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Sidney Lumet’s 1975 tale of a bank robbery gone bad, Dog Day Afternoon, is not only considered to be a high point in the careers of both its director as well as its star, Al Pacino, it’s also considered to be one of the key films that was a part of the New Hollywood movement, which started in the late ’60s and continued through to the blockbusters of the 80s. New Hollywood was all about a generation of filmmakers making films that were artsier, grittier, and more experimental than most commercial fare, all from within the confines of the studio system. But while Dog Day Afternoon and its tale of cross-dressing and violent crimes certainly looks at home under that classification, is it really good enough to be mentioned in the same breath as stuff like Bonnie and Clyde, The Godfather, or Mean Streets? The early ’90s saw one of the biggest boom periods in the history of sketch comedy mainstay Saturday Night Live. Cast members like Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Adam Sandler, and Chris Farley led the show to probably its most critically successful period since the original cast, and pretty much everyone on the show went on to become a star in film. Out of all of these talented comedians, however, none became quite as successful as Sandler. After starring in Billy Madison in 1995, he was off to the races, earning big paychecks, pulling in big box office dollars, and gobbling up media attention. Some of his […]

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Since its original release in 1972, Ronald Neame’s The Poseidon Adventure has gained the reputation of being a modern classic. And, certainly, it’s widely considered as being one of the preeminent disaster movies of all time. Set on a retiring ocean liner making its last voyage, The Poseidon Adventure tells the story of a New Year’s Eve celebration that gets interrupted by the sinking of a ship. It’s got a pretty impressive upside down ballroom set, it prominently features the legendary Gene Hackman, and it tells a high stakes story of survival. So it’s not hard to see why people like it. But it’s also largely just a movie where a group of confused people stumble around in dirty access panels and anonymous hallways for much of its run time. Is it really so great that watching it should be a New Year’s Eve tradition like many have made it out to be? Especially when there are indisputable classics like The Apartment out there that also feature New Year’s Eve party scenes? James Cameron’s Titanic is a sappy, on-the-nose romance set against the maiden voyage (and sinking) of the infamous RMS Titanic. Upon its release in 1997, Titanic won basically every award that was given out, brought in every bit of spare cash that was sitting in anyone’s pocketbooks, and captured the attention of the media machine to the point that, by the time 1998 rolled around, the backlash for the film had almost reached the same levels of fervor […]

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Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is one of those classic comedies, the kind that’s looked at as being timeless, the kind that, no matter what year it is, you can guarantee is currently being played in college dorm rooms all over the country. It works both as ’80s nostalgia and as a story that modern kids can relate to. It’s full of quotes and images that have become oft-referenced parts of our pop-culture vocabulary. But, is this tale of a lazy schemer ditching school to spend a day in Chicago with his hot girlfriend and downer of a best friend really all that funny? Or is it just one of those movies that managed to tap into the zeitgeist of its day, and then rode out its initial juice long enough that it’s become cultural comfort food due to widespread re-watches? If people remember Snow Day at all, it’s likely they remember it as a movie for kids that they didn’t bother seeing. But the few people who have seen it realize that, though it’s a film primarily aimed toward children and tweens, Snow Day is still a satisfying comedy that provides just as many laughs, memorable characters, and affecting moments as any comedy aimed at adults. Which should come as no surprise, because it was put together by a group of guys who worked on the amazing Nickelodeon show The Adventures of Pete & Pete. So, given the cult status of that show, why is it that I never hear […]

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Walter Hill’s pairing of Nick Nolte’s grizzled growl and Eddie Murphy’s ludicrous laugh, 48 Hrs., is often thought of as being the genesis of the buddy cop genre, and it’s still widely considered to be one of the best films to come from the category as well. What we’ve come to expect from these movies, what has come to feel old hat, was fresh and inventive back when Hill and the gang were putting this project together, and the formula they used was so successful that we can now expect to get at least a couple high profile buddy cop movies released every year. That gives 48 Hrs. a certain amount of clout. And heck, Hill’s name alone provides it with an amazing pedigree. He was a genre master in the 80s, and these days he gets looked back on as being some sort of film geek deity. It’s no wonder 48 Hrs. still gets shown so much respect. One buddy cop movie that doesn’t often get spoken of with reverence, however, is Tony Scott’s The Last Boy Scout. While trying to process the recent passing of the famed director, it feels nice to look back on this – not one of his better-loved works – give it a reevaluation, and decide whether or not it’s something the film geek community has given enough appreciation to. This wasn’t a well-reviewed film, it wasn’t one of the biggest money-makers of its year, and people don’t look back on it as being […]

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Being John Malkovich was an amazing success story upon its 1999 release. Not only was it a critical darling that got nominated for a bunch of awards, but it also successfully launched the big screen careers of a music video director named Spike Jonze and a lowly TV writer named Charlie Kaufman. In case you didn’t know, those guys have gone on to be big names, and Being John Malkovich earns quite the pedigree by being the start of their careers. On a personal level, I walked out of the movie in ’99 shocked at how unique and inventive it was, and loving how it melded progressive filmmaking with a comic sensibility. Revisiting it all these years later though, I realize it hasn’t aged as well as I’d hoped, and I find myself wondering if it still deserves the level of reverence that it gets. Mabrouk El Mechri’s 2008 film JCVD didn’t get near as much buzz or recognition as something like Being John Malkovich. Maybe that’s because a big chunk of it wasn’t in English, or maybe it’s because it just wasn’t as good—that’s debatable. But the opinion that it showed us a different side of its star, Jean-Claude Van Damme, was pretty universal, and it seemed like it was going to be something of a rebirth for the action star’s career. It’s four years later though, and nothing has really come of it. The man has still been largely relegated to straight-to-video action movies, and any of the […]

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In 2011, director Tate Taylor adapted Kathryn Stockett’s novel “The Help,” a story about the relationship between the wealthy whites and the poor blacks who raised their children of 60s-era Mississippi, into a feature film. When all was said and done, Taylor’s film made nearly ten times its production budget, was nominated for a truckload of awards (including 8 NAACP Image Awards and 4 Academy Awards), and had everyone’s aunts and grandmas talking their ears off about how much they wanted to go see it. To say that it ended up being a success would be something of an understatement. The Landlord is the debut of director Hal Ashby, one of the great ’70s filmmakers who, for some reason, doesn’t get the same recognition as many of his contemporaries. It earned Lee Grant a nomination for Best Supporting Actress back in the day, but it’s a film (like most of Ashby’s work not named Harold and Maude) that’s been generally forgotten over time. This is strange, because not only is it a great film that pushes some racial hot-buttons, but it also features a couple of actors who went on to do big things in Beau Bridges and Lou Gossett Jr.

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Ever since names like Spielberg and Lucas brought us the first summer blockbusters back in the 70s, film fans have slowly morphed into film fanatics. And perhaps the pinnacle of this phenomenon is the cult of personality that has developed around Christopher Nolan since he gave us his wildly successful interpretation of the Batman universe, The Dark Knight. Whether it was because of Heath Ledger’s electric performance as the Joker, Nolan’s realist approach to the material, or the sheer scope of the action, something about this Batman movie captured the attention and adoration of hordes of fans in a way that no other adaptation of the character’s story has before; and Batman has been one of the most popular fictional characters in our shared culture for at least half a century now. But one thing about The Dark Knight that I don’t hear mentioned all that much anymore is that it wasn’t Nolan’s first go-around with the character. Everything that was paid off in that film was set up, three years earlier, in the director’s first attempt at tackling a superhero story, Batman Begins. Not only was this movie successful enough at the box office to spawn a very well funded sequel, but it’s the film that’s actually responsible for bringing us Nolan’s grounded and relatable vision of the character. This was the film that revitalized a property whose big screen potential had been tarnished, and it gets treated like it doesn’t even exist when fans gush over their love […]

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If one were to conduct a scientific study meant to determine what the most successful action movie of the 90s was, chances are pretty dang good that Speed would be near the top of the candidates for consideration. A success both financially and critically, this high-octane tale of a bomb on a perpetually moving bus solidified Keanu Reeves as one of Hollywood’s go-to leading men, launched the gigantic career of Sandra Bullock, and even gave its director, Jan de Bont, a success to add to his resume. All of that should be enough to solidify Speed’s place as one of the most important 90s action movies already, and we haven’t even factored in how it also managed to introduce the phrase, “Pop quiz, hotshot,” into the cultural lexicon. So, pop quiz, hotshot: Die Hard was the greatest action movie ever made, but its sequel, Die Hard 2, was a derivative bore churned out by one of the most prolific manufacturers of schlock of the last few decades, Renny Harlin. What do you do? You get the director of the original, the inimitable John McTiernan, to come back for the third film, Die Hard With a Vengeance. DHWAV, from what I can tell, isn’t hated. It’s widely considered to be the second-best entry in the Die Hard franchise, it certainly made its makers some money, and it doesn’t get derided as the death of the franchise like the belated fourth sequel, Live Free or Die Hard, does. But it doesn’t get […]

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Kathryn Bigelow is the sort of director who’s been defying perceived gender limitations her entire career. The biggest of those accomplishments came when she became the first woman in history to win the Oscar for Best Director. Her Oscar-winning film, The Hurt Locker, was a tense look at military bomb defusers that created more movie chills than 99% of the horror films that get released in any given year. And it showcased a strong performance from Jeremy Renner that essentially made his career and catapulted him toward being one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Before she ever won her Oscar, however, she was already defying expectations by shattering the myth that a woman couldn’t direct kick-ass action movies. Her 1991 film Point Break is probably one of the most manly movies ever made. It’s about extreme sports-loving adrenaline junky bank robbers, and it stars Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze as the cops and robbers. But, despite the fact that Point Break has a cult audience, it’s viewed by most as being a guilty pleasure, a relic of the early ’90s when cheesy action movies ruled the day. Maybe it’s because Keanu is milking his dense, surfer persona for all it’s worth, or because the movie is so unapologetically an action film, but people just don’t take Point Break seriously these days. And that sucks, because it’s really well-made.

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Despite the fact that we’re getting pretty close to its 75 year anniversary, The Wizard of Oz is just as recognized and celebrated today as it’s ever been, and we’ll probably still be showing it to our kids another 75 years from now. There’s good reason for that. Its music is gorgeous and iconic, its cinematography is ageless, and its production design and in-living-color presentation must have been something to see back in 1939. But, in the grand scheme of things, is this really a movie that’s so great that we should still be treating it with so much reverence? Or has watching The Wizard of Oz simply become a tradition we mindlessly follow, like always eating a turkey on Thanksgiving or puking up green food coloring on St Patrick’s Day? Steven Spielberg’s 1991 film Hook spins off of a legendary story, continues the tale of a handful of legendary characters, and was brought to us by maybe the most legendary director there’s ever been… but to say that it isn’t considered a legendary movie would be a pretty big understatement. It’s got a tone right in line with the best of Spielberg’s work, and it’s photographed just as beautifully as anything else he’s done, but ever since its release it has largely been considered a trifle, or even an annoyance. Critics have called Hook full of bad humor, overstuffed with exposition, and devoid of any of the magic of the original Peter Pan tale. Many consider it to be […]

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Though Steven Soderbergh has had a lengthy career full of acclaimed projects, he’s perhaps best known for his remake of Ocean’s 11, a successful compiling of some of the biggest names in Hollywood for a good, old-fashioned heist movie that was so successful it spawned two sequels. Despite the fact that he was better known for artier fare when Ocean’s Eleven was released, audiences responded well to this fairly simple robbery tale, and the slight modern spin that Soderbergh put on the film’s largely vintage aesthetic got pretty universal praise. If there are any filmmakers working today who have a heftier resume of acclaimed works than Steven Soderbergh, then they’re definitely named Joel and Ethan Coen. The Coen brothers have been making artsy, weird movies ever since the mid-80s, and though it’s taken them a while to achieve any real financial success, they’ve always enjoyed an ever-increasing amount of critical acclaim. That is, until they ventured into the romantic comedy and heist genres in 2003 and 2004 with Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers. These two films are widely regarded as the Coens’ worst work, and their only movies worst skipping. This feeling is erroneous, however, because The Ladykillers in particular is very Coens and very fun, and the world was wrong for vilifying them for making a simple heist movie with a throwback feel. I mean, nobody minded when Soderbergh did it.

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Comedic actor Mike Meyers has had an interesting film career. On the one hand he can be considered an amazing success, because he has three huge franchises under his belt. On the other hand, he sometimes gets looked at as something of a failure, because everything he’s done outside of those franchises has been less than stellar. The first two franchises Meyers launched were Wayne’s World and Austin Powers; moneymaking juggernauts in their own rights for sure. But it was the third series of films he was involved in, the animated Shrek movies, that really broke the bank. This tale of an overgrown ogre finding true love managed to connect with children and parents alike, and the original spawned a series of sequels that broke all sorts of box office records and pushed mountains of merchandise. I’m sure Meyers was a rich man already, but Shrek made him very rich. One project that didn’t do so well for the guy was So, I Married an Axe Murderer. It was Meyers’ big followup to his breakthrough success with Wayne’s World, the movie that could have  seen him moving away from the heavy character work he did on Saturday Night Live and moving closer to taking more mainstream roles playing regular guys. Unfortunately it didn’t even make a tenth of the money that Wayne’s World pulled in, it’s been largely forgotten over time, and Meyers hasn’t been accepted in a role where he plays a regular guy since.

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Though Frank Oz hasn’t meant much as a director in recent years, once upon a time he was a pretty successful go to guy. And his 1991 comedy, What About Bob?, is considered by many to be a modern comedy classic. His tale of an obsessive compulsive, overly dependent nut job and his doormat therapist going on vacation together is the sort of movie that friends constantly quote amongst one another, that fans revisit year after year. Is it really that great a comedy though, or is it more the case of a solid film getting propped up to mythic status due to the cult of Bill Murray deifying anything the sad-faced actor touches? On the flip side, You, Me and Dupree came and went in 2006 without much notice from the public, but not without earning some pretty damning reviews from critics and a decent amount of derision from Internet pundits. This comedy about a newlywed getting stuck with the task of taking in his wayward, eccentric best friend got called words like “lazy,” “tired,” and “obvious” in the film press. Whether it was due to the overexposure of Seth Rogen and Owen Wilson, who were each putting out about ten movies a year at this point, or the inclusion of Kate Hudson, whose name slotted in as the female lead is usually poison for comedies, people really responded to this one negatively. But is it really that bad, or was its release just a case of wrong movie, […]

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When writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman teamed up on the 2007 film, Juno, the responses were mixed. Some people liked it quite a bit, not just because it was clever and quippy, but also because it presented a realistic, affecting look at the inherent drama of teenage pregnancy. Other people thought that it was painfully self-conscious in its hipness and insufferably annoying in its quirk, so they raged against any praise that came its way. Their next team-up, Young Adult, was different though. Not only did this look at a washed-up YA author traveling back to her home town in order to break up her high school sweetheart’s marriage do well with Juno fans, it did quite well with those who couldn’t stand Cody’s writing up to that point, as well. Charlize Theron’s painfully honest protagonist and Patton Oswalt’s achingly tragic supporting character really hit home for most. On the other end of the spectrum, the 2005 film Lonesome Jim doesn’t get very many mentions in a very many circles. On a couple levels, that makes sense. It’s a micro-budget indie that doesn’t provide any spectacle and didn’t get much promotion, and it was only seen on a handful of screens during its theatrical release. On the other hand, there are several reasons why you’d think this movie would have gotten more play over time. It’s one of the few films directed by Steve Buscemi, who everybody seems to love, it’s got great lead performances by Casey Affleck […]

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Tim Burton’s Batman wasn’t a movie, it was an event. It spawned a tidal wave of merchandise, video games, roller coasters, an animated series, a ridiculous music video, etc… He dropped that movie on the world like a bomb, and in many ways it could be considered the high point of his career. His artistic approach was finally paired with mainstream material, and his success there has propelled him to being one of the go-to money making directors in Hollywood. But, as an 8-year-old fan that was blown away by the gritty comic book take on the character that was developing throughout the 80s, the release of Batman is forever marked by me as a day of huge disappointment. I hated that boring, goofy movie. It was lamer than that show from the 60s I watched back when I was 6. Pathetic. Batman: Under the Red Hood was a straight to video cartoon that kind of gets lost in the sea of DC straight to video cartoons. Most of these movie are pretty strong, don’t get me wrong, but they’re strong with the caveat that they’re just cartoons. They’re for kids, but they’re good enough to be enjoyed by adults, not good on the level of the best feature films. Under the Red Hood is a step above the rest though. Other than The Dark Knight, I would say that it’s my favorite Batman thing that doesn’t come from the medium of the page.

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I’m not any sort of sports guy at all. Corner me in a bar and try to talk to me about last night’s big game and I’m going to stare back at you blankly and stupidly. Invite me to your Super Bowl party and I’m going to politely decline for fear of dying of boredom. But even I understand the appeal of baseball: the lazy pace, the fresh-cut grass, the hot dogs and peanuts, the crack of the bat. Hollywood has a long tradition of movies that have tapped into this seemingly universal love, but ever since it was released, the Kevin Costner-starring Field of Dreams has been considered by most to be the king of the mountain. And while pretty much everyone has seen Field of Dreams at some point in their lives, or at least understands that it’s the source of the, “If you build it, they will come,” quote, almost no one I know has ever seen Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s 2008 film Sugar. It got a brief release in New York and L.A., and then was shunted off to DVD without playing for anyone else. That’s a shame, because this tale about a young Dominican prospect trying to improve his station in the world by making it to the majors is my favorite film about the game.

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Woody Allen is a legendary filmmaker, to be certain. But he’s also a filmmaker who is perceived to have had a golden age, a period where the movies he made were head and shoulders above the things that he makes now. That’s not such a great place for an artist to be, but Woody managed to shut up a lot of his critics with Midnight in Paris. It’s not only one of Allen’s most financially successful films, it’s also one of his most critically acclaimed, and it’s been held up as proof that we might be in the midst of a Woody comeback. Is it really worthy of all the hype though? Lots of people love this movie—like me—but it’s also a film that has glaring flaws. What is it about Midnight in Paris that makes our Internet culture, that is so quick to tear everything down with snark, give it such an easy pass? Back in 1989 Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure was also a huge success. It made so much money that it spawned not only a sequel, but also an animated series, video games, and who knows how many other kinds of merchandise that time forgot. Yet, despite this success, it’s not a film that many people take seriously. There’s a love for it still, but one that seems more ironic than anything else. Why is that so, when there’s so much respect for the other big genre hits of the 80s? Why doesn’t this film get […]

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The mockumentary is a relatively recent genre of storytelling whose origins are probably as recent as the last hundred years. And that’s including all stories that could be considered mockumentaries by stretching the definition. The actual term, “mockumentary,” is even newer. By some accounts it first came into use when Rob Reiner used it to describe his 1984 cult classic This is Spinal Tap. Adding a word to the lexicon could be seen as a pretty big accomplishment for a goofy comedy, but, despite its subject matter, the legacy of this film shouldn’t be downplayed. Few movies live on as long and remain as popular as Spinal Tap has. Every few years a new generation of college kids discover this thing, and its legend just keeps growing. Far from being an originator, A Mighty Wind is a later film from the crew of mockumentarians led by Christopher Guest. And despite the fact that it’s full of a lot of good work, it often gets a bad rap. Guest and crew’s previous efforts, Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show, were so ridiculously funny that A Mighty Wind gets unfairly judged in comparison. And that’s unfortunate for a couple reasons. For one, those first two Guest-directed mockumentaries were such a high water mark for the genre that it was probably unfair to expect them to keep producing at such a level. And secondly, A Mighty Wind goes for funny a bit less that its predecessors, and plays a bit more in […]

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John Huston’s 1941 detective tale The Maltese Falcon gets credit for a lot of things. Not the least of which is the launching of both Huston’s career and the career of its star, Humphrey Bogart. It also gets credit for beginning the longstanding and successful onscreen pairing of Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, and heck, more often than not it’s pointed to as the beginning of the entire film noir movement of the 40s. That’s a lot of acclaim for a pretty simple mystery story about a salty detective named Sam Spade trying to find the whereabouts of a statue shaped like a bird. The late 70s and early 80s were a time when genre films were king. Not only were the titans of the industry, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, tearing up the box office with huge event franchises like Star Wars and Indiana Jones, but lots of other directors were getting in on the act as well. Joe Dante hit it big with horror/comedy Gremlins, Robert Zemeckis struck gold with sci-fi/comedy Back to the Future, and even directors like Walter Hill made their names doing exploitation stuff like The Warriors. But, despite having the schlocky grit of something like The Warriors and the goofy humor of something like Gremlins, Alex Cox’s 1984 film Repo Man remains a movie remembered only by those plugged into the pulse of cult film. It’s a trivia question, an obscure pick, and not a cherished childhood memory like all the others.

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I was only eight  in 1989, but from what I remember it was pretty much the year of Batman and Driving Miss Daisy; two movies that my 8-year-old self was less than impressed by. Perhaps we’ll talk about Batman at a later date, but today I want to talk about Miss Daisy, a movie that won so many awards and got so much critical praise that it made even those of us who had yet to sprout pubes aware of who Jessica Tandy was. The hype on this thing must have been huge to get me to tear my attention away from G.I. Joe and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles long enough to watch a film about a couple of old people driving around, but it did. The other movie I want to look at is from 2008. It’s Clint Eastwood’s acting swan song, Gran Torino. This one was well-liked, from what I can tell, but it didn’t get the hype or attention that I imagined it would once awards season rolled around, and consequently I don’t think as many people saw it as should have. I mean, with this one’s racial themes and its focus on old people you’d think it was a shoo-in for baiting the Oscars into giving it recognition. Perhaps it had too many racial slurs and too much gunplay to get embraced by the intellectual bourgeoisie that make up the Academy though. Give something a little color and suddenly it can’t be viewed as “serious […]

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