Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Hollywood Ending (2002)

Synopsis: Woody Allen really stretches his acting muscles by portraying a worldly, yet self-absorbed, vain, amoral, and borderline-scummy filmmaker. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Academy Award-winning director Woody Allen takes a side-splitting look a the bumpy course of true love – Hollywood Style – in this highly-acclaimed romantic comedy that John Anderson of Newsday calls ‘his funniest movie in years.’” 

What Did I Learn?: 1) Sex is better than talk. 2) Marriages don’t really go anywhere; they just lay there. 3) Apparently, Canada is a vast, frozen wasteland where it’s very, very easy to purchase animal pelts. 

Really?: So, let’s see…Allen’s character is banging a woman who looks like Debra Messing, his ex-wife (played by Tea Leoni) still has feelings for him, and Tiffani Thiessen (best remembered for the egregious Saved By the Bell) is warm for his form. Sure…dream on, Woody. 

Rating: I can’t describe myself as a huge Woody Allen fan, but I wanted to like Hollywood Ending a bit more than I did. The film is certainly funny in places (and what an unusual cast!), but it loses its way somewhere in the second act when Val Waxman (Allen) decides to reconnect with his estranged son, and I couldn’t help myself from thinking Allen could have done a better job of satirizing the film industry. Hollywood Ending is a good comedy that could have been much better with a re-written script. 7.5/10 stars.

Career Girls (1997)

Synopsis: Mousy girl with skin condition and loud-mouthed harridan reunite years after university to reminisce about living in student squalor. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Annie and Hannah have not seen each other in the six years since they left University. As Annie embarks on a train trip to reunite with her old friend, she is flooded with memories of their rocky introduction in the mid-80s: she is a shy introverted teenager who continuously breaks out in a nervous rash. Hannah is a bright fellow student who is manic, hilariously funny and occasionally cruel.” 

What Did I Learn?: Apparently, much like consulting the I Ching, one may predict the future by opening Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights to randomly-selected pages and reading aloud from any chosen paragraph.  

Really?: So, um…what are the odds of Annie and Hannah somehow randomly running into not one, not two, but three people from their past during Annie’s very short stay in London….one in a billion? Speaking of which, why don’t the girls approach Claire when they see her in the park, and why doesn’t anyone explain why she left the rooming house, and the friendship? Considering Career Girls isn’t a terribly long movie, I think Mike Leigh could have included another 5-minute flashback. 

Rating: Career Girls is a slightly-odd, but intelligently-written, occasionally-funny, and surprisingly touching character-driven drama that’s worth a look if you’re in the mood for something introspective, or if you’ve ever reconnected with an old friend after many years. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Bottle Rocket (1996)

Synopsis: Decent, smart, empathetic young man helps his buddies commit some really sub-par robberies because…. Actually, I’m still trying to figure that one out. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “An offbeat crime caper that turns convention on its head… Newcomer Owen Wilson, in a star-making performance, co-wrote the screenplay about three best friends who attempt to escape their suburban boredom through a life of crime.” 

What Did I Learn?: Don’t ever invite professional criminals over to your home for a drink. And if you’re going to pull a job with them, don’t even think about leaving the house unguarded. 

You Might Like This Movie If: You're enthralled by the misadventures of Anthony, Bob and Dignan. [Both films were titled Bottle Rocket, by the way]
Really?: 1) See: “Synopsis.” Seriously, I think Anthony would have outgrown Dignan (and possibly Bob) years earlier. 2) I’m pretty sure there’s no way a psychiatrist would allow a discharged patient to leave the hospital out a window, using a rope made from bedsheets. 3) So, Anthony doesn’t speak a word of Spanish, and Inez doesn’t know any English, but they still fall head-over-heels for each other? Cute, but does that ever happen in real life? 

Rating: Bottle Rocket was Wes Anderson’s first film (it also marked the big-screen debuts of both Luke and Owen Wilson) and a fine example of low-budget movie-making at its best. Bottle Rocket works because the script is funny and clever (although it is rather slow-moving), and you can't help yourself from sympathizing with these nitwits. Owen Wilson is delivers an outstanding performance as the loveable inept Dignan, and I quite liked James Caan's cameo as the charming criminal mastermind, Mr. Henry. 8/10 stars.

A New Life (1988)

Synopsis: Hawkeye Pierce and Barney Miller go cruising for chicks. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Steve Giardino (Alan Alda) never wanted a divorce. His wife Jackie (Ann-Margret) is the one who called it quits. Now Jackie’s going back to school. And Steve’s going crazy.” 

What Did I Learn?: Alan Alda wasn’t able to pull off the Miami Vice look. 

Really?: 1) Mel (Hal Linden) is what – 60, or 65 and he bangs hot chicks a third his age nearly every night? Oh, come on…. 2) Ok, I had a bit of hard time believing both Steve and Mel would fall for Sybil, the transvestite mugger. I had an even harder time believing Sybil would play hard-to-get, and become agitated when men put the moves on him/her, considering the entire purpose of the deception is to lure them to remote locations. 2) Let’s see – Steve’s new wife wants somebody caring and nurturing, while Jackie’s new beau fits that to a T. Funny how Kay and Doc never hook up, and the movie ends with some unresolved threads. 

Rating: Much like Sweet Liberty, which was also directed by Alan Alda, A New Life is an unfocused film that doesn’t really go anywhere. While Sweet Liberty was charming, and had something to say about the Hollywoodization of history, however, A New Life is trite, difficult to take seriously (see: “Really?”), and far more reminiscent of an overly-long sitcom than a Woody Allen-style character-driven adult comedy. I cannot recommend this movie. 4.5/10 stars. 

Would It Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Not a chance, but take a drink any time Steve complains about something, or Jackie seems unsure about making a decision.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Wrestling Ernest Hemingway (1993)

Synopsis: Loveable old farts bond over artery-clogging bacon sandwiches. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “In the spirit of Cocoon, The Cemetery Club and Grumpy Old Men, Wrestling Ernest Hemingway takes an alternately funny, alternately warmhearted look at retirees who are anything but retiring.” [Actually, I wouldn’t say Wrestling Ernest Hemingway is “in the spirit” of any of those other films]

What Did I Learn?: If you want to make new friends, sit down on a park bench and annoy some nearby strangers. 

Really?: 1) So, um…Walter is in his 70s, and he thinks he has a shot with Elaine (Sandra Bullock)? How did he learn so little about women over the years? 2) I’m pretty sure that a 75-year old alcoholic who lives in a flea-bag apartment would NOT smash an unopened bottle of vodka against a brick wall. 3) I guess there aren’t any bike thieves in Florida. 4) Hold on – Walter’s best friend dies, and he STILL heads to the big dance 20 minutes later? Come on, no way…. 

Rating: I have to give Wrestling Ernest Hemingway something of a mixed review. Robert Duvall and Richard Harris deliver complex, and ultimately magnificent performances as Walter and Frank (Shirley MacLaine is also quite good as Frank’s no-bullshit landlady), Michael Convertino’s musical score is magical in places, and there are a number of really nice moments in this film. That said, its sentimentality too often becomes cloying, and the comedy isn’t terribly funny. And while I realize WEH is a character-driven drama, the narrative direction is practically non-existent, so the movie meanders towards a badly-written, and ultimately disappointing third act. 7/10 stars