Tag Archives: George Memmoli

Blue Collar (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Workers rob their union.

Zeke (Richard Pryor) Jerry (Harvey Keitel) and Smokey (Yaphet Kotto) work at an auto plant in Detroit and become increasingly frustrated with their union and feel it they’re being ripped-off by them. The three get the idea to rob a safe stored at the union office. The crime itself is a cinch, but they only get $600 dollars out of it even though the union reports to the press that $10,000 was stolen. Then they find paperwork detailing some of the union’s dirty loan deals and decide to use that as blackmail, but the union has other ideas.

This was the first film directed by Paul Schrader and although he has gone on record stating that he dislikes it and has never watched it since its release I consider it to be one of his best. The music by Jack Nitzsche is a bit heavy, but otherwise this is a strong hard-hitting look at the life of an auto worker a subject that doesn’t get tackled too often. The fact that the film takes no sides and shows that both management and unions can be equally corrupt gives the proceedings a refreshingly honest tone.

Personally I support unions, but I realize that like with everything some can be less than perfect and since reality is not black-and-white, but instead quite complex it’s important to show all sides of an issue. The whole inspiration for the film came when Schrader went to Detroit and interviewed actual assembly-line workers and found to his shock many of them hated their unions even more than management. Films like Norma Rae, which is still excellent, tend to portray a very one-sided narrative while this one makes you wonder who the good guys actually are especially as the three leads turn on each other for different reasons.

The biggest surprise is Richard Pryor who really drives this film with his excellent dramatic performance. He seems to be channeling his harsh upbringing to create an edgy and enduring character. I loved the way he critiques other black sitcoms like ‘Good Times’ and ‘The Jeffersons’ as well as the way he constantly says the f-word even when in front of his own kids. George Memmoli a very obese actor gets a memorable bit as a disgruntled factory work that destroys a vending machine when it won’t give him his coffee.

The film features two very unique scenes. One is where a character dies while being trapped inside a room where a car is being painted and it’s quite intense. The other scene features Keitel in a car chase as he tries to get away from some bad guys who want to shoot him. Most films capture a car chases from the outside-looking-in with shots showing both vehicles at a distance and the point-of-view of both drivers. This one stays only on Keitel’s perspective making the viewer feel like they are trapped in the car with him and thus making the chase a much more personal and frightening experience.

Due to the subject matter no auto company would allow the film to be shot at their plant, so the producers were forced to use the Checker Cab Company, but this was a much smaller plant and the viewer never gets a true feeling of the immensity of an actual auto factory. The film’s final shot is another distraction as it’s the one point where the movie suddenly becomes heavy-handed despite successfully remaining otherwise gritty. It’s still a strong story overall that brings out perplexing issues without supplying any easy answers.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 10, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 54Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Schrader

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Video, YouTube

The Sure Thing (1985)

the sure thing 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Love blossoms between opposites.

Walter Gibson (John Cusack) becomes smitten with Alison (Daphne Zuniga). He is a slacker while she is a very studious student. Both attend the same college English class and he uses the ruse of needing help with his studies as a ploy to get closer to her, but it doesn’t work and she ends up hating him. Then his friend Lance (Anthony Edwards) invites him out to California where he has a really hot girl (Nicollette Sheridan) waiting for him and promises that she is a ‘sure thing’. So Walter takes a ride with a couple (Tim Robbins, Mary Jane Persky) that is also going out there only to find that Alison is riding with them as she wants to visit her boyfriend.  Needless to say it is a rocky ride, but after several misadventures love finally begins to blossom between the two.

On a purely romantic level this film scores big time. It nicely recaptures the period in one’s life where everything is still new and exciting and before such things as marital discord, ugly divorces, child custody battles and all that other crap. Instead it emphasizes the rush one feels at being in the presence of someone they are really crazy about and learning to know them through layers. It’s the magical innocence of young love that makes it so endearing and engaging.

Zuniga is beautiful but fortunately not in an overdone, glamorous type of way. My favorite scene with her is when she tries to drink a beer for the first time ‘shotgun style’ and becomes a bit overwhelmed by it. Cusack shows his usual charm, but his social graces seem severely lacking at points near the beginning and I wouldn’t have been surprised if every girl would have found him to be an annoying geek.

In support Edwards is good as his friend and I especially liked his room that is lined with empty bottles of every different brand of beer that he has drunk. Viveca Lindfors is sexy and appealing in her own way as the English teacher and George Memmoli in his last film role has an engaging bit as an overweight man that Walter meets and befriends at a bar in a scene that I wished had been more extended.

The film though does have a few problems. One scene has Walter accusing Alison of being ‘repressed’ and so to prove him wrong she strips off her shirt and bra and then flashes some other cars that they are passing, which to me seemed like too much of an extreme shift in behavior and not realist for that type of character. There is another scene where the two are stranded in the middle of nowhere during a rainstorm and with no money since Alison forgot it at their last hotel stop only to find out that she has a credit card. The film then cuts to showing them eating at a fancy restaurant, which was too much of a jump as a credit card isn’t going to get them from an empty field by itself and the scene needed to show more of a connection on how or who got them out of there.

The biggest problem though is that we have this stunning beautiful, bikini clad blonde in the form of Nicollette Sheridan who apparently can’t get a guy on her own and needs to be ‘set-up’ on a date, which makes no sense. The scenes showing her walking around all alone at a party are absurd because in reality just about every guy in the room would be showing her some attention and she would have no reason to waiting around for an average guy like Cusack to come by to date here. This is the one segment in the movie were it goes dangerously close from being this pleasing slice-of-life romance to a crazy 80’s teen fantasy.

Despite the issues listed above I still thoroughly enjoyed it. It should appeal to the romantic in all of us and nicely balances the old-fashioned love story formula with modern day sensibilities.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 1, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Rob Reiner

Studio: Embassy Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray