Thursday, February 28, 2019

Free Enterprise (1998)

Synopsis: Loveable dorks approaching the big 3-OH make the startling realization that William Shatner is a bit of a whackjob
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “FREE ENTERPRISE changed the way fans saw William Shatner and themselves in a performance since called a comic masterpiece.” 
What Did I Learn?: It’s not a great idea to wear a Starfleet uniform on your first day of high school. 
Really?: 1) Apparently, it’s really easy to bang hot model-actress chicks in Hollywood when you’re flat broke, carless and always discussing Star Trek in casual conversation. 2) I realize Mark and Sean consider Robert to be a good friend, but I had a hard time believing they would lend him so much dough knowing he has no means of repaying them, and doesn’t seem all that eager to get his career back on track. 3) Ok, Shatner’s idea of producing, and starring in a musical version of Julius Caesar is pretty wacky, but wouldn’t he have an extensive network of people in the entertainment industry? Why would he humour Mark and Robert when it’s obvious neither of them have any influence? 
Rating: Free Enterprise is the sort of film I’ve always enjoyed: character-and-dialogue-driven comedy-dramas that provide some insight into the human condition and don’t take themselves too seriously. On the whole, Free Enterprise is an entertaining, often-funny and cleverly-written low-budget film, and Shatner is hilarious when he pokes fun at his action hero image - you also have to like his unique take on Shakespeare. Unfortunately, some of the humour falls flat, Mark and Robert aren’t terribly likeable, and long stretches pass between Shatner’s appearances. 8/10 stars.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Star Trek (2009)

Please click the link to read my review of Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Synopsis: Hollywood attempts to revive ailing billion-dollar franchise by rebooting once-popular 40-year-old TV series. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “The future begins in JJ Abrams’ smash hit STAR TREK.” 
What Did I Learn?: Apparently, they’re still listening to the Beastie Boys and selling gasoline to power 1960/1970s lead sleds in the 23rd Century. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You're a die-hard Trekkie
Really?: Wow….where do I begin? Ok, here goes… 1) What’s “red matter”? How does it work? Why does it create black holes? And how exactly would Spock save Romulus by transforming its supernova sun into a black hole? 2) So, wait – Nero is pissed at Spock because he tried to prevent the disaster and failed? And instead of…I don’t know….warning contemporary Romulans that their sun will go nova in 130 years, he waits around in space for 25 years to exact revenge upon the guy who tried to save his planet, and everyone connected to him? 3) I had a hard time believing Spock would load Kirk into a pod and jettison him towards a nearby planet (wouldn’t the brig suffice?). I had an even harder time believing he would somehow run into future Spock and Scotty within a few hours of landing on the surface. 4) Spock advises himself to put aside logic and do what feels right? That doesn’t sound like Spock. 5) Take a drink any time Kirk hangs precariously and looks as though he’s about to fall to his death. 6) Hold on – aside from Captain Pike, why is the Federation’s flagship vessel crewed entirely by early 20-something cadets, and why would Pike appoint Kirk First Officer? And how in the world does Kirk bypass the ranks of Ensign, Lieutenant, Lt-Commander and Commander to officially become Captain of the Enterprise at the end? 7) What was the point of Scotty transporting into the Enterprise’s plumbing system? And he’s appointed to the role of Chief Engineer soon after beaming aboard? 8) Nero’s ship is a mining vessel, right? Why does it resemble a giant porcupine, and why is it armed to the teeth? 9) See: “What Did I Learn?”
Rating: A friend from high school assured me several years ago that I would like this movie; he was wrong. Star Trek is ok as a popcorn flick (which is why I’m giving this a barely-passing grade), but it has some credibility problems (see: “What Did I Learn?” and “Really?”), its characters bear little resemblance to their namesakes on the television series (Scotty is bumbling comic relief? Kirk is a reckless, authority-challenging asshole? The Vulcans take a “whatevs” approach to logic?), the fast-paced intercutting is difficult to follow, and the whole thing just struck me as a cynical cash-grab (see: “Synopsis”). 5.5/10 stars.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)

Synopsis: Bruce Campbell opens a can of whoop-ass on evil undead….no, that’s the synopsis for Army of Darkness. Um…. Ossie Davis humours an elderly, and possibly delusional buddy on an ill-advised adventure…no, that’s I’m Not Rappaport. Ok, the King of Rock-and-Roll abandons his identity, poses as a regular Joe, and goes on a mission to help others….no, that’s Finding Graceland.
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Mud Creek, Texas, is about to get all shook up.” 
What Did I Learn?: If you have a bad hip and generally get around with the aid of a walker, it’s probably not a great idea to attempt a karate move. 
Really?: This movie asks us to believe Elvis switched identities with an impersonator and somehow wound up in a fleabag East Texas nursing home, his best friend is an elderly black guy who thinks he’s JFK, and the two of them are forced to forced to fight a 3,000-year old Egyptian mummy who feeds on the souls of the living. I don’t know where to begin. 
Rating: Bubba Ho-Tep is one weird movie: part horror, part black comedy, and part character-driven drama about the fears of growing old and importance of feeling needed. I can’t call BHT a great film, but it spins a good yarn, and cult actor Campbell finds the right balance between noble and pathetic in his portrayal of Elvis. Check it out if you get a chance. 8/10 stars.

Protecting the King (2007)

Please click the links to read my reviews of two other Elvis-themed movies: 3000 Miles to Graceland, and Finding Graceland. 
Synopsis: Violent, coke-snorting philanderer is paid big money to protect another violent, pill-popping philanderer….who can sing. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Sex, drugs and violence - they’re all part of the job when you’re working for the King of Rock & Roll.” 
What Did I Learn?: If you’re ever arrested for statutory rape, your best defence is to immediately leave the state is soon as you’re released because the entire matter will be immediately dropped and forgotten. 
Really?: 1) So, where’s Priscilla? Where’s Colonel Tom Parker? Why doesn’t anyone address, or refer to Elvis by name? Why just “the King?” 2) Let’s see….David beats a man senseless, snorts a whole lot of cocaine, gets caught by the police with an under-aged girl in a hotel room and then flees the state (see: “Really?”), and the worst thing that happens to him is that his marriage breaks up? And we’re supposed to feel sorry for him? 3) Wow….David is awfully wise, and strangely attuned to subtle nuances for a 16-year old. 
Rating: Protecting the King left me feeling disappointed. Based upon the recollections of Presley’s real-life stepbrother, D. Edward Stanley, the film is strangely devoid of any insights into “the King,” and the the protagonist is far too thick-headed and unlikeable to be terribly sympathetic. I cannot recommend this movie. 4.5/10 stars. 
Would it Work for a Bad Movie Night?: I doubt it, but take a drink any time David decides he isn’t going to take any shit from someone and reacts badly.

Jerry Maguire (1996)

Synopsis: Show me the overacting! 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “But with the help of one loyal colleague and one outrageous client, JERRY MAGUIRE learns that loving well is the best revenge.” 
What Did I Learn?: The human head weighs eight pounds. 3) Kwan means love, respect, community and dollars. 4) A real man wouldn’t shoplift the pootie from a single mom. 5) We live in a cynical world. 
Really?: 1) So, wait – Jerry gets fired, and he’s somehow allowed to stay in his office for a good length of time in order to call his clients and ask them to leave the company? Wouldn’t he most likely get barred at the door, or escorted out by security guards?  2) How many times a week does that divorced women’s group meet, and why are they always camped out in Anne-Louise’s living room? 3) Let’s see…. There’s the hockey player who’s had several concussions and his son is really worried about him…. Rod’s brother, who is obviously jealous of Rod’s success…. Jerry’s ex, Avery, who is probably insane…. The nanny who loves jazz music… just how many minor characters and subplots does this movie introduce and then fail to develop? 4) Do Dicky Fox’s short monologues really add anything? They’re not particularly funny, and they don’t provide any insights into the strange world of professional sports agency. 
Rating: Jerry Maguire is a nice romantic comedy that could have been better with some recasting and a tighter script (see: #3 of “Really”). The film delivers a number of great lines and some genuinely funny scenes, and I was particularly impressed by Rene Zellweger and Cuba Gooding Jr; the latter somehow manages to make Rod obnoxious, yet still strangely likeable, which is no easy feat. The biggest problem I have with Jerry Maguire (aside from a number of unnecessary scenes that pad out the running time to two hours and nineteen minutes!) Is Cruise himself - he wildly overacts in nearly every scene (see: “Synopsis”) and doesn’t seem to understand that sometimes less is more. 7.5/10 stars.

The Iceman (2012)

This would have been great for my tribute to gangster movies in 2011
Synopsis: Violent psychopath ices (literally!) other bad people. And we’re expected to give a shit.  
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Loving husband. Devoted father. Ruthless killer.” 
What Did I Learn?: If you’re ever tempted to kill somebody, throw the corpse into a freezer for a few months before giving it the old dumperoo – the Medical Examiner will have no idea when the time or date of death took place. 2) John Ventimiglia (best remembered as Artie Bucco from The Sopranos) is a shitty dancer. 
Really?: I realize The Iceman was based upon a true story, but I had a bit of trouble believing Bob “Mr. Freezy” Pronge (Chris Evans) would accept Richard (Michael Shannon) as a literal partner-in-crime after the latter fired a pistol at point-blank range in his face and threatened his life. 2) So, the New York mob hires Richard to do a hit, and then refuses to pay him? Hey, that’s a great idea. 
Rating: I have to give The Iceman a bit of a mixed review; Michael Shannon delivers a convincing performance at Richard Kuklinski, and he shares a number of great scenes with Winona Ryder as his strangely-oblivious wife and Ray Liota. Set mostly in the 1960s and 1970s, the film is noteworthy for its attention to period authenticity. Kuklinski’s story is certainly compelling, but The Iceman doesn’t really work as a biopic – there’s no noticeable narrative, and the audience isn’t given much insight into why he turned into a monster, aside from surviving childhood abuse. 6.5/10 stars.

Monday, February 4, 2019

American Sniper (2014)

Synopsis: US Marine sniper becomes increasingly detached from reality during violent tour of duty in Iraq…sorry, that’s the Synopsis for Jarhead
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Chris Kyle’s (Bradley Cooper) mission is to protect his brothers in arms while being a prime target of insurgents.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) There are three types of people in the world: sheep, wolves and sheep dogs. 2) The key distinction between Texans and rednecks is that the former ride horses, while the latter ride their cousins. 3) You can only circle the flames so long. 4) Iraqi dirt tastes like dog shit.
Really?: So, does Chris (Bradley Cooper) have an opinion on the Iraq war? Ok, he’s a “sheepdog”, and he sees his role as killing bad people, and I’m sure he killed some legitimately evil people, but it’s strange how he doesn’t really his own PTSD, and never once questions the wisdom of invading Iraq or asks if the larger goals were worth the lives of so many of his colleagues. 
Rating: Directed by Clint Eastwood, American Sniper provides a compelling, but very limited look at the life of a young man with a strong sense of mission. The film works best when Chris Kyle is in Iraq and on the trail of a rival Iraqi sniper, and it gets awkward when he’s back in Texas and uncommunicative towards his long-suffering wife. It’s a good film that could have been better with a bit more analysis of the larger picture. 7.5/10 stars.