Archive | 1976 RSS feed for this section

My Favorite Movies – Rocky (1976)

9 Jul

By Tanner Smith

It’s kind of ironic that a small film about “going the distance” surpasses “the distance.” Rocky is about a guy who’s given a shot to show the world what he’s all about next to the best in his field, and while he doesn’t win (in fact, he barely survives), he gains respect, self-assurance, and the love of his life.

That guy was a boxer named Rocky Balboa, and he was portrayed by the film’s screenwriter Sylvester Stallone, who himself had something to prove. The studio bought Stallone’s script, but they didn’t have faith in a film with Stallone as the lead. Stallone, however, got the last laugh–everyone fell in love with “Rocky.” Critics and audiences adored it, everyone spread the word around resulting in box office success, and as if all that wasn’t enough, it even triumphed at the Academy Awards with the top honor of Best Picture.

Yeah…I’d say it did more than go the distance! That sort of goes against the initial purpose of “Rocky,” but who am I to complain? It’s awesome!

“Rocky” is basically a fairy tale about a boxing bottomfeeder, Rocky Balboa aka The Italian Stallion, who fights (mostly for money) because he has trouble with everything else. That’s especially true when he tries to court the shy Adrian (Talia Shire), but he keeps trying his best, and soon enough, his efforts win her affections. When the World Heavyweight Champion, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), handpicks this “Italian Stallion” as his opponent for a big New Year’s match. Suddenly, this no-name boxer has a shot at the title. But winning the fight isn’t the first thing on Rocky’s mind–the most important thing to him is that he shows Apollo and the large crowd that he can go the distance.

There’s a time when a lot of us can relate to Rocky. We often think about how great it would be if we won something that would gain respect from most people. But sometimes, we also realize that it’s less about winning than it is about trying. And in the end, what’s more important is the people in our lives who are with us during this particular challenge–in this case, it’s Adrian for Rocky, which makes the final scene all the more heartwarming. Rocky doesn’t win the fight, but he does win Adrian’s heart.

My favorite scene: I guess I have to pick a Rocky-Adrian moment here and I know everyone loves the ice-skating scene between Rocky and Adrian–it is a great scene, but my personal favorite between the two characters is their first kiss soon after.

There’s hardly anything I can say about “Rocky” that hasn’t been said by everyone else already. Stallone’s Rocky is an appealing character, the love story between Rocky and Adrian is great, the sports-film cliches feel fresh in this realistic setting, the supporting cast is great, the theme song “Gonna Fly Now” is iconic, et cetera and so on. It’s a great film and a feel-good classic, and I love watching it.

Now, what about the sequels? Well…join me in the next post.

My Favorite Movies – The Bad News Bears (1976)

16 Jun

By Tanner Smith

When I was a little kid, I watched a lot of children’s sports movies, such as “Little Giants,” “The Big Green,” the “Mighty Ducks” movies. I didn’t watch “The Bad News Bears” until I was a little older, at age 13. And even though I had seen its copycats many, many times and enjoyed them each time, there was still something about “The Bad News Bears” that just felt so fresh and new to me at that time. Why is that?

Well, for one, I knew it wasn’t talking down to me because I was a kid. This 1970s movie was made for adults AND kids, and director Michael Ritchie and screenwriter Bill Lancaster weren’t afraid to insert a little dark comedy and a lot of sardonic humor into what would’ve been your standard kid’s sport movie about an underdog Little League baseball team. The coach is an alcoholic grump. The kids are little big-mouthed smartasses. And the important lesson is more for the adults than the kids: don’t take out your frustrations associated with failure on those younger than you.

Oh, and it’s also…not very politically correct. I’m sure many people who have seen this movie remember a certain line of dialogue from a little tough-guy kid putting down his teammates which includes harsh racial slurs–damn, was that a different time!

Walter Matthau stars in one of his most iconic roles as Morris Buttermaker, a former minor-league baseball player who’s now a grumpy drunk. He’s been asked to coach a Little League team that has been formed as part of a lawsuit to allow all children to play. As you’d expect, the kids are not very skilled and Buttermaker isn’t an ideal coach–he even passes out due to drunkenness on the pitcher’s mound during practice.

When the kids’ spirits are broken during a disastrous first game, Buttermaker decides to take his job more seriously. Even though the team votes to opt out of the season, Buttermaker shouts that they have no choice and they’re gonna get better no matter what! (I love that scene–it’s even funnier in the remake.) They even recruit a couple other kids with their own skills: Amanda (Tatum O’Neal) and Kelly (Jackie Earle Haley). Soon enough, the team gains more confidence and starts winning games and make it to the championship game versus a team coached by the aggressive and competitive Roy Turner (Vic Morrow).

Mistakes are made, lessons are learned, a kid is even SLAPPED at one point (jeez, 1970s, you were HARSH), and I don’t even give a damn about the outcome of the game more than how everyone reacts to it. Because this movie is far more better-written than any of its copycats that came after.

Why does “The Bad News Bears” stand out even today? Because it’s not like those other movies–instead, it’s an interesting, unflinchingly honest look at competition in modern society. We get that in the way Buttermaker’s backstory about his old playing days and his personal life is given to us, as well as Buttermaker’s counter-rival Turner, who just wants to win because it’s probably the way he was coached as a young person and will do what it takes to achieve…well, ANYTHING in his life. The kids are portrayed as real kids and ones who need positive role models in their lives–Buttermaker may not be the best example they got, but he is the only one and it turns out he’s not too bad at it.

See? Both adults AND kids can get something out of this comedy, and that’s the reason I think it still holds up today.

I saw its first sequel, “The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training”–it’s not very good, but it does have its funny moments here or there. I never watched “The Bad News Bears Go to Japan” in its entirety–I saw the first 10-15 minutes once and then changed the channel.

I do like the 2005 remake, directed by Richard Linklater, though I’m a little disappointed by how faithful Linklater was to the material–it’s pretty much the same script as the original, only updated. The best part about it, though, is Billy Bob Thornton as Buttermaker–Thornton goes beyond Matthau’s grumpy demeanor and instead plays Buttermaker as a guy who most likely has a body stashed in the trunk of his car. To me, that makes his scenes with the kids all the more hilarious.

What’s more important to us? To win or keep our self-respect? Well, maybe this will help–as the wise Bill Murray said in “Meatballs,” “IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER!”

Freaky Friday (1976)

2 May


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

1976’s “Freaky Friday” is one of those Disney live-action comedies that people just go nuts over. People love the gentle comedy that comes with the vintage Disney style of the 1970s. And when I was a kid, I watched this multiple times as well. Also, despite it already being based on a popular novel by Mary Rodgers, it’s also said to be the film that spawned the “body-swap” genre (movies, mostly comedies, in which a man turns into a boy or the other way around, or both), for better or worse.

Here’s the story: A thirteen-year-old tomboy named Annabel Andrews (Jodie Foster) and her mother Ellen (Barbara Harris) aren’t getting along very well. Secretly, they each wish that they could just switch places with each other so that one will see how difficult the other’s life is, and vice versa. And on Friday the 13th, they say their wish out loud, at the same time (despite them being in two different locations). Their wish is granted—Annabel’s mind inside her mother’s body, and the mother is inside her daughter. So now they must lead each other’s lives for the day.

They each find that leading the other’s life is not as easy as they think it is. For example, how can junior high school be anything but fun? Ellen (in Annabel’s body) learns the hard way that knowing all the right answers can make her the object of practical jokes, and she doesn’t know the first thing about field hockey (Annabel’s the captain of the team). Meanwhile, Annabel (in Ellen’s body) realizes that being a stay-at-home mom isn’t all that’s cracked up to be, as she’s the one that has to do all the housework.

Watching “Freaky Friday” now, I find it’s a tad overrated. It doesn’t hold up very well and it’s a tad too goofy for its own good, especially in the final act of the movie. It’s an energetic chase scene in which Annabel drives a car in order to get to Ellen. Hijinks ensue as police give chase. The chase continues through narrow alleyways, on a public sidewalk, a walking-bridge, and eventually ends up in the lake.

Where did this come from? I mean sure, in that era, the Disney studio was crazy about exploiting their budget and letting loose a lot of energetic action sequences purely made for laughs. But while “Freaky Friday” is still silly before that point, it’s a different kind of silly. The screenplay is mainly full of dialogue and little situations for the characters to go through. Why unleash the hijinks-filled madness in the last reel?

Though, to be fair, this chase does lead to the funniest sight gag in the movie—the police car, split down the middle in half after crashing into a wall edge. Of course, the car would crash and wouldn’t rip in two pieces like a sheet of paper. But I don’t care—I laughed.

OK, what don’t I like about the movie? Aside from unleashing all the goofy, action-filled antics in the last reel, what specifically is wrong with this movie? Well…the two lead actresses. Actually no, it’s not the two lead actresses. They’re both very talented and have fun in delivering differing personalities for their age—one acts old, the other acts young. But the problem is that we don’t get enough of their real characters before the big switch. If they hadn’t said anything about this miracle, I probably wouldn’t have noticed any difference. And I sort of don’t—Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris have already played these roles many times, which I know makes them ideal casting choices, but doesn’t make them anything new. Jodie Foster was mature for her age and Barbara Harris was always young for her age. They’re well-cast, but for these roles, you need actresses who will take chances.

Also, I’m all for Disney magic, but there’s one part at the end that just got me scratching my head. When Annabel and Ellen switch back to their normal selves, they suddenly find themselves in the wrong places. How is this possible? (Well, that’s a dumb question—that’s like asking how switching bodies is possible.) Wouldn’t it make more sense if Annabel found herself back in her own body in the place where her body was, instead of being in the same place, only with her own body? It may be nitpicking, but…I don’t get it.

So what do I like about the movie, and why I think it’s worth recommending? Well honestly, it’s the script. The first half of the movie is well-written. Most of the dialogue is very funny and there are a lot of interesting ideas that come about. Even if the problems that these two leads face are predictable, they’re still pretty amusing. My favorite parts are—Annabel-as-Ellen dealing with the drapery man, the carpet cleaners, the mechanic, and a neighbor asking for her hair dryer back ALL AT THE SAME TIME; Annabel-as-Ellen dealing with her picky maid (Patsy Kelly, droll); Annabel-as-Ellen having a pleasant conversation with her crush Boris (Marc McClure), who would rather not be around the real Annabel but has fun with this middle-aged woman, not knowing who she really is; Annabel-as-Ellen bonding with her little brother Ben (Sparky Marcus), whom she hated before; and Annabel-as-Ellen forced into a meeting with her own teacher and principal, (I realized by this point that Barbara Harris has the best moments of the two leads.)

I also really liked John Astin as Bill, Annabel’s father and Ellen’s husband. Bill is the self-centered man who is trying to get these two to hold together in order to impress his bosses at a water-shoe he set up at the lake, where Annabel must water-ski and Ellen must make a feast. He’s constantly reminding them of what they’re supposed to do. He’s also the main reactor to these strange situations. Astin’s bewildered expressions are just hilarious.

So despite my issues with “Freaky Friday,” I do find it to be an enjoyable watch. The film has the usual Disney lighthearted feel and does generate some good laughs in its screenplay. I understand why people love this movie. I only like it—it’s not a great movie, but it’s a good one if you’re looking for something to watch on a rainy day.

NOTE: Now I just remembered my favorite moment from Jodie Foster—Ellen-as-Annabel’s encounter with her husband’s sexy, new secretary and scaring her into showing less cleavage. That was a nice scene.

The Omen (1976)

6 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“The Omen” is thought of as one of the best horror films ever made and it does have quite a few chilling moments, as well as an unsettling story idea. It imagines the arrival of the Antichrist. Read the Bible and you’ll know about the notion that someday, as the spawn of Satan, the Antichrist will rise to power and bring about the End Times. “The Omen” doesn’t tell that story. It tells the story of a married couple who learn that their adopted child is the Antichrist.

The couple—U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck), and his wife Katherine (Lee Remick)—has lost a child shortly after birth. They substitute it for an orphan baby whose mother died the same night. They name the child Damien and raise him as their own. But around the time of Damien’s fifth birthday, mysterious things start to happen. At his birthday party, the boy’s nanny hangs herself (while smiling and saying, “It’s all for you,” if you can believe it). When his parents bring him to church for the first time, he screams and acts violently before they take him inside. Baboons attack the boy and Katherine while they’re inside their car, at the zoo. Many people die around Damien, including a priest who has warned Robert that something is not right with Damien. And a big, snarling black dog hangs around the house, and is eventually brought to stay inside by the new governess Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw), who while the parents aren’t around comforts Damien by saying she’s here to protect him. Damien is responsible for an incident that causes pregnant Katherine to have a miscarriage. And more.

Photographer Keith Jennings (David Warner) starts investigating these events after noticing a few strange things about the pictures he took of the people who died. These pictures somehow predicted how they died and Robert and Katherine could be next, as well as himself. With Katherine in the hospital, Keith lets Robert in on the discovery and they are led on a series of discoveries, each of them furthering the conclusion that little Damien is indeed evil incarnate.

“The Omen” could technically also be called “Omens,” since there is more than one clear sign in plain sight throughout this movie—the obvious early stage of the Antichrist’s human form, the pictures that predict many deaths to come, and the further looking-into of the biblical prophecy, with a comet returning, the Jews coming back to Zion, and what about the Roman Empire? “That would be the European Common Market,” Robert realizes. Oh, and there’s also the number 666 that is Damien’s birthmark, as well as the infamous Number of the Beast. And of course, since Robert is a powerful man and has connections with the President, Damien could undoubtedly follow through. We can see in the end of the movie that there’s no escaping this prophecy.

Just imagine if your kid was Damien and you knew that he will grow up to do all of these horrible things once he comes into power over the country and even the world. What would you do in that situation? What would you feel? If you knew you had to kill your own child so that it doesn’t happen, would you? That’s a pretty heavy subject, and “The Omen” uses its final act to play with that idea. It’s always a chilling idea when characters get the notion to act out certain deeds now because of what they’re afraid will happen later, but this time there’s actually a legitimate. fearful reason.

I mentioned that “The Omen” does have its creepy parts. Here are a few in particular—the dog is very intimidating, the scene in which the first nanny commits suicide is unnervingly calm, the gruesome deaths are suitably horrific, the cemetery that Robert and Keith explore to find more answers is atmospherically creepy, and Billie Whitelaw, as Mrs. Baylock, brings a great sense of unease to her performance as Damien’s personal bodyguard. And the music! The sinister, choral “Ave Satani” theme, composed by Jerry Goldsmith, is one of the most unsettling movie music scores I’ve ever heard.

Aside from Whitelaw and David Warner who does a good job at mixing curiosity with fear, the acting is pretty much a blank slate. I’m sorry to criticize Gregory Peck’s leading performance, as he is such a powerful actor. But the truth is, as Robert, he’s flat, unconvincing, and probably bored—he always looks like he’d rather be somewhere else. Lee Remick doesn’t have much to show for her role, except for a few legitimate reaction shots. And the kid Harvey Stephens…well, I’ll let him slide because he is a kid and hey, at least he sells that “devilish” blank stare.

“The Omen” is a chilling, atmospheric horror movie that uses the biblical prophecy and insane ideas for some well-executed frightening moments.

Rocky (1976)

24 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Rocky” is a true underdog story, inside and out. By that I mean the movie is about a novice boxer getting a shot at the title, and this involving, excellent film beat the odds and became the little film that could. It was written by Sylvester Stallone, who had many rejected screenplays, but caught the attention of United Artists with his screenplay for “Rocky,” which was mainly inspired by the 1975 Muhammad Ali-Chuck Wepner fight. Stallone set to attach himself as the star, while United Artists wanted to go with James Caan. So, the skeptical United Artists gave the production a smaller budget, around $1 million. And then when the finished film was released, it received great reviews, word-of-mouth, and ten Academy Award nominations, winning three (Best Film Editing, Best Director, and the coupe de gras—Best Picture). “Rocky” had beaten the odds.

“Rocky” is a great film that deserved all the attention it got, and the respect that it continues to get, as one of the best sports films of all time. But while “sports film” can technically by the accurate term for “Rocky,” it’s also a great portrait of a hero, and a tender love story. Either way you look at it, it’s very effective.

Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is a small-time boxer who boxes for money to make ends meet. He lives in a small apartment in inner-city Philadelphia and works as a collector for loan shark Gazzo (Joe Spinell). Rocky could’ve been a great, well-known fighter, but blew it all away. But all that’s on his mind is winning the heart of Adrian (Talia Shire), the shy sister of his friend Paulie (Burt Young). She works at the pet shop, sold Rocky a couple of turtles and goldfish, and is amused by Rocky’s at-least-attempt at humor. But she’s painfully shy and isn’t sure about going out with Rocky.

After some harsh action by Paulie to get her out of his house, Adrian goes on a date with Rocky on Thanksgiving night. They hit it off really well as Adrian finds that Rocky is a good person and steps out of her shell to give him a chance. One of the more tender scenes in the movie is when Rocky arranges for ten minutes of ice-skating (she skates, he jogs alongside her) and talks about how his father told him to develop his body rather than his brain—Adrian says that her mother told her the opposite thing; to use your brain rather than your body. She then asks Rocky why he fights, he replies, “’Cause I can’t sing or dance.”

Meanwhile, world heavyweight champion fighter Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) decides to schedule a New Year boxing event with a true underdog to go against. While looking for possible candidates, he picks Rocky only because he likes his stage name “Italian Stallion.” Rocky is asked to do it. At first, he doesn’t believe that he’s going to be the opponent of the heavyweight champion—he thinks he’s going to be a sparring partner, until he realizes that the winner of this fight gains the World Championship title. Rocky doesn’t care that much about winning, but about gaining self-respect for his future by giving the fight his all and winning Adrian’s heart. With help from boxing coach Mickey (Burgess Meredith), Rocky goes into training in preparation for the fight, while also developing his relationship with Adrian further.

The film is about using your chances to your advantage, standing by your loved ones, overcoming your regrets and lost opportunities, and pushing your potential to the best you can achieve. Now, if that makes “Rocky” sound very corny or cheesy, it’s not like that at all. Just about everything—every story element, character trait, etc.—is done right; handled delicately with a true affection for the characters, an emotionally involving feel, and many twists and turns as the film progresses. We care about the setups and payoffs involving the characters, thus making us care about the relationship and the big match. A lot of credit for that must go to Stallone for making us feel emotionally involved in everything that’s going on, and also for turning in a truly excellent performance as the hero Rocky. He’s tough and uses brawn instead of brain, but is truly a good guy with a heart of gold and hardly an ounce of cruelty. We can easily sympathize with Rocky.

The nitty-gritty look of Philadelphia helps make “Rocky” seem credible, as Rocky walks along the sidewalks at night, passing by some quirky characters who sing at the curb as well as some creeps that he, at one point, tries to keep a twelve-year-old girl from hanging around (her response—“screw you, creepo”). And the supporting characters like resentful Paulie and relentless Mickey complete the circle with blends of anger and spirit.

By the time we reach the final fight that’s been set up, it means everything. In the end, it doesn’t matter who wins and who loses—as clichéd as it is to write, it’s how it’s being played. Even if Rocky loses the fight, he gains more in life. That’s one of life’s simplest lessons that “Rocky” gets across—there’s more important things in life than winning. And it doesn’t merely rely on sports-film clichés to get that message across.

With a captivating hero and a sharp screenwriter (both the same person), nicely-portrayed supporting characters, and emotional involvement, “Rocky” is a triumph. It’s the little film that could…and ultimately did.

The Bad News Bears (1976)

21 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“The Bad News Bears” has been copied several times into deplorable children’s sports underdog stories. But really, only the gimmick is copied. The gimmick is this—a children’s sports team, made up of the usual loser stereotypes, starts off the season as the underdogs and slowly but surely make their way to the championship, leading to the Big Game. “The Bad News Bears” has something more than that. For one thing, this film has a ton of laughs, none of which have to do with bodily functions. But also, it’s more a story of the adults, acting as a social commentary. It’s mainly about the coaches of opposing Little League baseball teams (one of which is a boozehound) and how competition is a staple of their jobs. They want to prove to each other which is the easiest advantage, and with the Little Leaguers actually competing, that notion rubs off on them.

“The Bad News Bears” is an entertaining, funny movie about the worst Little League team in the state, if not the whole world. They’re unfocused, untalented, and uncoordinated. These kids wouldn’t have had a chance to play on a field if it weren’t for a lawsuit filed by the father of one of the kids, stating that every kid should get the chance to play baseball. The team includes: a fat kid who eats chocolate a lot, a little loudmouth always looking for a fight, a kid with glasses who knows more baseball statistics than anyone else, an African-American kid obsessed with being like Hank Aaron, a couple of Hispanics, and a shy kid whom the loudmouth describes as a “booger-eating spaz.”

Their coach is Buttermaker (Walter Matthau)—an alcoholic, loner, former minor league player who cleans pools for a living, and is being paid to coach this team, called the Bears. He brings booze to the dugout, gets one of the kids to mix him a cocktail at one point, and even passes out right there on the pitcher’s mound during practice. Even the kids can see he’s a real loser. The first game comes along and of course, the Bears get humiliated, and even more so when Buttermaker calls it quits in the middle. Starting to care, Buttermaker stays on the job and does what he can to improve the Bears’ playing.

Along the way, he finds two more kids to bring to the team. One is Amanda (Tatum O’Neal), the 11-year-old daughter of Buttermaker’s former girlfriend who has a mean curveball. She becomes the Bears’ pitcher. The other is a juvenile delinquent named Kelly Leak (Jackie Earle Haley), who always hangs around the field with his motorcycle and cigarettes. Turns out he’s a natural athlete. With these two new recruits, the Bears win their first game and continue an impressive streak, making their way to the championship, and of course, bringing Buttermaker to ask more from the other kids (like having one of the kids take a hit from a baseball just to get on base). And need I also mention that the opposing team is the same team from that disastrous first game, led by the heavily competitive coach Turner (Vic Morrow)? Buttermaker is now stooping to his level, but Turner has his more extreme levels, pushing his son—the star player—to the point of actually hitting him right there on the field.

I won’t give away the resolution of the Big Game, but let it be said that “The Bad News Bears” has an ending that is not about winning or losing, but how to play the game and how to deal with the outcome.

The baseball sequences, while telling this parable of competition, are pretty solid and entertaining. I can think of sports movies where I get tired after a while. But not here. I’m not just saying this because I’m an admirer of baseball, but because these scenes are well-shot and look like actual baseball games, only we’re put into the action.

The comedy of “The Bad News Bears” works well. Walter Matthau is an always-appealing performer and has a distinct personality that fits this role of the weary Buttermaker. There are great one-liners in the movie, some of which said by Joyce van Patten as the league manager, and most of which delivered by the kids. But the grand slam of “The Bad News Bears” is how the director Michael Ritchie portrays these kids. Their stereotypes are consistently funny, but they talk in a way that most kids that age talked. They yell, they shout, they complain, they spout profanities (everything except the F-word). These seem like real kids. They even say “no” to athletic supporters because they’re “uncomfortable.”

Most of the kids are very good actors—in particular, Jackie Earle Haley is winning as the local troublemaker and Chris Barnes steals many scenes as the little tough guy. But I have to admit, Tatum O’Neal, despite being a good young actress and playing a credible girl character in this movie, really annoyed me. It just seemed like she was trying too hard to make Amanda more sophisticated than she needed to be, or should be. She’s just sort of peculiar that way.

“The Bad News Bears” is a cynical look at competition in America, told through Little League baseball, but it’s shot and acted with a real positive attitude that it’s hard to hate it. It’s an entertaining movie and a true underdog story.