Cleaning Out The DVR: One On One (dir by Lamont Johnson)


Sometimes, I come across things on my DVR that I not only have no memory of recording but which I also cannot, for the life of me, figure out why I decided to record it in the first place.  I recorded the 1977 film One On One off of TCM on January 17th and I’m not really sure why.

It’s not that One On One is a terrible movie or anything like that.  It’s an extremely predictable film and it’s got one of those soundtracks that is extremely 70s but not cool disco-style 70s.  No, instead this film is full of the type of soft rock music that your grandmother listens to while driving to the local CVS Pharmacy.  (The majority of the songs are performed by a group called Seals and Croft and are painfully undanceable.)  But, even with that in mind, it’s not really a bad movie.  If I’m confused about why I recorded it, it’s because One on One is a movie about basketball, which is a sport that holds absolutely zero interest for me.

(My main issue with basketball has to do with the sound of all of those squeaky shoes on the court.)

But, before going any further, let’s watch a commercial:

One on One tells the story of Henry Steele (Robby Benson), a high school basketball star.  Henry is from Colorado, which this film seems to suggest is the equivalent of coming from Siberia.  When Moreland Smith (G.D. Spradlin). the renowned coach of Western University’s basketball team, offers Henry a full athletic scholarship, Henry negotiates a pretty good deal for himself.  Not only is his education going to be paid for but he also wins a guarantee that he’ll never be cut from the team and that his father will get a car.  All Henry has to do is keep his grades up but that shouldn’t be a problem.  Sure, Henry appears to be an idiot but the athletic department will set him up with a tutor and, as long as the coach is happy with him, it’s not like Henry’s actually going to have to go to class.

Upon arriving in Los Angeles, Henry picks up a hitchhiker (a very young Melanie Griffith) who promptly robs him of all of his money.  Once he arrives at the university, he discovers that Coach Smith is not going to be the surrogate father figure that he was expecting.  Instead, Coach Smith is a rather cold and ruthless taskmaster, whose main concern is winning.  When Henry, who is by far the shortest player on the team, struggles, Smith tells Henry that he needs to renounce his scholarship and return home.  When Henry refuses to do so, Smith becomes obsessed with trying to break him.

As Henry’s roommate, Tom (Cory Faucher), points out, Henry’s head is not in the game.  Instead, Henry can’t stop thinking about his tutor, Janet (Annette O’Toole).  At first, Janet assumes that Henry is just a dumb jock, largely because Henry’s a jock and he spends the first half of the movie acting really, really dumb.  Then, out of nowhere, Henry reveals that he’s not only read Moby Dick but he can quote passages from memory.  In fact, Henry even understands that Ahab was — wait for it — obsessed!  Oh my God, Janet realizes, Henry’s literate!  In fact, Janet exclaims that Henry is the first person she’s met who has actually read Moby Dick!  (Really?)  Janet and Henry fall in love but, unfortunately, Janet is already dating her psychology professor.

(The professor has got a beard that looks like it reeks of stale weed and he says stuff like, “Have you seen my sandals?,” so we know better than to take him seriously when he compares the popularity of college athletics to the rise of fascism.  When Henry accuses him of being a hippie, the professor just smirks and says something condescending.  Stupid hippie.)

Will Janet and Henry fall in love?  Will Janet dump her unattractive and unappealing boyfriend so she can date Henry?  Will Henry manage to pass his classes?  Will Henry ever get a chance to prove himself on the court?  Will … oh, why even ask these questions?  You already know what’s going to happen in this movie.  There’s really not a single unexpected moment to be found in One on One.  Everything about the film, from the coach’s ruthlessness to Henry’s transformation from idiot to savvy player, feels pre-ordained.  It’s a predictable movie but, at the same time, it’s a likable movie.  At the start of the film, Benson overplays Henry’s stupidity and O’Toole overplays Janet’s brittleness but, at the film progresses, both performers seem to relax and, by the time the end credits role, they’re actually a fairly likable couple.  Benson even gets a killer final line, one that I imagine made audiences in 1977 applaud.

That said, the film is pretty much stolen by G.D. Spradlin.  Spradlin was a former Oklahoma oilman who reinvented himself as a politician and then as a character actor.  Best known for playing Senator Pat Geary in The Godfather, Part II, Spradlin had a flair for bringing casually corrupt authority figures to life.  In One on One, Spradlin turns Coach Smith into a Mephistophelean figure, offering Henry success at the cost of his soul.  Coach Smith is arrogant, oily, casually racist, and an all-around jerk but, at the same time, it is also obvious that he knows how to lead a team to victory.  The great thing about Spradlin’s performance is to be found in not just how menacing he is but in how charismatic he is.  You never doubt that Coach Smith is both a lousy human being and an absolutely brilliant coach.  If nothing else, he’s good at his job.

As I said at the start of this review, I am not really sure why I recorded One on One but it turned out to be better than I was expecting.  It is a flawed and uneven film but worth watching for Spradlin’s intriguingly villainous turn.

 

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Working Girl (dir by Mike Nichols)


(With the Oscars scheduled to be awarded on March 4th, I have decided to review at least one Oscar-nominated film a day.  These films could be nominees or they could be winners.  They could be from this year’s Oscars or they could be a previous year’s nominee!  We’ll see how things play out.  Today, I take a look at the 1988 best picture nominee, Working Girl!)

Welcome to the 80s!

Yes, Working Girl is definitely a film of its time.  It’s a film that’s obsessed with big things: big dreams, big offices, big money, and big hair.  It’s a movie where the heroes talk about hostile takeovers and where everyone’s dream is to eventually to be an executive on Wall Street.  You know all of those people who claim that The Big Short is the greatest movie ever made?  I can guarantee that the majority of them would totally hate every character in Working Girl.  Working Girl is such a film of the past that it even features Alec Baldwin doing something other than bellowing at people.  In fact, Baldwin’s actually sexy in Working Girl.  It was strange to see him in this film and realize that he was the same actor who currently spends all of his time picking fights on twitter and defending James Toback.

Of course, Alec Baldwin has a relatively small role in Working Girl.  He plays Mick Dugan, the type of blue-collar guy who gives his girlfriend lingerie for her birthday (“I just wish you would get me something that I could wear outside,” she says as she tries it on) and who then proceeds to cheat on her while she’s off at work.  From the minute we first meet Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith), we know that she deserves better than Mick.

Tess is a professional administrative assistant.  She’s just turned 30 but she’s not ready to give up her dreams and settle for a life of fighting off coke-snorting executives and coming home to some guy like Mick.  (Speaking of early performances from infamous actors, one of the coke-snorting executives is played by Kevin Spacey.)  Tess has got a bachelor’s degree in Business.  As she puts it, she has a “mind for business and a bod for sin.”

She’s also got a new boss, an up-and-coming executive named Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver).  It turns out that Katherine is 29 years old.  (“I’ve never worked for someone younger than me before,” Tess says as Katherine gives her a condescending smile.)  Katharine encourages Tess to think of her as being a mentor.  If Tess has any ideas for investments, she should feel free to bring them to Katharine.  Of course, when Tess does so, Katharine claims that her bosses shot the idea down.  It’s only after Katharine breaks her leg in a skiing accident and is laid up in Europe that Tess discovers that Katharine has actually been stealing her ideas and not giving her any credit for them.

What is Tess to do?  Well, she does what any of us would do.  She passes herself off as an executive and presents her idea to Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford) herself.  Jack is impressed with the idea but he’s even more impressed with Tess.  Of course, complicating things is that Jack was once in a relationship with Katharine and Katharine still thinks that she’s going to eventually marry Jack.  And, of course, there’s the fact that Tess is lying about actually being an executive…

Working Girl is a frequently amusing film, elevated by performances of Melanie Griffith and, in the role of Tess’s best friend, Joan Cusack.  Add to that, Harrison Ford is remarkable non-grouchy as Jack Trainer and Sigourney Weaver appears to be having the time of her life playing a villain.  Even as I laughed at some of the lines, here was a part of me that wished that the film had a bit more bite.  At times, Working Girl tries too hard to have it both ways, both satirizing and celebrating Wall Street culture.  In the end, the film works best as a piece of wish-fulfillment.  It’s a film that says that not only can you win success and Harrison Ford but you can get your bitchy boss fired too.

Despite being a rather slight (if likable) film, Working Girl was nominated for Best Picture of 1988.  However, it lost to Rain Man.

Film Review: Cherry 2000 (dir by Steve De Jarnatt)


Okay, so this one is kind of weird.

Remember how, a few nights ago, I watched and reviewed something called Prison Planet?  No?  Well, I don’t blame you.  I wish I could forget about it too.  Anyway, the movie that aired right before Prison Planet was yet another futuristic tale that was largely set in a desert wasteland.  This movie was originally released in 1988 and the title was Cherry 2000.

Cherry 2000 takes place in 2017, or perhaps I should say that it takes place in 2017 as imagined by someone in 1988.  In this film’s version of 2017, both the economy and the environment are a mess, America is divided into warring urban and rural zones, and all human emotion and creativity is being stifled by government bureaucracy.  In short, Cherry 2000‘s version of 2017 is a lot like the real world’s version of 2017…

In the future, everyone’s still obsessed with getting laid but all of the bureaucratic red tape has made things difficult.  Having sex now means first getting a lawyer to draw up a contract.  In order to avoid all of the legal complications, men are now marrying specially designed sex robots.  Again, this probably seemed way out there in 1988 but, in the current world, it just looks like my twitter timeline.

(Do they have sex robots for women in the world of Cherry 2000?  As far as I could tell, all of the sex robots in the film were designed for men’s pleasure, which doesn’t seem quite fair.)

Anyway, Sam Treadwell (David Andrews) is a business executive who thinks that he is deeply in love with his robot wife, Cherry 2000 (Pamela Gidley).  However, a mix of sex and a broken washing machine causes Cherry to short-circuit.  When Sam tries to get her repaired, he’s told that it’s a lost cause.  Cherry is beyond repair.  Add to that, apparently the Cherry 2000 model is no longer being manufactured.  If Sam wants a new Cherry, he’s going to have to go into Zone 7 and get one out of an abandoned factory.

So, of course, that’s what Sam does.  The only problem is that Sam is a business guy and Zone 7 is the most dangerous place in the world.  Why is it so dangerous?  Because it’s ruled by a warlord named …. Lester.  (No offense meant to anyone named Lester but that’s not exactly the most intimidating name in the world.)  Lester is played by B-movie mainstay Tim Thomerson, who appears to be having fun whenever he appears on-screen.

To help guide him through Zone 7, Sam hires E (Melanie Griffith).  E is the film’s saving grace, largely because she kicks everyone’s ass.  The great thing about E is that, from the minute she first appears, she makes no secret of the fact that she finds Sam and his sex robot to be just as pathetic and ridiculous as we do.  Griffith plays the role with just the right mix of humor and annoyance.  If I ever have to guide anyone through a desert wasteland to a sex robot factory, I hope that I can do it with half as much style and panache as E.

Anyway, Cherry 2000 is a weird little mix of the western and science fiction genres.  For a film about sex robots, it actually has a rather goofy and almost innocent feel to it.  It’s a film that raises a lot of issues but which is also smart enough not to spend too much time on any of them.  Director Steve De Jarnatt also directed one of my favorite 80s movies, the charming apocalyptic love story Miracle Mile.  Cherry 2000 may be a mess but it’s definitely a watchable mess.

A Movie A Day #157: Pacific Heights (1990, directed by John Schlesinger)


Michael Keaton is the tenant from Hell in Pacific Heights.

In San Francisco, Patty (Melanie Griffith) and Drake (Matthew Modine) have just bought an old and expensive house that they can not really afford.  In order to keep from going broke, they rent out two downstairs apartments.  One apartment is rented by a nice Japanese couple.  The other apartment is rented by Carter Hayes (Michael Keaton).  Carter convinces Patty and Drake not to check his credit by promising to pay the 6 months rent up front.  The money, he tells them, is coming via wire transfer.

The money never arrives but Carter does.  Once he moves into the apartment, Carter changes the locks so that no one but him can get in.  At all hours of the day and night, he can be heard hammering and drilling inside the apartment.  Even worse, he releases cockroaches throughout the building.  When Drake demands that Carter leave, the police back up Carter.  After goading Drake into attacking him, Carter gets a restraining order.  Drake is kicked out of his home, leaving Patty alone with their dangerous tenant.

Pacific Heights is the ultimate upper middle class nightmare: Buy a house that you can not really afford and then end up with a tenant who trashes the place to such an extent that the property value goes down.  As a thriller, Pacific Heights would be better if Drake and Patty weren’t so unlikable.  (When this movie was first made, people like Patty and Drake were known as yuppies.)  Much like Drake’s house, the entire movie is stolen by Michael Keaton’s performance as Carter Hayes.  Carter was not an easy role to play because not only did he have to be so convincingly charming that it was believable that he could rent an apartment just by promising a wire payment but he also had to be so crazy that no one would doubt that he would deliberately infest a house with cockroaches.  Michael Keaton has not played many bad guys in his career but his performance as Carter Hayes knocked it out of the park.

One final note: Keep an eye out for former Hitchcock muse (and Melanie Griffith’s mother) Tippi Hedren, playing another one of Carter’s potential victims.  Her cameo here is better than her cameo in In The Cold of the Night.