Thursday, March 31, 2016

The End of Violence (1997)

Salute to Surveillance Movie #3

Synopsis: After the first hour, I started referring to this movie as The End of My Fucking Patience.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "Someone is watching the crime-ridden streets of Los Angeles. Suddenly, nothing is private, nothing is secret and no one can hide. Is this the end of violence.... or just the beginning?"

What Did I Learn?: If you're going to make a thriller, it's a really good idea to make it fast-moving, tightly-plotted, and told from the perspective of a likeable (or at least relateable) protagonist. Think Foul Play, or The Long Good Friday, or North by Northwest, not Paris, Texas!


Really?: 1) So, who exactly kidnapped Mike Max, and who rescued him? If it was the government, why did they use a couple of incompetent assassins, and why would Mike's wife hold him at gunpoint when he visits their house? If it was Mike's wife, doesn't that really undercut the whole government conspiracy angle? 2) Mike leaves the scene of the crime, and yet the cops somehow know he was kidnapped and got away from his captors? What? 3), Um, what was the point of the barroom brawl, or any of that awful, pretentious poetry?

Rating: I really wanted to like The End of Violence; Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas is a legitimate masterpiece, and it's hard to go wrong with a cast that includes Bill Pullman, Andie MacDowell and one of my favourites, Gabriel Byrne. Oh, but The End of Violence goes very, very wrong. For starters, it's a suspense-thriller that moves at a snail's pace; there's a lot of great cinematography, but very little character or plot development. Moreover, Wenders tries to make a number of points about the right to privacy, movie violence begetting real violence, etc..., yet they simply get lost in the shuffle of a slow-moving, badly-written, and incoherent mess. I cannot recommend this movie. 3/10 stars. 

Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: No, but take a drink every time you find yourself asking: "why am I watching this?" 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Tape (2001)

Salute to Surveillance Movie #2

Synopsis: Pretentious douchebag and narcissistic man-child reunite over beer, cocaine, and vague memories of a possible date rape.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: After 10 years apart, three disparate people come together to play out the unresolved drama of their final days in high school. As years of denial slowly peel away, each is provoked into revealing their true nature."

What Did I Learn?: If an old buddy mysteriously asks you to verbally recount a time when you might have broken the law, say nothing and leave - he's wired for sound. Oh wait, I think I already learned that from Wall Street and Donnie Brasco.


Really?: 1) See: "What Did I Learn?" Seriously, there's no way Jon would have stuck around for a whole lot of abusive, and incredibly intrusive questioning. 2) I also had a hard time believing Vince and Jon would still be friends, especially considering it's painfully obvious they have nothing in common and can barely stand each other's company. 3) So wait, Amy assures Jon that he didn't rape her a decade earlier, and Jon's response is to insist that he did? Who in their right mind would do that?!

Rating: As a fan of Richard Linklater's work (Waking Life, Dazed and Confused and A Scanner, Darkly are all magnificent films), I had high hopes for Tape. Unfortunately, Linklater really missed the mark when he adapted Stephen Belber's stage play. The characters (especially Ethan Hawke's Vince) are completely unlikeable, and I simply didn't believe the premise of the story, or that any of the characters would behave the way they do (see: "Really?"). I cannot recommend this movie. 3/10 stars.

Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Possibly. Put yourself in Jon's situation, and then take a drink every time you're pretty sure you would simply get up and leave Vince's fleabag hotel room rather than subject yourself to more abuse.

Timecode (2000)

Salute to Surveillance Movie #1 (Please click the links to read my reviews of some other surveillance-themed movies: The Conversation, and A Scanner, Darkly) 

Synopsis: Ever wanted to watch four simultaneous security camera feeds for 90 minutes? This is your lucky day...

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "Four cameras. One take. No edits. Real time."

What Did I Learn?: You can't hit the viewer with a cacophony of overlapping sounds and dialogue from the visual confusion of four separate on-screen quadrants and then call it a movie.


Really?: 1) Lauren (Jeanne Tripplehorn) is obviously a successful businesswoman - she rides around in a limousine, for instance - so wouldn't she have better things to do than spy on her girlfriend during an audition? Wouldn't she probably hire a private detective? 2) Jeez Louise, what's with all the earthquakes? Ok, I realize the first one establishes that we're seeing four real-time stories that are set in the same time and place, but the rest are completely unnecessary. 3) See: "Synopsis" and "What Did I Learn?" Seriously, I'd love to know who gave this picture the green light.

Rating: I have to give Timecode a few stars for daring, originality, and some clever writing (there's a scene near the end when an avant-garde filmmaker outlines her vision for a project that sounds a lot like Timecode, although hers sounds a lot more interesting!), but it is otherwise unwatchable for some pretty obvious reasons. I cannot recommend this movie. 3/10 stars. 

Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Probably not, but take a drink any time you simply can't follow the story.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Van (1996)

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Please click the links to read my reviews of the other two films that were based upon Roddy Doyle's Barrytown Trilogy: The Snapper, and The Commitments

Synopsis: Unemployed Irish blokes become entrepreneurs, and earn lots of money... by poisoning their neighbours with sub-standard, deep-fried crap.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "A heartwarming comedy about friends, family and fish, Stephen Frears' (Dangerous Liasons, Mary Reilley) critically-acclaimed film is the story of two unemployed friends who become wildly successful partners in a mobile fast-food business."

What Did I Learn?: 1) Apparently, it's quite easy to confuse a (clean) diaper with a slice of fish when you're standing over a deep-fryer. 2) Dublin's youth must be incredibly bored. Why else would they gleefully follow two men pushing a dilapidated food truck?

You Might Like This Movie If: You love all things Irish.

Really?: Larry and Bimbo's business is eventually shut down by a health inspector, but I had some difficulty believing they could set up a business so quickly without any state interference. For starters, I don't think you're allowed to tow an engine-less food truck around town, and I doubt they could simply park it on the street for long periods of time. And wouldn't they need a license to sell food?

Rating: The Van is the funniest film in the Barrytown trilogy, and for my money, it's also the best of the three. Colm Meany (Larry) and Donal O'Kelly (Bimbo) deliver outstanding performances as a couple of likable-but-flawed old buddies who wind up nearly killing each other when their fast-food venture takes off. If you're in the mood for something warm, relatable, and very Irish, The Van is a grand choice for St. Patrick's Day. 10/10 stars. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Quo Vadis (1951)

Roman Epic #3

Synopsis: Whimsical emperor and brave Roman commander are destroyed by strange, subversive mystery cult from the East. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Thundering out of one of the most turbulent epochs of history comes one of the screen’s most spectacular achievements. Deborah Kerr and Robert Taylor head a ‘cast of thousands’ in this majestic epic of passion and power.” 

What Did I Learn?: If you're an all-powerful ruler and you really, really want your people to continue loving you, it's a very bad idea to burn them out of their homes in the middle of the night in order to build a shiny new metropolis.

You Might Like This Movie If: You'll watch anything that begins with the letter Q.

Really?: So, Poppaea's sinister plan to murder Vinicius and Lygia is to pit them in a bloodsport where they have a fighting chance for survival, and it's possible the crowd could demand clemency? Isn't she supposed to be some sort of evil genius?

Rating: Peter Ustinov shines as the evil (and completely insane) Emperor Nero, but in spite of his memorable performance, I couldn't really get into this movie. Quo Vadis is a dated biblical epic that suffers from a largely unlikable protagonist (Vinicius is a real jerk for most of the picture), and some pretty wooden acting from Ustinov's co-stars. 6.5/10 stars.