Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)

This would have been perfect for my tribute to revenge-themed movies. Also, please click the links to check out my reviews of some other Wes Anderson films: Bottle Rocket, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Rushmore
Synopsis: It’s basically Moby Dick, feating a washed-up Jacques Cousteau wannabe and a very gullible crew. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Internationally famous oceanographer Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) set sail on an expedition to hunt down the mysterious, elusive, possibly nonexistent Jaguar Shark that killed Zissou’s partner during the documentary filming of their latest adventure.” 
What Did I Learn?: “Revenge” is a perfectly valid scientific reason for hunting down and killing an endangered species. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You'll watch anything that involves a shark...
Really?: This film isn’t mean to be taken too seriously, so I can overlook some of the strange sea creatures, the fact that everyone carries a Glock, Kentucky Airlines, etc… but gee, that was one lacklustre ending. 
Rating: The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou is a very strange film that I found to be much funnier the second time around. This highly offbeat comedy moves at a snail’s pace, but never seems to drag, thanks in part to its laid-back-and-whimsical humour, and a spirited performance by Bill Murray as the “showboat and a little bit of a prick” Zissou. I’m still laughing about the time he remarks: “son of a bitch, I’m sick of those dolphins.” Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Jarhead (2005)

Please click the link to read my review of another film about the Gulf War, Three Kings
Synopsis: Self-aware US Marine gets really bored hanging around the Saudi Arabian desert waiting for combat, and…. come to think of it, that’s pretty much the entire movie.  2005
Blurb From the DVD Jacket:Jarhead (the self-imposed monicker of the Marines) follows Swoff (Jake Gyllenhaal) from a sobering stint in boot camp to active duty, where he sports a sniper rifle through Middle East deserts that provide no cover from the heat or Iraqi soldiers.” 
What Did I Learn?: Every war is different. Every war is the same. 
Really?: 1) Jarhead was based upon the true story of Anthony Swofford, so I suspect most of the events depicted in this film are pretty accurate. That said, I had a little trouble believing Swofford would merely face extended latrine duty after he was wrongly accused of dereliction his duty and almost blowing up the base after allowing a pile of parachute flares to catch fire. I suspect he would probably face time in a military prison, followed by a dishonourable discharge. 2) So, Swofford and Kruger really, really want to turn another human being into a “pink mist” before the war ends? Hey, that might be an accurate depiction of the way snipers view the world, but it’s hard for the audience to identify with the protagonist. 
Rating: Jarhead is an interesting, and somewhat thoughtful film about a young man who enlists in the Marine Corps and slowly loses his mind from boredom and possibly heat-stroke. Jamie Foxx delivers a great performance as Swofford’s gung-ho sergeant, and I loved the film’s cinematography, but Jarhead really starts to drag once the Marines hit the desert, and there isn’t much of a plot. 7.5/10 stars.

The Hurt Locker (2008)

Synopsis: Demolitions dude dares death, disarms devices, displeases distressed duo. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “War is a drug. Nobody knows that better than Sergeant James, head of an elite squad of soldiers tasked with disarming bombs in the heat of combat.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) A jack-in-the-box is a piece of tin and a stuffed animal. 2) everyone’s a coward about something. 3) “the rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug” - Chris Hedges. 
Really?: I realize James and Sanborn are a couple of macho idiots who don’t particularly like each other, and there’s fuck-all for them to do for fun on a military base, but gee…. couldn’t they find something better to do to during their downtime than get rip-roaring drunk and beat each other senseless in a fun fistfight? 
Rating: I’m not sure if the Hurt Locker deserved to win Best Picture in 2010, but it is a very good film that manages to weave together some genuinely suspenseful action scenes with some serious commentary about the nature of war, and its effects upon the young men and women who fight America’s wars. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Alamo (2004)

Synopsis (Haiku): The Texans got squashed / Santa Ana went too far / This film bombed big time
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “From the studio that brought you Pearl Harbour… Academy Award winner Billy Bob Thornton (Bad Santa), Dennis Quaid (The Rookie) and Jason Patric (Rush) team up for the acclaimed action epic about one of the most important events in American history!” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) “What are the lives of soldiers but so many chickens?” 2) Davy Crockett was a screamer. 3) “Without blood, without tears, there’s no glory.” 4) The word “catamite” is one step up from “assistant pederast.” 4) “One crowded hour of glorious life is worth an age without a name.”
You Might Like This Movie If: You remember the Alamo
Really?: I have to give Colonel Travis credit for picking up an unexploded shrapnel shell and defusing it. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would attempt that, however. 
Rating: The Alamo is a very good film that never got the critical recognition or box office success it deserved (see: “Synopsis”); it’s certainly a much more compelling and believable depiction of the 1836 siege and subsequent counter-attack by General Houston Than the John Wayne epic, and I liked Thornton’s very down-to-Earth portrayal of the larger-than-life Davy Crockett. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

The Alamo (1960)

This would have been perfect for my salute to John Wayne westerns. 
Synopsis: The Duke takes on the entire Mexican army, and comes pretty close to single-handedly winning the war for Texan independence. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Featuring some of the most spectacular battle sequences ever put on screen, The Alamo - which received seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture - captures both the sweeping spectacle and human drama that surrounded this historical event.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) “The time to live and the place to die. That’s all any man gets.” 2) “Republic is one of those words that can give you a feeling that makes your heart warm.” 
You Might Like This Movie If: You remember the Alamo. 
Really?: 1) See: “Synopsis.” Seriously, Davy Crockett and the boys somehow manage to sneak out of the Alamo not once, but twice, in order to destroy a particularly large Mexican cannon and steal a herd of cattle. Didn’t Santa Ana post any sentries outside? 2) Crockett forges a nasty letter from Santa Ana, has it read to his men, admits it’s all a pack of lies, and they still want to defend the Alamo because the letter offers a flavour of Santa Ana’s thinking? Wow, those Tennesseans are pretty dumb! 3) Gee, we’re led to believe that rich merchant (and Santa Ana sympathizer) Emil Sand is going to be some sort of major villain, and then…he disappears somewhere in the second act. 
Rating: While I generally enjoy John Wayne’s westerns, The Alamo (which he also produced and directed) isn’t one of his better oaters. It’s far too long, far too preachy (see: “What Did I Learn?”) and the dialogue is cringe-inducing at times. Still, the third genuinely exciting, and the I liked the mutual nastiness between Travis (Laurence Harvey) and Jim Bowie (Richard Widmark). 6/10 stars.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Company Men (2010)

Synopsis: Smug corporate douchebag learns that losing your job really sucks. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) is living the proverbial American dream: great job, beautiful family, shiny Porsche in the garage. When corporate downsizing leaves him jobless, he is forced to re-define his life as a husband and father.” 
What Did I Learn?: If your employer is losing money and firing lots of people every day, it’s probably not such a hot idea to contradict your boss in front of other senior executives. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You've experienced a really bad job interview. 
Really?: 1) So, what does this placement firm actually offer besides horrible pep talks, a computer terminal and free phone calls? Why does Bobby Walker and his colleagues commute to this office every morning when they could probably conduct their job searches much more effectively from home? 2) I realize Bobby is a little out of touch with reality, but how many unemployed fathers would seriously pay good money to get their Porsche detailed, or on golf club membership fees? 3) Speaking of the Walker family finances, couldn’t they come up with a better option than moving into some spare rooms in Bobby’s parent’s place? I mean, they sold they house. 4) Wait, why does the DVD cover show Kevin Costner wearing a suit? That totally doesn’t match with the character he portrays in the film. 5) You know, if my former boss offered to buy me lunch, and handed me a list of personal acquaintances who might be willing to hire me, I don’t think I’d blow up at him and storm out of the restaurant. 
Rating: I had a bit of trouble believing Affleck’s character would behave the way he does in his circumstances (see: “Really?”), but The Company Men is otherwise a smart, and very compelling character-driven drama about the state of American manufacturing in today’s global economy, and the devastating effects that unemployment can wreak upon a family. I especially liked Jones’ performance as the world-weary Gene McCleary; watch for Craig T. Nelson (best remembered as TV’s Coach) as his narcissistic boss. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

American Outlaws (2001)

Please click the link to read my review of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
Synopsis: It’s the story of Jesse James….reimagined as Young Guns meets the Dukes of Hazzard
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “To corrupt railroad barons, Jesse James and Cole Younger are meddlers, troublemakers, ingrates and candidates for rope neckties. To the downtrodden folks in and around Liberty, Missouri, they’re something far different. Heroes.” 
What Did I Learn?: “Just ‘cause (somebody) reads them books and knows all them big words don’t make him smart!” 
Really?: 1) I’m pretty sure a flimsy wooden table would NOT protect a gang of outlaws from a hail of gunfire. 2) Wait - a Union soldier attempts to shoot Jesse fucking James, the poor guy’s rifle fails to fire, so Jesse allows him to run away? That doesn’t sound right… 3) So, the film ends with Jesse and his bride moving to Tennessee in order to establish a farm, and Jesse makes it clear he has no interest in returning to a life of crime? Again, that doesn’t sound right… 4) Wow….Bob and Cole get pretty excited about corn, don’t they? 
Rating: American Outlaws is a long-forgotten Young Guns clone that’s fine for an evening’s entertainment, but comes perilously close to Bad Movie status. The film features some impressive action sequences and I liked Timothy Dalton’s somewhat-complex performance as the famed Allan Pinkerton, yet it suffers from a badly-written and simplistic script that whitewashes Frank and Jesse as early versions of Bo and Luke Duke, and I couldn’t help myself from thinking that Colin Farrell and Ali Larter were completely miscast as Jesse and his bride, Zee. 5.5/10 stars.

Monday, January 1, 2018

The TV Set (2006)

Happy New Year! I’ll post my best and worst of 2017 later on in January. 
This would have been perfect for my tribute to movies about the television industry. 
Synopsis: David Duchovny plays a grumpy Hollywood writer who sees his very special screenplay turned into something cheap and commercial…. wait, doesn’t that sound an awful lot like every single episode of Californication
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “A place where dreams are cancelled.” 
What Did I Learn?: Something like 82% of all people think suicide is really depressing. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You don't expect much from television. 
Really?: Alice has got to be the world’s most useless manager; why does Mike (Duchovny) stay with her when she clearly undermines him at various points in the movie? 
Rating: The TV Set is a clever, and highly cynical satire of the television industry, and the ways in which it corrupts creative visionaries into producing brainless and mediocre crap. Duchovny is terrific as the frustrated, and long-suffering Mike Klein, but Sigourney Weaver really steals the film as the narcissistic Lenny, an entertainment exec who never encountered a beautiful and original idea she didn’t wish to change. My only complaint is that it could have been a little funnier. Watch for Justine Bateman (best remembered as Mallory Keaton from Family Ties) as Mike’s wife. 8/10 stars.