80’s Movie Mania…A Fatal Four Way Finale

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

The Contenders

 

The Blues Brothers

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

 

Dead Poets Society

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

 

National Lampoon’s Vacation

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

 

Airplane!

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

 

 

 

 

Elimination 1

Dead Poets Society

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

 

Elimination 2

National Lampoon’s Vacation

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

 

The Runner Up

Airplane!

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

 

 

 

and finally…….

 

 

 

80’s Movie Mania Champion


The Blues Brothers

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

80’s Movie Mania…The Elite Eight

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Radical

Dead Poets Society    vs.     This Is Spinal Tap

 

Re-Watchability                           rw4                                                         

Relevance       rw4                                                   

Quotability                spinal_tap_-_up_to_eleven                                                                               

Cultural Impact                           spinal_tap_-_up_to_eleven                                                            

Pleasure                                                    rw4                                                               

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

 

 

Bodacious

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

 

Re-Watchability                               vacation4

Relevance                             fb                                                                    

Quotability                                 vacation4     

Cultural Impact                                                                    fb                    

Pleasure              vacation4                            

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

 

 

Tubular

The Breakfast Club   vs.   The Blues Brothers

 

Re-Watchability                                      bb6

Relevance     bclub2

Quotability      bb6

Cultural Impact      bclub2

Pleasure  bb6

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

 

 

Gnarly

Uncle Buck                  vs.          Airplane!

 

Re-Watchability                                                                               airplane3                              

Relevance                                                                                                      airplane3

Quotability                                        airplane3                                                                                                  

Cultural Impact                                                                 airplane3              

Pleasure                                                                     airplane3

                                            

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

80’s Movie Mania…The Sweet Sixteen – Part 1

80sWe began with 84 of the coolest films from the 1980’s and now we have narrowed the field to 16. I feel like I have said everything there is to say about the remaining competitors, from rehashing the plot to giving props to the actors & directors to film reviews to box office grosses. I’ve even thrown in tidbits of interesting trivia. What else is left to say?? The next couple of rounds will be much less…loquacious…because I really don’t want to be monotonous, especially since this is the cream of the crop. These are the films that defined the youth of an entire generation. These are the films that 80’s kids are still watching over & over because they are that entertaining. These are the films that have lasted, that still resonate on some level…whether they make us laugh, think, rock out, or simply remember a simpler time…three decades after their initial run. That doesn’t happen often. I often wonder what kids growing up today will be watching when they are middle-aged. I am sure they have their particular touchstones, yet I can’t help but feel that no group of movie lovers had it better than my generation. I could legitimately end this exercise right now and call it a 16-way tie…but I won’t. Please join me as we move forward.

 

 

Radical

 

dps3

Released:     6/2/89

Starring:        Robin Williams, Ethan Hawke, Josh Charles

Director:        Peter Weir (Witness, The Truman Show)

Awards:        Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, & Best Actor (Robin Williams), nominated for Golden Globes in all the same categories

Box Office:   $236 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  85% Fresh

Quotes:         “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering…these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love…these are what we stay alive for.”

“They’re not that different from you. Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But, if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen. You hear it? Carpe – – hear it? – – carpe, carpe diem. Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”

Miscellaneous:        The part of John Keating was once intended for Dustin Hoffman. It was also going to be Hoffman’s directorial debut before he withdrew from the film. Robin Williams was in a sober mood during filming, as he was going through a divorce at the time, and there was no joking around between takes.

 

vs.

 

fast3

Released:     8/13/82

Starring:        Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Forest Whitaker, Ray Walston, Phoebe Cates

Director:        Amy Heckerling (National Lampoon’s European Vacation, Clueless)

Awards:        none

Box Office:   $27 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  78% Fresh

Quotes:         “All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I’m fine.”

Miscellaneous:        Awesome soundtrack, featuring songs from Sammy Hagar, Jackson Browne, Joe Walsh, The Go-Go’s, Don Henley, Quarterflash, Poco, Donna Summer, Stevie Nicks, Oingo Boingo, & Jimmy Buffett. The screenplay was written by Cameron Crowe, writer/director of hits like Say Anything, Jerry Maguire, & Almost Famous.

 

 

The Verdict:       Dead Poets Society. By any objective measure it is the better film. Fast Times deserves kudos for a cast that went on to have successful careers, a great soundtrack, & generally representing the quintessential 80’s vibe. Those are all good things, but I like Dead Poets Society more.

 

 

 

stap      

Released:     3/2/84

Starring:        Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer               

Director:        Rob Reiner (Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, A Few Good Men, The American President)

Awards:        on multiple lists as one of the funniest movies ever made

Box Office:   $5 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  95% Fresh

Quotes:         “I don’t really think that the end can be assessed as of itself as being the end because what does the end feel like? It’s like saying when you try to extrapolate the end of the universe, you say, if the universe is indeed infinite, then how – what does that mean? How far is all the way, and then if it stops, what’s stopping it, and what’s behind what’s stopping it? So, what’s the end, you know, is my question to you.”

“There’s something about this that’s so black, it’s like how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.”

“We’re very lucky in the band in that we have two visionaries, David and Nigel. They’re like poets, like Shelley and Byron. They’re two distinct types of visionaries. It’s like fire & ice, basically. I feel my role in the band is to be somewhere in the middle of that, kind of like lukewarm water.”

“He died in a bizarre gardening accident.”

“I think that the problem may have been, that there was a Stonehenge monument on the stage that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf. Alright? That tended to understate the hugeness of the object.”

“It’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where? Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do? Eleven. Exactly. One louder. These go to eleven.”

Miscellaneous:        Not a box office hit, but found great success and a cult following when released on home video.

 

 vs.

et3

Released:     6/11/82          

Starring:        Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote

Director:        Steven Spielberg

Awards:        won Oscars for Best Original Score (John Williams), Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, & Best Visual Effects, nominated for Best Picture, won Golden Globes for Best Picture & Best Score, won L.A. Critics Award for Best Picture, won multiple Saturn Awards

Box Office:   $793 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  98% Fresh

Quotes:         “E.T. phone home.”

Miscellaneous:        ET’s face was modeled after poet Carl Sandburg, Albert Einstein, and a pug dog. The filmmakers had wanted M&M’s to be used to lure E.T. instead of Reese’s Pieces, but the Mars Company denied their request so Reese’s Pieces were used instead. As a direct result Reese’s Pieces’ sales skyrocketed. More & more companies then began requesting that their products be used in movies. Thus, product placement was born.

 

The Verdict:       Spinal Tap. I suppose conventional wisdom would call this a pretty big upset. E.T. has the numbers, the accolades, & Spielberg. Spinal Tap has spontaneously combusting drummers, Lick My Love Pump, & Dana Carvey as a mime. Perhaps if I went back and watched E.T. again I’d remember why it was such a big deal and be convinced to make the predictable decision. But the fact is that I haven’t seen it in atleast two decades, and I shouldn’t have to be convinced to love something. I mean no disrespect…it’s just that I’ve seen Spinal Tap multiple times and it always makes me laugh, and in my world that means a lot.

 

 

Gnarly

 

khan

Released:     6/4/82

Starring:        William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Ricardo Montalban

Director:        Nicholas Meyer (The Day After)

Awards:        none

Box Office:   $97 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  88% Fresh

Quotes:         “I have been . . . and always shall be . . . your friend.”

“He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him. I’ll chase him round the Moons of Nibia and round the Antares Maelstrom and round Perdition’s flames before I give him up!”

Of my friend I can only say this. Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most…human.”

“KHHHHAAAAAAAAN!!!”

“From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee. For hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”

Miscellaneous:        The computer simulation of Genesis transforming a dead planet into a habitable one is the first complete computer-generated sequence ever used in a feature film. It is the brainchild of ex-Boeing engineer Loren Carpenter, whom after Boeing went on to join George Lucas Industrial Light and Magic. At Boeing in the late 1970s Carpenter discovered that Mandelbrot fractals could be used to create realistic mountain landscapes for computer animations of new aircraft designs, a previously intractable problem, and started a revolution in computer graphics and simulation. It is a running gag that there is a Federation embargo against Romulan Ale, but this still doesn’t prevent resourceful people like Dr. McCoy from procuring some for Admiral Kirk as a birthday present. It is viewed it as a forbidden status symbol, akin to Cuban cigars in the United States.

 

 vs.

 

airplane2

Released:     8/2/80

Starring:        Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack

Director:        Jim Abrams, David & Jerry Zucker (Ruthless People, The Naked Gun)

Awards:        on multiple lists as one of the funniest movies ever made

Box Office:   $130 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  97%

Quotes:         “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue!”

“Surely you can’t be serious?”       “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.”

“We have clearance, Clarence.”   “Roger, Roger. What’s our vector, Victor?”

Miscellaneous:        The filmmakers chose the lead actors because of their reputation for playing no-nonsense characters. Until this film these actors had not done comedy so their staid personas & line delivery made the satire in the movie even funnier. This is an aspect of the film modern viewers miss out on. Cameos include Ethel Merman, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Barbara Billingsley, Maureen McGovern, & Jimmie Walker. A sequel was made two years later, but it isn’t even in the same league as its predecessor.

 

The Verdict:       Airplane!. As a Trekkie it breaks my heart, but this is a necessary decision. The fact is that no matter how dearly I love it or how much money it has made films like Wrath of Khan appeal to a niche audience. Put 100 people in a room. Maybe 50 of them…if we’re being generous…are Trekkies. Now all of those Trekkies will likely agree that Wrath of Khan is awesome, but we’re still left with 50 people who couldn’t possible care less about Star Trek specifically or sci-fi in general. Conversely, when it comes to Airplane! there will likely be two types…those who have seen it and those who haven’t. Those who have seen it will almost unanimously agree that it’s hilarious, and those who haven’t seen it will quickly join the consensus after they watch. You’d be hard-pressed to find many people who don’t have a positive opinion of Airplane!. Of course none of this would matter if I disliked Airplane!…but I don’t.

 

 

 

footloose

Released:     2/17/84

Starring:        Kevin Bacon, John Lithgow, Lori Singer, Dianne Wiest, Sarah Jessica Parker

Director:        Herbert Ross (Funny Lady, The Goodbye Girl, Steel Magnolias)

Awards:        none

Box Office:   $80 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  54% Rotten

Quotes:         “Ecclesiastes assures us that there is a time for every purpose under heaven. A time to laugh and a time to weep. A time to mourn. And there is a time to dance. And there was a time for this law, but not anymore. See, this is our time to dance. It is our way of celebrating life. It’s the way it was in the beginning. It’s the way it’s always been. It’s the way it should be now.”

Miscellaneous:        Our old pal Ebert didn’t much care for Footloose, calling it “a seriously confused movie that tries to do three things and does all of them badly.” He went on to opine that its efforts to tell a story about conflict, introduce flashy teen characters, & be a “music video” all fall short of the mark. On the bright side, there is a fantastic soundtrack with songs from Kenny Loggins, Mike Reno & Ann Wilson, Deniece Williams, Bonnie Tyler, Shalamar, & Sammy Hagar. Of course I admit that it is a soundtrack that might only be awesome to those of us that were pre-teens or teenagers in 1984.

 

 

vs.

 

buck2

Released:     8/16/89

Starring:        John Candy, MacCaulay Culkin, Amy Madigan

Director:        John Hughes

Awards:        none

Box Office:   $79 million

Rotten Tomatoes:  64% Fresh

Quotes:         “I don’t think I want to know a six-year-old who isn’t a dreamer, or a sillyheart. And I sure don’t want to know one who takes their student career seriously. I don’t have a college degree. I don’t even have a job. But I know a good kid when I see one. Because they’re all good kids until dried-out, brain-dead skags like you drag them down and convince them they’re no good. You so much as scowl at my niece or any other kid in this school and I hear about it, I’m coming looking for you! Take this quarter, go downtown, and have a rat gnaw that thing off your face! Good day to you, madam.”

“I’m on to cigars now. I’m on to a five-year plan. I eliminated cigarettes, then I go to cigars, then I go to pipes, then I go to chewing tobacco, then I’m on to that nicotine gum.”

Miscellaneous:        The scene where Miles interrogates Chanice through the mail slot gave director John Hughes the idea for Home Alone.

 

The Verdict:       Uncle Buck. This result surprises me. Footloose is one of the signature films of the 1980’s. It made Kevin Bacon a huge star. But I cannot in good conscience allow a film with such negative reviews to go further, atleast not against such good competition. While it is true that 80’s Movie Mania is my creation, and without participation from the masses my judgement has played an even larger role than expected, I do respect the greater public perspective. That viewpoint seems to be that Footloose has a good soundtrack and produced a big movie star, but it is largely style over substance. I also feel like Uncle Buck is more…accessible. Footloose is beloved by those of us who were 12-17 years of age in 1984, but I’m not sure anyone much older or younger would appreciate its greatness.

80’s Movie Mania: Radical Round 3

Before we move forward it’s time to make a tough decision. Throughout this process I have attempted to minimize my own bias as much as possible, although it is an undeniable factor. I ask myself several questions. How popular is the movie?? Is the movie actually good?? Is the movie a worthy representation of 80’s cinema?? Has the movie held up well over time?? Is it shown on TV a lot?? Is it accessible & enjoyable to a wide audience?? Critics’ reviews can be instructive, but don’t always accurately reflect the attitude of the masses and can’t comprehend the status a film may have achieved in the subsequent decades after its release. Not to sound like a broken record, but all of these things are why I really wanted substantial involvement from The Manoverse. However since that isn’t happening I am forced to ask & answer these questions myself. Therefore, in what may be considered an upset by some, I am giving  Airplane! the 3rd Round victory over Top Gun in the Gnarly Division. Sorry Tom Cruise. So now that that’s done let’s move on.

 

 

 

Radical 3

 

Dead Poets Society    vs.     The Naked Gun

Robin Williams received his second Academy Award nomination for playing a kindhearted yet unconventional professor at a stodgy prep school in dps21950’s New England. The professor becomes very influential to a group of young lads, but when one of those boys gets so frustrated by his domineering father’s demands that he commits suicide it is the professor who receives the blame. Williams’ performance as Professor Keating is extraordinary, mostly reserved yet with hints of the actor’s well-known humor. There are a plethora of literary & poetic references, and the script is well-written. Dead Poet’s Society was the 10th highest grossing film of 1989, behind flashier fare like Batman, Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade, Back to the Future Part II, & Ghostbusters II, but ahead of solid competition like The War of the Roses, Steel Magnolias, Christmas ngVacation, & Field of Dreams. 1989 was a VERY good year indeed. The Naked Gun overcame challenges by Dragnet and Splash to make it this far. It has an 86% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and a 2012 Empire magazine poll ranked it the 7th best comedy of all time. Two sequels were made in the early 90’s, but neither recaptured the magic of the original. Word on the street is that a reboot is in the works, with Ed Helms possibly…or maybe not…taking over the lead role. We’ll see.

 

The Verdict:      Dead Poets Society. It’s just a damn fine film. There’s a sober tone, but enough humor is thrown into the mix to lighten the mood. Driving Miss Daisy won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1989, besting both Dead Poets Society AND Field of Dreams. In what sane universe does that kind of absurdity occur??

 

 

 

 

Big    vs.     Fast Times at Ridgemont High

bigTom Hank’s is a huge movie star now, with a couple of Academy Awards and numerous Golden Globes, Emmys, Peoples’ Choice, & other trophies sitting on his mantle. In 1988 his success was just hitting its stride, with memorable hits like Splash and Bachelor Party, as well as misses like Volunteers, The Money Pit, Nothing in Common, & Dragnet (although I really liked Dragnet). Hanks wouldn’t realize his full potential until the early 90’s, but Big gives us an early glimpse of his talent for gingerly straddling the comedy/drama line. He plays 12 year old Josh, whose wish to a carnival fortune telling machine to be “big” is mystically granted. The boy wakes up the next morning in the body of a 30 year old man. While trying to figure out his predicament Josh somehow ends up with an office job and a girlfriend. The charm of Big is watching Hanks never forget that he is portraying a young kid. His performance is charming and sneakily mesmerizing. Josh kind of likes playing in the grown-up world, but at the same time he misses his mother and yearns for the simplicity of childhood, a plight many adults can understand. Big earned ftTom Hanks his first Oscar nomination, although he ultimately lost the trophy to Dustin Hoffman (Rain Man). Fast Times has defeated Brighton Beach Memoirs and Spaceballs to make it to this point. The screenplay was written by Cameron Crowe, who ranks right up there in John Hughes territory and tells similar character based stories devoid of the violence & CGI induced odiousness that seems to be standard operating procedure these days. Crowe hasn’t been as prolific as Hughes, but he’s had a handful of hits, with Fast Times being his first success. The fantastic cast and pitch perfect soundtrack are ingredients for a triumphant recipe of 80’s pop culture.

 

The Verdict:      Fast Times. This is a decision that is very similar to the Top Gun vs. Airplane! matchup, though with differing results. You’ve got a quintessential 80’s film that went a long way toward defining the decade versus a definitively “better” film that doesn’t necessarily represent the 80’s in any meaningful way. Since this is 80’s Movie Mania I am inclined to give weight to movies that are more representative of a certain vibe, but I cannot overlook quality. Big is a good film and a pre-cursor of great things ahead for Tom Hanks, but if I am being honest Hanks is more of a star of the 90’s. Fast Times at Ridgemont High hits all the right 80’s notes and is a well-written film that has aged well.

 

 

 

Rain Man  vs.     E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

After receiving a first round bye Rain Man beat Night Shift in Round 2. It not only dominated awards season in 1988 but was the top grossing movie of the year. Director Barry Levinson is one of my favorites, with a filmography that includes Diner, The Natural, Good Morning Vietnam, History of the World Part 1, Tootsie, Disclosure, Quiz Show, The Perfect Storm, & Donnie Brasco. Levinson certainly isn’t afraid of being eclectic. Rain Man has a 90% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Siskel & Ebert both gave it a thumbs up, with Siskel calling Hoffman’s role “risky & thankless” and Cruise’s performance “the strength of the film”, while Ebert said the film “is about acceptance” and praised both Cruise & Hoffman’s performances. E.T. had a first round bye then upended Sixteen Candles in Round 2. To say that it dominated the box office in 1982 is an ET2understatement of epic proportions, as it more than doubled its closest competition. It is rare to find a big summer blockbuster that also has a heart and a well-written story, but history has shown that when Hollywood produces such greatness the masses respond. E.T. won four Oscars, but none of the “major” ones, a mystery that not even Sherlock Holmes could solve. E.T. has a remarkable 98% Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and upon its release pretty much every critic on the planet showered it with praise.

 

The Verdict:      E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. This was a REALLY difficult decision, but you want to know why Rain Man lost?? I pondered a simple question. If people were randomly asked when each film was in theaters I can virtually guarantee that most folks would peg E.T. as an 80’s film, whereas Rain Man could just as easily have been a product of the early 90’s. It’s a metric that probably could be utilized for many matchups in this competition, but one that I use only as a last resort when no other flaws can be found.

 

 

 

This Is Spinal Tap       vs.     Wall Street

stMockumentary classic Spinal Tap received a first round bye then eliminated Flight of the Navigator in Round 2. It barely registered at the box office in 1984, ranking 117th for the year. Financial success & popularity came later, after the movie was released on home video. However, critics loved the film right out of the gate. Ebert gave it 4 stars, opining that it is “absolutely inspired in a subtle way” and “the satire has a deft, wicked touch”. Wall Street received a first round bye then proceeded to defeat Revenge of the Nerds to make it here. It ranked a modest 26th at the 1987 box office, behind bona fide classics like wallstreet2_560Moonstruck, Lethal Weapon, Dirty Dancing, and Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, but ahead of decent completion like Spaceballs, Summer School, The Princess Bride, & Ishtar. Okay, you got me…I’m obviously joking about that last one (Ishtar is considered one of the biggest bombs of all time).  I think it is Charlie Sheen’s best work, and of course Michael Douglas won the Oscar for Best Actor in his role as Gordon Gekko. A sequel was made in 2010, but it doesn’t measure up. I blame Shia LeBeouf.

 

The Verdict:       Spinal Tap. Wall Street is a fine film. I never thought a movie about stocks & bonds could keep me on the edge of my seat, but it achieves that difficult task. Having said that, This Is Spinal Tap is so well written and performed, plus it actually spawned an entire sub-genre of films. Rob Reiner may be a raging liberal lunatic, but I’ll give him credit for creating a really great movie.

 

 

100 Favorite Movies…..16-20

As the cream rises closer and closer to the top you, my dear reader, get another set of examples illustrating my eclectic tastes. Today’s group includes a musical, a drama, an action-adventure, a comedy, and of course my favorite…the Christmas film. Enjoy.

 

 

 

20 Grease

Grease is the word. It’s got groove, it’s got meaning. Grease is the time, is the place, is the motion. Grease is the way we are feeling. Or atleast it’s the way I am feeling at the moment. Released in 1978 but set in the 1950’s, Grease is another one of those films that has a certain timeless quality. Not all of us constantly broke out into song in high school but the issues faced at that time in our lives…the cliques, peer pressure, the snarkiness, bittersweetness of innocent love, rebellion against authority, the absolute need to be cool…are universal. 21st century teens are faced with modern problems…drugs, STDs, gun violence…that make those dealt with in Grease seem innocent in comparison, but anyone who remembers high school knows what a huge deal those seemingly innocent obstacles feel like at the time. Based on a 1971 play that I have admittedly yet to see but hope to someday, Grease has long been one of my very favorite movies. John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John star as star-crossed lovers who met over the summer and now end up at the same school. Travolta’s Danny Zucco is a leather jacket wearing bad boy and leader of The T-Birds, a fairly innocuous “gang” by today’s standards. Newton-John’s Sandy is the girl-next-door goody-two-shoes who isn’t quite edgy enough for the school’s female cool crew, The Pink Ladies. They and their friends engage in assorted hijinks like mooning a national TV audience when an American Bandstand-esque show broadcasts live from Rydell High, going head to head with a rival gang in a supposedly dangerous car race, and various breakups, arguments, and reunions. It’s all quite tame but nonetheless entertaining. The soundtrack is catchy and memorable. As a 3rd grader back in the early 80’s I once sang the song Sandy in a talent show. I was supposed to do it with two pals, but they no showed and I did it alone. I don’t think there is enough money or booze in the universe capable of getting me on a stage like that all these years later, but it is a fun memory. Grease still pops up on television quite frequently and has withstood the test of time quite well. I am shocked that someone hasn’t attempted to do a remake, and I sincerely hope that never happens. A sequel was made in 1982 starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Adrian Zmed, but it bombed at the box office and is usually mentioned in conversations about the worst sequels of all time. Personally I don’t hate it all that much, but there is no doubt that it doesn’t come close to stacking up against its predecessor. Olivia Newton-John never again attained the success she reached with Grease, and other than Saturday Night Fever it is Travolta’s signature role. I suppose other films may surpass it on my list as time passes, but I have no doubt that Grease will always hold a special place in my heart.

 

19 The Fugitive

Some movies are like wine…they get better with age and repeated viewings. Such is the case with The Fugitive, a film I liked when it first came out but have steadily grown fonder of as the years have passed. Based on a 1960’s television series, it is the story of an Indiana doctor who is convicted of murdering his wife and goes on the run (thanks to a train crash while en route to death row) to escape the death penalty, all the while maintaining his innocence and searching for the real killer who he claims is a one-armed man. In the TV show Dr. Richard Kimble pops up in a different small town each week with a fake name and doing odd jobs. Invariably his medical expertise is required and since he is a good guy he puts his efforts to remain under the radar aside and comes to the aid of people in need. This always attracts the attention of police Lieutenant Gerard who is doggedly pursuing Dr. Kimble across the fruited plain. The movie doesn’t stray too far from its origin story. Dr. Richard Kimble is portrayed by Harrison Ford with a mixture of pathos, street savvy, fear, courage, anguish, and determination. Gerard, now portrayed as a U.S. Marshal with gritty determination and sardonic wit by the exemplary Tommy Lee Jones, begins the chase. He and his posse don’t have to go far, as Dr. Kimble never leaves his hometown (although it is Chicago instead of a small Indiana hamlet). Kimble is hell-bent on finding the one-armed man, and Gerard is just as resolute in his mission to track down the convict. The cat & mouse game, the close calls, and the daring escapades of Kimble, who is concurrently pursuing and being pursued, gives the viewer a heart pounding edge-of-your-seat thrill ride while always remaining within the realm of plausibility and never straying from writing that is nothing short of excellent. The Fugitive is that rare action film with a well laid out plot. It does not rely on phony looking special effects and mindless explosions and gunfire for no apparent reason. The bus wreck/train crash that sets the chase in motion by facilitating Kimble’s escape is one of the more memorable scenes in recent movie history and kudos should be given to the folks who pulled that off. The climax is exciting though convoluted. The details of who really killed Kimble’s wife and why are secondary to the fact that it wasn’t him, he confronts the real culprit, and Gerard is thrown into the mix as a wild card whose actions are unpredictable. The one-armed man is sort of a MacGuffin, as he may have actually committed the crime but he was just a hired hand (pun very much intended). Tommy Lee Jones has flourished as a non-traditional leading character actor despite having to serve time as Algore’s roommate at Harvard in the 60’s, and he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his effort in The Fugitive. To be honest he is just as much the star as Ford though. Both men are pivotal to the success of the film. Could The Fugitive have been made with two different actors?? Sure. Would it have been anywhere near as good?? I have serious doubts. My affection for this film has been surprising to me, as it isn’t at all the type of movie I usually enjoy. And it is far and away one of the best movies based on a television series. I think the secret lies in the restraint exercised by both actor and director alike. There is action, but not the typical cartoonish violence we see in a lot of movies. There is drama and suspense, but the performances aren’t forced or over-the-top in any way. The Fugitive sneaks up on you, and I’m not complaining.

 

18 Dead Poets Society

Carpe Diem. If you do not know what that means then you have never watched Dead Poets Society and you need to get yourself to a video store or on Netflix ASAP. I am a big fan of Robin Williams the comedian and Robin Williams the actor. He won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1998 for Good Will Hunting, but in my mind he should have received a statue 9 years earlier for this performance, a contest he lost to Daniel Day-Lewis who starred in some movie all of a dpsdozen people ever gave a damn about. The movie itself was also nominated for Best Picture, as was a movie you will see later on in this list, Field of Dreams. Both lost out to Driving Miss Daisy. These two travesties of justice prove just how little the Hollywood award shows really matter. Anyway, Williams stars as John Keating, an English teacher at a stuffy New England prep school in the 1950’s. His teaching methods are rather…unconventional, which suits his students just fine but raises some eyebrows amongst the school’s old fashioned elitist hierarchy. Keating teaches his students about more than just what their books say…he teaches them life lessons. He implores them to “suck the marrow out of life” and to make their lives extraordinary. A small group of boys in his class discover that when Keating was a student he was part of a secret society that would sneak out at night, meet in a cave, and read poetry. That sounds innocent enough by 21st century standards, but in the time this story is set it has an air of mystery and danger. The boys revive this Dead Poets Society and begin to buy into what Keating is selling, challenging authority and refusing more and more to conform to others’ expectations. One of the students, Neil, defies his overbearing father by performing in a play. The father expects Neil to matriculate to Harvard and become a doctor. The burden of this battle eventually persuades Neil to commit suicide. An investigation is launched, and somehow Keating is blamed for Neil’s death and loses his job. I know it sounds depressing, and the school, its faculty, and the obtuse parents are depressing. But Keating is the type of inspirational teacher we all wish we’d had more of in school. Williams’ performance is extraordinary. He throws in some of his trademark humor, but for the most part reigns in the manic schtick and is rather understated and nuanced. I wish he would make better choices with his roles, because when given good stuff to work with like Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Good Morning Vietnam he knocks it out of the park, making it all the more disappointing when his ample talents are wasted in crap like Toys, Patch Adams, Bicentennial Man, and Death to Smoochy. The group of boys who are the main focus of the story are portrayed by young actors who I thought might become a bit more successful, with the most famous among them being Ethan Hawke in what was only his 2nd film. Dead Poets Society has aged well and has that timeless quality that I seem to gravitate toward. It is a bittersweet viewing for me these days. When the movie came out over 20 years ago I was on the verge of attending college and had my whole life in front of me. The advice given by Keating resonated deeply. Two decades later and I realize just how much I did not seize the day and just how unextraordinary my life has been. Dead Poets Society should be shown to all high school seniors or college freshman, with the directive to take the road less travelled, contribute a verse to the poem of life, and live up to what we are fully capable of with passion and vigor all being given special emphasis. Carpe Diem indeed.

 

17 Bull Durham

If baseball were as fun as Bull Durham makes it look I could totally buy into the whole bit about “the national pastime”. Watching this movie we see nothing about steroids, gambling, or other cheating scandals. The players are portrayed as loveable ne’er-do-wells who aren’t too bright but they sure do know how to have fun. Rather than give us a glimpse of the big leagues, Bull Durham gives us some insight into the minor leagues, where the players aren’t playing for megabucks and being treated like kings. They are renting rooms, riding on buses, and finding ways to combat boredom between games. Kevin Costner stars as Crash Davis, a long-in-the-tooth veteran catcher who is given the task of holding the hand of dimwitted bonus baby pitcher Nuke Laloosh, played by Tim Robbins in his breakout role. They form an odd triangle with Annie Savoy (played by Susan Sarandon), a groupie who chooses one player from the Durham Bulls each season with which to have an affair. Annie is…unique. She has a singular set of values, and views herself as sharing more than just a bed with her chosen beau. It is a strange brew of spiritualism, friendship, poetry, metaphysics, sensuality, and moral support. She tells us, in a voiceover at the start of the film, that she believes in “the Church of Baseball” because she has “tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. There are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I heard that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn’t work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there’s no guilt in baseball, and it’s never boring… which makes it like sex. There’s never been a ballplayer slept with me who didn’t have the best year of his career. Making love is like hitting a baseball: you just gotta relax and concentrate. Besides, I’d never sleep with a player hitting under .250… not unless he had a lot of RBIs and was a great glove man up the middle. You see, there’s a certain amount of life wisdom I give these boys. I can expand their minds. Sometimes when I’ve got a ballplayer alone, I’ll just read Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman to him, and the guys are so sweet, they always stay and listen. ‘Course, a guy’ll listen to anything if he thinks it’s foreplay. I make them feel confident, and they make me feel safe, and pretty. ‘Course, what I give them lasts a lifetime; what they give me lasts 142 games. Sometimes it seems like a bad trade. But bad trades are part of baseball It’s a long season and you gotta trust. I’ve tried ’em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.” When Crash refuses to “try out” Nuke becomes Annie’s boy toy by default. Meanwhile, the relationship between pitcher and catcher is volatile, as world-weary Crash resents the “million dollar arm and ten-cent head” of the wildly goofy Nuke. The supporting cast is chock full of unknowns whose career highlight likely was Bull Durham, but that is just fine. The three main characters along with a strong, well written, amusing script are enough to make this a movie that has stood the test of time. One cannot help but think of it when attending any type of baseball game. Every time I see a “conference” on the mound I wonder if they are really talking about live roosters, jammed eyelids, and how candlesticks make a nice wedding gift. Eventually our trio comes to a crossroads. Nuke is called up to “The Show” and we get an inkling that some of Crash’s wisdom may have actually seeped through. Crash is released from the team once his babysitting task is done and must decide whether or not to call it a career or keep chasing a dream he knows will never become reality. And Annie must face her feelings for Crash. There is a certain sweetness mixed in with the hilarity, and that is a good combination. Writer/director Ron Shelton has done a few other notable films…White Men Can’t Jump and another Costner vehicle, Tin Cup, among them. But Bull Durham is one more case of lightning in a bottle, a once in a lifetime piece of magic that is almost impossible to replicate.

 

16 The Polar Express

So many words come to mind when trying to describe The Polar Express, but over the years I have come to settle on a just a few…whimsical, magical, and hauntingly beautiful. It somehow manages to put a smile on one’s face and bring a tear to the eye at the same time. The Polar Express is the quintessential embodiment of the spirit of Christmas. Does it invoke the name of Jesus or talk about the true reason for the season?? No. But I suppose I have become sort of immune to that type of omission. I understand the forces of political correctness and the fact that Christianity is a target in our modern world. Readers of The Manofesto know of my immense fondness for Christmas movies, and I am at peace with the fact that they either focus on the inherent wackiness of family interaction during the holidays (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Four Christmases, Home Alone), confront commercialization and its many branches (A Christmas Story, Deck the Halls), or tell a variation on the story of Santa (The Santa Clause, Elf, Miracle on 34th St., Fred Claus). I am strong in my faith and don’t need validation from Hollywood. However, I do like stories that, in their own way, talk about things that are representative of the teachings of Christ and exemplify the undefined, you-know-it-when-its-present Christmas Spirit. The Polar Express is based on a 1985 children’s book but did not get the big screen treatment until 2004. A big reason for that is the motion capture technology used, which wasn’t available in the 80’s. I cannot imagine a live action movie being within the realm of possibility, and I am so very glad an ordinary, ho-hum, been there done that animated film was not made. Some find motion capture to be a bit creepy, and it is very distinctive. Personally I find it visually stunning, which probably plays a major role in my affinity for The Polar Express. The story involves a young boy, never named or given an age, but seemingly right at that point in life where his belief in Santa Claus is beginning to wane. As he lay in his bed on Christmas Eve thinking over this very subject, a locomotive screeches down his street. This train if for children exactly like him…kids who are on the verge of putting Santa in the ol’ rear view mirror. The boy boards the train and makes friends with a young girl, a shy boy, and an annoying know-it-all. The trip toward the North Pole is full of action and adventure, but the group eventually makes it safely. Once there they meet Santa Claus and the boy is given the first gift of Christmas for that year, a small sleigh bell. The movie closes with a poignant voiceover that basically says that true believers will always hear the ringing, but most of us eventually lose the ability to hear the lovely sound of the bell. I take that as an allegory, alluding to the fact that most of us don’t see or hear the beauty in the world because we get too busy and caught up in our own drama. We don’t take time to stop and listen. I am 37 years old and long ago learned the truth about Santa, but there is and hopefully always will be a small part of me that yearns for the myth to be true. Jesus tells us in the book of Matthew that we are to be like little children, retaining our innocence and always leaning on Him for guidance. We have a tendency to grow up and shed our idealism in favor of doubt, skepticism, and cynicism. I have never had an issue with Santa Claus as a symbol of Christmas because I think that he represents the purity of childhood, an ideal state that The Lord tells us we need to somehow retain. I think Jesus and Santa would be friends. That statement may be equally offensive to hardcore Christians and agnostic secular types, and that’s okay…to each his own. As for me, I will continue to look forward each Christmas season to watching The Polar Express and being magically transported back in time, to that period in my life when all seemed right with the world.