Alan Alda

Same Time, Next Year

Same Time Next Year

1978                           

Universal Pictures

Directed by Robert Mulligan

Produced by Walter Mirisch and Morton Gottlieb

Written by Bernard Slade based on his play

Romantic comedies are most definitely not my favorite genre of movie when I sit down to be entertained by a movie.  I’d rather go get a tooth pulled than have to sit through anything resembling a romantic comedy because when you talk about predictable story and overwrought acting, that’s the genre that specializes in that kinda stuff.  But even a stone-hearted boor such as myself has to admit that there have been a couple of movies in the genre that I have managed to sit through mainly because they’re somewhat different from the usual romantic comedy in terms of story and acting I submit for your approval SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR

George (Alan Alda) and Doris (Ellen Burstyn) are staying separately at the same California resort inn on the Monterey coast one weekend in 1951.  He’s there on business to do the taxes for a client who owns a winery and she’s there because her husband and her kids are visiting her mother-in-law and the mother-in-law cannot stand Doris who she thinks tricked her son into getting married. So Doris tells her husband she’s going to a Catholic retreat so he won’t worry about her being alone.  One night George and Doris are the only ones having dinner in the inn’s main dining room.  They look up, their eyes meet, they smile and before they know it, they’re having dessert and coffee and they talk.  And talk.  And talk.  And before they know it, it’s the next day, they’re waking up in each other’s arms and they’re in love.

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Neither one of them wants to leave their spouses.  They both have responsibilities to their children and the people they have back home.  So they hit on a novel arraignment: every year on the same weekend they’ll stay at the same inn in the same room and spend a weekend together.  And it’s an arraignment that lasts for 26 years through laughter, tragedy, good times and bad.

Now some might question the morality of this arraignment and see it as an endorsement of adultery.  And certainly George and Doris never even bring up the question of not starting the affair or breaking it up at any time during the movie.  And as we never see their spouses (we get to know them through the stories George and Doris tell) we can’t judge how those relationships are.  George and Doris appear to be happy and secure in their marriages and they don’t have a reason to be cheating.  But I think the movie is trying to show two people who if they had met under the right circumstances could have married and had an extremely happy and satisfying life together.  It’s like that old song says: “It’s sad to belong to someone else when the right one comes along.”

During the course of the movie we see how the couple grow and develop along with the changing attitudes of the country.  Doris goes from being a somewhat naïve suburban housewife to anti-Vietnam War protestor /middle-aged college student to sharp and confident businesswoman.  George starts out as a high strung, neurotic accountant who is comically unsure of himself, goes to 70’s therapy addict and finally ends up as a mature adult man who is able to see himself for what he is, deal with it and be happy.   It’s quite a range for both of the actors as they’re on screen every minute of the movie.  It was based on a play and the movie is virtually like a play since except for a few brief scenes that take place in the inn’s dining room and outside the cabin they stay in, the whole movie takes place indoors with just the two characters talking.

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Alan Alda’s performance at the beginning of the movie is the one thing that might make you want to stop watching the movie.  He really overacts badly during the scenes where Doris is having a baby and (no, it’s not his) and for a brief few minutes turns the movie from light romantic comedy to almost Jerry Lewis style nuttiness.  He’s much better in the later scenes where he’s playing an older, more sedate George, especially during a painful scene where George has to tell Doris why he has changed from a happy-go-lucky liberal democrat to an almost fascist, bitter Republican.

Ellen Burstyn is clearly the better actor of the two and she knows how to play this material for all it’s worth due to her experience in Neil Simon comedies as well as having done this play on Broadway and one of the best things about the movie is watching her character grow and develop.  It’s almost a history lesson on the woman’s movement from the 1950’s to the 1970’s watching Doris change fashions and attitudes.

SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR doesn’t have what I would call a conclusion.  Instead it has a resolution that some might find unbearably corny but I thought fitted the tone of the movie just right and was the only way that these two characters could have ended up.  It’s a sweet little movie that I think is probably closer in realism to how a lot of married people conduct affairs rather than the cutesy-poo convoluted over plotting of most romantic comedies.  The actors are good, the characters are likeable and I have to admit that by the ending credits when the theme song by Johnny Mathis and Jane Oliver swelled into full sentimental mode I found myself pretending I had something in my eye.

Rated PG

119 minutes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tower Heist

2011

Universal Pictures

Directed by Brett Ratner

Produced by Brian Grazer and Eddie Murphy

Screenplay by Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson

Story by Adam Cooper

In the interest of full disclosure there are a few things I should get off my chest before getting into the review.  First, there’s the director Brett Ratner.  I thoroughly detest the “Rush Hour” films and like most of you reading this, I didn’t care much for “X-Men: The Last Stand” In fact, before today the only Brett Ratner film I liked was “After The Sunset”  The last time Eddie Murphy made me laugh was in 1999’s “Life”  Ben Stiller is hit-or-miss with me.  When he’s funny he can be screamingly, side-splitting funny as in “Meet The Parents” or “Tropic Thunder” but when he’s not he bores me to despair as in “Zoolander” or “Starsky and Hutch”

So trust me when I say that I wasn’t expecting much from them and therefore I was totally and delightfully surprised at how much I enjoyed TOWER HEIST.  Sure, the actual heist is pure screwball in planning and execution but the cast is so good and are all obviously having a terrific time that I didn’t care.  TOWER HEIST, like “After The Sunset” is a Brett Ratner movie that feels as if he’s telling a story about characters he cares about.  Unlike the “Rush Hour” movies that feel like pure product.

Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) is the manager of The Tower, Manhattan’s most expensive and exclusive condo skyscraper.  He’s extremely good at his job and is adored by his staff.  Among them, his brother-in-law Charlie Gibbs (Casey Affleck) who is the building’s concierge.  Enrique Dev’reau (Michael Pena) the elevator operator.  Odessa Montero (Gabourey Sidibe) a Jamaican maid who needs to find a husband to avoid being deported.  Lester (Stephen Henderson) is the building’s head doorman who is looking forward to retiring after many long years of service at The Tower.

Josh is also very buddy-buddy with the building’s most famous tenant: Wall Street billionaire businessman Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) who owns the penthouse.  They play chess by computer and Josh plainly looks up to the older man as a father figure.

That image is shattered when Shaw is arrested by the FBI for running a Ponzi scheme.  Shaw’s lost over $2 billon, including the pensions of The Tower’s staff as they all invested their money with him.  Placed under house arrest by the FBI agent assigned to his case (Tea Leoni) Shaw maintains his innocence but when one of the Tower’s staff attempts suicide, Josh is determined to get their money back.  He recalls that sometime ago, Shaw had his condo extensively remodeled.  He thinks it’s because Shaw used the remodeling to cover up having a safe installed in the condo.  Josh plans to break into the condo, get in the safe and hopefully get back the money The Tower’s staff lost.

A reluctant Charlie is enlisted, as is Enrique, Lester and Odessa.  They’re joined by Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) a Wall Street investor himself who’s gone bankrupt and has been evicted from The Tower.  The last recruit is Slide (Eddie Murphy) a small-time thief who is understandably dubious about the whole caper.

The heist is set to be pulled off during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and as I said earlier, it is a totally screwball heist as everything that can go wrong, does go wrong with results that are both hilarious and nail-bitingly suspenseful.

The story is one that is extremely timely, given the current financial crisis in the country and goes a long way to selling the movie’s premise.  Alan Alda is great in his performance, playing Shaw as a man totally indifferent to the havoc he’s created in people’s lives.  Casey Affleck is pure comedy gold and this is yet another performance that further reinforces what I’ve been saying for years; that he’s a better actor than his brother Ben.  Eddie Murphy hasn’t been this good in years and for me it was a pleasure to see him truly acting and not hiding behind tons of makeup and fat suits.  Gabourey Sidibe continues to prove that she deserves to be taken seriously as an actress and she’s not just a one-movie wonder.  And it’s always a pleasure to see Tea Leoni in a movie.  Why this woman doesn’t have a bigger career is a mystery to me.

I could go on and on but for once I won’t.  Just watch TOWER HEIST.  Trust me, it’s good.

Rated PG-13

104 minutes