Over/Under

Over Under - Large

Cameron Crowe is one of those directors who people just love. He’s made some stinkers along with with his good movies though, so when people talk to you about how much they love Cameron Crowe, generally what they mean is that they loved Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous. Or maybe even Say Anything, if they’re old school. Generally speaking, however, Jerry Maguire is Crowe’s big hit. This Tom Cruise-starring tale of a sports agent who experiences a moral epiphany got great reviews, became part of the pop culture lexicon of the late ’90s, and made about five times as much as Crowe’s next best loved film…give or take a bunch of millions or so. To call it a success would be putting things lightly. Gore Verbinski is another director who’s amassed a pretty loyal following, despite having made a couple of stinkers. When people say that they like his movies, generally they mean that they’re into the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie or Rango, or maybe they might even mean Mouse Hunt, if they’re the hip sort who likes to go back to the deep cuts. Certainly they very rarely mean that they like his strange followup to his runaway Pirates success, 2005’s Nicolas Cage-starring The Weather Man. It got mixed-to-scathing reviews, didn’t make a blip on the pop culture radar, and brought in pretty much zero money. Which is weird because—oh, my God—it’s basically the best movie ever.

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Sometime around fifteen years ago, A Christmas Story was something of a modern cult classic. It was kind of amusing and kind of off-beat, and you could make a connection with someone if you mentioned it and it turned out you both liked it. Or, at least, that’s how it was where I grew up, which was the area of Northwest Indiana where the story was set. A funny thing happened in the late ’90s, though. TNT started playing the movie on cable for 24 hours straight during Christmas, the concept caught on, and now, thirteen years later, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t know about Ralphie, his Red Rider BB gun, and Scut Farkus. But another funny thing happened, too. After so many years of repetition, the movie has started to feel a whole lot less quirky and fun. At this point, it’s probably the most overrated holiday movie ever, and all it takes is one person dropping quotes from it at a Christmas party to get me to make internal noises of frustration. Joe Dante’s Gremlins has had almost the exact opposite lifespan. It came out a year after A Christmas Story, was a pretty gigantic hit right away, and established itself as one of the iconic ’80s blockbusters quite quickly. But, over the course of the last couple decades, its influence has faded a bit. Despite the fact that the movie is set during Christmas, and is about the perfect Christmas present just as […]

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What’s the one thing every rundown apartment that a college sophomore is sharing with his five best friends and every $30m mansion that a famous rapper lives in for five months out of the year have in common? The Scarface poster they have framed on the wall in the living room. There are a handful of gangster films that have become modern classics – The Godfather and Goodfellas being the other main two – but in recent years, Brian De Palma’s Scarface has really pulled ahead of the pack when it comes to pop culture relevance and awareness among a younger generation. Which kind of makes sense, seeing as The Godfather and Goodfellas are better-made films that deal with more mature themes and Scarface is the sort of empty, flashy nonsense that would appeal to young people and rappers. Really, at this point, should Scarface even be mentioned in the conversation of great modern gangster movies anymore? It’s got a lot of issues. Jacques Audiard’s 2009 prison epic, Un prophète, isn’t necessarily underrated in the sense that the people who saw it didn’t like it, but it’s underrated in the sense that not nearly enough people, at least in the United States, have seen it. Here we have one of those rare films that is just artsy enough to be respected by film snobs and just entertaining enough to be enjoyed by more casual audiences that it could conceivably become a perennial top contender when it comes to widely agreed […]

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While inspirational sports stories usually prove to be box office draws, when you make them you still run the risk of alienating the portion of the film-going audience who just don’t like sports. If someone doesn’t like basketball or football, how do you get them to sit through a story where people play basketball or football for two hours? Brad Pitt’s 2011 starring vehicle, Moneyball, was hyped by its fans as being a baseball story that anybody could get into. Its focus was more on statistics and science stuff than it was gameplay. It was more about bucking the system than it was winning the big game. And at its heart was a story about a failed man reclaiming his life and growing as an individual. There’s no need to be into baseball to enjoy all of that stuff, right? Major League, conversely, is a 1989 comedy that was aimed squarely at baseball fans. If you didn’t know about the Cleveland Indians’ pathetic standing in the league, if you didn’t have a long-standing relationship with hearing Bob Uecker’s voice talk about the game, and if you didn’t know the ins-and-outs of each position and exactly what it takes to be bad at playing them, then a lot of the movie’s charms were likely going to be lost on you. And if you could care less about whether or not the Indians beat the Yankees in the championship game, would you even be able to get anything out of watching this […]

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The 90s were a dark decade for fun stuff aimed at teens and tweens. Grunge music and gangsta rap ruled the airwaves, and young people were into acting sullen and disturbed. Any entertainment that could be considered kiddie or corporate was rejected outright in favor of culture stuff that was gritty and dark. But, by 1999, change was in the air. The prevailing trends of the decade had run their course, boy bands and Britney Spears started showing up on the radio, and the first movie that attempted to bring back the raunchy teenage sex comedy, American Pie, became a runaway success that launched a long-lived, multi-film franchise. Kurt Cobain was dead, long live Stifler. In 2005 Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale got a lot of attention in the world of indie and art films, much of it due to the performance of its lead actor, a young kid named Jesse Eisenberg. Over the next few years Eisenberg’s fame rose as he accrued another handful of indie credits, and eventually his career hit a peak when he anchored a mainstream horror comedy in Zombieland, and then got to work with one of the biggest directors in the business, David Fincher, on The Social Network. After Eisenberg played Zuckerberg it was official, the guy was a bonafide celebrity. But, despite his fame, one of his earliest films, 2002’s Roger Dodger, still hasn’t been seen by very many people, and very rarely gets brought up even in film geek circles, […]

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By the time 1993 rolled around, Tim Burton already had projects like Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, and Edward Scissorhands under his belt, and had firmly established himself as an auteur director of quirky, weird films. It was probably that year’s The Nightmare Before Christmas – a movie that Burton produced and didn’t even direct – that firmly established him as being a filmmaker with a cult of personality following, and has become his most enduring work, however. A stop-motion animated feature directed by Henry Selick (with strong creative input from Burton) and produced by Disney’s Touchstone Pictures, The Nightmare Before Christmas mixed up Halloween and Christmas imagery in iconic ways (Mickey Mouse has his fingers in all the holiday pies), it captured the imaginations of an entire generation, and it can still be seen advertised all over the backpacks and binders of eyeliner wearing teenagers to this day. That same year another Halloween-themed family film came out of another wing of the Disney conglomerate called Hocus Pocus. But, despite that fact that it starred a trio of actresses who were fairly big names at the time, it hasn’t enjoyed nearly as much attention over the years as Nightmare. And, unless you happen to be a devotee of the movie Newsies (which I know some of you are), chances are you’ve never heard of its director, Kenny Ortega. Sure, Hocus Pocus still gets played on the Disney channel around Halloween every year, as it’s probably cheap programming for the company, but […]

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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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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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published: 04.18.2014
C-
published: 04.18.2014
C
published: 04.18.2014
B+
published: 04.18.2014
A

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