Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Soldier (1982)

Synopsis: Low-rent 007 springs into action to defend America's addiction to Saudi oil, wasteful suburban sprawl, and greenhouse gas emissions.  

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “There is nothing uniform about THE SOLDIER. When the Russians hold the world at ransom with a pile of stolen plutonium, the soldier’s response is unorthodox, uncompromising and unauthorized.”

What Did I Learn?: If the Russians have you over a barrel, your best course of action is threaten the world with nuclear annihilation unless they back down? WTF? 

Really?: Wow...where do I begin? I had a bit of trouble believing: a)  a CIA agent would be forced to break into the US embassy in West Berlin in order to report back to his Director, b) that a Soviet agent could infiltrate the office of the CIA Director and blow him up with an explosive lightbulb, c) that anyone could perform an Olympic-style ski jump while simultaneously wasting a pursuer with a Mac-10 submachine gun (see the 1:25 minute mark), etc... 

Rating: Featuring a pre-Wiseguy Ken Wahl (who also starred with Paul Newman in Fort Apache, The Bronx), as the title character, The Soldier is an impressive failure of spy movie. Some of the action sequences - especially the ski chase - are quite spectacular, and I loved the Tangerine Dream soundtrack. Alas, the storyline is somehow both simplistic and overly-convoluted, the low-budget effects cheapen the overall look of the film, and the ending is a disappointment. Check it out for shits and giggles - and for scenes of Toronto, over thirty years ago. 5/10 stars.

Would It Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Take a drink every time a vehicle explodes, or a gratuitous fight scene commences.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Witness Protection (1999)

Hmm...this would have perfect for my salute to gangster films a couple of years ago.

Synopsis: It's basically My Blue Heaven without the bad comedy, or the last two hours Scorsese chopped from Goodfellas.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “When mobster Bobby ‘Bats’ Batton awakens to find his home under attack by a relentless hit-man, he knows his life is in danger – he just doesn’t know why. Fleeing with his family Bobby tries to contact his business associates but no one is talking. He’s down, he’s out, he’s on the run and there’s nowhere he can hide. The FBI offers a solution. Give up your partners and enter the witness protection program.”

What Did I Learn?: Um, guys... if you're going to take out a second mortgage on your home, and run up an $80,000 credit card debt, you should probably mention this to your wife, beforehand, if you wish to stay married.

Really?: Closely related to What Did I Learn? Cindy finds out "Bats" has bankrupted the family and neglected to tell her. I didn't believe for a second she would enter the Witness Protection Program with him after hearing that news.

Rating: Witness Protection is well-acted, character-driven drama about a Boston Irish gangster and his family who find themselves in a tough situation. While I liked this movie, it was painfully obvious the other family members would be a lot better off without Bats, so the script makes less sense after the first hour or so. 7/10 stars.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

River's Edge (1986)

Synopsis: Hilarity ensues in Riverdale after Big Moose strangles Midge. Jughead becomes an accomplice-after-the-fact, while Archie drops a dime to Five-O and sings like a canary.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “On the bank of a river lies the naked body of a young girl who has been brutally murdered. At the nearby high school, a burly senior, Samson (Daniel Roebuck) brags to Matt (Keanu Reeves) and his friends about how he killed her. Drunk and stoned, the doubting teens trudge to the river and discover that he wasn’t lying.”

What Did I Learn?: If an acquaintance kills his girlfriend and doesn't seem particularly concerned with getting caught, it's not a great idea to help him out by concealing the evidence, or hiding him with your insane, dope-dealing buddy.

Really?: Apparently, this movie was sort-of based on a real incident, so maybe it's possible that a high school student could strangle his girlfriend, brag about it at school, and days could pass before anyone does anything about it. That said, it's a bit strange how the only place Samson's buddies can hide him is with another borderline-psycho Feck (Dennis Hopper) who also murdered his girlfriend, years earlier.

Rating: I had mixed feeling about River's Edge. On the one hand, it's a well-written, thought-provoking, and powerful movie. I'm not a big Keanu Reeves fan, but he does a very good job of carrying the film, and Ione Skye is incredibly sexy. Unfortunately, I had a lot of trouble believing certain parts of the plot (especially the pairing of Samson with Feck, who seems a lot like Hopper's character in Blue Velvet), and Crispin Glover seems to be acting in a totally different movie than the other actors; he's so over-the-top that I half-expected him to announce: "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!". Let's call River's Edge good, but not great. 7/10 stars.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Disorganized Crime (1989)

Loveable Losers Movie #4 (Please click the link to read my review of Money for Nothing)

Synopsis: It's Palookaville - in Montana.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Five crooks without a plan. Two cops without a clue. And one bank vault without a scratch.”

What Did I Learn?: Rural police forces are stretched so thin, you can easily do several crimes in the course of an hour and get away with them - thanks for the tip, Disorganized Crime!
You Might Like This Movie If: You believe the funniest crime is disorganized.

Really?: 1) Wow...Frank Salazar (Corbin Bernsen) has some of the worst timing of any human being on Planet Earth, doesn't he? 2) So wait... the gang wants to bail Frank out of jail using the money they just stole from the local bank? Aside from the questionable wisdom behind such a decision (doesn't he still have to go to trial?), doesn't that seem a tad suspicious?

Rating: Disorganized Crime is a fun, nearly-forgotten comedy caper film from the late 1980s. It isn't that hilarious (Ed O'Neill provides most of the laughs as a very determined, but not terribly competent New Jersey police detective out of his element), but it has its moments, and it's entertaining to watch the crooks bicker with each other before they pull the big job. Overall, not bad. 7/10 stars.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Cooler (2003)

Loveable Losers Movie #3

Synopsis: Sad sack secures squeeze, sabotages specialty, stings sociopathic supervisor.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Everything was going so well...and then he got lucky.”

What Did I Learn?: Broke, depressed and lame (literally) goofballs stand an excellent chance of seducing women who look like Maria Bello if they seem caring and sincere.

Really?: So wait - Larry, Mr. By-the-book/Call-the-cops is suddenly all in favour of roughing up Bernie (William H. Macy) when he's on a winning streak? And what's the deal with Shelly's face-turn?

Rating: Highly reminiscent of Mad Dog and Glory, The Cooler is an enjoyable character-driven drama about damaged people who find true love in a very odd place. While Macy is quite good as Bernie, and Bello is incredibly sexy as the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold, Baldwin provides a multi-layered, and highly impressive performance as the vicious-but-fair casino boss villain; you're never entirely sure what to think of Shelly Kaplow, which certainly keeps things interesting. 7.5/10 stars.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Second Best (2004)

Loveable Losers Movie #2

Synopsis: Pantoliano portrays pouting putz publishing perpetual personal pity-party.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Losers of the world unite!”

What Did I Learn?: You can't convince a gay man to give women a shot by favourably comparing a vagina to an asshole.

Really?: I had a bit of a hard time believing Richard would stay in touch with Elliot all those years. I certainly think he would sever the relationship after Elliot's failed physical attack.

Rating: Second Best is an often-funny, well-acted, and brilliantly-written dark comedy about a middle-aged writer and his less-than-successful buddies who are very, very down on themselves. Hilarity ensues when their one wealthy, and popular friend Richard comes to town. Highly recommended 9/10 stars.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Palookaville (1995)

Loveable Losers Movie #1

Synopsis: It's the worst armoured car robbery since The War Wagon!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “They fought the law, but the law didn’t notice!”

What Did I Learn?: Stringing a hot chick along by promising to take her to exotic locales, and then never going anywhere is a strategy fraught with perils.

Really?: 1) It's a funny scene, but I had a bit of trouble believing Jerry would stick around in the bakery, eating pastries, when it's obvious the cops are on the way. 2) Wow...that girl in the second-hand shop is awfully nice to Sid. Does stuff like that happen in real life?

Rating: Highly reminiscent of Big Deal on Madonna Street and Crackers, Palookaville is a funny, and often charming look at three dumb-but-sympathetic would-be-criminals. My only complaint is that the film is quite slow-moving, and it takes forever for the plot to actually hatch. 8/10 stars. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Another 48 HRs (1990)

Not Quite a Beverly Hills Cop Movie (Please click the link to read my review of 48 HRs)

Synopsis:  The boys are back in milk a tired franchise and ruin our memories of a pretty good action-comedy-thriller.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "Here they go again. Only faster. And tougher. Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy) and Jack Cates (Nick Nolte) return in the smash sequel that's 'better than the first!' (Pat Collins, WWOR-TV)."

What Did I Learn?: If you've angered somebody enough that you're seriously concerned he may hit you, it's not a great idea to share information about recent personal injuries.

Really?: Man, where do I begin? I could point out any number of obvious plot holes, but let me say that: a) I had a hard time believing the biggest drug dealer in the San Francisco/Oakland area has a shitty day job, b) it's amazing how Reggie's buddy in the slammer (Bernie Casey) seems to know everything, c) I'm not sure how Cates could keep going after getting shot in the shoulder (or how Reggie could walk away from that bus without a scratch), and d) I had no idea revolvers could fire 20-odd shots without re-loading.

Rating: Ugh. Another 48 HRs is just plain awful; the plot makes absolutely no sense, and the film seems more like a tired remake of the original 48 HRs (right down to Eddie singing "Roxanne" one more time) than an actual sequel. The worst problem, however, involves the leads: while Nolte and Murphy shared some genuine chemistry in the first film, neither man is even remotely funny this time around, and their juvenile back-and-forth becomes tiresome. I cannot recommend this movie. 4/10 stars.

Would It Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Take a drink every time Reggie says something along the lines of "I'm done with you!", and every time Jack sasses a fellow police officer.

Beverly Hills Cop III (1994)

Beverly Hills Cop Movie #3

Synopsis: It's the Godfather Part III / Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles of the Beverly Hills Cop movies.

Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) journeys back to Beverly Hills for a real roller coaster thrill ride at the Wonderworld amusement park! Joined by old pals Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) and Serge (Bronson Pinchot), Axel becomes the hottest new attraction as he chases down the bad guys on the rides, through the shows and in the underground maze beneath the park.”

What Did I Learn?: Yeesh...maybe Beverly Hills Cop II wasn't all that bad.

You Might Like This Movie If: Um... you probably won't like this movie.

Really?: 1) So, where's Bogomil? Come to think of it, Axel meets Serge for the first time in years, and neither man mentions Jenny Summers, the only person (aside from Victor Maitland and Michael Tandino) they have in common. 2) Upon identifying Ellis De Wald as Todd's killer, shouldn't Foley's next move have been to contact the Detroit District Attorney and ask for an arrest warrant, or an extradition order, or something? 3) So, Billy is no longer a plant-loving gun nut? Oh explanations necessary. 4) Um... there's no way in the world I'm buying any of that "Spider" ride rescue sequence; Foley would have fallen any number of times as he jumped from cage to cage, and he then he somehow saves two children while hanging from a rope - one-handed? Bullshit.

Rating: Beverly Hills Cop III is atrocious on many levels. While it's hardly the worst movie I've ever seen, it's a huge letdown once you've seen the first BHC. Interestingly, the first two films were also revenge thrillers, yet they had a sense of insouciant fun that's clearly missing from this movie, even though it's largely set in an amusement park; come on - Axel Foley staying in a shitty motel, and never once pulling a con? Instead, we're treated to numerous scenes of Foley holding a gun to De Wald's neck, or beating the shit/attempting to beat the shit out of him, and it gets old, fast. The action scenes aren't credible, the "comedy" isn't funny, and the soundtrack stinks, big time (although the down-tempo, tuba version of Axel F was sort-of cute). I cannot recommend this movie. 3/10 stars.

Would It Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Take a drink every time Axel Foley says the word "killer".

Friday, August 9, 2013

Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)

Beverly Hills Cop Movie #2

Synopsis: It's essentially 103 minutes of Eddie Murphy screaming at people, punctuated with gunfire, explosions and car chases.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The heat’s back on! And Eddie Murphy is cool as ever in this sizzling, smash-hit sequel to Beverly Hills Cop. Axel Foley (Murphy) is back – back where he doesn’t belong! He’s going ‘deep, deep, deep undercover’ into the chic wilds of Southern California, unleashing his arsenal of blazing gunfire and rapid-fire gags against a gang of international munitions smugglers”

What Did I Learn?: Apparently, high-end jewelry stores in Beverly Hills didn't think to install security cameras in the late 1980s, so identifying a 6-foot-tall blonde would have been impossible.

Really?: Wow...where do I begin? Do I start at the very beginning and ask why the *Detroit* Police Department would spend over 60 grand on a car for Axel Foley, when even Crockett and Tubbs used vehicles and clothes that were confiscated from drug dealers? Do I ask why Foley, Bogomil, Rosewood and Taggart are now the best of friends, when there was *at best* some grudging respect at the end of the first movie? Do I point out the obvious plot holes (Bogomil's daughter works at the very same insurance firm used by the bad guy, and she has access to his files? The villains show up as guests at Hugh Hefner's place immediately after a robbery? And why alphabetize the crimes at all?) Oh, and why did Foley have to throw out Rosewood's perfectly good vitamins?

Rating: Beverly Hills Cop II has a few decent action sequences, and some nice buddy chemistry between Foley, Rosewood and Taggart, but it's a borderline bad movie for a few reasons: a) the plot makes no sense, b) the villains (including the nasty and incompetent police chief) are all one-dimensional cartoons, and c) - this is a big one - Axel Foley is a loud, boorish, unfunny, and obnoxious asshole in this film. Seriously, it's hard to sympathize with  a guy whose idea of pulling a disguise is to scream in somebody's face for several minutes until they give him what he wants. I'm barely recommending Beverly Hills Cop II. 5.5/10 stars.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

Beverly Hills Cop Movie #1 (Hmm...this would have been perfect for my Revenge theme last year!)
Synopsis: Smartass from America's toilet teaches by-the-book law enforcement officers a few valuable tips including: harassment, breaking-and-entering, lying to a superior, impersonating a customs official, and theft.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The heat is on in this fast paced action-comedy starring Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley, a street smart Detroit cop tracking down his best friend’s killer in Beverly Hills.”

What Did I Learn?: Police officers are far more likely to trust a respected businessman like Victor Maitland than a foul-mouthed jerk from out of town.

You Might Like This Movie If: you can't get enough of a certain, and rather famous piece of music.

Really?: 1) So, are hotel managers and desk clerks extremely gullible? Come to think of it, isn't it highly probably that somebody in the bonded warehouse would ask to take a closer look at Foley's quickly-flashed badge? 2) So, Rosewood is given a direct order to drive Foley to the outskirts of the city, and... he instead allows Foley and Jenny to enter Maitland's warehouse? How many cops would do that? 3) It's amazing how everything is wrapped up in a nice, neat little package at the end of the film. Wouldn't Internal Affairs, or some other police investigative unit want to look into everything that took place at the Maitland residence?

Rating: Originally written with Sylvester Stallone in mind for the lead, Beverly Hills Cop is a perfect blend of action and comedy, with a kickass soundtrack to keep things moving. Eddie Murphy was at the top of his game when he made this film, and he enjoys some nice chemistry with Judge Reinhold and John Ashton (Rosewood and Taggart). Beverly Hills Cop is a classic - highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Without a Clue (1988)

Synopsis: It's Holmes and Watson, re-imagined as Dubya and Cheney.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “What if Dr. Watson were the real master crime solver, and Sherlock Holmes merely a figment of Watson’s imagination? That’s the stage for this delightful comedy.”

What Did I Learn?: Deductive reasoning really isn't for everyone.

Really?: Without a Clue is a screwball comedy, so it might not be entirely fair to judge it along these lines. That said, considering the fact that "Holmes" often gets drunk, and frequently makes incredibly boneheaded remarks, I had a hard time believing he and Watson could keep such a charade going for very long.

Rating: Without a Clue is a charming, yet forgettable little comedy from the late 1980s. The story and dialogue are a bit weak (it's basically a one-joke movie: Holmes and Watson don't like each other very much, and they bicker all over Victorian England), and the finale a tad lackluster, but Ben Kingsley and Michael Caine enjoy some outstanding comedic chemistry together, and the film is a lot of fun. 7/10 stars.

Monday, August 5, 2013


You may have noticed that I recently adjusted the settings to make it much more difficult to leave comments on this blog. I took this action very reluctantly, but I think it was necessary.

Nearly all of the published comments on Schuster at the Movies are spam, and I found that my friends are far more likely to opine on my movie reviews through Facebook.

The spam itself isn’t much of a problem (to me, anyway), but two days ago, I received a legitimate message from a fan who left a comment on the Dr. No review. Apparently, he/she currently receives four or five junk emails a day.

Obviously, this is unacceptable. My apologies to anyone who has experienced a deluge of unwanted emails after leaving a comment.

Let’s make comments a Facebook-only activity.



Sunday, August 4, 2013

Cadence (1990)

Hmm... Cadence isn't exactly a Vietnam movie, although it takes place somewhere in the 1960s, and Charlie Sheen gets shipped out right at the end. It's an interesting companion film to Platoon.

Synopsis: Charlie Sheen arrives at the startling realization that he isn't black.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “When the rebellious Private Bean (CHARLIE SHEEN) lands himself in an army stockade, he finds that all of his new roommates belong to tightly-knit club that he can never hope to join. They are black.. and he is clearly not.”

What Did I Learn?: If you're in prison and the warden makes an effort to be your friend (non-sexual, that is), for fuck's sake, play along and don't be an asshole.

Really?: 1) So...what were the other prisoners accused of doing? We hear two of their stories, but what about Stokes (Fishburne), or Sweetbread? 2) Funny how this movie is supposed to be a period piece yet very little effort is made to make it seem like the mid-1960s. Come to think of it, both Germany and Bean's hometown in the US look awfully similar to each other. 3) Hmm... up until the very end, I don't think there was ever any mention of Sweetbread wandering off on his own. 4) Evil sergeant McKinney (Martin Sheen) hands out "gigs" (demerits) like condoms at a brothel, but they never seem to lead to any consequences.

Rating: I didn't know what to expect from Cadence, but it's a nice, little low-budget movie that somehow fell down the memory hole after it was released two decades ago. Charlie Sheen enjoys some obvious chemistry with his father, and with Fishburne and the other prisoners, and there are a number of memorable moments. That said, I have a few complaints: a) the opening scenes featuring Bean at his father's funeral, and then getting the tattoo are unnecessary, b) McKinney is a jerk, but neither Bean nor the other prisoners ever appear to be in all that much trouble/danger until the end of the movie, and c) I'm not sure I approve of the message of this film... Bean realizes he has to be a team player, and goes to Vietnam determined to be a better soldier? I dunno. 6.5/10 stars.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Blow (2001)

Dang - this would have been perfect for my salute to addiction movies!

Synopsis: Bloke likes to toke, smuggles coke, marries pig-in-a-poke, winds up broke and a big joke.  

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Based on a true story, Blow chronicles the high-speed rise and fall of George Jung (Johnny Depp, Sleepy Hollow), who became the largest importer of Colombian cocaine in the United States, forever changing the face of drugs in America.”

What Did I Learn?: It's not a great idea to put your cash into a Panamanian bank for safe-keeping.

You Might Like This Movie If: You've always wanted to see Paul Reubens (aka Pee Wee Herman) in a drug movie. Oh wait...

Really?: 1) So... George's best friend, Tuna, simply disappears from the movie a the end of Act One? Maybe that's the way it happened in real life, but doesn't the audience deserve some explanation? 2)  I'm pretty sure that if I were wanted by the cops, and my mother dropped a dime to Five-Oh, I wouldn't speak to her again for a LONG time afterwards. 3) Um...I realize George is quite angry with Diego, but come on...pointing an empty gun at him in front of a dozen armed Colombian guards is just plain idiotic.

Rating: Blow is a well-made, but somewhat forgettable biopic about the guy who more-or-less created the American cocaine market in the 1970s and early 1980s. While Depp provides an impressive performance, his character is an obnoxious, self-absorbed jerk, and his wife (Penelope Cruz doesn't make an appearance until an hour so into the picture) isn't any better. Curiously, for a movie that showcases the drug business, it's strange that there aren't any action scenes (didn't Jung ever encounter rival dealers?) and it's tough to sympathize with  lowlife who never tried any other line of work, and made a whole lot of bad decisions. 6.5/10 stars.

To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

Hmm...this would have been perfect for my Salute to Bad Cops!

Synopsis: It's chic! It's hip! It's the epitome of 1980s Miami Vice-style cool! It's... set almost entirely in: grubby office buildings, dingy apartments, junkyards, warehouses, the local prison, freeway underpasses and gang territory. Oh, and the heroes wear crappy clothes and drive domestic clunkers.  

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. is the widely acclaimed, exhilarating crime action-adventure of a U.S. Secret Service agent tracking his partner’s killer through the underside of Los Angeles.”

What Did I Learn?: "The cheque is in the mail," "I'll love you forever," and "I promise not to cum in your mouth," are all commonly-told lies.

Really?: 1) Hmm... funny how this movie takes place from late December to late January, and yet there’s never any mention of either Christmas or New Year’s Eve. 2) So wait...Masters knows that Chance and Vukovich are cops, and yet he goes through with the deal, anyway? WTF? 3) And on a related note, why would Vukovich seek out legal advice regarding his own illegal activities from Masters' lawyer? Is he the only attorney he knows? 4) I have to wonder: how exactly would Chance explain to his boss that Masters agreed to the deal, even though no buy money was ever approved? 5) See "Synopsis".

Rating: To Live and Die in L.A. was one of my favourite films when I was younger, and it's still a fun little thriller that features both an incredibly exciting car chase and a kick-ass soundtrack from Wang Chung (City of the Angels and To Live and Die in L.A. are amazing tunes, while Wait  makes even the closing credits worth watching). Admittedly, the script could have used a bit of tightening-up (see "Really?"), which is why I can't give this film a perfect score, but it's still highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)

Synopsis: Gong Show impresario becomes killer for America's Central Intelligence Agency while simultaneously killing America's intelligence.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “While a maverick creator of America’s favorite game shows gains notoriety for his smash television shows, he is also drawn into a shadowy world of danger as a covert government operative!”

What Did I Learn?: According to one character: "Insane asylums are filled with people who think they're Jesus or Satan. Very few have delusions of being a guy down the block who works for an insurance company."


You Might Like This Movie If: You've always wanted to see a movie based on Chuck Barris' mental breakdown and The Gong Show. Oh wait...

Really?: 1) I've never worked in television before, but is it all that easy to take off from a successful show for a week or two, fly half-way around the world and kill people for Uncle Sam, when there are always a zillion details that need ironing out? 2) So, how does the CIA know so many supposedly-hidden details about Barris' life (the "strawberry dick" incident, or that his real father was a serial killer)? I think an explanation is in order, and it never arrives.

Rating: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is a very strange, semi-biographical story of the legendary Chuck Barris; dark and creepy streetscapes from a LeCarré novel coexist with loud and garish game show sets. The movie is visually impressive and a lot of fun, but the protagonist is somewhat unlikeable, so it's difficult to relate to him. I realize Confessions is based upon Barris' pulp autobiography (although the film leaves out a LOT of details about his life - it won't tell you he had a daughter, or that he's been married several times), but it might have worked a bit better had it focused either on the television experiences, or on the spy stuff. For that matter, the movie tells us Barris had a mental breakdown in 1980, but presents the CIA segments as factual; a better approach might have been to left the audience guessing about whether or not the assassinations occurred only in Barris' head. 7.5/10 stars.