Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Swingers (1996)

Synopsis: It’s basically 96 minutes of sleazy-but-loveable Vince Vaughn attempting to cheer up his whiny pal.
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "Cocktails first. Questions later." 
What Did I Learn?: 1) The beautiful babies don’t work the midnight to six shift at a casino on a Wednesday. 2) Two days is the minimum period of time (i.e. the “industry standard”) that must elapse before you can call a woman after she gives you her telephone number. 3) The LA Kings are either a “finesse team” or a “fucking bitch team.” 4) There’s nothing wrong with letting the girls know that you’re money and that you want to party. 5) It’s not a good idea to discuss ice cream and puppy dogs with women you’ve just met. 6) Everybody steals from everybody. That’s Hollywood.
Really?: 1) With the single exception of this film, I’ve never once heard anyone, either in real life or in a work of fiction describe another person as “money.” 2) So, Mike (John Favreau) is a comedian? Ok, I have it on good authority that most stand-up comics are bitter, self-loathing assholes, but aren't they also supposed to be funny
Rating:I was recently a bit surprised to learn that after eight years of writing Schuster at the Movies, I had yet to pen a review of Swingers. I’ve always carried a strong appreciation for this film, in spite of its obvious flaws (I’m thinking primarily of several scenes that carry on far too long, and writer Favreau’s odd decision not to develop the Trent character, or give the audience any indication of what makes him tick). Swingers is funny, clever, and it provides a number of interesting insights into breakups and life in the the bottom rungs of show business. That said, to this day I still can’t sit through the excruciating scene of Mike (Favreau) ruining his chances with Nikki when he foolishly decides to call her about 20 times in the middle of the night. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Rain Man (1988)

Synopsis: Unlikeable narcissist exploits extremely annoying older brother during road trip across the American heartland.
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “4 Academy Awards including Best Picture 1988”
What Did I Learn?: 1) K-Mart sucks. 2) Raymond is an excellent driver. 3) Maple syrup is supposed to be on the table before pancakes.
Really?: Holy shit, take a drink any time Hoffman uses the word “definitely.” 2) So, wait – Charlie’s big plan is to kidnap Raymond in exchange for half of the inheritance? Why doesn’t Dr. Bruner call the cops and have Charlie arrested for kidnapping? Even if the charges are eventually dismissed, it’s a good way to get Raymond back to the hospital in one piece, and discourage further attempts. And why doesn’t Charlie simply hire a lawyer and save himself the trouble of caring for a special needs adult? 3) I’m still not entirely clear on the nature of Charlie’s business – he purchases a few Lamborghinis at a time and re-sells them to wealthy buyers? Wouldn’t most people simply visit a dealership? 4) Isn’t Charlie basically broke, even after his visit to Las Vegas? I had a hard time believing he wouldn’t accept that $250,000 cheque. 
Rating: I’ve always felt that Rain Man is a good, but somewhat overrated movie; Dangerous Liaisons or The Accidental Tourist should have won Best Picture at the 61st Academy Awards.  Sure, Cruise and Hoffmann (especially) deliver magnificent performances and share a number of great scenes together, but the plot is a bit too treacly, unbelievable and repetitive for my taste: as soon as the two leads meet, every scene involves the same basic set-up: Charlie wants Raymond to do something, Raymond responds either with memorized gibberish or by freaking out, and Charlie gets further irritated. A good movie needs more than great acting. 7/10 stars.

Crime Spree (2003)

Synopsis: Bumbling French criminals somehow devise master plan to turn the tables on not one, but two powerful gangsters who want them dead.
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: "Wise guys. Not smart guys."
What Did I Learn?: 1) Supernumerary means “better than expected.” 2) Honour without respect is like a horseless carriage. [In the words of Harvey Keitel’s character: what the fuck does that mean?]
Really?: See: “Synopsis.” Seriously, these dudes get their act together très rapide.
Rating: Crime Spree is an enjoyable, albeit lightweight and forgettable Guy Ritchie knock-off featuring French, rather than Cockney criminals. My biggest complaints would be that that the film drags for a while after Daniel’s crew lands in Chicago, and the crew itself features too many crooks; it’s hard to distinguish between a few of them, and the surplus of unnecessary accomplices leaves Gerard Depardieu a bit lost in the shuffle. 7/10 stars.

Proof of Life (2000)

Synopsis: It’s over two hours of David Morse getting physically abused on a South American mountaintop, Meg Ryan losing her shit every couple of minutes, and Russell Crowe arguing with a short-wave radio.
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "Proof of Life is gripping proof that the romantic thriller is forcefully alive." 
What Did I Learn?: 1) An English general’s daughter gets back at daddy by marrying an Australian. 2) Things don’t happen for reason; they just happen. 3) You never, ever pay for a proof-of-life. 4) South America is a dangerous place, and best avoided altogether.
You Might Like This Movie If: you're always searching for a proof of life
Really?: 1) Wait – Terry (Crowe) isn’t entirely convinced Peter (Morse) is dead, so he wants to double-check, and Alice (Ryan) slaps him in the face? 2) I had a bit of trouble with the ending: it’s clear that Peter and Alice’s marriage is on the rocks before the kidnapping, and she later falls in love with Terry, yet she goes to Dallas with Peter anyway? 3) So, Terry gives up a major payday in Thailand to assist penniless Alice for four months because… um…he’s a nice guy? 4) I have to wonder how many kidnapping victims would disobey, and loudly challenge their armed captors to a fight even when it’s obvious one or two of the thugs aren’t playing with a full deck.
Rating: Proof of Life is a slow-moving, but watchable drama that suffers from too much intercutting between Peter’s captivity and the Terry/Alice storylines, and a weak performance from Ryan. (Strangely, Ryan and Crowe were involved in an off-screen romance at the time, yet there’s barely any chemistry between them). The film works best when it focuses on Terry’s world and the business side of rescuing high-profile kidnapping victims – that part is interesting - but it takes a looong time to arrive at an exciting climax, and we’re treated to far too many scenes of Peter getting beaten by his kidnappers for my taste. 6.5/10 stars.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Top Gun (1986)

Not Quite a War Movie #2

Synopsis: Tom Cruise flies a fighter plane, romances a social-climbing instructor, plays shirtless volleyball with Val Kilmer and takes long showers with other guys…wait, WTF?!?
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “A hip, heart-pounding combination of action, music and incredible aerial photography helped make Top Gun the blockbuster hit of 1986.” [How about acting, dialogue or character development?]
What Did I Learn?: 1) A MiG 28 can do a 4g negative dive. 2) You never, never leave your wing man. 3) When you’re a hotshot naval aviator, you can get away with disobeying direct orders from your superior officer and buzzing the control tower if you meekly submit to a five-minute tongue-lashing.
Really?: 1) So, who exactly is this “enemy” that’s able to send advanced MiG fighters into the Indian Ocean, and how can they fire upon and destroy US naval aircraft without starting a war? 2) I’m a little unclear on the purpose of the Top Gun academy… ok, maybe it makes sense to teach dogfighting skills to prevent pilots from becoming too reliant on using missiles, but why does it only accept the very best naval pilots? Wouldn’t average pilots gain more from this training? 3) See: “What Did I Learn?” #3.
Rating: I’ve always felt that Top Gun is a highly overrated hunk of mid-1980s cheese. Top Gun is too well-produced to be an outright bad movie; its air combat scenes are impressive, and I liked both the soundtrack and Harold Faltermeyer’s musical score, but the film really falls apart when Maverick (Cruise) interacts with the other characters; he and McGillis share no romantic chemistry, and the dialogue everyone recites is far too expository and cliched to sound credible. Top Gun did NOT take my breath away. 6/10 stars.

Soldier Boyz (1995)

Not Quite a War Movie #3 
Synopsis: It’s basically a low-budget and extremely dumbed-down remake of The Dirty Dozen. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The worst criminals make the best soldiers.” [Um… I’m not sure that’s true]
What Did I Learn?: Michael Dudikoff’s career really went straight down the crapper after he made those American Ninja movies.
Really?: 1) Is Vasquez (Jacqueline Obradors) actually being held in a men’s prison? If not, why does Toliver interview her? 2) I had a LOT of trouble believing the premise of this film… how would any of these lazy, disobedient, and completely untrustworthy thugs be useful on a complex combat mission? Why would Toliver bring a convicted rapist to rescue an attractive young woman from captivity? Why doesn’t anyone think of simply hiring some professional mercenaries? 3) So, Toliver provides these punks with one day of training? What could they possibly learn about military tactics in such a short period of time? 4) Hold on… Vinh Moc has carved out his own little pocket of Vietnam, and even brutally attacks a town, and the authorities don’t seem to care? Come to think of it, the authorities also apparently don’t have a problem with Toliver and his merry band of armed hooligans traipsing about their country, either.  
Rating: Badly written, cheaply produced, and featuring some truly awful performances, Soldier Boyz is one of the most ineptly-made films I’ve ever had the misfortune to watch. I cannot recommend this movie. 1/10 stars.
Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Absolutely – take a drink any time Dudikoff assembles his troops and announces: “now listen up,” or any time the Boyz strangely act as a cohesive fighting unit immediately after they try to kill each other. 

Sergeant Ryker (1963)

Not Quite a War Movie #1
Synopsis: Idealistic young military lawyer flushes career down the toilet to passionately defend the man he convicted of treason because….um….you know, that’s a very tough premise to swallow. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The battlefield is his home….he will protect it at all costs!” [This blurb has nothing to do with the actual film, by the way]
What Did I Learn?: Apparently, American soldiers in the midst of a mass-evacuation from incoming hostile forces will gladly drop everything when a pushy officer shows up and asks them to assist him perform a series of questionable-at-best tasks.
Really?: See: “Synopsis” and “What Did I Learn?”
Rating: Originally aired on television as a two-parter, Sergeant Ryker takes a loooong time to get started, but ultimately matures into an engaging courtroom drama. The film features a noteworthy cast (including Peter Graves and Norman Fell before they became TV stars), but I could have done without the dozens of shouting matches between Ryker (Lee Marvin) and his lawyer (Bradford Dillman in an impressive performance), and action scene of a North Korean jet attacking Dillman’s jeep is completely unnecessary. 6.5/10 stars.

Von Ryan's Express (1965)

War Movie
Synopsis: Old Blue Eyes sleepwalks his way through mid-1960s war picture that can’t decide if it wants to be The Great Escape, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Stalag 17, or Silver Streak.
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "Frank Sinatra busts loose and outsmarts the Nazis!"
What Did I Learn?: Italian POW camps served some really awful pumpkin soup during the Second World War.
Really?: 1) I’m curious: would an Army Air Corps colonel fly on a bombing mission? And if the Italian soldiers really don’t like the Germans to the point so not handing an injured Ryan over to them, why did they take him to the Italian POW camp? 2) Strange how the script establishes a test of wills between Ryan and Major Fincham; they clash, we expect an air-clearing verbal brawl to break out so they can reach some sort of understanding and it NEVER HAPPENS. 3) So, what are Ryan’s motivations? Why did he join the army? What was he doing before the war? It’s bad enough that none of the other characters are ever further developed as the film progresses, but Ryan’s the protagonist! 4) Hold on – Fincham’s men are literally dying of malaria, and he refuses to share his hidden cache of medicine because they may need it for a future escape attempt? Sorry, but in my mind this sets him up as a villain, albeit a misguided one.
Rating: Von Ryan’s Express is an action-packed and enjoyable, albeit somewhat confused and lacklustre Sinatra vehicle. I don’t blame Richard Burton for turning down the role of Major Fincham, considering the character spends most of the film taking verbal potshots at Ryan and richly deserves at least one head punch. 6.5/10 stars.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Cop (1988)

Synopsis: Hmm…the title of this film is “Cop,” so I’m guessing maybe it has something to do with law enforcement?
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “A killer on the loose. A cop on the edge.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) When you blow away a lady’s date, the least you can do is drive her home. 2a) Innocence kills. 2b) The big reason women wind up murdered, strung out on drugs or on the streets is that they grew up with high expectations.
You Might Like This Movie If: You're happy to watch James Woods in anything. 
Really?: 1) Holy shit, doesn’t Lloyd (James Woods) ever sleep? I’m pretty sure he pulls at least two all-nighters in a row yet he’s more-or-less fresh the next day thanks to that magical combination of coffee and cigarettes. 2) So, by his own admission Lloyd is guilty of breaking and entering, stealing evidence, and assault and battery – and he might have murdered a fellow police officer, but he’s simply suspended from the department rather than arrested? 3a) It’s strange how super-cop Lloyd never follows up on his request for a list of Joannie’s clients. 3b) Wait, why does the killer photograph Lloyd and Joannie having sex in her kitchen? Did he have any reason to suspect Joannie was going to drop a dime on him at this point in the film? 4) Hold on… Lloyd visits a feminist bookstore looking for some background information and somehow stumbles upon a central figure in a series of murders?
Rating: Cop is a gritty police thriller that’s best described as clichéd, somewhat contrived (see: “Really?”), yet surprisingly compelling. Ordinarily, I might give a movie like this 6.5 or 7 stars out of 10, but Woods delivers an outstanding performance as Lloyd Hopkins: a world-weary and highly amoral law enforcement professional who probably shouldn’t be employed by the LAPD except that he’s extremely good at his job. Woods adds some much-needed humour to this film and does a great deal to make it interesting; there’s a reason I once referred to him as this blog’s favourite unlikeable guy. 9/10 stars.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Synopsis: Surprisingly incompetent hero discovers San Francisco’s Chinatown is riddled with underground temples and dungeons and infested with strange, mythical creatures.
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “High adventure in an underground kingdom!”
What Did I Learn?: A brave man likes the feel of nature on his face….and a wise man has enough sense to get out of the rain. 2) Sorcery is real and it always begins very small. 3) When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, and he looks you crooked in the eye and he asks you if ya paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye and reply: “Yessir, the check is in the mail.”
Really?: See: “Synopsis.” and "Blurb from the VHS Jacket." Seriously, Big Trouble is a larger-than-life action-fantasy-comedy that gleefully demolishes the boundaries of narrative credibility, but I’d like to point out that: a) Miao Yin (Suzee Pai) doesn’t look particularly Chinese, b) I have no idea why Wang (Dennis Dun) somehow feels he needs Jack’s (Kurt Russell) help to rescue Miao, considering the former is quite an accomplished martial arts expert, and Jack is more of a blustering goofball, and c) it’s awfully convenient how Jack and Wang somehow bump into Gracie (Kim Cattrall) at the airport, and she later (and independently) joins their team.
Rating: Big Trouble in Little China is a roller coaster ride of a movie that’s built around an extremely wacky plot and a very funny performance from Russell that owes a lot more to John Wayne than the Clint Eastwood impression he adopted in Escape from New York. Big Trouble is a fun little romp, but the story doesn’t make a lot of sense and it tends to drag near the end. 7/10 stars.

Hghlander (1986)

Synopsis: Sean Connery plays an older tough guy who assists a wet-behind-the-ears hero take on a dangerous criminal….no, that’s the Synopsis for The Untouchables. Um…Scottish lad engages in risky behavior, yet somehow manages to cheat death and outwit a psycho….no, that’s Trainspotting. Badass with a cool weapon travels to mysterious, far-away city to battle a great evil….no, that’s Krull.
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Connor MacLeod is a Scot who should have died in 1536. But he belongs to a rare race of immortals that can only be killed when beheaded by a sword.”
What Did I Learn?: 1) Love is for poets. 2) Cops can’t read. 3) There can be only one!
Really?: 1) So, let me see if I get this straight…Ramirez (Sean Connery, who gets second-billing but doesn’t actually appear until about 45 minutes into the movie) has no idea how the immortals were created, or where they came from, but he knows everything about the gathering and the so-called prize. 2) Speaking of the prize, that’s it? Connor loses his immortality, and feels a oneness with all living creatures? How would the Kurgan have used that to enslave humanity? 3) I’m a little unclear about this whole immortality thing… I can understand Connor and others like him being impervious to drowning, stab wounds, falls, and such but what would happen if he were to be thrown into a wood-chipper, or if he found himself at Ground Zero during an atomic bomb explosion? How could he survive either of those gruesome deaths?
Rating: I hadn’t watched Highlander since the late 1980s, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. The film features some stylish sword-fighting action sequences and a highly imaginative story, and I quite liked the interplay between Connery and Lambert when they’re together in Scotland. On the other hand, the plot is predictable and chock full of holes, and Lambert isn’t the world’s greatest actor – at least not in English. 6/10 stars.

Panic (2000)

Synopsis: William H. Macy plays a sad-sack ordinary guy who runs afoul of organized crime….no, that’s the Synopsis for The Cooler. Um… likeable killer sees a shrink….no, that’s Analyze This. Badass son confronts not-so-nice father about his reluctance to work in the family business. Nope, that’s Return of the Jedi.
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “A story of family, lust, murder….and other midlife crises.” 
What Did I Learn?: Every man has a destiny. Life is not…random. 2) If you’re going to kill somebody, keep it fast-and-simple, don’t meet the victim’s eyes, just walk up, do the job and walk away. 3) The Billy Crystal/Gregory Hines action-comedy Running Scared didn’t leave much of an impression on moviegoers.
Really?: 1) So, Alex (Macy) is a professional assassin who lives a boring middle-class life lifestyle with a wife and a son (don’t these guys charge hundreds of thousands of dollars for a hit?), and he suddenly develops a conscience in his mid-40s? 2) I’m curious: why does Alex’s dad, Michael (Donald Sutherland) browbeat Alex into murdering his psychologist, even to the point of spilling the beans to Martha? Why doesn’t he do it himself? He clearly stalked Dr. Parks (John Ritter) to snap a photograph. 3) I had a bit of trouble believing that Sarah (Neve Campbell) would somehow fall for a somewhat-older man with a less-than-dynamic personality when she apparently spends most of her free time banging hot chicks. 4) How did Michael develop his unusual business? Who are his clients - and his victims? Has he or Alex ever run afoul of the law?  How do they take assignments? I think some of these details should have been fleshed out. 5) Wow…that is one precocious kid…
Rating: Panic is an interesting character-driven thriller (I’m not sure how else to describe this film) that features a fine performance from Macy, and a highly impressive cast, but somehow misses its mark. Panic has a few credibility issues (see: “Really?”) but it’s biggest problem is that it fails to adequately resolve a number of key relationships, and I’m not convinced that the one between Alex and Sarah is even necessary. 6.5/10 stars.

Worth Winning (1989)

Synopsis: Mark Harmon stars in a pointless, badly-written B-movie….sorry, that’s the Synopsis for Stealing Home. Um… narcissistic Pennsylvania weatherman must grow up if he wants to win the love of a cultured, sophisticated woman….no, that’s Groundhog Day. Charming operator solicits marriage proposals for personal gain….no, that’s Heartbreakers. Creepy weirdo who doesn't have to worry about money throws caution to the wind to pursue the woman of his dreams….no, that’s 10.
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “An engaging comedy about a bachelor and three near Mrs.” 
What Did I Learn?: Poetic justice doesn’t feel so good. 2) A hero should accomplish something. 3) A beautiful woman is one of the loneliest creatures on the face of the Earth. 4) Without suffering, you don’t grow. 5) There wouldn’t be great sex if we didn’t have awful sex.
Really?: 1) So, Taylor (Harmon) is so good-looking and charming that he can somehow date an attractive woman’s roommate and then manipulate her into apologizing to him for complaining about it? Or somehow get back into Veronica’s (Madeleine Stowe) good graces after a night of bad sex? I don’t think so. 2) At some point mid-way through the movie, Taylor casually asks Ned if he’s given any thought to his plan’s possible impact on other people, and neither of them seem terribly interested in providing an answer. Holy shit, Ned seriously bets his wife’s Picasso that Taylor can’t seduce three difficult women into accepting marriage proposals – and he does this to “help” his old buddy. How are we supposed to sympathize with either of these wackos? This is sick, sociopathic behavior. 3) Just curious: does Taylor still have a job after Veronica dumps him at the altar and he goes into a deep, blue funk for a month? 4) I’m pretty sure Taylor’s proposal to Elinore was just pillow talk, and how can Taylor allow Ned to interfere without scotching the wager? 5) Wow…Andrea Martin doesn’t have much of a part, does she?
Rating: Worth Winning is a lame, unfunny and deservedly-forgotten late-1980s rom com. Even the usually-likeable Harmon can’t bring any life to Worth Winning’s bad script, as his character is incredibly smug and shallow until sometime in the third act. I cannot recommend this movie. 4/10 stars.
Would it Work for a Bad Movie Night?: No, but take a drink any time you think Ned should lose his psychiatric licence. (The worst thing that happens to him is he upsets his wife and must apologize to her).

Sunday, August 25, 2019

You Can Count on Me (2000)

Synopsis: Loveable fuckup bonds with estranged, sexually-frustrated small-town sister and over-protected kid as lots of depressing cello music plays in the background.  
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "But when Terry's behaviour becomes disruptive, Sammy must finally confront the choices of the past... and make new ones as her family faces the future."
What Did I Learn?: “No comment” isn’t a very satisfying response if your son asks if you were a wild kid in your youth. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You're fascinated by Upstate New York. 
Really?: Overall, this movie is grounded in realism and highly believable, but I didn’t exactly buy the scene where Sammy offers to buy out Terry’s share of the home and he refuses. He hasn’t lived there in ages, he’s always short of money, and it seems like a highly illogical decision.
Rating: You Can Count on Me is an impressive character-driven drama that’s moving and strangely compelling, even though it doesn’t have much of a plot. Instead, this film features strong performances from Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo (Matthew Broderick, meanwhile, provides some nice comic relief as Sammy’s inept micromanaging boss), some great dialogue, and yes – a bit too much cello music for my taste. Highly recommended. 10/10 stars. 

Striking Distance (1993)

Synopsis: Bruce Willis portrays an alcoholic former homicide detective who attempts to solve a major case….oh wait, that’s the Synopsis for The Last Boy Scout, Hostage, 16 Blocks, Die Hard With a Vengeance….
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "They shouldn't have put him in the water. If they didn't want him to make waves." 
What Did I Learn?: There’s an old Italian saying: never scald your tongue on another man’s soup. There’s also an old Irish saying: never listen to old Italian sayings. 2) The Simpsons are on an hour earlier in California than in Pittsburgh. 3) Jimmy is the best cop.
You Might Like This Movie If: You understand the importance of being within striking distance. [These people are really, really stupid, by the way]

Really?: [Spoiler Alert] 1) So, Jimmy is the killer? WTF?!? How did he survive falling off that bridge, how does he support himself, and why did he start murdering women again after a two-year hiatus? (Come to think of it, why did he start in the first place?) I understand the ending was completely re-written when it tested poorly with audiences, so I have to assume this plot twist was created because people felt that making Danny the murderer was too obvious. 2) Take a drink any time Bruce Willis gets into a screaming match with Dennis Farina or Tom Sizemore. One screaming match is dramatic; 18 screaming matches is just tiresome.
Rating: Bruce Willis famously apologized for this film, saying in an interview that it “sucks.” I wouldn’t go quite that far – it’s fine for a night’s entertainment but it does have some major problems, including a script that’s riddled with clichés and a ridiculously implausible ending (see: “Really?”). Striking Distance features some impressive action sequences, including a top-notch car chase, so I’ll give it a barely-passing grade. 5.5/10 stars.

Volcano (1997)

Synopsis: It’s basically Earthquake…with lava! 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "The Coast is Toast."
What Did I Learn?: Kelly Roark’s dad (Tommy Lee Jones) beats lava. 2) Hieronymus Bosch is heavy because he dealt with man’s inclination towards sin, in defiance of God’s will. 3) Eighty concrete guard rails will NOT stop the flow of lava down Wilshire Boulevard! 
Really?: The entire premise of this film involves heroic attempts to direct the flow of lava through downtown Los Angeles, so I’m going to cut Volcano a bit of slack in this section. Still…. 1) Roark doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “magma?” 2) I had a bit of trouble believing these people could get that close to flowing lava, or that helicopters could fly when there’s so much volcanic ash in the air. 3) Wow….everyone is so heroic and self-sacrificing! I’m pretty sure that I was attempting to carry an injured employee off a stalled subway car and the soles of my shoes were starting to melt, I would drop the excess weight and start running, lickity-split. 4) Holy shit, Roark’s daughter is whiny and irritating…. 5) Wait, how do they know there aren’t other fissures around Los Angeles that will release even more lava? Why does everyone believe the crisis has been averted? 
Rating: As the Synopsis suggests, Volcano is essentially a 1990s reimagining of a cheesy 1970s disaster film. Jones does his best with the material (Anne Heche’s character, on the other hand, is a little too snippy to be terribly likeable), but the film’s special effects aren’t top-notch, and there isn’t much plot or character development. I cannot recommend this movie. 4.5/10 stars. 

Pronto (1997)

Synopsis: Ok, do you remember that bookmaker character Peter Falk played in Vig? Well, just imagine that guy as Walter Matthau’s character in Hopscotch, except he’s pursued in Italy by the ten-gallon hat-wearing lawman from Coogan’s Bluff, as well as incompetent mafia assassins rather than bumbling CIA goons. That pretty much sums up Pronto
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "A story about love, murder, and beating the odds." 
What Did I Learn?: Ezra Pound said some cryptic shit when he was asked straightforward questions. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You expect a task to be performed pronto
Really?: 1) I had a bit of trouble believing ‘the Zip’ would let Raylan go after murdering Harry’s pal Robert right in front of him. Holy shit, Raylan’s a witness to a murder, he iced one of the Zip’s henchmen, and it would have been super-easy to put a bullet in his head. 2) So, is Harry a whimsical and basically decent individual who just happens to work on the fringes of organized crime, or a cold-hearted and extremely selfish bastard? The script does a few U-turns with the development of Harry’s character, so this is never entirely clear. 3) See: “What Did I Learn?” Seriously, Harry’s fascination with Pound seems a tad contrived. 
Rating: Based upon an Elmore Leonard novel, Pronto is a rather slow-moving thriller that’s never entirely sure if it should place its focus on Raylan or on Harry, so I still don’t know who’s the actual protagonist. Still, I like Peter Falk, and Pronto more-or-less works as light fun. 7/10 stars. 

Turk 182 (1985)

Synopsis: Working class goofball repeatedly humiliates suspiciously tone-deaf mayor by somehow pulling off some really complicated and extremely difficult acts of vandalism. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "Who says you can't fight city hall?"
What Did I Learn?: 1) Jimmy’s brother Terry ain’t no drunk. 2) Apparently, it’s surprisingly easy to hack into the scoreboard display at Giants Stadium, sneak into the subway and stop a moving train, obtain sandblasters and other expensive tools, grease all of the lower girders on a major bridge, surreptitiously change the banner of a sky-writing service, etc…. 
Really?: 1) Hold on – we’re supposed to believe that upon hearing that Terry was denied his pension even though he saved a little girl and was injured on the job even though he was off-duty at the time, the Mayor would call him a drunk and personally insult Jimmy? No sane politician would do that. I’m calling Bullshit. 2) Um….was Paul Sorvino a big enough star in the mid-1980s that he was asked to do personal appearances at sporting events? 3) Wait… Terry’s firehouse nickname is “Turk” and his badge number is 182? I realize Terry spends much of the movie in the hospital (in an advertently funny-looking body cast, btw), but wouldn’t he, or one of his firehouse buddies put two and two together? 4) I’m curious: can Detective Ryan (Peter Boyle, best remembered as the dad from Everybody Loves Raymond) seriously get away with attempting to kill Jimmy (whose only crimes are public mischief and vandalism, remember), blasting an electric generator and pointing his gun at innocent civilians? That seems like excessive force to me. 5) Why does the Mayor look overjoyed as Jimmy pulls off his final stunt on the bridge? Don’t Robert Culp’s facial expressions destroy that scene’s credibility? 6) It’s funny how Terry and Jimmy both possess the ability to walk on their hands, and yet Jimmy never once uses that amazing skill. 7) See: “What Did I Learn”, #2. 
Rating: Turk 182 is a strange and long-forgotten film relic from the mid-1980s. While it features an impressive cast and a compelling climax, the tone of Turk 182 veers wildly between serious melodrama and screwball comedy, and its premise isn’t credible (see: “Synopsis,” “What Did I Learn?” and “Really?”). 4.5/10 stars. I cannot recommend this movie. 
Would it Work for a Bad Movie Night?: Maybe. Take a drink anytime you see the following set-up: Mayor gets ready to make a major announcement; Turk’s graffiti is revealed; reporters snap pictures; Mayor yells at Detective Ryan. 

Monday, August 5, 2019

Dead Heat (2002)

Synopsis: It’s basically two hours of Kiefer Sutherland lashing out at anyone who tries to help him out of his alcohol-driven pity-party, with some horse racing thrown in for good measure. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “All bets are off.” 
What Did I Learn?: If you’re ever thinking about getting into the horse-racing business, you would be well-advised to remember that it’s not such a hot idea to hire a jockey who has a gambling problem. 
Really?: How can Pally (Sutherland) punch out his ex-wife’s new boyfriend, and not wind up in jail? 2) Pally loses his badge when he suffers a heart attack pursuing a bad guy who runs off the police department’s buy money. I thought for sure he might encounter this thug during his dealings with Frank Finnegan and avenge this wrong, but it never happens. 3) Why are Sutherland and Anthony LaPaglia wearing dark suits and ties on the VHS box? I don’t remember any of them dressed in business attire at any point in this movie. 
Rating: I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by Dead Heat – Kiefer Sutherland’s last film before he starred in the television series 24. This low-budget film is a bit clichéd in place (how many times have we seen the unemployed-cop-gets-drunk-and-plays-with-his-firearm trope?) and slow to start, but it quickly picks up when Pally’s half-brother Ray (LaPaglia) enters the picture and involves him in a questionable venture. The film’s humour, and the buddy chemistry between LaPaglia and Sutherland elevate what might otherwise have been a humdrum crime drama. 8/10 stars. 

Last Rites (1988)

Synopsis: Personable priest protects pretty, powerless, perfidious putana. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “A streetwise priest defies the Mafia.” [Oops - I guess I neglected to remove a small yellow dot sticker from the jacket before I used the scanner]
What Did I Learn?: St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City is so dreadfully understaffed that it’s apparently extremely easy for a priest to hide an attractive woman inside the building for several days. 
Really?: 1) See: “What Did I Learn?” 2) Last Rites is chock full of plot holes and stunning leaps of logic. I can’t possibly list all of them, but here are a few that stood out: a) it’s not made clear that Michael (Berrenger) is related to Zena and Don Carlo until we’re well into the movie; b) it’s an incredible coinkydink that Angela (Daphne Zuniga) would confess her sins to him without knowing ahead of time that he’s related to the crime family that’s trying to put a bullet in her head; and c) I had trouble believing a priest – even one who knows he has an enemy who wants to kill him – could work with a hit-woman in order to arrange a murder.  
Rating: Roger Ebert called Last Rites the worst film of 1988; I wouldn’t go quite that far – I think the film features some nice cinematography, and I liked Berrenger’s earnest portrayal of a flawed priest who tries to do the right thing (on the other hand, Zuniga’s Mexican accent is atrocious – which is strange, considering her father hailed from Guatemala), but the script is so ridiculously contrived and downright unbelievable (see: “What Did I Learn?” and “Really?”) that I simply can’t recommend this movie. 3/10 stars. 
Would it Work for a Bad Movie Night?: No, but take a drink any time you’re pretty sure any of these people do something that’s wildly out of character. 

This is My Life (1992)

Synopsis: Hilarity ensues when self-centred comedienne abandons her precocious brats for weeks at a time. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Before the tour, before the talk shows, she was our mom.” 
What Did I Learn?: JD Salinger may or may not have a telephone, but everyone on the planet is nevertheless only two phone calls away from him. 
Really?: 1) Ok, I have to wonder…how does Erica have enough money to pay a private investigator to find her dad, and how can the dude take her case when she’s obviously a teenager? 2) Gee…Dan Aykroyd doesn’t have much of a part in this film, does he? When he isn’t staring at Dottie like a love-struck teenager, he takes a lot of undeserved abuse from Erica and never seems to react. 3) So, Aunt Harriet kicks the bucket, Dottie’s very first thought is to sell the beloved home she inherits (thereby displacing both of her daughters), and nobody seems to mind. 4) Erica’s and Opal’s journey to visit their estranged father is one of the better scenes in this film, but I had a great deal of trouble believing they wouldn’t simply call him first, or that they would seriously believe he would object to Dottie getting married again. 5) Gee…I guess Erica didn’t really like her goofy new boyfriend. Yet another unresolved subplot. 6) See: "You Might Like this Movie If."
Rating: This is My Life isn’t quite a bad movie – I liked Mathis’ performance, and it’s clear that writer/director Nora Ephron does her heartfelt best to address the conflict between Dottie’s ambition and her love for Opal and Erica, but it really falls flat, mostly because the script veers uneasily between treacly melodrama and a mediocre sitcom, and any time I heard Julie Kavner’s voice I immediately thought of Marge Simpson. Oh, and I have to deduct an entire half-star for an atrocious, fingernails-on-the-blackboard soundtrack from Carly Simon. 5.5/10 stars. 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Everybody Wins (1990)

Synopsis: Intrepid private investigator assists woman who claims there’s a massive conspiracy in a small town involving cops and elected officials, and NOTHING. EVER. HAPPENS. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Debra Winger and Nick Nolte sizzle in ‘Everybody Wins’, a fever-pitched mystery thriller about murder, conspiracy and seduction.” [To be honest, I’m more intrigued by the “diamond in the rough” sticker on box. I have a feeling somebody at Orion Home Video watched this film, realized it’s a complete turkey, and felt some sort of warning was in order]
What Did I Learn?: 1) According to Tom O’Toole (Nick Nolte), a ball-bearing company can’t have a homosexual vice president. 2) If you’re transporting a star witness to have his extremely valuable testimony deposed, don’t take separate vehicles. Just don’t. 
Really?: 1) See: “What Did I Learn?” #2. Seriously, did Jerry commit suicide, or was he completely out of his gourd when he drove his motorcycle into a head-on collision? When you realize the audience is given no indications that Jerry is/was suicidal, and he was in fact building a church for his motorcycle-driving buddies (don’t get me started on that!), this scene makes no sense. 2) THAT’s the ending!?!? An innocent Felix is released from prison, but the people who put him there face no punishment? Why does Judge Murdoch refrain from pursuing the case further? Is he on the take? How far does the conspiracy go? What is the extent of Angela’s (Debra Winger) insanity? Did Charlie rig the case against Felix because Jerry could blow the lid off the conspiracy, or to protect Angela?
Rating: I had read a few less-than-stellar reviews of Everybody Wins before I popped it into my still-functioning VHS player earlier this week, but even that didn’t prepare me for the sheer awfulness of this film. Nolte and Winger do their best with the material and deliver decent performances, but they’re stuck in a story that doesn’t go anywhere and doesn’t make a lot of sense. Everybody Wins presents itself as crime thriller, yet it’s strangely devoid of intrigue or suspense or even basic story development. I cannot recommend this movie. 3/10 stars 
Would it Work for a Bad Movie Night?: I doubt it, but take a drink any time Angela acts batshit crazy, or you firmly believe Tom should say “fuck this” and go back to working for insurance companies (i.e. earning paycheques). 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

In the Weeds (2000)

I could have used this for my tribute to Molly Ringwald in 2012. Please click the links to read my reviews of two other restaurant-related films: Dinner Rush and Big Night. 
Synopsis: Hilarity ensues when underachieving waiters in their early-30s deliver food to obnoxious customers.
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “More sexy comedy fun from Miramax Home Entertainment!” 

What Did I Learn?: If you haven’t hit the big time in the entertainment industry by your late 20s, and you’re still working a dead-end job to pay the bills, it’s time to make some major career decisions. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You know that waiting tables isn't easy. 
Really?: 1) I had a hard time believing the belligerent chef could somehow stay gainfully employed at this restaurant, considering he openly refers to Simon (the owner, played by Eric Bogosian) as a “pussy” and barely lifts a finger to ensure Simon’s meal with an investor goes off without a hitch. (And Simon somehow blames the wait staff, rather than the kitchen staff when his food is late?)  2) So, what is Chloe (Ringwald) actually doing with her life, aside from waiting tables and taking crap from Simon? I assume her claims of a giant inheritance were smack-talk for the table of divorced men. Why is the chef so nasty, and why is Becky banging him when she apparently has a boyfriend? Why is Simon such a jerk, and why is he trying to sell the restaurant? For a film that doesn’t have much of a plot, it’s strange that it introduces so many characters without ever bothering to develop them, and it doesn’t provide that much insight into the lives of the people we meet.
Rating: In the Weeds has a few credibility and character-development issues (see: “Really?”), but it’s otherwise an enjoyable, compelling and surprisingly endearing drama about  a group of people who really need some career guidance. 7/10 stars.