Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Recruit (2003)

CIA movie #1 (Please click the links to read my reviews of Spy Game, The Hunt for Red October, The Tailor of Panama, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and 3 Days of the Condor)
Synopsis: Al Pacino slowly corrupts talented-and-idealistic young man….oh wait, that’s the Synopsis for The Devil’s Advocate,and City Hall... and Two for the Money
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Academy Award Winner Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman) and Colin Farrell (Minority Report) take you deeper into the CIA than you’ve ever been before in this action-packed psychological thriller.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Nothing is…what it seems. 2) Everything is a test. 3) Rule Number One: do not get caught. 4) No country with a McDonald’s has ever attacked the United States. 
You Might Like This Movie If: you've always wanted to join the CIA. 
Really?: 1) I’m pretty sure CIA field training is pretty intensive, but I had a hard time believing it involves recruits getting beaten up or subjected to electrical torture. 2) Wait, the CIA has a computer virus that can travel through wall sockets? WTF?! 3) So, Layla’s ancestry is French and Algerian, yet she was raised by an all-American family, and she’s a sleeper agent…. For whom, exactly? This is never spelled out. 4) Speaking of Layla, is she really supposed to believe that a guy who graduated at the top of his class at MIT and knows how to create highly advanced software applications would move from Boston to DC just to take a crappy data entry job? Um….wouldn’t a guy who just went through several intensive weeks of CIA training know the difference between blanks and live ammunition? 6) Call me cynical, but I have a feeling a real CIA assassin would simply shoot James without explaining the entire movie plot to him, first. 
Rating: I have to give The Recruit a bit of a mixed review. Pacino is fun to watch as the cynical, mysterious and surprisingly likeable Walter Burke, and I liked the chemistry between Farrell and Moynahan. The first half of the film, when James is recruited and receives his training, is quite enjoyable, but the second quickly becomes a mess with a plot that stops making sense (see: “Really?") 6.5/10 stars.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Rocknrolla (2008)

This would have been perfect for my tribute to British Gangster Movies. 

Synopsis: Loveable lout loots London lawbreaker, louses land lease, likes larcenous lovely lady. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “‘I own this town.’ But owning is getting expensive for old-school London gangster Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson).” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) beauty is a beguiling call to death... and a cruel mistress. 2) There's no school like old school. 3) The secret to becoming a successful gangster is mastering the art of delivering a good back-handed slap to the face. 4) Christmas is always just around the corner. 5) Whisky is the new vodka.
You Might Like This Movie If: you consider yourself to be a true rocknrolla. 
Really?: 1) Holy cow, how many characters and sub-plots did Guy Ritchie cram into this film? And they're all highly unlikeable criminals! 2) I realize Lenny (Tom Wilkinson) is a murderer, disloyal snitch and child abuser, but gee... there's something a little disturbing about watching a wheelchair-bound elderly man being slowly lowered into a tank full of crayfish. 3) Funny how everyone searches frantically for Uri's painting, and nobody ever thinks to offer a visual description, or a photo of the artwork in question. 
Rating: I was hoping to enjoy Rocknrolla a bit more than I did. While it’s certainly a much better Guy Ritchie movie than his confused and pretentious Revolver, it doesn’t hit the high standards he set with Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, either. Rocknrolla is an ok crime thriller that suffers from a convoluted, and difficult to follow plot and a plethora of characters who might charitably be described as truly awful human beings. 6.5/10 stars.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Biloxi Blues (1988)

War Movie #2 (Please click the links to read my reviews of a few other Neil Simon movies: The Odd Couple, California Suite, I Ought to Be in Pictures, and The Out-of-Towners) 
Synopsis: Raw recruits, including a budding writer, encounter a mean and sadistic drill sergeant during basic training….oh wait, that’s the Synopsis for Full Metal Jacket and Tigerland! Um… Grizzled combat veteran wins the grudging respect of the young men he’s required to train. No, that’s the Synopsis for Heartbreak Ridge. Um…Christopher Walken readies surly young punks for military activities…no, that’s the Synopsis for The Dogs of War. Um… Walken plays a menacing authority figure who isn’t afraid to wave a gun around. No, that’s King of New York. Ok, I give up….
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The Army made Eugene a man. But Daisy gave him basic training!” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) There are no “bathrooms” in the Army. 2) There are 17, no… 52 acceptable sexual positions. 3) Once you start compromising your thoughts, you’re a candidate for mediocrity. 
Really?: Hmm… the VHS jacket says Biloxi Blues takes place in 1943, yet the film itself opens with on-screen text which tells us the year is 1945. So, it’s the summer of ’45, and everybody keeps talking about being sent to fight the Germans, yet the war in Europe actually ended in May of that year. Amazingly, the boys even discuss the US invasion of the European continent as a “what if” scenario, even though D-Day took place in June, 1944. Did Neil Simon make this fairly obvious goof, or did Mike Nichols make a hash out of the original source material? 
Rating: I’m not a big fan of Neil Simon, largely because most of his humour seems dated, and it consists of too many one-liners that aren’t terribly funny; in fact, Simon’s penchant for wisecracking nearly ruins a pivotal scene near the end between Broderick and Walken. Biloxi Blues is a nice, and somewhat charming little movie that doesn’t really go anywhere. Strangely, we don’t even see that much of Eugene’s girlfriend Daisy (Penelope Ann Miller does a wonderful job as the shy Southern belle), even though his relationship with her is supposed to be an important part of the story. Broderick handles the role of Simon’s alter-ego quite well, but I was most impressed with Walken’s portrayal of Sgt. Toomey: a soft-spoken, and surprisingly friendly drill instructor who knows how to command the respect of his troops without screaming at the top of his lungs. 6.5/10 stars.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Dirty Dozen (1967)

War Movie #1
Synopsis: A dozen quarrelsome gents must put their differences aside in order to prevent a hanging…. Oh wait, that’s the Synopsis for Twelve Angry Men. Um… Allied commandos dress up like German officers, and infiltrate a heavily-guarded chateau….oh, sorry - that’s Where Eagles Dare. Um… American prisoners take on the German army. No, that’s The Great Escape and Stalag 17
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “They are convicts, psychos, lunkheads, losers - and champs at the box office and in movie lore.” 
What Did I Learn?: If you wish to impersonate a general, your best course of action is to “walk slow, act dumb and look stupid.” 
Really?: 1) I was more-or-less ok with this movie until the last 20 minutes, when the Dirty Dozen chase a bunch of German officers AND THEIR GIRLFRIENDS into a basement bunker, douse them with gasoline, and dump about two-dozen grenades inside. I’m pretty sure that qualifies as a war crime, as does Reisman’s comment regarding captured prisoners: “free the French and shoot the Germans.” 2) Telly Savalas as a Southern good old boy named Maggot…ok, sure. 3) I realize Colonel Breed (Robert Ryan) is disobeying orders when he enters the Dirty Dozen’s compound and harasses Reisman’s (Lee Marvin) men, but could a Major really get away with firing machine gun bullets at a superior officer, and then encouraging his men to beat up the Colonel’s troops? 4) Hold on… this mission has to happen for the D-Day landings to succeed properly, so the US military brass assigns it to a bunch of anti-social convicts who absolutely cannot be trusted? Why not send in a real commando unit? 
Rating: I hadn’t seen The Dirty Dozen since the late 1980s, so I was unprepared for its overall ugliness (Marvin himself hated this movie, and did it strictly for the paycheque; Charles Bronson actually walked out during a screening). The plot is absurd (see: “Really?”), and 150 minutes is far too long for an action-adventure, but it more-or-less works as a war thriller until the third act.  If I hadn’t seen the despicable last 20-30 minutes of this picture, I might have compared it to another revisionist WWII film from the 1960s, Kelly’s Heroes, and given it six stars. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this movie. 4/10 stars. 
Would It Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Sure - take a drink every time Lee Marvin mouths off at a superior officer and somehow gets away with it.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Across the Line (2010)

Synopsis: Fugitive financier foils feds, flees for freedom, finds foxy female, faces furious felons. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “When a fugitive-financier (Aidan Quinn) is discovered hiding out in Tijuana, he and his multi-billion dollar stash become prey to a Mexican drug lord, a Russian mobster, and the FBI.” 
What Did I Learn?: Apparently, Russian gangster worth over $1 billion just love spending all of their time preparing food in a restaurant kitchen. Oh wait, I think I already learned that from Eastern Promises
Really?: 1) See: “What Did I Learn?” 2) So, Corbin Bernsen has third billing on the DVD jacket, and he’s in this movie for what - five minutes as Agents Hobbs’ (Mario Van Peebles) hard-ass boss? Oh, and Gina Gershon also doesn’t have much of a part as the wife of a highly cerebral Mexican gangster (Andy Garcia). 3) Speaking of Garcia, I had a bit of trouble believing the top cartel boss in Tijuana would spend most of his time in a tiny cracker box personal office crammed with about a zillion books. 4) Holy shit, this movie ends in a literal Mexican stand-off of hired mercenaries, FBI agents, and Mexican cartel goons staring each other down, and then… they all holster their guns and go home? WTF? 
Rating: For an action-thriller, Across the Line is surprisingly slow-moving, dull, and downright depressing. While I liked Quinn’s performance as the elusive Charlie Wright (Claudia Ferri is fantastic, incidentally, as the aging prostitute who helps him search for his long-lost daughter), Garcia looks like he’s sleepwalking for most of the picture. Acting aside, the most frustrating thing about Across the Line is that its basic story outline had a lot of promise, yet it never delivers very much. I cannot recommend this movie. 4.5/10 stars. 
Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: No, but take a drink each time Andy Garcia says anything that's a real downer.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Street Kings (2008)

Synopsis: Keanu Reeves plays America’s dumbest bad cop
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Gripping performance by Keanu Reeves, ACADEMY AWARD Winner Forest Whitaker and an all-star supporting cast power this action-packed crime thriller.” 
What Did I Learn?: When you really want a bowl of cereal, beer is apparently an acceptable substitute for milk. 
Really?: 1) So, Ludlow’s (Reeves) big strategy to find the kidnapped girl is to offer to sell guns to her kidnappers, provoke them into beating him senseless with a few racial slurs, hope they steal his traceable car, and then sneak up on them in the middle of the night? Gee, what could possibly go wrong? 2) Hold on - Ludlow has Wander handcuffed to a railing, there’s about a zillion dollars in cash now completely visible behind a ripped-out wall in Wander’s house, and instead of calling Internal Affairs, he executes him in cold blood? And Captain Biggs (Hugh Laurie) is somehow ok with that? 3) Ok, I realize Wander’s henchmen are really bad guys, but what’s with all the rapity-rape? Why do all of them feel the need to rape not only Ludlow’s girlfriend, but Washington’s widow as well? That struck me as far too over-the-top. 4) I have a problem with the basic premise of this film: Ludlow has consistently broken the law by acting as a vigilante cop for Captain Wander, yet he knows nothing about the illegal activities of his fellow officers, and nobody thinks to cut him in for some of the money in the “cookie jar.” (See: “Synopsis”). 5) Wait, Ludlow and Washington (Terry Crews) somehow blazed a new trail by in the early 1990s as black-and-white officers working together in a black-and-white police cruiser? Gee, that seems a little far-fetched. 
Rating: Laurie and Whitaker deliver strong performances as antagonistic LAPD captains, but Street Kings is otherwise a forgettable, distasteful, and strangely implausible (see: Really?) police corruption film that’s marred by an unlikeable protagonist and some pretty brutal violence. Check it out only if you have nothing better to do, and it’s free to watch. 5.5/10 stars.

Brooklyn Rules (2007)

Synopsis: Budget Bronx Tale meets Budget Goodfellas meets Budget Saturday Night Fever meets Budget Diner
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “A gripping tale of three life-long friends struggling with relationships, responsibility and loyalty on the mean streets of 1980’s-era Brooklyn, NY.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) A grilled cheese sandwich is NOT the same thing as a cheese melt. 2) If you invent a better mousetrap in New York City, you’ll get a mousetrap stuck up your ass. 3) Dog Heaven is all cats, bones and fire hydrants. 
Really?: 1) I can understand Carmine (Scott Caan) wanting to whack Gino as revenge for Bobby’s murder, but Michael (Freddie Prinze Jr.)? A college kid with no record of involvement with violence, or the local mafia? I had a hard time believing his first instinct wouldn’t be to tell the cops everything he knew. 2) So, Carmine and Michael murder Gino in cold blood, and… they both go on to live happily ever after? Neither of them feel pangs of guilt or remorse, and Gino’s buddies never visit either of them, looking for payback? That struck me as a little cold. 3) Gee…Mena Suvari isn’t given much to do in this movie, is she? And it’s funny how Alec Baldwin’s head takes up a quarter of the DVD jacket, and he has maybe 15-20 minutes of on-screen time. 
Rating: I wanted to like Brooklyn Rules a little more than I did, as it’s a character-driven coming-of-age drama set amid the New York mob wars of the mid-1980s. Trouble is, Brooklyn Rules isn’t very original (see: “Synopsis”) and it could have been a much better picture with a polished script (much of the dialogue consists of the three buddies insulting each other, and it gets tiresome), a bit of recasting (Prinze’s Brooklyn accent is terrible, and he’s unconvincing as a tough guy who somehow “scammed” his way into Columbia University), and a stronger focus on Carmine’s character, the wannabe-gangster. That said, I liked Baldwin’s performance, and Jerry Ferrara’s (best remembered as Turtle on Entourage), final scene is surprisingly moving. 6.5/10 stars.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)

Happy Halloween! Please click the link to read my review of A Charlie Brown Christmas. 
Synopsis: It’s like Waiting for Godot, starring obnoxious children and a highly imaginative dog. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The Peanuts gang celebrates Halloween while Linus waits for the Great Pumpkin.” [Taken from] 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Never jump into a pile of leaves with a wet sucker. 2) The Great Pumpkin values sincerity. 3) The fury of a woman scorned is nothing compared to the fury of a woman who has been cheated out of “tricks or treats.” 
Really?: 1) So, where exactly does Linus write his letter to the Great Pumpkin? Why is he suddenly accosted by a parade of verbally abusive Peanuts characters? 2) Wait, Linus spends Halloween night in a pumpkin patch, and it’s up to Lucy to bring him home at 4AM? I’m curious: do these children actually have any parents? 
Rating: I realize It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown is widely considered to be a Halloween classic, and it was created as a children’s special, but something about it rubbed me the wrong way. The story itself is inane and pointless - the Great Pumpkin never shows up (Linus, of course, refuses to learn a thing from the experience, so the end credits consist of him shouting at his best friend like a crazed zealot), the comic strip humour doesn't translate well into an animated special, and it’s difficult to listen to gratuitously nasty children shriek insults at Linus and Charlie Brown for 22 minutes. That said, I liked the vignette of Snoopy pretending to be a WWI flying ace (it's the one part that doesn’t include screaming kids), and I loved Vince Guaraldi’s smooth jazz musical score. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this movie. 4/10 stars. 
Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Sure - take a drink anytime somebody uses the word “blockhead.”

Sunday, October 22, 2017

2Guns (2013)

Synopsis: Academy Award winner Denzel Washington mugs his way through forgettable, half-baked shoot-em-up for $20 million payoff. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Academy Award winner Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg lead an all-star cast in the explosive hit 2 Guns.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Never rob a bank across from a diner with the best donuts in three counties. 2) Nobody’s innocent. There’s just the guilty, the ignorant, and the unlucky. 3) When the hand has gangrene, you chop it off to save the body. You don't keep the pinkie around just because it "meant well". 4) Blind loyalty is not loyalty. 5) Just because you put your finger in your belly button and brown shit comes out don't mean it's your asshole. [I’m still trying to figure that one out]
Really?: 1) So, the CIA shakes down Mexican drug cartels and then stuffs the loot away in the safety deposit boxes of tiny border town banks with minimal security? That doesn’t compute. 2) I realize DEA Agent Bobby wants to bust Stig (Wahlberg), but can he seriously participate in arson and bank robbery in order to do so? 3) Gee….it’s kind of hard to sympathize with Stig after he shoots the heads off several chickens in order to impress some cartel thugs. 4) Let’s see… a bunch of well-armed Naval intelligence goons decide to rip off the CIA, which is already ripping off the drug cartels. Wouldn’t the CIA get wind of this? How many sets of villains does this movie need? 5) I have to ask: could Bobby seriously pack $43 million in cash into his car, and drive it across the border into Mexico without it getting impounded by either the US or Mexican border officers? 6) Wait, the big Bobby agrees to deliver the $43 million because the CIA has framed him for the murder of his boss and he wants to clear his name. Is he now a wanted man? 
Rating: Washington and Wahlberg share some enjoyable (and genuinely funny) buddy chemistry as a couple of star-crossed undercover federal agents who don’t really like one another, but 2Guns is otherwise a borderline bad movie with sub-par dialogue, a convoluted, formulaic and confused plot that doesn’t make a lot of sense, and some very hit-or-miss humour. (See: “Synopsis,” “What Did I Learn?” and “Really?”) Still, 2Guns never takes itself too seriously, and it's fine for an evening's entertainment if there's nothing better on television, so I’ll give it a barely-passing grade. 5.5/10 stars.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Illusionist (2006)

Synopsis: Victorian age illusionist seeks revenge after the death of his beloved….oh, sorry - that’s the Synopsis for The Prestige. Ok, um…. Gifted artist runs afoul of closed-minded authorities in Habsburg-ruled Vienna…. No, that’s the Synopsis for Amadeus
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Unlock the mysteries of the year’s most spellbinding film from the producers of Crash and Sideways!” 
What Did I Learn?: Life and Death. Space and Time. Fate and Chance. These are the forces of the universe! 
Really?: 1) So, wait…how much time has elapsed between Sophie’s (Jessica Biel) murder and Uhl’s (Paul Giamatti) investigation of the stables….a few weeks? I have to think that stall would have been cleaned at least once, meaning he wouldn't find any evidence of foul play. 2) many people in Vienna know about Prince Leopold’s upcoming coup against his father's regime? It seems to be fairly common knowledge amongst the characters. 3) Maybe I’m being nit-picky, but I sort-of expect a film that delves into the world of stage magic to do a better job of explaining how the protagonist accomplishes his visual tricks. 4) Ok, I realize Prince Leopold is a pretty awful person, but I’m not sure how I feel about the two leads framing him for murder and driving him to suicide. Something about that rubbed me the wrong way.  
Rating: The Illusionist is an interesting companion film for The Prestige, as they share a number of similarities, but it isn’t quite in the same league. Overall, it's not a bad film. The Illusionist is highly imaginative and mesmerizing in places, and it features excellent supporting performances from Giamatti and Biel, but it’s a little too slow-moving and humourless for my taste, Prince Leopold is far too simplistically evil to be an interesting villain, and the “twist” ending isn’t that difficult to figure out ahead of time. I also have to remove half a star for the film’s unnecessary and distracting use of CGI special effects. 7/10 stars.

Taken (2008)

Synopsis: Special Forces killing machine shoots countless number of scumbags in order to rescue teenaged girl abducted by foreign gangsters. Wait, wasn’t that the Synopsis for Spartan? I mean, exactly… pretty much word-for-word
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Prepare to get Taken for the ride of your life!” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) France has a very reliable power system, which is great if you’re planning on zapping somebody with a whole lot of electricity in order to obtain information. 2) Paris is a crime-and-drug-ridden hellhole, and best avoided altogether. 
Really?: 1) So, Bryan’s (Liam Neeson) daughter only has 96 hours before something terrible happens. Gee, that certainly spices things up, doesn’t it? Why 96 hours? Where did that number come from? 2) Gee… Famke Janssen doesn’t have much of a part as Bryan’s shrewish ex-wife, does she? I’m mean, she’s gratuitously nasty to the guy, undermines him in front of his daughter, and then pretty much exits the movie after Kim is kidnapped. I guess she needed the dough. 3) I have to wonder: do private clubs like the one depicted in this film actually exist? Wouldn’t their members be prime candidates for blackmailing schemes? 4) Funny how Bryan feels fine after he wakes up after getting conked on the head. Aren't concussions rather serious medical emergencies? 
Rating: Taken isn’t particularly clever or original (see: “Synopsis”), but it works well as a compelling, and genuinely disturbing action-thriller if you don’t ask too many questions about its rather absurd premise: one ex-super agent single-handedly wipes out the entire Albanian mafia in Paris, and somehow manages to always stay one step ahead of the cops. The film also owes a lot to Neeson for bringing depth and substance to a role that could have been completely one-dimensional. 7.5/10 stars.

Monday, October 9, 2017

King of New York (1990)

Hey, this would have been perfect for my salutes to movies about gangsters and dirty cops. 
Synopsis: Do you remember Christopher Walken’s cerebral mob boss character from Suicide Kings and True Romance? Well, just imagine he gets out of jail, whacks a whole bunch of rival drug dealers, dances to Schooly-D, bangs beautiful women on the subway(!) and muses about providing free health care in the South Bronx before he runs afoul of the local constabulary. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: "In New York, crime gets done Frank's way - or it doesn't get done at all." 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Jimmy Jump (Lawrence Fishburne) really likes root beer. 2) America spent $100 million in 1990 on getting high, and none of it was Frank White’s fault. 3) Frank White (Walken) never killed anyone who didn’t deserve it. 
Really?: 1) So, Frank runs a criminal organization that’s almost entirely African-American in personnel. Could that happen in real life? While I liked the strong friendship between Frank and Jimmy, I had a hard time believing these guys would have anything to do with one other, let alone be best buddies and jointly oversee New York City’s biggest narcotics enterprise. How did they meet? I think somebody should have provided some back story. 2) Was Arty Clay some sort of a mafia captain? If so, wouldn’t killing him generate a whole lot of counter-productive heat, or does Frank give the mob a cut of his action? Come to think of it, wouldn’t a successful drug dealer pay off the cops? Couldn’t he call in a favour or two when Gilley and Flanigan (David Caruso and Wesley Snipes) start harassing him? 3) Gilley and Flanigan's assault on Frank White's lair winds up killing several cops. Wouldn't Internal Affairs ask a whole bunch of less-than-friendly questions to the surviving members of the team? 
Rating: King of New York is a flawed crime thriller that I can’t bring myself to dislike. Sure, the plot is thin and a little implausible (see: “Synopsis,” and “Really?”), and it’s tough to care very much about either Frank or his antagonists, but the film does a wonderful job of presenting the look and feel of late-1980s New York City, the cinematography is innovative and interesting, and it features several exciting action sequences and a highly unique cast. Moreover, Caruso and Snipes deliver great performances as the strangely sympathetic rogue cops, while Fishburne steals every scene he’s in as the soda-loving Jimmy Jump. 7.5/10 stars.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Ransom (1996)

Synopsis: It’s essentially  two hours of Mel Gibson screaming at Gary Sinise over the telephone, Rene Russo screaming at Gibson, Sinise and the other kidnappers screaming at each other, and a few scenes of Gibson running through heavy traffic, and around a junkyard  screaming: “where’s my son?!?” 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “In the action-thriller movie event of the year, superstar Mel Gibson (Braveheart) is Tom Mullen, a wealthy executive, whose charmed life is suddenly shattered when his young son is abducted and held for ransom by a gang of ruthless criminals!” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Everybody pays the ransom, and the FBI enjoys a track record of 7 out of 10 kidnapped children safely returned to their parents. 2) If you’re going to make an anonymous phone call in order to ask for a ransom, don’t use any of your favourite expressions. 
Really?: 1) Holy shit, I realize Mullen (Gibson) wants to get his son back, but why would he tell Agent Hawkins (Delroy Linda) that he’s truly guilty of bribery, and that he pulled the wool over the eyes of the FBI? What’s the point of giving himself five years in the federal slammer whether or not the boy is returned? 2) Hey, isn’t it illegal to place a bounty on somebody’s head? Wouldn’t Tom face some pretty serious legal issues - maybe even arrest - after his TV appearance? 3) This movie is just over two hours long. Was it really necessary to include that scene of Kate (Russo) and Shaker (Sinise) in the church, or Dan Hedaya’s wildly over-the-top cameo appearance as Jackie Brown? 4) So, Tom Mullen is a billionaire airline magnate, yet he and his family travel around New York City without any security? 5) Honestly, I’m not sure what to think of the last 20 minutes of this film. For starters, it’s extremely fortunate that Hawkins not only picks up the phone when Tom calls, and then he precisely understands the message Tom wants to convey. Soon afterwards, Shaker announces that if anything funny occurs in the bank, he’ll disappear and exact his revenge when Tom least expects it. What kind of a threat is that? If anything funny happens, Shaker will be a wanted man, and Tom is wealthy enough to rent the Delta Force to protect his family. 
Rating: I have to give Ransom a bit of a mixed review. Overall, it’s a compelling thriller with a great plot twist: Mullen realizes Shaker has no intention of returning the kidnapped boy, so he turns the ransom money into a bounty, thereby setting up a memorable phone call where the two men attempt to intimidate each other. Unfortunately, the film is far too long, marred by a questionable third act, and too joyless and melodramatic for my taste (see: “Synopsis” and “Really?”). 6.5/10 stars.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

We're Talkin' Serious Money (1992)

Synopsis:  Do you remember that 1986 Joe Piscopo/Danny De Vito buddy comedy Wise Guys, about a couple of goofball criminals who are forced to leave New York City because the mob wanted to whack them? Well, just imagine a low-budget version of that, combined with half an hour of The Parallax View. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Dennis Farina, Leo Rossi and Fran Drescher star in this contagious comedy caper about a couple of wisecracking wise guys who finally hit the million-dollar jackpot.” 
Did I Learn?: 1) If you own a restaurant, and showcase the same “specials” day after day on the menu, they eventually become “regulars.” 2) New York is nothing but “chaos,” so nothing can be accomplished in that city. 3) Spirulina is the fountain of youth. 4) “Amelia” is Italian for flower. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You'll gladly watch Fran Drescher in anything
Really?: 1) Ok, I realize Gino is upset with Sal and Charlie for grabbing his $10,000 and running for their lives, but doesn’t he have a business to run? And would he really fly himself and his goons to California to retrieve the money or put a couple of bullet holes in our heroes? 2) So, what happened with Sal’s cousin? We know he grabbed the money, but why would he rip off a family member? Where did he go, and what happened? 3) Why in the world would Sal and Charlie set up the initial blackmail meeting in the lawyer’s office, and offer the guy plenty of time to bring in some professional killers? Why not just say: “I’ll meet you at the coffee shop outside your office in 15 minutes?” 4) Funny how Sal’s sister has a pretty large family, but we almost never see them when Sal and Charlie move into their house. 
Rating: We’re Talkin’ Serious Money certainly wasn’t the late Dennis Farina’s finest cinematic effort, but the film never takes itself too seriously, and I quite enjoyed some of the back-and-forth bickering between Farina, Rossi and Drescher; it is genuinely funny in places. I have to wonder if this movie could have been a lot better - and far more memorable - if it had been blessed with a tighter script and a much bigger budget. 6/10 stars.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Room (2003)

Schuster at the Movies is now six years old! I began this blog by reviewing Citizen Kane, which is believed by many to be the best motion picture ever made. Well, guess what….today, I’m going to review The Room, which is believed by many to be the absolute worst. 
Synopsis: Ok, just imagine Ed Wood came back from the dead in order to write, produce, and direct a highly melodramatic, low-budget version of Singles, starring some narcissistic Eurotrash weirdo with long, greasy hair. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "Johnny is a successful banker who lives happily in a San Francisco townhouse with his fiancĂ©e, Lisa. One day, inexplicably, she gets bored with him and decides to seduce his best friend, Mark. From there, nothing will be the same again." [Taken from, as I watched the movie on Youtube.]
What Did I Learn?: 1) Chris-R doesn’t HAVE five fucking minutes! 2) Chocolate is the symbol of love. 3) If a lot of people love each other, the world would be a better place to live. 4) All men are assholes. Men and women use and abuse each other all the time; there's nothing wrong with it. Marriage has nothing to do with love.
Really?: Oh, God….where do I begin? 1) What’s funny about some unnamed dude beating up a girl so badly she winds up in a hospital on Guerrero Street? 2) By the 26-minute mark, we’ve seen three - count ‘em - THREE strangely un-erotic sex scenes set to atrocious R&B music. 3) So, what’s the point of Claudette revealing she has breast cancer, or Denny owing Chris-R money for drugs? These subplots are introduced, and then never mentioned again, let alone resolved. 4) So, Denny is secretly in love with Lisa? Oh wait… right after he admits that, he also says he’s still in love with his girlfriend and wants to marry her. 5) Speaking of Denny, I still don’t know what to make of him jumping into bed with Johnny and Lisa. 6) Holy shit, how  many people use Johnny’s apartment as a booty call crash pad? And he’s ok with it? 7) The plot is so thin that it’s nearly non-existent, yet it still manages to contradict itself…. A) Lisa wants to end her relationship with Johnny (because he’s “boring,” apparently), but early on, it sure looks as though she’s madly in love with him. B) If Lisa wants to end her relationship with Johnny, why doesn’t she just leave? Why get him drunk in order to bait him into hitting her, and why lie about domestic abuse when he doesn’t take the bait? C) Come to think of it, why does she mix vodka with scotch? Who would possibly want to drink that? Ok, that’s it….I can’t do this anymore 
Rating: The Room is more-or-less the Rebecca Black’s Friday of movies: universally panned, but viewed and shared about a zillion times on social media. By any objective measurement - story development, dialogue, acting, editing, etc… The Room should be considered a cinematic failure, but here’s the thing: every scene is a complete train wreck, and it’s really, really funny. I found myself howling with laughter a number of times, and I realized it’s a much better comedy than Wedding Crashers or The Sweetest Thing. Check it out at least once. 0/10 stars… or maybe it’s worth 10/10 stars. I’m actually rather conflicted about this, so it will appear on both my Best-of and Worst-of lists for 2017. 
Would it Work for a Bad Movie Night?: Oh Hell, yes! Take a drink any time: a) Lisa says: “I don’t want to talk about it,” b) the guys throw a football around, c) anyone says: “don’t worry,” d) somebody takes a tumble, e) we’re informed that Mark and Johnny are best friends, or f) anyone is greeted with an “oh, hi.”

2:22 (2008)

Synopsis: It’s a bit like a low-rent Ocean’s Eleven sandwiched between two slices of bad Cassavetes. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Hardened criminal Gully Mercer (Mick Rossi) devises a foolproof plan for a snowy New Year’s Eve heist at 2:22 AM at the Grange, a high-class hotel filled with a vault of valuable safety deposit boxes.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) If you’re going to rip off a bag of cocaine, it’s not a good idea to sell it to anyone who might be connected to its rightful owners (oh wait - I think I learned that by watching Atlantic City). 2) Gabriel Byrne probably took the part of Detective Swain strictly for the cash, because he's uncredited, and he doesn't look all that enthusiastic about the role. 
Really?: 1) So, Val Kilmer gets top billing, and he’s in this movie for what - a couple of scenes equalling three or four minutes? 2) Ok, I have to ask: why is 2:22 in the morning the perfect time to rob the hotel? And why do it on New Year’s Eve, when lots and lots of people stay up late? This is never explained. 3) Holy coincidences, Batman! One of the robbers is identified by the drug dealer he beat up and robbed after a quick glance at a tattoo; later, the police detective (Byrne in another role he probably leaves off his resume) makes a series of arrests simply because he's standing in the right checkout line at the right time, and is able to identify his wife's wedding ring. 4) One of the hotel guests is an older, suicidal man who eventually pulls the trigger. The incident has absolutely no bearing on the plot. 
Rating: Billed as a gritty action thriller that was filmed in Toronto, 2:22 seemed promising when I sat down for a viewing, but it never really delivers. The film works well only when the thieves are in the hotel (and it takes awhile before they make their move - see “Synopsis”) and there’s a tension in the air as they attempt to empty the boxes without tipping off the police or the hotel guests. Sadly, the heist ends far too soon, and the rest of 2:22 consists of rather gruesome violence between our heroes and a local gangster. A better script would have resulted in a much better movie. 5.5/10 stars.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Ocean's Thirteen (2007)

I could have used this for my salute to Al Pacino’s films. 
Synopsis: Loveable crooks and con artists rob a casino. Wait, haven’t I seen this movie before
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “it’s bolder. Riskier. The most dazzling heist yet.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) If you shook Sinatra’s hand, you belong to a very special club, which means… actually, I have no idea what that means. 2) The moment you become embarrassed of who you are, you lose yourself. 
You Might Like This Movie If: you sometimes feel like a Very Unimportant Person when you stay in a bad hotel
Really?: So, wait… Willy Bank (Al Pacino) is an all-around scumbag with an attractive woman (Ellen Barkin) as his second-in-command, yet there’s no indication he’s ever made a pass at her, and their relationship is all business? And then Linus (Matt Damon) manages to make her completely forget all of her professional responsibilities and become some sort of sex zombie because he’s wearing some extra-strong musk cologne? 
Rating: Ocean’s Thirteen isn’t a particularly original movie (see: “Synopsis”), and its treatment of Barkin’s character rubbed me the wrong way (see: “Really?”) but it’s also a lot more focused and back-to-basics than the disappointing Ocean’s Twelve, Pacino’s Bank is a worthy foe for Ocean’s crew, and David Paymer’s V.U.P. character provides some nice comic relief. Ocean’s Thirteen isn’t bad if you want to put your brain on ‘pause’ for a couple of hours. 7.5/10 stars.

Ocean's Twelve (2004)

Please click the link to read my review of Ocean's Eleven
Synopsis: George Clooney stars in a lacklustre sequel to a ho-hum remake of a Rat Pack classic. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “They’re back. And then some. Twelve is the new eleven when Danny Ocean and his pals return in a sequel to the cool caper that saw them pull of a $160 million heist.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Nothing costs nothing. 2) Julia Roberts wasn’t in Four Weddings and a Funeral, and she occasionally hangs out with Bruce Willis in her free time. 
You Might Like This Movie If: you've always wanted to own a Faberge egg. 
Really?: 1) So, the movie ends with Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) - the villain from Ocean’s Eleven, pocketing a cheque for $194 million, even though he was already paid by the casino’s insurance company? That’s a wee bit unsatisfying. 2) Funny how Benedict is able to individually track down every member of Ocean’s crew, and nobody has the good sense to pick up a telephone and warn the others that he’s coming. 3) How would Rusty or Linus’ mom know that Isabel (Catherine Zeta-Jones) forged those police documents? 
Rating: I know what you're thinking - when I reviewed Ocean's Eleven back in January, 2012, I made the following declaration: "there is no way I'm going to sit through a certain piece of crap known as Ocean's Twelve. If you haven't seen this film, don't. Watching it, I had a funny feeling a whole bunch of Hollywood turds were given an all-expenses-paid trip to Europe in exchange for making a movie they knew would be horrible, but would also bring in a ton of money."
Ocean's Twelve isn't a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not nearly as awful as I somehow remembered it to be (incidentally, I had a similar experience with another movie, Passed Away, back in 2012). Its biggest problem is that the story often seems meandering and directionless; instead of planning one big heist, Danny and his crew mostly drift across Europe and shoot the shit with each other as they work on three smaller jobs. Ocean's Twelve has a great cast, but the actors aren't given much to do, so by the end, I really didn't care. 5.5/10 stars.