Monday, October 31, 2016

The Keep (1983)

Happy Halloween! Please click the links to read my Halloween-related reviews from 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2010. 

War Movie #1

Synopsis: Nazis mess with the supernatural, and their faces melt. So, it’s basically Raiders of the Lost Ark with an atrocious sound mix, terrible acting, a script that stops making sense, and far too many scenes involving bargain-basement special effects and dry ice. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “A Gothic thriller which grips you with its combination of horror, romance and the supernatural.” 

What Did I Learn?: Just because you can create a movie soundtrack consisting of choirs processed through a vocoder doesn’t mean that you should.


Really?: 1) Wow... this movie introduces a big, supernatural mystery and then it EXPLAINS NOTHING! Who is the demon, and why was he locked up? Who built the Keep? Who exactly is Glaeken (Scott Glenn), and how do he and the demon know each other? 2) I really hate to diss Tangerine Dream, considering they recorded outstanding soundtracks for Sorcerer and Michael Mann’s Thief, yet in most of this movie the music is wildly inappropriate for the scenes that are depicted. It’s a big annoyance. 3) Speaking of wildly inappropriate, why does Mann include a tantric sex scene between Glenn and Alberta Watson’s character? 4) So, a demon is slowly murdering an SS death squad. Who is the audience supposed to root for, exactly? 5) Come to think of it, why show the demon? The movie had a lot more suspense before the big reveal. 6) So, the SS goon Kaempffer (Gabriel Byrne) just shoots army Captain Woermann (Jurgen Prochnow)? How would he explain that to a military tribunal? 7) Gee, that "talisman" looks an awful lot like a flashlight to me.

Rating: See: “Synopsis,” “What Did I Learn?” and “Really?” The Keep starts out well with an interesting premise – German troops unwittingly unleash an evil presence when they occupy a mysterious fortress in the Carpathian Mountains, but it quickly falls apart for a variety of reasons, including dreadful acting by Glenn, Watson and Ian McKellan. I would have liked to have seen a lot more interplay between the humanistic Woermann and the sadistic Kaempffer but that relationship isn’t given much time to develop. I cannot recommend this movie. 4/10 stars. 

Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Absolutely! Take a drink every time a character decides to shout his or her lines. Take two drinks if it makes no sense to do so.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

My Cousin Vinny (1992)

Let’s Get Legal Movie #6 

Synopsis: Wisecracking outsider with Brooklyn accent gets into trouble by poking fun at Southerners, stuffy courtroom procedures, arrogant law enforcement personnel... wait, doesn’t this sound a LOT like a Bugs Bunny cartoon?!? 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “With his street-wise style and flair for sticking his foot in his mouth, Vinny’s first case quickly turns into a hysterical escapade that has been judged as a must-see comedy hit!” 

What Did I Learn?: 1) No self-respecting Southerner uses instant grits. 2) A whole lot of stuff about positronic traction and early-1960s GM cars that I can’t remember. 


Really?: Wait, regardless of Vinnie’s (Joe Pesci) lies about being Jerry Gallo/Callo, and being allowed to practice law in New York, I had a hard time believing he would be allowed to represent Stan and Bill for an entire trial without having passed the Alabama bar exam. 

Rating: Directed by Jonathan Lynn (who is probably best remembered as the man who wrote and created the brilliant Yes Minister), My Cousin Vinny is a cleverly-written comedy with an important message: it’s not always easy to obtain a fair trial when the resources of the state are stacked against you. Marisa Tomei is wonderful as Vinny’s long-suffering girlfriend, but the best scenes involve the back-and-forth bickering between Vinny and grumpy old Judge Haller (Fred Gwynne). They reminded me of the tortured relationship between Spicoli and Mr. Hand in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Highly recommended. 10/10 stars.

12 Angry Men (1957)

Let’s Get Legal Movie #5 (No, I’m not starting a Jack Warden film fest, even though he starred in this, and in And Justice For All

Synopsis: 1950s-era Social Justice Warrior browbeats ordinary, working class men into admitting their knee-jerk desire for law and order is probably wrong. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "Eleven jurors are convinced that the defendant is guilty of murder. The twelfth has no doubt of his innocence. How can this one man steer the others toward the same conclusion?”

What Did I Learn?: 1) You can twist facts any way you like. 2) Rooting for the Baltimore Orioles is “like being hit in the head with a crowbar once a day.”  

Really?: 1) So, wait....there are twelve men seated at a table, and nobody addresses anyone else using proper names? Wouldn’t that get confusing in real life? 2) I had a hard time believing the hard-core “guilty” holdouts would silence the bigot (Juror #10, played by Ed Begley), and essentially refuse his support. 3) Um.... was Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) allowed to nip out of his hotel room to buy an identical switchblade? Were the other jurors allowed to discuss it, afterwards?

Rating: Based upon a teleplay by Reginald Rose, 12 Angry Men is a little stagey for my taste (see: “Really?”), but it’s also a powerful look at the criminal justice system, and a reminder of how easy it can be for ordinary citizens to rush to judgement when they don’t have all the facts. Fonda delivers one of the best performances of his career, and his scenes with Lee J. Cobb are explosive and memorable. 8/10 stars.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

A Civil Action (1998)

Let’s Get Legal Movie #4 

Synopsis: World’s dumbest lawyer bankrupts his own law firm. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “John Travolta (Face/Off, Phenomenon), gives another brilliant performance in a suspenseful true story that’s been praised as the greatest legal thriller of all time!” 

What Did I Learn?: 1) The odds of a plaintiff's lawyer winning in civil court are two to one against. 2) A dead plaintiff is rarely worth as much as a living, severely-maimed plaintiff. 3) There is absolutely no place in a courtroom for pride.

Really?: See: “Synopsis.” Seriously, Schlichtmann (Travolta) states pretty clearly that the entire point of going to court is to arrive at a settlement before the legal bills start adding up, yet we’re supposed to believe that he throws his judgement completely out the window in order to achieve justice for the pollution victims, even after he’s offered a $20 million deal? Or that nobody else at the firm would stop his reckless behaviour? 

Rating: A Civil Action is a slow-moving, but highly compelling courtroom drama with an amazing cast, and a stellar performance from Robert Duvall. That said, it’s a bit of a downer, and I had bit of trouble believing a cynical, flashy legal shark like Jan Schlichtmann would fuck up as badly as he does. 8/10 stars.

And Justice For All (1979)

Let’s Get Legal Movie #3  (I really wanted to include this in my 2012 tribute to Al Pacino, but I only acquired a copy earlier this year). 

Synopsis: It’s basically two hours of blah-blah-blah before Pacino does his big “You’re out of order, you’re out of order,this whole trial is out of order” speech. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “In a criminal justice system where criminals go free, lawyers and judges make deals as a matter of routine and the innocent sometimes go unprotected, young lawyer Arthur Kirkland begins to wonder where the justice has gone.” 

What Did I Learn?: If a work colleague invites you to take a ride in his personal helicopter, and you’re about 90% certain he’s passively suicidal, don’t go. Seriously, don’t go. 

Really?: Leaving aside the absurdity of a lawyer betraying his client in open court (see: “Synopsis”), I had trouble believing the relationship between Arthur (Pacino) and Fleming (John Forsythe) would be so one-sided with Fleming calling all of the shots.

Rating: And Justice For All is a smart, well-written, and often-funny courtroom drama with a very interesting cast of performers. Pacino delivers an impassioned performance, but Jack Warden steals the movie as Judge Rayford, the loveable-yet-slightly-nutty jurist with a knack for finding great views of the city. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.