Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979)

Synopsis: Michael Caine makes yet another cinematic turd for a big paycheque, Example #18

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “More danger. More survivors. More secrets. Just go beyond.”

What Did I Learn?: It’s hard to swim to safety when you’re carrying a priceless bottle of champagne.

Really?: 1) Why in the world would Telly Savalas and his henchmen all wear white suits to a salvage operation, and why don’t any of them get even the slightest smudge on their clothing when they’re surrounded by dirty water, soot, and other debris? 2) Wait – the good guys and the villains are firing machine guns at each other while there’s an oil drum full of plutonium sitting in the middle of the room? WTF? 3) Um… shouldn’t Svevo’s (Savalas) henchmen be a little concerned, considering he killed Suzanne because she was the only other person besides him who knew about the plutonium, and then he blurts out the information to everyone else? 4) Why doesn’t Svevo kill Mike Turner (Caine) and crew from the get-go, rather than go through the elaborate charade of pretending to be a rescue ship? 5) For a Han Solo-ish mercenary tug boat captain, Turner is surprisingly concerned about the safety of every involved, and surprisingly blasé about losing so much gold during the adventure. 6) Um…I can’t imagine it would be terribly easy to remove an oil drum of plutonium from a rapidly-sinking cruise ship. 7) There’s working SCUBA gear on the Poseidon? Hey, that’s convenient.

Rating: Beyond the Poseidon Adventure is pure, 1970s disaster movie cheese. The plot and dialogue are cringe-inducing in places (Peter Doyle plays a character that’s a blatant rip-off of Ernest Borgnine’s from the original, while Slim Pickens is a guy named “Tex” for crying out loud!), but Caine and Sally Field enjoy some off-beat chemistry and Savalas is a pretty cool villain. Beyond the Poseidon Adventure is a borderline bad movie, but it’s enjoyable if you put your brain on pause. 5.5/10 stars.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

Synopsis: Best Love Boat episode, EVER!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “One of the most gripping disaster films of all time follows ten survivors as they struggle to escape from an ocean liner capsized by a tidal wave.”

What Did I Learn?: 1) If disaster strikes, don’t even think about listening to the authority figure who advises you to stay where you are – he’ll only get you killed. 2) Precocious children have all the answers.

Really?: 1) It’s amazing just how many people are willing to lay down their lives and die when they get a wee bit tired from so much running and climbing. 2) Holy shit – how many times do we have to hear that awful “morning after” song? 3) Why does Rogo (Ernest Borgnine) feel the need to give Reverend Scott (Hackman) such a hard time, and why does everyone defer to him when Scott isn’t around?

Rating: The Poseidon Adventure isn’t a great movie by any stretch of the imagination – the script is clichéd, and loaded with terrible dialogue, but it boasts an impressive cast (Gene Hackman is especially quite good) and it’s a fun waste of a couple of hours. The Poseidon Adventure was made for rainy Sunday afternoons. 6.5/10 stars.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Rumble Fish (1983)

Synopsis: Incredibly bone-headed gangbanger and super-cool older bro annoy the local constabulary.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Starring teen heartthrobs Matt Dillon and Mickey Rourke as two brothers whose desire to break out of their urban trap eventually leads to death for one and a new beginning for the other.” [“Teen heartthrobs”? Mickey Rourke was about 30 when this movie was made!]

What Did I Learn?: 1) Gangs were a lot of fun up until heroin appeared on the scene. 2) Reality is momentarily altered when you stare into an aquarium.

Really?: 1) Take a drink every time somebody says the words: “Rusty James”. Holy shit, it gets irritating after awhile… 2) So, why does Rusty James hang out with uber-nerd Steve (Vincent Spano)? I don’t quite understand that friendship. 3) So wait – Rusty James is challenged to a rumble, and he doesn’t bring a switchblade along?

Rating: Francis Ford Coppola once described Rumble Fish as an art film for teenagers, and that’s not a bad description. Filmed in black and white (except for brief scenes of Siamese fighting fish, which appear in blue and red), the cinematography makes the most out of light and shadow. There are a number of good performances in Rumble Fish, but wow…Rusty James is just an idiot, the story never goes anywhere, and a number of issues are never resolved. I can see what Coppola tried to do with this film – it’s edgy, experimental and very creative, but it doesn’t quite work. 6.5/10 stars.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Atlantic City (1980)

Atlantic City Movie Double-Feature! Movie #2

Synopsis: Social-climbing ingénue and delusional old fart find happiness together by…um…selling a fortune in cocaine?!?

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The people and the story are magnetic; the background is the city of dreams that almost came true. Atlantic City is revitalized as a resort when gambling is legalized. But the new industry also brings unsettling changes. For Lou (Burt Lancaster), 40 years a bodyguard-boyfriend to aging beauty queen Grace (Kate Reid), his numbers running sideline escalates to mob involvement. A drug-related slaying leaves him with a small fortune, a new car and a new girl, Sally (Susan Sarandon), who is the perfect completion of his fantasy.”

What Did I Learn?: If you stumble across a nice, big bag of uncut cocaine in Philadelphia, DON’T attempt to sell it in Atlantic City.

You Might Like This Movie If: You can’t get enough of Robert Goulet’s cameo appearances.

Really?: I realize Lou is a bit nostalgic, and delusional about his past importance but come on – would anyone honestly claim the Atlantic Ocean was more impressive a few decades earlier? 2) I had a bit of trouble believing Sally would sleep with Lou, not once but twice. It’s possible, given the circumstances, but highly unlikely. 3) Robert Goulet’s cameo appearance as himself is pretty cool, but it feels a wee bit tacked-on. 4) If a chick informs you that her skuzzy boyfriend is really a great guy because he’s been reincarnated a bunch of times, and she doesn’t use seatbelts because she doesn’t believe in gravity, there’s a pretty good chance she’s a flake. 5) Ok, you’ve just iced a couple of Philly hoods. Is it a good idea to steal their car and take a long joy-ride?

Rating: Atlantic City is a gritty portrayal of small-time hoods in a city that had clearly seen better days (Atlantic City was on the cusp of getting re-developed as this movie was being made, and we even get to see a couple of old hotels getting pulled). For a movie that deals in gangsters and drug rip-offs, Atlantic City is strangely character-driven, and Burt Lancaster is fantastic as Lou. Since the film was partly-filmed in Montreal, look for a few Canucks, including Louis “Seeing Things” Del Grande. Highly recommended. 10/10 stars.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The King of Marvin Gardens (1972)

Atlantic City Movie Double-Feature! Movie #1

Synopsis: It’s like a long, fucked-up game of Monopoly where everyone’s crazy and nobody has any cash.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "Two years after his star-making success in Five Easy Pieces, Jack Nicholson reunited with director Bob Rafelson for this gritty story of small-time losers and big-time dreamers in Atlantic City"

What Did I Learn?: If a local hood is agreeing to your terms because you’re pointing a gun in his face, for the love of God, don’t hand it over to him!

Really?: I’m still not entirely sure why Jason asks David to join him in Atlantic City in the first place. It’s not as though he has any money, or connections, or street-smarts, or anything. 2) See What Did I Learn? 3) If a couple of gangsters showed up unannounced in my hotel room, my first thoughts would be: “I’m getting the fuck out of town”, not “I think I’ll take this revolver and attempt to speak to their boss.”

Rating: The King of Marvin Gardens is a strange, nearly-forgotten gem from the early 1970s. Jack Nicholson is the protagonist, yet his character is oddly introverted and depressive, and he plays second fiddle to his bullshit artist brother, Jason (Bruce Dern). Some of it works, and some of it doesn’t (I still don’t know what to make of a simulated Miss America pageant scene), and the plot meanders a bit too much for my taste. That said, Nicholson, Dern and Ellen Burstyn all deliver top-notch performances, and the film begins with one of the most compelling monologues I’ve ever heard. 8.5/10 stars.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Saturday Night Fever (1977)

(Believe it or not: the disco in this movie is named “2001 Odyssey”).

Synopsis: Disco-dancing douchebag digs dishy dame, directs dunces, develops decency.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “John Travolta gives a sensual and intelligent performance as a local disco kingpin at the peak of his popularity.... the disco dance sequence and the Bee Gees’ music make the film an accurate and absorbing barometer for the seventies’ generation.”

What Did I Learn?: 1) The Pope does not provide special dispensations if you wish to obtain an abortion. 2) According to Tony’s boss: “You can't fuck the future. The future fucks you! It catches up with you and it fucks you if you ain't planned for it!” 3) Tall bridges are not appropriate venues for boisterous horseplay. 4) According to Tony, early in life, girls have to decide if they wish to be good girls or “cunts”. 5) It’s hard to pick up chicks when you’re carrying a can of paint.

You Might Like This Movie If: You want to experience the scene that gave birth to this scene and this scene.

Really?: 1) I had a bit of a hard time believing Stephanie would have anything to do with Tony, let alone go to White Castle with Tony and his knuckleheaded crew. I had a very hard time believing she would open the door to her apartment for him after that incident in the car. 2) So wait, Tony’s plan to win the big dance contest is to move around the floor reeeeeeeeeeally slooooooooowly as he and Stephanie stare into each other’s eyes? 3) Ok, I can understand Tony’s buddies taking turns having sex in the backseat of Bobby C’s car, but I can’t imagine very many guys – or their girls – doing so with the rest of the gang sitting in the front seat! Were teenagers not into privacy in the 1970s?

Rating: When people think of Saturday Night Fever, they usually remember John Travolta dancing in a white leisure suit. While that’s certainly a big part of this film, it also contains two rape scenes, domestic violence, a whole lot of racial epithets, and a teen suicide! On the whole, Saturday Night Fever is a very good film that balances the comic and the tragic with a lot of great music and some impressive dance sequences. The movie’s one weakness is that the protagonist is an unlikeable asshole, and it’s not so easy to relate to him. 8.5/10 stars.

Friday, January 18, 2013

2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)

Synopsis: It’s all your favourite characters from 2001: A Space Odyssey without all of that annoying wonder, mystery or Kubrick’s artsy-fartsy camera work.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The imposing chords of Strauss’s ‘Thus Spake Zarathrustra’ herald a major film event as the space odyssey from 2001 continues.”

What Did I Learn?: 1) Io is a pretty violent moon – even for Jupiter! 2) US Presidents always invoke Lincoln before they get America into any deep-shit trouble.

Really?: 1) Um....this movie is set 9 years after the first film, so where’s all the futuristic shit on Earth? Come to think of it, why does 2010 look so much like the 1980s, complete with grey three-piece suits? 2) So, HAL malfunctioned because he was given badly-written instructions? WTF? 3) Um, isn’t the name “Chandra” actually Indian? Why is Bob Balaban playing this character? 4) The US and the USSR are on the brink of nuclear war in 2010 – hey, good call Arthur C. Clarke! 5) Wait – could our solar system handle another sun where Jupiter used to be? Would Earth become a whole lot hotter? Would the other planets get thrown off their orbits and possible crash into each other? 6) Dana Elcar (best remembered as Pete Thornton on MacGyver) delivers once of the absolute worst Russian accents I’ve ever heard. 7) Not once in 2001: A Space Odyssey did David Bowman utter the words: “My God, it’s full of Stars!”

Rating: 2010: The Year We Make Contact bears almost no resemblance to 2001: A Space Odyssey. HAL, David Bowman, and Dr. Heywood Floyd (now the protagonist, and played by Roy Scheider) all return, but 2010 is very much a 1980s, Hollywood-produced film with a shorter running time, an easy-to-follow script where everything is spelled out for the audience, and a Cold-War inspired theme, complete with obvious shots at the Reagan administration. 2010: The Year We Make Contact is a good, but far from great science fiction picture that suffers from an obvious problem: people who love the original will likely hate the sequel, but you really need to watch 2001 in order to understand what’s going on in 2010. Watch it and forget it – that’s what I did. 7/10 stars.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Synopsis: Astronaut on the hunt for alien granite countertops matches wits with homicidal-yet-incredibly-laid back computer.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “2001 is a spectacular movie that grows even more wondrous with each viewing. Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece has awesome scope, touching the limits of interplanetary space and penetrating man’s inner destiny.”

What Did I Learn?: Strauss’ Blue Danube can become surprisingly irritating if it’s played for a long time.

Really?: 1) Um…why exactly does HAL go all O.J. on the crew, and what does that have to do with finding monoliths? 2) So, early humans looked exactly like…gorillas? 3) Did HAL really believe Dave was going to buy his “I’ll be good” bullshit after he murdered the entire crew? Couldn’t HAL have made a deal along the lines of “leave me a alone or I’ll empty the ship of oxygen”?

Rating: 2001: A Space Odyssey is widely considered to be a science fiction classic – even one of the best films ever made – but I have to admit that I have very mixed feelings about it. The HAL-goes-bananas sub-plot is unrelated to the main storyline, and holy crap – I realize Stanley Kubrick had a big special effects budget, but did he really think audiences enjoyed watching spaceships gliding along for minutes at a time? 2001: A Space Odyssey is incredibly imaginative and thought-provoking, and it was huge influence on any number of later movies and television shows, but it’s also pretentious, dull for entire stretches, and far too long. 7/10 stars.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Days of Thunder (1990)

Driving Really Fast Movie #3

Synopsis: According to Roger Ebert, it’s basically Cocktail, Top Gun, The Color of Money, or nearly any late 1980s/early 1990s Tom Cruise movie on wheels.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “From the engine roar and fever pitch of professional stock car racing, Days of Thunder explodes with the most spectacular action ever captured on film.”

What Did I Learn?: Apparently, tires melt easily at high speeds, so you should never, ever drive a race car terribly fast.

Really?: 1) So Tim’s (Randy Quaid) a great, wait – he’s a money-grubbing, he’s a sweet, loveable good old boy who lends a rival racing team the engine they desperately need. 2) Before he served in the Senate, I guess Fred Dalton Thompson never tired of playing grumpy old fart authority figures. 3) Tom Cruise plays a dude named “Cole”, and yet not one character ever makes a cole slaw joke. 4) I can’t believe Steve Kmetko of KCBS-TV gave this film four stars.

Rating: Days of Thunder is incredibly formulaic (see Synopsis), and a bit juvenile at times, but Robert Duvall gives a great performance as the grizzled old crew chief, and the film offers some decent crashes, so I'll give it a bare recommendation. Meh. 5.5/10 stars.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Le Mans (1971)

Driving Really Fast Movie #2

Synopsis: It’s 106 minutes of Steve McQueen driving around in circles. (Seriously, that’s basically it)

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Forty-five international racing stars join STEVE McQUEEN in this gritty, nerve-shattering recreation of the toughest car race on earth – Le Mans. Returning to France to compete a year after he’s been injured, an American driver (McQUEEN) finds himself drawn to the widow of a racer who was killed in the same accident.”

What Did I Learn?: At some point, a movie pretty much requires character development, dialogue and a plot.

You Might Like This Movie If: You’ve always wanted to see this made into a full-length feature film.

Really?: 1) Considering Lisa’s husband died in the previous year’s race, and she doesn’t understand why these macho idiots risk their lives to drive faster than anyone else, I’m not entirely sure why she’s in this movie, except to provide McQueen with a love interest. 2) Gee…that’s an awfully long commentary/public broadcast from the announcer about the rules of Le Mans. Would anyone in the bleachers actually be able to follow something that detailed?

Rating: Le Mans might be considered an experiment in minimalist filmmaking. There isn’t much of a story, and the first 37 minutes contain no audible dialogue from any of the characters! That said, Le Mans isn’t really a bad movie. The film’s near-documentary style is oddly compelling, and – unlike Driven – there aren’t any bad performances, or cringe-inducing lines. Save it for a rainy Sunday afternoon. 6/10 stars.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Driven (2001)

Driving Really Fast Movie #1

Synopsis: It’s Stallone’s greatest cinematic masterpiece since Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The on-track excitement and off-track romantic pursuits of race-car drivers from the revved-up heart of Driven, a breathless action drama of speed and spectacle starring and written by Sylvester Stallone.”

What Did I Learn?: Words you should never say to a hot-tempered woman: “what do you want to do, hit me?”

You Might Like This Movie If: You know, deep down, that Stallone would never, ever make a bad movie.

Really?: 1) So, Joe and Jimmy take a 200mph joy-ride through the streets of Chicago, and we never even hear any sirens in the background when they finally stop to chat? And neither man has to face criminal charges for reckless driving? 2) I can’t imagine very many magazines would send a reporter to multiple expensive locations around the globe just to do a piece on “male dominance in auto racing.” 3) So, Bo Brandenburg isn’t such a bad guy? If that’s the case, then why exactly should the audience give a shit if Jimmy Bly wins or loses the big race? 4)  If you’re driving in a big race and notice that a buddy driver is out of commission thanks to a nasty accident, your best course of action is to do a U-Turn on a busy racetrack and drive towards him!

Rating: Driven? More like Drivel. Written by, and starring the legendary Sylvester Stallone, Driven is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. If the film suffered simply from a formulaic plot, Driven might have at least achieved some form of mediocrity. Alas, Stallone’s turkey combines sub-standard CGI special effects with atrocious dialogue and several bad performances; Gina Gershon is wasted as Joe’s harpy ex-wife, while some of the scenes between Estella Warren and Til Schweiger are so awful they’re simply cringe-inducing. Driven is all flash and no substance, and I cannot recommend this movie. 2/10 stars.

Would it Work For a BAD MOVIE NIGHT?: I doubt it.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Best and Worst (2012)


            The Best Films I Reviewed in 2012 (10/10 stars, in no particular order):

            1) Waking Life
15) Lone Star
Honourable Mention (all 9/10 stars, in no particular order):
22) Ed Wood
The Worst Movies I Reviewed in 2012 (in no particular order):
21) Tuff Turf
Please click the link to read the best and worst of 2011.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Brooklyn State of Mind (1998)

Synopsis: Tony Danza takes on the local mob and soon discovers: he ain’t the boss!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Family First. Friends Second. The Mob Above All.”  

What Did I Learn?: According to Tony Danza, if you don’t notice a woman’s breasts, “she ain’t got any”.

You Might Like This Movie If: You feel the need to watch every movie and PSA Danny Aiello ever did.

Really?: 1) So wait – Al points a gun at a wounded Danny Parente, and then gets him to confess to several murders while secretly videotaping him? Um...I’m not exactly Ben Matlock, but I’m pretty sure that’s inadmissible evidence. 2) Why would a mafia boss agree to a sit-down interview from a documentary filmmaker, only to blow her off once she starts asking tough questions? 3) It’s funny how there’s so much anti-black racism among the Italian-American characters, yet the words: “moulie”, and “moulignon” are never used.

Rating: Danny Aiello delivers a good performance in A Brooklyn State of Mind, but the script is incredibly predictable, and derivative of so many similar films. Moreover, nothing really happens for long stretches of the movie, and the protagonist, Al (Vincent Spano) isn’t particularly likeable. A Brooklyn State of Mind isn’t quite a bad movie, but it’s far from great. 5.5/10 stars.