WEEKEND MOVIE MARATHONS: MORGAN FREEMAN

If you haven’t read the intro to this series please do so that you have some idea of what’s this is all about, and if you’re a Tom Hanks fan you might want to go here (but then come straight back).

I could sit & listen to Morgan Freeman talk for hours. He has one of the greatest voices in the history of entertainment and is the definition of a late bloomer. Though he’d been a stage actor since the early 60’s & had some small, uncredited roles in forgettable films, the earliest work most remember him for is the PBS children’s educational series The Electric Company in the 1970’s. Even then, he didn’t really become a “movie star” until the 80’s when he was nearly 50 years old. To be honest his filmography is kind of hit & miss for me, so I gave sincere consideration to which of his works I’d enjoy spending a weekend watching. You may disagree with my choices, but I think the lineup presented here is solid. Freeman isn’t necessarily a leading man in the truest sense of that concept, but he makes anything he is in better.

Friday Night

Seven

I’m not into horror movies at all, and even thrillers aren’t really my thing. I much prefer something that’ll put a smile on my face. There are exceptions to every rule though. Seven follows two cops on the trail of a serial killer who uses the Seven Deadly Sins (pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, & sloth) as a theme for his…work. The psychopath is portrayed by Kevin Spacey and the detectives are played by Freeman & Brad Pitt, so it’s probably fair to say that Freeman is a distant third when it comes to star power in the cast, which kind of proves my point. Seven would have done well at the box office with Pitt & Spacey as the headliners, but the presence of Morgan Freeman makes it a better movie. If you’ve never seen it I won’t spoil the ending, but wow…it’s really good.

Saturday Matinee

Now You See Me

Perhaps I am one of the few who enjoys repeat viewings of this movie. It follows a group of magicians who use their skills to rob people & banks. Freeman portrays a jaded magician who now makes money exposing the secrets of magic. The cast includes Woody Harrelson, Michael Caine, Mark Ruffalo, and a few up & comers, so once again Morgan Freeman’s true role is to add gravitas to the ensemble, which is kind of his thing. Now You See Me has a tepid 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but finished 23rd at the box office in 2013, more than quadrupling its $75 million dollar budget. What that means is the stuffy, austere critics found all the flaws while Joe Sixpack just enjoyed watching a fun caper. A sequel came out a few years later, but wasn’t nearly as entertaining. I understand why Hollywood makes sequels, but sometimes lightning in a bottle just can’t be duplicated. It is my understanding that a third film is in development, and I hope it’s as slick & clever as the original, although I won’t hold my breath.

Saturday Night

The Shawshank Redemption

Many people promote The Shawshank Redemption as one of the greatest films of all time, and I wouldn’t argue too vociferously with those folks. As mentioned, I tend to gravitate toward lighter, more breezy fare, so prison flicks don’t usually earn my attention, but you know the drill…there are exceptions. Shawshank is actually based on a Stephen King novella. I’ve never read the book, but cannot imagine it could be better than the movie. Morgan Freeman portrays Red Redding, who has been imprisoned for two decades when we first meet him for a double homicide that he admits he’s guilty of but now deeply regrets. Red becomes best buds with Andy Dufresne, a young banker wrongly convicted of killing his wife & her lover. Lots of bad things happen at the prison, which is led by a corrupt warden. Andy eventually escapes, and (spoiler alert) several years later Red is paroled and reunites with his friend. Shawshank received seven Academy Award nominations, including a Best Actor nod for Freeman, which was his third of five Oscar nominations (he’s won once). It didn’t do well at the box office at all, but became one of the earlier movies to find success thru video rentals & being shown on television with some frequency. It’s almost embarrassing to realize almost thirty years later that The Shawshank Redemption made less money in theaters than balderdash like Natural Born Killers, The Shadow, Jason’s Lyric, & House Party 3.

Sunday Matinee

Bruce Almighty

It feels appropriate to spend Sunday afternoon with a film in which Morgan Freeman plays God. Once again he’s not the star…it’s Jim Carrey’s show, but God seems like a role tailor made for Freeman. He helps guide Carrey’s Bruce, an unhappy TV reporter who blames his crappy life on God. That’s when The Big Guy shows up and offers Bruce an opportunity to be in charge for a few days. Hilarity ensues and Bruce (along with the audience) learns a few valuable lessons along the way. Critics were lukewarm in their reviews, but it was the fifth highest grossing film of 2003. It’s one of those movies that’ll amuse you for a couple of hours & make you chuckle, but won’t really make an impact on your memory.

Sunday Night

Deep Impact

Speaking of impact…

1998 saw the release of two movies in which an asteroid threatens the existence of life on Earth. Armageddon had the cooler movie stars and made a bunch more money (finishing a far distant second to the juggernaut that was Titanic), but I’ve always had a soft spot for Deep Impact. While the cast isn’t as popular as the competition (whatever happened to Tea Leoni??) Morgan Freeman is there as the President of the United States, another role that seems tailor made for him. What does Freeman do?? Say it with me now…he makes anything he is in better. I believe Deep Impact has superior writing & features better performances than Armageddon, and our guy contributes significantly to that perception. And oh by the way…it still finished 7th at the box office that year despite mixed reviews (45% on Rotten Tomatoes compared to 38% for Armageddon, so critics weren’t impressed with either film).

90’s Film Frenzy: Wicked Round 3

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

 

 

 

 

The Shawshank Redemption                        vs.              Lethal Weapon 4

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

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

 

 

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Mrs. Doubtfire                                vs.                        Tommy Boy

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

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

 

 

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Scent of a Woman                         vs.              The Truman Show

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

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

 

 

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Deep Impact                                   vs.                        The Big Lebowski

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

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

90’s Film Frenzy: Wicked Round 2

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

The Shawshank Redemption

 

Release:    9/23/94

Starring:     Morgan Freeman, Tim Robbins

Directed By:        Frank Darabont (The Green Mile)

 

vs.

 

Doc Hollywood

 

Quotes

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

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

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

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

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

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

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

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Mrs. Doubtfire

 

Release:    11/24/93

Starring:     Robin Williams, Sally Field

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

 

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That Thing You Do

 

Quotes

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

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Scent of a Woman

 

Release:    12/23/92

Starring:     Al Pacino, Chris O’Donnell

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

 

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The Blair Witch Project

 

Quotes

 

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

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The “F” is used word 154 times.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Lion King

 

Release:    6/15/94

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

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

 

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Lethal Weapon 4

 

Quotes

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

Your baby is having my baby!

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

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

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

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

___________________________

 

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

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

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Deep Impact

 

Release:    5/8/98

Starring:     Morgan Freeman, Robert Duvall, Téa Leoni

Directed By:        Mimi Leder (The Peacemaker)

 

vs.

 

October Sky

 

Quotes

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

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

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

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

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

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

 

____________________

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

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

 

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Wayne’s World

 

Release:    2/14/92

Starring:     Mike Myers, Dana Carvey

Directed By:        Penelope Spheeris (Black Sheep)

 

vs.

 

The Big Lebowski

 

Quotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dude abides.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

________________

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

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

 

************************

Tommy Boy

 

Release:    3/31/95

Starring:     Chris Farley, David Spade

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

 

vs.

 

Glengarry Glen Ross

 

Quotes

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

____________________

 

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

 

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

 

************************

The Truman Show

 

Release:    6/5/98

Starring:     Jim Carrey, Ed Harris

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

 

vs.

 

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

 

Release:    12/6/91

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

Directed By:        Nicholas Meyer (The Day After)

 

vs.

 

Ghost

 

Quotes

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

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

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

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

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

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

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

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

__________________________

 

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

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

The Not Quite Top 100 Movies – Honorable Mentions

I mentioned in my introduction to this series that I am taking my task a little more seriously the second time around, and that one rule that I’ve imposed upon myself is “no ties”. This is a difficult tenet to follow and necessitates an Honorable Mention List. These films, for one reason or another, just didn’t quite make the cut. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good, they just aren’t quite good enough. Nevertheless, I do enjoy them and feel compelled to give some love.

 

 

All the Right Moves
A 1980’s ode to high school football, and one of Tom Cruise’s earliest (and best) performances. Friday Night Lights years before there was a Friday Night Lights. Plus, if I may be perfectly candid, there’s a love scene involving Leah Thompson that by today’s standards is rather docile, but it sure was seared into the minds of all preteen boys of that era.

 

American Wedding
You’ll see the original American Pie in The Top 100. And while the bland second part of the trilogy doesn’t even merit a second thought (or a second viewing), this conclusion of the adventures of the hapless Jim, his obnoxious friend Stifler, and Jim’s well intentioned but clueless father (played perfectly by Eugene Levy) is an admirably amusing effort.

 

Austin Powers Series
Thus far there have been three Austin Powers films, and I suspect there are more to come. I’ve never watched an entire James Bond movie, nor any of the other spy flicks that Austin Powers apparently spoofs. But that doesn’t distract from the enjoyment factor for me.

 

Broadcast News
History shows that this film was released at about the same time as Moonstruck, Good Morning Vietnam, Wall Street, Three Men & A Baby, Throw Momma From the Train, and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles..…and during the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season…..so it’s not surprising that it seemingly got lost in the shuffle. Still, it’s an amusing look at the TV news business with a scene stealing performance by the vastly underrated Albert Brooks.

 

Deep Impact
In 1998 two blockbusters were released within a couple months of each other, both of them about an asteroid destroying Earth. One was the Bruce Willis/Ben Affleck film Armageddon, the other was Deep Impact, whose biggest stars are Morgan Freeman and Robert Duvall. But despite the lack of star power aimed at the younger demographic, Deep Impact is a better movie.

 

Fever Pitch
Fever Pitch is based on a British book, and there was a British film made as well. But the movie I am referring to is an American version of the story in which Jimmy Fallon plays an obsessed Boston Red Sox fan and Drew Barrymore is his new girlfriend. Is it high art? No. But it is a pleasant diversion, and almost every film I can think of in which baseball is used as a backdrop offers some level of amiable pleasure.

 

Grumpy/Grumpier Old Men
I am including both films here. The legendary screen pairing of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau did most of their work together before I was born or atleast when I was too young to notice. But these two movies, about bickering neighbors in the frozen tundra of Minnesota, brought their charmingly hilarious magic into my consciousness and onto the radar of a whole new generation. Appreciation must also be shown to Burgess Meredith, best known to movie audiences as the crusty old manager of underdog boxer Rocky Balboa, who steals every scene he’s part of in these two movies, both made when he was well into his 80’s.

 

Liar Liar
It may be heresy to admit, but I’m not a huge Jim Carrey fan. He’s amusing to a point, but few of his movies are really that good in my opinion. Liar Liar is my favorite Carrey comedic performance hands down. He plays a lawyer forbidden to lie for an entire day (it’s not important why), and hilarity ensues.


M
ASH

Traditionally when television shows are created based on feature films it’s a bad idea. However, one shining example of a television show which was actually better than its big screen predecessor is MASH. But that doesn’t mean that the movie is subpar. It’s actually quite good.

 

PCU
I detest political correctness, so it’s no surprise that a movie that takes it to task would be to my liking. This little seen early 90’s gem (starring Jeremy Piven and Jon Favreau) draws comparisons to Animal House, but it’s not really a fair association. Animal House is just a rollicking good time. This movie tries to weave in a message. Whether or not that’s a good thing is a matter of personal discretion.

 

Rain Man
It almost made The Top 100, it really did. But one of the things I take into consideration is repeated viewings. There are those movies that one has seen literally dozens of times, and if it happens to be on TV one just automatically stops and watches. With Rain Man neither of these applies. I don’t see it on television much, and if it were to be on I’m not sure I’d jump for joy and immediately cease whatever else I might be into.

 

The Comedies of Adam Sandler
I’m lumping together a half dozen films here – 50 First Dates, The Wedding Singer, Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, The Waterboy, and Big Daddy. Admittedly Sandler flicks aren’t targeted at a mature and educated audience, but they are fun in a gratuitously dim-witted way.

 

Smokey & The Bandit
I LOVED this movie as a kid. It was funny, plus it featured fast cars and chase scenes. When you’re a small boy that’s all you need in a movie. It’s still amusing 30 years later, but it doesn’t hold up well enough to make The Top 100. Even back then I didn’t understand what the big deal was about driving a truck full of beer from one state to another, and now that frame of reference is completely obsolete.

 

The Spiderman Series
Out of all the movies on this Honorable Mention list, this was the toughest selection. The Spiderman movies achieve a rare feat….they are popular and made a ton of money, plus they are well written and critically acclaimed. It’s probable that my affection for all things Batman clouds my judgment when it comes to other superheroes. However, I have to be honest with myself, and I just don’t put these movies into the category of “must see” in my universe. Your mileage may vary.

 

The Upside of Anger
A perfect example of the term “hidden gem”. Take a poll of 1000 random people and I’m betting less than 20% have even heard of The Upside of Anger, and even less has actually seen it. The film stars Kevin Costner (in his best performance since Tin Cup nearly a decade before) and the underrated Joan Allen as two neighbors with only one thing in common…..their love of booze. He’s a retired baseball player (imagine that), and she’s a mother of four lovely daughters who is dealing with all the inherent responsibilities and stress that comes with that role. Her husband has apparently ditched her and taken off with his secretary, so she bonds with Costner’s character and a relationship evolves. The characters are nicely developed and the actors are top notch. The ending is one of those that you don’t see coming, and I like that. The Upside of Anger doesn’t make The Top 100 yet because it’s a fairly new movie that I just caught for the first time a couple of years ago. We’ll see how my affection for it grows over time.

 

Very Bad Things
This is a really peculiar film, one that takes the concept of “black comedy” to a whole new stratosphere. It’s got an outstanding cast – Jon Favreau, Cameron Diaz, Jeremy Piven, Daniel Stern, Christian Slater. In a nutshell, the story revolves around a raucous bachelor party that goes wrong…..very, very wrong. I cannot stress how badly this party and its aftermath goes for all involved. I guess one has to have a certain type of macabre sense of humor to really appreciate Very Bad Things and I suppose I have that mentality on occasion.

 

Wall Street
Sometimes a movie isn’t necessarily remembered for the actual story as it is for one truly memorable character. Michael Douglas won an Academy Award for his superb turn as Gordon Gekko, the man who etched in our minds the life lesson that “greed is good”.

 

We Are Marshall
Okay…..so I’m biased. Marshall University is my alma mater. But I’m not TOO biased…..this movie didn’t make The Top 100 because as a film it could have been better. I understand that the powers-that-be needed a big name to sell the product, but I’m unconvinced that Matthew McConaughey was the correct choice. Meanwhile, the other Matthew..…Matthew Fox of Lost and Party of Five fame…..gives an understatedly moving performance. We Are Marshall is an emotional tale for those of us who know the real life story well, but I suspect that the average moviegoer was underwhelmed.