90’s Film Frenzy: Fly Round 3

In the early rounds of 90’s Film Frenzy I provided y’all with as much information as I could about each movie, including the big stars we allegedly flock to the theater to see. That is all well & good, but I think there is much more that goes into one’s enjoyment of a film. The old adage is that little things mean a lot, and we shouldn’t overlook all the small things that can add up to a movie really being a fun experience. What’s the setting?? Is it a small town, big city, or foreign locale?? Don’t forget about music. I happen to think that a film’s soundtrack can be a huge contributor to its success. And while everyone focuses on the lead actors I feel like we should give some love to those with supporting roles and even the “character actors” who might only have a scene or two but make the most out of it. These are some of the things I am focusing on in the third round of this competition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forrest Gump                                vs.              Die Hard: With A Vengeance

After receiving a first round bye Forrest Gump got past Presumed Innocent in Round 2 in a contrast of two films based on novels. As good as Presumed Innocent the movie is the book is way better. Conversely, I’ve heard mixed reviews of Forrest Gump the book, to the point that I’m afraid to read it and have it ruin my feelings about the movie. The book’s author actually wrote a sequel called Gump & Co., but thus far it hasn’t been translated to film and it probably won’t be, especially since Tom Hanks has expressed misgivings about portraying the title character again. My affection for Forrest Gump is such that I am amazed that it isn’t universally loved, but there are detractors out there. It’s 72% Rotten Tomatoes score is good, but nowhere near some other films in the competition that have ratings of 90% or more. Some folks think it is manipulative, overly sentimental, tiresome, & not as historically accurate as it could’ve been. There is no shortage of people who believe that Pulp Fiction or The Shawshank Redemption should’ve won the Academy Award for Best Picture as well as the Oscars for Best Actor & Best Director. I disagree with all of that. Even my father loves Forrest Gump, and trust me…Dad & I rarely share similar tastes in entertainment. Die Hard: With a Vengeance wouldn’t even be in this competition if it had been the final Die Hard film since trilogies are disqualified. Alas, two additional (subpar) movies were made in the series with one last hurrah allegedly on the way, so Vengeance gets its well-deserved kudos. The difference between this third entry and its predecessor…1990’s Die Hard 2…is the addition of Samuel L. Jackson as Detective McClane’s reluctant sidekick. It was Jackson’s follow-up to Pulp Fiction and immediately preceded his role in A Time to Kill, meaning he was on a pretty good roll at the time. The filmmakers knew they had to mix things up in the third film because Die Hard 2 was a fairly tepid rehash of the original premise. Jackson breathes new life into the story, injecting additional humor & attitude. He & Bruce Willis play off of each other quite well.

 

The Verdict:       Forrest Gump. Though it made it into the competition thru a loophole, the fact is that Vengeance isn’t nearly as great as the original Die Hard. Sequels are tough. They (usually) get made because the first movie was so good and made a lot of money, but that will always mean unfair comparisons right from the start. Forrest Gump is like a golfer that always finishes second in major tournaments…as good as it is there are people all too willing to point out its flaws. But whether or not you believe it deserved all the accolades it received back in 1994, the fact is that being the #1 film at the box office & winning a half dozen Academy Awards isn’t something I can overlook, especially when it comes to a movie that I stop everything to watch almost every single time it is on TV.

 

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The Fugitive                                   vs.              The Wedding Singer

This is a tough one. I love The Wedding Singer because of its many nods to 80’s pop culture that stir up memories of my long lost youth. The soundtrack is fantastic, with songs from the likes of Culture Club, The Police, Elvis Costello, The Thompson Twins, Billy Idol (who also has a fun cameo in the movie), Spandau Ballet, Hall & Oates, The Cure, Kool & The Gang, Bruce Springsteen, and a few others. That’s quite a lineup. I also want to give a nod to brief appearances by Jon Lovitz & Steve Buschemi. I normally find Lovitz unamusing and mostly dreadful, but his scene in The Wedding Singer is actually quite entertaining. I’m kind of surprised that someone didn’t come up with the idea of a sequel starring Buschemi & Lovitz as new wedding singers. It is my understanding that the film was adapted into a stage musical (kind of a reverse Rock of Ages situation), and I must say that I’d totally go see that show. The Fugitive got past Joe Versus the Volcano in Round 2, which broke my heart because I feel like JVtV is a profound & underappreciated gem. Conversely, appreciation abounds for The Fugitive, with a damn near perfect 96% score from the critics and seven Oscar nominations. I’ve watched The Fugitive countless times, but there is a scene in which Dr. Kimble finds himself in the stairwell of a huge building facing off against Lt. Gerard before narrowly escaping thru downtown Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and no matter how many times I’ve seen it I still feel a palpable sense of drama and tension. Actually there are a few scenes like that, and when a filmmaker can still make the viewer buy into the suspense even when we’ve seen it a bunch of times and know exactly what’s going to happen…well folks, that’s what I call great entertainment.

 

The Verdict:       The Fugitive. These choices are becoming harder & harder, but sometimes I’ve got to pick nits. Ninety percent of the time I’ll lean toward an easygoing comedy, and The Wedding Singer gets bonus points for fantastic music & delightful Sandler/Barrymore chemistry. However, The Fugitive is special. It creates drama without a lot of gratuitous violence, and there is really only one big, explosive action sequence. The rest is just brilliant writing and superb performances.

 

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Billy Madison                                 vs.              Office Space

Back to back Sandler…which nowadays would be a cringe worthy waste of time, but two decades ago that wasn’t the case. Unlike The Wedding Singer, which is a more subdued & pleasant performance, Billy Madison is full on Sandler being Sandler, playing the kind of infantile ne’er-do-well that has largely defined peoples’ perception of him as an actor. This film & Happy Gilmore will always be the first two things that pop into the average cinephile’s mind when Sandler is the topic of conversation, and I don’t think that’s such a terrible thing. Fans of The West Wing will appreciate Bradley Whitford’s appearance as devious businessman Eric, Billy’s nemesis. Christmas film aficionados will delight in seeing A Christmas Story’s Old Man…Darren McGavin…as Billy’s wealthy yet exasperated father. I’m somewhat surprised that the vivacious Bridgette Wilson (wife of tennis legend Pete Sampras) never became a big star, but Billy Madison & 2001’s The Wedding Planner are among her few career highlights, and she hasn’t done any notable acting work since 2008. Office Space got a first round bye before beating out Spielberg’s expensive flop Hook in Round 2. According to my limited research the definition of a cult classic is…flexible…but typically focuses more on obscure & unconventional films shunned by the mainstream. Office Space would seem to qualify since it made less than $11 million during its theatrical run. In comparison, the budget for 1999’s highest grossing film… Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace…was over $115 million and it made $431 million. But Office Space would find new life on home video and come to be appreciated by anyone who has ever worked in an office environment, which is obviously a lot of people. It is one of the most quotable films of the 90’s, and has characters & situations that are very relatable. Jennifer Aniston was & is the film’s biggest star since she was right in the middle of her run on the hit TV show Friends at the time and has become even more well-known in the ensuing years, but other cast members like Ron Livingston, Stephen Root, Gary Cole, Diedrich Bader, & John C. McGinley have had solid careers (mostly on television). Like most of the general public movie critics pretty much ignored Office Space at first, but once it gained traction and reviews were written they were mostly favorable.

 

The Verdict:       Office Space. I’ve had several people tell me over the years that they thought I’d enjoy popular sitcom The Office, the original British incarnation of which premiered in 2001 and surely had to be somewhat influenced by the movie. However I must admit that I’ve never watched either version of The Office because I’m pretty old-fashioned and prefer multi-camera sitcoms with a live studio audience & laugh track…I just can’t embrace single camera sitcoms like The Office, Modern Family, Young Sheldon, & It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. I know I know…I’m probably missing out. At any rate, I can get my fix of corporate culture humor anytime by watching Office Space, and that’s good enough for me.

 

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Grumpy Old Men                                    vs.              Father of the Bride

There’s a Twix commercial that’s getting a lot of play on TV these days that amusingly compares ghosts & spirits, janitors & custodians, and morticians & undertakers, and these two movies could merit a similar appraisal. Both are amiable comedies that did well enough to spawn affable sequels. Both star older comedic actors instead of hot young Hollywood flavors of the month. Both did surprisingly well at the box office, while critics liked but didn’t love both films. I absolutely adore both films and will watch them whenever they’re on television, and sometimes I’ll stream one or the other when I’m bored & in the mood for a good flick. These are what I call comfort food movies. They warm the cockles and make me smile, which is all I really need a movie to do.

 

The Verdict:       Father of the Bride. I have decided against the cop out of a tie and will let the numbers be a tiebreaker. Father of the Bride did slightly better at the box office and the critics like it just a skosh more, so I defer to the will of the people. Personally I think both films are winners.

90’s Film Frenzy: Fly Round 2

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forrest Gump

Release:    7/6/94

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

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

 

vs.

 

Presumed Innocent

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

_______________________

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

 

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

 

 

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The Fugitive

Release:    8/6/93

Starring:     Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones

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

 

vs.

 

Joe Versus the Volcano

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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Billy Madison

Release:    2/10/95

Starring:     Adam Sandler

Directed By:        Tamra Davis (Half Baked)

 

vs.

 

The American President

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Grumpy Old Men

Release:    12/25/93

Starring:     Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ann Margret

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

 

vs.

 

Mr. Saturday Night

Quotes

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

Billy Crystal’s directorial debut.

 

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

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

 

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

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Father of the Bride

Release:    12/20/91

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

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

 

vs.

 

City Slickers

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

This was Jake Gyllenhaal’s film debut.

 

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

 

_________________________

 

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

 

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

 

*************************

 

Office Space

Release:    2/19/99

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

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

 

vs.

 

Hook

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Gwyneth Paltrow appears briefly as the teenage Wendy.

 

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

 

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

_____________________________

 

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

 

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

*************************

 

The Wedding Singer

Release:    2/13/98

Starring:     Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore

Directed By:        Frank Coraci (The Waterboy, Blended)

 

vs.

 

Edward Scissorhands

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

___________________________

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

 

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

 

*************************

 

Die Hard: With A Vengeance

Release:    5/19/95

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

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

 

vs.

 

Goodfellas

Release:    9/19/90

Starring:     Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci

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

 

vs.

 

Twister

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

____________________________________

 

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

 

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

90’s Film Frenzy: Phat Round 2

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

 

 

 

Apollo 13

Release:    6/30/95

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

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

 

vs.

 

Only the Lonely

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

____________

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

 

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

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Good Will Hunting

Release:    12/5/97

Starring:     Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Robin Williams

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

 

vs.

 

Big Daddy

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

Allen Covert has appeared in 25 Adam Sandler films.

 

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

 

__________________

 

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

 

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

 

*****************************************************

 

American Pie

Release:    7/9/99

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

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

 

vs.

 

Armageddon

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

______________________________

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

 

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

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You’ve Got Mail

Release:    12/18/98

Starring:     Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan

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

 

vs.

 

The Firm

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

______________________________

 

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

 

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

 

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Aladdin

Release:    11/25/92

Starring:              Scott Weinger, Robin Williams, Gilbert Gottfried

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

 

vs.

 

Patch Adams

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

______________________

 

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

 

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

 

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Groundhog Day

Release:    2/12/93

Starring:     Bill Murray, Andy MacDowell

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

 

vs.

 

Clueless

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

As if!

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

___________________________

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

 

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

 

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Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

Release:    2/4/94

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

Directed By:        Tom Shadyac

 

vs.

 

The Mask

 

Quotes

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

 

Sssomebody stop me!

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

________________________

 

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

 

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

 

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What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?

Release:    12/17/93

Starring:              Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio

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

 

vs.

 

Pretty Woman

Release:    3/23/90

Starring:     Julia Roberts, Richard Gere

Directed By:                 Garry Marshall (Overboard, Beaches)

 

vs.

 

Batman Returns

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

90’s Film Frenzy: Wicked Round 1

Before we conclude Round 1 of 90’s Film Frenzy please go back and check out first round action in the Dope, Fly, and Phat divisions.

 

You have likely noticed that I consistently use two metrics in my evaluation…box office and critic reviews. I utilize Rotten Tomatoes to see what the critics had to say, and I look at Box Office Mojo to see how the movie stacked up financially against its competition. When I was growing up we didn’t have The Internet and movie critics were a rare breed mostly confined to big city newspapers. The big dogs on the block were Siskel & Ebert because they actually had their own television show, so you’re seeing them referenced a lot, mostly out of nostalgia. I also tend to focus on reviews that were written at the time of a film’s release in the 1990s because it is rather bogus and a bit unfair to give credence to something written many years later by a critic who has suddenly jumped on the bandwagon of a cult film that has grown in stature thru the magic of home video. Having said that, neither the box office nor the critics are always an accurate measure of a movie, and something that has achieved cult status for whatever reason shouldn’t be overlooked just because it didn’t make much money or receive critical acclaim two+ decades ago. It’s a delicate balancing act…one I hope that I am doing well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ghost

Release:                       7/13/90

Starring:                        Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg

Directed By:                 Jerry Zucker (Airplane!, Ruthless People)

 

vs.

 

Reality Bites

Release:                       2/18/94

Starring:                        Ethan Hawke, Winona Ryder, Janeane Garofalo, Steve Zahn, Renée Zellweger, John Mahoney

Directed By:                 Ben Stiller (The Cable Guy, Zoolander, Tropic Thunder)

 

If there is one film in this competition that might qualify as “quintessential 90’s” I think Reality Bites fits the bill. It’s right there in the title…Reality Bites. Angst-ridden twenty-somethings try to find their footing in the post-graduate jungle that is life. That’s pretty much the idea. The cast is impressive, and the soundtrack is representative of its era, with songs from Crowded House, Lenny Kravitz, Julianna Hatfield, & The Posies. Not exactly mainstream, right?? I feel like the most enduring legacy of Reality Bites is the hit song Stay by quirky Lisa Loeb. This movie came out right after I graduated college and had entered the workforce, but at the time I was also still clinging to the old college life…hanging out with my friends and patronizing familiar watering holes ‘til 3am. Stay was in heavy rotation on the jukebox, and I have a vague recollection of a female acquaintance of mine dancing to the song and stripping down to her unmentionables right in the middle of the bar. Ghost was nominated for five Academy Awards and won two of them. When a banker is shot & killed by a mugger his ghost enlists the help of a shady psychic to warn his grieving girlfriend of impending danger. The enduring legacy of Ghost includes the zenith of Patrick Swayze’s solid career, Whoopi Goldberg when she was still funny and not a political hack, one of Demi Moore’s best performances, a renewed appreciation for The Righteous Brothers’ hit Unchained Melody, & a sudden interest in learning more about pottery.

 

The Verdict:       Ghost. I was precisely the target audience for Reality Bites and still found it dull. It was the 63rd highest grossing film of 1994, behind such stalwarts as Shaquille O’Neal’s Blue Chips, Pauly Shore’s In the Army Now, & Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Timecop. Rotten Tomatoes scores it at 66%, with the Chicago Tribune calling it “a good example of an anti-establishment comedy crippled by a seeming desire to infatuate the establishment itself”, while The New Yorker observed that “when the movie is over you don’t feel as if you had shared the experience of a new generation…you feel puzzled and vaguely crummy”. Conversely, Ghost won Oscars for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (Goldberg). It was the second highest grossing film of 1990, behind only Home Alone, and holds a 74% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Gene Siskel declared that “Moore has never been more fetching”, while his buddy Ebert said that the movie “occasionally succeeds in evoking the mysteries that it toys with”.

 

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Glengarry Glen Ross

Release:                       10/2/92

Starring:                        Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey

Directed By:                 James Foley (Reckless, The Chamber)

 

vs.

 

Striking Distance

Release:                       9/17/93

Starring:                        Bruce Willis, Sarah Jessica Parker, Tom Sizemore, Dennis Farina, John Mahoney

Directed By:                 Rowdy Herrington (Road House)

 

Just glancing at the cast of Glengarry Glen Ross elicits such high expectations that it’d be almost impossible for a film to live up to them. Based on a 1984 Pulitzer Prize winning play by David Mamet, the story shows us two days in the lives of aging real estate salesmen desperate to keep their jobs. The corporate office has announced that half of them will be fired in a week, so they must do whatever necessary to get the numbers needed to impress the boss. Lemmon, Arkin, Harris, & Pacino are powerful performers on an individual basis, and as an ensemble they are unmatched. Throw Spacey and a brief but memorable appearance by Baldwin into the mix and what you have is a movie in which the plot is secondary to the performances. In the hands of lesser actors it might be a total yawner, but what we end up with is a masterclass in how to make relatively mundane subject matter absolutely riveting. Bruce Willis was already a big movie star by 1993, with two Die Hards, two Look Who’s Talking films, & less appreciated fare like The Bonfire of the Vanities, Hudson Hawk, & The Last Boy Scout on his resume. Striking Distance tells the story of a disgraced Pittsburgh homicide detective relegated to river rescue duty after opining that a serial killer might be a rogue cop. When someone begins stalking him the game is afoot and the only person he can trust is his fetching female partner…or so he thinks. Striking Distance isn’t fondly recalled as one of Willis’ best, but with a cast that includes Parker, Mahoney, & Farina and a Pittsburgh backdrop familiar to this West Virginian I believe it is better than many may recall.

 

The Verdict:       Glengarry Glen Ross. I’m not usually into murder mysteries or police dramas, but Striking Distance works for me in a way it doesn’t seem to for many others. It was the 63rd highest grossing film of 1993 (better than Rudy but behind Pauley Shore’s Son-in-Law) and has an abysmal 14% Rotten Tomatoes score. Entertainment Weekly called Willis “morose” and the movie a “flat, dankly lit, grindingly inept thriller”, while Ebert called it “an exhausted reassembly of bits & pieces from all the other movies that are more or less exactly like this one”. Conversely, Glengarry Glen Ross has a stellar Rotten Tomatoes score of 94%, with Ebert saying that “you can see the joy with which the actors get their teeth into these great lines” and ReelViews opining that “for anyone who loves sharp dialogue, compelling characters, and a stinging social rebuke, Glengarry Glen Ross is not to be missed”. It was only the 94th highest grossing movie of 1992, yet we must consider that it isn’t a big budget epic but rather a stage play put on film. The fact that one can still appreciate its prominence nearly three decades later outweighs any perceived box office shortcomings.

 

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The Big Lebowski

Release:                       3/6/98

Starring:                        Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, Tara Reid, Philip Seymour Hoffman

Directed By:                 Joel & Ethan Coen (Raising Arizona, Fargo, No Country for Old Men)

 

vs.

 

Ten Things I Hate About You

Release:                       3/31/99

Starring:                        Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Larisa Oleynik

Directed By:                 Gil Junger (Black Knight, If Only)

 

Ol’ William Shakespeare is still inspiring people 400 years after he left this mortal coil, and a big Hollywood trend the past few decades is to take the basic theme of a Shakespeare play and set it in modern times with young & hip movie stars. Ten Things I Hate About You turns Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew into a romantic dramedy about high school students. Stiles, Ledger, Gordon-Leavitt, & Oleynik star as two sisters and the guys attempting to woo them, and the cast also includes Andrew Keegan, David Krumholtz, Gabrielle Union, & Allison Janney. It was the 53rd highest grossing film of 1999 and has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 62%, with Variety observing that it “doesn’t even seem certain which decade it’s set in”, the San Francisco Chronicle opining that the movie “wimped out by blanding down the story and the characters to the point where she isn’t really a shrew and he isn’t really a maniac”, and Ebert chiming in that high school films are “running out of new ideas and have taken to recycling classic literature”. The Big Lebowski has grown in stature & popularity in the two decades since its release when it was the 96th highest grossing movie of the year, behind immense competition like Half Baked, Simon Birch, & Bulworth. It is the very definition of a cult film, although with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 82% it seems like critics recognized its greatness long before the masses caught up. Jeffrey Lebowski is known by his friends and refers to himself simply as The Dude. He is the quintessential slacker who enjoys sitting around in his bathrobe, drinking white Russians, and bowling with his pals Walter & Donny. When two thugs assault him in his house demanding money that is owed to their boss it becomes clear that they have the wrong guy…they’re after the other Jeffrey Lebowski – an old, handicapped millionaire. The thugs leave The Dude in peace but take a wiz on his area rug first, which offends him tremendously because the rug “really tied the room together”. When The Dude seeks out the other Lebowski for recompense he ends up getting caught in a complex plot involving kidnapping, ransom, a porn magnate, & a high school kid named Larry. The Cincinnati Enquirer called The Big Lebowski “loopy, unfathomable, profane, & very funny”, while Ebert simply framed it as “weirdly engaging”. There is actually an annual event in Louisville, KY called Lewbowski Fest which, since 2002, has celebrated the film with bowling, trivia, & costume contests, and a “religion” called Dudeism that advocates & encourages “going with the flow”, “being cool headed”, and “taking it easy” in the face of life’s difficulties, which does sound kind of awesome.

 

The Verdict:       The Big Lebowski. No contest. The Dude abides. But well, you know, that’s just, like, my opinion, man.

 

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October Sky

Release:                       2/19/99

Starring:                        Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, Laura Dern, Chris Owen

Directed By:                 Joe Johnston (Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Jumanji)

 

vs.

 

Four Weddings & A Funeral

Release:                       5/13/94

Starring:                        Hugh Grant, Andie MacDowell

Directed By:                 Mike Newell (Donnie Brasco, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)

 

Hugh Grant first became a thing in the early 90’s mainly because of Four Weddings & A Funeral. The plot is pretty simple, as it follows a small group of people whose lives keep intersecting at various social engagements, specifically…you guessed it…four weddings and a funeral. Andi MacDowell is a charming actress who has been in a few films that I’ve really enjoyed but she mostly flies under the radar. I vaguely recall seeing Four Weddings & A Funeral back in college, and what I remember most is a cover of an old 60’s song Love Is All Around that would be co-opted again a decade later for the British Christmas rom-com Love Actually. I think others enjoyed the movie more than me, as Four Weddings & A Funeral was nominated for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards, holds a 95% Rotten Tomatoes score, & was the 21st highest grossing film of 1994. Gene Siskel observed that it “couldn’t be more psychologically astute in its portrait of a man who defines himself by his bachelorhood”, while Entertainment Weekly raved that its “infectious charm and sunny goodwill can immediately buoy a soul”. Fellow West Virginian Homer Hickam is the subject of October Sky, which is based on his memoir Rocket Boys. We meet Homer as a high school student living amongst the economically and otherwise depressed coal fields of southern West Virginia in the 1950s. Homer and his pals dream of a better live outside of Appalachia, and the launch of Soviet satellite Sputnik into space inspires an interest in building rockets. Unfortunately dreams of success, happiness, & achievement are met with resistance from the redneck masses, and it’s up to the young lads to blaze their own trail and prove everyone wrong. The only person who seems to be in their corner is a kindhearted science teacher, but that’s enough. Homer Hickam went on to become a NASA engineer for nearly thirty years. October Sky was the 63rd highest grossing film of 1999 and holds a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Ebert complimented the movie’s “deep values”, while CNN called it “a sensational character-driven story with a strong narrative and great visual style”.

 

The Verdict:       October Sky. In doing my prep work I was surprised to learn that Four Weddings & a Funeral had been nominated for Best Picture. Perhaps the timing is just off for me. Back then I was at the tail end of my collegiate existence and caught up in other things. I remember seeing it once, and in the ensuing decades I don’t think I’ve ever seen it again. I’m sure if I went back and watched it now I’d find it perfectly delightful, but obviously it didn’t really resonate with me for whatever reason. Conversely, I can identify with certain beats in October Sky that few outside of Appalachia could ever understand. This was Jake Gyllenhaal’s first starring role, and he & the rest of the cast are superb.

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Liar Liar

Release:                       3/21/97

Starring:                        Jim Carrey, Maura Tierney

Directed By:                 Tom Shadyac (Patch Adams, Bruce Almighty)

 

vs.

 

Doc Hollywood

Release:                       8/2/91

Starring:                        Michael J. Fox, Julie Warner, Woody Harrelson, Bridget Fonda, David Ogden Stiers, Barnard Hughes

Directed By:                 Michael Caton-Jones (Rob Roy)

 

Jim Carrey is a mixed bag for me. His shtick gets old really quick, and I tired of it fifteen years ago. However, between 1994 & 2003 he starred in a handful of memorable films, and Liar Liar might deserve a spot at the top of the list. Carrey plays a hotshot attorney whose focus on his career and deceitful ways have already ended his marriage and are on the verge of costing him his young son Max, who makes a wish on his birthday that his Dad not be able to lie at all for just one day. Max’s wish comes true and hilarity ensues. Liar Liar was the fourth highest grossing film of 1997 and has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 81%. Variety called it “close to an ideal jumping-off point for Carrey”, the Hollywood Reporter opined that “Carrey has never been better, funnier, or more controlled”, and Ebert expressed trepidation that “I am gradually developing a suspicion that Jim Carrey is growing on me”. Doc Hollywood marked Michael J. Fox’s emergence from the Back to the Future niche that he’d been in for over five years, and the results aren’t too shabby. He plays a hotshot Washington DC doctor on his way to Los Angeles to make bank as a plastic surgeon. But when he crashes his classic Porsche in a rural South Carolina town he finds himself marooned for awhile and forced to serve as the local physician for a quirky group of townsfolk. Gradually he starts to mellow and grow fond of his new neighbors, and of course there is a fetching young lady with which he becomes smitten. Doc Hollywood is kind of predictable, but enchantingly so, with a great cast and fun characters. It was the 24th highest grossing movie of 1991, ahead of Bugsy, Thelma & Louise, and Point Break. Rotten Tomatoes scores it at 71%, with Newsweek saying that it “oversells its whimsy and fits its quirkiness into a sitcom formula”, while Ebert called it “a sweetheart of a movie”.

 

The Verdict:       Doc Hollywood. There is a scene in Doc Hollywood involving the exquisite Julie Warner emerging from a lake that rivals Phoebe Cates infamously exiting a swimming pool a decade earlier in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I can’t get that scene out of my head when pondering the film. I’m a sucker for stories involving big city types being beguiled by easygoing small town life, and the cast pulls this version of the formula off to my satisfaction. I am not swayed by the box office for Liar Liar and like Fox better than Carrey.

 

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Lethal Weapon 4

Release:                       7/10/98

Starring:                        Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo, Chris Rock, Jet Li

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

 

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Can’t Hardly Wait

Release:                       6/12/98

Starring:                        Ethan Embry, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Lauren Ambrose, Peter Facinelli, Seth Green, Charlie Korsmo, Jason Segel, Donald Faison, Selma Blair, Sara Rue, Jenna Elfman, Jerry O’Connell, Melissa Joan Hart, Breckin Meyer

Directed By:                 Deborah Kaplan (A Very Brady Sequel)

 

Fans of the Lethal Weapon series have been anxiously awaiting a fifth installment for twenty years, and though I’m usually a “never say never” kind of guy I believe at this point that it’s too little too late and I’m okay with that. The fourth & final Lethal Weapon finds Riggs reluctant to marry his very pregnant girlfriend Lorna, Murtaugh dealing with the pregnancy of his eldest daughter by a mystery man, and the long in the tooth duo investigating an illegal Chinese immigrant smuggling situation. Rock joins the cast as an overzealous detective who is more than he lets on, and of course Pesci is back as fast talking ex-con Leo. Lethal Weapon 4 was the 11th highest grossing film of 1998, though it was also the most expensive of the four films to produce. It holds a 52% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with Time referring to it as “mindless, sadistic violence juxtaposed with rote sentimentality”, while the New York Times generously pronouncing that it “turns out to be one of the nicer blow-’em-ups around”. Can’t Hardly Wait is another Hindsight Film, full of young actors who have stuck around long enough to be known for other things. It is also a classic high school film, set at a conventional graduation party and deconstructing all of the requisite high school archetypes. It was the 74th highest grossing movie of the year, ahead of Rushmore and A Simple Plan but behind Bride of Chucky and A Night at the Roxbury. It holds a 40% Rotten Tomatoes rating, with Entertainment Weekly calling it “a high-spirited, synthetically raucous house-party comedy” and Ebert saying that it “lumbers ungracefully from romantic showdowns to deep conversations to bathroom humor”.

 

The Verdict:       Lethal Weapon 4. Though rumors of one last movie persist I think 4 provides a fitting conclusion to a very entertaining series. Perhaps the powers-that-be could learn a lesson from Die Hard, a franchise that should have stopped after three installments but has subjected the masses to two additional films with a sixth one possibly on the way. Sometimes it’s better to end on a high note and leave the memories alone. Back in the days of Party of Five I had a huge celebrity crush on Jennifer Love Hewitt, so I’m all in on Can’t Hardly Wait. However, in a sub-genre that has produced so many memorable movies the past few decades it really doesn’t stand out from the crowd.

 

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Backdraft

Release:                       5/24/91

Starring:                        Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, Robert De Niro, Donald Sutherland, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rebecca De Mornay

Directed By:                 Ron Howard

 

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That Thing You Do

Release:                       10/4/96

Starring:                        Tom Everett Scott, Liv Tyler, Johnathon Schaech, Steve Zahn, Ethan Embry

Directed By:                 Tom Hanks

 

Every uniformed profession…policemen, the military, doctors, lawyers (hey…a three piece suit is kind of a uniform)…seems to get their own movie or TV series eventually. After all, life or death situations provide plenty of theatre. Backdraft is an ode to firefighters that tells the story of a wave of suspicious fires in Chicago, with a little family drama, political intrigue, & romance thrown into the mix. Ron Howard is a terrific director and the all-star cast is impressive, helping to make it the 14th highest grossing film of 1991, just behind Fried Green Tomatoes and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II but ahead of JFK and The Prince of Tides, and has a solid 74% Rotten Tomatoes score. Gene Siskel called it “a spectacle worth observing”, Ebert feebly praised it by saying “the scenes involving fire are so good they make me recommend the movie anyway, despite its brain-damaged screenplay”, and the Washington Post said “Backdraft is sure to do for fire what The Poseidon Adventure did for water”, which may have been meant as a compliment…possibly. That Thing You Do was written & directed by Hanks and tells the story of a small town band that quickly rises to fame in the early 60’s on the popularity of an infectious pop hit. Hanks plays a supporting role, while the real stars are the band along with a fetching young female groupie. As with many actual bands egos & personal agendas quickly get in the way and torpedo the group’s success, making the movie a more insightful than expected examination of why one hit wonders are what they are. It was the 60th highest grossing film of 1996 (better than Fargo and Sling Blade) and has a stellar 93% Rotten Tomatoes score. Variety calls it “a sweet, likeable tale”, the New York Times dubbed it “rock-and-roll nostalgia presented as pure fizz”, & Rolling Stone framed it as “a brightly entertaining blend of humor and heartbreak”.

 

The Verdict:       That Thing You Do. This matchup illustrates a few things. First of all, my personal tastes are on full display, with a breezy, lightweight, fun movie beating out an effects laden, action packed melodrama. Secondly, I think it points to the dichotomy that we see even more today than two decades ago when it comes to movies…the action film packed with explosions and A-List talent that inspires awe on the big screen versus the frivolous guilty pleasure that we watch over & over again on television years after its release. And finally, if the material is written well enough then sometimes it’s okay to cast a few under-the-radar performers and help them pull it off with catchy tunes and a good director. Tom Hanks also wrote & directed 2011’s Larry Crowne, so he isn’t infallible…but I’d be willing to give anything he wrote & directed a whirl based on That Thing You Do.

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A Time to Kill

Release:                       7/24/96

Starring:                        Matthew McConaughey, Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Spacey, Sandra Bullock, Kiefer Sutherland, Donald Sutherland

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

 

vs.

 

The Blair Witch Project

Release:                       7/14/99

Starring:                        Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard

Directed By:                 Daniel Myrick (Believers, The Strand)

 

In 1999 The Internet was still in its infancy and “going viral” was a new concept. Social media wasn’t a thing yet, but that worked out well for The Blair Witch Project. The movie was highly anticipated before it even hit theaters because of its ingenuous marketing campaign. Reality television wasn’t on anyone’s radar yet either, so many folks were easily duped into believing that the movie was actual lost footage of a student documentary gone terribly awry. One kind of longs for those halcyon days when we weren’t so jaded & cynical. The movie itself follows three student filmmakers investigating an urban legend called The Blair Witch. I’m not a horror film aficionado, but I recall thinking that the movie isn’t really that scary, that it is more fascinating as an examination of the trio’s descent into madness. It was the tenth highest grossing film of 1999, earning more than The Green Mile, Oscar winning Best Picture American Beauty, and the first American Pie movie. That feat is even more impressive when you know that The Blair Witch Project had a budget of only $60k and earned almost $250 million. It has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 87%, with the Associated Press pointing out that “the thought that it might just might be real makes it much scarier”, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune calling it “a no-excuses horror show with an emotional wallop like falling headlong into a bear trap”, and the Washington Post saying it is “not the goriest, the grossest, the weirdest, the eeriest, the sickest, the creepiest, or the slimiest movie…just flat out the scariest”. A Time to Kill might be John Grisham’s best book…even better than The Firm…maybe. The movie takes a few liberties in telling the story of a Mississippi lawyer attempting to defend a black man who murdered two white men that raped & beat his young daughter. McConaughey is superb as the stressed out attorney, and Jackson gives one of his most nuanced performances as the distraught & vengeful father. The main issue I have is that the part of the female law student helping the defense team is beefed up considerably from the book because Sandra Bullock was cast in the part, but I realize that probably only bothers fans of the novel. A Time to Kill was the tenth highest grossing film of 1996, ahead of Scream but behind The Nutty Professor. It has a 65% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Rolling Stone called McConaughey “dynamite in a performance of smarts, sexiness, scrappy humor, and unmistakable star sizzle”, while Ebert thought the movie “a skillfully constructed morality play that pushes all the right buttons and arrives at all the right conclusions”.

 

The Verdict:       The Blair Witch Project. Wow, this is a very difficult decision. Neither film is the kind of breezy couch potato escapism to which I am typically drawn. However, evaluated on their own merits the choice becomes a bit clearer. I am not a big Sandra Bullock fan. There is just something about her that annoys me for no apparent reason. Given that fact, I was more irritated than usual when her character was magnified in the movie far more than she had been in the book. Secondly, while the novel A Time to Kill is probably a better book than The Firm I am not sure that is true when comparing the two movies. I am not at all into horror movies and probably won’t ever watch The Blair Witch Project again, but I cannot overlook its uniquely astounding success and the fact that it was most certainly a product of its time…probably a little ahead of it.

90’s Film Frenzy: Phat Round 1

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

 

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

 

*Re-Watchability        

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

 

*Relevance           

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

 

*Quotability         

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

 

*Cultural Impact 

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

 

*Pleasure            

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

 

*Pedigree 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Batman Returns

Release:             6/19/92

Starring:              Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer

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

 

vs.

 

Showgirls

Release:             9/22/95

Starring:              Elizabeth Berkley, Kyle MacLachlan, Gina Gershon

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

 

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

 

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

 

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The Mask

Release:             7/29/94

Starring:              Jim Carrey, Cameron Diaz

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

 

vs.

 

PCU

Release:             4/29/94

Starring:              Jeremy Piven, David Spade, Jon Favreau

 Directed By:       Hart Bochner (High School High)

 

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

 

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

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Clueless

Release:             7/19/95

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

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

 

vs.

 

Empire Records

Release:             9/22/95

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

Directed By:        Allan Moyle (Pump Up the Volume)

 

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

 

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

 

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Patch Adams

Release:             12/25/98

Starring:              Robin Williams, Monica Potter, Philip Seymour Hoffman

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

 

vs.

 

Black Sheep

Release:             2/2/96

Starring:              Chris Farley, David Spade, Tim Matheson

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

 

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

 

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

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Pulp Fiction

Release:                       10/14/94

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

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

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

vs.

 

Only the Lonely

Release:                       5/24/91

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Basic Instinct

Release:                       3/20/92

Starring:                        Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone

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

vs.

 

Big Daddy

Release:                       6/25/99

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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The Firm

Release:                       6/30/93

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

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

vs.

My Best Friend’s Wedding

Release:                       6/20/97

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Armageddon

Release:                       7/1/98

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

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

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Clerks

Release:                       10/19/94

Starring:                        Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson

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

 

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

 

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

90’s Film Frenzy: An Introduction

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

1990

GhostPresumed InnocentEdward ScissorhandsPretty WomanGoodfellasJoe Versus the Volcano

1991

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

1992

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

1993

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

1994

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

1995

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

1996

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

1997

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

1998

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

1999

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

 

 

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

Merry Movie Mayhem: Mistletoe (Round 2)

Less than a year ago…right after Christmas…I commented on Freeform’s 25 Days of Christmas, and this year they are having the same issues. With streaming options the entire Christmas movie watching process has evolved, but for those who don’t have a streaming player and anyone of a certain age who is used to watching their holiday favorites thru mindless channel surfing Freeform’s month long “event” has become problematic. I’m not a television executive and know nothing about the ins & outs of ownership and rights fees and all that jazz. Freeform is owned by Disney so obviously they’re going to air films produced under that banner. I get it. However, as massive of an entity as that company is one would think they’d have access to a wider selection of movies. Not only do they spend too much time showing Frozen, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, & the Harry Potter franchise, none of which are Christmas movies, but the Christmas movies they do show are the same few over & over. As a fan part of me doesn’t mind because I love those particular Christmas movies, but as a couch potato & semi-creative person I yearn for the powers-that-be to do better. If I were in charge of the process the event would span 4pm-midnight (approximately) every night, meaning there’d be room for four movies each evening, or maybe just a couple of feature films and then a few animated specials. And it’d be my goal to not repeat a film or special more than 3 or 4 times. Math isn’t my thing, but off the top of my head it seems like that’d mean I’d need the rights to maybe three dozen Christmas movies & specials, which shouldn’t be that much of a challenge for the folks at Disney. The 25 Days of Christmas has been a thing since the mid-90’s and has survived multiple rebrandings of the TV channel itself, but I sense weariness from fans who look forward to the holiday season and Freeform’s contribution to it. Anyway, if you need to go back and catch up on second round action in the North Pole and Eggnog divisions please follow the links to do so. When you’re up to speed come back here and enjoy Round 2 in the Mistletoe Division.

 

 

 

 

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

 Quotes

Nobody’s leaving. Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We’re all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here. We’re gonna press on, and we’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny f^&#@ing Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat white a$$ down that chimney tonight, he’s gonna find the jolliest bunch of a$$holes this side of the nuthouse. – Clark Griswold

Hurry up, Clark. I’m freezing my baguettes off. – Grandpa Art

You couldn’t hear a dump truck driving through a nitroglycerin plant. – Uncle Louis

They had to replace my metal plate with a plastic one. Every time Catherine would rev up the microwave, I’d piss my pants and forget who I was for about half an hour. – Cousin Eddie

I don’t know what to say, except it’s Christmas and we’re all in misery. – Ellen Griswold

 

Factoids

The movie is based on John Hughes’ short story Christmas ’59, the second vacation story to be published in National Lampoon (the first was Vacation ’58, which was the basis for National Lampoon’s Vacation).

Mae Questel, who portrays Aunt Bethany, was the original voice of Betty Boop.

When Clark and Cousin Eddie are talking in the living room, they are drinking egg nog out of Walley World mugs. Walley World was the destination of the Griswolds in National Lampoon’s Vacation.

The scene where the cat bites on the Christmas lights cord and gets electrocuted was nearly cut from the movie. Prior to the first test screening, the studio executives wanted the scene taken out, fearing that it might offend some viewers, but Producer Matty Simmons begged them to leave the scene in, and they eventually gave in to his request. After the first test screening, the test audience scored the cat electrocution scene as their number one favorite scene throughout the entire movie.

The house in which the Griswolds’ neighbors, Todd and Margo, live, is the same house where the Murtaugh family lived in all four Lethal Weapon movies.

 

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Trapped in Paradise

Quotes

“Alvin, if we’re going in circles, I’m going to break your neck”…”We’re not. I took four lefts, just like the map said.”…”Four lefts is a circle you idiot!” – Bill & Alvin Firpo

In the Firpo family, the man with half a brain is king. – Bill Firpo

“I’m tellin’ ya, if I had a gun on me right now I’d go in there and take over that place.”…”Bill, you wouldn’t be angry if I were to tell you there might be guns in the trunk.” – Bill & Dave Firpo

 

Factoids

Dana Carvey loosely based his character’s speaking style on a young Mickey Rourke.

Jon Lovitz claimed that the cast hated making the movie so much they took to calling it Trapped in Bullshit.

 

The Verdict:       Christmas Vacation. I’m a little concerned that Vacation is heading down the old IAWL path, wherein it is on television so much each holiday season that a backlash is inevitable. But for now the masses still seem to love it, yours truly included. Trapped in Paradise is special to me for a couple of very personal reasons, but I can be objective enough to admit that it’s not a great movie.

 

 

 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Quotes

Now you know how Santa uses these flying reindeer to pull his sleigh. You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen. But do you recall the most famous reindeer of all? – Sam the Snowman

A toy is never truly happy until it is loved by a child. – King Moonracer

Someday I’d like to be a dentist. We need one up here. I’ve been studying. It’s fascinating; you’ve no idea. Molars and bicuspids and incisors. – Hermey the Elf

How do you like that? Even among misfits you’re a misfit. – Yukon Cornelius

You’d better go home with your folks. From now on, gang, we won’t let Rudolph join in any reindeer games! Right? – Comet

 

Factoids

When Yukon Cornelius throws his pick axe into the ground and takes it out and licks it, he’s checking neither for gold nor silver. The original concept for the special stated that Yukon was in fact searching for the elusive peppermint mine, which he found eventually.

The song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was a seasonal standard long before it was used in the film. It was written in 1939 & its popularity skyrocketed in 1947 with Gene Autry’s recording.

When the film was first released in 1964 the technology of using an articulated metal armature inside the figures was considered so amazing that TV Guide devoted four pages to the story. They failed to mention that the “new” technology had been pioneered 31 years before, most prominently inside the gorilla King Kong.

Yukon Cornelius’ sled dogs include a cocker spaniel, a poodle, a Saint Bernard, a collie, and a dachshund.

 

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Disney’s A Christmas Carol

Quotes

There is nothing on this earth more terrifying to me than a life doomed to poverty. – Ebenezer Scrooge

There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say, Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round…apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that…as a good time, a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time…the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it! – Fred

 

Factoids

In the Cratchit home, there is a portrait of the story’s author, Charles Dickens, hanging by the fireplace.

During the opening credits, as we fly through the old London city roof tops, one can see the second London Bridge. In 843 it was just 12 years old and remained in London for another 124 years before it was dismantled and sold to an American in 1967. It can now be seen spanning Bridgewater Channel in Lake Havasu City, AZ.

Scrooge falls at least eighteen times throughout the film. This may be a reference to Scrooge being humbled before his fellow man, the fact that he falls from high places, as well as low ones. His final fall is from the rail at the back of the carriage on Christmas day. This fall seems to hurt him least of all, since his heart and spirit have been “lightened” by the spirit’s visits.

Between Scrooge leaving Marley’ s corpse and Scrooge going to his counting house there is a scene where servants and cooks are preparing a banquet for the mayor of London. This is directly taken from the novel where Dickens mentions a banquet being prepared for the mayor and his subjects. The only other film adaption that shows this is the 1935 version starring Seymour Hicks.

After sending the prize turkey on to Bob Cratchit’s house, Scrooge grabs onto the back of a carriage and hangs on for a ride down the street, waving to people. Many viewers saw this as a nod to one of Robert Zemeckis’ previous works, Back to the Future. However, when asked about it in an interview, Zemeckis said that had not occurred to him but reasoned it was a subconscious image.

Scrooge’s “future tombstone” says he was born in 1786 meaning Scrooge was 57 years old in the present and 50 years old when Marley died in 1836.

Scrooge doesn’t go to Cratchit’s house on Christmas Day after the encounter with the three spirits. Scrooge visits his nephew and has Christmas dinner with him, his wife, and their friends, followed by Scrooge giving Cratchit a raise the next day at work, keeping true to the book.

 

The Verdict:       Rudolph. Opinions seem divided on Disney’s version of Carol. Some people still haven’t embraced motion capture, though I think it is utilized beautifully in this movie. One can see noticeable improvements in the technology when comparing Carol to The Polar Express, which was produced just five years earlier. Some people aren’t big Jim Carrey fans. I count myself among that group, but won’t deny his talent and the fact that it is a perfect complement for this film. Some people think this version of Carol is a little too dark and…raucous. I understand that perspective but don’t have any issue with it myself. Having said all of that, Rudolph is…well, it’s Rudolph. It is the greatest achievement of the Rankin-Bass team, and has been a Christmas tradition for over a half century.

 

 

 

Scrooge (1951)

Quotes

My time with you is at an end, Ebenezer Scrooge. Will you profit from what I’ve shown you of the good in most men’s hearts? – The Spirit of Christmas Present

A few of us are endeavoring to buy the poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. It is at Christmastime that want is most keenly felt, and abundance rejoices. – Charity Collector

Can you forgive a pig-headed old fool with no eyes to see with and no ears to hear with all these years? – Ebenezer Scrooge

As your business prospered, Ebenezer Scrooge, a golden idol took possession of your heart. – The Spirit of Christmas Past

We Spirits of Christmas do not live only one day of our year. We live the whole three-hundred and sixty-five. So is it true of the Child born in Bethlehem. He does not live in men’s hearts one day of the year, but in all days of the year. You have chosen not to seek Him in your heart. Therefore, you will come with me and seek Him in the hearts of men of good will. – The Spirit of Christmas Present

 

Factoids

The song that Mr. Jorkin whistles after offering Scrooge a job is The Lincolnshire Poacher, wherein a poacher sings how much he loves unlawfully entering property and trapping game there. Poaching also refers to the practice of hiring an employee away from a competitor, which is what Jorkin is doing with Scrooge.

Although the word Scrooge means a stingy person now, in Charles Dickens’s time the word was a slang term meaning “to squeeze.”

This is the only film adaptation of A Christmas Carol that omits Scrooge’s famous line “If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled in his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart”.

Changes to the screenplay from the Charles Dickens novella were made, mostly in the Christmas Past sequence. Among these changes are: reversing the birth order of Scrooge and his sister, so as to add that Scrooge’s mother died giving birth to him…creating a character named Mr. Jorkin, who does not appear in the book…flashbacks of several incidents in Scrooge’s past (e.g. his sister’s death, meeting Jacob Marley, taking over Fezziwig’s warehouse, & Marley’s death) which do not appear in the book.

Just after Marley dies the Ghost of Christmas Past calls Scrooge a “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, covetous old sinner”, which is how Charles Dickens describes Scrooge in the novel.

 

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A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

Quotes

One of the greatest traditions we have is the Thanksgiving Day football game. And the biggest, most important tradition of all is the kicking off of the football. – Lucy Van Pelt

Why should I give thanks on Thanksgiving? What have I got to be thankful for? All it does is make more work for us at school. Do you know what we have to do? We have to write an essay. – Sally Brown

What blockhead cooked all this? What kind of Thanksgiving dinner is this? Where’s the turkey, Chuck? Don’t you know anything about Thanksgiving dinners? Where’s the mashed potatoes, where’s the cranberry sauce, where’s the pumpkin pie? – Peppermint Patty

Thanksgiving is more than eating, Chuck. You heard what Linus was saying out there. Those early Pilgrims were thankful for what had happened to them, and we should be thankful, too. We should just be thankful for being together. I think that’s what they mean by “Thanksgiving”, Charlie Brown. – Marcie

 

Factoids

Peppermint Patty and Marcie are voiced by male actors.

Lee Mendelson always objected to the ending where Snoopy serves Woodstock a piece of turkey, because it made him seem like a cannibal. But it was kept in at the suggestion of Charles M. Schulz and Bill Melendez.

 

The Verdict:       Scrooge. Sorry Charlie…your Thanksgiving just doesn’t measure up to a couple of other Peanuts specials. I think that by the time Thanksgiving was produced in 1973 the children whose voices had been used in earlier specials had grown up so different actors were used. And though Vince Guaraldi once again composed the music it isn’t quite as enchanting as other tunes he’d done. This version of A Christmas Carol starring Alistair Sim is consistently praised as being amongst the best.

 

 

Die Hard

Quotes

They’ll spend a month sifting through the rubble and by the time they figure out what went wrong we’ll be sitting on a beach earning twenty percent. – Hans Gruber

I’m Agent Johnson, this is Special Agent Johnson. No relation. – FBI Agent Johnson

Yippee-ki-ya mother%^*@#$! – John McClane

When you steal $600 you can just disappear. When you steal 600 million they will find you…unless they think you’re already dead. – Hans Gruber

 

Factoids

The scene in which Gruber and McClane meet was inserted into the script after Alan Rickman was found to be proficient at mimicking American accents. The filmmakers had been looking for a way to have the two characters meet prior to the climax and capitalized on Rickman’s talent. It was was unrehearsed to create a greater feeling of spontaneity between the two actors.

Roger Ebert was one the few critics to give Die Hard a negative review. The main reason he did was because he hated the character Chief Dwayne Robinson. He said the character was unnecessary, useless, dumb, and prevented the movie from working.

In a street scene, a gas station sign shows the price per gallon as 74 cents.

Only a couple of the actors who played the German terrorists were actually German and only a couple more could speak broken German. The actors were cast for their menacing appearances rather than their nationality. 9 of the 12 were over 6 feet tall.

Bruce Willis was shooting Moonlighting concurrently. He would shoot the television series during the day and then come to the Fox lot in the evening to work on the film.

Near the end of the film Hans Gruber mocks John McClane by saying that the conflict wouldn’t end like an American Western with “Grace Kelly riding off into the sunset with John Wayne”. McClane corrects him and says he means Gary Cooper. The film referenced is High Noon, another action movie about a lone hero having to defeat a large group of enemies while being vastly outnumbered.

 

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Elf

Quotes

I’m the worst toymaker in the world! I’m a cotton-headed ninny-muggins. – Buddy the Elf

You stink. You smell like beef and cheese, you don`t smell like Santa. – Buddy the Elf

We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup. – Buddy the Elf

This place reminds me of Santa’s workshop. Except it smells like mushrooms and everyone looks like they want to hurt me. – Buddy the Elf

 

Factoids

Will Ferrell suffered from headaches throughout filming due to actually eating so much sugary food on camera.

Elf was turned into a Broadway musical that premiered in November 2010 and ran through January 2011.

The elf Ming Ming, who appears briefly in the beginning of the film, is played by Peter Billingsley, who starred as Ralphie Parker in the classic holiday film A Christmas Story.

 

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Mr. Krueger’s Christmas

Quotes

I’m Willy Krueger and I’m custodian over at the Beck Apartments, but, but you know that, don’t you. You know that. I guess nobody here can see me or hear me except you. I didn’t bring a gift, but I guess that’s not important. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me. As long as I can remember you’ve been right by my side. I’ll never forget when you walked with me right in those first few hours after I lost Martha. I’ve always been able to count on you, when I felt dark inside. You were right there, right, every time, right there. Even when I didn’t feel good about myself, I knew that you cared for me enough, and that made me feel better. I love you. You’re my closest, my finest friend. And that means that I can hold my head high, wherever I go. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. – Willy Krueger

 

Factoids

James Stewart approached the scene where Mr. Kreuger talks to the infant Jesus very seriously. Before filming this scene, he told the producer Michael McLean, “I’ve got only one of these in me. Everyone who doesn’t need to be here, get them out. Tell them I want this to go well. I can do other takes, but this will be the right one. There will only be one.” After the scene was finished, McLean asked the cameraman, “Did you get it?” “I hope so,” was the reply, “because I was crying.”

Stewart accepted the role because he believed it would promote the true meaning of Christmas. He said that Christmas “has come to be connected with Santa Claus, gifts, lights, decorations, & trees. We may be guilty of forgetting that Christmas is really the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.”

The scene where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir starts clapping and gives Willy Krueger a standing ovation was the actual reaction of the Choir to James Stewart’s directing. It was a total surprise and completely unscripted.

 

The Verdict:       Elf. We arrived at a Triple Threat Match due to a first round tie. As much as I love Mr. Krueger’s Christmas one cannot escape the fact that it is never aired anywhere on television and isn’t available on any streaming service. That’s a huge issue. When YouTube is my only option to watch a movie I cannot in good conscience advance it further in this competition. For those who may be wondering, please don’t let the fact that Krueger was produced by The Mormon Church prevent you from checking it out…there is no objectionable ideology presented in the story at all. It’s the end of the road for Die Hard as well. The debate about its worthiness as a Christmas movie is cheeky fun, and I will always defend my opinion. However, detractors make some valid points and there really are much more Christmasy movies out there. As with Christmas Vacation I am a bit apprehensive about overexposure of Elf (I’m looking at you specifically Freeform), but at present it is still generally considered to be lighthearted & palatable pleasure for the entire family, and how many things can one say that about these days??

Merry Movie Mayhem: Mistletoe (Round 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation           

Released                                           12/1/89

Starring                                              Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid                       

Director                                              Jeremiah Chechik (Benny & Joon, Diabolique)

Rotten Tomatoes                              64%

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

 

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Eight Crazy Nights

Released                                           11/27/02

Starring                                              Adam Sandler                                 

Director                                              Seth Kearsley

Rotten Tomatoes                       12%

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Released                                           12/6/64

Starring                                              Burl Ives                               

Director                                              Rankin/Bass

Rotten Tomatoes                         92%

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

 

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Shrek the Halls

Released                                           11/28/07

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

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

Rotten Tomatoes                              63% (a)

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

 

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

 

 

 

Scrooge (1951)

Released                                           10/31/51

Starring                                              Alistair Sim                 

Director                                              Brian Desmond Hurst

Rotten Tomatoes                              84%

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

 

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It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie

Released                                           11/29/02

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

Director                                              Kirk Thatcher

Rotten Tomatoes                              90%

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Die Hard

Released                                           7/15/88

Starring                                              Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman

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

Rotten Tomatoes                              92%

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

 

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The Year Without A Santa Claus

Released                                           12/10/74

Starring                                              Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn

Director                                              Rankin/Bass

Rotten Tomatoes                              83% (a)

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

 

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

 

 

 

Elf    

Released                                           11/7/03

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

Director                                              Jon Favreau (Iron Man)

Rotten Tomatoes                              84%

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

 

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Santa Claus: The Movie

Released                                           11/27/85

Starring                                              Dudley Moore, John Lithgow, David Huddleston

Director                                              Jeannot Szwarc (Jaws 2)

Rotten Tomatoes                              17%

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving                    

Released                                           11/20/73

Starring                                              Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Peppermint Patty

Director                                              Bill Melendez

Rotten Tomatoes                       73% (a)

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

 

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Jingle All the Way

Released                                           11/22/96

Starring                                              Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Rita Wilson, Phil Hartman

Director                                              Brian Levant (Beethoven, A Christmas Story 2)

Rotten Tomatoes                              17%

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Disney’s A Christmas Carol

Released                                           11/6/09

Starring                                              Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman

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

Rotten Tomatoes                              54%   

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

 

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Mr. Krueger’s Christmas

Released                                           12/21/80

Starring                                              James Stewart

Director                                              Kieth Merrill

Rotten Tomatoes                              No Score Available

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Trapped in Paradise          

Released                                           12/2/94

Starring                                              Nicolas Cage, Jon Lovitz, Dana Carvey

Director                                              George Gallo (The Whole Ten Yards)

Rotten Tomatoes                              10%

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

 

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Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol

Released                                           12/18/62

Starring                                              Jim Backus, Morey Amsterdam

Director                                              Abe Levitow

Rotten Tomatoes                              67% (a)

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

 

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

Points of Ponderation…..Episode 8.15

A semi-regular attempt to address some of life’s minutiae that might otherwise be overlooked…..

 

 

 

 

Perhaps I spoke too soon about Donald Trump. The Donald has now taken to bashing former President George W. Bush about W9/11 and bragging that, had President Trump been in charge on that awful day 14 years ago, it wouldn’t have happened. Sorry dude…you’ve stepped over the line this time. Was W. a perfect President?? Of course not. But I’ve got some news for y’all: none of them have been perfect. Not even Washington, Lincoln, FDR, JFK, or Reagan. I have long opined that history will judge George W. Bush much more fairly than he has been evaluated in the short term by the horrendous drive-by media and the idiotic Hollywood elite. Trump is completely misinterpreting a mistrust of Jeb Bush and the underlying desire to step away from a been-there-done-that Bush Dynasty. Many Republicans like & respect George W. Bush despite his flaws and attacking him is not a strategery that Trump should embrace.

 

 

head-scratch2It isn’t unusual for me to feel lonely in a crowded room. What is sad is that one of the places that I feel that way most often is…well no…I’m not going there. Forgive them Lord…they know not what they do.

 

 

McDonald’s you are nothing but a bunch of liars!! They spent all this time hyping “All Day Breakfast” but failed to mcmmention that the menu is limited. I stopped by my friendly neighborhood drive thru recently during the early evening hours. I was craving a simple Egg McMuffin. Well too bad for me!! Hey McD’s…do you realize that the Egg McMuffin is your signature breakfast item?? Why in the H#^% is it not part of the All Day Breakfast?!?!?!?? That’s insane!! The McGriddle…an admittedly unhealthy yet undeniably tasty option…is not available either. Essentially they are pushing their biscuit based items. I assume this is partly due to the fact that during normal breakfast hours most people with any sense are heading to Hardees or Tudor’s for biscuits. Bob Evans if they have time for a sit down meal. So now McDonald’s is trying to trick people into buying something we usually have no interest in simply because it is available past 10:30am. Sorry folks…I don’t care. I’ll just make time to get my Egg McMuffin earlier in the day. Thanks for playing.

 

 

With the release of the final trailer for Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens I expect that anticipation will crescendo over the next forceseveral weeks. Advanced ticket sales are already crashing websites. Some theaters will be showing a marathon of the entire series leading up to the release of the new film in mid-December. I might have been all over that idea two decades ago, but now spending 15 straight hours in a movie theater sounds like some sort of innovative sentence for a very serious misdemeanor. It is likely that I will take time to rewatch the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy in the days leading up to The Force Awakens launch, but I’ll do it in the comfort of my own home with a little help from Roku. Having said all that, the trailer looks good and does evoke certain emotions that take one back to childhood, when such trivial things as movies seemed so significant. I’m not sure I’ll be standing in line for the first midnight showing, but I’ll definitely hit the theater within a day or two of the film’s opening. I’m not going to analyze every frame of the trailer or parse every morsel of information out there about the production. I am not going to assume the movie will be terrible, but neither will I build it up in my mind to be the greatest thing EVER only to be disappointed. I’m just going to head to the local cineplex at some point when it is convenient, purchase a vat of cola & some popcorn, and enjoy a pleasant & entertaining experience. After all, isn’t that what movies are for??

 

 

I recently ate cooked spinach for the first time in…well, probably decades. And you know what?? I actually enjoyed it. I’ve heard spinachthat one’s palate changes every 7 years. I’m not sure that’s completely true, but maybe we all should be a bit more open to trying things that we didn’t used to like. One never knows how maturity & perspective may alter perception.

 

 

Rumor has it that a new Die Hard film is in the works. That, in & of itself, is fine by me even if mcclanethe last couple of sequels have been tepid & unworthy efforts. However, word on the street is that the latest installment will be a prequel, with just a cameo by Bruce Willis. That’s a terrible idea on so many levels. Willis’ Detective John McClane IS Die Hard. I can’t imagine how difficult it might be to find an actor up to the task of playing a young McClane. No one should have to endure the pressure of stepping into those shoes. The final Die Hard needs to be McClane’s retirement party…a perfect excuse to bring back all the supporting players from the previous films: Sgt. Al Powell, Capt. Lorenzo, Zeus Carver, Matt Ferrell, Argyle the limo driver, Det. Walter Cobb, and of course McClane’s wife Holly & his two grown children Lucy & Jack. Someone that McClane has ticked off in the past manages to hold his family & friends hostage and McClane has to save the day…again. That’s how Die Hard should end. A prequel will not work.

100 Favorite Movies…..6-10

Finally. After over a year we have entered hallowed ground…The Top 10. This will be the last group of five, as I will give each of the top five movies their own entry. Part of me is actually a little sad that this series is almost over because I have had so much fun writing it and doing a self-examination of my own tastes. We’ll do it all again in one form or another in a few years, but until then enjoy the remaining entries, and as always thanks so much for visiting my little corner of this wonderful thing we like to call The Info Superhighway. Fear not, because I have much more to say on a variety of topics.

 

 

 


10 The Godfather Part II

As we have covered a few times in this series, sequels are often a very risky proposition. From a business perspective I understand why they are made, but from a creative standpoint and through the prism of the viewing public it is difficult to not fall into the trap of being lazy, repetitive, and uninspired. Too often we see sequels that are just retreads of the original…same stunts, same gags, same jokes, same effects. Or worse yet, the powers-that-be try to make a sequel where few of the original actors or characters remain and they are only borrowing a broad concept or theme with very loose ties to its predecessor. The Godfather Part II is not a victim of any of these issues. It is quite possibly the greatest sequel ever made. It was the first sequel to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, a feat that has only been matched once since with 2003’s third part of the epic Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Return of the King (movies that will likely make it onto this list next time around). Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel The Godfather is the source material for both the first and second movies in this trilogy and is a great read. I recommend the book to anyone who enjoyed the movies. However, this is a rare case where I must say that the greatness on film exceeds what one finds on the written page. Part II is fascinating, as it shows us two different stories at the same time. We follow Al Pacino‘s Don Michael Corleone as he moves the family business to the left coast in the 1950’s, making his home in Lake Tahoe while simultaneously trying to become a major player in Vegas, which of course mirrors the real life exploits of infamous gangster Bugsy Seagal. Meanwhile, in turn of the century Sicily we see little Vito Corleone‘s parents killed and his escape to Ellis Island. The adult Vito is then played by Robert DeNiro in a performance that won him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, the only time that two different actors (Marlon Brando got the nod for Best Actor in the original film) have received Academy Awards for the same role. Vito gets married, has a family, meets new pals Tessio & Clemenza, and quickly rises from small time NY City hood to nationally known, feared, and respected organized crime boss. Flash ahead to the 50’s and we see Michael’s attempt to bring his empire to Cuba, his double cross of rival gangster Hyman Roth and Roth’s henchman The Rosato Brothers, United States Senate hearings with Michael as the chief target that mirror the real life Kefauver investigation of the mob, and the revelation that Michael’s older but dimmer brother Fredo betrayed him which resulted in an assassination attempt and ultimately ends up with Michael having his own brother murdered. I love love love Al Pacino and this movie is neck & neck with Scent of a Woman as his best role. In the original Godfather film he shares the spotlight with Marlon Brando and James Caan, but here he goes toe to toe with DeNiro in what may be his best role as well. The supporting cast is superb, with Talia Shire, Robert Duval, and Diane Keaton returning from the first film and acting legend Lee Strasberg coming out of retirement to portray Hyman Roth. My favorite character though might be Frank Pentangeli, a Corleone family caporegime who replaces Clemenza, a development dictated by a dispute with the actor who played Clemenza. Frankie Five Angels is just tremendous…funny, ham-handed, erratic, and most of all unique. I am not sure Part II would have been quite as good with Clemenza as it ends up being with Pentageli. The flashback sequences with the younger Vito are done completely in Italian, a risky move by director Francis Ford Coppola that pays off. Emulating real events like the coup in Cuba, U.S. Senate hearings, and the mafia infiltration of Las Vegas is a nice touch. There are a significant number of people who rate the The Godfather Part II above its predecessor and say that it is the only sequel in movie history that is actually better than the first film. I can’t go that far for reasons which I will eventually explain. Nevertheless it is an extraordinary achievement and those responsible for it…Coppola, Puzo, Pacino, DeNiro, and many others…can be very proud of what they were able to accomplish. The story arc of the rise & fall of Michael Corleone is truly one of the most inspired ideas in cinema and has been endlessly entertaining for me and millions of others for over 35 years.

 

 


9 Die Hard

I know I have said it before but it bears repeating…I am not an action flick aficionado. Most anything starring Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Van Damme, Seagal, or Chuck Norris just doesn’t frost my cupcake. I have never seen a James Bond film in its entirety. Indiana Jones has never graced a screen big or small in my presence. But as with any rule there are exceptions, and this is the biggest one of them all. 1988’s Die Hard finds Bruce Willis starring as John McClane, a NY City cop whose marriage is on the rocks because his wife took a corporate gig in Los Angeles and now lives there with the kids, estranged from her husband. She invites him out to the Left Coast for Christmas to visit the children and maybe smooth things out. However, upon arriving at the wife’s company Christmas bash near the top of an unfinished skyscraper McClane finds himself the lone wolf fighting against a contingent of foreign terrorists who invade the party, kill the CEO, and hold everyone else hostage. The bad guys are unaware of McClane’s presence and even when he does make himself known he does not reveal that he has the skills to fight back. Soon enough the LAPD and the FBI are involved. There is lots of shooting and explosions, but thankfully they are accompanied by a good story and surprising levity for an action movie. I think maybe that’s why I like it…the humor sets Die Hard apart from others in the genre, who tend to take themselves too seriously. Don’t misunderstand…Die Hard is a serious movie about terrorism and one man’s battle to save the life of his beloved wife, but along the way we get airheaded FBI agents (agent Johnson and Special Agent Johnson), a limo driver that personifies the generation gap between himself and McClane, and the Dad from Family Matters, an 80’s sitcom best known for its nerdy star Urkel, who bonds with McClane over the two-way radio. We also get Hans Gruber, one of the most memorable villains in movie history. Gruber is portrayed by Alan Rickman, who is widely known today as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films. But in 1988 he was an unknown who ended up creating such a great character. It is implied that Gruber is a ticked off German who has taken over Nakatomi Plaza for political reasons. However, we eventually learn that he is nothing more than a thief whose goal is to steal a half billion dollars worth of bonds, destroy the building making everyone think the terrorists perished as well, and escape with the loot. It is an ingenious plan, and Gruber seems to know everything that will happen. He especially knows the playbook of the police and the feds, who are portrayed as predictable buffoons. But what he and his men don’t plan on is the “fly in the ointment” named John McClane. Willis was a television star at the time, coming into our living rooms each week alongside Cybill Shepherd in the detective rom-com Moonlighting. He had done a few forgettable films, but it was Die Hard that made him a star and he has continued to ride the wave for over 20 years. Die Hard, in my opinion, is the gold standard of action movies. It has just the right mix of drama, action, humor, suspense, good writing, and excellent performances. It is not gratuitously bloody, and it is just plausible enough for the viewer to suspend disbelief and become engrossed in the story and characters. 1988 was, of course, long before the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and for that I am thankful if only because Die Hard would likely never get made in a post-9/11 world. McClane has resurfaced in three sequels with plans for yet another, but those efforts have been hit & miss. I keep using the phrase “lightning in a bottle”, and it applies here as well. Countless films have borrowed elements of Die Hard in the last two decades, and I suppose imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But I have yet to stumble upon a knockoff that comes anywhere close to being as good as the original.

 

 


8 The Star Wars Trilogy

Yes, I know…I am kinda sorta cheating just one more time. In pondering the three original Star Wars movies…Episode IV: A New Hope, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, and Episode VI: Return of the Jedi…I just couldn’t find a sensible way to justify any type of separation. It is true that most fans of the trilogy will say that The Empire Strikes Back is the best of the three and that Return of the Jedi comes in third. But I cannot look at these three films as separate entities. The story is an arc with huge themes of good vs. evil, destiny, vengeance, justice, fear, anger vs. patience, self-sacrifice, and betrayal. There are elements of religion, philosophy, and mythology so intertwined yet so subtle that the films may be enjoyed as simple popcorn entertainment by some and appreciated on another level by those who like to ponder life with a deeper, more esoteric thought process. Writer/producer/director George Lucas was heavily influenced by a number of sources, including the Flash Gordon comic books and movies of the 1930’s, the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa, and Joseph Campbell’s 1949 book The Hero With A Thousand Faces. I am making the assumption that most adults have seen the trilogy and know the basic story, but…just in case…allow me to summarize. Star Wars and its sequels is the story of Luke Skywalker, a young man of meager means who is thrust into an ongoing adventure involving the battle between The Rebel Alliance, a resistance group that desires to restore The Republic, and The Empire, which is what has become of The Republic under the tyrannical rule of Emperor Palpatine. One must remember that this story was written and the movies made in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, so there are obvious parallels to The Cold War and the ongoing battle between The United States and The Soviet Union. Throughout the trilogy we are exposed to a plethora of memorable characters…Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Pricess Leia, Chewbacca, R2D2, CP30, Hans Solo, Jabba the Hutt, Lando Calrissian. I could go on and on. I have never been a big fan of westerns, but what Star Wars does is take many of the elements of the typical western and utilize them in a futuristic space motif. It is a concept brilliant beyond comprehension. Lucas has done some other notable films…The Indiana Jones Series, American Graffiti, Hook, Howard the Duck (well…okay…maybe that isn’t such a great example)…but his crowning achievement is most certainly The Star Wars Trilogy. Over 30 years since the story was first introduced to the public these three films are still among the world’s most popular. They pop up on television all the time and people like me, who have seen them dozens of times, still watch. Earlier this decade when Lucas was preparing to launch a new prequel trilogy…Episodes I, II, and III…the excitement and anticipation reached a fever pitch. People waited in line days in advance for tickets. Unfortunately the prequels did not live up to their predecessors, but honestly how could they?? They aren’t really bad films, especially the third, but there was no way they could possibly approach the greatness of the original trilogy. Every new generation that is introduced to The Star Wars Trilogy embraces it which is a testament to the timelessness and superb quality of the story. And make no mistake…it IS the story. Are there any truly special performances here?? Not really. The only acting that was ever critically recognized was Sir Alec Guinness’ Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Episode IV: A New Hope, and even that was likely more a function of his legendary status. Most of the other actors involved have had middle-of-the-road, mildly successful careers but are still primarily known for their roles in the trilogy. The only exception is Harrison Ford, who over the course of the past three decades has become one of the biggest movie stars in the world. So one must conclude that the enduring appeal of these movies is the epic nature of the tale itself.

 

 


7 Apollo 13

This is what NFL scouts might call at quick riser, a movie that has improved its stock the most in the shortest amount of time. Released in 1995 and based on the true story of NASA’s 1970 “successful failure”, Apollo 13 is a film that I honestly didn’t pay that much attention to when it first came out. Looking back I have to assume that is due to the timing. June of 1995 was a bad month, one that I look back on almost daily as a negative turning point in my life. So I guess I was engrossed in my own drama and didn’t make it a priority to go to the theater and pay money to watch tragic events of others’ lives. But over the course of the past 10 years I have discovered its greatness and become familiar with the real life situation. Directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton as astronauts whose planned mission to land on the moon goes horribly awry, Apollo 13 is just the sort of movie I can truly embrace. It is beautifully written, has understated, moving performances, and the direction by Ron Howard is magnificent. I don’t usually recognize the function of the director because honestly I am not familiar enough with what a director really does and what his/her role is in the final product. But here one can easily see that this story, in the hands of someone else…maybe James Cameron (Terminator, Titanic), Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger, Die Hard 2), Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Gladiator), Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs), or God forbid as a Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer production (Bad Boys, Pearl Harbor)…would have been completely different and likely lacked the subtlety and class brought into the mix by Howard, aka Lil Opie Cunningham, who turns it into something better than a cookie cutter action flick. Two supporting performances, Ed Harris as flight director Gene Kranz and Kathleen Quinlan as astronaut wife Marilyn Lovell, were nominated for Academy Awards. The film itself was nominated for Best Picture and Howard for Best Director. Somehow all four of these awards went to others. Braveheart won Best Picture and its director, Mel Gibson, won that award. Kevin Spacey was Best Supporting Actor for his role as Keyser Soze/Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects. And Mira Sorvino was Best Supporting Actress in some movie no one remembers. I suppose many may disagree, but it is my contention that Apollo 13 was robbed and should have won atleast 3 of these 4 awards. Harris’ performance is especially exceptional and cemented his status as one of Hollywood’s most underappreciated actors. Various television stations show Apollo 13 quite often, and I almost always stop whatever I am doing to watch, which in my mind is the mark of a really good movie. There is a scene near the end of the film where the fate of the astronauts is in question for about 3 minutes. This plays out in real time and is very dramatic. Since this is a true story I know what happens, and even if it wasn’t a true story I have seen it enough times that I know how everything plays out…yet every single time I watch I get goosebumps and am on the edge of my seat. Now THAT is a great movie.

 

 


6 National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

This is an oddity simply because it is the third movie in a series, and while traditionally the third movie in a series is better than the second (which is usually a poorly written, hastily produced money grab in response to the public’s love of the original) it is unusual that it would outrank the first. I suppose on most lists the tradition would hold true here, as the vast majority of folks would likely opine that 1983’s Vacation, where we first meet The Griswold Clan, is the best in the series. But by now loyal readers know of my fierce passion for Christmas movies, and that is why Christmas Vacation ranks higher than its parent film, which is 13th on this list. Clark, Ellen, Rusty, and Audrey don’t actually go anywhere this time. They stay home to host a good old-fashioned Christmas for the extended family, which includes Clark’s parents, Ellen’s parents, and the elderly Uncle Lewis & Aunt Bethany, though their exact relationship is never explained. Showing up unexpectedly is cousin Catherine and her redneck husband Eddie, along with two of their small children. Fans of the Vacation series will recall that Catherine & Eddie and their brood make a memorable appearance in the original, and Eddie turns out to be the big star of this film. There is too much goodness for me to go into detail here, but suffice to say that Clark proves himself to be as big of a buffoon as usual, all the grandparents are nuts in that special grandparent way, and Eddie’s antics are the icing on the cake. Virtually every scene in this move has become legendary, from the oversized Christmas tree that Clark stubbornly determines is going in the living room, to Eddie cleaning out his RV’s toilet in his bathrobe, to the 25,000 lights with which Clark adorns the house. As a matter of fact, every December channels like HGTV and The Travel Channel have shows featuring wacky, over-the-top, gaudy Christmas light displays from across the country, and I’d be curious to know whether those kinds of garish exhibits were always around or if Christmas Vacation was the impetus for an odd new holiday tradition. I remember the first time I ever saw this movie, and there is a scene where Clark crashes a saucer sled oiled up with some sort of food varnish that he supposedly invented straight into a WalMart. At the time we did not have a WalMart in my hometown and it was just becoming a big deal. I remember thinking “Man, I wish we had a WalMart”. I laugh at that thought now since WalMart has become such a ubiquitous part of every day life. At any rate, Christmas Vacation has quickly become part of the pantheon of great Christmas movies, one of the half-dozen or so that everyone watches annually. It isn’t high art and it isn’t supposed to be. It is fairly innocuous entertainment, and that’s just fine by me.