A Report on the Party and Guests,
and six more movies

A Report on the Party and Guests (1966)

Several couples go on a picnic together. The men are middle-aged and wearing suits, and the women are also overdressed and make silly small talk. Then all the picnickers are arrested and interrogated. 

It's surreal — men wearing suits to a picnic? — and insistently uneasy. The interrogators don't seem to be police, wave no guns, and you could plausibly argue that seizing the picnickers is a practical joke. When one of the picnickers/prisoners walks away, a crowd of captors sets upon him, but all they do is toss him into the air and harmlessly catch him again, laughing.

"Well, friends, a play is a play and nothing else. We played it like we were on stage. It was a joke. Charles will surely admit that he shouldn't have broken the rules. These gentlemen have established the rules, so why argue?"

What is the point of all this? It's an artsy-fartsy movie, obviously, and usually I hate artsy-fartsy, but if you're patient and sit through to the end… the point will still not be revealed.

The movie's intent, I've decided, is to make the audience scratch their heads, and it works. I scratched mine, but watched the movie to the end. It's neither boring nor all that interesting, but it's impossible to click it off.

The head joker/kidnapper reminds me of a Czech-speaking Michael Moriarty — he has the same superior smirk, like everything's a joke and only he knows the punchline. The whole movie has that smirk.

After "the end" I did some post-movie research (rare for me), and learned that A Report on the Party and Guests was made in commie Czechoslovakia in the 1960s, then banned immediately. Except for a brief window of legality a few years later, it remained banned until Czechoslovakia split itself in two in the 1990s. 

That's not surprising. You can't watch this movie without wondering whether the powers that be know what they're doing. Gotta figure it was intended to piss off the authoritarian government, and in that sense it's a big success.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Computer Chess (2013)

This looks and feels so much like a documentary on 1980s-era computer chess, I honestly thought that's what it was, almost to the end.

Nope, it's scripted, with actors. It's about a weekend chess tournament at a cheap hotel in the Reagan era, with all the dorks and geeks gathered around their chessboards and computers. It's a very droll comedy, so droll you might not even notice the comedy.

It's easy to imagine people hating this movie — it's slow, unconventional, black-and-white, and jeez it looks like a documentary — so I offer no guarantees. I was there in the '80s, though, played some chess, knew some nerds, and worked with computers of that time, and Computer Chess is like being there again.

Written and directed by Andrew Bujalski, who also made Results (below).

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦

Deranged (1974)

This is a true story, or so they say. There's this creepy old dude with nothing in his life except his wife, and he goes crazy when she dies. It gets bloody (the movie's title is your clue). Roberts Blossom (his plural is on purpose) stars, and he's weirdly likable even when he's horrific.

I enjoyed about half of Deranged, making it very nearly to the end, but turned it off with only a few minutes to go, when it finally got too gruesome for me.

It's certainly good for what it is, but I hate what it is.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Neverending
Film Festival

Gidget (1959)

A sorta-friend told me Gidget was better than its silly reputation. That sorta-friend is now a sorta-enemy, and I have sworn vengeance.

None of the cute surfer-guys at the beach are interested in Francine, because she's too young. They call her 'Gidget', short for girl-midget, which seems, sorry, stupid.

She decides to buy a surfboard and outsurf the boys (all of whom appear to be in their mid-30s). The surfing is via rear-screen projection, though, so this isn't a female Rocky on the waves.

The movie's only question is which of the 'boys' will fall for Gidget — will it be Moondoggie (James Darren, singing) or The Big Kahuna (Cliff Robertson, not singing)? Tom Laughlin (Billy Jack) has a tiny pre-fame role, but he's not in the running.

Was there ever a time so innocent as this, when a man could crawl behind a dame on a surfboard, necessarily planting his face an inch from her butt, and neither of them would think twice about it?

Gidget is played by Sandra Dee, jumping and squealing, shrieking and giggling like she's 12. Having never been an adolescent girl, I can't say whether the movie rings true, but I find kids that age to be living headaches, and Sandra Dee was that.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦  

The Man Who Turned to Stone (1957)

This is a clunky melodrama about a series of murders at the LaSalle Detention Home for Girls, where like Gidget, all the 'girls' are in their 30s. It's clear as a sunny day who the killers are, but only one psychiatrist keeps saying, "Why are so many of these girls dying here?" 

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1948)

A gangster kidnaps a woman because she's the sole witness to a crime, and while the gangster holds her captive, she falls in love with him. Ick.

This movie is off-key in every way. It's a noir set in America, but filmed in England with English actors you've never heard of, all trying to sound American. It was considered controversial when it came out, for hints of rape and plenty of violence, and it is more adult than you'd expect from its era. 

Great cinematography. Bizarre nightclub sequences. Pretty good score. The story rings false, though, the romance is queasy.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦

Results (2015)

This was written and directed by Andrew Bujalski, who made Computer Chess (above), but I never would've guessed those two movies had anything in common. Computer Chess showed promise and I enjoyed it, but it also felt a bit clumsy and unsure of itself.

Results, though, is very nearly pitch perfect all the way through, with three main characters who each feel fully and frustratingly human. It's a story that meanders and progresses awkwardly like life itself, and then reaches exactly the ending you're hoping for, like life never does.

Same as Computer Chess, Results is a deep immersion into a weird subculture. This time it's fitness training, of which I obviously know nothing, but I know enough to know it all rings true.

Cobie Smulders plays a trainer who's tired of training people who don't take their training seriously. Guy Pearce plays a believe-in-yourself fitness guru who takes his philosophy far too seriously, and fancies that he has the answers. Kevin Corrigan plays a rich pot-head who's decided to get himself into shape, just to impress his ex-wife.

Smulders comes across smart, stubborn, and self-destructive, and she's never been better. Pearce must've put incredible work into making himself the aging athletic wingnut he is here. Corrigan's been a favorite of mine since he was 'Cousin Eddie' on the sit-com Grounded for Life, twenty years ago, and the movie suits his kinda sketchy style. 

Results bombed in theaters, and I'd never heard of it, so I watched it with no preconceptions. I've written this review intentionally vague, hoping you'll have the same blank-slate experience as I did. You'll enjoy it.

It's a movie I'll watch again, once I've forgotten some of the twists and surprises. I'm old, so give me a few weeks.

Verdict: YES.


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There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twentyplex, you're missing out.

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Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. I try to make these reviews spoiler-free, but sometimes screw up, sorry. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.   



  1. >Computer Chess (2013)

    I saw this in the theater, on release. It was in SF, I think t the Opera Plaza theater, across from that McDonald's, maybe on Geary?

    It was one of the most fucking boring movies I have ever seen.

    BIG NO.

    But, I'd give it another chance.

    1. Well, *obviously* you should've seen it with me. I make everything better.


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