Rating: The Good – 88.9 Genre: Comedy Duration: 98 mins Director: Harold Ramis Stars: Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield
If Caddyshack was merely a reflection of the sum of its parts, those parts (top comedic actors, original premise, tremendous script, outstanding soundtrack, and a great comedy director) are of such high quality that the film would still rank as a comedy classic. However, the film transcends the sum of those parts to become one of the most enjoyable movie watching experiences. Set in the hilarious Bushwood Country Club, the movie follows its caddies, the rich eccentrics they caddy for, and the various staff including its unstable groundskeeper as they go about their ridiculous daily business. Michael O’Keefe is perfect in the lead as the likable but cheeky Danny Noonan but this movie is as much if not more about the supporting cast of comedic heavyweights. Ted Knight is a riot as Judge Smails, Rodney Dangerfield finds the perfect vehicle for his unique brand of humour (“hey lady, you wanna make 14 dollars the hard way?”) while Chevy Chase’s Ty Webb is Chase at his skewed and improvisational best. Best of all though is Murray as the deranged groundskeeper Carl. This is easily one of his best performances and one of the most off the wall eccentric characters you’ll find in any film. From his “kill all the golfers” line to “you wore green so you could hide” Murray will have you howling with laughter for the full 90 mins and beyond. The quantifiable magic that occurs when every aspect of a movie comes together in perfect harmony is something we rarely encounter in life so let’s just be eternally thankful that Caddyshack is with us. “In the words of Jean Paul Sartre: au revoir”.
Rating: The Good – 73.8 Genre: Drama, Comedy Duration: 103 mins Director: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash Stars: Liam James, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell
Endearing drama following an awkward teenager as he and his mother spend the summer at her cantankerous boyfriend’s beach house. While the mother gets indoctrinated into her boyfriend’s grownups-gone-wild culture, he finds solace at a local water park under the wing of its wisecracking manager. Rights of passage comedies are difficult to get right because there’s often an onus on the filmmakers to extract the comedy from real life. But as comedy more typically comes from exaggerated characterisation and circumstances, that is easier said than done. The Way Way Back has its fair share of exaggerations but so charming is the project and so easy is it to watch, that they successfully solicit our forgiveness for such transgressions. Of course, that much of the comedy does indeed emerge from realistic sequences (or at least the emotions they’re built around) and that those sequences are so perceptively judged and written helps a great deal.
Critical to this type of film is the script and cast and the former (courtesy of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash) is an honest breath of fresh air, rarely sacrificing the film’s sentiments for cheap gags or tangential comedy vignettes. The latter is loaded with quality from the typically wonderful Toni Collett as the mother to an against-type Steve Carell as her asshole boyfriend. Allison Janney is the crazy neighbour responsible for most of the wilder antics and fulfilling that remit to perfection. As is always the case, The Way Way Back is infinitely enriched by the presence of Sam Rockwell as the park manager. Playing a big kid with a big heart in a quirky comedy is meat and potatoes to Rockwell but his charisma is irresistible and sends a charge of energy throughout the movie.
That said, the real rewards to be found here are in young Liam James’ central performance and his relationship with Collette and Rockell’s characters. Charmingly awkward, entirely sympathetic, yet with a hidden strength he’s the steady pulse at the movie’s core. Collette puts in a gorgeous turn as the insecure mother and there’s so much warmth between mother and son that the movie satisfies despite the darker themes of loneliness. In that last regard, credit must go to Collette and Carell who work terrifically in balancing the tone of the film by maintaining an undercurrent of seriousness through all the laughter. Carell for his part is fantastic as the selfish streak of misery and close observers of this film won’t be too surprised by his more recent Foxcatcher turn. But as deep as everything gets into the adolescent and midlife crises departments, any heaviness is blown away by the fresh sense of fun that Faxon and Rash’s writing and directing bring to the party.
Rating: The Good – 79.8 Genre: Drama Duration: 110 mins Director: George Lucas Stars: Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Harrison Ford
For those who (somewhat understandably) used the most recent Star Wars films as reason to doubt George Lucas’ talent as a director, this is one of two films they should watch that will assuage any such doubts (the other being THX 1138). An ode to the 1950-60′s cruising generation, American Graffiti follows a group of friends the night before two of them are due to head off for college. Lucas knits each of the scenes together with a medley of era-specific rock and roll hits which are intermittently punctuated by local radio pirate Wolfman Jack and he quite brilliantly uses the radios of passing cars, restaurants, gas stations, etc to ensure the soundtrack is a constant feature of the background. The fun of the evening’s adventures are had in a series of cracking set pieces ranging from drag races to that now classic liquor store robbery. On the acting front, all acquit themselves admirably with Richard Dreyfuss and Paul Le Mat scoring particularly well. Dreyfuss brings a lot of depth to his character and taps that ever present ability to strike up immediate chemistry with a variety of on-screen partners. On the other hand, Le Mat quite simply gives us one of cinema’s coolest characters as king of the strip John Milner. Unmissable.
Rating: The Good – 67 Genre: Comedy Duration: 101 mins Director: Ivan Reitman Stars: David Duchovny, Orlando Jones, Julianne Moore
Hugely entertaining sci-fi comedy about a meteor that hits the earth and brings all sorts of nasty single-cell organisms with it that quickly begin evolving into ever more complex creatures bent on human destruction. David Duchovny plays a former military scientist turned community college professor who together with his colleague (played by Orlando Jones) begins studying the creatures until the nasty military show up and take control. Lots of fun is had winking to Duchovny’s X-Files persona but most of it ends up adding to the plot. Ivan Reitman is a dab hand at these types of comedies and he always builds his films around great screen chemistry. Evolution is no different in that sense. Duchovny (who tends to work well with everyone) and Jones complement each other perfectly. Rarely is one funny without the other’s involvement and together they are responsible for many a side-splitting moment. Even with the addition of Seann William Scott and later Julianne Moore to the main story line they don’t skip a beat and if anything the chemistry is improved by the latter’s involvement. The special effects are typical of Reitman films in that they’re quite well done but replete with bright colours and fake goo. And it’s this last point that makes Evolution a guilty pleasure movie. Reitman has never known how to close out a movie and his instinct to go bigger always brings him firmly into the territory of farce. In Ghostbusters 2 he had a goo-powered Statue of Liberty, in this he has a giant blob crawling around a desert. Even the acting starts getting cheesy towards the end suggesting the cast didn’t believe in the ending either.
Rating: The Ugly – 61.3 Genre: Comedy Duration: 99mins Director: Ellory Elkayem Stars: David Arquette, Kari Wuhrer, Scott Terra
Exactly what it says on the can. A town full of giant mutant spiders, wise-cracking and/or fleeing humans, and paper thin plots. The result: a totally enjoyable and sometimes genuinely funny horror spoof. David Arquette leads the cast as a man who has recently returned to his hometown only to find it being overrun by a swarm of creepy giant arachnids. Kari Wurher is the town sheriff with whom he has some history and a young Scarlett Johansson fleets in and out as her daughter. The CGI is fine but this movie is all about the the well conceived and executed set-pieces in which the spiders find new and imaginative ways to kill the blundering townspeople. Not the worst way to spend a lazy night in front of the TV.
Rating: The Good – 76.8 Genre: Action, Black Comedy Duration: 103 mins Director: Shane Black Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan
A playful action comedy with an ability to shift towards darker gears is what we got when seminal action writer Shane Black stepped behind the camera to resurrect the careers of two of Hollywood’s most interesting would-be leads. Robert Downey Jr. stars as a New York thief hiding out in Hollywood who gets caught up in a noir style mystery involving his former high school crush (Michelle Monaghan) and Val Kilmer’s gay private detective.
As much as this film’s curiosity and success rests on its novel story, riff-abundant script, and fairytale like narration, the three leads are in smashing form. A natural chemistry among the cast is a gift for any action director because it can breathe additional layers of life into the necessary action set pieces and Black found himself triply blessed here as Downey Jr., Kilmer, and Monaghan reflect the best trio since Gibson, Glover, and Pesci. The story is a purposeful mash up of those that the great detective noirs served up replete with converging subplots and dark subject matters. Ever in cheeky mode though, Black spins the character archetypes on their head and none more so than Downey’s central hero who is more Jack Burton than Mike Hammer. This or course only adds to his charm as the movie’s narrator and, for his part, Downey is in commanding form and perfectly self-deprecating – in line with where his career was at the time.
If anything, Kilmer is better as the sarcastic detective batting for the other team. Though his character’s sexuality is the basis for most of his jokes, Black occasionally shows a subtler touch when he uses it to merely inform the comedy background. Purposefully avoiding one character stereotype only to unwittingly embrace another is the definition of self-defeating but thankfully, Kilmer’s impeccable timing and natural presence compensates and he gives us one of the better characters Hollywood has offered up in recent years – an original and interesting good guy and wickedly funny to boot. Far from being eclipsed by any male double act, Monaghan is just as quirky and even more charming. Moreover, by virtue of the story’s construction, it’s usually up to her to carry the story forward and she combined her dual roles with an effortless vibrance.
Black’s direction deserves some comment given it was his first time taking the reigns and though he allows the self-referential narration to ironically interfere with the narrative rather than aid its progression, the visual profile of the movie is flush with personality. Aaron Osbourne’s production design combined with Michael Barrett’s photography gives L.A. a modern fairytale quality in keeping with the themes of the story. The action sequences too are well handled thanks to some innovative ideas and deft editing. However, the most impressive feature of Black’s helmsmanship is perhaps his ability to change the tone of the movie without warning. There’s a moment when Downey confronts a heartless hitman – who had previously pulled off his recently sewn on finger in a nihilistically amusing episode – and it chills to the bone. It adds gravitas to the overall experience and enriches the film’s homage to the great noir. And in doing so, it rounds off this little gem in admirable style.
Rating: The Good – 73.3 Genre: Sport, Drama Duration: 131 mins Director: Gavin O’Connor Stars: Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte
One might expect a movie set in the world of mixed martial arts to be nothing more than another vehicle in the sport’s locomotive-like publicity convoy. That it’s not, is only the first surprise Gavin O’Connor’s fight drama servers up. Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy play Brendan and Tommy, two estranged brothers who were separated when the latter took off with his mother to escape their physically abusive father (played by Nick Nolte) years earlier. The older Brendan stayed with his father only to shun him at a later date and settle down as a physics teacher and family man while Tommy lost his mother, escaped poverty by joining the Marines, and served in Iraq.
The story begins with a ferociously volatile Tommy showing up at his father’s door 14 years later to throw insults at the now recovered alcoholic – not to mention his former wrestling trainer. However, it’s not long before he asks the desperate old man to train him for a blockbuster MMA event in which the winner takes home $5 million – so long as only training is discussed. Unbeknownst to them, over in Philadelphia, Brendan’s family are in danger of losing their home and so he too decides to return to fighting, eyeing the same prize as his brother. With the second half of the film dedicated to the all out carnage of the cage, the fraternal dynamic is only alluded to (in a standout night time scene that was shot on the Atlantic City waterfront) but it seems that the bluntly manic Tommy has never forgiven Brendan for not leaving with him and his mother and so their inevitable collision in the ring promises to erupt into a grudge match of biblical proportions.
There’s obviously lots going on here and that’s not the half of it. The film is beset with two or three needless subplots mostly concerning Tommy but given the tendency for these types of films to pay mere lip-service to back stories, the attempt to do more as opposed to less should be somewhat respected. It does come together thanks to some contrived character dynamics, some less than believable plot development, and O’Connor’s cleverly manipulative direction but so hair-raising is the end product that most will forgive the heavy handedness. Moreover, if you are content not to dwell on the negatives, the film can whisk you forward in a wave of unsubtle emotion right into the frenzied grinder of the tournament battles.
They’re a rousing bunch of set pieces connected with an adrenaline charged yet elegant montage of highlights from those fights we don’t see in full. And MMA fans won’t be disappointed either given the quality of the fight choreography. Yes, some of the physical untidiness of real-life fighting is filtered out in favour of more flowing moves but the hard edged savagery is represented clearly and authentically. The climax is a little on the nose and unashamedly gives the audience what they want but it undeniably works.
On the acting front, Edgerton shows once again what an interesting talent he is and Nolte does his best to battle the pathos with which his character is overflowing (a ridiculously overwrought drunken-relapse scene notwithstanding) but in truth everyone is overshadowed by Tom Hardy’s monstrous turn. As an unstable brute, it’s a commanding piece of acting that makes quality use of the writers’ best ideas for Tommy and avoids the pitfalls of their worst. Furthermore, not only does he maintain a deep and necessary vulnerability but he funnels it into his character’s personality so completely that it only juices his formidable energy all the more. Movie fans will get much from this film regardless of whether their preference is drama or action, but what will stay with everyone the longest is Hardy.
Rating: The Good – 90.8 Genre: Action Duration: 131 mins Director: John McTiernen Stars: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia
The Daddy of all action films, Die Hard has it all. An everyman hero, boo-hissable villains, a fantastic plot, and a scintillating script. Add in some sublime action choreography captured by the top action director (John McTiernen) and cinematographer (Jan DeBont) in the business, give Bruce Willis the lead, and the result is the cleverest, wittiest, and most satisfying action film ever made.
Willis plays John McClane, a New York cop who goes to toe to toe with a group of German terrorists when they take over his estranged wife’s corporate headquarters during their Christmas party. Despite his meticulous planning, the terrorist leader (played with relish by Alan Rickman in his first screen appearance) finds McClane and his abrasive personality to be a consistent pain in the ass as all his plans are systematically foiled by the cop.
Though the action sequences have become the stuff of movie legend, the film’s standout strengths were the charisma of its two leads, either on their own or while sparring with each other and of course, the script which facilitated that charisma. Willis in particular, excels like no action hero before him or since in both charm and grittiness and with the greatest hero dialogue ever written to chew on, he immortalised his character. Rickman, for his part, devours his equally brilliant lines with gargantuan amounts of gusto and, in truth, we’ve never seen a more vigorous or better portrayal of a movie villain. Supported by an array of perfectly rounded characters played by a host of top actors, Willis and Rickman give the film its substance, rendering the action sequences all the more enjoyable.
Of course, given the pedigree of Die Hard’s director and cinematographer, it should come as no surprise that the intelligence and wit demonstrated in front of the camera is matched by that behind it as McTiernen and DeBont produce a tour de force. No other sequence demonstrates this more than when McClane brings patrolman Powell into the fold with a bang – as Arglye the limo driver chills in the parking garage below oblivious to the mayhem going on behind him. “Welcome to the party pal!”
Rating: The Good – 71.2 Genre: Comedy Duration: 90 mins Director: Amy Heckerling Stars: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold
It has dated somewhat over the years but Fast Times at Ridgemont High tapped the zeitgeist of its times and remains an enjoyable glimpse of a year in the life of a bunch of high school kids as they deal with romance, sex, jobs, and hardcase teachers. For those who grew up on 80′s comedies, the jokes are bolstered by the sense of nostalgia but for those who didn’t those same jokes may come across as dated and weak. Its major strength is that the movie doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a bit of fun. This might not be the right tack to take when dealing with some of the trials and travails that the characters go through but, for a slice of teen comedy, getting bogged down in the emotional trauma of abortion or betrayal just won’t do. So everything is artificially sugar-coated and the audience is left all the happier for it.
Rating: The Good – 73.4 Genre: Crime, Comedy Duration: 102 mins Director: James McBride Stars: Dennis Quaid, Ellen Barkin, Ned Beatty, John Goodman
Dennis Quaid plays a young New Orleans police lieutenant who while attempting to get closer to the new assistant district attorney (Ellen Barkin) finds himself knee deep in an apparent drug war that may or may not involve police corruption. The Big Easy is a charming comedy thanks mainly to the charismatic performance from Quaid, the superb chemistry between him and Barkin, and a great Cajun soundtrack. McBride’s direction strikes a good balance between the action and the comedy and John Goodman and Ned Beatty as usual provide great support.
Rating: The Good – 74.5 Genre: Crime, Comedy Duration: 105 mins Director: Barry Sonnenfeld Stars: Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, Danny DeVito
The 90′s was easily the decade that gave us cinema’s coolest films and this was easily one of its top 5. The personification of cool himself John Travolta plays a movie loving loan shark Chilli Palmer, who heads out to LA to collect a debt and sees a chance to get involved in the movie business by protecting a down-on-his-luck director (Gene Hackman) from some smalltime gangsters he owes money to. Based on an Elmore Leonard novel this charming and often hilarious film has all the trademark twists and turns you come to expect from a Leonard story. Travolta and Delroy Lindo get most of the cool lines and although Travolta and Danny DeVito will get some chuckles the funniness of the film is primarily down to Hackman and Dennis Farina (as the gangster Chilli works for). Their respective characters are absolutely hysterical and the scene where they finally meet is unquestionably the highlight of the film. The last mention should go to director Sonnenfield who brings as much wit to the proceedings as anyone.
Rating: The Good – 74.4 Genre: Sport, Drama Duration: 140 mins Director: Gary Ross Stars: Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Elizabeth Banks
The timeless story of the “little horse that could” is given near mythological status here by writer/director Gary Ross and the perfect narration of Pulitzer Prize winning historian David McCullough. Seabiscuit is the ultimate long-shot story given the physical qualities of the horse and unorthodox style of its rider Red Pollard. The fact that it’s all true makes it even more compelling. And compelling it is. This is the type of movie, like it or not, that will give you goose-bumps all over with a number of exquisitely-crafted scenes that will stay with you for a long time. Toby Maguire stars as Red and he does a decent job as the troubled jockey who forms a deep bond with the horse. Jeff Bridges is in top form as the wealthy businessman who finds his true calling in looking after troubled jockey and horse alike and Chris Cooper is magic in the role of the seasoned trainer. Perhaps the standout strength of the film is the sense of period and time passing which Ross evokes so powerfully. In this, he is aided by McCullough’s craggy almost epoch-defining narration that comes to life each time the story skips forward in time. This movie will unashamedly pull on the emotional chords but it does so in such a skillful way that you’ll forgive it ten times over. The writing, the directing, and the acting are so meticulous that you’re hostage to it from early on. So just give yourself over to it and enjoy the rewards.