Friday, November 30, 2012

Pushing Tin (1999)

John Cusack Film Fest Movie #12

Synopsis: Alpha males clash, planes almost crash, Angelina Jolie plays white trash...

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “In the tradition of Grosse Pointe Blank comes an unconventional comedy about two air traffic controllers whose intense rivalry and penchant for one-upmanship causes hilarious havoc with their careers, their marriages – and the planes in their airspace!” [How is this movie “in the tradition of Grosse Point Blank”? This movie is nothing like Grosse Point Blank aside from being a comedy that stars John Cusack!]

What Did I Learn?: 1) If you’re thinking of cheating on your wife with a co-worker’s main squeeze, don’t take her to your wife’s favourite little out-of-the-way Italian bistro. 2) If this is a realistic portrayal of air traffic controllers, I think I’ll going to stick to Via Rail for cross-Canada trips.
Really?: 1) I’m pretty sure Nick Falzone (Cusack) would get tasered, arrested and fired after freaking out on board a jetliner. 2) I’m also pretty sure that Nick and Russell (Thornton) would have likely faced paralysis or even death after standing directly underneath a 747 seconds away from landing. 3) How many fucking casseroles does Nick’s wife make throughout this movie? It’s no wonder he has a wandering eye...4) So, Nick is able to land over a dozen planes during a bomb threat, and all Hell is breaking loose, but his mind turns to swiss cheese after his wife walks out on him? Sorry, but I didn’t buy that one – it’s hard to believe a professional who’s landed thousands of planes over his career couldn’t compartmentalize his problems.
Rating: Pushing Tin is a fun-yet-forgettable flick that often feels more like a sit-com. Cusack and Thornton work well together as a couple of top-notch controllers who don’t like each other, but the script is contrived and only occasionally-funny, and the computer graphics that are meant to illustrate circling planes are pretty much useless. Oh – Pushing Tin was partly filmed in the Toronto area – watch for Club OV’s. 6.5/10 stars.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Ice Harvest (2005)

John Cusack Film Fest Movie #11

Synopsis: Sleazy lawyer and amoral strip-club owner learn that ripping off the mob isn’t such a hot idea.

Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “When lawyer Charlie (John Cusack) and his partner Vic (Billy Bob Thornton) steal from a mob boss, they think they’ve pulled off the perfect crime. But when they race through a night filled with mayhem, lust and lethal surprises, they realize that the biggest risk they’ll take is trusting each other.”

What Did I Learn?: If you’ve just stolen $2 million from the mob, you’re pretty sure a hitman is looking for you, and you’re blowing town in a few hours, you might want to focus on making your exit, rather than on bar-hopping and attempting to bang the hot chick who runs the local strip bar.

You Might Like This Movie If: You’re intrigued by the title..

Really?: 1) I had a bit of trouble believing Cusack and Thornton could actually lift, let alone move a metal trunk containing a very pissed-off gangster the size of Mike Starr. 2) The Mafia has a presence in Wichita,  Kansas? Maybe, but wouldn’t that part of the country more likely be controlled by biker gangs? 3) Funny how Cusack finds that incriminating photo so quickly, and so easily… 4) So wait… considering Cusack is on-hand every time somebody gets murdered, should he expect the long arm of the law to follow him when he leaves the country? At the very least, he ends the movie driving a stolen Mercedes…

Rating: The Ice Harvest isn’t a great film by any stretch – it’s a tad contrived, and you have to suspend your sense of disbelief more than a few times – but it’s a fun little caper with a decidedly dark sense of humour. Watch for Randy Quaid near the end. 7/10 stars.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Bullets Over Broadway (1994)

John Cusack Film Fest Movie #10

Synopsis: Bullets Over Broadway a prime example of my favourite type of Woody Allen films – ones in which he doesn’t appear.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Big-city mobsters and the Broadway stage collide hilariously in this side-splitting, all-star comedy that has audiences and critics rolling in the aisles!”

What Did I Learn?: Guys, if the attractive older lady you’re dating repeatedly silences you with the words: “don’t speak!”, you may wish to re-think the relationship.

Really?: 1) Considering his gift for story-telling, I had a bit of trouble believing Cheech would bump off Olive using his own gun, and in a place that’s well-known for being one of his favourite spots for murders, considering he wanted to make it look as though a rival gang was responsible. 2) VHS jacket aside, I’m pretty sure Cheech never carries a tommy-gun.

Rating: Bullets Over Broadway is clever, funny, and it boasts a number of great performances, especially from Diane Wiest as a Norma Desmondish-aging actress, and Chazz Palminteri as Cheech, the hitman with a strange knack for ghostwriting. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Grifters (1990)

John Cusack Film Fest Movie #9

Synopsis: John Cusack is a sleazy rogue who desperately wishes to become a wealthy, um…*ahem*... motherfucker.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Three con artists become involved in a web of personal and professional double dealings for love, money and eventually survival.”

What Did I Learn?: You can make lots of money through insurance fraud if you don’t mind getting smacked with a dozen oranges wrapped up in a towel.

You Might Like This Movie If: You would love to learn how to make an easy $20.

Really?: 1) Gee…what are the odds of the Mom, the son, and the son’s girlfriend all being grifters, and none of them initially knowing the other two are on the grift? 2) I had a bit of trouble believing Cusack could have amassed such a fortune through nickel-and-dime cons, or that anyone would bother making a living by substituting ten-and-twenty dollar bills. 3) So wait…I realize XXX wants the mob to believe she’s dead, but couldn’t she have taken her stolen loot with her from the Phoenix motel? Or at least some of the cash? 4) You have to be one cold son-of-a-bitch to refuse to help your Mom, especially after she saved your life earlier in the film. 5) I had a LOT of trouble believing a Mom – even one who’s estranged from her son – would seriously attempt to seduce him for cash.

Rating: While it’s more of an Anjelica Huston film than a John Cusack vehicle, The Grifters is one of his finest (albeit most disturbing) movies. Based upon a Jim Thompson pulp novel from the 1950s, The Grifters takes an unsentimental look at both con artists and the mob. Set to a musical score that’s best described as menacing, the movie is filled with great performances (especially from Huston – she plays a truly cold bitch) and several scenes that will almost certainly make you uncomfortable. Great drama, but it’s a little too contrived for a perfect score. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997)

John Cusack Film Fest Movie #8

Synopsis: At some point, John Kelso (Cusack) says: “it’s like Gone with the Wind on mescaline”…actually, that’s not bad.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The most important party of the Savannah Christmas season is at that genteel town’s most elegant home. Black tie. Bluebloods. Then bang! Affable host Jim Williams shoots a man to death. The party is over, the mystery begins.”

What Did I Learn?: Savannah Georgia is apparently deep in the heart of voodoo country. Who knew?

Really?: 1) Holy shit, is everyone in Savannah some sort of bizarre weirdo? 2) Wouldn’t at least some of Savannah’s African American population already know about the Lady Chablis?

Rating: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is an entertaining courtroom drama that gets a little overloaded with Southern gothic. Cusack plays a likeable bloke (in many movies, he’s the calm, normal protagonist who’s surrounded by strange people and this is no exception), and Kevin Spacey is quite good as the urbane antique dealer, Jim Williams. While I like this film, Clint Eastwood went overboard with wacky characters (Eastwood pal Geoffrey Lewis plays scientist who’s surrounded by horseflies – I still don’t know why he’s in this movie), scenes that don’t work and a romance between Cusack and Alison Eastwood that seems tacked-on. 7/10 stars.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Tapeheads (1988)

John Cusack Film Fest Movie #7

Synopsis: Loveable nincompoops break all the rules, and prove you don’t need money - or even talent to produce music videos.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Ivan (John Cusack) and Josh (Tim Robbins) are ousted security guards who will do anything to make Music Videos. While being ripped off by their new boss Mo Fuzz (Don ‘Soul Train’ Cornelius) they connect with their idols, The Swanky Modes (played by real soulsters Junior Walker and Sam Moore) and vow to resurrect the duo’s career. All-the-while, the guys find themselves on the hit list of an irreverent politician while working towards their goal of international notoriety. It’s the hit comedy of the year!”

What Did I Learn?: “Production values” equals tits and ass.

Really?: 1) Hmm…Norman seems pretty much ok with his henchmen and a few others viewing his bizarre sex tape. And I had a bit of trouble believing he would choose to watch it in the TV studio – during a live, satellite broadcast – instead of in the privacy of his home. 2) Is there much demand for four-minute television commercials? 3) So wait… the boys find a no-rent studio that just happens to be inhabited by a cute chick? And Norman Mart is her father? Whoa… Coinky-dink Alert!

Rating: Tapeheads is not a particularly smart, or insightful satire of the music video business, but Cusack and Robbins work well together, the script offers a few laughs, and the movie never takes itself too seriously. While most directors would have put the Norman Mart storyline (i.e. the sex-crazy right-wing politician trying to kill the boys) front and center, it becomes a weird sub-plot as much of the later action focuses on promoting the Swanky Modes. The script could have used a re-write. Watch for the late Don Cornelius in a small-but-funny small part as a sleazy record producer, and Jello Biafra(!) as an FBI agent near the end. 6/10 stars.




Thursday, November 22, 2012

Better Off Dead (1985)

John Cusack Film Fest Movie #6 [Believe it or not, I first watched this movie in a Grade 10 or Grade 11 social studies class for a unit on suicide; the teacher – who also spent months teaching JFK assassination conspiracy theories as fact – somehow believed Better Off Dead offered insights into teenage suicide]

Synopsis: Forlorn, fatalistic fuckup forfeits flame, falls for foxy, flirtatious female frog.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Writer/director Savage Steve Holland says ‘Better Off Dead’ is semi-autobiographical. After his high school love ditched him, he picked up an 8-millimeter camera and made some depressing movies that had the exact opposite effect on his friends – they laughed.”

What Did I Learn?: If you’re ever asked to coach skiing, you might wish to reply: “Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way, turn.”

Really?: Better Off Dead is a zany comedy, and isn’t meant to be taken all that seriously, but I’m a little surprised Beth would be so blasé about Roy’s constant put-downs towards Lane. 2) Roy STALIN? Is there a reason the villain is named after a Soviet mass-murderer? 3) Why would Rocko hire Lane for his burger joint after he crashed into his vehicle not once, but twice? 4) Wouldn’t it have been so much easier to simply pay the psychotic paperboy his $2? 5) So wait – Lane takes Monique to the same burger joint where he was fired? And Rocko allows him to serve his own meal? WTF?

Rating: Better Off Dead has a few genuine laughs, as well as a kick-ass 80s soundtrack, but it’s a rather predictable and dopey by-the-numbers teen comedy (interestingly, the dude who portrayed the title character in Porky’s has a small part), and I understand that Cusack himself was never fond of the film. Certain scenes (especially in the burger joint) seem tacked-on. 6/10 stars.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Say Anything (1989)

John Cusack Film Fest Movie #5

Synopsis: John Cusack imparts a valuable, heart-warming message to loveable losers everywhere: stalking works wonders.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: ‘Unlike most films, which begin with a screenplay, producer, James L. Brooks asked Cameron Crowe to write the story in prose, first. The result was a 90-page novella that became the outline for the film, and from which Crowe wrote the final screenplay.”

What Did I Learn?: 1) A pen is a pretty crappy parting gift. 2) Not many people take “swear to God?” all that seriously, anymore.

Really?: So wait – Lloyd gives Diane the cold shoulder after he serenades her with the boombox outside her window? Come to think of it, isn’t that scene a wee bit creepy?

Rating: I didn’t expect to like Say Anything after so many years, but it holds up well, thanks to good writing, three-dimensional characters, and some excellent performances from Cusack, Ione Skye, and John Mahoney (best remembered for playing Frasier’s dad…interestingly, Bebe Neuwirth, who played Lilith on Cheers and Frasier, also has small part). 8/10 stars.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

America's Sweetheart's (2001)

John Cusack Film Fest Movie #4

Synopsis: America’s shallow, self-absorbed turds.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Gwen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Eddie (John Cusack) are AMERICA’S SWEETHEARTS – the country’s favourite couple, on-screen and off. But when their very public romance turns into a very private breakup, only veteran press agent Lee (Billy Crystal) and Gwen’s assistant Kiki (Julia Roberts) can help Gwen and Eddie show some love while they promote their last film together.”

What Did I Learn?: If you’re asked a difficult question, a good reply is: “life is a cookie...”

Really?: 1) So, Gwen and Kiki are sisters? Leaving aside the lack of resemblance, I had a hard time believing sibling rivalry wouldn’t get in the way of Kiki taking the amount of shit that she does. I could understand that relationship if Kiki really needs the money, or wants to work in Show Business (see: Swimming With Sharks), but there’s no way a woman would cater to her sister’s every whim without at least a smartass remark or two. 2) What happened to that restraining order? 3) I had a bit of trouble believing Lee would coax a very fragile Eddie into attending the movie premiere and then leak a tape to the press of Eddie supposedly jerking off in some bushes.  

Rating: With so many big-name stars, I expected a lot from America’s Sweethearts, and it failed to deliver. The laughs are (very) few and far between, we’re never sure what to think of Billy Crystal’s character (he’s a loveable wait, he’s a scumbag! No, wait...), you can see the eventual Cusack-Roberts romance develop all the way from Bloor Street, and it’s not a smart spoof of Hollywood culture. Save it for a Sunday afternoon. 5.5/10 stars.

Monday, November 19, 2012

High Fidelity (2000)

John Cusack Film Fest Movie #3

Synopsis: Self-pitying hipster recites endless series of Top Five lists.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “John Cusack stars as Rob Gordon, the owner of a semi-failing record store located on one of the back streets of Chicago. He sells music the old-fashioned way, on vinyl, with his two wacky clerks – the hysterically funny rock snob Barry (Jack Black) and the more quietly opinionated underachiever Dick (Todd Louiso). But Rob’s business isn’t he only thing in his life that’s floundering – his needle skips the love groove when his longtime girlfriend Laura (newcomer Iben Hjejle) walks out on him.”

What Did I Learn?: 1) Apparently, a record store can stay afloat by selling rare Smiths albums and original Frank Zappa recordings. 2) Nobody wants to hear Katrina and the Waves during a breakup.

Really?: I don’t know of too many businesses that survive by refusing to sell merchandise to un-cool customers.

Rating: High Fidelity is a smart, funny, brilliantly-written and well-acted character-driven drama about an entrepreneur who reflects upon his checkered love life. While I like the relationship stuff, the film’s best moments feature Cusack shooting the shit with his employees about music, good and bad. Highly recommended. 10/10 stars.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

War Inc. (2008)

John Cusack Film Fest Movie #2

Synopsis: “Ok John, just be the guy you were in Grosse Pointe Blank, except you’re in... Iraq!! Well, it’s not really Iraq – but you get it. Oh, and you’re working for Dick Cheney trying to kill some local turd, you want to get into Marisa Tomei’s pants, and Hilary Duff sings some really shitty songs. Trust me - it’ll be great!”

Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Recreating his role as a hitman, John Cusack gives a hilarious performance in ‘War Inc.,” a political satire set in Turaqistan, a Country occupied by an American Vice President (Dan Aykroyd).” [“Recreating his role?” Um, I’m pretty sure Hauser isn’t Martin Blank]

What Did I Learn?: Gulping down entire shot glasses of high-scoville hot sauce is poor method of dealing with your personal problems.

Really?: 1) John Cusack and Hilary Duff are [NO SPOILERS!]? Well, it worked in The Empire Strikes Back… 2) When Natalie is kidnapped, Hauser has a pretty good idea of where to find her. 3) So wait… Hauser is a paid assassin for the US government, and he thinks it’s a good idea to wine and dine a cute, left-wing reporter? I have a bit of trouble believing anything like that could ever happen. 4) I’m not sure how one can hide in the back of a garbage truck and somehow dodge a hailstorm of 9mm bullets.

Rating: War Inc. is an ambitious anti-war comedy that bites off a bit more than it can chew. While Cusack is a likeable bloke (for a hit man) and he shares some romantic chemistry with Tomei, the film isn’t terribly funny (Turaquistan’s President is named “Omar Sharif”…my ribs, my ribs!), and the second half is a mess of explosions and gunfire. The worst scenes involve Duff as Yonica Babyyeah, whose part seems to have been tacked on for sex appeal. 6/10 stars.


True Colors (1991)

John Cusack Film Fest Movie #1 (Please click the links to read my reviews of Sixteen Candles, City Hall, Bob Roberts, Broadcast News and The Thin Red Line) and yes, that’s one ugly VHS clamshell package!

Synopsis: Social-climbing, back-stabbing proletarian turd betrays kind-hearted bourgeois buddy, loving heiress, and benevolent blue-blood patriarch.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "They're the best of friends. Soon, they'll be the worst of enemies. John Cusack (The Grifters, Say Anything) and James Spader (sex, lies and videotape, White Palace) star in thie dramatic, absorbing story of two friends who move from law school to Washington's corridors of power."

What Did I Learn?: If an automobile accident is totally your fault, the best course of action is to get out of your car, yell and scream at the other driver, and attempt to shift the blame.

You Might Like This Movie If: You enjoy a good back-stabbing.

Really?: 1) I had a great deal of trouble believing Tim (Spader) would have anything to do with Peter (Cusack) after he admitted to a year-long affair with the only woman that ever meant anything to Tim. 2) Funny how Peter doesn’t get suspicious when Tim asks a whole bunch of weird questions about his questionable dealings with the local gangster. 3) So, Peter’s name-change, and questionable campaign funds never come up during his campaign for Congress? Who’s his opponent – Mary Poppins? 4) Not that many novice skiers would attempt a trail that begins with a near-drop, and runs through a pine forest!

Rating: True Colors is an enjoyable, but somewhat contrived and not terribly memorable tale of friendship, ambition and betrayal. While it’s fun to watch Cusack and Spader play against type (usually, Spader plays the scumbag while Cusack is the all-American nice guy), it’s tough to believe that nobody except the rival political staffer can see through Peter’s act until the end of the movie, and the film’s strange class snobbery is a bit off-putting. 6.5/10 stars.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Riot (1969)

Synopsis: Gene Hackman, Jim Brown and a cast of real-life cons teach startling lesson that the vast majority of criminals aren’t terribly bright.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “It’s a million-to-one shot. But desperate men always take desperate chances. “

What Did I Learn?: If you’re thinking of busting out of jail, you might want to develop a better plan than to use an old tunnel the warden already knows about.

You Might Like This Movie If: You know there's nothing more fun than a good prison riot. [This is a long, but very interesting - and disturbing documentary]

Really?: 1) I’m a little confused: how much of the prison is actually controlled by the inmates, and how much by the guards? Brown and others walk unmolested into areas where other prisoners have no idea what’s going on. I’m pretty sure that in real life, they would have been locked-down lickity-split. 2) I had a bit of trouble believing Red (Hackman) and Cully (Brown) would bring Surefoot along, considering he tried to kill Cully and the hostages twice already. 3) So wait, there are a zillion armed guards along the main wall, and the big plan is to emerge through a hole into a parking lot on the other side and hope nobody notices?

Rating: Riot is an enjoyable, yet highly contrived vehicle for Hackman and Brown, who shows some decent acting skills and had the potential to become a much bigger star than he turned out to be. Not a bad flick for a Sunday afternoon if you want to put your brain on ‘pause’ for 97 minutes. 6.5/10 stars.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Rounders (1998)

Synopsis: It’s basically Poolhall Junkies…with cards!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Dealt a painful lesson when he blows his hard-earned savings in a high-stakes, underground card club, master poker player Mike (Matt Damon) thinks he’s played his final hand when he gives up gambling for law school and a fresh start with his beautiful girlfriend (Gretchen Mol).”

What Did I Learn?: 1) if you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the poker table, you’re the sucker. 2) Never, ever do a favour for a buddy who just got out of prison.

You Might Like This Movie If: There’s nothing you enjoy more than, um...rounding. [warning: this is awful]

Really?: 1) Mike has a chance to bang Famke Janssen..and he doesn’t take it?! Come on… 2) Wouldn’t Worm at least ask for a ride back to New York, or at least to the bus station? Their game with the state troopers is apparently a five-hour drive each way. 3) Is Mike actually present with the judges during their card game long enough to read their hands? That seems a bit contrived. 4) So, is Mike’s girlfriend rich, or something? How the fuck do two law students afford a spacious and beautiful Manhattan apartment? 5) Since when is it a Mitzvah to help an indebted gambler by giving him more money with which to gamble?

Rating: As I watched Rounders, I kept thinking it seemed highly derivative of Poolhall Junkies… the gifted gambler who turns his back on the big game, the young punk who gets himself in trouble, the unsympathetic girlfriend in law school, etc… (In reality, Poolhall Junkies ripped off Rounders, so I can’t be too harsh). Rounders is an entertaining movie with some solid performances (Martin Landau has a wonderful scene where his character attempts to provide some career guidance to Mike with a roundabout story), even if it is a bit predictable and seems to glorify gambling. 8/10 stars.

Twice in a Lifetime (1985)

Synopsis: Blue-collar bloke bangs busty, bimbo barmaid, breaks blissful bond, bothers ball-and-chain.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “’It’s been a long time since I haven’t known for certain what a day had in store for me,’ laments 50-somethign steel worker Harry Mackenzie (GENE HACKMAN). His thirty-year marriage to wife Kate (ELLEN BURSTYN) has lost whatever zest it once had. Harry’s lust for life is rekindled by an affair with Audrey (ANN-MARGRET), a local, recently widowed barmaid.”

What Did I Learn?: 1) Ladies, if it’s your husband’s birthday and he wants you to join him for drinks at the local watering hole, don’t go to bed and tell him to “have fun”. 2) Amy Madigan is not a good actress.

Really?: 1) I had a hard time believing a 20-something woman would confront her father about his extramarital affair in a skuzzy bar, let alone bring her very young daughter along for the fireworks. 2) What was the point of having Hackman wear an old Army jacket when there’s never any mention that he served?

Rating: Twice in a Lifetime is an ok character-driven drama about a steelworker who ditches his comfortable-yet-loveless marriage for a spicy affair. There’s lots of star power and some good performances (watch for Ally Sheedy – this is the movie she did right after St. Elmo’s Fire), but Twice in a Lifetime doesn’t really have a third act, and it often feels like a made-for-TV flick. By the end, I was a little bored. 6.5/10 stars.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Less Than Zero (1987)

Dang – this would have been perfect for the “addiction” movies I reviewed last year!

Synopsis:  Robert Downey Jr. does dress rehearsal for the next...oh, 15 years of his life?

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “In a spellbinding dramatic performance, Robert Downey Jr. (Chaplin) portrays Julian, a Beverly Hills brat who has it all: looks, charm, smarts and a rich father – and a drug habit.”

What Did I Learn?: If you ever find yourself providing blowjobs to finance your $50,000 cocaine habit, you might want to take a “time out” and really think about your life.

You Might Like This Movie If: You’ve always wanted to see life imitate art.

Really?: 1) Clay is awfully forgiving towards Blair (Jami Gertz) and Julian (Downey), especially considering he caught them in bed together only a month earlier. 2) Considering Julian’s dad is apparently richer than Oprah, I’m a little surprised he would simply kick him out of the family mansion without maybe paying for a cheap apartment and groceries, so Julian isn’t homeless and starving. 3) Why does Clay wear a suit and tie everywhere he goes? Did rich kids do that in the late 1980s?

Rating: Beautifully filmed, and featuring outstanding performances from Downey, and James Spader as the scummy-but-surprisingly-reasonable cocaine dealer, Less Than Zero might be a bit dated, but it’s still an entertaining story of friendship, and the dangers of drug addiction. My only complaint would be that McCarthy, Gertz and Downey all seem far too mature and sophisticated to be playing 18 or 19 year olds, and it’s tough to sympathize with these kids, considering they’re spoiled rotten. 8/10 stars.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Wag the Dog (1997)

American Political Movie #5

Synopsis: Robert De Niro plays a bearded, evil mastermind with a talent for lies and deception. (Oops – that’s the synopsis for Angel Heart!)

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “When the President is caught in a sex scandal less than 2 weeks before the election, the White House sends for ‘Mr. Fix It.” Washington spinmeister Conrad Brean (DE NIRO) needs a war to distract the public’s attention, and he calls on Hollywood’s top producer Stanley Motss (HOFFMAN) to create it.”

What Did I Learn?: Albania is a hard country to rhyme.

You Might Like This Movie If: You know that De Niro and Hoffman could sell anything - even old cars.

Really?: 1) They. Faked. A. War. 2) Is it easy to slip phony items into the Library of Congress? 3) I had a bit of trouble believing Stanley Motss would continue to insist upon taking cedit for the series of events, even after seeing Shuman’s death covered up. 4) Come to think of it, when the plane crashes, why are the three principal actors able to walk away without so much as a scratch, while the flight crew presumably dies?

Rating: Wag the Dog might not be the most believable political campaign film, but it’s a fun, and quite funny romp featuring fine performances and a lot of celebrity cameo appearances. You just have to root for these loveable misfits, even as they’re conning the American public into re-electing a pretty scummy Leader of the Free World. 8/10 stars.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Bob Roberts (1992)

American Political Movie #4

Synopsis: It’s 102 minutes of the world’s worst folk music punctuated with scenes of right-wing lunatics running, yelling and screaming.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Tim Robbins stars as BOB ROBERTS, a radical folksinger turned senatorial candidate, in this satirical comedy that blends his campaign trail with singing, music videos and scandal.”

What Did I Learn?: It’s apparently quite easy to fake an assassination plot, and pin it on a totally innocent man in a room full of journalists, with a video camera recording everything.

You Might Like This Movie If: You know this is just fiction; the people of Pennsylvania would never elect such a right-wing doofus as their Senator.

Really?: 1) See “What Did I Learn?”. 2) So wait – Roberts’ (jet black!) campaign bus is filled stockbrokers trading on international markets? WTF?

Rating: Bob Roberts is one of the most obnoxious, unpleasant and unfunny “comedies” I’ve ever watched. Tim Robbins set out to create a crude and angry caricature of American conservatives and he succeeded beyond his wildest imagination (although none of the liberals in this movie – the ineffectual Senator, the unprofessional news anchor, the Cutting Edge Live staffer – come out looking very good, either). Robbins’ folk songs are painful on the ears, and there are far too many scenes that descend into chaos, but the biggest problem with Bob Roberts is its structure: the main character is completely unlikeable (and not in a funny, or charming fashion), and instead of facing challenges to overcome, he seems to cruise from victory to victory. While Bob Roberts received many glowing reviews, and some may appreciate its take on the folks who would later be termed “Tea Partiers”, Robbin’s self-indulgent harangue left me with a headache. I cannot recommend this movie. 1/10 stars.

Would It Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Not unless you want everyone to leave.

Primary Colors (1998)

American Political Movie #3

Synopsis: in a nutshell, Barack Obama joins ’92 Clinton campaign and realizes he doesn’t like what he sees.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Jack Stanton (John Travolta) is a virtually unknown Southern governor on a quest for the White House with his strong, savvy and equally ambitious wife, Susan (Emma Thompson). Running against all odds, the Stanton need all the help they can get from their extremely colorful political team”

What Did I Learn?: Pointing a revolver at a dude’s nuts is apparently an effective means of extracting a legally-binding confession.

You Might Like This Movie If: You enjoy a *cheesy* Bill Clinton impression.

Really?: 1) See “What Did I Learn?” 2) I’m pretty sure that any male employee – even a so-called master strategist – would immediately get the heave-ho from a campaign after whipping his dick out to a room full of onlookers. 3) Wouldn’t Governor Picker have realized his cocaine-fueled sex life of two decades earlier would catch up with him if he ran for President?

Rating: Primary Colors is a fun, and occasionally thoughtful through-the-looking-glass satire about the pressures of running for office. While it’s worth watching, the film veers badly off course whenever Kathy Bates’ larger-than-life character appears on-screen, and Travolta’s rather obvious Clinton impression is a huge distraction. I have to wonder: couldn’t he have created a new character from scratch and tried acting, instead of pretending to be Phil Hartman on Saturday Night Live? 6.5/10 stars.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Running Mates (2000)

American Political Movie #2

Synopsis: Worst Magnum PI EVER!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The media stalks every move Michigan Governor James Pryce (Tom Selleck) makes. His staff responds to every whim. And his suit is rumpled because, advisors say, rumpled means busy. Pryce’s life is a hectic circus of photo-ops, policy wonking, campaign funds and heated speculation over his possible VP choice. And sharing centre ring with him is his smiling wife (Nancy Travis) and an entourage of ex-lovers (Laura Linney, Teri Hatcher, Faye Dunaway) who are all women of power, all hoping to wield more power by putting Pryce in the Oval Office. Ladies and gentlemen: your candidate for President of the United States!”

What Did I Learn?: If you want to get a job, wait until your potential employer is out jogging and then pitch your resume.

Really?: 1) So, a Democratic nominee for President claims his favourite Commander-in-Chief was William Henry Harrison on the grounds that he was only in office for 32 days, and couldn’t do any real damage? 2) In various rooms filled with microphones and reporters, I had a bit of trouble believing a prominent US Senator would address the campaign manager of his party’s nominee for President as “bitch” and other assorted insults. 3) Considering the Vice Presidency comes with no real power, why are the big money guys so insistent that Senator Morris (Bruce McGill) gets the Number Two job...are they planning an assassination? 4) I had a great deal of trouble believing three women would each openly boast about banging their party’s Presidential nominee when the dude’s wife is standing in the same room with them.

Rating: I feel badly for Tom Selleck – he was great as Magnum, yet every movie he’s done afterwards has been a steaming turd, and Running Mates is no exception. The script is heavy-handed and obvious, Teri Hatcher’s part seems tacked-on and pointless, and the characters are nearly all unlikeable. I was ready to award five-and-a-half stars to Running Mates until a scene near the end (see: Really? #4) when it suddenly turns into The First Wives Club; the scene is so bad, I stopped the tape and ran away, screaming. I cannot recommend this movie. 3/10 stars.

Would It Work For a Bad Movie Night?: No fucking way.