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: The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)

Release Date: February 15th, 1976
Directed by: John Cassavetes
Written by: John Cassavetes
Music by: Bo Harwood
Cast: Ben Gazzara, Timothy Agoglia Carey, Seymour Cassel, Azizi Johari, James Lew

Faces Distribution, 135 Minutes

Review:

“I’m a club owner. I deal in girls.” – Cosmo Vitelli

This has been in my Criterion Channel queue for far too long. In fact, it was in my FilmStruck queue before that service went kaput and Criterion struck out on their own with their current service in an effort to fill the voice leftover by AT&T killing FilmStruck and crushing the hearts of legit cinephiles that can’t get their fix with crappy Netflix originals.

Anyway, this isn’t a rant about the loss of FilmStruck, I already talked about that here. This is a review of a pretty solid neo-noir picture directed by the multitalented John Cassavetes.

Cassavetes doesn’t star in his own picture, though. Instead, the film is led by Ben Gazzara, who became one of Cassavetes’ favorite actors to work with. This was the second of their three pictures.

Gazzara was fucking dynamite in this as his character, Cosmo Vitelli, a cabaret club owner with a serious gambling problem. He finds himself in great debt and with that, to square up his bill with the mafia run casino, he is pushed into murdering a Chinese bookie that is cutting into the mob’s business.

Obviously, he doesn’t want to commit murder but when he drags his feet, the mob does their damnedest to make him see things their way. So he does eventually go to the Chinese booker’s home to begrudgingly kill the mob’s rival. Things don’t go as smoothly as he’d like and I’ll leave it at that because I don’t want to spoil the details.

There are a lot more layers to this than just the main plot thread, though. We get to really know this character and see the world and his profession through his eyes. He’s a nice, likable guy that loves women, loves the nightlife but finds himself in way over his head because he couldn’t stop himself from digging his own hole.

This is a great character study piece while also being a solid 1970s neo-noir picture. And with the neo-noir style, you obviously get a film that’s visually vivid and beautiful to look at in spite of the gritty, dirty city that these characters operate in.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is a really unique and genuine movie. Cassavetes wrote a compelling story with a really likable character and his direction behind the camera was executed tremendously well.

While I don’t know if this is something I’d revisit in the future, unless I was showing it to another neo-noir fan, it still provided me with a worthwhile and entertaining experience. It also showed me that Ben Gazzara is a better actor than I’d previously given him credit for only seeing him in smaller roles and as the baddie in Road House.

Rating: 7.75/10

Film Review: Eye of the Tiger (1986)

Also known as: The Tiger (international alternative title)
Release Date: November 28th, 1986
Directed by: Richard C. Sarafian
Written by: Michael Thomas Montgomery
Music by: Don Preston
Cast: Gary Busey, Yaphet Kotto, Seymour Cassel, Bert Remsen, Denise Galik, William Smith, Judith Barsi, Kimberlin Brown, Ted Markland

Action Brothers, International Video Entertainment, Scotti Brothers Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Doing that time in there didn’t do a damn thing for you, did it? You were an asshole then and you’re a ‘bigger’ asshole now!” – Sheriff

Bruh… how did I never know of this movie’s existence? It’s pretty incredible if balls out unapologetic ’80s action is your thing. Why wouldn’t it be your thing? It should be everyone’s thing. We should still have movies like this made, today, as it might’ve stopped Generation Snowflake from existing in the first place.

Shit, I haven’t even told you yet that this stars Gary Busey and Yaphet Kotto! You also get Seymour Cassel playing a crooked, slimy sheriff in league with the villainous biker gang. Plus, you have the insane leader of the biker gang, who is an actor I don’t know, but still came off as completely chilling and intimidating as fuck.

In addition to a biker gang and a lot of motorcycle action, this movie has a bomb dropping bi-plane and a heavily armored, heavily weaponized super truck! I mean, seriously, what’s not to fucking love?!

Alright, so the script is a bit sloppy and the acting is weak once you look passed the four primary characters but the action is solid and you want to see the scumbag pieces of shit get crushed, shot up and blown to bits by Busey, who is actually playing the film’s hero.

Honestly, I wish Busey would’ve gotten to make more movies like this where he just murders the crap out of human garbage. If I had a time machine, I’d go back to 1986 and make a motorcycle vigilante flick with Gary Busey and Rutger Hauer called Murder Brothers. It’d have about seven sequels featuring previously unmentioned brothers replacing the originally leads that noped out after the first movie.

Anyway, this is as high octane as high octane gets. I mean, it’s not Death Wish 3 or anything but I know for a fact that I’m going to revisit this movie a lot over the rest of the years I have on this planet.

More people should know about this picture. I only found out about it because it was in an ’80s action DVD collection that I bought just to get a physical copy of The Exterminator 2. You can get that and this with two other movies in the same set for like nine bucks on Amazon.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other badass ’80s action movies.

Film Review: Bartleby (2001)

Also known as: Bartleby at the Office (working title)
Release Date: March 10th, 2001 (SXSW)
Directed by: Jonathan Parker
Written by: Herman Melville, Jonathan Parker, Catherine DiNapoli
Based on: Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville
Music by: Seth Asarnow, Jonathan Parker
Cast: David Paymer, Crispin Glover, Glenne Headly, Maury Chaykin, Joe Piscopo, Seymour Cassel, Carrie Snodgrass, Dick Martin

Parker Film Company, 83 Minutes

Review:

“I would prefer not to.” – Bartleby

Outside of his own directorial efforts, Bartleby may be the most Crispin Glover movie out of all the Crispin Glover movies ever made.

But I’ve always liked Glover and since I hadn’t seen this since it was fairly new, I figured it was time to revisit it. Plus, it was available for free to Prime members.

The film is a modernized adaptation of Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivemer and despite its setting, it doesn’t really deviate too much from the source material. I also think that the creative approach makes it more palatable to a modern audience, who might not want to read the old story or watch the 1970 adaptation of it.

While Crispin Glover plays the title character, the main character is actually The Boss, played by David Paymer.

Paymer approaches the role a bit understated, except where emotion overcomes him. It’s a really good performance and he is able to display agitation and care on almost the flip of a dime. He feels damn genuine, as he tries to understand and deal with the difficulties of his new employee.

Glover’s performance is even more understated than Paymer’s but the role of Bartleby calls for that, as one has to assume that he’s a guy that’s just given up on life. What’s interesting about the story is that you never really get to solve or really understand the mystery that is Bartleby. He comes into the story and eventually, his story is over, not revealing much about him. Now there are some clues as to why he was so depressed and unable to participate in the world but it’s never made fully clear to the viewer.

The cast is rounded out by other really talented people who work at or come into the office. You have Glenne Headly as the secretary with Joe Piscopo and Maury Chaykin as co-workers who become very disgruntled over Bartleby’s lack of effort. Seymour Cassel also appears in a minor role as a sort of sleazy businessman.

I like the style and simplicity of the film. It feels otherworldly and its supposed to but it works well for the material. Everything is also helped out by an interesting, quirky and cool score by Seth Asarnow and the film’s director, Jonathan Parker.

Overall, this is a strange but interesting movie that was the perfect vehicle for someone as unique and talented as Glover. I don’t know if it was made with him in mind for the title character but it really was perfect casting and gave the film a certain mystique it probably would’ve been lacking without his involvement.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the 1970 adaptation of Bartleby, as well as other films starring Crispin Glover.

Film Review: Dick Tracy (1990)

Release Date: June 15th, 1990
Directed by: Warren Beatty
Written by: Jim Cash, Jack Epps Jr.
Based on: Dick Tracy created by Chester Gould
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Madonna, Glenne Headly, Charlie Korsmo, James Keane, Seymour Cassel, Michael J. Pollard, Charles Durning, Dick Van Dyke, Frank Campanella, Kathy Bates, Dustin Hoffman, William Forsythe, Ed O’Ross, James Tolkan, Mandy Patinkin, R. G. Armstrong, Henry Silva, Paul Sorvino, James Caan, Catherine O’Hara, Estelle Parsons, Mary Woronov, Marshall Bell, Robert Costanzo

Touchstone Pictures, Silver Screen Partners IV, Mulholland Productions, Walt Disney, Buena Vista Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“You get behind me, we all profit; you challenge me, we all go down! There was one Napoleon, one Washington, one me!” – Big Boy Caprice

I guess, from a critical standpoint, this film didn’t get the sort of respect that it should have. I’m not really sure why or how it didn’t resonate with some critics but Roger Ebert adored it, as do I.

In fact, Dick Tracy is almost a perfect film for what it is and I’m not sure what else anyone would want from this near masterpiece. Warren Beatty directed and starred in this and he gave us something magical and marvelous. It fit the classic comic strip to a t and truly breathed live action life into it. As great as the comic strip was, I feel like this film is an improvement on the story, the characters and the ideas of Chester Gould’s beloved creation.

Unfortunately, this great launching pad for what should have been a franchise, never got to have a sequel due to copyright disputes between Warren Beatty and Tribune Media Services. The courts eventually settled in favor of Beatty but that wasn’t until 2011. He has since talked of a sequel but there hasn’t been much movement and so much time has passed. Also, Disney had hoped that this would achieve 1989 Batman numbers but it didn’t hit that mark, even though it was financially successful.

And at least this film has its fans and, at the time of its release, the public supported the picture. Some of this could be due to the film’s immense star power, boasting a cast of superstars, or because of the awesome marketing campaign this film had – one of the best of all-time, in my opinion. Especially, the tie-in stuff they did with McDonald’s. Plus, there was that great Batman picture the previous year, which finally proved that comic book movies could be something that can be taken seriously.

The film has held up tremendously well and may actually be more visually alluring today. The use of vibrant giallo-like colors and tremendous matte paintings gave the film a real pulp comic feel that felt lived in and lively. Today, the picture truly feels like a work of art and has a visual uniqueness that stands on its own.

The picture was also enhanced by the incredible score by Danny Elfman. This is one of the greatest scores of Elfman’s long career and is very reminiscent of his work on Batman, the previous year, and 1990’s short lived The Flash television show. The score is powerful and blends well with the old timey tunes and the performances by Madonna.

Being a poppy 1930s style gangster story, Beatty tapped the Bonnie and Clyde well and cast Estelle Parsons and Michael J. Pollard in small roles. The film was only missing Faye Dunaway and Gene Hackman in reuniting the gang from that classic 1967 film.

Beatty was a fantastic lead and perfect Dick Tracy. Additionally, the rest of the cast was magnificent. Al Pacino got to be a hammy mob boss and foil to Tracy. Pacino’s Big Boy Caprice is also one of my favorite Pacino characters ever put to celluloid. Both Madonna and Glenne Headly are stellar as the leading ladies and this is just one of many roles where I became a huge fan of Headly.

The cast is rounded out by so many other great actors in smaller roles. Dick Van Dyke plays a crooked mayoral candidate, Dustin Hoffman plays the gangster Mumbles and R. G. Armstrong is the sinister mob boss Pruneface. You’ve also got cameos by James Caan, Catherine O’Hara, Kathy Bates and Paul Sorvino. William Forsythe and Ed O’Ross play Big Boy’s top henchmen Flattop and Itchy. You also have the always great Seymour Cassel as one of Tracy’s cop buddies. Plus, Charlie Korsmo was cool as The Kid.

Dick Tracy is action packed and stylish but it doesn’t put that style over its substance. The narrative works, the plot moves swiftly and there is never a dull moment. Plus, who the hell doesn’t love Tommy gun shootouts in the street?

It is also worth mentioning that the character of The Blank is one of the coolest film characters to come out of this era, even if used sparingly and in the dark. Had this gone on to be a film series, it would’ve been cool seeing someone else take up that mantle or The Blank living on in some way. The character also added an interesting twist to a film that, on its surface, looks like just a straight up cops and gangsters, good versus evil, cookie cutter type scenario. The Blank added a third, unpredictable element and a noir vibe.

Dick Tracy is one of the greatest summer blockbusters ever made and it deserves more recognition today than it receives. It took some creative risks that paid off and it brought together a literal who’s who of great bad ass actors.

My initial viewing of this motion picture on the big screen is one of my fondest childhood memories. It stands alongside Batman, 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the original animated Transformers movie and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home as one of my favorite theatrical experiences of my early life.

Rating: 9/10