Over Under

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Today is Valentine’s Day, and a big part of what that entails is time spent thinking about the one you adore. And, for me, it means thinking about romantic movies. So what has happened is I’ve found myself reflecting a lot on my current mancrush Ryan Gosling, what films he’s done that explore the concepts of love and romance, and how I feel about each of them. And surprise, surprise, a column idea sprung forth. Today I’ll be looking at The Notebook, a film that a lot of people respond to very strongly, a film that most every girl you know loves, and a film that’s an instant panty dropper when thrown into casual conversations with hormonal coeds. Also, I’ll be looking at Lars and the Real Girl, a movie that’s well regarded among the people that have seen it, but that was too strange for many moviegoers to take a chance on, or for any mainstream award shows to champion. And also, it’s a movie that can mean instant death if you try to explain it to a girl in a bar.

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Brokeback Mountain had the highest opening weekend per screen average in 2005, and it went from opening in only five theaters to playing wide all over the world by the end of its run. Then, when award season rolled around, it garnered all sorts of acclaim, getting awards for best picture from multiple outlets, Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director, and it even got recognition from GLAAD for being the year’s most outstanding film. Pretty much it was embraced by everyone as being groundbreaking and important, and it saved Ang Lee’s butt after he pissed everyone off by making The Hulk. Weekend came out just this last September, but you might not remember it because not many people ended up checking it out. By the time it left theaters it had only made a domestic gross of  $484,592. Ouch. And while this movie also got some love from GLAAD, it was ignored by all of the mainstream awards shows like the Oscars and the Golden Globes. A cultural phenomenon it wasn’t.

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Once upon a time, Hollywood was king of the Western and the idea of anybody over in Europe making a movie about the American Southwest as successful as something like High Noon was laughable. Italian-produced films about the west, or Spaghetti Westerns, were largely low budget knock-offs where fading Hollywood stars went to die after their careers had peaked. But the work of Sergio Leone changed that viewpoint. His “The Man With No Name” trilogy wasn’t just a worldwide financial success upon release, the films have gone on to be seen as some of the greatest Westerns produced anywhere, throughout the history of film. And the final installment of that series, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, has especially become an important part of the fabric of pop culture. More than any other Western I can think of, it’s stood the test of time and achieved a level of awareness that rivals any other classic film in any other genre. Often it’s referred to as not just the definitive Spaghetti Western and Leone’s masterpiece, but as the definitive Western, period. That’s all fine and good, because I think The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is largely a great film; but I think he actually improved two years later when he made Once Upon a Time in the West, my pick for the greatest Western of all time.

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The concept of satire has been around for a really long time. I’m sure it goes back to some famous Roman or something. But the modern spoof movie as we’ve come to understand it has much more recent roots. Now, by spoof I’m not talking about satire in general, something that comments on familiar tropes, I’m talking about one movie that makes direct references to other, very famous movies. A lot of people trace these things back to the 1980 release Airplane!, a movie that’s still highly regarded and that launched its creators on the path to doing things like Top Secret!, The Naked Gun, and Hot Shots!; all films that are also generally well-regarded among fans of comedies. One spoof that isn’t so fondly remembered is the 1993 film National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1. Its star, Emilio Estevez, got so much crap for starring in what was viewed as a lesser spoof movie, right after his brother did the Hot Shots! movies, that they even had to address the issue in the film. And the director, Gene Quintano, he didn’t go on to do shit. Does this movie deserve the reputation it has for being a bottom tier pretender, though? No way! Have you watched it lately? There’s a lot of good stuff in there.

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When thinking about which films I consider to be overrated, I keep coming back to two different categories. First there are the art films that get embraced by the movie geek community and praised to high heaven for their crafting, whether they really makes for an exceptional overall movie-going experience or not. And then there are the movies that get overrated by the mainstream. They’re mostly sentimental movies that tug on the heartstrings, with characters that hit low lows, but then achieve some new victory. Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump is definitely the latter. It’s a movie that seems designed solely to make parents and grandparents nod knowingly at historical incidents they remember and then tear up when a sad part rolls around; but they love it for it. Being There was nominated for the Palme d’Or and even won Melvyn Douglas an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor back when it came out, but it’s a movie I never hear mentioned these days. As a matter of fact, other than the little bit of nostalgia that remains for Harold and Maude, I would say that Hal Ashby is a director whose career has been kind of forgotten by my generation of film fans. That’s a shame, because the man did some great work, and this film in particular has one of the last great performances by the legendary Peter Sellers.

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Over Under - Large

You might assume that over the course of his forty-some year acting career, Al Pacino has probably won enough Oscars to stock a whole trophy room, but actually he’s only won once. It was for his performance as a blind, pissed-off, ex-military man with plans to kill himself after indulging in a weekend of fine food and fine escorts in Scent of a Woman. The movie was kind of a big deal back in the early 90s, getting nominated for a bunch of awards and winning everybody’s grandma and grandpa’s hearts in the theaters. Plus, Pacino had a catchphrase in the movie – “hoo-ah!” – which got referenced and quoted (to an annoying degree) for years after. In 2009, Ramin Bahrani made a movie about a similarly pissed off old white guy who has made a conscious decision and an appointment to kill himself called Goodbye Solo. It didn’t have any name actors like an Al Pacino, and it didn’t manage to win any awards that you’ve ever heard of, but it was really good anyway. So much so that I think it’s a shame that it never got any play with anyone outside of the movie snob crowd.

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Over Under: A New Perspective on Films New and Old

I break Quentin Tarantino’s career up into two stages. The first stage consists of his first three films, which are all crime movies, are all set in L.A., and which all just feel very much like “Quentin Tarantino movies” (a genre unto itself back in the 90s, if you lump in all the pretenders). After those first three films, he took a pretty lengthy six year break, and then he came back and started exploring other genres, making movies that were largely homages to the B-cinema he enjoyed in his youth. While there’s a soft spot in my heart for most of Inglorious Basterds, in general I prefer that first stage of Tarantino’s career to what came after. And as far as that first trilogy of crime films goes, I think most people are in agreement that Pulp Fiction is the masterpiece. It was the one that broke down the doors of the movie industry and ushered indie filmmaking into the mainstream, and it’s the one most often referenced when people talk about his career; so I’m not going to focus on that one here. I’m going to focus instead on Tarantino’s debut feature Reservoir Dogs, which was the film that first got heads turned in his direction, and which still gets mentioned right alongside Pulp Fiction as badass things from the 90s. And also I’m going to focus on Jackie Brown, which is kind of the forgotten Tarantino film. This is one that doesn’t get brought up much these […]

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Over Under: A New Perspective on Films New and Old

As 2011 crawls to a close and 2012 peeks its head over the horizon, many of us wayward souls find ourselves using the changing of the calendar as an excuse to make big changes in our lives and start over fresh. ‘Tis the season for resolutions. Some of us will resolve to cease destructive behaviors, others will vow to start new things that will enrich us and make us better people. But for each the goal is clear – we’re done with the past, finished with who we were, and starting from this moment forward, it’s going to be a new day. Naturally, all of this thought about what my resolutions are going to be and who I want to be in 2012 has me thinking about movies that I’ve seen where people are trying to let go of the past and begin a new journey. More specifically, I’ve closed in on two movies from the early part of the last decade that are about relationships ending and their messy aftermaths. The Michel Gondry-directed and Charlie Kaufman-penned Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is about a fictional service that will erase bad relationships from people’s memories, it stars Jim Carrey as a man wrestling with the question of how to best deal with painful memories, either by blocking them out or by accepting and processing them. Two years before that, Philip Seymour Hoffman starred in a movie called Love Liza about a broken man dealing with a relationship that had […]

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Over Under: A New Perspective on Films New and Old

Recently, I found myself looking for a movie to watch that was Christmasy and festive, but not necessarily something so holiday-themed that it had Santa Clauses, reindeer, and Jesuses in it. You know, something about normal people but set around the time of the holidays. While perusing all of the top ten holiday movie lists that I could find around the web, I saw one title keep popping up again and again, Richard Curtis’s Love Actually. I never saw this one when it came out, it just looked like another generic romantic comedy to me, but it turns out a lot of people love to watch it every year around the Christmas season. And further research led me to the fact that a lot of people mention it as one of the few romantic comedies that’s actually good from the last decade as well. Sounded strong enough for me to give it a watch. It turns out I didn’t much care for the film, though, and my need for something Christmasy had been left unsated. Not willing to go out on another limb, I decided to revisit a film that I had already seen before, one that I remembered enjoying much more than I was expecting to back when it was released. This second choice was Thomas Bezucha’s 2005 film The Family Stone, which already seems to be rather forgotten. Luckily for me, time did not prove my idiocy, because upon a second watch I found that I still enjoyed […]

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Over Under: A New Perspective on Films New and Old

Over the course of the second half of the 20th century ,an entire cottage industry sprung up around sticking James Dean’s face on things and selling them. Shirts, posters, coffee mugs, license plates, postage stamps, what have you, they’ve all been sold to James Dean fans. And a lot of the imagery stuck on them comes from Dean’s penultimate film Rebel Without a Cause, which was released just a month after the star’s infamous death. Dean’s portrayal of the angry young man in this film has become iconic, prototypical, and is just about as much of a part of pop culture as the actor himself. After he died, his performance in Rebel got elevated up to a mythic standard, it became something that symbolized not just one of Hollywood’s preeminent figures, but an entire generation of disenfranchised youth. Eight years after Rebel Without a Cause exploded onto the screen in full color and became a cultural phenomenon, another movie about a rebellious young man was released. This one was shot in black and white and looked more like a classic Western than it did a modern, youth-centric tale of teenage rebellion. The film was called Hud, and instead of James Dean it starred Paul Newman as a guy who would rather get drunk and throw a punch than put in a day’s work. Who would rather sleep with a man’s wife than support a family of his own. Who would rather sell a contract for the oil on his family’s […]

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Over Under: A New Perspective on Films New and Old

College kids are very much focused on and engaged with the present. They know the hippest music that came out this month, they’re passionate as hell about whatever social issue was being talked about on the cable news channels this morning. Talk about something new, and a nineteen-year-old’s eyes light up. But talk about their dad’s favorite music or the social issues the world was going through twenty years ago, and they glaze over. So why can you go in any dorm in the country today and still find someone watching John Landis’s 1978 comedy Animal House? This film is an everlasting staple of college life. The Deer Hunter won Best Picture in 1978, but good luck walking into a college party and trying to get anybody to watch that. But if you tell them you’re popping in a copy of Animal House, they’d be totally cool with it. To a college kid 1994 seems like ancient history. Yet, comparatively, the stuff that was made in 1994 feels much more contemporary than stuff from 1978. So why is it that if you asked a college kid what his favorite line from Animal House is he would probably have an answer, but if you asked him what his favorite line from the 1994 college comedy PCU is, he would look back at you with a blank stare (trust me, I manage college-aged employees at my day job, I do these tests)? PCU resembles current comedies much more than Animal House does […]

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Over Under: A New Perspective on Films New and Old

Back in ’82 this little movie came out about a boy who found an alien in his backyard. It was called E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Ever heard of it? He phoned home and whatnot? This was basically the movie that solidified Steven Spielberg as being not just a guy who was making great movies everybody liked, but as being the most important director in the world: the guy. When you see that Amblin Entertainment logo you know you’re in for a certain kind of movie designed to appeal to everyone, and it’s an image from E.T. that gets the job done. Russkies came out in ’87, when the outbreak of Spielberg imitator movies about kids going on adventures was in full swing. This one is about a group of kids who find a Russian naval officer who has washed up on the coast of their Florida town. Even Spielberg knockoffs as bad as Mac and Me still get mentioned when people start talking about the good old days of the 80s, when family programming was king, but I’ve never in my life heard anyone bring up Russkies. Considering two of the main three kids in this movie are a young Joaquin Phoenix (pre-hobo beard) and Peter Billingsley (pretty much the king of 80s nostalgia), how is this movie completely forgotten?

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Over Under: A New Perspective on Films New and Old

After cutting his puppetry teeth on short films and episodes of Sesame Street in the late 60s and early 70s, legendary puppeteer Jim Henson finally got a chance to give his felt faced creations a spotlight show of their own in the mid 70s. That show was The Muppet Show, and it was awesome. So awesome that it eventually spawned a series of feature films. While there’s always room for conflicting opinions, some consensuses (consensii?) about these movies have popped up over the years. It seems that all Muppets are not created equal. Generally everyone agrees that the original film, The Muppet Movie, was the best. And it’s also largely agreed that the first three movies, the ones that still had Jim Henson involvement, are better than the ones that came after. While there’s some general truthiness to these beliefs, I can’t say that I think those divisions hold up as absolute truths. Thank God, this column would have been a wreck otherwise.

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Over Under: A New Perspective on Films New and Old

Hoosiers is one of those films that somehow finds a way to strike a chord with nearly everyone who watches it. There are some movies that are just mainstream right down to their DNA. There’s this, there’s The Shawshank Redemption, maybe a Forrest Gump; they get mentioned as people’s favorite movies with far greater frequency than anything else. And I’m not talking about cinema buffs when I say people, I’m talking about your grandma, the guy who works on your car, the grandma that works on your car. You know, regular people.  Since it contains one of the big starring roles of Gene Hackman’s career and it was directed by David Anspaugh, who repeated his success at telling an Indiana sports tale with Rudy, that should probably come as no surprise. Disney is maybe the most mainstream production company in the movie business. From the very beginning they’ve focused on creating wholesome entertainment that the whole family can enjoy together.  In the early 90s one of those attempts at making movies for the whole family was Cool Runnings, a John Candy starring bobsled movie that most people might describe as a “guilty pleasure.” It gets lumped in with other 90s sports movies that Disney made like The Mighty Ducks and Air Bud, movies that you can look back at with nostalgia, but if you were to watch them today would look about as ridiculous as a team of Jamaicans showing up to the Winter Olympics with a bobsled.

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Over Under: A New Perspective on Films New and Old

Billy Wilder’s career is a lengthy one, full of highly acclaimed features. But out of all the great films that he made over the course of forty some years, Some Like It Hot may be the most famous. And when you talk about what his masterpiece was creatively, it’s often mentioned right up there with movies like Sunset Boulevard and The Apartment. But I guess that’s no surprise, it’s got Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis acting like ladies and Marilyn Monroe slinking around in cocktail dresses. That’s memorable stuff. Ted Kotcheff’s career was a lengthy but unspectacular one. He mostly did TV work and is probably best known for being the guy who directed the original Rambo film First Blood. But what I best remember him for is a movie about two guys and a dead dude called Weekend at Bernie’s. I must have watched it about a million times on HBO when I was growing up. These days, when you mention it, people talk about it like it’s a joke; but I guess that’s because Jonathan Silverman and Andrew McCarthy didn’t quite become Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, and Terry Kiser is no Marilyn Monroe.

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Back in 1985, releasing a family film that was directed by Superman’s Richard Donner and had Steven Spielberg’s name plastered all over it as a writer and producer was pretty much the antithesis of a risky proposition. At this point in the mid 80s Spielberg and his crew of cohorts were at the height of their powers, churning out family friendly blockbusters one after another. So The Goonies never really had an uphill battle to climb. It was probably always going to be a success. The way that it took the ball and has continued to run with it, even twenty-six years later, is a little astounding though. This is a huge movie. If ever someone admits to not having seen it, they instantly get hit with an incredulous, “WHAT? YOU HAVEN’T SEEN GOONIES?” It’s almost to the point where the DVD gets sent to suburbanites in the mail with Peter Frampton records and samples of Tide. On the other end of the spectrum, The Monster Squad is a total cult movie. While it’s loved passionately by a small group of geeks, a normal person would have to very randomly stumble across something deep within the heart of the Internet to ever realize that this movie even exists. There aren’t any college frat boys wearing out their copy of Monster Squad like they are their copies of Goonies. There isn’t a new generation of young kids catching on to Fat Kid and Frankenstein the way they are Chunk and Sloth. […]

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The teenage years are a time in everyone’s life when their minds are fertile for the seeds of change. A new experience can completely change a teenager’s personality, reading a new book or watching a new movie can radically alter the way that they self-identify. Peter Weir’s 1989 boarding school drama Dead Poets Society is one of those new movie experiences that I’ve often seen held up as a life changing experience. Multiple times in my high school career the movie was shown to my class by teachers trying to inspire a love of learning in the students. I’ve met more than one person bold enough to show me their “Carpe Diem” tattoo, which is the movie’s big rallying cry. In general it just seems that there is something about this film that resonates strongly and sticks with a large portion of the people who see it. Daniel Petrie Jr.’s Toy Soldiers isn’t a movie that’s changed many lives. That’s okay though, I don’t think it was trying to. It’s mostly just an action movie. This one tells the story of a prestigious prep school being overtaken by a group of well-trained, well-armed terrorists, who then hold the student body hostage until the government meets their demands. It’s strange how little this movie is ever mentioned by anyone. It had a cast of young actors including Sean Astin, Wil Wheaton, and Keith Coogan, that were all up-and-coming names back in 1991. It was an explosion packed story about terrorists and […]

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When people are talking about the best horror movies of all time, they often use the term “horror classic.” I’m not exactly sure how that’s different from a movie that’s just a “classic,” but I think it’s somehow implying that movies where people get decapitated aren’t as good as serious dramas. I often hear the 1976 version of The Omen referred to as a “horror classic,” so I guess what that means is that it’s really good for a movie where people get decapitated. In 1993 a couple of superstar little kids named Elijah Wood and Macaulay Culkin starred in a movie called The Good Son. It’s never been called either a “classic” or a “horror classic,” but that might be because nobody gets decapitated in it.

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Sitting at a formidable and weighty 98% on Rotten Tomatoes is legendary director Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull, a biopic of Jake LaMotta, a 40s era boxer who was nicknamed “The Raging Bull” because of his short fuse and aggressive style in the ring. Michael Ritchie isn’t a legendary director. Despite the fact that he’s made movies like The Bad News Bears and Fletch, I’ve never even heard someone bring his name up in a conversation. And his attempt at a boxing movie, 1992’s Diggstown, is sitting at a paltry 54% on Rotten Tomatoes, derided and then forgotten by a cruel world unwilling to look past the ridiculous shirt and tie combinations James Woods wears in the film. This injustice will not stand.

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Back in 1990 a Rob Reiner-directed horror thriller called Misery took an underappreciated actor named Kathy Bates and rocketed her to the top of the world. Her portrayal of the homely but psychotic Annie Wilkes got tons of critical praise, had the mainstream talking, and eventually won her a Best Actress Oscar. In 1994 an oddball comedy named Ace Ventura: Pet Detective took a relatively obscure comedian named Jim Carrey and made him one of the biggest movie stars on the planet. That’s not the movie I’m going to be talking about though. The movie I’m going to talk about came two years later, it’s called The Cable Guy, and it was seen as the first disappointment of Carrey’s gigantic post Ace Ventura career. His portrayal of the troubled “Chip Douglas” didn’t register with critics or audiences who previously had no trouble accepting him as a pet detective that talked out of his butt, a walking cartoon character with a booger for a head, and a sociopath named Lloyd Christmas who sold a dead bird to a blind kid. Was Misery really that much better a movie than The Cable Guy? Was Bates’s performance as Annie really that much better than Carrey’s as the unnamed cable installer? Or is this just the case of a movie that was a little bit ahead of it’s time getting a bad rap?

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