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’. 2010
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.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Escape From New York (1981)

Synopsis: Sometime in the future, the US Government decides to dump It’s convicts into a lawless offshore hellhole terrorized by a ruthless crime lord. So, it’s basically Terminal Island, with the added feature of Kurt Russell growling out a Clint Eastwood impression. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Kurt Russell (Stargate) stars in a high-velocity sci-fi action-thriller that sets the screen ablaze with heart-stopping suspense, outrageous stunts and imaginative special effects.” 
What Did I Learn?: The Duke of New York is A-Number-1. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You know that originality went out the window in Hollywood a long time ago
Really?: 1) The movie opens by stating that in 1988, the crime rate spiked by 400%. Um….why did this happen? And why would the US government turn its financial capital city - with an extensive subway network and other expensive infrastructure - into an island prison? 2) So, the President has the only copy of a plan for nuclear fusion? Gee, that’s convenient. 3) Um….there appears to be an oil derrick in Brain’s apartment. Does New York City sit atop some undiscovered petroleum deposit? How exactly does he “make” gasoline for the Duke? 4) Hold on - Snake defeats Slag (Ox Baker) in a death match, the Duke and his entourage suddenly leave to catch the traitorous Brain, and Snake is more-or-less abandoned by his captors? 
Rating: Escape From New York is an enjoyable science-fiction-action-thriller with an odd-but-impressive cast that works well as long as you don’t ask too many questions about the plot. Russell has said that Snake Plissken is his favourite character, and it’s easy to see why - he’s pretty fucking cool. 8/10 stars.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Warriors (1979)

Synopsis: Wily Warriors witness windbag warlord’s wicked whacking, wisely withdraw warily, wending way without warm welcome. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “A battle of gigantic proportions is looming in the neon underground of New York City. The armies of the night number 100,000; they outnumber the police 5 to 1; and tonight they’re after the Warriors - a street gang blamed unfairly for a rival gang leader’s death.” 
Really?: 1) So…why does that rival gang kill Cyrus? This is never really explained. 2) Do multi-ethnic street gangs exist outside of Hollywood movies? I can’t answer that question, but I’m pretty sure no gang would be dumb enough to enter a street fight wearing roller-skates! (And don’t get me started on the Baseball Furies….) 3) Speaking of the Furies, it's not that easy to beat up a guy with your bare hands when he's carrying a baseball bat, yet our heroes apparently have no trouble disarming, and knocking out gentlemen whose specialty is club-fighting. 4) So, do any of these guys have a friend, or a relative who owns a car? One simple phone call could have solved their entire problem. 5) Much of the tension in the film is based on the personality clash between Swan (Michael Beck) and Ajax (James Remar), so it loses a bit of steam when the latter is arrested by an undercover cop mid-way through, and we never see him again. 
Rating: If you ever wanted to see a prequel to Escape from New York that didn’t involve Snake Plissken, The Warriors comes pretty close to being one. Directed by Walter Hill, this cult classic works well as an edge-of-your-seat thriller, and it provides a fascinating snapshot of New York City's tired-looking public infrastructure in the late 1970s. That said, The Warriors also suffers from an unpolished script, and it’s populated with a lot of angry, hard-edged, and rather unlikeable characters who don’t do very much to deserve the viewer’s sympathies. Check it out if you want to see its clear influence on later films. 7/10 stars.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Bon Cop, Bad Cop (2006)

Synopsis: It has all the makings of a great buddy cop thriller…if it wasn’t for all that damned French! 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Two Canadian detectives, one from Ontario and the other from Quebec, must work together when a murdered victim is found on the Ontario Quebec border line.” [Taken from I don’t have a DVD jacket for this sucker] 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Placing people in the trunk of a car is a Quebec tradition. 2) Just because you can film a movie that features equal parts of French and English dialogue doesn’t mean that you should
Really?: So wait…. Ward and Bouchard kidnap the hockey commissioner, rough him up, throw him in the trunk of a car, and trade him to a deranged psycho? I realize they’re desperate to get Bouchard’s daughter back in one piece, but couldn’t they go to their superior officers and get some help? It’s a little hard to sympathize with these guys after they do this to an innocent bystander, and I couldn’t imagine how they could stay out of jail, let alone keep their jobs after doing so. 
Rating: Bon Cop, Bad Cop is a highly contrived, but very enjoyable action-comedy that manages to poke fun at both Hollywood cop movie clich├ęs and Canada’s long-standing national unity divide. Huard and Feore share some great chemistry, and the film is often quite funny (the moment when they accidentally sever a corpse found on the Ontario-Quebec border sign into two parts is priceless). That said, the scenes involving Rick Mercer as blowhard "Tom Berry", and Rick Howland as “Harry Buttman” are so over the top they don’t fit with the rest of the movie’s tone. Moreover, I found the constant switching between English and French to be a bit gimmicky. It’s hard to do my ritual of dinner-with-a-movie when I have to constantly watch the screen for new subtitles. 8/10 stars.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Airport 1975 (1974)

Charlton Heston / George Kennedy Movie #2 (Please click the links to read my reviews of Airport, Airport 1977, and The Concorde - Airport 1979
Synopsis: It’s essentially Airplane! without the laughs. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “A catastrophic mid-air collision threatens the lives of all aboard a 747 jumbo jet in this thrilling drama featuring Hollywood’s biggest stars!” 
What Did I Learn?: If you’re ever in a situation where a stewardess is forced to take the controls of a jumbo jet, it’s not a good idea to inform the passengers of this development. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You'll watch anything from the mid-1970s. 
Really?: Call me a skeptic, but I’m pretty sure that if a small airplane crashed right into the cockpit of a 747 jumbo jet, the latter aircraft probably wouldn’t stay aloft very long afterwards. 
Rating: Airport 1975 is probably the best of the Airport films (although that's a bit like calling somebody the valedictorian of summer school!), as it features a semi-believable plot, an interesting cast , and some nice chemistry between Heston, Kennedy and Karen Black. Check it out if you want to look at some of the source material that inspired the creators of Airplane! 7/10 stars.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Earthquake (1974)

Charlton Heston / George Kennedy Movie #1 (Please click the links to read my reviews of a few other 1970s disaster films: The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure, and The Swarm). 
Synopsis: It’s like the Towering Inferno,except… horizontal. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “When the most catastrophic earthquake of all time rips through Southern California, it levels Los Angeles and sends shockwaves through the lives of all who live there.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Earthquakes bring out the worst in some people. 2) A satyr is a male version of a nympho. 3) When George Kennedy yells: “move your ass!,” you Move. Your. Ass. 3) People do NOT drown in elevators every damn day of the week. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You’re a die-hard Lorne Greene fan. 
Really?: 1) Speaking of Lorne Greene, I honestly never thought I’d hear him shout: “take off your pantyhose, damnit! You too, c'mon, take off your pantyhose!” 2) So, why is Walter Matthau dressed like a 1970s pimp? 
Rating: Earthquake might be the quintessential 1970s disaster movie: overly long, highly  melodramatic, and stuffed with unusual cameo appearances (see: “Really?”). It’s also a lot of fun, if you don’t mind a bit of over-acting. 6.5/10 stars.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Up in the Air (2009)

Synopsis: High-flying douchebag gets grounded. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Ryan Bingham is truly living the high life. Flying all over the world on business, he never stops moving… until he meets Alex, a fellow passenger, and learns that life isn’t about the journey, but the connections we make along the way.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Kids love athletes because they follow their dreams. (Adults love athletes because they bang lingerie models). 2) If somebody asks: “am I getting fired?”, the words: “Perhaps you're overlooking the positive effects your career transition will have on your children”, “We're here to talk about your future”, and “This is the first step in a new process that will end with you at a job that fulfills you” aren't going to cut it. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You love being in the air. 
Really?: I had a bit of trouble with the entire concept of this film. Doesn’t every large company have its own Human Resources department that’s perfectly capable of firing employees? Why would anyone pay a hefty fee so Ryan can fly cross-country, fire a mid-level executive or two and then take off the next day? 
Rating: Up in the Air is an enjoyable film that works better as satire on corporate downsizing and the emergence of parasitic Human Resources consulting firms than it does as a romantic comedy, in part because Ryan and Alex are both rather selfish and shallow individuals. In my opinion, the best scenes involve Ryan showing Natalie (Anna Kendrick) the ropes, and attempting to explain why firing employees via videoconferencing is really, really tacky. 8/10 stars.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Duplicity (2009)

Yup - Blockbuster wanted $5 for this flick. 
Synopsis: Devious duo ditch dull data-delivery duties, devise dexterous deceit. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Oscar winner Julia Roberts and Clive Owen star as two sexy spies-turned corporate operatives in the midst of a clandestine love affair.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) There’s a lot of money in frozen pizza. 2) Writing with a fountain pen is rather pretentious. 3) “Lotion” cannot be used interchangeably with “cream.” 
Really?: 1) So, wait - the Swiss buyers take a good look at the stolen formula and realize almost instantly that it’s just a cold cream. Wouldn’t Garsik (Paul Giamatti) have his experts examine the formula before making a huge announcement at the company AGM? 2) Ray (Owen) and Claire (Roberts) meet what - five or six times in exotic locales (ok, Cleveland isn’t all that exotic) just so they can talk about pulling a big scam? Are any of these scenes actually necessary for advancing the plot? 
Rating: Duplicity isn’t bad for an evening’s entertainment, but it doesn’t quite work as either a romantic comedy or as a suspenseful spy thriller. The film suffers from a few problems, including a highly contrived and difficult-to-follow story, a noticeable lack of chemistry between the two leads, and an endless parade of pointless flashbacks (see: “Really?”). Check it out only if there’s nothing better on the tube. 6/10 stars.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Welcome to Collinwood (2002)

Let’s Rob a Jewelry Store Movie #2
Synopsis: George Clooney leads an all-star crew of loveable thieves as they plan-and-execute a heist. So, let’s call it a very low-rent Ocean’s 11
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “it’s the easiest heist plan, the cleanest getaway, the biggest payday. It’s the kind of sure thing folks in blue-collar Collinwood call a Bellini, so what could go wrong? In a word, everything!” 
What Did I Learn?: Bellinis are good….Kapuchniks are bad. 
Really?: 1) I had a hard time believing Pero (Sam Rockwell) would use every dime of Cosimo’s $16,000 to bribe the cop. How does he know the robbery would even be assigned to him? 2) Speaking of which, let’s see…. two old ladies move into the long-vacant apartment next to the shop, and the gang suddenly has a hard-ass cop breathing down their necks. I realize these guys aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed, but most people would dismiss the job as unworkable and simply move on. 
Rating: If Welcome to Collinwood seems eerily familiar, it’s because the film is a remake of the 1958 Italian classic, Big Deal on Madonna Street, which was also remade in the 1980s as Crackers, starring Donald Sutherland and Sean Penn. That said, Collinwood is a clever, compelling, and very funny re-telling of the original (I couldn't stop myself from laughing hysterically when Michael Jeter's Toto somehow loses his underwear during the robbery). 8/10 stars.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)

Let’s Rob a Jewelry Store Movie #1 (Please click the link to read my review of Reservoir Dogs
Please click the links to read my reviews of a few other Sidney Lumet movies, including: Night Falls on Manhattan, Q&A, The Morning After, The Verdict, Network, Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico. 
Synopsis: Botched burglary breaks bonds between broke, boneheaded brothers. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman is Andy, an overextended payroll executive who lures his younger brother, Hank (Ethan Hawke), into a larcenous scheme: the pair will rob a suburban mom-and-pop jewelry store that appears to be the quintessential easy target.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Heaven is a nice place to stay. 2) “Sorry” ain’t gonna pay the bills. 3) The thing about real estate accounting is that you can… add down the page or across the page and everything works out. Everyday, everything adds up. The… total is always the sum of its parts. It's, uh, clean. It's clear. Neat, absolute.
Really?: 1) So, um….where are the cops in this movie? Wouldn't they canvass the area, check out the local car rental agencies, and interview the dead man's girlfriend? 2) Wouldn't Justin have a bit more security in his apartment than a single pistol, considering it contains thousands of dollars in cash and heroin? I man, nobody ever robs drug dealers, do they
Rating: Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is an emotionally-powerful, and incredibly haunting movie that works both as a crime thriller and as a melodrama. BTDKYD isn’t an easy film to watch - especially near the end, when Andy’s and Hank’s lives begin to unravel, but it’s filled with knockout performances, especially from Hoffman and Albert Finney. Oh, and watch for Michael Shannon (best remembered as the looney Nelson Van Alden on Boardwalk Empire) in a small but memorable role. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Chef (2014)

Please click the link to read my review of another film about the love of good food, Big Night
Synopsis: It’s basically a very, very upbeat version of The Van, as well as a two-hour ad for Twitter. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Jon Favreau (writer, director, producer) leads a hilarious all-star cast including Sofia Vergara, Scarlett Johansson, John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, Robert Downey Jr. and young actor Emjay Anthony in this deliciously entertaining comedy about starting from scratch.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Don’t EVER attempt to send a private message via Twitter. 2) Apparently, social media marketing is super-easy, and can be mastered by small children. 
Really?: 1) Ok, I realize Carl was once an up-and-coming chef, but now he’s broke and overweight, and he somehow managed to romance women who look like Sofia Vergara and Scarlett Johansson? That seems awfully Hollywood to me. (Speaking of Johansson, her character isn’t in this movie for very long, even though it’s suggested that she and Carl have feelings for each other. What happened to that relationship?) 2) Funny how all of the in-fighting between Carl, Martin (Leguizamo), and Carl’s son (Anthony) takes place before they set off for Los Angeles, so they generally get along swimmingly on the road. 
Rating: Chef is a warm, somewhat-funny, and highly-enjoyable comedy about a talented-but-bored chef who rediscovers his purpose, and reconnects with his ex-wife and son by opening a food truck and getting back to basics. It’s a nice little film, even though Downey’s cameo doesn’t really fit, and there’s no conflict in the the third act (see: “Really?”), so Carl seems to move from one triumph to another. 8/10 stars.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Melinda and Melinda (2004)

Please click the links to read my reviews of a few other Woody Allen movies, including Manhattan Murder Mystery, Deconstructing Harry, Radio Days, Hollywood Ending, Sweet and Lowdown, and Bullets Over Broadway. 
Synopsis: Have you ever wanted to watch the same dreadfully dull story involving rich-and-pretentious New Yorkers unfold not once, but twice? Have I got a movie for you! 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Legendary writer/director Woody Allen tells a woman’s story twice - once as a comedy, once as a drama.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Apparently, men find women in casual clothing to be much sexier than women in formal or business attire. 2) Everybody who is anybody has a place in the Hamptons. 3) Living is messy. 4) Life has a malicious way of dealing with great potential. 5) Life is all networking. 6) The essence of life isn’t tragic; it’s comic. 7) Life is manageable enough if you keep your hopes modest. The minute you allow yourself sweet dreams you run the risk of them crashing down.
Really?: So, the entire premise of this movie is a friendly debate between two educated playwrights on the superiority of tragedy over comedy, and vice-versa? Isn’t that akin to arguing that the accelerator on a car is more important than its brakes? 
Rating: I wanted to like Melinda and Melinda, yet after an hour of Will Ferrell’s distracting Woody Allen impression, I desperately wished for this turkey to end. None of the characters presented are even remotely likeable, let alone interesting, and the “comedy” presented really falls flat. I cannot recommend this movie. 4/10 stars.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Uncommon Valor (1983)

Coming Back From Vietnam Movie #10 (please click the links to read my reviews of two other Ted Kotcheff films: North Dallas Forty, and Switching Channels) 
Synopsis: It’s like a 105-minute episode of The A-Team, except our heroes use four-letter words, and people actually get iced when the plastique explodes. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Gene Hackman portrays Colonel Jason Rhodes, a man obsessed, in this powerful, action-packed adventure.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) You don’t ever quit, not when it’s for real! 2) Most human problems can be solved by an appropriate charge of high explosives.
Really?: 1) Funny how the only team members who don’t return from the mission are the ones without wives and families waiting for them back home. 2) Am I wrong in thinking it highly unlikely the Vietnamese/Laotians would keep (and feed) American POWs so long after the end of the war? I mean, in this movie, they’re so emaciated that they probably wouldn’t be much use as farm labour, and returning them after so many years would be a public relations disaster for everyone involved. 3) So, wait - the men get their weapons impounded by Thai officials (tipped off by the CIA), so they use their bonus money to buy WWII-era guns, and attempt the mission on the cheap? Wouldn’t it be a much better idea to contact Macgregor for more dough? 
Rating: Uncommon Valor owes a lot to The Dirty Dozen, as well as other mercenary-themed films such as The Wild Geese and The Dogs of War, but it’s also a highly-compelling action-thriller with some nice performances from an impressive cast. This might be an overly-generous review, but Uncommon Valor is one of my favourite go-to films, and it’s definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already seen it on television. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Rolling Thunder (1977)

Coming Back From Vietnam Movie # 9 (Click the link to read my review of Space Cowboys, another film that starred William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones).
Synopsis: Bad dudes mess with the wrong guy, who now wants payback. That's right - it would have been perfect for my 2011 tribute to Revenge movies
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “When Major Charles Rane (William Devane) comes home to Texas after 8 years in a POW camp, he is given a true hero’s welcome - and a couple of things he hadn’t counted on.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Gents, if a band of brigands threaten to shove your hand into a garburator if you don’t hand over a bag of silver dollars, give them the bag! 2) “You learn to love the rope. That's how you beat 'em. That's how you beat people who torture you. You learn to love 'em. Then they don't know you're beatin' ‘em."
Really?: 1) Ok, I realize that Fat Ed, Texan, Automatic Slim and Lopez aren’t exactly the sharpest tools in the shed, but wouldn’t their big plan - assault and rob a local hero who was awarded a few prizes on television - likely result in a huge law enforcement backlash? Wouldn’t it be far simpler (and less risky) to just knock over a liquor store? 2) Gee, Dabney Coleman isn’t given much to do as Rane’s psychologist, is he? 
Rating: Written by Paul Schrader, Rolling Thunder is a worthy companion to Taxi Driver, his other 1970s film about a troubled Vietnam vet who goes off on a violent rampage. Rolling Thunder is gritty, and rather disturbing at times, but it’s also a highly-entertaining action-thriller. 8/10 stars.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Distant Thunder (1988)

Coming Back From Vietnam Movie #8
Synopsis: If you ever wanted to see the Karate Kid get slapped around by the dad from Harry and the Hendersons, this is totally your movie. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “A handful of emotionally-scarred Vietnam vets hide out in Washington’s rain forest, living as if the fighting might erupt at any time. One day it did…” 
What Did I Learn?: It’s a really bad idea to tell a mentally-unstable former Navy Seal to go fuck himself. Just sayin’… 
Really?: 1) So wait, Mark (John Lithgow) and Jack (Ralph Macchio in a role where he isn’t given much to do) don’t even meet until the movie is at least half-way over? And then another vet suddenly turns psychotic, and the film becomes an action-thriller in the third act? 2) Funny how Jack has never known his father, yet he somehow wakes up in local hospital knowing his Dad is about to ‘kiss a train’, and he knows exactly where to find Mark without driving all over unfamiliar territory.  
Rating: I have to give Distant Thunder a bit of a mixed review. While I have never been a huge John Lithgow fan (he was quite good as the Trinity killer in the third season of Dexter, however), he delivers a touching, and highly believable performance as Mark Lambert, a troubled man who somehow finds the courage to reach out to his estranged family for help. The film more-or-less works as a character-driven drama until the last half hour when the plot veers off into a strange direction (see: “Really?”) and we’re treated to a highly contrived reconciliation between father and son. 6.5/10 stars.

Some Kind of Hero (1982)

Coming Back From Vietnam Movie #7
Synopsis: Hilarity ensues when America’s worst soldier gets screwed over by the North Vietnamese, the US Army, his unfaithful wife, a local nursing home, and some really dishonest gangsters. 
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Corporal Eddie Keller just spend six years as a prisoner of war. Now he's coming home.” 
What Did I Learn?: If you’re experiencing money problems, and the government isn’t forking over the cash it owes you, your best course of action is to rob a bank. 
Really?: 1a) The hooker with a heart of gold…man, that’s original. 1b) Can anyone explain why Toni remains so loyal to Eddie? I mean, he’s flat broke, and he certainly doesn’t treat her all that well. 2a) Um….wasn’t Richard Pryor a little old to play a combat soldier in 1981? 2b) So, Eddie is a Corporal, meaning he must have received a promotion from the rank of Private, and yet he acts like a complete idiot when the bullets start flying? 3) Hold on…why would the gangsters bring any money to their meeting with Eddie if their plan is to simply steal his already-stolen bonds and kill him? 4) Funny how the first 20-30 minutes have almost nothing to do with the rest of the picture. I mean, Eddie spent six years in captivity, yet he’s pretty well-adjusted (psychologically speaking) after he’s released. 
Rating: Pryor’s brand of foul-mouthed slapstick humour mixes uneasily with far more serious themes in Some Kind of Hero, a very disjointed comedy-drama about a nice guy who can’t seem to catch a break, even after he’s released from the Hanoi Hilton. The film has a lot of problems, but Pryor’s character is oddly likeable, and I loved the scene where a very nervous Eddie attempts to rob a bank and only succeeds in wetting his pants and humiliating himself - I couldn’t stop laughing for at least ten minutes. 6/10 stars.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Welcome Home (1989)

Coming Back From Vietnam Movie #6
Synopsis: It’s basically The Return of Martin Guerre with a few minutes from Missing in Action
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “In 1970, Air Force pilot Jake Robbins’ plane was shot down over Cambodia. The US Military identified a body as Jake’s and sent it home for burial. Ever since, Jake’s family as struggled to rebuild their lives without him… The Army would like Jake Robbins to remain a dead hero. But now, 17 years after his family buried him in a hero’s grave, Jake Robbins shows up on their doorstep - alive. Welcome Home. 
What Did I Learn?: Apparently, the official U.S. Air Force policy, when confronted with a former Prisoner of War who was previously presumed to be killed in action, is to provide him with phony identification papers and a duffel bag full of cash, and tell him to keep a low profile.
Really?: 1) The first 15 minutes of the movie are a bit difficult to swallow. Jake is comatose from a high fever in Thailand, yet he wakes up in a V.A. hospital in the US. How did they know he was American, let alone an Air Force pilot, and why would American officials take him back to the US without at least vetting him? 2) The offscreen death of Jake’s Cambodian wife is rather convenient, isn’t it? 3) See: “What Did I Learn?” (Seriously, how long do the military brass think Jake can live in his hometown without creating a media frenzy?) 4) So, Jake is supposed to be what, 35 years old? Wasn't Kris Kristopherson a little past his prime for that role in the late 1980s? 
Rating: I have to give Welcome Home a bit of a mixed review. On the one hand, I was genuinely moved by the quiet dignity of Kristopherson’s portrayal of Jake Robbins, and it’s tough not to feel a lump in one’s throat during the scene when he meets his father again after such a long absence. On the other hand, the movie’s script has a few obvious problems (see: “Really?” and “What Did I Learn?”), but its biggest is that it doesn’t really know where to go after Jake reunites with his long-lost wife, and meets her new family. I also have to deduct at least one star for an absolutely awful theme song performed by Willie Nelson, and co-written by Henry Mancini. 6.5/10 stars.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Coming Home (1978)

Coming Back From Vietnam Movie #5 
Synopsis: It’s basically Born on the Fourth of July, except Ron Kovic ruins a marriage. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Perhaps the most powerful and moving film ever made about the shattering aftermath of the Vietnam War, Coming Home earned eight Academy Award nominations and three Oscars: Best Actress for Jane Fonda’s ‘unforgettable portrait’ (Judith Crist), Best Actor for Jon Voight’s ‘dazzling performance’ (Rex Reed) and Best Screenplay.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Tiger balm makes you feel cool. 2) The Marine Corps builds body, mind and spirit. 3) Gents, if you’ve been away from your wife for a long time, and she fixes you an intimate dinner-and-cocktails welcome home get-together with a couple of close friends, it’s a really bad idea to invite a few of your drinking buddies over for free booze that night. 
Really?: Um, isn’t Bruce Dern’s hair a little long for a Marine Captain? 
Rating: Coming Home is a powerful anti-war drama (it’s also a searing indictment of the overcrowded, and underfunded V.A. hospitals that treated Vietnam vets) that earned three Oscars: Best Actress for Fonda, Best Actor for Voight, and Best Screenplay. Both leads deliver strong performances, but in my opinion, Dern steals the movie with his memorable portrayal of a decent-yet-troubled officer who can’t come to grips with the savagery he saw in combat. Oh, the film also boasts a kick-ass 1960s soundtrack. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.