Monday, April 30, 2012

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

We've all seen the movie a million times, a bunch of dumb college kids go camping and stumble across a mysterious spooky cabin, where they are then picked off one by one by some sort of monster or another. Heck, I just wrote about The Cabin in the Woods a few days ago, which was pretty much the ultimate deconstruction of the genre.

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil would actually make a great double feature with The Cabin in the Woods. Though a much sillier movie than Cabin, Tucker & Dale also takes the premise of the camping kids getting killed and turns it on its head. This time, the rednecks aren't the enemy, the prejudice and hysteria of the stupid kids is the real killer.

Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are two good hearted best friends who also happen to be rednecks going on a vacation to a run-down old cabin that Tucker bought with the intention of fixing up. On the way, they encounter the group of college kids, who believe them to be scary inbred hillbilly murderers. When one of the kids, Allison (30 Rock's Katrina Bowden), falls off a dock and hurts her head on a rock, Tucker and Dale rescue her and take her back to the cabin to fix her up. The kids think she's been kidnapped and taken to a torture dungeon or something, and in a panicked attempt to rescue her, begin getting themselves violently killed one by one, through their own clumsiness and idiocy. Tucker and Dale can do nothing but watch these morons pick themselves off.

It's all very cleverly executed. Kind of Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets The Ladykillers. Tucker and Dale are loveable guys, though a little dim. If you think teens behave stupidly in serious horror movies, wait until you see these kids. Their dumbness is exaggerated to a hilarious degree. It's nice to see southern stereotypes busted up a little bit, we northerners can be a little unfair.

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is director Eli Craig's first film, and hopefully it will attain a cult status that will allow him to work some more. He put an interesting spin on well worn territory; not an easy task at all. This is a funny movie with a good heart and plenty of gore, in case the good heart is not enough for you.

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

I love when a whole bunch of different genres get mashed together into something strange and new. I love it more when it works, but I still appreciate the attempt when it doesn't. Tsui Hark's film, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame is a historical fantasy murder mystery kung fu adventure movie, and for the most part, it clicks.

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame is set in 7th Century China, during the reign of the controversial first female Emperor. A massive statue of the Buddha is being built in preparation for her coronation. But when an official visiting the construction site spontaneously combusts, Detective Dee is called in to use his deductive reasoning to solve the mystery. We then follow him on his mission, and we see fantastical cities under cities, completely hidden from the sun, talking deer Gods, and people who can change their appearance via acupuncture pressure points.

Andy Lau (Infernal Affairs, a million billion billion other movies) portrays "Detective Dee", a fictionalized version of a real historical figure. He's a bit of a Sherlock Holmes type, well ahead of the curve in a lot of ways. When we meet him, he's been imprisoned for eight years for opposing the rule of the Empress that he is enlisted to help. I thought that aspect was interesting, his willingness to help a ruler he ideologically opposes for the good of China. In a way, it kind of reminded me of D'Artagnan of the Three Musketeers fighting so hard to protect the Queen's honor, even though he knows she's been sleeping around on the king. Does that make sense? Maybe just in my head.

My favorite character was Jing-er, played by Li Bing Bing. She acts as the Empress' right hand, and is sent to keep an eye on Dee. Her weapon of choice is a whip, and she's all sorts of awesome, and you're not quite sure where her loyalties lie.

As a whole, Detective Dee is an entertaining fantasy adventure with an interesting engaging mystery. I thought it would be a stretch to have a skeptical Holmes-ian character integrated into a world full of Chinese mysticism, but the mysticism is accepted as fact in the context of the movie and is all kind of taken in stride by the characters, and it actually works rather well.

The one element in the genre mish-mash that didn't really come together for me was the Kung Fu. Pretty surprising, right? There are some fun sequences and fights, but the way they were shot felt very Western to me. So much of it was done in tight close-up, with more cutting than is necessary. The best martial arts scenes in movies are shot in a way that we can see the fighters' whole bodies at work. If it's just patched together in editing, it's far less impressive.

Besides that aspect, though, the action sequences are all a lot of fun. They just feel more Hollywood than Hong Kong. Overall, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame is an interesting and original piece of popcorn moviemaking, and totally worth a watch.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Ace in the Hole

I didn't know anything about Ace in the Hole before I watched it. I knew it was by Billy Wilder, who has made some of my favorite movies. From the premise, I actually thought it was a comedy, and it even started out somewhat light. But I didn't expect what I got at all: A dark, cynical, noirish satire.

Ace in the Hole is a 1951 film starring Kirk Douglas as Chuck Tatum, a disgraced New York reporter who must now resort to begging for a job at a tiny, inconsequential newspaper in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He has been fired from so many other jobs that he is perfectly honest and upfront with the editor about his past indiscretions. The editor gives him a chance anyway.

Tatum wiles away the time until, on assignment to cover a rattlesnake hunt, he lucks his way into a man trapped in a mine. Seeing his opportunity back into the big time, he uses every dirty trick in the book and manipulates the story of the man into a national sensation.

The man in the hole, Leo Minosa, is everything a reporter could want: He fought in the war, he worries that he's awakened an ancient Indian curse, and he has a wife and family waiting for him back home. Tatum manipulates the facts to his favor, going so far as convincing Leo's wife, Lorraine, just about to run out on him, to stay and reap the benefits of her husband's plight.

As the story goes national, crowds begin to form, gawkers camping in front of the mine to watch the rescue effort and be a part of history. The site becomes a carnival, both figuratively, and quite literally, as vendors come and set up rides, live music, and food. Leo's family's little roadside shop, once devoid of life, is now booming with business.

Ace in the Hole doesn't let up for a minute. It's about as vicious and viciously entertaining as a movie can get. Kirk Douglas' Chuck Tatum isn't exactly likeable, but he sure is fun to watch. Blinded by greed, he makes dirty deals with the sheriff, cleverly cuts all the rest of the news reporters out of his story, and even works to keep Leo in the hole longer to drag things out.

I read that Ace in the Hole was not very well received. That doesn't surprise me. It's not exactly a feel-good movie, and I can't imagine it was something an audience from 1951 would go nuts for. Fortunately, it has aged ridiculously well. The dialogue sounds as good and real today as it did then, and the ruthless skewering of the press milking a story for all its worth is only a million times more relevant now than it was sixty years ago. It actually reminded me of Sidney Lumet's Network in its prescience, though Network was so on-the-nose it's scary.

Any lover of classic films should definitely watch Ace in the Hole. The same goes for pretty much every Billy Wilder film, from what I can tell. He was smart, observant, versatile, and unafraid to shy away from adult issues. I'm sure there's a Billy Wilder movie for everyone. I think my favorite will always be The Apartment, but I still have a lot more to watch.

The Cabin in the Woods

Cabins in the woods get bad reputations from horror movies. My family owns a cabin in the woods and sure, it's a little creepy at night, but it's a perfectly pleasant place to be. No Deadites, no deranged undead campers, no monstrous inbred hillbillies. Just peace and tranquility and the occasional bat or spider.

Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard's horror comedy The Cabin in the Woods is about none of those things and all of them. More than anything it's about the modern mythology that cabins in the woods have been given over decades of horror movies. It's about why we watch horror movies, and why we gain some sick kind of pleasure from watching young, dumb, and horny teenagers getting dismembered.

On one side of the story, we have the five typical college kids about to go on a weekend of debauchery at one of their cousin's cabins. Of course, the cabin is creepy and unsettling and they find a mysterious cellar that awakens a horrible evil.

But from the very first scene, we also know something these kids don't: they're just puppets. They're being monitored and controlled by a large scientific facility, for (at first, anyway) unknown reasons. The guys in charge of the facility (scene stealers Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins) watch with a casual detachment as the kids are manipulated through one dumb horror cliche after another.

I won't go any further, though. There are some really surprising twists and turns along the way, and if they haven't been ruined for you yet, I don't want to be the one. The entire third act turns the whole movie on its head, and it's hilarious. I basically laughed for the entire last half hour or so.

The five college kids are all great. They have the challenge of playing both the stereotypes of the movies they're reenacting, and also just five normal teenagers who can't quite understand why they're acting so stupidly. Kristen Connolly in particular is good as the typical innocent good girl character, as is Fran Kranz as the goofy stoner comic relief.

Co-writer/producer Joss Whedon and co-writer/director Drew Goddard wrote the movie together and shot it 3 years ago, and due to the financial problems of MGM, sat on a shelf awaiting release until it was purchased by Lion's Gate and freed from purgatory. It couldn't have come out at a better time, with Whedon's The Avengers just about to explode and make him into the biggest, most in demand writer/director this side of J.J. Abrams. The script and the direction couldn't be more sure of themselves. The dialogue and story are whip-smart, funny, and at times, thought-provoking, and through all of its deconstruction and self-awareness, it never forgets that the victims are people and not just avatars.

I know you're probably all seeing The Avengers, so why don't you make it a double-Joss weekend and catch Cabin in the Woods, too? And please remember, not ALL cabins are like this one. I've been going all my life and haven't once been molested by an evil tree.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Raid: Redemption (Serbuan Maut)

Gareth Evans' The Raid: Redemption is about as intense as a movie can get. It grabs hold of you within the first 15 minutes and doesn't let go until the very end. I shouldn't have to say much more to convince everyone who loves action movies to go and see this movie right away, so the review portion of this entry will be short. But I have a special surprise at the end!

The Raid: Redemption stars Iko Uwais, the star of Evans' previous film, Merantau, as Rama, a rookie in the B-Unit of a SWAT team attempting to raid a building swimming with criminals. The crime lord in charge of the building is Tama, a paranoid man who hides out on the 15th floor and has rigged up his building with security cameras and henchmen. The SWAT team must make their way from the bottom to the 15th story in order to capture Tama. All hell breaks loose when Tama learns of their presence and sends everyone in the entire building to take them down.

From then on, it's a non-stop barrage of violent shootouts, stabouts, punchouts, and kickouts. One great battle ensues after another, as Rama quickly reveals himself to be a one-man beatdown machine, working his way to the top of the building on his own. There are a few twists and turns along the way, but I don't want to ruin them, and really, the movie focuses on delivering to us exactly what we want to see: Carnage.

I love the way the battles progress. The SWAT team relies heavily on their guns, but they only have so much ammo. Once they run out, the movie shifts into martial arts mode, as Iko Uwais uses his tremendous skills to evade the blades of machete-wielding tenants. The scene stealer baddie is Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian), a guy who, when given a choice between shooting someone and fighting hand-to-hand, will throw his gun away in a heartbeat. Crazy as he is, you've got to respect him.

The Raid is a pretty amazing feat, from a technical standpoint. It's action filmmaking at its purest, and Gareth Evans deserves the praise he is getting. To make a movie that never gives the audience a chance to rest, to shoot and put together in editing all these action sequences that are clear and easy for the viewer to track, is a difficult challenge indeed.

There's already buzz that Gareth Evans is hard at work on a sequel. While I'm sure it's in good hands, and have the utmost faith in him to pull it off, I thought it couldn't hurt to throw out a couple of scene suggestions. It's going to be hard to top the first one, so here are a couple of moments of pure ownage that just might do the job, as horribly rendered by yours truly in MS Paint.

Here we have Rama kicking a guy's head clean off. The head flies through the air, clear over to a nearby basketball hoop. The head goes through the hoop, NOTHING BUT NET, with a SWISH sound effect, and then falls into the open mouth of a hungry monster, or possibly an alligator or a dinosaur. I'm not sure what that is that I drew.

And here we have a bad guy slicing open Rama's throat with a long knife. Little does he realize that even Rama's blood is badass, as it flows out of the wound on his neck, forms a blood fist, and wallops him one.

If you read this, Mr. Evans, I just wanted to let you know, you can have these ideas FREE OF CHARGE. I already owe you one for giving us The Raid.

And for everyone else, if you're interested in seeing a couple more of my illustrated reviews, check out my popular Logan's Run entry, and Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell, which is actually my favorite of all the reviews I've done.

Fire and Ice

In my adolescent years, movies like those of the animator Ralph Bakshi were pretty hard to come by. My only opportunity to get my hands on many of those underground cult films was at a comic book convention, every six months or so. I still have a bootleg VHS of Bakshi's bizarro 1977 animated fantasy, Wizards, buried away somewhere, and his animated Lord of the Rings movie as well.

Nowadays, of course, the movie studios realize that there is indeed a market for the strange, and have released Bakshi's work and many of the other Comicon oddities from my youth on DVD and Blu Ray, or are streaming them digitally. So now, here I am at 30, getting to watch his 1983 animated feature, Fire and Ice, instantly on my TV.

Fire and Ice has quite a geek friendly pedigree. In addition to being directed by Bakshi, it was developed and designed by legendary fantasy illustrator Frank Frazetta (see poster above), and the screenplay was written by two of the all time great comic book writers, Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas. Conway is perhaps best known for writing the Death of Gwen Stacy story in Amazing Spider-Man, considered the most important Spider-Man story pretty much ever. Thomas wrote Marvel's Conan the Barbarian comic books in the 1970's, making him a perfect choice for this movie.

Fire and Ice is the story of two warring kingdoms. The evil Nekron attempts to kidnap the might-as-well-be-naked Princess Teegra to make her his wife. She escapes and is assisted on her journey home by a musclebound villager named Larn. When she is kidnapped again, it is up to Larn and the super-badass masked man, Darkwolf to rescue her and defeat Nekron and his evil queen mother.

Bakshi used rotoscoping in his animation, drawing over live action elements, which saved much time and money for his relatively low budget operation. This gives the movements and characters a nice, realistic weight and believable human movements. Of course, not everything is rotoscoped. I can't imagine the pterodactyls were, for example. By the way, people storming a castle on the backs of pterodactyls is pretty awesome.

Fire and Ice was made in 1983, right before Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom forced the hand of the MPAA into creating the PG-13 rating, so don't let that PG fool you into showing it to the kids. It also gets a lot of leeway for being animated. This movie would be an R if it came out today. As I said before, Teegra is pretty much naked the entire time, very little is left to the imagination. Also, it's quite violent. People take axes to the head, spears to the chest. All that stuff. It's not even hidden in shadow or conveniently off-camera, tricks used by many PG-13 movies nowadays.

As a whole, the movie itself is enjoyable, but not great. The animation is really cool, though, and it has a genuinely comic-book-y feel to it. The voice acting is not exactly top notch, and it doesn't exactly have the most complex of stories, but Fire and Ice hits the right mark when it comes to appealing to the 12-year-old-boy part of the brain.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Director Gareth Evans' new film The Raid is currently taking the geek world by storm, inspiring memes and all that stuff. My review for that is still forthcoming, but while you wait, hey, have you seen his previous film, Merantau?

While The Raid is wall to wall action, Merantau takes a more character and plot oriented approach. It is the story of Yuda (The Raid badass Iko Uwais), a young Indonesian man on his way to Jakarta to follow his dream of becoming a teacher of a martial art called Silat. Things aren't easy for him in Jakarta, he winds up homeless, sleeping in a large pipe at a construction site.

Fate intervenes when a boy steals Yuda's wallet and he chases him into an alley, where he finds Astri, the boy's sister, being roughed up by her boss. Yuda beats the guy up and saves her, though he cost her her job in the process. Unfortunately, this raises the ire of Astri's boss, and in turn, his boss, a European gangster of some kind. In order to get Astri and her brother out of trouble, Yuda must now face off against the Eurogangster and his men on his own.

The martial arts in Merantau are pretty damn great. I like how Gareth Evans directs the action sequences. There isn't a great deal of cutting, and he places the cameras in places where you can easily follow what is happening. It's refreshing to see action like this, since so many Hollywood action movies are a jumble of quick cutting and tight close-ups.

The story, while fairly standard for a Martial Arts movie, is effective, and serves its purpose as a setup for a ton of beatdowns, while still giving us likeable characters that we can root for. Iko Uwais is easy to like as a hero. At the start, he comes across as young, fresh-faced and open to the world. When he's given something to fight for, you're right there with him and want to see him win.

There are certain leaps a viewer must take and facts we must accept when watching a martial arts movie like Merantau. One is that nobody ever seems to get tired during a fight. Iko Uwais will finish a giant showdown and run at top speed into the next without ever even stopping for a quick breather. Another is that everybody knows martial arts too. Where's the fun in beating up a bunch of gangsters if they can't put up a fight? Heck, even the European guys seem to be masters at some fighting style or another. I don't mind taking these leaps. They're pretty silly when you stop and think about it, but they're all part of the fun.

So if you liked The Raid, will you like Merantau? I would have to say, yes, I think you will. It offers a lot of action, and a lot more in terms of character and story on top of that. It's much less of a ride than The Raid is, but it makes up for that fact in other ways. Some people, say, Roger Ebert, for example, might argue that Merantau is actually the better movie of the two. It all depends on what you're looking for, really.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

American Grindhouse

Any regular readers of this here webbity page can probably tell that I love watching B movies, cult movies, and other such cinematic oddities. I love the strange and fantastical, and many of my favorite movies are the ones that show me things that I have never seen or even imagined before. As an extension of that, I also love watching documentaries about such films. After watching them, I always end up with huge lists of movies I want to check out.

Elijah Drenner's documentary American Grindhouse is basically a complete history of exploitation movies, going back all the way to the dawn of cinema. It's highly informative, demonstrating through footage and interviews with experts, fans, and participants in the genre, how the societal mindset of each era was reflected in the usually cheap, often seedy films that played in the dingier, more rundown theaters across America.

I learned a lot, and perhaps saw some things that I can't unsee, such as a live birth (surprisingly, I handled it well), and footage from Tod Browning's Freaks, which I always kind of avoided, because that kind of stuff always makes me sad (it still made me sad).

I loved the section of the film about the films of the 1950's. I thought it was hilarious that there was an entire genre of Nudist Camp movies, just showing naked people frolicking and playing volleyball and stuff. That's such a strange, sexless way to sell sex that it could only have come from the repressed 1950's, you know?

The sixties are when things started to get pretty sick, which also makes sense because society was getting pretty sick, too. You know, turbulent times, and stuff. That's when the nudie movies got violent, and the horror movies got gory. I liked learning about Herschell Gordon Lewis, AKA the Godfather of Gore, who most of you might know from the scene about him in Juno. I'm not sure if I want to see his movies, but the guy was a trailblazer, taking horror movies to the over the top, Grand Guignol level.

A great debt is also owed to Roger Corman, who I have a particular appreciation for. He directed and produced so many independent movies, and found so many major movie talents in the process, that you could make an entire movie just on him. (What? They already have? I plan on watching that one too!) He was always able to tap into what the youth were looking for and, well, exploit it.

Eventually, in no small part due to Corman and the generation of talent he discovered and mentored (Scorsese, Nicholson, Dante, Demme, the list goes on...), exploitation movies became the mainstream blockbusters that we go and see today. Which is exactly why knowing this history should be important to anyone who loves the movies.

I seriously love documentaries like this. I always end up with huge lists of movies I want to see after I watch them. Did I mention it was narrated by Robert Forster? Pretty cool, right? Just be warned if you watch it: lots of nudity, lots of gore. Put the kids to bed!

Anyway, if you watch American Grindhouse and are still interested in learning about movies like this, might I direct your attention to the fantastic documentaries of Mark Hartley? Instead of the broad picture that American Grindhouse paints, Hartley narrows his focus to specific global movements or subgenres and digs deep. Not Quite Hollywood covers the Australian "Ozsploitation" movement, and Machete Maidens Unleashed covers Corman's exploits making movies on the cheap in the Phillipines in the 70's. Fascinating, educational and funny stuff. All three of these movies are on Netflix Instant (if you're in America, at least).

The Mighty Peking Man

Action! Adventure! Excitement! Animal Cruelty? Well, I can't confirm that last one, but it looks probable. I don't think they had any laws preventing animal cruelty in 1970's Hong Kong.

The Mighty Peking Man, originally released in the states as Goliathon, is an attempt by legendary Hong Kong producers, The Shaw Brothers, to cash in on the 1976 remake of King Kong. Why they didn't just call it "Hong Kong" is beyond me. The story is similar to that of King Kong, but with a little bit more exploitation, because hey, sex and violence sell, right?

The producers, The Shaw Brothers, are best known for making many of the classic Kung Fu movies of the 60's and 70's, such as The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. I wasn't even aware that they made other kinds of movies, but I guess it makes sense that they did. Later, in the 90's, Quentin Tarantino rereleased it through his distribution company.

Johnny (Danny Lee) goes on a dangerous expedition to the Himalayas, on a search for the Peking Man, a monstrous ape that has been terrorizing villages. He loses all of his men on the way, due to tigers and climbing treacherous cliffs and such, and ultimately makes it to the jungle that the Peking Man calls home. There he meets Samantha, a scantily clad American woman whose parents died in a plane crash there when she was a child. She is the only one who can control the Peking Man. After a snake bites her inner thigh and Johnny sucks out the poison (oh come on!) and nurses her to health, the two fall in love, and the Peking Man gets jealous. Then of course comes the scene when Johnny's boss finds and rescues him, along with Samantha and the Peking Man, bringing them to Hong Kong, where a rampage ensues.

Considering the fact that it's a knock-off movie, The Mighty Peking Man is actually very well made. Johnny and Samantha are likeable characters. I thought it was funny when, on the ship to Hong Kong, he gave her a dress to wear. Not seeing the point of clothes, she waits until he leaves for a minute and tosses it out the window. The effects are solid, too. Not so much the effects themselves, which looks like any B-Movie would, but more the use of the effects. Director Ho Meng-Hua integrates and blends various different methods, such as animation, miniatures, rear screen projection, and even stock footage to make his story work.

I like some of the slight changes from King Kong, too. Ok, I've never seen the 1976 version, so these might actually be directly lifted from that, for all I know. I like that instead of just putting Kong on a stage, they put the Peking Man in an arena, in basically a big Monster Truck Pull. It's too bad Truckasaurus wasn't around yet. I also like that the Peking Man is inspired to break free from his bonds because he could see through a window that the bad guy was trying to rape Samantha.

What I found rather unsettling, however, are the jungle sequences with live (and possibly dead?) animals. It began when a tiger attacked the explorers. At first, I was amazed that they had a man wrestling a real live tiger. But then I thought, obviously the tiger was declawed, probably sedated, and worst case scenario, de-toothed. That's kind of a horrible thought, right?

Then we come to Samantha's pet leopard, also obviously sedated. It follows her around and she plays with it, carrying it over her shoulders, lifting it by its underarms and spinning it around. It just kind of looks confused. At one point they toss the snake that bit her his way and he starts fighting with it. Pretty sure that was a dead snake. And absolutely worst of all, there's a close-up of the leopard when Samantha is saying goodbye, and I am pretty certain that this poor cat is trying to open up its mouth but completely unable to.

I hope that poor leopard was alright after the shoot. It seems to me that there's a pretty strong chance that it wasn't, which, well, it really dampens my enjoyment of the movie.

Removing myself from all that, The Mighty Peking Man is actually a well made movie. I can't really recommend it to animal lovers, but lovers of B-Movies, monster movies, and Shaw Brothers movies might get a kick out of it.

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry

I've known about Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry for a long time, read about it in books about cult movies, surely I've heard Quentin Tarantino mention it at some point. After all these years, I still can't get the title straight in my head. Is it Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, or is it Dirty Larry, Crazy Mary? Even watching the movie, I couldn't remember which was which. Because, you see, Mary didn't seem so dirty to me, but she did seem kind of crazy. And Larry was definitely crazy, but he was also kind of a dirtbag. Still, despite all my confusion, that title leaps out at you when you see it written out in front of you.

Right out the gates, Dirty Mary/Larry, Crazy Larry/Mary puts all the pieces in place for a perfect car chase movie. Larry (Peter Fonda) is a race car driver. His friend Deke (Adam Roarke) is a mechanic. Together they hatch a plan to rob a ton of money from a guy. They hold the owner's family hostage at home, while getting him to hand over the money in the store. Roddy McDowall is the store owner, and it's a tiny role, but I still ended up really liking his character, because it's made clear that he's no dummy.

The plan goes off, almost without a hitch, until Larry gets in the getaway car, only to find Mary (Susan George), his one-night-stand from the previous night sitting in there waiting for him. He tries to get rid of her, by being a jerk, but she wants to come along for the ride and she won't take no for an answer.

Meanwhile, the sheriff (Vic Morrow) has already begun a search for them, sparing no resources, and a high speed race to the border ensues, where Larry, Mary, and Deke use all of their wits and know-how to keep one step ahead.

The movie is well known for its car chases, and the car chases are absolutely great. 1970's car chase movies are so much better than modern car chase movies because they really did the stunts you see up on the screen. There's no CGI at play. No quick cutting. Just real stunts with real cars.

But the action isn't the only draw. The interaction between the characters is just as good. Peter Fonda's Larry is a mean guy, but that doesn't mean you don't like him. He walks that line really well. Susan George is really likeable as Mary, who, though unwanted at first, earns the respect of Larry and Deke, and is eventually accepted as part of the team. I actually liked her the best of the three.

The classic French film The Wages of Fear casts a heavy shadow over a lot of these 1970's movies involving vehicles. Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry is actually the second 70's film that I've seen in the last few months with an ending that owes everything to Wages of Fear. The other, of course, is The Italian Job. And these were both made before William Friedkin flat out remade Wages of Fear with his movie Sorceror (which I have yet to watch). I wonder if there were many movie-goers back in the day wondering why all these movies coming out had such similar endings.

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry is cool, culty, gritty, and action packed, with an intelligent script and memorable characters. I've never seen anything else by director John Hough, though it looks like he made some pretty memorable movies in the 70's. He did a great job with this one. It's one of the most memorable and exciting car chase movies of all time.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

Strange, hypnotic, surreal, unsettling, innocent. Jaromil Jires' 1970 film, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders embodies all of these things. Part of the Czech New Wave (everybody gets a New Wave!), Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is a dreamlike Alice in Wonderland-esque tale of a 13-year-old girl crossing the line into womanhood and sexual awakening.

So many odd and interesting things happen in this movie that I don't even know where to begin. Characters change roles in her life throughout the story; grandmothers become mothers, boyfriends become brothers. There's a pair of enchanted earrings, a priest who is maybe not as holy as he should be. Oh, and a vampire, there's definitely a vampire, who might also be her grandfather. Or her father.

I'm sorry if that description didn't help. As I said, the film is dreamlike, and as such, the narrative is very loose, and since it has been a few weeks since I watched it, the movie as a whole is kind of jumbled up in my mind. I suppose I might be failing as a critic right now. It's a good thing I'm not making a go at this professionally. This movie is really hard to describe!

What I can say is that the visuals are all very striking and distinctly eastern European. I loved the colors and the camera work. I'm never going to forget the image of the drops of vivid red blood falling on the flower, for example. We all know what that symbolizes, right? There's all sorts of strange Freudian symbolism going on throughout.

The Czech New Wave is the same scene that produced Jan Svankmajer, the brilliant director who incorporates stop motion animation, often of such things as raw meat and taxidermied animals. Almost two decades later, he would create his own version of Alice in Wonderland, which is quite possibly my favorite of all. Certainly the most messed up version.

I would actually really love to watch Valerie and Her Week of Wonders a second time. Admittedly, I didn't see it in the best way possible. I watched it on a computer screen, on Criterion's free Hulu channel, which as it turns out, interrupts the movie with commercials every ten minutes. Not a very good way to immerse yourself into a work of beauty, is it? I wouldn't recommend it. I just loved the title so much, I couldn't resist checking it out, commercials be damned. I hope Criterion puts Valerie and Her Week of Wonders out on Blu Ray in the future and I can watch it uninterrupted on my TV. Maybe if that ever happens, I will post a much more coherent review that will make you all want to see it and you will enjoy it as much as I am failing to express.

Shut Up, Little Man!

In the late 1980's, two twenty-something midwestern guys moved into a cheap apartment in San Francisco. Much to their chagrin, they soon discovered that their neighbors, two drunk old men, had violent screaming matches at any and all hours of the day. The thin walls offered little protection from the noise, so these guys did what any smartass twenty-something kid would do: they started recording the arguments. Little did they realize that these tapes would become an underground sensation.

Shut Up, Little Man! is a 2010 documentary by Matthew Bate that not just presents their story, but also attempts to piece together the story of these two miserable old men. They were Peter J Haskett and Raymond Huffman, one proudly gay, the other loudly homophobic, but nevertheless, they were roommates, and apparently the best of friends.

The guys, who go by the names Eddie Lee Sausage and Mitchell D, recorded Haskett and Huffman for months. At one point on a recording, one of the old men even comments that "Now the neighbors are recording us!" and they just keep arguing! They passed the tapes to friends, who in turn passed the tapes to friends, and so on. The tapes got so popular in their circle that they would have parties where they'd all get together and listen to the old men arguing live.

The Shut Up, Little Man! tapes were viral videos before viral videos existed. There were people back in the 80's and 90's who collected such tapes, recordings of prank calls, etc. Sausage and D's recordings became such an underground sensation that an indie magazine actually began to distribute them across the nation, a hit play was produced, and there were even early talks to make a Shut Up, Little Man! movie(!?!).

Shut Up, Little Man! is a fun little documentary. The phenomenon of tape trading interests me. I was quite young at the time this was going on, but if I was 10 years older, I bet I would have ate that stuff up. This movie reminds me a lot of the documentary Winnebago Man. If you watch the two movies back to back, you'll get a fairly decent account of the history of viral videos, leading up to the early days of the internet.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

I was going to just skip writing a review for this movie. It's actually okay, but nothing to write home about. But guess what? I am obsessive compulsive. I don't think it's that bad a case, but it's bad enough that my brain absolutely will not allow me to skip over a movie for my dumb little blog! So I reached a compromise with my broken-record brain: This is a secret review. Kind of a hidden Easter Egg. I'm not going to direct anybody to it through links on Twitter or Facebook, because I have nothing of value to talk about with this movie. But if you happen to be a regular reader (mostly friends and family) or you stumble across this while searching for something else, well, here's your reward!

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is based on an old kid's book that my wife says is really good. It's directed by Stuart Orme, who I have no knowledge of. It's about two little girls who are left at their family manor in the care of a distant cousin. The cousin turns out to be evil, and takes over the house and claim to the manor, forcing the two girls into hard labor. With the help of some of the friendlier servants and some kid who lives in the cave, the girls journey to London to get their crazy distant cousin lady off their lawn. There are also wolves.

That's the long and short of it. Okay, that's really just the short of it. There's some kind of spooky stuff for kids in there. You know, in that age-old Dickensian British way, with the mean aunts mistreating kids and all that. I bet this freaked out some little English kids in the 80's.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase was watchable, but I guess that fact is going to remain our little secret. I wish I had a prize for whoever finds it, because that would be fun. Good bye!

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Three Musketeers (1973) / The Four Musketeers (1974)

Swashbuckling and slapstick comedy go together like chocolate and peanut butter. The massive global success of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies is proof enough of this. Director Richard Lester and the producers, the Salkinds, the guys who later brought us Superman, had this formula figured out 30 years before with their two-movie adaptation of The Three Musketeers.

The Three Musketeers and the sequel, The Four Musketeers, may have been the first instance where a series of movies were shot back to back in order to cut costs and keep the cast intact. Or maybe they just split a really long movie into two, a la Kill Bill. And the cast is of the All-Star variety, featuring such names as Oliver Reed, Christopher Lee, Raquel Welch, Richard Chamberlain, Faye Dunaway, and Charlton Heston.

A young Michael York takes the lead as D'Artagnan, an ambitious young country bumpkin who sets out to the city with the goal of becoming one of the Queen's Musketeers. He meets the Three Musketeers, and together, they are sent on a mission: retrieve the queen's jewels, so she won't get caught sleeping around with someone other than the king, thus shaming France. Over the course of the first movie, he grows from a clumsy kid to a full-fledged Musketeer. The sequel follows Dunaway's character Milady de Winter, as she plots revenge against D'Artagnan and friends for the events of the first movie.

I watched both movies back to back in one sitting, so I'm honestly having a hard time remembering which scenes came from what movie. But they both do work great together as one huge film. I liked Michael York a lot as D'Artagnan. He's always charming and likeable in the few films I've seen him take the lead. I also thought Faye Dunaway and Christopher Lee were great in their villainous roles. The titular Musketeers were a ton of fun, but I felt like they didn't get enough screentime. In fact, I think Raquel Welch's cleavage had a bigger role than they do.

The action scenes and setpieces alternate between elaborate physical comedy routines and impeccably choreographed sword fights. Lester does nice work of balancing the two, for the most part, but sometimes the comedy gets a little too low-brow and/or broad for my tastes, especially in the first movie, which is lighter. The second one, while still funny, pulls back a little bit, and has a much darker tone, even with some turns in the plot towards the end that are unusual for a big movie such as this. I haven't read the books yet, but I assume they stay pretty faithful.

The Three and Four Musketeers are both really fun adventure movies, that are almost great for the whole family, if it wasn't for all that bawdy humor. Of the two, I think the second one is the better. It just balanced the humor with the drama with the action really well, while the first is a little bit tilted towards the comedy side. I honestly believe that Gore Verbinski was inspired by these when he made the Pirates movies. They have a similar sense of quirkiness, big characters, and high adventure.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games is the story of Ms. Pacman, a perfectly spherical woman taken by her government and forced to navigate a maze, hounded relentlessly by colorful ghosts and forced to subsist on tasteless white pellets, only occasionally given the nutritious reprieve of a cherry or, if she's lucky, a banana.

What? That's not The Hunger Games? Let's start over.

Seriously though, I'm weeks late on this, so what can be said about The Hunger Games that hasn't been said already by everyone else on the internet? I liked it. I didn't love it, but I thought it felt immediate and mostly effective.

The Hunger Games is the story of Katniss Everdeen, a resourceful sixteen year old girl who must fight for her life against 23 other teens in a sort of gladiator battle for the entertainment of the foppish, ruling class in the Capital. Along the way, she plants the seeds for dissent in the increasingly dissatisfied poor of America's dystopian future, divided into twelve districts.

I need say no more because you've probably seen it already, read the bestselling book, or have no interest in it whatsoever.

The Hunger Games is directed by Gary Ross, best known by me for writing and directing Pleasantville, a really great movie by my estimation. The performances of the cast are all around impressive, especially Jennifer Lawrence in her role as Katniss. Josh Hutcherson surprised me as, Peeta, her partner/opponent in the games, who professes his love for her on national television. Elizabeth Banks is hilarious as Effie Trinkett, Katniss and Peeta's clueless liaison with the capital, and Woody Harrelson is underused as their drunken mentor Haymitch. I assume he'll get some great stuff in the sequels.

The movie manages to be intense and entertaining for the most part, despite being bound to and neutered by the bloodless, largely off camera violence of a PG-13 rating. Gary Ross does a decent job of working around these limitations. I honestly felt he could have pushed it even further without risking the rating, but I'm guessing the MPAA had particular issues with the fact that it was kids doing all the killing.

My main problem with The Hunger Games was with the way it was put together. The book, which, yes, I have read, is told entirely from Katniss' point of view, and once she's in the games, she has no idea what's going on in the outside world. All that matters is her own survival. It's what made the book such a page turner. In the case of the film adaptation, they frequently cut away from Katniss' struggle to Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones as the television announcers, providing all the exposition necessary to keep the story going. We also get a lot of cutaways to the Wes Bentley as the designer of the games, calling the shots in the control room. I understand that some exposition is necessary since not all moviegoers have read the book, but each time they cut outside of the games, the movie lost a little bit more of its punch.

And if I'm going to compare it to the books, I should probably point out that there were some plot points from the book that were actually improved in the adaptation into film. Katniss' badge of a Mockingjay, for example, which becomes a nationwide symbol of dissent, is now given to her by her sister, instead of some girl she went to school with but didn't really know.

Overall, I was happy with The Hunger Games. I'm looking forward to the next one. By the way, whoever owns the Ms. Pacman movie rights, call me. I have a pitch that could make you millions.


A few months ago, I discovered Mirageman, a low budget martial arts superhero comedy from Chile that was a whole lot of fun. It was directed by Ernesto Diaz Espinoza and starred Marko Zaror in the title role. Well, as luck would have it, it was not their first collaboration. Kiltro is much more of a standard martial arts film than Mirageman was, but it still has the same sense of fun.

Kiltro is the story of Zamir, played by Marko Zaror, a young punk and a fighter. He has a pink mullet that is pretty hard to get over as a viewer. It's not just that he has a mullet and his hair is dyed pink. ONLY the mullet is pink! I better stop now before I get diverted and write my entire review about Zamir's pink mullet, so let's get back to the mullet-- I mean the movie.

Anyway, Zamir is infatuated with Kim, the daughter of a local Korean martial arts teacher. Unfortunately, he has a misplaced way of showing his affection: by running over and beating the shit out of any other guy who talks to her. He tries to impress her by challenging her dad's entire class to a fight--and wins-- but you know, he has a lot of natural talent, and none of the discipline.

When Max Kalba, another old martial artist, comes to town to take vengeance on the martial arts teacher, Zamir is defeated, so he takes the girl and flees, going into hiding with another member of Kim's father's old martial arts bros. In order to rescue Kim's father, Zamir must train himself (with yet another of Kim's dad's old buddies, this one the classic drunken master archetype) to defeat Kalba.

What I like about Espinoza's movies is that, even though they don't break new ground, they are really well made, and they proudly are what they are. The stories are presented with a straight faced sincerity not often seen in movies like this these days. Espinoza clearly loves Quentin Tarantino, and wears it on his sleeve, even lifting some of the music from the Kill Bill movies for his own use.

The final brawl is pretty great, with Zamir painting a symbol over his face like a badass, attaching blades to his feet like a badass, and proceeding to slice open a bunch of Kalba's henchmen's throats with his kicks. Like a badass. Sure, the blood is CGI, which inevitably always fails to sate a moviegoer's bloodlust, but hey, I know the movie was made on the cheap.

Kiltro is worth watching if you like the martial arts, though I personally liked Mirageman better. I like the sincerity Espinoza and Zaror have put into their little kung fu movies, and the sort of D.I.Y attitude of the filmmaking. If I could some up my thoughts on Kiltro, it would go as such: Pink mullet.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Sweatbox

Disney's 2000 animated feature, The Emperor's New Groove, while by no means a classic, was an enjoyable movie, refreshing and different at a time when Disney was stuck in a holding pattern. It turns out, though, that it could have been a very different movie, and that it came out the way that it did is quite surprising.

The Sweatbox is a fascinating documentary by Trudie Styler, chronicling the troubled production of The Emperor's New Groove, and the frustration, disappointment, and heartbreak that such a troubled production can cause. Styler is the wife of the musician Sting, who was brought on to compose six new songs for the film. She was granted permission to make an all access documentary on the making of the movie as part of the deal.

Disney certainly didn't have a clue that the production was going to be such a mess. The Emperor's New Groove was a completely different movie at that time, an animated epic called Kingdom of the Sun, to be co-directed by Roger Allers, one of the directors of The Lion King. David Spade still voiced a bratty emperor-turned-llama and Eartha Kitt was still the villain but those are just about the only similarities.

The early scenes of the film are interviews with Sting, animators, and Roger Allers, and there is an enthusiasm there. Allers has been guiding this production, the story was his baby. As months pass, though, the story never seems to crystallize, it sounds like it's kind of all over the place. Then comes the fateful day when an extremely rough cut of the film is to be shown to the head honchos. They tear it apart, saying they can't tell if it's a comedy or a drama, don't know what exactly it's about, and the only things they like are two of the songs.

I felt really bad for Roger Allers, who guided the project from its conception, for three years, only to be told to change everything into something completely unrecognizable. He can't be blamed for leaving the project, to be taken over by his co-director Mark Dindal, who reworked it into a lighter, goofier story.

Of course, the problem with that is, there's not really any place for Sting's songs now. Sting had never written songs for a movie like this, obviously, and his growing frustration with the studio is beginning to show. He didn't expect to be called back for new compositions time and time again over a period of years, interrupting his touring schedule and other projects. All this resulted in was a song in the end credits and a soundtrack CD full of songs that don't really resemble the movie.

There are several documentaries out there about troubled movie productions, and I always find them heartbreaking, but impossible to turn away from. Perhaps the most difficult to watch is Lost in La Mancha, the documentary about the aborted production of Terry Gilliam's Don Quixote movie, in which everything that could possible go wrong does. The Sweatbox is a little different, in that the filmmakers actually pulled through and made a decent movie.

The Sweatbox was never released by Disney, who retained the rights to it, but it did play at a film festival or two. I was surprised to find it had leaked onto Youtube. I'm honestly not sure if it's still up or if Disney has found out and pulled it down, but I bet if you look, it's out there somewhere. If you're in any way interested in seeing what goes into the making of a Disney film, and how much of their lives the people involved put into making just one, I recommend you hunt it down.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


It's amazing what could be accomplished visually in film almost a hundred years ago. Sure, the medium was still developing as an art form; we're not talking Star Wars level yet, but the effects in the best fantasy films of the 1920's and 1930's and beyond still hold up today. They weren't hung up on realism back then. They wanted to transport you to another world through striking visuals and good storytelling. Nobody watches The Wizard of Oz or King Kong and goes "that looks so fake!", because they don't care.

F.W. Murnau's 1927 silent masterpiece Faust is one such fantasy film. The story is a timeless classic, and the movie visualizes it beautifully. Faust is, of course, the story of a bet between the demon Mephisto and an Archangel. If Mephisto can corrupt the soul of a good man, then the earth will be his. Mephisto chooses the old alchemist Faust, and sets his plan into motion by spreading the plague to Faust's village. Faust prays for assistance in curing the dying masses, but the only help he gets is from Mephisto, who offers him the power to heal for a 24 hour period only. This, of course leads to more deals, for money, power, lust, and ultimately love. Will Faust's soul be saved, or will the world be given over to Mephisto?

Murnau is perhaps best known for Nosferatu, the eternally creepy Dracula adaptation that is better than the actual Dracula adaptation. He is an important figure in the German expressionism movement, which influences the look of fantasy and horror movies to this day. He brings this expressionist dynamic to his beautiful and surreal visual portrayals of heaven and hell. I mean, just look at this!

The standout performance in the movie isn't Faust, it's Mephisto himself, played by Emil Jannings. He's sinister and playful all at once, always peeking over Faust's shoulder and toying with him. His performance is made all the more unsettling with the knowledge that 15 or so years after this movie, he was a Nazi, acting in several propaganda films for the party. Learning that fact made me kind of sad because I totally wanted to like the guy.

The Faust legend has been told and retold a million times. My favorite version is Bedazzled, the Dudley Moore and Peter Cook comedy from the 60's. And you can't discount 1941's The Devil and Daniel Webster, with Walter Huston's performance as Old Mr. Scratch being possibly the most endearing and memorable portrayal of the devil in cinema. Murnau's Faust is also up there with the best of them, and one of the most beautiful looking films of the silent period.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Howling

Joe Dante is possibly my favorite of that crop of directors to come up in the post-Spielberg 1980's that include such giants as Burton, Donner, Zemeckis, and Cameron. Dante may not have been as huge as the others ultimately became, but his body of work was always fun, often silly, and touched heavily and proudly by the B-movies he loved to watch growing up in the 50's and the exploitation movies that he began his career working on for Roger Corman. I still haven't seen a few of Dante's films, but the ones I grew up watching (The Burbs, Innerspace, Gremlins, and my personal favorite, the utterly wacky Gremlins 2: The New Batch) are all a ton of fun.

The Howling came quite early in Dante's career as a director, after only previously making his debut with Pirahna for Roger Corman. It's about a woman named Karen (Dee Wallace) who, after a traumatic experience with a psycho stalker, is sent with her husband to a vacation resort by her shrink. Something is fishy about the resort (aka "The Colony"). The people there are rather suspicious (aka "Werewolves").

There's a lot to like about The Howling, though it wasn't great. It's quite well made for having a relatively tiny, $1 million budget. The cinematography is moody, the effects and gore are cool and done practically, the story has some fun twists, and the score by Pino Donaggio is dramatic and Hitchcockian in that way that he does.

I liked the transformation of Karen's husband from a gentle metropolitan vegetarian-type, to a violent, aggressive meat-eater, after getting seduced and bitten by a particularly naked member of the colony. I also liked the performance of Dante regular Robert Picardo as one of the big villains. He gets the big transformation scene in the movie.

Speaking of the transformation scene, it's a tough one to judge. It was partially designed by Rick Baker, who left during production to do his masterwork, An American Werewolf in London. There are a few similarities between the two, but American Werewolf is a far superior film with a bigger budget, and a much better transformation. It is THE werewolf movie and THE transformation sequence. The biggest difference between the two is the performance of the transformee. In American Werewolf, it looked excruciating. You could feel the agony of his body transforming into a four legged beast. In The Howling, cheaper versions of some of the same effects are in place, but Picardo doesn't play it as painful. In fact, his sadistic character seems to be enjoying it.

Still, The Howling is a different kind of movie than An American Werewolf in London. It's a fun and pulpy B-movie with lots of gore and scares. The ending is actually really clever and quite funny. The credits run over a shot of a hamburger slowly sizzling on a grill, which is a fantastic way to end the movie. You can totally see how The Howling, though imperfect, could have paved the way for Dante to direct Gremlins.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Long Goodbye

Wow, before we start this review, just take a look at that poster. Click on it and make it big. Look at that! If you don't recognize the style, that's by legendary Mad Magazine artist Jack Davis. The reason I'm pointing this out is that only a kooky Robert Altman movie from the 1970's could get sold with a poster like that. And it's appropriate that Altman himself narrates it, since his movies liked to poke fun at their own conventions, much in the way a Mad parody would do. I would totally hang that poster on my wall (hint, hint, gifters!).

The Long Goodbye is Altman's take on the Film Noir genre, adapting the famous Raymond Chandler novel featuring Elliott Gould as his detective, Philip Marlowe. The movie kicks off with Marlowe's buddy Jim coming to his run-down apartment, asking for him to take him across the border. He, of course, needs to cool down for a while. Upon returning, Marlowe finds out that Jim's wife has been killed and the cops think Jim did it. Believing his friend innocent, Marlowe attempts to crack the case, digging his way through L.A.'s seedy underbelly in the way that all great Film Noirs do.

But Altman would never settle to just make a Film Noir. He could never just make a genre movie. He had to find ways to explore and deconstruct the genre, twist it around and flip it on its head. In the case of The Long Goodbye, he takes a rumpled, unkempt 1950's detective, and transports him into the present in order to explore the shallow, health-obsessed Los Angeles of the early 70's. Marlowe radiates unhealthiness, with his chain-smoking and squalorous, filthy apartment. His neighbors are healthy, young, new-age, yoga obsessed girls. His investigations even lead him to a corrupt rehab clinic.

Elliott Gould creates something truly unique and utterly bizarre with his characterization of Marlowe. Altman was well known for giving a ton of leeway to his actors, and I think in this case he just let Gould do whatever the hell he wanted, and in doing so hit upon something kind of magical. Marlowe mutters to himself constantly (and hilariously), possibly Altman's twist on the voice-over narration of detective movies of old. He also wisecracks endlessly, presses his face up against windows, and talks to his cat as though they were equals.

The other cast member of note is Sterling Hayden, possibly best known for being the lead in Stanley Kubrick's The Killing. As a drunk, unstable old writer, he is the only other anachronistic character in the modern world Marlowe inhabits. I don't think he even had a script, Altman probably just said, "just go, be drunk."

I think this is the 10th or 11th Altman film I've seen so far, most of them being the important ones, and The Long Goodbye is quite possibly my favorite. It's extremely funny and weird as a comedy, but still works on the level of a good old fashioned detective story. I wish the types of movies that warranted Mad Magazine posters could still get made, but alas, there was a time and a place in cinematic history for that, and that was the 70's.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Jeff, Who Lives at home had me at the very first scene, where the title character, played by Jason Segel, professes his undying love for the M. Night Shyamalan movie, Signs. He explains that the family in the movie, though somewhat broken by personal tragedy, manages to fend off an alien invasion, by realizing that every odd thing in their lives has been building up to this one perfect moment.

Jeff has also suffered from a personal tragedy: his father died when he was a teen, and since then he's been in a holding pattern. He lives with his mother (Susan Sarandon), and spends his days watching TV and getting high in the basement, just waiting for the sign that will lead him to his own one perfect moment.

The story kicks into gear when Jeff gets a wrong number call for a guy named Kevin. Sent on an errand by his mother, he goes out, but is distracted into following a guy with the name Kevin on his basketball Jersey. Jeff continues following his "Signs", as they lead him to his brother Pat (Ed Helms), who is a bit of a tool, blissfully unaware that his marriage is falling apart. Meanwhile, Jeff's mother, Sharon, bored and depressed with her work situation and family life, is engaged in the excitement of an unconventional office romance.

The stories don't seem to fit together at first, but things coalesce as events hurtle their way to the big moment the demands of the plot promise to Jeff at the end of the movie.

I think Jeff, Who Lives at Home is very likely the best dramedy inspired by an M. Night Shyamalan movie ever made. Jason Segel is wonderful as Jeff. Even though he's a bit of a loser, you sympathize with him because he's trusting, hopeful, and perceptive. And though it's usually Ed Helms job to play that naive, open-hearted guy, this time around he gets to play a bit of a different character. He thinks buying an expensive new car that he can't afford will solve all of life's problems and maybe give him the social status he's not getting from being a paint company sales rep. Judy Greer plays his wife, and she's great as always. She keeps doing all these great supporting roles and getting none of the attention she deserves.

I'm really interested in the way Jay and Mark Duplass, the brothers who wrote and directed the movie, have been evolving. I just found out about them last year, through their previous movie, Cyrus, which I also enjoyed. It appears that with each movie, they're getting bigger and more ambitious than the last. I like that they're casting these great comedy actors and putting them in roles that encourage them to stretch. I also like seeing comedies that have more to them than laughs.

In addition to all that praise, Jeff, Who Lives at Home just made me happy. It was earnest and free of cynicism and uplifting, without ever seeming forced or cloying. It's not like one of those schmaltzy 90's Robin William movies; it really means what it says. There aren't too many movies like this, so check it out if you can!