The 30 Day Film Challenge – Part 2

“Film is one of three universal languages, along with mathematics & music.” – Frank Capra

 

 

My original intention was to post this a few days ago, but stuff happens…like having a big chunk of what I wrote disappear because evidently I forgot to save my work. When something like that happens I can become quite emo, and to be honest I just lost my desire to write for a few days. Anyway, I’m feeling a little better about life in general now, so let’s finish this thing up and move on to the next gig. If you have not perused Part 1 please do so, and as always I really would enjoy some feedback.

 

 

 

 

 

16     A film that is personal to you…

We Are Marshall

I graduated from Marshall University in Huntington, WV in the mid-1990s, and the tragic 1970 plane crash that killed the entire football team, coaching staff, and a number of parents & boosters is a tale well known to anyone who has ever lived or attended school there. A couple of years after the crash a beautiful fountain on the student center plaza was dedicated in memory of the 75 lives lost, and during my four+ years at MU I passed by that fountain every single day. Anyway, 2006’s We Are Marshall, though an imperfect film, does an admirable job of depicting the event & its aftermath, with the haunting performance of Matthew Fox (Party of Five, Lost) as assistant coach Red Dawson deserving kudos. If you dig We Are Marshall I would highly recommend a 2000 documentary called Ashes to Glory, which is a more factual and much more emotional rendition of the story.

 

 

 

17     Favorite film sequel…

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

I really had to think long & hard about this one. Rarely do sequels even approach the greatness of the original. And what about trilogies & series?? Do I prefer the second, third, or fourth movie?? I generally think of such things as one entity and don’t go so far as to break down each film, although there are exceptions. Having said all of that, and while I still think the original 1983 National Lampoon’s Vacation is the best of the series, the particular niche that Christmas Vacation has carved out in the pop culture landscape is undeniable. Three decades after its theatrical run it is shown on television dozens of times each holiday season…and we still watch.

 

 

 

18     A film that stars your favorite actor/actress…

Joe Versus the Volcano and The Glenn Miller Story

First, I had to decide between Jimmy Stewart & Tom Hanks, but I’m taking the easy way out and not making that choice, Secondly, I have shown love to other films by both men already, so what I have chosen to do is give a shout out to two of their lesser known films. Glenn Miller was a real life big band leader in the 1930’s & 40’s and the composer of hits like Moonlight Serenade, Little Brown Jug, & In the Mood. While flying from a gig in the United Kingdom to Paris in December 1944 Miller’s plane disappeared over the English Channel. He was only 40 years old. James Stewart just so happened to be a Glenn Miller doppelganger, so when a biopic was produced in 1954 he was the ideal choice for the part. If you like Stewart or Miller you’ll love both after watching this movie, and you just might become a fan of big band music, as I did. Joe Versus the Volcano isn’t as well-regarded as other Hanks/Meg Ryan films, but I encourage everyone to give it a whirl. It’s a bit of a slog at the beginning, but if you can make it past those gloomy first few minutes what you’ll find is a story that contains a lot of symbolism and has much to say about life.

 

 

 

19     A film made by your favorite director…

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

I don’t generally have any director specific loyalties…I judge a film based on what I see on the screen, regardless of who is in front of or behind the camera. However, I am an 80’s kid, and that means I’ve seen just about everything that John Hughes wrote, produced, and/or directed. Christmas is usually the main focus of holiday entertainment, as it should be, but there is one really great film that focuses on Thanksgiving. It is the perfect mix of comedy & sentimentality, which is right in my wheelhouse. I wish Steve Martin & John Candy would’ve made more movies together, but then again I’m not sure there’s any way they could have topped their inaugural effort.

 

 

 

20     A film that changed your life…

It’s A Wonderful Life

I don’t remember when or why I watched IAWL for the first time, but during my childhood it was on television countless times on numerous channels at all hours so there were no shortage of opportunities to see it. The idea of a small town guy with big dreams who never quite escapes to fulfill them spoke to me from an early age, and at this point I suppose I’m sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. IAWL was actually marketed as a romantic comedy, but has become a Christmas classic. To say it changed my life may be a tad dramatic because I’m not one to assign such power to a movie, but it does mean a lot to me and has become an important part of my holiday tradition.

 

 

 

21     A film that you dozed off in…

Monty Python & The Holy Grail

I’m probably going to catch some flack, but I have to be honest. There was a little video store down the street from my college dorm, and I decided to rent this movie that I’d heard so much about but never seen. Obviously it was a less than thrilling experience. I just don’t enjoy British humor.

 

 

 

22     A film that made you angry…

The Big Wedding

When a movie stars Robin Williams & Robert DeNiro I don’t think it is out of line to have high expectations. Sadly, not only does this movie fall short, it is undoubtedly one of the worst I’ve ever seen. I have never left a theater before a film is over, but I came pretty close with this one. DeNiro continues to trash his legendary legacy, while the late great Williams made a string of forgettable flops in the decade before his untimely demise.

 

 

 

23     A film made by a director who is dead…

Rear Window

Again, I’m not married to any particular directors, as in I adore every movie they’ve ever made. On top of that I’m not really a Hitchcock kind of guy. However, he did make a few films I’ve enjoyed, and his work with my man Jimmy Stewart is quite good. Rear Window is interesting in that it is essentially shot from one perspective, that of main character Jeff Jefferies, a professional photographer sidelined with a broken leg. Jeff lives in a courtyard apartment and becomes kind of a voyeur, intently watching neighbors that he doesn’t really know and making up stories about them that may or may not be true. When he decides that one of those neighbors might have murdered his wife things become really interesting. Rear Window wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture, which, in hindsight, seems like a real crime.

 

 

 

24     A film you wish you saw in theaters…

Apollo 13 and Titanic

I pondered & debated with myself, but I just can’t choose. History shows that Apollo 13 was released in June 1995, which wasn’t a good time in my life, so I’m not surprised I didn’t make it to the local cineplex for a flick. However, I have seen it countless times in the ensuing years and count it among the best movies ever made. I cannot recall a specific reason why I didn’t head to the theater to watch Titanic, although I’m not one for massive crowds so perhaps that scared me off. But by now I have watched it numerous times. I have always opined that some movies really should be seen on the big screen, and with a gigantic ship sinking into the ocean & a huge rocket being launched into space I can only assume these would have been really cool films to see in a theater. Alas, I suppose my 55 inch smart TV will have to suffice.

 

 

 

25     A film you like that is not set in the current era…

The Godfather

I cannot believe we have made it this far without mentioning what I consider to be the best film ever produced. It is nearly flawless. Thankfully, since it is set in the 1940s & 50s The Godfather fits this category perfectly.

 

 

 

26     A film you like that is adapted from somewhere…

Forrest Gump

I have never read Winston Groom’s 1986 novel, and am inclined never to do so. It is my understanding that the film differs vastly from its source material, and since I think it’s a damn fine movie I’m not going to ruin it by reading the book. I am usually in the camp that believes that the book is almost always better than the movie, but there are exceptions and I’m just going to mark Forrest Gump as one of them.

 

 

 

27     A film that is visually striking to you…

Batman & Robin

I believe I have previously described Batman & Robin as “aurally & visually obnoxious…an assault on the senses”, and I stand by that assessment. However, there is no denying that it is visually striking, and in hindsight it is far from the worst movie ever made.

 

 

 

28     A film that made you feel uncomfortable…

Very Bad Things

Oh wow…let me tell you something folks…if you’ve never seen Very Bad Things you really should. It’s something everyone needs to experience just once. I say that because it’s not the kind of film for which repeat viewings are a thing. Once is enough, and it’ll be something you will remember…for better or worse…for the rest of your life. It seems like a harmless enough concept…a group of buddies go to Vegas for a bachelor party. And with an all-star cast including Jon Favreau, Daniel Stern, Jeremy Piven, Christian Slater, Cameron Diaz, & Jeanne Tripplehorn one would assume it to be a fairly mundane, mainstream cliché…but that hypothesis is way wrong. As a matter of fact everything about this movie is so wrong, but in the kind of way that one cannot avoid staring at in complete fascination.

 

 

 

29     A film that makes you want to fall in love…

When Harry Met Sally

I freely admit it…I am comfortable enough with my smoldering machismo to proclaim my affection for rom coms, and in the early 90s America’s Sweetheart was Meg Ryan. She made three awesome romantic comedies (Joe Versus the Volcano, Sleepless in Seattle, & You’ve Got Mail) with Tom Hanks, who is the prototypical leading man for such films. However, I think When Harry Met Sally is probably the best of the genre. Billy Crystal is 14 years older than Ryan and early scenes depicting him as a recent college grad stretch the limits of credibility (he was 41 years old at the time), but the movie is funny, heartwarming, & a joy to watch. Near the end Crystal’s character says “when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible”, and I would love to find that person and begin the rest of my life.

 

 

 

30     A film with your favorite ending…

Field of Dreams

I have opined on multiple occasions that “anyone who doesn’t shed a tear during the last 10 minutes of Field of Dreams doesn’t have a heart”. You see, it is so much more than a “sports movie”. It isn’t really about baseball at all. Field of Dreams is about regret & redemption, and the film’s conclusion packs an unexpected emotional punch, one that resonates even deeper three decades later than it did originally.

The 30 Day Film Challenge – Part 1

“Movies touch our hearts and awaken our vision, and change the way we see things. They take us to other places, they open doors and minds. Movies are the memories of our life time, we need to keep them alive.” – Martin Scorsese

 

 

 

As with the 30 Day Song Challenge I do not have the patience to post once per day for an entire month, and fortunately I don’t need to since I make the rules in this space. I feel like I’ve probably written entirely too much about movies here over the years, but it’s a subject I enjoy and right now I need as much to smile about as possible. 2020 has been a bumpy ride for many, so I don’t want to be selfish. Having said that, the past few months have been brutal for me personally, so I’m thankful for an outlet that allows me to take my mind off things, atleast for a little while. The vast majority of these were easy answers, though I had to ponder a few, and in some cases I found the questions a bit puzzling. That’s why I like providing context…it provides some insight into my thought process, which is not only helpful for you but something I find constructive as well. Once again I have broken this project into two parts for readability. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

1       The first film you remember watching…

Coal Miner’s Daughter

To be honest I’m not entirely comfortable with this answer. Coal Miner’s Daughter was released when I was eight years old, and I’m pretty sure I watched movies before then. However, our local mall (complete with multiplex cinema) wasn’t built until a few years later, so anything I saw before had to be at a drive-in or on television, and nothing specific comes to mind. However, I have a clear memory of going to the drive-in with my parents & sister to see Coal Miner’s Daughter.

 

 

2       A film you like that starts with the first letter of your first name…

Sleepless in Seattle

I really like alliteration…it’s fun. I actually had a date…with a woman…to see this movie. It might be the last real date I’ve had lol (I don’t even remember her name though, which speaks badly of me, her, or both of us). Anyway, Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan are screen magic, and Sleepless might be my favorite film of theirs.

 

 

3       A film that has more than five words…

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

I’m not going to dive into a marketing lecture, but the vast majority of films have short titles…1-3 words. It’s just easier for people to remember, among other things. I really had to think about movies I’ve enjoyed with longer titles, but once Anchorman popped into my head it became an easy choice. Stay classy!!

 

 

4       A film with a number in the title…

Ocean’s Eleven

So many choices!! However, I’m a big fan of the Ocean’s Trilogy. Eleven is a remake of a 1960 Rat Pack classic, and I actually enjoy the remake more than the original, partly because the ending of the newer film is so much more satisfying than the older one. Ocean’s Twelve is okay, though certainly the weakest of the trilogy. Ocean’s Thirteen rebounded with the addition of Al Pacino to the cast. I highly recommend binge watching all three movies, something I’ve done many times.

 

 

5       A film where a character has a job you want…

The Shining

Okay, so he is a psychopath…but don’t forget that Jack Torrance (as portrayed brilliantly by Jack Nicholson) is also a writer.

 

 

6       Your favorite animated film…

The Toy Story Series

This is tough. There are so many animated classics that we all enjoyed as kids, but I have to ask myself, would I sit down and watch many of those old movies now…as an adult?? I suppose the occasional nostalgic mood may hit, but generally we look at such things differently when we’re older. However, the four Toy Story movies are more recent, have quite the memorable voice cast, the animation is top notch, and the plot is written to be enjoyed by all ages.

 

 

7       A film that you will never get tired of…

Casablanca

There are dozens of movies I could (and do) watch over & over & over again. I tend to prefer older movies that I grew up enjoying to most of the pathetic excuses for entertainment Hollywood churns out these days, and Casablanca is as pleasurable to watch now as it ever was. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

 

 

8       A film where you liked the soundtrack more…

Saturday Night Fever and The Big Chill

Two movies immediately sprang to mind and I’m not going to choose between them. The Big Chill is about a bunch of middle-age 60’s radicals gathering together in the midst of the conservative revolution of the early 80’s to attend the funeral of an old schoolmate who committed suicide. The film itself is just fine, but the soundtrack…wow. Smokey Robinson. The Temptations. Marvin Gaye. Three Dog Night. Aretha Franklin. If you like Motown you can’t help but dig one of the best soundtracks ever produced. Saturday Night Fever not only skyrocketed John Travolta to superstardom, but it defined the disco era. The soundtrack relies heavily on The Bee Gees, but that’s okay because they kick ass. Disco may be dead, but it had its time in the spotlight and this particular album may have been the high point.

 

 

9       A film you hate that everyone else liked…

Pulp Fiction

I watched it once…I just don’t get it. Travolta is cool. Samuel L. Jackson?? Very cool. I’m a big Bruce Willis fan. Tarantino just isn’t my kind of director. I can’t think of a single one of his movies I’ve enjoyed.

 

 

10     Your favorite superhero film…

Batman

I’ve said it a thousand times…I wasn’t a comic book kid. Outside of the three big superheroes (Batman, Superman, & Spiderman) I couldn’t possibly care less. The only “Marvel Cinematic Universe” films I’ve seen are the two Spiderman movies. I may or may not ever watch the rest of them. However, I do love me some Batman, and I really like the 1989 film starring Michael Keaton as The Caped Crusader. Keaton & Adam West (who portrayed Batman in the 60’s TV show) are easily my favorites, and it didn’t hurt Tim Burton’s movie to have Jack Nicholson’s larger-than-life portrayal of The Joker.

 

 

11     A film you like from your least favorite genre…

Halloween

Horror flicks aren’t generally my cup o’ tea. However, John Carpenter’s original Halloween is a classic. From the brilliant opening sequence to the legendary theme music to the amusingly ostentatious performance of Donald Pleasence as a Captain Ahab-esque psychiatrist, well…it’s nearly flawless. It’s hard to believe that what has become an annual October institution was produced on a shoestring budget of just over $300k (in comparison, Jaws, which was produced three years earlier, had a budget of $13 million).

 

 

12     A film that you hate from your favorite genre…

Holmes & Watson

This one is a double whammy. I’m a huge fan of the Sherlock Holmes novellas & short stories, and I’ve also enjoyed the work of both Will Ferrell & John C. Reilly. When I first heard that the duo were going to tackle Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fabled crime solvers I was excited to see what kind of hilarious spin the stars of Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby could put on the story, but the result was immensely disappointing. Rotten Tomatoes gives Holmes & Watson an atrocious 10% score, and it won the Razzie for Worst Picture of 2018.

 

 

13     A film that “puts you in deep thoughts”…

Groundhog Day

First, I must state that I detest the way this is stated, like a nine year old wrote it. Secondly, though I’m not above thinking deeply I rarely run across a movie that makes me do so. It just doesn’t seem to be Hollywood’s thing, and sadly I don’t know which came first, the chicken or the egg. Are crappy special effects movies with inane action sequences & insufferable explosions the norm because the populace demands it, or have we been conditioned to be dumbed down & accept such mediocrity?? I suppose it’s a little of both. At any rate, in 1993 Bill Murray & director Harold Ramis teamed up to give us the antithesis of such tedious garbage, and what they accomplished is far more than your typical comedy. Groundhog Day is existential. It is profound on a level that neither Murray nor Ramis likely intended. I watch it every February 2nd, and it always makes me ponder life.

 

 

14     A film that “gave you depression”…

The Perfect Storm

Another poorly worded turn of phrase. Here’s the thing: I don’t watch movies to get depressed. Trust me…my real life is miserable enough. Why on God’s green Earth would I pay money to have alleged entertainment make me sad?? It’s why I lean so heavily toward comedy. Having said that, occasionally something sneaks up and gives me all the feels. When I first watched The Perfect Storm I had NO IDEA it was based on a true story. It was on television and I was bored, so I gave it a whirl. It is well-written with good performances so I was quickly hooked. At the film’s conclusion I fully expected the ship’s crew to be miraculously rescued…but, of course, they are not. I’m a little slow sometimes, but eventually I learned that this actually happened…these were real people who died. The film does a superb job of conveying the very tangible danger faced by fishermen every day, and I have developed tremendous respect for those who put their lives on the line to put food on our table. Some years after my initial viewing of the movie (which I have watched countless times) I decided to read the book on which it is based, and I must opine that it is the rare case where the film is far superior.

 

 

15     A film that makes you feel happy…

Bull Durham

I suppose numerous comedies make me happy, but since it’s summertime and baseball just began after a virus related delay of several months Bull Durham popped into my head. Sports films are delightful…sports comedies are sublime. One major barometer I use when judging movies is whether or not I am still glad to watch them many years & multiple viewings later, and more than three decades later I find Bull Durham just as enjoyable as I ever did.

 

 

 

Okay folks, let’s take a break. Stay tuned for Part 2!!

90’s Film Frenzy: The Elite Eight

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

 

 

 

 

 

Titanic                vs.              Sleepless in Seattle

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

 

      The Verdict:       

 

 

 

 

You’ve Got Mail                    vs.              Groundhog Day

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

 

      The Verdict:       

 

 

 

 

Forrest Gump             vs.              The Fugitive

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

    The Verdict:       

 

 

 

 

Mrs. Doubtfire             vs.              The Big Lebowski

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

 

    The Verdict:       

90’s Film Frenzy: The Sweet Sixteen

Greetings friends. No, I didn’t forget. With the holiday season in full swing and football reaching a fever pitch on all levels I suppose I’ve been a bit distracted, but it’s time to get back to 90’s Film Frenzy. I have decided to reintroduce an idea originally utilized during 80’s Movie Mania…a tale of the tape comparison focusing on five factors that I consider significant when evaluating these films:

 

Re-Watchability:       Is it on television a lot?? If it is on TV am I excited enough to stop channel surfing & watch??

Relevance:                 Does the story hold up well?? Or do modern societal norms & changes in technology make it feel dated??

Quotability:                Fun, interesting, well-written movies of all genres are usually very quotable.

Cultural Impact:            Is it one of those movies that everyone of a certain age has seen?? Is it familiar to multiple generations?? Do people still occasionally talk about it & watch it even many years after its release??

Pleasure:                     Do I enjoy watching this movie?? We’ve all read books or watched shows/movies just because we felt compelled to…because we wanted to be cool or seem educated. But what do you enjoy when no one else is around??

 

 

 

                                                                                                           

 

 

Titanic                                            vs.                       The Birdcage

 

Re-Watchability                                                                               

 

Relevance                         

 

Quotability                                                        

 

Cultural Impact                                                 

 

Pleasure                       

 

The Verdict:       Titanic. This one breaks my heart a little because The Birdcage and my man Robin Williams probably deserve a better fate, but I have to “keep it real” as the kids like to say. The Birdcage, while obviously a farce, looks a little different thru a 21st century prism of how we now view & treat the “LGBTQ Community”. Society wasn’t quite as “woke” back in the 90’s, so the caricature presented of a gay couple and their lifestyle might be offensive to some nowadays. And honestly, the exaggeration works both ways, because the movie doesn’t portray conservatives in the best light either. But above & beyond all of that Titanic is simply a cultural phenomenon that still ranks as the second highest grossing movie of all time and just about swept all the major awards. It is still shown on television with some regularity, and I enjoy watching it now almost as much as I ever did.

 

 

  

 

 

                                    My Cousin Vinny             vs.                   Sleepless in Seattle

 

Re-Watchability                    

 

 

 

 

Relevance                              

Quotability                          

Cultural Impact                                                                                     

 

 

 

 

Pleasure                                                                                                   

 

 

 

 

The Verdict:        Sleepless in Seattle. This is a tough one. I’m not sure either movie is all that quotable, but I give the edge to My Cousin Vinny because I still refer to young people as “yutes”. Vinny also wins the relevance category because Sleepless in Seattle has one major flaw…a quarter century later it simply couldn’t happen. Sam Baldwin would probably be pouring his heart out on a podcast rather than a radio show. Instead of thousands of lonely & desperate women sending him letters he’d be getting friend requests and ladies would be “sliding into his DMs”. Annie Reed wouldn’t need to sic a private investigator on Sam or fly to Seattle to check him out…she could just scrutinize his social media profiles. I’m not sure if young Jonah could still pull off the feat of booking a flight & making it all the way from Seattle to New York, but surely it would be much more difficult for a ten year old kid to do that in a post-9/11 world. However, having said that, Sleepless would be my choice to watch in vegg mode, I still get excited to catch it on TV & will occasionally stream it for no apparent reason when I’m bored, and I feel comfortable saying that the cultural impact of Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan outweighs the charm of Joe Pesci & Marisa Tomei.

 

 

  

 

 

                                                          Forrest Gump                    vs.                      Office Space

 

Re-Watchability                        

Relevance                                    

Quotability                                                                                                         

 

 

Cultural Impact                             

 

 

Pleasure                                       

 

The Verdict:       Forrest Gump. Kudos to Office Space for making it to the Sweet 16. That’s pretty darn good for a movie that ranked 121st at the box office in 1999 and has an ensemble of character actors, with Jennifer Aniston as the only real movie star in the cast. While it is extremely quotable it is also inescapably out-of-date with plot points centering around the Y2K “virus”, floppy disks, & a laserjet printer. However, the human frailties & frustrations associated with workplace culture that the movie pokes fun are universal & timeless. Conversely, Forrest Gump is a mini history lesson with a bit of romance thrown into the mix, which makes it somewhat similar to Titanic. Gump won Best Picture, Best Actor (Tom Hanks), and Best Director (Robert Zemeckis), and was the top box office draw of 1994, so its pedigree is irrefutable.

 

  

 

 

                                            The Fugitive              vs.                            Father of the Bride

 

Re-Watchability                              

 

Relevance                                        

 

Quotability                                     

 

Cultural Impact                               

 

Pleasure                                           

 

The Verdict:        The Fugitive. This is a coin toss situation. I could (and have) watched both movies over & over again. I’m not sure either one has any claim to being especially relevant, but neither is there anything about them that is particularly passé two decades later. Neither movie is all that quotable. As far as cultural impact goes, The Fugitive is based on a 1960’s TV show and Father of the Bride is a remake of a 1950 film. So what it comes down to for me is the fact that The Fugitive was nominated for seven Academy Awards (Tommy Lee Jones won Best Supporting Actor and Best Picture was lost to Schindler’s List) and has a 96% score on Rotten Tomatoes, while Father of the Bride has a 71% Rotten Tomatoes score and received two MTV Movie Awards nominations. As much as I adore Father of the Bride I cannot overlook the pedigree of the competition.

 

   

 

 

                                           Apollo 13                            vs.                             Groundhog Day

 

Re-Watchability                              

Relevance                                                                                              

 

 

Quotability                

 

 

Cultural Impact                               

 

 

Pleasure                                         

 

The Verdict:       Groundhog Day. This might be the hardest decision I’ve had to make thus far. Apollo 13 gets a small tip of the cap because all of us still say “Houston…we have a problem” whenever the opportunity arises, and kudos must be given for the film’s nine Academy Award nominations (Best Picture went to Braveheart) as well as its remarkable 95% Rotten Tomatoes score. Having said that, Groundhog Day has an even better 96% Rotten Tomatoes score, and where it really makes an impact is its relevance. Groundhog Day is…ironically…timeless. I cannot emphasize enough that it is so much more than a run-of-the mill comedy. It is profound in a way that is unique & rare. A lot of movies have an agenda and make a concerted effort to be meaningful & didactic, but Groundhog Day takes such a nuanced approach to being insightful that I’m not even sure the filmmakers intended anything so evocative. Apollo 13 is brilliant. Hanks, Ron Howard, Ed Harris, the music…the whole package is a dazzling display of what talented people can accomplish when they unite to make a good movie. However, let’s be honest…it is based on a real event that was pretty extraordinary. I do not want to sell the powers-that-be short. Afterall, plenty of terrible movies have evolved from really cool true stories. But in this case I have to give the edge to creative brilliance born from fiction.

 

  

 

 

                                         Good Will Hunting                 vs.          You’ve Got Mail

Re-Watchability                                                                                                 

 

Relevance                                      

Quotability                                      

 

 

Cultural Impact                                                                                                 

 

 

Pleasure                                                                                                          

 

 

 

The Verdict:       You’ve Got Mail. The biggest mark against You’ve Got Mail is relevance. AOL, dial-up, chat rooms…all are 90’s relics. Much like the other Hanks/Ryan collaboration that I adore…Sleepless in Seattle…social media makes the whole plot of You’ve Got Mail largely obsolete. But despite that notable deficiency it is still a film with irresistible charm and fine performances from its two leads as well as supporting roles for Greg Kinnear, Parker Posey, Jean Stapleton, Steve Zahn, & Heather Burns. Good Will Hunting garnered Academy Awards for Matt Damon & Ben Affleck (Best Original Screenplay) as well as my man Robin Williams (Best Supporting Actor), but honestly…I haven’t watched it in two decades. It just hasn’t remained in our collective pop culture consciousness.

 

  

 

 

                          Shawshank Redemption                 vs.              The Big Lebowski

Re-Watchability                                                                                               

 

 

Relevance                    

 

 

Quotability                                                       

 

 

 

 

Cultural Impact                            

 

 

 

 

Pleasure                   

 

 

 

 

The Verdict:       The Big Lebowski. This may surprise some folks. The pedigree for Shawshank is enviable. Seven Academy Award nominations (though it did not win any of them). A 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Conversely, Lebowski was barely noticed at the box office and took several years to make an impact on the pop culture landscape. I still don’t think one can think of it as “mainstream”. However, once it became a thing amongst film buffs the popularity of Lebowski soared. It is one of the most quotable movies out there, and for me it comes down to the idea of sitting down for the enjoyable diversion of watching a movie. I’m not against drama at all, but Lebowski is just more fun. Shawshank has an inspirational & uplifting conclusion, but one has to grind thru a pretty intense couple of hours before that, and I am rarely in the mood for that.

 

  

 

 

                                             Mrs. Doubtfire             vs.               Scent of a Woman

Re-Watchability                            

Relevance                                     

Quotability                                                                                                        

 

 

Cultural Impact                              

 

 

Pleasure                                         

 

The Verdict:       Mrs. Doubtfire. I recently read a really interesting biography about Robin Williams, and in it there is a discussion about the latter part of his career. His wheelhouse was undoubtedly zany comedy, but a combination of Williams’ determination to prove himself as an actor and some questionable decisions by various folks led him to do films like What Dreams May Come, One Hour Photo, August Rush, & Insomnia. Some of his dramatic roles…Good Will Hunting, Awakenings, Dead Poets Society…are well regarded, while a few of his comedies…Flubber, Patch Adams, License to Wed…missed the mark, but Mrs. Doubtfire is a perfect platform for his talent and I can’t help but wish that his filmography contained a lot more such showcases. Scent of a Woman is essentially two hours of Al Pacino chewing scenery, which is delightful fun that I enjoy just fine, but Mrs. Doubtfire is the better movie.

90’s Film Frenzy: Phat Round 3

My apologies for the brief hiatus I’ve taken from this competition. I have no valid excuse, so we’ll just move on. We have already covered Round 3 action in the Dope and Fly divisions, so we’ll try to finish up the third round within the next week. I know all you non-sports folks get a little perturbed with me this time of year, but rest assured I’ve not forgotten about you. Allow me to take this opportunity to wish The Manoverse a very Happy Halloween. Whether you’ll be trick-or-treating with your kids, handing out candy to the neighborhood crumb crunchers, curling up with a scary movie or book, or attending a wild & crazy costume party I hope y’all stay safe and have lots of fun.

 

 

 

 

 

Apollo 13                                                  vs.                       The Mask

After receiving a first round bye Apollo 13 defeated John Candy’s underrated rom-com Only the Lonely in Round 2. Most of the attention is…obviously…given to Tom Hanks, as well as his fellow “astronauts” Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, & Gary Sinise. The Academy showed some love to Ed Harris & Kathleen Quinlan by giving them Oscar nominations in supporting categories (Harris lost to Kevin Spacey for his role as Verbal Kint/Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects, while Quinlan lost to Mira Sorvino for Mighty Aphrodite). However, Apollo 13 features a large ensemble that really brings everything together. Character actors like Joe Spano, Chris Ellis, Marc McClure, Brett Cullen, Clint Howard, Loren Dean, & Christian Clemenson portray NASA officials. Ron Howard’s mother plays Jim Lovell’s mother Blanche. The kids portraying Lovell’s children aren’t given much to do but they do it well. These are the kinds of performances that are important in helping the viewer escape reality and really get into a movie. The film was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Dramatic Score, and the music does play a vital role. It’s a shame Apollo 13 only won two of the nine Academy Awards for which it was nominated. One never knows about such things…perhaps if it’d been released a year earlier or later it might have swept all of those awards and be considered one of the greatest films of all time. The Mask got past PCU in the first round and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective in Round 2. Unlike a large ensemble film The Mask is all about Jim Carrey (and to a lesser degree the hotness of Cameron Diaz). His talent (and some unique special effects) are the engine that makes the movie go. It’s a fun & somewhat memorable film, but hardly transcendant.

 

The Verdict:       Apollo 13. It’s a pretty easy decision really. I suppose one could look at it as Hanks vs. Carrey, and even by that metric Apollo 13 wins easily. However, Apollo 13 deserves a lot more credit than that. I’ll go so far as to say that it would be a great film even with someone besides Hanks portraying Jim Lovell. But of course Hanks makes everything that he is in better, so in this case he just elevates a fantastic movie to sublime.

 

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Good Will Hunting                                  vs.                        Batman Returns

Good Will Hunting got a first round bye and then defeated Adam Sandler’s Big Daddy in Round 2. The main attraction for me is the presence of Robin Williams in a role that finally won him an Oscar. I recently finished a great biography of Williams, and it was said in that book that at some point Williams began to take some heat from critics for playing sentimental & sympathetic roles that forced him to hide is well-known comic frenzy, but I think he was just so determined to be taken seriously as an actor that he didn’t think it wise to play zany comic characters. It was a balancing act with which he struggled his entire career. Batman Returns beat Showgirls in Round 1 and emerged from a second round triple threat against Pretty Woman & What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?. It has now gotten as far as its predecessor did in 80’s Movie Mania. I’ve read many opinions stating that Returns is actually better than 1989’s Batman, but I feel like it is less memorable. Of course the original featured Jack Nicholson’s superb performance as The Joker, which is hard to beat. Returns tries to match it with three villains…Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, Danny DeVito’s Penguin, & Christopher Walken’s Max Shreck, a wealthy industrialist whose plans to build a chemical plant in Gotham City are derailed by Bruce Wayne, who then responds by backing The Penguin as a mayoral candidate to get what he wants. It is my understanding that the Schreck character was created when Billy Dee Williams, who portrayed Harvey Dent in the original film, decided not to return. I assume that Dent would have morphed into Two-Face, something that did occur when Tommy Lee Jones assumed the role in Batman Forever. I really like Penguin’s origin story in Returns, and of course Pfeiffer is the best Catwoman since Julie Newar & Eartha Kitt in the 60’s. Walken’s presence as Shreck feels out of place and somewhat misguided, although I’m not sure Dent’s presence would have been an improvement. Three villains is just too much in a Batman movie.

 

The Verdict:       Good Will Hunting. The question…as always…that I ask myself is if I were channel surfing on a lazy day which film would I watch. But more importantly, I think about which one excites me more. I love that feeling of flipping thru the channels and going “Oh cool!! ‘Insert Movie Name Here’ is on!!”, and the truth is that I’ve never felt that way about either of these movies. Batman Returns might legitimately be the best of the Burton/Schumacher Batman series, but it’s not nearly as iconic as its predecessor, and even 1997’s Batman & Robin has gotten more mileage out of being an allegedly terrible movie. I don’t find Good Will Hunting to be particularly memorable, but my love for Robin Williams is enough to push it thru.

 

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American Pie                                          vs.                        Groundhog Day

After Groundhog Day received a first round bye then got past Clueless in Round 1 I said that “I am busting at the seams to say everything I want to say” about it. The cool thing about Groundhog Day is that one can choose to view it from two different angles, and seeing it thru one prism doesn’t exclude a person from enjoying it thru the other. It works as a comedy based on Bill Murray’s sardonic wit, quirky supporting characters, & a unique situation. However, it really shines as an existential examination of life itself. One must realize that weatherman Phil Connors is stuck repeating the same day…depending on which theory one chooses to embrace…dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of times. One story I ran across awhile back estimated that Connors spends over thirty years in Punxsutawney just repeating February 2nd over & over & over. In that time he goes thru a whole range of emotions…confusion, bewilderment, anger, depression. He experiences it all. At first he uses the situation to his advantage, attempting to bed a beautiful woman and making a pass at his lovely co-worker Rita. Phil steals money, drives recklessly, & drinks heavily because he realizes there are no consequences for his actions. But then he becomes depressed and attempts to commit suicide multiple times. However nothing he tries works, and eventually he has a revelation. He accepts his weird circumstance and decides to use his time to learn new things, help people, become a better man, & woo Rita the right way. You see, Groundhog Day is not just another comedy…it’s a morality play about redemption, happiness, self-improvement, generosity, community, & love. American Pie got a first round bye then defeated Armageddon in Round 2, in no small part because the cast of Armageddon has been scornful of their own movie so I am not inclined to defend it if they don’t. American Pie is a generational teen sex comedy in the grand tradition of Animal House, Porky’s, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, & Risky Business. It might not be a high bar to aspire to, but then again I suppose it’s better to be remembered for gross out humor & delinquent hijinks than not be remembered at all like so many movies. The cast has gone on to do other noteworthy work, but American Pie will always be their legacy. A few sequels were made and they’re…okay…but the original stands on its own as one of the best comedies of its era.

 

The Verdict:       Groundhog Day. Much like we all enjoy watching A Christmas Story, It’s A Wonderful Life, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, White Christmas, & a host of other classics every December, or some enjoy horror flicks, monster movies, & The Great Pumpkin in October, it has become tradition for me to watch Groundhog Day on February 2. But of course one can watch it any day of the year and it never gets old. American Pie is a solid comedy, a snapshot of an era while being simultaneously eternal, as good teen movies tend to be. It just ran into peerless competition.

 

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You’ve Got Mail                                       vs.                        Aladdin

You’ve Got Mail received a first round bye then upended The Firm in Round 2.  Greg Kinnear has carved out a nice little career for himself, with roles in charming fare like As Good As it Gets and Little Miss Sunshine. Parker Posey is oftentimes one of the only good things about a bad movie in stuff like Mixed Nuts, but also shines in ensemble mockumentaries like A Mighty Wind, Best in Show, & Waiting for Guffman. Neither star will ever shine as brightly as Tom Hanks or Meg Ryan, but they play key roles in You’ve Got Mail. Aladdin is a great film, but suffers from the same problem as The Lion King…its unavailability makes repeat viewings almost impossible. I’m not the kind of person who will love a movie just because a bunch of critics tell me I should, and I am also distrustful of snap judgements. How many times do we walk out of a movie theater heaping praise on what we’ve just watched, but a few years later we’ve never seen it again?? Conversely, how many times do we walk out of a theater thinking a movie was just alright, but a decade or two later it’s become a cult classic that we love and have watched countless times?? That’s why repeat viewings are crucial in my opinion. There are so many factors that play into one’s enjoyment of a movie that I truly believe it often takes time for appreciation to develop. Robin Williams was brilliant and his performance makes Aladdin great…but that is an opinion that I formed 25 years ago and I can’t be sure that it hasn’t changed. A live action remake with Will Smith as The Genie is scheduled to hit theaters next spring, and I’ll probably check it out.

 

The Verdict:       You’ve Got Mail. It’s not a perfect movie, but it is delightful enough to be on TV quite often and I’ll usually watch when it is on. Aladdin…well…it doesn’t have that advantage.

90’s Film Frenzy: Dope Round 3

As we begin Round 3 of 90’s Film Frenzy the field has been whittled down from 100 to 32 combatants. The bad news is that now choosing a winner becomes alot more difficult. The good news is that going forward my intention is to be much less verbose. It has always been my aim to keep posts here at The Manofesto fairly brief & readable, but I was uncomfortable with the idea of breaking down this competition into anything other than rounds & divisions lest the whole idea become a jumbled mess. Unfortunately that has meant some pretty lengthy entries thus far. However, at this point I believe you have all the essential information about each movie. You know release dates, the main cast, & director(s). I’ve given you quotes and trivia. We’ve talked about box office performance, awards, & critics’ reviews. From here on out it is a matter of separating the contenders from the pretenders and seeing which film will stand out from an impressive crowd.

 

 

 

 

 

Titanic                                             vs.                                 Father of the Bride Part II

After receiving a first round bye Titanic overcame stiff Round 2 competition and defeated Saving Private Ryan. I’m a sucker for biopics and anything historical (except for war movies…obviously), and since the 1912 Titanic disaster had been of interest to me from a young age I was all about this movie back in ’97. DiCaprio & Winslet are perfect as the two leads, but let’s talk about the supporting cast. Kathy Bates as “Unsinkable” Molly Brown. Gloria Stuart as “Old” Rose, a performance for which Stuart became the second oldest person to receive an Oscar nomination (though she lost to Kim Basinger for L.A. Confidential). Victor Garber as Thomas Andrews, the shipbuilder who is devastated by the fatal flaw he never fathomed. Bill Paxton as a greedy treasure hunter digging around the remains of the ship whose perspective is changed by Rose’s emotional recounting of the doomed voyage. The framing device of an expedition exploring the sunken ship with the aid of an immersible is a nice touch mirroring real life explorations of the wreckage. Celine Dion’s song My Heart Will Go On is only heard during the closing credits but became part of the total package of the film’s success and was a #1 hit all across the world. Father of the Bride II has beaten two people…Bob & Mary, to get to this point. It got past What About Bob? In Round 1, and upset There’s Something About Mary in the second round. I am well aware that there is no shortage of people who might consider those two films superior to FotB2, especially Mary. I’m just not much for gross out humor, and while some might think a guy getting his junk caught in a zipper hilarious I just find that scene uncomfortable to watch. At any rate, FotB2 takes the premise of its predecessor in a…different but fun direction. There are a couple of really funny scenes…one where George Banks takes a powerful sleeping pill just as his daughter is going into labor, and another when he’s feeling old and colors his hair, freaking out his wife in the process. I know a lot of folks take issue with the way that Martin Short’s eccentric wedding coordinator from the first film is shoehorned into the sequel, but let’s face it…Franck is responsible for atleast half of the laughs in both movies, and it works. Short & Martin are a great duo. Like its predecessor FotB2 isn’t really laugh-out-loud funny as much as it is heartwarming & cozy. It isn’t particularly quotable and critics really disliked it, but for me it’s one of those reliable, tried & true, go-to movies when there’s nothing better to do than chill out with a good flick.

 

The Verdict:       Titanic. As much as I love Father of the Bride II it just doesn’t stand up to the competition. Eleven Academy Awards and over a decade as the highest grossing film of all time is hard to ignore.

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My Cousin Vinny                                    vs.                                 Independence Day

Independence Day defeated Silence of the Lambs and Swingers in a second round triple threat match after receiving a first round bye. While Will Smith is the big star I am personally fonder of Jeff Goldblum’s performance as a tech expert, Judd Hirsh’s turn as Goldblum’s father, & Randy Quaid as a crazy, alcoholic former fighter pilot. It is those kinds of supporting performances that can take a movie to the next level. Obviously, as a prototypical summer blockbuster there are lots of explosions, mayhem, action, & destruction, but one of the issues that I’ve always had with such movies is that I need more. I need good writing, interesting characters, and a credible premise that makes me care about what happens. Independence Day may not rise to the level of Jaws when it comes to those things, but meets the criteria well enough. Setting it against the backdrop of the holiday that celebrates American freedom while also blowing up The White House and making The President one of its central heroes provides what otherwise may have been just another disaster movie with a sense of patriotism, akin to how Halloween isn’t just another random slasher flick because of the holiday it represents, which is kind of brilliant. My Cousin Vinny beat Speed in the second round after receiving a first round bye, and now finds itself in a similar battle. Joe Pesci has done a little bit of everything in his career, and while he may be best known for tough guy gangster roles in films like Raging Bull, Goodfellas, & Casino, I actually prefer him in lighter fare like the Lethal Weapon series & Home Alone, and he is perfectly cast as fledgling attorney Vincent Gambini. Marisa Tomei famously won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as gum smacking car expert Mona Lisa Vito, a rare award for comedy. One of the two guys on trial in the movie is portrayed by Ralph Macchio, who we obviously all remember from The Karate Kid, and the other is played by an actor named Mitchell Whitfield, who really hasn’t done much else worth noting in his career. Honestly those roles could’ve been played by any two random actors because they really aren’t that important after the initial premise is set up, but I understand casting a known face like Macchio, even if his talent is pretty much wasted. The hidden gem of My Cousin Vinny is Fred Gwynne as the judge. Gwynne is most famous for his role as family patriarch Herman in the 1960’s TV show The Munsters, so to see him without monster makeup and using a southern accent is rather amusing. His interactions & exasperation with Vinny are some of my favorite scenes in the movie.

 

The Verdict:       My Cousin Vinny. This is mainly about my preference for comedy over action, although the critics happen to agree with me. Independence Day made a ton of money back in the day, and it’s fine for what it is. However, in hindsight perhaps the powers-that-be tried to cram a bit too much into it at the expense of character development. Vinny is well-written & performed, and it doesn’t rely on potty humor, gross-out gags, sex, or profanity. It creates a farcical (yet quasi-plausible) situation and great characters and sharp dialogue to tell a funny story.

 

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Sleepless in Seattle                      vs.                                 Dumb & Dumber

 

Sleepless in Seattle is the second and most well-known of three Hanks/Ryan collaborations. After receiving a first round bye Sleepless defeated Galaxy Quest in Round 2, mostly because I think it is more accessible and appeals to a wider audience. Bill Pullman portrays the sickly fiancé of Ryan’s character Annie, and he seems more adept at comedic roles than in more serious fare. I kinda sorta identify with the character’s offbeat sense of humor, his perceived fragility, and the fact that I could totally see a hot babe ditching me for someone more charming & handsome. The kid in the movie was actually a recast after the first child actor just didn’t work out, and he plays the part well enough. Rosie O’Donnell, whom I have grown to detest since she became an outspoken political nutjob, was just a comedic actress in the early 90’s, a few years away from hosting her eponymous daytime talk show. Her role as the requisite best friend is necessary & amusing. Dumb & Dumber is probably the best of the Farrelly Brothers filmography, unless one chooses to throw in a memorable fourth season episode of the TV sitcom Seinfeld called The Virgin, which the brothers wrote. Jeff Daniels is another actor (like Bill Pullman) who should do more comedy because he’s actually quite funny. I know Jim Carrey gets all the attention, but this movie wouldn’t be nearly as good without Daniels. I first became enamored with actress Lauren Holly when she co-starred in an underrated CBS dramedy called Picket Fences in the early 90’s, but her spotlight grew brighter in the midst of that show’s run when Dumb & Dumber hit theaters. For some reason she never quite became a huge star though, and in recent years has once again been doing supporting roles on television. She essentially plays the straight man to both Carrey & Daniels in this movie, but she does it well and is certainly easy on the eyes. I must admit that, though I had every intention of heading to my local cineplex back in 2014 to check out the sequel Dumb & Dumber To I never made it and haven’t sought it out in the ensuing years, which is very instructive in analyzing my lukewarm affection for the original. A prequel was made back in 2003, but I didn’t bother and I don’t think many others did either.

 

The Verdict:       Sleepless in Seattle. I love Tom Hanks. I love Meg Ryan. I love Hanks & Ryan together. Both have moved on in their careers and tend to pursue more somber roles these days, but this is their wheelhouse and if they were to ever make another movie together…even though both are 60-ish now and not nearly as adorably appealing as they were 25 years ago…I’d be amongst the first in line at the theater. Dumb & Dumber is a movie I have watched a few times over the years, but it’s not an automatic tune in if I’m channel surfing…I have to be in just the right kind of silly mood.

 

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American Beauty                                    vs.                                 The Birdcage   

I realize that Kevin Spacey is persona non grata in Hollywood at the moment, his career having been mowed down by the #MeToo gestapo. It isn’t my intention to minimize anything odious that someone may have done or to put any unworthy person on a pedestal, but our purpose here is to chill out, have fun, & discuss movies, and Spacey is a brilliant actor who has done some great movies. He is the absolute best part of American Beauty, although…in retrospect…the subplot about him having a thing for a high school cheerleader feels unnecessary. I’ve never had the high paying job, beautiful wife, cute kid, or nice house that Lester Burnham has, but I am at an age now where I can understand the point at which a middle aged man looks at his life and just kind of snaps. Fortunately he loses it in a non-violent, mostly hilarious way, although the idea of emptiness & desperation is still properly conveyed. American Beauty is, at its core, an examination of the fraudulent façade of middle class suburbia, where so many folks who appear to be living the dream are actually drowning in despair. The ending of the movie is a bit of a downer, but when one ponders how the entire film could have been really depressing given the subject matter yet chooses a more lighthearted approach the conclusion becomes not only tolerable but feels almost necessary. The Birdcage is a blueprint that more entertainments should follow if they are hellbent & determined use their bully pulpit to dive into the sociopolitical abyss. It is a story told thru an obvious prism with a fairly clear perspective, but it never feels sanctimonious or divisive. There are some that feel like homosexuality is represented using the most extreme stereotypes, and others that have the same issue with the way conservatives are depicted. All of that is probably true, but the film is a farce, so I take no issue with how the characters are written or portrayed. Robin Williams is brilliant, and a cast that also includes Gene Hackman & Nathan Lane has more than their fair share of fun moments. There is a great supporting character named Agador Spartacus portrayed by the very talented Hank Azaria that almost steals the show. Azaria has done voices on The Simpsons for almost three decades and had small roles in movies like Along Came Polly & Dodgeball. He’s the kind of actor that’s never going to carry a film or become a huge star, but is often one of the most memorable parts of whatever he is in.

 

The Verdict:       The Birdcage. I make no secret of my affection for Robin Williams, so admittedly he has an advantage over a lot of other performers…even Kevin Spacey. This is a tough call, and I concede that American Beauty has a better pedigree, including five Academy Awards. However, there are a couple of things that bother me about it. First is the whole subplot about the creepy next door neighbor and his retired military officer father. Lester Burnham, his wife Carolyn, & their glum daughter Jane are interesting enough characters…we didn’t need weird neighbors thrown into the mix. Secondly, any film that’s been mostly fun throughout but concludes with the main character getting a bullet put into his head leaves an odd impression. I get it. The filmmakers were weaving a complex story with various profound insights about life, which is fine. I actually like that sort of thing. I just feel like they got a little too cute in an effort to be esoteric, especially at the end. Conversely, The Birdcage is just good old-fashioned fun. It ends with Gene Hackman in drag dancing thru a gay nightclub to the sounds of Sister Sledge’s We Are Family. How great is that?!?!??

90’s Film Frenzy: Fly Round 2

Welcome back to Round 2 of 90’s Film Frenzy!! We went thru the Dope and Phat divisions a couple of weeks ago and I apologize for the delay. I won’t bore y’all with a long preamble because discussion of these great movies is lengthy enough, but let me take this opportunity to wish The Manoverse a delightful Labor Day Weekend. The catch-22 of this time of year is that summer is ending, which signifies colder weather & gloomier skies in the not-so-distant future, but it also means football is back and a few other fun things about autumn, so let us not despair. Have fun and enjoy life!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forrest Gump

Release:    7/6/94

Starring:     Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Sally Field, Gary Sinise

Directed By:        Robert Zemeckis (Romancing the Stone, The Back to the Future Trilogy, Cast Away)

 

vs.

 

Presumed Innocent

 

Quotes

It is a practical impossibility to try two people for the same crime. Even if it wasn’t, I couldn’t take his mother from my son.

 

You understand what happened had to happen. It couldn’t have turned out any other way. A woman’s depressed…with herself, with life. With her husband, who had made life possible for her…until he was bewitched by another woman. A destroyer. Abandoned…like someone left for dead…she plans her suicide…until the dream begins. In the dream, the destroyer is destroyed. That’s a dream worth living for.

 

Odds & Ends

Before the book was published in August 1987 producer Sydney Pollack purchased the rights to the film for $1 million.

 

Harrison Ford’s hair was cut in such a way to make him look “wimpier” than his previous brave leading man roles.

 

Kevin Costner and Robert Redford turned down the role of Rusty Sabich.

 

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Tom Hanks followed his Oscar winning role in Philadelphia with Forrest Gump, for which he won a second consecutive Academy Award for Best Actor. Gump is based on a 1986 novel by Winston Groom. I’ve pondered the idea of reading the book because I am generally inclined to believe a book is usually better than the movie, but most of the time the film closely follows the original story and the reason the book is better is a matter of subplots & nuance that might have been cut from the movie. However, it is my understanding that Forrest Gump the film completely alters the tone and character development of Forrest Gump the book, so I have been hesitant to read it lest it diminish my affection for the movie. At any rate, the film essentially tells diverging stories of two childhood friends who grew up in 1950’s Alabama. The titular Forrest is what we might now call a “special needs student” or a “low IQ learner”, but he defies the odds by graduating from college, serving in Vietnam, becoming an international ping pong star, meeting multiple U.S. Presidents, and eventually co-founding a successful shrimping business. The love of his life…Jenny…isn’t so lucky. She is abused by her father at a young age, works as a stripper, gets involved with drugs, becomes a hippie, & eventually dies from a mysterious disease (likely either AIDS or hepatitis). Forrest Gump shows these two lives diverging & intersecting at various times, and is unique in its ability to make the viewer chuckle one moment and shed a tear two seconds later. It actually won six Academy Awards, including Best Director (Zemeckis), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture (beating out Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption). It was the #1 film at the box office in 1994 and holds a 72% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The Boston Globe called it “a one-of-a-kind treat”. The NY Daily News had a really interesting take, observing that “what looks at first like a bright, bouncy, & sentimental trip through the baby-boom era turns out, on closer inspection, to be a dark and driven work, haunted by violence, cruelty, & a sense of the tragically absurd” but goes on to say that “where most American movies of the ’90s strike a single note over & over, Forrest Gump is a symphony” that is “an original and deeply moving experience”. People Magazine thought it a “plodding, heavy-handed parable”, while Rolling Stone called it a “heart-breaker of oddball wit & startling grace” and our old pal Ebert simply referred to it as “a magical movie”. Presumed Innocent got past Honeymoon in Vegas in Round 1 because an 87% Rotten Tomatoes score is pretty hard to overlook and I really loved the book back in the day. Harrison Ford is a tremendously talented actor that shouldn’t be pigeonholed as Han Solo, Jack Ryan, or Indiana Jones. Some of his best work has been in films that didn’t get any sequels.

 

The Verdict:       Forrest Gump. Just a really tough draw for Presumed Innocent. Between books, TV, & movies the entertainment landscape is overflowing with legal dramas, and the public’s thirst for such stories has made “true crime” a powerful sub-genre. Amongst Forrest Gump’s many strengths is its distinctiveness…there aren’t many comparable stories, so this is sort of like lobster versus a gourmet hamburger…it may be perfectly cooked with loads of flavor, but at the end of the day it’s still a hamburger.

 

 

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The Fugitive

Release:    8/6/93

Starring:     Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones

Directed By:        Andrew Davis (Above the Law, Under Seige)

 

vs.

 

Joe Versus the Volcano

 

Quotes

I don’t know what your situation is but I wanted you to know what mine is not just to explain some rude behavior, but because we’re on a little boat for a while and I’m soul sick…and you’re going to see that.

 

Do you think I feel good? Nobody feels good. After childhood, it’s a fact of life. I feel rotten. So what? I don’t let it bother me. I don’t let it interfere with my job.

 

90% of people are asleep, and those of who are awake look around us in wonder.

 

I have no interest in myself. I think about myself, I get bored out of my mind.

 

My father says almost the whole world’s asleep. Everybody you know, everybody you see, everybody you talk to. He says only a few people are awake. And they live in a state of constant, total amazement.

 

You have some life left. My advice to you is: live it well.

 

I ask myself, why have I put up with you? I can’t imagine, but now I know. Fear. Yellow freakin’ fear. I’ve been too chicken shit afraid to live my life so I sold it to you for 300 freakin’ dollars a week!

 

I don’t know who you are. I don’t want to know. It’s taken me my whole life to find out who I am, and I’m tired now.

 

There are certain times in your life when I guess you’re not supposed to have anybody. There are certain doors you have to go through alone.

 

If you have a choice between killing yourself and doing something you’re scared of doing, why not take the leap and do the thing you’re scared of doing?

 

Odds & Ends

The lamp that Joe brings into his office displays future events in the movie, including the yacht, a volcano, & a large full moon.

 

If one really pays attention you’ll notice several references to losing one’s soul.

 

The coordinates that Patricia gives… -10.1333, -150.3…places the island ten miles SSW of Caroline Island in the South Pacific.

 

______________________

 

Hey…more Harrison Ford!! Back in the mid-60’s ABC aired four seasons of a drama about a doctor wrongly convicted of murdering his wife and his vagabond lifestyle as he eluded law enforcement while searching for the one-armed man that he claimed was the real killer. Dr. Richard Kimble would move from town to town under an assumed name, work at various menial jobs, and inevitably risk being caught to help someone in need. The 1967 series finale was the most watched television show in history until the 1980 episode of Dallas during which the answer to the question “Who shot J.R.??” is revealed. The Fugitive aired on television long before I was a gleam in my Daddy’s eye, but at some point in the 80’s one channel or another began showing reruns and I was hooked. The big screen adaptation condenses the time frame and changes a few minor details, but retains the spirit of the original premise. It was the third highest grossing film of 1993, has a stellar 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and was nominated for seven Academy Awards, though the only one it took home was Best Supporting Actor for Tommy Lee Jones. Best Picture went to Schindler’s List, which is exactly the kind of thing one would expect from the Oscars, while Jones beat out Leonardo DiCaprio (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?) and John Malkovich (In the Line of Fire) for his award. Joe Versus the Volcano benefitted from a total cop out from Yours Truly in Round 1, tying Hook and therefore moving forward in the competition. Here’s the thing about JVtV…if you watch it as if it is just a silly rom-com it’ll be slightly weird, mostly enjoyable, but ultimately forgettable. However, if you recognize the symbolism, value the metaphor, and truly grasp the existential subtext it will blow your freakin’ mind. I kinda sorta understood it on my own, but there is a video on YouTube that really explains everything that one might have missed about JVtV, and I highly recommend re-watching the movie thru that prism. I’ve seen it called “a near-masterpiece of cinema”. It is about life. It is about death. It is about morality & spirituality. It is about values. It is about heroism. It is about failure. It is about destiny. Everyone who has ever had a job they despised can appreciate the first twenty minutes of JVtV, and anyone who can get thru those depressing twenty minutes will thoroughly enjoy the rest of the journey.

 

The Verdict:       The Fugitive. I feel really guilty about this one. JVtV deserves a better outcome. But I have to be honest, and the truth is that anytime The Fugitive is on I will stop and watch. Ford & Jones have never been better. The film’s tense moments are so well done, and frivolous action & violence are minimal. The strength of Joe Versus the Volcano is also its weakness. If one chooses to simply enjoy it as just another silly rom-com it gets lost in the shuffle amidst movies that are funnier and more romantic, charming, & quotable. But if one makes the correct choice to recognize the imagery & meaning behind it all then it ceases to become the kind of breezy & watchable escapism that a good movie should be. It is a film best reserved for those rare moments of philosophical self-reflection.

 

 

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Billy Madison

Release:    2/10/95

Starring:     Adam Sandler

Directed By:        Tamra Davis (Half Baked)

 

vs.

 

The American President

 

Quotes

Being President of this country is entirely about character. America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad.

 

You cannot address crime prevention without getting rid of assault weapons and hand guns. I consider them a threat to national security, and I will go door-to-door if I have to, but I’m gonna convince Americans that I’m right, and I’m gonna get the guns.

 

The American people have a funny way of deciding on their own what is and what is not their business.

 

Somewhere in Libya right now a janitor’s working the night shift at Libyan intelligence headquarters. He’s going about doing his job because he has no idea that in about an hour he’s going to die in a massive explosion. He has no idea that about an hour ago I gave an order to have him killed. You’ve just seen me do the least Presidential thing I do.

 

Perhaps I didn’t properly explain the fundamentals of the slowdown plan.

 

People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.

 

Odds & Ends

The telephone number President Shepherd gives Sydney to call him back (456-1414) is in fact the number to the White House (area code 202).

 

Robert Redford was originally cast in the lead role, but was replaced with Michael Douglas after a falling out with Rob Reiner.

 

Early versions of the script depicted President Andrew Shepherd as a military veteran and former Special Ops Agent. Rob Reiner discussed the lead role with Bruce Willis and Steven Seagal before Aaron Sorkin’s re-writes transitioned Shepherd to a more academic character.

 

The screenplay for the film inspired many aspects of Sorkin’s later television drama The West Wing. The two productions follow the staff of a largely idealized White House, and like many of Sorkin’s projects, share ideologies. Even the set of the Oval Office in The American President was later used in The West Wing. Sorkin has indicated that much of the first season of The West Wing was actually taken from material he edited out of the first draft of The American President script.

 

___________________

Adam Sandler was a cast member on Saturday Night Live for the first half of the 1990s. He had bit parts in barely notable films like Shakes the Clown, Airheads, & Mixed Nuts while he was also doing SNL, but immediately following his departure from television he hit the ground running with Billy Madison, the story of a lazy & dim-witted 20-something coasting thru life in a state of arrested development and living off of his father’s hard earned wealth. When dear old Dad decides that one of his staff members would be more equipped to take over his business someday Billy objects, only to find out that the reason he made it thru grade school, middle school, & high school was because his father bribed teachers to pass him. Billy convinces his father to change his plan of succession on the condition that the young man complete twelve grades of school within six months. Hilarity ensues. Yes it is a bizarre & inane premise. Yes the critics hated it (46% on Rotten Tomatoes). Your 75 year old father probably doesn’t get it, and most teenagers won’t either, because Billy Madison is a very specific film for a smallish target audience. But more than two decades later those of us that got a chuckle out of Sandler’s antics back then are still watching Billy Madison now. It was the 65th highest grossing film of 1995, but a lot of movies that made more money that year…Major Payne, Rob Roy, Judge Dredd, Man of the House, The Net, Sabrina, Outbreak…have been forgotten, while television continues to air Billy Madison and people continue to watch. The American President slipped past Boogie Nights in Round 1 because I just can’t wrap my mind around a drama about the porn industry, and because it eventually sparked a greater legacy called The West Wing, one of the finest television shows of the past quarter century. Michael Douglas is an underrated actor and Annette Bening can be compelling in the right role. They both shine in lighthearted fare that allows them to smile & laugh.

 

The Verdict:       Billy Madison. Aaron Sorkin should consider The American President a beta test for what eventually became his best creation. I don’t know if it was him or someone else, but somebody somewhere figured out that an idealistic rendition of The White House with a charming President, dogmatic & loyal staffers, and snappy dialogue would make a much better TV show than a movie. Adam Sandler isn’t everyone’s cup o’ tea and no one is saying that he’s ever made a great film, but Billy Madison is harmless fun that has weathered the sands of time.

 

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Grumpy Old Men

Release:    12/25/93

Starring:     Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ann Margret

Directed By:        Donald Petrie (Mystic Pizza, Miss Congeniality)

 

vs.

 

Mr. Saturday Night

Quotes

For me, my family was like, uh, Dances With Jews. Oh sure, we had names for our relatives like they had in that movie. We had “Eats With His Hands,” “Spits When He Talks,” “Makes Noise When He Bends,” “Sweats Like a Pig,” “Whines In a Cab,” “Never Buys Retail,” “Shaves His Back.”

 

Buddy, my whole life I listened to ya’ bellyache about your luck. Well, you are where you are because of who you are.

 

Odds & Ends

Marisa Tomei auditioned for the part of Buddy’s wife, Elaine, but was deemed too young for the role. Tomei later played Billy Crystal’s daughter in 2012’s Parental Guidance.

 

Billy Crystal’s directorial debut.

 

The film is based on a SNL Weekend Update sketch in which Billy Crystal plays Buddy Young Jr. reviewing a restaurant.

_________________________

 

Jack Lemmon & Walter Matthau starred in eleven movies together, the most famous of which is probably 1968’s The Odd Couple, an adaptation of Neil Simon’s stage play from a few years earlier. The play & film would eventually find its way to television in a series starring Tony Randall & Jack Klugman that ran thru the first half of the 1970s. Nearly three decades after their greatest success together the pair reunited in this charming comedy about two old geezers fighting over a woman. John Gustafson & Max Goldman are next door neighbors in the frozen tundra of Wabasha, MN. They spend their days fishing, drinking beer, watching TV, and insulting one other. We learn that they’ve known each other all of their lives but battled it out over a woman named Mae decades ago. Mae apparently chose John, but was unfaithful and eventually divorced him. Max ended up with a better woman (now deceased), but still harbors resentment over the one that got away. When a new lady moves in across the street…beautiful, slightly younger, & full of the spirit that Max & John lost long ago…the old rivalry finds new life. Grumpy Old Men was the 14th highest grossing film of 1993, ahead of Cool Runnings and Demolition Man but behind Free Willy and The Pelican Brief. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 62%, with the NY Times cautioning “don’t expect their bickering to be on the level of Neil Simon and you won’t be disappointed”, Ebert calling it “too pat and practiced to really be convincing”, the Washington Post advising that “if you poke through the cheap sentimentality you’ll find a worthy picture somewhere”, and Entertainment Weekly observing that “the shallow pratfalls hide richly funny observations”. Mr. Saturday Night upset Scream in the first round because horror movies just don’t frost my cupcake. If Billy Crystal were an employee at an average 9-5 business his boss would describe him as solid, dependable, trustworthy, & proficient. In Hollywood terms that means that he’s rarely brought up in discussions about the biggest, hottest, most talented top box office stars, but he has carved out a nice career that’s lasted several decades and produced some quality entertainment. Mr. Saturday Night is unlikely to appeal to anyone younger than 35, which obviously has a negative impact on the kinds of numbers that Hollywood deems important. If it were made today instead of 25 years ago it might be direct-to-video or more likely an original production of Netflix or Hulu, which would be fine. That’s the world we live in, right?? As a writer I recognize the movie’s flaws but also have to give kudos to some outstanding performances. Crystal is known to be a big baseball fan, and in that sport’s parlance I’ll call this movie a single stretched into a double thru good base running, but there is no one on base, two outs, and the next batter strikes out, rendering the previous play somewhat futile.

 

The Verdict:       Grumpy Old Men. I still love you Billy Crystal!!

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Father of the Bride

Release:    12/20/91

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

Directed By:        Charles Shyer (Private Benjamin, Baby Boom)

 

vs.

 

City Slickers

 

Quotes

Value this time in your life kids, because this is the time in your life when you still have your choices, and it goes by so quickly. When you’re a teenager you think you can do anything, and you do. Your twenties are a blur. Your thirties, you raise your family, you make a little money and you think to yourself, “What happened to my twenties?” Your forties, you grow a little pot belly you grow another chin. The music starts to get too loud and one of your old girlfriends from high school becomes a grandmother. Your fifties you have a minor surgery. You’ll call it a procedure, but it’s a surgery. Your sixties you have a major surgery, the music is still loud but it doesn’t matter because you can’t hear it anyway. Seventies, you and the wife retire to Fort Lauderdale, you start eating dinner at two, lunch around ten, breakfast the night before. And you spend most of your time wandering around malls looking for the ultimate in soft yogurt and muttering “how come the kids don’t call?” By your eighties, you’ve had a major stroke, and you end up babbling to some Jamaican nurse who your wife can’t stand but who you call mama. Any questions?

 

Women need a reason to have sex, men just need a place.

 

Have you ever had that feeling that this is the best I’m ever gonna do, this is the best I’m ever gonna feel… and it ain’t that great?

 

We’re black and we’re dentists. Let’s not make an issue out of it.

 

We had different needs. I needed him to treat me decently and get a job, and he needed to empty my bank account and leave.

 

Ed, have you noticed that the older you get, the younger your girlfriends get? Soon you’ll be dating sperm.

 

Odds & Ends

The story that Billy Crystal tells about his “best day” of going to a Yankee game with his father is a true story from his childhood. He notes at one point that, “I still have the program.” Not only does he really still have it, but he got Mickey Mantle to autograph it twice: once at the game that day and once again some 20 years later on a talk show they were both guests on.

 

This was Jake Gyllenhaal’s film debut.

 

Billy Crystal is a diehard New York Yankees fan but wears a New York Mets cap in the film because the Mets made a major contribution to Comic Relief.

 

_________________________

 

See, I told you!! Billy Crystal is still in it to win it dawg!! City Slickers got past Hocus Pocus in Round 1 because who can deny the trifecta of an Academy Award, Crystal, and a 90% score from the critics?? Comedy is tricky. We like to divide everything into categories and stack things into neat little piles, but there are so many different kinds of comedy. When it comes to movies there are some that are just a jumbled mess that can’t decide what they are or the idea they are trying to convey. To my understanding the reason for that is oftentimes because so many writers, producers, directors, actors, & suits have tampered with the product in pre-production that by the time we see it on the big screen it’s like consuming a dish that dozens of cooks have had a hand in making without really communicating with one another, to the point that no one knows what the hell we’re eating. Conversely, great films have been infused with different flavors that are expertly blended, resulting in a pleasurable outcome. City Slickers is a cut above so many of the idiotic comedies that seem to find their way to our local cineplex in the 21st century. It actually has a point, with well-written characters that develop thru the story. None of the actors are the kind of popular hot commodities that seem to be in a different movie every other month, but the performances are tremendous and the cast gels together nicely. A sequel…called City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold…was made a few years later, but the magic was gone, and it didn’t help that Jon Lovitz joined the cast. Lovitz ruins everything. Father of the Bride is a remake of a 1950 film starring Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor. Steve Martin plays the beleaguered father of a 20-something daughter who has just announced her engagement. Despite Dad’s dreams of a simple backyard BBQ wedding the bride-to-be and her mother have a different idea and hire a hilariously weird wedding planner. Dad’s a cheapskate who isn’t emotionally ready to let his little girl go, so the whole process is torturous & expensive for him, but everything works out just fine in the end. FotB was 9th highest grossing film of 1991 and has a solid 71% score on Rotten Tomatoes. In comparing the remake to the original the NY Times said “the material has been successfully refurbished with new jokes and new attitudes”. Ebert called it “a movie with heart” with “little moments in it when Martin is deeply moved”. Entertainment Weekly liked the “feel-good finale’, but wasn’t overly impressed by “the pat, amiable, and rather dawdling farce that preceded it”.

 

The Verdict:       Father of the Bride. I suppose one might consider it a slight upset. Most critics would probably say that City Slickers is clearly the better movie. For me it is largely about repeat viewings. As good as many seem to think it is, City Slickers just hasn’t popped up on television all that much in the past 27 years, and as such it is kind of easily forgotten. Father of the Bride, on the other hand, seems to be on an awful lot, and at some point in the past couple of decades I have developed a deep affection for it.

 

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Office Space

Release:    2/19/99

Starring:     Ron Livingston, Stephen Root, Gary Cole, Jennifer Aniston

Directed By:        Mike Judge (Beavis & Butt-Head Do America, Idiocracy)

 

vs.

 

Hook

 

Quotes

Oh, I hate being disappointed, Smee. And I hate living in this flawed body. And I hate living in Neverland. And I hate, I hate, I hate Peter Pan!

 

The stories are true! I swear to you! I swear to you on everything I hold dear! And now he’s come back to seek his revenge. The fight isn’t over for Captain James Hook. He wants you back. He knows that you’ll follow Jack and Maggie to the ends of the earth and beyond. And by heavens, you must find a way. Only you can save your children. Somehow, you must go back. You must make yourself remember.

 

Your children love you, they want to play with you. How long do you think that lasts? Just a few years, and it’s over. And you are not being careful. And you are missing it.

 

You know you’re not really Peter Pan, don’t you? This is only a dream. When you wake up, you’ll just be Peter Banning…a cold, selfish man who drinks too much, is obsessed with success, and runs & hides from his wife & children.

 

That is the same window and this is the same room where we made up bedtime stories telling about Peter, Neverland, and scary old Captain Hook. But did you know that Mr. Barrie… well, Sir James, our neighbor, he loved our stories so much that he wrote them all down in a book… oh dear me… eighty years ago.

 

Odds & Ends

The kissing couple who begin to float when some fairy dust lands on them are actually George Lucas and Carrie Fisher in a cameo.

 

Williams & Spielberg became close friends after making this film. Reportedly, after Williams’s death, Spielberg decided to watch this film out of remembrance but couldn’t finish it because he couldn’t stop crying for hours.

 

Maggie Smith, being only 56 years old at the time of filming, was aged up by makeup to play 92-year-old Granny Wendy.

 

Julia Roberts was nicknamed “Tinkerhell” because she was difficult to deal with, a reaction to her working conditions of solitude & a green screen.

 

Dustin Hoffman’s former co-star, Jon Voight, asked him if he could bring his children, James Haven and Angelina Jolie, to the set because they were “dying to meet Captain Hook.” Hoffman agreed to meet them while in costume. Jolie was 16 years old, and Hoffman described her as a “tall, thin, gawky-looking girl with a mouth full of braces.” After Jolie told Hoffman she was going to be an actress, Hoffman went home to his wife and said, “I don’t think this kid has any idea what a tough road she’s got.”

 

Steven Spielberg admitted to being disappointed with final result of the movie. He had such a hard time working with the rebellious crew of young actors that he later said, only somewhat kiddingly, that the experience made him wonder if he wanted to have any more kids. He also felt guilty that he wasn’t able to find an economical method to filming the many complex human-flight sequences in the film.

 

Gwyneth Paltrow appears briefly as the teenage Wendy.

 

Dustin Hoffman based the voice of Captain Hook on that of the columnist William F. Buckley.

 

Glenn Close, Phil Collins, Steven Spielberg, David Crosby, & Jimmy Buffett all make cameos.

_____________________________

 

Office Space is the very definition of a cult classic. No one paid attention to it in theaters. It ranked 121st at the box office in 1999. 121st!! Something called The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland made more money. I knew nothing about it until 3 or 4 years later when a co-worker kept quoting it and told me how awesome it is. At the time he & I both worked at a place strikingly similar to the business depicted in the film. Actually I think anyone who has ever worked in any kind of office can see similarities between their reality and what we see onscreen, which is a huge reason Office Space became such a big hit on home video. The cast is filled with character actors that have never done much beyond supporting roles on both television & film, with the lone exception being Jennifer Aniston. In 1999 she was halfway thru her run as Rachel on Friends, and I guess she was supposed to help Office Space make money, but her role is smallish and not at all why people love the movie. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 79% score, though most of those reviews were done in hindsight, long after it had gained traction and gained popularity. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that very few critics even bothered to watch it or write a review back in 1999. The Washington Post called it “a knowing, somewhat slight, often hilarious sendup of cubicle culture” that “exploits the yuks in the chronic misery of those routinely exposed to the monotonous gray of corporate minds and company décor”. Variety said it is “frequently uproarious”, Ebert observed that “movie’s dialogue is smart”, and the Village Voice dubbed it “a surprisingly good-natured comedy about the suppressed rage and paranoia of unappreciated employees”. As a perpetually underappreciated employee I must agree. Hook benefitted from a first round cop-out tie from me, though with a cast that includes Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, & Julia Roberts, all directed by Steven Spielberg, one would think it shouldn’t have to rely on such benevolence. I’ve told this story before, but I fondly recall seeing Hook in an old historic theater in downtown Huntington, WV. I was with a few of my fraternity brothers and we were the only people there, which began my lifelong affection for an essentially empty theater versus being in a crowded one. At any rate, that memorable viewing experience combined with my fondness for Williams has combined to elevate Hook a bit higher in my heart & mind than it probably deserves.

 

The Verdict:       Office Space. If I’m being honest I have to admit that Hook has its flaws. Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell was a huge mistake. The whole “Peter Pan grew up to be an uptight Type A neglectful workaholic that ignores his family” thing is a premise that probably sounded really cool in the early 90’s, but in retrospect a straight retelling of the Peter Pan story might have been a better choice. Spielberg is indisputably brilliant, but he could have benefitted from the kind of CGI and technological movie magic that probably wasn’t available in the 90’s. Office Space is more proof that when a story really works, the script is well written, and the jokes are funny a big budget and top shelf actors aren’t necessary. It further illustrates the difference between a movie that’ll make a splash on the big screen for a few weeks but quickly evaporate into the pop culture ether versus something that is built to last and make a long term impact.

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The Wedding Singer

Release:    2/13/98

Starring:     Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore

Directed By:        Frank Coraci (The Waterboy, Blended)

 

vs.

 

Edward Scissorhands

 

Quotes

It’s not heaven he’s from! It’s straight from the stinking flames of hell! The power of Satan is in him; I can feel it. Can’t you? Have you poor sheep strayed so far from the path? He has been sent first to tempt you. But it’s not too late. You must push him from you, expel him! Trample down the perversion of nature!

 

Sweetheart, you can’t buy the necessities of life with cookies.

 

The years spent in isolation have not equipped him with the tools necessary to judge right from wrong. He’s had no context. He’s been completely without guidance.

 

You see, before he came down here, it never snowed. And afterwards, it did. If he weren’t up there now, I don’t think it would be snowing. Sometimes you can still catch me dancing in it.

 

Odds & Ends

The idea for the movie was inspired by a drawing Tim Burton had done when he was a teenager,The drawing depicted a thin, solemn man with long, sharp blades for fingers. Burton stated that he was often alone and had trouble retaining friendships. “I get the feeling people just got this urge to want to leave me alone for some reason, I don’t know exactly why.”

 

Winona Ryder dropped out of The Godfather: Part III to appear in this film. Reportedly, it was Johnny Depp who actually convinced her to do so.

 

Vincent Price’s role was intended to be larger, but the veteran actor was very ill with emphysema and Parkinson’s disease, so his scenes were cut to a minimum.

 

The houses used in the film were a real community in Florida, completely unchanged, except for their garish exterior paint.

 

Some of the topiary that Edward makes in the movie can be seen permanently at the New York City restaurant Tavern On the Green.

 

Viewers are left to decide whether they think Kim is telling a fairy tale to her granddaughter or relating a story about something that really happened to her.

 

Burton and screenwriter Caroline Thompson cite various monster stories like The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein, King Kong, and Creature from the Black Lagoon as an influential to the film.

 

___________________________

When did I become old enough that the 1980’s could be deemed proper fodder for nostalgia?? Apparently the answer to that question is 1998. Sandler followed-up his successful hits Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore with a story about Robbie Hart, an aspiring musician who lives with his sister & her family in New Jersey. Robbie’s dreams of becoming a rock star seem to have faded as he has settled into an apathetic existence as the leader of a cover band that performs at weddings, birthday parties, & bar mitzvahs. His girlfriend has grown weary of this lack of vision & ambition and ditches him at the altar on their wedding day. Robbie has a hilarious yet pitiful breakdown, but the clouds begin to lift when he meets Julia, a waitress at the catering hall where he often performs. If rom-coms were sports teams Sandler & Barrymore would be great backups coming off the bench behind starters Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan. They’ve done three movies together and this first collaboration is the best. It was the 24th highest grossing film of 1998 (behind Shakespeare in Love but ahead of Halloween: H2O) and holds a 68% score on Rotten Tomatoes. The L.A. Times glowingly called it “a sparkling romantic comedy…the kind that glides by so gracefully & unpretentiously that it’s only upon reflection that you realize how much skill, caring, and good judgment had to have gone into its making”, while Ebert opined that “one of the sad byproducts of the dumbing-down of America is that we’re now forced to witness the goofy plots of the 1930s played sincerely, as if they were really deep”. I’m not really sure exactly what that means, but it makes me wonder what Roger Ebert…who died in 2013…would think of some of the absolute crapfests that besmirch theaters these days, because The Wedding Singer is Citizen Kane in comparison to many of them. Edward Scissorhands got past Mallrats in Round 1 because I just don’t understand what the big deal is about Kevin Smith. It’s hard to categorize Edward Scissorhands, but I think that’s part of its charm. It appeals to different people for various reasons, and all of those perspectives are valid. The film is visually stunning, with the fascinating contrast between Edward’s gothic existence and the colorful 50’s vibe of the human neighborhood he is brought to, and as a person with a disability who has oftentimes found it challenging to fit into “normal” society I appreciate that theme. Burton squashed the idea of a sequel a few years ago, and one can only hope he doesn’t ever let anyone do a stupid remake.

 

The Verdict:       The Wedding Singer. This one comes down to repeat viewings for me, and I can’t remember the last time I watched Edward Scissorhands. Burton is a weird dude who’s made some strange movies. Some of them aren’t bad, but personally I have to be in the right kind of mood to enjoy his stuff. The Wedding Singer has wider appeal, and especially speaks to an 80’s kid like myself.

 

*************************

 

Die Hard: With A Vengeance

Release:    5/19/95

Starring:     Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Irons

Directed By:        John McTiernan (Predator, The Hunt for Red October. The Last Action Hero)

 

vs.

 

Goodfellas

Release:    9/19/90

Starring:     Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci

Directed By:        Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ)

 

vs.

 

Twister

 

Quotes

When you told me you used to chase tornados I always thought it was a metaphor!

 

It’s the Fujita Scale. It measures the intensity of a tornado by how much it eats.

 

He’s a nightcrawler. We all started out working in the same lab, but Jonas went out and got some corporate sponsors. He’s in it for the money not the science. He has a lot of high tech gadgets, but he doesn’t have any instinct.

 

Odds & Ends

Filming in Oklahoma was briefly delayed due to the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. Much of the crew went to the site to help with recovery efforts.

 

A recording of a camel’s moan was slowed down and used as the sound of the tornado.

 

The characters are alarmed when TV screens go blank, showing only static, before the tornado hits. In the days before digital TV, it was discovered that tornadoes generate a signal that will override and blank channel 2 on TV sets. Digital TVs do not react that way.

 

In the town of Wakita, the building the actors used to get ready for filming was turned into a museum for the movie where they have “Dorothy” on display as well as many other items from the movie.

 

As one of the characters looks at the screen of their weather computer, he screams “That’s no moon, it’s a space station!” That’s Obi-Wan Kenobi’s line when he, Luke, Han, and Chewbacca first discover the Death Star.

 

____________________________________

 

Bruce Willis has now made five Die Hard films, with one final swan song allegedly on the way (reportedly a prequel). I don’t think it’s possible to surpass the first one, but Vengeance gives it a heck of a try. Seven years after the dramatic Christmas party at Nakatomi Plaza and five years after another memorable yuletide at an airport Detective John McClane is again estranged from his wife, suspended from the NYPD, and apparently an alcoholic. But then a terrorist threatens to blow up a school and specifically requests McClane’s involvement in the case, which involves a cat & mouse game of solving riddles throughout The Big Apple. McClane’s impromptu partner this time is a Harlem store owner named Zeus, who inadvertently gets pulled into the action. The criminal turns out to be the brother of the bad guy from the first film, and there is a similar twist as far as what his motives are. Jackson was a welcome addition to the franchise and breathes a lot of life into the story. Vengeance was the tenth highest grossing film of 1995 but holds an unimpressive 52% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Variety said that it “degenerates into an improbable & confusing series of chases and an overly involved heist that takes far too long to set up”, Rolling Stone called it “a tense, terrifically funny action dazzler”, Ebert referred to it as “a wind-up action toy…cleverly made and delivered with high energy”, and Entertainment Weekly thought it was “a more racially charged Lethal Weapon”, opining that the mad bomber “toys with McClane like a villain on the old Batman TV series”. Twister easily beat Very Bad Things in Round 1 but now faces a stiffer challenge. Time Magazine harshly observed that “you know a movie is in trouble when a cow provides its only moment of authentic human interest”. Variety said that the movie “conveys the overwhelming impression of a mechanical entertainment, a very high concept in which the characters and their problems seem like utterly arbitrary creations”. The NY Times thought that “science aside… it works as escapism even if you do know enough to come in out of the rain”. Goodfellas is a mob movie far different from anything we saw in The Godfather films. Based on the story of real life mobster Henry Hill, Goodfellas is a grittier and less cinematic story than The Godfather, but I suspect that it’s a more accurate portrayal of mob life. The cast is first rate, and the movie was nominated for a half dozen Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. However, the only Oscar it took home was Best Supporting Actor for Pesci. Goodfellas was the 26th highest grossing film of 1990, behind Problem Child, Days of Thunder, and the much maligned Godfather Part III, but ahead of Rocky V, Predator 2, and Ernest Goes to Jail. It has a near perfect Rotten Tomatoes score of 96%. The NY Daily News said that “Scorsese succeeds in smashing all the foolishly romantic myths about the mob with this shocking, vigorously honest portrait”, Rolling Stone observed that it “bristles with violent passion, howitzer wit, and virtuoso style”, and Variety dissented from the majority by calling it “colorful but dramatically unsatisfying”. Our buddy Ebert didn’t hold back when he said that “no finer film has ever been made about organized crime…not even The Godfather”, which is where I have to draw the line. I have no doubt that Goodfellas is more authentic, but Variety hit the nail on the head by calling it dramatically unsatisfying. The old saying is that truth is stranger than fiction…but is it more entertaining?? I don’t think so.

 

The Verdict:       Die Hard: With a Vengeance. With all due respect, I must defend The Godfather. It may be more realistic, but Goodfellas is NOT a better movie…not in any universe I’d ever want to inhabit. That’s just crazy talk. I’m not really into violence, and Goodfellas is a much more vicious film than The Godfather, while none of its characters are as well written or performed with the exception of Pesci’s Tommy DeVito. Twister is a decent disaster flick, but gets lost in the shuffle amongst much better movies of that genre. Vengeance isn’t as good as the original Die Hard, but it’s certainly better than any of the other sequels, and it’s one of my favorite Samuel L. Jackson performances.

90’s Film Frenzy: Phat Round 2

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

 

 

 

Apollo 13

Release:    6/30/95

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

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

 

vs.

 

Only the Lonely

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

____________

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

 

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

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Good Will Hunting

Release:    12/5/97

Starring:     Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Robin Williams

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

 

vs.

 

Big Daddy

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

Allen Covert has appeared in 25 Adam Sandler films.

 

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

 

__________________

 

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

 

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

 

*****************************************************

 

American Pie

Release:    7/9/99

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

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

 

vs.

 

Armageddon

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

______________________________

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

 

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

*****************************************************

 

You’ve Got Mail

Release:    12/18/98

Starring:     Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan

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

 

vs.

 

The Firm

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

______________________________

 

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

 

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

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Aladdin

Release:    11/25/92

Starring:              Scott Weinger, Robin Williams, Gilbert Gottfried

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

 

vs.

 

Patch Adams

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

______________________

 

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

 

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

 

*****************************************************

 

Groundhog Day

Release:    2/12/93

Starring:     Bill Murray, Andy MacDowell

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

 

vs.

 

Clueless

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

As if!

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

___________________________

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

 

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

 

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Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

Release:    2/4/94

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

Directed By:        Tom Shadyac

 

vs.

 

The Mask

 

Quotes

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

 

Sssomebody stop me!

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?

Release:    12/17/93

Starring:              Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio

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

 

vs.

 

Pretty Woman

Release:    3/23/90

Starring:     Julia Roberts, Richard Gere

Directed By:                 Garry Marshall (Overboard, Beaches)

 

vs.

 

Batman Returns

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

90’s Film Frenzy: Dope Round 2

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

 

 

 

 

 

Titanic

Release:  12/19/97

Starring:   Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet

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

 

vs.

 

Saving Private Ryan

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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My Cousin Vinny

Release:  3/13/92

Starring:   Joe Pesci, Ralph Macchio, Marisa Tomei

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

 

vs.

 

Speed

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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Sleepless in Seattle

Release:  6/25/93

Starring:   Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan

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

 

vs.

 

Galaxy Quest

 

Quotes

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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American Beauty

Release:  9/15/99

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

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

 

vs.

 

Grumpier Old Men

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

Lemmon & Matthau starred in ten movies together.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Dumb & Dumber

Release:  12/16/94

Starring:   Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels

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

 

vs.

 

In the Line of Fire

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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The Birdcage

Release:  3/8/96

Starring:   Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman

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

 

vs.

 

Lethal Weapon 3

 

Quotes

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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There’s Something About Mary

Release:  7/15/98

Starring:           Cameron Diaz, Matt Dillon, Ben Stiller

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

 

vs.

 

Father of the Bride Part II

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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Independence Day

Release:  7/2/96

Starring:   Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman

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

 

vs.

 

The Silence of the Lambs

Release:  2/14/91

Starring:   Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins

Directed By:     Jonathan Demme (Philadelphia, Beloved)

 

vs.

 

Swingers

 

Quotes

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

90’s Film Frenzy: Fly Round 1

Greetings friends and welcome back to 90’s Film Frenzy. If you missed first round action in the Phat Division please go back and check it out.

Let me take this opportunity to reiterate something that I have mentioned a couple of times in the past. One thing that you will not see in this competition are trilogies. No Austin Powers. No Toy Story. No Back to the Future or Godfather (both Part 3s were released in 1990). It is my belief that most movie trilogies are essentially three parts of the same film…a beginning, middle, & end. While it is possible to evaluate each film on its own individual merits the fact is that most of us think of them as a single entity. In some cases that may be unfair, but I believe it necessary to apply the rule across the board. Now once a fourth movie is made all bets are off. Some film series have 4 or 5 parts, while others have so many sequels they become kind of a joke. In those cases I think it is appropriate to weigh the value of each film separately rather than as a collective unit. That’s my two cents anyway…feel free to disagree. For now though, let us continue with the present discourse.

 

 

 

 

Twister

Release:                       5/17/96

Starring:                        Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jami Gertz, Alan Ruck

Directed By:                 Jan de Bont (Speed)

 

vs.

 

Very Bad Things

Release:                       11/25/98

Starring:                        Christian Slater, Cameron Diaz, Daniel Stern, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Jon Favreau, Jeremy Piven

Directed By:                 Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, Lone Survivor)

 

Disaster flicks have been a Hollywood staple for decades. Earthquakes, volcanoes, rogue waves, Earth destroying asteroids, plane crashes, raging fires, landslides, blizzards, nuclear holocaust, alien invasions, killer mutant animals, population decimating viruses…it’s all been done numerous times with varying degrees of success. Twister follows two storm chasers in the midst of a divorce who find themselves reunited in pursuit of one final tornado. There are subplots and an entire team of quirky characters, all of which are mildly interesting, but let’s be honest…the disaster itself is the main focus of such movies, and with modern CGI technology they are generally much more impressive than similar films made back in the old days. The cast here is above average, and the effects are more than adequate. Very Bad Things is a film that most probably missed during its time at the local cineplex, and even now it isn’t something that you’ll catch on television much despite a really impressive cast. The story follows a group of buddies, one of which is about to get married. They gather in Vegas for the bachelor party and after a freak accident find themselves with a dead stripper on their hands. As is the norm in such stories the folks involved in the situation don’t do the right thing by reporting the accident and trusting the justice system to understand that they did nothing wrong. Instead they create a cover-up, which inevitably leaves a trail of lies & dead bodies that’d make the hairs on the back of Shakespeare’s neck stand up.

 

The Verdict:       Twister. With a Rotten Tomatoes score of 57% and a box office that made it the second highest grossing film of 1996 (behind only Independence Day and ahead of Mission: Impossible & Jerry Maguire) Twister’s credentials are formidable. Ebert opined that it “has no time to waste on character, situation, dialogue, & nuance” but “as a spectacle it is impressive”, which of course is the point. Very Bad Things is I suppose what they call a black comedy, and if one is into that sort of thing you might enjoy it. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 44% score, which is actually higher than I might have guessed. The Los Angeles Times called it “hollow, simple-minded, & about as profound an experience as stepping in a pile of road kill”, while Ebert commented that “it isn’t a bad movie, just a reprehensible one”. Audiences seemed to agree, as it ranked 128th at the box office in 1998, behind classics like Blues Brothers 2000, Half Baked, & the infamous Psycho remake starring Vince Vaughn.

 

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Edward Scissorhands

Release:                       12/7/90

Starring:                        Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Weist

Directed By:                 Tim Burton (Batman, Beetlejuice, The Nightmare Before Christmas)

 

vs.

 

Mallrats

Release:                       10/20/95

Starring:                        Shannen Doherty, Jeremy London, Jason Lee, Claire Forlani, Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams

Directed By:                 Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jersey Girl)

 

Tim Burton is…different. He definitely has a unique style and his movies aren’t like anything else out there. Whether or not one considers that a good thing is a matter of taste. For me Burton’s filmography is a mixed bag, but most would agree that one of his best is Edward Scissorhands, a fantasy/horror/sci-fi tale about an aging inventor who creates a human-like creature but dies before the project is completed. Edward is left with hands that are kind of like a Swiss Army knife, which are occasionally useful but quite frightening to others. After The Inventor passes Edward lives a life of solitude in an old mansion that most believe to be abandoned until a kind Avon sales lady comes calling and finds him. She graciously invites Edward into her home where he quickly falls in love with her daughter. He is a gentle soul and the neighborhood takes a liking to him, allowing him to use his “hands” to trim hedges, groom dogs, & style hair. Unfortunately the daughter’s jealous boyfriend succeeds in turning the neighborhood against Edward and a confrontation ensues in which the boyfriend is accidentally killed. The daughter lies to the police, making everyone believe that Edward is dead, and at the end of the story we find out that all of this took place many years ago and Edward is probably still alive in the old “abandoned” mansion. Edward Scissorhands has elements of Beauty & the Beast, Frankenstein, & Pinocchio. The movie received numerous accolades for visual effects, makeup, & costume design, composer Danny Elfman got a Grammy nomination, and Depp was nominated for a Golden Globe. Mallrats was Kevin Smith’s follow-up to Clerks and ostensibly takes place within the same “universe”. The story follows two college-aged guys as they fritter away a day at the local mall, engaging in hijinks and dealing with various issues along the way. I actually like Mallrats better than Clerks, and its cast…Affleck, Doherty, Lee, Adams, London, Forlani…is definitely better. Critics are lukewarm about it given the Rotten Tomatoes rating of 55%. Our old pal Ebert loved Clerks but didn’t like Mallrats in comparison, saying “Clerks spoke with the sure, clear voice of an original filmmaker. In Mallrats the voice is muffled.” With all due respect to Roger Ebert (may he rest in peace), film critics love to say stuff like that. While I’m not a huge fan of either movie atleast Mallrats has a plot and some measure of energy.

 

The Verdict:       Edward Scissorhands. This is a no-brainer. I won’t claim to be a Depp fan, but this is probably his best role. It was the 20th highest grossing film of 1990 and has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 89%. The NY Times complimented Burton’s “awe-inspiring ingenuity”, while Variety calls it “a delightful and delicate comic fable”. Kevin Smith seems like a cool dude, and I love the fact that he is such a huge fanboy of things like Batman and Star Wars, but I can’t wrap my head around the fondness for his films. If someone would like to explain it to me I am willing to listen.

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Honeymoon in Vegas

Release:                       8/28/92

Starring:                        Nicolas Cage, Sarah Jessica Parker, James Caan

Directed By:                 Andrew Bergman (The Freshman, It Could Happen To You, Striptease)

 

vs.

 

Presumed Innocent

Release:                       7/25/90

Starring:                        Harrison Ford, Bonnie Bedelia, Greta Scacchi

Directed By:                 Alan J. Pakula (All the President’s Men, Sophie’s Choice, The Pelican Brief)

 

Once upon a time it seemed as if attorney/writer Scott Turow was poised to challenge John Grisham as the top dog in the legal thriller genre. His first two books were turned into films, but after that nothing else really emerged as part of the pop culture zeitgeist of the 1990s. Presumed Innocent was Turow’s inaugural novel and his best one. It follows prosecutor Rusty Sabich as he first investigates the murder of a co-worker before eventually being accused of being the killer himself after it is discovered that he’d once had an affair with the victim. As is almost always the case the book is so much better than the movie, but kudos to Ford, Bedelia, Raul Julia, & Brian Dennehy for really bringing the characters to life. The ending is epic, to the point that I highly recommend the book and/or the movie almost entirely based on its conclusion. Honeymoon in Vegas is a goofy comedy about a guy who loses his fiancée in a poker game and his epic adventures in getting her back. I’m a sucker for anything with a Las Vegas backdrop, and it doesn’t hurt that the cast is charming. The soundtrack is pretty good too, comprised mostly of Elvis Presley covers from the likes of Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson, John Cougar Cougar Mellencamp Mellencamp, Trisha Yearwood, Travis Tritt, & Bono, along with songs sung by Elvis himself.

 

The Verdict:       Presumed Innocent. Ideally I’d put this up for a vote, but we all know how that story goes, right?? Honeymoon in Vegas has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 61% and was the 41st highest grossing film of 1992, behind Aladdin, Unforgiven, Patriot Games, & The Mighty Ducks, but ahead of Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!, The Muppet Christmas Carol, Hoffa, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer (yes kids…it was a movie way before it was a television show). Entertainment Weekly asks “how could a movie featuring the Flying Elvises be anything less than…entertaining?”, before proceeding to explain exactly how it achieves that distinction, while our buddy Ebert said that it “inspires enough laughter to pay its way”. Rotten Tomatoes gives Presumed Innocent a score of 87%, and it was the 12th highest grossing film of 1990. Time magazine opined that the movie “does not work as well as the novel did”, while Gene Siskel called it “a riveting adaptation of Turow`s novel” that is “more compelling (than the book) principally because of the superb supporting cast”. To be honest one is more likely to see Honeymoon in Vegas on TV occasionally because it is precisely the kind of accessible & undemanding entertainment that most of us prefer during vegg time, but Presumed Innocent is clearly the better film.

 

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Hook

Release:                       12/11/91

Starring:                        Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts, Maggie Smith

Directed By:                 Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Saving Private Ryan, E.T the Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park, Catch Me If You Can)

 

vs.

 

Joe Versus the Volcano

Release:                       3/9/90

Starring:                        Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan

Directed By:                 John Patrick Shanley (Doubt)

 

Tom Hanks vs. Robin Williams. It is precisely the kind of nightmare matchup that I knew was inevitable when I conceived this idea. I have dreaded it simply because I am such a big fan of both men and hate to choose one over the other, but fortunately they both have multiple entries in the competition, and I have a feeling that the movies themselves more than the leading men will make the decisions fairly straightforward. Hook is a very 1990’s retelling of the Peter Pan story. It opens with Peter as a middle-aged attorney who is so focused on his career that he is somewhat neglectful of his wife & kids. He has completely forgotten who he once was, but his wife’s grandmother hasn’t because she is Wendy…yes, THAT Wendy. When the family travels to London to visit Wendy it is the perfect opportunity for vengeful Captain Hook to swoop in and kidnap the children, forcing Wendy to reveal the truth to Peter, At first he doesn’t believe it, but then Tinkerbell shows up and whisks him off to Neverland, where The Lost Boys help him remember his epic past and prepare him for a showdown with Hook in order to rescue his progeny. The film is directed by Spielberg and has a first rate cast. On paper it doesn’t get much better. Joe Versus the Volcano is the first of three movies that Hanks & Ryan did together, but it is probably the most overlooked film of both of their careers. Joe Banks is a depressed hypochondriac sleepwalking thru a dreary life in which he works at a tedious job at a gloomy medical supplies factory. He is diagnosed with “brain cloud” and told by a doctor that he only has a few months to live, so he tells his boss to take the job & shove it and finally gets the courage to ask a lovely co-worker out on a date. Then an eccentric & wealthy businessman shows up and offers him a blank check if he’ll do something kind of crazy in return. The billionaire needs some sort of rare mineral to manufacture one of his products, and this mineral can only be found on a remote Pacific island. However, the inhabitants of the island won’t let him mine the mineral unless he provides a human sacrifice to appease a volcano that erupts every century…or something. I don’t know…it’s weird. Anyway, with nothing to lose Joe accepts the offer, and with the financial means to do so he treats himself to quite the shopping spree. He seems happier & healthier than ever after leaving his miserable job, accepting his fate, & deciding to live life to the fullest before he hurls himself into an active volcano. The businessman’s daughter is assigned the task of escorting Joe to the island, and along the way they fall for each other. I won’t spoil the ending, but it’ll put a smile on your face.

 

The Verdict:       It’s A Tie. There are fond memories attached to Hook for me, but I also feel like I need to be objective. Hook was the 6th highest grossing film of 1991, behind Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves but ahead of Fried Green Tomatoes, JFK, & Boyz N the Hood. However, it has a really subpar score of 29% on Rotten Tomatoes. Ebert called it “a lugubrious retread of a once-magical idea” and said that “the crucial failure in Hook is its inability to re-imagine the material, to find something new, fresh, or urgent to do with the Peter Pan myth”.  Entertainment Weekly was more generous in their appraisal, stating that Hook is “jam-packed with entertainment value, enough to give you your money’s worth”, but that “the movie is so frenetic, so bursting with movement and rowdiness and special effects, so drenched in gooey, mythic sentiment about the child within, that nothing in it quite gels”. JVtV was the 33rd highest grossing film of 1990 and has a 62% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Entertainment Weekly didn’t particularly care for the film, calling it “a fiasco… the purest silliness”, but Ebert gets it, saying “I realized a wondrous thing: I had not seen this movie before” and declaring that it “achieves a kind of magnificent goofiness”. I cannot put aside how special Hook was to me back in the day, but I also refuse to overlook what Joe Versus the Volcano actually is…a modern fable rife with allegory & nuance. EW was right about Hook…despite its shortcomings one still gets our money’s worth in entertainment value. And Roger Ebert nailed it in his review of JVtV…it isn’t like any other movie we’ve seen, and that’s a good thing.

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City Slickers

Release:                       6/7/91

Starring:                        Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, Bruno Kirby, Jack Palance

Directed By:                 Ron Underwood (Tremors, Mighty Joe Young, The Adventures of Pluto Nash)

 

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Hocus Pocus

Release:                       7/16/93

Starring:                        Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy

Directed By:                 Kenny Ortega (Newsies)

Billy Crystal is a national treasure, whether he is acting in funny movies or hosting awards shows. He’s just one of those guys that it is virtually impossible not to like. Crystal was on a roll in 1991, having starred in The Princess Bride, Throw Momma from the Train, & When Harry Met Sally all in the last few years of the 1980’s. City Slickers stars Crystal as a NY City ad executive going thru a midlife crisis. His two best buddies gift him with a two week dude ranch excursion, during which the three men join several other regular folks like themselves in a kind of cowboy fantasy while driving cattle from New Mexico to Colorado. Lessons are learned, attitudes are adjusted, & lives are altered during the cattle drive, all under the watchful eye of intimidating trail boss Curly, a role that won Jack Palance an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Hocus Pocus didn’t make much of an impact when it first landed in theaters, but in the ensuing years repeat viewings on TV have made it a family friendly Halloween tradition. The story follows three kids in Salem, MA who inadvertently resurrect a trio of witches who had been hanged three centuries earlier. Halloween hijinks ensue, but not the kind that one might see in a slasher flick. If you enjoy the spooky atmosphere of the holiday but aren’t all that enamored with blood n’ guts or psychotic serial killers then Hocus Pocus is the film for you.

 

The Verdict:       City Slickers. Critics really dig City Slickers, resulting in a remarkable 90% score on Rotten Tomatoes. It was the 5th highest grossing film of 1991, behind Terminator 2 & Silence of the Lambs but ahead of Backdraft & The Prince of Tides. Entertainment Weekly called it “a delightful surprise” and “a comedy with real joy in it…and real humanity too”, while Ebert said it is “much more ambitious and successful than expected”.  Hocus Pocus scores only 30% on Rotten Tomatoes, with Gene Siskel calling it “dreadful” and the NY Times opining that “too much eye of newt got into the formula, transforming a potentially wicked Bette Midler vehicle into an unholy mess”. It was the 39th highest grossing movie of 1993, which is a respectable showing for a niche film that was released in July when it should’ve been in theaters during October. Whoever made that decision should have lost their job. At any rate, the pedigree of City Slickers cannot be denied…it made a bunch of money, won an Academy Award, & is critically acclaimed. A tip o’ the cap to Hocus Pocus for retaining a shred of pop culture sustainability via repeat viewings on television every Halloween. It is my understanding that The Disney Channel is doing a made-for-TV remake in the near future, which is probably a horrible idea.

 

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Batman Forever

Release:                       6/16/95

Starring:                        Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Chris O’Donnell

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

 

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Sister Act

Release:                       5/29/92

Starring:                        Whoopi Goldberg, Maggie Smith, Kathy Najimy

Directed By:                 Emile Ardolino (Dirty Dancing)

 

After two successful films Michael Keaton stepped away from the cape & cowl and studio suits gently pushed Tim Burton out of the director’s chair. Schumacher’s “Bat-vision” is a little more colorful & chaotic than Burton’s dark & brooding style, but few seemed to mind as it relates to Batman Forever (detractors saved their wrath for the next film). Kilmer’s turn as The Caped Crusader is unobjectionable but totally forgettable. I’m not a huge Nicole Kidman fan, and her role here just doesn’t work for me. “The Boy Wonder” Robin joins the fun this time, but O’Donnell is about as interesting as staring blankly into space. Batman movies are all about the villains though, right?? The Riddler is probably my favorite Bat-villain of them all, and if the powers-that-be would have stuck to their original plan of casting Robin Williams this movie might have been brilliant. Carrey isn’t a bad choice…he’s just not my cup o’ tea. Tommy Lee Jones is a excellent actor, but he is woefully miscast as Two Face. I think a lot of mistakes were made in the production of this film, and I can’t help but wonder what might have been had Burton & Keaton returned and Williams had starred as the one & only villain. Sister Act finds Whoopi Goldberg as a lounge singer who sees a mob hit and is forced into the witness protection program. She goes into hiding as Sister Mary Clarence, staying at a San Francisco convent where she revitalizes the choir. The group becomes so popular that the Pope himself wants to see them perform, but unfortunately the gangsters Sister Mary Clarence is hiding from discover her location and kidnap her, with her new nun friends jumping into help the rescue effort. This was Goldberg’s follow-up to her Oscar winning performance in Ghost, and the film did well enough to get a sequel just a year later.

 

The Verdict:       Neither. Rotten Tomatoes scores Batman Forever at 39%, with Gene Siskel saying that “it doesn’t add up to much, but it’s certainly entertaining”, the L.A. Times opining that it is a “boisterous comic book confidential serviceable enough to satisfy”, & the San Francisco Chronicle  calling it “the ultimate in what summer movies have become…an art-direction, Dolby-sound, special-effects extravaganza, a grand-scale effort that’s more awe-inspiring than completely successful as entertainment.” Wow…talk about damning with faint praise. It was the second highest grossing film of 1995, behind only Toy Story and actually ahead of Apollo 13, which in hindsight seems criminal. Sister Act was the sixth highest grossing film of 1992, behind Aladdin, Home Alone 2, & A Few Good Men but ahead of Wayne’s World, A League of Their Own, & Unforgiven. It has a solid 74% Rotten Tomatoes score, with Newsweek saying “it may be clumsily made, shamelessly contrived, & utterly cynical in its calculated uplift, but there’s no getting around it: the damn thing is funny”, and Ebert opining that it “plays like a missed opportunity” that “doesn’t have the zest & sparkle it needs…scenes move too slowly, dialogue settles upon itself, and routine reaction shots are clicked off with deadly precision”. First off, y’all just knew I’d have to even things out after the previous tie. Secondly, the question I ask myself is “What would I do if I was lazily flipping thru the channels??”. The answer is that I’d choose to watch both Hook and Joe Versus the Volcano over Sister Act and Batman Forever.

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Boogie Nights

Release:                       10/10/97

Starring:                        Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Heather Graham, Philip Seymour Hoffman

Directed By:                 Paul Thomas Anderson (Punch-Drunk Love, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood)

 

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The American President

Release:                       11/17/94

Starring:                        Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Michael J. Fox, Martin Sheen

Directed By:                 Rob Reiner (This Is Spinal Tap, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, A Few Good Men)

 

The porn industry wouldn’t seem to be proper fodder for a critically acclaimed, Oscar nominated drama, but here we are. An all-star cast traces the rise (pun unavoidable) of high school dropout Eddie as he escapes an abusive family situation and becomes well-known adult film star Dirk Diggler. There is lots of drug use, violence, and…of course…sex, but the film is rather well-written and the cast is superb. The material in less talented hands probably would have been a joke, but as presented is an unexpectedly interesting movie despite its subject matter. The American President is essentially a love letter to Bill Clinton, which isn’t surprising given the people involved. The titular Commander in Chief is a widowed father whose relationship with an environmental lobbyist creates all sorts of issues. The cast is undeniably terrific, and the movie itself heavily influenced the creation of the TV show The West Wing just five years later.

 

The Verdict:       The American President. Most films would be considered beyond fortunate to have half of the fantastic ensemble present in Boogie Nights. It has to rank right up there as one of the best collections of talent in recent movie history. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a fine score of 93%, with TV Guide calling it “an epic story of self-delusion with a skill & grace that many more experienced filmmakers would be hard put to match”, and Variety opining that the director’s “strategy is remarkably nonjudgmental and nonsensationalistic, largely due to his love and respect for all the characters and his impressive storytelling skills”. It ranked a disappointing 79th at the box office in 1997, earning less money than even much ridiculed competition like Speed 2: Cruise Control, Anaconda, & Flubber. The American President was the 29th highest grossing film of 1995 (because it was released near the end of 1994) and has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 90%. The NY Times called it “sunny enough to make the real Presidency pale by comparison”, while the Washington Post deemed it “a well-modulated charmer”. For me there are a few factors to consider. Boogie Nights might be a well-executed story with a blue chip cast, but I don’t find the theme itself all that interesting. In addition, it’s a little too gritty & violent for my taste. The premise of The American President is a bit far-fetched, but Douglas & Bening are irrefutably appealing and the rest of the cast is pretty darn good too. Sorkin is a talented writer, and as a fan of The West Wing I appreciate this movie’s part in the eventual creation of that show.

 

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Scream

Release:                       12/20/96

Starring:                        Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Drew Barrymore

Directed By:                 Wes Craven (Swamp Thing, A Nightmare on Elm Street)

 

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Mr. Saturday Night

Release:                       10/23/92

Starring:                        Billy Crystal, David Paymer, Julie Warner, Helen Hunt

Directed By:                 Billy Crystal

 

I’ve never been a big fan of horror films in general, but when that particular mood does strike the old Universal films of the 1930’s & 40’s (Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein, Lon Chaney Jr.’s The Wolf Man) are more my speed. I’m an 80’s kid, so the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises were a thing when I was growing up, but they never really piqued my interest. Scream is given credit for breathing new life into the genre. It tells the story of high school student Sidney Prescott, whose mother was murdered a year before. Now someone is stalking Sidney & her friends, with local sheriff’s deputy Dewey and TV reporter Gale joining in the hunt for the killer. Scream is well-regarded for its whip smart & perceptive approach, sharp writing, & subversion of accepted horror film expectations. At the time Drew Barrymore was the biggest star in the cast, and her character is killed in the first five minutes, which was a pretty big surprise to audiences. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 79%, with the L.A. Times calling it “a bravura, provocative sendup of horror pictures that’s also scary and gruesome yet too swift-moving to lapse into morbidity”, while Ebert said that he “liked the in-jokes and the self-aware characters” but was also “aware of the incredible level of gore in this film”. Scream was the 13th highest grossing film of 1996, behind Independence Day and A Time to Kill but ahead of The English Patient and Jingle All the Way. Mr. Saturday Night is a sneaky good biopic of a fictional Borscht Belt comedian who rises to prominence in the 1940’s and eventually scores his own television show in the 50’s, only to lose it all because of his own arrogance & self-destructive tendencies. Thirty years later he is performing at nursing homes and doing commercials for adult incontinence products, but might have one more shot at stardom…if he doesn’t blow it again. By Buddy’s side throughout his roller coaster career is his long suffering wife and loyal brother, who also doubles as his manager. Character actor David Paymer received an Oscar nomination for his supporting role as the perpetually unappreciated brother. Mr. Saturday Night was the 82nd highest grossing film of 1992, which was atleast good enough to beat out Chaplin and Glengarry Glen Ross, both highly acclaimed movies. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a tepid 56% rating, with Entertainment Weekly calling it “a perverse labor of love” and “gimmicky but enjoyable”, while Ebert observes that the movie “has a real poignancy” but “what doesn’t really work is the change of heart, which is obligatory in all showbiz films” because “anyone who has been a SOB until the age of 70 is unlikely to reform, and so the happy ending is unhappy because it’s not convincing”.

 

The Verdict:       Mr. Saturday Night. I’m going to take some heat for this one, but I’m prepared. On the surface Scream would seem to not only be a shoe-in to make it out of the first round, but a strong contender to be considered a signature film of the 1990’s. 99 out of 100 writers would probably deem it so. I suppose I’m The One. I’ve done my best to put aside personal opinions in the face of strong opposition from the masses, but at the end of the day this has to be an exception. Credit is owed to Scream for revitalizing a genre that had been suffering from poorly written gore fests and endless sequels. Its plot is atleast somewhat more realistic than the kind of supernatural, impossible to kill, evil for evil’s sake horror monsters that I grew up with. Having said that, y’all know how much I admire Billy Crystal, and the fact that Mr. Saturday Night is a multi-toned dramedy instead of a straight up comedy is intriguing. Julie Warner should have become a bigger movie star, and Paymer got a tough draw at the Academy Awards, facing off against Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, & Gene Hackman (the winner for his role in Unforgiven).