Monday, December 30, 2013

Mad City (1997)

Synopsis: It's Dog Day Afternoon, except the hostage-taker has a communications strategist.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “A freeway pursuit. A domestic spat gone over the edge. You’re watching it live at home, news as it happens. But wait a minute. Is the reporter on your TV screen shaping the story, extending its life, making it happen? Dustin Hoffman and John Travolta team with award-winning filmmaker Costa-Gravas (Z, Missing) in a fierce tale of ratings-driven news gone mad.” 

What Did I Learn?: Fellas, if you take a whole bunch of small children as hostages, and you somehow receive some positive PR from a sympathetic TV news story, it’s a really good idea to surrender immediately afterward. 

You Might Like This Movie If: You've always wanted to see Larry King conduct a tough interview (he does a cameo in the film).
Really?: I had a hard time believing Brackett (Hoffman) could simply walk back and forth between the museum and the outside world on a whim. I’m pretty sure that once a hostage is released, the cops would never allow that person to walk back into a dangerous situation. 

Rating: I’m not a huge fan of hostage-taking movies, but Mad City is an enjoyable melodrama featuring good performances from Hoffman and Travolta. Aside from the credibility of its script, however, (see: “Really?”), Mad City’s biggest problem is that while it tries to satirize the world of 24-Hour TV news, it’s often too heavy-handed, and it’s not a terribly funny film. Oh, and the ending is an unexpected downer. 6/10 stars.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Gremlins (1984)

Christmas Movie #8


Synopsis: It’s the ultimate anti-free trade movie: idiot buys made-in-China Christmas present, and small-town America gets decimated! 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Sure, he’s cute. Of course you can keep him. But heed these three warnings: Don’t ever get him wet. Keep him away from bright light. And the most important thing, the one thing you must never forget: no matter how much he cries, no matter how much he begs, never, never feed him after midnight.” 

What Did I Learn?: Apparently, the most dangerous, blood-thirsty character in this movie is Billy’s mom. 

Really?: 1) Never feed a Mogwai after midnight? But... it’s ALWAYS after midnight! When is it safe to feed the little little turds? And wait - you can't even give them water to drink? Considering nearly every living thing on this planet is at least 70% water, how is a Mogwai supposed to keep hydrated? 2) Speaking of turds, Judge Reinhold plays an uber-obnoxious 23-year old bank vice president who makes life miserable for Billy, and then... he completely disappears from the film? I was expecting the gremlins to run his nose through a pencil sharpener, or something. 3) Funny how there are hundreds, or maybe thousands of Gremlins running around Kingston Falls, and yet none of them ever get caught on tape by a surveillance camera, or anything. 4) So, um... is there a reason the Gremlins kill people, but make each killing look like an accident? They don’t seem terribly bright, and they're one big rainstorm away from ruling the Earth, anyway. 5) Oh, and that reminds me - why doesn't snow cause the Gremlins to multiply? 

Rating: If you don’t mind a bit of gross-out humour, Gremlins is both an affectionate (and often funny) tribute to old horror films, and an interesting companion movie to It’s a Wonderful Life. My only complaint would be that the comedy and horror sometimes blend uneasily, and it’s often difficult to know whether or not to take the little monsters seriously. 7.5/10 stars.

Surviving Christmas (2004)

Christmas Movie #7

Synopsis: Dysfunctional American family experiences true Christmas miracle: a rich, obnoxious douchebag moves into their home and offers them cash if they agree to humiliate themselves.  

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “It’s madness, mischief and mayhem when rich executive Drew Latham (Ben Affleck) decides to rent himself a family for the holidays. Tired of spending Christmas alone, Drew makes the Valcos (James Gandalfini, Christina Applegate and Catherine O’Hara) an offer they should have refused.” 

What Did I Learn?: Apparently, money can in fact buy anything. 


Really?: Gee, I dunno... how about the entire premise of this movie? 

Rating: As a fan of James Gandalfini and his work in The Sopranos, I wanted to like Surviving Christmas a lot more than I did. While it has a few amusing lines, it’s not a terribly funny movie, and the buildup we expect – a confrontation between Gandalfini and Affleck never happens; instead, the movie shifts gears and we’re given a sappy – and highly unlikely romance between Affleck and Applegate. Surviving Christmas could have been a much better film if the script had gone through a re-write or two. 5.5/10 stars.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas With the Kranks (2004)

Christmas Movie #6

Synopsis: Rugged individualist couple decides to save a little money and defy the will of their ultra-conformist neighbours... um... until they see the error of their ways. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “When their only daughter Blair leaves the family nest, Luther and Nora Krank (Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis) decide to book an island cruise to beat the yuletide blues and just skip the holidays. But their decision to boycott tradition has the whole neighbourhood in an uproar.” 

What Did I Learn?:  Smoked trout is a poor substitute for turkey or hickory ham. 


Really?: 1) It’s implied that Luther Krank is a lawyer in a high-powered Chicago firm. I had a great deal of trouble believing he would purposely hose down his front lawn in order to injure any carollers. Wouldn’t he have heard the term “slip and fall” in law school? 2) I’m not Catholic myself, but I strongly suspect that most Catholic priests are a little too busy on Christmas Eve to attend any parties. 3) So wait – the Kranks spent over $6,000 on Christmas the previous year? How is that possible? 4) I’m pretty sure that a lawyer in a big firm would realize that sending out a memo instructing his co-workers that he is skipping Christmas might be considered a career-limiting move. 5) I’m sorry, but any normal people would calmly explain the situation to their daughter, and here’s an idea – how about meeting her and Enrique in Miami? 

Rating: Considering this film was based on John Grisham’s novel “Skipping Christmas,” I can only assume that something got lost in the adaptation, because Christmas With the Kranks is awful. CWTK is billed as a comedy, but it isn’t funny – not once. And what exactly is the message behind this film: obey the General Will of your neighbours, and don’t even think about doing your own thing? Frankly, I’m not sure which segment I disliked more: the first two acts when the Kranks boycott Christmas and their neighbours harass them relentlessly, or the last 40 minutes, when Luther and Nora change their minds and everything gets mushy. Ugh. 3/10 stars. 

Would It Work For a Bad Movie Night?: No, but take a drink every time Jamie Lee Curtis freaks out.

Santa Claus - The Movie (1985)

Christmas Movie #5 (I can’t believe a store really wanted $20 for this Christmas clunker)

Synopsis: Ever wanted to see a Santa Claus origins story that mirrors Superman’s, right down to the Fortress of Solitude, and battling a Lex Luthor-type rich industrialist? Alexander Salkind made your movie. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The legend of Santa Claus comes to life in this enchanting, heartwarming tale that the whole family will cherish year ‘round!” 

What Did I Learn?: All throughout the ages, up to and including the 1980s, kids really, really, really loved hand-crafted wooden toys and sculptures. 

You Might Like This Movie If: You don't watch very many documentaries.
Really?: 1) See “Synopsis” (I just found it funny how the names “Jesus” and “St. Nicholas” were never once mentioned). 2) See “What Did I Learn?” 3) You know, I could totally go to town in this section, but I’ll merely ask a question: does it seem appropriate to end a children’s movie with a man drifting helplessly into space? 

Rating: Santa Claus the Movie is a bad film, but it isn’t absolutely awful. David Huddleston does a great job as Santa, Dudley Moore is a likeable bloke as Patch the elf, and John Lithgow nearly steals the movie as an evil toy industrialist (the scene of him squirming during a Senate sub-committee hearing into dangerous toys is hilarious). 

Unfortunately, Santa’s sleigh takes a nosedive during the second half of the movie, when Patch leaves the North Pole and makes a deal with Lithgow’s character. The plot stops making sense, characters start behaving irrationally, the special effects are less-than-spectacular, and there’s never any real conflict. Meh. 5/10 stars. 

Would It Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Probably not, but take a drink every time a little kid says “wow!”