90’s Film Frenzy: Fly Round 1

Greetings friends and welcome back to 90’s Film Frenzy. If you missed first round action in the Phat Division please go back and check it out.

Let me take this opportunity to reiterate something that I have mentioned a couple of times in the past. One thing that you will not see in this competition are trilogies. No Austin Powers. No Toy Story. No Back to the Future or Godfather (both Part 3s were released in 1990). It is my belief that most movie trilogies are essentially three parts of the same film…a beginning, middle, & end. While it is possible to evaluate each film on its own individual merits the fact is that most of us think of them as a single entity. In some cases that may be unfair, but I believe it necessary to apply the rule across the board. Now once a fourth movie is made all bets are off. Some film series have 4 or 5 parts, while others have so many sequels they become kind of a joke. In those cases I think it is appropriate to weigh the value of each film separately rather than as a collective unit. That’s my two cents anyway…feel free to disagree. For now though, let us continue with the present discourse.

 

 

 

 

Twister

Release:                       5/17/96

Starring:                        Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jami Gertz, Alan Ruck

Directed By:                 Jan de Bont (Speed)

 

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Very Bad Things

Release:                       11/25/98

Starring:                        Christian Slater, Cameron Diaz, Daniel Stern, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Jon Favreau, Jeremy Piven

Directed By:                 Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, Lone Survivor)

 

Disaster flicks have been a Hollywood staple for decades. Earthquakes, volcanoes, rogue waves, Earth destroying asteroids, plane crashes, raging fires, landslides, blizzards, nuclear holocaust, alien invasions, killer mutant animals, population decimating viruses…it’s all been done numerous times with varying degrees of success. Twister follows two storm chasers in the midst of a divorce who find themselves reunited in pursuit of one final tornado. There are subplots and an entire team of quirky characters, all of which are mildly interesting, but let’s be honest…the disaster itself is the main focus of such movies, and with modern CGI technology they are generally much more impressive than similar films made back in the old days. The cast here is above average, and the effects are more than adequate. Very Bad Things is a film that most probably missed during its time at the local cineplex, and even now it isn’t something that you’ll catch on television much despite a really impressive cast. The story follows a group of buddies, one of which is about to get married. They gather in Vegas for the bachelor party and after a freak accident find themselves with a dead stripper on their hands. As is the norm in such stories the folks involved in the situation don’t do the right thing by reporting the accident and trusting the justice system to understand that they did nothing wrong. Instead they create a cover-up, which inevitably leaves a trail of lies & dead bodies that’d make the hairs on the back of Shakespeare’s neck stand up.

 

The Verdict:       Twister. With a Rotten Tomatoes score of 57% and a box office that made it the second highest grossing film of 1996 (behind only Independence Day and ahead of Mission: Impossible & Jerry Maguire) Twister’s credentials are formidable. Ebert opined that it “has no time to waste on character, situation, dialogue, & nuance” but “as a spectacle it is impressive”, which of course is the point. Very Bad Things is I suppose what they call a black comedy, and if one is into that sort of thing you might enjoy it. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 44% score, which is actually higher than I might have guessed. The Los Angeles Times called it “hollow, simple-minded, & about as profound an experience as stepping in a pile of road kill”, while Ebert commented that “it isn’t a bad movie, just a reprehensible one”. Audiences seemed to agree, as it ranked 128th at the box office in 1998, behind classics like Blues Brothers 2000, Half Baked, & the infamous Psycho remake starring Vince Vaughn.

 

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Edward Scissorhands

Release:                       12/7/90

Starring:                        Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Weist

Directed By:                 Tim Burton (Batman, Beetlejuice, The Nightmare Before Christmas)

 

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Mallrats

Release:                       10/20/95

Starring:                        Shannen Doherty, Jeremy London, Jason Lee, Claire Forlani, Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams

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

 

Tim Burton is…different. He definitely has a unique style and his movies aren’t like anything else out there. Whether or not one considers that a good thing is a matter of taste. For me Burton’s filmography is a mixed bag, but most would agree that one of his best is Edward Scissorhands, a fantasy/horror/sci-fi tale about an aging inventor who creates a human-like creature but dies before the project is completed. Edward is left with hands that are kind of like a Swiss Army knife, which are occasionally useful but quite frightening to others. After The Inventor passes Edward lives a life of solitude in an old mansion that most believe to be abandoned until a kind Avon sales lady comes calling and finds him. She graciously invites Edward into her home where he quickly falls in love with her daughter. He is a gentle soul and the neighborhood takes a liking to him, allowing him to use his “hands” to trim hedges, groom dogs, & style hair. Unfortunately the daughter’s jealous boyfriend succeeds in turning the neighborhood against Edward and a confrontation ensues in which the boyfriend is accidentally killed. The daughter lies to the police, making everyone believe that Edward is dead, and at the end of the story we find out that all of this took place many years ago and Edward is probably still alive in the old “abandoned” mansion. Edward Scissorhands has elements of Beauty & the Beast, Frankenstein, & Pinocchio. The movie received numerous accolades for visual effects, makeup, & costume design, composer Danny Elfman got a Grammy nomination, and Depp was nominated for a Golden Globe. Mallrats was Kevin Smith’s follow-up to Clerks and ostensibly takes place within the same “universe”. The story follows two college-aged guys as they fritter away a day at the local mall, engaging in hijinks and dealing with various issues along the way. I actually like Mallrats better than Clerks, and its cast…Affleck, Doherty, Lee, Adams, London, Forlani…is definitely better. Critics are lukewarm about it given the Rotten Tomatoes rating of 55%. Our old pal Ebert loved Clerks but didn’t like Mallrats in comparison, saying “Clerks spoke with the sure, clear voice of an original filmmaker. In Mallrats the voice is muffled.” With all due respect to Roger Ebert (may he rest in peace), film critics love to say stuff like that. While I’m not a huge fan of either movie atleast Mallrats has a plot and some measure of energy.

 

The Verdict:       Edward Scissorhands. This is a no-brainer. I won’t claim to be a Depp fan, but this is probably his best role. It was the 20th highest grossing film of 1990 and has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 89%. The NY Times complimented Burton’s “awe-inspiring ingenuity”, while Variety calls it “a delightful and delicate comic fable”. Kevin Smith seems like a cool dude, and I love the fact that he is such a huge fanboy of things like Batman and Star Wars, but I can’t wrap my head around the fondness for his films. If someone would like to explain it to me I am willing to listen.

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Honeymoon in Vegas

Release:                       8/28/92

Starring:                        Nicolas Cage, Sarah Jessica Parker, James Caan

Directed By:                 Andrew Bergman (The Freshman, It Could Happen To You, Striptease)

 

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Presumed Innocent

Release:                       7/25/90

Starring:                        Harrison Ford, Bonnie Bedelia, Greta Scacchi

Directed By:                 Alan J. Pakula (All the President’s Men, Sophie’s Choice, The Pelican Brief)

 

Once upon a time it seemed as if attorney/writer Scott Turow was poised to challenge John Grisham as the top dog in the legal thriller genre. His first two books were turned into films, but after that nothing else really emerged as part of the pop culture zeitgeist of the 1990s. Presumed Innocent was Turow’s inaugural novel and his best one. It follows prosecutor Rusty Sabich as he first investigates the murder of a co-worker before eventually being accused of being the killer himself after it is discovered that he’d once had an affair with the victim. As is almost always the case the book is so much better than the movie, but kudos to Ford, Bedelia, Raul Julia, & Brian Dennehy for really bringing the characters to life. The ending is epic, to the point that I highly recommend the book and/or the movie almost entirely based on its conclusion. Honeymoon in Vegas is a goofy comedy about a guy who loses his fiancée in a poker game and his epic adventures in getting her back. I’m a sucker for anything with a Las Vegas backdrop, and it doesn’t hurt that the cast is charming. The soundtrack is pretty good too, comprised mostly of Elvis Presley covers from the likes of Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson, John Cougar Cougar Mellencamp Mellencamp, Trisha Yearwood, Travis Tritt, & Bono, along with songs sung by Elvis himself.

 

The Verdict:       Presumed Innocent. Ideally I’d put this up for a vote, but we all know how that story goes, right?? Honeymoon in Vegas has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 61% and was the 41st highest grossing film of 1992, behind Aladdin, Unforgiven, Patriot Games, & The Mighty Ducks, but ahead of Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!, The Muppet Christmas Carol, Hoffa, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer (yes kids…it was a movie way before it was a television show). Entertainment Weekly asks “how could a movie featuring the Flying Elvises be anything less than…entertaining?”, before proceeding to explain exactly how it achieves that distinction, while our buddy Ebert said that it “inspires enough laughter to pay its way”. Rotten Tomatoes gives Presumed Innocent a score of 87%, and it was the 12th highest grossing film of 1990. Time magazine opined that the movie “does not work as well as the novel did”, while Gene Siskel called it “a riveting adaptation of Turow`s novel” that is “more compelling (than the book) principally because of the superb supporting cast”. To be honest one is more likely to see Honeymoon in Vegas on TV occasionally because it is precisely the kind of accessible & undemanding entertainment that most of us prefer during vegg time, but Presumed Innocent is clearly the better film.

 

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Hook

Release:                       12/11/91

Starring:                        Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts, Maggie Smith

Directed By:                 Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Saving Private Ryan, E.T the Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park, Catch Me If You Can)

 

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Joe Versus the Volcano

Release:                       3/9/90

Starring:                        Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan

Directed By:                 John Patrick Shanley (Doubt)

 

Tom Hanks vs. Robin Williams. It is precisely the kind of nightmare matchup that I knew was inevitable when I conceived this idea. I have dreaded it simply because I am such a big fan of both men and hate to choose one over the other, but fortunately they both have multiple entries in the competition, and I have a feeling that the movies themselves more than the leading men will make the decisions fairly straightforward. Hook is a very 1990’s retelling of the Peter Pan story. It opens with Peter as a middle-aged attorney who is so focused on his career that he is somewhat neglectful of his wife & kids. He has completely forgotten who he once was, but his wife’s grandmother hasn’t because she is Wendy…yes, THAT Wendy. When the family travels to London to visit Wendy it is the perfect opportunity for vengeful Captain Hook to swoop in and kidnap the children, forcing Wendy to reveal the truth to Peter, At first he doesn’t believe it, but then Tinkerbell shows up and whisks him off to Neverland, where The Lost Boys help him remember his epic past and prepare him for a showdown with Hook in order to rescue his progeny. The film is directed by Spielberg and has a first rate cast. On paper it doesn’t get much better. Joe Versus the Volcano is the first of three movies that Hanks & Ryan did together, but it is probably the most overlooked film of both of their careers. Joe Banks is a depressed hypochondriac sleepwalking thru a dreary life in which he works at a tedious job at a gloomy medical supplies factory. He is diagnosed with “brain cloud” and told by a doctor that he only has a few months to live, so he tells his boss to take the job & shove it and finally gets the courage to ask a lovely co-worker out on a date. Then an eccentric & wealthy businessman shows up and offers him a blank check if he’ll do something kind of crazy in return. The billionaire needs some sort of rare mineral to manufacture one of his products, and this mineral can only be found on a remote Pacific island. However, the inhabitants of the island won’t let him mine the mineral unless he provides a human sacrifice to appease a volcano that erupts every century…or something. I don’t know…it’s weird. Anyway, with nothing to lose Joe accepts the offer, and with the financial means to do so he treats himself to quite the shopping spree. He seems happier & healthier than ever after leaving his miserable job, accepting his fate, & deciding to live life to the fullest before he hurls himself into an active volcano. The businessman’s daughter is assigned the task of escorting Joe to the island, and along the way they fall for each other. I won’t spoil the ending, but it’ll put a smile on your face.

 

The Verdict:       It’s A Tie. There are fond memories attached to Hook for me, but I also feel like I need to be objective. Hook was the 6th highest grossing film of 1991, behind Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves but ahead of Fried Green Tomatoes, JFK, & Boyz N the Hood. However, it has a really subpar score of 29% on Rotten Tomatoes. Ebert called it “a lugubrious retread of a once-magical idea” and said that “the crucial failure in Hook is its inability to re-imagine the material, to find something new, fresh, or urgent to do with the Peter Pan myth”.  Entertainment Weekly was more generous in their appraisal, stating that Hook is “jam-packed with entertainment value, enough to give you your money’s worth”, but that “the movie is so frenetic, so bursting with movement and rowdiness and special effects, so drenched in gooey, mythic sentiment about the child within, that nothing in it quite gels”. JVtV was the 33rd highest grossing film of 1990 and has a 62% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Entertainment Weekly didn’t particularly care for the film, calling it “a fiasco… the purest silliness”, but Ebert gets it, saying “I realized a wondrous thing: I had not seen this movie before” and declaring that it “achieves a kind of magnificent goofiness”. I cannot put aside how special Hook was to me back in the day, but I also refuse to overlook what Joe Versus the Volcano actually is…a modern fable rife with allegory & nuance. EW was right about Hook…despite its shortcomings one still gets our money’s worth in entertainment value. And Roger Ebert nailed it in his review of JVtV…it isn’t like any other movie we’ve seen, and that’s a good thing.

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City Slickers

Release:                       6/7/91

Starring:                        Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, Bruno Kirby, Jack Palance

Directed By:                 Ron Underwood (Tremors, Mighty Joe Young, The Adventures of Pluto Nash)

 

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Hocus Pocus

Release:                       7/16/93

Starring:                        Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy

Directed By:                 Kenny Ortega (Newsies)

Billy Crystal is a national treasure, whether he is acting in funny movies or hosting awards shows. He’s just one of those guys that it is virtually impossible not to like. Crystal was on a roll in 1991, having starred in The Princess Bride, Throw Momma from the Train, & When Harry Met Sally all in the last few years of the 1980’s. City Slickers stars Crystal as a NY City ad executive going thru a midlife crisis. His two best buddies gift him with a two week dude ranch excursion, during which the three men join several other regular folks like themselves in a kind of cowboy fantasy while driving cattle from New Mexico to Colorado. Lessons are learned, attitudes are adjusted, & lives are altered during the cattle drive, all under the watchful eye of intimidating trail boss Curly, a role that won Jack Palance an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Hocus Pocus didn’t make much of an impact when it first landed in theaters, but in the ensuing years repeat viewings on TV have made it a family friendly Halloween tradition. The story follows three kids in Salem, MA who inadvertently resurrect a trio of witches who had been hanged three centuries earlier. Halloween hijinks ensue, but not the kind that one might see in a slasher flick. If you enjoy the spooky atmosphere of the holiday but aren’t all that enamored with blood n’ guts or psychotic serial killers then Hocus Pocus is the film for you.

 

The Verdict:       City Slickers. Critics really dig City Slickers, resulting in a remarkable 90% score on Rotten Tomatoes. It was the 5th highest grossing film of 1991, behind Terminator 2 & Silence of the Lambs but ahead of Backdraft & The Prince of Tides. Entertainment Weekly called it “a delightful surprise” and “a comedy with real joy in it…and real humanity too”, while Ebert said it is “much more ambitious and successful than expected”.  Hocus Pocus scores only 30% on Rotten Tomatoes, with Gene Siskel calling it “dreadful” and the NY Times opining that “too much eye of newt got into the formula, transforming a potentially wicked Bette Midler vehicle into an unholy mess”. It was the 39th highest grossing movie of 1993, which is a respectable showing for a niche film that was released in July when it should’ve been in theaters during October. Whoever made that decision should have lost their job. At any rate, the pedigree of City Slickers cannot be denied…it made a bunch of money, won an Academy Award, & is critically acclaimed. A tip o’ the cap to Hocus Pocus for retaining a shred of pop culture sustainability via repeat viewings on television every Halloween. It is my understanding that The Disney Channel is doing a made-for-TV remake in the near future, which is probably a horrible idea.

 

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Batman Forever

Release:                       6/16/95

Starring:                        Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Chris O’Donnell

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

 

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Sister Act

Release:                       5/29/92

Starring:                        Whoopi Goldberg, Maggie Smith, Kathy Najimy

Directed By:                 Emile Ardolino (Dirty Dancing)

 

After two successful films Michael Keaton stepped away from the cape & cowl and studio suits gently pushed Tim Burton out of the director’s chair. Schumacher’s “Bat-vision” is a little more colorful & chaotic than Burton’s dark & brooding style, but few seemed to mind as it relates to Batman Forever (detractors saved their wrath for the next film). Kilmer’s turn as The Caped Crusader is unobjectionable but totally forgettable. I’m not a huge Nicole Kidman fan, and her role here just doesn’t work for me. “The Boy Wonder” Robin joins the fun this time, but O’Donnell is about as interesting as staring blankly into space. Batman movies are all about the villains though, right?? The Riddler is probably my favorite Bat-villain of them all, and if the powers-that-be would have stuck to their original plan of casting Robin Williams this movie might have been brilliant. Carrey isn’t a bad choice…he’s just not my cup o’ tea. Tommy Lee Jones is a excellent actor, but he is woefully miscast as Two Face. I think a lot of mistakes were made in the production of this film, and I can’t help but wonder what might have been had Burton & Keaton returned and Williams had starred as the one & only villain. Sister Act finds Whoopi Goldberg as a lounge singer who sees a mob hit and is forced into the witness protection program. She goes into hiding as Sister Mary Clarence, staying at a San Francisco convent where she revitalizes the choir. The group becomes so popular that the Pope himself wants to see them perform, but unfortunately the gangsters Sister Mary Clarence is hiding from discover her location and kidnap her, with her new nun friends jumping into help the rescue effort. This was Goldberg’s follow-up to her Oscar winning performance in Ghost, and the film did well enough to get a sequel just a year later.

 

The Verdict:       Neither. Rotten Tomatoes scores Batman Forever at 39%, with Gene Siskel saying that “it doesn’t add up to much, but it’s certainly entertaining”, the L.A. Times opining that it is a “boisterous comic book confidential serviceable enough to satisfy”, & the San Francisco Chronicle  calling it “the ultimate in what summer movies have become…an art-direction, Dolby-sound, special-effects extravaganza, a grand-scale effort that’s more awe-inspiring than completely successful as entertainment.” Wow…talk about damning with faint praise. It was the second highest grossing film of 1995, behind only Toy Story and actually ahead of Apollo 13, which in hindsight seems criminal. Sister Act was the sixth highest grossing film of 1992, behind Aladdin, Home Alone 2, & A Few Good Men but ahead of Wayne’s World, A League of Their Own, & Unforgiven. It has a solid 74% Rotten Tomatoes score, with Newsweek saying “it may be clumsily made, shamelessly contrived, & utterly cynical in its calculated uplift, but there’s no getting around it: the damn thing is funny”, and Ebert opining that it “plays like a missed opportunity” that “doesn’t have the zest & sparkle it needs…scenes move too slowly, dialogue settles upon itself, and routine reaction shots are clicked off with deadly precision”. First off, y’all just knew I’d have to even things out after the previous tie. Secondly, the question I ask myself is “What would I do if I was lazily flipping thru the channels??”. The answer is that I’d choose to watch both Hook and Joe Versus the Volcano over Sister Act and Batman Forever.

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Boogie Nights

Release:                       10/10/97

Starring:                        Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Heather Graham, Philip Seymour Hoffman

Directed By:                 Paul Thomas Anderson (Punch-Drunk Love, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood)

 

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The American President

Release:                       11/17/94

Starring:                        Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Michael J. Fox, Martin Sheen

Directed By:                 Rob Reiner (This Is Spinal Tap, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, A Few Good Men)

 

The porn industry wouldn’t seem to be proper fodder for a critically acclaimed, Oscar nominated drama, but here we are. An all-star cast traces the rise (pun unavoidable) of high school dropout Eddie as he escapes an abusive family situation and becomes well-known adult film star Dirk Diggler. There is lots of drug use, violence, and…of course…sex, but the film is rather well-written and the cast is superb. The material in less talented hands probably would have been a joke, but as presented is an unexpectedly interesting movie despite its subject matter. The American President is essentially a love letter to Bill Clinton, which isn’t surprising given the people involved. The titular Commander in Chief is a widowed father whose relationship with an environmental lobbyist creates all sorts of issues. The cast is undeniably terrific, and the movie itself heavily influenced the creation of the TV show The West Wing just five years later.

 

The Verdict:       The American President. Most films would be considered beyond fortunate to have half of the fantastic ensemble present in Boogie Nights. It has to rank right up there as one of the best collections of talent in recent movie history. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a fine score of 93%, with TV Guide calling it “an epic story of self-delusion with a skill & grace that many more experienced filmmakers would be hard put to match”, and Variety opining that the director’s “strategy is remarkably nonjudgmental and nonsensationalistic, largely due to his love and respect for all the characters and his impressive storytelling skills”. It ranked a disappointing 79th at the box office in 1997, earning less money than even much ridiculed competition like Speed 2: Cruise Control, Anaconda, & Flubber. The American President was the 29th highest grossing film of 1995 (because it was released near the end of 1994) and has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 90%. The NY Times called it “sunny enough to make the real Presidency pale by comparison”, while the Washington Post deemed it “a well-modulated charmer”. For me there are a few factors to consider. Boogie Nights might be a well-executed story with a blue chip cast, but I don’t find the theme itself all that interesting. In addition, it’s a little too gritty & violent for my taste. The premise of The American President is a bit far-fetched, but Douglas & Bening are irrefutably appealing and the rest of the cast is pretty darn good too. Sorkin is a talented writer, and as a fan of The West Wing I appreciate this movie’s part in the eventual creation of that show.

 

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Scream

Release:                       12/20/96

Starring:                        Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Drew Barrymore

Directed By:                 Wes Craven (Swamp Thing, A Nightmare on Elm Street)

 

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Mr. Saturday Night

Release:                       10/23/92

Starring:                        Billy Crystal, David Paymer, Julie Warner, Helen Hunt

Directed By:                 Billy Crystal

 

I’ve never been a big fan of horror films in general, but when that particular mood does strike the old Universal films of the 1930’s & 40’s (Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein, Lon Chaney Jr.’s The Wolf Man) are more my speed. I’m an 80’s kid, so the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises were a thing when I was growing up, but they never really piqued my interest. Scream is given credit for breathing new life into the genre. It tells the story of high school student Sidney Prescott, whose mother was murdered a year before. Now someone is stalking Sidney & her friends, with local sheriff’s deputy Dewey and TV reporter Gale joining in the hunt for the killer. Scream is well-regarded for its whip smart & perceptive approach, sharp writing, & subversion of accepted horror film expectations. At the time Drew Barrymore was the biggest star in the cast, and her character is killed in the first five minutes, which was a pretty big surprise to audiences. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 79%, with the L.A. Times calling it “a bravura, provocative sendup of horror pictures that’s also scary and gruesome yet too swift-moving to lapse into morbidity”, while Ebert said that he “liked the in-jokes and the self-aware characters” but was also “aware of the incredible level of gore in this film”. Scream was the 13th highest grossing film of 1996, behind Independence Day and A Time to Kill but ahead of The English Patient and Jingle All the Way. Mr. Saturday Night is a sneaky good biopic of a fictional Borscht Belt comedian who rises to prominence in the 1940’s and eventually scores his own television show in the 50’s, only to lose it all because of his own arrogance & self-destructive tendencies. Thirty years later he is performing at nursing homes and doing commercials for adult incontinence products, but might have one more shot at stardom…if he doesn’t blow it again. By Buddy’s side throughout his roller coaster career is his long suffering wife and loyal brother, who also doubles as his manager. Character actor David Paymer received an Oscar nomination for his supporting role as the perpetually unappreciated brother. Mr. Saturday Night was the 82nd highest grossing film of 1992, which was atleast good enough to beat out Chaplin and Glengarry Glen Ross, both highly acclaimed movies. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a tepid 56% rating, with Entertainment Weekly calling it “a perverse labor of love” and “gimmicky but enjoyable”, while Ebert observes that the movie “has a real poignancy” but “what doesn’t really work is the change of heart, which is obligatory in all showbiz films” because “anyone who has been a SOB until the age of 70 is unlikely to reform, and so the happy ending is unhappy because it’s not convincing”.

 

The Verdict:       Mr. Saturday Night. I’m going to take some heat for this one, but I’m prepared. On the surface Scream would seem to not only be a shoe-in to make it out of the first round, but a strong contender to be considered a signature film of the 1990’s. 99 out of 100 writers would probably deem it so. I suppose I’m The One. I’ve done my best to put aside personal opinions in the face of strong opposition from the masses, but at the end of the day this has to be an exception. Credit is owed to Scream for revitalizing a genre that had been suffering from poorly written gore fests and endless sequels. Its plot is atleast somewhat more realistic than the kind of supernatural, impossible to kill, evil for evil’s sake horror monsters that I grew up with. Having said that, y’all know how much I admire Billy Crystal, and the fact that Mr. Saturday Night is a multi-toned dramedy instead of a straight up comedy is intriguing. Julie Warner should have become a bigger movie star, and Paymer got a tough draw at the Academy Awards, facing off against Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, & Gene Hackman (the winner for his role in Unforgiven).

 

80’s Movie Mania…The Sweet Sixteen – Part 2

cinema2I apologize for the delay. I had intended to publish this immediately on the heels of Part 1, but sometimes life gets busy. I’m sure y’all can relate. Anyway, we conclude the Sweet 16 round today and will likely take a little break before resuming the competition. Not only has The Lord been telling me to get some other, more meaningful stuff written, but football season is on the horizon as well. Thankfully I rarely seem to be wanting for content. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

Bodacious

 

 

National Lampoon’s Vacation

Released:     8/29/83

Starring:        Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Anthony Michael Hall, Imogene Coca, Randy Quaidvacation3

Director:        Harold Ramis

Awards:        none

Box Office:   $61 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  93% Fresh

Quotes:         “Now, I owe it to myself to tell you that if you’re taking the whole tribe cross-country this is your automobile…the Wagon Queen Family Truckster. You think you hate it now, but wait ’til you drive it.”

“Why aren’t we flying? Because getting there is half the fun. You know that.”

“Excuse me. Could you please tell how to get back on the expressway?” “Man, who do I look like, Christopher Columbo?”

“I’m going steady, and I French kiss.” “So, everybody does that.” “Yeah, but Daddy says I’m the best at it.”

“We can’t leave her on the patio!” “Would you rather I slipped her in the night deposit box at the funeral home?”

“Roy, could you imagine if you had driven all the way to Florida and it was closed?” “Closed? Uh, they don’t close Florida.”

Miscellaneous:        Notable cameos are made by John Candy and model Christie Brinkley. The script was based on a story called Vacation ’58, which was written by John Hughes and published in the September 1979 edition of National Lampoon magazine. Disneyland turned down the opportunity to be the Griswold’s destination, so Walley World was written as a fictional substitute. The original ending of the film had the Griswolds going to Roy Walley’s house and holding him hostage. It turns out that the Ferrari Girl is Walley’s daughter and she gets Clark off the hook with the police. On the plane ride home Clark realizes they’re on the wrong flight and hijacks the airplane. Test audiences didn’t respond well so the ending was changed.

 

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Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Released:     11/26/86

Starring:        William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Catherine Hickstrek4b

Director:        Leonard Nimoy

Awards:        nominated for 11 Saturn Awards, Oscar nominations for Cinematography, Sound, Sound Effects Editing, & Original Score

Box Office:   $133 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  85% Fresh

Quotes:         “You mean the profanity? That’s simply the way they talk here. Nobody pays any attention to you unless you swear every other word. You’ll find it in all the literature of the period.”

“Computer! Computer? Hello, computer.” “Just use the keyboard.” “Keyboard. How quaint.”

“Don’t tell me! You’re from outer space.” “No, I’m from Iowa. I only work in outer space.”

“My God man, drilling holes in his head is not the answer! The artery must be repaired! Now, put away your butcher’s knives and let me save this patient before it’s too late!”

“Everybody remember where we parked.”

“My God, man. Do you want an acute case on your hands? This woman has immediate postprandial, upper-abdominal distention. Now, out of the way! Get out of the way!” “What did you say she has?” “Cramps.”

“Dialysis? What is this, the Dark Ages?”

Miscellaneous:        The transparent aluminum that Scotty utilizes became reality in 2009 thanks to the physics department at Oxford University. The film was dedicated to the crew of the space shuttle Challenger, which had exploded just 10 months earlier. This was the highest grossing of the six movies featuring the cast of the original series.

 

The Verdict:       Vacation. After eliminating Wrath of Khan earlier in this round I cannot in good conscience allow The Voyage Home to advance further. The same logic applies…Trekkies love it, but it is a limited target audience. Vacation is much more accessible to the masses. Chevy Chase’s career has been hit & miss at best, but he hit a home run with this one, as well as the 1989 sequel Christmas Vacation.

 

 

 

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off       

Released:     6/11/86

Starring:        Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Jennifer Greybueller2

Director:        John Hughes

Awards:        highly regarded on several lists of best comedies and best high school films, Broderick was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor in Comedy/Musical

Box Office:   $70 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  81% Fresh

Quotes:         “How could I possibly be expected to handle school on a day like this?”

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

“Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?”

Miscellaneous:        A spinoff/prequel TV series (with Jennifer Aniston taking over the Jennifer Grey role) aired during the 1990-91 season, but it just couldn’t measure up. The famous parade scene supposedly takes place at Chicago’s Von Steuben Day Parade, which celebrates Baron Friedrich von Steuben, a Prussian military officer who came to America and aided George Washington during the American Revolution. The German-centric event is generally held in September. However the film is supposed to be set in late spring near the end of the school year. Oops.

 

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Risky Business

 Released:     8/5/83

Starring:        Tom Cruise, Rebecca DeMornayrb3

Director:        Paul Brickman (Bad News Bears Breaking Training)

Awards:        none

Box Office:   $64 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  96% Fresh

Quotes:         “Every now and then, say ‘What the heck.’ ‘What the heck’ gives you freedom. Freedom brings opportunity, opportunity makes your future.”

Miscellaneous:        Sales of Wayfarer sunglasses rose 2000% after the film’s release. Timothy Hutton, Michael J. Fox, Tom Hanks, John Cusack, & Nicolas Cage were all considered for the role that ultimately went to Cruise. Frank Sinatra & Richard Dreyfus were both up for the role of Guido the pimp.

 

The Verdict:       Ferris Bueller. Critics love Risky Business, and it is a well-written film. However Bueller is equally smart and it is much purer, notably devoid of sex & foul language. Oh sure…ol’ Ferris is a bit of a rascal, but in the grand scheme of life his escapades are mostly harmless, and his advice about taking time to occasionally stop & smell the roses is more profound than what one usually finds in most teen-centric movies.

 

 

 

Tubular

 

The Breakfast Club    

Released:     2/15/85

Starring:        Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedybreakclub

Director:        John Hughes

Awards:        2005 Silver Bucket of Excellence Award at the MTV Movie Awards

Box Office:   $52 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  89% Fresh

Quotes:         “We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us…in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at 7:00 this morning. We were brainwashed.”

“Don’t mess with the bull, young man. You’ll get the horns.”

“Does Barry Manilow know you raid his wardrobe?”

“My God, are we gonna be like our parents?” “It’s unavoidable. It just happens. When you grow up your heart dies.”

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

Miscellaneous:        Originally there was an idea about doing multiple sequels, occurring every ten years, in which the group would get back together. However Hughes had an unstable working relationship with Nelson, and the director also had a falling out with Ringwald when she decided that she wanted to move on from teen roles, thus the follow-ups never happened. Ringwald & Hall were 16 at the time the film was shot…the others were all in their 20’s.

 

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Dirty Dancing

Released:     8/21/87

Starring:        Patrick Swayze, Jennifer GreyDirty_Dancing

Director:        Emile Ardolino

Awards:        won an Oscar for Best Original Song (I’ve Had the Time of My Life) & Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo

Box Office:   $214 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  72% Fresh

Quotes:         “Nobody puts Baby in the corner!”

Miscellaneous:        A prequel/remake/reimagining called Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights was made in 2004. I’ve never seen it and have no interest in ever doing so.

 

The Verdict:       The Breakfast Club. This is a surprisingly easy decision. While Dirty Dancing is a cultural benchmark of the 1980’s there is no doubt that The Breakfast Club is a much better film.

 

 

 

When Harry Met Sally

Released:     7/14/89

Starring:        Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Bruno Kirby, Carrie Fisherharry2

Director:        Rob Reiner

Awards:        Oscar nomination for Original Screenplay, Golden Globe nominations for Best Musical/Comedy, Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Actor (Crystal), Best Actress (Ryan)

Box Office:   $93 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  89% Fresh

Quotes:         “When I buy a new book, I always read the last page first. That way, in case I die before I finish, I know how it ends. That, my friend, is a dark side.”

“Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way. No man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her.”

“There are two kinds of women: high maintenance and low maintenance.” “Which one am I?” “You’re the worst kind…you’re high maintenance but you think you’re low maintenance.”

“I’ll have what she’s having.”

“Oh, but ‘baby fish mouth’ is sweeping the nation?”

“I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

Miscellaneous:        The infamous quote “I’ll have what she’s having” is delivered by Reiner’s mother Estelle. Harry Connick Jr. is almost as big of a star in the movie as the actors, as he performs the entire soundtrack.

 

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The Blues Brothers

Released:     6/20/80

Starring:        John Belushi & Dan Aykroydbbros

Director:        John Landis (Animal House, Trading Places, Coming to America)

Awards:        none

Box Office:   $115 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  85% Fresh

Quotes:         “We’re on a mission from God.”

“Are you the police?” “No, ma’am. We’re musicians.”

“Bring me four fried chickens and a Coke.” “And some dry white toast, please.”

“It’s a hundred and six miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.”

“What kind of music do you usually have here?” “Oh, we got both kinds. We got country AND western.”

Miscellaneous:        Over 100 cars were wrecked during filming. The film has a fantastic soundtrack, including songs by Taj Mahal, Steve Winwood, Ray Charles, James Brown, Robert Johnson, Cab Calloway, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, John Lee Hooker, & Elmore James.

 

The Verdict:       The Blues Brothers. This is a tough call. I adore When Harry Met Sally. However, the cultural impact of The Blues Brothers cannot be ignored. It is such a unique film. Harry/Sally is undoubtedly one of the two or three best romantic comedies ever produced, but the fact is that rom-coms are a dime-a-dozen. One’s preferences can be easily swayed by whomever the lead actors are. I loved pre-Botox Meg Ryan, and I am a huge Billy Crystal fan, yet at the end of the day rom-coms all have the same basic structure. It’s a plug & play deal, with different actors going thru similar scenarios. Harry/Sally is particularly well written & performed, but at it cannot completely escape the familiar commonalities of the genre. The Blues Brothers is lightning in a bottle. A sequel was attempted in 1998, but its failure proves my point.

80’s Movie Mania: Bodacious Round 3

Greetings friends and fellow cinephiles. It’s time to put the 3rd Round of 80’s Movie Mania to bed so that we can move on to the Sweet Sixteen. At this point I can’t recall exactly what I’ve said or not said in these little preambles, so please excuse any unfortunate repetitiveness. I do want to remind The Manoverse that I am well aware that I have left many worthy films out of this competition. If you haven’t seen some of your favorite 1980’s classics there are a few possible explanations. This competition is heavily influenced…maybe totally so…by my personal preferences and what I have or haven’t seen. Therefore you won’t find any of the Indiana Jones series (I’ve never watched any of them), no horror films (the only slasher flick I like is Halloween, which was made in 1978), or stuff like Tootsie, Full Metal Jacket, Gremlins, Fatal Attraction, Amadeus, The Color Purple, or The Untouchables…because either I haven’t seen them or have and don’t believe them to be all that remarkable. You may have noticed that Lethal Weapon was included in this competition while Die Hard was not. That was a difficult decision, but I have a little something brewing for Christmas 2017 and didn’t want to be redundant (also the reason cool holiday flicks like A Christmas Story, Christmas Vacation, & Scrooged are not a part of 80’s Movie Mania). You already know that I eliminated trilogies right off the bat, specifically the Star Wars and Back to the Future films, four of which were produced in the 1980’s. There were also a lot of laudable sports films made during the decade, including Hoosiers, Raging Bull, Field of Dreams, Major League, The Karate Kid, Bull Durham, & All the Right Moves, but I’ve already focused on them elsewhere so I decided including them here was unnecessary. Even with these omissions I believe I’ve presented a compelling & provocative tournament, and a fun trip down memory lane. Okay, enough of that. We ride!!

 

 

 

Bodacious 3

 

National Lampoon’s Vacation       vs.     Stand By Me

vacation21983’s Vacation received byes thru the first two rounds. Chevy Chase stars as Clark W. Griswold Jr., a Stand-By-Me-Website-Banner-3-980x363-980x363well-intentioned yet blundering family man who decides to drive his wife & kids from Chicago to California to visit the nation’s preeminent theme park. As usual with road trip flicks there are a plethora of epic fails & hilarious calamities, with the biggest twist coming when the Griswolds finally reach Wally World. This movie has held up remarkably well over the past thirty plus years, with the notable exception that the conclusion would never ever happen in The Internet Age. A few sequels were made with variable results…European Vacation isn’t too bad, Christmas Vacation is awesome, & Vegas Vacation is…well…let’s just forget it ever happened. A reboot/sequel was made last year in which the adult version of Rusty Griswold takes his own family on a cross-country trek. It is…okay. Stand By Me has gotten past K-9 and Weekend at Bernie’s to arrive at this point. It is one of the better film/TV adaptations of Stephen King’s work, right up there with The Shawshank Redemption and Carrie. It has a 91% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and is nostalgically romanticized by almost everyone who was a young teenager in 1986.

The Verdict:       Vacation. I’m all about nostalgia, but I really can’t fully embrace Stand By Me. I suppose I just don’t relate to the boys in the film. I never had those kinds of relationships or those sorts of adventures as a kid. Objectively speaking it is a great movie, but it’s not one for which I’ve ever had deep affection. Conversely, I’ve seen Vacation countless times in the past three decades. If it’s on television I’m probably going to stop flipping thru the channels and watch. I’ve been known to keep it saved on my DVR for a boring rainy day. There are so many great scenes & quotable lines. It is undoubtedly the zenith of Chevy Chase’s long & prosperous career.

 

 

 

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off        vs.     The Princess Bride

buellerYou were probably wondering about the whereabouts of ol’ Ferris. Well, he had byes thru the first two briderounds but has now arrived. 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off solidified the star status of Matthew Broderick and tells the story of a scheming yet likeable high schooler, his girlfriend, & their best friend who decide to play hooky for the day and enjoy some of the finer things Chicago has to offer. They visit the Art Institute of Chicago, go to the top of the Sears Tower, eat lunch at a fancy restaurant, take in a Cubs game, & Ferris commandeers the microphone on a parade float belting out fun covers of Danke Schoen and Twist & Shout. In the process Ferris outwits his clueless parents as well as a persistent school principal. It’s all great fun, and we get to vicariously live thru a character who brazenly pulls off what most of us would never have the cahonas to try. The Princess Bride got past Cocktail in Round 2. It didn’t fair that well at the box office in 1987, coming in 41st, behind drivel like Outrageous Fortune, Mannequin, & Adventures in Babysitting. It did better than Ishtar and Superman IV though, so that’s something. Like other “cult classics” The Princess Bride would have to wait for the riches gained from home video to be deemed successful. Actress Robin Wright starred in the film while still doing soap opera Santa Barbara, but of course she has gone on to become one of Hollywood’s best. Rotten Tomatoes rates The Princess Bride as 97% Fresh, and our old pals Siskel & Ebert gave it double Thumbs Up. Ebert said it is “good-hearted fun” and “satire containing true innocence”, while Siskel called it “the weirdest assortment of characters since Star Wars” (which I’m pretty sure he meant as a compliment).

The Verdict:       Ferris Bueller. It’s odd to contemplate how different this competition might look with slightly altered matchups. The Princess Bride probably deserves a better fate, but Ferris Bueller is just so entertaining. And it kind of has a subtle message. We’ll get into that some other time though.

 

 

 

Batman      vs.     Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

batmansymbolOur favorite Caped Crusader defeated 80’s pop staple Pretty in Pink in the last round. Batman was by far trek4the #1 film at the box office in 1989, and almost three decades later it is still near the Top 50 highest grossing films of all-time when adjusted for inflation. Willem Dafoe, David Bowie, John Lithgow, Tim Curry, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Richard Gere, Jeff Goldblum, Robert Englund, & James Woods were among the actors considered for The Joker. Robin Williams thought he had the role after Jack Nicholson initially turned it down, but then Nicholson reconsidered and Williams was dismissed. That angered him so much that he refused an offer to portray The Riddler in the 1995 sequel Batman Forever. Thus we were stuck with Jim Carrey. Director Tim Burton retroactively says of his own film that it was “more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie”, while Christopher Nolan, who would direct a new Dark Knight trilogy a couple of decades later, called the 1989 film “brilliant, visionary, & extraordinarily idiosyncratic”. The Voyage Home…aka the one with the whales…defeated Eddie & The Cruisers in Round 2. It was the fifth highest grossing film of 1986, behind Top Gun and Platoon but ahead of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Stand By Me, Hoosiers, & Pretty in Pink. It has an 85% Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, with Ebert calling it “easily the most absurd of the Star Trek stories”, but also “the best, the funniest, and the most enjoyable in simple human terms.” I concur.

The Verdict:       The Voyage Home. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think Burton is onto something, and since he directed the thing he should know…Batman is probably more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie. I mean I still think of it as a great movie as well, but the competition is stiff. The Voyage Home…in my opinion…is right up there with Wrath of Khan in the Star Trek hierarchy.

 

 

 

Risky Business  vs.     Coming to America

rb2After a first round bye Risky Business took out Iron Eagle in Round 2. It was the 10th highest grossing film of 1983, cta2behind classics like Return of the Jedi & WarGames, but beating out some darn good competition like Scarface, The Big Chill, & A Christmas Story. It has an impressive 96% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Ebert said Risky Business “is a movie about male adolescent guilt…in other words it’s a comedy”, and also called it “one of the smartest, funniest, most perceptive satires in a long time.” High praise indeed. Coming to America defeated Brat Pack classic St. Elmo’s Fire in Round 2. It was the 3rd highest grossing film of 1988, behind only Rain Man & Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and ahead of great stuff like Die Hard, Beetlejuice, Scrooged, Bull Durham, & The Naked Gun. Its rating on Rotten Tomatoes is 69% Fresh, which is really good but not quite on par with many of the greats in this competition. Judged against other Eddie Murphy films it is easily in his Top 5, but amongst the bigger universe of comedy films I’m not sure it stands out.

The Verdict:       Risky Business. While Coming to America is a solid comedy it doesn’t feel special except when held up alongside the dreck that comprises way too much of Murphy’s overvalued filmography. Conversely Risky Business is an iconic representation of its era.