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 fiancĂ©e, 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 somehow different from what he remembers. Considering David is a science fiction writer and he wants to understand the lad, I cannot believe he wouldn’t ask what Dennis does remember about his past. 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.