90’s Film Frenzy: Phat Round 2

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

 

 

 

Apollo 13

Release:    6/30/95

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

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

 

vs.

 

Only the Lonely

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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Good Will Hunting

Release:    12/5/97

Starring:     Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Robin Williams

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

 

vs.

 

Big Daddy

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

Allen Covert has appeared in 25 Adam Sandler films.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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American Pie

Release:    7/9/99

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

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

 

vs.

 

Armageddon

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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You’ve Got Mail

Release:    12/18/98

Starring:     Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan

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

 

vs.

 

The Firm

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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Aladdin

Release:    11/25/92

Starring:              Scott Weinger, Robin Williams, Gilbert Gottfried

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

 

vs.

 

Patch Adams

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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Groundhog Day

Release:    2/12/93

Starring:     Bill Murray, Andy MacDowell

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

 

vs.

 

Clueless

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

As if!

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

Release:    2/4/94

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

Directed By:        Tom Shadyac

 

vs.

 

The Mask

 

Quotes

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

 

Sssomebody stop me!

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?

Release:    12/17/93

Starring:              Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio

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

 

vs.

 

Pretty Woman

Release:    3/23/90

Starring:     Julia Roberts, Richard Gere

Directed By:                 Garry Marshall (Overboard, Beaches)

 

vs.

 

Batman Returns

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

90’s Film Frenzy: Dope Round 1

So what exactly are we trying to accomplish here?? Are we seeking the best movie of the 1990s?? Not really. Are we looking for my favorite movie?? Well, yes and no. Is this about zeroing in on the signature film of the 90’s that most represents the decade?? That would be ideal but I’m not sure it’s possible. I suppose I am ultimately looking to “have my cake and eat it too”. It has always fascinated me that movies that make a ton of money are oftentimes loud, obnoxious, unintelligible games of chicken in which studios spend mind blowing amounts of cash and directors have fun with impressive technological toys all to tell a story that makes no sense, has no intellectual or emotional resonance, & people rush to theaters to see but forget about ten minutes after it’s over. Meanwhile, critics like to heap praise on erudite, pretentious snoozefests that Joe Sixpack in flyover country has no interest in seeing. Can a movie be successful critically AND commercially?? The 1970’s produced several such films: Jaws, The Godfather, Star Wars, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Apocalypse Now, All the President’s Men, & Young Frankenstein all spring to mind as being both popular and acclaimed. I’m okay with liking “bad” films…we all have our guilty pleasures. However, for the purposes of this competition what we are hoping to find are good movies that normal folks like you & me actually enjoy.

 

If you have not checked out first round action in the Fly and Phat divisions please do so, but for now we move forward. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

Swingers

Release:                       10/18/96

Starring:                        Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn

Directed By:                 Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith)

vs.

Batman & Robin

Release:                       6/20/97

Starring:                        George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Uma Thurman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Alicia Silverstone

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

 

One may make an assumption that Batman & Robin is included in this competition for the same reason films like Showgirls & Very Bad Things have been thrown a bone…because they are so dreadful that their sheer awfulness prompted a level of negative buzz that warrants discussion (kind of like how Cabbage Patch Dolls were considered so ugly they’re cute). That is partially true. However, as a huge fan of all things Batman I must also opine that it’s not really as bad of a movie as many seem to think. In 1995 Joel Schumacher took the reins of the franchise after Tim Burton was asked to step back from the director’s chair because the studio wasn’t happy with the box office for Batman Returns in 1992. Schumacher had already done St. Elmo’s Fire, The Lost Boys, & the John Grisham adaptation The Client, so there was reason to believe that he wasn’t a decent choice, and 1995’s Batman Forever did little to dissuade that notion. But then, after Val Kilmer decided not to reprise his one stint as The Caped Crusader for various reasons, George Clooney got the job. Clooney was still doing the TV show ER but had begun his movie career as well. Schumacher wanted to pay homage to the kitschy 1960’s Batman television show, so he decided the tone of his films would be more colorful & humorous than its predecessors, and though no one seemed to have much of an issue with the more cartoonish vibe of Batman Forever, it seems to be a point of contention when it comes to Batman & Robin. On paper the cast is top notch…Clooney, Schwarzenegger, Thurman, Silverstone…but critically it bombed & commercially didn’t fare as well as the previous films in the series. I remember seeing it in the theater with my best buddy Greg and thinking that it was aurally & visually obnoxious…an assault on the senses. However, when watching Batman & Robin on video…in the comfort of one’s own home where you can control the volume & the lighting…it’s much more palatable. In hindsight the movie suffered from comparisons with its forerunners, and as the fourth film in a series with two directors and three leading men there was a lack of stability that fans found unsettling. In a game of “One of These Things Isn’t Like the Others” it sticks out like a sore thumb…but on its own merits it is harmless cinematic fluff that is acceptably entertaining. Swingers was written by Jon Favreau, and was the first starring role for both he & Vaughn. The plot isn’t necessarily as important as the vibe, with the story revolving around a group of underemployed actors in 1990’s Los Angeles, a period when 60’s era swing music was experiencing a revival. The soundtrack is top notch, with tunes from the likes of Dean Martin, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Bobby Darin, & Sammy Davis Jr. There is a portion of the film that takes place in Las Vegas, and y’all know that tickles my fancy. Swingers isn’t a thought-provoking masterpiece that will cause one to ponder deep & philosophical questions of life, but it oozes cool and is quite quotable. Critic Roger Ebert called it “sweet, funny, observant, & goofy”, and I concur.

 

The Verdict:       Swingers. Batman & Robin has a 10% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was the 12th highest grossing film of 1997, although it must be noted that it is the least successful of any Batman film ever produced. When compared to 1989’s Batman ($250 million), 1992’s Batman Returns ($163 million), and 1995’s Batman Forever ($184 million), Batman & Robin’s $107 million is the very definition of The Law of Diminishing Returns. The franchise probably should have been given a rest after Forever, especially when faced with casting & creative changes. The viewing public obviously had Gotham City fatigue, and the absolute mauling given to the film by critics certainly didn’t help. Swingers has an 87% Rotten Tomatoes score, and ranked 155th at the box office in 1996. However, given the fact that it made $4.5 million on a $200k budget and its cast was a bunch of unknowns at the time the financial situation is relative. The film has become a cult favorite and its cast all went on to varying degrees of fame & success. It is a simple case of expectations vs. reality. Hollywood continues to make the mistake of giving huge budgets to movies with mega stars, dazzling effects, & over-the-top plots, when oftentimes it is a small budget, obscure but talented performers, & a well-written story that stands the test of time.

 

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Father of the Bride Part II

Release:                       12/8/95

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

Directed By:                 Charles Shyer (Baby Boom,          I Love Trouble)

vs.

What About Bob?

Release:                       5/17/91

Starring:                        Bill Murray, Richard Dreyfuss

Directed By:                 Frank Oz (The Muppets Take Manhattan, Little Shop of Horrors, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels)

 

FotB 2 is a remake of a sequel from 1951 called Father’s Little Dividend starring Spencer Tracy & Elizabeth Taylor, and a sequel to 1991’s Father of the Bride. Martin returns as the titular father who must deal with the concurrent pregnancies of his daughter and middle-aged wife. Martin Short is given a bigger role in the sequel after an amusing turn as an eccentric wedding planner in the first film. FotB 2 ranked 17th at the box office in 1995, ahead of some well-regarded movies like Braveheart, Clueless, Casino, Dead Man Walking, The Usual Suspects, & Leaving Las Vegas. It holds a 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critic Roger Ebert opining “movies like this butter us up so well that we’d feel like a grouch criticizing them”, adding that the movie is “warm & fuzzy, and has some good laughs & a lot of sweetness” before concluding that “I had the unmistakable feeling, toward the end of this film, that they may be reaching the end of this particular road and that there may be new horizons to investigate”. Other critics said things like “Short is trotted back out for more of his mincing shtick…a pretty feeble way to keep his character in the story”, “starts off weak but finishes strong…wacky & weepy, silly & sweet”, and “the strengths of these films are not so much laughs as sincerity & heart”. What About Bob? is a dark comedy about a psychiatric patient who stalks his therapist on vacation and befriends the doctor’s family, which upsets the arrogant shrink to the point that he becomes unhinged & ends up in a catatonic state. Bill Murray apparently doesn’t work & play well with others in real life, and nearly two decades after the film was released Richard Dreyfuss said of Murray “Terribly unpleasant experience. We didn’t get along, me and Bill Murray, but I’ve got to give it to him…I don’t like him, but he makes me laugh even now.”, which kind of sums up my feelings about Murray. I’m not a huge fan, but I give credit where it is due in that he is a talented actor who has been in some memorable movies. I’m just not sure that What About Bob? is one of them. It was the 19th highest grossing film of 1991 and holds an 83% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with The Washington Post  proclaiming it “one comic session strung to feature-length breaking point”, while Entertainment Weekly states that it “begins as a rambunctious satire…but turns into little more than a pleasant one-joke movie.”

 

The Verdict:       Father of the Bride Part II. Several years ago I had a co-worker who enjoyed sour candies like Skittles, Lemon Heads, & Sweet Tarts, while I am all about chocolate. I am reminded of that comparison now because some folks like edgy, dark, cynical entertainment, while others…like yours truly…prefer what I call “comfort food cinema” that leans heavily toward sentiment, a few good laughs, a pleasant cast, & a low-key vibe. I suppose it also comes down to whether or not you’re a fan of Murray, Dreyfuss, Martin, or Short. I gravitate toward the latter duo.

 

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Lethal Weapon 3

Release:                       5/15/92

Starring:                        Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joes Pesci, Rene Russo

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

vs.

Airheads

Release:                       8/5/94

Starring:                        Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, Adam Sandler, Joe Mantegna

Directed By:                 Michael Lehmann (Heathers, Hudson Hawk)

 

The only issue I have with the Lethal Weapon series is that it is easy to get the plots confused. They all star Mel Gibson & Danny Glover as a pair of mismatched cops fighting nefarious criminals, with the latter two films adding Rene Russo as a love interest for Gibson and 2, 3, & 4 having Joe Pesci as an annoying reformed criminal. In the third installment Riggs & Murtaugh track down a dirty cop who has become an arms dealer. A subplot involves the budding romance between Riggs and internal affairs officer Lorna Cole. LW3 was the fourth highest grossing film of 1992 and had the best box office of any film in the series. It has a 57% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with Ebert opining that “we miss the sense of invention that brightened the earlier movies…this one falls back on experience & craftsmanship”, and Peter Travers of Rolling Stone calling the film “mediocrity wielded by experts”. Those are fair assessments in that we don’t necessarily keep going back to series like Lethal Weapon for innovative storytelling or fresh ideas…we have developed a deep fondness for familiar characters and the actors who portray them. Airheads is an example of the earlier work of guys like Sandler, Buscemi, Fraser, & Mantegna. It is a mildly entertaining tale about an unsuccessful garage band who takes an L.A. radio station hostage in an effort to get their demo tape played. It has a 21% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and ranked 138th at the box office in 1994, which was atleast better than something called Spanking the Monkey.

 

The Verdict:       Lethal Weapon 3. I’m not usually a buddy/cop movie kinda guy, but I adore the Lethal Weapon series. Airheads is a fun little movie, but there’s really no competition here.

 

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Man on the Moon

Release:                       12/22/99

Starring:                        Jim Carrey, Danny DeVito, Courtney Love, Paul Giamatti

Directed By:                 Milos Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus)

vs.

 

In the Line of Fire

Release:                       7/9/93

Starring:                        Clint Eastwood, John Malkovich, Rene Russo

Directed By:                 Wolfgang Petersen (The NeverEnding Story, The Perfect Storm)

 

I love a good biopic. Let’s face it…if a movie is being made about a person’s life story it is a fair assumption that the person & their life was noteworthy and/or interesting. Whether the movie tickles one’s fancy largely depends on the level of curiosity about the subject, and I am old enough to have some degree of fascination with Andy Kaufmann. I am not a big Jim Carrey fan, but do recognize that he has a fair amount of talent when given the right material. Man on the Moon derives its title from a 1992 song by alt-rock band REM that was written as a tribute to Kaufman. The movie follows Kaufman’s rise from struggling night club act to infamous sitcom star thru his death from cancer at age 35. There are some questionable decisions made (like the cast of the sitcom Taxi portraying their 1970’s selves fifteen years later) that negatively impact one’s overall impression of the film, but praise for Carrey’s performance as Kaufman is nearly universal, to the point that he won the Golden Globe for Best Actor. In the Line of Fire is a criminally underappreciated movie about a guilt ridden Secret Service agent whose failure to save JFK’s life has messed with him for three decades. The agent gets another chance when a deranged former CIA assassin threatens the current President. The conclusion is somewhat predictable, but the ride getting there is lots of fun. I’ve never been a bigtime Eastwood fan simply because he typically stars in westerns & cop films that aren’t really in my wheelhouse, but for some reason I find this particular movie compelling.

 

The Verdict:       In the Line of Fire. Rotten Tomatoes scores Man on the Moon at 63% and it was the 58th highest grossing film of 1999, which seems far too low for an Andy Kaufman biopic starring one of the biggest movie stars in the world at the time. Movies like Stuart Little, the god awful Wild Wild West with Will Smith, & Deuce Bigelow: Male Jiggolo did better at the box office. In the Line of Fire was the 7th highest grossing film of 1993 and has a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I can’t help but wonder if Man on the Moon was a huge missed opportunity that might have fared better with a better script and a different director.

 

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Grumpier Old Men

Release:                       12/22/95

Starring:                        Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Sophia Loren, Burgess Meredith, Daryl Hannah, Kevin Pollak, Ann Margret

Directed By:                 Howard Deutch (Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful)

vs.

Fools Rush In

Release:                       2/14/97

Starring:                        Matthew Perry, Salma Hayek

Directed By:                 Andy Tennant (Sweet Home Alabama, Hitch)

 

I think we’ve established the fact that I have a type. If I am in vegg mode and doing some couch potatoing on a lazy afternoon I gravitate toward breezy comedies with pleasant characters and a charming plot. That’s my jam and I’m not sorry. Grumpier Old Men is a follow-up to the 1993 original and finds our two favorite cantankerous geezers resuming hostilities in the frozen tundra of Wabasha, MN. Things have calmed down between John Gustafson & Max Goldman, with John now happily married to Ariel (who moved into the neighborhood in the first film) and the two men’s offspring…Gustafson’s daughter Melanie and Goldman’s son Jacob…set to get married. But an alluring Italian divorcee moves into the neighborhood and all hell hilariously breaks loose once again. The cast is terrific, proof that not everyone has to be a gorgeous 20something for a movie to be good. Old-timer Burgess Meredith is the unsung hero once again, stealing the show at 87 years of age. It was the 20th highest grossing film of 1995 but only has a 17% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. By 1997 hit TV show Friends was only in its fourth season (not even halfway thru its decade long run) but the cast was already beginning feature film careers. Matthew Perry’s first leading man role was Fools Rush In, about a NY City architect who has a one night stand in Vegas while he is there supervising the construction of a night club. The vivacious young lady shows up at his door a few months later with a bun in the oven, and simply wants to introduce him to her close-knit & very traditional Mexican family so that when she breaks the news about her pregnancy she’ll be able to tell them they’ve met the baby’s father. The city boy is enchanted by the beautiful woman and her family ties, and in short order the two have a quickie wedding and move in together. Of course the culture clash is inevitable, especially when his snooty parents show up, and as tends to happen in rom-coms the couple fight, break up, & eventually reunite just in time to welcome their child into the world. It’s all very sweet & predictable, but I’m okay with that. Fools Rush In was the 70th highest grossing film of 1997 and has a 33% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

 

The Verdict:       Grumpier Old Men. This is a tough choice because I really like both movies, even though critics didn’t. Our old pal Ebert called Grumpier Old Men “a big-screen sitcom”, opining that “I would love to see this material transplanted to the TV screen where it belongs”. I am intrigued by that insightful comment, because of course two+ decades later isn’t that what eventually happens to a lot of movies anyway?? Think about it. We go to the local cineplex to watch loud, visually stimulating, effects laden action flicks that provide us with a momentary jolt of adrenaline…but decades later when we’re chillin’ out & flipping thru the channels what kinds of movies stand the test of time and provide a measure of jovial comfort on dreary & tedious days when we need that sort of cozy contentment?? Oftentimes it is exactly the kind of “big screen sitcom” that Ebert describes that has been “transplanted to the TV screen where it belongs” just as he suggested. He was a man ahead of his time. Of Fools Rush In Ebert said “it is a sweet, entertaining retread of an ancient formula, in which opposites attract despite all the forces arrayed to push them apart”, and “Yes, the movie is a cornball romance. Yes, it manufactures a lot of standard plot twists. But there is also a level of observation and human comedy”. It feels wrong that either film has to be eliminated at this point, but Grumpier Old Men has the edge in repeat viewings & legendary movie stars.

 

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Galaxy Quest

Release:                       12/25/99

Starring:                        Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman

Directed By:                 Dean Parisot (Home Fries, Red 2)

vs.

The Bodyguard

Release:                       11/25/92

Starring:                        Whitney Houston, Kevin Costner

Directed By:                 Mick Jackson (L.A. Story, Volcano)

 

Galaxy Quest works on multiple levels. It’s a comedy. It’s a sci-fi adventure. And it is a spoof. Allen, Weaver, Rickman, et al portray the cast of a Star Trek-esque TV show that was cancelled long ago but still has a community of hardcore fans that hold conventions & such, many of which the actors attend because they’ve been typecast and aren’t able to make any kind of money otherwise. The “captain” still basks in the glow of his small slice of fame, but the rest of the crew is really just over the whole deal. But then a strange thing happens…they find themselves caught up in an actual outer space adventure when a well-meaning group of aliens mistakenly believes the TV show to be real life and thinks the crew can save their species…or something like that. I suspect that Trekkies & other sci-fi nerds are the only audience that can truly appreciate everything Galaxy Quest has to offer, but perhaps those who just enjoy good popcorn cinema are entertained by it as well. The Bodyguard was a big deal back in 1992 because Whitney Houston was at the top of the music charts and was transitioning into acting with her first film role. Houston portrays a famous singer (not much of a stretch) who gains a former Secret Service agent as a bodyguard after being nominated for an Academy Award and being sent death threats by a mysterious stalker. Unsurprisingly the singer & the bodyguard fall for each other, and naturally the audience loves it because of the undeniable charm and chemistry of Houston & Costner. The Bodyguard has a little something for everyone…mystery, suspense, action, romance, drama…and gave us what…to my knowledge…is still the best-selling movie soundtrack of all time.

 

The Verdict:       Galaxy Quest. This one is tricky. Ideally I’d put it up for a vote from The Manoverse, but that doesn’t seem to work for me so I’ll make the tough choice. The Bodyguard was the 7th highest grossing film of 1992, behind the likes of Aladdin, Home Alone 2, & A Few Good Men but ahead of competition such as Wayne’s World, Unforgiven, & White Men Can’t Jump. It has a 35% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with our old pal Roger Ebert opining “the basic situation is intriguing enough to sustain a film all by itself”, but adding that he “felt a little cheated by the outcome”. Other critics were less generous. TV Guide called it “a dreary, turgid melodrama”, while Entertainment Weekly said “it is an outrageous piece of saccharine kitsch…or, atleast it might have been had the movie seemed fully awake.” Ouch. Galaxy Quest was the 30th highest grossing film of 1999, beating out notables like The Thomas Crown Affair, Eyes Wide Shut, Varsity Blues, & Fight Club. Rotten Tomatoes scores it at an impressive 90%, with the Associated Press calling it “alot of wacky fun” and Entertainment Weekly saying it is “a fast, loose, & very funny parody that pulls off the not-so-simple feat of tweaking Trekkies and honoring them, ribbing long-in-the-tooth actors and applauding them, bringing together Star Trek savants and those who couldn’t give a squat about dilithium crystals, and saying ‘See, there’s room on the final frontier for everyone.’” So what this boils down to is one movie that made a bunch of money but generally isn’t viewed as being very good versus a movie that didn’t make as much money but is well-regarded as being good at what it is supposed to be. All too often Hollywood seems to believe that they can take any old schlock and sell it to the masses as long as a big star or two or three is attached. And sadly much of the time they are right. I feel like The Bodyguard was successful because Whitney Houston was such an awesome singer and everybody likes Kevin Costner. That soundtrack that made a ton of money is mostly songs by Houston and probably would have been about as successful if it were just another one of her albums with no film attached, so I don’t think it should factor into the equation. As always I ask myself what I would watch if I were flipping thru the channels, and since I probably haven’t watched The Bodyguard since I saw it at the theater the answer is pretty clear.

 

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Speed

Release:                       6/10/94

Starring:                        Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper

Directed By:                 Jan de Bont (Twister)

vs.

Dazed & Confused

Release:                       9/24/93

Starring:                        Jason London, Rory Cochrane, Ben Affleck, Adam Goldberg, Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich, Joey Lauren Adams, Parker Posey

Directed By:                 Richard Linklater (School of Rock, Fast Food Nation)

 

Keanu Reeves first came into our pop culture consciousness in the late 1980’s as Valley Boy slacker Theodore Logan in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. But since one can’t portray dimwitted high schoolers forever he moved on to more serious roles in Point Break and My Own Private Idaho. And then came Speed. The thriller about a bus rigged with a bomb programmed to explode if it slows down below 50 mph thrust Reeves into superstardom and also introduced the world to Sandra Bullock. It was the 8th highest grossing film of 1994 and has an exceptional 94% Rotten Tomatoes score. Dazed & Confused is a Hindsight Film, meaning that it has remained relevant in large part based on what several of its young stars went on to become…especially McConaughey & Affleck. The movie itself is a slice of life look at the last day of school for a bunch of high schoolers in Austin, TX. It is set in 1976 so there is a lot of pot smoking, cruising, & hazing of younger students…things that wouldn’t fly in our modern PC purgatory, and had even diminished by the late 80’s when I was in high school. Dazed & Confused isn’t as much about a particular plot as it is about capturing a mood and painting a picture of an era, which it does really well. The cast is…obviously…stellar, and the soundtrack (featuring songs by Foghat, ZZ Top, Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Deep Purple, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kiss, & Black Sabbath) is terrific. It was only the 121st highest grossing film of 1993 but has become a cult classic in the ensuing years. It has a 93% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with Ebert referring to it as “art crossed with anthropology” and Rolling Stone calling it “the ultimate party movie…loud, crude, socially irresponsible, & totally irresistible”.

 

The Verdict:       Speed. I am hesitant to reward a film based largely on the fact that its casting director did a superb job of finding young unknowns who eventually became famous. Matthew McConaughey’s next project would be starring in A Time to Kill two years later and EdTV (a film ahead of its time) in 1999. Ben Affleck did a few decent films after Dazed & Confused, but in 1997 cemented his status by winning the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay after writing Good Will Hunting with his pal Matt Damon. Dazed & Confused is a fun flick that does an excellent job of creating a snapshot of not just a moment in time but a time in life that just about everyone fondly remembers even if the details vary. Having said that, I cannot overlook the cultural impact of Speed. It was a surprise phenomenon that dominated the summer box office in 1994. Bullock had previously been in a couple of decent films (Love Potion No. 9 and Demolition Man), but Speed made her a star and she’s still making movies two decades later.

 

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The Addams Family

Release:                       11/22/91

Starring:                        Anjelica Huston, Raúl Juliá, Christopher Lloyd, Christina Ricci

Directed By:                 Barry Sonnenfeld (Get Shorty, Men in Black, Wild Wild West)

vs.

 

Saving Private Ryan

Release:                       7/24/98

Starring:                        Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Ed Burns, Tom Sizemore, Adam Goldberg, Vin Diesel, Ted Danson, Paul Giamatti, Bryan Cranston

Directed By:                 Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T the Extra-Terrestrial, Hook, Jurassic Park, Catch Me If You Can)

 

The Addams Family made their debut in a series of cartoons published in The New Yorker beginning in 1938. In the 1960’s the kooky clan came to television for two seasons, and although the show was cancelled due to poor ratings it lived on in syndication, to the point that I was watching it as a kid growing up in the 80’s. The Addams Family finally came to the big screen in 1991 in a tale that finds a greedy lawyer & a con artist scheming to get ahold of the Addams fortune that is hidden deep in the bowels of their creepy mansion. The con artist’s son just happens to look like Gomez Addams’ brother Uncle Fester who has been MIA for 25 years, so there’s your plot. Hijinks ensue and of course the evil plan goes off the rails, all in the midst of the oddball family’s usual weirdness. The cast is superb, the movie is entertaining enough, and critics didn’t completely hate it. The Addams Family was the 7th high grossing film of 1991 and its Rotten Tomatoes score of 63% is fairly solid. The New York Times said that its “aimlessness & repetitiveness eventually become draining”, Variety opined that “despite inspired casting and nifty visual trappings the eagerly awaited Addams Family figures as a major disappointment”, and Ebert observed that “there are a lot of little smiles and many chuckles & grins, but they don’t add up to much”. Conversely, the Austin Chronicle gushed that “it’s hard to imagine a better screen adaptation of this queer household….Charles Addams would have been proud”, while the BBC complimented the cast, saying that it “elevates this film from flimsy to sheer delight”. Saving Private Ryan is a totally different kind of movie from its competition. It is a gritty & unflinching look at D-Day and its aftermath when a team of U.S. Army rangers are given the task of finding & rescuing Private James Ryan, whose three brothers have all been killed in the war making him the only son remaining. The mission isn’t easy and there is violence & death along the way. This is not a romantic, sanitized, family friendly war movie, though I don’t feel like it is gratuitous either…it’s just very very candid. I won’t spoil the ending, but it is poignant & impactful. Saving Private Ryan was the highest grossing film of 1998, has an amazing Rotten Tomatoes score of 92%, & was nominated for 11 Academy Awards. It won five of those Oscars, including Spielberg’s second Best Director award. It was nominated for Best Picture but lost to Shakespeare in Love, which in retrospect might be the biggest travesty in award show history.

 

The Verdict:       Saving Private Ryan. I’ve got to be honest…I only watched Saving Private Ryan once twenty years ago and don’t have the desire to ever watch it again. That’s not because it’s a bad move (obviously), it’s just that on a lazy day of couch potatoing violent war films aren’t my thing. Having said that, I cannot in good conscience overlook it, not simply because of its pedigree but out of respect for the historical events that inspired the story. It goes without saying that Spielberg is terrific, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better or deeper cast in the entirety of cinema. It is a story that needed to be told, and thankfully it was told really well. The Addams Family is an innocuous & engaging comedy that actually got a sequel a few years later, though I must admit that I’ve never seen it. I am intrigued by an animated Addams movie set to be released in 2019, but all in all I am inclined to stick with reruns of the old TV show.

90’s Film Frenzy: Phat Round 1

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

 

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

 

*Re-Watchability        

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

 

*Relevance           

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

 

*Quotability         

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

 

*Cultural Impact 

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

 

*Pleasure            

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

 

*Pedigree 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Batman Returns

Release:             6/19/92

Starring:              Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer

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

 

vs.

 

Showgirls

Release:             9/22/95

Starring:              Elizabeth Berkley, Kyle MacLachlan, Gina Gershon

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

 

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

 

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

 

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The Mask

Release:             7/29/94

Starring:              Jim Carrey, Cameron Diaz

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

 

vs.

 

PCU

Release:             4/29/94

Starring:              Jeremy Piven, David Spade, Jon Favreau

 Directed By:       Hart Bochner (High School High)

 

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

 

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

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Clueless

Release:             7/19/95

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

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

 

vs.

 

Empire Records

Release:             9/22/95

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

Directed By:        Allan Moyle (Pump Up the Volume)

 

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

 

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

 

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Patch Adams

Release:             12/25/98

Starring:              Robin Williams, Monica Potter, Philip Seymour Hoffman

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

 

vs.

 

Black Sheep

Release:             2/2/96

Starring:              Chris Farley, David Spade, Tim Matheson

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

 

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

 

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

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Pulp Fiction

Release:                       10/14/94

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

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

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

vs.

 

Only the Lonely

Release:                       5/24/91

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Basic Instinct

Release:                       3/20/92

Starring:                        Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone

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

vs.

 

Big Daddy

Release:                       6/25/99

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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The Firm

Release:                       6/30/93

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

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

vs.

My Best Friend’s Wedding

Release:                       6/20/97

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Armageddon

Release:                       7/1/98

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

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

vs.

 

Clerks

Release:                       10/19/94

Starring:                        Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson

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

 

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

 

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

100 Memorable TV Characters…The Top 25

Television is an invention that permits you to be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your home.  –  David Frost

 

 

 

I am easily distracted and have a short attention span. In years past I could easily finish a 500 page book within a week, and not that long ago I would have completed a fun & frivolous project like this in 3 or 4 days, but the older I get the less I seem to be able to focus and the more time it takes me to complete a task. Perhaps I’m just bored with life in general. I don’t know. Anyway, y’all didn’t stop by for me to lay on the couch and have you analyze my neuroses. If you need to get caught up with how we arrived at this point please click here. Today we reach the summit and discuss the Top 25 most memorable television characters of all time (in my humble opinion). I don’t think there are too many surprises in store, but I could be wrong. I still believe that there are writers out there creating great characters in all forms of entertainment, but sadly I think nowadays those writers and thus their characters frequently embrace a gloomier, more solemn & complex vibe. There’s nothing wrong with complexity, but for pete’s sake most of us are just trying to relax, laugh a little, and escape from the tedium of the daily grind, not join a crusade about serious worldly issues. Hollywood has become far too enamored with promoting various agendas and has forgotten how to chill out & have fun. That’s my viewpoint anyway. Your mileage may vary and that’s alright. For now though let’s recognize & give kudos to times when those left coasters got it right. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

25     Alex P. Keaton (Family Ties)

Okay okay okay…I suppose Family Ties did have a quasi-political premise. It was the 80’s and Ronald Reagan had cast his spell on a huge portion of the country, which didn’t sit well with aging 60’s radicals. And so we got a sitcom about middle-aged former hippies raising a family in Columbus, OH, with their eldest son being a right leaning yuppie Republican. However, despite that general theme the show itself didn’t deviate much from standard nuclear family fare, except that it was funny and extremely well-written & performed. Alex Keaton isn’t your typical teenager. He wears a suit to school, carries a Richard Nixon lunchbox, reads the Wall Street Journal, and actually enjoys studying economics. While Alex is depicted as somewhat uptight and often disagrees with his parents’ opinions he is never shown to be a bad guy or antagonistic, and he’s actually rather comical. He loves his family and they love him. There is a reasonably fair-minded presentation of differing worldviews, which has become all too rare just a few decades later.

 

 

24     Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Star Trek)

Dammit Manoverse…he’s a doctor, not a writer!! Admittedly my love for Bones McCoy began with the half dozen Star Trek movies produced in the 1980’s because that was my first exposure to Trek, but rest assured that he’s the same cantankerous curmudgeon even in the original series…just a few decades younger. He’s the voice of reason that tempers the reactionary passion of his captain and injects humanity into the detached analysis of the ship’s science officer. He’s also really funny and has some of the best one liners.

 

 

23     Luke Spencer (General Hospital)

Lucas Lorenzo Spencer emerged as one of the more provocatively popular leading men in soap history a few decades ago, a real accomplishment for a character that was intended to disappear after a few months. Instead, Luke’s stay in Port Charles lasted…off & on…for nearly four decades. He famously falls for beautiful young Laura Webber and rapes her at a college disco, a deed that would normally brand a character as a villain. However, Laura loves him, so Luke is redeemed and becomes a good guy. Luke & Laura’s wedding in 1982 had 30 million television viewers, which still has to be some sort of record. Over the years Luke evolved into a beloved scoundrel, always ready for an escapade or hatching a scheme to proliferate his bank account. He is the quintessential soap hero, constantly engaged in battle with the dastardly Cassadine clan while exhibiting fierce loyalty to his family, especially son Lucky, Aunt Ruby, & sister Bobbie. Luke & Laura both die and return to life a couple of times as soap characters tend to do, and eventually end their marriage. Luke moves on with bitchy socialite Tracey Quartermaine, which is arguably a more enjoyable pairing. He is a restless soul and always finds himself in hot water, but somehow makes it thru. Alcoholism becomes an issue, as well as horrible childhood memories that had been repressed for decades, both of which add layers of complexity to Luke but weren’t well-received plot points by GH fans who prefer their fun-loving scalawag instead of a depressed, broken, suicidal old man. Luke left Port Charles a few years ago and is presumably living a life of adventure somewhere in Europe.

 

 

22     Shaggy Rogers (Scooby-Doo)

Actually his given first name is Norville. Of course he is Scooby’s owner/master (or whatever title you prefer), and the two are inseparable. Shaggy is the prototypical slacker, an animated homage to Bohemian beatnik Maynard G. Krebbs from the early 60’s sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Unlike his friends, who bravely seek to solve mysteries they encounter, Shaggy is a chicken who runs at the first sign of trouble. He mostly prefers to hang out with his dog and take it easy. Oddly enough they both seem to always have the munchies, though I have no idea what that’s all about. Well-known radio personality Casey Kasem voiced Shaggy for four decades.

 

 

21     Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created the world’s foremost consulting detective in 1887, writing four novels & 56 short stories about Holmes and his trusty wingman Dr. Watson over the course of four decades. Since then Holmes has had a long life in films, television, radio, stage plays, & any other entertainment outlet imaginable. At one time Guinness had Holmes listed as the most portrayed fictional character in history, though I believe Santa Claus & Dracula are right there with him. At any rate, though (surprisingly) I have never seen Benedict Cumberbatch’s well-regarded interpretation of the treasured detective in BBC’s series Sherlock, I do fondly recall the late Jeremy Brett’s depiction in an 80’s series that ran here in America on PBS. There were 41 episodes of Sherlock Holmes, each rather faithfully adapting one of Conan Doyle’s stories. I’m sure that all 60 would have been produced had it not been for the untimely death of Brett at the age of 61. Most rankings & polls out there rate Brett’s version of Holmes as one of the 2 or 3 best, and I wholeheartedly concur.

 

 

20     Mork from Ork (Mork & Mindy)

Robin Williams was a force of nature (and cocaine)…a legendary comedian who evolved into one of the most significant actors of a generation. His acting career was launched on a 1978 episode of Happy Days in which he portrays a goofy alien from outer space who wants to take Richie Cunningham back to his home planet as a human specimen. Mork got his own spinoff in which he lands in Colorado and befriends the young & beautiful Mindy, even telling her the truth about his identity. Mork lives in Mindy’s basement for four seasons, with the two eventually falling in love, getting married, & having a “baby” (hilariously played by legendary comedian Jonathan Winters). The show itself was never great, but it was a showcase for Williams’ peerless talent and an indication of great things to come.

 

 

19     Les Nessman (WKRP in Cincinnati)

Persnickety newsman Les Nessman is probably the most overlooked part of WKRP’s greatness. Johnny Fever & Venus Flytrap are cooler, receptionist Jennifer Marlowe is sexier, & clueless boss Mr. Carlson gets a lot of laughs, but Les is the comedic gem of the ensemble. Unlike his laid-back colleagues Les is super serious about his job, approaching it as if he is an important journalist breaking momentous news on a major media outlet, whereas in reality he’s the newsman for a smallish radio station at which rock n’ roll pays the bills and news is not essential at all. Despite his erudite demeanor & professorial appearance Les is a total dufus and completely incompetent. His only area of expertise seems to be husbandry, for which he has won a Silver Sow Award and multiple Buckeye Newshawk Awards, accomplishments for which he is quite proud. He amusingly likes to imagine that his cubicle is an office, putting tape on the floor where walls would be and demanding that his co-workers knock on the imaginary door. Les Nessman’s shining moment is the 1978 Thanksgiving episode Turkeys Away, during which he gives dire news updates on a promotional gimmick initiated by Mr. Carlson that goes horribly yet hysterically awry.

 

 

18     Cliff Clavin (Cheers)

Actor John Ratzenberger originally auditioned for the role of Norm Peterson, but when he didn’t get the part he asked the producers if they had a bar know-it-all in the cast, and thus the part of blowhard mailman Cliff was created. Cliff is a middle-aged momma’s boy who is terrible with women, and like the rest of his cohorts he’s a loveable loser that would come across as sad & pathetic in reality, but somehow works as a sitcom character. The funny thing is that we’ve all known people like Cliff that are mostly full of bull and try our patience when we’re in their presence for any length of time, but despite their faults we kind of like having them around.

 

 

17     Chandler, Monica. Ross, Rachel, Joey, & Phoebe (Friends)

In retrospect Friends was better than most of us realized at the time. Oh sure it was popular, ranking as a Top 5 hit in nine of its ten seasons, and the cast became superstars, but if you watch it now in syndication almost fifteen years after the final episode aired what you realize is what a well-written & performed show it was. I can’t single out any one character from the ensemble because I feel like each was a vital part of the program’s success. Monica Geller is an OCD fussbudget, a chef by trade who acts as the de facto glue that holds the group together. Monica’s brother Ross is a neurotic paleontologist whose ex-wife became a lesbian. Ross’ best friend is Chandler Bing, a sarcastic business executive. Chandler lives across the hall from Monica with Joey Tribbiani, a dimwitted yet kindhearted struggling actor who is a bit of a ladies’ man. Monica’s childhood friend Rachel Green, a self-absorbed rich girl who left her fiancé at the altar, shows up and becomes Monica’s roommate in the inaugural episode. Rounding out the group is hippy dippy massage therapist & quirky songwriter Phoebe Buffay. They mostly assemble in Monica & Rachel’s apartment, Chandler & Joey’s place, or at the local Central Perk coffeehouse. Ross’ unrequited love for Rachel and their subsequent on again/off again relationship is a principal focus of the show thru the years, and in later seasons Chandler & Monica become involved & get married. I’m not sure it’s fair to say that any of them are accurate illustrations of real 20/30-somethings, but some of their issues do ring true and did so at a time in my life where I really appreciated that connection.

 

 

16         Fred Sanford (Sanford & Son)

For some reason Fred, an elderly black junk dealer from south central Los Angeles, always reminded me of my paternal grandfather, a retired Italian-American coal miner from West Virginia. Perhaps it is because my Papaw was a fan of the show. Fred is a widower who lives with his middle-aged son Lamont and runs his business out of his home. Fred is a feisty old dude, never hesitating to mix it up with sister-in-law Esther, next door neighbor Julio, or Lamont’s best buddy Rollo. Though he & Lamont appear to be close he is quick to belittle his son, often calling him a big dummy. Fred is oftentimes shown to be bigoted, which is played for laughs but probably wouldn’t fly with the modern day PC Police, and he is rather lazy as well as a bit of a manipulator. By far Fred’s most enduring legacy is when he would find himself in a tight spot or on the verge of having one of his harebrained schemes exposed, at which time he’d fake a heart attack and proclaim “This is the big one! You hear that, Elizabeth?? I’m coming to join you honey!!”.

 

 

15     Louie DePalma (Taxi)

Danny DeVito has had a moderately successful film career, appearing in movies like Romancing the Stone, Ruthless People, Throw Momma from the Train, Twins, Batman Returns, & Deck the Halls, but his first taste of fame came via 80’s sitcom Taxi. Louie is the dispatcher at the Sunshine Cab Company and acts as if he’s the boss, although in retrospect I’m not sure if he had any kind of authority or just likes to pretend that he does. He is a misogynistic & unscrupulous schemer who shows zero respect for any of his colleagues and is rarely at a loss for words, usually of the demeaning & insulting variety. His diminutive size coupled with an arrogant, abrasive attitude are indicative of a classic Napoleon complex. However, despite his faults Louie oftentimes does the right thing, and, in contrast to his coarse exterior, deep down there’s a big ol’ soft heart that makes an appearance on occasion.

 

 

14     Ari Gold (Entourage)

I have no idea if life in Hollywood is as…colorful…as it is depicted on Entourage, but if there really is an agent like Ari Gold I’m not sure if an actor should sign with him without hesitation or run away as fast as possible. He is ill-mannered, foul-mouthed, arrogant, belligerent, & somewhat deceitful, but is also shown to be really good at his job and truly concerned about his clients, especially rising star Vincent Chase. In contrast to Vince & his buddies, who enjoy basking in the party lifestyle like a bunch of wealthy & carefree delinquents, Ari is a faithful husband & father whose biggest fault just might be hardcore dedication to his career. Ari is one of those rare characters that demands attention, stealing every scene in which he appears.

 

 

13     Dr. Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory)

Far be it for me to fall into the “prisoner of the moment” trap, but after a decade on the air I don’t think it is an overreaction to consider Sheldon one of the best characters in television history. While TBBT writers have done a good job of remaining faithful to the ensemble dynamic of the show and still give a fair amount of screen time & storyline to everyone, it is undeniable that Sheldon is the breakout character, especially since the 9 year old version of him is already starring in a spinoff even as the original show remains one of the highest rated programs on television. I watched the first episode of Young Sheldon, but it just didn’t pique my interest. In TBBT thirtysomething Sheldon is a theoretical physicist, a genius with an eidetic memory and a total lack of social skills or emotional intelligence. He is egotistical, peculiar, somewhat irrational, & oftentimes childish. He & his pals are classic geeks who love comic books, technology, & sci-fi but know next to nothing about sports, pop culture, contemporary music, or current events. His mother is a devout Christian, and Sheldon’s devotion to science causes him to view her faith with derision, a foible that has troubled me a bit on occasion. Sheldon is an extremely well-written character whose physical comedy is an underrated portion of what has been an award winning performance.

 

 

12     Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane (The Dukes of Hazzard)

Is he a bad guy?? Not really. Is he corrupt?? I suppose, but not in the traditional sense. It’s more accurate to say that Rosco is a weak-minded follower who is easily led astray by his greedy brother-in-law Boss Hogg. It is initially revealed that Rosco had served with integrity for 20 years, but got screwed out of his pension just as he was on the verge of retirement (Dukes was a show ahead of its time). He joins in Boss’ schemes in order to get back the money he lost. All traces of bitterness soon fade away though, as Rosco evolves into a simpleminded, inept, & comical lawman. His constant companion is a lethargic basset hound named Flash, and despite his own foolishness he consistently calls deputies Enos & Cletus dipsticks. He enjoys “hot pursuit”, but it usually doesn’t work out well as he oftentimes seems to “scuff his vehicle”. Rosco genuinely cares about Boss Hogg but is also intimidated & taken advantage of by him, rarely getting more than a small fraction of whatever windfall the duo earns from their deceitful plots. He doesn’t seem to have any genuine beef with the Dukes but is regularly ordered to chase them by Boss Hogg, though they rarely get caught & easily escape when they do end up in jail. Much like Hogg, Sheriff Rosco is portrayed as far more sinister in the 2005 big screen adaptation, which is another strike against that film.

 

 

11     Gomer Pyle (The Andy Griffith Show and Gomer Pyle USMC)

Television viewers have a love/hate relationship with spinoffs. Sometimes they work, but oftentimes they fall way short of expectations. Gomer Pyle USMC lands somewhere in the middle, which isn’t intended to be negative…it’s just that it’s almost impossible to measure up to TAGS. Gomer appears in Seasons 3 & 4 of TAGS and was introduced because the actor who portrayed Floyd the Barber had a stroke and was off the show for awhile. Like most residents of Mayberry Gomer is an unsophisticated bumpkin with a friendly & gentle disposition. He works at Wally’s Filling Station and is alternately shown to know nothing about automobiles or to be an expert mechanic (TAGS had issues with continuity). He is always willing to help out when needed and is deputized by the police on several occasions, though he proves to be a totally incompetent lawman. On a few occasions Jim Nabors is able to show off his real life singing talent. Any episode of TAGS with Gomer is even more of a delight than usual, which is probably why he was given a spinoff. That show lasted for five seasons and features Gomer as he enlists in the Marine Corps and clashes with hard-nosed drill instructor Sergeant Carter. It’s a classic fish-out-of-water story, with a bit of an Odd Couple vibe thrown into the mix. I like the TAGS version of Gomer much more than I like him in the spinoff, but that probably has more to do with the overall quality of the two shows rather than the character. When Gomer leaves Mayberry the void is filled by his cousin Goober, but I’ve never enjoyed Goober as much as Gomer.

 

 

 

Television is like a library. There are a lot of library books in it, and you have to pick and choose what you take out of it.  –  David L. Wolper

 

 

 

10     Rev. Jim Ignatowski (Taxi)

The third member of the Taxi cast to make the cut is a spaced-out relic from the 60’s who might be the most entertaining dopehead not named Cheech or Chong. Iggy grew up wealthy, but his Mom died when he was very young and his father was a busy doctor, so he was mostly raised by servants. He was extremely intelligent and attended Harvard, but in a comical twist on the whole Adam & Eve/forbidden fruit concept is goaded by his girlfriend into eating a marijuana laced brownie, which leads to him permanently becoming an eccentric & absentminded burnout. Jim’s random tangents that have nothing to do with the topic of conversation are hysterical, especially when he completely forgets whatever point he thought he wanted to make. Occasional glimpses of his former intellect & deep thinking skills sneak thru the fog and he says something profound, which of course takes everyone by surprise. Iggy once opined “You know the really great thing about television? If something important happens, anywhere in the world, night or day… you can always change the channel”, which kind of sums up how I feel about TV nowadays. In an early Season 2 episode titled “Reverend Jim: A Space Odyssey” the cabbies get Jim a job, but first they must take him to the DMV so he can pass the driver’s test and get his license. It is quintessential Iggy, and quite possibly one of the best sitcom moments of all time.

 

 

9       George Costanza (Seinfeld)

For some reason I really identified with George. He is Jerry’s best friend since junior high school, and becomes pals with Jerry’s other quirky cohorts. Jerry opines that George could have been normal, but isn’t mostly because of his crazy parents. He is a self-described “short, stocky, bald man” who is alternately bombastic & self-loathing. He always looks for the easiest way to do something, or even avoids doing it altogether. He’s awkward, impulsive, insecure, narcissistic, high-strung, occasionally devious, & not good at all with women. He has several relationships throughout the series, but always manages to screw it up. I am reminded of the 1999 film Office Space, in which the main protagonist states that “it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care”, except in George’s case he actually is lazy, though not necessarily stupid. Jerry Seinfeld made a brilliant choice when he decided to play straight man and let his co-stars be the wacky oddballs with most of the comedic moments.

 

 

8       Dr. Frasier Crane (Cheers and Frasier)

Frasier Crane has the distinction of being one of the two longest running live action characters in television history, appearing in nine seasons of Cheers and, of course, all eleven seasons of the eponymous spinoff Frasier, for a total of twenty years on the air. He’d probably deserve a spot on this list for that alone, but there is so much more to love. Dr. Crane first appears in the third season of Cheers as the new beau of waitress Diane Chambers. The two are kindred spirits…pretentious intellectuals that don’t really fit into the working class pub dynamic. Alas, Diane can’t fight her attraction to bar owner Sam Malone and eventually leaves Frasier at the altar. Even after Diane departs Cheers at the end of the fifth season Frasier sticks around and becomes a regular part of the group, eventually marrying then divorcing aloof fellow psychiatrist Lilith and fathering a son with her named Frederick. When Cheers concludes Frasier moves back to his hometown of Seattle to help his brother Niles care for their father Martin, a police officer forced to retire after being shot in the line of duty. In Seattle Frasier hosts a radio talk show, so there is interaction with eccentric callers & quirky work colleagues in addition to the familial relationships. Frasier is a bit more masculine than his brother, but is just as much of a pompous elitist. He is passionate about theater, fine art, literature, & gourmet food, but because of his time in Boston is considerate toward his blue collar father’s lifestyle & hobbies, though he by no means shares those proclivities. It almost seems as if he might be bipolar because he can transition from eloquently helping a caller on his radio show in a soothing & melodious tone into an indignant fit of rage just minutes later, something that happens in nearly every episode. Despite being an alleged expert in helping other people solve their issues Frasier does not understand his own complexities and doesn’t have a great track record with the ladies. In addition to the doomed engagement to Diane & divorce from Lilith he dates a plethora of women in Seattle, but nothing ever seems to work out.

 

 

7       The Dynamic Duo (Batman)

Nearly every incarnation of Batman stays true to his gloomy origins as an orphaned billionaire who becomes a crime fighting vigilante after his parents are murdered in the gritty, violent, & sinister milieu of Gotham City. Robin is originally a young boy in a family of acrobats who witnesses his parents die in an accident arranged by a mobster, and is afterwards taken in by Bruce Wayne who becomes his legal guardian. But all of that melancholy stuff is set aside in the 1966 action sitcom that aired for three seasons on ABC. Dick Grayson (aka Robin) is still the “youthful ward” (now a teenager) of billionaire Bruce Wayne (aka Batman), and the two team up to fight crime in Gotham City, but the atmosphere is bright, the dialogue is cleverly corny, the villains are hardly intimidating, & the end result is delightfully absurd. Adam West’s interpretation of Bruce Wayne/Batman is funny because the character takes every situation so seriously, delivering his lines in a solemn & melodramatic tone. This incarnation of Robin is enthusiastic & peppy, but not annoyingly so. The entire show is cheeky & whimsical, a definite departure from the norm and a risky choice that paid off. Joel Schumacher’s 1997 film Batman & Robin starring George Clooney as The Caped Crusader attempted to borrow the cheesy vibe, but it fell flat because…well, let’s face it…Clooney isn’t Adam West.

 

 

6       Archie & Edith Bunker (All in the Family)

Contrary to popular belief the idea of Hollywood idealists using their entertainment platform to promote an agenda and talk down to the masses about issues that common folks in flyover country are allegedly ignorant about isn’t a brand new concept conceived in the 21st century…it’s just that they used to be much better at it. Norman Lear did a lot of it in the 1970’s and did it quite well, creating shows like Sanford & Son, One Day at a Time, Maude, Good Times, & The Jeffersons. By far his greatest creation was All in the Family, centering on a working class family in Queens, NY. The head of the household is Archie Bunker, an ill-tempered, opinionated, & narrow-minded loading dock foreman. He is an equal opportunity contrarian who insults just about every minority, religion, & nationality. He is especially dismissive of his ultra-liberal son-in-law, who he calls Meathead. However, despite his gruff exterior, deep down Archie is a loving & decent man who cares about his family and friends, though he often becomes impatient with wife Edith, who he calls Dingbat. Edith is rather ditzy, but she’s usually quite jovial & compassionate, the sort of person who might get on one’s nerves but you just can’t help but like. She’s a bit of a throwback…a submissive & dedicated wife, mother, and grandmother that would be scoffed at by modern day feminists. The Bunkers are extreme caricatures certainly created to make a point. Archie is intended as a mean-spirited dig at conservative values, while Edith’s kindhearted yet naïve subservience is meant as negative commentary on the traditional but allegedly outdated idea of the stay-at-home housewife. But an odd & unexpected thing happened…the audience actually liked & identified with them. Fans understood that conservatives aren’t really evil racists and easily dismissed many of Archie’s more exaggerated traits while realizing that some of his views had merit. They were able to chuckle at Edith’s comical zaniness while recognizing that being a traditional housewife isn’t a horrible thing. People saw thru the self-righteous poppycock of Meathead and agreed with Archie’s assessment of him. Decades later folks who are now much more aware of media bias can clearly see how Lear attempted to manipulate the conversation…and how he failed miserably.

 

 

5       Arthur Fonzarelli (Happy Days)

Fonzie was never intended to be a significant part of the Happy Days cast. He is introduced as a local mechanic who Ritchie & Potsie occasionally bump into at Arnold’s Drive-In. He didn’t even wear a leather jacket at first because the powers-that-be were concerned about him looking too much like a hoodlum (which is old school slang for what we’d now call a gang member). But Fonzie is too awesome to be held down by The Man, and eventually became a central part of the show. He’s all about being cool and chillin’ with the ladies. He has the ability to make a jukebox work with the pounding of his fist, and women flock to him with the snap of a finger. Richie, Potsie, & Ralph Malph all look to Fonzie for advice about various issues, and the Cunninghams treat him like a member of the family. In the beginning he is a high school dropout, but eventually completes his education, and at various points owns a garage, is part owner of Arnold’s, & even becomes a high school teacher. Fonzie’s oddest contribution to pop culture is the 1977 fifth season opener in which, after helping a couple of Hollywood producers passing thru Milwaukee deal with mechanical issues, he finds himself in Tinseltown for a movie audition. While there he is challenged by an obnoxious jerk to a water skiing duel (a laughable idea at best). During the competition Fonzie literally leaps over a tiger shark in the water. Though Happy Days would continue for six more seasons that episode was cited by some as a moment indicative of a decline in quality, therefore popularizing the term “jumping the shark”. Fonzie became so popular that some wanted to rename the show Fonzie’s Happy Days, but actor Henry Winkler adamantly refused and insisted that Ron Howard continue to receive top billing. I believe that, even to this day, more than thirty years after Happy Days went off the air, one can still see Fonzie’s leather jacket on display at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC, which is a pretty cool legacy.

 

 

4       Captain Kirk & Mister Spock (Star Trek)

This may be the strangest variation on the Odd Couple formula ever seen on television. James Tiberius Kirk hails from Iowa and is Starfleet’s youngest & best yet most rebellious officer. While a student at Starfleet Academy he is the only person to ever overcome a training exercise called the Kobayashi Maru, a moral dilemma and no-win scenario that Kirk defeats by reprogramming the computer. Though his solution is what most would consider cheating he is actually commended for original thinking. That one story sets the stage for everything we see afterward from Captain Kirk. He is brash, passionate, bold, dedicated, & extremely smart. He thinks outside the box and doesn’t back down from a fight. The yin to Kirk’s yang is his science officer Mr. Spock, a half alien whose mother is human while his father is Vulcan. Spock exhibits many Vulcan traits, primarily the predisposition to rely on logic & reason and leave emotion out of their thought process. It is this ability that enables Spock to balance Kirk’s intensity and inclination to jump in with both feet. Spock can present all the options to Kirk along with every possible outcome. Conversely, since Spock is essentially a computer with legs it is Kirk that oftentimes explains concepts like feelings, humor, & emotions to him, helping him to make sense out of the foolish & illogical things that human beings tend to do. The two men don’t always understand each other, but have immense respect & admiration for one another and might have been television’s first bromance.

 

 

3       JR Ewing (Dallas)

Entertainment used to be very clear about the differences between heroes & villains. In old westerns the good guys would literally wear white cowboy hats, while the bad guys would wear black hats (an idea some would undoubtedly consider racist nowadays). However, somewhere along the line the concept of the anti-hero became prevalent, wherein a character might not necessarily be evil but certainly has dubious ethics & selfish motives. JR Ewing is the eldest son of a wealthy oil baron who eventually takes over the family business. He loves his family, but tends to love his money just a little bit more. Dallas originally intended to focus on the Romeo & Juliet-esque romance of JR’s younger brother Bobby and his new wife Pam, the daughter of patriarch Jock Ewing’s most bitter enemy, but JR’s penchant for screwing over everyone…business rivals, his family, his wife…with a sly grin on his face made him the character everyone loved to hate. It was always a treat to see who JR was going to cheat, shake down, intimidate, & defeat next. He is always a few steps ahead of everyone else, especially the honorable & benevolent Bobby, as well as Cliff Barnes, Bobby’s inept brother-in-law and JR’s spirited but overmatched nemesis. Dallas reached its pinnacle at the end of Season 3 when it popularized the concept of the cliffhanger after an unknown assailant tried to murder JR Ewing. During the entire summer of 1980 America was abuzz with the question “Who shot JR??”, a mystery that was solved that November in what remains the third most watched television episode in history, bested only by the series finales of MASH & Cheers. I was a kid when Dallas was on the air, and one of my most cherished memories is what a kick my Dad got out of it whenever JR was revealed to be the dastardly mastermind behind a scheme that had vanquished Cliff, Bobby & Pam, JR’s wife Sue Ellen, or one of Ewing Oil’s many adversaries. Dad was genuinely entertained by JR Ewing in a way that few people seem to be by anything on television these days.

 

 

2       Cosmo Kramer (Seinfeld)

Seinfeld has four of its characters on this list…two of them in the Top 10. Kramer lives in an apartment across the hall from Jerry and has been described as a “hipster dufus”, although I’m not exactly sure what that means. He has a unique fashion sense, as well as peculiar tastes in things like food, sports, cigars, & women. He is neurotic in a way unseen on television before or since, fearing clowns & mice and having seizures whenever he hears the voice of Entertainment Tonight host Mary Hart.  In nearly every episode Kramer busts into Jerry’s apartment with a combination smile & look of perpetual amazement. He doesn’t seem to have a job and supports himself with get rich quick schemes & wacky entrepreneurial ideas, sports betting, publishing a coffee table book about coffee tables, & a brief but lucrative gig as an underwear model. To call him quirky or eccentric would be an epic understatement. His philosophies & perspectives aren’t by any means normal, yet they oftentimes make sense in a way one would have never imagined to be possible. Kramer really isn’t comparable to any other character in any form of entertainment. He is a unique creation, with credit given to Seinfeld’s stellar writing as well as actor Michael Richards’ flawless physical comedy.

 

 

1       Deputy Barney Fife (The Andy Griffith Show)

TAGS can easily be separated into two eras…its first five seasons and then its final three. While it’s true that those two time periods are most easily distinguished by the fact that Seasons 1-5 were broadcast in black & while before switching to color in the latter three years, a more significant difference is the departure of Barney Fife at the end of the fifth season. Barney is the excitable & ham-fisted deputy in Mayberry. Early on we are told that he is Andy Taylor’s cousin, but that relationship was only alluded to a couple of times and from then on the two are merely lifelong best friends & co-workers. Barney reminds me a bit of WKRP’s Les Nessman in the sense that he takes his job very seriously and is hilariously overzealous. There are also shades of Cheers’ Cliff Claven, with Barney’s incompetent attempts to present himself as a know-it-all when the truth is that he has no clue what he’s doing or talking about. Barney’s bravado is poorly disguised window dressing for tremendous neuroses and low self-esteem, and Andy selflessly goes above & beyond to save his deputy’s fragile ego on multiple occasions. Everyone likes Barney but few respect him, and respect is what he craves. He tends to overreact, while Andy is laid-back & steady. Barney is emotional, anxious, & easily taken advantage of by others, but despite his numerous shortcomings he is the heart of TAGS, and his absence during the program’s latter three seasons left a hole that was never quite filled. In Season 6 Floyd the Barber’s nephew Warren Ferguson becomes Mayberry’s new deputy, but he only lasted 11 episodes before the character was never heard from or spoken of again. Immediately following actor Don Knotts’ exit TAGS played with the idea of making a character who’d been introduced as a banjo player at a carnival the new deputy, but actor Jerry Van Dyke declined the opportunity. In hindsight the plan might have actually worked out for the show, but obviously that didn’t occur. Gomer Pyle’s cousin Goober was given the primary role as Andy’s sidekick, but I never really warmed up to Goober. As I’ve stated previously the final three seasons of TAGS were just dandy and it is still terrific TV, but it just isn’t the same, and I can’t think of any better example of a character’s exodus so significantly altering the fabric of a show.

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: 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.