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Going in Style

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The year was 1979. I was 10-years-old, and one of the greatest things happened. My family got HBO. It’s not like now where everyone has cable. Hardly anybody in our neighborhood in San Diego had it. That meant many of the neighborhood kids came over to watch movies.

The ‘70s is considered by most film buffs as the greatest era for movies. In 1979, thanks to HBO, I saw almost every movie that came out that year. Now, my parents wouldn’t let us watch the R-rated movies, but when we got a babysitter on nights they went out, we did.

The movies from that year include Breaking Away, a terrific bicycling movie; Kramer vs. Kramer, with the powerful duo of Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman;…And Justice For All, with Al Pacino. North Dallas Forty — Nick Nolte shows us the dirty side of football. The first Star Trek movie thrilled my brothers, but…I enjoyed the science fiction Disney gave us with The Black Hole. And the horror we got from Alien.

My stepdad was obsessed with the gangs in The Warriors (I found it corny). My stepdad didn’t like the James Bond movie of that year, but I was the perfect age to love Moonraker.

We got the best Vietnam movie — Apocalypse Now. How could I not love a movie that started with The Doors, introduced us to a 15-year-old Laurence Fishburne, and the last great performance from Marlon Brando?

We also got our last performance from Peter Sellers in Being There.

The China Syndrome was good, and got a lot of Oscar nominations.

My first date to a movie was that year with a blonde girl named Carrie. We went to the theatres to see The Black Stallion. I still have no clue what happened in the second half of the movie, because she reached over to hold my sweaty hand.

My older brothers and I loved the excitement of Mad Max, Escape from Alcatraz, and Rocky II. We were scared to death by The Amityville Horror and When a Stranger Calls (spoiler alert — the call was coming from inside the house).

The saddest movie I’ve ever seen came out that year — The Champ, with Ricky Schroeder and Jon Voight.

Burt Reynolds shaved off his trademark mustache for Starting Over, and was supposed to snag an Oscar nomination. Instead, his two female co-stars did.

A few of my friends snuck into the theatres to see 10. Bo Derek had a lot of nude scenes in it. I would end up owning Ravel’s classical album with Bolero before I ever saw Derek topless (and with that horrid cornrow hairstyle).

I watched part of Norma Rae on HBO but got bored (hey, I was 10!).

Steven Spielberg bombed (no pun intended) with 1941, but I liked it.

I was a bit young to appreciate the humor of Monty Python’s Life of Brian or Woody Allen’s Manhattan, but the perfect age for the crazy antics of Bill Murray in Meatballs, and Steve Martin in The Jerk.

Two other comedies that came out that year blew me away, and I would appreciate them more with repeated viewings as I got older. One of those was The In-Laws, which is still my favorite comedy of all-time. The other is Going in Style, which was a surprisingly low-key and sad comedy. It starred three of the biggest guys in the business — Art Carney, Lee Strasberg, and George Burns. It was written and directed by Martin Brest, a man so talented he went on to direct one of my other favorite comedies — Midnight Run (as well as Beverly Hills Cop).

Brest filled the original movie with interesting stuff. There was a subtle pathos that made you think about the elderly and the sometimes boring life some might have. There’s a scene where Strasberg laments the poor relationship he had with his son and the moment it got bad.

The reason I mention the original is because many critics are going to knock this remake for not having a lot of those emotions and instead making a geezer comedy, like  Last Vegas or Grumpy Old Men; this movie has one star from each of those films — Morgan Freeman and Ann-Margret.

Yet I don’t think making the same type of movie would’ve been possible today. In the original, you could feel a sadness for old folks sitting on a park bench feeding pigeons or complaining about not seeing their grandkids enough. How could you do that today? Cell phones make long distance calls a non-issue. You can Skype. And there are lots of activities the elderly can partake in. So the filmmakers used an idea that was done in Hell or High Water — the bank is taking Michael Caine’s house. That would be bad enough, but his daughter and granddaughter live with him. The bank is also involved in the steel company he and his friends (Alan Arkin, Morgan Freeman) worked for. They’re no longer going to receive pension checks because the company is leaving the country. This means robbing the bank that they feel is doing them wrong…is the only option they see.

The movie was directed by Zach Braff (who did a much better job with his debut indie film Garden State). It was written by Ted Melfi (who did a much better job with Hidden Figures). Yet this film has three Oscar winners that have great chemistry together, and it feels like comfort food.

Another thing borrowed from Hell or High Water is the flirtatious talk with a waitress (character actress Siobhan Fallon Hogan). She also ends up getting a decent tip.

Some in the supporting cast work, some don’t. Christopher Lloyd is wasted by doing an over-the-top character that can’t remember anything. It’s like Reverend Jim from Taxi, mixed with Doc from Back to the Future, with dementia gags that aren’t that funny.

Ann-Margret is a sex-starved septuagenarian, who has the hots for Albert (Alan Arkin). That’s because he gives music lessons to her son (in scenes that feel like they’re trying for the magic Little Miss Sunshine had). She also used to watch him play with Stan Getz. She’s often doing things like stroking an eggplant, but it reminds you more of Grumpy Old Men than Viva Las Vegas. They don’t have the chemistry they should, although it is adorable to hear them duet to Hallelujah I Love Her So.

Matt Dillon is perfect as a police detective. He has just the right amount of menace and cluelessness.

Saturday Night Live’s Kenan Thompson has some fun lines as the supermarket manager that catches the three trying to shoplift from his store in preparation for the bank heist. He has a smile on his face that looks like he’s about to bust out laughing at what just transpired…or because he’s so happy he’s sitting across from three acting legends.

More great supporting work comes from John Ortiz, who should be a household name. He’s one of the most underrated in the business, and he’s terrific as the criminal who shows these three geezers how to properly rob a bank.

Some of the humor shouldn’t work, but still does like old people cursing, or a “slow speed” chase in a motorized scooter.

Yeah, it’s formulaic, but you have a smile on your face the whole second half of the movie (the first half was inconsistent).

The soundtrack is solid, with Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, Sam Cooke, A Tribe Called Quest, Dinah Washington, Sonny Rollins, and Dean Martin.

The movie had enough laughs, and enough touching moments, that it won me over. I have a feeling critics are going to be harsh on it since the original is so good.

It gets 3 stars out of 5.