90’s Film Frenzy: Dope Round 1

So what exactly are we trying to accomplish here?? Are we seeking the best movie of the 1990s?? Not really. Are we looking for my favorite movie?? Well, yes and no. Is this about zeroing in on the signature film of the 90’s that most represents the decade?? That would be ideal but I’m not sure it’s possible. I suppose I am ultimately looking to “have my cake and eat it too”. It has always fascinated me that movies that make a ton of money are oftentimes loud, obnoxious, unintelligible games of chicken in which studios spend mind blowing amounts of cash and directors have fun with impressive technological toys all to tell a story that makes no sense, has no intellectual or emotional resonance, & people rush to theaters to see but forget about ten minutes after it’s over. Meanwhile, critics like to heap praise on erudite, pretentious snoozefests that Joe Sixpack in flyover country has no interest in seeing. Can a movie be successful critically AND commercially?? The 1970’s produced several such films: Jaws, The Godfather, Star Wars, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Apocalypse Now, All the President’s Men, & Young Frankenstein all spring to mind as being both popular and acclaimed. I’m okay with liking “bad” films…we all have our guilty pleasures. However, for the purposes of this competition what we are hoping to find are good movies that normal folks like you & me actually enjoy.

 

If you have not checked out first round action in the Fly and Phat divisions please do so, but for now we move forward. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

Swingers

Release:                       10/18/96

Starring:                        Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn

Directed By:                 Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith)

vs.

Batman & Robin

Release:                       6/20/97

Starring:                        George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Uma Thurman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Alicia Silverstone

Directed By:                 Joel Schumacher (St. Elmo’s Fire, Falling Down, The Client)

 

One may make an assumption that Batman & Robin is included in this competition for the same reason films like Showgirls & Very Bad Things have been thrown a bone…because they are so dreadful that their sheer awfulness prompted a level of negative buzz that warrants discussion (kind of like how Cabbage Patch Dolls were considered so ugly they’re cute). That is partially true. However, as a huge fan of all things Batman I must also opine that it’s not really as bad of a movie as many seem to think. In 1995 Joel Schumacher took the reins of the franchise after Tim Burton was asked to step back from the director’s chair because the studio wasn’t happy with the box office for Batman Returns in 1992. Schumacher had already done St. Elmo’s Fire, The Lost Boys, & the John Grisham adaptation The Client, so there was reason to believe that he wasn’t a decent choice, and 1995’s Batman Forever did little to dissuade that notion. But then, after Val Kilmer decided not to reprise his one stint as The Caped Crusader for various reasons, George Clooney got the job. Clooney was still doing the TV show ER but had begun his movie career as well. Schumacher wanted to pay homage to the kitschy 1960’s Batman television show, so he decided the tone of his films would be more colorful & humorous than its predecessors, and though no one seemed to have much of an issue with the more cartoonish vibe of Batman Forever, it seems to be a point of contention when it comes to Batman & Robin. On paper the cast is top notch…Clooney, Schwarzenegger, Thurman, Silverstone…but critically it bombed & commercially didn’t fare as well as the previous films in the series. I remember seeing it in the theater with my best buddy Greg and thinking that it was aurally & visually obnoxious…an assault on the senses. However, when watching Batman & Robin on video…in the comfort of one’s own home where you can control the volume & the lighting…it’s much more palatable. In hindsight the movie suffered from comparisons with its forerunners, and as the fourth film in a series with two directors and three leading men there was a lack of stability that fans found unsettling. In a game of “One of These Things Isn’t Like the Others” it sticks out like a sore thumb…but on its own merits it is harmless cinematic fluff that is acceptably entertaining. Swingers was written by Jon Favreau, and was the first starring role for both he & Vaughn. The plot isn’t necessarily as important as the vibe, with the story revolving around a group of underemployed actors in 1990’s Los Angeles, a period when 60’s era swing music was experiencing a revival. The soundtrack is top notch, with tunes from the likes of Dean Martin, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Bobby Darin, & Sammy Davis Jr. There is a portion of the film that takes place in Las Vegas, and y’all know that tickles my fancy. Swingers isn’t a thought-provoking masterpiece that will cause one to ponder deep & philosophical questions of life, but it oozes cool and is quite quotable. Critic Roger Ebert called it “sweet, funny, observant, & goofy”, and I concur.

 

The Verdict:       Swingers. Batman & Robin has a 10% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was the 12th highest grossing film of 1997, although it must be noted that it is the least successful of any Batman film ever produced. When compared to 1989’s Batman ($250 million), 1992’s Batman Returns ($163 million), and 1995’s Batman Forever ($184 million), Batman & Robin’s $107 million is the very definition of The Law of Diminishing Returns. The franchise probably should have been given a rest after Forever, especially when faced with casting & creative changes. The viewing public obviously had Gotham City fatigue, and the absolute mauling given to the film by critics certainly didn’t help. Swingers has an 87% Rotten Tomatoes score, and ranked 155th at the box office in 1996. However, given the fact that it made $4.5 million on a $200k budget and its cast was a bunch of unknowns at the time the financial situation is relative. The film has become a cult favorite and its cast all went on to varying degrees of fame & success. It is a simple case of expectations vs. reality. Hollywood continues to make the mistake of giving huge budgets to movies with mega stars, dazzling effects, & over-the-top plots, when oftentimes it is a small budget, obscure but talented performers, & a well-written story that stands the test of time.

 

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Father of the Bride Part II

Release:                       12/8/95

Starring:                        Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, Martin Short, Kimberly Williams

Directed By:                 Charles Shyer (Baby Boom,          I Love Trouble)

vs.

What About Bob?

Release:                       5/17/91

Starring:                        Bill Murray, Richard Dreyfuss

Directed By:                 Frank Oz (The Muppets Take Manhattan, Little Shop of Horrors, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels)

 

FotB 2 is a remake of a sequel from 1951 called Father’s Little Dividend starring Spencer Tracy & Elizabeth Taylor, and a sequel to 1991’s Father of the Bride. Martin returns as the titular father who must deal with the concurrent pregnancies of his daughter and middle-aged wife. Martin Short is given a bigger role in the sequel after an amusing turn as an eccentric wedding planner in the first film. FotB 2 ranked 17th at the box office in 1995, ahead of some well-regarded movies like Braveheart, Clueless, Casino, Dead Man Walking, The Usual Suspects, & Leaving Las Vegas. It holds a 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critic Roger Ebert opining “movies like this butter us up so well that we’d feel like a grouch criticizing them”, adding that the movie is “warm & fuzzy, and has some good laughs & a lot of sweetness” before concluding that “I had the unmistakable feeling, toward the end of this film, that they may be reaching the end of this particular road and that there may be new horizons to investigate”. Other critics said things like “Short is trotted back out for more of his mincing shtick…a pretty feeble way to keep his character in the story”, “starts off weak but finishes strong…wacky & weepy, silly & sweet”, and “the strengths of these films are not so much laughs as sincerity & heart”. What About Bob? is a dark comedy about a psychiatric patient who stalks his therapist on vacation and befriends the doctor’s family, which upsets the arrogant shrink to the point that he becomes unhinged & ends up in a catatonic state. Bill Murray apparently doesn’t work & play well with others in real life, and nearly two decades after the film was released Richard Dreyfuss said of Murray “Terribly unpleasant experience. We didn’t get along, me and Bill Murray, but I’ve got to give it to him…I don’t like him, but he makes me laugh even now.”, which kind of sums up my feelings about Murray. I’m not a huge fan, but I give credit where it is due in that he is a talented actor who has been in some memorable movies. I’m just not sure that What About Bob? is one of them. It was the 19th highest grossing film of 1991 and holds an 83% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with The Washington Post  proclaiming it “one comic session strung to feature-length breaking point”, while Entertainment Weekly states that it “begins as a rambunctious satire…but turns into little more than a pleasant one-joke movie.”

 

The Verdict:       Father of the Bride Part II. Several years ago I had a co-worker who enjoyed sour candies like Skittles, Lemon Heads, & Sweet Tarts, while I am all about chocolate. I am reminded of that comparison now because some folks like edgy, dark, cynical entertainment, while others…like yours truly…prefer what I call “comfort food cinema” that leans heavily toward sentiment, a few good laughs, a pleasant cast, & a low-key vibe. I suppose it also comes down to whether or not you’re a fan of Murray, Dreyfuss, Martin, or Short. I gravitate toward the latter duo.

 

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Lethal Weapon 3

Release:                       5/15/92

Starring:                        Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joes Pesci, Rene Russo

Directed By:                 Richard Donner (Superman, The Goonies, Scrooged)

vs.

Airheads

Release:                       8/5/94

Starring:                        Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, Adam Sandler, Joe Mantegna

Directed By:                 Michael Lehmann (Heathers, Hudson Hawk)

 

The only issue I have with the Lethal Weapon series is that it is easy to get the plots confused. They all star Mel Gibson & Danny Glover as a pair of mismatched cops fighting nefarious criminals, with the latter two films adding Rene Russo as a love interest for Gibson and 2, 3, & 4 having Joe Pesci as an annoying reformed criminal. In the third installment Riggs & Murtaugh track down a dirty cop who has become an arms dealer. A subplot involves the budding romance between Riggs and internal affairs officer Lorna Cole. LW3 was the fourth highest grossing film of 1992 and had the best box office of any film in the series. It has a 57% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with Ebert opining that “we miss the sense of invention that brightened the earlier movies…this one falls back on experience & craftsmanship”, and Peter Travers of Rolling Stone calling the film “mediocrity wielded by experts”. Those are fair assessments in that we don’t necessarily keep going back to series like Lethal Weapon for innovative storytelling or fresh ideas…we have developed a deep fondness for familiar characters and the actors who portray them. Airheads is an example of the earlier work of guys like Sandler, Buscemi, Fraser, & Mantegna. It is a mildly entertaining tale about an unsuccessful garage band who takes an L.A. radio station hostage in an effort to get their demo tape played. It has a 21% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and ranked 138th at the box office in 1994, which was atleast better than something called Spanking the Monkey.

 

The Verdict:       Lethal Weapon 3. I’m not usually a buddy/cop movie kinda guy, but I adore the Lethal Weapon series. Airheads is a fun little movie, but there’s really no competition here.

 

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Man on the Moon

Release:                       12/22/99

Starring:                        Jim Carrey, Danny DeVito, Courtney Love, Paul Giamatti

Directed By:                 Milos Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus)

vs.

 

In the Line of Fire

Release:                       7/9/93

Starring:                        Clint Eastwood, John Malkovich, Rene Russo

Directed By:                 Wolfgang Petersen (The NeverEnding Story, The Perfect Storm)

 

I love a good biopic. Let’s face it…if a movie is being made about a person’s life story it is a fair assumption that the person & their life was noteworthy and/or interesting. Whether the movie tickles one’s fancy largely depends on the level of curiosity about the subject, and I am old enough to have some degree of fascination with Andy Kaufmann. I am not a big Jim Carrey fan, but do recognize that he has a fair amount of talent when given the right material. Man on the Moon derives its title from a 1992 song by alt-rock band REM that was written as a tribute to Kaufman. The movie follows Kaufman’s rise from struggling night club act to infamous sitcom star thru his death from cancer at age 35. There are some questionable decisions made (like the cast of the sitcom Taxi portraying their 1970’s selves fifteen years later) that negatively impact one’s overall impression of the film, but praise for Carrey’s performance as Kaufman is nearly universal, to the point that he won the Golden Globe for Best Actor. In the Line of Fire is a criminally underappreciated movie about a guilt ridden Secret Service agent whose failure to save JFK’s life has messed with him for three decades. The agent gets another chance when a deranged former CIA assassin threatens the current President. The conclusion is somewhat predictable, but the ride getting there is lots of fun. I’ve never been a bigtime Eastwood fan simply because he typically stars in westerns & cop films that aren’t really in my wheelhouse, but for some reason I find this particular movie compelling.

 

The Verdict:       In the Line of Fire. Rotten Tomatoes scores Man on the Moon at 63% and it was the 58th highest grossing film of 1999, which seems far too low for an Andy Kaufman biopic starring one of the biggest movie stars in the world at the time. Movies like Stuart Little, the god awful Wild Wild West with Will Smith, & Deuce Bigelow: Male Jiggolo did better at the box office. In the Line of Fire was the 7th highest grossing film of 1993 and has a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I can’t help but wonder if Man on the Moon was a huge missed opportunity that might have fared better with a better script and a different director.

 

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Grumpier Old Men

Release:                       12/22/95

Starring:                        Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Sophia Loren, Burgess Meredith, Daryl Hannah, Kevin Pollak, Ann Margret

Directed By:                 Howard Deutch (Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful)

vs.

Fools Rush In

Release:                       2/14/97

Starring:                        Matthew Perry, Salma Hayek

Directed By:                 Andy Tennant (Sweet Home Alabama, Hitch)

 

I think we’ve established the fact that I have a type. If I am in vegg mode and doing some couch potatoing on a lazy afternoon I gravitate toward breezy comedies with pleasant characters and a charming plot. That’s my jam and I’m not sorry. Grumpier Old Men is a follow-up to the 1993 original and finds our two favorite cantankerous geezers resuming hostilities in the frozen tundra of Wabasha, MN. Things have calmed down between John Gustafson & Max Goldman, with John now happily married to Ariel (who moved into the neighborhood in the first film) and the two men’s offspring…Gustafson’s daughter Melanie and Goldman’s son Jacob…set to get married. But an alluring Italian divorcee moves into the neighborhood and all hell hilariously breaks loose once again. The cast is terrific, proof that not everyone has to be a gorgeous 20something for a movie to be good. Old-timer Burgess Meredith is the unsung hero once again, stealing the show at 87 years of age. It was the 20th highest grossing film of 1995 but only has a 17% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. By 1997 hit TV show Friends was only in its fourth season (not even halfway thru its decade long run) but the cast was already beginning feature film careers. Matthew Perry’s first leading man role was Fools Rush In, about a NY City architect who has a one night stand in Vegas while he is there supervising the construction of a night club. The vivacious young lady shows up at his door a few months later with a bun in the oven, and simply wants to introduce him to her close-knit & very traditional Mexican family so that when she breaks the news about her pregnancy she’ll be able to tell them they’ve met the baby’s father. The city boy is enchanted by the beautiful woman and her family ties, and in short order the two have a quickie wedding and move in together. Of course the culture clash is inevitable, especially when his snooty parents show up, and as tends to happen in rom-coms the couple fight, break up, & eventually reunite just in time to welcome their child into the world. It’s all very sweet & predictable, but I’m okay with that. Fools Rush In was the 70th highest grossing film of 1997 and has a 33% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

 

The Verdict:       Grumpier Old Men. This is a tough choice because I really like both movies, even though critics didn’t. Our old pal Ebert called Grumpier Old Men “a big-screen sitcom”, opining that “I would love to see this material transplanted to the TV screen where it belongs”. I am intrigued by that insightful comment, because of course two+ decades later isn’t that what eventually happens to a lot of movies anyway?? Think about it. We go to the local cineplex to watch loud, visually stimulating, effects laden action flicks that provide us with a momentary jolt of adrenaline…but decades later when we’re chillin’ out & flipping thru the channels what kinds of movies stand the test of time and provide a measure of jovial comfort on dreary & tedious days when we need that sort of cozy contentment?? Oftentimes it is exactly the kind of “big screen sitcom” that Ebert describes that has been “transplanted to the TV screen where it belongs” just as he suggested. He was a man ahead of his time. Of Fools Rush In Ebert said “it is a sweet, entertaining retread of an ancient formula, in which opposites attract despite all the forces arrayed to push them apart”, and “Yes, the movie is a cornball romance. Yes, it manufactures a lot of standard plot twists. But there is also a level of observation and human comedy”. It feels wrong that either film has to be eliminated at this point, but Grumpier Old Men has the edge in repeat viewings & legendary movie stars.

 

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Galaxy Quest

Release:                       12/25/99

Starring:                        Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman

Directed By:                 Dean Parisot (Home Fries, Red 2)

vs.

The Bodyguard

Release:                       11/25/92

Starring:                        Whitney Houston, Kevin Costner

Directed By:                 Mick Jackson (L.A. Story, Volcano)

 

Galaxy Quest works on multiple levels. It’s a comedy. It’s a sci-fi adventure. And it is a spoof. Allen, Weaver, Rickman, et al portray the cast of a Star Trek-esque TV show that was cancelled long ago but still has a community of hardcore fans that hold conventions & such, many of which the actors attend because they’ve been typecast and aren’t able to make any kind of money otherwise. The “captain” still basks in the glow of his small slice of fame, but the rest of the crew is really just over the whole deal. But then a strange thing happens…they find themselves caught up in an actual outer space adventure when a well-meaning group of aliens mistakenly believes the TV show to be real life and thinks the crew can save their species…or something like that. I suspect that Trekkies & other sci-fi nerds are the only audience that can truly appreciate everything Galaxy Quest has to offer, but perhaps those who just enjoy good popcorn cinema are entertained by it as well. The Bodyguard was a big deal back in 1992 because Whitney Houston was at the top of the music charts and was transitioning into acting with her first film role. Houston portrays a famous singer (not much of a stretch) who gains a former Secret Service agent as a bodyguard after being nominated for an Academy Award and being sent death threats by a mysterious stalker. Unsurprisingly the singer & the bodyguard fall for each other, and naturally the audience loves it because of the undeniable charm and chemistry of Houston & Costner. The Bodyguard has a little something for everyone…mystery, suspense, action, romance, drama…and gave us what…to my knowledge…is still the best-selling movie soundtrack of all time.

 

The Verdict:       Galaxy Quest. This one is tricky. Ideally I’d put it up for a vote from The Manoverse, but that doesn’t seem to work for me so I’ll make the tough choice. The Bodyguard was the 7th highest grossing film of 1992, behind the likes of Aladdin, Home Alone 2, & A Few Good Men but ahead of competition such as Wayne’s World, Unforgiven, & White Men Can’t Jump. It has a 35% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with our old pal Roger Ebert opining “the basic situation is intriguing enough to sustain a film all by itself”, but adding that he “felt a little cheated by the outcome”. Other critics were less generous. TV Guide called it “a dreary, turgid melodrama”, while Entertainment Weekly said “it is an outrageous piece of saccharine kitsch…or, atleast it might have been had the movie seemed fully awake.” Ouch. Galaxy Quest was the 30th highest grossing film of 1999, beating out notables like The Thomas Crown Affair, Eyes Wide Shut, Varsity Blues, & Fight Club. Rotten Tomatoes scores it at an impressive 90%, with the Associated Press calling it “alot of wacky fun” and Entertainment Weekly saying it is “a fast, loose, & very funny parody that pulls off the not-so-simple feat of tweaking Trekkies and honoring them, ribbing long-in-the-tooth actors and applauding them, bringing together Star Trek savants and those who couldn’t give a squat about dilithium crystals, and saying ‘See, there’s room on the final frontier for everyone.’” So what this boils down to is one movie that made a bunch of money but generally isn’t viewed as being very good versus a movie that didn’t make as much money but is well-regarded as being good at what it is supposed to be. All too often Hollywood seems to believe that they can take any old schlock and sell it to the masses as long as a big star or two or three is attached. And sadly much of the time they are right. I feel like The Bodyguard was successful because Whitney Houston was such an awesome singer and everybody likes Kevin Costner. That soundtrack that made a ton of money is mostly songs by Houston and probably would have been about as successful if it were just another one of her albums with no film attached, so I don’t think it should factor into the equation. As always I ask myself what I would watch if I were flipping thru the channels, and since I probably haven’t watched The Bodyguard since I saw it at the theater the answer is pretty clear.

 

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Speed

Release:                       6/10/94

Starring:                        Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper

Directed By:                 Jan de Bont (Twister)

vs.

Dazed & Confused

Release:                       9/24/93

Starring:                        Jason London, Rory Cochrane, Ben Affleck, Adam Goldberg, Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich, Joey Lauren Adams, Parker Posey

Directed By:                 Richard Linklater (School of Rock, Fast Food Nation)

 

Keanu Reeves first came into our pop culture consciousness in the late 1980’s as Valley Boy slacker Theodore Logan in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. But since one can’t portray dimwitted high schoolers forever he moved on to more serious roles in Point Break and My Own Private Idaho. And then came Speed. The thriller about a bus rigged with a bomb programmed to explode if it slows down below 50 mph thrust Reeves into superstardom and also introduced the world to Sandra Bullock. It was the 8th highest grossing film of 1994 and has an exceptional 94% Rotten Tomatoes score. Dazed & Confused is a Hindsight Film, meaning that it has remained relevant in large part based on what several of its young stars went on to become…especially McConaughey & Affleck. The movie itself is a slice of life look at the last day of school for a bunch of high schoolers in Austin, TX. It is set in 1976 so there is a lot of pot smoking, cruising, & hazing of younger students…things that wouldn’t fly in our modern PC purgatory, and had even diminished by the late 80’s when I was in high school. Dazed & Confused isn’t as much about a particular plot as it is about capturing a mood and painting a picture of an era, which it does really well. The cast is…obviously…stellar, and the soundtrack (featuring songs by Foghat, ZZ Top, Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Deep Purple, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kiss, & Black Sabbath) is terrific. It was only the 121st highest grossing film of 1993 but has become a cult classic in the ensuing years. It has a 93% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with Ebert referring to it as “art crossed with anthropology” and Rolling Stone calling it “the ultimate party movie…loud, crude, socially irresponsible, & totally irresistible”.

 

The Verdict:       Speed. I am hesitant to reward a film based largely on the fact that its casting director did a superb job of finding young unknowns who eventually became famous. Matthew McConaughey’s next project would be starring in A Time to Kill two years later and EdTV (a film ahead of its time) in 1999. Ben Affleck did a few decent films after Dazed & Confused, but in 1997 cemented his status by winning the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay after writing Good Will Hunting with his pal Matt Damon. Dazed & Confused is a fun flick that does an excellent job of creating a snapshot of not just a moment in time but a time in life that just about everyone fondly remembers even if the details vary. Having said that, I cannot overlook the cultural impact of Speed. It was a surprise phenomenon that dominated the summer box office in 1994. Bullock had previously been in a couple of decent films (Love Potion No. 9 and Demolition Man), but Speed made her a star and she’s still making movies two decades later.

 

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The Addams Family

Release:                       11/22/91

Starring:                        Anjelica Huston, Raúl Juliá, Christopher Lloyd, Christina Ricci

Directed By:                 Barry Sonnenfeld (Get Shorty, Men in Black, Wild Wild West)

vs.

 

Saving Private Ryan

Release:                       7/24/98

Starring:                        Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Ed Burns, Tom Sizemore, Adam Goldberg, Vin Diesel, Ted Danson, Paul Giamatti, Bryan Cranston

Directed By:                 Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T the Extra-Terrestrial, Hook, Jurassic Park, Catch Me If You Can)

 

The Addams Family made their debut in a series of cartoons published in The New Yorker beginning in 1938. In the 1960’s the kooky clan came to television for two seasons, and although the show was cancelled due to poor ratings it lived on in syndication, to the point that I was watching it as a kid growing up in the 80’s. The Addams Family finally came to the big screen in 1991 in a tale that finds a greedy lawyer & a con artist scheming to get ahold of the Addams fortune that is hidden deep in the bowels of their creepy mansion. The con artist’s son just happens to look like Gomez Addams’ brother Uncle Fester who has been MIA for 25 years, so there’s your plot. Hijinks ensue and of course the evil plan goes off the rails, all in the midst of the oddball family’s usual weirdness. The cast is superb, the movie is entertaining enough, and critics didn’t completely hate it. The Addams Family was the 7th high grossing film of 1991 and its Rotten Tomatoes score of 63% is fairly solid. The New York Times said that its “aimlessness & repetitiveness eventually become draining”, Variety opined that “despite inspired casting and nifty visual trappings the eagerly awaited Addams Family figures as a major disappointment”, and Ebert observed that “there are a lot of little smiles and many chuckles & grins, but they don’t add up to much”. Conversely, the Austin Chronicle gushed that “it’s hard to imagine a better screen adaptation of this queer household….Charles Addams would have been proud”, while the BBC complimented the cast, saying that it “elevates this film from flimsy to sheer delight”. Saving Private Ryan is a totally different kind of movie from its competition. It is a gritty & unflinching look at D-Day and its aftermath when a team of U.S. Army rangers are given the task of finding & rescuing Private James Ryan, whose three brothers have all been killed in the war making him the only son remaining. The mission isn’t easy and there is violence & death along the way. This is not a romantic, sanitized, family friendly war movie, though I don’t feel like it is gratuitous either…it’s just very very candid. I won’t spoil the ending, but it is poignant & impactful. Saving Private Ryan was the highest grossing film of 1998, has an amazing Rotten Tomatoes score of 92%, & was nominated for 11 Academy Awards. It won five of those Oscars, including Spielberg’s second Best Director award. It was nominated for Best Picture but lost to Shakespeare in Love, which in retrospect might be the biggest travesty in award show history.

 

The Verdict:       Saving Private Ryan. I’ve got to be honest…I only watched Saving Private Ryan once twenty years ago and don’t have the desire to ever watch it again. That’s not because it’s a bad move (obviously), it’s just that on a lazy day of couch potatoing violent war films aren’t my thing. Having said that, I cannot in good conscience overlook it, not simply because of its pedigree but out of respect for the historical events that inspired the story. It goes without saying that Spielberg is terrific, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better or deeper cast in the entirety of cinema. It is a story that needed to be told, and thankfully it was told really well. The Addams Family is an innocuous & engaging comedy that actually got a sequel a few years later, though I must admit that I’ve never seen it. I am intrigued by an animated Addams movie set to be released in 2019, but all in all I am inclined to stick with reruns of the old TV show.

Sports Films: The 25 Best (IMHO) – The Top Ten

film-crewOne thing that almost all great sports films have in common is an intense final act. The concluding installment of this venture might not be all that dramatic, but hopefully it’s a good read. If you haven’t done so already please catch up by checking out Part 1 and Part 2. After all, a good ending is meaningless without the enjoyment of the preceding crescendo.

 

 

 

 

10 We Are Marshall
I fully admit my extreme prejudice in overrating this film. I am a proud alumnus of Marshall muUniversity, and the 1970 plane crash that killed the entire football team is a deeply emotional event for anyone who has ever attended Marshall and lived in Huntington, WV. There is a wonderful 2000 documentary called Ashes to Glory that tells the story of the plane crash & its aftermath best, but We Are Marshall is a pretty good fictional account that has grown on me thru repeat viewings. Matthew McConaughey’s performance as head coach Jack Lengyel is somewhat quirky, but not too distracting. Englishman Ian McShane is grossly miscast as a West Virginia steel worker, but again it’s no big deal. Matthew Fox’s heartbreaking portrayal of assistant coach Red Dawson is superb and perhaps should have received an Oscar nomination. It is difficult for me to gauge how this movie is viewed by the general public because of my personal connection, but I think it is deserving of a spot in this particular cinematic potpourri.

 

 

9 Happy Gilmore
For many people of a certain generation it is Happy Gilmore, not Caddyshack, that is the golf happycomedy of record. This is Adam Sandler in his goofy mid-90’s prime. It isn’t going to win any awards or garner critical acclaim, but it’s a really fun way to spend a couple of hours vegging on the couch. Happy is a hockey player wannabe with anger issues who must find a way to raise money to pay his grandmother’s back taxes so she won’t lose her house. Enter Carl Weathers as the clichéd mentor/guru, a golf pro with a hilarious wooden hand after an unfortunate run-in with an alligator. Happy ends up on the pro tour challenging top dog Shooter McGavin (a fantastic name), with the two ending up in a climactic battle on the course. Along the way Happy romances a pretty girl, gets into a hysterical fistfight with Bob Barker, & becomes the talk of the golf world due to his unconventional style. If you’ve seen Happy Gilmore once I’m willing to bet you’ve watched it dozens of times.

 

 

8 Major League
What would happen if the Bad News Bears were adults and played on a MLB team?? That’s Major-Leaguepretty much the idea of this movie. The Cleveland Indians haven’t won a World Series since Harry Truman was President, and at the time Major League was in theaters in 1989 hadn’t even won a league pennant since the 1950’s. They are perfect fodder for a loveable loser story. The setup here is that the owner has died and his bimbo widow has inherited the club. She devises a scheme to sabotage attendance so the team can be relocated to sunny Miami. The devious plot involves putting together a hilariously ragtag motley crew, including a pitcher who just got out of prison and is as likely to reach the bleachers as the strike zone with his fastball, an outfielder who practices voodoo, a speedy center fielder that couldn’t hit water with a baseball bat if he was sitting in a boat, & a bunch of old, washed up veterans with personality conflicts. Of course we know how it ends, but the journey is engaging and the characters are unique & funny, so the sports movie clichés aren’t at all bothersome. It is interesting to note that the film climaxes (spoiler alert) with the Indians winning a one game tiebreaker to capture the division and get into the playoffs. We learn in 1994’s Major League II that they lost the ALCS. In that inferior sequel Cleveland wins the ALCS but we still never see them in the World Series.

 

 

7 The Karate Kid
I’ve written on previous occasions about time capsules. If one were to open an 80’s time kkcapsule full of movies I suspect that The Karate Kid would be among the treasured loot, alongside The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the Back to the Future trilogy, & two of the first three Star Wars films (the original came out in 1977). Kid stars Ralph Macchio as a high school student (Macchio was 47 years old at the time) who has relocated from New Jersey to Los Angeles and is being bullied in his new school. He turns to martial arts for assistance, with guidance from a sagacious old Japanese building super. Kid paints inside the lines of the sports movie blueprint, but the characters are so interesting and the martial arts setting is different enough from the usual football/baseball/basketball scenario that this film has become an indisputable modern classic. There were a few tepid sequels, but none can hold a candle to the original. Oh, by the way, I was just kidding…Macchio was only 23 when he played Daniel Laruso. He is now 53 years old.

 

 

6 All the Right Moves
Am I crazy or does this movie fly way under the radar?? Tom Cruise is a megastar who has made a plethora of notable films, some that are popular with the masses and others that are critical darlings. One must give Cruise credit for being a versatile performer even if it seems like he might be kind of an out-of-touch crackpot diva in real life. ATRM was one of Cruise’s earliest efforts, released in 1983 (the same year as Risky Business). It is the quintessential high school football movie. Cruise is a talented player whose goal is to use his skills to score a movescollege scholarship and escape his dreary Pennsylvania hometown, rising above a dead end life in the steel mills. Being trapped in a small town and yearning for something more is hardly an original plot, but it works really well in a sports movie because it rings so true. Many athletes that fans watch on TV almost daily come from working class families in economically challenged neighborhoods. What we view as a fun way to relax on the weekend is, for a lot of young men, their ticket to a better life. ATRM captures the essence of that struggle really well, and portrays just how important a game can be to a town that has nothing else to look forward to. Craig T. Nelson is well known for his role in the 90’s sitcom Coach, but here he plays an entirely different kind of coach, the type of guy who is way too intense and has just a bit too much power. ATRM holds up really well after three decades and provides much food for thought while also being quite entertaining.

 

 

5 Tin Cup
My father loved to play golf until he got older and his knees went bad. Once he gets them replaced I am hopeful he can get back out on the course and knock a few balls around with my eldest nephew, who has inherited Dad’s fondness for the game. At any rate, even though I am physically unable to play I too love golf. Many people find it kind of boring on TV, but I have spent many a Sunday afternoon watching the entertaining final round of a tournament. There aren’t a lot of golf-centric movies, but a couple stand out amongst the crowd, including this 1996 Kevin Costner rom-com in which he simultaneously romances a shrink while also trying to qualify for the U.S. Open. He’s a failed professional golfer who now owns a rundown tin-cup-560driving range, lives in a camper, & drinks a lot. He’s kind of given up and just doesn’t give a damn. What motivates him to get his act together?? A woman of course. Don Johnson is great as a smooth talking pro golfer. I mean he’s no Shooter McGavin, but there’s got to be a bad guy, right?? And of course there is a faithful sidekick played by one half of Cheech & Chong. I believe it is Cheech. Anyway, like a few other flicks you’ve read about here the plot leans a lot more toward romantic comedy than sports, but there is an appropriate amount of golf action, including the requisite climactic showdown. This one has a fantastic twist. Anyone who’s ever watched Tin Cup knows what I mean and I won’t spoil it. The combination of Costner’s charm, a solid supporting cast, a well written script, & the always reliable sports movie playbook make this one that is likely to stand the test of time.

 

 

4 Hoosiers
Youngsters in The Manoverse may not be familiar with Gene Hackman, an award winning actor whose career peaked in the 70’s with classics like The French Connection, The Conversation, The Poseidon Adventure, & Superman. However, since then he has had a few notable crusty old man roles in films like Mississippi Burning, Unforgiven, The Firm, & Hoosiers…one of the greatest sports movies of all time. Here Hackman is a disgraced former college basketball coach who lost his job after hitting a player. He’s given a second chance by an old friend, a high school principal in Indiana. Most sports fans know how significant basketball is there, and the small town of Hickory is no exception. It’s the kind of dead end hoosierstown where folks toil too hard for too little and don’t have much hope for a better future. You know…like we’ve seen in a hundred other sports films. But my philosophy has always been that things become formulaic because the formula seems to work. The townsfolk don’t understand the new coach’s ways and aren’t shy about offering input. The team…like all great underdogs…is outmatched & undermanned, but somehow they pull together and win. The wildcard is an enigmatic lad named Jimmy Chitwood, a basketball prodigy who doesn’t know whether he wants to play basketball. Of course he does play, and he hits the last second winning shot that we all know is coming. Sports films are usually David vs. Goliath. David almost always wins. That is the accepted norm. What separates the wheat from the chaff is the quality of the writing and the performances. Hackman adds necessary gravitas to Hoosiers. The 1950’s setting is quaint & nostalgic. A solid supporting cast doesn’t hurt. It’s the total package, and that’s why we love it.

 

 

3 Bull Durham
Stop…collaborate & listen…Costner is back with another edition. Okay okay…I’m sorry…I just couldn’t resist. Anyway, as Forrest Gump might say, Kevin Costner and sports films go together like peas & carrots. Here he plays a veteran catcher who has spent most of his time in baseball meandering in the minor leagues. His career is nearing its conclusion, but instead of getting one last cup of coffee in The Show he’s sent down a couple of rungs on the ladder to the lowest of the minors to mentor a young pitcher whose arm is superb but isn’t mentally or emotionally mature enough to be taken seriously. Hilarity ensues. And yes, there is a bdrom-com element, with Susan Sarandon as a philosophical baseball groupie who tries to have her cake & eat it too with the older catcher & the younger pitcher. Bull Durham is a really fun look inside the world of minor league baseball, where the players aren’t making a bazillion dollars, there’s very little if any TV coverage, and there aren’t any perks like first class flights or luxury hotel rooms. The script is sharply written and Tim Robbins, in one of his earliest roles, is hysterical as the goofy pitcher. I had an opportunity a few years ago, while hanging out with my friend The Owl in Columbus, OH, to see a game involving the real Durham Bulls, and scenes from this movie kept flashing thru my mind. It holds up really well after nearly three decades, and I suspect that’ll continue to be the case for many years.

 

 

2 Field of Dreams
Back to back Costner!! The dude has three films in the Top 5. That’s amazing!! And it’s not like I’m a hardcore Kevin Costner fan. Outside of the plethora of sports films he’s starred in there are a lot of snoozers like Waterworld and The Postman. But sometimes one finds their niche and it’s just a perfect fit. I heaped about as much praise as possible on Field of Dreams a few years ago when I named it 3rd amongst my 100 Favorite Movies, and one of the things I said was that calling it a sports film is an “epic oversimplification”. It is much more than that. I even stated that Field of Dreams “is not about baseball”. I stand by that declaration. However, FieldofDreams_1636642cin hindsight I realize that most sports films aren’t only about whatever sport they feature. Sports themselves are about more than winning or losing a game. Due to my disability I was never able to play competitive sports which is unfortunate because I believe that many valuable lessons can be learned thru involvement with such activities. Teamwork. Responsibility. The importance of following rules. Dedication. Focus. Work ethic. Respect. Honor. Tact. Diplomacy. The value of fitness & physical well-being. Integrity. Leadership. How to win & lose graciously. Overcoming obstacles & failure. I could go on, but you get the point. Field of Dreams is about things even more metaphysical than any of that, and it uses the backdrop of baseball to perfection. It’s a beautiful story that I’ve probably watched a hundred times over the years, and I’ll probably watch it a hundred more. It just never gets old.

 

1 Rocky
This list could reach its epic conclusion no other way. There were sports films produced before 1976, but Rocky re-wrote the rulebook and redefined the genre. It is THE classic David vs. Goliath story. Everything else that has come afterward is a derivative variation on the theme. But have you watched it recently?? Everyone remembers the big picture…the broad strokes. Characters like Rocky, Adrian, Mickey, & Apollo Creed. Rocky pounding on raw meat or running up the steps of a Philadelphia museum. That theme song!! Yet Rocky has been copied & parodied so much that people forget that it is a REALLY great movie. Stallone was a 29 year old struggling actor when he wrote the screenplay. Yes that’s right…Sylvester Stallone created Rocky!! He had to fight the suits to star in the film though. They wanted a big name like Burt Reynolds, James Caan, or Robert Redford to play the titular role. What would that rockyBhave been like?? Obviously we’ll never know, but, though now the masses couldn’t imagine anyone else as Rocky Balboa, the truth is that the script is so good that it likely would have worked anyway. Were there too many sequels made?? Probably, although I think the only one that was really terrible was Rocky V (the one with the late Tommy Morrison as a bitter former Balboa protégé). The rest were sufficiently entertaining popcorn cinema…they just lacked the heart & depth of the original. Rocky won the Academy Award for Best Picture, overcoming competition from Network, Taxi Driver, & All the President’s Men, and is a rare film that is beloved by both critics and normal people. Stallone became only the third person to ever be nominated for Best Actor & Best Original Screenplay in the same year. The other two were Charlie Chaplin & Orson Welles (since 1976 Woody Allen, Warren Beatty, Billy Bob Thornton, Roberto Benigni, & Matt Damon have all had similar double nominations). As much as I love sports movies I must admit that they rarely have this kind of elite pedigree. Not even Raging Bull or Field of Dreams, though nominated, won Best Picture. That’s not what this is about though. Awards are merely icing on the cake and just mean that a bunch of other people agree with my assessment. Good for them. The world would be a better place if more people acknowledged my wisdom.

Points of Ponderation…..Episode 1.14

A semi-regular attempt to address some of life’s minutiae that might otherwise be overlooked…..

 

 

 

 

Wow…has it really been 8+ months since the last episode of PoP?? I guess it has!! As citizens of The Manoverse may have guessed your humbleponder Potentate of Profundity has hit another of my infamous valleys. This is the first thing I’ve published here since my NFL mock draft nearly a month ago. There are a few things in the hopper, but none are quite done simmering yet. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

Time_changeIs anyone else struggling with the recent time change?? I have felt like a zombie since Sunday. I want to nod off all day & evening, then toss & turn all night, and I’ve had a difficult time getting up & moving all week. I’ve made it to work on time…but just barely. I am usually 15-20 minutes early. I was becoming a bit concerned about my health until hearing comments from others and talking to some co-workers who assured me that they felt the same and that it was the time change. As much as I like having it be daylight until 7pm I think maybe we should consider ending this clock hopping madness that messes up our Circadian rhythm twice a year.

 

 

 

Speaking of biology…..

I may have mentioned this in passing on a previous occasion, but I am a sincere believer in the concept of a male “cycle”. There is a 2 or 3 day period angerabout every 6 weeks (it feels like it occurs less often than monthly) during which saying that I am “out of sorts” would be a significant understatement. Sometimes I cross over into murderous rage territory. No…I have never actually killed anyone or even come close to harming them physically. I am far too delicate for prison. But if people could read my mind trust me…they’d run in the other direction. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for this mixture of melancholy, weariness, frustration, & wrath, but it is quite real and bothersome. I have promised myself I was going to track the idea a bit closer and see if I could figure out any kind of pattern, but to be honest I have not followed thru. I do recognize the situation better now as it is happening and make an effort to isolate myself until it goes away. After a few days I wake up feeling blessed, encouraged, hopeful, & optimistic, and that is when I know the cycle is over…until the next time. Anyone with thoughts on the subject or who may have solid information about what I am just guessing to be a tangible reality is encouraged to comment. Reassure me that I am not crazy.

 

 

 

It is mid-March and I have yet to have graced a movie theater with my presence in 2014. Admittedly part of the reason is the brutal winter we’ve had here in Appalachia. When the temperature is in single digits and there is a bunch of icy white stuff on the ground this guy doesn’t go anywhere I don’t absolutely have to go. But there have also been a scarcity of films that I have any interest in seeing. There have been action flicks like Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, 300: Rise of an Empire, & the RoboCop remake that do clapperboardnot frost my cupcake at all. I have never seen any of the Tom Clancy/Jack Ryan films, and I didn’t watch the first 300. I don’t know what it’s about and I don’t care. I almost went to see Ride Along, but during the aforementioned murderous rages one of the first people I’d enjoy harming if I was that type of person would be alleged comedian Kevin Hart, whose 15 minutes of fame I sincerely hope ends very very soon. I pondered going to see the Liam Neeson action flick Non-Stop (because the promos really do sell the heck out of that thing), but then I saw spoilers about the terrorists being ex-military 9/11 family members and I decided that Hollywood didn’t need my money to spew forth their anti-American pro-Muslim agenda. I wanted to go see Son of God, but read some things about it being Hollywood Jesus instead of Real Jesus, that there are a plethora of Biblical inaccuracies, and that Satan was cut completely out of the film after politically correct Thought Police complained that he looked too much like President Obama. A few church friends have seen the movie and said it was good, but I still think I’ll skip it. It is likely that I will check out the new Muppets flick coming out in a couple of weeks, but there is nothing I’m really stoked about seeing until the Kevin Costner football movie Draft Day hits theaters next month.

 

 

 

I never thought I’d say this, but…..

Maybe NBC should have just left things alone. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I haven’t enjoyed Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show nearly as much as I liked his Late Night. I find myself flipping over to Jimmy Kimmel more than I ever have. Fallon deserves credit fThe Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon - Season 1or not completely overhauling his act just because he moved to an earlier time slot. That’s what killed Conan O’Brien. JayLeno__130320220248__130809211218However, there’s just something missing with Fallon. I realized during his first week at 11:30pm that folks my Dad’s age were likely changing the channel because he just doesn’t play to an older audience. Now I realize that’s what brought about this change in the first place. The suits couldn’t possibly care less about my father’s demographic. They want the 18-35 crowd, and Fallon is apparently delivering that in spades. But I find myself thinking that maybe everyone would have been just as happy if Jay Leno would have been allowed to hang on for another decade and step down gracefully like Johnny Carson did (although there are those that believe he was pushed out just like Leno and chuckle about the karma). Leno was still pleasant & amusing, which is what the host of The Tonight Show should be.  I suppose I am at that point in life where seth-meyers-late-night-nbccomfortable & cozy mean more to me than edgy & daring. Maybe that’s what I always preferred. At any rate what’s done is done, and so I will move forward kimmel-0105being sporadically amused by a mix of Fallon, Kimmel, & Seth Myers, who isn’t great in the 12:30am Late Night spot but he’s not awful either. I wouldn’t be surprised if Leno popped back up somewhere in a year or so, and if that happens I’ll check it out. What about Bitter Letterman and goofball Craig Ferguson you ask?? Ehhh…I’ll pass…unless I’m really bored.

100 Favorite Movies…..#3

Society has a penchant for wanting everything to fit into its own neat little box. It makes life so much easier to define. This is as true for movies as anything, where we want to be able to compartmentalize films into cut & dried genres like comedy, action, western, horror, or drama. On occasion we’ll grudgingly submit to a special sub-category like family, sci-fi, Christmas, romantic comedy, thriller, or disaster epic. But what if a film simply refuses to be defined?? What if it cannot be shoehorned, pigeonholed, or painted with such a narrow perspective?? Such films are a rarity, and can be either an unmitigated disaster or particularly sublime.

 

I have seen today’s subject be classified as fantasy, which isn’t really a bad definition but doesn’t fit all that well either. Drama is accurate but does not come close to really capturing its essence. Many would call it a sports film but I think that is kind of like calling Abraham Lincoln a politician or The Louvre a museum…not untrue but certainly an epic oversimplification. It is, above all other 99 movies listed, the one that I think to myself “I wish I would have written that”.

 

There is creativity, and then there are ideas so singular that one just has to applaud the creator and simply say “Well done sir”. Such is the case with our #3 film, one that loses out on the top two spots by a nudge simply because it is another seasonal favorite. Surprisingly this time it isn’t a Christmas classic. Instead it is one I prefer to watch when the sun is bathing the Manoverse with warmth, birds are chirping their harmonious song, and the smell of freshly cut grass is trumped only by the sweet aroma of steak, hot dogs, and BBQ being cooked over an open flame. This is a film I can enjoy anytime, but prefer to watch in the summer, and more specifically, during baseball season.

 

Imagine this…

It is the late 1980’s and you are a fat cat movie suit. You have a meeting where an idea is pitched about a middle-aged former flower child who’s now an Iowa farmer that hears a voice tell him to plow his corn and build a baseball field so Shoeless Joe Jackson can come back to play and JD Salinger can write about the whole thing. I’m not sure what’s crazier…that the movie was greenlit or that it turned out to be such an awesome masterpiece.

 

1989’s Field of Dreams stars Kevin Costner as that hippie/farmer/crazy dude, and James Earl Jones as the reclusive writer obviously based on Salinger. It was Costner’s second foray into the world of baseball, immediately following 1988’s Bull Durham (which ranks 17th on this list). The movie is based on a novel called Shoeless Joe, which I must admit I have not yet read therefore I cannot compare with any veracity the book & the movie. But when talking about Field of Dreams I sincerely believe there is one very important point that must be made: it is not about baseball.

 

As I write this I just happen to also be reading an anthology of stories by author Ray Bradbury, and it occurs to me that Field of Dreams could have easily been a Bradbury tale. It is a shamelessly sentimental flight of fancy, soaked in nostalgia with baseball utilized as a metaphor for life. Some of the more sober among us might look at such a film with derision, calling it melodramatic and maudlin, but I am a huge sucker for whimsically capricious stories and wish there were more of them produced. Too many movies are either dumbed down, anvilicious crapfests that anyone with a brain can figure out within 10 minutes or just completely pointless. And then of course there are the movies that spend quality time on the ride but reach the destination leaving the audience either confused or just unimpressed. Field of Dreams is none of these.

 

Costner is at his best here…better than Bull Durham, better than Tin Cup, and certainly better than Wyatt Earp, Waterworld, or Dances with Wolves. My favorite actor, Jimmy Stewart, would have been a fantastic choice to play Ray Kinsella if this film were made in 1949, but forty years onward a Stewart-esque Everyman performance suffices quite nicely. James Earl Jones adds the perfect level of gravitas as Terence Mann, a writer who inspired the 60’s counterculture by talking about “love, peace, and understanding” and was “a voice of reason during a time of great madness”. The novel used notoriously reclusive Catcher in the Rye raconteur JD Salinger, but obviously the role had to be fictionalized for the movie. Ray Liotta plays Shoeless Joe Jackson just one year before he would become a star in Goodfellas. And for me the real clincher, the part of the movie that takes it to a higher level, is a cameo by the legendary Burt Lancaster in what I believe was his last film. Time travel is almost always a cool device, and the way it is done here…long after one thinks they know where the story is headed…is subtle, surprising, and superb.

 

Field of Dreams has been voted in many polls as one of the top five sports movies of all time, and that’s fine. But it is not just a baseball movie. Field of Dreams is about regret. It is about redemption. It is about family. It is about happiness and realizing what that truly means. Would we grab one more shot at our dream like young Moonlight Graham, or, like the older Doc Graham, understand that the path we’ve taken fulfilled a more important destiny?? How great would it be to be Terence Mann and have a chance to undue all the damage decades of world weariness, skepticism, cynicism, and bitterness can do to the soul?? How many among us have, like Shoeless Joe, been (ostensibly) falsely accused or had something we truly loved taken away and only then learned to appreciate it?? Am I a bit effusive in my praise?? Probably. But while I love sports films as much as the next guy, I think the biggest reason I have such affection for Field of Dreams is because it goes so much deeper than the typical cliches, and in fact avoids most of them. It is a film than cannot really be compared to any other, even the plethora out there with baseball as a key element.

 

I think it makes sense to conclude with…well…the conclusion. I always say that only four films have ever made me cry. E.T. made me cry when I saw it in the theater, but I was a little kid so I’m not sure if that even counts. The Passion of the Christ brought tears, and that is self-explanatory. The 2008 Owen Wilson/Jennifer Aniston flick Marley & Me was supposed to be a comedy, but at the end I found myself clutching my beautiful puppy in my arms and bawling like a baby, which is why I have vowed never to watch it again. Fellow dog owners will understand. And then there is Field of Dreams. In the archives here at The Manofesto one can find my 35 Undeniable Truths of Life. #12 states that “anyone who doesn’t shed a tear during the last 10 minutes of Field of Dreams doesn’t have a heart”. I stand by that. In 20 years I have seen this movie countless times, and every single time that final scene gets me. I lost my Mom 11 years ago, and I miss her every day. There is nothing I wouldn’t give for one more conversation with her. My Dad is still around. He lives close by and I see him often and talk to him every day. As strange as it may seem to some, Field of Dreams, atleast on a subconscious level, has affected our relationship, because I never want to be haunted by unkind words or things left unsaid. Redemption is a wonderful thing, but even better is never having to be burdened by guilt in the first place.

 


 

100 Favorite Movies…..16-20

As the cream rises closer and closer to the top you, my dear reader, get another set of examples illustrating my eclectic tastes. Today’s group includes a musical, a drama, an action-adventure, a comedy, and of course my favorite…the Christmas film. Enjoy.

 

 

 

20 Grease

Grease is the word. It’s got groove, it’s got meaning. Grease is the time, is the place, is the motion. Grease is the way we are feeling. Or atleast it’s the way I am feeling at the moment. Released in 1978 but set in the 1950’s, Grease is another one of those films that has a certain timeless quality. Not all of us constantly broke out into song in high school but the issues faced at that time in our lives…the cliques, peer pressure, the snarkiness, bittersweetness of innocent love, rebellion against authority, the absolute need to be cool…are universal. 21st century teens are faced with modern problems…drugs, STDs, gun violence…that make those dealt with in Grease seem innocent in comparison, but anyone who remembers high school knows what a huge deal those seemingly innocent obstacles feel like at the time. Based on a 1971 play that I have admittedly yet to see but hope to someday, Grease has long been one of my very favorite movies. John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John star as star-crossed lovers who met over the summer and now end up at the same school. Travolta’s Danny Zucco is a leather jacket wearing bad boy and leader of The T-Birds, a fairly innocuous “gang” by today’s standards. Newton-John’s Sandy is the girl-next-door goody-two-shoes who isn’t quite edgy enough for the school’s female cool crew, The Pink Ladies. They and their friends engage in assorted hijinks like mooning a national TV audience when an American Bandstand-esque show broadcasts live from Rydell High, going head to head with a rival gang in a supposedly dangerous car race, and various breakups, arguments, and reunions. It’s all quite tame but nonetheless entertaining. The soundtrack is catchy and memorable. As a 3rd grader back in the early 80’s I once sang the song Sandy in a talent show. I was supposed to do it with two pals, but they no showed and I did it alone. I don’t think there is enough money or booze in the universe capable of getting me on a stage like that all these years later, but it is a fun memory. Grease still pops up on television quite frequently and has withstood the test of time quite well. I am shocked that someone hasn’t attempted to do a remake, and I sincerely hope that never happens. A sequel was made in 1982 starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Adrian Zmed, but it bombed at the box office and is usually mentioned in conversations about the worst sequels of all time. Personally I don’t hate it all that much, but there is no doubt that it doesn’t come close to stacking up against its predecessor. Olivia Newton-John never again attained the success she reached with Grease, and other than Saturday Night Fever it is Travolta’s signature role. I suppose other films may surpass it on my list as time passes, but I have no doubt that Grease will always hold a special place in my heart.

 

19 The Fugitive

Some movies are like wine…they get better with age and repeated viewings. Such is the case with The Fugitive, a film I liked when it first came out but have steadily grown fonder of as the years have passed. Based on a 1960’s television series, it is the story of an Indiana doctor who is convicted of murdering his wife and goes on the run (thanks to a train crash while en route to death row) to escape the death penalty, all the while maintaining his innocence and searching for the real killer who he claims is a one-armed man. In the TV show Dr. Richard Kimble pops up in a different small town each week with a fake name and doing odd jobs. Invariably his medical expertise is required and since he is a good guy he puts his efforts to remain under the radar aside and comes to the aid of people in need. This always attracts the attention of police Lieutenant Gerard who is doggedly pursuing Dr. Kimble across the fruited plain. The movie doesn’t stray too far from its origin story. Dr. Richard Kimble is portrayed by Harrison Ford with a mixture of pathos, street savvy, fear, courage, anguish, and determination. Gerard, now portrayed as a U.S. Marshal with gritty determination and sardonic wit by the exemplary Tommy Lee Jones, begins the chase. He and his posse don’t have to go far, as Dr. Kimble never leaves his hometown (although it is Chicago instead of a small Indiana hamlet). Kimble is hell-bent on finding the one-armed man, and Gerard is just as resolute in his mission to track down the convict. The cat & mouse game, the close calls, and the daring escapades of Kimble, who is concurrently pursuing and being pursued, gives the viewer a heart pounding edge-of-your-seat thrill ride while always remaining within the realm of plausibility and never straying from writing that is nothing short of excellent. The Fugitive is that rare action film with a well laid out plot. It does not rely on phony looking special effects and mindless explosions and gunfire for no apparent reason. The bus wreck/train crash that sets the chase in motion by facilitating Kimble’s escape is one of the more memorable scenes in recent movie history and kudos should be given to the folks who pulled that off. The climax is exciting though convoluted. The details of who really killed Kimble’s wife and why are secondary to the fact that it wasn’t him, he confronts the real culprit, and Gerard is thrown into the mix as a wild card whose actions are unpredictable. The one-armed man is sort of a MacGuffin, as he may have actually committed the crime but he was just a hired hand (pun very much intended). Tommy Lee Jones has flourished as a non-traditional leading character actor despite having to serve time as Algore’s roommate at Harvard in the 60’s, and he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his effort in The Fugitive. To be honest he is just as much the star as Ford though. Both men are pivotal to the success of the film. Could The Fugitive have been made with two different actors?? Sure. Would it have been anywhere near as good?? I have serious doubts. My affection for this film has been surprising to me, as it isn’t at all the type of movie I usually enjoy. And it is far and away one of the best movies based on a television series. I think the secret lies in the restraint exercised by both actor and director alike. There is action, but not the typical cartoonish violence we see in a lot of movies. There is drama and suspense, but the performances aren’t forced or over-the-top in any way. The Fugitive sneaks up on you, and I’m not complaining.

 

18 Dead Poets Society

Carpe Diem. If you do not know what that means then you have never watched Dead Poets Society and you need to get yourself to a video store or on Netflix ASAP. I am a big fan of Robin Williams the comedian and Robin Williams the actor. He won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1998 for Good Will Hunting, but in my mind he should have received a statue 9 years earlier for this performance, a contest he lost to Daniel Day-Lewis who starred in some movie all of a dpsdozen people ever gave a damn about. The movie itself was also nominated for Best Picture, as was a movie you will see later on in this list, Field of Dreams. Both lost out to Driving Miss Daisy. These two travesties of justice prove just how little the Hollywood award shows really matter. Anyway, Williams stars as John Keating, an English teacher at a stuffy New England prep school in the 1950’s. His teaching methods are rather…unconventional, which suits his students just fine but raises some eyebrows amongst the school’s old fashioned elitist hierarchy. Keating teaches his students about more than just what their books say…he teaches them life lessons. He implores them to “suck the marrow out of life” and to make their lives extraordinary. A small group of boys in his class discover that when Keating was a student he was part of a secret society that would sneak out at night, meet in a cave, and read poetry. That sounds innocent enough by 21st century standards, but in the time this story is set it has an air of mystery and danger. The boys revive this Dead Poets Society and begin to buy into what Keating is selling, challenging authority and refusing more and more to conform to others’ expectations. One of the students, Neil, defies his overbearing father by performing in a play. The father expects Neil to matriculate to Harvard and become a doctor. The burden of this battle eventually persuades Neil to commit suicide. An investigation is launched, and somehow Keating is blamed for Neil’s death and loses his job. I know it sounds depressing, and the school, its faculty, and the obtuse parents are depressing. But Keating is the type of inspirational teacher we all wish we’d had more of in school. Williams’ performance is extraordinary. He throws in some of his trademark humor, but for the most part reigns in the manic schtick and is rather understated and nuanced. I wish he would make better choices with his roles, because when given good stuff to work with like Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Good Morning Vietnam he knocks it out of the park, making it all the more disappointing when his ample talents are wasted in crap like Toys, Patch Adams, Bicentennial Man, and Death to Smoochy. The group of boys who are the main focus of the story are portrayed by young actors who I thought might become a bit more successful, with the most famous among them being Ethan Hawke in what was only his 2nd film. Dead Poets Society has aged well and has that timeless quality that I seem to gravitate toward. It is a bittersweet viewing for me these days. When the movie came out over 20 years ago I was on the verge of attending college and had my whole life in front of me. The advice given by Keating resonated deeply. Two decades later and I realize just how much I did not seize the day and just how unextraordinary my life has been. Dead Poets Society should be shown to all high school seniors or college freshman, with the directive to take the road less travelled, contribute a verse to the poem of life, and live up to what we are fully capable of with passion and vigor all being given special emphasis. Carpe Diem indeed.

 

17 Bull Durham

If baseball were as fun as Bull Durham makes it look I could totally buy into the whole bit about “the national pastime”. Watching this movie we see nothing about steroids, gambling, or other cheating scandals. The players are portrayed as loveable ne’er-do-wells who aren’t too bright but they sure do know how to have fun. Rather than give us a glimpse of the big leagues, Bull Durham gives us some insight into the minor leagues, where the players aren’t playing for megabucks and being treated like kings. They are renting rooms, riding on buses, and finding ways to combat boredom between games. Kevin Costner stars as Crash Davis, a long-in-the-tooth veteran catcher who is given the task of holding the hand of dimwitted bonus baby pitcher Nuke Laloosh, played by Tim Robbins in his breakout role. They form an odd triangle with Annie Savoy (played by Susan Sarandon), a groupie who chooses one player from the Durham Bulls each season with which to have an affair. Annie is…unique. She has a singular set of values, and views herself as sharing more than just a bed with her chosen beau. It is a strange brew of spiritualism, friendship, poetry, metaphysics, sensuality, and moral support. She tells us, in a voiceover at the start of the film, that she believes in “the Church of Baseball” because she has “tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. There are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I heard that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn’t work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there’s no guilt in baseball, and it’s never boring… which makes it like sex. There’s never been a ballplayer slept with me who didn’t have the best year of his career. Making love is like hitting a baseball: you just gotta relax and concentrate. Besides, I’d never sleep with a player hitting under .250… not unless he had a lot of RBIs and was a great glove man up the middle. You see, there’s a certain amount of life wisdom I give these boys. I can expand their minds. Sometimes when I’ve got a ballplayer alone, I’ll just read Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman to him, and the guys are so sweet, they always stay and listen. ‘Course, a guy’ll listen to anything if he thinks it’s foreplay. I make them feel confident, and they make me feel safe, and pretty. ‘Course, what I give them lasts a lifetime; what they give me lasts 142 games. Sometimes it seems like a bad trade. But bad trades are part of baseball It’s a long season and you gotta trust. I’ve tried ’em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.” When Crash refuses to “try out” Nuke becomes Annie’s boy toy by default. Meanwhile, the relationship between pitcher and catcher is volatile, as world-weary Crash resents the “million dollar arm and ten-cent head” of the wildly goofy Nuke. The supporting cast is chock full of unknowns whose career highlight likely was Bull Durham, but that is just fine. The three main characters along with a strong, well written, amusing script are enough to make this a movie that has stood the test of time. One cannot help but think of it when attending any type of baseball game. Every time I see a “conference” on the mound I wonder if they are really talking about live roosters, jammed eyelids, and how candlesticks make a nice wedding gift. Eventually our trio comes to a crossroads. Nuke is called up to “The Show” and we get an inkling that some of Crash’s wisdom may have actually seeped through. Crash is released from the team once his babysitting task is done and must decide whether or not to call it a career or keep chasing a dream he knows will never become reality. And Annie must face her feelings for Crash. There is a certain sweetness mixed in with the hilarity, and that is a good combination. Writer/director Ron Shelton has done a few other notable films…White Men Can’t Jump and another Costner vehicle, Tin Cup, among them. But Bull Durham is one more case of lightning in a bottle, a once in a lifetime piece of magic that is almost impossible to replicate.

 

16 The Polar Express

So many words come to mind when trying to describe The Polar Express, but over the years I have come to settle on a just a few…whimsical, magical, and hauntingly beautiful. It somehow manages to put a smile on one’s face and bring a tear to the eye at the same time. The Polar Express is the quintessential embodiment of the spirit of Christmas. Does it invoke the name of Jesus or talk about the true reason for the season?? No. But I suppose I have become sort of immune to that type of omission. I understand the forces of political correctness and the fact that Christianity is a target in our modern world. Readers of The Manofesto know of my immense fondness for Christmas movies, and I am at peace with the fact that they either focus on the inherent wackiness of family interaction during the holidays (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Four Christmases, Home Alone), confront commercialization and its many branches (A Christmas Story, Deck the Halls), or tell a variation on the story of Santa (The Santa Clause, Elf, Miracle on 34th St., Fred Claus). I am strong in my faith and don’t need validation from Hollywood. However, I do like stories that, in their own way, talk about things that are representative of the teachings of Christ and exemplify the undefined, you-know-it-when-its-present Christmas Spirit. The Polar Express is based on a 1985 children’s book but did not get the big screen treatment until 2004. A big reason for that is the motion capture technology used, which wasn’t available in the 80’s. I cannot imagine a live action movie being within the realm of possibility, and I am so very glad an ordinary, ho-hum, been there done that animated film was not made. Some find motion capture to be a bit creepy, and it is very distinctive. Personally I find it visually stunning, which probably plays a major role in my affinity for The Polar Express. The story involves a young boy, never named or given an age, but seemingly right at that point in life where his belief in Santa Claus is beginning to wane. As he lay in his bed on Christmas Eve thinking over this very subject, a locomotive screeches down his street. This train if for children exactly like him…kids who are on the verge of putting Santa in the ol’ rear view mirror. The boy boards the train and makes friends with a young girl, a shy boy, and an annoying know-it-all. The trip toward the North Pole is full of action and adventure, but the group eventually makes it safely. Once there they meet Santa Claus and the boy is given the first gift of Christmas for that year, a small sleigh bell. The movie closes with a poignant voiceover that basically says that true believers will always hear the ringing, but most of us eventually lose the ability to hear the lovely sound of the bell. I take that as an allegory, alluding to the fact that most of us don’t see or hear the beauty in the world because we get too busy and caught up in our own drama. We don’t take time to stop and listen. I am 37 years old and long ago learned the truth about Santa, but there is and hopefully always will be a small part of me that yearns for the myth to be true. Jesus tells us in the book of Matthew that we are to be like little children, retaining our innocence and always leaning on Him for guidance. We have a tendency to grow up and shed our idealism in favor of doubt, skepticism, and cynicism. I have never had an issue with Santa Claus as a symbol of Christmas because I think that he represents the purity of childhood, an ideal state that The Lord tells us we need to somehow retain. I think Jesus and Santa would be friends. That statement may be equally offensive to hardcore Christians and agnostic secular types, and that’s okay…to each his own. As for me, I will continue to look forward each Christmas season to watching The Polar Express and being magically transported back in time, to that period in my life when all seemed right with the world.

 

 

The Fruits of the Spirit – Longsuffering

Patience-Roger-Smith-CEO-American-Income-LifeI was once given the advice “Don’t pray to God for patience because He will give you plenty of opportunities to practice”. Notwithstanding one’s opinion of that particular directive, I have decided for now to write about it rather than pray for it.  As you may have guessed, I am not examining The Fruits of the Spirit in any particular order or with any sort of overriding structural theme. I think they each tell their own individual stories that guide us down the correct path when viewed collectively.

 

Longsuffering is an interesting word. It certainly isn’t common terminology we utilize in everyday conversation. It comes from the Greek word makrothumia, meaning long-tempered…the opposite of short-tempered. Longsuffering can be defined as forbearance, patience, steadfastness, self-restraint in avenging wrongs, and the ability to endure adversity, persecution, provocation, suffering, & ill will with no thought of retaliation or punishment. Longsuffering is the antithesis of anger and is associated with mercy. It is being mild, gentle, and constant in all circumstances.

 

There are many shades of anger. I do not consider myself to be violent. I have never beaten anyone up or made any type of legitimate threats. I don’t brandish weapons, and I don’t generally go around causing mayhem or destruction. But…..I am easily annoyed, tend to hold grudges, and have an overall sense of resentment against people, situations, and entities that I perceive to have caused me harm or even mere inconvenience. This acrimony, more often than not, fruitdoes not manifest itself in any tangible way. Most who interact with me personally and professionally would consider me to be kind, polite, and even-tempered. Only those few with whom I am most comfortable ever get a glimpse of the animosity simmering just beneath the surface. And even then I have the ability to spin things with wit and a modicum of charm. But does the fact that my frustration with those things that fall short of my standards and expectations doesn’t lead to any corporeal damage make it okay?? Jesus tells the Pharisees in the 16th chapter of Luke that ““You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”  In other words, I have some work to do.

 

However, I suspect that I am not alone. Our society can be rather aggravating. Between job related stress, the pressures inherent with raising a family, economic woes, inescapable socio-political divides, technology that is both awesomely wonderful yet sadly fragile, and a dog-eat-dog fast paced world where we all want to keep up with the Joneses to the point that even a vacation can cause strife…well, as Kevin Costner says in Bull Durham, “We’re dealing with a lot of stuff”. It isn’t uncommon to hear people wistfully hearken back to a simpler time, where they perceive life was better. But that is a mirage. Life may not have been as fast paced a hundred years ago…no automobiles or super highways, no televisions, no Internet, no video games, not as many “everyone else is going there” tourist traps…but economic conditions were even tougher, people had to work much harder for much less, living conditions and illness meant shorter lives, and the world was far smaller and less accessible. In other words, throughout the ages humanity has had issues to face and burdens to endure. There has only been one constant over all the years, and with all due respect to James Earl Jones, it isn’t baseball. The 13th chapter of Hebrews tells us that God will never leave or forsake us and that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

 

faithWhich leads me to the first key point we need to ponder in relation to longsuffering. One does not have to look any further than the example of Christ to understand the essence of the fruit we are to bear. No greater demonstration of longsuffering can be found than that shown by God toward man. Everyone knows John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” We know it so well and it is a verse that is so often quoted that I sometimes fear its meaning has been watered down or atleast taken for granted. Do you know anyone who would literally die for you, or anyone who you would die for?? We all have close family and maybe a few good friends. It is likely that most parents would answer yes to the question in regard to their children. But honestly…and I am truly trying to put aside my cynical tendencies here…how many people would REALLY die for another human being?? I suspect the honest answer is “not many”.

 

Have you ever done a favor for another person?? I am sure most everyone has at some point in their life. How did the person react?? They probably said thank you, or maybe they went so far as to buy you a nice gift or treat you to dinner. However, have you ever experienced a person for whom you have done a favor say to you “I owe you one”. I have…many times. And let me tell you what usually happens…they never get around to actually doing anything about it. I think that is how we treat The Lord. He made the ultimate sacrifice for all of humanity, and how do we repay Him?? By not being even one thousandth of one percent as patient and understanding with our fellow man as He is with us. Our life is 100% in His hands. Every breath we take is a gift from Him. All that is asked of us is to be a mirror image of Christ, to bear the fruits that we are discussing in this series. Yet every single day…multiple times during the day…we carelessly ignore our responsibility and casually disregard the favor that was done for us…that is done for us every moment. If The Lord was an impatient with us as we are with everything and everyone none of us would last 5 minutes. But 2 Peter tells us that “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” If we make an honest effort to live life in a Christ-like fashion one of the first things we need to do…that I know I need to do for sure…is to shed much of the frustration and resentment that we allow into our daily lives. 1 Timothy says that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting”. If we want the gift of eternal life we need to use Jesus as the pattern and show others the mercy that He shows us daily. Another verse that we tend to use as a cliché without actually giving it the consideration it deserves is found in Matthew 7:12, which says “whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them”. Of course we refer to this as The Golden Rule…but do we follow it?? More often than not we tend to bend it into “do unto others as they have done unto you” or even “do unto others before they do unto you”. But those twists are the result of Man’s brokenness and the damage that sin has wrought on the world, and following those rules will get us nowhere except our very own extremely warm corner of Hell.

 

The second point that needs to be touched on is the question of how to bear the fruit of longsuffering. It is not a skill that one can learn in a six week correspondence course or that will magically develop overnight. It takes effort. It might seem rather obvious, but the only way to become more Christ-like is to develop a relationship with Christ and study His holy teachings. In one of my previous places of employment when a new supervisor was hired one of the first things they did was “shadow” an experienced supervisor for a number of weeks. We need to “shadow” Christ not just for a few weeks or months, but every day for the rest of our lives. Spend time with Him in prayer, study your Bible, and surround yourself with fellow Christians who you can learn from and emulate. This last part is admittedly a delicate balancing act because we are not to shut ourselves up in church and only associate with fellow believers. We are to be “fishers of men”. Jesus said “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners”. On the other hand, we need the support and relationship of other believers in Christ. A relationship with Christ is pretty much the whole ball of wax…it is what everything boils down to. And I think as we grow in that relationship we can’t help but become more and more the person that we are meant to be, which in part means bearing fruit. This holds true for all the Fruits of the Spirit, but I believe it is especially important in regard to longsuffering, as it may be the one we struggle with the most yet is most easily put into practice if only we make the effort.

 

When we accept the free gift of salvation we are to be “born again”. Galatians 2:20 says “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Once saved we are a new person. Ephesians instructs to “no longer walk as the rest, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart. If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus, that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness”. Furthermore, according to 2 Timothy we are to “flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will”. It is important that we bear fruit not only as proof of our maturing relationship with the Lord, but so that we may also be a guiding light for others.  The same chapters tells us that we are to “Preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching”. Anyone who has ever tried to teach anyone anything, whether it was one on one or in a group setting, will understand the need for patience in such a setting.

 

The final point I want to emphasize about longsuffering is…well…suffering. Afterall, it is part of the word, right?? Many new Christians come to the Lord through a “mountaintop experience”. They hear an especially powerful sermon, attend a large gathering like Promise Keepers, or go to an old fashioned fire & brimstone revival. In situations like that it becomes easy to run to an altar and “make the decision” for Christ. Please don’t misunderstand…I am not questioning the authenticity of salvation received in these settings. I myself gave my heart to The Lord following a performance of the drama Heavens Gates and Hell’s Flames. But my concern is what comes afterward. The next day one must go back out into the world…work, school, friends, family, and dealing with the general public in everyday situations. This is the true test. Contrary to popular belief life does not suddenly become sunshine and roses just because one said a prayer and asked Jesus to forgive their sins. Salvation is not the end, it is the beginning. Relationship and growth must follow, and it is my sincere belief that it is during this lifelong process that Satan will come after a person with a full court press. The question is how will you react to these tests of your faith?? Make no mistake…they are not graded on a curve and a C is not acceptable. Life is pass/fail. Our response to the difficulties we face is an excellent barometer of where we stand in our relationship with Christ. And I am not talking about the big stuff. I think most people have a tendency to call on the Lord in times of real trouble…severe illness, death, and other significant calamities. But how do you react to the “ankle biters”…the little aggravations and roadblocks we encounter every day?? James 1:2-4 counsels us to “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” It may seem a bit odd that we should rejoice when we’re in trouble, but that is exactly what we are supposed to do. Remember, Christ DIED for our sins…so is it really too much to ask that we endure annoying co-workers, bad drivers, slow checkout lines, thoughtless friends, overbearing in-laws, rambunctious children, and all the other obstacles life throws in our path??

 

The 103rd Psalm says “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever”. God is complex. He is love, and He shows us infinite mercy and patience on a daily basis, yet one day we will all face judgment. How can we hope for a free pass that we do not deserve if we do not bear fruit?? Why do we assume and expect God’s continuous patience with us in light of our sins but not show the same understanding toward others ourselves?? I cannot sum up the expectation God has of us any better that Colossians 3:1-5 – “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him. Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful”.

 

 

 

 

100 Favorite Movies…..86-90

Staying power. It’s a key element in my definition of a favorite movie. It’s easy to sit down and watch a movie on TV or even head to the theater for a matinee and some popcorn (and chocolate covered peanuts) and be entertained for a couple hours. But will you watch the movie again in the future?? Ten years from now if the film you watched at the cineplex today is on television will you change the channel or not?? When you’re at the video store or shopping on Netflix do you stick to new releases or are there some special movies you rent over and over?? Today’s group has staying power. They range in durability from 14 to 26 to 70 years, with only one of the five being less than a decade old.  In contrast, how many movies have you seen in the past few years that you forgot about almost immediately upon leaving the theater or changing the channel??

 

 

 

90 The Birdcage

I’m a huge Robin Williams fan. Serious Robin Williams, funny Robin Williams…it’s all good. Robin Williams is what Jim Carrey wishes he could be. In this remake of a film version of the play La Cage aux Folles, Williams co-stars with Nathan Lane as a gay couple whose son falls in love with the daughter of a conservative Senator. The two families meet, with the son and his gay parents going to great lengths to cover up the true nature of their lifestyle. Hilarity ensues. Besides Williams and Lane the cast features the always compelling Gene Hackman, Dianne Weist, Christine Baranski,  and Calista Flockhart (Mrs. Harrison Ford). The underrated Hank Azaria (who voices many characters on The Simpsons) is amusing as Agador Spartacus, a flamingly flamboyant housekeeper. I’m not easily offended at all, but I am kind of surprised at this film’s success. Both conservatives and homosexuals are portrayed using the most extreme stereotypes. The gay characters embody all the typical gaudy clichés, and it is not so subtly inferred that the conservatives are anti-Semitic. However, despite the unfortunate caricatures it’s still a fun movie.

 

89 The Wizard of Oz

If there are more than a dozen people in America above the age of 30 who haven’t seen The Wizard of Oz multiple times I’ll eat a bug. It’s the very definition of a classic. Everyone knows the story…..young Dorothy (and her cute little puppy Toto) is transported in the midst of a tornado to the magical (and colorful) Land of Oz where she encounters several strange characters (The Tin Man, The Cowardly Lion, The Scarecrow,  a bunch of Munchkins, some flying monkeys, and a very nasty witch). Dorothy desperately wants to get back home to her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry. That quest is the catalyst for the adventure. The film likely would have ranked much higher for me a couple decades ago when I was younger and it was an annual television event. I’ve never read the books on which the story is based, but maybe someday I will.

 

88 Seabiscuit

I’m a big fan of sports films. I’ve also begun to follow horse racing a bit the past several years. The book by Laura Hillenbrand is extremely good and I highly recommend it whether or not you’ve seen the film. The tale could be construed by some to be an animal version of Rocky, except for the fact that it’s a true story. The events depicted occurred during The Great Depression and to be honest I’d never heard about any of it until the book came out. What I find especially interesting is the inside look at the cutthroat, mercenary, brutal world of thoroughbred racing. The cast, headed by Spiderman Tobey Maguire, is just dandy.

 

87 The Big Chill

Take the TV show Friends, make the characters a skosh older, make the subject matter more solemn and thoughtful, add quite possibly one of the most memorable soundtracks in history, and boom…..you have The Big Chill. Made in 1983 in the midst of The Reagan Revolution, The Big Chill is the story of a group of college friends, 1960’s radical types, reuniting for the funeral of one of their own who has just committed suicide. Thankfully politics don’t play too big a part in the story. It’s more a tale of change and friendship, and how true friendship doesn’t change even when the people do. I am not sure why I have always felt a connection to this film…..after all I was just 11 years old when it was in theaters. However, now I am mere months away from attending a college reunion of my own and it makes total sense. Facebook, MySpace, cell phones, online chat, and other modern conveniences have made it much easier to reconnect and stay in touch with people, but there’s nothing like being face to face in the same room, being able to laugh, hug, and share a drink with individuals who had a hand in shaping who you are and influenced the path of life in some way. I am excited, and fortunately a funeral will not be the centerpiece of my reunion. On a basic level the movie explores former 60’s counterculture vs. the increasingly conservative Me Generation 80’s, but on a deeper level it is so much more. As a current 30-something I can now understand the restlessness, that feeling of growing stale, the inner turmoil of seeing the dreams of youth slowly dying, of looking back and wondering where all the time has gone and why life hasn’t turned out the way you’d planned. All this deep introspection is done with humor and through characters that are as real as any you’ll ever see on film. The Big Chill may be fading into the distance for many folks…..it is nearly 30 years old and features nary a car chase or explosion…..but it is so well written, the performances so good, and the subject matter so utterly timeless that it won’t soon fade for those of us who enjoy quality and don’t mind using our brain occasionally. And I mentioned the soundtrack…..wow. Most albums, especially soundtracks, will have 2 or 3 tremendous tunes. The Big Chill soundtrack is solid from top to bottom. Joy to the World…..I Heard It Through the Grapevine…..My Girl…..What’s Goin’ On…..it’s a cornucopia of musical goodness and is a huge part of the film’s success. Writer Lawrence Kasdan summed up the meaning of the title, and in a way the film, this way:  “The Big Chill deals with people who have discovered that not everything they wanted is possible, that not every ideal they believed in has stayed in the forefront of their intentions. The Big Chill is about a cooling process that takes place for every generation when they move from the outward-directed, more idealistic concerns of their youth to a kind of self-absorption, a self-interest which places their personal desires above those of the society or even an ideal.” The the juxtaposition of the order of things then versus now is fascinating. Kasdan seems to be saying that as young adults we are idealistic and concerned with the world at large and making it a better place, and as we get older we become more selfish and focused on our own needs and wants. But here in 2009 it seems that young people are the selfish ones and we tend to grasp the big picture better as we get older. That’s how I feel anyway.

 

86 Tin Cup

I like Kevin Costner…..in the right role. His comfort zone seems to be “laid back scalawag”, something he pulls off better than anyone (Vince Vaughn is good too, but not Costner good). If you liked Bull Durham (which you will eventually see I do very much) you’ll like Tin Cup…..and if you are a golf fan you will love Tin Cup. Ample support is provided by Rene Russo, Cheech Marin, and Don Johnson…..but it’s Costner that makes this movie work. The story involves a small time golfer who hopes to make it big by winning the U.S. Open. I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen the film, but there is a scene near the end that takes this film straight to the upper echelon of sports flicks. You’ll know it when you see it.

 

 

The Not Quite Top 100 Movies – Honorable Mentions

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


M
ASH

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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