Sunday, March 25, 2018

Hostage (2005)

Synopsis: Bruce Willis portrays a bald, stone-faced and deeply-troubled law enforcement officer who must suddenly cope with a major crisis. Wait, doesn’t that pretty much describe every movie Bruce Willis makes these days? 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Every second counts.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Cops play golf when they retire. 2) Rich people always got a way out. 3) Only God gets to decide who lives and dies. 
Really?: 1) Gee, nobody notices that Tommy essentially goes missing for long stretches of his supposed captivity, and the air duct system can take him anywhere in the house? Gee, that’s convenient. 2) So, Walter Smith (Kevin Pollak) is near-death from too many blows to the head, yet he makes a miraculous recovery, and even later agrees to assist Tally in killing his former accomplices? 3) Hmm…Tally doesn’t do a very good job of following instructions from the mob villains, does he? 4) Gee….I really didn’t buy Mars’ transformation into some sort of Kaiser Soze-like killing machine. 
Rating: Bruce Willis needs to hire a better agent, or do a better job of picking scripts, because like many of his other recent cinematic choices, Hostage is humourless, excessively violent, populated with unlikeable characters and utterly pointless. The film might have worked a lot better had the mob villains been removed from the script, and replaced with more of a psychological cat-and-mouse dynamic between former hostage negotiator Tally and the young punks in the house. Instead, we’re treated to a convoluted mess that completely falls apart in the third act. I cannot recommend this movie. 3/10 stars. 
Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: No, but take a drink any time you find yourself asking: “would a chief of police really do that?”

What Doesn't Kill You (2008)

This would have worked for my salute to addiction-related movies. 
Synopsis: Heavy-drinking-and-drug-taking low-IQ family man criminal and his slightly-smarter co-dependent best buddy commit crimes and go to jail. Wait, isn’t this movie essentially a retelling of The Trailer Park Boys without the laughter?
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Torn between the desire to be a good husband and the lure of easy money, Brian must make the hardest choice of his life.” 
What Did I Learn?: Five grand is five grand. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You know that if something doesn't kill you, it must make you stronger. 
Really?: 1) Am I wrong in thinking that Amanda Peet was miscast as Stacy Reilly? She’s certainly a talented actress, but maybe a little too thin and attractive to play a woman who would be financially destitute without her father’s assistance. I imagine she she could either find another guy, or a job as a waitress, bartender, or stripper without much difficulty. 2) Those end title cards are a little blunt and obvious for my taste. I’m curious: how does Brian find a job on the loading docks when he has a criminal record? And I realize Paulie (Ethan Hawke) isn’t the centre of the story, but how did he get pinched for the armoured car robbery? 
Rating: What Doesn’t Kill You is a gritty, hard-hitting, and often depressing character-driven drama about a very low-level crook, and his attempts to straighten out his life by getting away from booze and drugs, and reconnecting with his estranged family. WDKY begins with a botched armoured car robbery, but it certainly isn’t an action movie; the dialogue, and some of the aerial shots of snow-covered Boston strangely reminded me of another film about struggling criminals, Straight Out of Brooklyn. Check it out for Mark Ruffalo’s impressive performance as Brian Reilly. 7.5/10 stars.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Leaves of Grass (2009)

Synopsis: Textbook translating teacher takes trouncing, talks to toking, tale-telling Tulsa twin, treasures tantalizing temptress. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket:Leaves of Grass is a comic thriller seen through the perspectives of identical twins Bill and Brady Kincaid (both played by two-time Academy Award nominee Edward Norton.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) We’re all animals, with brains that trick us into thinking we aren’t. 2) True parallel lines don’t exist in nature, and man can’t create them. 
Really?: 1) So, Mr. Uptight travels all the way to Oklahoma without even bringing a change of clothing or booking himself into a hotel? Where does he expect to sleep, exactly? 2) Ok, I get that Brady loves his estranged brother, but I had a hard time believing he would attempt to follow his career by apparently reading everything the guy published in unreadable academic journals. 
Rating: I wasn’t expecting much when I popped Leaves of Grass into my DVD player the other night, but I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised. Leaves of Grass is an intelligent, and surprisingly funny film about two very different brothers who share an extremely high IQ. Kudos to writer/director Tim Blake Nelson for creating such an original and compelling script, and to Edward Norton for flawlessly pulling off a double role. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

The Rainmaker (1997)

This would have been perfect for my salute to my legal-themed movies
Synopsis: Young lawyer battles crooked insurance company on behalf of poor Southern family.. and he defends an attractive young lady fro her physically abusive husband…. And he discovers his boss is under investigation by the FBI… and he helps a lovely old lady develop better relations with her douchebag son…Holy crap, how many storylines does this movie involve?!?!
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Francis Ford Coppola directs and scripts an exciting, star-packed adaptation of John Grisham’s novel about an idealistic young attorney who takes on the case of a lifetime.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Nothing is wrong with ethics. 2) Every lawyer, at least once in every case, feels himself crossing a line that he doesn’t mean to cross.” 
Really?: 1) That is one strange musical score. 2) I realize Rudy is a relatively young guy and he’s working a huge case more-or-less solo, but doesn’t he ever sleep? 3) Speaking of Rudy needing sleep, Kelly’s husband clearly injures him in their scuffle, and he’s awake pretty much the entire night she kills the guy. Funny how Rudy’s involvement in the incident never comes back to haunt him (it’s also funny how Deck routinely masquerades as a lawyer even though he’s flunked the bar exam six times and he never once gets caught - is that possible?) 4) Ok, it’s fairly obvious Bruiser (Mickey Rourke) is on the verge of getting indicted by the feds, but why would Rudy go into business with Deck, who isn’t a real lawyer, and the two of them have a grand total of $11,000 between them? 
Rating: The Rainmaker is a good courtroom drama (very reminiscent of The Verdict) that tries a little too hard to be faithful to John Grisham’s novel of the same title. The result is an overly-long movie that’s loaded with interesting characters who come and go, and subplots that are never satisfactorily resolved. 7.5/10 stars.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Bucket List (2007)

Synopsis: Hilarity ensues when old farts get terminal cancer. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “You only live once, so why not go out in style?” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Three things to remember when you get older: never pass up a bathroom, never waste a hard-on, and never trust a fart. 2) You really don’t want to drink Kopi Luwac coffee. 3) We live, we die, and the wheels on the bus go round and round.
Really?: 1) My mom suffered from cancer through most of the 1990s. Even when she wasn’t taking chemotherapy, I don’t recall her ever having the stamina to jump out of airplanes or travel the world unaccompanied by medical professionals. 2) Speaking of that world tour, I realize it would have been extremely expensive to send the leads to Paris, Egypt, Hong Kong, and a few other exotic locales, but wow - the film’s blue screen effects are really bad. 3) Hold on - Edward (Nicholson) can’t get a private room in his hospital for PR reasons? Didn’t writer Justin Zackham know that private hospitals rake in boatloads of money by charging patients for luxuries like private rooms and other amenities? 4) Wait, Carter (Freeman) is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and he decides to fuck off around the world with Edward for a month or two? I don’t think a loving husband and father would do that. 5) Gee…I couldn’t help myself from thinking Edward’s long-suffering valet Thomas/Matthew deserved a bit more character development. 6) I can understand Edward and Carter wanting to race stock cars around ring, but actually crashing into each other's cars like professional NASCAR racers? Gee, I dunno.... 
Rating: I have to give The Bucket List a less-than-stellar review. While I liked both the chemistry between Nicholson and Freeman, and the film’s message about finding the joy in one’s life when you still have the chance to do so, it suffers from some real credibility problems (see: “Really?” and “Synopsis”) and a treacly, cliche-ridden script. 5.5/10 stars.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Deal (2008)

This could have worked for my salute to Burt Reynolds a few years ago. 
Synopsis: Did you ever want to see an atrociously-written, ridiculously predictable, and bargain-basement-budget remake of The Color of Money, featuring cards instead of billiards, and lacking both suspense and a strong female lead? This is your lucky day. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: "Deal yourself in for high-speed thrills and high-stakes poker action in this triumphant tale of cards and courage starring Burt Reynolds, Bret Harrison and Shannon Elizabeth." 
What Did I Learn?: Quite honestly, I don’t think I learned anything from this movie. Tommy (Reynolds) apparently teaches Alex (Bret Harrison) the psychology of the game of poker (i.e. how to read your opponents) and the audience is never provided with any information! 
Really?: 1) Holy cow, why did Jennifer Tilly agree to take part in this film? She makes two cameo appearances and barely says a word. (Come to think of it, that sounds like Charles Durning’s involvement with this turkey, too). 2) So, the big tournament comes down to Tommy and Alex and the loser walks home with $4.1 million? Why are we supposed to care, exactly? 3) Wait, Alex has a job, right? How can he do it and still attend all of those late-night, and out-of-town poker tournaments? This is never really explained. 4) Did writer/director Gil Cates Jr. ever learn that exposition is best used sparingly in a movie script, or that the most intriguing films are the ones that allow the viewers to figure things out on their own? It’s bad enough when Durning’s character spells out Tommy’s motivations to his estranged wife (who puts aside her deep mistrust of gambling and rallies to his side!), but allowing a couple of sports announcers to provide blow-by-blow commentary during the tournament? Bad writing. 
Rating: Deal is one of the most unoriginal, uninspired, and completely pointless movies I have ever encountered (see: “Synopsis,”What Did I Learn?” and “Really?”). I cannot recommend this movie. 2/10 stars. 
Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Probably not, but take a drink any time you get the impression Reynolds is basically just sleep-walking through his role.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Brooklyn's Finest (2009)

Damn - this movie would have been perfect for my salute to movies about bad cops! 
Synopsis: Three deeply-troubled New York City police officers cope with their profound emotional problems by, um….going out on three simultaneous, and independently-planned killing sprees within a few blocks from each other, and whacking a bunch of gang-bangers in cold blood. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “This is war. This is BROOKLYN.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Rudy Giuliani didn’t clean up New York - video games and television did that, because it kept young men indoors. 2) “Fuckin’ freedom ain’t free.” 
Really?: 1) See: “Synopsis.” Seriously, what are the odds of that happening? 2) Does anyone think Richard Gere was wildly miscast as Eddie, the semi-suicidal, washed-up alcoholic cop on the verge of retirement? I had a bit of trouble believing the only woman in his life would be the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold he pays for sex. 3) Sal (Ethan Hawke) desperately tries to steal some drug money in order to buy his family a nicer place to live, but gee whiz… don’t NYC cops have a special credit union to help them buy homes? Couldn’t he find something affordable in New Jersey, like that nice little town in Copland?
Rating: Brooklyn’s Finest is a gritty police drama that features a couple of fine performances from Don Cheadle and Hawke. Brooklyn’s Finest isn’t a bad film, but I was expecting a bit more; the three leads share one brief scene together, and their separate storylines never connect, even though they all somehow arrive at the same perceived solution to their problems. 7/10 stars.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Gumshoe (1971)

Offbeat Detective Movie #4 (Please click the links to read my reviews of The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, both of which were huge influences on this film) 
Synopsis: Goofy gumshoe Ginley gets girl, gun, grand. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Eddie Ginley (Albert Finney) is a comedian turned private eye who gets into hot water when he meets a fat man (George Silver) and a femme fatale (Janice Rule). Armed with only rapid-fire banter and a sharpened instinct, Ginley must save the dame from a drug smuggling ring before the joke’s on him.” 
What Did I Learn?: Firearms were apparently worthless in Liverpool, circa 1971, because it wasn’t a “gun town.” 
You Might Like This Movie If: you'll watch anything from 1971.
Really?: 1) See: “What Did I Learn?” (I realize Britain was a very different place 45-50 years ago, but wouldn’t somebody in Liverpool be interested in purchasing a snub-nose .38, if only to resell it?). 2) So, Ginley hits Straker the hitman in the legs with a chair and runs away, and yet Strake somehow manages to catch up to him soon afterwards and he doesn’t even have a limp. 
Rating: Gumshoe is an enjoyable, if forgettable and rather dated salute to 1940s film noir detective moves. Gumshoe more-or-less works, thanks to Albert Finney’s smooth-and-upbeat performance as the loveable loser Ginley (unfortunately, he’s so upbeat that the viewer could be forgiven for thinking he never seems to be in much danger). The film is marred by a confusing, and highly convoluted plot, and a surprising lack of suspense. Check it out if you want to see what Liverpool, England looked like in the tail end of the 1960s. 7/10 stars.

Inherent Vice (2014)

Offbeat Detective Movie #3 
Synopsis: Hippie detective looks into….wait, wasn’t this ground covered by Al Pacino in Serpico, or Richard Dreyfus in The Big Fix
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “From Paul Thomas Anderson and Thomas Pynchon, it’s the tail end of the psychedelic ‘60s and paranoia is running the day from the desert to the sea of sunny Southern California.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Inherent vice in a maritime insurance policy is anything that you can’t avoid. 2) Shelter is supposed to be for free…for free!! 
You Might Like This Movie If: scenes like this one make sense to you. 
Really?: Inherent Vice is a very trippy comedic thriller, so I can overlook some of its weirder elements, but gee - I’m not sure what to think of Doc returning an entire carload of heroin to the villains at the end. That doesn’t seem terribly heroic. Oh, and can anyone tell me what Sortilege’s rambling and incoherent voice-over narration adds to our understanding of the story? 
Rating: When I purchased my copy of Inherent Vice at the local Value Village, the cashier informed me she loves this film, and I would, too. Inherent Vice isn’t a bad stoner-detective movie (it’s something along the lines of The Big Lebowski meets Night Moves) - it certainly has some funny moments, but it’s far too long, the plot is convoluted and loaded with sub-plots which are never satisfactorily resolved (along with too many cameo appearances), and nothing really happens for long stretches. Still, I liked Reese Witherspoon as the Assistant DA with a heart of gold, and Josh Brolin pretty much steals the film as Doc’s arch-nemesis, Bigfoot the cop. 6.5/10 stars.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Singing Detective (2003)

Offbeat Detective Movie #2 
Synopsis: Surly, suspicious scribe suffers skin sickness, stuns sympathetic spouse, sees spectral scofflaws. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “When it comes to murder, seduction and betrayal, pulp-fiction author Dan Dark (Downey) wrote the book. But now, he’s living it.”  
What Did I Learn?: 1) There’s always a dame. 2) Little men shouldn’t sit where their feet don’t touch the ground. 3) When you’re dealing with the Devil, praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. 
Really?: I realize Dan is wracked with feelings of guilt, shame a lot of negative emotions related to the murder of his mom years earlier, but what’s the deal with the hallucinations - does he have emotional issues, or is he really nuts? And what do the musical numbers have to do with anything? And who are the imaginary hoods and what are they supposed to represent?
Rating: I have to give The Singing Detective something of a mixed review. Sure, the film is highly creative and stylishly directed, I admired Downey’s tour-de-force performance as a deeply troubled soul with a foul mouth and a vivid imagination, and an unrecognizable Mel Gibson is really quite good as Dan’s sympathetic psychiatrist. Unfortunately, the script is a confusing mess (see: “Really?”) that never makes any sense, and the ending is contrived and silly. Check it out if you wish, but a better bet would be the acclaimed 1980s British mini-series with the same title that served as this movie's inspiration. 6/10 stars.

Brick (2005)

Offbeat Detective Movie #1 (Please click the link to read my review of a somewhat better off-beat detective movie, Gleaming the Cube, featuring a skateboarding Christian Slater)
Synopsis: Do you remember Bugsy Malone, that awful 1970s musical-comedy about 1930s gangsters starring pre-teen actors? Well, just imagine a mish-mash of Bugsy Malone and River’s Edge, and you’ll get a pretty good idea of what this film is all about. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Brendan Frye is a loner, someone who knows all the angles but has chosen to stay on the outside. When the girl he loves turns up dead, he is determined to find the “who” and the “why” and plunges into the dark and dangerous social strata of rich girl Laura, intimidating Tug, drug-addled Dode, seductive Kara, and the ominous Pin.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Minneapolis has cold winters but a great public transit system. 2) Tolkien’s descriptions of things are really good - he makes you want to be there. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You find the title intriguing
Really?: 1) Wow… these kids are a whole lot more confident and articulate than any of the teenagers I’ve ever met. 2) So, the Pin’s lovely, all-American suburban mom has no idea her son is the biggest drug dealer in the area? 3) For a nerdy-looking “loner,” it’s amazing how Brendan is desired by every hot chick in the high school and able to beat up the boastful ex-football star. 4) Speaking of Brendan’s fighting skills, how many internal injuries does he acquire after serving as the human punching bag? And he’s able to pretty much sleep them off without medical attention? 5) The Pin wears a cape, and everyone uses terms such as “on the nail” and “duck soup.” 
Rating: I wanted to like Brick, but there’s something about supposedly hard-boiled California teenagers spouting 1940s gangster slang (see: “Really?”) that rubbed me the wrong way. Sure, Brick is off-beat and an example of creative filmmaking - it deserves a few stars for that - but it’s also pretentious, ridiculously slow-moving, dreadfully dull, devoid of credible or likeable characters, and I didn’t buy any of it. Why set this movie in a contemporary suburban high school when none of the characters act like teenagers? I cannot recommend this movie. 4/10 stars. 
Would it Work for a Bad Movie Night?: No, but take a drink any time the dialogue sounds inauthentic. Oh wait, I don’t want to be held responsible for anyone’s alcohol poisoning.