Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Scarface (1983)

Note: click here to read my September 24 review of Frankie and Johnny, also starring Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Synopsis: Ambitious, yet self-destructive gangster alienates loved ones, snorts a swimming pool of cocaine and introduces strangers to his “little friend”.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Al Pacino gives an unforgettable performance as Tony Montana, one of the most ruthless gangsters ever depicted on film, in this gripping crime epic inspired by the 1932 classic of the same title.”

What Did I Learn?: A grenade launcher is a handy item to keep in your study.

Really?: Tony doesn’t know where his right-hand man/best friend lives? Manny never had him over for drinks or a barbecue?

Rating: While Scarface is generally considered to be a classic, and it is a good movie, I must say that: a) it’s a bit too long, b) it’s tough to watch Tony’s downward spiral near the end, and c) the film’s political message about the folly of the war on drugs (usually presented through characters ridiculing talking heads on TV screens) is delivered about as subtly as a dumptruck crashing through a plate-glass window. 7.5/10 stars.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Donnie Brasco (1997)

Synopsis: 21 Jump Street infiltrates the mob!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “In the mid-1970s, FBI agent Joe Pistone infiltrated the violent Mafia underworld, getting closer to its inner circle than any US law officer ever had. This is based on his true story. Al Pacino and Johnny Depp deliver two of their greatest performances yet in this thoroughly engrossing, suspenseful tale of friendship, honour and betrayal.”

What Did I Learn?: If you’re in the Mafia, don’t EVER vouch for ANYONE.

Really?: 1) Lefty (Pacino) receives a fully-grown lion as a gag gift. Ok, that's kind of funny, but the crew later uses the lion to promote a club in Florida. How did they take care of a lion? 2) The FBI eventually informs the gangsters that Donnie is actually Joe. What purpose did that serve, except to get Lefty whacked, and tip off the bad guys that indictments are probably coming their way?

Rating: Donnie Brasco is a suspenseful police story and a fascinating inside look at the knockaround guys in the late 1970s mob (many of whom didn’t have two nickels to scrape together because there were just too many wiseguys). It’s also an engrossing human drama: by the end, Donnie/Joe is on the verge of a breakdown, his marriage is on the rocks, and he knows that if he walks away, Lefty will likely get whacked. It’s a good movie on many levels. 9/10 stars.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Carlito's Way (1993)

Synopsis: Reformed gangster finds more trouble than Gordon Ramsay inspecting a filthy kitchen.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Sprung from prison on a legal technicality by his cocaine-addled attorney (Sean Penn), former drug kingpin Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino) stuns the local underworld when he vows to go straight.”

What Did I Learn?: If you deliver a savage beating to an up-and-coming gangster, you pretty much have to kill him afterwards.

You Might Like This Movie If: You want to see Al Pacino star as a crime boss who thinks he’s out of the biz until...they pull him back in. (But you don’t want to sit through Godfather III again.)

Really?:  1) Nobody knows that Carlito was on the boat, yet the mob tracks him down, anyway. Even if he hadn’t agreed to do the job with his lawyer buddy, wouldn’t the same thing have happened? 2) Carlito visits his cokehead lawyer in the hospital after the mob tried to ice him? Sorry, but I think Carlito would have simply skipped town.

Rating: Brilliantly written and directed, Carlito’s Way boasts powerful performances from Pacino as a world-weary, yet surprisingly decent thug, and Penn as a coked-out lunatic. 9/10 stars.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Knockaround Guys (2001)

Synopsis: Silver-spoon scofflaws scare small-town simpletons, secure stolen scratch.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “When you’re in the mob, there’s no room for mistakes or feelings. Matty (Barry Pepper) finds this out the hard way when his crew loses a bag of cash in a remote town in the Midwest while trying to live up to his move boss father’s aspirations.”

What Did I Learn?: After participating in 500 street fights, you may legitimately call yourself a “tough guy”.

Really?: Maybe Diesel’s character is hopped up on the ‘roids, but why, exactly would he smash his own video game machines when the local proprietor refuses to pay him his cut? I mean, Diesel beats him up, anyway, so why destroy the revenue-generator?

Rating: Knockaround Guys is a fun gangland comedy. 7.5/10 stars.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Crew (2000)

Synopsis: Broke ex-gangsters stage fake murders because...oh, who cares? I certainly didn't.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Loaded with laughs, The Crew features Academy Award winner Richard Dreyfuss (Mr. Holland’s Opus) and Burt Reynolds (Mystery, Alaska) in a sidesplitting story about a set of golden-year goodfellas fighting to protect their last piece of turf!”

What Did I Learn?: South American drug lords are bad news, but 1960s-era wiseguys all have hearts of gold.

Really?: Oh wow...where do I begin? 1) The Crew is a film about four ex-gangsters who are now broke and soon to be evicted; wouldn’t any of them still be involved in the local crime scene and earning some decent money? 2) They’re supposed to be hardened killers, but none of them can bring themselves to shoot a corpse. 3) Wouldn’t the cops know that the so-called murder victim had already been dead for some time? 4) Was it really a good idea to get Richard Dreyfus to narrate this movie in a cheesy Brooklyn Italian accent? I couldn't stop myself from comparing it to Stand By Me.

Rating: Dreyfus, Reynolds, Dan Hedaya and Seymour Cassel all do their best, but they just can’t make this film work. If you’re thinking about watching The Crew, um...fuhgeddaboudit. 4/10 stars.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Freshman (1990)

Synopsis: It’s Ferris Bueller meets The Godfather. No, really...

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Marlon Brando triumphs in his first starring role in ten years as Carmine Sabatini, a powerful New York importer. Matthew Broderick co-stars as Clark Kellogg, a naive film student who accepts a job working for Sabatini.”

What Did I Learn?: Smoked turkey and Hawaiian tiger fish make a nice substitution for komodo dragon meat.

You Might Like This Movie If: You’ve always wanted to see Matthew Broderick chase a giant lizard around the Woodbine Mall in Etobicoke.

Really?:  1) Sure – I realize there are plenty of weirdos with more money than common sense out there, and there’s a huge market for tiger penises and other dubious ‘health’ foods, but would anyone really pay $200,000 to eat an endangered species, just for the heck of it? 2) Clark seems like an awfully good sport throughout most of the film, especially when he’s informed that he will soon by marrying Sabatini’s daughter.

Rating: The Freshman is a bit slow in places, and it’s not really that funny, but it is rather charming to see Brando spoof his most famous character. Oh – and Paul Benedict (best remembered as Mr. Bentley on The Jeffersons) has a nice role as an insane film professor. It's a shame that this film fell down the memory hole. 7/10 stars.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Analyze This (1999)

(Yes, that is a price sticker over the lamp – it didn’t want to peel off the VHS jacket)

Synopsis: Robert De Niro blubbers, Billy Crystal complains a lot, and Lisa Kudrow stands around looking pretty.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “A mobster’s going a little wacky. His shrink’s afraid of getting whacked. What kind of mental health advice to you give a guy who solves his problems with guns and a sack of cement?”

What Did I Learn?: Nothing sets the mood for “Italian-American gangster movie” quite like four over-used Louis Prima songs.

Really?: The mob boss is a sobbing wreck, so his minions send a nerdy psychiatrist in his place to a meeting of the major mafia families? Come on...

Rating: Analyze This has a few funny moments (Crystal and De Niro enjoy a decent rapport, and it’s mildly amusing when the hardened gangsters just don’t understand psychobabble), but on the whole, it’s a run-of-the-mill, paint-by-numbers Harold Ramis comedy. I don’t think I’ll be reviewing Analyze That. 6/10 stars.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Goodfellas (1990)

Synopsis: Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) enjoys a meteoric rise through the Mafia until one bad day when he starts seeing helicopters...

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “You have to see it to believe it – then watch it again. Goodfellas explores the criminal life like no other movie.”

What Did I Learn?: If a ‘made’ guy decides to bust your balls a little during his I’m-out-of-jail party, maybe you should just shrug it off and find another bar.

Really?: 1) Why don’t the other wiseguys involved in the Lufthansa heist either leave town or whack Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) when he starts to bump everybody off? 2) Considering Paulie (Paul Sorvino) gave Henry a stern warning against selling drugs, and Henry faced maybe 25 years in the slammer for dealing, why does Paulie give Henry $3,200 out of his own pocket? Why doesn’t he just have him whacked?

Rating: Goodfellas is a character-driven masterpiece with many strong performances. 10/10 stars.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Night and the City (1992)

Synopsis: Bottom-feeding, ambulance-chasing lawyer falls even further down the food chain when he tries his hand at being a boxing promoter.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Buy 5 and get the unreleased 1950 version free!” [yup –that’s all there is, besides a few positive reviews]

What Did I Learn?: Regis Philbin doesn’t like it much when total strangers approach him as he’s eating.

You Might Like This Movie If: You love both Robert De Niro and boxing, but you don’t want to watch Raging Bull.

Really?: 1) It's awfully convenient that De Niro’s adversary in the film (Alan King) can usually be found dining in De Niro’s neighbourhood bar/restaurant. 2) Jessica Lange is suspiciously forgiving after she gives her boyfriend $5000 to buy a liquor license and he brings home a forgery.

Rating: Jessica Lange is sexy, Alan King is menacing, and De Niro gives a tour-de-force performance as a sleazy lawyer trying hard to keep it all together. Night and the City is a good movie, but it becomes obvious mid-way through that our increasingly unlikeable hero is on his way towards an epic fail. The film is a little tough to watch from that point on. 7/10 stars.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Casino (1995)

Synopsis: ‘Ace’ casino manager bets on the wrong philly as little buddy generates more unwanted heat than a small intestine filled with jalapenos.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “In an era of over-the-top glitz, Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein (Robert De Niro) is riding high as front man for the Mob’s multi-billion dollar Las Vegas operation. To protect their ‘investment’, the bosses send in Ace’s boyhood pal, hot-headed Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci). It’s a winning hand: Ace’s brain and Nicky’s muscle – until sexy wild card Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone) turns up the heat.”

What Did I Learn?: Placing somebody’s head in a vise – and getting an eye to pop out of its socket – is a more effective means of extracting information than poking a man’s testicles with an icepick.

Really?: Ace knows that Ginger is a money-hungry call girl; she tells him she doesn’t love him, and discourages the idea of getting married. Instead of um...listening, he cajoles her into marriage anyway, and even gives her sole access to a safety deposit box filled with money and jewels. Yeah – way to play all the angles, Mr. ‘Ace’ bookmaker.

Rating: Casino is a fun look at a bygone era. De Niro, Pesci, Sharon Stone and James Woods (this blog’s favourite bad dude) offer top-notch performances, even if they’re all playing greedy, violent and manipulative characters. 8/10 stars.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Trees Lounge (1996)

Synopsis: Sad sack slugs spirits, swigs suds, squanders soul.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “All Tommy wants from life is what everyone else has – a job, a girl, a good time. But the harder he tries, the worse things get. And the more time he spends at TREES LOUNGE, his Long Island neighbourhood bar, the more involved he gets with the lives of the colourful characters he meets there.”

What Did I Learn?: 17-year old girls are trouble.

You Might Like This Movie If: You enjoy snappy barroom banter.

Really?: Buscemi’s character desperately needs a job, and he’s mad at his former boss for stealing his wife; the boss fired him for stealing $1500 from the till one night. Considering the boss actually buys him a beer at one point, I have to think the two of them could theoretically sit down and work something out – even just an employment reference.

Rating: Trees Lounge is a sometimes-funny, sometimes-insightful, character-driven drama, and Steve Buscemi is loveably sleazy. 8.5/10 stars.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Once Upon a Crime (1992)

Synopsis: It's laughs galore when rich, old lady gets dismembered and innocent - albeit obnoxious - tourists take the fall.  

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “What do you get when you combine a compulsive gambler, four bumbling American tourists, a $5000 pup and dead body? ‘Inspired lunacy!’ answers Village View, praising this fast-paced laugh-fest starring Cybill Shepherd, John Candy, James Belushi, Sean Young and Richard Lewis.”

What Did I Learn?: If your betting-crazy husband assures you he isn’t going to gamble your trip money in the casino, you can be pretty sure he’s going to gamble your trip money in the casino.

You Might Like This Movie If: You would watch anything featuring John Candy.

Really?: 1) Did John Candy’s character have an accent? He seemed to slip in and out of using one throughout the film. 2) There are six people on the VHS jacket, and only 5 names - didn't Ornella Muti deserve a credit?

Rating: Once Upon a Crime is a sort-of funny mystery/comedy. An old lady gets murdered, and instead of coming clean with the cops, innocent people decide they’re better off concocting pathetic lies which don’t last very long. Candy is hilarious, while Richard Lewis delivers some nice deadpan lines; the only weak link is Belushi and Shepherd... the first time she elbows him in the face, it’s mildly amusing. The fifteenth time, not so much. 7/10 stars.  

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Uncle Buck (1989)

Synopsis: Loveable oaf prevents unwanted teen pregnancy.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Uncle Buck is the last person you’d think of to watch the kids. But with a little luck and a lot of love, he manages to surprise everyone in this heartwarming family comedy.”

What Did I Learn?: Nobody appreciates a drunk clown.

Really?: 1) Wouldn’t Buck face charges of kidnapping, assault, and maybe a few other offences after he tied up Bug, forcibly confined him in the trunk of his car, and then fired golf balls at his head? 2) If you dropped a rare decorative plate on the floor and it failed to shatter, would you really hit it against the corner of a table to see if it was unbreakable?

Rating: Uncle Buck might be John Candy’s best movie. Even two decades later, it’s still rather charming, and some of the exchanges between Buck and Bug (the sleazy high school student who wants to sleep with Buck’s niece) are just priceless. 8/10 stars.

The Best of John Candy on SCTV (1992)

Synopsis: Big laughs from a big guy.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Get ready for non-stop John Candy in this hilarious collection of classic moments from the brilliant SCTV series... If you like Candy – and who doesn’t – you’ll crack up with The Best of John Candy on SCTV!”

What Did I Learn?: SCTV was much more hit-and-miss than I remember it. Some of the skits were indeed rather funny, although it often seemed as though the sketch comics tried a little too hard.

You Might Like This Movie If: You’ve always wanted to watch a Soviet-themed King of Kensington spoof.

Really?: Quite a few of the skits on this tape featured Candy as part of an ensemble. Couldn’t they have included more from Mayor Tommy Shanks, or a few of Johnny LaRue’s restaurant reviews, for instance?

Rating: While it was indeed wonderful to see the late, great John Candy in action once again, this tape left a lot to be desired. Many of the skits included are hacked to pieces. The tape is only 62 minutes long, and it was obvious that WIC wanted to pack it with as many wacky characters as possible, instead of showcasing Candy’s funniest work. 6.5/10 stars.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Reality Bites (1994)

Synopsis: Bright Young Thing is torn between brooding slacker and high-powered douchebag.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket:Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke and Ben Stiller (directing his first feature film) star in this wildly funny romantic comedy that looks at life, love and the pursuit of gainful employment through the eyes of a generation sandwiched somewhere between The Brady Bunch and Melrose Place!”

What Did I Learn?: If you sell your documentary film to the “In Your Face” network (essentially a knockoff of MTV), there’s a pretty good chance they’re going to selectively edit it into a piece of exploitive trash.

Really?: I had a little trouble believing that Ryder, who plays a college valedictorian with a $400/week job in TV, would date a pot-smoking idiot with a chip on his shoulder, or hang out with a bunch of slackers. It’s also funny when she’s offered a job at the GAP, given her later problems with the long arm of the law.

Rating: Reality Bites is an interesting companion movie to Singles (I shudder to think how these two films have defined Generation X to the world, by the way), but is probably best viewed as a time capsule of the early/mid-1990s. It’s an enjoyable movie, but it needed a re-write; for a valedictorian, Ryder’s character is a mess, Hawke is just a surly loser, and everyone over the age of 30 is some sort of selfish twit. Watch for John Mahoney (best known as Fraser’s dad) as an obnoxious TV host, and David Spade as a fast food manager. 6.5/10 stars.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cartoons Go To War (1995)

Synopsis: American artists join the war effort against racist, violent, hyper-nationalistic enemies by pumping out, um...racist, violent, and hyper-nationalistic cartoons.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “On the eve of the Second World War, as patriotic men and women across the nation were lining up to do their part in the fight against fascism, the US Signal Corps inducted some unlikely civilians: a rabbit and two ducks.”

What Did I Learn?: Cartoon animators wear some truly hideous shirts.

You Might Like This Movie If: Deep down, you know that cartoons can also be used to convey positive messages. [Oops – this is the real PSA]

Rating: Cartoons Go To War is a 50-minute A&E documentary look at the men and women who produced wartime propaganda classics such as Private Snafu, Mr. Hook and Der Fuehrer’s Face. Interesting stuff. 7/10 stars.

[No listing]

Dinner With Friends (2001)

Synopsis: Foodie couple hosts dinner party, close friend drops emotional turd in the punchbowl.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “When a close friend leaves his wife for another woman, whose side do you take? Is he deserting his family? Has she been sabotaging their relationship all these years? Life can be funny; but not as funny, frustrating or unexpected as simply having DINNER WITH FRIENDS.”

What Did I Learn?: 1) Apparently, a family of four can afford a beautiful home and a cottage in Martha’s Vineyard(!!) by writing freelance articles for Gourmet magazine. 2) Polenta can be substituted for white flour when you bake an almond cake.

You Might Like This Movie If: You enjoy watching dinner parties.

Really?: 1) Near the beginning, Toni Collette breaks into tears during a dinner party and informs her best friends that her husband is having an affair, and the marriage is on the rocks. Instead of ‘checking on the kids’, or beating a hasty retreat, Dennis Quaid continues to sit at the kitchen table with the ladies and even makes a blowjob joke. 2) Toni reveals that Dennis told her husband not to marry her in the first place; since the movie provides flashbacks of 12 years earlier, couldn’t they have filmed that exchange, and provided some context for the remarks?

Rating: Dinner With Friends is an intelligent, character-driven look at infidelity, and its effect on long-standing friendships. My big complaint would be that the characters didn’t sound ‘real’ – the movie is based upon a successful play, and it seemed overly wordy at times; I kept thinking: “that’s not how real people talk”. 7/10 stars.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mulholland Falls (1996)

Synopsis: Nick Nolte beats up people and growls a lot. [Oh wait – that could describe a lot of Nick Nolte films]

Blurb From the VHS Jacket:This isn't America, this is Los Angeles[Taken from only blurb on the VHS jacket is a review, along with: “$12 million Box Office Hit, 54 Day PPV Window”]

What Did I Learn?: If a military officer ever asks you to take a ride in an airplane that doesn’t have a door – DON’T.

Really?: Oh wow, where to begin? 1) Nolte’s character savagely roughs up three FBI agents and a couple of military police officers and gets away with it. 2) Ok, I realize the Hat Squad’s job is to kick the crap out of gangsters from other parts of the US and run them out of town, but is it really a good idea to do that sort of thing in a crowded restaurant filled with potential witnesses? Why not wait until the guy is finished his meal and jump him in the parking lot?

Rating: Mulholland Falls is an enjoyable film noir, set in late 1940s/early 1950s Los Angeles. The main problem I had is that it’s tough to sympathize with Nolte and his crew; as members of the infamous Hat Squad, they trampled the Bill of Rights and they’re the good guys in this movie! 7/10 stars.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Three For the Road (1987)

Synopsis: Charlie Sheen takes a drive in the country with Ferris Bueller’s uptight buddy and an underage wild child. WINNING!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “[Charlie] Sheen is an aspiring politician; Sheen’s roommate, a budding poet. The two must escort a Senator’s outrageously misbehaved daughter to a reform institution. All three have nothing in common – but a knack for finding trouble... THE COMEDY OF THE YEAR, WITH THE HOTTEST STAR OF THE YEAR.”

What Did I Learn?: If you park a stolen Porsche in an auto junkyard, right next to some precariously-stacked wrecks, there’s a really good chance it will never be the same again.

Really?: 1) Ok, here’s the situation...Sheen and Ruck have their car stolen (along with their wallets and clothes, but that’s a separate robbery), so they in turn steal a Porsche. When Charlie finds the car he’s legally allowed to drive, he continues to drive the Porsche, anyway. WTF? 2) Sheen’s character is 21 in this film, yet he falls for Kerri Green, whose age is never disclosed, but it’s suggested she’s still a teeny-bopper. Did anything think this was a little creepy? Or that the Senator gave Sheen a pair of handcuffs to use if his daughter gets out of control?

Rating: Three For the Road is a mess; for starters, I had trouble with the basic casting... who could  believe that Alan Ruck would entertain the ladies all night long as Charlie Sheen(!!) totally ignores a wild party in order to finish a position paper for some slimy Senator? Things go downhill from there. 3/10 stars.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Singles (1992)

Synopsis: Grungy Seattle 20-somethings experience the pleasures and pains of romance as they take in lots and lots of Alice in Chains and Soundgarden.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Romance in the ‘90s is where you find it. But what do you do to make it happen in today’s hilarious mixed-up Singles world?”

What Did I Learn?: The TV show “Friends” was a total rip-off of this movie.

Really?: Let me see...there’s the environmental activist who owns a 1970s gas guzzler and says: “I love my car”; the rocker with more jobs than Grover, and who never seems to  smoke a joint; and the coffee shop waitress who has the money for boob enhancement surgery as she’s struggling to pay off her student loans.

Rating: Singles is an enjoyable stroll down Memory Lane (funny how the future seemed much more limitless back then, but maybe I’m just getting older), but the characters - and dating itself - are timeless. 7.5/10 stars.

Bellman and True (1987)

Synopsis: Boozy brainiac burgles bank, busts brigands, babysits boy.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “When gangland thugs kidnap his beloved stepson, an alcoholic British computer genius (Bernard Hill) is forced to aid the criminals in a dangerous and complex bank heist”

What Did I Learn?: Even hardened bank robbers enjoy singing “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”

You Might Like This Movie If: You love British bank robberies.

Really?: 1) waving your arms like an idiot near an airport runway probably won’t prompt an ascending plane to pick you up. 2) One of the bank robbers is crushed in an elevator shaft, screams bloody murder, and the guards don’t seem to notice.

Rating: Bellman and True is a slow-moving, but enjoyable little low-budget British heist drama. 7/10 stars.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Longest Day (1962, colourized version)

Synopsis: It’s like Saving Private Ryan, except...nobody’s scared.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket:The Longest Day is a vivid, hour-by-hour recreation of this historic event [D-Day]. Featuring a stellar international cast, and told from the perspectives on both sides, it is a fascinating look at the massive preparations, mistakes, and random events that determined the outcome of one of the biggest battles in history.”

What Did I Learn?: John Wayne is capable of walking on a broken foot if you lace up his boots really tight because he’s the Duke, damn it!

You Might Like This Movie If: You think every good war movie needs a few laughs.

Really?: While I’m sure I would welcome the Allied invasion if I were a Frenchman living under German occupation, I really don’t think I’d be jumping up and down with joy as the naval bombardment destroys my lovely home on the coast.

Rating: it’s tough to rate The Longest Day because the movie is clearly a product of its time, and tastes have changed since the early 1960s. Sure, the film won a couple of Oscars, it boasts an all-star cast, and a lot of time, money and effort went into making it. Unfortunately, after viewing The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan, I had trouble taking The Longest Day seriously (especially when John Wayne swaggers around like a buffoon). Leaving aside the graphic violence of TTRL and SPR, both films portrayed ordinary soldiers realistically: scared absolutely out of their minds. In this film, front-line grunts are either gung-ho excited about going into battle, or they’re focused on crap games and impressing the dames when they hit Paris. Even worse, dialogue frequently descends into patriotic editorializing. 6.5/10 stars.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Bridge Too Far (1977)

Synopsis: Epic retelling of an epic fail.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “An epic retelling of World War II’s most tragic blunder, a Bridge Too Far meticulously depicts the ambitious plan which resulted in more Allied casualties than the entire Normandy landing.”

What Did I Learn?: When you’re surrounded by the Germans, your radios don’t work, the Jeeps you need haven’t arrived, and the lunatics from a nearby asylum are laughing at your misfortunes, a nice cup of tea can’t hurt.

You Might Like This Movie If: You drank Crystal Pepsi, drove a Ford Pinto, and always wanted a pair of Bad Idea Jeans.

Really?: 1) Gene Hackman does a terrible Polish accent. 2) The opening narration claims that Hitler was winning the war and controlled most of Europe until the D-Day invasion; considering the Germans were losing big-time on the eastern front, and the Soviets inflicted something along the lines of 90% of German casualties, that claim seems a bit misleading.  

Rating: A Bridge Too Far is the story of Operation Market Garden: an ill-conceived scheme to drop thousands of Allied paratroopers behind enemy lines in the Netherlands and hold three important bridges. The all-star cast is first rate, and you have to love the scene when James Caan orders an overworked surgeon (at gunpoint!) to save the life of his wounded comrade. My only complaint would be that I expected the film to show what happened after the disaster (who covered their asses, who got into trouble, how did the rivalry between Monty and Patton play out, etc....) and it didn’t provide any follow-up. 8/10 stars.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Thin Red Line (1998)

Synopsis: Extremely self-aware American GIs reflect on life’s big questions as they open a can of whoop-ass during the Battle for Guadalcanal.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “A powerful frontline cast – including George Clooney, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte and Woody Harrelson – explodes into action in this hauntingly realistic view of military and moral chaos in the Pacific during World War II.”

What Did I Learn?: If your commanding officer tells you: “we’re in this together”, he’s probably full of shit and just wants to make a name for himself.

Really?: I had a little trouble believing eight different soldiers would each provide strikingly similar-sounding, stream-of-consciousness voice-overs, such as: “We were a family. How'd it break up and come apart, so that now we're turned against each other? Each standing in the other's light. How'd we lose that good that was given us? Let it slip away. Scattered it, careless. What's keepin' us from reaching out, touching the glory?”

Rating: Originally nearly 6 hours long, The Thin Red Line was cut down to 170 minutes (which explains why George Clooney appears for maybe 5 minutes right at the end. He shows up, explains the war isn’t about to end by Christmas, and then...the movie is pretty much over). It’s a good film that's marred by too many characters spouting the same psychobabble. 7/10 stars.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Please note: the tone of Schuster at the Movies is meant to be light-hearted and fun. With Remembrance Day just around the corner, I want to make it clear that while this blog may critically assess, and even poke some good-natured fun at WWII classics such as The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far and Saving Private Ryan, none of my reviews are intended to disrespect either our veterans or the sacrifices they made on our behalf.
Synopsis: Tom Hanks finds that touring the French countryside is vastly overrated.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Internationally acclaimed by critics and audiences alike, Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan is an unforgettable film achievement that has had profound and lasting impact throughout the world.”

What Did I Learn?: American soliders enjoy listening to Edith Piaf songs as they await a big battle.

You Might Like This Movie If: Deep down, you know that Rangers Lead the Way.

Really?: Considering they were low on ammo, and their mission was to save Private Ryan, I’m still not sure why Tom Hanks’ character decided to take out that machine gun nest and risk further casualties.

Rating: Saving Private Ryan is a brilliantly-made film achievement and well worth viewing. That said, the violence depicted is extremely realistic and bloody – it’s not a movie for kids. 9/10 stars.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Empire of the Sun (1987)

Synopsis: Precocious British lad goes away to camp...for a long time.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Steven Spielberg’s first film as a director since The Color Purple is an inspiring, action-packed epic of a small boy in a great way. That boy is Jim Graham, a young Briton whose unconquerable spirit soars high and free above the harsh confines of a Japanese internment camp.”

What Did I Learn?: Japanese Air Force sentries don’t like it much when POWs attempt to hug the combat aircraft they’re guarding.

Really?: I had a little trouble believing Graham (Christian Bale) would still idolize the Japanese Air Force after four years in a hellhole, or that his fellow survivors would appreciate him carrying around a toy Zero airplane.

Rating: Visually stunning, Empire of the Sun is a masterpiece. My only complaint would be a few scenes that were cringe-inducing (Graham watching an older British couple having sex, or Graham applying CPR to a dead Japanese soldier he had befriended as he repeats: “I can bring everyone back!”) and went on far too long. 9/10 stars.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Train (1964)

Synopsis: Pissed-off Burt Lancaster choo-choo-chooses to railroad art-crazy Colonel.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Burt Lancaster (Birdman of Alcatraz) stars in this action-packed, WWII thriller about a French railway inspector whose low-key Resistance efforts become vitally urgent when the Nazis try to steal a trainload of France’s most treasured paintings, and it’s up to him to stop the train.”

What Did I Learn?: Waving your arms is not an effective means of communicating “we’re on the same side” to a British Spitfire pilot as he’s machine-gunning your train.

You Might Like This Movie If: You loved this music video.

Really?: 1) Kinda funny how everyone in this movie has either a French or German accent...except Burt Lancaster. 2) How did the Resistance come up with all that fake signage on short notice? 3) This movie was made in 1964 – couldn’t John Frankenhemier have used colour film?

Rating: The Train is a suspenseful (albeit long – 2 hours and 13 minutes!) WWII thriller. 7.5/10 stars.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Windtalkers (2002)

Synopsis: Inspiring story of how Caucasian and Navajo Marines set aside their racial prejudices in order to work together, build life-long friendships,  and... um...mutually hate the Japanese.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “In the brutal World War II Battle of Saipan, Sargeant Joe Enders (Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage) guards – and ultimately befriends – Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach), a young Navajo trained in the one wartime code never broken by the enemy, the Navajo Code.”

What Did I Learn?: Knowing only one word of Japanese, a Navajo Marine can put on a captured uniform (without any blood stains, of course) and pose as an enemy soldier without prompting any suspicions.

Really?: Aren’t Cage and most of the other cast members a little old to be playing front-line Marines? And do radio operators really see that much action? I also had a little trouble believing that Enders could just help himself and get hammered on a cache of captured Japanese rice wine when they’re in a combat zone.

Rating: Windtalkers is formulaic, flat and forgettable. 5/10 stars.