Saturday, April 27, 2013

Heist (2001)

Synopsis: The title is “Heist”. What do YOU think this movie’s about?

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "Getting the goods? Easy. Getting away after the robbery? Veteran thief Joe Moore knows that's always the hard part. But he soon discovers that getting away from a life of crime is the hardest escape of all."

What Did I Learn?: 1) If you’ve just ripped off some gangsters, and you have a plane ticket to the  Caribbean in your hot little hand, GO! Don’t wait a few hours to walk your niece to the school bus. 2) Apparently, among thieves, the word “lame” is often used as a noun.

You Might Like This Movie If: you're in the mood for a Heist. A thick, meaty, juicy, delicious Heist.

Really?: Wow.... Joe Moore (Hackman) knows about boats, jets, explosives, metal smelting, and he’s a natural-born actor, and he can kick the crap out of a much-younger man in a fistfight. Is there anything this guy can’t do? 2) Funny how the cops get a clear video of Joe’s face during a robbery and then... this plot point is pretty much dropped soon afterward. 3) Can somebody really walk, let alone fight (albeit with a gun, not fists) after being shot in the leg?

Rating: Heist is an enjoyable-yet-forgettable crime thriller. There are plenty of twists and turns in this movie, and David Mamet does a decent job with the dialogue (I love the exchange: “Don’t you want to hear my last words?”, “I just did”), but the third act is *ahem* lame, and it’s tough to give a shit about any of these characters. 7/10 stars.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Way of the Gun (2000)

Synopsis: Cutthroat criminals capture confused kid-carrier, kill crooked custodians. [and they’re the good guys, by the way!!]

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “From the Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Usual Suspects, this wickedly off-beat mix of crime, comedy and gunplay stars Ryan Phillippe and Benicio Del Toro.”

What Did I Learn?: Not much, but this film has some memorable quotations: 1) A pint of your blood can fetch you fifty bucks. A shot of cum, three grand. 2) Karma's justice without the satisfaction.3) a plan is just a list of things that don't happen. 4) A woman needs security like a man needs approval.4) Fifteen million dollars is not money. It's a motive with a universal adaptor on it. 5) There's always free cheese in a mousetrap.6) The only thing you can guess about a broken down old man is that he is a survivor.

You Might Like This Movie If: You figure it must be a sequel to Way of the Exploding Fist.

Really?: 1) Hold on – Jeffers and Obecks (Taye Diggs and Nicky Katt) demonstrate such fanatical loyalty to their employer that they refuse to lower their guns when the protagonists have the drop on them...and yet they’re willing to rip him off and commit cold-blooded murder later on? That doesn’t compute. 2) Exactly how far away is that Mexican motel from the Chiddick mansion in LA? At times, it seems like it’s a long drive; at other times, not so much. 3) So Parker and Longbaugh (Ryan Phillippe and Benicio Del Toro) do a face-turn at the end, or what? Why do they follow Jeffers’ car from the motel if they were planning on giving up on the kidnapping scheme, anyway?

Rating: As much as I generally like James Caan, even he can’t save Way of the Gun from a number of problems, the biggest being that the film is populated with unlikeable scumbags, and even the protagonists are vicious, sociopathic brutes. Frankly, it’s impossible to root for anyone in the last half hour or so, and the final shootout just seems pointless. I cannot recommend this movie. 5/10 stars.

Would it Work for a Bad Movie Night?: Maybe.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Love and a .45 (1994)

Quentin Tarantino Rip-Off Movie (Please click the link to read my review of another obvious QT rip-off, For a Few Lousy Dollars)

Synopsis: It’s the Southern-fried cinematic turd RenĂ©e Zelweger doesn’t put on her CV.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "In the tradition of 'Pulp Fiction', 'True Romance' and 'Reservoir Dogs', LOVE AND A .45 is a cutting edget story of two fugitive lovers on a fast and furious run for freedom. With a pounding soundtrack and brilliant performances from a sexy young cast, this raw and turbulent film shows the talents of a new force in filmmaking."

What Did I Learn?: 1) if your girlfriend vows that she would follow you all the way to Oklahoma, she’s a keeper. 2) There are only two things you need to get by on Planet Earth: love, and a .45.

You Might Like This Movie If: You're ready for some .45 calibre fun!

Really?: 1) So wait, Watty and Starlene are wanted by the cops for murder, and they take the time get married by a Justice of the Peace? Aside from leaving clues about their presence, and where they’re going, isn’t it up to the judge to file their request? And why would he do that after Watty and Starlene bound and gag him afterwards? 2) Isn’t Watty taking a huge risk by tempting the convenience store clerk with a loaded firearm? 3) I had a bit  of trouble believing Dinosaur Bob and Creepy Cody could torture Billy Mack Black with a tattoo gun, and he would then willingly join their search for Watty after they shoot him up with drugs. 4) I’m still shaking my that scene in the diner when Watty disarms Billy Mack and stabs him in the neck with a fork.

Rating: Everything about Love and a .45 is atrocious: the acting, dialogue, storyline and action scenes are all sub-par and unwatchable. In fact, I gave up after an hour or so of self-imposed torture. I cannot recommend this movie. 2/10 stars.

Would It Work For a Bad Movie Night? Absolutely! There’s actually a scene when Dinosaur Bob sniffs Watty’s hand to determine if he’s been, um...enjoying conjugal relations with a lady. Come on – if that isn't crowd-pleasing comedic gold, what is?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Jackie Brown (1997)

Quentin Tarantino Film Fest Movie #4

Synopsis: Sexy stewardess seduces surety sponsor, scams sidearm salesman, sidesteps scuzzy sleuths.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "Pulp Fiction director Quentin Tarantino ignites the screeen with a sizzling all-star cast that's sure to please! ... Combining an explosive mix of intense action and edgy humor, Tarantino scores again with the entertaining Jackie Brown!"

What Did I Learn?: 1) A good cop will never let you know he knows you’re full of shit. 2) Back in 1995, it was possible to have your own apartment in L.A. while earning the princely sum of $16,000 a year. 3) The AK-47 is “the very best [firearm] there is…. when you absolutely, positively got to kill every motherfucker in the room.”

Really?: 1) If his plan is to open the trunk and kill Beaumont, why in the world would Ordell give him a shotgun to hold in the meantime? 2) I realize Louis isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I had a great deal of trouble believing he would shoot Melanie in a crowded parking lot simply because she likes to nag…or that Ordell would shoot Louis when the latter is driving on a city street! 2) Melanie and Simone are quite attractive, and I can see why Ordell would provide each of them with their own place, but Sheronda? Yeesh...  

Rating: Jackie Brown is one of the only Quentin Tarantino films that’s based on a pre-existing script, and it shows: the movie is enjoyable, but clearly doesn’t have either the panache or the snappy dialogue of Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs. Pam Grier and Samuel  L. Jackson are quite good as Jackie and Ordell (Robert Forster is ok as Max Cherry, while De Niro does his best with a limited part), but the movie drags in places and never really gets going – it’s all atmosphere, and an endless series of forgettable meetings. 7/10 stars.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

True Romance (1993)

Quentin Tarantino Film Fest Movie #3

Synopsis: Loveable loser and hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold find happiness by selling $500,000 worth of stolen cocaine. Holy shit – it’s Atlantic City with sunshine and younger actors!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "Stealing. Cheating. Killing. Who says romance is dead?"

What Did I Learn?: 1) Every pimp in the world ends up getting shot, and the cops don’t give a crap. 2) A man has 17 facial expressions that reveal he’s lying, while a woman has 20.

Really?: 1) Even if I had just committed a double-murder and I needed to get the fuck out of Dodge, lickity-split, I’m pretty sure I would remember to pick up my wallet. 2) Related point: doesn’t Clarence (Christian Slater) realize he’s left his wallet and driver's license behind? I’m not sure it’s a great idea for him to visit his old man, let alone leave him a forwarding address in California. 3) You know, for a nerdy guy who spent most of his adult life working in a comic book shop, Clarence is a pretty tough customer. 4) Wow...neither Clarence nor Alabama (Patricia Arquette) seem terribly troubled about killing people or selling a fortune in drugs. 5) Wouldn’t Vincenzo (Christopher Walken) realize Clifford (Dennis Hopper) is obviously baiting him to take out his gun and kill him so Clifford doesn’t have to betray Clarence under torture? 6) So, Samuel L. Jackson is in this movie for what...three seconds?

Rating: I have slightly mixed feelings about True Romance. Slater and Arquette share some undeniable on-screen chemistry, and the movie provides some genuine laughs and thrills before it ends in a spectacular three-way shootout between the mob, the police and Lee Donowitz's hired goons. Unfortunately, the fun, road-picture feeling of True Romance is on several occasions marred by some extremely brutal violence, and I had a LOT of trouble buying Clarence's transformation from nerdy comic store geek into some tough guy who knows the ins and outs of setting up a major cocaine deal. True Romance was based on a very early Tarantino script, so it's interesting to hear phrases and lines of dialogue that made it into his other films; heck, Clarence and Alabama seem an awful lot like Ringo and Yolanda from Pulp Fiction.  8/10 stars.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Quentin Tarantino Film Fest Movie #2

Synopsis: It’s a three-ring circus of murderous-yet-highly-quotable lowlifes!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "Cricics and audiences worldwide hailed Pulp Fiction as the star-studded motion picture of the year!"

What Did I Learn?: 1) If you’re going to shoot a lot of heroin at home, it’s a good idea to keep a syringe of adrenaline, AND a medical book handy, and in the same place. 2) In Paris, a Quarter Pounder is better known as a Royale With Cheese. 3) It’s not a good idea to keep heroin in a baggie if the woman you’re dating has a thing for cocaine.

Really?: 1) Wow...Butch (Bruce Willis) has no trouble at all escaping from those perverts, even though he's bound and tied to a chair, does he? 2) I’m shocked that Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) are afraid of getting stopped by the cops for driving a blood-soaked car... the cops never once show up in this entire movie! 3) For a guy who’s married to a black woman, I’m surprised Jimmy (Tarantino) employs the “n-word” as often as he does. 4) Doesn’t Mia (Uma Thurman) have any girlfriends? Why in the world would Marsellus ask Vincent to take her out on a date?

Rating: Pulp Fiction is undoubtedly one of the very best films from the ‘90s; it’s smart, funny, very well-acted and quite memorable. Highly recommended. 10/10 stars.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Tarantino Film Fest Movie #1 (While I’m not a fan of QT’s later films – Kill Bill, Django Unchained, Inglorious Basterds, etc... I DO like his early stuff, when he concentrated on snappy dialogue and clever storytelling.)

Synopsis: Well-dressed hoodlums conduct impromptu post-mortem/team-building exercise after failing to meet established goals.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “They were perfect strangers, assembled to pull off the perfect crime. Then their simple robbery explodes into a bloody ambush, and the ruthless killers realize one of them is a police informer. But which one?”

What Did I Learn?: It’s not a great idea to pull a jewelry store heist with a psychopath. 2) Waitressing is the Number One job for non-college educated women in America. 3) Armed robbers have about four minutes between the time an alarm gets tripped and the time the cops show up.

Really?: 1) Is there a reason why these guys are all wearing identical black suits, white shirts and black ties? 2) Hold on – the cops are stationed less than a block away from the hideout, and they do nothing after they hear shots fired, and they know one of their guys is undercover? No way.

Rating: If there’s a quintessential “guy” movie, it would be Reservoir Dogs. The film is well-written, and jam-packed with suspenseful action and fine performances; Harvey Keitel and Steve Buscemi especially stand out. Reservoir Dogs isn’t always an easy movie to watch (thanks to Michael Madsen, I’ll always associate Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle” with brutal torture), but it is quite good. My only complaints would be that all of the characters sound like variations of Tarantino, and the second "Really?" 8.5/10 stars.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

My Favorite Year (1982)

Synopsis: Ok, start with Scent of a Woman; replace Pacino and Chris O’Donnell with Peter O’Toole and Cousin Larry from Perfect Strangers, and then re-write the script into a two-hour episode of Happy Days.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The immediacy of live television explodes with an intensity unknown in today’s world of video retakes and canned laughter.”

What Did I Learn?: 1) Ladies are “unwell”, gentlemen vomit. 2) It takes two days to prepare Meatloaf Mindanao. 3) According to the protagonist: “Jews know two things: suffering, and where to find great Chinese food.” 4) According to the movie star: "women love to be intrigued. They enjoy unraveling the mystery that is man, but you must allow them the freedom to discover you."

Really?: Hold on...the veteran movie star is afraid of performing in front of an audience? And he only realizes he’ll be on live television ten minutes before his scheduled debut? Give me a break...

Rating: My Favorite Year enjoys a 100% Fresh rating at, and a fairly high grade from, so maybe I’m missing something, but I couldn’t stand this film. Everyone wildly overacts, the script tries too hard to achieve wacky, screwball humour, and yet it falls flat, and the whole thing looks and feels like an overly-long sitcom. A perfect example: at one point, a huge lamp crashes on stage and nearly kills King Kaiser (Joseph Bologna in a role that’s obviously patterned on Sid Caesar); I would have expected him and the camera to look upwards, to determine if it was an accident or not, but the shot never comes. Peter O’Toole provides an impressive, tour-de-force performance that deserves a few stars, but My Favorite Year is loud, unfunny, and poorly written. I cannot recommend this movie. 4/10 stars.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Dinner Rush (2000)

Synopsis: If you’ve ever wanted to see a cross-over between Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and The Sopranos, this is your movie.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "Things are really heating up at New York's hottest restaurant. Owner and bookie Louis Cropa (Danny Aiello) lost a friend to a mob hit and now his chef's gambling problem has brought the unwelcome mobsters into his restaurant."

What Did I Learn?: If you're obnoxious enough, you can guilt-trip a maitre d into comping you a nice bottle of Brunello because you had to wait twenty minutes for a table.

You Might Like This Movie If: See "Synopis".

Really?: 1) Um, I’m not entirely sure I buy the idea that in New York, a double murder in your restaurant will triple your business, but even if it’s true, wouldn’t it have still made more sense to whack the mobsters in Queen’s, or some other place with no connection to Louis? 2) So hold on... Gary (the accountant) is seen blocking access to the restaurant's bathroom when the hit takes place; he tells the detective's wife the ladies' room is out of order, when the clearly isn't true. Wouldn't he have some explaining to do, afterwards?

Rating: Dinner Rush is an enjoyable, and unfortunately overlooked film about an evening-in-the-life of a chic New York eatery. There isn't much of a plot to this movie (and in spite of the VHS blurb, it's hardly a gangster flick - most of the action revolves around Louis' relations with his two sons: the chef with dreams of owning the business, and the fuckup compulsive gambler), so much as a series of inter-connected storylines with a lot of witty and engaging dialogue thrown in. Aiello is quite good, and so are most of the other actors; my one complaint would be Sandra Berhard's performance. Wow...that woman just can't act! 8/10 stars.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Ice Storm (1997)

Interestingly, the Weather Channel is predicting ice-storm conditions in Toronto this evening.

Synopsis: All-American family celebrates Thanksgiving with turkey, cranberry sauce, vodka, um...valium, teenaged sex, and a key party?!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "Kevin Kline, Joan Allen and Sigourney Weaver turn in crystalline performances as two dysfunctional families learning to cope with the unyielding forces of nature - human nature - in this emotionally charged tale of suburban life in the '70s."

What Did I Learn?: When you’re staying with your parents, it’s not advisable to masturbate in the shower, as it wastes water and electricity and everyone expects you to whack off in there, anyway.

Really?: So, Wendy is what – 14 years old, and she’s able to chug vodka out of the bottle? No way. 2) I had a bit of a hard time believing Mikey would be ok with Wendy performing a sex act on him while she’s wearing a Nixon mask. 3) So, Wendy decides she wants to fool around with both Mikey and his brother Sandy, who’s what – 12 years old? This is fucked up! 4) The Carver’s own a bullwhip? Why in the world would a suburban family own a bullwhip? 5) I imagine the pharmacy decided not to press shoplifting charges against Elena, but it’s funny how that sub-plot is conveniently dropped and there’s no mention of it again after it happens. 6) I’m not sure Libbets would invite either Francis or Paul to her home over Thanksgiving...I would imagine she could do a lot better than either of those guys.

Rating: The Ice Storm is a beautifully-filmed near-masterpiece; through an odd musical score and some amazing cinematography, Ang Lee manages to recreate a long-ago time and place, and with it, a haunting stillness. The Ice Storm doesn’t really have a plot, which is fine for a character-driven drama, except that it’s tough to sympathize with any of these characters (at least until the end of the movie), as they’re all incredibly selfish and inconsiderate. Still, highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Man Who Would Be King (1975)

Sean Connery Historical Fiction (1890s?) Film Fest Movie #5

Synopsis: Loveable cockney blokes join world’s wealthiest, and most violent Masonic lodge.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "They rarely make them this way anymore - but they should. Based on a Rudyard Kipling story and packed with spectacle, humor, excitement and bold twists of fate, John Huston's film of The Man Who Would Be King earns its crown as one of the greatest screen adventures."

What Did I Learn?: 1) I can’t think of a single movie that does a better job of providing a concrete example for the old adage: "quit while you’re ahead." 2) Englishmen are the next best thing to gods. 3) Given a chance to think twice, it’s "not bloody likely" a soldier would give his life for Queen and country.

Really?: 1) Um, isn’t it made fairly clear when Daniel meets Roxanne that the locals believe there’s no possible way a god can have sex with a mortal? Wouldn’t this have registered in his mind, and wouldn’t Peachy or Billy Fish have warned him of this danger? 2) See “Synopsis”.  3) Avalanches are apparently far more useful than dangerous.

Rating: The Man Who Would Be King is adventure with a capital A. While the film is a wee bit implausible in places, and about 15 or 20 minutes too long (which is why I can’t give it a full 10 out of 10 stars), Connery and Caine share some amazing chemistry together, and the storyline never once fails to hold the viewer’s interest. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Robin and Marian (1976)

Sean Connery Historical Fiction (1199 AD) Film Fest Movie #4 (This film reunites Connery not only with Richard Harris from The Molly Maguires, but also Robert Shaw, who played the evil SPECTRE agent Red Grant in From Russia With Love)

Synopsis: The old Robin Hood, he ain’t what he used to be...ain’t what he used to be...ain’t what he used to be...

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The legend of Robin Hood continues in this high-spirited adventure. Many years have passed since Robin (Sean Connery) led the fight for the poor people of Nottingham. Now, he and Little John return from the Crusades under the command of King Richard the Lionheart (Richard Harris). But when Richard is accidentally slain, the mad King John assumes the throne and Robin regroups the members of his old Sherwood Forest band.”

What Did I Learn?: Hunting for Robin Hood through Sherwood Forest while wearing heavy battle armour isn’t such a hot idea.

You Might Like This Movie If: You admire a hero who’s all about serving humanity, not cashing in or making dough.

Really?: Robin Hood – an outlaw – signs up to become Richard the Lionhearted’s flunkey for the Crusades? Isn’t that a bit like the Fonz going to Vietnam?

Rating: I have mixed feelings about Robin and Marian; in many respects it’s a fun, but beautiful movie about getting older and facing death; the musical score is lovely and elegiac, and the film features fine chemistry between Connery and Audrey Hepburn as the title characters. Robin and Marian is a nice little movie, but I kept asking myself: “do I really want to see this?” Do I really want to see Robin Hood get winded after a swordfight? Do I really want to see the legendary bandit display some stunningly bad judgement and get most of his Merry Men killed off as he pursues a woman who was a nun for the past 20 years? It’s all a wee bit depressing by the end. Oh – and watch for an excellent performance by Robert Shaw as the world-weary, and not-so-bad Sheriff of Nottingham; Shaw is one of the most likeable, and noble villains I’ve ever seen in a movie. 8/10 stars.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Molly Maguires (1970)

Sean Connery Historical Fiction (1876) Film Fest Movie #3

Synopsis: Perfidious Pinkerton punks problematic proletarian Pennsylvania prospectors.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "The Molly Maguires was a secret society of militant coal miners who battled their exploitation by mine owners with violence, intimidation, and sometimes murder. Based on actual events, this gripping story is a sympathetic and accurate account of the Irish-American miners' struggle."

What Did I Learn?: Apparently, a tough Irish-American detective can withstand occasional sharp blows to the head without ever suffering from a concussion.

Really?: just many crimes does McParlan/McKenna (Richard Harris) commit while he’s undercover with the Molly Maguires? That was always a big deal in films like Donnie Brasco. 2) Does McParlan/McKenna seriously think he’s going to sweep Mary Raines (Samantha Eggar) off her feet after she discovers: a) he’s been lying to her about his identity, and b) he sends a bunch of people in her community off to jail? 3) I had a hard time believing a violent secret society would recruit a dude they don’t know from Adam. 4) See What Did I Learn? (and McParlan takes those hits from his boss!)

Rating: I can’t say that I’m terribly fond of The Molly Maguires. While it’s not a bad movie by any stretch, and the production values are quite impressive, the biggest problems with The Molly Maguires are that it’s extremely slow-moving, and there aren’t any heroes. In mob-related films like the aforementioned Donnie Brasco, undercover agents usually feel pangs of guilt and remorse for stabbing their new-found friends in the back, yet the audience doesn’t feel terribly sorry for their victims because they’re violent gangsters. In The Molly Maguires, the miners are hard-working men trying to feed their families, and they have legitimate (or at least semi-legitimate) reasons for turning to violence; moreover, the cops actually assassinate both a Molly Maguire and his wife. The audience keeps waiting for McParlan/McKenna to have some sort of a change of heart, but it never happens. And leaving character development aside, there isn’t much suspense, either: Kehoe (Sean Connery) eventually finds out there’s a traitor in his group, and yet nothing ever comes from that discovery, and McParlan/McKenna never seems to get into any trouble he can’t handle.  6/10 stars.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Great Train Robbery (1978)

As a movie buff, and a fan of his television and print reviews, I was saddened to hear that legendary film critic Roger Ebert passed away earlier today. RIP.

Sean Connery Historical Fiction (1855) Film Fest Movie #2

Synopsis: Loveable Victorian-era thieves covet gold even more than this guy.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "All aboard for runaway action and suspense in this riveting masterpiece from writer/director Michael Crichton! Starring Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland and Lesley-Ane Down, it's a "spine-tingling and suavely performed adventure (The Hollywood Reporter) based on history's first train robbery."

What Did I Learn?: A dead cat smells pretty bad.

You Might Like This Movie If: You know that train robberies were a lot more civilized in 1855.

Really?: 1) Hold on...if Pierce and Agar get Clean Willy to sneak into the Stationmaster’s office to unlock the cabinet anyway, why doesn’t he also do the key engravings? Why does Agar need to risk a breaking-and-entering charge on a ridiculously dangerous 75-second mad dash? 2) Did horny Victorian-era travelling business men really use the term “55 mile per hour club”? 3) I don’t want to give away the ending, but Pierce’s big escape plan seems a bit, um... ad hoc... 4) Wait...are Pierce and Agar holding a flashlight during that scene in the wine cellar? In 1855?!

Rating: The Great Train Robbery is a charming and fun little period comedy-drama featuring impressive production values, and some fine chemistry between Connery and second-banana Sutherland. 8/10 stars.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Name of the Rose (1986)

Sean Connery Historical Fiction (1327 AD) Film Fest Movie #1

Synopsis: Medieval monastery... murderous monks... missing manuscript... malfeasance!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “one monk has fallen (or was he pushed?) from a tower, another is found head-first in a vat of pigs’ blood. Are these the works of the devil, whisper the other monks, is this the Apocalypse? Visiting Brother SEAN CONNERY, investigating the deaths, discovers a secret library containing rare books considered lost to the world and dangerous to the Catholic faith.”

What Did I Learn?: Reading a book can kill you - don't do it!

You Might Like This Movie If: You think Brother Jorge was right...comedy is bad news. Baaaaaaaaad news!

Really?: 1) Gee...who knew that an elderly,  blind monk could cause so much destruction at the end of the movie? 2) Were there that many black monks in Northern Italy in 1327? Considering the man’s race was never an issue in the storyline, I have to wonder about that particular casting decision. 3) I have to wonder: why didn’t Brother Jorge simply burn Aristotle’s book on comedy if he thought it was so darned dangerous to the world? 4) Um...I really didn’t need to hear Salvatore (Ron Perlman) scream in pain over and over again.

Rating: The Name of the Rose is a creepy, and incredibly compelling film that works both as a Whodunnit , and as an historical drama. Connery is at the top of his game as a 14th Century Sherlock Holmes (William of Baskerville actually says “elementary” at one point!) with a genuine love for books. My only complaint would be that The Name of the Rose simplifies, and glosses over some of the story from Umberto Eco’s brilliant novel; Bernardo Gui’s (F. Murray Abraham) persecution of the former radicals has a profound impact on the debate that takes place at the abbey alongside the murders – was that a conscious decision on his part, or is he simply a paranoid, religious zealot without a dog in the fight between the Franciscans and the Papacy? Still, highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Blue in the Face (1995)

Smoke / Blue in the Face Double-Feature!

Synopsis: It’s Smoke...without a script.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "In the uproarious follow-up to the hit comedy Smoke, Harvey Keitel (Pulp Fiction) returns with a red-hot cast that includes Michael J. Fox (The American President), Roseanne (ABC-TV's Roseanne), and Academy Award Winner Mira Sorvino (1995 - Best Supporting Actress - Mighty Aphrodite)! It's nonstop laughs when a wacky group of locals visits the neighbourhood cigar shop, looking for good times... and finding plenty of hilarious fun!"

What Did I Learn?: 1) Very few people will name their price to eat a piece of shit. 2) Roseanne really can’t improvise a performance. 3) A trip to Brooklyn wouldn't be complete without taking in a Belgian waffle.

Really?: So wait... a little piece of the neighbourhood will die if Vinnie sells the smoke shop? Isn’t smoking really bad for one’s health? And who’s to say the locals wouldn’t congregate around the proposed vegetarian restaurant/health food store?

Rating: Blue in the Face is essentially an improvised follow-up movie to Smoke, featuring many of the same characters and actors; it’s a shame that William Hurt wasn’t available, but Keitel is outstanding as Auggie Wren. Blue in the Face is a lot funnier than Smoke – one of the best sequences features a whacked-out Michael J. Fox shooting the shit with a bemused Giancarlo Esposito -  but some of it works and some of it really doesn’t: Roseanne acts like she’s on an especially bad episode of Who’s Line is it, Anyway?  Smoke is a much better film, but check out Blue in the Face for a few laughs, and watch for a very sexy performance from Mel Gorham as Auggie’s long-suffering girlfriend, Violet. 7/10 stars.

Smoke (1995)

Smoke / Blue in the Face Double-Feature!

Synopsis: New Yorkers do good deeds for each other and shoot the shit in a friendly, neighbourhood corner store. So, it’s like Sesame Street without the Muppets! 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "In the tradition of The Big Chill... William Hurt (The Doctor) and Harvey Keitel (Pulp Fiction) head an all-star cast in this unforgettably fun and entertaining motion picture! A group of people's lives intertwine when a New York cigar store manager, Auggie (Keitel) befriends them." [Um..."in the tradition of The Big Chill"? Aside from starring Hurt, this movie is nothing like The Big Chill.]

What Did I Learn?: 1) If somebody saves your life, and all they want from you is a cold lemonade, give them the drink and then don’t make any further promises you don’t wish to keep. 2) You can measure the weight of smoke by weighing a cigar, carefully collecting all of the ashes when you smoke it, and then subtracting the weight of whatever is left from the original.

You Might Like This Movie If: you know that smoking brings people together.

Really?: I had a bit of trouble believing Rashid (Harold Perrineau) would leave his semi-stolen $6,000 in Paul’s apartment after he’s been asked to leave. And now that we’re on the subject of the money in Paul’s apartment, it’s funny how: a) nobody once suggests giving the money back to its rightful owners, and b) Paul rather conveniently finds it hidden in his bookshelf sometime later when Rashid pays him a visit.

Rating: I have a soft spot in my heart for Smoke – it’s a smart, moving, extremely well-written, and occasionally funny character-driven drama. Everyone in the film is quite good, but Hurt and Keitel are at the top of their game and share some great moments together; I’ll never forget Auggie Wren’s Chirstmas story, or the scene when he explains both his love for photographing the same street corner every day at 8AM, and the need to sometimes slow down and actually notice the world around you. Smoke is a masterpiece, and highly recommended. 10/10 stars.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Winner (1996)

Synopsis: B-movie actors make forgettable, low-budget, Vegas-themed Tarrantino knock-off.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "Philip, known to many as the 'luckiest man in the history of North America,' raises the stakes in a town where the odds are already high - Las Vegas."

What Did I Learn?: If you’re ever on a winning streak at a casino, you might want to cast a gimlet eye on those nice strangers who really wish to befriend you.
You Might Like This Movie If: You know it isn't easy to be...*ahem*...Lucky.

Really?: 1) Um, why is Billy Bob Thornton made up to look like Burt Reynolds? 2) I’m pretty sure visitors aren’t allowed to have sex at the Liberace museum. 3) So wait...Louise (De Mornay) finds a human hand in her fishtank, and it just happens to belong to Philip’s (Vincent D’Onofrio) unseen Dad? And then his brother Wolf (Michael Madsen) shows up on Philip’s doorstep with their Dad’s corpse, and the audience discovers Wolf and Louise had a fling several years earlier? Give me a fucking break...

Rating: While The Winner boasts an impressive cast (I was sort-of kidding when I wrote the "Synposis"), it’s an atrocious movie. The plot is highly contrived and makes no sense, a number of scenes – especially those featuring Thornton and Delroy Lindo - are pointless, the dialogue is terrible, and the characters are nearly all completely unlikeable. Rebecca De Mornay is fun to watch, but  I cannot recommend this movie. 2/10 stars.

Would It Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Nope.

The Outsiders (1983)

Synopsis: Wait just a minute...directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Matt Dillon and Diane Lane...released in 1983....filmed around Tulsa, Oklahoma... storyline dealing with white, greaser gangs who get into rumbles... older brother figure who dies, tragically.... it’s Rumble Fish in colour!!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "In 1966 Tulsa, teenagers come in two ways. If you're a 'soc', you've got money, cars, a future. But if you're a 'greaser', you're an outsider with nothing but your friends... and a dream that someday you'll finally belong."

What Did I Learn?: If you save a bunch of little kids from an abandoned, burning church, the cops will promptly forget all about the pesky murder investigation.

You Might Like This Movie If: You can totally identify with being an Outsider.

Really?: 1) See “What Did I Learn?” (at the very least, it was never really mentioned again, afterwards). 2) These kids seem awfully self-aware and philosophical for a bunch of teenagers from the wrong side of town.

Rating: The Outsiders is a warm, compelling and generally well-acted drama about troubled youth and class tensions in the 1950s. The film boasts a murderer’s row of cast members: Ralph Macchio (he provides an outstanding performance as one of the greasers – it’s a shame his career stalled after the Karate Kid movies, because he obviously had some talent) , Lane, Dillon, C. Thomas Howell, Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, and Patrick Swayze. The Outsiders is a good movie, although there are too many unnecessary characters, the story becomes a bit predictable near the end,  a few of the scenes look incredibly over-stylized, and Stevie Wonder’s “Stay Gold” is a lovely song but doesn’t really fit the overall milieu. 8/10 stars.