Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Beyond the Mat (1999)

Please click the link to read my review of WWF High Flyers

Synopsis: Documentary filmmaker criss-crosses America, discovers that professional wrestling is populated by con artists, ‘roided-up muscleheads, drug addicts, bad fathers, and violent, sadomasochistic lunatics, and then insists they’re just like you and me. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “There’s No Script For What Happens Outside The Ring!”
What Did I Learn?: 1) Mick Foley earned a salary that was somewhere in the “high six figures” in the late 1990s. 2) “You have to be a prick in this business. If you don't, the wrestlers will run all over you. Their egos are such and-and-and their characters are such that they will just walk all over you. So if you think you can be a nice guy and be a successful promoter in professional wrestling, you better get out of this business right now.” 3) I’m really, really glad Jake “the Snake” Roberts isn’t my dad.  
Really?: 1) Honestly, I’m shocked that Jake’s daughter allowed a film crew to record so many intimately personal moments between herself and her father. 2) Hmm…. I’m pretty sure that if a doctor told me my arthritic “bad knee” needed to be replaced, and my almost-as-arthritic “good knee” would likely give me another 30 years of chronic pain, I probably wouldn’t continue to wrestle, but then again, my name isn’t Terry Funk and I’m not a hardcore wrestling legend. 3) Funny how Blaustein spent all of that time with Jake Roberts, and nobody mentions a word about his snakes. 
Rating: Barry Blaustein deserves a great deal of credit for creating a documentary that’s informative, watchable, and even emotionally moving (Jake’s story is best described as heartbreaking). Beyond the Mat is brutally honest about the world of pro wrestling, yet it treats all of its participants - Funk, Foley, Roberts, and even jobbers from Northern California respectfully. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows (1998)

Synopsis: It’s 93 minutes of a middle-aged man in black-and-pink tights taking himself far too seriously. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The story of a man who believes in heroes, in a world where the anti-hero is king.” 
What Did I Learn?: If a member of the Hart family ever offers to teach you some submission holds, run like the wind. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You really, really like the Hitman. 
Really?: Wait….did Bret seriously think Vince would allow him to show up on Raw is War the night after the 1997 Survivor Series, deliver a thank you speech, and then simply forfeit the championship belt? It’s easy to dump on Vince McMahon for being a lying snake, but in the film, Bret doesn’t seem all that keen on developing a realistic compromise. 
Rating: While it isn’t as good a sports documentary as Hoop Dreams, Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows offers a compelling look at a Canadian legend, and the events that led up to the infamous “Montreal Screwjob.” It’s interesting to watch Hart - a man at the top of his game who had trouble adjusting to a changing culture within the industry - interact with his fellow performers, and a lot of fun to reminisce about mid-1990s wrestling, but the film has a major problem, aside from its atrocious musical score. Wrestling with Shadows is told entirely from Hart’s perspective, and it doesn’t ask many tough questions or critically evaluate its subject. 7.5/10 stars.

Palmetto (1998)

Synopsis: Woody from Cheers stars as not-very-bright-or-likeable patsy in forgettable, implausible, ho-hum film noir thriller. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: Stage a bogus kidnapping, collect a satchel full of ransom cash, take 10% off the top and have a nice life, see ya later. They told Harry Barber the plan would run like clockwork. But – tick tock – it’s hapless Harry who’s running out of time.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) There’s nothing worse than a writer with nothing to say. 2) If an attractive woman ever offers you 50 grand to take part in a criminal enterprise with minimal involvement, start running. 
Really?: 1) Hmm…. the plan can only work if Harry stays in Palmetto, yet the minute he’s released, he immediately starts walking towards Miami, and he’s convinced to return to town by Nina (Gina Gershon), who isn’t part of the conspiracy! 2) Speaking of Gina Gershon, she doesn’t have much to do in this movie, does she? I mean, who’s idea was it to caster Elizabeth Shue as the femme fatale, and Gershon as the adoring girlfriend? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to write Nina out of the script completely? Isn’t it far more likely Harry would fall for Shue’s character if he didn’t have a beautiful woman waiting for him at home? 3) Wait - Odette (Chloe Sevigny) informs Harry that his meeting with Shue’s character was no accident, and yet he doesn’t immediately get the hell out of Dodge? 4) Wow….that ending was right out of the 1960s Batman TV series. 
Rating: Meh - see “Synopsis” and “Really?” 5.5/10 stars.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Four Brothers (2005)

This would have been perfect for my salute to Revenge films in 2011. 
Synopsis: Four bros, just regular Joes with plenty of woes from the lives they chose, come to blows with lots of foes. Who killed the old lady? Nobody knows, but the mystery grows. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “After their adoptive mother is gunned down during a grocery store holdup, the estranged brothers reunite to seek revenge and take matters into their own hands.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) You keep knocking on the devil's door long enough and sooner or later someone's gonna answer you. 2) Evelyn Mercer was the greatest mother that four degenerates ever had. 3) You pay out-of-town shooters to get the hell back out of town. 4) Dead men may not tell any tales, but they sure leave important shit lying around. 
Really?: 1) Where are the f***ing cops? I mean, these guys chase the hired killers’ car all over the city on icy roads, guns blazing, and we never hear so much as a siren. 2) Don’t any of the Mercers have a desire for privacy? I had a hard time believing Jack (Garrett Hedlund) would want to shower with Bobby (Mark Wahlberg) taking a crap a foot away from the tub. And then Angel (Tyrese Gibson) enters the bathroom and asks them to inspect his you-know-what? 3) So, Victor Sweet has Evelyn murdered to send Jeremiah a message, or did he know Jeremiah would collect on a big insurance policy and he’d get paid? Strangely, the actual motive for the killing is never made entirely clear. 
Rating: I wanted to like Four Brothers a lot more than I actually did. While the film features some exciting action sequences, interesting cinematography of frozen Detroit, and a kick-ass soundtrack of early-1970s Motown hits, it’s otherwise a forgettable and muddled remake of The Sons of Katie Elder with thuggish heroes and a very lacklustre ending. Oh, and there’s a Thanksgiving dinner scene where three of the leads converse with their dead mom that’s so bad I had to fast-forward through it. 6/10 stars.

Killer Elite (2011)

Hey, I could have used this for my tribute to Robert De Niro in 2014. 
Synopsis: Amoral, highly-skilled professional killers bump off a bunch of other amoral, highly-skilled professional killers because…. oh honestly, who cares? 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Inspired by true events KILLER ELITE is an action-adventure spy film that follows Danny (Jason Stratham), one of the most skilled special-ops agents.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Life is like licking honey from a thorn. 2) Killing is easy. Living with it is the hard part. 3) MFWIC stands for Motherfucker What’s in Charge. 4) Two percent of men are natural killers. 5) Overall, 1980 was pretty awful year.  
You Might Like This Movie If: You know there's no such thing as a killer elite [Seriously, this is a pretty far-out clip]
Really?: 1) Holy crap, how much physical abuse can Stratham’s character actually take? And after a savage interrogation/fight, he jumps out of a second-story window still tied to a chair, and he's somehow A-ok? 2) Funny how this film takes place in 1980, and yet the characters use Glock pistols, and there’s never a single reference to the Cold War. Come to think of it, the music and fashions presented are also pretty nondescript. 
Rating: I had high hopes for Killer Elite, but they weren’t met. I was expecting something along the lines of Ronin (also starring De Niro), yet the film is far more reminiscent of George Clooney's The American, or one of Steven Segal’s more forgettable outings. Killer Elite is hard to follow (one minute they’re in England, then the Middle East, then Paris…..), and it’s difficult to empathize with Stratham’s character or care about what happens to his merry band of killers. Moreover, the action scenes are so super-human (see: “Really?”) that the film’s credibility soon goes out the window. 6/10 stars. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

We're No Angels (1989)

This would have been perfect for my tribute to Robert De Niro in 2014. 
Synopsis: Escaped convicts fool inhabitants of world’s dumbest monastery. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “There’s something funny about those two new priests. In fact, there’s something downright hilarious. Because Robert De Niro and Sean Penn aren’t clergymen at all. They’re escaped cons whose only prayer is to pass themselves off as men of the cloth.... and pass right by a police blockade at the border into the safety of Canada.” 
What Did I Learn?: If you ever steal a drying shirt, and a priest remarks that there’s a still a clothespin on it, your best response is to say that it’s a reminder that "God can snatch us up at any time." 
You Might Like This Movie If: You know that most men behind bars are basically decent, caring human beings. No, REALLY! 
Really?: See: “Synopsis” and “What Did I Learn?” Seriously, I realize most of the humour in this movie comes from the monks and townspeople mistaking Ned and Jim for a couple of famous priests, but how long could they realistically keep up that ruse? They don’t even look like the guys on the dust-jacket of the book they're supposed to have co-written! Moreover, I doubt that Jim’s (Penn) stream-of-consciousness psychobabble would fool a smart Sunday School student, let alone an entire abbey. And I had a very hard time believing a barely-literate Jim would stick around to join the Order when the entire local police force is looking for a man of his age and description. 
Rating: We’re No Angels is a highly-contrived, yet compelling remake of the 1955 classic, even though it bears almost no resemblance to the original. The film features a number of nice performances (Demi Moore is wonderful as a cynical-and-angry local prostitute who falls for De Niro’s Ned, yet her character isn't played for laughs, so she detracts from the comedy whenever she appears), as well as some impressive on-location shots in the B.C. interior and a funny script from David Mamet. Watch for John C. Reilly in an early role. 8/10 stars.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

We're No Angels (1955)

This would have been perfect for my Bogart Film Fest in 2012! 
Synopsis: Colourful convicted criminals crash Christmas, comfort classy clan, craftily kill cruel capitalists. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Humphrey Bogart plays one of his rare comedy roles this jaunty excursion about three convicts – Joseph (Bogart), Albert (Aldo Ray), and Jules (Peter Ustinov) – who are plotting their escape from Devil’s Island.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) When a lady faints, one should loosen her clothing. 2) When you have a body you don't want found, everybody falls all over it. 3) Murderers are very polite. 4) A pineapple can be eaten just like an apple. 5) Crooks will always give you a hard day’s work. 6) A man doesn’t travel 4000 just to prove he’s a louse. 
Really?: * SPOILER ALERT! * I watched Papillon a few years ago, so I had a bit of trouble believing that anyone who managed to escape from the prison on Devil’s Island would ever voluntarily turn himself in to the authorities, rather than hop a freighter and return to freedom in France. 
Rating: Aside from a ridiculously unbelievable ending (see: “Really?”), We’re No Angels is a charming, and surprisingly enjoyable light-hearted comedy that's still funny even now, over 60 years after it was first released. Moreover, it’s clear that Bogart had a knack for deadpan comedy; some of the dialogue between Bogie and Peter Ustinov are absolutely priceless. Highly recommended. 10/10 stars. 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Dead of Winter (1987)

Synopsis: Talented-yet-scatterbrained actress matches wits with two of the least-threatening villains in cinematic history. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Acclaimed director Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde) spins a frightening tale of terror and ice-tingling suspense. Mary Steenburgen (Parenthood) and screen veteran Roddy McDowall star in this heart-pounding shocker that promises to thrill you – and chill you – to the bone!” 

What Did I Learn?: 1) If you’re going to trudge outside in the middle of a snowstorm, it’s a good idea to actually find, and then put on your winter coat. Wrapping a tablecloth around your shoulders isn’t going to work for very long. 2) There was no 311 area code in 1987.


Really?: 1) You know, I’ve never heard of a gas station that gave away free goldfish. 2) See: “Synopsis” and “What Did I Learn?” I realize Kate is scared out of her mind, but she has some of the worst survival instincts I’ve ever seen in a protagonist. Considering there’s only one way into the attic, why didn’t she put something heavy on the trapdoor when she made her phone call? Why didn’t she throw a lamp at Dr. Lewis when he slowly trudged up the stairs in order to kill her? Certain scenes just didn’t ring true. 

Rating: I have to give Dead of Winter a rather mixed review. On the one hand, Steenburgen, McDowell and Jan Rubes deliver highly convincing performances, and the lighting, musical score, and cinematography work well to create a claustrophobic, creepy, and suspenseful mood. Dead of Winter is a great little psycho-thriller until it really starts to break down in the second and third acts (See: “Really?”), and you find yourself shouting extremely obvious advice to Steenburgen’s character. 7/10 stars.

Shane (1953)

Please click the link to read my review of Heaven’s Gate, another film that dealt with the Johnson County War. Oh, and I’m not doing a tribute to Jack Palance....believe it, or not

Synopsis: It’s basically Pale Rider, plus an annoying kid, and minus Clint Eastwood. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Acclaimed director George Stevens’ legendary rendition of the quintessential Western myth earned six Academy Award nominations, and made Shane one of the classics of the American cinema.” 

What Did I Learn?: 1) A man has to be who he is. 2) A gun is a tool; no better or no worse than any other tool: an axe, a shovel or anything. A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it. 3) Sodbusters good, cattlemen bad. Got it! 

Really?: 1) *SPOILER ALERT* You know, I’m pretty sure that if I were ever to get shot, I would immediately seek out medical attention. I don’t believe I would get on my horse and ride off into the mountains. 2) So, the bully, Chris Calloway does a complete face-turn? I could see him becoming disgusted with Ryker’s strong-arm tactics and leaving, but why does he feel the need to inform Shane, the guy who beat him senseless earlier in the picture? 

Rating: George Stevens’ classic Oscar-winning Western is a bit slow-moving at times, but it’s still a moody and memorable look at a retired gunfighter who tries, and fails to put his violent past behind him. Highly recommended.  9/10 stars.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Tango and Cash (1989)

Synopsis: Wrongly-imprisoned law enforcement officers bust out of jail, and um.... single-handedly attack a drug kingpin’s heavily-fortified warehouse complex using a “borrowed” bullet-proof monster truck with mounted machine guns. Wait, WTF?

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Ray Tango and Gabe Cash are rival LA policemen with one thing in common: each thinks he is the best. Team them and they’re like oil and water. But frame them for a crime and they’re like a match and kerosene.” 

What Did I Learn?: 1) Rambo is a “pussy.” 2) F.U.B.A.R. stands for “fucked-up beyond all recognition”; 3) Quick and easy is how you make a cake. Or clean a toilet bowl, or shop... by mail. But quicker and easier is not how you run a multi-million dollar business.

Really?: 1) See: “Synopsis.” 2) I could see Tango and Cash getting fired, or placed on administrative leave while the charges against them go to court, but I don’t think there’s even remotely enough evidence to convict either of them. And then they’re somehow sent to the wrong prison, and nobody can find out what happened to them? 3) How much punishment can either of these guys endure? They’re beaten senseless in the Big House, then electrocuted, and then they fall at least two or three storeys from a high tension wire and lands on their spines, and they’re both good to go? 4) Hmm....I learned from The Wire that drug dealers aren’t that keen on talking over the phone, yet Perret (Palance) and his minions conduct business via video conferencing? And this is 1989? 5) Ok, I give up... 

Rating: Tango and Cash is a cheesy, predictable, and badly-written late-1980s buddy cop action-comedy that’s partly-redeemed by a few funny moments, and the fact that none of its major performers take themselves too seriously. Still, I cannot recommend this movie. 4.5/10 stars. 

Would It Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Hey, Bad Movie Nights were made for dumb-but-fun films such as Tango and Cash. Take a drink any time Jack Palance acts batshit crazy (he’s fucking hilarious, by the way), or either of our heroes drop a lame-and-unnecessary one-liner.

"My Name is Nobody" (1973)

Synopsis: Have you ever harboured a secret desire to see Once Upon a Time in the West reshot as a live action Bugs Bunny cartoon? Today is your lucky day! 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Sergio Leone’s ultimate spaghetti western is lavished with changing landscapes and beautifully choreographed action scenes, including one of the most incredible shootouts in screen history.” 

What Did I Learn?: Wagner’s The Ride of the Valkyries sounds really, really awful when it’s played on a tinny synthesizer. 

Really?: 1) See: “What Did I Learn?” Seriously, Ennio Morricone’s musical score is all over the map.” 2) I realize this film isn’t meant to be taken all that seriously, but is “Nobody” some sort of super-human gunslinger? How in the world can he down three pint glasses of whisky and still shoot straight, let alone stand upright? 

Rating: Slapstick humour and serious melodrama mix uneasily in “My Name is Nobody,” an enjoyable, yet contrived, and extremely uneven 1970s Western featuring Henry Fonda as an aging legend, and Terence Hill as the wacky title character. Check it out if you’re a die-hard Fonda fan. 7/10 stars.