“Film is one of three universal languages, along with mathematics & music.” – Frank Capra
My original intention was to post this a few days ago, but stuff happens…like having a big chunk of what I wrote disappear because evidently I forgot to save my work. When something like that happens I can become quite emo, and to be honest I just lost my desire to write for a few days. Anyway, I’m feeling a little better about life in general now, so let’s finish this thing up and move on to the next gig. If you have not perused Part 1 please do so, and as always I really would enjoy some feedback.
16 A film that is personal to you…
We Are Marshall
I graduated from Marshall University in Huntington, WV in the mid-1990s, and the tragic 1970 plane crash that killed the entire football team, coaching staff, and a number of parents & boosters is a tale well known to anyone who has ever lived or attended school there. A couple of years after the crash a beautiful fountain on the student center plaza was dedicated in memory of the 75 lives lost, and during my four+ years at MU I passed by that fountain every single day. Anyway, 2006’s We Are Marshall, though an imperfect film, does an admirable job of depicting the event & its aftermath, with the haunting performance of Matthew Fox (Party of Five, Lost) as assistant coach Red Dawson deserving kudos. If you dig We Are Marshall I would highly recommend a 2000 documentary called Ashes to Glory, which is a more factual and much more emotional rendition of the story.
17 Favorite film sequel…
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
I really had to think long & hard about this one. Rarely do sequels even approach the greatness of the original. And what about trilogies & series?? Do I prefer the second, third, or fourth movie?? I generally think of such things as one entity and don’t go so far as to break down each film, although there are exceptions. Having said all of that, and while I still think the original 1983 National Lampoon’s Vacation is the best of the series, the particular niche that Christmas Vacation has carved out in the pop culture landscape is undeniable. Three decades after its theatrical run it is shown on television dozens of times each holiday season…and we still watch.
18 A film that stars your favorite actor/actress…
Joe Versus the Volcano and The Glenn Miller Story
First, I had to decide between Jimmy Stewart & Tom Hanks, but I’m taking the easy way out and not making that choice, Secondly, I have shown love to other films by both men already, so what I have chosen to do is give a shout out to two of their lesser known films. Glenn Miller was a real life big band leader in the 1930’s & 40’s and the composer of hits like Moonlight Serenade, Little Brown Jug, & In the Mood. While flying from a gig in the United Kingdom to Paris in December 1944 Miller’s plane disappeared over the English Channel. He was only 40 years old. James Stewart just so happened to be a Glenn Miller doppelganger, so when a biopic was produced in 1954 he was the ideal choice for the part. If you like Stewart or Miller you’ll love both after watching this movie, and you just might become a fan of big band music, as I did. Joe Versus the Volcano isn’t as well-regarded as other Hanks/Meg Ryan films, but I encourage everyone to give it a whirl. It’s a bit of a slog at the beginning, but if you can make it past those gloomy first few minutes what you’ll find is a story that contains a lot of symbolism and has much to say about life.
19 A film made by your favorite director…
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
I don’t generally have any director specific loyalties…I judge a film based on what I see on the screen, regardless of who is in front of or behind the camera. However, I am an 80’s kid, and that means I’ve seen just about everything that John Hughes wrote, produced, and/or directed. Christmas is usually the main focus of holiday entertainment, as it should be, but there is one really great film that focuses on Thanksgiving. It is the perfect mix of comedy & sentimentality, which is right in my wheelhouse. I wish Steve Martin & John Candy would’ve made more movies together, but then again I’m not sure there’s any way they could have topped their inaugural effort.
I don’t remember when or why I watched IAWL for the first time, but during my childhood it was on television countless times on numerous channels at all hours so there were no shortage of opportunities to see it. The idea of a small town guy with big dreams who never quite escapes to fulfill them spoke to me from an early age, and at this point I suppose I’m sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. IAWL was actually marketed as a romantic comedy, but has become a Christmas classic. To say it changed my life may be a tad dramatic because I’m not one to assign such power to a movie, but it does mean a lot to me and has become an important part of my holiday tradition.
21 A film that you dozed off in…
Monty Python & The Holy Grail
I’m probably going to catch some flack, but I have to be honest. There was a little video store down the street from my college dorm, and I decided to rent this movie that I’d heard so much about but never seen. Obviously it was a less than thrilling experience. I just don’t enjoy British humor.
22 A film that made you angry…
The Big Wedding
When a movie stars Robin Williams & Robert DeNiro I don’t think it is out of line to have high expectations. Sadly, not only does this movie fall short, it is undoubtedly one of the worst I’ve ever seen. I have never left a theater before a film is over, but I came pretty close with this one. DeNiro continues to trash his legendary legacy, while the late great Williams made a string of forgettable flops in the decade before his untimely demise.
23 A film made by a director who is dead…
Again, I’m not married to any particular directors, as in I adore every movie they’ve ever made. On top of that I’m not really a Hitchcock kind of guy. However, he did make a few films I’ve enjoyed, and his work with my man Jimmy Stewart is quite good. Rear Window is interesting in that it is essentially shot from one perspective, that of main character Jeff Jefferies, a professional photographer sidelined with a broken leg. Jeff lives in a courtyard apartment and becomes kind of a voyeur, intently watching neighbors that he doesn’t really know and making up stories about them that may or may not be true. When he decides that one of those neighbors might have murdered his wife things become really interesting. Rear Window wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture, which, in hindsight, seems like a real crime.
24 A film you wish you saw in theaters…
Apollo 13 and Titanic
I pondered & debated with myself, but I just can’t choose. History shows that Apollo 13 was released in June 1995, which wasn’t a good time in my life, so I’m not surprised I didn’t make it to the local cineplex for a flick. However, I have seen it countless times in the ensuing years and count it among the best movies ever made. I cannot recall a specific reason why I didn’t head to the theater to watch Titanic, although I’m not one for massive crowds so perhaps that scared me off. But by now I have watched it numerous times. I have always opined that some movies really should be seen on the big screen, and with a gigantic ship sinking into the ocean & a huge rocket being launched into space I can only assume these would have been really cool films to see in a theater. Alas, I suppose my 55 inch smart TV will have to suffice.
25 A film you like that is not set in the current era…
I cannot believe we have made it this far without mentioning what I consider to be the best film ever produced. It is nearly flawless. Thankfully, since it is set in the 1940s & 50s The Godfather fits this category perfectly.
26 A film you like that is adapted from somewhere…
I have never read Winston Groom’s 1986 novel, and am inclined never to do so. It is my understanding that the film differs vastly from its source material, and since I think it’s a damn fine movie I’m not going to ruin it by reading the book. I am usually in the camp that believes that the book is almost always better than the movie, but there are exceptions and I’m just going to mark Forrest Gump as one of them.
27 A film that is visually striking to you…
Batman & Robin
I believe I have previously described Batman & Robin as “aurally & visually obnoxious…an assault on the senses”, and I stand by that assessment. However, there is no denying that it is visually striking, and in hindsight it is far from the worst movie ever made.
28 A film that made you feel uncomfortable…
Very Bad Things
Oh wow…let me tell you something folks…if you’ve never seen Very Bad Things you really should. It’s something everyone needs to experience just once. I say that because it’s not the kind of film for which repeat viewings are a thing. Once is enough, and it’ll be something you will remember…for better or worse…for the rest of your life. It seems like a harmless enough concept…a group of buddies go to Vegas for a bachelor party. And with an all-star cast including Jon Favreau, Daniel Stern, Jeremy Piven, Christian Slater, Cameron Diaz, & Jeanne Tripplehorn one would assume it to be a fairly mundane, mainstream cliché…but that hypothesis is way wrong. As a matter of fact everything about this movie is so wrong, but in the kind of way that one cannot avoid staring at in complete fascination.
29 A film that makes you want to fall in love…
When Harry Met Sally
I freely admit it…I am comfortable enough with my smoldering machismo to proclaim my affection for rom coms, and in the early 90s America’s Sweetheart was Meg Ryan. She made three awesome romantic comedies (Joe Versus the Volcano, Sleepless in Seattle, & You’ve Got Mail) with Tom Hanks, who is the prototypical leading man for such films. However, I think When Harry Met Sally is probably the best of the genre. Billy Crystal is 14 years older than Ryan and early scenes depicting him as a recent college grad stretch the limits of credibility (he was 41 years old at the time), but the movie is funny, heartwarming, & a joy to watch. Near the end Crystal’s character says “when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible”, and I would love to find that person and begin the rest of my life.
I have opined on multiple occasions that “anyone who doesn’t shed a tear during the last 10 minutes of Field of Dreams doesn’t have a heart”. You see, it is so much more than a “sports movie”. It isn’t really about baseball at all. Field of Dreams is about regret & redemption, and the film’s conclusion packs an unexpected emotional punch, one that resonates even deeper three decades later than it did originally.
“Movies touch our hearts, awaken our vision, and change the way we see things. They take us to other places…open doors & minds. Movies are the memories of our lifetime.” – Martin Scorsese
We’re going to forego a verbose preamble today and jump right into the fray. If you have not read Part 1 please go back and do so at your leisure. As always I appreciate everyone who stops by to read the things that are written here, and your feedback is welcome.
90 Ma & Pa Kettle (various films)
Ma & Pa Kettle starred in ten films from 1947-57. They are simple country bumpkins raising their brood of 16 kids on the family farm, and the movies put them into various fish-out-of-water scenarios like trips to New York, Hawaii, & Paris, as well as winning a “house of the future” in a contest. I seem to recall that the Kettle films were shown on Saturday morning television with some frequency during my childhood. That was way before channels like TCM & AMC, so I assume it had to be a local syndication type of deal. I also have a vague recollection that it was my Dad who enjoyed watching Ma & Pa Kettle and introduced me to the movies.
“It may be a good day for you, but it ain’t for Pa. All the poor man wanted was a new tobacco pouch and instead he won a house he didn’t want and he got a bad sunburn.” (Ma)
“You do all the barkin’, but it’s me that’s always in the doghouse.” (Pa)
“You mean, Pa & Me’s got to support all our kids and the government too?” (Ma)
“Pa, you’re lazier than that old hound dog we used to have.” “Which one?” “The one that used to lean against the wall when she barked.”
89 Thelma Dickinson & Louise Sawyer (Thelma & Louise)
Full disclosure…I believe I’ve only watched Thelma & Louise once, but that was enough. The duo are southern ladies taking a girls’ trip to escape from their mundane existence, but things go awry when a drunken rabble-rouser tries to rape Thelma and Louise kills him. Of course we all know that in TV & movies no one ever does the smart thing by calling the police…instead they get spooked & go on the run, which is the foundation for the adventure that follows. Nearly three decades later many of us still refer to mischievous gal pals as Thelma & Louise.
“You said you ‘n’ me was gonna get out of town and for once just really let our hair down. Well darlin’, look out ’cause my hair is comin’ down!” (Thelma)
“You get what you settle for.” (Louise)
“He kinda prides himself on being infantile.” (Thelma)
“Good morning everybody, this is a robbery. Now if nobody loses their head, nobody will lose their head. Simon says everybody lay down on the floor, right away, right away, except you sir. You’ll have a story to tell your friends, that or a tag on your toe, it’s your decision.” (Thelma)
“I feel really awake. I don’t recall ever feeling this awake. You know? Everything looks different now. You feel like that? You feel like you got something to live for now?” (Thelma)
88 Raymond Babbitt (Rain Man)
I’m not sure anyone in history has done more to promote awareness of autism than Raymond Babbitt. Dustin Hoffman won his second Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Raymond, a savant whose deceased father left him millions that his scheming brother is trying to get from him. It is rare for Tom Cruise to be outshined in any film, but Raymond’s charming blend of pathos, humor, & vulnerability does the trick.
“I’m an excellent driver.”
“13 minutes to Judge Wapner and The People’s Court.”
87 Dr. Frank N. Furter (The Rocky Horror Picture Show)
Some films have broad appeal, and I assume that is what the powers-that-be are going for most of the time. However, there is no shortage of movies that are focused on a rather specific target audience. I haven’t seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show since I was in college, sitting out in a field late at night throwing rice & toilet paper at the screen, but that’s okay since it is exactly the kind of weird, drunken, relatively innocuous, & completely stupid experience one should have at 19, because if that’s how you spend your weekend when your 35 or 50 it becomes a bit disturbing. Dr. Furter describes himself as a “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania”, which seems like a fitting description. Unforgettable name?? Check. Unique outfit?? Check. Quirky as all get-out?? You bet. Actor Tim Curry has been nominated for Tony Awards, starred in films like The Hunt for Red October & Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, and portrayed Pennywise in the TV miniseries of Stephen King’s It, but he will most likely always be remembered as Dr. Frank N. Furter.
“Tonight, my unconventional conventionalists, you are about to witness a new breakthrough in biochemical research, and paradise is to be mine!”
“Don’t be upset…it was a mercy killing. He had a certain naïve charm, but no muscle.”
86 Mick “Crocodile” Dundee (Crocodile Dundee)
Let’s face it…the only reason any of us in the good ol’ USA has ever requested for someone to “throw another shrimp on the barbie” is because Crocodile Dundee taught us what that means in 1986. Outback Steakhouse was created in Tampa, FL two years after the film’s release in hopes of capitalizing on America’s newfound fascination with Australia. Two Dundee sequels were produced, but neither had the magic of the original, a classic fish-out-of-water tale featuring a most unconventional protagonist.
“Get on the right side of the road you pelican!”
“That’s not a knife…THAT’S a knife.”
“Well, you see, Aborigines don’t own the land…they belong to it. It’s like their mother. See those rocks? Been standing there for 600 million years…still be there when you & I are gone. So arguing over who owns them is like two fleas arguing over who owns the dog they live on.”
“Imagine seven million people all wanting to live together. New York must be the friendliest place on earth.”
85 Tommy DeVito (Goodfellas)
Not too long ago I saw a poll on Facebook asking about the best mob movie and was stunned when Goodfellas beat out The Godfather, because in my humble opinion The Godfather cannot be touched. Having said that, it is a rather unfair comparison. The Godfather is an Shakespearean fantasy with lots of Hollywood style & polish, whereas Goodfellas is more raw & down-to-earth. Inasmuch as The Mafia still exists in modern America I assume Goodfellas is probably a more accurate portrayal, but for me that doesn’t necessarily equal entertainment value. It’s kind of the same thing as people who fawn all over Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy because of its gritty realism, while I lean toward the escapism of the Burton/Schumacher Batman flicks from the late 80’s/early 90’s. At any rate, actor Joe Pesci had done Raging Bull in 1980 and added some life to the Lethal Weapon franchise in 1989 so Goodfellas wasn’t his first rodeo, but Tommy DeVito has become one of his defining roles (we’ll get to another a bit later). DeVito is loosely based on real life gangster “Two Gun Tommy” DiSimone, a NY City gangster who “disappeared” in January 1979. Two Gun Tommy was much younger, not to mention physically bigger & stronger, than the diminutive, middle-aged, fast-talking tough guy depicted in the film, but other mobsters have said that Pesci’s portrayal…for which he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor…is otherwise fairly accurate.
“What do you mean I’m funny? What do you mean? You mean the way I talk? What? You mean, let me understand this, ’cause, ya know maybe it’s me, I’m a little fucked up maybe, but I’m funny how? I mean funny like I’m a clown? I amuse you? I make you laugh, I’m here to fuckin’ amuse you? What do you mean funny? Funny how? How am I funny?”
84 Larry Talbot (The Wolf Man)
Y’all know that I’m not a horror movie fan, but for some reason I love the old Universal monsters from the 1930’s & 40’s. Talbot is a mild-mannered man who returns to Wales after two decades in America to reconcile with his estranged father. He is bitten by a werewolf while trying to rescue a damsel in distress, and thereafter becomes a werewolf himself. After committing a series of murders he is eventually bludgeoned to death by his own father, who doesn’t realize The Wolf Man is his son. Lon Chaney Jr.’s portrayal of Talbot as quiet & reserved and emotionally tortured by his infirmity is the perfect contrast to the ferocity of the beast.
“You think I don’t know the difference between a wolf and a man? You’re insane! I tell you, I killed a wolf! A plain, ordinary wolf! Don’t try to make me believe that I killed a man when I know that I killed a wolf!”
83 Tony Montana (Scarface)
I don’t rate Scarface as highly as some simply because I tend not to like movies about crime & drugs…it’s just not my kind of entertainment. Having said that, there’s no denying that Tony Montana is a memorable character. Tony arrives in Miami from Cuba and starts his new life as a dishwasher. A few years later he is a wealthy drug lord with an unhealthy cocaine addiction. As is the case with such characters there is a lot of bloodshed, ultimately ending (spoiler alert) with Tony face down in a fountain after having been shot in the back by a rival’s henchman. Critics like to attach meaning to films like Scarface, seeing it as some sort of allegory about rising & falling, the excesses of the American Dream, or a commentary on criminal avarice, but I prefer to learn such lessons without all the violence & profanity. Italian-American Pacino seems like an odd choice to portray a Cuban, and I’m not sure that would fly in our newly woke culture just a few decades later. Interestingly, Robert DeNiro was the first choice for the role of Tony Montana but he declined the opportunity.
“This is paradise. This is paradise, I’m tellin’ you. I shoulda come here 10 years ago. I’d have been a millionaire by this time. By this time, I’d have had my own boat, my own car, my own golf course.”
“Me, I always tell the truth…even when I lie. So say good night to the bad guy! Come on. The last time you gonna see a bad guy like this again, let me tell you. Come on. Make way for the bad guy. There’s a bad guy comin’ through! Better get outta his way!”
“This country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the woman.”
“Okay, you little cockroaches… come on! You wanna play games? Okay, I can play with you. Come on! Okay, you wanna play rough?!?!?? Okay! SAY HELLO TO MY LITTLE FRIEND!”
82 Deputy U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard (The Fugitive)
Other than its love of sequels the other way that Hollywood plays it safe by not being particularly innovative is to recycle old television shows and bring them…or atleast the central premise…to the big screen, with the results being decidedly mixed. The Dukes of Hazzard, Leave it to Beaver, & The Wild Wild West weren’t good movies, while The Addams Family, The Brady Bunch, & Charlie’s Angels were decent enough. One of the best movie adaptations of a TV show is The Fugitive, with Harrison Ford portraying erroneously convicted Dr. Richard Kimble. While the television show had Dr. Kimble doggedly pursued across the country by local police Lt. Philip Gerard, the film kicks it up a notch by making the hunter no nonsense U.S Marshal Sam Gerard, although the quest is essentially limited to Chicago. Tommy Lee Jones won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Gerard, and became the focus of the story in a much inferior sequel a few years later. In the movie neither Kimble nor Gerard resemble the television characters they are based on all that much, but in this case the adaptation is actually better than the original.
“Let that be a lesson to you, boys & girls. Don’t ever argue with the Big Dog, because the Big Dog is always right.”
“Listen up, ladies & gentlemen! Our fugitive has been on the run for 90 minutes. Average foot speed over uneven ground barring injuries is 4 miles per hour and that gives us a radius of 6 miles. What I want out of each & every one of you is a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse, and doghouse in that area. Checkpoints go up at fifteen miles. Your fugitive’s name is Dr. Richard Kimble. Go get him.”
81 Walter Sobchak (The Big Lebowski)
Lebowski is a weird movie, but it sure is fun to watch when a particular mood strikes. One of the key reasons for its success is John Goodman’s portrayal of Walter, the foul-mouthed, slightly unhinged, but loyal best buddy of the film’s protagonist. I’ve never been a fan of Goodman’s infamous TV show Roseanne in any of its incarnations, but I sure have enjoyed his big screen career. Raising Arizona. Everybody’s All-American. The Hangover Part III. They may not be transcendent films, but they’re enjoyable enough and better because Goodman is in them. Walter is most definitely second fiddle in Lebowksi, but that’s okay…great movies need supporting characters that add a colorful layer to the story, and in this case the mission is certainly accomplished.
“Donny, you’re out of your element! Dude, the Chinaman is not the issue here!”
“Nihilists! I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.”
“Lady, I got buddies who died face down in the muck so that you & I could enjoy this family restaurant!”
“You want a toe? I can get you a toe. Believe me. There are ways, Dude.”
“Life does not start and stop at your convenience, you miserable piece of shit!”
“You know, Dude, I myself dabbled in pacifism once. Not in ‘Nam of course.”
“We’re talking about unchecked aggression here, Dude.”
“Smokey, this is not ‘Nam. This is bowling. There are rules.”
80 Captain Louis Renault (Casablanca)
¾ of a century after its theatrical release Casablanca is still regarded as one of the best movies ever produced. There are multiple reasons for that, but one of them is Capt. Renault, a cynical & slightly corrupt French policeman. Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco on the coast of Africa. During World War II it was a vital strategic port, and since a large chunk of Europe was controlled by the Nazis travel was limited, hence the importance of the film’s “letters of transit” (a true film MacGuffin…in reality no such documents existed). Capt. Renault plays all sides, loyal only to his own needs & desires…or so we are led to believe until the film’s conclusion. He isn’t a clichéd movie bad guy…he seems pleasant enough, and in fact has some of the more blithe dialogue. It is rare for an alleged villain to add levity to the story, but that is exactly what Renault does, which is probably why I like him. Actor Claude Rains played more conventional antagonists in films like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious, and earned four Academy Award nominations in his career, but Casablanca was the beginning of a beautiful friendship with the audience and Cpt. Renault.
“I’m making out the report now. We haven’t quite decided whether he committed suicide or died trying to escape.”
“It is a little game we play. They put it on the bill, I tear up the bill. It is very convenient.”
“I have no conviction, if that’s what you mean. I blow with the wind, and the prevailing wind happens to be from Vichy.
“How extravagant you are, throwing away women like that. Someday they may be scarce.”
“You mustn’t underestimate American blundering. I was with them when they “blundered” into Berlin in 1918.”
“I told my men to be especially destructive. You know how that impresses Germans.”
“Everybody is to leave here immediately! This cafe is closed until further notice. Clear the room, at once! I am shocked…shocked…to find that gambling is going on in here!”
“Well, Rick, you’re not only a sentimentalist, but you’ve become a patriot.”
“Round up the usual suspects!”
79 Jack Dawson & Rose DeWitt-Bukater (Titanic)
For several years Titanic was the highest grossing film of all time, and it swept thru the 1997 awards season like a tornado. Critics & the general populace both love it, but one of the few condemnations I seem to recall hearing back then was that the main focus wasn’t on actual people who lost their lives in the infamous tragedy. Instead the spotlight was given to two fictional characters in Jack & Rose. They are essentially a riff on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. He’s a good-natured American guy from the wrong side of the tracks heading home to Wisconsin, while she is a prim & proper British debutante who hates her rigid life. In the course of three hours we become invested in them individually and in their love story. They may not be based on real people, but as composite characters I believe they are solid representatives of the 1500 souls lost on that catastrophic night.
“I’m the king of the world!” (Jack)
“Do you know of Dr. Freud, Mr. Ismay? His ideas about the male preoccupation with size might be of particular interest to you.” (Rose)
“I’m not an idiot. I know how the world works. I’ve got ten bucks in my pocket. I have nothing to offer you and I know that. I understand. But I’m too involved now. You jump, I jump, remember? I can’t turn away without knowing you’ll be all right.” (Jack)
“I’m flying, Jack!” (Rose)
“I got everything I need right here with me. I got air in my lungs, a few blank sheets of paper. I mean, I love waking up in the morning not knowing what’s gonna happen or, who I’m gonna meet, where I’m gonna wind up. Just the other night I was sleeping under a bridge and now here I am on the grandest ship in the world having champagne with you fine people. I figure life’s a gift and I don’t intend on wasting it. You don’t know what hand you’re gonna get dealt next. You learn to take life as it comes at you… to make each day count.” (Jack)
“Jack, I want you to draw me like one of your French girls. Wearing this…wearing only this.” (Rose)
“I don’t know about you, but I intend to go write a strongly worded letter to the White Star Line about all this.” (Jack)
“Don’t you do that…don’t you say your goodbyes. Not yet, do you understand me? You’re gonna get out of here, you’re gonna go on, and you’re gonna make lots of babies, and you’re gonna watch them grow. You’re gonna die an old… an old woman warm in her bed, not here, not this night. Not like this, do you understand me? Winning that ticket, Rose, was the best thing that ever happened to me. It brought me to you, and I’m thankful for that, Rose. I’m thankful. You must do me this honor. You must promise me that you’ll survive, that you won’t give up, no matter what happens, no matter how hopeless. Promise me now, Rose, and never let go of that promise.” (Jack)
78 Jenny Curran (Forrest Gump)
A lot of subtext can be read into Forrest Gump. Some believe that Jenny…the lifelong friend of the film’s simpleminded hero who was abused as a young girl, becomes a hippie, descends into a life of drugs & prostitution, and ends up dying of (we assume) a sexually transmitted disease…is meant to represent the counterculture & upheaval of the 1960’s that many consider the loss of America’s innocence. She is the darkness in contrast to Forrest’s patriotic optimism. I’m not sure any of that symbolism was purposeful by the filmmakers, but the movie & the character stand on their own merits regardless of intent. Actress Robin Wright has had a solid career in Hollywood, from soap opera Santa Barbara in the mid-80’s to The Princess Bride in 1987 to the recently concluded Netflix hit House of Cards, but the sadness & vulnerability that defines Jenny has been her crowning achievement.
“Dear God, make me a bird. So I could fly far. Far far away from here.”
“Listen, you promise me something, okay? Just if you’re ever in trouble, don’t be brave. You just run, okay? Just run away.”
77 Inspector Harry Callahan (Dirty Harry)
Clint Eastwood’s career has spanned over a half century, and he’s done everything from westerns to critically acclaimed dramas to the television show Rawhide. He’s even become an Academy Award winning director. However, Eastwood will always be most closely associated with his portrayal of Harry Callahan, a tough as nails San Francisco cop who plays by his own set of rules.
“I know what you’re thinking: ‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do you, punk?”
76 Euphagenia Doubtfire (Mrs. Doubtfire)
The titular character in this film is actually a man in drag. Daniel Hillard is an itinerant voice actor whose uptight wife divorces him and gets custody of their three children. Instead of allowing their father to spend more time with them the career driven mother decides to hire a nanny, so Daniel dons a very convincing disguise and becomes an elderly British woman. The ruse works, and Mrs. Doubtfire allows Robin Williams’ comedic genius to shine.
“Oh, sir! I saw it! Some angry member of the kitchen staff. Did you not tip them? Oh, the terrorists – they ran that way. It was a run-by fruiting.”
“I’m a hip old granny who can hip-hop, be-bop, dance ’til you drop, and yo, yo, make a wicked cup of cocoa.”
“Oh. Carpe dentum. Seize the teeth. Just shake them off, like a dog.”
“I found the best way to keep from smoking again and lighting up is to be around those who do smoke. I have to randomly ingest just a little bit of nicotine and it steels my wool.”
“He was quite fond of the drink. It was the drink that killed him. He was hit by a Guinness truck. So it was quite literally the drink that killed him.”
75 Woody Pride & Buzz Lightyear (The Toy Story Series)
The older I get the more I appreciate animated movies, especially since the technology has really advanced in the past couple of decades. It doesn’t hurt that Toy Story is a great example of a film that can be enjoyed by kids but is well written enough for adults to be entertained as well. Buzz Lightyear is a boisterous Space Ranger who doesn’t understand that he’s a toy. He is the newest action figure for young Andy, a birthday present from his mother. Buzz initially has a difficult time fitting in with the rest of Andy’s toys, especially Sheriff Woody, who is envious that he’s been replaced as Andy’s favorite plaything. Woody is the unofficial leader amongst all of Andy’s toys and feels threatened by Buzz at first, although the two eventually become pals.
“To infinity and beyond!” (Buzz)
“I can’t stop Andy from growing up… but I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” (Woody)
74 Inigo Montoya (The Princess Bride)
You killed his father…prepare to die!! Inigo Montoya is a Spanish swordsman on a mission. As a child he witnessed six fingered Count Rugen murder his father and has spent his life seeking vengeance. Initially he works with malevolent Vizzini to kidnap the lovely Buttercup, but eventually he becomes a good guy, teaming up with The Man in Black & giant Fezzik to rescue Buttercup. He also comes face to face with Rugen and finally gets his revenge.
“He was a great swordmaker, my father. When the six-fingered man appeared and requested a special sword, my father took the job. He slaved a year before it was finished. The six-fingered man returned and demanded it, but at 1/10th his promised price. My father refused. Without a word, the six-fingered man slashed him through the heart. I loved my father. So naturally, I challenged his murderer to a duel. I failed. I was 11 years old. When I was strong enough, I dedicated my life to the study of fencing. So, the next time we meet, I will not fail. I will go up to the six-fingered man and say, ‘Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.’”
73 Lt. Dan Taylor (Forrest Gump)
I was born with a birth defect and have been disabled my entire life, so the way I do things & live my life is entirely normal to me. However, I have known people who became disabled later in life thru some sort of calamity, and it isn’t uncommon for such folks to become understandably bitter & angry about their situation. Lt. Dan captures those emotions perfectly. He’s kind of a prick, but one can’t help but have empathy and root for him. Gary Sinise might be the most underrated actor of his generation, and it’s a shame that he didn’t win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Lt. Dan.
“Now, you listen to me. We all have a destiny. Things don’t just happen…it’s all part of a plan.”
“There are two standing rules in this outfit. One, take care of your feet. Two, don’t go doing something stupid, like getting yourself killed.”
“You call this a storm?!?!?? Blow, you son of a bitch! It’s time for a showdown! You and me! I’m right here! Come and get me! You’ll never… sink… this…boat!!!!”
72 Edward Scissorhands (Edward Scissorhands)
I can’t say I’m on the Tim Burton bandwagon (I have zero interest in Ed Wood, Mars Attacks, or Sweeney Todd, Dark Shadows didn’t really work for me, and I’m thoroughly confused by The Nightmare Before Christmas), but I have enjoyed some of his work (the Batman films of the late 80’s/early 90’s are much more entertaining than Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy no matter what anyone says, and Beetlejuice is a modern classic), with Edward Scissorhands chief among them. Edward is the Pinocchio-esque creation of an elderly inventor whose kind & quiet demeanor is offset by the scary looking blades he has instead of hands. The inventor dies and Edward lives for years in an old gothic mansion until a nosy Avon lady stumbles upon him and tries to integrate him into her odd little neighborhood. There Edward falls in love with the lovely young Kim, which makes her boyfriend jealous. Drama & violence ensue, with Edward fleeing back to his mansion. The movie has a framing device with an older version of Kim telling her granddaughter the story and saying that she believes Edward is still alive & living in the old mansion. Johnny Depp seems like kind of a weird dude, but credit where it is due…the guy is a terrific actor and Edward Scissorhands is probably his best performance. Edward is a quiet character who expresses so much with his eyes & facial expressions, which I find captivating.
“Mrs. Monroe showed me where the salon’s going to be. You could have a cosmetics counter. And then she showed me the back room where she took all of her clothes off.”
71 Mickey Goldmill (The Rocky Series)
Burgess Meredith had a long & successful career in Hollywood, doing a little bit of everything from portraying The Penguin in the 1960’s Batman TV show to playing Lenny in one of the best film adaptations of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice & Men, but to those of us of a certain age he’ll always be Rocky Balboa’s grizzled old manager in the first three Rocky films. Mickey sees Balboa’s potential and isn’t afraid to speak his mind. Mickey encourages Rocky in his pursuit of heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, and does his best a few years later to steer the champ away from the menacing Clubber Lang. Of course Rocky is mauled by Lang, but Mickey’s death immediately afterward spurs his path to revenge.
“I’m here to warn ya, that ya gotta be very careful about this shot that you got at the title. Because, like the Bible says, you ain’t gonna get a second chance. What ya need is a manager. I know, because I’ve been in this racket for fifty years. I’ve seen it all, all of it. I’ve got 21 stitches over this left eye. I’ve got 34 stitches over this eye. Do ya know that I had my nose busted 17 times. I got all this knowledge, I got it up here now, I wanna give it to you. I wanna take care of ya. I wanna make sure that all this shit that happened to me doesn’t happen to you. Ya can’t buy what I’m gonna give ya. I’ve got pain and I’ve got experience.”
“You’re gonna eat lightnin’ and you’re gonna crap thunder.”
“You got another shot. It’s a second shot at the, I don’t know, the biggest title in the world. And you’re gonna be swappin’ punches with the most dangerous fighter in the world. And just in case, you know, your brain ain’t workin’ so good, all this happens pretty soon and you ain’t ready. You’re nowhere near in any shape. So I say, you know, for God’s sake, why don’t you stand up and fight this guy hard?! Like ya done before? That was beautiful! But don’t lay down in front of him like this! Like, I don’t know, like some kind of mongrel or something. ‘Cause he’s gonna kick your face in pieces, you know that? That’s right. This guy just don’t wanna win, you know. He wants to bury ya, he wants to humiliate ya. He wants to prove to the whole world that you was nothing but some kind of a freak the first time out. And he said you’re a one-time lucky bum. Well, now, I don’t, I don’t wanna get mad, in a biblical place like this, but I think you’re a hell of a lot more than that, kid.”
“Why don’t you carry this? ‘Cause I liked you a lot better when you was carryin’ spit. ‘Cause the way you’re trainin’, you’re gonna end up pumping gas in Jersey somewhere!”
“You can’t win, Rock! This guy’ll kill ya to death inside of 3 rounds! He ain’t just another fighter. This guy is a wreckin’ machine, and he’s hungry! Hell, you ain’t been hungry since you won that belt! Three years ago, you were supernatural. You was hard and nasty. You had this cast iron jaw. But then, the worst thing happened to you that could happen to any fighter. You got civilized. Don’t worry, kid. You know, presidents retire, generals retire, horses retire, Man o War retired. They put him out to stud. That’s what you should’ve done, retire.”
70 Ace Ventura (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective)
Jim Carrey has gone on to become a fairly well-regarded actor who takes himself, his craft, and life in general way too seriously. However, 25 years ago he was an up & comer known for portraying Fire Marshal Bill on the TV sketch comedy show In Living Color. Critics hated Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, but its 47% score on Rotten Tomatoes was trumped by a $72 million box office, making it the 12th highest grossing film of 1994 and earning a sequel just a year later. The sequel was an even bigger financial success but also more panned critically. Ace is a unique & unforgettable character because really, who would even conceive of “pet detective” being a thing?
“Einhorn is Finkle. Finkle is Einhorn! Einhorn is a MAN!”
“Fiction can be fun! But I find the reference section much more enlightening. For instance, if you were to look up professional football’s all-time bonehead plays you might read about a Miami Dolphin kicker named Ray Finkle, who missed a 26-yard field goal in the closing seconds of Super Bowl XVII. What you WOULDN’T read about is how Ray Finkle lost his mind, was committed to a mental hospital, only to escape and join the police force under the assumed identity of a missing hiker, manipulating his way to the top in a diabolical scheme to get even with Dan Marino whom he blamed for the entire thing!”
69 Rhett Butler & Scarlett O’Hara (Gone with the Wind)
The on again/off again relationship between Rhett & Scarlett reminds me of every “will they or won’t they” antagonistic & tortured “romance” we’ve seen play out on TV in my lifetime. In the real world such relationships are toxic, but within the scope of entertainment we find the tension & chemistry charming. Rhett Butler is a wealthy scoundrel who eventually enlists in the Confederate Army. Scarlett O’Hara is an entitled debutante, the self-centered daughter of a plantation owner. She spends most of the film pining for southern gentleman Ashley Wilkes, but he’s married to her cousin. Rhett is immediately smitten with Scarlett, but thru the years she marries two other men for all the wrong reasons, and both husbands end up dead. Scarlett goes through a lot of stuff over the course of the story, proving herself to be as resilient & tough as she is spoiled. Eventually Rhett & Scarlett marry & have a child, but she STILL can’t get over Ashley Wilkes. Rhett becomes fed up with her shenanigans and bolts, just as she finally figures out that he’s the man she truly needs. Vivien Leigh won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Scarlett, beating out the likes of Greta Garbo & Bette Davis in the process. Clark Gable wasn’t the original choice to portray Rhett…Gary Cooper turned down the part. Gable was nominated for Best Actor, but lost to Robert Donat for his role in Goodbye, Mr. Chipps.
“I’m very drunk and I intend on getting still drunker before this evening is over.” (Rhett)
“As God is my witness they’re not going to lick me. I’m going to live through this and when it’s all over, I’ll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat, or kill. As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again! (Scarlett)
“The war stopped being a joke when a girl like you doesn’t know how to wear the latest fashion.” (Rhett)
“Tara! Home. I’ll go home. And I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all… tomorrow… is another day!” (Scarlett)
“Open your eyes and look at me. No, I don’t think I will kiss you, although you need kissing badly. That’s what’s wrong with you. You should be kissed, and often, and by someone who knows how.” (Rhett)
“I’m the only man over 16 and under 60 who’s around to show you a good time.” (Rhett)
“There’s one thing I do know, and that is that I love you Scarlett. In spite of you and me and the whole silly world going to pieces around us, I love you. Because we’re alike. Bad lots, both of us. Selfish & shrewd, but able to look things in the eyes as we call them by their right names.” (Rhett)
“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” (Rhett)
68 Robin Hood (various films)
Sir Robin of Loxley first appeared in English folk ballads in the 15th century and has popped in & out of our collective pop culture consciousness for over 500 years. An outlaw who steals from the rich & gives to the poor, lives in Sherwood Forest with his band of Merry Men (Friar Tuck, Little John, Will Scarlet, et al), battles the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham, & romances the lovely Maid Marian, Robin Hood has starred in about three dozen movies in the past hundred years. It is likely that he’d be a bit higher in our countdown if more of those films had been…noteworthy. Hollywood keeps trying, but despite their best efforts the only Robin Hood movie that has made much of an impact is 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, a classic starring Errol Flynn.
“We Saxons have little to fatten on by the time your tax gatherers are through. Overtaxed, overworked, and paid off with a knife, a club, or a rope.”
“It’s time to put an end to this! Now, this forest is wide. It can shelter and clothe and feed a band of good, determined men – good swordsmen, good archers, good fighters. Men, if you’re willing to fight for our people, I want you! Are you with me?”
“What else do you call a man who takes advantage of the King’s misfortune to seize his power? Now, with the help of this sweet band of cutthroats, you’ll try to grind a ransom for him out of every helpless Saxon, a ransom that will be used, not to release Richard, but to buy your way to the throne. I’ll organize a revolt, exact a death for a death, and I’ll never rest until every Saxon in this shire can stand up free men, and strike a blow for Richard and England.”
67 Clark Griswold (The Vacation Series)
Five years ago The Manofesto ranked Clark Griswold 4th on our list of Superfluous 7 Most Awesome Fictional Dads, opining that despite being kind of a dufus it is obvious that he is a devoted family man. Chevy Chase has portrayed Clark in five films stretching all the way back to the original National Lampoon’s Vacation in 1983. He’s an interesting character in that his occupation as an R&D expert in food additives & preservatives seems to indicate some level of intelligence, yet he is depicted as an ordinary putz in his personal life. Chase’s gift for physical comedy as well as how others play off him…with sort of an eye-rolling tolerance for his buffoonery…endears Clark to the audience, making us glad when everything turns out fine despite his persistent screw-ups.
“This is no longer a vacation…it’s a quest. It’s a quest for fun! I’m gonna have fun and you’re gonna have fun! We’re all gonna have so much fuckin’ fun we’ll need plastic surgery to remove our goddamn smiles! You’ll be whistling Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah out of your assholes!!! HAHAHA!!! I gotta be crazy; I’m on a pilgrimage to see a moose! Praise Marty Moose! Holy shit!!!”
“Hey, look kids…there’s Big Ben and there’s Parliament.”
“Honey, we’re not normal people. We’re the Griswolds!”
66 John Doe (Se7en) & Keyser Soze (The Usual Suspects)
Oscar winning actor Kevin Spacey may be persona non grata in Hollywood these days, but until he ran into the #MeToo Mafia his career had been full of memorable roles. To be honest Se7en & The Usual Suspects aren’t really my kind of films, but both offer unforgettable villains made even better by the presence of Spacey inhabiting the characters. Se7en tells the story of a serial killer who uses The Seven Deadly Sins as a theme in his murders. John Doe forces a man to eat until his stomach ruptures (gluttony), kills a lawyer by literally taking a pound of flesh from him (greed), starves a drug dealer/child molester almost to death (sloth), forces a man at gunpoint to kill a prostitute by raping her with a bladed “toy” (lust), & mutilates the face of a model (pride). For those who haven’t seen the movie I won’t spoil the final two crimes representing envy & wrath. The Usual Suspects finds the LAPD interrogating cerebral palsy-afflicted con man Verbal Kint after he survives a massacre on a ship. Kint weaves a tale about a crime lord named Keyser Soze, but in possibly one of the best endings to a movie ever it is revealed (major spoiler alert) that Verbal Kint IS Keyser Soze. Spacey won his first Academy Award (Best Supporting Actor) for his role in The Usual Suspects.
“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” (Keyser Soze)
“Don’t ask me to pity those people. I don’t mourn them any more than I do the thousands that died at Sodom & Gomorrah.” (John Doe)
65 Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Young Frankenstein)
First of all, it is pronounced “Fronk-en-steen”. That is just one small way in which Frederick has intentionally distanced himself from his grandfather’s twisted legacy. However, upon inheriting the family castle in Transylvania Frederick finds himself at a crossroads, and I think we all know the hilarious path he chooses. I’m a fan of parody films, and the way director Mel Brooks spoofs the classic story is funny in a way that I fear may be lost on modern youngsters. Gene Wilder not only stars as Frederick but he also co-wrote the screenplay with Brooks. The cast…Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr, Gene Hackman…is first rate, even if no one under 45 these days might appreciate that fact. I have a bad feeling that someday somebody is going to get the bright idea to remake Young Frankenstein, and that would be…at the very least…misguided.
“From that fateful day when stinking bits of slime first crawled from the sea and shouted to the cold stars, ‘I am man!’ our greatest dread has always been the knowledge of our mortality. But tonight, we shall hurl the gauntlet of science into the frightful face of death itself. Tonight, we shall ascend into the heavens. We shall mock the earthquake. We shall command the thunders, and penetrate into the very womb of impervious nature herself.”
“My grandfather’s work was doodoo! I am not interested in death! The only thing that concerns me is the preservation of life!”
“Are you saying that I put an abnormal brain into a 7 and a half foot long, 54- inch wide GORILLA?!?!?! IS THAT WHAT YOU’RE TELLING ME!?!”
63 Carl Spackler (Caddyshack)
One would assume that being an assistant greenskeeper at swanky Bushwood Country Club would allow even a middle class guy like Carl a decent lifestyle. Alas, he lives in small hut on the golf course, with his job & the game of golf itself consuming his life. He dreams of one day winning The Masters, and in his spare time breeds grass hybrids that one can “play 36 holes on in the afternoon” then “get stoned to the bejeezus” on it at night. He becomes obsessed with ridding the golf course of a rabblerousing gopher, going so far as to utilize explosives and blow up the very course he is employed to look after.
“What an incredible Cinderella story! This unknown, comes out of nowhere, to lead the pack at Augusta. The crowd is just on its feet here. He’s a Cinderella boy. Tears in his eyes, I guess, as he lines up this last shot. He’s got about 195 yards left, and he’s got a, looks like he’s got about an 8-iron. This crowd has gone deadly silent… Cinderella story, out of nowhere, former greenskeeper, now about to become the Masters champion. It’s in the hole! It’s in the hole!”
“My enemy…my foe…is an animal. In order to conquer the animal I have to learn to think like an animal. And, whenever possible, to look like one. I’ve gotta get inside this guy’s pelt and crawl around for a few days.”
“And he says, ‘Oh, uh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.’ So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.”
64 Hermione Granger (The Harry Potter Series)
Author JK Rowling describes Hermione as having “pale skin, bushy brown hair, brown eyes, & large buck teeth”. In the films she is much lovelier than the impression one gets from the books, but her personality remains unchanged: intelligent, sensible, strong-willed, loyal, & just a tad bit officious. She’s the kind of person that’s nice to have in your corner, and one that presents fierce opposition. She’s tough as nails and not afraid to stand side by side with the boys or go toe to toe with the baddies, yet she retains an element of vulnerable femininity & kindness. I suppose for a certain age of young ladies Hermione could be called a feminist icon.
“Honestly, am I the only person who’s ever bothered to read Hogwarts: A History?”
“Now if you two don’t mind, I’m going to bed. Before you come up with another idea to get us killed. Or worse, expelled.”
“I’m highly logical which allows me to look past extraneous detail and perceive clearly that which others overlook.”
“Just because you have the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have!”
“No Harry, you listen…we’re coming with you. That was decided months ago…years, really.”
62 Austin Powers & Dr. Evil (The Austin Powers Series)
I may not be a James Bond fan, but I really enjoyed the Austin Powers movies, which are essentially a Bond parody. Powers is a 60’s era swinger & British spy whose arch nemesis is Dr. Evil. When Dr. Evil becomes cryogenically frozen Powers does the same so that he’ll be available to stop Evil in the future. That future is three decades later, when both Powers & Evil are thawed out and continue their battle. Dr. Evil intends to steal nuclear weapons & hold the world hostage for “$100 BILLION!!”. It’s all very silly, with double entendres, sight gags, & the kind of goofy humor that tickles my funny bone. Mike Meyers created the story as a tribute to his British parents and plays both characters. Meyers was a couple of years removed from his time at SNL and hadn’t had much success outside of the two Wayne’s World films, but cemented his stardom with the dual roles. Rumors of a fourth Powers movie have persisted since the third one hit theaters 17 years ago, but so far it hasn’t happened.
“I bet she shags like a minx.” (Austin Powers)
“Fire the laser!” (Dr. Evil)
“The 70s and the 80s? You’re not missing anything! I looked into it. There’s a gas shortage and A Flock of Seagulls. That’s about it.” (Austin Powers)
“Why must I be surrounded by frickin’ idiots?” (Dr. Evil)
“Oh, behave!” (Austin Powers)
“Throw me a frickin’ bone here!” (Dr. Evil)
“Groovy, baby!” (Austin Powers)
“I have a better idea. I’m going to place him in an easily escapable situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death.” (Dr. Evil)
“SILENCE!! I will not tolerate your insolence!” (Dr. Evil)
“Ladies & gentlemen, welcome to my new submarine lair. It’s long and hard and full of seamen.” (Dr. Evil)
61 John Bender (The Breakfast Club)
There are five high schoolers in trouble & spending their Saturday in detention at Shurmur High School in suburban Chicago on March 24, 1984: Claire Standish (The Princess), Andrew Clark (The Athlete), Brian Johnson (The Brain), Allison Reynolds (The Basket Case), & John Bender (The Criminal). Of that group it is Bender that shines just a little brighter. The idea behind these characters is that they represent typical high school stereotypes, and it’s the main reason the film holds up nearly four decades later…those labels are universal and don’t change all that much. Every high school has rebels like Bender, the kind of badass who thumbs their nose at authority, doesn’t care all that much about academics, & seemingly has a limited future. However, the great thing about The Breakfast Club is that it explores those archetypes & exposes their folly. It’s a movie that one perceives differently thru the prism of adulthood, and as a grown man I am struck by the not-so-subtle suggestion that Bender has been physically, mentally, & emotionally abused at home. There is a scene in which blowhard Principal Vernon gets in Bender’s face, and contrary to the bluster that he exhibits in the presence of his peers, the tough as nails bully cowers like a scared child. It is a stark reminder that not everything is always as it seems – sometimes people put on masks to hide their pain.
“Screws fall out all the time; the world is an imperfect place.”
“Does Barry Manilow know you raid his wardrobe?”
“I could see you really pushing maximum density. You see, I’m not sure if you know this, but there are two kinds of fat people. There’s fat people that were born to be fat, and there’s fat people that were once thin, but they became fat, so when you look at them you can sort of see that thin person inside. You see, you’re gonna get married, you’re gonna squeeze out a few puppies and then….”
“Eat my shorts.”
“”Face it…you’re a neo-maxi-zoom-dweebie.”
60 Beetlejuice (Beetlejuice)
Horror comedies are a rare treat, but they are the kind of Halloween-ish fare I prefer instead of straight up slasher flicks. Michael Keaton is an undervalued gem of an actor, capable of adding zest to comedies, dramas, big budget superhero films, biopics, or whatever else he does. When a young couple dies in a car accident but still finds themselves residing in their suburban Connecticut home they employ the services of a centuries old “freelance bio-exorcist” to get rid of the new owners of the house. That freelancer is a fast-talking, mischievous, & crude trickster who is essentially a “Livingbuster” (as opposed to a Ghostbuster)…a ghost who exterminates the living by scaring them away. The name Betelgeuse (the proper spelling) refers to a star in the Orion constellation that is the ninth brightest star in the night sky. Rumors of a Beetlejuice sequel have been circulating for years, but the project seems to have hit a wall.
“I’m the ghost with the most, babe.”
59 Sonny Corleone (The Godfather Trilogy)
Hands down Sonny has the greatest death scene in movie history. The eldest son of Don Vito Corleone, hothead Santino takes over as temporary boss of The Family after his father is shot by goons working for narcotics kingpin Turk Sollozzo. Under Sonny’s leadership the Five Families engage in a Mafia war after Sonny’s younger brother Michael kills Sollozzo & a corrupt cop, forcing the entire Corleone organization to “go to the mattresses”. After his brother-in-law Carlo physically abuses his wife Connie, Sonny defends his sister’s honor by beating the holy hell out of Carlo, which leads to rival boss Emilio Barzini setting a trap using Carlo to bait Sonny into making a reckless mistake. He is brought down in a hail of gunfire at a toll booth. Sonny’s sexual prowess and physical…gifts…are elaborated on much more in the book than the movie, but his affair with one of Connie’s bridesmaids at the beginning of the first film is important because his illegitimate son Vincent Mancini becomes Don of the Corleone Family in the much maligned & underappreciated Part III.
“Hey, whatcha gonna do, nice college boy, eh? Didn’t want to get mixed up in the family business, huh? Now you wanna gun down a police captain ’cause he slapped ya in the face? Hah? What do you think this is? The Army, where you shoot ’em a mile away? You’ve gotta get up close like this and bada-bing, you blow their brains all over your nice Ivy League suit!”
58 Godzilla (various films)
Godzilla (which in Japanese translates into gorilla whale) is a 300-400 ft. reptilian creature weighing several hundred thousand tons who lives in the sea and is awakened as a result of nuclear radiation. He has been the star of about three dozen films dating back to the 1950’s, and the earliest movies are still the best, mostly because of the kitschiness factor of the archaic special effects & amusingly poor dubbing of English over the original Japanese. Big scary monsters are nothing new in Hollywood, but most of them come & go rather quickly. Maybe they get a couple of sequels but that’s usually it. Godzilla has stood the test of time, and we can still count on a new movie in the series popping up somewhere every few years for our viewing pleasure.
57 Bo “Bandit” Darville (Smokey & The Bandit)
At one point in my childhood Burt Reynolds was the biggest movie star in the world, and though he’d previously done well-regarded films like Deliverance & The Longest Yard my earliest memory of him is Smokey & The Bandit. I was five years old and didn’t really get all the humor, but there were car chases & crashes so that was enough to attract my attention. In the ensuing four decades I have watched this movie countless times, and though the entire cast is terrific it is The Bandit that holds it all together. He’s a trucker who’s between jobs, and that guy that knows everyone and is loved by everybody because of his charm & good looks. He’s cocky but not arrogant, confident enough in his skills to agree to a bet wherein he’ll bring 400 cases of Coors beer to Atlanta from Texarkana, TX in just 28 hours. The premise might not make much sense to folks in 21st century America because one first must understand that in the 1970’s Coors was unavailable east of Oklahoma (it didn’t become distributed nationally until 1986), and because it was made without stabilizers & preservatives could spoil quicker than other beers. Bootlegging was the illegal transport of alcoholic beverages due to violation of registration & licensing laws. I have no idea what the penalty was, but I assume the $80k Bandit is offer by Big Enos Burdette is worth the risk. At any rate, his antics are so much fun that it makes an otherwise odd & now outdated idea still entertaining after all these years.
“Oh I love your suits. It must have been a bitch to get a 68 Extra Fat and a 12 Dwarf.”
“You’re always hoppin around. And you’re kinda cute, like a frog. And I’d like to jump ya.”
“He was taking a 10-100.”
“Cowboys love fat calves.”
“What’s a Texas county mounty doing in Arkansas?”
56 Moses (The Ten Commandments)
Hollywood’s history with Biblical epics is spotty at best, but they did it right with The Ten Commandments. It’s got to be a tough gig portraying a character from The Bible, right?? They are real people who actually walked the Earth, but it was so long ago that there aren’t photos or video to lay the foundation for an accurate depiction. With the exception of events that are written about in God’s Word there isn’t much to base a character on, yet millions of people whose faith is deeply important to them have high expectations. By 1956 director Cecil B. DeMille had helmed dozens of movies, many of them in the silent era in the first two decades of the 20th century. His epic circus drama The Greatest Show on Earth had won the Academy Award for Best Picture a few years earlier. Charlton Heston wasn’t DeMille’s first choice to play Moses, but the two had worked together on The Greatest Show on Earth and Heston’s knowledge of Egyptian history captivated the director, who thought the actor resembled Michelangelo’s 16th century statue of Moses in the church of San Pietro in Rome. William Boyd, who had portrayed Hopalong Cassidy in over five dozen cowboy movies in the 1930’s & 40’s, turned down the part, so Heston was chosen. He’d acted in over a dozen previous films, but it was The Ten Commandments that made him a star.
“A city is made of brick, Pharaoh. The strong make many. The weak make few. The dead make none. So much for accusations.”
“It would take more than a man to lead the slaves from bondage. It would take a god, and I am no god. I am but a man, a man who asks by what right any man may enslave another of a different race or creed. But if I could free these people, I would.”
“Who shall withstand the power of God?!?!??”
55 Buck Russell (Uncle Buck)
It’s the role that John Candy was born to play: a slovenly black sheep uncle called on to babysit his nieces & nephew in the midst of a family emergency. Buck is a middle-aged unemployed bachelor who smokes cigars, drinks beer, drives a noisy old gas guzzler that’s seen better days, & spends a lot of time at the track betting on horses…not exactly the ideal caretaker for children. The two younger kids take an immediate liking to Buck, but he has a much more difficult time winning over his teenage niece. Those interactions between an uncle clearly out of his element and the children are the crux of the film, and Candy infuses Buck with a mix of humor, common sense, tough love, amiable befuddlement, & roguish charm that endears him to the audience.
“I’m on to cigars now. I’m on to a five year plan. I eliminated cigarettes, then I go to cigars, then I go to pipes, then I go to chewing tobacco, then I’m on to that nicotine gum.”
“What’s your record for consecutive questions asked?”
“I don’t think I want to know a 6 year old who isn’t a dreamer or a sillyheart, and I sure don’t want to know one who takes their student career seriously. I don’t have a college degree. I don’t even have a job. But I know a good kid when I see one. Because they’re all good kids until dried-out, brain-dead skags like you drag them down and convince them they’re no good. You so much as scowl at my niece or any other kid in this school and I hear about it, I’m coming looking for you! Take this quarter, go downtown, and have a rat gnaw that thing off your face! Good day to you, madam.
“Stand me up today and tomorrow I’ll drive you to school in my robe and pajamas and walk you to your first class.”
“Ever hear of a ritual killing? You gnaw on her face in public like that again and you’ll be one.”
“I have a friend who works at the crime lab at the police station. I could give him your toothbrush and he could run a test on it to see if you actually brushed your teeth or just ran your toothbrush under the faucet.”
54 R2D2 & C3P0 (The Star Wars series)
The Star Wars galaxy created by George Lucas offers a multitude of memorable characters. We’ll get to some others eventually, but we begin with a pair of futuristic droids that offer delightful levity amongst all the action & intrigue. There are eleven films in the series…the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy, the soon to be concluded sequel trilogy, Rogue One, & Solo. R2D2 & C3P0 have appeared in ten of these, which is by far more than any other character. R2D2 purportedly stands for Second Generation Robotic Droid Series-2, but the truth is that when Lucas heard his sound editor on American Graffiti ask for Reel 2, Dialog Track 2 in abbreviated form he liked the sound of it. R2D2 is a utility robot used for the maintenance & repair of starships and related technology. In the films he first belongs to Naboo defense forces charged with repairing Queen Padme Amidala’s ship. Thru the years he is owned by Qui-Gon Jinn, Anakin Skywalker, Owen Lars, Luke Skywalker, & Rey. R2’s distinctive shape and various beeps & unique noises are signature elements of the character. C3P0 is a little more humanlike than his buddy, having legs & feet and the ability to speak. He is a protocol droid intended to assist in etiquette, customs, & translation and is fluent in over seven million forms of communication. Thru the years he has served Shmi Skywalker, the Lars family, Padmé Amidala, Raymus Antilles, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, & Rey. His distinctive gold plating makes him easy to spot in a crowd, and his fussy, worrisome personality is rather comical. I’m sure back in the 70’s many people thought that by the 21st century robot assistants like R2D2 & C3P0 would be commonplace, but we’re not quite there yet.
“For a mechanic, you seem to do an incessant amount of thinking.” (C3P0)
“Don’t blame me. I’m an interpreter. I’m not supposed to know a power socket from a computer terminal.” (C3P0)
“R2, you know better than to trust a strange computer.” (C3P0)
“It’s against my programming to impersonate a deity.” (C3P0)
53 Billy Madison & Happy Gilmore (eponymous films)
Adam Sandler’s career has been a mixed bag. He is undoubtedly talented & funny, but his shtick isn’t everybody’s cup of tea and he’s made a lot of bad movies. In my opinion his funniest films were in the early 90’s, though you won’t find many critics who would agree. I take no issue with solicitous, meaningful films with life lessons, powerful messages, & profound themes, but sometimes we just want to turn off our brain for awhile and laugh at something completely stupid & pointless and Sandler has done a decent job of providing that sort of entertainment. Billy Madison is a rather juvenile 20-something in a clear state of arrested development. When his hotel tycoon father plans to retire he’d prefer Billy take over the business but knows he isn’t capable, especially since the old man bribed teachers to pass Billy all the way thru school. At any rate, Billy accepts a challenge to complete 12 grades of school in two weeks, which is somehow supposed to magically make him qualified to helm a Fortune 500 company. I know…it makes very little sense, but the journey is lots of silly fun, which is the whole point. Happy Gilmore is a failed hockey player wannabe who must figure out a way to help his grandmother buy back her house that the IRS took for back taxes she owes. He inexplicably ends up on the PGA Tour and (spoiler alert) wins enough money as a champion golfer to help out his grandmother. Once again…don’t put too much thought into it. The plots of these movies aren’t meant to be logical and the characters aren’t supposed to be realistic, but Sandler infuses both Billy & Happy with enough affable charm that we root for their success and want them to overcome the odds despite the fact that they are total idiots.
“Oh, Veronica Vaughn … soooo hot … want to touch the hiney!” (Billy)
“The Price is wrong, bitch!” (Happy)
“You ain’t cool, unless, you pee your pants! Everybody my age pee their pants; it’s the coolest!” (Billy)
52 Ellis “Red” Redding (The Shawshank Redemption)
Many folks may not realize that The Shawshank Redemption is based on a 1982 Stephen King novella. In that book Red Redding is described as a middle-aged Irish man with greying red hair, so casting Morgan Freeman in the role can only be described as an inspired choice. Red has been imprisoned at Shawshank for 40 years for murdering his wife & passengers in her vehicle after he tampered with the brakes. He has attained a level of influence for being able to smuggle a variety of goods into the jail for other inmates, though his attitude remains somewhat sullen. He is a practical man, resigned to his fate yet regretful of the crime he committed when he was young & stupid. Red befriends new inmate Andy Dufresne, and they end up changing each other’s lives tremendously. Freeman received his third Academy Award nomination for the role, but lost the Best Actor prize to Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump).
“In 1966, Andy Dufresne escaped from Shawshank prison. All they found of him was a muddy set of prison clothes, a bar of soap, and an old rock hammer, damn near worn down to the nub. I remember thinking it would take a 600 years to tunnel through the wall with it. Old Andy did it in less than 20. Andy crawled to freedom through 500 yards of shit-smelling foulness I can’t even imagine…or maybe I just don’t want to. 500 yards… that’s the length of five football fields; just shy of half a mile.”
“Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”
“These prison walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, gets so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized. They send you here for life, that’s exactly what they take. The part that counts anyways.”
“Rehabilitated? Well, now, let me see. You know, I don’t have any idea what that means. I know what you think it means, sonny. To me it’s just a made-up word. A politician’s word, so that young fellas like yourself can wear a suit and a tie and have a job. What do you really wanna know? Am I sorry for what I did? There’s not a day goes by that I don’t feel regret. Not because I’m in here, or because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try to talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone, and this old man is all that’s left. I gotta live with that. Rehabilitated? It’s just a bullshit word. So go ahead and stamp your forms, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don’t give a shit.”
“I find I’m so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it is the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend, and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”
51 Laurie Strode (Halloween)
Screen legend Janet Leigh is the original Scream Queen for her small yet pivotal role in the 1960 Hitchcock classic Psycho, so it is fitting that her daughter Jamie Lee Curtis would assume the mantle after playing Lorrie Strode, an ordinary American teenager who endures a single night of terror at the hands of a knife-wielding masked maniac. Numerous sequels, remakes, & reboots have kept the Halloween franchise alive, but really the 1978 original & its initial 1981 sequel are the only two that matter.
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.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Ed Harris
Directed By: Ron Howard (Night Shift, Splash, Cocoon, Parenthood)
Only the Lonely
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.
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.
Directed By: Gus Van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho)
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
Directed By: Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle)
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.
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.
Starring: Scott Weinger, Robin Williams, Gilbert Gottfried
Directed By: Ron Clements & John Musker (The Great Mouse Detective, The Little Mermaid)
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).
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.
Directed By: Harold Ramis (Caddyshack, National Lampoon’s Vacation)
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.
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.
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.
Starring: Jim Carrey, Sean Young, Tone Loc, Dan Marino
Directed By: Tom Shadyac
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.
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.
Starring: Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio
Directed By: Lasse Hallström (The Cider House Rules, A Dog’s Purpose)
Starring: Julia Roberts, Richard Gere
Directed By: Garry Marshall (Overboard, Beaches)
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.
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.
Greetings friends, and welcome to Round 1 of 90’s Film Frenzy. If you haven’t read the intro please do so, and then we can begin with the Phat Division.
As with 80’s Movie Mania and Merry Movie Mayhemthere are a few factors that are taken into consideration as we advance thru this process. It goes without saying that I have to have watched the movie because I can’t evaluate something I haven’t seen, right?? And generally I have to have liked it, although as opposed to its predecessors this competition has a few entries that have been included for other reasons despite my personal opinion. I’m generous like that. In addition to these obvious elements there are a few additional things I ponder:
Is it on television a lot?? If it is on TV do I stop & watch?? There are some movies that are shown on television frequently many years after debuting on the big screen. Sometimes I’ll flip right on thru to the next channel. Other times I will watch an old movie with mild interest because there really aren’t many options. But every once in awhile I’ll run across a movie that, despite the fact that I’ve seen it countless times, I will always stop whatever I’m doing and be delighted to watch it again.
Does the story hold up well?? Or do modern societal norms & changes in technology make it feel dated?? Unlike a Christmas film or an 80’s movie I’m not sure there as many tangible features that distinguish a 90’s flick, and insomuch as something might be “quintessential 90’s” there is a strong possibility that I may not particularly like it. 1990’s music was largely defined by rap, grunge, & hip-hop. Television & movies in the 1990’s became edgy & pessimistic. Technology exploded in the 90’s, which is a double-edged sword at best. 1990’s fashion wasn’t particularly noteworthy or cool. Having said all of that, it is still possible for a 90’s film to feel…passé.
We all love quotable movies, right?? It adds to the cool factor and long term durability of a film, and for me it indicates that it is well-written & charming story that’ll give me the warm fuzzies that I dig in a moviegoing experience.
Is it one of those movies that everyone of a certain age has seen?? Is it familiar to multiple generations?? Do people still occasionally talk about it & watch it even many years after its release??
Do I enjoy watching the movie?? We’ve all read books or watched shows/movies just because we felt compelled to…because we wanted to be cool or seem educated. But what do you enjoy when no one else is around??
My tastes are not defined by anyone else. I like what I like whether anyone agrees with me or not. However, I do give credence to things like awards, box office numbers, & the general opinions of critics. My opinion may not be persuaded by those things, but I’m not opposed to taking them into consideration.
Now you know a little bit about my process, and so we shall begin with the first eight head-to-head matchups. Enjoy.
Starring: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer
Directed By: Tim Burton (Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands)
Starring: Elizabeth Berkley, Kyle MacLachlan, Gina Gershon
Directed By: Paul Verhoeven (RoboCop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct)
Tim Burton & Michael Keaton followed up the very successful Batman (the top grossing movie of 1989) with a tale in which both The Penguin and Catwoman arrive in Gotham City to challenge The Caped Crusader. The follow-up wasn’t quite as successful as the original, but still did more than respectable numbers. At the time it was condemned by some for being a bit too dark & violent (criticism which seems rather quaint two decades later) and suffered from comparisons with its predecessor, but thru the prism of time appreciation for the film has grown and many would opine that it is the best among that particular set of four Batman movies. Conversely, Showgirls has never received much love from critics or the moviegoing public…for good reason. The buzz at the time was all about actress Elizabeth Berkley, who was determined to not be typecast as a squeaky clean good girl like the one she portrayed on frivolous Saturday morning sitcom Saved by the Bell. Mission accomplished I suppose. Berkley stars as a gal from the wrong side of the tracks who longs to rise from low class stripper to Vegas showgirl, although the way the story is presented there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference. There’s a lot of nudity & sex but not much of a plot, and the acting is atrocious. Rather than elevating Berkley from lightly regarded television star to respected film actress Showgirls essentially destroyed her career.
The Verdict:Batman Returns. Widely regarded as a trainwreck, Showgirls is the kind of movie that a person might watch once just to see what all the chatter is about, and especially in the mid-90’s young men of a certain age were curious to see Jessie Spanos’ naughty bits. However, it certainly isn’t a popcorn flick that is shown on TV often or is in any way worthy of repeat viewings. In retrospect criticizing Batman Returns for its noir tone seems silly now since a decade later Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy was celebrated for essentially the same kind of gritty vibe. Michelle Pfeiffer was the best Catwoman since Julie Newmar & Eartha Kitt, and Danny DeVito’s Penguin is just fine.
Directed By: Charles Russell (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, The Scorpion King)
Starring: Jeremy Piven, David Spade, Jon Favreau
Directed By: Hart Bochner (High School High)
Jim Carrey followed up the wildly successful Ace Ventura: Pet Detective just six months later with a comic book film adaptation in which he stars as a milquetoast bank clerk whose personality is transformed by a green mask. Stanley Ipkiss is the kind of quiet, shy pushover that everyone takes advantage of & no one respects. He becomes smitten with a gangster’s gal pal but is too introverted to do anything about it…until he finds a magical wooden mask that turns him into a suit wearing, shape shifting, supremely confident, green-faced trickster. Not only does he get the girl, but he foils the gangster’s bank robbery in the process. This was the film debut of Cameron Diaz, and one of three movies that Carrey had in the Top 20 of 1994…quite a year for him. On the flip side is PCU, a fun little jab at political correctness in which a college freshman encounters just about every sort of stereotypical fringe group one might imagine exists on campus. There’s the uptight preppy fraternity…the laid back party animal fraternity…extreme feminists…potheads…militant black students…and of course the overly sensitive school administration that fosters mistrust amongst the various groups by promoting inclusion & multiculturalism. PCU isn’t a good movie, but it was way ahead of its time and actually foreshadowed some of the issues we confront in the 21st century. Plus it has a really eclectic cast featuring some of the earlier & less appreciated work of a few folks that have gone on to bigger & better things.
The Verdict:The Mask. To be honest, if I was flipping thru the channels and both were on at the same time I would probably watch PCU. I hate political correctness and love how PCU satirizes the entire concept. I enjoy just about anything with Jeremy Piven, and the rest of the cast is pretty good as well. Having said that, PCU was the 144th highest grossing film of 1994 & has a 47% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Heck, Mixed Nuts (one of the worst Christmas films of all time) and Cops & Robbersons (easily a lowlight on Chevy Chase’s filmography) both made more at the box office than PCU!! Conversely, The Mask is the perfect showcase for Carrey’s unique talent, and it solidified his stardom. It was the 9th highest grossing film of 1994…ahead of both Pulp Fiction and Interview with the Vampire.
Starring: Alicia Silverstone, Paul Rudd, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy
Directed By: Amy Heckerling ( Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Look Who’s Talking, National Lampoon’s European Vacation)
Starring: Anthony LaPaglia, Rory Cochrane, Johnny Whitworth, Robin Tunney, Renée Zellweger, Liv Tyler, Ethan Embry
Directed By: Allan Moyle (Pump Up the Volume)
This is the film equivalent of a matchup featuring the Minnesota Twins vs. the Colorado Rockies…not scraping the bottom of the barrel by any stretch, but certainly not worth any sort of hype or enthusiasm. Alicia Silverstone gained pop culture viability after appearing in an early 90’s music video for Aerosmith alongside Liv Tyler, but it is Clueless that made her famous. She stars as Cher, a spoiled Beverly Hills high school student who checks all of the rich Daddy’s girl boxes…except that she’s not a completely shallow airhead. Cher decides to help out a nerdy gal at school, and succeeds in making her new friend cool & popular. In the process she reflects on her own life and confronts her shortcomings, becoming a better person and falling for her ex stepbrother in the process (which no one seemed to find the least bit creepy twenty years ago). Clueless wasn’t a huge box office hit, but it holds an 81% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, made Silverstone a movie star for a few years (although her fame was fleeting), and is a true snapshot of an era. Empire Records is what I like to call a Hindsight Film, meaning that its cast is full of then unknowns who would go on to bigger & better things. The movie itself is a forgettable slice of life look at one day at a small record store and its teenage employees. It ranked a putrid 236th at the box office in 1995, and only became a cult favorite after Renee Zellweger & others became more famous several years later.
The Verdict:Clueless. Again, given the opportunity to watch either/or on a random rainy afternoon of couch potatoing I would personally lean toward Empire Records, but the cultural impact of Clueless cannot be denied. In retrospect I am surprised that Silverstone’s career stalled so suddenly, to the point that the last role she had in anything that drew an audience was a cameo in Tropic Thunder a decade ago.
Starring: Robin Williams, Monica Potter, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Directed By: Tom Shadyac (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Nutty Professor, Liar Liar)
Starring: Chris Farley, David Spade, Tim Matheson
Directed By: Penelope Spheeris (Wayne’s World, The Beverly Hillbillies)
Patch Adams is based on the true story of a doctor who practices his unique brand of medicine right here in my home state of West Virginia. It is my understanding that Hollywood used broad creative license in telling the story, but I’m okay with that. Robin Williams was brilliant & is deeply missed by fans around the world, and Patch Adams is probably one of his more underappreciated roles. Critic Gene Siskel named it his worst film of 1998 and it holds a lowly 25% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The real Patch Adams isn’t a big fan either, once saying that “it sacrificed much of his message to make a selling film” and “out of all aspects of his life and activism, the film portrayed him merely as a funny doctor”. However, after Williams’ death Dr. Adams called him “a wonderful, kind and generous man” and said “I’m enormously grateful for his wonderful performance of my early life”. Black Sheep was the second pairing of SNL alums Chris Farley & David Spade and tells the story of a well-intentioned yet blundering manchild whose attempts to help his brother’s gubernatorial campaign go hilariously awry, even with one of the candidate’s employees babysitting him. There is a certain segment of the population who may have been teens or twentysomethings in the early 90’s and were big fans of that particularly amusing era of Saturday Night Live. That is the target audience for Black Sheep, but otherwise critics hated it and the box office wasn’t impressive (it was the 50th highest grossing film of 1996).
The Verdict:Patch Adams. Neither is a great movie, but both are acceptably entertaining when one is in vegg mode. Admittedly there is part of this decision that is purely sentimental in memory of Robin Williams. But also, of the two Farley/Spade collaborations Black Sheep is the lesser film, so that also makes the choice easier.
Directed By: Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)
I have to admit that I only recall watching Pulp Fiction once, and it didn’t appeal to me at all. Tarantino’s style just doesn’t frost my cupcake. The plot is convoluted, with intersecting stories about mob hitmen, a boxer, & a gangster’s wife that don’t necessarily make any kind of sense. The cast is top notch and the movie was the tenth highest grossing film of 1994. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Travolta), Best Director (Tarantino), Best Supporting Actress (Thurman), & Best Supporting Actor (Jackson), although the only Oscar it won was Best Original Screenplay. Only the Lonely is an unassuming little romantic dramedy about a middle-aged policeman who still lives with his domineering Irish mother and the uproar caused when the cop becomes involved with a timid funeral parlor beautician. It is the final performance of legendary actress Maureen O’Hara…best remembered for her role as a cynical mother in the 1947 Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street…and holds a 62% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The Verdict:Only the Lonely. NCAA’s March Madness always has a few big upsets, so just think of this as the cinematic equivalent of Cleveland St. over Indiana. While I try to give credence to a film’s pedigree & star power there are simply some situations where it doesn’t matter, and I’ve just never understood the love for Pulp Fiction. Film critic Gene Siskel stated that “the violent intensity of Pulp Fiction calls to mind other violent watershed films that were considered classics in their time and still are”, comparing it to Psycho, Bonnie & Clyde, and A Clockwork Orange in that they all “shook up a tired, bloated movie industry and used a world of lively lowlifes to reflect how dull other movies had become”. I suppose that is where the disconnect lies for me. I’m not looking for anything to shake me up. If a movie is well-written & performed I don’t really care how formulaic it may be, and oftentimes prefer satisfying & familiar comfort food to anything trying to challenge the status quo.
Sharon Stone burst onto the pop culture radar with one memorable flash. Basic Instinct tells the story of a cocaine sniffing homicide detective investigating the murder of a rock star in which the prime suspect is a provocative & sexy crime novelist. Of course the two become involved in a sizzling yet totally inappropriate affair, and at the end of the day the audience is led to believe that the enigmatic writer really is the killer. Big Daddy is the last gasp of Adam Sandler’s career zenith, during which he starred in a handful of sophomoric yet appealing comedies like Happy Gilmore and The Waterboy. A few of his 90’s films are part of this competition. Big Daddy sees Sandler portray the kind of infantile slacker that seems to be his wheelhouse, and that slacker…thru a series of inexplicable events that do not reflect how the world actually works in any way…becomes the foster father of an abandoned child. Of course he proves to be a loveable yet dreadfully poor role model for the boy, but everything works out okay in the end. Reviews for the film aren’t as horrible as one might assume, but obviously it’s not the kind of story that critics are going to enthusiastically endorse.
The Verdict:Big Daddy. Both films are viewed as mediocre by most everyone. Big Daddy was the 7th highest grossing film of 1999, while Basic Instinct was the 9th highest grossing film of 1992…so there’s really no discernible difference in that regard. This comes down to two things. Repeat viewings are a key factor for me, and I probably haven’t watched Basic Instinct in twenty years. Conversely, Big Daddy is precisely the kind of mindless fun that pops up on television with some frequency and is always pleasurable to watch in vegg mode. It’s not Sandler’s best, but it is far from his worst. Secondly, while Sharon Stone skyrocketed to stardom she quickly faded away and hasn’t been in anything notable this century. The quality of Sandler’s work has diminished considerably and he’s been in some truly awful movies in the past decade (That’s My Boy might be the worst film ever made), but he still occasionally cranks out mildly entertaining fare like Grown-Ups, Blended, or the Hotel Transylvania movies.
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Gene Hackman, Ed Harris, Holly Hunter, Hal Holbrook
Directed By: Sydney Pollack (The Way We Were, The Electric Horseman, Out of Africa, The Fabulous Baker Boys, Presumed Innocent)
My Best Friend’s Wedding
Starring: Julia Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, Cameron Diaz, Rupert Everett
Directed By: P.J. Hogan (Confessions of a Shopaholic)
Once upon a time I was on the Grisham bandwagon like many avid readers. As a kid I had seriously pondered a law career, and even after that thought process dissipated I enjoyed any kind of book related to the profession, especially the well-written thrillers that Mr. Grisham was penning in the early 90’s. The film adaptation is worthy of the book, with Tom Cruise starring as a young lawyer employed by a shady Memphis law firm whose biggest client is The Mafia. An all-star cast brings the story to life, although I seem to recall some controversy about the conclusion. The ending of the book has the protagonist turn over evidence to the FBI therefore breaking attorney-client privilege. Knowing his career is over & he has crossed The Mob he steals $10 million dollars from the firm and flees to The Cayman Islands. In the film he refuses to sacrifice his principles but finds a way to bring down the firm by exposing overbilling violations. The Mafia is left untouched and the attorney is able to simply take his family back to Boston to resume a normal life. Such changes usually bother me, but in this case I don’t really mind. At any rate, The Firm was well-received by critics and was the 4th highest grossing film of 1993, which is rather impressive. My Best Friend’s Wedding stars Julia Roberts as a woman who is secretly in love with her male best friend, and not happy when he announces his engagement to another woman. She plays dirty to sabotage the relationship but it backfires on her and the wedding proceeds as planned, with the “best woman” bravely admitting defeat and wishing the happy couple well. The cast is charming and the plot mildly interesting, but in a sea of dime-a-dozen rom-coms I just don’t think this one stands out from the crowd.
The Verdict:The Firm. Rolling Stone movie critic Peter Travers called My Best Friend’s Wedding “the summer-date-film supreme for pretty women and the gay men they love”, while Roger Ebert said that “it subverts the usual comic formulas”. Accurate assessments, and I personally have nothing negative to say either. I just happen to love The Firm in book form and think the movie does its source material proper justice. It might be one of Cruise’s best performances.
Starring: Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Liv Tyler, Ben Affleck, Owen Wilson, William Fichtner, Steve Buscemi, Michael Clarke Duncan
Directed By: Michael Bay (Bad Boys. The Rock, Pearl Harbor, Transformers)
Starring: Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson
Directed By: Kevin Smith (Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jersey Girl)
There were two films in 1998 about asteroids destroying Earth, because Hollywood loves blowing stuff up. These two movies were released within a couple of months of each other and preferences vary among fans, although Armageddon is general considered the cooler & more fun of the two. Bruce Willis stars as a deep sea oil driller recruited by NASA to lead a mission into space to deploy nuclear weapons on the giant asteroid. He insists on having his zany crew of oil field misfits come along for the ride. Hilarity ensues, or atleast as much joviality as can be mustered about the extinction of mankind. Armageddon was the second highest grossing film of 1998, behind Saving Private Ryan and ahead of There’s Something About Mary. It has a lowly 38% Rotten Tomatoes score, with the Boston Globe calling it “big, noisy, stupid, & shameless”, the Wall Street Journal opining that it “redefines (downward) the standard for summer stupidity”, & the Washington Post observing that it “could have been written by a chimp who’s watched too much TV…it is like putting your head in a tin washbucket while weightlifters whack it with golf clubs”. You gotta love movie critics, right?? Clerks was Kevin Smith’s first film and is still probably his most well-known work. One has to respect a guy for being able to ride the wave for almost 25 years. The story is a slice-of-life day in small town America focusing on Dante, a 20-something convenience store clerk and his pal Randal, who works next door at the video store. The duo spend more time not working than working and get themselves into various scrapes throughout the day. Clerks was the 155th highest grossing film of 1994, but made over $3 million dollars on a $31k budget. We’d all love to get that kind of return on our investments. Rotten Tomatoes gives it an impressive 88% score. Ebert loved it, calling it “so utterly authentic that its heroes have never heard of their generation”. Others agree with that assessment, with the New York Times boldly proclaiming it to be “a buoyant, bleakly funny comedy” and Entertainment Weekly christening it a “slacker manifesto” and “a fast, likable 90 minutes at the movies”.
The Verdict:Armageddon. Y’all know that I fancy myself as somewhat intellectual, marginally cool, & a champion of the underdog. This should be exactly the kind of matchup in which I scoff at box office numbers and proudly side with film critics who “get it”…except that when I comes to Clerks I don’t get it at all. Perhaps if I had seen it in 1994 when I too…just like the two guys in the movie…was a directionless 22 year old floundering thru a mundane existence then I would understand. But like so many others who completely missed its theatrical run I didn’t catch it until much later on home video. Is it well-written with snappy dialogue?? To some degree yes it is. But I just can’t get past the fact that it looks like a student film starring the director’s buddies instead of actual performers with legit talent. Actually, if one looks at it thru a 21st century prism Clerks is a movie that someone could make using their smartphone and then upload it to YouTube…quirky and not without its charms, but ultimately forgettable. Armageddon isn’t a great movie, but it is a solid moviegoing experience…exactly the kind of popcorn cinema that has made summer blockbusters a thing. The cast is eclectic & entertaining, and the movie gave us Aerosmith’s power ballad I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing, which was nominated for an Academy Award and is…surprisingly…the band’s only #1 song. I’m not knowledgeable enough to comment on the scientific exactitude of Armageddon, but does it really matter?? It’s a movie…escapism personified…and that works for me.
A few years ago I wrote about an idea for a Christmas movie marathon and as we jump into Round 2 of Merry Movie Mayhem I thought it might be fun to revisit the idea. Since that piece was published I purchased a Roku streaming stick for my television, though I haven’t made the leap of cutting the cord from cable quite yet so I have both. Anyway, there are a few movie streaming services available (Vudu, Netflix, FandangoNow, Amazon Prime), and with a little research I discovered that one could purchase just about the entire Christmas movie marathon for about $350. At first glance that sounds awfully expensive, but when you break it down it’s actually not too bad. At $4/rental you’d have to rent about 87 movies. Considering there are about two dozen movies & TV specials involved that would mean renting each of them less than four times to get to $350. Since most are films we all watch atleast once annually that means if you purchase instead of rent the expense would be “paid off” within a minimum of four years. When one realizes that we watch many of them atleast 2 or 3 times every December the idea of purchasing really begins to make sense. And while it is true that TV channels like Freeform, AMC, TCM, USA, & others air a fair amount of holiday favorites (often multiple times), one still has to deal with commercials & edits to the films. I am not suggesting that you spend such a sizeable chunk of change in one fell swoop, but it is an idea to consider doing a little at a time as your budget allows. Think of it as a long term Christmas investment. Okay, so while you ponder that idea let’s move on to second round action in the North Pole Division.
It’s A Wonderful Life
“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” – Clarence Oddbody, AS2
“I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world!!” – George Bailey
“You see, if you shoot pool with some employee here, you can come and borrow money. What does that get us? A discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty working class. And all because a few starry-eyed dreamers like Peter Bailey stir them up and fill their heads with a lot of impossible ideas.” – Henry F. Potter
As Uncle Billy drunkenly leaves the Bailey home, it sounds as if he stumbles into some trash cans on the sidewalk. In fact, a crew member dropped a large tray of props right after Thomas Mitchell went off-screen. James Stewart began laughing, and Mitchell quickly improvised “I’m alright, I’m okay!” Frank Capra decided to use this take in the final cut, and gave the stagehand a $10 bonus for “improving the sound.”
Despite being set around Christmas, IAWL was filmed during a heat wave.
The name Zuzu comes from Zu Zu Ginger Snaps, cookies produced from 1901 until the early 1980s by National Biscuit Company, aka Nabisco.
Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie share their names with the IAWL‘s cop & cab driver, but it’s believed to be just a coincidence.
Carl Switzer, better known as Alfalfa from The Little Rascals, appears in IAWL as Freddie, the guy that becomes so annoyed about Mary ignoring him at the dance in favor of George Bailey that he opens up the swimming pool beneath the dance floor.
At one point in the film Mr. Potter’s housing project in Bedford Falls is referred to as Potter’s Field. The term Potter’s Field is often used to refer to municipal cemeteries where paupers & unidentified bodies are interred.
The Lemon Drop Kid
“You’ve still got your hourglass figure, dear, but most of the sand has settled to the bottom.” – Old Woman
The movie was filmed in 1950 but not released in theaters until March 1951. When a recording of Silver Bells by Bing Crosby became a hit in December 1950 the studio called actors & crew back to re-shoot a more elaborate musical version of the song for the film’s release.
The song Silver Bells was originally called Tinkle Bells until someone pointed out that tinkle was also slang for urinate.
The Verdict:IAWL. I always liked Bob Hope, and The Lemon Drop Kid really should be shown somewhere on television during the Christmas season (make it happen AMC & TCM). However, IAWL is in a league of its own. I think some of the backlash from the days when it was on TV ad nauseum every December has softened just a bit, and folks are starting to rediscover how fantastic a movie it really is.
The Polar Express
At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell. But as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found, one Christmas, that she could no longer hear it’s sweet sound. Though I have grown old, the bell still rings for me. As it does for all who truly believe. – Hero Boy
Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see. – The Conductor
There’s no greater gift than friendship. – Santa Claus
One thing about trains: It doesn’t matter where they’re going. What matters is deciding to get on. – The Conductor
The Polar Express is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the first all-digital capture film.
When the Hero Boy first meets the Hobo on the roof of the train he is playing the carol Good King Wenceslas. The story of Saint Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia is that of a king braving the harsh winter to bring alms to the poor on the Feast of Stephen on December 26th. His page finds he can’t go on through the harsh conditions and is directed to walk in the footprints that the king has made in the snow. The Hobo directs Hero Boy to follow behind him and ultimately helps him reach the engine before they make it to the tunnel, thus allowing him to find and help his friend. The Hobo can be viewed as a representation of the Holy Spirit that he guides those who believe in Him to safety even in perilous times.
Lonely Boy is played by Peter Scolari, who starred alongside Tom Hanks in the 1980’s sitcom Bosom Buddies.
The movie is based on the 1985 childrens’ book The Polar Express by Chris Van Alsburg, who also wrote Jumanji in 1981.
The close shots of Hero Girl’s train ticket floating in the air are a nod to the feather doing the same in Robert Zemeckis’ 1994 film Forrest Gump, which starred Tom Hanks.
The Ebenezer Scrooge marionette that frightens Hero Boy was used as the basis for the physical appearance of Scrooge in Robert Zemeckis’s 2009 film A Christmas Carol.
A Christmas Carol (1984)
Perhaps, in the future, you will hold your tongue until you have discovered where the surplus population is, and who it is. It may well be that, in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. – The Ghost of Christmas Present
Good Spirit, your nature intercedes for me and pities me. Assure me that I may yet change these shadows, by an altered life. I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The spirits of all Three shall strive within me! I will not shut out the lessons that they teach! Tell me that I may sponge the writing from this stone! – Ebenezer Scrooge
It’s time you made your way in the world. I’ve arrange an apprenticeship for you. You’ll move into Mr. Fezziwig’s establishment in three days’ time. – Silas Scrooge
Make sure that a check for the entire amount is deposited with my clerk. I don’t ship until I have the cash in hand. – Ebenezer Scrooge
Tact is a quality I despise. – Ebenezer Scrooge
“Almost” carries no weight. Especially in matters of the heart. – The Ghost of Christmas Past
Spirit, what perversity is this? I’ve asked to see some emotion connected with that man’s death… and you’ve shown me only greed, malice, and apathy! Let me see some tenderness, some… depth of feeling! – Ebenezer Scrooge
Scrooge’s nephew Fred, whose full name was never given in the book, is surnamed Hollywell. Also, his wife, whose name was never mentioned in the book, is named Janet.
Scrooge stops at the Royal Stock Exchange on his way home from work, which not only gives us a look at how ruthless he is in dealing with his colleagues but also it is where he encounters the charity collectors rather than at his office.
This is the first film version to actually show Scrooge’s father (here named Silas Scrooge), a character referred to in the book but never seen.
Scott’s Scrooge differs from most portrayals in that not only is he stocky rather than scrawny, he is portrayed as a ruthless businessman rather than an archetypal miser.
A subplot is added to explain what it was that caused Ebenezer to dedicate his life to the accumulation of money, putting the kindly youth on a path to hard-heartedness. During the visions of the Ghost of Christmas Past, it is shown that young Scrooge believed his lack of a fortune made him unworthy of Belle’s attention and that to deserve her he must be able to finance their future together.
The Verdict:The Polar Express. This is a tough one. George C. Scott’s version of Scrooge was released theatrically in Britain and aired on CBS here in America. After that it was only shown by local channels here, and not released on home video for several years due to ownership issues thru Scott’s estate. It wasn’t shown on national television in The States until American Movie Classics began airing it in 2007, over two decades after it was produced, and I still feel like it flies a bit under the pop culture radar. Conversely, The Polar Express was the tenth highest grossing film of 2004, which is impressive, and almost immediately became a holiday TV staple. I adore motion capture, and though the technology has noticeably improved in the past decade this is the film that got the ball rolling.
Planes, Trains, & Automobiles
I won’t quote it here, but the exchange between Neal Page and a car rental clerk is CLASSIC.
Those aren’t pillows! – Neal Page
You’re going the wrong way! You’re going to kill somebody! – couple on the highway
Too long to quote here is a motel room conversation between an exasperated Neal Page and an obviously sad Del Griffith that is at the heart of the entire movie.
Our speedometer has melted and as a result it’s very hard to see with any degree of accuracy exactly how fast we were going. However, the radio still works. – Del Griffith
No transportation company wanted to appear inept or deficient in any way, so crews had to rent twenty miles of train track and refurbish old railroad cars, construct a set that looked like an airline terminal, design a rent-a-car company logo and uniforms, and rent two hundred fifty cars for the rental car scene.
John Hughes was inspired to write the story after an actual flight he was on from New York to Chicago was diverted to Wichita, KS, thus taking him five days to get home.
The Marathon Car Rental scene is exactly one minute long from the time Steve Martin starts his tirade to the time the attendant ends the scene. In that sixty seconds The F Word is used eighteen times.
The Santa Clause
The Santa Clause: In putting on the suit and entering the sleigh, the wearer waives any and all rights to any previous identity, real or implied, and fully accepts the duties and responsibilities of Santa Claus in perpetuity until such time that wearer becomes unable to do so by either accident or design. – Bernard the Elf
Everybody likes Denny’s…it’s an American institution. – Scott Calvin
Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. – Charlie Calvin
I think if we’re going to destroy our son’s delusions I should be a part of it. – Scott Calvin
In the original film Tim Allen made a sarcastic remark which included the line “1-800-SPANK-ME.” A woman from Cleveland, OH called the supposedly-fictional number for her curious grandchildren and it turned out to be a phone sex line. In 1997, when Disney received complaints from parents whose children called the number and racked up huge phone bills, the studio take action and cut the line for future releases.
The role of Scott Calvin/Santa Claus was written with Bill Murray in mind. After reading the script and being offered the lead role, Murray declined, saying he didn’t think it suited his humor.
Television airings of this film usually edit a scene in which a doctor tells Scott to pull his shirt up for a heartbeat check and his heart beats to the tune of Jingle Bells.
The Verdict:Planes, Trains, & Automobiles. A couple of things must be considered. Obviously films about Santa Claus are a huge part of the whole Christmas movie thing, but that lack of distinctiveness can be a deficiency in a competition like this. The Santa Clause is a delightful origin story that gives one warm fuzzies, but I’m not sure how much it stands out from the crowd, especially since it’s the first of a trilogy. Conversely, Planes, Trains, & Automobiles has become a Thanksgiving tradition on par with turkey & pumpkin pie.
Frosty the Snowman
As any child can tell you, there’s a certain magic to the very first snow. Especially when it falls on the day before Christmas. For when the first snow is also a Christmas snow…well, something wonderful is bound to happen. – Narrator
Happy birthday! I am alive! What a neat thing to happen to a nice guy like me – Frosty the Snowman
I must get that hat back! – Professor Hinkle
You’ve got to excuse him Sir. You see, he just came to life and he doesn’t know much about such things. – Karen
Frosty’s not gone for good. You see, he was made out of Christmas snow, and Christmas snow can never disappear completely. Oh, it sometimes it goes away for almost a year at a time, and takes the form of spring and summer rain. But you can bet your boots that when a good, jolly December wind kisses it, it will turn into Christmas snow all over again. – Santa Claus
Rankin-Bass wanted to give the show the look of a Christmas card, so a greeting card & Mad magazine artist was hired to do the character and background drawings.
Jackie Vernon, the voice of Frosty, was a stand-up comedian known as The King of Deadpan.
“What happened to her millionaire?”…”Slight mistake there. He didn’t own millions, he owed them.”…”Poor girl. Always straying to greener pastures and finding spinach.” – Jim Hardy & Ted Hanover
He always has that look! It doesn’t mean anything emotionally. It has something to do with his liver.” – Ted Hanover
When a fellow is surprised to hear about his own wedding, brother that’s when I go to work with a clear conscience.” – Ted Hanover
For the “drunk” dance Fred Astaire had two drinks of bourbon before the first take and one before each succeeding take. The seventh & last take was used in the film.
The animated Thanksgiving sequence, in which a turkey jumps back and forth on the calendar between the third and fourth Thursday in November, is a topical reference to the “Franksgiving” controversy. In 1939 and 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’ attempted to change Thanksgiving to the third Thursday in November, instead of the fourth, in an effort to bolster holiday retail sales by starting the Christmas season one week early. This led to a joint resolution in Congress, which Roosevelt signed into law in 1941, officially designating the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.
The firecracker dance sequence was added to the movie as a patriotic number, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, which took place during filming.
The Verdict:Frosty. Wow, this is a really difficult decision. At the end of the day, though credit must be given to Holiday Inn for introducing the world to the song White Christmas, I cannot overlook the fact that several holidays…Independence Day, Lincoln’s Birthday, Easter, etc…are celebrated in the film. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (Fred Astaire’s Fourth of July performance is incredible), but it dilutes the movie’s claim to being about Christmas (or even Thanksgiving), even though that is when it is traditionally aired on TV. Meanwhile, Frosty has been a beloved annual tradition every December for a half century.
Today we finish the first round of Merry Movie Mayhem. If you need to go back and catch up on the results thus far just click on the links to see what went down in the Candy Cane, Eggnog, & Mistletoe Divisions. I’m pleased with the pace we’ve set so I think we’ll take a break for a few days before moving on to Round 2. If you didn’t see your favorite holiday film in the competition don’t hesitate to leave me a comment asking “What up with that, dawg??”…or something to that effect. There is probably a perfectly reasonable explanation for its exclusion. Or maybe I just completely overlooked it. Who knows??
It’s A Wonderful Life
Starring James Stewart, Donna Reed
Director Frank Capra (It Happened One Night, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington)
Rotten Tomatoes 94%
I feel like I’ve written just about everything there is to say about IAWL in the years since the inception of The Manofesto, but allow me to offer a brief refresher. The story was conceived by a Pennsylvania Civil War historian named Philip Van Doren Stern. The Greatest Gift was not accepted for publication for whatever reason, so Stern simply included it in his annual Christmas card mailings. Someone on his Christmas card list must have liked the short story, because it was subsequently published in 1944. A film producer saw the story and it eventually ended up in the hands of director Frank Capra. IAWL was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, & Best Director. A clerical error prevented the copyright from being renewed in 1974, so due to it being in the public domain the movie became a popular late night staple during the holidays on local TV stations throughout the 70’s & 80’s until 1993 when the copyright was restored to Republic Pictures, who then licensed it to NBC in 1996. For the past two decades NBC had shown it only a couple of times every December (early in the month & again on Christmas Eve), but starting in 2016 USA Network (which is owned by NBC/Universal) added a few additional airings. Of course with streaming & other home video options none of that really matters anymore.
Starring Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth. Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley
Director Richard Curtis (Four Weddings & a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’ Diary)
Rotten Tomatoes 63%
Personally I am more unconvinced of Love Actually’s claim to being a Christmas film than I am Die Hard, but I’m feeling generous. This is one of those movies…like New Year’s Eve, He’s Just Not That Into You, & Valentine’s Day…with a huge, very British, very talented ensemble cast involved in multiple stories that all seem to intersect by the end. There are those who love Love Actually, and maybe they are right. Perhaps I’m missing something or just being obtuse.
The Verdict:It’s A Wonderful Life. Believe it or not there are people that hate IAWL. Some people say “How can a movie about suicide be a heartwarming Christmas classic??”. Others remember when it used to be on TV a bazillion times every December and still hold a grudge, even though a) that hasn’t been the case for over twenty years, & b) there are other movies these days that are shown just as much as or more than IAWL used to be and those same people love those other movies. I guess folks just like what they like, and I happen to adore IAWL. If it’s not your cup o’ tea we’ll just have to agree to disagree. Love Actually is a perfectly delightful film, but not only is it severely overmatched here, it’s also a movie that I just haven’t watched often at all & can take or leave.
The Polar Express
Starring Tom Hanks
Director Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away)
Rotten Tomatoes 55%
Zemeckis is back!! Actually this was his first foray into motion capture technology…and perhaps one of the earliest feature films utilizing it. The story is based on an award winning 1985 children’s book about a group of kids who ride a magical train to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. Tom Hanks plays a half dozen different characters. I’m totally into motion capture and think it’s cool, but I understand that others find the animation disturbing for whatever reason. I am far beyond the age of believing in Santa Claus, but I’ll be darned if this movie doesn’t make me REALLY want to believe once again.
Deck the Halls
Starring Danny DeVito, Matthew Broderick
Director John Whitesell (Big Momma’s House 2)
Rotten Tomatoes 6%
The Rotten Tomatoes score seems harsh, but I get it. With a title borrowed from the beloved Christmas carol you’d expect this movie to be a bit more uplifting, but it’s not. The story follows two neighbors who end up going to war during the holiday season when one of them decides to put up an elaborate light display that “can be seen from space”. I have to assume that the plot is inspired by those shows you see on The Travel Channel this time of year called Crazy Christmas Lights or something like that, and I think those shows & those types of gaudy displays may have been inspired by National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Personally I prefer elegant & tasteful Christmas lights and can do without the rock music accompaniment, but to each their own. Anyway, in my opinion this movie isn’t as bad as the critics might indicate, if only because of the talented cast.
The Verdict:The Polar Express. I adore this movie. It is the very definition of holiday magic. Wouldn’t we all like to retain that childlike wonder that allowed us to believe in something as enchanting as Santa Claus?? Of course we would. Deck the Halls is better than a rotten 6% rating…but not much better.
Planes, Trains, & Automobiles
Starring John Candy, Steve Martin
Director John Hughes (Mr. Mom, Sixteen Candles, Uncle Buck)
Rotten Tomatoes 92%
Here we go…back to Thanksgiving. However I think this is probably superior to any other Thanksgiving movie or show. It’s actually a road trip/buddy comedy that happens to be set at Thanksgiving. I’m a huge John Hughes fan. He wrote/produced/directed so many wonderful films. And the pairing of Candy & Martin?? Inspired. Brilliant. Comedy gold. I only wish they would have made more movies together. Thanksgiving is a unique holiday that is difficult to besmirch with commercialism. People don’t want gifts or candy or flowers. It’s not an excuse to party or blow things up. All that most folks want on Thanksgiving is to be at home with loved ones and enjoy a nice meal. This movie captures that desire in such a subtle & funny way that it kind of sneaks up on you.
Starring James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie
Director Sarah Smith
Rotten Tomatoes 92%
A lot of the movies & shows you’re reading about here have been around for awhile…25 years, 35 years, 50 years, 75 years. This is one of the new kids on the block. It hasn’t had time to really ingratiate itself into our pop culture consciousness. It may or may not ever achieve that goal, but does merit inclusion in this exercise. Arthur is Santa’s youngest son, and he’s kind of the black sheep of the family. The North Pole is depicted as a high tech command center, Santa’s sleigh is the sort of ultramodern vehicle that NASA dreams about, & the annual Christmas Eve flight around the world is an intricate operation that’d make the U.S. military envious. The mantle of Santa Claus is passed from father to son, with the current titleholder, Malcolm, on the verge of retirement and his eldest, Steve, preparing to take the reins soon. But this particular Christmas Eve something goes awry and it’s up to Arthur, inept but resolute, to save the day. Arthur Christmas takes familiar territory and adds a futuristic spin, but instead of being cynical itself it is more of a fun commentary on Christmas cynicism.
The Verdict:Planes, Trains, & Automobiles. I like Arthur Christmas well enough. It’s fresh, creative, & entertaining. But the competition is just too much. It has become almost as much of a Thanksgiving tradition as turkey, football, & the Macy’s Parade.
Frosty the Snowman
Starring Jimmy Durante, Jackie Vernon
Rotten Tomatoes 60%
“Singing Cowboy” Gene Autry recorded Frosty the Snowman in 1950, just one year after his Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer hit #1 on the charts. But it wasn’t until 1969 that CBS first broadcast the animated special based on the song. Nearly a half century later it is still a beloved annual tradition. While the song is a winter carol that has become tangentially associated with Christmas despite the holiday only being mentioned at the very end, saying “he waved goodbye saying ‘don’t you cry…I’ll be back on Christmas Day!’”, the special is set on Christmas Eve and features Santa Claus “resurrecting” Frosty after he’s been locked in a greenhouse by Professor Hinkle and melted.
The Family Stone
Starring Diane Keaton, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Luke Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Clare Danes
Director Thomas Bezucha
Rotten Tomatoes 52%
Dysfunctional family dramedy has become a common theme in holiday films. I really can’t relate because I’ve always gotten along with my family and look forward to visiting with them on holidays. At any rate, there are several subplots in The Family Stone, as everybody seems to have some kind of issue. They scream, they cry, they argue…but familial love wins in the end, as it should. The cast is phenomenal, from the sublime Diane Keaton & elegantly low-key Craig T. Nelson to the wittily charming Luke Wilson & radiant Rachel McAdams. The movie ends on a bit of a downer, which unfortunately impacts one’s lasting impression. The story stays with you for awhile, but not necessarily in a good way.
The Verdict:Frosty. Come on…was there any doubt?? Look, I realize that Christmas can be very sad for many people, and Hollywood feels compelled to address that aspect. I get it…I really do. I will admit that…mostly because of the talented ensemble and nimble writing…The Family Stone has gotten its fair share of repeat views from me. However, at the end of the day I still choose for Christmas to be a joyous occasion despite the harsh realities of life. Maybe someday I’ll be the guy sitting alone in a dive bar on Christmas Eve nursing my whiskey and raging at the jolly masses while wondering why my life has gone so horribly wrong, but thankfully I’m not there yet. Frosty the Snowman is something I grew up with, and for a short time every December I get to bring my inner child out to play, which is awesome.
Starring Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire
Director Mark Sandrich (Top Hat, The Gay Divorcee)
Rotten Tomatoes 100%
Did you know that the Holiday Inn chain of hotels got its name from this movie?? Well you do now!! Bing Crosby stars as a song & dance man who decides to escape the bright lights of New York and open a quaint Connecticut inn that will only be open on holidays. There is singing, dancing, romance, & hijinks, all centered around familiar celebrations on the calendar. Holiday Inn is mostly remembered for introducing the world to the song White Christmas, but there are memorable performances throughout. They don’t make movies like this anymore, which is a shame.
All I Want For Christmas
Starring Ethan Embry, Kevin Nealon, Thora Birch
Director Robert Lieberman (D3: The Mighty Ducks)
Rotten Tomatoes 0%
1991 will be forever be remembered by the masses as the year that launched the fabled career of actor Ethan Embry. And while he went on to star in cinematic masterpieces like Vegas Vacation, That Thing You Do, and Can’t Hardly Wait, it is this little holiday gem that might outlast everything else. The basic gist of the story is that two kids whose parents are divorced hatch a scheme on Christmas Eve to get them back together (spoiler alert: it works). For such an overlooked film the cast is actually quite stellar, including Thora Birch (who would go on to more notorious roles in American Beauty and…well…American Beauty is pretty much it), Leslie Nielsen as Santa Claus, SNL funnyman Kevin Nealon, & the legendary Lauren Bacall. All I Want For Christmas was a box office bomb that the critics didn’t like, but found new life for awhile popping up on television, which is where I first discovered it. It’s not a great movie, but it is delightful enough.
The Verdict:Holiday Inn. I am eternally indebted to my friend & brother The Owl for introducing me to this movie back in college. I pride myself on having good taste, and films like this display a level of class generally absent from the vast majority of modern entertainment. Would it even be possible to maintain a business that is open less than a dozen times per year?? I have no idea. But the concept sure does make a terrific foundation for this movie.
The Santa Clause
Starring Tim Allen
Director John Pasquin (Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous)
Rotten Tomatoes 75%
There was a brief moment in 1994 when Tim Allen starred in the top rated show on TV (Home Improvement), authored the best-selling book in the country (Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man), & played Santa in the #1 film at the box office. The Santa Clause was the first of a (unplanned…I assume) trilogy, and is indisputably the best of the three movies. It is an origin story suggesting that Santa is a character inhabited by different men at different times. In this case Scott Calvin…a divorced toy executive who has consistently disillusioned his young son…inherits the job when the current Santa falls off his roof and I guess dies…a morbid fact that is mercifully glossed over. Scott & his boy Charlie deliver gifts around the world and spend a night at The North Pole, but the real fun begins the next day when the new Santa thinks it was all a dream…until he slowly begins to morph into The Jolly Old Elf over the next few months. I’m a fan of Santa Claus origin stories, and this is one of the best.
Mickey’s Christmas Carol
Starring Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck
Director Burny Mattinson (The Great Mouse Detective)
Rotten Tomatoes 90% (a)
It’s difficult to tell the story of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in a half hour, yet it’s been tried several times with varying degrees of success. Taken at face value the Mickey Mouse version is perfectly charming. Disney created the character of Scrooge McDuck in 1947 as a homage to Ebenezer Scrooge, and that tribute comes full circle in this show. Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit is perfect casting, and a few other cartoon favorites make an appearance (Jiminy Cricket, Daisy Dick, Goofy, The Three Little Pigs, Chip & Dale, Huey, Dewey, & Louie, Minnie Mouse). Television aficionados may be interested to know that Hal Smith (Otis Campbell from The Andy Griffith Show) and Alan Young (Wilbur from Mister Ed) provide the voices for Goofy/Jacob Marley and Scrooge McDuck / Ebenezer Scrooge, respectively.
The Verdict:The Santa Clause. Mickey’s Christmas Carol is a great introduction to the story for small children, but at a running time of less than 30 minutes it only has time to hit the highlights, which is fine for short attention spans but not all that enticing to adults. There is also an issue with accessibility. I remember it being on TV when I was a kid, but I don’t think it has aired with any kind of regularity for a decade…maybe two. The Santa Clause instantly became a beloved classic twenty years ago. Sure it has some undertones emblematic of somber 90’s cynicism, but that is minimized in favor of Christmas magic. I love Santa origin stories, and though it has a modern spin at the beginning the outcome is decidedly vintage.
A Christmas Carol (1984)
Starring George C. Scott
Director Clive Donner (The Thief of Baghdad)
Rotten Tomatoes 74% (a)
I am a traditionalist in most aspects of life, and it has always been my belief that uniquely British characters from British novels should be portrayed by British actors in film adaptations. However, there are exceptions to most rules, and in this case I must admit that Virginia native George C. Scott is a worthy Ebenezer Scrooge. This version of Carol was a made-for-television production that aired on CBS here in America, but it was released in theaters in Britain and certainly has a big screen vibe. Like just about every other adaptation it takes certain liberties with the novel, adding & subtracting little things, but none are deal breakers. If you’re channel surfing and need your Scrooge fix you could definitely do worse.
Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
Starring Richard Attenborough, Dylan McDermott, Elizabeth Perkins
Director Les Mayfield (Encino Man, Flubber)
Rotten Tomatoes 61%
There are no sacred cows in Hollywood. If they’ll remake Psycho, The Karate Kid, Footloose, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and The Pink Panther then apparently all bets are off. This was clear way back in 1994 when a remake of the 1947 classic Miracle on 34th Street was released. The thing is…it’s not that bad. Macy’s didn’t want to be involved and Gimbel’s was already out of business, so two fictional department stores fill in, but other than that and a few other modern updates the essence of the story remains. Alas, while the underrated Elizabeth Perkins as the jaded mother is luminous, the film itself lacks the innocent magic of the original, replacing it with subtle 90’s era cynicism.
The Verdict:A Christmas Carol. I don’t HATE the Miracle remake and I don’t LOVE this version of Carol, but I am used to there being a plethora of A Christmas Carol adaptations and accept that each of them tries to put their own unique spin on the story. This one brings a lot of good stuff to the table. 1994 wasn’t the first time Miracle on 34th Street was remade, but the others were TV movies made in the 50’s & 70’s that are easily ignored. The 1994 movie can’t be ignored and I’m not suggesting it should be, but it just doesn’t measure up.
The Lemon Drop Kid
Starring Bob Hope
Director Sidney Lanfield (The Hound of the Baskervilles)
Rotten Tomatoes 73% (a)
My generation remembers Bob Hope as an aging comedian who frequently hosted variety show specials on NBC, including an annual show at Christmastime when he would introduce college football’s All-American Team, and also for regularly heading overseas to entertain American servicemen in places like Korea, Vietnam, & The Middle East. Hope always ended his shows with his signature song Thanks for the Memory, and the Christmas special traditionally featured him singing Silver Bells. But from the 1930’s thru the 60’s he was also a movie star, and Silver Bells became famous in part due to being sung in this film in which Hope plays a fast-talking racetrack hustler known as The Lemon Drop Kid because of his fondness for lemon drop candies. When The Kid inadvertently crosses a well-known gangster in Florida he is given until Christmas Eve to come up with the money he owes or else he’ll face…unpleasant…consequences. The Kid flees to New York, but when his gig as a street corner bell-ringing Santa Claus doesn’t work out he hatches a new scheme to raise donations for a phony old folks’ home. That plan is going alright until another mobster interferes. Hilarity & chaos ensue, but all’s well that ends well in a fun Christmas Eve climax.
Starring Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd
Director John Landis (Animal House, The Blues Brothers)
Rotten Tomatoes 86%
I wanted to avoid crossover with this project and 80’s Movie Mania, which necessitated a few difficult decisions. At the end of the day that means Trading Places & Die Hard were saved for this competition, while Lethal Weapon was a part of 80’s Movie Mania. At any rate, Murphy & Aykroyd are both SNL alums who went on to bigtime movie stardom in the 1980’s. Their stars have since faded significantly, although they still pop up now & again (Aykroyd has gracefully transitioned into supporting roles, while Murphy still labors under the delusion that he’s relevant). Hot off the success of 48 Hrs. and just before the box office triumph of Beverly Hills Cop, Murphy took this role as a smartass homeless bum who basically switches lives with an erudite stockbroker at Christmastime as part of a social experiment/wager between two wealthy old geezers. The key is that the two guys are set up and not in on the joke. It is essentially a modern take on Mark Twain’s 1881 novel The Prince & the Pauper, and the two leading men really deliver. It is a smart, funny, well-written movie with an immensely satisfying conclusion.
The Verdict:The Lemon Drop Kid. This is a tough call. It’s a great example of what exactly defines a Christmas movie…or not. Both are set at Christmastime. Neither story is dependent on Christmas as a factor in the plot…they both could be set at any other time of the year with few changes needed. However, I think the Christmas timeline plays a slightly bigger role in The Lemon Drop Kid, and we cannot overlook the fact that the movie introduced the world to what has become a very popular Christmas carol. There is an accessibility issue. The Lemon Drop Kid is never shown on television…not even on AMC or TCM, and it’s not available on streaming services. The only way I know to watch it is on YouTube, which is a shame. Trading Places is a great movie…one of the best of its era. But it just doesn’t jump into my mind when pondering Christmas movies.
“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” – Charles Schulz
On a lovely November day 17 years ago I moved into the apartment building in which I still reside. That night I discovered that downstairs, right beside the mailboxes, is a vending area consisting of a pop machine (as we say here in West Virginia) and another machine filled with various snacks of both the sweet & salty variety. I knew at that moment that I was in big trouble. Now I’m really not a huge fan of potato chips or pretzels, but I am most certainly a chocoholic, which Webster defines as “a person who craves or compulsively consumes chocolate”. My family knows this about me, to the point that last Christmas I received a five pound chocolate bar as a gift (it was gone within three days…and that was me pacing myself). In doing my usual lackadaisical research for this ode to candy I ran across articles like Struggles Only A Chocoholic Would Understand and Signs You’re A Chocoholic that describe me so accurately it’s a little disturbing. Alas, all good things must come to an end…or atleast be scaled back to a reasonable level. Bloodwork indicates that I am a pre-diabetic (shocker!!), and since I am not a fan of medication, needles, comas, or death I am attempting to eat a bit healthier (for the 700th time in my life). That doesn’t mean I’m giving up chocolate…just that perhaps, going forward, I’ll refrain from consuming five pounds of it in less than a week. At any rate, Willie Wonka once stated that “invention, my dear friends, is 93% perspiration, 6% electricity, 4% evaporation, and 2% butterscotch ripple”. I’m not sure about butterscotch ripple, but pondering peanuts, caramel, & nougat (whatever that is) has inspired me to dive into a discussion of my favorite candy bars. As you’ll see, I’m not a chocolate snob. I understand that there is high quality chocolate out there for sophisticated palates, but for me most of that stuff isn’t really…accessible. I have nothing against Godiva or Ghirardelli or anything with a fancy European name, but I’m a simple guy who’s just fine eating whatever candy is available at the grocery store, movie theater, ballpark, or arena concession stand. As always I’d love some feedback. What’s your favorite candy?? What do you think is missing here?? Let me know your sweet thoughts in the comments.
25 Zero / Payday
Not only do we start out with a tie, but we begin with two non-chocolate candy bars. Sometimes one just craves something off the beaten path, right?? Zero bars were conceived in Minnesota in 1920. The name is supposed to be indicative of it being cool…as in really cold cool, not jazz or Rat Pack cool. I guess it was a Minnesota thing…it’s not like the candy is frozen or anything. At any rate, like so many candy bars we buy today Zero, thru a series of mergers, buyouts, & takeovers, eventually became a product owned & produced by one of three chocolate giants…in this case Hershey. The candy bar itself consists of caramel, peanuts, & almond nougat covered in white chocolate. Nougat is officially defined as “candy made from sugar or honey, nuts, & egg whites”. It’s a broad definition, and not all nougat is created equally. The almondy nougat in Zero is…different, which of course is exactly why one picks up a Zero bar in the first place. The other defining characteristic is the white chocolate, which, as all chocoholics know, isn’t actually chocolate at all. Whereas chocolate is made with a mixture of cocoa solids (from ground cacao bean powder) & cocoa butter, white chocolate is made without any cocoa powder or solids, just cocoa butter mixed with milk & sugar. I’m not typically a fan of white chocolate. It just tastes a bit…off…to me, and it’s not aesthetically pleasing. However, it does help make Zero a unique alternative. Payday has been around since the 1930’s and is also a Hershey product after following a very similar path to Zero. Payday consists of a firm, chewy nougat center covered in caramel & salted peanuts. Salty & sweet are flavors that can go well together, and the balance of nuts & caramel is perfect in a Payday. I suppose it’s forbidden to those suffering from a peanut allergy, but for the rest of us it’s a great way to satisfy a sweet tooth when you’re just not in the mood for chocolate.
24 Baby Ruth
Depending on which story one believes, Baby Ruth is either named after a candymaker’s granddaughter, the daughter of President Grover Cleveland, or the Hall-of-Fame baseball slugger (with the President Cleveland story contrived to avoid paying The Babe royalties). Who knows?? It’s a fun debate. The candy itself, first produced in 1921, is now owned & produced by one of the other chocolate conglomerates…Nestle. It consists of peanuts, caramel, & chocolate nougat covered in chocolate. The bar is visually unappealing for reasons I won’t detail, but…well, you know. Baby Ruth has never seemed, to me, to be all that commonplace. I suppose it’s there, we just don’t pay it as much attention as we do some other choices, probably because the ingredients & flavors are so familiar but done slightly better in other candy bars. It’s a nice occasional change of pace though.
Silky. That’s the word I associate with Dove. The history of the brand is rather curious, originating as an ice cream bar in Chicago in the late 1950’s, long before the candy was invented. Today it is owned by the third multinational chocolate corporation…Mars. There are still ice cream bars, as well as chocolate milk, hot cocoa mix, & cakes, but we’re here to talk about candy. Several varieties…dark, caramel, peppermint, etc….are produced, but I like to keep it simple, so I love the milk chocolate and sometimes the dark. More often than not one sees bags of little bite-sized individual chocolates in the store, which is great for those who are trying to diet but just can’t resist cheating every once in a while. You can have a couple of pieces of Dove and not feel all that guilty. I like to unwrap some Dove chocolates and throw them into a container with nuts & dried fruit for a tasty trail mix. It’s an excellent way to consume dark chocolate, which is far healthier than milk chocolate. As mentioned, the flavor of Dove chocolate is smooth…rich yet subtle. It is definitely an underappreciated brand.
Milk chocolate & Rice Krispies…a simple yet fantastic combination. Krackel was first introduced by Hershey in 1938. Interestingly, from 1997 to 2014 regular sized Krackel bars were not available. The only way one could get your fix during that time was by buying a bag of Hershey’s Miniatures, with Krackel being one of four chocolate varieties in the pack. That is probably how most folks are familiar with the brand. If you’re going to be a Krackhead this is the way to go.
There are four candy bars out there that have a really similar formula…a crunchy peanut butter center covered in chocolate. You won’t be seeing Zagnut or Clark bars in this countdown because…well…that’s just how I roll, but Butterfinger does make the cut. It was created in 1923 and has been owned by Nestle since 1990. I’ll give Butterfinger credit…one doesn’t feel cheated when buying the huge bar. It’s a good sized piece of candy. Butterfinger is aptly named, as the filling does have a buttery taste. My only complaint is that it can be a little dry. Still, it’s a great way to satisfy a peanut butter craving, and there’s something so…pleasurable…about eating anything with a bit of crunch. In the 1990’s television’s Bart Simpson became a memorable spokesman for the candy, which probably did a lot to increase its pop culture cool factor. More recently Nestle has introduced Butterfinger Cups, which have less crunch than the candy bar but more crunch than a famous competitor that we’ll get to later. The chocolate in Butterfinger Cups tastes a little smoother than the candy bar, and that’s a good thing. If you haven’t tried Butterfinger Cups I’d highly recommend giving them a whirl.
20 Mr. Goodbar
You may be vaguely familiar with a 1977 film called Looking for Mr. Goodbar, a gritty drama about a promiscuous teacher who is eventually murdered, starring Diane Keaton, Richard Gere, & Tom Berenger. Well, the candy bar came way way way before the movie. It was first produced in 1925 by Hershey. The concept is, once again, uncomplicated…milk chocolate & peanuts. A couple of decades ago they added even more peanuts, and it was a fantastic change. Like Krackel, you are probably most familiar with Mr. Goodbar as part of the Hershey’s Miniatures pack that is really popular at Halloween and, for some reason, in jars alongside the cash register at restaurants, right there with the toothpicks.
You might be surprised to see Snickers this low in the countdown. While I like it just fine, I have to admit I’m not as in love with it as most seem to be. Unlike many of its competitors, Snickers is far from simple. There’s a lot going on in that candy bar…chocolate, peanuts, caramel, nougat. It was first produced in 1930 and is owned by Mars, who named the candy after a beloved family owned horse. The marketing folks deserve a tip of the cap because Snickers ad campaigns have always been fun &…durable. I’m not sure, from a nutritional & scientific perspective, if Snickers “really satisfies” any more than other candy bars, but I’ll be darned if they haven’t done a fine job of convincing the masses of its power to do so.
Caramel is an interesting candy ingredient. It seems to come in two distinct forms…firm & chewy or soft & gooey. I prefer soft & gooey. I don’t think eating a chocolate bar should involve work, so I’m not a fan of candies like Rolo or Tootsie Rolls that involve lots of chewing. I save that effort for meat. At any rate, Caramello is produced in the United States by Hershey thru an agreement with British confectioner Cadbury, which created the product in the late 1960’s. I love how the chocolate is in sections, each with a pocket of ooey gooey caramel. Theoretically allows a person to eat just a bite and either share with others or save the remaining sections for later, but that’s not how I roll. Caramello doesn’t seem to be as…ubiquitous…as other candy bars, which just increases its appeal.
Yes, technically M&M’s aren’t a candy bar, but really…how could I leave it off the list?? The origin of the name can be a little confusing, but stick with me. Forrest Mars Sr. was the eldest son of company founder Frank Mars. Forrest & Frank had a falling out, with the son going out on his own and doing quite well. After working for competitor Nestle for a bit Forrest went the independent route and created a couple of candy bars that we’ll get to later, as well as Pedigree pet food & Uncle Ben’s Rice. During the Spanish Civil War (ol’ Forrest got around) he was inspired by soldiers that were eating Smarties, candy with a hard shell which prevented the chocolate from melting. Upon his return to America Forrest went into a partnership with Bruce Murrie, the son of Hershey President William Murrie, because chocolate was being rationed during World War II. So that’s where the M&M comes from…Mars & Murrie. Eventually Forrest reunited with his father, bought out Murrie’s stake, and M&M’s became property of Mars. Today there are multiple varieties of M&M’s…peanut butter, crispy rice, dark chocolate, pretzel. However, I pretty much stick to the original and M&M’s Peanut, which is my favorite. There is a place in Vegas called M&M’s World, and if/when I make my long awaited trek out west it is one of the places I plan on visiting.
16 Hershey’s Kisses
Sometimes one just needs just a bite of chocolate…a small piece of nirvana to make it thru until lunch or quitting time or to get over whatever hump might be in front of you. Kisses are a perfect way to indulge a sweet tooth without spoiling dinner. First produced in 1907, it is said that the sound of the machine depositing the small teardrops of tastiness onto a conveyor belt inspired the name. I’m a sucker for any candy or other food product in a shiny foil wrapper, an inclination that I am sure a psychologist could explain (and enlightenment I’d love to hear). At any rate, a wide variety of Kisses with flavors ranging from cookies & crème to pumpkin spice are made today at different points thru the year, but I’m a traditionalist so I prefer the original milk chocolate, although dark chocolate & milk chocolate with almonds are delicious as well.
15 Mars (Snickers Almond)
Well, I guess I don’t have to mention which company makes this one. But, I do need to make a clarification. There were two different versions of the Mars bar…one made in the United States and one produced internationally. The international Mars bar still consists of nougat & caramel covered in milk chocolate. If that sounds familiar it is because another candy bar in America is essentially the same thing, but we’ll talk about it later. Remember the falling out I mentioned between Frank Mars & his son Forrest?? Well, that’s part of this story, as the Mars bar is basically Forrest, during his travels, copying in England a product his father was already producing in America. So when the two men reconciled a different Mars bar was made for this country, with nougat & almonds covered in milk chocolate. It’s hard to explain (although you’ll totally understand if you’ve eaten one), but the nougat in the American Mars bar is different. It’s lighter, both in color & texture, and I really like it. It’s…fluffy. To add to the confusion, in 2002 the American Mars bar was discontinued, or rather rebranded, as Snickers Almond. A Snickers Almond is the same as the old American Mars bar except it also has caramel. The Snickers Almond, in my opinion, is superior to original Snickers because almonds are better and less…intrusive…than peanuts, and of course because the lighter, fluffier nougat is awesome.
This seems like a good place to take a break. Stay tuned for the delicious conclusion!!
Christmas gets all the really cool stuff…carols, movies, animated specials, Santa Claus. But there are a few pop culture contributions to Thanksgiving, and I’m not even talking about food. Thanksgiving’s origins were actually just as faith-based as Christmas & Easter, but not directly tied to any particular event like the birth or resurrection of Christ. Multiple days of Thanksgiving were occasionally proclaimed by whatever authority figure might be ostensibly in charge of an area to thank God for His favor & bountiful harvest. That’s neither here nor there though, because our purpose today is not to dive into the debatable history of the holiday. Maybe some other time. Over the years much of the spiritual gravitas has been eroded, replaced by the simple yet universal desire to appreciate the blessings of family & food. Along with that other modest traditions have blossomed, mostly frivolous fun but not completely without meaning. We take comfort in tradition, in events that happen each year like clockwork no matter what kind of madness might surround us. I’d be thrilled to see folks get back to the more pious roots of Thanksgiving, and we can each do that on an individual basis. However I do admittedly enjoy some of the more lighthearted peripherals associated with the holiday. It is in that spirit that I present…..
from the home office in Pilgrim, MI…..
The Superfluous 7 Best Thanksgiving Pop Culture Traditions:
7 Home for the Holidays
Why are families in holiday movies always so unhappy & dysfunctional?? I’m not sure it is always what I would consider funny, but it’s usually entertaining in a professional wrestling kind of way. This 1995 offering serves us an all-star cast including Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr., Anne Bancroft, & Clare Danes. Hunter stars as a recently downsized art restoration specialist going home to spend Thanksgiving with her peculiar family, including a stodgy sister & brother-in-law, a gay brother, & crazy parents. Did you know that the actress who portrays the weird aunt is the daughter of Charlie Chaplin?? To be honest more kudos should be given to the casting director than anyone else involved with the film, and cocaine probably deserves a tip of the cap for Downey’s frenzied performance. I’m not sure Home for the Holidays is particularly remarkable in the grand cinematic universe or even amongst holiday fare, but it’s entertaining enough.
6 Miracle on 34th St.
I struggled a bit with this choice because it’s a Christmas movie and our present mission is all about Thanksgiving. I’ve said for years that Thanksgiving is almost treated dismissively, like a pit stop on the way to something bigger & better. However, the link between the two holidays and the fact that they bookend a month long celebratory season cannot be denied. This 1947 classic in which Santa Claus is “put on trial” opens with a unique look at a certain annual parade that just so happens to take place on Thanksgiving Day. For that reason it is often the first Christmas movie I watch. A couple of things should be noted. First of all there are two versions of the original movie…the black & white edition and a hideously colorized copy. Y’all can do whatever makes you happy, but when I see the colorized film on TV I just keep channel surfing. What can I say…I’m a traditionalist. Also, a remake was made in 1994 starring the lovely Elizabeth Perkins and I have nothing bad to say about it except that it’s a remake. Watch them both if you like, but definitely do not overlook the original in lieu of its modernized rehash. One is a perfectly tasty hamburger, while the other is flawless filet mignon.
5 A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
It’s probably third on the list of beloved Peanuts animated specials, but that’s okay. Originally aired back in 1973, the story follows Charlie Brown & Snoopy as they prepare a Thanksgiving “feast” that they’ve been roped into hosting by Peppermint Patty and her “friend” Marcy. The dinner hilariously consists of popcorn, toast, pretzels, jelly beans, & ice cream sundaes, which sounds like a meal I might have consumed after a few late nights back in college. All’s well that ends well though, as all the kids end up hopping in the ol’ Brown family station wagon and heading to Grandma’s house for an actual meal. I am always intrigued by the complete lack of adults in the Peanuts world. They are there, but we never see them.
4 Turkeys Away!!
Practically every television program ever produced has aired Thanksgiving themed episodes, but very few are memorable beyond its initial airing or stand out in the canon of the show itself. This is an exception. I have opined previously that WKRP in Cincinnati is an underrated show, but among its four seasons one episode has stood the test of time. Originally aired on October 30th, 1978, Turkeys Away was only the 7th episode of Season 1. That’s like hitting your life’s peak in grade school!! The story follows station manager Mr. Carlson’s idea for the greatest Thanksgiving radio promotion of all time. The entire cast is fantastic, but special recognition must go to Richard Sanders as austere yet clueless news anchor Les Nessman. To my knowledge Sanders was never even nominated for an Emmy, which is criminal. If you are so inclined the show is easily found online, or if you have a streaming device on your TV it is available there as well.
3 Planes, Trains, & Automobiles
There are very few Thanksgiving films out there, but even if there were alot more I have to believe this would still be the best. John Candy & Steve Martin are a match made in cinematic heaven, carrying what is essentially the kind of buddy/road trip flick that has been done many times over (The Blues Brothers, Rain Man, Dumb & Dumber, Tommy Boy, Sideways, The Hangover) to a higher level. It doesn’t hurt that the film was written, produced, & directed by the incomparable John Hughes. Planes, Trains, & Automobiles subtly & hilariously makes the point that, unlike other holidays when we may get caught up in…stuff…like presents, chocolate, roses, fireworks, or parties, the primary goal for most of us on Thanksgiving is to be somewhere we consider home, amongst family & friends.
2 NFL Football
Pro football has been played on Thanksgiving since the sport’s earliest days in the late 19th century. The first Thanksgiving football game took place in Philadelphia on Thanksgiving Day of 1869, only a couple of weeks after Rutgers beat Princeton in what most still say was the first American football game and only six years after President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a federal holiday in 1863. The Detroit Lions have hosted a game each season since 1934, and the Dallas Cowboys began their own tradition in 1966. In the past decade a third game has been added to the mix since Thursday night football became a regular part of the NFL schedule. College football is part of the Thanksgiving recipe, but since conference realignment has eliminated some of the best rivalries the impact has been reduced, and regardless of that fact the really big games are usually saved for Saturday. Sure it’s still Thanksgiving Weekend…but it’s NOT Thanksgiving.
1 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Macy’s Department Store was founded in 1843 by a Massachusetts Quaker. A couple of decades later he relocated the store to New York City. A century & a half later, thru mergers, bankruptcies, buyouts, & all the other maneuverings that occur in corporate America Macy’s has nearly 800 stores, but the New York City location has stood tall as the largest department store in the world, taking up over 1 million square feet of space and an entire NY City block. Macy’s acquired a Newark, NJ store called Bamberger’s in 1924 and decided to move its Thanksgiving parade to The Big Apple. The parade’s origins are said to have come from store employees, many of whom were immigrants that wanted to celebrate their new home country, and what’s more uniquely American than Thanksgiving?? Of course it doesn’t take a genius to see the connection between a retail establishment and the kickoff of the big Christmas shopping season as well, which is why this Thanksgiving tradition always ends with the appearance of Santa Claus. The parade was first broadcast on national television by CBS in 1948, although it had been on local TV a few times before that. NBC has shown the parade annually since 1952. From the huge cartoon character balloons (Mickey Mouse, Popeye, Superman, Woody Woodpecker) to the marching bands to the badly lipsynched songs by whatever pop artists are in vogue that year it’s all very old-fashioned & kind of peculiar, but in a good way. Parades are a unique slice of Americana, and this is the biggest parade on perhaps our most singular holiday.
After a little vacation from this series it’s time to focus on the finish line. I realize that things here have been very much sportscentric as of late, and that there are citizens of The Manoverse who aren’t really into that sort of thing. However long time readers know that this tends to occur in the fall and have hopefully modulated their expectations. At any rate, today we present the four division final matchups. Since I have said just about everything there is to say about these films I think I’ll just do a tale of the tape sort of thing this time around. Don’t worry…you’ll get a chance to enjoy more of my sparkling wit next time. Specifically I’m looking at five areas of influence that are important factors in deciding the stature of any movie:
Re-Watchability – Is it on television a lot?? If it is on TV do I stop & watch??
Relevance – Does the story hold up well?? Or do modern societal norms & changes in technology make it feel dated??
Quotability – Fun, interesting, well-written movies of all genres are usually very quotable.
Cultural Impact – Is it one of those movies that everyone of a certain age has seen?? Is it familiar to multiple generations?? Do people still occasionally talk about it & watch it even many years after its release??
Pleasure – Do I enjoy watching this movie?? We’ve all read books or watched shows/movies just because we felt compelled to…because we wanted to be cool or seem educated. But what do you enjoy when no one else is around??
Dead Poets Society vs. This Is Spinal Tap
The Verdict:Dead Poets Society. I think it comes down to timing. If Spinal Tap would have come out a few years later or Poets been released a few years earlier the coin may have flipped the other way.
National Lampoon’s Vacation vs. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
The Verdict:Vacation. This is tough. Bueller probably deserves a better fate, but I have to be honest. Some might say that the invention of The Internet renders the conclusion of Vacation irrelevant, and I concede the point. In that one very significant way the film does not hold up well. However, I believe there is enough greatness there to balance out the one weakness. Bueller is a great time capsule that even modern high school students can enjoy, but I’m not sure it’s as relatable for adults.
The Breakfast Club vs. The Blues Brothers
The Verdict: The Blues Brothers. To be honest, this result surprises me. However, while The Breakfast Club is a great movie, its relevance & impact is limited to two demographics: high school students & those of us that were teenagers in the 80’s. Conversely, The Blues Brothers is a goofy comedy devoid of meaningful societal commentary, but it is jolly good fun for people of all ages. It is timeless in its own odd way, and has probably done more to advance interest in blues & jazz music than just about anything else in the past four decades.
Uncle Buck vs. Airplane!
The Verdict:Airplane!. With all due respect to the memory of the late, great John Candy, this wasn’t a fair fight. Uncle Buck is a nice, underrated, above average comedy, but it’s not the best work of Candy, John Hughes, or MacCaulay Culkin. Heck, it’s not even Amy Madigan’s best film. Conversely, Airplane! birthed an entire subgenre in which everything that has followed in the past 36 years STILL hasn’t measured up to the granddaddy of them all.
We began with 84 of the coolest films from the 1980’s and now we have narrowed the field to 16. I feel like I have said everything there is to say about the remaining competitors, from rehashing the plot to giving props to the actors & directors to film reviews to box office grosses. I’ve even thrown in tidbits of interesting trivia. What else is left to say?? The next couple of rounds will be much less…loquacious…because I really don’t want to be monotonous, especially since this is the cream of the crop. These are the films that defined the youth of an entire generation. These are the films that 80’s kids are still watching over & over because they are that entertaining. These are the films that have lasted, that still resonate on some level…whether they make us laugh, think, rock out, or simply remember a simpler time…three decades after their initial run. That doesn’t happen often. I often wonder what kids growing up today will be watching when they are middle-aged. I am sure they have their particular touchstones, yet I can’t help but feel that no group of movie lovers had it better than my generation. I could legitimately end this exercise right now and call it a 16-way tie…but I won’t. Please join me as we move forward.
Starring: Robin Williams, Ethan Hawke, Josh Charles
Director: Peter Weir (Witness, The Truman Show)
Awards: Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, & Best Actor (Robin Williams), nominated for Golden Globes in all the same categories
Box Office: $236 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 85% Fresh
Quotes: “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering…these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love…these are what we stay alive for.”
“They’re not that different from you. Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But, if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen. You hear it? Carpe – – hear it? – – carpe, carpe diem. Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
Miscellaneous: The part of John Keating was once intended for Dustin Hoffman. It was also going to be Hoffman’s directorial debut before he withdrew from the film. Robin Williams was in a sober mood during filming, as he was going through a divorce at the time, and there was no joking around between takes.
Starring: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Forest Whitaker, Ray Walston, Phoebe Cates
Director: Amy Heckerling (National Lampoon’s European Vacation, Clueless)
Box Office: $27 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 78% Fresh
Quotes: “All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I’m fine.”
Miscellaneous: Awesome soundtrack, featuring songs from Sammy Hagar, Jackson Browne, Joe Walsh, The Go-Go’s, Don Henley, Quarterflash, Poco, Donna Summer, Stevie Nicks, Oingo Boingo, & Jimmy Buffett. The screenplay was written by Cameron Crowe, writer/director of hits like Say Anything, Jerry Maguire, & Almost Famous.
The Verdict: Dead Poets Society. By any objective measure it is the better film. Fast Times deserves kudos for a cast that went on to have successful careers, a great soundtrack, & generally representing the quintessential 80’s vibe. Those are all good things, but I like Dead Poets Society more.
Starring: Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer
Director: Rob Reiner (Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, A Few Good Men, The American President)
Awards: on multiple lists as one of the funniest movies ever made
Box Office: $5 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 95% Fresh
Quotes: “I don’t really think that the end can be assessed as of itself as being the end because what does the end feel like? It’s like saying when you try to extrapolate the end of the universe, you say, if the universe is indeed infinite, then how – what does that mean? How far is all the way, and then if it stops, what’s stopping it, and what’s behind what’s stopping it? So, what’s the end, you know, is my question to you.”
“There’s something about this that’s so black, it’s like how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.”
“We’re very lucky in the band in that we have two visionaries, David and Nigel. They’re like poets, like Shelley and Byron. They’re two distinct types of visionaries. It’s like fire & ice, basically. I feel my role in the band is to be somewhere in the middle of that, kind of like lukewarm water.”
“He died in a bizarre gardening accident.”
“I think that the problem may have been, that there was a Stonehenge monument on the stage that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf. Alright? That tended to understate the hugeness of the object.”
“It’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where? Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do? Eleven. Exactly. One louder. These go to eleven.”
Miscellaneous: Not a box office hit, but found great success and a cult following when released on home video.
Starring: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote
Director: Steven Spielberg
Awards: won Oscars for Best Original Score (John Williams), Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, & Best Visual Effects, nominated for Best Picture, won Golden Globes for Best Picture & Best Score, won L.A. Critics Award for Best Picture, won multiple Saturn Awards
Box Office: $793 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 98% Fresh
Quotes: “E.T. phone home.”
Miscellaneous: ET’s face was modeled after poet Carl Sandburg, Albert Einstein, and a pug dog. The filmmakers had wanted M&M’s to be used to lure E.T. instead of Reese’s Pieces, but the Mars Company denied their request so Reese’s Pieces were used instead. As a direct result Reese’s Pieces’ sales skyrocketed. More & more companies then began requesting that their products be used in movies. Thus, product placement was born.
The Verdict: Spinal Tap. I suppose conventional wisdom would call this a pretty big upset. E.T. has the numbers, the accolades, & Spielberg. Spinal Tap has spontaneously combusting drummers, Lick My Love Pump, & Dana Carvey as a mime. Perhaps if I went back and watched E.T. again I’d remember why it was such a big deal and be convinced to make the predictable decision. But the fact is that I haven’t seen it in atleast two decades, and I shouldn’t have to be convinced to love something. I mean no disrespect…it’s just that I’ve seen Spinal Tap multiple times and it always makes me laugh, and in my world that means a lot.
Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Ricardo Montalban
Director: Nicholas Meyer (The Day After)
Box Office: $97 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 88% Fresh
Quotes: “I have been . . . and always shall be . . . your friend.”
“He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him. I’ll chase him round the Moons of Nibia and round the Antares Maelstrom and round Perdition’s flames before I give him up!”
“Of my friend I can only say this. Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most…human.”
“From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee. For hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”
Miscellaneous: The computer simulation of Genesis transforming a dead planet into a habitable one is the first complete computer-generated sequence ever used in a feature film. It is the brainchild of ex-Boeing engineer Loren Carpenter, whom after Boeing went on to join George Lucas Industrial Light and Magic. At Boeing in the late 1970s Carpenter discovered that Mandelbrot fractals could be used to create realistic mountain landscapes for computer animations of new aircraft designs, a previously intractable problem, and started a revolution in computer graphics and simulation. It is a running gag that there is a Federation embargo against Romulan Ale, but this still doesn’t prevent resourceful people like Dr. McCoy from procuring some for Admiral Kirk as a birthday present. It is viewed it as a forbidden status symbol, akin to Cuban cigars in the United States.
Starring: Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack
Director: Jim Abrams, David & Jerry Zucker (Ruthless People, The Naked Gun)
Awards: on multiple lists as one of the funniest movies ever made
Box Office: $130 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Quotes: “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue!”
“Surely you can’t be serious?” “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.”
“We have clearance, Clarence.” “Roger, Roger. What’s our vector, Victor?”
Miscellaneous: The filmmakers chose the lead actors because of their reputation for playing no-nonsense characters. Until this film these actors had not done comedy so their staid personas & line delivery made the satire in the movie even funnier. This is an aspect of the film modern viewers miss out on. Cameos include Ethel Merman, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Barbara Billingsley, Maureen McGovern, & Jimmie Walker. A sequel was made two years later, but it isn’t even in the same league as its predecessor.
The Verdict: Airplane!. As a Trekkie it breaks my heart, but this is a necessary decision. The fact is that no matter how dearly I love it or how much money it has made films like Wrath of Khan appeal to a niche audience. Put 100 people in a room. Maybe 50 of them…if we’re being generous…are Trekkies. Now all of those Trekkies will likely agree that Wrath of Khan is awesome, but we’re still left with 50 people who couldn’t possible care less about Star Trek specifically or sci-fi in general. Conversely, when it comes to Airplane! there will likely be two types…those who have seen it and those who haven’t. Those who have seen it will almost unanimously agree that it’s hilarious, and those who haven’t seen it will quickly join the consensus after they watch. You’d be hard-pressed to find many people who don’t have a positive opinion of Airplane!. Of course none of this would matter if I disliked Airplane!…but I don’t.
Starring: Kevin Bacon, John Lithgow, Lori Singer, Dianne Wiest, Sarah Jessica Parker
Director: Herbert Ross (Funny Lady, The Goodbye Girl, Steel Magnolias)
Box Office: $80 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 54% Rotten
Quotes: “Ecclesiastes assures us that there is a time for every purpose under heaven. A time to laugh and a time to weep. A time to mourn. And there is a time to dance. And there was a time for this law, but not anymore. See, this is our time to dance. It is our way of celebrating life. It’s the way it was in the beginning. It’s the way it’s always been. It’s the way it should be now.”
Miscellaneous: Our old pal Ebert didn’t much care for Footloose, calling it “a seriously confused movie that tries to do three things and does all of them badly.” He went on to opine that its efforts to tell a story about conflict, introduce flashy teen characters, & be a “music video” all fall short of the mark. On the bright side, there is a fantastic soundtrack with songs from Kenny Loggins, Mike Reno & Ann Wilson, Deniece Williams, Bonnie Tyler, Shalamar, & Sammy Hagar. Of course I admit that it is a soundtrack that might only be awesome to those of us that were pre-teens or teenagers in 1984.
Starring: John Candy, MacCaulay Culkin, Amy Madigan
Director: John Hughes
Box Office: $79 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 64% Fresh
Quotes: “I don’t think I want to know a six-year-old who isn’t a dreamer, or a sillyheart. And I sure don’t want to know one who takes their student career seriously. I don’t have a college degree. I don’t even have a job. But I know a good kid when I see one. Because they’re all good kids until dried-out, brain-dead skags like you drag them down and convince them they’re no good. You so much as scowl at my niece or any other kid in this school and I hear about it, I’m coming looking for you! Take this quarter, go downtown, and have a rat gnaw that thing off your face! Good day to you, madam.”
“I’m on to cigars now. I’m on to a five-year plan. I eliminated cigarettes, then I go to cigars, then I go to pipes, then I go to chewing tobacco, then I’m on to that nicotine gum.”
Miscellaneous: The scene where Miles interrogates Chanice through the mail slot gave director John Hughes the idea for Home Alone.
The Verdict:Uncle Buck. This result surprises me. Footloose is one of the signature films of the 1980’s. It made Kevin Bacon a huge star. But I cannot in good conscience allow a film with such negative reviews to go further, atleast not against such good competition. While it is true that 80’s Movie Mania is my creation, and without participation from the masses my judgement has played an even larger role than expected, I do respect the greater public perspective. That viewpoint seems to be that Footloose has a good soundtrack and produced a big movie star, but it is largely style over substance. I also feel like Uncle Buck is more…accessible. Footloose is beloved by those of us who were 12-17 years of age in 1984, but I’m not sure anyone much older or younger would appreciate its greatness.