Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Summer Rental (1985)

Please click the link to read my review of the somewhat similar film, The Great Outdoors.

Synopsis: It’s basically 86 minutes of John Candy getting smacked in the nuts before he wins the big regatta.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Comedy sensation John Candy plays the stressed-out air traffic controller whose much-needed family holiday yields one hysterical misadventure after another – from settling into his hovel, to settling down on a ‘party’ beach, to settling the score on a nut at sea. The fun’s in the sun, and so’s the moral: taking it easy is tougher than landing a 747.”

What Did I Learn?: If an insecure woman flashes her fake boobs in your face, and her fed-up husband asks you to give them a feel, just smile and tell her they look perfect.

Really?: 1) So, John Candy leaves the door to his run-down summer rental home open for what...20 minutes, and the place is suddenly infested with freeloaders? 2) What the hell is John Laroquette doing in a bit part in this movie? Was he part of some deleted subplot about Candy’s wife cheating on him? 3) Why would Scully (Rip Torn) agree to throw his freezer and all the food overboard when they constitute his livelihood? And if the extra weight was holding them back, why on Earth would Candy agree to bring his wife and kids along for the big race?

Rating: Summer Rental delivers some solid, if-low-brow laughs (the scene of an injured Candy experiencing a meltdown as he kicks the freeloaders out of his beach home – and then describes an episode of “The Smurfs” to a fat slob – is comedic gold!) but it’s not a good movie. The first hour or so consists of Candy injuring himself in a series of unfortunate incidents, followed by a highly-contrived and completely unbelievable boat race. Let’s just say that the late, great John Candy was the best thing in this turkey and leave it at that. 6/10 stars.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

Synopsis: Denzel is nuts, Liev Shreiber is smarmy, and Meryl Streep is Hilary Clinton on crack.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “everything is under control.” [Sorry – that’s it. The rest consists of film reviews]

What Did I Learn?: If you want to convince somebody there’s a giant conspiracy involving mind control and computer chips implanted into kidnapped American servicemen, you might want to staple some of those loose-leaf pages, or put them in a three-ring binder, first.

Really?: 1) So wait – Raymond Shaw is a Congressman, and about to become Vice President – and his Mom orders him to act as a hitman, and kill a US Senator in plain view in the middle of a river? I realize the Manchurian Corporation execs give Streep a hard time about this decision in the film, but it still smells like bullshit to me. Wouldn’t she have access to dozens of qualified shooters who could have done the job? 2) Why does Marco act against his programming at the end of the movie? Does Shaw re-program him with different orders? If so, Jonathan Demme should have explained it to the audience. 3) Why would Marco turn away Corporal Melvin when he tells him about the weird dreams he’s having, when Marco has had the same dreams for years? 4) It’s an un-written rule in US politics that a bachelor can’t get elected President, or chosen for the Number Two slot on a Presidential ticket. There’s no way Shaw would get picked. 5) So wait...Marco/Denzel is a US Army Major, and he doesn’t realize that the microchip that falls down the sink is easily retrievable by unscrewing a pipe? Come on...

Rating: The Manchurian Candidate is a pretty good psycho-thriller, but it pales in comparison to the original in a number of respects. While the Frankenheimer version included some very clever political satire about McCarthyism, the remake is practically humourless, and the political scenes (devoid of party identifiers, and chock full of ESPN-style TV graphics) are over-the-top and never sound terribly real. Similarly, when Shaw murders Senator Jordan and Jocelyn in the first film, the realization of what he’s done ruins him – in this version, the act is mostly devoid of meaning because we never see any interaction between Shaw and Jocelyn. While I recommend watching The Manchurian Candidate, I can’t give it a great rating. 6.5/10 stars.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Synopsis: Godless, brainwashing commies learn you don’t fuck with Old Blue Eyes.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Ask Major Bennett (Frank Sinatra) and he’ll say that Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) is a hero worthy of the Medal of Honor. But despite what he says, Marco suspects otherwise. A bizarre, recurring nightmare gives him the uneasy feeling that Shaw is something less than heroic and far more insidious. Is it possible that Shaw is a traitor? Can Marco convince the Army of his suspicions?”

What Did I Learn?: Hot chicks are easily approachable on long train rides. Oh wait – I learned that from Silver Streak.

Really?: 1) Come on...what are the odds that Jocelyn would choose to wear a Queen of Diamonds costume to the party and she’s not in on the conspiracy? 2) I had a great deal of trouble believing a mother – even one who is estranged from her son – would use him as an assassin. And WTF was up with that incestuous kiss?! 2) What was up with that weird conversation between Marco (Sinatra) and Eugenie (Janet Leigh) when they meet on the train – it sounds like she’s throwing codewords at him to reactivate his mental programming? 4) Once Army Intelligence has determined Shaw has been brainwashed, wouldn’t he be under constant surveillance? It’s amazing how Marco essentially leaves him alone for long stretches of time.

Rating: Roger Ebert was right – while The Manchurian Candidate is now 50 years old, it doesn’t feel like a “classic” movie so much as a timeless thriller. The film is well-acted (Sinatra is awesome as Major Marco, but I’ll never watch Murder She Wrote the same way again after Angela Lansbury’s magnificent performance as one evil bitch), well-directed by John Frankenheimer, and suspenseful. Unfortunately, the film drags a little in the middle, the pre-war flashbacks were excessive (and I was about ready to throw something at the TV screen if Harvey/Shaw said “loveable” one more time) and there was a bit too much “my dear Sergei” interaction among the communists. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Hard Core Logo (1996)

Synopsis: It’s the shittiest tour of Western Canada since John Turner, circa 1984.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Despite personal differences, former band mates of the legendary but now defunct punk band, HARD CORE LOGO, reunite for a benefit concert for their aging punk mentor. The enormous success of this benefit gig prompts a reunion tour. On stage, the HARD CORES are brilliant. However, as the tour unfolds, the band’s old, buried tensions erupt and the boys are faced with the fact that they cannot relive nor alter the past.”

What Did I Learn?: If you’re planning an evening’s entertainment of martinis and an acid trip for a punk band, it’s a good idea to make sure there aren’t any goats nearby.

You Might Like This Movie If: you have a thing for strong, durable logos.

Really?: I had a great deal of trouble believing Billy (or Pipefitter, or John Oxenberger) would continue on this ill-advised, last-gasp tour after they discover the hole in the van floor. I had even more trouble believing they would press on after discovering the club in Winnipeg had shut down.

Rating: Hard Core Logo is essentially a 1990s, Canadian punk rock version of This is Spinal Tap. It’s a smart, often-funny, character-driven tale of aging musicians who should have packed it in years earlier. The only reason I can’t give this film ten stars is that none of the characters is terribly likeable, while “Joe Dick” certainly lives up to his stage name. Still, highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Night Moves (1975)

Synopsis: Gene Hackman is a hard-boiled private detective hot on the trail of a missing heiress... but who cares about his casework when we can focus on his personal problems?

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Some things come with the territory. Take movie detectives, for example. We expect our world-weary hero to get the girl, solve the mystery, holster his still-warm .38 and, before the smoke clears, tie up all the loose ends and slug down a shot of rye. Private Investigator Harry Moseby wishes life were so simple.”

What Did I Learn?: In 1973 (the year Night Moves was filmed) Melanie Griffith looked amazing topless.

You Might Like This Movie If: You make your best moves at night.

Really?: 1) I love it when movie and TV private eyes continue to investigate their cases long after they have been paid by their clients. Come on – does anyone really do that? 2) Wow...what are the odds of accidentally stumbling upon a dead body that has been buried at sea?

Rating: Night Moves is a cleverly-written, and very well-acted quasi-detective story that puts a lot of emphasis on Hackman’s personal and marital problems (without much resolution, by the way). Hackman is impressive as the self-loathing Moseby, and the movie features early performances from Griffith, and from Schuster at the Movies’ favourite unlikeable guy, James Woods. Unfortunately, Night Moves is marred by a VERY slow pace, and a hit-and-miss movie soundtrack that’s simply awful in places. 8/10 stars.

Monday, July 23, 2012

It Seemed Like a Good Idea At the Time (1975)

Synopsis: It’s a John Candy movie Newley and Isaac Hayes.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Sweeney (Anthony Newley) is a desperate artist. He is desperate for money. He’s desperate for fame, and he is desperately in love with his gold-digging ex-wife, Georgie (Stefanie Powers). Sweeney crashes receptions, kidnaps the mayor, impersonates a trashman, and dodges his mother-in-law’s bullets, all to gain Georgie’s affection... and $1,000,000 cash from her current husband!”

What Did I Learn?: In spite of the VHS jacket, John Candy only has a bit part in this movie, he doesn’t appear until perhaps an hour has passed, and doesn’t say much when he’s on-screen.

Really?: 1) So, the police captain doesn’t recognize the men under his command? 2) Why does Sweeney take such a dislike to Burton even though he has no particular reason to do so?

Rating: It Seemed Like a Good Idea At the Time is a terrible movie. It’s basically a low-budget, Canadian (the characters drink Labatt 50 out of stubbies!) teen sex/gross-out comedy featuring 40-something actors. The plot is nonsensical, the dialogue is awful, and Yvonne DeCarlo’s subplot seems tacked-on. That said, Newley does have a strange, roguish charm, even if his character is far too obnoxious to be even remotely likable, and some of the scenes of him with Stefanie Powers or Hayes are fun. Watch It Seemed Like a Good Idea At the Time only if you’re determined to watch every John Candy film in existence, or if you’re desperate for Can-con. I cannot recommend this movie. 4/10 stars.

Would It Work For a BAD MOVIE NIGHT?: Alas, I tried to screen it years ago, and my guests couldn’t watch more than about 30 minutes.  

The real star of this cinematic disaster.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Affliction (1998)

Oops – this is embarrassing. I WAS going to review all three “Crocodile” Dundee films, but the Croc II tape wouldn’t play in my VHS machine. I own Croc III, and I’ll review it as soon as I pick up a copy of the first sequel. (Quite honestly, I’m not a big fan of those movies, and I wasn’t exactly looking forward to reviewing them).

Synopsis: Nick Nolte and James Coburn get drunk and growl at each other.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “When events shatter the quiet of his small town life, divorced father Wade Whitehouse (Nick Nolte) is forced to confront his abusive past and re-examine his life. Determined to fill the emptiness, he must either stand tall against his childhood demons or fall victim to his father’s abusive ways.”

What Did I Learn?: If your brother is hitting the sauce pretty hard and obviously descending into some sort of mental breakdown, it might not be a great idea to feed his paranoia by validating his conspiracy theories about people in town. Just sayin’, Willem Dafoe...

Really?: 1) If I found out my Mom had frozen to death because Dad was constantly plastered and never got around to fixing the furnace, I’m pretty sure that a fist or two would fly,. afterwards. 2) Wow...does New Hampshire get that much snow around Halloween?!?!

Rating: James Coburn won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of an old, abusive drunk in Affliction, but Nolte should have taken home the Best Actor statuette. Somehow, the audience continues to sympathize and identify with Wade, even when it becomes obvious he’s losing it. Affliction is a rather slow-moving, but good movie when it finally gets going. 8/10 stars.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"Crocodile" Dundee (1986)

Crocodile Dundee Movie #1

Synopsis: He was Australia’s most embarrassing export until Mel Gibson could no longer hold his liquor.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Paul Hogan’s endearing performance made Crocodile Dundee the biggest box office comedy smash of 1986! ‘Crocodile’ Dundee (Hogan) is a free spirited Australian who hunts crocodiles with his bare hands, stares down giant water buffaloes, and drinks mere mortals under the table. But he’s about to face the ultimate torture test – a trip to New York City.”

What Did I Learn?: A smarmy newspaper editor doesn’t stand a chance against a rugged Aussie poacher when it comes to romancing a cute reporter.

You Might Like This Movie If: You know that Paul Hogan basically plays the same character in everything he does, and you’re ok with that.

Really?: 1) I’m sure that any drunk poacher would be fooled by the sight of an upright kangaroo firing a high-powered rifle. 2) I realize New York City was still a rough place in 1986, but were there really criminals behind every corner? Dundee beats up a purse-snatcher, a gang of muggers, a pimp and his buddies (on two occasions!), while Sue knees some subway creep in the groin. 3) I had a bit of trouble believing old crockers would seriously grab a transvestite’s nuts.

Rating: “Crocodile” Dundee is a mildly amusing and surprisingly dated relic from the mid-1980s. Paul Hogan mugs his way through this movie, while none of the other actors provide memorable performances. It’s ok for a Sunday afternoon, but otherwise, meh. 6.5/10 stars.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Silver Streak (1976)

Synopsis: Willy Wonka can’t stay on the damned train.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “in this wild comedy adventure, rail passenger George Caldwell (GENE WILDER) finds that a romantic escapade with a sultry secretary (JILL CLAYBURGH) puts him in the middle of a Hitchcockian murder plot. Leaping on and off the train, in and out of roomettes, bars and dining cars, George teams up with an amiable, small-time crook (RICHARD PRYOR) to defy the murderer’s henchmen, FBI agents and a host of other outrageous characters.”

What Did I Learn?: If you’re travelling cross-country by rail, don’t try to get laid – it isn’t worth the hassle.

You Might Like This Movie If: You’ve always wanted know how to quickly acquire some soul. (Yes, it's that scene...)

Really?: 1) Why would Devereau kick his own wounded henchman off the train? That makes no sense. 2) I had a bit of trouble believing the cops would give George a revolver and a box of shells, or that he and Grover would be the only ones to board the train during the big shoot-out. 3) I’m not sure I would get into a biplane piloted by a woman who wrongly addresses me as “Steve”. 4) So wait – the bad guy kills people because he sucks at authenticating works of art?

Rating: Silver Streak was one of my Mom’s favourite movies, and I’ve always loved it, too. This stylish homage to Hitchcock has it all: suspense, romance, action, comedy, and some very real buddy chemistry between Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor (I’d say this was the only one of their film pairings that was any good). My only complaint would be the final half-hour or so, when the action gets hot-and-heavy, but the “Really?” moments start to pile up. 9/10 stars.

Laurel Canyon (2002)

Synopsis: Free-spirit mom and uptight son share DNA... and his girlfriend?!?

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Academy Award winner Frances McDormand (Almost Famous, Fargo) stars in the sexy and witty story of a hard-living, free-thinking, rock-and-roll record producer who finds herself unexpectedly sharing a house with her straight-laced son and his super-conservative bride-to-be.”

What Did I Learn?: Psychiatrists are either angry and repressed young men or sex-crazed vixens.

Really?: 1) I kept waiting for Alex (Kate Beckinsale) to tell Sam (Christian Bale) he obviously has a chip on his shoulder towards his mother and her friends, but she never does. 2) It’s amazing how everyone is polite and civil to each other – not to mention still living under the same roof – the morning after their giant blow-up.

Rating: Laurel Canyon is a good, but not great film. Frances McDormand is especially impressive as the sexually-liberated Jane, but the script often doesn’t ring true (it’s also strange that none of the other main performers use their own accents) and I had a bit of trouble believing Alex would seriously consider having sex with her fiance’s mom or her sleazy rocker boyfriend. 7/10 stars.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

From the Hip (1987)

Synopsis: Judd Nelson inserts another nail into the coffin containing his post-Breakfast Club career. (By the way: for another take on The Breakfast Club, click this link).

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Criminal justice is about to be hit with a revolution. The perpetrator is a recent law school graduate Robin ‘Stormy’ Weathers (Judd Nelson) who jumps in and shoots ‘FROM THE HIP.’

What Did I Learn?: Apparently, judges secretly love it when lawyers grandstand, plant sex toys into the prosecutor’s briefcase, and throw courtroom etiquette and practices out the window.

Really?: 1) Um...nearly every scene in this movie qualifies as a “Really?” moment, from Judd Nelson’s incredibly lavish high-rise apartment, complete with a glassed-off patio for his collection of doves (he’s fresh out of law school at this point!) to getting John Hurt to confess his guilt on the witness stand. 2) See “What Did I Learn?,” 3) What was the point of placing Judd’s adversary from his first trial on the prosecutor’s team when the guy never says anything? 4) OMG – they ripped off a scene from Matlock!! (Or maybe Matlock ripped off a scene from this movie – one or the other).

Rating: From the Hip is not a terribly good courtroom comedy. Judd Nelson is far too obnoxious to be likeable, the courtroom theatrics are completely unbelievable, and while I liked both Ray Walston as the first judge, and John Hurt’s creepy performance as a Claus von Bulow-type murderer, the latter is totally out of place in From the Hip. I cannot recommend this movie. 5/10 stars.

Does it Work For a BAD MOVIE NIGHT: I think so.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Caine Mutiny (1954)

Dang – this would have been perfect for my recent tribute to Humphrey Bogart!

Synopsis: Dad from My Three Sons schemes as Bogie, um...plays with his balls.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “This is a classic film of modern-day mutiny aboard a Naval vessel based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Herman Wouk. The nervous and inept behaviour of Captain Queeg (Humphrey Bogart) during manoeuvres aboard the USS Caine – a destroyer/mine sweeper – attracts the attention of the ship’s crew members and its executive officer, Maryk (Van Johnson). When Queeg’s neurotic behaviour reaches a breaking point during a fierce typhoon, Maryk takes command of the ship. Queeg then retaliates by having Maryk court-martialed.”

Really?: Why in the world did Stanley Kramer include a long scene of Robert Francis and his lady riding horses in Yosemite National Park for a movie about naval warfare? At best, it’s pointless; at worst, it lessens the tension we’re all starting to feel.

Rating: The Caine Mutiny is a great story that isn’t told very well in this movie. Bogart is fantastic as the unglued Captain Queeg, and Fred MacMurray provides a masterful performance as the slippery Lt. Keefer. Unfortunately, it takes ages to actually arrive at the court-martial, and the romantic subplot (as well as the Yosemite scene) is a waste of time. For a tighter re-telling of this tale, check out Robert Altman’s The Caine Mutiny Court Martial (1988), featuring Eric Bogosian and Jeff Daniels. 6.5/10 stars.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Note: I didn’t mean to make this a Bob Hoskins double feature after Last Orders – it just happened that way.

Synopsis: It’s Chinatown! No, wait – it’s Harvey, with the title character performed by Jar Jar Binks.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Once in a generation a film like this comes along.”

What Did I Learn?: 1) Bugs Bunny is a real dick when you’re in trouble. 2) It is pretty tough to resist adding the last two knocks to ‘Shave and a Haircut’.

You Might Like This Movie If: You’ve always wanted to watch a more upbeat version of this famous song.

Really?: In the opening cartoon, I had a great deal of trouble believing that any sane mother would leave her infant child in Roger’s care.

Rating: Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a fun, clever, and zany combination of animation and live action. Bob Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd are magnificently over the top, the special effects are impressive, and it’s pretty cool to watch Disney and Warner Brothers characters on-screen simultaneously. My big complaint is Roger himself; imagine spending 104 minutes with a hyperactive village idiot, and you’ll understand why I can’t give this film a better rating – I wanted to strangle that dumb bunny on more than one occasion. 7/10 stars.

Last Orders (2001)

Note: I didn’t mean to make this a Michael Caine double feature after California Suite – it just happened that way.

Synopsis: British blokes bethink bygone bonds, besprinkle best buddy’s burnt body.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Covering nearly a half-century in the lives of a group of South London buddies, LAST ORDERS follows four men from their adopted pub to Margate Pier. Along with them are the ashes of Jack, their larger-than-life friend, whose deathbed request sends them on their way.”

What Did I Learn?: You can always count on winning money from a 33-1 horse race when you’re dying and the family business is deeply in debt.

You Might Like This Movie If: You’re ready to savour fine performances from Academy Award winner Michael Caine and Oscar nominee Bob Hoskins.

Really?: 1) So wait – Jack’s son and his three closest friends take a trip to Margate to dispose of his ashes and they decide to make side trips to see the War Memorial and Canterbury Cathedral? Oh, come on.... 2) In spite of the VHS jacket, I’m pretty sure I never saw Helen Mirren in any of the pub scenes.

Rating: Last Orders is a touching, funny and brilliantly-written British drama featuring outstanding work from everyone involved. Highly recommended. 10/10 stars.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

California Suite (1978)

Synopsis: Hilarity ensues as four sets of out-of-towners visit the Beverly Hills Hotel. Oh wait – hilarity NEVER ensues in this movie!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "The name Neil Simon has become synonymous with funny, often touching comedies - and CALIFORNIA SUITE is no exception. Lending their considerable comic talents is an all-star cast."

What Did I Learn?: 1) The best California clothes are found at Bloomingdale’s in New York City. 2) If your wife is set to arrive at your hotel the next morning, don’t let your hooker drink an entire bottle of tequila.

You Might Like This Movie If: You simply love obviously-scripted Beverly Hills drama. (I really wanted to include a clip of Bill Cosby beating the crap out of Richard Pryor in California Suite, but couldn't find one).

Really?: 1) I had a great deal of touble believing Dr. Gump (Pryor) and Dr. Panama (Cosby) and their wives would agree to vacation together when it’s pretty obvious these guys really don’t like each other. 2) People don’t usually speak to each other in sets of strung-together one-liners. Just sayin’, Neil Simon...

Rating: Comedy and drama mix uneasily in California Suite, although it does provide a few mild laughs and poignant moments, and holy crap, what a cast: Cosby, Pryor, Walter Matthau, Michael Caine, Jane Fonda, Alan Alda, Maggie Smith (she won an Oscar for playing an Oscar-loser in this film), Elaine May, and even a cameo from Dana Plato. Still, the film suffers from two significant problems: 1) the too-clever-by-half “witty” dialogue sounds fake, isn’t funny, and wears thin after the first twenty minutes or so, and 2) I expected the four stories to somehow converge, or intertwine, or something, and they never do. Why couldn’t Neil Simon or Director Herbert Ross have found a way for Matthau and Pryor to shoot the shit for a couple of minutes in the bar? California Suite is a lot like its opening credits of lovely flute jazz and watercolour images: pleasant, yet a bit forgettable. 6.5/10 stars.

Save the Tiger (1973)

Synopsis: Shifty clothier has really bad day.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket:  Jack Lemmon plays Harry Stoner, a man caught in violent collision with his past and present life. He believes there is nothing significant in his life except survival, and that instinct pushes him beyond moral conduct. He’ll juggle the books, supply women for his clients...and even set fire to his own dress manufacturing factory.”  

What Did I Learn?: If you’re thinking of torching an unused factory/warehouse for the insurance money, it’s a really good idea to ensure the building doesn’t already violate every fire code in the book.

Really?: I’m not sure how many teenage girls would have asked to “ball” Jack Lemmon in 1974, let alone a character played by Lemmon, but then, what do I know about flower children?

Rating: I don’t have a favourite movie, but Save the Tiger is definitely one of my favourites. Lemmon gives an outstanding performance (maybe the best of his career) as Harry Stoner, a frustrated, financially-troubled, and corrupted clothing manufacturer who is haunted by his memories of WWII, and who only occasionally gets to be himself. Highly recommended – especially the scene of Lemmon and Jack Gilford meeting the arsonist in a sleazy movie theatre. 10/10 stars.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Young Guns (1988)

Synopsis: Brat Packers play horsey.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The year is 1878, Lincoln County. John Tunstall (TERRENCE STAMP), a British ranchowner, hires six rebellious boys as ‘regulators’ to protect his ranch against the ruthless Santa Fe Ring. When Tunstall is killed in an ambush, the Regulators, led by the wild-tempered Billy (EMILIO ESTEVEZ) declare war on the Ring. As their vendetta turns into a bloody rampage, they are branded outlaws, becoming the objects of the largest manhunt in Western history – now riding against staggering odds.”

What Did I Learn?: When your gang is holed up in a farmhouse, surrounded by the army on every side, a volley of bullets is a likely outcome if you address their commanding officer as “Colonel Shithead.”

Really?: 1) Why are all the villains middle-aged and overweight? 2) Why does Dick Brewer (Charlie Sheen) keep ordering Billy the Kid (Emilio Estevez) to perform assignments that require a bit of common sense even though it's obvious the guy is a trigger-happy psychopath? 2) So wait...Charlie Sheen plays the mature and responsible young gun?

Rating: Young Guns is a fun Western with an impressive cast, although I have a couple of big complaints: a) it’s difficult not to view this film as a Brat Pack Western, and b) the film should have been more character-driven and focused on Billy’s obvious descent into villainy; instead, Jack Palance’s Lawrence Murphy is presented as cartoonishly evil, and Billy seems in comparison like a mischievous, but lovable lunatic. 6/10 stars.

3 Days of the Condor (1975)

Synopsis: Surprisingly-street smart bookworm outwits CIA assassins by... um... kidnapping a hot chick and holding her at gunpoint in her apartment? Wha...?

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Robert Redford stars as a CIA agent (code name Condor) on the run from a mass slaughter in his CIA research office, who uncovers the possibility of another CIA operating within the organization. Reporting the massacre to his superior (Cliff Robertson), Redford suddenly finds himself the target of both his employers and the unknown killers of his associates. Faye Dunnaway portrays a lonely photographer who is abducted by Redford and seduced into helping him.”

What Did I Learn?: If you’re a CIA analyst, and you’re not sure who’s trying to kill you, it might be a good idea to avoid meeting contacts in deserted alleyways. Just sayin’...

You Might Like This Movie If: You appreciate anything, um... condor-related.

Really?: 1) So wait – you arrive back at the office from lunch and find the receptionist and your boss shot dead. Wouldn’t most normal people run like hell? Would you, or anyone else really explore the rest of the building to look for survivors? 2) Max von Sydow’s hitman-for-hire character is indeed pretty cool, but he killed all of Redford’s colleagues. How could he do a last-minute ‘face turn’, and never receive any punishment for his actions?  

Rating: Three Days of the Condor isn’t always entirely believable, but it is a well-written and exciting 1970s spy thriller with solid performances from Redford, Dunnaway and Sydow. Interestingly, significant parts of Condor were filmed at the now-destroyed World Trade Centre, and the film offers a glimpse of a long-gone New York City. 7.5/10 stars.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

St. Elmo's Fire (1985)

Synopsis: Spoiled, self-absorbed young turds make the shocking discovery that life is tough.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Seven friends, recent college graduates, are searching for a place in ‘the real world’ as they face the issues of career and commitment.”

What Did I Learn?: The Brat Pack was pretty much lost without John Hughes.

Really?: 1) Was it ever that easy for a Democratic congressional staffers to jump ship and work for a Republican Senator in the 1980s? Wouldn’t Judd Nelson have burned a whole bunch of bridges by making such a jump? 2) Why would the Korean lobbyist dude hire another one of Nelson’s buddies as his personal assistant after he caught the first one romancing some chick in his luxury townhouse?

Rating: Yeesh. What a pile of pretentious crap. While I generally seek out character-driven films, St. Elmo’s Fire is a poor example of this genre for the simple reasons that: a) the characters aren’t well-defined, and the seven of them seem more like several variations of two or three people, and b) none of them are the least bit likeable – heck, these kids are obnoxious. When Demi Moore has her big mental breakdown/attempted suicide scene, I simply didn’t give a shit. I cannot recommend this movie. 4/10 stars.

Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: I don’t think so.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Strange Brew (1983)

Happy Canada Day!

Synopsis: Hamlet for hosers.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “What matters most in life, eh? Hockey, donuts and beer? A slab of back bacon? And did we mention beer?”

What Did I Learn?: Donuts can be used to bribe dogs or secretaries.

You Might Like This Movie If: This is your favourite song. (I know, I's a little obvious)

Really?: I could ask what purpose the black-and-white hockey teams served (or why somebody would store easily-breakable cases of beer on hockey arena ice), or how the ghost of John Elsinore somehow survived as a computer program to serve as a (literal!) Deus ex machina, but Strange Brew isn’t meant to be taken all that seriously. Instead, I’ll say it’s a bit strange that Thomas and Moranis couldn’t round up any other SCTV alumni for this film. Come on...were Andrea Martin or Joe Flaherty really that busy in 1983?

Rating: How does one review an iconic Canadian film like Strange Brew? The plot has some obvious problems, and the production values are decidedly low-budget, but the movie delivers some solid (if rather low-brow) laughs, and it does evoke some nostalgic memories for my generation. I think the biggest problem with Strange Brew is the same one that’s apparent in any number of Saturday Night Live-related movies: sketch characters don’t always lend themselves to feature films. Two or three minutes of Bob and Doug equals "funny"; 91 minutes, not so much. Save this flick for a BAD MOVIE NIGHT with friends. In the meantime, take off, eh! 5/10 stars.

Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Yes