Monday, December 25, 2017

A Merry Friggin' Christmas (2014)

Christmas Movie #3 - Merry Christmas! 
Synopsis: Uptight dad, undersexed wife, and overprotected kids reunite with Mork and Murphy Brown on Christmas Eve. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Boyd and his family are forced to spend a dreaded Christmas at his parents’ house with his eccentric father and he has been avoiding for years.” 
What Did I Learn?: Santa prefers bourbon and asparagus to milk and cookies. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You're really into Christmas. 
Really?: 1) A Merry Friggin’ Christmas isn’t meant to be taken all that seriously, so maybe I can overlook Boyd outrunning a police car and facing no consequences or the mystery surrounding the hobo Santa (Oliver Platt), but here’s the thing that gets me: Boyd is determined not to repeat the mistakes of his alcoholic father, Virgil (Robin Williams, in one of his very last roles), but Virgil struck me as sort-of a cool dad in this flashbacks we’re shown; cynical and drunk, perhaps, but he helps his kids assemble their toys, and he never comes across as an alcoholic monster. 2) Hmm… I’m pretty sure that if I were eight years old and my little brother ate an entire jar of 40-year-old pickles, I would promptly inform my parents, just to be sure he wouldn’t need to have his stomach pumped. 3) Luann and Donna are surprisingly chipper the morning after they polished off an entire bottle of vodka. 
Rating: I have to admit that I popped A Merry Friggin’ Christmas into my DVD player expecting something awful, and found myself pleasantly surprised. AMFC has a few credibility problems (see: “Really?”), but it’s quite funny in places, and I really liked the interactions between Boyd and his dad when they’re on the road; the film has a sweetness that never descends into sappiness. 7.5/10 stars.

Four Christmases (2008)

Christmas Movie #2 - Merry Christmas!
Synopsis: Did you ever want to see Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon get emotionally, verbally and physically abused by four sets of people for 90 minutes? Step right up folks, this is your lucky day! (Come to think of it, that sounds a bit like the Synopsis for Wedding Crashers). 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Every Christmas happily unmarried Brad and Kate escape divorced parents and exasperating relatives by getting on a plane. This year a fog rolls in that even Rudolph’s nose couldn’t illuminate.” 
What Did I Learn?: It’s rather difficult to sleep with your best friend’s mom and remain best friends. 
Really?: So, in the course of two minutes, Brad and Kate are invited to four separate events because they’re dumb enough to speak to a TV reporter doing a live broadcast? Why would all four parents be watching at the same time? Come to think of it, Brad’s father (Robert Duvall, whose performance might be the best thing in this Christmas turkey) uses his television as a radio, for crying out loud! 
Rating: Four Christmases is one of the worst holiday-themed films I have ever encountered - I mean, we’re talking Santa With Muscles bad! Four Christmases is loud, crude, unfunny, and surprisingly mean-spirited for holiday fare (see: “Synopsis”); the premise is that sophisticated urbanites Brad and Kate are forced to interact with their red-state relatives, who are all obnoxious caricatures, and nothing good comes from these encounters. What’s the moral of this story? Family is best avoided, even during the Holidays? I cannot recommend this movie. 2/10 stars.
Would it Work for a Bad Movie Night?: Probably not, but take a drink of spiked eggnog any time Brad and Kate soldier on through Holiday Hell when any normal person would say: “screw this,” and simply return home.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Trapped in Paradise (1994)

Christmas Movie #1 (Please click the links to the Christmas-themed movies I reviewed in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015) 
Synopsis: Three loveable crooks evade capture by the police. No, wait…that’s the Synopsis for Quick Change. Um….three loveable crooks hide out with family on Christmas Eve. No, that’s We’re No Angels. Um…foul-mouthed crook brings feuding family together during the holidays. No, that’s The Ref. Um…small town with a lot of charm teaches troubled soul the true meaning of Christmas. No, that’s It’s a Wonderful Life
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Small Town. Big Trouble.” 
What Did I Learn?: Apparently, a horse-drawn sled (not a wheeled carriage, but a sled, travelling on snow-covered pavement) is capable of outrunning an entire fleet of police cars on Christmas Eve.
Really?: 1) See: “What Did I Learn?” 2) Speaking of which, how many police cars does this town own? If there’s such a massive, and unnecessary police presence, how can the Firpos walk through the main street - masked, and carrying shotguns - and move everyone from the diner to the bank without alerting the fuzz? 3) So, Dana Carvey is a master impressionist, yet he spends the entire film sounding like a wimpy Mickey Rourke. That’s just sad. 
Rating: I hadn’t watched Trapped in Paradise since it was released in theatres in 1994, so I was unprepared for how poorly-written, unconvincing and directionless it turned out to be. Comedic heavyweights Carvey and Lovitz are wasted as two of the ethically-challenged Firpo brothers (Lovitz referred to this comedic flop as “trapped in shit,” and it certainly didn’t help either of their careers), while Cage often looks as though he would rather be anywhere else. I was going to give this film 4.5 stars out of 10, but I recently checked out the atrocious Four Christmases, and came to the realization that Trapped in Paradise is at least watchable, and offers a few laughs now and then. I'm feeling festive, so I'll give it a barely-passing grade. 5/10 stars.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Synopsis: Narcissistic outlaw befriends creepy stalker. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Everyone in 1880s America knows Jesse James. He’s the nation’s most notorious criminal, hunted by the law in 10 states. He’s also the land’s greatest hero, lauded as a Robin Hood by the public. Robert Ford? No one knows him. Not yet.” 
What Did I Learn?: If all of your buddies tell you the new guy in your entourage gives them the willies, and they're a bunch of hardened killers, you might want to listen to them. 
Really?: 1) Holy shit, how many scenes of clouds speeding across the sky did photography director Roger Deakins jam into this film? 2) I realize all of this is based upon a true story, but wow…it’s hard to believe Ford personally re-enacted the moment he shot an unarmed man in the back over 800 times. That’s just creepy. 3) You know, I’m pretty sure the Rocky Mountains don’t extend into Missouri. 
Rating: Much like Once Upon a Time in America, you really have to be in the mood to sit down and watch The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Clocking in at nearly three hours (I’m not giving away any spoilers when I tell you Jesse doesn’t make it to the end), the film is a bit long for my taste, and it’s very slow-moving - don’t expect a John Wayne-style shoot-em-up Western. Still, The Assassination benefits from an intelligently-written script with some interesting things to say about the emergence of celebrity culture in the 19th century, as well as fine performances from Pitt and Affleck. 8/10 stars.

Grilled (2006)

Synopsis: Mopey meat merchants meet models, mar murder, make mogul merry. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “They have 12 hours to make a sale…or they’re cooked.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) The best beef does not come from Omaha. 2) A really good reply to “you don’t give a shit” is “I give a lot of shit!” 
Really?: So, wait…Dave, Maurice, and the two ladies are all witnesses to a murder. They somehow manage to disarm two hired killers, and then….they return their still-loaded firearms? Why would anyone do that?!? 
Rating: Grilled is a wildly uneven low-budget comedy featuring two of America’s favourite sitcom dads as a couple of foul-mouthed loser salesmen you might find in Glengarry Glen Ross. The movie doesn’t really get going until the second act, when Dave and Maurice visit Tony’s mansion and it suddenly becomes interesting. I sort-of liked their friendly interaction with the two hitmen, even though it made no sense for them to hand over the confiscated weapons (see: "Really?") Check it out if you’ve always wanted to see Ray Romano drop some f-bombs. 6/10 stars.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Burn After Reading (2008)

CIA Movie #3 
Synopsis: Ok, there’s this abrasive-and-alcoholic CIA analyst who gets fired while his wife is sleeping with a Treasury agent who’s secretly banging a narcissistic gym instructor with body issues, who in turn is blackmailing the ex-analyst, and…ok, it’s complicated. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “An all-star cast, including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and John Malkovich, come together in this outrageous spy comedy about murder, blackmail, sex addiction and physical fitness!” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Appearances can be…deceptive. 2) You can pick a Kryptonite lock with a Bic pen. 3) Lactose intolerance and acid reflux are two entirely different things. 
Really?: 1) So, a guy who looks like George Clooney and works as a Treasury agent needs to resort to online dating? Sure, whatever… 2) I had a hard time believing the CIA would deliberately engage in an obvious case of obstruction of justice when there was absolutely no reason to do so - Cox had a low security clearance when he was employed, and his memoirs contained no vital secrets. Why not just call in the FBI? 3) Holy shit, are there any sane characters in this film? 
Rating: Burn After Reading isn't the best Coen Brothers movie I’ve seen, and it ends far too abruptly for my taste, but it’s still a very funny movie about a lot of extremely unlikeable people. I especially liked John Malkovich’s portrayal of the batshit-crazy Osborne Cox, and Frances McDormand as the unhinged-and-surprisingly amoral Linda Litzke.  8.5/10 stars.

The Good Shepherd (2006)

CIA Movie #2 
Synopsis: Did you ever want to see a spy movie that strangely lacked any action, intrigue, suspense or erotically-filmed sex scenes? Today is your lucky day…
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie and Robert De Niro star in this powerful thriller about the birth of the CIA.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) The British are a particularly civilized people. They don't eat their own. They have somebody do it for them. 2) Eating chocolates and seeking approval are both dreadful habits. 3) The mental facility to detect conspiracies and betrayal are the same qualities most likely to corrode natural judgment. Everything that seems clear is bent. And everything that seems bent is clear. Trapped in reflections, you must learn to recognize when a lie masquerades as the truth, and then deal with it efficiently, dispassionately. 4) Friends can be enemies and enemies friends. 5) Everything is a secret. 6) Polygraph machines don’t understand the Russian soul. 
Really?: So, Wilson never reads his dad’s suicide note until he’s well into middle age? He wasn’t even remotely curious until that particular moment? And wow…it really makes for a lacklustre ending. 
Rating: I wanted to like The Good Shepherd a lot more than I actually did. It’s a stylish production with a great cast (too bad Joe Pesci only appears for about two minutes and we never see him again), and some terrific acting - I especially liked Michael Gambon’s portrayal of the troubled Dr. Fredericks, but the story is turgid, humourless, and never goes anywhere. More importantly, for a biopic about Edward Wilson, the film reveals almost nothing about the motivations of Damon’s character. Why did he get into espionage? Is he a super-patriot? Was he running away from his loveless marriage to Clover? Does he have daddy issues? After 139 minutes, I had absolutely no idea. 6/10 stars.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Recruit (2003)

CIA movie #1 (Please click the links to read my reviews of Spy Game, The Hunt for Red October, The Tailor of Panama, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and 3 Days of the Condor)
Synopsis: Al Pacino slowly corrupts talented-and-idealistic young man….oh wait, that’s the Synopsis for The Devil’s Advocate,and City Hall... and Two for the Money
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Academy Award Winner Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman) and Colin Farrell (Minority Report) take you deeper into the CIA than you’ve ever been before in this action-packed psychological thriller.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Nothing is…what it seems. 2) Everything is a test. 3) Rule Number One: do not get caught. 4) No country with a McDonald’s has ever attacked the United States. 
You Might Like This Movie If: you've always wanted to join the CIA. 
Really?: 1) I’m pretty sure CIA field training is pretty intensive, but I had a hard time believing it involves recruits getting beaten up or subjected to electrical torture. 2) Wait, the CIA has a computer virus that can travel through wall sockets? WTF?! 3) So, Layla’s ancestry is French and Algerian, yet she was raised by an all-American family, and she’s a sleeper agent…. For whom, exactly? This is never spelled out. 4) Speaking of Layla, is she really supposed to believe that a guy who graduated at the top of his class at MIT and knows how to create highly advanced software applications would move from Boston to DC just to take a crappy data entry job? Um….wouldn’t a guy who just went through several intensive weeks of CIA training know the difference between blanks and live ammunition? 6) Call me cynical, but I have a feeling a real CIA assassin would simply shoot James without explaining the entire movie plot to him, first. 
Rating: I have to give The Recruit a bit of a mixed review. Pacino is fun to watch as the cynical, mysterious and surprisingly likeable Walter Burke, and I liked the chemistry between Farrell and Moynahan. The first half of the film, when James is recruited and receives his training, is quite enjoyable, but the second quickly becomes a mess with a plot that stops making sense (see: “Really?") 6.5/10 stars.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Rocknrolla (2008)

This would have been perfect for my tribute to British Gangster Movies. 

Synopsis: Loveable lout loots London lawbreaker, louses land lease, likes larcenous lovely lady. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “‘I own this town.’ But owning is getting expensive for old-school London gangster Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson).” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) beauty is a beguiling call to death... and a cruel mistress. 2) There's no school like old school. 3) The secret to becoming a successful gangster is mastering the art of delivering a good back-handed slap to the face. 4) Christmas is always just around the corner. 5) Whisky is the new vodka.
You Might Like This Movie If: you consider yourself to be a true rocknrolla. 
Really?: 1) Holy cow, how many characters and sub-plots did Guy Ritchie cram into this film? And they're all highly unlikeable criminals! 2) I realize Lenny (Tom Wilkinson) is a murderer, disloyal snitch and child abuser, but gee... there's something a little disturbing about watching a wheelchair-bound elderly man being slowly lowered into a tank full of crayfish. 3) Funny how everyone searches frantically for Uri's painting, and nobody ever thinks to offer a visual description, or a photo of the artwork in question. 
Rating: I was hoping to enjoy Rocknrolla a bit more than I did. While it’s certainly a much better Guy Ritchie movie than his confused and pretentious Revolver, it doesn’t hit the high standards he set with Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, either. Rocknrolla is an ok crime thriller that suffers from a convoluted, and difficult to follow plot and a plethora of characters who might charitably be described as truly awful human beings. 6.5/10 stars.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Biloxi Blues (1988)

War Movie #2 (Please click the links to read my reviews of a few other Neil Simon movies: The Odd Couple, California Suite, I Ought to Be in Pictures, and The Out-of-Towners) 
Synopsis: Raw recruits, including a budding writer, encounter a mean and sadistic drill sergeant during basic training….oh wait, that’s the Synopsis for Full Metal Jacket and Tigerland! Um… Grizzled combat veteran wins the grudging respect of the young men he’s required to train. No, that’s the Synopsis for Heartbreak Ridge. Um…Christopher Walken readies surly young punks for military activities…no, that’s the Synopsis for The Dogs of War. Um… Walken plays a menacing authority figure who isn’t afraid to wave a gun around. No, that’s King of New York. Ok, I give up….
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The Army made Eugene a man. But Daisy gave him basic training!” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) There are no “bathrooms” in the Army. 2) There are 17, no… 52 acceptable sexual positions. 3) Once you start compromising your thoughts, you’re a candidate for mediocrity. 
Really?: Hmm… the VHS jacket says Biloxi Blues takes place in 1943, yet the film itself opens with on-screen text which tells us the year is 1945. So, it’s the summer of ’45, and everybody keeps talking about being sent to fight the Germans, yet the war in Europe actually ended in May of that year. Amazingly, the boys even discuss the US invasion of the European continent as a “what if” scenario, even though D-Day took place in June, 1944. Did Neil Simon make this fairly obvious goof, or did Mike Nichols make a hash out of the original source material? 
Rating: I’m not a big fan of Neil Simon, largely because most of his humour seems dated, and it consists of too many one-liners that aren’t terribly funny; in fact, Simon’s penchant for wisecracking nearly ruins a pivotal scene near the end between Broderick and Walken. Biloxi Blues is a nice, and somewhat charming little movie that doesn’t really go anywhere. Strangely, we don’t even see that much of Eugene’s girlfriend Daisy (Penelope Ann Miller does a wonderful job as the shy Southern belle), even though his relationship with her is supposed to be an important part of the story. Broderick handles the role of Simon’s alter-ego quite well, but I was most impressed with Walken’s portrayal of Sgt. Toomey: a soft-spoken, and surprisingly friendly drill instructor who knows how to command the respect of his troops without screaming at the top of his lungs. 6.5/10 stars.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Dirty Dozen (1967)

War Movie #1
Synopsis: A dozen quarrelsome gents must put their differences aside in order to prevent a hanging…. Oh wait, that’s the Synopsis for Twelve Angry Men. Um… Allied commandos dress up like German officers, and infiltrate a heavily-guarded chateau….oh, sorry - that’s Where Eagles Dare. Um… American prisoners take on the German army. No, that’s The Great Escape and Stalag 17
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “They are convicts, psychos, lunkheads, losers - and champs at the box office and in movie lore.” 
What Did I Learn?: If you wish to impersonate a general, your best course of action is to “walk slow, act dumb and look stupid.” 
Really?: 1) I was more-or-less ok with this movie until the last 20 minutes, when the Dirty Dozen chase a bunch of German officers AND THEIR GIRLFRIENDS into a basement bunker, douse them with gasoline, and dump about two-dozen grenades inside. I’m pretty sure that qualifies as a war crime, as does Reisman’s comment regarding captured prisoners: “free the French and shoot the Germans.” 2) Telly Savalas as a Southern good old boy named Maggot…ok, sure. 3) I realize Colonel Breed (Robert Ryan) is disobeying orders when he enters the Dirty Dozen’s compound and harasses Reisman’s (Lee Marvin) men, but could a Major really get away with firing machine gun bullets at a superior officer, and then encouraging his men to beat up the Colonel’s troops? 4) Hold on… this mission has to happen for the D-Day landings to succeed properly, so the US military brass assigns it to a bunch of anti-social convicts who absolutely cannot be trusted? Why not send in a real commando unit? 
Rating: I hadn’t seen The Dirty Dozen since the late 1980s, so I was unprepared for its overall ugliness (Marvin himself hated this movie, and did it strictly for the paycheque; Charles Bronson actually walked out during a screening). The plot is absurd (see: “Really?”), and 150 minutes is far too long for an action-adventure, but it more-or-less works as a war thriller until the third act.  If I hadn’t seen the despicable last 20-30 minutes of this picture, I might have compared it to another revisionist WWII film from the 1960s, Kelly’s Heroes, and given it six stars. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this movie. 4/10 stars. 
Would It Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Sure - take a drink every time Lee Marvin mouths off at a superior officer and somehow gets away with it.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Across the Line (2010)

Synopsis: Fugitive financier foils feds, flees for freedom, finds foxy female, faces furious felons. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “When a fugitive-financier (Aidan Quinn) is discovered hiding out in Tijuana, he and his multi-billion dollar stash become prey to a Mexican drug lord, a Russian mobster, and the FBI.” 
What Did I Learn?: Apparently, Russian gangster worth over $1 billion just love spending all of their time preparing food in a restaurant kitchen. Oh wait, I think I already learned that from Eastern Promises
Really?: 1) See: “What Did I Learn?” 2) So, Corbin Bernsen has third billing on the DVD jacket, and he’s in this movie for what - five minutes as Agents Hobbs’ (Mario Van Peebles) hard-ass boss? Oh, and Gina Gershon also doesn’t have much of a part as the wife of a highly cerebral Mexican gangster (Andy Garcia). 3) Speaking of Garcia, I had a bit of trouble believing the top cartel boss in Tijuana would spend most of his time in a tiny cracker box personal office crammed with about a zillion books. 4) Holy shit, this movie ends in a literal Mexican stand-off of hired mercenaries, FBI agents, and Mexican cartel goons staring each other down, and then… they all holster their guns and go home? WTF? 
Rating: For an action-thriller, Across the Line is surprisingly slow-moving, dull, and downright depressing. While I liked Quinn’s performance as the elusive Charlie Wright (Claudia Ferri is fantastic, incidentally, as the aging prostitute who helps him search for his long-lost daughter), Garcia looks like he’s sleepwalking for most of the picture. Acting aside, the most frustrating thing about Across the Line is that its basic story outline had a lot of promise, yet it never delivers very much. I cannot recommend this movie. 4.5/10 stars. 
Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: No, but take a drink each time Andy Garcia says anything that's a real downer.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Street Kings (2008)

Synopsis: Keanu Reeves plays America’s dumbest bad cop
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Gripping performance by Keanu Reeves, ACADEMY AWARD Winner Forest Whitaker and an all-star supporting cast power this action-packed crime thriller.” 
What Did I Learn?: When you really want a bowl of cereal, beer is apparently an acceptable substitute for milk. 
Really?: 1) So, Ludlow’s (Reeves) big strategy to find the kidnapped girl is to offer to sell guns to her kidnappers, provoke them into beating him senseless with a few racial slurs, hope they steal his traceable car, and then sneak up on them in the middle of the night? Gee, what could possibly go wrong? 2) Hold on - Ludlow has Wander handcuffed to a railing, there’s about a zillion dollars in cash now completely visible behind a ripped-out wall in Wander’s house, and instead of calling Internal Affairs, he executes him in cold blood? And Captain Biggs (Hugh Laurie) is somehow ok with that? 3) Ok, I realize Wander’s henchmen are really bad guys, but what’s with all the rapity-rape? Why do all of them feel the need to rape not only Ludlow’s girlfriend, but Washington’s widow as well? That struck me as far too over-the-top. 4) I have a problem with the basic premise of this film: Ludlow has consistently broken the law by acting as a vigilante cop for Captain Wander, yet he knows nothing about the illegal activities of his fellow officers, and nobody thinks to cut him in for some of the money in the “cookie jar.” (See: “Synopsis”). 5) Wait, Ludlow and Washington (Terry Crews) somehow blazed a new trail by in the early 1990s as black-and-white officers working together in a black-and-white police cruiser? Gee, that seems a little far-fetched. 
Rating: Laurie and Whitaker deliver strong performances as antagonistic LAPD captains, but Street Kings is otherwise a forgettable, distasteful, and strangely implausible (see: Really?) police corruption film that’s marred by an unlikeable protagonist and some pretty brutal violence. Check it out only if you have nothing better to do, and it’s free to watch. 5.5/10 stars.

Brooklyn Rules (2007)

Synopsis: Budget Bronx Tale meets Budget Goodfellas meets Budget Saturday Night Fever meets Budget Diner
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “A gripping tale of three life-long friends struggling with relationships, responsibility and loyalty on the mean streets of 1980’s-era Brooklyn, NY.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) A grilled cheese sandwich is NOT the same thing as a cheese melt. 2) If you invent a better mousetrap in New York City, you’ll get a mousetrap stuck up your ass. 3) Dog Heaven is all cats, bones and fire hydrants. 
Really?: 1) I can understand Carmine (Scott Caan) wanting to whack Gino as revenge for Bobby’s murder, but Michael (Freddie Prinze Jr.)? A college kid with no record of involvement with violence, or the local mafia? I had a hard time believing his first instinct wouldn’t be to tell the cops everything he knew. 2) So, Carmine and Michael murder Gino in cold blood, and… they both go on to live happily ever after? Neither of them feel pangs of guilt or remorse, and Gino’s buddies never visit either of them, looking for payback? That struck me as a little cold. 3) Gee…Mena Suvari isn’t given much to do in this movie, is she? And it’s funny how Alec Baldwin’s head takes up a quarter of the DVD jacket, and he has maybe 15-20 minutes of on-screen time. 
Rating: I wanted to like Brooklyn Rules a little more than I did, as it’s a character-driven coming-of-age drama set amid the New York mob wars of the mid-1980s. Trouble is, Brooklyn Rules isn’t very original (see: “Synopsis”) and it could have been a much better picture with a polished script (much of the dialogue consists of the three buddies insulting each other, and it gets tiresome), a bit of recasting (Prinze’s Brooklyn accent is terrible, and he’s unconvincing as a tough guy who somehow “scammed” his way into Columbia University), and a stronger focus on Carmine’s character, the wannabe-gangster. That said, I liked Baldwin’s performance, and Jerry Ferrara’s (best remembered as Turtle on Entourage), final scene is surprisingly moving. 6.5/10 stars.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)

Happy Halloween! Please click the link to read my review of A Charlie Brown Christmas. 
Synopsis: It’s like Waiting for Godot, starring obnoxious children and a highly imaginative dog. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The Peanuts gang celebrates Halloween while Linus waits for the Great Pumpkin.” [Taken from] 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Never jump into a pile of leaves with a wet sucker. 2) The Great Pumpkin values sincerity. 3) The fury of a woman scorned is nothing compared to the fury of a woman who has been cheated out of “tricks or treats.” 
Really?: 1) So, where exactly does Linus write his letter to the Great Pumpkin? Why is he suddenly accosted by a parade of verbally abusive Peanuts characters? 2) Wait, Linus spends Halloween night in a pumpkin patch, and it’s up to Lucy to bring him home at 4AM? I’m curious: do these children actually have any parents? 
Rating: I realize It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown is widely considered to be a Halloween classic, and it was created as a children’s special, but something about it rubbed me the wrong way. The story itself is inane and pointless - the Great Pumpkin never shows up (Linus, of course, refuses to learn a thing from the experience, so the end credits consist of him shouting at his best friend like a crazed zealot), the comic strip humour doesn't translate well into an animated special, and it’s difficult to listen to gratuitously nasty children shriek insults at Linus and Charlie Brown for 22 minutes. That said, I liked the vignette of Snoopy pretending to be a WWI flying ace (it's the one part that doesn’t include screaming kids), and I loved Vince Guaraldi’s smooth jazz musical score. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this movie. 4/10 stars. 
Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Sure - take a drink anytime somebody uses the word “blockhead.”

Sunday, October 22, 2017

2Guns (2013)

Synopsis: Academy Award winner Denzel Washington mugs his way through forgettable, half-baked shoot-em-up for $20 million payoff. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Academy Award winner Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg lead an all-star cast in the explosive hit 2 Guns.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Never rob a bank across from a diner with the best donuts in three counties. 2) Nobody’s innocent. There’s just the guilty, the ignorant, and the unlucky. 3) When the hand has gangrene, you chop it off to save the body. You don't keep the pinkie around just because it "meant well". 4) Blind loyalty is not loyalty. 5) Just because you put your finger in your belly button and brown shit comes out don't mean it's your asshole. [I’m still trying to figure that one out]
Really?: 1) So, the CIA shakes down Mexican drug cartels and then stuffs the loot away in the safety deposit boxes of tiny border town banks with minimal security? That doesn’t compute. 2) I realize DEA Agent Bobby wants to bust Stig (Wahlberg), but can he seriously participate in arson and bank robbery in order to do so? 3) Gee….it’s kind of hard to sympathize with Stig after he shoots the heads off several chickens in order to impress some cartel thugs. 4) Let’s see… a bunch of well-armed Naval intelligence goons decide to rip off the CIA, which is already ripping off the drug cartels. Wouldn’t the CIA get wind of this? How many sets of villains does this movie need? 5) I have to ask: could Bobby seriously pack $43 million in cash into his car, and drive it across the border into Mexico without it getting impounded by either the US or Mexican border officers? 6) Wait, the big Bobby agrees to deliver the $43 million because the CIA has framed him for the murder of his boss and he wants to clear his name. Is he now a wanted man? 
Rating: Washington and Wahlberg share some enjoyable (and genuinely funny) buddy chemistry as a couple of star-crossed undercover federal agents who don’t really like one another, but 2Guns is otherwise a borderline bad movie with sub-par dialogue, a convoluted, formulaic and confused plot that doesn’t make a lot of sense, and some very hit-or-miss humour. (See: “Synopsis,” “What Did I Learn?” and “Really?”) Still, 2Guns never takes itself too seriously, and it's fine for an evening's entertainment if there's nothing better on television, so I’ll give it a barely-passing grade. 5.5/10 stars.

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.