A Movie A Day #250: Taking Care of Business (1990, directed by Arthur Hiller)

Jimmy Dworski (Jim Belushi) is a convicted car thief who only has a few days left in his criminal sentence but still decides to break out of prison so he can go see the Cubs play in the World Series.  Spencer Barnes (Charles Grodin) is an uptight ad executive who needs to learn how to relax and have a good time.  When Spencer loses his organizer, Jimmy finds it.  Before you can say “The prince and the pauper,” Jimmy has access to all of Spencer’s money and the mansion that Spencer is supposed to be staying at over the weekend.  While Spencer tries to survive on the streets and track down his organizer, Jimmy is living it up, spending money, impressing a Japanese businessman (Mako), romancing the boss’s daughter, and taking care of business.

Made in the uncertain period between the end of the culture of 80s materialism and the start of the 90s indie boom, Taking Care of Business is a rip-off of Trading Places that came out six years too late to be effective.  Everything that needs to be known about Jimmy and Spencer is apparentl from the minute that Charles Grodin’s and Jim Belushi’s names appear in the credits.  Grodin was usually the best when it came to playing uptight yuppies but he seems bored in Taking Care of Business.  Belushi mugs through his role, overplaying his character’s blue collar roots.  The movie builds up to a huge confrontation between Belushi and Grodin but it never really delivers, instead devolving into a predictable buddy comedy, complete with a trip to Wrigley Field and an elaborate plan to sneak Belushi back into prison before the warden (Hector Elizondo) discovers that he’s been gone for the weekend.  Taking Care of Business has a few laughs but it’s never as good as the BTO song.

Horror on TV: Thriller 1.1 “The Twisted Image”

Tonight’s excursion into televised horror is the very first episode of Boris Karloff’s Thriller!

Thriller was an anthology series that lasted from 1960 to 1962.  Each episode presented a new story of horror and/or suspense.  What makes this series especially memorable is that each episode was introduced by none other than Boris Karloff!  I’ve seen a few episodes of Thriller (the entire series is on YouTube) and, to be honest, it’s kind of a hit-or-miss show.  But Karloff and that mischievous twinkle in his eye makes it all worth it!

This episode originally aired on September 13th, 1960.  It’s called The Twisted Image and stars Leslie Neilsen as a man being stalked by two mentally disturbed individuals.  This episode was well-directed by Arthur Hiller and, if it’s more of a suspense story than a horror story, it still has its creepy moments.


Arthur Hiller: An Appreciation

cracked rear viewer

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Peter Brooker/REX/Shutterstock (379086do) ARTHUR HILLER OSCARS / ACADEMY AWARDS AT THE KODAK THEATRE, LOS ANGELES, AMERICA - 24 MAR 2002

The name Arthur Hiller doesn’t really spring to mind when I think about great directors. However, when I heard the news he passed away last night at age 92, I looked him up on the IMDb. Much to my surprise, Arthur Hiller was responsible for some of my favorite funny films. Hiller wasn’t a distinct stylist or auteur, just a skillful handler of actors with a deft touch for comedy. In remembrance of the man, here are a few of my favorite Hiller-directed films, in chronological order:


PENELOPE (1966): I covered this movie in-depth at this link about a year ago. It’s a silly, saucy comedy starring Natalie Wood as a neglected housewife who robs a bank. A quintessentially 60’s flick with comic support from Peter Falk, Dick Shawn, Jonathan Winters, and a good turn by Arlene Golonka as a hooker. It’s definitely worth your time if you haven’t discovered it yet.

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Lisa Marie Laughs and Cries Over Love Story (dir. Arthur Hiller)

They are so freaking pretty!

I’ve discovered something as I’ve pursued my mission to see every single film ever nominated for best picture.  Quite a few of the nominees (perhaps the majority of them) are no longer impressive because they’ve simply become dated by the passage of time.  We can still watch these films and understand (and believe) that they were probably quite groundbreaking and impressive when initially released.

And then there’s the films like the 1970 best picture nominee, Love Story.  These are the nominees that you quickly realize were never good.  These are the films that were nominated because they either dominated the box office or perhaps they just lucked out and were released in a bad year for cinema in general.  At least that’s what we tell ourselves.  In all honesty, the circumstances of how they came to be nominated are often enigmatic and shrouded in mystery.  I have yet to read a single critic — from either 1970 or the present day — who has had a single kind thing to say about Love Story and, after sitting through it last night, I can say that for once, me and the critical establishment are in agreement.

The plot of Love Story is pretty simple and I’m going to go ahead and include the entire story here because quite frankly, it’s impossible to spoil something this predictable.  Oliver (Ryan O’Neal) meets Jenny (Ali MacGraw).  Oliver is a rich jock who is attending Harvard.  Jenny is a poor music student.  Upon first meeting her, Oliver calls Jenny a “bitch.”  Jenny calls Oliver “a dumb jock.”  Oliver falls in love with Jenny.  Jenny calls Oliver “a dumb jock.”  Oliver and Jenny get married.  Oliver’s father (Ray Milland) disapproves.  Jenny’s father (John Marley) is just kind of confused.  Cut off from the family fortune, Oliver struggles to provide for Jenny.  (Apparently, the 70s were a tough time to be a graduate of Harvard Law School.)  Jenny and Oliver have a fight.  Oliver cries.  Jenny says, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” which seems to be an underhanded way of admitting that most guys aren’t ever going to say that anyways.  Oliver is happy.  Jenny comes down with a never-named terminal illness and dies.  The end.

I know that I’m supposed to watch a movie like Love Story and just shrug my shoulders and go, “Oh well, it’s not very good but I’m a girl so I’ll love it unconditionally.”  And God knows, I tried my best,  I tried so very hard to just shut down my mind and give control over to my heart.  Because, believe it or not, I’m just a dorky, asthmatic romantic.  I’m the type of girl who gets all giggly and excited when she gets flowers, despite all of my allergies.  I can remember every sunset I’ve ever watched.  The rare times we actually do have a winter down here in Texas, I’m all about the snowball fights that end with a long, passionate kiss.  I love Valentine’s Day and I remember anniversaries.  I still have every gift that I’ve ever been given, even the really cheap and ugly things that I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing in public.  Every trinket, every stuffed animal, every card, every piece of jewelery, every note, every article of lingerie, every movie ticket — if it’s an artifact of a past or current relationship, I have it all safely stored in a place of honor. 

Yes, I adore everything that Love Story was selling and yet, as I watched Love Story, I felt myself growing more and more cynical with each passing moment.  Fortunately, the movie only last 99 minutes because if it had gone on for a few 120, I probably would have ended up “an old maid…closing up the library!” like Donna Reed in It’s a Wonderful Life.  The problem with Love Story isn’t that it’s not romantic; it’s that it takes the standard clichés of romance and embraces them to such an extent that I didn’t feel as if I was being manipulated by the film as much as I felt like I was being brutally violated by it.

Seriously, the entire time I was watching, I felt like the film was screaming at me, “Look at how beautiful they are!  Look at that sunset!  Listen to that music!  Cry, damn you, cry!”  Never mind the fact that MacGraw and O’Neal — pretty as they are to look at — generate close to zero chemistry.  Never mind that  MacGraw responds to being terminally ill by laying in bed with her hair artfully spread on the pillow behind her while director Arthur Hiller practically bathes her in a warm, saintly glow.  Never mind that “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” doesn’t make any freaking sense at all.  Trust me, if you love me and yet you still insist on acting like an asshole, you sure as Hell have to apologize to me. 

On the plus side, the film’s got one of those overdone, lush soundtracks; the type that can make you cry as long as you don’t pay attention to what’s happening on-screen.  (That said, Taylor Swift is nowhere to be found.)  Ryan O’Neal is surprisingly likable as Oliver but Ali MacGraw — oh my God, where do I begin?  Actually, I don’t think I will because there’s simply no way I can explain just how bad of a performance she gives here.  Instead, I’ll just point out that Love Story also features the film debut of Tommy Lee Jones.  He’s credited as Tom Lee Jones here and he plays Oliver’s roommate.  He’s an on-screen for about 12 seconds and he delivers exactly one line. 

Needless to say, he pretty much steals the entire film.