Friday, September 30, 2011

Nevada Smith (1966)

Synopsis: It’s not a good idea to make Nevada Smith angry.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Nevada Smith is a rugged innocent boy born in the 1890s during California’s gold rush days to a native American mother and white father. When he finds his parents have been murdered by vicious killers, he sets out to track them down.”

What Did I Learn?: If you know there’s a revenge-crazed gunslinger coming after you, you might want to wait awhile before accepting a total stranger into your gang of outlaws – especially some dude who totally fits the description.

You Might Like This Movie If: You’ve always wanted to see a non-science fiction version of The Terminator.

Really?: 1) Steve McQueen was a little old to be playing a teenaged/early 20s N.S., and he didn’t look at all native American. 2) Smith saves the second man on his hit-list from drowning in a swamp because he wants to kill the bastard himself. 3) It’s funny how none of the killers ever seem to recognize Smith, even though they meet him very early in the film.

Rating: Nevada Smith is an enjoyable Western with a deeply-flawed hero. Smith is so consumed with vengeance that he has himself thrown into a hellish Louisiana swamp prison in order to get close to one of the killers, who he even befriends. A pre-Bob Newhart Show Suzanne Pleshette suggests to Nevada that he might not be a whole lot better than the men he’s tracking down. 7.5/10 stars.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

[Sorry George and Steven - for most of my generation, this movie will always be "Raiders of the Lost Ark", not "Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark"]
Synopsis: Swashbuckling grave robber Indiana Jones romances old flame and takes more lickin’s than a Timex watch in search of holy McGuffin.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Chapter 24 in the complete adventures of Indiana Jones has more heroics than you can crack a bullwhip at!” [Wait – you mean I have to watch the first 23 “chapters” of that Young Indiana Jones show before I can enjoy this movie?!? Will I be able to follow what’s going on??!]

What Did I Learn?: Indy’s not a very nice guy. He had a chance to save Marian, and chose instead to leave her tied up. Rather than Belloq, hard liquor and a fancy white dress, she might have faced an evening of torture.

You Might Like This Movie If: You’ve always been interested in ancient history; not enough to actually read a book or two, but interested.

Really?: 1) As a trained archaeologist and Indiana Jones’ equal (the guy actually learned to speak the Hovito language), wouldn’t Belloq have known not to look at the Ark after it had been opened? 2) How did Indy and Marian get off the Greek island at the end? Didn’t the Germans have a huge submarine base there? 3) What exactly was Indy and Sallah’s plan to bring the Ark back to Cairo if civilization was three weeks of desert in every direction and the Nazi dig was just next door?

Rating: Wow – has it really been 30 years since Raiders of the Lost Ark was released? I loved this movie as a kid, and probably viewed it well in excess of 100 times between 1981 and 1995(?). I hadn’t watched Raiders in years, but it provided no surprises except one: it struck me that the plot didn’t make a lot of sense except as a setup for one action scene after another. Even the “talking” parts were peppered with gags, as though Spielberg and Lucas didn’t trust their audience to stay interested when shit wasn’t blowing up. 6.5/10 stars.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983)

Synopsis: Obvious Han Solo knockoff teams up with Molly Ringwald(!), and pre-Ghostbusters Ernie Hudson to rescue three rich socialites held captive in the “forbidden zone” by an over-acting Michael Ironside and his not-so-menacing band of toughs.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Blast off on a high-powered space adventure starring Peter Strauss as a galactic bounty hunter menaced by a mechanical madman.”

What Did I Learn?: Apparently, none of the production staff found it creepy when Molly’s teenaged character climbed into Strauss’ sleeping bag, or when he force-washed her in a creek with a bar of soap.  

You Might Like This Movie If: You really want to know what sort of roles Molly Ringwald was given before the Breakfast Club and 16 Candles.

Really?: Well, for starters... early on, the ship’s computer said the girls crash-landed on a “plague planet”, and Molly even offers our healthy hero serum, if he needs it. Thing is, nobody on the planet seems to have the plague or get the plague, and it’s never mentioned again.

Rating: Terrible acting (Strauss sounds eerily like Phil Hartman’s Troy MacLure while Molly Ringwald just screams a lot), combine with bargain basement special effects and atrocious dialogue to make Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone a genuinely bad movie. But it’s a fun bad movie – watch it with your 30-and-40-something friends for a few laughs. 4.5/10 stars.

Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em (1990)

Synopsis: Rapping fool in parachute pants returns to hometown and spontaneously breaks into song-and dance-numbers as he rids the community of drugs.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “M.C. HAMMER has slammed right past the title of mere ‘rap master’ to become one of the new decade’s top entertainers... ‘PLEASE HAMMER DON’T HURT ‘EM’ is no simple clip compilation, or breezily constructed mix of concert shots and backstage interviews.”

What Did I Learn?: 1) (M.C.) Hammer didn’t really dance so much as jump around a lot.

You Might Like This Movie If: You grew up watching ‘Hammer Man on Saturday mornings:

Really?: M.C. Hammer convinces the neighbourhood drug kingpin to: a) shut down his crack houses, b) stop selling drugs and c) spend a huge chunk of his fortune on charities and a benefit concert by yelling at him.

Rating: Preachy, pretentious and preposterous. 1/10 stars.

eXistenZ (1999)

Synopsis: Gamer girl and marketing puke escape into digital fantasyland from assassins armed with tooth-firing pistols.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Set in the near-future, eXistenZ depicts a society in which game designers are worshipped as superstars and players can organically enter inside games.”

What Did I Learn?: Apparently, you can create a working pistol by ordering the “special” in a Chinese restaurant, snapping together a few deformed amphibian skeletons and inserting a piece of your bridgework for ammunition.

You Might Like This Movie If: You love the violence and nihilism of Grand Theft Auto but you want to experience the thrill of shooting those cops and hookers yourself, without the inconvenience of going to jail.

Really?: Antenna Corporation must have had the world’s worst security service. During a semi-public demonstration of the new eXistenZ game, a would-be assassin gets out of his chair, delivers a short “Death to...” statement and blasts both the designer and a PR guy before the two armed guards on duty finally decide to do something.   

Rating: Clever, creative, and trippy virtual reality science fiction. It's a good movie. 8/10 stars.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Strange Days (1995)

Synopsis: On the eve of the millennium, L.A. drug dealer-with-a-heart-of-gold and his long-suffering limo-driving lady-friend elude racist cops, constant street violence, and a psychotic record producer to solve a murder and win back his fucked-up ex-girlfriend.  

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “To stage the millennium bash in the streets of Los Angeles, a crowd of over 10,000 people was invited to a free outdoor concert. In the climactic moment when the year 2000 begins, hundreds of fireworks, 2000 balloons and a half ton of confetti were released.”

What Did I Learn?: Juliette Lewis looks fantastic when she’s topless.

You Might Like This Movie If: You and your buddies want to play a drinking game that requires taking a sip every time: a) Ralph Fiennes is kicked or punched, b) Ralph Fiennes or Angela Bassett run through a crowd scene, or c) Juliet Lewis or Michael Wincott tell Fiennes to get lost.

Really?: 1) It seemed a bit strange that Ralph Fiennes’ character, an ex-cop-turned-drug-dealer would willingly accept a beating from the villain’s ex-football player bodyguard. Later, he quickly cleans the bodyguard’s clock with a few well-placed blows. 2) Did the year 2000 really seem so exciting back in the 1990s?

Rating: Strange Days could have been a much better sci-fi thriller. Clocking in at 145 minutes, the film is far too long as well as trashy and gratuitously violent. 5/10 stars.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Gattaca (1997)

Synopsis: Genetically inferior man undertakes elaborate, years-long charade (with bags of another man’s piss taped to his leg) for the privilege of going on a dangerous space mission.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Alan Arkin and Jude Law star in this engrossing sci-fi thriller about an all-too-human man who dares to defy a system obsessed with genetic perfection.”

What Did I Learn?: In the future, all of the good jobs will be reserved for genetically-engineered humans and everyone will wear 1940s-style, double-breasted Hugo Boss suits.

You Might Like This Movie If: Your parents were named “Sperm Specimen #26” and “Egg A1010002”

Really?: Astronauts will wear suits and ties on flights to Titan? Are they trying to impress the locals?

Rating: Downbeat and depressing, Gattaca is nevertheless thoughtful science fiction, and it’s hard to not like Alan Arkin as a long-suffering murder investigator, even if he’s getting close to uncovering our hero’s fraud. 7/10 stars.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

5 Card Stud (1968)

Synopsis: Gamblers drop like fruitflies in October when creepy preacher comes to town.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “A stranger is caught cheating in a game of five-card stud in a Rincon, Colorado saloon in 1880. Van Morgan (Dean Martin) unsuccessfully tries to save the gambler’s life as the other five players lynch the cheat. Meanwhile, a gold rush has brought a group of outsiders to Rincon, like gun-toting preacher Jonathan Rudd (Robert Mitchum) and Lily Langford (Inger Stevens), with her collection of beautiful lady ‘barbers’.”

What Did I Learn?: If you’re ever going to pull a Derringer out of a hollowed-out Bible, make sure the book is right-side-up.

You Might Like This Movie If: You’re looking for a film that combines a serious message about the dangers of vigilantism with Dean Martin’s 'aw-shucks' affability.

Really?: Van Morgan is safe in Denver when he hears of the murders in Rincon. Instead of – oh, I don’t know... getting the hell out of Colorado, he comes back to town knowing full well that somebody’s trying to bump him off.

Rating: 5 Card Stud is a strange breed of movie: a western murder mystery. The film’s a bit too long, the tension is reduced when Roddy McDowell departs, and there aren’t that many credible suspects, but it’s still enjoyable. 7.5/10 stars.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

8 Mile (2002)

Synopsis: Aspiring to a life of Cristal and bling, white rapper takes on sucker MCs as he prepares for a magical night of rhyming insults.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “For Jimmy Smith, Jr. (Eminem), life is a daily fight just to keep hope alive. Feeding his dreams in Detroit’s vibrant music scene, Jimmy wages an extraordinary struggle to find his own voice – and earn a place in a world where rhymes rule, legends are born and every moment... is another chance.”

What Did I Learn?: It’s not a good idea to eat a big meal before a rap battle.

You Might Like This Movie If: You use the phrase, “Know what I’m sayin’” a bit too much:  

Really?: Eminem’s character banged his girlfriend at work, behind some machinery during the day shift at an auto parts factory. Ok, the guy was horny, and Brittany Murphy was pretty cute, but he needed that job and he was already on thin ice with his boss.

Rating: 8 Mile is downbeat and depressing at times, but also rather entertaining.(Kim Basinger gives a great performance as Em’s mom – a woman you probably wouldn’t want to take home from bingo) 8/10 stars.

Next of Kin (1989)

Synopsis: Countrified cop and his Kentucky kin go-a-killin’ when mobsters whack the wrong yokel.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “He made hearts swoon in Dirty Dancing and busted heads in Road House. In Next of Kin, Patrick Swayze gives further evidence why he’s one of Hollywood’s most exciting stars, delivering downhome charm and big-city heroics as a cop transplanted from the backwoods of Appalachia to the mean streets of Chicago.”

What Did I Learn?: Hard-boiled gangsters don’t stand a chance against hillbillies armed with bows and arrows, birdcalls and a snake or two.

You Might Like This Movie If: You always wanted to see Dennis Weaver’s McCloud character throw away his badge and just shoot all the bad guys.

Really?: Liam Neeson as a backwoods badass? Ben Stiller as an Italian wiseguy? The casting director had an interesting sense of humour.

Rating: Next of Kin is a fun little action movie. 7/10 stars.

Frankie and Johnny (1991)

Synopsis: Short-order chef woos world-weary waitress.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Pacino is an outgoing ex-con who’s hired as the new short-order cook. He’s head-over-heels crazy for Frankie. But to Frankie, they’re as different as scrambled and hard-boiled. What can he mean when he says, ‘we were a couple before we ever met’?”

What Did I Learn?: Stalking a woman relentlessly until she agrees to see you again works like a charm every time.

You Might Like This Movie If: You want to see the on-screen chemistry between Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino without watching “Scarface.”

Really?: Johnny gets out of jail and lands both a job and a hot girlfriend soon afterwards. Some guys have all the luck.

Rating: It’s a charming little movie, but it drags in places, and the on-again-off-again nature of the relationship gets a bit tedious. 6.5/10 stars.

At Close Range (1986)

(Taking a little break from the sci-fi theme, which will continue tomorrow)

Synopsis: Water is thicker than blood when lowlife (Christopher Walken) teaches his estranged sons (Sean & Chris Penn) the fine art of stealing tractors until the kids get caught and sing like canaries.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “A fierce film of spellbinding action, AT CLOSE RANGE is the true-life story of one family’s bizarre life of crime.”

What Did I Learn?: 1) If you’re going to rat out your buddies to the cops, it probably isn’t a good idea to be seen with the head detective in the town’s one good restaurant. 2) Raping your son’s girlfriend as a means of getting her out of the picture has the potential to backfire.

You Might Like This Movie If: You need to learn a quick and easy trick for laundering money.

Really?: Sean Penn’s then-wife Madonna received the first end credit (in a font size much, much larger than anything awarded to mere actors) for the film’s recurring use of her song, ‘Live to Tell’.

Rating: Sean Penn and Christopher Walken deliver amazing performances in this well-made film. At Close Range isn’t a fun movie, but it’s a good one. 8.5/10 stars.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The X-Files (1998)

Synopsis: Yin and Yang FBI agents tackle alien plague, government conspiracies, and numerous plot holes.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Thirty-seven thousand years ago, a deadly secret was buried in a cave in Texas. Now the secret has been unleashed. And its discovery may mean the end of all humanity. ‘The plague to end all plagues...’”

What Did I Learn?: A virus-carrying bee can remain hidden in clothing even after a harrowing chase scene, a flight from Texas to Washington DC, and an hours-long FBI inquiry, and then sting right at the very second when Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Mulder (David Duchovny) are about to kiss.

You Might Like This Movie If: You were an X-Files fan and you want to hear Gillian Anderson say: “I don’t know, Mulder” a few more times.

Really?: Oh wow...where do I begin? How did Mulder just stumble upon the bomb in the FEMA building? How did he and Scully get home from Antarctica? How did they know the tanker trucks went off-road?

Rating: When I was a fan of the X-Files TV series, I hated this movie so much that I gave up watching the show. That hate is gone, but I still couldn’t take the X-Files film seriously, even if it was fun to see Scully and Mulder in action again. 6/10 stars.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Synopsis: Aliens fly over Muncie Indiana. Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfus) reacts by playing with his mashed potatoes.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: [Uh’s the “Special Edition”] “Wunderkind director Steven Spielberg has filmed additional scenes and added previously cut material for this unique re-release of his UFO classic that convinced millions that ‘we are not alone’... Spielberg has replaced certain scenes with previously unreleased footage and expanded the dimensions of special effects with a breathtaking new ending that leads viewers inside the dazzling mothership.”

What Did I Learn?: If you manage to out-wit the US military as they hunt you down on a mountaintop, they’ll give you a free pass and let you wander into an alien landing ceremony unmolested.

You Might Like This Movie If: You can’t explain why you built that model mountaintop in your living room.

Really?: 1) I don’t want to give away the ending, but did Roy give much thought to his wife and kids when he made that decision? 2) The mothership sounds a lot like a tuba.

Rating: It’s a science fiction classic that inspired any number of later movies. Check it out as a companion film to this year’s “Super 8”. 8/10 stars.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Solaris (2002)

Synopsis: Depressed psychiatrist (George Clooney) goes nutso orbiting weird planet.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Aboard a lonely space station orbiting a mysterious planet, terrified crewmembers are experiencing a host of strange phenomena, including eerie visitors who seems [sic] all too human”

What Did I Learn?: Clooney’s character must have been a pretty crappy psychiatrist because he throws reason, logic, science, and even his own self-preservation aside rather quickly when his visitor shows up.

You Might Like This Movie If: You enjoy creepy, claustrophobic science long as it doesn’t move ahead too quickly.

Really?: The ending. [Schuster at the Movies has a relatively firm “No Spoilers” policy, so I can’t reveal what happened, but let’s just say I didn’t believe for a second that a trained psychiatrist would make such a decision].

Rating: Solaris combines some beautiful cinematography with a uniquely set mood of claustrophobia, stillness and isolation. Unfortunately, it moves at a snail’s pace and nothing really happens for long stretches. SLOW-LARIS. 6/10 stars.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Contact (1997)

Synopsis: Obsessed female scientist (Jodie Foster) searches for intelligent life in the heavens and doesn’t find much of it on Earth.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “A message from deep space. Who will be the first to go? A journey to the heart of the universe.”

What Did I Learn?: Wealthy foundations love to give money to scientists who appear to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

You Might Like This Movie If: You enjoy watching Jodie Foster struggle to maintain her composure as she interacts with various lunatics and as one short-sighted fool after another attempts to either defund, or assume authority over her project.

Really?: I had a little trouble believing that Foster’s character, who specializes in tracking deep-space waves (keep in mind that scientists tend to specialize into fairly specific niches) would have a whole lot to do with either decoding the alien message or building the mysterious machine, but she’s everywhere.

Rating:  Contact is slow-moving, and Foster has ZERO on-screen chemistry with Matthew McConaughey as a religious dude who’s sceptical of technology. Still, it’s an intelligent sci-fi flick that tackles some heavy ideas. (Interestingly, the ‘villain’ figure switches mid-way from Tom Skerritt to yes – this blog’s favourite unlikeable guy, James Woods). 7/10 stars.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Bronco Billy (1980)

Synopsis: Nasty socialite Antoinette (Sondra Locke) joins Bronco Billy’s (Clint Eastwood) rapidly tanking Wild West show.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Why not make your house the next stop for Billy’s wildly funny, rootin-tootin’ show, now available for the first time in digitally-processed Stereo? You probably already have a favourite Eastwood role. After seeing Bronco Billy, chances are good you’ll have another.”

What Did I Learn?: Former shoe salesmen from New Jersey make the best cowboys.

You Might Like This Movie If: You’ve always wanted to see how Clint Eastwood would handle Kermit the Frog’s Muppet Show responsibility of keeping a whole bunch of crazy performers on the same page.

Really?: When Antoinette reads the newspaper and discovers she’s been “murdered”, why wouldn't she go to the nearest police station and straighten everything out?

Rating: It’s a nice little movie. 8/10 stars

Killer - a Journal of Murder (1996)

Synopsis: Nice-guy prison guard befriends lowlife killer in the Big House.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Academy Award nominee James Woods (Casino, The Specialist) and Robert Sean Leonard (Dead Poets Society) star in the shocking story of two men, one sworn to uphold our system of justice, the other, the brutal by-product of that same system”

What Did I Learn?: Sadistic guards can usually expect some sort of comeuppance in jailhouse movies.

You Might Like This Movie If: You enjoy seeing James Woods getting the stuffing knocked out of him over and over again. (Sean Young, maybe?)

Really?: Would a prison guard really risk his steady job during the Great Depression to give a hardened killer the pen and paper he needs to write his story?

Rating: Gritty and unpleasant. It’s rather difficult to feel any sympathy for Woods’ character (is a theme developing here, dear readers?), even though the fictionalized killer was a much better man than the real Carl Panzram, who could best be described as a monster. 4/10 stars.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Joshua Then And Now (1985)

Synopsis: Sleazy Montreal writer, Joshua Shapiro (James Woods) marries into Canadian high society.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “It’s a compelling drama lightly seasoned with comedy.”

What Did I Learn: Canada’s mid-20th Century WASP elite must have been the world’s biggest chumps.

You Might Like This Movie If: You have a Grade 9 English test tomorrow and you just can’t bring yourself to read the Mordechai Richler novel.

Really?: Apparently, the CBC ran this as a four-hour miniseries. Characters and sub-plots appear out of nowhere because the movie version is only 102 minutes.

Rating: It’s kind of entertaining in places (Alan Arkin is great as Joshua’s streetwise, small-time gangster father), but it’s hard to like Joshua very much. 6/10 stars.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Battlestar Galactica (1978)

Synoposis: Humanity gets wiped out in deep space. Adama (Lorne Greene) broods, Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) bangs a lot of chicks and wins a lot of card games, and Apollo (Richard Hatch) solves every problem he encounters by acting really, really concerned.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The Galactica, a futuristic aircraft carrier the size of a small city, careens through a distant starfield followed by a convoy of bizarre space vehicles, all fleeing the destruction of the human race.”

What Did I Learn?: When the Cylons propose a peace treaty, hit those tin can bastards with the nearest two-by-four.

You Might Like This Movie If: You would gladly give up your day job to become a Colonial Warrior in a New York Centon.

Really?: They found a disco planet – a DISCO planet.

Rating: It’s cheesy in places, but I’m biased...Battlestar Galactica filled the sci-fi imagination gap for me in the late 1970s between Star Wars and Empire. 7.5/10 stars.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Lethal Weapon (1987)

Synopsis: The Cosby Show meets Mad Max.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Fierce, fast and frequently funny, Lethal Weapon fires off round after round of can’t-miss entertainment.”

What Did I Learn?: Cops will allow two highly-skilled martial artists to engage in a fight to the death on a suburban lawn if one of the combatants is a police officer, and really, really hates the other guy.

You Might Like This Movie If: You really enjoy hearing Danny Glover mumble: “I’m getting too old for this shit”.

Really?: Murtaugh (Danny Glover) takes Riggs (Mel Gibson) home to meet the family the same day he realizes he’s a suicidal lunatic. Obviously, they were going to bond and become buddies, but the same day? You’ve gotta be kidding...

Rating: Entertaining action flick – 8/10 stars

Citizen Kane (1941)

Synopsis: Billionaire croaks, reporter finds out he had problems.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “A fascinating story of idealism corrupted by wealth, Citizen Kane is frequently named the greatest film of all time and is credited with inspiring more directorial careers than any other film in history.”

What Did I Learn?: Money allowed Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) to make one monumentally bad decision after another.

You Might Like This Movie If: You’ve ever wondered what happened to that Big Wheel your parents put in the basement and forgot about.

Really?: How did anyone know that Kane’s dying word was “rosebud” when he was apparently alone when he died?

Rating: It really is a masterpiece – 10/10 stars