Merry Movie Mayhem: North Pole (Round 1)

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s A Wonderful Life                             

Released                                           12/20/46

Starring                                              James Stewart, Donna Reed                                

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

Rotten Tomatoes                              94%

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

 

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Love Actually

Released                                           11/14/03

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

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

Rotten Tomatoes                              63%

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

The Polar Express                                

Released                                           11/10/04

Starring                                              Tom Hanks                                 

Director                                              Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away)

Rotten Tomatoes                              55%

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

 

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Deck the Halls

Released                                           11/22/06

Starring                                              Danny DeVito, Matthew Broderick

Director                                              John Whitesell (Big Momma’s House 2)

Rotten Tomatoes                              6%

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Planes, Trains, & Automobiles 

Released                                           11/25/87

Starring                                              John Candy, Steve Martin            

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

Rotten Tomatoes                              92%

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

 

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Arthur Christmas

Released                                           11/23/11

Starring                                              James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie

Director                                              Sarah Smith

Rotten Tomatoes                              92%

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Frosty the Snowman         

Released                                           12/7/69

Starring                                              Jimmy Durante, Jackie Vernon          

Director                                              Rankin/Bass

Rotten Tomatoes                              60%

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

 

 

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The Family Stone

Released                                           12/16/05

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

Director                                              Thomas Bezucha

Rotten Tomatoes                              52%

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Holiday Inn                           

Released                                           8/4/42

Starring                                              Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire 

Director                                              Mark Sandrich (Top Hat, The Gay Divorcee)

Rotten Tomatoes                              100%

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

 

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All I Want For Christmas

Released                                           11/8/91

Starring                                              Ethan Embry, Kevin Nealon, Thora Birch

Director                                              Robert Lieberman (D3: The Mighty Ducks)

Rotten Tomatoes                              0%

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

The Santa Clause

Released                                           11/11/94

Starring                                              Tim Allen                  

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

Rotten Tomatoes                              75%

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

 

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Mickey’s Christmas Carol                   

Released                               12/16/83

Starring                                   Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck                 

Director                                   Burny Mattinson (The Great Mouse Detective)

Rotten Tomatoes                            90% (a)

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Carol (1984)

Released                                           12/17/84

Starring                                              George C. Scott       

Director                                              Clive Donner            (The Thief of Baghdad)

Rotten Tomatoes                              74% (a)

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

 

 

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Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

Released                                           11/18/94

Starring                                              Richard Attenborough, Dylan McDermott, Elizabeth Perkins

Director                                              Les Mayfield (Encino Man, Flubber)

Rotten Tomatoes                              61%

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

The Lemon Drop Kid

Released                                           3/8/51

Starring                                              Bob Hope

Director                                              Sidney Lanfield (The Hound of the Baskervilles)

Rotten Tomatoes                              73% (a)

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

 

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Trading Places

Released                                           6/10/83

Starring                                              Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd

Director                                              John Landis (Animal House, The Blues Brothers)

Rotten Tomatoes                              86%

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

 

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

Merry Movie Mayhem: Mistletoe (Round 1)

Welcome back to Merry Movie Mayhem!! If you have not yet perused first round action in the Candy Cane and Eggnog divisions please follow the links to check it out.

Before we proceed further it may be worth considering what exactly makes a Christmas movie a Christmas movie, because there is legitimate dispute on the issue when it comes to certain films. Since I am the king of The Manoverse I make the rules here so it boils down to three things for me:

            *the film has to be set…mostly…during the holiday season

            *Christmas carols/songs must be part of the soundtrack, even if they’re just in the background

            *Christmas imagery…tree, lights, Santa Claus…needs to be present

Those are the biggies…the dealbreakers. After that it becomes a matter of opinion, and sometimes those opinions might not make sense to anyone else. Why is Die Hard a Christmas movie but Lethal Weapon isn’t?? Why does Mixed Nuts make the cut but Batman Returns does not?? Edward Scissorhands isn’t but Love Actually is?? I don’t put a lot of stock in the whole idea of “if you set the film’s storyline at any other time of year other than Christmas it wouldn’t change the plot”, because that is such a broad notion. The opposite could be just as true. If George Clooney & Brad Pitt were robbing Vegas casinos on Christmas Eve would that make Ocean’s Eleven a Christmas movie?? I think it might. If Doc Brown & Marty McFly had used their time machine to visit Christmases past & yet to come would that qualify Back to the Future as a Christmas film?? Perhaps. In the grand scheme of things I believe that most people know a Christmas movie when they see it, right?? As always I value the opinions of The Manoverse and welcome your feedback.

 

 

 

 

 

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation           

Released                                           12/1/89

Starring                                              Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid                       

Director                                              Jeremiah Chechik (Benny & Joon, Diabolique)

Rotten Tomatoes                              64%

I never would have dreamed 28 years ago that Christmas Vacation would become the holiday entertainment juggernaut that it has evolved into, especially in the past decade. It is one of about a half dozen Christmas movies that is shown almost daily from Thanksgiving clear thru New Year’s, and oftentimes I see it popping up at other times of the year (usually as part of a Vacation marathon). I’m sure I don’t have to review the plot. Everyone has seen Christmas Vacation. Many people love it, some folks hate it. Either way, no one can deny its staying power.

 

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Eight Crazy Nights

Released                                           11/27/02

Starring                                              Adam Sandler                                 

Director                                              Seth Kearsley

Rotten Tomatoes                       12%

Adam Sandler made this mess right around the time that his career had plateaued and was beginning to approach the abyss on the other side. I’m not Jewish, but to my knowledge Hanukkah films are rare. This is an animated story wherein Sandler gives voice to Davey Stone, a thirtysomething malcontent with an alcohol problem & a rap sheet. After Davey’s latest arrest he is sentenced to community service under the guidance of an elderly referee for a youth basketball league. The rest of the film focuses on the relationship between Davey & the old guy, which has its ups & downs. This is about the least heartwarming holiday film of all time, making slasher flicks about Santa Claus look like after school specials.

 

The Verdict:       Christmas Vacation. Come on now…was there ever any doubt?? I think two hours of infomercials would be more entertaining than Eight Crazy Nights, and probably have just as much to do with Hanukkah. Believe it or not Sandler has done worse…but he’s also produced much better, funnier, & more memorable films. Meanwhile, Christmas Vacation is a certified classic that just seems to get better with age.

 

 

 

 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Released                                           12/6/64

Starring                                              Burl Ives                               

Director                                              Rankin/Bass

Rotten Tomatoes                         92%

An advertising copywriter for Montgomery Ward named Bob May created Rudolph in 1939. Montgomery Ward had been buying and giving away coloring books for Christmas every year and it was decided that creating their own book would save money and be a nice goodwill gesture. The oddball reindeer became the star of that coloring book (with accompanying poem). May’s sister just happened to be married to Johnny Marks, a songwriter whose hits would eventually include Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree and A Holly Jolly Christmas. But in 1949 Marks’ career hadn’t gotten off the ground yet (no pun intended) and he adapted May’s poem into a song, which was then recorded by “The Singing Cowboy” Gene Autry. The song was a smash hit, and just over 15 years later an animated special was produced and began to air annually on NBC. It shifted over to CBS in 1972 and has now been a beloved Christmas tradition for a half century.

 

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Shrek the Halls

Released                                           11/28/07

Starring                                              Mike Meyers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas

Director                                              Gary Trousdale (Rocky & Bullwinkle, Beauty and the Beast)

Rotten Tomatoes                              63% (a)

In comparison Shrek has only been a holiday tradition for about a decade, and calling it a tradition is being quite generous. Of course a quartet of movies spanning from 2001 to 2010 introduced us to the big green ogre & his quirky pals Donkey & Puss-in-Boots (a fifth film is rumored to be in the works), and he’s even made it to Broadway. The Christmas special has Shrek learning about Christmas so he can celebrate properly with his wife & children. Unfortunately all of his plans turn into chaos thanks to the well-meaning interference of his friends.

 

The Verdict:       Rudolph.    I have absolutely nothing against Shrek. The movies are solidly entertaining, and the Christmas special is just dandy. Perhaps kids growing up right now will feel about it in 35 years the way that I feel about Rudolph, Hermie the Elf, Yukon Cornelius, et al. But for me Shrek is the newbie that I have no attachment to whatsoever, while Rudolph is a HUGE part of the whole Christmas zeitgeist.

 

 

 

Scrooge (1951)

Released                                           10/31/51

Starring                                              Alistair Sim                 

Director                                              Brian Desmond Hurst

Rotten Tomatoes                              84%

Charles Dickens’ novella has been adapted for the big screen countless times, with several of those versions being part of this competition. And while you will find varying opinions of many of those movies there is almost unanimous agreement that the 1951 film starring Alistair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge is…at the very least…one of the best. I can’t say that it’s a faithful rendering of the book, as there are several plot points that are either expanded upon or entirely fabricated for the film. However, I don’t mind these changes all that much, especially since the film does capture the solemn tone of the book quite effectively.

 

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It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie

Released                                           11/29/02

Starring                                              Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, David Arquette, Joan Cusack    

Director                                              Kirk Thatcher

Rotten Tomatoes                              90%

Be careful not to confuse this film with The Muppet Christmas Carol. This was a made-for-TV movie that originally aired on NBC, and it is basically a Muppet send-up of It’s A Wonderful Life. Kermit is despondent at the prospect of losing his beloved theater, so various characters show him what life would be like if he’d never existed. There are several human actors involved, including Mel Brooks, David Arquette, Willam H. Macy, the cast of Scrubs (which was a semi-popular NBC show at the time), Snoop Dogg, & Kelly Ripa. That’s way way way too much humanity for a Muppet movie. IAWL has been ripped off too many times to even fathom, and this is far from the worst tribute to a great film. However, it’s not even the best Muppet Christmas film!!

 

The Verdict:       Scrooge.    Neither is an original idea. Both are based on other works. Scrooge just happens to be a far better adaptation of its source material.

 

 

 

 

Die Hard

Released                                           7/15/88

Starring                                              Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman

Director                                              John McTiernan (Predator, The Hunt for Red October, Last Action Hero)

Rotten Tomatoes                              92%

Here we go!! Yes…I do consider Die Hard a Christmas movie. NYPD Detective John McClane comes to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve to see his estranged wife at her company Christmas party. Winter Wonderland & Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! are part of the soundtrack. At one point a dead terrorist shows up with a Santa hat & the words “Ho Ho Ho” written on his shirt. Case closed my friends. Oh, and it also happens to be a great action flick, and that’s coming from a guy who doesn’t particularly like action flicks.

 

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The Year Without A Santa Claus

Released                                           12/10/74

Starring                                              Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn

Director                                              Rankin/Bass

Rotten Tomatoes                              83% (a)

Hey, we’re all entitled to a bad day & the occasional foul mood, right?? Even Santa Claus isn’t always so jolly. In this stop motion animated classic from the prolific folks at Rankin-Bass ol’ Saint Nick is under the weather and isn’t sure anyone really believes in him anymore anyway, so he decides to skip the whole ordeal. Mrs. Claus helps the cause by playing two evil brothers…Heat Miser & Snow Miser (who both apparently control the weather)…against one another (with an assist from Mother Nature). Long story short…all’s well that ends well and Santa goes forth with his annual gift giving. You might have a hard time finding it on television in comparison to other Rankin-Bass classics, but Freeform (or whatever they’re calling that channel this week) usually has it on at some point.

 

The Verdict:       Die Hard. This is a tough call. The debate about Die Hard’s worthiness as a Christmas film is legit, and though I obviously come down on the pro side that doesn’t mean I don’t understand the veracity of the argument. Conversely, TYWASC is indisputably a Christmas classic, but I’m not sure that it has held up well thru the decades. To be honest I don’t even recall it being that important of a viewing tradition in my childhood, and as an adult I can take it or leave it.

 

 

 

Elf    

Released                                           11/7/03

Starring                                              Will Ferrell, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, Zooey Deschanel

Director                                              Jon Favreau (Iron Man)

Rotten Tomatoes                              84%

Will Ferrell has to be considered one of the Top 5 alumni whose career was launched on Saturday Night Live, and that is mostly due to the staying power of Elf. As much as one might enjoy watching Talladega Nights, Old School, Step Brothers, Wedding Crashers, or Blades of Glory none of those films has achieved the pop culture significance or made the kind of sustained entertainment impact that Elf has in the past 15 years. Buddy the Elf is the role Ferrell was born to play, and its popularity will probably outlive him.

 

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Santa Claus: The Movie

Released                                           11/27/85

Starring                                              Dudley Moore, John Lithgow, David Huddleston

Director                                              Jeannot Szwarc (Jaws 2)

Rotten Tomatoes                              17%

I can imagine the pitch to the studio back in the mid-80’s…”Santa…as an action fantasy!!”. It may help you wrap your head around the concept and understand why this film is what it is to know that it was produced by the same guys who produced the Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve and directed by the man who helmed Jaws 2. The Movie tells a…unique…Santa Claus origin story, and weaves in subplots involving an industrious elf and an evil toy manufacturer. The cast…Dudley Moore, John Lithgow, Burgess Meredith, among others…is solid, but the movie as a whole is largely style over substance.

 

The Verdict:       Elf.    In the three decades since its release Santa Claus: The Movie hasn’t really become a cherished holiday tradition. Oh sure, it has its fans…but there doesn’t seem to be that many of them. And it hasn’t gotten a lot of airtime on TV over the years. I understand that technology has transformed the world and that virtually anything that has ever been produced can be watched with the push of a few buttons, but please understand that I’m an old school child of the 80’s and repeat viewings to me entail using my remote to flip thru the channels and catch whatever is on. Elf almost immediately took its place as a Christmas classic when it hit theaters a decade & a half ago, and its stature as lighthearted family fun has only grown in the ensuing years.

 

 

 

 

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving                    

Released                                           11/20/73

Starring                                              Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Peppermint Patty

Director                                              Bill Melendez

Rotten Tomatoes                       73% (a)

More than three dozen animated television specials starring Charles Schultz’s comic strip characters from Peanuts have been produced from the 1960’s until just a few years ago. Several have been centered on holidays (there’s even one about Arbor Day), which makes sense because Schultz was a very devout man. This Thanksgiving story finds Peppermint Patty, Marcie, & Franklin inviting themselves over to Charlie Brown’s place for the holiday, and ol’ Chuck being too timid to tell them that he & his family will be heading out to Grandma’s house. Linus, Snoopy, & Woodstock are recruited to help, and when the kids all sit down at a ping pong table in the back yard they are served a hilarious meal of toast, pretzels, popcorn, jelly beans, & an ice cream sundae, which totally sounds like my diet. Luckily Grandma (unseen, as all adults are in Peanuts) invites all the children to her house for real food, while Snoopy & Woodstock stay behind and have their own feast.

 

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Jingle All the Way

Released                                           11/22/96

Starring                                              Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Rita Wilson, Phil Hartman

Director                                              Brian Levant (Beethoven, A Christmas Story 2)

Rotten Tomatoes                              17%

The commercialism of Christmas has been a popular subplot for holiday films thru the years, and this one might be among the best at capturing the pathetic retail frenzy. Schwarzenegger stars as a busy, somewhat neglectful Dad (as many fathers are in Christmas movies) who waits until the last minute to find the toy that his son really wants to find under the tree. Every Christmas season has THE toy, right?? Cabbage Patch Kids, Rubik’s Cube, Beanie Babies, Tickle Me Elmo, Furby, Xbox, Playstation. Parents spend time, energy, & money to get their child what every kid wants that particular year, only to see it collecting dust before spring arrives. At any rate, in this film that toy is a super hero action figure called Turbo Man. Dad quickly develops a rivalry with a weird mailman who is desperately seeking the same item. Meanwhile, a smarmy neighbor (the late Phil Hartman at his slimy best) has his eyes on Mom and successfully drives a wedge into the marriage. The whole movie crescendos to a really fun conclusion, and overall it’s a better film after you watch it a few times than one might think from a first impression.

 

The Verdict:       Charlie Brown. There are better Peanuts specials, and Jingle All the Way is a better movie than you may remember. However, while we all recognize the commercialization of Christmas as a bad thing I think an entire movie focused on it is a bit too cynical. Schwarzenegger can be funny (Twins is pretty good), but he is miscast here and would have benefitted from a better foil than Sinbad. Peanuts is what it is…and that’s why we’ve loved it for decades.

 

 

 

 

Disney’s A Christmas Carol

Released                                           11/6/09

Starring                                              Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman

Director                                              Robert Zemeckis (the Back to the Future trilogy, Forrest Gump, Cast Away)

Rotten Tomatoes                              54%   

Although I’m not really sure what a director does when helming an animated film, I am a huge Zemeckis fan and was thrilled far in advance when I found out he’d be making a new version of the Dickens classic using performance capture technology. Jim Carrey’s shtick wore thin two decades ago, but his talent is undeniable and put to good use in an animated format that allows him to portray multiple characters. This is a fairly faithful interpretation of the source material, and technology allows scenes & characters to be depicted in fresh, distinctive, & inspired ways. Some are critical of the film’s dark tone, and Zemeckis probably does go overboard & have a little too much fun with the toys at his disposal, but one must remember that the book is rather macabre. Don’t blame the director for not caving into the temptation to make a more palatable “family friendly” adaptation…it’s been done.

 

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Mr. Krueger’s Christmas

Released                                           12/21/80

Starring                                              James Stewart

Director                                              Kieth Merrill

Rotten Tomatoes                              No Score Available

The legendary Jimmy Stewart’s career had peaked long before he ever made this little gem, although he would do a few more projects in the following decade. If you’ve never seen Mr. Krueger’s Christmas you are far from alone. It was produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and broadcast on NBC just a few days before Christmas 1980. Since then it is impossible to find on television and isn’t even available for streaming. The only avenue available to watch it…to my knowledge…is YouTube. It is a half hour in length and tells the story of Willie Krueger, an elderly janitor who lives in the basement apartment of the building that he takes care of. Willie is a lonely widower whose only companion is a cat named George, and he fills the void with Walter Mitty-esque fantasies. On this Christmas Eve Willie’s imagination has him conducting the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, wearing finer threads than he can afford in real life, enjoying a delightful sleigh ride, welcoming carolers into a much nicer abode than he actually lives in, decorating a grander tree than the little tabletop one he has, & talking to Jesus as he lays in the manger at the Nativity. You might notice that in all of these dreams except the last one Willie, as opposed to his actual life, is surrounded by people who respect & appreciate him. While he is talking to Jesus he is, as in life, invisible to others…but in the presence of Christ there is no loneliness. This short film makes such a profound impact on multiple levels that it’s a shame it isn’t shown somewhere on television during the Christmas season.

 

The Verdict:       It’s a tie!! I’m sorry. It was never my intention to cop out in such a manner at any point in this competition, but I just can’t choose between these two. I like Zemeckis, love A Christmas Carol, & am smitten with motion capture animation. Some find the technology a bit creepy and believe its use in A Christmas Carol is too dark & scary, but I think the combination is fantastic. Mr. Krueger’s Christmas is difficult to find and repeat viewings are few, but its story is so delicately effectual that it must not be overlooked. Jimmy Stewart still had it even at 72 years old!! If you’ve never seen Mr. Krueger’s Christmas please set aside some time to find it online. Trust me…you won’t regret it.

 

 

 

 

Trapped in Paradise          

Released                                           12/2/94

Starring                                              Nicolas Cage, Jon Lovitz, Dana Carvey

Director                                              George Gallo (The Whole Ten Yards)

Rotten Tomatoes                              10%

I have to give Nicolas Cage credit. There’s no way to typecast or pigeonhole him as an actor because he’s done a little bit of everything…comedy, action, drama, rom-coms. With films on his resume like Raising Arizona & Honeymoon in Vegas it can’t be said that he’s not funny. Yet having said that he feels…out of place…in this movie. The story follows three dimwitted brothers who head to a small Pennsylvania township (think modern day Mayberry) to rob a bank. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong and the trio is unable to make their escape, all while they are being treated warmly by the pleasant, unsuspecting citizens. I’m not a fan of Jon Lovitz, and Dana Carey is inexplicably annoying…but somehow it all works, atleast for me.

 

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Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol

Released                                           12/18/62

Starring                                              Jim Backus, Morey Amsterdam

Director                                              Abe Levitow

Rotten Tomatoes                              67% (a)

Quincy Magoo dates all the way back to the 1950’s when he starred in animated shorts that would precede feature films. Eventually he’d make his way onto television, and in the 90’s there was even a live action movie starring Leslie Nielsen. However, the most enduring legacy of Mr. Magoo is his take on Dickens, a fairly authentic telling of the story, or atleast as faithful as a less-than-an-hour long cartoon can be. I seem to recall this particular special being an annual thing when I was a kid, but in the past 25-ish years airings have been hit & miss, and I believe it is often heavily edited to allow for more commercials.

 

The Verdict:       Trapped in Paradise. I feel like I’m betraying my 80’s kid roots. Is Trapped in Paradise a good movie?? Not really. However, for reasons that I have alluded to on a few occasions it holds a special place in my heart, despite its shortcomings. I cannot get behind Magoo a) because repeat viewings have been scant (it’s hardly a Christmas tradition), & b) airings are usually edited significantly. I’m sure the original, full length show can be streamed, and maybe someday that’ll be the norm, but right now I’m still old school and want my Christmas movies & specials to be available the way they always were…thru mindless channel surfing.

80’s Movie Mania: Bodacious Round 2

First things first. Let’s tie up a loose end from the previous installment. In a coin flip I am giving The Outsiders a victory over Weird Science. The former is just too good to overlook, with a powerful story and an all-star cast, while the latter, though it is another collaboration between John Hughes and Anthony Michael-Hall, is probably their weakest effort. Okay, so…let’s move forward. Today we’ll have the second round of competition in the Bodacious Division. Rock n’ roll dudes!!

 

 

 

Bodacious 2

Batman vs. Pretty in Pink
1989-BatmanThere have been many incarnations of my favorite superhero. The Caped Crusader of course originated in comic books in 1939 and continues to be a staple of that medium today. A famously campy television show aired on ABC for three seasons in the late 1960’s. Director Christopher Nolan brought his dark & gritty vision of the character to the big screen in a solid film trilogy a decade ago. And before that directors Tim Burton then Joel Schumacher produced a quadrilogy (I think I just created a new word!) of Batman movies in the late 80’s/early 90’s. We’ll talk about the other films at some point in the future, but for now we focus on 1989’s Batman, the first of that quadrilogy. Starring Michael Keaton as the titular hero and the legendary Jack Nicholson as his archnemesis The Joker, Batman adequately reflects the character’s caliginous & savage comic book history while still remaining classic popcorn escapism. There were concerns about Keaton being cast in the starring role because he was known mostly for being a comedic actor, but he nailed it and to this day remains my favorite big screen Batman. Of course everybody knows that Nicholson steals the show and is still the best Joker ever, with all due respect to the late Heath Ledger. Anyone who has enjoyed the plethora of films in the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” in the past several years should know that they owe a ton of credit to Batman for breathing new life into the genre nearly three decades ago. Unlike its opponent Pretty in Pink did not get a first round bye, besting Broadcast News in a close call. John Hughes, Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, John Cryer, If You LeavePretty in Pink has everything one could want in an 80’s film. A tip of the cap must be given to the powers-that-be for the ending, wherein the girl (Ringwald) DOESN’T pick the loveable loser best friend and instead chooses the good-looking rich guy…just like real life.

The Verdict: Batman. This is a tough one because Pretty in Pink is the prototypical 80’s movie, while Batman is slightly ahead of its time in embracing a gloomier 90’s-esque sensibility. However, I must go with my heart here. In my opinion this is the best comic book film ever made, although I have admittedly seen very few others.

 
Risky Business vs. Iron Eagle
risky-business-1983-02-gHe’s baaaacckk. Tom Cruise dominated the box office in the second half of the 80’s, but his breakout role came in 1983’s Risky Business. Cruise stars asiron-eagle high schooler Joel, whose parents leave him alone while they go on vacation. Like any normal teenager Joel goes a little nuts, including getting’ busy with a…lady of the night. After inadvertently sending his father’s Porsche into the river he must come up with some quick cash to get it repaired. The answer?? Turn the house into a brothel for a night…obviously. Risky Business not only features a fantastic soundtrack (Phil Collins, Bob Seger, Muddy Waters, Prince), but includes an iconic scene in which Joel dances around his living room in his underwear lipsynching Old Time Rock n’ Roll. Iron Eagle upset An Officer & A Gentlemen in Round 1. It ranked 41st at the box office in 1986, behind unremarkable bombs like Cobra, Children of a Lesser God, & Police Academy 3, but ahead of solid competition including Flight of the Navigator, Youngblood, & Brighton Beach Memoirs. Obscure trivia: Did you know that Robbie Rist, best known as Cousin Oliver in The Brady Bunch, has a role in Iron Eagle?? Well you do now!!

The Verdict: Risky Business. I love Iron Eagle, but Risky Business is a time capsule film and probably one of Cruise’s Top 5 roles.

Coming to America vs. St. Elmo’s Fire
coming-to-america1Eddie Murphy is back too. I’m sensing a theme. At any rate, 1988’s Coming to America is much more aligned with the kind of comedy we expect from sefMurphy. He stars as a pampered prince from one of those fictional nations that movies like to create, but doesn’t want to enter into an arranged loveless marriage. So the prince & his loyal assistant (played by Arsenio Hall) take off for NY City. There they find jobs at a McDonald’s-esque fast food joint and the prince falls in love with the owner’s lovely daughter. From there it is a classic fish-out-of-water story intertwined with a rom-com. James Earl Jones plays the king, while Samuel L. Jackson and Cuba Gooding Jr. have really small “blink and you’ll miss it” roles. This is undoubtedly one of Murphy’s best movies. St. Elmo’s Fire beat Romancing the Stone in the first round and is a classic Brat Pack film. It was the 23rd highest grossing film of 1985, behind stiff competition like Back to the Future, The Breakfast Club, & The Goonies, but besting notable films like Teen Wolf, Weird Science, Young Sherlock Holmes, & Vision Quest. St. Elmo’s Fire, by the way, is “a weather phenomenon in which luminous plasma is created by a coronal discharge from a sharp or pointed object in a strong electric field in the atmosphere, such as those generated by thunderstorms or created by a volcanic eruption, sometimes appeared on ships at sea during thunderstorms, regarded by sailors with religious awe for its glowing ball of light” and is named in honor of St. Erasmus of Formia, the patron saint of sailors. I have no idea what that has to do with the movie, but meaningless trivia is kind of my thing.

The Verdict: Coming to America. St. Elmo’s Fire has a fabled cast and a kickass theme song, but it is a flawed film, probably in part because it is directed by Joel Schumacher and John Hughes is nowhere in sight. Coming to America is directed by John Landis and has a likeable cast with a fun script. It doesn’t necessarily paint outside the lines, but it doesn’t really have to.

 
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home vs. Eddie & The Cruisers
trekThere were six films made with the cast of the original Star Trek series…William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk, Leonard Nimoy as Spock, DeForesteddie Kelley as Dr. Bones McCoy, George Takei as Sulu, Nichelle Nichols as Uhura, Walter Koenig as Chekov, & James Doohan as Scotty…between 1979 and 1991. In this fourth installment the crew of the USS Enterprise goes back in time to modern day (1986) San Francisco to scoop up some humpback whales that will play a part in saving Earth in the 23rd century. It is a quintessential fish-out-of-water story, with our favorite space cowboys trying to fly under the radar in the 1980’s. It also holds up a rather humorous mirror to modern culture and allows the characters to really shine in a fun, lighthearted way. Eddie & The Cruisers scored an upset victory over the more acclaimed A Fish Called Wanda in Round 1 because that’s just how I roll. It is actually based on a novel that I may read someday. The premise is fantastic, but I have a lot of questions about the execution. In doing some reading about the film it sounds like it just ended up in the wrong hands and several mistakes were made. A more skilled director and production team might have made a movie that isn’t quite as overlooked & underappreciated as the final product.

The Verdict: Star Trek IV. I love Eddie & The Cruisers, but it could have been so much better. The Voyage Home isn’t necessarily a traditional Trek film. The action doesn’t take place in outer space and The Enterprise is MIA, but the script is really good and the cast does some of their finest work. It makes me smile, and in my book that’s pretty cool.

 
The Princess Bride vs. Cocktail
pb21987’s The Princess Bride is another film based on a book, the author being the guy who would go on to write or assist with screenplays for films like cButch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, Misery, A Few Good Men, & Good Will Hunting. The film uses the book as a framing device, with Peter Falk (aka Columbo) starring as a grandfather reading to his ill grandson, played by a pre-Wonder Years Fred Savage. In the “fairy tale” a young farm girl named Buttercup falls in love with a laborer. He goes off to seek his fortune so they can be married but is presumed dead when his ship is attacked by an infamous pirate. A few years later Buttercup is set to marry the prince of yet another fictional country before she is kidnapped by one of the oddest trios you’ll ever see. Of course the young lady’s true love isn’t really dead and sets out to rescue her. The film is directed by Rob Reiner and has a charming cast, including Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, & Andre the Giant. The best way I can describe it is delightfully quirky…family friendly escapism at its best. Cocktail got the decision over Stripes in Round 1. It was the 9th highest grossing movie of 1988, beating out solid competition like Beetlejuice, Scrooged, Bull Durham, & Everybody’s All-American. The Beach Boys’ song Kokomo is the film’s unofficial theme song and was a #1 hit.

The Verdict: The Princess Bride. This is a tough one because I love Cocktail. It is probably the most underrated Cruise movie. But The Princess Bride, besides being a cult classic, is a really solid film and a lot of fun.

 

 

Stand By Me vs. Weekend at Bernie’s
Stand-By-Me-Website-Banner-3-980x363-980x363Stand By Me defeated K-9 in Round 1. It was the 13th highest grossing film of 1986, behind Top Gun, Crocodile Dundee, & Ferris Bueller’s Day Off but WeekendAtBernies_184Pyxurzahead of Pretty in Pink, The Fly, Three Amigos!, & Hoosiers. It was directed by Rob Reiner and features a cool 50’s soundtrack. The framing device with Richard Dreyfuss as an older version of one of the characters that lets us know how all of their lives ended up playing out is a nice touch. Weekend at Bernie’s got the first round decision over Bachelor Party. It ranked 39th at the box office in 1989, ahead of Road House, The Fabulous Baker Boys, & The Dream Team but behind crapfests like The Karate Kid Part III, The Abyss, & The Bear (whatever the heck that is). It is interesting to ponder what became of stars Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman. McCarthy…a member of the infamous Brat Pack who starred in notable films like Mannequin, Pretty in Pink, & St. Elmo’s Fire…hasn’t been in anything memorable since Bernie’s (unless one wants to generously include the 1993 sequel) and has more recently been doing guest spots in TV shows that no one watches. Silverman starred in a mid-90’s sitcom called The Single Guy for a couple of seasons and does a lot of TV stuff, but Bernie’s seems to be his career highlight. Fame is indeed fleeting.

The Verdict: Stand By Me. It isn’t even close.

80’s Movie Mania: Gnarly Round 2

Welcome back to Round 2. Surprisingly enough I posted no polls for the Tubular Division so we have no loose ends to tie up.  That may change today…or it might not. So, without further ado…let’s roll.

 

 

 

 

Gnarly 2

 

Top Gun                                 vs.              Crocodile Dundee

topgun2Once upon a time, before Tom Cruise became a couch jumping whackjob, he was the epitome of cool. And hecroc2 just so happened to make some really good movies…something he hasn’t done with regularity for about 15 years. At any rate, in 1986’s Top Gun Cruise portrays a cocky pilot given the opportunity to train at the elite U.S. Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Program, more popularly known as Top Gun. Once there he annoys just about everybody with his arrogance, but his immense talent cannot be ignored. Oh, he also happens to get romantically involved with one of his instructors. The cast includes Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Kelly McGillis, Tom Skerrit, Meg Ryan, & Tim Robbins, and the soundtrack is amazing. With songs by Kenny Loggins, Cheap Trick, Berlin, Loverboy, Miami Sound Machine, Jerry Lee Lewis, & The Righteous Brothers it epitomizes the 1980’s while also giving a nod to the past. Crocodile Dundee did not receive a first round bye, narrowly defeating Purple Rain, a decision I feel slightly guilty about after the untimely death of rock legend Prince. Ah well…what’s done is done. Dundee was the 2nd highest grossing film of 1986…Top Gun was #1. What we must ponder is which film has aged better and I think the answer is obvious.

 

The Verdict:       Top Gun. As crazy as Cruise may be in real life credit must be given where it is due. While lots of movies get made every year the fact is that the vast majority of them are forgotten about five minutes after we leave the theater. And just like music’s “one hit wonders” there are a ton of actors who may get lucky enough to do one decent project and then they fall off the map. Tom Cruise has hung around for over thirty years and made atleast a dozen or more movies that people remember with varying degrees of affection. Top Gun is amongst his best work and holds a special place in the collective pop culture consciousness of a certain generation.

 

 

 

 

Uncle Buck                                      vs.              The Last Starfighter

buckJohn Candy passed in 1994 at the age of 43…far too soon. Fortunately he left behind a plethora of starfighter2unforgettable work, including 1989’s Uncle Buck. Candy portrays a slovenly bachelor who is called upon to babysit his brother’s children for a few days due to a family emergency. There are a handful of recognizable faces in Uncle Buck, including 8 year old MacCaulay Culkin in his first significant role, but make no mistake…Candy carries the film and does it well. Written, produced, & directed by the incomparable John Hughes, Uncle Buck spawned a short-lived TV show the following year, but without Candy it was doomed. The Last Starfighter upended Police Academy in Round 1 and is a criminally underrated sci-fi adventure. It ranked 31st at the box office in 1984, way behind more celebrated films like Beverly Hills Cop, The Karate Kid, Footloose, Splash, & The Terminator. Admittedly its appeal is probably limited to sci-fi nerds like myself, but that’s okay. It is quirky & inspired and deserves more appreciation than it gets.

 

The Verdict:       Uncle Buck. John Hughes ruled the box office throughout the 1980’s, and John Candy was an underrated actor with a remarkable filmography. They made a great team and this is their best work together.

 

 

 

 

 

Good Morning Vietnam                  vs.              Biloxi Blues

gmvIt’s Vietnam vs. WWII! I have been effusive in my praise of the late Robin Williams and it makes me sad that we’ll never see any more new specimens of his genius. One of the first indicators of the immensity of his talent came in 1987’s Good Morning Vietnam. Williams portrays Armed Forces Radio DJ Adrien Cronauer in a film based on a true story. As with many of Williams’ films that would follow the subject matter is at times dramatic but always tinged with the star’s unique brand of humor. He received his first Academy Award nomination for the role. The cast also includes Forest Whitaker (who would win his own Oscar two decades later), Bruno Kirby, & JT Walsh, and a solid soundtrack has songs by The Beach Boys, Frankie Avalon, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, & The Supremes. Biloxi Blues edged out Parenthood in Round 1. It was the 23rd highest grossing film of 1988, ahead of competition like Mississippi Burning, The Accidental Tourist, & Mystic Pizza in what was a particularly strong year at the box office.

 

The Verdict:       Good Morning Vietnam. As much as I like the combo of Christopher Walken & Matthew Broderick I like Robin Williams 1000x more. It’s a different kind of war film that doesn’t completely ignore the violence & turmoil but doesn’t wallow in it either. This marks the moment Williams segued from legendary comedian to movie star.

 

 

 

 

Airplane!                                 vs.              Beetlejuice

airplane1980’s Airplane! received a first round bye and now enters the arena as the second oldest film in the beetlejuice2competition. It was inspired by a 1957 disaster flick called Zero Hour, but turns the idea on its ear by making it a hilarious parody. Four tough guy actors who had never before done comedy…Robert Stack, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, & Lloyd Bridges…were cast in lead roles. It’s the kind of thing Robert DeNiro has done with some regularity in the past decade. At any rate, the movie is loaded with sight gags, silly wordplay, & amusing cameos to the point that the plot sort of takes a back seat. Shakespeare it is not, but Airplane! does the yeoman’s work of making its audience laugh, which is sort of the point. Beetlejuice got the decision over Turner & Hooch in Round 1 even though it isn’t the kind of film normally in my wheelhouse. There is some buzz about a Beetlejuice sequel, especially since Michael Keaton is an even bigger star now than he was in 1988. Winona Ryder hasn’t had much career success in the past decade (or two) so she’s got to be praying hard that it happens.

 

The Verdict:       Airplane!. Say the words “parody film” and Airplane! almost immediately comes to mind. It set the standard for a genre that has seen its share of success with films like The Naked Gun, Spaceballs, the Austin Powers series, & Robin Hood: Men in Tights. They all surely owe a serious debt of gratitude to Airplane!.

 

 

 

Say Anything…                     vs.              48 Hrs.

sayanything1989’s Say Anything is in the mix after receiving a first round bye. It is a romantic dramedy that’s just a little…different…from the typical high school films that were so in vogue in the 80’s. John Cusack stars as Lloyd Dobler, a recent high school graduate with absolutely no plans for his future. He is hit by the thunderbolt at his graduation ceremony and becomes focused on pursuing Diane Court, the beautiful valedictorian who seemingly has it all together. Miraculously the quest works and the two begin dating during the summer before she intends to take off for a fellowship in England. There is a solid supporting cast, including Joan Cusack as Lloyd’s sister who is a single mother herself, the sublime John Mahoney (now better remembered as Frasier Crane’s Dad) as Diane’s overprotective and somewhat shady father, and smaller roles for folks we know better now than we did back then: Lili Taylor, Bebe Neuwirth, Eric Stoltz, Jeremy Piven, & Dan Castellaneta (the voice of Homer Simpson). At the end of the day though this is John Cusack’s show and he knocks it out of the park. 48 Hrs. narrowly beat out Teen 48-hrs_592x299Wolf in Round 1. The 80’s were very good to Eddie Murphy. He was THE star of Saturday Night Live before jumping into movies like Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, & Coming to America. Since then his career feels like it’s been two decades of mediocrity. One cannot help but wonder how the dominoes would have fallen if Richard Pryor had been cast as originally planned. A sequel…imaginatively titled Another 48 Hrs….was made in 1990, but no one remembers it even exists.

 

The Verdict:       Say Anything…. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s just something about this movie that has allowed it to remain in the 80’s pop culture consciousness. Maybe it is the performance of Cusack, who should have become every bit the superstar that contemporaries like Cruise, Swayze, & Michael J. Fox did but never quite got there. Perhaps it is the charm of Ione Skye, a beautiful lass that, much like fellow 80’s hotties Phoebe Cates, Mia Sara, & Jennifer Grey, shot to fame and then just as quickly fell off the map. Or possibly some credit should be given to the fact that every time we hear Peter Gabriel’s hit In Your Eyes we STILL picture Lloyd Dobler in a trenchcoat, boombox held high above his head, trying desperately to win back the love of his life. It’s probably all of the above.

 

 

 

 

The Outsiders                        vs.              Weird Science

outsiders2Both of these films overcame stiff competition in Round 1. Well okay, The Outsiders beat My Tutor, wswhich isn’t exactly stiff competition, while Weird Science got the nod over Raising Arizona, a film that a lot of people really enjoy. The Outsiders was only the 28th highest grossing film of 1983, behind two James Bond movies, something called Blue Thunder (????), and a bunch of bad sequels like Psycho II, Porky’s II: The Next Day, & Jaws 3D. However it did better than A Christmas Story, All the Right Moves, and re-issues of classics Rear Window & Raiders of the Lost Ark. Hindsight is 20/20, and thankfully we have home video to help us catch up with good things we may have foolishly disregarded the first time. Weird Science did even worse in 1985, ranking only 38th in a very competitive year at the box office, although the fact that it made less money than forgettable schlock like Spies Like Us, White Knights, Jagged Edge, & Agnes of God should embarrass somebody…mainly the viewing public. I know which way I lean here, but I’m going to throw a bone to The Manoverse. You’re welcome.

80’s Movie Mania: Gnarly Round 1

Welcome back to 80’s Movie Mania!! Before we move on let’s tie up some loose ends. I’m still not getting more than a couple of votes on the polls I post, which is rather vexing. Anything below double digit votes and it’s my call and that’s not how I’d prefer this whole thing work, but it is what it is. So…in the Tubular Division’s first round it’s La Bamba over Three Men & A Baby, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure over History of the World Part 1, and European Vacation with a bit of an upset over Three Amigos!. Today we focus on first round matchups in the Gnarly Division. Enjoy.

 

 

 

Gnarly – Round 1

 

The Outsiders              vs.              My Tutor

outsidersThe Outsiders is based on a 1967 novel written by an Oklahoma high school girl. The story revolves around a gang of boys called The Greasers, who are essentially a tougher, darker version of The T-Birds from Grease, and their battles with the neighborhood preppies called The Socs (pronounced “soshas”). The film was made in 1983 and has remained in the collective pop culture consciousness because it stars several young up n’ comers who would go on to become Hollywood superstars…Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, C. Thomas Howell, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Diane Lane, & 45 year old Ralph Macchio (the future Karate Kid), here playing a junior high schooler. My Tutor is a personal favorite of the teen sex genre. Also produced in 1983, it tells the story of a recent high school graduate who must pass a French exam to secure admission into Yale. He’s more interested in chasing women and trying to lose his virginity (that again), but his rich Daddy hires a tutor to make sure he studies for and passes the test. Fortunately the tutor is young, blonde, hot, & enjoys late night skinny dipping in the family pool. Not surprisingly the kid passes French and gets lucky with the tutor.

 

The Verdict:       The Outsiders. To be honest My Tutor isn’t a great movie. I’m not even sure it is all that good. But it came along at just the right time (probably around the summer of ’84 on video and HBO) to rev the engines of a certain 12/13 year old boy, which is why it holds a special place in my heart. Actress Caryn Kaye: I’ll never forget you. However, The Outsiders is a juggernaut of greatness. It is based on a good book, directed by the legendary Frances Ford Coppola, and has an amazing cast. This is the very definition of an unfair fight. And I’m kidding…Macchio was only 22 when he starred as a high school student The Outsiders.

 

 

 

 

Weird Science             vs.              Raising Arizona 

WeirdScienceIs Weird Science a Brat Pack film?? Ehhhh…kinda sorta not really…but close enough (it was written & arizonadirected by John Hughes afterall). It came out in 1985, which is why Anthony Michael Hall didn’t reprise his role as Rusty Griswold in European Vacation. He chose this movie instead. The story follows a couple of high school geeks who decide to use a computer to build their perfect woman. Somehow it works and the guys suddenly become popular. The woman…whom they name Lisa…teaches them a few things about life and does much to improve their confidence and self-esteem. Weird Science is amongst the earliest works of both Robert Downey Jr. & Bill Paxton and has a very 80’s soundtrack featuring songs from Oingo Boingo, Ratt, & Van Halen. 1987’s Raising Arizona was one of the first films written, produced, & directed by Joel & Ethan Coen, who have since had tremendous success with movies like Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou?, & No Country for Old Men. Raising Arizona stars Nicolas Cage & Holly Hunter as a career criminal and police officer respectively, who marry but are unable to have children. They hatch a plot to kidnap one of the infant quintuplets of a well-known local businessman, because “anybody with five babies won’t miss one”. Of course things quickly get hilariously out of control. It is a twisted, madcap, slapstick farce, with Cage at his over-the-top zany best.

 

The Verdict:       I have my opinions, but I’m going to give The Manoverse an opportunity to weigh in. Vote!! Tell your friends to vote!!

 

 

48 Hrs.                vs.              Teen Wolf 

4848 Hrs. was one of the first of its genre…the mismatched buddy cop film. It is a formula that works really teenwolfwell when a delicate balance between action & comedy is achieved, and has since become the foundation of a plethora of films with mostly diminishing returns. In 1982 Eddie Murphy was still a regular on Saturday Night Live (he wouldn’t depart until two years later) but snagged his role in this movie when plans to cast Richard Pryor fell through. It is still amongst Murphy’s best work. The story has Nick Nolte as a San Francisco detective who enlists the help of a wisecracking criminal nearing the end of his prison sentence to track down a dangerous escaped convict. The humor is provided by Murphy but is also found in the dysfunctional relationship between an uptight cop and his streetwise partner (in this case a thief). 1985’s Teen Wolf stars Michael J. Fox as a high school basketball player who discovers that lycanthropy is in his bloodline and he has inherited the condition. He uses his newfound “talent” to become the coolest guy at school and lead his basketball team to success, though it all eventually backfires on him and he figures out that just being himself might be preferable. Fox made Teen Wolf right after the first Back to the Future film. The combined success of the two movies, along with the popularity of the TV show Family Ties, cemented Fox’s place as a bona fide star.

 

The Verdict:       48 Hrs. This is a tough call, but Teen Wolf, though a fun popcorn flick, isn’t even the best work that Michael J. Fox did in 1985. Conversely, if Eddie Murphy was still as good in his more recent movies as he was in 48 Hrs. he’d still be on top instead of an afterthought resting on his laurels.

 

 

 

 

Beetlejuice          vs.              Turner & Hooch

beetlejuiceEveryone pretty much knows going in that a Tim Burton film is going to be a weird experience, and 1988’s hoochBeetlejuice is no exception. Alec Baldwin & Geena Davis star as a couple happily settling into their idyllic New England home when they meet an untimely demise. But instead of walking on streets of gold or burning in perpetual fire they find themselves back in their house. That’d be okay, except for the fact that another family soon moves in. The original (now dead) owners want to run this new family off and enlist the help of the titular ghost, a “freelance bio-exorcist”. Hilarity ensues. Part comedy, part horror film, Beetlejuice has enjoyed a cult following (pun unavoidable) for a quarter century, mostly due to the manic performance of Michael Keaton as the title character. Winona Ryder is also…interesting…as the goth daughter of the odd family that has moved into the house. 1989 brought us Turner & Hooch, in which Tom Hanks stars as a California police detective who teams up with a rather ugly, destructive, slobbery dog to bring down a drug lord. It’s a different take on the buddy cop genre, or atleast it would have been different if the very comparable K-9 starring Jim Belushi hadn’t been released the same year. But since, in most people’s hearts & minds, Hanks > Jim Belushi this movie is generally thought of as the better of the two.

 

The Verdict:       Beetlejuice. To be honest it’s not exactly my kind of flick, but the cast is undeniably great and it is one of Keaton’s signature roles, despite the fact that he’s really not onscreen that much. I like Turner & Hooch just fine, but it just ran into stiff competition. Sometimes those are the breaks.

 

 

 

 

Purple Rain                  vs.              Crocodile Dundee

purpleWhich came first…the song or the movie?? In the case of 1984’s Purple Rain the song (and album of the crocsame name) was released just before the film, which essentially serves as unique advertising for the album. Prince stars as a small-time Minneapolis musician battling thru problems at home with abusive parents, professional rivalries in his music career, & a rocky relationship with the lovely Apollonia. Paul Hogan was already a well-known actor & comedian in his native Australia, but he became a worldwide celebrity in 1986 after the release of Crocodile Dundee. The story follows a NY City magazine writer who travels to The Outback for a story about a bushman that’s been involved in some almost mythological exploits. She finds that Mick (as he prefers to be called) isn’t quite as legendary as the anecdotes about him would indicate, but is nevertheless a really fascinating individual. The writer invites the bushman back to The Big Apple to finish the story, at which point the film becomes a classic fish-out-of-water story with a little romance thrown in for good measure. Two sequels followed over the course of the next fifteen years, but neither retained that witty charm of the original.

 

The Verdict:       Crocodile Dundee. Purple Rain has a kickass soundtrack, but that’s about it. Dundee puts a unique spin on a formulaic concept and is good for more than a few laughs.

 

 

 

Biloxi Blues                  vs.              Parenthood

biloxi-bluesIt is said that the character of Eugene Jerome is an autobiographical representation of playwright Neil parentSimon and his youth in Brooklyn during The Great Depression. In the 1988 dramedy Biloxi Blues, the second installment of The Eugene Trilogy, Matthew Broderick portrays Eugene as he heads off to basic training near the end of World War II. The viewer will recognize several young faces that you can’t quite remember where you know them from, but the best parts of the film are the interactions between Eugene and his quirky drill instructor, played by the incomparable Christopher Walken. 1989’s Parenthood is an ensemble dramedy with an all-star cast including Steve Martin, Mary Steenburgen, Jason Robards, Dianne Weist, Keanu Reeves, Rick Moranis, & Joaquin Phoenix. It has been adapted as a TV series twice. The first try was in 1990 and starred Ed Begley Jr., David Arquette, & Leonardo DiCaprio (you may have heard of him). It lasted for only one short season. The second attempt, starring Craig T. Nelson, Bonnie Bedelia, & Lauren Graham was better received and recently concluded its run after 6 seasons.

 

The Verdict:       This is a tough one, so I am going to leave it up to The Manoverse. I would REALLY love some help deciding this matchup folks!!

 

 

 

Police Academy          vs.              The Last Starfighter

police-academyPolice Academy was released in 1984 and was followed by six sequels in the next decade. For awhile it starfighterseems like a new Police Academy film was made every year, and there have been (unsuccessful) efforts to revive/reboot the series in the past several years. However, the only film that really matters is the original. It was fresh, funny, well-written slapstick comedy with a talented cast. Steve Guttenberg headlined a class of misfits trying to become police officers (for various reasons). It is an obvious riff on The Bad News Bears, but that’s okay. It’s another formula that works. 1984’s The Last Starfighter tells the story of a teenager named Alex who is obsessed with a particular video game. Because he is so skilled at the game it is revealed to him that it is actually real, and he is whisked off to outer space to help save the planet Rylos while a robot doppelganger fills in for him on Earth. The film’s special effects may seem a bit cheesy now, but thirty years ago they were pretty remarkable. The scenes with Alex’s robot double are quite funny. This is a movie that will get remade someday because Hollywood won’t be able to resist updating it with all the latest & greatest gadgetry at their disposal, but it’ll have to be a heck of an effort to improve on the original.

 

 

The Verdict:       The Last Starfighter. Reminiscent of a NASCAR photo finish, this is a really close call. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the plethora of subpar Police Academy sequels don’t carry some weight in my decision, as they really did water down the perception of the first film’s originality, charm, & humor. While The Last Starfighter doesn’t rank alongside Star Wars or Star Trek, it is a fun, quirky, unique entry in the sci-fi genre.

Superfluous 7 Favorite Stand-Up Comedians

My man Michael Wilbon recently posted a video commentary…for no apparent reason…on comedythe PTI Facebook page about his Top 10 stand-up comics. Because Wilbon, as erudite as he seems on TV, is subconsciously a militant black man and a throwback 60’s radical his list was, shall we say, just a little bit prejudiced. It wasn’t too terrible I suppose, but it had Wanda Sykes for God’s sake, a woman who is only mildly amusing at her best, while leaving off 2 or 3 certified comedy legends. My dismay with this absurd display of racially biased poppycock has inspired me to create my own ranking. I have made a concerted effort to eschew the kind of poor taste & obvious sociopolitical slant shown by Wilbon, but to be fair we are all a product of our background, bound to be influenced by the time & place in which we were raised and the things to which we were or were not exposed. I’m about 15 years younger than Wilbon, was raised in small town WV as opposed to Chicago, and watched way too much TV as a kid. I am a child of the 80’s (with fond memories of the late 70’s) and became an adult in the 90’s. I do think my rankings are better & more reasonable than the list that motivated this effort, but others may disagree. So be it.


comedy2In pondering this idea I had a lot of names pop into my head. It became necessary to create parameters. The focus here is on stand-up comedy…just a guy (or lady) on stage with a microphone in front of a live audience. Many of the best comedians have gone on to star in TV series or become movie stars. That’s fine, but that’s not what this is about. Jimmy Fallon may have once done stand-up comedy, but in my mind he is an SNL alum who went on to do a few forgettable films and now hosts the Tonight Show. Same deal with David Letterman. To me he is a talk show host that has been a centerpiece of late night television for ¾ of my life. At any rate, even with those self-imposed boundaries the list was overflowing, so we will begin with some Honorable Mentions that didn’t quite make the cut for one reason or another.

 

Honorable Mention

Tim Allen
His stand-up routines landed him a successful sitcom which he parlayed into a mediocre film career, so I think of him primarily as a comedic actor.

Billy Crystal
I LOVE Crystal, but to me he is an actor & awards show host.

Bob Newhart
His standup career was before my time. I remember him as the star of two of TV’s more underappreciated sitcoms.

Don Rickles
He’s funny, but his career trajectory plateaued before I was born.

Johnny Carson & Jay Leno
I know them primarily as two long time hosts of the Tonight Show.

Bob Hope
An undisputed legend, but one whose career peaked long before I was born and who I fondly recall as hosting the occasional variety show special on TV.

Steve Martin
I realize he was a revolutionary stand-up comic in the 70’s, but I know him mainly as a film actor and for his numerous appearances on SNL.

Garry Shandling
Funny, but not quite elite. I recall him as a frequent guest host on the Tonight Show and remember his first sitcom on Showtime in the late 80’s.

Buddy Hackett
He was before my time. I remember him mostly for his guest appearances on Carson’s Tonight Show in the 1980’s.

Sam Kinison
Sadly Kinison was gone far too soon, killed by a teenage drunk driver at the age of 38. Kinison was obnoxious, controversial, & often blasphemous, but he was funny. It would have been really interesting to see how he might have evolved. Would he have softened with age?? Would he have become a caricature of himself, still trying to be the loud, abrasive rebel even as an elder statesman of comedy?? Or would he have just flamed out & faded away once his shtick started to grow old?? We’ll never know, and that’s too bad.

Steven Wright
Wright’s deadpan delivery is unmistakable yet kind of defines him as a one trick pony. Amusing in small doses, but there is a reason he never became a huge star.

Ron White
I gave this spot to White over Jeff Foxworthy because I think he is funnier. His humor seems kind of restricted to a specific southern demographic, which is fine by me but limits his star power and accessibility to the masses.

Gallagher
You know & love him as the prop comedian who busts watermelons with a sledgehammer. It’s a gimmick that has narrowly defined his career for four decades.

Andrew Dice Clay
He’s funny & memorable enough to get a mention, but just too vulgar to be ranked amongst the best.

Andy Kaufman
It is difficult to describe exactly what Andy Kaufman did on stage. He was more of a performance artist than a traditional standup comedian. It seemed as if he was trying to entertain himself more than anyone else, and if that meant offending, annoying, & confusing the audience then that was just dandy. Kaufman is another artist that we lost far too early, as he succumbed to lung cancer at age 35. I remember him mostly as Latka Gravis on the sitcom Taxi, a role that he allegedly despised.

Redd Foxx
To me he is iconic junk king Fred G. Sanford from the 70’s sitcom Sanford & Son. However, before that role he had a long & successful career as a crude & profane stand-up comic. That was in the 50’s & 60’s though…way way way before my time, and in an era when profanity was actually shocking instead of the accepted norm.

 

Okay, so now that the honorable mentions are out of the way it’s time to move to the main attraction. To be honest I wish more of these guys worked “clean”, but it’s rare to find a comedian who does that nowadays. We live in an era in which F Bombs and sexual humor sells, so that’s what many do. It’s not my preference, but for the most part I think my choices would still be funny if they took the road less traveled instead of conforming to low worldly standards. At any rate, sit down, enjoy a cold beverage, and maybe chuckle, chortle, guffaw, & giggle as I present…..

 

 

 

From the home office in Happy, TX…..

 

 

 

My Superfluous 7 Favorite Stand-Up Comedians:

 

 

 

7 Eddie Murphy / Richard Pryor
murphyY’all should know by now, there will be ties. These guys are legends, with Pryor being the trailblazer who heavily influenced Murphy. Pryor’s stand-up career was en fuego in the 1970’s when I was just a baby. By the time I got to the age where I was consciously making entertainment choices and discovering what I enjoy Pryor, like so many others, had segued into acting. It is really interesting that a vast majority of comedians cite Richard Pryor as a huge influence. He really did make it look easy. His comedy was edgy & vulgar, yet accessible to the masses. Perhaps one of the most regrettable byproducts of Pryor’s legacy is that so many comics believe that peppering their act with a plethora of F-Bombs & other profanities is hysterically funny. I suppose it was humorous in a shocking kind of way when he did it, but now it’s just derivative & tedious. Murphy’s career has been all over the place, with a prominent chunk of the early 80’s spent as a cast member on SNL followed by a three pryordecade movie career with some hits (48 Hrs., Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, Coming to America) and a lot of misses (The Golden Child, Vampire in Brooklyn, Pluto Nash, Norbitt). In between those gigs, for a brief time in the mid-80’s, he was a comedy rock star that did a few really good HBO specials that became big sellers on home video. Unfortunately Eddie Murphy seemed to buy into the whole movie star fantasy and has become more aloof & pretentious over the years.

 

6 Chris Rock / Dennis Miller
rockI don’t often agree with Rock’s politics, but there is no denying that he is an intelligent, thoughtful guy whose observational comedy is a cut above. Much of his humor has racial overtones, but I’ve rarely found it racist. It is more like a brutally honest, undeniably subjective worldview to which I can’t relate. In contrast, Miller’s philosophies & attitudes are much more in line with my own. He also is a smart & solicitous dude whose comedy was tinged with insightful commentary about life even before he became a regular guest on political talk shows. Miller doesn’t dumb down his comedy for the masses. You either get the odd analogies & obscure references he makes or you don’t, and he’s not going to slow down and draw a picture for you. Both Rock & Miller had notable runs on Saturday Night Live. Rock has gone on to be a run-of-the-mill movie star in mostly pedestrian films, millerwhile Miller has dabbled in the whole talk show host thing (I really wanted him to be the guy to replace Letterman), did a season in the booth on Monday Night Football (not a good fit), & in recent years has become bogged down as a political pundit. I’d love to see him get back into doing stand-up.

 

5 Jim Gaffigan / Bill Cosby
gaffiganOkay…let’s first address the elephant in the room. I am not here to judge what Cosby may or may not have done in his personal life. That’s not my place, and I think the damage that has been done to his legacy speaks for itself. Both of these men do basically work “clean”, which is good. The foundation of their humor is family, marriage, children, & relationships. They tell stories that many folks recognize from their own lives. It’s easygoing & affable. Their comedy isn’t meanspirited, edgy, or brash. Cosby, of course is…or was…a living legend that has done movies & TV shows and has generally been a part of the entertainment landscape for a half century. Gaffigan has been around for about a cosbydecade. He’s a soft-spoken, self-deprecating guy who likes to joke about being fat & lazy, comedy to which I can relate. Young comedians need to study these guys and understand that intelligent, relevant, witty comedy doesn’t need to be vulgar, obnoxious, or malevolent.

 

4 Frank Caliendo / Denis Leary
caliendoBy far my favorite kind of comedian is one who can do spot-on impressions. If I could ask God for any fun & frivolous talent I’d probably choose being able to do impressions over singing, dancing, or playing an instrument. Older generations might prefer Rich Little, but to be honest I was never that enamored with Little. Caliendo hasn’t become the sort of superstar that landed his own sitcom, but he’s done a wide variety of media appearances…MadTV, Fox NFL Sunday, & a ton of radio shows…and is a regular in Vegas. He does awesome impressions of folks like Al Pacino, Morgan Freeman, President George W. Bush, & Robin Williams, as well as a ton of sportscentric impersonations such as ESPN personalities Mel Kiper Jr., Adam Shefter, & Stephen A. Smith, former coaches John learyMadden & Jon Gruden, Charles Barkley, Jim Rome, and Bill Walton. I think Caliendo is brilliant. Leary has segued into acting now, but at one time in the early 90’s he was a chain smoking, fast talking, “angry” comedian…kind of a toned down Sam Kinison…and he was hilarious. His comedy album No Cure for Cancer is classic and helped make dreary days at a tedious job more tolerable for me in the mid-1990’s. Leary was a much better stand-up comic than he is an actor, and I hope he goes back to what he does best someday.

 

3 Jerry Seinfeld
Yes I am aware that Mr. Seinfeld starred in a highly rated sitcom. As a matter of fact I chose Seinfeld as my favorite TV show of all time just a few years ago. However, that show was based, atleast partly, on the observational comedy of its star. Seinfeld was a celebrated comedian throughout the 1980’s, with his casual, conversational style playing really well on television in appearances with Johnny Carson and David Letterman. Seinfeld comes across as a kind of everyman, a guy it’d be fun to have lunch with or go on a road trip. Much like the beloved television show his standup comedy is about the trivialities, conundrums, seinfeldfrustrations, & contradictions of daily life. In contrast to guys like Kinison or Leary he isn’t particularly angry, and unlike Pryor, Murphy, or Dice he is far from profane. I would describe Seinfeld as perpetually bemused by the fickle nature of humanity. People like him just have a whole different way of looking at the world. They see things that most people overlook…and then they tell funny stories & jokes about what they perceive. Thankfully that perception is often quite entertaining. I always thought Seinfeld would end up hosting a late night show, but the stardom he achieved with his sitcom skyrocketed him past that. He doesn’t have to work that hard or often now. He hosts an amusing talk show called Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, which you can find online, and thankfully he has gone back to doing standup. Maybe one day I’ll get the opportunity to see him perform live.

 

2 Robin Williams
Robin Williams was like Jerry Seinfeld on cocaine. Literally. Sadly we lost Williams last year, but his legacy is rock solid. He, of course, became well-known in the early 80’s on the sitcom Mork & Mindy, and after that starred in a plethora of mostly good films. But Williams began as a standup comedian and never completely left it behind. On stage he did it all…jokes, stories, improv, pratfalls, impressions, observation. It is hard to put him in a box and categorize his williamscomedy. Robin Williams was manic, silly, intelligent, & creative. He was brilliant. His energy was unmatched. He always made me laugh. And not just a light snicker. I’m talking about wall shaking, tears in my eyes laughter that made others think I’d lost my mind. Hindsight informs us that the energy level was often drug induced, and sadly we also know that the comedy that made us laugh hid pain & depression that would ultimately lead to suicide. I don’t really know what to say about all of that. Unfortunately the tragic ending will likely forever alter the opinions of many about Robin Williams. I understand that, but for the purposes of this exercise choose to remember the good times.

 

1 George Carlin
George Carlin had a career unlike any other. He began doing standup in the 60’s and was still working nearly 50 years later. He dabbled a little bit in television & movies, but pretty much stuck to being a standup comedian. His observational comedy was a bit more acerbic, and many might say that in later years he bordered on meanspirited & angry. Carlin was a product of the counterculture 60’s and always had a bit of that “I’m smarter than you” attitude. In the 70’s he came up with his well-known routine The 7 Words You Can Never Say on Television, which seems a bit quaint now. I won’t repeat any of the words, but I will say that, as carlinopposed to four decades ago, I think I’ve heard atleast 3 or 4 of the forbidden words on network TV just this week. I didn’t really discover Carlin until the 80’s when he had several specials on HBO. By then he’d started doing a lot more sociopolitical commentary, much of it the complete opposite of my own worldview. However, I can usually overlook such disagreements and still find someone funny. While Jerry Seinfeld seems amused by humanity’s shortcomings they seemed to really tick George Carlin off. Sometimes this was hilarious, sometimes it wasn’t. The stuff I preferred from Carlin were his observations about language. He would talk about how language had evolved, mostly due to political correctness. Battle fatigue has become PTSD. Used cars are now pre-owned. Stewardesses are now flight attendants. Deaf people are hearing impaired & a person isn’t blind but has a visual impairment. I could go on but you get the point. Carlin was at his best when he was dissecting the idiocy of political correctness, something it seems like he hated as much as I do. That alone vaults him to the top of this list, despite everything he believed in that I disagree with.

Hall of Influence – Class 3

Before I bestow the honor of being inducted into the Hall of Influence on new members, let us first refresh the collective memory and recall who has already been previously enshrined. On 9/27/09 the inaugural member was my Lord & Savior Jesus Christ. Then five months later in February 2010 we inducted The Rooney Family (owners of my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers), the greatest fictional detective of all time Sherlock Holmes & his creator author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and The Chairman of the Board Frank Sinatra.

 

Today we celebrate three new honorees from the worlds of music, literature, and politics.

 

While Mr. Sinatra always did and still does seem to get most of the attention & respect of fans of mid-20th century popular music, I submit that there is another member of the legendary Rat Pack that deserves just as much admiration for his immense talent and unmistakably smooth, rich baritone. That man was born Dino Crochetti in 1917 just a couple of hours up the highway in Steubenville, OH, but we all know him better as Dean Martin. Dino was the very definition of multi-talented. He could sing, he could act, and he was what I like to call quietly funny. Lots of people…Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy, etc…are hilarious in a sort of loud, obnoxious, crude way, and that is fine. Whatever works. But I tend to be drawn to humor that is more casual, caustic, & low-key, probably because it reflects my own personality. Martin honed his comic chops while working as zany partner Jerry Lewis’ “straight man” in the 40’s & 50’s and perfected his shtick as part of the Rat Pack in the 60’s. He also conquered the world of films, starring in over 50 movies…everything from screwball comedies with Lewis to war dramas to westerns. Then he became a television star in the 70’s. However, it is the music that stood the test of time. About 15 years ago I was in the car with my sister driving to a family dinner. I put a CD in and the soothing sounds of Dino emanated from the speakers. My sibling looked at me strangely and said “Oh my God…you’re turning into Dad”. At the time I just chuckled & shook it off. Now I realize that it might be one of the best compliments given me in my lifetime, not only because my father is undoubtedly among the finest men I’ve ever known, but also because somewhere along the line I was taught to appreciate good music and respect the wonderful gifts that God bequeaths to his children.

 

Our second honoree is one of the best writers that America has ever produced. Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, wrote some of the greatest books of the 19th century, and 150 years later most of them are still being read by millions of appreciative bibliophiles. Works like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and Pudd’nhead Wilson have left an indelible mark on the hearts & minds of readers everywhere, including your humble Potentate of Profundity. His writing is an interesting marriage of humor & societal contempt that I adore. Twain himself is a true piece of Americana, having grown up on the shores of the Mississippi River and tried his hand at a fascinating variety of gigs, including riverboat pilot, newspaper reporter, gold miner, and printing apprentice. Everything I have ever read by & about Twain indicates that he was just the sort of fellow I might have gotten along with famously…witty, charming, and self-educated, with just the right mix of intellectual curiosity & wanderlust to fuel the creative juices. I have tremendous respect for almost any writer that manages to get their stuff published & read by the masses, and when those stories are still being enjoyed centuries later it is worthy of the deepest admiration.

 

The third and final new member of the Hall of Influence is the man I like to refer to as The Godfather of Conservatism. I am, of course, speaking about Rush Limbaugh. I grew up and still reside in the hardcore liberal state of West Virginia, where we hate rich people, love unions, and rely on the government to take care of our every need. My Dad has always voted a straight Democrat ticket, as did my grandfather. From a very young age I had an affinity for politics and fondly recall being fascinated by the memorable keynote address of New York Mayor Mario Cuomo at the 1984 Democrat National Convention when I was 12 years old. Then I went to college and met my friend Greg. Strangely enough Greg grew up just 15 minutes down the road, but we’d never met until the fall of 1991 when I was a resident advisor at Marshall University in my sophomore year and he was a freshman on my floor. Though we couldn’t be more different on the surface we quickly found out that we had much in common and were soon, as Forrest Gump might say, just like peas & carrots. I forget the exact circumstances and sequence of events, but it was Greg who first introduced me to Rush. At first I was reluctant. I don’t know how Greg managed to escape the Appalachian liberal indoctrination, but it was firmly entrenched in my mind that Republicans were mean, evil crooks that didn’t give a damn about poor people, and poor people were pretty much the only kind I knew. But I’m a bookworm who respects the opinions & recommendations of my friends, so when Greg gave me a copy of Rush’s first book, The Way Things Ought to Be, I gave it a whirl…and it changed my life. Everything Rush said made sense and the veil was lifted from my eyes. Rush taught me about conservatism and shed new light on things like media bias, the BS about  feminism, environmentalism, & racism, the truth about economics, and the value of liberty, rugged individualism, and self-reliance. In the ensuing 20+ years I have read Rush’s second book, See I Told You So, and for a long time was a regular listener of his radio show. In the past few years I have become less intensely involved in sociopolitical issues simply due to age, spiritual growth, and the conscious choice to concentrate on things that bring me more tranquility & quiet pleasure. However, I still listen in on occasion and would buy a new book by Rush in a heartbeat. I wholeheartedly agree with most of what he says, and become aggravated by those who criticize him without really reading or listening to what he says versus what others say about him. My only regret is that I was not exposed to conservatism far earlier in my life. I sincerely believe in the greatness of our nation and that, even though not everyone will succeed, everyone has the opportunity to succeed if they are taught the right values, provided access to the proper tools, and given the freedom to attempt to succeed. That is the biggest problem with government – so many people never really try, because not only are they taught that they aren’t good enough, smart enough, good looking enough, or rich enough, but they are taught that these deficiencies aren’t an issue because they’ll be taken care of no matter what. No need to overcome obstacles, no need to make tough choices, no need to go out on a limb and try something outside the comfort zone – just sit tight and let Big Brother pay your bills, put food on the table, and take care of everything from clothing to housing to medical expenses and it’s only getting worse. There’s only so much a lone radio host can do to fight this moral & ethical decay, but for over two decades Rush has done more to combat such destructive attitudes than anyone could have ever expected, and for that I salute the man.

 

 

 

100 Favorite Movies…..66-70

70 The Glen Miller Story

I’m a big fan of Jimmy Stewart and I love big band & jazz music, so this movie provides an irresistible combo. Stewart is quite the Miller doppelganger, which I assume is a prime reason he was cast in the film. June Allyson provides perky support as Miller’s wife, and a pre-MASH Harry Morgan plays Miller’s best buddy. The story follows Glen Miller from his struggling musician days through his rise to fame to his untimely demise in a presumed plane crash during World War II. I decided to watch this movie years ago simply because I had become a fan of Stewart and wanted to see as many of his films as possible. But the movie made me a Glenn Miller fan and I continue to enjoy his music immensely.

 

69 The Shrek Trilogy

I have to admit…I didn’t see any Shrek films until all three were already out and available on video, so I’m fairly new to the Shrek universe. I didn’t bother with them at first because I assumed they were kiddie films. However, I decided to watch one on television a few years back and have since seen all three. I was both right and wrong in my original assessment. They are undoubtedly geared toward an demographic far younger than I, but on the other hand sometimes it’s okay to temporarily feel like a kid again. For anyone unfamiliar (which I assume would only be folks who, like me, are both single and childless because anyone with children is surely familiar with Shrek), this animated trilogy follows the adventures of a surly but loveable ogre, his talking donkey sidekick, and the ogre’s lady love. There are a host of other characters. Lending their considerable voice talents to the three films are an all star team of folks such as Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow, Justin Timberlake, John Cleese, Rupert Everett, and many more. Most of the visual humor and jokes in the series parody well known fairy tales, which is a huge part of the charm for me…I love parodies and who doesn’t appreciate childhood fairy tales. The animation is computer generated, which far exceeds the animation most of us grew up with. These movies need to be viewed in high definition to really get the full effect.

 

68 The Greatest Show On Earth

Once again my favorite actor Jimmy Stewart is paired with something cool. This time it’s the circus. I think this is one of Stewart’s best performances. It is certainly low key and subtle, as he spends the entire film in clown makeup. The bigger draw for most people, I suppose, would be Charlton Heston in one of his finest performances as well. Heston kind of became a sad parody of himself in the latter part of his career, but this is one of his earlier movies and he shows why he was once one of the top box office attractions in the world. Directed by famed auteur Cecil B. Demille (I’m ready for my close-up…indeed), the story follows the Ringling Brothers/Barnum & Bailey Circus as it travels from town to town. We meet several of the performers and become involved in their lives behind the big top, so to speak. That behind the scenes view reveals a lot of romance, intrigue, drama, and tragedy. Basically it’s a soap opera set at the circus. Demille is known for his lavish, over-the-top, extravagant productions, and he doesn’t disappoint with The Greatest Show On Earth. Like so many beloved memories of yesteryear, the circus has almost slipped into being a remnant from a bygone era. Sure they are still around, but they are no longer an event. Even when I was a kid not that long ago it was a big deal when the circus came to town. Nowadays kids are into their video games and computers and iPods and couldn’t possibly care less about the circus. But watch this movie and you will be reminded of just how extraordinary it used to be.

 

67 Ocean’s 13

In 2001 George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Brad Pitt teamed up to remake the 1960 Rat Pack romp Ocean’s 11, about robbing a Vegas casino. The remake was a smashing success and unlike the original spawned sequels. The first movie will be dealt with later in this list. The second movie, Ocean’s 12, was poorly written and quite forgettable. The third movie was Ocean’s 13, and it’s a nice rebound from its disappointing predecessor. This time the gang returns to Las Vegas and they don’t actually rob a casino as much as they…turn the odds in their favor through uniquely nefarious means. The bad guy is played by Al Pacino, which automatically makes this a must see. As with the other Ocean’s films, don’t try to interject logic or make sense out of the proceedings. This is pure popcorn cinema, escapism at its best.

 

66 The Frat Pack Three Pak (Anchorman, The 40 Year Old Virgin, & Wedding Crashers)

Anyone who grew up in the 80’s is familiar with The Brat Pack (Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Andrew McCarthy, Rob Lowe, and a few others). And while imitation is the sincerest form of flattery I would not necessarily call the modern Frat Pack imitators. The only similarity is the name homage, which was itself a takeoff on the 1960’s Rat Pack of Frank Sinatra and his pallies. The Frat Pack is generally thought to be comprised of Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, Owen and Luke Wilson, Steve Carell, Jack Black, Paul Rudd, and Seth Rogen. Some combination of those actors has starred in a host of films together with a wide array of results. Zoolander and Starsky & Hutch…not so good. Old School and Blades of Glory…much better. But for me three Frat Pack films stand head and shoulders above the crowd and have stood up to numerous repeated viewings. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy stars Ferrell with Carell and Rudd in very amusing supporting roles. Vaughn, Stiller, Black, Rogen and Luke Wilson all have brief cameos. Ferrell plays an over-the-top misogynistic 70’s news anchor whose world is turned upside down when he’s forced to share the anchor desk with a woman. Anchorman is among the most quotable movies of the past two decades and is just pointless yet harmless fun. The 40 Year Old Virgin stars Carell as the titular character, with Rogen and Rudd in vital supporting roles that really make this film work. It’s hilarious but sweet, with more quotable dialogue and a few really memorable scenes. I really like Rudd in this film. Wedding Crashers, starring Vaughn and Owen Wilson, is a movie I really like but probably not as much as some people. I don’t think it’s really any better than any other Frat Pack film, which doesn’t mean anything negative it just means my praise seems to not rise to outlandish and undeserved peaks of hyperbole. Will Ferrell makes possibly one of the best cameos of all time, and to say that Rachel McAdams (who I someday intend to make my bride) is quite fetching may be one of the biggest understatements I could conceive. Plus there’s Christopher Walken and that’s just the cherry on top.