Sunday, March 29, 2020

Shark City (2009)

Synopsis: If you’ll permit me to borrow a joke from This is Spinal Tap….Shit City
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Get the girl….Get the cash… Get gone…” 
What Did I Learn?: “In-your-face works… it gets results.” 
Really?: 1) I’m pretty sure organized crime bosses don’t agree to doing guest spots on TV interview shows. 2) So, what was the point of Vivica Fox’s cameo? She makes a few short appearances early in the film and then disappears entirely. And why did Corey Haim agree to a tiny, never-developed role as one of Kenny’s four poker buddies? Did somebody create parts for them when it became known they were available and (presumably) willing to work for peanuts? 3) I can certainly understand Ventura Ritt getting upset when he discovers that Kenny no longer works for a high-profile brokerage, but wouldn’t he know there are risks involved in investing money in the stock market? It seems a little unfair to blame Kenny when his portfolio tanks. 4) Hmm… I had a hard time believing Jen would attend Degan and Samantha’s wedding, considering Ventura and Al - the men who kidnapped and beat her up - would certainly be present. 5) Holy shit, don’t Kenny or Degan ever drink at home? Why do they keep coming back to a cheesy nightclub for overpriced drinks - especially after Kenny loses his job? 6) So, Degan falls head-over-heels for Samantha (which seems a little implausible for such a horn-dog, but I’ll let that go), and he meets her the very next day when her father asks him to show a house for sale? Gee, that’s quite a coinky-dink. 
Rating: Shark City is a shallow, hackneyed, inauthentic, poorly-written, and ultimately forgettable low-budget comedy-drama. I cannot recommend this movie. 3/10 stars. 
Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Sure - take a drink any time a hot chick removes her shirt for a completely gratuitous topless scene.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Avanti (1972)

Synopsis: Jack Lemmon stars as a grumpy businessman who really doesn’t like to travel…no, that’s the Synopsis for The Out of Towners. Um… stubborn American learns the hard way that it’s not so easy to move men and supplies from Point A to Point B in Italy….no, that’s Anzio. Um… confused son discovers shocking truth about his father. Nope, that’s The Empire Strikes Back
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Italy was full of surprises!” 
What Did I Learn?: Italy is not a country - it’s an emotion. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You're in the mood to learn some Italian
Really?: 1) If Wendell is such an important hotshot in the family business, why does he personally fly to Italy to claim his father’s corpse? Couldn’t he have sent somebody else? 2) Yelling at the Italian passport control officer….that’s a greaaaaaaat idea… 3) I wonder whose bright idea it was to create a two-and-a-half-hour film. Did we really need to see Wendell (Lemmon) in the airplane flying to Rome, or Pamela’s (Juliet Mills) adventurous walk through the town? I have to wonder how much footage Billy Wilder didn’t use. 4) So, wait - the maid murders the bellhop (who was attempting to blackmail Wendell) in Pamela’s room, and Carlucci (Clive Revill) instantly knows what really happened, and shields the two foreigners from the local police? That’s convenient. 5) Wait, Pamela sheds her clothing, jumps in the Mediterranean, and Wendell decides to do likewise even though he barely knows her? That’s a little difficult to believe. 6) Strange how Carlucci keeps referencing the town's mildly radioactive mud baths, yet Wilder never thinks to show us one, even though he has more than enough time to do so. 
Rating: Avanti is a quirky, if somewhat predictable romantic comedy that takes a little while to find its footing (Lemmon’s character is a bit of a jerk in the first act), eventually charms its audience and but then wears out its welcome after the two-hour mark (see: “Really?” #3). Revill steals the film with a very likeable performance, so I'll give Avanti an extra half-star. 7/10 stars.

Office Space (1999)

Please click the link to read my review of Horrible Bosses, another workplace revenge-comedy that also features Jennifer Anniston. 

Synopsis: Hilarity ensues when boring computer nerds working tedious jobs pull a non-violent heist, and then spend the last half of the film worrying about it. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Work sucks.” 
What Did I Learn?: The fear of losing one’s job will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired. 2) Corporate Accounting will almost certainly notice $305,326.13 when it goes missing. 3) Minimum Security prison is no picnic. 4) Saying: “looks like someone’s got a case of the Mondays” on a construction site will likely lead to an ass-kicking. 
Really?: Funny how the film establishes Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole in an inspired performance) as Peter’s main antagonist, but he more-or-less disappears once Michael and Samir get fired, and this conflict doesn’t lead anywhere. 
Rating: From Beavis and Butthead to King of the Hill to the movie Idiocracy, Mike Judge has demonstrated a knack for creating clever observational comedy, and Office Space might be his finest creation. Office Space is a funny, and all-too-believable satire of the modern workplace, even when it ventures into the absurd. My only real complaint is that the film loses some juice at the midway point, so its humour becomes entirely plot-driven, and the audience is treated to a few pointless scenes, such as Peter’s dream sequence trial or Orlando Jones' cameo. Still, highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Crime Boss (1972)

Synopsis: Pre-Kojak Telly Savalas snarls his way through grainy, badly-dubbed, low-budget Italian gangster flick. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Being head of the Family is a dangerous business” 
What Did I Learn?: Hamburg Germany looked kinda seedy in 1972. 2) Apparently, it’s customary in Italy to chug down entire tumbler glasses full of wine. 
Really?: 1) Um….I don’t know who designed the DVD jacket, but Lee Van Cleef had NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS MOVIE!! This is actually more misleading than the VHS jacket of It Seemed Like A Good Idea at the Time which falsely presented the film as a John Candy vehicle, even though he had a very minor role. 2) Hold on… Antonio Mancuso’s (Antonio Sabato) big plan to gain Don Vincenzo’s (Savalas) trust involves a high-speed chase through the streets of Hamburg, and narrowly avoiding the cops? That sounds awfully risky to me. 3) Speaking of risky, is it really a good idea to quasi-rape Vincenzo’s niece (she’s obviously attracted to Antonio, but she tells him to stop) in Don Vincenzo’s own mansion? 4) I had a bit of trouble believing Don Vincenzo would allow Antonio to return the stolen heroin to him in his home (kinda smells like a police sting operation, doesn’t it?), or that there wouldn’t be any lasting enmity between Don Vincenzo and Antonio after the former tells his goons to beat the crap out of the latter. 
Rating: While I’ve always considered myself to be a Telly Savalas fan, I should have given Crime Boss a pass - I suspect he signed on for this film strictly for the paycheque. Nothing about Crime Boss works - the film is grainy and poorly-edited, Sabato provides a wooden performance, the story meanders and doesn’t really go anywhere, and the audience isn’t provided with many reasons to care about any of these characters. I’ll give Crime Boss a few stars for good old Telly and some interesting cinematography (in case you want to step back in time and see what urban Italy and Germany looked like in the early 1970s) but I cannot recommend this movie. 3/10 stars 
Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Sure - take a drink any time you ask yourself: “wait, why in the world would Antonio do that?”

Thursday, March 5, 2020

The Muppet Movie (1979)

Please click the links to read my reviews of The Muppet Christmas Carol, Christmas Eve on Sesame Street and Elmo Saves Christmas.
Synopsis: Green felt puppet travels America, befriending weirdos along the way
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “It’s a lights, camera, action-packed good time!”
What Did I Learn?: 1) Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem don’t look like Presbyterians. 2) A bear’s natural habitat is a Studebaker. 3) Life’s like a movie. 4) You don’t go to Bombay India to become a movie star [I guess Jim Henson wasn’t familiar with Bollywood?] 5) Sparkling Muscatel is one of the finest wines of Idaho. 6) When a German scientist tells you to hold on to your hat, it’s not casual conversation – you HOLD ON TO YOUR HAT! 7) The phrase “drinks on the house” works every time. 8) Kermit performed all of his own stunts. 9) Patriotism swells in the heart of the American bear. 9) I’m obviously a big softie because even today, I get a lump in my throat any time I hear Kermit sing “The Rainbow Connection.”
You Might Like This Movie If: you can picture that
Really?: 1) Oh my, how does one judge the credibility of The Muppet Movie? I realize a number of sight gags and scenes aren’t meant to be taken seriously (a bar called the “El Sleazo?” An actual giant cream-filled pie that’s mounted on a billboard?), but I had a little bit of trouble believing Doc Hopper could somehow find the time to chase and terrorize Kermit across the continental USA (doesn’t he have a business to operate?), or that he would later decide to kill Kermit, considering Kermit is only valuable to him as a live spokes-frog. Come to think of it, why doesn’t it ever occur to Kermit to call the cops?
Rating: The jokes are corny (you have to be in the mood for a lot of bad puns), the songs are sappy, but The Muppet Movie is the best of the Muppet films, and it will always hold a special place in my heart (see: “What Did I Learn?” #9) It’s easy to enjoy The Muppet Movie’s impressive puppetry, gentle-but-off beat humour and interplay between so many beloved characters, but it’s especially interesting as an allegory on Jim Henson’s professional success. Highly recommended. 10/10 stars.

The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)

This would have been perfect for my salute to Jeff Bridges

Synopsis: Ewan McGregor learns all about becoming a Jedi…no, wait that’s Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Um….George Clooney plays a grizzled military veteran who wanders around Iraq and frees unjustly-held prisoners….no, that’s Three Kings. Um… Jeff Bridges is a bearded, aging hippie who clashes with authority figures….nope, that’s The Big Lebowski. Um…Kevin Spacey is a toxic middle-manager who destroys the morale of his fellow co-workers….no, that’s Glengarry Glen Ross.
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “No Goats, No Glory”
What Did I Learn?: 1) You never know when a Dim Mak is going to kill you. 2) The “Sparkly Eyes Technique” isn’t very impressive. 3) Once you understand the linkage between observation and reality then you begin to dance with invisibility.
You Might Like This Movie If: you could happily stare at goats all day long
Really?: 1) The Men Who Stare at Goats is intended to be a very strange, almost absurd satire of the US Army’s research into the paranormal, so I can cut it some slack in the credibility department. That said, I had a bit of trouble believing that Bob (McGregor) could believe he had the power to expose the entire project by writing an article when didn’t have a  shred of actual proof. Oh, and I certainly hope that none of the prisoners who are released near the end later prove to be dangerous.
Rating: The Men Who Stare at Goats is a meandering, very strange, and often quite funny dark satire of the US military’s investments in paranormal and non-lethal weapons research. The film doesn’t always make sense, but it’s an enjoyable romp through the desert. 8/10 stars

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Xanadu (1980)

Oblivious Neutron Bomb Double Feature! 

Synopsis: Apparently, this film received a one-sentence review shortly after its release: “In a word: Xana-don’t.” I can’t improve on that.
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The 40s meet the 80s in XANADU, a very special love story and the first lavish, old-fashioned musical to utilize today’s music.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Tuesday isn’t Wednesday. 2) Gene Kelly has been “known to twinkle a toe or two.” 3) Bandstands went out with running boards. 4) Zeus is a bit of a pushover. 5) It’s possible to visit Heaven, or Mount Olympus, or wherever the ancient Greek gods reside (the place looks like the world of Tron, by the way), but roller skating head-first into a brick wall.
Really?: 1) Oh man, where do I begin? Ok, Xanadu is a fantasy musical, so maybe I can overlook some of the weird sets, or the thinness of its plot, but I have to ask: A) How does Danny (Kelly) know where to find to find Sonny (Michael Beck), and how is he able to catch up to him in mere minutes after Sonny takes off on a “borrowed” motor-scooter? C) Does Danny have an unlimited supply of cash? Even in the late 1970s, I imagine those renovations to the amphitheater could cost millions. And why would he make Sonny a partner when Sonny doesn’t have any money to invest? D) I have to admit that the finished nightclub is pretty spectacular but, um…where are the paying customers? E) Could somebody please explain the ending? I’m still trying to sort out whether or not Sonny and Kira (Olivia Newton John) are back together, and how Kira manages to pull off so many costume changes.
Rating: Xanadu is a bizarre-yet-forgettable bad musical that’s loaded with bargain-basement special effects and terrible dialogue. I’ll admit the film has a few redeeming qualities such as several impressive musical numbers and likeable performances from Kelly and Newton John, but it’s not worth 96 minutes of your life. 4/10 stars. 
Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Possibly. Take a drink any time you find yourself thinking: “wow….Sonny’s an idiot.”

Two of a Kind (1983)

Oblivious Neutron Bomb Double Feature! 

Synopsis: The leads from Grease must convince the Almighty not to destroy the world.  
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "It's a match that could only be made in heaven."
What Did I Learn?: God sounds a lot like Gene Hackman.
Really?: 1) It’s funny how Zach (John Travolta) is an inventor, but this is never explored – he doesn’t “MacGyver” his way out of a problem, and we aren’t given any information about why he became interested in science or inventing. 2) So, wait… Charlie the angel (Charles Durning) clearly informs the Devil (Oliver Reed) that when God initiates a second flood, the inhabitants of Earth will all go to Heaven; the Devil doesn’t believe him, and attempts to thwart Zach and Debbie (Olivia Newton-John) from developing a relationship. Ok, so why does the Devil believe Charlie later in the movie when he tells him the same thing? That doesn’t compute. 3) Holy shit, why does Charlie need three – count’em three sidekicks? What was the point of introducing Debbie’s (Olivia Newton-John) horny roommates and her creepy landlord, when none of these characters are further developed or even used to advance the plot? Why so many superfluous supporting characters? 4) Hold on – Zach breaks into Debbie’s apartment, robs her of the remainder of her stolen cash, and she decides to follow him for a walk-and-talk on the street? 5) Hmm…. Debbie is fired for openly flirting with Zach during the actual bank robbery. Why doesn’t anyone think to search her handbag?
Rating: I can see why Two of a Kind pretty much killed off Newton-John’s acting career and put Travolta in the doghouse for most of the 1980s. While I have to give this movie a few stars for originality and ambition, it doesn’t work for a number of reasons: the plot is a contrived mess, there are far too many undeveloped sub-plots and useless characters, and Newton-John wildly overacts. I can’t recommend this movie. 4/10 stars.
Would It Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Why not? Take a drink any time ONJ’s “Twist of Fate” or a film score version of it is used.   

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Rooster Cogburn (1975)

Dang – I could have used this for my salute to John Wayne Westerns!
Synopsis: It’s an unnecessary sequel to True Grit, combined with a reboot of The African Queen, featuring over-the-hill leads and forgettable villains.
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Two of the most popular stars in screen history are brought together for the first time in the follow-up to True Grit.” 
What Did I Learn?: You can’t lock up a man’s whisky! 2) Out in the Territories, they prize a dead shot more than a lady’s charms. 3) Water is like a woman: sly and fickle – you gotta watch it every minute! 4) People are rotten. 5) Women can no more keep their mouths shut than a yellow-tailed catfish. [These are quotations from the film, by the way]
Really?: 1) Holy shit, the characters in this film are transporting a wagon of nitro-fucking-glycerin! I’m pretty sure you can’t go whitewater rafting or charging down a bumpy hill without blowing yourself to Kingdom Come if you’re carrying cases of nitro. 2) Ok, I realize Eula is a naïve Bible-thumper, but I had a bit of trouble believing she would insult a bunch of men she knows are outlaws, or that she wouldn’t even flinch when Hawk decides to shoot at the ground near her feet. 3) See: “Synopsis.” Seriously, Wayne and Hepburn are far too old to carry an action-adventure, and the film is eerily similar to The African Queen in a number of ways. Oh, and why does Rooster address Eula as “Sister” every couple of minutes? She’s not a nun. 4) Is there a reason Rooster doesn’t simply hide the recovered nitro glycerin and escape to acquire some additional reinforcements?
Rating: While I enjoyed the banter between Wayne and Hepburn, Rooster Cogburn is a weak sequel to True Grit for a number of reasons, most notably a script that doesn’t make a lot of sense and the age of the lead actors – Eula is a bit too old to be living with her elderly father in a Native community. Check it out if you’re a John Wayne completist. 6/10 stars.

The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981)

Synopsis: It’s 30 minutes of narcissistic actors sneaking around on their partners, circa 1980 tacked on to 90 minutes of depressing Victorian melodrama.
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Embraced by audiences and critics alike - and garnering five 1981 Academy Award nominations, including Best Actress for Streep - The French Lieutenant’s Woman will forever remain one of the most literate, imaginative and visually stunning love stories ever to grace the screen.” 
What Did I Learn?: In 1857, it’s estimated there were 80,000 prostitutes in the country of London, and out of every 60 houses, one was a brothel.
Really?: 1) Ok, I realize Charles (Jeremy Irons) falls hopelessly in love with Sarah (Meryl Streep), and lovestruck people don’t always make good decisions, but it’s painfully obvious that she’s completely insane [Spoiler Alert: Sarah never had sex with the French lieutenant, yet she claims otherwise because she wants to be scorned and ridiculed by the residents of Lyme] and she doesn’t seem all that interested in being saved. 2) So, three years pass, Sarah gets a cushy job and her mental illness seems to disappear? Ok, whatevs….
Rating: I have to give The French Lieutenant’s Woman something of a mixed review; while I appreciated its unique attempt at storytelling (the relationship between thespians Anna and Mike takes a strange turn when they portray star-crossed Victorian lovers during a movie shoot), its impressive cinematography, and the acting efforts of Streep and Irons, the story itself (which chucks aside the complex, multi-layered approach of John Fowles’ novel and inserts the Mike-and-Anna subplot), seemed simplistic and difficult to believe (see: “Synopsis” and “Really?”) and the characters left me cold; I didn’t care about any of them. 7/10 stars.

Cookie (1989)

Synopsis: Dapper don Dino discovers delinquent daughter, designs diabolic double-cross.
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "A delicious new comedy." 
What Did I Learn?: You don’t get back at someone by telling them to fuck off.
You Might Like This Movie If: You're strangely intrigued by the title
Really?: 1) Funny how Pia (Ricki Lake) is Cookie’s (Emily Lloyd) best friend, yet she just disappears mid-way through. 2) I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure the US government only admits gangsters into the WITNESS protection program in exchange for testifying in open court. I had a bit of trouble believing Dominick “Dino” Capisco (Peter Falk) could get away with whacking Carmine and stealing his dough, and then receive federal protection. I had even more trouble believing Cookie could mastermind such an intricate plot, or that she would be ok with the Carmine’s unpleasant end. 3) So, does Dino have some dough stashed away or not? This isn’t entirely clear.
Rating: I might have watched Cookie about 30 years ago on the First Choice movie channel, or not – it’s a very forgettable low-budget comedy that isn’t terribly funny or clever, and it never delivers the emotional payoff – a meeting of the minds between Dino and Cookie – that we expect to see. I’ll give Cookie a barely-passing grade only because I like Peter Falk, and I think it’s fine for a night’s entertainment. 5.5/10 stars.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Pollock (2000)

Synopsis: Mean-spirited, paint-dripping alcoholic weirdo gets the motion picture recognition he probably doesn’t deserve.
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “But with fame and fortune comes a volatile temper and severe self-doubt; before long, Pollock’s life threatens to explode.”
What Did I Learn?: 1) The age of radio, supersonic air travel and the atom bomb could only be expressed artistically by spilling household paint on a horizontal canvas. 2) You can’t abstract from nothing. You can only abstract from life, from nature. 3) Peggy Guggenheim didn’t enjoy walking up stairs. 4) Gene Krupa was the greatest drummer in the world.
You Might Like This Movie If: you really want to get modern art. 
Really?: I realize Pollock is based upon a biography, but I’m shocked that Jackson Pollock could get away with pissing in Peggy Guggenheim’s fireplace, openly cheating on his wife in front of their friends, getting shitfaced drunk and erupting into volcanic rages at his friends and family, and he never faces any consequences for his atrocious behavior. (Well, not until the very end) 2) Funny how Pollock does so much to explain its subject’s thinking about art and his work but doesn’t think to tell us why he got into painting in the first place. 3) Why is Val Kilmer in this movie?
Rating: Pollock is a moderately interesting biopic of an incredibly unlikeable title character; Ed Harris delivers an inspired performance as the troubled artist (Marcia Gay Harden is also quite good as Pollock’s long-suffering wife, Lee Krasner), but his direction of the film falls a bit flat. It’s difficult to spend two hours watching a self-destructive jerk verbally abuse his enablers, even if it does provide some insight into the late-1940s / early-1950s modern art scene. 7/10 stars.

Best and Worst (2019)

The Best Movies I reviewed in 2019 (10/10 stars, or 9/10 stars):

The Worst Movies I reviewed in 2019 (fewer than 5 stars): 

Soldier Boyz
Snake Eater (I gave Snake Eater II a barely-passing grade of 5/10 stars)

Please click the links to read my Best and Worst lists for 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011 

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Swingers (1996)

Synopsis: It’s basically 96 minutes of sleazy-but-loveable Vince Vaughn attempting to cheer up his whiny pal.
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "Cocktails first. Questions later." 
What Did I Learn?: 1) The beautiful babies don’t work the midnight to six shift at a casino on a Wednesday. 2) Two days is the minimum period of time (i.e. the “industry standard”) that must elapse before you can call a woman after she gives you her telephone number. 3) The LA Kings are either a “finesse team” or a “fucking bitch team.” 4) There’s nothing wrong with letting the girls know that you’re money and that you want to party. 5) It’s not a good idea to discuss ice cream and puppy dogs with women you’ve just met. 6) Everybody steals from everybody. That’s Hollywood.
Really?: 1) With the single exception of this film, I’ve never once heard anyone, either in real life or in a work of fiction describe another person as “money.” 2) So, Mike (John Favreau) is a comedian? Ok, I have it on good authority that most stand-up comics are bitter, self-loathing assholes, but aren't they also supposed to be funny
Rating:I was recently a bit surprised to learn that after eight years of writing Schuster at the Movies, I had yet to pen a review of Swingers. I’ve always carried a strong appreciation for this film, in spite of its obvious flaws (I’m thinking primarily of several scenes that carry on far too long, and writer Favreau’s odd decision not to develop the Trent character, or give the audience any indication of what makes him tick). Swingers is funny, clever, and it provides a number of interesting insights into breakups and life in the the bottom rungs of show business. That said, to this day I still can’t sit through the excruciating scene of Mike (Favreau) ruining his chances with Nikki when he foolishly decides to call her about 20 times in the middle of the night. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Rain Man (1988)

Synopsis: Unlikeable narcissist exploits extremely annoying older brother during road trip across the American heartland.
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “4 Academy Awards including Best Picture 1988”
What Did I Learn?: 1) K-Mart sucks. 2) Raymond is an excellent driver. 3) Maple syrup is supposed to be on the table before pancakes.
Really?: Holy shit, take a drink any time Hoffman uses the word “definitely.” 2) So, wait – Charlie’s big plan is to kidnap Raymond in exchange for half of the inheritance? Why doesn’t Dr. Bruner call the cops and have Charlie arrested for kidnapping? Even if the charges are eventually dismissed, it’s a good way to get Raymond back to the hospital in one piece, and discourage further attempts. And why doesn’t Charlie simply hire a lawyer and save himself the trouble of caring for a special needs adult? 3) I’m still not entirely clear on the nature of Charlie’s business – he purchases a few Lamborghinis at a time and re-sells them to wealthy buyers? Wouldn’t most people simply visit a dealership? 4) Isn’t Charlie basically broke, even after his visit to Las Vegas? I had a hard time believing he wouldn’t accept that $250,000 cheque. 
Rating: I’ve always felt that Rain Man is a good, but somewhat overrated movie; Dangerous Liaisons or The Accidental Tourist should have won Best Picture at the 61st Academy Awards.  Sure, Cruise and Hoffmann (especially) deliver magnificent performances and share a number of great scenes together, but the plot is a bit too treacly, unbelievable and repetitive for my taste: as soon as the two leads meet, every scene involves the same basic set-up: Charlie wants Raymond to do something, Raymond responds either with memorized gibberish or by freaking out, and Charlie gets further irritated. A good movie needs more than great acting. 7/10 stars.

Crime Spree (2003)

Synopsis: Bumbling French criminals somehow devise master plan to turn the tables on not one, but two powerful gangsters who want them dead.
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: "Wise guys. Not smart guys."
What Did I Learn?: 1) Supernumerary means “better than expected.” 2) Honour without respect is like a horseless carriage. [In the words of Harvey Keitel’s character: what the fuck does that mean?]
Really?: See: “Synopsis.” Seriously, these dudes get their act together très rapide.
Rating: Crime Spree is an enjoyable, albeit lightweight and forgettable Guy Ritchie knock-off featuring French, rather than Cockney criminals. My biggest complaints would be that that the film drags for a while after Daniel’s crew lands in Chicago, and the crew itself features too many crooks; it’s hard to distinguish between a few of them, and the surplus of unnecessary accomplices leaves Gerard Depardieu a bit lost in the shuffle. 7/10 stars.

Proof of Life (2000)

Synopsis: It’s over two hours of David Morse getting physically abused on a South American mountaintop, Meg Ryan losing her shit every couple of minutes, and Russell Crowe arguing with a short-wave radio.
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "Proof of Life is gripping proof that the romantic thriller is forcefully alive." 
What Did I Learn?: 1) An English general’s daughter gets back at daddy by marrying an Australian. 2) Things don’t happen for reason; they just happen. 3) You never, ever pay for a proof-of-life. 4) South America is a dangerous place, and best avoided altogether.
You Might Like This Movie If: you're always searching for a proof of life
Really?: 1) Wait – Terry (Crowe) isn’t entirely convinced Peter (Morse) is dead, so he wants to double-check, and Alice (Ryan) slaps him in the face? 2) I had a bit of trouble with the ending: it’s clear that Peter and Alice’s marriage is on the rocks before the kidnapping, and she later falls in love with Terry, yet she goes to Dallas with Peter anyway? 3) So, Terry gives up a major payday in Thailand to assist penniless Alice for four months because… um…he’s a nice guy? 4) I have to wonder how many kidnapping victims would disobey, and loudly challenge their armed captors to a fight even when it’s obvious one or two of the thugs aren’t playing with a full deck.
Rating: Proof of Life is a slow-moving, but watchable drama that suffers from too much intercutting between Peter’s captivity and the Terry/Alice storylines, and a weak performance from Ryan. (Strangely, Ryan and Crowe were involved in an off-screen romance at the time, yet there’s barely any chemistry between them). The film works best when it focuses on Terry’s world and the business side of rescuing high-profile kidnapping victims – that part is interesting - but it takes a looong time to arrive at an exciting climax, and we’re treated to far too many scenes of Peter getting beaten by his kidnappers for my taste. 6.5/10 stars.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Top Gun (1986)

Not Quite a War Movie #2

Synopsis: Tom Cruise flies a fighter plane, romances a social-climbing instructor, plays shirtless volleyball with Val Kilmer and takes long showers with other guys…wait, WTF?!?
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “A hip, heart-pounding combination of action, music and incredible aerial photography helped make Top Gun the blockbuster hit of 1986.” [How about acting, dialogue or character development?]
What Did I Learn?: 1) A MiG 28 can do a 4g negative dive. 2) You never, never leave your wing man. 3) When you’re a hotshot naval aviator, you can get away with disobeying direct orders from your superior officer and buzzing the control tower if you meekly submit to a five-minute tongue-lashing.
Really?: 1) So, who exactly is this “enemy” that’s able to send advanced MiG fighters into the Indian Ocean, and how can they fire upon and destroy US naval aircraft without starting a war? 2) I’m a little unclear on the purpose of the Top Gun academy… ok, maybe it makes sense to teach dogfighting skills to prevent pilots from becoming too reliant on using missiles, but why does it only accept the very best naval pilots? Wouldn’t average pilots gain more from this training? 3) See: “What Did I Learn?” #3.
Rating: I’ve always felt that Top Gun is a highly overrated hunk of mid-1980s cheese. Top Gun is too well-produced to be an outright bad movie; its air combat scenes are impressive, and I liked both the soundtrack and Harold Faltermeyer’s musical score, but the film really falls apart when Maverick (Cruise) interacts with the other characters; he and McGillis share no romantic chemistry, and the dialogue everyone recites is far too expository and cliched to sound credible. Top Gun did NOT take my breath away. 6/10 stars.

Soldier Boyz (1995)

Not Quite a War Movie #3 
Synopsis: It’s basically a low-budget and extremely dumbed-down remake of The Dirty Dozen. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The worst criminals make the best soldiers.” [Um… I’m not sure that’s true]
What Did I Learn?: Michael Dudikoff’s career really went straight down the crapper after he made those American Ninja movies.
Really?: 1) Is Vasquez (Jacqueline Obradors) actually being held in a men’s prison? If not, why does Toliver interview her? 2) I had a LOT of trouble believing the premise of this film… how would any of these lazy, disobedient, and completely untrustworthy thugs be useful on a complex combat mission? Why would Toliver bring a convicted rapist to rescue an attractive young woman from captivity? Why doesn’t anyone think of simply hiring some professional mercenaries? 3) So, Toliver provides these punks with one day of training? What could they possibly learn about military tactics in such a short period of time? 4) Hold on… Vinh Moc has carved out his own little pocket of Vietnam, and even brutally attacks a town, and the authorities don’t seem to care? Come to think of it, the authorities also apparently don’t have a problem with Toliver and his merry band of armed hooligans traipsing about their country, either.  
Rating: Badly written, cheaply produced, and featuring some truly awful performances, Soldier Boyz is one of the most ineptly-made films I’ve ever had the misfortune to watch. I cannot recommend this movie. 1/10 stars.
Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Absolutely – take a drink any time Dudikoff assembles his troops and announces: “now listen up,” or any time the Boyz strangely act as a cohesive fighting unit immediately after they try to kill each other. 

Sergeant Ryker (1963)

Not Quite a War Movie #1
Synopsis: Idealistic young military lawyer flushes career down the toilet to passionately defend the man he convicted of treason because….um….you know, that’s a very tough premise to swallow. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The battlefield is his home….he will protect it at all costs!” [This blurb has nothing to do with the actual film, by the way]
What Did I Learn?: Apparently, American soldiers in the midst of a mass-evacuation from incoming hostile forces will gladly drop everything when a pushy officer shows up and asks them to assist him perform a series of questionable-at-best tasks.
Really?: See: “Synopsis” and “What Did I Learn?”
Rating: Originally aired on television as a two-parter, Sergeant Ryker takes a loooong time to get started, but ultimately matures into an engaging courtroom drama. The film features a noteworthy cast (including Peter Graves and Norman Fell before they became TV stars), but I could have done without the dozens of shouting matches between Ryker (Lee Marvin) and his lawyer (Bradford Dillman in an impressive performance), and action scene of a North Korean jet attacking Dillman’s jeep is completely unnecessary. 6.5/10 stars.