A few movies worth a nostalgic look (a revisit)

My wife and I rented few new releases and enjoyed them, but felt nostalgic about some older movies. “Gone Girl” was good, but the characters were not very redeeming. “Interstellar” was good for the relationship between father and daughter, but was on the bizarre side toward the end. Of the three, we did enjoy “Wild” the most with Reece Witherspoon hiking the Pacific Crest Trail to find herself, but Laura Dern helps the movie greatly in flash backs as her mother.

I was thinking about some older movies that may be under the radar screen on searches for movies, but offer a sense of nostalgia as well as coming of age. So, in no particular order:

Breaking Away – made in 1979 and won an Oscar for best screenplay. Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Jackie Earle Haley and Daniel Stern star in a movie about four kids who have graduated high school and are trying to find themselves in Bloomington, Indiana where Indiana University is located. Christopher is fascinated by all things Italian as he has become a world-class bicyclist and the Italian team is the best and coming to town. Paul Dooley, as the former stone cutter and now used car salesman, steals many a scene.

Summer of 42 – made in 1971 and won an Oscar for best music score. Jennifer O’Neill, who every boy falls in love with in the movie and audience, Gary Grimes, Jerry Houser star in the movie based on a summer on the Nantucket shore. The boys are coming of age during the onset of WWII and O’Neill’s husband has been deployed. The story is told from Grimes’ character’s perspective looking back at that summer as he discovers love and loss.

American Graffiti – made in 1973 by George Lucas and starring a huge cast of soon to be famous young actors – Richard Dreyfus, Ron Howard (was only known as Opie at that time), Cindy Williams, Paul Le Mat, Mackenzie Phillips, Harrison Ford, Charles Martin Smith, Bo Hopkins, Candy Clark and Wolfman Jack. It is nostalgic and mirror into a different time as Dreyfus and Howard’s characters are headed off to college the next day. The movie spawned the TV show “Happy Days” which eventually led to “Laverne and Shirley” as a spin-off.

Each of these movies are nostalgic in nature. Kids are coming of age and wondering what it is all about. “Breaking Away” is set in the 1970s, “Summer of 42” is obviously set during the 1940s and “American Graffiti” is at the brink of the 1960s. Kids have not changed in this outlook to discover what is it all about. Today’s kids are more technologically advanced and are seeing a world change at a fast pace, yet they have many of the same questions.

To me, I go back to “Breaking Away” and the father son chat at the end between Christopher and Dooley’s characters. Christopher and his fellow mates have always felt and been put down as “cutters” short for stone cutters. As they walked through IU’s campus, the father notes “we” carved these beautiful stones that made these buildings on campus, but once they were erected, we felt the buildings were too good for us. The son responds “I don’t mind being a cutter.” The Dad says, “You’re not a cutter. I am cutter.” He is telling his son, do not limit yourself by what I accomplished. Go find yourself.

And, that is the best advice for any of us. Go find yourself. That may be why we liked “Wild” the most of the three newer movies, as Witherspoon’s character was looking to find the woman her mother knew was always there.

My Favorite Teacher Movies

In honor or Teachers Appreciation Week, here is a post from seven years ago. It received wonderful suggestions in the comments section as there are so many good ones I did not mention. Please add yours below.

I was inspired to write this having seen a review of all the musical performers who went on “The Ed Sullivan Show” with a focus on performers from Great Britain. So, what does this have to do with teachers, you ask? In 1967, the singer Lulu came on the show to sing the title song from “To Sir, with love” a song that lives beyond its boundaries. The movie by the same name is one of my four favorite movies about teachers.

“To Sir, with love” was set in the 1960s in a working class area. Sidney Poitier played the role of “Sir” which was what the male teachers were called. After much angst of trying to teach these high school seniors, he realized that they were about to go into the real world, so he decided to teach them about life. I must confess I get chills writing this, as he taught them how to act toward each other; he taught them about race relations and human dignity; he taught them the beautiful things in the world and showed them opportunity. And, he taught them that the world was not going to give you anything, so you better work hard. If you have not seen the movie, I will not spoil the ending.

The next three were hard to pick from, but I went with “Dead Poet’s Society” perhaps Robin Williams’ best movie filmed in 1989. Williams’ character Mr. Keating returned to a prep school for boys that he had attended. The boys had been taught to conform and toe the line, but Keating taught them poetry and passion. He taught them about carpe diem. And, they called him “Oh Captain, my Captain.” The best moment in the movie is when he teaches Ethan Hawke’s character how to improvise a poem, since he was having so much trouble writing one. After he does so, Keating whispers in his ear, “don’t you ever forget this.”

“Stand and Deliver” with Edward James Olmos made in 1988 is a about a math teacher who decided to teach Calculus to Latin American high school students in an impoverished neighborhood. He is ridiculed and laughed at by the other math teachers and principal. He drafts kids who work over the summer on pre-calculus material, to be prepared for the even harder stuff in the fall. Lou Diamond Phillips plays one of his students and Andy Garcia plays a testing official with the Advanced Placement organization. These kids fight an uphill battle with Olmos’ coaching, teaching and coercing. And, just when they succeed, they get slapped down and have to do it again. It is an inspiring true story about what blood, sweat and tears mixed with some passion and intellect can do.

The final member of my quartet is “Mr. Holland’s Opus” made in 1995 with Richard Dreyfus as Mr. Holland, the music and band teacher. Take a lot of tissue to the couch if you watch this one. Mr. Holland worked on his opus for years, but found out later that his real opus was the kids he taught. Along the way, he had a challenge he needed to overcome and that was when his son was born deaf. But, his son being deaf was not the biggest obstacle, it was him finding the way to show his son his passion and bring him into his world and becoming more a part of his son’s. Being the father of band students over the years, with my oldest being in the marching and jazz bands, this show has extra meaning for me. Hats off to Jay Thomas as Holland’s friend and the school’s athletic coach. And, Bill H. Macy and Olympia Dukakis play important roles, although you will not care for Macy’s character at all.

I think movies about great teachers have a special place in our hearts. We all have been inspired by one or more teachers. And, just like these inspirational teachers, there are other excellent movies about teachers – “Finding Forrester” with Sean Connery, “Dangerous Minds,” with Michelle Pfeiffer, “Teachers” with Nick Nolte and JoBeth Williams, “The Great Debaters” with Denzel Washington and “Lean on Me” with Morgan Freeman to name a few. 

I would love to hear about your favorites. Did I miss one that I should have highlighted? Have you seen the above? What teacher did you have that made a difference in your life?

Bull Durham – a baseball movie which is more about life (a revisit)

Our friend Cindy recently posted a baseball season opening post to celebrate her husband and kids’ fondness for baseball. During the course of comment conversation, I learned of their love of the movie “Bull Durham,” which is a favorite of mine, as well. Here is an old post from a few years ago.

I was commenting last weekend on An Exacting Life’s blog about being superstitious  and was reminded of the movie “Bull Durham” starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins.* While the movie, written and directed by Ron Shelton, is around the subject of minor league baseball, it is more about life and life’s wisdom that is imparted by the two wise seasoned characters – Costner’s Crash Davis and Sarandon’s Annie Savoy – to a budding baseball star who does not think deep thoughts, Robbins’ Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh. You need not be a baseball fan to enjoy this movie.

The movie has some of the best quotes this side of “Casablanca,” which I will share from memory, meaning I will likely be paraphrasing more than quoting. The one I shared about being superstitious is in the climactic scene (I must use this word cautiously as the movie has some scintillating scenes between Costner and Sarandon during the denouement), when Savoy enters Davis’ apartment without knocking to accuse him of telling LaLoosh to stay out of her bed, an idea she started, to channel LaLoosh’s energy into his pitching several weeks earlier. The team began a long winning streak thereafter.

Davis responded by saying he did not tell him that and said “You don’t mess with a streak as they don’t come along often.” He added “If you are winning because you think it is due to your not getting laid, then you are. And, you should know that.” Savoy realizes he is right and professes her desire for Davis, which had been smoldering all season. The irony of all ironies is while Savoy ends up with Davis, in real life, Sarandon falls in love with Robbins after meeting during the filming of the movie which led to a long marriage.

Some of my other favorite lines of the movie, include:

– Davis (who is the catcher) telling LaLoosh (the pitcher) on the mound to “Don’t try to strike out everyone. Strikeouts are fascist. Throw more ground balls, they are more democratic.”

– Savoy notes about LaLoosh “The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self-awareness.”

– Davis, after being challenged to a bar fight by LaLoosh, who did not know Davis was his new catcher, diffused the situation by tossing a baseball to the wild pitcher, saying hit me with this. The pitcher noted he would kill him if he hit him, to which Davis retorted, “From what I hear, you couldn’t hit water if you fell out of boat.”

– Davis telling LaLoosh after one of his pitches was hit for a long home run, “Man, that ball went so far it needed a stewardess.” This was after Davis told the batter what pitch was coming after LaLoosh kept shaking of the signal.

– Davis picking up LaLoosh’s shower flip-flops which had fungus growing on it. “If you get to the Show (the major leagues), people will think you are colorful (with the fungus). Until then, people will think you are a slob.”

– Savoy telling LaLoosh who needed to think less on the pitcher’s mound, “To breathe through your eyelids like the lava lizards.”

– Savoy telling LaLoosh to slow down when he rips off all his shirt the first time they are alone foregoing the romantic theater. She adds, “Put your shirt back on. I want to watch.”

The most memorable scene, though, occurs when he Davis responds to Savoy’s question when she tells the two ballplayers she will choose one of them to be in a monogamous relationship with during the season. Davis asked why does she get to make the choice and why not one of them? When he later add he does not believe in choice like that in “matters of the heart,” she asks him what do you believe in. Davis’ character lays on a diatribe that tells her more than she ever wanted to know about what he believed in such as “I believe Christmas presents should be opened Christmas morning” and “I believe in slow wet kisses that last for three days.” After which she is obviously smitten with him saying, “Oh, my.”

I recognize these quotes don’t do the movie justice, as there are so many well crafted scenes and lines offered by a terrific cast. The dugout banter between the manager and pitching coach is priceless. The wedding gift discussion on the mound in the middle of the game is terrific.  If you like the movie, tell me your favorite scenes. If you do not, I would love to hear your comments as to why. And, if you have not seen it, please do check it out.

More than James Bond – Sean Connery RIP

Of course, I am biased, but the best actor to play the character James Bond is the first – Sean Connery. I am sure others might argue more recent actors fit the bill, but he is my number one. We should celebrate the life of Connery with his passing this weekend at the age of 90.

Yet, he was far more than James Bond, both from a movie standpoint and everyday life standpoint. On the former, one of my favorite movies of all time is “The Man who would be King,” which Connery starred in with his friend and prolific actor Michael Caine. It is truly a spellbinding adventure of two friends who were British soldiers stationed in India.

Another favorite is also not a Bond movie, yet Connery won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, “The Untouchables” with Kevin Costner and Robert De Niro. Connery makes the movie, in my view, and apparently in the view of the Oscar voters. His character’s chance meeting Eliot Ness is a good example, when Ness asks why he believes that Ness is a Federal agent – Connery’s character said why would anyone confess to being that if he were not?

One of the best ensemble movies that Connery starred in was “The Hunt for Red October” based on the Tom Clancy novel. A stellar cast of Alec Baldwin, James Earl Jones, Tim Curry, Sam Neill among others made this great movie even better.

Another favorite movie is “The Presidio” with Mark Harmon and Meg Ryan. This one did not get the fanfare as the others, but it has a good plot and is well-acted. Connery character leads base security at the Presidio in San Francisco (as a retired soldier) and must solve a crime with Harmon’s police character, who is not a fan of the military, but is of Connery’s daughter played by Ryan.

Let me finish with another favorite called “Finding Forrester.” Connery plays a recluse writer who befriends a young teen played by Rob Brown who tries to rob his apartment in New York. Brown’s character keeps a journal that falls out of his pocket. Connery’s character sees promise in the journal, then corrects all the poor grammar and returns it to him. This movie also has one of the best covers of “Over the Rainbow” as it fades out. Below is a link to this version from the movie.

Connery made several other movies, including “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” which endeared him to the younger crowd. Since that movie is mentioned often along with the Bond movies, I will only mention it here. He also was in a movie called “In the Name of the Rose,” about a murder at an abbey, which is entertaining, as well as being unusual. As for my favorite Bond movie with Connery, “Goldfinger” would likely be it as it has two of the best villains in the title character and his armed guard “Odd Job.”

As for his personal life, I was unaware of his advocacy for Scottish independence. He spoke in front of the Scottish parliament to elicit their support. He also was used by the Scottish tourism industry to sell his country as a destination. There could be none better. I read once, maybe from Caine’s biography, that Connery was a very prepared actor. When he arrived at the movie set he was ready to go.

Connery will be missed by his fans and Scottish citizens.

A famous actor whose scenes were cut entirely

The other day I was watching the last half of the movie “The Big Chill” which is a favorite movie of many as well as me. The movie also has one of the best sound tracks as it features several Motown hits.

The cast is amazingly deep in recognizable names now, but they were just starting out then. As I recall, Lawrence Kasdan, the director, got everyone to hang out together before the movie filming to bond as friends. Since the movie is about old friends reuniting, he wanted them to have a basis to start from.

One of the later famous names never made the cut – Kevin Costner. Costner played the friend who committed suicide that caused the sad reunion. But, all of his scenes were cut except for his body being zipped up in a body bag at the start of the movie. Costner would go on to star and direct a number of movies rivaling that of any of the uncut stars of the movie – Glenn Close, Tom Berenger, William Hurt, Meg Tilly, Kevin Kline, Jeff Goldblum, JoBeth Williams and Mary Kay Place.

That was the right call, as it added to the movie for his friends to remember him, celebrate his life and lament his passing. If we had seen him, some of that mystery would have been lost. We learned he turned down a great scholarship which gave him notoriety, but he lamented that decision later.

To me, William Hurt and Meg Tilly steal the movie. Tilly plays the younger girlfriend of Costner’s character. Her perspective adds to the movie as when she responds to a question if her boyfriend was happy and says “I don’t know that many happy people. How do they act?” Yet, each actor is allowed to shine and offer both comedy and drama.

Do you agree with the directors’ decisions to cut these scenes in the movie? What are some of your favorite parts of the movie? What other actors and actresses have been cut out of movies to your knowledge?

The Last Movie Star

Burt Reynolds starred in a movie late in his life called “The Last Movie Star” which is surprisingly poignant. Reynolds plays Vic Edwards, an aging movie star, who accepts a lifetime achievement award from a movie lover’s group in Nashville. But, he comes to the conclusion the first night, the group waa over-advertised and beneath his dignity. So, you won’t start out liking this man.

But, stay with it. Not trying to give away too much plot, he asks Lil, the sister of the group’s leader who serves as his driver, to detour from driving him to the airport and go to Knoxville, where we find out he is from. Suffice it to say, we learn a lot about him on this journey.

The movie uses actual footage of Reynolds earlier movies. He talks with his younger screen self as a means of sharing what is going on in his aging confusion and reflections on past decisions.

The movie was directed by Adam Rifkin and stars a largely young cast – Ariel Winter as Lil, Clark Duke as Doug, and Ellar Coltrane ss Shane. Chevy Chase plays his friend Sonny and Kathleen Nolan plays Claudia, his first wife.

If you have seen this movie, let me know what you think. If you have not seen it, avoid the temptation to give up on him. Also let me know what you think, once you have. The movie was rated as OK by the rating agencies, but 93% of Google users liked it.

Note, the movie was made in 2017 and released in early, 2018. Reynolds died in September, 2018.

The Princess Bride – a fun movie for all

Start with a beautiful heroine, a cavalier pirate, and an evil prince. Add one giant of a man, an eleven fingered bad guy, a Spanish swordsman, a scheming genius and a host of other great characters. Finish up with a great story read by a grandfather to his sick grandson and you have the delightfully charmlng “The Princess Bride.” About five years ago I wrote a post on this movie, which I will repeat below. “The Princess Bride” is a movie the whole family can watch and enjoy during our sheltering-at-home time.

“Mawwiage. Mawwiage is what bwings us together today.” Although this line is picking on people with speech impediments, in the context of the movie “The Princess Bride” it is quite comical, as it is uttered by the magnificently attired priest who is conducting a wedding service for the bride to her unloved groom. It is so unexpected it becomes farcical. And, that is one of the reasons why this Rob Reiner movie is so entertaining. It does so many unexpected things and all ages will enjoy the story, as narrated by a grandfather, Peter Falk, as he reads to his grandson played by “The Wonder Years” star Fred Savage.

The story fascinates as it begins with true love between a young girl played by Robin Wright in her first movie (before “Forrest Gump” and “House of Cards”) and a farm hand played by Cary Elwes, who would go on to star in “Robin Hood, Men in Tights.” They get separated and she catches the eye of a hated prince played wonderfully by Chris Sarandon. The prince’s greed, though, overtakes his lust and he sends her off for a visit to another land where he asked three interesting hired assassins to kill her, so he can blame the other country and grow his realm.

Without giving away too much of the movie, the Dread Pirate Roberts enters the picture to save her and has to ward off the assassins, the prince’s henchman, and torture. The three assassins are played wonderfully by Wallace Shawn (now appearing on “Young Sheldon”), whose catchphrase is “inconceivable,” Andre the Giant (the former pro-wrestler) and Mandy Patinkin as a swashbuckling Spaniard out for revenge for his father’s death. Andre the Giant turns out to be quite the comedic actor in several scenes. Patinkin’s passion for vengeance is also room for comedy and heroics.

But, other actors play wonderful roles in large cameo parts and other scenes. Billy Crystal and Carol Kane are quite funny playing Miracle Max and his wife. Christopher Guest plays the prince’s henchman quite well, especially as he is inquiring into the pain reactions of the Dread Pirate Roberts in his contrived torture chamber. Mel Smith has a fun cameo as the torturer and Peter Cook, is the magnificent lisping priest.

Yet, the idea to have Falk read the story to Savage makes the movie feel like a fairy tale. Especially when the dream scenes are read and Savage reacts rather annoyed to the story. The story includes perils such as the fire swamp with its ROES, Rodents of Enormous Size, as well as fighting off the talents of three assassins and even overcoming death. We learn the difference between “Mostly Dead” and “Totally Dead” from Miracle Max. Yes, it is silly especially when the future princess is booed by a character played by Margery Mason, which turns out to be one of the dreams that Savage does not care for.

Reiner’s directing and casting of this wonderful movie make it a treat for all ages. The screenplay and book were written by William Goldman. Reiner’s inclusion of Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits) in developing the soundtrack and writing the best song “Storybook Love,” which was sung by Willy DeVille, makes it even more special. I have tried to stay away from much of the plot for those who have not seen the movie. If you have not and you have children or grandchildren, download this movie, make some popcorn and turn the lights low. If you have seen it, still follow the above steps, as the kids and all in the family will get a treat.

A few movies I stumbled onto

While HBO and Showtime are more into showing series in prime time, I catch most of my movies in the afternoon during these shelter-in-place days. Here are few I stumbled onto that kept my attention.

The Recruit with Al Pacino, Colin Ferrell and Bridget Monayhan – about a CIA trainer picking a recruit to help in ferreting out a mole in the CIA.

Seven Pounds with Will Smith, Rosario Dawson and Woody Harrelson – I had seen this before, but it is excellent. Smith’s character is donating parts of various organs (which tally seven pounds in weight, hence the title). The story is why and how.

Temple Grandin with Claire Danes, Julia Ormond and David Strathairn – This is a terrific movie about a true hero, Temple Grandin. Grandin is autistic, but earns a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree and helps reshape the livestock industry, treating cattle as humanely and efficaciously as possible. She also became an advocate for better understanding autistic people.

Mary Magdalene with Rooney Mara, Joacquin Phoenix and Chiwetel Ejiofor – this move drags on at times, but is of interest in telling Jesus’ story more from Mary Magdalene’s perspective. I find movies like this interesting, as they provide a new lens.

The Legend of Bagger Vance with Matt Damon, Will Smith and Charlize Theron – this movie is little cheesy at times, but it has a great cast. It is about a former golfer who lost his swing and is being asked to take on Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen in a match.

The movies above have a little bit for everyone. In terms of unexpected enjoyment, “Temple Grandin” is very moving. You may need some tissue in a few parts. If your have not seen “Seven Pounds,” it is also excellent. What are some of the ones you have been watching?

Call of the Wild – good even with CGI dog

Last week, I watched “The Call of the Wild” starring Harrison Ford and a computer generated dog. It should also be noted the other animals were likely CGI as well.

Even with that, the movie is entertaining. Ford’s character has his own demons that he is trying to drink away and avoid in the Yukon. He gradually reveals why he is there as he befriends this lovably awkward dog.

Per the book, Buck the dog is trying to find himself as well. The dog is taken from his home as sled dogs are a commodity with the Yukon gold rush. Yet, he has to be trained to be a sled dog. He is bought by a mail delivery couple that journeys across the Yukon to deliver bags of mail to outlying communities. The couple, played by Omar Sy and Cara Gee, offer the role of “sled parents” and mentors to Buck.

Dan Stevens plays a needed antagonist as a gold thirsty opportunist. He does not let his lack of humanity or lack of knowledge of sledding get in the way of his zeal. Key cameos are offered by Bradley Whitford and Michael Horse.

The movie is rated as OK, but that may be due to the CGI dog. Ford does a great job of playing the imperfect friend to Buck. They need each other on their journey together.

I liked the movie. Is it great, no, but it is entertaining. If you have seen it, let me know what you think.

Five feet apart – movie on teen angst

Even at the ripe old age of 61, I still will pay attention to well-crafted movies about teen angst. While channel surfing, I came across a 2019 film called “Five feet apart,” written by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis and directed by newcomer Justin Baldoni.

The movie is inspired by a real couple dealing with cystic fibrosis named Dalton and Katie Prager. The movie stars Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Spears who meet in a wing of a hospital dedicafed to serving patients with this life shortening disease.

Because of the deteriorated lung capacity and susceptibility to infection, the patients must stay six apart. Through the eventual relationship, they decide they can shorten the distance to five feet.

The movie received mixed reviews, but I found it worth the watch. I actually watched it three times as I seemed to pick it up 2/3, then 1/3 and finally from the beginning, so it put puzzle pieces together for me.

It also proved educational about cystic fibrosis and what patients must go through, both physically and mentally. Yet, at its heart it is a story of a slow courtship.

I don’t think I am alone in liking movies like this. I recall enjoying “The fault in our stars” a couple of years ago. But, we can trace teen angst movies back to the play “Romeo and Juliet.” Of course, the play and movie “Westside Story” is based off the Shakepeare play.

So, give it a watch. If you have seen it or are a still a sucker for such moviea, let me know what you think.