Grumpier Old Men (1995)

Director: Howard Deutch

Starring: Jack Lemmon, Walter Mathau, Sophia Loren, Ann-Margaret, Daryl Hannah, Kevin Pollack, Ann Guilbert, and Burgess Meredith

“I find you disgusting.”  “Well, just as long as you find me.”

Six months after the events of Grumpy Old Men, Melanie (Hannah) and Jacob (Pollack) are engaged, Max (Mathau) and John (Lemmon) are getting along as they help their children plan their wedding, John and Ariel (Margaret) are happily married, and Maria Ragetti (Loren) moves to Wabasha to turn Chuck’s Bait Shop into Ragetti’s, a romantic lakefront Italian ristorante.  Max and John do everything in their power to sabotage Ragetti’s, but Maria catches Max’s attention.

Though I usually get tired of movies that just repeat the same gags and rely on the same humor to the point where it gets annoyingly repetitive, Grumpier Old Men is the exception.  This film relies heavily on a lot of what made Grumpy Old Men great, but they advance the main and secondary stories in a way that keeps things fresh, and introducing a love interest for Max.  Using the same pleasantries Max and John exchange with each other makes sense since they’ve been friends/enemies virtually their whole lives.  Why change it at this point?

I enjoyed seeing some of the central themes get fleshed out in this movie.  Characters deal with getting older, finding and staying in love, and dealing with assorted family dynamics.  It’s interesting how much the younger generation is trying to help out their parent and the how the parent responds.  Jacob tries to get Max to do more than just “wait for another Ariel to drop into your life.” John tries to get Grandpa Gustafson to drink light beer or low-fat bacon.

Loren gives a great performance as Maria integrating into an already established cast.  She does a good job as a woman who wants to open a nice restaurant but also has a lot of relational baggage.  She is a formidable foe to Max and John and holds her own with Matthau as their relationship develops.  Having Mama Ragetti (Guilbert) in Grumpier Old Men gives Grandpa Gustafson a love interest and makes it easier to bring him to a more prominent supporting role in the film.

Though he was less prominent in the first film, Burgess Meredith delivers a lot of great lines in Grumpier Old Men.  He was better utilized in this film, whereas he spent most of his time in an ice shanty in Grumpy Old Men.  I especially like his scenes with Lemmon.  They do the father-son dynamic very well, and I especially love how John goes to his dad for advice even though he himself is retired.  The scene where John is going through the laundry list of what’s going on and is seeking out his dad’s advice, that scene always gets me.

It’s also interesting how similar background music is used with specific events in both films.  There are a lot of ways to do this wrong where it seems more repetitive and lazy, but it works in this movie.

As with its predecessor, Grumpier Old Men relies heavily on the comedic chemistry between the two lead actors, but also utilizes every performance to create a well-rounded, fun, heart-warming, and at times irreverent movie.

I enjoy it, I’ll see it again, I’d recommend it.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

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Grumpy Old Men (1993)

Director: Donald Petrie

Starring: Jack Lemmon, Walter Mathau, Ann-Margaret, Daryl Hannah, Kevin Pollack, Ossie Davis, and Burgess Meredith

” I also know the only thing in life that you regret are the risks that you don’t take.”

Retired history teacher John Gustafson (Lemmon) and retired TV repairman Max Goldman (Matthau) have been sworn enemies, and next door neighbors, their entire lives.  Their rivalry only intensifies when Ariel Traux (Margaret), a college professor from California, moves in across the street in their small town of Wabasha, Minnesota.

I’ve seen this movie many times, mostly around the time it came out.  I was probably too young for Grumpy Old Men when came out, but since my parents and grandparents loved the movie, that made it ok for me to watch.  Although Lemmon and Matthau had done many movies together, this was my first exposure to either actor.  As I’ve gone back through and seen a few more of each individually and acting together, I’ve been able to see the great talent each actor has and the great chemistry they have with one another.  Gustafson and Goldman could easily be swapped for Felix Unger and Oscar Madison from The Odd Couple, Goldman is more working class and more of a slob whereas Gustafson is more straight-laced.

Though I may see this film through rose-colored glasses with fond memories from my childhood, revisiting Grumpy Old Men and its sequel Grumpier Old Men, has helped me have a better appreciation for each movie.  It may be because I have a different appreciation for the complexities in each characters lives.  I think I’ve been able to see this for more than just the comedic aspects.  There is also tragedy and conflict in each character.

This movie has a tremendous supporting cast.  Ossie Davis does great as the guy who cuts through the crap with John and Max.  He calls it like it is and makes the most of his scenes.  Daryl Hannah and Kevin Pollack are great as John’s daughter Melanie and Max’s son Jacob.  Each does great with their own subplots (Melanie is in a bad marriage and Jacob is running for Mayor of Wabasha) and they do a great job putting these subplots within the main story.  Burgess Meredith has very limited screen time in Grumpy Old Men, but he makes his presence known, and delivers some great one liners.  I like that he is more prominent in Grumpier Old Men, and will reserve some of my thoughts on his performances for a review of that film.

Lemmon and Matthau showcase their chemistry in this movie.  Each character is widowed and dealing with his own problems.  It seemed only natural for their rivalry to rev up with Ariel entering their lives.  Though the characters are considering themselves lifelong enemies, at the core they do care about each other.  When Max realizes John is in trouble with the IRS, he does everything he can to help his neighbor.  The scene where John tells Max that Chuck died is very powerful.  John is taking his frustration out chopping wood, and upon sharing the news with Max, Max responds with anger.  The moment Max goes in and sees his hat from Chuck’s bait shop, the news finally hits him.

Ann-Margaret does a fine job as the worldly and at times eccentric Ariel.  She’s not overpowering, but definitely holds her own with the serious and comedic scenes in this movie.  I haven’t seen very many Ann-Margaret films, but she complements Lemmon and Matthau in her scenes with each actor.

There are a few moments in Grumpy Old Men that I don’t distinctly remember from watching this movie years ago that I just enjoyed now.  When John and Max are fighting on the frozen lake, Grandpa Gustafson (Meredith) yells at the guys and they immediately stop and Max refers to him as Mr. Gustafson.  It’s humorous and interesting to me to see a man in his last 60s refer to someone older than him in a way that conveys respect and reverence.  It’s also interesting to see Jacob have a lot of the same mannerisms and use the same phrases as Max.  I realize he’s his son, but Petrie makes a point to have Jacob say lines like “Holy moly” and humming the same tune as his father did at the end of the movie.

This is an enjoyable movie to revisit.  I liked seeing more of the family relationship aspects in these characters, something I paid less attention to when I was younger.  That adds depth and enriches this movie.  I will definitely watch Grumpy Old Men again, though it will probably be a while before I do so.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Valentine’s 2014. Movie #90: Titanic (1997)

Director: James Cameron

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Bill Paxton, Gloria Stuart, Frances Fisher, Bernard Hill, Jonathan Hyde, David Warner, Victor Garber, and Ioan Gruffudd

Academy Awards (1998):

Best Art Director – Set Decoration: Peter Lamont (art director) Michael Ford (set director)

Best Cinematography: Russel Carpenter

Best Costume Design: Deborah Lynn Scott

Best Director: James Cameron

Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing: Tom Bellfort, Christopher Boyes

Best Effects, Visual Effects: Robert Legato, Mark A. Lasoff, Thomas L. Fisher, Michael Kanfer

Best Film Editing: Conrad Buff IV, James Cameron, Richard A. Harris

Best Music, Original Dramatic Score: James Horner

Best Music, Original Song: James Horner (music), Will Jennings (lyrics) for the song ‘My Heart Will Go On” performed by Celine Dion

Best Picture: James Cameron

Best Sound: Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson, Gary Summers, Mark Ulano

Academy Award Nomination:

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Kate Winslet

Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Gloria Stuart

Best Makeup: Tina Earnshaw, Greg Cannom, Simon Thompson

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Treasure hunter Brock Lovett (Paxton) finds a drawing of a young Rose (Winslet) while searching for ‘The Heart of the Ocean,’ a diamond that supposedly sank with the RMS Titanic on April 15th, 1912.  Rose Dawson Calvert (Stuart) is flown out to Lovett’s boat and proceeds to tell her story on the doom maiden voyage of the Titanic.

17 at the time of Titanic’s voyage, Rose DeWitt Bukater is a young socialite engaged to Cal Hockley (Zane).  Feeling trapped by a controlling mother, and seeing her life as a prisoner within, Rose considers jumping off the back of Titanic and committing suicide.  Jack Dawson (DiCaprio), a third-class passenger who won his ticket in a poker game, stops her, and the two fall in love.  Their love blossoms and is described throughout the fateful iceberg crash and sinking of the doomed ship.

titanicjackroseThe story of Titanic’s sinking is one that has been told time and time again.  What is it about this movie that launched it into the record books as the highest grossing film of all time (until Avatar of course), tying Ben Hur for the most Academy Awards with 11 wins?  Though this isn’t something I’ve lost sleep over, it’s a question I’ve asked myself a few times over the years.  I must admit that it’s been a long time since I’ve watched Titanic, possibly a decade, and I think this viewing of it helped me understand why this movie was as successful as it was.

At its core, this is a love story told through the backdrop of Titanic’s tragedy.  I don’t think I was able to appreciate that at a younger age.  The romantic elements of this film were cheesy in my opinion.  Both DiCaprio, 23, and Winslet, 22, were young when this film was released, and seeing them in more grown up roles has helped me appreciate their acting talents.

James Cameron has created a true masterpiece with Titanic.  Investing his own money and having a passion for shipwrecks, Cameron brings the audience into the state rooms, dining rooms, cabins, the engine rooms and helps create a complete picture of this boat for the audience.  And then it sinks.  The combination of build up and the following detail as the ship slowing approaching its fateful plunge to the ocean floor.

Telling a story like this, and adding the love story between Jack and Rose, requires acting leads that work well together and come off as believable, albeit unlikely lovers.  DiCaprio and Winslet pull this off flawlessly.  Though I used to see this part of the film as cheesy, their quick progression as lovers with deep passion for life and adventure is both believable and endearing.  The only problem with doing a film like Titanic is that you get the sense that these two could never work together again.  I watched Revolutionary Road a few years ago, and it just felt like Jack and Rose Married with Children rather than its own movie apart from Titanic.

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Though DiCaprio and Winslet carry this film, there’s a lot to be said about the supporting cast.  Kathy Bates has always been hit or miss for me.  She nailed Molly Brown in this film.  Her quick wit and strong will make her memorable and enjoyable.  Billy Zane portrays the jealous and overly confident Cal to perfection.

A number of the crew members do great, but two stick out in my mind.  Bernard Hill’s portrayal of Captain Edward James Smith is one of tragedy as this competent capable leader tries his best to maintain order as the ship sinks.  Though it was a small role, I enjoyed Ioan Gruffudd’s portrayal of Fifth Officer Harold Lowe.  It’s not that Gruffudd was far superior to the other crew members, it’s more that I didn’t realize he was in this until my most recent viewing.  It also helps that he was the only one who went back to try to save the passengers in the water.

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As I said before, Titanic is at its core, a love story set in the tragedy of Titanic’s maiden voyage.  James Cameron’s attention to detail in bringing the audience into the ship and bringing out the emotional connection as the ship sinks make this film great.  Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet’s chemistry create that emotional romantic connection that can appeal to a wide audience.  Titanic is a film that I could watch every once in a while, possibly another decade like it’s been before this viewing.  I think it’s once that anyone who hasn’t seen it should at least see it once.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Here’s a funny video that sums up this movie in 5 seconds: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OuSdU8tbcHY

Valentine’s 2014. Movie #88: Ghost (1990)

Director: Jerry Zucker

Starring: Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, and Tony Goldwyn

Academy Awards (1991):

Best Actress in the Supporting Role: Whoopi Goldberg

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: Bruce Joel Rubin

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Film Editing: Walter Murch

Best Music, Original Score: Maurice Jarre

Best Picture: Lisa Weinstein

ghostposter

Sam (Swayze) and Molly (Moore) are very much in love.  Sam is shot and killed by a mugger, however, his ghost is still around because he has unfinished business to take care of.  He later learns that his murder was a set up by his friend Carl (Goldwyn) because Sam was about to uncover Carl’s criminal activities.  Molly is in danger, and Sam finds help in Ola Mae (Goldberg), a pseudo-physic who he can talk to and through which he can save Molly.

Though this movie is by far more fantasy than realistic, it works.  I found the story enjoyable, though slow at times.  I suppose with as much to cover and as much story to unfold, that can be expected.  Special effects-wise, the film was a good reflections of where special effects (primarily the ghosts) were at the time.  When Carl and Willie Lopez are killed, the ghosts who come up from hell, I don’t know, it just seemed a little cheesy, but I’m not sure how they could have improved it.

Moore and Swayze have great on-screen chemistry.  Ghost is probably one of the biggest films each of them did, and it came at the strongest points of each of their careers.  Both the physical and emotional chemistry come through.  Demi does a good job of remaining both the budding skeptic and grieving girlfriend.

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And of course, the clay pot scene is iconic in its own right.  Here are a couple of my favorite parodies of the scene as well:

ghostnakedgun ghostcommunity

ghostwhoopiWhoopi Goldberg is both annoying and brilliant and Old Mae.  She always seems like a toss-up for me as an actress, perhaps it’s because she’s more of an over-the-top type of actress that can be very off-putting, but here that type of character works,  She deserved the Academy Award for her performance.  This is a film where she can play to her strengths as an actress.  She does a nice job of going from the reluctant and annoyed helper to someone fully invested in helping Sam and Molly.

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Ghost is a tender, loving, somewhat out there type of film.  I wasn’t entirely sure if I’d like it or not.  Though I felt at times that it could have moved faster, the acting chemistry, strong lead and supporting performances, and loving romantic finish were all reasons why I enjoyed this film.  I may or may not watch this one again, though I would recommend watching at least once.

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.