Monday, December 25, 2017

A Merry Friggin' Christmas (2014)

Christmas Movie #3 - Merry Christmas! 
Synopsis: Uptight dad, undersexed wife, and overprotected kids reunite with Mork and Murphy Brown on Christmas Eve. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Boyd and his family are forced to spend a dreaded Christmas at his parents’ house with his eccentric father and he has been avoiding for years.” 
What Did I Learn?: Santa prefers bourbon and asparagus to milk and cookies. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You're really into Christmas. 
Really?: 1) A Merry Friggin’ Christmas isn’t meant to be taken all that seriously, so maybe I can overlook Boyd outrunning a police car and facing no consequences or the mystery surrounding the hobo Santa (Oliver Platt), but here’s the thing that gets me: Boyd is determined not to repeat the mistakes of his alcoholic father, Virgil (Robin Williams, in one of his very last roles), but Virgil struck me as sort-of a cool dad in this flashbacks we’re shown; cynical and drunk, perhaps, but he helps his kids assemble their toys, and he never comes across as an alcoholic monster. 2) Hmm… I’m pretty sure that if I were eight years old and my little brother ate an entire jar of 40-year-old pickles, I would promptly inform my parents, just to be sure he wouldn’t need to have his stomach pumped. 3) Luann and Donna are surprisingly chipper the morning after they polished off an entire bottle of vodka. 
Rating: I have to admit that I popped A Merry Friggin’ Christmas into my DVD player expecting something awful, and found myself pleasantly surprised. AMFC has a few credibility problems (see: “Really?”), but it’s quite funny in places, and I really liked the interactions between Boyd and his dad when they’re on the road; the film has a sweetness that never descends into sappiness. 7.5/10 stars.

Four Christmases (2008)

Christmas Movie #2 - Merry Christmas!
Synopsis: Did you ever want to see Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon get emotionally, verbally and physically abused by four sets of people for 90 minutes? Step right up folks, this is your lucky day! (Come to think of it, that sounds a bit like the Synopsis for Wedding Crashers). 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Every Christmas happily unmarried Brad and Kate escape divorced parents and exasperating relatives by getting on a plane. This year a fog rolls in that even Rudolph’s nose couldn’t illuminate.” 
What Did I Learn?: It’s rather difficult to sleep with your best friend’s mom and remain best friends. 
Really?: So, in the course of two minutes, Brad and Kate are invited to four separate events because they’re dumb enough to speak to a TV reporter doing a live broadcast? Why would all four parents be watching at the same time? Come to think of it, Brad’s father (Robert Duvall, whose performance might be the best thing in this Christmas turkey) uses his television as a radio, for crying out loud! 
Rating: Four Christmases is one of the worst holiday-themed films I have ever encountered - I mean, we’re talking Santa With Muscles bad! Four Christmases is loud, crude, unfunny, and surprisingly mean-spirited for holiday fare (see: “Synopsis”); the premise is that sophisticated urbanites Brad and Kate are forced to interact with their red-state relatives, who are all obnoxious caricatures, and nothing good comes from these encounters. What’s the moral of this story? Family is best avoided, even during the Holidays? I cannot recommend this movie. 2/10 stars.
Would it Work for a Bad Movie Night?: Probably not, but take a drink of spiked eggnog any time Brad and Kate soldier on through Holiday Hell when any normal person would say: “screw this,” and simply return home.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Trapped in Paradise (1994)

Christmas Movie #1 (Please click the links to the Christmas-themed movies I reviewed in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015) 
Synopsis: Three loveable crooks evade capture by the police. No, wait…that’s the Synopsis for Quick Change. Um….three loveable crooks hide out with family on Christmas Eve. No, that’s We’re No Angels. Um…foul-mouthed crook brings feuding family together during the holidays. No, that’s The Ref. Um…small town with a lot of charm teaches troubled soul the true meaning of Christmas. No, that’s It’s a Wonderful Life
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Small Town. Big Trouble.” 
What Did I Learn?: Apparently, a horse-drawn sled (not a wheeled carriage, but a sled, travelling on snow-covered pavement) is capable of outrunning an entire fleet of police cars on Christmas Eve.
Really?: 1) See: “What Did I Learn?” 2) Speaking of which, how many police cars does this town own? If there’s such a massive, and unnecessary police presence, how can the Firpos walk through the main street - masked, and carrying shotguns - and move everyone from the diner to the bank without alerting the fuzz? 3) So, Dana Carvey is a master impressionist, yet he spends the entire film sounding like a wimpy Mickey Rourke. That’s just sad. 
Rating: I hadn’t watched Trapped in Paradise since it was released in theatres in 1994, so I was unprepared for how poorly-written, unconvincing and directionless it turned out to be. Comedic heavyweights Carvey and Lovitz are wasted as two of the ethically-challenged Firpo brothers (Lovitz referred to this comedic flop as “trapped in shit,” and it certainly didn’t help either of their careers), while Cage often looks as though he would rather be anywhere else. I was going to give this film 4.5 stars out of 10, but I recently checked out the atrocious Four Christmases, and came to the realization that Trapped in Paradise is at least watchable, and offers a few laughs now and then. I'm feeling festive, so I'll give it a barely-passing grade. 5/10 stars.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Synopsis: Narcissistic outlaw befriends creepy stalker. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Everyone in 1880s America knows Jesse James. He’s the nation’s most notorious criminal, hunted by the law in 10 states. He’s also the land’s greatest hero, lauded as a Robin Hood by the public. Robert Ford? No one knows him. Not yet.” 
What Did I Learn?: If all of your buddies tell you the new guy in your entourage gives them the willies, and they're a bunch of hardened killers, you might want to listen to them. 
Really?: 1) Holy shit, how many scenes of clouds speeding across the sky did photography director Roger Deakins jam into this film? 2) I realize all of this is based upon a true story, but wow…it’s hard to believe Ford personally re-enacted the moment he shot an unarmed man in the back over 800 times. That’s just creepy. 3) You know, I’m pretty sure the Rocky Mountains don’t extend into Missouri. 
Rating: Much like Once Upon a Time in America, you really have to be in the mood to sit down and watch The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Clocking in at nearly three hours (I’m not giving away any spoilers when I tell you Jesse doesn’t make it to the end), the film is a bit long for my taste, and it’s very slow-moving - don’t expect a John Wayne-style shoot-em-up Western. Still, The Assassination benefits from an intelligently-written script with some interesting things to say about the emergence of celebrity culture in the 19th century, as well as fine performances from Pitt and Affleck. 8/10 stars.

Grilled (2006)

Synopsis: Mopey meat merchants meet models, mar murder, make mogul merry. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “They have 12 hours to make a sale…or they’re cooked.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) The best beef does not come from Omaha. 2) A really good reply to “you don’t give a shit” is “I give a lot of shit!” 
Really?: So, wait…Dave, Maurice, and the two ladies are all witnesses to a murder. They somehow manage to disarm two hired killers, and then….they return their still-loaded firearms? Why would anyone do that?!? 
Rating: Grilled is a wildly uneven low-budget comedy featuring two of America’s favourite sitcom dads as a couple of foul-mouthed loser salesmen you might find in Glengarry Glen Ross. The movie doesn’t really get going until the second act, when Dave and Maurice visit Tony’s mansion and it suddenly becomes interesting. I sort-of liked their friendly interaction with the two hitmen, even though it made no sense for them to hand over the confiscated weapons (see: "Really?") Check it out if you’ve always wanted to see Ray Romano drop some f-bombs. 6/10 stars.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Burn After Reading (2008)

CIA Movie #3 
Synopsis: Ok, there’s this abrasive-and-alcoholic CIA analyst who gets fired while his wife is sleeping with a Treasury agent who’s secretly banging a narcissistic gym instructor with body issues, who in turn is blackmailing the ex-analyst, and…ok, it’s complicated. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “An all-star cast, including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and John Malkovich, come together in this outrageous spy comedy about murder, blackmail, sex addiction and physical fitness!” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Appearances can be…deceptive. 2) You can pick a Kryptonite lock with a Bic pen. 3) Lactose intolerance and acid reflux are two entirely different things. 
Really?: 1) So, a guy who looks like George Clooney and works as a Treasury agent needs to resort to online dating? Sure, whatever… 2) I had a hard time believing the CIA would deliberately engage in an obvious case of obstruction of justice when there was absolutely no reason to do so - Cox had a low security clearance when he was employed, and his memoirs contained no vital secrets. Why not just call in the FBI? 3) Holy shit, are there any sane characters in this film? 
Rating: Burn After Reading isn't the best Coen Brothers movie I’ve seen, and it ends far too abruptly for my taste, but it’s still a very funny movie about a lot of extremely unlikeable people. I especially liked John Malkovich’s portrayal of the batshit-crazy Osborne Cox, and Frances McDormand as the unhinged-and-surprisingly amoral Linda Litzke.  8.5/10 stars.

The Good Shepherd (2006)

CIA Movie #2 
Synopsis: Did you ever want to see a spy movie that strangely lacked any action, intrigue, suspense or erotically-filmed sex scenes? Today is your lucky day…
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie and Robert De Niro star in this powerful thriller about the birth of the CIA.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) The British are a particularly civilized people. They don't eat their own. They have somebody do it for them. 2) Eating chocolates and seeking approval are both dreadful habits. 3) The mental facility to detect conspiracies and betrayal are the same qualities most likely to corrode natural judgment. Everything that seems clear is bent. And everything that seems bent is clear. Trapped in reflections, you must learn to recognize when a lie masquerades as the truth, and then deal with it efficiently, dispassionately. 4) Friends can be enemies and enemies friends. 5) Everything is a secret. 6) Polygraph machines don’t understand the Russian soul. 
Really?: So, Wilson never reads his dad’s suicide note until he’s well into middle age? He wasn’t even remotely curious until that particular moment? And wow…it really makes for a lacklustre ending. 
Rating: I wanted to like The Good Shepherd a lot more than I actually did. It’s a stylish production with a great cast (too bad Joe Pesci only appears for about two minutes and we never see him again), and some terrific acting - I especially liked Michael Gambon’s portrayal of the troubled Dr. Fredericks, but the story is turgid, humourless, and never goes anywhere. More importantly, for a biopic about Edward Wilson, the film reveals almost nothing about the motivations of Damon’s character. Why did he get into espionage? Is he a super-patriot? Was he running away from his loveless marriage to Clover? Does he have daddy issues? After 139 minutes, I had absolutely no idea. 6/10 stars.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Recruit (2003)

CIA movie #1 (Please click the links to read my reviews of Spy Game, The Hunt for Red October, The Tailor of Panama, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and 3 Days of the Condor)
Synopsis: Al Pacino slowly corrupts talented-and-idealistic young man….oh wait, that’s the Synopsis for The Devil’s Advocate,and City Hall... and Two for the Money
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Academy Award Winner Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman) and Colin Farrell (Minority Report) take you deeper into the CIA than you’ve ever been before in this action-packed psychological thriller.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Nothing is…what it seems. 2) Everything is a test. 3) Rule Number One: do not get caught. 4) No country with a McDonald’s has ever attacked the United States. 
You Might Like This Movie If: you've always wanted to join the CIA. 
Really?: 1) I’m pretty sure CIA field training is pretty intensive, but I had a hard time believing it involves recruits getting beaten up or subjected to electrical torture. 2) Wait, the CIA has a computer virus that can travel through wall sockets? WTF?! 3) So, Layla’s ancestry is French and Algerian, yet she was raised by an all-American family, and she’s a sleeper agent…. For whom, exactly? This is never spelled out. 4) Speaking of Layla, is she really supposed to believe that a guy who graduated at the top of his class at MIT and knows how to create highly advanced software applications would move from Boston to DC just to take a crappy data entry job? Um….wouldn’t a guy who just went through several intensive weeks of CIA training know the difference between blanks and live ammunition? 6) Call me cynical, but I have a feeling a real CIA assassin would simply shoot James without explaining the entire movie plot to him, first. 
Rating: I have to give The Recruit a bit of a mixed review. Pacino is fun to watch as the cynical, mysterious and surprisingly likeable Walter Burke, and I liked the chemistry between Farrell and Moynahan. The first half of the film, when James is recruited and receives his training, is quite enjoyable, but the second quickly becomes a mess with a plot that stops making sense (see: “Really?") 6.5/10 stars.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Rocknrolla (2008)

This would have been perfect for my tribute to British Gangster Movies. 

Synopsis: Loveable lout loots London lawbreaker, louses land lease, likes larcenous lovely lady. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “‘I own this town.’ But owning is getting expensive for old-school London gangster Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson).” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) beauty is a beguiling call to death... and a cruel mistress. 2) There's no school like old school. 3) The secret to becoming a successful gangster is mastering the art of delivering a good back-handed slap to the face. 4) Christmas is always just around the corner. 5) Whisky is the new vodka.
You Might Like This Movie If: you consider yourself to be a true rocknrolla. 
Really?: 1) Holy cow, how many characters and sub-plots did Guy Ritchie cram into this film? And they're all highly unlikeable criminals! 2) I realize Lenny (Tom Wilkinson) is a murderer, disloyal snitch and child abuser, but gee... there's something a little disturbing about watching a wheelchair-bound elderly man being slowly lowered into a tank full of crayfish. 3) Funny how everyone searches frantically for Uri's painting, and nobody ever thinks to offer a visual description, or a photo of the artwork in question. 
Rating: I was hoping to enjoy Rocknrolla a bit more than I did. While it’s certainly a much better Guy Ritchie movie than his confused and pretentious Revolver, it doesn’t hit the high standards he set with Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, either. Rocknrolla is an ok crime thriller that suffers from a convoluted, and difficult to follow plot and a plethora of characters who might charitably be described as truly awful human beings. 6.5/10 stars.