100 Favorite Movies…..26-30

We’re moving full steam ahead toward the Top 25, but we’ve got one more stop to make before we get there. Going forward there will be atleast one Christmas film in each group we examine. Today’s entry also looks at a couple modern classics that were made in my childhood but appreciated by me as an adult, yet another George Clooney flick (even though I really do TRY to dislike him), and one more ode to the 80’s from the late John Hughes. Enjoy…and remember that you can find the previous 70 films broken into 14 entries in the archives.


 

 

30 Rocky

The only underdog more famous that Rocky Balboa is The Holy Bible’s David, who felled the giant Goliath. 1976’s Rocky is synonymous with the unknown who takes advantage of his one shot at success and shocks the world (even though he actually doesn’t win until the sequel). In the 34 years that have passed since the film’s debut, it’s thematic arc has been used countless times, some successfully (Rudy, Remember the Titans, Hoosiers, Seabiscuit, The Karate Kid, Dodgeball), some not so much (The Replacements, Summer Catch, any Rocky sequel past 2). Face it…the formula works if the writers, actors, and directors are halfway talented and put forth a little effort. By now though you know my mantra…it is nearly impossible to surpass the original. What is funny about Rocky is that it is remembered as a sports film and for its boxing sequences and some scenes of the titular character in training, when in reality it is a well written film with tremendous performances and really good development of the main players. Burgess Meredith and Talia Shire are probably not given enough credit for their roles, but their support is the backbone of the movie’s success. Sly Stallone actually wrote the script, but was an unknown commodity at the time and had to beg the powers-that-be to let him star in his own story then ended up giving the best performance of his career. Rocky went on to be nominated for 10 Academy Awards, winning 3 of them including Best Picture. Not bad for a movie that was made on a shoestring budget and shot in under a month. I am sure that films will continue to “borrow” the formula in perpetuity, but I am also confident that we will still be talking about Rocky in another 34 years.

 

29 Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

The movies need more people like John Hughes. While so many teen flicks these days seem to be all about sex and gross out jokes (American Pie, Road Trip, Superbad), Hughes wrote and/or directed a whole slew of teen comedies in the 80’s that had an element of pathos and just enough of a message to make them cool but not preachy. Ferris Bueller, on its surface, is about a precocious high school senior skipping school. But look a little closer because I think it’s a lot more. Matthew Broderick stars as Ferris, the kind of loveable schemer it’s almost impossible not to like and nearly as difficult not to envy. He convinces his clueless folks that he is too sick to go to school and then proceeds to drag his gorgeous girlfriend and his morose best friend to accompany him on a day long adventure. The only people who seem to see through his BS are his caustic sister and the school principal, who seems quasi-maniacal in his efforts to bring down the teenager. Ferris is wise beyond his years. He understands that soon enough he and his friends will be in the “real world” and wants to take advantage of one last opportunity to be carefree and have some harmless fun. I suppose it is possible that the modern tradition of Senior Skip Day owes something to Ferris Bueller…but no one has ever done a Skip Day with quite the panache as Ferris. The film is Hughes’ ode to Chicago, as our trio of truants visit many of the city’s landmarks. They take in a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, go to the top of The Sears Tower, eat at a fancy restaurant (where Ferris passes himself off as Abe Frohman: Sausage King of Chicago), visit The Art Institute, and quite memorably “crash” the annual Von Steuben Day Parade with Ferris hopping up on a float and belting out Danke Schoen and Twist & Shout. I am 37 years old and I have never had such a fun and interesting day in my life…in high school, college, or beyond. Alan Ruck, who now is best known for his supporting role in the television show Spin City, is hysterically sympathetic as Cameron, the best friend with Daddy issues. A pre-Dirty Dancing Jennifer Grey is outstanding as the jealous sister who is tired of seeing her brother get away with everything. I don’t know why Grey didn’t become a bigger star. She did Red Dawn, Ferris Bueller, and Dirty Dancing all within 2 years of one another and then dropped off the map…or atleast has never done anything else anyone gave a damn about. Charlie Sheen has a quick cameo. The always reliable Edie McClurg is funny as the school secretary. And who can forget economist Ben Stein’s droll, tedious call of “Bueller…Bueller…Bueller…..”. There are so many iconic scenes and lines in Ferris Bueller that it has to rank as one of the most quotable films of the last 30 years. My affection is undoubtedly due in large part to being a child of the 80’s. I was 14 years old when this movie came out, so I embodied the target demographic. But I have seen Ferris Bueller many many times in the ensuing 24 years, and in my humble opinion it ages well, like a fine wine. It will still be relevant to high school kids for generations, and that isn’t a feat to which the majority of films in its particular genre can lay claim. Its relevance can be germane to adults too, if we pay attention. Look at Cameron, whose Dad loves his classic Ferrari more than his son. Or look at Ferris, who doesn’t take himself too seriously and advises us all that “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” That is some pretty sage advice from a 17 year old boy.

 

28 The Ref

I have warned you repeatedly that I LOVE Christmas movies. And while you have seen or will see many of the usual suspects that have shown up on our television screens every December for decades, here we have a criminally overlooked holiday treat. Somewhere in the deep dark recesses of my mind I vaguely recall seeing this for the first time in The Original Bachelor Palace back in my college days with a few good friends. It may have even been the same night we rented Trapped in Paradise. Or I could be totally off base. If my memory isn’t playing tricks on me it would partially explain my affection for The Ref. At any rate, whatever the particular circumstances may have been initially, I have seen this movie multiple times in the past 16 Christmas seasons. It is required holiday viewing in my household. Denis Leary…an excellent stand-up comedian who is now known primarily for his TV show Rescue Me…stars as a crook who, after a robbery has gone awry, is forced to hold a haughty Connecticut couple hostage in their home on Christmas Eve. The problem for Gus is that Lloyd and Caroline have some major issues. They are in marriage counseling because Caroline had an affair, Lloyd hates his life, and both blame each other for their son’s troubles. Now I know that doesn’t sound funny, but trust me…it is h-y-s-t-e-r-i-c-a-l. The bickering couple really tests Gus’ patience. Things get more complicated when Lloyd’s even snootier family shows up for dinner and then the conniving son comes home from military school. Hilarity ensues. Kevin Spacey makes almost anything instantly better…he’s such a great actor. The Ref isn’t as easy to find on your television as many of the better known holiday classics, but Comedy Central usually shows it once or twice. It is well worth the rental if you cannot find it on the ol’ tube though. For anyone who has never seen it, I assure you…you won’t be disappointed.

 

27 Ocean’s Eleven

Even though I am a huge fan of The Rat Pack and their music, their movies aren’t exactly high art. So I am not referring here to the 1960 original but rather to the 2001 remake starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon. It’s bad enough that Clooney movies keep showing up on this list, but now I am adding Pitt and Damon?? What in the world is wrong with me?? I suppose there’s no accounting for taste. I am just going to blame it on my love for anything and everything Vegas. Anyway, Ocean’s Eleven is the textbook definition of popcorn cinema, and I =guess that’s not a bad thing. Danny Ocean is fresh out of prison and has his sights set on robbing not one…not two…but three Las Vegas casinos all at the same time. He recruits his best wingman and they assemble a team to pull off the job. We eventually learn that Ocean’s real beef is with the owner of said casinos, played by the always superb Andy Garcia. The evil casino owner has hooked up with Ocean’s ex-wife, played by Julia Roberts. The crew that is to pull off this massive heist is a ragtag group of con men, played by guys like Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Elliot Gould, and Carl Reiner. They all have their key roles to play in the masterful plan, and for the most part the plan goes off without too much consternation. As a viewer I advise against trying to figure out details or attempting to apply logic. There are some holes…like: they are supposed to be robbing three casinos, but really they’re just robbing one vault that holds the money from three casinos. But it’s all good. The cast is very Rat Pack-esque in their breezy delivery and cool demeanor. There’s a little action, a little romance, a little comedy. The performances are very good. Don Cheadle is an underrated actor, and it is nice to see old timers Gould and Reiner in a big time flick with the younger, hipper It Guys. Two sequels were made, and as per usual the second was a subpar money grab while the third rebounded nicely with the addition of Al Pacino to the cast. I am tempted to point out that it is another case where the original is the best, but technically it is a remake of an original.

 

 

26 The Blues Brothers

When one is in college and joins a fraternity a few songs and a few films kind of come along with the package. I am not sure why this is so, but it is what it is. I am sure things have changed in the 15 years since I last graced a college campus…or a fraternity house… with my presence, but in my heyday The Blues Brothers was one of those beloved films. It is also one of the two movies (the other being Animal House) that made Saturday Night Live alumnus John Belushi a superstar. I have often wondered what other treasures Belushi would have offered us and how his career would have evolved had he not tragically left us far too soon. He stars as Jake, who along with his brother Elwood (played by Dan Aykroyd) formed a successful blues act before he landed in prison for armed robbery. Upon Jake’s release, the duo gather up the rest of their old band so they can do a benefit show and help the orphanage where Jake and Elwood grew up pay its property taxes. Along the way they manage to tick off the police, a group of neo-Nazis, Jake’s ex-fiancée, and a country band called The Good Ol’ Boys, all of whom chase The Blues Brothers and cause mayhem and destruction. Our heroes make the gig, pay off the taxes for the orphanage, and are ultimately sent to prison for all the havoc they have wreaked. The soundtrack is spectacular if you like blues music, and I do. There are alot of fun cameos…Ray Charles, Carrie Fisher, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, John Candy, Chaka Khan, John Lee Hooker, Paul Reubens/Pee Wee Herman, Joe Walsh, and Steven Spielberg, among others. The Blues Brothers is just a lot of mindless fun, and it continues to be a unique classic thirty years later.

 

 

100 Favorite Movies…..31-35

I promised that my hiatus from this series would only be a few weeks, and I was almost right. It has been a couple of months. But in the meantime I have been working on some things (not all published yet) that God had been tugging at me to focus on, so it’s all good. Once again today’s group of five is an incongruent mix of comedy, drama, and action, with a little romance thrown in. Release dates range from 1964 to 2000.


 


 

35 Scent of A Woman

When we looked at Cast Away I mentioned that sometimes a single performance is so good that it carries the film and makes the whole thing seem better than it probably really is in reality. Such is the case again with Scent of A Woman. I am a huge Godfather fan, but even I think this is Al Pacino’s best role. Is it subtle or nuanced?? No. Pacino is 100% all out, full throttle, balls to the wall…and that’s okay. In my opinion he never crosses over into caricature, though some may disagree. The plot itself is rather flimsy. Chris O’Donnell stars as Charlie, a soft spoken prep school student who needs to earn some cash to pay for his cross country trip back home to Oregon for Christmas break. To that end, Charlie takes on a kind of babysitting gig over Thanksgiving, keeping an eye on a blind retired Army colonel whose family is not taking him with them wherever they are going for the holiday. Colonel Frank Slade is a real pill…angry, bitter, obnoxious, and a heavy drinker. The weekend doesn’t go according to plan right from the very beginning, when Colonel Slade drags the reticent Charlie to New York City, where he plans to “to eat at an expensive restaurant, stay at a luxury hotel, visit his big brother, make love to a beautiful woman, and then blow his brains out”. The Colonel apparently wants to go out in a blaze of glory, and has a few fun adventures, like doing the tango with a lovely and accommodating stranger, test driving a Ferrari (getting pulled over by a clueless policeman…who doesn’t catch on that Slade is blind…in the process), and ambushing his unsuspecting brother’s family on Turkey Day. Meanwhile, Charlie has his own issues. He and a buddy witnessed a few of their classmates vandalizing school property, and the school’s headmaster has bribed a reluctant Charlie to snitch on the perps by guaranteeing that he can singlehandedly get Charlie into Harvard. Maybe it says a lot about my moral fiber or lack thereof, but I’d take that deal in a heartbeat. But Charlie doesn’t want to be THAT guy, so he is conflicted. It is rather weakly constructed drama and definitely takes a backseat to the main story, that of Colonel Slade. Pacino plays Slade in such a way that one dislikes him, feels sympathy for him, and is kind of rooting for him all at the same time. I especially enjoy when Charlie and the Colonel visit Slade’s brother’s family on Thanksgiving. We learn more about Slade’s backstory and how he ended up blind. We begin to understand why he acts the way he does, and somehow we end up cheering him on as he faces off with his prickly nephew (played by a pre-West Wing Bradley Whitford). Gradually Charlie and Colonel Slade form a respectful bond, and the movie culminates with the Colonel defending Charlie against a disciplinary committee at his stuffy prep school. Pacino’s soliloquy rivals anything Shakespeare ever wrote and is one of my favorite movie scenes of all time. He won the Oscar for his role in Scent of A Woman, and rightly so. Sometimes I think maybe it would have been a better movie if someone else besides O’Donnell would have portrayed Charlie, but I suppose it was necessary for Charlie to fade to the background so Colonel Slade could be what anyone who watches this film will remember.

 

 

34 A Shot in the Dark

There were a total of 9 Pink Panther films (I am not counting the recent remakes starring Steve Martin), 6 starring Peter Sellers as the hilarious Inspector Clouseau. Made in 1964, A Shot in the Dark is the second in the series, and in my opinion the best. Clouseau is charged with solving the murder of a chauffeur in a very wealthy and large household. The prime suspect is one of the maids, Maria Gambrelli, who was sleeping with the chauffeur. Despite the fact that all the evidence undeniably points to Maria, Clouseau will not arrest her because he has instantly become smitten with the undeniably beautiful woman. He bumbles his way through the investigation, getting himself arrested several times and driving his boss, Commissioner Dreyfus, absolutely mad. Several more murders are committed as well, but Clouseau refuses to believe Maria is guilty. A subplot involves Clouseau’s servant, Cato, whom the inept detective orders to attack him “whenever and wherever he least expects it”, a command that Cato follows in hysterical fashion. The relationships between Inspector Clouseau and the Commissioner and Cato, respectively, are laugh-out-loud funny, the very best parts of the film. Those relationships and the antics of Clouseau in general make the particulars of the whodunit plot relatively insignificant. Like any film series The Pink Panther became more and more ridiculous as the powers-that-be tried to squeeze more money out of the franchise, but A Shot in the Dark is a true gem and not to be missed.

 

 

33 Titanic

You’ve seen it…don’t even try to tell me you haven’t. Men especially seem unwilling to admit they have ever seen 1997’s Titanic, an epic blockbuster about the infamous “unsinkable” ship that sank on its maiden voyage on April 14, 1912. I have never really figured out if this reluctance is because in essence Titanic is a romance, or just some sort of ode to nonconformity in refusing to acknowledge that they saw what everyone else saw. All I know is that the film made nearly $2 billion and was in theaters for 10 months (over 3 of those were spent at #1 among the competition, which included such films as Good Will Hunting, Men in Black, Liar Liar, and Batman & Robin) in an era where most movies are gone within a month or two…so somebody watched the damn movie, and the law of averages would point to just about anyone and everyone. Personally I believe Titanic is a very well written movie with great performances and tremendous effects. I had been fascinated with the tragic story of the Titanic long before the movie was made, and I think the tale is told well. Some may say that real life, historically accurate characters should have been the focus and the movie about them. I understand that point, but I also see what James Cameron was trying to do and why he did it. The characters of Jack and Rose, as well as some of the other supporting roles, were meant as tributes to all 1500 passengers that perished. The “rich girl falls for a guy from the wrong side of the tracks” motif may be a bit cliché, but it works. The framing plot of the old lady who essentially tells the story as a flashback allowed Cameron to use actual footage captured on a dive in a submersible to the actual wreckage, which is pretty ingenious. If you really are one of the handful of people who has never seen Titanic, quit being a stubborn jackass and rent it. It’s a timeless narrative that I believe will stand up well for decades to come.

 

 

32 Back to the Future Trilogy

Yes, I know…this is technically a tie. But I maintain that it really isn’t. Though these three films were released over the course of five years, the story is continuous. Home base, so to speak, is 1985. In the first film Marty McFly is accidentally transported back to 1955 in his pal Doc Brown’s newly invented time machine (which is in the form of a DeLorean). There he meets his parents and inadvertently changes history by altering the moment the future Mr. & Mrs. McFly first make googly eyes at one another. So he has to fix that little problem before he can worry about getting back to his life in 1985. Needless to say the mission is accomplished and all is well. The second film sees the wacky Doc Brown take Marty and his girlfriend Jennifer 30 years into the future…2015…to help their misguided children. Marty must save his son and daughter from the nasty grandson of his father’s nemesis, Biff Tannen. We know from the first film that Biff has bullied and mistreated Marty’s father George since high school, but that Marty changed the course of that relationship for the better when he was in 1955. Unfortunately Biff has discovered the secret of the time machine and went back in it himself to once more alter 1985 so that he is a wealthy and powerful tyrant that has killed George and forced Marty’s mother, Lorraine, into marriage. So Marty and Doc have to go back to 1955 one more time to fix the damage. They do and all is well…for a brief moment. Lightning strikes the DeLorean, Doc disappears, and Marty is stuck in 1955. We have a cliffhanger. The third film has Marty, stuck in 1955, receive a letter from Doc, who has been transported back to 1885. Marty finds a way to have 1955 Doc get him to 1885, where he meets up with Doc and some of his own ancestors as well as forebearers of the Tannen clan. Marty saves Doc’s life, which is the reason he went back to 1885. He then finds a way, with the help of a steam locomotive, to get back to 1985. Doc is once again inadvertently left behind trying to get to his 1885 girlfriend Clara. At the end though, Doc and Clara arrive in 1985 via a wicked cool souped up train that has been converted into a time machine. The first Back to the Future is the best, and the third film the weakest. But it’s another case where a trilogy really needs to be treated as one entity. Time travel is almost always an awesome movie device, and these movies do it really well. We see what was at the time modern day, the 1980’s…go back to the 1950’s…go forward to a technologically advanced future in 2015…and go back to the 19th century Old West. It is the very definition of escapism. I haven’t done it for awhile, but it is a lot of fun to spend a rainy day watching all three movies consecutively. I have heard rumors for years about plans to revive the franchise, and I am sure at some point it shall be so, albeit with a whole new cast and likely nothing more than a cameo from Michael J. Fox. If and when that day comes I will judge the new film appropriately, but I will say this much…it’d have to be pretty special to live up to the original trilogy.

 

 

 

31 The Perfect Storm

I have tried very hard to dislike George Clooney. He is a pretty boy liberal who I would just love to bitch slap…but I’ll be damned if he isn’t a pretty good actor. There is no doubt that he is charismatic and charming. Here he plays the down-on-his-luck captain of a Gloucester fishing boat. Captain Billy Tyne and his crew…all of whom have lightly touched upon subplots…decide to go out on one more trip before the season ends in an effort to make more money. Unfortunately they get caught in a “perfect storm”, the convergence of three storms in the same place. I am not usually a fan of action films, but in this case the action is so well done…plus it’s unique, i.e. not the usual guns ablazing and mindless explosions but instead a fishing boat and its crew fighting horrendous weather. Even if considered alongside natural disaster flicks like Twister, Deep Impact, and Dante’s Peak, The Perfect Storm stands out due to excellent performances and good writing. The first time I ever watched the film I was not aware that it was based on a true story. I kept waiting for the heroic rescue and the happy ending. When it did not happen and I realized that it was a factual account, I almost cried because it was so sad. Subsequent viewings, with full knowledge of the real life tale, has only deepened my appreciation.

Superfluous 7 – Fictional Characters With Whom I’d Like To Hang Out

Awhile back I read a book called The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived. It wasn’t quite what I thought it was going to be when I made the impulse purchase, skewing a bit too much toward the analytical and academic instead of the lighthearted and interesting. The authors made a point of emphasizing that their list was based on influence and not popularity. Many of the conclusions reached were curious, some in a good way and some in a real head scratching sort of way. Rosie the Riveter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Barbie (the doll) made their list. The Marlboro Man was #1. Meanwhile, Fonzie and Rocky Balboa are nowhere to be found. So I decided to make my own, much shorter list. My criteria isn’t based on popularity or influence. The question I asked myself was simply “Who would it be cool to hang out with??” Now let me be very clear…I am not simply talking about meeting them or doing an interview. I am talking about spending a weekend or maybe a summer with a person, becoming involved in their daily life. Michael Corleone is an awesome character, but really…who wants to become part of the mafia with all the guns and blood?? Shakespeare created many memorable characters, but a lot of them are unstable and end up dead. I love Forrest Gump, but I think he may get on my nerves after awhile. So I thought about who it would be fun to converse with and learn from, or just have a good time with. It was difficult to narrow down to seven, but the mission was accomplished. Who would you enjoy chillin’ with if you had the opportunity and the line between fiction and reality was not only blurred but eliminated?? Don’t hesitate to let me know…after you enjoy…..

 

 

 

from the home office in Spasticsville, Kansas…..

 

 

 

The Superfluous 7 Fictional Characters With Whom I’d Like To Hang Out:

 

 

7 The Duke Boys

I am a child of the 80’s, and every Friday night from 1979-1985 I could not wait for The Dukes of Hazzard to come on television. It is only now, 25 years later, that I can truly appreciate the show (and I mean that sincerely). Was the acting great and the writing superb?? No. But no one ever got killed, and the crimes committed were pretty benign. Hazzard County seems like it would be a cool little town in which to live, as long as one doesn’t get on the bad side of Boss Hogg & Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane…and even then they are actually rather tame as far as villains go. Now I am resisting the urge to write about what I would do if given the chance to spend some quality time with Daisy, instead taking the high road and choosing to chillax with Bo & Luke. Did they have jobs?? What did they do all day other than run the roads in the General Lee and occasionally throw back a cold one at The Boar’s Nest?? I suppose they helped Uncle Jesse by doing most of the heavy lifting on the farm, but that’s okay…a little elbow grease and sweat never hurt anyone. I’m not much of a fast driver, but I could handle being a passenger as the guys race around evading the law. I imagine it’d get the ol’ blood pumping, especially when a washed out bridge forces one of those cool jumps. I could grip the roll bar and yell “Yeeeee-haaaaaa”. Mostly I can just see myself enjoying the slow pace, the good people, and the relative innocence of a place like Hazzard and learning the essence of being a cool country boy from The Dukes. And yes…I’d probably hit on Daisy.

 

 

6 Bilbo Baggins

There is a reason I specifically chose Bilbo Baggins. His nephew Frodo is a character we get to know much more in depth, as he is the main protagonist in all the Lord of the Rings books/movies. In contrast, Bilbo is the focus in only one shorter book, The Hobbit. But Frodo’s adventure is so long, grueling, and dangerous that it doesn’t seem like it’d be much fun to be in his proximity. As a matter of fact, because of that damn Ring (The One to rule them all) Frodo’s life and the lives of everyone around him becomes way too scary. Bilbo’s adventure in The Hobbit is not without peril, but it is much shorter and less fraught with life-in-the-balance moments. However, if I were to hang out with Bilbo it would not be in the midst of an adventure at all. I would want to hang out in The Shire with he and the other hobbits. The Shire is a quiet, idyllic land where the hobbits enjoy simple things like eating, drinking, smoking, and being social. The hobbits enjoy gardening and live off the fat of the land. It is a simple place and they are simple folk, which I like. Bilbo is a good storyteller and definitely has some stories to tell, plus he is pals with the wizard Gandalf, so one never knows when he might pop in.

 

 

5 Batman/Bruce Wayne

Batman is the ultimate example of bi-polar disorder. How cool would it be to hang out with him?? During the day one could enjoy the lavish lifestyle of billionaire Bruce Wayne, and at night get a taste of adventure as The Dark Night trolls the seedy underbelly of Gotham City exacting vigilante justice. I would LOVE to ride shotgun in The Batmobile and of course chill in the ultimate man cave, The Bat Cave. I am not much for physicality, but it’d be intriguing to try to outwit villains like The Riddler, Catwoman, and The Penguin. While Batman doesn’t seem like much of a conversationalist his alter ego, Bruce Wayne, is charming and charismatic. And since I would know his secret we could have rather fascinating discussions. Trying to get inside the head of a man who was emotionally scarred as a child by seeing his parents gunned down and who uses that trauma as a reason to dress up like a bat and fight crime…well call me crazy, but that sounds like fun.

 

 

4 Sheriff Andy Taylor

It has long been my opinion that the happiest place on Earth is not Disney World, but rather the town of Mayberry. I am too young to have caught The Andy Griffith Show when it first aired in the 60’s, but forty years after it was cancelled generations of people like me are still invited into the lives of Andy, Opie, Barney, and Aunt Bea thanks to reruns. And while Barney Fife is one of the funniest characters in television history and we all love Opie because we have literally seen Ron Howard grow from a small boy to an Oscar winning director and a grandfather, for me the heart & soul of the show and the town is Sheriff Andy. It may seem like a trite cliché, but Andy Taylor is a good man. He is kind, wise, understanding, and tough. He’s a great Dad, a good friend, and good at his job. I have reached a point in my life where I see that running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to impress people and achieve what the world defines as success is akin to a cat chasing its tale…an exercise in futility. Faith, family, and friendship are the most important things in life. I think a man like Sheriff Taylor understands that, and I would enjoy immensely the opportunity to sit on the front porch sipping some iced tea, picking a little on the ol’ guitar, and shooting the breeze with him.

 

 

3 Captain Jean-Luc Picard

This was a tough call. Thanks to my good friend The Owl I am a Trekkie, and the Star Trek Universe is polluted with memorable characters. I love Bones McCoy, but I really can’t see myself voluntarily spending time with a doctor. Scotty is cool, but I am not an engineer either. Spock is interesting, but really…would he even understand the concept of chillaxing?? ‘Tis not very logical afterall. Captain Kirk is awesome, but a little too intense and adventurous for my tastes. I like to keep things low key. Captain Picard is more my speed. He is less of a swashbuckler and more of an intellectual, an educated man with eclectic interests in classical music, literature, archaeology, fencing, and physics. Picard is the type of guy one could probably sit and listen to for hours, even if he is so smart that the majority of what he is saying goes way above your head. Captain Kirk would be fun to party with and you’d definitely want him on your side in a fight, but Picard is someone to learn from and gain insight about the world.

 

 

2 Santa Claus

Oh come on…who wouldn’t want to hang out with Santa Claus?? And I am not just talking about on Christmas Eve as he makes his journey around the globe delivering presents and eating cookies. I want to spend all year with Old Saint Nick. How does he know when we are sleeping and when we are awake?? How does he know whether we’ve been bad or good?? How does he know exactly what every child wants for Christmas?? Precisely when does he check The List twice and how much time does that take?? Who compiles The List in the first place?? What kind of set up does The North Pole have as far as manufacturing all the latest gadgets kids want these days?? Most of us are selfish and not the least bit concerned about the needs of others, so why is Santa so different?? Why is he so giving and what lead him down this career path?? What is the economic situation for him personally and professionally since he just gives presents away?? Does he get a cut of the profits from stores like WalMart, Sears, Amazon.com, and Best Buy?? What is the deal with the elves?? These are things I need to know people!!

 

 

1 Sherlock Holmes

I have been a huge Sherlockian since junior high school. I have read each of the 56 short stories and 4 novels countless times and enjoy them tremendously. I think maybe the coolest job in history was Watson’s. I would love love love to be Watson, hanging out with Holmes and then writing about all his adventures. I realize that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle makes Victorian London seem far more awesome than it probably was in reality, but that’s okay. Doyle’s London is an odd mix of quaint, mysterious, dangerous, and romantic. Holmes wouldn’t need to flip through endless channels of mind numbing idiocy even if the technology were available to him. He’s got plenty to keep him busy. If he’s not out solving some of the oddest crimes ever conceived he is conducting chemistry experiments in his living room, writing an academic treatise on various types of soil or poisons, or playing his violin. One would never get bored hanging out with Sherlock Holmes, except during those times of languid inactivity when he takes to shooting up cocaine. That’d be when I’d have to leave and visit someone else on the list. At any rate, spending time at 221B Baker Street would encompass meeting all sorts of strange people, trudging through the streets of London at all hours of the day & night in search of answers, and most of all learning at the feet of quite possibly the smartest man in history.

 

 

 

100 Favorite Movies…..36-40

It is more than likely after today’s sojourn into cinema that we’ll be taking another little break from this series. There are some other things that The Lord is laying on my heart to write, some that I have already begun such as the Sermon on the Mount analysis and the examination of the Fruits of The Spirit. I do not anticipate that this breather will be a few months like last time…more like a few weeks. Until we pick things back up, please enjoy this entry and take a look around The Manofesto at the other subject matter I attempt to write about with some semblance of intelligence and affection.


 

 

40 Cast Away

Any hardcore sports fan will tell you that success in baseball requires a collective effort, as does football…but in basketball one superstar can put a team on his back and carry them a long way toward victory.  Similarly, in film, occasionally a single performance is so brilliant that it makes an otherwise flawed film great. Tom Hanks is another actor, like Jimmy Stewart & Robin Williams, who seems equally adept at comedy and drama. I tend to prefer his more lighthearted performances, but that is a byproduct of my overall gravitation toward comedy and not really a commentary on Hanks’ abilities. In 2000’s Cast Away Hanks plays Chuck, a globetrotting FedEx systems guru who is constantly called to all corners of the world to put out fires (in a figurative sense). He is on the verge of proposing to his understanding girlfriend Kelly on Christmas Eve when he has to fly off on yet another problem solving endeavor. He tells her “I’ll be right back”, but his plane crashes and he ends up marooned on an island in the middle of nowhere. The plane crash scene is attention-grabbing and disturbingly realistic, but in a good way. A large chunk of the story is then told on the island, as we see Chuck evolve…or maybe devolve…from a harried, Type A, always on the run, white collar yuppie wannabe into a lonely, boney, grizzled survivalist. The island scenes are, in my opinion, sublime. There are long stretches with no dialogue, and it’s only the subtle, skillful craftsmanship of Tom Hanks that keeps us invested. Cast Away should be shown to every acting student in order to teach how a performer can convey so much with their eyes, small gestures, and sheer physicality. I cannot avoid spoiling things by saying that Chuck does find a way off the island after four years and is rescued. His return home is the portion of the film that is a mixed bag. On one hand I applaud the writers and director Robert Zemeckis for not giving into the temptation to give us the trite, happy ending. Kelly has moved on with her life, gotten married and had children, and that is dealt with effectively. And there is a scene where Chuck’s co-workers throw him a welcome back party complete with a smorgasbord that includes crab legs. Chuck picks one up and tosses it aside dismissively, which is absolutely exceptional. The man has just returned from a deserted island where he has eaten nothing but seafood for four years and these thoughtless jackasses put that kind of stuff on the buffet?? It is almost a throwaway moment, but for me it is one of the most memorable scenes in any movie I’ve ever seen. On the other hand, the ending leaves something to be desired. Chuck has held onto one unopened package that washed up on the island and delivers it. The note he leaves says “this package saved my life”, which I don’t get. Maybe I am just being thick, or overanalyzing. Then he comes to a crossroads…literally. The film ends with Chuck standing in the middle of a four way road with a slight grin on his face. It’s a very odd ending that I suppose was meant to have a thoughtful, ponderous tone. Instead it just leaves me…every time I watch…thinking “That’s it??”. At any rate, the film’s shortcomings are trumped by Hanks’ unforgettable performance and its “read between the lines” commentary on the value of time and the importance of priorities. I would have liked to have seen more emphasis put on what happens after Chuck’s re-entry into civilization, but that likely would have meant shaving the amount of time spent on the island scenes, which would probably lessen the overall impact.

 

39 The Shawshank Redemption

Sometimes I wish Hollywood could figure out a way to put Morgan Freeman in every movie and television show. He automatically makes whatever he is in better. He has a certain something…call it class, or maybe gravitas…that draws the viewer in like a magnet. In 1994’s Shawshank Redemption, Freeman plays Red, a grizzled veteran of prison life and a man with “connections” who is able to get his fellow prisoners almost anything they want, which makes him an important guy. Red becomes good friends with the newly arrived Andy, played by Tim Robbins in his only notable performance outside Bull Durham. Andy has been wrongly accused and convicted of killing his wife and her lover. He begins to become an important guy like Red by tutoring fellow inmates to get their GED and helping the guards with their taxes. The warden utilizes Andy’s skills to launder kickback money. Eventually, after 20 years, Andy escapes in a unique and unforgettable way that involves a rock hammer and a Rita Hayworth poster, exposing the warden’s illegal schemes in the process. Not long after Red is paroled after having spent 40 years at Shawshank for a murder he did actually commit. The ending is all about hope and…well…redemption. But before we get to that ending we get realistically harsh glimpses of prison life, from brutal & crooked guards to gang rape to the suicide of an old convict who has been released but cannot function “on the outside”. The Shawshank Redemption is not light entertainment, and thus it probably ranks lower than many films of lesser quality on this list simply because it isn’t the kind of movie that one watches over and over again on a lazy rainy Saturday on one of the abundantly available cable TV channels. Or atleast it’s not the kind of movie I am going to watch that often. When I do watch stories like this my palate has to be immediately cleansed with something frivolous and optimistic. Nonetheless, Shawshank is a brilliantly written tale with a cast second to none.

 

38 Best in Show

I talked about my affection for mockumentaries when we looked at This Is Spinal Tap, and Best in Show is the funniest yet. Maybe being a dog owner enhances the experience?? I don’t know. There is a group of actors…Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Ed Begley Jr., Bob Balaban, Parker Posey, Michael McKean, Catherine O’Hara, & Jennifer Coolidge…that have done several of these types of films together, all directed by Guest. The story centers around an eclectic group of dog owners all headed to the same show in Philadelphia. The show itself is a parody of the Westminster Dog Show held every spring at Madison Square Garden and The National Dog Show shown every Thanksgiving on NBC immediately following the Macy’s Parade. The owners portrayed include a redneck hound dog lover, a clueless airhead heiress engaged in the love that dare not speak its name with her dog’s lesbian trainer, an uptight yuppie couple, a middle aged Florida couple who keeps coming across men the wife has had sex with, and a humorously effeminate gay couple. We also get to meet the folks who actually produce the dog show, and the highlight is a clueless, over-the-top announcer that says things like “which one of these dogs would you want to have as your wide receiver on your football team?” and “I went to one of those obedience places once. It was all going well until they spilled hot candle wax on my private parts.” It’s all very absurd and that is kind of the point. There isn’t any message, no moral to the story, no lessons to be gleaned. It’s just a good time. Try this though…watch Best in Show and then watch one of the real dog shows. You will see just how perfectly the movie captures the essence of the actual event, and that’ll make the movie even funnier.

 

37 Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

The parade of Christmas movies continues. Lost in New York is a sequel to 1990’s Home Alone, which we will discuss down the road. I feel safe in assuming that the vast majority of folks have seen both films. The sequel uses the same formula as the original, only changing the setting. And while that may indicate an all too prevalent lack of creativity, it is also quite logical. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?? The question I had when this film first arrived in theaters in 1992…and I am sure I was not the only one…was “How in the world can these idiotic parents accidentally ditch their kid AGAIN??” The answer is actually rather clever, the only part of the story with any originality. Once little Kevin has been separated from the pack he ends up in The Big Apple and is having a rollicking good time shacked up at the posh Plaza Hotel. But coincidentally the bumbling thieves from the first film end up in New York too, plotting to rob a toy store on Christmas Eve. Kevin discovers the plan and foils the robbery. There is an extended scene of cartoon violence just as in the first film, this time making use of an absent aunt and uncle’s currently undergoing extensive renovations home. Meanwhile the rest of the family is in Florida until the police discover that Kevin has used his Dad’s credit card in New York. The story is completely predictable and we can see the ending a mile away, but I don’t care. This is a funny movie and a holiday tradition. Is it on the same level as some of the more renowned Christmas classics?? No. I would put it a level below most of them. I could have done without the pious subplot involving the homeless pigeon lady, and the preachy toy store owner is a weak but necessary plot device. But those are small points of contention. Joe Pesci & Daniel Stern are once again sufficiently amusing as the crooks, and Rob Schneider & Tim Curry are modestly humorous as maybe the most inept hotel employees in history. The family plays its necessary part. The city itself is always an effective co-star in the myriad movies and television shows set there. I suppose my affection is, in this case, more a function of repeated viewings than possibly any other movie thus far. Lost in New York is inexplicably on random television channels throughout the year, so I have watched it a lot. I am fully aware that it isn’t high art or critically acclaimed, but it is innocuous enough and suits my tastes just fine.

 

36 Halloween

Let us segue from Christmas to Halloween. I am not a big horror guy. I just get no joy out of seeing some deranged serial killer mow through an entire cast of characters with a knife or chainsaw or other sundry instruments of doom. People who seem a bit too fascinated with blood n’ guts have a chemical makeup in their brains with which I cannot identify. That being said, Halloween is the one movie of its genre that I thoroughly enjoy and watch annually (during the appropriate season of course). Just to be clear, I am speaking of the 1978 John Carpenter original and not the fairly recent Rob Zombie “reimagining”. I haven’t seen that one yet and probably never will. Carpenter’s film introduces us to Michael Myers, who stabbed his teenage sister to death when he was six years old on Halloween night and has been in a mental institution for 15 years. He escapes…on Halloween…and returns to his hometown. In hot pursuit is the obsessed Dr. Loomis, who has been treating Michael all these years but at some point gave up because he realized the boy was “pure evil”. We also meet teenager Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis in what was her first film role. Michael Myers seems to have an odd fascination with Laurie Strode and stalks her throughout the movie, killing several innocent bystanders along the way. I think one of the reasons I like Halloween is because it really isn’t all that bloody, atleast by today’s standards. The producers didn’t have much of a budget, so they rely mostly on atmosphere and ambiance, and that works really well. Halloween isn’t so much gory as it is eerie and suspenseful. The story is well written and not really all that out in left field. The use of our scariest holiday is inspired and the music is perfect. I particularly enjoy Donald Pleasance as Dr. Loomis. He is borderline maniacal himself in his dogged hunt for the killer. As with so many other horror films Halloween spawned countless sequels, each one progressively more ridiculous, atleast until Jamie Lee Curtis was brought back into the mix after two decades and participated in two follow-ups that basically ignored all the insipidly silly chapters that preceded them. But even those two movies couldn’t live up to the magic of the original. Sometimes the right mix of circumstances converges and we get lightning in a bottle, and it is nearly impossible to ever repeat. Such is the case with Halloween. I would be remiss if I did not mention Halloween II, which was made 3 years after the first but the story picks up exactly where the first film left off. Michael stalks Laurie in a hospital, slowly killing various nurses and staff. We eventually learn that Laurie is Michael’s younger sister and that’s why he is after her. Michael and Dr. Loomis both supposedly die at the end, but of course death is oftentimes not permanent in the slasher genre. I just cannot put Halloween II in the list, even as a backdoor tie. The violence and gore is increased noticeably and unnecessarily, and there just seems to be something missing. It is certainly much better than the countless sequels that would follow, but not on par with its predecessor. As I said, lightning in a bottle is almost never captured again.

 

 

 

100 Favorite Movies…..41-45

At this point some patterns have started to develop. You will see my affections for certain types of films, certain actors, and particular film trilogies or series. I will do my best to not become repetitive in my comments, and apologize ahead of time if I do that anyway. In video stores they used to have a section of “If you liked this then check this out…”. I don’t really peruse video stores anymore. After all, with Netflix, DVR, Video On Demand, and Redbox who needs to pay Blockbuster $4/rental?? But if my dear readers have any suggestions based on the examples I write about here please don’t hesitate to let me know.


 

45 Sleepless In Seattle

I mentioned in a previous post that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan made three movies together. We’ve discussed You’ve Got Mail. Another was Joe Versus the Volcano, which is okay but not one of my favorites. The third Hanks/Ryan pairing is, in my opinion, the best and, with apologies to When Harry Met Sally (which we also looked at previously), the greatest romantic comedy of all time. Hanks plays a widower whose wife has just succumbed to cancer. That doesn’t seem like the basis for a romantic comedy, but we don’t get to see much of the sad stuff. What we see is Sam taking his young son and beginning a new life in Seattle. He eventually gets back into the dating scene, but his little boy isn’t satisfied with Dad’s taste in women, so he calls a nationwide radio talk show on Christmas Eve and tells the host his father needs a new wife. Sam is goaded into spilling his heart to an enraptured listening public who apparently have nothing better to do on Christmas Eve. Listening intently all the way on the other side of the country in Baltimore is Annie, played by Ryan. Annie is engaged to an allergy-ridden milquetoast that she doesn’t really love and easily becomes mesmerized…and a bit obsessed…by Sam’s story. She is among the thousands of women who send Sam letters, which he somewhat cynically yet logically dismisses. She even has a background check done on him and goes to Seattle only to chicken out when their eyes lock ever so briefly. In a nod to the 1957 Cary Grant classic An Affair to Remember, the little boy (posing as his father) writes Annie and asks her to meet him at the top of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day. The little boy takes off for New York by himself unbeknownst to Dad, and Annie decides to throw caution to the wind and be there too. I won’t spoil the ending for those who haven’t seen the film (and if you haven’t shame on you), but suffice to say that the phrase “Shall we??” may be one of the best lines of dialogue ever. I need to point out that Rosie O’Donnell has a role as the perfunctory best friend, and I detest Rosie O’Donnell. That should tell you all you need to know – if I can get past Rosie’s unfortunate besmirching of this movie it must be pretty extraordinary.

 

44 Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

We’ve established the fact…or atleast the commonly held opinion among Trekkies…that of the six films starring the original Enterprise crew the even-numbered ones are superior. This fourth installment is what I call “the one with the whales”. The crew travels back in time (and time travel is always cool) to 1980’s San Francisco to secure some humpback whales that will save Earth in the future. The details are too contrived to explain here, and they don’t really matter anyway. What matters is that the movie becomes a delightfully humorous fish-out-of water tale (pun unavoidable), with our heroes from the 23rd century trying to maneuver in the 20th. Spock and Kirk encounter an annoying punk rocker on a bus that refuses to turn down his music…Spock knocks him unconscious with the Vulcan nerve pinch. Spock doesn’t understand the concept of profanity but tries to fit it by using it…and fails miserably. Scotty tries to talk to a computer instead of using the keyboard. Kirk asks the crew to “remember where we parked” the Klingon Bird of Prey they’ve cloaked in an open field. Bones’ hilariously indignant take on “modern” medicine – “Dialysis?? What is this, the Dark Ages??”…” My God, man. Drilling holes in his head isn’t the answer!!”.  It’s a rather lighthearted Trek, and that’s okay. I suppose those that crave action, explosions, and battles to the death might not favor such a jocular story, and that is a perfectly understandable opinion. As for me, I feel it is a unique and memorable chapter in the Star Trek saga, and I will treasure it always.

 

43 Mrs. Doubtfire

I really like Robin Williams. I think he may be one of the two or three funniest men on the planet, and when he does dramatic roles he can be flat-out incredible. A few of his films are in this list and there are several more…Good Morning Vietnam, Aladdin, Good Will Hunting…that are more than fine but just not quite Top 100 worthy.  I do wonder about a lot of his choices in the 12 years since Good Will Hunting though. Patch Adams, Bicentennial Man, Death to Smoochy, Old Dogs…not a notable hit among them. But that’s a discussion for another time. Right now our topic of the moment is Mrs. Doubtfire, a very funny if a bit schmaltzy 1993 outing in which Williams dresses up as matronly old English nanny in order to spend time with his children, from whom his estranged wife is keeping him. Divorce and custody battles aren’t usually fodder for comedy, but somehow Mrs. Doubtfire pulls it off. The children are affable enough, and Sally Field is halfway sympathetic as a woman who has simply grown apart from her husband. But the heart & soul of the story is Williams in drag, a concept that is even funnier than it sounds. There is a scene near the end of the film where he is trying to have dinner in the same restaurant at the same time with his family as Mrs. Doubtfire and his boss as his normal male self. He almost pulls it off with impressive acumen, but unfortunately the boss is a drinker and he feels compelled to join in. Trying to lead a double life and keep up the ruse is difficult enough, but doing it while gooned on scotch proves to be too much. The hilarity that ensues before everything falls apart is more than enough to put a smile on one’s face though. The conclusion is a little sentimental, but I have to give the powers-that-be credit for not giving in to the temptation to go for the expected happy ending. This is one you can watch with the kids and not be embarrassed, and that is becoming something rare and valuable these days.

 

42 Rear Window

Jimmy Stewart is my very favorite actor of all time, and his range of roles was wide…everything from an affable lunatic that talks to an imaginary rabbit to a few turns as a tough cowboy and seemingly every nuance in between. He starred in four movies directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and I can’t think of an odder couple. I’m not a big Hitchcock guy. I generally prefer to laugh and lean heavily toward lighter fare, so his brand of suspense or thriller or however you want to classify his films just don’t usually pique my interest. But when Stewart is involved all the sudden I tend to take a look. 1954’s Rear Window is one of Hitchcock’s tamer offerings and deals with voyeurism taking a rather minimalist approach. Stewart plays a photographer who is housebound by a broken leg in the midst of a scorching hot summer. With nothing better to do (television was around, but I guess he’s not interested), Jeff spends his time checking up on the neighbors in his courtyard apartment complex with the aid of his binoculars. He has a girlfriend (played by Grace Kelly) and a home health nurse, but he still spends a good bit of time bored and alone. He can’t help but form opinions about his neighbors as he clandestinely peeks into their lives, and he even gives them nicknames like Miss Lonelyhearts and Miss Torso. One neighbor in particular grabs his attention, a man named Thorwald (played by the future Perry Mason, Raymond Burr). Jeff becomes convinced that Thorwald has murdered his wife and tries to persuade the girlfriend, the nurse, and a police buddy. They are dismissive at first, but eventually the girlfriend starts to believe Jeff is right and even starts nosing around since he can’t. Thorwald catches on to the fact that he is being watched, and the climax is a confrontation between the two men. By today’s standards the action is rather docile, and even in the world of Hitchcock it is somewhat unremarkable. But that is exactly what I like about it. It isn’t fancy or complex and doesn’t need to be. A good steak doesn’t need any kind of accompaniment to cover up the taste…its flavor is good enough to speak for itself. Rear Window is a well written story with good actors that takes a simple but appealing concept and turns it into a jolly good piece of entertainment.

 

41 Jerry Maguire

Unfortunately we live in a world where technology tends to shine a bright light on things that are none of our business and that we didn’t want to know in the first place. This type of “open book” situation is especially true of celebrities. No longer are they just actors and actresses playing roles on television or in movies. We know way too much about their personal life…all about their romances and sexual exploits, religious views, political affiliations, and opinions on everything from the environment & abortion to who they want to win the Super Bowl or World Series. This has been a legitimate issue for me, as so many Hollywood-ites are leftist, Godless, soul sucking ne’er-do-wells. It’s bad enough that  most of the “entertainment” produced nowadays is poorly written, dumbed down, sexually perverted, needlessly violent tripe…it is really frustrating when something decent comes about but stars some liberal America hating Jesus basher. What I finally had to do was learn to separate the two. I had to get to the point where I could admit that I liked a certain performer even if I disagree with their lifestyle. And so you will see movies on this list from the likes of Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon, John Travolta, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Alec Baldwin. One of these assclowns is Tom Cruise, the king of some wackjob “religion” called Scientology. As a child of the 80’s I was a witness to the rise of Tom Cruise to superstardom, and I enjoyed most of his early films*- such as Taps, The Outsiders, Losin’ It, Cocktail, and of course Rain Man, Top Gun, & All the Right Moves. The past 10 years have been rather subpar though. Minority Report, Collateral, War of the Worlds, all those Mission: Impossible flicks?? I don’t think so. But back in 1996 Cruise got it exactly, 100%, so very right in what is at this point his last great movie.  Jerry Maguire is a sports agent who has an epiphany about the rampant dishonesty and slimeyness inherent in his job. He writes a missive about these feelings and hands it out. He gets fired. Oops. With no other choice he ventures out on his own, but none of his clients follow him…except one. That lone client is Arizona Cardinals’ wide receiver Rod Tidwell (in an Oscar winning performance by Cuba Gooding Jr.), an eccentric, cocky, dissatisfied talent who just wants someone to “show me the money”. Also along for the ride is a secretary from Jerry’s former agency who is inspired to follow him and develops an infatuation. Dorothy is a single Mom of an extremely cute little boy, and Jerry develops a relationship with them after his shallow girlfriend dumps him. Sports fans get a small glimpse into the underhanded world of agent-client relations as well as enjoy cameos by such luminaries as NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr., quarterbacks Warren Moon, Troy Aikman, & Drew Bledsoe, sportscasters Al Michaels, Frank Gifford, & Mike Tirico, and real life sports agents Drew Rosenhaus & Leigh Steinberg. But the heart of the film is the romance between Jerry and Dorothy, a business arrangement that turns into something much deeper. 14 years later people still quote Jerry Maguire, and it’s delicate balance of comedy, drama, romance, and even a wee bit of action is a rare feat. It is sweet but not too sweet, cynical but not overly so. Writer-director Cameron Crowe, who also did Say Anything and Almost Famous, has a knack for making his characters very relatable and human. Jerry Maguire proves that a great movie doesn’t require guns ablazing, blood & guts, or special effects to be  truly special.

 

 

100 Favorite Movies…..51-55

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

 


55 Saturday Night Fever

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

 

54 Swingers

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

 

 

53 Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

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

 

52 Die Hard With A Vengeance

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

 

51 Father of the Bride I & II

Yes, I know…I am cheating. Here’s the deal. I did not have enough slots to include both of these films in the Top 100. I did not want to leave out any others that I had chosen. So then it became a question of which of these two did I like better. Upon pondering that question I came to the conclusion that they really are one movie split into two parts, and I couldn’t bear to eliminate either. So call it a tie if you wish, but I maintain that this is a case where, unlike most sequel situations, the story here flows like one film and therefore will be awarded this spot. Anyway…Father of the Bride is a 1991 Steve Martin remake of a 1950 film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Spencer Tracy. Father of the Bride II is a sequel to the 1991 film and a remake of a 1951 film called Father’s Little Dividend, itself a sequel to the 1950 film. Confused yet?? No worries…just forget about the 50’s flicks – the remakes are actually better, which is rare. The remakes star Steve Martin as the Dad and Diane Keaton as his wife. The extremely lovely Kimberly Williams made her film debut in Father of the Bride, and nearly 20 years later she’s still gorgeous and is now married to country singer Brad Paisley. In Father of the Bride the daughter returns home from a summer trip to Europe with big news…she fell in love with a fellow American and they’re getting hitched. Dad freaks out. Mom decides they need a wedding planner, which brings the hilarious Martin Short into the fold. Dad then really freaks out. Eventually all’s well that ends well, but the ride sure is fun. Then in the sequel both Mom and the daughter end up pregnant. Dad does a double freak out. They find a way to bring Martin Short back (to plan the baby shower and convert a bedroom into a nursery). All’s well that ends well again. These movies are pretty simple. There are no car chases, no explosions, no gunfights. There isn’t even any notable salty language or nudity. It’s all  very sweet and easy to watch. Watching these movies is like sitting on the front porch with a glass of iced tea and a gentle breeze, and that’s why I like them. Action can be good sometimes, as can drama. I am a big fan of comedy, but even then sometimes one doesn’t want to spend two hours doubled over in laughter. Sometimes one just wants to sit back, relax, and watch some old fashioned folksy, homespun, inoffensive, warm & fuzzy entertainment…the kind of lighthearted fun that’ll cure a bad mood and make one’s life a little brighter for a few hours. The Father of the Bride films more than deliver that. They put a smile on my face every time I see them, and that’s something we all could use more of in our lives.

 

 

 

100 Favorite Movies…..56-60

After a four month hiatus the time feels right to jump back into this series. Actually this little break was rather unintentional, or atleast I never meant for it to last this long…I just had other things I wanted to write about for awhile. There is still an eclectic mix of things in the pipeline, as I hope is always the case. Intellectual curiosity is a good thing. For now though, we’ll grab some popcorn (and chocolate covered peanuts) and head into the theater.

 

 


60 Hoosiers

It seems appropriate to be writing about Hoosiers on the cusp of NCAA basketball’s Final Four. I assure you the timing is purely coincidental though fitting. Hoosiers is a mid 80’s film set in the early 50’s, which right off the bat gives it a timeless quality. It stars Gene Hackman as a former college basketball coach who, it is eventually revealed, lost his job after hitting a student. Coach Norman Dale has been out of the game for over a decade when he is thrown a bone by an old friend, the principal of a small Indiana high school in need of a coach. Anyone who knows basketball knows that it is especially revered in Indiana, and that is reflected in the story. There’s the usual conflict between the coach and his players, who just don’t understand his methods. Throw in a budding romance between the coach and a fellow teacher (who can’t stand each other at first of course), a town drunk who also happens to be a basketball guru (played by Dennis Hopper in an Academy Award nominated performance), a gifted but troubled player who is reluctant to join the team, and townsfolk who are just a bit too passionate about their team (overcompensating for their empty and meaningless lives of course) and you’ve got yourself a nicely layered movie. Hoosiers has all the typical clichés that were originated in Rocky and have become staples in sports films like Rudy, Tin Cup, Remember the Titans, and Major League. Hackman and Hopper give nice performances and Hoosiers is a more than decent flick. It’s a bit predictable and the characters could be flushed out a bit more (it’s less than 2 hours long…another 20 minutes would have been peachy), but there’s no denying it has a place amongst the great sports movies. That place just may be a little lower in my opinion than many others’.

 

59 Vertigo

It should become apparent as one reads through these 100 movies that I am a Jimmy Stewart fan. By my count there are 6 of his movies on the list. It is ostensibly his Everyman quality…nice guy, small towner, “aw shucks” attitude that draws fans to Stewart, but the truth is much more complex. Jimmy’s talents had many facets, and in his career he played diverse roles…small town nice guy, hardscrabble cowboy, sophisticated man-about-town. Three directors guided Stewart through a large chunk of his 92 films – Frank Capra (3 films), Anthony Mann (8 films) Alfred Hitchcock (4 films). It is his work with Hitchcock that, in my opinion, is the most unique. Vertigo is much like that book that you were assigned to read in school and really resisted, but upon being forced to read it you rather enjoyed. I am not normally a huge fan of the suspense thriller genre, and years ago when I first made myself watch Vertigo (afterall, any self respecting Stewart fan just HAS to), I was fully prepared to not really like it all that much. However, much to my surprise I was sucked in by the singular story and the mesmerizing performances. The plot is far too intricate to describe here, but suffice to say it involves deception, dual identities, murder, obsession, and of course vertigo (i.e. paralyzing fear of heights). Jimmy strays about as far away from the “aw shucks” nice guy persona as he would ever get, but doesn’t cross too far into villainous territory. Vertigo demands repeat viewing so one can digest all of Hitchcock’s twisted goodness, but it is time well spent…although I do recommend following it up with a screwball comedy as a palate cleanser.

 

58 American Beauty

Speaking of screwball comedies…well, okay, maybe not so much. Any movie that climaxes with a person’s brains being spilled onto the kitchen floor probably can’t really be called a comedy. Actually this film is one of those that is rather difficult to categorize, but all things considered I must admit that American Beauty makes me laugh. Maybe it is the spot on accurate portrayal of the desperation and despair inherent in modern suburbia. Perhaps it is because it takes the average happy family myth and turns it on its ear. That’s a common theme nowadays. Numerous sitcoms portray families as dysfunctional trainwrecks of unhappiness. But that is a relatively new development in entertainment. Before American Beauty only two examples, both of them television shows…Roseanne and Dallas…stood out as having such a cynical approach to family life. I never particularly liked the Roseanne show, and Dallas was a soap opera. Kevin Spacey, who I enjoy in just about everything he is in, is brilliant in American Beauty as a man going through a mid-life crisis while dealing with a loveless marriage and a brooding & timid teenage daughter. As Lester Burnham, Spacey deals with his unhappiness like an NFL linebacker deals with a running back trying to bust up the middle for a big gain. Lester begins smoking pot with a voyeuristic teenage neighbor, starts working out in order to impress his daughter’s gorgeous cheerleader friend, and quits his suit and tie gig (blackmailing his young boss for a year’s salary on the way out) at an advertising firm in lieu of working the drive thru at a local burger joint. Meanwhile, Lester’s materialistic, oddly driven wife begins a torrid affair with a real estate rival and the daughter begins an eccentric romance/friendship with the pot smoking teenage neighbor. That kid has issues of his own, with a military man for as father and a quietly desperate mother who lets her husband run roughshod over the family. All the stories converge into a strangely violent climax. Kudos can certainly be given to Annette Bening as the wife, Carolyn, Wes Bentley as voyeuristic neighbor Ricky, and the always entertaining Chris Cooper as Colonel Fitts…but the engine that drives American Beauty is Spacey, who makes every movie he is in better than if he was not present.

 

57 This Is Spinal Tap

I am a big fan of “mockumentaries”, movies that present the story within the framework of a supposedly real documentary. The undisputed king of mockumentaries was made in 1984 by director Rob Reiner (fresh off his success as “Meathead” on All in the Family), and stars Michael McKean (Lenny from Laverne & Shirley), Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer (known to 21st century audiences as the voice of Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, Principal Skinner, and others on The Simpsons). Guest would go on to be a successful director of mockumentaries himself, as well as being the husband of 80’s scream queen and the still smokin’ hot Jamie Lee Curtis. This Is Spinal Tap follows a fictional British heavy metal band as they venture out on an American tour and includes flashbacks that tell the group’s backstory. Sharp eyed viewers will spot cameos or bit parts by now well known faces such as Paul Shaffer, Fred Willard, Fran Dresher, Dana Carvey, Anjelica Huston, and Billy Crystal, but it is the interaction of the three band members that makes the movie great. The band is…well…not that bright, which leads to hilarity. There are several iconic scenes that anyone who has ever seen the film will never forget…the amp that goes to 11, the spontaneous combustion and “unfortunate gardening accident “ (among other things) that continues to take the band’s revolving door of drummers, the Stonehenge set, the black album cover. And the songs – Spinal Tap produces songs with titles like Hell Hole, Sex Farm, Breakfast of Evil, and Swallow My Love. Basically This Is Spinal Tap takes everything we think we know about the awesomeness of the rock n’ roll lifestyle and throws it all out the window. You’ll never take rock music as seriously again, and that’s not a bad thing.

 

56 Batman

Sometime in late childhood I became fascinated with Batman. I am not sure when or why. I was never a comic book sort of kid, and the early 80’s were dominated by Superman, with the movie franchise starring Christopher Reeve. I suppose Batman’s backstory fascinates me, with him being just a normal guy who is psychologically scarred as a child after seeing his parents gunned down by street thugs. Batman is not from another planet and he has no superpowers. He is just a man who kicks ass and takes names. He does have a dual identity, and he does happen to be filthy rich, but I can forgive those indulgences. I really enjoy the old television show starring Adam West and Burt Ward. It only lasted for 2 seasons in the late 60’s (the almost identical timeframe as the original Star Trek series – who was in charge of TV shows in the 60’s and why did they keep cancelling great ones??) and was long gone before I was even born, but repeats were shown on some channel that I cannot recall when I was younger. Then in 1989, Tim Burton, who had achieved great success with Beetlejuice, decided to bring The Caped Crusader to the big screen. As I recall there was some trepidation with casting funnyman Michael Keaton in the titular role, but as it turns out he was perfect…much better than those who followed him – Val Kilmer and George Clooney. Of course the real star of this particular movie is Jack Nicholson as The Joker. I’ve never been a huge Nicholson fan…he’s more of a persona than a great actor…but he was the absolute best Joker. There are many that would say that the late Heath Ledger surpassed Nicholson’s achievement, but I feel like Ledger’s performance is too often looked at…subconsciously…through the prism of his untimely death. At any rate, all the stars aligned on this rendition of Batman on the big screen, and 20 years later it holds up quite nicely.

 

 

The Sherlock Holmes Canon

sherlock_holmes_silhouette2I promised that The Bookshelf was going to get some attention, and there’s probably no better place to start than with my favorite book series of all time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes canon. I first became enamored with Sherlock Holmes back in junior high school when, for some reason, our English textbook contained the story The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle. I instantly fell in love with the cleverness of both the writing and the character. Not too long afterward I picked up a two volume paperback edition of the complete works and spent the next few weeks devouring each and every story.


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote 56 short stories and 4 novels featuring the world’s most renowned amateur detective and his trusty sidekick Dr. Watson from 1887-1927. Nearly all the stories were first published in England’s The Strand magazine, the 19th century equivalent of The New Yorker or Reader’s Digest. Doyle himself was a less-than-successful Scottish doctor who turned to writing to pay the bills. I assume Dr. John Watson was loosely based on Doyle himself. The main h1man though…Sherlock Holmes…was inspired by a professor of Doyle’s at the University of Edinburgh, Joseph Bell. Bell’s methods of deductive reasoning left a deep enough impression on Doyle that when he began writing stories Sherlock Holmes was created. Readers of The Strand fell in love with Sherlock Holmes immediately. In fact, the folks in merry old England had such an abiding affection for Holmes that when Doyle (who apparently didn’t love the character as much as his readers) tried to kill him off after just 2 novels and 24 short stories there was much consternation…so much that Doyle felt compelled to bring Holmes back to life, which would spur 2 more novels and 32 additional stories. Doyle seemed to have that yearning that so many artists – writers, actors, singers – have…to be taken seriously. Hopefully before his death in 1930 he came to realize that no other writings by him could have possibly come close to being the gift to the world that Sherlock Holmes was and continues to be a century later.


I will make the assumption that almost everyone from the youngest child to the greyest seasoned citizen has atleast heard of Sherlock Holmes and probably thinks they have a vague idea of what he’s all about…the deerstalker hat, the cape, the pipe, the phrase “Elementary my dear Watson!!”, the home address of 221B Baker Street. Holmes consistently appears in the top 5 of any lists dealing with beloved fictional characters, and at one time (I do not know if it is still the case) he held the Guinness world record for the most portrayed character in film. The character has been used in countless movies, plays and pastiches (in other words, imitations by other authors) that portray Holmes in a wide variety of ages and put him in all manner of fascinating situations…trying to track down real h2life serial killer Jack the Ripper, fighting Nazis in World War II, going up against Dracula. I don’t necessarily dismiss all non-canonical varieties of Holmes, but I do tend to tread lightly. Part of the magic of Holmes is the setting…foggy, gaslit, Victorian England. When one takes the character out of that setting it can either be an interesting fish-out-of-water scenario or a complete disaster. I am a traditionalist, so I like my fictional characters to stay in the era and locale of their origin, and I tend to prefer any new reincarnations be based on or atleast show respect to the author’s intent.  Putting a centuries old character in a modern day situation with guns blazing, car chases, and meaningless explosions does not impress me at all. For example, I sincerely believe that the powers-that-be responsible for the atrocity that was 1996’s Romeo & Juliet starring Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes should never be allowed to work in Hollywood again. At any rate, I recommend reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes canon first (obviously), and then being very selective in what other Holmes incarnations one digests. There was a PBS series in the 1980’s and early 90’s that was very good and pretty faithful to the canon. 41 of the 60 Holmes stories were produced, and the remaining 19 probably would have been done if not for the untimely death of its star Jeremy Brett (certainly among the best portrayers of Sherlock Holmes). I’ve always heard mixed reviews leaning toward positive about the 1940’s films starring Basil Rathbone, but to be honest my intent to see them has never come to fruition. The fact that only 1 of the 14 films, The Hound of the Baskervilles, is canonical is a concern, and it is well known that they portray Watson as a bumbling stooge which was not how Doyle wrote the character. I suppose one day I will cave and will attempt to be open minded, but I have a strong inclination that I’m not really missing anything.


The influence of Sherlock Holmes over the past 100+ years is truly amazing. Most mystery and detective type stories owe much to Holmes, and shows like CSIh3 wouldn’t exist without him. Sherlock Holmes was forensics before forensics was cool. Hundreds of societies (all based on the original Baker Street Irregulars, founded in 1934) regularly gather to discuss and celebrate Holmes. I cannot think of any literary figure with that kind of influence and following…not even Shakespeare. The stories themselves are interesting enough to keep the attention of adults, but uncomplicated enough that teenagers and maybe even overachieving and precocious pre-teens can read them. They are eminently readable, and one can go back to them over and over and they never seem to get old.  As a matter of fact, picking up a book of Sherlock Holmes stories is like reuniting with an old friend. I would strongly encourage anyone who has never read them to give them a whirl. You are unlikely to regret your choice.

Superfluous 7 – TV Shows Actually Worth Your Time

One of my consistent mantras over the course of the last several years is that television has become a wasteland of mediocrity. I know it is perfectly natural to have a revisionist memory and recall one’s childhood as being far more idyllic than it probably was in reality. But I don’t think my recollection of how interesting the TV landscape was 20-30 years ago as compared to today is that far from the truth. I fondly remember legendary comedies like Cheers, One Day At A Time, Happy Days, Taxi, Family Ties, and The Cosby Show, as well as well written dramas like Dallas, LA Law, Hill Street Blues, and Little House On The Prairie. I even have a soft spot for not-so-legendary shows like Three’s Company, The Love Boat, The Dukes of Hazzard, Newhart, The A-Team, Night Court, Who’s The Boss?, and ALF. I could probably name dozens more memorable shows. I almost feel sorry for today’s generation of kids. They flip through the channels and are faced with a glut of “reality” shows that in no way represent anything real, kicked up action programming where death and mayhem reign supreme & sc-fi is bastardized beyond recognition, and animated fare that just further emphasizes society’s descent into depravity, crude behavior, Godlessness, and disrespect toward our fellow man. It is amazing that we have hundreds more channels available now but far less quality programming. However, if one looks in the right places at the right times there still are some interesting, informative, eminently watchable shows on your television. And since I am here to not only entertain but to educate, it is my pleasure to give you…..

 

 

 

from the home office in Monkey’s Eyebrow, Arizona…..

 

 

 

The Superfluous 7 TV Shows Actually Worth Your Time:

 

 

7 Man vs. Food

Strangely enough, this show is NOT on The Food Network. Now I love me some Food Network (Alton Brown is interesting and informative, Giada De Laurentiis is just plain smokin’ hot, and a plethora of other shows satisfy any foodie’s entertainment appetite), but amongst the abundance of food-centric fare on television, Man vs. Food stands out. The basic premise is that the host visits a city and takes on one of those infamous gigantic food challenges, the kind where one attempts to consume enough food to choke a horse within a limited window of time, all so they can get a crappy t-shirt or have their picture placed on a wall in the restaurant for the masses and posterity to celebrate.  I’ve watched Adam (the host) try to defeat such precipitous tests of will as a 12 pound hamburger, an 11 pound pizza, 15 dozen oysters, a 7 pound breakfast burrito, a 2 gallon ice cream sundae, and all manner of inhumanly hot wings. He is successful in his quest about 60% of the time, but that’s not really the point. If all there was to this show was the ginormous food feats of craziness I probably wouldn’t be all that interested. To be honest watching someone try to eat such epic portions of food can make one a little uncomfortable and concerned for the host’s health. However, what I find so cool about Man vs. Food is the celebration of food and the spotlight it shines on local eateries that many have never heard of but might now be inspired to check out. I don’t travel as much as I’d prefer, but when I do I try to stay away from chain restaurants and things I can have any time right in my own back yard. I like to venture out ever so gently onto a limb. After watching Man vs. Food I now know of hidden gems I should seek out if I ever find myself in places like Durham NC, Boise ID, or Amarillo TX. There are other shows on TV that do some of the same investigative work, but I find Adam accessible, like a guy me and my buddies might hang out with and share a pitcher of brew. Man vs. Food airs on The Travel Channel. Check your local listings.

 

 

6 It’s Me Or the Dog

I became the proud master of a puppy…an adorable pug…about a year and a half ago. The first few months were a bit trying, as I had never trained a dog before and circumstances make it somewhat difficult to do so in the manner most others might go about the task. I read everything I could find online and elsewhere, and sought the counsel of knowledgeable friends. But one of the biggest sources of assistance and pleasure during that time became this little gem of a show. Most people have heard of and many rave about The Dog Whisperer Caesar Milan, and he is quite helpful and just fine by me. However, I am drawn much more to Victoria Stilwell. I am perfectly aware that her hot dominatrix aura likely reaches some sort of latent sexual yearning deep within me. After all, coquettish British minx vs. middle aged Latin animal pseudo-psychologist is an easy choice for a relatively young and virile single man. Putting all that aside though, I find Victoria’s methods and the people she deals with on her show much more relatable and entertaining. Does she tend to oversimplify things a bit?? Probably. But not nearly as much as Milan, who in my opinion just makes dog owners look stupid and incompetent. Sure he’s got a special gift, but that does me and almost everyone else no good because we don’t have that gift. It reminds me of college, where there were professors who were experts in their field and could not seem to grasp why no one else found the subject so simple, and then there were professors who appeared to realize they were dealing with a bunch of kids who had probably been out until 3am partying up a storm and were not automatically brilliant scholars just because they had pulled off the task of gaining entry into a university. Victoria is that type of understanding teacher, and trust me…she needs to be. The dog owners on this show are oftentimes hilarious in a pathetically aggravating sort of way, but somehow they usually manage to learn atleast a few techniques to make their lives easier. It’s Me or The Dog airs on Animal Planet, and I encourage all dog lovers to check it out.

 

 

5 How It’s Made

On your menu of hundreds of television stations there is something called The Science Channel. Now do not get this mixed up with The SyFy Channel, which has strayed so far from its original premise that it’s not even spelled correctly and the highest rated program is professional wrestling. The Science Channel is part of The Discovery Channel family, as so many of the best networks seem to be (TLC, Animal Planet, The Travel Channel). How It’s Made takes us inside various factories and shows the mass production process for a plethora of products, from foodstuffs like cereal and beer, to household items like washers, light bulbs and batteries, to more unusual things like slot machines and artificial Christmas trees. This is exactly the kind of show that I would have skipped right past in my younger days. Science was only slightly less tedious than math when I was a student. But somewhere along the line my intellectual curiosity branched out and the way the world (and the stuff in it) works began to be an appealing topic of informal study and observation. I blame mundane teachers who are somehow unable to grab the attention of kids and show them what a fascinating universe God has provided. Anyway, How It’s Made isn’t a fancy show with a lot of bells and whistles. It’s straightforward and very minimalist. But I look at it like one should view a good steak…..if the meat is high quality and tastes good then it does not need to be enhanced with sauces and other garnish. I would like to take this opportunity to say that another show was in the running for this spot but was disqualified because it is no longer in production. John Ratzenberger, better known as Cliff the know-it-all mailman from Cheers, used to host a program on The Travel Channel called Made In America, which was basically the same sort of thing except it highlighted only factories in the United States and had Ratzenberger instead of a narrator.

 

 

4 Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations

I have come to terms with the fact that, because of various monetary, lifestyle, and personal circumstances there are a lot of places in the world I would like to visit but never will. While some may consider it sad to live vicariously through television, I choose to embrace the fact that technology allows us to realize that there is a huge world outside of the confines of our small individual lives, and sometimes permits us to take a pretty fascinating ride all while dressed in cozy jammies in the comforts of our own abode. My philosophy is that if you are going to waste time in front of the “idiot box” then why not try to learn something and have it be a somewhat enlightening experience instead of wallowing in just how far into the abyss our society has sunk. At any rate, Anthony Bourdain is a master chef who, in this series, travels the globe and shows the viewer the real deal about the food and culture of various locales. He is dismissive of the normal tourist traps, going beneath the surface to seek the authentic aspects of what makes a place unique. Bourdain himself isn’t your normal television pretty boy. He’s a subversive, slightly contentious, crusty curmudgeon who makes no secret about his hard drinking, drug induced, very colorful past. He tells it like it is and if people don’t like it that’s too bad. On the flip side though, his genuine affection for food and average, hard working, real people is obvious, and his edgy sense of humor is infectious. No Reservations has explored familiar destinations like New York City, Vegas, Italy, London, Chicago, and Hawaii, but there have also been shows about such out of the way places as Ghana, Sri Lanka, Iceland, and Uzbekistan, which is apparently an actual country and not one of those places they used to fictionalize on The West Wing. I promise you this is unlike any foodie show you’ve ever watched. So light up a smoke, pour yourself a glass of single malt scotch or top shelf whiskey, and find Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations on The Travel Channel. You won’t be sorry.

 

 

3 Mike & Mike In the Morning

Anyone who knows me even the slightest bit knows I am a huge sports fan. And any sports fan knows that television and radio are chock full of folks whose job goes far beyond just reporting scores and reviewing highlights. As a matter of fact I wish sports talk radio would have been so ubiquitous back in the 70’s and 80’s when I was growing up because I am almost certain that after spending hours listening to some jackass yuk it up and discuss sports  and realizing that he was getting paid for it my career path would have been set at a very young age and my life would be dramatically different right now. Unfortunately for me such shows on radio and television did not come along until it was too late to change my precipitous descent into middle class mediocrity, so now all I can do is enjoy them as a fan and, for the present moment, write (for no money) about one in particular on my (free) blog. That one that stands above the rest is Mike & Mike In the Morning, broadcast on ESPN Radio and simulcast on ESPN2, aka The Deuce, every weekday. Now another little factoid about me is that I am by no stretch of the imagination a morning person. I don’t really get into the zone until noon-ish and my finest hours are usually between 10pm and 4am. So for me to enjoy a show that is broadcast from 6-10am it must be very cool indeed. The hosts, sports journalist/everyman Mike Greenberg (aka Greeny) and former journeyman NFL defensive lineman Mike Golic are the sporting world’s Odd Couple. Golic is a man’s man, tough and rough around the edges…a more family friendly Al Bundy. Greeny is a nerdy, wimpy, metrosexual that one can just picture driving the kids in the minivan to church and then out for ice cream afterward. The mix works perfectly. The show can be goofy and irreverent, but also is plenty meaty when it comes to actually covering the sports stories du jour. The guys have plenty of guests on to chat about all aspects of a topic and do so professionally and thoroughly while still having plenty of fun. A lot of sports talk shows have competing hosts or contributors who try to become the center of attention by shouting the loudest or exhibiting the most attitude. I don’t need that kind of diva mentality or arrogance. I like Mike and Mike because they are genuine…..genuinely passionate about their love of sports and genuinely affable in reporting the daily events in the sports world. The program does last 4 hours, and it can occasionally get repetitive, especially if there is one dominant story. Sometimes they will rehash at 8 what they opened the show with at 6. But that’s okay, because I know if I don’t tune in right at the beginning or can’t watch the full four hours I might not miss too much.

 

 

2 Pawn Stars

I have to give a shout out to my good friend The Owl for introducing me to this show. It has quickly become one of my favorites. There seem to be two different types of reality shows on TV. What most people think of as reality shows are pure poppycock like The Bachelor, Project Runway, The Biggest Loser, and Wife Swap. But there is a better class of reality…stuff like Deadliest Catch, Ice Road Truckers (which almost made this list), Ax Men, and Dirty Jobs. Maybe these are classified as “documentary” shows?? I don’t know. However they are labeled though, an intelligent person will instantly know the difference. At the top of the class for me is The History Channel’s Pawn Stars, which takes us inside a family owned Las Vegas pawn shop, shows how the business works, and has the family dynamic as an added bonus. The family is three generations of the Harrisons…The Old Man, his son Rick, and Rick’s son Cory (who they try to put over as Big Hoss, but it seems like a forced nickname that no one really uses). Also along for the ride is Cory’s best bud and fellow employee Chumley, referred to often as the village idiot. The format of each show is pretty standard…someone comes in with some very odd or theoretically very old item that they want to sell (very few people want to pawn things on this show, which is interesting), Rick doesn’t know if it’s authentic or how much it’s worth or how much might need to be spent on repair and restoration so he “knows a guy” who can tell him. That expert comes in and gives the pawn shop crew, the item’s potential seller, and we the viewers a mini history lesson. A deal is struck…or not. There are 3 or 4 of these little storylines interspersed throughout the thirty minute program. As you might imagine, precious air time is not wasted on some college student wanting to ditch his outdated herringbone gold necklace for beer money or someone who just lost their job and needs to hock all the junk in their house to pay the mortgage. These stories need to be interesting to keep our attention, so the items we see being brought into the shop are things like Civil War weapons, American Revolution era currency, 1970’s & 80’s video games, mint condition classic guitars, and all kinds of vehicles…boats, motorcycles, airplanes, old cars. I can count on one hand the number of times I have ever been inside a pawn shop in my life, but I am smart enough to realize that it’s not always that interesting. Kudos though to the creators and producers of this show for taking the concept and finding a way to make it absolutely mesmerizing. The interaction between the guys is great. When I eventually make it to Vegas I will be stopping at The Gold & Silver Pawn Shop to meet The Old Man, Rick, and Chumley. Cory seems like kind of a tool.

 

 

1 Modern Marvels

If you have ever considered yourself to have any level of intellectual curiosity, this is the show for you. If you are not frightened of technology but rather fascinated by it, this is the show for you. If you are a history buff but seek more than what your school textbooks taught you, this is the show for you. But more than anything else, this is the show for anyone who likes to feel like they’ve just sat down for an hour, relaxed, been entertained, but also learned some cool stuff and didn’t completely waste their time. Modern Marvels has been on the air for about 15 years, but I am sad to say that it is only in the past year that I have discovered its brilliance. I suppose it is yet another example of my changing tastes combined with the erosion of traditional network television into the dark void of suck. History repeats many Marvels episodes, so usually what I do is DVR several shows and then on a night when there is absolutely nothing else going on (which isn’t unusual) I have an instantly entertaining and informative backup plan. Many episodes are available from Netflix as well, which is cool. Modern Marvels has covered a vast array of subjects over the years, everything from The Brooklyn Bridge, The Golden Gate Bridge, and The Hoover Dam to the telephone, fireworks, and nuclear submarines. The topic can be a specific place or structure (Times Square, The St. Louis Arch, Disney World) or a more general, esoteric theme (water, fire, candy, ice, milk). Over 500 episodes have been produced, so a lot of ground has been covered. It is indicative of what a wonderfully intriguing world we live in, something we should embrace.

 

 

 

 

100 Favorite Movies…..61-65

It dawned on me after I posted the previous installment of this series that I failed to write a pithy introduction. My apologies. It is difficult when one takes into consideration that by the time I’m finished with this project I will have written about 20 such intros. What makes it even harder is that my taste in movies tends to be so eclectic, something that is really being driven home to me as I write these little ditties, that usually there’s nothing to tie any 5 of these movies together. Today’s entry is a perfect example. There are virtually no similarities between any of these five films. I suppose the good thing is that with such a wide variety of things that I like I am bound to touch on atleast one thing or another that’ll be of interest to everyone.

 

 

 

65 Airplane!

If anyone were ever to build a Mount Rushmore of parody films, the first and foremost honoree would have to be Airplane!. Made in 1980, the film is meant to spoof a plethora of 70’s airline disaster flicks. It’s cast is a brilliant collection of heretofore tough guy types known for their dramatic roles, most notably Robert Stack, Leslie Nielsen, Loyd Bridges, and Peter Graves, who areairplane very much cast against type. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar makes a super fun cameo as himself apparently trying to live a double life as an airline pilot under an assumed name. The plot involves many of the passengers and nearly the entire crew, including the pilot and co-pilot, becoming ill because of food poisoning and a passenger who just happens to be a pilot with post traumatic stress disorder being called into action to fly and land the plane. But this is another rare case where the story takes a back seat. This time though the centerpiece of hilarity are sight gags and side-splitting word play. One has to watch Airplane! a few times to take in all the visual and verbal gags. There’s Barbara Billingsley, the mother on Leave It to Beaver, speaking ebonics. The emergency autopilot is a blowup doll. A guy who thinks he’s Ethel Merman (played, in her final appearance on film, by Ethel Merman). Co-pilots named Roger and Captain Oveur (think about it). And the great thing is, it never gets old. After over a quarter century those of us who love this movie still laugh when we watch.

 

64 Raging Bull

Robert Deniro is such a brilliant actor that he could take the worst story imaginable and make it halfway compelling. Fortunately as real life boxer Jake Lamotta, in a film directed by the legendary Martin Scorcese, Deniro has a good story with which to work. He also has capable support from Joe Pesci in what was his first major film. I’m not a big boxing fan, but the acting and Scorcese’s style make this a modern classic. Maybe if I’d have been born a few years earlier or if I loved boxing as much as I do other sports Raging Bull would rank higher, as it does on most lists of this ilk. However, I must remain true to my own tastes and preferences, and this is where it falls on my spectrum.

 

63 Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Readers of this series know by now of my affection for Jimmy Stewart. I’m also a bit of a political aficionado and an unabashed patriot, so Mr. Smith falls right into my wheelhouse. The story revolves around a small town yokel (a role Stewart showed many times he could play perfectly) who is handpicked to fill an open seat in the U.S. Senate. He is chosen by a corrupt political machine who believes he can be easily manipulated so they can achieve their selfish goals. The villain in this complex web of deceit is the elder senator from Stewart’s state, played by Claud Rains, who is probably better known for playing the corrupt police official in Casablanca. Rains played the role of conflicted slimeball several times and was apparently quite good at it. I’m not sure how a Frenchman snagged the role of a United States Senator, and the fact that he doesn’t really make much of an effort to hide the accent is somewhat distracting. Adding support as a caustic adminstrative aide is Jean Arthur. She is assigned the task of babysitting the doe-eyed new Senator and gradually falls for him. The plotline specifics, in which Stewart’s character wants to build a “national boys’ camp” on land that, unbeknownst to him, Rains’ character has more nefarious and profitable plans in store, are not necessarily all that crucial. The film is about political corruption, and in its time it was groundbreaking. We’ve become a much more cynical nation now. But 70 years ago a movie that took such a dark view of the inner workings of our government was quite controversial. Stewart’s performance show’s his range. Over the course of his career, from lighthearted comedies like Harvey and The Philadelphia Story through Hitchcockian fare such as Vertigo and Rear Window to hardscrabble westerns including Shenandoah and The Rare Breed Stewart did a bit of everything and proved himself to be a fine actor. With Mr. Smith he gives a small sampling of that range within one movie, goofy and fun in some scenes and dark and solemn in others. Because of the access the masses now have through things like CSPAN, the internet, and talk radio there’s not a whole lot that goes on in Washington DC that’s unknown or all that shocking. To some degree that hurts the legacy of Mr. Smith because we don’t see what the big deal is outside of Stewart’s winning charm. However, taken within the context of its time it’s quite a cinematic achievement.

 

62 Meet the Parents

DeNiro makes a second appearance in today’s group, so I guess I was wrong…there is a common thread after all. This time however, he’s doing comedy…and doing it surprisingly well. Meet the Parents stars Ben Stiller as a male nurse who goes home for the weekend with his girlfriend (who he is planning to make his fiancee) to…you guessed it…meet her parents. Unfortunately for Stiller, things get off on the wrong foot and get worse from there. Hilarity ensues. This is one of those movies that has more than its fair share of memorable scenes and lines, which is its main charm. Stiller has never been funnier in my opinion, and Owen Wilson has an hysterical cameo as the girlfriend’s former boyfriend. After watching this film water volleyball, Puff the Magic Dragon, airports, and cats can never be thought of like they were before…trust me. A sequel was made a few years later called Meet the Fockers. It was okay, but as with most sequels it failed to rise to the high level of the original.

 

61 Silence of the Lambs

Is it a horror film?? I suppose. I’m not necessarily sure how the experts categorize it. If it is officially a horror film it is most certainly on the high end…..sort of like how Dom Perrignon and Andre Extra Dry are both technically champagne but one is $150/bottle and the other is available at 7/11. Silence of the Lambs is based on a really great book about a young FBI agent who enlists the aid of a jailed, psychotic cannibal to track down a fellow serial killer. The psychotic cannibal is Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lechter and he is one of the creepiest yet most sublime creations in cinematic history as portrayed by Sir Anthony Hopkins. Unlike most maniacal killers in stereotypical gorefests (think Jason from Friday the 13th, Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or Freddy Krueger from Nightmare on Elm Street), Hannibal doesn’t need knives or chainsaws, doesn’t wear a mask, and doesn’t have any kind of otherworldly nonsensical powers. He’s actually pretty realistic…almost like a normal person you or I may know, may work with, or who might live down the street…except for the fact that he likes to eat humans. Jodie Foster is fantastic as Clarice Starling, the agent who looks to be in way over her head. The whodunit part of the movie is secondary to the interactions involving Hannibal and Clarice, but it’s also what separates Silence of the Lambs from the rest of the cliched mass of blood-n-guts. Sure there is some violence, but there is also a compelling story and extraordinary performances. I won’t go so far as to say the movie is better than the book, but let’s call it a tie.