Sunday, July 1, 2018

One Way Out (2002)

Happy Canada Day! Please click the links to check out my reviews of a few other Canadian (or at least made-in-Canada) movies. 
Synopsis: Jim Belushi portrays a dirty cop with a gambling addiction who tries to stage the perfect crime, and…. Oh wait, that’s the synopsis for Gang Related
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “In Every Cop There Is A Crime”
What Did I Learn?: Jason Bateman isn’t a very good actor. (Ok, I think I learned that by watching The Hogan Family) 
Really?: 1) What are the odds that Harry would be asked to assist in the murder of Evans (Guylaine St.-Onge) the night after the two of them met, and even enjoyed some hot sex in her car? 2) Um…Harry’s big plan to assist John is to have him kill his wife in the house they share, make him the prime suspect, but not give the cops quite enough evidence? How about making it look like a carjacking or a botched robbery in another part of town, and giving John an alibi? 3) So, John wants to double-cross Harry by setting him up for the murder of Evans? Doesn’t it ever occur to him that Harry might sing like a canary if he figures he has nothing to lose? Isn’t mutual silence a much better option? 
Rating: One Way Out isn’t quite a bad movie, but it is a low-budget made-in-Canada crime thriller that comes perilously close to becoming one, thanks to a script that doesn’t make a lot of sense and a less-than-stellar performance from Bateman. 5.5/10 stars.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Cast Away (2000)

Tom Hanks Quadruple Feature #2
Synopsis: Efficiency-obsessed nerd gets on the wrong plane and develops a close personal friendship with a volleyball. Wait, WTF? 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Coconut milk is a natural laxative. 2) 87 hours is an eternity. 3) We must not commit the sin of turning our back on the clock. 4) We live and die by the clock - that’s all we have. 5) 500,000 square miles is twice the size of Texas. 
Really?: 1) It’s nice of Chuck (Hanks) to bury the dead pilot, but I had a hard time believing he wouldn’t first remove the man’s tie and belt, considering each might prove useful. And why wouldn’t he open that last FedEx package? 2) I realize four years of solitude on a deserted island might drive anyone bonkers, and Chuck created an imaginary friend to keep himself sane, but holy cow, I really got tired of hearing him scream “Wilson!” over and over again. 3) So, wait…wouldn’t Chuck’s colleagues have known that he had lived on a meagre diet of coconuts, fish and crabs for four years before they welcomed him home with a big seafood dinner? 4) Does Chuck still have a driver’s licence at the end of the movie? Just curious….5) Hmm… funny how Chuck never once uses any profanities - even when he’s forced to remove a rotten tooth using a barbaric method. 
Rating: Cast Away is a very compelling adventure film  even though it consists of long stretches without any dialogue. Actually, the movie works best when Hanks is alone on the island and forced into survival mode - it’s fascinating to watch his character adapt to the environment and solve problems as they arrive. Still, the last 20-30 minutes are a little lacklustre. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Punchline (1988)

Tom Hanks Quadruple Feature #1 (Please click the links to read my reviews of Saving Private Ryan, The Road to Perdition, Catch Me if You Can, and That Thing You Do)
Synopsis: Bored housewife forms platonic relationship with troubled-yet-brilliant tutor who teaches her how to use the English language more effectively. Oh, wait - that’s the synopsis for Educating Rita! Um… The search for the mysteries of comedy lures good people away from scholarship and loving relationships…no, that’s The Name of the Rose. Um…. Older woman charms frustrated, broke and desperate young man to help her become a star….no, that’s Sunset Boulevard. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Comedy is no laughing matter for Sally Field and Tom Hanks who take centre stage in the smash hit PUNCHLINE.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Everybody loves housewives. 2) It’s safe to poke fun at debutantes. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You know that comedy is tough
Really?: 1) Hmm… Stephen (Hanks) mentions his larger-than-life, big-game-hunting heart surgeon father on numerous occasions, yet we never get to meet the guy. For that matter, Stephen flunks out of medical school early in the movie, his dad never finds out, and this potential conflict is never resolved. 2) Is it just me, or is nearly all of Stephen’s and Lilah’s (Fields) material really awful? 3) I’m pretty sure a comedy club audience would NOT sit silently if a comedian were to experience an on-stage nervous breakdown, complete with actual sobbing. 
Rating: Punchline is a slightly dated, but entertaining film about the late 1980s standup comedy scene in New York City. Hanks and Fields work well together (so well that they returned a few years later to play mother and son in Forrest Gump), and the film features a couple of great moments, such as Stephen doing a Gene Kelly impression, and Lilah (Fields) preparing for an important dinner set to Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance. My only complaint would be that I found it strange that a film which examines a potentially hysterical subject never once made me laugh (see: “Really?”). 7/10 stars.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2007)

Synopsis: Self-absorbed, narcissistic douchebag returns home after long absence to enrage his hot-tempered father one more time before the old fart croaks. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “A coming of age drama about writer/director Dito Montiel’s youth, the film captures the mid-1980s in the toughest neighbourhood of Astoria, Queen’s.” 
What Did I Learn?: In the mid-1980s Astoria wasn’t a nice, working-middle class district of New York City at all, but a violent slum with garbage on the streets. Oh, and the local teenagers wore tattered and crappy clothing. 
Really?: 1) Hold on - Antonio watches his whack job brother accidentally kill himself in a grotesque manner, and all he wants to talk about during the service is exacting revenge against a local hood for an unrelated matter? Sorry, I didn’t buy that scene. 2) See: “What Did I Learn?” 3) I realize Dito had some very real emotional problems that stemmed from his family and social life, but I had a lot of trouble believing it would take him 20 years to return to New York, or that he wouldn’t do a better job of staying in touch with the people who supposedly mean so much to him. Come to think of it, I have to wonder how a teenaged boy with no money and no connections could survive, let alone become a famous writer in California. 
Rating: I have to give A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints a rather mixed review. I’ve always liked autobiographical character-driven films, and there are a number of splendid performances in this picture; Diane Wiest is great, and I’ll never forget an emotionally-charged scene between Shia LaBeouf and Chazz Palminteri where young Dito essentially says goodbye to his father. Still, Guide rubbed me the wrong way (see: “Synopsis” and “Really?” of the characters, including Dito, are all that likeable or sympathetic (so I had a hard time caring about any of them), the ending provides very little resolution, and what’s the deal with director Dito Montiel’s distracting and unnecessary use of imagined conversations and subtitles for conversations in English? 6.5/10 stars.

Ladder 49 (2004)

Synopsis: Joaquin Phoenix volunteers for an extremely dangerous job, even though is cute girlfriend doesn’t want him to do so, and…. Oh, sorry - that’s the synopsis for We Own the Night
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Academy Award-nominated stars Joaquin Phoenix (Best Supporting Actor, Gladiator, 2000) and John Travolta (Best Actor, Pulp Fiction) ignite the intense action in this heroic tale of ordinary men with uncommon courage!” 
What Did I Learn?: Apparently, it’s really easy to deconstruct a brick wall in minutes, using nothing but a piece of rebar. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You take ladder safety very, very seriously. 
Really?: 1) See: “What Did I Learn?” 2) Funny how we’re told nothing about Jack Morrison’s family or background, aside from his religious affiliation. Does he come from a long line of firemen? Was he expected to enter the profession, or was this entirely his decision? 3) Did anyone else think it was a bit selfish and irresponsible for Jack to ask for a transfer from engine duty (i.e. putting out fires with a hose) to truck duty (rescue work), which is much more dangerous job, when he has a wife and several children to think about? 
Rating: Ladder 49 is a treacly, and highly disappointing post-9/11 celebration of firemen that tries too hard to paint these brave individuals only as heroes, and doesn’t put much effort into reminding us they’re still ordinary men with ambitions, hopes, fears, etc… An obvious comparison would be Dennis Leary’s TV series Rescue Me, except that nobody who drinks a bit too much in this movie ever becomes an alcoholic, marriages stay intact, and Phoenix’s character knows exactly the right things to say when his kids express legitimate fears for his safety. Oh, and Leary’s show was often funny, compelling, and sometimes even provided some insights into a difficult and misunderstood job. I cannot recommend this movie. 3/10 stars. 
Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Probably not, but take a drink any time somebody mentions that “firemen run into a burning building when everybody else is running out” line. Once is fine, but it’s used on several occasions.

Monday, May 28, 2018

We Own the Night (2007)

Synopsis: Fun-loving young man with cute girlfriend discovers his father is in danger, reluctantly enters the family business, and discovers he’s much better at it than his blowhard brother. Wait - it’s the mirror image of The Godfather! 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “What if your family stood in the way of everything you worked for? Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix) forsakes his families (sic) tradition in law enforcement to become a Brooklyn nightclub owner.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) If you piss in your pants, you only stay warm for so long. 2) It’s better to be judged by twelve than carried by six. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You're deeply nostalgic for 1988.
Really?: 1) I had a bit of trouble believing Bobby’s big meeting with Vadim and his crew in the stash house. First of all, he never once inquires about what his cut might be for distributing Vadim’s heroin (which I imagine would be his primary question if he were sincere), but why in the world would he ask where the heroin comes from when he’s wearing a wire and the cops specifically told him not to say anything that would attract suspicion? 2) The movie takes place in 1988, yet Bobby’s club keeps playing Blondie’s Heart of Glass, which was released several years earlier. Wouldn’t the hottest nightclub outside Manhattan play something a little more contemporary? 3) Do Bobby and Joseph actually speak Russian? They use a phrase or two now and then, and their father’s surname name is Grusinsky, so they might have a basic understanding of Slavic languages, but this is never made entirely clear. 4) Wow, Bobby’s personality completely transforms after his brother gets shot, doesn’t it? 
Rating: We Own the Night is an enjoyable, if somewhat formulaic crime thriller that works thanks to some good performances and stylish direction by James Grey. Oh, and I have to give this film an extra star for including an original, compelling, and highly memorable car chase shot entirely from the vantage point of one driver. 8/10 stars.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Scarecrow (1973)

Gene Hackman Movie #4 
Synopsis: Doomed delinquent dad delights deeply determined, demented drifter during disastrous drawn-out drive. Destination: Detroit! 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "Hackman. Pacino. On the road in an award-winning American classic." 
What Did I Learn?: 1) For every car, there’s dirt. 2) Scarecrows are beautiful. 3) Gene Hackman was not a skilled striptease artist. 
Really?: I had a bit of trouble believing Riley (Richard Lynch), who’s only serving 18 months in prison, is allowed to drive a jeep and even has his own, personal collection of hard liquor because he bribes the guards, would want to rape Lion. Couldn’t he arrange for a conjugal visit, or something? 
Rating: Scarecrow is an unusual, but extremely well-acted character-driven drama that features two iconic stars who never worked together again, afterwards. Scarecrow isn’t an easy film to watch - Lion’s (Pacino) journey turns really tragic in the second act, and the ending doesn’t resolve much, but it’s a memorable story about two very different men who form a strong friendship, and it’s well worth watching at least once. Interestingly, Pacino said that Scarecrow was the best script he had ever read, and Hackman was most proud of his performance in movie. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

March or Die (1977)

Gene Hackman movie #3
Synopsis: Post-WWI French soldiers come to the sad realization their country is in for a long, long period of getting its ass kicked. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: "At the end of World War I, Major Foster (GENE HACKMAN), a tough, bitter American who was forced to resign from West Point and is now in the French Foreign Legion, is ordered, with his legionnaires, to protect an archeological expedition headed by Francois Marneau (MAX VON SYDOW) of the Louvre, who is to excavate for a priceless tomb in Morocco." 
What Did I Learn?: When a sadistic drill sergeant asks you to state your former occupation, it’s not a great idea to reply: “Premier of France!” 
You Might Like This Movie If: You've always been tempted to join the Legion. 
Really?: 1) I have to admit that I don’t know all that much about the French Foreign Legion, but I was a little surprised when the legionnaires in this movie underwent zero basic training before they were sent to Morocco. 2) I’m curious: would Muslim tribesmen really feel much kinship with the corpse of a 3,000-year old pagan female warrior nicknamed the Angel of the Desert? 3) Hold on - Marneau - the completely amoral art historian who doesn’t give a shit about the plight of his colleagues or the men who protect them is one of the only Frenchmen to survive the big assault? That seems a little unsatisfying. 4) I realize the Legion had a reputation for accepting anyone as a recruit without asking any questions about their past, but why in the world would they take in Marco the pickpocket? Who would be dumb enough to trust that guy? 
Rating: I wanted to like March or Die, but I would have to describe it as slow-moving and strangely confused about the story it wants to tell: does it want to condemn the Legion for brutality within its ranks and serving as an instrument of French colonialism, or celebrate the derring-do of legionnaires like Marco? For that reason, we’re never entirely sure if we ought to like Hackman’s character or not. Check it out if you’re a fan of the Indiana Jones franchise and you want to see its rather obvious influence on George Lucas and Steven Spielberg when they made Raiders of the Lost Ark. 6/10 stars.

Heartbreakers (2001)

Gene Hackman movie #2
Synopsis: It’s sorta-like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels meets The Mother-Daughter Exchange Club
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: "Get ready to lose your heart - and your bank account - to a couple of sexy sirens in this 'vastly enjoyable comedy' (People Magazine)!"
What Did I Learn?: 1) Love is pain. 2) Life is pain. 3) Cigarettes dissolve cholesterol. 4) Everyone is a little irritable after they choke. 5) “College stuff” is not a satisfactory answer if you fraudulently present yourself as a professor and you’re asked which subject you teach. 
Really?: 1) Heartbreakers is a screwball comedy, so I can overlook some of the sillier plot contrivances but I had a bit of trouble believing Page could be that obnoxious to Jason and still seduce him. 2) Wow - Sarah Silverman and Zach Galifianakis really don’t have much to do as Linda and Bill, do they? 
Rating: Heartbreakers is an entertaining black comedy that works as long as the viewer doesn’t ask too many questions about the plot. While I liked the bickering banter between Max (Sigourney Weaver) and Page (Jennifer Love Hewitt), Hackman steals the film with a strangely endearing performance that borrows heavily from W.C. Fields in his prime. Heartbreakers definitely loses some momentum after his character suffers from one-too-many coughing fits. 6.5/10 stars.

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Domino Principle (1977)

Synopsis: Apparently, the Deep State is so hard-up for trained assassins it must break them out of prison and shove wads of cash in their pockets. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Stanley Kramer directs Gene Hackman in this pulse-pounding, action-adventure thriller.” 
What Did I Learn?: Deep State assassins really enjoy blowing up cars. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You figure it must be a full-length version of this
Really?: 1) See: “Synopsis.” 2) Tucker beats the crap out of a Deep State goon, and even throws him down a flight of stair, possibly killing the man. Is this ever mentioned again? No. 3)  So, how long has Spiventa (Mickey Rooney) been in the slammer? That’s a demanding assignment, and I’m not sure if he actually convinced Tucker to do anything. 4) So, let’s see…. Tucker has fulfilled his assignment, he holds a Deep State goon at knifepoint, knowing they have no further use for him, he has a plane that can take him just about anywhere in the world, and he decides to go to the Central American vacation home the Deep State purchased for him? Yeah, that’s a great idea… 
Rating: The Domino Principle is a ho-hum, and somewhat dated 1970s conspiracy thriller that’s good for an evening’s entertainment, but suffers from a plot that doesn’t make too much sense (see: “Synopsis,” “What Did I Learn?” And “Really?”) and a muddled ending that’s less than satisfying. Apparently, the film was originally three hours long, so it’s entirely possible some of its problems stem from key scenes left on the cutting room floor. 6/10 stars.

Confidence (2003)

Synopsis: Motley band of flim-flam artists talk gangster into bankrolling an operation… oh wait, doesn’t that sound a lot like The Sting
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “When professional grifter Jake Vig (Edward Burns) inadvertently cons a mob boss known as The King (Dustin Hoffman), he is given two choices: pull off a near-impossible heist on a mark of The King’s choice, or lose his life.” 
What Did I Learn?: Sometimes, style can get you killed
Really?: So, ultra-cynical Jake brings Lily (Rachel Weisz) into his small gang of con artists after she picks his pocket because he likes her style? Um….sure. 
Rating: This is going to sound terrible, but I have procrastinated the writing of a review for Confidence for over a month, and I can’t remember very much of it - which ought to tell you something. Sure, the film has a great cast, and Hoffman performs well as a very strange porn-loving gangster (he’s the one memorable character!), but it’s otherwise over-plotted and difficult to follow. 7/10 stars.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Italian Job (2003)

Synopsis: Mark Wahlberg mugs his way through formulaic, by-the-numbers remake of classic 1960s heist film
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “The plan was flawless. The execution was perfect.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Never mess with mother nature, mother-in-laws, and mother-freaking Ukrainians. 2) FINE stands for Freaked Out, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional. 3) There are two kinds of thieves in the world: the ones who steal to enrich their lives and those who steal to define their lives. 
Really?: 1) Is there some reason Charlize Theron’s character spends nearly the entire film wearing sleeveless shirts and tank tops? 2) Steve (Edward Norton) richly deserves to meet with an unhappy ending, but gee… couldn’t he have gone to jail, or died from a bullet wound. Knowing he’s about to be horribly tortured to death by Ukrainian gangsters sort-of ruined the ending for me. 3) So, Steve changes his plans to move the gold at the last minute, and the gang is somehow able to change everything, and even develop a complex alternative counter-plan over the course of an evening? 4) Handsome Rob (Jason Stratham) is touted as one of the world’s best wheel-men, except that Stella (Theron) and Charlie (Wahlberg) are also skilled high-speed drivers, which really diminishes his character. 5) Gee…that romance between Stella and Charlie seems awfully tacked-on. 
Rating: The 2003 remake of The Italian Job reminded me a great deal of the new-and-improved Ocean’s Eleven (see: “Synopsis”): slick, fast-paced, and stylishly-directed with lots of impressive special effects, but also bland, and populated with two-dimensional characters spouting forgettable dialogue. It’s ok, but far from great. 6.5/10 stars.

The Italian Job (1969)

Synopsis: Loveable band of thieves pull off daring European gold robbery….oh, wait - that’s Kelly’s Heroes. Um….Michael Caine plans a heist with a sexy dame. No, that’s Gambit. Um…intrepid adventurers anger powerful enemy when they plunder something of great value. No, that’s Conan the Barbarian
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Forget about the straight and narrow. Clever con Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) intends to go straight to the bank.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) They serve spaghetti four times a day in the Italian prisons. 2) Everybody in the world is bent. 
Really?: 1) So, Professor Peach (the late, great Benny Hill) goes to jail, and nobody cares? 2) I had a hard time believing the Mafia would attempt to chase Charlie and his gang out of Italy after hearing of his plot. Isn’t it far more likely they would demand a cut of the loot? 3) Speaking of the Mafia, it’s funny how they nearly murder Charlie and his accomplices, and then they’re no longer a factor in the story. 4) Bridger forces Charlie to work with one of his henchmen, and they clearly dislike each other, yet that subplot never really goes anywhere. 5) Wait, why do our heroes insist upon driving the three Mini Coopers into a large truck when all four vehicles are hauling ass to Swiss border? They're on a deserted stretch of road - why not pull over?
Rating: The Italian Job is a silly, yet funny and extremely entertaining late 1960s caper comedy that works well as long as you don’t ask too many questions about the plot (see: “Really?”). I'm willing to overlook a few plot holes. Caine does a wonderful job as the likeable Charlie, but famed writer Noel Coward is superb as the authoritarian gangster Mr. Bridger. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

The Fighter (2010)

Synopsis: It’s kind of like Rocky…as seen through the lens of The Jerry Springer Show
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “…the bond of blood may be their only chance for redemption.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Belle Epoque doesn’t contain any good sex scenes. 2) It’s not fucking lady-like to be shouting in the street. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You know that boxing is a serious business. 
Really?: Hmm….. Mickey’s mom is presented as a selfish, uncaring, and borderline-batshit crazy you-know-what for the first two acts of the film, so Mickey’s reconciliation with her feels weird, and more than a little unconvincing. 
Rating: The Fighter is a very good, but not-quite-great character-driven drama that starts out well, and loses its way near the end. Christian Bale and Melissa Leo deliver fine performances as Mickey’s crack-addicted older brother, and his delusional mom, respectively, and I liked the interactions between Bale and Wahlberg, but I didn’t buy Mickey’s rapprochement with his mother (which suddenly eliminated her as Mickey and Charlene’s major antagonist). The audience expects Mickey to eventually make a choice between his caring and understanding girlfriend, and his severely dysfunctional family, yet it never comes. 8/10 stars.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Scenes of the Crime (2001)

Synopsis: It’s basically two hours of Jeff Bridges getting roughed up in the back of a blue panel van. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “He thought he was ready for anything. He was wrong.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Nothing cures an offence like money. 2) No one gets any guarantees. 
Really?: 1) That’s the ending? Pretty lacklustre, if you ask me. 2) Wait a minute…Lenny (Jon Abrahams) is basically just Rick’s driver, and isn’t a criminal, yet he decides to hold Jimmy (Bridges) hostage after Rick gets iced? I had a little trouble believing that turn of events. 
Rating: The best thing in Scenes of the Crime is a highly convincing performance from Bridges as a kidnapped white collar criminal. The film is otherwise an ok, but very strangely paced crime thriller that’s marred by an unsympathetic protagonist and an ending that should have been rewritten (see: “Really?”) 6/10 stars

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Hostage (2005)

Synopsis: Bruce Willis portrays a bald, stone-faced and deeply-troubled law enforcement officer who must suddenly cope with a major crisis. Wait, doesn’t that pretty much describe every movie Bruce Willis makes these days? 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Every second counts.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Cops play golf when they retire. 2) Rich people always got a way out. 3) Only God gets to decide who lives and dies. 
Really?: 1) Gee, nobody notices that Tommy essentially goes missing for long stretches of his supposed captivity, and the air duct system can take him anywhere in the house? Gee, that’s convenient. 2) So, Walter Smith (Kevin Pollak) is near-death from too many blows to the head, yet he makes a miraculous recovery, and even later agrees to assist Tally in killing his former accomplices? 3) Hmm…Tally doesn’t do a very good job of following instructions from the mob villains, does he? 4) Gee….I really didn’t buy Mars’ transformation into some sort of Kaiser Soze-like killing machine. 
Rating: Bruce Willis needs to hire a better agent, or do a better job of picking scripts, because like many of his other recent cinematic choices, Hostage is humourless, excessively violent, populated with unlikeable characters and utterly pointless. The film might have worked a lot better had the mob villains been removed from the script, and replaced with more of a psychological cat-and-mouse dynamic between former hostage negotiator Tally and the young punks in the house. Instead, we’re treated to a convoluted mess that completely falls apart in the third act. I cannot recommend this movie. 3/10 stars. 
Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: No, but take a drink any time you find yourself asking: “would a chief of police really do that?”

What Doesn't Kill You (2008)

This would have worked for my salute to addiction-related movies. 
Synopsis: Heavy-drinking-and-drug-taking low-IQ family man criminal and his slightly-smarter co-dependent best buddy commit crimes and go to jail. Wait, isn’t this movie essentially a retelling of The Trailer Park Boys without the laughter?
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Torn between the desire to be a good husband and the lure of easy money, Brian must make the hardest choice of his life.” 
What Did I Learn?: Five grand is five grand. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You know that if something doesn't kill you, it must make you stronger. 
Really?: 1) Am I wrong in thinking that Amanda Peet was miscast as Stacy Reilly? She’s certainly a talented actress, but maybe a little too thin and attractive to play a woman who would be financially destitute without her father’s assistance. I imagine she she could either find another guy, or a job as a waitress, bartender, or stripper without much difficulty. 2) Those end title cards are a little blunt and obvious for my taste. I’m curious: how does Brian find a job on the loading docks when he has a criminal record? And I realize Paulie (Ethan Hawke) isn’t the centre of the story, but how did he get pinched for the armoured car robbery? 
Rating: What Doesn’t Kill You is a gritty, hard-hitting, and often depressing character-driven drama about a very low-level crook, and his attempts to straighten out his life by getting away from booze and drugs, and reconnecting with his estranged family. WDKY begins with a botched armoured car robbery, but it certainly isn’t an action movie; the dialogue, and some of the aerial shots of snow-covered Boston strangely reminded me of another film about struggling criminals, Straight Out of Brooklyn. Check it out for Mark Ruffalo’s impressive performance as Brian Reilly. 7.5/10 stars.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Leaves of Grass (2009)

Synopsis: Textbook translating teacher takes trouncing, talks to toking, tale-telling Tulsa twin, treasures tantalizing temptress. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket:Leaves of Grass is a comic thriller seen through the perspectives of identical twins Bill and Brady Kincaid (both played by two-time Academy Award nominee Edward Norton.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) We’re all animals, with brains that trick us into thinking we aren’t. 2) True parallel lines don’t exist in nature, and man can’t create them. 
Really?: 1) So, Mr. Uptight travels all the way to Oklahoma without even bringing a change of clothing or booking himself into a hotel? Where does he expect to sleep, exactly? 2) Ok, I get that Brady loves his estranged brother, but I had a hard time believing he would attempt to follow his career by apparently reading everything the guy published in unreadable academic journals. 
Rating: I wasn’t expecting much when I popped Leaves of Grass into my DVD player the other night, but I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised. Leaves of Grass is an intelligent, and surprisingly funny film about two very different brothers who share an extremely high IQ. Kudos to writer/director Tim Blake Nelson for creating such an original and compelling script, and to Edward Norton for flawlessly pulling off a double role. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

The Rainmaker (1997)

This would have been perfect for my salute to my legal-themed movies
Synopsis: Young lawyer battles crooked insurance company on behalf of poor Southern family.. and he defends an attractive young lady fro her physically abusive husband…. And he discovers his boss is under investigation by the FBI… and he helps a lovely old lady develop better relations with her douchebag son…Holy crap, how many storylines does this movie involve?!?!
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Francis Ford Coppola directs and scripts an exciting, star-packed adaptation of John Grisham’s novel about an idealistic young attorney who takes on the case of a lifetime.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Nothing is wrong with ethics. 2) Every lawyer, at least once in every case, feels himself crossing a line that he doesn’t mean to cross.” 
Really?: 1) That is one strange musical score. 2) I realize Rudy is a relatively young guy and he’s working a huge case more-or-less solo, but doesn’t he ever sleep? 3) Speaking of Rudy needing sleep, Kelly’s husband clearly injures him in their scuffle, and he’s awake pretty much the entire night she kills the guy. Funny how Rudy’s involvement in the incident never comes back to haunt him (it’s also funny how Deck routinely masquerades as a lawyer even though he’s flunked the bar exam six times and he never once gets caught - is that possible?) 4) Ok, it’s fairly obvious Bruiser (Mickey Rourke) is on the verge of getting indicted by the feds, but why would Rudy go into business with Deck, who isn’t a real lawyer, and the two of them have a grand total of $11,000 between them? 
Rating: The Rainmaker is a good courtroom drama (very reminiscent of The Verdict) that tries a little too hard to be faithful to John Grisham’s novel of the same title. The result is an overly-long movie that’s loaded with interesting characters who come and go, and subplots that are never satisfactorily resolved. 7.5/10 stars.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Bucket List (2007)

Synopsis: Hilarity ensues when old farts get terminal cancer. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “You only live once, so why not go out in style?” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Three things to remember when you get older: never pass up a bathroom, never waste a hard-on, and never trust a fart. 2) You really don’t want to drink Kopi Luwac coffee. 3) We live, we die, and the wheels on the bus go round and round.
Really?: 1) My mom suffered from cancer through most of the 1990s. Even when she wasn’t taking chemotherapy, I don’t recall her ever having the stamina to jump out of airplanes or travel the world unaccompanied by medical professionals. 2) Speaking of that world tour, I realize it would have been extremely expensive to send the leads to Paris, Egypt, Hong Kong, and a few other exotic locales, but wow - the film’s blue screen effects are really bad. 3) Hold on - Edward (Nicholson) can’t get a private room in his hospital for PR reasons? Didn’t writer Justin Zackham know that private hospitals rake in boatloads of money by charging patients for luxuries like private rooms and other amenities? 4) Wait, Carter (Freeman) is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and he decides to fuck off around the world with Edward for a month or two? I don’t think a loving husband and father would do that. 5) Gee…I couldn’t help myself from thinking Edward’s long-suffering valet Thomas/Matthew deserved a bit more character development. 6) I can understand Edward and Carter wanting to race stock cars around ring, but actually crashing into each other's cars like professional NASCAR racers? Gee, I dunno.... 
Rating: I have to give The Bucket List a less-than-stellar review. While I liked both the chemistry between Nicholson and Freeman, and the film’s message about finding the joy in one’s life when you still have the chance to do so, it suffers from some real credibility problems (see: “Really?” and “Synopsis”) and a treacly, cliche-ridden script. 5.5/10 stars.