Film Review: Easy Money (1983)

Release Date: August 19th, 1983
Directed by: James Signorelli
Written by: Dennis Blair, Rodney Dangerfield, Michael Endler, P. J. O’Rourke
Music by: Laurence Rosenthal
Cast: Rodney Dangerfield, Joe Pesci, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Candy Azzara, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan, Taylor Negron, Jeffrey Jones, Val Avery

Easy Money Associates, Orion Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“You pollute the air with your smoking. You reek of liquor and god knows what else. You’re an ecological menace!” – Mrs. Monahan, “Yeah, well you were the inspiration for twin beds!” – Monty

This is the only Rodney Dangerfield movie I had never seen. I’ve seen a few clips over the years but the film’s plot was unknown to me until I finally gave this a watch.

Funny thing about that, is that the actual plot doesn’t even come into play until the midpoint of the movie. And then it’s such a rickety story that it doesn’t really matter that it attempted to go for some sort of narrative structure halfway through.

Easy Money plays more like a series of unrelated scenes and gags. Granted, it works, as I enjoy the humor and Dangerfield is truly one of the greats of his era, even if his films aren’t as fondly remembered as the ’80s work of Bill Murray, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, John Candy or Dan Aykroyd.

The main plot of the movie sees Dangerfield having to quit smoking, eating like shit, drinking and gambling. If he accomplishes this impossible task within a year, he’ll inherit a lot of money for himself and his family.

There’s also a secondary plot, which I enjoyed as much as the primary one. This sees Dangerfield’s daughter, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, getting married to her Latino boyfriend, played by the grossly underappreciated Taylor Negron. Man, Negron is f’n fabulous in this and this may be my favorite comedic role he’s played. Since I’ve always enjoyed his work, I feel like I really missed out not seeing him in this picture until now.

This movie also has a solid cast amongst Dangerfield’s best buds, who are played by Joe Pesci and Tom Noonan before either of them reached their peak of fame a few years later. Both are enjoyable as hell in this and I especially thought that Pesci and Dangerfield should’ve worked together again after this movie but that never happened.

In the end, Easy Money is a goofy but loveable movie starring one of the most goofy and loveable comedians of all-time.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Rodney Dangerfield comedies, as well as other loveable loser movies from the ’80s.

Film Review: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Also known as: Fast Times (working title, informal title)
Release Date: August 13th, 1982
Directed by: Amy Heckerling
Written by: Cameron Crowe
Based on: Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story by Cameron Crowe
Music by: various pop bands
Cast: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Brian Backer, Robert Romanus, Ray Walston, Amanda Wyss, Forest Whitaker, Vincent Schiavelli, Lana Clarkson, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, Nicolas Cage, Kelli Maroney, Scott Thomson, Taylor Negron, Lana Clarkson, James Russo, Pamela Springsteen

Refugee Films, Universal Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Why don’t you get a job, Spicoli?” – Brad Hamilton, “What for?” – Jeff Spicoli, “You need money.” – Brad Hamilton, “All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz and I’m fine.” – Jeff Spicoli

Teen sex comedies were all the rage in the early 1980s. However, unlike all the others, Fast Times at Ridgemont High was much more than just a teen sex comedy. It was a film with purpose, heart and characters that you actually cared for and felt connected to. It had high drama, human emotion but it was still true to the spirit of the genre it was actually better than.

There were several factors that contributed to this movie being better than one would expect at first glance.

First, the story came from a book written by Cameron Crowe, who spent some time undercover in high school to capture the real lives of the teenagers around him. The book was full of true stories, which got adapted into this fictional movie tale. Crowe’s work gave this film a sense of realism and human emotion that other films like it were lacking.

Also, this was directed by Amy Heckerling and even though it was her first feature film, she was young, hip and connected to a lot of cool people at the time. She gave this picture a sort of life and energy that it wouldn’t have had otherwise. She also pulls off similar magic with 1995’s beloved teen comedy Clueless.

Additionally, this film benefits from having an incredible cast for its time. It has Sean Penn, just before he became a superstar, as well as Jennifer Jason Leigh, one of the best actresses of her generation. The shy kind of nerdy character was played by Brian Backer, who had already won a Tony Award the year before for his leading role in Woody Allen’s The Floating Light Bulb on Broadway. You’ve also got quintessential ’80s cool guy Judge Reinhold, the always lovable Phoebe Cates, Robert Romanus, future Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker, Nicolas Cage, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, Amanda Wyss, Kelli Maroney, Scott Thomson, as well as veterans Ray Walston and Vincent Schiavelli. How many other ’80s teen sex comedies can boast a lineup that impressive? And this didn’t even have a single person from the Brat Pack in it.

The film is well balanced between all of its main characters. It also doesn’t showcase the token stoner as just a token stoner. The chemistry between Penn’s Spicoli and Walston’s Mr. Hand is fabulous and makes for some of the best moments in the film. Seeing Walston go that extra step for a student that most teachers would just roll their eyes at is both sweet and refreshing. I could’ve watched a spinoff movie of just Spicoli and Mr. Hand and been happy, even if it had a lackluster script.

I also loved the chemistry between best buds Mark Ratner (Backer) and Mike Damone (Romanus). The shy Ratner needs Damone’s help in getting with the ladies and their exchanges are hilarious and entertaining. Life throws these best buds a curveball though but it was great seeing real friendship conquer all.

There are several good stories sprinkled throughout this ensemble piece. And it is sort of timeless in that the jokes still work, the characters are amusing and even though this gets very serious at points, it is never short on laughs and keeps things generally lighthearted.

It also has one of the best soundtracks of its decade.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a perfect template on how to create a teen coming of age movie. Sure, it is sex heavy, as it was the ’80s, but it’s light-years more mature than similar films like Private School and The Last American Virgin.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Dazed and ConfusedThe Last American Virgin and Private School. Also, Gremlins, as that features both Phoebe Cates and Judge Reinhold. Plus, Clueless, another teen coming of age comedy directed by Heckerling.

Film Review: The Hitcher (1986)

Release Date: January 17th, 1986 (Victoria, Texas premiere)
Directed by: Robert Harmon
Written by: Eric Red
Music by: Mark Isham
Cast: Rutger Hauer, C. Thomas Howell, Jeffrey DeMunn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jack Thibeau

HBO Pictures, Silver Screen Partners, TriStar Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“[Picking up the hitchhiker] My mother told me to never do this.” – Jim Halsey

I’ve been on this Rutger Hauer kick, lately. Maybe it’s because I watched Blade Runner for the 214th time a week ago and then introduced a friend to Hobo With a Shotgun, a few days later. I don’t know, but it made me want to go back and re-experience The Hitcher, as it’s been quite a long while since I’ve seen it.

The plot to this is real simple, C. Thomas Howell’s Jim picks up a hitchhiker (Hauer) in the Texas desert. Immediately, it is apparent that this stranger is a psycho. Things escalate and Jim actually knocks the hitchhiker out of his moving vehicle. The rest of the film is about the hitchhiker hunting him and going on a violent killing spree where he is framing Jim for the crimes. It’s a psychotic game of cat and mouse and in certain ways, reminds me of Steven Spielberg’s Duel. Except Duel was a TV movie and very tame compared to the level of violence the Rutger Hauer character brings to this film.

The movie also stars Jennifer Jason Leigh, a pretty backwoods waitress that gets caught up in the proceedings because she fancies Jim, and Jeffrey DeMunn, as the only reasonable cop in the entire movie.

This movie almost feels like a horror movie but is really just a very effective thriller. However, as a kid, I was more scared of villains in films like this and Sly Stallone’s Cobra than monsters like Freddy or Jason. These types of psychos were real and existed in the world that I actually lived in.

The Hitcher is an intense movie and that might be an understatement. It kicks off with a severe level of discomfort in the opening scene and never gives you a break. It is 90-plus minutes of a young man being hunted and mentally tortured while he is also trying to outwit the predator.

Films like this are hard to come by nowadays. At least, these types of films with this level of quality. For something that wasn’t wholly original and on the surface, pretty derivative, The Hitcher grabs onto your throat like a choke hold and doesn’t release its grip. Even after the credits role, you still can’t breathe.

This film does exactly what it sets out to do and it does it damn well.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Ida Lupino’s 1953 film The Hitch-Hiker, Steven Spielberg’s Duel, this film’s sequel The Hitcher II: I’ve Been Waiting and its remake from 2007. The sequel and the remake don’t have quite the same quality though.

 

Film Review: The Hateful Eight (2015)

Release Date: December 7th, 2015 (Cinerama Dome premiere)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, James Parks, Channing Tatum, Zoe Bell

Double Feature Films, FilmColony, The Weinstein Company, 187 Minutes (special roadshow version), 168 Minutes (general theatrical)

the_hateful_eightReview:

The Hateful Eight is a mixed bag of good and bad.

To start, the story is pretty well constructed and executed. There are a lot of layers, twists and turns. You are never really sure of who you can and cannot trust. In most films these days, the mystery is either destroyed by something obvious or it is a completely disappointing curveball. That isn’t the case with The Hateful Eight. It is a perfectly woven tapestry from a narrative standpoint.

The score to the film was done by Ennio Morricone, my favorite film composer. It was nice hearing Morricone provide original material, as opposed to Tarantino ripping it off from other films, as has been his modus operandi for years. The original compositions were very well done although the musical tone of the film was ruined by the inclusion of a song by The White Stripes. But that’s Tarantino; he has to constantly remind us about how hip and edgy he is – even if it feels overly contrived and redundant due to being a recycled element within his filmmaking style.

Visually, the film is stunning. The landscapes are amazing and the interior of Minnie’s Haberdashery, where the majority of the film takes place, provides a visceral feeling of inviting warmth and horrific dread. The Haberdashery, in it’s own way, becomes a character within the film – if not, the main character.

The acting is superb but the picture has a great cast. Kurt Russell, Samuel Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and the others all pull their weight and add to the narrative in a powerful way. Walton Goggins was the best part about this movie but when isn’t he a scene stealer?

As far as the negatives, the film has a few moments where it just goes too far off the rails. Tarantino likes to go over the top here or there but sometimes, it feels out of place and becomes more of a distraction than anything else. There is a scene of characters violently puking a lot of blood. It is almost Evil Dead comical in its execution, as opposed to being horrifying. Maybe Tarantino wanted it to be comedic but it is out of place, unnecessary and pulls you out of the movie.

Additionally, there is a scene where two gunshots completely blow a guy’s face off. I get it though, he wants that Kill Bill vol. 1 moment where the chick’s arm got cut off and sprayed a geyser of blood. But that worked in that film, it doesn’t work so much in this one. But Tarantino will recycle certain elements of his style even to his detriment.

A couple of years ago, we got Tarantino’s other western Django Unchained. That film dealt with racism in America after the Civil War. Well, this film, in many ways, was a rehash of those issues he just tackled two years prior. Combine that with the fact that issues of race seem to be at the center of nearly every Tarantino film and by this one, his 8th film, it has been done to death. I can’t be the only person rolling their eyes at how many times Tarantino forces “nigger” into a script.

Django Unchained was so over the top and is so fresh in people’s minds still, that the use of the n-word just becomes insanely gratuitous in The Hateful Eight. But Tarantino has to remind us that he’s edgy and he’s the white voice for black people because he’s buddies with Sam Jackson and Pam Grier.

But seriously, he uses the word “nigger” more than the old school blaxploitation films he heavily borrows from. Hell, he uses it more than an N.W.A. record. And I don’t have any problem with it whatsoever when it is part of the narrative, but when it happens so often that it doesn’t even feel organic in a conversation, it becomes cringe worthy. With the absurd frequency of its use, it makes someone have to wonder what the point is, as I am doing now. But that Tarantino, he’s so edgy. But this isn’t the 90s anymore and everything doesn’t need to be done to the extreme just because it can be.

As is also customary with Tarantino films, The Hateful Eight is really long. It is too long. But fitting to his style pattern, we are given very lengthy dialogues throughout the three hour running time. Sometimes, it becomes exhausting. But it isn’t as bad as it was in Tarantino’s Death Proof. And it isn’t as drawn out as Inglourious Basterds, which was a great movie but felt like it was only three one-hour scenes.

The Hateful Eight is worth watching for the story itself. But be prepared to sit through a beast in running time. While I don’t have a problem sitting through 180 minute films, they had better be as good as a Sergio Leone epic. This is nowhere near that level of perfection but then again, not a lot of films are. And as much as Tarantino is trying to tap into his inner Sergio Leone, he can never be Leone.

Rating: 6/10