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Friday Film Fest: Robert Downey, Jr.

Robert Downey, Jr. (L) and Keith Gordon in "Back to School"

Robert Downey, Jr. (L) and Keith Gordon in "Back to School"

Back To School (1986)

To be truthful, I've never been a fan of Rodney Dangerfield, but this and Easy Money kind of changed my mind. At first, I thought this was going to be a really stupid movie, but was pleasantly surprised. It almost made me want to go to college.

Young Thornton Meloni (Jason Hervey) comes into the family tailoring store after school and shows a bad report card to his father, Tony (Boris Aplon). His father tells him that no matter how rich a man is, he still needs an education. Thornton doesn't want to hear it. As an adult, Thornton shortens his last name to Melon and opens a successful clothing store chain catering to tall and fat people.

During a meeting with executives, Thornton receives a call from his son, Jason (Keith Gordon), who tells him that everything is fine and not to worry, even though he's actually failing and wants to quit school. Later that night, Thornton's second wife, Vanessa (Adrienne Barbeau), is hosting a party for her friends and he catches her with another man. He serves her divorce papers, at which point she tells him that she's going to drag him through court to get what she wants. That is, until he shows pictures of her in "action."

Thornton and his driver, Lou (Burt Young), visit Jason, where they learn the truth. He also meets Jason's roommate, Derek Lutz (Robert Downey, Jr.), another outsider at the school. Thornton tells Jason that he's going to become a student, as well, and the two of them can earn their degrees together. Thornton has a problem getting into the school because all students are handpicked by the dean, David Martin (Ned Beatty). Thornton gets in when he gives the dean a large donation to build the Melon School of Business.

However, Thornton doesn't stop there. He soon buys everything in the school bookstore, a strategy that clears out the registration room, so he, Jason, and Derek can get the classes they want. Jason especially wants to take classes with his crush, Valerie (Terry Ferrell). After their first day, they return to their dorm room and find that Thornton has turned it into a suite, where eventually a raging campus party takes place.

Thornton runs into problems with his Economics professor, Philip Barbay (Paxton Whitehead), who is dating the woman he likes, English professor, Dr. Diane Turner (Sally Kellerman). Thornton slacks off, hiring people to attend classes for him and when he fails, he's forced to end the semester with an oral exam led by Philip. He tells Melon he only has one question, but it has twenty-seven parts.

Even if you never attended college, Back To School is a fun movie. The only part that bothers me is that there wouldn't be diving matches outside in autumn. It just doesn't seem plausible.

Back To School (Official Trailer)

L-R: Anne Bancroft, Robert Downey, Jr,  Charles Durning & Cynthia Stevenson in "Home for the Holidays"

L-R: Anne Bancroft, Robert Downey, Jr, Charles Durning & Cynthia Stevenson in "Home for the Holidays"

Home for the Holidays (1995)

Most everyone you ask will tell you that they really love Thanksgiving, but no matter how good the food is, the thought of being with family can be a little hairy. Especially if you have to travel to your destination and you really don't want to be there. Claudia Larson (Holly Hunter) is one of many who will be travelling home to be with her family.

On the day of her departure, she loses her museum job, learns that her daughter Kitt (Claire Danes) is about to lose her virginity, and is forced to sit next to an obnoxious passenger (Angela Patton). Basically, Claudia wishes that she could just crawl into bed and stay there, but she has to spend the holidays with her parents (Charles Durning and Anne Bancroft), and without the support of her younger brother, Tommy (Downey Jr).

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Upon landing in Baltimore -- and trapped in the family car -- Claudia notices a man (Randy Stone) about her age sitting in the backseat, as his mother talks to him non-stop. She can commiserate since her mother, Adele, does the same thing. Later that night, Tommy and his friend, Leo Fish (Dylan McDermott), arrive at the Larson home, much to the family's surprise. As the day goes on, they run to the grocery store for some last minute items and pick up Aunt Gladys (Geraldine Chaplin), Adele's younger sister. Before they leave, she gives Claudia a lamp that she won from The Price Is Right.

Since the movie was shot in 1994, yuppies (especially bankers) still ruled the day and we meet Claudia's sister Joanne (Cynthia Stevenson), her husband Walter (Steve Guttenberg), Walter Jr. (Zack Duhame), and Brittany Lace (Emily Ann Lloyd). In Joanne's eyes, this is the perfect family, and it can only be broken by Tommy.

Joanne despises Tommy because he married his gay lover (Sam Slovick) on a beach in Boston. She heard about the wedding from friends who were disgusted (as is she), but the elder Larsons are upset with him because they weren't invited. Following dinner and a touch football game, the Wedmans leave. Adele realizes that Joanne forgot her leftovers, so Leo and Claudia go to her house to drop it off, where the sisterly tension continues.

After Tommy and Leo leave in the morning, Claudia heads to the basement, where her dad is watching home movies. He recalls the best time in his life and she can't remember it. On the plane flight home -- this would probably be Friday morning -- Leo takes the seat next to her and together they fly home to Chicago.

Home For The Holidays (Official Trailer)

Robert Downey, Jr. as Paul Avery in "Zodiac"

Robert Downey, Jr. as Paul Avery in "Zodiac"

Zodiac (2007)

As the hippie decade was coming to an end in 1969, the San Francisco Bay Area would be held hostage as a serial killer terrorized the region with published letters to the editor.

The story revolves around San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), his love for puzzles, and his fascination with the ciphers that the Zodiac killer sends to editors of various publications. Graysmith befriends crime reporter Paul Avery (Downey, Jr) and learns as much as he can from him, while inspectors David Toschi and William Armstrong (Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards, respectively) try their hardest to put an end to the crime spree.

While the Zodiac taunts the city, single father Robert goes on a blind date with Melanie (Chloe Sevigny) and he offers up theories regarding the Zodiac killer. She's polite about it, but as the years go by and the two are married, he becomes even more obsessed.

Avery continues to cover the story and is threatened, so people start wearing "I am not Paul Avery" buttons. He also tells Graysmith that he believes he has evidence of the first Zodiac murder. Because of his obsession, Robert suggests that Paul write a book with the information that he has, but he starts his own investigation and nearly gets himself and his family killed in the process.

While the movie is great, there are too many characters and subplots. It is suspenseful and well acted, but rather long, so if you're looking for a movie that comes in under two hours, this probably won't be for you.

Zodiac (Official Trailer)

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