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.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Ransom (1996)

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