Friday, August 31, 2012

Eddie Murphy RAW (1987)

Synopsis: Smartass in lavender leather jumpsuit informs audience that men are idiots, women are devious and vindictive, white people can’t dance, Italians take the Rocky films far too seriously, and Mr. T isn’t terribly bright.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Uncensored. Uncut. Irresistible. Raw, the record-setting #1 concert fim of all time, is Eddie Murphy doing what he does best: making people laugh.”

What Did I Learn?: According to Eddie Murphy (and probably Johnny Carson, as well), no pussy is worth $150 million.

Really?: I have to wonder how Eddie’s dad felt about being portrayed on stage as a verbally abusive drunk.

Rating: Eddie Murphy Raw is an entertaining follow-up to Delirious, although the opening sketch (featuring a then-unknown Samuel L. Jackson and a pre-Fresh Prince of Bel Air Tatyana Ali) is pointless, stupid and awful, and the camera work is sub-par. We miss Eddie’s feet as he attempts the moonwalk, for crying out loud! 8.5/10 stars.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Eddie Murphy Delirious (1983)

Synopsis: Smartass in red leather jumpsuit gets audience to laugh at exaggerated celebrity impressions and tales of domestic violence.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Don’t look for old ‘Saturday Night Live’ routines here – Eddie’s act is completely new, razor sharp and definitely for adults only.”

What Did I Learn?:  1) Ronald Reagan wasn’t a particularly popular fellow among Eddie Murphy fans in August, 1983. 2) Even black Americans had no idea what James Brown was talking about, most of the time.

Really?: 1) For a man who joked that he was afraid of gay people, Eddie seemed awfully obsessed about the genitalia of African-American men and, um... shoving things up people’s butts. 2) Wait – did Eddie admit to hitting a girlfriend, once? 3) Eddie thinks Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz) was cool?

Rating: Parts of Eddie Murphy’s stand-up act might seem a bit dated today (or even labelled as “hate speech”), but Delirious is pretty funny (albeit extremely raunchy) stuff and well worth watching. 8/10 stars.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

We Were Soldiers (2002)

Vietnam War Movie #13

Synopsis: Mel Gibson affects southern drawl and demonstrates he’s more crazy-dangerous than the Viet Cong, the NVA and all them commie bastards put together!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Mel Gibson and Randall Wallace, the star and writer of Braveheart, reunite for this action-packed war movie that features explosive battle sequences, thrilling aerial photography and unforgettable military heroes who fought for their country, their loved ones and their freedom.”

What Did I Learn?: 1) Custer was a pussy. 2) If your wife just had a baby, don’t go to Vietnam with Mel Gibson...just don’t. 3) When your men are outnumbered and completely surrounded by the enemy, your best course of action is right ahead?!

Really?: 1) It’s amazing how Colonel Moore (Gibson) and Sgt.-Major Plumley (Sam Elliott) can walk around the battlefield, completely upright, and neither man receives so much as a scratch. 2) So wait, Moore spends nearly a year in ‘Nam before he comes home – unannounced in a taxi cab – and rings his own doorbell? Come on...

Rating: We Were Soldiers is far more akin to Saving Private Ryan or The Thin Red Line than any of the other Vietnam war movies I have reviewed; it isn’t blatant propaganda in the mold of John Wayne’s The Green Berets (which I would love to review at some point), but it is quietly patriotic, and infused with the “I fight for my brothers in arms” message of late-1990s/2000s war movies  - it’s tough to imagine a movie like this ever could have been made in the 1970s or 1980s. We Were Soldiers is an entertaining (albeit gory, and sometimes depressing) film, although it never shows the dark side of America’s involvement in Vietnam, or delves into the reasons for why it couldn’t win. 7.5/10 stars.



A Bright Shining Lie (1998)

Vietnam War Movie #12

Synopsis: Philandering boy scout encounters one high-ranking idiot after another as he tries to single-handedly win unpopular war.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “One man’s story through a decade of war, villages taken and lost, lovers taken and lost, the truth corrupted, lives destroyed – and saved. This is the story of a man transformed as brutally as the war transformed two nations.”

What Did I Learn?: Your wife may not share your childlike enthusiasm if you return home and joyously exclaim: “honey, I’m going to Vietnam!”

You Might Like This Movie If: You love bright and shiny things.

Really?: 1) Did the real Vann really slap an ARVN colonel in front of his men? That sounds counter-productive at best, and potentially dangerous at worst. 2) So wait – we learn that Vann banged a 15-year old babysitter a few years earlier, and we’re still supposed to sympathize with him? That’s just creepy.

Rating: A Bright Shining Lie is an interesting companion movie to Go Tell the Spartans and We Were Soldiers, as it deals with America’s involvement in Vietnam from the early 1960s until Vann’s death in 1972. In spite of its low budget (the film was made for HBO), A Bright Shining Lie offers an engaging and watchable look at a troubled-yet-talented warrior. My big complaint would be the film’s mixed political message. While the smart and enlightened characters in this movie (Neil Sheehan and the other reporters, and “Doug Elders”/Daniel Ellsberg) are all against the war, Vann remains very much gung-ho (although highly critical of Westmoreland and Washington’s handling of things), and the viewer is left with a nagging sense that he could have achieved victory in Vietnam if he had his way. Was Vann correct, or was he deluding himself. The film version of Sheehan’s book never really answers those questions. 7/10 stars.


The Deer Hunter (1978)

Vietnam War Movie #11

Synopsis: Suspiciously-mature-looking soldiers get hooked on world’s worst casino game.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Winner of five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor (Christopher Walken), this critically acclaimed, extraordinarily powerful motion picture tracks a group of steelworker pals from a Pennsylvania blast furnace to the cool hunting grounds of the Alleghenies to the lethal cauldron of Vietnam.”

What Did I Learn?: If you ever decide to get your jollies by forcing captives to playing Russian roulette, don’t let them put more than one round into the cylinder to “play each other”.

Really?: 1) Holy shit, how long is that wedding ceremony and hour? 2) Aren’t De Niro, Walken and Savage a bit old to be playing freshly-recruited grunts? (If they’re supposed to be Army reservists – De Niro has sergeant’s stripes, while Walken is a corporal – this isn’t made clear, and wouldn’t they have been called up for service long before this?) 3) I had a great deal of trouble believing De Niro would pay thousands of dollars to play Russian roulette (or test a round!) even if he wanted to talk some sense into Walken. 4) Obviously, the Viet Cong and the NVA did some truly sadistic things to American GIs, but is there one documented case of anyone being forced to play Russian roulette? Considering the script started out as a screenplay about gamblers headed to Vegas to play this game, the whole thing smells like bullshit to me.

Rating: Much like The Maltese Falcon, this film was a tough review for me. While The Deer Hunter is considered to be a classic (it won Best Picture, and a shitload of other Oscars), I have to admit that I don’t particularly like it. Yes, it is beautifully filmed, and both De Niro and Walken deliver outstanding performances. That said, the movie is far too long and it feels that way – the wedding reception, the first deer hunt, and the funeral just go on and on. More importantly, I simply didn’t believe any of the Russian roulette stuff, either in the POW holding pens, or in Saigon, and I couldn’t believe that De Niro or Walken would behave the way they do. 6.5/10 stars.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Casualties of War (1989)

Vietnam War Movie # 10

Synopsis: Worst Back to the Future sequel ever!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Hailed by critics as a masterpiece, CASUALTIES OF WAR is based on the true story of soldiers caught in the moral quagmire of wartime Vietnam. Witness to a vile crime, Private Ericksson (Michael J. Fox, BACK TO THE FUTURE) is forced to stand alone against his fellow soldiers and commanding officer Sergeant Meserve (Sean Penn, WE’RE NO ANGELS, COLORS), a powerful and charismatic man pushed over the edge of barbarism by the terror and brutality of combat.”

What Did I Learn?: The word “man” ought to be used sparingly when writing dialogue set in the 1960s.

Really?: 1) What are the odds that one of Eriksson’s (Fox) fellow soldiers would idly mention the possibility that they could be standing on top of a Viet Cong tunnel, only to suddenly become stuck half-way between the tunnel ceiling and the jungle floor? That seems a bit much. 2) So wait – Eriksson somehow hits a Viet Cong grenade with a lucky shot from his M-79 grenade launcher?

Rating: Casualties of War is a very mediocre Vietnam movie with a number of problems: the plot is highly derivative of Platoon, Michael J. Fox is hopelessly miscast as a green-but-tough army grunt (I kept thinking “Alex P. Keaton/Marty McFly goes to war!”), the highly repetitive musical score sounds a LOT like the score from Once Upon a Time in America (Ennio Morricone did both), and the dialogue is simply atrocious: Fox either shakes his head and says things like: “this ain’t the Army, Sarge”, or he editorializes – more than once - about right and wrong. Oh, and speaking of highly repetitive, nearly every sentence employs the word “man”. That’s just lazy writing. 5.5/10 stars.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Hearts of Darkness (2001)

Vietnam War Movie #9 (ok, it’s not really a Vietnam War’s a movie ABOUT a Vietnam War movie).

Synopsis: Bungle in the jungle.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Featuring dramatic, never-before-seen on-the-set footage and recent interviews with the director, cast and crew, ‘HEARTS OF DARKNESS’ provides a fascinating glimpse into the madness and the magic behind the scenes of this epic production as it spiralled out of control and turned into a filmmaking nightmare.”

What Did I Learn?: If you have a finished movie script, and you’ve mortgaged your home and all of your possessions, you might not want to re-cast your leading role mid-way through, write entirely new scenes late into the night, or allow your actors to improvise that crucial, last confrontation because you don’t exactly know how to end the fucking film.

Really?: 1) So wait – Eleanor Coppola recorded her husband without his knowledge, and she didn’t think that might have been creepy or unethical? 2) Apocalypse Now is running way over-time and over-budget and FFC is concerned about the temperature of the wine, and even prepared to fly in real Frenchmen from France during the rubber plantation scene?

Rating: Documentaries about movie-making are often hit-or-miss; anything related to the making of Star Wars soon devolves into “blue screens” and special effects. At their worst, such “documentaries” become marketing videos like Secrets of the Back to the Future Trilogy, or the Star Trek 25th Anniversary Special. Hearts of Darkness is more akin to The Kid Stays in the Picture: it’s an interesting, and often unflattering look Francis Ford Coppola making of a masterpiece. If you enjoy movies, it makes for a fascinating companion piece to Apocalypse Now. 8/10 stars.


Apocalypse Now Redux (1979 / 2001)

Vietnam War Movie #8

Synopsis: Whackjob filmmaker adds 49 additional minutes to already-long psychedelic war picture...the horror! The horror!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The definitive version of Francis Ford Coppola’s stunning vision of the heart of darkness in all of us, re-edited and re-mastered with 49 minutes of additional footage. Nominated for 8 Academy Awards, this classic and compelling Vietnam war epic stars Martin Sheen as Lieutenant Willard, who is sent on a dangerous and mesmerizing odyssey into Cambodia to assassinate a renegade Colonel named Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who has succumbed to the horrors of war and barricaded himself in a remote outpost.”

What Did I Learn?: 1) Charlie’s idea of rest and relaxation is a bowl of cold rice and a nice piece of rat meat. 2) Never get off the boat. 3) It’s a bad sign when you ask: “who’s your commanding officer?” and receive the reply: “ain’t you?”

Really?: 1) Did Colonels ever base their plans of attack on local Vietnamese surfing conditions? 2) Chef sure made a lot of noise traipsing around the jungle as he and Willard scavenged for mangoes... it’s a good thing they only run into a tiger rather than the VC. 3) Were American firebases really lit up like Christmas trees? 4) How in the world did those French colonists manage to defend their rubber plantation from the Viet Cong, let alone make it profitable, receive news from the outside world and even stock up on good wine? 5) So, Willard completes his mission, and the local tribes suddenly worship him, rather than tear him to shreds? That’s a convenient way to end the movie on a high note.

Rating: Apocalypse Now Redux is a bit too long (thanks to the aforementioned extra 49 minutes of footage), and it’s obviously not a realistic portrayal of combat in Vietnam, but it is a top-notch film with a lot of excellent performances (especially by Robert Duvall as a batshit crazy helicopter cavalry colonel, but watch for a VERY young Laurence Fishburne). The movie is meant to be somewhat surrealistic, but the additional footage of the Playboy bunnies and the French rubber plantation made it tougher for me to suspend my sense of disbelief. I would probably give the original, 1979 Apocalypse Now an even 10/10 stars; Apocalypse Now Redux is still highly recommended, however, with 8.5/10 stars.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tigerland (2001)

Vietnam War Movie #7 (ok, it’s set entirely in basic training, but the characters are all getting trained for ‘Nam)

Synopsis: Smartass recruit and pals find terror and violence await them in Vietnam... um...Louisiana!?

Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Just released from the base stockade, recruit Roland Bozz (Colin Farrell) joins a platoon of young soldiers preparing to ship out from Vietnam. Bozz’s independence and outright defiance draws fire from his own men as well as commanding officers. But when a platoon is sent to Tigerland, a hellish training ground that is the last stop before Vietnam, Bozz’s leadership and loyalty bring his men together – triggering extraordinary consequences.”

What Did I Learn?: When a drill instructor teaches you how to interrogate a Viet Cong prisoner using live electrodes, he probably doesn’t wish to hear the words: “why would I want to do that on a fellow human being?”

Really?: So wait – Bozz refuses to follow an order during basic training, walks off, and the drill sergeant not only lets him address him by his first name but shares a cigarette with the defiant recruit?!

Rating: Tigerland isn’t exactly a Vietnam War movie, but it is an interesting character-driven drama about a tough non-conformist who questions authority and disturbs shit during basic training – imagine Cool Hand Luke Joins the Army. Farrell is quite good as Pvt. Bozz, and there are more than a few funny moments in Tigerland, although it isn’t a comedy by any stretch. 8/10 stars.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Go Tell the Spartans (1978)

Vietnam War Movie #6

Synopsis: Stretched-thin team of American advisors repeat all of the same mistakes as their French predecessors... well, except for appreciating Jerry Lewis.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Academy Award-winner BURT LANCASTER delivers the finest performance of his illustrious career as a hard-boiled major in command of a grubby Vietnam outpost in this classic film of wartime confrontation.”

What Did I Learn?: If your asshole interpreter tells you that nice family you just met - and allowed into your camp - are in fact Viet Cong, you might want to listen to him.

You Might Like This Movie If: You want to see Burt Lancaster go after the Viet Cong with the same gusto he displayed when he took, the phone company.

Really?: 1) Um...isn’t Burt Lancaster a little old to be playing a Major? 2) Near the beginning, Major Barker (Lancaster) stops the asshole interpreter from waterboarding a suspected VC agent on the grounds that “he can’t tell you anything if he’s dead.” I wonder if Dick Cheney ever watched this film. 3) it’s strange that Clyde Kusatsu plays a unilingual Vietnamese colonel, when he was perfectly capable of speaking accent-free English...heck, he sometimes did John Wayne impressions on Magnum PI.

Rating: It’s a shame that Go Tell the Spartans is now nearly forgotten, as I consider it to be one of the best movies about the Vietnam War ever made. Set in 1964, it tells the story of a war-weary Major and his increasingly cynical Captain (a pre-V Marc Singer) as they repeat the same mistakes made by the French ten years earlier: too many static defenses and not enough resources. (There are 300 French graves in the French cemetery, hence the reference to the Battle of Thermopylae in the title). Go Tell the Spartans is rather low-budget, and the production values aren’t the greatest, but it’s well-written, well-acted, and it offers some insights into the earlier period of US involvement in Vietnam. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Good Morning Vietnam (1987)

Vietnam War Movie #5 (War comedies are a rare breed – please click the link to read my review of Catch-22)

Synopsis: Mork goes to ‘Nam.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Manic comedian Robin Williams shakes up 1965 Saigon in the Academy Award-nominated role the critics agree he was born to play – irreverent, non-conformist deejay Adrian Cronauer.”

What Did I Learn?: You can accomplish anything in Vietnam by bribing people with extremely small sums of cash.

Really?: 1) Isn’t Robin Williams a little old to be playing a bottom-of-the-ranks Airman? And did he volunteer for military service or was he drafted? And why does Garlick (Forrest Whittaker) insist upon addressing him as “sir” when they’re basically the same rank? 2) So wait... Cronauer’s buddy, Tuan, insists he leave a GI bar just seconds before it’s blown up, and Cronauer never suspects Tuan might have had something to do with it? 3) I’m still not sure how Cronauer is able to play rock music after Lt. Hauk orders him not to do so, or why he only gets suspended rather than court-martialled for reading censored news. 4) So, Cronauer is humiliated and drummed out of the military, and the best he can say is that Sgt.-Major Dickerson needs a blowjob more than any other white man in history? Sorry, but that isn’t funny – it’s lame.

Rating: There are two types of people in this world: those who find Robin Williams’ unique brand of rapid-fire, stream-of-consciousness stand-up comedy to be hilarious (if you’re in this boat, you’ll love Good Morning Vietnam), and those who find Williams to be an obnoxious buffoon. I’m more in the latter category, so this movie left me cold. Good Morning Vietnam isn’t a bad film, but it often seems as though Williams inhabits a totally different movie than his co-stars (they act, while he ad-libs and “performs”), and the scenes of him teaching English to a group of Vietnamese don’t mesh well; they laugh at awful jokes, and the viewer wonders: “is that supposed to be funny?” 6/10 stars.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

Vietnam War Movie #4 (although not much of it actually takes place in Vietnam)

Synopsis: Tom Cruise passionately convinces a new generation of Americans that patriotism is for chumps.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket:  “Tom Cruise delivers a riveting and unforgettable portrayal of Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic in Oliver Stone’s Academy Award-winning masterpiece.”

What Did I Learn?: The words: “it’s the Fourth of July, and I believe in America” are guaranteed applause-getters at an Independence Day picnic.

You Might Like This Movie If: You love watching Tom Cruise get excited about something. (Yes, it’s that clip)

Really?: It seems a bit strange to me that delegates to the 1972 GOP convention would spit on Kovic, considering the whole thing was televised, and guess what – according to, the incident didn’t happen the way it was portrayed. For that matter, neither did the protest in Syracuse, New York – the riot police didn’t swarm anyone or crack Kovic on the head. Once again, Oliver Stone plays fast and loose with the truth in order to sensationalize a scene.

Rating: The second film in Oliver Stone’s Vietnam trilogy, Born on the Fourth of July earned rave reviews from critics, but I can’t get on the bandwagon. At two hours and 25 minutes, it’s too long, there are far too many scenes of Tom Cruise overacting (or worse – singing -  *shudder*), and the dialogue often seems hokey, clich├ęd, and obvious – I half-expected to see an apple pie in the late-1950s/early 1960s "we were innocent" Americana moments. 6.5/10 stars.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Vietnam War Movie #3

Synopsis: It’s an hour of “drop and give me 20, you filthy pukes!”, followed by another  hour of “cover me, I’m going in!”

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “A superb ensemble case falls in for action in Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant saga about the Vietnam War and the dehumanizing process that turns people into trained killers. Joker (Matthew Modine), Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin), Gomer (Vincent D’Onofrio), Eightball (Dorian Harewood), Cowboy (Arliss Howard) and more – all are plunged into a boot-camp hell pitbulld by a leatherlung D.I. (Lee Ermey) who views the would-be devil dogs as grunts, maggots or something less.”

What Did I Learn?: I’m pretty sure I would last about ten minutes, tops, in the US Marine Corps.

Really?: So wait – Joker’s boss has the power to send him into any war zone in the country, and our hero decides to piss him off with smart ass comments during a staff meeting in the middle of the Tet Offensive?

Rating: Like any Stanley Kubrick film, Full Metal Jacket is beautifully filmed (the scene of Joker mercy-killing the wounded 14-year old female sniper, with his face half in darkness is quite memorable), stylishly directed and compelling. It’s a very good movie, although it seems more like a collection of unconnected short stories than a holistic narrative, and we never get to learn very much about Joker. Lots of style, and more than a few great scenes, but Full Metal Jacket is a bit weak on story and character development. 7/10 stars.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Hamburger Hill (1987)

Vietnam War Movie #2

Synopsis: American GIs have about as much luck ascending a muddy incline as Jack and Jill.

Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Vietnam, 1969. Hill 937. 10 days. 70% casualties. Those are the facts – this is the story.”

What Did I Learn?: It’s best not to discuss geopolitics or race relations when your squad is visiting the local brothel and everyone’s drunk.

Really?: Did anyone on the production team actually listen to the terrible musical score that Philip Glass provided? While Glass' style was wonderful and totally appropriate for Koyaanisqatsi and its sequels, it’s out of place and annoying in this film – I have to deduct a half point just for that.

Rating: Hamburger Hill is a very realistic portrayal of nine days in the lives of 14 US Army soldiers during one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War. Some veterans believe it’s an even better, and more true-to-life film than Platoon. That said, I think Platoon is slightly superior because there’s a bit more of a story (i.e. young volunteer must take sides between two sergeants who hate each other); Hamburger Hill is basically a look at these 14 men interacting with each other under extreme pressure, and yes – many of them die horribly. 7.5/10 stars.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Platoon (1986)

Vietnam War Movie #1

Synopsis: Charlie Sheen smokes a lot of dope, shoots his sergeant, and somehow makes it through ‘Nam... WINNING!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Seen through the eyes of college drop-out, Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), the wars is a real nightmare – a private hell of fears from outside and in – with enemies on both sides of the line.”

What Did I Learn?:  Apparently, if you keep your pecker hard and your powder dry, the world will turn.

Really?: So wait, Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe) asks the Commanding Officer to court-martial Sgt. Barnes and Lt. Wolfe, and he nonetheless orders them to work together on a mission? I realize the guy is short-handed and needs every able-bodied soldier, but would a C.O. do that? Couldn’t he have at least put them on opposite ends of the battlefield, or something?

Rating: Platoon is a highly believable and engaging portrayal of the fatigue, constant stress, and sheer terror faced by American soldiers in Vietnam. Platoon won an Oscar for Best Picture in 1986, and while it is an excellent movie, it’s not a fun two hours. Certain scenes are very difficult to watch, especially the near-massacre of the farming village, as well as more than a few battle deaths. Oliver Stone could have used a bit more subtlety, and been a bit kinder to his audience, but he obviously wanted to show the full horror of war. 9/10 stars.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Secrets of the Back to the Future Trilogy (1990)

Synopsis: Growing Pains puke hosts clip show for far-more-successful Family Ties puke.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Join host Kirk Cameron as he answers fans’ most asked questions about the Back To The Future trilogy. With a combination of cleverly-edited clips, never-before-seen footage, interviews with star Michael J. Fox, and director Robert Zemekis, Christopher Lloyd, and Mary Steenburgen, the most closely-guarded secrets of the series are revealed.” [The VHS Jacket actually mis-spells “Zemeckis”, somebody was in a rush to get this out the door!]

What Did I Learn?: The Back to the Future trilogy doesn’t have any good secrets.

Really?: I still can’t believe I paid $2 at Value Village for a 21-minute video featuring Kirk-Fucking-Cameron that was marked “Free” on the VHS jacket. This blog is a priority for me, but I must have been on crack at the time.

Rating: The Secrets of the Back to the Future Trilogy is just plain atrocious. Originally aired on television between the release of Back to the Future Part II and Part III (in order to "sell" the latter film and the now-defunct Universal Studios ride) it was re-packaged as a fourth addition to the Back to the Future box set. The “half hour” special consists of 1980s B-list star Cameron answering phony “Dear Back to the Future” letters as a set-up to a series of clips from the films. If you enjoyed the Star Trek 25th Anniversary Special, you’re going to love this turd. 2/10 stars.

Cookie's Fortune (1999)

Synopsis: Old lady croaks, ROC goes to jail, and Glenn Close plays yet another unlikeable bitch.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Welcome to Holly Springs... home of murder, mayhem and catfish enchiladas.”

What Did I Learn?: If you wish to look like a pompous idiot, add some additional dialogue to an Oscar Wilde production and then give yourself a writing credit on the stage bill.

You Might Like This Movie If: All you had to read was the word “Cookie”.

Really?: 1) Ok, I could maybe see Camille (Close) covering up Cookie’s suicide to spare the family some embarrassment, but I had a hard time believing she would continue the charade after the police hold Willis (Charles Dutton) for questioning. And Cora (Julianne Moore) just goes along with it all, even after an innocent man is in the slammer? 2) So wait – Emma (Liv Tyler) learns that Camille, not Cora, is her real mother, and she has nothing to say to either woman? Sorry, but I think Robert Altman owes us a scene or two.

Rating: Cookie’s Fortune is one of Robert Altman’s better films. The plot is In the Heat of the Night turned on its head: an elderly Southern white lady is mistakenly thought to have been murdered, and nobody really believes her black, long-time platonic friend did it, including the sympathetic cops, who hold him quite reluctantly. That said, the plot is really just a device to introduce a collection of strange, and sometimes-funny characters who come to life through some inspired performances. Cookie’s Fortune is a nice little movie. 8.5/10 stars.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Electric Horseman (1979)

Wow...that is one ugly-looking VHS jacket. The graphic designer should have been shot!

Synopsis: Washed-up rodeo puke gets up-close-and-personal with magnificent brunette...oh, and Jane Fonda tags along, too.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “In this rousing romantic adventure, Robert Redford plays an ex-world champion cowboy, reduced to huckstering breakfast food in a suit studded with flashing lights. Jane Fonda is a chic, sharp member of the electronic media, a TV newswoman who’ll do anything to get a good story. When Redford rides out of a Las Vegas casino and into the desert astride his sponsor’s living symbol, a multi-million dollar racehorse, Jane is determined to discover why.”

What Did I Learn?: Smoking a whole bunch of eucalyptus leaves is just the remedy your steed requires to kick his drug habit.

You Might Like This Movie If: You love anything electric.

Really?: 1) I honestly have to wonder how long a pampered racehorse would last in the wilds of Utah. For that matter, if Redford was so concerned about the horse’s welfare, how about blowing the whistle to the media rather than risking jail time? 2) So wait...a horse-napping is enough to derail a bank merger? And the corporate CEO has nothing better to do than to fly around in a helicopter looking for the culprits?

Rating: As I watched The Electric Horseman, I kept thinking: “the makers of Crocodile Dundee totally ripped off of this movie!” Well, the first half of Crockers, anyway: intrepid female reporter falls in love with unsophisticated, rough-around-the-edges country boy as they trek through the wilderness. It’s a good, but not great film, and I would have liked to have seen more of Willie Nelson’s character – he basically disappears once Redford makes his big escape. 7/10 stars.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

This is Spinal Tap (1984)

My apologies – I WAS going to review Back to the Future, Part III, but soon discovered the VHS tape is broken. It may take awhile, but I will review that movie - along with Crocodile Dundee II, and Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles - once I obtain new copies.

Synopsis: The ad-libbing goes to 11.

 Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “You’ll never be able to watch a rock group seriously again after experiencing this hilarious comedy about a supposed heavy-metal band called Spinal Tap. Once upon a time they had a pretty big hit song. Now, nearly two decades later, Spinal Tap still clings to some glint of their lost glory as they embark on an accident-plagued tour across America.”

What Did I Learn?: 1) Boston is NOT a big college town. 2) Wow...Fran Drescher was annoying even before The Nanny.  3) Nobody at a puppet show/rock concert wants to hear a free-form jazz exploration.

You Might Like This Movie If: You respect a band that puts its music first, and would never, ever sell out.

Really?: 1) I had a bit of trouble believing the band would agree to this tour in the first place, considering they’re getting booked into 1,200-1,500 seat arenas instead of 10,000-15,000 seat venues, and more trouble believing they would press on after so many cancellations. But come on – an Air Force base dance, or second-billing at a puppet show? 2) I realize everything changed after 9/11, but did airport security ever have a sense of humour about harmless pranks?

Rating: There are many similarities between This is Spinal Tap and Hard Core Logo, except that it features clueless Brit rockers instead of obnoxious Canadian punks and it’s a whole lot funnier. I can’t say this film is well-written, considering nearly all of the dialogue is improvised, but it is clever, well-acted, and a most enjoyable spoof of the 1980s heavy metal scene. Highly recommended. 10/10 stars.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Back to the Future Part II (1989)

Synopsis: Blah blah blah...flux capacitor!...blah blah...temporal displacement...blah...alternate timeline...temporal junction point for the entire space-time continuum…blah blah...Great Scot!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd reprise their roles as Marty McFly and Doc Brown in this dazzling new adventure from director Robert Zemeckis and executive producer Steven Spielberg.”

What Did I Learn?: Apparently, we’re just three years away from flying cars, a lightning-fast justice system without lawyers, and re-hydrated pizza.

Really?: 1) How does old Biff know how to use the time machine? And gee – what are the odds of him going back to the same date in 1955 as the first movie? 2) They still use faxes in 2015? 3) Why didn’t 2015 suddenly change after old Biff returned from his trip to 1955? 4) So wait...why in the world would Doc Brown recruit Marty (and his girlfriend) to straighten out a problem thirty years in the future if he’s all about not upsetting the space-time continuum, or whatever? Couldn’t he have simply *told* Marty about what could happen, and let him deal with it, decades later? 5) Funny how none of that “chicken” stuff was ever mentioned in the first film...

Rating: Back to the Future Part II always struck me as a fun-but-unnecessary sequel. It’s well-made, and certainly entertaining, but while the first film dealt with people and relationships (all-American 1980s teenager gets to meet and interact with his parents as teens, 30 years earlier) this one is all technobabble and non-stop action – the viewer never gets a chance to breathe, let alone reflect on anything. 7.5/10 stars.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Back to the Future (1985)

Synopsis: Crackly-voiced slacker and lovable crackpot... oh, you know this one, already.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Steven Spielberg presents an irresistible comic fantasy that accelerates beyond the time barrier with wit, imagination and infectious, wide-eyed wonder.”

What Did I Learn?: If Huey Lewis says your band is too darned loud, you’re too darned loud.

You Might Like This Movie If: You never once watched this show.

Really?: 1) I had a hard time believing Marty and Doc would ever hang out with each other. Why, exactly, are these two friends? 2) Michael J. Fox is NOT rock-and-roll. 3) Was it necessary to have four “Great Scot!” mini-crises (the DeLorean won’t start until Marty hits his head on the steering wheel, the electrical cord gets unplugged, the cord is suddenly too short, then it gets unplugged at street-level) right before Marty returns to 1985? It just seems a bit much.  4) So wait – Doc Brown dispenses dating and relationship advice?

Rating: Back to the Future is a well-written, imaginative and thoroughly entertaining 1980s sci-fi comedy classic, even almost 30 years after its release. Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd provide tour-de-force performances, and the film never once drags, although the just-in-the-nick-of-time cliffhanger resolutions get a little tedious by the end. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.