Paul Newman made some pretty badass films before this one, but it was this tale of a pool player named Fast Eddie Felson that established him as legendary. Cocky, arrogant and damn crafty with a pool stick, Newman is the man in this movie.
The pool showdown between Fast Eddie and Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) is a classic, with the actors performing some amazing shots. They must've logged a lot of hours playing pool, because they are damn good. By the way, the character of Minnesota Fats isn't based on the actual pool champion of the same name; the movie came before the real Fats made a name for himself: Rudolph Wanderone Jr. nicknamed himself Minnesota Fats after seeing the movie. Some fun trivia for you.
Other actors allegedly considered for the role of Fast Eddie were Cliff Robertson and the great Jack Lemmon. Had Lemmon taken the role, that would've made for an entirely different, but probably enjoyable, movie.
Piper Laurie is the memorably tragic Sarah, who falls in love with the wrong guy. George C. Scott got his first memorable film role as Bert, the high-stakes gambler who decides to back Fast Eddie on a pool tour. While Newman and Scott parlayed this film into long and distinctive careers, Laurie didn't hit it big again until 15 years later as Sissy Spacek's mom in Carrie.
Newman won an Oscar for playing Fast Eddie, but not for this movie: He reprised the character in 1986 for The Color of Money, directed by Martin Scorsese. It's the only Oscar he has ever won.
Special Features: This two-disc set offers the commentary Newman delivered on the 2002 edition. It's loaded with documentaries and looks at those famous shots.
Oh lord, this is cool stuff. This DVD encapsulates the variety show Tom did from 1969-71. Austin Powers fans will know where he got his look after seeing how this show was put together. Go-go dancers, psychedelic sets and groovy music makes this the coolest of cool. The first show alone features Tom, The Moody Blues, Richard Pryor and Peter Sellers. Subsequent shows would boast The Who, Aretha Franklin, Bob Hope and Stevie Wonder. The tunes are great, and the comedy is totally silly. Tom really sings. (No lip synching!) Absolute retro goodness.
Special Features: Tom does some new intros, and there are interviews old and new.
In honor of the release of the fourth Die Hard (see the review in this week's issue), I revisited all three prior films, available together in a new DVD package.
The first Die Hard is, of course, the best. John McClane's face-off with terrorists in a skyscraper remains the high watermark of empty-headed action thrillers. I've enjoyed Rambo and Schwarzenegger pictures in the past but, I'm sorry: Bruce Willis reigns supreme in the genre. And Alan Rickman as Hans the villain is the ultimate bastard. The expression on his face when he falls to his death is an all-time-great movie moment.
Die Hard 2: Die Harder is a decent enough rehash of the formula. Of all of the films, this 1990 film has aged the worst, but the action at the airport is still worthwhile. If there are weaknesses here, it would be in the villains. William Sadler, although a great supporting actor, doesn't carry things well as the head evil guy. In a post-Sept. 11 world, all of the exploding planes are a bit harder to take. Some of the coincidences (McClane's wife and the same jackass reporter from the first film wind up on the same plane by chance) are ridiculous. Still, it's a decent entry.
Finally, there's 1995's Die Hard: With a Vengeance, the first to give McClane a legitimate sidekick (Samuel L. Jackson) and probably the closest thing to a comedy in the franchise. A disenchanted, drunken McClane is forced to solve a bunch of puzzles while another terrorist (Jeremy Irons) steals a bunch of gold in New York City. Willis and Jackson are good together, and the puzzles are fun to watch. Irons is a cool bad guy.
Watching this collection before seeing the new one is highly recommended. Die Hard (A); Die Hard 2: Die Harder (B); Die Hard: With a Vengeance (B+).
Special Features: The film DVDs each have commentaries by the directors, and this collection comes with a new disc of documentaries. Regrettably, none of the alleged deleted footage for the third film (including an entirely different ending) is available on the discs. A fun fact revealed in the special features: Most airports don't have tunnels under the runways. Nor do they have things that could crush your head in the luggage-conveyor belt. Also, you can't call an airplane phone, as McClane does. You can only make outgoing calls. All of these things were made up for Die Hard 2.