Sunday, February 11, 2018

You Kill Me (2007)

Synopsis: Alcoholic Albany assassin acts admirably, attacks addiction, acquires adult admirer, avenges accomplices’ annihilation. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Frank is a hired gun with a huge problem - he just slept through the biggest kill of his career.” 
What Did I Learn?: Sending a $25 gift card to your victims’ next-of-kin is the first step towards asking them to forgive you for a botched assassination. 
You Might Like This Movie If: something awful has driven you to drink. 
Really?: 1) Frank announces to his A.A. group that he’s a professional hitman, and…. They’re totally ok with it?! He doesn’t even receive a visit from the cops? 2) Frank’s sponsor Tom (Luke Wilson) states that he’s gay, and it’s never mentioned again. Why add this detail? 3) Are we supposed to care if the local Irish crime family wipes out the local Polish crime family in the Greater Buffalo Area? 4) How long does it take to become a really good mortician? Franks seems to be a natural from the get-go. 
Rating: You Kill Me is an ok black comedy that’s notable for a fine performance from Téa Leoni and not much else - even the highly talented Ben Kingsley seems pretty flat. The film delivers a few good laughs,and several clever lines, but Luke Wilson isn’t given much to do, and the audience isn’t given very many reasons to care about either Frank’s recovery or the fate of his buddies in Buffalo. Meh. 6/10 stars. 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)

This would have been perfect for my tribute to revenge-themed movies. Also, please click the links to check out my reviews of some other Wes Anderson films: Bottle Rocket, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Rushmore
Synopsis: It’s basically Moby Dick, feating a washed-up Jacques Cousteau wannabe and a very gullible crew. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Internationally famous oceanographer Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) set sail on an expedition to hunt down the mysterious, elusive, possibly nonexistent Jaguar Shark that killed Zissou’s partner during the documentary filming of their latest adventure.” 
What Did I Learn?: “Revenge” is a perfectly valid scientific reason for hunting down and killing an endangered species. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You'll watch anything that involves a shark...
Really?: This film isn’t mean to be taken too seriously, so I can overlook some of the strange sea creatures, the fact that everyone carries a Glock, Kentucky Airlines, etc… but gee, that was one lacklustre ending. 
Rating: The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou is a very strange film that I found to be much funnier the second time around. This highly offbeat comedy moves at a snail’s pace, but never seems to drag, thanks in part to its laid-back-and-whimsical humour, and a spirited performance by Bill Murray as the “showboat and a little bit of a prick” Zissou. I’m still laughing about the time he remarks: “son of a bitch, I’m sick of those dolphins.” Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Jarhead (2005)

Please click the link to read my review of another film about the Gulf War, Three Kings
Synopsis: Self-aware US Marine gets really bored hanging around the Saudi Arabian desert waiting for combat, and…. come to think of it, that’s pretty much the entire movie.  2005
Blurb From the DVD Jacket:Jarhead (the self-imposed monicker of the Marines) follows Swoff (Jake Gyllenhaal) from a sobering stint in boot camp to active duty, where he sports a sniper rifle through Middle East deserts that provide no cover from the heat or Iraqi soldiers.” 
What Did I Learn?: Every war is different. Every war is the same. 
Really?: 1) Jarhead was based upon the true story of Anthony Swofford, so I suspect most of the events depicted in this film are pretty accurate. That said, I had a little trouble believing Swofford would merely face extended latrine duty after he was wrongly accused of dereliction his duty and almost blowing up the base after allowing a pile of parachute flares to catch fire. I suspect he would probably face time in a military prison, followed by a dishonourable discharge. 2) So, Swofford and Kruger really, really want to turn another human being into a “pink mist” before the war ends? Hey, that might be an accurate depiction of the way snipers view the world, but it’s hard for the audience to identify with the protagonist. 
Rating: Jarhead is an interesting, and somewhat thoughtful film about a young man who enlists in the Marine Corps and slowly loses his mind from boredom and possibly heat-stroke. Jamie Foxx delivers a great performance as Swofford’s gung-ho sergeant, and I loved the film’s cinematography, but Jarhead really starts to drag once the Marines hit the desert, and there isn’t much of a plot. 7.5/10 stars.

The Hurt Locker (2008)

Synopsis: Demolitions dude dares death, disarms devices, displeases distressed duo. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “War is a drug. Nobody knows that better than Sergeant James, head of an elite squad of soldiers tasked with disarming bombs in the heat of combat.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) A jack-in-the-box is a piece of tin and a stuffed animal. 2) everyone’s a coward about something. 3) “the rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug” - Chris Hedges. 
Really?: I realize James and Sanborn are a couple of macho idiots who don’t particularly like each other, and there’s fuck-all for them to do for fun on a military base, but gee…. couldn’t they find something better to do to during their downtime than get rip-roaring drunk and beat each other senseless in a fun fistfight? 
Rating: I’m not sure if the Hurt Locker deserved to win Best Picture in 2010, but it is a very good film that manages to weave together some genuinely suspenseful action scenes with some serious commentary about the nature of war, and its effects upon the young men and women who fight America’s wars. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Alamo (2004)

Synopsis (Haiku): The Texans got squashed / Santa Ana went too far / This film bombed big time
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “From the studio that brought you Pearl Harbour… Academy Award winner Billy Bob Thornton (Bad Santa), Dennis Quaid (The Rookie) and Jason Patric (Rush) team up for the acclaimed action epic about one of the most important events in American history!” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) “What are the lives of soldiers but so many chickens?” 2) Davy Crockett was a screamer. 3) “Without blood, without tears, there’s no glory.” 4) The word “catamite” is one step up from “assistant pederast.” 4) “One crowded hour of glorious life is worth an age without a name.”
You Might Like This Movie If: You remember the Alamo
Really?: I have to give Colonel Travis credit for picking up an unexploded shrapnel shell and defusing it. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would attempt that, however. 
Rating: The Alamo is a very good film that never got the critical recognition or box office success it deserved (see: “Synopsis”); it’s certainly a much more compelling and believable depiction of the 1836 siege and subsequent counter-attack by General Houston Than the John Wayne epic, and I liked Thornton’s very down-to-Earth portrayal of the larger-than-life Davy Crockett. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

The Alamo (1960)

This would have been perfect for my salute to John Wayne westerns. 
Synopsis: The Duke takes on the entire Mexican army, and comes pretty close to single-handedly winning the war for Texan independence. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Featuring some of the most spectacular battle sequences ever put on screen, The Alamo - which received seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture - captures both the sweeping spectacle and human drama that surrounded this historical event.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) “The time to live and the place to die. That’s all any man gets.” 2) “Republic is one of those words that can give you a feeling that makes your heart warm.” 
You Might Like This Movie If: You remember the Alamo. 
Really?: 1) See: “Synopsis.” Seriously, Davy Crockett and the boys somehow manage to sneak out of the Alamo not once, but twice, in order to destroy a particularly large Mexican cannon and steal a herd of cattle. Didn’t Santa Ana post any sentries outside? 2) Crockett forges a nasty letter from Santa Ana, has it read to his men, admits it’s all a pack of lies, and they still want to defend the Alamo because the letter offers a flavour of Santa Ana’s thinking? Wow, those Tennesseans are pretty dumb! 3) Gee, we’re led to believe that rich merchant (and Santa Ana sympathizer) Emil Sand is going to be some sort of major villain, and then…he disappears somewhere in the second act. 
Rating: While I generally enjoy John Wayne’s westerns, The Alamo (which he also produced and directed) isn’t one of his better oaters. It’s far too long, far too preachy (see: “What Did I Learn?”) and the dialogue is cringe-inducing at times. Still, the third genuinely exciting, and the I liked the mutual nastiness between Travis (Laurence Harvey) and Jim Bowie (Richard Widmark). 6/10 stars.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Company Men (2010)

Synopsis: Smug corporate douchebag learns that losing your job really sucks. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) is living the proverbial American dream: great job, beautiful family, shiny Porsche in the garage. When corporate downsizing leaves him jobless, he is forced to re-define his life as a husband and father.” 
What Did I Learn?: If your employer is losing money and firing lots of people every day, it’s probably not such a hot idea to contradict your boss in front of other senior executives. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You've experienced a really bad job interview. 
Really?: 1) So, what does this placement firm actually offer besides horrible pep talks, a computer terminal and free phone calls? Why does Bobby Walker and his colleagues commute to this office every morning when they could probably conduct their job searches much more effectively from home? 2) I realize Bobby is a little out of touch with reality, but how many unemployed fathers would seriously pay good money to get their Porsche detailed, or on golf club membership fees? 3) Speaking of the Walker family finances, couldn’t they come up with a better option than moving into some spare rooms in Bobby’s parent’s place? I mean, they sold they house. 4) Wait, why does the DVD cover show Kevin Costner wearing a suit? That totally doesn’t match with the character he portrays in the film. 5) You know, if my former boss offered to buy me lunch, and handed me a list of personal acquaintances who might be willing to hire me, I don’t think I’d blow up at him and storm out of the restaurant. 
Rating: I had a bit of trouble believing Affleck’s character would behave the way he does in his circumstances (see: “Really?”), but The Company Men is otherwise a smart, and very compelling character-driven drama about the state of American manufacturing in today’s global economy, and the devastating effects that unemployment can wreak upon a family. I especially liked Jones’ performance as the world-weary Gene McCleary; watch for Craig T. Nelson (best remembered as TV’s Coach) as his narcissistic boss. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

American Outlaws (2001)

Please click the link to read my review of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
Synopsis: It’s the story of Jesse James….reimagined as Young Guns meets the Dukes of Hazzard
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “To corrupt railroad barons, Jesse James and Cole Younger are meddlers, troublemakers, ingrates and candidates for rope neckties. To the downtrodden folks in and around Liberty, Missouri, they’re something far different. Heroes.” 
What Did I Learn?: “Just ‘cause (somebody) reads them books and knows all them big words don’t make him smart!” 
Really?: 1) I’m pretty sure a flimsy wooden table would NOT protect a gang of outlaws from a hail of gunfire. 2) Wait - a Union soldier attempts to shoot Jesse fucking James, the poor guy’s rifle fails to fire, so Jesse allows him to run away? That doesn’t sound right… 3) So, the film ends with Jesse and his bride moving to Tennessee in order to establish a farm, and Jesse makes it clear he has no interest in returning to a life of crime? Again, that doesn’t sound right… 4) Wow….Bob and Cole get pretty excited about corn, don’t they? 
Rating: American Outlaws is a long-forgotten Young Guns clone that’s fine for an evening’s entertainment, but comes perilously close to Bad Movie status. The film features some impressive action sequences and I liked Timothy Dalton’s somewhat-complex performance as the famed Allan Pinkerton, yet it suffers from a badly-written and simplistic script that whitewashes Frank and Jesse as early versions of Bo and Luke Duke, and I couldn’t help myself from thinking that Colin Farrell and Ali Larter were completely miscast as Jesse and his bride, Zee. 5.5/10 stars.

Monday, January 1, 2018

The TV Set (2006)

Happy New Year! I’ll post my best and worst of 2017 later on in January. 
This would have been perfect for my tribute to movies about the television industry. 
Synopsis: David Duchovny plays a grumpy Hollywood writer who sees his very special screenplay turned into something cheap and commercial…. wait, doesn’t that sound an awful lot like every single episode of Californication
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “A place where dreams are cancelled.” 
What Did I Learn?: Something like 82% of all people think suicide is really depressing. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You don't expect much from television. 
Really?: Alice has got to be the world’s most useless manager; why does Mike (Duchovny) stay with her when she clearly undermines him at various points in the movie? 
Rating: The TV Set is a clever, and highly cynical satire of the television industry, and the ways in which it corrupts creative visionaries into producing brainless and mediocre crap. Duchovny is terrific as the frustrated, and long-suffering Mike Klein, but Sigourney Weaver really steals the film as the narcissistic Lenny, an entertainment exec who never encountered a beautiful and original idea she didn’t wish to change. My only complaint is that it could have been a little funnier. Watch for Justine Bateman (best remembered as Mallory Keaton from Family Ties) as Mike’s wife. 8/10 stars.

Monday, December 25, 2017

A Merry Friggin' Christmas (2014)

Christmas Movie #3 - Merry Christmas! 
Synopsis: Uptight dad, undersexed wife, and overprotected kids reunite with Mork and Murphy Brown on Christmas Eve. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Boyd and his family are forced to spend a dreaded Christmas at his parents’ house with his eccentric father and he has been avoiding for years.” 
What Did I Learn?: Santa prefers bourbon and asparagus to milk and cookies. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You're really into Christmas. 
Really?: 1) A Merry Friggin’ Christmas isn’t meant to be taken all that seriously, so maybe I can overlook Boyd outrunning a police car and facing no consequences or the mystery surrounding the hobo Santa (Oliver Platt), but here’s the thing that gets me: Boyd is determined not to repeat the mistakes of his alcoholic father, Virgil (Robin Williams, in one of his very last roles), but Virgil struck me as sort-of a cool dad in this flashbacks we’re shown; cynical and drunk, perhaps, but he helps his kids assemble their toys, and he never comes across as an alcoholic monster. 2) Hmm… I’m pretty sure that if I were eight years old and my little brother ate an entire jar of 40-year-old pickles, I would promptly inform my parents, just to be sure he wouldn’t need to have his stomach pumped. 3) Luann and Donna are surprisingly chipper the morning after they polished off an entire bottle of vodka. 
Rating: I have to admit that I popped A Merry Friggin’ Christmas into my DVD player expecting something awful, and found myself pleasantly surprised. AMFC has a few credibility problems (see: “Really?”), but it’s quite funny in places, and I really liked the interactions between Boyd and his dad when they’re on the road; the film has a sweetness that never descends into sappiness. 7.5/10 stars.

Four Christmases (2008)

Christmas Movie #2 - Merry Christmas!
Synopsis: Did you ever want to see Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon get emotionally, verbally and physically abused by four sets of people for 90 minutes? Step right up folks, this is your lucky day! (Come to think of it, that sounds a bit like the Synopsis for Wedding Crashers). 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Every Christmas happily unmarried Brad and Kate escape divorced parents and exasperating relatives by getting on a plane. This year a fog rolls in that even Rudolph’s nose couldn’t illuminate.” 
What Did I Learn?: It’s rather difficult to sleep with your best friend’s mom and remain best friends. 
Really?: So, in the course of two minutes, Brad and Kate are invited to four separate events because they’re dumb enough to speak to a TV reporter doing a live broadcast? Why would all four parents be watching at the same time? Come to think of it, Brad’s father (Robert Duvall, whose performance might be the best thing in this Christmas turkey) uses his television as a radio, for crying out loud! 
Rating: Four Christmases is one of the worst holiday-themed films I have ever encountered - I mean, we’re talking Santa With Muscles bad! Four Christmases is loud, crude, unfunny, and surprisingly mean-spirited for holiday fare (see: “Synopsis”); the premise is that sophisticated urbanites Brad and Kate are forced to interact with their red-state relatives, who are all obnoxious caricatures, and nothing good comes from these encounters. What’s the moral of this story? Family is best avoided, even during the Holidays? I cannot recommend this movie. 2/10 stars.
Would it Work for a Bad Movie Night?: Probably not, but take a drink of spiked eggnog any time Brad and Kate soldier on through Holiday Hell when any normal person would say: “screw this,” and simply return home.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Trapped in Paradise (1994)

Christmas Movie #1 (Please click the links to the Christmas-themed movies I reviewed in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015) 
Synopsis: Three loveable crooks evade capture by the police. No, wait…that’s the Synopsis for Quick Change. Um….three loveable crooks hide out with family on Christmas Eve. No, that’s We’re No Angels. Um…foul-mouthed crook brings feuding family together during the holidays. No, that’s The Ref. Um…small town with a lot of charm teaches troubled soul the true meaning of Christmas. No, that’s It’s a Wonderful Life
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Small Town. Big Trouble.” 
What Did I Learn?: Apparently, a horse-drawn sled (not a wheeled carriage, but a sled, travelling on snow-covered pavement) is capable of outrunning an entire fleet of police cars on Christmas Eve.
Really?: 1) See: “What Did I Learn?” 2) Speaking of which, how many police cars does this town own? If there’s such a massive, and unnecessary police presence, how can the Firpos walk through the main street - masked, and carrying shotguns - and move everyone from the diner to the bank without alerting the fuzz? 3) So, Dana Carvey is a master impressionist, yet he spends the entire film sounding like a wimpy Mickey Rourke. That’s just sad. 
Rating: I hadn’t watched Trapped in Paradise since it was released in theatres in 1994, so I was unprepared for how poorly-written, unconvincing and directionless it turned out to be. Comedic heavyweights Carvey and Lovitz are wasted as two of the ethically-challenged Firpo brothers (Lovitz referred to this comedic flop as “trapped in shit,” and it certainly didn’t help either of their careers), while Cage often looks as though he would rather be anywhere else. I was going to give this film 4.5 stars out of 10, but I recently checked out the atrocious Four Christmases, and came to the realization that Trapped in Paradise is at least watchable, and offers a few laughs now and then. I'm feeling festive, so I'll give it a barely-passing grade. 5/10 stars.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Synopsis: Narcissistic outlaw befriends creepy stalker. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Everyone in 1880s America knows Jesse James. He’s the nation’s most notorious criminal, hunted by the law in 10 states. He’s also the land’s greatest hero, lauded as a Robin Hood by the public. Robert Ford? No one knows him. Not yet.” 
What Did I Learn?: If all of your buddies tell you the new guy in your entourage gives them the willies, and they're a bunch of hardened killers, you might want to listen to them. 
Really?: 1) Holy shit, how many scenes of clouds speeding across the sky did photography director Roger Deakins jam into this film? 2) I realize all of this is based upon a true story, but wow…it’s hard to believe Ford personally re-enacted the moment he shot an unarmed man in the back over 800 times. That’s just creepy. 3) You know, I’m pretty sure the Rocky Mountains don’t extend into Missouri. 
Rating: Much like Once Upon a Time in America, you really have to be in the mood to sit down and watch The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Clocking in at nearly three hours (I’m not giving away any spoilers when I tell you Jesse doesn’t make it to the end), the film is a bit long for my taste, and it’s very slow-moving - don’t expect a John Wayne-style shoot-em-up Western. Still, The Assassination benefits from an intelligently-written script with some interesting things to say about the emergence of celebrity culture in the 19th century, as well as fine performances from Pitt and Affleck. 8/10 stars.

Grilled (2006)

Synopsis: Mopey meat merchants meet models, mar murder, make mogul merry. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “They have 12 hours to make a sale…or they’re cooked.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) The best beef does not come from Omaha. 2) A really good reply to “you don’t give a shit” is “I give a lot of shit!” 
Really?: So, wait…Dave, Maurice, and the two ladies are all witnesses to a murder. They somehow manage to disarm two hired killers, and then….they return their still-loaded firearms? Why would anyone do that?!? 
Rating: Grilled is a wildly uneven low-budget comedy featuring two of America’s favourite sitcom dads as a couple of foul-mouthed loser salesmen you might find in Glengarry Glen Ross. The movie doesn’t really get going until the second act, when Dave and Maurice visit Tony’s mansion and it suddenly becomes interesting. I sort-of liked their friendly interaction with the two hitmen, even though it made no sense for them to hand over the confiscated weapons (see: "Really?") Check it out if you’ve always wanted to see Ray Romano drop some f-bombs. 6/10 stars.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Burn After Reading (2008)

CIA Movie #3 
Synopsis: Ok, there’s this abrasive-and-alcoholic CIA analyst who gets fired while his wife is sleeping with a Treasury agent who’s secretly banging a narcissistic gym instructor with body issues, who in turn is blackmailing the ex-analyst, and…ok, it’s complicated. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “An all-star cast, including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and John Malkovich, come together in this outrageous spy comedy about murder, blackmail, sex addiction and physical fitness!” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Appearances can be…deceptive. 2) You can pick a Kryptonite lock with a Bic pen. 3) Lactose intolerance and acid reflux are two entirely different things. 
Really?: 1) So, a guy who looks like George Clooney and works as a Treasury agent needs to resort to online dating? Sure, whatever… 2) I had a hard time believing the CIA would deliberately engage in an obvious case of obstruction of justice when there was absolutely no reason to do so - Cox had a low security clearance when he was employed, and his memoirs contained no vital secrets. Why not just call in the FBI? 3) Holy shit, are there any sane characters in this film? 
Rating: Burn After Reading isn't the best Coen Brothers movie I’ve seen, and it ends far too abruptly for my taste, but it’s still a very funny movie about a lot of extremely unlikeable people. I especially liked John Malkovich’s portrayal of the batshit-crazy Osborne Cox, and Frances McDormand as the unhinged-and-surprisingly amoral Linda Litzke.  8.5/10 stars.

The Good Shepherd (2006)

CIA Movie #2 
Synopsis: Did you ever want to see a spy movie that strangely lacked any action, intrigue, suspense or erotically-filmed sex scenes? Today is your lucky day…
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie and Robert De Niro star in this powerful thriller about the birth of the CIA.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) The British are a particularly civilized people. They don't eat their own. They have somebody do it for them. 2) Eating chocolates and seeking approval are both dreadful habits. 3) The mental facility to detect conspiracies and betrayal are the same qualities most likely to corrode natural judgment. Everything that seems clear is bent. And everything that seems bent is clear. Trapped in reflections, you must learn to recognize when a lie masquerades as the truth, and then deal with it efficiently, dispassionately. 4) Friends can be enemies and enemies friends. 5) Everything is a secret. 6) Polygraph machines don’t understand the Russian soul. 
Really?: So, Wilson never reads his dad’s suicide note until he’s well into middle age? He wasn’t even remotely curious until that particular moment? And wow…it really makes for a lacklustre ending. 
Rating: I wanted to like The Good Shepherd a lot more than I actually did. It’s a stylish production with a great cast (too bad Joe Pesci only appears for about two minutes and we never see him again), and some terrific acting - I especially liked Michael Gambon’s portrayal of the troubled Dr. Fredericks, but the story is turgid, humourless, and never goes anywhere. More importantly, for a biopic about Edward Wilson, the film reveals almost nothing about the motivations of Damon’s character. Why did he get into espionage? Is he a super-patriot? Was he running away from his loveless marriage to Clover? Does he have daddy issues? After 139 minutes, I had absolutely no idea. 6/10 stars.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Recruit (2003)

CIA movie #1 (Please click the links to read my reviews of Spy Game, The Hunt for Red October, The Tailor of Panama, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and 3 Days of the Condor)
Synopsis: Al Pacino slowly corrupts talented-and-idealistic young man….oh wait, that’s the Synopsis for The Devil’s Advocate,and City Hall... and Two for the Money
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Academy Award Winner Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman) and Colin Farrell (Minority Report) take you deeper into the CIA than you’ve ever been before in this action-packed psychological thriller.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Nothing is…what it seems. 2) Everything is a test. 3) Rule Number One: do not get caught. 4) No country with a McDonald’s has ever attacked the United States. 
You Might Like This Movie If: you've always wanted to join the CIA. 
Really?: 1) I’m pretty sure CIA field training is pretty intensive, but I had a hard time believing it involves recruits getting beaten up or subjected to electrical torture. 2) Wait, the CIA has a computer virus that can travel through wall sockets? WTF?! 3) So, Layla’s ancestry is French and Algerian, yet she was raised by an all-American family, and she’s a sleeper agent…. For whom, exactly? This is never spelled out. 4) Speaking of Layla, is she really supposed to believe that a guy who graduated at the top of his class at MIT and knows how to create highly advanced software applications would move from Boston to DC just to take a crappy data entry job? Um….wouldn’t a guy who just went through several intensive weeks of CIA training know the difference between blanks and live ammunition? 6) Call me cynical, but I have a feeling a real CIA assassin would simply shoot James without explaining the entire movie plot to him, first. 
Rating: I have to give The Recruit a bit of a mixed review. Pacino is fun to watch as the cynical, mysterious and surprisingly likeable Walter Burke, and I liked the chemistry between Farrell and Moynahan. The first half of the film, when James is recruited and receives his training, is quite enjoyable, but the second quickly becomes a mess with a plot that stops making sense (see: “Really?") 6.5/10 stars.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Rocknrolla (2008)

This would have been perfect for my tribute to British Gangster Movies. 

Synopsis: Loveable lout loots London lawbreaker, louses land lease, likes larcenous lovely lady. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “‘I own this town.’ But owning is getting expensive for old-school London gangster Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson).” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) beauty is a beguiling call to death... and a cruel mistress. 2) There's no school like old school. 3) The secret to becoming a successful gangster is mastering the art of delivering a good back-handed slap to the face. 4) Christmas is always just around the corner. 5) Whisky is the new vodka.
You Might Like This Movie If: you consider yourself to be a true rocknrolla. 
Really?: 1) Holy cow, how many characters and sub-plots did Guy Ritchie cram into this film? And they're all highly unlikeable criminals! 2) I realize Lenny (Tom Wilkinson) is a murderer, disloyal snitch and child abuser, but gee... there's something a little disturbing about watching a wheelchair-bound elderly man being slowly lowered into a tank full of crayfish. 3) Funny how everyone searches frantically for Uri's painting, and nobody ever thinks to offer a visual description, or a photo of the artwork in question. 
Rating: I was hoping to enjoy Rocknrolla a bit more than I did. While it’s certainly a much better Guy Ritchie movie than his confused and pretentious Revolver, it doesn’t hit the high standards he set with Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, either. Rocknrolla is an ok crime thriller that suffers from a convoluted, and difficult to follow plot and a plethora of characters who might charitably be described as truly awful human beings. 6.5/10 stars.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Biloxi Blues (1988)

War Movie #2 (Please click the links to read my reviews of a few other Neil Simon movies: The Odd Couple, California Suite, I Ought to Be in Pictures, and The Out-of-Towners) 
Synopsis: Raw recruits, including a budding writer, encounter a mean and sadistic drill sergeant during basic training….oh wait, that’s the Synopsis for Full Metal Jacket and Tigerland! Um… Grizzled combat veteran wins the grudging respect of the young men he’s required to train. No, that’s the Synopsis for Heartbreak Ridge. Um…Christopher Walken readies surly young punks for military activities…no, that’s the Synopsis for The Dogs of War. Um… Walken plays a menacing authority figure who isn’t afraid to wave a gun around. No, that’s King of New York. Ok, I give up….
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The Army made Eugene a man. But Daisy gave him basic training!” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) There are no “bathrooms” in the Army. 2) There are 17, no… 52 acceptable sexual positions. 3) Once you start compromising your thoughts, you’re a candidate for mediocrity. 
Really?: Hmm… the VHS jacket says Biloxi Blues takes place in 1943, yet the film itself opens with on-screen text which tells us the year is 1945. So, it’s the summer of ’45, and everybody keeps talking about being sent to fight the Germans, yet the war in Europe actually ended in May of that year. Amazingly, the boys even discuss the US invasion of the European continent as a “what if” scenario, even though D-Day took place in June, 1944. Did Neil Simon make this fairly obvious goof, or did Mike Nichols make a hash out of the original source material? 
Rating: I’m not a big fan of Neil Simon, largely because most of his humour seems dated, and it consists of too many one-liners that aren’t terribly funny; in fact, Simon’s penchant for wisecracking nearly ruins a pivotal scene near the end between Broderick and Walken. Biloxi Blues is a nice, and somewhat charming little movie that doesn’t really go anywhere. Strangely, we don’t even see that much of Eugene’s girlfriend Daisy (Penelope Ann Miller does a wonderful job as the shy Southern belle), even though his relationship with her is supposed to be an important part of the story. Broderick handles the role of Simon’s alter-ego quite well, but I was most impressed with Walken’s portrayal of Sgt. Toomey: a soft-spoken, and surprisingly friendly drill instructor who knows how to command the respect of his troops without screaming at the top of his lungs. 6.5/10 stars.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Dirty Dozen (1967)

War Movie #1
Synopsis: A dozen quarrelsome gents must put their differences aside in order to prevent a hanging…. Oh wait, that’s the Synopsis for Twelve Angry Men. Um… Allied commandos dress up like German officers, and infiltrate a heavily-guarded chateau….oh, sorry - that’s Where Eagles Dare. Um… American prisoners take on the German army. No, that’s The Great Escape and Stalag 17
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “They are convicts, psychos, lunkheads, losers - and champs at the box office and in movie lore.” 
What Did I Learn?: If you wish to impersonate a general, your best course of action is to “walk slow, act dumb and look stupid.” 
Really?: 1) I was more-or-less ok with this movie until the last 20 minutes, when the Dirty Dozen chase a bunch of German officers AND THEIR GIRLFRIENDS into a basement bunker, douse them with gasoline, and dump about two-dozen grenades inside. I’m pretty sure that qualifies as a war crime, as does Reisman’s comment regarding captured prisoners: “free the French and shoot the Germans.” 2) Telly Savalas as a Southern good old boy named Maggot…ok, sure. 3) I realize Colonel Breed (Robert Ryan) is disobeying orders when he enters the Dirty Dozen’s compound and harasses Reisman’s (Lee Marvin) men, but could a Major really get away with firing machine gun bullets at a superior officer, and then encouraging his men to beat up the Colonel’s troops? 4) Hold on… this mission has to happen for the D-Day landings to succeed properly, so the US military brass assigns it to a bunch of anti-social convicts who absolutely cannot be trusted? Why not send in a real commando unit? 
Rating: I hadn’t seen The Dirty Dozen since the late 1980s, so I was unprepared for its overall ugliness (Marvin himself hated this movie, and did it strictly for the paycheque; Charles Bronson actually walked out during a screening). The plot is absurd (see: “Really?”), and 150 minutes is far too long for an action-adventure, but it more-or-less works as a war thriller until the third act.  If I hadn’t seen the despicable last 20-30 minutes of this picture, I might have compared it to another revisionist WWII film from the 1960s, Kelly’s Heroes, and given it six stars. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this movie. 4/10 stars. 
Would It Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Sure - take a drink every time Lee Marvin mouths off at a superior officer and somehow gets away with it.