Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Educating Rita (1983)

Michael Caine Movie #4

Synopsis: Michael Caine’s a drunk; Julie Walters doesn’t want to flunk; together, they discuss literature and junk. [Ok, that was awful – please forgive me, I’m just trying to get through my backlog of movie reviews before midnight]

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Michael Caine and Julie Waters develop a highly unusual teacher-student relationship in this smashing comedy about a young working-class woman on the path to self-discovery.” 

What Did I Learn?: 1) Assonance is getting the rhyme wrong. 2) People may get the wrong idea if they see you reading "Of Human Bondage."

Really?: 1) So wait – Rita’s roommate is suicidal? How did this subplot develop? Shouldn’t there have been some foreshadowing, or something? 2) I’m still shocked that Denny would find those birth control pills. That was an amazing coincidence. 

Rating: Michael Caine once said that Educating Rita was his favourite of the films he did, and it’s easy to see why. The movie is funny, intelligently-written, and filled with a sparkling chemistry between Caine and Walters, although the roommate subplot seems tacked-on. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Sweet Liberty (1986)

Michael Caine Movie #3 (Ok, it’s really an Alan Alda movie, but Caine has a big role) 

Synopsis: Sensitive historian decides to sabotage film crew even though: a) they paid him to use his book, b) he’s now a local celebrity and everyone wants to kiss his ass, and c) he gets the opportunity to bang a cute Hollywood actress who looks a lot like Michelle Pfeiffer.  

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “It’s Alan Alda versus Hollywood in the writer-director-star’s hilarious comedy about moviemaking. As college history professor Michael Burgess, Alda’s life and town are turned upside down when a film company arrives to make a movie out of his best-selling book on the American Revolution. To Professor Burgess’ horror, leading man Michael Caine is a philandering adventurer; the movie’s director wants to turn his historic novel into a youth-oriented lusty romp and female star Michelle Pfeiffer is so obsessed by Alda’s heroine, he begins to fall in love with the zany actress.” 

What Did I Learn?:  Teenagers are the only people who see movies, and they demand that movie characters: a) defy authority, b) destroy property, and c) take off their clothes. 

Really?: 1) You know, I’m pretty sure you can’t take a US Army helicopter for a joyride without facing some sort of criminal charges afterwards. 2) See: “Synopsis”. Gee, Burgess almost single-handedly ruins a major scene in the film. Funny how nobody mentions the possibility of the studio launching a lawsuit. 

Rating: Sweet Liberty is a charming, and cleverly-written comedy that unfortunately runs out of steam mid-way through, and doesn’t really go anywhere. The film’s sub-plot about Burgess’ senile mother seems tacked-on, and any tension between Burgess and Elliott James (Caine) is quickly defused when it’s clear that the actor doesn’t have designs on the professor’s somewhat-estranged girlfriend. Sweet Liberty is an ok film with an amazing cast (I quite liked Bob Hoskins' performance as the street-smart screenwriter), but the script should have gone through a major re-write. 6.5/10 stars.

Blame It On Rio (1984)

Synopsis:  Hilarity ensues when uptight, middle-aged Brit bangs teenaged daughter’s best friend. Wait, WTF?!  

Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Welcome to the most exciting and sensual city in the world…. Rio de Janeiro! … Upon arriving in exotic Rio, long-time friends Matthew (Caine) and Victor (Joseph Bologna) and their teenage daughters (Demi Moore and Michelle Johnson) barely unpack before this infamous pleasure spot begins to cast its torrid spell.” 

What Did I Learn?: 1) "It's only when a man is not thinking what he's doing, that you can be sure, he's doing what he's thinking". 2) "You only live once but if does help if you get to be young twice".

Really?: First of all, I realize that some women dig older men, but I had a hard time believing a hot teenaged chick would actually seduce a nerdy, suburban dad. And holy shit, this movie is based on the premise of a man in his late-40s having sex with a girl who’s what – 16? Or 17? She’s jailbait! It’s funny how nobody once mentions the words: “statutory rape.” 

Rating: I wanted to like Blame It On Rio a bit more than I did. The movie boasts some incredible scenery, a nice Brazilian jazz soundtrack, and several good lines. It could have been an enjoyable, laid-back comedy. Unfortunately, the entire premise of Blame It On Rio is both highly implausible and more than a little creepy. 5.5/10 stars.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Merry Christmas, Folks! 

Christmas Movie #4 (Please click the links to read my Christmas reviews from 2011, 2012, and 2013)

Michael Caine Movie #1 (I realize this is a bit silly, considering MC has made about a zillion films since he started his career, and there’s no way I can possibly do a comprehensive filmography, but this is the best I’ve got) 

Synopsis: It’s essentially a dumbed-down version of A Christmas Carol, with a bunch of bad songs, cutesy puppets, and too many distractions. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Charles Dickens’ classic holiday story sparkles with humour and whimsy in the hands of always hilarious Muppets!” 

What Did I Learn?: 1) Rats don’t understand lonely children. 2) Never eat singing food. 


Really?: I could ask why Kermit and Miss Piggy’s male children are all frogs, and their daughters are pigs, but that would be a fool’s errand. Instead, I have to wonder why major Muppet characters such as Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy are relegated to walk-on appearances, and even Kermit doesn’t have all that much screen time. 

Rating: While I’ve always loved the Muppets, they don’t really add much to this re-telling of a classic (See: “Synopis”). The story of Scrooge’s guilt and redemption works because most of it is actually pretty dark, so Scrooge's eventual moral reformation results in a big emotional payoff. Much like Scrooged, which undermined itself with too many smug one-liners, The Muppet Christmas Carol tries to lighten things up with pratfalls and musical comedy. While the film has a few funny moments, and I liked Caine's play-it-straight approach, The Muppet Christmas Carol struck me as a  confused mess that doesn't do justice to the original material, and certainly isn't in the top tier of Muppet movies. 6/10 stars.

A Christmas Carol (1984)

Christmas Movie #3 (Please click the links to read my reviews of the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol, and Scrooged) 

Synopsis: Rugged individualist develops sudden second thoughts. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “George C. Scott stars in this critically acclaimed version of the Charles Dickens’ holiday classic in which one man discovers the true meaning of Christmas.” 

What Did I Learn?: Apparently, if you don’t love Christmas, you’re gonna die! 

Really?: 1) I think it’s wonderful that Scrooge takes an interest in Tiny Tim’s welfare, but was there anything that Dickensian-era medical science could actually do for the boy? 2) I’ve always been a little puzzled about the scene when Scrooge gets really scared by the sight of his own grave. Um…doesn’t everybody die, sooner or later? 3) You know, Scrooge isn’t an entirely bad guy before the ghosts arrive…I mean, he does give Cratchit the day off. 

Rating: If you loved the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol, you’ll probably get a kick out of this one. Scott plays Scrooge with a little more subtlety than Alastair Sim, but the best scenes involve him trading barbs with Edward Woodward (star of Breaker Morant) as the Ghost of Christmas Past – they’re so memorable, I was tempted to write: “Patton meets The Equalizer” for the Synopsis. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.