Film Review: Brewster’s Millions (1985)

Release Date: May 22nd, 1985
Directed by: Walter Hill
Written by: Timothy Harris, Herschel Weingrod
Based on: Brewster’s Millions by George Barr McCutcheon
Music by: Ry Cooder
Cast: Richard Pryor, John Candy, Lonette McKee, Stephen Collins, Hume Cronyn, David White, Jerry Orbach, Pat Hingle, David Wohl, Tovah Feldshuh, Peter Jason, Rick Moranis

Lawrence Gordon Productions, Davis Entertainment, Silver Pictures, Universal Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Gentlemen, do you think I’m a lowlife?” – Monty Brewster, “Oh no, Mr. Brewster. Not with these clothes.” – Tailor

When I was a kid, this was my favorite Richard Pryor movie. I probably watched this dozens of times, as it was on television a lot. I also liked that it starred John Candy and that Rick Moranis pops up in it, albeit in a pretty minor role.

This was also a remake of a 1920s Fatty Arbuckle film that I’ve never seen but honestly, that’s long overdue and I should probably give that one a watch.

For being a light comedy in the opulent and fun ’80s, I thought that the story and all its details were really well-crafted.

Basically, Pryor’s Monte Brewster has inherited $300 million but in order to collect it, he has to pass a test where he has to spend $30 million. But there are all these fine details into what he can and can’t do and that’s what makes the story really good.

There are twists and turns throughout and there are also some people that try to trick him into failing at every turn because they have a very big financial interest in seeing Brewster lose his right to his inheritance.

Surprisingly, this is directed by Walter Hill. He’s directed stuff like the 48 Hrs. films, The WarriorsRed Heat and other pretty awesome classic action flicks. So a straight up comedy like this makes him an odd choice for director but he taps into the same energy he had when working with Eddie Murphy on the first 48 Hrs. and just kind of applies that to Pryor and Candy.

I think Hill’s involvement actually shows his versatility as a director while also giving this a bit more oomph while making the story work really well in spite of it being more layered than it needed to be for a simple, light-hearted ’80s comedy.

Additionally, I love Pryor in this. I think it may be his best character, as he’s just a really good guy that wants to succeed but also wants to spread that success to those around him. Frankly, it’s impossible not to root for him in this.

Brewster’s Millions is just one of those movies that will always hold a place in my heart. It’s positive, it’s meaningful and it’s a much better movie than it should have been.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

Release Date: May 2nd, 1946
Directed by: Tay Garnett
Written by: Harry Ruskin, Niven Busch
Based on: The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
Music by: George Bassman, Erich Zeisl
Cast: Lana Turner, John Garfield, Cecil Kellaway, Hume Cronyn, Audrey Totter

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 113 Minutes

Review:

“You know, there’s something about this that’s like, well it’s like you’re expecting a letter that you’re just crazy to get, and you’re hanging around the front door for fear you might not hear him ring. You never realize that he always rings twice…” – Frank Chambers

The Postman Always Rings Twice was the highest grossing film-noir picture of the classic era. Also, it was a departure from what MGM typically put into theaters, as crime thrillers weren’t really their cup of tea.

The film stars Lana Turner and John Garfield, both of whom are at the top of their game in this. While they had great careers, there was a real grittiness to them here, even if Turner’s Cora Smith carried herself as an opulent and gorgeous upper class type. Garfield came with a hard edge that was impossible to deny. But most importantly, their chemistry was quite spectacular and they are one of the best noir duos of all-time.

The film was directed by Tay Garnett. He wasn’t known for noir but he was still able to create a classic in the genre with this picture. But much of that can be attributed to a good script by Harry Ruskin and Niven Busch, as well as the crisp and smooth cinematography of Sidney Wagner, who kept things pretty straightforward but used the lighting to his advantage. Plus, the talent of the cast, not just the two main stars, was a big contributor to this film’s quality. I especially enjoyed Hume Cronyn in this but then again, when don’t I enjoy the guy?

The plot of the film follows a drifter, Frank Chambers, who takes a job at a roadside cafe. He quickly falls for the owner’s wife, Cora Smith. There is tension between the two but it quickly fades and we get in to a web of lies, deceit and murder. Like many film-noir pictures, the story is told to us by the main character in hindsight. While the overall narrative could be considered derivative, most noir movies were, it certainly stands tall in spite of it retreading very familiar territory.

The Postman Always Rings Twice is an iconic picture and for good reason. It was even remade in the 1980s with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange playing the roles that Garfield and Turner gave life to. I like this version of the story best but I’ll probably have to revisit the ’80s take on it soon.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Brute Force (1947)

Release Date: June 30th, 1947
Directed by: Jules Dassin
Written by: Richard Brooks, Robert Patterson
Music by: Miklós Rózsa
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Hume Cronyn, Charles Bickford, Sam Levene, Ella Raines, Charles McGraw (uncredited)

Universal Pictures, 98 Minutes

Review:

“[to Captain Munsey] That’s why you’d never resign from this prison. Where else whould you find so many helpless flies to stick pins into?” – Dr. Walters

Brute Force was directed by Jules Dassin, who did a hamdful of noir pictures, all of them pretty interesting in their own regard. He always brought a sense of authenticity and realism to his pictures. This one is unusual, as it takes place in a prison and the only time we really leave the confines of the cold walls and steel bars is through flashbacks of life before incarceration.

The film starts off with a bang, as we are treated to ominous shots of the prison and a pounding yet beautiful score by Miklós Rózsa. The whole vibe in the first few shots reminds me a lot of the experience of playing the first Batman: Arkham Asylum video game, except shown in a film-noir visual style.

Burt Lancaster and Hume Cronyn both star in this and both actors are absolutely magnificent. Lancaster plays a prisoner that wants to escape, as his wife is dying of cancer. Cronyn plays the head prison guard and truly is the embodiment of evil, as he is a power hungry maniac ruling over the men in the penitentiary with a strong arm and a heavy club.

Ultimately, I thought that this film would defy the morality censors of the time but the old adage that crime doesn’t pay is still made very apparent in this picture. I wouldn’t say that the film has a predictable ending and for something from the 1940s it has a much harder edge than  you might expect. The big finale is especially satisfying for those wanting a film-noir with serious gravitas and without fear of pushing the envelope too far.

The characters are well written with diverse personalities that make each one stand out in their own way. The camaraderie between the prisoners feels genuine and you care about Lancaster’s criminal crew more intimately than you would background players in other films from this era.

The movie is well shot with nice cinematography by William Daniels, who also worked on the underrated Lured, as well as Naked City, which was also directed by Jules Dassin. He gave the prison life, even if it felt dead, cold and overbearing.

Brute Force was a surprise for me. I expected something fairly decent with Dassin at the helm and with Lancaster and Cronyn in front of the camera. What I experienced was something much better than the norm with bigger balls than the 1940s typically allowed on the silver screen.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Batteries Not Included (1987)

Also stylized as: *batteries not included
Also known as: Miracle On 8th Street (international)
Release Date: December 18th, 1987
Directed by: Matthew Robbins
Written by: Mick Garris, Brad Bird, Matthew Robbins, Brent Maddock, S.S. Wilson
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Frank McRae, Elizabeth Pena, Dennis Boutsikaris, Michael Carmine, Wendy Schaal

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

“The quickest way to end a miracle is to ask it why it is… or what it wants.” – Frank Riley

Batteries Not Included sort of came and went in the theater. At least, I wasn’t really aware of it until it popped up on HBO about a year later. Once I saw it though, I was captivated and would try to catch it every time it was playing on television. It is one of those movies I loved as a kid but hadn’t really seen since. So when I came across it on Netflix, I wanted to see how it played, thirty years later.

The film was actually intended to be an episode of Steve Spielberg’s awesome television show Amazing Stories. Spielberg liked the story so much that he wanted to have it expanded into a feature film. Also, this was Brad Bird’s first time writing for a theatrical release. He would go on to write and direct the beloved animated films The Iron GiantThe Incredibles and Ratatouille.

The movie tells the story of the residents of a rundown building in New York City. The area is being torn down and the residents forced out by thugs hired by developers who intend to build modern massive skyscrapers. The thugs go around destroying the resident’s homes and property. Two tiny alien spaceships show up and start fixing everything. The little spaceships are actually alien lifeforms that take junk and appliances and use them to repair and enhance themselves. They even give birth to three baby alien ships in the film.

The movie is really about miracles and how when you are pushed to your limit and all seems hopeless, sometimes things can happen to pick you back up. Batteries Not Included is about not losing hope and it is also about family and friends and turning to those around you who are good people. It’s interesting that it takes non-human lifeforms to bring the humans in the story together.

For 1987, the special effects are fantastic. The movie still looks stellar today and it held up really nicely.

The cast were all really good but the bulk of the picture rests on the shoulders of Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy (just a few years before her big Academy Award win for Driving Miss Daisy). It’s kind of nice revisiting pictures like this and Cocoon, as they feature elderly actors as the main characters. It is something that you don’t see very often anymore, at least not in major studio sci-fi releases. But the 80s were a magical time for film.

I was happy that I revisited this, so many years later, because I wasn’t disappointed, as I often times am with movies I once loved as a kid. It was actually just as I remembered it without any extra romantic flourish added to it from my memory.

Batteries Not Included is sort of forgotten today and it wasn’t a big hit in its day, anyway. It is a movie that probably deserves more recognition than it got, though. It just looks good, plays good and most importantly, feels good.

Rating: 7.25/10