Monday, January 30, 2012

National Lampoon's Vacation (1983)

Summer Movie #4 (Click the link to read my review of Christmas Vacation)

Synopsis: Tightly-wound family man and kin discover America the hard way.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The Griswolds have planned all year for a great summer vacation. From their suburban Chicago home, across America, to the wonders of the Walley World fun park in California, every step of the way has been carefully plotted. Except a few hundred hysterical exceptions.”

What Did I Learn?: Christie Brinkley apparently owns only one outfit.

You Might Like This Movie If: You believe Chevy Chase is always hilarious, even when he doesn’t have a script. (This is painful to watch...)

Really?: 1) When you consider how easily and often suitcases fall from the roof of the family station wagon, it’s tough to believe Ellen would place her vanity case (containing all of her credit cards!) up there. 2) I realize Vacation is a rather wacky comedy...I’ll go along with propping Aunt Edna’s corpse on top of the car and then dropping her off at her son’s place in the pouring rain, but there’s no way a chick like Christie Brinkley would show any interest in Clark, let alone chat him up in a bar and then strip to go skinny way.

Rating: National Lampoon's Vacation is the best of the Griswold family comedies, and anyone who has ever taken a cross-country road trip from Hell will easily relate to it. I’m not a big Chevy Chase fan, but he’s perfect as the amoral and slightly-unhinged Clark. By the time he finally snaps, it's a John Cleese-as-Basil-Fawlty meltdown. 9/10 stars.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Indian Summer (1993)

Summer Movie #3

Synopsis: Happy campers reunite for one last stroll through the poison ivy.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Settle back for a delightful Indian Summer – the heartwarming comedy about eight friends who reunite at their summer camp after 20 years! ... Pack up your gear, this week at camp is sure to be a hilarious and feel-good treat for everyone!”

What Did I Learn?: Americans just love to wear Hudson’s Bay coats and Roots jackets.

You Might Like This Movie If: You’ve always wanted to see a sensitive, nostalgic and middlebrow sequel to Meatballs.

Really?: 1) It’s amazing how all of these kids somehow stayed in touch with each other, and how easy it was to contact everyone, pre-Facebook. 2) Hmmm... call me a party pooper, but if I woke up in a puddle of my own urine because some smartass placed my fingers in a glass of warm water when I was sleeping, I would very likely leave for home that morning. 3) How many summer camps offer boxing (without sparring headgear)? That sounds like a lawsuit just waiting to happen.  

Rating: Indian Summer is a bit light on the laughs, and some of the characters aren’t entirely fleshed-out, but it is a nice little comedy-drama. 8/10 stars.

On Golden Pond (1981)

Summer Movie #2

Synopsis: Hilarity ensues when grumpy old fart and precocious young whippersnapper bond in creaky cottage.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Henry Fonda, in his last role, plays Norman Thayer, a feisty octogenarian obsessed with death and emotionally distant from his daughter, Chelsea (Jane Fonda). Katharine Hepburn is radiant as his wife, Ethel, who comes with him to spend their 48th summer on Golden Pond. When Chelsea arrives with her fiancĂ© and his son (Dabney Coleman and Doug McKeon), old wounds are inevitably opened and feelings are hurt.”

What Did I Learn?: The very best cure for the onset of dementia (possibly Alzheimer’s) and a bad heart condition is lots and lots of fishin’.  

You Might Like This Movie If: You love hearing Katharine Hepburn exclaim the words “Norman, the loons!” In fact, you’ve always thought those words should be used in some bad techno music.

Really?: I had a bit of trouble believing Chelsea would pretty much dump her boyfriend’s 13-year old son on her elderly parents for a month without any prior consultation. They could have said “no”, after all.

Rating: On Golden Pond is a warm and wonderful film that’s mostly based upon the stage play that bears its name (the filmmakers took a few liberties, including an ending that’s decidedly more upbeat). 10/10 stars.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Great Outdoors (1988)

It’s January, and the weather is crappy. I'm thinking it's time for a salute to summer.

Summer Movie #1

Synopsis: It’s a lot like Summer Rental, except John Candy and his middle-class family stay at a lakefront cottage in Minnesota instead of an oceanfront beach house.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “When an unannounced, uninvited and unwelcome family of fun-loving misfits converge upon a lakeside resort to join their relatives for a summer of relaxation, the result is anything but restive in this raucous comedy starring Dan Aykroyd and John Candy.”

What Did I Learn?: Hotdogs are made from lips and assholes.

Really?: 1) So wait, Aykroyd’s wife had no idea he lost his trader’s license two years earlier and the family is broke? 2) John Candy places a chocolate bar on the hood of his car in order to attract bears from the local dump. Who the hell would actually do that?

Rating: Candy and Aykroyd enjoy some great comedic chemistry as a couple of brothers-in-law who really don’t like each other. The Great Outdoors is an interesting post-Brat Pack John Hughes film (he later re-used the bat scene in Christmas Vacation, and Candy's bunch almost feels like the Griswald clan), although it’s a bit low-brow in places (the raccoon scenes are lame), while the teen romance stuff is pointless, unfunny and slows down the story. 7.5/10 stars.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Straight Talk (1992)

I was going to save Straight Talk for use in a James Woods film festival (he is, after all, this blog’s favourite unlikeable guy), but a ‘radio’ theme somehow emerged over the past few days, and it seemed to fit.

Synopsis: Busty, blonde babe broadcasts boombox bunkum.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “When down-on-her-luck country girl Shirlee Kenyon (Dolly Parton – STEEL MAGNOLIAS) walks through the wrong door at the right time, she accidentally becomes Chicago’s newest talk-radio celebrity and turns the Windy City’s hottest radio station upside down!”

What Did I Learn?: The best way to market relationship advice is to make it sound like Kentucky-fried, corn-pone country wisdom.

Really?: 1) Does Shirlee ever offer advice that isn’t along the lines of: “you should leave your spouse”? 2) I had a bit of trouble believing that a dance studio in an economically depressed town would actually fire an instructor who wears a 40 DD bra because she talks too much.

Rating: Straight Talk is a light-hearted, feel-good comedy that suffers from two major problems: a) I couldn't buy the film's basic premise about Dolly Parton being mistaken for a PhD pyschologist and getting her own talk radio show, and b) it’s not very funny, or well-written (although Parton and James Woods enjoy some interesting chemistry). Straight Talk isn’t a terrible movie, but I can’t recommend it. 5/10 stars.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Talk Radio (1988)

Synopsis: Obnoxious windbag verbally abuses kooky right-wing hotheads on his way towards mental meltdown.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Dallas talk radio host Barry Champlain (Eric Bogosian) discovers one weekend that his skill in pushing people’s buttons has won him a chance for national syndication. But instead of celebrating, he subjects his ex-wife (Ellen Greene) and co-workers to a darkly comic marathon bout of compulsive risk-taking with his unstable radio audience. Barry and his ‘fans’ – the lonely, the angry and the dangerous - know that talk is not cheap, and words can kill.”

What Did I Learn?: If you run into a deranged “fan” with a beer in her hand, there’s a very good chance she’ll throw it in your face if you call her a “loser”.

Really?:  I have a funny feeling Barry would have been hauled into his boss’ office shortly after saying: “I love you blacks – I think everyone should own one”, but then, there was probably a lot less Political Correctness in Dallas during the 1980s.  

Rating: Talk Radio is a well-written, but rather unpleasant film. Bogosian gives a great performance as a glib asshole with a talent for getting under the skin of his listeners, but most of the movie consists of him exchanging insults with callers, and it gets tiresome after the first hour or so. 6/10 stars.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Radio Days (1987)

Synopsis: Woody Allen fondly remembers those wonderful, golden years of the Great Depression and the Second World War.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “An excellent ensemble cast populates Woody Allen’s highly imaginative remembrance of the bygone era when radio reigned supreme.”

What Did I Learn?: Even as a little kid, Woody Allen was a dirty old man.

Really?: 1) I had a good deal of trouble believing that young Joe could grow up without the slightest idea that his father drives a cab. 2) How many burglars would answer a phone call in a targeted house, let alone win prizes for their victims by participating in a quiz show?

Rating: Radio Days is a warm and funny series of character-driven vignettes (there isn’t much of a plot to this semi-autobiographical film) about a nice family in Rockaway and the radio shows they enjoy. It’s a good movie, but Woody Allen clearly made Radio Days more for himself than for the public, so it sometimes feels a bit self-indulgent. (BTW: the protagonist is played by a very young Seth Green) 8/10 stars.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)

Judging from the sticker attached to the VHS jacket, it looks as though this particular copy of Manhattan Murder Mystery spent some time in Nova Scotia. Public library, perhaps?

Synopsis: Neurotic whiner and bored-but-batshit-crazy domestic goddess initiate World’s most incompetent murder investigation.
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Woody Allen and Diane Keaton re-unite in this madcap mystery hailed as Allen’s funniest film since ANNIE HALL. Keaton stars as Carol Lipton, a bored Manhattan housewife who becomes convinced that her next-door neighbour has committed a murder. When her sceptical husband Larry (Allen) rejects the idea, Carol turns to a flirtatious friend (Alan Alda) to help her search for clues.”
What Did I Learn?: It’s not that difficult to barge unannounced into somebody’s home if you’re carrying a tray of pastries.
Really?: It seemed awfully convenient when Carol glances out the window and gets a good look at the supposed victim riding on a cross-town bus. Even better, the bus is only three blocks away from the end of its route.
Rating: Manhattan Murder Mystery is a funny, charming, and well-written film. Larry and Carol are flawed-yet-believable characters who don’t really know what they doing as they start snooping into matters they should best leave alone. 9/10 stars.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

3000 Miles to Graceland (2001)

Synopsis: Likeable ex-con, kleptomaniac brat and World’s Worst Mom evade Elvis-crazed, homicidal lunatic across American West.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building... with $3.2 million in stolen jack.”

What Did I Learn?: Even a badass mercenary like Ice-T will eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if he’s hungry enough.

You Might Like This Movie If: You really, really love the Wombats!  

Really?: Why does Kevin Costner try so hard to save the life of one of his henchmen when he’s going to kill his crime partners, anyway? Why does he kill the gas station attendant, blow up(!!!) the station, murder a sheriff in cold blood, and leave a trail of crime the cops can follow to Boise? Wouldn’t Kurt Russell have immediately known his wallet was gone when he put on his pants? Why...ok, I’m going to stop, now.

Rating: Clocking in at 125 minutes, 3000 Miles to Graceland is an overly-long, gratuitously violent, idiotic piece of crap. The film does contain some decent (albeit rather implausible) action sequences and a few laughs, however, so I’ll give it a couple of extra stars. 3.5/10 stars.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Finding Graceland (1998)

Synopsis: It’s a hunka-hunka-burnin’-cheese!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Some guys have all the luck. But this year, Byron (Johnathon Schaech) isn’t one of them. While driving away his past in a beat-up old Cadillac, he picks up an eccentric (Harvey Keitel) on his way to Memphis. Normal enough, except that this drifter believes he is the real Elvis and that he’s headed home to Graceland.”

What Did I Learn?: Aside from a bunch of useless Elvis trivia ( Mr. Presley wore a 12D shoe, according to the film), I learned the security at Graceland really sucks.

Really?: 1) I had a great deal of trouble believing Byron would have allowed Elvis to continue riding with him after he stiffed him on the lunch tab and then threatened to beat him up for not leaving a better tip. 2) Byron is about to get it on with a hot chick for the first time since his wife died, and he throws her out of his hotel room for mentioning the fatal car accident? Come on...

Rating: Hoo-boy...the premise of Finding Graceland is that Elvis didn’t really die in 1977, and he’s now some sort of wandering, magical being with the ability to heal emotionally-damaged people he meets in the American heartland. It’s hokey, unbelievable, and Schaech has the acting range of a toaster. On the other hand, Keitel does his very best with a limited script, Bridget Fonda is super-hot as a Marilyn Monroe impersonator, and the movie has some nice things to say about forgiving oneself and moving on. 6/10 stars.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Albino Alligator (1996)

Synopsis: Lowlife louts loiter, lockup local liquor lounge.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “An intense, all-star action-thriller, Albino Aligator is directed by Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey [1995 Best Supporting Actor – The Usual Suspects]. Matt Dillon [Beautiful Girls] and Gary Sinise [Forrest Gump] play brothers Dova and Milo...a couple of small-time crooks suddenly in way over their heads! When a holdup goes terribly wrong, the robbers flee to a local bar, desperately taking everyone inside hostage!”

What Did I Learn?: If a member of your gang feels the need to qualify the sentence “I promise not to kill any hostages” with “unless I have to”, you probably want to keep an eye on him.

Really?: Is it really a good idea to own a basement bar in New Orleans?

Rating: I’m not a huge fan of hostage-taking thrillers because you know they’re probably going to end badly, but Albino Alligator isn’t a bad film. It’s a study of people under pressure, and changing group dynamics as the situation becomes more complicated. 7/10 stars.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Big Trouble (2002)

Synopsis: Honestly, I don’t know where to begin... the plot is more complicated than um...this thing.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “All-Star Comedy Action Will Have Renters Looking For ‘Big Trouble’” [special demo tape jacket]

·         The Biggest Stars!

-          Tim Allen

-          Rene Russo

·         ...Big Stars Too!

-          Tom Sizemore

-          Omar Epps

-          Stanley Tucci

-          Janeane Garofalo

-          Jason Lee

-          Dennis Farina

What Did I Learn?: If you’re looking to obtain your teenaged son’s love and respect, buying a Geo Metro won’t be much help.

You Might Like This Movie If: You only glanced at the VHS jacket and assumed you bought Big Trouble in Little China.

Really?: If the mob is trying to kill you for stealing money from them, why exactly would you want to purchase a black market missile? Is that a practical weapon for self-defence? If you’re looking for evidence you can present to the cops, wouldn’t photocopied documents be a much, much better idea?

Rating: Big Trouble is a fun little madcap comedy even though it contains a few too many characters (some of whom get lost in the shuffle), and most of the film’s build-up is tossed aside in order to end with a big chase. Not bad, but not great. 7/10 stars.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

One Night at McCool's (2001)

Synopsis: Men Think With Their Dicks, Example # 457,885,093

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “She’s one hot lady. And after one night at McCool’s, she’s the only thing three unsuspecting men can think about. There’s the bartender who was working that night. The lawyer who stayed past closing time. Then there’s the cop who showed up to investigate the crime scene.”

What Did I Learn?: When a straight, male movie character wears a pink sweater wrapped around his neck, it’s a dead giveaway he’s going to be a materialistic yuppie asshole.

You Might Like This Movie If: You’ve always wanted to see Liv Tyler wash a car. (Yup, this one’s for the guys)

Really?: 1) Aren’t shopkeepers (or in this case, bartenders) who shoot would-be stickup men usually hailed as heroes? I had a bit of trouble believing that Matt Dillon would lose his job over the incident, or that his boss would be ungrateful, even though it’s important to the plot. 2) Did Reba McEntire have a part in this movie, or did she just say “uh-huh” a lot?

Rating: One Night at McCool’s is basically a funny film noir. Liv Tyler is sexy (and quite believable as a selfish sociopath with the ability to wrap men around her finger), Dillon is a likeable-yet-not-too-bright everyman, and Michael Douglas is hilarious as a bingo-playing hitman with a pompadour. Comedies generally conclude on the all’s-well-that-end-well principle, however, and ruined lives don’t provide too many chuckles. I liked this movie up until its terrible, and totally unsatisfying ending. 6.5/10 stars.

Ocean's Eleven (2001)

Editor's Note: While I may or may not get around to reviewing Ocean's Thirteen, 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.
Synopsis: Rich, charming, good-looking thieves steal millions from rich, charming, good-looking villain, and we’re supposed to care.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The plan is set. The rules are clear. If all goes right for Danny Ocean’s grafters, the payoff is $150 million. Divided by 11. You do the math.”

What Did I Learn?: Parole boards love to help out convicts who provide smart-alec answers to legitimate questions.

Really?: How did they get all of those flyers into the hotel vault? And wouldn’t Benedict have been surprised that Ocean wasn’t savagely beaten up near the end? And wouldn’t his goons have heard the conversation between Ocean and the big dude who was hired to beat him up?

Rating: This film is marginally better than the original Ocean’s 11, only because its focus is on the heist, rather than Sinatra’s funny phone calls or Cesar Romero figuring out what happened after the fact. Mid-way, however, the remake stops being a movie we can follow, and instead becomes an increasingly implausible spectacle that overwhelms us with special effects and plot twists. Much like Angie Dickinson’s cameo, Julia Roberts’ role is incidental to the plot, Andy Garcia’s character never comes across as a terribly bad guy, and even the folks who made this movie admit it contains a plot hole or two. 7/10 stars.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ocean's 11 (1960)

Synopsis: Smartass crooners make by-the-numbers Vegas heist picture between shows.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas. Roulette wheels spin, cards snap, slots chime, champagne fizzes, the shows go on... and the lights go out. It’s the perfect time to steal a kiss or a $25 chip. But for Danny Ocean (Frank Sinatra) and his 10 partners in crime, it’s the perfect moment to steal millions.”

What Did I Learn?: If you’re something of a hothead, and your wife makes decent money as an exotic dancer, you might want to stay home on those nights when she performs.

Really?: 1) Why would a casino place its official logo on the interior door of a safe? And why would all five casinos do the same thing? 2) How many times does Dean Martin sing that “kick in the head” song?

Rating: I wanted to like this movie more than I did. Frank, Sammy and Dino are all rather charming, but the script should have been re-written. Angie Dickinson’s cameo as Danny Ocean’s long-suffering wife is pointless, and much of the first act consists of Ocean making stupid prank phone calls as he rounds up the gang. It takes a long time for anything to happen, and then, even worse, Ocean and his gang actually become secondary characters to Duke Santos (Cesar Romero) in Act Three. 6.5/10 stars.

Hoosiers (1986)

Synopsis: Hometown hayseed Hoosier hoopsters hustle!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “It’s 1951 in Hickory, Indiana – a place that takes its basketball as seriously as its religion. Into this tiny town strolls Norman Dale (GENE HACKMAN), a once-hailed, now-failed college coach taking up the unenviable task of coaching Hickory High’s eight-man hoop squad.”

What Did I Learn?: Sooner or later, the town drunk will always have a relapse and let you down.

Really?: Not exactly a “Really?”, but it’s strange that a Hollywood film would set a sports film in the early 1950s and ask the audience to root for a bunch of all-white farm boys against a racially integrated Indianapolis team with a black coach. (And our heroes only need a good pep talk in order to outplay a team that averages over six feet tall!)  

Rating: Hoosiers is an excellent film. It’s a period movie that feels real and authentic (without resorting to easy nostalgia like Top-40 hits from the early ‘50s), but anyone who has ever played competitive sports, managed an enterprise under difficult circumstances, or even received a second chance will easily relate to these characters. My only complaint would be that most of the dramatic tension is resolved by the third act, so we’re pretty much left with a lot of “we gotta win this game” basketball action. 9/10 stars.

Homeboy (1988)

Synopsis: Brain-damaged palooka wanders around seaside resort town as repetitive blues guitar strums in the background.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “In faded denim and cowboy boots, Johnny Walker (Mickey Rourke) is a bounced-around club boxer who has taken the low punches in life. Given another chance in the only profession he knows, he meets two people whose influence will change his life: Ruby (Debra Feuer) a volatile yet vulnerable woman, who operates a rundown carousel and Wesley (Christopher Walken) a flashy, mediocre club entertainer and petty thief, who promises Johnny a shot at the big time. Together they can do it, but it may cost Johnny his life!”

What Did I Learn?: If everyone around you appears as a blurry image, and you can’t understand basic speech, it might be time to hang up the old boxing gloves.

Really?: I realize Johnny is supposed to be a dumb hick, but I found it hard to believe he never heard the word “Jewish” before.  

Rating: Homeboy is a character-driven drama featuring characters that are neither interesting nor particularly likeable. Walken provides a sterling performance as a sleazy man-about-town, but the script (based on a screenplay penned by Mickey Rourke, which ought to tell you something) doesn’t provide him with much. I would have given Homeboy six stars, but I had to deduct a half-star for the countrified-blues guitar score that permeates nearly every scene and started to irritate me mid-way through. 5.5/10 stars.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The January Man (1989)

Synopsis: There’s a serial killer on the loose, and... oh, who cares? He’s totally incidental to the plot. The real fun is watching the loveable Beatnik cop bicker with his social-climbing bro, drive his captain batshit crazy and bang the Mayor’s 23-year old daughter.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Kevin Kline Heads The All-Star Cast of the Year In A Tale Of Murder, Corruption...And Comedy”.

What Did I Learn?: 1) It’s not that easy to bust down a locked door with a sledgehammer. 2) Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio looked pretty good when she was topless.

Really?: I’m not sure which is more unbelievable: the combination of prime numbers, Virgo and ‘Little Calendar Girl’, or the fact that Nick (Kevin Kline) figured out the killer’s modus operandi right before the next murder.

Rating: The January Man is a strange combination of police drama, serial killer thriller and romantic comedy, and it more-or-less works. Kevin Kline is cool as an unconventional detective, and what a supporting cast: Alan Rickman, Danny Aiello, Harvey Keitel, Rod Steiger, Susan Sarandon, and the lovely aforementioned M-E-M. It’s a fun, little movie as long as you don't take it too seriously. 8/10 stars.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Buffalo 66 (1998)

Synopsis: Boy meets girl. Boy kidnaps girl. Girl meets boy’s dysfunctional family. Boy leaves girl to commit major felony...

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Billy emerges from prison where he’s just done a five year stretch with three missions. The first, and most hilariously pressing, is to take a pee. The next is to find the right gal to show off to mom and dad (Anjelica Huston and Ben Gazzara). The last is to assassinate the Buffalo Bills placekicker whose missed field goal caused him to lose the bet that led him into a life of crime.”

What Did I Learn?: If the Buffalo Bills ever make it back to the Super Bowl, don’t even think about betting money on them.

Really?: 1) Layla (Christina Ricci) has any number of opportunities to escape after Billy kidnaps her, yet instead of fleeing for her life, she sits down to a disgusting meal with him, and actually falls in love? 2) Exactly how long does Billy hold in that pee?

Rating: Filmed on location in Buffalo in the dead of winter, Buffalo 66 actually feels cold, bleak and depressing as you watch it. It’s a very good low-budget, character-driven drama with a lot of strong cameo appearances. The biggest stumbling block I had (and the reason I can’t give it a higher rating) is that I simply didn’t believe Layla would stick around with Billy after the kidnapping. The script should have been re-written so the characters had some prior relationship with each other (sister of a prison buddy?) before the homecoming scene. 7/10 stars.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

State and Main (2000)

Synopsis: Financially flummoxed filmmakers find farm folk, foment frustration, frequent faux pas.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “BIG MOVIE. SMALL TOWN. HUGE TROUBLE! When a big-budget film crew takes over a small town, they shoot first...and ask questions later.”

What Did I Learn?: The best way to make a statutory rape prosecution go away is to hand the prosecutor a bag full of cash.

Really?: 1) Wouldn’t the film crew have done a better job of scouting the town (such as actually visiting the old mill depicted in the town’s brochure) before they decided to shoot there? 2) The film refers to a number of suspicious fires that occurred in 1960, presumably at the hands of a frustrated teenager. I expected the film to identify a 50-something character (the Mayor? The Chief of Police?) as the culprit, and yet...

Rating: State and Main is an amoral (Alec Baldwin sleeps with an under-aged girl, she digs him, and it’s the prosecutor who’s a dick), yet funny and cleverly-written all-star ensemble comedy. 8/10 stars.

Traffic (2000)

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “It’s the high-stakes, high-risk world of the drug trade as seen through a well-blended mix of interrelated stories: a Mexican policeman (Benicio Del Toro) finds himself and his partner caught in an often deadly web of corruption; a pair of DEA agents (Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman) work undercover in a sordid and dangerous part of San Diego; a wealthy drug baron living in upscale, suburban America is arrested and learns how quickly his unknowing and pampered wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) takes over his business; and the US President’s new drug czar (Michael Douglas) must deal with his increasingly drug-addicted teenage daughter.”

What Did I Learn?: Mexico gets a lot of sunlight, which must be why every scene that takes place in that country appears to have been shot through an orange lens.

You Might Like This Movie If: You think He-Man makes a lot of sense.

Really?: Would the US ‘drug czar’ really drive around the mean streets of Cincinnati after dark, chatting up low-level dealers in search of his daughter? Wouldn’t he and his wife probably hire a private investigator, or – hey, here’s an idea – ask the FBI for a favour?

Rating: Traffic deservedly won four Academy Awards, including Best Director. It’s a very good movie (although a bit long), and an excellent critique of the ‘War on Drugs’. My only complaints would be: a) as in the case of Scarface, the political message is a bit heavy-handed, and b) I really wanted to see Michael Douglas kick the crap out of Topher Grace at the end. 9/10 stars.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Gleaming the Cube (1989)

Synopsis: Live-action Bart Simpson wannabe investigates overachieving bro’s murder.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Teen idol CHRISTIAN SLATER (TUCKER) stars with STEVEN BAUER (THIEF OF HEARTS) and RICHARD HERD (PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES) in this electrifying action-thriller of an international contraband ring whose illicit business turns to murder. Featuring some of the most ‘death-defying skateboarding’ (Los Angeles Daily News) and chase scenes ever filmed, GLEAMING THE CUBE takes you on a non-stop adventure you’ll never forget!”

Really?: 1) Christian Slater crashes though a plate-glass window, and he’s ready to engage in a high-speed chase immediately afterwards. 2) Can somebody explain why Slater decides to pilfer Colonel Trac’s Zippo lighter and ball cap? Up until then, he didn’t seem like a thief, and the act struck me as a poorly-constructed plot device to get the Colonel’s daughter involved. 3) Christian Slater skateboards underneath a moving tractor-trailer? I don’t think so.

Rating: Gleaming the Cube falls somewhere between being a fun bad movie and a not-so-bad motion picture. It’s surprisingly good up until the third act when the villains panic, a huge chase develops, and Christian Slater is suddenly performing skateboarding moves that even Tony Hawk wouldn’t attempt. (Oops – Tony Hawk is in this movie!)  Totally Rad! 6/10 stars.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Nostradamus (1994)

Synopsis: Tormented seer tells us civilization is basically going down the crapper after the 16th Century.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The Black Plague threatened man’s existence. The Inquisition of a tyrannical church terrorized the masses. But Nostradamus (Tcheky Karyo) stared through a window to the future. From his turbulent childhood forward, prophetic visions haunted him. A brilliant iconoclast at odds with scholars, priests, and rulers, he constantly struggled for credibility – and his life.”

What Did I Learn?: If anyone coughs, run for your lives, it’s the plague!!

Really?:  1) It’s kinda funny how Nostradamus’ visions of the atom bomb, Hitler and JFK all look like they were taken from black-and-white newsreel footage. 2) So wait, Nosty's sister-in-law wanted to jump his bones sooooo much that when he turned her down, she called in the Inquisition on him? Sorry, but I’m calling bullshit. 3) Nostradamus had never seen a swastika before his visions of WWII? Really?

Rating: Two things I don’t enjoy are dumbed-down history, and being patronized. The film presents Nostradamus as a medical genius who constantly ran afoul of the Inquisition; imagine my surprise when I found out that dude got along quite well with the Church, and that prophecy and astrology were actually outside the scope of the Inquisition. I have no idea about the historical accuracy of this film, but it was somewhat entertaining, albeit depressing. 6.5/10 stars.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Car Wash (1976)

Synopsis: It’s laughs galore as disco soundtrack and lowbrow humour combine to liven up dead-end jobs in overstaffed and dying business.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket:Car Wash is an earthy, irreverent but affectionate look at a typical day in a Los Angeles car wash. An ensemble piece which interweaves the lives of employees, customers and passerby...Car Wash may qualify as the world’s first ‘disco’ movie.”

You Might Like This Movie If: You love this song so much you don’t mind hearing it played over and over again.

Really?: Wouldn’t George Carlin have simply written off the “black, blonde chick” who stiffed him, and gone back to driving his cab?

Rating: Car Wash is a bit juvenile at times, but it’s a nice, slice-of-life comedy, and an interesting time capsule from the mid-1970s. 8/10 stars.

Big Night (1996)

Synopsis: The head chef and the restaurant manager are at each other’s throats, the creditors are banging on the door... hey, let’s throw a party!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: ‘BIG NIGHT is the story of two brothers whose Italian restaurant is on the brink of bankruptcy. Their only chance for success is to risk everything they own on an extravagant feast for bandleader Louis Prima. But their big night is complicated by a lovers’ triangle, a sneaky restaurant rival, and the hilarious perfection of chef Primo.”

What Did I Learn?: If you order risotto, don’t be a dick and ask for a side of spaghetti and meatballs.

You Might Like This Movie If: You love a good kitchen nightmare.

Really?: It’s the 1950s. Would the local Italian barber really allow Chef Primo to use his phone in order to make a transatlantic call to Rome?

Rating: Big Night is a perfect little character-driven film. You’ll love it if you’re a foodie (a friend of mine sometimes addresses me as the “Late Night Gourmet”), or if you’ve ever tried to make a living through the arts. Tony Shalhoub (Chef Primo) provides the voice of the frustrated artist; his semi-slimy brother (played wonderfully by Stanley Tucci) is the arch realist, who believes in giving the customer what he wants. Their bickering is priceless. 10/10 stars. (Two ten-out-of-ten movie reviews in the course of a week? I must be going soft!)