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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).

out of

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.

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The Princess Bride (May 4/14)

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.

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When Harry Met Sally... (October 6/12)

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.

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A Few Good Men (May 2/17)

Based on a play by Aaron Sorkin, A Few Good Men follows green military lawyer Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) as he's assigned to defend a pair of Marines (Wolfgang Bodison's Harold Dawson and James Marshall's Louden Downey) accused of murdering a fellow soldier - with the case eventually leading Kaffee directly to a feared colonel named Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson). Director Rob Reiner does an impressively solid job of initially (and instantly) drawing the viewer into the far-from-brisk proceedings, as the movie's engrossing setup is heightened by a series of compelling and charismatic performances - with, of course, Cruise's absolutely magnetic turn as the cocky protagonist remaining a consistent highlight. (It's clear, too, that Nicholson's justifiably-iconic performance hasn't lost a whiff of its impact in the years since the film's 1992 release.) The problem, however, lies with A Few Good Men's palpably padded-out and overlong running time of 138 minutes, as much of the midsection is devoted to sequence after sequence of Kaffee and his team (Demi Moore's JoAnne Galloway and Kevin Pollak's Sam Weinberg) investigating and strategizing. Some of this stuff is undoubtedly quite interesting but a great deal of it is redundant and repetitive, and it's ultimately difficult not to wish that Reiner and editors Robert Leighton and Steven Nevius had streamlined the narrative to a fairly considerable degree. Such concerns are rendered moot, however, in the face of an absolutely spellbinding final stretch, with the climactic (and now-infamous) confrontation between Kaffee and Jessup ensuring that the film closes on as engrossing a note as one could envision - which confirms the movie's place as a solid legal thriller that benefits substantially from a raft of better-than-average elements.

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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.

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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.

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The Magic of Belle Isle

And So It Goes (August 18/14)

And So It Goes casts Michael Douglas as Oren Little, a cranky real-estate agent whose misanthropic ways fall by the wayside after he's forced to care for his young grandson. (Diane Keaton costars as Oren's friendly yet lonely neighbor.) It's a familiar premise that's employed to a thoroughly (and distressingly) uninvolving extent by filmmaker Rob Reiner, with the movie suffering from a consistently bland feel that's compounded by an almost oppressively languid execution. There is, from start to finish, simply nothing here designed to wholeheartedly lure the viewer into the proceedings, as scripter Mark Andrus, who is seriously treading the same ground as his breakthrough, 1997's As Good as It Gets, offers up a pedestrian narrative that remains both predictable and uninvolving at virtually every turn - with the above-average efforts of the movie's cast ultimately the only thing here staving off one's complete boredom. And So It Goes' myriad of problems are exacerbated by a hopeless lack of standout sequences, as the film remains pitched at a level of excessive mediocrity right through to its feel-good (yet unconvincing and unearned) conclusion. The end result is a movie that's essentially the cinematic equivalent of easy-listening music, with the relentlessly underwhelming atmosphere finally canceling out And So It Goes' few positive attributes.

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Being Charlie (June 26/18)

Competent yet perpetually uninvolving, Being Charlie follows Nick Robinson's Charlie Mills as he's essentially forced into rehab by his parents (Cary Elwes' David and Susan Misner's Liseanne) - with the narrative detailing Charlie's rocky efforts at getting clean and his tentative relationship with a fellow addict (Morgan Saylor's Eva). It's a decidedly familiar premise that's rarely, if ever, elevated to more-than-watchable effect, as director Rob Reiner, working from Matt Elisofon and Nick Reiner's screenplay, delivers a fairly routine and run-of-the-mill drama that benefits, at least, from a series of charismatic performances - with Robinson's strong work as the somewhat unlikable protagonist matched by a solid supporting cast that includes Ricardo Chavira, Devon Bostick, and Common. (The latter is especially good as a world-weary counselor that tries to help Charlie.) There's little doubt, though, that the script's continuing reliance on fairly hackneyed elements grows a little tiresome, as the paint-by-numbers storyline hits upon virtually every single addiction-drama touchstone that one has come to expect (including the ongoing battle of wills with an authority figure and the inevitable relapse). The movie, as a result, fizzles out quite substantially in the buildup to its climactic stretch, which ultimately does cement its place as a well-intentioned misfire that could (and should) have been much better.

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LBJ (November 25/17)

A middle-of-the-road yet somewhat entertaining drama, LBJ details the presidential career of Lyndon Baines Johnson (Woody Harrelson) and his ongoing efforts at carving out a niche for himself after John F. Kennedy's (Jeffrey Donovan) assassination. Director Rob Reiner, working from Joey Hartstone's script, delivers a pretty standard biopic that hits many of the beats one expects from the genre, with the movie often faring better than expected due mostly to the inherently compelling material and above-average performances - with, in terms of the latter, Harrelson delivering a turn that undoubtedly ranks among his best (which is no small feat, ultimately, given that he's buried underneath pounds of admittedly convincing makeup). It's just as clear, though, that LBJ never quite becomes as compelling or engrossing as one might've expected, and there's little doubt that Reiner's pervasively run-of-the-mill approach plays a key role in cementing the picture's mediocrity - as the venerable filmmaker delivers a by-the-numbers narrative that doesn't seem to aspire to anything beyond competence. The movie does, as such, suffer from a sort of erratic atmosphere that does tend to test one's patience, with the material stretched thin through the course of (a refreshingly brisk) running time of 98 minutes - with, at least, the film concluding on a high note as Johnson delivers a rousing speech to congress. It is, in the end, hard to label LBJ as anything more than a passable look at a well-known figure, with the movie benefiting time and again from Harrelson's often spellbinding work as the notorious title figure.

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Shock and Awe (August 18/18)

Rob Reiner's worst movie in years, Shock and Awe follows reporters Jonathan Landay (Woody Harrelson) and Warren Strobel (James Marsden) as they attempt to disprove President George W. Bush's assertion that Saddam Hussein possesses Weapons of Mass Destruction. The degree to which Shock and Awe is unable to hold one's interest is ultimately rather surprising (and distressing), as filmmaker Reiner has assembled a misleadingly strong cast and placed them within the confines of a heavy-handed and momentum-free narrative - with Joey Hartstone's screenplay eschewing down-to-earth, naturalistic dialogue in favor of subtle-as-a-sledgehammer instances of speechifying. There is, as such, little doubt that Reiner's ongoing efforts at cultivating a suspenseful, All the President's Men-like atmosphere fall hopelessly flat, and it's clear, too, that Hartstone's attempts at fleshing out the two central characters are nothing short of laughable - with, especially, the ludicrous subplot detailing Warren's new relationship with a pretty neighbor (Jessica Biel's Lisa) standing out like a sore thumb (ie this pointless thread feels like it'd be more at home within a goofy romantic comedy). Shock and Awe's relentlessly uninvolving and often incompetent vibe prevents one from working up any interest in or enthusiasm for the protagonists' endeavors, obviously, while the pieces-finally-fall-into-place bent of the movie's final stretch is unable to pack the triumphant punch Reiner has obviously intended. The end result is a fairly disastrous misfire that contains few elements worth wholeheartedly embracing, which is a shame, certainly, given the massive potential afforded by the incredibly relevant true-life subject matter.

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© David Nusair