100 Memorable Movie Characters…Part 2

“Movies touch our hearts, awaken our vision, and change the way we see things. They take us to other places…open doors & minds. Movies are the memories of our lifetime.”  –  Martin Scorsese

 

 

 

We’re going to forego a verbose preamble today and jump right into the fray. If you have not read Part 1 please go back and do so at your leisure. As always I appreciate everyone who stops by to read the things that are written here, and your feedback is welcome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

90           Ma & Pa Kettle (various films)

Ma & Pa Kettle starred in ten films from 1947-57. They are simple country bumpkins raising their brood of 16 kids on the family farm, and the movies put them into various fish-out-of-water scenarios like trips to New York, Hawaii, & Paris, as well as winning a “house of the future” in a contest. I seem to recall that the Kettle films were shown on Saturday morning television with some frequency during my childhood. That was way before channels like TCM & AMC, so I assume it had to be a local syndication type of deal. I also have a vague recollection that it was my Dad who enjoyed watching Ma & Pa Kettle and introduced me to the movies.

 

Quotes

“It may be a good day for you, but it ain’t for Pa. All the poor man wanted was a new tobacco pouch and instead he won a house he didn’t want and he got a bad sunburn.” (Ma)

“You do all the barkin’, but it’s me that’s always in the doghouse.” (Pa)

“You mean, Pa & Me’s got to support all our kids and the government too?” (Ma)

“Pa, you’re lazier than that old hound dog we used to have.” “Which one?” “The one that used to lean against the wall when she barked.”

 

 

 

89           Thelma Dickinson & Louise Sawyer (Thelma & Louise)

Full disclosure…I believe I’ve only watched Thelma & Louise once, but that was enough. The duo are southern ladies taking a girls’ trip to escape from their mundane existence, but things go awry when a drunken rabble-rouser tries to rape Thelma and Louise kills him. Of course we all know that in TV & movies no one ever does the smart thing by calling the police…instead they get spooked & go on the run, which is the foundation for the adventure that follows. Nearly three decades later many of us still refer to mischievous gal pals as Thelma & Louise.

 

Quotes

“You said you ‘n’ me was gonna get out of town and for once just really let our hair down. Well darlin’, look out ’cause my hair is comin’ down!” (Thelma)

“You get what you settle for.” (Louise)

“He kinda prides himself on being infantile.” (Thelma)

“Good morning everybody, this is a robbery. Now if nobody loses their head, nobody will lose their head. Simon says everybody lay down on the floor, right away, right away, except you sir. You’ll have a story to tell your friends, that or a tag on your toe, it’s your decision.” (Thelma)

“I feel really awake. I don’t recall ever feeling this awake. You know? Everything looks different now. You feel like that? You feel like you got something to live for now?” (Thelma)

 

 

 

88           Raymond Babbitt (Rain Man)

I’m not sure anyone in history has done more to promote awareness of autism than Raymond Babbitt. Dustin Hoffman won his second Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Raymond, a savant whose deceased father left him millions that his scheming brother is trying to get from him. It is rare for Tom Cruise to be outshined in any film, but Raymond’s charming blend of pathos, humor, & vulnerability does the trick.

 

Quotes

“I’m an excellent driver.”

“13 minutes to Judge Wapner and The People’s Court.”

“K-mart sucks.”

 

 

 

87           Dr. Frank N. Furter (The Rocky Horror Picture Show)

Some films have broad appeal, and I assume that is what the powers-that-be are going for most of the time. However, there is no shortage of movies that are focused on a rather specific target audience. I haven’t seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show since I was in college, sitting out in a field late at night throwing rice & toilet paper at the screen, but that’s okay since it is exactly the kind of weird, drunken, relatively innocuous, & completely stupid experience one should have at 19, because if that’s how you spend your weekend when your 35 or 50 it becomes a bit disturbing. Dr. Furter describes himself as a “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania”, which seems like a fitting description. Unforgettable name?? Check. Unique outfit?? Check. Quirky as all get-out?? You bet. Actor Tim Curry has been nominated for Tony Awards, starred in films like The Hunt for Red OctoberHome Alone 2: Lost in New York, and portrayed Pennywise in the TV miniseries of Stephen King’s It, but he will most likely always be remembered as Dr. Frank N. Furter.

 

Quotes

“Tonight, my unconventional conventionalists, you are about to witness a new breakthrough in biochemical research, and paradise is to be mine!”

“Don’t be upset…it was a mercy killing. He had a certain naïve charm, but no muscle.”

 

 

 

 

86           Mick “Crocodile” Dundee (Crocodile Dundee)

Let’s face it…the only reason any of us in the good ol’ USA has ever requested for someone to “throw another shrimp on the barbie” is because Crocodile Dundee taught us what that means in 1986. Outback Steakhouse was created in Tampa, FL two years after the film’s release in hopes of capitalizing on America’s newfound fascination with Australia. Two Dundee sequels were produced, but neither had the magic of the original, a classic fish-out-of-water tale featuring a most unconventional protagonist.

 

Quotes

“Get on the right side of the road you pelican!”

“That’s not a knife…THAT’S a knife.”

“Well, you see, Aborigines don’t own the land…they belong to it. It’s like their mother. See those rocks? Been standing there for 600 million years…still be there when you & I are gone. So arguing over who owns them is like two fleas arguing over who owns the dog they live on.”

“Imagine seven million people all wanting to live together. New York must be the friendliest place on earth.”

 

 

 

85           Tommy DeVito (Goodfellas)

Not too long ago I saw a poll on Facebook asking about the best mob movie and was stunned when Goodfellas beat out The Godfather, because in my humble opinion The Godfather cannot be touched. Having said that, it is a rather unfair comparison. The Godfather is an Shakespearean fantasy with lots of Hollywood style & polish, whereas Goodfellas is more raw & down-to-earth. Inasmuch as The Mafia still exists in modern America I assume Goodfellas is probably a more accurate portrayal, but for me that doesn’t necessarily equal entertainment value. It’s kind of the same thing as people who fawn all over Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy because of its gritty realism, while I lean toward the escapism of the Burton/Schumacher Batman flicks from the late 80’s/early 90’s. At any rate, actor Joe Pesci had done Raging Bull in 1980 and added some life to the Lethal Weapon franchise in 1989 so Goodfellas wasn’t his first rodeo, but Tommy DeVito has become one of his defining roles (we’ll get to another a bit later). DeVito is loosely based on real life gangster “Two Gun Tommy” DiSimone, a NY City gangster who “disappeared” in January 1979. Two Gun Tommy was much younger, not to mention physically bigger & stronger, than the diminutive, middle-aged, fast-talking tough guy depicted in the film, but other mobsters have said that Pesci’s portrayal…for which he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor…is otherwise fairly accurate.

 

Quotes

“What do you mean I’m funny? What do you mean? You mean the way I talk? What? You mean, let me understand this, ’cause, ya know maybe it’s me, I’m a little fucked up maybe, but I’m funny how? I mean funny like I’m a clown? I amuse you? I make you laugh, I’m here to fuckin’ amuse you? What do you mean funny? Funny how? How am I funny?”

 

 

 

84           Larry Talbot (The Wolf Man)

Y’all know that I’m not a horror movie fan, but for some reason I love the old Universal monsters from the 1930’s & 40’s. Talbot is a mild-mannered man who returns to Wales after two decades in America to reconcile with his estranged father. He is bitten by a werewolf while trying to rescue a damsel in distress, and thereafter becomes a werewolf himself. After committing a series of murders he is eventually bludgeoned to death by his own father, who doesn’t realize The Wolf Man is his son. Lon Chaney Jr.’s portrayal of Talbot as quiet & reserved and emotionally tortured by his infirmity is the perfect contrast to the ferocity of the beast.

 

Quotes

“You think I don’t know the difference between a wolf and a man? You’re insane! I tell you, I killed a wolf! A plain, ordinary wolf! Don’t try to make me believe that I killed a man when I know that I killed a wolf!”

 

 

 

 

83           Tony Montana (Scarface)

I don’t rate Scarface as highly as some simply because I tend not to like movies about crime & drugs…it’s just not my kind of entertainment. Having said that, there’s no denying that Tony Montana is a memorable character. Tony arrives in Miami from Cuba and starts his new life as a dishwasher. A few years later he is a wealthy drug lord with an unhealthy cocaine addiction. As is the case with such characters there is a lot of bloodshed, ultimately ending (spoiler alert) with Tony face down in a fountain after having been shot in the back by a rival’s henchman. Critics like to attach meaning to films like Scarface, seeing it as some sort of allegory about rising & falling, the excesses of the American Dream, or a commentary on criminal avarice, but I prefer to learn such lessons without all the violence & profanity. Italian-American Pacino seems like an odd choice to portray a Cuban, and I’m not sure that would fly in our newly woke culture just a few decades later. Interestingly, Robert DeNiro was the first choice for the role of Tony Montana but he declined the opportunity.

 

Quotes

“This is paradise. This is paradise, I’m tellin’ you. I shoulda come here 10 years ago. I’d have been a millionaire by this time. By this time, I’d have had my own boat, my own car, my own golf course.”

“Me, I always tell the truth…even when I lie. So say good night to the bad guy! Come on. The last time you gonna see a bad guy like this again, let me tell you. Come on. Make way for the bad guy. There’s a bad guy comin’ through! Better get outta his way!”

“This country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the woman.”

“Okay, you little cockroaches… come on! You wanna play games? Okay, I can play with you. Come on! Okay, you wanna play rough?!?!??  Okay! SAY HELLO TO MY LITTLE FRIEND!”

 

 

 

82           Deputy U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard (The Fugitive)

Other than its love of sequels the other way that Hollywood plays it safe by not being particularly innovative is to recycle old television shows and bring them…or atleast the central premise…to the big screen, with the results being decidedly mixed. The Dukes of Hazzard, Leave it to Beaver, & The Wild Wild West weren’t good movies, while The Addams Family, The Brady Bunch, & Charlie’s Angels were decent enough. One of the best movie adaptations of a TV show is The Fugitive, with Harrison Ford portraying erroneously convicted Dr. Richard Kimble. While the television show had Dr. Kimble doggedly pursued across the country by local police Lt. Philip Gerard, the film kicks it up a notch by making the hunter no nonsense U.S Marshal Sam Gerard, although the quest is essentially limited to Chicago. Tommy Lee Jones won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Gerard, and became the focus of the story in a much inferior sequel a few years later. In the movie neither Kimble nor Gerard resemble the television characters they are based on all that much, but in this case the adaptation is actually better than the original.

 

Quotes

“Let that be a lesson to you, boys & girls. Don’t ever argue with the Big Dog, because the Big Dog is always right.”

“Listen up, ladies & gentlemen! Our fugitive has been on the run for 90 minutes. Average foot speed over uneven ground barring injuries is 4 miles per hour and that gives us a radius of 6 miles. What I want out of each & every one of you is a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse, and doghouse in that area. Checkpoints go up at fifteen miles. Your fugitive’s name is Dr. Richard Kimble. Go get him.”

 

 

 

81           Walter Sobchak (The Big Lebowski)

Lebowski is a weird movie, but it sure is fun to watch when a particular mood strikes. One of the key reasons for its success is John Goodman’s portrayal of Walter, the foul-mouthed, slightly unhinged, but loyal best buddy of the film’s protagonist. I’ve never been a fan of Goodman’s infamous TV show Roseanne in any of its incarnations, but I sure have enjoyed his big screen career. Raising Arizona. Everybody’s All-American. The Hangover Part III. They may not be transcendent films, but they’re enjoyable enough and better because Goodman is in them. Walter is most definitely second fiddle in Lebowksi, but that’s okay…great movies need supporting characters that add a colorful layer to the story, and in this case the mission is certainly accomplished.

 

Quotes

“Donny, you’re out of your element! Dude, the Chinaman is not the issue here!”

“Nihilists!  I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.”

“Lady, I got buddies who died face down in the muck so that you & I could enjoy this family restaurant!”

“You want a toe? I can get you a toe. Believe me. There are ways, Dude.”

“Life does not start and stop at your convenience, you miserable piece of shit!”

“You know, Dude, I myself dabbled in pacifism once. Not in ‘Nam of course.”

“We’re talking about unchecked aggression here, Dude.”

“Smokey, this is not ‘Nam. This is bowling. There are rules.”

 

 

 

 

80           Captain Louis Renault (Casablanca)

¾ of a century after its theatrical release Casablanca is still regarded as one of the best movies ever produced. There are multiple reasons for that, but one of them is Capt. Renault, a cynical & slightly corrupt French policeman. Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco on the coast of Africa. During World War II it was a vital strategic port, and since a large chunk of Europe was controlled by the Nazis travel was limited, hence the importance of the film’s “letters of transit” (a true film MacGuffin…in reality no such documents existed). Capt. Renault plays all sides, loyal only to his own needs & desires…or so we are led to believe until the film’s conclusion. He isn’t a clichéd movie bad guy…he seems pleasant enough, and in fact has some of the more blithe dialogue. It is rare for an alleged villain to add levity to the story, but that is exactly what Renault does, which is probably why I like him. Actor Claude Rains played more conventional antagonists in films like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious, and earned four Academy Award nominations in his career, but Casablanca was the beginning of a beautiful friendship with the audience and Cpt. Renault.

 

Quotes

“I’m making out the report now.  We haven’t quite decided whether he committed suicide or died trying to escape.”

“It is a little game we play.  They put it on the bill, I tear up the bill.  It is very convenient.”

“I have no conviction, if that’s what you mean.  I blow with the wind, and the prevailing wind happens to be from Vichy.

“How extravagant you are, throwing away women like that. Someday they may be scarce.”

“You mustn’t underestimate American blundering. I was with them when they “blundered” into Berlin in 1918.”

“I told my men to be especially destructive. You know how that impresses Germans.”

“Everybody is to leave here immediately! This cafe is closed until further notice. Clear the room, at once! I am shocked…shocked…to find that gambling is going on in here!”

“Well, Rick, you’re not only a sentimentalist, but you’ve become a patriot.”

“Round up the usual suspects!”

 

 

 

79           Jack Dawson & Rose DeWitt-Bukater (Titanic)

For several years Titanic was the highest grossing film of all time, and it swept thru the 1997 awards season like a tornado. Critics & the general populace both love it, but one of the few condemnations I seem to recall hearing back then was that the main focus wasn’t on actual people who lost their lives in the infamous tragedy. Instead the spotlight was given to two fictional characters in Jack & Rose. They are essentially a riff on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. He’s a good-natured American guy from the wrong side of the tracks heading home to Wisconsin, while she is a prim & proper British debutante who hates her rigid life. In the course of three hours we become invested in them individually and in their love story. They may not be based on real people, but as composite characters I believe they are solid representatives of the 1500 souls lost on that catastrophic night.

 

Quotes

“I’m the king of the world!” (Jack)

“Do you know of Dr. Freud, Mr. Ismay? His ideas about the male preoccupation with size might be of particular interest to you.” (Rose)

“I’m not an idiot. I know how the world works. I’ve got ten bucks in my pocket. I have nothing to offer you and I know that. I understand. But I’m too involved now. You jump, I jump, remember? I can’t turn away without knowing you’ll be all right.” (Jack)

“I’m flying, Jack!” (Rose)

“I got everything I need right here with me. I got air in my lungs, a few blank sheets of paper. I mean, I love waking up in the morning not knowing what’s gonna happen or, who I’m gonna meet, where I’m gonna wind up. Just the other night I was sleeping under a bridge and now here I am on the grandest ship in the world having champagne with you fine people. I figure life’s a gift and I don’t intend on wasting it. You don’t know what hand you’re gonna get dealt next. You learn to take life as it comes at you… to make each day count.” (Jack)

“Jack, I want you to draw me like one of your French girls. Wearing this…wearing only this.” (Rose)

“I don’t know about you, but I intend to go write a strongly worded letter to the White Star Line about all this.” (Jack)

“Don’t you do that…don’t you say your goodbyes. Not yet, do you understand me? You’re gonna get out of here, you’re gonna go on, and you’re gonna make lots of babies, and you’re gonna watch them grow. You’re gonna die an old… an old woman warm in her bed, not here, not this night. Not like this, do you understand me? Winning that ticket, Rose, was the best thing that ever happened to me. It brought me to you, and I’m thankful for that, Rose. I’m thankful. You must do me this honor. You must promise me that you’ll survive, that you won’t give up, no matter what happens, no matter how hopeless. Promise me now, Rose, and never let go of that promise.” (Jack)

 

 

 

78           Jenny Curran (Forrest Gump)

A lot of subtext can be read into Forrest Gump. Some believe that Jenny…the lifelong friend of the film’s simpleminded hero who was abused as a young girl, becomes a hippie, descends into a life of drugs & prostitution, and ends up dying of (we assume) a sexually transmitted disease…is meant to represent the counterculture & upheaval of the 1960’s that many consider the loss of America’s innocence. She is the darkness in contrast to Forrest’s patriotic optimism. I’m not sure any of that symbolism was purposeful by the filmmakers, but the movie & the character stand on their own merits regardless of intent. Actress Robin Wright has had a solid career in Hollywood, from soap opera Santa Barbara in the mid-80’s to The Princess Bride in 1987 to the recently concluded Netflix hit House of Cards, but the sadness & vulnerability that defines Jenny has been her crowning achievement.

 

Quotes

“Dear God, make me a bird. So I could fly far. Far far away from here.”

“Listen, you promise me something, okay? Just if you’re ever in trouble, don’t be brave. You just run, okay? Just run away.”

 

 

 

 

77           Inspector Harry Callahan (Dirty Harry)

Clint Eastwood’s career has spanned over a half century, and he’s done everything from westerns to critically acclaimed dramas to the television show Rawhide. He’s even become an Academy Award winning director. However, Eastwood will always be most closely associated with his portrayal of Harry Callahan, a tough as nails San Francisco cop who plays by his own set of rules.

 

Quotes

“I know what you’re thinking: ‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off,  you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do you, punk?”

 

 

 

76           Euphagenia Doubtfire (Mrs. Doubtfire)

The titular character in this film is actually a man in drag. Daniel Hillard is an itinerant voice actor whose uptight wife divorces him and gets custody of their three children. Instead of allowing their father to spend more time with them the career driven mother decides to hire a nanny, so Daniel dons a very convincing disguise and becomes an elderly British woman. The ruse works, and Mrs. Doubtfire allows Robin Williams’ comedic genius to shine.

 

Quotes

“Oh, sir! I saw it! Some angry member of the kitchen staff. Did you not tip them? Oh, the terrorists – they ran that way. It was a run-by fruiting.”

“I’m a hip old granny who can hip-hop, be-bop, dance ’til you drop, and yo, yo, make a wicked cup of cocoa.”

“Oh. Carpe dentum. Seize the teeth. Just shake them off, like a dog.”

“I found the best way to keep from smoking again and lighting up is to be around those who do smoke. I have to randomly ingest just a little bit of nicotine and it steels my wool.”

“He was quite fond of the drink. It was the drink that killed him. He was hit by a Guinness truck. So it was quite literally the drink that killed him.”

 

 

 

 

75           Woody Pride & Buzz Lightyear (The Toy Story Series)

The older I get the more I appreciate animated movies, especially since the technology has really advanced in the past couple of decades. It doesn’t hurt that Toy Story is a great example of a film that can be enjoyed by kids but is well written enough for adults to be entertained as well. Buzz Lightyear is a boisterous Space Ranger who doesn’t understand that he’s a toy. He is the newest action figure for young Andy, a birthday present from his mother. Buzz initially has a difficult time fitting in with the rest of Andy’s toys, especially Sheriff Woody, who is envious that he’s been replaced as Andy’s favorite plaything. Woody is the unofficial leader amongst all of Andy’s toys and feels threatened by Buzz at first, although the two eventually become pals.

Quotes

“To infinity and beyond!” (Buzz)

“I can’t stop Andy from growing up… but I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” (Woody)

 

 

 

74           Inigo Montoya (The Princess Bride)

You killed his father…prepare to die!! Inigo Montoya is a Spanish swordsman on a mission. As a child he witnessed six fingered Count Rugen murder his father and has spent his life seeking vengeance. Initially he works with malevolent Vizzini to kidnap the lovely Buttercup, but eventually he becomes a good guy, teaming up with The Man in Black & giant Fezzik to rescue Buttercup. He also comes face to face with Rugen and finally gets his revenge.

 

Quotes

“He was a great swordmaker, my father. When the six-fingered man appeared and requested a special sword, my father took the job. He slaved a year before it was finished. The six-fingered man returned and demanded it, but at 1/10th his promised price. My father refused. Without a word, the six-fingered man slashed him through the heart. I loved my father. So naturally, I challenged his murderer to a duel. I failed. I was 11 years old. When I was strong enough, I dedicated my life to the study of fencing. So, the next time we meet, I will not fail. I will go up to the six-fingered man and say, ‘Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.’”

 

 

 

73           Lt. Dan Taylor (Forrest Gump)

I was born with a birth defect and have been disabled my entire life, so the way I do things & live my life is entirely normal to me. However, I have known people who became disabled later in life thru some sort of calamity, and it isn’t uncommon for such folks to become understandably bitter & angry about their situation. Lt. Dan captures those emotions perfectly. He’s kind of a prick, but one can’t help but have empathy and root for him. Gary Sinise might be the most underrated actor of his generation, and it’s a shame that he didn’t win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Lt. Dan.

 

Quotes

“Now, you listen to me. We all have a destiny. Things don’t just happen…it’s all part of a plan.”

“There are two standing rules in this outfit. One, take care of your feet. Two, don’t go doing something stupid, like getting yourself killed.”

“You call this a storm?!?!?? Blow, you son of a bitch! It’s time for a showdown! You and me! I’m right here! Come and get me! You’ll never… sink… this…boat!!!!”

 

 

 

72           Edward Scissorhands (Edward Scissorhands)

I can’t say I’m on the Tim Burton bandwagon (I have zero interest in Ed Wood, Mars Attacks, or Sweeney Todd, Dark Shadows didn’t really work for me, and I’m thoroughly confused by The Nightmare Before Christmas), but I have enjoyed some of his work (the Batman films of the late 80’s/early 90’s are much more entertaining  than Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy no matter what anyone says, and Beetlejuice is a modern classic), with Edward Scissorhands chief among them. Edward is the Pinocchio-esque creation of an elderly inventor whose kind & quiet demeanor is offset by the scary looking blades he has instead of hands. The inventor dies and Edward lives for years in an old gothic mansion until a nosy Avon lady stumbles upon him and tries to integrate him into her odd little neighborhood. There Edward falls in love with the lovely young Kim, which makes her boyfriend jealous. Drama & violence ensue, with Edward fleeing back to his mansion. The movie has a framing device with an older version of Kim telling her granddaughter the story and saying that she believes Edward is still alive & living in the old mansion. Johnny Depp seems like kind of a weird dude, but credit where it is due…the guy is a terrific actor and Edward Scissorhands is probably his best performance. Edward is a quiet character who expresses so much with his eyes & facial expressions, which I find captivating.

 

Quotes

“Mrs. Monroe showed me where the salon’s going to be. You could have a cosmetics counter. And then she showed me the back room where she took all of her clothes off.”

 

 

 

71           Mickey Goldmill (The Rocky Series)

Burgess Meredith had a long & successful career in Hollywood, doing a little bit of everything from portraying The Penguin in the 1960’s Batman TV show to playing Lenny in one of the best film adaptations of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice & Men, but to those of us of a certain age he’ll always be Rocky Balboa’s grizzled old manager in the first three Rocky films. Mickey sees Balboa’s potential and isn’t afraid to speak his mind. Mickey encourages Rocky in his pursuit of heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, and does his best a few years later to steer the champ away from the menacing Clubber Lang. Of course Rocky is mauled by Lang, but Mickey’s death immediately afterward spurs his path to revenge.

 

Quotes

“I’m here to warn ya, that ya gotta be very careful about this shot that you got at the title. Because, like the Bible says, you ain’t gonna get a second chance. What ya need is a manager. I know, because I’ve been in this racket for fifty years. I’ve seen it all, all of it. I’ve got 21 stitches over this left eye. I’ve got 34 stitches over this eye. Do ya know that I had my nose busted 17 times. I got all this knowledge, I got it up here now, I wanna give it to you. I wanna take care of ya.  I wanna make sure that all this shit that happened to me doesn’t happen to you. Ya can’t buy what I’m gonna give ya. I’ve got pain and I’ve got experience.”

“You’re gonna eat lightnin’ and you’re gonna crap thunder.”

“You got another shot. It’s a second shot at the, I don’t know, the biggest title in the world. And you’re gonna be swappin’ punches with the most dangerous fighter in the world. And just in case, you know, your brain ain’t workin’ so good, all this happens pretty soon and you ain’t ready. You’re nowhere near in any shape. So I say, you know, for God’s sake, why don’t you stand up and fight this guy hard?! Like ya done before? That was beautiful! But don’t lay down in front of him like this! Like, I don’t know, like some kind of mongrel or something. ‘Cause he’s gonna kick your face in pieces, you know that? That’s right. This guy just don’t wanna win, you know. He wants to bury ya, he wants to humiliate ya. He wants to prove to the whole world that you was nothing but some kind of a freak the first time out. And he said you’re a one-time lucky bum. Well, now, I don’t, I don’t wanna get mad, in a biblical place like this, but I think you’re a hell of a lot more than that, kid.”

“Why don’t you carry this? ‘Cause I liked you a lot better when you was carryin’ spit. ‘Cause the way you’re trainin’, you’re gonna end up pumping gas in Jersey somewhere!”

“You can’t win, Rock! This guy’ll kill ya to death inside of 3 rounds! He ain’t just another fighter. This guy is a wreckin’ machine, and he’s hungry! Hell, you ain’t been hungry since you won that belt! Three years ago, you were supernatural. You was hard and nasty. You had this cast iron jaw. But then, the worst thing happened to you that could happen to any fighter. You got civilized. Don’t worry, kid. You know, presidents retire, generals retire, horses retire, Man o War retired. They put him out to stud. That’s what you should’ve done, retire.”

 

 

 

70           Ace Ventura (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective)

Jim Carrey has gone on to become a fairly well-regarded actor who takes himself, his craft, and life in general way too seriously. However, 25 years ago he was an up & comer known for portraying Fire Marshal Bill on the TV sketch comedy show In Living Color. Critics hated Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, but its 47% score on Rotten Tomatoes was trumped by a $72 million box office, making it the 12th highest grossing film of 1994 and earning a sequel just a year later. The sequel was an even bigger financial success but also more panned critically. Ace is a unique & unforgettable character because really, who would even conceive of “pet detective” being a thing?

 

Quotes

“Einhorn is Finkle. Finkle is Einhorn! Einhorn is a MAN!”

“Alrighty then!”

“Fiction can be fun! But I find the reference section much more enlightening. For instance, if you were to look up professional football’s all-time bonehead plays you might read about a Miami Dolphin kicker named Ray Finkle, who missed a 26-yard field goal in the closing seconds of Super Bowl XVII. What you WOULDN’T read about is how Ray Finkle lost his mind, was committed to a mental hospital, only to escape and join the police force under the assumed identity of a missing hiker, manipulating his way to the top in a diabolical scheme to get even with Dan Marino whom he blamed for the entire thing!”

 

 

 

69           Rhett Butler & Scarlett O’Hara (Gone with the Wind)

The on again/off again relationship between Rhett & Scarlett reminds me of every “will they or won’t they” antagonistic & tortured  “romance” we’ve seen play out on TV in my lifetime. In the real world such relationships are toxic, but within the scope of entertainment we find the tension & chemistry charming. Rhett Butler is a wealthy scoundrel who eventually enlists in the Confederate Army. Scarlett O’Hara is an entitled debutante, the self-centered daughter of a plantation owner. She spends most of the film pining for southern gentleman Ashley Wilkes, but he’s married to her cousin. Rhett is immediately smitten with Scarlett, but thru the years she marries two other men for all the wrong reasons, and both husbands end up dead. Scarlett goes through a lot of stuff over the course of the story, proving herself to be as resilient & tough as she is spoiled. Eventually Rhett & Scarlett marry & have a child, but she STILL can’t get over Ashley Wilkes. Rhett becomes fed up with her shenanigans and bolts, just as she finally figures out that he’s the man she truly needs. Vivien Leigh won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Scarlett, beating out the likes of Greta Garbo & Bette Davis in the process. Clark Gable wasn’t the original choice to portray Rhett…Gary Cooper turned down the part. Gable was nominated for Best Actor, but lost to Robert Donat for his role in Goodbye, Mr. Chipps.

 

Quotes

“I’m very drunk and I intend on getting still drunker before this evening is over.” (Rhett)

“As God is my witness they’re not going to lick me. I’m going to live through this and when it’s all over, I’ll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat, or kill. As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again! (Scarlett)

“The war stopped being a joke when a girl like you doesn’t know how to wear the latest fashion.” (Rhett)

“Tara! Home. I’ll go home. And I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all… tomorrow… is another day!” (Scarlett)

“Open your eyes and look at me. No, I don’t think I will kiss you, although you need kissing badly. That’s what’s wrong with you. You should be kissed, and often, and by someone who knows how.” (Rhett)

“I’m the only man over 16 and under 60 who’s around to show you a good time.” (Rhett)

“There’s one thing I do know, and that is that I love you Scarlett. In spite of you and me and the whole silly world going to pieces around us, I love you. Because we’re alike. Bad lots, both of us. Selfish & shrewd, but able to look things in the eyes as we call them by their right names.” (Rhett)

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” (Rhett)

 

 

 

68           Robin Hood (various films)

Sir Robin of Loxley first appeared in English folk ballads in the 15th century and has popped in & out of our collective pop culture consciousness for over 500 years. An outlaw who steals from the rich & gives to the poor, lives in Sherwood Forest with his band of Merry Men (Friar Tuck, Little John, Will Scarlet, et al), battles the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham, & romances the lovely Maid Marian, Robin Hood has starred in about three dozen movies in the past hundred years. It is likely that he’d be a bit higher in our countdown if more of those films had been…noteworthy. Hollywood keeps trying, but despite their best efforts the only Robin Hood movie that has made much of an impact is 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, a classic starring Errol Flynn.

 

Quotes

“We Saxons have little to fatten on by the time your tax gatherers are through. Overtaxed, overworked, and paid off with a knife, a club, or a rope.”

“It’s time to put an end to this! Now, this forest is wide. It can shelter and clothe and feed a band of good, determined men – good swordsmen, good archers, good fighters. Men, if you’re willing to fight for our people, I want you! Are you with me?”

“What else do you call a man who takes advantage of the King’s misfortune to seize his power? Now, with the help of this sweet band of cutthroats, you’ll try to grind a ransom for him out of every helpless Saxon, a ransom that will be used, not to release Richard, but to buy your way to the throne. I’ll organize a revolt, exact a death for a death, and I’ll never rest until every Saxon in this shire can stand up free men, and strike a blow for Richard and England.”

 

 

 

67           Clark Griswold (The Vacation Series)

Five years ago The Manofesto ranked Clark Griswold 4th on our list of Superfluous 7 Most Awesome Fictional Dads, opining that despite being kind of a dufus it is obvious that he is a devoted family man. Chevy Chase has portrayed Clark in five films stretching all the way back to the original National Lampoon’s Vacation in 1983. He’s an interesting character in that his occupation as an R&D expert in food additives & preservatives seems to indicate some level of intelligence, yet he is depicted as an ordinary putz in his personal life. Chase’s gift for physical comedy as well as how others play off him…with sort of an eye-rolling tolerance for his buffoonery…endears Clark to the audience, making us glad when everything turns out fine despite his persistent screw-ups.

 

Quotes

“This is no longer a vacation…it’s a quest. It’s a quest for fun! I’m gonna have fun and you’re gonna have fun! We’re all gonna have so much fuckin’ fun we’ll need plastic surgery to remove our goddamn smiles! You’ll be whistling Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah out of your assholes!!! HAHAHA!!! I gotta be crazy; I’m on a pilgrimage to see a moose! Praise Marty Moose! Holy shit!!!”

“Hey, look kids…there’s Big Ben and there’s Parliament.”

“Honey, we’re not normal people. We’re the Griswolds!”

 

 

 

66           John Doe (Se7en) & Keyser Soze (The Usual Suspects)

Oscar winning actor Kevin Spacey may be persona non grata in Hollywood these days, but until he ran into the #MeToo Mafia his career had been full of memorable roles. To be honest Se7en & The Usual Suspects aren’t really my kind of films, but both offer unforgettable villains made even better by the presence of Spacey inhabiting the characters. Se7en tells the story of a serial killer who uses The Seven Deadly Sins as a theme in his murders. John Doe forces a man to eat until his stomach ruptures (gluttony), kills a lawyer by literally taking a pound of flesh from him (greed),  starves a drug dealer/child molester almost to death (sloth), forces a man at gunpoint to kill a prostitute by raping her with a bladed “toy” (lust), & mutilates the face of a model (pride). For those who haven’t seen the movie I won’t spoil the final two crimes representing envy & wrath. The Usual Suspects finds the LAPD interrogating cerebral palsy-afflicted con man Verbal Kint after he survives a massacre on a ship. Kint weaves a tale about a crime lord named Keyser Soze, but in possibly one of the best endings to a movie ever it is revealed (major spoiler alert) that Verbal Kint IS Keyser Soze. Spacey won his first Academy Award (Best Supporting Actor) for his role in The Usual Suspects.

 

Quotes

“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” (Keyser Soze)

“Don’t ask me to pity those people. I don’t mourn them any more than I do the thousands that died at Sodom & Gomorrah.” (John Doe)

 

 

 

65           Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Young Frankenstein)

First of all, it is pronounced “Fronk-en-steen”. That is just one small way in which Frederick has intentionally distanced himself from his grandfather’s twisted legacy. However, upon inheriting the family castle in Transylvania Frederick finds himself at a crossroads, and I think we all know the hilarious path he chooses. I’m a fan of parody films, and the way director Mel Brooks spoofs the classic story is funny in a way that I fear may be lost on modern youngsters. Gene Wilder not only stars as Frederick but he also co-wrote the screenplay with Brooks. The cast…Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr, Gene Hackman…is first rate, even if no one under 45 these days might appreciate that fact. I have a bad feeling that someday somebody is going to get the bright idea to remake Young Frankenstein, and that would be…at the very least…misguided.

 

Quotes

“From that fateful day when stinking bits of slime first crawled from the sea and shouted to the cold stars, ‘I am man!’ our greatest dread has always been the knowledge of our mortality. But tonight, we shall hurl the gauntlet of science into the frightful face of death itself. Tonight, we shall ascend into the heavens. We shall mock the earthquake. We shall command the thunders, and penetrate into the very womb of impervious nature herself.”

“My grandfather’s work was doodoo! I am not interested in death! The only thing that concerns me is the preservation of life!”

“Are you saying that I put an abnormal brain into a 7 and a half foot long, 54- inch wide GORILLA?!?!?! IS THAT WHAT YOU’RE TELLING ME!?!”

 

 

 

63           Carl Spackler (Caddyshack)

One would assume that being an assistant greenskeeper at swanky Bushwood Country Club would allow even a middle class guy like Carl a decent lifestyle. Alas, he lives in small hut on the golf course, with his job & the game of golf itself consuming his life. He dreams of one day winning The Masters, and in his spare time breeds grass hybrids that one can “play 36 holes on in the afternoon” then “get stoned to the bejeezus” on it at night. He becomes obsessed with ridding the golf course of a rabblerousing gopher, going so far as to utilize explosives and blow up the very course he is employed to look after.

 

Quotes

“What an incredible Cinderella story! This unknown, comes out of nowhere, to lead the pack at Augusta.  The crowd is just on its feet here. He’s a Cinderella boy. Tears in his eyes, I guess, as he lines up this last shot. He’s got about 195 yards left, and he’s got a, looks like he’s got about an 8-iron. This crowd has gone deadly silent… Cinderella story, out of nowhere, former greenskeeper, now about to become the Masters champion. It’s in the hole! It’s in the hole!”

“My enemy…my foe…is an animal. In order to conquer the animal I have to learn to think like an animal. And, whenever possible, to look like one. I’ve gotta get inside this guy’s pelt and crawl around for a few days.”

“And he says, ‘Oh, uh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.’ So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.”

 

 

 

64           Hermione Granger (The Harry Potter Series)

Author JK Rowling describes Hermione as having “pale skin, bushy brown hair, brown eyes, & large buck teeth”. In the films she is much lovelier than the impression one gets from the books, but her personality remains unchanged: intelligent, sensible, strong-willed, loyal, & just a tad bit officious. She’s the kind of person that’s nice to have in your corner, and one that presents fierce opposition. She’s tough as nails and not afraid to stand side by side with the boys or go toe to toe with the baddies, yet she retains an element of vulnerable femininity & kindness. I suppose for a certain age of young ladies Hermione could be called a feminist icon.

 

Quotes

“Honestly, am I the only person who’s ever bothered to read Hogwarts: A History?”

“Now if you two don’t mind, I’m going to bed. Before you come up with another idea to get us killed. Or worse, expelled.”

“I’m highly logical which allows me to look past extraneous detail and perceive clearly that which others overlook.”

“Just because you have the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have!”

“No Harry, you listen…we’re coming with you. That was decided months ago…years, really.”

 

 

 

62           Austin Powers & Dr. Evil (The Austin Powers Series)

I may not be a James Bond fan, but I really enjoyed the Austin Powers movies, which are essentially a Bond parody. Powers is a 60’s era swinger & British spy whose arch nemesis is Dr. Evil. When Dr. Evil becomes cryogenically frozen Powers does the same so that he’ll be available to stop Evil in the future. That future is three decades later, when both Powers & Evil are thawed out and continue their battle. Dr. Evil intends to steal nuclear weapons & hold the world hostage for “$100 BILLION!!”. It’s all very silly, with double entendres, sight gags, & the kind of goofy humor that tickles my funny bone. Mike Meyers created the story as a tribute to his British parents and plays both characters. Meyers was a couple of years removed from his time at SNL and hadn’t had much success outside of the two Wayne’s World films, but cemented his stardom with the dual roles. Rumors of a fourth Powers movie have persisted since the third one hit theaters 17 years ago, but so far it hasn’t happened.

 

Quotes

“I bet she shags like a minx.” (Austin Powers)

“Fire the laser!” (Dr. Evil)

“The 70s and the 80s? You’re not missing anything! I looked into it. There’s a gas shortage and A Flock of Seagulls. That’s about it.” (Austin Powers)

“Why must I be surrounded by frickin’ idiots?” (Dr. Evil)

“Oh, behave!” (Austin Powers)

“Throw me a frickin’ bone here!” (Dr. Evil)

“Groovy, baby!” (Austin Powers)

“I have a better idea. I’m going to place him in an easily escapable situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death.” (Dr. Evil)

“SILENCE!! I will not tolerate your insolence!” (Dr. Evil)

“Ladies & gentlemen, welcome to my new submarine lair. It’s long and hard and full of seamen.” (Dr. Evil)

 

 

 

61           John Bender (The Breakfast Club)

There are five high schoolers in trouble & spending their Saturday in detention at Shurmur High School in suburban Chicago on March 24, 1984: Claire Standish (The Princess), Andrew Clark (The Athlete), Brian Johnson (The Brain), Allison Reynolds (The Basket Case), & John Bender (The Criminal). Of that group it is Bender that shines just a little brighter. The idea behind these characters is that they represent typical high school stereotypes, and it’s the main reason the film holds up nearly four decades later…those labels are universal and don’t change all that much. Every high school has rebels like Bender, the kind of badass who thumbs their nose at authority, doesn’t care all that much about academics, & seemingly has a limited future. However, the great thing about The Breakfast Club is that it explores those archetypes & exposes their folly. It’s a movie that one perceives differently thru the prism of adulthood, and as a grown man I am struck by the not-so-subtle suggestion that Bender has been physically, mentally, & emotionally abused at home. There is a scene in which blowhard Principal Vernon gets in Bender’s face, and contrary to the bluster that he exhibits in the presence of his peers, the tough as nails bully cowers like a scared child. It is a stark reminder that not everything is always as it seems –  sometimes people put on masks to hide their pain.

 

Quotes

“Screws fall out all the time; the world is an imperfect place.”

“Does Barry Manilow know you raid his wardrobe?”

“I could see you really pushing maximum density. You see, I’m not sure if you know this, but there are two kinds of fat people. There’s fat people that were born to be fat, and there’s fat people that were once thin, but they became fat, so when you look at them you can sort of see that thin person inside. You see, you’re gonna get married, you’re gonna squeeze out a few puppies and then….”

“Eat my shorts.”

“”Face it…you’re a neo-maxi-zoom-dweebie.”

 

 

 

60           Beetlejuice (Beetlejuice)

Horror comedies are a rare treat, but they are the kind of Halloween-ish fare I prefer instead of straight up slasher flicks. Michael Keaton is an undervalued gem of an actor, capable of adding zest to comedies, dramas, big budget superhero films, biopics, or whatever else he does. When a young couple dies in a car accident but still finds themselves residing in their suburban Connecticut home they employ the services of a centuries old “freelance bio-exorcist” to get rid of the new owners of the house. That freelancer is a fast-talking, mischievous, & crude trickster who is essentially a “Livingbuster” (as opposed to a Ghostbuster)…a ghost who exterminates the living by scaring them away. The name Betelgeuse (the proper spelling) refers to a star in the Orion constellation that is the ninth brightest star in the night sky. Rumors of a Beetlejuice sequel have been circulating for years, but the project seems to have hit a wall.

 

Quotes

“I’m the ghost with the most, babe.”

“It’s showtime!”

 

 

 

59           Sonny Corleone (The Godfather Trilogy)

Hands down Sonny has the greatest death scene in movie history. The eldest son of Don Vito Corleone, hothead Santino takes over as temporary boss of The Family after his father is shot by goons working for narcotics kingpin Turk Sollozzo. Under Sonny’s leadership the Five Families engage in a Mafia war after Sonny’s younger brother Michael kills Sollozzo & a corrupt cop, forcing the entire Corleone organization to “go to the mattresses”. After his brother-in-law Carlo physically abuses his wife Connie, Sonny defends his sister’s honor by beating the holy hell out of Carlo, which leads to rival boss Emilio Barzini setting a trap using Carlo to bait Sonny into making a reckless mistake. He is brought down in a hail of gunfire at a toll booth. Sonny’s sexual prowess and physical…gifts…are elaborated on much more in the book than the movie, but his affair with one of Connie’s bridesmaids at the beginning of the first film is important because his illegitimate son Vincent Mancini becomes Don of the Corleone Family in the much maligned & underappreciated Part III.

Quotes

“Hey, whatcha gonna do, nice college boy, eh? Didn’t want to get mixed up in the family business, huh? Now you wanna gun down a police captain ’cause he slapped ya in the face? Hah? What do you think this is? The Army, where you shoot ’em a mile away? You’ve gotta get up close like this and bada-bing, you blow their brains all over your nice Ivy League suit!”

 

 

 

58           Godzilla (various films)

Godzilla (which in Japanese translates into gorilla whale) is a 300-400 ft. reptilian creature weighing several hundred thousand tons who lives in the sea and is awakened as a result of nuclear radiation. He has been the star of about three dozen films dating back to the 1950’s, and the earliest movies are still the best, mostly because of the kitschiness factor of the archaic special effects & amusingly poor dubbing of English over the original Japanese. Big scary monsters are nothing new in Hollywood, but most of them come & go rather quickly. Maybe they get a couple of sequels but that’s usually it. Godzilla has stood the test of time, and we can still count on a new movie in the series popping up somewhere every few years for our viewing pleasure.

 

Quotes

 

 

 

 

57           Bo “Bandit” Darville (Smokey & The Bandit)

At one point in my childhood Burt Reynolds was the biggest movie star in the world, and though he’d previously done well-regarded films like Deliverance & The Longest Yard my earliest memory of him is Smokey & The Bandit. I was five years old and didn’t really get all the humor, but there were car chases & crashes so that was enough to attract my attention. In the ensuing four decades I have watched this movie countless times, and though the entire cast is terrific it is The Bandit that holds it all together. He’s a trucker who’s between jobs, and that guy that knows everyone and is loved by everybody because of his charm & good looks. He’s cocky but not arrogant, confident enough in his skills to agree to a bet wherein he’ll bring 400 cases of Coors beer to Atlanta from Texarkana, TX in just 28 hours. The premise might not make much sense to folks in 21st century America because one first must understand that in the 1970’s Coors was unavailable east of Oklahoma (it didn’t become distributed nationally until 1986), and because it was made without stabilizers & preservatives could spoil quicker than other beers. Bootlegging was the illegal transport of alcoholic beverages due to violation of registration & licensing laws. I have no idea what the penalty was, but I assume the $80k Bandit is offer by Big Enos Burdette is worth the risk. At any rate, his antics are so much fun that it makes an otherwise odd & now outdated idea still entertaining after all these years.

 

Quotes

“Oh I love your suits. It must have been a bitch to get a 68 Extra Fat and a 12 Dwarf.”

“You’re always hoppin around. And you’re kinda cute, like a frog. And I’d like to jump ya.”

“He was taking a 10-100.”

“Cowboys love fat calves.”

“What’s a Texas county mounty doing in Arkansas?”

 

 

 

56           Moses (The Ten Commandments)

Hollywood’s history with Biblical epics is spotty at best, but they did it right with The Ten Commandments. It’s got to be a tough gig portraying a character from The Bible, right?? They are real people who actually walked the Earth, but it was so long ago that there aren’t photos or video to lay the foundation for an accurate depiction. With the exception of events that are written about in God’s Word there isn’t much to base a character on, yet millions of people whose faith is deeply important to them have high expectations. By 1956 director Cecil B. DeMille had helmed dozens of movies, many of them in the silent era in the first two decades of the 20th century. His epic circus drama The Greatest Show on Earth had won the Academy Award for Best Picture a few years earlier. Charlton Heston wasn’t DeMille’s first choice to play Moses, but the two had worked together on The Greatest Show on Earth and Heston’s knowledge of Egyptian history captivated the director, who thought the actor resembled Michelangelo’s 16th century statue of Moses in the church of San Pietro in Rome. William Boyd, who had portrayed Hopalong Cassidy in over five dozen cowboy movies in the 1930’s & 40’s, turned down the part, so Heston was chosen. He’d acted in over a dozen previous films, but it was The Ten Commandments that made him a star.

 

Quotes

“A city is made of brick, Pharaoh. The strong make many. The weak make few. The dead make none. So much for accusations.”

“It would take more than a man to lead the slaves from bondage. It would take a god, and I am no god. I am but a man, a man who asks by what right any man may enslave another of a different race or creed. But if I could free these people, I would.”

“Who shall withstand the power of God?!?!??”

 

 

 

55           Buck Russell (Uncle Buck)

It’s the role that John Candy was born to play: a slovenly black sheep uncle called on to babysit his nieces & nephew in the midst of a family emergency. Buck is a middle-aged unemployed bachelor who smokes cigars, drinks beer, drives a noisy old gas guzzler that’s seen better days, & spends a lot of time at the track betting on horses…not exactly the ideal caretaker for children. The two younger kids take an immediate liking to Buck, but he has a much more difficult time winning over his teenage niece. Those interactions between an uncle clearly out of his element and the children are the crux of the film, and Candy infuses Buck with a mix of humor, common sense, tough love, amiable befuddlement, & roguish charm that endears him to the audience.

 

Quotes

“I’m on to cigars now. I’m on to a five year plan. I eliminated cigarettes, then I go to cigars, then I go to pipes, then I go to chewing tobacco, then I’m on to that nicotine gum.”

“What’s your record for consecutive questions asked?”

“I don’t think I want to know a 6 year old who isn’t a dreamer or a sillyheart, and I sure don’t want to know one who takes their student career seriously. I don’t have a college degree. I don’t even have a job. But I know a good kid when I see one. Because they’re all good kids until dried-out, brain-dead skags like you drag them down and convince them they’re no good. You so much as scowl at my niece or any other kid in this school and I hear about it, I’m coming looking for you! Take this quarter, go downtown, and have a rat gnaw that thing off your face! Good day to you, madam.

“Stand me up today and tomorrow I’ll drive you to school in my robe and pajamas and walk you to your first class.”

“Ever hear of a ritual killing? You gnaw on her face in public like that again and you’ll be one.”

“I have a friend who works at the crime lab at the police station. I could give him your toothbrush and he could run a test on it to see if you actually brushed your teeth or just ran your toothbrush under the faucet.”

 

 

 

54           R2D2 & C3P0 (The Star Wars series)

The Star Wars galaxy created by George Lucas offers a multitude of memorable characters. We’ll get to some others eventually, but we begin with a pair of futuristic droids that offer delightful levity amongst all the action & intrigue. There are eleven films in the series…the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy, the soon to be concluded sequel trilogy, Rogue One, & Solo. R2D2 & C3P0 have appeared in ten of these, which is by far more than any other character. R2D2 purportedly stands for Second Generation Robotic Droid Series-2, but the truth is that when Lucas heard his sound editor on American Graffiti ask for Reel 2, Dialog Track 2 in abbreviated form he liked the sound of it. R2D2 is a utility robot used for the maintenance & repair of starships and related technology. In the films he first belongs to Naboo defense forces charged with repairing Queen Padme Amidala’s ship. Thru the years he is owned by Qui-Gon Jinn, Anakin Skywalker, Owen Lars, Luke Skywalker, & Rey. R2’s distinctive shape and various beeps & unique noises are signature elements of the character. C3P0 is a little more humanlike than his buddy, having legs & feet and the ability to speak. He is a protocol droid intended to assist in etiquette, customs, & translation and is fluent in over seven million forms of communication. Thru the years he has served Shmi Skywalker, the Lars family, Padmé Amidala, Raymus Antilles, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, & Rey. His distinctive gold plating makes him easy to spot in a crowd, and his fussy, worrisome personality is rather comical. I’m sure back in the 70’s many people thought that by the 21st century robot assistants like R2D2 & C3P0 would be commonplace, but we’re not quite there yet.

 

Quotes

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-BKjnAgNgY

“For a mechanic, you seem to do an incessant amount of thinking.” (C3P0)

“Don’t blame me. I’m an interpreter. I’m not supposed to know a power socket from a computer terminal.” (C3P0)

“R2, you know better than to trust a strange computer.” (C3P0)

“It’s against my programming to impersonate a deity.” (C3P0)

 

 

 

53           Billy Madison & Happy Gilmore (eponymous films)

Adam Sandler’s career has been a mixed bag. He is undoubtedly talented & funny, but his shtick isn’t everybody’s cup of tea and he’s made a lot of bad movies. In my opinion his funniest films were in the early 90’s, though you won’t find many critics who would agree. I take no issue with solicitous, meaningful films with life lessons, powerful messages, & profound themes, but sometimes we just want to turn off our brain for awhile and laugh at something completely stupid & pointless and Sandler has done a decent job of providing that sort of entertainment. Billy Madison is a rather juvenile 20-something in a clear state of arrested development. When his hotel tycoon father plans to retire he’d prefer Billy take over the business but knows he isn’t capable, especially since the old man bribed teachers to pass Billy all the way thru school. At any rate, Billy accepts a challenge to complete 12 grades of school in two weeks, which is somehow supposed to magically make him qualified to helm a Fortune 500 company. I know…it makes very little sense, but the journey is lots of silly fun, which is the whole point. Happy Gilmore is a failed hockey player wannabe who must figure out a way to help his grandmother buy back her house that the IRS took for back taxes she owes. He inexplicably ends up on the PGA Tour and (spoiler alert) wins enough money as a champion golfer to help out his grandmother. Once again…don’t put too much thought into it. The plots of these movies aren’t meant to be logical and the characters aren’t supposed to be realistic, but Sandler infuses both Billy & Happy with enough affable charm that we root for their success and want them to overcome the odds despite the fact that they are total idiots.

Quotes

“Oh, Veronica Vaughn … soooo hot … want to touch the hiney!” (Billy)

“The Price is wrong, bitch!” (Happy)

“You ain’t cool, unless, you pee your pants! Everybody my age pee their pants; it’s the coolest!” (Billy)

 

 

 

 

52           Ellis “Red” Redding (The Shawshank Redemption)

Many folks may not realize that The Shawshank Redemption is based on a 1982 Stephen King novella. In that book Red Redding is described as a middle-aged Irish man with greying red hair, so casting Morgan Freeman in the role can only be described as an inspired choice. Red has been imprisoned at Shawshank for 40 years for murdering his wife & passengers in her vehicle after he tampered with the brakes. He has attained a level of influence for being able to smuggle a variety of goods into the jail for other inmates, though his attitude remains somewhat sullen. He is a practical man, resigned to his fate yet regretful of the crime he committed when he was young & stupid. Red befriends new inmate Andy Dufresne, and they end up changing each other’s lives tremendously. Freeman received his third Academy Award nomination for the role, but lost the Best Actor prize to Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump).

 

Quotes

“In 1966, Andy Dufresne escaped from Shawshank prison. All they found of him was a muddy set of prison clothes, a bar of soap, and an old rock hammer, damn near worn down to the nub. I remember thinking it would take a 600 years to tunnel through the wall with it. Old Andy did it in less than 20. Andy crawled to freedom through 500 yards of shit-smelling foulness I can’t even imagine…or maybe I just don’t want to. 500 yards… that’s the length of five football fields; just shy of half a mile.”

“Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”

“These prison walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, gets so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized. They send you here for life, that’s exactly what they take. The part that counts anyways.”

“Rehabilitated? Well, now, let me see. You know, I don’t have any idea what that means. I know what you think it means, sonny. To me it’s just a made-up word. A politician’s word, so that young fellas like yourself can wear a suit and a tie and have a job. What do you really wanna know? Am I sorry for what I did? There’s not a day goes by that I don’t feel regret. Not because I’m in here, or because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try to talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone, and this old man is all that’s left. I gotta live with that. Rehabilitated? It’s just a bullshit word. So go ahead and stamp your forms, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don’t give a shit.”

“I find I’m so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it is the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend, and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”

 

 

 

51           Laurie Strode (Halloween)

Screen legend Janet Leigh is the original Scream Queen for her small yet pivotal role in the 1960 Hitchcock classic Psycho, so it is fitting that her daughter Jamie Lee Curtis would assume the mantle after playing Lorrie Strode, an ordinary American teenager who endures a single night of terror at the hands of a knife-wielding masked maniac. Numerous sequels, remakes, & reboots have kept the Halloween franchise alive, but really the 1978 original & its initial 1981 sequel are the only two that matter.

 

Quotes

“Was it the boogeyman?”

 

 

 

Stay tuned!! There is more to come!!

90’s Film Frenzy: Fly Round 3

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

90’s Film Frenzy: Fly Round 2

Welcome back to Round 2 of 90’s Film Frenzy!! We went thru the Dope and Phat divisions a couple of weeks ago and I apologize for the delay. I won’t bore y’all with a long preamble because discussion of these great movies is lengthy enough, but let me take this opportunity to wish The Manoverse a delightful Labor Day Weekend. The catch-22 of this time of year is that summer is ending, which signifies colder weather & gloomier skies in the not-so-distant future, but it also means football is back and a few other fun things about autumn, so let us not despair. Have fun and enjoy life!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forrest Gump

Release:    7/6/94

Starring:     Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Sally Field, Gary Sinise

Directed By:        Robert Zemeckis (Romancing the Stone, The Back to the Future Trilogy, Cast Away)

 

vs.

 

Presumed Innocent

 

Quotes

It is a practical impossibility to try two people for the same crime. Even if it wasn’t, I couldn’t take his mother from my son.

 

You understand what happened had to happen. It couldn’t have turned out any other way. A woman’s depressed…with herself, with life. With her husband, who had made life possible for her…until he was bewitched by another woman. A destroyer. Abandoned…like someone left for dead…she plans her suicide…until the dream begins. In the dream, the destroyer is destroyed. That’s a dream worth living for.

 

Odds & Ends

Before the book was published in August 1987 producer Sydney Pollack purchased the rights to the film for $1 million.

 

Harrison Ford’s hair was cut in such a way to make him look “wimpier” than his previous brave leading man roles.

 

Kevin Costner and Robert Redford turned down the role of Rusty Sabich.

 

_______________________

Tom Hanks followed his Oscar winning role in Philadelphia with Forrest Gump, for which he won a second consecutive Academy Award for Best Actor. Gump is based on a 1986 novel by Winston Groom. I’ve pondered the idea of reading the book because I am generally inclined to believe a book is usually better than the movie, but most of the time the film closely follows the original story and the reason the book is better is a matter of subplots & nuance that might have been cut from the movie. However, it is my understanding that Forrest Gump the film completely alters the tone and character development of Forrest Gump the book, so I have been hesitant to read it lest it diminish my affection for the movie. At any rate, the film essentially tells diverging stories of two childhood friends who grew up in 1950’s Alabama. The titular Forrest is what we might now call a “special needs student” or a “low IQ learner”, but he defies the odds by graduating from college, serving in Vietnam, becoming an international ping pong star, meeting multiple U.S. Presidents, and eventually co-founding a successful shrimping business. The love of his life…Jenny…isn’t so lucky. She is abused by her father at a young age, works as a stripper, gets involved with drugs, becomes a hippie, & eventually dies from a mysterious disease (likely either AIDS or hepatitis). Forrest Gump shows these two lives diverging & intersecting at various times, and is unique in its ability to make the viewer chuckle one moment and shed a tear two seconds later. It actually won six Academy Awards, including Best Director (Zemeckis), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture (beating out Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption). It was the #1 film at the box office in 1994 and holds a 72% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The Boston Globe called it “a one-of-a-kind treat”. The NY Daily News had a really interesting take, observing that “what looks at first like a bright, bouncy, & sentimental trip through the baby-boom era turns out, on closer inspection, to be a dark and driven work, haunted by violence, cruelty, & a sense of the tragically absurd” but goes on to say that “where most American movies of the ’90s strike a single note over & over, Forrest Gump is a symphony” that is “an original and deeply moving experience”. People Magazine thought it a “plodding, heavy-handed parable”, while Rolling Stone called it a “heart-breaker of oddball wit & startling grace” and our old pal Ebert simply referred to it as “a magical movie”. Presumed Innocent got past Honeymoon in Vegas in Round 1 because an 87% Rotten Tomatoes score is pretty hard to overlook and I really loved the book back in the day. Harrison Ford is a tremendously talented actor that shouldn’t be pigeonholed as Han Solo, Jack Ryan, or Indiana Jones. Some of his best work has been in films that didn’t get any sequels.

 

The Verdict:       Forrest Gump. Just a really tough draw for Presumed Innocent. Between books, TV, & movies the entertainment landscape is overflowing with legal dramas, and the public’s thirst for such stories has made “true crime” a powerful sub-genre. Amongst Forrest Gump’s many strengths is its distinctiveness…there aren’t many comparable stories, so this is sort of like lobster versus a gourmet hamburger…it may be perfectly cooked with loads of flavor, but at the end of the day it’s still a hamburger.

 

 

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The Fugitive

Release:    8/6/93

Starring:     Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones

Directed By:        Andrew Davis (Above the Law, Under Seige)

 

vs.

 

Joe Versus the Volcano

 

Quotes

I don’t know what your situation is but I wanted you to know what mine is not just to explain some rude behavior, but because we’re on a little boat for a while and I’m soul sick…and you’re going to see that.

 

Do you think I feel good? Nobody feels good. After childhood, it’s a fact of life. I feel rotten. So what? I don’t let it bother me. I don’t let it interfere with my job.

 

90% of people are asleep, and those of who are awake look around us in wonder.

 

I have no interest in myself. I think about myself, I get bored out of my mind.

 

My father says almost the whole world’s asleep. Everybody you know, everybody you see, everybody you talk to. He says only a few people are awake. And they live in a state of constant, total amazement.

 

You have some life left. My advice to you is: live it well.

 

I ask myself, why have I put up with you? I can’t imagine, but now I know. Fear. Yellow freakin’ fear. I’ve been too chicken shit afraid to live my life so I sold it to you for 300 freakin’ dollars a week!

 

I don’t know who you are. I don’t want to know. It’s taken me my whole life to find out who I am, and I’m tired now.

 

There are certain times in your life when I guess you’re not supposed to have anybody. There are certain doors you have to go through alone.

 

If you have a choice between killing yourself and doing something you’re scared of doing, why not take the leap and do the thing you’re scared of doing?

 

Odds & Ends

The lamp that Joe brings into his office displays future events in the movie, including the yacht, a volcano, & a large full moon.

 

If one really pays attention you’ll notice several references to losing one’s soul.

 

The coordinates that Patricia gives… -10.1333, -150.3…places the island ten miles SSW of Caroline Island in the South Pacific.

 

______________________

 

Hey…more Harrison Ford!! Back in the mid-60’s ABC aired four seasons of a drama about a doctor wrongly convicted of murdering his wife and his vagabond lifestyle as he eluded law enforcement while searching for the one-armed man that he claimed was the real killer. Dr. Richard Kimble would move from town to town under an assumed name, work at various menial jobs, and inevitably risk being caught to help someone in need. The 1967 series finale was the most watched television show in history until the 1980 episode of Dallas during which the answer to the question “Who shot J.R.??” is revealed. The Fugitive aired on television long before I was a gleam in my Daddy’s eye, but at some point in the 80’s one channel or another began showing reruns and I was hooked. The big screen adaptation condenses the time frame and changes a few minor details, but retains the spirit of the original premise. It was the third highest grossing film of 1993, has a stellar 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and was nominated for seven Academy Awards, though the only one it took home was Best Supporting Actor for Tommy Lee Jones. Best Picture went to Schindler’s List, which is exactly the kind of thing one would expect from the Oscars, while Jones beat out Leonardo DiCaprio (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?) and John Malkovich (In the Line of Fire) for his award. Joe Versus the Volcano benefitted from a total cop out from Yours Truly in Round 1, tying Hook and therefore moving forward in the competition. Here’s the thing about JVtV…if you watch it as if it is just a silly rom-com it’ll be slightly weird, mostly enjoyable, but ultimately forgettable. However, if you recognize the symbolism, value the metaphor, and truly grasp the existential subtext it will blow your freakin’ mind. I kinda sorta understood it on my own, but there is a video on YouTube that really explains everything that one might have missed about JVtV, and I highly recommend re-watching the movie thru that prism. I’ve seen it called “a near-masterpiece of cinema”. It is about life. It is about death. It is about morality & spirituality. It is about values. It is about heroism. It is about failure. It is about destiny. Everyone who has ever had a job they despised can appreciate the first twenty minutes of JVtV, and anyone who can get thru those depressing twenty minutes will thoroughly enjoy the rest of the journey.

 

The Verdict:       The Fugitive. I feel really guilty about this one. JVtV deserves a better outcome. But I have to be honest, and the truth is that anytime The Fugitive is on I will stop and watch. Ford & Jones have never been better. The film’s tense moments are so well done, and frivolous action & violence are minimal. The strength of Joe Versus the Volcano is also its weakness. If one chooses to simply enjoy it as just another silly rom-com it gets lost in the shuffle amidst movies that are funnier and more romantic, charming, & quotable. But if one makes the correct choice to recognize the imagery & meaning behind it all then it ceases to become the kind of breezy & watchable escapism that a good movie should be. It is a film best reserved for those rare moments of philosophical self-reflection.

 

 

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Billy Madison

Release:    2/10/95

Starring:     Adam Sandler

Directed By:        Tamra Davis (Half Baked)

 

vs.

 

The American President

 

Quotes

Being President of this country is entirely about character. America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad.

 

You cannot address crime prevention without getting rid of assault weapons and hand guns. I consider them a threat to national security, and I will go door-to-door if I have to, but I’m gonna convince Americans that I’m right, and I’m gonna get the guns.

 

The American people have a funny way of deciding on their own what is and what is not their business.

 

Somewhere in Libya right now a janitor’s working the night shift at Libyan intelligence headquarters. He’s going about doing his job because he has no idea that in about an hour he’s going to die in a massive explosion. He has no idea that about an hour ago I gave an order to have him killed. You’ve just seen me do the least Presidential thing I do.

 

Perhaps I didn’t properly explain the fundamentals of the slowdown plan.

 

People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.

 

Odds & Ends

The telephone number President Shepherd gives Sydney to call him back (456-1414) is in fact the number to the White House (area code 202).

 

Robert Redford was originally cast in the lead role, but was replaced with Michael Douglas after a falling out with Rob Reiner.

 

Early versions of the script depicted President Andrew Shepherd as a military veteran and former Special Ops Agent. Rob Reiner discussed the lead role with Bruce Willis and Steven Seagal before Aaron Sorkin’s re-writes transitioned Shepherd to a more academic character.

 

The screenplay for the film inspired many aspects of Sorkin’s later television drama The West Wing. The two productions follow the staff of a largely idealized White House, and like many of Sorkin’s projects, share ideologies. Even the set of the Oval Office in The American President was later used in The West Wing. Sorkin has indicated that much of the first season of The West Wing was actually taken from material he edited out of the first draft of The American President script.

 

___________________

Adam Sandler was a cast member on Saturday Night Live for the first half of the 1990s. He had bit parts in barely notable films like Shakes the Clown, Airheads, & Mixed Nuts while he was also doing SNL, but immediately following his departure from television he hit the ground running with Billy Madison, the story of a lazy & dim-witted 20-something coasting thru life in a state of arrested development and living off of his father’s hard earned wealth. When dear old Dad decides that one of his staff members would be more equipped to take over his business someday Billy objects, only to find out that the reason he made it thru grade school, middle school, & high school was because his father bribed teachers to pass him. Billy convinces his father to change his plan of succession on the condition that the young man complete twelve grades of school within six months. Hilarity ensues. Yes it is a bizarre & inane premise. Yes the critics hated it (46% on Rotten Tomatoes). Your 75 year old father probably doesn’t get it, and most teenagers won’t either, because Billy Madison is a very specific film for a smallish target audience. But more than two decades later those of us that got a chuckle out of Sandler’s antics back then are still watching Billy Madison now. It was the 65th highest grossing film of 1995, but a lot of movies that made more money that year…Major Payne, Rob Roy, Judge Dredd, Man of the House, The Net, Sabrina, Outbreak…have been forgotten, while television continues to air Billy Madison and people continue to watch. The American President slipped past Boogie Nights in Round 1 because I just can’t wrap my mind around a drama about the porn industry, and because it eventually sparked a greater legacy called The West Wing, one of the finest television shows of the past quarter century. Michael Douglas is an underrated actor and Annette Bening can be compelling in the right role. They both shine in lighthearted fare that allows them to smile & laugh.

 

The Verdict:       Billy Madison. Aaron Sorkin should consider The American President a beta test for what eventually became his best creation. I don’t know if it was him or someone else, but somebody somewhere figured out that an idealistic rendition of The White House with a charming President, dogmatic & loyal staffers, and snappy dialogue would make a much better TV show than a movie. Adam Sandler isn’t everyone’s cup o’ tea and no one is saying that he’s ever made a great film, but Billy Madison is harmless fun that has weathered the sands of time.

 

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Grumpy Old Men

Release:    12/25/93

Starring:     Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ann Margret

Directed By:        Donald Petrie (Mystic Pizza, Miss Congeniality)

 

vs.

 

Mr. Saturday Night

Quotes

For me, my family was like, uh, Dances With Jews. Oh sure, we had names for our relatives like they had in that movie. We had “Eats With His Hands,” “Spits When He Talks,” “Makes Noise When He Bends,” “Sweats Like a Pig,” “Whines In a Cab,” “Never Buys Retail,” “Shaves His Back.”

 

Buddy, my whole life I listened to ya’ bellyache about your luck. Well, you are where you are because of who you are.

 

Odds & Ends

Marisa Tomei auditioned for the part of Buddy’s wife, Elaine, but was deemed too young for the role. Tomei later played Billy Crystal’s daughter in 2012’s Parental Guidance.

 

Billy Crystal’s directorial debut.

 

The film is based on a SNL Weekend Update sketch in which Billy Crystal plays Buddy Young Jr. reviewing a restaurant.

_________________________

 

Jack Lemmon & Walter Matthau starred in eleven movies together, the most famous of which is probably 1968’s The Odd Couple, an adaptation of Neil Simon’s stage play from a few years earlier. The play & film would eventually find its way to television in a series starring Tony Randall & Jack Klugman that ran thru the first half of the 1970s. Nearly three decades after their greatest success together the pair reunited in this charming comedy about two old geezers fighting over a woman. John Gustafson & Max Goldman are next door neighbors in the frozen tundra of Wabasha, MN. They spend their days fishing, drinking beer, watching TV, and insulting one other. We learn that they’ve known each other all of their lives but battled it out over a woman named Mae decades ago. Mae apparently chose John, but was unfaithful and eventually divorced him. Max ended up with a better woman (now deceased), but still harbors resentment over the one that got away. When a new lady moves in across the street…beautiful, slightly younger, & full of the spirit that Max & John lost long ago…the old rivalry finds new life. Grumpy Old Men was the 14th highest grossing film of 1993, ahead of Cool Runnings and Demolition Man but behind Free Willy and The Pelican Brief. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 62%, with the NY Times cautioning “don’t expect their bickering to be on the level of Neil Simon and you won’t be disappointed”, Ebert calling it “too pat and practiced to really be convincing”, the Washington Post advising that “if you poke through the cheap sentimentality you’ll find a worthy picture somewhere”, and Entertainment Weekly observing that “the shallow pratfalls hide richly funny observations”. Mr. Saturday Night upset Scream in the first round because horror movies just don’t frost my cupcake. If Billy Crystal were an employee at an average 9-5 business his boss would describe him as solid, dependable, trustworthy, & proficient. In Hollywood terms that means that he’s rarely brought up in discussions about the biggest, hottest, most talented top box office stars, but he has carved out a nice career that’s lasted several decades and produced some quality entertainment. Mr. Saturday Night is unlikely to appeal to anyone younger than 35, which obviously has a negative impact on the kinds of numbers that Hollywood deems important. If it were made today instead of 25 years ago it might be direct-to-video or more likely an original production of Netflix or Hulu, which would be fine. That’s the world we live in, right?? As a writer I recognize the movie’s flaws but also have to give kudos to some outstanding performances. Crystal is known to be a big baseball fan, and in that sport’s parlance I’ll call this movie a single stretched into a double thru good base running, but there is no one on base, two outs, and the next batter strikes out, rendering the previous play somewhat futile.

 

The Verdict:       Grumpy Old Men. I still love you Billy Crystal!!

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Father of the Bride

Release:    12/20/91

Starring:     Steve Martin, Kimberly Williams, Diane Keaton, Martin Short

Directed By:        Charles Shyer (Private Benjamin, Baby Boom)

 

vs.

 

City Slickers

 

Quotes

Value this time in your life kids, because this is the time in your life when you still have your choices, and it goes by so quickly. When you’re a teenager you think you can do anything, and you do. Your twenties are a blur. Your thirties, you raise your family, you make a little money and you think to yourself, “What happened to my twenties?” Your forties, you grow a little pot belly you grow another chin. The music starts to get too loud and one of your old girlfriends from high school becomes a grandmother. Your fifties you have a minor surgery. You’ll call it a procedure, but it’s a surgery. Your sixties you have a major surgery, the music is still loud but it doesn’t matter because you can’t hear it anyway. Seventies, you and the wife retire to Fort Lauderdale, you start eating dinner at two, lunch around ten, breakfast the night before. And you spend most of your time wandering around malls looking for the ultimate in soft yogurt and muttering “how come the kids don’t call?” By your eighties, you’ve had a major stroke, and you end up babbling to some Jamaican nurse who your wife can’t stand but who you call mama. Any questions?

 

Women need a reason to have sex, men just need a place.

 

Have you ever had that feeling that this is the best I’m ever gonna do, this is the best I’m ever gonna feel… and it ain’t that great?

 

We’re black and we’re dentists. Let’s not make an issue out of it.

 

We had different needs. I needed him to treat me decently and get a job, and he needed to empty my bank account and leave.

 

Ed, have you noticed that the older you get, the younger your girlfriends get? Soon you’ll be dating sperm.

 

Odds & Ends

The story that Billy Crystal tells about his “best day” of going to a Yankee game with his father is a true story from his childhood. He notes at one point that, “I still have the program.” Not only does he really still have it, but he got Mickey Mantle to autograph it twice: once at the game that day and once again some 20 years later on a talk show they were both guests on.

 

This was Jake Gyllenhaal’s film debut.

 

Billy Crystal is a diehard New York Yankees fan but wears a New York Mets cap in the film because the Mets made a major contribution to Comic Relief.

 

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See, I told you!! Billy Crystal is still in it to win it dawg!! City Slickers got past Hocus Pocus in Round 1 because who can deny the trifecta of an Academy Award, Crystal, and a 90% score from the critics?? Comedy is tricky. We like to divide everything into categories and stack things into neat little piles, but there are so many different kinds of comedy. When it comes to movies there are some that are just a jumbled mess that can’t decide what they are or the idea they are trying to convey. To my understanding the reason for that is oftentimes because so many writers, producers, directors, actors, & suits have tampered with the product in pre-production that by the time we see it on the big screen it’s like consuming a dish that dozens of cooks have had a hand in making without really communicating with one another, to the point that no one knows what the hell we’re eating. Conversely, great films have been infused with different flavors that are expertly blended, resulting in a pleasurable outcome. City Slickers is a cut above so many of the idiotic comedies that seem to find their way to our local cineplex in the 21st century. It actually has a point, with well-written characters that develop thru the story. None of the actors are the kind of popular hot commodities that seem to be in a different movie every other month, but the performances are tremendous and the cast gels together nicely. A sequel…called City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold…was made a few years later, but the magic was gone, and it didn’t help that Jon Lovitz joined the cast. Lovitz ruins everything. Father of the Bride is a remake of a 1950 film starring Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor. Steve Martin plays the beleaguered father of a 20-something daughter who has just announced her engagement. Despite Dad’s dreams of a simple backyard BBQ wedding the bride-to-be and her mother have a different idea and hire a hilariously weird wedding planner. Dad’s a cheapskate who isn’t emotionally ready to let his little girl go, so the whole process is torturous & expensive for him, but everything works out just fine in the end. FotB was 9th highest grossing film of 1991 and has a solid 71% score on Rotten Tomatoes. In comparing the remake to the original the NY Times said “the material has been successfully refurbished with new jokes and new attitudes”. Ebert called it “a movie with heart” with “little moments in it when Martin is deeply moved”. Entertainment Weekly liked the “feel-good finale’, but wasn’t overly impressed by “the pat, amiable, and rather dawdling farce that preceded it”.

 

The Verdict:       Father of the Bride. I suppose one might consider it a slight upset. Most critics would probably say that City Slickers is clearly the better movie. For me it is largely about repeat viewings. As good as many seem to think it is, City Slickers just hasn’t popped up on television all that much in the past 27 years, and as such it is kind of easily forgotten. Father of the Bride, on the other hand, seems to be on an awful lot, and at some point in the past couple of decades I have developed a deep affection for it.

 

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Office Space

Release:    2/19/99

Starring:     Ron Livingston, Stephen Root, Gary Cole, Jennifer Aniston

Directed By:        Mike Judge (Beavis & Butt-Head Do America, Idiocracy)

 

vs.

 

Hook

 

Quotes

Oh, I hate being disappointed, Smee. And I hate living in this flawed body. And I hate living in Neverland. And I hate, I hate, I hate Peter Pan!

 

The stories are true! I swear to you! I swear to you on everything I hold dear! And now he’s come back to seek his revenge. The fight isn’t over for Captain James Hook. He wants you back. He knows that you’ll follow Jack and Maggie to the ends of the earth and beyond. And by heavens, you must find a way. Only you can save your children. Somehow, you must go back. You must make yourself remember.

 

Your children love you, they want to play with you. How long do you think that lasts? Just a few years, and it’s over. And you are not being careful. And you are missing it.

 

You know you’re not really Peter Pan, don’t you? This is only a dream. When you wake up, you’ll just be Peter Banning…a cold, selfish man who drinks too much, is obsessed with success, and runs & hides from his wife & children.

 

That is the same window and this is the same room where we made up bedtime stories telling about Peter, Neverland, and scary old Captain Hook. But did you know that Mr. Barrie… well, Sir James, our neighbor, he loved our stories so much that he wrote them all down in a book… oh dear me… eighty years ago.

 

Odds & Ends

The kissing couple who begin to float when some fairy dust lands on them are actually George Lucas and Carrie Fisher in a cameo.

 

Williams & Spielberg became close friends after making this film. Reportedly, after Williams’s death, Spielberg decided to watch this film out of remembrance but couldn’t finish it because he couldn’t stop crying for hours.

 

Maggie Smith, being only 56 years old at the time of filming, was aged up by makeup to play 92-year-old Granny Wendy.

 

Julia Roberts was nicknamed “Tinkerhell” because she was difficult to deal with, a reaction to her working conditions of solitude & a green screen.

 

Dustin Hoffman’s former co-star, Jon Voight, asked him if he could bring his children, James Haven and Angelina Jolie, to the set because they were “dying to meet Captain Hook.” Hoffman agreed to meet them while in costume. Jolie was 16 years old, and Hoffman described her as a “tall, thin, gawky-looking girl with a mouth full of braces.” After Jolie told Hoffman she was going to be an actress, Hoffman went home to his wife and said, “I don’t think this kid has any idea what a tough road she’s got.”

 

Steven Spielberg admitted to being disappointed with final result of the movie. He had such a hard time working with the rebellious crew of young actors that he later said, only somewhat kiddingly, that the experience made him wonder if he wanted to have any more kids. He also felt guilty that he wasn’t able to find an economical method to filming the many complex human-flight sequences in the film.

 

Gwyneth Paltrow appears briefly as the teenage Wendy.

 

Dustin Hoffman based the voice of Captain Hook on that of the columnist William F. Buckley.

 

Glenn Close, Phil Collins, Steven Spielberg, David Crosby, & Jimmy Buffett all make cameos.

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Office Space is the very definition of a cult classic. No one paid attention to it in theaters. It ranked 121st at the box office in 1999. 121st!! Something called The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland made more money. I knew nothing about it until 3 or 4 years later when a co-worker kept quoting it and told me how awesome it is. At the time he & I both worked at a place strikingly similar to the business depicted in the film. Actually I think anyone who has ever worked in any kind of office can see similarities between their reality and what we see onscreen, which is a huge reason Office Space became such a big hit on home video. The cast is filled with character actors that have never done much beyond supporting roles on both television & film, with the lone exception being Jennifer Aniston. In 1999 she was halfway thru her run as Rachel on Friends, and I guess she was supposed to help Office Space make money, but her role is smallish and not at all why people love the movie. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 79% score, though most of those reviews were done in hindsight, long after it had gained traction and gained popularity. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that very few critics even bothered to watch it or write a review back in 1999. The Washington Post called it “a knowing, somewhat slight, often hilarious sendup of cubicle culture” that “exploits the yuks in the chronic misery of those routinely exposed to the monotonous gray of corporate minds and company décor”. Variety said it is “frequently uproarious”, Ebert observed that “movie’s dialogue is smart”, and the Village Voice dubbed it “a surprisingly good-natured comedy about the suppressed rage and paranoia of unappreciated employees”. As a perpetually underappreciated employee I must agree. Hook benefitted from a first round cop-out tie from me, though with a cast that includes Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, & Julia Roberts, all directed by Steven Spielberg, one would think it shouldn’t have to rely on such benevolence. I’ve told this story before, but I fondly recall seeing Hook in an old historic theater in downtown Huntington, WV. I was with a few of my fraternity brothers and we were the only people there, which began my lifelong affection for an essentially empty theater versus being in a crowded one. At any rate, that memorable viewing experience combined with my fondness for Williams has combined to elevate Hook a bit higher in my heart & mind than it probably deserves.

 

The Verdict:       Office Space. If I’m being honest I have to admit that Hook has its flaws. Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell was a huge mistake. The whole “Peter Pan grew up to be an uptight Type A neglectful workaholic that ignores his family” thing is a premise that probably sounded really cool in the early 90’s, but in retrospect a straight retelling of the Peter Pan story might have been a better choice. Spielberg is indisputably brilliant, but he could have benefitted from the kind of CGI and technological movie magic that probably wasn’t available in the 90’s. Office Space is more proof that when a story really works, the script is well written, and the jokes are funny a big budget and top shelf actors aren’t necessary. It further illustrates the difference between a movie that’ll make a splash on the big screen for a few weeks but quickly evaporate into the pop culture ether versus something that is built to last and make a long term impact.

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The Wedding Singer

Release:    2/13/98

Starring:     Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore

Directed By:        Frank Coraci (The Waterboy, Blended)

 

vs.

 

Edward Scissorhands

 

Quotes

It’s not heaven he’s from! It’s straight from the stinking flames of hell! The power of Satan is in him; I can feel it. Can’t you? Have you poor sheep strayed so far from the path? He has been sent first to tempt you. But it’s not too late. You must push him from you, expel him! Trample down the perversion of nature!

 

Sweetheart, you can’t buy the necessities of life with cookies.

 

The years spent in isolation have not equipped him with the tools necessary to judge right from wrong. He’s had no context. He’s been completely without guidance.

 

You see, before he came down here, it never snowed. And afterwards, it did. If he weren’t up there now, I don’t think it would be snowing. Sometimes you can still catch me dancing in it.

 

Odds & Ends

The idea for the movie was inspired by a drawing Tim Burton had done when he was a teenager,The drawing depicted a thin, solemn man with long, sharp blades for fingers. Burton stated that he was often alone and had trouble retaining friendships. “I get the feeling people just got this urge to want to leave me alone for some reason, I don’t know exactly why.”

 

Winona Ryder dropped out of The Godfather: Part III to appear in this film. Reportedly, it was Johnny Depp who actually convinced her to do so.

 

Vincent Price’s role was intended to be larger, but the veteran actor was very ill with emphysema and Parkinson’s disease, so his scenes were cut to a minimum.

 

The houses used in the film were a real community in Florida, completely unchanged, except for their garish exterior paint.

 

Some of the topiary that Edward makes in the movie can be seen permanently at the New York City restaurant Tavern On the Green.

 

Viewers are left to decide whether they think Kim is telling a fairy tale to her granddaughter or relating a story about something that really happened to her.

 

Burton and screenwriter Caroline Thompson cite various monster stories like The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein, King Kong, and Creature from the Black Lagoon as an influential to the film.

 

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When did I become old enough that the 1980’s could be deemed proper fodder for nostalgia?? Apparently the answer to that question is 1998. Sandler followed-up his successful hits Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore with a story about Robbie Hart, an aspiring musician who lives with his sister & her family in New Jersey. Robbie’s dreams of becoming a rock star seem to have faded as he has settled into an apathetic existence as the leader of a cover band that performs at weddings, birthday parties, & bar mitzvahs. His girlfriend has grown weary of this lack of vision & ambition and ditches him at the altar on their wedding day. Robbie has a hilarious yet pitiful breakdown, but the clouds begin to lift when he meets Julia, a waitress at the catering hall where he often performs. If rom-coms were sports teams Sandler & Barrymore would be great backups coming off the bench behind starters Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan. They’ve done three movies together and this first collaboration is the best. It was the 24th highest grossing film of 1998 (behind Shakespeare in Love but ahead of Halloween: H2O) and holds a 68% score on Rotten Tomatoes. The L.A. Times glowingly called it “a sparkling romantic comedy…the kind that glides by so gracefully & unpretentiously that it’s only upon reflection that you realize how much skill, caring, and good judgment had to have gone into its making”, while Ebert opined that “one of the sad byproducts of the dumbing-down of America is that we’re now forced to witness the goofy plots of the 1930s played sincerely, as if they were really deep”. I’m not really sure exactly what that means, but it makes me wonder what Roger Ebert…who died in 2013…would think of some of the absolute crapfests that besmirch theaters these days, because The Wedding Singer is Citizen Kane in comparison to many of them. Edward Scissorhands got past Mallrats in Round 1 because I just don’t understand what the big deal is about Kevin Smith. It’s hard to categorize Edward Scissorhands, but I think that’s part of its charm. It appeals to different people for various reasons, and all of those perspectives are valid. The film is visually stunning, with the fascinating contrast between Edward’s gothic existence and the colorful 50’s vibe of the human neighborhood he is brought to, and as a person with a disability who has oftentimes found it challenging to fit into “normal” society I appreciate that theme. Burton squashed the idea of a sequel a few years ago, and one can only hope he doesn’t ever let anyone do a stupid remake.

 

The Verdict:       The Wedding Singer. This one comes down to repeat viewings for me, and I can’t remember the last time I watched Edward Scissorhands. Burton is a weird dude who’s made some strange movies. Some of them aren’t bad, but personally I have to be in the right kind of mood to enjoy his stuff. The Wedding Singer has wider appeal, and especially speaks to an 80’s kid like myself.

 

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Die Hard: With A Vengeance

Release:    5/19/95

Starring:     Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Irons

Directed By:        John McTiernan (Predator, The Hunt for Red October. The Last Action Hero)

 

vs.

 

Goodfellas

Release:    9/19/90

Starring:     Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci

Directed By:        Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ)

 

vs.

 

Twister

 

Quotes

When you told me you used to chase tornados I always thought it was a metaphor!

 

It’s the Fujita Scale. It measures the intensity of a tornado by how much it eats.

 

He’s a nightcrawler. We all started out working in the same lab, but Jonas went out and got some corporate sponsors. He’s in it for the money not the science. He has a lot of high tech gadgets, but he doesn’t have any instinct.

 

Odds & Ends

Filming in Oklahoma was briefly delayed due to the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. Much of the crew went to the site to help with recovery efforts.

 

A recording of a camel’s moan was slowed down and used as the sound of the tornado.

 

The characters are alarmed when TV screens go blank, showing only static, before the tornado hits. In the days before digital TV, it was discovered that tornadoes generate a signal that will override and blank channel 2 on TV sets. Digital TVs do not react that way.

 

In the town of Wakita, the building the actors used to get ready for filming was turned into a museum for the movie where they have “Dorothy” on display as well as many other items from the movie.

 

As one of the characters looks at the screen of their weather computer, he screams “That’s no moon, it’s a space station!” That’s Obi-Wan Kenobi’s line when he, Luke, Han, and Chewbacca first discover the Death Star.

 

____________________________________

 

Bruce Willis has now made five Die Hard films, with one final swan song allegedly on the way (reportedly a prequel). I don’t think it’s possible to surpass the first one, but Vengeance gives it a heck of a try. Seven years after the dramatic Christmas party at Nakatomi Plaza and five years after another memorable yuletide at an airport Detective John McClane is again estranged from his wife, suspended from the NYPD, and apparently an alcoholic. But then a terrorist threatens to blow up a school and specifically requests McClane’s involvement in the case, which involves a cat & mouse game of solving riddles throughout The Big Apple. McClane’s impromptu partner this time is a Harlem store owner named Zeus, who inadvertently gets pulled into the action. The criminal turns out to be the brother of the bad guy from the first film, and there is a similar twist as far as what his motives are. Jackson was a welcome addition to the franchise and breathes a lot of life into the story. Vengeance was the tenth highest grossing film of 1995 but holds an unimpressive 52% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Variety said that it “degenerates into an improbable & confusing series of chases and an overly involved heist that takes far too long to set up”, Rolling Stone called it “a tense, terrifically funny action dazzler”, Ebert referred to it as “a wind-up action toy…cleverly made and delivered with high energy”, and Entertainment Weekly thought it was “a more racially charged Lethal Weapon”, opining that the mad bomber “toys with McClane like a villain on the old Batman TV series”. Twister easily beat Very Bad Things in Round 1 but now faces a stiffer challenge. Time Magazine harshly observed that “you know a movie is in trouble when a cow provides its only moment of authentic human interest”. Variety said that the movie “conveys the overwhelming impression of a mechanical entertainment, a very high concept in which the characters and their problems seem like utterly arbitrary creations”. The NY Times thought that “science aside… it works as escapism even if you do know enough to come in out of the rain”. Goodfellas is a mob movie far different from anything we saw in The Godfather films. Based on the story of real life mobster Henry Hill, Goodfellas is a grittier and less cinematic story than The Godfather, but I suspect that it’s a more accurate portrayal of mob life. The cast is first rate, and the movie was nominated for a half dozen Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. However, the only Oscar it took home was Best Supporting Actor for Pesci. Goodfellas was the 26th highest grossing film of 1990, behind Problem Child, Days of Thunder, and the much maligned Godfather Part III, but ahead of Rocky V, Predator 2, and Ernest Goes to Jail. It has a near perfect Rotten Tomatoes score of 96%. The NY Daily News said that “Scorsese succeeds in smashing all the foolishly romantic myths about the mob with this shocking, vigorously honest portrait”, Rolling Stone observed that it “bristles with violent passion, howitzer wit, and virtuoso style”, and Variety dissented from the majority by calling it “colorful but dramatically unsatisfying”. Our buddy Ebert didn’t hold back when he said that “no finer film has ever been made about organized crime…not even The Godfather”, which is where I have to draw the line. I have no doubt that Goodfellas is more authentic, but Variety hit the nail on the head by calling it dramatically unsatisfying. The old saying is that truth is stranger than fiction…but is it more entertaining?? I don’t think so.

 

The Verdict:       Die Hard: With a Vengeance. With all due respect, I must defend The Godfather. It may be more realistic, but Goodfellas is NOT a better movie…not in any universe I’d ever want to inhabit. That’s just crazy talk. I’m not really into violence, and Goodfellas is a much more vicious film than The Godfather, while none of its characters are as well written or performed with the exception of Pesci’s Tommy DeVito. Twister is a decent disaster flick, but gets lost in the shuffle amongst much better movies of that genre. Vengeance isn’t as good as the original Die Hard, but it’s certainly better than any of the other sequels, and it’s one of my favorite Samuel L. Jackson performances.

90’s Film Frenzy: Phat Round 2

I am not a “prisoner of the moment” kind of guy. I’m 45 years old so I’m not an old fogey, but neither am I hip, cool, woke, with it, or worried about keeping up with the crowd. Oftentimes I am late to the party when it comes to movies, music, television, books, & various pop culture trends. Perhaps I’m a bit close-minded and stuck in my ways, but generally I like what I like and that’s just fine with me. It isn’t unusual for me to pass over something that has the masses excited, only to decide months or even years later to give it a whirl. I suppose I figure that if people are still talking about something after all that time then maybe it’s legit. At any rate, if you’re new to 90’s Film Frenzy everything you’ve missed is available in The Vault, including second round action in the Dope Division. Enjoy.

 

 

 

Apollo 13

Release:    6/30/95

Starring:     Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Ed Harris

Directed By:        Ron Howard (Night Shift, Splash, Cocoon, Parenthood)

 

vs.

 

Only the Lonely

 

Quotes

I had a Polack friend once. She was incredibly stupid. She was the stupidest woman that I ever knew. She believed that black cows squirted chocolate milk!

 

Oh… sorry… but I just got lucky in there with a girl. Not in that way… she does everybody in there… not in that way.

 

Odds & Ends

Maureen O’Hara initially refused to sign the movie contract…though she loved the script…until she met co-star John Candy. Fortunately the two of them instantly created a strong rapport.

 

Producer John Hughes insisted that Ally Sheedy be cast as Theresa because he wanted to have a member of his Brat Pack be romantically involved with a star of his later adult features on-screen. It represents two different generations of Hughes regulars.

 

Chris Columbus wrote the script with Maureen O’Hara in mind for the role of the mother. Once casting had begun, he insisted on having O’Hara play the role, and began a search for her. What he didn’t know, was that she had long since retired, and was living on St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. Columbus contacted her brother and had a script sent.

 

This was Maureen O’Hara’s first feature film role since Big Jake in 1971.

 

O’Hara told John Candy that he reminded her of Charles Laughton and said that underneath the clown character existed a powerful, complicated actor. O’Hara told Candy to trust his talent as an actor and not always play the clown.

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June of 1995 was a rough month for me (I’ll spare you the details), so I didn’t see Apollo 13 on the big screen, but oh how I wish I would have because I’m sure it was even more impressive. However, in the years since I have watched it dozens of times, and it just seems to get better with age. I am too young to remember the real life Apollo 13 disaster, but I have developed an interest in reading about the space program and don’t think that knowing how the story ends detracts from one’s enjoyment of the movie. I have no idea what is in the job description of a film director, but it feels like Ron Howard made a lot of correct decisions, starting with the outstanding cast. Apollo 13 was the third highest grossing film of the year, behind only Toy Story & Batman Forever and ahead of Jumanji & Waterworld. It holds a 95% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with the NY Daily News predicting that “Tom Hanks is on his way to becoming the American Everyman…an exemplar of boyish goodwill and quiet moral force”, People Magazine opining that “tense as the best murder mysteries and as kinetic as the most exciting action films…this space adventure is as thrilling as movies get”, and the Washington Post observing that the movie “lifts off with a payload of the right stuff: courage, can-do, grace under pressure, & other qualities derided as machismo by some but applauded as old-fashioned values by others”.  Apollo 13 was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won two. Only the Lonely is an underrated gem. I’m a big John Candy fan, and seeing Maureen O’Hara onscreen in her twilight years nearly a half century after her turn in Miracle on 34th St. is a real treat for aficionados of that Christmas classic, even though she portrays an entirely different kind of character. At first glance this seems like an odd potpourri of talent, and amongst the more well-known work of all involved it kind of gets lost in the shuffle, but it’s definitely not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

 

The Verdict:       Apollo 13. I have nothing bad to say about Only the Lonely and would encourage anyone who’s never seen it to give it a whirl, but the competition is overwhelming. 

 

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Good Will Hunting

Release:    12/5/97

Starring:     Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Robin Williams

Directed By:                 Gus Van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho)

 

vs.

 

Big Daddy

 

Quotes

Having a son is great… As long as his eyes are closed, and he’s not moving or talking.

 

Dented cans are half-price. Microsoft went down 3 points. We gotta save some money.

 

Do you want a Happy Meal? Can I get you one of those Happy Meals? You got a Happy Meal? Can we get a Happy Meal? WILL SOMEBODY GET THE KID A HAPPY MEAL?!

 

The boy just won’t quit peeing and throwing up. He’s like a cocker spaniel!

 

Odds & Ends

Allen Covert has appeared in 25 Adam Sandler films.

 

This is the most successful live action movie of Adam Sandler’s career, making over $163 million domestically. His 2015 animated sequel Hotel Transylvania 2 made over $169 million.

 

__________________

 

In the past two decades Damon & Affleck have become ubiquitous in Hollywood, starring in everything from thrillers & rom-coms to action flicks & superhero franchises. No one will ever list them among the finest actors of their generation, but kudos must be given for carving out solid, lasting, & somewhat impactful careers for themselves. Back in the mid-90’s they were barely blips on the radar, with Damon having a pivotal yet small role as the titular character in Saving Private Ryan, and Affleck best known as part of Kevin Smith’s ensembles in Dazed & Confused and Mallrats. But then the two best buddies co-wrote a screenplay about a troubled genius working as a janitor at MIT, and that film received nine Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture), winning two of them (Best Supporting Actor for Williams and Best Original Screenplay for Damon & Affleck). The rest is history. Good Will Hunting was the 7th highest grossing film of 1997 and holds an extraordinary 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. USA Today thought that Damon “delivers the year’s No. 1 breakthrough performance”, while our old pal Ebert said that “the outcome is fairly predictable; so is the whole story, really” but added “it’s the individual moments, not the payoff, that make it so effective”. Big Daddy bested Basic Instinct in the first round because when Sandler is funny he’s more entertaining than ice picks & Sharon Stone’s lady parts. When you watch some of the movies that Sandler has starred in during the past decade Big Daddy looks like Citizen Kane in comparison. I understand that his comedy is an acquired taste, but I think this is a film that probably has a slightly broader appeal than most of his other stuff.

 

The Verdict:       Good Will Hunting. Affleck & Damon strike me as being real douchenozzles, but I’ll be darned if they haven’t made some entertaining films, and I can’t overlook a movie that got my guy Robin Williams his one & only Academy Award. Mostly known as a manic comedian, Williams was also a brilliant dramatic actor, and his talent is on full display in this movie. Big Daddy is fun to watch on a lazy rainy day, but in this case it’s bologna going up against filet mignon.

 

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American Pie

Release:    7/9/99

Starring:              Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Sean William Scott, Tara Reid, Mena Suvari, Eugene Levy, Shannon Elizabeth, Alyson Hannigan, Jennifer Coolidge, Eddie Kaye Thomas

Directed By:        Paul & Chris Weitz (About a Boy, Little Fockers)

 

vs.

 

Armageddon

 

Quotes

Damage? Total, sir. It’s what we call a global killer. The end of mankind. Doesn’t matter where it hits, nothing would survive, not even bacteria.

 

I know the president’s chief scientific advisor. We were at MIT together and, in a situation like this you really don’t wanna take advice from a man who got a C- in astrophysics. The president’s advisors are wrong and I’m right.

 

The United States government just asked us to save the world. Anybody wanna say no?

 

You know we’re sitting on four million pounds of fuel, one nuclear weapon and a thing that has 270,000 moving parts built by the lowest bidder. Makes you feel good, doesn’t it?

 

We spend 250 billion dollars a year on defense. And here we are. The fate of the planet is in the hands of a bunch of retards I wouldn’t trust with a potato gun.

 

Yeah, one more thing, um…none of them wanna pay taxes again. Ever.

 

You go take care of my little girl now. That’s your job. Always thought of you as a son. Always.

 

For the next 11 days the Earth’s in a shooting gallery. Even if the asteroid itself hits the water, it’s still hitting land. It will slam into the ocean bedrock. Now if it’s a Pacific Ocean impact, which we think it will be, it will create a tidal wave about three miles high, flash boil millions of gallons of sea water. It will hit the West Coast and wash up in Denver. Japan is gone, Australia is wiped out. Half of the Earth’s population will be incinerated by the heat blast, the rest will freeze to death in a nuclear winter. Basically the worst parts of the Bible.

 

Odds & Ends

NASA shows this film during their management training program. New managers are given the task of trying to spot as many errors as possible. At least 168 have been found. Many of the errors found in the film were acknowledged by the director and known even during filming & production and were left in deliberately. Michael Bay said, “It’s a movie and not many people know about it”, so they were kept in for entertainment value. Bay has also stated that Armageddon is his worst film, saying “I will apologize for Armageddon because we had to do the whole movie in sixteen weeks. It was a massive undertaking. That was not fair to the movie. I would redo the entire third act if I could.”

 

When asked why he did this film, Steve Buscemi replied, “I wanted a bigger house”. Billy Bob Thornton also admitted to doing the film for the money and often jokes about acting in it. He has, however, called it “not THAT bad”. Ben Affleck has practically disowned the movie, even repeatedly making fun of it on the commentary.

 

Because of the patriotic nature of the script, and the success of using Top Gun as recruitment material, the producers persuaded NASA to allow Director Michael Bay and company to shoot in the normally restricted space agency. This included the neutral buoyancy lab, a 65 million gallon, 40 ft. deep pool used to train astronauts for weightlessness, and the use of two $10 million space suits. Parts of the movie were filmed at Edwards Air Force Base in California and the crew was allowed to shoot in a launch pad with an actual space shuttle docked to it. The only condition was that they not step into the shuttle itself. Ben Affleck admitted to stepping inside the orbiter for a brief moment, before NASA technicians ordered him out of the spacecraft.

 

After Rockhound gets space dementia, the shuttle crew wraps him in duct tape, which is, in fact, NASA protocol for immobilizing a crazed crew member.

 

Bruce Willis has said that he did not care for Michael Bay’s directing style, and he refuses to work with him again.

 

______________________________

Teen sex comedies are a tried & true movie trope, with some being funnier & more memorable than others. It seems like every generation has one such film that they claim as their own. American Pie finds a group of high school seniors making a pact to get laid on prom night. Of course the group of teens has personalities of varying quirks & levels of hilarity and finds themselves in amusing situations. It was a surprise hit in the summer of ’99, ending the year as the 20th highest grossing film. It made stars out of most of its young cast and spawned several sequels, none of which lived up to the mirth & freshness of the original. Rotten Tomatoes gives American Pie a decent score of 60%. The Cincinnati Enquirer called it “cheap soft-core porn masquerading as comedy”, the L.A. Times complimented its “unusual ability to mix bodily functions humor with a sincere & unlooked-for sense of decency”, our pal Ebert called it “cheerful, hard-working, & sometimes funny”, and USA Today compared it to “the C student who later makes a bundle then comes back to endow the school”. I assume that was meant as a compliment. Armageddon got past Clerks in Round 1, which I’m sure would tick off erudite film aficionados who think Kevin Smith is  freakin’ genius.

 

The Verdict:       American Pie. The cast & crew of Armageddon made this decision easier than I anticipated, because if they’re going to insult & ridicule their own movie then why should I support it?? I chuckle at people who complain about scientific accuracy in such films since those folks completely miss the point of sitting down with a bucket of popcorn, a vat of soda, & a box of candy and escaping from reality for a couple of hours. No one will ever accuse Armageddon of being good, but it is entertaining enough with a charming cast and impressive special effects. American Pie is undoubtedly a cultural touchstone for 90’s kids. I was a 27 year old college graduate in 1999 so I don’t claim it as such, but it has more than a few funny moments and does a great job of mixing gross-out humor with a certain level of sentimentality.

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You’ve Got Mail

Release:    12/18/98

Starring:     Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan

Directed By:        Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle)

 

vs.

 

The Firm

 

Quotes

I’m a federal agent! You know what that means, you lowlife? It means you’ve got no rights, your life is mine! I could kick your teeth down your throat and yank them out your asshole, and I’m not even violating your civil rights!

 

You want to know something funny? I discovered the law again. You actually made me think about it. I managed to go through three years of law school without doing that.

 

Let me get this straight: you want me to steal files from the firm, turn them over to the FBI, send my colleagues to jail, breach attorney-client privilege, thus getting myself disbarred for life, then testify in open court against the Mafia?? Are you out of your mind?

 

Odds & Ends

Holly Hunter is on screen for a total of 5 minutes and 59 seconds; one of shortest performances ever nominated for an Oscar. She is in twenty scenes, for an average of eighteen seconds per scene.

 

Except for the sporadic soundtrack songs the entire movie score is created solely on a piano, as played by its composer Dave Grusin. As a means of expanding the tonal range of his piano’s percussive properties, he simulated harp-like passages by stroking the naked strings of his grand and rapping the wooden frame for effects, as a drummer might beat his drums.

 

The cast includes two Oscar winners: Gene Hackman & Holly Hunter; and five Oscar nominees: Tom Cruise, David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook, Gary Busey, and Ed Harris.

______________________________

 

You’ve Got Mail was the third & (thus far) final Hanks/Ryan collaboration. It is very loosely based on the 1940 Jimmy Stewart rom-com The Shop Around the Corner, taking the premise of two people who can’t stand each other in “real life” but have fallen in love thru anonymous correspondence and updating it to the 20th century. Ryan is the proprietor of a quaint little children’s book store in NY City whose business goes under when a big box chain bookstore moves into the neighborhood. What she doesn’t realize is that the owner of the evil chain store is also the man that she met in an online chat room and has been having an ongoing e-mail “relationship” with for several months. Hanks & Ryan are obviously charming, but kudos to a supporting cast that includes Jean Stapleton (All in the Family’s Edith Bunker), Greg Kinnear, Parker Posey, Steve Zahn, Heather Burns, & Dave Chappelle. You’ve Got Mail was the 14th highest grossing film of 1998 and holds a 69% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Ebert observed that “Ryan and Hanks have more winning smiles than most people have expressions”, the Dallas Morning News said that it “provides a perfectly cuddly night at the movies”, and Variety called it a “winning romantic comedy and great date movie”. The Firm defeated My Best Friend’s Wedding in Round 1. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 76% rating, with Newsweek crediting it for “restoring faith in Hollywood professionalism”, Variety saying that it is “a smooth adaptation of John Grisham’s giant bestseller”, and Rolling Stone observing that “the book moved at turbo speed…at two and a half hours, the movie crawls”.

 

The Verdict:       You’ve Got Mail. Tom Hanks. Meg Ryan. Bookstores. Internet romance. What’s not to love?? Rolling Stone was right about The Firm…it’s good, but the book is better.

 

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Aladdin

Release:    11/25/92

Starring:              Scott Weinger, Robin Williams, Gilbert Gottfried

Directed By:        Ron Clements & John Musker (The Great Mouse Detective, The Little Mermaid)

 

vs.

 

Patch Adams

 

Quotes

All of life is a coming home. Salesmen, secretaries, coal miners, beekeepers, sword swallowers, all of us. All the restless hearts of the world, all trying to find a way home.

 

You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome.

 

What’s wrong with death, sir? What are we so mortally afraid of? Why can’t we treat death with a certain amount of humanity and dignity, and decency, and God forbid, maybe even humor. Death is not the enemy gentlemen. If we’re going to fight a disease, let’s fight one of the most terrible diseases of all, indifference.

 

Our job is to rigorously and ruthlessly train the humanity out of you and make you into something better. We’re gonna make doctors out of you.

 

Odds & Ends

During filming Robin Williams and the rest of the cast & crew worked closely with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to fulfill the fantasies of several children who were at the time undergoing cancer treatment. The children appeared with Williams in scenes at the pediatric ward.

 

One of the film’s producers was Mike Farrell, who met the real Patch Adams when Adams served as an advisor to the TV series MAS*H, in which Farrell played Dr. B.J. Hunnicutt.

 

In real life, Patch Adams’ close friend who was murdered was a man, not a female love interest. Carin is a fictional character.

 

This was the fifth time Robin Williams portrayed a doctor in the space of nine years: Awakenings (1990), Nine Months (1995), Good Will Hunting (1997), What Dreams May Come (1998).

______________________

 

It’s Robin Williams vs. Robin Williams!! Patch Adams got by Black Sheep in Round 1. It was the tenth highest grossing film of 1998, ahead of Mulan and The Truman Show but behind Rush Hour and Godzilla. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a hideous 23% rating, with Ebert opining that “it extracts tears individually by liposuction, without anesthesia”, Entertainment Weekly calling it “offensive and deeply false ‘inspirational!’”, and CNN dubbed it a “blubbering ass-kiss of a movie”. It is my opinion that such reviews are a bit excessive, but then again I am one who tends to enjoy what others derisively accuse of being sentimental. It is tempting nowadays for Robin Williams fans to deify the man and his career, but the truth is that his movies were hit & miss. I don’t think Patch Adams is as bad as the critics seem to believe, especially with a charming supporting cast that includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michael Jeter, & the lovely Monica Potter, but when the real life subject of the film doesn’t particularly like his own biopic it is an indication that some poor decisions may have been made along the way. Aladdin is another big screen animated classic from Disney, which seems to specialize in such movies. It is based on one of the stories from the classic One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales. Aladdin is a young homeless boy who falls in love with Princess Jasmine, comes into possession of a magic lamp, and is granted three wishes by The Genie that is released from the lamp. It’s a familiar story to most of us, but is told with particular panache in this adaptation, especially with Williams giving voice (and loads of personality) to The Genie.

 

The Verdict:       Aladdin. It really isn’t even a fair fight.

 

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Groundhog Day

Release:    2/12/93

Starring:     Bill Murray, Andy MacDowell

Directed By:        Harold Ramis (Caddyshack, National Lampoon’s Vacation)

 

vs.

 

Clueless

 

Quotes

Wasn’t my mom a Betty? She died when I was just a baby. A fluke accident during a routine liposuction.

 

So, okay. I don’t wanna be a traitor to my generation and all, but I don’t get how guys dress today. I mean, c’mon, it looks like they just fell out of bed and put on some baggy pants, and take their greasy hair…ew!…and cover it up with a backwards cap and, like, we’re expected to swoon? I don’t think so!

 

Searching for a boy in high school is as useless as searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie.

 

As if!

 

Like, right now, for example, the Haitians need to come to America. But some people are all, “What about the strain on our resources?” But it’s like, when I had this garden party for my father’s birthday, right? I said RSVP because it was a sit-down dinner. But people came that, like, did not RSVP, so I was, like, totally buggin’. I had to haul ass to the kitchen, redistribute the food, squish in extra place settings. But by the end of the day, it was, like, the more the merrier. And so, if the government could just get to the kitchen, rearrange some things, we could certainly party with the Haitians.

 

I so need lessons from you on how to be cool. Tell me that part about Kenny G again?

 

Odds & Ends

The film’s writers sat in classes at Beverly Hills High to get the flavor of the students.

 

The band playing during the party scene is the Boston-based Ska band the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

 

___________________________

Clueless got past Empire Records in the first round based largely on its pop culture cache back in the day. If this competition was only about which film represents the 1990’s best I’d have to say that Clueless would be a prohibitive favorite. It was a surprise hit in the summer of 1995, and inspired trends in fashion & slang. Entertainment Weekly said of the main character Cher that “there’s such a gaping discontinuity between her physical beauty and her vacant, gum-snapping personality that she’s like a walking advertisement for everything that’s right & wrong with America”, something that I could say about numerous women I have encountered in my own life. Variety called it “a fresh, disarmingly bright, and at times explosively funny comedy” and the San Francisco Chronicle observed that “by the time you skip out of the theater you’ve had a great time but can’t remember a single reason why”. The story is loosely based on Jane Austen’s 1815 book Emma, but I must admit that’s one classic novel that I’ve never read so I cannot properly compare the two. Much like Scrooged it took me awhile to give Groundhog Day a whirl because for the longest time I just didn’t get the whole Bill Murray thing, but rest assured I most certainly do now. On its surface Groundhog Day is a simple comedy about a misanthropic weatherman who keeps waking up on the same day (February 2…hence the title) over & over & over again. But it’s so much more than that. Groundhog Day was the 13th highest grossing film of 1993, just ahead of Grumpy Old Men and behind Philadelphia (which won Tom Hanks his first Oscar). It has an incredible 96% Rotten Tomatoes score, with People Magazine calling it “surprisingly inventive”, Empire Magazine saying it is “comic perfection”, and Ebert opining that it is “lovable and sweet”. All of those comments are accurate, but I’d be interested in digging thru all of the reviews to see if any critic actually “got it”, to find out if anyone truly understands the movie on a deeper level.

 

The Verdict:       Groundhog Day. I am busting at the seams to say everything I want to say about Groundhog Day, but I’ll save it until next time. For now allow me to give you a homework assignment: watch this movie. You may be able to catch it on TV somewhere, but if not then stream it on Netflix or whatever service you prefer. You will not regret it. With all due respect to Clueless, my apologies, but this is like comparing fast food to a five star dining experience.

 

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Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

Release:    2/4/94

Starring:     Jim Carrey, Sean Young, Tone Loc, Dan Marino

Directed By:        Tom Shadyac

 

vs.

 

The Mask

 

Quotes

Hold on, sugar! Daddy’s got a sweet tooth tonight!

 

Sssomebody stop me!

 

Hold me closer, Ed, it’s getting dark…tell Auntie Em to let Old Yeller out…tell Tiny Tim I won’t be coming home this Christmas…tell Scarlett I do give a damn!

 

Odds & Ends

A lot of moments, particularly ones involving the dog, were ad-libbed on set. The scene where Milo won’t let go of the Frisbee as Ipkiss tries to stash the money in his closet wasn’t planned, and Jim Carrey ad-libbed Ipkiss’ frustrated reaction to Milo not being able to run up the wall.

 

Prior to Cameron Diaz landing the role of Tina Carlyle, the producers had originally suggested Anna Nicole Smith for the role. This was Diaz’s first acting role.

 

Based on a Dark Horse comic book series of the same name which consisted of dark horror stories abiut how the mask would murder people with cartoon antics. Chuck Russell has said that the movie script started off in that tone before being transformed as a vehicle for Jim Carrey’s unique comedy.

 

This was the first Jim Carrey movie to reach $100 million at the box office.

________________________

 

It’s Jim Carrey vs. Jim Carrey!! Before Ace Ventura hit theaters in February of 1994 Carrey was primarily known as a stand-up comic and one of the stars of Fox’s hit variety show In Living Color. But that all changed with this strangely hilarious tale about a detective specializing in animal cases taking on the task of finding the missing mascot for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. It was 16th highest grossing film of the year, behind Maverick, The Client, & Disclosure but ahead of Legends of the Fall and D2: The Mighty Ducks. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 46%, which isn’t surprising since it is precisely the sort of goofy comedy that pompous critics just don’t get. Entertainment Weekly compared Carrey’s performance to “an escaped mental patient impersonating a game-show host”. The NY Times said that the movie “has the metabolism, logic, & attention span of a peevish 6-year-old”. Roger Ebert said that he viewed the film as “a long, unfunny slog through an impenetrable plot”. Real folks look at Ace Ventura and see rapper Ton Loc (Funky Cold Medina) as a police detective and NFL quarterback Dan Marino in his acting debut and understand that this is a silly farce intended to make folks laugh, something at which it succeeds. The Mask defeated PCU in the first round based mostly on its cultural impact. Critics like it a lot more than Ace Ventura, with Rotten Tomatoes giving it a score of 77%. The Philadelphia Inquirer called it “an amazing fusion of physical comedy and state-of-the- art cinema illusion”. The L.A. Times said Carrey “has a bright and likable screen presence, a lost puppy quality that is surprisingly endearing”. Variety thought the film was “adroitly directed…viscerally & visually dynamic and just plain fun”. Both of these films received sequels, but neither Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls and Son of the Mask (which had neither Carrey nor Diaz in its cast) failed to live up to their predecessors.

 

The Verdict:       The Mask. Jim Carrey is an acquired taste and I freely admit that he grew tedious for me a long long time ago. However, these movies were our first big screen exposure to his antics and they were fresh & humorous at the time. Nowadays Carrey seems to take himself way too seriously, but 25 years ago that wasn’t an issue and his performances were much more fun. As far as this particular head-to-head matchup it’s really a pick ‘em, but since The Mask did better critically & at the box office I’ll give it the nod.

 

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What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?

Release:    12/17/93

Starring:              Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio

Directed By:                 Lasse Hallström (The Cider House Rules, A Dog’s Purpose)

 

vs.

 

Pretty Woman

Release:    3/23/90

Starring:     Julia Roberts, Richard Gere

Directed By:                 Garry Marshall (Overboard, Beaches)

 

vs.

 

Batman Returns

 

Quotes

I wasn’t born in the sewer, you know. I want some respect…a recognition of my basic humanity. But most of all I wanna find out who I am by finding my parents, learning my human name. Simple stuff that the good people of Gotham take for granted!

 

You’re catnip to a girl like me. Handsome, dazed, and to die for.

 

Just relax. I’ll take care of the squealing, wretched, pinhead puppets of Gotham!

 

Odds & Ends

The production wanted to use King Penguins, and the only tame ones in captivity were at a bird sanctuary deep in the English countryside. The birds were flown over to the States in the refrigerated hold of a plane, given their own refrigerated trailer & swimming pool, a half a ton of fresh ice every day, and had fresh fish delivered daily straight from the docks. Even though the temperature outside frequently topped 100 degrees the entire set was refrigerated down to 35 degrees. The birds also had an around-the-clock bodyguard. Clearly the birds enjoyed the experience as, following their stint in Hollywood, most of them had mated and produced eggs, the sure sign of a contented penguin.

 

Annette Bening was originally cast as Catwoman, but was replaced by Michelle Pfeiffer when she became pregnant.

 

Singer David Bowie, who had been previously considered to play the Joker in 1989’as Batman, was the first choice for the part of Max Shreck, but he turned down the role in favor of one in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.

 

Though it was it was lambasted as too grotesque & pessimistic it is the only one of the four Warner Brothers’ Batman films that doesn’t include a single reference to the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents.

 

Burgess Meredith, who had portrayed The Penguin in the 1960’s Batman TV show, was asked to play the Penguin’s father in the opening of the film, but illness prevented him from it.

 

Michelle Pfeiffer said that her costume was vacuum sealed once she was fitted into it for scenes, so she actually had only a short amount of time to perform before she would have to have it opened or she could become lightheaded and pass out. They went through 60 catsuits during the six month shoot, at a cost of $1000 each.

 

________________________

In 1993 Leonardo DiCaprio was barely a blip on the pulp culture radar. He had joined the cast of television sitcom Growing Pains during its final season in 1991, and had bit parts in a few movies, but Gilbert Grape was his coming out party. The titular Gilbert is actually portrayed by Johnny Depp. What is eating at him is having to be the main caretaker of his morbidly obese mother, mentally challenged brother, & two sisters after his father had committed suicide a few years earlier. DiCaprio plays Arnie, the mentally challenged brother, and Arnie is a real handful for Gilbert. Complicating things further is a fetching young lady who arrives in town and catches Gilbert’s eye. Luckily she takes a shine to Arnie which makes things a bit easier. Gilbert Grape is a touching family drama chockful of great performances. It was only 111th highest grossing film of 1993, but it garnered an 89% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and got DiCaprio his first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor (he lost to Tommy Lee Jones for his role in The Fugitive). Newsweek complimented Depp’s performance, but predicted that it was DiCaprio who “will take your breath away”. Time summarized the premise as “true heroes are those people who day by day must tend to misfits, and do so with love, tenacity, and a determination not to go terminally sour in the process”. Ebert called it “one of the most enchanting movies of the year”. Julia Roberts’ coming out party was Pretty Woman, the story of a kindhearted & good-natured prostitute hired to be a wealthy businessman’s arm candy for a few days who turns out to be so bewitching that he falls in love with her. It was the 4th highest grossing film of 1990, behind Home Alone but ahead of Total Recall and Die Hard 2. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a rating of 62%, with the NY Times calling it “something special”, Ebert proclaiming it “the sweetest and most openhearted love fable since The Princess Bride”, and the Washington Post dubbing it “a slick, instantly & entertainingly digestible Cinderella fable”. Roberts was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress but lost to Kathy Bates for her role in Misery. Batman Returns easily beat Showgirls in Round 1. It was the third highest grossing film of 1992, behind only Aladdin and Home Alone 2. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 81%. The L.A. Times said that “Burton’s dark, melancholy vision is undeniably something to see…but it is a claustrophobic conception, not an expansive one, oppressive rather than exhilarating, and it strangles almost all the enjoyment out of this movie without half trying”. The Boston Globe called it “the rarest of Hollywood beasts…a sequel that’s better than the original”. People Magazine observed that the movie is “full of grim, Dostoyevskian undertones, not to mention a multitude of bloody, violent scenes”. Newsweek said that Burton “makes nightmares that taste like candy”.

 

The Verdict:       Batman Returns. I’m just not a Julia Roberts fan. I understand that she was one of the biggest stars of the 90’s and Pretty Woman is not only her signature role but also one of the defining movies of the decade, but repeat viewings just haven’t happened over the years, and if I’m channel surfing it is likely that I’d watch just about anything else. I’m not a huge DiCaprio guy either, but unlike his buddies Clooney and Affleck it isn’t because he seems like such an assclown in real life as much as it is the roles he has chosen over the years. I look at a lot of DiCaprio films…. The Man in the Iron Mask, Gangs of New York, The Departed, Inception…and immediately know that I’m just not interested. There are a few exceptions of course, and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? is probably his most underrated film. Having said that, there’s no denying that it’s a bit of a downer. I’d have to watch a silly comedy immediately afterward as a palate cleanser. Batman Returns is, as critics mentioned, dark, melancholy, grim, & a bit violent. But it’s a comic book movie, and with all of the films that have come out in that genre in the ensuing decades criticism of Batman Returns as being too gloomy feels misleading. We pretty much know what we’re getting with a Tim Burton movie, and all things considered that’s usually not a bad thing.

 

 

90’s Film Frenzy: Dope Round 1

So what exactly are we trying to accomplish here?? Are we seeking the best movie of the 1990s?? Not really. Are we looking for my favorite movie?? Well, yes and no. Is this about zeroing in on the signature film of the 90’s that most represents the decade?? That would be ideal but I’m not sure it’s possible. I suppose I am ultimately looking to “have my cake and eat it too”. It has always fascinated me that movies that make a ton of money are oftentimes loud, obnoxious, unintelligible games of chicken in which studios spend mind blowing amounts of cash and directors have fun with impressive technological toys all to tell a story that makes no sense, has no intellectual or emotional resonance, & people rush to theaters to see but forget about ten minutes after it’s over. Meanwhile, critics like to heap praise on erudite, pretentious snoozefests that Joe Sixpack in flyover country has no interest in seeing. Can a movie be successful critically AND commercially?? The 1970’s produced several such films: Jaws, The Godfather, Star Wars, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Apocalypse Now, All the President’s Men, & Young Frankenstein all spring to mind as being both popular and acclaimed. I’m okay with liking “bad” films…we all have our guilty pleasures. However, for the purposes of this competition what we are hoping to find are good movies that normal folks like you & me actually enjoy.

 

If you have not checked out first round action in the Fly and Phat divisions please do so, but for now we move forward. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

Swingers

Release:                       10/18/96

Starring:                        Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn

Directed By:                 Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith)

vs.

Batman & Robin

Release:                       6/20/97

Starring:                        George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Uma Thurman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Alicia Silverstone

Directed By:                 Joel Schumacher (St. Elmo’s Fire, Falling Down, The Client)

 

One may make an assumption that Batman & Robin is included in this competition for the same reason films like Showgirls & Very Bad Things have been thrown a bone…because they are so dreadful that their sheer awfulness prompted a level of negative buzz that warrants discussion (kind of like how Cabbage Patch Dolls were considered so ugly they’re cute). That is partially true. However, as a huge fan of all things Batman I must also opine that it’s not really as bad of a movie as many seem to think. In 1995 Joel Schumacher took the reins of the franchise after Tim Burton was asked to step back from the director’s chair because the studio wasn’t happy with the box office for Batman Returns in 1992. Schumacher had already done St. Elmo’s Fire, The Lost Boys, & the John Grisham adaptation The Client, so there was reason to believe that he wasn’t a decent choice, and 1995’s Batman Forever did little to dissuade that notion. But then, after Val Kilmer decided not to reprise his one stint as The Caped Crusader for various reasons, George Clooney got the job. Clooney was still doing the TV show ER but had begun his movie career as well. Schumacher wanted to pay homage to the kitschy 1960’s Batman television show, so he decided the tone of his films would be more colorful & humorous than its predecessors, and though no one seemed to have much of an issue with the more cartoonish vibe of Batman Forever, it seems to be a point of contention when it comes to Batman & Robin. On paper the cast is top notch…Clooney, Schwarzenegger, Thurman, Silverstone…but critically it bombed & commercially didn’t fare as well as the previous films in the series. I remember seeing it in the theater with my best buddy Greg and thinking that it was aurally & visually obnoxious…an assault on the senses. However, when watching Batman & Robin on video…in the comfort of one’s own home where you can control the volume & the lighting…it’s much more palatable. In hindsight the movie suffered from comparisons with its forerunners, and as the fourth film in a series with two directors and three leading men there was a lack of stability that fans found unsettling. In a game of “One of These Things Isn’t Like the Others” it sticks out like a sore thumb…but on its own merits it is harmless cinematic fluff that is acceptably entertaining. Swingers was written by Jon Favreau, and was the first starring role for both he & Vaughn. The plot isn’t necessarily as important as the vibe, with the story revolving around a group of underemployed actors in 1990’s Los Angeles, a period when 60’s era swing music was experiencing a revival. The soundtrack is top notch, with tunes from the likes of Dean Martin, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Bobby Darin, & Sammy Davis Jr. There is a portion of the film that takes place in Las Vegas, and y’all know that tickles my fancy. Swingers isn’t a thought-provoking masterpiece that will cause one to ponder deep & philosophical questions of life, but it oozes cool and is quite quotable. Critic Roger Ebert called it “sweet, funny, observant, & goofy”, and I concur.

 

The Verdict:       Swingers. Batman & Robin has a 10% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was the 12th highest grossing film of 1997, although it must be noted that it is the least successful of any Batman film ever produced. When compared to 1989’s Batman ($250 million), 1992’s Batman Returns ($163 million), and 1995’s Batman Forever ($184 million), Batman & Robin’s $107 million is the very definition of The Law of Diminishing Returns. The franchise probably should have been given a rest after Forever, especially when faced with casting & creative changes. The viewing public obviously had Gotham City fatigue, and the absolute mauling given to the film by critics certainly didn’t help. Swingers has an 87% Rotten Tomatoes score, and ranked 155th at the box office in 1996. However, given the fact that it made $4.5 million on a $200k budget and its cast was a bunch of unknowns at the time the financial situation is relative. The film has become a cult favorite and its cast all went on to varying degrees of fame & success. It is a simple case of expectations vs. reality. Hollywood continues to make the mistake of giving huge budgets to movies with mega stars, dazzling effects, & over-the-top plots, when oftentimes it is a small budget, obscure but talented performers, & a well-written story that stands the test of time.

 

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Father of the Bride Part II

Release:                       12/8/95

Starring:                        Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, Martin Short, Kimberly Williams

Directed By:                 Charles Shyer (Baby Boom,          I Love Trouble)

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What About Bob?

Release:                       5/17/91

Starring:                        Bill Murray, Richard Dreyfuss

Directed By:                 Frank Oz (The Muppets Take Manhattan, Little Shop of Horrors, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels)

 

FotB 2 is a remake of a sequel from 1951 called Father’s Little Dividend starring Spencer Tracy & Elizabeth Taylor, and a sequel to 1991’s Father of the Bride. Martin returns as the titular father who must deal with the concurrent pregnancies of his daughter and middle-aged wife. Martin Short is given a bigger role in the sequel after an amusing turn as an eccentric wedding planner in the first film. FotB 2 ranked 17th at the box office in 1995, ahead of some well-regarded movies like Braveheart, Clueless, Casino, Dead Man Walking, The Usual Suspects, & Leaving Las Vegas. It holds a 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critic Roger Ebert opining “movies like this butter us up so well that we’d feel like a grouch criticizing them”, adding that the movie is “warm & fuzzy, and has some good laughs & a lot of sweetness” before concluding that “I had the unmistakable feeling, toward the end of this film, that they may be reaching the end of this particular road and that there may be new horizons to investigate”. Other critics said things like “Short is trotted back out for more of his mincing shtick…a pretty feeble way to keep his character in the story”, “starts off weak but finishes strong…wacky & weepy, silly & sweet”, and “the strengths of these films are not so much laughs as sincerity & heart”. What About Bob? is a dark comedy about a psychiatric patient who stalks his therapist on vacation and befriends the doctor’s family, which upsets the arrogant shrink to the point that he becomes unhinged & ends up in a catatonic state. Bill Murray apparently doesn’t work & play well with others in real life, and nearly two decades after the film was released Richard Dreyfuss said of Murray “Terribly unpleasant experience. We didn’t get along, me and Bill Murray, but I’ve got to give it to him…I don’t like him, but he makes me laugh even now.”, which kind of sums up my feelings about Murray. I’m not a huge fan, but I give credit where it is due in that he is a talented actor who has been in some memorable movies. I’m just not sure that What About Bob? is one of them. It was the 19th highest grossing film of 1991 and holds an 83% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with The Washington Post  proclaiming it “one comic session strung to feature-length breaking point”, while Entertainment Weekly states that it “begins as a rambunctious satire…but turns into little more than a pleasant one-joke movie.”

 

The Verdict:       Father of the Bride Part II. Several years ago I had a co-worker who enjoyed sour candies like Skittles, Lemon Heads, & Sweet Tarts, while I am all about chocolate. I am reminded of that comparison now because some folks like edgy, dark, cynical entertainment, while others…like yours truly…prefer what I call “comfort food cinema” that leans heavily toward sentiment, a few good laughs, a pleasant cast, & a low-key vibe. I suppose it also comes down to whether or not you’re a fan of Murray, Dreyfuss, Martin, or Short. I gravitate toward the latter duo.

 

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Lethal Weapon 3

Release:                       5/15/92

Starring:                        Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joes Pesci, Rene Russo

Directed By:                 Richard Donner (Superman, The Goonies, Scrooged)

vs.

Airheads

Release:                       8/5/94

Starring:                        Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, Adam Sandler, Joe Mantegna

Directed By:                 Michael Lehmann (Heathers, Hudson Hawk)

 

The only issue I have with the Lethal Weapon series is that it is easy to get the plots confused. They all star Mel Gibson & Danny Glover as a pair of mismatched cops fighting nefarious criminals, with the latter two films adding Rene Russo as a love interest for Gibson and 2, 3, & 4 having Joe Pesci as an annoying reformed criminal. In the third installment Riggs & Murtaugh track down a dirty cop who has become an arms dealer. A subplot involves the budding romance between Riggs and internal affairs officer Lorna Cole. LW3 was the fourth highest grossing film of 1992 and had the best box office of any film in the series. It has a 57% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with Ebert opining that “we miss the sense of invention that brightened the earlier movies…this one falls back on experience & craftsmanship”, and Peter Travers of Rolling Stone calling the film “mediocrity wielded by experts”. Those are fair assessments in that we don’t necessarily keep going back to series like Lethal Weapon for innovative storytelling or fresh ideas…we have developed a deep fondness for familiar characters and the actors who portray them. Airheads is an example of the earlier work of guys like Sandler, Buscemi, Fraser, & Mantegna. It is a mildly entertaining tale about an unsuccessful garage band who takes an L.A. radio station hostage in an effort to get their demo tape played. It has a 21% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and ranked 138th at the box office in 1994, which was atleast better than something called Spanking the Monkey.

 

The Verdict:       Lethal Weapon 3. I’m not usually a buddy/cop movie kinda guy, but I adore the Lethal Weapon series. Airheads is a fun little movie, but there’s really no competition here.

 

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Man on the Moon

Release:                       12/22/99

Starring:                        Jim Carrey, Danny DeVito, Courtney Love, Paul Giamatti

Directed By:                 Milos Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus)

vs.

 

In the Line of Fire

Release:                       7/9/93

Starring:                        Clint Eastwood, John Malkovich, Rene Russo

Directed By:                 Wolfgang Petersen (The NeverEnding Story, The Perfect Storm)

 

I love a good biopic. Let’s face it…if a movie is being made about a person’s life story it is a fair assumption that the person & their life was noteworthy and/or interesting. Whether the movie tickles one’s fancy largely depends on the level of curiosity about the subject, and I am old enough to have some degree of fascination with Andy Kaufmann. I am not a big Jim Carrey fan, but do recognize that he has a fair amount of talent when given the right material. Man on the Moon derives its title from a 1992 song by alt-rock band REM that was written as a tribute to Kaufman. The movie follows Kaufman’s rise from struggling night club act to infamous sitcom star thru his death from cancer at age 35. There are some questionable decisions made (like the cast of the sitcom Taxi portraying their 1970’s selves fifteen years later) that negatively impact one’s overall impression of the film, but praise for Carrey’s performance as Kaufman is nearly universal, to the point that he won the Golden Globe for Best Actor. In the Line of Fire is a criminally underappreciated movie about a guilt ridden Secret Service agent whose failure to save JFK’s life has messed with him for three decades. The agent gets another chance when a deranged former CIA assassin threatens the current President. The conclusion is somewhat predictable, but the ride getting there is lots of fun. I’ve never been a bigtime Eastwood fan simply because he typically stars in westerns & cop films that aren’t really in my wheelhouse, but for some reason I find this particular movie compelling.

 

The Verdict:       In the Line of Fire. Rotten Tomatoes scores Man on the Moon at 63% and it was the 58th highest grossing film of 1999, which seems far too low for an Andy Kaufman biopic starring one of the biggest movie stars in the world at the time. Movies like Stuart Little, the god awful Wild Wild West with Will Smith, & Deuce Bigelow: Male Jiggolo did better at the box office. In the Line of Fire was the 7th highest grossing film of 1993 and has a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I can’t help but wonder if Man on the Moon was a huge missed opportunity that might have fared better with a better script and a different director.

 

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Grumpier Old Men

Release:                       12/22/95

Starring:                        Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Sophia Loren, Burgess Meredith, Daryl Hannah, Kevin Pollak, Ann Margret

Directed By:                 Howard Deutch (Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful)

vs.

Fools Rush In

Release:                       2/14/97

Starring:                        Matthew Perry, Salma Hayek

Directed By:                 Andy Tennant (Sweet Home Alabama, Hitch)

 

I think we’ve established the fact that I have a type. If I am in vegg mode and doing some couch potatoing on a lazy afternoon I gravitate toward breezy comedies with pleasant characters and a charming plot. That’s my jam and I’m not sorry. Grumpier Old Men is a follow-up to the 1993 original and finds our two favorite cantankerous geezers resuming hostilities in the frozen tundra of Wabasha, MN. Things have calmed down between John Gustafson & Max Goldman, with John now happily married to Ariel (who moved into the neighborhood in the first film) and the two men’s offspring…Gustafson’s daughter Melanie and Goldman’s son Jacob…set to get married. But an alluring Italian divorcee moves into the neighborhood and all hell hilariously breaks loose once again. The cast is terrific, proof that not everyone has to be a gorgeous 20something for a movie to be good. Old-timer Burgess Meredith is the unsung hero once again, stealing the show at 87 years of age. It was the 20th highest grossing film of 1995 but only has a 17% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. By 1997 hit TV show Friends was only in its fourth season (not even halfway thru its decade long run) but the cast was already beginning feature film careers. Matthew Perry’s first leading man role was Fools Rush In, about a NY City architect who has a one night stand in Vegas while he is there supervising the construction of a night club. The vivacious young lady shows up at his door a few months later with a bun in the oven, and simply wants to introduce him to her close-knit & very traditional Mexican family so that when she breaks the news about her pregnancy she’ll be able to tell them they’ve met the baby’s father. The city boy is enchanted by the beautiful woman and her family ties, and in short order the two have a quickie wedding and move in together. Of course the culture clash is inevitable, especially when his snooty parents show up, and as tends to happen in rom-coms the couple fight, break up, & eventually reunite just in time to welcome their child into the world. It’s all very sweet & predictable, but I’m okay with that. Fools Rush In was the 70th highest grossing film of 1997 and has a 33% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

 

The Verdict:       Grumpier Old Men. This is a tough choice because I really like both movies, even though critics didn’t. Our old pal Ebert called Grumpier Old Men “a big-screen sitcom”, opining that “I would love to see this material transplanted to the TV screen where it belongs”. I am intrigued by that insightful comment, because of course two+ decades later isn’t that what eventually happens to a lot of movies anyway?? Think about it. We go to the local cineplex to watch loud, visually stimulating, effects laden action flicks that provide us with a momentary jolt of adrenaline…but decades later when we’re chillin’ out & flipping thru the channels what kinds of movies stand the test of time and provide a measure of jovial comfort on dreary & tedious days when we need that sort of cozy contentment?? Oftentimes it is exactly the kind of “big screen sitcom” that Ebert describes that has been “transplanted to the TV screen where it belongs” just as he suggested. He was a man ahead of his time. Of Fools Rush In Ebert said “it is a sweet, entertaining retread of an ancient formula, in which opposites attract despite all the forces arrayed to push them apart”, and “Yes, the movie is a cornball romance. Yes, it manufactures a lot of standard plot twists. But there is also a level of observation and human comedy”. It feels wrong that either film has to be eliminated at this point, but Grumpier Old Men has the edge in repeat viewings & legendary movie stars.

 

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Galaxy Quest

Release:                       12/25/99

Starring:                        Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman

Directed By:                 Dean Parisot (Home Fries, Red 2)

vs.

The Bodyguard

Release:                       11/25/92

Starring:                        Whitney Houston, Kevin Costner

Directed By:                 Mick Jackson (L.A. Story, Volcano)

 

Galaxy Quest works on multiple levels. It’s a comedy. It’s a sci-fi adventure. And it is a spoof. Allen, Weaver, Rickman, et al portray the cast of a Star Trek-esque TV show that was cancelled long ago but still has a community of hardcore fans that hold conventions & such, many of which the actors attend because they’ve been typecast and aren’t able to make any kind of money otherwise. The “captain” still basks in the glow of his small slice of fame, but the rest of the crew is really just over the whole deal. But then a strange thing happens…they find themselves caught up in an actual outer space adventure when a well-meaning group of aliens mistakenly believes the TV show to be real life and thinks the crew can save their species…or something like that. I suspect that Trekkies & other sci-fi nerds are the only audience that can truly appreciate everything Galaxy Quest has to offer, but perhaps those who just enjoy good popcorn cinema are entertained by it as well. The Bodyguard was a big deal back in 1992 because Whitney Houston was at the top of the music charts and was transitioning into acting with her first film role. Houston portrays a famous singer (not much of a stretch) who gains a former Secret Service agent as a bodyguard after being nominated for an Academy Award and being sent death threats by a mysterious stalker. Unsurprisingly the singer & the bodyguard fall for each other, and naturally the audience loves it because of the undeniable charm and chemistry of Houston & Costner. The Bodyguard has a little something for everyone…mystery, suspense, action, romance, drama…and gave us what…to my knowledge…is still the best-selling movie soundtrack of all time.

 

The Verdict:       Galaxy Quest. This one is tricky. Ideally I’d put it up for a vote from The Manoverse, but that doesn’t seem to work for me so I’ll make the tough choice. The Bodyguard was the 7th highest grossing film of 1992, behind the likes of Aladdin, Home Alone 2, & A Few Good Men but ahead of competition such as Wayne’s World, Unforgiven, & White Men Can’t Jump. It has a 35% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with our old pal Roger Ebert opining “the basic situation is intriguing enough to sustain a film all by itself”, but adding that he “felt a little cheated by the outcome”. Other critics were less generous. TV Guide called it “a dreary, turgid melodrama”, while Entertainment Weekly said “it is an outrageous piece of saccharine kitsch…or, atleast it might have been had the movie seemed fully awake.” Ouch. Galaxy Quest was the 30th highest grossing film of 1999, beating out notables like The Thomas Crown Affair, Eyes Wide Shut, Varsity Blues, & Fight Club. Rotten Tomatoes scores it at an impressive 90%, with the Associated Press calling it “alot of wacky fun” and Entertainment Weekly saying it is “a fast, loose, & very funny parody that pulls off the not-so-simple feat of tweaking Trekkies and honoring them, ribbing long-in-the-tooth actors and applauding them, bringing together Star Trek savants and those who couldn’t give a squat about dilithium crystals, and saying ‘See, there’s room on the final frontier for everyone.’” So what this boils down to is one movie that made a bunch of money but generally isn’t viewed as being very good versus a movie that didn’t make as much money but is well-regarded as being good at what it is supposed to be. All too often Hollywood seems to believe that they can take any old schlock and sell it to the masses as long as a big star or two or three is attached. And sadly much of the time they are right. I feel like The Bodyguard was successful because Whitney Houston was such an awesome singer and everybody likes Kevin Costner. That soundtrack that made a ton of money is mostly songs by Houston and probably would have been about as successful if it were just another one of her albums with no film attached, so I don’t think it should factor into the equation. As always I ask myself what I would watch if I were flipping thru the channels, and since I probably haven’t watched The Bodyguard since I saw it at the theater the answer is pretty clear.

 

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Speed

Release:                       6/10/94

Starring:                        Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper

Directed By:                 Jan de Bont (Twister)

vs.

Dazed & Confused

Release:                       9/24/93

Starring:                        Jason London, Rory Cochrane, Ben Affleck, Adam Goldberg, Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich, Joey Lauren Adams, Parker Posey

Directed By:                 Richard Linklater (School of Rock, Fast Food Nation)

 

Keanu Reeves first came into our pop culture consciousness in the late 1980’s as Valley Boy slacker Theodore Logan in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. But since one can’t portray dimwitted high schoolers forever he moved on to more serious roles in Point Break and My Own Private Idaho. And then came Speed. The thriller about a bus rigged with a bomb programmed to explode if it slows down below 50 mph thrust Reeves into superstardom and also introduced the world to Sandra Bullock. It was the 8th highest grossing film of 1994 and has an exceptional 94% Rotten Tomatoes score. Dazed & Confused is a Hindsight Film, meaning that it has remained relevant in large part based on what several of its young stars went on to become…especially McConaughey & Affleck. The movie itself is a slice of life look at the last day of school for a bunch of high schoolers in Austin, TX. It is set in 1976 so there is a lot of pot smoking, cruising, & hazing of younger students…things that wouldn’t fly in our modern PC purgatory, and had even diminished by the late 80’s when I was in high school. Dazed & Confused isn’t as much about a particular plot as it is about capturing a mood and painting a picture of an era, which it does really well. The cast is…obviously…stellar, and the soundtrack (featuring songs by Foghat, ZZ Top, Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Deep Purple, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kiss, & Black Sabbath) is terrific. It was only the 121st highest grossing film of 1993 but has become a cult classic in the ensuing years. It has a 93% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with Ebert referring to it as “art crossed with anthropology” and Rolling Stone calling it “the ultimate party movie…loud, crude, socially irresponsible, & totally irresistible”.

 

The Verdict:       Speed. I am hesitant to reward a film based largely on the fact that its casting director did a superb job of finding young unknowns who eventually became famous. Matthew McConaughey’s next project would be starring in A Time to Kill two years later and EdTV (a film ahead of its time) in 1999. Ben Affleck did a few decent films after Dazed & Confused, but in 1997 cemented his status by winning the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay after writing Good Will Hunting with his pal Matt Damon. Dazed & Confused is a fun flick that does an excellent job of creating a snapshot of not just a moment in time but a time in life that just about everyone fondly remembers even if the details vary. Having said that, I cannot overlook the cultural impact of Speed. It was a surprise phenomenon that dominated the summer box office in 1994. Bullock had previously been in a couple of decent films (Love Potion No. 9 and Demolition Man), but Speed made her a star and she’s still making movies two decades later.

 

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The Addams Family

Release:                       11/22/91

Starring:                        Anjelica Huston, Raúl Juliá, Christopher Lloyd, Christina Ricci

Directed By:                 Barry Sonnenfeld (Get Shorty, Men in Black, Wild Wild West)

vs.

 

Saving Private Ryan

Release:                       7/24/98

Starring:                        Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Ed Burns, Tom Sizemore, Adam Goldberg, Vin Diesel, Ted Danson, Paul Giamatti, Bryan Cranston

Directed By:                 Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T the Extra-Terrestrial, Hook, Jurassic Park, Catch Me If You Can)

 

The Addams Family made their debut in a series of cartoons published in The New Yorker beginning in 1938. In the 1960’s the kooky clan came to television for two seasons, and although the show was cancelled due to poor ratings it lived on in syndication, to the point that I was watching it as a kid growing up in the 80’s. The Addams Family finally came to the big screen in 1991 in a tale that finds a greedy lawyer & a con artist scheming to get ahold of the Addams fortune that is hidden deep in the bowels of their creepy mansion. The con artist’s son just happens to look like Gomez Addams’ brother Uncle Fester who has been MIA for 25 years, so there’s your plot. Hijinks ensue and of course the evil plan goes off the rails, all in the midst of the oddball family’s usual weirdness. The cast is superb, the movie is entertaining enough, and critics didn’t completely hate it. The Addams Family was the 7th high grossing film of 1991 and its Rotten Tomatoes score of 63% is fairly solid. The New York Times said that its “aimlessness & repetitiveness eventually become draining”, Variety opined that “despite inspired casting and nifty visual trappings the eagerly awaited Addams Family figures as a major disappointment”, and Ebert observed that “there are a lot of little smiles and many chuckles & grins, but they don’t add up to much”. Conversely, the Austin Chronicle gushed that “it’s hard to imagine a better screen adaptation of this queer household….Charles Addams would have been proud”, while the BBC complimented the cast, saying that it “elevates this film from flimsy to sheer delight”. Saving Private Ryan is a totally different kind of movie from its competition. It is a gritty & unflinching look at D-Day and its aftermath when a team of U.S. Army rangers are given the task of finding & rescuing Private James Ryan, whose three brothers have all been killed in the war making him the only son remaining. The mission isn’t easy and there is violence & death along the way. This is not a romantic, sanitized, family friendly war movie, though I don’t feel like it is gratuitous either…it’s just very very candid. I won’t spoil the ending, but it is poignant & impactful. Saving Private Ryan was the highest grossing film of 1998, has an amazing Rotten Tomatoes score of 92%, & was nominated for 11 Academy Awards. It won five of those Oscars, including Spielberg’s second Best Director award. It was nominated for Best Picture but lost to Shakespeare in Love, which in retrospect might be the biggest travesty in award show history.

 

The Verdict:       Saving Private Ryan. I’ve got to be honest…I only watched Saving Private Ryan once twenty years ago and don’t have the desire to ever watch it again. That’s not because it’s a bad move (obviously), it’s just that on a lazy day of couch potatoing violent war films aren’t my thing. Having said that, I cannot in good conscience overlook it, not simply because of its pedigree but out of respect for the historical events that inspired the story. It goes without saying that Spielberg is terrific, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better or deeper cast in the entirety of cinema. It is a story that needed to be told, and thankfully it was told really well. The Addams Family is an innocuous & engaging comedy that actually got a sequel a few years later, though I must admit that I’ve never seen it. I am intrigued by an animated Addams movie set to be released in 2019, but all in all I am inclined to stick with reruns of the old TV show.

90’s Film Frenzy: Phat Round 1

Greetings friends, and welcome to Round 1 of 90’s Film Frenzy. If you haven’t read the intro please do so, and then we can begin with the Phat Division.

 

As with 80’s Movie Mania and Merry Movie Mayhem there are a few factors that are taken into consideration as we advance thru this process. It goes without saying that I have to have watched the movie because I can’t evaluate something I haven’t seen, right?? And generally I have to have liked it, although as opposed to its predecessors this competition has a few entries that have been included for other reasons despite my personal opinion. I’m generous like that. In addition to these obvious elements there are a few additional things I ponder:

 

*Re-Watchability        

Is it on television a lot?? If it is on TV do I stop & watch?? There are some movies that are shown on television frequently many years after debuting on the big screen. Sometimes I’ll flip right on thru to the next channel. Other times I will watch an old movie with mild interest because there really aren’t many options. But every once in awhile I’ll run across a movie that, despite the fact that I’ve seen it countless times, I will always stop whatever I’m doing and be delighted to watch it again.

 

*Relevance           

Does the story hold up well?? Or do modern societal norms & changes in technology make it feel dated?? Unlike a Christmas film or an 80’s movie I’m not sure there as many tangible features that distinguish a 90’s flick, and insomuch as something might be “quintessential 90’s” there is a strong possibility that I may not particularly like it. 1990’s music was largely defined by rap, grunge, & hip-hop. Television & movies in the 1990’s became edgy & pessimistic. Technology exploded in the 90’s, which is a double-edged sword at best. 1990’s fashion wasn’t particularly noteworthy or cool. Having said all of that, it is still possible for a 90’s film to feel…passé.

 

*Quotability         

We all love quotable movies, right?? It adds to the cool factor and long term durability of a film, and for me it indicates that it is well-written & charming story that’ll give me the warm fuzzies that I dig in a moviegoing experience.

 

*Cultural Impact 

Is it one of those movies that everyone of a certain age has seen?? Is it familiar to multiple generations?? Do people still occasionally talk about it & watch it even many years after its release??

 

*Pleasure            

Do I enjoy watching the movie?? We’ve all read books or watched shows/movies just because we felt compelled to…because we wanted to be cool or seem educated. But what do you enjoy when no one else is around??

 

*Pedigree 

My tastes are not defined by anyone else. I like what I like whether anyone agrees with me or not. However, I do give credence to things like awards, box office numbers, & the general opinions of critics. My opinion may not be persuaded by those things, but I’m not opposed to taking them into consideration.

 

Now you know a little bit about my process, and so we shall begin with the first eight head-to-head matchups. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

Batman Returns

Release:             6/19/92

Starring:              Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer

Directed By:        Tim Burton (Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands)

 

vs.

 

Showgirls

Release:             9/22/95

Starring:              Elizabeth Berkley, Kyle MacLachlan, Gina Gershon

Directed By:        Paul Verhoeven (RoboCop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct)

 

Tim Burton & Michael Keaton followed up the very successful Batman (the top grossing movie of 1989) with a tale in which both The Penguin and Catwoman arrive in Gotham City to challenge The Caped Crusader. The follow-up wasn’t quite as successful as the original, but still did more than respectable numbers. At the time it was condemned by some for being a bit too dark & violent (criticism which seems rather quaint two decades later) and suffered from comparisons with its predecessor, but thru the prism of time appreciation for the film has grown and many would opine that it is the best among that particular set of four Batman movies. Conversely, Showgirls has never received much love from critics or the moviegoing public…for good reason. The buzz at the time was all about actress Elizabeth Berkley, who was determined to not be typecast as a squeaky clean good girl like the one she portrayed on frivolous Saturday morning sitcom Saved by the Bell. Mission accomplished I suppose. Berkley stars as a gal from the wrong side of the tracks who longs to rise from low class stripper to Vegas showgirl, although the way the story is presented there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference. There’s a lot of nudity & sex but not much of a plot, and the acting is atrocious. Rather than elevating Berkley from lightly regarded television star to respected film actress Showgirls essentially destroyed her career.

 

The Verdict:       Batman Returns. Widely regarded as a trainwreck, Showgirls is the kind of movie that a person might watch once just to see what all the chatter is about, and especially in the mid-90’s young men of a certain age were curious to see Jessie Spanos’ naughty bits. However, it certainly isn’t a popcorn flick that is shown on TV often or is in any way worthy of repeat viewings. In retrospect criticizing Batman Returns for its noir tone seems silly now since a decade later Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy was celebrated for essentially the same kind of gritty vibe. Michelle Pfeiffer was the best Catwoman since Julie Newmar & Eartha Kitt, and Danny DeVito’s Penguin is just fine.

 

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The Mask

Release:             7/29/94

Starring:              Jim Carrey, Cameron Diaz

Directed By:        Charles Russell (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, The Scorpion King)

 

vs.

 

PCU

Release:             4/29/94

Starring:              Jeremy Piven, David Spade, Jon Favreau

 Directed By:       Hart Bochner (High School High)

 

Jim Carrey followed up the wildly successful Ace Ventura: Pet Detective just six months later with a comic book film adaptation in which he stars as a milquetoast bank clerk whose personality is transformed by a green mask. Stanley Ipkiss is the kind of quiet, shy pushover that everyone takes advantage of & no one respects. He becomes smitten with a gangster’s gal pal but is too introverted to do anything about it…until he finds a magical wooden mask that turns him into a suit wearing, shape shifting, supremely confident, green-faced trickster. Not only does he get the girl, but he foils the gangster’s bank robbery in the process. This was the film debut of Cameron Diaz, and one of three movies that Carrey had in the Top 20 of 1994…quite a year for him. On the flip side is PCU, a fun little jab at political correctness in which a college freshman encounters just about every sort of stereotypical fringe group one might imagine exists on campus. There’s the uptight preppy fraternity…the laid back party animal fraternity…extreme feminists…potheads…militant black students…and of course the overly sensitive school administration that fosters mistrust amongst the various groups by promoting inclusion & multiculturalism. PCU isn’t a good movie, but it was way ahead of its time and actually foreshadowed some of the issues we confront in the 21st century. Plus it has a really eclectic cast featuring some of the earlier & less appreciated work of a few folks that have gone on to bigger & better things.

 

The Verdict:       The Mask. To be honest, if I was flipping thru the channels and both were on at the same time I would probably watch PCU. I hate political correctness and love how PCU satirizes the entire concept. I enjoy just about anything with Jeremy Piven, and the rest of the cast is pretty good as well. Having said that, PCU was the 144th highest grossing film of 1994 & has a 47% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Heck, Mixed Nuts (one of the worst Christmas films of all time) and Cops & Robbersons (easily a lowlight on Chevy Chase’s filmography) both made more at the box office than PCU!! Conversely, The Mask is the perfect showcase for Carrey’s unique talent, and it solidified his stardom. It was the 9th highest grossing film of 1994…ahead of both Pulp Fiction and Interview with the Vampire.

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Clueless

Release:             7/19/95

Starring:              Alicia Silverstone, Paul Rudd, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy

Directed By:        Amy Heckerling (         Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Look Who’s Talking, National Lampoon’s European Vacation)

 

vs.

 

Empire Records

Release:             9/22/95

Starring:                         Anthony LaPaglia, Rory Cochrane, Johnny Whitworth, Robin Tunney, Renée Zellweger, Liv Tyler, Ethan Embry

Directed By:        Allan Moyle (Pump Up the Volume)

 

This is the film equivalent of a matchup featuring the Minnesota Twins vs. the Colorado Rockies…not scraping the bottom of the barrel by any stretch, but certainly not worth any sort of hype or enthusiasm. Alicia Silverstone gained pop culture viability after appearing in an early 90’s music video for Aerosmith alongside Liv Tyler, but it is Clueless that made her famous. She stars as Cher, a spoiled Beverly Hills high school student who checks all of the rich Daddy’s girl boxes…except that she’s not a completely shallow airhead. Cher decides to help out a nerdy gal at school, and succeeds in making her new friend cool & popular. In the process she reflects on her own life and confronts her shortcomings, becoming a better person and falling for her ex stepbrother in the process (which no one seemed to find the least bit creepy twenty years ago). Clueless wasn’t a huge box office hit, but it holds an 81% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, made Silverstone a movie star for a few years (although her fame was fleeting), and is a true snapshot of an era. Empire Records is what I like to call a Hindsight Film, meaning that its cast is full of then unknowns who would go on to bigger & better things. The movie itself is a forgettable slice of life look at one day at a small record store and its teenage employees. It ranked a putrid 236th at the box office in 1995, and only became a cult favorite after Renee Zellweger & others became more famous several years later.

 

The Verdict:       Clueless. Again, given the opportunity to watch either/or on a random rainy afternoon of couch potatoing I would personally lean toward Empire Records, but the cultural impact of Clueless cannot be denied. In retrospect I am surprised that Silverstone’s career stalled so suddenly, to the point that the last role she had in anything that drew an audience was a cameo in Tropic Thunder a decade ago.

 

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Patch Adams

Release:             12/25/98

Starring:              Robin Williams, Monica Potter, Philip Seymour Hoffman

Directed By:        Tom Shadyac (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Nutty Professor, Liar Liar)

 

vs.

 

Black Sheep

Release:             2/2/96

Starring:              Chris Farley, David Spade, Tim Matheson

Directed By:        Penelope Spheeris (Wayne’s World, The Beverly Hillbillies)

 

Patch Adams is based on the true story of a doctor who practices his unique brand of medicine right here in my home state of West Virginia. It is my understanding that Hollywood used broad creative license in telling the story, but I’m okay with that. Robin Williams was brilliant & is deeply missed by fans around the world, and Patch Adams is probably one of his more underappreciated roles. Critic Gene Siskel named it his worst film of 1998 and it holds a lowly 25% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The real Patch Adams isn’t a big fan either, once saying that “it sacrificed much of his message to make a selling film” and “out of all aspects of his life and activism, the film portrayed him merely as a funny doctor”. However, after Williams’ death Dr. Adams called him “a wonderful, kind and generous man” and said “I’m enormously grateful for his wonderful performance of my early life”. Black Sheep was the second pairing of SNL alums Chris Farley & David Spade and tells the story of a well-intentioned yet blundering manchild whose attempts to help his brother’s gubernatorial campaign go hilariously awry, even with one of the candidate’s employees babysitting him. There is a certain segment of the population who may have been teens or twentysomethings in the early 90’s and were big fans of that particularly amusing era of Saturday Night Live. That is the target audience for Black Sheep, but otherwise critics hated it and the box office wasn’t impressive (it was the 50th highest grossing film of 1996).

 

The Verdict:       Patch Adams. Neither is a great movie, but both are acceptably entertaining when one is in vegg mode. Admittedly there is part of this decision that is purely sentimental in memory of Robin Williams. But also, of the two Farley/Spade collaborations Black Sheep is the lesser film, so that also makes the choice easier.

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Pulp Fiction

Release:                       10/14/94

Starring:                        John Travolta, Samuel l. Jackson, Uma Thurman

Harvey Keitel, Ving Rhames, Eric Stoltz, Rosanna Arquette, Christopher Walken, Bruce Willis

Directed By:                 Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown)

vs.

 

Only the Lonely

Release:                       5/24/91

Starring:                        John Candy, Maureen O’Hara, Ally Sheedy

Directed By:                 Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)

 

I have to admit that I only recall watching Pulp Fiction once, and it didn’t appeal to me at all. Tarantino’s style just doesn’t frost my cupcake. The plot is convoluted, with intersecting stories about mob hitmen, a boxer, & a gangster’s wife that don’t necessarily make any kind of sense. The cast is top notch and the movie was the tenth highest grossing film of 1994. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Travolta), Best Director (Tarantino), Best Supporting Actress (Thurman), & Best Supporting Actor (Jackson), although the only Oscar it won was Best Original Screenplay. Only the Lonely is an unassuming little romantic dramedy about a middle-aged policeman who still lives with his domineering Irish mother and the uproar caused when the cop becomes involved with a timid funeral parlor beautician. It is the final performance of legendary actress Maureen O’Hara…best remembered for her role as a cynical mother in the 1947 Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street…and holds a 62% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

 

The Verdict:       Only the Lonely. NCAA’s March Madness always has a few big upsets, so just think of this as the cinematic equivalent of Cleveland St. over Indiana. While I try to give credence to a film’s pedigree & star power there are simply some situations where it doesn’t matter, and I’ve just never understood the love for Pulp Fiction. Film critic Gene Siskel stated that “the violent intensity of Pulp Fiction calls to mind other violent watershed films that were considered classics in their time and still are”, comparing it to Psycho, Bonnie & Clyde, and A Clockwork Orange in that they all “shook up a tired, bloated movie industry and used a world of lively lowlifes to reflect how dull other movies had become”. I suppose that is where the disconnect lies for me. I’m not looking for anything to shake me up. If a movie is well-written & performed I don’t really care how formulaic it may be, and oftentimes prefer satisfying & familiar comfort food to anything trying to challenge the status quo.

 

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Basic Instinct

Release:                       3/20/92

Starring:                        Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone

Directed By:                 Paul Verhoeven (RoboCop, Total Recall, Showgirls)

vs.

 

Big Daddy

Release:                       6/25/99

Starring:                        Adam Sandler, Joey Lauren Adams, Jon Stewart, Lesley Mann

Directed By:                 Dennis Dugan (Problem Child, Happy Gilmore, Saving Silverman, Grown Ups)

 

Sharon Stone burst onto the pop culture radar with one memorable flash. Basic Instinct tells the story of a cocaine sniffing homicide detective investigating the murder of a rock star in which the prime suspect is a provocative & sexy crime novelist. Of course the two become involved in a sizzling yet totally inappropriate affair, and at the end of the day the audience is led to believe that the enigmatic writer really is the killer. Big Daddy is the last gasp of Adam Sandler’s career zenith, during which he starred in a handful of sophomoric yet appealing comedies like Happy Gilmore and The Waterboy. A few of his 90’s films are part of this competition. Big Daddy sees Sandler portray the kind of infantile slacker that seems to be his wheelhouse, and that slacker…thru a series of inexplicable events that do not reflect how the world actually works in any way…becomes the foster father of an abandoned child. Of course he proves to be a loveable yet dreadfully poor role model for the boy, but everything works out okay in the end. Reviews for the film aren’t as horrible as one might assume, but obviously it’s not the kind of story that critics are going to enthusiastically endorse.

 

The Verdict:       Big Daddy. Both films are viewed as mediocre by most everyone. Big Daddy was the 7th highest grossing film of 1999, while Basic Instinct was the 9th highest grossing film of 1992…so there’s really no discernible difference in that regard. This comes down to two things. Repeat viewings are a key factor for me, and I probably haven’t watched Basic Instinct in twenty years. Conversely, Big Daddy is precisely the kind of mindless fun that pops up on television with some frequency and is always pleasurable to watch in vegg mode. It’s not Sandler’s best, but it is far from his worst. Secondly, while Sharon Stone skyrocketed to stardom she quickly faded away and hasn’t been in anything notable this century. The quality of Sandler’s work has diminished considerably and he’s been in some truly awful movies in the past decade (That’s My Boy might be the worst film ever made), but he still occasionally cranks out mildly entertaining fare like Grown-Ups, Blended, or the Hotel Transylvania movies.

 

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The Firm

Release:                       6/30/93

Starring:                        Tom Cruise, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Gene Hackman, Ed Harris, Holly Hunter, Hal Holbrook

Directed By:                 Sydney Pollack (The Way We Were, The Electric Horseman, Out of Africa, The Fabulous Baker Boys, Presumed Innocent)

vs.

My Best Friend’s Wedding

Release:                       6/20/97

Starring:                        Julia Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, Cameron Diaz, Rupert Everett

Directed By:                 P.J. Hogan (Confessions of a Shopaholic)

 

Once upon a time I was on the Grisham bandwagon like many avid readers. As a kid I had seriously pondered a law career, and even after that thought process dissipated I enjoyed any kind of book related to the profession, especially the well-written thrillers that Mr. Grisham was penning in the early 90’s. The film adaptation is worthy of the book, with Tom Cruise starring as a young lawyer employed by a shady Memphis law firm whose biggest client is The Mafia. An all-star cast brings the story to life, although I seem to recall some controversy about the conclusion. The ending of the book has the protagonist turn over evidence to the FBI therefore breaking attorney-client privilege. Knowing his career is over & he has crossed The Mob he steals $10 million dollars from the firm and flees to The Cayman Islands. In the film he refuses to sacrifice his principles but finds a way to bring down the firm by exposing overbilling violations. The Mafia is left untouched and the attorney is able to simply take his family back to Boston to resume a normal life. Such changes usually bother me, but in this case I don’t really mind. At any rate, The Firm was well-received by critics and was the 4th highest grossing film of 1993, which is rather impressive. My Best Friend’s Wedding stars Julia Roberts as a woman who is secretly in love with her male best friend, and not happy when he announces his engagement to another woman. She plays dirty to sabotage the relationship but it backfires on her and the wedding proceeds as planned, with the “best woman” bravely admitting defeat and wishing the happy couple well. The cast is charming and the plot mildly interesting, but in a sea of dime-a-dozen rom-coms I just don’t think this one stands out from the crowd.

 

The Verdict:       The Firm. Rolling Stone movie critic Peter Travers called My Best Friend’s Wedding “the summer-date-film supreme for pretty women and the gay men they love”, while Roger Ebert said that “it subverts the usual comic formulas”. Accurate assessments, and I personally have nothing negative to say either. I just happen to love The Firm in book form and think the movie does its source material proper justice. It might be one of Cruise’s best performances.

 

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Armageddon

Release:                       7/1/98

Starring:                        Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Liv Tyler, Ben Affleck, Owen Wilson, William Fichtner, Steve Buscemi, Michael Clarke Duncan

Directed By:                 Michael Bay (Bad Boys. The Rock, Pearl Harbor, Transformers)

vs.

 

Clerks

Release:                       10/19/94

Starring:                        Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson

Directed By:                 Kevin Smith (Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jersey Girl)

 

There were two films in 1998 about asteroids destroying Earth, because Hollywood loves blowing stuff up. These two movies were released within a couple of months of each other and preferences vary among fans, although Armageddon is general considered the cooler & more fun of the two. Bruce Willis stars as a deep sea oil driller recruited by NASA to lead a mission into space to deploy nuclear weapons on the giant asteroid. He insists on having his zany crew of oil field misfits come along for the ride. Hilarity ensues, or atleast as much joviality as can be mustered about the extinction of mankind. Armageddon was the second highest grossing film of 1998, behind Saving Private Ryan and ahead of There’s Something About Mary. It has a lowly 38% Rotten Tomatoes score, with the Boston Globe calling it “big, noisy, stupid, & shameless”, the Wall Street Journal opining that it “redefines (downward) the standard for summer stupidity”, & the Washington Post observing that it “could have been written by a chimp who’s watched too much TV…it is like putting your head in a tin washbucket while weightlifters whack it with golf clubs”. You gotta love movie critics, right?? Clerks was Kevin Smith’s first film and is still probably his most well-known work. One has to respect a guy for being able to ride the wave for almost 25 years. The story is a slice-of-life day in small town America focusing on Dante, a 20-something convenience store clerk and his pal Randal, who works next door at the video store. The duo spend more time not working than working and get themselves into various scrapes throughout the day. Clerks was the 155th highest grossing film of 1994, but made over $3 million dollars on a $31k budget. We’d all love to get that kind of return on our investments. Rotten Tomatoes gives it an impressive 88% score. Ebert loved it, calling it “so utterly authentic that its heroes have never heard of their generation”. Others agree with that assessment, with the New York Times boldly proclaiming it to be “a buoyant, bleakly funny comedy” and Entertainment Weekly christening it a “slacker manifesto” and “a fast, likable 90 minutes at the movies”.

 

The Verdict:       Armageddon. Y’all know that I fancy myself as somewhat intellectual, marginally cool, & a champion of the underdog. This should be exactly the kind of matchup in which I scoff at box office numbers and proudly side with film critics who “get it”…except that when I comes to Clerks I don’t get it at all. Perhaps if I had seen it in 1994 when I too…just like the two guys in the movie…was a directionless 22 year old floundering thru a mundane existence then I would understand. But like so many others who completely missed its theatrical run I didn’t catch it until much later on home video. Is it well-written with snappy dialogue?? To some degree yes it is. But I just can’t get past the fact that it looks like a student film starring the director’s buddies instead of actual performers with legit talent. Actually, if one looks at it thru a 21st century prism Clerks is a movie that someone could make using their smartphone and then upload it to YouTube…quirky and not without its charms, but ultimately forgettable. Armageddon isn’t a great movie, but it is a solid moviegoing experience…exactly the kind of popcorn cinema that has made summer blockbusters a thing. The cast is eclectic & entertaining, and the movie gave us Aerosmith’s power ballad I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing, which was nominated for an Academy Award and is…surprisingly…the band’s only #1 song. I’m not knowledgeable enough to comment on the scientific exactitude of Armageddon, but does it really matter?? It’s a movie…escapism personified…and that works for me.

90’s Film Frenzy: An Introduction

Wassupppp?!?!?? Y’all ready to get jiggy up in here?? Booyah!!

 

There’s a meme out there that says something to the effect of “when someone mentions the 90’s you think ‘ten years ago’, even though the decade actually ended nearly 20 years ago”. I can completely relate. I graduated from high school in 1990 (damn near thirty years ago…wow), and after four of the best years of my life in college the subsequent 23 years have kind of flown by in a calamitous fog. But we’re not here to dwell on negativity. No way. In the grand tradition of 80’s Movie Mania our current mission is to reflect on cinematic masterpieces that graced your local cineplex in the years 1990 to 1999 and give mad props to one that is all that & a bag o’ chips.

 

I feel like the 1990’s as a whole took a dark & cynical turn in multiple areas of life, with movies being no exception. However, I also believe that there were outliers, and due to my well-established tastes & preferences I gravitated toward those. In compiling the list of participants for this competition I realized that, though there aren’t as many films here that we’ve all watched dozens of times flipping thru channels on a lazy day, in comparison with my favorites from the 1980’s this is an overall deeper, more eclectic, steadier field. These movies have probably aged better and don’t seem quite as amusingly nostalgic as those produced in my youth. Whereas 80’s films oftentimes have an idiosyncratic vibe, distinctive music, & unmistakable style, 90’s films don’t really fit into any sort of niche. They’re all over the map, appealing to a wide variety of entertainment palates, possibly at the cost of not being beloved by as many people.

 

As with previous projects this competition has a few rules. As always…no trilogies. This means that some pretty great movies…most notably the Toy Story films and the Austin Powers films…are excluded. Secondly…no sports films. We talked about my favorite sports movies a few years ago, which included 90’s classics like Jerry Maguire, Tin Cup, The Waterboy, & Happy Gilmore, so there’s no need to be repetitive. And since we did Merry Movie Mayhem last year it isn’t necessary to discuss Christmas films any further. Also, keep in mind that this entire idea revolves around my personal preferences, which means that there are some notable films…including Braveheart, Schindler’s List, The Sixth Sense, JFK, Fargo, Jurassic Park, Dances with Wolves, The Usual Suspects, Men in Black, and Sling Blade…that aren’t in the competition either because I’ve not seen them & have no desire to, or because I have watched them and they just don’t frost my cupcake. Having said that, I do my best to be fair and recognize accomplishments like Academy Awards and top notch box office numbers because if I didn’t particularly care for something but almost everyone else did then perhaps the problem is mine.

 

In general these movies are evenly distributed throughout the decade, and there’s a little bit of everything here…award winning drama, goofy comedy, a skosh of sci-fi & fantasy, some solid rom-coms, and a dash of action & adventure (not typically my wheelhouse). There are a whopping 100 movies in the field…25 each in four divisions (Wicked, Dope, Fly, & Phat). Nine films in each division will receive first round byes.

 

1990

GhostPresumed InnocentEdward ScissorhandsPretty WomanGoodfellasJoe Versus the Volcano

1991

Doc HollywoodBackdraft Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered CountryCity SlickersHookFather of the BrideOnly the LonelyThe Addams FamilyThe Silence of the Lambs  – What About Bob?

1992

Glengarry Glen RossWayne’s WorldScent of a WomanHoneymoon in VegasBasic InstinctBatman ReturnsAladdinThe BodyguardLethal Weapon 3 My Cousin Vinny – Mr. Saturday Night – Sister Act

1993

Striking DistanceMrs. Doubtfire –  Dazed & ConfusedHocus PocusGrumpy Old MenThe FugitiveThe FirmWhat’s Eating Gilbert Grape? – Groundhog DayIn the Line of Fire Sleepless in Seattle

1994

Four Weddings & A FuneralClerksThe Lion KingThe Shawshank RedemptionForrest GumpPCUPulp FictionThe MaskAce Ventura: Pet DetectiveSpeedDumb & DumberReality Bites – Airheads

1995

Tommy BoyBatman ForeverDie Hard: With A VengeanceBilly MadisonShowgirls CluelessApollo 13Grumpier Old MenFather of the Bride Part IIThe Birdcage – Empire Records – Mallrats

1996

That Thing You DoA Time to KillScreamTwister Black Sheep –  SwingersIndependence Day

1997

TitanicLiar LiarBoogie NightsMy Best Friend’s WeddingGood Will HuntingFools Rush InBatman & Robin – The American President

1998

Can’t Hardly WaitLethal Weapon 4The Big LebowskiThe Truman ShowDeep Impact Very Bad ThingsThe Wedding SingerArmageddonPatch AdamsYou’ve Got MailSaving Private RyanThere’s Something About Mary

1999

October SkyOffice SpaceAmerican PieGalaxy QuestMan on the MoonAmerican BeautyTen Things I Hate About YouBig DaddyThe Blair Witch Project

 

 

I have decided against doing any kind of polling because that totally blew up in my face when I tried it before. However, The Manoverse is interactive so I welcome feedback and opinions. We will begin with the Phat Division sometime in the next few days. Enjoy. Until then, don’t be buggin’. I’m outtie!!

Merry Movie Mayhem: Mistletoe (Round 1)

Welcome back to Merry Movie Mayhem!! If you have not yet perused first round action in the Candy Cane and Eggnog divisions please follow the links to check it out.

Before we proceed further it may be worth considering what exactly makes a Christmas movie a Christmas movie, because there is legitimate dispute on the issue when it comes to certain films. Since I am the king of The Manoverse I make the rules here so it boils down to three things for me:

            *the film has to be set…mostly…during the holiday season

            *Christmas carols/songs must be part of the soundtrack, even if they’re just in the background

            *Christmas imagery…tree, lights, Santa Claus…needs to be present

Those are the biggies…the dealbreakers. After that it becomes a matter of opinion, and sometimes those opinions might not make sense to anyone else. Why is Die Hard a Christmas movie but Lethal Weapon isn’t?? Why does Mixed Nuts make the cut but Batman Returns does not?? Edward Scissorhands isn’t but Love Actually is?? I don’t put a lot of stock in the whole idea of “if you set the film’s storyline at any other time of year other than Christmas it wouldn’t change the plot”, because that is such a broad notion. The opposite could be just as true. If George Clooney & Brad Pitt were robbing Vegas casinos on Christmas Eve would that make Ocean’s Eleven a Christmas movie?? I think it might. If Doc Brown & Marty McFly had used their time machine to visit Christmases past & yet to come would that qualify Back to the Future as a Christmas film?? Perhaps. In the grand scheme of things I believe that most people know a Christmas movie when they see it, right?? As always I value the opinions of The Manoverse and welcome your feedback.

 

 

 

 

 

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation           

Released                                           12/1/89

Starring                                              Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid                       

Director                                              Jeremiah Chechik (Benny & Joon, Diabolique)

Rotten Tomatoes                              64%

I never would have dreamed 28 years ago that Christmas Vacation would become the holiday entertainment juggernaut that it has evolved into, especially in the past decade. It is one of about a half dozen Christmas movies that is shown almost daily from Thanksgiving clear thru New Year’s, and oftentimes I see it popping up at other times of the year (usually as part of a Vacation marathon). I’m sure I don’t have to review the plot. Everyone has seen Christmas Vacation. Many people love it, some folks hate it. Either way, no one can deny its staying power.

 

vs.

 

Eight Crazy Nights

Released                                           11/27/02

Starring                                              Adam Sandler                                 

Director                                              Seth Kearsley

Rotten Tomatoes                       12%

Adam Sandler made this mess right around the time that his career had plateaued and was beginning to approach the abyss on the other side. I’m not Jewish, but to my knowledge Hanukkah films are rare. This is an animated story wherein Sandler gives voice to Davey Stone, a thirtysomething malcontent with an alcohol problem & a rap sheet. After Davey’s latest arrest he is sentenced to community service under the guidance of an elderly referee for a youth basketball league. The rest of the film focuses on the relationship between Davey & the old guy, which has its ups & downs. This is about the least heartwarming holiday film of all time, making slasher flicks about Santa Claus look like after school specials.

 

The Verdict:       Christmas Vacation. Come on now…was there ever any doubt?? I think two hours of infomercials would be more entertaining than Eight Crazy Nights, and probably have just as much to do with Hanukkah. Believe it or not Sandler has done worse…but he’s also produced much better, funnier, & more memorable films. Meanwhile, Christmas Vacation is a certified classic that just seems to get better with age.

 

 

 

 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Released                                           12/6/64

Starring                                              Burl Ives                               

Director                                              Rankin/Bass

Rotten Tomatoes                         92%

An advertising copywriter for Montgomery Ward named Bob May created Rudolph in 1939. Montgomery Ward had been buying and giving away coloring books for Christmas every year and it was decided that creating their own book would save money and be a nice goodwill gesture. The oddball reindeer became the star of that coloring book (with accompanying poem). May’s sister just happened to be married to Johnny Marks, a songwriter whose hits would eventually include Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree and A Holly Jolly Christmas. But in 1949 Marks’ career hadn’t gotten off the ground yet (no pun intended) and he adapted May’s poem into a song, which was then recorded by “The Singing Cowboy” Gene Autry. The song was a smash hit, and just over 15 years later an animated special was produced and began to air annually on NBC. It shifted over to CBS in 1972 and has now been a beloved Christmas tradition for a half century.

 

vs.

 

Shrek the Halls

Released                                           11/28/07

Starring                                              Mike Meyers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas

Director                                              Gary Trousdale (Rocky & Bullwinkle, Beauty and the Beast)

Rotten Tomatoes                              63% (a)

In comparison Shrek has only been a holiday tradition for about a decade, and calling it a tradition is being quite generous. Of course a quartet of movies spanning from 2001 to 2010 introduced us to the big green ogre & his quirky pals Donkey & Puss-in-Boots (a fifth film is rumored to be in the works), and he’s even made it to Broadway. The Christmas special has Shrek learning about Christmas so he can celebrate properly with his wife & children. Unfortunately all of his plans turn into chaos thanks to the well-meaning interference of his friends.

 

The Verdict:       Rudolph.    I have absolutely nothing against Shrek. The movies are solidly entertaining, and the Christmas special is just dandy. Perhaps kids growing up right now will feel about it in 35 years the way that I feel about Rudolph, Hermie the Elf, Yukon Cornelius, et al. But for me Shrek is the newbie that I have no attachment to whatsoever, while Rudolph is a HUGE part of the whole Christmas zeitgeist.

 

 

 

Scrooge (1951)

Released                                           10/31/51

Starring                                              Alistair Sim                 

Director                                              Brian Desmond Hurst

Rotten Tomatoes                              84%

Charles Dickens’ novella has been adapted for the big screen countless times, with several of those versions being part of this competition. And while you will find varying opinions of many of those movies there is almost unanimous agreement that the 1951 film starring Alistair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge is…at the very least…one of the best. I can’t say that it’s a faithful rendering of the book, as there are several plot points that are either expanded upon or entirely fabricated for the film. However, I don’t mind these changes all that much, especially since the film does capture the solemn tone of the book quite effectively.

 

vs.

 

It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie

Released                                           11/29/02

Starring                                              Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, David Arquette, Joan Cusack    

Director                                              Kirk Thatcher

Rotten Tomatoes                              90%

Be careful not to confuse this film with The Muppet Christmas Carol. This was a made-for-TV movie that originally aired on NBC, and it is basically a Muppet send-up of It’s A Wonderful Life. Kermit is despondent at the prospect of losing his beloved theater, so various characters show him what life would be like if he’d never existed. There are several human actors involved, including Mel Brooks, David Arquette, Willam H. Macy, the cast of Scrubs (which was a semi-popular NBC show at the time), Snoop Dogg, & Kelly Ripa. That’s way way way too much humanity for a Muppet movie. IAWL has been ripped off too many times to even fathom, and this is far from the worst tribute to a great film. However, it’s not even the best Muppet Christmas film!!

 

The Verdict:       Scrooge.    Neither is an original idea. Both are based on other works. Scrooge just happens to be a far better adaptation of its source material.

 

 

 

 

Die Hard

Released                                           7/15/88

Starring                                              Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman

Director                                              John McTiernan (Predator, The Hunt for Red October, Last Action Hero)

Rotten Tomatoes                              92%

Here we go!! Yes…I do consider Die Hard a Christmas movie. NYPD Detective John McClane comes to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve to see his estranged wife at her company Christmas party. Winter Wonderland & Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! are part of the soundtrack. At one point a dead terrorist shows up with a Santa hat & the words “Ho Ho Ho” written on his shirt. Case closed my friends. Oh, and it also happens to be a great action flick, and that’s coming from a guy who doesn’t particularly like action flicks.

 

vs.

 

The Year Without A Santa Claus

Released                                           12/10/74

Starring                                              Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn

Director                                              Rankin/Bass

Rotten Tomatoes                              83% (a)

Hey, we’re all entitled to a bad day & the occasional foul mood, right?? Even Santa Claus isn’t always so jolly. In this stop motion animated classic from the prolific folks at Rankin-Bass ol’ Saint Nick is under the weather and isn’t sure anyone really believes in him anymore anyway, so he decides to skip the whole ordeal. Mrs. Claus helps the cause by playing two evil brothers…Heat Miser & Snow Miser (who both apparently control the weather)…against one another (with an assist from Mother Nature). Long story short…all’s well that ends well and Santa goes forth with his annual gift giving. You might have a hard time finding it on television in comparison to other Rankin-Bass classics, but Freeform (or whatever they’re calling that channel this week) usually has it on at some point.

 

The Verdict:       Die Hard. This is a tough call. The debate about Die Hard’s worthiness as a Christmas film is legit, and though I obviously come down on the pro side that doesn’t mean I don’t understand the veracity of the argument. Conversely, TYWASC is indisputably a Christmas classic, but I’m not sure that it has held up well thru the decades. To be honest I don’t even recall it being that important of a viewing tradition in my childhood, and as an adult I can take it or leave it.

 

 

 

Elf    

Released                                           11/7/03

Starring                                              Will Ferrell, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, Zooey Deschanel

Director                                              Jon Favreau (Iron Man)

Rotten Tomatoes                              84%

Will Ferrell has to be considered one of the Top 5 alumni whose career was launched on Saturday Night Live, and that is mostly due to the staying power of Elf. As much as one might enjoy watching Talladega Nights, Old School, Step Brothers, Wedding Crashers, or Blades of Glory none of those films has achieved the pop culture significance or made the kind of sustained entertainment impact that Elf has in the past 15 years. Buddy the Elf is the role Ferrell was born to play, and its popularity will probably outlive him.

 

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Santa Claus: The Movie

Released                                           11/27/85

Starring                                              Dudley Moore, John Lithgow, David Huddleston

Director                                              Jeannot Szwarc (Jaws 2)

Rotten Tomatoes                              17%

I can imagine the pitch to the studio back in the mid-80’s…”Santa…as an action fantasy!!”. It may help you wrap your head around the concept and understand why this film is what it is to know that it was produced by the same guys who produced the Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve and directed by the man who helmed Jaws 2. The Movie tells a…unique…Santa Claus origin story, and weaves in subplots involving an industrious elf and an evil toy manufacturer. The cast…Dudley Moore, John Lithgow, Burgess Meredith, among others…is solid, but the movie as a whole is largely style over substance.

 

The Verdict:       Elf.    In the three decades since its release Santa Claus: The Movie hasn’t really become a cherished holiday tradition. Oh sure, it has its fans…but there doesn’t seem to be that many of them. And it hasn’t gotten a lot of airtime on TV over the years. I understand that technology has transformed the world and that virtually anything that has ever been produced can be watched with the push of a few buttons, but please understand that I’m an old school child of the 80’s and repeat viewings to me entail using my remote to flip thru the channels and catch whatever is on. Elf almost immediately took its place as a Christmas classic when it hit theaters a decade & a half ago, and its stature as lighthearted family fun has only grown in the ensuing years.

 

 

 

 

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving                    

Released                                           11/20/73

Starring                                              Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Peppermint Patty

Director                                              Bill Melendez

Rotten Tomatoes                       73% (a)

More than three dozen animated television specials starring Charles Schultz’s comic strip characters from Peanuts have been produced from the 1960’s until just a few years ago. Several have been centered on holidays (there’s even one about Arbor Day), which makes sense because Schultz was a very devout man. This Thanksgiving story finds Peppermint Patty, Marcie, & Franklin inviting themselves over to Charlie Brown’s place for the holiday, and ol’ Chuck being too timid to tell them that he & his family will be heading out to Grandma’s house. Linus, Snoopy, & Woodstock are recruited to help, and when the kids all sit down at a ping pong table in the back yard they are served a hilarious meal of toast, pretzels, popcorn, jelly beans, & an ice cream sundae, which totally sounds like my diet. Luckily Grandma (unseen, as all adults are in Peanuts) invites all the children to her house for real food, while Snoopy & Woodstock stay behind and have their own feast.

 

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Jingle All the Way

Released                                           11/22/96

Starring                                              Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Rita Wilson, Phil Hartman

Director                                              Brian Levant (Beethoven, A Christmas Story 2)

Rotten Tomatoes                              17%

The commercialism of Christmas has been a popular subplot for holiday films thru the years, and this one might be among the best at capturing the pathetic retail frenzy. Schwarzenegger stars as a busy, somewhat neglectful Dad (as many fathers are in Christmas movies) who waits until the last minute to find the toy that his son really wants to find under the tree. Every Christmas season has THE toy, right?? Cabbage Patch Kids, Rubik’s Cube, Beanie Babies, Tickle Me Elmo, Furby, Xbox, Playstation. Parents spend time, energy, & money to get their child what every kid wants that particular year, only to see it collecting dust before spring arrives. At any rate, in this film that toy is a super hero action figure called Turbo Man. Dad quickly develops a rivalry with a weird mailman who is desperately seeking the same item. Meanwhile, a smarmy neighbor (the late Phil Hartman at his slimy best) has his eyes on Mom and successfully drives a wedge into the marriage. The whole movie crescendos to a really fun conclusion, and overall it’s a better film after you watch it a few times than one might think from a first impression.

 

The Verdict:       Charlie Brown. There are better Peanuts specials, and Jingle All the Way is a better movie than you may remember. However, while we all recognize the commercialization of Christmas as a bad thing I think an entire movie focused on it is a bit too cynical. Schwarzenegger can be funny (Twins is pretty good), but he is miscast here and would have benefitted from a better foil than Sinbad. Peanuts is what it is…and that’s why we’ve loved it for decades.

 

 

 

 

Disney’s A Christmas Carol

Released                                           11/6/09

Starring                                              Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman

Director                                              Robert Zemeckis (the Back to the Future trilogy, Forrest Gump, Cast Away)

Rotten Tomatoes                              54%   

Although I’m not really sure what a director does when helming an animated film, I am a huge Zemeckis fan and was thrilled far in advance when I found out he’d be making a new version of the Dickens classic using performance capture technology. Jim Carrey’s shtick wore thin two decades ago, but his talent is undeniable and put to good use in an animated format that allows him to portray multiple characters. This is a fairly faithful interpretation of the source material, and technology allows scenes & characters to be depicted in fresh, distinctive, & inspired ways. Some are critical of the film’s dark tone, and Zemeckis probably does go overboard & have a little too much fun with the toys at his disposal, but one must remember that the book is rather macabre. Don’t blame the director for not caving into the temptation to make a more palatable “family friendly” adaptation…it’s been done.

 

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Mr. Krueger’s Christmas

Released                                           12/21/80

Starring                                              James Stewart

Director                                              Kieth Merrill

Rotten Tomatoes                              No Score Available

The legendary Jimmy Stewart’s career had peaked long before he ever made this little gem, although he would do a few more projects in the following decade. If you’ve never seen Mr. Krueger’s Christmas you are far from alone. It was produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and broadcast on NBC just a few days before Christmas 1980. Since then it is impossible to find on television and isn’t even available for streaming. The only avenue available to watch it…to my knowledge…is YouTube. It is a half hour in length and tells the story of Willie Krueger, an elderly janitor who lives in the basement apartment of the building that he takes care of. Willie is a lonely widower whose only companion is a cat named George, and he fills the void with Walter Mitty-esque fantasies. On this Christmas Eve Willie’s imagination has him conducting the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, wearing finer threads than he can afford in real life, enjoying a delightful sleigh ride, welcoming carolers into a much nicer abode than he actually lives in, decorating a grander tree than the little tabletop one he has, & talking to Jesus as he lays in the manger at the Nativity. You might notice that in all of these dreams except the last one Willie, as opposed to his actual life, is surrounded by people who respect & appreciate him. While he is talking to Jesus he is, as in life, invisible to others…but in the presence of Christ there is no loneliness. This short film makes such a profound impact on multiple levels that it’s a shame it isn’t shown somewhere on television during the Christmas season.

 

The Verdict:       It’s a tie!! I’m sorry. It was never my intention to cop out in such a manner at any point in this competition, but I just can’t choose between these two. I like Zemeckis, love A Christmas Carol, & am smitten with motion capture animation. Some find the technology a bit creepy and believe its use in A Christmas Carol is too dark & scary, but I think the combination is fantastic. Mr. Krueger’s Christmas is difficult to find and repeat viewings are few, but its story is so delicately effectual that it must not be overlooked. Jimmy Stewart still had it even at 72 years old!! If you’ve never seen Mr. Krueger’s Christmas please set aside some time to find it online. Trust me…you won’t regret it.

 

 

 

 

Trapped in Paradise          

Released                                           12/2/94

Starring                                              Nicolas Cage, Jon Lovitz, Dana Carvey

Director                                              George Gallo (The Whole Ten Yards)

Rotten Tomatoes                              10%

I have to give Nicolas Cage credit. There’s no way to typecast or pigeonhole him as an actor because he’s done a little bit of everything…comedy, action, drama, rom-coms. With films on his resume like Raising Arizona & Honeymoon in Vegas it can’t be said that he’s not funny. Yet having said that he feels…out of place…in this movie. The story follows three dimwitted brothers who head to a small Pennsylvania township (think modern day Mayberry) to rob a bank. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong and the trio is unable to make their escape, all while they are being treated warmly by the pleasant, unsuspecting citizens. I’m not a fan of Jon Lovitz, and Dana Carey is inexplicably annoying…but somehow it all works, atleast for me.

 

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Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol

Released                                           12/18/62

Starring                                              Jim Backus, Morey Amsterdam

Director                                              Abe Levitow

Rotten Tomatoes                              67% (a)

Quincy Magoo dates all the way back to the 1950’s when he starred in animated shorts that would precede feature films. Eventually he’d make his way onto television, and in the 90’s there was even a live action movie starring Leslie Nielsen. However, the most enduring legacy of Mr. Magoo is his take on Dickens, a fairly authentic telling of the story, or atleast as faithful as a less-than-an-hour long cartoon can be. I seem to recall this particular special being an annual thing when I was a kid, but in the past 25-ish years airings have been hit & miss, and I believe it is often heavily edited to allow for more commercials.

 

The Verdict:       Trapped in Paradise. I feel like I’m betraying my 80’s kid roots. Is Trapped in Paradise a good movie?? Not really. However, for reasons that I have alluded to on a few occasions it holds a special place in my heart, despite its shortcomings. I cannot get behind Magoo a) because repeat viewings have been scant (it’s hardly a Christmas tradition), & b) airings are usually edited significantly. I’m sure the original, full length show can be streamed, and maybe someday that’ll be the norm, but right now I’m still old school and want my Christmas movies & specials to be available the way they always were…thru mindless channel surfing.

Merry Movie Mayhem: Candy Cane (Round 1)

Welcome to Round 1 of Merry Movie Mayhem!! Over the next few weeks we will be looking at 64 of the most notable holiday films & TV specials. Obviously Christmas is the focus of this particular genre, but there have been some prominent stories told about Thanksgiving & Hanukkah, so I am including them as well to round out the field. Most of what you’ll see here is pretty familiar…stuff you’ve watched on TV every November & December your whole life. While that may be an indictment of modern creativity, it is also a testament to the enduring affection that fans have for quality entertainment that soothes the soul, tickles the funny bone, & warms our cockles in a season that encompasses a range of emotions from joy to sorrow to wistful nostalgia. Don’t hesitate to leave feedback. The statements & decisions you’ll see here reflect my preferences & sensibilities, but sometimes I’m wrong. I would love to know what The Manoverse enjoys, so share your thoughts!! We’ll kick off the competition with the Candy Cane Division. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Released                                           5/2/47

Starring                                              Maureen O’Hara, Edmund Gwenn, John Payne, Natalie Wood           

Director                                              George Seaton (Airport)

Rotten Tomatoes                              94%

A cynical retail executive & her precocious daughter befriend the department store Santa that Mom hired. It turns out that Kris Kringle believes he is the REAL Santa Claus, a claim that lands him in court, where he is defended by a lawyer who is also smitten with the jaded Mom.

 

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Silent Night, Deadly Night

Released                                           11/9/84

Starring                                              no one you’ve ever heard of         

Director                                              Charles E. Sellier Jr.

Rotten Tomatoes                              31%

Holidays have been horror movie fodder for decades, with deranged serial killers stalking their prey on Halloween, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, et al. Christmas hasn’t escaped, though the sacred nature of the occasion makes such a film a tricky proposition. This campy classic finds a young boy witnessing the murder of his parents by a thief dressed as Santa Claus. After growing up in a harsh orphanage the youngster becomes a homicidal maniac when he gets a job as a department store Santa. There were a few sequels made in which the younger brother also becomes a psycho Santa, but I’ve only seen bits & pieces of a couple of them. I remember the original mainly because our church youth group once watched it at a gathering at Christmastime. Wrap your head around that.

 

The Verdict:       Miracle on 34th Street. Easy decision. I’m not really a horror movie guy, but even if I was it’s difficult to overlook the awesomeness of Miracle.

 

 

 

Home Alone

Released                                           11/16/90

Starring                                              Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern        

Director                                              Chris Columbus (Only the Lonely, Mrs. Doubtfire, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)

Rotten Tomatoes                              55%

A mischievous child is accidentally left behind in Chicago while his family jets off to a holiday getaway in Paris. The boy is then faced with having to defend his house on Christmas Eve against two inept crooks who are looting the entire neighborhood while everyone is out of town. There was a sequel made a couple of years later that is pretty good and will be a part of this project, and then a couple of other “sequels” that may retain the title but have none of the magic of their predecessors.

 

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Mixed Nuts

Released                                           12/21/94

Starring                                              Steve Martin, Madeline Kahn, Rita Wilson, Adam Sandler    

Director                                              Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail)

Rotten Tomatoes                              7%

An all-star cast makes this blip on the pop culture radar somewhat memorable. The story revolves around employees of a suicide hotline that’s about to go under right at Christmastime. There are a lot of interconnecting storylines in a madcap adventure that…on paper…should work, especially given the amount of talent involved. Unfortunately it’s a hot mess and has appeared on various Worst Movies Ever lists.

 

The Verdict:       Home Alone. A no-brainer. I assume I’m not alone in adoring the work of many of those involved with Mixed Nuts, but all of those ingredients thrown together inexplicably results in something that I suppose has fans somewhere, but they are surely few & far between. Conversely, Home Alone has become a beloved Christmas tradition.

 

 

 

 

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Released                                           12/18/66

Starring                                              Boris Karloff, Thurl Ravenscroft   

Director                                              Chuck Jones

Rotten Tomatoes                              100%

Dr. Seuss wrote Grinch in 1957, and a decade later it was turned into a 30 minute animated special featuring the voice talents of horror icon Boris Karloff and Thurl Ravenscoft, known better as the original voice of Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger. The story is about a bitter cave dwelling creature who hates Christmas and decides to “steal” it from the delightfully optimistic & cheerful villagers in Whoville. We’ve been watching The Grinch every holiday season for over a half century, and it is adored by multiple generations. A live action film was made in 2000 starring Jim Carey as the titular character, and while I am aware that it has its fans I do not count myself among them. I’ll stick with the treasured original.

 

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Christmas Every Day

Released                                           12/1/96

Starring                                              Erik Von Detten, Robert Hays      

Director                                              Larry Peerce (The Other Side of the Mountain)

Rotten Tomatoes                              40% (a)

This was a made-for-television film shown on The Family Channel (aka ABC Family, now known as Freeform). I’m not typically a fan of made-for-TV movies. The production values are usually subpar and the writing isn’t always that good. Hallmark shows a ton of Christmas films every December that are mildly entertaining but ultimately forgettable, and Freeform, thru its many incarnations, has made contributions to the sub-genre. This movie is one of the few examples of such entertainment that has tickled my fancy and remains on my radar. The story revolves around a bratty teenage boy who relives the same Christmas over & over until he gets it right. Essentially it is a Christmas version of Groundhog Day, sans the talent of Billy Murray & Harold Ramis. I’m not sure why I like it, but I do.

 

The Verdict:       The Grinch. Another easy decision.

 

 

 

The Ref    

Released                                           3/9/94

Starring                                             Denis Leary, Kevin Spacey, Judy Davis, Glynis Johns           

Director                                             Ted Demme  (Blow)

Rotten Tomatoes                              71%

A thief on the run on Christmas Eve kidnaps a bickering couple and hides in their house while cops comb the town looking for him. Things are further complicated when the couple’s delinquent son comes home from military school and the dysfunctional extended family drops by for dinner. Kevin Spacey is phenomenal in almost everything he does, and standup comic turned actor Denis Leary is perfectly cast as the acerbic criminal. In contrast to Mixed Nuts the cast of The Ref takes an otherwise pedestrian script and spins it into comic gold.

 

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Fred Claus

Released                                           11/9/07

Starring                                              Vince Vaughn, Paul Giamatti, Elizabeth Banks           

Director                                              David Dobkin            (Wedding Crashers)

Rotten Tomatoes                              21%

Vince Vaughn stars as Fred, the slacker brother of Santa. When Fred runs into money problems his brother agrees to bail him out only if he pops up to the North Pole to help during the Christmas rush. Hilarity ensues. The conceit here is that Santa, because he is a saint, has been able to make his family ageless, so there is a time travel element that is sort of cool though sadly glossed over. Paul Giamatti is one of my favorite actors, and he puts a unique spin on a character that has been portrayed numerous ways in countless movies. Vaughn plays the same loveable loser that he portrays in almost all of his films, but that’s alright because it’s a formula that seems to work for him. Critics despise Fred Claus, and it didn’t do that great at the box office, but it is a pleasant enough diversion on a cold winter’s night.

 

The Verdict:       The Ref. There is a really funny scene in Fred Claus involving Frank Stallone, Roger Clinton, & Stephen Baldwin, all guys with brothers more famous than them. Outside of that Fred Claus is a rom-com wannabe that just doesn’t stick to one’s ribs, although it isn’t nearly as terrible as you might have heard. The charms of Vaughn & Giamatti are considerable, though not quite enough to make the movie anything close to memorable. Conversely, The Ref is an underrated gem that deserves to be shown on TV a plethora of times every December, but it’s never quite achieved that level of popularity.

 

 

 

A Christmas Carol (1938) 

Released                                           12/16/38                                                        

Starring                                              Reginald Owen, Gene Lockhart

 

Director                                              Edwin L. Marin

Rotten Tomatoes                              100%

There is no shortage of A Christmas Carol adaptations out there, and we’re going to be discussing several of them. The 1938 version is a jovial take on Dickens’ novella that omits some of the more macabre aspects of the story and takes other liberties in altering or expanding the plot. I’m not a huge fan of needlessly changing a book’s narrative for the film, but I must admit that this one works.

 

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Bad Santa

Released                                           11/26/03

Starring                                              Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Lauren Graham

Director                                              Terry Zwigoff

Rotten Tomatoes                              78%

Department store Santas provide a convenient jumping off point for Christmas movies, and this one puts a…unique…spin on that particular element. Reflecting a 21st century move toward defining vulgarity as funny, the Santa Claus here is a hard-drinking, profanity spewing horndog who also happens to be a thief. He & his partner-in-crime, a “little person” who can conveniently portray Santa’s elf, are using the holiday season to case a shopping mall that they plan to rob on Christmas Eve. Things get complicated when Santa gets a girlfriend and befriends a strange young boy. Critics…surprisingly…really like the film and Billy Bob Thornton was even nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance. I know there are those that absolutely love Bad Santa and laugh hysterically at every F-Bomb. I don’t consider myself a prude by any stretch, but I do try to be a Godly man and also pride myself on having a somewhat sophisticated entertainment palate. This movie is targeted toward teenagers & 20-somethings with a serious case of arrested development. A sequel was made in 2016, and it’s equally as….ehhhh…let’s just be nice and say neither film really frosts my cupcake.

 

The Verdict:       A Christmas Carol. This is purely a personal choice for me. If you love Bad Santa I won’t judge you, and if you dislike this particular version of A Christmas Carol I completely understand & might even agree with some of your reasoning. That being said, if I’m flipping thru the channels on a lazy Saturday in December and both of these movies are on TV I know which one I’d choose to watch.

 

 

 

Scrooged

Released                                           11/23/88

Starring                                              Bill Murray    

Director                                              Richard Donner (Superman, The Goonies, the Lethal Weapon franchise)

Rotten Tomatoes                              68%

I was a little late to the party when it comes to Scrooged, having not ever watched it until atleast a decade & a half after its release. It is a modern, strange, yet oddly faithful retelling of the Dickens tale, with Bill Murray as a greedy television executive who is verbally abusive to his employees and still pines for a lost love. It has become a cult classic that’s not necessarily thought of as being on the same level as other holiday favorites, but three decades after its release it is still shown on television annually and seems to have grown in reputation in the past several years.

 

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Love the Coopers

Released                                           11/13/15

Starring                                              Marisa Tomei, John Goodman, Ed Helms, Diane Keaton

Director                                              Jessie Nelson

Rotten Tomatoes                              19%

There seems to be a growing trend in the holiday movie genre of putting together a large cast of well-known and highly regarded performers in a story that usually revolves around family angst. I get along great with my nuclear family as well as other relatives like aunts, uncles, & cousins, so I can’t really relate to such anxiety. Our Christmas gatherings are normally quite pleasant. However, I assume such dysfunction does actually exist. Love the Coopers is a newer entry into the mix, and though I really like the actors involved, at the end of the day it is a completely forgettable movie that I’m not sure I’d bother to watch again unless I was really bored.

 

The Verdict:       Scrooged. Citizens of The Manoverse will recall that I consider repeat viewings an essential indicator of a good film. If it’s being shown on television years after its initial theatrical run and if I’m still being entertained by it after I’ve seen it dozens of times then somebody somewhere did something right. Scrooged fits that description…the competition does not.

 

 

 

The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause        

Released                                           11/1/02

Starring                                              Tim Allen, Elizabeth Mitchell        

Director                                              Michael Lembeck

Rotten Tomatoes                              54%

All three of Tim Allen’s Santa Clause movies are included in Merry Movie Mayhem, and I feel like this one gets shortchanged. You may have noticed that the original film and the third entry in the trilogy show up on TV often enough, but this second film is frequently skipped over. I read somewhere that the notion that Santa must find a wife to keep his job is considered by some to be old-fashioned or even misogynistic, which is utterly ridiculous logic. Elizabeth Mitchell, known by some for her work on the television show Lost, is radiant & enchanting. The biggest issue with The Mrs. Clause is that it came out eight years after its predecessor, which was probably 4 or 5 years too late.

 

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Home for the Holidays

Released                                           11/3/95

Starring                                              Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr. 

Director                                              Jodi Foster

Rotten Tomatoes                              62%

Dysfunctional family dramedy isn’t reserved for Christmas…families gather on Thanksgiving too. Another highly regarded ensemble cast is involved, which means that critics praised the film upon its release. It even has a well-known director, a rarity for the genre. I’m pretty sure Robert Downey Jr. was whacked out on cocaine throughout the film, and I find his manic display distracting. Two decades after its theatrical run I don’t feel like Home has really aged well, although it still pops up on TV occasionally around Thanksgiving.

 

The Verdict:       The Santa Clause 2. This matchup would likely generate a spirited debate among film buffs. Home for the Holidays certainly has the stronger cast and is admittedly well-written, but I’ve just never been able to embrace it. Conversely, there are those that consider The Mrs. Clause to be the weakest entry of that trilogy, and it does seem to get shafted as far as being shown on television, yet I find it completely charming.

 

 

 

Scrooge (1970)         

Released                                           11/5/70

Starring                                              Albert Finney, Sir Alec Guinness

Director                                              Ronald Neame (The Poseidon Adventure)

Rotten Tomatoes                              75%

I generally prefer movies that stay true to the books they are based on, but I understand that when a story like A Christmas Carol is remade over & over people want to try something new and distinctive to stand out from the crowd. This version of Carol is a musical that is actually more faithful to the novella than one would think. It is a testament to the acting ability of Albert Finney that he was only 34 years old when he portrayed the elderly Ebenezer Scrooge, and he was rewarded with a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy.

 

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Blackadder’s Christmas Carol

Released                                           12/23/88

Starring                                              Rowan Atkinson, Robbie Coltrane          

Director                                              Richard Boden

Rotten Tomatoes                              84% (a)

You probably haven’t seen it and may not have even heard of it. Blackadder is the titular character of a British television series that aired on the BBC in the 1980’s, with comedian Rowan Atkinson starring as Edmund Blackadder, an opportunistic descendant of an unspecified royal family. In this Christmas special Blackadder, in contrast to the traditional portrayal of Scrooge, is “the nicest man in England”, with the twist being that the ghost (there is only one…portrayed by Robbie Coltrane, better known today as Rubeus Hagrid in the Harry Potter films) who visits him on Christmas Eve showing Blackadder that “bad guys have all the fun”, resulting in him waking up bitter, disillusioned, & meanspirited. I am not a huge fan of British humor, but Atkinson is hilarious and this bizarro world take on the familiar story is unexpected fun.

 

The Verdict:       Scrooge. This is a tough one, but I lean toward Scrooge a) due to its award winning pedigree, and b) because Blackadder is tough to find if you’re not really searching for it. Scrooge has shown up on American Movie Classics (or maybe it’s Turner Classic Movies) with some regularity over the years.

Superfluous 7: Favorite Halloween Movies & TV Shows

It’s a psychological fact that some people enjoy…to a degree…fear. I’m not a scientist and won’t bore you with a bunch of jargon, but there are a couple of reasons for this phenomenon. First, fear triggers the pleasurable release of dopamine, the same thing that happens in our brain during sex. As one article I ran across put it…”Dopamine is love. Dopamine is lust. Dopamine is motivation. Dopamine is attention. Dopamine is addiction.” So adrenaline junkies, drug abusers, folks with a bit of a gambling problem, & nymphomaniacs all have a similar brain chemistry as those who are really into horror movies. I am sure that is an epic oversimplification, but it’s the best I can do. Secondly, there is something called “excitation transfer”, which essentially means that after one gets really scared they calm down, but it’s not just the average everyday calm. When the heart rate levels out, breathing normalizes, & muscles relax one feels an intense sense of relief that is exceedingly positive & enjoyable, and that pleasant feeling is what is remembered about the experience in the long run.

I tell you all of that as a preamble to saying that I am not one of those people. I don’t enjoy being scared. I don’t like horror movies. I couldn’t possibly care less about haunted houses. However, I am rather intrigued with Halloween. I’m a bit of a history buff and have developed somewhat of a fascination with cultural anthropology, folklore, & mythology. I might have explored career options in that general direction if I’d known such pathways existed as a kid. Halloween has a quirky, fun vibe and a peculiar backstory & evolution. I completely understand that many of my fellow Christians choose not to celebrate Halloween, and I respect those opinions. However, there are frivolous elements of the occasion that I rather enjoy. As much as I appreciate a big ol’ bag of candy I am a little too old to go out trick or treating, so instead I’ll keep the lights low in The Bachelor Palace, snuggle with Rocco, and delight in some fantastic Halloween themed entertainment. I’m a bookworm and cannot recommend highly enough Washington Irving’s 1820 short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Yes, I know there have been countless film & television adaptations, but trust me…read it. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novella The Hound of the Baskervilles could qualify as Halloween-ish, as could any number of stories written by the late great Ray Bradbury. Tastes vary, but there are worse ways to spend Halloween than curled up with a good book. However, this being the 21st century, many are predisposed to grab the remote and watch a movie or TV show. So sit back, relax, maybe drink a glass of cider & snack on some candy corn as I present…..

 

 

 

from the home office in Anoka, MN…..

 

 

 

The Superfluous 7 Favorite Halloween Movies & TV Shows:

 

 

 

 

7       Beetlejuice and Young Frankenstein

We begin with a tie!!

I was a little late in joining the Beetlejuice bandwagon, having first watched it several years after its 1988 release. However I have always been a fan of Michael Keaton’s work, and this is one of his most iconic roles. He stars as a long dead “freelance bio-exorcist” who is enlisted by a newly dead couple to scare a living family away from their house. Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, & Winona Ryder are in the cast as well, and the film is directed by Tim Burton with music by Danny Elfman…a most impressive crew indeed. It’s an odd amalgamation of comedy & horror that really works. A sequel has been rumored for awhile, but to my knowledge it’s all talk right now.

Did you know that a Halloween comedy inspired Aerosmith’s hit song Walk This Way?? Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein hit theaters in 1974 and is now regarded as a comedy masterpiece. It is a spoof of classic horror films, focusing on the grandson of Dr. Victor Frankenstein…an American named Frederick Frankenstein (which he hilariously pronounces “Fronk-en-steen”) who disavows his crazy family legacy until he inherits the estate in Transylvania. Once Frederick moves into the castle hilarity ensues as he decides to duplicate his grandfather’s infamous experiment. The terrific cast includes Gene Wilder, Teri Garr, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn, & Cloris Leachman. Gene Hackman makes a brief but hysterical cameo. If, like me, you enjoy a well-written parody you can’t go wrong with Young Frankenstein at Halloween.

 

 

6       Hotel Transylvania

Adam Sandler has had a bad run, starring in mostly putrid affronts to good taste for most of the past 15 years. A rare exception is this animated 2012 offering in which Sandler voices Dracula as he tries (and fails) to keep his daughter away from humanity while hosting her 118th birthday party with many of his famous monster friends in attendance. Selena Gomez is even more beautiful animated than she is in real life (or maybe I’m just really lonely), and a bunch of Sandler’s buddies…Andy Samberg, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Molly Shannon, Jon Lovitz, et al…add their voices to the fun. A sequel was released in 2015, and a third film is coming in 2018.

 

 

5       Halloween Documentaries on History

Nerd alert…I have decided to include an ode to the documentary. The History Channel may have gone in the crapper the past few years (Life After People?? Really??), but once upon a time it actually focused on…duh…history, and occasionally still does (even a broken clock is right twice a day). The original Haunted History of Halloween was first broadcast in 1997 and traces Halloween all the way back to its origins with the Celtic tribes of Medieval Ireland thru an American renaissance of the holiday in the 1950’s and the rise of horror films in the 1980’s. Whether you are determined to view Halloween as a pagan celebration of darkness & death or choose to look at it thru the eyes of innocent children dressing in fun costumes and asking for candy, every angle is presented, all narrated by the mellifluous cadence of newsman Harry Smith. In 2010 History produced an update called The Real History of Halloween, which covers a lot of the same territory, albeit with a more ominous tone and without Smith’s dulcet inflection, as he is replaced by the guy who seems to narrate everything on History (name unknown). Both documentaries are worth your time. Learning really is fun kids…I promise.

 

 

4       Frankenstein & Dracula

Bram Stoker published Dracula in 1897, while Mary Shelley (wife of poet Percy Shelley) wrote Frankenstein way back in 1818. Both are great novels that have frequently been adapted for the stage & screen. Most movie versions don’t hardly resemble the books at all, but that’s a discussion for another day. Universal Studios produced a collection of horror films in the 1930’s & 40’s with Dracula and Frankenstein featured prominently in many of them, and it all started in 1931 with Dracula starring Bela Lugosi and Frankenstein starring Boris Karloff. Lugosi’s performance as Count Dracula and Karloff’s interpretation of The Monster both set a standard for our pre-conceived notions of those characters. Neither film is all that scary thru the prism of what modern slasher flicks have become, and that’s just fine with me. There are several other creature features in the Universal canon of that particular era, including The Wolf Man, Bride of Frankenstein, The Mummy, & The Invisible Man, that are worth watching if you are so inclined. However, I suggest starting with these two.

 

 

3       Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein

I grew up in the 1970’s & 80’s, and comedy team Abbott & Costello had their heyday in the 40’s & 50’s, so I’m not sure how I became a fan. Though it may be counterintuitive, it seems like their movies (along with classic stuff from The Three Stooges, Ma & Pa Kettle, The Marx Brothers, and Laurel & Hardy) were on TV with some frequency during my childhood long before there were hundreds of channels or streaming was invented. At any rate, at the height of their popularity Bud Abbott and Lou Costello teamed up with Universal to make a handful of films in which the humorous duo encounter classic monsters. This 1948 offering is the first & best, although later entries like Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man, Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, & Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy are perfectly delightful as well. Contrary to the title the twosome meet more than just Frankenstein’s Monster…Dracula & The Wolf Man are around too. It’s a seamless blend of absurd fun & fear, which is exactly what I like.

 

 

2       Halloween

It really is the only horror movie I like. To be clear, I am speaking of the 1978 original. A bunch of sequels were made, and remake(s) came out just a few years ago, but really, other than 1981’s Halloween II, I don’t care about any of them. The original was written, directed, & produced by John Carpenter (who even composed the legendary theme song) with a $300k budget, which was super low even back then. However, the film made $70 million so everything worked out alright. Actually I think forced frugality did the film (and audience) a favor. Instead of graphic blood & guts Halloween is more suspenseful than scary, perfectly capturing the mood of the titular holiday. I have come to appreciate minimalism in relation to many aspects of life, and with movies I respect directors who show restraint, whether it is an artistic or economic choice. I can count on my hands the number of horror films I have bothered to watch in my four & a half decades on the planet…they’re just not my thing. Among those I have seen Halloween is the only one that I keep coming back to. It’s an annual tradition.

 

 

1       It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip began in the fall of 1950. Fifteen years later Coca-Cola sponsored the first of what would eventually be over fifty Peanuts animated television specials…A Charlie Brown Christmas. After the enormous success of the Christmas program plans were formulated for a different holiday show. The Great Pumpkin first aired on October 27, 1966 and has been warming the cockles of children of all ages ever since. It makes complete sense if you think about it…kids are all about Santa Claus, right?? So why wouldn’t a youngster like Linus Van Pelt desire another mythical gift giver on what is…for most children…the second coolest holiday on the calendar?? Of course we all know that the magic of Santa Claus isn’t possible without agreeable participation from parents, therefore the absence of such adults in the Peanuts universe dictates that the Great Pumpkin mythos is logically doomed. Schultz seemed to have somewhat of a jaded worldview, and it shows up throughout Peanuts. These are some cynical little crumb crunchers!! At any rate, everything about The Great Pumpkin is perfect, from Charlie Brown getting nothing but rocks in his trick or treat bag in what has to be the cruelest neighborhood in history, to Snoopy going all Walter Mitty and battling The Red Baron on a flying dog house, to the charmingly vibrant animation & groovy jazz soundtrack. I might be “middle-aged”, but I never hesitate to wave my inner child flag and bask in the glorious glow of nostalgia. The Great Pumpkin is quintessential Halloween, and for that I am thankful.