Troll Hunter, and six more movies

The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014)

The Neverending
Film Festival

Bing Russell, a former minor league baseball player who became a somewhat successful actor, brought minor league baseball back to Portland, Oregon in the 1970s, and he did it his way. He started baseball's only (and apparently last) unaffiliated minor league team.

In baseball lingo, 'unaffiliated' means that the players weren't owned, paid, and shuffled around by a major league team. Pitchers, infielders, and outfielders weren't 'called up' to a higher classification, and nobody got 'sent down' to the Class A Mavericks. If you wanted to play for the Mavericks, you tried out for the Mavericks, and if you made the team, you played for the Mavericks, and that's that. With promotion to the big leagues out of the question, the team's players tended to be kinda zany characters, guys who'd been released or crashed and burned within baseball's ordinary system. 

The Mavericks' primary purpose was winning, and having fun, and that put Russell and his operation at odds with organized baseball, which is only about making money. The Mavericks were soon beloved in Portland, setting attendance records, because the team did what it set out to do — they won, and had fun.

The Mavericks won so many games against the million-dollar bonus babies on the other teams, the rules were changed, and unaffiliated teams aren't allowed in the minor leagues any more. Gotta suspect that's at least part of the reason baseball these days seems less and less about having fun, or even about winning.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Blues Brothers (1980)

Jake Blues (John Belushi) is released from prison, and picked up at the gate by his brother Elwood (Dan Aykroyd). The orphanage where they were raised is in danger of foreclosure for back taxes, so they're on a mission from God to raise the needed $5,000 by getting the band back together and staging a concert.

Great music, some laughs, and some of the biggest car chases and wrecks ever filmed. Aretha Franklin makes me wish she'd been a movie star too, like Elvis, because damn — she sings great of course, but also she acts and she's gorgeous.

Also singing: James Brown, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, and John Lee Hooker.

Not singing: Carrie Fisher, Henry Gibson, Frank Oz, and Steven Spielberg.

It sure looks like everyone involved in this was having a good time, and I've had a good time each of the half-dozen times I've seen it. I don't think there's any meaning to it other than laughs and tapping your toes, but I have no complaints, except that I wanted Aretha to sing a second song, and a third, and have a few movies of her own.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Boys from Brazil (1978)

Laurence Olivier and Steve Guttenberg are Nazi hunters. They're not looking for Illinois Nazis, but for genuine Nazis who escaped war crimes prosecution after World War II. In Paraguay, they've found noted Nazi mad scientist Josef Mengele (Gregory Peck). He's easy to find, because he always wears a ridiculous white suit. Fourteen years earlier, Mengele sent little baby Hitlers all over the world, and now they've all become obnoxious adolescent Hitlers. One lives on my block, I think.

This film is based on a bestselling novel by Ira Levin, who also wrote Rosemary's Baby. Like that book and movie, it's completely ludicrous, but undeniably enjoyable. 

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Inland Empire (2006)

"Act on End, the longest-running radio play in history. Tonight, continuing in the Baltic region, a gray winter day in an old hotel…"

People wearing tall furry rabbit-ears deliver dull lines on a living-room set, while an audience laughs like it's an episode of I Love Lucy. Soon we lose the rabbit-ears but the dialogue is in an Eastern European language without subtitles. In English again, Laura Dern takes tea with a mysterious woman who speaks in riddles.

Dern is playing a faded actress whose big chance for a comeback is On High in Blue Tomorrows, a new movie directed by Jeremy Irons. Justin Theroux is her co-star, though he seems to think he's THE star. Harry Dean Stanton and William H Macy are hanging around.

About 1/3 of the way through, as the movie-within-the-movie's director spends more than a boring minute discussing with a crew member whether the klieg lights should be raised (his first direction) or lowered (his second direction), the sound went out on my pirated file. It's a marvelous artistic statement, that left the rest of this mess a silent movie.

I'm not sure what Act on End, the longest-running radio play in history, has to do with On High in Blue Tomorrows, but I'm not curious enough to seek out a copy of the film where Dern and Theroux and Irons talk for another hour. 

Inland Empire was written and directed by David Lynch, which saddens me. In his first few films, especially Eraserhead and Blue Velvet but even in the earlier episodes of TV's Twin Peaks, he was making weird stuff that connected with me. He's still making weird stuff, but we've reached full disconnect — I've been frustrated and flummoxed by everything Lynch has done since the 1990s, with the possible exception of his weather reports on YouTube.

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Sorrow and the Pity (1969)

This is a famous documentary about the Nazi occupation of France, but I'll admit, I was mostly drawn by its overpuffed title, which later became a punchline in Woody Allen's Annie Hall. The DVD cover brags about the Woody Allen connection.

The WWII era visuals are what you'd expect, the music is what you'd expect, the sound is somewhat tinnier than you'd expect, and the message is what you'd expect: Nazis are bad, and resisting the Nazis is good. I wholeheartedly endorse that message.

Whatever's supposed to make this a great film, it eluded me. I came in already knowing (spoiler!) Nazis are bad, so I gained little from giving The Sorrow and the Pity more than four hours of my life, and the first night I tried watching it I fell asleep.

Verdict: NO.

Also, what stupid college kid is responsible for this over-elaborately designed DVD menu? To start the movie, or resume it after pausing, or go from one submenu to the next, you click on a small swastika. Nazis are bad, mkay? I don't want to be looking for and clicking on swastikas. 

♦ ♦ ♦

Troll Hunter (2010)

This is a remarkable Norwegian documentary that follows a bearded bear hunter known only as 'Hans', who might be trailing something much larger than bears — Norway's infamous trolls.

Like most people, I'd heard that Norway had trolls, but this film reveals how complex and dangerous the troll problem really is. Trolls — some even taller than trees — lurk in Norwegian forests and mountains, killing animals, sometimes even humans. Because trolls are always nocturnal, they've never evolved a means of converting sunshine's vitamin D into calcium, so trolls have a tendency to explode when exposed to bright daylight. Under certain conditions, older trolls can even spontaneously turn to stone. 

In addition to the educational value of this film, it's also entertaining, sometimes thrilling. You'll be shocked at the science of it all, especially when the camera captures the first visuals of a troll, and Hans runs terrified from the woods yelling, "Troll!"

Tragically, the journalists who made this film went missing before completing the work, but their footage has been found, authenticated by experts, and we are given on-screen assurance that none of the imagery has been manipulated.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Who's Minding the Mint? (1966)

Something is afoot at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, where American money is manufactured. Jim Hutton (father of Timothy Hutton, and you'll see the resemblance) works there, but lives curiously above his means, and his boss suspects embezzlement.

This is a low-budget comedy, directed by Howard Morris, who'd previously been the manager of the Three Stooges. True to his pedigree, there's a blizzard of lowbrow jokes, and it's relentlessly family-friendly.

When it's not completely cornball, it offers some smiles, and not many genuine laughs, but enough to make this a big hit in the '60s. Odd to think that just a few generations ago, adults lined up to see movies like this.

Wisecracks by Milton Berle, Joey Bishop, Walter Brennan, Bob Denver, and Jack Gilford, most of them wearing kooky costumes, and pre-MASH Jamie Farr speaking only Italian. Fluffy music by Lalo Schifrin.

Verdict: MAYBE. 

Mostly off-topic, I do wonder about the mechanics of what's shown here — did clerical workers wielding red pens really eyeball each individual page of 1-, 5-, 10-, 20-, 50-, 100-, and $500-bills before they were cut to wallet-size, trashing any pages that looked slightly imperfect? Seems so... analog.

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Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.  


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Deleted above because of a misspelling

    >Not singing: Carrie Fisher, Henry Gibson, Frank Oz, and Steven Spielberg.

    I have seen the movie a dozen times, and have seen young Spielberg many times, but I had to look up his cameo. I had no idea that was him.

    1. Yeah, me too, until I saw his name in the credits. I thought he was born with the beard.

  3. You’d think a man of the world could spell Oz correctly on the first try. I’m just sayin’.

    1. I'm a man of the world only by birth.

    2. The Mehmet branch of the family is surely from a different world.


  4. "This is a remarkable Norwegian documentary" haha


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