The Private Files Of J. Edgar Hoover

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The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover

Release Date: December 1977

Genre: Biography, Drama

Director: Larry Cohen

Writer: Larry Cohen

Starring: Broderick Crawford, James Wainwright, Michael Parks, Dan Dailey, Jose Ferrer, Celese Holm

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Recently, the film world lost an original and innovative auteur. Larry Cohen was known in the industry as a guerrilla filmmaker. He made his movies outside of Hollywood with no permits, no permission and no rules. His films tackled many issues from African Americans in society, to marketing and consumerism, from hidden agendas, to the effects chemicals and pollution have on human beings. He was a pioneer in the Independent film industry. You can easily tell a Larry Cohen movie by the style and substance. His movies have lived on to this day with legions of fans continuing to watch them.

For the month of May, ‘Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review’ will be looking at five of Larry Cohen’s movies. Some may be familiar to fans of certain genres. Others are overlooked gems that don’t get much attention in his filmography. Although Larry Cohen is most famous in the world of horror, I did my best to not make all five movies horror based. The first movie I will review is one that doesn’t get much attention in the discussion of Cohen movies. It’s a semi-biographical film about the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, J. Edgar Hoover and how he molded and shaped the United States Government’s biggest investigative agency that is effective yet controversial. The first film in the Larry Cohen Tribute Month is 1977’s ‘The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover.’

‘The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover’ is a well-crafted semi-documentary style drama about the United States’ top chief law enforcement. For his nearly fifty-year career, Hoover was the top cop in Washington. He served under eight United States Presidents starting with Calvin Coolidge and ending with Richard Nixon.  He became the nation’s ‘Top Cop’ at the age of 29. The film shows him taking on mobsters, communists and people within his own government. His brash and unorthodox style of tackling crime earns him a reputation that is feared not only by criminals, but people within the government. Anyone that would dare test his power would be subjected to wiretaps and blackmail. With the power came suspicions and paranoia which is shown through several scenes throughout the movie, especially when he is a room alone with a woman.

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The title of the movie comes from the files that Hoover was known to have kept regarding his adversaries. He was known to have information on everyone from his subordinates to Presidents. Larry Cohen depicts how Hoover deciphered the information he had on people and used it to discredit them or ensure that his power remained unchecked. The best example of this is a scene involving Hoover and Martin Luther King, Jr. (played by Raymond St. Jacques). Hoover is determined to unmask Dr. King as a fraud which creates a tension filled moment when the two confront each other in the offices of the FBI.

Academy Award Winner Broderick Crawford stars as the titular icon that is Hoover. Crawford is the spitting image of Hoover on screen. He is stoic, and stone faced throughout the movie as you follow along with him as he goes deep into his head thinking, planning and executing his strategies. Everything he does from his tone of dialogue to mannerisms are all associated with the real J. Edgar Hoover. Crawford nails Hoover’s slumped forward posture and authoritative voice. It’s an incredible work of method acting I haven’t seen since Peter Weller’s performance in ‘Robocop’ or Michael Moriarty’s portrayal of Jimmy Quinn in another Larry Cohen film, ‘Q: The Winged Serpent!’ James Wainwright plays Hoover in his early years in the department and he is as exceptionally good. Wainwright’s Hoover deals with taking on the mafia, mainly pursuing John Dillinger and engaging in a popularity struggle with Melvin Purvis, the man who would take Dillinger down.

In addition to Crawford, there are some great supporting performances most notably from Dan Dailey as Clyde Tolson, Hoover’s right-hand man and most trusted confidant. They are joined at the hip and seem inseparable which sparks the rumors from the press about their relationship being more than professional. Jose Ferrer plays Lionel McCoy another trusted liaison in Hoover’s inner circle is the quiet one of the bunch, but carries out the rules and regulations of the department as Hoover demands and Celeste Holm has a small performance as Florence Hollister, the wife of an ambassador whom tries to seduce Hoover which backfires as Hoover will not do anything that could leak to the press nor destroy his reputation at the bureau.

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If you read my review of ‘Black Caesar’ (another great Larry Cohen film), I mentioned that on of the things that makes Cohen stand out from the rest of filmmakers is his ability to ‘steal shots’. Cohen shoots his movies on location and without permission. To avoid getting caught by authorities, he would place cameras out of plain sight and shoot what was there. When the movie first began production, Cohen shot in the streets of Washington. They wanted to shoot inside several government buildings including the FBI. They were easily rejected when the request to shoot came up. However, first lady Betty Ford intervened when she found out who was in the movie. Mrs. Ford was a former dancer and was a huge fan of actor Dan Dailey, who plays Hoover’s eventual successor Clyde Tolson in the movie and invited him and Broderick Crawford to the White House for lunch. At the luncheon Dailey and Crawford explained how they were here to make a movie. When they told her some of the places they would like to shoot, President Gerald Ford gave Cohen permission to shoot inside the FBI. With that permission, Cohen was able to shoot scenes inside the FBI (including Hoover’s office and offices of others) as well as the FBI Outdoor Training Grounds. What you saw in the movie was the real deal. No sets, no shooting in other locations, nothing.

The only thing that stood out to me in terms of the negatives of the movie is the casting. Most of the actors cast in the movie didn’t look or act like the character they were playing. Michael Parks plays Robert Kennedy who doesn’t look anything like him however he did give considerable effort getting that thick New England accent down. Howard Da Silva as FDR, William Jordan as JFK, Andrew Duggan as LBJ and Richard Dixon as Nixon (Funny right?). None of those men had the look or personality of the president they were portraying. If Jon Voight as FDR, Martin Sheen as JFK, Bryan Cranston as LBJ and Frank Langella as Nixon are considered the Coca-Cola of presidential portrayals, these guys in this movie would be the Diet Rite version.

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If you’re looking to start watching Larry Cohen movies, you may want to watch this after you’ve seen some of his more popular work. When you get to ‘The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover’, you may look at biopic films in a new light. I personally believe this is a better representation of Hoover than Clint Eastwood’s movie ‘J. Edgar’. Crawford’s performance keeps your attention focused at everything he does and how he became the most powerful person in government. With that power comes corruption and there’s plenty of things that show it in the film. It may change your opinion on Hoover depending on how you feel about him today.

With that the first review in the ‘Larry Cohen Tribute Special’ is now complete. I will be posting a new review each week until the end of the month. For updates on postings, please be sure to follow my page here on WordPress or you can follow me on Twitter @GPCRMovies. I’ll see you soon with the second review in our special.

 

TRIVIA

  • Director Larry Cohen wanted to film at various authentic locations but was repeatedly turned down for permission. However, when First Lady Betty Ford – a former dancer – found out that Dan Dailey was in Washington to make a film, she invited him and Broderick Crawford to the White House for lunch, as she had always liked Dailey’s films and work. Larry Cohen then started calling locations such as the FBI’s training facility in Quantico, Virginia, and said that he wanted to film there but couldn’t do so the next day because the cast was having lunch at the White House; likely supposing that the film had official backing, every location soon made themselves available.
  • Several people who were real-life acquaintances of J. Edgar Hoover are featured in the film, including the barber who regularly cut his hair and his regular waiter at the Mayflower Hotel.
  • This was Jack Cassidy’s final film, issued one year after his death at age 49.
  • The film cast includes three Oscar winners: Broderick Crawford’, Celeste Holm and José Ferrer; and three Oscar nominees: Rip Torn, John Marley and Ronee Blakley.
  • The film had a formal screening at the Kennedy Center, but members of both parties in the largely political audience were irritated by the film’s unflattering depiction of not only Republicans such as Richard Nixon, but also Democrats such as the Kennedys and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Going To Miss Having My Room Searched

Hoover’s Entry Into The FBI

The Boy Scout

Just A Clerk

Top Cop

There’s No Romance In A Dead Rat

I’ve Always Kinda Liked Post Toasties

You’re Always There

Why Don’t You Come In And Ask Her To Dance?

You’re His Boss

I Needed The Exercise

His Time Has Passed

Got A Lot Of Important People To Spy On

Now They Call Me A Senile Old Man

They Haven’t Got Us Out Yet

Couple Old Ferries

We’re Spying On Everyone

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The ‘Burbs

 

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The ‘Burbs

Release Date: February 17, 1989

Genre: Comedy, Mystery, Thriller

Director: Joe Dante

Writer: Dana Olsen

Starring: Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Rick Ducommun, Corey Feldman, Wendy Schaal

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 There’s no arguing that Tom Hanks is one of the greatest actors to appear on the big screen. He’s brought to life some of the most memorable characters of the last thirty plus years. He’s played iconic fictional characters Andrew Beckett in ‘Philadelphia’ to Forrest Gump in the film of the same name to Woody the Sherriff in the ‘Toy Story’ franchise. He’s also portrayed living heroes such as Jim Lovell in ‘Apollo 13’, Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger in ‘Sully.’ and Walt Disney in ‘Saving Mr. Banks.’ Hanks started his career in the field of comedy before he became a serious actor. Most of the films he was in during that era are considered cult classics. For this edition of ‘Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review’ I decided to re-watch one of his movies from the 80s that is perhaps my personal favorite, which is 1989’s ‘The ‘Burbs!’

The film is a comical satire of life in a suburban neighborhood. Hanks plays Ray Peterson, who is on vacation from his job hoping to come back to work with a clear head. Despite the requests from his wife Carol (Carrie Fisher), he decides to stay home during his vacation. Along with his neighbors, former military serviceman Mark Rumsfield (Bruce Dern) and next door mooch Art Weingartner (Rick Ducommum) they begin to investigate their new neighbors the Klopeks. No one in the neighborhood has seen them nor have met them. Strange things start to happen to only add to their curiosity such as massive power surges coming from the Klopeks’ basement, giant bags of garbage being dropped off in the front and digging up the backyard on a dark rainy night. Art tries to convince Ray that the Klopeks are part of a Satanic cult. And when one of their neighbors disappears leaving his dog behind, they are convinced that something has happened to him considering he is next door to the Klopeks. Art, Ray and Mark team up together to uncover what the Klopeks are hiding.

Directed by Joe Dante, best known for his films ‘Gremlins,’ ‘The Howling,’ and ‘Piranha’, this movie is radically different from his known work. Fans of Joe Dante have nothing to fear as he creates something that is original, simple and funny. This movie was a test for him to get out of the horror label (even though he is considered one of the Masters of Horror) and he passed with flying colors. There’s not a dull moment in this movie.

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‘The ‘Burbs’ is not so much about the plot (which is admittedly thin and which the critics are too concerned with) as it is about the characters who become entangled within it. The plot is simple where you don’t need to read between the lines as to what is happening. Instead Dante makes the audience focus on the action that is taking place. The pacing provides gives the audience plenty of time to laugh and take a breather before the next scene.

The movie doesn’t rely on special effects or any other tricks as the comedy is unfolded through not only physical effects but the dialogue and situations they are in. The writing is credited to Dana Olsen who had worked as a writer in television before getting her big break in writing for Hollywood with this movie. Olsen wrote a clever and relatable script as she based it off her own experience with strange neighbors she was surrounded by when she was growing up.

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The cast is terrific and contemplate each other well. Obviously, Hanks is the lead in this movie. He plays Ray Peterson as an over stressed family man who seems to be the reasonable one in the neighborhood. As the movie progressed, so does his curiosity about the new neighbors. His curiosity turns into paranoia thanks to the thoughts that Art puts in his head. Hanks provides plenty of laughs, both physical and verbal comedy. Bruce Dern as Mark Rumsfield was a surprisingly delightful performance. He is a man who can’t get over his life serving his country and continues to portray that all throughout the movie. His years in service come in handy as he provides devices such as infrared scopes and advanced walkie talkies to stakeout the Klopek’s home. Dern is not known for playing comedic parts, but his antics and dialogue provide many laugh out loud moments. The award for Best Performance in this movie goes to Rick Ducommum as Art. He plays Art like Kramer from ‘Seinfeld.’ He is obnoxious and loud and is always coming up with a scheme to find out who the Klopeks are and prove his theory that they are part of a cult. He fills Ray’s head with delusional thoughts about them through his fast tongue. I can’t find a moment in the movie where Ducommum wasn’t funny. It’s a shame that this movie would be the only big role for him as he would spend most of his acting career playing bit roles until his untimely passing in 2016 due to complications from Diabetes. As for the remaining supporting cast, Carrie Fisher is a nice surprise as Ray’s wife Carol. She sheds her Princess Leia image to that of a concerned wife who grows weary of Ray’s antics and tries all she can to snap him out of his obsession with the Klopeks. Corey Feldman plays Ricky Butler, a teenager who is seen throughout most of the movie either painting his house or inviting friends over to watch Ray, Art and Mark snoop on the Klopeks. He even remarks at one point in the movie that this is better entertainment than going to a movie theater. Wendy Schaal plays Mark’s wife Bonnie, who is half his age and seems to play along with Mark’s shenanigans.

As for the characters of the Klopeks, they remind me somewhat of the Munsters. There are only three of them in the movie and each one has a personality different from the other. The first one to appear is Hans played by Courtney Gains, best known for playing Malachai in ‘Children of the Corn!’ Gaines keeps his natural red hair and adds pale skin and unbrushed teeth to his figure. He is shy and quiet. When he grabs the newspaper or takes out the trash, he is cautiously looking around to see if there are people staring at him. The next family member to appear is Reuben Klopek played by Brother Theodore. He appears as the neighbors finally introduce themselves. Like Hans he is quiet, but when he talks, it is in a thick German accent. His appearance reminds me of Billy Crystal’s character in ‘The Princess Bride.’ Finally, you have Werner Klopek played by Henry Gibson. He is the most normal and accomplished member of the family as he is a doctor at the local university. He speaks in a softer German accent and is more hospitable than the other members of his family.

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There’s not much more to say about ‘The ‘Burbs’ only then it’s perhaps one of the most overlooked movies of the 80s. If you were to separate Tom Hanks’ performances by categories, I would put this as one of his top comedic movies.  It’s relatable to all of us as I’m sure you have some weird and colorful neighbors where you live as does yours truly. It’s almost as if you’re watching your neighborhood being depicted on the big screen for the rest of the movie going audience to see.

 

TRIVIA

  • Walter’s toy poodle Queenie, was played by the same dog that played Precious in The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
  • Prop Master Mark Jameson was charged with making fake dog poop when the actors complained that they didn’t want to step in the real thing. The mixture included canned dog food and bean dip. It was loaded into caulking tubes and squeezed out where needed.
  • Early in the movie, when Cory Danziger is eating breakfast, a box of Gremlins cereal can be seen on the kitchen counter in the background. Joe Dante also directed Gremlins (1984) and Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990). Corey Feldman was in Gremlins (1984).
  • Final film of actor Gale Gordon.
  • Last appearance of Brother Theodore.
  • Ricky Butler’s (Corey Feldman’s) house is the house formerly used by The Munsters in The Munsters (1964). This is probably why you never get a really good look at it, as it would be too recognizable as that house.
  • Everyone in the cast and crew had a good time working on the film so much so that Tom Hanks, personally bought everyone sunglasses and left a personal thank you note to everyone in the cast and the crew.
  • The filming location of The ‘Burbs set was also used for another Tom Hanks film, Dragnet (1987) for the character Connie Swail’s house.
  • Before climbing the fence to investigate the Klopek’s backyard, Art (Rick Ducommun) dresses up as a powerline technician and cuts the power to disable the security system. However, he ends up disabling the power to the whole neighborhood as well, according to Ricky Butler. In the movie Die Hard (1988), Rick Ducommun played a powerline worker for the city who was ordered by the FBI to disable the power to the Nakatomi Tower.
  • In the scene at the Klopek’s house, Bruce Dern is fascinated by one of Dr. Klopek’s paintings, turning it upside down. That painting appeared in the opening sequence of an early episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (1969).

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Staple His Ass Shut

A Hideous Raging Inferno

Why Don’t You Go Say Hi?

Bad Karma

Prank On Ray

Acting Like A Guy On Vacation

You Are A Garbage Man

A Soldier’s Way Saves The Day

Unconscious Chanting

Can’t Come Out

This Is Walter

A Fine Christian Name

9 On The Tension Scale

Red Rover

I Really Like Your Hair

Art On The News

The Last Boy Scout

The Last Boy Scout

Release Date: Decemeber 13, 1991

Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime

Director: Tony Scott

Writers: Shane Black (Story & Screenplay), Greg Hicks (Story)

Starring: Bruce Willis, Damon Wayans, Chelsea Field, Noble Willingham, Danielle Harris, Halle Berry

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

It’s been awhile since I’ve done an action movie. It’s been awhile since I’ve done a buddy movie. For the next edition of “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review,” I decided to review an action/buddy movie. I was reading up on Shane Black, who has been a long time writer and has now gone into film-making with his last release being the 2018 summer film “The Predator” (Black was in the original film as Hawkins). He sold his first script to Hollywood while he was finishing up college at UCLA. That film became “Lethal Weapon.” The success of “Lethal Weapon” opened the door for Black and was soon writing scripts and they were being turned into movies left and right. One of his scripts would become an underrated action buddy film that has the spirit of “Lethal Weapon.” That movie was 1991’s “The Last Boy Scout.” I happened to check it out on Hulu in its remaining days before it expired. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw the movie, but since I wanted to do an action oriented movie review I felt this was the perfect choice. For those who haven’t seen it before, let me give you a brief synopsis.

“The Last Boy Scout” stars Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans. Willis is a chain smoking private detective named Joe Hollenbeck. Fed up with the way his life is going and is estranged from his wife Sarah (Chelsea Field and daughter Darian (Danielle Harris) he takes a job off a friend of guarding a stripper/prostitute named Cory (Halle Berry). Despite not knowing the full context as to why he needs to be a bodyguard, he takes the job and watches her. During the night, he comes across Cory’s boyfriend Jimmy Dix (Damon Wayans), a former professional football player who was kicked out of the league for gambling and allegations of drug abuse. After a brief conflict Jimmy and Cory head back to his place, but Cory is involved in a fender bender as she pulls over, she is gunned down by a series of men. Joe and Jimmy team up to find out who is behind her murder and uncover a plot involving a corrupt politician (Chelcie Ross) and a crooked football owner (Noble Willingham). They have to figure out the connection between the two and what is the intended goal.

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“The Last Boy Scout” was directed by esteemed movie director Tony Scott who is known for directing blockbuster action movies such as “Top Gun,” “Days of Thunder” and “Crimson Tide.” If you’re familiar with his work, you’ll find his style and taste of shootouts, big explosions and constant ball busting humor all throughout this movie. A lot of people refer to this movie as a “Lethal Weapon” clone. I can’t argue with their analogy. It has all the familiar elements of “Lethal Weapon” especially since they were both written by Shane Black, but don’t let that premises keep you from enjoying this movie.

The title of the movie comes from a scene where Jimmy Dix signs an autograph for Joe’s daughter Darian. On the signature he inscribes the message, “To the daughter of the last boy scout.” Jimmy calls Joe a boy scout after seeing a picture of him with the President of the United States and finding out that Joe used to be a Secret Service agent. That part of Joe’s career plays an integral part in the story.

Bruce Willis plays Joe Hollenbeck in a similar fashion to his most famous character, John McClain.  He delivers wise crack after wise crack throughout the movie and doesn’t seem to mind the hostile reactions from those he is talking to. When he gets deep into the investigation and realizes the politician involved it becomes a personal vendetta for him since it was the particular politician that got himself fired from his previous job. Damon Wayans is on equal sitting of Willis as Jimmy Dix. He has plenty of quips of his own, but Wayans plays the role in a more serious tone. Jimmy feels a sense of responsibility for what happens to Cory and tries to help Joe track down the people responsible. Sometimes he gets in the way or does something he’s told not to do, but he redeems himself later in the movie when he has to start thinking like a detective.

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The supporting cast is good in their respective roles. Chelsea Field plays the distant yet concerned wife of Joe’s Sarah. Scream queen Danielle Harris plays Darian as a bratty teenager who despises her father. She plays a significant role near the climax of the movie. Halle Berry’s early performance as Cory is feisty. Other notable actors include Noble Willingham as Sheldon Marcone, owner of the Los Angeles Stallions which is the central team focused in the movie as well as the team Jimmy used to play for and Chelcie Ross as Senator Baynard, the politician involved in the plot. There’s some small appearances from Bruce McGill as Joe’s friend and partner Mike, Joe Santos as a police lieutenant who happens to get involved indirectly with Joe and trying to find out what Joe is doing and Kim Coates and Taylor Negron who play henchmen.

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While “The Last Boy Scout” is a fun little action flick with plenty of shootouts and explosions, it does have its flaws (like the majority of action movies). The script is borderline ludicrous which stretches to beyond believability. How the script would stack up if it were made today could be debatable, but for this time it’s not plausible. With action movies come typical clichés. You have Joe’s wife who is cheating on him and giving the old “You’re never around” speech and you have his daughter whose profanity laced tirades are instigated by just the mere sight of him. It gets old very quickly. And you have this sub plot of a police lieutenant and his subordinate starting their own investigation into Joe and Jimmy trying to find out what they’re up to and perhaps be the ones to crack the case. Finally, I did not like the climatic ending as it felt like something out of a cartoon. I think they could’ve done something better than what was shown on screen. I could go on, but if you can overlook these things and see the film for what it is you’ll enjoy it better.

Overall “The Last Boy Scout” is a funny and fun action movie. It’s a film that holds up by its sheer weight to be enjoyable. It’s not the most memorable film of Tony Scott’s films nor Shane Black’s scripts. It’s an artifact that is buried deep within the grounds of countless action movies. It’s worth watching once to see what Scott and Black were attempting to do. Unfortunately, the movie was not a success to green light a series like what they’ve done with “Lethal Weapon”. Ironically, Wayans plays Murtaugh in the aforementioned television series. I’m sure it had something to do with his role as Dix. Everything always comes full circle.

TRIVIA

  • Although they play buddies in the film, Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans hated working with each other.
  • Composer Michael Kamen hated the film when he first saw it. The only reason he provided the score was out of his personal friendships with Bruce Willis and producer Joel Silver.
  • The conversation between Joe and Jimmy about the 650 dollar pants was taken from a deleted scene in Lethal Weapon (1987). Murtaugh’s daughter is wearing an expensive dress for a New Year’s Eve party and he asks, “It doesn’t have a little television in it?” She says, “No”, and Murtaugh mutters, “I am very old.”
  • A riot nearly occurred during filming at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Hundreds of extras were recalled for a second day of shooting, but a last minute decision was made to cancel the recall. The extras were not informed of the decision and arrived expecting a day of work. They were refused pay by the production, and as discontent grew, they began to surge against the barrier that surrounded the set. Riot police were called in to disperse the crowd.
  • Jack Nicholson was the first choice for the part of Joe Hallenbeck.
  • Mel Gibson was considered for the role of Jimmy Dix.
  • Billy Cole’s last words “Ain’t life a bitch?”, before committing suicide, was originally “I’m going to Disneyland.”, a common phrase among Super Bowl winners.
  • Joe (Bruce Willis) mentions “reindeer goat cheese pizza”, which Willis also mentioned in Hudson Hawk (1991).
  • Released in U.S. theaters the day before the one-year anniversary of the day that Look Who’s Talking Too (1990) was released in U.S. theaters. This film also starred Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans as buddies, although they simply provided the voices of two characters.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Witnessing The Death of Football

Pretty Good Cigarettes

Remember That

She’ll Be Screwing Them By The Time She’s Fourteen

I’m Not The One That Hates You

Go Stick Your Head In The Speaker

Filling In

Ask Your Wife

Leather Pants

New Invention Called A Razor

Circumvent

The Man Who Invented Scrabble

Goat Cheese Pizza

What Happened To Your Face?

Billions, That’s Nine Zeroes

You Couldn’t Nail A Two Dollar Whore

Think Jimmy

I Want To Know What’s Going On

 

 

Quick Change

Quick Change

Release Date: July 13, 1990

Genre: Comedy, Crime

Directors: Howard Franklin and Bill Murray

Writers: Jay Cronley (Book), Howard Franklin (Screenplay)

Starring: Bill Murray, Geena Davis, Randy Quaid, Jason Robards

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

Do you ever flip the channels on your television and find a movie you’ve never seen nor heard of, but decide to check it out? I’m sure you have done that as many times as I have, but did you watch it all the way through and at the end you really enjoyed it and wonder why you’ve never heard of it before? That happened to me about fourteen years ago. I came home from school, turned on the television and flipped it to Comedy Central to see what was currently playing. The first image that appeared was Bill Murray dressed up as a clown. “What Bill Murray movie is this?” I asked myself. I’ve seen practically every Bill Murray movie that had been released at the time except for “Lost In Translation”. After the first commercial break, the Comedy Central logo appeared in the corner along with the ‘Now Watching’ header underneath. The name of the movie that appeared next was “Quick Change!”

I watched the movie all the way through and thoroughly enjoyed it. I talked about it the next day with my friends and they were amazed that they never heard of that movie either. Fourteen years had passed, and I completely forgot about seeing the movie until I found it on DVD at the local store I go to where I pick up most of my movies. My eyes were filled with delight as those memories of the first watch through being to fade in and out trying to remember it. I picked it up and watched it again. I forgot how great this movie was from a plot standpoint and an execution standpoint.

Released in 1990 “Quick Change” is based off the 1981 novel of the same name by Jay Cronley. Murray plays a man named Griff who is fed up with his life and the way things are going. Together with his lover Phyllis (Geena Davis) and his dimwitted best friend Loomis (Randy Quaid), they decide to rob a Manhattan bank. Griff, dressed as clown sets up a hostage situation and slips away with $1 million dollars. The robbery is smooth and goes as planned. Next comes the getaway where the plan is to escape to the airport and fly to Fiji where they will live out their days in paradise. However, the getaway becomes a nightmare as the trio get involved in untimely situations that stall their plan. It takes pure luck and convincing from Murray to get out of the jams they find themselves in. In addition, they are being pursued by the New York Police chief Walt Rotzinger (Jason Robards) who is using every resource he can find to capture them before they escape and cause another blemish on the force that is scrutinized by the media and the public. Will Griff and his pals finally reach their destination, or will their luck run out when they are finally captured by Rotzinger and the New York Police?

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Despite not being a commercially successful film in theaters, “Quick Change” received overwhelmingly positive reviews for its cleverness, execution, cast and plot. It’s a film that can be relatable in the real world since there’s robberies that happen almost every day, some with success and some with failure. Like its title, the film changes pace and situation in a seamless transition. Yes, the trio of Murray, Davis and Loomis commit a criminal act, but there is some heart in the movie, especially during some points where Griff decides to put his pals’ feelings over his. It keeps you on the edge and gives the audience the choice of whom they want to see succeed.  Do they want to see the robbers succeed or do they want to see the cops succeed?

This film was Bill Murray’s directorial debut as he co-directed with Howard Franklin, a man whom he would collaborate later in his career. Some people criticized the direction of the film due to the fact there are two directors. Having two directors is quite common in the film world. It’s all about collaboration and that the two directors have an ideal vision of what they want to achieve. With this film, Murray’s directorial involvement is with his character, his friends and the situations they are in, which is fine. Bill Murray knows what Bill Murray wants.

I enjoyed the cast of the movie. I felt the trio of Murray, Davis and Quaid got along great. Murray is his typical smartass self as Griff. He manages to stay cool under enormous pressure during the many u turns they have as they desperately try to get out of the city. Like its title, all three characters go from being ecstatic that they pulled offed a seemingly flawless heist to slowly dissolving in misery, desperation and fear. Their trust in each other melts slowly as they continue to be stuck in the city trying to find their way to the airport to make their escape. Murray’s smartass quips and razor-sharp delivery are a staple of this movie as they’ve been in many of his appearances throughout his career.  Davis, not known as a comedic actress did very well in this. She has some funny moments in the film, but plays it straight laced overall. You feel the love she has for her partner; Griff and their relationship gets put to the test throughout the second half of the movie. And of course, there’s Randy Quaid, who plays the typical goof as you’ve seen him play throughout his career. Loomis reminds me of the character ‘Mugsy’ from the Bugs Bunny cartoons. He’s dimwitted and makes tiny mistakes that jeopardize the plan. Quaid becomes the more desperate of the characters as he starts to cry and howl about wanting to get out. There is a great scene involving him and a taxi driver as they try to reach their destination.

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Finally, there’s veteran actor Jason Robards who plays New York Police Chief Rotzinger. Robards provides somewhat of a calm demeanor to the craziness unfolding throughout the movie. He methodically uses his police skills to track where they’re at in the hopes of catching them before they escape. There is one thing Rotzinger has in common with the three runaways. They all have a disdain for New York City. There is a moment in the film where Rotzinger is looking out the window and wonders what he could’ve been or how did he end up in New York City for practically his entire career. It’s a reflective moment indeed.

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Besides the main cast, look out for some notable faces throughout the film that have small appearances. Those faces include Phil Hartman, Jamey Sheridan, Stanley Tucci, Kurtwood Smith and Tony Shalhoub, who has the longest screen time of the above-mentioned people. He’s quite funny in his performance although I think his screen time could’ve been cut down significantly because the audience gets the point of his character and what he is all about.

The plot is lightweight in comparison to other films of this nature like “Dog Day Afternoon.” Don’t let that take you away from the rest of the movie. This movie works with the limitations it provides in terms of characters and setting. It’s incredible how the characters can dodge bullets when they get trapped in a situation where the audience believes they can’t get out of. Fate and luck work within the characters’ favors. No time is wasted through its 89 minutes in duration of adding plot points and characters that are unnecessary to the overall theme and concept and no joke is overplayed or overused throughout the movie. Credit goes to Howard Franklin for focusing on the source material of Jay Cronley’s book to write the screenplay. He manages to make a heist film “likable”, which is very hard to do.

“Quick Change” is truly an underrated comedy film. To me, it ranks high up there in Bill Murray’s filmography. It’s a movie that doesn’t need the bright light promotions or the mega box office money to be considered a success. It’s a successful film in terms of its smart writing and clever filmmaking. It’s an homage to a lot of cat and mouse movies from earlier film periods. You may have a hard time finding this movie in video stores, but there’s a reason why eBay, and Amazon were created. You need to check this movie and out and see for yourself. You will not be disappointed in this. It’s a break from all the mundane comedies that are currently out today.

 

 

TRIVIA

  • This is the only film directed by Bill Murray
  • Bill Murray once said of this movie in an interview: “Everyone will enjoy this movie. But New Yorkers will enjoy it especially because they know how bad their city really is.” In another later August 2010 interview with Dan Fierman of GQ Magazine, Murray said: “It’s great. It’s a great piece of writing. And how about the cast? You couldn’t get that cast together for all the tea in China right now. I mean, Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub…”.
  • When original director Jonathan Demme became unavailable, writer Howard Franklin and producer Bill Murray couldn’t agree on who would be a good director for the project. So, they decided to do the job themselves.
  • The Mexican flower woman at the airport who cries “Flores! Flores para los muertos!” is a tribute to A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) in which a Mexican flower woman cries the same phrase outside Stanley Kowalski’s apartment. It also could be a reference to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), another film about a bickering couple.
  • Ron Howard was approached about directing the film, but he turned it down. Howard declined directing the movie because he felt there was no character to root for.
  • The name “Loomis” would have to be considered unusual, if not rare. It is odd then that Randy Quaid played Loomis in this movie but had previously played a character named Sheriff Loomis in the 1986 movie, “The Wraith”, starring Charlie Sheen.
  • The watch that the bank employee tries to give Grimm (Bill Murray) is “an Audemars Piguet, Moon Phase, 18-karat gold, alligator band” watch. He states the value is $12,000 but appreciates daily. It may be a coincidence, but in Bill Murray’s SCROOGED, he is wearing the same watch, which can be seen when he checks the time in the restaurant (before the waiter lights on fire), expecting to see his first foretold ghost.

AUDIO CLIPS

Hiatus

Hello everyone!

I apologize for not posting reviews lately.  I’ve been busy with a lot of things: work, vacation, other personal matters.

I wanted to give you a heads up that I’m going to take a small hiatus from posting reviews. I have some personal events coming up in September that need my attention.

However, I will be returning in October to do a month long review special review in lieu of the Halloween season. I’m going to be reviewing my “Most Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies”.  I will be dedicating the spare time I have in September to watch and review five horror movies that fit this category. I will post one a week up until Halloween. I’ll be spending the time next month watching, researching, analyzing and of course picking out some hilarious clips.

I want to say Thank you to all you viewers out there. I appreciate all of you who have supported this blog. I hope you have enjoyed reading these blogs as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.

I’ll see you soon.

Six Against The Rock

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Six Against The Rock

Release Date: May 18, 1987 (TV Movie)

Genre: Drama, Thriller, Action

Director: Paul Wendkos

Writers: John Gay (Teleplay), Clark Howard (Book)

Starring: David Carradine, Richard Dysart, Dennis Farina, Charles Haid, David Morse, Jan Michael Vincent, Howard Hesseman

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

This past Christmas I received a book written by acting great David Carradine. His memoir titled “Endless Highway” talks about his life, his career and his spiritual journey. Many people know Carradine as the main character from the hit 70s show “Kung Fu”. Today’s younger generation would remember him as the titular title character from Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” movies. After reading his book, I ventured into his film catalogue to watch some movies he was in. One of the films I came across in his resume was a made for TV movie that sparked my interest. The movie was titled “Six Against the Rock”.

Not to be confused with the film “Escape From Alcatraz”starring Clint Eastwood which was about the only successful escape from the prison, this film portrays the 1946 failed escape attempt by six inmates which leads to a hostage standoff that lasted three days. Carradine plays Bernie Coy, who is currently serving a twenty-five year sentence for robbery and the architect of the escape. The other accomplices in the plan include Joseph ‘Dutch’ Cretzer (played by Howard Hesseman), Marvin Hubbard (played by David Morse), Miran ‘Buddy’ Thompson (played by Jan Michael Vincent), Sam Shockley (played by Charles Haid) and Dan Durando (played by Paul Sanchez). The plan was to escape through ‘C Block’, which was the largest unit on the rock by capturing the guards posted there and using the yard key to make their escape where they would head to the shipyard and get on a boat that would take them to San Francisco. The plan fails when the inmates cannot find the yard key among all the keys in their possession. When they try to use other keys as an alternative, the lock jams leaving them stuck in the block with the guards. Coy decides to use the guards as hostages and use them as leverage for a negotiation with the prison’s Warden. Warden James Johnston (played by Richard Dysart) refuses to negotiate and instead tries to find a way to stop the siege and rescue the guards. He calls upon the local military for help. Now surrounded by military rifles and other hardware, the inmates only option is to fight it out. Would they survive the fight?

Direct by Paul Wendkos, who was known in the business as a “prolific specialist in made for television movies, this is indeed a tightly made film that accurately depicts the events that unfolded during those three days at Alcatraz in 1946. The majority of the movie takes place in one location so it gives the movie a claustrophobic feel. When the plan fails, the inmates are left to improvise with little to no help from the other inmates. As the hours and days go by in the siege, the inmates get tired and desperate. They begin to turn on one another.

There are some solid performances in this film. First I’ll discuss the inmates. David Carradine and David Morse work great together as Coy and Hubbard. Coy is very logical with his planning and he is quick to improvise when the original plan fails. He keeps his leadership intact with force and reasoning. Morse adds ferocity and patience to the group. Despite the plan slowly unraveling, he does his best to encourage and motivate the team to not lose hope and keep their minds focus on the objective. Hesseman and Haid portrayed the vicious and unstable characters in the movie, Cretzer and Shockley. They end up being more of a liability to the team rather than an asset. They become paranoid and desperate to the point where they start to take out their frustration on the guards being held hostage against Coy’s orders. They want to show they mean business. Jan Michael Vincent who plays Buddy Thompson in the film is quiet and composed, yet he takes his orders from Cretzer. The moralist of the group is Dan Durando, portrayed by Paul Sanchez.  He was convicted of murder at age sixteen and is currently serving a ninety-nine year sentence. He is hesitant about escaping from prison in the beginning of the film and ultimately gets dragged into the situation once Coy releases him from his cell. As the events are unfolding, Durando keeps his distance from the others and prevents Cretzer and Shockley from killing the guards.

Richard Dysart plays Warden Johnston who is grasping with the situation that is unfolding in his prison. His main focus throughout the film is the safety of the guards that are held hostage. The design of the prison works against him and has to rely on the military to come up with a way of diffusing the situation.

There’s not much action in the movie other than the inmates rounding up the guards and defending themselves during the onslaught of the military trying to take back the block There’s an ample amount of violence from the beating of the guards to Carradine shooting the guards in the leg at the Watch Tower. There’s enough going on to keep you on your feet.

“Six Against The Rock” is an intriguing story that tells a historic event that has been overlooked due to the only successful escape from Alcatraz that took place in 1960. It’s a movie where its characters are not just people, but of The Rock itself being a character. The movie reminds us that a plan that looks good on paper, but it may not work in real life. This movie may have been made for the small screen, but it leaves you with the feeling that you just watched a big masterpiece.

TRIVIA (N/A)

 

AUDIO CLIPS

 

The Rookie

 

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The Rookie

Release Date: December 7, 1990

Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime

Director: Clint Eastwood

Writers: Boaz Yakin, Scott Spiegel

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Charlie Sheen, Raul Julia, Tom Skerritt, Lara Flynn Boyle

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

While Buddy Cop movies have been around since the dawn of film, they didn’t start becoming commercially successful until around the seventies. Some of the more memorable duos include Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder, Mel Gibson/Danny Glover and in today’s Buddy films, you could argue Kevin Hart/Ice Cube or Jonah Hill/Channing Tatum. Then there are those that didn’t pair well like Chevy Chase/Jack Palance, Jay Leno/Pat Morita, Burt Reynolds/an eight year old boy. As the nineties began, you saw more offbeat pairings. One of those offbeat pairings included Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood and Hollywood Bad Boy Charlie Sheen (Yeah never in a million years did I think that would be possible). Both appeared in the 1990 film “The Rookie”.

Like all Buddy Cop movies this movie focuses on two cops with very different and conflicting personalities who are forced to work together to solve a major crime. Sheen plays David Ackerman, a rookie cop who is assigned to the LAPD’s Robbery and Auto Theft Division. He is partnered with Eastwood’s Nick Pulovski, a rough wisecracking Sergeant Detective who uses tactics against police procedures to get what he needs to put the bad guys away. David gets thrust into Nick’s case involving a car theft ring that is run by a man named Strom, played by the late great Raul Julia. In addition, Strom is responsible for killing Eastwood’s original partner. Throughout the film, David gets cold feet when it comes to helping Nick. It’s attributed to not only his family background, which he comes from money and power as portrayed in a dinner party scene, but also a post traumatic episode involving the accidental death of his brother when they were children and feeling responsible for it. During a tip from an illegal wiretap, Nick and David head to a local casino where Strom is attempting to steal $2 million dollars to pay his creditors due to Nick constantly disrupting his business. During a search, Strom’s right hand woman slowly walks towards David. David has his gun pointed at her threatening her to stop or he will shoot. He hesitates and allows himself to be shot and Nick being taken hostage by Strom. David is put on leave from the department due to his cowardice and allowing his partner to be taken. Strom demands the money within twenty four hours otherwise he will kill Nick. David, feeling guilt and tired of being afraid hunts down Strom’s associates in order to find where Nick is in time before the police decide to pay up.

I first encountered this movie during a night flipping through channels with my father several years ago. It appeared on one of the major film channels you can get on cable or satellite. The film was already playing, but we decide to check it out. We turned it on and the first scene we see is Eastwood giving a local news interview on a junkyard search and seizure. In typical Eastwood humor, he begins a profanity laced taunt at the criminal he is after. My dad I instantly cracked up and continued to watch the film all the way through. After the movie, we both agreed that it was a fun flick with loads of action and humor. Recently, I shopped at the place where I do all my movie shopping and found “The Rookie” on DVD for a mere two dollars. I instantly picked it up. I watched it in full for the first time over the weekend and I enjoyed it as much as I did the first time around.

Clint Eastwood’s performance in this movie is a carbon copy of Dirty Harry, not like that’s a bad thing. From the physical gruffness and aggressive tactics to the smart ass comments, Eastwood doesn’t skip a beat. When Eastwood gets paired up with Sheen, he’s not amused to the fact that he has to “babysit” this rookie. He keeps his pursuit of Strom close to his chest, not revealing too much information to his new partner.

Charlie Sheen’s performance was pretty mellow, but I think he nailed the character of David Ackerman, a rookie cop who is getting more than what he bargained for when joining the force. He becomes a burden to Eastwood due to his inexperience and the fact that Eastwood has to bail him out on several occasions. Besides the things I mentioned about Ackerman in the beginning of the review, he also has to deal with his girlfriend (played by Lara Flynn Boyle) who is finishing law school. He feels his job is beneath to what she will become. He does gain Eastwood’s admiration in the film when he helps him fix his motorcycle. You will see in a couple scenes how good Sheen is at fixing things. This is in part to Ackerman’s degrees in Engineering and Economics as mentioned during the party scene. Other than that he struggles to build Eastwood’s trust in him. The botched arrest of Strom along with the kidnapping of Eastwood becomes Sheen’s turning point. When he faces his fears and stops blaming himself for the tragic events of his childhood, he learns from his subordinate and does what he can to find his partner even going as far as breaking up his dad’s meeting to confront him.

The last great performance goes to Raul Julia playing Strom. He is cunning at first when things go as planned. As the movie progresses and Eastwood thwarts his criminal business, Strom becomes angry and determined.  When he kidnaps Eastwood, he gains leverage over the cops and devises a way to get his money and take out his enemy at the same time. The only gripe I have about Julia’s character is that he is supposed to be German. Raul Julia is Puerto Rican. It would’ve made more sense to change the character of Strom to a different nationality, but that shouldn’t take away from his performance.

A Buddy Cop film wouldn’t be complete without loads of action. There’s not a lot of shootouts in this film, but there are quite a few chase sequences. There’s one shortly after the beginning of the film, a chase scene involving Sheen and a motorcycle and a chase scene at the climax. The film does a good job of changing the chases so that they’re not repetitive as in car chase after car chase after car chase. All these chases were performed by stuntmen at the physical shooting locations. The explosion effects were also done on location without the use of any blue or green screens which brings a sense of authenticity. One particular scene was done in one take due to the fact they did not have the means to keep doing take after take. It’s incredible what these stuntmen put themselves through to create an entertaining picture. They are the real heroes in the movie industry.

The film does have its flaws. The film doesn’t divulge into Sheen and Boyle’s relationship. She appears in only a handful of shots and one important scene of the film. The same goes with Sheen’s parents. While you know he comes from luxury, you really don’t know much about his dad’s business. One of the more controversial moments in the film is when Strom’s right hand woman is toying with a tied up Eastwood. As she speaks to him and slashes his forehead with a razor, she turns on a video camera and begins to rape him. Was it something she did with all her male victims? Did she see something in Eastwood she found attractive such as his boldness or the fact when she gave him a drink of water he proceeded to spit it at her face? I didn’t think it was necessary especially since you didn’t know anything about her other than she’s a trusted accomplice.

The movie’s run time is two hours on the dot, but it doesn’t feel like a two hour movie. It’s pretty fast paced with everything going on. You get immersed with what is going on in each scene that time doesn’t exist.

Overall “The Rookie” is a good Buddy Cop flick. It may not stand out like the “Lethal Weapon” movies, but it is better than most of the recent movies of this genre that have been released. The pairing of Clint Eastwood and Charlie Sheen is still baffling, but it works in this concept if these two could work great together in a Buddy Cop film, who knows what the next great pairing will be? I could see Tom Hardy and Michael Cera in a Buddy Cop flick……..or maybe not.

TRIVIA

  • According to the book “Clint Eastwood A Cultural Production” by Paul Smith, during the early stages of principal photography, actor Charlie Sheen had substance abuse problems. Eastwood reportedly took on a father-figure role in disciplining Sheen into responsible behavior.
  • The film featured over twice as many stuntmen as it did actors. Held the world record for the biggest ratio of stuntmen/actors. Reportedly, over eighty stuntmen worked on the movie.
  • Clint Eastwood agreed to do this movie in exchange for Warner Brothers letting him make his personal film project, White Hunter Black Heart (1990).
  • The movie was to be directed by Craig R. Baxley starring Matthew Modine and Gene Hackman in 1988 but the production was stopped by the Screen Actors Guild strike
  • The make and model of the car that Clint Eastwood took a disliking to its color was a lime green Type 85 Lotus Esprit SE. The Lotus Esprit was the car that had become famous for appearing in the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and later used again in For Your Eyes Only (1981). In the movie, Eastwood gets to drive the famous James Bond car.
  • According to the article ‘Slam, Bang, Crash, Boom for The Rookie” published in American Cinematographer in January 1991, the movie’s stunt scenes were mostly shot at night with no use of blue screens and with no use of miniatures.

AUDIO CLIPS