Friday, March 30, 2012

The Edge (1997)

Synopsis:  “It’s ‘Jaws’ With Claws”, Mike Cidoni, ABC-TV.  [I can’t improve on that!]

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “A plane crash in the freezing Alaskan wilderness pits intellectual billionaire Charles Morse (ANTHONY HOPKINS) against self-satisfied fashion photographer Robert Green (ALEC BALDWIN) in a brutal struggle for survival. Each soon discovers that the greatest danger resides not in nature, but from human fear, treachery, and quite possibly, murder.”

What Did I Learn?: That old cliché about the black guy always getting killed first was still true back in 1997.

Really?: You have to be one cold hearted son-of-a-bitch  to attempt to kill the guy who just saved your ass from a man-eating bear attack, and you have to be Mother Theresa to save the life of the bastard who tried to murder you a few minutes earlier.  

Rating: The Edge will have you on the *ahem* edge of your seat. Written by David Mamet, the film is entertaining, escapist fun. 8/10 stars.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)

Synopsis: Engineer gets pissed when serial killer lions turn workers into Fancy Feast.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer star in this tense, terrific and true adventure set in 1896 East Africa. There, two lions on a man-eating rampage have shut down the construction of a railway. The beasts hunt together, showing no fear of man or fire. What’s more, they’re killing for sport rather than for food – and they have an almost supernatural knack for knowing what traps await them.”

What Did I Learn?: Giraffes sleep for five minutes a day, and hippos fart out of their mouths, according to Kilmer’s travelogue near the beginning of the film.

Really?: So wait – there’s a man-eating, and incredibly smart lion on the loose, and the three remaining dudes all want to sleep in separate huts? And then nobody hears the screams after one of them is dragged off and becomes a midnight snack?

Rating: The Ghost And The Darkness is a bit like Jaws on dry land; there’s a monster out there, and several very different men must work together to solve the problem. It’s a good thriller, with plenty of tension and a surprise or two. (There’s also an unintentionally funny scene when Kilmer’s wife is tackled and eaten by one of the lions) 8/10 stars.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Passed Away (1992)

Synopsis: Family of self-absorbed idiots bond after old fart kicks the bucket.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Featuring a hysterically funny all-star cast, here’s an outrageous comedy that proves eternity is spending three days with family! When patriarch Jack Scanlan suddenly passes away, he finally gets his offbeat family back together! But now as this crazy, unpredictable mix of relatives are forced to spend an entire weekend together under one roof, plenty of uproarious surprises lie ahead! Dealing with the grief is easy, dealing with each other, hilarious!” 

What Did I Learn?: Kids, if your Dad informs you that your grandfather has just passed away, please think of something a bit more sensitive to say than: “Back off!”

Really?: 1) Maybe a fool would throw a surprise party for a man who just returned from the hospital after a heart attack, but would an entire office go along with the idea without somebody saying: “you know, perhaps this isn’t such a good idea...?”. 2) How many men would seriously think about banging their father’s mistress? That’s seriously creepy.

Rating: When I watched Passed Away in the theatre twenty years ago, I hated it – I found it dull and totally unfunny. Two decades later, I realize I was a little harsh in my judgement; it’s not a great film, or even a particularly good one, but Passed Away boasts some good performances (Tim Curry is at his snooty best, and William Petersen is rather funny as the good-looking-but-dumb younger brother of Bob Hoskins) and a few laughs, and it isn’t nearly as terrible as I remember it being. How’s that for high praise? 6/10 stars.

Harvey (1950)

Synopsis: Honest heir helps hopeless, hoists hooch, hears (hallucinates?) humongous hare, Harvey.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “James Stewart stars as the good-natured Elwood P. Dowd, whose constant companion is Harvey, a six-foot tall rabbit that only he can see.”

What Did I Learn?: If you want to have a relative committed to the nuthouse, it’s a really bad idea to seem hysterical, and admit to occasionally seeing hallucinations yourself when you speak to the psychiatrist on duty.  

You Might Like This Movie If: You know that Harvey is...something special. (This could be the single worst version of “Tears of a Clown” I’ve ever heard)

Really?: 1) Aside from seeing a giant rabbit, Elwood seems like a pretty reasonable guy. Even if he thinks Harvey is real, I’m guessing it must have occurred to Elwood that people react rather oddly when he introduces them to his big buddy. Why would he knowingly look insane to the outside world? 2) I had a bit of trouble believing Dowd’s sour niece, who said she wanted to meet a rich young man, would fall for the goon orderly from the asylum.

Rating: I wasn’t sure I’d like this film before I pressed the PLAY button, but Harvey kind of grew on me - it’s a sweet and gentle comedy with a surprisingly clever message, and Elwood Dowd was actually Jimmy Stewart’s favourite role. It’s also difficult to imagine a modern-day remake, because: a) I think the last sympathetic portrayal of a drunk was Dudley Moore’s Arthur, and he sobered up in the sequel, and b) Disney, or another studio would almost certainly insist on creating a CGI version of the rabbit for marketing purposes. Part of this movie’s appeal is that you’re never entirely sure if Dowd is cuckoo or not until the very end. 7.5/10 stars.

Strike it Rich (1990)

Molly Ringwald Film Fest Movie #6

Synopsis: Molly Ringwald escapes Brat Pack typecasting by becoming the nagging ball-and-chain to some boring English guy.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Ian Bertram (Robert Lindsay) is a brilliant mathematician in a thoroughly boring job, until the day he stumbles across Cary Porter (Molly Ringwald) and falls head-over-heels in love. When Ian proposes marriage, his company President Herbert Dreuther (Sir John Gielgud) suggests the young couple get married in Monte Carlo and spend their honeymoon on his yacht. But things take a downward turn when Dreuther’s yacht fails to arrive, leaving the couple with heavy expenses and a light wallet. When Ian discovers a surefire system of beating the roulette tables, it seems the answer to all their problems and he beings to strike it rich beyond their wildest dreams.”

What Did I Learn?: If you would rather spend your honeymoon in a casino than bang Molly Ringwald, you might have a gambling problem...

You Might Like This Movie If: You know that roulette is an evil game.

Really?: 1) Apparently, Einstein spent a bit of time thinking of mathematical strategies for playing the Roulette table (a completely random game of chance) and concluded: "The only way to beat Roulette is to steal the money when the dealer's not looking." 2) Expensive hotels just love to lend money to guests who can’t afford to pay the bill.

Rating: Strike it Rich is so bad that I couldn’t finish watching it. I like both Molly Ringwald and Robert Lindsay (great as Captain Pellew in the Horatio Hornblower dramatizations), but he’s waaaaay too old for her, they have zero chemistry together, and Molly’s basically a wet blanket through much of the film. I cannot recommend this movie. 4/10 stars.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Pick-Up Artist (1987)

Molly Ringwald Film Fest Movie #5

Synopsis: Brat Packers meet the Mob!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket:Make-out Master Robert Downey Meets his Match in Molly Ringwald. (Color, 1987) He’s the kind of guy who won’t take no for an answer from any woman, not even if it means losing his job, being perpetually broke or facing the blunt end of a boyfriend’s gun!”

What Did I Learn?: Apparently, you can park your car anywhere you want – even right in the middle of the street – as long as you place a fake parking ticket under the windshield wipers.

You Might Like This Movie If: You think these guys are really cool.

Really?: 1) Did anyone stop to think that even more gambling might not be the best way to pay off a gambling debt owed to gangsters? 2) So wait...Robert Downey Jr. is basically a sex addict, and he loses interest in further conquests simply because Molly uses him for sex (I really didn’t need to hear the audio, by the way!) and then doesn’t want to give him her phone number? 3) I had no idea it’s possible to charm a subway mugger by singing “Blue Suede Shoes”.

Rating: The Pick-Up Artist probably marks the beginning of Molly Ringwald’s downward career spiral. While it was certainly interesting to watch her and Downey interact with Danny Aiello, Dennis Hopper and Harvey Keitel(!), the script is convoluted, the film isn’t particularly funny and I got tired of watching Downey chasing Molly like a lunatic. 6/10 stars.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Breakfast Club (1985)

Molly Ringwald Film Fest Movie #4

Synopsis: Archetypal teen troublemakers bond over drugs and insult-heavy, unintentional group therapy.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “To the outside world they were simply the Jock, the Brain, the Criminal, the Princess, and the Kook, but to each other, they would always be The Breakfast Club.”

What Did I Learn?:  Very few men appreciate having their attire compared to Barry Manilow’s.

You Might Like This Movie If: You enjoy watching iconic characters create mischief in a library. (Ha – and you thought I was going to post this).

Really?: 1) So, Allison (Ally Sheedy) signed up for an all-day Saturday detention because she had nothing else to do?!? Why didn’t Mr. Vernon send her home? 2) Come to think of it, doesn’t Vernon have better things to do with his free time than to babysit John Bender (Judd Nelson) for two months of Saturdays? Wasn’t Vernon also punishing himself when he handed out that battery of detentions? 3) I’m not a teacher, but I have a strange feeling most high school hooligans aren’t nearly as articulate or self-aware as Bender.

Rating: It’s tough for me to rate The Breakfast Club, as it’s still a cultural cornerstone for my generation. The movie is a little improbable (would these kids really become best of friends after only nine hours? I doubt it) and stagey at times, but it’s also funny, powerful and well-written. Nearly everyone can relate to at least one of the characters, and even a hard-ass like Vernon is shown to have a human side. While certain 1980s teen comedies are now hopelessly dated, The Breakfast Club is just as watchable and timeless (well, the pot-smoking scene seems a bit silly) as it was in 1985. 9/10 stars.

Pretty in Pink (1986)

Molly Ringwald Film Fest Movie #3

Synopsis: Girl with hideous taste in clothing is pursued by milquetoast rich boy and weirdo best friend.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “She’s a high school girl from the wrong side of town. He’s the wealthy heart-throb who asks her to the prom. But as fast as their romance builds, it’s threatened by the painful reality of peer pressure.”

What Did I Learn?: Rich kids really love wearing white pants, sports jackets and dress shirts to school.

Really?: 1) The school is divided between “richies” and kids from (literally) the wrong side of the tracks. Isn’t anyone middle class? 2) What was the point of having Harry Dean Stanton still depressed about his wife leaving him five years earlier? The subplot didn’t have anything to do with the main storyline, and it was rather easily (and conveniently) resolved after a nice father-daughter heart-to-heart.  

Rating: Pretty in Pink is a good-but-not-great John Hughes teen drama. Class conflict is a real issue in many high schools, but PiP reduces it to a cartoon: the rich kids are all blonde and gratuitously nasty Young Republicans, while the poor kids enjoy funky fashions and working class solidarity. Still, you have to love James Spader’s uber-slimy performance (“gonna be late for class...”). 7/10 stars.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Betsy's Wedding (1990)

Molly Ringwald Film Fest Movie #2 (although this is much more of an Alan Alda flick – Molly basically walks through it, acting “quirky”)

Synopsis: Culture shock abounds as white, upper-middle class girl marries white, wealthy young man.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Like Parenthood and Moonstruck, Betsy’s Wedding is a funny, feel-good movie about a wonderfully eccentric family and their hilarious trials and tribulations – it’s about everything but their daughter’s wedding!”

What Did I Learn?: ABC-TV’s Gary Franklin, the guy who called Betsy’s Wedding “sensational” and “the funniest movie in a long time”, might very well be the world’s worst film critic.

Really?: I realize Anthony LaPaglia is playing a gangster (abeit an extremely polite, musical-comedy gangster), but not many men would repeatedly spend their days at a construction site wearing expensive, double-breasted suits, and not many mobsters would fall head-over-heels for a female police officer.

Rating: Ugh. Betsy’s Wedding is like a meal at the Olive garden: bland, inoffensive and forgettable. It’s not funny enough to work as a comedy, and not clever, poignant or meaningful enough to work as a drama. Apparently, Alda based BW on his own daughter’s wedding, and then wrote, directed and starred in it (meaning I think he bit off far more than he could chew). I can’t recommend this movie. 5/10 stars.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sixteen Candles (1984)

Molly Ringwald Film Fest Movie #1 (Click the link to read my review of Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone – a film Molly probably doesn’t include on her CV)

Synopsis: 16-year-old girl complains a lot.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “It’s Samantha Baker’s Sweet Sixteen and no one in her family remembers the important occasion. John Hughes, the writer of National Lampoon’s Vacation shows how coming-of-age can be full of surprises in this warm-hearted teenage comedy starring Molly Ringwald.”

What Did I Learn?: Grandparents are crude, uncool and insensitive fools who are best avoided.

Really?: I love this film, but come on... 1) parents and grandparents don’t forget birthdays – they just don’t; 2) there’s no way in the world that Jake’s prom-queen girlfriend would ever fall for the much-younger Geek; 3) Wouldn’t Sam’s parents have realized her older sister was in no condition for a wedding ceremony after downing four muscle relaxant pills(!), and asked the minister to postpone the ceremony for an hour or so?

Rating: Sixteen Candles is an odd movie in the sense that it’s both a dated product of the early 1980s (There’s no way Gedde Watanabe’s portrayal of Long Duk Dong would make it into a modern-day remake, and I wonder: did middle-class, WASP Americans really dislike “bohunks” in 1984?) and a timeless story about unrequited love. The film is still funny, and Anthony Michael Hall nearly steals the show as the slimy-yet-likeable Geek, but I do have one complaint. Sam (Molly Ringwald) is the protagonist, yet she often fades into the background, and isn’t terribly proactive – she doesn’t do very much to win Jake’s affections. BTW: watch for an early performance from John Cusack. 8.5/10 stars.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Night Shift (1982)

Synopsis: Fonzie and Beetlejuice learn that pimpin' ain't easy.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Ever since two enterprising young men turned the City Morgue into a swinging business, people have been dying to get in.”

What Did I Learn?: Apparently, the New York City Morgue only has two people on duty during the night shift, and not many New Yorkers die after the sun goes down.

You Might Like This Movie If: You can’t get enough of Henry Winkler. (Major uncool, Fonz!)

Really?: 1) The main purpose of a pimp is to offer protection and collect cash if the john doesn’t want to pay. Chuck (Winkler) and Bill (Michael Keaton) only provide the girls with a telephone service, investment advice and rides in the morgue’s hearse. 2)  It’s kind of funny – and convenient -  how Chuck’s fiancĂ©e more-or-less disappears mid-way, only to reappear for one memorable scene at the end.

Rating: Night Shift is an enjoyable, yet nearly forgotten comedy from the very early 1980s; New York was still a pretty dangerous place, Henry Winkler was riding high on Happy Days, Shelly Long had just started on Cheers, and this film was Michael Keaton’s breakthrough role. The film boasts great chemistry, decent laughs, and a nice message about taking a chance once in a while. 8/10 stars.

The Brothers McMullen (1995)

(Belated) St. Patrick’s Day Movie #3 [Click the link to read my review of the similar Edward Burns family drama, She’s the One - there are a lot of overlapping characters and situations]

Synopsis: It's 98 minutes of Irish-American blokes banging hot chicks and then complaining about how the women in their lives don't understand them. Oh, boo hoo...

Blurb From the VHS Jacket:Sometimes the best friends are those you’ve known your whole life. Three brothers from Long Island try to reconcile their lives and loves in this charming romantic comedy which won Best Picture at the Sundance Film Festival.”

What Did I Learn?: Irish-Americans still think JFK was a great President.

You Might Like This Movie If: You love all things Irish.

Really?: 1) How many fresh-out-of-college guys would turn down a fully-paid-for apartment and a job from their girlfriend’s dad? 2) So wait...the quasi-religious, former altar boy youngest brother: a) dates a Jewish chick, b) later hooks up with a pro-choice activist, and then c) somehow thinks the latter will be sympathetic after she hears his ex-girlfriend had an abortion? Really?

Rating: The Brothers McMullen was Edward Burns’ first successful film, and it’s obvious he really tried to swing for the fences in every scene: it’s an endless series of confrontations, and characters opining about the mysteries of men and women. The quality of film Burns used was rather poor (it all looks rather washed-out), but TBM does have some interesting things to say, and it is worth a viewing. 7/10 stars.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Snapper (1993)

St. Patrick’s Day Movie #2 (second of Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown trilogy)

Synopsis: Sweet Irish lass gets knocked up; Dad goes bananas.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Welcome to the helter-skelter Curley household. At the head of it is Dessie Curley, a plasterer who likes getting plastered. The roost is actually ruled by his wife Kay, a bright, resourceful woman with a lot to contend with  - not least her six children. This typical, cheerful, noisy, Irish home is hit by a bombshell when daughter Sharon announces she is pregnant. To make matters worse she refuses to name the father.”

What Did I Learn?: In Dublin, a plasterer’s salary is enough for a house, six kids and money for the pub.

You Might Like This Movie If: You love all things Irish.

Really?: I realize Ireland has a long-established pub culture, but come on...doesn’t anyone realize that getting rip-roaring drunk (on more than one occasion - even in the third trimester) while pregnant isn’t such a hot idea?

Rating: Colm Meany (best known as Chief O’Brien in the Star Trek universe) is great as a gruff-but-loveable working class bloke in this warm, funny, character-driven comedy/drama. The Snapper works because the characters are real, and we care about them. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

The Commitments (1991)

St. Patrick’s Day Movie #1 (first of Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown trilogy...alas, I have The Snapper as well, but not The Van)

Synopsis: Young Irish lads and lasses form 1960s-style soul band, you know, that still doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “What a concept:  a frank, entertaining and utterly believable movie about the sweet, small victories and fatal screw-ups of a young rebel soul band straight outta the Dublin ghetto, starring real musicians and singers whacking away at great R&B crackers from the sixties.” – David Fricke, ROLLING STONE [nothing but reviews on the back of the jacket]

What Did I Learn?: The Northsiders are the “blacks” of Dublin, Dubliners are the “blacks” of Ireland, and the Irish are the “blacks” of Europe, according to Jimmy Rabitte.

You Might Like This Movie If: You enjoy all things Irish.

Really?: Is there really much demand in Dublin for local, white soul music? And I had a bit of trouble believing the older trumpet player would want to hang out with a bunch of kids, or that they would keep him around after he started banging the chicks in the band.

Rating: Filled with humour and great music, The Commitments is a warm and wonderful little movie. 9/10 stars.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Parallel Lives (1994)

Synopsis: 19 B-movie actors realize they need to get new agents.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “After five years of planning, Millbank College finally welcomes back its graduates at a weekend reunion bash. The Friday night party quickly becomes a place for the group to renew old rivalries and re-establish friendships. The weekend is filled with confrontations and reconciliations, party games, panty raids and old college traditions...But, when a murder is committed, the good times come to an abrupt end.”

What Did I Learn?: If an older guy (Ben Gazzara) shows up at a frat reunion with an expensive sports car and a bimbo girlfriend about 30 years his junior, the chances are pretty good he’s going to be a real dick.

Really?: I had a bit of trouble believing a 30-something virgin who looks like Helen Slater (meaning she’s probably saving herself for the right guy) would give it up for a one-night-stand at a frat reunion party.

Rating: Parallel Lives is a huge disappointment. I mean, you have an amazing cast (everyone from LeVar Burton to Ally Sheedy to Paul Sorvino), and yet the movie never develops any of their characters, and the plot (such as it is) is nearly non-existent. While it was nice to see Dudley Moore and Liza Minelli reunite after the Arthur films, and there are a few laughs here and there, I can’t recommend this film. Apparently, the actors improvised most of their dialogue – maybe somebody could have axed Matthew Perry’s pointless cameo and invested in a script? 5/10 stars.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Blood In...Blood Out (1993)

Synopsis: Mexican-American gangbangers learn there’s more to life than bandanas, khakis, and partly-buttoned plaid Pendleton shirts.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Now, from the director of An Officer and a Gentleman and the producer of La Bamba comes Blood In...Blood Out – a critically acclaimed modern-day epic. Within the rich and colorful Chicano culture of East Los Angeles, three cousins raises as brothers fiercely live by a generations-old tradition of family – a power stronger than law...a force deeper than friendship.”

What Did I Learn?: If you shoot your cousin’s lower leg clean off and then send him back to jail for armed robbery, there’s a very good chance he won’t be terribly receptive if you ask him for a favour afterwards.

You Might Like This Movie If: You were born in East L.A.

Really?: I had a bit of trouble believing a graffiti mural in a deserted reservoir would remain unmolested for ten or more years.

Rating: Clocking in at 180 minutes(!), Blood In... Blood Out is a loooong movie that’s marred by mediocre writing and some very obvious dialogue (if you want to establish that Character A doesn’t like Character B, there are smarter ways of doing so than getting Character A to scream: “I don’t like you!”). Not a great film, but it does showcase some early performances by Ving Rhames, Delroy Lindo and Billy Bob Thornton. 6.5/10 stars.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Simple Plan (1998)

Synopsis: Idiots find money. Bodies start dropping.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The American Dream. In a gym bag. That’s how three men (Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, Brent Briscoe) size up what they’ve found in the snowy Minnesota woods.”

What Did I Learn?: Nobody wants to receive a used teddy bear as a gift.

Really?: 1) For story set in Minnesota, this movie seems to have a lot of Southern accents. 2) Even if you knew that one in ten bills had their serial numbers recorded, would you really burn $4 million after killing half the town? Would you really go back to your crappy job in the feed store, knowing your wife was seriously pissed off, and your daughter would go through life wearing hand-me-downs?

Rating: A Simple Plan is a film of a very rare breed: a character-driven suspense thriller. Billy Bob Thornton is great as Paxton’s very dumb bro, but there’s something truly chilling (and believable) about Paxton and Bridget Fonda as the church-going, all-American parents who suddenly become cold-blooded criminal masterminds along the lines of MacBeth and Lady MacBeth; we know they’re not “bad” people, but money can make people do strange things, and it does. 9/10 stars.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sneakers (1992)

My apologies for taking a bit of a break from posting new reviews. I’m currently making my way through 16 episodes of the British sci-fi/police procedural TV series Life on Mars. Quite honestly, it’s television at its finest (I would rank it up there with The Wire) – check it out.

Synopsis: 50-something former leading man tries to look hip, cool and with-it by playing Matthew Broderick, circa 1983.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Robert Redford leads an all-star cast in one of the most satisfying films of the year!”

What Did I Learn?: According to Ben Kingsley, “IT’S ALL ABOUT THE INFORMATION!!”                   

You Might Like This Movie If: really have a thing for sneakers?

Really?: 1) So, Ben Kingsley’s character made a trillion dollars by computerizing organized crime, and he wants to create a communist society? And nobody receives the slightest punishment for *ahem* killing several people? 2) Apparently, it’s ok to use IT to bankrupt the Republican Party, but one shouldn’t even think about messing with the Federal Reserve or the CIA.

Rating: One of the most satisfying films of 1992? Um...not by a long shot. Sneakers is an ok comedy/suspense movie, but it’s a little too long, Sidney Poitier and Ben Kingsley aren’t given much to do, and the ending is pretty lacklustre. Overall, meh. 6/10 stars.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Hollywood Sign (2001)

(Editor’s Note: I didn’t intend to initiate a Burt Reynolds theme – it just sort of happened that way)

Synopsis: Burt Reynolds does his finest cinematic work since Malone and Cop and a Half.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “In a desperate attempt to fund their ‘comeback’ movie, three big screen has-beens pose as detectives and intercept a gangster’s plot to steal millions from a Vegas casino. But when things go awry, the wild heist becomes their best performance yet and results in an unsuspected Hollywood ending that surprises them all!”

What Did I Learn?: If one of the characters in a movie is a sexy Asian lady, there’s a very good chance you’re going to see some kung fu moves.

Really?: Oh man, where do I begin? To get into this movie, you have to believe that three over-the-hill actors would place a corpse they find into a large freezer. Why? Because they’re afraid the cops will find the body and ask questions, and none of them had anything to do with the murder.

Rating: The Hollywood Sign is a nice, not-so-serious caper comedy that suffers from a big credibility gap when characters start making questionable decisions. Tom Berenger is the protagonist, but he gets overshadowed mid-way by Reynolds and Steiger. Overall, this movie is kinda “meh”. 6/10 stars.

Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

Synopsis: Burt Reynolds reminds us that reckless driving and resisting arrest are time-honoured traditions in America’s Deep South.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “[Burt] Reynolds is the Bandit, a king-of-the-road trucker who accepts the ultimate challenge: pick up a truckload of Coors beer in Texarkana – the closest place it can be legally sold – and haul it cross-country to Atlanta in 28 hours. The reward? $80,000! The result? The wildest series of car crashes ever filmed!”

What Did I Learn?: Folks in Georgia will pay top dollar for 400 cases of lukewarm piss-beer.

Really?: 1) I had a hard time believing a Mississippi state trooper would accept a profanity-laden tongue lashing from a Texas sheriff 700 miles outside his jurisdiction, and then allow him to continue driving a vehicle that isn’t road-worthy. 2) Ok, I can see the Bandit as a folk-hero for the CB radio crowd, and maybe some of them could assist by providing information and diversions, but who was that Japanese guy who screamed “Banzai!” and then smashed Jackie Gleason’s car door off its hinges? That was just silly.

Rating: Smokey and the Bandit isn’t a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it is fun if you put your brain on ‘pause’ and enjoy the banter and car crashes. 7/10 stars.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Fandango (1985)

Synopsis: Steven Spielberg tries hand at executive producing character-driven, coming-of-age road movie before removing name from the end credits. (Maybe he thinks he should have filmed E.T. chugging a bottle of tequila in the Cadillac?)

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “College is over, real life is about to begin. And the Groovers, beer-guzzling University of Texas roommates, find that breaking up is hard to do. It’s the summer of ’71, the Vietnam war rages half a world away and the Groovers have to make some decisions.”

What Did I Learn?: Attaching a steel cable from your Caddy to a moving train can produce unforeseen consequences.  

Really?: 1) The boys spend their last dollars, and nearly destroy their car in order to open a bottle of warm champagne?! 2) Apparently, you can organize a wedding and reception – totally at the last minute – by depending on the kindness of strangers.

Rating: Fandango isn’t a terrible film, but it’s not funny enough to be a Hangover/Porky’s type of comedy, and not smart enough or true-to-life enough to be compared to something like Breaking Away, or Stand By Me. While Kevin Costner provides a memorable performance as a wild-and-crazy guy (Judd Nelson, on the other hand, seems to be channelling a constipated Brainy Smurf), the plot and dialogue feel artificial and contrived. Let’s call it an interesting misfire – check it out if it’s ever on TV. 6/10 stars.

Rushmore (1998)

Synopsis: Failing overachiever befriends Ghostbuster, competes for affections of limey schoolmarm.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket:Rushmore is the story of a gifted, rebellious teenager named Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), a 10th grader at elite Rushmore Academy. Editor of the school newspaper, captain or president of innumerate clubs and societies, Max is also one of the worst students in the school, and the threat of expulsion hangs permanently over his head.”

What Did I Learn?: 1) If your girlfriend thinks you don’t have a wild and crazy side, spend $8 million and build an aquarium for the local private school – that’ll impress her! 2) You never want to piss off somebody who knows how to handle bees.

Really?: 1) Doesn’t a middle-aged, multi-millionaire steel magnate have better things to do with his time than hang out with a 15-year old? 2) If a cute Asian girl followed me around everywhere, I’m pretty sure I’d remember her name.

Rating: Rushmore is a very clever, funny and magnificently-written (Max’s pop culture-inspired plays are priceless) coming-of-age film. Bill Murray is great, but Schwartzman delivers a brilliantly-believable performance as the precocious Max. While I’d love to give it a perfect score, I can’t, only because the script has a few too many cringe-inducing awkward scenes for my taste. 9/10 stars.

Election (1999)

Synopsis: Ferris Bueller grows up to become Mr. Rooney.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Reese Witherspoon plays Tracy Flick, a straight-A go-getter determined to be president of Carver High’s student body. Popular teacher Jim McAllister (Broderick) decides to derail Tracy’s obsessive overachieving by recruiting an opposite candidate. Mr. M. never imagines that stopping Tracy is like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube.”

What Did I Learn?: If you’re going to rig a student election, put any legitimate ballots in your pocket and dispose of them later – for the love of God, don’t throw them in the trash can!

Really?: 1) Reese Witherspoon is obviously an attractive lady, but is she really the seductress type? Do male high school teachers really go for the super-perky, overachieving, cute-but-not-hot girls? 2) Why does Mr. M. give a flying crap about who becomes President of the student council?

Rating: Election is a brilliantly-written and well-acted dark comedy. My only complaints would be that much like Andy Garcia in the Ocean’s Eleven remake, Witherspoon is unlikeable but never becomes much of a villain, while the story veers off into Broderick’s half-assed attempts at an extramarital affair. 8.5/10 stars.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Running Scared (1986)

Salute to Bad Cops Movie #9

Synopsis: Wisecracking detectives protect hard-working Chicagoans through a myriad of felonies and misdemeanors.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Gregory Hines (White Nights) and Billy Crystal of ‘Saturday Night Live’ star in the motion picture that asks the question, ‘How come the bad guys always drive the good cars?’ The answer has them Running Scared in this lightning-paced comic thriller.”

What Did I Learn?: You can create your very own tow-away zone with a can of yellow spray paint and a bit of imagination.

Really?: 1) Spray-on foam does not look like snow. 2) Billy Crystal does not look like a tough Chicago cop. 3) Our heroes get an innocent guy arrested (by a couple of detectives who saved their lives!) because he’s dating Hines’ girlfriend...that’s low.

Rating: I loved this film as a teenager – Running Scared is a great buddy cop film (Hines and Crystal enjoy some excellent comedic chemistry) with a lot of laughs and some thrilling action scenes. As an adult, however, it’s a lot more difficult to sympathize with a couple of assholes who steal a drug dealer’s Mercedes, strong-arm suspects, and use the Bill of Rights for target practice. 8.5/10 stars.