A Movie A Day #330: The Banker (1989, directed by William Webb)

It’s hard out here for a pimp and even worse for a banker.

Spaulding Osborne (Duncan Regehr) is a successful banker at the height of the 80s but handling all that money can be stressful.  Everyone needs a way to relax.  Osborne unwinds by painting his face like a tiger and murdering prostitutes with a laser sighted crossbow.  A worshipper of the ancient Gods, Osborne believes himself to be immortal and sees his murder spree as a way to collect souls.  Two pimps (Leif Garrett and Jeff Conaway) keep Osborne supplied with victims.  When Osborne suspects that one of the pimps has betrayed him, he demands that the pimp name all of the seven dwarves if he wants to live.  It pays to know your Disney.

What Osborne didn’t count on was that the chief of police (Richard Roundtree) would assign one of his weariest detectives, Dan (Robert Forster), to the case or that the detective’s TV reporter ex-wife (Shanna Reed) would get promoted to the anchor desk and start a crusade to have him captured.  Can Detective Dan capture Osborne before Osborne kills every prostitute in the city?  Will Dan be able to protect his ex-wife from the banker?

A film about a greedy banker who kills poor people on the side?  The Banker was released twenty years too early.  If it had been released in 2009, it probably would have an Oscar.  Instead, it was released straight-to-video in 1989 and exiled to late night Cinemax.  Unfortunately, the idea behind The Banker is more interesting than the execution, with most of the kills happening offscreen and any social commentary being rushed through so that the movie can get to the next nude scene.  Not surprisingly, the best thing about The Banker is Robert Forster, who is at his world-weary best.  Forster went through some tough times before Quentin Tarantino resurrected his career with Jackie Brown but movies like The Banker show that Forster never stopped giving good performances.


Back to School Part II #10: Grease (dir by Randal Kleiser)


When it comes to reviewing Grease on this site, the film and I have a long and twisted history.  There have been several times when I was tempted to review Grease but one thing has always stopped me:

I absolutely hate this film.

Grease is one of my least favorite films and, to be honest, just thinking about it causes me pain.  Just about everyone that I know loves Grease.  They love the songs.  They love the music.  They love the performances.  They want to see it on stage.  They want to see it on the big screen.  They watch every time it pops up on AMC.

Growing up as a theater nerd means being surrounded by people who love Grease.  I cannot begin to count the number of times that I forced to watch this movie in school.  So many theater teachers seemed to feel that showing Grease in class was some sort of reward but, for me, it was pure torture.  And the fact that I was usually the only one who disliked the film made the experience all the more unbearable.

Back in 2014, when I was doing the first set of Back To School reviews, I was planning on reviewing Grease.  But I just could not bring myself to voluntarily relive the film.  Instead of putting myself through that misery, I decided to watch and review Rock ‘n’ Roll High School instead.  It was the right decision and I stand by it.

Jump forward two years and here I am doing Back to School again.  And again, for some reason, I had put Grease down as a film to review.  It’s just a movie, right?  And yet, after I finished writing my excellent review of Animal House, I again found myself dreading the idea of having to even think about Grease.

So, I said, “Fuck this,” and I promptly erased Grease from the list and I replaced it with Skatetown USA.  Then I watched Skatetown and I’m glad that I did because that was an experience that I can’t wait to write about!  And yet, I still had this nagging voice in the back of my mind.

“You’re going to have to review Grease at some point,” it said, “If not now, when?”

The voice had a point.  However, I was soon reminded that there was an even more important reason to review Grease.  A little further down on my list of Back to School films to review was a little film called Grease 2.  How could I possibly review Grease 2 if I hadn’t already reviewed Grease?  My OCD would not allow it!

And so, here I am, reviewing Grease.

Grease, of course, is a musical about teenagers in 1958.  Danny (John Travolta) is in love with Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) and Sandy is in love with Danny.  But Danny’s a greaser and Sandy’s Australian!  Will they be able to work it out, despite coming from different worlds?  Of course they will!  Danny’s willing to dress up like a jock in order to impress Sandy while Sandy’s willing to wear black leather to impress Danny!  Yay!  They go together!  And they’ve got a flying car, too!  YAY!


And then Satan arrived…

Of course, there’s other subplots as well.  For instance, Frenchy (Didi Conn) nearly drops out of school but she’s visited by Satan (Frankie Avalon) and he manages to change her mind.  And Rizzo (Stockard Channing) might be pregnant because Kenickie (Jeff Conaway) hasn’t bought any new condoms since the 8th grade.  Comparing the sensitive way that teen pregnancy was handled on a show like Degrassi: The Next Generation with the way it’s handled in Grease is enough to make you want to sing “O Canada” every day for the rest of your life.

Here’s what I do like about Grease: Stockard Channing is great as Rizzo, though it’s hard not to feel that she deserves better than a doofus boyfriend like Kenickie and a boring bestie like Sandy.  I also like You’re The One That I Want.  That’s a fun song.

But as for the rest of the movie … BLEH!  I mean, it is so BORING!  It takes them forever to get to You’re The One That I Want.  Olivia Newton-John is so wholesome that she literally makes you want to tear your hair out while John Travolta pretty much acts on auto pilot.  As for the supporting cast, most of them appeared in the stage production of Grease and they still seem to be giving stage performances as opposed to film performances.  They’re still projecting their lines to the back of the house.  Worst of all, it’s obvious that director Randal Kleiser had no idea how to film a musical because the dance numbers are so ineptly staged and framed that, half the time, you can’t even see what anyone’s doing with their feet.  If you can’t see the feet, it defeats the whole purpose of having an elaborate dance number in the first place!

So, no, I don’t like Grease.

Sorry, everyone.

However, I’m sure I’ll enjoy Grease 2….

Love you, Canada!

Love you, Canada!

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #37: Jennifer on My Mind (dir by Noel Black)

jommThe 1971 film Jennifer On My Mind opens with a lengthy montage of black-and-white photographs of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island.  These, the film tells us, are the men and women who came to America with nothing and who fought and struggled to have something.  The film itself deals with the grandchildren of those immigrants, who, as opposed to their ancestors, now have everything and who seem to be determined to reduce it all down to nothing.

24 year-old Marcus Rottner (Michael Brandon) would appear to have everything.  Following the death of his father, Marcus has inherited the fortune that his immigrant grandfather earned.  (The ghost of his grandfather shows up at one point and smokes a joint.)  Marcus will never have to work a day in his life, owns a nice apartment, and can go to Europe whenever he feels like it.  However, Marcus does have one problem: his girlfriend Jennifer (Tally Walker) just died of a heroin overdose in his living room.  Now, Marcus has to try to dispose of the body without anyone discovering what has happened.

The film alternates between showing Marcus’s attempts to get ride of Jennifer’s body and flashbacks to his romance with her.  We see how he first met Jennifer in Venice and how he fell in love with her.  Like Marcus, Jennifer comes from a rich family.  Her parents are alive but we never see them.  (Reportedly, scenes were filmed that featured Kim Hunter as Jennifer’s mother but they were cut after a disastrous preview.)  As she leaves Venice, Jennifer tells Marcus to visit her back in the states.

Which is just what Marcus does.  Marcus and Jennifer’s relationship plays out like a romantic comedy, except for the fact that Jennifer doesn’t really seem to care that much for Marcus.  After Jennifer jumps off a roof, Marcus takes her back to Venice and tries to recreate their earlier romance.  However, Jennifer just wants to go back to New York…

About ten minutes into the film, I nearly stopped watching Jennifer On My Mind.  Both Marcus and Jennifer seemed like such unlikable characters that I couldn’t imagine spending a full 90 minutes with them.  The fact that they were both rich and spoiled didn’t help.

But I kept watching because the first part of the film was set in Venice and I love Venice!  Watching those scenes reminded me of visiting Italy the summer after I graduated from high school.  It was a great time and, despite how I felt about Marcus and Jennifer, the film still brought back some nice memories.

However, then Marcus and Jennifer returned to New York and, since I don’t really care about New York the way that I care about Venice, I again found myself tempted to stop watching.  However, it was around this time that I started to realize that Michael Brandon was actually giving a pretty good performance in the role of Marcus.  So, I decided to keep giving the film a chance.

And then the ghost of Marcus’s grandfather showed up.  And then, the film gave us a scene of Jennifer hanging out with the two traveling “minstrels.”  And I thought to myself, “This is getting unbearably cutesy…”

But then, Robert De Niro showed up!  That’s right — Jennifer On My Mind is an early De Niro movie.  When Marcus hails a cab and asks for a ride to Long Island, the taxi driver is played by none other than Robert De Niro.  And while De Niro is only in the film for a few minutes, he totally steals those few minutes.  He plays a “gypsy” cab driver in this film and, as he drives Marcus to Long Island, he rambles about his sister, his drugs, and his fear of driving Marcus to see a bunch of “squares.”  De Niro is such an eccentric and energetic presence that he brings the whole film to life.

After De Niro’s scene, there was only 30 minutes left in the film and I thought to myself, “Okay, I can give this another 30 minutes…”

Written by Love Story‘s Erich Segal and directed by Pretty Poison‘s Noel Black, Jennifer On My Mind is an uneven but oddly watchable film.  If you’re looking for quirky love story … well, I really can’t recommend Jennifer On My Mind because it never really convinces you that Marcus and Jennifer are in love.  For the most part, their relationship seems to be one of convenience.  Jennifer wants drugs and Marcus can afford them.  Marcus wants a girlfriend and Jennifer is willing to pretend.  Instead, Jennifer On My Mind is more like a parody of true romance.  Marcus spends the entire film wanting Jennifer’s body and now that he has it, he has to find a way to get rid of it.

It’s undeniably uneven; for every scene that works, there’s another one that doesn’t.  But, at the same time, it’s undeniably watchable.  Plus, you get an early performance from Robert De Niro!

Jennifer On My Mind is currently available to viewed on Netflix.