Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982)

Synopsis: It’s like that episode of Saved By the Bell when Kelly gets an abortion...

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Fast Times At Ridgemont High, directed by Amy Amy Heckerling (Clueless) has become a cult classic. Twenty-four-year-old first-time screenwriter Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire) went undercover as a high school student to give us an insider’s perspective on sex, drugs, rock’n’roll and trying to make it through another year at Ridgemont High.”

What Did I Learn?: There’s a five-point plan for dating chicks: 1) You never let on how much you like a girl. 2) You always call the shots. 3) Act like wherever you are, that's the place to be. 4) When ordering food, you find out what she wants, then order for the both of you. 5) When it comes down to making out, whenever possible, put on side one of Led Zeppelin IV. [Oh, and hanging out at the mall all day is like, totally awesome!]

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

Really?: 1) Um….aren’t Judge Reinhold and Sean Penn a bit too old to be playing teenagers? 2) I had a bit of a hard time believing Mark Rattner and Damone would ever hang out together, and they have seem to reconcile quite easily near the end after the latter’s betrayal of his friend. 3) Mr. Hand has been teaching high school history for how long… and he still gives enough of a shit to visit Spicoli at home for an hours-long tutorial? Doesn’t Mr. Hand value his own time?

Rating: Much like The Breakfast Club, Fast times at Ridgemont High is such an iconic film from my childhood that it’s tough for me to evaluate it objectively; Sean Penn has played everyone from Mickey Cohen to Harvey Milk, but I’ll always think of him first and foremost as the loveable pothead Jeff Spicoli. Indeed, the scenes of Spicoli matching wits with grumpy old Mr. Hand (Ray Walston) are absolutely priceless. Thing is, the Spicoli/Hand interludes appear to come from a totally different movie than the much more serious Stacey/Linda/Mark/Damone (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates, Brian Backer, Robert Romanus) storyline, and the Judge Reinhold fast food sub-plot has its moments, but otherwise seems a bit pointless. Fast Times at Ridgemont High is an enjoyable piece of nostalgia - and you have to love its kick-ass soundtrack - but some of it works, and some of it doesn’t. 8/10 stars.


Waking Up in Reno (2002)

Synopsis: Southern-fried yokels bond over road trip to monster truck rally.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Monster Trucks, Monster Steaks, Monster Comedy!”

What Did I Learn?: 1) It’s tough to eat a 72-ounce steak, baked potato, bread and coleslaw in the course of an hour without tossing your cookies immediately afterward. 2) One dollar is not an appropriate tip for a hotel bellhop.

You Might Like This Movie If: You’ve always wanted to see a film that features performances from both Tony Orlando AND Truckasaurus.

Really?: 1) I can understand Darlene (Natasha Richardson) being angry with Lonnie-Earl (Billy Bob Thornton), but is it really a good idea to destroy your ride home when you’re travelling through another part of the country? 2) This might be the worst line of movie dialogue I’ve ever heard: “You're like a mole. And I'm not talking about that THING on Cindy Crawford's face.” 3) I had a hard time believing the two couples could simply yell at each other, and then kiss and make up a few hours after such a bombshell admission. 4) I really didn’t to see a close-up of Billy-Bob’s mouth as he was polishing off that monster steak...

Rating: Waking Up in Reno certainly has its moments, and the four leads work well together (Thornton provides some especially funny lines as a delightfully sleazy used car salesman), but the biggest problem with this film is that the characters are essentially caricatures of Southern white trash, and the audience is somehow supposed to care about what happens to them. Sorry, but you can’t present crudely-drawn, two-dimensional characters, make them play every scene for cheap laughs, and then go for the heartstrings. Oh, and it’s amazing how much of Waking Up in Reno seems to have been lifted from other films (the steak-eating scene from The Great Outdoors, for starters), but even the use of Yello’s “Oh Yeah” when the male leads see their truck for the first time. 5.5/10 stars.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Legal Eagles (1986)

Synopsis: It’s a courtroom drama that features everything except, um…courtroom drama.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Robert Redford and Debra Winger star in this sophisticated comedy thriller about an art fraud and murder, with Redford as a hard-nosed assistant district attorney and Winger as an imaginative defense attorney who combine their talents to defend Daryl Hannah, a spacey ‘performance artist’ who is accused of theft and murder.” [Wow...did the MCA Universal marketing department really feel the need to use the word “murder” twice in the same sentence?]

What Did I Learn?: If you’re an experienced trial lawyer and you find yourself defending a woman who everyone believes to be guilty, your best strategy is to, um… use your opening statement to tell the jury you think her entire story is bullshit?! WTF?

You Might Like This Movie If: You figure the movie is probably about this guy.

Really?: 1) See What Did I Learn? 2) So wait…the villains want to secretly sell a bunch of paintings that were supposedly destroyed in a fire 18 years earlier? Wouldn’t that open them up to criminal fraud charges? 3) So, is the Tait Art Gallery constructed from oily rags? It’s funny how the building gets engulfed in flames so quickly, and it has neither smoke alarms nor a sprinkler system. 4) Can a forklift actually crash through a steel garage door? 5) I had a hard time believing Laura Kelly (Debra Winger) would hire Logan (Robert Redford) for Chelsea’s (Daryl Hannah) defense team after he was caught sleeping with her and he became a public laughingstock. 6) Hold on – Logan and Kelly deliver one of the worst opening statements in the history of trial movies, and then they solve the crime over the weekend with a little detective work? Where’s the courtroom action? 7) So, in the course of this movie, Redford bangs one woman 19 years his junior, and another woman 24 years younger...hey, that shit happens all the time.

Rating: It’s hard to give Legal Eagles anything but a mixed review. On the one hand, Robert Redford and Debra Winger enjoy some great chemistry, and the film is a fun-but-forgettable romantic comedy. Unfortunately, the plot is convoluted bullshit, and the movie is so jam-packed with explosions, fires, shoot-outs and pretentious performance art that it never gets a chance to develop that chemistry. Legal Eagles isn’t one of Ivan Reitman’s better efforts. 6/10 stars.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

Hunter S. Thompson Double-Feature

Synopsis: World’s worst journalist and dangerously insane-village idiot drinking buddy freak out for two hours.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “When a writing assignment lands journalist Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and sidekick Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro) in Las Vegas, they decide to make it the ultimate business trip. But before long, business is forgotten and trip has become the key word.”

What Did I Learn?: “There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge.” 2) “One of the things you learn from years of dealing with drug people, is that you can turn your back on a person, but never turn your back on a drug. Especially when it's waving a razor-sharp hunting knife in your eye.” 3) “Few people understand the psychology of dealing with a highway traffic cop. A normal speeder will panic and immediately pull over to the side. This is wrong. It arouses contempt in the cop heart. Make the bastard chase you. He will follow. But he won't know what to make of your blinker signal that says you are about to turn right. This is to let him know you're pulling off for a proper place to talk. It will take him a moment to realize that he's about to make a 180 degree turn at speed, but you will be ready for it. Brace for the g's, and fast heel-toe work.”

You Might Like This Movie If: You enjoy a good documentary.

Really?: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a Terry Gilliam film, with some pretty cool special effects during the drug scenes (which comprise pretty much the entire movie), so it isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. That said, I have to wonder if Raoul Duke/Hunter S. Thompson ever once had to pay for his mistakes in the form of a savage beating, a night in jail, a hangover, brain damage, etc...?

Rating: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a much better film than Where the Buffalo Roam. While both feature obnoxious and unlikeable characters, Fear and Loathing is at least a highly imaginative romp, with fine performances, nifty special effects and a great soundtrack. Bizarre, but quite enjoyable. 7.5/10 stars.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Where the Buffalo Roam (1980)

Hunter S. Thompson Double-Feature

Synopsis: It’s a bit like Up In Smoke without the laughs.

Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Comic star Bill Murray is at his wildest as America’s leading ‘Gonzo’ journalist, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, the legendary underground reporter whose passion for writing was second only to his love of weird chemicals, alcohol, violence and insanity.”

What Did I Learn?: Under no circumstances should you ever allow Hunter S. Thompson to stay in your hotel.

You Might Like This Movie If: You enjoy hearing the song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” getting massacred.

Really?: 1) I have to wonder why Thompson wasn’t removed from the courtroom and charged with contempt immediately after heckling the judge for the first time. 2) So wait – Nixon was running for re-election in 1972, and yet the advance people refer to him as “the Candidate”instead of “the President”? No way…

Rating: I’m a big Bill Murray fan, but I can't say that I enjoyed Where the Buffalo Roam. While Murray and the late Peter Boyle (best remembered as Ray Romano’s dad from Everybody Loves Raymond) do their best with rather loud, juvenile and disjointed material, the biggest problem with this movie is that the characters they portray are obnoxious and completely unlikeable. This wouldn’t be such a problem if the script provided a laugh or two, but it doesn’t. Here’s another What Did I Learn? from Where the Buffalo Roam: it's a lot easier to laugh at people on drugs than it is to laugh with them. I cannot recommend this movie. 5/10 stars.

Would It Work For a Bad Movie Night?: It did, maybe 7 or 8 years ago.


Monday, February 18, 2013

The Russia House (1990)

Not Quite a James Bond Movie… (Alas,  my VHS copy of Diamonds Are Forever film is toast. I will review it, along with You Only Live Twice, sometime this year)

Synopsis: Imagine From Russia With Love, as envisioned by John LeCarrė: everyone in MI6 and the CIA are scumbags, and James Bond is an old, drunk-and- dishevelled bullshit artist.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer both deliver exceptional performances as two people – he from England, she from Russia – caught up in a world of spies and politics, whose love could prove fatal to them both.”

What Did I Learn?: If you want to interrogate a fellow citizen in a foreign country but you really don’t have any legal grounds to hold him, a well-stocked bar can work wonders.

Really?: 1) Um…isn’t Sean Connery about 30 years older than Michelle Pfeiffer? 2) So…British Intelligence and the CIA aren’t pissed at Barley for handing over their list of questions to the KGB, and he gets to live in Lisbon, scot-free?

Rating: The Russia House is an intelligent and sophisticated spy story featuring fine performances not just from Connery and Pfeiffer, but Roy Scheider and Klaus Maria Brandauer. While the movie is well-written and well-acted, not a lot actually happens for long stretches, and some of the dialogue is a bit off (at one point Scheider says: Some people don't like my metaphors; I don't know why, but... Anyway, everyone in this room is buying the same Picasso. It's very rare... medium rare... well done, what the fuck! The bottom line question is: did Picasso paint it? And you're the man who is selling it to us?”). The Russia House is a bit dull, but worth watching, at least once. 7.5/10 stars.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

Connery-Lazenby James Bond Movie #6

Synopsis: James “Coy-and-Vance-Duke” Bond romances mafia sweetie, out-skis Kojak.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "Just as James Bond finally discovers true love, he is thrown into non-stop thrills and chills in this explosively entertaining action/adventure. George Lazenby leaps into the role of Agent 007 with supreme confidence and undeniable charisma."

What Did I Learn?: Lazenby was basically set up to fail. The opening credits showed clips from the first five Bond films, there’s a scene where Bond cleans out his desk and reviews treasures (accompanied by snippets of theme music) from those movies, and if THAT isn’t enough, a janitor whistles the first few notes from “Goldfinger”.

Really?: 1) Wait – didn’t Bond and Blofeld already meet in You Only Live Twice? How the fuck can he go undercover as Sir Hilary Bray when Blofeld knows his identity? 2) Based on the previous Bond films, I never would have guessed in a million years that Blofeld is a highly athletic, and talented skier and bobsledder. 3) So wait – Blofeld sends three of his ski goons to pursue Bond and Tracy and then sets off an avalanche to kill all of them. I have to wonder if SPECTRE has a problem retaining employees, considering it enjoys bumping so many of them off. 4) Leaving aside the fact that Bond is supposed to be in love with Tracy, he’s posing as a gay genealogist in a mountain headquarters with paranoid security and a whole bunch of guns. Wouldn’t any rational human being keep his pants on, and refrain from banging the hot chicks?

Rating: Clocking in at two hours and 22 minutes, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the longest of the Bond films, and it occasionally feels that way – two extended ski chases are a bit much, in my opinion. It’s also weirdly psychedelic in places, and Bond’s philandering doesn’t seem so charming after we see him getting serious with Tracy. Lazenby isn’t bad as Bond – as a karate black belt, he brings an added realism to his fight scenes – but it’s very difficult to watch this film without thinking: “I wonder how Sean Connery would have handled this.” And while I like Telly Savalas, he’s completely wrong for the role of Ernst Blofeld. 7/10 stars.



Sunday, February 17, 2013

Never Say Never Again (1983)

Connery-Lazenby James Bond Movie #5 (Yes, I know  You Only Live Twice is the next film in the Bond series. Unfortunately, my VHS copy doesn’t play. I will review YOLT at some point this year).

Synopsis: It’s Thunderball...except everyone’s old, and there’s a whole lot of disco-jazz.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Sean Connery stars as James Bond, the role he created and stamped with his rugged good looks and roguish humor. Top-notch support comes from Barbara Carrerra as murderous femme fatale Fatima Blush, Max von Sydow as vile SPECTRE chief Blofeld and Kim Bassinger as willowy Domino, who falls for Bond.”

What Did I Learn?: Even health spa employees will always choose vodka, foie gras and beluga caviar over dandelion salad, goat cheese and “lentil delight”.

Really?: 1) So, Felix witnesses Fatima Blush nearly kill Bond, and he does nothing about it? What a pal... 2) So, what are the odds of jumping a horse off a castle wall, dropping maybe 75 feet into the sea and surviving? 3) Wait – Largo enjoys playing a video game that can deliver potentially lethal electric shocks to the loser...and Bond actually beats him in a round? 4) Hold on...SPECTRE somehow cloned the President’s eye and implanted it into a heroin-addicted Air Force Captain? Was that even remotely possible in 1983? 5) So, James Bond pisses battery acid? 6) It certainly looks as though Bond is killing people in the opening training exercise... doesn’t he in fact choke somebody to death?

Rating: I’m half-heartedly recommending Never Say Never Again because I think Sean Connery was the best of the Bonds, and it’s nice to see him sipping a vodka martini one last time – it’s also a better send-off than the atrocious Diamonds Are Forever. Interestingly, Connery portrays 007 as a plucky old fart who knows he’s a lot smarter than his clueless boss, or the local British diplomat in the Bahamas (a pre-Mr. Bean Rowan Atkinson), and he isn't as tough as he used to be. While it’s easy to root for him as the underdog, it’s also a bit unnerving to watch him romance Kim Bassinger. The film certainly has its problems – Bond never really appears to be in any danger he can’t handle, and let’s face it – NSNA is a tired remake of Thunderball, which wasn’t all that great, anyway. Still, kudos to Klaus Maria Brandauer for portraying Largo as a three-dimensional human being, rather than as just another clichéd Bond villain. 6/10 stars.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Thunderball (1965)

Connery-Lazenby James Bond Movie #4

Synopsis: It’s a James Bond adventure… with a shitload of boring stock footage from Jacques Cousteau.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The thrills never let up as James Bond dives into this riveting adventure filled with explosive confrontations and amazing underwater action sequences.”

What Did I Learn?: Nothing will get you into a woman’s pants faster than telling her she “swims like a man.”

Really?: 1) So wait… Bond just happens to be staying at the very same health spa, and at the very same time during which SPECTRE is doing something dastardly? What an incredible coincidence!! 2) Hold on… Domino is the sister of the real pilot killed by SPECTRE, and she just happens to be Largo’s plaything? That’s not only an incredible coincidence, but it doesn’t really make any sense. 3) I had a little trouble believing Bond would punch Felix Leiter in the gut to prevent him from identifying Bond as “007”, when it’s obvious Largo knows exactly who he is, and Bond even uses the word “spectre” twice during his casino encounter. 4) Um…not that many people would jump into shark-infested waters, armed only with a knife. 5) A “harmless radioactive pill”? 6) This is dialogue worthy of George Lucas: “But of course, I forgot your ego, Mr. Bond. James Bond, the one where he has to make love to a woman, and she starts to hear heavenly choirs singing. She repents, and turns to the side of right and virtue... but not this one!”

Rating: Clocking in at 132 minutes, Thunderball is far, far too long, and it could have used a serious editing job, especially with the underwater scenes, which seem to drag on forever (perfect example: do we need to see five fucking minutes of SPECTRE divers putting a tarp overtop the downed aircraft?). Throw in some plot points that don’t make a lot of sense and cringe-inducing dialogue, and you’re left with a sub-par Bond flick. 6/10 stars.



Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Goldfinger (1964)

Connery-Lazenby James Bond Movie #3
Synopsis: Bumbling bureaucrat crashes expensive Astin Martin, gets two young women killed, and spends most of his assignment in captivity.

Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Special agent 007 (Sean Connery) has just come face to face with one ofthe most notorious villains of all time. And now he’ll have to outwit and outgun this powerful tycoon to prevent him from cashing in on a devious scheme to raid Fort Knox – and obliterate the world economy!”

What Did I Learn?: For future reference: if Q informs James Bond his brand new car includes a whole bunch of nifty doo-dads, there’s an awfully good chance Bond will use each feature at some point later in the movie.

You Might Like This Movie If: You get a kick out of gold-themed villains.

Really?: 1) Why would M send Bond to play golf with Goldfinger when it’s obvious Goldy already knows Bond’s the dude who fucked up his card game? 2) I had a bit of trouble believing Pussy Galore would inform Washington about Goldfinger’s big plot after banging Bond…couldn’t she face conspiracy charges, even if Goldy didn’t kill her? 3) Um… wouldn’t the US government get extremely upset if somebody nuked its gold supply? Wouldn’t it likely hunt Goldfinger down like Osama bin Laden, even if he suddenly became a trillionaire? 4) Come to think of it, why would Goldfinger kill off every mafia boss in the United States, thereby inviting retribution? Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to pay them they money they’re owed, especially considering he’s on the verge of becoming the richest man on the planet? Does this guy ever consider the consequences of his actions? 5) Funny how Bond’s flight to the US is all martinis and comfy chairs, and then he’s assigned to a dungeon cell upon arrival. 6) So wait...Bond ducks his head below the bars of his jail cell and the guard feels the need to investigate? Come on...

Rating: While many consider Goldfinger to be the best of the Bond films, I think it sent the franchise in the wrong direction towards goofy gadgets, implausible storylines, and an over-reliance on evil billionaires. That said, it’s well-paced, Connery is at the top of his game, and he enjoys some great chemistry with Honor Blackman. Goldfinger is a fun movie so long as you don’t take it too seriously. 8/10 stars.

Monday, February 11, 2013

From Russia With Love (1963)

Connery-Lazenby James Bond Movie #2

Synopsis: Without a bullshit detector, 007 plays protector to defector delivering LEKTOR to Western sector. Oh, look out – there’s SPECTRE!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Sean Connery returns as James Bond in this thrill-a-minute adventure with blistering action, romance and high-tech gadgetry. Boasting remarkable villains and exotic locales, it’s a pulse-pounding experience that many fans consider to be the greatest Bond film of all.”

What Did I Learn?: Only a sociopathic  lunatic would even think of ordering red Chianti with grilled sole.

You Might Like This Movie If: You grew up watching this TV show...

Really?: I have to wonder why anyone would work for SPECTRE, knowing you’re one fuckup away from getting iced. 2) Similar to #1 – SPECTRE has training sessions that end in death? And what’s the point of having ordering one of their goons into wearing a Bond mask? 3) Why in the world would Bond holster his pistol when confronting Red Grant? 4) Hmm...I had a bit of trouble believing one guy, armed with a one-shot folding rifle could take out a helicopter filled with grenades.

Rating: From Russia With Love is a much better movie than Dr. No, and I consider it to be the best in the Bond franchise. The plot is actually somewhat plausible (there are no insane billionaires looking to blow up the world) and it feels like a genuine spy thriller; the to-the-death fistfight between Grant and Bond, for instance, is still edge-of-your-seat excitement. Lotte Lenya and Robert Shaw are terrific villains, while Karim Bey (Pedro Armendariz) and our hero strike up a surprisingly three-dimensional friendship for a Bond picture – you can’t help yourself from missing the former when he eventually meets his end. That said, From Russia With Love has its share of 1960s cheese (SPECTRE Island?), which occasionally distracts from the plot.  9/10 stars.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Dr. No (1962)

Connery-Lazenby James Bond Movie #1

Synopsis: Cool-as-a-cucumber secret agent plays cards, hangs out in nightclubs, drinks vodka, and um... that’s mostly it.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “With breathtaking chases, amazing stunts and a bold, nerve-shattering climax, this outrageously entertaining adventure pushes the envelope for non-stop thrills and magnificently sets the standard for the most popular movie series of all time.”

What Did I Learn?: Ladies, if you’re ever taken prisoner by an evil madman and your boyfriend offers to “do all the talking” at dinner, you might want to make your own escape plans if dude spends the entire meal taking pot-shots at the obviously thin-skinned bad guy.

You Might Like This Movie If: You love that nifty James Bond theme music, and you want to hear it played for the very first time. (Warning: this is absolutely awful)

Really?: 1) For an evil criminal/terrorist organization, 1962-era SPECTRE probably had a lot more non-white employees than either MI6 or the CIA. 2) So wait – Bond knows that strange things are afoot on Crab Key and he has to investigate ASAP. Why does he bother going on a date with Miss Taro, and then waiting around for Professor Dent to show up? 3) What’s the point of showing Dent’s boat ride to Crab Key, mid-way through the film? Couldn’t he have been revealed as a villain later, at Miss Taro’s place? 4) Wow...does Bond really say to Quarrel: “fetch my shoes”?

Rating: Dr. No is the very first James Bond movie, and it hasn’t aged all that well, even if Sean Connery remains the epitome of early-1960s cool. The pacing is slow, the fight scenes are a tad unconvincing (Bond saves the day at the end just by turning a wheel!), and Bond spends most of the movie playing detective. While Dr. No clocks in at 110 minutes (making it one of the shorter movies in the series) it seems to drag on and on at times. 6.5/10 stars.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Spymaker (1990)

Not Quite a James Bond Movie…

Synopsis: Taking on the KGB and the Gestapo leaves future pulp fiction writer um... shaken *and* stirred.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Torrid love affairs. Elegant and erotic women. Spine-tingling espionage. Exotic locales. Diabolical villains. The man who created James Bond, Ian Fleming (Jason Connery, the son of Sean Connery) actually lived the most exciting spy thriller of all.”

What Did I Learn?: Women with cold lips are no damned good, and shouldn’t be trusted.

Really?: Spymaker: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming is only partly-factual, so I’m not entirely sure how much is fact, and how much is fiction. That said, I have to wonder: 1) did Fleming really get that much pussy as a teenager, and did he honestly seduce not one, but two headmasters’ wives? 2) Why in the world would the Germans place their intelligence archives in a Norwegian castle when good, old Berlin would have been a much more logical location? 3) Leda has an important job with British intelligence – doesn’t she have better things to do with her time than watch Fleming crawl around through the muck during his basic training?

Rating: The acorn didn’t fall far from the tree: Jason Connery does an outstanding job of portraying the man whose books made Connery’s dad a movie star. Spymaker is a low-budget Turner film, so it wisely focuses on story and character development instead of attempting to become yet another Bond film, although there is a cool action scene near the end. While it’s fun to watch for character traits, lines and story sequences that would later get incorporated into the Bond movies, my big complaints would be that it’s difficult to determine which parts of Spymaker are fact or fiction, and the film doesn’t put nearly enough focus on Fleming as a writer, or on his life after the Second World War. 7/10 stars.

Table One (2000)

Synopsis: Rich, yet incredibly obnoxious idiots open eatery with unbelievably nice gangster.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “They’re rich, young, and tired of their usual hangout. Now these guys think they’ve got the perfect idea: open a restaurant catering to the martini crowd, and watch the money roll in. But things aren’t as easy as they seem.”

What Did I Learn?: 1) Thanks to food particles stuck to their teeth, women in their late 20s begin to smell of death.2) It’s not a good idea to hit on the local mobster’s wife, or call him either a “piece of shit” or a “greasy donut”.

Really?: So wait – why are the two goomba chefs still employed even after they served pebbly mussels to both an influential food critic and the mob boss who hired them? 2) Ok, the restaurant is failing. It’s funny how none of the partners seem terribly interested in asking why it’s not making money, or in how to turn things around.

Rating: Table One is an enjoyable, if somewhat forgettable little ensemble comedy featuring some decent performances, a few good laughs and some creative dialogue – much of the movie consists of men sitting around a table, shooting the shit, after all. After a great opening act however, the film starts to go off the rails; a number of characters never receive much development, and the focus suddenly shifts to Norman’s efforts to become “Lawrence Norbay”. 6.5/10 stars.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Friday Night Lights (2004)

Football Movie #2 (Please click the links to read my reviews of North Dallas Forty, Semi-Tough, The Longest Yard, The Program, and Any Given Sunday)

Synopsis: Depressed Texas town takes high school football waaaaaay too seriously.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “A genuine stand-up-and-cheer movie about a courageous high school football team’s fight to fulfill their destiny and live their dream, Friday Night Lights is ‘unforgettable and real!’ (Larry King).”

What Did I Learn?: In some Texas communities, the football coach earns more than the principal to whom he reports.

Really?: No matter how upset a drunk, middle-aged man might get with his son, I had a hard time believing he would ever throw his cherished State Championship ring out the window of a moving car.  

Rating: Friday Night Lights is an excellent film, and well worth viewing even if you aren’t a gridiron fan (and I’m certainly not); the movie makes the viewer genuinely care about the coach (Billy Bob Thornton) and his players, even though it never glamorizes football or glosses over the brutality and unfairness of the game. Friday Night Lights is packed with great performances – Thornton’s advice about making the most out of the short end of the stick will stay with me for a long time. Highly Recommended. 10/10 stars.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

All the Right Moves (1983)

Football Movie #1

Synopsis: Tom Cruise guest-stars in this 90-minute, very special episode of Coach.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The only way football star Stefan Djordjevic (Cruise) will avoid a life in the blast furnaces of his bleak Pennsylvania hometown is by winning a college scholarship. Even his coach (Craig T. Nelson) dreams of parlaying a winning team into a college far away from this graveyard of the American Dream.”

What Did I Learn?: If somebody offers you a football scholarship right before a big game that could change everything, take the deal!

Really?: 1) Considering Coach Nickerson has his future in his hands, I’m inclined to think Stefan would do a much better job of concealing himself the night the vandals trash the coach’s house. 2) And I can see the coach being upset about that night, but blacklisting Stefan from recruiting colleges seems awfully nasty and unfair – wouldn’t he have found a better way to work things out? 3) Wow...that ending wraps everything up in a nice, neat little package, doesn’t it?  4) Funny how Cruise and his buddies play the big Walnut Heights game mid-way through the movie, and then...there’s no more football from that point on. 5) Maybe I missed something, but there’s a scene near the end when Stefan gets arrested in his classroom for “armed robbery” by a couple of cops (are they really cops, or are they local hooligans?), and then the scene is never explained or mentioned again. WTF? 6) Stefan/Cruise is 5’10”? Oh come on...

Rating: All the Right Moves is an ok, but far-from-great story about teenagers with dreams of getting out of a depressed steel town. Craig T. Nelson was born to play a football coach, and there are some decent performances from Lea Thompson and the late Chris Penn (I can’t watch Tom Cruise without thinking to myself: “he’s obviously acting”). The movie has a great first act before the plot starts to meander, and it ends with several storylines unresolved. 6/10 stars.

Grand Prix (1966)

(Please click the link to read my review of Groundhog Day)

Dang – this would have been perfect for my “Driving Really Fast” theme last month!

Synopsis: It’s three hours of Jim Rockford in a tiny little car.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The action unfolds on treacherous, world-class racetracks from Monte Carlo to Monza, Italy, as Grand Prix explores the lives, loves and rivalries of four top drivers vying for the Formula 1 World Championship title.”

What Did I Learn?: 1) There aren’t really any historic relics in the Mediterranean near the Greek islands – they were planted there for gullible Americans to find. 2) Sylvester Stallone’s Driven totally ripped off this movie.

Really?: Doesn’t a Japanese industrialist who manufactures radios and sewing machines have better (or at least other) things to do with his time than traipse around Europe following Grand Prix racing?

Rating: While I consider myself a fan of John Frankenheimer’s films, Grand Prix isn’t one of his better efforts. At nearly three hours(!!), it’s far too long, the script is nothing special, and I found myself bored during long stretches, especially when the action didn’t focus on James Garner. (Interestingly, Eva Marie Saint appears in almost no scenes with Garner, even though the two of them enjoy top billing). If you have the time, check out Grand Prix for the fancy camera work and impressive racing sequences. 6/10 stars.