Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Illusionist (2006)

Synopsis: Victorian age illusionist seeks revenge after the death of his beloved….oh, sorry - that’s the Synopsis for The Prestige. Ok, um…. Gifted artist runs afoul of closed-minded authorities in Habsburg-ruled Vienna…. No, that’s the Synopsis for Amadeus
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Unlock the mysteries of the year’s most spellbinding film from the producers of Crash and Sideways!” 
What Did I Learn?: Life and Death. Space and Time. Fate and Chance. These are the forces of the universe! 
Really?: 1) So, wait…how much time has elapsed between Sophie’s (Jessica Biel) murder and Uhl’s (Paul Giamatti) investigation of the stables….a few weeks? I have to think that stall would have been cleaned at least once, meaning he wouldn't find any evidence of foul play. 2) many people in Vienna know about Prince Leopold’s upcoming coup against his father's regime? It seems to be fairly common knowledge amongst the characters. 3) Maybe I’m being nit-picky, but I sort-of expect a film that delves into the world of stage magic to do a better job of explaining how the protagonist accomplishes his visual tricks. 4) Ok, I realize Prince Leopold is a pretty awful person, but I’m not sure how I feel about the two leads framing him for murder and driving him to suicide. Something about that rubbed me the wrong way.  
Rating: The Illusionist is an interesting companion film for The Prestige, as they share a number of similarities, but it isn’t quite in the same league. Overall, it's not a bad film. The Illusionist is highly imaginative and mesmerizing in places, and it features excellent supporting performances from Giamatti and Biel, but it’s a little too slow-moving and humourless for my taste, Prince Leopold is far too simplistically evil to be an interesting villain, and the “twist” ending isn’t that difficult to figure out ahead of time. I also have to remove half a star for the film’s unnecessary and distracting use of CGI special effects. 7/10 stars.

Taken (2008)

Synopsis: Special Forces killing machine shoots countless number of scumbags in order to rescue teenaged girl abducted by foreign gangsters. Wait, wasn’t that the Synopsis for Spartan? I mean, exactly… pretty much word-for-word
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Prepare to get Taken for the ride of your life!” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) France has a very reliable power system, which is great if you’re planning on zapping somebody with a whole lot of electricity in order to obtain information. 2) Paris is a crime-and-drug-ridden hellhole, and best avoided altogether. 
Really?: 1) So, Bryan’s (Liam Neeson) daughter only has 96 hours before something terrible happens. Gee, that certainly spices things up, doesn’t it? Why 96 hours? Where did that number come from? 2) Gee… Famke Janssen doesn’t have much of a part as Bryan’s shrewish ex-wife, does she? I’m mean, she’s gratuitously nasty to the guy, undermines him in front of his daughter, and then pretty much exits the movie after Kim is kidnapped. I guess she needed the dough. 3) I have to wonder: do private clubs like the one depicted in this film actually exist? Wouldn’t their members be prime candidates for blackmailing schemes? 4) Funny how Bryan feels fine after he wakes up after getting conked on the head. Aren't concussions rather serious medical emergencies? 
Rating: Taken isn’t particularly clever or original (see: “Synopsis”), but it works well as a compelling, and genuinely disturbing action-thriller if you don’t ask too many questions about its rather absurd premise: one ex-super agent single-handedly wipes out the entire Albanian mafia in Paris, and somehow manages to always stay one step ahead of the cops. The film also owes a lot to Neeson for bringing depth and substance to a role that could have been completely one-dimensional. 7.5/10 stars.

Monday, October 9, 2017

King of New York (1990)

Hey, this would have been perfect for my salutes to movies about gangsters and dirty cops. 
Synopsis: Do you remember Christopher Walken’s cerebral mob boss character from Suicide Kings and True Romance? Well, just imagine he gets out of jail, whacks a whole bunch of rival drug dealers, dances to Schooly-D, bangs beautiful women on the subway(!) and muses about providing free health care in the South Bronx before he runs afoul of the local constabulary. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: "In New York, crime gets done Frank's way - or it doesn't get done at all." 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Jimmy Jump (Lawrence Fishburne) really likes root beer. 2) America spent $100 million in 1990 on getting high, and none of it was Frank White’s fault. 3) Frank White (Walken) never killed anyone who didn’t deserve it. 
Really?: 1) So, Frank runs a criminal organization that’s almost entirely African-American in personnel. Could that happen in real life? While I liked the strong friendship between Frank and Jimmy, I had a hard time believing these guys would have anything to do with one other, let alone be best buddies and jointly oversee New York City’s biggest narcotics enterprise. How did they meet? I think somebody should have provided some back story. 2) Was Arty Clay some sort of a mafia captain? If so, wouldn’t killing him generate a whole lot of counter-productive heat, or does Frank give the mob a cut of his action? Come to think of it, wouldn’t a successful drug dealer pay off the cops? Couldn’t he call in a favour or two when Gilley and Flanigan (David Caruso and Wesley Snipes) start harassing him? 3) Gilley and Flanigan's assault on Frank White's lair winds up killing several cops. Wouldn't Internal Affairs ask a whole bunch of less-than-friendly questions to the surviving members of the team? 
Rating: King of New York is a flawed crime thriller that I can’t bring myself to dislike. Sure, the plot is thin and a little implausible (see: “Synopsis,” and “Really?”), and it’s tough to care very much about either Frank or his antagonists, but the film does a wonderful job of presenting the look and feel of late-1980s New York City, the cinematography is innovative and interesting, and it features several exciting action sequences and a highly unique cast. Moreover, Caruso and Snipes deliver great performances as the strangely sympathetic rogue cops, while Fishburne steals every scene he’s in as the soda-loving Jimmy Jump. 7.5/10 stars.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Ransom (1996)

Synopsis: It’s essentially  two hours of Mel Gibson screaming at Gary Sinise over the telephone, Rene Russo screaming at Gibson, Sinise and the other kidnappers screaming at each other, and a few scenes of Gibson running through heavy traffic, and around a junkyard  screaming: “where’s my son?!?” 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “In the action-thriller movie event of the year, superstar Mel Gibson (Braveheart) is Tom Mullen, a wealthy executive, whose charmed life is suddenly shattered when his young son is abducted and held for ransom by a gang of ruthless criminals!” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Everybody pays the ransom, and the FBI enjoys a track record of 7 out of 10 kidnapped children safely returned to their parents. 2) If you’re going to make an anonymous phone call in order to ask for a ransom, don’t use any of your favourite expressions. 
Really?: 1) Holy shit, I realize Mullen (Gibson) wants to get his son back, but why would he tell Agent Hawkins (Delroy Linda) that he’s truly guilty of bribery, and that he pulled the wool over the eyes of the FBI? What’s the point of giving himself five years in the federal slammer whether or not the boy is returned? 2) Hey, isn’t it illegal to place a bounty on somebody’s head? Wouldn’t Tom face some pretty serious legal issues - maybe even arrest - after his TV appearance? 3) This movie is just over two hours long. Was it really necessary to include that scene of Kate (Russo) and Shaker (Sinise) in the church, or Dan Hedaya’s wildly over-the-top cameo appearance as Jackie Brown? 4) So, Tom Mullen is a billionaire airline magnate, yet he and his family travel around New York City without any security? 5) Honestly, I’m not sure what to think of the last 20 minutes of this film. For starters, it’s extremely fortunate that Hawkins not only picks up the phone when Tom calls, and then he precisely understands the message Tom wants to convey. Soon afterwards, Shaker announces that if anything funny occurs in the bank, he’ll disappear and exact his revenge when Tom least expects it. What kind of a threat is that? If anything funny happens, Shaker will be a wanted man, and Tom is wealthy enough to rent the Delta Force to protect his family. 
Rating: I have to give Ransom a bit of a mixed review. Overall, it’s a compelling thriller with a great plot twist: Mullen realizes Shaker has no intention of returning the kidnapped boy, so he turns the ransom money into a bounty, thereby setting up a memorable phone call where the two men attempt to intimidate each other. Unfortunately, the film is far too long, marred by a questionable third act, and too joyless and melodramatic for my taste (see: “Synopsis” and “Really?”). 6.5/10 stars.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

We're Talkin' Serious Money (1992)

Synopsis:  Do you remember that 1986 Joe Piscopo/Danny De Vito buddy comedy Wise Guys, about a couple of goofball criminals who are forced to leave New York City because the mob wanted to whack them? Well, just imagine a low-budget version of that, combined with half an hour of The Parallax View. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Dennis Farina, Leo Rossi and Fran Drescher star in this contagious comedy caper about a couple of wisecracking wise guys who finally hit the million-dollar jackpot.” 
Did I Learn?: 1) If you own a restaurant, and showcase the same “specials” day after day on the menu, they eventually become “regulars.” 2) New York is nothing but “chaos,” so nothing can be accomplished in that city. 3) Spirulina is the fountain of youth. 4) “Amelia” is Italian for flower. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You'll gladly watch Fran Drescher in anything
Really?: 1) Ok, I realize Gino is upset with Sal and Charlie for grabbing his $10,000 and running for their lives, but doesn’t he have a business to run? And would he really fly himself and his goons to California to retrieve the money or put a couple of bullet holes in our heroes? 2) So, what happened with Sal’s cousin? We know he grabbed the money, but why would he rip off a family member? Where did he go, and what happened? 3) Why in the world would Sal and Charlie set up the initial blackmail meeting in the lawyer’s office, and offer the guy plenty of time to bring in some professional killers? Why not just say: “I’ll meet you at the coffee shop outside your office in 15 minutes?” 4) Funny how Sal’s sister has a pretty large family, but we almost never see them when Sal and Charlie move into their house. 
Rating: We’re Talkin’ Serious Money certainly wasn’t the late Dennis Farina’s finest cinematic effort, but the film never takes itself too seriously, and I quite enjoyed some of the back-and-forth bickering between Farina, Rossi and Drescher; it is genuinely funny in places. I have to wonder if this movie could have been a lot better - and far more memorable - if it had been blessed with a tighter script and a much bigger budget. 6/10 stars.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Room (2003)

Schuster at the Movies is now six years old! I began this blog by reviewing Citizen Kane, which is believed by many to be the best motion picture ever made. Well, guess what….today, I’m going to review The Room, which is believed by many to be the absolute worst. 
Synopsis: Ok, just imagine Ed Wood came back from the dead in order to write, produce, and direct a highly melodramatic, low-budget version of Singles, starring some narcissistic Eurotrash weirdo with long, greasy hair. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "Johnny is a successful banker who lives happily in a San Francisco townhouse with his fiancée, Lisa. One day, inexplicably, she gets bored with him and decides to seduce his best friend, Mark. From there, nothing will be the same again." [Taken from, as I watched the movie on Youtube.]
What Did I Learn?: 1) Chris-R doesn’t HAVE five fucking minutes! 2) Chocolate is the symbol of love. 3) If a lot of people love each other, the world would be a better place to live. 4) All men are assholes. Men and women use and abuse each other all the time; there's nothing wrong with it. Marriage has nothing to do with love.
Really?: Oh, God….where do I begin? 1) What’s funny about some unnamed dude beating up a girl so badly she winds up in a hospital on Guerrero Street? 2) By the 26-minute mark, we’ve seen three - count ‘em - THREE strangely un-erotic sex scenes set to atrocious R&B music. 3) So, what’s the point of Claudette revealing she has breast cancer, or Denny owing Chris-R money for drugs? These subplots are introduced, and then never mentioned again, let alone resolved. 4) So, Denny is secretly in love with Lisa? Oh wait… right after he admits that, he also says he’s still in love with his girlfriend and wants to marry her. 5) Speaking of Denny, I still don’t know what to make of him jumping into bed with Johnny and Lisa. 6) Holy shit, how  many people use Johnny’s apartment as a booty call crash pad? And he’s ok with it? 7) The plot is so thin that it’s nearly non-existent, yet it still manages to contradict itself…. A) Lisa wants to end her relationship with Johnny (because he’s “boring,” apparently), but early on, it sure looks as though she’s madly in love with him. B) If Lisa wants to end her relationship with Johnny, why doesn’t she just leave? Why get him drunk in order to bait him into hitting her, and why lie about domestic abuse when he doesn’t take the bait? C) Come to think of it, why does she mix vodka with scotch? Who would possibly want to drink that? Ok, that’s it….I can’t do this anymore 
Rating: The Room is more-or-less the Rebecca Black’s Friday of movies: universally panned, but viewed and shared about a zillion times on social media. By any objective measurement - story development, dialogue, acting, editing, etc… The Room should be considered a cinematic failure, but here’s the thing: every scene is a complete train wreck, and it’s really, really funny. I found myself howling with laughter a number of times, and I realized it’s a much better comedy than Wedding Crashers or The Sweetest Thing. Check it out at least once. 0/10 stars… or maybe it’s worth 10/10 stars. I’m actually rather conflicted about this, so it will appear on both my Best-of and Worst-of lists for 2017. 
Would it Work for a Bad Movie Night?: Oh Hell, yes! Take a drink any time: a) Lisa says: “I don’t want to talk about it,” b) the guys throw a football around, c) anyone says: “don’t worry,” d) somebody takes a tumble, e) we’re informed that Mark and Johnny are best friends, or f) anyone is greeted with an “oh, hi.”

2:22 (2008)

Synopsis: It’s a bit like a low-rent Ocean’s Eleven sandwiched between two slices of bad Cassavetes. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Hardened criminal Gully Mercer (Mick Rossi) devises a foolproof plan for a snowy New Year’s Eve heist at 2:22 AM at the Grange, a high-class hotel filled with a vault of valuable safety deposit boxes.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) If you’re going to rip off a bag of cocaine, it’s not a good idea to sell it to anyone who might be connected to its rightful owners (oh wait - I think I learned that by watching Atlantic City). 2) Gabriel Byrne probably took the part of Detective Swain strictly for the cash, because he's uncredited, and he doesn't look all that enthusiastic about the role. 
Really?: 1) So, Val Kilmer gets top billing, and he’s in this movie for what - a couple of scenes equalling three or four minutes? 2) Ok, I have to ask: why is 2:22 in the morning the perfect time to rob the hotel? And why do it on New Year’s Eve, when lots and lots of people stay up late? This is never explained. 3) Holy coincidences, Batman! One of the robbers is identified by the drug dealer he beat up and robbed after a quick glance at a tattoo; later, the police detective (Byrne in another role he probably leaves off his resume) makes a series of arrests simply because he's standing in the right checkout line at the right time, and is able to identify his wife's wedding ring. 4) One of the hotel guests is an older, suicidal man who eventually pulls the trigger. The incident has absolutely no bearing on the plot. 
Rating: Billed as a gritty action thriller that was filmed in Toronto, 2:22 seemed promising when I sat down for a viewing, but it never really delivers. The film works well only when the thieves are in the hotel (and it takes awhile before they make their move - see “Synopsis”) and there’s a tension in the air as they attempt to empty the boxes without tipping off the police or the hotel guests. Sadly, the heist ends far too soon, and the rest of 2:22 consists of rather gruesome violence between our heroes and a local gangster. A better script would have resulted in a much better movie. 5.5/10 stars.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Ocean's Thirteen (2007)

I could have used this for my salute to Al Pacino’s films. 
Synopsis: Loveable crooks and con artists rob a casino. Wait, haven’t I seen this movie before
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “it’s bolder. Riskier. The most dazzling heist yet.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) If you shook Sinatra’s hand, you belong to a very special club, which means… actually, I have no idea what that means. 2) The moment you become embarrassed of who you are, you lose yourself. 
You Might Like This Movie If: you sometimes feel like a Very Unimportant Person when you stay in a bad hotel
Really?: So, wait… Willy Bank (Al Pacino) is an all-around scumbag with an attractive woman (Ellen Barkin) as his second-in-command, yet there’s no indication he’s ever made a pass at her, and their relationship is all business? And then Linus (Matt Damon) manages to make her completely forget all of her professional responsibilities and become some sort of sex zombie because he’s wearing some extra-strong musk cologne? 
Rating: Ocean’s Thirteen isn’t a particularly original movie (see: “Synopsis”), and its treatment of Barkin’s character rubbed me the wrong way (see: “Really?”) but it’s also a lot more focused and back-to-basics than the disappointing Ocean’s Twelve, Pacino’s Bank is a worthy foe for Ocean’s crew, and David Paymer’s V.U.P. character provides some nice comic relief. Ocean’s Thirteen isn’t bad if you want to put your brain on ‘pause’ for a couple of hours. 7.5/10 stars.

Ocean's Twelve (2004)

Please click the link to read my review of Ocean's Eleven
Synopsis: George Clooney stars in a lacklustre sequel to a ho-hum remake of a Rat Pack classic. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “They’re back. And then some. Twelve is the new eleven when Danny Ocean and his pals return in a sequel to the cool caper that saw them pull of a $160 million heist.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Nothing costs nothing. 2) Julia Roberts wasn’t in Four Weddings and a Funeral, and she occasionally hangs out with Bruce Willis in her free time. 
You Might Like This Movie If: you've always wanted to own a Faberge egg. 
Really?: 1) So, the movie ends with Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) - the villain from Ocean’s Eleven, pocketing a cheque for $194 million, even though he was already paid by the casino’s insurance company? That’s a wee bit unsatisfying. 2) Funny how Benedict is able to individually track down every member of Ocean’s crew, and nobody has the good sense to pick up a telephone and warn the others that he’s coming. 3) How would Rusty or Linus’ mom know that Isabel (Catherine Zeta-Jones) forged those police documents? 
Rating: I know what you're thinking - when I reviewed Ocean's Eleven back in January, 2012, I made the following declaration: "there is no way I'm going to sit through a certain piece of crap known as Ocean's Twelve. If you haven't seen this film, don't. Watching it, I had a funny feeling a whole bunch of Hollywood turds were given an all-expenses-paid trip to Europe in exchange for making a movie they knew would be horrible, but would also bring in a ton of money."
Ocean's Twelve isn't a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not nearly as awful as I somehow remembered it to be (incidentally, I had a similar experience with another movie, Passed Away, back in 2012). Its biggest problem is that the story often seems meandering and directionless; instead of planning one big heist, Danny and his crew mostly drift across Europe and shoot the shit with each other as they work on three smaller jobs. Ocean's Twelve has a great cast, but the actors aren't given much to do, so by the end, I really didn't care. 5.5/10 stars.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Wall Street Money Never Sleeps (2010)

Please click the link to read my review of Wall Street. 
Synopsis: Disgraced 1980s high-roller teaches yet another young and idealistic-but-ambitious financial puke what greed is really all about. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Following a lengthy prison term, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) finds himself on the outside looking at a world he once commanded.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Money is a bitch that never sleeps. 2) Time, not money is the prime asset in life. 3) Bulls and bears both make money, while pigs get slaughtered. 4) The mother of all evil is speculation. 5) It’s not about money. It’s about the game between people. 6) Every thief has an excuse. 7) Idealism kills every deal. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You're intrigued by the idea of dabbling in the world of high finance and free money
Really?: 1) So, Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) has essentially become Charlie from Two and a Half Men? Gee, and I thought he learned a few things about humility and the dignity of work at the end of the original movie. That’s a pretty awful cameo. 2a) I have to wonder: what is Jake’s primary motivation? Is it ambition? Is it revenge for the death of Louis Zabel (Frank Langella)? Is it green energy? Is it developing a relationship with Winnie Gekko? It seems to change every few minutes. 2b) Hmm… Jake wants revenge, so he goes to work for Bretton James (Josh Brolin), and then quits when the dude refuses to invest in his big green energy project? 3) Was there a point to the motorcycle race, or did Oliver Stone think it might look good in the trailer? 
Rating: While I always wondered whatever happened to Gordon Gekko and Bud Fox after the end of the 1987 classic, I kind of wish Stone hadn’t made this sequel. Wall Street Money Never Sleeps isn’t a terrible film, but it’s overly long, the script is confused, meandering, and dependent upon far too many plot points, Brolin’s character is woefully underused and underdeveloped, and the ending is treacly and unconvincing. Still, it was nice to see Michael Douglas back in his most famous role. 6.5/10 stars.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Prestige (2006)

Synopsis: If you ever wanted to watch two Victorian-era illusionists behave like Bugs and Daffy yelling: “Duck Season!”, “Wabbit Season” for over two hours, this is definitely your movie. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Award-winning actors Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine and Scarlett Johnson star in The Prestige, the twisting, turning story that, like all great magic tricks, stays with you.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Wow - who knew that zapping objects with a whole lot of electricity could both replicate and teleport those objects? 2) Thomas Edison was NOT a nice guy. 3) Every magic trick has three parts….blah, blah, blah…  
Really?: 1) See: “Really?” 2) So, Angier (Jackman) has a device that can teleport and duplicate objects, and his only motivation is to use it for a super-duper magic show? 3) Wait, just how long does Angier wait in Colorado to talk to Tesla? Two years? Three years? Ok, I realize he has oodles of money, and all the time in the world, but most people would have given up after a few weeks of waiting. 4) Wow…Borden (Bale) sends Angier to Tesla on a wild goose chase, and he actually finds the greatest invention in the history of mankind? 
Rating: The Prestige is probably best known as the only non-Batman collaboration (to date) between Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan. It’s a highly entertaining movie with some fine  performances (I especially liked Caine as Cutter, and David Bowie as the reclusive Nikola Tesla), and it even shows us some behind-the-scenes secrets of the world of professional magicians. My only complaints are that it’s a bit too long (130 minutes), and both of the leading characters are pretty awful human beings. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Martian Child (2007)

I could have included this in my tribute to John Cusack's movies in 2012. 
Synopsis: It’s basically About a Boy meets K-Pax
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “John Cusack stars in this ‘inspirational and uplifting journey’ (Cynthia Wickenkamp, Star Entertainment) as a lonely science-fiction writer who adopts a boy who claims to be from Mars.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Calling somebody an “old soul” means they have figured things out. 2) “That’s a good question” is something adults usually say when they don’t have an answer. 3) Hysterical is the new calm. 4) Baseball is the only game that allows you to suck 70% of the time and still be great. 5) There are no superstars - only supernovas and white dwarfs. 6) Apparently, children don't require discipline. 
Really?: 1) David owns a very old dog. Take a wild guess what happens to the loveable pooch. 2) When Dennis visits a Mars exhibit at the local planetarium, he tells David that Mars is different from how he remembers. Considering David is a science fiction writing, I cannot believe he wouldn’t ask what he does remember about Mars. 3) What sort of father would encourage his son to break all of the dishes in the kitchen, and then start a food fight? Gee…and then the grumpy dude from Social Services shows up immediately afterwards. I didn’t see that one coming… 4) So, why does Dennis have a self-imposed deadline for returning to Mars? I realize it adds some dramatic tension near the end of the movie, but it seems extremely contrived, and it’s never explained. 
Rating: I wanted to like Martian Child a bit more than I did. The film is genuinely touching in places, and Cusack does a fine job of carrying the story with his likeable everyman shtick, but much of it struck me as cloying, manipulative, contrived, and predictable, and David's consequences-free parenting style rubbed me the wrong way on a few occasions (see: “Really?” and "What Did I Learn?'). Moreover, Martian Child’s occasional moments of comedy fall flat, and the budding romance between David and Harlee (Amanda Peet) is never developed, and feels tacked-on. 6/10 stars.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Payback (Theatrical Release - 1999)

Damn - this would have been PERFECT for my tribute to Revenge-themed movies. 
Synopsis: Criminal with questionable judgement pretty much wipes out the Chicago mob over a relatively trivial amount of cash. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The dynamic superstar portrays Porter, a career criminal bent on revenge after his partners in a street heist pump metal into him and take off with his $70,000 cut. Bad move, thugs.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Nobody likes a monkey on his back. 2) Not many people know what their life is worth. 3) If you go high enough within a hierarchy, you always come to one man who makes the final decisions. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You appreciate famous people AND revenge. 
Really?: 1) So, how dumb are those crooked cops? I’d like to think that if I were a police officer and my badge went missing just after a professional thief happened to ‘bump’ into me, I would put two and two together. 2) Wasn’t the Chicago Outfit more-or-less created by Al Capone and other Italian-American gangsters in the 1920s? Would it really be run by guys named Carter, Bronson and Fairfax? 3) So, the Chinese gangsters fire several machine guns at point-blank range into the sedan carrying Porter, and he emerges without a scratch? 4) Ok, I have to ask - how did Porter receive medical treatment after Val (Gregg Henry) and Porter’s wife double-crossed him? This is never explained. 5) Could Val credibly carry on a relationship with Pearl (Lucy Liu), even though she’s closely connected to a rival crime faction? That might explain how he got the tipoff that led to the initial robbery, but wouldn’t both the Outfit and the Chows be suspicious of both of them? 
Rating: Payback is an exciting, and highly-enjoyable action thriller that features Mel Gibson as a highly-determined, violent, and somewhat amoral protagonist (the film was marketed with the catchline: “get ready to root for the bad guy). Overall, it works as long as you don’t take it too seriously. (Please note: there’s also a Director’s Cut that’s apparently quite different in places from the Theatrical Release. I’ll have to check it out one of these days.). 8/10 stars.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Criminal (2004)

Synopsis: Experienced mid-level con artist finds himself playing father-figure and gets taken to the cleaners. Wait, wasn’t that basically the plot of Matchstick Men
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Think of them as working men who work the angles. Rodrigo is the rookie. Richard is the mentor who knows crime like a book. But a new book is about to be written.” 
What Did I Learn?: The biggest “jerk-off” - beyond family - is jobs, as you work all day, people constantly tell you what to do, and on top of it all, they can fire you. 
Really?: So, Rodrigo’s plan to ingratiate himself into Richard’s good graces is to (badly) pull a con close to him in a casino, and hope Richard not only takes an interest, but actually comes to his rescue? That seems awfully contrived. 
Rating: John C. Reilly does an admirable job of carrying Criminal - a compelling character-driven caper picture about a day in the life of an aging (and fading) con man. The film tends to drag in places, and none of the characters are all that likeable or sympathetic (with the possible exception of Rodrigo), but I came away from Criminal thinking I better understood what makes a selfish, and completely amoral guy like Richard tick, thanks to Reilly’s performance. 7/10 stars.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Boondock Saints (1999)

Dang - I probably should have saved this for St. Patrick’s Day! 
Synopsis: Multilingual Irish meatpackers team up with cat-killing idiot to rid Boston of its least-competent gangsters. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “FBI agent Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe) is on the trail of two vigilante brothers (Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus) whose spiritual sense of justice has turned Boston’s streets red with blood.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) People in glass houses sink sh-sh-ships. 2) Charles Bronson always uses rope in his movies, and it’s useful to have some when you decide to go on a killing spree. 3) That James Bond shit never happens in real life - professionals don’t do that! 4) Willem Dafoe does NOT look good in drag. 
Really?: 1) So, a couple of working-class Irish guys from Boston are fluent in Russian, French, German, Spanish and Italian? Well, that’s convenient. 2) Funny how both Il Duce (Billy Connolly playing against type) and the Saints are all skilled sharpshooters, yet nobody gets hit during their big gun battle. 
Rating: The Boondock Saints is a darkly comic thriller about a couple of Irish-American brothers who become vigilantes, and the brilliant-but-seriously weird FBI agent (Dafoe, in a performance that pretty much steals the show) who pursues them. On the whole, it's a good film with a funny and compelling script that also takes itself a bit too seriously near the end. 8/10 stars

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Revolver (2005)

Dang - I should have used this for my tribute to British Gangster Movies. 
Synopsis: Guy Ritchie set out to create something akin to The Usual Suspects meets Waking Life; instead, he made another Rancid Aluminum with a whole lot of psychobabble. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “REVOLVER is populated with Guy Ritchie’s (Snatch; Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) classic breed of fast-talking, sharp-suited gangsters but with a psychological twist that your mind may not be able to handle.” [Ooh, that’s clever - if you don’t like this movie, it’s your fault because you can’t “handle” it.] 
What Did I Learn?: Apparently, your ego isn’t really you, and you shouldn’t listen to what it has to say. 
You Might Like This Movie If: See: "What Did I Learn." 
Really?: 1) See: “What Did I Learn?” [WTF?] 2) Funny how Jake spent years in prison sandwiched between a con man and a chess grandmaster, and fate somehow throws him together with Zach (Vincent Pastore) and Avi (André Benjamin), and he never seems to put two and two together. 3) How exactly did Zach and Avi fake Jake’s illness, and fudge the medical records? 4) So, wait - Zach and Avi offer Jake protection from Macha in exchange for all of his money. Why would he take the offer, knowing full well that he’s dying, anyway? This doesn’t make any sense. 5) Ok, did Zach and Avi brainwash Jake when they were all in jail, or did they just encourage him to listen to his inner voice (which isn’t really him)? And is Jake really “Sam Gold”, or does Sam Gold live in the heads of every would-be big-time criminal? And if that’s the case, who are the attractive female hench-ladies who claim to work for Gold? 6) I realize Sorter (Mark Strong), the cold-as-ice hitman, doesn’t want to murder a little girl, but up until his big face-turn, the viewer isn’t given any indications that he might have second thoughts about murdering people in cold blood. It’s very unconvincing. 7) I give up. 
Rating: I quite enjoyed Guy Ritchie’s earlier films, so when I sat down to watch Revolver, I was unprepared for the convoluted, pretentious, and nonsensical mess that awaited me (See: "Synopsis," "What Did I Learn?" and "Really?") The movie starts out well - Jake Green (Jason Stratham) is released from prison, and wants some payback from oddly-named gangster Dorothy Macha (Ray Liotta), but the script quickly veers off into a number of bizarre directions, and it’s clear that Ritchie was in way over his head when he tried to inject thought-provoking, esoteric ideas into the world of Cockney gangsters. I cannot recommend this movie. 2/10 stars. 
Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Absolutely! Take a drink any time Ray Liotta screams hysterically, or somebody in the film says something “clever” along the lines of: “greed is the only snake that cannot be charmed,” or “The greatest enemy will hide in the last place you will ever look.”

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Pride and Glory (2008)

Synopsis: So, there’s this troubled cop who returns to active duty to investigate a big crime, and he uncovers corruption, and…wait, isn’t this basically the same ground that Narc covered? And Night Falls on Manhattan? And Serpico? And Copland? And the January Man? And….         
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Four cops down: two dead two likely. An NYPD drug bust has gone horribly wrong, and Detective Ray Tierney heads the investigating task force.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Francis Tierney Sr’s kids are the most important thing in the world. 2) If Jimmy Egan’s boys were doing something, he would know about it. 3) You’re supposed to fix any leaks in a boat before laying down carpet, but leaks come with owning a boat. 4) 
Really?: Wow….a cop who lives on a boat in the marina. That’s original. (Please see my reviews of Blood Work and Lethal Weapon). 
Rating: Pride and Glory isn’t bad for an evening’s entertainment, but I couldn’t help myself from thinking I had seen this movie - or at least certain elements of it before (see: “Synopsis” and “Really?”). Ed Norton does a capable job of carrying Pride and Glory, yet the movie itself is an unoriginal paint-by-the-numbers police thriller, and highly derivative of better films. 6.5/10 stars.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Suicide Kings (1997)

Synopsis: Basically, the pretentious-but-vaguely-defined goofballs from Kicking and Screaming kidnap a slightly-nicer version of the villain from True Romance
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Avery is desperate: his sister has been kidnapped and ransomed for $2,000,000, and his father doesn’t have the cash. So Avery and his buddies concoct a bold, semi-suicidal scheme: abduct retired mob boss Charlie Bartolucci (Christopher Walked), hide out in their uptight friend Ira’s house while his folks are out of town, and force Bartolucci to use his contacts to find the girl.” 
What Did I Learn?: Everybody lies. Cops lie; newspapers lie; parents lie; the one thing you can count on is the word on the street. 
Really?: 1) Ok, I realize the guys are desperate to get Jennifer back from the kidnappers, but how can they be sure Charlie’s people can actually find these people, and what do they think is going to happen after they let him go with a severed finger? 2) So, a big-time ex-mob boss gets into a car with a bunch of strange young men without even informing his bodyguard? That seems a bit implausible. 
Rating: Suicide Kings is a little contrived (see: "Really?"), but it’s a suspenseful, and occasionally funny psychodrama with an unusual cast and a fine performance from Walken. It’s a pleasure to watch Charlie terrify-and-manipulate his captors, even though he’s taped to a chair and slowly bleeding to death, and I especially loved the scenes when he torments (and later befriends) whiny-and-neurotic Ira (Johnny Galecki). 8/10 stars.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Fun With Dick and Jane (1977)

Synopsis: Middle-class family learns the hard way that crime pays, and working hard for the American Dream is for chumps. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “George Segal and Jane Fonda star in this hilarious send-up of upper middle class mores and the price people are willing to pay to maintain a comfortable lifestyle.” 
What Did I Learn?: If a crowd starts to gather as the repo men are grabbing your few, meagre possessions, your best course of action to salvage your self-respect is to loudly yell: “that’s not the model we ordered - get it out of here immediately!” 
Really?: Funny how the cops never seem to zero in on our heroes, even though they stop wearing masks, or any sort of disguises during the later holdups!!
Rating: I’m probably being overly generous with my rating, but I genuinely liked Fun With Dick and Jane. Segal and Fonda share some sparkling comedic chemistry (it’s also rather interesting to see Ed McMahon do something besides guffaw on Johnny Carson’s couch), the script is subversively funny, and it’s difficult to dislike these flawed, but all-too-human characters. That said, the film’s humour is very much a product of the late 1970s, so it may rub politically correct viewers the wrong way. 9/10 stars.