Monday, July 31, 2017

The Bad News Bears (1976)

Synopsis: Oscar Madison exchanges barbs with foul-mouthed, surly pre-teens. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “A major surprise as one of 1976’s top-grossing films, The Bad News Bears is a movie about children that is refreshing, utterly believable, and quite cleverly funny.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) That quitting thing - it’s a hard habit to break once you start. 2) It took several hundred years to build Rome. 3) There’s energy in chocolate. 4) The Yankees are real turds. 5) Nobody wants to wear a jockstrap until some unlucky sap gets smacked in the nuts with a fastball. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You know that bears are bad news. 
Really?: 1) So, Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) transforms from an apathetic, beer-drinking slob into a verbally-abusing control freak? And then into a genuinely caring father-figure in the last 15 minutes of the movie? 2) I wouldn’t describe myself as a fan of political correctness, but it is a bit jarring to hear an 11-year old spout racial epithets at his teammates. 3) Wait, Buttermaker informs ace pitcher Amanda (Tatum O’Neal) that he doesn’t want to see her again once the season is over, and she shows up for the last game, anyway? 4) I’m glad the Bears learned all about the importance of teamwork, but how about manners and good sportsmanship? 5) So, it’s the final game of the season, the Bears have a real chance of winning, and Buttermaker puts in his worst player because he hasn’t had a turn at bat? Oh, come on….
Rating: I hadn’t watched The Bad News Bears in nearly 35 years, so I was surprised to discover that it wasn't quite as funny as I remembered. Matthau does his best with the material - he shares some nice one-on-one moments with O’Neal and a few of the other kids, and I loved the scene when he orders the team to clean a swimming pool as he sips martinis, but the script is often vulgar and clichéd, Matthau’s character development is a little unconvincing (see: “Really?”), and nobody in this film is all that likeable. 6/10 stars.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

Synopsis: Bored, bank-robbing billionaire matches wits with amoral, cold-as-ice insurance investigator, and….wait, why exactly are we supposed to care about either of these characters? 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Brilliantly created by the Oscar-nominated director of Moonstruck, and starring Academy Award-winning actress Faye Dunaway (Network), and the legendary Steve McQueen (The Great Escape), The Thomas Crown Affair has all the suspense and action of a taut and intriguing modern-day crime caper.” 
What Did I Learn?: Split-screen cinematography is best used sparingly. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You really want to watch a sexy game of chess. 
Really?: 1) I realize Crown is a danger-seeker, and Vicky (Dunaway) is an intelligent and attractive woman, but gee… if I discovered that some pushy insurance investigator was looking into my business, I’d probably lawyer-up and find a way to get a restraining order. I don’t think I’d take her out for expensive dinners, or allow her into my home. 2) It’s one thing to threaten one of Crown’s accomplices with serious jail time if he doesn’t cooperate, and quite another to kidnap his son. I lost a lot of sympathy for Vicky after that incident. 3) If I ever have to hear Michel Legrand’s God-awful “Windmills of your mind” again, I’m going to hurt somebody. 
Rating: I was surprised to read that Steve McQueen regarded The Thomas Crown Affair as his favourite self-starring movie, as he’s very much out of character as a billionaire playboy, and he made much better movies in the 1970s. McQueen and Dunaway share some great cat-and-mouse chemistry, and I’ll never certainly never forget that chess scene! Still, once the initial caper is completed, the film is mostly stylish build-up that doesn’t really go anywhere. 7/10 stars.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

Synopsis: Wow… dullest Bond movie EVER! 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Thrill-seeking billionaire Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) loves nothing more than courting disaster - and winning!” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Regret is usually a waste of time, as is gloating. 2) Life is full of shitty conflicts. 
Really?: 1) Ok, it’s nice that Faye Dunaway has a bit part in this movie, but she has to be the world’s worst psychiatrist (I’m pretty sure that mocking a patient, and then laughing at his misfortune is a big professional no-no), and her scenes with Brosnan are pretty pointless. 2) So, wait… why would Crown paint over the stolen artwork, and then donate it back to the museum, knowing full well it would eventually prove he stole it in the first place? And how exactly does he rip off the painting that Catherine (Russo) likes? I’m sorry, but you can’t make a heist movie without explaining some pertinent technical details. 3a) Um…. New York City detectives are pretty useless, aren’t they? I mean, Catherine discovers every single clue, and single-handedly pieces them all together. She even figures out that Crown has to be the culprit, based on zero evidence. 3b) Speaking of Catherine’s investigation, how does she get away with conducting an illegal search of Crown’s swanky townhouse, and then sleeping with him without the cops arresting her for obstructing justice? 
Rating: I hadn’t seen The Thomas Crown Affair since it was released nearly 20 years ago, yet my opinion of it is more-or-less the same: the film is superficial, tedious, and overly long. While I liked Bill Conti’s jazzy musical score, and Denis Leary’s earthy performance as Detective McCann, the script isn’t nearly as clever, compelling, or suspenseful as it should have been (see: “Really?"), and the bulk of the film consists of Brosnan and Russo enjoying a ridiculously luxurious lifestyle while the audience waits for something to happen. I cannot recommend this movie. 4.5/10 stars. 
Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Probably not, but take a drink any time Brosnan or Russo change outfits.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

True Grit (2010)

Please click the link to read my review of the original True Grit, starring John Wayne and Kim Darby. Oh, and this would have been perfect for my tribute to Jeff Bridges! 
Synopsis: Smug Texan, one-eyed drunk, and precocious 14-year-old girl go a-killin’. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “True Grit is a powerful story of vengeance and valour set in an unforgiving and unpredictable frontier where justice is simple and mercy is rare.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Malum in se. The distinction is between an act that is wrong in itself, and an act that is wrong only according to our laws and mores. 2) You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free except the grace of God. 3) The world is vexing enough without hypotheticals. 4) “Futile” is not spelled f-u-d-e-l. 
Really?: 1) Wait - Mattie is the protagonist, yet Hailee Steinfeld isn’t even billed on the DVD jacket? And Josh Brolin receives third billing, even though we don’t even meet Tom Chaney until well into the third act? That doesn’t seem right. 2) So, does Rooster (Bridges) say anything of any importance when he’s drunk? He mumbles so much that I was lucky to make out every third or fourth word. 3) Hold on…. Ned Pepper knows that Chaney will murder Mattie the first chance he gets, but he leaves him alone with her with nothing but a warning? That seems a bit contrived. 
Rating: Written, directed, and produced by Joel and Ethan Coen, and featuring fine performances from Bridges and Brolin (Steinfeld is outstanding as Mattie Ross, and easily carries the picture with a plucky charm) True Grit is a Western masterpiece that somehow manages to outshine the 1969 classic. My only complaint - and it is an important one - is that Tom Chaney (Brolin) really should have been introduced a lot sooner than the last 20-30 minutes of the movie. 9/10 stars.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Escape From L.A. (1996)

Synopsis: It’s the most derivative, badly-produced, and completely unnecessary rip-off of Escape From New York since…well, After the Fall of New York
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The man with the patch is back. Call him Snake. Kurt Russell rejoins filmmakers John Carpenter and Debra Hill to do to the Big Orange what they did to the Big Apple in Escape From New York - with even more futuristic thrills and slam-bang action!” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) L.A. can kill anyone. 2) L.A. loves a winner. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You'll watch Kurt Russell in anything
Really?: 1) So….nobody has ever survived Cuervo Jones’ basketball challenge until Snake shows up. Oh, and who would have guessed he also knows how to surf a tsunami-sized wave? 2) Wait, Cuervo Jones, the leader of the world’s anti-American forces, is living (and thriving) inside an offshore American prison? 3) I realize Snake is slowly dying from the Plutoxin virus, but I’m pretty sure that if I were piloting a submarine, and somebody informed me I could blow out the engine by pushing it too hard, and too fast, I would probably slow down. 4) So, are China and the Soviet Union still around, as they were in the alternate 1997? Why is it now the United States against the rest of the world? This is never really explained. Also, the narration claims that a presidential candidate predicted a giant California earthquake, and then it happened. Was it planned? Do we care? 
Rating: Escape From L.A. isn’t really a sequel to the classic Escape From New York so much as a pointless remake, featuring a collection of characters very similar to the ones in the original, and nearly-identical scene-by-scene story plotting. Unfortunately, the film also features laughably bad early CGI special effects, and an over-the-top satirical streak (ex. The Surgeon General of Beverly Hills and his gang of plastic surgery-addicted goons) that never delivers any laughs. A prime example: it’s funny in EFNY when prisoners about to be shipped to Manhattan are informed they can choose to be executed; it’s crude and disturbing in EFLA when we witness electrocutions in the hallway of the processing centre. I cannot recommend this movie. 4/10 stars. 
Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Absolutely - take a drink every time Malloy (Stacy Keach) addresses Snake as “hotshot.”

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

After the Fall of New York (1983)

Synopsis: Call your lawyer, Mr. Carpenter. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Handsome, virile actor Michael Sopkiw stars in this futuristic thriller of life on Earth after the world’s third thermonuclear war. All that remains is a radioactive wasteland, the once civilized inhabitants reduced to scavenging warring tribes, the two most powerful known as Eurax and the Pan American Confederation.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) A little spontaneous collaboration never hurt anyone. 2) It’s inevitable that an overdeveloped society will eventually come to the point of its own destruction. 
Really?: 1) Funny how the Euraks have “fused” Europe, Asia and Africa into one continent, with one “master race,” yet nearly everyone in this movie appears to be Italian. 2) Wait…the Euraks need living New Yorkers for horrible medical experiments, yet when their would-be specimens don’t volunteer for vivisection, they simply hunt down New Yorkers and shoot them dead in the streets? 3) So, how do the Pan-Am Confederates know the only fertile woman left on Earth is in New York City, and how did she manage to escape sterility? 4) Hmm…. There seems to be an awful lot of intact infrastructure - factories, nice buildings, power lines, etc, even though this film supposedly takes place after Earth’s “third thermonuclear war.” 5) The lead Eurak interrogator actually says: “We have ways of making you talk.” 6) Hold on…. The female Eurak commander releases Parsifal from his restraints, kisses him passionately, and he spills the beans about his mission to New York City? And then his captors more-or-less abandon him so he can free his friends? 7) How can a movie have a "special guest star?"

Rating: After the Fall of New York is a long-forgotten, sloppily-produced European rip-off of John Carpenter’s Escape From New York, the Mad Max films, and those weird, early-1980s warriors-in-the-wasteland epics such as Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone. After the Fall of New York is unoriginal, poorly acted, and marred by bargain-basement special effects and some laughably-awful fight scene choreography. I cannot recommend this movie. 2/10 stars. 
Would It Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Absolutely! Take a drink any time Parsifal (Sopkiw) gets beaten up and captured.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Escape From New York (1981)

Synopsis: Sometime in the future, the US Government decides to dump It’s convicts into a lawless offshore hellhole terrorized by a ruthless crime lord. So, it’s basically Terminal Island, with the added feature of Kurt Russell growling out a Clint Eastwood impression. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Kurt Russell (Stargate) stars in a high-velocity sci-fi action-thriller that sets the screen ablaze with heart-stopping suspense, outrageous stunts and imaginative special effects.” 
What Did I Learn?: The Duke of New York is A-Number-1. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You know that originality went out the window in Hollywood a long time ago
Really?: 1) The movie opens by stating that in 1988, the crime rate spiked by 400%. Um….why did this happen? And why would the US government turn its financial capital city - with an extensive subway network and other expensive infrastructure - into an island prison? 2) So, the President has the only copy of a plan for nuclear fusion? Gee, that’s convenient. 3) Um….there appears to be an oil derrick in Brain’s apartment. Does New York City sit atop some undiscovered petroleum deposit? How exactly does he “make” gasoline for the Duke? 4) Hold on - Snake defeats Slag (Ox Baker) in a death match, the Duke and his entourage suddenly leave to catch the traitorous Brain, and Snake is more-or-less abandoned by his captors? 
Rating: Escape From New York is an enjoyable science-fiction-action-thriller with an odd-but-impressive cast that works well as long as you don’t ask too many questions about the plot. Russell has said that Snake Plissken is his favourite character, and it’s easy to see why - he’s pretty fucking cool. 8/10 stars.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Warriors (1979)

Synopsis: Wily Warriors witness windbag warlord’s wicked whacking, wisely withdraw warily, wending way without warm welcome. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “A battle of gigantic proportions is looming in the neon underground of New York City. The armies of the night number 100,000; they outnumber the police 5 to 1; and tonight they’re after the Warriors - a street gang blamed unfairly for a rival gang leader’s death.” 
Really?: 1) So…why does that rival gang kill Cyrus? This is never really explained. 2) Do multi-ethnic street gangs exist outside of Hollywood movies? I can’t answer that question, but I’m pretty sure no gang would be dumb enough to enter a street fight wearing roller-skates! (And don’t get me started on the Baseball Furies….) 3) Speaking of the Furies, it's not that easy to beat up a guy with your bare hands when he's carrying a baseball bat, yet our heroes apparently have no trouble disarming, and knocking out gentlemen whose specialty is club-fighting. 4) So, do any of these guys have a friend, or a relative who owns a car? One simple phone call could have solved their entire problem. 5) Much of the tension in the film is based on the personality clash between Swan (Michael Beck) and Ajax (James Remar), so it loses a bit of steam when the latter is arrested by an undercover cop mid-way through, and we never see him again. 
Rating: If you ever wanted to see a prequel to Escape from New York that didn’t involve Snake Plissken, The Warriors comes pretty close to being one. Directed by Walter Hill, this cult classic works well as an edge-of-your-seat thriller, and it provides a fascinating snapshot of New York City's tired-looking public infrastructure in the late 1970s. That said, The Warriors also suffers from an unpolished script, and it’s populated with a lot of angry, hard-edged, and rather unlikeable characters who don’t do very much to deserve the viewer’s sympathies. Check it out if you want to see its clear influence on later films. 7/10 stars.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Bon Cop, Bad Cop (2006)

Synopsis: It has all the makings of a great buddy cop thriller…if it wasn’t for all that damned French! 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Two Canadian detectives, one from Ontario and the other from Quebec, must work together when a murdered victim is found on the Ontario Quebec border line.” [Taken from I don’t have a DVD jacket for this sucker] 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Placing people in the trunk of a car is a Quebec tradition. 2) Just because you can film a movie that features equal parts of French and English dialogue doesn’t mean that you should
Really?: So wait…. Ward and Bouchard kidnap the hockey commissioner, rough him up, throw him in the trunk of a car, and trade him to a deranged psycho? I realize they’re desperate to get Bouchard’s daughter back in one piece, but couldn’t they go to their superior officers and get some help? It’s a little hard to sympathize with these guys after they do this to an innocent bystander, and I couldn’t imagine how they could stay out of jail, let alone keep their jobs after doing so. 
Rating: Bon Cop, Bad Cop is a highly contrived, but very enjoyable action-comedy that manages to poke fun at both Hollywood cop movie clichés and Canada’s long-standing national unity divide. Huard and Feore share some great chemistry, and the film is often quite funny (the moment when they accidentally sever a corpse found on the Ontario-Quebec border sign into two parts is priceless). That said, the scenes involving Rick Mercer as blowhard "Tom Berry", and Rick Howland as “Harry Buttman” are so over the top they don’t fit with the rest of the movie’s tone. Moreover, I found the constant switching between English and French to be a bit gimmicky. It’s hard to do my ritual of dinner-with-a-movie when I have to constantly watch the screen for new subtitles. 8/10 stars.