Film Review: Natural Born Killers (1994)

Release Date: August 26th, 1994
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Written by: Quentin Tarantino, Richard Rutowski, Oliver Stone, David Veloz
Music by: various
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr., Tommy Lee Jones, Tom Sizemore, Rodney Dangerfield, Edie McClurg, Russell Means, Evan Handler, Balthazar Getty, Steven Wright, Marshall Bell, O-Lan Jones, Mark Harmon (uncredited), Adrien Brody (uncredited), Arliss Howard (uncredited), Ashley Judd (Director’s Cut), Rachel Ticotin (Director’s Cut), Denis Leary (Director’s Cut), Bret Hart (Director’s Cut)

Alcor Films, New Regency Productions, Warner Bros., 118 Minutes (theatrical), 122 minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“Once upon a time, a woman was picking up firewood. She came upon a poisonous snake frozen in the snow. She took the snake home and nursed it back to health. One day the snake bit her on the cheek. As she lay dying, she asked the snake, “Why have you done this to me?” And the snake answered, “Look, bitch, you knew I was a snake.”” – Old Indian

Quentin Tarantino wrote the script for this film and sold it just like he sold the script for True Romance. At the time, he wasn’t an established filmmaker and he was initially trying to get money to make Reservoir Dogs. That money eventually came from a producer and he was able to obtain more for that film than just what he had selling some scripts for the bare minimum.

However, once this movie came out, Tarantino disowned it for various reasons and it’s been a pretty sore subject for him, ever since.

I’m not a big fan of it either, even though the vast majority of my friends in 1994 (and many today) seem to love this motion picture. Since I hadn’t watched it in at least fifteen years, I wanted to revisit it and try to look at it as objectively as possible, since I only remembered a few key scenes.

Overall, this isn’t a bad movie but it’s certainly not as good as many people have made it out to be. It’s kind of a mess, narratively. It has a broken, Tourette’s-like pace and it relies so much on wacky visuals that it looks more like a mish-mash of unrelated ’90s music videos trying to tell a coherent story.

I guess you could look at the film as being from the point-of-view of the two insane characters it features. So things may look wacky to them but that doesn’t mean that it can just be dismissed if it has more of a negative impact on the total package than a positive one.

I take Tarantino’s side in regards to him hating the sequence with Rodney Dangerfield. In that sequence, the movie turns into a sitcom with a laugh track. But it deals with the fact that Dangerfield’s character rapes his own daughter. It’s not edgy or cool, it’s actually quite distasteful and I say that as a guy that has loved exploitation movies since he was a kid. I know that it’s supposed to be unsettling but it makes the movie jump the shark and it never really comes back. Sadly, for the picture, this happens really early on.

The only sequence in the movie that I really liked was the one with the Native American. I also think it’s the most important scene in the film and ultimately, it leads to their arrest, after betraying the only figure in the story that potentially could’ve helped save them from themselves.

The film is really split into two very different hours. The first sees the characters meet, get married, go on a spree of murderous violence and come to the Native American that could’ve possibly given them a different path to walk in life. The second, sees these two in prison, now beloved by the violence-hungry media and with millions of fans that see them as some sort of fucked up folk heroes. With that, the television journalist that interviews them for his program, has a severely unhealthy obsession with them and ultimately joins their cause when a prison riot starts.

The movie was trying to paint a picture about the state of America and the media at the time. It was trying to show the media and the public’s obsession with violence and love of terrible people. While this is possibly true to some degree, the picture is so over the top with it that it’s not remotely believable. I grew up in this time, I was the most impressionable then too. I was a ’90s edge lord trying to say and do edgy, stupid shit because it’s what we did back then. And while many were fascinated by serial killers and violent crime, I still can’t believe that these characters would’ve been worshipped by millions. Sure, I could see some shitheads embracing them like the shitheads that embraced the Columbine shooters a few years later. However, these type of people are a very, very small minority in society and don’t necessarily reflect a widespread problem.

I guess I can look at the movie as more of a warning against these things because nothing in this film is presented in a way that should be taken literally. However, I think that Oliver Stone’s impression of the human race was extremely flawed and he was pretty fucking paranoid. In fact, by making this film, he contributed to that very problem, as it was something that the Columbine shooters looked at for inspiration. I’m not blaming Stone, though, as there’s no way he could’ve known this and he’s not responsible for the acts of other people.

Also, I’m not sure how much of this paranoia was due to Tarantino’s original story or how Stone interpreted it and pushed the envelope. But based off of how Tarantino felt about the finished film and specifically about the incestuous rape stuff, I’d have to lean towards Stone on this one.

Getting back to the television journalist, played by Robert Downey Jr., the moment that he so quickly flipped his switch to bonkers and joined the murderous duo in their prison escape, I mentally checked out, completely.

From that point on, it was hard to reel my brain back in and it jumped the shark a second time and even higher than the first. There should be a term for that. Maybe I’ll invent a new one in honor of Downey Jr.’s character and say they “pulled a Wayne Gale.”

Yeah, that probably won’t stick but whatever.

Anyway, I do think that the movie really is superbly acted from top-to-bottom. One person that I haven’t mentioned yet that really turned it up to eleven was Tommy Lee Jones. Fuck, he was intense in this movie and I believed his character, every step of the way. What a performance, man.

And with that, I have to tip my hat to Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr., Russell Means, Tom Sizemore and even Rodney Dangerfield, who was exceptional in a sequence that was severely off-putting and cringe.

In the end, it’s the acting that really salvages the picture.

Rating: 5.75/10

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: Back to School (1986)

Release Date: June 13th, 1986
Directed by: Alan Metter
Written by: Steven Kampmann, Will Porter, Peter Torokvei, Harold Ramis, Rodney Dangerfield, Greg Fields, Dennis Snee
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Rodney Dangerfield, Sally Kellerman, Burt Young, Keith Gordon, Adrienne Barbeau, Robert Downey Jr., Sam Kinison, Ned Beatty, Paxton Whitehead, Terry Farrell, M. Emmet Walsh, William Zabka, Robert Picardo, Jason Hervey, Edie McClurg, Kurt Vonnegut (cameo), Oingo Boingo (cameo)

Paper Clip Productions, Orion Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Bring us a pitcher of beer every seven minutes until somebody passes out. And then bring one every ten minutes.” – Thornton Melon

I guess I completely forgot how many stars were in this film because it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it. I obviously remembered Rodney Dangerfield but I also recalled Keith Gordon, Robert Downey Jr., William Zabka and Sam Kinison because of that one iconic scene.

But throw in Burt Young, M. Emmet Walsh, Adrienne Barbeau, Sally Kellerman, Ned Beatty, Edie McClurg, Jason Hervey, Robert Picardo, Terry Farrell and Oingo friggin’ Boingo and you’ve got an all-star ensemble! Plus, Harold Ramis was one of the writers. Granted, this had seven writers, so one of them other than Dangerfield probably had to be a big name.

While this is a pretty dated comedy, as are most comedies of the ’80s, it’s still entertaining and in 2019 it’s refreshing, as comedy is dead due to political correct nutsos who spend every waking moment searching high and low for shit to be offended about.

Point being, you couldn’t make this movie today because every joke is (insert label here)-shaming and insensitive.

You see, we didn’t care too much about political correctness in the ’80s. Hell, we didn’t even care about it until like five years ago. And this film goes to show how talented all these people were as they weren’t bogged down by Hollywood wokeness and crybaby pussies on Twitter.

Now this isn’t a superb motion picture by any stretch of the imagination but it is really solid escapism that is amusing and charming in a way that film’s aren’t anymore. And honestly, I think that’s a big reason as to why so many people are nostalgic for ’80s and ’90s shit now. Even the slightly above mediocre stuff is cherished more than it was when it was current.

The plot of Back to School follows a sextagenerian as he goes to college, surprising his twenty-something son, the school professors and his friends. In short time, he takes over, turns the campus into one big party and even saves the day for the college diving team in a ridiculous but satisfactory way that may be goofy but works in a comedy from this era.

Back to School isn’t perfect and it isn’t even close to being the best comedy of its day. However, it’s a lot of fun if you just want to mindlessly escape into something for an hour and a half while having a laugh.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Rodney Dangerfield comedies, as well as college comedies like PCU, Old School, Animal House, Van Wilder, etc.

Film Review: The ‘Caddyshack’ Film Series (1980-1988)

Caddyshack was a phenomenon that no one really expected. Panned by critics initially, it went on to be a box office hit and a launching pad for the film careers of Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield. It was the final film for Ted Knight but he quickly followed it up with his hit sitcom Too Close For Comfort – one of my favorite shows, as a kid. The film also starred the Gopher, who should have gone on to star in his own animated series and toy line but someone missed the boat on that one.

This film also spawned a sequel, a fairly awful sequel, but we will get to that after I talk about the original.

Caddyshack (1980):

Release Date: July 25th, 1980
Directed by: Harold Ramis
Written by: Douglas Kennedy, Harold Ramis, Brian Doyle-Murray
Music by: Johnny Mandel
Cast: Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight, Michael O’Keefe, Bill Murray, Cindy Morgan

Orion Pictures, Warner Bros., 98 Minutes

caddyshackReview:

The first film is kind of a sentimental piece of art to me.

Reason being, not only does it feature several comedians I adored as a kid of the 1980s, and that I still love and respect, but it was shot near my home. As a kid and teenager, I have been to the golf course and pool used in the film multiple times. Actually, I didn’t even know that the pool I used regularly, was the Caddyshack pool until a few years after the fact.

Personal stories aside, it may not be a flawless film or even a great film but it is still a gem and a classic. It put the spotlight on several actors who went on to achieve greatness. It was a smorgasbord of different comedy styles that meshed well together. It featured two greats from Saturday Night Live, at a time when that show was still breaking ground and changing the television game. It also featured veteran funny men who created iconic characters.

The only people who suffered and maybe didn’t get their proper moment to shine were the regular cast of caddies and club goers. Would it had been a better, more fluid film, had the regular cast been allowed to tell their characters’ stories? Perhaps. But would it have been as beloved?

Caddyshack is a fun movie. It is simple in its execution but stellar in its heart. Whether you even like golf or not, is of no consequence here. The country club is just the backdrop for comedic geniuses at the top of their game.

And I should point out that rock legend Kenny Loggins made one of the best movie themes of all-time for this picture.

Rating: 9/10

Caddyshack II (1988):

Release Date: July 22nd, 1988
Directed by: Allan Arkush
Written by: Harold Ramis, Peter Torokvei
Music by: Ira Newborn
Cast: Jackie Mason, Robert Stack, Dyan Cannon, Dina Merrill, Jonathan Silverman, Brian McNamara, Marsha Warfield, Paul Bartel, Randy Quaid, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd

Warner Bros., 98 Minutes

caddyshack_iiReview:

The problem with Caddyshack II, in my estimation, is that they waited too long to make it. The only cast member that they could lure back was Chevy Chase and he is barely in it.

Replacing Bill Murray, as the gopher hunter, is Dan Aykroyd. Even though he was at the height of his career, Aykroyd’s character was too bizarre for its own good. He kind of took the weird Murray shtick from the first film and turned up the volume a little too high.

You have Robert Stack as the new villain, replacing Ted Knight, who passed away before this film. Stack was not the great comedic bad guy that Knight was. And it was strange watching the guy who was the face of Unsolved Mysteries trying to fill in for the lovable and hilarious Knight.

Jackie Mason, an old comedian that I love, was the sole bright spot of the movie. However, he was chosen to be the Rodney Dangerfield character. While I enjoyed Mason, he just didn’t have the chops Dangerfield had 8 years prior. But I certainly appreciate the enthusiasm he showed in this role.

Jonathan Silverman, was in this too. He was was a non-event here but would go on to star alongside Andrew McCarthy in the classic Weekend At Bernie’s a year later. You can go ahead and ignore Weekend At Bernie’s II though.

The movie also features the talents of Marsha Warfield, Dyan Cannon, Randy Quaid and a favorite of mine, Pepe Serna.

Caddyshack II was just a bad movie. It was barely funny and the gags were just too far out there. It is worth a watch just to see it but don’t expect an urge to revisit it often like the original.

Rating: 3/10