Tag Archives: Barry Levinson

XL Popcorn – The Natural

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 817/1007Title: The Natural
Director: Barry Levinson
Year: 1984
Country: USA

At some point, there were a bunch of studio executives in a room that decided it would be okay to have a man in his mid-forties play a 19 year old for the first twenty minutes of this film. Rather than hire a young actor to take this role on, they allowed a 47-48 year old Robert Redford play 30 years younger than his age. I don’t mean to be ageist… but it was a bit ridiculous.

Also, what is it with the 1980s and American cinema churning out all these baseball films. I believe that The Natural might well be the last one, but I think I’ve had this conversation with myself before and we’ve ended up with this long film based on a book that is loosely based on a man whose baseball career was delayed by 15 years because he was shot by a woman with some sort of mental illness.

If you have seen the classic baseball episode of The Simpsons, you will already know some of the key visuals from The Natural – namely the making of a bat from tree struck by lightning and the final home run where a mixture of a ball impact and faulty wiring results in a spectacular pyrotechnic display that would probably set the stadium on fire.

As films go it’s fine – Robert Redford is a bit too stuffy for the role and, by what I have read about in some reviews online, it gives the film a Hollywood ending where it should have been something a bit more nuanced. Knowing this and how much the final fireworks display was a tad overkill, I am now interested in the book as I want to see how this could have been done better or, at least, was not made as the first film by a new off-shoot production company.

What makes this film decent enough to watch is the supporting cast. Do I think this was a film that should have received acting nominations during the 1984 awards season, probably not, but they do so much heavy lifting that I cannot begrudge them some form of recognition. Still though, this film should just not be on this list. We don’t so many baseball movies on this list, we just don’t.

XL Popcorn – Good Morning, Vietnam

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 697/1007Title: Good Morning, Vietnam
Director: Barry Levinson
Year: 1987
Country: USA

After two fairly lacklustre films in a row (at least for me) I felt the need to switch on something that would be a sure-fire win… or at least something that I didn’t resent having to watch until the finish. It made sense, at least to me, to turn to Good Morning, Vietnam as this is a film I have been curious about for a while.

Going into this film there are two things that I am glad that I knew up front. Firstly, most of the radio broadcasts are improvised by Robin Williams (which makes his character more Robin Williams than Adrian Cronauer – the man it is based on). Secondly, that many events in this movie did not actually occur, but added to make this more cinematic.

A lot of praise has been heaped onto Robin Williams for his role in this film, and for good reason. Casual contemporary racism aside (which makes some scenes quite uncomfortable) he is a joy to see during his improvised radio segments and he does well with the heavier topics of the film. Sure, the ending confrontation felt a little forced – but that is more fault of the writing (where it feels that they wrote themselves into a corner) than with him.

Speaking of the ending, this film did feel like it began to run out of steam towards the end. The romantic plot went nowhere and, aside from some good mileage being made out of the commanding officer being painfully unfunny, the ending confrontation scenes did not sit well with me.

In a film that was doing well with painting with shades of grey, suddenly everything became black and white when it came to allegiance to America v.s. North Vietnam. I guess the plea was more made at the audience to understand, which it did well, but I wished there had been a glimmer of recognition on the part of Williams’ character.

Still, on the whole, this is a film that adds a neat twist to the Vietnam war picture. A subgenre that was really flying high in the late 1980s thanks to films like Platoon and Full Metal Jacket.  I guess this was the fashionable war at the time, before World War Two films took over the genre again soon after.

XL Popcorn – Diner

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 632/1007
Title: Diner
Director: Barry Levinson
Year: 1982
Country: USA

So apparently this is the most recent film that I have seen for the 1001 list since A City of Sadness as well as the continuation of my run of US films. It’s also the latest in a run of films that I’ve watched thanks to a podcast, in this instance a guest appearance made by Paul Reiser on Comedy Bang Bang. Probably would have made more sense to watch this if I knew who he was… I had no idea who I was meant to be looking out for.

Even though I didn’t know who Paul Reiser was there were enough well-known people in this film to keep me occupied. For a lot of them, like Ellen Barkin, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon and Steve Guttenberg, these were early major roles. Similarly this was the directorial debut of Barry ‘Rain Man’ Levinson… so I guess that the point I’m trying to make here is that this was a formative film for many people who found future success.

With this in mind, I probably went into this film with higher expectations that were warranted. As a comedy-drama that is ranked by the American Film Institute as one of the best comedies of all time… I was never had that moment where I could say I was close to chuckling. It’s similar to my experience to American Graffiti and Fast Times At Ridgemont High in that I don’t think I share the same humour. Also, I’m not sure I actually could hand-on-heart say I liked any of the main characters too much.

In Diner we are thrown back to the final weeks of 1959 where a group of male friends reconvene in their hometown in order to attend the wedding of Eddie (Guttenberg). The idea being that in this week these men, having left college, are starting to have the realisation that adulthood beckons. On the face of it this is a great idea for a film and I usually love a period piece. However, the year being 1959 just feels incidental – aside from the technology and the current events it could really have been set in 1980s America, albeit in a bit of a backwater.

Similarly, when you have a film like this you need to at least feel something for the characters so you can bask in their glories and commiserate in their failures. I felt fairly little for any of them apart from Barkin’s character during the argument over the organisation of a record collection.

I’ve been really negative, but it’s not like I hated this film. It was fun enough to watch, especially the scene where they’re all together in the titular diner. When you split the group up… I started to have difficulty telling them apart with the exception of Steve Guttenberg. I guess, in the end, I wish it dug a little deeper.