1977 Movie Review: SLAP SHOT, 1977

SLAP SHOTSLAP SHOT, 1977
Movie Review

Directed by George Roy Hill
Starring: Paul Newman, Strother Martin, Michael Ontkean, Lindsay Crouse
Review by Megan Powers

SYNOPSIS:

The Charlestown Chief’s hockey team is about to be folded due to tough financial times. Player-Coach Reggie Dunlop (Paul Newman) is determined to keep his team afloat even if he has to lie and scheme to make it happen.

REVIEW:

There was no fanfare for Slap Shot during it initial release in 1977. Many critics were put off by its coarse language and locker room humor. But over the years the film has grown in stature. Slap Shot is considered one of the best sports films of the past 50 years, according to sports author Dan Jenkins. Hockey New rated Slap Shot as the Best Hockey film ever made. The critical reevaluation continues to be positive and the film has earned cult status from Entertainment Weekly in their list of the Top 50 Cult Films. In 1998 Maxim magazine named Slap Shot the “Best Guy Movie of All Time.” It’s ironic that a woman, Nancy Dowd wrote this Best Guy Movie of All Time.

Nancy Dowd based the Slap Shot story on the experiences her brother Ned Dowd had while playing minor league hockey for the Johnstown Jets in the 70’s. Violence was a huge selling point for the minor league. Ned told his sister that the team was going to be sold. She asked who owned the club and he didn’t know. Dowd moved to the area to be inspired and wrote Slap Shot. This accounts for the authenticity of the films language and situations. I love the fact that this profanity-laden outrageous comedy was written by a woman. Her characters are vivid and hilariously real. As funny as the film is, there is a very real economic dread throughout. The mill that employs most of the town is shutting down, which puts the hockey team in danger of folding.

The unknown owner of the team plans to fold the operation. This prompts the coach and fellow player Reggie Dunlop (Paul Newman) to plant news stories that Florida is interested in starting a hockey team. This ruse helps keep the team’s morale up and results in winning games. Florida wanting a hockey team was a great joke when this film came out. The thought was ridiculous or was until 1992 when the Tampa Bay Lightning’s hockey team debuted and went on to win the Stanley Cup in 2004.

Dunlop continues to try and find out who the teams owner is, so he can talk them out of folding the team. Meanwhile, the General Manager Joe McGrath (Strother Martin) adds the Hanson Brothers, three violent goons to the team. Dunlop protests and doesn’t let the brothers play. When Dunlop eventually lets the Hanson’s play, they are an instant hit with the fans. The Hanson’s are the ultimate violent goons, creating mayhem on the ice. They check players into the boards, slamming players onto the ice and even slapping the opposing players on the bench with their hockey sticks. The Chiefs gain more fans and win more games by being outrageously violent on the ice. During the warm up before the game, the Hanson’s start a brawl. Next we see the Hansons and the rest of the Chiefs bloodied and bruised listening to the National Anthem. A referee skates over to yell at Steve Hanson about not pulling any funny stuff. The Brother tell the ref, “I’m trying to listen to the f**king song.” The ref looks chagrinned. This sequence is so funny in its absurdity.

Dunlop finally blackmails McGrath into telling him who the owner is. The owner is a well off widow living in the suburbs with her children. She thanks Dunlop for making the team winners and that she could easily sell them, but she prefers to fold the team and use them as a tax write off. Dunlop pleads with her to think of the people on the team, but she won’t change her mind. He insults her before he leaves and returns to the team and tells them the truth during their final game. There is no buyer for the team. He asks the team to play old-time hockey and play the game clean. They all agree and they hear the line up for the game. The Chiefs are facing the toughest, most legendary underhanded players. They are outmatched in brutality when they play clean and they are losing the game.

During the first period, McGrath flips out, telling the team that there are NHL scouts in the audience. Next we see the Chiefs back to a slugfest on the ice. Ned Braden (Michael Ontkean) is benched because he won’t fight. Braden is an excellent player without resorting to fighting. Braden skates out to center ice and does a striptease. An opposing player demands the referee to make Braden stop stripping yelling, “That’s disgusting.” The ref doesn’t and the player sucker-punches the ref. The game is forfeit to the Chiefs who win the championship. Braden skates around the rink in his jockstrap.

Slap Shot is another 70’s film that is gritty and realistic. The locations are perfect in depicting a community having financial difficulties. The situations and characters are funny because they are believable. Dowd’s dialogue is entertainingly blue and yet totally natural coming out of the characters. Somehow she’s made the coarse language seem perfectly normal in this world of sports, which I’m sure it is, but so many times in films, bad language seems to be there for no real reason. The characters use of foul language is false and is uninspired. Dowd’s characters would talk this way, so it is fitting. It has been said that f**k is said 176 times in the film. I would love to know who counted them all.

Paul Newman is excellent as the aging morally slippery Coach, who thinks he’s seen it all. Newman had said this was one of his favorite films to make. He is clearly enjoying himself and does his own skating. He is charming and a rascal. George Roy Hill directed Newman for the third time in this film. They worked together on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and The Sting (1973). The cinematography by Victor J Kemper shows us exciting action scenes on the ice. All the actors are wonderful especially the real life hockey players and non professional actors playing the Hanson Brothers: Jeff Carlson, Steve Carlson and David Hanson leave an indelible mark as the id’s gone wild brothers. Yvon Barrette is great as the Chief’s put-upon goalie, Denis Lemieux. Jennifer Warren, Lindsay Crouse and Michael Ontkean all contribute to the wonderful cast.

I keep going back and watching Slap Shot over and over again and I rediscover it each time. The scenes that make me laugh out loud are too numerous to cite. I enjoy the normalcy of some of the set ups. A local hang out where the players are engrossed in a soap opera on TV, while they have a drink is amusing or when the players are watching a woman exercising on TV with rapt lascivious attention as they pass the time before a game. This film is a pitch perfect comedy and great sports movie. Discover this underrated rough gem for yourself.

There really is so much to recommend ‘Gilda’. There is a reason that it has been used (The Shawshank Redemption anyone?) over and over again, gets referred to over and over again and has a substantial fan following even now. It is a fabulous movie in so many ways. Few movies even now can boast the great plot, great characters, superb acting, and intelligent directing.

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SLAP SHOT

1967 Movie Review: COOL HAND LUKE, 1967

Cool Hand Luke,  1967, MOVIE POSTERCool Hand Luke, 1967
Movie Reviews

Directed by: Stuart Rosenberg

Cast: Paul Newman, George Kennedy, Strother Martin, J.D. Cannon, Morgan Woodward
Review by Jarred Thomas


SYNOPSIS:

A man refuses to conform to life in a rural prison and becomes a legend among the prisoners while a nuisance to the authority officials.

 

REVIEW:

One of the coolest characters ever in cinema history, Lucas Jackson (Newman) later dubbed Cool Hand Luke, refuses to bow to those who intend to restrain him from being free, or living his life the way he chooses. The 60’s were a time when adolescents challenged conformity, unwilling to submit to the corrupt oppressive adult world. Cool Hand Luke epitomized that notion of the rebellious youth.

After getting arrested, Luke in thrown in prison for two years where he has trouble adapting to the pecking order of the prisoners or even the rules established by officials. He gets into a scuffle with the head prisoner Dragline (Kennedy) and despite getting beaten severely; he continues to stand his ground, unwilling to submit. Impressed, Dragline and the rest of the inmates develop a mutual respect for the veteran war hero, and his new nickname Cool Hand Luke is donned after he wins a card game on a bluff.

Luke is charismatic, charming, and an opportunist. He looks at every moment as an opportunity to escape and he capitalizes on it, and his determination inspires others to follow. Dragline becomes a dependable and loyal ally, working with Luke in getting out of prison, despite his numerous failed attempts.

There’s a great scene that has been parodied in pop culture since the film; the boiled egg contest. Luke tries to inspire his inmates by performing a bet that requires him to eat 50 eggs in one hour, and he does. It’s a classic moment that has left a mark in pop culture.

 Newman gives an excellent performance one that has become one of his many iconic characters that the renowned actor has established in his long career. His strong performance is enhanced with the solid supporting cast who provide some interesting characters particularly George Kennedy who creates a tough convict with a compassionate and loyal side towards Luke. Both actors are giving some their best performances of their careers.

In 2005, the film was included in the United States National Film Registry considered to be culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant. Luke is similar other characters refusing to conform. Randle McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Number Six from The Prisoner, each one a representation of individuality. These are iconic characters with Luke now included in the litter.

While the prisoner guards came off a little too cartoony in which they were all one dimensional, director Rosenberg creates a terrific story with distinct characters that are fun to watch. Cool Hand Luke has become a popular film for its message and remarkable protagonist who inspires people to be free and independent. Luke reminds us that it’s cool to be different.

cool hand luke.jpg

Movie Review: TORN CURTAIN (1966) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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TORN CURTAIN MOVIE POSTER
TORN CURTAIN, 1966
Horror/Thriller Movie Review

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Paul Newman, Julie Andrews, Lila Kedrova, Hansjörg Felmy, Tamara Toumanova, Ludwig Donath
Review by Steven Painter

SYNOPSIS:

An American scientist publicly defects to East Germany as part of a cloak and dagger mission to find the solution for a formula resin and then figuring out a plan to escape back to the West.

REVIEW:

Alfred Hitchcock never really worked with big stars, or at least he never worked with big stars he wasn’t familiar with. Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant were making their second movies with Hitchcock when they appeared together in Notorious (1946). Grace Kelly and James Stewart had appeared in one Hitchcock movie apiece before appearing together in Rear Window (1954). Grant and Kelly had two Hitchcock movies under their belts before making To Catch a Thief (1955). So things were different when Hitchcock cast Paul Newman and Julie Andrews in Torn Curtain (1966).

Many things are different about Torn Curtain. For one, the movie has aged severely since 1990. The phrase “torn curtain” obviously refers to the Iron Curtain, which was the largest symbol of the Cold War. It no longer has any significance now that the war is over. It is also different because the two major stars, Newman and Andrews, had long, distinguished careers, but this movie is rarely mentioned as being a part of it even though they appeared in a movie directed by the world’s most popular director at this point. Perhaps the reason why this movie is not mentioned is because it is not that great. It received lukewarm reactions from audiences and critics when released and has only gotten worse since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Our story begins on a boat filled with nuclear physicists. One of them, Michael Armstrong, played by Newman, is actually a spy for the U.S. government. His assistant and fiancée, Sarah Sherman, played by Andrews, has no idea of his real work. So she is very surprised when she finds out her husband has decided to defect to East Germany.

He does his best to lose her, she does her best to follow him and the two end up in an East German airport. Michael is celebrated by the East Germans as he is a symbol of people in the west getting fed up with democracy and coming over to their side.

Michael confesses to Sarah the real reason why he has defected. This scene is interesting, not only for the information gained, but because it occurs in a large hotel room in which the only lighting Hitchcock used seemed to come from natural places i.e. windows and lamps. Typically movies use light sources from off-screen, but act as if they are coming from on-screen. In this movie Hitch tried to keep all the light used coming from natural sources. It works to various degrees, but is most pronounced in this scene.

Adventures ensue as Michael has the task of trying to learn a secret formula from the East German scientist Dr. Lindt.

Michael is forced to murder Gromek, a taxi driver who brings Michael to a farm in which he has been instructed by the U.S. government to make contact with. Gromek gets some ideas as to why Michael is really in East Germany and Michael must kill him. Unlike other Hitchcock murders, this one is not short and pretty. It is long and hard. It was an attempt at Hitchcock to capture more realism, since killing someone is not as easy as it typically looks in the movies.

Michael meets Dr. Lindt and is able to trick him into giving him the formula. From here the suspense is ratcheted up as Michael and Sarah make a daring escape back to the west. They are the ones who create a sort of tear in the Iron Curtain by acquiring the formula.

The suspense in their escape is well done, but it should have been as each situation the coupe finds themselves in seems to have been taken from another Hitchcock movie. There is a bus ride with interesting characters that echoes similar trips in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and Saboteur (1942). The couple ends up in a theatre, surrounded by bad guys. This is similar to The 39 Steps (1935), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and (1956) and Stage Freight (1950). Of course Michael and Sarah get out of each situation in a different way than in previous Hitchcock movies. In the theater they shout “fire!” and everyone promptly moves towards the exits. Even the final escape for the couple, from a Scandinavian ship, seemed like a rehash from the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera (1935). Michael and Sarah end up in the icy water, forced to swim ashore to the free west instead of being removed from the ship while hiding in boxes like the Marx Brothers were.

Torn Curtain probably wasn’t a bad movie when it was released. It is long and does rehash some familiar territory for Hitchcock, but the formula was effective and created suspense. It does lag in some parts, but Newman and Andrews give good performances. For today’s audience though, the movie can be hard to watch as the premise behind it has no relevance in the world of today.

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