100 Memorable Movie Characters…Part 4

A film is…or should be …more like music than fiction. It should be a progression of moods & feelings. The theme, what’s behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later. – Stanley Kubrick

 

 

 

If you need to catch up with the first three parts of this series please go here, here, & here.

I decided to run some numbers because I’m nerdy like that. It surprises me how well balanced these rankings are when it comes to representation from the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and classics produced before I was born. What doesn’t surprise me is just how few characters from movies in the first couple of decades of this century made the cut. I’m not sure if that is a reflection on the subpar quality of newer films, the fact that they haven’t had time to really get a deep hold on our pop culture consciousness yet, or simply a manifestation of the singular entertainment taste of a middle-aged guy in flyover country. It’s probably all of the above. At any rate, enjoy!!

 

 

 

 

 

39         Ron Burgundy (Anchorman)

Will Ferrell is a polarizing comedic actor…either you enjoy his shtick or you hate it. I happen to find Ferrell amusing, although his film career has been decidedly uneven. Old School, Elf, Step Brothers, & Talladega Nights are hilarious, while Bewitched, The Campaign, Holmes & Watson, and The House failed miserably. Perhaps Ferrell’s greatest contribution to pop culture is his embodiment of news anchor Ron Burgundy. Though it is never stated when the storyline is set there are many indicators that it is in the 1970’s, making Burgundy a throwback of sorts, an hysterically exaggerated interpretation of a bygone era. Burgundy is pompous, misogynistic, vain, & mostly clueless, but he is good at his job. When he is forced to welcome a woman to his news team he doesn’t take it well and hilarity ensues. It’s the type of silly humor that kind of flies above the head of some, but if you get it you’ll be quite entertained. Ferrell throws himself completely into becoming Ron Burgundy, to the point that nearly everything he’s done afterward has paled in comparison. An Anchorman sequel was produced eight years after the original, but it couldn’t live up to its predecessor.

 

Quotes

“Discovered by the Germans in 1904, they named it San Diego, which of course in German means ‘a whale’s vagina.”

“Great Odin’s raven!”

“The only way to bag a classy lady is to give her two tickets to the gun show and see if she likes the goods.”

“I don’t know how to put this but I’m kind of a big deal. I’m very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.”

“I am going to have three fingers of Glenlivet with a little bit of pepper, and some cheese.”

“It’s quite pungent. It’s a formidable scent. It stings the nostrils…in a good way.”

“Well, I could be wrong, but I believe diversity is an old, old wooden ship that was used during the Civil War era.”

“I’m in a glass case of emotion!”

“You are a smelly pirate hooker. Why don’t you go back to your home on Whore Island?”

“It’s so damn hot!! Milk was a bad choice!!”

“I won’t be able to make it fellas. Veronica & I trying this new fad called uh, jogging. I believe it’s jogging or yogging. it might be a soft j. I’m not sure but apparently you just run for an extended period of time. It’s supposed to be wild.”

“You stay classy, San Diego.”

 

 

 

38     Biff Tannen (The Back to the Future Trilogy)

When actor/comedian Thomas Wilson first moved to Los Angeles to begin his career in entertainment he was roommates with Andrew Dice Clay & Yakov Smirnoff. That has nothing to do with anything in particular, but I find it amusing. Decades after co-staring in all three BTTF films Wilson began to tire of incessant & tedious questions from fans about them so he wrote Biff’s Question Song, which is quite funny (you can find it on YouTube). At any rate, Biff is a classic high school bully who…at different times (literally)…makes life tough for both George McFly & his son Marty. In BTTF 2 we get a glimpse of the future (October 21, 2015 was the future back in the early 90’s) wherein Biff…with a little help from a sports almanac…is a filthy rich tyrant running roughshod over Hill Valley, and there have been indications that Future Biff was based on Donald Trump. Personally I think that’s a bunch of poppycock, a narrative crafted by some because it just so happens to fit in a really vague way. Biff appears in various forms throughout the trilogy. In BTTF 2 there is an older version of Biff alongside his grandson Griff, and in BTTF 3, which takes place in The Old West, Marty & Doc are tormented by Biff’s ancestor Mad Dog Tannen, who is sort of a Jesse James-esque outlaw. In all his incarnations Biff is the quintessential comedic bad guy, someone we immensely enjoy seeing get his just deserts.

 

Quotes

“Why don’t you make like a tree and get outta here?”

“Hello? Hello? Anybody home? Huh? Think, McFly! Think!”

“What are you looking at, butthead?”

 

 

 

37     Elwood P. Dowd (Harvey)

It can’t be easy acting with an imaginary rabbit, but that’s exactly what James Stewart does in Harvey. Elwood is a nice enough fellow, but his insistence on treating his pal Harvey as a real creature drives his family nuts. Though Elwood is fond of the drink and hangs out in a bar no one is sure if his…friendship…with Harvey is a result of that proclivity or if he truly is mentally ill. Through a series of misunderstandings & classic farce it is Elwood’s sister that ends up institutionalized, but then the hunt commences for Elwood himself. By the end of the film Elwood has convinced the doctor of Harvey’s existence and his sister decides she’d rather her brother remain…eccentric…than become “normal” thru treatment. Stewart received his fourth Academy Award nomination for Best Actor but lost to José Ferrer for his role in Cyrano de Bergerac.

 

Quotes

“Well, I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years and I’m happy to state I finally won out over it.”

“I always have a wonderful time, wherever I am, whoever I’m with.”

“That’s envy, my dear. There’s a little bit of envy in the best of us. That’s too bad, isn’t it?”

“You see, science has overcome time & space. Well, Harvey has overcome not only time & space…but any objections.”

 

 

 

36     The Joker (multiple films)

The Joker is Batman’s oldest & fiercest rival, making his debut in the inaugural comic book way back in 1940. Since then he has appeared in every medium that The Caped Crusader has, including multiple animated & live action films. His backstory & certain details vary in all of those movies, but he is usually depicted as a psychopath with a bleach white face, bright red lips that form a grotesque smile, & green hair. Though the origins may differ The Joker is most often a “normal” guy who somehow becomes disfigured then descends into madness. He doesn’t seem to have any kind of extraordinary abilities…he’s just really smart, completely sadistic, & batshit crazy (pun unintended). By far my favorite Joker is Jack Nicholson’s turn in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. Nicholson should have received an Oscar nomination for his performance, but had to settle for a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical. He faced stiff competition from Morgan Freeman (Driving Miss Daisy), Billy Crystal (When Harry Met Sally), Michael Douglas (The War of the Roses), & Steve Martin (Parenthood), with Freeman ultimately taking home the prize. Heath Ledger did win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his take on The Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight. Though the performance is undeniably stellar my feeling has always been that it is more fondly regarded in the wake of Ledger’s tragic death than it otherwise may have been. I have not seen Jared Leto’s Joker in 2016’s Suicide Squad or Joaquin Phoenix in Joker, which is currently in theaters, though I expect that I’ll catch both on video sometime in the future. Whatever one’s particular favorite might be the fact is that The Joker is a cornerstone supervillain in comic book films and an unforgettable character no matter who portrays him or what kind of spin they put on the story.

 

Quotes

“Wait ’til they get a load of me!” (Batman 1989)

“I believe that whatever doesn’t kill you simply makes you stranger. (The Dark Knight)

“You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?” (Batman 1989)

“I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.” (The Dark Knight)

“Can somebody tell me what kind of a world we live in where a man dressed up as a bat gets all of my press?? This town needs an enema!” (Batman 1989)

“Introduce a little anarchy…upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos.” (The Dark Knight)

“Never rub another man’s rhubarb!” (Batman 1989)

“I’m a man of simple tastes. I like dynamite & gunpowder… and gasoline! Do you know what all of these things have in common? They’re cheap!” (The Dark Knight)

“I do what other people only dream…I make art until someone dies. I am the world’s first fully functioning homicidal artist.” (Batman 1989)

 

 

 

35     The Dude (The Big Lebowski)

His name is Jeffrey Lebowski, and that’s important because the crux of the film is mistaken identity. The bad guys are actually after the other Jeffrey Lebowski, an elderly millionaire whose wife screwed them out of some money. The plot is a comedic heist farce that is strangely fun, but honestly the characters & their interactions are what one remembers about the movie. The Dude is a middle-aged, unemployed slacker who spends his days smoking pot and his nights bowling, drinking a lot of White Russians along the way. He has a really laid back devil-may-care attitude, though he seems to be fairly intelligent & insightful. Needless to say, the action-packed drama he becomes involved in thanks to the other Lebowski is in direct contrast to The Dude’s normally easygoing lifestyle, which makes the movie an interesting twist on the fish-out-of-water formula. It actually inspired an entire philosophy called Dudeism , which advocates & encourages the practice of “going with the flow”, “being cool headed”, and “taking it easy” in the face of life’s difficulties, believing that this is the only way to live in harmony with our inner nature and the challenges of interacting with other people. Dudeism aims to assuage feelings of inadequacy that arise from society’s emphasis on achievement & personal fortune, alternatively encouraging a preference for simple pleasures like bathing, bowling, & hanging out with friends. Louisville, KY began hosting an annual Lebowski Fest in 2002, and several other cities have followed suit, including London, England.

 

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.”

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

“I bowl. Drive around. The occasional acid flashback.”

“Yeah, well – The Dude abides.”

“This is a very complicated case. You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you’s. And, uh, lotta 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.”

 

 

 

 

34     Bluto Blutarsky (Animal House)

John Belushi died way too young at the age of 33 in 1982. He only starred in eight movies after being one of SNL’s original Not Ready for Primetime Players for four seasons, but amongst those far too few films are Animal House & The Blues Brothers, both of which remain irrefutable comedy classics four decades later. When I attended college in the early 90’s I joined a fraternity hoping it would be half as much fun as Animal House. My brothers & I were better students than the party animals of Delta Tau Chi and not quite as rowdy, but we had fun and were certainly inspired to a degree by the movie. With the exception of a cameo by the legendary Donald Sutherland. Belushi was the biggest star in the film, even though Bluto probably has less dialogue than most of the cast. Bluto provides a unique brand of physical comedy, a prime example of using the fat dumpy guy for laughs. Belushi could get a chuckle out of the audience simply by the way he moved or even with just facial expressions. One of Animal House’s most celebrated scenes is the food fight in the cafeteria, but go back & watch…we only see about two seconds of the actual food fight. What makes it memorable are Belushi’s actions leading up to it, and he barely says anything.

 

Quotes

“See if you can guess what I am now. I’m a zit. Get it?”

“TOGA! TOGA!”

“What? Over? Did you say ‘over’? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no! And it ain’t over now. ‘Cause when the goin’ gets tough . . . the tough get goin’! Who’s with me? Let’s go!”

“My advice to you is to start drinking heavily.”

 

 

 

33     The Shark (Jaws)

One could argue that The Shark is the real star of Steven Spielberg’s 1975 classic. What’s really interesting is the behind-the-scenes stories wherein we learn about all the issues cast & crew faced while filming. One of the biggest problems was the mechanical shark (which they named Bruce), which regularly malfunctioned. This forced Spielberg to retool the script and altered Jaws from what would have been a straight up horror movie to more of a suspenseful Hitchcockian experience. For example, in the opening scene the shark was originally supposed to be seen fully devouring a late night swimmer, but instead what we got was the woman being dragged underwater kicking & screaming by some unknown force. Limited usage of the mechanical shark makes the moments that we do see the creature that much more impactful, and that arguably created a better film. I was frightened for years by the idea of sharks after seeing Jaws (it didn’t help that I was probably 7 or 8 years old the first time I saw it), and even now I have zero interest in swimming in the ocean. Multiple sequels followed the original Jaws, to the point that it became a joke in 1989’s Back to the Future Part II (Jaws 19…this time it’s really, really, really personal!! lol). Even though none of those sequels lived up to the original and only served to soil its legacy we shouldn’t forget that the first one is a truly great movie, in no small part thanks to its scary lead character.

 

 

 

32     Hannibal Lecter (Silence of the Lambs)

Speaking of scary…

Sir Anthony Hopkins’ interpretation of Dr. Lecter is legendarily disturbing, a role for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. Hannibal “The Cannibal” is a forensic psychiatrist who also happens to be a serial killer, which actually makes a lot of sense. After landing in prison he is consulted by the FBI when they’re trying to track down other psychopaths, and in Silence he is interviewed by young agent Clarice Starling, who is on the trail of serial killer Buffalo Bill. Despite his homicidal tendencies Dr. Lecter is a well-to-do, culturally refined man with erudite tastes in food, wine, music, & art. The dichotomy is a large part of what makes the character so fascinating. Like it or not we all have pre-conceived notions & tend to put folks in neat little boxes, and typically we don’t think of brilliant & sophisticated people as murderers, although when one really ponders the idea it’s much more logical that an intelligent individual with financial means would get away with such crimes than a stupid and/or poor person. Hopkins portrayed Lecter in Silence as well as prequel Red Dragon and sequel Hannibal. I have read all three books, but didn’t see the prequel & only watched bits & pieces of the sequel (it wasn’t good at all). It is my understanding that another prequel book & film…Hannibal Rising…was produced as well, but I guess I wasn’t paying attention.

 

Quotes

“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”

“We begin by coveting what we see every day. Don’t you feel eyes moving over your body, Clarice? And don’t your eyes seek out the things you want?”

“Well, Clarice, have the lambs stopped screaming? Don’t bother with a trace, I won’t be on long enough. I have no plans to call on you, Clarice. The world’s more interesting with you in it. So you take care now to extend me the same courtesy. I do wish we could chat longer, but I’m having an old friend for dinner. Bye.”

 

 

 

31     Jake & Elwood Blues (The Blues Brothers)

The Blues Brothers first appeared on an episode of Saturday Night Live on January 17, 1976. Well…kind of. The sketch was actually called “Howard Shore and his All-Bee Band” and had John Belushi singing while Dan Aykroyd played harmonica…both dressed in bee costumes. Aykroyd had long been an aficionado of blues music and turned Belushi into a huge fan as well. Aykroyd owned a bar in New York and the duo used to sing blues music there at SNL after parties. They came up with the idea for a band, complete with fictional backstories, which went out on the road and produced an album in 1978 called Briefcase Full of Blues, recorded live when The Blues Brothers were the opening act for comedian Steve Martin. A few months before that they had made their official SNL debut. The film came along in 1980 and was the tenth highest grossing movie of the year (ranked above it: The Empire Strikes Back, Airplane!, Coal Miner’s Daughter, and Smokey & The Bandit 2, just to name a few). The whole idea of the two characters’ having a quite detailed background then forming a very real band that performed concerts and made a hit record before a movie was even made is pure genius. Their music & outfits contribute tremendously to the full effect, which adds up to The Blues Brothers still being a part of the pop culture zeitgeist four decades later. Belushi’s untimely death is sad for many reasons, but one of them has to be the fact that we probably would have gotten one or two more Blues Brothers flicks. We did get a sequel in 1998 called Blues Brothers 2000 in which John Goodman stepped into the void as Mighty Mac Blues, but it just didn’t have the same appeal as the original.

 

Quotes

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

“Yes! Yes! Jesus H. tap-dancing Christ… I have seen the light!!” (Jake)

“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.” (Elwood)

“Four fried chickens and a Coke.” (Jake)

“We’re on a mission from God.” (Elwood)

“I hate Illinois Nazis!” (Jake)

“We’re so glad to see so many of you lovely people here tonight. And we would especially like to welcome all the representatives of Illinois’s law enforcement community who have chosen to join us here in the Palace Hotel Ballroom at this time. We do sincerely hope you all enjoy the show. And please remember, people, that no matter who you are and what you do to live, thrive and survive, there are still some things that make us all the same. You. Me. Them. Everybody. “ (Elwood)

 

 

 

30     Professor Severus Snape (The Harry Potter Series)

Alan Rickman had an interesting career. He was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, but didn’t find mass success until his 40’s after starring as terrorist Hans Gruber in the classic Christmas caper Die Hard. More than a decade later he became popular with the sci-fi nerd crowd after starring in Galaxy Quest. Then a few years after that he really hit the jackpot when the Harry Potter series was translated to film.  To call Professor Snape complicated would be a vast understatement. His story plays out in seven films in the course of a decade, and we’re never quite sure whose side he is on. Is he a faithful servant of the dark Lord Voldemort?? Or is he a double agent whose true allegiance lies with Professor Albus Dumbledore?? We eventually learn that Snape was a classmate of Harry’s parents James & Lily Potter, and that Snape loved Lily but was pretty much bullied by James & his pal Sirius Black. At one time Snape was one of Voldemort’s Deatheaters, but switched allegiances in an effort to protect Lily. His feelings toward Harry are complex, a mix of the animosity he felt toward the boy’s father & the affection he had for the boy’s mother, but ultimately it is revealed that much of what he did over the years was meant to save Harry’s life. It is a tribute to Rickman’s immense talent that Snape’s screen presence is so cold, acerbic, arrogant, & borderline cruel yet retains a sense of mystery & vulnerability. Credit must be given to author JK Rowling for creating such a complex character, but we all know that a great book doesn’t always evolve into a great movie, and while I still like the Potter books much more than the movies it must be said that Rickman’s portrayal of Snape isn’t one of the reasons why.

 

Quotes

“Control your emotions. Discipline your mind!!

“I don’t expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses… I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death — if you aren’t as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach.”

“You dare use my own spells against me, Potter? Yes, I’m the Half-Blood Prince.”

“The Dark Arts are many, varied, ever-changing, and eternal. Fighting them is like fighting a many-headed monster, which, each time a neck is severed, sprouts a head even fiercer and cleverer than before. You are fighting that which is unfixed, mutating, indestructible.”

“It may have escaped your notice, but life isn’t fair.”

 

 

 

29     The Cowardly Lion, The Tin Man, & The Scarecrow (The Wizard of Oz)

I seem to recall that when I was a child The Wizard of Oz was offered as a special television presentation once a year. That idea seems quaint now when we can watch almost anything we want anytime we choose, especially old movies. Author L. Frank Baum actually wrote a series of 14 Oz books in the first two decades of the 20th century, but the beloved 1939 film is based on the original book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It was one of ten nominees for Best Picture (a field that included Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Goodbye Mr. Chipps, Of Mice & Men, and the winner – Gone with the Wind). One can choose to view Oz many different ways, but I’ll leave it to people much smarter than me to do that kind of analysis. Taken at face value we can all relate to guys like The Cowardly Lion, who seeks courage…The Tin Man, who wishes for a heart, and The Scarecrow, who only wants a brain. These are endearing but imperfect characters who recognize what they lack and engage in a journey to be made whole. It has been suggested that The Wizard represents God, Oz is Heaven, and The Yellow Brick Road is a kind of path to enlightenment. I don’t know if that’s true, but if it is it’s no wonder we feel a connection to these flawed characters seeking redemption.

 

Quotes

“If I only had a brain.” (Scarecrow)

“Courage! What makes a King out of a slave? Courage! (Cowardly Lion)

“If I only had a heart.” (Tin Man)

 

 

 

28     ET (ET: The Extra-Terrestrial)

Our fascination with outer space & aliens goes back many decades, but it feels like most of the time sci-fi treats such creatures as villains that we humans are to fear. Not ET. He’s about as loveable as anything that a UFO has ever stranded on Earth. He befriends 10 year old Elliott & the boy’s family, and in a harbinger of things to come with product placement in movies develops an affinity for Reese’s Pieces, which had only been on the market for five years. Actually the original script called for the use of M&M’s, but the Mars Candy Co. declined a deal that Hershey ultimately accepted. Of course we all know how these stories end and eventually Elliott & his pals help ET evade capture by government agents and hop a ship back to his home planet. Anyone over the age of 40 can tell you what ET looks & sounds like, and Reese’s Pieces are still going strong. I’d say that’s a solid legacy.

 

Quotes

“Phone. Home. E.T. home phone.”

 

 

 

27     Jason, Michael, & Freddy (slasher flicks)

I am a child of the 80’s, and horror films were a big deal back then. While I am not a huge fan of the genre kudos must be given to three cornerstones, especially since they have appeared in a whopping 33 films (with more to come I’m sure). The only horror movie I really like is the original 1978 Halloween in which Michael Myers murders his older sister and ends up in a sanitarium at the tender age of six, only to escape fifteen years later and return home to the sleepy little hamlet of Haddonfield, IL on Halloween night to engage in a killing spree. Numerous sequels and reboots have been made, but all they’ve done is muddle the mythology and water down the understated brilliance of the original. Michael is referred to in the credits as The Shape, and his appearance is notable for the whited out William Shatner mask he wears. He never says a word, and we aren’t really supposed to know why he does what he does except that he is the embodiment of “pure evil” (one of the key elements the sequels & remakes ruined). Just as Jaws made the idea of swimming in the ocean perpetually frightening Jason Voorhees had a negative impact on summer camp for an entire generation & singlehandedly proliferated the ideas of triskaidekaphobia & paraskevidekatriaphobia (look them up…I can’t do everything). The backstory is that Jason is the young son of the cook at Camp Crystal Lake, and when he drowns as a boy his mother goes nuts and starts killing people. As it turns out he isn’t as dead as everyone thought, which means Mom’s revenge was needless. But now she’s dead and he’s the one seeking vengeance. At any rate, Jason is known for wearing a hockey mask, although he didn’t actually do that until Part 3. The backstory for Freddy Krueger is a little stronger. He’s a child killer in small town Ohio who lures his victims to a boiler room before shredding them with a bladed leather glove. After he gets out of jail on a technicality he is hunted down & burned alive by a mob of angry parents. Years later, though his physical body is dead he lives on and haunts the dreams of local teenagers. Everything about Freddy is memorable, from his history to his clothes to his burnt face. And really, the idea of an evil force haunting our dreams is super creepy and borderline genius.

 

 

 

26     Obi-Wan Kenobi & Master Yoda (The Star Wars Trilogy)

Wise old gurus who seem to understand the mysteries of life and pass on their knowledge to young protagonists are a cornerstone of cinema, and nowhere is it done better than in the Star Wars universe. Ben Kenobi is initially introduced as an old recluse living on Tattoine near Owen & Beru Lars and their nephew Luke Skywalker. After his aunt & uncle’s death Luke is mentored by the elderly man, who we find out was a great & powerful Jedi warrior. His relationship with Luke’s father is a huge part of the franchise. Obi-Wan is killed by his nemesis Darth Vader in the first film, but appears as a Force ghost in the latter two parts of the original trilogy. A younger Obi-wan is a significant player in the prequel trilogy as we see his relationship with Anakin Skywalker from beginning to end. Sir Alec Guinness was already a living legend by the time he originated the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi, having won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1957 for his role in The Bridge on the River Kwai. During his career he received four Oscar nominations, including a Best Supporting Actor nod for Star Wars (he lost to Jason Robards). Guinness famously had a…complicated…relationship with Star Wars, calling it “fairytale rubbish” and the dialogue “banal mumbo jumbo”. It was his idea to kill the character off in the first movie as he “shriveled up” at the mere mention of Star Wars. Luckily for George Lucas he didn’t face the same ego-driven obstacles with Yoda since it was essentially a puppet voiced by Frank Oz (the same guy who provided the voice for other famous characters like Miss Piggy, Fozzy Bear, Cookie Monster, & Ernie’s pal Bert). Yoda is the Jedi Master of Jedi Masters, a 900 year old two foot tall creature with wrinkled green skin and an odd…almost dyslexic…speech pattern who we don’t meet until he trains Luke Skywalker on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back. It is his appearance & the way he talks that makes Yoda so memorable. I’m far too lazy to do the required research, but I’d bet that Yoda was one of the top selling Halloween costumes in the early 80’s.

 

Quotes

“The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It is an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.” (Obi-Wan Kenobi)

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” (Yoda)

“You’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view. The truth is often what we make of it…you heard what you wanted to hear, believed what you wanted to believe.” (Obi-Wan Kenobi)

“Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealously. The shadow of greed, that is.” (Yoda)

“I felt a great disturbance in the Force… as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.” (Obi-Wan Kenobi)

“Do or do not, there is no try.” (Yoda)

“Your eyes can deceive you. Don’t trust them.” (Obi-Wan Kenobi)

“Mind what you have learned. Save you it can.” (Yoda)

“If you define yourself by the power to take life, the desire to dominate, to possess…then you have nothing.” (Obi-Wan Kenobi)

“Attachment leads to jealously. The shadow of greed, that is.” (Yoda)

“Be mindful of your thoughts…they betray you.” (Obi-Wan Kenobi)

“If no mistake have you made, yet losing you are… a different game you should play.” (Yoda)

“If you strike me down I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” (Obi-Wan Kenobi)

 

 

 

Let’s take a break. We’ll resume with the Top 25 soon.

Merry Movie Mayhem: North Pole (Round 1)

Today we finish the first round of Merry Movie Mayhem. If you need to go back and catch up on the results thus far just click on the links to see what went down in the Candy Cane, Eggnog, & Mistletoe Divisions. I’m pleased with the pace we’ve set so I think we’ll take a break for a few days before moving on to Round 2. If you didn’t see your favorite holiday film in the competition don’t hesitate to leave me a comment asking “What up with that, dawg??”…or something to that effect. There is probably a perfectly reasonable explanation for its exclusion. Or maybe I just completely overlooked it. Who knows??

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s A Wonderful Life                             

Released                                           12/20/46

Starring                                              James Stewart, Donna Reed                                

Director                                              Frank Capra (It Happened One Night, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington)

Rotten Tomatoes                              94%

I feel like I’ve written just about everything there is to say about IAWL in the years since the inception of The Manofesto, but allow me to offer a brief refresher. The story was conceived by a Pennsylvania Civil War historian named Philip Van Doren Stern. The Greatest Gift was not accepted for publication for whatever reason, so Stern simply included it in his annual Christmas card mailings. Someone on his Christmas card list must have liked the short story, because it was subsequently published in 1944. A film producer saw the story and it eventually ended up in the hands of director Frank Capra. IAWL was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, & Best Director. A clerical error prevented the copyright from being renewed in 1974, so due to it being in the public domain the movie became a popular late night staple during the holidays on local TV stations throughout the 70’s & 80’s until 1993 when the copyright was restored to Republic Pictures, who then licensed it to NBC in 1996. For the past two decades NBC had shown it only a couple of times every December (early in the month & again on Christmas Eve), but starting in 2016 USA Network (which is owned by NBC/Universal) added a few additional airings. Of course with streaming & other home video options none of that really matters anymore.

 

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Love Actually

Released                                           11/14/03

Starring                                              Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth. Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley

Director                                              Richard Curtis (Four Weddings & a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’ Diary)

Rotten Tomatoes                              63%

Personally I am more unconvinced of Love Actually’s claim to being a Christmas film than I am Die Hard, but I’m feeling generous. This is one of those movies…like New Year’s Eve, He’s Just Not That Into You, & Valentine’s Day…with a huge, very British, very talented ensemble cast involved in multiple stories that all seem to intersect by the end. There are those who love Love Actually, and maybe they are right. Perhaps I’m missing something or just being obtuse.

 

The Verdict:       It’s A Wonderful Life. Believe it or not there are people that hate IAWL. Some people say “How can a movie about suicide be a heartwarming Christmas classic??”. Others remember when it used to be on TV a bazillion times every December and still hold a grudge, even though a) that hasn’t been the case for over twenty years, & b) there are other movies these days that are shown just as much as or more than IAWL used to be and those same people love those other movies. I guess folks just like what they like, and I happen to adore IAWL. If it’s not your cup o’ tea we’ll just have to agree to disagree. Love Actually is a perfectly delightful film, but not only is it severely overmatched here, it’s also a movie that I just haven’t watched often at all & can take or leave.

 

 

 

 

The Polar Express                                

Released                                           11/10/04

Starring                                              Tom Hanks                                 

Director                                              Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away)

Rotten Tomatoes                              55%

Zemeckis is back!! Actually this was his first foray into motion capture technology…and perhaps one of the earliest feature films utilizing it. The story is based on an award winning 1985 children’s book about a group of kids who ride a magical train to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. Tom Hanks plays a half dozen different characters. I’m totally into motion capture and think it’s cool, but I understand that others find the animation disturbing for whatever reason. I am far beyond the age of believing in Santa Claus, but I’ll be darned if this movie doesn’t make me REALLY want to believe once again.

 

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Deck the Halls

Released                                           11/22/06

Starring                                              Danny DeVito, Matthew Broderick

Director                                              John Whitesell (Big Momma’s House 2)

Rotten Tomatoes                              6%

The Rotten Tomatoes score seems harsh, but I get it. With a title borrowed from the beloved Christmas carol you’d expect this movie to be a bit more uplifting, but it’s not. The story follows two neighbors who end up going to war during the holiday season when one of them decides to put up an elaborate light display that “can be seen from space”. I have to assume that the plot is inspired by those shows you see on The Travel Channel this time of year called Crazy Christmas Lights or something like that, and I think those shows & those types of gaudy displays may have been inspired by National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Personally I prefer elegant & tasteful Christmas lights and can do without the rock music accompaniment, but to each their own. Anyway, in my opinion this movie isn’t as bad as the critics might indicate, if only because of the talented cast.

 

The Verdict:       The Polar Express. I adore this movie. It is the very definition of holiday magic. Wouldn’t we all like to retain that childlike wonder that allowed us to believe in something as enchanting as Santa Claus?? Of course we would. Deck the Halls is better than a rotten 6% rating…but not much better.

 

 

 

 

 

Planes, Trains, & Automobiles 

Released                                           11/25/87

Starring                                              John Candy, Steve Martin            

Director                                              John Hughes           (Mr. Mom, Sixteen Candles, Uncle Buck)

Rotten Tomatoes                              92%

Here we go…back to Thanksgiving. However I think this is probably superior to any other Thanksgiving movie or show. It’s actually a road trip/buddy comedy that happens to be set at Thanksgiving. I’m a huge John Hughes fan. He wrote/produced/directed so many wonderful films. And the pairing of Candy & Martin?? Inspired. Brilliant. Comedy gold. I only wish they would have made more movies together. Thanksgiving is a unique holiday that is difficult to besmirch with commercialism. People don’t want gifts or candy or flowers. It’s not an excuse to party or blow things up. All that most folks want on Thanksgiving is to be at home with loved ones and enjoy a nice meal. This movie captures that desire in such a subtle & funny way that it kind of sneaks up on you.

 

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Arthur Christmas

Released                                           11/23/11

Starring                                              James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie

Director                                              Sarah Smith

Rotten Tomatoes                              92%

A lot of the movies & shows you’re reading about here have been around for awhile…25 years, 35 years, 50 years, 75 years. This is one of the new kids on the block. It hasn’t had time to really ingratiate itself into our pop culture consciousness. It may or may not ever achieve that goal, but does merit inclusion in this exercise. Arthur is Santa’s youngest son, and he’s kind of the black sheep of the family. The North Pole is depicted as a high tech command center, Santa’s sleigh is the sort of ultramodern vehicle that NASA dreams about, & the annual Christmas Eve flight around the world is an intricate operation that’d make the U.S. military envious. The mantle of Santa Claus is passed from father to son, with the current titleholder, Malcolm, on the verge of retirement and his eldest, Steve, preparing to take the reins soon. But this particular Christmas Eve something goes awry and it’s up to Arthur, inept but resolute, to save the day. Arthur Christmas takes familiar territory and adds a futuristic spin, but instead of being cynical itself it is more of a fun commentary on Christmas cynicism.

 

The Verdict:       Planes, Trains, & Automobiles. I like Arthur Christmas well enough. It’s fresh, creative, & entertaining. But the competition is just too much. It has become almost as much of a Thanksgiving tradition as turkey, football, & the Macy’s Parade.

 

 

 

 

 

Frosty the Snowman         

Released                                           12/7/69

Starring                                              Jimmy Durante, Jackie Vernon          

Director                                              Rankin/Bass

Rotten Tomatoes                              60%

“Singing Cowboy” Gene Autry recorded Frosty the Snowman in 1950, just one year after his Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer hit #1 on the charts. But it wasn’t until 1969 that CBS first broadcast the animated special based on the song. Nearly a half century later it is still a beloved annual tradition. While the song is a winter carol that has become tangentially associated with Christmas despite the holiday only being mentioned at the very end, saying “he waved goodbye saying ‘don’t you cry…I’ll be back on Christmas Day!’”, the special is set on Christmas Eve and features Santa Claus “resurrecting” Frosty after he’s been locked in a greenhouse by Professor Hinkle and melted.

 

 

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The Family Stone

Released                                           12/16/05

Starring                                              Diane Keaton, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Luke Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Clare Danes

Director                                              Thomas Bezucha

Rotten Tomatoes                              52%

Dysfunctional family dramedy has become a common theme in holiday films. I really can’t relate because I’ve always gotten along with my family and look forward to visiting with them on holidays. At any rate, there are several subplots in The Family Stone, as everybody seems to have some kind of issue. They scream, they cry, they argue…but familial love wins in the end, as it should. The cast is phenomenal, from the sublime Diane Keaton & elegantly low-key Craig T. Nelson to the wittily charming Luke Wilson & radiant Rachel McAdams. The movie ends on a bit of a downer, which unfortunately impacts one’s lasting impression. The story stays with you for awhile, but not necessarily in a good way.

 

The Verdict:       Frosty. Come on…was there any doubt?? Look, I realize that Christmas can be very sad for many people, and Hollywood feels compelled to address that aspect. I get it…I really do. I will admit that…mostly because of the talented ensemble and nimble writing…The Family Stone has gotten its fair share of repeat views from me. However, at the end of the day I still choose for Christmas to be a joyous occasion despite the harsh realities of life. Maybe someday I’ll be the guy sitting alone in a dive bar on Christmas Eve nursing my whiskey and raging at the jolly masses while wondering why my life has gone so horribly wrong, but thankfully I’m not there yet. Frosty the Snowman is something I grew up with, and for a short time every December I get to bring my inner child out to play, which is awesome.

 

 

 

 

Holiday Inn                           

Released                                           8/4/42

Starring                                              Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire 

Director                                              Mark Sandrich (Top Hat, The Gay Divorcee)

Rotten Tomatoes                              100%

Did you know that the Holiday Inn chain of hotels got its name from this movie?? Well you do now!! Bing Crosby stars as a song & dance man who decides to escape the bright lights of New York and open a quaint Connecticut inn that will only be open on holidays. There is singing, dancing, romance, & hijinks, all centered around familiar celebrations on the calendar. Holiday Inn is mostly remembered for introducing the world to the song White Christmas, but there are memorable performances throughout. They don’t make movies like this anymore, which is a shame.

 

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All I Want For Christmas

Released                                           11/8/91

Starring                                              Ethan Embry, Kevin Nealon, Thora Birch

Director                                              Robert Lieberman (D3: The Mighty Ducks)

Rotten Tomatoes                              0%

1991 will be forever be remembered by the masses as the year that launched the fabled career of actor Ethan Embry. And while he went on to star in cinematic masterpieces like Vegas Vacation, That Thing You Do, and Can’t Hardly Wait, it is this little holiday gem that might outlast everything else. The basic gist of the story is that two kids whose parents are divorced hatch a scheme on Christmas Eve to get them back together (spoiler alert: it works). For such an overlooked film the cast is actually quite stellar, including Thora Birch (who would go on to more notorious roles in American Beauty and…well…American Beauty is pretty much it), Leslie Nielsen as Santa Claus, SNL funnyman Kevin Nealon, & the legendary Lauren Bacall. All I Want For Christmas was a box office bomb that the critics didn’t like, but found new life for awhile popping up on television, which is where I first discovered it. It’s not a great movie, but it is delightful enough.

 

The Verdict:       Holiday Inn. I am eternally indebted to my friend & brother The Owl for introducing me to this movie back in college. I pride myself on having good taste, and films like this display a level of class generally absent from the vast majority of modern entertainment. Would it even be possible to maintain a business that is open less than a dozen times per year?? I have no idea. But the concept sure does make a terrific foundation for this movie.

 

 

 

 

 

The Santa Clause

Released                                           11/11/94

Starring                                              Tim Allen                  

Director                                              John Pasquin (Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous)

Rotten Tomatoes                              75%

There was a brief moment in 1994 when Tim Allen starred in the top rated show on TV (Home Improvement), authored the best-selling book in the country (Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man), & played Santa in the #1 film at the box office. The Santa Clause was the first of a (unplanned…I assume) trilogy, and is indisputably the best of the three movies. It is an origin story suggesting that Santa is a character inhabited by different men at different times. In this case Scott Calvin…a divorced toy executive who has consistently disillusioned his young son…inherits the job when the current Santa falls off his roof and I guess dies…a morbid fact that is mercifully glossed over. Scott & his boy Charlie deliver gifts around the world and spend a night at The North Pole, but the real fun begins the next day when the new Santa thinks it was all a dream…until he slowly begins to morph into The Jolly Old Elf over the next few months. I’m a fan of Santa Claus origin stories, and this is one of the best.

 

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Mickey’s Christmas Carol                   

Released                               12/16/83

Starring                                   Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck                 

Director                                   Burny Mattinson (The Great Mouse Detective)

Rotten Tomatoes                            90% (a)

It’s difficult to tell the story of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in a half hour, yet it’s been tried several times with varying degrees of success. Taken at face value the Mickey Mouse version is perfectly charming. Disney created the character of Scrooge McDuck in 1947 as a homage to Ebenezer Scrooge, and that tribute comes full circle in this show. Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit is perfect casting, and a few other cartoon favorites make an appearance (Jiminy Cricket, Daisy Dick, Goofy, The Three Little Pigs, Chip & Dale, Huey, Dewey, & Louie, Minnie Mouse). Television aficionados may be interested to know that Hal Smith (Otis Campbell from The Andy Griffith Show) and Alan Young (Wilbur from Mister Ed) provide the voices for Goofy/Jacob Marley and Scrooge McDuck / Ebenezer Scrooge, respectively.

 

The Verdict:       The Santa Clause. Mickey’s Christmas Carol is a great introduction to the story for small children, but at a running time of less than 30 minutes it only has time to hit the highlights, which is fine for short attention spans but not all that enticing to adults. There is also an issue with accessibility. I remember it being on TV when I was a kid, but I don’t think it has aired with any kind of regularity for a decade…maybe two. The Santa Clause instantly became a beloved classic twenty years ago. Sure it has some undertones emblematic of somber 90’s cynicism, but that is minimized in favor of Christmas magic. I love Santa origin stories, and though it has a modern spin at the beginning the outcome is decidedly vintage.

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Carol (1984)

Released                                           12/17/84

Starring                                              George C. Scott       

Director                                              Clive Donner            (The Thief of Baghdad)

Rotten Tomatoes                              74% (a)

I am a traditionalist in most aspects of life, and it has always been my belief that uniquely British characters from British novels should be portrayed by British actors in film adaptations. However, there are exceptions to most rules, and in this case I must admit that Virginia native George C. Scott is a worthy Ebenezer Scrooge. This version of Carol was a made-for-television production that aired on CBS here in America, but it was released in theaters in Britain and certainly has a big screen vibe. Like just about every other adaptation it takes certain liberties with the novel, adding & subtracting little things, but none are deal breakers. If you’re channel surfing and need your Scrooge fix you could definitely do worse.

 

 

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Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

Released                                           11/18/94

Starring                                              Richard Attenborough, Dylan McDermott, Elizabeth Perkins

Director                                              Les Mayfield (Encino Man, Flubber)

Rotten Tomatoes                              61%

There are no sacred cows in Hollywood. If they’ll remake Psycho, The Karate Kid, Footloose, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and The Pink Panther then apparently all bets are off. This was clear way back in 1994 when a remake of the 1947 classic Miracle on 34th Street was released. The thing is…it’s not that bad. Macy’s didn’t want to be involved and Gimbel’s was already out of business, so two fictional department stores fill in, but other than that and a few other modern updates the essence of the story remains. Alas, while the underrated Elizabeth Perkins as the jaded mother is luminous, the film itself lacks the innocent magic of the original, replacing it with subtle 90’s era cynicism.

 

The Verdict:       A Christmas Carol. I don’t HATE the Miracle remake and I don’t LOVE this version of Carol, but I am used to there being a plethora of A Christmas Carol adaptations and accept that each of them tries to put their own unique spin on the story. This one brings a lot of good stuff to the table. 1994 wasn’t the first time Miracle on 34th Street was remade, but the others were TV movies made in the 50’s & 70’s that are easily ignored. The 1994 movie can’t be ignored and I’m not suggesting it should be, but it just doesn’t measure up.

 

 

 

 

The Lemon Drop Kid

Released                                           3/8/51

Starring                                              Bob Hope

Director                                              Sidney Lanfield (The Hound of the Baskervilles)

Rotten Tomatoes                              73% (a)

My generation remembers Bob Hope as an aging comedian who frequently hosted variety show specials on NBC, including an annual show at Christmastime when he would introduce college football’s All-American Team, and also for regularly heading overseas to entertain American servicemen in places like Korea, Vietnam, & The Middle East. Hope always ended his shows with his signature song Thanks for the Memory, and the Christmas special traditionally featured him singing Silver Bells. But from the 1930’s thru the 60’s he was also a movie star, and Silver Bells became famous in part due to being sung in this film in which Hope plays a fast-talking racetrack hustler known as The Lemon Drop Kid because of his fondness for lemon drop candies. When The Kid inadvertently crosses a well-known gangster in Florida he is given until Christmas Eve to come up with the money he owes or else he’ll face…unpleasant…consequences. The Kid flees to New York, but when his gig as a street corner bell-ringing Santa Claus doesn’t work out he hatches a new scheme to raise donations for a phony old folks’ home. That plan is going alright until another mobster interferes. Hilarity & chaos ensue, but all’s well that ends well in a fun Christmas Eve climax.

 

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Trading Places

Released                                           6/10/83

Starring                                              Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd

Director                                              John Landis (Animal House, The Blues Brothers)

Rotten Tomatoes                              86%

I wanted to avoid crossover with this project and 80’s Movie Mania, which necessitated a few difficult decisions. At the end of the day that means Trading Places & Die Hard were saved for this competition, while Lethal Weapon was a part of 80’s Movie Mania. At any rate, Murphy & Aykroyd are both SNL alums who went on to bigtime movie stardom in the 1980’s. Their stars have since faded significantly, although they still pop up now & again (Aykroyd has gracefully transitioned into supporting roles, while Murphy still labors under the delusion that he’s relevant). Hot off the success of 48 Hrs. and just before the box office triumph of Beverly Hills Cop, Murphy took this role as a smartass homeless bum who basically switches lives with an erudite stockbroker at Christmastime as part of a social experiment/wager between two wealthy old geezers. The key is that the two guys are set up and not in on the joke. It is essentially a modern take on Mark Twain’s 1881 novel The Prince & the Pauper, and the two leading men really deliver. It is a smart, funny, well-written movie with an immensely satisfying conclusion.

 

The Verdict:       The Lemon Drop Kid. This is a tough call. It’s a great example of what exactly defines a Christmas movie…or not. Both are set at Christmastime. Neither story is dependent on Christmas as a factor in the plot…they both could be set at any other time of the year with few changes needed. However, I think the Christmas timeline plays a slightly bigger role in The Lemon Drop Kid, and we cannot overlook the fact that the movie introduced the world to what has become a very popular Christmas carol. There is an accessibility issue. The Lemon Drop Kid is never shown on television…not even on AMC or TCM, and it’s not available on streaming services. The only way I know to watch it is on YouTube, which is a shame. Trading Places is a great movie…one of the best of its era. But it just doesn’t jump into my mind when pondering Christmas movies.

80’s Movie Mania…A Fatal Four Way Finale

movies&TVI’m a pro wrestling fan, and occasionally, instead of the normal one-on-one or even a tag team match, they’ll stick four combatants in the ring and let them fight it out. That is how I’ve decided to conclude this project. We started out back in March 2016 with 84 films, and seven months later we’ve pared it down to four.

 

The choices made here over these months have been undeniably influenced by my own entertainment sensibilities, but I can 80s5assure you that I’ve done my best to be…if I may borrow a phrase…fair & balanced. I’ve given early eliminations to films that I really like, and conversely made other films victorious that aren’t necessarily my cup of tea, all out of respect for undisputable attributes like major awards, significant box office earnings, well-regarded critical praise, & enduring mass appeal. I stayed within a well-defined set of rules, which is why movies like Empire Strikes Back, Field of Dreams, A Christmas Story, & Back to the Future were not included. However don’t doubt my fanboy love for those & many others not involved in this competition.

 

80sAt the end of the day I believe that we’ve ended up with a fun & interesting trek down memory lane. I’m a movie buff. I like to sit in a darkened theater with a bucket of popcorn or in the comfort of my living room snuggling with Rocco and escape into what our old pal Willie Wonka would call a world of pure imagination. Oh sure…most of us can’t spend too much time doing that. There are bills to pay, families to care for, responsibilities to fulfill, & goals to reach. But every once in a while it’s good & necessary. The 1980’s represent the latter part of my childhood & my teenage years. Life is fairly simple & typically enjoyable for the vast majority of kids, but most don’t appreciate just how truly wonderful that time was until years later, after things have become complicated, loved ones have departed, health has deteriorated, & guilt free fun is a rare commodity. Occasionally though we can temporarily close Pandora’s box and return to those halcyon days. The 80’s were a great era for cinema, and I am happy to celebrate that accomplishment. I hope you have enjoyed reading along.

 

 

 

The Contenders

 

The Blues Brothers

bb5The Blues Brothers began as a Saturday Night Live sketch in January 1976. They made two additional appearances as SNL musical guests in April & November of 1978. Of course the band’s leaders…Joliet Jake & Elwood…were portrayed by SNL cast members John Belushi & Dan Aykroyd. Like so many other SNL skits that have followed in the ensuing decades an idea was hatched to evolve the characters into a movie. Aykroyd wrote the screenplay and John Landis was hired to direct. Belushi & Aykroyd formed an actual band with real & accomplished musicians, and The Blues Brothers released their first album, Briefcase Full of Blues, in 1978. Belushi had also become a movie star in 1978 after his role in Animal House (directed by Landis), and left SNL in 1979 along with Aykroyd. The film was released on June 20, 1980. The story follows Jake, upon his release from prison, and Elwood, as they put the band back together to raise money for the orphanage in which they grew up. If you are curious why a religious organization owed back taxes, well, at the time there was a proposed law in Illinois that would have stripped such entities of tax exempt status, so I suppose Aykroyd took that idea and ran with it. It’s a movie full of great music, memorable quotes, numerous car crashes, iconic imagery (dark sunglasses & fedoras), & a ton of cool cameos that modern youngsters might not understand but were bb7awesome back in the day. Critics really liked it and it was the 10th highest grossing film of 1980. Did you know that The Empire Strikes Back was released less than a month earlier?? Heavy competition indeed. Anyway, more than thirty years later The Blues Brothers is still shown on television with some frequency, something that I consider to be somewhat of a hallmark of greatness. The Blues Brothers won the Tubular Division by defeating European Vacation, The Big Chill, When Harry Met Sally, & The Breakfast Club. That last result is probably considered a controversial upset by some, but the decision is final.

 

Dead Poets Society

dps2Citizens of The Manoverse know that I am a huge Robin Williams fan, and while he was mostly known as a stand-up comedian and the star of some really funny comedy films (Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Birdcage), he was equally accomplished in dramatic roles (Awakenings, One Hour Photo, Insomnia). He won his only Academy Award, for Best Supporting Actor, in 1997 for playing a quiet, introspective therapist in Good Will Hunting. By far my favorite dramatic Robin Williams movie is Dead Poets Society. It was released on June 2, 1989 and was the 10th highest grossing film of that year. Critics liked it very much. Williams stars as Professor John Keating, the new English teacher at a stodgy New England boarding school in the late 1950s. Keating isn’t your normal uptight teacher, and his methods & perspective on life inspire a group of students, who do some research and find out that Keating was a bit of a rebel even as a student. He attended the same school as a youth and was a member of a secret organization called the Dead Poets Society. The boys decide to revive that club and also use the things they’ve learned from the professor as encouragement to take some chances and rebel against the expectations of the school & their parents. When things don’t go well for one of the youngsters after he stands up to his domineering father the lad commits suicide and Professor Keating loses his job. It sounds much more depressing than it is…trust me. Dead Poets Society isn’t on TV as much as fans might prefer, but I understand. It isn’t dpsthe sort of silly comedy or mindless action flick that folks tend to enjoy during a lazy weekend. Even with some trademark comedic flourishes from Williams it is a serious film that some might consider kind of a downer, especially toward the end. But even without as many repeat viewings as a lot of other films discussed in 80’s Movie Mania I still have a deep fondness for Dead Poets Society. Perhaps it is the enchanting presence of Williams. Or maybe it’s the academic setting where people are learning about, discussing, & enjoying poetry & Shakespeare. I suppose the fact that it is a tale chockful of deep thoughts about life is appealing as well. Dead Poets Society topped the Radical Division, defeating The Naked Gun, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, & This Is Spinal Tap to get here.

 

National Lampoon’s Vacation

vacation2There have been five films in the Vacation series, but only two have really retained any lasting appeal. We’ll discuss the other one next Christmas, but for now this is the original, the one that started it all. Released on July 29, 1983, the script was written by John Hughes based on a short story called Vacation ’58 that he’d written for National Lampoon magazine in 1979. The story is available to read online, and while it is amusing and many of the broad strokes are retained in the film, what we ultimately get to enjoy onscreen is much funnier and less…intense. Harold Ramis, who many will remember as Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters or Russell Ziskey in Stripes, directed. He had previously directed Caddyshack and written the screenplays for Animal House & Stripes. Of course the star of the movie is Chevy Chase, who plays Clark Griswold, a sincere yet clueless husband & father who just wants to drive his wife & children from Chicago to California for a fun time at America’s favorite amusement park Walley World. As with any road trip flick there are adventures, mishaps, & quirky characters along the way, leading to a fairly surprising conclusion that admittedly does seem out-of-date in the Internet Age. Vacation was the 11th vacationhighest grossing film of 1983, and received solid reviews for a “screwball comedy”. It bested Stand By Me, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, & Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to win the Bodacious Division. Despite its outdated final act Vacation has retained significance on the pop culture landscape more than thirty years after its initial release. It seems to be shown on television with some frequency, and the fact that the series was rebooted (with Ed Helms portraying middle-aged Rusty Griswold and cameos by Chase & Beverly D’Angelo) just last year proves its lasting popularity. The humor is accessible to a wide target audience and can be enjoyed by multiple generations.

 

Airplane!

airplaneI’m a big fan of parody & spoof films. Parody is derived from the Greek word paroidia, with para meaning “side by side” or “parallel to” and oide meaning “song”. A parody is a work that imitates the style of an earlier work, usually in a humorous manner. The Scary Movie franchise pokes fun at the Scream movies. The Naked Gun movies make fun of cop shows & films. The Austin Powers trilogy parodies James Bond. Spaceballs is a comedic ode to Star Wars. You get the idea. Parody films go all the way back to the 1930’s when Abbott & Costello did a number of movies that were a comedic take on monster flicks of that era. Then in the 70’s there was stuff like Blazing Saddles, a parody of westerns, and Young Frankenstein, yet another funny monster movie. Airplane! was released on July 2, 1980 (just a couple of weeks after The Blues Brothers) and parodies disaster flicks, which had been quite popular in the 70’s (The Swarm, Airport, The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, etc.). It is an odd remake of a 1957 film called Zero Hour!, a film most of us have probably never heard of much less seen. Airplane! was the 4th highest grossing movie of 1980. Hindsight being 20/20 it is understandable that The Empire Strikes Back topped that year, but how in the world 9 to 5 and Stir Crazy made more money than Airplane! is mind boggling and a testament to the popularity of Richard Pryor and…Dolly Parton (???). airplaneAnyway, the casting director deserves special kudos for choosing erstwhile tough guys Robert Stack, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, & Lloyd Bridges to star in deadpan comedic roles. It was a masterstroke. The writers too must be praised, as not only does the movie spoof the disaster genre, but it does so with such a plethora of amazing dialogue, funny cameos, & hilarious sight gags that Airplane! practically demands repeat viewings. Critics have loved the film since it came out nearly forty years ago, and it continues to be shown on television with some degree of regularity. Airplane! has thus far defeated Beetlejuice, Top Gun, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, & Uncle Buck.

 

 

 

 

Elimination 1

Dead Poets Society

As much as I love Robin Williams the fact is that, compared to the competition, I don’t know that this is a film that has resonated with the masses dps3nearly as much. I’m not at all sure that many of my friends or family would immediately choose Dead Poets Society as one of the greatest films of the 80’s. I think it appeals to a certain demographic and I just happen to be in that group. It isn’t repeated on television all that much, and I believe that is because most folks, when channel surfing on a rainy day, gravitate toward comedies or action films. Dead Poets Society is probably a bit too erudite to be a cult classic. Perhaps that is an indictment of our culture and/or our education system, but it is what it is.

 

Elimination 2

National Lampoon’s Vacation

Two strikes go against Vacation. First of all, many would agree that it might not even be the most beloved film in its vacation3own series. Secondly, because of the ending it doesn’t hold up as well as one would hope. Younger viewers probably watch it and think “Why didn’t they just go online and see that Walley World was going to be closed??”. Is it fair to hold that against the film since The Internet obviously didn’t exist in 1983?? Probably not. As a matter of fact I suppose some might say that the fact marks it as representative of the very era this competition purports to celebrate. Trust me…I rolled all of that around in my head. But at the end of the day if I’m splitting hairs I have to admit that I lean toward the ending, as funny as it is, being a mark against Vacation’s longevity.

 

The Runner Up

Airplane!

Here’s the problem with parodies/spoofs. Much of the humor comes from the audience’s familiarity with the source material that is being mocked. I airplane2love Airplane! yet I have never seen Zero Hour!, the original film from which it is derived. I’d probably appreciate the spoof even more if I’d watch the original. Not only that, but I wonder how many people, in 2016, have seen any of the disaster flicks that are also being parodied?? How many people these days are familiar with Peter Graves’ role in Mission: Impossible, Robert Stack in 1960’s TV show The Untouchables, Lloyd Bridges in Police Story, or Leslie Nielsen’s work in Forbidden Planet & The Poseidon Adventure?? Many of the jokes in Airplane! are dated references, like cameos from Ethel Merman & Leave it to Beaver’s Barbara Billingsley. We still laugh because it’s all so very silly, but many younger viewers would laugh even more if they knew why certain things are funny. I’m splitting hairs again…obviously…but that’s what happens when it gets down to separating greatness from greatness.

 

 

 

and finally…….

 

 

 

80’s Movie Mania Champion


The Blues Brothers

It’s repeated on television a lot for a movie that was released nearly forty years ago. It is SO quotable. It has great music. Even if the blues isn’t Layout 1necessarily your thing you’ll enjoy the tunes in this film. Much like Airplane! some of the cameos are a bit passé, but it’s atleast a draw on that point. Belushi & Aykroyd are fantastic. A sequel, called Blues Brothers 2000, was made in 1998, but of course John Belushi had died 16 years earlier so, as talented as John Goodman is, the magic just wasn’t there. When I was in college our fraternity had a traditional dance/chant thing we did using the song Gimme Some Lovin’. Now that song was written by Steve Winwood and originally recorded by the Spencer Davis Group in 1966, but our inspiration was the awesome Blues Brothers cover. Back then I’d occasionally see guys don the famous dark sunglasses & fedoras. It’s little things like that that help a film endure so that it can be enjoyed by new generations. This is a movie that has stood the test of time. It isn’t deep. It doesn’t challenge one’s mind or elicit reflection on values, philosophy, or a person’s moral compass. It’s just great fun, and when judged against modern standards of acceptability it is remarkably devoid of sex, violence, & profanity. You can watch The Blues Brothers with your children and not only will they not be corrupted by much depravity, they might actually develop a taste for good music. What a bonus!!

80’s Movie Mania…The Elite Eight

driveinAfter a little vacation from this series it’s time to focus on the finish line. I realize that things here have been very much sportscentric as of late, and that there are citizens of The Manoverse who aren’t really into that sort of thing. However long time readers know that this tends to occur in the fall and have hopefully modulated their expectations. At any rate, today we present the four division final matchups. Since I have said just about netflixeverything there is to say about these films I think I’ll just do a tale of the tape sort of thing this time around. Don’t worry…you’ll get a chance to enjoy more of my sparkling wit next time. Specifically I’m looking at five areas of influence that are important factors in deciding the stature of any movie:

Re-Watchability –       Is it on television a lot?? If it is on TV do I stop & watch??

Relevance            –        Does the story hold up well?? Or do modern societal norms & changes in technology make it feel dated??

Quotability          –        Fun, interesting, well-written movies of all genres are usually very quotable.

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 this 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??

 

 

 

 

Radical

Dead Poets Society    vs.     This Is Spinal Tap

 

Re-Watchability                           rw4                                                         

Relevance       rw4                                                   

Quotability                spinal_tap_-_up_to_eleven                                                                               

Cultural Impact                           spinal_tap_-_up_to_eleven                                                            

Pleasure                                                    rw4                                                               

The Verdict:        Dead Poets Society. I think it comes down to timing. If Spinal Tap would have come out a few years later or Poets been released a few years earlier the coin may have flipped the other way.

 

 

Bodacious

National Lampoon’s Vacation       vs.     Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

 

Re-Watchability                               vacation4

Relevance                             fb                                                                    

Quotability                                 vacation4     

Cultural Impact                                                                    fb                    

Pleasure              vacation4                            

The Verdict:        Vacation. This is tough. Bueller probably deserves a better fate, but I have to be honest. Some might say that the invention of The Internet renders the conclusion of Vacation irrelevant, and I concede the point. In that one very significant way the film does not hold up well. However, I believe there is enough greatness there to balance out the one weakness. Bueller is a great time capsule that even modern high school students can enjoy, but I’m not sure it’s as relatable for adults.

 

 

Tubular

The Breakfast Club   vs.   The Blues Brothers

 

Re-Watchability                                      bb6

Relevance     bclub2

Quotability      bb6

Cultural Impact      bclub2

Pleasure  bb6

The Verdict:        The Blues Brothers. To be honest, this result surprises me. However, while The Breakfast Club is a great movie, its relevance & impact is limited to two demographics: high school students & those of us that were teenagers in the 80’s. Conversely, The Blues Brothers is a goofy comedy devoid of meaningful societal commentary, but it is jolly good fun for people of all ages. It is timeless in its own odd way, and has probably done more to advance interest in blues & jazz music than just about anything else in the past four decades.

 

 

Gnarly

Uncle Buck                  vs.          Airplane!

 

Re-Watchability                                                                               airplane3                              

Relevance                                                                                                      airplane3

Quotability                                        airplane3                                                                                                  

Cultural Impact                                                                 airplane3              

Pleasure                                                                     airplane3

                                            

The Verdict:        Airplane!. With all due respect to the memory of the late, great John Candy, this wasn’t a fair fight. Uncle Buck is a nice, underrated, above average comedy, but it’s not the best work of Candy, John Hughes, or MacCaulay Culkin. Heck, it’s not even Amy Madigan’s best film. Conversely, Airplane! birthed an entire subgenre in which everything that has followed in the past 36 years STILL  hasn’t measured up to the granddaddy of them all.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Bodacious

 

 

National Lampoon’s Vacation

Released:     8/29/83

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

Director:        Harold Ramis

Awards:        none

Box Office:   $61 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  93% Fresh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

vs.

 

 

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Released:     11/26/86

Starring:        William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Catherine Hickstrek4b

Director:        Leonard Nimoy

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

Box Office:   $133 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  85% Fresh

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

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

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

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

“Everybody remember where we parked.”

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off       

Released:     6/11/86

Starring:        Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Jennifer Greybueller2

Director:        John Hughes

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

Box Office:   $70 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  81% Fresh

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

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

“Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?”

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

 

vs.

 

Risky Business

 Released:     8/5/83

Starring:        Tom Cruise, Rebecca DeMornayrb3

Director:        Paul Brickman (Bad News Bears Breaking Training)

Awards:        none

Box Office:   $64 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  96% Fresh

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

Tubular

 

The Breakfast Club    

Released:     2/15/85

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

Director:        John Hughes

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

Box Office:   $52 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  89% Fresh

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

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

“Does Barry Manilow know you raid his wardrobe?”

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

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

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

 

vs.

 

Dirty Dancing

Released:     8/21/87

Starring:        Patrick Swayze, Jennifer GreyDirty_Dancing

Director:        Emile Ardolino

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

Box Office:   $214 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  72% Fresh

Quotes:         “Nobody puts Baby in the corner!”

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

 

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

 

 

 

When Harry Met Sally

Released:     7/14/89

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

Director:        Rob Reiner

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

Box Office:   $93 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  89% Fresh

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

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

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

“I’ll have what she’s having.”

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

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

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

 

vs.

 

 

The Blues Brothers

Released:     6/20/80

Starring:        John Belushi & Dan Aykroydbbros

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

Awards:        none

Box Office:   $115 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  85% Fresh

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

80’s Movie Mania: Tubular Round 3

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

 

 

 

 

Tubular 3

 

The Breakfast Club     vs.     Mr. Mom

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

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

 

 

 

 

When Harry Met Sally    vs.     WarGames

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

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

 

 

 

The Blues Brothers     vs.     The Big Chill

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

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

 

 

 

Lethal Weapon            vs.     Dirty Dancing

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

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

 

80’s Movie Mania: Tubular Round 2

Welcome to Round Two of 80’s Movie Mania. This round will feature 20 films that we have yet to discuss, as five in each division received first round byes. I would really appreciate Manoverse participation, as all of these combatants have their own merits and it’s going to be very difficult to make certain choices. In situations where I am forced to decide a winner my own bias is a key factor. I appreciate the fact that some movies have been critically acclaimed, made lots of money at the box office, or won a plethora of awards. Those are all influential elements. However, at the end of the day it all comes down to one big question: If I am sitting around The Bachelor Palace on a lazy rainy afternoon with nothing else better to do than flip thru the channels or hop on Netflix and check out a good old movie what would I choose to watch?? That is the overriding guiding light. In many cases I can be persuaded in one direction or another which…theoretically…is where YOU come in. Let’s make it happen. At any rate, we’ll kick off the 2nd Round with the Tubular Division, and as always thanks so much for taking time to visit The Manofesto.

 

 

 

Tubular 2

 

The Blues Brothers               vs.              European Vacation

european_vacationbb31980’s The Blues Brothers received a first round bye and makes its Mania debut right now. Starring Dan Aykroyd & John Belushi as a couple of musicians/career criminals with a robust admiration for blues music, the idea sprouted from a Saturday Night Live skit in which Jake & Elwood Blues, clad in dark suits, fedoras, & sunglasses, would perform on the show. After three SNL appearances their popularity grew to the point that they were doing concerts and producing albums. The film finds Jake being released from prison and both brothers “putting the band back together” to save the orphanage in which Jake & Elwood grew up. It features fantastic cameos from the likes of Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Chaka Khan, Joe Walsh, & John Lee Hooker, and has stars such as John Candy, Carrie Fisher, Steven Spielberg, & Paul Reubens (aka Pee Wee Herman) in bit parts. The soundtrack is amazing for those of us that like that particular kind of music. A sequel was made in 1998, but as much as I like John Goodman he’s no Belushi. European Vacation defeated Three Amigos! in Round 1 and is a lot better than people may recall. Taking the Griswold clan out of the car and putting them in different locations across Europe was a really interesting idea. The two actors portraying Rusty & Audrey are my least favorite of all that have inhabited the roles. It’s a tall order to live up to the original Vacation, but this one gives it a good go.

 

The Verdict:       The Blues Brothers. Great cast. Awesome music. Fun cameos. It’s a cult classic for a reason.

 

 

 

 

Lethal Weapon                      vs.              La Bamba

lw1987’s Lethal Weapon received a first round bye, while La Bamba got the decision over Three Men & A labamba2Baby. Lethal Weapon is an action flick, which is usually not my cup of tea. However, the cast is so good and the script is infused with enough humor & character development that it rises above the usual limitations of the genre. Mel Gibson plays a cop on the edge after the unfortunate death of his wife. He is paired with Danny Glover as an older officer pondering life after the police department. Riggs & Murtaugh are a classic film duo…one a loose cannon with nothing to lose and the other a by-the-book family man who just wants to ease into retirement. They are forced to put their differences aside and investigate an apparent suicide that develops into a much more sinister case. The supporting cast is superb, including Gary Busey as a crazy felon…a role he was born to play. The first film was followed by three sequels that I personally like just fine, but none quite recapture the original magic. La Bamba re-introduced the world to Ritchie Valens, a young singer who died tragically in a plane crash that famously also took the lives of 50’s rockers Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper. Valens was only 17 years old at the time of his demise and had produced a few hits, including Donna, Come On Let’s Go, & La Bamba. One cannot help but wonder what he could have become had he lived. It is my understanding that his influence on the Latino community has been immense and I am glad that, with the help of this film, he finally got some well-deserved recognition from the masses.

 

The Verdict:       Lethal Weapon. How can you not love it?? It’s got action, atmosphere, great characters, & lots of fun.

 

 

 

 

Ghostbusters                         vs.              Mr. Mom

ghostI know there is a remake coming out soon, but who cares?? It can’t possibly live up to the original 1984 mr momGhostbusters, which enters this contest after having a 1st Round bye. Starring Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, & Harold Ramis as a team of ghost hunters way before such a profession became fashionable and the paranormal evolved into a widespread cultural fad, the cast also includes Rick Moranis, Annie Potts, & Sigourney Weaver as well as cameos by Larry King, Casey Kasem, Bill Walton, & Ron Jeremy (yes…THAT Ron Jeremy). The movie also features an infectious theme song by Ray Parker Jr., who hasn’t done anything notable since. Mr. Mom defeated Porky’s in the first round. It was the ninth highest grossing movie of 1983, ahead of competition like Risky Business, National Lampoon’s Vacation, The Big Chill, Scarface, & A Christmas Story. Impressive indeed. Michael Keaton did about a half dozen good movies in the 1980’s and this is probably my second favorite.

 

The Verdict:       Mr. Mom. It’s another upset for the underrated Mr. Mom. I know there are Ghostbusters enthusiasts out there that would strongly disagree with the decision, but again it comes down to repeat viewings and what I would choose to watch while channel surfing, and the fact is that I’ve seen Mr. Mom a hundred times and would likely always choose it over Ghostbusters.

 

 

 

 

Dirty Dancing                         vs.              Moonstruck

dd2After receiving a first round bye 1987’s Dirty Dancing enters the fray. Mostly what people remembermoonstruck2 about Dirty Dancing is A) it starred Patrick Swayze, B) the fantastic soundtrack, & C) the dancing…of course. That is probably enough to qualify it as a quintessential 80’s time capsule movie, but it also had a storyline. It takes place in the early 60’s at an exclusive resort in New York’s Catskill Mountains and features Jennifer Grey as a young woman who receives forbidden dance lessons from the resort’s dance instructor Johnny Castle (a really cool name) and falls for him. The romance is classic Romeo/Juliet, good girl/”bad” guy, right/wrong side of the tracks stuff, but the formula works as long as there is a creative spin. Moonstruck beat out Flashdance in Round 1 and interestingly runs up against more musically inclined competition here. Having grown up in an Italian family I appreciate the broad strokes in Moonstruck, and really enjoy the performance of Nicolas Cage. It was the 5th highest grossing film of 1987, ahead of La Bamba, Lethal Weapon, and yes…Dirty Dancing. Cher may be nuttier than a fruitcake but she has been in some damn fine movies.

 

The Verdict:       Dirty Dancing. Moonstruck is undoubtedly the “better” movie by almost any metric. However, Dirty Dancing is the more memorable movie. For anyone who came of age in the 1980’s it is one of the signature films of that era, and it seems to be that the things we enjoyed as teenagers…movies, songs, TV shows, etc…leave an indelible mark on our soul.

 

 

 

 

 

The Big Chill                          vs.              Scarface

1983’s The Big Chill is undeniably a commentary on 60’s rebels facing the perils of adulthood in the scarface2“greedy” Reagan era. But it is also a universal story about growing up and understanding that, though college may have been the best time of your life, there comes a time when it is necessary to move forward. The cast…featuring stars like Jeff Goldblum, Kevin Cline, Glenn Close, Tom Berenger, & William Hurt…is unsurpassed. They gather together to mourn the suicide of a close friend who was to be portrayed by Kevin Costner, but his flashback scenes got cut, which is unfortunate. The Big Chill may have been the genesis for my appreciation of the dramedy, because goshdarnit I like to have some laughs mixed into my tragedy. Scarface easily beat out License to Drive in Round 1 because Al Pacino will kick the snot out of as many Coreys as you can throw at him. It was only the 16th highest grossing film of 1983, behind stinkers like Jaws 3-D, Superman III, & Staying Alive, which perfectly illustrates both the pitfalls of sequels and exactly why they get made in the first place.

 

The Verdict:        The Big Chill. Some movies appeal to a very specific target audience. Scarface fits that bill, and I am not the kind of moviegoer that really enjoys violence, rampant drug use, & abundant gunfire. I prefer to laugh. The Big Chill isn’t a comedy, but it is well-written with great performances and really speaks to me on a deeper level.

 

 

 

 

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure   vs.     WarGames

Bill-and-TedNeither of these opponents had a first round bye. Bill & Ted beat out Mel Brooks’ History of the World wargames2Part 1, while WarGames got a Round 1 victory over The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. WarGames was the fifth highest grossing film of 1983. Bill & Ted ranked 32nd at the 1989 box office. A more useful indicator may be Rotten Tomatoes, where WarGames has a 93% Fresh rating and Bill & Ted has a 79% Fresh rating. Well okay…maybe that isn’t quite as helpful as I’d hoped.

 

The Verdict:       WarGames. It’s a tossup, and I am tempted to leave it in the hands of The Manoverse, but I am resisting the temptation. WarGames might be a tad bit dated and a candidate to be remade with more modern technology, but that is part of the charm that definitively marks it as an 80’s film. The Cold War is a relic of the past and we face new dangers nowadays, but the fear & paranoia felt by many back then can’t be matched. WarGames is the perfect blend of subtle social commentary and edge-of-your-seat fun. It is the rare action-adventure flick without much violence. A masterstroke indeed.

80’s Movie Mania: Radical Round 1

Annnnnd we’re back!! Today we finish up our first round matchups, but before we go forward there let’s go back and tie up some loose ends as usual. I posted two polls that absolutely no one voted on. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, but I’ll just go with the flow. So in the Gnarly Division it’s gonna be Weird Science taking out Raising Arizona and Biloxi Blues defeating Parenthood. Now let’s move on to the first round in the Radical Division. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

Radical – Round 1

 

 

Fast Times at Ridgemont High               vs.              Brighton Beach Memoirs

fasttimesFast Times is the quintessential high school movie. Released in 1982, it was the first directing effort for bbmAmy Heckerling, who would go on to direct films like Clueless, European Vacation, & Look Who’s Talking, as well as the first screenplay written by Cameron Crowe, who has since had a solid career writing & directing movies such as Say Anything, Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous, & Vanilla Sky. That’s already a pretty impressive pedigree for Fast Times, but then we must consider the cast, featuring the earliest work of some very talented performers…Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Forrest Whittaker, Eric Stoltz, & Anthony Edwards. Oh, did I forget to mention the soundtrack?? It has great 80’s songs from folks like Jackson Browne, Joe Walsh, Don Henley, The Go-Gos, Sammy Hagar, Jimmy Buffett, Poco, Donna Summer, & Stevie Nicks. Not to be outdone, 1986’s Brighton Beach Memoirs features Jonathan Silverman, Blythe Danner, & Judith Ivey in the cast and is based on a Tony Award winning play by Neil Simon. It is the first entry in Simon’s Eugene Trilogy about his youth in Depression era Brooklyn. The movie is well written & acted, but I suspect that the theater production is even better.

 

The Verdict:       Fast Times at Ridgemont High. This is 80’s Movie Mania, right?? It only seems right that one of THE signature 80’s films makes it out of Round 1.

 

 

Fletch                            vs.              Night Shift 

Aside from blundering family man Clark W. Griswold, Chevy Chase’s most famous role is that of L.A. nightshiftTimes journalist Irwin Fletcher, aka Fletch. Based on a series of novels written in the 70’s, 1985’s Fletch follows the reporter as he investigates a drug ring on an L.A. beach. He is approached by a wealthy businessman offering him a big wad of cash to kill him because the businessman is ostensibly dying of cancer anyway. Things get complicated from there. The supporting cast includes Tim Matheson, George Wendt, Geena Davis, & Joe Don Baker and the VERY 80’s score was written by master of the synthesizer Harold Faltemeyer. Fletch isn’t really a traditional comedy…it’s more of a mystery/action flick with funny moments provided by Chevy Chase being…well…Chevy Chase. 1982’s Night Shift has an impeccable pedigree. It was written by Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel, who have gone on to write such fantastic films as Splash, Parenthood, City Slickers, A League of Their Own, The Money Pit, Liar Liar, Fever Pitch, & Parental Guidance. It was the first film directed by Ron Howard that anyone remembers. And it stars Henry Winkler as a decidedly un-Fonzie-esque character, as well as Michael Keaton in his first leading role and Shelley Long right before Cheers made her famous. The story has a straight-laced morgue employee, his wild & crazy co-worker, & a “hooker with a heart of gold” team up to start their own escort service. Hilarity ensues. It was an indication of great things to come from Keaton.

 

The Verdict:       Night Shift. I don’t quite get the love for Fletch. It’s mildly amusing I suppose, but mostly quite forgettable. Meanwhile, Night Shift has a solid cast doing some of their best work supported by a really fun script and a director who was just beginning to demonstrate his immense talent.

 

 

 

Spaceballs                   vs.              Summer School

Spaceballs is a rather amusing Star Wars parody from the mind of the legendary Mel Brooks. Made in ssc1987 and starring Bill Pullman, John Candy, Brooks, Daphne Zuniga, Rick Moranis, & Dick Van Patten, it is chockful of amusing word play and funny sight gags that any Star Wars fan will appreciate & enjoy. A sequel has been discussed for many years, but half of the original cast is dead now so who knows what’ll happen with that. 1987’s Summer School is a lightweight yet sneakily entertaining comedy starring Mark Harmon (from NCIS) as a slacker gym teacher who gets roped into teaching remedial English to a group of less than stellar students during the summer. The cast also includes Kirstie Alley and a young Courtney Thorne-Smith. Word on the street is that a remake is in the works, which is a shame.

 

The Verdict:       I like both of these films and really don’t want to make a choice, so let’s see if we can get enough votes to take the decision out of my hands.

 

 

 

 

Sixteen Candles                              vs.              Red Dawn

16CJohn Hughes strikes again!! In 1984 Hughes wrote & directed Sixteen Candles, about a girl whose family  reddawncompletely forgets her 16th birthday. Molly Ringwald stars as Samantha, whose sister is getting married so she kind of gets lost in the shuffle. On top of that Samantha has a thing for the hottest hunk in school but her existence doesn’t even register on his radar…or so she thinks. Anthony Michael Hall is around too as a geek who has a thing for Samantha (he has NO shot). The supporting cast, including Samantha’s grandparents, their foreign exchange student Long Duk Dong, & the sister who becomes gooned on tranquilizers to calm her wedding day jitters are all quite humorous additions. Conversely, 1984’s Red Dawn is a very sobering action flick about a group of Colorado teens who go on the lam after their town is invaded by the Soviets in the midst of World War III. The movie is notable for its star-studded cast of youngsters, including Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell, Leah Thompson, & Jennifer Grey. A remake was produced in 2012 but I’ve never seen it and likely never will.

 

The Verdict:       This one completely depends on a person’s taste in movies. Do you prefer teen comedy or violent war?? I have my preferences but I’m going to be generous and leave the decision in the hands of The Manoverse.

 

 

 

 

The Naked Gun           vs.              Dragnet

It’s police spoof vs. police parody!! 1988’s The Naked Gun is an alleged continuation of a long forgotten dragnetTV show from a few years earlier called Police Squad. No one remembers it because it only lasted six episodes on ABC. At any rate, Naked Gun follows inept police detective Frank Drebin (portrayed by the hilarious Leslie Nielsen) as he tries to prevent the assassination of England’s Queen Elizabeth while she visits Los Angeles. The film is wall-to-wall sight gags, word play, & slapstick comedy and features an intriguing supporting cast, including George Kennedy, Priscilla Presley (before she got too out of control with the plastic surgery), Ricardo Montalban, & O.J. Simpson (before he started murdering people). 1987’s Dragnet is a comedic big screen take on the legendary 1950’s/60’s TV show and stars Dan Aykroyd as the ultra-serious Sgt. Joe Friday (allegedly the nephew of the original) who is saddled with a quick-witted yet lackadaisical partner named Pep Streebeck (a GREAT name), played by Tom Hanks in one of his more underappreciated funny roles. Together the duo investigate a bizarre rash of thefts committed by a weird cult (which is a redundancy I know). The plot is silly and the reviews weren’t great, but I rather enjoyed the Aykroyd/Hanks chemistry and wish they would have gotten an opportunity to do a sequel with a better script.

 

The Verdict:       The Naked Gun. I probably enjoyed Dragnet more than the average person, but it is admittedly a flawed film. Meanwhile, The Naked Gun, for people who enjoy these kinds of movies, is a classic that spawned two sequels and ranks as one of the funnier flicks of the 80’s.

 

 

 

 

Revenge of the Nerds          vs.              Twins

nerdsIt’s a story as old as time…David vs. Goliath, unsophisticated vs. cool, ugly vs. good-looking, ostracized TWINS_320vs. popular, geeks vs. jocks. In 1984 it was presented as a battle between two fraternities…one full of socially awkward computer geeks, the other comprised of cocky football players. The hows & whys of their rivalry are unimportant…all that matters is that there is an abundance of conviviality, with an undertow of social commentary about discrimination & pride in being true to one’s self. The cast consists of second tier performers like Ted McGinley, Curtis Armstrong, Timothy Busfield, & James Cromwell, although Anthony Edwards would go on to brief moments of stardom and John Goodman has a small part as a football coach. A few sequels followed over the next decade, but none are as fun as the original. 1988’s Twins pairs diminutive Danny DeVito with brawny Arnold Schwarzenegger as long lost fraternal twins. DeVito’s Vincent is a hardened ne’er-do-well who was raised in an orphanage. Schwarzenegger’s Julius was raised on a small Pacific island by the professor who conducted the genetic experiment that resulted in the two men’s birth. Julius learns of Vincent’s existence and seeks him out. The two then go on quite the adventure in search of their long lost mother. Hilarity ensues.

 

The Verdict:       Revenge of the Nerds. It’s not the most unique concept but it works really well. Twins relies on a one-note joke about the obvious physical differences between its two stars, but that gag runs out of steam. Schwarzenegger is better than one might assume in comedies, yet it is very much a meta idea that it’s supposed to be hilarious seeing a muscle-bound tough guy doing comedy. Sorry…I need more.

 

 

 

 

Flight of the Navigator          vs.              The Goonies

navigatorFlight of the Navigator still flies under the radar three decades after its release. Made in 1986 and gooniesstarring Howard Hesseman (WKRP’s Dr. Johnny Fever) and Sarah Jessica Parker in one of her early roles, the story is an intriguing time travel tale about a young boy who falls into a ravine and wakes up the next morning to find that eight years have passed, though he hasn’t aged at all. It turns out that he was abducted by aliens. Folks, trust me…this is a seriously entertaining film. It strikes the perfect balance of action, drama, & whimsy. Meanwhile, The Goonies is a much celebrated film starring a group of youngsters (including Sean Astin, Corey Feldman, & Josh Brolin) who go on an adventure in search of a long lost treasure map. The film’s pedigree is first rate, with the script being written by Chris Columbus (who would go on to write and/or direct stuff like Mrs. Doubtfire, the first two Home Alone movies, Only the Lonely, the first two Harry Potter movies, & Jingle All the Way), directed by Richard Donner (Superman, Scrooged, Lethal Weapon), & produced by the iconic Steven Spielberg.

 

The Verdict:       Flight of the Navigator. This will probably be considered a pretty big upset by many. However, I’ve just never understood what the big deal is about The Goonies. Several 80’s films had ensemble casts with kids that would end up having memorable careers, but that’s not enough. The movie has to be engaging, with a plot that makes me want to enjoy repeat viewings. The Goonies isn’t that…atleast for me. Your mileage may vary and that’s okay. I happen to believe that Navigator is a superior entertainment experience…escapism at its finest.

80’s Movie Mania: An Introduction

80sCowabunga dudes!! Citizens of The Manoverse should know your Humble Potentate of Profundity pretty well by now, and two things you should have figured out are that I am a) a movie buff and b) a child of the 80’s. So I began pondering…what are the films from that decade that I enjoy?? Which ones are considered the best by the masses?? Which ones may be a bit overlooked or completely forgotten with the passage of time?? This train of thought sparked an idea: a March Madness-like tournament to decide the ultimate 80’s movie!!


80s2Now I must first set a few ground rules. Contrary to what one may believe, the 1980’s produced a plethora of memorable films. There were some critical darlings of course, and then there were a number of movies that may not have been “good” in the traditional sense but have just the right…je ne sais quoi…for inclusion in this competition. In order to pare down the pool of entrants I was forced to make some editorial choices. First of all…no sports films. I have already given love to Raging Bull, Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, Caddyshack, & Vision Quest on a previous occasion, so in the interest of fairness I am not including them here. Secondly…and this is a big one…no trilogies. I am of the opinion that film trilogies should be considered as80s3 one entity, and I don’t think it is fair to include such juggernauts against single entity competition. Plus, the Star Wars trilogy (2/3 of which was made in the 80’s) and the Back to the Future trilogy are so awesome that they’d probably run away with this thing, so why not make it just a bit more interesting?? As you may recall, I think of series differently, so anything with 4 or more films is fair game, although generally it’s hard to beat the original (there are exceptions).


80s4Even with those limitations in place I couldn’t narrow the field to 64, so I’m going to ask for some help from y’all. There are a dozen “vote-ins” pitting two films of some similarity head-to-head. Please click on your choice. I am going to wait for atleast a week and hope to get 10 or more votes on each of these, with the winners moving on to the tournament. Tell your friends!! Let’s grow The Manoverse and have some fun doing it!!

 

 

 

For about 5 minutes in the 80’s Steve Guttenberg was one of the bigger movie stars around. Lately though he’s kind of fallen off the face of the Earth, with his last notable role coming in…the mid-90’s if I’m being generous. However, we’ll always have these two Guttenberg gems. Police Academy spawned about a bazillion crappy sequels, but the original was hilariously stupid (and I mean that as a compliment). Three Men & A Baby had Guttenberg starring alongside Tom Selleck and Ted Danson as bachelors suddenly given the task of caring for an infant.

Michael Keaton is still one of the best in the business, but these days he wants to win awards and be taken seriously as an actor. I think I liked him better when he was making lightweight yet rather funny comedies. Mr. Mom is a role reversal kind of deal (atleast it was unique in the early 80’s) where Keaton becomes a stay-at-home father while his wife (portrayed by the lovely Teri Garr) tries to climb the corporate ladder. Gung Ho has Keaton as an auto executive trying to keep his Pennsylvania plant from being shut down by its Japanese owners. In Night Shift Keaton co-stars with Henry Winkler (Fonzie from Happy Days) and pre-Cheers Shelley Long as a NY City morgue employee who uses his workplace as a front for a prostitution ring,

Neil Simon is best known for his award winning plays, but several of those stage productions have been made into movies. This head-to-head battle pits 2/3 of the “Eugene Trilogy” against one another. It is said that the character of Eugene Jerome is an autobiographical representation of Simon and his youth in Brooklyn during The Great Depression. In Brighton Beach Memoirs Eugene (portrayed by Jonathan Silverman) is a teenager dealing with the ups & downs of family life. In Biloxi Blues Eugene (portrayed by Matthew Broderick) has been drafted into the Army near the end of World War II and endures basic training in Mississippi.

Only one police dog shall make it into the tournament…which one will it be?? Will you choose Jerry Lee, a german shepherd that helps Jim Belushi escape a drug kingpin?? Or do you prefer Hooch, a French mastiff that aids Tom Hanks in bringing down…well…another drug lord??

I’m a big fan of comedy, but within the genre there are different kinds of comedy. Airplane! is a spoof of dramatic disaster flicks and has plenty of sight gags and fun wordplay. It takes multiple viewings to really consume all the goodness the film contains. This Is Spinal Tap gave birth to the mockumentary…a movie that is presented as a documentary, usually in hilarious fashion.

Dragnet isn’t strictly a spoof, but it takes the old 1960’s TV show and turns it into a comedic parody starring Dan Aykroyd & Tom Hanks. The Naked Gun is a spoof of police procedurals based on a 1982 TV show called Police Squad that lasted only 6 episodes.

Tom Cruise did Cocktail immediately after Top Gun and just before Rain Man. He stars as an ambitious young man who is bartending to put himself thru college on the way to fulfilling his dreams. As usual a woman comes along and complicates things. Tom Hanks did Bachelor Party the same year he starred in Splash and four years before Big would really solidify his career. The title pretty much says it all, and its as funny as one would expect.


Films in the 1980’s oftentimes chronicled young men’s dogged chase of nookie, a theme that would continue to be popular into the 90’s and beyond. Porky’s is the story of a group of high schoolers in 1950’s Florida and their…misadventures. My Tutor is a bit more…subtle…in telling the story of a wealthy young man’s need to pass an exam in French to get into Yale. His father hires a beautiful female tutor and…well…the lad gets an education in more than just French.

I’ve never been much of a gamer, but the dudes in these films sure are. In War Games a precocious high school computer enthusiast (i.e. hacker) inadvertently starts WWIII. In The Last Starfighter a young man finds out the game he loves is real when he is whisked away to outer space to join the battle.

Hollywood likes to promote the idea that war is like sports…a game for young, good looking people. In Iron Eagle Lou Gosset Jr. leads a ragtag group of teenagers into a battle to rescue one of the youngster’s fathers, an Air Force pilot that has been captured by Arabs. Red Dawn, the story of high schoolers who fight back when their Colorado town is invaded by Russians, has a more well-known cast, including Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, Lea Thompson, Jennifer Grey, & C. Thomas Howell.

Molly Ringwald was an 80’s It Girl, but I can only allow one of these two films into the tournament. In Sixteen Candles Ringwald plays a girl whose family forgets her 16th birthday amidst the chaos of her older sister’s wedding. Pretty in Pink has Ringwald in the middle of a love triangle and dealing with other typical high school issues.

High school geeks were a staple of 80’s classics. In Teen Wolf Michael J. Fox plays an average teenager who suddenly becomes the cool guy at school when he discovers an ability to transform into a werewolf. Weird Science is about two young nerds who use technology to create the perfect woman.

100 Favorite Movies…..26-30

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


 

 

30 Rocky

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

 

29 Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

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

 

28 The Ref

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

 

27 Ocean’s Eleven

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

 

 

26 The Blues Brothers

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