Thursday, September 21, 2017

2:22 (2008)

Synopsis: It’s a bit like a low-rent Ocean’s Eleven sandwiched between two slices of bad Cassavetes. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Hardened criminal Gully Mercer (Mick Rossi) devises a foolproof plan for a snowy New Year’s Eve heist at 2:22 AM at the Grange, a high-class hotel filled with a vault of valuable safety deposit boxes.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) If you’re going to rip off a bag of cocaine, it’s not a good idea to sell it to anyone who might be connected to its rightful owners (oh wait - I think I learned that by watching Atlantic City). 2) Gabriel Byrne probably took the part of Detective Swain strictly for the cash, because he's uncredited, and he doesn't look all that enthusiastic about the role. 
Really?: 1) So, Val Kilmer gets top billing, and he’s in this movie for what - a couple of scenes equalling three or four minutes? 2) Ok, I have to ask: why is 2:22 in the morning the perfect time to rob the hotel? And why do it on New Year’s Eve, when lots and lots of people stay up late? This is never explained. 3) Holy coincidences, Batman! One of the robbers is identified by the drug dealer he beat up and robbed after a quick glance at a tattoo; later, the police detective (Byrne in another role he probably leaves off his resume) makes a series of arrests simply because he's standing in the right checkout line at the right time, and is able to identify his wife's wedding ring. 4) One of the hotel guests is an older, suicidal man who eventually pulls the trigger. The incident has absolutely no bearing on the plot. 
Rating: Billed as a gritty action thriller that was filmed in Toronto, 2:22 seemed promising when I sat down for a viewing, but it never really delivers. The film works well only when the thieves are in the hotel (and it takes awhile before they make their move - see “Synopsis”) and there’s a tension in the air as they attempt to empty the boxes without tipping off the police or the hotel guests. Sadly, the heist ends far too soon, and the rest of 2:22 consists of rather gruesome violence between our heroes and a local gangster. A better script would have resulted in a much better movie. 5.5/10 stars.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Ocean's Thirteen (2007)

I could have used this for my salute to Al Pacino’s films. 
Synopsis: Loveable crooks and con artists rob a casino. Wait, haven’t I seen this movie before
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “it’s bolder. Riskier. The most dazzling heist yet.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) If you shook Sinatra’s hand, you belong to a very special club, which means… actually, I have no idea what that means. 2) The moment you become embarrassed of who you are, you lose yourself. 
You Might Like This Movie If: you sometimes feel like a Very Unimportant Person when you stay in a bad hotel
Really?: So, wait… Willy Bank (Al Pacino) is an all-around scumbag with an attractive woman (Ellen Barkin) as his second-in-command, yet there’s no indication he’s ever made a pass at her, and their relationship is all business? And then Linus (Matt Damon) manages to make her completely forget all of her professional responsibilities and become some sort of sex zombie because he’s wearing some extra-strong musk cologne? 
Rating: Ocean’s Thirteen isn’t a particularly original movie (see: “Synopsis”), and its treatment of Barkin’s character rubbed me the wrong way (see: “Really?”) but it’s also a lot more focused and back-to-basics than the disappointing Ocean’s Twelve, Pacino’s Bank is a worthy foe for Ocean’s crew, and David Paymer’s V.U.P. character provides some nice comic relief. Ocean’s Thirteen isn’t bad if you want to put your brain on ‘pause’ for a couple of hours. 7.5/10 stars.

Ocean's Twelve (2004)

Please click the link to read my review of Ocean's Eleven
Synopsis: George Clooney stars in a lacklustre sequel to a ho-hum remake of a Rat Pack classic. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “They’re back. And then some. Twelve is the new eleven when Danny Ocean and his pals return in a sequel to the cool caper that saw them pull of a $160 million heist.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Nothing costs nothing. 2) Julia Roberts wasn’t in Four Weddings and a Funeral, and she occasionally hangs out with Bruce Willis in her free time. 
You Might Like This Movie If: you've always wanted to own a Faberge egg. 
Really?: 1) So, the movie ends with Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) - the villain from Ocean’s Eleven, pocketing a cheque for $194 million, even though he was already paid by the casino’s insurance company? That’s a wee bit unsatisfying. 2) Funny how Benedict is able to individually track down every member of Ocean’s crew, and nobody has the good sense to pick up a telephone and warn the others that he’s coming. 3) How would Rusty or Linus’ mom know that Isabel (Catherine Zeta-Jones) forged those police documents? 
Rating: I know what you're thinking - when I reviewed Ocean's Eleven back in January, 2012, I made the following declaration: "there is no way I'm going to sit through a certain piece of crap known as Ocean's Twelve. If you haven't seen this film, don't. Watching it, I had a funny feeling a whole bunch of Hollywood turds were given an all-expenses-paid trip to Europe in exchange for making a movie they knew would be horrible, but would also bring in a ton of money."
Ocean's Twelve isn't a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not nearly as awful as I somehow remembered it to be (incidentally, I had a similar experience with another movie, Passed Away, back in 2012). Its biggest problem is that the story often seems meandering and directionless; instead of planning one big heist, Danny and his crew mostly drift across Europe and shoot the shit with each other as they work on three smaller jobs. Ocean's Twelve has a great cast, but the actors aren't given much to do, so by the end, I really didn't care. 5.5/10 stars.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Wall Street Money Never Sleeps (2010)

Please click the link to read my review of Wall Street. 
Synopsis: Disgraced 1980s high-roller teaches yet another young and idealistic-but-ambitious financial puke what greed is really all about. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Following a lengthy prison term, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) finds himself on the outside looking at a world he once commanded.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Money is a bitch that never sleeps. 2) Time, not money is the prime asset in life. 3) Bulls and bears both make money, while pigs get slaughtered. 4) The mother of all evil is speculation. 5) It’s not about money. It’s about the game between people. 6) Every thief has an excuse. 7) Idealism kills every deal. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You're intrigued by the idea of dabbling in the world of high finance and free money
Really?: 1) So, Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) has essentially become Charlie from Two and a Half Men? Gee, and I thought he learned a few things about humility and the dignity of work at the end of the original movie. That’s a pretty awful cameo. 2a) I have to wonder: what is Jake’s primary motivation? Is it ambition? Is it revenge for the death of Louis Zabel (Frank Langella)? Is it green energy? Is it developing a relationship with Winnie Gekko? It seems to change every few minutes. 2b) Hmm… Jake wants revenge, so he goes to work for Bretton James (Josh Brolin), and then quits when the dude refuses to invest in his big green energy project? 3) Was there a point to the motorcycle race, or did Oliver Stone think it might look good in the trailer? 
Rating: While I always wondered whatever happened to Gordon Gekko and Bud Fox after the end of the 1987 classic, I kind of wish Stone hadn’t made this sequel. Wall Street Money Never Sleeps isn’t a terrible film, but it’s overly long, the script is confused, meandering, and dependent upon far too many plot points, Brolin’s character is woefully underused and underdeveloped, and the ending is treacly and unconvincing. Still, it was nice to see Michael Douglas back in his most famous role. 6.5/10 stars.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Prestige (2006)

Synopsis: If you ever wanted to watch two Victorian-era illusionists behave like Bugs and Daffy yelling: “Duck Season!”, “Wabbit Season” for over two hours, this is definitely your movie. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Award-winning actors Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine and Scarlett Johnson star in The Prestige, the twisting, turning story that, like all great magic tricks, stays with you.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Wow - who knew that zapping objects with a whole lot of electricity could both replicate and teleport those objects? 2) Thomas Edison was NOT a nice guy. 3) Every magic trick has three parts….blah, blah, blah…  
Really?: 1) See: “Really?” 2) So, Angier (Jackman) has a device that can teleport and duplicate objects, and his only motivation is to use it for a super-duper magic show? 3) Wait, just how long does Angier wait in Colorado to talk to Tesla? Two years? Three years? Ok, I realize he has oodles of money, and all the time in the world, but most people would have given up after a few weeks of waiting. 4) Wow…Borden (Bale) sends Angier to Tesla on a wild goose chase, and he actually finds the greatest invention in the history of mankind? 
Rating: The Prestige is probably best known as the only non-Batman collaboration (to date) between Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan. It’s a highly entertaining movie with some fine  performances (I especially liked Caine as Cutter, and David Bowie as the reclusive Nikola Tesla), and it even shows us some behind-the-scenes secrets of the world of professional magicians. My only complaints are that it’s a bit too long (130 minutes), and both of the leading characters are pretty awful human beings. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Martian Child (2007)

I could have included this in my tribute to John Cusack's movies in 2012. 
Synopsis: It’s basically About a Boy meets K-Pax
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “John Cusack stars in this ‘inspirational and uplifting journey’ (Cynthia Wickenkamp, Star Entertainment) as a lonely science-fiction writer who adopts a boy who claims to be from Mars.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Calling somebody an “old soul” means they have figured things out. 2) “That’s a good question” is something adults usually say when they don’t have an answer. 3) Hysterical is the new calm. 4) Baseball is the only game that allows you to suck 70% of the time and still be great. 5) There are no superstars - only supernovas and white dwarfs. 6) Apparently, children don't require discipline. 
Really?: 1) David owns a very old dog. Take a wild guess what happens to the loveable pooch. 2) When Dennis visits a Mars exhibit at the local planetarium, he tells David that Mars is different from how he remembers. Considering David is a science fiction writing, I cannot believe he wouldn’t ask what he does remember about Mars. 3) What sort of father would encourage his son to break all of the dishes in the kitchen, and then start a food fight? Gee…and then the grumpy dude from Social Services shows up immediately afterwards. I didn’t see that one coming… 4) So, why does Dennis have a self-imposed deadline for returning to Mars? I realize it adds some dramatic tension near the end of the movie, but it seems extremely contrived, and it’s never explained. 
Rating: I wanted to like Martian Child a bit more than I did. The film is genuinely touching in places, and Cusack does a fine job of carrying the story with his likeable everyman shtick, but much of it struck me as cloying, manipulative, contrived, and predictable, and David's consequences-free parenting style rubbed me the wrong way on a few occasions (see: “Really?” and "What Did I Learn?'). Moreover, Martian Child’s occasional moments of comedy fall flat, and the budding romance between David and Harlee (Amanda Peet) is never developed, and feels tacked-on. 6/10 stars.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Payback (Theatrical Release - 1999)

Damn - this would have been PERFECT for my tribute to Revenge-themed movies. 
Synopsis: Criminal with questionable judgement pretty much wipes out the Chicago mob over a relatively trivial amount of cash. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The dynamic superstar portrays Porter, a career criminal bent on revenge after his partners in a street heist pump metal into him and take off with his $70,000 cut. Bad move, thugs.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Nobody likes a monkey on his back. 2) Not many people know what their life is worth. 3) If you go high enough within a hierarchy, you always come to one man who makes the final decisions. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You appreciate famous people AND revenge. 
Really?: 1) So, how dumb are those crooked cops? I’d like to think that if I were a police officer and my badge went missing just after a professional thief happened to ‘bump’ into me, I would put two and two together. 2) Wasn’t the Chicago Outfit more-or-less created by Al Capone and other Italian-American gangsters in the 1920s? Would it really be run by guys named Carter, Bronson and Fairfax? 3) So, the Chinese gangsters fire several machine guns at point-blank range into the sedan carrying Porter, and he emerges without a scratch? 4) Ok, I have to ask - how did Porter receive medical treatment after Val (Gregg Henry) and Porter’s wife double-crossed him? This is never explained. 5) Could Val credibly carry on a relationship with Pearl (Lucy Liu), even though she’s closely connected to a rival crime faction? That might explain how he got the tipoff that led to the initial robbery, but wouldn’t both the Outfit and the Chows be suspicious of both of them? 
Rating: Payback is an exciting, and highly-enjoyable action thriller that features Mel Gibson as a highly-determined, violent, and somewhat amoral protagonist (the film was marketed with the catchline: “get ready to root for the bad guy). Overall, it works as long as you don’t take it too seriously. (Please note: there’s also a Director’s Cut that’s apparently quite different in places from the Theatrical Release. I’ll have to check it out one of these days.). 8/10 stars.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Criminal (2004)

Synopsis: Experienced mid-level con artist finds himself playing father-figure and gets taken to the cleaners. Wait, wasn’t that basically the plot of Matchstick Men
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Think of them as working men who work the angles. Rodrigo is the rookie. Richard is the mentor who knows crime like a book. But a new book is about to be written.” 
What Did I Learn?: The biggest “jerk-off” - beyond family - is jobs, as you work all day, people constantly tell you what to do, and on top of it all, they can fire you. 
Really?: So, Rodrigo’s plan to ingratiate himself into Richard’s good graces is to (badly) pull a con close to him in a casino, and hope Richard not only takes an interest, but actually comes to his rescue? That seems awfully contrived. 
Rating: John C. Reilly does an admirable job of carrying Criminal - a compelling character-driven caper picture about a day in the life of an aging (and fading) con man. The film tends to drag in places, and none of the characters are all that likeable or sympathetic (with the possible exception of Rodrigo), but I came away from Criminal thinking I better understood what makes a selfish, and completely amoral guy like Richard tick, thanks to Reilly’s performance. 7/10 stars.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Boondock Saints (1999)

Dang - I probably should have saved this for St. Patrick’s Day! 
Synopsis: Multilingual Irish meatpackers team up with cat-killing idiot to rid Boston of its least-competent gangsters. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “FBI agent Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe) is on the trail of two vigilante brothers (Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus) whose spiritual sense of justice has turned Boston’s streets red with blood.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) People in glass houses sink sh-sh-ships. 2) Charles Bronson always uses rope in his movies, and it’s useful to have some when you decide to go on a killing spree. 3) That James Bond shit never happens in real life - professionals don’t do that! 4) Willem Dafoe does NOT look good in drag. 
Really?: 1) So, a couple of working-class Irish guys from Boston are fluent in Russian, French, German, Spanish and Italian? Well, that’s convenient. 2) Funny how both Il Duce (Billy Connolly playing against type) and the Saints are all skilled sharpshooters, yet nobody gets hit during their big gun battle. 
Rating: The Boondock Saints is a darkly comic thriller about a couple of Irish-American brothers who become vigilantes, and the brilliant-but-seriously weird FBI agent (Dafoe, in a performance that pretty much steals the show) who pursues them. On the whole, it's a good film with a funny and compelling script that also takes itself a bit too seriously near the end. 8/10 stars

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Revolver (2005)

Dang - I should have used this for my tribute to British Gangster Movies. 
Synopsis: Guy Ritchie set out to create something akin to The Usual Suspects meets Waking Life; instead, he made another Rancid Aluminum with a whole lot of psychobabble. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “REVOLVER is populated with Guy Ritchie’s (Snatch; Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) classic breed of fast-talking, sharp-suited gangsters but with a psychological twist that your mind may not be able to handle.” [Ooh, that’s clever - if you don’t like this movie, it’s your fault because you can’t “handle” it.] 
What Did I Learn?: Apparently, your ego isn’t really you, and you shouldn’t listen to what it has to say. 
You Might Like This Movie If: See: "What Did I Learn." 
Really?: 1) See: “What Did I Learn?” [WTF?] 2) Funny how Jake spent years in prison sandwiched between a con man and a chess grandmaster, and fate somehow throws him together with Zach (Vincent Pastore) and Avi (André Benjamin), and he never seems to put two and two together. 3) How exactly did Zach and Avi fake Jake’s illness, and fudge the medical records? 4) So, wait - Zach and Avi offer Jake protection from Macha in exchange for all of his money. Why would he take the offer, knowing full well that he’s dying, anyway? This doesn’t make any sense. 5) Ok, did Zach and Avi brainwash Jake when they were all in jail, or did they just encourage him to listen to his inner voice (which isn’t really him)? And is Jake really “Sam Gold”, or does Sam Gold live in the heads of every would-be big-time criminal? And if that’s the case, who are the attractive female hench-ladies who claim to work for Gold? 6) I realize Sorter (Mark Strong), the cold-as-ice hitman, doesn’t want to murder a little girl, but up until his big face-turn, the viewer isn’t given any indications that he might have second thoughts about murdering people in cold blood. It’s very unconvincing. 7) I give up. 
Rating: I quite enjoyed Guy Ritchie’s earlier films, so when I sat down to watch Revolver, I was unprepared for the convoluted, pretentious, and nonsensical mess that awaited me (See: "Synopsis," "What Did I Learn?" and "Really?") The movie starts out well - Jake Green (Jason Stratham) is released from prison, and wants some payback from oddly-named gangster Dorothy Macha (Ray Liotta), but the script quickly veers off into a number of bizarre directions, and it’s clear that Ritchie was in way over his head when he tried to inject thought-provoking, esoteric ideas into the world of Cockney gangsters. I cannot recommend this movie. 2/10 stars. 
Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Absolutely! Take a drink any time Ray Liotta screams hysterically, or somebody in the film says something “clever” along the lines of: “greed is the only snake that cannot be charmed,” or “The greatest enemy will hide in the last place you will ever look.”

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Pride and Glory (2008)

Synopsis: So, there’s this troubled cop who returns to active duty to investigate a big crime, and he uncovers corruption, and…wait, isn’t this basically the same ground that Narc covered? And Night Falls on Manhattan? And Serpico? And Copland? And the January Man? And….         
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Four cops down: two dead two likely. An NYPD drug bust has gone horribly wrong, and Detective Ray Tierney heads the investigating task force.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Francis Tierney Sr’s kids are the most important thing in the world. 2) If Jimmy Egan’s boys were doing something, he would know about it. 3) You’re supposed to fix any leaks in a boat before laying down carpet, but leaks come with owning a boat. 4) 
Really?: Wow….a cop who lives on a boat in the marina. That’s original. (Please see my reviews of Blood Work and Lethal Weapon). 
Rating: Pride and Glory isn’t bad for an evening’s entertainment, but I couldn’t help myself from thinking I had seen this movie - or at least certain elements of it before (see: “Synopsis” and “Really?”). Ed Norton does a capable job of carrying Pride and Glory, yet the movie itself is an unoriginal paint-by-the-numbers police thriller, and highly derivative of better films. 6.5/10 stars.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Suicide Kings (1997)

Synopsis: Basically, the pretentious-but-vaguely-defined goofballs from Kicking and Screaming kidnap a slightly-nicer version of the villain from True Romance
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Avery is desperate: his sister has been kidnapped and ransomed for $2,000,000, and his father doesn’t have the cash. So Avery and his buddies concoct a bold, semi-suicidal scheme: abduct retired mob boss Charlie Bartolucci (Christopher Walked), hide out in their uptight friend Ira’s house while his folks are out of town, and force Bartolucci to use his contacts to find the girl.” 
What Did I Learn?: Everybody lies. Cops lie; newspapers lie; parents lie; the one thing you can count on is the word on the street. 
Really?: 1) Ok, I realize the guys are desperate to get Jennifer back from the kidnappers, but how can they be sure Charlie’s people can actually find these people, and what do they think is going to happen after they let him go with a severed finger? 2) So, a big-time ex-mob boss gets into a car with a bunch of strange young men without even informing his bodyguard? That seems a bit implausible. 
Rating: Suicide Kings is a little contrived (see: "Really?"), but it’s a suspenseful, and occasionally funny psychodrama with an unusual cast and a fine performance from Walken. It’s a pleasure to watch Charlie terrify-and-manipulate his captors, even though he’s taped to a chair and slowly bleeding to death, and I especially loved the scenes when he torments (and later befriends) whiny-and-neurotic Ira (Johnny Galecki). 8/10 stars.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Fun With Dick and Jane (1977)

Synopsis: Middle-class family learns the hard way that crime pays, and working hard for the American Dream is for chumps. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “George Segal and Jane Fonda star in this hilarious send-up of upper middle class mores and the price people are willing to pay to maintain a comfortable lifestyle.” 
What Did I Learn?: If a crowd starts to gather as the repo men are grabbing your few, meagre possessions, your best course of action to salvage your self-respect is to loudly yell: “that’s not the model we ordered - get it out of here immediately!” 
Really?: Funny how the cops never seem to zero in on our heroes, even though they stop wearing masks, or any sort of disguises during the later holdups!!
Rating: I’m probably being overly generous with my rating, but I genuinely liked Fun With Dick and Jane. Segal and Fonda share some sparkling comedic chemistry (it’s also rather interesting to see Ed McMahon do something besides guffaw on Johnny Carson’s couch), the script is subversively funny, and it’s difficult to dislike these flawed, but all-too-human characters. That said, the film’s humour is very much a product of the late 1970s, so it may rub politically correct viewers the wrong way. 9/10 stars.

Fun With Dick and Jane (2005)

Synopsis: Heavily-indebted corporate executive loses his job, and…..oh, who are we kidding? It’s basically 90 minutes of Jim Carrey acting like a hyperactive idiot. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “When Dick Harper (Jim Carrey) is terminated as Globodyne Corporation’s VP of Communications, he assures his wife, Jane (Téa Leoni), he’ll find another job in no time. Madder and desperate than ever, Dick and Jane turn to the fastest-growing sector in the white-collar job market - armed robbery - as they become upscale suburban Robin Hoods, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor….namely themselves.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Globodyne is a consolidator of media properties. 2) Apparently, it’s really easy to sneak around through a commercial bank building, and surreptitiously enter and exit executive office suites. 3) We’re all just cavemen, trying to protect our patch of land. 
Really?: 1) See “What Did I Learn, #2”, 2) I'm not sure a stock can drop to $0 a share in mere minutes, but let's chalk that up to creative screen writing. A more pertinent question is this: Dick serves as Globodyne’s Vice President of Communications, but had he ever appeared on television, or been interviewed by a reporter before his big flop on a national broadcast? One assumes he would be a little better at spinning corporate BS. 
Rating: Fun With Dick and Jane has a few good moments, but it’s an unnecessary, and uninspired remake of the 1977 classic (most of the best material comes from the original), and Carrey nearly ruins it with an over-the-top and grating performance. Moreover, the script’s message about late 1990s/early 2000s Enron-style corporate fraud seems a bit tacked-on. 6/10 stars.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Bad News Bears (1976)

Synopsis: Oscar Madison exchanges barbs with foul-mouthed, surly pre-teens. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “A major surprise as one of 1976’s top-grossing films, The Bad News Bears is a movie about children that is refreshing, utterly believable, and quite cleverly funny.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) That quitting thing - it’s a hard habit to break once you start. 2) It took several hundred years to build Rome. 3) There’s energy in chocolate. 4) The Yankees are real turds. 5) Nobody wants to wear a jockstrap until some unlucky sap gets smacked in the nuts with a fastball. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You know that bears are bad news. 
Really?: 1) So, Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) transforms from an apathetic, beer-drinking slob into a verbally-abusing control freak? And then into a genuinely caring father-figure in the last 15 minutes of the movie? 2) I wouldn’t describe myself as a fan of political correctness, but it is a bit jarring to hear an 11-year old spout racial epithets at his teammates. 3) Wait, Buttermaker informs ace pitcher Amanda (Tatum O’Neal) that he doesn’t want to see her again once the season is over, and she shows up for the last game, anyway? 4) I’m glad the Bears learned all about the importance of teamwork, but how about manners and good sportsmanship? 5) So, it’s the final game of the season, the Bears have a real chance of winning, and Buttermaker puts in his worst player because he hasn’t had a turn at bat? Oh, come on….
Rating: I hadn’t watched The Bad News Bears in nearly 35 years, so I was surprised to discover that it wasn't quite as funny as I remembered. Matthau does his best with the material - he shares some nice one-on-one moments with O’Neal and a few of the other kids, and I loved the scene when he orders the team to clean a swimming pool as he sips martinis, but the script is often vulgar and clichéd, Matthau’s character development is a little unconvincing (see: “Really?”), and nobody in this film is all that likeable. 6/10 stars.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

Synopsis: Bored, bank-robbing billionaire matches wits with amoral, cold-as-ice insurance investigator, and….wait, why exactly are we supposed to care about either of these characters? 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Brilliantly created by the Oscar-nominated director of Moonstruck, and starring Academy Award-winning actress Faye Dunaway (Network), and the legendary Steve McQueen (The Great Escape), The Thomas Crown Affair has all the suspense and action of a taut and intriguing modern-day crime caper.” 
What Did I Learn?: Split-screen cinematography is best used sparingly. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You really want to watch a sexy game of chess. 
Really?: 1) I realize Crown is a danger-seeker, and Vicky (Dunaway) is an intelligent and attractive woman, but gee… if I discovered that some pushy insurance investigator was looking into my business, I’d probably lawyer-up and find a way to get a restraining order. I don’t think I’d take her out for expensive dinners, or allow her into my home. 2) It’s one thing to threaten one of Crown’s accomplices with serious jail time if he doesn’t cooperate, and quite another to kidnap his son. I lost a lot of sympathy for Vicky after that incident. 3) If I ever have to hear Michel Legrand’s God-awful “Windmills of your mind” again, I’m going to hurt somebody. 
Rating: I was surprised to read that Steve McQueen regarded The Thomas Crown Affair as his favourite self-starring movie, as he’s very much out of character as a billionaire playboy, and he made much better movies in the 1970s. McQueen and Dunaway share some great cat-and-mouse chemistry, and I’ll never certainly never forget that chess scene! Still, once the initial caper is completed, the film is mostly stylish build-up that doesn’t really go anywhere. 7/10 stars.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

Synopsis: Wow… dullest Bond movie EVER! 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Thrill-seeking billionaire Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) loves nothing more than courting disaster - and winning!” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Regret is usually a waste of time, as is gloating. 2) Life is full of shitty conflicts. 
Really?: 1) Ok, it’s nice that Faye Dunaway has a bit part in this movie, but she has to be the world’s worst psychiatrist (I’m pretty sure that mocking a patient, and then laughing at his misfortune is a big professional no-no), and her scenes with Brosnan are pretty pointless. 2) So, wait… why would Crown paint over the stolen artwork, and then donate it back to the museum, knowing full well it would eventually prove he stole it in the first place? And how exactly does he rip off the painting that Catherine (Russo) likes? I’m sorry, but you can’t make a heist movie without explaining some pertinent technical details. 3a) Um…. New York City detectives are pretty useless, aren’t they? I mean, Catherine discovers every single clue, and single-handedly pieces them all together. She even figures out that Crown has to be the culprit, based on zero evidence. 3b) Speaking of Catherine’s investigation, how does she get away with conducting an illegal search of Crown’s swanky townhouse, and then sleeping with him without the cops arresting her for obstructing justice? 
Rating: I hadn’t seen The Thomas Crown Affair since it was released nearly 20 years ago, yet my opinion of it is more-or-less the same: the film is superficial, tedious, and overly long. While I liked Bill Conti’s jazzy musical score, and Denis Leary’s earthy performance as Detective McCann, the script isn’t nearly as clever, compelling, or suspenseful as it should have been (see: “Really?"), and the bulk of the film consists of Brosnan and Russo enjoying a ridiculously luxurious lifestyle while the audience waits for something to happen. I cannot recommend this movie. 4.5/10 stars. 
Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Probably not, but take a drink any time Brosnan or Russo change outfits.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

True Grit (2010)

Please click the link to read my review of the original True Grit, starring John Wayne and Kim Darby. Oh, and this would have been perfect for my tribute to Jeff Bridges! 
Synopsis: Smug Texan, one-eyed drunk, and precocious 14-year-old girl go a-killin’. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “True Grit is a powerful story of vengeance and valour set in an unforgiving and unpredictable frontier where justice is simple and mercy is rare.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Malum in se. The distinction is between an act that is wrong in itself, and an act that is wrong only according to our laws and mores. 2) You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free except the grace of God. 3) The world is vexing enough without hypotheticals. 4) “Futile” is not spelled f-u-d-e-l. 
Really?: 1) Wait - Mattie is the protagonist, yet Hailee Steinfeld isn’t even billed on the DVD jacket? And Josh Brolin receives third billing, even though we don’t even meet Tom Chaney until well into the third act? That doesn’t seem right. 2) So, does Rooster (Bridges) say anything of any importance when he’s drunk? He mumbles so much that I was lucky to make out every third or fourth word. 3) Hold on…. Ned Pepper knows that Chaney will murder Mattie the first chance he gets, but he leaves him alone with her with nothing but a warning? That seems a bit contrived. 
Rating: Written, directed, and produced by Joel and Ethan Coen, and featuring fine performances from Bridges and Brolin (Steinfeld is outstanding as Mattie Ross, and easily carries the picture with a plucky charm) True Grit is a Western masterpiece that somehow manages to outshine the 1969 classic. My only complaint - and it is an important one - is that Tom Chaney (Brolin) really should have been introduced a lot sooner than the last 20-30 minutes of the movie. 9/10 stars.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Escape From L.A. (1996)

Synopsis: It’s the most derivative, badly-produced, and completely unnecessary rip-off of Escape From New York since…well, After the Fall of New York
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The man with the patch is back. Call him Snake. Kurt Russell rejoins filmmakers John Carpenter and Debra Hill to do to the Big Orange what they did to the Big Apple in Escape From New York - with even more futuristic thrills and slam-bang action!” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) L.A. can kill anyone. 2) L.A. loves a winner. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You'll watch Kurt Russell in anything
Really?: 1) So….nobody has ever survived Cuervo Jones’ basketball challenge until Snake shows up. Oh, and who would have guessed he also knows how to surf a tsunami-sized wave? 2) Wait, Cuervo Jones, the leader of the world’s anti-American forces, is living (and thriving) inside an offshore American prison? 3) I realize Snake is slowly dying from the Plutoxin virus, but I’m pretty sure that if I were piloting a submarine, and somebody informed me I could blow out the engine by pushing it too hard, and too fast, I would probably slow down. 4) So, are China and the Soviet Union still around, as they were in the alternate 1997? Why is it now the United States against the rest of the world? This is never really explained. Also, the narration claims that a presidential candidate predicted a giant California earthquake, and then it happened. Was it planned? Do we care? 
Rating: Escape From L.A. isn’t really a sequel to the classic Escape From New York so much as a pointless remake, featuring a collection of characters very similar to the ones in the original, and nearly-identical scene-by-scene story plotting. Unfortunately, the film also features laughably bad early CGI special effects, and an over-the-top satirical streak (ex. The Surgeon General of Beverly Hills and his gang of plastic surgery-addicted goons) that never delivers any laughs. A prime example: it’s funny in EFNY when prisoners about to be shipped to Manhattan are informed they can choose to be executed; it’s crude and disturbing in EFLA when we witness electrocutions in the hallway of the processing centre. I cannot recommend this movie. 4/10 stars. 
Would it Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Absolutely - take a drink every time Malloy (Stacy Keach) addresses Snake as “hotshot.”

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

After the Fall of New York (1983)

Synopsis: Call your lawyer, Mr. Carpenter. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Handsome, virile actor Michael Sopkiw stars in this futuristic thriller of life on Earth after the world’s third thermonuclear war. All that remains is a radioactive wasteland, the once civilized inhabitants reduced to scavenging warring tribes, the two most powerful known as Eurax and the Pan American Confederation.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) A little spontaneous collaboration never hurt anyone. 2) It’s inevitable that an overdeveloped society will eventually come to the point of its own destruction. 
Really?: 1) Funny how the Euraks have “fused” Europe, Asia and Africa into one continent, with one “master race,” yet nearly everyone in this movie appears to be Italian. 2) Wait…the Euraks need living New Yorkers for horrible medical experiments, yet when their would-be specimens don’t volunteer for vivisection, they simply hunt down New Yorkers and shoot them dead in the streets? 3) So, how do the Pan-Am Confederates know the only fertile woman left on Earth is in New York City, and how did she manage to escape sterility? 4) Hmm…. There seems to be an awful lot of intact infrastructure - factories, nice buildings, power lines, etc, even though this film supposedly takes place after Earth’s “third thermonuclear war.” 5) The lead Eurak interrogator actually says: “We have ways of making you talk.” 6) Hold on…. The female Eurak commander releases Parsifal from his restraints, kisses him passionately, and he spills the beans about his mission to New York City? And then his captors more-or-less abandon him so he can free his friends? 7) How can a movie have a "special guest star?"

Rating: After the Fall of New York is a long-forgotten, sloppily-produced European rip-off of John Carpenter’s Escape From New York, the Mad Max films, and those weird, early-1980s warriors-in-the-wasteland epics such as Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone. After the Fall of New York is unoriginal, poorly acted, and marred by bargain-basement special effects and some laughably-awful fight scene choreography. I cannot recommend this movie. 2/10 stars. 
Would It Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Absolutely! Take a drink any time Parsifal (Sopkiw) gets beaten up and captured.