Film Review: Career Opportunities (1991)

Also known as: One Wild Night (working title)
Release Date: March 29th, 1991
Directed by: Bryan Gordon
Written by: John Hughes
Music by: Thomas Newman
Cast: Frank Whaley, Jennifer Connelly, Dermot Mulroney, Kieran Mulroney, Barry Corbin, William Forsythe, John Candy (uncredited)

Hughes Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“[to himself] She’s so beautiful. And I’m the town liar.” – Jim Dodge

This film probably gets a worse rap than it should. If you are comparing it to John Hughes’ top films, yeah, it falls short. But it is still a fun and amusing coming of age comedy that still has the John Hughes spirit worked into its script.

Maybe some of the problems with this is that Hughes didn’t direct the movie and that it rehashed a lot of ideas that he already addressed in better ways with previous films like The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles but those ideas are still worth exploring in a fresher way with characters that are a bit older.

I liked Frank Whaley and I know that even he had reservations about his own performance and being cast in the role but I think he did a good job and he was certainly likable in this, despite being the “town liar”. Really, he’s just a chronic embellisher and storyteller.

Jennifer Connelly also did a good job and her performance and line delivery were actually better than what the script called for. But I think the thing that worked well for this picture was that she had really good, natural chemistry with Whaley.

I also liked all the smaller characters in the film like the cameos by John Candy and William Forsythe, as well as the scenes with the always entertaining Barry Corbin. Dermot and Kieran Mulroney were also enjoyable as the bumbling bandits that come in at the end of the film.

If I’m being honest, some of my love for this movie could be due to nostalgia. As a kid, this movie was cool because what kid didn’t want to be locked in a Target all night with the entire store as a playground? Plus, I was crushing hard on Jennifer Connelly and frankly, that’s a crush that never really died, as she still catches my attention in almost every film she’s in.

For the time, the soundtrack is also solid. It features a lot of pop hits but it’s that weird era where music was transitioning from the ’80s into the ’90s and being middle school age when this movie came out, meant that a lot of the music worked for me and the time.

While I wouldn’t put this in the upper echelon of Hughes’ work, it’s still a fun, energetic and entertaining movie. Hughes actually requested to have his name taken off of the film, as he didn’t like the finished product, but I still think this is a better picture than most people give it credit for.

Career Opportunities achieved what it set out to do. It was made to be a lighthearted coming of age comedy that served as escapism for an hour and a half. Okay, maybe it fell just slight of that running time but it was good escapism for a twelve year-old in 1991. And I still revisit it every half decade or so.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other coming of age John Hughes comedies: Ferris Bueller’s Day OffWeird ScienceSixteen CandlesThe Breakfast ClubPretty In PinkSome Kind of Wonderful, etc.

Film Review: WarGames (1983)

Also known as: The Genius (working title)
Release Date: May 7th, 1983 (Cannes)
Directed by: John Badham
Written by: Lawrence Lasker, Walter F. Parkes
Music by: Arthur B. Rubinstein
Cast: Matthew Broderick, Dabney Coleman, John Wood, Ally Sheedy, Barry Corbin, Michael Madsen, Maury Chaykin, Eddie Deezen

United Artists, Sherwood Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 114 Minutes

Review:

“Which side do you want?” – Joshua, “I’ll be the Russians.” – David Lightman

In preparation for the release of the film version of Ready Player One, I have been reading the novel. WarGames plays a significant role in the story, at least in the book anyway, and reading about it got me all nostalgic and wanting to revisit the film. So I did.

I haven’t seen this in quite awhile but my fondest experience of this film was watching it in computer programming class in middle school. I had seen it before that but I didn’t have the computer knowledge to properly grasp the film when I was really young. Or at least the computer programming experience gave me more of an appreciation for the film, even if it was hokey and unrealistic.

Sure, the movie feels dated but it’s the best kind of dated. It’s chock full of ’80s-ness and backed up by a talented cast. The threat feels legitimate and the suspense and tension still work really well when experienced today. Maybe it’s because we now live in a time where our world leaders threaten each other with nukes over Twitter. The thing is, Cold War fears didn’t just go away with the Cold War itself, they just evolved in different ways and attached themselves to newer boogeymen.

WarGames isn’t what I would call an exceptional film but it tapped into societal fears, similar to Red DawnThe Day After and hell… Rocky IV. It is effective in that regard. It sort of exploits those feelings for its story but it does it in a cool and hip way, presented for teen audiences that were just starting to grasp their modern world, at the time.

It doesn’t just tap into Cold War fears though, it also taps into fears surrounding emerging technologies like home computers and the Internet. While everyone wishes they could hack their school and change their grades like Matthew Broderick in this film and in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, there was real concern over what these technologies could do in the wrong hands. It also looks at the potential negative effects of technological automation, where certain tasks and decisions are taken out of the hands of human beings and given over to computers. It’s possible that this movie had some influence on James Cameron, who was making the first Terminator film at the time of this picture’s release.

This film was a good vehicle to really launch the careers of Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy. Both had done a bit of work before this but WarGames quickly cemented them as teen stars, as the ’80s moved towards teen movies and MTV was becoming a household name: changing pop culture forever. There are also small but good roles here for a young Maury Chaykin, character actor Eddie Deezen and eventual ’90s badass Michael Madsen.

The adult cast is rounded out by the great mix of Dabney Coleman, Barry Corbin and John Wood. All brought some good veteran leadership to the film and each was likable in their own distinct way, even if Corbin was a hot headed general that didn’t want to deal with Broderick and his brainy youthful antics.

WarGames is still pretty damn good and I was glad that I fired it up for the first time in several years. If you ever wanted to have a fun double feature, this pairs well with Real Genius.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Real GeniusFerris Bueller’s Day Off

Film Review: No Country For Old Men (2007)

Release Date: May 19th, 2007 (Cannes)
Directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Written by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Based on: No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Kelly Macdonald, Woody Harrelson, Barry Corbin, Beth Grant, Stephen Root, Garret Dillahunt

Scott Rudin Productions, Mike Zoss Productions, Miramax Films, Paramount Vantage, 122 Minutes

Review:

“I always figured when I got older, God would sorta come inta my life somehow. And he didn’t. I don’t blame him. If I was him I would have the same opinion of me that he does.” – Sheriff Ed Tom Bell

While the Coens have made some fantastic films over the last several decades, going back to 1984’s Blood Simple, this picture is in the upper echelon of their rich oeuvre. Yet, in a lot of ways, it calls back to Blood Simple in style and for blending together different genres in a unique way. It is also very similar to Fargo, as both films follow a small town cop dealing with a grisly crime from out-of-towners and it is accented by a lot of violence on screen.

Some have called No Country for Old Men a western, others have called it a film-noir. While it takes place in more modern times than the traditional settings of those genres, it does share elements of both. It is very much a neo-western and also a neo-noir in its narrative style. I think that is a big part of what makes this such an extraordinary picture though. It is a hybrid and reinvention of multiple styles but it all weaves together like a gritty, balls out tapestry of masculine intensity.

Other than being in the very capable hands of Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, the film boasts an incredible cast, mostly of badass men.

First, you have Josh Brolin and this is the role that really put him on the map and sort of resurrected his career, as he isn’t remembered for much before this other than in his teen years when he played Brand in 1985’s The Goonies. He was perfectly cast here, as a hunter who stumbles upon a drug deal gone bad, takes a case of money and finds himself in way over his head. Essentially, the hunter becomes the hunted.

Then you have Javier Bardem as the evil hitman Anton Chigurh. Bardem’s Chigurh has become one of the greatest villains in movie history, mainly because of how unusual he is as a person and in how he executes his targets. Chigurh is scary as hell, period. His method of killing is to use a bolt pistol on his targets. A bolt pistol is a tool that uses compressed air to send a bolt through the heads of cattle before their slaughter. In a sense, Chigurh is a remorseless, cold blooded killer and his choice of weapon goes to show that he sees human beings as nothing more than cattle that need to be put down if they find themselves in his path. Although, the fates of some characters are decided by Chigurh flipping a coin, similar to Two-Face from the Batman franchise.

The film also gives us Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson and Barry Corbin. Jones plays the sheriff that is trying to contain the violence that is running rampant in his county, Harrelson plays a bounty hunter and acquaintance/rival of Chigurh, while Corbin plays a sort of mentor to Jones’ sheriff character. With Jones, we see a sheriff that also finds himself in over his head and is admittedly “outmatched” by the evil in his world. Harrelson, while a bounty hunter, finds himself in the sights of another killer. Like Brolin, these other characters are also on the side of the coin that they aren’t familiar with.

No Country for Old Men is known for its level of violence. While there is a lot of it, I don’t think that it is as violent as the book. However, seeing it come alive on screen is effective. It isn’t done in a way that is gratuitous or to be celebrated or used as a cheap parlor trick to sell the movie, it is presented in a way that shows it in a negative light, something that the sane characters abhor. It exists as almost a commentary against itself but to also shed light on a very real level of violence that exists along the U.S.-Mexican border. While this takes place in 1980, not much has changed in that region.

Two things that really make the film as impactful as it is, on an emotional level, are the film’s score by Carter Burwell and the cinematography by the veteran Roger Deakins. For Deakins, this film was sandwiched between his work on In the Valley of Elah and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. There are some strong visual similarities between the three films and they are three of the best looking motion pictures of 2007.

At this point, No Country for Old Men is considered to be a classic and for good reason. It won four Oscars, the most important being Best Picture. It also won for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh. It was also nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. It shared the most nominations with There Will Be Blood but it beat it out in awards won. As to which is better, that’s open for debate.

Rating: 9.25/10

TV Review: The Ranch (2016- )

Original Run: April 1st, 2016 – ????
Created by: Don Reo, Jim Patterson
Directed by: David Trainer
Written by: various
Music by: Ryeland Allison
Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Danny Masterson, Debra Winger, Sam Elliott, Elisha Cuthbert, Barry Corbin, Bret Harrison, Megyn Price, Kelli Goss, Kathy Baker, Ethan Suplee, Wendie Malick, Lou Diamond Phillips, Jon Cryer, Wilmer Valderrama, Martin Mull, John Amos, Thomas F. Wilson, Debra Jo Rupp, Jim Beaver, Conchata Ferrell

Ranch Hand Productions, Netflix, 30 Episodes (thus far), 28-34 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*originally written in 2016.

Netflix has gotten crazy with their original content. It seems like nearly every week there is some new show to watch now. I feel like one of their newest efforts, The Ranch, may have slipped through the cracks for most people.

It stars That ’70s Show alum Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson, which is pretty awesome as their comedic chemistry in that previous show was pretty uncanny. It also adds in the always awesome Sam Elliott, as their father, and the fantastic Debra Winger, as their mom. The cast is pretty solid but it just isn’t enough for this lackluster sitcom.

The show was created by the creators of Two and a Half Men but that was never a great series and it ran its course at least half a decade before the show actually ended. But this does re-team Kutcher with the people he worked with on that show, so it is like a happy marriage of a bunch of people Kutcher worked with on his two most famous projects. That doesn’t necessarily create a good recipe, however.

The show is mostly humorous, in a “lowest common denominator” sort of way. Granted, it does have charm and appeal. The charm isn’t immediately apparent but it grows as the show progresses. The appeal is due to the cast and the nostalgic feeling of seeing Kutcher and Masterson together. Plus, Sam Elliott, again, is always awesome and he looks to be having a lot of fun on this project.

As of now, Netflix has only released ten episodes – the first half of season one. It is enough to sink your teeth into but not enough to know if this is going to be a slow build to something better. By the end, I was mostly happy with the show but not completely sold that it wouldn’t end up being cookie cutter CBS-style sitcom bullshit. Ultimately, the characters and their relationship is what works and the comedy is just sort of there for flourish.

Update:

Having now seen 30 episodes, I feel like the show has found its footing. It isn’t fantastic but I do find myself anticipating it when I see that new episodes are about to drop.

Over the course of the three parts (as they aren’t full seasons), the show has featured more of Kutcher’s former cast mates from other shows and it also brings in a lot of other talent, whether from other classic sitcoms or from other shows and movies.

The Ranch is pretty enjoyable. It isn’t the funniest thing on television or even close to the best show. For some reason, however, it just works and it comes off as incredibly genuine and looks to be a fun show to be a part of for those involved. Their enthusiasm comes through and it makes you care about these characters.

Rating: 7.75/10