REVIEWS OF RENTED DVDs I GET IN THE MAIL

Posts Tagged ‘buddy film’

THE ODD COUPLE (1968)

In Classic, Comedy, Motion Pictures, O on July 21, 2010 at 11:34 pm

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STUDIO – Paramount

CASTJack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, John Fiedler, Herb Edelman, Monica Evans, Carole Shelley

DIRECTOR – Gene Saks

MPAA Rating: G

I have a question: When you hear the term “great movie pairs”, who comes to mind? There are several possibilities. Astaire and Rogers. Martin and Lewis. Abbott and Costello. Laurel and Hardy. Hepburn and Tracy. Bogart and Bacall. The list goes on, but no list would be complete without Lemmon and Matthau. They made ten movies together, plus one more (Chaplin) in which they appeared in archive footage, but the pinnacle (and arguably the most famous) of this cinematic pairing took place in 1968, with The Odd Couple.

Walter Matthau stars as Oscar Madison,  a New York sports writer who can be best described in his own words: “divorced, broke, and sloppy”. His wife and kids moved to California months before, and his apartment is strewn with garbage, smells, and a very apparent lack of air conditioning. More, his proclivities to gambling and eating out have led to his alimony being late. Then, during his weekly poker game, he gets shocking news: His friend and colleague, news writer Felix Ungar (Jack Lemmon), and his wife have broken up. Felix is an obsessive-compulsive, anal-retentive, hypochondriac neat freak who has suddenly turned suicidal because his wife had kicked him out. When he finally shows up at Oscar’s apartment for the poker game, Oscar invites Felix to move in with him.

Oscar (Walter Matthau) comforts Felix (Jack Lemmon) after his wife kicked him out

Needless to say, you can already see the conflict in this one. These two men are polar opposites of each other, and the resulting living conditions within Oscar’s apartment are both vastly improved and desperately maddening at the same time! This comedy, crafted from the wily mind of one Neil Simon, has been a personal favorite of mine ever since I discovered it in the mid-1970s. This (along with MASH) was one of those cases of me liking a TV show, then discovering “They made a movie about it, too?” I remember watching it on TV for the first time, thinking “Wait a minute. This isn’t Jack Klugman and Tony Randall!” Then I learned the movie was older than the TV show, and that it was a play before that. Soon, it didn’t matter that the actors were different, because the two guys who were in the movie were really funny together! To this day, The Odd Couple remains on my so-called “short list” of favorite movies.

When I received my rented copy in the mail, I was shocked to learn this movie was (and still is) Rated G. I’m guessing that, because the then newly-formed MPAA was still trying to find itself, and that since there was no violence, excessive language, or nudity, it was deemed suitable for all audiences. Looking at The Odd Couple today, with its adult-related themes of gambling, divorce, and dating, I would be more inclined to modify this to a PG. And, with tobacco use becoming the latest subject of attack against the MPAA (something I personally don’t agree with), some may even go so far as PG-13. I do agree that smoking shouldn’t be in a G-rated film, and at least half the characters smoke in this movie. Mind you, I am not speaking out against tobacco use; if you smoke, that’s you’re prerogative. Just remember, attitudes have changed drastically since 1968, and I am sure they will change again over the next 42 years. But, I’m digressing, so let’s move on…

It was widely reported that Walter Matthau (who had played Oscar on Broadway) wanted to be Felix in the movie, because he wanted an acting challenge. Neil Simon’s reaction: Act somewhere else, be Oscar here. Personally, and this is nothing against his talent, but I cannot for the life of me imagine anyone else but Walter Matthau as Oscar. And the pairing with Jack Lemmon was nothing short of genius. Yes, they’d worked together previously in The Fortune Cookie, but this was the movie that sealed the deal in establishing Lemmon and Matthau as a team, which would also include The Front Page, the Grumpy Old Men movies, and even a sequel to this film, among others

The centerpiece of this movie is the scene following the would-be double-date between Oscar and Felix and their in-building neighbors, the Pigeon sisters (Monica Evans and Carole Shelley). Due to circumstances which will not be spoiled here, Felix bails out on the double-date, which upsets Oscar to the point that, the next day, they are not on speaking terms. What transpires is nearly two minutes of comic genius, without a single word spoken. Gutsy, yes, but even now, after seeing it for probably the 138th time (Sorry, in-joke), it still makes me laugh!

On the downside, the material is somewhat dated. Among the now-outmoded items mentioned in this movie include telegrams, milk bottles, and the AutoMat. There is even one scene which takes place at Shea Stadium, which was torn down after the New York Mets moved to Citi Field following the 2008 season. A dream of mine is to rewrite this movie to update it, but keep the story basically intact. Of course, to do that, I would need to a) write a screenplay of my own, b) get Neil Simon’s blessing, and c) get a studio to okay it. Until that day comes (or when the planets all align on the same side of the sun), I will be perfectly happy with the movie as it is.

The Odd Couple is far and away my favorite of Neil Simon’s work. Sharply written, perfectly cast, and funny from start to finish, this comedy classic takes a look at divorce in a such a way that few other movies have even glimpsed. This is a must-add to your Queue!

NOTE: There is a Special Features disk with this movie which is currently unavailable from Netflix. As soon as it does become available, I will rent it and write a follow-up here as soon as I can.

4 (out of 5)


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SAVING SILVERMAN (2001)

In Comedy, Crime, Motion Pictures, Romance, S on March 20, 2010 at 11:00 pm

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STUDIO — Columbia

CAST — Jason Biggs, Jack Black, Steve Zahn, Amanda Peet, R. Lee Ermey, Neil Diamond

DIRECTOR —  Dennis Dugan

MPAA Rating: PG-13
(Uncut version Rated R)

Have you noticed lately how some sports venues have taken to playing Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” late in the game as a means of rallying the fans? I know, it sounds really strange, but I think this movie has a lot to do with it.

In  Saving Silverman, three friends, Wayne (Steve Zahn), J.D. (Jack Black), and Darren (Jason Biggs), make up a street-performing Neil Diamond tribute band called Diamonds in the Rough. All three are big fans; Wayne even claims his mother went into labor with him during a Neil Diamond concert! After one of their performances, they go to a local watering hole, where Wayne spots a beautiful woman (Amanda Peet) and talks Darren into chatting her up. Right away, she asserts herself onto Darren, and right away, Wayne and J.D. realize she’s a threat to their friendship.

Wayne (Steve Zahn, right) and J.D. (Jack Black) attempt to persuade Judith (Amanda Peet) to break up with their friend, Darren Silverman

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, Darren is the Silverman in the title of this movie, a sometimes too-broad comedy that reaches too far into the depths of low-brow to deliver its gags. Much of the comedy in this movie was formulaic, telegraphed as much as a minute ahead of the payoff. Don’t get me wrong, here. I liked Jason Biggs in the American Pie movies, and in this movie, he continues his bumbling charm with appeal. And I also like Steve Zahn; his break-out role in That Thing You Do! is among the most memorable in that movie. As for Jack Black, I confess I am not as familiar with his work, but I do know he does have the ability to charm underneath that oafish appearance of his.

So what happened here? In my opinion, too much happened here. Judith is a psychiatrist who has absolutely no problem showing off her cleavage (and, based on what I can tell about the character, her readiness to assault the first man who notices it). Amanda Detmer plays Sandy, Darren’s “one and only”, who had recently left the circus after a tragic trapeze accident in order to… become a nun(?). Then there’s R. Lee Ermey. That’s right, ol’ Gunny himself makes an appearance as a high school football coach who was imprisoned for manslaughter after he accidentally skewered a referee with the down marker during a game. Finally, we have Neil Diamond himself, who inexplicably agrees to help our heroes in the third act, despite the fact that he had a restraining order against them. Tell me, does any of this make sense to you?

Okay, it is, after all, a movie. But the plot is supposed to have some logic to it, right? Only Darren turns appears to have any depth of character to him. Wayne and J.D. are little more than baffoons, Judith acts like an overcaffeinated queen bee, and Sandy was way too bubbly to be a convincing nun in training. Of all the supporting characters, only Coach was engaging enough to be funny. From all appearances, R. Lee seemed to relish the opportunity to commit a bit of self-parody by using his famous “gung-ho” attitude to great comedic effect. It’s too bad the rest of the cast did not follow suit.

Saving Silverman tries to be funny, and it tries to be sincere. Unfortunately, it came up short in both departments.

WEDDING CRASHERS (2005)

In Comedy, Motion Pictures, Romance, W on March 11, 2010 at 5:00 pm

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STUDIO — New Line Cinema

CAST — Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Christopher Walken, Rachel McAdams, Isla Fisher, Jane Seymour, Henry Gibson

DIRECTOR —  David Dobkin

MPAA RATING —  
(Uncut version Unrated)

Before I get into this review, let me preface it by saying that when this move came out, I rolled my eyes and thought “Great! Yet another movie about guys trying to bed every woman they can!” And yes, Wedding Crashers is just that; fortunately, it also has a moral lesson in the end (delivered in the goofy way that only Owen Wilson knows how, but it’s there). So, why did I watch this movie? Simple. It was a request from a co-worker.

So, with that caveat in mind, Wedding Crashers is the story of a pair of Washington, D.C., divorce mediators named John Beckwith (Owen Wilson) and Jeremy Grey (Vince Vaughn) who have been friends for years. Every spring, they engage in the practice of (wait for it…) crashing weddings for the sole purpose of taking advantage of the single ladies present at each ceremony. But these guys are pros at what they do. Their skill at crashing weddings was handed down to them by legendary wedding crasher Chazz Reinhold; they have absorbed, memorized, and digested these rules. They enter each ceremony with aliases and backstories. They are masters at their game.

Then comes the so-called “Kentucky Derby” of weddings: The oldest daughter of Treasury Secretary William Cleary (Christopher Walken) will be tying the knot, and it is expected to be the social event of the year. Our heroes, of course, only care about one thing: the 200 or so single women who will be in attendance. Interestingly enough, of all the women at the wedding, John and Jeremy have their eyes on the Secretary’s two other daughters, Claire (Rachel McAdams) and Gloria (Isla Fisher). So, naturally, the story progresses from the reception to a weekend getaway at the Cleary family compound. Naturally, of course.

John Beckwith (Owen Wilson) and Jeremy Grey (Vince Vaughn) at the Cleary wedding

Okay, so I had to suspend my disbelief a bit here, but overall, this movie was surprisingly enjoyable to watch. I particularly liked Ron Canada’s portrayal of Randolph, the Cleary’s butler. He was low-key, discreet, and probably the coolest butler since Alfred Pennyworthy. Rachel McAdams’ Claire was pretty, as always, and she seemed to be the only sane member of the family, which included a foul-mouthed grandmother (Ellen Albertini Dow), a tormented gay brother (Keir O’Donnell), a prowling cougar for a mother (Jane Seymour, against type), and Gloria, her just-this-side-of-completely-nuts sister. All was moving along just fine, until… HE came along.

I am talking about Will Ferrell. Surprise! He has a cameo as the legend himself, Chazz Reinhold. In the opinion of this writer, anything Will Ferrell did after “Saturday Night Live” is little more than lowbrow schlock. I have seen exactly one movie of his, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, and what I liked about that movie was Steve Carell. Anyway, in Wedding Crashers, we see Chazz as either a pathetic loser who still lives with his mother, or as an insane genius because he now crashes funerals(!) and takes his conquests home to his (mother’s) place. Either way, seeing Will Ferrell brought it down a notch for me.

On the up side, there are other cameos of note. In the beginning of the movie, our heroes are negotiating a divorce settlement between Rebecca De Mornay and country singer Dwight Yoakam, and the Cleary wedding guests included Senator John McCain and CNN political analyst James Carville (Kind of levels the political playing field, if you ask me).

Overall, I enjoyed Wedding Crashers, which I found surprisingly funny. Maybe I should expand my movie viewing habits beyond Sci-Fi and award winners a bit more…