WEEKEND MOVIE MARATHONS: Ivan Reitman

Let’s call it happenstance. My friend Greg has been trying to get a podcast up & running for awhile, but life keeps getting in the way. With football finished & The Sammy Awards in the rear view mirror I find myself in an all too familiar writing funk, and since it’s my therapy the melancholy compounds itself. But then Ivan Reitman died. Now, with all due respect & total sincerity, I am NOT saying that Reitman’s demise is in any way positive or good, however I do believe in making lemonade out of lemons, so when Greg contacted me with an idea to do an episode of the podcast dedicated to the departed director a couple of decisions were made. First of all, if I am going to intelligently opine I needed a refresher on Ivan Reitman’s work. Secondly, while I am not sure what path we may go down on the podcast, I had always planned on doing a Weekend Movie Marathon focusing on Reitman. So here we are.

Friday Night

No Strings Attached

Ivan Reitman isn’t a name I immediately associate with rom-coms, but he did direct this one about a decade ago. No Strings Attached stars Natalie Portman & Ashton Kutcher and should not be confused with Friends with Benefits, a similarly themed film starring Justin Timberlake & Mila Kunis that was released just six months later. Since Kutcher & Kunis are married I wonder if they’ve ever argued about which movie is better?? Personally I find both mildly pleasant, although critics like Friends with Benefits significantly more. Anyway, you know what you’re getting from the jump…two people who agree to a casual, non-romantic, purely physical relationship catch feelings. It’s nice to see an Academy Award winning actress like Portman have fun and not fall into the trap of thinking she has to stick with tedious, pensive, dramatic roles.

Saturday Matinee

Kindergarten Cop

At some point someone got the idea that action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger should transition into comedy. Perhaps it was Ivan Reitman since he directed three such efforts. To be honest Kindergarten Cop isn’t as much of a straight comedy as it is a lighthearted action drama that utilizes cute kids in supporting roles to make it seem less…actiony. The future Governator plays a cop who goes undercover as a kindergarten teacher (hence the title) to apprehend a drug kingpin. There are some vaguely recognizable faces (Angela Bassett shows up as a stewardess just a year or two before she became well-known), and Penelope Ann Miller portrays the protagonist’s love interest. Whatever happened to Miller?? She should’ve been a huge movie star, but really hasn’t done anything notable since the early 90’s.

Saturday Night

Meatballs

One of Bill Murray’s earliest films, and the first of a few collaborations between he & Reitman. Teens at summer camp is a tried & true cinematic formula, and though Meatballs doesn’t really stand out from the crowd (it’s not particularly raunchy or even that hilarious), it is notable as a showcase for Murray’s comedic talents and solidifying the idea that his shtick could migrate from Saturday Night Live to the big screen.

Sunday Matinee

Draft Day

Kevin Costner is known for his sports-centric movies. Bull Durham. Field of Dreams. Tin Cup. American Flyers. For Love of the Game. I’m pretty sure Draft Day wouldn’t crack the Top 3 on that list, but if you’re one of those nerds whose eyes are glued to the television for three days every spring watching guys like Mel Kiper Jr., Todd McShay, & Rich Eisen break down the NFL’s Annual Selection Meeting then you appreciate this underrated gem. I just so happen to be one of those geeks. It’s kind of predictable & the romantic subplot is totally unnecessary, but a supporting cast that includes Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Sam Elliott, Chadwick Boseman, & Ellen Burstyn helps make it sufficiently entertaining.

Sunday Night

Twins

The Schwarzenegger comedy experiment came out of the gate strong. The plot involves 4ft.11, 150lb. Danny Devito & 6ft.2, 260lb. Schwarzenegger being long lost fraternal twins as a result of a genetics lab experiment. Of course that kind of amusing visual joke would typically make a funny SNL skit, while turning it into a feature film is tricky. Kudos to the actors & Reitman for pulling it off. Critics offered mixed reviews, but Joe Sixpack made Twins the 16th highest grossing movie of 1988, which isn’t too shabby in a year when the competition included classics like Coming to America, Good Morning Vietnam, Big, Die Hard, Moonstruck, Scrooged, Beetlejuice, & Bull Durham. A long rumored sequel (that waited so long Eddie Murphy’s role allegedly shifted to Tracey Morgan, which is like downgrading from Dom Perignon to Mad Dog 20/20) was set to get off the ground soon, but with Ivan Reitman’s departure from this mortal coil who knows what might happen. Perhaps his son Jason will take on the project.

80’s Movie Mania: Bodacious Round 1

So now we move forward with 80’s Movie Mania. I will post a few more polls along the way, but there will also be head-to-head matchups that are rather easily decided with no poll necessary. Each film has been put into one of four divisions: Tubular, Gnarly, Radical, & Bodacious. Let’s begin with the first round matchups in the Bodacious Division.

 

 

 

Bodacious – Round 1

Stand By Me   vs.   K-9

Stand By Me, in addition to being an excellent song originally recorded by Ben E King in the 60’s, is a 1986 coming-of-age film k9based on a Stephen King novella called The Body. The movie, in which four young lads go on a quest in search of the body of a presumed dead child, is notable for its superb cast, including Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell, River Phoenix, Wil Wheaton, Kiefer Sutherland, John Cusack, & Casey Siemaszko, all of whom would go on to have varying levels of success in their careers. K-9 is a 1989 action comedy in which Jim Belushi plays a cop who gets partnered with a german shepherd to bring down a drug lord.

The Verdict: Stand By Me. It’s not that K-9 is a bad film…it’s just that Stand By Me is one of the preeminent movies of the 1980’s that has stood the test of time mostly due to a cast of youngsters that grew into fine performers and well regarded Hollywood personalities.

 
Weekend at Bernie’s   vs.   Bachelor Party
wabNot every movie has to be an Oscar contender chockful of gravitas & profound life lessons. Sometime it’s okay to just sit back bpand have stupid fun. Weekend at Bernie’s is a goofy 1989 comedy starring Andrew McCarthy & Jonathan Silverman as bean counters at an insurance company whose boss has been embezzling money. After the boss ends up being the victim of a mob hit the two minions must convince everyone he’s still alive to save their own skins. It’s all rather silly yet enjoyable, highlighted by the physical comedy of actor Terry Kiser as the ill-fated corpse. A sequel was made a few years later but the humor was kind of played out. 1984’s Bachelor Party is one of the earliest triumphs in the storied career of Tom Hanks. The title says it all, with the story revolving around a wild stag party and all the associated hijinks.

The Verdict: I’m going to let The Manoverse decide which film moves on. If I can’t get atleast 20-25 votes in the poll I will decide the victor.

 

 

Cocktail   vs.   Stripes
cocktailCocktail is a 1988 romantic dramedy starring Tom Cruise as a young Army veteran who bartends at night to put himself thru college. He has an entrepreneurial spirit and big plans, which get derailed when he falls in love with a rich girl while working at a beachside club in Jamaica. Cocktail is a bit more style than substance, but that’s okay because the style part is so much fun. Cruise has rarely been cooler or more charismatic. The supporting cast is solid and the soundtrack…featuring songs from The Beach Boys, Starship, The Georgia Satellites, & John Cougar Cougar Mellencamp Mellencamp…is really enjoyable. Stripes is a military comedy (a very popular theme in the 80’s) and was among a string of hits (along with Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, & Tootsie) that Billstripes Murray did in the early 80’s after his departure from Saturday Night Live. Stripes has an impressive cast full of folks that would go on to have respectable careers…names like John Candy, Judge Reinhold, Sean Young, PJ Soles, John Larroquette, Timothy Busfield, Bill Paxton, Joe Flaherty, & Dave Thomas. The film is directed by Ivan Reitman and stars Murray & Harold Ramis as guys who join the Army more or less because they have nothing else good going on in their lives. Hilarity ensues. It is undoubtedly one of Murray’s best efforts.

The Verdict: This one is up to you Manoverse. I assume votes will be sharply divided along generational lines so maybe we’ll see just how diverse this reading audience is. Please vote…don’t make me make this decision myself.

 
Eddie & The Cruisers   vs.   A Fish Called Wanda
ecThe one thing I cannot figure out about Eddie & The Cruisers is why a band that had its success in the early 60’s sounds so wandamuch like a Springsteen/Bob Seger/Bon Jovi hybrid. Probably because the film was produced in 1983. At any rate, the idea is fantastic, with a framing story of a VH1 style documentary being made about a band who had one big album two decades ago before the enigmatic lead singer died in a tragic car crash. We meet the surviving members of the band and see flashbacks about their rise & fall. The final scene isn’t necessarily shocking, as it is hinted at throughout the film, but it is a well done surprise that sets up a tepid sequel that would come six years later (about 5 years too late). A Fish Called Wanda is a critically acclaimed heist comedy starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Cline, & Monty Python’s John Cleese. The group of crooks continuously try to double-cross each other and gain sole possession of the loot, with things becoming even more complicated when a lawyer gets involved. Cline won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

The Verdict: Eddie & The Cruisers. This would probably be considered a significant upset by many. Eddie & The Cruisers is viewed by most as a forgettable missed opportunity…a great story poorly executed. Conversely, A Fish Called Wanda has big stars and a strong pedigree. However, I believe that Eddie & The Cruisers does enough to be celebrated as the kind of solid popcorn entertainment that one would happily watch on a rainy Saturday afternoon whilst lazily keeping the couch warm. Meanwhile, A Fish Called Wanda contains a brand of Python-esque humor that has never been my particular cup o’ tea.

 
St. Elmo’s Fire   vs.   Romancing the Stone
sefSt. Elmo’s Fire finds members of the infamous Brat Pack (in this case Judd Nelson, Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, rsAndrew McCarty, Rob Lowe, & Mare Winningham) as recent graduates of Georgetown University who must now put the halcyon days of collegiate frivolity behind them and face the harsh realities of the real world. Haven’t most of us been there in one form or another?? Romancing the Stone is a 1984 rom-com/adventure flick starring Michael Douglas as an exotic bird smuggler (how’s that for a profession??) who gets roped into aiding a romance novelist who has ventured to Columbia to rescue her kidnapped sister. There is hidden treasure, drug lords, rogue military, & romance…everything one could ask for in an adventure quest film. It was director Robert Zemeckis’ first big success as well as one of Douglas’ first big films.

The Verdict: St. Elmo’s Fire. The question I ask myself is this: If I am flipping thru the channels late at night and both of these films just happen to be on TV which one am I going to watch?? Romancing the Stone is a fun ride, but the cast & the soundtrack of St. Elmo’s Fire give it a photo finish victory.

 
Iron Eagle   vs.   An Officer & A Gentleman
ieHey…it’s Lou Gossett Jr. vs. Lou Gossett Jr.!! 1986’s Iron Eagle has Gossett as a retired Air Force pilot who is recruited by hisog young friend Doug to pull off a daring rescue mission. Doug’s father is an Air Force pilot who has been captured by Arabs and who will be executed in a few days because the U.S. government has decided not to intervene. It’s up to the retired colonel, Doug, & a group of Doug’s friends to rescue ol’ Dad. Gossett co-stars with Richard Gere & Debra Winger in the more celebrated 1982 film An Officer & A Gentleman. Gossett won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of a hardass drill sergeant who comes into conflict with a troubled young grunt played by Gere, a man who is trying to balance military life and a budding romance with an employee at a local factory.

The Verdict: It is tempting to make this choice myself because I definitely have a preference. However, I am going to be fair and give The Manoverse an opportunity to weigh in.

 
Pretty in Pink   vs.   Broadcast News
PPKPretty in Pink is one of a plethora of Brat Pack films that permeate 80’s cinema. It is written by John Hughes and tells the newsstory of a gal from (literally) the wrong side of the tracks who falls for the rich guy at school while the requisite best friend has unrequited feelings for the girl. Formulaic?? Sure…but it works. Broadcast News has a love triangle as well, with Holly Hunter as a neurotic TV news producer who is attracted to a pretty boy reporter but whose best friend is a less attractive reporter with a secret crush on his gal pal. More formula…but it also works really well.

The Verdict: Pretty in Pink. This is a hard one. Broadcast News is a great movie with a tremendously entertaining performance from Albert Brooks as the dowdy best pal. But I can’t overlook one of the iconic films of its generation, with solid performances from Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, James Spader, & Jon Cryer. Pretty in Pink benefits from a well written script by Hughes and a generation defining soundtrack featuring songs by INXS, Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, & The Psychedelic Furs.