90’s Film Frenzy: A Fatal Four Way Finale

Seven months ago we started our journey with 100 movies that defined the decade of the 1990’s. And while trilogies (Toy Story, Austin Powers, Scream) & Christmas films (Home Alone, The Santa Clause, The Ref) weren’t included, we still ended up with a rather eclectic & competitive field representing a decade that is difficult to pigeonhole.

It is tempting to define the 90’s with grunge, flannel, boy bands, hacky sack, baggy jeans, gangsta rap, & the rise of The Internet, which wouldn’t necessarily be inaccurate. However, when it comes to movies I don’t think any of that translated well…atleast to anything noteworthy. When thinking about the 1990’s on film it seems as though there were solid contributions across all genres, with the defining characteristic being a general lack of defining characteristics. Whereas 80’s kids look back with fondness at some of the flicks we enjoyed growing up partly because of their singular music, kitschy style, & overall cheesiness, I don’t feel like 90’s films have that kind of unique vibe. Society seemingly turned down a dark & more violent path in the 90’s, which is certainly reflected in movies as much as anything else, but since I don’t tend to gravitate toward such morose entertainment it isn’t a big thing for me. I suppose it is fair to say technology played an increased role in 90’s movies, especially with improvements in special effects & animation. It is kind of fun & interesting to watch some 90’s films and chuckle at their depiction of The Internet, marvel at the size of cell phones, & realize how much social media would have altered the plot, but it’s not really a dominating theme.

The good thing about this lack distinction is that, instead of stories defined by their style, we were offered plenty of enjoyable movies with enough substance to give them staying power, and y’all know that’s a big deal to me. Do you realize that films made in the 90’s are now as old as films produced in the 1960’s would have been in the 90’s?? When considered thru that prism the sheer number of impactful movies made in the 1990’s that are still being viewed with some regularity three decades later is quite remarkable. Whether you prefer comedy or drama, are into horror or action, hold a special place in your heart for animation or holiday classics…the 1990’s had plenty of solid choices.

As far as this competition goes, just like 80’s Movie Mania I have tried to be fair in my analysis & conclusions, but obviously personal bias can’t be completely eliminated. I’m fine with that though, because at the end of the day favorite movies are always a matter of individual taste. We can cite box office numbers, award nominations & victories, and critical reviews ‘til the cows come home. All of those things are valid criteria for scrutiny, but the truth is that sometimes they matter and sometimes they don’t. Having said all that, my hope is that most won’t have too much of an issue with my conclusions. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

The Contenders

 

Mrs. Doubtfire             

Of the Final Four contestants Mrs. Doubtfire is probably the one that most represents a 90’s vibe, with a story centered around divorce & child custody. It’s a tough gig to turn such topics into comedy, but with Robin Williams anything was possible. He stars as Daniel Hillard, a fun-loving voice actor whose charm has worn thin with his career-driven wife Miranda, played by Sally Field. When the final straw breaks the camel’s back of their marriage Daniel is inspired to interview for the nanny position that Miranda has advertised, but obviously can’t do it as himself. The solution?? Don heavy make-up, a wig, panty hose, & a dress and transform into Euphegenia Doubtfire, an elderly British lady any mother would want to babysit their children. Adding to the hijinks is Miranda’s flirtation with a former beau, fueling Daniel’s envy. It’s not so much that he wants to rekindle the marital flame as much as he doesn’t like another man so smoothly stepping into a paternal role. At any rate, the premise allows Williams to dip into his arsenal of comedic tricks, and the result is a super family friendly dramedy that doesn’t sidestep real life issues or give into the temptation for an idealistic & sentimental ending, but mostly focuses on humor.

 

 

Groundhog Day

A good friend opined a long time ago that time travel is cool, which is why almost any book, movie, or TV show containing it is enjoyable. But what about a time warp in which a man lives the same day over & over & over & over…(well, you get the point)?? Bill Murray stars as Phil Connors, a grumpy Pittsburgh meteorologist who makes the 90 minute trek up to Punxsutawney on February 2 to cover the annual festivities. Travelling with him are smartass cameraman Larry (portrayed by 80’s funnyman Chris Elliott) & lovely producer Rita (Andi MacDowell, at the apex of her career…a few years after Sex, Lies, & Videotape and a year before Four Weddings & A Funeral). Phil is a malcontent who hates reporting on Groundhog Day and doesn’t seem too happy about anything else. When a snowstorm forces Phil, Rita, & Larry to spend the night in Punxsutawney the weatherman isn’t pleased, and that mood doesn’t improve when he wakes up the next morning to find its Groundhog Day again!! You may recall learning about the five stages of grief at some point in school…denial, anger, bargaining, depression, & acceptance. Phil goes thru similar stages while stuck in the endless loop. At first he is confused. Then he uses his circumstance (and the idea that there are no consequences for his actions) to engage in drunken debauchery. He then becomes depressed and commits suicide multiple times to no avail. After killing himself and the infamous groundhog but still waking up in the time loop Phil decides to use his situation to better himself, learning things like ice sculpting, piano, & French poetry. He then begins being generous & helpful to others and also falls in love with Rita, utilizing the time loop to learn everything about her and become the kind of man she wants in her life. It is her love that ultimately seems to end Phil’s nightmare, although it is never explained what caused the time loop in the first place, how long it lasts, or exactly why it stops. The entire film is an existential enigma disguised as an ordinary comedy.

 

Forrest Gump

Accepted at face value Forrest Gump is simply the life story of “a local idiot” who has some improbable adventures and always gravitates back toward the girl he’s loved since childhood…but is that all it is?? Tom Hanks won his second consecutive Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Gump, a low IQ child in 1950’s Alabama who grows up to win the Medal of Honor for heroism in Vietnam, become an All-American football player for Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide, & make millions of dollars as a  shrimping magnate. His childhood friend Jenny takes a different path. Abused as a young girl by her father, she becomes a promiscuous hippie, does drugs, & ends up as a single mother ill with “some kind of virus” (likely AIDS or hepatitis). Along the way Forrest & Jenny drift in & out of each other’s lives, ultimately ending up married & raising their young son together before Jenny dies. Forrest Gump is mostly a drama, but I love the fact that there are moments of levity. And what a soundtrack!! You’ve got music from Elvis Presley, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Aretha Franklin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Three Dog Night, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Mamas & the Papas, The Doobie Brothers, Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Seger…anyone who enjoys classic rock will dig the tunes in Forrest Gump. As far as deep analysis goes, there are some that look at the film as an allegory of two Americas, with Forrest representing small town conservatism and Jenny embodying the anti-war, free love, drug-induced counterculture that rose to prominence in the 60’s. There is plenty of symbolism, philosophical ponderings about fate & destiny, and maybe even some religious or atleast spiritual subtext. If one would rather just enjoy the pleasure of Forrest Gump as a great story, that’ll work and you won’t be disappointed, but the underlying themes are there and serve as food for thought.

 

Titanic                          

I don’t remember exactly when I became fascinated by the infamous Titanic disaster, but I know it was long before 1997.  There had been other books, movies, & documentaries about the tragedy, but this film took the public’s level of interest to a whole new stratosphere and created an entire cottage industry out of a voyage that lasted less than a week a century ago. Kate Winslet & Leonardo DiCaprio earned lifelong fame portraying Rose & Jack, a pair of star crossed lovers whose brief romance is cut short by an iceberg. Rose Dewitt Bewkater is a high society debutante being forced into marriage with arrogant steel tycoon Cal Hockley, while Jack Dawson is third class steerage passenger who won his ticket in a poker game. Think of it as a slightly modernized twist on Romeo & Juliet. The first part of the movie introduces us to the pair, whose initial encounter takes place when Jack talks Rose out of jumping into the ocean…ironic when one considers what is to come. Of course we know that Titanic was a real ship that actually sank, so eventually those events take center stage, the situation having been personalized by our affection for Jack & Rose. There is also a framing device, as the beginning of the film presents a modern day expedition to the bottom of the sea, with a treasure hunter seeking The Heart of the Ocean, a huge heart-shaped diamond given to Rose by Cal. The treasure hunter is contacted by a still living Rose, who is over 100 years old, and she relays the events of her memory to him & his team. Real life Titanic passengers & crew  like “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, ship builder Thomas Andrews, White Star managing director J. Bruce Ismay, Captain Edward Smith, business moguls John Jacob Astor IV & Benjamin Guggenheim, and elderly couple Isidor & Ida Strauss, are depicted, and one of the few complaints that I’ve heard about Titanic over the years is the fact that the stories of such historical figures take a back seat to the fictional love story of Jack & Rose, but personally I don’t have an issue with the creative choices of the filmmakers…it is a movie, not a documentary, and since it set records at the box office & during awards season I assume very few others saw a problem.

 

 

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Elimination 1

Mrs. Doubtfire

Robin Williams was a legend, and Mrs. Doubtfire is undoubtedly one of his best movies, but at the end of the day it is just a solid comedy elevated by the performance of its star. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but at this point I have to pick nits and I cannot in good conscience promote it as an elite film.

 

 

Elimination 2

Titanic

Surprise!! You assumed it was going to win, didn’t you?? To be honest I might have had the same notion not that long ago. Critically acclaimed, record setting, award winning…Titanic is the total package. However, as I was pondering these final four films something hit me like a ton of bricks. Historical dramas, as these kinds of movies are known, are a double-edged sword. The notoriety of the event itself is obviously what leads to a film being made, and certainly it helps get curious moviegoers into the theater. But on the flip side the movie will always be compared to the actual situation, and in this case I think the tragic sinking of the RMS Titanic is such a fascinating story that Titanic feels merely satisfactory, perhaps even unnecessary. In retrospect the significance of the movie is that it renewed interest in the historic event.

 

 

The Runner Up

Groundhog Day

This breaks my heart. I adore Groundhog Day. Like a fine wine it has grown more deliciously elegant with age. To be honest I didn’t even watch it until years after its initial release. In February 1993 I was in the second semester of my junior year of college, spending most of my time drinking beer, hanging out with my fraternity brothers, and occasionally studying. I am actually glad that I didn’t see Groundhog Day back then, as I undoubtedly would have shrugged it off as the average comedy film that so many believe it to be instead of the metaphysical mediation of life that it actually is. Thru the prism of adulthood I am able to truly appreciate all that the movie has to offer. Though it isn’t winning this competition Groundhog Day is like the 12th seed during March Madness that goes on a run and finds itself head-to-head with the bluebloods, or an NFL team that has finished 8-8 for so many years that no one has any expectations then suddenly becomes a Super Bowl contender.

 

 

and finally…….

 

 

 

90’s Film Frenzy Champion

 

Forrest Gump

Tom Hanks starred in about a dozen significant films during the 1990’s, so I suppose it comes as no surprise that one of his works would win this competition. Something that I have consistently stated in our many discussions about movies in this space over the years is that a key benchmark for me is repeat viewings, and the idea of whether or not I am happy/excited when channel surfing and see that a particular movie is on TV. It is one thing to head to the local cineplex and be entertained for a couple of hours by the latest action flick, rom-com, slasher film, Christmas movie, sports drama, murder mystery, biopic, superhero adventure, sci-fi fantasy, or gross-out comedy, but it is entirely different when you are glad to watch the same story for the hundredth time decades later while vegging out at home. Not only does Forrest Gump check all the requisite boxes…made a ton of money, won a bunch of awards, killer soundtrack, received great reviews, eminently quotable…but I am still delighted to watch it whenever it is on, which is surprisingly often for a movie that hit theaters 25 years ago.  My father shares my love of Forrest Gump, which is a source of amusement for me since Dad & I rarely have a similar pop culture palate. I understand that there are a fair number of cynics who despise the movie for one reason or another, but I believe those folks are either overanalyzing or simply disagree with its perspective. To each their own.  My adoration has endured for over two decades and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

90’s Film Frenzy: The Elite Eight

It was at this point just over a year ago, as Merry Movie Mayhem was drawing to a conclusion, that I took the easy path and  let the final eight combatants bow out with what was essentially a collective tie. I don’t feel bad about that because Christmas movies are just so special that I am fine with not following thru with a fight to the death. I don’t have the same kind of sentimental attachment to the 1990’s, so today we move forward with the division finals, aka The Elite 8. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

Titanic                vs.              Sleepless in Seattle

After receiving a first round bye Titanic has gotten past Saving Private Ryan, Father of the Bride II, & The Birdcage. Sleepless in Seattle also received a first round bye then overcame challenges from Galaxy Quest, Dumb & Dumber, and My Cousin Vinny. I knew this moment would eventually come, and sadly it has arrived. During 80’s Movie Mania I eliminated National Lampoon’s Vacation in The Final Four because the ending makes it feel outdated. As I mentioned back then, the debate is whether that should be a mark against the film or celebrated as something that marks the era we are commemorating. Obviously I decided the former rather than the latter, and we are faced with a similar situation now. I adore Sleepless in Seattle, but the fact is that it feels dated because the invention of The Internet has made much of the premise irrelevant. The same story simply couldn’t be told nowadays. Conversely, Titanic has the advantage of being an historical drama. The story is what it is and it is…with all due respect to the unfortunate victims of the tragedy…frozen in time. The movie doesn’t feel outdated two decades later, and it won’t be two decades from now. One also cannot overlook the fact that it remains the second highest grossing film of all time and is one of only three films (the others being Ben-Hur and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) to win eleven Academy Awards. It has pretty good scores on Rotten Tomatoes too…89% from critics & 69% from the public, meaning that it is the rare movie that is actually good and popular. Though a film about a disaster that occurred in 1912 can’t really represent the decade of the 90’s I do feel like it is a signature piece of the cinematic experience of the 90’s.

 

      The Verdict:       

 

 

 

 

You’ve Got Mail                    vs.              Groundhog Day

You’ve Got Mail received a first round bye then defeated The Firm, Aladdin, & Good Will Hunting to make it to this point. After a first round bye Groundhog Day has gotten this far by overcoming Clueless, American Pie, & Apollo 13. The bottom line for me is originality. I have said for many years that I am secure enough in my smoldering machismo to admit that I enjoy a good rom-com, and You’ve Got Mail is a good rom-com. However, having said that, the thing about rom-coms is that they all share similar structural DNA. And why not?? The blueprint works, right?? But also, of the three films that Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan did together I think You’ve Got Mail might be the weakest…or atleast the most formulaic. Both Sleepless in Seattle and Joe Versus the Volcano feel more innovative, which makes a lot of sense since You’ve Got Mail is a loose remake of the 1940 James Stewart classic The Shop Around the Corner. Conversely, Groundhog Day is an inspired meditation on life, philosophy, love, & spirituality hiding in plain sight as an ordinary comedy. No one can argue with a straight face that Bill Murray & Andie MacDowell are as cute, perky, & charming as Hanks & Ryan, but his beleaguered cynicism and her enthusiastic naiveté work perfectly in Groundhog Day. It’s the kind of film one can watch over & over and discover something new each time, which seems rather appropriate.

 

      The Verdict:       

 

 

 

 

Forrest Gump             vs.              The Fugitive

After a first round bye Forrest Gump defeated Presumed Innocent, Die Hard: With A Vengeance, & Office Space to land in the Elite 8. The Fugitive received a first round bye then got past Joe Versus the Volcano, The Wedding Singer, & Father of the Bride. If you watch The Fugitive with absolutely no prior knowledge of the 60’s TV hit your enjoyment of the movie won’t suffer at all. Two powerhouse performances by Harrison Ford & Tommy Lee Jones (who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor) combined with great writing & edge-of-your seat drama make for a terrific cinematic experience. Forrest Gump is based on a novel that had gone virtually unnoticed, and the movie makes changes so significant that it feels completely original. Forrest Gump has a great cast (Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Sally Field, Gary Sinise), a fantastic soundtrack, and was both critically acclaimed & popular with the masses. I do know people that hate it, but I just don’t understand those folks at all. This is a tough one, but repeat viewings give Gump the nod in a photo finish.

    The Verdict:       

 

 

 

 

Mrs. Doubtfire             vs.              The Big Lebowski

After a first round bye Mrs. Doubtfire has beaten That Thing You Do, Tommy Boy, & Scent of a Woman.  The Big Lebowski is the lone film in The Elite 8 that did not receive a first round bye, and thus far has overcome Ten Things I Hate About You, Wayne’s World, Deep Impact, & The Shawshank Redemption. My vibe is that, in a poll of many, those that were teens or in their early 20’s back in the late 1990s would lean toward Lebowski, while older folks might favor Doubtfire. It is probably an unfair comparison, but much like the early comedies of Adam Sandler (most notably Happy Gilmore & Billy Madison), if one happened to be at the exact right age and/or maturity when The Big Lebowski was released then it is likely an essential movie for that person. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be enjoyed by others, just that its humor is quite specific & unique. Jeff Bridges is one of the most underrated thespians of his generation, and his role as The Dude (or His Dudeness, Duder, or El Duderino, if, you know, you’re not into the whole brevity thing) might be his crowning achievement, even if it’s not the kind of character or film that the awards shows fawn all over. John Goodman is another undervalued actor, and his performance as somewhat aggressive & slightly off kilter Vietnam vet Walter Sobchak is a hidden gem. Conversely, it is likely that slightly older folks…those that came of age in the 80’s as Robin Williams rose to fame…would have a greater appreciation of Mrs. Doubtfire. Williams had a rather eclectic career and was capable of playing a whole range of parts, but his wheelhouse was funny comedies in which he could put his full arsenal of comedic genius on display, and Doubtfire fit his skills like a glove. The supporting cast…including Sally Field & Pierce Brosnan…have their moments, but it’s Williams’ show and he carries it well. I suppose that I must reluctantly admit to being part of the older crowd, because, though I appreciate Lebowski for what it is, there are moments of weirdness that don’t resonate with my particular comedy palate, while Doubtfire is the kind of gentle, easygoing, family friendly humor that I tend to gravitate toward.

 

    The Verdict:       

90’s Film Frenzy: Dope Round 2

As we begin second round competition in 90’s Film Frenzy allow me to remind y’all of a couple things. Nine movies in each division were given first round byes and will be pondered for the first time in Round 2. Also, because math is not my thing each division will have a triple threat match in this round. When laying the groundwork for this project the field kept expanding, and mathematically it should have topped out at 96 movies, which would have worked out perfectly. Alas, I’m not that smart sometimes, and now I have to fix my mistake. No big deal. I won’t be listing the basic info…release date, cast, director…for films that have already competed in Round 1 since I’ve already done so, but I will for the 36 that we haven’t discussed yet. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

Titanic

Release:  12/19/97

Starring:   Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet

Directed By:     James Cameron (The Terminator, Aliens, True Lies, Terminator 2: Judgment Day)

 

vs.

 

Saving Private Ryan

 

Quotes

This Ryan better be worth it. He better go home and cure some disease, or invent a longer-lasting light bulb, or something.

 

Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. And I’ve tried to live my life the best I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that at least in your eyes, I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.

 

Odds & Ends

The cast endured a grueling, week-long army boot camp instructed by technical advisor, retired Marine Dale Dye…all the principal actors except for Matt Damon, who was spared so that the other actors would resent him and would convey that feeling in their performances.  During the training everybody but Hanks voted to quit, as they found it too arduous. But Hanks thoroughly enjoyed the experience and his vote counted the most, so the rest of the actors were obligated to complete their training.

 

Military historian and author Stephen Ambrose, at a special screening of the film for him, had to ask for the screening to be halted twenty minutes in, as he couldn’t handle the intensity of the opening. After composing himself outside for a few minutes, he was able to return to the screening room and watch the film to its conclusion.

 

Cinemas were instructed to up the volume when they showed the film because the sound effects play such a crucial part in its overall effect.

 

Garth Brooks turned down the role of Private Jackson, which eventually went to Barry Pepper.

 

Despite being the movies main subject, Private Ryan (Matt Damon) doesn’t appear until over one and half hours into the movie.

 

Steven Spielberg cast Matt Damon as Private Ryan because he wanted an unknown actor with an All-American look. At the time he had no idea that Damon would win an Oscar for writing Good Will Hunting in 1997 and become an overnight star before Saving Private Ryan was released.

 

The Omaha Beach scene cost $11 million to shoot and involved about 1000 extras.

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Wow, talk about a heavyweight battle. What a way to begin Round 2!! Saving Private Ryan bested The Addams Family in the first round. It’s almost impossible to overlook its 92% Rotten Tomatoes score, the fact that it was the #1 movie at the box office in its year of release, and the five Academy Awards it won. I still cannot believe that Shakespeare in Love won Best Picture. What were the voters thinking?? I was fascinated by the infamous Titanic disaster long before the movie came out, but it undoubtedly increased my own interest and piqued the curiosity of countless others. In the two decades since the film burst onto the scene there have been numerous books & documentaries about the Titanic, practically making it a cottage industry. Not only was it the top grossing movie of 1997, but for a long time it was the highest grossing film of all time until Cameron’s Avatar took the crown in 2009. I still haven’t watched Avatar and doubt if I ever will. Titanic has an 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with Gene Siskel opining that DiCaprio’s “beatific, sweet, open face… gives us a rooting interest in hoping that someone important to us survives the wreck”, while Rolling Stone called the film “pretty damn dazzling”. It won a dozen Academy Awards, including Best Picture & Best Director (Cameron), as well as dominating every other awards show that year.

 

The Verdict:   Titanic. I know some will call for the immediate revocation of my “Man Card”. So be it. It has become fashionable over the years for those who deem themselves too cool for school and perpetually above the fray to declare that they’ve never seen Titanic, a notion that I find laughable because…well…math. It is the second highest grossing film of all time, so logic dictates that a lot of people saw it, and that’s not even counting the ensuing years when it’s become ubiquitous on television and readily available on home video. In stating that I’ve never seen Avatar I realize that I am in a rather small minority, whereas if everyone who claims that they’ve never watched Titanic was telling the truth it wouldn’t have made half as much money. I’m here to tell you that it’s okay…you can admit that you’ve seen & enjoyed it because it is a really good movie. Saving Private Ryan is a great movie too, but war films just aren’t my thing. Perhaps if I’d served in the military or had close friends who’d been soldiers in wartime I might feel differently, but it simply isn’t the kind of thing you’d see me watching during vegg time.

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My Cousin Vinny

Release:  3/13/92

Starring:   Joe Pesci, Ralph Macchio, Marisa Tomei

Directed By:     Jonathan Lynn (Nuns on the Run, The Whole Nine Yards)

 

vs.

 

Speed

 

Quotes

A bomb is made to explode. That’s its meaning…its purpose. Your life is empty because you spend it trying to stop the bomb from becoming. And for who? For what? You know what a bomb is that doesn’t explode? It’s a cheap gold watch.

 

Poor people are crazy, Jack. I’m eccentric.

 

I’ve heard relationships based on intense experiences never work.

 

Odds & Ends

Sandra Bullock actually learned to drive a bus for the film, passing the test on her first attempt.

 

Joss Whedon re-wrote the script uncredited. According to the credited writer Whedon wrote most of the dialogue.

 

Ten busses were used in the making of the film. Each one had two steering wheels, one for Sandra Bullock, the other for the stunt driver, which was more often than not, on the roof of the bus.

 

Speed was released one week before O.J. Simpson led Los Angeles police on a chase in his white Bronco after he was suspected of murder. After the Bronco chase, many audiences who saw the film in theaters, noticed how closely scenes from the film, resembled the real-life Bronco chase, including media coverage, and aerial shots of Los Angeles freeways.

 

The film was originally written with Jeff Bridges & Ellen DeGeneres in mind for the lead roles.

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Speed got past Dazed & Confused in the first round based on the combination of its pop culture It Factor and stellar critic reviews. I’m not an action movie guy at all, so when such a film catches my eye it is a rare & special treat. The cast is terrific, the writing is superb, and at the time the action sequences were fresh & original. The old saying is that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and in the past two decades Hollywood has flattered Speed a lot. It’s right up there with Die Hard amongst movies that are copied, with only slight variations on an obvious theme. This thievery began as early as 1997 with a sequel to Speed itself. Unfortunately Speed 2: Cruise Control was doomed from the outset when Reeves declined to return. My Cousin Vinny is the rare comedy that received much love from normally stodgy critics. It has an 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The Baltimore Sun called it “hardly brilliant…but it’s easygoing and occasionally quite funny and ultimately satisfying”, the NY Times said it is “easily the most inventive and enjoyable American film farce in a long time”, and Ebert opined that “it’s the kind of movie home video was invented for…not worth the trip to the theater, but slam it into the VCR and you get your rental’s worth”. Mr. Ebert (may he rest in peace) unwittingly clarified exactly the kind of movie that defines my wheelhouse. I understand that studios, suits, bean counters, & erudite types like critics are focused on the here & now and getting people to throw down their hard earned cash at the local cineplex. For them a film’s lifespan is important for a few months. But here in flyover country we’re more interested in stuff that we can enjoy for many years over & over & over again, especially when one reaches an age when staying home with a good book or a fun movie is far more entertaining than painting the town red. If Ebert intended to damn My Cousin Vinny with faint praise he failed, because even though we don’t have VCRs or video stores anymore we do have streaming services & DVDs, and getting our money’s worth from those things is a goal most of us share.

 

The Verdict:   My Cousin Vinny. Marisa Tomei won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and My Cousin Vinny was the 29th highest grossing film of 1992. That’s good enough for me. It’s on television with some frequency and has aged quite well because good writing never goes out of style. Speed was the best action movie of its generation and if someone forced me to sit down and watch it again with them I wouldn’t be mad. Its legacy has been diminished somewhat by the atrocity that was its sequel, which is probably a bit unfair but nevertheless true. All in all this is simply about personal preference, and I almost always gravitate toward smartly written and skillfully performed comedy.

 

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Sleepless in Seattle

Release:  6/25/93

Starring:   Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan

Directed By:     Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally, Mixed Nuts, You’ve Got Mail)

 

vs.

 

Galaxy Quest

 

Quotes

 

By Grabthar’s Hammer, by the Sons of Warvan, you shall be avenged!

 

Look…I have one job on this lousy ship! It’s stupid, but I’m gonna do it, okay?

 

I thought I was the crewman that stays on the ship and something is up there and it kills me, but now I’m thinking I’m the guy that gets killed by some monster five minutes after we land on the planet.

 

Odds & Ends

A scene when Tim Allen is in a men’s room overhearing how the cast of Galaxy Quest are nobodies and all the co-stars can’t stand him mirrors an actual event in William Shatner’s life. He discovered the exact same things about himself when he attended a 1986 Star Trek convention.

 

On the rock planet Lt. Laredo chides Dr. Lazarus for holding his tracking device upside down. This is a subtle reference to the first season of the original Star Trek series, where Mr. Spock often held his tricorder upside down due to Leonard Nimoy being not yet familiar with the prop.

 

“I had originally not wanted to see Galaxy Quest because I heard that it was making fun of Star Trek, and then Jonathan Frakes rang me up and said ‘You must not miss this movie! See it on a Saturday night in a full theatre!’. And I did, and of course I found it was brilliant. Brilliant. No one laughed louder or longer in the cinema than I did, but the idea that the ship was saved and all of our heroes in that movie were saved simply by the fact that there were fans who did understand the scientific principles on which the ship worked was absolutely wonderful. And it was both funny and also touching in that it paid tribute to the dedication of these fans.” – Patrick Stewart

 

Galaxy Quest was one of the earliest films to have its own internet domain and website. However, rather than being a polished part of the marketing campaign, the site (in keeping with the movie’s fandom theme) was deliberately designed to look like a fan page, with screen captures and poor HTML coding.

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I’ve never been shy about my affection for a good rom-com, and Sleepless in Seattle is one of the best. Hanks stars as a lonely widow whose young son ropes him into pouring his heart out on a national radio show, and Ryan is the quirky young journalist who hears the show and immediately becomes smitten. Hanks & Ryan starred in three movies together in the 90’s, and I think they rank right up there with Bogie & Bacall, Hepburn & Tracy, and Burton & Taylor when it comes to romantic duos. Sleepless in Seattle was the fifth highest grossing film of 1993 (behind The Firm but ahead of Schindler’s List), and it holds a solid 71% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Newsweek called it a “sweet but perilously thin love story”, Rolling Stone gushed that it is “the hippest, frankest and funniest date movie around”, and the NY Times said “it’s a stunt, but it’s a stunt that works far more effectively than anybody in his right mind has reason to expect”. Galaxy Quest slipped past The Bodyguard in Round 1. As a spoof of sci-fi shows and their rabid fanbases it works more effectively than anyone could have ever imagined. The cast is solid, and who would have ever guessed twenty years ago that it’d be the actor who played beleaguered “red shirt” Guy Fleegman with an Oscar sitting on his mantle?? When you have Star Trek legends like Shatner, Stewart, Frakes, & Takei applauding a movie that kind of makes fun of them obviously someone somewhere did something right.

 

The Verdict:   Sleepless in Seattle. I feel bad for Galaxy Quest. It just got a really tough draw. I first saw Sleepless in Seattle in college. I actually had a date…with a woman!! I can’t remember her name and only knew her for a brief few months, but wherever she is I hope she is as fond of the movie as I am. It’s one of those that I will watch whenever it happens to be on, and I have it in my streaming collection for those odd late nights when there’s nothing else going on and I feel the need to watch a movie.

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American Beauty

Release:  9/15/99

Starring:   Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Chris Cooper, Mena Suvari

Directed By:     Sam Mendes (Road to Perdition, Jarhead, Skyfall)

 

vs.

 

Grumpier Old Men

 

Quotes

Last Thursday, I turned 95 years old. And I never exercised a day in my life. Every morning, I wake up, and I smoke a cigarette. And then I eat five strips of bacon. And for lunch, I eat a bacon sandwich. And for a midday snack? Bacon. A whole damn plate! And I usually drink my dinner. Now according to all of them flat-belly experts, I should’ve took a dirt nap like thirty years ago. But each year comes and goes, and I’m still here. Ha!

 

If my dog was as ugly as you, I’d shave his ass and teach him to walk backwards.

 

Odds & Ends

This was Burgess Meredith’s last film. He died of complications of Alzheimer’s disease two years later.

 

Lemmon & Matthau starred in ten movies together.

 

The cast includes three Oscar winners…Lemmon, Loren, & Matthau, and two Oscar nominees…Margret & Meredith.

 

Grumpier Old Men defeated Fools Rush In in the first round in a battle of two lightweight comedies. Repeat viewings are a significant marker for me, and this is another one of those movies that I catch often on TV and have stashed in my digital library for a rainy day. Sequels have become a given in Hollywood, and I suppose the premise here is as reasonably good as one could expect. Sometimes it isn’t really about the plot…we just like the characters and enjoy inhabiting their world for a couple of hours once in a while. It isn’t better than its predecessor, but neither is there a significant decline in quality. American Beauty was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won five, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Spacey), Best Director (Mendes), & Best Original Screenplay. The story focuses on Lester Burnham, a middle-aged man with a good job, nice house, lovely wife, and a beautiful daughter…a guy who appears to have everything but is drowning in his own misery, which seems like a fairly unexceptional & commonplace idea. But the thing about ordinary ideas is that they can be jumping off points for exceptionally talented people to work real magic. The characters that inhabit this movie and the things that they do & say are cathartic to average folks because it is unlikely that we would ever actually react similarly outside of our hidden thoughts. American Beauty is a fantasy set in the midst of the humdrum suburban routine. It was the 13th highest grossing film of 1999, behind Runaway Bride & The Green Mile but ahead of Notting Hill & Will Wild West. It has an 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with CNN calling it “deeply disturbing, acerbically funny, brilliantly acted, breathtakingly original, & highly sophisticated”, People observing that it is “never less than fascinating and always visually stunning”, and The New Yorker saying that “this amazing and impassioned fantasia about American loneliness begins as satire and ends with a vision of the sublime”.

 

The Verdict:   American Beauty. This makes me sad because I adore Grumpier Old Men, but how can I overlook five Oscars and a plethora of stellar reviews?? Grumpier Old Men doesn’t break any new ground or expand on the original’s premise…it just puts it in the microwave, warms it up a bit, and serves up a pleasant second helping of yesterday’s supper. Spacey has never been more brilliant than in American Beauty, and I think Bening may have been robbed at the Academy Awards, losing Best Actress to Hilary Swank for her performance in Boys Don’t Cry.

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Dumb & Dumber

Release:  12/16/94

Starring:   Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels

Directed By:     The Farrelly Brothers (Kingpin, Shallow Hal, Me, Myself & Irene, Fever Pitch)

 

vs.

 

In the Line of Fire

 

Quotes

What did happen to you that day? Only one agent reacted to the gunfire, and you were closer to Kennedy than he was. You must have looked up at the window of the Texas Book Depository, but you didn’t react. Late at night, when the demons come, do you see the rifle coming out of that window, or do you see Kennedy’s head being blown apart? If you’d reacted to that first shot, could you have gotten there in time to stop the big bullet? And if you had – that could’ve been your head being blown apart. Do you wish you’d succeeded…or is life too precious?

 

For years, I’ve been listening to all these idiots on barstools with all their pet theories on Dallas. How it was the Cubans, or the CIA., or the white supremacists, or The Mob. Whether there was one weapon, or whether there was five. None of that’s meant too much to me. But Leary, he questioned whether I had the guts to take that fatal bullet. God, that was a beautiful day. The sun was out, been raining all morning. First shot, sounded like a firecracker. I looked over, I saw him, I could tell he was hit. I don’t know why I didn’t react. I should have reacted. I should have been running flat out. I just couldn’t believe it. If only I’d reacted, I could have taken that shot. And that would have been alright with me.

 

By the time you hear this, it’ll be over. The President is most likely dead, and so am I. Did you kill me? Who won our game? Not that it really matters, for among friends like you and me, it’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game, and now the game is done and it’s time to get on with your life. But I worry, that you have no life to get on with. You’re a good man, and good men like you and me are destined to travel a lonely road. Goodbye, and good luck.

 

Odds & Ends

This was the first time that The Secret Service offered its full cooperation in the making of a film.

 

The character of Frank Horrigan was inspired by real-life Secret Service agent Clint Hill, who was with President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, and who later broke down on national television during a live 60 Minutes interview, saying that he felt responsible for the President’s death.

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Rarely has a film had a more appropriate title than Dumb & Dumber. That’s not meant as an insult, because I am perfectly fine with the occasional mindless comedy. We all need to laugh a little more. Carrey & Daniels play a couple of unemployed nitwits whose well-intentioned attempt to return a briefcase to a beautiful woman gets them caught in the middle of a kidnapping plot. The details are secondary to the characters and the crazy things they say & do because…well…they’re idiots. Dumb & Dumber was the sixth highest grossing film of 1994 and holds a decent 67% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Entertainment Weekly called it “a frayed string of gags posing as a movie”, but said of Carrey that he “does literal-minded doofdom with peerless enthusiasm”. Variety opined that “the wholeheartedness of this descent into crude & rude humor is so good-natured and precise that it’s hard not to partake in the guilty pleasures of the exercise”, which to me essentially means “it’s so stupid that we didn’t want to like it but we can’t help ourselves”. I think a lot of people would agree with that assessment. A sequel came out in 2014, but I must admit that I’ve never seen it and don’t feel compelled to because sometimes it’s better to just let sleeping dogs lie. In the Line of Fire overcame the challenge of Carrey’s Man on the Moon in Round 1 because a) I gave the nod to a better movie over a single actor’s outstanding performance in a mediocre movie), and b) it had really good reviews & made a ton of money even if no one really remembers it 25 years later.

 

The Verdict:   Dumb & Dumber. The above mentioned B is the sticky wicket now because, as opposed to Man on the Moon, Dumb & Dumber is a funnier, more quotable, and much more fondly remembered film, whereas In the Line of Fire is easily forgotten about. If I’m couch potatoing on a lazy day I am much more inclined to stop channel surfing for Dumb & Dumber. The JFK assassination has been a tremendous launch pad for a stories and was most recently used by Stephen King in his excellent book & miniseries 11/22/63. Eastwood & Malkovich are compelling performers and still better than 95% of actors that are a third their age, but using the metric of repeat viewings the movie just doesn’t measure up.

 

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The Birdcage

Release:  3/8/96

Starring:   Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman

Directed By:     Mike Nichols (The Graduate, Biloxi Blues, Working Girl)

 

vs.

 

Lethal Weapon 3

 

Quotes

You have the right to remain unconscious. Anything you say ain’t gonna be much.

I’m only smoking to take my mind off my dog biscuit problem. I’ve been chasing more cars lately, and when I try to lick my balls I keep falling off the couch.

 

I’m chaos and he’s mayhem, we’re a double act.

 

You know what a future a cop has? None. You punch a clock for 30 years, retirement, pension… nothin’ to do. Drunk at noon, bullet in the brain by evening. Well, not for this kid! The police department’s got it all: guns, ammo, drugs, cash… it’s a one-stop shopping center. If you’ve got the balls and the brains, there’s nothing anyone can do about it!

 

Odds & Ends

For the film’s spectacular climax, the filmmakers found an abandoned housing tract just outside of Lancaster, California. A victim of the Savings and Loan crisis, the property had been untouched for over two years. Twelve out of the fifty-six houses in the tract became a dramatic inferno for the scene.

 

This is the only movie in the franchise, in which there is no mention of Riggs’ late wife.

 

In earlier drafts of the script Riggs was actually having an affair with Roger’s older daughter Rianne, which explains a couple of parts in the finished film.

 

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One has to wonder if The Birdcage…as written…would even be made in our modern, overly sensitive, politically correct culture. Based on the 1973 stage play La Cage aux Folles and a remake of the 1978 film about a gay couple whose son becomes engaged to the daughter of very conservative parents, The Birdcage transplants the action from the French Riviera to Miami. Williams, Lane, & Hackman are all brilliant, and I have to give a nod to Hank Azaria, who plays an…eccentric…housekeeper and has since gone on to have a solid career on both the big & small screen. It was the ninth highest grossing film of 1996 and holds a 79% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Ebert complimented “good casting in the key roles” and “a wicked screenplay that keeps the original story but adds little zingers here and there”. USA Today thought it to be “far less plastic than most cross-dressing comedies”, while the San  Francisco Chronicle called it “a glossy miscalculation”. Lethal Weapon 3 conquered Airheads in the first round, but this is a much tougher matchup. 3 introduced Rene Russo into the mix as Lorna Cole, an internal investigations officer who becomes romantically involved with Riggs. There is a really memorable scene with the two comparing battle scars all over their bodies, and…well…one thing leads to another. Who knew that gunshot & stab wounds could be so sexy??  Joe Pesci is also back as fast talking Leo Getz, now working as an inept real estate agent but also helping in the investigation of a rogue cop.

 

The Verdict:   The Birdcage. I love film series. When four or five (or more) movies are made about the same characters it says a lot about the audience’s affection for them. However, it is always prudent to proceed with caution and ponder the Law of Diminishing Returns, figuring out if people have had enough. I don’t think that is the case with Lethal Weapon 3, but I do believe that the four movies kind of become a blur of action sequences, shootouts, & wisecracks where the whole is more fondly remembered than its individual components. The Birdcage utilizes extreme stereotypes on both sides of the sociopolitical spectrum, which could be considered bellicose by some but seems appropriate for an entertaining farce.

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There’s Something About Mary

Release:  7/15/98

Starring:           Cameron Diaz, Matt Dillon, Ben Stiller

Directed By:     The Farrelly Brothers (Hall Pass, The Heartbreak Kid, The Ringer)

 

vs.

 

Father of the Bride Part II

 

Quotes

Just because we’re older doesn’t mean we’re old. This is the 90s.

 

Father of the bride and a baby? Get out of town!!

 

Two Vastnick is like, ‘Bye, George! See you next Thursday!’.

 

Odds & Ends

When the movie opened, aspiring country singer Brad Paisley went to see it in the hopes that an ex-girlfriend he’d seen the first Father of the Bride with would be there. She didn’t show, but as he told an Atlanta radio station later, he sat in the theater watching the lead actress and thought to himself, “I could marry a girl like her.” A few years later, he not only married a girl like her, he married that particular girl…actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley.

 

It is stated that BIll Clinton is older than George Banks by 31 days. Bill Clinton was born on August 19th 1946. That would make George Banks’ date of birth September 19th, 1946.

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Father of the Bride II got past What About Bob? in the first round. Critics were generally ambivalent about it, with the word “sweet” coming up a lot but nothing much further. Personally I have always loved the FotB films. Are they great?? No. But they epitomize what I have come to appreciate in a movie…something that makes me smile, that I can watch over & over again, that never lets me down and always puts me in a good mood. I don’t need social commentary or on-the-edge-of-my-seat action, and I don’t even need to be doubled over in laughter. “Sweet” has become almost an insult in our society, but it really shouldn’t be. There’s Something About Mary tells the story of Ted, whose prom night with his dream girl goes hysterically awry. More than a decade later Mary is still on Ted’s mind so he hires a private eye to track her down, but unfortunately things go sideways again, although ultimately he gets the girl. Mary was the third highest grossing film of 1998, behind only Saving Private Ryan and Armageddon. It has an 83% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with Variety stating that it “stands as proof positive that a comedy can be far from perfect and still hit the bull’s-eye if it delivers when it counts”, Rolling Stone calling it “sensational, sicko fun…just the thing to shake up the creeping conservatism that is draining the vulgar life out of pop culture”, and USA Today deeming it “a gut-busting blast of tasteless tomfoolery”.

 

The Verdict:   Father of the Bride Part II. I’m not a prude…really I’m not. However, given the choice between “sweet” and “sicko fun” or “tasteless tomfoolery” I’ll probably take “sweet” most of the time. I’m not sure why, but I just never warmed up to Mary. Like the title says, there’s just something about it, but for me it’s something that I don’t seem to get or enjoy all that much. In its review The Cincinnati Enquirer stated that “the Farrellys work so hard to be outrageous they end up sacrificing story, characters, even comedy, to achieve maximum gross-out”, which is spot on. So-called “gross out comedies” are all about the sight gag and shock value. The goal is to push the envelope as far as possible. But I need a plot and good characters, and there’s nothing about Mary that makes me invested in what happens. FotB 2 doesn’t push any envelopes or challenge societal norms of decency, but it warms my cockles and still holds my attention after all these years, and I think that indeed is pretty sweet.

 

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Independence Day

Release:  7/2/96

Starring:   Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman

Directed By:     Roland Emmerich (The Patriot, The Day After Tomorrow)

 

vs.

 

The Silence of the Lambs

Release:  2/14/91

Starring:   Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins

Directed By:     Jonathan Demme (Philadelphia, Beloved)

 

vs.

 

Swingers

 

Quotes

Baby you are so money and don’t even know it.

 

You got to get on with your life. You’ve got to let go of the past, and when you do, the future is beautiful. Look out the window. It’s sunny every day here. It’s like manifest destiny. Don’t tell me we didn’t make it. We made it. We’re here. And everything that is past is prologue to this.

Look, we’re gonna spend half the night driving around looking for this one party and you’re going to say it sucks and we’re all gonna leave and then we’re gonna go look for this other party. But all the parties and all the bars, they all suck. I spend half the night talking to some girl who’s looking around the room to see if there’s somebody else who’s more important she should be talking to. And it’s like I’m supposed to be all happy ’cause she’s wearing a backpack, you know?

 

Laugh all you want but if you call too soon you might scare off a nice baby who’s ready to party.

 

Now look…when you go up to talk to her, man, I don’t want you to be the guy in the PG-13 movie everyone’s really hoping makes it happen. I want you to be like the guy in the rated R movie, you know, the guy you’re not sure whether or not you like yet. You’re not sure where he’s coming from. Okay? You’re a bad man. You’re a bad man. You’re a bad man. Bad man.

 

Odds & Ends

Loosely based on the experiences writer Jon Favreau had when he first moved to Los Angeles. He had just broken up with a long term girlfriend and counted on his friends Vince Vaughn and Ron Livingston to cheer him up. The characters they play in the film are based on themselves.

 

Favreau wrote the screenplay in two weeks, with various friends in mind for key roles.

 

Some of the bar scenes were shot in actual bars during business hours. A sign was posted near where they were shooting warning patrons that if they came any closer, they would be unpaid extras in the film.

 

The shots taken from the hood of the car in Las Vegas were done without a proper permit. The interior of the casino was not the Stardust as the exterior shots imply, but was instead a downtown casino that they paid money to use for the evening.

 

Since the filmmakers couldn’t afford to pay extras, the scenes filmed at parties were filmed at actual parties that were taking place, with many Hollywood up-and-comers in attendance.

 

Trent, Mikey, Sue, Rob, and Charles represent the five members of the original Rat Pack: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, and Sammy Davis Jr..

 

Jon Favreau’s grandmother is the lucky gambler at the $5 minimum blackjack table, while Vince Vaughn’s father Vernon plays the lucky gambler at the $100-minimum blackjack table.

 

The release of the film coincided with the swing revival of the 1990s. It increased interest in 1940s culture, Hollywood nightlife, and swing music. Some of the slang used in the film became popular in the years following its release, especially the use of the word “money” as a catch-all term of approval or quality. The exclamation “Vegas, baby!” also became a common quote when referencing the city. The film also gave exposure to the term “Wingman” in its social interaction context.

 

 

Among the many studio notes that Jon Favreau received from potential bidders were to nix the Vegas scenes, change Trent into a woman, have Trent played by Johnny Depp, and/or to cast Chris O’Donnell or Jason Priestley. (editorial note: all of these are horrible ideas…thank God none were implemented)

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This is the first of our four triple threat matches in the second round because I am mathematically challenged. Swingers got past Batman & Robin in the first round, and more than two decades later it is still one of Vince Vaughn’s top 2 or 3 performances. It is fascinating that the film is so closely associated with Las Vegas (Vegas baby! Vegas!!) since only a small portion of the story takes place there. I’m sure marketing experts have done studies on the power of a catchphrase, and Swingers has to be a prime example. Independence Day is the quintessential legit summer blockbuster. I imagine that the pitch took about 30 seconds: “Aliens invade Earth on July 4th and blow up The White House”…”Yes please!!”.  Will Smith had burst onto the scene as a young rapper and became a TV star with his hit series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. By 1996 The Fresh Prince was in its final season, and just a few months after the last episode aired Independence Day hit theaters. Of course Smith isn’t the sole focus of the film…Goldblum, Pullman, Judd Hirsh, Robert Loggia, Randy Quaid, & Vivica Fox all play key roles as well, and as we all know with these kinds of movies the explosions & special effects are the real star of the show. ID4 was easily the #1 movie at the box office in 1996, and it holds a solid 63% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. CNN called it “splendidly cheesy entertainment”, Entertainment Weekly referred to it as “the first futuristic disaster movie that’s as cute as a button”, and Newsweek opined that “if I were a 10-year-old boy I’d probably think it was the coolest movie going”. The Silence of the Lambs is an adaptation of Thomas Harris’ excellent 1988 novel. Harris had actually introduced infamous Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter in an earlier book titled Red Dragon which was adapted into a 1986 film called Manhunter that no one bothered to see. It’s safe to say that Lambs is a much more successful endeavor. FBI agent Clarice Starling seeks the imprisoned Dr. Lecter’s assistance in the case of another serial killer named Buffalo Bill. Lambs isn’t your typical police procedural, and is more of a psychological thriller than a horror film, although there are a few unforgettably violent scenes. It was the 4th highest grossing film of 1991, ahead of Hook and City Slickers, but behind Terminator 2:Judgment Day and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The Silence of the Lambs has a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Demme), Best Actor (Hopkins), and Best Actress (Foster). The Boston Globe said that “it has everything you want in a popular thriller…it’s stylish, intelligent, audacious rather than shocking, and stolen by a suave monster you’ll never forget”, while Rolling Stone opined that “for all the unbridled savagery on display, what is shrewd, significant, & finally hopeful about Silence of the Lambs is the way it proves that a movie can be mercilessly scary and mercifully humane at the same time”.

 

The Verdict:   Independence Day. I am kind of strange when it comes to horror & violence. I can read those sorts of books (assuming it is well-written) all day long, but I don’t enjoy seeing “unbridled savagery” play out on screen. So, despite its unmatched pedigree and the fact that the book it is based on is one of the finest modern novels I’ve ever read I have to pass on The Silence of the Lambs. Swingers is fun, cool, quotable, & well-written entertainment, but just doesn’t measure up to the competition. Independence Day was one of the defining blockbusters of the 1990’s…pure popcorn cinema that doesn’t pretend to be anything else. A sequel was released just a couple of years ago, but I haven’t seen it and don’t feel any particular urge to do so. Will Smith didn’t bother to return, so why should I care??

100 Favorite Movies…..31-35

I promised that my hiatus from this series would only be a few weeks, and I was almost right. It has been a couple of months. But in the meantime I have been working on some things (not all published yet) that God had been tugging at me to focus on, so it’s all good. Once again today’s group of five is an incongruent mix of comedy, drama, and action, with a little romance thrown in. Release dates range from 1964 to 2000.


 


 

35 Scent of A Woman

When we looked at Cast Away I mentioned that sometimes a single performance is so good that it carries the film and makes the whole thing seem better than it probably really is in reality. Such is the case again with Scent of A Woman. I am a huge Godfather fan, but even I think this is Al Pacino’s best role. Is it subtle or nuanced?? No. Pacino is 100% all out, full throttle, balls to the wall…and that’s okay. In my opinion he never crosses over into caricature, though some may disagree. The plot itself is rather flimsy. Chris O’Donnell stars as Charlie, a soft spoken prep school student who needs to earn some cash to pay for his cross country trip back home to Oregon for Christmas break. To that end, Charlie takes on a kind of babysitting gig over Thanksgiving, keeping an eye on a blind retired Army colonel whose family is not taking him with them wherever they are going for the holiday. Colonel Frank Slade is a real pill…angry, bitter, obnoxious, and a heavy drinker. The weekend doesn’t go according to plan right from the very beginning, when Colonel Slade drags the reticent Charlie to New York City, where he plans to “to eat at an expensive restaurant, stay at a luxury hotel, visit his big brother, make love to a beautiful woman, and then blow his brains out”. The Colonel apparently wants to go out in a blaze of glory, and has a few fun adventures, like doing the tango with a lovely and accommodating stranger, test driving a Ferrari (getting pulled over by a clueless policeman…who doesn’t catch on that Slade is blind…in the process), and ambushing his unsuspecting brother’s family on Turkey Day. Meanwhile, Charlie has his own issues. He and a buddy witnessed a few of their classmates vandalizing school property, and the school’s headmaster has bribed a reluctant Charlie to snitch on the perps by guaranteeing that he can singlehandedly get Charlie into Harvard. Maybe it says a lot about my moral fiber or lack thereof, but I’d take that deal in a heartbeat. But Charlie doesn’t want to be THAT guy, so he is conflicted. It is rather weakly constructed drama and definitely takes a backseat to the main story, that of Colonel Slade. Pacino plays Slade in such a way that one dislikes him, feels sympathy for him, and is kind of rooting for him all at the same time. I especially enjoy when Charlie and the Colonel visit Slade’s brother’s family on Thanksgiving. We learn more about Slade’s backstory and how he ended up blind. We begin to understand why he acts the way he does, and somehow we end up cheering him on as he faces off with his prickly nephew (played by a pre-West Wing Bradley Whitford). Gradually Charlie and Colonel Slade form a respectful bond, and the movie culminates with the Colonel defending Charlie against a disciplinary committee at his stuffy prep school. Pacino’s soliloquy rivals anything Shakespeare ever wrote and is one of my favorite movie scenes of all time. He won the Oscar for his role in Scent of A Woman, and rightly so. Sometimes I think maybe it would have been a better movie if someone else besides O’Donnell would have portrayed Charlie, but I suppose it was necessary for Charlie to fade to the background so Colonel Slade could be what anyone who watches this film will remember.

 

 

34 A Shot in the Dark

There were a total of 9 Pink Panther films (I am not counting the recent remakes starring Steve Martin), 6 starring Peter Sellers as the hilarious Inspector Clouseau. Made in 1964, A Shot in the Dark is the second in the series, and in my opinion the best. Clouseau is charged with solving the murder of a chauffeur in a very wealthy and large household. The prime suspect is one of the maids, Maria Gambrelli, who was sleeping with the chauffeur. Despite the fact that all the evidence undeniably points to Maria, Clouseau will not arrest her because he has instantly become smitten with the undeniably beautiful woman. He bumbles his way through the investigation, getting himself arrested several times and driving his boss, Commissioner Dreyfus, absolutely mad. Several more murders are committed as well, but Clouseau refuses to believe Maria is guilty. A subplot involves Clouseau’s servant, Cato, whom the inept detective orders to attack him “whenever and wherever he least expects it”, a command that Cato follows in hysterical fashion. The relationships between Inspector Clouseau and the Commissioner and Cato, respectively, are laugh-out-loud funny, the very best parts of the film. Those relationships and the antics of Clouseau in general make the particulars of the whodunit plot relatively insignificant. Like any film series The Pink Panther became more and more ridiculous as the powers-that-be tried to squeeze more money out of the franchise, but A Shot in the Dark is a true gem and not to be missed.

 

 

33 Titanic

You’ve seen it…don’t even try to tell me you haven’t. Men especially seem unwilling to admit they have ever seen 1997’s Titanic, an epic blockbuster about the infamous “unsinkable” ship that sank on its maiden voyage on April 14, 1912. I have never really figured out if this reluctance is because in essence Titanic is a romance, or just some sort of ode to nonconformity in refusing to acknowledge that they saw what everyone else saw. All I know is that the film made nearly $2 billion and was in theaters for 10 months (over 3 of those were spent at #1 among the competition, which included such films as Good Will Hunting, Men in Black, Liar Liar, and Batman & Robin) in an era where most movies are gone within a month or two…so somebody watched the damn movie, and the law of averages would point to just about anyone and everyone. Personally I believe Titanic is a very well written movie with great performances and tremendous effects. I had been fascinated with the tragic story of the Titanic long before the movie was made, and I think the tale is told well. Some may say that real life, historically accurate characters should have been the focus and the movie about them. I understand that point, but I also see what James Cameron was trying to do and why he did it. The characters of Jack and Rose, as well as some of the other supporting roles, were meant as tributes to all 1500 passengers that perished. The “rich girl falls for a guy from the wrong side of the tracks” motif may be a bit cliché, but it works. The framing plot of the old lady who essentially tells the story as a flashback allowed Cameron to use actual footage captured on a dive in a submersible to the actual wreckage, which is pretty ingenious. If you really are one of the handful of people who has never seen Titanic, quit being a stubborn jackass and rent it. It’s a timeless narrative that I believe will stand up well for decades to come.

 

 

32 Back to the Future Trilogy

Yes, I know…this is technically a tie. But I maintain that it really isn’t. Though these three films were released over the course of five years, the story is continuous. Home base, so to speak, is 1985. In the first film Marty McFly is accidentally transported back to 1955 in his pal Doc Brown’s newly invented time machine (which is in the form of a DeLorean). There he meets his parents and inadvertently changes history by altering the moment the future Mr. & Mrs. McFly first make googly eyes at one another. So he has to fix that little problem before he can worry about getting back to his life in 1985. Needless to say the mission is accomplished and all is well. The second film sees the wacky Doc Brown take Marty and his girlfriend Jennifer 30 years into the future…2015…to help their misguided children. Marty must save his son and daughter from the nasty grandson of his father’s nemesis, Biff Tannen. We know from the first film that Biff has bullied and mistreated Marty’s father George since high school, but that Marty changed the course of that relationship for the better when he was in 1955. Unfortunately Biff has discovered the secret of the time machine and went back in it himself to once more alter 1985 so that he is a wealthy and powerful tyrant that has killed George and forced Marty’s mother, Lorraine, into marriage. So Marty and Doc have to go back to 1955 one more time to fix the damage. They do and all is well…for a brief moment. Lightning strikes the DeLorean, Doc disappears, and Marty is stuck in 1955. We have a cliffhanger. The third film has Marty, stuck in 1955, receive a letter from Doc, who has been transported back to 1885. Marty finds a way to have 1955 Doc get him to 1885, where he meets up with Doc and some of his own ancestors as well as forebearers of the Tannen clan. Marty saves Doc’s life, which is the reason he went back to 1885. He then finds a way, with the help of a steam locomotive, to get back to 1985. Doc is once again inadvertently left behind trying to get to his 1885 girlfriend Clara. At the end though, Doc and Clara arrive in 1985 via a wicked cool souped up train that has been converted into a time machine. The first Back to the Future is the best, and the third film the weakest. But it’s another case where a trilogy really needs to be treated as one entity. Time travel is almost always an awesome movie device, and these movies do it really well. We see what was at the time modern day, the 1980’s…go back to the 1950’s…go forward to a technologically advanced future in 2015…and go back to the 19th century Old West. It is the very definition of escapism. I haven’t done it for awhile, but it is a lot of fun to spend a rainy day watching all three movies consecutively. I have heard rumors for years about plans to revive the franchise, and I am sure at some point it shall be so, albeit with a whole new cast and likely nothing more than a cameo from Michael J. Fox. If and when that day comes I will judge the new film appropriately, but I will say this much…it’d have to be pretty special to live up to the original trilogy.

 

 

 

31 The Perfect Storm

I have tried very hard to dislike George Clooney. He is a pretty boy liberal who I would just love to bitch slap…but I’ll be damned if he isn’t a pretty good actor. There is no doubt that he is charismatic and charming. Here he plays the down-on-his-luck captain of a Gloucester fishing boat. Captain Billy Tyne and his crew…all of whom have lightly touched upon subplots…decide to go out on one more trip before the season ends in an effort to make more money. Unfortunately they get caught in a “perfect storm”, the convergence of three storms in the same place. I am not usually a fan of action films, but in this case the action is so well done…plus it’s unique, i.e. not the usual guns ablazing and mindless explosions but instead a fishing boat and its crew fighting horrendous weather. Even if considered alongside natural disaster flicks like Twister, Deep Impact, and Dante’s Peak, The Perfect Storm stands out due to excellent performances and good writing. The first time I ever watched the film I was not aware that it was based on a true story. I kept waiting for the heroic rescue and the happy ending. When it did not happen and I realized that it was a factual account, I almost cried because it was so sad. Subsequent viewings, with full knowledge of the real life tale, has only deepened my appreciation.