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.