In the early rounds of 90’s Film Frenzy I provided y’all with as much information as I could about each movie, including the big stars we allegedly flock to the theater to see. That is all well & good, but I think there is much more that goes into one’s enjoyment of a film. The old adage is that little things mean a lot, and we shouldn’t overlook all the small things that can add up to a movie really being a fun experience. What’s the setting?? Is it a small town, big city, or foreign locale?? Don’t forget about music. I happen to think that a film’s soundtrack can be a huge contributor to its success. And while everyone focuses on the lead actors I feel like we should give some love to those with supporting roles and even the “character actors” who might only have a scene or two but make the most out of it. These are some of the things I am focusing on in the third round of this competition.
Forrest Gump vs. Die Hard: With A Vengeance
After receiving a first round bye Forrest Gump got past Presumed Innocent in Round 2 in a contrast of two films based on novels. As good as Presumed Innocent the movie is the book is way better. Conversely, I’ve heard mixed reviews of Forrest Gump the book, to the point that I’m afraid to read it and have it ruin my feelings about the movie. The book’s author actually wrote a sequel called Gump & Co., but thus far it hasn’t been translated to film and it probably won’t be, especially since Tom Hanks has expressed misgivings about portraying the title character again. My affection for Forrest Gump is such that I am amazed that it isn’t universally loved, but there are detractors out there. It’s 72% Rotten Tomatoes score is good, but nowhere near some other films in the competition that have ratings of 90% or more. Some folks think it is manipulative, overly sentimental, tiresome, & not as historically accurate as it could’ve been. There is no shortage of people who believe that Pulp Fiction or The Shawshank Redemption should’ve won the Academy Award for Best Picture as well as the Oscars for Best Actor & Best Director. I disagree with all of that. Even my father loves Forrest Gump, and trust me…Dad & I rarely share similar tastes in entertainment. Die Hard: With a Vengeance wouldn’t even be in this competition if it had been the final Die Hard film since trilogies are disqualified. Alas, two additional (subpar) movies were made in the series with one last hurrah allegedly on the way, so Vengeance gets its well-deserved kudos. The difference between this third entry and its predecessor…1990’s Die Hard 2…is the addition of Samuel L. Jackson as Detective McClane’s reluctant sidekick. It was Jackson’s follow-up to Pulp Fiction and immediately preceded his role in A Time to Kill, meaning he was on a pretty good roll at the time. The filmmakers knew they had to mix things up in the third film because Die Hard 2 was a fairly tepid rehash of the original premise. Jackson breathes new life into the story, injecting additional humor & attitude. He & Bruce Willis play off of each other quite well.
The Verdict: Forrest Gump. Though it made it into the competition thru a loophole, the fact is that Vengeance isn’t nearly as great as the original Die Hard. Sequels are tough. They (usually) get made because the first movie was so good and made a lot of money, but that will always mean unfair comparisons right from the start. Forrest Gump is like a golfer that always finishes second in major tournaments…as good as it is there are people all too willing to point out its flaws. But whether or not you believe it deserved all the accolades it received back in 1994, the fact is that being the #1 film at the box office & winning a half dozen Academy Awards isn’t something I can overlook, especially when it comes to a movie that I stop everything to watch almost every single time it is on TV.
The Fugitive vs. The Wedding Singer
This is a tough one. I love The Wedding Singer because of its many nods to 80’s pop culture that stir up memories of my long lost youth. The soundtrack is fantastic, with songs from the likes of Culture Club, The Police, Elvis Costello, The Thompson Twins, Billy Idol (who also has a fun cameo in the movie), Spandau Ballet, Hall & Oates, The Cure, Kool & The Gang, Bruce Springsteen, and a few others. That’s quite a lineup. I also want to give a nod to brief appearances by Jon Lovitz & Steve Buschemi. I normally find Lovitz unamusing and mostly dreadful, but his scene in The Wedding Singer is actually quite entertaining. I’m kind of surprised that someone didn’t come up with the idea of a sequel starring Buschemi & Lovitz as new wedding singers. It is my understanding that the film was adapted into a stage musical (kind of a reverse Rock of Ages situation), and I must say that I’d totally go see that show. The Fugitive got past Joe Versus the Volcano in Round 2, which broke my heart because I feel like JVtV is a profound & underappreciated gem. Conversely, appreciation abounds for The Fugitive, with a damn near perfect 96% score from the critics and seven Oscar nominations. I’ve watched The Fugitive countless times, but there is a scene in which Dr. Kimble finds himself in the stairwell of a huge building facing off against Lt. Gerard before narrowly escaping thru downtown Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and no matter how many times I’ve seen it I still feel a palpable sense of drama and tension. Actually there are a few scenes like that, and when a filmmaker can still make the viewer buy into the suspense even when we’ve seen it a bunch of times and know exactly what’s going to happen…well folks, that’s what I call great entertainment.
The Verdict: The Fugitive. These choices are becoming harder & harder, but sometimes I’ve got to pick nits. Ninety percent of the time I’ll lean toward an easygoing comedy, and The Wedding Singer gets bonus points for fantastic music & delightful Sandler/Barrymore chemistry. However, The Fugitive is special. It creates drama without a lot of gratuitous violence, and there is really only one big, explosive action sequence. The rest is just brilliant writing and superb performances.
Billy Madison vs. Office Space
Back to back Sandler…which nowadays would be a cringe worthy waste of time, but two decades ago that wasn’t the case. Unlike The Wedding Singer, which is a more subdued & pleasant performance, Billy Madison is full on Sandler being Sandler, playing the kind of infantile ne’er-do-well that has largely defined peoples’ perception of him as an actor. This film & Happy Gilmore will always be the first two things that pop into the average cinephile’s mind when Sandler is the topic of conversation, and I don’t think that’s such a terrible thing. Fans of The West Wing will appreciate Bradley Whitford’s appearance as devious businessman Eric, Billy’s nemesis. Christmas film aficionados will delight in seeing A Christmas Story’s Old Man…Darren McGavin…as Billy’s wealthy yet exasperated father. I’m somewhat surprised that the vivacious Bridgette Wilson (wife of tennis legend Pete Sampras) never became a big star, but Billy Madison & 2001’s The Wedding Planner are among her few career highlights, and she hasn’t done any notable acting work since 2008. Office Space got a first round bye before beating out Spielberg’s expensive flop Hook in Round 2. According to my limited research the definition of a cult classic is…flexible…but typically focuses more on obscure & unconventional films shunned by the mainstream. Office Space would seem to qualify since it made less than $11 million during its theatrical run. In comparison, the budget for 1999’s highest grossing film… Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace…was over $115 million and it made $431 million. But Office Space would find new life on home video and come to be appreciated by anyone who has ever worked in an office environment, which is obviously a lot of people. It is one of the most quotable films of the 90’s, and has characters & situations that are very relatable. Jennifer Aniston was & is the film’s biggest star since she was right in the middle of her run on the hit TV show Friends at the time and has become even more well-known in the ensuing years, but other cast members like Ron Livingston, Stephen Root, Gary Cole, Diedrich Bader, & John C. McGinley have had solid careers (mostly on television). Like most of the general public movie critics pretty much ignored Office Space at first, but once it gained traction and reviews were written they were mostly favorable.
The Verdict: Office Space. I’ve had several people tell me over the years that they thought I’d enjoy popular sitcom The Office, the original British incarnation of which premiered in 2001 and surely had to be somewhat influenced by the movie. However I must admit that I’ve never watched either version of The Office because I’m pretty old-fashioned and prefer multi-camera sitcoms with a live studio audience & laugh track…I just can’t embrace single camera sitcoms like The Office, Modern Family, Young Sheldon, & It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. I know I know…I’m probably missing out. At any rate, I can get my fix of corporate culture humor anytime by watching Office Space, and that’s good enough for me.
Grumpy Old Men vs. Father of the Bride
There’s a Twix commercial that’s getting a lot of play on TV these days that amusingly compares ghosts & spirits, janitors & custodians, and morticians & undertakers, and these two movies could merit a similar appraisal. Both are amiable comedies that did well enough to spawn affable sequels. Both star older comedic actors instead of hot young Hollywood flavors of the month. Both did surprisingly well at the box office, while critics liked but didn’t love both films. I absolutely adore both films and will watch them whenever they’re on television, and sometimes I’ll stream one or the other when I’m bored & in the mood for a good flick. These are what I call comfort food movies. They warm the cockles and make me smile, which is all I really need a movie to do.
The Verdict: Father of the Bride. I have decided against the cop out of a tie and will let the numbers be a tiebreaker. Father of the Bride did slightly better at the box office and the critics like it just a skosh more, so I defer to the will of the people. Personally I think both films are winners.