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.