You’re Killing Me, Smalls!: Let’s Play in THE SANDLOT (20th Century-Fox 1993)


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Baseball movies are as American as apple pie, and everyone has their favorites, from classic era films like THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES and TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME to latter-day fare like THE NATURAL and FIELD OF DREAMS. There’s so much to choose from, comedies, dramas, and everything in-between. One of my all-time favorites is 1993’s coming of age classic, THE SANDLOT.

Like most baseball movies, THE SANDLOT is about more than just The Great American Pastime. Director David Mickey Evans’ script (co-written with Robert Gunter) takes us back to 1962, as young Scotty Smalls has moved to a brand new neighborhood in a brand new city. His dad died, and his mom (Karen Allen of NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE fame) has remarried preoccupied Bill (young comedian Denis Leary…. hmmm, I wonder what ever happened to him??), who tries to teach the nerdy kid how to play…

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A Movie A Day #294: Ghost In the Machine (1993, directed by Rachel Talaly)


Karl (Ted Marcoux) is a serial killer who works in an electronics store and who steals address books and uses them to pick his victims.  His latest stolen address book belongs to Terry (Karen Allen).  Before Karl can start killing Terry’s family and friends, he is killed in a car accident.  Because there is a lightning storm going on at the same time, the dead Karl is able to transfer his evil soul into the electrical grid.  Traveling from appliance to appliance, Karl starts to kill all of Terry’s friends and co-workers.  A microwave oven.  A hand dryer.  A dishwasher.  If it is electrical, Karl can use it to kill.  Fortunately, Terry knows a legendary hacker (Chris Mulkey) who can help her fight back.

Like Prison, Destroyer, and The Horror Show, Ghost in the Machine is another dumb movie about a psycho who gets his soul transformed into electricity.  Ghost In The Machine was also obviously influenced by The Lawnmower Man and the entire movie is full of early 90s paranoia about the internet and computers in general.  Rachel Talaly, who got her start with the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise and who has recently directed some of the best received episodes of Doctor Who, does a good job with the deaths but cannot do anything with the lousy script and unlikable characters.  Nearly everyone who dies is killed because they know Terry but that never seems to bother her.

I think every 90s kid, or at least every 90s male, watched Ghost In The Machine on HBO and had a crush on Shevonne Durkin.

Back to School Part II #9: National Lampoon’s Animal House (dir by John Landis)


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You know what?  I’m going to start this review with the assumption that you’ve already seen the classic 1978 college comedy, National Lampoon’s Animal House.  At the very least, I’m going to assume that you’ve heard of it and that you know the general details.  Animal House was not only a huge box office success but it’s also one of the most influential films ever made.  Almost every comedy released since 1978 owes a debt to the success of Animal House.  Just as every subsequent high school film was directly descended from American Graffiti, every college film features at least a little Animal House in its DNA.

So, with that in mind, who is your favorite member of Delta House?

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Most people, I think, would automatically say Bluto (played by John Belushi) and certainly, Bluto is the best known and perhaps best-remembered member of the cast.  As played by Belushi, Bluto is the film’s rampaging ID and he’s such a force of nature that, whenever I rewatch Animal House, I’m surprised to be reminded of the fact that he’s not really in the film that much.  He’s present for the parties, of course.  He imitates a zit and starts a food fight.  He gives a rousing speech, in which he reminds the members of the Delta House that America didn’t give up after “the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor!”  He destroys a folk singer’s guitar and I personally love the scene where he tries to cheer up a despondent pledge by smashing a beer bottle over his head.  But really, Bluto is used very sparingly and he’s one of the few members of the ensemble not to get his own subplot.  Bluto’s great but he’s not my favorite member of Delta House.

Hoover

Believe it or not, my favorite member of Delta House is Robert Hoover (James Widdoes).  Hoover is the president of Delta House and, when we first meet him, he seems like he’s way too clean-cut to be in charge of the “worst house” on campus.  But then, as the film progresses, we discover that Hoover may not be as openly crazy as everyone else but he’s definitely a Delta.  Just watch him in the Toga party scene.  Just look at him in the picture that shows up during the closing credits.  It took me a while to realize that Hoover, the future public defender, was giving the camera the finger.  Hoover may look uptight but he’s secretly a wild man!

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One of the things that I love about Animal House is that it truly is an ensemble film.  There’s not a weak performance to be found in the entire movie.  No matter how wild or over-the-top the humor gets, the entire cast commits to their roles and, as a result, they keep this movie grounded.  You actually find yourself caring about whether or not they get kicked off campus.  You truly believe that the members of Delta House have been friends for years but, even more importantly, you believe the same thing about their rivals at Omega House.  For that matter, it may be easy to make fun of Dean Wormer (John Vernon, setting the template for all evil deans to come) but you never doubt that he’s been in charge of Faber College for years and that he’s planning on being in charge for years to come.  As played by the deep-voiced and sinister-looking Vernon, Wormer becomes every unreasonable authority figure.  When he explains the concept of super secret probation, he does so with a smug pleasure that is practically chilling.  When he mentions that the members of Delta House can now be drafted, the smile on his face is terrifying.

Wormer

You know who else gives a really good performance in Animal House?  Donald Sutherland.  At the time, Sutherland was the biggest star in the film.  He was offered either a percentage of the grosses or a flat fee.  Sutherland thought the film would flop, took the flat fee, and missed out on millions as a result. Sutherland plays Prof. Jennings, an English teacher who, in the only scene actually set in a classroom, desperately tries to get his bored students to pay attention to him.  There’s something so poignant about the way Jennings begs his students to turn in their papers.  “I’m not joking,” he sputters, “this is my job!”

Jennings

Jennings turns out to be free thinker.  He turns Boone (Peter Riefert), Katie (Karen Allen), and Pinto (Tom Hulce) onto marijuana.  There’s an anachronistic peace sign hanging in his apartment (Animal House takes place in 1963) but no matter.  Far worse is the fact that he temporarily breaks up Boone and Katie!  Everyone knows those two belong together!

Bluto and Flounder

You know who else doesn’t get enough credit for his performance in Animal House?  Stephen Furst.  He plays Flounder, a new pledge.  Flounder is just so enthusiastic about everything and he doesn’t even seem to be upset when Wormer tells him, “Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life.”  I love the enthusiastic way that Furst delivers simple lines like, “What’s my Delta Chi name?” and “Brother Bluto!  Brother D-Day!  What are you doing here!?” My favorite Flounder moment comes when he accidentally gives a horse a heart attack.  Technically, it shouldn’t be funny but it is because Furst, Belushi, and Bruce McGill (playing the role of D-Day) so thoroughly throw themselves into their roles.  For that matter, the horse did a pretty good job too.

Boone and Otter

But that’s not all!  How can I praise the ensemble of Animal House without mention Tim Matheson, who plays Otter, the future Beverly Hills gynecologist?  Or what about Kevin Bacon, playing Omega pledge Chip Diller?  This was Bacon’s first role and who can forget him shouting, “Thank you, sir, may I have another!” while being initiated into Omega House?  Or how about James Daughton and Mark Metcalf, as the two leaders of Omega House?  They were villains truly worth hissing!

Omega House

And yes, I know that a lot of the humor in Animal House is not politically correct but who cares?  It’s a hilarious movie, one that is full of good actors at their absolute best.  Yes, they’re all a bunch of privileged sexists blah blah blah, but I’d still party with the Delta House.  They know how to have fun and, even if they did wreck the Homecoming Parade, they had a good reason!

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And so is the movie.  Every time I see Animal House, I feel good about the world.  In 1978, The Deer Hunter was named best picture by the Academy.  Well, you know what?  With all due respect to that long epic about the tragedy of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War,  all the Oscars should have gone to Animal House!

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In conclusion … SING IT!

Let me t-t-tell you ’bout some friends I know
They’re kinda crazy but you’ll dig the show
They can party ’till the break of dawn
at Delta Chi you can’t go wrong

Otter, he’s the ladies man
Every girl falls into his hands
Boon and Katy playing “Cat and Mouse”

and Mrs. Wormer, she’s the queen of the
ANIMAL HOUSE

ANIMAL HOUSE

ANIMAL HOUSE

That Pinto he’s a real swell guy
Clorette was jailbait but he gave her a try
Chip, Doug, and Greg, they’re second to none
They studied under Attila the Hun

Mr. Jennings has got his wig on tight
Flouder’s left shoe’s always on his right
Babs and Mandy are having a pillow fight
With D-Day, Hoover, Otis Day and the Knights

DO THE BLUTO

Come on baby, dance with me
Maybe if we do the Bluto
We will get an “A” in lobotomy

DO THE BLUTO
DO THE BLUTO

DO THE BLUTO
DO THE BLUTO

Aw, come on!
Let me tell ya
Dean Wormer tried to shut us down
But he fell and he broke his crown
He didn’t know about the Delta spunk
He came in handy when we were short a skunk

At the

ANIMAL HOUSE

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Embracing the Melodrama Part II #67: Split Image (dir by Ted Kotcheff)


Split_Image_VHS_coverUnlike Desperate Lives, the 1982 melodrama Split Image is available to be viewed on YouTube.  In fact, you can watch it below and I suggest that you do so.  It’s a pretty good film and, apparently, it’s never been released on DVD or Blu-ray and it’ll probably never be available on Netflix either. So, if you’ve ever wanted to see Peter Fonda play a cult leader, your best bet is to watch the video below.

But before you watch the video, here’s a little information on Split Image, one of the best films that you’ve never heard of.

Essentially, the film follows the same plot as the Canadian film Ticket To Heaven.  A college athlete (played by Michael O’Keefe) starts dating a girl (Karen Allen) who is a member of a sinister religious cult.  Soon, O’Keefe is a brainwashed member of the cult and only answering to the name of Joshua.  (The head of the cult is played, in an appropriately spaced-out manner, by Peter Fonda.)  His parents (Brian Dennehy and Elizabeth Ashley) hire a cult deprogrammer (James Woods) to kidnap their son and break Fonda’s hold on him.  However, it turns out that Woods’ methods are almost as psychologically destructive as Fonda’s manipulation.

Even if it’s not quite as memorably creepy as Ticket To Heaven, Split Image is still a well-made film, featuring excellent performances from Dennehy, Woods, O’Keefe, and Fonda.  However, for me, the most interesting thing about Split Image is that it was largely filmed and set down here in Dallas.  Just watch the scene where Woods and his men attempt to kidnap Michael O’Keefe.  It was shot on the campus of Richland Community College, which is one of the places where I regularly go to run.

(Interestingly enough, 33 years after the release of Split Image, Richland still looks exactly the same!)

You can watch Split Image below!

 

Embracing the Melodrama #50: In the Bedroom (dir by Todd Field)


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If some enterprising young filmmaker were to try to remake Ordinary People as a film noir, he would probably be wasting his time because director Todd Field already beat him to it with the 2001 best picture nominee In The Bedroom.

In the Bedroom takes place in a small town in Maine, the type of idyllic location where almost everyone is a fisherman and, in one way or another, everyone’s future is dependent on the whims of the rich and powerful Strout family.  Dr. Matt Fowler (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife Ruth (Sissy Spacek) seem to have the perfect life: a happy marriage and a smart and likable son, Frank Fowler (Nick Stahl).  Frank has just graduated from college and appears to have a great future ahead of him except for one thing.  He’s fallen in love with Natalie Strout (Marisa Tomei), the ex-wife of the abusive Richard Strout (William Mapother).  When Frank announces that he’s thinking about not going to grad school but instead staying in town so he can work as a fisherman and marry Natalie, Ruth is horrified that her son is throwing his life away.  However, Matt argues that Frank is just going through a phase.

The violent and unstable Richard is determined to win Natalie back.  When Frank attempts to protect Natalie during one of Richard’s rampages, Richard kills Frank by shooting him in the eye.  Richard is arrested for the murder but, largely as a result of his family’s influence, he is only convicted of accidental manslaughter and gets off with probation.  Matt and Ruth are left to both work through their grief and guilt and to eventually seek their own violent vengeance on Richard Strout.

In the Bedroom is probably one of the darkest films that I’ve ever seen in my entire life.  Not only is the film thematically dark but a good deal of it takes place at night and Todd Field fills the screens with shadows.  In the Bedroom is full of scenes of characters just staring at each other, struggling to find the right words to express their feelings and, far too often, simply giving up and saying nothing.  Field makes good use of the frequent silence though.  When Matt and Ruth yell at each other in the kitchen of their home, it’s both shocking and poignant because it stands in such sharp contrast to their usual silence.  Later. when Matt confronts Richard, the frequent pauses in their strained conversation serves to make the scene all the more ominous and creepy.

However, despite being one of the saddest films ever made, In The Bedroom is worth watching just for the performances of the cast.  You probably know that Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, and Marisa Tomei are all great so instead, I’m going to focus on the two members of the cast who did not receive Oscar nominations.  William Mapother does a really good job playing an unlikable character.  The dangerous yet dorky vibe that made him so menacing when he played Ethan Rohm on Lost is fully present and put to good use here.  Finally, Nick Stahl gives a wonderful performance as poor, doomed Frank.  With limited screen time, Stahl makes Frank into such a believable and sympathetic character that his death becomes a tragedy that the audience feels as well.

Sadly, Nick Stahl has recently been in the new more for his personal troubles than his film careers.  Films like In The Bedroom and Bully show why Nick deserves a chance to make a comeback.

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