90’s Film Frenzy: Wicked Round 3

We’ve moved past Halloween and a lot of folks have dived in…atleast emotionally…to the Christmas season. For me though, as much as I love Christmas, it seems a bit premature, which is why I’m glad I have this competition to focus on (as well as football). The quote you are seeing to your left is something I ran across just a few weeks ago, and it makes so much sense to me. I know I’ve mentioned it previously, but while box office receipts & awards are great, what really matters to me is a movie that I’ve enjoyed multiple times and still delight in many years after its initial release. Those movies are special, and unfortunately they are all too rare. At any rate, if you need to catch up on third round results in the Dope, Fly, & Phat Divisions please do so, and then come on back to finish up Round 3 action with the Wicked Division.

 

 

 

 

The Shawshank Redemption                        vs.              Lethal Weapon 4

I’m going to admit something with which few might agree: Lethal Weapon 4 might be my favorite of the series…or atleast it’s right up there with the original. All the elements are in place…Joe Pesci is back as Leo Getz, Rene Russo (aka Lorna Cole) is in a full-fledged relationship with Martin Riggs and about to have his baby, and Chris Rock joins the cast as Sgt. Butters, who (spoiler alert) has secretly impregnated Roger Murtaugh’s daughter. The bad guys are smugglers bringing in illegal immigrants as part of some sort of plot involving organized crime in China. The reason I like it is probably why many critics didn’t…it has a lighter touch and more humor than a typical action movie. Oh there are still shootouts & explosions, but there is also Pesci & Rock riffing off each other while our two favorite cops provoke them then sit back and laugh, and as the conclusion of the film illustrates, all of these characters have become family…to each other and to the audience. It’s about as heartwarming as a buddy/cop movie is going to get. Conversely, The Shawshank Redemption is an unflinching prison movie. It doesn’t attempt to warm our cockles, and that’s okay. The gold star has to go to Morgan Freeman. I can’t imagine that this movie…with all due respect to Tim Robbins…would’ve been nearly as good without Freeman. He simply makes everything he is in better just by his mere presence. It is difficult to fathom…more than two decades later…how Shawshank made less money at the box office than Major League II, I Love Trouble, The Paper, Richie Rich, Timecop, Natural Born Killers, and The Flintstones (with John Goodman, Rick Moranis, & Rosie O’Donnell). Freeman has said in interviews that he thinks the title may have been difficult for some to remember which led to poor word of mouth upon the film’s initial release. If that is true it is a sad reflection on our education system. Easier to understand is why it received seven Academy Award nominations but won none of them. Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction came out in the same year, so that’s pretty tough competition. Anyway, Shawshank is a great example of what we talked about in the preamble. It bombed in theaters and didn’t win any Oscars despite multiple nominations, but because of home video rentals (VHS…cause that’s how we rolled in the 90’s kids) and sweet television package that allowed for repeat viewings on Turner’s TV channels it flourished and has become a modern classic.

The Verdict:       The Shawshank Redemption. This one is tough because I really do love Lethal Weapon 4. However, though according to my own rules it is included in this competition because it’s part of a series rather than a trilogy, the fact is that I tend to still look at Lethal Weapon as a single entity in multiple parts, and it is difficult to separate them. If I am being honest, on a lazy afternoon of couch potatoing I think my clicker might be just as likely stop on the channel showing Lethal Weapon 4, but Shawshank is clearly the superior film.

 

 

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Mrs. Doubtfire                                vs.                        Tommy Boy

I’ll make this short & sweet. Both are delightful comedies. Both have gotten a lot of repeat viewing and are on television with some frequency. But it comes down to Robin Williams vs. Chris Farley & David Spade. Perhaps age is a line in the sand. Those who came of age and went thru their teens in the 90’s would likely choose Farley & Tommy Boy. However, as an 80’s kid who was there from the very beginning of Williams’ rise to prominence and has been a huge fan of his since childhood I must opine that Mrs. Doubtfire is amongst his finest work. It didn’t receive critical praise & award nominations like Good Morning Vietnam or Good Will Hunting, but it came before later, more depressing efforts like What Dreams May Come and Death to Smoochy. There is a terrific scene near the end when Williams’ character is bouncing back & forth between two situations in the same restaurant, and when it is revealed who Mrs. Doubtfire really is the reaction of the Sally Field character is priceless. The children are well cast, and I really like the boss of the TV station portrayed by fine character actor Robert Prosky.

The Verdict:       Mrs. Doubtfire. It just isn’t a fair fight.

 

 

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Scent of a Woman                         vs.              The Truman Show

As much as I have tried to focus on supporting roles in Round 3, one cannot see this matchup and overlook Pacino vs. Carrey, especially since both men practically put an entire movie on their back and carry it to greatness. The Truman Show was way ahead of its time. I am really surprised that no one has tried to pull off a real life Truman Show in the ensuing years. I’m sure it could be done, and frankly it might actually be gratifying to watch a reality show where the star isn’t doing it on purpose in a vain attempt to grab cheap fame & fortune. Of course then there would be a moral dilemma for viewers because the idea of watching another person’s entire life on TV without their knowledge feels a little depraved. Ed Harris received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role as creator/director/producer Christoff (he lost the award to James Coburn for his role in Affliction), and the religious overtones are undeniable. The reason Harris’ portrayal is so good is because it is so low-key. Christoff is meant to be the villain, but he isn’t a caricature, laughing manically or foaming at the mouth. My favorite scene is at the end of the movie. The viewing public is on the edge of their collective seat as Truman Burbank figures out the truth of his situation and finally escapes. But two seconds after the show ends everybody simply changes the channel and moves on with their lives just that quick. It is profound, as is the entire film. Pacino had been nominated for multiple Oscars for performances in much better movies, but it took his excessive bravado as Lt. Col. Frank Slade to finally win.

The Verdict:       Scent of a Woman. Such is my disdain for reality television that I have had no desire to watch The Truman Show over & over thru the years. I realize that is flawed logic because the film is actually a satirical commentary about such programs, but the fact that a show that seemed so far-fetched two decades ago is now more than plausible is a sad commentary on the direction we’ve taken as a society. It’s too discouraging to even ponder, so…fair or unfair…I avoid the movie. Those that say Pacino’s performance masks a relatively thin plot probably aren’t wrong, but who cares?? Pacino is awesome.

 

 

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Deep Impact                                   vs.                        The Big Lebowski

Deep Impact is a better movie than Armageddon. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. However, it isn’t as memorable. Despite the presence of Morgan Freeman as President of the United States (Barack Obama wishes he could be as cool as Freeman) the rest of the cast doesn’t really rev the engines. Tea Leoni. Robert Duvall. Vanessa Redgrave. Ron Eldard. Laura Innes. Leelee Sobieski. I’m not saying they aren’t talented…but there’s no one there with an It Factor that’ll really attract an audience. Elijah Wood was still a few years away from his adventures in Middle Earth, and Jon Favreau was hardly a household name twenty years ago. But despite all of that, it is still a really good movie. The Big Lebowski has defeated Ten Things I Hate About You and Wayne’s World (which some might consider an upset) to get to this point. It is what one might call a hot pepper movie. Have you ever eaten an allegedly hot pepper with the initial thought of “What’s the big deal??”, only for the heat to sneak up on you a few minutes later?? Not only has it become a cult classic long after being a box office flop, but repeat viewings are almost a necessity. Don’t watch Lebowski once and wonder why anyone likes it. You need to see it a few times before you can begin to appreciate its greatness. It is highly quotable and chockful of memorable characters.

The Verdict:       The Big Lebowski. The Dude is headed to The Sweet 16. Not bad for a movie that ranked 96th at the box office in 1998.

90’s Film Frenzy: Wicked Round 2

As we wrap up Round 2 of 90’s Film Frenzy let me take this opportunity to hearken back to my childhood in the 70’s & 80’s and say a melancholy Happy Trails to legendary actor Burt Reynolds. For a brief time when I was about ten years old Reynolds was the biggest movie star in the world. At the time I was really into movies like Smokey & The Bandit, Hooper, The Cannonball Run, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.  Actually, I suppose I still prefer those kinds of films. Of course Reynolds had meatier roles in stuff like Deliverance and The Longest Yard, and in later years he had sporadic success with Boogie Nights and…well…that was pretty much it. The 21st century hadn’t been particularly kind to him. In the late 80’s he often appeared on a game show that he produced called Win, Lose, or Draw, and in the early 90’s he starred with Marilu Henner, Hal Holbrook, Michael Jeter, Charles Durning, & the sublime Ossie Davis in a delightful yet underrated sitcom called Evening Shade. Throughout the decades Burt Reynolds remained in the pop culture consciousness and made frequent appearances on various chat shows. Even the bad movies he was in…like Striptease and the big screen adaptation of The Dukes of Hazzard…gained some degree of credibility because he was part of the cast. Unlike so many of today’s movie stars Burt Reynolds seemed to simply embrace being a famous actor and didn’t fancy himself an activist or an arbiter of morality for the masses. Oh sure, he went thru a very public & quite bitter divorce from WKRP in Cincinnati actress Loni Anderson in the early 90’s, but those things happen. Nobody’s perfect, right?? At the end of the day I assume that most actors would prefer their legacy to be the work that they did, and in that regard it is undeniable that Burt Reynolds provided us with more than his fair share of treasured entertainment.

If you’d like to go back and check out second round action in the Fly, Phat, & Dope divisions please follow the links and do so at your leisure.

 

 

 

 

 

The Shawshank Redemption

 

Release:    9/23/94

Starring:     Morgan Freeman, Tim Robbins

Directed By:        Frank Darabont (The Green Mile)

 

vs.

 

Doc Hollywood

 

Quotes

Listen doctor, I’ve got a boy here in cardiac crisis. You can’t treat that with Coca-Cola or Bisquick. We’re gonna have to use real medicine this time.

Southern women…well, they require a substantial commitment. You might have to stay here six months.

I suspect your version of romance is whatever will separate me from my panties.

 

Odds & Ends

The movie was filmed in Micanopy, FL, a small town of 650 people just south of Gainesville.

The makers of the Disney/Pixar film Cars have been accused of plagiarizing its plot from Doc Hollywood.

The city thru which Michael J. Fox is driving in the opening credits is Richmond, VA.

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The Shawshank Redemption is based on a 1982 Stephen King novella and might be the finest adaptation of his work to film. In the late 1940’s banker Andy Dufresne is wrongly convicted of the double murder of his wife & her lover. He is sentenced to life in prison and there befriends Red, an older & wiser convict who is able to procure items from the outside for his fellow inmates. Andy spends nearly three decades plotting his escape, battling a corrupt warden and encountering other difficulties along the way. But eventually he does break out of prison in the most ingenious way. Not long after that Red is paroled and makes his way to Mexico to reunite with his friend. The movie was 51st at the box office, behind such greatness as Pauly Shore’s In the Army Now, Major League 2, & Richie Rich starring MacCauley Culkin. In retrospect that is a really poor reflection on the collective taste of the viewing public. The Shawshank Redemption was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor (Freeman), but didn’t win any of them (Forrest Gump and Tom Hanks won their respective categories). It holds a stellar 91% score on Rotten Tomatoes. The NY Daily News called it “an engagingly simple, good-hearted film, with just enough darkness around the edges to give contrast and relief to its glowingly benign view of human nature”, and the NY Times said it is “a slow, gentle story of camaraderie and growth, with an ending that abruptly finds poetic justice in what has come before”. Gene Siskel thought it was “simply marvelous entertainment”, while his cohort Roger Ebert opined that it is “a movie about time, patience and loyalty…not sexy qualities perhaps, but they grow on you during the subterranean progress of this story”. Doc Hollywood got past Liar Liar in Round 1 because I like Michael J. Fox more than Jim Carrey, and Julie Warner emerging naked out of a lake is just the cherry on top. In reading reviews of the film one will run across words like predictable, breezy, formulaic, nice, charming, loveable, & heartwarming, which unintentionally combine to damn it with faint praise. As anyone who has gone thru this process with me knows, Doc Hollywood is precisely the sort of mildly entertaining movie that is in my wheelhouse. It is comfort food cinema that doesn’t break new ground, push any envelopes, or try to convey a message. Fox was never a ultra-cool heartthrob on the level of Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Matthew McConaughey, or Johnny Depp, but before Parkinson’s derailed his life & career he had a likeable, boyish charm with just enough of an edge to keep things interesting. He is perfectly cast in this movie, and the rest of the ensemble compliments him well.

The Verdict:       The Shawshank Redemption. Prison movies aren’t normally my thing, but Shawshank isn’t gratuitously violent or depressing, and the performances by Freeman & Robbins are outstanding. It isn’t the kind of lighthearted fare I typically enjoy in vegg mode, but there is something about it compelling enough to have received numerous repeat viewings over the years. Doc Hollywood is a delightful fish-out-of-water story and a solid rom-com, but the competition is just too good.

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Mrs. Doubtfire

 

Release:    11/24/93

Starring:     Robin Williams, Sally Field

Directed By:        Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Only the Lonely, Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone)

 

vs.

 

That Thing You Do

 

Quotes

Don’t worry…no one’s going to prison, son. It’s a very common tale.

When was the last time you were decently kissed? I mean, truly, truly, good and kissed?

 

Odds & Ends

Tom Hanks was initially opposed to hiring Tom Everett Scott because of Scott’s strong resemblance to a younger Hanks. He was finally convinced by his wife, Rita Wilson, who thought Scott was cute. It was his film debut.

The four actors playing The Wonders rehearsed as a band for eight weeks to get the feel of performing, but most of their performances in the film were dubbed by other musicians.

The bass player played by Ethan Embry is never explicitly named. All references to him in the film are as, “the bass player”, and in the credits he is listed as “T.B. Player”.

Adam Schlesinger, the bassist of Fountains of Wayne, penned the title song in response to a contest being held by the studio.

The guys are shown drinking Koehler Beer, which was a real brand produced by the Erie Brewing Company on State Street in Erie, PA.

The state fair entertainment circuit of the mid-60s actually existed until the mid-80s. Fair managers would work together on routing and negotiate lowered performers’ fees as a group.

While trying to decide on a name for the band, the names glimpsed in Jimmy’s notebook are: The Dollars, The Lords of Erie, The Pistunes, The Thorns, The Mozarts, The Echoes, The Ticks, The Didoctics, and The Flannels.

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In 1993 Robin Williams was several years past career defining roles in Good Morning Vietnam and Dead Poets Society, both of which had gotten him Oscar nominations. He had done a couple of good movies…Awakenings in 1990 and Aladdin in 1992…but had also been in films like The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Cadillac Man, Shakes the Clown, & Hook that hadn’t really…made an impact. But then came this little gem, a dramedy about a divorced father who goes to the extreme of dressing as an elderly British nanny to spend time with his three children. It was the second highest grossing film of the year, behind only Jurassic Park, and holds a solid 71% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Variety called it “overly sappy in places and probably 20 minutes too long”, but also said that it is “a slick surface for Williams’ shtick, within a story possessing broad family appeal”. Newsweek said that “I’ve rarely laughed so much at a movie I generally disliked”, which is an odd comment to say the least. Ebert was underwhelmed, opining that “the film is not as amusing as the premise”. Entertainment Weekly thought that “Williams outclasses the movie”, which seems to be the general consensus…Williams is brilliant, but the movie itself is just okay. That Thing You Do got past Backdraft in Round 1 in a battle of opposites…likeable dramedy versus an effects laden action drama. What has always fascinated me about That Thing You Do is its tone. We all know that one hit wonders are a real thing. We know that bands break up all the time. Egos. Jealousy. Greed. Pride. Differing visions and a mix of personalities. There are dozens of things that can contribute to a group’s implosion. This movie could have easily become a thoughtful, profound, sober examination of such situations, and I have no doubt that all involved would have pulled it off. But instead Hanks, in his role as screenwriter & director, decided to keep things cheerful & fun, and I think it works.

The Verdict:       Mrs. Doubtfire. Another Hanks vs. Williams contest, and this time Williams comes out on top. I actually think That Thing You Do might have benefitted from more onscreen time for Hanks, but instead he has a supporting role and the focus is on the band. I love the movie’s theme song, and if The Oneders were a real pop/rock group I’d probably like their music a lot. Having said that, Mrs. Doubtfire is just too good to ignore. I understand the perspective of the critics’…Williams’ performance stands out more than the movie as a whole. I don’t disagree. But for now that’s more than enough.

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Scent of a Woman

 

Release:    12/23/92

Starring:     Al Pacino, Chris O’Donnell

Directed By:        Martin Brest (Beverly Hills Cop, Meet Joe Black, Gigli)

 

vs.

 

The Blair Witch Project

 

Quotes

 

I just want to apologize to Josh’s mom, and Mike’s mom, and my mom. I am so sorry! Because it was my fault. I was the one who brought them here. I was the one that said “keep going south”. I was the one who said that we were not lost. It was my fault, because it was my project. Everything had to be my way. And this is where we’ve ended up and it’s all because of me that we’re here now – hungry, cold, and hunted.

Okay, here’s your motivation. You’re lost, you’re angry in the woods, and no one is here to help you. There’s a witch, and she keeps leaving shit outside your door. There’s no one here to help you! She left little trinkets, you took one of them, she ran after us. There’s no one here to help you! We walked for 15 hours today, we ended up in the same place! There’s no one here to help you, that’s your motivation! That’s your motivation!

 

Odds & Ends

This film was in the Guinness Book of World Records for “Top Budget: Box Office Ratio” (for a mainstream feature film). The film cost $60,000 to make and made back $248 million, a ratio of $1 spent for every $10,931 made.

Heather Donahue’s mother received sympathy cards from people who believed that her daughter was actually dead or missing.

To promote discord between actors the directors deliberately gave them less food each day of shooting.

In a scene where the main actors are sleeping in a tent at night, the tent suddenly shakes violently and they all get scared. This was unscripted and the director shook the tent. The actors actually were scared.

One of the video cameras used by the actors was bought at Circuit City. After filming was completed, the producers returned the camera for a refund, making their budget money go even further.

Numerous fans were so convinced of the Blair Witch’s existence that they flocked to Maryland in hopes of discovering the legend.

The actors were requested to interview the townspeople, who often, unbeknownst to the actors, were planted by the directors. As a result, the expressions on the actors’ faces were unrehearsed.

The Blair Witch was supposed to be seen in the movie. As the characters were running out of their tent, Heather yells, “Oh my God, what the f*** is that? What the f*** is that?”, the cameraman was supposed to pan to the left where the audience would briefly see a woman wearing a white gown in the distance. But the cameraman forgot to pan to the left and the scene was not reshot.

Before the film was released, the three main actors were listed as “missing, presumed dead” on IMDB.

The 1999-2000 hunting season suffered badly due to this film. The movie was so popular that fans all over the country were hiking into the wilderness to shoot their own Blair Witch-style documentaries. As a result, they kept most of the wildlife scared away from hunting areas.

The “F” is used word 154 times.

One of the first theatrical features to make use of a large-scale viral marketing, which claimed that the three main characters had really gone on a trip to shoot a documentary and were never found again, save for their video camera and the footage they shot. A website was posted on the Internet one year prior to the release to set up the premise of the documentary, complete with detailed reports of the search, the recovery of the trio’s footage within an old cabin, reactions from their families, and expert opinions. The three actors were instructed to refrain from making public appearances. The myth wasn’t debunked until after the movie’s premiere.

Held the record for the highest-grossing independent movie of all time until October 2002, when it was surpassed by My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

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Speaking of great performances that are more memorable than the movie itself…

With all due respect to Chris O’Donnell, Al Pacino almost singlehandedly carries Scent of a Woman, in which he portrays a retired blind Army Ranger who persuades his young caregiver to accompany him on one last adventure before he kills himself. Thankfully it’s not as depressing as it sounds. Lt. Col. Frank Slade is a cynical alcoholic who lives with his niece & her family in New Hampshire. Charlie Simms is a smart but financially challenged student at a nearby prep school. Charlie needs to make some money to afford a trip home to Oregon for Christmas, while Col. Slade’s family is headed out of town for Thanksgiving and isn’t taking him with them. Charlie accepts a job essentially babysitting Col. Slade for a few days, but he gets much more than he bargained for. There is a weak subplot about Charlie possibly getting in trouble over some prank that he witnessed at school, but make no mistake…Scent of a Woman is all about Col. Slade and Pacino’s scene chewing performance. In the hands of any other actor Col. Slade might simply be a bombastic, pitiful, angry windbag, but instead there is nuance & character development. The movie received multiple Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture (which it lost to Unforgiven), Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay, but the one it took home was Pacino’s first Oscar for Best Actor. He had been nominated on seven previous occasions (for performances in The Godfather & The Godfather Part II, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, And Justice For All, Dick Tracy, and Glengarry Glen Ross). Scent of a Woman was the 19th highest grossing film of 1992 and holds an 88% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Ebert thought the movie was a bit formulaic & predictable, but also said that “rarely have we been taken there with so much intelligence and skill”. The Washington Post complimented “a great performance from Pacino” and the “mostly wonderful, edgy script”. The NY Times praised the filmmakers for “turning a relatively contrived situation into a terrific showcase for Mr. Pacino’s talents”. There is a considerable amount of reproach for the film’s 2 ½ hour length, but I don’t mind that a bit if the story is really good. Blair Witch got past A Time to Kill in Round 1 because I feel like the book is better than the movie, and because Blair Witch is such a unique film, both the movie itself and the promotional campaign that made it a surprise hit. So much of what is commonplace today…viral marketing, “reality” entertainment, documentary style horror films…was unique & avant-garde two decades ago. I’m not a horror movie guy, but even I know that The Blair Witch Project helped revolutionize what had become a stale genre. Knowing what we know now and with social media & The Internet being such a big part of daily life, it is difficult to imagine anyone being able to pull off what the powers-that-be did with this film. A sequel was produced just a year later, and while it turned a tidy profit it didn’t come close to having the impact on pop culture as the original.

The Verdict:       Scent of a Woman. Simply put, I like Pacino a lot more than I like horror movies. I watched Blair Witch once when it first came out on home video, but it’s seldom shown on TV and chances are I’d keep right on channel surfing if it was on somewhere. Conversely, Pacino is a magnet that draws one into Scent of a Woman, and it would be rare if I didn’t stop and watch when the opportunity arose.

 

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The Lion King

 

Release:    6/15/94

Starring:              Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jonathan Taylor Thomas

Directed By:            Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff (Stuart Little)

 

vs.

 

Lethal Weapon 4

 

Quotes

Oh, I’m a perp? Oh, you see a young brother in the back of a police car, automatically I’m a perp?! Look at my suit! Look at my tie! What do I look like, a fuckin’ Crip’s accountant?! Look at this badge, bitch! Check out the gun!

Your baby is having my baby!

You have the right to remain silent, so shut the fuck up! Okay!? You have the right to an attorney! If you can’t afford an attorney, we’ll provide you with the dumbest fuckin’ lawyer on Earth! But if you get Johnnie Cochran, I’ll kill ya!

Stop turning everything around! You’re so damn touchy! These guys’ll tell ya, we work together, we got a history together! Hey, maybe we’ll work together someday! I’m the bomb, they’ll tell ya, I’m great!

 

Odds & Ends

Not only was this Jet Li’s first American-produced movie, it was also the first time he’d ever played a villain (Jackie Chan turned it down the role because he chooses never to play the villain in a movie). Director Richard Donner had to ask Li to slow down during action sequences because he was moving faster than the camera shutter speed and it wasn’t registering on film.

Riggs’ trailer is in the same place that Jim Rockford’s trailer was during the majority of The Rockford Files’ run.

Murtaugh’s boat is named Code 7, which is the LAPD radio code for a lunch break.

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Okay, confession time. While writing this project (as well as previous things like 80’s Movie Mania and Merry Movie Mayhem) I oftentimes rely on my memory and prior viewings of a movie when opining. Most of the time this hasn’t been an issue because chances are good that I have watched the film fairly recently. After all, repeat viewings are a major element for me, right?? On the rare occasions that my recall is a bit fuzzy it usually isn’t an issue to stream a movie since I’m a night owl, late night TV has lost its luster for me, and my work schedule isn’t too oppressive. However, I have not watched The Lion King in several years and it is not available to rent anywhere on my Roku. Since I am unwilling to pay $15 to buy it I am left with a conundrum. I know that Disney can be a bit weird about such matters, occasionally putting a film in their vault and making it generally unavailable to the public for a number of years. I also realize that they will be launching their own streaming service in 2019 and that a “3D virtual reality” remake of The Lion King directed by Jon Favreau will hit theaters next summer. So, despite its impressive pedigree I have to strike down The Lion King from this competition due to its…inaccessibility. Way to go Disney.

The Verdict:       Lethal Weapon 4. I suppose winning by default is still winning, right??

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Deep Impact

 

Release:    5/8/98

Starring:     Morgan Freeman, Robert Duvall, Téa Leoni

Directed By:        Mimi Leder (The Peacemaker)

 

vs.

 

October Sky

 

Quotes

My life’s work is teaching. And I believed that if you boys won that science fair, got scholarships, went off and did something great with your lives, somehow my life would have counted for something. You know what? Sometimes you really can’t listen to what anybody else says. You just gotta listen inside. You’re not supposed to end up in those mines. You know why? ‘Cause I think you made other plans. I want you to know something. I’m proud of you.

If I win at Indianapolis, maybe I can go to college, maybe even get a job at Cape Canaveral! There’s nothing here for me! The town is dying, even the mine is dying. Everybody knows that but you!

Homer once said you love the mine more than your own family. I stuck up for you because I didn’t want to believe it. Homer has gotten a lot of help from the people in this town. They’ve helped him build his rockets. They’ve watched him fly ’em. But not you, John. You never showed up, not even once. I’m not asking you to believe in it, but he’s your son, for God’s sake!

 

Odds & Ends

The location of the slag dump where the Rocket Boys actually tested their rockets still exists. It is now a large grassy field. It is located in the actual town of Coalwood, WV. The town of Coalwood celebrated the Rocket Boys with the October Sky Festival, but by 2012 the town had lost so many residents that the event was moved to Beckley, WV due to the lack of able-bodied volunteers remaining in Coalwood.

The boys rarely tested a single rocket per day. They often manufactured several rockets and tested them in sequence. The rocket that hit Homer’s father’s office during their early testing, when they were launching rockets near the mine, was actually the last rocket of several they launched that day.

Homer H. Hickam Jr. helped design and build the cannon that is used during the Virginia Tech Hokie football games.

Much of the filming took place in Petros, TN, which is a tiny little town just outside of Oak Ridge, TN. Oak Ridge is known as The Secret City because it was built specifically to help develop nuclear weaponry during WWII. It is home to the Y-12 nuclear plant, still active today.

 

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You will recall that in 1998 two movies about an asteroid heading toward Earth were in theaters just months apart from one another. Armageddon made it to the second round in the Phat Division before being eliminated, but I’ve always thought Deep Impact is a better film. There are a few subplots, including a young MSNBC reporter who stumbles upon the story about the asteroid and who must repair relationships with her estranged parents before the world ends. As with Armageddon there is a crew sent up in a space shuttle in an effort to destroy the asteroid, but this crew is far different. The conflicts and storylines are much more cerebral & emotional, and the action toned down a bit, though there are still plenty of explosions and lots of destruction. The cast isn’t nearly as cool as that other movie, but whenever you have Morgan Freeman as the President of the United States that’s pretty awesome, and young star Elijah Wood would go on just a few years later to portray Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Deep Impact was the 8th highest grossing film of 1998 but has a subpar 45% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. People Magazine opined that it is “neither deep nor impactful”, but said that it “goes well with popcorn”. The Washington Post called it a “lightweight melodrama” that presents “lackluster imitations of real life”. Variety thought it was “spectacular enough in its cataclysmic scenes of the planet being devastated by an unstoppable fireball”, but “far from thrilling in the down time spent with a largely dull assortment of troubled human beings”. October Sky upset Oscar nominated Four Weddings & a Funeral in Round 1 because that’s how I roll. I am probably a little bit biased toward movies about and/or filmed in West Virginia. We tend not to have as many famous faces or outright heroes that hail from our humble state, so we warmly embrace the handful of folks that have made us proud. Homer Hickam surely deserves that kind of respect, and his story is effectively told. Chris Cooper might be one of Hollywood’s most underrated actors, and his portrayal of Hickam’s father really rings true to the kind of quiet pride, dogged work ethic, & unspoken melancholy that I’ve witnessed in so many Appalachian men.

The Verdict:       Deep Impact. This is a tough call. Despite what most of the critics say I really like Deep Impact. The casting director may have dropped the ball (with the aforementioned Freeman as a notable exception obviously), but I have to give credit to a screenplay that tries to focus on the humanity as much as the special effects. Both of these films are kind of a downer (despite happy endings), but I think Deep Impact is just more entertaining.

 

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Wayne’s World

 

Release:    2/14/92

Starring:     Mike Myers, Dana Carvey

Directed By:        Penelope Spheeris (Black Sheep)

 

vs.

 

The Big Lebowski

 

Quotes

Look, let me explain something to you. I’m not Mr. Lebowski. You’re Mr. Lebowski. I’m The Dude. So that’s what you call me. That, or His Dudeness … Duder … or El Duderino, if, you know, you’re not into the whole brevity thing.

This is a very complicated case, Maude. You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you’s. Alotta strands to keep in my head, man. Lotta strands in old Duder’s head. Luckily I’m adhering to a pretty strict drug regimen to keep my mind, you know, limber.

Well, sir, it’s this rug I had. It really tied the room together.

Saturday, Donny, is Shabbos, the Jewish day of rest. That means that I don’t work, I don’t drive a car, I don’t ride in a car, I don’t handle money, I don’t turn on the oven, and I sure as shit don’t roll!

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

You want a toe? I can get you a toe. Believe me. There are ways, Dude…you don’t wanna know about it, believe me. Hell, I can get you a toe by 3:00 this afternoon, with nail polish.

The Dude abides.

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

Forget it, Donny, you’re out of your element!

The Chinaman is not the issue here, Dude! I’m talking about drawing a line in the sand! Also, Dude, “Chinaman” is not the preferred nomenclature. “Asian-American,” please.

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

Were you listening to The Dude’s story, Donny?

Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.

 

Odds & Ends

In an early draft of the script, The Dude’s source of income was revealed. He was an heir to the inventor of the Rubik’s Cube, which would have also made him Hungarian in turn. It was Joel Coen’s idea to drop this plot point.

Jeff Bridges met with the Coen Brothers after reading the script and asked them “Did you guys hang out with me in high school?” referring to The Dude’s easygoing surfer persona.

The Dude tells Maude he was a roadie for Metallica on their (fictional) “Speed of Sound” tour and refers to the band members as a “bunch of assholes”. Metallica themselves were flattered to be referred to in a Coen Brothers movie, with guitarist Kirk Hammett once noting in an interview that they’d tried to think of a way to incorporate that scene into their live shows.

The Dude’s line, “The Dude abides”, is a reference to Ecclesiastes 1:4: “one generation passes away, and another generation comes: but the Earth abides forever.” It is a reference to how the Dude, much like the Earth, can weather change and chaos around him, but still remain the same.

Glenn Frey was reportedly so dismayed about The Dude’s hatred of The Eagles in the movie that he once angrily confronted Jeff Bridges when they met at a party.

White Russian: two parts vodka, one part Kahlúa, and one part cream. Served with ice in a low ball glass.

The “F” word or a variation of it is used 292 times. The word “dude” is used 160 times.

The man shown bowling in the picture on The Dude’s wall is President Richard Nixon. Nixon was an avid bowler, and the photo is a well-publicized shot of Nixon in the bowling alley underneath the White House.

 

________________

Films based on Saturday Night Live characters & sketches don’t have the best track record…to say the least. The Blues Brothers (winners of 80’s Movie Mania) is the gold standard, but then you have stuff like Coneheads, A Night at the Roxbury, & The Ladies’ Man that are total bombs. Turning a ten minute skit featuring only a character or two or three, one set, & a narrowly focused scenario into a two hour big screen motion picture with an actual plot and everything that goes with it can’t be easy, and the old saying that “a little goes a long way” oftentimes holds true. Having said that, Wayne’s World…unlike so many of its counterparts…actually does achieve success on a Blues Brothers level. We know from SNL that Wayne Campbell & Garth Algar are young adults who host a public access TV show filmed in the basement of Wayne’s parents’ house in Aurora, IL. Wayne & Garth are total nerds trying desperately to be cool, and the movie finds them selling their show to a production company headed by a sleazeball portrayed by Rob Lowe. Wayne also falls for a hot female singer and has an on again/off again relationship with her. The ending is kind of odd, but the movie is solidly entertaining, and it finished 1992 as the 8th highest grossing film, sandwiched between The Bodyguard & Basic Instinct (schhhwiinngg!!). Rotten Tomatoes gives Wayne’s World a rating of 86%, with Empire Magazine calling it “a classic comedy of its time”, Entertainment Weekly complimenting its “pleasing daftness”, and Ebert saying that it “works on its intended level and then sneaks in excursions to some other levels, too”. The Big Lebowski easily got past Ten Things I Hate About You in Round 1 and has a solid 82% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Since it is the quintessential cult film I thought it might be fun to venture off the beaten path and look at some audience reviews instead of what the critics had to say. “Eugene” says that it’s “a simple story that requires no over-analyzing to delve into its narrative and concept” and calls it an “effective, humorous and overall a wacky classic”. “Julie”  observes that The Dude’s “sole purpose in life is to laze around in his room smoking pot or go bowling with his strange friends” and calls the movie “a bizarre, offbeat tale of mistaken identity & revenge”. “Kevin” credits Bridges for “the most notable role in his career” and thinks Goodman is hilarious, but feels like Buscemi is “was kind of just there” and Julianne Moore in a small role “has been much better in almost everything else”. “Demesa” says that The Big Lebowski “will make any bad day go away…the crafty, nonsensical-ness of the plot is perfect and the cinematography is beautiful”, while “Aaron” praises it for being “without a doubt one of the most clever and funniest movies that I’ve ever watched in my life”.

The Verdict:       The Big Lebowski. This is a tough call because I do feel like Wayne’s World is a great 90’s snapshot and really captures the essence of an era. However, for those of us that still slip in the occasional “We’re not worthy!!”, “Not!”, “Party on!”, or “Are you mental?” into casual conversation I think we owe that space carved out in the pop culture retention area of our brain to the SNL sketches as much as or more than the movie. Conversely, The Big Lebowski is like that acquaintance we had in grade school but barely paid attention to, then one day they become our best friend, and eventually we fall madly in love & realize our soulmate has been standing right in front of us for decades. From barely being a blip on the cinematic radar two decades ago it has steadily grown into something that multiple generations embrace & enjoy repeatedly.

 

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Tommy Boy

 

Release:    3/31/95

Starring:     Chris Farley, David Spade

Directed By:        Peter Segal (Anger Management, 50 First Dates)

 

vs.

 

Glengarry Glen Ross

 

Quotes

 

You ever take a dump that made you feel you’d just slept for twelve hours?

Put that coffee down! Coffee’s for closers only. I’m here from downtown. I’m here from Mitch and Murray. And I’m here on a mission of mercy.

All of you’ve got just one week to regain your jobs starting with tonight. Starting with tonight’s sit. Oh…have I got your attention now? Good. ‘Cause we’re adding a little something to this month’s sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anyone wanna see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired. Get the picture? You laughing now?

You drove a Hyundai to get here. I drove an $80 thousand BMW. That’s my name!

Only one thing counts in this life: Get them to sign on the line which is dotted. You hear me, you fucking faggots? A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always. Be. Closing.

A guy don’t walk on the lot lest he wants to buy. They’re sitting out there waiting to give you their money. Are you gonna take it? Are you man enough to take it? What’s the problem, pal?

That watch costs more than your car. I made $970,000 last year. How much did you make? You see, pal, that’s who I am, and you’re nothing. Nice guy? I don’t give a shit. Good father? Fuck you! Go home and play with your kids. You wanna work here – close! You think this is abuse? You think this is abuse, you cocksucker? You can’t take this, how can you take the abuse you get on a sit? You don’t like it, leave. I can go out there tonight with the materials you’ve got and make myself $15,000. Tonight! In two hours! Can you? Go and do likewise. Get mad you son of a bitches! You want to know what it takes to sell real estate? It takes brass balls to sell real estate. Go and do likewise, gents. Money’s out there. You pick it up, it’s yours. You don’t, I got no sympathy for you. You wanna go out on those sits tonight and close…CLOSE. It’s yours. If not, you’re gonna be shining my shoes. And you know what you’ll be saying – a bunch of losers sittin’ around in a bar. ‘Oh yeah. I used to be a salesman. It’s a tough racket.’ These are the new leads. These are the Glengarry leads. And to you they’re gold, and you don’t get them. Why? Because to give them to you is just throwing them away. They’re for closers. I’d wish you good luck but you wouldn’t know what to do with it if you got it. And to answer your question, pal, why am I here? I came here because Mitch and Murray asked me to. They asked me for a favor. I said the real favor, follow my advice and fire your fucking ass, because a loser is a loser.

You can’t think on your feet, you oughta keep your mouth closed.

I subscribe to the law of contrary public opinion. If everyone thinks one thing, then I say bet the other way.

If you tell me where the leads are, I won’t turn you in. If you don’t, I am going to tell the cop you stole them. Mitch and Murray will see that you go to jail. Believe me, they will. Now, what did you do with the leads? I’m walking in that door. You have five seconds to tell me, or you are going to jail.

When you die you’re going to regret the things you don’t do. You think you’re queer? I’m going to tell you something: we’re all queer. You think you’re a thief? So what? You get befuddled by a middle-class morality? Shut it out. You cheat on your wife? You did it, live with it. There’s an absolute morality? Maybe. And then what? If you think there is, go ahead, be that thing. Bad people go to hell? I don’t think so. If you think that, act that way. A hell exists on earth? Yes. I won’t live in it. That’s me.

So I wasn’t cut out to be a thief. I was cut out to be a salesman. And now I’m back.

 

Odds & Ends

The single largest cost of production was for the rain effects throughout the first half of the film.

Jack Lemmon said the cast was the greatest acting ensemble he had ever been part of.

David Mamet’s screenplay considerably expanded his script for the play, providing more context for the pressure placed on the salesmen. Notably, Alec Baldwin’s introductory speech was added as well as Jack Lemmon’s phone calls to clients and the hospital, plus his sales call to the man with the fishing rod. Many consider the screenplay to be superior to the text for his Pultizer-winning stage play. The film version is often transcribed to stage now.

The “F” word & its derivatives are uttered 138 times.

The title refers to Glengarry Highlands and Glen Ross Farms, two properties mentioned in the movie.

David Mamet based his original play on his own experience working in a real estate office in the 1970s when he was a struggling playwright. He was the office manager who gave out sales leads and handled the paperwork.

____________________

 

Tommy Boy isn’t a Saturday Night Live film per se, but it may as well be since its two stars…Farley & Spade…were two of the biggest contributors to that television show’s success in the early 90’s. Farley was ostensibly fired from SNL (along with Adam Sandler) in 1995, while Spade stuck around for one more season and was still appearing on TV when this movie premiered. Tommy Callahan is the inept, socially awkward, accident prone son of Big Tom, the owner of an auto parts company in Ohio. When Big Tom dies unexpectedly at his wedding reception it’s up to Tommy and his buddy Richard to save the company from being sold by the new stepmother & stepbrother, who aren’t what they seem. Tommy Boy is a classic buddy/road film and is the perfect showcase for Farley’s distinctive frenetic humor balanced with Spade’s droll wit.  It was the 54th highest grossing film of 1995, behind stalwarts like Judge Dredd, Man of the House, & The Brady Bunch Movie, and holds a feeble 43% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Ebert called it “an assembly of cliches and obligatory scenes from dozens of other movies”. The Washington Post calculated that “as an SNL sketch it would have been a tour de force” but didn’t like the movie. Entertainment Weekly called Farley “a mastodon in a china shop” and said the movie “by any reasonable standard…is stupid, disreputable junk” and left the reviewer “wishing I’d never have to see anything quite like it again”. In Round 1 Glengarry Glen Ross easily beat Bruce Willis’ Striking Distance, a movie I like…but not THAT much. My observation about Glengarry Glen Ross was that “the plot is secondary to the performances”, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that. It isn’t unheard of for a great performance to carry an otherwise average story to new heights. That’s why these actors get paid the big bucks, and a few of them actually deserve it. To have half a dozen bona fide legends at the top of their game in the same movie is almost unheard of, and I can’t imagine that any of those guys did this project for the money. Having said all that, here is the issue. When one watches Glengarry Glen Ross are you watching the movie…or are you watching Pacino, Baldwin, Spacey, Harris, Lemmon, & Arkin?? If someone asked you the plot of the film or the names of any of the characters would you have the right answers?? Most people can probably quote the biggest part of Baldwin’s cameo at the beginning, but can you remember what happens afterward?? I feel like these are legitimate questions and I’m not sure the answer reflects well on the film.

 

The Verdict:       Tommy Boy. I do my best not to be repetitive, but once again the scenario that runs thru my mind is me laying around on a lazy, rainy day vegging out and watching movies. Which of these films would I watch?? I think there is a distinct possibility that I would begin watching Glengarry Glen Ross with the best of intentions, but after Baldwin’s memorable scene I might be inclined to change the channel to Tommy Boy, and once I was there I don’t think I’d switch back. Some might see that as a damning indictment of my taste in movies, and they might be right, but I am not a film critic. I’m not trying to impress anybody with my first-rate intellect. I’m just a guy who enjoys watching movies, laughing, & having a good time. Your mileage may vary and that’s okay.

 

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The Truman Show

 

Release:    6/5/98

Starring:     Jim Carrey, Ed Harris

Directed By:        Peter Weir (Witness, Master & Commander)

 

vs.

 

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

 

Release:    12/6/91

Starring:              William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols

Directed By:        Nicholas Meyer (The Day After)

 

vs.

 

Ghost

 

Quotes

He’s stuck, that’s what it is. He’s in between worlds. You know it happens sometimes that the spirit gets yanked out so fast that the essence still feels it has work to do here.

It’s all in your mind. The problem with you is that you still think you’re real. You think you’re wearing those clothes? You think you’re crouched on that floor? Bullshit! You ain’t got a body no more, son!

Listen, damn it. You are going to help me. There’s a woman. Her name is Molly Jensen and she’s in terrible danger. The man who killed me broke into our apartment and he’s gonna go back. So you’ve gotta warn her.

I know you don’t think I’m giving this $4 million to a bunch of nuns!

 

Odds & Ends

The role of Oda Mae Brown was not written with Whoopi Goldberg in mind, but Patrick Swayze…an admirer of hers…convinced the producers that she would be right for the part.

The film’s premise is expanded from an old urban legend dealing with a spirit of a recently deceased trying to warn their loved one of an imminent danger.

Patrick Swayze said that the pottery scene was the sexiest thing he had ever done on film.

Molly tells Sam that he “leads a charmed life”. This is a line from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Macbeth also claims to lead a charmed life, meaning he cannot be killed. Immediately after making this claim, however, he is killed. Sam is killed after seeing a production of Macbeth.

Patrick Swayze and Vincent Schiavelli, who played the subway ghost, both died of cancer at the age of 57.

__________________________

 

Our final triple threat match pits a beloved sci-fi franchise against two singular dramedies.  The Truman Show was Jim Carrey’s attempt at proving he could actually be a great actor after being known mostly as a clown in movies like Ace Ventura, The Mask, Dumb & Dumber, and Liar Liar. He mostly plays it straight as Truman Burbank, a thirty year old man who has unwittingly been the star of his own television show for his entire life. Everything in his “world” is phony…the quaint little town he lives in, the weather, his parents, all of his friends & colleagues…even his wife. The whole thing is the brain child of a God-like TV producer named Christof, who controls every aspect of the show, which has aired worldwide 24/7/365 for three decades. But all bets are off when Truman begins to figure out the truth. The Truman Show was the 12th highest grossing film of 1998, ahead of Enemy of the State & Shakespeare in Love (which would win the Academy Award for Best Picture), but behind Rush Hour & Godzilla. It holds a 94% score on Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for three Oscars…Best Director (Weir, who lost to Spielberg for Saving Private Ryan), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor (Harris, who lost to James Coburn for his performance in Affliction). It wasn’t nominated for Best Picture and Carrey didn’t get a nomination for Best Actor (won by Roberto Benigni for his performance in Life is Beautiful), which in hindsight both feel like huge oversights. That was a really weird year for the Academy Awards. The NY Daily News thought the film’s premise “both reasonable and ludicrous”, but called “its execution sublime”. Rolling Stone said that it is “a near-miraculous balance of humor and feeling”. The Chicago Tribune thought it “a satire/comedy/fantasy about the future of television and the people caught in its omnipresent electronic net…a supremely intelligent jest”. The Cincinnati Enquirer said that it is “funny, moving, imaginative, and wickedly smart about the addictive power of comfy illusion”. Ghost got past the overly angst-ridden & quite tedious Reality Bites in the first round. It is the rare kind of film that is appreciated by audiences and critics alike, making a ton of money at the box office while also collecting well-deserved awards. Swayze passed away in 2009, and I can’t help but wonder how many entertaining movies we’ve been deprived of in his absence because when one looks at his filmography there is no shortage of awesomeness…The Outsiders, Red Dawn, Dirty Dancing…spanning three decades, I have to assume he would have made more good films if he’d have lived. The Undiscovered Country is the sixth & final movie featuring the cast of the original Star Trek television series. I was a bit late to the Trek party, largely because I hadn’t been born yet when the TV show aired in the 1960’s. However, the six films produced between 1979 & 1991 led to my appreciation of the franchise. The movies are admittedly hit & miss, but The Undiscovered Country is unanimously praised as one of the highlights. With The Federation and The Klingons on the verge of signing a peace treaty Captain Kirk & Dr. McCoy are set up to take the fall for the assassination of the Klingon Chancellor and find themselves imprisoned. Of course Kirk is pretty difficult to defeat, so he eventually gets at the truth and saves the day. The movie has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 83% and was the 15th highest grossing film of the year. The Hollywood Reporter observed that “the production has a dark, atmospheric sheen that persistently suggest mystery and danger” and said that it is “not the best of the series, but a suitable farewell”. The NY Times credited the cast for “enthusiasm for their material that has never seemed to fade…if anything, that enthusiasm grows more appealingly nutty with time”. The Washington Post thought that the crew “couldn’t have made a more felicitous or more satisfying exit”.

The Verdict:       The Truman Show. I wish that I could push all three contenders thru to the next round, but that’d be a bit much. As much as I love Trek it’s hard to single out The Undiscovered Country for praise when I think that both Wrath of Khan & The Voyage Home were superior films. That’s the thing about long lasting film series…the whole stands above the individual parts. Ghost is a fine film. Swayze was an underrated actor whose talent is more apparent in hindsight that it was in the moment. Demi Moore has rarely been more enchanting. Even Whoopi Goldberg…who has sadly become an insane political hack in recent years…proved herself a talented actress. The only mark against Ghost is lack of repeat viewings. It hasn’t been a movie that I become giddy to see as I’m channel surfing on a cold & lonely night. The premise of The Truman Show was almost prophetic. I can totally see a show like that capturing the world’s attention now. I’m not a fan of reality television at all, mostly because I know there’s nothing real about it and I am almost offended by people like the Kardashians, the Chrisleys, and the idiots on The Bachelor becoming famous for no legitimate reason. But what if the star of the show didn’t realize they were a star??

90’s Film Frenzy: Phat Round 1

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

 

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

 

*Re-Watchability        

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

 

*Relevance           

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

 

*Quotability         

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

 

*Cultural Impact 

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

 

*Pleasure            

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

 

*Pedigree 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Batman Returns

Release:             6/19/92

Starring:              Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer

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

 

vs.

 

Showgirls

Release:             9/22/95

Starring:              Elizabeth Berkley, Kyle MacLachlan, Gina Gershon

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

 

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

 

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

 

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The Mask

Release:             7/29/94

Starring:              Jim Carrey, Cameron Diaz

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

 

vs.

 

PCU

Release:             4/29/94

Starring:              Jeremy Piven, David Spade, Jon Favreau

 Directed By:       Hart Bochner (High School High)

 

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

 

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

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Clueless

Release:             7/19/95

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

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

 

vs.

 

Empire Records

Release:             9/22/95

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

Directed By:        Allan Moyle (Pump Up the Volume)

 

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

 

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

 

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Patch Adams

Release:             12/25/98

Starring:              Robin Williams, Monica Potter, Philip Seymour Hoffman

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

 

vs.

 

Black Sheep

Release:             2/2/96

Starring:              Chris Farley, David Spade, Tim Matheson

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

 

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

 

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

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Pulp Fiction

Release:                       10/14/94

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

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

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

vs.

 

Only the Lonely

Release:                       5/24/91

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Basic Instinct

Release:                       3/20/92

Starring:                        Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone

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

vs.

 

Big Daddy

Release:                       6/25/99

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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The Firm

Release:                       6/30/93

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

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

vs.

My Best Friend’s Wedding

Release:                       6/20/97

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Armageddon

Release:                       7/1/98

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

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

vs.

 

Clerks

Release:                       10/19/94

Starring:                        Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson

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

 

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

 

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

100 Memorable TV Characters…Part 3

Television is chewing gum for the eyes.  –  Frank Lloyd Wright

My father & I occasionally hearken back to the late February day 18 years ago when we laid my mother to rest. We always recall how blessed our family was with such a beautiful sunny day, because on top of our grief it would have been that much more difficult to go thru the whole process in the midst of rain, snow, & chilly temperatures. We’ve been fortunate to once again have had some unseasonably temperate days here in West Virginia lately, and since I am a self-diagnosed sufferer of Seasonal Affective Disorder and know I’ve had issues with Vitamin D deficiency in the past I have taken the opportunity to award myself some much needed sunshine therapy this week. Alas, now we are back to the cold & wet climate more typical of this time of year, but the good news is that means that we can move forward with this project. If you aren’t up to speed with previous entries then by all means check them out here, here, & here. After you are all caught up come back and enjoy what’s next with the rest of us.

50     Beavis & Butt-Head (Beavis and Butt-Head)

In my final year of college I finally escaped dorm life and got my first ever Bachelor Palace off campus. It just happened to be a few blocks away from our favorite watering hole(s), so oftentimes my buddies would stop by to hang out before we headed to those establishments. It was during this time that MTV premiered a crudely animated sitcom in which two dimwitted delinquents wander around their town causing chaos in between sitting on the couch commenting on music videos (which MTV still aired occasionally at that time). It’s a show with a narrow focus and I assume a very specific target audience, which explains why I wasn’t nearly as interested once I graduated and segued into adult life. However, I have really great (though a bit fuzzy) memories of that year. Some things are special because it is a shared experience, and I am so glad that Beavis & Butt-Head were a memorable part of that era in my life. A feature film was released in 1996 in which the moronic duo go on a quest to find their stolen TV and somehow end up at the White House hanging out with President Clinton. The movie is alright, but not great. A few years ago I got excited when a revival of the show was announced, but I must admit that I never watched the one season return.

49     Lenny & Squiggy (Laverne & Shirley)

Speaking of idiots…

Wacky neighbors are a dependable television trope, so while the titular twosome (who had been introduced on Happy Days) were the focus of the show and the ladies swooned over “The Big Ragu” Carmine Ragusa, oftentimes it was Lenny & Squiggy who got the laughs. Lenny Kosnowski & Andrew Squigman live in the apartment above Laverne & Shirley and are truck drivers for the same brewery at which the ladies are bottlecappers. They frequently pop in to annoy the gals, and fancy themselves as tough, cool, desirable 50’s greasers, when in truth they are just a couple of goofballs that don’t appeal to women at all.

48     Matt Foley (Saturday Night Live)

It is an inescapable fact that Chris Farley’s weight was used as part of the joke in most everything he did, from SNL to the films in which he appeared. But since Farley himself seemed to be okay with that I suppose no one else should be offended. By far his best SNL contribution was Matt Foley, a raucous motivational speaker who is “35 years old, eating a steady diet of government cheese, thrice divorced, and living in a van down by the river!”. Foley isn’t as much a motivator as a cautionary tale since he is unkempt, belligerent, rude, pessimistic, & apparently a failure, hence the humor, and he usually ended up somehow hilariously crashing thru a piece of furniture. The character was the perfect showcase for Farley’s unique brand of physical comedy, and it is unfortunate that he passed on before Matt Foley could be brought to the big screen.

47     Opie Taylor (The Andy Griffith Show)

These days Ron Howard is best known as an award-winning director of films like Apollo 13, Splash, & A Beautiful Mind, and many affectionately recall his role as awkward teenager Richie Cunningham in the retro sitcom Happy Days. However, way back in the 1960’s little Ronny got his start portraying the precocious son of the local sheriff in The Andy Griffith Show. We literally get to watch Opie grow up from an adorable six year old to a young teenager. Father-son interactions provide some of the most uplifting moments on TAGS, but Opie has plenty of entertaining scenes with many other inhabitants of Mayberry as well. Two of my favorite TAGS episodes…Season 3’s Mr. McBeevee and Season 4’s Opie the Birdman…showcase Opie and give an indication of just how great of an actor Ron Howard could have been if that would have been his passion.

46         The Riddler (Batman)

Batman is my favorite superhero, and while his comic book origins are indeed dark…an aesthetic that most renditions of the story stick with…one notable exception is the beloved goofy 1960’s TV show. Episodic television allowed a different villain to invade Gotham City each week, including the already established “rogue’s gallery” of Batman baddies as well as some pretty hysterical adversaries created exclusively for the show. I’m a traditionalist, so I prefer the bad guys we all know & love to hate, and my favorite has to be The Riddler. Edward Nygma likes to tease The Caped Crusader with riddles that are clues to his location and/or the crime he is about to commit. Riddler wears a garish green costume peppered with question marks, and has an irritating laugh.

45     Balki Bartokomous (Perfect Strangers)

ABC had a penchant in the late 80’s into the 90’s for churning out silly sitcoms that, by any objective measure of quality, shouldn’t have made it more than a season or two, but somehow became cherished by the masses. It is an interesting lesson that modern television executives should learn. Not everyone is on the edge of their seat waiting for the next gritty, studious, sanctimonious, ripped-from-the-headlines show. Sometimes we simply crave pointless escapism that tickles our funny bone. At any rate, Balki is a sheepherder from the Mediterranean island of Mypos. He comes to Chicago to stay with his tightly wound cousin Larry, and boom…you have a fish-out-of-water story that’s also an amusing take on the Odd Couple formula. Balki’s misunderstandings about American culture are comical, as are Larry’s exasperated attempts to clear up any confusion. When anything good happens the two engage in Balki’s Dance of Joy, which kind of looks like something folks do at a Greek wedding.

44     Frank Costanza (Seinfeld)

In addition to the hysterical main cast, Seinfeld also had a ton of memorable guest stars and several great recurring characters. Frank is the obnoxious father of George. He is a temperamental traveling salesman best remembered for inventing Festivus, a non-commercial Christmas alternative that features feats of strength & airing of grievances.

43     Daisy Duke (The Dukes of Hazzard)

I went thru puberty while The Dukes of Hazzard was on the air, so yes…a sexy woman known for wearing super short jean shorts and who appeared in a skimpy bikini in the show’s opening credits every week for seven years definitely frosted my cupcake. Daisy is a hybrid…part sweet southern belle, part tough as nails tomboy. She is said to “drive like Richard Petty, shoot like Annie Oakley, & know the words to all of Dolly Parton’s songs.” She’s not above using her feminine gifts to distract anyone trying to go after her family, and most often does so with charmingly inept Deputy Enos Strate, who has always had a huge crush on her. In contrast to modern shows in which very little is left to the imagination even on network television, Daisy Duke seems like a quaint reminder of a more innocent time.

42     Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, & Sophia (The Golden Girls)

I just can’t choose one. The entire ensemble made The Golden Girls work, and even with two Emmys & three Golden Globes I still think it may have been an underrated program. Dorothy Zbornak is a Brooklyn born teacher who is divorced from philandering Stan. She is smart, acerbic, & perpetually exasperated by her roommates, though she thinks of them as family. Blanche Devereux is a well-to-do southern belle and a widow with a healthy libido. Rose Nyland is a naïve & simpleminded widow who is fond of telling pointless stories about her childhood in St. Olaf, MN. She’s really sweet & trusting, and prone to being taken advantage of by others. Sophia Petrillo is Dorothy’s elderly mother. She is sharp as a tack, fearful that Dorothy will send her back to Shady Pines retirement home, & loves to tell stories from her youth in Sicily, though there is a general vibe that most of those stories are poppycock. As opposed to many shows that tend to feature young & pretty people, The Golden Girls proved that “seasoned citizens” can be a lot of fun.

41     Otis Campbell (The Andy Griffith Show)

I love any episode of TAGS in which town drunk Otis appears. I suppose nowadays some people would get their knickers twisted about alcoholism being treated as a joke, but thankfully folks were much less politically correct back in the 60’s. Otis actually has a job & a wife, but every Saturday night he goes out and gets snockered on hooch, then locks himself up in the Mayberry jail. Did you know that Hal Smith…the actor who portrays Otis…was a well-known voice artist?? He most notably voiced Goofy in several Disney productions, including Mickey’s Christmas Carol.

40     President Jed Bartlet (The West Wing)

I’ve often asked myself if I would vote for Jed Bartlet in an election, but there is no conclusive answer because I don’t believe that anyone like him actually exists. He is a man of high ideals but realistic expectations. He is a Nobel Prize winning economist, but despite being brilliant he’s also empathetic & quite funny. President Bartlet…like everyone associated with the show…is a bleeding heart liberal, but somehow all involved are able to make that look like a good thing, which is probably one of the greatest magic tricks anyone has ever performed on television. Martin Sheen might be a crackpot in real life, but credit where credit is due…he is a brilliant actor. The President was originally intended to be a rarely seen supporting character, with plots revolving around various White House staff members. However, that plan quickly changed, which undoubtedly made for a better program.

39     Dr. Johnny Fever & Venus Flytrap (WKRP in Cincinnati)

When I was a kid I considered becoming a radio DJ when I grew up. Why?? Well, probably because Johnny Fever & Venus Flytrap made the job seem so cool & fun. Johnny is a laid back pothead & former 60’s hippie whose career in radio had been successful before he fell on hard times. He had considered WKRP to be rock bottom, but when the station’s format changes from easy listening to rock n’ roll he is energized and becomes a very popular morning drive personality. Venus Flytrap (real name: Gordon Sims) is a Vietnam vet who is hired by his pal Andy Travis, WKRP’s new program director. It is Andy who suggests the pseudonym and also advises Sims to dress cool so he’ll act cool. Unlike Johnny, whose on-air persona is hyper & wild, Venus is tranquil & chill. He is rather conservative and oftentimes acts as an even-tempered voice of reason. These two dudes made being a disc jockey look like an attractive career option to a young boy in grade school back in the day, and it wasn’t until many years later that I learned that it’s actually a really low-paying & unstable gig.

38     Norm Peterson (Cheers)

Cheers is the bar where everybody knows your name, and that’s especially true of Norm, who is enthusiastically greeted by the crowd every time he walks thru the door. Norm is an accountant who frequently seems to be between jobs, so he ends up spending a lot of time sitting at the end of the bar drinking beer. He is married to Vera, who we never meet in eleven seasons. Norm doesn’t seem to be particularly unhappy or disdainful of Vera, but neither is he ever in a rush to go home. It’s pretty funny that in an entire decade of watching the guy do virtually nothing except drink beer we never see him even remotely intoxicated, and his huge unpaid bar tab is occasionally the subject of mockery.

37     Wayne & Garth (Saturday Night Live)

Party on!! Wayne Campbell & Garth Algar are the hosts of a public access TV show emanating from Wayne’s basement. They are two nerdy juveniles who think they’re cooler than they are because they like heavy metal music & hot women. The sketches introduced a ton of catchphrases that many of a certain age still utilize with some frequency, such as “Schwing!”, “That’s what she said”, “Not!”, “hurl” & “spew”, “Are you mental?”, and “We’re not worthy!”. In 1992 the duo took their act to the big screen in a surprisingly solid film that did well enough to get a sequel just a year & a half later.

36     Linus Van Pelt (Peanuts)

Peanuts is interesting. It never spawned a regular comic book or TV show, and creator Charles Shultz was content to simply produce his comic strip for a half century. However, he did allow the characters to be marketed, which resulted in a ton of merchandise that’s still being churned out nearly two decades after Schultz’s death. As I did when writing about my favorite cartoons I am taking advantage of a loophole of sorts in the fact that there have been a plethora of Peanuts animated television specials over the years, a couple of which many of us grew up watching and continue to enjoy annually. Linus is the youngest of the group, a blanket toting, thumb sucking boy who tends to be the most solicitous & sensible out of any of his friends. He’s a great listener and always gives good advice, although his self-absorbed pals continue to overlook & disrespect his insight.

35     Captain Hawkeye Pierce (MASH)

Dr. Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce is the 4077th’s chief surgeon, a New England bred prankster who deals with the daily grind of being in a warzone by drinking copious amounts of martinis and flirting with every female in camp. He resents being drafted and definitely doesn’t conform to the Army way of life. Despite his irreverence it is Hawkeye that provides many of the series’ more somber moments after it segued into more of a dramedy during the second half of its run. In the series finale he suffers a breakdown and returns home to be a local country doctor after the war ends.

Dwight Schrute (The Office)

It took me awhile to warm up to Dwight. He’s a bit prickly and definitely weird. However, in the course of nine seasons he grows on a person…atleast that was my experience. There was a spin-off on the table for his character, which is why we got a backdoor pilot episode during the final season of The Office, but the new show never happened. Dwight is a total kissass to his boss, shows a slight tendency toward violence, has a bunch of peculiar hobbies & interests, and owns a beet farm as a side hustle. Ultimately, despite his many unappealing qualities that make him difficult to like, he shows himself to be a loyal friend & decent human being. His romance with holier-than-thou accountant Angela is an underappreciated element of the show, and their marriage was a great way to wrap things up. 

34     Bo & Luke Duke (The Dukes of Hazzard)

The show’s theme song describes them as good ol’ boys that never mean any harm. Luke is the older cousin and is shown to be smarter & more level-headed. He’s a former Marine. Bo is the younger, more vain & flirtatious pretty boy. He almost always drives the General Lee. The Duke Boys are on probation after being caught unlawfully transporting moonshine, and aren’t legally allowed to own firearms or leave the county, although they frequently do so anyway. They are constant targets of law enforcement, and regularly foil Boss Hogg’s shady schemes.

33     Dr. Heathcliff & Claire Huxtable (The Cosby Show)

While characters like Fred Sanford, JJ “Dynomite!” Evans, Arnold Jackson, & “Rerun” Stubbs are all entertaining on various levels, I don’t think there’s any way they could be held up as role models. Conversely, The Huxtables are undeniably so. Mom is a perceptive & resolute attorney, while Dad is a fun-loving & considerate physician. Both are educated and have high expectations for their five children. They are strict yet devoted parents, and their marriage is strong. They are affluent but not extravagant, and seem to have solid moral certitude. In other words, Cliff & Claire represent the vast majority of Americans, the sort of stable citizens & contributors to society that are often disregarded & ridiculed by the media & pop culture. The Cosby Show was popular and critically acclaimed, so I’m not sure why the formula hasn’t been duplicated a thousand times over. Of course I suppose any attempt to copy it would just be a poor imitation.

32     Fred Flintstone (The Flintstones)

Yabba dabba doo!! The Flintstones is a sneaky show. What do I mean by that?? Well, we tend to focus on the fact that it is animated, and that it is set in The Stone Age (the rock puns are always a treat). However, the truth is that it is simply a traditional sitcom about an average nuclear family and their friendly neighbors. Fred is an overbearing yet kindhearted crane operator. He’s short-tempered & irritable, but he’s devoted to his family & friends. He enjoys bowling, golf, & hanging out at the Loyal Order of Water Buffalos Lodge. When I was a kid I honestly thought that actor Jackie Gleason provided Fred’s voice, but I was wrong…sort of. Gleason may not have been directly involved with The Flintstones, but his Ralph Kramden character from 1950’s sitcom The Honeymooners heavily influenced how Fred was portrayed.

31     Dr. Niles Crane (Frasier)

Niles is the neurotic & effete younger brother of the show’s eponymous radio show host. Like his big brother Niles is also a psychiatrist. He’s the kind of pretentious nerd who loves opera, expensive wine, classical music, French food, & theater but knows absolutely zero about sports or pop culture. Niles is definitely a hypochondriac & a bit OCD, and tends to be overzealous in attempts to ingratiate himself into the perceived proper social circles. When we first meet Niles he is married to Maris, who we never see (much like Vera in Cheers), but his descriptions of her are horribly hysterical. They eventually divorce and he ends up marrying his father’s caregiver Daphne, who he’d been infatuated with since the day they met. I absolutely love Niles, and would have really enjoyed a Niles & Daphne spinoff, but sadly that never happened.

30     Sheriff Andy Taylor (The Andy Griffith Show)

Andy Griffith was a brilliant actor. Take some time to watch the 1958 film No Time for Sergeants, in which he plays country bumpkin Will Stockdale, who hilariously clashes with his superiors when he is drafted into the Air Force (sounds like a great idea for a sitcom). After that watch 1957’s A Face in the Crowd, in which Griffith portrays drifter Lonesome Rhodes, who turns a random appearance on a radio show into fame & fortune on television then becomes an egotistical bully before his star falls as quickly as it rose. Griffith based Sheriff Taylor largely on Will Stockdale, atleast initially. After the first season of TAGS he figured out that other characters in Mayberry should be the source of humor while he played the bemused straight man, and so he toned down the hillbilly simpleton persona considerably. Sheriff Taylor is the kind of lawman we’d all love to encounter but probably doesn’t exist in reality…not anymore anyway. He doesn’t even carry a gun!! He’s a good friend, a pleasant neighbor, and the type of father all men should aspire to be. Check out the Season 1 episode A Feud is a Feud in which Andy explains Romeo & Juliet to Opie, or the Season 3 episode Andy Discovers America, in which he gives a unique history lesson to a group of boys. Andy is constantly doing everything he can to boost his deputy’s fragile ego, and is usually the voice of reason in the midst of idiocy. In the last few seasons Sheriff Taylor becomes a little too serious, frequently becoming aggravated by the antics of others, which is just one of the reasons that the first five years of TAGS are the best.

29     Kermit the Frog (The Muppet Show)   

When The Muppets won the Sammy Award for Favorite Movie in 2011 I said that “Honestly, toward the end when Kermit breaks out into Rainbow Connection I became so swelled with happiness & emotion that if I could have jumped out of my wheelchair and given a standing ovation I swear to God I would have”. It was in that moment that I realized just what kind of impact The Muppets had on my childhood. In his other popular song It’s Not Easy Being Green Kermit laments that “it seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things, and people tend to pass you over ’cause you’re not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water or stars in the sky”, which I have always taken as a perceptive nod to the marginalized in society who often feel ignored, disrespected, & taken for granted. I bet you didn’t realize Kermit was so profound.

28     Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Star Trek: The Next Generation)

There are only two starship captains in the Trek universe that matter. Captain Picard is an alleged Frenchman with singularly British proclivities (“Tea! Earl Grey! Hot!). He is cultured, judicious, & somewhat aloof, though he does care deeply for his crew. He prefers diplomacy over battle, but ultimately does what needs to be done. He is fascinated with archaeology, enjoys fencing, is quite knowledgeable about physics & literature, and loves horses. Captain Picard is a true Renaissance man, even though he was born about 600 years after that period ended.

27         Stefano DiMera (Days of Our Lives)

I’ve been watching DOOL since I was about ten years old, and during that time no supervillain in any entertainment genre has been as evil as Stefano DiMera. He came to Salem in 1982 professing to simply be a European business tycoon, but it soon became apparent that he was more of a crime boss. Stefano has a longstanding vendetta against the blue collar Brady family and makes their lives a living hell for the biggest part of three decades. He dies about a dozen times, but is inevitably revealed to be alive, which explains why he calls himself The Phoenix. The actor who portrayed Stefano actually did pass away a few years ago, but the way the storyline was constructed on the show left things open ended, as though The Phoenix could rise again someday.

26     Charlie Brown (Peanuts)

Charlie Brown is essentially the animated personification of his creator Charles Shultz. He is the classic loveable loser, always being insulted & ignored by his friends. He’s a shy & mild-mannered kid with a bundle of neuroses bubbling up inside. But as unsuccessful as he tends to be Charlie Brown rarely gives up. He may not be confident about the result (with good reason), but he keeps trying. In the underrated 2006 sequel Rocky Balboa the aging boxer tells his son that “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward.” That’s a great lesson for all of us, and Charlie Brown embodies exactly that attitude.

Okay ladies & gentlemen…let’s take another break. We’ll return for the exciting conclusion in a couple of days.