Friday, April 24, 2015

BIG TROUBLE (1986) - John Cassavetes

"The scholarship didn't come through! What can I do?!"

Arkin as insurance salesman Leonard Hoffman, a henpecked father of musical prodigy triplets who can't afford their Yale tuition. This largely forgotten noir comedy (a slight twist on Double Indemnity, basically) was Arkin and Falk's second pairing and, regrettably, John Cassavetes' final film. According to Wikipedia, Cassavetes disliked the final product intensely due to studio interference, a film he took over from Anthony Bergman (writer of The In-Laws) mid-way through. So it's no surprise it plays at times like a cash-in attempt on The In-Laws, the two stars' chemistry and characters only marginally changed.

There's too much wall-to-wall Bill Conti score but a few nice moments where the actors get to stretch their legs, extemporize, say odd things outside of plot that feel like they could be plucked from a better Cassavetes film (Minnie and Moskowitz, for example). But most of those moments go to Falk and Beverly D'Angelo (pretty great in this), while Arkin is generally left to stand around looking panicked. For my money, the best performance comes courtesy of Valerie Curtin as Arkin's uber-ambitious wife. A true multi-tasker, she does a lot with very little on the page in a short amount of time. "Yale doesn't understand, Leonard. They HAVE to go to Yale. How are they going to make connections at UCLA or CCNY? They won't. They'll meet basketball players. That's it!"

Thursday, April 23, 2015

THE IN-LAWS (1979) - Arthur Hiller

"I'm being irrational? I sit there listening to stories about the Guacamole Act of 1917 
and tsetse flies carrying off small children, and I'm being irrational?"

Arkin as Sheldon Kornpett, D.D.S., mild-mannered Manhattan dentist turned reluctant Central American spy. Have to admit I had higher expectations for this one, a comedy "classic" I'd actually never seen before (if they remade it, it must be a classic, right?). High-strung everyman Arkin paired with lackadaisical bull-in-a-China-shop Falk? Sounds like a winner on paper...if only there were more incisive jokes on that paper. The humor is primarily mild, PG-friendly gags, and Arkin seems to spend the majority of the film dodging stray bullets ("Serpentine! Serpentine!"). I think I prefer this film's obvious R-rated buddy movie precursor, the one where Arkin does far more firing than serpentining. A shame with two improvisational talents like Arkin and Falk there couldn't be better banter fewer ballistics.

Friday, April 17, 2015


"I think we could have a good time, Jeanette.
But we need to stop the brooding and the running and the coffee."

Arkin as mid-life lothario Barney Cashman, failed philanderer and successful fish restaurateur. Cashman's your typical Neil Simon nebbish-- neurotic, lusty but ultimately decent at heart. Therefore, a textbook Alan Arkin role. He uses his mother's apartment as a swinger's bachelor pad, but all his extramarital rendezvous with willing ladies (a tubercular cougar, a ditzy hippie chick and one of his best friends' depressed wives) turn into extended therapy sessions. Plus, he's got this bad habit of smelling his fingers constantly, cologne-ing them as necessary (get your mind out of the gutter...the man works in a fish restaurant).

Enjoyable if extremely dated, like a lesser Louie episode. But a good vehicle for Arkin's broad comic talents and definitely in his comfort zone. How has Ben Stiller not remade this sucker yet?

LITTLE MURDERS (1971) - Alan Arkin

"What kind of cheese is that? Sharp cheddar? You should know
better with my stomach I can't take sharp cheddar!"

Arkin as dyspeptic police captain Lieutenant Practice. He also does double duty as director. Little Murders is a great big Velveeta slice of satirical '70s NYC life. Garbage strikes, random muggings, a rash of sniper shootings, heavy breather phone callers, atheist preachers, Elliott Gould! As a Brooklynite watching 40-plus years later, what's not to appreciate?

No big surprise this one was directed by actor. It's based on a stageplay, boasts many extended monologues. The best ones go to Lou Jacobi as a God-loving judge, Donald Sutherland as a very practical ordained minister and Gould, of course, as a shell-shocked photographer/spouse-to-be. Arkin doesn't show up until the last 15 minutes as a half-crazed police inspector in the midst of a citywide homicide crisis. He's amusing but serves better in the director chair. Obviously, he picked up a few tricks of the dark comedy directing trade from Nichols in Catch-22

My favorite was the scene on the subway where a bloody-faced Gould (his fiancee was just shot in the back in his arms seconds before) robotically walks the length of car and takes a seat, none of the other city-hardened passengers batting an eyelash. This was the '70s, after all. Strap-hangers had bigger fish to fry than the scourge of man-spreading.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

CATCH-22 (1970) - Mike Nichols

"Ok, let me see if I've got this straight. In order to be grounded, I've got to be crazy. 
And I must be crazy to keep flying. But if I ask to be grounded, 
that means I'm not crazy anymore, and I have to keep flying."

Arkin as Captain Yossarian on the titular military paradox. It's a tough job being arguably the only "sane" person in your unit. Maybe a tougher job standing out among this cavalcade of great actors with arguably juicier roles (Jon Voight, Buck Henry, Anthony Perkins, Orson Welles, Martin Balsam, Bob Newhart...just to name a few). But Arkin makes a fine fulcrum about which the insanity (and explosions) may whirlwind. This has to be one of the toughest books to adapt of all time. I didn't like it so much when I first saw it on heavily cropped VHS years and years ago. This week, on mp4, I admired it quite a bit more. Hats off to the late-great Mike Nichols (this week's Mad Men dedicatee) for tackling a Hell(er) of a task. Or should I say pants off, hats on?

WAIT UNTIL DARK (1967) - Terence Young

"Highly recommended. Disposable. 
You buy them in enormous rolls from Hammacher Schlemmer."

That's Alan Arkin as beatnik burglar Roat on the purchase of proper crime scene apparel. As for the movie? A little less recommended. The plot is kinda preposterous (though I can see how it would play better on stage). Why would these three thieves spend so much time and energy trying to trick a blind woman (Audrey Hepburn) into revealing the location of a hidden doll filled with heroin when they could, I don't know, just toss the apartment, bust open the safe?

Don't ask me. Ask Roat. Or Roat, Jr. Or Roat, Sr. That's right, at least Arkin gets to play three roles, Peter Sellers style. So, in that sense, not a disposable flick at all. Does Hammacher Schlemmer still exist?

Wednesday, April 01, 2015


April. Taxes. Rain. Easter bunnies. Peeps. Impending Allergies. Rain. A seventh Fast and Furious movie. The end of Mad Men. Rain. Taxes. Allergies. Rain.

Ugh, somebody wake up me when the month is over.

In the meantime, let's watch some old Alan Arkin movies. OK?

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

BIRDMAN (2014) - Alejandro González Iñárritu

Eleven Michael Keaton flicks and one month later, I still can't believe Birdman won Best Picture and the man himself came up bupkis for Best Actor. It's such a career defining performance. Forget the career's just a legendary performance. As for movie itself, seen a second time, what an oddball choice for Best Picture. Birdman at its core is so anti everything that Hollywood is about (raging egos) while being all about old school Hollywood razzle dazzle (those long takes and tracking shots). Except for the ending. I'm still not crazy about the ending. But then what do I know?

More to the point, what do any critics know? Or awards show voters? I'd hoped to end MK month on a calmer, less tantrum-infused "Vine," but I have to admit this moment below is my favorite Birdman Keaton moment. And screw the's just a label, it's lazy, the Academy are all "lazy fuckers," and they risk nothing, nothing, nothing. And Mr. Keaton, well, he is a "fucking actor" thank you very much.

And here's a bonus "Super Vine" I put together of all the clips from March. I call it Enter Billy Blaze, Exit Birdman: Or the Unexpected Virtue of Re-watching 11 Michael Keaton Films in One Month. Forgive the shoddy sound and video. In trying to emulate that Keaton Oscar Vine a month ago, I kinda lapsed on the production values, recorded most things off my TV. That tinkling soundtrack you hear ever so slightly beneath the clips? Why, yes, it's Quarterflash's "Night Shift"!

GAME 6 (2006) - Michael Hoffman

This teeny tiny indie from eight years ago is practically a dress rehearsal for Birdman (or, to use the latter film's terminology, "a preview"). The similarities are so pronounced as to be eerie or incite allegations of plagiarism. They both take place in Manhattan and concern the Theatre. Both films pivot around a Michael Keaton meltdown (here a washed-up playwright instead of a washed-up actor). His young, jaded daughter follows him around the city (Ari Graynor instead of Emma Stone), judging him for past wrongs. He's having an affair with a slightly younger woman (Bebe Neuwirth) and is obsessed with a critic's upcoming review (Robert Downey, Jr. in an Andy Warhol wig). He's haunted not so much by superhero voices in his head or past career choices but by the continual losing streak of the Boston Red Sox. It makes you wonder: Is Game 6 some kind of Birdman prequel? Or is Birdman (like many a Batman before it) a sort of bizarro indie world Game 6 reboot?

You might think so, but the similarities mostly end there in the setup. Game 6's director (the man who brought us, er, Soapdish and Gambit) is not quite so adept or flashy a craftsman as Iñárritu. But the script by Don DeLillo may be leaner, better beast than that of Birdman. It's basically an economical 1.5 hour amalgam of his more accessible novels. Obsession with classic baseball games as metaphor for life (Underworld). Reclusive writer disconnected to his own work (Mao II). People constantly switching vehicles and seeing people they know in traffic jams (Cosmopolis). There's even an "airborne toxic event" (White Noise), here represented by an asbestos cloud.

Game 6 is one of those little indies that came and went in the early aughts without making much of a blip. Which is a shame because it's good little film and a fine Keaton pre-"comeback" comeback performance. I must admit I saw it only for the DeLillo cache at the time. But perhaps now with Birdman it too will have a second life.

Friday, March 27, 2015

MULTIPLICITY (1996) - Harold Ramis

Michael Keaton x 4 = need I say more?

In this "Vine," multi-tasking construction foreman and prime cloning candidate Doug Kinney (Keaton) first meets his third clone, Doug #4, a regrettably dim-witted "copy of a copy" with a fondness for pizza and wallets and calling him "Steve." Multiplicity isn't a comedy gem by any stretch, but at least it's wall-to-wall Keaton by nature of its premise. The inclusion of Doug #4 is key, allowing him the opportunity to take his physical comedy skills to Jerry Lewis heights (or depths, depending on your tastes) in a few choice scenes.

THE PAPER (1994) - Ron Howard

I missed this Keaton starrer when it came out in the theaters, never caught it on video until now. Such a time capsule of the '90s. Forget the fact that it's a newspaper movie about a New York Post style print rag as yet untouched by the internet, the 24 hour news cycle. This movie takes place in a time when GREENPOINT WAS A STILL DANGEROUS PLACE and, you know, not the standing set of Girls. That said, the Rodney King era, wrongfully accused black youth story everyone's chasing in this film could easily be swapped out for today's Ferguson/Eric Garner climate, a depressing reminder that in 20-plus years (plus a black president) some things HAVEN'T changed.

The Paper isn't quite Broadcast News (the movie it seems to emulate most), but it does cruise along at a enjoyably frenetic pace. Keaton does his controlled mania thing here, playing his stock-in-trade overworked everyman, a harried news editor with a baby on the way who every once in a while...snaps! The fact that he snaps in such a New York-centric manner is but a bonus. (Also a bonus: Robert Duvall, who's the best thing going in this flick). Ron Howard may not be the greatest director in the world, but he may the director who knows how to use Michael Keaton the best.