Friday, September 28, 2018

Casey's Shadow (1978)

Walter Matthau Movie #5 (yes, that is one sun-bleached, and marked-up VHS clamshell package)
Synopsis: It’s nearly two hours of Walter Matthau wearing a cowboy hat and yelling at a bunch of kids about riding a horse. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “A funny and touching story for the whole family about an irascible, impoverished horse trainer, Lloyd Bourdelle (Walter Matthau) and his three sons.” 
What Did I Learn?: Race horses are extremely fragile creatures, so they should never, ever be ridden. 
Really?: 1) Hmm….I realize Lloyd wants to make a name for himself as a trainer, but gee…I don’t know how many people would turn down the opportunity to pocket 50 grand AND protect the well-being of a beloved animal. 2) Was it necessary for Lloyd to have three sons? It’s obvious that Buddy is the wheeler-dealer, and Casey is the youngest who loves his horses, but the script doesn’t do much to develop Randy, the middle child. 
Rating: Casey’s Shadow is a nice, yet forgettable (and surprisingly foul-mouthed) low-budget family movie that owes a lot to Matthau’s basic likeability, even though it’s odd to see him as an impoverished Cajun horse trainer who seems a little too old to have sired the youngest two of his three kids. The film provides an interesting look at the world of quarter horse racing, and a couple of touching moments, but it really drags near the end. 6/10 stars.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Couch Trip (1988)

Walter Matthau Movie #4
Synopsis: Truth-telling, plain-spoken average Joe gets mistaken for a shrink, is given their very own radio advice show, and becomes a media sensat… hey, waitaminute – that’s basically Straight Talk, minus the cleavage! 
What Did I Learn?: 1) There is nothing that can be accomplished in a short time that cannot be accomplished just as well over a longer period. 2) Swans are not dangerous. 
Really?: 1) I realize this movie was filmed a number of years before 9/11, but how in the world can Burns claim Baird’s airline ticket without showing some sort of identification?  2) So, Maitland heads to London, decides on a whim to check out a psychiatric conference, and somehow strikes up a conversation with the real Lawrence Baird? Gee….that’s a coinky-dink.  3) Um….how does Dr. Laura Rollins (Donna Dixon) feel about Burns? This isn’t ever resolved. I mean, she’s willing to help him bust out of a police van, but unwilling to vamoose to Mexico. And as a trained psychiatrist, wouldn’t she know he’s a fraud long before that phone call from Maitland and Baird? 4) I’m curious: what happened to Lopez? Burns seemed awfully concerned about his welfare before his big escape. Did Baird place him on a daily regime of thorazine after Burns fucked off? 
Rating: The Couch Trip was played and re-played endlessly on First Choice at the end of the 1980s, so I saw it a number of times back in the day, and felt a strange nostalgia when I viewed it again for the first time in 30 years. The film is a highly-contrived (see “Really?”), and occasionally-funny ego trip for Aykroyd which starts out well, and eventually ends as a confused mess. The Couch Trip isn’t meant to be taken too seriously, so I can overlook the fact that no consequences ever arise from Burns dispensing bullshit therapy, but Aykroyd is incredibly smug, while Matthau and Dixon aren’t given much to do in their vaguely-defined roles. 6/10 stars.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

I'm Not Rappaport (1996)

Walter Matthau Movie #3
Synopsis: Two wildly-different loveable losers develop an uneasy friendship and engage in weird adventures in Central Park. Ok, so it’s a geriatric, low-budget remake of The Fisher King
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “With vaudevillian flair, these appealing oldsters outrageously take on the world and its multiple threats - drug dealers and muggers, enlightened children, forced retirement, and the spectre of the old folks’ home.” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Junkies aren’t very reliable people. 2) Fabricating stories is a great way to make new friends. 3) Decent, law-abiding citizens are easy to con with a quickly-delivered stream of bullshit…hardened criminals, not so much. 
You Might Like This Movie If: You want to hear a really great joke.
Really?: 1) See: “What Did I Learn?” Seriously, I had a bit of trouble believing the grocery store employees would allow Nat to unilaterally mark down their merchandise and not throw him out on his ear. 2) You know…I really didn’t need to see 76-year old Matthau get roughed up, not once, but twice in this film. 3) So, Nat’s daughter Clara is over 50? Amy Irving certainly doesn’t look that old. I realize the play was written in the mid-1980s, so it would have made sense for her to have been born in 1945, but there’s a reference to the Russians giving up communism, which places the events of the film in the mid-1990s.
Rating: I have to give I’m Not Rappaport a bit of a mixed review. It’s hard not to like Nat Moyer, the aging small-c communist bullshit artist who doesn’t have much to do except hang out in the park and needle Midge Carter. Matthau is wonderful as Moyer, and I liked his exchanges with Davis. Overall, I’m Not Rappaport is a warm, funny, and strangely enjoyable (considering it mostly consists of Moyer annoying the crap out of Carter on a park bench) film that’s also wildly uneven in tone. When playwright Herb Gardner was offered the chance to direct his work, he added a whole bunch of extra characters and plotlines; some of them work well with the original material (Amy Irving is great as Nat’s long-suffering daughter), while some of them stick out like a sore thumb. Matthau and Davis posing as Mafioso and trying to convince a drug-dealing cowboy (played well by Craig T. Nelson of Coach fame) to forgive the debt of a young junkie? Come on…. 7.5/10 stars.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Charade (1963)

Walter Matthau Movie #2
Synopsis: Plucky heroine is chased by villain who looks like he couldn’t outrun a snapping turtle…oh, wait – that’s the Synopsis for Dead of Winter. Um… Cary Grant plays a suave and sophisticated urbanite who is mistaken for another man and must rescue a lovely lady from a gang of cutthroat…no, that’s North by Northwest. Ok, it’s 1963, and a wacky band of greedy, back-stabbing bastards tear a city apart looking for hidden treasure….no, that’s It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World
Blurb From the VHS Jacket:Charade, in its own way, is one of the most radical and experimental films of the ‘60s.” 
What Did I Learn?: Shakespeare never said: "When strangers do meet in far off lands, they should e'er long see each other again"
Really?: 1) So, why does Grant’s character lie about being unable to speak a word of French, when he later reveals he has at least some command of the language? That doesn’t make much sense. 2) [Spoiler Alert!] So… Hamilton (Matthau) somehow manages to ice both Scobie (George Kennedy) and Tex (James Coburn), as well as Leopold (Ned Glass)? I’m not sure I believe that. 
Rating: Charade is a charming, stylish, and occasionally funny thriller that features a great cast and some genuine suspense – we’re never entirely sure who’s side Grant’s character is on, or what his motivations might be until the very end. 8/10 stars.

Cactus Flower (1969)

Walter Matthau Movie #1 (Please click the links to read my reviews of I Ought to Be in Pictures, JFK, California Suite and The Bad News Bears. Also, be sure to check out my tribute to the films he made with Jack Lemmon) 
Synopsis: Fun-Loving Manhattan dentist realizes he’d much rather have his frumpy, middle-aged secretary than free-spirited Goldie Hawn in her prime. 
Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “A comedy for all time” 
What Did I Learn?: 1) Apparently, they make champagne in Idaho. 2) A man who lies cannot love. 3) One makes the Mexican Measles by mixing gin with tequila. 4) Sex is for teenagers. 
Really?: 1) So, did America have the world’s most efficient postal service in the early 1960s? How could Toni’s suicide not reach Julian’s office the morning after she mailed it? 2) I had a bit of trouble believing Toni (Hawn) would fall for Julian (Matthau) in the first place. It’s certainly possible they had a sugar daddy relationship in place, but a) she has a job, and such a relationship is never clearly spelled out (although he is quite generous), and b) it’s doubtful she would have feelings for him. 
Rating: I wasn’t sure what to expect when I popped my VHS copy of Cactus Flower into the machine a few nights ago, but I found myself pleasantly surprised. Matthau and Hawn share some enjoyable (and very funny) romantic chemistry, while Bergman steals the movie as the acid-tongued medical secretary who comes into her own; her scenes with Jack Weston as the sleazy Harvey Greenfield are hilarious. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

$5 a Day (2008)

Synopsis: Estranged father and son patch up their differences and take on powerful politician who screwed them both….oh wait, that’s the Synopsis for Return of the Jedi
Blurb From the DVD Jacket: “Christopher Walken is hilarious as Nat, an eccentric con-artist and deadbeat dad dying to reconnect with his troubled son, Flynn (Alessandro Nivola, The Eye, Laurel Canyon).” [Funny how Sharon Stone appears on the DVD jacket even though she doesn’t participate in the road trip]
What Did I Learn?: Apparently, America’s countryside looks never really changes when you drive from Atlantic City to Albuquerque.
You Might Like This Movie If: You'd love to be able to live on $5 a day. 
Really?: 1) I realize Sharon Stone is (or was) a big star, but she’s in this film for a grand total of 10 minutes, and she gets third billing? (see: “Blurb from the DVD Jacket”) 2)So, Ritchie publicly embarrasses Burt, even after Burt paid over $100 grand to keep his silence? Burt is a bit of a douche, but that struck me as tacky. 3) What are the odds of Ritchie inadvertently learning the truth about his mom just before he discovers the real reason for the road trip? That seemed a little convenient for me. 4) I’m pretty certain – given their checkered history -  that Ritchie would simply drive to the nearest airport and abandon Nat entirely after learning that Nat got him fired from his health inspector job. 
Rating: I found myself pleasantly surprised (if only because I wasn’t expecting much) when I sat down to watch $5 a Day a few nights ago. The plot is a little predictable and contrived, but it delivers some laughs as well as a few genuinely tender scenes between Walken and Nivola who star as a very dysfunctional father-son duo. It’s an interesting low-budget misfire.  7/10 stars.