True Romance (Crackle)
Quentin Tarantino’s debut film Reservoir Dogs may not have been seen by a whole bunch of people, but he triggered quite an electric excitement among cinema buffs; it was not too many months later that True Romance (1993), from an earlier screenplay by Tarantino, was released. For many, it was the latest film by the director of Top Gun, but for others, it was a subversive new classic. The story is pretty simple: Comic book and kung-fu movie-loving Clarence Worley (Christian Slater) meets Alabama (Patricia Arquette) and they fall in love (she was actually a call girl hired for his birthday, but love conquers that). Clarence goes to her pimp Drexl (a truly mesmerizing Gary Oldman) to get her stuff, but accidentally comes back with a case full of cocaine.
They decide to sell it, take the money and start a new life. Thanks to that poppy, playful dialogue, rhythmic and culturally aware, it attracted an amazing array of actors, including Dennis Hopper as Clarence’s father, Christopher Walken as a gangster (the two men share a truly disquieting scene together), Brad Pitt as a stoner, Val Kilmer as an imaginary Elvis, Samuel L. Jackson as a thug, James Gandolfini as a hitman, and Saul Rubinek as a sleazy movie producer, plus Michael Rapaport as Clarence’s pal, and Bronson Pinchot as a sweaty Hollywood yes-man. For the perky, plucky score, composer Hans Zimmer copied a refrain that had been used in one of Tarantino’s favorite films, Badlands (1973).
Eight Men Out (TubiTV)
John Sayles is one of our most literate filmmakers, writing screenplays that read like novels, and, as a director, generally getting polished work out of small budgets. Based on Eliot Asinof’s book, Eight Men Out (1988) tells the story of perhaps the most heartbreaking incident in baseball history: the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal, wherein eight players allegedly threw the World Series for cash. Learning of the general disregard that Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey (Clifton James) has for his players, a gambler (Michael Lerner) gets the idea to offer the struggling players more money to throw the series than they would get by winning it. Sayles shows sympathy toward the men’s hard decision; they’re not just greedy.
Sayles also pays firm attention to realism and detail, and his cast is excellent. (The director has said that he hired actors who could actually play ball.) D.B. Sweeney plays superstar “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, who is not the center of attention, but rather part of a strong ensemble. (Sweeney apparently learned how to hit left-handed for the part.) Also on board is John Cusack as Buck Weaver, David Strathairn as Eddie Cicotte, and Charlie Sheen as Hap Felsch. Sayles himself co-stars as reporter Ring Lardner with the real-life Studs Terkel at his side playing Hugh Fullerton. Nancy Travis has a small role as a player’s wife. Though the film has become a classic among baseball fans, it was not a hit at the box office. “Say it ain’t so, Joe!”
In the so-called silent era, it is agreed that there were four geniuses of comedy, and from among Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harry Langdon, it’s clear that Harold Lloyd was the savviest. He retained the rights and the negatives to all his films, and whereas many of his contemporaries fell into ruin, he managed to spin his career into a lifelong business success. He also created one of the most indelible images in the history of film: his character hanging from a clock. However, at the same time, he never took any directing credit for his films, and although he contributed as much to their creation as Chaplin and Keaton did to theirs, it could be this minor detail that makes Lloyd slightly less appreciated today.
The summery Speedy (1928) was Lloyd’s final silent film, though it’s perhaps more notable for an onscreen appearance by baseball legend Babe Ruth, catching a taxi to Yankee Stadium and suffering through a terrifying, reckless backseat ride with our hero at the wheel. Lloyd plays the title character, a baseball-obsessed ne’er-do-well who can’t seem to hang onto a job, though his girl, Jane (Ann Christy), loves him anyway. The plot has him trying to save Jane’s grandfather’s horse-drawn trolley car, though there are long, carefree segments not connected to anything, such as a crazy day at Coney Island. Director Ted Wilde received an Oscar nomination for Best Comedy Director, a category that, sadly, didn’t last long. (Incidentally, “Speedy” also became Lloyd’s nickname in real life.)
The Bad News Bears (Vudu—Available for rental, or free with ads)
The great Walter Matthau gives one of his most iconic performances as the beer-swilling, former minor league ballplayer Morris Buttermaker. After the California Little League is sued for excluding unskilled players, the Bears are formed as a home for these outcasts, and Buttermaker is selected as the unwitting coach. Set the stage for plenty of dropped catches, strikeouts, and balls rolling between legs, with Buttermaker’s rumbling, rude comments topping it all off, and it’s a recipe for great comedy. Matthau channels the classic comedian W.C. Fields, a drinker and a black-hearted cynic who hated children and dogs, and it works beautifully. The team gets a boost from two unlikely sources, a girl (gasp!), Amanda Whurlitzer (Tatum O’Neal), who can talk back to Buttermaker, and the local juvenile delinquent, Kelly Leak (Jackie Earle Haley).
Of course, the weirdos learn to work together and to taste victory. It’s not too far away from cliché, but director Michael Ritchie and screenwriter Bill Lancaster (the son of Burt) constantly give the impression that they’re being naughty and not playing by the rules. (The poster art was even by Jack Davis, of MAD Magazine.) One of their best tricks is the outsized operatic music score by Jerry Fielding that deliberately flies in the face of what’s happening onscreen. It was a hit, and it inspired two sequels, a TV series, and a remake, none of which came close to the original’s energy and laugh power. Weirdly, Haley later disappeared for many years, making a celebrated comeback as an adult—and earning an Oscar nomination—for Little Children (2006).