90’s Film Frenzy: Phat Round 2

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

 

 

 

Apollo 13

Release:    6/30/95

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

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

 

vs.

 

Only the Lonely

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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Good Will Hunting

Release:    12/5/97

Starring:     Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Robin Williams

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

 

vs.

 

Big Daddy

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

Allen Covert has appeared in 25 Adam Sandler films.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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American Pie

Release:    7/9/99

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

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

 

vs.

 

Armageddon

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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You’ve Got Mail

Release:    12/18/98

Starring:     Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan

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

 

vs.

 

The Firm

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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Aladdin

Release:    11/25/92

Starring:              Scott Weinger, Robin Williams, Gilbert Gottfried

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

 

vs.

 

Patch Adams

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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Groundhog Day

Release:    2/12/93

Starring:     Bill Murray, Andy MacDowell

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

 

vs.

 

Clueless

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

As if!

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

Release:    2/4/94

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

Directed By:        Tom Shadyac

 

vs.

 

The Mask

 

Quotes

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

 

Sssomebody stop me!

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?

Release:    12/17/93

Starring:              Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio

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

 

vs.

 

Pretty Woman

Release:    3/23/90

Starring:     Julia Roberts, Richard Gere

Directed By:                 Garry Marshall (Overboard, Beaches)

 

vs.

 

Batman Returns

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

80’s Movie Mania: Tubular Round 2

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

 

 

 

Tubular 2

 

The Blues Brothers               vs.              European Vacation

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Lethal Weapon                      vs.              La Bamba

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Ghostbusters                         vs.              Mr. Mom

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Dirty Dancing                         vs.              Moonstruck

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

The Big Chill                          vs.              Scarface

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure   vs.     WarGames

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

 

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

80’s Movie Mania: Bodacious Round 1

So now we move forward with 80’s Movie Mania. I will post a few more polls along the way, but there will also be head-to-head matchups that are rather easily decided with no poll necessary. Each film has been put into one of four divisions: Tubular, Gnarly, Radical, & Bodacious. Let’s begin with the first round matchups in the Bodacious Division.

 

 

 

Bodacious – Round 1

Stand By Me   vs.   K-9

Stand By Me, in addition to being an excellent song originally recorded by Ben E King in the 60’s, is a 1986 coming-of-age film k9based on a Stephen King novella called The Body. The movie, in which four young lads go on a quest in search of the body of a presumed dead child, is notable for its superb cast, including Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell, River Phoenix, Wil Wheaton, Kiefer Sutherland, John Cusack, & Casey Siemaszko, all of whom would go on to have varying levels of success in their careers. K-9 is a 1989 action comedy in which Jim Belushi plays a cop who gets partnered with a german shepherd to bring down a drug lord.

The Verdict: Stand By Me. It’s not that K-9 is a bad film…it’s just that Stand By Me is one of the preeminent movies of the 1980’s that has stood the test of time mostly due to a cast of youngsters that grew into fine performers and well regarded Hollywood personalities.

 
Weekend at Bernie’s   vs.   Bachelor Party
wabNot every movie has to be an Oscar contender chockful of gravitas & profound life lessons. Sometime it’s okay to just sit back bpand have stupid fun. Weekend at Bernie’s is a goofy 1989 comedy starring Andrew McCarthy & Jonathan Silverman as bean counters at an insurance company whose boss has been embezzling money. After the boss ends up being the victim of a mob hit the two minions must convince everyone he’s still alive to save their own skins. It’s all rather silly yet enjoyable, highlighted by the physical comedy of actor Terry Kiser as the ill-fated corpse. A sequel was made a few years later but the humor was kind of played out. 1984’s Bachelor Party is one of the earliest triumphs in the storied career of Tom Hanks. The title says it all, with the story revolving around a wild stag party and all the associated hijinks.

The Verdict: I’m going to let The Manoverse decide which film moves on. If I can’t get atleast 20-25 votes in the poll I will decide the victor.

 

 

Cocktail   vs.   Stripes
cocktailCocktail is a 1988 romantic dramedy starring Tom Cruise as a young Army veteran who bartends at night to put himself thru college. He has an entrepreneurial spirit and big plans, which get derailed when he falls in love with a rich girl while working at a beachside club in Jamaica. Cocktail is a bit more style than substance, but that’s okay because the style part is so much fun. Cruise has rarely been cooler or more charismatic. The supporting cast is solid and the soundtrack…featuring songs from The Beach Boys, Starship, The Georgia Satellites, & John Cougar Cougar Mellencamp Mellencamp…is really enjoyable. Stripes is a military comedy (a very popular theme in the 80’s) and was among a string of hits (along with Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, & Tootsie) that Billstripes Murray did in the early 80’s after his departure from Saturday Night Live. Stripes has an impressive cast full of folks that would go on to have respectable careers…names like John Candy, Judge Reinhold, Sean Young, PJ Soles, John Larroquette, Timothy Busfield, Bill Paxton, Joe Flaherty, & Dave Thomas. The film is directed by Ivan Reitman and stars Murray & Harold Ramis as guys who join the Army more or less because they have nothing else good going on in their lives. Hilarity ensues. It is undoubtedly one of Murray’s best efforts.

The Verdict: This one is up to you Manoverse. I assume votes will be sharply divided along generational lines so maybe we’ll see just how diverse this reading audience is. Please vote…don’t make me make this decision myself.

 
Eddie & The Cruisers   vs.   A Fish Called Wanda
ecThe one thing I cannot figure out about Eddie & The Cruisers is why a band that had its success in the early 60’s sounds so wandamuch like a Springsteen/Bob Seger/Bon Jovi hybrid. Probably because the film was produced in 1983. At any rate, the idea is fantastic, with a framing story of a VH1 style documentary being made about a band who had one big album two decades ago before the enigmatic lead singer died in a tragic car crash. We meet the surviving members of the band and see flashbacks about their rise & fall. The final scene isn’t necessarily shocking, as it is hinted at throughout the film, but it is a well done surprise that sets up a tepid sequel that would come six years later (about 5 years too late). A Fish Called Wanda is a critically acclaimed heist comedy starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Cline, & Monty Python’s John Cleese. The group of crooks continuously try to double-cross each other and gain sole possession of the loot, with things becoming even more complicated when a lawyer gets involved. Cline won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

The Verdict: Eddie & The Cruisers. This would probably be considered a significant upset by many. Eddie & The Cruisers is viewed by most as a forgettable missed opportunity…a great story poorly executed. Conversely, A Fish Called Wanda has big stars and a strong pedigree. However, I believe that Eddie & The Cruisers does enough to be celebrated as the kind of solid popcorn entertainment that one would happily watch on a rainy Saturday afternoon whilst lazily keeping the couch warm. Meanwhile, A Fish Called Wanda contains a brand of Python-esque humor that has never been my particular cup o’ tea.

 
St. Elmo’s Fire   vs.   Romancing the Stone
sefSt. Elmo’s Fire finds members of the infamous Brat Pack (in this case Judd Nelson, Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, rsAndrew McCarty, Rob Lowe, & Mare Winningham) as recent graduates of Georgetown University who must now put the halcyon days of collegiate frivolity behind them and face the harsh realities of the real world. Haven’t most of us been there in one form or another?? Romancing the Stone is a 1984 rom-com/adventure flick starring Michael Douglas as an exotic bird smuggler (how’s that for a profession??) who gets roped into aiding a romance novelist who has ventured to Columbia to rescue her kidnapped sister. There is hidden treasure, drug lords, rogue military, & romance…everything one could ask for in an adventure quest film. It was director Robert Zemeckis’ first big success as well as one of Douglas’ first big films.

The Verdict: St. Elmo’s Fire. The question I ask myself is this: If I am flipping thru the channels late at night and both of these films just happen to be on TV which one am I going to watch?? Romancing the Stone is a fun ride, but the cast & the soundtrack of St. Elmo’s Fire give it a photo finish victory.

 
Iron Eagle   vs.   An Officer & A Gentleman
ieHey…it’s Lou Gossett Jr. vs. Lou Gossett Jr.!! 1986’s Iron Eagle has Gossett as a retired Air Force pilot who is recruited by hisog young friend Doug to pull off a daring rescue mission. Doug’s father is an Air Force pilot who has been captured by Arabs and who will be executed in a few days because the U.S. government has decided not to intervene. It’s up to the retired colonel, Doug, & a group of Doug’s friends to rescue ol’ Dad. Gossett co-stars with Richard Gere & Debra Winger in the more celebrated 1982 film An Officer & A Gentleman. Gossett won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of a hardass drill sergeant who comes into conflict with a troubled young grunt played by Gere, a man who is trying to balance military life and a budding romance with an employee at a local factory.

The Verdict: It is tempting to make this choice myself because I definitely have a preference. However, I am going to be fair and give The Manoverse an opportunity to weigh in.

 
Pretty in Pink   vs.   Broadcast News
PPKPretty in Pink is one of a plethora of Brat Pack films that permeate 80’s cinema. It is written by John Hughes and tells the newsstory of a gal from (literally) the wrong side of the tracks who falls for the rich guy at school while the requisite best friend has unrequited feelings for the girl. Formulaic?? Sure…but it works. Broadcast News has a love triangle as well, with Holly Hunter as a neurotic TV news producer who is attracted to a pretty boy reporter but whose best friend is a less attractive reporter with a secret crush on his gal pal. More formula…but it also works really well.

The Verdict: Pretty in Pink. This is a hard one. Broadcast News is a great movie with a tremendously entertaining performance from Albert Brooks as the dowdy best pal. But I can’t overlook one of the iconic films of its generation, with solid performances from Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, James Spader, & Jon Cryer. Pretty in Pink benefits from a well written script by Hughes and a generation defining soundtrack featuring songs by INXS, Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, & The Psychedelic Furs.