Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What Just Happened (2008)

Robert De Niro Film Fest Movie #10 (Dang – it looks like I’m going to have to continue the De Niro film fest into October. Oh well - I've been busy with freelance work, which is good)
Synopsis: It’s a bit like an extra-long episode of Entourage without the 25-year old knuckleheads... or The Player without the murder-mystery. 

Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Based on the acclaimed, best-selling memoir by veteran Hollywood producer Art Linson and directed by Academy Award winning Barry Levinson, What Just Happened follows Ben (Robert De Niro), a producer desperately trying to save his two films from falling apart while managing the chaos of two marriages that already have.” 

Really?: I realize that Jeremy Brunell (Michael Wincott) is a frustrated artist with a  volcanic temper, but I have to think that revising the ending to his movie at the last minute, and without telling the studio, would be a career-limiting move. 

Rating: What Just Happened is an enjoyable and intelligent black satire that features a very impressive cast. That said, for a comedy, the laughs are somewhat hit-or-miss, the film never really breaks any new ground (see: "Synopsis"), and it isn’t terribly memorable. 7/10 stars.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

"New York, New York" (1977)

Robert De Niro Film Fest Movie #9 

Synopsis: Start spreading the neeeeeeeeeeews… this marriage is dooooooooooomed!!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Academy Award winners Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro team up as Francine Evans and Jimmy Doyle in this splashy, flashy musical spectacle celebrating the glorious days of The Big Band Era in The Big Apple. Fall in love with them and the romantic nostalgia of post-war Manhattan, a time and place of wonder and promise.” 

What Did I Learn?: If you’re getting hassled about an expensive – and far overdue – hotel bill, you can always buy some time with the front desk clerk by faking a war-related injury. 2) Ladies, if your boyfriend drags you out of the apartment on a freezing winter night, bangs on a Judge’s door and demands he performs a marriage ceremony on the spot without informing you about it first, dump him – he’s trouble. 

You Might Like This Movie If: you think naming a song "New York, New York" is an innovative, creative idea that...oh wait.
Really?: 1) See: “What Did I Learn?”, 2) You know, the average guy in a nightclub move on to other chicks when a woman gives him a rude brush-off. I had a bit of trouble believing Jimmy would invest that much time and effort in Francine when it’s VJ Day, and the place is crawling with attractive women. 

Rating: I wanted to like New York New York more than I did. The film has a lot of great musical numbers (including the title track made famous by Frank Sinatra), but at 155 minutes, it’s far too long, the story never really goes anywhere (she’s a flaky singer, he’s an asshole saxophone player…they love each other, but hate each other too, blah blah blah….), and De Niro’s Doyle becomes really unlikeable in the Second Act. I’m giving it a passing grade, but barely. 5.5/10 stars.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Stanley and Iris (1990)

Robert De Niro Film Fest Movie #8

Synopsis: She taught him how to read; he taught her how to love. Yup, it’s a TV Movie-of-the-Week produced with big-name stars. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Stanley Cox (Robert De Niro) is a shy, hard-working man who can neither read nor write. His co-worker, Iris King (Jae Fonda), is a struggling single mom whose sudden loss of her husband has left her alone, frightened, and emotionally paralyzed.”

What Did I Learn?: Back in 1990, there were still job opportunities in manufacturing for Americans without a high school diploma. 

You Might Like This Movie If: you're glad you Can Read this blog.
Really?: 1) Hold on, Iris’ sister Sharon, and her physically-abusive husband live in Iris’ home, and they never get to meet Stanley. Come to think of it, that entire sub-plot is dropped mid-way through the movie, and the other sub-plot about Iris' daughter getting pregnant only gets partially-developed. 2) Stanley tells Iris the reason he can’t read or write is that his father was a travelling salesman, and he had to keep changing schools. Ok, but wouldn’t his Dad take an interest in Stanley’s education? Wouldn’t it become glaringly obvious at some point during their relationship that Stanley is illiterate? 3) I’m not sure I believe Stanley could create sophisticate Rube-Goldberg-style machines without some formal training in electricity, physics, drafting, etc… 4) I realize Stanley is overjoyed by his newly-acquired ability to read, but shouting out the text of various books in the public library isn't cool.

Rating: Stanley and Iris is a nice little film that fails to transcends its After-School Special script, and never really goes anywhere. The leads do their best with the material (although Fonda looks far too fit and trim to play a middle-aged factory worker), but it’s all pretty forgettable and dull. 6/10 stars.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Untouchables (1987)

Robert De Niro Film Fest Movie #7

Synopsis: Nanny-state pencil-pusher and assorted government thugs persecute hard-working Italian-American entrepreneur, criminalize casual drinkers. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The critics and public agree. Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables is a must-see masterpiece – a glorious fierce, larger-than-life depiction of the mob warlord who ruled Prohibition-era Chicago… and the law enforcer who vowed to bring him down.” 

What Did I Learn?: If you’re ever at a business banquet, and your boss pulls out a baseball bat in order to make a point about teamwork, start running. 

Really?: 1) You know, I’m pretty sure Canada didn’t have a national Prohibition in 1930, so why would the Mounties assist Ness in that scene on the border? 2) Hold on – Capone’s lawyer decides on his own – and completely against his client’s wishes to change the official plea to “guilty” 3) You know – killing a cop is a great way to earn the eternal enmity of the local constabulary. Imagine my surprise when I learned the real-life Capone never did that. 

Rating: The Untouchables certainly isn’t a bad movie, but I’ve always felt that it’s highly over-rated. The film has great production values and lots of authentic props and scenery, but no outstanding performances (both Kevin Costner’s Ness and Sean Connery’s Malone are a tad smug for my taste) and a weak script. Moreover, The Untouchables is a bit too long, De Niro’s brief scenes as Al Capone seem tacked-on and don’t really add anything, and it’s difficult to sympathize with the heroes’ overall mission (see: “Synopsis”). 6.5/10 stars.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The King of Comedy (1982)

Robert De Niro Film Fest Movie #6

Synopsis: Crappy, creepy, crazy comedian kidnaps Carson clone, contents crackpot co-conspirator. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis and Sandra Bernhard light up the screen in this unforgettable film by Martin Scorsese. A funny thing happens to talk show host Jerry Langford (Lewis) on his way to the studio…. Kidnapped by stand-up comedian Rupert Pupkin (De Niro) and his wacky sidekick (Bernhard), Langford is forced to give Pupkin a shot at the big time by allowing the struggling comic to perform his routine on Langford’s show.” 

What Did I Learn?: 1) “The more scribbled the name, the bigger the fame.” 2) “You don't just walk on to a network show without experience.” 3) Um…. Kidnapping pays off in the end, apparently. 


Really?: So, Jerry has at least two homes, a zillion dollars, and… no wife/girlfriend/bimbos? He lives completely alone, except for a few servants in the weekend estate? Come to think of it, wouldn’t a guy like that travel with a bodyguard, at least when he’s out on the street? 

Rating: The King of Comedy isn’t my favourite film by any stretch, but it holds the unique distinction of being the only Jerry Lewis film I can tolerate (and to be fair to Lewis, he delivers an outstanding performance as a very world-weary talk show host). It’s obviously a follow-up to Taxi Driver in the sense that both movies chronicle an unstable man’s descent into madness, but KoC doesn’t have the raw power of Scorsese’s earlier film, and it seems to lurch from one awkward scene to the next. 7/10 stars.