Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Big Bounce (2004)

Synopsis: Loveable goofball breaks into homes and lives rent-free on Hawaiian beachfront property. Oh my God, it’s basically Magnum PI without Higgins or the Ferrari! 

Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Life’s a beach for Jack Ryan (Owen Wilson). The surfing slacker and petty thief is playing the angles on Oahu’s North Shore when along comes the curves: a willowy beauty (Sara Foster) with a simple plan that says she can net her and Jack a bundle.”  

What Did I Learn?: 1) God is just an imaginary friend for grown ups. 2) 200 Grand is a lot different from a tv set.

Really?: Wow... Morgan Freeman, Charlie Sheen, Gary Sinise and Vinnie Jones don’t really have much to do in this movie, do they? And why is Freeman's image more prominent on the DVD jacket than Wilson's?

Rating: Based on an Elmore Leonard novel, The Big Bounce is essentially a remake of a similar film from the early 1970s. While the remake received some rather negative reviews a decade ago, it isn’t a bad movie – just a little unfocused, and very slow-moving. Moreover, Owen Wilson seems a little too easy-going and gregarious to be a serious criminal. 6.5/10 stars.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Miller's Crossing (1990)

Synopsis: It’s basically two hours of Gabriel Byrne getting savagely beaten by an assortment of Italian, Irish and Danish gangsters, punctuated with snappy 1930s dialogue. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Propelled by gripping action, an intense, twisting plot and stunning cinematography, Miller’s Crossing perfectly re-creates the look and feel of a time when underworld warfare ripped apart urban America.” 

What Did I Learn?: 1) If you’re about to get shot by a reluctant hit-man, the words: “look in your heart” may get you out of a sticky situation. They won’t work a second time, however. 2) If you have to shoot somebody, always put one in the brain.

Really?: 1) Seriously – take a drink any time Tom (Byrne) takes a punch. How much punishment can this guy take, and why does he keep mouthing off to people who have him at gunpoint? Come to think of it, you can also take a drink any time somebody says: “Jesus, Tom.” 2) I had a bit of trouble believing Caspar – an Italian mobster – would refer to Bernie as a “schmatte” on numerous occasions. 3) So, Leo (Albert Finney) beats the crap out of Tom, and we’re supposed to believe there’s still a bond of loyalty? 

Rating: Written and directed by the Coen brothers, Miller’s Crossing is an intelligent, and spell-binding gangster flick with a superb cast and some great lines. My only complaints would be that it tends to meander, and Tom’s behaviour becomes increasingly difficult to swallow. 8.5/10 stars.

Billy Bathgate (1991)

Hmm….Billy Bathgate and Miller’s Crossing would have been perfect for my salute to gangster movies a few years ago.  Oh – and please read my review of The Cotton Club – another film about a young man who became Dutch Schultz’s pal. 

Synopsis: World’s most boring young man befriends mercurial mobster. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Two-time Academy Award winner Dustin Hoffman (Best Actor – Kramer vs. Kramer and Rain Man) stars in the action-packed gangster epic detailing the rise and fall of notorious mobster Dutch Schultz as seen through the eyes of his young protégé, Billy Bathgate.” 

What Did I Learn?: 1) “Protégé” and “Prodigy” are not interchangeable words. 

Really?: 1) So wait – Billy takes part in the murder/execution of Bo Weinberg (Bruce Willis), and we’re supposed to think he’s still basically a good, wet-behind-the-ears kid? In most movies, that’s more-or-less a turning point for a character. 2) Wow… Billy’s relationship with Becky (Moira Kelly) certainly doesn’t develop very far past the first act, does it? 

Rating: Billy Bathgate is an entertaining movie (Steven Hill – better remembered as Adam Schiff on Law and Order – does a wonderful job as Schultz’s long-suffering right-hand man, Otto Berman), but it has a few problems: Hoffman portrays Schultz almost as a cartoon, and Billy – the protagonist – just isn’t very interesting. Moreover, he’s a grown man, and we’re supposed to believe that everyone treats him like a 14-year old boy? Come on... 6.5/10 stars.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Apollo 13 (1995)

Space Program Double Feature, Movie #2

Synopsis: Houston, we have a long, and forgettable movie. 1995

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “It’s a breathtaking adventure that tells a story of courage, faith and ingenuity that is all the more remarkable because it is true!” 

What Did I Learn?: 13 comes after 12. 

Really?: Apollo 13 is the re-enactment of a true story, so it’s tough to critique its overall credibility. That said, it struck me that Ron Howard could have instilled a growing sense of fear and claustrophobia by keeping the action squarely on the astronauts (think of Das Boot). Instead, we also see a lot of Gene Kranz (Ed Harris) in the giant Mission Control room, and Marilyn Lovell (Kathleen Quinlan in a paint-by-numbers role) in her home, so a mood is never developed. 

Rating: I’ve always considered Ron Howard to be a competent, but not particularly gifted filmmaker, so it’s not a surprise that Apollo 13 is ok, but far from great (See: “Really?”). The movie is at least 45 minutes too long, there’s no memorable dialogue, and it often comes across like a two-and-a-half-hour episode of MacGyver: something breaks, and the astronauts have to race against time to develop a solution and fix the problem. Hanks and his co-stars all deliver solid performances, but there isn’t much character development or real human drama. 6.5/10 stars.

The Right Stuff (1983)

Space Program Double Feature, Movie #1 (Please click the links to read my reviews of Solaris, 2001: A Space Odyssey, 2010: TheYear We Make Contact, Red Planet and Mission to Mars) 

Synopsis: It’s 193 minutes of alpha male meatheads circling the planet.  

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “For excitement, inspiration and sheer entertainment, this movie’s got The Right Stuff. “

What Did I Learn?: If there’s even a chance you’ll need your spacesuit to remain buoyant for a few hours of floating in the ocean, it’s not a great idea to fill up the pockets with pens, marbles, paperweights and other tourist crap.

You Might Like This Movie If: You've always dreamed of leaving this planet.

Really?: Funny how Chuck Yeager is portrayed as the coolest man on the face of the planet (or above it), and all of the other test pilots are a bunch of lucky goofballs. 

Rating: Based on the Tom Wolfe book, The Right Stuff is a fascinating, and often amusing look at America’s early space program. The Right Stuff is certainly an impressive movie with great special effects, many memorable scenes and fine performances by a top-notch cast, but  it lacks focus (seriously – who’s the protagonist?), and it veers uneasily between comedy and mythic drama. As I watched this film, it occurred to me that perhaps director Philip Kaufman wasn't sure what sort of movie he wanted to make. 7.5/10 stars.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Smokey and the Bandit II (1980)

This movie would have been perfect for my salute to Burt Reynolds. Oh – please click the link to read my review of Smokey and the Bandit. 

Synopsis: If you’ve ever wondered why Burt Reynolds was super-cool in the 1970s and then became a bad joke in the 1980s, this movie explains a great deal…

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Burt Reynolds, Sally Field and Jackie Gleason team up again with an all-star cast as a raucous political race results in the comeback of the wild ways of the Bandit (Reynolds). Once again, he’s pursued by archenemy Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Gleason), who is still madly obsessed with apprehending him. 

What Did I Learn?: Apparently, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (sorry – “Canadian Mounted Police”) wear red serge uniforms when they’re on the job, drive red clunker cars, and are allowed to operate as law enforcement officers in the United States. 

You Might Like This Movie If: You've always wanted to see loveable Burt act like a real dick. [Check out this video near the 1:50 mark]
Really?: 1) It’s funny how the audience is informed right at the beginning that Big Enos is running for Governor of Texas against a really slippery eel, and then this plot thread is completely forgotten. 2) So, Frog (Field) decided to marry Junior a second time? Come on… and how many ministers would take a phone call in the middle of a wedding ceremony? 3) See: “What Did I Learn?” 4) What does Sheriff Justice hope to accomplish? He’s outside his jurisdiction for most of the movie, and from what I could tell, Bandit and Snowman actually drive the speed limit for the bulk of the trip. Oh, and how did Justice actually find those guys at the warehouse? 5) Hold on – Sheriff Justice’s police car falls off a retracting bridge into a canal, and…ok….I’m going to stop, now. 

Rating: The original Smokey and the Bandit certainly has its share of flaws, but it's sort-of funny, and a surprisingly charming adventure so long as you didn’t take it too seriously. Smokey and the Bandit II, however, is just abysmally bad; in spite of some impressive stunt work, the script doesn’t make much sense (see: “What Did I Learn” and “Really?”), the jokes fall flat, and the whole thing seems to be more of a bad, live-action cartoon than a legitimate sequel to S&B. Moreover, for reasons unknown, Reynolds portrays his character as an egotistical, self-absorbed jerk. I cannot recommend this movie. 4/10 stars.

Would It Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Absolutely! Take a drink any time Gleason says: “sumbitch”, or Reynolds mugs for the camera.