90’s Film Frenzy: Fly Round 1

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

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

 

 

 

 

Twister

Release:                       5/17/96

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

Directed By:                 Jan de Bont (Speed)

 

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Very Bad Things

Release:                       11/25/98

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Edward Scissorhands

Release:                       12/7/90

Starring:                        Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Weist

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

 

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Mallrats

Release:                       10/20/95

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

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

 

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

 

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

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Honeymoon in Vegas

Release:                       8/28/92

Starring:                        Nicolas Cage, Sarah Jessica Parker, James Caan

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

 

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Presumed Innocent

Release:                       7/25/90

Starring:                        Harrison Ford, Bonnie Bedelia, Greta Scacchi

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Hook

Release:                       12/11/91

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

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

 

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Joe Versus the Volcano

Release:                       3/9/90

Starring:                        Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan

Directed By:                 John Patrick Shanley (Doubt)

 

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

 

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

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City Slickers

Release:                       6/7/91

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

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

 

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Hocus Pocus

Release:                       7/16/93

Starring:                        Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy

Directed By:                 Kenny Ortega (Newsies)

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

 

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

 

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Batman Forever

Release:                       6/16/95

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

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

 

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Sister Act

Release:                       5/29/92

Starring:                        Whoopi Goldberg, Maggie Smith, Kathy Najimy

Directed By:                 Emile Ardolino (Dirty Dancing)

 

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

 

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

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Boogie Nights

Release:                       10/10/97

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

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

 

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The American President

Release:                       11/17/94

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Scream

Release:                       12/20/96

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

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

 

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Mr. Saturday Night

Release:                       10/23/92

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

Directed By:                 Billy Crystal

 

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

 

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

 

80’s Movie Mania: Tubular Round 3

We’re down to 32 competitors as we begin Round 3. You’ll see eight additional films that we haven’t yet talked about, two in each division that received 1st & 2nd round byes. Moving forward I am going to get back into posting polls and seeking your input, not only because I’m stubborn like that but due mainly to the fact that there are going to be some monstrously difficult decisions that I don’t want to make all by myself. As for the films that have made it thus far thru a couple of rounds, I might be running out of things to say and ways to praise them, but I’ll figure out something. I think I may even look at dollar figures and Tomato-meters just as a way of splitting hairs. Let’s start with the Tubular Division.

 

 

 

 

Tubular 3

 

The Breakfast Club     vs.     Mr. Mom

bclubYou may have been wondering where this 1985 John Hughes classic has been in the competition…and now you know. Starring five members of the infamous Brat Pack (Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, & Anthony Michael Hall), The Breakfast Club tells the story of high schoolers forced to spend an entire Saturday in detention…something that I’m pretty sure would be considered illegal today. You know…civil rights and all that jazz. At any rate, each of the students embodies an authentic high school cliché…the popular jock (Estevez), the snobbish fashionista (Ringwald), the studious nerd (Hall), the defiant hellraiser from the wrong side of the tracks (Nelson), & the antisocial weirdo (Sheedy). As they get to know each other walls come tumbling down and we understand just how imprudent preconceived notions can be. The group also bonds over their mutual loathing for assistant principal Richard Vernon, the arrogant hardass charged with the task of supervising detention. Vernon does an amusingly poor job of being in charge, but he is also one of the best, most memorable parts of the film. The Breakfast Club straddles the line between comedy & drama, but more importantly it is an honest snapshot of teenage life in America. Mr. Mom has beaten Porky’s & Ghostbusters thus far. It has an 85% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but upon mr momits release famed critic Roger Ebert opined that it was “overwritten” and a great concept that is poorly executed like “the pilot for a TV sitcom”. That assessment might not be totally off base, and this movie in any other hands might have been a completely mediocre bomb. However, Michael Keaton makes it work. After guesting on a plethora of TV shows in the 60’s & 70’s Teri Garr was in several notable movies in the late 70’s/early 80s, but after Mr. Mom her fame seemed to dissipate considerably and these days she is retired from acting as she battles multiple sclerosis.

The Verdict:       The Breakfast Club. It’s the end of the road after an impressive run by Mr. Mom, but The Breakfast Club is just too good. It should be required viewing for every teenager in America. I look at it differently now, thru the prism of middle age. But even from that perspective it is still a well-written & performed story, and I could see it being successfully translated to a theatre production. I don’t know…maybe somebody somewhere has already done that.

 

 

 

 

When Harry Met Sally    vs.     WarGames

harrysallyI loves me some rom-coms, and 1989’s When Harry Met Sally is one of the best of the genre. It asks the intriguing question “Can men & women simply be platonic friends??” and stars Meg Ryan & Billy Crystal as college acquaintances who become best friends and eventually fall in love. The screenplay was written by Nora Ephron, who also wrote two of my other favorites…Sleepless in Seattle & You’ve Got Mail (both of which also star Meg Ryan)…and who is not in any way related to Zac Efron. The film was directed by Rob Reiner, who had quite the winning streak in the 1980’s with This Is Spinal Tap, Stand By Me, & The Princess Bride, all of which are still alive in 80’s Movie Mania. Billy Crystal is a national treasure, and the supporting cast of Carrie Fisher & Bruno Kirby is superb. WarGames has overcome challenges from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure to make it this far. The director was John Badham, who less than a decade earlier had helmed a little John Travolta project you may have wargamesheard about called Saturday Night Fever. Badham’s sister Mary portrayed Scout Finch in the classic 1962 adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird with Gregory Peck. WarGames is one of the earliest pop culture depictions of what is now commonly referred to as hacking and is thought to contain the first cinematic mention of the term firewall. When President Reagan saw the movie he was told that the scenario was indeed conceivable, prompting the President & Congress to update cyber security legislation.

The Verdict:       Okay Manoverse…this one is up to you. Please don’t leave the decision in my hands.

 

 

 

The Blues Brothers     vs.     The Big Chill

bb5The Blues Brothers received a first round bye and then beat European Vacation in Round 2. It was the tenth highest grossing film of 1980, behind classics like The Empire Strikes Back, Stir Crazy, & Coal Miner’s Daughter, but also besting some pretty solid competition like Caddyshack, The Shining, Friday the 13th, & the Academy Award winner for Best Picture Ordinary People. The screenplay was written by Dan Aykroyd and the film directed by John Landis, who had previously worked with Belushi on Animal House and would work with Aykroyd again a few years later on Trading Places. Landis has also directed such memorable efforts as Coming to America, Three Amigos!, & Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video. The Blues Brothers went $10 million over budget and at one time held the record for the most expensive comedy film ever made, but the $115 million it earned in theaters certainly softened the blow. The Big Chill received a first round bye and then defeated Scarface in Round 2. It ranked 13th at the box office in 1983, behind classics like Return of the Jedi, Flashdance, & Risky Business, but better than notables like The Outsiders, The Right Stuff, and two Stephen King adaptations…Cujo & Christine. The soundtrack is a-m-a-z-i-n-g, with songs from Marvin Gaye, Three Dog Night, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, and The Four Tops. I’m a little too young for chillsongs from the 60’s to be childhood favorites, but I’ve been blessed with good taste in music and I love these tunes. The movie’s title, according to director Lawrence Kasdan, refers to “a cooling process that takes place for every generation when they move from the outward-directed, more idealistic concerns of their youth to a kind of self-absorption, a self-interest which places their personal desires above those of the society or even an ideal”.

The Verdict:       The Blues Brothers. It’s all about repeat viewings, and The Blues Brothers is one of those movies that is often on random channels at various times of the day & night. I’ve seen it dozens of times, while I can’t remember the last time I watched The Big Chill.

 

 

 

Lethal Weapon            vs.     Dirty Dancing

lw2Lethal Weapon arrived at this point after a first round bye and a Round 2 decision over La Bamba. It was the 9th highest grossing film of 1987, behind Fatal Attraction & The Untouchables but ahead of Robocop & Throw Momma From the Train. It has an 84% Fresh Rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and upon its release critic Roger Ebert gave it 4 Stars, calling it a Bruised Forearm Movie wherein “you and your date grab each other’s arm every few minutes and you walk out black & blue and grinning from ear to ear”, and saying “this movie thrilled me from beginning to end….part of that is because I cared about the characters.” I concur. Dirty Dancing also received a first round bye and then defeated Moonstruck in Round 2. It was the 11th highest grossing movie of 1987, behind Three Men & A Baby, The Witches of Eastwick…and yes, Lethal Weapon. It’s unofficial theme song, I’ve Had the Time of My Life (sung by Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes) won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, besting Harold Faltermeyer’s Shakedown (from Beverly Hills Cop II) and Starship’s Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now dd3(from Mannequin), among others. Stars Patrick Swayze & Jennifer Grey reportedly had a tumultuous working relationship dating back to when they co-starred in 1984’s Red Dawn, but thankfully they made it work or else we might have ended up with some kind of pairing involving Val Kilmer or Billy Zane with Sarah Jessica Parker or Kyra Sedgwick. No disrespect to those fine performers, but I think things turned out for the best.

The Verdict:       This is exactly the kind of decision that I need The Manoverse to make. These are two great films. Both are worthy of victory. I shall abide by the choice of the masses.

 

80’s Movie Mania: Radical Round 2

Today we finish up second round action for 80’s Movie Mania. Please feel free to go back and check out Round 2 results for the Gnarly, Tubular, & Bodacious Divisions. I haven’t been posting polls much lately because it seems like an exercise in futility. Maybe someday I’ll figure out what I’m doing wrong, but until then we’ll just forge ahead. As always feedback is appreciated. Tell your friends & family about the site. Let’s grow The Manoverse into a force to be reckoned with in the blogosphere!!

 

 

 

 

Radical 2

 

Rain Man   vs.     Night Shift

More Tom Cruise?? Yep, I’m afraid so. In 1988’s Rain Man Cruise plays Charlie, a down-on-his-luck NightShift-Still2shyster whose estranged father dies and leaves him nothing but an old car and some rose bushes. The old man left millions of dollars to an older brother that Charlie didn’t even know existed. That brother, Ray (in an Oscar winning performance by Dustin Hoffman), is an autistic savant residing in a mental institution. Charlie impulsively decides to take Ray away from the facility and get legal custody thereby gaining access to the inheritance. The ensuing road trip is full of fun & poignant moments as the two brothers bond and Charlie matures. Rain Man not only got Hoffman his second Oscar but also won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, & Best Original Screenplay. Night Shift defeated Fletch in Round 1. It ranked 36th at the box office in 1982, behind clunkers that no one remembers like Things Are Tough All Over, Best Friends, & The Dark Crystal, but ahead of notable competition including The Thing, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, Diner, & Grease 2. It might be an overstatement to say that Night Shift launched the careers of Ron Howard, Henry Winkler, Michael Keaton, & Shelley Long, but it definitely counts as a prominent catalyst for them, especially the directorial trajectory of Howard and Keaton’s stellar filmography. Winkler’s portrayal of a character that is the polar opposite of Happy Days’ Fonzie showed his range even if he never became a huge movie star.

 

The Verdict:       Rain Man. The pedigree cannot be denied, and unlike many Best Picture winners it is the kind of lighthearted popcorn flick one can enjoy anytime it may pop up on television.

 

 

 

 

This Is Spinal Tap       vs.     Flight of the Navigator

After receiving a first round bye the ultimate mockumentary makes its Mania debut. Presented as a faux documentary of a supposedly real rock band, 1984’s Spinal Tap is a satirical look inside the zany world of rock n’ roll. It stars Michael McKean (Laverne & Shirley’s Lenny Kosnowski), Harry Shearer (the voice of Ned Flanders, Mr. Burns, & others on The Simpsons), & Christopher Guest (the real life husband of Jamie Lee Curtis) as members of a goofy British band that sings songs like Hell Hole, Sex Farm, & Gimme Some Money. Written & directed by Rob Reiner, the movie features cameos & early screen appearances by stars like Bruno Kirby, Ed Begley Jr., Fran Drescher, Dana Carvey, Billy Crystal, Howard Hesseman, Paul Shaffer, & Anjelica Huston and contains many memorable scenes & quotable lines. Actual rock stars like Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, U2’s Edge, & Dave Grohl allegedly love the film and praise its accuracy. Flight of the Navigator upset The Goonies in Round 1. I can be a rebel on occasion. Navigator ranked a lowly 48th at the box office in 1986, behind idiocy like Friday the 13thnavigator Part 6, Wildcats, Poltergeist II: The Other Side, & The Golden Child (a film that nearly killed the career of Eddie Murphy). However it did fare better than decent flicks like Brighton Beach Memoirs, The Best of Times, 9 ½ Weeks, Highlander, & Maximum Overdrive. A quick look back reveals that Flight of the Navigator was released in early August of 1986 and faced stiff competition from summer blockbusters Aliens and The Fly as well as 80’s mainstay Stand By Me.

 

The Verdict:       This Is Spinal Tap. I adore the whole mockumentary genre, and this is the one that started it all. Great characters, well-written script, superb cast, fun cameos…there’s a whole lot to appreciate here.

 

 

 

 

Wall Street           vs.     Revenge of the Nerds

wallstreet2_560Michael Douglas, son of legendary 20th century actor Kirk Douglas, has had a fine career. He co-starred with Karl Malden in the 1970’s TV cop show The Streets of San Francisco. He won an Oscar for producing 1975 Best Picture One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He’s starred in notable films like Basic Instinct, The China Syndrome, & Falling Down. But he reached the pinnacle in 1987 with his portrayal of Gordon Gekko, a dodgy business tycoon who famously opines that “greed is good”. Charlie Sheen is also along for the ride as an inexperienced but ambitious stockbroker who first admires Gekko before eventually turning against him. The world of stocks, bonds, & corporate raiding is a tricky one to translate to film, but Wall Street pulls it off, keeping things accessible to the viewer and creating a level of suspense, intrigue, & drama normally reserved for more action based movies. Revenge of the Nerds defeated Twins in the first round. It was the 16th highest grossing movie of 1984, behind hits like Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, Footloose, & Thenerds2 Karate Kid, but besting pretty solid competition, stuff like The Terminator, A Nightmare on Elm Street, & Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. Well okay, that last one sucked, but I had to sneak it in somewhere because thirty years later the title, as well as the concept of break dancing in general, cracks me up. The powers-that-be squeezed all they could out of Nerds, with three sequels in the course of the following decade. The original still pops up on TV occasionally and is always good for a few chuckles.

 

The Verdict:       Wall Street. Gordon Gekko may be one of the most unforgettable characters in the history of cinema. He has become the icon of a certain fragment in time, a symbol of arrogance, materialism, & yes…greed.

 

 

 

 

Splash       vs.     The Naked Gun

splashEveryone remembers Ron Howard when he was a little kid starring as Opie Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show, and then as a teenager playing Richie Cunningham on Happy Days. However, Howard knew from an early age that he wanted to become a director. He left Happy Days after its 7th season to concentrate on directing and has strung together an impressive list of well-received & entertaining hits. One of his early triumphs is 1984’s Splash, about a NY City businessman who falls in love with a mermaid. The cast includes Tom Hanks (in his breakout role), Daryl Hannah, John Candy, & Eugene Levy. It was the 10th highest grossing film of 1984 and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay as well as a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture. The Naked Gun beat out Dragnet in Round 1. It was the 8th highest grossing film of 1988, behind really good films like Rain Man, Big, Coming to America, & Die Hard, but besting some pretty good flicks like Scrooged, Bull Durham, & Tucker: The Man and His Dream. Alright, I’m joking again about that last one, Anyway, as far as the parody/spoof genre goes The Naked Gun would be on its Mount Rushmore…if such a thing existed.

 

The Verdict:       The Naked Gun. I suppose this is kind of an upset. Splash is definitely the more critically acclaimed film, and with names like Howard, Hanks, & Candy its pedigree is indisputable. However, one of the benchmarks I hold in highest esteem is repeat viewings, and I don’t think I’ve seen Splash in atleast 20 years. It’s just not shown on television that much for some reason. And to be honest if it were on but The Naked Gun was also on at the same time I have a feeling I’d choose the latter. Splash is mostly remembered as a springboard for the careers of Howard & Hanks (who have both done better work in the ensuing years), not necessarily for the movie itself. Meanwhile, The Naked Gun epitomizes an entire category of films and is just plain old funny. Poor Tom Hanks…beaten by Leslie Nielsen & OJ Simpson two rounds in a row.

 

 

 

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial    vs.     Sixteen Candles

One of the earliest moviegoing experiences I remember is going to see Coal Miner’s Daughter at the sixteendrive-in with my parents & sister, which was likely sometime during the summer of 1980 or 81 when I was 8 or 9 years old. The other experience I remember is going to see E.T.. Our local mall opened in 1982, the same year that E.T. was in theaters, and it was there that I saw it. Produced & directed by the incomparable Steven Spielberg, E.T. tells the story of a cute, friendly little alien botanist who is inadvertently left behind by his compatriots when their peaceful mission to collect samples of Earth plant life is interrupted by government agents. E.T. is discovered by a 10 year old boy named Elliot, and eventually his younger sister Gertie (a 5 year old Drew Barrymore in one of her earliest roles) and older brother Michael. The kids decide to keep E.T.’s existence a secret from their mother and formulate a plan to help the alien get home to his own world. Drama ensues. E.T. quickly overtook Star Wars as the highest grossing film of all time and held that title for over a decade. To this day it is still in the Top 10 on that list when the numbers are adjusted for inflation. It won four Academy Awards, though it lost Best Picture to Gandhi. Sixteen Candles got the decision over Red Dawn in Round 1. It ranked a humble 44th at the box office in 1984, behind head scratchers like Cannonball Run II, City Heat, All of Me, & Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan. But hey, it beat horror classic Children of the Corn, so that’s…something. I guess America hadn’t gotten the John Hughes/Brat Pack memo quite yet.

 

The Verdict:       E.T.. I’m going to contradict myself. It’s probably been even longer since I’ve watched E.T. than Splash. In that time I’ve seen Sixteen Candles plenty of times. I was initially prepared to hand Sixteen Candles the upset victory, but I just can’t pull the trigger. E.T. was the highest grossing movie OF ALL TIME for 11 years!! How do I overlook that?? This is a great example of why Manoverse participation would be helpful. I’d love to take the temperature of the masses, but I have no faith that delaying the decision with a poll would accomplish anything.

 

 

 

Fast Times at Ridgemont High     vs.     Spaceballs

fast2Fast Times beat Brighton Beach Memoirs in Round 1. It was the 29th ranked film at the box office in 1982, space2behind classics like Poltergeist & First Blood as well as not so great movies like The Toy, Young Doctors in Love, and The Sword & The Sorcerer. The good news is that it did better than some impressive competition like Pink Floyd: The Wall and re-issues of The Empire Strikes Back, Bambi, & Raiders of the Lost Ark. Fast Times isn’t the kind of movie that wins awards, but it meant something to those of a certain age. I’m not sure how modern teens view it…if it speaks to them on some level or seems completely lame & outdated. I really hope it is the former rather than the latter. Spaceballs won a tossup over Summer School in Round 1. It ranked 31st at the 1987 box office. One would think a Star Wars parody might do better, but atleast it bested solid competition like The Lost Boys, Can’t Buy Me Love, Raising Arizona, Some Kind of Wonderful, & Over the Top. A sequel would seem to write itself, but for some reason it just never happened.

 

The Verdict:       Fast Times. Easy call. Spaceballs is a great parody film, but it isn’t better than an archetypal 80’s film that helped define the decade and an entire generation.