Henry Fool, and six more movies

Henry Fool

Henry Fool is a convicted pedophile who imagines himself a writer. He's full of pompous self-importance, with a habit of delivering long monologues, whispering when he thinks he's profound. He's just been released from prison, and befriends an introverted garbageman named Simon Grim, and inspires him to write, too.



Jan. 26, 2023

Ah, but Grim turns out to be a better writer than Fool. He soon finds a publisher, who makes an unbelievably lucrative offer to publish his first poem, telling Grim cynically that "your poem will make more money than any book of poetry ever published." A few scenes later, Grim's won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

This is not the way publishing works, but writer-director Hal Hartley knows that — he's just not much for reality. Henry Fool is more about what the events symbolize, I think, than about what happens.

There's an attack midway through the movie, for example, that would leave the victim scarred and needing at least weeks, maybe months of recovery, but it's immediately forgotten.

Grim's sister (Parker Posey) marries Henry Fool, even after catching him fucking her mother on the couch. For most women, I daresay, fucking their mother would be a dealbreaker. 

The film has numerous unreal and vulgar moments like that, including a barf scene, an underage girl offering to suck Henry's dick, and full coverage of Henry shitting loudly and liquidly on a toilet. Such scenes are juxtaposed against Henry and Grim's intelligent, literary conversations about poetry, writing, and art.

For all his crassness, Fool is no fool, and his running dialogue with Grim is smart and philosophical. "Follow your own genius to where it leads without regard for the apparent needs of the world at large, which, in fact, has no needs as such, but, rather, moments of exhaustion in which it is incapable of prejudice. We can only hope to collide with these moments of un-self-consciousness. This divine fatigue."

An offended non-reader says, "Have we debased our culture to such an extent that a garbageman with a head full of sick ideas is legitimately referred to as a poet, and where the filth he spews can be accessed by any child old enough to turn on a computer? Is this what we have come to?"

Yes, I believe that is what we've come to, and I'm recommending the film. It is trashy but highbrow, unrefined but intellectual, and it's frequently and intentionally grating. The whole darn movie is like a smelly loudmouth walking into a demure cocktail party and giving what-not to all the fancy people.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Bad News Bears (1976)

Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) is a heavy-drinking schlub who's been bribed into coaching a Little League baseball team. He doesn't like the kids, doesn't put any effort into it, and unsurprisingly, the kids get their butts kicked in the season's first game.

This motivates the coach to begin giving a damn, so he starts actually coaching, and recruits two new players for the team — Amanda Whurlitzer (Tatum O'Neal), an ex-girlfriend's daughter he'd taught to throw a fastball a few summers earlier, and Kelly Leak (Jackie Earle Haley) a motorcycle punk and troublemaker who can hit a curve.

It's better than your average kids or sports movie, and I'm surprised at how formulaic it isn't. The kids are a bunch of stereotypes, but they don't end up a group hug, or a fistfight to defend each others' honor. None of them are 'rescued', and Coach Buttermaker comes out of it only an incrementally better man. It's also refreshingly vulgar, in the way that 12-year-old kids really are.

There's a rivalry in the league, a team we're supposed to hate, but the kids on that team are just kids too, not particularly evil or mean or even extra talented.

The other team's coach (Vic Morrow) is a bit of an ass, but hardly more so than Buttermaker. Both coaches put far too much pressure on their players, hollering and bullying them as if they're pros. And both seem to eventually figure out they've been butt-heads, but — again bucking the formula — they don't figure it out in a big dramatic scene. They simply crank down their buttheadery.

Strangest of all, it's not really about who wins or loses, and the closest the movie comes to a moral is when Kelly wants to quit, and Coach Buttermaker says, "This quitting thing, it's a hard habit to break once you start."

Here's how good this movie is: When Amanda started pitching, I was trying to see whether Tatum O'Neal was actually throwing the ball, or they'd brought in a body double to hurl those blazing fastballs. And then, the movie absorbed me so much that I forgot to try figuring it out.

Also: Jackie Earle Haley! Loved him in Breaking Away, and I've seen him and liked him in other films, but I didn't know he'd started as a child actor.

Written by Bill Lancaster, who seems to have written only this and the screenplay for John Carpenter's The Thing. If you ask me, that makes him 2-for-2. 

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Futuresport (1998)

Dean Cain, Vanessa Williams, and Wesley Snipes star in this uninspired ripoff of a dozen better movies.

Armed rebels are trying to take Hawaii back, so they storm the annual futuresport championships in New Orleans. The very stupidly named 'futuresport' is a combination of skateboarding, basketball, and battery and assault. It's supposed to be the most popular game on earth, but just like present-day football or soccer, it never even approaches being interesting.

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Gow the Head Hunter (1928)
a/k/a Gow (1931)
a/k/a Cannibal Island (1956)

This is a non-fiction travelogue through some South Pacific islands now known as Vanuatu, narrated by Edward A Salisbury (1875-1962). He was a millionaire who spent 18 months piloting his yacht through the Marquesas Islands, becoming acquainted with local cannibals and head-hunters.

We're told that some of Salisbury's film footage is too repulsive to be publicly screened, so if you're hoping to see cannibals chewing fresh flesh off a human armpit or thigh, you'll be disappointed.

Gow is sporadically fascinating, and shows several tribes fishing, dancing, climbing trees, and smiling for the cameras. The closest I've seen to this kind of photography is National Geographic, back when it was a good magazine. Salisbury, not coincidentally, was a regular contributor to Nat Geo in his day.

Actual anthropologists are supposed to be neutral and non-judgmental, but Salisbury wasn't an anthropologist. His commentary is peppered with casually racist and sexist observations. Here's a history that's told as quickly as you'll read it, offering only the info, with no indication that any of it might be troubling:

"The missionaries compelled the men to wear cotton pants and shirts, and put hideous Mother Hubbard wrappers on the women. The natives were not accustomed to this, they became very warm, the clothing became saturated with perspiration, and they'd sit in the cool trade winds. The wind blowing through the wet cloth gave them colds, and this turned into pneumonia, and thousands of them died. Today I doubt very much if there are 300 Marquesians left."

Without even taking a breath, the narrator's next line is, "They lead a carefree life, these Marquesians," over video of topless native women swimming.

Jeez, Salisbury seriously did not give a damn about people who weren't white. "They have the mentality of three- or four-year-old children, and the bodies of adults."

Gow is an interesting look at people and places very different from ours, and inadvertently an unpleasant reflection on our culture.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Johnny Reno (1965)

Dana Andrews never was much of an actor in anything but stern authority figure roles, so he's fine as a straight-arrow US marshal who gets bushwacked by a couple of accused killers.

Jane Russell co-stars as a bawdy broad who takes no crap, Lon Chaney plays a lazy old lawman eager to avoid confrontation, and John Agar is a bad guy who's not rotten to the core.

This is an enjoyable old-style western. A good time is had by all who don't get shot.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

This flick seems to have been forgotten, but it was very controversial among stupid people when it came out. How dare you make a movie about Jesus, was the gist of the hubbub, but there's almost nothing for the devout to get upset about here. It's by far the most sympathetic and realistic portrayal of Christ I've seen in a movie.

Before his calling to preach, the carpenter Jesus is shown collaborating with the Romans, building crosses to crucify other Jews. Which isn't Biblical, but guess what? The movie isn't based on the Bible, it's based on a novel.

This Jesus seems a little less meek than the pansy we were taught about in Sunday School, but he's not an action hero or anything. His followers call him 'rabbi', a reminder that Jesus was Jewish, not a Christian, and many Christians probably didn't like that.

As I understand the fable, Mary Magdalene was supposed to have been a prostitute; the film shows her at work. 

The apostle Peter is a wussy, and his 'The Rock" nickname is sarcastic.

And like the title says, Jesus faces actual temptation, especially a long imaginary sequence while he's dying on the cross. What, you want your Jesus to have never even considered anything but following orders and dying like he was supposed to? 

That's about all the liberties taken, but overall the movie is nearly annoying in its reverence. 

Directed by that old Catholic, Martin Scorsese. Music by Peter Gabriel. Jesus is Willem Dafoe, and Judas is Harvey Keitel.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Sid and Nancy (1986)

Written and directed by Alex Cox, this is the perfect Sid Vicious biopic. It is loud, vulgar, mean, and miserable, just like punk rock, and presumably Mr Vicious.

Gary Oldman stars as Sid, with Chloe Webb as his doomed squeeze, Nancy Spungen. They're addicted to heroin and boredom and each other, and inherently not the kind of people I'd usually want to spend an hour and a half with, but I just did and don't regret it.

It's not much about the music, though there is some, nor is it about the Sex Pistols. It's a punk love story, not at all romantic and with a famously tragic ending. Difficult watching, but it's arguably Cox's masterpiece, even more than Repo Man.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Coming attractions: 

• Animal Crackers (1930)
• Being There (1979)
• Dumbland (2002)
• Flight/Risk (2022)
• Ghost World (2001)
• In Transit (2018)
• Prime Risk (1985)


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 twenty-plex, you're missing out.

— — —

If you can't find a movie I've reviewed,
please drop me a note.
— — —
Illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. Reviews are spoiler-free. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.   

← PREVIOUS          NEXT →


  1. >Directed by that old Catholic, Francis Ford Coppola

    Erm, may want to check that, my brother. You got the wrong Italian.

    1. Whoops, corrected — thanks. Not only do I often confuse Scorsese and Coppola, I'm really only vaguely aware that they're not the same guy.

    2. Marty's short enough to fit in Coppola's shirt pocket, that's how you know

  2. Looking forward to the review of Being There. I like to watch.


    1. Hey, I saw what you did there... :)

  3. Happy to see you were able to enjoy both Henry Fool and Bad News Bears. I love both films. The first for its absurdity and the second for its realness. I grew up in the '70s and '80s and I played in Little League from '78-'81. We had teams comprised of the United Nations, too. And we all got along, as well as nine to 12 year old boys will get along. No one was as racist as Tanner, their smart-mouthed shortstop, but we had a few wise-asses on the team. Weirdly enough, no one was mean. I was terrible my first year. I batted exactly .000, meaning if I didn't walk (good eye! good eye!) I didn't get on base. And yet no one shunned me for sucking. They still rooted for me and I made several friends who carried over into real life for longer than I'd expect.

    Sid and Nancy is interesting. Courtney Love is in the cast. She wanted the Nancy role, naturally. I disagree with your description of punk rock as being 'loud, vulgar, mean and miserable.' There's a tremendous amount of humor in it. A lot of railing against the lazy 'professional musicianship' that turned rock 'n' roll into easy listening in the '70s. Nearly every respected musician has admitted they loved the energy the Sex Pistols brought back to the music and their lone album is a relentless classic, filled with songs that are far more catchy than one might expect from the mainstream's description of the music.

    As punk turned into hardcore, where it got faster, harder, crazier, there were still bands that sung about racism, capitalism, drugs in constructive ways. I recently read Corporate Rock Sucks, a bio of the SST label that gave voice to Black Flag, the Minutemen, Husker Du... and it was amazing to read how it was the media, the L.A. Times in particular, who promoted the idea of violence at their shows, which naturally led to lunkheads coming around to fight and ruining the scene.

    You may never enjoy the sound of distorted guitars or the speed of some of these songs, but I'm sure you'd agree with many of the sentiments expressed. Google Dead Kennedys "Stars and Stripes of Corruption" and make sure you find the words to follow along. Try Halloween by the Dead Kennedys while you're at it. Google TV Party by Black Flag! For an acoustic sayonara, try Husker Du's Never Talking to You Again and then Hardly Getting Over It. For the Minutemen, try History Lesson, Pt. II and Political Song for Michael Jackson To Sing. -- Arden

  4. HENRY FOOL is sticking with me a week later. There were parts of it I hated, but I think that was on purpose, and it added up to something damn fine.

    I don't even think the their smart-mouthed shortstop in BAD NEWS BEARS was particularly racist. His dad probably was, so he had the vocabulary, but other than the words he never treated the non-white kids worse, did he?

    SID AND NANCY is another very good movie. My insult aimed at punk rock was a throwaway line, not intended for intellectual scrutiny. I actually have a fondness for punk — punk zines got me into zines, and I respect the music, but for the most part it's not music for me. I tried all the tunes you recommend, and yes there are some great lyrics in there, but with maybe the exception of History Lesson Part II, they all lack ear appreciation. That's something I require from music; gotta like the sound, and I don't. My pop probably said the same about rock'n'roll, but there it is.

    I've looked for a cover of "Stars and Stripes of Corruption", performed non-punk, but can't find one. Feel free to bang it out and send me an mp3.

    1. ha ha ha. You want me to record a version of Stars and Stripes of Corruption with my acoustic guitar? Is that what you're asking for? I take it you appreciated the lyrics but didn't dig the music. To each their own! -- Arden

    2. Yup. I lost a paragraph break in my previous comment, but that's my gist — loved the lyrics, but the music did nothing for me.

      Do it with your guitar please!

      Also, are covers simply not done with punk music? I couldn't find any covers of "Stars and Stripes of Corruption" at all...

  5. For years I hated Hal Hartley, partly because of the "type" of person his films rented too so frequently at the college town video store I worked at, and partly because his style and content just oozed a sort of smug "indie" quality without any depth.

    I recently rewatched Henry Fool, and I have to say I was pretty floored. Thomas Jay Ryan's performance as the titular character may be one of my favorites from that decade, and the writing is very knowing about the machinations of art and class, especially how talent is rarely rewarded - often punished! - and success in any field is as much pure chance or fate regardless of anything else.

    Makes me want to go back and watch his others.

    Marty's Last Temptation is among my top five of his work. It has maybe my favorite ending and final shot in any film when (2000-year old SPOILER! haha) Christ crawls through an apocalyptic landscape, returns to the cross, and calls out to God (blah blah blah, you know the shit) and his image flickers and fades into an image of the film stock itself, while Peter Gabriel's soundtrack screeches like an unholy choir. I find it really moving and evocative, nearly sublime, despite my lack of faith. The image says: "After all, this is just a film, how can your God be offended or wronged by such a trifle? How can you? Are not the mysteries of the cosmos larger than this?" Something like that.

    Still, how this narcissistic mental illness has survived for two millennia is the real mystery of life. I mean, think about it: Christ came AFTER Plato and Socrates and Herodotus and all that genius Greek shit, yet we worship a dozen nuts who took drugs and wandered around the desert obsessed with virgin birth. Mind boggling.

    His more recent Silence was also a masterpiece, with a similarly fantastic ending.

    1. I thought Last Temptation was already on my upcoming rewatch list, but it's not, but it will be. I saw it repeatedly when it came out, but not since.

      Yeah, like you, I don't buy any of the myth, but I was raised in it so it resonates and I have never seen a Biblical movie that captured the time and especially the spirit so brilliantly. By far the most religiously moving film I've ever seen, so of course all the religious people thought it was blasphemy.

      And there's something about Mary when she's Barbara Hershey...

    2. I bet you'd like Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew, which is essentially an Italian neorealist interpretation of Jesus' life. I find it really fascinating that the same director made that and Salo, both of which I adore. Huge influence on Scorsese's film:



      Satanists make the best music, Christians make the best films, heh

    3. I saw Salo at the Castro in San Francisco. It's *still* banned in some countries, I think, and it got some video store raided in redneck Ohio. For a long time, Salo was the go-to shock movie to censor.

      Me, I kinda liked it, but seeing it once was probably enough.

      Saw Saint Matt too, but not until after I'd seen Last Temptation several times. I know Last Temptation was based on a different book, but they're so similar in spirit, yeah.


🚨🚨 If you have problems posting a comment, please click here for help. 🚨🚨