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.

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.

Movie #104: Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

As I’m sure you’re well aware, Robin Williams died Monday at the age of 63.  He is certainly a one-of-a-kind actor and a comedic genius.  Dead Poet’s Society is simply brilliant in large part because of Williams’ performance, and it’s one of my favorite movies.  Though he’s primarily a comedic actor, he balances that out with genuine dramatic performances.  I’ve been more surprised at how many stories are now coming out about how caring of a person he was.  It makes me appreciate him even more knowing how he lifted other people’s spirits and didn’t do it for the attention or accolades.  He will be missed.

Director: Barry Levinson

Starring: Robin Williams, Forest Whitaker, Tung Thanh Tran, J.T. Walsh, Robert Wuhl, and Bruno Kirby

Academy Award Nominations (1988):

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Robin Williams

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“What’s the demilitarized zone? It sounds like something from the Wizard of Oz “Oh no don’t go in there!” “Ohhh wee ohh. Ho Chi Minh.” “Oh look you’ve landed in Saigon. You’re amongst the little people now.” “We represent the ARVN army, the ARVN army. Oh no! Follow the Ho Chi Minh trail! Follow the Ho Chi Minh trail!”

“An unorthodox and irreverent DJ begins to shake up things when he is assigned to the US Armed Services Radio station in Vietnam.” from IMDB.com

Good Morning, Vietnam, a film loosely based on DJ Adrian Cronauer, was originally pitched by Cronauer in 1979 as a TV series.  M*A*S*H*, another war-based comedy, was one of the highest rated shows at the time, but Cronauer’s show was rejected.  Eight years and probably a few rewrites later, we got Good Morning, Vietnam.  Though it’s considered a war movie, I think of it more as a comedy set during a war.

Though primarily a comedy, this film was also one of the first to really humanize the Vietnamese on the big screen.  As Adrian pursues a relationship with a local Vietnamese girl, and befriends her brother in the process, there’s a tension and fine line of figuring out who is friend and who is foe.  The Vietnam War is unique for America because it was the first war where the enemy could have been anyone.  In prior conventional wars, there would be one army on one side and the other on the other side and they’d know who the enemy is.  With Vietnam, a kid could set a basket down that has a bomb in it.  Including Adrian’s interactions with the locals adds depth and makes this movie about more than just Williams’ comedic performance.

It goes without saying that Robin Williams’ comedy really makes this film enjoyable.  Most of his radio broadcasts in the film were improvised and frankly, Williams is the only person who could have pulled that off.  This film really showcases his comedic talents.  He balances the comedy out with the more dramatic scenes, though, and it makes his performance so much better.  He can switch the emotions seamlessly and does both sides of the character in a believable, genuine way.

good-morning-vietnam-1987-12-gThere is a great supporting cast in Good Morning, Vietnam.  A young Forest Whitaker holds his own as his character Edward Garlick assists Adrian.  Robert Wuhl, who I usually find insufferable, was actually pretty good in this movie.  He didn’t get on my nerves.

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J.T. Walsh and Bruno Kirby make great adversaries to Adrian.   Kirby’s Lt. Steven Hauk, thinks he’s funny but has horrible comedic timing.  It’s so bad that it’s great when he’s trying to be funny.  Walsh just has that look and feel of the straight-laced, by-the-book hard head.  Dickerson gets his comeuppance in the end though.

Williams lost the Academy Award for Best Actor to Michael Douglas.  That’s a shame.

Good morning ,Vietnam1988Barry LevinsonRobin Williams

I enjoyed Good Morning, Vietnam.  It has a lot of comedy and a good balance of drama and tension.  Robin Williams makes this film great with his brilliant improvisational abilities and helped bring out a lighter side to the Vietnam War.  He is complemented by a great supporting cast, but ultimately Williams is the star.  I’d definitely recommend seeing this one, it’s simply one of Williams’ best.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.