Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Natural (1984)

Synopsis: It’s like a baseball version of Excalibur, except that Redford and “Wonderboy” chop up scoreboards, giant clocks and klieg lamps instead of bloodthirsty Saxons.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Nothing was going to stop Roy Hobbs from fulfilling his boyhood dream of baseball superstardom. Robert Redford stars in this inspiring fable that begins when 14-year old Hobbs (Redford) fashions a powerful bat from a fallen oak tree. He soon impresses major league scouts with his ability, fixing his extraordinary talent in the mind of sportswriter Max Mercy (Robert Duvall) who eventually becomes instrumental in his career. But a meeting with a mysterious woman shatters his dreams.”

What Did I Learn?: If your doctor informs you that playing another baseball game could rupture the lining of your stomach and kill you, and the evil owner of your team wants to pay you 20 grand to sit it out anyway, take the money!!

Really?: 1) So wait...Hobbs’ career was sidetracked for 16 years because some crazy lady shoots him with a silver bullet and then kills herself? Weird stuff happens, but wouldn’t a farming accident or something like that be a little more plausible? 2) I realize the latter part of the film takes place in the late 1930s, but I had no idea you could use your very own home-made sporting goods equipment in a Major League game. Maybe this was before the branding age, but wouldn’t manufacturers have enjoyed exclusive contracts to supply this stuff?

Rating: Seeing The Natural again after a number of years, I must say that it left me with mixed emotions. On the one hand, it’s a beautifully-crafted movie with a number of great scenes and an inspiring message about second chances (Redford is powerful when he gets angry with Wilford Brimley for not using him on the team, and demands an opportunity to show his talent); on the other hand, the villains are cartoonishly evil, Glen Close’s role as Hobbs’ one true love is one-dimensional, and Hobbs is so virtuous and perfect that you know he’ll never take a bribe or sell out. Good film, lots of promise, could have been much better. 7.5/10 stars.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Absolute Power (1997)

(Yup, that’s a Blockbuster Video sticker in the upper-right won’t see too many of those, anymore)

Synopsis: Squinty-eyed jewel thief with a heart of gold finds out Gene Hackman puts the POS in POTUS.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “He was where he shouldn’t have been and saw what he shouldn’t have seen. Now, who will believe the word of a career thief and ex-con? Who will trust  Luther Whitney when he says he saw a woman killed – and that the man responsible for her death is the President of the United States?”

What Did I Learn?: Apparently, if you’re rich and powerful enough, you can barge into the White House without an appointment, stab the President(!) with a letter opener, and the Secret Service will believe you when you claim the Commander-in-Chief decided to kill himself right in front of his oldest mentor.

You Might Like This Movie If: You’re glad this is all a work of fiction; a POTUS would never engage in rough sex, let alone brag about killing someone.

Really?: 1) Why would the President’s Chief of Staff accompany him on one of his romantic trysts if she isn’t involved? Doesn’t she have more important things to do, like...running the White House? 2) What are the odds of two independent assassins – both using high-powered rifles – attempting to kill the same guy at the exact same time, and causing each other to fail? 3) The burglar alarm rings for a good two minutes before Luther (Clint Eastwood) disables it; wouldn’t it still alert the cops or a security company, and wouldn’t a good thief have bypassed it, entirely?

Rating: Absolute Power is an enjoyable, if highly contrived film with a bunch of “Really?” moments. It’s saved from mediocrity (and a lower score) by strong performances by Eastwood, Hackman (who’s wonderful as the uber-slimy Leader of the Free World) and Ed Harris. 6.5/10 stars.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Sphere (1998)

Synopsis: It’s The Abyss! No, wait – it’s Solaris! No wait, it’s Dustin Hoffman freaking out over killer jellyfish, poisonous sea snakes and a giant squid.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Far below the surface in the mid-Pacific, US officials have isolated what may be the greatest discovery in human history. They’ve found a huge spacecraft that plunged into the depths – 300 years ago.”

What Did I Learn?: You can’t make a trip into a black hole without smokehouse almonds.

Really?: 1) People have the power to magically “forget” a mind-altering experience? 2) Funny how nobody seems terribly interested in the spaceship after the first 30 minutes or there a reason it crash-landed in 1709, or did that simply happen after it flew through a black hole? 3) So, a psychologist who admits he wrote a bullshit paper on encountering extraterrestrial life does a better job of breaking a code than an astrophysicist with PhDs up the yin-yang? 4) Funny how Hoffman never develops hypothermia, let alone seems cold, after he does that deep-sea dive without a wetsuit.

Rating: Sphere starts out well, loses a lot of steam when the supporting characters are bumped off, and finally ends with a whimper. While it’s fun to watch Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone and Samuel L. Jackson interact, the latter half of the film is the three of them getting “attacked” over and over again by giant sea creatures, and there’s never any explanation of the sphere or where it might have come from. 5.5/10 stars.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Abyss (1989)

Synopsis: Undersea divers go deeper than Shirley MacLean on a bad acid trip.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “When divers from a deep-sea oil rig are called in to help with the rescue of a nuclear submarine, their perilous mission becomes a wondrous odyssey into the unknown after they make contact with a mysterious force living on the ocean floor.”

What Did I Learn?: If you wish to re-start somebody’s heart from extreme hypothermia, none of your efforts will succeed until you scream a pep talk into their ear.

You Might Like This Movie If: You love the idea of being surrounded by water.

Really?: So wait...the good guys are deep-sea drillers for a multi-national oil company, and the villains are Navy SEALS who go nutso underwater?

Rating: The Abyss is a solid science fiction-action-thriller, with great special effects, genuine suspense and good performances from Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, but especially from Michael Biehn as the insane SEAL team leader. My complaints would be that the film is far too long (171 minutes!),  and the conflict within it is based on the dubious notion of a Navy SEAL cracking under the pressure of a deep-sea dive. It's a good movie that could have used a re-write and some editing. 7.5/10 stars.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

My Blue Heaven (1990)

(This would have been an interesting choice for my blog’s tribute to gangster films a few months ago. My Blue Heaven is loosely based upon the memoirs of Henry Hill, whose mafia exploits were made into a very different movie).

Synopsis: It’s Goodfellas Part II! Except that it’s hackneyed, unconvincing, poorly written, and dumbed-down.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Can an urban hood adjust to suburbanhood? The FBI’s Witness Protection Program is turned funnyside up when Parenthood stars Steve Martin and Rick Moranis play mob informant Vinnie Antonelli and FBI agent Barney Coopersmith in the criminally comic My Blue Heaven.”

What Did I Learn?: Mobsters are warm, generous people with hearts of gold and a zest for life, while law enforcement officials are cold, humourless and uptight.

You Might Like This Movie If: You’re looking for a smooth pick-up line.

Really?: I realize this movie is a comedy, but: 1) Do American DA’s interrogate felony suspects, and are FBI agents able to act as counsel in criminal cases? 2) Not many men would mow their lawn while wearing a sharkskin suit. 3) Couldn’t Hannah’s ex-husband have Barney charged for assault and battery? (and is Hannah the type to approve of strongarm tactics?) 4) So wait... Vinnie decides to live openly under his real name even though every wiseguy in the country wants to take a shot at him?

Rating: While I’m a fan of Steve Martin’s straight-man roles (think Planes, Trains, and Automobiles), I find him unbearable when he shifts into wild-and-crazy-guy mode and tries to play a “character”. Martin grossly overacts and presents a whitewashed, musical-comedy version of the Mafia. That’s just the beginning of problems with My Blue Heaven: the script is lame, the jokes aren’t funny (Rick Moranis forgets to unhook his seatbelt before exiting the car – ha ha), and the ending is atrocious. I might have given this movie a slightly higher rating, but my ears are still smarting from the horrible merengue music that gets repeated too many times. I hate this movie and I cannot recommend it. 4/10 stars.

Cohen and Tate (1989)

(Somebody wanted $11.99 for this turd of a film? Wow...)

Synopsis: The shittiest road trip since somebody crash-tested the Ford Pinto.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Meet Cohen and Tate. Two Mafia hit men who don’t exactly hit it off. Cohen (Roy Scheider) is an old pro, a cold-blooded killer who’s all business. Tate (Adam Baldwin) is a young hothead who kills for fun. Together, they kidnap 9-year old Travis Knight, an eyewitness to a recent mob rub out. Now, they’ve got 24 hours to deliver him to Houston for interrogation. And elimination.”

What Did I Learn?: A really awful joke: what’s the last thing that goes through a bug’s mind when he smacks into a windshield? Its ass.

Really?: Let’s say you’re a professional hitman, you’ve kidnapped a 9-year old witness to a mob murder and you have a long drive to Houston ahead of you. If the kid asks if he’s being transported to face torture and certain death, why the fuck would you even think about telling him the truth if you want him to behave?

Rating: Roy Scheider gives an impressive performance in a thoroughly unimpressive film. Cohen and Tate is a character-driven drama that’s populated with characters who are either completely unlikeable (the two hitmen) or completely unbelievable (a 9-year old Iago who knows how to play one off against the other? Sorry - I ain't buying that one). I was expecting a bit more development, or for one of the hitmen to have a “what am I doing?” moment, but that never happens. I cannot recommend this movie. 4/10 stars.

Monday, May 21, 2012

48 HRS (1982)

Synopsis: Grumpy detective and fresh-out-of-the-slammer bullshit artist struggle to form a single clean, non-X-rated sentence during two day “turd hunt.”

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy make one of the most unusual and entertaining teams ever in Walter Hill’s roller-coaster thriller, 48 Hours. Nolte is a rough-edged cop after two vicious cop-killers. He can’t do it without the help of smooth and dapper Murphy, who is serving time for a half-million dollar robbery.”

What Did I Learn?: Apparently, flashing a police badge entitles the owner to break into people’s homes without a warrant, seize hotel registry information, smash up a redneck bar and harass the patrons, shrug off parking tickets, drive recklessly (and drunk) and get into fistfights on the street.

Really?: 1) So wait...Cates (Nolte) hands his gun over to a hardened killer even though it’s the only thing  preventing said killer and his buddy from wasting everyone in the hotel lobby? Couldn’t Cates have defused the situation by saying: “get out of here”? 2) Is there some reason why Ganz and Billy Bear steal an empty bus, aside from setting up a cool car-bus chase? 3) Doesn’t Cates ever need a good night’s sleep or a clean shirt? 4) I had a hard time believing Cates would still be on the job after his boss discovers he forged documents to get a convict out of jail on a 48 hour pass.

Rating: 48 HRS is still a fun action-comedy (although it’s far more bang-bang than ha-ha), even after thirty years; Nolte and a very young Eddie Murphy share some undeniable chemistry, as well as a lot of foul-mouthed dialogue. The movie is much rougher around the edges than Beverly Hills Cop or Murphy’s other later films, there’s a lot of racism and gratuitous violence, and neither he nor Nolte are all that likeable, so it’s not for everyone. 8/10 stars.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Galaxy Quest (1999)

Star Trek Film Fest Movie #9 (Haha – just kidding)

Synopsis: Home Improvement guy out-Shatners the Shat.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “For four years, the courageous crew of the NSEA Protector - ‘Commander Peter Quincy Taggert’ (TIM ALLEN), ‘Lt. Tawny Madison’ (SIGOURNEY WEAVER) and ‘Dr. Lazarus’ (ALAN RICKMAN) – set off on thrilling and often dangerous missions in space...and then their series was cancelled! Now twenty years later, aliens under attack have mistaken the Galaxy Quest television transmissions for ‘historical documents’ and beamed up the crew of has-been actors to save the universe.”

What Did I Learn?: Nerds are extremely useful - be nice to them.

You Might Like This Movie If: You enjoy watching behind-the-scenes bickering among science fiction co-stars.  

Really?: 1)’s a good thing nobody is hurt during that rather violent crash-landing near the end of the movie. Considering the spaceship destroys a number of parked cars and smashes a huge hole in the convention centre, and everyone thinks it’s a big publicity stunt, I’m surprised nobody goes to jail for reckless endangerment, or gets sued. 2) Why doesn’t Rickman remove his prosthetic headpiece when he’s at home?

Rating: Galaxy Quest is a funny and thoroughly entertaining send-up of Star Trek. Allen and Weaver are great, although Rickman nearly steals the show as a frustrated and typecast actor stuck playing a variation of Mr. Spock. My only complaint would be that the film focuses a bit too much time on the action and special effects, and not enough on character development; the fictional cast obviously have many problems with Allen’s character at the beginning of the film, and yet they’re all magically resolved by the end after their adventure. Galaxy Quest is a good film that could have been even better. 8/10 stars.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Star Trek 25th Anniversary Special (1991)

Star Trek Film Fest Movie #8 (Ha – I guess you were expecting Star Trek First Contact? Well, I don’t own any Next Generation films, I don’t particularly like any of them, and I have no plans to actually write reviews for them). This TV special was recorded by an old buddy of mine in 1991, and the videotape even includes vintage commercials – especially car company ads.  

Synopsis: Kirk and Spock host a clip show.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: N/A “Voyage through a celebrated past and into an exciting future!” [Taken from]

What Did I Learn?: You could purchase a quarter chicken dinner from Swiss Chalet for $5.95 in 1991 ($4.44 in the US), and they threw in your choice of soup, salad or pie.

You Might Like This Movie If: You think Shatner and Nimoy are at their very best when they act as corporate whores.

Really?: LeVar Burton seems like a nice guy, but why did somebody tack one of his Reading Rainbow segments of Burton receiving NASA training onto this turkey? And an interview with then-Vice President (and NASA Chairman) Dan Quayle? What was Producer Donald R. Beck thinking?

Rating: The Star Trek 25th Anniversary Special is atrocious. It’s an hour and a half of Shatner and Nimoy introducing clips from the movies and TV shows (usually with an awful joke or two), and then cutting to interviews with Trek-savvy celebrities. You won’t learn a thing about Star Trek except that it had a really, really, really, really profound impact on American culture, because... that’s what all of them tell us. The special is designed to “sell” Star Trek the Undiscovered County (and maybe encourage dumb Americans to rent Shatner’s Final Frontier turkey), and it gets old, fast. 2/10 stars.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Star Trek Generations (1994)

Star Trek Film Fest Movie #7

Synopsis: Over-the-hill macho egomaniac and sensitive bald guy join forces to save the galaxy, or something.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “During a perilous rescue attempt, Kirk is swept out into space. Seven decades later, Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and the crew of the Enterprise-D rescue an El Aurian physicist named Soran (Malcolm McDowell). Unbeknownst to Picard, Soran harbours a deadly plan that includes the destruction of the Enterprise and millions of lives. Now Picard’s only hope for a future rests within the Nexus... and a legendary captain from the past.”

What Did I Learn?: It might not be a great idea to send a ship into space when nearly everything it needs will arrive next Tuesday.

Really?: 1) Gee... they certainly have to drag Picard and Kirk out of the Nexus (described by Whoopi Goldberg as the “centre of joy” that nobody ever wishes to leave) kicking and screaming, don’t they? 2) Scaffolding? The guy who survived a Klingon gulag, and defeated Khan, “God”, Trelaine, V’ger, Harry Mudd, Space Nazis and a dumptruck full of Romulans and Klingons gets iced by scaffolding?  

Rating: Star Trek Generations starts out well but ends very, very badly. The film is basically an extended Next Generation episode, and while it features both legendary captains on the VHS jacket, there isn’t a whole lot of Kirk until the last 20 minutes or so. Ordinarily, I’d give Generations 6.5 stars (it’s an ok action flick, although Data’s light-hearted emotion chip become tiresome, quickly), yet I don’t think there was any need to kill off Captain Kirk, and the movie does so in a truly piss-poor manner (I don’t think I’m giving away any spoilers – this is fairly common knowledge). I’m still angry about it. 5.5/10 stars.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

Star Trek Film Fest Movie #6

Synopsis: Jim and Leonard’s Bogus Journey

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “After years at war, the Federation and the Klingon empire prepare for a peace summit. But the prospect of intergalactic glasnost with sworn enemies is an alarming one to Captain Kirk (William Shatner). ‘They’re animals!’ he warns.”

What Did I Learn?: Same thing I learned from Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith – a bit of prosthetic makeup is all that’s needed to turn talented thespians like Christopher Plumber or Ian McDairmid into hammy, over-acting buffoons.  

Really?: 1) The crew uses printed Klingon-English dictionaries to transmit a response to a lazy Klingon outpost? I thought printed books were a rarity in the 23rd Century, and why doesn’t the Communications Officer know how to speak such an important language? 2) Why is the Romulan Ambassador standing in the Federation President’s office as Starfleet pitches a daring rescue mission? 3) I had no idea the Enterprise bridge crew were such a band of bigots until I watched this movie. 4) So wait...Spock goes behind Kirk’s back to sign him up for this mission, knowing full well Kirk still blames them for the death of his son? What a pal. 5) Why does Christopher Plumber randomly quote Shakespeare ("in the original Klingon") throughout the film? Does he suffer from Stratford Festival flashbacks?

Rating: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is a better film than the Final Frontier, but that ain’t sayin’ much. I’ve never particularly liked this movie...The Undiscovered Country is joyless, the cast is way too old to be Star Trekking, it lacks the familiar Kirk-Spock-Bones banter, and it’s a very thinly disguised “let’s all get along” parable about the end of the Cold War (Gorkon = Gorbachev...gee, that’s clever). I should have left this movie undiscovered. 6/10 stars.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

Star Trek Film Fest Movie #5

Synopsis: The Star Trek gang finds “God” be a real dick.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “It’s Stardate 8454.130 and vacationing Captain Kirk faces two challenges: climbing Yosemite’s El Capitan and teaching campfire songs to Spock.”

What Did I Learn?: Michelle Nicholls (Uhura) performing a semi-nude fan dance:  sexy in 1969, cringe-inducing in 1989.  

Really?: 1) Gee...that “Great Barrier” at the Centre of the Universe was a bit of a dud. I wonder how they made it through. 2) I realize the Enterprise is manned by a skeleton crew, but how does Sybok gain control of the ship so easily? Is everyone standing around, passively? 3) Fart jokes? A Star Trek movie is resorting to fart jokes?  4) Even if that alien dude at the end isn’t really God, it’s a bit of a letdown to see him bite the dust after taking a couple of proton torpedos to the head.

Rating: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is one, long William Shatner ego trip; not only does he direct, but he gives himself the best lines, and most of the heroics. Nearly everything about this movie is wrong: the special effects are sub-par, the pacing is inconsistent, the storyline meshes poorly with Voyage Home-style comedy, and the characters become caricatures...Sulu gets lost in the woods? Scotty bonks his head on a metal beam? Uhura...well, let’s not bring up that fan dance, again. I’m barely recommending this movie only because Laurence Luckinbill provides a wonderful performance as Sybok, and I liked the interplay between Kirk, Spock and Bones. 5.5/10 stars.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

Star Trek Film Fest Movie #4

Synopsis: It’s a bit like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off with whales and a spaceship.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The most acclaimed and, without a doubt, the most intriguing Star Trek adventure of all time. It’s the 23rd Century, and a mysterious alien power is threatening Earth by evaporating the oceans and destroying the atmosphere. In their frantic attempt to save mankind, Kirk and his crew must time travel back to 1986 San Francisco where they find a world of punk, pizza and exact-change busses that are as alien as anything they’ve ever encountered in the far reaches of the galaxy.”

What Did I Learn?: The words “double dumbass on you” wouldn’t offend anyone.

Really?: 1) Hmmm...a strange probe comes to Earth and blasts a message that cannot be answered – that’s a plot from Star Trek the Motion Picture!! 2) Everyone seems rather blasé about leaving behind Chekhov’s phaser and communicator, taking Jillian back the 23rd Century, and providing the formula for an advanced chemical compound. 3) So wait...Scotty and Bones place an order for sheets of synthetic aluminum – a material completely new to 1986 – and that order can be completed and delivered the very next morning??! 4) I don’t suppose anyone would notice a cloaked Klingon Bird of Prey in the middle of a city park.

Rating: The Voyage Home is the most atypical of the Star Trek films: there’s no villain, no real fight/action scenes, and it’s basically a science fiction comedy. The movie has many wonderful moments (Kirk and Spock dealing with an obnoxious young punk on the bus, is a perfect example), but the fun is partially offset by one of Star Trek’s less endearing traits (to me, anyway): its smug, trendy urban snobbishness. The Voyage Home has a few too many “I can’t believe they’re still using [fossil fuels, kidney dialysis, nuclear fission, money, brain surgery, etc....]!” scenes, and while I sympathize with its save-the-whales message, I’ve always found something a bit distasteful about Hollywood big-shots looking down upon working-class whalers trying to make a living. 8/10 stars.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984)

Star Trek Film Fest Movie #3

Synopsis: It’s Star Trek! Except...there’s no Spock, the Enterprise blows up, and everyone is old and fat.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Admiral Kirk’s defeat of Khan and the creation of the Genesis planet are empty victories. Spock is dead and McCoy is being driven insane. Then an unexpected visit from Sarek, Spock’s father, provides a startling revelation: McCoy is harboring Spock’s living essence.”

What Did I Learn?: Short people do not appreciate being addressed as “Tiny”.

Really?: 1) Is it possible to operate a Federation starship with a Captain and crew of four? 2) It’s funny how Spock’s rapid aging stops right around the point at which he looks like Leonard Nimoy, circa 1984. 3) I have to wonder if Kruge has morale problems on his ship; I mean he kills one of his officers after dude makes an honest mistake. 4) Does the last remaining Klingon beam up Kirk thinking he’s Kruge, or has Saavik taken control of the Bird of Prey? This is a bit unclear...

Rating: The Search for Spock isn’t a terrible film, but it is something of a letdown after The Wrath of Khan. The vital chemistry between Kirk, Spock and McCoy is missing (for an obvious reason), so the story depends more upon Sulu, Chekhov and Uhuru, who aren’t that interesting. Moreover, it’s obvious that Roddenberry and company had no idea how to end this movie, so...the planet explodes! Kirk and Kruge have a fist-fight! And then the last ten minutes are just hokey, anti-climactic and dull. 6.5/10 stars.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Star Trek Film Fest Movie #2

Synopsis: Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The Federation Starship USS Enterprise is on routine training manoeuvres, and Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) seems resigned to the fact that this inspection may well be the last space mission of his career. But Khan is back.”

What Did I Learn?: If I ever somehow seize control of a Federation starship, my very first act will be to change its Prefix Code.

You Might Like This Movie If: You know what you like in a starship...or in a fine, vintage Chrysler. (Ha – and you thought I was going to post this! Oops – I mean this.)

Really?: 1) So wait...that worm/eel creature (which presumably needs a warm source of food and shelter) crawls out of Chekhov’s ear simply because he doesn’t want to kill Kirk? And then Kirk fries the little sucker with his phaser even though nobody knows what it might be, or what sort of damage it might have done to Chekhov’s brain? 2) Kirk cheated on a test and Starfleet gave him a commendation for original thinking? If the Kobayashi Maru is in fact a test of “character”, what does re-programming it say about Kirk’s?

Rating: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a huge improvement over Star Trek the Motion Picture, and you can call it adventure with a capital A. The film works on many levels (Ricardo Montalban is fantastic as the scenery-chewing Khan), although it sorely lacks a real face-to-face interaction between Kirk and Khan. 8.5/10 stars.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Star Trek the Motion Picture (1979)

Star Trek Film Fest Movie #1 (Dear Lord...they made a Longer Version?!?!)

Synopsis: 1960s ham actors are taken out of mothballs to fight giant space cloud.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “A special effects bonanza that earned STAR TREK – THE MOTION PICTURE an Academy Award nomination, the dazzling, refurbished USS Enterprise soars proudly once again in this ultimate space adventure.

What Did I Learn?: 1) Guys in the 23rd century apparently really, really dig bald chicks. 2) Mankind must never, ever send any more unmanned probes into deep space.

You Might Like This Movie If: You believe William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy did their finest work in the 1970s.

Really?: 1) How many different uniforms does Kirk own? And why does he, Spock, Bones and Decker take the time to change outfits before they exit the ship to meet V’Ger? 2) It’s rather convenient that Spock is in telepathic contact with V’Ger even before the Enterprise is assigned to investigate, and that he’s available to serve as Science Officer after an unfortunate teleporter accident. 3) For an experienced Starfleet officer, Kirk provides the absolute worst pep talk to his crew that I’ve ever seen on screen. 4) I have a hard time believing Dr. McCoy is the kind of guy who would wear a big, gold medallion with an unbuttoned shirt.

Rating: I hate to diss Star Trek the Motion Picture, as it’s the most intellectual and ideas-based of the Star Trek films, but it’s not a great film. Far too much time is wasted on long and pointless aerial shots of the Enterprise flying in space or in spacedock (I have a funny feeling Gene Roddenberry finally had a decent special effects budget, and decided to go nuts with it). And while the later Trek movies became dumbed-down action flicks, very little actually occurs in STTMP – certain scenes such as the Enterprise flying into a wormhole seem contrived and unconvincing. Overall, meh. 6.5/10 stars.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Blade Runner (1982)

Synopsis: Grumpy android-killer realizes he doesn’t like his job, and never has enough good sense to get out of the rain.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) prowls the steel-and-microchip jungle of 21rst-century Los Angeles. He’s a ‘blade runner’ stalking genetically made criminal replicants. His assignment: kill them. Their crime: wanting to be human.”

What Did I Learn?: We’re only seven years away from enjoying off-world colonies, flying cars and extremely loud and invasive zeppelin ads in Japanese.

Really?: 1) So, if Deckard is actually a replicant, why didn’t the cops “retire” him after he quit the police force? 2) It’s 2019, and people are still using payphones and smoking indoors. 3) How does Batty (Rutger Hauer) know Deckard’s name during the final chase scene?

Rating: Blade Runner is a science fiction masterpiece. The film offers a visually stunning vision of the future (or Yonge-Dundas Square!) as well as a suspenseful storyline, several strong performances and some hauntingly beautiful moments (the scene when Deckard informs Rachel her memories actually those of Tyrell’s niece will stay with me for a long time). Highly recommended. 10/10 stars.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Duets (2000)

Synopsis: It’s like a low-rent American Idol Goes On the Road...and the climax is a karaoke contest in Omaha, Nebraska.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “This Offbeat Road Trip Delivers Fun...And Profits! Sizzling Star Power!” [Full-length screener for video retailers]

What Did I Learn?: You can get a station wagon painted cotton-candy pink for just under $175, or a blowjob.

Really?: 1) Up until the final shootout with the cops(!) Duets is a light-hearted and fun little movie. Couldn’t the writers have thought of a less drastic/jarring means of arriving at a storyline resolution? 2) Is there any such thing is a karaoke hustler?

Rating: Duets is an entertaining, yet forgettable piece of fluff; it tells the story of six people who travel across the American West to various karaoke contests. The music isn’t bad (and Huey Lewis shows some surprising acting chops), and the film contains some funny moments, but the characters and dialogue often seem contrived and artificial, and I was expecting a bit more interaction between the three groupings of main characters. 6.5/10 stars.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Man Who Loved Women (1983)

Synopsis: Middle-aged stud loves women sooooooooooooooooooooooo much, he becomes an emotional basketcase. Yeah, whatever...

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “A Los Angeles playboy, renowned for his fast and loose lovelife, runs head-on into a mid-life crisis in this uproarious Blake Edwards comedy starring Burt Reynolds and Julie Andrews. David Fowler (Reynolds) has two passions, sculpting and women, and he’s been quite successful in both departments until now. David finds that his insatiable hunger for women begins to render him socially, artistically and finally, sexually impotent.”

What Did I Learn?: If you want a strange woman to call you, smash her tail-light and leave a note with your phone number.

Really?: So wait...Marilu Henner agrees to sleep with Burt even after it’s obvious he’s been stalking her, and he damaged her car? WTF?

Rating: Ugh. Following his success with the Pink Panther flicks, Blake Edwards made a string of unfunny, and self-indulgent semi-autobiographical movies about rich, middle-aged men who want to bang an endless series of hot chicks, and The Man Who Loved Women is one of those films. Reynolds does his best with the script (there is one sort-of-amusing scene of him crazy-glued to a yappy dog and several carpet patches), but there’s no chemistry between him and Julie Andrews, and the musical score is just dreadful. I cannot recommend this movie. 5/10 stars.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Clean and Sober (1988)

Dang! This movie would have been perfect for my “addiction” theme last year.

Synopsis: Disreputable dopehead Daryl does detox.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “No doubt about it, Michael Keaton is a funny guy. His starring roles in Night Shift, Mr. Mom and Beetlejuice prove it. So what happens when Keaton tackles his first dramatic role? No doubt about it, he turns in his best performance yet.”

What Did I Learn?: Asking fellow addicts if they will agree to be your Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor is a great way to pick up chicks.

You Might Like This Movie If: You know that cokeheads are nothing but trouble.

Really?: So wait...dude is trying to evade both his boss (from whom he embezzled $52K) and the cops, so he goes into a rehab program even though he loves his coke habit? Couldn’t he simply get into his car and drive to Vegas, or something?

Rating: Clean and Sober isn’t a fun movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it boasts some excellent performances (especially from Keaton’ll never forget the scene when he phones his parents and asks them to place a second mortgage on the family home) and it provides a valuable look at cocaine addiction and rehab. Good movie, but Act III is a bit weak, as Daryl (Keaton) more-or-less gets a grip on his problems and spends the rest of his time trying to rescue a fellow addict. 7.5/10 stars.

For a Few Lousy Dollars (1998)

Synopsis: It’s just like Pulp Fiction...except the dialogue is weak, the acting sucks, and the soundtrack consists almost entirely of songs written-and-or-performed by Peter Allen and Evan Taylor.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Three friends, Danny, Theo and Zack, are about to commit the heist of their lives – holding up a restaurant which they know is run by the local mob. Their friend Franky tipped them off about a large gambling stash that was supposed to be in the restaurant – but when the boys show up the loot isn’t there and Tony, the Mob boss is!”

What Did I Learn?: If you’re going to hold up a pizzeria that’s actually a mob front, for the love of God, wear a mask, and take a piss before you leave the house.  

Really?: 1) Apparently, the local crime boss spends his days making pizzas in a local Italian eatery. 2) Funny how the not-so-tough local losers (one guy’s a vegetarian, for crying out loud!) become cold-blooded killers by the end of the movie.

Rating: In spite of its title, For a Few Lousy Dollars has nothing to do with Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns; instead, it’s a tribute (some might call it a rip-off) to Quentin Tarantino’s body of work up until the mid-1990s. Alas, FAFLD isn’t terribly clever or exciting, much of the acting is sub-par (Judd Nelson is one of the few exceptions, and he looks embarrassed to be that why he’s listed in the credits as “Midnight Runner”?), and the film sorely lacks Tarantino’s knack for writing true-to-life, pop culture-influenced dialogue; the villains discuss the merits of Melrose Place, for instance, and nobody has anything particularly interesting to say about it. I cannot recommend this movie. 5/10 stars.