Monday, October 31, 2011

Lost Highway (1997)

Synopsis: Ok, so there’s this saxophone player who killed his wife, but he was really set up by the Devil (or Jealously, or whatever), who looks like a creepy version of Beretta, and then he turns into this young guy while he’s on death row, and there’s this gangster, and.... this movie makes absolutely no sense.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Haunting sexuality, ricochet action and fleeting, murderous shadows await you on a journey that begins and ends on the Lost Highway.”

What Did I Learn?: Any time you see stretches of the highway at night in a David Lynch film, you know that something weird is about to happen.

Really?: Did Gary Busey really play the sanest character in this mess of a movie? (BTW: Richard Pryor makes a short cameo appearance, and this was his very last flick.)

Rating: Lost Highway is a huge disappointment from David Lynch after the brilliance of Blue Velvet. The plot is nearly incomprehensible, and long stretches pass by as nothing really happens. Don’t take a ride down this stretch of road. 4/10 stars.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ghostbusters (1984)

Synopsis: Hilarity ensues when bullshit artist and clueless academic buddies go into the pest control industry.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Let’s Get Slimed One More Time” (taken from – no VHS/DVD jacket)

What Did I Learn?: When a supernatural being asks if you’re a god, the correct answer is “yes”.

You Might Like This Movie If: You loved this oddly-named 1970s TV show...

Really?: 1) I’m still not entirely sure what an ancient Sumerian god has to do with the ghosts in New York City. 2) How does one obtain three mortgages at a 19% interest rate on a single house?

Rating: Ok, the plot is a little silly, but who wants to watch Ghostbusters as a supernatural thriller, anyway? The movie provides many good laughs, and I had almost forgotten the nearly-perfect chemistry that existed between Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, Dan Aykroyd, etc... 9/10 stars.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Bear in the Big Blue House - Potty Time With Bear (1999)

Synopsis: It’s 25 minutes of Muppet animals singing about taking a crap.  [Sorry – I didn’t have time to watch a full-length movie yesterday, and this video is so bizarre/surreal I figure it sort-of fits the scary movie genre]

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “When You’ve Got To Go! It’s potty time at the Big Blue House as Bear’s friends discover that going to the bathroom by yourself is part of the adventure of growing up!”

What Did I Learn?:  It’s tough for a baby lemur to climb a tree while wearing a diaper.

Really?: 1) A hole in the wall opens directly into the mouse’s bathroom. Wouldn’t he want a bit of privacy? 2) Near the end, the video shows a silhouette performance featuring a “potty train”, and stick figure caricatures of afro-ed, 1970s black hipsters, Inuit, and slanted-eyed(!) Chinese in stereotypical Asian garb. Wow...couldn’t the writers have come up with a better way to make their point that everyone uses the bathroom?

Rating: I know absolutely nothing about parenting, but I have to wonder just how useful is a potty training video for very young children? Moms and Dads have been teaching kids not to soil themselves since the beginning of time, and this video seems like a creepy attempt to cash in on gullible parents. 1/10 stars.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Blue Velvet (1986)

Synopsis: It’s like an X-rated Scooby Doo mystery starring Fred, Daphne, a crazy nympho, and a wacked-out-of-his-mind Dennis Hopper.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Cleancut college boy Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) thinks that his North Carolina hometown is as normal as Mayberry. But when he discovers a human ear in a field near his home, he’s catapulted into an alluring, erotic murder mystery involving an emotionally disturbed nightclub singer (Isabella Rossellini) and a drug-addicted sadist (Dennis Hopper).”

What Did I Learn?: If Dennis Hopper screams: “don’t you fucking look at me”, don’t look at him.

Really?: A woman finds a strange man hiding in her closet. Instead of...oh, I don’t know...calling the cops, screaming her head off, or running away, she forces him to undress at knifepoint, and proceeds to give him a blowjob.

Rating: Blue Velvet is David Lynch at his best: brilliant, yet seriously weird. The movie dragged a bit near the end, but it’s a stylish, suspenseful thriller with an awesome cast (watch for Dean Stockwell as a gay,  drug-dealing, karaoke-singing pimp). 8/10 stars.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Jacob's Ladder (1990)

Synopsis: Traumatized veteran experiences hellish ‘nightmare’ of shacking up with Elizabeth Pena in one version of reality, and being married to Patricia Kalember in the other.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Tim Robbins is Jacob Singer, a man who lives in a nightmare. Wounded in Vietnam, he’s now back at home in New York City. Torn between the memories of his son and terrifying wartime demons, Jacob is slowly losing his grip on reality.”

Really?: Same critique of Once Upon a Time in America: if this was just a dying man’s hallucination in 1971, Singer did a pretty good job of imagining the future, including mid-1970s hits such as “Lady Marmalade” and James Brown’s “My Thang”.

Rating: Visually stunning, the VHS version of Jacob’s Ladder (I understand that a number of deleted scenes were added to the DVD release) was something of a let-down, in spite of a great performance by Danny Aiello. I was expecting a clever explanation for everything that had happened, and the ending was just an ending. 6.5/10 stars.

Flatliners (1990)

Synopsis: Impossibly good-looking team of precocious medical students solve their karmic problems by acting Canadian: learning to say "I'm sorry".

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Are you afraid to die? Kiefer Sutherland isn’t. He’s an ambitious, charismatic medical student who persuades classmates Julia Roberts and Kevin Bacon to take part in a reckless experiment. To see if there is life after death, they will kill themselves: temporarily shut down (‘flatline’) their heart and brain functions to briefly experience clinical death.”

What Did I Learn?: I would never want to be operated on by any of those quacks.

You Might Like This Movie If: You’ve always wanted to see a little kid kick the snot out of Jack Bauer over and over again.

Really?: 1) Aren’t med students really, really busy people? Aside from a test or two, the gang seems to have lots of time on their hands for hitting on fellow students, drinking coffee, committing short-term suicide, etc... 2) Why did our heroes experience ghostly visitors afterwards? Does that ever happen in normal near-death experiences?

Rating: Flatliners is a fun, but thought-provoking thriller about the meaning of death and our actions in this world. Sutherland’s and Bacon’s past sins were remarkably similar (lazy writing?), and the third act is a bit weak, but it’s not a bad film. 6.5/10 stars.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

American Psycho (2000)

Synopsis: Wall Street hotshot snorts cocaine, beds hot chicks and destroys lives – but what else is new?

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) is a young, handsome, Harvard educated, Wall Street success, seemingly perfect with his stunning fiancĂ©e (Reese Witherspoon) and entourage of high-powered friends. But his circle of friends doesn’t know the other Patrick Bateman, the one who lusts for more than status and material things.”

What Did I Learn?: If I ever work in the financial services industry, I’ll ask for the plainest and crappiest business cards I can get.

Really?: Well, there is a scene where Batman – oops, Bateman – blows up a couple of police cars with a few well-placed pistol shots, but that could be taken as evidence the killings only occurred in his head.

Rating: American Psycho is a dark satire of Wall Street’s greedy amorality; Bernie Madoff and Ken Lay might not have killed anyone, but it’s not a stretch to think they probably wouldn’t care that much about Bateman’s after-hours activities if he was bringing in a ton of cash every week. The film provides more than a few good laughs, and Bale gives a memorable performance (although I couldn’t help thinking he was channelling Jim Carrey the entire time), but it’s difficult to watch scene-after-gruesome-scene of him behaving either as a homicidal maniac or as a first-class douche. 7/10 stars.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

One Hour Photo (2002)

Synopsis: Crazed loner in dying industry waxes philosophical on the art of taking pictures as he takes invasive, radical couples therapy a step too far.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Sy ‘the photo guy’ Parrish (Robin Williams) has lovingly developed photographs for the Yorkin family since their son was a baby. But as the Yorkins’ lives become fuller, Sy’s only seems lonelier, until he eventually believes he’s part of their family.”

What Did I Learn?: If I ever get married and decide to have an extramarital affair, I don’t think I’ll be taking a whole lot of pictures on the subject.

Really?: 1) Every fucking snapshot on Sy’s wall looked as though it had been taken by a professional photographer – every shot. 2) I’m still unclear as to why Sy photographed the manager’s little girl and had his prints developed in the Sav-Mart, knowing the manager would phone the cops...did he want to get caught, or did the writers need some excuse to start the manhunt?

Rating: More weird and creepy than scary, One Hour Photo is a disturbing companion piece to Robert Putnam’s book, Bowling Alone, and the trend towards living without family or social ties. OHP is not an easy movie to watch – it’s scene after scene of Williams on his own, or interacting in awkward situations, but it’s certainly interesting. 7/10 stars.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Halloween and Remembrance Day

I've never been a big horror movie fan, but Halloween is fast approaching, and I think a bit of special fun is in order. The next several days leading up to October 31 will be dedicated to scary (although not necessarily horror) movies. Starting November 1, Schuster at the Movies will then screen and review a number of WWII-themed films (WWI would have been more appropriate, but all I have is Breaker Morant) leading up to Remembrance Day.

I think I have enough WWII films for a Remembrance Day theme, but I may have to throw in MASH (Korean War), Heartbreak Ridge (Grenada invasion) or Three Kings (the first Gulf War) to fill some gaps. (Vietnam movies will have to wait for a different month, entirely). After November 11, I'll go back to randomly-picked titles.

Anywho, I hope you enjoy the reviews.

Gosford Park (2001)

Synopsis: It’s like Upstairs Downstairs...with profanities...and murder!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “As a hunting party gathers at the country estate, no one is aware that before the weekend is over, someone will be murdered – twice! The police are baffled but the all-seeing, all-hearing servants know that almost everyone had a motive.”

What Did I Learn?: Those old English country estates were filled to the rafters with servants and guests enjoying illicit sex...and marmalade!

You Might Like This Movie If: You always believed Agatha Christie’s murder-mystery novels should have provided a searing social critique of inter-war England.  

Really?: If I stab somebody who’s already dead, can I really get off scot-free? Wouldn’t there at least be an attempted murder charge, or something like that?

Rating: Gosford Park is a good film with many excellent performances, but I really think Robert Altman missed the mark. For starters, THERE. ARE. TOO. MANY. CHARACTERS. On a dramatic level, many of them are never fully fleshed-out, and it’s impossible for one’s left brain to keep track of who’s who; I was forced to take the movie in as a visual spectacle, rather than being able to follow the complete plot. Instead of creating a satisfying whodunit, Altman made a sprawling, dramatic look at the changing 1930s British class system with a murder about mid-way through, and a tacked-on performance by Stephen Fry as a bumbling detective. 6.5/10 stars.

Gorky Park (1983)

Synopsis: Peace-loving, proletarian policeman encounters dissident wreckers and running-dog lackeys in heroic effort to solve barbaric crimes obviously committed by imperialist oppressors of the toiling masses.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket:Gorky Park opens with the discovery of three mutilated bodies buried in the snow in Moscow’s Gorky Park. Arkady Renko (William Hurt), the Chief Investigator of the Moscow Militia, is assigned to unravel this horrific crime, but he is confronted by an uncooperative and corrupt KGB.”

What Did I Learn?: If you’re going to shoot three people just beyond a crowded skating rink in the middle of Moscow, you might want to wait until the loudspeakers get to the cannon shots in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

You Might Like This Movie If: You’re nostalgic for this guy.

Really?: Rodents. Everybody was killed over a bunch of rodents.

Rating: Gorky Park is an engaging thriller with solid performances from Hurt, Lee Marvin and Brian Dennehy. It’s also a strange time capsule from a very different period; it’s fascinating to watch elements of civil society (in this case, honest cops) attempt to navigate through a system dominated by the Communist Party and the KGB. 8/10 stars.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunchaser (1996)

Synopsis: Douchebag surgeon and violent gangbanger haul ass in various stolen vehicles for legendary Navajo sacred mountain.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket:It Began as a Kidnapping. It Became a Journey of Hope.” “Woody Harrelson plays Michael Reynolds, an oncologist with a $175,000 sports car in his parking spot, a multi-million-dollar home in escrow and a new boost up the career ladder to make it all possible. But Michael’s fast-track life detours when a desperately ill patient (Jon Seda of Dear God and 12 Monkeys) kidnaps him at gunpoint. Across highways and backroads, kidnapper and hostage seek a legendary Navajo healing place while a manhunt closes in on them.”

What Did I Learn?: If you’re ever bitten by a rattlesnake, you should immediately hook your jumper cables to a car battery and, um... electrocute the wound.

Really?: 1) Two-thirds into the movie, Woody is free to leave his captor; instead of going to the police, he climbs into the punk’s car, and even pulls off an armed robbery for the kid! 2)Woody is kidnapped for three days, he’s covered in dust, B.O. and whatever else, and he doesn’t think to remove his tie until the last thirty seconds of the movie. 3) It’s funny how a surgeon who quotes Watson and Crick will throw aside reason, logic, and even his own self-preservation in order to find a sacred healing mountain. (See Solaris).

Rating: Sunchaser is a mess. It’s bad enough that I didn’t believe the premise/storyline, but there’s nothing remotely likeable about Seda’s gangbanger character, and it’s tough to watch him bully his doctor over three days. (Somehow it’s all supposed to be ok, though, because Woody is too materialistic and needs to be taught a lesson). 4/10 stars.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Thief (1981)

Synopsis: Ex-con safecracker steals diamonds and seriously annoys his wife, the mob and several crooked cops as Tangerine Dream score pulsates in the background.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Filmed on rain-slicked Chicago streets, Thief captures the chilling suspense of the safe-cracking world with incredibly detailed authenticity.”

What Did I Learn?: If you’re trying to adopt a kid, there are probably better strategies to employ with the case worker than getting angry, interrupting everything she says, and offering her a bribe in plain sight.  

Really?: 1) Frank (James Caan) takes a beating from several crooked cops because they want their cut from an upcoming job. Why wouldn’t he pay them? Doesn’t organized crime always pay off the cops?2) Chicago gangsters have nothing better to do than spending their days managing a plating company, and then eating milk and cookies in the boss’ house after dark.

Rating: Caan delivers a powerful and gritty performance in this stylish thriller. Thief is also a lot of fun for Michael Mann fans – characters, situations, sometimes even frame-by-frame shots (neon signs reflecting off the hood of a moving car, characters filmed descending down a long staircase, etc..) were later reused in Miami Vice, Manhunter, Heat, etc... 8.5/10 stars.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Full Frontal (2002)

Synopsis: Self-absorbed Hollywood turds grumble about their lives between scenes from a bad movie-within-a-movie.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “It’s a chaotic day for seven strangers from Hollywood who end up at the birthday party of a mutual friend. Before the night is over, relationships are tested, hearts are broken and passions are renewed!”

What Did I Learn?: $500 is enough cash to convince a legitimate masseuse to add a ‘happy ending’ to a regular massage.

You Might Like This Movie If: You watched this four-minute ‘essay’ and figure you just have to like Full Frontal, because it’s artsy and post-modernist, and Steven Soderbergh made it!

Really?: The Human Resources VP gets a kick out of throwing an inflatable beach ball at company employees and asking extremely personal questions (including “do you find me attractive?”) as she takes pictures. How long would that be tolerated in a real company?

Rating: USA Today informed its readers to “See [Full Frontal] won’t be disappointed.” Well, I was. The movie is well-written (although the script tends to wander), and has some clever scenes, but the characters are neither all that interesting nor terribly likeable. By the end, my interest had waned. 6/10 stars.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead (1995)

Synopsis: Denver-area gangster hires smooth-talking charmer and his fuckup pals to do a job; fuckups fuck up, and gangster isn’t charmed.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Sexy Andy Garcia (When a Man Loves a Woman) heads an outstanding all-star cast in this riveting and highly original thriller!”

What Did I Learn?: Whether he’s playing a sadistic, wheelchair-bound villain in this movie, or a sadistic hero in All-American Murder,Christopher Walken is one menacing guy.  

Really?: I had a bit of trouble believing smooth-talking Jimmy the Saint (the guy wears an Armani suit to visit the gangster in a sauna) would have anything to do with the guys he says are his best pals. They also reminisce about some glorious past, but never reveal what sort of illegal work they actually did back in the day.

Rating: TTDIDWYD starts off as a fun caper film, but the tone becomes a lot darker and rather morose mid-way through after the death sentence has been pronounced. The movie has an impressive cast (Steve Buscemi is fun as an inconspicuous hit man), but there were a few too many scenes of Jimmy trying to salvage things with his girlfriend when the smart move for him would have been to get the hell out of Dodge, lickity-split. 6.5/10 stars.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Black Rain (1989)

Synopsis: It’s like The Yakuza...with motorcycles! (Ken Takakura plays pretty much the same character in both, by the way)

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Academy Award-winner Michael Douglas (Fatal Attraction, Wall Street) and Andy Garcia (Internal Affairs, The Untouchables) play New York Cops whose job to escort a vicious assassin back to his native Japan leads the two Americans into Osaka’s exotic underworld and straight into the center of a raging, brutal ‘Yakuza’ gangland battle.”

What Did I Learn?: The best way to deal with the Osaka police is to be loud, pushy and demanding.

Really?: Of all the gin joints in all the world, Michael Douglas had to find the one with a cute, American blonde who a) speaks fluent Japanese, b) knows all about the Japanese underworld and where to find the top gangsters, and c) is eager to take him back to her stylishly-furnished apartment.

Rating: Black Rain is a somewhat predictable fish-out-of-water/rogue cop film, but it is fun if you put your brain in ‘neutral’ and enjoy both the action and Ridley Scott’s stunning visuals. 6.5/10 stars.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Black Dog (1998)

Synopsis: Meat Loaf sweats melted butter as Patrick Swayze and a fortune in automatic weapons barrel down the Atlanta highway for New Jersey, 18 wheels-a-rollin’.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “A 40-ton truck is a lethal weapon and veteran driver Jack Crews (Patrick Swayze) knows how to use it. Desperate for cash, he’s got one last delivery to make. The trip’s barely begun when and partner Earl (Randy Travis) discover they’re being chased by Red (Meat Loaf), a relentless fanatic who’s as deadly as he is greedy.”

What Did I Learn?: The ATF stands for “Alcohol, Tobacco and Fuckups”.

Really?: Does the FBI really provide financial assistance to material witnesses?

Rating: Black Dog is a fun bad movie. 6/10 stars.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Mystic River (2004)

Synopsis: Little boy gets into the wrong car. Years later, Tim Robbins and Sean Penn attempt to out-crazy each other.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “A vivid whodunit. A taut police procedural. A probing look at the heart’s darkness. The river has many depths. Let it wash over you.”

Really?: Dave’s wife suspects he might have killed Jimmy’s daughter. For reasons unknown, she tells Jimmy (who happens to be mobbed-up to the yin-yang, by the way) all about their personal problems and about some mysterious wounds he received on the night of the murder. What did she think was going to happen next?

Rating:  Glum and slow-moving, Mystic River is beautifully filmed, and loaded with powerful performances. 8.5/10 stars.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cadillac Man (1989)

Synopsis: Glengarry Glen Ross meets Dog Day Afternoon.

Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “A fast-paced comedy that shifts hilarity into overdrive!”   “Whether he’s pitching himself or the high-priced luxury cars at Turgeon Auto Sales, Joey O’Brien (Robin Williams) never lets a day go by without ‘doing’ someone good... But just when Joey thought it could get no worse it does. Into the showroom walks Larry (Tim Robbins), a lunkhead terminator with an axe to grind. He’s loaded down with explosives and looking for the man who’s been ‘doing’ his wife! Now Joey is forced to do the one thing he does best – lie!”

What Did I Learn?: It isn’t a good idea to attempt your sales pitch to a grieving widow during her husband’s funeral.

Really?: Considering there was a huge, gaping hole in the Turgeon building, I’m surprised the cops didn’t simply shoot Larry.

Rating: I’ve never been a huge Robin Williams fan, but he’s hilarious as the sleazy-but-loveable Joey O’Brien. Cadillac Man is a funny and watchable study of deeply flawed characters and their reaction to a crisis. 8/10 stars.  

Friday, October 14, 2011

Jimmy Hollywood (1994)

Synopsis: Delusional thespian and space cadet pal take urban revitalization project a step too far.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Oscar winner Joe Pesci and Christian Slater are at their finest in this wildly funny look at Hollywood from acclaimed director Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Bugsy)”

What Did I Learn?: A good woman will stand by her man even when he: a) lives in her apartment without paying any rent, b) steals money out of her purse, c) forms a fake vigilante organization and sends provocative videos to the cops, and d) holds a bound-and-gagged drug dealer hostage in her bathroom based on tactics derived from Hezbollah.

Really?: I had a little trouble understanding why Pesci’s character would flee from the cops after he publicly revealed Jericho’s identity, or why he would willingly run into a volley of gunfire to continue the charade (most people aren’t suicidal). And who exactly, were the guys in the SUV who tried to run our heroes off the road near the end?

Rating: Slater doesn’t have much of a part in this movie (and there were a few too many scenes of Pesci’s long-suffering girlfriend getting upset and telling our heroes they’re insane after they pull off yet another stunt), but Jimmy Hollywood is a fun little comedy about a guy at the bottom of the acting profession who becomes obsessed with his one big role. 6/10 stars.

The Player (1992)

Synopsis: Slimy studio snob snubs scribes, snuffs screenwriter, sidesteps snake, seduces stiff’s sexy spouse.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “When callous movie studio executive Griffin Mill (TIM ROBBINS) starts receiving anonymous death threats from a rejected screenwriter, his already shaky career begins to crumble. Finally, his desperation drives him to kill...but did he rub out the wrong writer?”

What Did I Learn?: Loading a movie with “more than 65 superstar cameo appearances” may provide a laugh or two, but it doesn’t really advance the story, and it has a way of distracting the viewer.

You Might Like This Movie If: You like your comedy star-studded.

Really?: Do Buck Henry, Steve James, Brian Tochi, Jill St. John, Bert Remsen, Patricia Resnick, Annie Ross, Rene Auberjonois, Michael Bowen, Charles Champlin, Cathy Lee Crosby, Brad Davis, Paul Dooley, Thereza Ellis, Dennis Franz, Maxine John-James, etc... really count as “superstars”?

Rating: Nitpicking aside, The Player is both a suspenseful thriller and a clever, brilliantly-written satire of Hollywood. Well worth watching. 9/10 stars.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Kid Stays In the Picture (2002)

Synopsis: Hollywood hotshot hustles hoopla.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Follow the meteoric rise, fall and rise again of legendary Hollywood producer Robert Evans. Adapted from Mr. Evans’ tell-all autobiography, the movie takes the audience on an intimate journey into the mind of this Hollywood legend.”

What Did I Learn?: If somebody offers you a chance to buy pharmaceutical cocaine, run away – it’s probably the DEA doing a sting operation.

Really?: Did Ali MacGraw really address her husband as “Evans”?

Rating: Told entirely from Evans’ perspective, The Kid Stays in the Picture is a bit self-serving (the film goes into great depth about his marriage to Ali MacGraw, but never mentions the fact he’s been married seven times!) and should be taken with a grain of salt. That said, it’s also beautifully filmed, richly entertaining, and a fascinating documentary look at a bygone era. 8/10 stars.

The Jigsaw Man (1983)

Synopsis: Spy gets facelift.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Burgess, Maclean, Philby...Kimberly. In return for betraying his country they removed his past, destroyed his reputation and finally even took away his life. Then, with a new face and a new identity, he came back from the dead to claim the ‘insurance’ he needed to survive...they called him The Jigsaw Man.”

What Did I Learn?: Michael Caine does a truly awful American accent, and his Russian is even worse.

Really?: The term “jigsaw man” was never once used in this movie.

Rating: The Jigsaw Man is an extremely low-budget misfire. Caine plays the protagonist, yet he kills innocent people (and nobody really cares), so it’s hard to sympathize with him. Watch it for laughs – the scene where a middle-aged MI6 man propositions a younger agent by comparing his bald head to *ahem* another part of his anatomy is so laughably bad it must be seen to be believed. 5/10 stars.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Spy Game (2002)

Synopsis: CIA assassin with a heart-of-gold races against time to save the life of fellow CIA assassin with a heart-of-gold who’s not having much fun in a Chinese prison.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Superstar Brad Pitt teams with Academy Award-winner Robert Redford in this pulse-pounding action thrill ride.”

What Did I Learn?: All of the good CIA employees are aging Cold Warriors; the new guys are just pencil-pushing, technocratic turds who don’t care about agents in the field.

Really?: I had a little trouble believing that a stone-killer like Redford’s character (he traded a humanitarian aid worker to the Chinese government!) would empty his bank account and destroy his reputation to save an agent who was doing his own thing when he got caught. I also didn’t realize it’s possible to organize your own, private covert operation with forged documents and a stolen security pass, totally on the fly, from within CIA headquarters.

Rating: Spy Game is an egaging espionage thriller if you can occasionally suspend your sense of disbelief. 7.5/10 stars.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

Synopsis: Charming bank robbers trade wisecracks and bad ideas on two continents

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Paul Newman and Robert Redford set the standard for the ‘buddy film’ with this box office smash set in the Old West.”

What Did I Learn?: Ladies, if you ever find yourself saying: “I won’t watch you die” to your boyfriend, it’s time to re-think the relationship.

Really?: 1) Why didn’t Butch and Sundance steal either a horse or a couple of rifles from their sheriff buddy the night they were chased by the Union Pacific bounty killers?2) Wouldn’t a couple of fair-haired gringos have stood out like sore thumbs in the middle of Bolivia?

Rating: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a breezily-fun Western with a poignant message about people getting left behind by changing times. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Colors (1988)

Synopsis: Crips and Bloods, Tories and Grits...Team Blue doesn’t like Team Red, and vice-versa.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Director Dennis Hopper brings you as close as you can get to the violence on the streets of LA – and still walk away. Bob Hodges (Robert Duvall) and Danny McGavin (Sean Penn) are cops at war with street gangs. In a world where gangs kill each other just for wearing the wrong colors, the last thing Hodges needs is a hot-headed rookie for a partner.”

What Did I Learn?: 1) If you trash your assigned unmarked police car, the Department will probably give you a crappier vehicle as a replacement. 2) Damon Wayans is not a good actor.

You Might Like This Movie If: You’re a political staffer, and this scene strangely reminds you of your Minister getting ready for Question Period.  

Really?: The cops know the gangbangers are trying to kill McGavin, so why doesn’t his partner wear a bulletproof vest?

Rating: Colors is an interesting time capsule from the late 1980s. Duvall and Penn enjoy some great chemistry (you’ll always remember the scene of Duvall describing the two bulls as he explains the nuances of the job), and the film will definitely hold your interest. 8.5/10 stars.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Permanent Midnight (1998) - Addiction Movie #4

Synopsis: Obnoxious twit writes bad television, enjoys $6000-a-week heroin habit, and bangs one hot chick after another.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Ben Stiller delivers a thought-provoking, electrifying performance in this true story of a successful TV writer who plunges into the permanent midnight of addiction. Elizabeth Hurley is his wife, too beautiful and too understanding to stop his head-on collision with catastrophe, while his family and friends are swept into an emotional roller coaster ride through the tortured glamour of Hollywood and beyond.”

What Did I Learn?: Women who look like Maria Bello love to bring home sad-looking guys who work in the local fast-food joint.

You Might Like This Movie If: You get a good laugh when you find out the TV series A.L.F. was written by an-out-of-control smack junkie.

Really?: Ben Stiller’s character ate only organic food and ran 5 miles each day while he used more heroin than his dealer could provide. Of course, maybe that’s plausible in Hollywood....

Rating: Stiller’s great in Permanent Midnight, but it’s hard to feel much sympathy for his character, who never really hits bottom (although there’s a memorable scene of him shooting heroin into his neck as an Anthony Robbins tape is playing and his baby daughter is beside him in the car), and never seems to have any trouble getting laid. Meh – 5/10 stars.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Trainspotting (1996) - Addiction Movie #3

Synopsis: Scottish smackhead sells skag, selects survival, stings sidekicks.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The motion picture sensation that wowed critics and audiences nationwide, Trainspotting delivers a wild mix of rebellious action and wicked humor! It’s the story of four friends as they try to make it in the world on their own terms...and who end up planning the ultimate scam!”

What Did I Learn?: It’s not a good idea to view the “worst toilet in Scotland” scene while eating a bowl of homemade chilli.

You Might Like This Movie If: You believe your kids will best respond to a strong anti-drug message if it’s delivered in a thick Scottish accent with Iggy Pop playing in the background.

Really?: If you were Begbie, would you trust three junkies to help you sell a big stash of heroin without getting high on their own supply?

Rating: Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlyle deliver powerful performances in this brilliantly-written film. 9/10 stars.

Drugstore Cowboy (1989) - Addiction Movie #2

Synopsis: Two implausibly good-looking couples rob pharmacies, ingest a whole lot of drugs, and annoy the local constabulary.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “This movie’s so real, it’s scary. This gripping film about a family of drug thieves is based on a novel by a convicted drug robber, a man who knows his subject well.”  

What Did I Learn?: if you ever find yourself more interested in planning your next drugstore robbery than banging Kelly Lynch, it might be time to give up on dope.

You Might Like This Movie If: You loathe visiting Shoppers Drug Mart and want to see somebody stick it to The Man.

Really?: I would imagine that after two or three robberies, the local drugstores would suddenly become highly suspicious of customers who break into seizures, and other potential diversions.  

Rating: Drugstore Cowboy is engaging character-driven drama. Interestingly, the ending was similar to the last scenes in Carlito’s’s always that little punk you never considered a threat...8/10 stars.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Salton Sea (2002) - Addiction Movie #1

Synopsis: Payback-seeking junkie takes on bad cops and nose-less meth dealer named Pooh Bear.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Deceit, double crosses, twisted agendas: mystery runs deep in ‘The Salton Sea.’ So does talent behind this dreamlike thriller.”

What Did I Learn?: Threatening to shove somebody’s penis into a cage containing an agitated badger is a highly effective means of interrogation.

You Might Like This Movie If: You’ve wanted to see Val Kilmer suffer ever since he made Batman Forever.

Really?: If you were looking to avenge the murder of your wife, would you really turn yourself into a derelict tweaker and rat on drug dealers as part of some elaborate charade?

Rating: Well-written and beautifully filmed, The Salton Sea will keep you guessing right to the end. 8.5/10 stars.

The Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day (2009)

Synopsis: Loveable lumpenproletarian louts get out of jail, pour a few rum-and-Cokes, and wreak havoc.

Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Ricky, Julian and Bubbles are about to get out of jail, and this time, Julian vows to go straight, even open a legit business. Soon the Boys will all be rich. At least that’s what they’ve told the parole board. But when they arrive back at the park, they find it’s not the same old Sunnyvale – and it’s not the same old Jim Lahey, Trailer Park Supervisor. Lahey’s a new man, hasn’t had a drink for two years. But unfortunately for Lahey, having the Boys back in the park is way too much pressure for him to bear and the countdown to liquor day is on!”

What Did I Learn?: You stand a good chance of having your felony case dismissed out of court if the arresting officer is drunk when he busts you.

You Might Like This Movie If: You always wondered what could have happened to the characters in Goin’ Down The Road, had they stayed in Nova Scotia and grown some dope.

Really?: The Boys have successfully robbed a bank, they have two minutes before the *real* armoured car shows up, and Julian decides he’s going to help out the guy who keeps sending him to prison.

Rating: Countdown to Liquor Day provides some good laughs, but I firmly believe The Trailer Park Boys TV show started off funny and then became increasingly lame after the fifth season. The comedic magic of those early seasons is long gone, and I miss Corry and Trevor. 7/10 stars.