Nacho Libre (2006 - DVD)

There's a fine line between movies that are trying to be funny and movies that are trying to be weird. And then there are movies that you have no damn clue what they're trying to be, and this movie is somewhere amongst all of these things.

I think the main problem is that the story is based on a real life Mexican priest who earned money for his church by secretly getting involved in Lucha Libre wrestling. But instead of just telling that story, the movie tries to rework it into a Jack Black comedy with almost no success. Jokes and scenes lead to no punchlines. Random fart noises are dubbed in random places. And when Jack Black is dancing around while making a salad, you get the feeling this would make you laugh if your best buddy was doing it in front of you, but on the big screen...not so much.

Take, for example, the scene where Jack Black is sent to aid a man who's suffering from the flu. When he gets there, he thinks the man is dead, so he covers him over and starts praying. The man wakes up and takes the blanket off. Jack Black goes home. If you feel I've left out some important detail that would make this scene funny or significant, I haven't. And the whole movie is like that.

Then there's Jack Black's partner, who believes in science instead of God. But this has no meaning or bearing on anything. You'd think maybe when they keep losing match after match, he'd use science to figure out a way to win, or maybe their two schools of thought would lead to some interesting debate or perspective on their situation. But no. Jack Black dunks his partner's head in a plate of water to baptize him, and when they finally win, it's for no apparent reason at all (and definitely does not feel believable or earned).

Rating: 1.5/5

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971 - DVD)

Willy Wonka is a movie I find difficult to review because it's so darn strange, unlike anything else I've ever seen, and I didn't see it in its entirety until I was an adult, so I have no idea what I would've thought of it as a kid. It has a very odd shift in genre. The first part is mostly about this kid, Charlie, who's really poor and wants to win a contest to help take care of his family.

Of course, Charlie is one of the contest's winners, which grants him a tour of a mysterious chocolate factory headed by the reclusive and eccentric Willy Wonka. The world inside the factory is nothing like the bleak, nondescript European town that Charlie comes from. It's a world of fantasy, magic, and wonder, with rivers made of chocolate, colorful machinery, and candy that grows on trees, all maintained by little orange men with green hair called Oompa-Loompas.

Here the story takes a turn for the weird as it becomes almost a child's version of a horror film. The other contest winners, each which has an incorrigible personality flaw, meet some disturbing fates by means of the factory's more questionable devices. I think, by now, everyone's aware of the "blueberry" scene, and that's only one of them.

Gene Wilder's sly performance as Willy Wonka, along with the movie's twisted humor and surreal imagery have made it a cult classic, despite not having originally done very well at the box office. It's understandable why its darker elements may have caused parents to be hesitant about taking children to see it. But television and DVD releases made it more easily accessible, where both kids and adults could decide for themselves what to make of it.

I have to confess, though...the movie is a musical, but I'm not real big on the songs. With the exception of the Oompa-Loompa themes, they're not very memorable and tend to slow the pacing down.

Rating: 4/5

Yuma (1971 - DVD)

Yuma is a made-for-TV movie that was the pilot episode of a series that never got made. Failed TV show pilots usually fall into the realm of obscurity, the Yuma is rather easy to come across as it's been recycled onto various DVD releases, especially in western compilations, which is how I managed to see it.

It borrows a lot of elements from westerns that came before it, and isn't really anything special, but still mildly enjoyable for anyone who has a fondness for the genre. The strange thing about Yuma is that it's a cross between a western and a murder mystery: A new sheriff rides into town, someone is killed, and he's framed for the misdeed. He must find the real killers to clear his name, and while doing so, he uncovers a labyrinthine plot to steal cattle from Native Americans (who are, as you can probably expect, portrayed somewhat insensitively by today's standards).

There's also a subplot about how the sheriff has been going from town-to-town, trying to find the person who killed his family, and that's where it gets obvious this was meant to be a TV series - since this isn't resolved by the movie's end, I got the feeling each episode would have him solving various mysteries that would bring him one step closer to the truth. But the way it is, it's just a dangling plot thread.

Rating: 2.5/5

Journey to the Center of the Earth
Author: Jules Verne; Reader: Ed Sala
(Audiobook - 2010; Original Book - 1864)

While I enjoyed Jules Verne's classic novel from a pure adventure standpoint and for informing me of where the eccentric/impulsive scientist/explorer character archetype likely originated, a lot of its ideas haven't really stood the test of time so well. A professor and his nephew discover of means of traveling to the center of the earth via a volcano in Iceland, and most of what happens is the two of them and their guide finding things that go against everything the nephew has ever learned, and the professor offering an elaborate explanation as to how it's possible. Note that pretty much all of these theories have been debunked in modern times.

So, if you ignore the science and just try to enjoy it as an adventure, it's a little more successful, but not without moments of headscratching frustration that made me realize why movie and television adaptations of this story are never a direct transplant of its events. They tend to focus more on the prehistoric elements the trio finds down there than anything else.

What is the actual focus of the novel? A voyage across an underground complete with "artificial" sky and weather elements, that one begins to wonder if Verne changed his mind halfway through and wanted to write a story about the ocean instead (considering that he published 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea a few years later, that hunch is not terribly unfounded).

Then you have the characters constantly escaping death in most unbelievable ways, and long stretches where it seems little happens, only for a moment of excitement to turn out to be a dream, and I begin to forgive some adaptations I've seen for being as silly as they are.

I should note, however, that there are several different English translations of this book floating around, and the audiobook I listened to was apparently based on one that's considered to be less accurate and desirable. I'm not sure, because other than the names of the characters being changed (it bothered me that I could never tell if the nephew's name was "Henry" or "Harry", and sources I've looked at claim both), the plot synopsis I read on Wikipedia sounds pretty much identical to what I listened to.

I could also sum it up as "Geology Porn", but I suppose some might feel that's simplifying things too much.

Rating: 3.5/5



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