Archive for Movie Journal

(Not-so) Funny Games

Recently, one of my favorite podcasts, The Faculty of Horror, put out an episode about Michael Haneke’s 1997 film, Funny Games.  

This is a movie I’ve been putting off for years.  I don’t do well with horror films in the “home invasion” sub-genre, especially since I got married and had kids.  It doesn’t help that all the descriptions and synopsis have used the words “torture”, “sadistic”, and “depraved”.  But because I enjoy the podcast so much, I really didn’t want to miss an episode, so I finally broke down and watched Funny Games.

Much to my surprise, it really didn’t bother me all that much.  I think it helped knowing that the film is a commentary on film itself – more specifically the horror genre.  With the main antagonists breaking the fourth wall to literally wink at the audience and sometimes even directly address us, as well as a moment where time winds backwards before our eyes, the whole thing felt very staged and intentional.  It didn’t feel like I was witnessing a home invasion as much as I was a scripted performance.  This helped me stay detached enough to not feel the same dread and “too close to home” vibe I’d normally get from this type of film.

Even more interesting – ultimately, I didn’t really enjoy it.  I know it’s not a “fun ride” type of film to begin with, but even as commentary, I found it sort of trite.  Granted, it probably wasn’t 20 years ago, but so many meta films have come out since then, that this one feels a little stale now.

I also didn’t appreciate the way the film talked down to the audience; it really felt like Haneke was judging us the whole time.  My problem with that type of preaching is that most viewers of horror films understand the difference between entertainment and reality.  We know that horror movies are fake and we’re often the first ones to decry real violence in the real world.  So why rub our noses in our shared interest of facing the fears of real violence through the make-believe medium of film?  It’s quite smug coming from someone who has made plenty of violent films himself, even going so far as remaking this one shot-for-shot in 2007.  It’s an instance where I feel the film says more about the director than it does the audience he is so willing to judge.

There are still a few films out there whose reputation prevents me from watching them (most notably A Serbian Film).  But I’m glad I finally got around to seeing Funny Games, if for no other reason than it proves to myself that sometimes the bark really is worse than the bite.  


Year-End Movie Journal Dump

Star Trek Beyond
I liked the latest Star Trek movie.  I think.  I’m pretty sure anyway.  Is that the one with the…no, no, that’s the first one.  Oh, I know!  It’s the one where…no, that’s the second one.  Huh.  Anyway, I’m pretty sure I liked the third one.  If only I could remember anything about it.

2.5 / 5 bananas

Ghost in the Shell
It had been years since I’d watched this classic of the anime genre, and seeing the trailer for the new live-action remake starring ScarJo made me want to check it out again.  It truly is a beautiful film to look at, with set design that has become so influential it’s not even funny.  The story still feels a little scattershot for me, but the themes and ideas about personality and consciousness are still deep even though they’ve been tread by dozens of properties since the film’s initial release.  I’ve started watching the spin-off TV series, Stand-Alone Complex, which all the internet nerds say is 1000 times better, so I’m excited to see where that takes me.

4 /5 bananas

The Room
Listen, I loves me some so-bad-it’s-good cult classic movies, but I really couldn’t stand this film.  I get why it’s a cult classic, I just don’t think it’s necessarily earned that status.  There was not a single redeemable thing in this movie for me.  I was so annoyed by the ineptitude of the whole thing that I couldn’t even laugh at it.  I hated it and won’t be watching it again anytime soon.

.5 / 5 bananas

Sausage Party
Like a lot of R-rated comedies, I watched this one, I thought it was funny in the moment, but it quickly left my brain afterwards.  The underlying message about the dangers of religion is a thing I can get behind, and it was surprising to hear it from a bunch of talking food, but a week out from watching it, I don’t feel a great need to revisit it.  It’s fun, it’s definitely not safe for kids, but it’s also just a flash in the pan for me.

3 / 5 bananas

Swiss Army Man
I can absolutely understand why this film is going to make a lot of Top 10 lists this month.  Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano are amazing, helping the the writers/directors are able to pull off the strangest, most heart-warming buddy flicks ever made.  I really enjoyed this one and would have to agree that it’s one of my favorite flicks of the year.

4 /5 bananas

Amanda Knox
I have a vague memory of the hullabaloo surrounding the Amanda Knox trial when it occurred, but as someone who isn’t really into following salacious headlines, I never had an opinion one way or the other about whether or not she had killed her roommate in Italy.  However, watching this documentary was still very captivating and, in my opinion, pretty much exonerated her for the crimes she was accused.  It’s a horrifying look at how a person can get railroaded by a corrupt system with an agenda.

3 / 5 bananas

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
I’d been reading the rave reviews about this film for a while before I finally got the chance to check out this stark black-and-white horror film about a Muslim woman who, well, walks alone at night.  The twist is – she’s a vampire who kills the men who inevitably hassle (or worse) her.  Unfortunately, I didn’t see the same film the reviews saw.  I saw the seed of a great film, one that would be empowering for women of all nationalities and religions, if it had only been willing to see it’s horror roots through.

2.5 / 5 bananas

Return of the Living Dead
I hadn’t seen this campy zombie film in years, so it was fun to revisit it lately on a whim.  It’s still a ton of fun, still utterly ridiculous, still over-the-top and cheesy.

3.5 / 5 bananas

Cartel Land
I don’t even know where to start with this fascinating documentary about the violent, very political world of the Mexican war on drugs.  There are so many moral questions raised – Is it ok to take up arms to defend yourself and your community?  Or should you leave that responsibility to the powers that be, even if those powers are corrupt?  If it is ok, there clearly needs to be some type of system in place to ensure that those that become the target of such vigilantism are given a fair trial, or else the people are no better than the criminals.  But any system is made up of people, who can be corrupted through either money, fame, power, or fear, which inevitably leads back to a flawed system of checks-and-balances.  So how do you keep your mission true?  Or is that even possible?  My only complaint is that the filmmakers spent most of their time with Mexican militias, but not a lot with the American militias.  They include these groups briefly as a warning of “it could happen here”, but their mention is so sporadic and shallow that not everyone is going to see the parallels with the Mexican militias and their ultimate undoing.  Still, an amazingly engaging film.

4 / 5 bananas

Late Phases
This is a perfectly fine, low-budget werewolf movie that has quite a few similarities to the 1985 classic of the genre, Silver Bullet.  Essentially, man moves into small community, people start getting killed, he finds the werewolf in an unlikely place, he’s the only one who knows the truth so it’s up to him to defeat the beast.  Like I said, perfectly fine, but I probably won’t watch it again anytime soon.

2.5 / 5 bananas

Audrie & Daisy
As the father of a tween girl, I dread what’s going to happen once Instagram, Facebook, and (shiver) SnapChat become everyday parts of her vocabulary.  Once this happens, my wife and I need to sit our daughter down and have her watch this stirring documentary about rape in the era of social media.  And then when our son comes of age, we’ll have him watch it, too.  This true story of two girls who were victimized and then had it broadcast on social media, only to have their aggressors let off with a slap on the wrist, is a must-see for anyone raising kids today.  It will not only boil your blood, but simultaneously make it run cold.  A must-watch.

4 / 5 bananas

I listen to a really amazing podcast called The Faculty of Horror, hosted by two movie critics who analyze horror films from a feminist perspective.  Recently they reviewed two films from the New French Extremism sub-genre, one of which was Martyrs (the other was Calvaire).  I’d actually seen Martyrs before, but it had been a number of years and hearing the podcast’s utmost praise for it made me want to watch it again.  It’s a really brutal and effective film with a disturbing storyline that really digs into your psyche.  This is one of those films that an entire entry could be written about – and maybe one day I’ll get to it – but in the meantime, just know that it’s not for the faint of heart.  But if you like a little philosophical pondering with your bucket of blood, it’s worth checking out.

4 / 5 bananas

Black Christmas (1974)
I’ve been hearing about this film for years, but just now finally got around to watching it as we near Christmas 2016.  Now I understand all the hype.  This is a very effective, truly terrifying thiller.  There are moments of intentional levity and some of the performances are a little over-the-top, but the tension is high throughout, and the ending is so dark that it leaves you feeling anything but holly and/or jolly.

4 / 5 bananas

I don’t really go in for sketch comedy shows, but what I have seen from comedy duo Key and Peele has been consistently funny.  And for me, Keanu was no exception.  The story of two men diving into the urban underground they are so clearly not a part of, just to get back a stolen kitten, had me laughing the whole time.  Mostly Key and his “Richard Pryor’s impersonation of a white man” persona kept me rolling, but everyone involved gets some great moments to shine.  I loved the absurdity, the heart, and the deep (albeit flawed) interpretation of the musical stylings of George Michael enough that I’d probably watch this one again, something I rarely say about comedies.

3.5 / 5 bananas

Suicide Squad
Oooh, boy.  Where do I begin?  Actually, I’m not even going to.  Everything negative that you could say about this film has already been said on countless websites, podcasts, and YouTube reviews.  I can say that sometimes it looked really cool, there were a few set pieces that, while dumb from a plot perspective, were fun to watch, and some of the performances were quite well done.  But for the most part, all the bad things everyone else has said are not baseless criticisms – they are all very, very based in reality.

2 / 5 bananas

Another classic that I am just now catching up on, Magic tells the tale of Corky, played by Anthony Hopkins, a magician/ventriloquist who has a very special relationship with his little wooden sidekick, Fats.  The film is pretty disturbing, mostly thanks to Hopkins’ performance.  With a lesser actor in the role, this film would have been a joke, but Hopkins’ ability to go from wild-eyed loon to dead-eyed milquetoast in an instant keeps the viewer on edge throughout. Also, how hot was Ann-Margaret?

3.5 / 5 bananas

I’d seen House years ago, back when it was in regular rotation on cable TV, but I didn’t remember anything about it, so it was fun to watch it again today.  The film tells the story of a young man who inherits his Great Aunt’s mansion, only to find that her death by suicide might not have been so cut-and-dry.  The “horror” here isn’t so scary – intentionally so – but has more of a Sam Raimi, Army of Darkness vibe to it, with plenty of laughs to go along with the slimy Lovecraftian creatures living in an alternate dimension inside the closet.  Is it a good film?  No.  But it was a fun ride to revisit and one worth admiring for it’s low-budget gumption and willingness to not take itself too seriously.

2 / 5 bananas

House II
Now the sequel is one I’d never seen, but I’m glad I took the chance.  The filmmakers really just embraced their B-movie roots with scenes played purely for comedy, ridiculous scenarios, garish performances, and crazy, creative ideas that could only work when you let go of logic.  By the time the end credits roll, a baby pterodactyl, an Aztec woman, a mummified cowboy, and a bizarre worm-dog puppy are all part of the main cast of characters.  The film is pure bonkers fun and is truly an underseen gem.

4 / 5 bananas

Don’t Breathe
Touted as one of the best horror films of the year, Don’t Breathe tells the story of three Detroit kids who rob houses in an effort to make enough money to get out of the dying city.  As with so many heist films, they come across a big score that would push them over the edge.  But they aren’t expecting the home’s blind occupant to be such a hard one to handle.  Mining as much tension as it can from being trapped inside a house of horrors, the film is a B-movie scenario that is beautifully shot, expertly directed, and incredibly raw.  There are some really great moments throughout that will keep any horror fan happy.  And if you like this one, I suggest you check out the similar, but even better Green Room.

4 / 5 bananas




The Film Journal Strikes Back!

Way back in the day, I used to keep a movie journal.  Ever since I went back to school, then got my freelance writing career going, then had kids, my life got too busy to watch a lot of movies, so it was pretty pointless to keep a journal when I was only seeing a handful a year.

But now that things have slowed down a little, I’m seeing quite a few more movies.  So with October being a time of year where I intentionally watch a lot of movies in the lead up to Halloween, I think I’m going to revive my film journal.  At least it will give me something to write about so this blog doesn’t sit stagnant for a year anymore.  Enjoy!


Dark Night of the Scarecrow

Way back in 2011, I was a guest on my friend Tommy’s podcast, Bubble Pipe Theater, for a special Halloween edition of the show.  On that episode, we talked about some of our favorite scary movies, and another guest, Tim Briscoe, brought up this film, Dark Night of the Scarecrow.  He said that for a TV movie, it was pretty scary, and since then I’ve wanted to check it out.  It came up in an article online somewhere recently, so I decided to finally add it to my Netflix queue for October.

The film is set in a small farming community where everyone knows everyone else, no one locks their doors at night, and everybody is scared of anything that’s not white, Christian, Conservative, and otherwise perfect in every way.  So when Bubba, a grown man with the mind of a child, is accused of hurting a young girl, a small group of local vigilantes arm up and chase after him.  They find Bubba hiding inside a scarecrow costume and decide that it’s time someone did something about this potential menace.  It’s only after they’ve pumped twenty-one rounds into him that someone calls on the CB radio to let them know it was all a big mistake – that Bubba had actually saved the girl from a dog attack.  The hillbillies cover it up by putting a pitchfork in Bubba’s deceased hand, so they can claim the killing was in self-defense.

But as the vigilantes start dying off in suspicious accidents, the remaining members of the party start to question their sanity and their safety.

Right off the bat, the title and the marketing of the film on DVD is a bit misleading – this isn’t a slasher flick with a Jason Voorhees-like madman running around with a pitchfork as his weapon of choice.  In fact, we really don’t see who is killing the men at all until the very end, and even that death would still be interpreted by any sane person as an accident.  While it is a fun movie, it’s pretty obvious there are scenes that are simply there to pad out the runtime, so it does feel a little sluggish.  The performances are all pretty great, but that’s to be expected from the handful of “that guy” character actors that make up the lynch mob, every one of whom has done their fair share of films and dozens of TV appearances.  Best known of these actors is Charles Durning as a portly postman and leader of the mob, Otis Hazelrigg, who gives a fine, scenery-chewing performance.

My only complaint, other than the padded scenes, is that I almost wish we’d seen the killer more.  Typically real horror comes from the unseen, but I think it would have been much more effective to see the scarecrow/Bubba at the scene of the murder.  I’m not saying I wanted all the bad guys to be run-through with the pitchfork as the DVD cover implies – they could have died in the same manner as they did in the final film – but the scarecrow costume was so well done and creepy as hell, it would have been nice to have seen him featured more.  A few shots of him standing just outside in the shadows, a truly menacing figure, would have upped the tension quite a bit.  Let the men panic and put themselves into dangerous situations to get away from the scarecrow.  But as it is the monster isn’t really much of a presence, and I think it would have been more fun to have him be more of a known catalyst for the deaths.  I understand the writer was trying to make us wonder who the “real” killer was, but none of us ever really suspected Bubba’s mom or the little girl.

Overall, Dark Night of the Scarecrow is a fun little movie that’s perfect for Halloween.  It won’t frighten die-hard horror fans, but the story of revenge is timeless, and there’s adequate tension to keep you interested in what’s going to happen next.  This is actually one film I’d love to see a remake of, because with a few tweaks it could be something really great.

Score: 3/5 bananas

The National Film Registry Project

Every year since 1989, the United States National Film Preservation Board has chosen up to 25 movies to be included for preservation in the Library of Congress. This list of films, known as the National Film Registry, is meant to highlight movies that are deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Unlike other film awards like the Oscars, Golden Globes, or the American Film Institute Awards, the films chosen for the National Film Registry are not those that have made a big impact in a given year, only to be forgotten soon after. In fact, a film can’t even be nominated until 10 years after it was made in order to give the film some context and to verify its impact on the film industry or American society at-large. In other words, this is truly a list of films that have stood the test of time and really are important to our culture or to film as a medium. These are the great ones.

Aside from the classic status these films have earned, the types of films represented here is also significant. Ranging from feature-length Hollywood films to animated shorts to newsreel footage to home movies from everyday people like you and me, the Film Registry is a wonderful snapshot of America at a certain time, place, and mindset, doing what film does best – capturing moments.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

As someone who is interested in films, and more specifically, film’s place in our culture, my goal with this project is to see as many of the National Film Registry selections as possible. Along with actually watching the film (even if I’ve seen it before, I’m going to watch it again for this project), I’m going to do a little research on each one to gain as much background information on the production, or, if none is available, at least the context in which the film was made, and write about it here on SpaceMonkeyX. Of course I’ll also include any thoughts of my own, as there are sure to be some that I’ll like more or less than others. While the list on the project’s homepage is every film (as of 2011) in alphabetical order, I won’t necessarily be watching them in any specific order.

One reason is that not all of the films will be available all the time. Things go out of print, new DVDs are released,  or something that was previously unavailable will suddenly show up on YouTube one day, ripped from a VHS copy that someone had sitting in the back of their closet.  I’ll watch as many of these as I can, but there are bound to be some that are simply too difficult to get my hands on unless I actually visit the Library of Congress where these are all stored.  Considering I live in St. Louis, that’s probably not going to happen anytime soon.

I considered trying chronological order, based upon the release date, but as new films are inducted, this timeline would inevitably be thrown off.

Besides, isn’t the beauty of creating your own course of exploration being able to discover things at your own pace and in your own direction? Creating any kind of rigid guideline to follow can lead to burnout and therefore sabotage the whole project.

So I’ll be watching and commenting on these films in whatever order my heart desires. However, I would expect there will be times I’ll become especially interested in a genre or a time period and there will be quite a few similar titles lumped together. For example, I’ll probably start with a bunch of animated films since I just finished writing a mental_floss article on many of those on the list. But I’m going to jump around quite a bit so I can keep things fresh – for readers and for myself.

To follow my progress, check out the National Film Registry Project link at the top of the page.

Latest Movies – The Short Version

Lately I’ve watched so many movies and TV shows in between working on mental_floss articles that I simply haven’t had time to review them all in-depth. So these will simply be 5-banana ratings with a few comments thrown in for good measure. Sorry, but I gots to get paid!!

Big Man Japan: 3 / 5 bananas
I was really expecting something entirely different from this film, but I was also pleasantly surprised by what I got. Think “The Wrestler” meets “Godzilla” and you’ll have some idea of where this one’s going. Interesting, but not something I feel I’ll need to revisit anytime soon.

Mad Men Season 2: 5 / 5 bananas
This season was absolutely amazing, as expected. The writing on this show, especially the zingers tossed back and forth between the characters, absolutely blows me away. Great stuff. Andrea and I can’t wait to start watching season 3 on Amazon video-on-demand.

District 9: 5 / 5 bananas
I went into this film knowing very little about it other than the basic premise – 20 years ago, aliens came to earth and have been living with us as third-class citizens ever since. I had no idea where the film was going, how things were going to turn out, or what type of film it was going to turn out to be. I’m so happy I went in blind, because I think had I known all of this, I would have been very disappointed. Actually, I’m not sure that’s entirely true. Some are criticizing the film for certain aspects of the filmmaking and, oddly enough, I can completely see where they’re coming from, I just don’t care. I went along for the ride and had a blast. I can’t wait for this DVD.

Inglorious Basterds: 5 / 5 bananas
Possibly one of the most boring films I’ve ever seen that I absolutely loved. Tarantino has a knack for building tension in a scene by having his characters talk, saying so much without saying anything at all, then punctuating the scene with explosive violence. It’s a bit like sex, really, and with Basterds, Tarantino has created one of the most rewarding cinematic orgasms of his career. I worry a little about replay value for me, because often, once I know what’s coming in a QT film, the impact becomes lessened and the slow burn begins to nag on me. But I’ll rent it when available and see how it holds up.

Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus: 1 / 5 bananas
I rented this one because I thought it might make a good special review like The Asylum’s “The Terminators” film I did recently. After watching it I decided it really wasn’t worth the time. It’s bad, folks. Big surprise, huh? Seriously, even morbid curiosity doesn’t make this one worth watching.

Network: 5 / 5 bananas
A classic that I hadn’t seen in a while. It still holds up today, possibly even better than it did when it came out.

Good Night, and Good Luck: 3 / 5 bananas
While I found the subject matter – and the performance by XXX – fascinating, the film never really came together for me. I was honestly expecting there to be more to the story, but it felt like big chapters were being skipped so they could get to the end for the big payoff.

Stuck: 3.5 / 5 bananas
Based on the real-life story of a homeless man hit by a young woman who drives home with him stuck in the windshield of her car, this is a strange little film with some very interesting, “What would you do?” situations. I don’t know that the womans’ reasons for not helping the man were valid enough for her heartless actions, but I’m not entirely sure there are any reasons good enough to treat another human being this way. An interesting, little-seen film that’s worth a look.

Slacker: 3 / 5 bananas
This cult classic from wandering/wondering auteur, Richard Linklater, is one of the defining indie films of the early 90s heyday. Personally, I found it to be pretty boring, pretentious, and empty. Maybe that’s the point, but it felt like there was far too much love for its subjects to really want to be satirical. Not one I’m going to revisit anytime soon, but I can at least admire what it’s trying to do.

Step Brothers: 3 / 5 bananas
This is a great film by any means – it especially has problems in the latter half of the 2nd reel – but it definitely has its moments of sheer ridiculousness to make it worth watching from time to time. I noticed this time, though, that it’s the supporting characters that really have the best lines, rather than stars Ferrell and Reilly. I kind of appreciate that fact, actually.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome: 2 / 5 bananas
I hadn’t seen this one in at least 15 years, so decided to check it out on Netflix Instant Watch. It was not good, unfortunately. It seems anytime you start injecting too much comedy and/or kids into your film, you’re doomed. See Indiana Jones 2 & 4 (though I still like Temple of Doom). See Star Wars: Episode I. See Star Wars: Episode 6. What was really disappointing was the fact that there are so many great ideas in this film that simply are not carried through. The whole thing is one wasted opportunity after another.

Fallen: 3.5 / 5 bananas
I sold this one on Amazon, so I thought I’d watch it one last time before I shipped it to its new owner. While I still really enjoy it for the story, the direction really doesn’t hold up well. The blurry, almost nightvision shots as taken from the demon’s point-of-view look very dated and, frankly, silly at this point. Unfortunately, those shots are pretty common throughout the running time, so it really hurts the overall effectiveness of the film.

The Backyard: 3 / 5 bananas
A Netflix Instant Streaming morbid curiosity entry about jackasses who beat the shit out of each other in their backyards because they want to be professional wrestlers. For the most part it’s worth watching so you can psychologically evaluate all these numbskulls. Most just do it for fun, to entertain their friends, or for a quick buck, but none of them are really doing much of anything to expand their skillset beyond figuring out the next thing they can use to hurt themselves withh. But there’s one story in particular – a guy who is actually taking steps to get into the WWE – that makes the whole thing more than mere exploitation.

Walk Hard: 3 / 5 bananas
A very good spoof of the musical biography genre. Like Anchorman, it’s the individual moments in the film that are really funny, rather than the overall plotline. In fact, there’s a pretty big section of the film that’s utterly forgettable. But there are plenty of laughs in between that make it a fun one to catch every once in a while.

The Ten: 4 / 5 bananas
I can’t help it – I like The State alumni films. This film has a few weak spots – namely the annoying rhino (or is it a hippo) cartoon in the middle that I fast-forward through now. But there are so many great spots – the two middle-aged guys groovin’ out to Bonnie Raitt, the Diane Wiest conversation, Winona Ryder getting it on with a puppet – that it’s not a complete failure by any means.

Dead Man’s Shoes: 4 / 5 bananas
This little-seen Irish film gives us an interesting take on vengeance. Ex-military brother comes home to seek revenge on some thugs who messed with his younger, mentally-deficient brother. As we see flashback scenes of what they did to the young man, you can see how they were cruel, but were their actions worth getting killed for? Throughout the film you’re meant to question if the older brother has gone too far, until you realize there’s more to the story than meets the eye. And then you’re left wondering if he was justified or if he was just deranged.

30 Rock Seasons 1 and 2: 5 / 5 bananas
I watched a few episodes of this when it first came out a few years ago and I just couldn’t get into it. I think it was just something I wasn’t expecting, so it threw me off. Thankfully I’ve caught up on this incredible show and am now chomping at the bit to keep watching as the seasons are released on DVD. Needless to say I’m very glad I gave this one another shot to win me over.

The Wrestler: 5 / 5 bananas
Wow. What an amazing, emotionally-draining film. I was with The Bull every step of the way, feeling his pain, feeling his frustration, feeling his hopelessness. I cannot recommend this one enough, but know going in that you will not be happy afterward. Such a great film with an incredible performance by Mickey Rourke.

Mysterious Skin: 3.5 / 5 bananas
What a disturbing film. I’d describe the plot, but I don’t want those keywords to start pointing people to my site from Google. Let’s just say it was a breakthrough performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and leave it at that.