Friday, December 28, 2018

Get Carter (2000)

This would have been perfect for my tribute to revenge-themed movies. 

Synopsis: Formulaic re-make of a Michael Caine classic…oh, sorry, that’s the Synopsis for The Italian Job. Um…. Cynical tough-guy visits strange town to investigate death of somebody close….no, that’s Beverly Hills Cop. Um….Stallone sleepwalks his way through less-than-inspired revenge thriller….no, that’s Avenging Angelo
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “The truth hurts.”
What Did I Learn?: 1) Revenge doesn’t work. 2) If you don’t take care of business, the business will take care of you. 3) Nobody likes the list guy. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You're really out to get Carter. 
Really?: 1) Holy shit, aren’t there any cops in Seattle? Carter beats Cyrus (Mickey Rourke) to death in front of several dozen witnesses, gets into at least two extreme car chases, and sneaks into a crime scene, and we never so much as see a squad car. 2) So, Carter’s mob employer in Vegas can’t spare him for even a few days? The original provided a convincing reason for Carter’s (Caine) strained relationship with his boss, but this one seems a bit contrived. 
Rating: Get Carter is a surprisingly dull reboot of the far-superior original film with the same title (which I'm aiming to review in 2019 if I can obtain a copy). I wanted to like the reboot, but it’s extremely slow-moving, and Stallone doesn’t give us many reasons to give a crap about his character. I can’t recommend this movie. 4/10 stars. 
Would it Work for a Bad Movie Night?: Maybe - take a drink any time you find yourself asking: “where are the police?”

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales (2002)

Merry Christmas! 
Synopsis: It’s 18 minutes of a wishy-washy round-headed kid tolerating obnoxious and narcissistic peers and a delusional dog. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: "Ready, set, glow as the Peanuts Gang gets into the spirit of the season!" 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Jezebel was the evil wife of King Ahab in the Old Testament. 2) Linus is NOT Sally’s sweet babboo. 3) The Bible says nothing about giving Christmas presents, and you can’t bluff an old theologian. 4) It’s not a good idea to discuss Samantha Claus in grade school. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You're in the market for insurance.
Really?: Don’t these kids have parents? Why is it up to Sally to obtain a Christmas tree for the home? And how did that tree fall over entirely on its own just seconds after Sally’s antagonist sets that strangely coincidental condition? 
Rating: Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales was created as an add-on so TV stations could air A Charlie Brown Christmas uninterrupted by commercials during an hour-long block of time, and it feels like filler material; the voice-overs are awful, and there’s no story – just a series of vignettes that may have worked in comic strips but fall flat as animation. Check it out only if you’re a die-hard Peanuts fan. 5.5/10 stars.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Author! Author! (1982)

I could have used this for my tribute to Al Pacino in 2012. 
Synopsis: Awful! Awful! 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "When Al Pacino takes on Broadway, his kids take over his life." 
What Did I Learn?: Larry Kotzwinkle’s not a man, he’s a duck. 
Really?: 1) A few questions: what’s Ivan’s play all about, what’s the problem with the second act, and how did he fix it? I think the viewing audience deserves some answers. 2) Funny how Ivan is a playwright and Gloria is an ESL teacher – they’re New York intellectuals – and lots of other intellectuals like Norman Mailer are name-dropped repeatedly, yet nobody ever discusses literature, the arts or ideas. 3) So, big events in the Travalian household by making a big cake and throwing it at Ivan?! WTF? 4) Hold on, a couple of cops order Ivan to hand over his runaway stepdaughters, and he responds by running away with them and barricading themselves on the roof? I’m shocked he wasn’t charged with obstruction of justice, at the very least. 5) Hey, what happened to Ivan’s curly new haircut? 
Rating: Hoo-wee, Author! Author! is a bad film. I was expecting a light, character-driven drama with some comedic elements, but wound up watching Pacino behave like a loud New York version of Mr. Rogers with a bunch of precocious brats. Author! Author! veers uneasily from slapstick humour to Kramer vs. Kramer-style relationship drama – some of it works (I liked the scene near the end when Ivan tells off his selfish wife for abandoning a string of husbands and her kids), but much of it doesn’t. I can’t recommend this movie. 4/10 stars. 
Would it Work for a Bad Movie Night?: No, but take a drink any time Ivan, Morris (Bob Dishy) or Kreplich (Alan King) shout unnecessarily.

Puerto Vallarta Squeeze (2004)

Synopsis: Professional killer befriends bickering couple….no, that’s the Synopsis for The Matador. Um…  Run-of-the-mill road trip turns into harrowing adventure… no, that’s National Lampoon’s Vacation. Um…  Tough guy steals wormy dude’s girlfriend during trip to Mexico…no, that’s Against All Odds
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: "Danger lies beyond the border." 
What Did I Learn?: You can apparently purchase a caged ocelot in rural Mexico for the princely sum of $3000. 
Really?: 1) So, Scott Glenn and Harvey Keitel get top billing in this film (even though Craig Wasson’s Danny is arguably the protagonist, but never mind that), and they don’t share a single scene together – just a phone call? 2) I realize Danny is bummed out about losing Maria, but isn’t he basically on the verge of getting evicted from his fleabag apartment? Why would he blow his entire wad of cash to free a caged wild cat? 3) Speaking of Danny, does anyone else think the film takes a wildly wrong turn at the mid-point when he loses about 80 IQ points and starts doing inexplicably dumb things like yell at Clayton in a crowded restaurant or speed down a Mexican road in a car filled with dead bodies? I was expecting him to man up, realize he loves Maria and get his shit together. 4) I had a bit of trouble believing the entire premise of the film… Danny thinks it might have been Clayton who shot those men in cold blood, but he agrees to drive him to the border anyway? And it’s nice that Clayton decides to let Danny and Maria live, but does he really need their car for his escape? If so, couldn’t he have stolen it without much effort? 
Rating: Puerto Vallarta Squeeze is a somewhat-enjoyable thriller that suffers from some major credibility issues (see: “Really?). I can’t quite declare it to be a bad movie, but it comes perilously close. 5.5/10 stars.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Big Red One (1980)

War Movie #3
Synopsis: Lee Marvin whips a bunch of raw recruits into a fighting unit during the Second World War….no, that’s the Synopsis for The Dirty Dozen. Ok, Mark Hammill portrays a young man who must take up arms against an evil dictatorship….no, that’s Star Wars. Um… four likeable young men bond over one last adventure before they enter the workforce….no, that’s Breaking Away
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “And that means The Big Red One may be one of the most immediate, most intense, truest war movie you’ve ever seen.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) The Kasserine Pass is a shit hole. 2) The Bangalore Torpedo would have to be the most impractical weapon ever created. 3) You know how you smoke out a sniper? You send a guy out in the open and see if he gets shot. 4) Killing insane people is bad for public relations. 
Really?: 1) Um….wasn’t Lee Marvin a little old to play an infantry sergeant? 2) I certainly understand Pvt. Vinci getting upset when a fellow soldier mocks his Italian heritage, but shoving a rifle into the guy’s mouth and threatening to fire? And the sergeant doesn’t say anything? 
Rating: I was never a big Lee Marvin fan until I watched The Big Red One about a decade ago and found myself impressed with his world-weary, and occasionally tender portrayal of a professional soldier who has seen too much killing. The story is episodic, and it’s clear in places that writer/director Samuel Fuller didn’t have a big budget at his disposal, but the film is meant to depict Fuller’s own experiences in the war, and it works; the audience gets to know these men, and we feel genuine concern when it looks as though the entire squad is about to get wiped out on D-Day. The Big Red One also includes an impressive performance from Hamill, and suggests that he could have gone on to bigger and better roles if he hadn’t been typecast as Luke you-know-who. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

M*A*S*H (1970)

War Movie #2 (My apologies - I meant to post my reviews of M*A*S*H and The Big Red One last month) 
Synopsis: Psychotic surgeons stitch servicemen, steal supplies, sing silly songs, smear superiors, sap soldierly spirit. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “One of the most acclaimed comedies, M*A*S*H focuses on three Korean War Army surgeons brilliantly brought to life by Donald Sutherland, Tom Skerritt and Elliott Gould.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Suicide is painless. 2) Informality is inconsistent with maximum efficiency in a military organization. 3) You can’t really savour a martini without an olive. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You're in the mood for conflict...and mash. 
Really?: Wait – these people are just a few miles away from a combat zone, and they’re somehow able to arrange a football game, complete with a flat, mown lawn, and professional lighting? Speaking of that strangely-inserted football game, why in the world would Major Houlihan (aka “Hotlips”) cheer for the 4077 team after they publicly (and cruelly) humiliated her on several occasions? 2) So, Hawkeye, Trapper and Duke can get away with physically abusing or psychologically torturing senior officers simply because they’re surgeons? Has anything like this ever happened in the US military?
Rating: I had never seen M*A*S*H (nor the long-running TV series that came shortly afterward) until recently, so I was unprepared for how dated, juvenile, unfunny ,and mean-spirited it may seem to contemporary viewers. Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John are two of the most obnoxious bullies to ever appear on the silver screen, and I’m shocked that audiences were asked to sympathize with them, let alone cheer them on when they humiliate, degrade, and even physically assault superior officers who have the gall to question them. Oh, and it's strange how a supposedly anti-war film actually has very little say about war, or its combatants. I cannot recommend this movie. 

Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Probably not, but take a drink any time Hawkeye, Duke or Trapper really deserve a punch in the mouth.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Flags of Our Fathers (2006)

War Movie #1 (While I usually post my war movie reviews before Remembrance Day, I was quite busy earlier this month, so I wasn't able to get to them until this weekend). 
Synopsis: It starts out as The Thin Red Line and quickly turns into That Thing You Do
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “On the frontline, there’s no time for fear.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Iwo Jima is an “ugly, smelly, dirty little scab of rock” which translates as “sulphur island.” 2) Three days is a fucking beautiful thing. 3) No sense being a hero if you can’t look like one. 4) The military always trains you for desert warfare on a volcano. 
You Might Like This Movie If: you're fascinated by the flags of our fathers. 
Really?: So, was America really on the verge of bankruptcy near the end of WWII and ready to cut a deal with Japan due to a lack of funds, or was that just some useful spin to motivate the boys to sell war bonds? This is never made entirely clear. 
Rating: Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers is a powerful and thought-provoking look at America’s campaign in the Pacific theatre and the propaganda that enabled the country to sell war bonds. The film examines the brave young men who raised Old Glory over Iwo Jima, and were then used (and later discarded) by the government. Overall, Flags is an impressive war drama, although my only complaint would be a lack of focus in the second and third acts. As Ira Hayes becomes increasingly troubled by his PTSD and survivor’s guilt, it increasingly becomes his story, even though it’s not really that interesting, and I would have liked to have learned more about Doc Bradley and Rene Gagnon. Still, Flags of Our Fathers is highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Trees Lounge (1996)

Please click the link to read my review of the similarly-themed Barfly
Synopsis: Luckless, Likeable lallygagging lounge-lizard lush loser loves liquor, looks languished, louses livelihood.
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: "All Tommy wants from life is what everyone has - a job, a girl and a good time. But the harder he tries, the worse things get." 
What Did I Learn?: Everybody's fucked up, but nobody wants anybody else to think they are, but everybody knows they are anyway. 2 It’s easy to confuse Marlon Brando with Jerry Lewis.
Really?: Ok, Trees Lounge is a total hole-in-the-wall dump that hasn’t been renovated (or cleaned) in the previous 40 years, but I had a hard time believing a juke box in 1996 would be loaded up with the Ink Spots and an entirely pre-rock ‘n roll musical lineup. 2 So, does Tommy have any actual talent as an auto mechanic? This is never made clear – he can’t seem to fix his own early-1970s lead sled, but he’s also drunk most of the time. I also wondered if Tommy was telling the truth about not being able to get a reference from Rob or if he was just making a bullshit excuse.
Rating:Trees Lounge is a slow-moving, but heartfelt and surprisingly compelling character-driven seriocomic look at a 30-something guy who really needs to get his shit together and stop hanging out in America’s crappiest dive bar. Buscemi (who also wrote the screenplay and directed) is strangely sympathetic as Tommy, even when the character is obnoxious and self-destructive, which is most of the movie. It’s fun to watch Tommy get into trouble and exchange some very funny barbs with a slew of actors who later found fame on The Sopranos, but there’s a serious message about alcohol abuse behind the laughter. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Wanted: Dead or Alive (1987)

Let’s Get Those Terrorists Movie #3 (This would have been perfect for my salute to revenge-themed films) 
Synopsis: Semi-retired crime-fighter who lives on a houseboat comes back to catch the evil SOB who eluded him… no, that’s the Synopsis for Blood Work. Um…bad-assed bounty hunter targets slippery law-breaking political dissident who likes to blow up valuable infrastructure….no wait, that’s the Synopsis for The Empire Strikes Back
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "Rutger Hauer IS Nick Randall. Loner, hunter, former CIA career man. A high-tech, fourth generation bounty hunter who speaks softly and carries a very big stick." 
What Did I Learn?: A friend drops by in a swimsuit and carrying a six-pack, not dressed as one of the Brooks Brothers. 
Really?: 1 So, Nick enjoys gulping down whisky while he’s behind the wheel of a car? That’s certainly responsible behaviour. 2 I’m curious: what is Malak Al Rahim’s ideology? Is he a Palestinian nationalist? An Islamist? An Arab Marxist? This is never revealed, and his clothing and behaviour don’t provide really any clues. 3 Funny how Rahim blows up a movie theatre full of people (not sure why there were children present for a nighttime showing of Rambo: First Blood Part II, but that’s another quibble), and there’s supposed to be a city-wide panic, but we’re never shown any evidence that this is the case. 4 Hmm… Rahim’s men murder Nick’s girlfriend and his best friend, and we aren’t given many reasons to care. 5 Speaking of which, I realize Nick is pretty bummed out after his houseboat is destroyed, but shooting his own TV set? Who would do that? 
Rating: Wanted: Dead or Alive is a cheesy, and rather hum-drum action flick from the mid-1980s that still works for an evening’s entertainment thanks to memorable performances from Hauer and Simmons (I love the scene when the former tells the latter: “you’re not a soldier – you’re just a fly on a pile of shit), and a few good one-liners. This is not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s the best of the mid-1980s Let’s Get Those Terrorists films in my collection. 6/10 stars.

The Delta Force (1986)

Let’s Get Those Terrorists Movie #2
Synopsis: Chuck Norris single-handedly wipes out terrorism in Beirut. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “When political extremists take innocent Americans hostage, only super-soldiers Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin can rescue them in this tremendously entertaining, action-packed adventure!” 
What Did I Learn?: There's no geopolitical problem that Chuck Norris and a motorcycle loaded with an endless supply of rocket-propelled grenades can't solve. 
Really?: 1 So wait, McCoy (Chuck Norris) resigns from Delta Force following the disastrous Desert One fiasco in 1980, several years pass, and even though they don’t contact him, everyone expects McCoy to join them on the big mission and he miraculously shows up! Gee, that’s credible…. Is somebody else now doing his job? Are they now using new equipment? Is it possible to step effortlessly into a tightly-planned commando mission? 2 Um…what does McCoy hear on the radio that gives him the impression reinforcements are coming? A fellow team member actually mentions that he doesn’t speak Arabic. 3) Um… isn’t Lee Marvin a little old to play the leader of a crack commando unit? 
Rating: The Delta Force clocks in at just over two hours, but holy shit this movie drags after the first half hour or so. The biggest problem is that it often seems like two separate films stitched into one: an hour-long psychodrama of Middle Eastern terrorists pushing around innocent American airline passengers, followed by Chuck Norris karate-kicking nameless terrorists and causing endless mayhem riding around on that motorcycle I mentioned earlier! The Delta Force has an impressive cast (including Marvin, who was seriously ill when DF was shot, and doesn’t look so good), but they aren’t given much to do besides look scared, or in Shelley Winters’ case, launch into a meltdown that would likely get her killed in real life. I can’t recommend this movie. 4.5/10 stars. 

Would it Work for a Bad Movie Night?: Why not? Take a drink any time an actor wildly overacts, or McCoy gets annoyed by bureaucratic inaction. 

Death Before Dishonor (1987)

Let’s Get Those Terrorists Movie #1
Synopsis: Fred Dwyer shoots a bunch of terrorists and otherwise wonders what happened to his acting career. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “They attacked his embassy, kidnapped his commanding officer and assassinated his men. Now, he must take foreign policy into his own hands.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) You can tell that a man is a terrorist by looking into his eyes. 2) If you really want to respect a man, you paint both sides of the rocks in his garden. (I still don’t know what to make of that exchange).   
Really?: 1) See: “What Did I Learn?” 2) So, the only good Arab in this movie is secretly a Mossad agent? 3) That impromptu debate between Burns and Elli (Joanna Pacula) regarding morality and America’s Middle East policy must be heard to be believed did writer John Gatliff seriously think Burns makes a convincing and coherent argument? 4) Funny how Colonel Halloran (Brian Keith) has his hand seemingly destroyed by an electric drill but it doesn’t slow him down or impact his fighting abilities a whit when the shit later hits the fan. 5) The villain’s name is Jihad…haha! 6) So, Burns is somehow able to singlehandedly (and accurately) use a rocket launcher while driving a jeep, but the idiot terrorists can’t hit a thing with their machine guns?
Rating: Death Before Dishonor is a long-forgotten (and deservedly so), clich├ęd, badly-paced, and mindlessly jingoistic 1980s action film that features some atrocious acting (Paul Winfield looks embarrassed to be there), awful dialogue (see: “What Did I Learn?” And “Really?” ), and not a hint of subtlety. At least it’s unintentionally funny in places. I cannot recommend this movie. 3/10 stars.

Would it Work for a Bad Movie Night?: Of course! Take a drink any time a motor vehicle crashes through a camel-drawn fruit cart or the US Ambassador says something super-weenish along the lines of: “we need to do this by the book, Sergeant!” or “we’re not here to cause trouble.” 

The Expendables 2 (2012)

Synopsis: Planet Hollywood’s senior management take time out of their busy schedule to film themselves firing off some automatic weapons.
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “THE EXPENDABLES ARE BACK in a sequel that J. Rentilly of calls ‘a high-octane adventure with non-stop action!’” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Sometimes, it’s fun to run with the pack.  2) Respect is everything. Without respect, we’re just people. Common, shitty people. 2) a Respect….must be taught. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You know that fighting a tank isn't easy. 
Really?: 1) Why in the world does Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) murder Billy but leave the rest of the Expendables alive and kicking? They dropped their weapons – he could order his men to blast them with machine gun bullets and there wouldn't be any witnesses. 2) That reminds me – why does Vilain order his men to machine-gun the villagers when he’s planning to blow the mine to smithereens, anyway? 3) So, Barney’s big plan to enter the heavily-guarded mine is to fly his plane inside and purposely crash-land? 4) Alright, that’s enough…. 
Rating: The Expendables II is a somewhat better film than the original – this one at least has some tension, Van Damme is great as the thoroughly evil Vilain, and it never takes itself too seriously, but it’s still a not-terribly believable adventure film featuring cartoonish violence and nearly-indestructible heroes. 6/10 stars.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Expendables (2010)

Synopsis: Mercenaries infiltrate a small tropical island claiming to be ornithologists…. So, it’s essentially The Dogs of War pumped up on a dumptruck full of steroids. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Sylvester Stallone stars as the leader of The Expendables, a tight-knit team of skilled combat vets turned mercenaries.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) You don’t kill your familia. 2) The enemy has always been afraid of noise – especially shotguns. 3 )There are more fools in this world than people. 4) Emotions are the cancer of the intellect. 5) Life’s a joke. 
Really?: 1) So, Gunnar (Dolph Lundgren) has a muscular physique, is obviously in good enough physical shape to participate in drawn-out martial arts fight, and we're supposed to believe he’s some sort of heroin addict? 2) Speaking of Gunnar, isn’t he basically dead when Barney and Yin Yang leave him in that abandoned factory? How does he not only do a complete physical recovery but get back into the Expendables’ good graces after attempting to kill them? 3) Why does Munroe keep Sandra as a hostage after murdering her father, General Garza? She’s useful to him only as leverage. This doesn’t make sense. 4) I’m curious – how do the Expendables somehow find themselves outside of Garza’s palace? How did they get into the country undetected? 5) Was there any reason to cast Mickey Rourke as Tool? He doesn’t really do very much. Ok, I give up… 
Rating: I had high hopes for The Expendables; the movie boasts an extremely impressive cast of action movie stars, and an old buddy gave it rave reviews when he saw it a few years ago. While I liked the scene of Stallone exchanging barbs with Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the film is juvenile, poorly-written, and consists mostly of explosions and menacing growls. Ok, The Expendables is an action movie, not Once Upon a Time in America – I get that, but even the action scenes are either too fast to follow what’s happening, and they’re devoid of any tension or suspense because the Expendables are pretty much indestructible, and you know that nobody is going to get hit by an accurately-aimed machine gun bullet. I cannot recommend this movie. 4/10 stars. 
Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Abso-fucking-lutely. Take a drink any time a conversation between two characters devolves into a series of threats and menacing stares.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

Walter Matthau Movie #9 
Synopsis: Walter Matthau plays a tough New York City police detective…, really. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "The pulse-pounding excitement of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is yours for the taking." 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Even great men have to pee. 2) Apparently, it’s easy to confuse a bomb with a cantaloupe. 3) It’s difficult to run a God-damned railroad without swearing. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You know you sometimes run into strange people on the subway.  
Really?: 1) You know….if I had $250K strapped to my body, and a seriously limited amount of time to vamoose the scene of a crime, I’m pretty sure I would NOT stick around an extra 10 or 15 minutes to finish off a cop who just killed an accomplice I barely knew. Just sayin’. 2) I realize this film takes place in the mid-1970s, and New Yorkers had a reputation for being rude assholes, but gee – could a senior transit official tell a police lieutenant he had no intentions of going along with the official plan without getting fired, and could that cop really get away with throwing him to the ground? 3) Hold on – Garber is given a list of 78 motormen who were discharged, and he automatically eliminates 26 who “moved away?” 4) I'd love to know how Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw) met Mr. Grey (Hector Elizondo), and why in the world he hired such a psychotic lunatic. 
Rating: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is firmly rooted in mid-1970s New York City, but it’s still a crackling good thriller, and well worth viewing. Matthau and Shaw portray complex, multi-layered characters who play a superb game of cat-and-mouse when they aren’t busy dealing with idiots and psychopaths in their own camps. Oh, and I have to give Pelham an extra star for David Shire’s exceptional musical score – it really helps build necessary tension. Highly recommended. 10/10 stars.

The Survivors (1983)

Walter Matthau Movie #8
Synopsis: Robin Williams plays a nerdy guy who loses his job and his girlfriend and basically goes off the deep end after he becomes a victim of crime…no, that’s The Fisher King. Um… Walter Matthau portrays a decent-but-slovenly New Yorker who is ultimately driven to violence by his friend’s manic insanity….no, that’s The Odd Couple. Um… ok, Jerry Reed is a loveable good ole boy who’s wanted by the law…no, that’s Smokey and the Bandit
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "A memorable, hilarious comedy about two loveable losers." 
What Did I Learn?: 1) You’re not supposed to shoot a person’s gun.  2) Nothing in the world improved from 1973 to 1983 with the sole exception of video games. 3) No one who matters watches the five o’clock news. 4) “You’re not going to die” is something people always say to people who are about to die. 
Really?: 1) So….how does Jack know that Sonny is driving a cab? 2) How is Donald able to afford all of those guns and survivalist stuff without a job? How does he support himself? Sonny works odd jobs, but I also wonder how he’s able to put food on the table for him and his daughter. 3) Hold on – Jack breaks into Sonny’s home and makes it clear he’s going to kill him, yet when he and Donald deliver Jack to the cops Sonny only mentions the attempted diner robbery? That doesn’t sound credible. 4) So, Jack turns babyface at the end of the movie? He tried to kill both Donald and Sonny, and even held Sonny’s daughter at gunpoint earlier in the film! 5) How many 15-year old girls enjoy watching porn and playing video games? I’m surprised the Candice character was written as Sonny daughter rather than as a teenaged son. 6) Why is Wes so gung-ho about icing Jack? He’s a fraud who’s out to make a fast buck. Why wouldn’t he call in the local cops, or make a citizen’s arrest? 
Rating: I have to give The Survivors a bit of a mixed review; the plot doesn’t make a lot of sense, and the characters make a lot of very strange decisions (see: “Really”), but Robin Williams is at the top of his game, and delivers a lot of great one-liners. Moreover, grumpy Matthau makes a great foil for Williams (I love the scene when Sonny uses a bit of coercion to convince a helpless Donald to take Jack’s deal), while Reed is great as a strangely sympathetic villain. The Survivors is a fun (if somewhat dated) romp if you turn off your brain’s critical thinking skills and enjoy the laughs. 7/10 stars.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Kotch (1971)

Walter Matthau Movie #7 
Synopsis: Walter Matthau portrays a loveable-yet-strange older man who annoys people in the park with never-ending monologues and aids a damsel-in-distress….wait, was this a dry run for I’m Not Rappaport
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "Walter Matthau stars as Kotch, an unforgettable 72-year old widower who refuses to be cast aside by society and faces his uncertain future with eternal optimism." 
What Did I Learn?: Old people use a lot of water. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You're expecting a two-hour RDX video. 
Really?: 1) Can you really burn old bowling pins without generating a lot of toxic smoke? 2) I can understand Kotch moving out of his son’s house because he doesn’t want to get shipped off to a retirement home, but playing detective and tracking down Erica’s whereabouts in San Bernardino and Palm Springs? Gee… that doesn’t sound entirely credible. 3) Funny how Kotch asks the goofballs at the gas station for directions to the women’s washroom, but doesn’t think to inform them that Erica is about to give birth. 
Rating: I wanted to like Kotch a bit more than I did. Matthau does his best with the material, but I didn’t really buy him in the role of a talkative-yet-surprisingly-Uncrusty older man (the blueish-grey hair dye doesn’t look real). More importantly, I can see why Jack Lemmon never went back to directing after this one try: the comedic scenes mostly fall flat, the story drags on interminably, and the audience is treated to a mostly treacly piano score. 5.5/10 stars.

Hopscotch (1980)

Walter Matthau Movie #6 (Dang - I hate it when I can't finish a tribute within a single month)
Synopsis: Retired operative with the writing bug eludes capture by the world’s most incompetent spy agency. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “He’s about to expose the CIA, the FBI, the KGB, and himself.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) An American without ice in his drink is unthinkable, if not unconstitutional! 2) Double agents must be drab little people – colourless. 3) FBI stands for “Fucking Ball-busting Imbeciles” 
Really?: 1) Hold on – the CIA wants to intimidate Isobel into providing them Kendig’s whereabouts, so assign the job to Follett the goofball? And he’s clearly afraid of her dog? 2) So, wait… Cutter (Sam Waterston long before Law and Order) made it clear that Kendig wasn’t a violent man, so I’m a little surprised Agent Ross would allow Kendig to hold him at gunpoint. Ok, maybe Ross wouldn’t have tried to disarm him, but how about refusing to drive him away from Myerson’s summer home or hand over his personal documents? 3) I realize Hopscotch is more of a good-natured satire of the intelligence community than a thriller, but Kendig never appears to be in very much danger, does he? 4) Ok, the CIA and the KGB have a shared interest in icing Kendig, but would they seriously work together on that project? 
Rating: Hopscotch has a few problems with its overall credibility, as well as a surprising lack of suspense (see: "Really?"), but it’s otherwise a charming and highly enjoyable comedy. Check it out if you get the opportunity. 8/10 stars.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Casey's Shadow (1978)

Walter Matthau Movie #5 (yes, that is one sun-bleached, and marked-up VHS clamshell package)
Synopsis: It’s nearly two hours of Walter Matthau wearing a cowboy hat and yelling at a bunch of kids about riding a horse. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “A funny and touching story for the whole family about an irascible, impoverished horse trainer, Lloyd Bourdelle (Walter Matthau) and his three sons.” 
What Did I Learn?: Race horses are extremely fragile creatures, so they should never, ever be ridden. 
Really?: 1) Hmm….I realize Lloyd wants to make a name for himself as a trainer, but gee…I don’t know how many people would turn down the opportunity to pocket 50 grand AND protect the well-being of a beloved animal. 2) Was it necessary for Lloyd to have three sons? It’s obvious that Buddy is the wheeler-dealer, and Casey is the youngest who loves his horses, but the script doesn’t do much to develop Randy, the middle child. 
Rating: Casey’s Shadow is a nice, yet forgettable (and surprisingly foul-mouthed) low-budget family movie that owes a lot to Matthau’s basic likeability, even though it’s odd to see him as an impoverished Cajun horse trainer who seems a little too old to have sired the youngest two of his three kids. The film provides an interesting look at the world of quarter horse racing, and a couple of touching moments, but it really drags near the end. 6/10 stars.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Couch Trip (1988)

Walter Matthau Movie #4
Synopsis: Truth-telling, plain-spoken average Joe gets mistaken for a shrink, is given their very own radio advice show, and becomes a media sensat… hey, waitaminute – that’s basically Straight Talk, minus the cleavage! 
What Did I Learn?: 1) There is nothing that can be accomplished in a short time that cannot be accomplished just as well over a longer period. 2) Swans are not dangerous. 
Really?: 1) I realize this movie was filmed a number of years before 9/11, but how in the world can Burns claim Baird’s airline ticket without showing some sort of identification?  2) So, Maitland heads to London, decides on a whim to check out a psychiatric conference, and somehow strikes up a conversation with the real Lawrence Baird? Gee….that’s a coinky-dink.  3) Um….how does Dr. Laura Rollins (Donna Dixon) feel about Burns? This isn’t ever resolved. I mean, she’s willing to help him bust out of a police van, but unwilling to vamoose to Mexico. And as a trained psychiatrist, wouldn’t she know he’s a fraud long before that phone call from Maitland and Baird? 4) I’m curious: what happened to Lopez? Burns seemed awfully concerned about his welfare before his big escape. Did Baird place him on a daily regime of thorazine after Burns fucked off? 
Rating: The Couch Trip was played and re-played endlessly on First Choice at the end of the 1980s, so I saw it a number of times back in the day, and felt a strange nostalgia when I viewed it again for the first time in 30 years. The film is a highly-contrived (see “Really?”), and occasionally-funny ego trip for Aykroyd which starts out well, and eventually ends as a confused mess. The Couch Trip isn’t meant to be taken too seriously, so I can overlook the fact that no consequences ever arise from Burns dispensing bullshit therapy, but Aykroyd is incredibly smug, while Matthau and Dixon aren’t given much to do in their vaguely-defined roles. 6/10 stars.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

I'm Not Rappaport (1996)

Walter Matthau Movie #3
Synopsis: Two wildly-different loveable losers develop an uneasy friendship and engage in weird adventures in Central Park. Ok, so it’s a geriatric, low-budget remake of The Fisher King
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “With vaudevillian flair, these appealing oldsters outrageously take on the world and its multiple threats - drug dealers and muggers, enlightened children, forced retirement, and the spectre of the old folks’ home.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Junkies aren’t very reliable people. 2) Fabricating stories is a great way to make new friends. 3) Decent, law-abiding citizens are easy to con with a quickly-delivered stream of bullshit…hardened criminals, not so much. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You want to hear a really great joke.
Really?: 1) See: “What Did I Learn?” Seriously, I had a bit of trouble believing the grocery store employees would allow Nat to unilaterally mark down their merchandise and not throw him out on his ear. 2) You know…I really didn’t need to see 76-year old Matthau get roughed up, not once, but twice in this film. 3) So, Nat’s daughter Clara is over 50? Amy Irving certainly doesn’t look that old. I realize the play was written in the mid-1980s, so it would have made sense for her to have been born in 1945, but there’s a reference to the Russians giving up communism, which places the events of the film in the mid-1990s.
Rating: I have to give I’m Not Rappaport a bit of a mixed review. It’s hard not to like Nat Moyer, the aging small-c communist bullshit artist who doesn’t have much to do except hang out in the park and needle Midge Carter. Matthau is wonderful as Moyer, and I liked his exchanges with Davis. Overall, I’m Not Rappaport is a warm, funny, and strangely enjoyable (considering it mostly consists of Moyer annoying the crap out of Carter on a park bench) film that’s also wildly uneven in tone. When playwright Herb Gardner was offered the chance to direct his work, he added a whole bunch of extra characters and plotlines; some of them work well with the original material (Amy Irving is great as Nat’s long-suffering daughter), while some of them stick out like a sore thumb. Matthau and Davis posing as Mafioso and trying to convince a drug-dealing cowboy (played well by Craig T. Nelson of Coach fame) to forgive the debt of a young junkie? Come on…. 7.5/10 stars.