Thursday, November 27, 2014

Red Planet (2000)

Going to Mars Movie #2

Synopsis: It’s a lot like Mission to Mars, except, um… a) the planet has a breathable atmosphere, b) the crew gets attacked by bugs, and c) the friendly robot goes bananas. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “In the mid-21st century, the nations of a dying Earth look starward for a solution and set out to colonize Mars. But something no one could have expected awaits. Houston, we have big trouble.” 

What Did I Learn?: Carrie-Anne Moss looks pretty good when she steps out of the shower.


Really?: 1) See: “Synopsis.” (Seriously – the robot has two modes: Help the Crew, and Kill Everybody. Why didn’t NASA or the Marines or somebody disable the second setting before the big launch?) 2) So, let’s see… the crew has to take on aliens and a killer robot. What was the point of making Pettingil a paranoid lunatic? 3) I realize Burchenal (Tom Sizemore) knows the alien bugs are going to kill him at any moment and he  wants to take as many of them out as he can, but come on – he must realize that starting a huge fire is going to put his buddy Gallagher (Val Kilmer) at great risk. 

Rating: While Red Planet has better special effects than Mission to Mars, it’s an inferior film; Red Planet has a lot of action, but it’s more of a dumb thriller than thoughtful science fiction, and incredibly contrived. 5.5/10 stars.

Mission to Mars (2000)

Going to Mars Movie #1 (this would have been great for my salute to science fiction a few years ago)

Synopsis: Um….the film is titled Mission to Mars. Take a wild guess what it’s all about. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The year is 2020, and the first manned mission to Mars, commanded by Luke Graham (Don Cheadle, Out of Sight), lands safely on the red planet. But the Martian landscape harbours a bizarre and shocking secret that leads to a mysterious disaster so catastrophic, it decimates the crew.” 

What Did I Learn?: 1) “Drifting through eternity will ruin your whole day.” 2) “Some couples dance, others go to Mars.”

Really?: 1) Wow….take a drink every time somebody tells Gary Sinise: “this mission should have been yours, man.” 2) Yeah….not sure the special effects department did such a hot job with that alien. 

Rating: Mission to Mars is an entertaining, and occasionally thought-provoking film about an ill-fated journey to the red planet. Sinise turns in a good performance, and I especially liked Cheadle as a man on the verge of losing his sanity after being stranded on Mars, alone, for over a year, but too much time is wasted on thrills and chills, and the script is rather hackneyed, clich├ęd and obvious (see: “What Did I Learn?”) 6.5/10 stars.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Barcelona (1994)

Synopsis: It was the last decade of the Cold War. Ronald Reagan was President, Max Headroom was vastly overrated, Jason Alexander was really excited about the McDLT, and it was apparently really easy to get laid in Spain. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “When two young Americans hit the sexiest city in the world, the possibilities – and beautiful girls are endless. But without warning, international intrigue interrupts the pair’s romantic pursuit… and what follows is a dangerously sexy comedy that explores life, liberty and the labours of love.” 

What Did I Learn?: There’s no such thing as the “AFL-CIA,” hamburgers are terrible in Spain, and it’s well-known that anti-Americanism has its roots in sexual impotence, at least in Europe. 

You Might Like This Movie If: You figure it must be a full-length version of this. [Funny how everyone in the film dresses a whole lot better than the folks in this collection of home movies - I guess that's Hollywood for you]
Really?: 1) Wow…I’m still not sure what to think of that scene where Ted reads the Bible while dancing solo in his apartment to Pennsylvania 6-5000. 2) Hmm… the two main characters are male cousins somewhere in their mid-20s-to-early-30s, and yet they never discuss sports, music, pop culture, or even other members of their family. 

Rating: I’m not a huge Whit Stillman fan, although I certainly respect his work. Barcelona is a clever, well-written, and sort-of amusing comedy that manages to poke fun at left-wing anti-Americanism as it tells the story of a couple of likeable Americans trying to find love in 1980s Spain. My only complaint – and it is a big one – is that the dialogue sounds entirely “written,” and it often seems quite inauthentic (see: “Really”). Still – Barcelona is definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already seen it. 8/10 stars.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Squid and the Whale (2005)

Synopsis: The year was 1986: Our World was getting creamed by The Cosby Show, Oldsmobile had a new Calais, and divorce was a bummer. 

Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “In his third feature, director Noah Baumbach scores a triumph with an autobiographical coming-of-age story about a teenager whose writer-parents are divorcing. The father (Jeff Daniels) and mother (Laura Linney) duke it out in half-civilized, half-savage fashion, while their two sons adapt in different ways.” 

What Did I Learn?: 1) Back in 1986, Short Circuit was a much better date movie for teenagers than Blue Velvet 2) You can’t use the word “Kafkaesque” to describe the works of Franz Kafka

You Might Like This Movie If: You figure it must be an 81-minute version of this.
Really?: The Squid and the Whale is a very realistic movie that never really leaves you wondering about its credibility. Still, I had a bit of a hard time believing Walt would ask his dad to tag along on his date. And come on – Walt has a chance to lose his virginity with Sophie, and he passes it up to pursue Lili instead? (Then again, maybe it’s a reflection of his age. In my teens, I knew next to nothing about women, and there’s still plenty I don’t understand). 

Rating: It’s funny – while I didn’t think much of Noah Baumbach’s first film, Kicking and Screaming, his third, The Squid and the Whale, is an intelligent, well-written character drama that features some great performances (Daniels and Linney are especially good as Walt’s somewhat-unlikeable-but-strangely-sympathetic parents) richly deserved its three Golden Globe nominations. It’s a thought-provoking movie that will stay with you for a long time. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Enemy at the Gates (2001)

Lest We Forget. 

Schuster at the Movies is a fairly tongue-in-cheek blog, but I value the sacrifices of the men and women who fought and died for Canada, and I hope that all Canadians take at least a few minutes to reflect on those sacrifices sometime today. 

War Movie #8. Please click the links to read my War Movie reviews from 2011 and 2013

Synopsis: Hmm….Hitler’s war machine takes on Stalin’s war machine. Have you ever seen a war movie where you didn’t really want to root for either side? Oh wait – that sounds a bit like Revenge of the Sith

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The year is 1942 and the Nazis are cutting a deadly swath through Russia. Under the leadership of Krushchev (Bob Hoskins), the citizens of Stalingrad are mounting a brave resistance, spurred by the exploits of their local hero, Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law).” 

What Did I Learn?: “Man will always be a man. There is no new man. We tried so hard to create a society that was equal, where there'd be nothing to envy your neighbour. But there's always something to envy. A smile, a friendship, something you don't have and want to appropriate. In this world, even a Soviet one, there will always be rich and poor. Rich in gifts, poor in gifts. Rich in love, poor in love.”

Really?: 1) I had a bit of a hard time believing Vassili and Tanya would have either the time or the energy for a tryst, but even if they did, would they really get it on in the middle of a flophouse, surrounded by sleeping snipers? Couldn’t they find a deserted, bombed-out factory, or something? 2) Ok, Danilov is obviously pissed that Tanya prefers Vassili, but writing a letter to headquarters accusing him of disloyalty to socialism is a good way to get Vassili killed, which seems incredibly ungrateful considering Vassili not only saved his life but made his career. Did he send the letter? This is never made clear. 

Rating: Enemy at the Gates is a harrowing, but visually stunning film that is well worth watching – it shows both the incredibly heroism of the Russian people in the defence of their country, and the depravity of Stalin’s communist state. Still, there are a few too many explosions and a bit too much cat-and-mouse/sniper-versus-sniper action between Vassili and Major Konig (interestingly, the two adversaries are never on screen together until the very end) and not enough character development for my taste. 8/10 stars.