Any Given Sunday (1999, directed by Oliver Stone)


With Any Given Sunday, Oliver Stone set out to make the ultimate football movie and he succeeded.

Any Given Sunday is not just the story of aging coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino).  It’s also the story of how third-string quarterback Willie Beamon (Jamie Foxx) allows celebrity to go to his head while the injured starter, Cap Rooney (Dennis Quaid), deals with his own mortality and how, at 38, he is now over-the-hill.  It’s also about how the team doctors (represented by James Woods and Matthew Modine) are complicit in pushing the players beyond their limits and how the owners (Cameron Diaz) view those players as a commodity to be traded and toyed with.  It’s about how the Sharks represent their home city of Miami and how cynical columnists (John C. McGinley plays a character that is obviously meant to be Jim Rome) deliberately set out to inflame the anger of the team’s fans.  It’s about how politicians (Clifton Davis plays Miami’s mayor and asks everyone to “give me some love”) use professional sports to further their own corrupt careers while the often immature men who play the game are elevated into role models by the press.  It’s a film that compares football players to ancient gladiators while also showing how the game has become big business.  In typical Oliver Stone fashion, it tries to take on every aspect of football while also saying something about America as well.

In the role on Tony D, Pacino famously describes football as being “a game of inches” but you wouldn’t always know it from the way that Oliver Stone directs Any Given Sunday.  As a director, Stone has never been one to only gain an inch when he could instead grab an entire mile.  (Stone is probably the type of Madden player who attempts to have his quarterback go back and throw a hail mary on every single play.)  Tony tells his players to be methodical but Stone directs in a fashion that is sloppy, self-indulgent, and always entertaining to watch.  One minute, Al Pacino and Jim Brown are talking about how much the game has changed and the next minute, LL Cool J is doing cocaine off of a groupie’s breast while images of turn-of-the-century football players flash on the screen.  No sooner has Jamie Foxx delivered an impassioned speech about the lack of black coaches in the league then he’s suddenly starring in his own music video and singing about how “Steamin’ Willie Beamon” leaves all the ladies “creamin’.”  (It rhymes, that’s the important thing.)  When Tony invites Willie over to his house, scenes of Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur are on TV.  Later in the movie, Heston shows up as the Commissioner and says, about Cameron Diaz, “she would eat her young.”

Any Given Sunday is Oliver Stone at both his best and his worst.  The script is overwritten and overstuffed with every possible sports cliché  but the football scenes are some of the most exciting that have ever been filmed.  Only Oliver Stone could get away with both opening the film with a quote from Vince Lombardi and then having a player literally lose an eye during the big game.  Stone himself appears in the commentator’s both, saying, “I think he may have hurt his eye,” while the doctor’s in the end zone scoop up the the torn out eyeball and put it into a plastic bag.  Only Stone could get away with Jamie Foxx vomiting on the field during every game and then making amazing plays while a combination of rap, heavy metal, and techno roars in the background.  Stone regulars like James Woods and John C. McGinely make valuable appearances and while Woods may be playing a villain, he’s the only person in the film willing to call out the coaches, the players, the owners, and the fans at home as being a bunch of hypocrites.  Stone’s direction is as hyper-kinetic as always but he still has no fear of stopping the action so that Foxx can see sepia-toned images of football’s past staring at him from the stands.  Stone directs like defensive lineman on steroids, barreling his way through every obstacle to take down his target.  No matter what, the game goes on.

Any Given Sunday is the ultimate football movie and more fun than the last ten super bowls combined.

Horror Scenes I Love: The Dead Rise From The Ground In Poltergeist


This is from 1982’s Poltergeist.

I love Craig T. Nelson’s delivery of the headstones speech.  James Karen is staring at him the whole time like he’s thinking, “Is anyone going to say ‘cut?'”

4 Shots From 4 James Karen Horror Films: Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster, Poltergeist, Return of the Living Dead, Return of the Living Dead Part II


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Yesterday, we lost one of the great character actors, James Karen.  Over the course of his long career, Karen appeared work in almost genre imaginable, including horror.  Today, we pay tribute to him with….

4 Shots From 4 James Karen Horror Films

Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster (1965, dir by Robert Gaffney)

Poltergeist (1982, dir by Tobe Hooper)

Return of the Living Dead (1985, dir by Dan O’Bannon)

Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988, dir by Ken Wiederhorn)

Horror On The Lens: Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster (dir by Robert Gaffney) (RIP, James Karen)


Today’s horror on the lens is dedicated to the memory of the great character actor James Karen.  Horror fans will remember him from Return of the Living Dead and Poltergeist.  He appeared in a countless number of films, usually playing men of authority.  1965’s Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster featured him in a rare starring role.

Despite the movie’s title, it’s not about Frankenstein.  Instead, it’s about an astronaut named Frank who is actually an android.  When his latest mission into space goes wrong, Frank ends up crashing in Puerto Rico.  Now malfunctioning, Frank causes some major chaos.  Can his creator, Dr. Adam Steele (James Karen), track Frank down and put an end to his reign of terror?

And what about the Martians?  Android Frank isn’t the only threat in Puerto Rico.  A group of Martians have landed and are determined to kidnap any girl wearing a bikini so that they can use them to repopulate their race.  We’re told that every woman on Mars — with the apparent exception of Princess Marcuzan, played with evil haughtiness by Marilyn Hanold — has been killed as the result of an atomic war.  Assisting Princess Marcuzan is Dr. Nadir (Lou Cutell), a short, bald Martian with pointy ears.

One of the oddest things about Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster is that, despite being a standard — if wonderfully nonsensical — low-budget B-movie, it features a great soundtrack!

Enjoy!

Horror Film Review: Poltergeist (dir by Tobe Hooper)


The 1982 film Poltergeist tells the story of the Freeling family.

There’s Steven the father (Craig T. Nelson) and Diana the mother (JoBeth Williams).  There’s the snarky teenager daughter, Dana (Dominique Dunne), who has a surprisingly good knowledge of the local motel scene.  There’s the son, Robbie (Oliver Robins), who is scared of not only a big ugly tree but also a big ugly clown doll that, for some reason, sits in his bedroom.  And then there’s the youngest daughter, Carol Ann (Heather O’Rourke).

They live in a planned community in Orange County, sitting just a few miles away from the cemetery.  (Or so they think….)  They’ve got a nice house.  They’ve got nice neighbors.  They’ve got a nice dog.  They’re getting a pool in the backyard.  There are hints that Steven and Diana may have once done the whole rebellion thing.  They still occasionally get high, though they do it with a smugness that somehow manages to make marijuana seem less appealing.  But, for the most part, Steven and Diana are happy members of the establishment.  Steven sells real estate and is a favorite of his boss, Mr. Teague (James Karen).  Diana is a stay-at-home mom who doesn’t get upset when some unseen spirit rearranges all the furniture in the kitchen (seriously, that would drive me crazy).  They’re the type of family that falls asleep in front of the TV at night, which is a bit of a mistake as Carol Ann has started talking to the “TV people.”

Strange things start to happen.  As mentioned earlier, furniture starts to rearrange itself.  Whenever Carol Ann sits down in the kitchen, an unseen force moves her across the floor.  Diana, for whatever reason, thinks this is the greatest thing ever.  Then, on the night of a big storm, the big ugly tree tries to eat Robbie and Carol Ann goes into a closet and doesn’t come out.  Though Carol Ann has vanished, the Freelings can still hear her voice.  Apparently, she’s been sucked into another dimension and she’s being encouraged to go into the light.

Of course, this leads to the usual collection of paranormal researchers moving in.  The house decides to pick on one unfortunate guy and he ends up not only eating maggot-filled meat but also imagining his face falling apart over a sink.  A medium named Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein) comes by and reprimands Steven and Diana for not doing exactly what she says.  Of course, it turns out that Tangina isn’t quite as infallible as she claims to be….

To me, Poltergeist is the epitome of a “Why didn’t they just leave the house” type of film.  Don’t get me wrong.  I understand that once Carol Ann vanished, Diana and Steven had to stay in the house to rescue their daughter.  I’m talking about all the stuff that went on before the big storm.  Seriously, if a ghost started moving furniture around in the kitchen, I’m leaving the house.  At the very least, I’m not going to take my youngest daughter and invite the ghost to push her around the kitchen.  Even stranger is that, at the end of the film, the Freelings still don’t leave the house even though the situation with Carol Ann has been resolved.  They hire a moving truck and make plans to leave but, instead of spending a night in a hotel, they instead decide to spend one more night in a house that’s apparently possessed by Satan.

Poltergeist is famous for bringing together two filmmakers who really seem like they should exist in different universes.  Steven Spielberg produced while Tobe Hooper directed.  It seems like it’s impossible to read a review of Poltergeist without coming across speculation as to how much of the film should be credited to Spielberg and how much should be credited to Hooper.  It must be said that the film does occasionally feel like it’s at war with itself, as if it can’t decide whether to embrace Spielberg’s middle class sensibilities or Hooper’s counter-culture subversiveness.  On the one hand, the emphasis on special effects and the early scenes where the Freelings watch TV and Steven gets into a remote control fight with his neighbor all feel like something Steven Spielberg would have come up with.  On the other hand, the obvious joy that the film takes in tormenting the Freelings feels more like Tobe Hooper than Steven Spielberg.  Or take the film’s finale, where the special effects are pure Spielberg but the scene of Diana getting assaulted in bed and then thrown around her bedroom feels like pure Hooper.  Really, it’s the mix of two sensibilities that make the film compelling.  Poltergeist’s planned community is appealing but it’ll still kill you.

Anyway, I like Poltergeist.  I certainly prefer the original to the remake.  It’s a silly film in many ways but it’s still effective.  Once you get over how stupid Diana acts during the first part of the film, JoBeth Williams gives a strong performance as a mother determined to protect her children.  And Craig T. Nelson gives a classic over the top performance, especially towards the end of the film.  Just listen as he screams, “Don’t look back!”  That said, my favorite performance comes from James Karen, who is perfectly sleazy as the outwardly friendly, cost-cutting land developer.

Poltergeist is still a good, scary film.  And, if anyone wants to play a lengendary prank this Halloween, show it to someone who has a fear of clowns.

Horror Scenes That I Love: Craig T. Nelson Freaks Out In Poltergeist


Admittedly, this is a pretty short scene.  It’s only 16 seconds, taking from the much longer climax of 1982’s Poltergeist.

That said, this is one of the greatest over-the-top moments in cinematic history.  Craig T. Nelson basically acts the Hell out of accusing his boss of …. well, you’ll see….

(Also, give some praise to the one and only James Karen, heroically bugging out his eyes there at the end.)

A Movie A Day #355: F.I.S.T. (1978, directed by Norman Jewison)


Sylvester Stallone is Jimmy Hoffa!

Actually, Stallone plays Johnny Kovak, a laborer who becomes a union organizer in 1939.  Working with him is his best friend, Abe Belkin (David Huffman).  In the fight for the working man, Abe refuses to compromise to either the bosses or the gangsters who want a piece of union.  Johnny is more pragmatic and willing to make deals with ruthless mobsters like Vince Doyle (Kevin Conway) and Babe Milano (Tony Lo Bianco).  Over thirty years, both Johnny and Abe marry and start families.  Both become powerful in the union.  When Johnny discovers that union official Max Graham (Peter Boyle) is embezzling funds, Johnny challenges him for the presidency.  When a powerful U.S. senator (Rod Steiger) launches an investigation into F.I.S.T. corruption, both Johnny and Abe end up marked for death.

Obviously based on the life and mysterious disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, F.I.S.T. was one of two films that Stallone made immediately after the surprise success of Rocky.  (The other was Paradise Alley.)  F.I.S.T. features Stallone in one of his most serious roles and the results are mixed.  In the film’s quieter scenes, especially during the first half, Stallone is surprisingly convincing as the idealistic and morally conflicted Kovak.  Stallone is less convincing when Kovak has to give speeches.  If F.I.S.T. were made today, Stallone could probably pull off the scenes of the aged, compromised Johnny but in 1978, he was not yet strong enough as an actor.  Far better is the rest of the cast, especially Conway, Lo Bianco, and Boyle.  If you do see F.I.S.T., keep an eye on the actor playing Johnny’s son.  Though he was credited as Cole Dammett, he grew up to be Anthony Keidis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The box office failures of both F.I.S.T. and Paradise Alley led Stallone back to his most famous role with Rocky II.  And the rest is history.

 

Horror on the Lens: Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster (dir


For today’s selection of horror on the lens, we offer up the odd 1965 horror/sci-fi/beach movie hybrid, Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster.  Despite the movie’s title, it’s not about Frankenstein.  Instead, it’s about an astronaut named Frank who is actually an android.  When his latest mission into space goes wrong, Frank ends up crashing in Puerto Rico.  Now malfunctioning, Frank causes some major chaos.  Can his creator, Dr. Adam Steele (played by character actor James Karen, who years later would appear in Return of the Living Dead), track Frank down and put an end to his reign of terror?

And what about the Martians?  Android Frank isn’t the only threat in Puerto Rico.  A group of Martians have landed and are determined to kidnap any girl wearing a bikini so that they can use them to repopulate their race.  We’re told that every woman on Mars — with the apparent exception of Princess Marcuzan, played with evil haughtiness by Marilyn Hanold — has been killed as the result of an atomic war.  Assisting Princess Marcuzan is Dr. Nadir (Lou Cutell), a short, bald Martian with pointy ears.

One of the oddest things about Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster is that, despite being a standard — if wonderfully nonsensical — low-budget B-movie, it features a great soundtrack!

Enjoy!

A Movie A Day #259: Take This Job And Shove It (1981, directed by Gus Trikonis)


Originally from a small town in Iowa, Frank Macklin (Robert Hays) is a hotshot young executive with The Ellison Group.  When Frank is assigned to manage and revitalize a failing brewery in his hometown, it is a chance for Frank to rediscover his roots.  His childhood friends (played by actors like David Keith, Tim Thomerson, and Art Carney) may no longer trust him now that Frank wears a tie but it only takes a few monster truck rallies and a football game in a bar for Frank to show that he is still one of them.  However, Frank discovers that the only reason that he was sent to make the brewery profitable was so that his bosses could sell it to a buffoonish millionaire who doesn’t know the first thing about how to run a business.  Will Frank stand by while his bosses screw over the hardworking men and women of the heartland?  Or will he say, “You can take this job and shove it?”

Named after a country music song and taking place almost entirely in places stocked with beer, Take This Job And Shove It is a celebration of all things redneck.  This movie is so redneck in nature that a major subplot involves monster trucks.  Bigfoot, one of the first monster trucks, gets plenty of screen time and, in some advertisements, was given higher billing than Art Carney.

A mix of low comedy and sentimental drama, Take This Job And Shove It is better than it sounds.  In some ways, it is a prescient movie: the working class frustrations and the anger at being forgotten in a “booming economy” is the same anger that, 35 years later, would be on display during the election of 2016.  Take This Job And Shove It also has an interesting and talented cast, most of whom rise above the thinly written dialogue.  Along with Hays, Keith, Thomerson, Bigfoot, and Carney, keep an eye out for: Eddie Albert, Royal Dano, James Karen, Penelope Milford, Virgil Frye, George “Goober” Lindsey, and Barbara Hershey (who, as usual, is a hundred times better than the material she has to work with).

One final note: Martin Mull plays Hays’s corporate rival.  His character is named Dick Ebersol.  Was that meant to be an inside joke at the expense of the real Dick Ebersol, who has the executive producer of Saturday Night Live when Take This Job and Shove It was filmed and who later became the president of NBC Sports?

Horror On The Lens: Time Walker (dir by Tom Kennedy)


Today’s horror on the lens is 1982’s Time Walker!

Time Walker tells the story of what happens when a mummy that’s actually an alien awakens on a college campus.  As you might guess, mayhem and bad fashion choices ensue.  To be honest, Time Walker is not the best horror film ever made.  In fact, it’s actually pretty bad.  However, it is definitely a time capsule of the era in which it was produced and it has one of those WTF endings that you kind of have to see for yourself.

Enjoy!