90’s Film Frenzy: Wicked Round 3

We’ve moved past Halloween and a lot of folks have dived in…atleast emotionally…to the Christmas season. For me though, as much as I love Christmas, it seems a bit premature, which is why I’m glad I have this competition to focus on (as well as football). The quote you are seeing to your left is something I ran across just a few weeks ago, and it makes so much sense to me. I know I’ve mentioned it previously, but while box office receipts & awards are great, what really matters to me is a movie that I’ve enjoyed multiple times and still delight in many years after its initial release. Those movies are special, and unfortunately they are all too rare. At any rate, if you need to catch up on third round results in the Dope, Fly, & Phat Divisions please do so, and then come on back to finish up Round 3 action with the Wicked Division.

 

 

 

 

The Shawshank Redemption                        vs.              Lethal Weapon 4

I’m going to admit something with which few might agree: Lethal Weapon 4 might be my favorite of the series…or atleast it’s right up there with the original. All the elements are in place…Joe Pesci is back as Leo Getz, Rene Russo (aka Lorna Cole) is in a full-fledged relationship with Martin Riggs and about to have his baby, and Chris Rock joins the cast as Sgt. Butters, who (spoiler alert) has secretly impregnated Roger Murtaugh’s daughter. The bad guys are smugglers bringing in illegal immigrants as part of some sort of plot involving organized crime in China. The reason I like it is probably why many critics didn’t…it has a lighter touch and more humor than a typical action movie. Oh there are still shootouts & explosions, but there is also Pesci & Rock riffing off each other while our two favorite cops provoke them then sit back and laugh, and as the conclusion of the film illustrates, all of these characters have become family…to each other and to the audience. It’s about as heartwarming as a buddy/cop movie is going to get. Conversely, The Shawshank Redemption is an unflinching prison movie. It doesn’t attempt to warm our cockles, and that’s okay. The gold star has to go to Morgan Freeman. I can’t imagine that this movie…with all due respect to Tim Robbins…would’ve been nearly as good without Freeman. He simply makes everything he is in better just by his mere presence. It is difficult to fathom…more than two decades later…how Shawshank made less money at the box office than Major League II, I Love Trouble, The Paper, Richie Rich, Timecop, Natural Born Killers, and The Flintstones (with John Goodman, Rick Moranis, & Rosie O’Donnell). Freeman has said in interviews that he thinks the title may have been difficult for some to remember which led to poor word of mouth upon the film’s initial release. If that is true it is a sad reflection on our education system. Easier to understand is why it received seven Academy Award nominations but won none of them. Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction came out in the same year, so that’s pretty tough competition. Anyway, Shawshank is a great example of what we talked about in the preamble. It bombed in theaters and didn’t win any Oscars despite multiple nominations, but because of home video rentals (VHS…cause that’s how we rolled in the 90’s kids) and sweet television package that allowed for repeat viewings on Turner’s TV channels it flourished and has become a modern classic.

The Verdict:       The Shawshank Redemption. This one is tough because I really do love Lethal Weapon 4. However, though according to my own rules it is included in this competition because it’s part of a series rather than a trilogy, the fact is that I tend to still look at Lethal Weapon as a single entity in multiple parts, and it is difficult to separate them. If I am being honest, on a lazy afternoon of couch potatoing I think my clicker might be just as likely stop on the channel showing Lethal Weapon 4, but Shawshank is clearly the superior film.

 

 

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Mrs. Doubtfire                                vs.                        Tommy Boy

I’ll make this short & sweet. Both are delightful comedies. Both have gotten a lot of repeat viewing and are on television with some frequency. But it comes down to Robin Williams vs. Chris Farley & David Spade. Perhaps age is a line in the sand. Those who came of age and went thru their teens in the 90’s would likely choose Farley & Tommy Boy. However, as an 80’s kid who was there from the very beginning of Williams’ rise to prominence and has been a huge fan of his since childhood I must opine that Mrs. Doubtfire is amongst his finest work. It didn’t receive critical praise & award nominations like Good Morning Vietnam or Good Will Hunting, but it came before later, more depressing efforts like What Dreams May Come and Death to Smoochy. There is a terrific scene near the end when Williams’ character is bouncing back & forth between two situations in the same restaurant, and when it is revealed who Mrs. Doubtfire really is the reaction of the Sally Field character is priceless. The children are well cast, and I really like the boss of the TV station portrayed by fine character actor Robert Prosky.

The Verdict:       Mrs. Doubtfire. It just isn’t a fair fight.

 

 

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Scent of a Woman                         vs.              The Truman Show

As much as I have tried to focus on supporting roles in Round 3, one cannot see this matchup and overlook Pacino vs. Carrey, especially since both men practically put an entire movie on their back and carry it to greatness. The Truman Show was way ahead of its time. I am really surprised that no one has tried to pull off a real life Truman Show in the ensuing years. I’m sure it could be done, and frankly it might actually be gratifying to watch a reality show where the star isn’t doing it on purpose in a vain attempt to grab cheap fame & fortune. Of course then there would be a moral dilemma for viewers because the idea of watching another person’s entire life on TV without their knowledge feels a little depraved. Ed Harris received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role as creator/director/producer Christoff (he lost the award to James Coburn for his role in Affliction), and the religious overtones are undeniable. The reason Harris’ portrayal is so good is because it is so low-key. Christoff is meant to be the villain, but he isn’t a caricature, laughing manically or foaming at the mouth. My favorite scene is at the end of the movie. The viewing public is on the edge of their collective seat as Truman Burbank figures out the truth of his situation and finally escapes. But two seconds after the show ends everybody simply changes the channel and moves on with their lives just that quick. It is profound, as is the entire film. Pacino had been nominated for multiple Oscars for performances in much better movies, but it took his excessive bravado as Lt. Col. Frank Slade to finally win.

The Verdict:       Scent of a Woman. Such is my disdain for reality television that I have had no desire to watch The Truman Show over & over thru the years. I realize that is flawed logic because the film is actually a satirical commentary about such programs, but the fact that a show that seemed so far-fetched two decades ago is now more than plausible is a sad commentary on the direction we’ve taken as a society. It’s too discouraging to even ponder, so…fair or unfair…I avoid the movie. Those that say Pacino’s performance masks a relatively thin plot probably aren’t wrong, but who cares?? Pacino is awesome.

 

 

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Deep Impact                                   vs.                        The Big Lebowski

Deep Impact is a better movie than Armageddon. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. However, it isn’t as memorable. Despite the presence of Morgan Freeman as President of the United States (Barack Obama wishes he could be as cool as Freeman) the rest of the cast doesn’t really rev the engines. Tea Leoni. Robert Duvall. Vanessa Redgrave. Ron Eldard. Laura Innes. Leelee Sobieski. I’m not saying they aren’t talented…but there’s no one there with an It Factor that’ll really attract an audience. Elijah Wood was still a few years away from his adventures in Middle Earth, and Jon Favreau was hardly a household name twenty years ago. But despite all of that, it is still a really good movie. The Big Lebowski has defeated Ten Things I Hate About You and Wayne’s World (which some might consider an upset) to get to this point. It is what one might call a hot pepper movie. Have you ever eaten an allegedly hot pepper with the initial thought of “What’s the big deal??”, only for the heat to sneak up on you a few minutes later?? Not only has it become a cult classic long after being a box office flop, but repeat viewings are almost a necessity. Don’t watch Lebowski once and wonder why anyone likes it. You need to see it a few times before you can begin to appreciate its greatness. It is highly quotable and chockful of memorable characters.

The Verdict:       The Big Lebowski. The Dude is headed to The Sweet 16. Not bad for a movie that ranked 96th at the box office in 1998.

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