The Films of Rob Reiner
This Is Spinal Tap (February 13/11)
Rob Reiner's directorial debut, This is Spinal Tap follows the three primary members of a fading heavy metal outfit (Michael McKean's David St. Hubbins, Christopher Guest's Nigel Tufnel, and Harry Shearer's Derek Smalls) as they attempt to keep their collective careers going in the face of several obstacles. Reiner, employing the structure of a fake documentary, does a fantastic job of initially drawing the viewer into this admittedly over-the-top world, as the filmmaker offers up an assortment of compelling characters and subjects them to situations that are often genuinely hilarious (ie Nigel attempts to make sense of a platter consisting of tiny slices of bread and oversized cold cuts). There's consequently little doubt that the meandering nature of This is Spinal Tap's structure is, at the outset, not nearly as problematic as one might've anticipated, yet it's just as clear that the film begins to demonstrably run out of steam somewhere around its midway point - with Reiner's unapologetically low-key modus operandi contributing heavily to the movie's eventual downfall (ie the whole thing is just too slight and too insignificant to withstand a feature-length running time). The decidedly dramatic bent of the final half hour, which includes a fake breakup of all things, cements This is Spinal Tap's place as a sporadically amusing but all-too-uneven piece of work - although, having said that, it's hard to deny the effectiveness of the legendary "it goes to 11" sequence (which alone justifies the film's entire existence).
The Sure Thing
Stand By Me (March 22/11)
Based on a short story by Stephen King, Stand By Me follows four adolescent friends (Wil Wheaton's Gordie, River Phoenix's Chris, Corey Feldman's Teddy, and Jerry O'Connell's Vern) as they embark on a journey to find a dead body - with the movie subsequently (and primarily) detailing their various adventures along the way. It's an exceedingly simple premise that is, for the most part, utilized to positive effect by Rob Reiner, as the filmmaker does a superb job of establishing both the movie's small town atmosphere and the friendship between the boys - with, in terms of the latter, the personable, thoroughly engaging work from the four stars perpetuating the film's consistently affable vibe. There's little doubt, however, that Reiner's decidedly deliberate sensibilities, coupled with the episodic bent of Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans' script, ensures that the movie's first half isn't quite as electrifying as one might've hoped, as it's clear that certain sequences ultimately fare a whole lot better than others - with the boys' efforts at safely crossing a railroad bridge certainly standing as a highlight within the film's opening hour. The palpable chemistry among the four kids, especially the rock-solid friendship between Wheaton and Phoenix's respective characters, plays an instrumental role in keeping things interesting even through the narrative's rockier sections, and it's worth noting that the movie does boast an increasingly engrossing feel as it moves into its tense and surprisingly touching third act - which effectively cements Stand By Me's place as a timeless coming-of-age drama.
The Princess Bride
Based on the book by William Goldman, The Princess Bride details the exploits of several larger-then-life characters within mystical, magical fantasy landscape - including a swordfighter bent on revenge (Mandy Patinkin's Inigo Montoya), a dashing farmboy turned pirate (Cary Elwes' Westley), and the beautiful title character (Robin Wright). Filmmaker Rob Reiner has infused The Princess Bride with a lighthearted and easygoing feel that ideally complements Goldman's old-fashioned screenplay, with the decidedly small-time nature of the movie's narrative ultimately not as problematic as one might've expected - as the movie boasts an affable assortment of characters that perpetuate its consistently watchable atmosphere. And although Reiner elicits fantastically entertaining performances from the entire cast, The Princess Bride's most potent weapon is Patinkin's justifiably-iconic turn as the vengeful Inigo Montoya - which ensures that the film's momentum takes a palpable hit once the character vacates the proceedings during the less-than-enthralling midsection. The movie picks up quite effectively in its final stretch, however, and it's ultimately not difficult to see why The Princess Bride has become something of a classic in the years since its 1987 release.
When Harry Met Sally...
When Harry Met Sally... details the friendship that develops over the years between the title characters, Billy Crystal's Harry and Meg Ryan's Sally, with the movie exploring the pair's separate love lives and their continued need to lean on one another for support. Director Rob Reiner has infused When Harry Met Sally... with a low-key and deliberately-paced feel that proves an ideal complement to Nora Ephron's chatty screenplay, with the film, in its early stages, perfectly content to dwell on the title characters' conversations on various wide-ranging topics (although the focus remains, not surprisingly, on the ins and outs of relationships). It does, as such, take a while before the movie is able to become as consistently compelling as one might've hoped, as the film's meandering opening half hour results in an atmosphere of palpable unevenness that is, admittedly, allayed by both Crystal and Ryan's almost unreasonably charismatic work. There's subsequently little doubt that When Harry Met Sally... improves steadily as it progresses, with the deepening friendship between the protagonists, coupled with a continuing emphasis on snappy, authentic dialogue, paving the way for an impressively emotional finale. (This is despite the inclusion of a decidedly underwhelming stretch in which Harry and Sally, in a variation on the fake break-up cliche, get into a fight and stop speaking.) The end result is a better-than-average romantic comedy that remains just as relevant now as it did in 1989, which is certainly a testament to the strength of both Ephron's truthful screenplay and the central performances.
A Few Good Men
North (January 8/11)
Based on a novel by Alan Zweibel, North follows the eleven-year-old title character (Elijah Wood) as he decides to head off on a worldwide search for a new mother and father after tiring of his parents' (Jason Alexander and Julia Louis-Dreyfus) callous indifference - with his efforts eventually complicated by a conniving sixth grader (Matthew McCurley's Winchell) and a sleazy lawyer (Jon Lovitz's Arthur Belt). It's rather surprising to note that - for its first half, at least - North is actually quite engaging and entertaining, as filmmaker Rob Reiner has infused the proceedings with a breezy, fast-paced sensibility that's heightened by the irresistibly irreverent nature of Zweibel and Andrew Scheinman's script (ie the movie feels like a children's book come to life). The watchable atmosphere persists even through the narrative's decidedly uneven midsection, which is devoted to North's progressively uninteresting efforts at finding replacement folks - with the episodic nature of this section ensuring that certain parts fare a whole lot better than others. It's only as the film enters its increasingly unpleasant third act that North begins to go south, as Zweibel and Scheinman's emphasis on both action-oriented elements and the aforementioned (and thoroughly tedious) Winchell/Belt subplot ensures that the whole thing peters out in as demonstrable a manner as one could've envisioned. It's a shame, really, as movie initially holds a fair amount of promise, with the nigh unwatchable final half hour inevitably (and lamentably) canceling out the uniformly charismatic performances and Reiner's zippy directorial choices.
The American President
Ghosts of Mississippi
The Story of Us
Alex & Emma
Rumor Has It...
The Bucket List (December 1/08)
Though consistently buoyed by the stellar work of its two stars, The Bucket List comes off as a hopelessly uneven endeavor that's ultimately felled by a lamentable emphasis on heavy-handed bursts of schmaltziness. It's subsequently impossible to deny that Rob Reiner's inherently lighthearted modus operandi often feels at odds with the downbeat nature of the storyline, and there's little doubt that the movie is often as eye-rollingly sentimental as it is genuinely affecting. The film follows terminally-ill strangers Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) and Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman) as they develop an unlikely friendship after being forced to share a hospital room, with the pair eventually embarking on a whirlwind trip across the globe in an attempt at fulfilling their respective "bucket" lists. There's little doubt that The Bucket List fares best in its opening half hour, as screenwriter Justin Zackham places the emphasis on the two leads' introspective conversations (ie Carter reveals his various regrets) - which effectively lends the proceedings an air of poignancy that proves impossible to resist. It's only as the pair embark on their green-screen tour of the globe that one's interest first starts to falter, with the inclusion of several egregiously cute elements - ie Carter and Edward sing along to "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" while on safari in Africa - detrimentally affecting the impact of the somber storyline. And although the whole thing does pick up as it approaches its expectedly melancholy conclusion, The Bucket List's place as a missed opportunity is undeniable and it's impossible to avoid the feeling that the two stars deserved so much better.