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.