Joan Rivers, 1933-2014

When I wrote my tribute to Robin Williams, who knew I was being prophetic with my opening line.  One has to wonder if the afterlife was getting low on comedy with the passing of two giants in such a short time…

One’s memory of Joan Rivers depends largely on when you were first exposed to her.  In thinking about it, I see 3 distinct eras for one of the hardest working woman in entertainment:

  • Stand-up comedienne – to be fair she did this her whole life, but it was her early career that launched everything else
  • Talk-Show Host/Plastic Surgery – From her time with The Tonight Show to having her own daytime talk show, the stories had a hard time competing with the amount of stories related to her fascination with plastic surgery
  • Fashion Critic – the acerbic wit turned loose on the red carpet as she said things we wished we could to people

For me, I was exposed to her during the second era.  I remember her being Johnny’s permanent guest host, and then I remember the bitter feud that developed due to her wanting to take a shot at her own show on Fox.  To date, she is still the only female to have hosted a late-night talk show on a non-cable network.  It was also during this time I remember hearing (and sharing) the plastic surgery jokes.  To me, a bright spot is when she appeared in Mel Brooks’s Star-Wars parody, Spaceballs.  If you think about her role, it sort of symbolizes her career over the years:  no matter how much people tried to keep her in the background or “keep her down” in general, she always managed to produce quality, memorable work.

One of the best things to happen to her this year was Jimmy Fallon’s olive branch to her to come back on The Tonight Show.  In both appearances, one could tell she was happy to be back on a show whose history was intertwined with her career.  Now one hopes that she and Johnny have reconciled in the great comedy club in the sky…


The November Man


Most people naturally think of James Bond when they hear the name Pierce Brosnan, particularly when the word “spy” is in the same sentence.  Given the strong association of any actor who has played that iconic role, any spy movie not relating to the world of James Bond has to be better than the average spy movie due to the immediate comparisons to the Bond franchise.  Even more importantly, a new spy movie that is not being touted as a reboot or remake should not immediately evoke memories of a movie that was out 13 years prior.

After a long Labor Day weekend that had me moving apartments, I needed a movie.  Part of my bribery…err…convincing of my buddy Russ to help out was that I would cover the cost of the movie.  The original plan was to see Guardians of the Galaxy since Russ had not seen it; unfortunately the times didn’t work out.  The November Man fit the schedule and was one that captured our interest.  Only downside was that it was a Regal location; however the AMC at Downtown Disney is hampered by poor parking.

The November Man centers around a spy who has retired and is enjoying life out of the spy game.  An old handler shows up with a mission that requires Brosnan’s special touch.  What follows is a fairly formulaic movie with predictable plot points.  What was jarring for me was that within the first 10 minutes I immediately flashed on the memory of watching 2001’s Spy Game with Robert Redford and Brad Pitt.  Sadly this memory kept popping up throughout trying to watch The November Man.  Spy Game had a better story, which made things worse.

The charm of Brosnan does a lot of the heavy lifting of this movie, but it is not enough to save it.  The director and writers are to blame for this mess.  I wanted to include the trailer as part of this review, but can’t due to the fact that the majority of the contents are from the last 30 minutes of the movie.  That makes it way too easy to spoil already easy-to-detect plot points.  The positive of the afternoon was that we saw it at matinee price.

My advice: wait for cable or streaming.  It is not worth making a trip to the theater, particularly when USA has aired better options with Burn Notice and Covert Affairs…

St. Elmo’s Fire

When I first started this blog 7 years ago, part of the mission was to highlight movies that were no longer available on the big screen that people should see.  Yet I didn’t want to review everything I came across while flipping channels.  So any movie seen at home had to be on DVD.  That evolved to Blu-Ray, and now it evolves to include Digital (downloaded or streaming).  One of the neat things right now is that VuDu and Flixster are running promotions to give you 5-10 movies for free.  Unfortunately these are not all good movies, but free is free.  I may never watch 17 Again, but it costs me nothing but a little pride by having it in the digital locker.  It is through this promotion that I acquired tonight’s subject.

The mid-80s were an interesting time for movies.  John Hughes was at the peak with his Breakfast Club/Pretty In Pink crew.  Studios kept looking for the next John Hughes-like project to capture those easily spent dollars from teenagers and young 20s.  As the Brat Pack started growing out of high school roles, so did the audience.  St. Elmo’s Fire was supposed to have the winning formula: 3 cast members from The Breakfast Club (Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, and Ally Sheedy), Rob Lowe, and a director by the name of Joel Schumacher.  To be honest, the worst thing for this movie tonight was me seeing his name at the beginning; it definitely led me to looking for faults.  When this came out in January of 1985 (yes, almost 30 years ago), I was just in 9th grade.  I saw the trailer and had no interest in it.  As the years went by, I still never found a reason to watch it, despite friends being amazed that I never had.  It was the random selection for tonight, as I wanted to watch a movie that I had not seen.  Since it has been 30 years since this movie came out, I am not really worried about giving too much away; that said, if you haven’t seen it, know that I am going to be talking about major plot points.

The movie centers around a group of friends that have just graduated college, and are trying to find their way into making that next step in the journey of life.  Sadly, the person or persons who wrote this story took the easy path of creating one-dimensional characters.  As the plot was being written, one can tell that there is no confidence in the audience to handle the real consequences of certain problems and events of the movie; that results in many of the subplots being trivialized at the end, making the viewer feel cheated of resolution.  Here is my breakdown of the subplots:

  • Emilio Estevez – In a random emergency room encounter, he spots his college freshman crush, Andie McDowell.  Over the course of the movie, he tries to gain her attention and affection.  The only problem is that he becomes obsessive to the point of stalking.  Yet, he seems fine by the end of the movie after getting a kiss from her.  This story seems to fuel the argument that it is ok to stalk women as long as you get some attention from them.  Terrible character, terrible actions, absolutely no consequence.
  • Demi Moore – Her character is the attention whore of the group.  She lives extravagantly and does drugs as a way to impress everyone.  Eventually her house of cards falls apart, and she shows depression.  Again, though, no consequence, and certainly no discussion of her drug habit.  The closest is a 1 minute scene where two of her friends try to talk to her and she runs away.
  • Judd Nelson/Ally Sheedy/Andrew McCarthy – This was a cliché nightmare.  Judd Nelson wants to be a mover and shaker, and wants Sheedy to be his wife.  She wants to take things at a moderate pace.  McCarthy spends the first half of the movie dealing with people thinking he is gay.  This leads to the stereotypical denials and angry reactions.  Of course this was in 1985, when AIDS hysteria was at its height and homosexuals were used as punch lines in movies.  So after McCarthy spends the first half of the movie being mysterious, he all of sudden moves in to sweep Sheedy off her feet after she has an emotional breakup with Nelson over his infidelity.  Sheedy’s character felt the most genuine through out the movie, which made her one of the few sympathetic characters.  McCarthy would have been equal had the story not anchored him with the idiotic gay “red herring” plotline.
  • Rob Lowe/Mare Winningham – This was actually the plot line that felt the least contrived.  Winningham loves the bad boy Lowe, which is not popular with the family.  She also wants to focus on working her job, which allows her to help those in need.  yet her family wants her to get hitched to some no-name guy, stay home and spit out kids.  The fact that she stays true to her ideals and finally stands up to the family is good character growth.  It is her strength in telling Lowe no over and over that eventually gets Lowe to realize that he can’t be “Peter Pan” forever and he must grow up.  That said, his character is one that does not deserve any of the rewards he receives.

st elmo fire

Ultimately, this movie represents what would happen if the worst of the Seinfeld crew merged with the worst parts of the Friends crew, and you removed all of the comedy.  Even those that complained about the group from How I Met Your Mother being unrealistic would find them genuine next to this group of characters in this movie.  By the time this movie ended, I was ready to email and call every person who ever told me to watch this movie, and ask them for $8 to cover what I would have paid to see it in the theaters in the 80s.  A majority of the characters are irredeemable and everything that was made to feel important at the beginning was thrown away by the end of the movie.

My advice: Skip this movie – there are so many better movies out there.  Instead, spend 4 minutes and watch the only good thing to come out of the movie: John Parr’s song, Man In Motion…

St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)–John Parr