucination we see the future: humans will eat and drink their favorite personalities in order to don their artifice…but it will all be a fictitious delusion, a sinister, apathetic distraction. This is easily the most intriguing and innovative film on this list and while it’s not my number one today, I can’t recommend this fever dream enough.

The bell chimes midnight:

snowblood

“Don’t ever call me…doll.” Because the world needs more Space Jam references.

So yeah, apparently Tarantino did borrow copiously from Toshiya Fujita’s bloody revenge thriller, Lady Snowblood (1973). Meiko Kaji stars as the baby conceived and born for the sole purpose of avenging the rape of her mother and the murder of her mother’s husband and son. Broken up into chapters with such epic titles as “Crying Bamboo Dolls of the Netherworld”, this blood-soaked journey into unrepentant slashings is full of fantastic scenes of violence and murder. It’s pulpy, but beautifully shot and the main heroine proves a formidable force. If you liked the Lone Wolf and Cub series or the Kill Bills then watch this beast. I love the ending too.

priscilla

Memento guy, Agent Smith, and the original General Zod together at last.

Stephen Elliott’s road comedy about two drag queens (Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce) and an aging transexual (Terence Stamp) leaving Sydney to cross the outback for a mysterious drag show is fabulous entertainment. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) has become a bit of a cult classic and it’s actually a lot of fun. Stamp absolutely steals the show as the Eeyore-esque Bernadette and the surreality of gaudy, bawdy cross-dressing colors shimmering in the Australian desert is great to look at. While episodic and some of its plot elements feel somewhat contrived, the movie is grounded in its characters and the real problems of prejudice they sometimes face. It’s funny, exciting, and it packs some emotional punch as well.

killingfields

At least it gave Spaulding Gray something to talk about.

The Mission director, Roland Joffe, took on Khmer Rouge and foreign spillover into Cambodia from the Vietnam War as the subject of this next movie, The Killing Fields (1984). Sam Waterston and Haring S. Ngor star as journalists, Sydney Schanberg and Dith Pran. This is a truly harrowing story of survival—think All the President’s Men meets Hotel Rwanda. When the embassies evacuate and all foreign citizens are forced to leave, Dith Pran is left on his own and must withstand hellish ordeals including both physical torture and violence and psychological manipulation. This is one of those historical footnotes that gets glossed over in American textbooks and it is an important lesson. We should be confronted with these images and humanize the victims. The Killing Fields comes strongly recommended.

tampopo

Yes. “Ramen” means “noodles.” When you say “ramen noodles”, you are really just saying “noodles noodles.” Stop it.

Yeah, I sandwiched the heavy political survivalist drama between two quirky, funny movies. What of it? My favorite film of late was Tampopo (1986). Like Bad Boy Bubby, I had been meaning to see this for awhile now and what a treat it turned out to be! Directed by Juzo Itami (A Taxing Woman), this adorably weird celebration of Japanese noodles was a breath of fresh air at the end of a hard day. A tough as nails truck driver and ramen enthusiast (Tsutomu Yamazaki) rides into town (along with his sidekick played by Ken Watanabe) on a stormy night. One fistfight at a noodle shop brings him into the life of demure shop owner, Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto). The trucker agrees to help Tampopo make the best noodles in town and together they enlist the help of old masters and experts to get every detail absolutely perfect. Apart from the main storyline, there are several non sequitur subplots involving various characters and their humorous interactions with food. There’s a spaghetti-eating instructor, a gangster and his lover who love to incorporate edible elements into their intimate activities, a man returning from the dentist, and more. Most of these side-stories do little more than remind us that food is loved and experienced by all of us. Tampopo is a sumptuous medley of tasty bites to nosh and ponder.

The Disney Sidekick Countdown

Forget which movies were the best, which sidekicks were the best?

This list is limited to Disney cel-animated films from 1937 to 2009. I have not seen all of Home On the Range, A Goofy Movie, or Treasure Planet. Sorry. I’m also skipping shorter and more fractured/anthology films like Saludos Amigos, Fantasia, and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. Sorry again.

Also…spoilers.

gurgi

37. Gurgi from The Black Cauldron (1985). Gurgi is the Jar Jar Binks of Disney sidekicks. I was actually happy when he died at the end…but then he comes back to life so scratch that. There are other forgettable sidekicks: a clairvoyant pig, Hen Wen; an old bard, Fflewddur Fflam; some bosom-y witches; a goblin bad guy sidekick (evil Gurgi, I call him): and a grouchy fairy named Doli. . Doli is the most interesting character, but his negativity is almost too much for this already depressing adventure and he literally just disappears after awhile.

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36. Genie from Duckt Tales: The Movie – Treasure of the Lost Lamp (1990). Russ Taylor’s is the most obnoxious voice ever to come out of a magic lamp. The only reason it’s not worse than Gurgi is because I kind of like Merlock’s sidekick, Dijon (voiced by Richard Libertini).

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35. Terk and Tantor from Tarzan (1999). They all but completely ruin what could have been an actually very good adapation of the Burroughs novel. Rosie O’Donnell’s abrasive Brooklyn brogue does not belong to a gorilla in the African jungle and Wayne Knight’s nervous elephant hypochondriac is an odd character choice. The film is actually smart and mature and humorous enough on its own. They’re not worse than Gurgi (who only added to an already disappointing film) because they have one song that is pretty good.

 

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34. Jaq and Gusgus from Cinderella (1950). These guys and all the mice are pretty annoying and make Cinderella look more like a paranoid schizophrenic. Why are the mice in this universe the only animals that wear clothes? I do like the King and the Duke a lot though—their scenes are priceless.

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33. Dinky and Boomer from The Fox and the Hound (1981). Perhaps one of the more forgettable entries, this tale of unnatuaral friendships features a shabby comic relief duo: a high strung sparrow and a dopey woodpecker. Again, the owl (Big Mama) wasn’t bad.

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32. Ignacio Alonzo Julio Federico de Tito (and company) from Oliver & Company (1988). Billy Joel songs aside, there’s not much point or reason to watch this pet version of “Oliver Twist.” Tito (voiced by Cheech Marin) is the most memorable in the long list of doggy sidekicks, but they’re all too broad and largely forgettable.

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31. Little John and Hiss in Robin Hood (1973). Recycled Jungle Book animation aside, the villain is too stupid to be menacing and the heroes aren’t particularly engaging. Little John (Phil Harris) is sort of a boring counterpart to Robin Hood. Hiss (Terry-Thomas) is an occasionally interesting sycophant to the wicked Prince John—largely because he’s smarter than the Prince. The rooster narrator, for me, is the best character.

thumper

30. Thumper from Bambi (1942). He’s not cute. He’s nauseating. He’s got one or two cute lines, I’ll give him that. And after puberty he’s kinda creepy and even less appealing. Flower, the gender confused skunk, is even worse. “Twitterpainted” is code for forest orgy. The owl wasn’t bad.

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29. Phil from Hercules (1997). The movie is a pop-culture onslaught set against a classic Greek myth backdrop so maybe I shouldn’t be mad that Danny DeVito is the Yoda-like satyr that trains Hercules. The problem is his voice is too recognizable and he’s even drawn to resemble Danny. It becomes more than a little distracting. Sorry, Danny, I love ya, but James Woods as Hades is the star of this flick. And Pegasus is a superior sidekick. Yeah, and Pain and Panic are kind of obnoxious too.

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28. Major Dr. David Q. Dawson from The Great Mouse Detective (1986). I don’t dislike this movie or the characters. In fact, there’s a lot of really cool things in it, but it suffers from the old Sherlock Holmes adaptation quirk of making Watson into a clumsy simpleton. Dawson’s not bad, just nothing special. Fidget, the crippled bat henchman of Ratigan is annoying, but interesting in his own little way.

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27. Mr. Pleakly from Lilo & Stitch (2002). It’s weird. Almost all the characters are really interesting but Mr. Pleakly might be the weakest. Not that he’s a bad character. He’s a functional plot device: keep Russian-sounding evil scientist alien from causing a ruckus while apprehending 626. He’s got some funny business, but not the most memorable character in the bunch sadly. ds v h l

26. Victor, Hugo, and Laverne from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996). Like Terk and Tantor for Tarzan, the wise-cracking gargoyles almost ruin this movie. Hunchback is intelligent, complex, dramatic and also humorous by itself. The addition of Quasimodo’s ambiguous hallucinations is unnecessary (and Jason Alexander’s voice is, again, a tad distracting). They do have some good lines and one decent song. Not terrible, but they greatly diminish the power of this very well done Disney-fied adaptation of Victor Hugo.

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25. Georges Hautecourt and Uncle Waldo and Scat Cat from The AristoCats (1970). It’s not a great movie and there really are no consistent sidekicks, but there’s some fairly interesting side characters nevertheless. Georges (voiced by the ubiquitous Charles Lane) is a senile attorney, but he’s barely in the movie. Uncle Waldo is a drunk goose who just escaped a restaurant. He’s fun, but only gets one scene (and that’s really all he needs). Scat Cat (Scatman Crothers) is the only other sidekick worth mentioning (and there are others), largely because he leads the song “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat.” Sorry, Roquefort.

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24. MeekoFlit, and Percy from Pocahontis (1995). All silent, but all fun, funny, and engaging characters. A mischievous raccoon, a feisty hummingbird, and a prissy pug may not exactly fit into a true story about racism, genocide, and environmentalism, but I think they work because they don’t talk. If you already are past the rape of American history, some cute animals shouldn’t offend you.

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23. Archimedes in The Sword in the Stone (1963). Junius Matthews voices the grouchy owl sidekick to the wizard, Merlin. Something about the combination of how cranky but powerless and easily manipulated he is I find endearing. He does appear to have a sturdy sense of ethics, despite being ornery much of the time, which makes him more lovable.

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22. Rutt and Tuke from Brother Bear (2003). I don’t care about the movie, but c’mon! Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas doing their Bob & Doug McKenzie schtick again as cartoon Canadian moose decades after Strange Brew? That’s actually already funnier in concept than the actual Bob & Doug McKenzie.

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21. Ray from The Princess and the Frog (2009). Yes, more than the jazzy alligator. He’s dumb, but optimistic and I am actually deeply sad when he gets killed (that never happens in Disney! They wouldn’t even kill Gurgi right!). He’s a firefly who’s in love with a star and he’s devoted to his friends. The song he sings is also pretty sweet. I think Disney was finally thanking Jim Cummings for voicing thousands of bit parts over the years.

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20. The Dwarfs from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). There are seven of them and somehow they are all uniquely defined (if not all totally memorable). Dopey is an animated Harpo Marx and everyone remembers Grumpy for his sour-puss attitude, but he does have a heart when it matters. Sleepy’s my favorite.

ds vinny

18. Vincenzo “Vinny” Santorini from Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001). It’s a shame this movie wasn’t better. Cool steampunk gadgets and a multinational bunch of characters with big name voices and yet the only thing anyone remembers is Vinny. Don Novello puts his famous Father Guido Sarducci voice to good work as an Italian demolitions expert.

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17. Wilbur from The Rescuers Down Under (1990). We love Bernard and Bianca, but their mode of transportation is just as memorable. John Candy voices the painfully American albatross who finds himself in his own plot amidst the main action—trying to escape an army of adorable nurse mice and their menagerie of surgical torture devices.

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16.  Tinkerbell from Peter Pan (1953). Another silent sidekick, but Tinkerbell is different in that she doesn’t know her role in the story being told. She is feisty, jealous, petulant, and not afraid to negotiate with Captain Hook to get rid of Wendy. She makes mistakes but she tries to make them right. ds timothy

15. Timothy Q. Mouse from Dumbo (1941). I like Dumbo a lot. Timothy is a good example of how a good sidekick can help the main character—in this case, help the audience too, because the main character is mute. He’s imperfect himself, though he might never admit it, and applies his own confidence into helping his elephant friend.

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14. Evinrude from The Rescuers (1977). While this is kind of a weak movie—from the annoying girl to the revoltingly unappealing villains—it does have one or two decent things going for it. Evinrude is the oft-overlooked, longsuffering dragonfly who tries to help Bernard and Bianca (as long as he can survive being chased by killer bats or drinking the hillbilly moonshine). He’s silent, endearing and he knows his duty.

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13. Tigger from The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977). Paul Winchell voices Tigger: the bouncy, trouncy, infantile, hyperactive tiger of the Hundred Acre Wood. He’s fun and memorable and has a great introduction…which leads into one of the best songs (“Heffalumps and Woozles”).

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12. Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland (1951). He’s not exactly a sidekick and he’s not exactly consistently helpful. He’s more like a stoner buddy; laid back, happy, moving in almost slow-motion, in his own world, and willing to instigate disaster just to see what happens (with little regard for the consequences that might befall Alice). He’s the closest thing to a boon and a comfort anyone can find in this cock-eyed acid trip. He’s voiced by Sterling Holloway.

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11. Mushu and Cri-kee from Mulan (1998). Mulan has several sidekicks, but the most memorable were Eddie Murphy as the incompetent dragon guardian, Mushu, desperate to find glory for himself, but ends up really trying to help Mulan, and Cri-kee, the little lucky bug who comes along for the ride. The two complement each other well and add some profoundly western sensibilities to this Chinese epic.

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10. Kronk Pepikrankenitz from The Emperor’s New Groove (2000). So technically the bad guy’s sidekick, the hapless lug, Kronk (voiced by Patrick Warburton), is just too good not mention. He speaks squirrel, his shoulder angels and demons are as dumb as he is, and he is a navigational genius. He’s genuinely a nice guy, he just maybe got mixed up with the wrong people.

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9. Sargeant Tibs and The Colonel from 101 Dalmations (1961). I like sidekicks that are useful and get involved in the action. Sgt. Tibs is a very minor sidekick in a film crammed with well over 100 characters. He’s a dedicated British soldier cat and does his job with seriousness, despite the blustering of his less competant superior, an old English sheepdog named the Colonel. These guys are just doing their job…for England and dogdom. The Captain (the horse) is also pretty good. They function like a well oiled machine, each knowing their roles and rank.

ds timon pumbaa

8. Timon, Pumbaa, and the Hyenas from The Lion King (1994). Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) are a carefree gay couple who, unable to have children, decide to adopt Simba the lion. Right? The meerkat and warthog duo are nicely drawn and very funny as a team and get to kick some butt too. The hyena trio (Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, and Jim Cummings) are just as good, if not better, as Scar’s henchman. Without Ed, however, they are nothing.

ds sebastian

7. Sebastian from The Little Mermaid (1989). Flounder is boring and annoying. Sorry. Scuttle (Buddy Hackett) is annoying, but it’s on purpose and funny and he redeems himself at the end. Sebastian (Samuel E. Wright) is a good, level-headed crab who has to help Ariel fall in love with Eric, keep Scuttle and the others under control, be loyal to the King, and try to stay alive on land without losing his mind.

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6. Lumiere and Cogsworth from Beauty and the Beast (1991). These guys (voiced by Jerry Orbach and David Ogden Stiers) are trying to make the Beast and the castle more appealing to Belle so she can fall in love, lift the curse, and they can all be human again. Although they are part of a bigger narrative, and contribute to it greatly, it is their own little relationship that is more interesting. These two royal servants (?) have been together for a long time and, even as household appliances, still can’t always get along. Their friendship is real and fun and it’s enjoyable to see its ups and downs.

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5. Genie from Aladdin (1992). So yeah, there’s a mess of sidekicks in this one too. Abu is cute and fun, Iago is funny and abrasive, Raja is boring as sin, and carpet is tacit, loyal, and awesome, but Robin Williams as the Genie kind of steals the show.  Genie shows up late into the film but his manic energy soon takes control (in a good way). This movie sort of started the craze of wild pop culture references running anachronicistically amok in children’s entertainment. He’s bound by certain genie rules, but he still would like to make friends with whoever he meets. It’s pretty much what Robin Williams would have been like if he were magic.

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4. Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio (1940). He may seem stale and boring after some of the more contemporary entries, but he is sort of the archetype for all Disney sidekicks. Jiminy Cricket (Edward Cliff) is Pinocchio’s conscience…who keeps getting ignored. But like all good consciences, he never truly goes away and will follow Pinocchio anywhere. He’s loyal and dedicated even when it doesn’t serve his own best interests.

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3. Baloo and Bagheera from The Jungle Book (1967). Like Lumiere and Cogsworth, they work because they are at odds with one another. Baloo (Phil Harris) is almost the main character, but I still qualify him as Mowgli’s sidekick. He and Bagheera (Sebastian Cabot) make for another special family unit team in the spirit of Timon and Pumbaa…but with more marked distinctions between them. This version of The Jungle Book is really about different parenting styles, and every animal in the jungle has a different idea about what’s best for the man-cub, but it’s mostly the pragmatic panther arguing with the insouciant bear. Mowgli needed Baloo for adventure and personal growth, but Bagheera knows what the boy needs to survive and succeed in life. It has to be Baloo who risks it all to fight the tiger at the end because he has to face the music that he was reckless with Mowgli. That they can disagree so much, find the resolutions they do, and be best of friends by the end—because they really did want the same things all along—is a testament to their enduring roles as great sidekicks.

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2. Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather from Sleeping Beauty (1959). Voiced by Verna Felton, Barbara Jo Allen, and Barbara Luddy, these three good fairies are the bedrock of this movie. Princess Aurora is sort of simple, Prince Philip is slightly more interesting, but who is there really to root for against the wicked Maleficent? Three plump, bickering, middle-aged fairyfolk who give up their magic powers for 16 years to protect Aurora, that’s who. They each have strongly defined personalities, have funny and relatable dynamics between each other, and can kick butt when they need to…before quietly fading into the background to let the young lovers take the spotlight. Some say Prince Philip was the only Disney prince who ever did anything, but he wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without the fairies’ help. Merryweather is still one of my favorite characters.

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1. Jock and Trusty from Lady and the Tramp (1955). I feel like these guys get forgotten. A senile bloodhound who has lost his smell and repeats himself (Trusty, voiced by Bill Baucom) and an aging, overly cautious and possessive Scottish terrier (Jock, voiced by Bill Thompson) might be an unlikely spot for number one, but hear me out. They’re old, conservative, and rusty at their old tricks, but they love their neighbor, Lady, and when they at last realize they’ve misjudged the reckless Tramp they spring into action. When the Tramp is taken by the pound (undoubtedly to be euthanized), Trusty insists they stop have to stop the wagon. Both our heroes are separated and down for the count, it’s up to the bit players to fix everything—even at the cost of their own safety. Through mud and rain, Trusty battles to remember his long lost sense of smell. When Jock finally tries to discourage Trusty and says “We both know you’ve lost your sense of smell,” there’s a look they exchange that speaks years of subtext. When the courageous but feeble old dogs finally do stop the wagon and save the Tramp, and we see the toll their selflessness has taken on them, it is incredibly moving. These characters, despite having very little screen time, are just very well realized and compelling in their simplicity and have deeply satisfying character arcs.

Disagree? Come at me, bro.

disney.wikia.com

Originally published for The Alternative Chronicle on October 17th, 2013.

Best Movies of 2012

I have actually talked about a few pretty solid movies that came out this past year. While some highly anticipated movies may have failed to live up to their immense hype, fear not! for there was cinematic redemption in 2012. I think I shall bequeath to you, dear ones, my own personal Favorite Films of 2012. (I am so sorry I did not see any 2012 documentaries).

1.fly-with-the-crane 2

Rui Jun Li’s Fly With the Crane feels more like a National Geographic documentary, but it is in fact a fictional narrative. This movie throws you into rural China and makes you a fly on the wall to the events as they unfold. Retired coffin-maker Lao Ma (Xing Chun Ma) is an old man and his adult children treat him more and more like a bothersome piece of furniture. In addition the government is outlawing burials. How will Lao Ma’s soul fly with the crane if he is cremated and turned into smoke? It might be the most unglamorous movie and unromantic about death. This is a devastating, subtle, and unflinching film. I left the theater feeling uncomfortable at how disturbingly sad and real it all felt. Who was the hero? Did he win? What was won? Perhaps I rate this one highest because it left the biggest impact on me. Months later I’m still thinking about it.

2.once-upon-a-time-in-anatolia-2

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (technically made in 2011, but it’s receiving much recognition this year) was a beautiful and enigmatic Turkish police investigation movie. How many other films about boring law enforcement procedures could be this steeped in lush cinematography, subtle existentialism, and dense mustaches? It’s the sort of movie that only moves as much as it has to because it knows a keen observer will be immersed in the story. I was never certain where the plot was heading or what it what it would ultimately say in the end, but that detailed unpredictability made it interesting and every moment was pregnant with possibility. The film feels like real life, but better photographed. Color me captivated.

3.Holy-Motors-2

Possibly the most alienating movie on my list is Leos Carax’s Holy Motors. Actor Denis Lavant gets into a limousine and goes from place to place donning various inexplicable disguises and acting out even more freakish and varied scenarios. It is a grotesque, bizarre, surreal, episodic, and aimlessly unpredictable movie. It is definitely not for everyone. While I’m certain there are countless interpretations I can only share my own. The man is a performer (whether or not he is a literal actor or a symbolic everyman is up to you). He only knows how to change roles and perform, even if nobody is watching. So who is he really? Who are we? Who are we pretending to be and why and when will we stop? What would we do if we stopped? What would be left?

4.monsieur-lazhar-2

There is a surplus of awkwardly manipulative educator movies. That said, Monsieur Lazhar, Philippe Falardeau’s French-Canadian drama about an Algerian refugee (Mohamed Fellag)—with a concealed past—who becomes a teacher following an unexpected suicide, sidesteps many a cliche. The characters feel real and down to earth and their pain is not overblown for cinematic effect. Emotions are treated with realism and respect. It was refreshing. It’s a humorous and telling examination of the teacher-student relationship. I daresay it is the best teacher movie since Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939).

5.moonrise-kingdom-2

Love it or hate it. For all the gripes I might have with sylized filmmaker, Wes Anderson, I can honestly say I have enjoyed most of his movies. Moonrise Kingdom might be up there with Rushmore (1998) for me. If it is a smirk at immature romances or a critical prod at supposed mature ones or a humorous juxtaposition it doesn’t matter. It’s beautiful to look at with its creative imagery and very funny in its surreal deadpanned execution. That it achieves its greater intent is just the icing on the cake.

6.chicken with plums 2

From the same mind that penned Persepolis (2007) comes another tale of humor and angst in Iran. Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Chicken With Plums is crafted into an expertly visually entertaining film. Satrapi even aids with directing alongside Vincent Paronnaud. Mathieu Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) stars as a musician, father, and husband who simply decides to die. The results feel like Jean-Pierre Jeunet adapting Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich. It manages to find a comfortable tone betwixt whimsy and anguish. It’s an innovative film that finds clever ways to express some of its more surreal elements. It’s a little film in many ways but it’s everything it needs to be.

7.Beasts of the Southern Wild - 6

Beasts of the Southern Wild is not a perfect film, but it’s one of those instances where I admire it’s audacity and ambition so much that I forgive it many of its shortcomings. Pint-sized protagonist, Quvenzhané Wallis, gives a wonderfully captivating performance as Hushpuppy in this imaginative examination of Hurricane Katrina as a mythic fable. The music and cinematography really help this film to soar as well. This movie showed me things that I have just never seen in a movie before. Watch Benh Zeitlin’s film for a taste of what else film can be. Was it this year’s Tree of Life? I don’t know about that but it does utilize the medium in some innovative ways.

8.sleepwalk with me 2

I am a fan of comedian Mike Birbiglia so natuarlly I really enjoyed his directorial debut Sleepwalk With Me. It’s a solid indy comedy that manages to feel fresh and personal rather than merely quirky and offbeat. Birbiglia essentially plays a younger version of himself (alter-ego Matt Pandamiglio), a struggling comedian with a stress-related sleeping disorder and some serious concerns regarding his potential future with his girlfriend. It’s a simple and very relateable story. My only complaint is that the comedy album and one man show it is based on is a lot funnier. But translating a series of jokes into a humorous drama film is no easy trick either. Kudos, Mike.

9.skyfall 2

James Bond was back and more satisfying this year with Skyfall. This time we get a glimpse at 007’s destructibility and his inner demons. Director Sam Mendes brings us psychologically closer to the famous spy than ever before. It’s wonderfully shot, has great brainless action, and there are many nods to past elements that made the character such a staple. It actually feels closer to the more classic, grittier British espionage thrillers of the 60’s that weren’t James Bond.

10.In Another Country 2

In Another Country hit me at just the right time. Three French women (all played by Isabelle Huppert) have small relationship-based adventures at the same bed and breakfast. I saw this film just a few months after moving to South Korea. Sang-soo Hong’s character-driven nonlinear vignettes are strange, humorous, and fascinating. Like I said, I am somewhat biased as I really appreciate the clash of western culture against Korean culture. Many of the incidents in the movie were quite familiar to me.   Its a humble and intimate movie, but it’s definitely worth a look.

What the heck? One more.

11.pirogue 2

The Pirogue was another simple but human story. As a movie about desperation at sea in a tiny, vulnerable vessel I am sure it will be upstaged by Ang Lee’s Life of Pi adaptation. Moussa Touré’s Senegalese movie follows several men as they attempt a dangerous and illegal sojourn to Europe in the hopes of finding work and a better life. Their tragic fates are shared by many unfortunate real life immigrants. For a film that takes place entirely on a boat it never gets boring. There is always energy and tension. More than just a film for Europe and Africa, this is a film for Arizona too.

And one more extra. Because you are worth it.

12.comedy 2

This last one will definitely divide people. It is not a fun movie. The ironically titled The Comedy is to hipsters what Easy Rider (1969) was to hippies. Perhaps there is more romance and mythos to hippiedom, but that’s just the point. It’s the end of an era and if this newer era of hipsterdom appears vapid and less than enthralling then its conclusion can only be merciful this time around. Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!’s, Tim Heidecker stars (Eric Wareheim also makes an appearance) as a pathetic and revolting aging hipster whose thinning insulation of irony is steadily revealing that there is just not much too him. Strip away the aversion to sincerity these characters have and they are totally empty. It is an occasionally funny and frequently uncomfortable movie that questions just how far can the hipster’s ironic ideology go before it burns out.

Note: I have since seen Django Unchained and Seven Psychopaths. Had I seen them earlier my list probably would have looked a little different.

The Last Few Movies I Saw: Episode IV – A Jew Pope

Yeah. That title has nothing to do with anything.

Once again I list off the last few movies I saw. Once again they are ordered by what what I thought of them. Kindly interact if you feel I have misordered them.

Utter Rubbish:

Whatever happened to the man who gave us “Austin Powers”?

Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat (2003). It’s an unwatchable godawful tragedy. Thank God Seuss died before he could see this. It makes the Jim Carrey Grinch look like Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Meh and/or Misguided:

What do you mean we’re ‘laying it on pretty thick’?

The year was 1977. Immortal classics such as Star Wars and Annie Hall were in theaters. Also Ralph Bakshi made Wizards (1977). I confess I am far from a Bakshi fan although I do think he was talented and did make a few pretty solid movies (American PopThe Lord of the Rings, and Coonskin are pretty good), but all in all Bakshi’s roughness and idiosyncrasy do not always mesh for me. I know Wizards has something of a cult following, but for me this rather ham-fisted parable of love and magic versus war and weaponry just felt like a big sloppy mess. Most Bakshi films I don’t like I usually find something I admire in them and this one is no exception. I do give it credit for being a renegade hair-brained muddle. Nobody would ever make a movie like Bakshi’s movies.

Not the bees!

Phase IV (1974) is an oddball movie for a lot of reasons. Ants taking over the world had been done before (Them!) but never like this. It’s almost an art-house science fiction b-movie and it was directed by Saul Bass, the illustrious and industrious title designer for such films as North by NorthwestAround the World in 80 DaysPsychoSpartacusIt’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World and many more. Phase IV is the only feature he ever directed and for as hammy and silly as some of it might be you gotta give it some credit for going against the grain. The ants have a bizarre plan for humanity and the ending is actually weird enough to be chilling. Sports some interesting visuals and some very neat footage of ants. Michael Murphy (Manhattan) is in it too. Almost feels like it could be an unofficial sequel to Quatermass and the Pit.

Why are we even trying? With Burton’s name on this bad boy we’re guaranteed to make a bazillion dollars.

What ever happened to Tim Burton? He had some solid films in the beginning culminating with the perfect Ed Wood. While many of his more recent endeavors might be rather disappointing Frankenweenie (2012) almost isn’t. Like most Burton, it looks amazing. The sumptuous black-and-white photography, clever cinematography, beautiful animation, and wonderfully inspiring character designs are pitch perfect. The nods to such classic monster movies as The MummyNosferatuFrankenstein, The BirdsGremlins, and even Gamera are cute and whimsical (I especially liked the Gamera bit even if it was a little too obvious). I even liked the Boris Karloff lisp Martin Short (Three Amigos!) lent to Nassor. Catherine O’Hara (Waiting for Guffman) also is funny as the freaky girl. Surprisingly what I objected to was the very thing many critics lauded. I don’t think this film has much of an emotional center and what little it does is unwieldy and half-baked. I think it’s slightly better than the 1984 short it was based on, but it lacks reason. The movie moves like a freight train and despite the 3D technology the characters themselves fall totally flat (with the possible exception of Martin Landau’s all-too-obvious liberal professor). The movie pedals on in search of plot, but never lands on a fully developed one, but the puppets are pretty and watching them dance might almost be worth it. But I don’t know why I should care about these characters. Even the central idea of coping with loss is shattered in the finale, making the film even more hollow. Sad misfire. I thought this could have been the one. And I still don’t get the title. How does “weenie” fit in here?

Sir Galahad. The Chaste.

I like Michael Palin. Anything from Monty Python’s Flying Circus to A Fish Called Wanda to his travelogue documentary show. Naturally when I heard about The Missionary (1982), a film he wrote and starred in I had to see it. He plays an intelligent but naively puritanical turn-of-the-century British missionary who, upon returning from a stint in Africa, gets sent to evangelize to Britain’s harlot population. He wants to be married to his fiance and he wants to do his new job well, but when he winds up reluctantly losing his virginity (over and over and over again) to a slew of women just desperate for a nice, innocent, and compassionate man like himself things get sticky. It’s a recipe for comedy, but it’s not as funny as it should be. Palin plays the role fine and memorable Brits like Maggie Smith (Gosford Park), Trevor Howard (The Third Man), Michael Hordern (Watership Down), Denholm Elliott (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), and even David Suchet (Agatha Christie’s Poirot) get in the mix, but the execution never lives up to its clever premise. Ultimately the film ends up looking like its protagonist, quaint and affable but too flaccid to be memorable.

Donald Sutherland and Gene Wilder. 1789.

Start the Revolution Without Me (1970) is stupid, but it doesn’t care. It has moments of near Mel Brooksian zaniness but falls a little short. Gene Wilder (Young Frankenstein) and Donald Sutherland (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) are fun, if undercooked in this comedy of mistaken identities and the French Revolution. There are just enough good jokes to make it worth watching once. You will be sick of hearing “1789” and you will hate yourself for still laughing at it in the end.

Well, I Was Entertained:

I am your father.

A vintage British post-apocalyptic b-movie with aliens, robots, and zombies? Count me in. The Earth Dies Screaming (1965) starts out with some wonderfully bleak imagery and continues to sputter forth some fun chills until its ambiguous conclusion. A small band of survivors form an uneasy alliance and wait to see what happens next. Classic set-up. It actually reminded me of Roger Corman’s Day the World Ended (1955)—which I think is a better movie, but oh well. Add in a bit of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) too. Now I know I said aliens, robots, and zombies, but keep in mind this is a low-budget affair and so largely minimalist. It lags at times but it’s all good fun. The atmosphere keeps the film together.

Puns trump plot in these waters.

Aardman Studios is responsible for such genius works as Wallace & GromitCreature Comforts, and Chicken Run and although 2012’s The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! (I use the original title because it is funnier and more aptly reflects the movie’s anarchic sense of humor) might not be a classic, it is an enjoyably high-spirited farce. The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) and crew are swashbuckling buccaneers and love their mascot, Polly…who is a dodo bird. It’s about trying to get the Pirate of the Year Award and trying to stop Charles Darwin from kidnapping Polly and sacrificing him to a gluttonous Queen Victoria, but who really cares. The plot is so proactively weightless nothing matters much and the movie knows it. The film is really just fun animation with action and one hilariously clever joke or sight gag after another. And it actually works! Strong voice cast helps as well.

Who’s this new Hulk guy? He’s pretty good.

I’m picky when it comes to superhero movies. I liked The RocketeerThe Incredibles, the Hellboy movies, and the first half of the original Superman. That being said The Avengers (2012) took me by surprise because I hadn’t enjoyed any of the masturbatory movies leading into it. From the trailers I thought this film should have been called Tony Stark Riffs On the Avengers, but it was indeed more. It comes down to this: if you care about the heroes and give them some depth then the menace can be almost inconsequential. And Loki totally is. Director/writer Joss Whedon knows how to write interesting characters. Plain and simple. You write some solid characters and I too will thrill when Hulk smashes Loki (arguably the most satisfying moment of the movie).

I found this. And I’m keeping it.

I liked the first Men in Black (1997). The sequel was pretty joyless, but it had one or two decent elements. How Men in Black 3 (2012) managed to be as fun as it did I’ll never know. Once again there’s a certain freshness and the cast is clearly having some fun. Will Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness) is actually fun again and Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men) makes a great young Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive). Again, it’s okay if the villain is inconsequential because it’s about the heroes. Director Barry Sonnenfeld (The Addams Family) finds new life in a series that didn’t need to be more than one movie. Also Michael Stuhlbarg’s (A Serious Man) character actually brings a weird serenity to the final product as well.

Even Warmer:

You’re letting me in? Thank god “Daredevil” never got an Iranian release.

Before people hate me for putting Argo (2012) so close to Men in Black 3 just consider the remainder of this list. Ben Affleck’s (Dogma) film has been receiving some high praise and there’s no doubt: it is a good movie. It is a thrilling political suspense yarn with a crazy but true premise and some not-so-subtle jabs at Hollywood, the CIA, and Iran. I must start by saying that I liked the movie a lot, but it is not the epic political thriller I was promised. It is not on par with The Battler for AlgiersZ, or All the President’s Men. It is probably closer to Munich. Actually the film almost feels like a cross between Munich and Wag the Dog. Maybe a littler better than Munich but not as interesting as Wag the Dog. Alan Arkin (The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!) and John Goodman (Barton Fink) are great, but the rest of the characters feel thin. The problem is I actually wanted to know more about this event and I feel like either the movie only touches on the surface or maybe there just wasn’t enough there for a great movie. Argo could use a little more meat on its bones and more character development, but it still does manage to be entertaining and exciting the whole way.

IT’S ALL REAL!

This might be the looniest one on the list. Daisies (1966) is a zany, surreal, Dadaist Czech comedy directed by Vera Chytilová. Two girls get into many kooky shenanigans and loopy hijinks in search of the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. I can’t explain too much, but suffice to say it is weird, wild, random, and only a select few will really appreciate it. I think Enid from Ghost World would totally dig it.

Show some emotion, Spacey! Enough of this smarmy monotone!

If you want to watch great actors cuss each other out and look stressed then watch Glengarry Glen Ross (1992). Penned by David Mamet this is a fun little film about a crazy deadline and quota set upon several real estate agents. There’s mystery, passion, anger, frustration, and lots of cursing. I barely care about the big picture and answering all the little questions in this somewhat stagey movie because it’s just nice watching good actors sink their teeth into these characters and this dialogue. Al Pacino (Dog Day Afternoon), Jack lemmon (The Apartment), Alan Arkin (Wait Until Dark), Kevin Spacey (American Beauty), Alec Baldwin (The Hunt for Red October), Ed Harris (The Truman Show), Jonathan Pryce (Brazil), and the tension is always building.

Higher Ground:

Get ready for the beautiful monotony.

For movie nerds who will be mad I didn’t rate Argo higher I know I will be crucified by serious cinephiles for not rating Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse (2011) higher. Don’t get me wrong. I liked the film. It is very windy. As always Tarr’s (Werkmeister Harmonies) film is long, lurid, cryptic, and gorgeously filmed with minimal cuts. The Turin Horse is a dour Nietzschian riddle on the repetitive monotony of existence and the weighty despair of life versus the oblique horror of an inevitable impending death and the nothingness beyond. Is life worth it? seems to be the question. Does my enjoyment of the film match my respect for the craft? Not exactly. This is the sort of film where the real pleasure comes from the discussions that follow. Alas, I watched it alone and the film suffers.

Shaken not…yeah. I know you know.

James Bond is an interesting franchise. I actually only think their are three or four truly good 007 movies in a series that I will watch no matter how stupid they get. Skyfall (2012) is a delightful return to form and an interesting step in a somewhat new direction. Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) does something with James Bond that has never really been done before. He touches on who he really is as a psychological being. It still has its share of brainless action setpieces along with over-the-top villains with zany motives and invincible computer prowess, but the final act really makes it. Loaded with symbolism, pathos, thoughts on aging, and nods to the original iconography, the final act makes us remember why we love James Bond. Daniel Craig (Casino Royale), Judi Dench (A Fine Romance), Javier Bardem (Vicky Christina Barcelona), Ralph Fiennes (In Bruges), and Albert Finney (Murder on th Orient Express) are all in good form. Naomie Harris (21 Days Later) might have gotten more to do.

Birdie num nums…cue Dr. Bombay!

Is The Party (1968) the greatest thing Peter Sellers (Dr. Strangelove) or Blake Edwards (The Pink Panther) ever did? Not by a long shot. It’s also possibly somewhat racist (although perhaps less offensive than Sellers’ role in Murder by Death). It’s a simple story many of us can relate to: the awkward outsider tries to mingle with the big-shots. The film’s genius lies in its simplicity and wonderful sight gags. Peter Sellers is an unwanted, accident-prone East Indian background actor who gets mistakenly invited to a Hollywood brouhaha. Sellers’ comic timing and innocent likability as the incessantly socially misstepping Hrundi V. Bakshi are a joy to watch.

If you get in close, defocus, and gradually move back and the story will come into focus.

Last Year at Marienbad(1961) is a Rubix cube. Directed by Alain Resnais, this beautiful and enigmatic narrative throws out linear storytelling in favor of experimenting with the film medium. Perhaps it is comparable to Lynch’s Mulholland Dr in structure, but it is prettier to look at. It is dreamlike, elegant,  and ethereal. Don’t you dare tell me what it means. I will figure it out myself!

Almost Done:

“Ishtar” this!

Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch) has made some violent movies. Straw Dogs (1971) is a brutal study of the nature of violence. It doesn’t make me feel good. The images and consequences are not pleasing. This is specifically designed NOT to be a satisfying revenge movie. Dustin Hoffman (Marathon Man) is David Sumner, a spineless American milquetoast mathematician trying to live his life with his wife (Susan George) in rural England, but the rowdy, manly, and aggressively horny locals make things challenging for the couple. Between the extremely uncomfortable rape scene to the wanton bloodshed in the finale there is plenty to chat about afterwards. The tension consistently mounts until the very end. What drives seemingly peaceful men to such horrific lengths? Peter Vaughan (Brazil) and David Warner (Time Bandits) co-star.

Surreal phallic imagery?

Somewhere along the lines of maybe Godfrey Reggio mixed with Tarsem yet different. Gregory Colbert’s Ashes and Snow (2005) is an artistic vision of nature and humanity. It consists of occasional poetic letters read by narrator, Laurence Fishburne (King of New York), and sumptuous sepia tableaux vivants whose indelible juxtapositions heighten the romanticism of the concept. You will see old African women lay down with cheetahs in the dunes and taut muscly bodies swim alongside elephants and whales. Stem to stern it is a gorgeous work of art that takes the poetic pulse of mother nature. This anti-Herzog film is more ballet than movie.

I am so so very alone.

Ever since I saw The Apu Trilogy I have loved Indian auteur Satyajit Ray. Devi (1960) is another emotional and difficult movie that almost seems hewn from ideas that could very well have been featured in The Apu TrilogyDevi is different, however. It seeks to deactivate bizarre cultural superstitions and challenge long-held beliefs with reason, logic, and the display of devastating consequences. Featuring many of the same cast members as Apu, this movie chronicles the life of a simple woman (Sharmila Tagore) after her father-in-law has a dream she is the goddess Kali. Her life changes and she is worshipped, kept in a shrine, and brought dying children to heal. The psychological toll is takes is spooky and subtly done. The family is torn apart and everything will be questioned by the end but we may not get any easy answers.

Who wants to make a Jack-o-lantern?

Director Jim Jarmusch (Down by Law) keeps surprising me. Night On Earth (1991) offers something unique. It merely seeks to put us in five different taxi cabs in five different parts of the world and just let us observe some truly interesting cabbies. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but always fascinating, this enjoyable anthology features Winona Ryder (Little Women), Giancarlo Esposito (Do the Right Thing), Isaach De Bankolé (Manderlay), Roberto Benigni (Life is Beautiful), and Matti Pellonpää (Leningrad Cowboys Go America). Tom Waits does the music too.

Acme:

The West. America. China. Mexico. Now…Anatolia.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011) is a Turkish film directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan. It concerns the events of a murder investigation in the homogeneous Turkish steppes. What struck me about the film was that the whole time I had no idea where it was going or what it was ultimately going to say, but I never cared. The movie sucks you in with its rich characters and shifting points of view. The cinematography is spectacular as well. Although not much really happens it somehow strikes an almost mythic chord that resonates with you long after the movie ends. It is a movie about the truth and about deception but there is more to this cryptic and extremely subtle tale than meets the eye. It is also among some of the best collections of mustaches I’ve seen in a while.

Do you remember those stupid cherubim?

Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine) makes this list for the third time in The In-Laws (1979) directed by Arthur Hiller (Silver Streak). This movie actually features two of the most interesting actors to watch: Arkin and Peter Falk (The Princess Bride). It starts off with such an obvious premise that I was totally amazed by how hilarious it actually was. Arkin is an uptight conservative dentist whose daughter is marrying the son of a wacked-out nutjob and pathological liar, Falk. It sounds like it could be a long lost brother of The Odd Couple, but amazingly it’s a lot faster and funnier. This movie started to surprise me about ten minutes in and it just continued to be inventive and ingenious. Arkin is so wonderfully understated and Falk is so delightfully matter-of-fact about his cray-cray that we let the film take us wherever it wants. And it does take you to some unexpected places. I was laughing out loud the whole time.

I do two things. Two things! Wheelchairs and drag! Do you understand me?

I love Tod Browning (Dracula). Freaks and much of his silent work with Lon Chaney, Sr. are masterpieces. The Devil-Doll (1936) has Lionel Barrymore (It’s a Wonderful Life) playing a wronged Devil’s Island escapee who inherits a mad scientists methods of miniaturizing people and turning them into murder slaves. To exact his revenge, however, he must disguise himself as an old woman who runs a creepy toy shop. If that sounds crazy, then you haven’t seen much of Browning’s work. The atmosphere, the pathos, the innovative special effects, and the ridiculousness of the plot all service this bizarre fever-dream of a movie.

My god. There watching “Dreams That Money Can Buy” in there.

I need to see more Jean Cocteau (Beauty and the Beast). Blood of a Poet (1932) is a deliciously surreal series of vaguely intertwining images and anecdotes. Cocteau was an artist of many fields, and film was just another avenue he could trod to churn out strange material. Blood of a Poet feels like a dream and is drenched in dream logic and spectacularly realized surreal illusions. This film is easier to watch than Un Chien Andalou because it contains more a sense of wonder and beauty, whereas Buñuel and Dalí were experimenting more with shock and Dadaist non-symbols. Something about the age of this film adds another element of legend to it. It’s a captivating riddle dance that feels both alien and personal. I kind of love it.

That’s it. What did you see? Anything good??

The Last Few Movies I Saw: Episode Three – Revenge of the List

Sometimes this is just easier and more fun than writing long reviews.

What follows are some of the last several films I have watched. Perhaps, just to show that I do take in a fairly wide range of cinema. Perhaps something more sinister. Perhaps you’ll never know and me and your cat are in cahoots. They are listed in ascending order of what I thought of them. Kindly interact with this post if you feel I have misordered the movies.

Run Away:

“Are you wearing sunglasses?”

It is a three way tie between three truly wonderfully awful movies. Dinosaur Island (1994), L.A. Streetfighters (1985), and Ultra Warrior (1990). They are all B-movies so perhaps should not be judged so harshly, but they all have unique problems. It’s okay that Dinosaur Island has cheesy special effects but it wants to be sexy and funny but fails miserably at both. It’s like a team of horny 14 year old boys wrote it. L.A. Streetfighters is your typical bad kung fu movie, but the allegedly high school age characters look like they’re in their 4os and the lighting is so appallingly abysmal that most of the time you can’t tell what’s going on. It resembles a black void that periodically emits dubbed punching sound effects. The plus side is that the DVD menu for L.A. Streetfighters has a ridiculous three question multiple choice quiz about events in the movie (and the quiz does not even have the right answers consistently). Lastly is Ultra Warrior which is a jumbled mess of cheese and sci-fi schlock and robbed footage and exposition from other movies (Turkish Star Wars much?). It must be seen to be believed.

Meh and/or Misguided:

“Quick! Quick! Say something current or vulgar!”

I’ll say it. Seth MacFarlane’s Ted (2012) just didn’t work for me. Near every single joke felt ripped directly from an episode of Family Guy, which I suppose is great for some folks. More than anything else I took offense to the piles of clichés that made up the script. Everything from the movie-proposal-fakeout to the well-meaning-guy-keeps-lying-to-the-girl to the celebrity-of-niche-nostalgia-pops-up-and-parties-way-too-hard to the no-really-I’m-raunchy-but-look-suddenly-I-have-a-semblance-of-awkward-sentimentailty-so-I-actually-have-a-heart-in-addition-to-old-dick-jokes. Apart from a few funny lines and some solid comic timing from Marky Mark (although he was funnier in The Other Guys) this movie doesn’t bring much new to the whole cute-characters-who-say-adult-things-and-smoke-pot genre. I will say this though, it is better than Paul and Mila Kunis is sexy. Ultimately I liked the foul-mouthed chain-smoking teddy bear from Wisit Sasanatieng’s Citizen Dog (2004) better.

“What do you mean? Of course Chinese people roll their R’s.”

I like Anna May Wong so naturally I had to search out and watch Chu Chin Chow (1932), an old British operetta loosely retelling the story of Ali Baba and the 40 thieves. It’s not a wholly bad movie and it does have its points, but bits of it are so odd. Mostly English actors playing Arabs and Chinese (typical of the era), and a few very forgettable songs, strange attempts at humor punctuated by disturbing violence (for the time) and torture give it a weird energy. Anna May Wong is good and the sets are lavish and the one dude with the super low voice is cool, albeit bizarrely placed at times, but then there’s Fritz Kortner. Kortner plays the king of the 40 thieves, but he is so hammy and weird that single-handedly I think he damages the film more than any other element while simultaneously making it a uniquely strange spectacle. Watch this if only to finish off Wong’s film cannon. I did like the slave girl song.

Guilty Pleasures:

“Be careful, honey. You’re having eyebrows for two now.”

Fortress (1992) is your typical shot-in-Australia post-apocalyptic prison-break action movie starring everyone’s favorite lug and Highlander, Christopher Lambert (Highlander). It’s so bad and stereotypical of the times I actually loved it. Granted, I was laughing the whole ride through, which was obviously not the film’s intention, but who cares. The year is 2017 and you’re only allowed to have one child and abortions are illegal so the government murders your family and puts you in super-jail if you try to have a second kid. It’s got all the classic moves. There’s the stereotypical lineup of prison inmates like the tough guy; the evil man-rapist; the Mexican guy who likens human guts exploding to a burrito; the nerdy computer-whiz guy with the huge glasses (Jeffrey Combs!); the omniscient black guy; and a wormy bad guy (Red from That 70s Show) with terrible hair who tries to steal the protagonist’s lady . Lasers and cyborgs and ‘splosions. It’s all pretty hilarious. It’s no Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky(1991), but you will “lol” most heartily.

“Yeah. Whatever happened to Keanu?”

For folks who wondered what happened to the other guy from Bill & Ted movies, just watch Freaked(1993). Alex Winter plays a snotty celebrity who tells his life story to Brooke Shields. Randy Quaid (Christmas Vacation) is apparently mutating people for his sick and demented South American freak show. It’s a twisted yarn of corporate greed and toxic waste that unfolds like what would happen if David Cronenberg were adapting MAD Magazine. Freaked quickly maneuvers from the merely subversive to become a gross-out surrealist comic head-trip that continues to aspire for greater anarchy and greater heights of scatological humor until its ultimate conclusion. Maybe it doesn’t always work, but enough of the jokes are solid and the special effects are top notch (Thomas C. Rainone, Steve Johnson, Screaming Mad George, and teams of others make some truly grotesque and innovative creatures). The Butthole Surfers also provide some tunes and Bobcat Goldthwaite plays a sockhead. It’s more of an abstract novelty than anything else, but I admit I did find much of it bizarrely amusing. Also Mr. T is a woman in it.

“New drinking game: you take a shot at every anachronism.”

This next sucker is unique. Ed Harris (Gone Baby Gone) is William Walker in Alex Cox’s Walker (1987). Perhaps the whole film doesn’t exactly work, but it’s so weird you can’t look away. The truth is mixed with much delirium in this crazed account of the 19th century American dude whose reckless devotion to Manifest Destiny made him a Nicaraguan president. The tone is dreamlike and the movie is yucky and unpleasant and is full of purposeful anachronisms (Zippo lighters, Time magazine, computers, helicopters, etc.) to draw parallels to contemporary events. As the story unfolds more and more anachronisms creep into frame and the atmosphere becomes increasingly anarchic and ethereal. I don’t think it all congeals together for a pleasing whole, but I found Walker so fascinating and offbeat that I actually liked it despite some unwieldiness. The music is also pretty interesting.

Getting Warmer:

“They’re hugging right behind me, aren’t they.”

Frank Capra is one of the most recognizable names from Hollywood’s Golden Age. He’s the man responsible for such classics as It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Arsenic and Old Lace, and It Happened One Night to name a few. Perhaps that is why You Can’t Take it With You(1938) does not rank higher on my list. I thought it was great, but at this point I find it gets predictably Capra-esque. It’s the same reason a lot of Ingmar Bergman films blend together in my memory. Jimmy Stewart (Harvey), Lionel Barrymore (Key Largo), Edward Arnold (The Devil and Daniel Webster), and Jean Arthur (Mr. Deeds Goes to Town) star and it’s got a lot of great moments, but it’s a little uneven and there are quite a few storylines all at once. Barrymore in particular gets a lot of time to shine in this film. It’s the classic story of two people who love each other but come from different worlds. One comes from an uptight, legalistic, and aristocratic family, the other from a simple, warm, and freewheeling family. It’s class warfare! Seeing how Capra always manages a happy ending perhaps this is the perfect movie for the Occupy Wall Street generation.

“Pass the grapefruit, doll. Ever seen ‘The Public Enemy’?”

I like director Norman Jewison. He can do anything: The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming, In the Heat of the Night, Fiddler On the Roof, Rollerball, you name it. The Thomas Crowne Affair (1968) is a snazzy romantic crime flick in which a wealthy Steve McQueen (Bullitt) steals and then woos insurance investigator Faye Dunaway (Network). Though the energy may lag at times in the middle it does sport some super 60s collage camera tricks, some great twists, and one of the sexiest chess games ever filmed. Perhaps the biggest reason why I liked this one so much was the theme song. It’s like what “The Self Preservation Society” song added to the original Italian Job. “The Windmills of Your Mind” is such a deliriously near-nonsensical 60s song. It was written by Michel Legrand with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman and sung by Rex Harrison’s song, Noel.

“No. Your voice is stupid.”

Enough has been written about Christopher Nolan and his Batman movies so what else could I say? The Dark Knight Rises(2012) is a bit clunky and sprawling with a lot of seemingly wasted ideas peppered throughout and most of the action is not that satisfying, but you gotta give it a lot of credit for trying to be so epic and being the most un-superhero movie perhaps ever. I liked the beginning a lot where Batman is a retired recluse—even if I’ll never buy Christian Bale in a beard. I still kinda wish Tom Hardy’s Bane was more like Bronson. Now that would have been a movie! Dark Knight Rises is a bit of a mess and, yes it might be overly long and overly serious, but it was good enough for the previous two installments. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are not perfect movies either, but they are entertaining overall. For me Batman was never better than in Batman: The Animated Series from the early 90s, perhaps mainly because they capture the mysteriousness and some of the weird detective atmosphere. Rises is a fitting conclusion if a bit unwieldy. The darkly satirical jab at Occupy Wall Street worked for me too for the most part. We could have done without Matthew Modine and the Robin bit at the end, but maybe the Scarecrow cameo evens it all out somehow.

“Well, hurray for Captain Spalding…”

If you like stuff like My Dinner With Andre (1981) or Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party (2005)—which I did—then maybe you’re ready for Swimming to Cambodia (1987). Spalding Gray’s (True Stories) one man show is essentially a monologue that ties together several events from his life during the filming of The Killing Fields. Directed by Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Rachel Getting Married), but really I suppose it could have been directed by anyone, this movie takes you into Gray’s life and his unique point of view on the world. Despite being essentially one man sitting on a dark stage narrating several personal accounts I can’t say I was ever bored. Spalding Gray is an entertainer and knows how to weave a good yarn.

Oh What Fun:

“Yessir. Nobody knows the wild west quite like Italians.”

Here’s another who, like Thomas Crowne Affair, I wound up liking even more because of the theme song. Spaghetti westerns really are their own genre. They are not just cowboy movies made in Italy. There are more violent, subversive, and gritty. Director Sergio Corbucci may not be Sergio Leone, but Django (1966) starring Franco Nero (Camelot, Die Hard 2) is definitely worth checking out. A nameless gunslinger wanders through the desert dragging a coffin. Already such wonderful mythic imagery! Folks inquire as to who is in the coffin, but Django always answers cryptically. Since Django claims no allegiances he finds himself at war with two feuding gangs. Fortunately he is a resourceful fellow…also his coffin is actually the case for a Gatling gun. Think part Fistful of Dollars (1964) and part Desperado (1995).

“I’m the Pinball Wizard you heard tell about.”

I have a confession to make. I only recently saw Ken Russell’s Tommy (1975). It’s the story of a deaf, dumb, and blind pinball wizard (Roger Daltrey) who becomes a cult leader. I like Oliver Reed (The Devils) and I like the Who and I liked a lot of the songs and guest stars (Elton John, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton, etc.) but I don’t think it’s my favorite. It really has some solid scenes and some great songs, but I admit I began to feel exhausted and tired before the end. Ken Russell’s style can be very abrasive and I think it works for this story overall, but it just ran out of steam for me. I felt I had seen all its tricks too soon. The beans scene kinda grossed me out a little. Jack Nicholson’s cameo was a fun surprise though and the music kept me hooked.

*Bang*

French filmmaker Louis Feuillade (Les Vampires) made hundreds of films between 1906 and 1924 and popularized the series form. I recently stumbled upon the Fantômas series which is comprised of five movies made between 1913 and 1914. They concern a diabolical criminal and master of disguise, Fantômas (René Navarre), and his detective pursuer, Inspector Juve (Edmond Bréon). While the stories themselves may feel slow and dated, they do have their moments of style and fun pulpy flair. The cliffhanger endings were good and some of the seedy Parisian underbelly nods were a lot of fun, but the real reason I liked them so much was simple: these suckers are one hundred years old. When these old timey guys are hopping trains and trolleys on cobblestone streets and dousing gaslights in their bowler hats and ludicrous mustaches you gotta remember; this is their contemporary world. Watching the Fantômas movies is like watching history. I love silent comedies, but most of the ones I watch are American, and I love German Expressionism, but those are all filmed on stylized sets. Fantômas goes outside in what is, to me, a foreign land in a different time.

“You take that back what you said about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.”

Another confession. I hadn’t seen Guy Ritchie’s rough ‘n’ tumble crime comedy, Snatch (2000). Am I last person in America to see it? Maybe. I won’t say much about it, except that I had a lot of fun watching it, and while it may not measure up to Sexy Beast, this all-star brawl might be my favorite thing Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels) has done. Foul-mouthed, fast-talking, violent crooks, macho hooligans, and too-tough mafiosos not your thing? Look elsewhere. Brad Pitt and the whole cast are great in this ensemble of cool. The style is manic and in your face, yet controlled and very sly. Sometimes I like a movie that just loves being a movie. Snatch is one of those.

Tralalala:

“I’m not gay. I’m an entertainer.”

I actually had to watch Casablanca (1942) again before I fully appreciated Bob Fosse’s Cabaret (1972). Liza Minelli (who has always made me feel uncomfortable for some reason) stars as Sally Bowles, the sexual starlit of the Kit Kat Klub in Weimar Republic Germany. As she romances her way into the lives of two men, one being the uptight stranger Brian Roberts (Michael York), it seems that things are getting harder in Germany as the Nazi Party begins its rise to power. The relationships between the characters are rich and fascinating, but I found the off-the-cuff representation of the setting to be particularly interesting. Here’s a movie set in the years leading up to WWII and it’s not really a political story and it leaves no resolution to the mounting political tensions. It’s the story of people during a specific time. Yes, they all have feelings regarding the encroaching fascist regime and singing Nazi youth, and yes our historical hindsight gives us, the viewer, a more suspenseful narrative than the characters can perceive, and it is here where the film’s power lies. They are all caught up in the march of history. I also enjoyed Joel Gray’s flamboyant performance as the emcee. There are a few really memorable scenes, one being the eerie final moments, that stay with you after the film is over.

“Yeah, I’m still here.”

Before Steve Martin, Spencer Tracy was Father of the Bride (1950). Spencer Tracy (Judgement at Nuremberg, Bad Day at Black Rock) is a great actor, but his subtle and sly wit is rarely at the forefront. He always has that secret twinkle of wisdom, but in Vincente Minelli’s Father of the Bride he is the comic victim of fatherhood. When his daughter, Kay (Elizabeth Taylor), tells him she’s getting married his imagination and fears get the better of him. Soon he’s spending more money than he ever thought and gradually realizing the shifting role of a father as he watches his daughter grow up. Perhaps an interesting double-feature with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

“This is not a cave painting. This is actually a tattoo on the side of my torso.”

The camera pushes in and through the black, mystery-enshrouded shadows we see…rocks. Werner Herzog’s documentary on cave paintings, Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010), is enigmatic and captivating. These old stones tell stories and present day scientists are learning more and more about the complex artistry committed to the walls thousands of years ago. Herzog (Fitzcarraldo, Grizzly Man) knows how to be interesting and he manages to give the subject an almost mythic quality as he interviews experts who do not see our long dead ancestors as being that distant. There even seems to be hints to a deeply spiritual nature tucked away within all mankind. It was originally made for 3D, but I saw it on TV and it was fine.

Gotta Love It:

“You boys ain’t from around here, are you?”

Next up it’s an Israeli film directed by Eran Kolirin called The Band’s Visit (2007). For those who enjoy quiet melancholy and gentle cultural humor this is a great story. An Egyptian police band, sent to play at an Arab arts center inauguration, gets on the wrong bus and winds up in a podunk Israeli town. Like Elia Suleiman’s Divine Intervention, this is a comedy that deals with different cultures that do not always get along. The slow, subtle setups are perfect and the sad but sweet relationship between the band leader (Sasson Gabai) and a rather progressive local woman (Ronit Elkabetz) give the movie a solid emotional core, while the peripheral characters are free to provide humorous segues. I chuckled throughout and then felt a small well of sadness…but in a good way. The Band’s Visit is touching, simple, and sublime.

“A hasty jest, you say? I shall make ribbons of them.”

I like swashbuckling and I like a well-placed verse. Cyrano de Bergerac(1950) has both to spare. José Ferrer (The Caine Mutiny) gives a spectacularly energetic and sharp performance—one that got him an Oscar—as the legendary tragic poet and swordsman whose vanity and large nose keep him from revealing his true feelings to the woman he loves. He must feed sugary lines to another man to court her, and thus his self-wrought torment goes. While it might lose some steam by the end it’s almost understandable considering how vigorous it is at the outset. Cyrano de Bergerac is a classic tale filled with wonderful swordplay, even sharper wordplay, and a wonderful balance between comedy and tragedy. The film is good enough on its own, but it is Ferrer’s dynamic performance that elevates it to greater heights.

“So French it hurts.”

I liked The Artist (2011), but something made me appreciate director Michel Hazanavicius and star Jean Dujardin even more. OSS117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006) and OSS117: Lost in Rio (2009) are what did it. Dujardin plays the ridiculously dimwitted, chauvinistic, racist, and closed-minded French secret agent, OSS117, in what might best be described as a sort of European Austin Powers. They might be a little more stylish and classy, but they’re just as funny. Between Dujardin’s hilarious elastic facial expressions and Hazanavicius’s camera tricks that successfully parody the film styles of the 1950s and 1960s, both movies are a hoot. There are some truly fantastically funny sequences in these guys. It was even funnier coming so close after watching The Thomas Crowne Affair. I laughed quite hard and I got an even better appreciation for their more recent send-up of silent Hollywood films with The Artist. Whether you’re a James Bond fan or not, odds are you will enjoy these very pleasing comedies.

The Crescendo Swells:

“Cogsworth? Lumiere?”

I recently re-watched Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast (1946) and I only mention it here because I only liked it before. Now I admire it. You know the story—or at least the sanitized versions—so I need not go into detail. I will say this though, it is refreshing to see a fairytale that respects its audience. This is a rich, imaginative film that is written seemingly almost without children in mind. Surely they will enjoy the magic and the special effects, but there is an interesting maturity to the story. Cocteau’s brilliant and innovative style are wonderful to behold and his small touches of gazing statues and candelabras suspended by human arms forming out of the walls are still dazzling and fun.

“Ah. Douglas. I knew your father.”

The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) was remade several times, but only once with the incomparable Ronald Colman (Lost Horizon). This one is another swashbuckler and again, it is the leading man that makes it so memorable. It’s a classic tale of mistaken identities, when a vacationing Brit meets his doppelganger, who happens to be royalty (Colman plays both roles). When the monarch is drugged, the tourist must take his place until things can be sorted out and the coup availed. Assisting Ronald Colman is a stellar cast including C. Aubrey Smith (Tarzan the Ape Man), Mary Astor (The Maltese Falcon), Madeleine Carroll (The 39 Steps), Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (Gunga Din), Raymond Massey (East of Eden), and a young David Niven (Around the World in 80 Days). The sword fights and intrigue are great, but Ronald Colman is just always so English and understated that I believe everything he says.

“Should I tell him about ‘The Hebrew Hammer?'”

Maybe I give this one too much credit, but I was in the right mood. 2 Days in Paris (2007) is like if Woody Allen were French and he were adapting Meet the Parents. But it’s all Julie Delpy. She wrote, directed, and starred in this playfully painful analysis of a romance turning sour. In many ways it feels like an extension of her character from Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Delpy’s writing is sharp and clever and Adam Goldberg (Saving Private Ryan) is excellent as the exasperated American boyfriend trying to hold it all together. Neither character is wholly likable, which maybe gives it that cynical edge that I find invigorating. I always find it refreshing when comedies can be totally believable. I have not seen her sequel, 2 Days in New York with Chris Rock, but I don’t know how it could be better than this funny and insightful movie.

“Sorry if Batman didn’t make it high enough for you.”

You either like Guy Maddin or you don’t. Odds are, if you’ve heard of him, you probably like him. Maddin has mad a career out of making movies that look like they were made in the 1930s. From Archangel to The Saddest Music in the World, he is always tinkering and playing with what a film can be and how far the language of old cinema can be stretched. My Winnipeg (2007) is particularly interesting because it’s halfway to being a documentary, but with fantastical flourishes that Herzog might even be afraid to pull. It’s the story of Guy Maddin trying to film his way out of the terminally dreary Canadian city of Winnipeg. He tries to re-stage fragments of his childhood with his controlling mother playing herself while he also tries to reassemble lost memories and warped bits of Canadian history to figure out who he is and what Winnipeg has become. It’s a totally surreal and somewhat hypnotic fairytale of nostalgia raped by the passage of time and the longing to escape one’s past and move on. Not really fiction, not entirely fact. My Winnipeg lies on the fringe and obviously relishes every bent minute of it there. I kind of love it.

But enough about me. What did you see last? Anything good?