Movie Review – 8 Million Ways To Die

8 Million Ways to Die (1986)
Written by Oliver Stone, Robert Towne, and R. Lance Hill
Directed by Hal Ashby

It’s pretty clear by this point that Hal Ashby’s career as a successful filmmaker was over. His glory had been in the 1970s, and now the 1980s were eating him alive. 8 Million Ways to Die is nothing like the way an old Ashby film felt. There’s no thoughtful contemplation or a focus on character. This is noir storytelling full of all the tropes and cliches you might expect. The treatment of women is disappointing when you look at more liberating pictures like Coming Home or Harold and Maude. This is the final journey of Hal Ashby, one into mediocrity.

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Movie Review – The Slugger’s Wife

The Slugger’s Wife (1985)
Written by Neil Simon
Directed by Hal Ashby

I truly despise this movie. It makes it hard not to dislike Hal Ashby entirely because it is so against everything he made at his peak in the 1980s. The characters are vapid and unlikeable. The story is terrible. I am still trying to make sense of how we ended up here. It’s honestly even more flabbergasting than anything we’ve seen before from Ashby. It is at complete odds with the moral sense the director brought to his early films and is absolute dreck.

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Movie Review – Lookin’ to Get Out

Lookin’ To Get Out (1982)
Written by Jon Voight
Directed by Hal Ashby

For some reason, in the 1980s, Hal Ashby made three crime films and a pilot for a failed crime series. I have no idea why he was given this material or why he would be attracted to it. Throughout his 1970s work Ashby reflected a deeply anti-authoritarian theme, particularly toward law enforcement. That’s not to say these movies a pro-police, they traffic in annoying criminal cliches and don’t necessarily give their roguish protagonists anything interesting or unique to do.

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Movie Review – Second-Hand Hearts

Second-Hand Hearts (1981)
Written by Charles Eastman
Directed by Hal Ashby

Second-Hand Hearts represents what might be the most baffling decline in a director’s output that I have ever seen. The blame for this disaster of the film is spread out based on online conjecture, ranging from Ashby’s developing cocaine habit to studio interference in the final project to the two lead actors refusing to take any direction. Second-Hand Hearts is a second attempt to capture the quirky love story of Harold & Maude that fails spectacularly and embarrassingly. In fact, the film was so bad it disappeared from circulation, never receiving a home video release and only becoming available in 2013 as produce on-demand DVD from Warner Brothers’ archive program.

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Movie Review – Coming Home

Coming Home (1978)
Written by Waldo Salt and Robert C. Jones
Directed by Hal Ashby

Ron Kovic has proved to be an inspirational figure since the 1970s. His memoir, Born on the Fourth of July, was turned into a film by Oliver Stone in the 1980s. But before that, he served as the basis of this movie by Hal Ashby. Kovic was serving in Vietnam when he was caught by the Viet Cong while helping a South Vietnamese unit. The soldier was shot through his foot, then shoulder, ending up with a collapsed lung and a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the chest down. Kovic’s passionate anti-war activism inspired Jane Fonda to want to make a film about injured veterans and their families to share the story of what happens after the parades and medals are handed out.

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Movie Review – Bound for Glory

Bound for Glory (1976)
Written by Robert Getchell
Directed by Hal Ashby

The details are all a lie, but the experience is authentic. The time and place look just like it would have during the Great Depression. The trials and travails of the Okies are just as it would have been. The film is engaging in myth-making, building episodes, and lore to capture the essence of someone who exists as an icon. There’s nothing wrong with myths, they served a fundamental purpose in the ancient times, informing humans about their world and how to be in it. I would think most music biopics weave stories about their protagonists to get across some sense of the themes in their music. To do that some times you have to make those stories up.

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Movie Review – Shampoo

Shampoo (1975)
Written by Robert Towne & Warren Beatty
Directed by Hal Ashby

By the time February 1975 rolled around, Nixon had been a former president for six months. The aftermath of the Watergate scandal was the death of much of the optimism of the 1960s, a nation splintered and mistrustful of people in power. The United States was driven to a Constitutional crisis with the Supreme Court being defied by then-President Nixon. Some people wanted to move on, get to the next thing, and forget about the wounds. Others wanted to perform an autopsy of the past decade, trying to figure out how we went from the hippie movement of the late 1960s to a ravaged industrial hellscape of the mid-1970s.

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Movie Review – The Last Detail

The Last Detail (1973)
Written by Robert E. Towne
Directed by Hal Ashby

The Last Detail chronicles the birth of a friendship that has to die. It’s a portrait of masculine camaraderie wounded by the artificial structures of authoritarianism. This is a tragedy where everyone physically lives, but spiritual dies because they are asked to do what is unnatural. It’s a quiet and profane road trip buddy film that meanders and wanders on its way to the final destination.

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Movie Review – Harold and Maude

Harold and Maude (1971)
Written by Colin Higgins
Directed by Hal Ashby

This is the movie that established Hal Ashby and remains the first film most people think of when they hear his name. Its basic plot has been mimicked by dozens of independent films since yet none of them seem to recapture the magic of the original. It’s inspired many filmmakers since, especially Wes Anderson. You could argue that it reinvented the concept of the manic pixie dream girl who serves to enlighten the male protagonist. There is a lot that begins with Harold and Maude.

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Movie Review – The Landlord

The Landlord (1970)
Written by Kristin Hunter & Bill Gunn
Directed by Hal Ashby

Hal Ashby was an unlikely person. His films reflect that, focusing on the buffoonery of the privileged class, always giving the upper hand to the vulnerable, people of color especially. Ashby grew up in a dysfunctional family in Utah that culminated with the suicide of his father. The young Hal dropped out of high school and never got a degree. Years later, when the studio would put out biographies of filmmakers in press packets, they lied and said Ashby graduated from the University of Utah. Unlike his contemporaries, like Francis Ford Coppolla or Martin Scorsese, Ashby had no formal academic background.

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