Monday, August 27, 2018

Last Vegas (2014)

I could have used this for my De Niro tribute! 
Synopsis: Michael Douglas portrays a self-made wealthy older bastard who has grown estranged…oh, sorry that’s the Synopsis for Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Ok, Robert De Niro is a tough, violent bastard who takes Las Vegas by storm….no, that’s Casino. Um… Morgan Freeman plays a kindly old gent who recovers from a personal illness and walks away from his smothering family to have some fun….no, that’s The Bucket List. Um…. Kevin Kline is a loveable New Yorker who loves his wife but really wants to have some fun on the side….no, that’s I Love You to Death. Ok, ok….it’s The Hangover featuring a bunch of old farts. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Starring four legends like you’ve never seen them before, LAST VEGAS tells the story of Billy, Paddy, Archie and Sam.” 
What Did I Learn?: De Niro really needs to stop making these fucking comedies. 
Really?: 1) I REALLY didn’t need to see Paddy (De Niro) receive a lap dance from a dude at the bikini contest. Actually, that entire poolside contest scene was cringe-inducing. 2) Archie’s (Freeman) son Ezra tracks him down in Vegas, shows up for the bachelor party, and….we never see him again.  Did he take an earlier flight home? Funny how he just disappears. 3) I had a bit of trouble believing three 70-something gents would actually want to spend time drinking Red Bulls-and-vodka in an obnoxiously-loud nightclub packed with club kids, let alone wait an hour in line and agree to an $1800-per-bottle service. 
Rating: Last Vegas has a great cast, and….that’s about it. Last Vegas isn’t quite a bad movie – I liked some of the exchanges between Kline and Freeman (Mary Steenburgen also acquits herself well as a sultry lounge singer with an odd past) and the script had the potential to be a lot better – but there’s far too much exposition in the dialogue, and I was struck both by how often Last Vegas serves as a travelogue for Sin City, and its spectacularly wrong-headed assumption that vulgar casinos, drug-fueled nightclubs, moronic youth culture, and douchebag materialism are attractive to anyone and everyone. Based on this film, Vegas gives me the creeps – as did that embarrassing bikini contest scene, by the way. 5.5/10 stars.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Jacknife (1989)

Damn – this would have been perfect for my tribute to Robert De Niro’s movies, and my tribute to films about coming home from Vietnam. 
Synopsis: Robert De Niro plays a troubled-but-grounded Vietnam vet who helps out a buddy who can’t cope…, it’s basically The Deer Hunter without the Russian roulette and 3-hour-long Polish wedding. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Three buddies in Vietnam. Two survived. Only one is really alive.” 
What Did I Learn?: If you take one sip of breakfast beer, the cobwebs go, your voice rises two octaves, and “hey man” the sun comes up inside you. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You figure it must be a 90-minute infomercial. 
Really?: 1) Um….did anyone notice that Megs looks a LOT like Joseph Stalin after his big makeover? 2) Megs’ decision to break things off with Martha (Kathy Baker) seems awfully abrupt. Up until that point, we see no indication that he feels ill-at-ease within her middle class strata. I have to wonder if it was done to create a dramatic ending. 
Rating: Jacknife is a warm, and very well-written character-driven drama about a couple of emotionally-scarred Vietnam vets and the woman they both love. The film features a number of memorable performances, as well as some important things to say about forgiveness, letting go, and finding the courage to take a chance on something new. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

The Professionals (1966)

Synopsis: Lee Marvin leads some dangerous dudes into hostile territory for a dangerous mission….oh, wait – that’s the Synopsis for The Dirty Dozen. Um…. Intrepid adventurers break into a fortress to save a damsel in distress…no, that’s Star Wars….and Krull… and Conan the Barbarian. Um…. Rugged mercenaries attempt a rescue operation….no, that’s The Wild Geese. Ok, violent Americans venture into pre-WWI Mexico to….no, that’s The Wild Bunch
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: "Rough, Tough, and Ready." 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Nothing’s harmless in the desert – unless it’s dead. 2) Certain women have a way of changing boys into men and some men back into boys. 3) Dynamite in the hands of a fool means death. 4) To die for money…is foolish. 
Really?: 1) Jeez….Claudia Cardinale isn’t given much to do in her role besides shriek at our heroes. [Spoiler Alert!] 2) The mercenaries load Maria and Raza into a carriage and send them on their way, knowing they can’t collect the big reward? Ok, maybe I can understand Dolworth (Lancaster) and Fardan (Marvin) doing that, but what about their colleagues? Come to think of it, I was struck by how well everyone works with each other from the get-go, and there aren’t any spats between them. 
Rating: The Professionals is adventure with a capital A. The story is fun and compelling, and it’s a pleasure to watch Marvin and Lancaster play a couple of grizzled tough guys. My only complaint – and it’s a quibble, really – is that we learn very little about Jake (Woody Strode) and Ehrengard (Robert Ryan), even though they’re half of the four-man team. Still, highly recommended. 10/10 stars.

Speaking of Sex (2001)

Synopsis: Sex-starved and ethically-challenged lawyers manipulate sex-starved and ethically-challenged therapists, who in turn manipulate sex-starved and intellectually-challenged hayseeds. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Get your head examined.” 
What Did I Learn?: People in Boise are obsessed with elevator sex. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You know that therapy is hard work. 
Really?: Speaking of Sex is a screwball comedy that isn’t meant to be taken too seriously, but jeez, didn’t anyone notice that Melora Walters really can’t act? 
Rating: When I sat down to watch Speaking of Sex for the first time in several years, I remembered it being a lot funnier than the low-budget made-in-Calgary comedy which unfolded. Speaking of Sex is fine for an evening’s entertainment, but it’s littered with crude and unlikeable characters, several bad performances (I’m looking at you especially, Melora), and a convoluted script that depends a little too much on bedroom humour – some of it amusing, some of rather lame. Still, Bill Murray is great as scummy Boise lawyer Ezri Stone, and I liked both James Spader and Lara Lynn Boyle as two of the world's worst therapists. 6.5/10 stars.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Maiden Heist (2009)

Synopsis: Loveable incompetents attempt to steal priceless artworks from a museum… ok, it’s basically Welcome to Collinwood meets The Score, except that nothing really happens for long stretches. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “It was a stroke of genius.” 
What Did I Learn?: Apparently, if you wish to convince an airport employee to simply hand over a shipping crate presumably filled with coveted works of art, and you don’t have the necessary paperwork, your best course of action is to allow your wife to nag you in his presence, claim that you will soon miss your flight if he doesn’t comply, and appeal to his sense of pity. 
Really?: 1) See: “What Did I Learn?” 2) Wait…. Roger (Walken) knows he needs to work on the night that the artwork gets packed up, his wife arranges it so he doesn’t have to, we expect a conflict of some sort, and….nothing. Did he stand up to her? Did he tell her some sort of pathetic lie?  How did he wind up working that night? I think the audience got cheated out of a scene. 3) Something about the ending rubbed me the wrong way. Roger loses interest in his beloved painting because he rediscovers his sexual attraction to his wife? Was that the only reason he developed an interest in the maiden - he was horny? 
Rating: The Maiden Heist reminded me of Tower Heist for a number of reasons besides their similar subject matter: both caper comedies feature impressive casts, but neither really works because of mediocre writing, strange pacing and less-than-inspired performances. Maiden is somewhat funnier than Tower, but it really drags in places, Walken’s milquetoast character really isn’t very interesting (Morgan Freeman also plays against type as a gay security guard), and Marcia Gay Harden is the one who really shines in this film as Roger’s bored wife. 6.5/10 stars.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Tower Heist (2011)

Synopsis: It’s basically an Oceans 11 rip-off, featuring Eddie Murphy as a warmed-over Reggie Hammond, Ben Stiller as Hudson from Upstairs Downstairs, and Matthew Broderick as…. actually, I have no idea why he’s in this movie. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “BEN STILLER and EDDIE MURPHY lead an all-star cast in this hilarious comedy caper about a luxury condo manager (Stiller) who leads a staff of workers to seek payback on the Wall Street swindler (Alan Alda) who defrauded them.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) “A robbery can change very quickly: you have to be ready to adapt to the situation at any moment. Anything can happen.” 2) Asthma doesn’t cause seizures. 3) “Lesbians got the nicest titties.” 
Really?: 1) So, what was the point of making Special Agent Denham (Tea Leoni) a hot chick and hinting at a romantic interest between her and Kovaks (Stiller)? Nothing happens between them! 2) Hold on, we’re led to believe that all big-lead fraud artists like Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) keep large sums of cash on hand in case they need to run, and his emergency stash is a solid gold Ferrari? How is he supposed to get that out of the building, let alone take it overseas? 3) So, FBI agents can really be fooled into thinking the courts are open on Thanksgiving? 4) Wait, Kovaks remembers Slide (Murphy) from childhood, but Slide doesn’t remember Kovacs at all, so they sort of meet for the first time, yet Kovaks trusts him enough to bring him into the plot? Gee, that's convenient. 5) Why in the world would Kovaks bring Mr. Fitzhugh (Broderick) into his scheme when he no longer lives in the building, and he’s pretty much useless? (See “Synopsis”)
Rating: I expected a lot more from Tower Heist when I sat down to watch it last week. Tower Heist is far from awful, but I would describe it as contrived, lacklustre and unsure of the sort of film it wants to be (see: "Synopsis", "What Did I Learn?", and "Really?") While the actual heist is compelling and fun to watch, the story takes forever to develop, and we’re treated in the meantime to a few too many crude jokes and not-so-funny comedic setups for my taste. 6/10 stars

Hatfields and McCoys (2012)

Synopsis: Inbred hillbillies go a-killin’. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Never forgive. Never forget.” 
What Did I Learn?: If you wish to defraud somebody using a forged document, it’s not such a hot idea to sign the name of a dude who died two years earlier as the official witness. 
Really?: 1) I realize Johnse (Matt Barr) isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but why in the fuck would he casually mention the location where a couple of his compatriots are hunting to a McCoy family member? (Didn’t he learn anything from a similar slip of the tongue at an earlier point in the feud?) 2) I’m not sure I entirely bought Johnse’s relationship with Roseanne McCoy; I mean, he loves her and clearly doesn’t have the stomach for violence, so not marry her and skedaddle? Couldn’t he make his whisky somewhere else? In real life, he was actually quite a womanizer, so his decision to essentially let her go made more sense. 3) Speaking of real life, the feud ended in part because the State of Kentucky put some pressure on both families. I’m surprised that wasn’t included. 
Rating: Hatfields and McCoys is a compelling miniseries with an impressive cast and great production values - it’s hard to believe it was actually filmed in Romania! It’s definitely worth a look even if you aren’t that interested in American history. While I liked Costner’s performance as the Hatfield patriarch, there aren’t many likeable or sympathetic characters in this story (Bill Paxton’s character seems like a bit of a loon), so it’s tough to care about any of them by the end. 7/10 stars.