100 Favorite Movies…..51-55

Movies have the ability to transport us thru time, whether the plot involves time travel or not. This is done in two ways. First of all, the story itself can be set in a certain time period. There are films about virtually every notable age in history, from Biblical times thru colonial America and The Civil War to the 1950’s and even history that hasn’t happened yet, i.e. the future. Secondly, some films, whether intentionally or not, become iconic symbols of the era in which they were produced, eternally capturing a brief moment in time. Today’s group does a little of both of these things.


55 Saturday Night Fever

Disco may be dead, but Saturday Night Fever will live forever. For those too young too remember and for the benefit of all who have purposely blocked it from their mind, disco was a unique dance style music that dominated the mid to late 1970’s. It could conceivably be thought of as a forerunner to techno…a much cooler, less annoying predecessor. But disco encompassed much more than music. It was a lifestyle personified by fashion, rampant recreational drug use, dance clubs with mirror balls, and sexual indulgence. Fever mostly leaves the seedier aspects of the subculture alone and concentrates on the music, the dancing, and the fun. John Travolta, already famous as Vinnie Barberino on television’s Welcome Back Kotter, was vaulted into superstardom by playing Brooklyn dancer Tony Manero. The story concentrates on Tony’s home life and the classic struggle of one’s desire to escape bleak circumstances versus staying within the comfort zone of family and friends. Tony’s only escape is the local disco, where he is The Man. The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, featuring several Bee Gees songs, is the best selling movie soundtrack of all time and is essential to the enjoyment of the movie. Fever has aged gracefully over the course of 30+ years, and I anticipate that folks will still be watching it three decades from now. I just hope no one gets the bright idea to do a remake starring Zac Efron or Freddie Prinze Jr.

54 Swingers

1996’s Swingers is set in modern day, but it has a distinctly 60’s vibe with a nod to pre-WW2 swing era. I am a huge fan of all things Vegas, and it plays a significant part in this film, even though the majority of the action does take place in Los Angeles. When you combine a 60’s vibe with Vegas that automatically brings to mind The Rat Pack, of which I am also a big fan. The convergence of all these things were no doubt intentional by the filmmakers, and it works. Vince Vaughn, in only his second notable film (he previously had small role in Rudy), burst onto the scene and a decade and a half later is still riding high. Vaughn plays a fast talking charmer whose quest becomes helping his best friend, played by Jon Favreau (who wrote the screenplay), get over an ex-girlfriend. The two men take a road trip from L.A. to Vegas, but that doesn’t help. Back home several other buddies jump into the fray as they go club hopping and do some male bonding. Ultimately the best friend gets his head out of his tookas and asks out a lovely young lady played by Heather Graham. Swingers is one of those movies that either you get or you don’t, you either like it or think it’s kind of stupid. I get it and I like it. The combination of vibe, outstanding cast, witty and memorable writing, and very cool soundtrack melds together to form an undeniably distinctive and non-formulaic experience.

53 Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Space… the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its mission – to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life & new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before. And so was the concept of one of the most successful yet shortest lived television shows of all time. Airing on NBC in the late 60’s, it was cancelled after only three seasons. Hindsight is 20/20 of course, and hindsight tells us that the decision to cancel Star Trek was quite possibly one of the dumbest decisions in entertainment history. At any rate, in addition to 4 other TV series based on the Trek universe, the original crew of the starship Enterprise would fly again in 6 feature films from 1979 to 1991. Trekkies will tell you that the even numbered films in that series are the best, while the odd numbered ones are somewhat lackluster. I concur with that opinion, and so you will see “the three evens” on this list. We begin with the final ride for Captain Kirk, Spock, Bones, Sulu, Uhura, Scotty, and Chekov in 1991’s The Undiscovered Country. The plot involves The Federation and The Klingons attempting to make peace, with that effort being thwarted when the Klingon chancellor is assassinated. There seems to be thinly veiled references to The Cold War, with The Federation representing America and The Klingons standing in for Russia. One could analyze and pick apart the sociological foundation of the script and the political motivation of the powers-that-be, and if that frosts your cupcake then by all means go for it. Personally, I just enjoy the Shakespearean zeitgeist created by the best Trek villain not named Khan…Christopher Plummer’s sublime Chang, as well as the comfortable and oftentimes humorous interactions between the crew. They knew it was their last film together, and the actors gave 100%. Bones McCoy is one of the crustiest yet funniest characters in movie history, and Spock’s reactions are subtly humorous more often than might be intended. The original crew is gone now, some of them (Scotty, Bones) dead in real life. 2009’s reboot of Star Trek exceeded expectations and if that group achieves a fraction of the success of its predecessors the movie going public will be the real winners.

52 Die Hard With A Vengeance

This is one example I use to prove my hypothesis that in movie trilogies the first one is great, the second one a disappointment, and the third rebounds to quite good. There are exceptions, and when additional movies get made the whole balance of the equation gets thrown off, but generally…trust me…if a sequel has disappointed you just wait for film number three and you will likely be pleased. The original Die Hard came out in 1988 and dealt with one man taking on a group of terrorists in a high rise office building on Christmas Eve. We’ll examine it closer much later in this list. Die Hard II was the inevitable and rushed 1990 sequel that took the action to a hijacked plane and airport. We will not be speaking of it in this list. Not that it’s a horrible movie…just forgettable and not worth one’s time. However, the third time is a charm and five years later they got it right with a movie almost as good as the first. This time Bruce Willis’ detective John McClain is lured into a cat & mouse game all across New York City, trying to find a bomb while being fed clues by the bad guy played by Jeremy Irons. McClain’s sidekick this time is played by Samuel L. Jackson, a significant upgrade from the Dad from Family Matters and the bare assed fat police officer from NYPD Blue. I think that is what clinches it for me. Jackson’s presence elevates the film in a way that was absolutely necessary for the legitimacy of the franchise as a whole. Taking the action out of a confined space and using the entire city of New York as a backdrop was a crucial change as well. Vengeance feels fresh and can be enjoyed by folks who have never seen the first two films. It stands alone as a well written, well acted piece of entertainment rather than just rehashing things we have already seen. In 2007 a fourth film was made called Live Free or Die Hard. It uses a theme of cyber terrorism and technology. I’ve seen it a couple times and it’s okay, but it sort of felt like it was too late, that too much time had passed and that sometimes one should just leave well enough alone and know when to stop.

51 Father of the Bride I & II

Yes, I know…I am cheating. Here’s the deal. I did not have enough slots to include both of these films in the Top 100. I did not want to leave out any others that I had chosen. So then it became a question of which of these two did I like better. Upon pondering that question I came to the conclusion that they really are one movie split into two parts, and I couldn’t bear to eliminate either. So call it a tie if you wish, but I maintain that this is a case where, unlike most sequel situations, the story here flows like one film and therefore will be awarded this spot. Anyway…Father of the Bride is a 1991

Steve Martin

 

remake of a 1950 film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Spencer Tracy. Father of the Bride II is a sequel to the 1991 film and a remake of a 1951 film called Father’s Little Dividend, itself a sequel to the 1950 film. Confused yet?? No worries…just forget about the 50’s flicks – the remakes are actually better, which is rare. The remakes star Steve Martin as the Dad and Diane Keaton as his wife. The extremely lovely Kimberly Williams made her film debut in Father of the Bride, and nearly 20 years later she’s still gorgeous and is now married to country singer Brad Paisley. In Father of the Bride the daughter returns home from a summer trip to Europe with big news…she fell in love with a fellow American and they’re getting hitched. Dad freaks out. Mom decides they need a wedding planner, which brings the hilarious Martin Short into the fold. Dad then really freaks out. Eventually all’s well that ends well, but the ride sure is fun. Then in the sequel both Mom and the daughter end up pregnant. Dad does a double freak out. They find a way to bring Martin Short back (to plan the baby shower and convert a bedroom into a nursery). All’s well that ends well again. These movies are pretty simple. There are no car chases, no explosions, no gunfights. There isn’t even any notable salty language or nudity. It’s all  very sweet and easy to watch. Watching these movies is like sitting on the front porch with a glass of iced tea and a gentle breeze, and that’s why I like them. Action can be good sometimes, as can drama. I am a big fan of comedy, but even then sometimes one doesn’t want to spend two hours doubled over in laughter. Sometimes one just wants to sit back, relax, and watch some old fashioned folksy, homespun, inoffensive, warm & fuzzy entertainment…the kind of lighthearted fun that’ll cure a bad mood and make one’s life a little brighter for a few hours. The Father of the Bride films more than deliver that. They put a smile on my face every time I see them, and that’s something we all could use more of in our lives.

 

 

 

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5 thoughts on “100 Favorite Movies…..51-55

  1. Re: Die Hard With a Vengence… okay, how is it that when McClain gets blown up through the manhole on a spout of water, Samuel L. Jackson just happens to be driving by that very spot?! And could he really shoot five hulking fake cops in an elevator before any of them could react to squash him? Ah, a little suspension of disbelief required, but I’ve certainly seen worse 🙂

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