Film Review: Stealing Harvard (2002)

Also known as: Say Uncle, Stealing Stanford, The Promise, Uncle, You Promised (working titles)
Release Date: September 13th, 2002
Directed by: Bruce McCulloch
Written by: Martin Hayes, Peter Tolan
Music by: Christophe Beck
Cast: Jason Lee, Tom Green, Leslie Mann, Dennis Farina, Richard Jenkins, John C. McGinley, Chris Penn, Tammy Blanchard, Megan Mullally, Seymour Cassel, Martin Starr, Bruce McCulloch

Imagine Entertainment, Revolution Studios, 85 Minutes

Review:

“Elaine… I like her. I like her a lot, John. But she’s a bitch! She’s a dirty, dumb bitch.” – Duff

Almost everyone I know hated this movie. Well, I knew two people that liked it but like me, they’re also long-time Tom Green fans and appreciate his absurd humor and outlandish antics.

But I get it, Green’s style of comedy isn’t for most people even if he once had a “novelty” song that conquered TRL until MTV pulled it, as well as one of the most watched late night talk shows of the era, even though MTV pulled that too.

Green’s movies are typically met with disdain from the critics but then, the critics’ consensus is typically met with disdain from myself and others who now see them as just corporate movie shills that want their early screening passes, swanky party invites and swag to keep coming in.

Anyway, that being said, I can’t say that this is a particularly good film. However, it’s still enjoyable if you like Green, as well as Jason Lee. It also features a ton of good talent from Leslie Mann, Dennis Farina, John C. McGinley, Megan Mullally, Richard Jenkins, Seymour Cassel, Chris Penn and Martin Starr. Also, it’s directed by Bruce McCulloch of Kids In the Hall. So there’s a good mix of people who are both charming, skilled and commit to the bit that is this picture.

This is a dumb, stoner, buddy comedy and that’s fine. Sometimes you want to escape and laugh at stupid shit and this movie provides a lot of good, solid, stupid shit.

The plot is about a young guy (Jason Lee), on the verge of getting married and buying a house. He is reminded, however, that he promised his niece that he’d pay for her college. Well, she’s going to Harvard and even though she has some financial assistance, the guy has to come up with the remaining 30 grand. So he goes to his friend (Tom Green) for some ideas on how to come up with the money. One thing leads to another and they decide to commit a few crimes, which all go very, very poorly.

While Lee and Green are the two featured in most of the scenes, this is still an ensemble piece and everyone gets their moment to shine. That being said, I thought that this was really well cast and I’ve got to be honest, Dennis Farina and John C. McGinley steal the scenes they’re in because they’re so good and convincing.

Out of all the movies that feature Tom Green in a prominent role, this one is probably the best. Granted, I haven’t watched any of them for a really long time. So I may start revisiting them and seeing how they’ve held up since his heyday in the early ’00s.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: True Romance (1993)

Release Date: September 8th, 1993 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Tony Scott
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, James Gandolfini, Bronson Pinchot, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Rapaport, Saul Rubinek, Conchata Ferrell, Chris Penn, Anna Thomson, Victor Argo, Tom Sizemore, Kevin Corrigan, Michael Beach, Ed Lauter (uncredited)

August Entertainment, Davis-Films, Morgan Creek Entertainment, 119 Minutes (theatrical), 121 minutes (unrated Director’s Cut)

Review:

“If there’s one thing this last week has taught me, it’s better to have a gun and not need it than to need a gun and not have it.” – Clarence Worley

Since I just revisited Natural Born Killers, a film written by but not directed by Quentin Tarantino, I figured that I’d also checkout the other one.

True Romance was directed by Tony Scott using a script that Tarantino sold in an effort to get enough money to make Reservoir Dogs. That being said, out of the two scripts he sold, this is the one that was translated to screen the best. Also, Tarantino doesn’t disown this film, as he does Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.

I think that Scott’s directorial style mixed with Tarantino’s writing was a pretty good match. Granted, this also benefits from having an incredibly talented ensemble cast and one of Hans Zimmer’s most unique but incredibly effective musical scores.

Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette are f’n dynamite in this and despite the insanity of the circumstances they created, they were pretty believable, had superb chemistry and you really wanted these two kids, who had just found true love in each other, to make it though and have that “happily ever after” ending. They luckily succeed. Although, maybe they don’t but I’ll get into that towards the end of the review.

Beyond the two leads you’ve got so many notable people, many of which are in small roles or in the case of Val Kilmer, completely obscured to the point that you don’t even know that it’s him. The real standout scene in the film doesn’t even star the leads, though, it stars Dennis Hopper, who is only in a handful of scenes and Christopher Walken, who is only in this one iconic scene. And man, it’s one of the greatest scenes of Walken’s career. It happens midway through the film and it leaves you with a legitimate sense of dread, making you understand just how much trouble the young lovers are actually in.

The second most iconic scene in this is where Patricia Arquette enters her motel room alone to find James Gandolfini sitting in a chair clutching a shotgun. It’s an unnerving and extremely f’d up scene, as Gandolfini brutalizes Arquette. It’s a scene that Hollywood wouldn’t have the balls to do today due to how brutal it is. However, Arquette does get the upper hand in this ultraviolent fracas and makes Gandolfini pay in an even more brutal way.

That being said, this is an exceptionally violent film but those who have experienced Tarantino’s work, should know what they are getting into, even if the material is brought to life by another director.

So watching this film for the first time in a long time, I was left wondering about the ending. We see the young lovers leave behind the craziness that became their life for a bit. The closing moments show them on a beach with a child. All seems well and good.

However, I doubt that Christopher Walken’s very driven and cold mobster character isn’t just going to stop looking for them, especially after the crew he sent to catch and kill them were all taken out in a blaze of violence in the film’s finale. So there’s that bit of worry in the back of my head and it does leave the movie open for a sequel. However, I’d leave this alone and never attempt that. By this point, that ship has most definitely sailed, anyway.

True Romance is a great film, top-to-bottom. It’s built up a legitimate cult following over the years and being that Arquette’s Alabama is directly tied to Harvey Keitel’s Mr. White from Reservoir Dogs sets it in the same universe as that film and Pulp Fiction and just adds to the picture’s mystique and coolness.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Rumble Fish (1983)

Release Date: October 7th, 1983 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: S. E. Hinton, Francis Ford Coppola
Based on: Rumble Fish by S. E. Hinton
Music by: Stewart Copeland
Cast: Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Vincent Spano, Diane Lane, Diana Scarwid, Nicolas Cage, Dennis Hopper, Chris Penn, Laurence Fishburne, Tom Waits, Sofia Coppola, S. E. Hinton (cameo)

Zoetrope Studios, Hotweather Films, Universal Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“No, your mother… is not crazy. And neither, contrary to popular belief, is your brother crazy. He’s merely miscast in a play. He was born in the wrong era, on the wrong side of the river… With the ability to be able to do anything that he wants to do and… findin’ nothin’ that he wants to do. I mean nothing.” – Father

Rumble Fish truly is the spiritual sequel to The Outsiders and was even released in the same year.

Francis Ford Coppola wrote this alongside S. E. Hinton, based off of her novel of the same name. She also wrote the young adult novel that Coppola adapted into The Outsiders.

This was thrown together pretty quickly and was worked on and developed while The Outsiders was still filming and while this was made much cheaper, shot in black and white and released through a different studio, the spirit of what made The Outsiders a truly special movie, also exists in this picture.

In some ways, due to the presentation and look of this picture, Rumble Fish is more majestic and magical. It also feels like it’s a story that takes place in the late ’50s or early ’60s but it features modern cars and other inventions that wouldn’t have been around in the same era as The Outsiders. It’s hard to peg exactly when this takes place but that just adds to the otherworldliness of it.

That being said, I love the use of black and white and the overall cinematography of this picture. It’s pretty high contrast and stylish and it reminds me of classic film-noir but sort of has the energy of one of those Japanese neo-noir pictures by Seijun Suzuki. And no, I wouldn’t consider this a neo-noir but it just shares a very similar visual presentation.

Coppola also brought back some of the actors from The Outsiders, primarily Matt Dillon and Diane Lane. However, the additions to the cast like Mickey Rourke, Dennis Hopper, Nicolas Cage, Chris Penn and Laurence Fishburne were all great. The cast is pretty packed with talent ala The Outsiders but I’m glad that it shuffled the deck somewhat and brought in some fresh faces, allowing this to stand on its own.

So while this shares similar themes to the other movie I keep mentioning, this has its own unique story that I found to be really interesting. It has different beats, moves at a more rapid pace and ultimately, has a very different but still tragic ending.

I’m kind of surprised that long-time fans of The Outsiders haven’t heard of or seen this movie. It’s a perfect companion piece to it and it hits you in a very similar way while not being a complete rehash of what you’ve already seen before.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Release Date: January 21st, 1992 (Sundance)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Michael Madsen, Edward Bunker, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Wright (voice)

Live America Inc., Dog Eat Dog Productions, Miramax Films, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Hey, why am I Mr. Pink?” – Mr. Pink

Every great director has to start somewhere and this is where Quentin Tarantino’s career truly began. This is his origin story and for a first real attempt at creating a full-fledged motion picture, the young director absolutely nailed it and gave the world something exceptional.

The film also has a great ensemble of actors who would go on to do great things, as well as Harvey Keitel, who was already established as a master of his craft, especially in crime pictures.

The bulk of the movie, from a performance standpoint, mostly falls on the shoulders of Keitel and Tim Roth. While Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi, Chris Penn and Lawrence Tierney were all perfect, it is the bond between Keitel and Roth that drives the picture and gives it the needed emotional weight and purpose.

The majority of this film takes place in one room. It actually only leaves this room when the actors walk out into its parking lot or during a flashback sequence. It is a very confined film but that works to its advantage and for its building of tension.

Reservoir Dogs also showcases Tarantino’s mastery of dialogue. While I feel that his dialogue tends to get really carried away in his later films and almost ruins them, in this picture he has the perfect balance of great dialogue, pivotal plot developments and overall motion. The conversations may go on for a bit but they are the driving force of the film. But never does it go on too long or go off on drawn out unnecessary tangents that don’t work as well on a second viewing. Every scene says what it needs to say and serves a purpose. The film just moves, flows and keeps you on edge in the right way. It is witty and it is fast in a way that Tarantino’s later pictures aren’t.

Now the film is also surrounded in some minor controversy, as people have gone on to notice that this film seems to borrow quite heavily from the 80s Hong Kong film City On Fire. Ringo Lam’s well-known picture in the Hong Kong crime genre predates Reservoir Dog by five years. It features an undercover cop infiltrating a group of jewel thieves, tension around the fact that no one knows who the cop is, a Mexican standoff finale and a whole laundry list of other similar plot points. Tarantino has casually denied that Reservoir Dogs is a sort of remake of City On Fire but it is hard to deny the myriad of similarities when you have seen both films.

The thing is, even if Tarantino ripped it off to launch his career, the fact remains that he made a much better picture than Ringo Lam’s City On Fire. Also, Reservoir Dogs, despite its inspiration, is very much a Tarantino picture. Also, hasn’t Quentin Tarantino’s entire career just been made up of artistic homages to all the things he thinks are cool? But I guess the thing that bothers people is that he won’t admit he lifted the plot when he very honestly states that Kill Bill was his version of Lady Snowblood or when he just borrows titles from other movies for his films like using Django in the title of Django Unchained or taking Inglorious Bastards and stylizing it Inglourious Basterds.

At the end of the day, I don’t care how Tarantino came to create Reservoir Dogs. It is still very much his and a work of modern cinematic art. It was, by far, one of the greatest debuts of any director in history and it will always be considered one of the greatest indie films of the 1990s.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Best of the Best (1989)

Release Date: November 10th, 1989
Directed by: Bob Radler
Written by: Paul Levine, Phillip Rhee
Music by: Paul Gilman
Cast: Eric Roberts, James Earl Jones, Sally Kirkland, Phillip Rhee, John P. Ryan, John Dye, David Agresta, Tom Everett, Louise Fletcher, Simon Rhee, Christopher Penn, James Lew

The Movie Group, SVS Company Inc., Kuys Entertainment, Taurus Entertainment, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Yeah! Drop him like a toilet seat, Tommy!” – Travis Brickley

The late 80s were rife with modestly budgeted martial arts movies. While Stallone and Schwarzenegger owned the action genre at the box office, it was the Van Dammes, Seagals, Dudikoffs and Kosugis that killed it on video store shelves. Best of the Best tried to capitalize off of the martial arts genre and it actually did a pretty fine job.

Phillip Rhee, one of the writers, plays the role of Tommy Lee. While he is not the main character, he does have the most important story, fights in the grand finale and would go on to star in all four pictures in this film series.

The top two stars were Eric Roberts, who has an electric mane in this picture, and James Earl Jones, who played the coach of Team USA. Chris Penn is also in this as one of the American fighters, as is John Dye, who would become most famous for his role on the TV series Touched by an Angel.

Eric Roberts was a pretty solid lead and really believable as his character. He had an intensity and charisma unmatched by many actors in the martial arts genre. He did return for the second film but wasn’t in the third or fourth.

James Earl Jones was great as the coach. This is actually one of my favorite Jones roles, as he nails it every time he is on the screen. His passion as coach came out in every scene and he had an energy and earnestness that couldn’t be ignored. His mission to prepare the American fighters for the fight of their lives was a well-balanced game of tough love and respect. He was like the Vince Lombardi of karate.

The fight choreography was much better than average for this sort of picture. The action felt authentic and real. It was fluid and dynamic unlike the later films in the American Ninja series that seemed to stop caring.

In this film, a team of Americans is selected to go to South Korea to fight their best martial artists. It is mostly a competition for bragging rights but in the end, the film displays an amazing exchange of sportsmanship between the fighters of both proud countries. In fact, if you don’t cry like a little bitch at the end, then you aren’t a real man. Shit still gets me every time when you see these fighters earn each other’s respect.

Best of the Best wasn’t as big of a hit as it should have been in video stores. It was overshadowed by the growing popularity of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal. However, it still did good enough to warrant three sequels.

Rating: 7.25/10